Process? Was I meant to have a process?

I’ve just sent A Raging Madness off for proofreading, which clears my mental space for the other stories that are simmering on the back of the stove or still spread out across the kitchen table as raw ingredients.

Over the past three years, since I first began Farewell to Kindness, I’ve discovered I’m neither a plotter nor a pantser, but a weird amalgam. As the current state of said stories shows.

I figured I’d be a plotter. I am in my commercial writing life, starting with a carefully structured outline, complete with an assessment of audience and purpose. So before I wrote a word of Farewell, I had character interviews and questionnaires, a detailed plot outline, and acres and acres of research. Then I started writing.

It turns out that I write by watching the movie reel unroll inside my head. My characters had no idea what was going to happen, and as I soon found out, neither did I. The villain died before chapter 1. The slightly sinister neighbour turned into a major criminal. The hero wanted to seduce the heroine instead of courting her. I ended up more or less where I expected, but by a completely different pathway.

But nor am I entirely a pantser. If I try to write without at least some of that plotting work, my muse goes into a major sulk and I bog down.  Revealed in Mist suffered from that. I began a murder mystery with no idea who the villain was or how the murder happened. At some point I had to figure that out.

I am, I guess, a patterner. It isn’t so much that I make patterns, but I recognise them. Two or more disconnected facts suddenly come together in my mind, and all of a sudden I know where I’m going.

Take Concealed in Shadow, the sequel to Revealed in Mist, which is my book after next. I know Prue has been kidnapped and is in Napoleonic France, and I know David has followed her. I know that the story involves a secondary romance between a English detainee and a prisoner-of-war. I’m not sure of much else. But last night I realised that Prue will be handed over by her captors to a French spymaster, who will use her to try to force David to give up British secrets.

I’m currently reading about spy networks in England and France during the Napoleonic wars, and also about prisoners of war in each country. And something just clicked.

I don’t know precisely how my creative process works. But I know what makes it work. Research. When my mind goes blank, I start reading. Original material such as newspapers of the time, scholarly works, other fiction set against a similar background. Whatever works.

And I didn’t do this on purpose, honest, but The Realm of Silence, the next book in The Golden Redepennings also involves prisoners of war and spies, this time on the English side of the channel. And Luddites, because why not? What I was missing there was a MacGuffin, but I found one, so all is well.

Those are the main projects at the moment, but I also have three novellas (two for Christmas anthologies) and a short story on the go. And they all have plots! (But I don’t guarantee they’ll happen the way I’ve ‘planned’.)

So that’s it. That’s how I write. Someone compared it driving after dark. As long as you can see as far as your headlines reach, you can keep going. It’s a bit scarier than that. I start out not knowing what route I’m going to follow, and with only the vaguest idea of destination, and work it out on the way. I write the book so I can find out how it ends.

My friend Caroline Warfield has also posted about process.


First words on WIP Wednesday

graveyard-wc1104wI tend to cast around for a long time till I find the start of a book—and even then, I often get it wrong, either deleting what I have in favour of a later passage, or writing something earlier that leads up to my original first chapter. As a writer, I want to start in the middle of the action, but in a place that lets me bring readers into the story quickly, without a lot of explanation. I want to avoid the acronym SDT in the margins. Show Don’t Tell. My friend and editor Mari Christie sends my drafts back with that plastered through them, but so far I’ve been able to avoid the dreaded letters in my first chapters.

So my methodology for starting a book is to write until I recognise the beginning, then second guess that decision once I’ve finished the first draft. Next month’s new release didn’t get its beginning until the final edit. The current work in progress still starts with the first words I wrote in May.

How about you? How do you begin? And does your beginning change as you work your way towards publication?

Here are the first words of A Raging Madness, the first draft I’m hoping to finish by the end of the month. As always, please post your extracts in the comments.

The funeral of the dowager Lady Melville was poorly attended—just the rector, one or two local gentry, her stepson Edwin Braxton accompanied by a man who was surely a lawyer, and a handful of villagers.

Alex Redepenning was glad he had made the effort to come out of his way when he saw the death notice. He and Captain Sir Gervase Melville had not been close, but they had been comrades: had fought together in Egypt, Italy, and the Caribbean.

Melville’s widow was not at the funeral, but Alex was surprised not to see her when he went back to the house. Over the meagre offering set out in the drawing room, he asked Melville’s half brother where she was.

“Poor Eleanor.” Braxton had a way of gnashing his teeth at the end of each phrase, as if he needed to snip the words off before he could stop chewing them.

“She has never been strong, of course, and Mother Melville’s death has quite overset her.” Braxton tapped his head significantly.

Ella? Not strong? She had been her doctor father’s assistant in situations that would drive most men into a screaming decline, and had continued working with his successor after his death. She had followed the army all her life until Melville sent her home—ostensibly for her health, but really so he could chase whores in peace, without her taking loud and potentially uncomfortable exception. Alex smiled as he remembered the effects of stew laced with a potent purge.

Melville swore Ella had been trying to poison him. She assured the commander that if she wanted him poisoned he would be dead, and perhaps the watering of his bowels was the result of a guilty conscience. The commander, conscious that Ella was the closest to a physician the company, found Ella innocent.

Perhaps it had all caught up with her. Perhaps a flaw in the mind explained why she tried to trap Alex and succeeded in trapping Melville into marriage, why she had not attended Melville’s deathbed, though Alex had sent a carriage for her.

“I had hoped to see her,” Alex said. It was not entirely a lie. He had hoped and feared in equal measure: hoped to find her old before her time and feared the same fierce pull between them he had been resisting since she was a girl too young for him to decently desire.

“I cannot think it wise,” Braxton said, shaking his head. “No, Major Redepenning. I cannot think it wise. What do you say, Rector? Would it not disturb the balance of my poor sister’s mind if she met Major Redepenning? His association with things better forgotten, you know.”

What was better forgotten? War? Or her poor excuse for a husband? Not that it mattered,  any more than it mattered that Braxton used the rank Alex no longer held. It was not Braxton’s fault Alex’s injury had forced him to sell out.

The Rector agreed that Lady Melville should not be disturbed, and Alex was off the hook. “Perhaps you will convey my deepest sympathies and my best wishes to her ladyship,” he said. “I hope you will excuse me if I take my leave. I have a long journey yet to make, and would seek my bed.”


Building a village

renbridge-landscapeA couple of weeks ago, I wrote the arrival of my hero and heroine of A Raging Madness at the tumble-down Renwater Grange, the estate gifted to Alex by a grateful king. They woke up the next morning, went for a walk to investigate the stables, and met the husband of their temporary housekeeper. And then I got stuck.

renwater-stablesI knew where the house was; in the village of Renbridge, in the Lincolnshire dales. I’d done quite a bit of research about agriculture and horse breeding in the dales, and the type of land ownership and architecture. But who lived in Renbridge? What were their names, their characters, their habits and their interrelationships?

I realise that most of the villagers won’t have a mention in the book, and that even those who wriggle their way into the first draft might be cut in the second. But I have no idea which ones are a permanent part of the story, and—in any case—their existence, mentioned or not, is texture in the background. Who are these people?

So for the past fortnight, I’ve been writing a village. I thought you might like to see the raw results.

Renbridge village

10.2 miles from Horncastle, 6.9 miles from Louth, 8.7 miles from Alford

The church and rectory

renbridge-churchThe church is St Ninians, the living is at the gift of the King as Duke of Lancaster. The Rector is Reverend Daniel Morris, a single man, an elderly widower with no children. His housekeeper is Mrs Kelk,  wife of his handyman and general servant. He also has an all purpose maid, Aggie Nevis. Mr Morris (74),  Kelk (56), Mrs Kelk (57) (the five Kelk children are all gone — two dead as children, a boy and a girl, one married and in Alford, one in the army, and one in the US after a run in with the law). Aggie (48) never married, has been with the living longer than the others.

Mr Morris is kindly, scholastic, and sharp as a tack. Very social, has a lovely little dog that he takes walking. He is a classics scholar with a speciality in Republican Rome and takes students. One is currently living across the road with the Mullens.

The inn

renbridge-innInnkeeper is Silas Hancock (48), and his wife Betsy (46). They have grown sons and a daughter who also work at the inn. Sons are Fred (27), Sam (25) and Dick (19). Their daughter is Mattie (19). Four children died between Sam and Dick, two during a village cholera epidemic, one of smallpox, and one in an accident. Dick and Mattie are twins. Also various servants who may or may not get names. Fred manages the stables with Dick’s help. Silas is mine host. Betsy and Mattie rule the kitchen. Mattie is being courted by a farmer’s son. Inn has been in the Hancock family for generations.

The inn, church, and grange are on the Y intersection.

Cottages on the road to Alford

Mirs Rycroft lives in a substantial detached cottage.

Mirs Rycroft lives in a substantial detached cottage.

On the road to Alford between the church and the grange are three cottages, all detached. On the east of the road, next to the rectory, is the Fox house, then Widow Bycroft’s cottage, then the bridge over the Ren. On the west of the road next to the bridge is the Broadley cottage. The rest of the west is grange land.

The Fox family is large and unruly. Jeb Fox (35) is a drunkard and a lout. He does farm labour when he can get it, but most of the farmers around will only use him if they have to, as he cannot be relied on.  Pansy Fox  (28) takes in washing, cleans, and (it is rumoured) supplements her income by lifting her skirts. Fox beats her when he suspects such a thing, and so her lovers are circumspect, but she has 7 children to feed, and those are just the survivors. She has buried 4, two in the same cholera epidemic as the Hancocks.  The children are one a year, 11, 10, 9, 7, 6, 3, 1, with the dead ones fitting in the gaps. She is pregnant again. Not all of the children look like her or Fox.

The widow, Harriet Rycroft (61) lives in a house that is slightly more substantial than a cottage.  She and her maid of all work and dear friend, Jane Harper (59), came here from far away and have lived quietly in the village for 25 years.  The villagers would be surprised to know that they are retired prostitutes. They often give work to Pansy Fox, but pay her in food and clothing. Mrs Rycroft runs a dame school for the village children.

A visual reference for Renwater Grange

A visual reference for Renwater Grange

The Broadleys are both from families that have long been in the area. Jack Broadley (47) is a farm labourer, a large quiet man that will turn his hand to most things. Because work is scarce in the area and farmers can usually take their pick, it is significant that he is usually among the first chosen. Bee Broadley (Phoebe, 43) is Silas Hancock’s sister. She has been hired as temporary housekeeper at the grange, and is the first person Alex and Ella meet when they arrive. The Broadleys have one son (John, 24), who was impressed by the navy but who loves the life, and a daughter (Molly, 22) who has married a local farmer.

A row of cottages on the road to Horncastle

renbridge-row-of-cottagesOn the road to Horncastle, the grange takes up the northwest side of the road, and there is a row of three cottages on the southeast, with the Roses, Mullens, and Pecks.

Bill Rose (67) runs the village shop, with the support of his two daughters, Martha (34) and Jemima (32).  His wife died when the girls were teens. Bill’s son Willy married and moved away  years ago. Willy is horse mad, used to work in the inn stables, and took a job to be closer to horses. The innkeeper, Bill, is in failing health and Willy wants to be closer, so will apply for job as stable master. Bill has chased off any suitors for his daughters, so they are still single. They are involved in all village activities, especially church activities.

George Mullen (27) and his wife Millie (20) are newly weds. He is a farm labourer, son of farm labourers from another village closer to Alford. She is the daughter of Mr and Mrs Hewitt, who live further along the road. They can only afford the cottage because they have a gentleman boarder, a scholar who is studying with Mr Morris. He is a young man who hopes to take religious orders, which will work better if he can keep his eyes of Mattie Hancock. Peregrine Fairweather (23) is the second son of a family of comfortably situated gentry, and a nice enough young fellow.

Matthew Peck (56) and his two sisters Katie (57) and Pauline (59) live in the last cottage on the way out of the village. Matthew is a farm labourer. Katie and Pauline do piece work for a dressmaker in Hardcastle.

Cottages on the road to Louth

renbridge-smithyLeading out of the village to the east on the Louth road, the Arnotts and the Hills are on the north side in detached cottages.

Charlie Arnott  (48) is the village smith, and also the verger. His father, also Charlie (78) was both of these things before him but is now suffering from dementia. His mother Maggie (67) looks after Charlie and also helps with the house and children. Charlie is a widower, his wife having died in childbed some 10 years ago, leaving four children: Charles Jnr, who is 19 and his father’s apprentice, Becky (16), Tom (14) and Ben (12).

Nathan Hill (34) and his wife Lucy (28) live in the eastmost cottage with children Fanny (6), Jenny (4),  Ninian (2), and Lucy is heavily pregnant. Nathan is a carpenter and general handyman. Lucy spins, sews, and makes bonnets to supplement the family income.

The remaining villagers, the Woods, Farrows, Hewitts, and Dodds,  live in the row of cottages on the south side of the Louth road.

Moses Wood (46), the carter, is married to Hester (39). They have one son, Aaron, who is in the army (22). Hester is a baker at the inn.

There';; be work for bricklayers and carpenters up at the Grange

There’ll be work for bricklayers and carpenters up at the Grange

Tim Farrow (36) is a farm labourer living with his mother,  Alice Farrow (61). He was a rival for Lucy Hill’s hand and has been miserably single ever since.  Jemima Rose has hopes of him, but he hasn’t noticed.

Ted (62) and Mary (61) Hewitt are the parents of a large brood, mostly dispersed. Millie is the youngest, and recently married George Mullen.  They also have 3 sons and 2 other daughters, as well as 2 who died as children. The eldest is  Eddie, 34, an assistant stable master in Hardcastle. Mary-Kate (31) is married to one of Alex’s tenant farmers.  Suzy (27) went into service and is now assistant housekeeper for a baron near Lincoln. Twin brothers Wally and Bart (23) both live at home and are farm labourers with their father. Mary helps out at the inn.

Gabe Dodd (38) and his wife Abbie (35) live in the last cottage on the road to Louth.  They have three children, Matthew (10), Mark (7), and Luke (4).  Abbie has just discovered that she is with child again, but has not yet told anyone because she is prone to miscarriage. Gabe is a builder/bricklayer.

Five farms pay rental to Alex

renbridge-farmhouseJerry Ashton (62) and his wife Agnes (58) are Lucy Hill’s parents. They also have two sons who work the land with their father,  Frank (34) and Harry (31). Both are married, Frank to Nan (28) – two small children, 5 and 3—and Harry to Dinah (27, and Nan’s sister)—two small children, 3 and newborn.

Jonas Catchpole (43) and his wife Clara (46) live with Clara’s elderly parents (Seth 74 and Mary 71). Their one daughter is married to Rafe Bracey.  They have a live-in farm worker, Johnny Harper (32) who had hoped to marry Rachel himself.

Billy Horrell (52) is a widower with two grown sons. William (28) is single and Henry (25) recently married Molly Broadley

Rafe Bracy (33) is married to Rachel (21), the daughter of the Catchpoles. Rafe and Rachel live with Rafe’s brother Mike (35), who is a widower with two small children (7 and 3). Rafe was in the army, but returned home when his brother’s wife Mary died.

Ambrose West (39) lives with his sister Heloise (37). He is sweet on Martha Rose, and has been since they were children. Their mother was gentry who married down. She is a doddery old woman of 66, who sews by the fire and occasionally discomforts people by noticing what is going on. They hire their farm labour from the village.


Progress report and a dilemma

New books

As some of you know, I collected plots for many years before I actually started writing. I have around seven series and more stand alones floating around in my head, and captured in a OneNote database, and the characters are currently having an argument that I hope you might help me resolve.

This weekend, I’m finishing the third round of editing on Prudence in Love. It goes to Mari Christie on Monday, and she will undoubtedly send it back with more work to do, but in effect, it is on paper and out of my brain.

By the end of the month, the same will apply to The Bluestocking and the Barbarian. And, by the end of the month if not sooner, I’ll be at the halfway point in the first draft of A Raging Madness.

Hence my dilemma. Next month, I’ll want to start another first draft, so I have something to turn to when Alex and Ella won’t cooperate. But of what?

At first, I was going to do them all in chronological order. But if you look at the image above, where colours relate to series and italics to books that are either finished or well on the way to being finished, you’ll see that I’ve skipped ahead with Barbarian.

And I’ve added some books that weren’t in the original scheme.

To make things simple, I’ve taken out a heap of books that I probably won’t look at until I’ve finished some of the other series, but which one should I do next?

It was going to be Lord Danwood’s Dilemma, and then the rest of the Wages of Virtue series (Faith, Hope, and Charity are waiting in the wings).

But the book about Prudence and David turned into two books, and I plan to end Prudence in Love with the first chapter of Prudence in Peril, in which Prudence and Jonathan are imprisoned and about to be taken south to sold into slavery.

On the other hand, A Raging Madness introduces the hero of The Realm of Silence, and reintroduces its heroine, as well as the heroine of Unkept Promises. What about them? Should I keep writing the Golden Redepennings?

And at Christmas, the Belles box set will include the first of the Children of the Mountain King series, The Bluestocking and the Barbarian. It repeats the hint I gave at the end of A Baron for Becky. The Marquis of Aldridge is in love with the niece of his father’s enemy, and the lady wants no part of him. Their story is third in the Mountain King series, The Rake and the Reformer. So should I write The Healer and the Hermit next? Then, too, Lord Jonathan Grenford (Gren, Aldridge’s younger brother) makes an appearance in The Bluestocking and the Barbarian, leaving partway through to face either execution or marriage in an East European kingdom.

“What you propose is not safe, my darling boy. The Grand Army is in your way. You could be shot as a spy,” the duchess said. “Why, this friend of yours cannot even give you assurance that the Grand Duchess will not behead you on sight. It is possible that…”

“Mama, all things are possible.” Gren was lit from within, bouncing on the balls of his feet as if his joy were too big to contain. “All things but one. I have tried living without the woman I love, Mama, and that, that is impossible. Anything else, I can do. Wait and see.”

So you tell me. Which book do you think I should start on in May?


Backstory on WIP Wednesday

mourning-picture-watercolor-and-gouache-on-silk-1810-nh-metpWe writers know a whole heap of stuff about our characters that never makes it into the final novel. We call it backstory, and every rounded character has one. The art is to trickle out just the facts the reader needs without making it boring, while hinting at further depth underneath.

So this week on WIP Wednesday, show me your backstory. It could be a scene that you have decided not to use, or it could be the trickle of facts that will probably make it all the way through to the final draft.

Whether the passage that follows will survive editing I don’t know. It’s the first few paragraphs of A Raging Madness, and I wrote them yesterday.

The funeral of the dowager Lady Melville was poorly attended—just the rector, one or two local gentry, her stepson Edwin Braxton accompanied by a man who was surely a lawyer, and a handful of villagers.

Alex Redepenning was glad he had made the effort to come out of his way when he saw the death notice. He and Gervase Melville had not been close, but they had been comrades: had fought together in Egypt, Italy, and the Caribbean.

Melville’s widow was not at the funeral, but Alex expected to see her when he went back to the house. Over the meagre offering set out in the drawing room, he asked Melville’s half brother where she was.

“Poor Eleanor.” Braxton had a way of gnashing his teeth at the end of each phrase, as if he needed to snip the words off before he could stop chewing them.

“She has never been strong, of course, and Mother Melville’s death has quite overset her.” Braxton tapped his head significantly.

Ella? Not strong? She had been her doctor father’s assistant in situations that would drive most men into a screaming decline. She had followed the army all her life until Melville sent her home—ostensibly for her health, but really because she took loud and potentially uncomfortable exception to his appetite for whores. Alex smiled as he remembered the effects of stew laced with a potent purge.

Melville swore Ella had been trying to poison him. She assured the commander that if she wanted him poisoned he would be dead, and perhaps the watering of his bowels was the result of a guilty conscience. Ella was the closest to a physician the company had since her father died. The commander found Ella innocent.


Once upon a time I invented a rake

WALLACE COLLECTION - THEATRES OF LIFE   Eug ne Lami, A supper during the Regency or The Prodigal Son or The orgy, 1853 Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (Rothschild Family Trust)   The National Trust, Waddesdon Manor.  Photographer: Mike Fear  127.1995_c_2.jpg

I joke that my creative process relies on the plot elves. I sit down to do my 500 words, or 1000 words, or 2000 words, or whatever the target for the day is, and the characters start acting out the scene disclosing all sorts of things the plot elves have been working on in the background.

The truth is that my creative process is a mystery to me. The invention of my Marquis of Aldridge is a case in point.

Here’s his very first appearance on a page, in my work-in-progress, Embracing Prudence. David Wakefield, base-born son of the Duke of Haverford, is investigating a case of blackmail.

A knock on the door heralded Aldridge’s arrival. A maid showed him into the private parlour. He’d clearly been treating her to a display of his facile charm; she was dimpling, blushing, and preening.

David examined him as he gave the girl a coin “and a kiss for your trouble, my darling.” The beautiful child had grown into a handsome man. David had heard him described as ‘well-put together, and all over, if you know what I mean.’ The white-blonde hair of childhood had darkened to a light brown, and he had golden-brown eyes under a thick arch of brow he and David had both inherited from their father.

Aldridge navigated the shoals of the marriage market with practiced ease, holding the mothers and their daughters off while not offending them, and carrying out a gentleman’s role in the ballroom with every evidence of enjoyment.

But his real success, by all accounts, was with bored widows and wives, where he performed a role in the bedroom with equal enjoyment. Society was littered with former lovers of the Merry Marquess, though he had the enviable ability to end an affair and retain their friendship.

He ushered the laughing maid out of the room and closed the door behind her, acknowledging David’s appraisal with a wry nod.

“Wakefield. You summoned me. I am here.”

David ignored the thread of irritation in the young aristocrat’s voice.

“I have some questions I wish to ask about the story your brother tells.”

Uninvited, Aldridge grabbed a chair and straddled it, resting his chin on his forearms. “Our brother,” he said, flatly.

I should, perhaps, explain that I’ve been creating an entire fictional world these last five years, peopled with enough characters for at least the forty books for which I have plot lines. Many of the characters are just names in my database and spreadsheet, but if I need a mother, or a cousin, or villain, or an old school friend, I look there first before I invent someone new. So when David needed a case to investigate, I involved his patroness, the Duchess of Haverford, and her son Aldridge came with the territory.

I knew Aldridge existed, and I knew he was a rake. There’s a crusading social zealot growing up in my world who will one day need a hero who is as much a challenge to her as she is to him. But I hadn’t given him much more thought than that, till I inserted him into David and Prue’s story. I generally start a book with tidy character descriptions (eight pages for protagonists and major antagonists, and one page for anyone else with more than a walk-on part), a plot outline, and maps. After I start, though, the plot elves take over and anything might happen. And so it was with Aldridge.

Very soon, he proved to be a larger part of Prue’s past than David knows. He is also deeply concerned about his younger brother Jonathan, who becomes David’s assistant in the investigation. What with one thing and another, by the time Prue, Jonathan, and David disappear from England, Aldridge has enough guilt riding him to dive into a bottle and hide there for months, as explained in this deleted scene from A Baron for Becky.

“Cousin, I don’t believe you’ve been sober since June—this business with Jonathan is not your fault, you know.”

Aldridge shook his head. He didn’t agree. Jonathan was his younger brother, and he’d promised to keep him safe. He’d promised Mama.

“Do you remember the frogs in your tutor’s bed?” Rede asked.

Aldridge was not fooled by the seeming change of subject. He’d taken the blame for that, though the prank had been Jonathan’s. “The tutor was a vicious fool, and would have beaten Jonathan until his arm fell off. And His Grace would have done nothing; Jonathan was only the spare. Disciplining me was reserved to His Grace, and the tutor would not disturb him for such a minor infringement.”

It was Rede’s turn for the dismissive shake. “Jonathan’s not nine any more, Aldridge. The scandal was of his own making; quite deliberately from what I heard. ”

Aldridge grinned. He was worried, and he felt guilty, but he still admired his brother’s strategy. “He wanted to travel and His Grace said ‘no’. So Jonathan arranged to be exiled. Pudding-brain. Doesn’t he know there’s a war on? I hope David finds him.”

Rede slid the brandy decanter towards him. “David? David went after his… after a lady that he loves.”

Aldridge busied himself pouring another glass and exerted every ounce of control not to tip it straight down his throat. There was the crux of it—not Jonathan’s defection, though Aldridge still believed he should have been able to prevent it. But Aldridge’s contribution to the loss of his other brother, his father’s bastard; Aldridge’s treatment of the woman David loved.

“Did you not know? She went with Jonathan. And I don’t think David will ever forgive me, Rede.”

I had just realised what a crucial part Aldridge played in Prudence’s backstory and the major misunderstanding between David and Prue when my group of Historical writers, the Bluestocking Belles, embarked on a three week marathon of interactive story telling on Facebook.  We invented a magical inn that allowed our fictional worlds to collide, and brought along our characters for an impromptu party.

I contributed one drunk and depressed Aldridge to the fun, and it was fun! Poor Aldridge. He had a frustrating time, with his advances to one lady after another being rejected, sometimes violently.

Then along came Mrs A. Mrs Angel is the invention of Catherine Curzon, and she is a wonderful character, mistress to princes, owner of brothels, and a rollicking good-time girl. Aldridge’s pursuit of Mrs A. jumped from thread to thread and took days, with one accident after another keeping him from his goal.

I decided to write it up as a light-hearted romp; the story of Aldridge and the golden-hearted harlot who saved him. But I soon realised that Aldridge needed quite a different kind of experience at this point in his life. Becky began to take shape in my mind – a broken bird, rescued by Aldridge but carrying scars from her past experiences. The book became Becky’s story, and the elderly baron Catherine and I had first envisaged became Hugh, Aldridge’s best friend, a man with his own scars.

And so, in the end, Becky and Hugh took over what began as Aldridge’s story, and A Baron for Becky is a far better book than I originally intended.

Where to from here? I have a vague idea, but quite a distance to travel first. In the main stream of my novel writing, I have yet to finish 1807. Aldridge will be a bit player in several more books before 1814, when his own story begins with a social reforming spinster bursting into his bedroom demanding that he come save his bastard son from a molly brothel. I’m looking forward to finding out what happens next.


Why I love writing villains

villain memeI don’t want to think too hard about what this says about me, but I love writing villains.

I enjoy creating characters of any kind, and I’ll happily spend days answering questionnaires about my main characters. I really enjoy seeing the people in my head coming to life on the screen as I type, and I’m often surprised by how strong their opinions are about the way the story should go.

But I particularly love listening to and watching my villains. The brakes come off, and I give them the kind of dialogue that suits their personality: sociopath, or spoilt young man, or self-centered society beauty, or thug.

In the stories I’ve written so far, I’ve had some of each, and my current work-in-progress features a return of the sociopathic society blade, the Earl of Selby, from Farewell to Kindness, and two nasty friends.

Even more than other supporting characters, villains need a complex personality and a convincing backstory. No matter how good the protagonists are, if the villains aren’t convincing, the conflict in the story isn’t convincing, and the happy ending isn’t nearly as satisfying. A good story needs an excellent villain.

Here’s how I write villains:

  1. I pick up things that frighten, worry, or annoy me – in characters on shows, or people in real life. What are the character flaws that cause this response in me? What would the people be like if those flaws were magnified and their good qualities absent or reduced?
  2. I think about the villain’s past. What terrible things have they done in the past? What terrible things have been done to them? Are they victims lashing out or are they just trouble makers? Were they deprived of love as children or were they born that way?
  3. What are their redeeming qualities? Do they love their cat? Collect bone china? Have a soft spot for orphans?

When a reader tells me that they loved to hate my villain, I know I’ve done a good job.

Here’s Selby with one of his closest friends. My heroine Prue has denied them access to her murdered mistress’s bedchamber:

Selby stopped in the doorway and looked straight at Prue for the first time. “Is this the one, Annie?” He didn’t wait for Annesley’s nod, but continued, “I’ll remember you, too. Worth, isn’t it? One day soon, Worth, my friends and I will find out just what you are worth.”

“That’s a good one, Sel,” Annesley said. “Just what you are worth, yes.”

Selby ignored the interjection to peer at Prue in the dimly lit hallway. “Do I know you?”

Prue shook her head. It was true enough. Nobody knew her except, perhaps a little, David.

“She’s the housekeeper, Sel,” Annesley told him. “She probably let you in when you came to see The Diamond.”

“It’s not that,” Selby said. “I have it! She looks a bit like my wife.”

“Which one?” Annesley asked, the question setting him sniggering. “Which one? That’s a good one, Sel.”

Selby stared at Prue a moment more, while she lowered her face to hide her chin; the feature she shared with her sister.

Selby’s next words appeared to be for himself rather than Annesley.

“No. Just the general shape of the face. There must be a thousand women in England who look a bit like Chassie. And she doesn’t have any relative called Worth.”

“Are you coming, Sel?” Annesley said, impatiently. “We can’t swive The Diamond tonight, so we need to find another whore.”

(This post was first published on Caroline Warfield’s blog in July last year.)


Quick update on writing progress

Not this dayI am bowling along, happy as a lark, and then… life.

Encouraging Prudence is languishing at the moment. The plot elves deserted me along with the tooth the dentist pulled last Monday. Poor Prue, who I left sleeping in David’s bed way back in April, still hasn’t woken up to see the note David left her. But I’ve printed the 43,000 words I have so far, and this weekend I’m going back to the beginning to get reaquainted with the story.

Gingerbread Bride, one of the two books I abandoned Prue for, is my novella for the Bluestocking Belle‘s Christmas anthology. I had trouble finding the ending, but I made it on the fourth try, and it is now with two of my Belle colleagues, who are beta reading it.

I have novellas from two of them for the same anthology. I’ve read them once, and am looking forward to reading them again this weekend, and sending my colleagues my comments.

The other book that nudged its way to the top of the queue is A Baron for Becky, which I’m releasing in August. It’s due to the proofreader on 19 June, and I’ve heard back from more than half the beta readers and made the tweaks they’ve suggested, so I’ll meet that deadline easily. I’m leaving it alone this weekend.

I’m planning a quiet weekend to let the jaw finish healing, but next week I’ll have Becky out the door and can focus on Prue. I’ve been asked to launch her novel at BookTown in Featherston in October: my first ever in-person book launch. Which means the first draft needs to be finished by the end of July so I have time for all the editing and book production work. More news about BookTown to come!


How to non-market – a Tuesday Talk

used-car-salesman-2-thumbOriginally posted at 10 Minute Novelists. Mari Christie and I will be posting our thoughts on marketing in a bazillion book marketplace each week at this time. This week, it’s my turn.

I’ve spent a large part of my career as a commercial writer in my own small business. Small business owners are responsible for everything. I was writer, peer reviewer, company book-keeper, chief executive, project manager, strategic planner, stores manager, cleaner of toilets, sales person and, of course, the big ‘M’ word. The one I feared. Marketing. So I learnt how to promote my business by non-marketing; marketing that doesn’t feel like marketing. Marketing that an introvert like me could do just by being myself.

It was good preparation for being a self-published writer. Again, I am running my own business. And again, I’m out in the world vigorously non-marketing.

Non-marketing is about being present

The first rule of non-marketing is to spend time with people who might want to read your book. Get to know them. Talk to them about the things that interest you. Find out what interests them. Be present.

In traditional non-marketing, writers joined Toastmasters, and Rotary, and the local bowling club. They went to book fairs and gardening clubs; talked at schools and writers’ workshops; went to dinner with agents and editors and book clubs. And we can still do all of those things.

Today, we can also spend time with people all over the world, using the Internet. You don’t have to be everywhere; choose two or more from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Pinterest, blogging and all the others. Then go and meet people. Be present.

Non-marketing is about being genuine

If you want a friend, the old saying goes, you have to be a friend. The second rule of non-marketing is to offer others a helping hand. One of the things I really love about the romance writing community is the open-hearted, open-handed and genuine approach to helping others.

This isn’t about reciprocal arrangements: like my page and I’ll like yours, review my book and I’ll review yours. It isn’t about sucking up, either. Being genuine means giving because I can, because I know the answer to your question, or have the contact you need, or have a blog and would love you to be my guest.

The flashy insincere marketers might also be helpful, but always there’s an agenda. Sponsorships are often this kind of marketing. The support comes with strings attached, in the form of opportunities to sell their service or product. Sponsored by [insert name of famous soda drink here].

As non-marketers you’ll be helpful because you are genuinely interested. You want to know about the birth of a friend’s grandchild. You celebrate your friend’s acceptance letter from a publisher because you’re genuinely happy for them. You hunt your research database for an obscure fact someone has asked for. You send you a condolence message because someone’s troubles touch your heart.

Non-marketing is about offering a unique experience

If you’re present in a community who love the kind of books you write, one way you can be genuinely helpful is to offer them your book. Not in a ‘buy, buy, buy; me, me, me’ used car salesman way, but gently, as part of the conversation.

Let’s say people are talking about the kinds of protagonist they prefer. You may, if it fits in the conversation, use a description of your own protagonist to illustrate your point. Keep it short. Make it interesting.

It helps to be very clear about what you do that is different, and to have a few lines you can use. If someone asks what I write, I say ‘historical fiction with strong heroines, heroes who can appreciate them, and complex plots full of mystery and suspense’. It’s a tagline I’m working on, and constantly changing, but it’s getting there. My hero Rede is “a man driven by revenge who needs to move beyond his past before he can have a future”.

And there you have it. I’ve used my work to give two illustrations of my point. And I don’t need to belabour it until you’re bored, or sell you something today. Today, we have more important things to talk about, such as how you can turn a friend into a long-term reader.

Non-marketing is about being good at what you do

Insincere marketers rely on lots of noise to keep driving new customers to their product. Non-marketers know that the best customers of all are the ones who love your product so much that they will sell it for you, by telling all their friends.

So write a good book. No. Cancel that. Write the best book you can. And when you’ve finished, write a better one. Never stop learning; never stop improving. Your best marketing tool is your library of successful publications.

Non-marketing is about building long-term relationships

I don’t want readers. Or, at least, I don’t want just readers. I want to make friends who will stay with me for the journey.

Readers, yes. People who find I offer them a reading experience they can’t get from anyone else, so they wait for my next book and pounce on it as soon as it goes on preorder. People who will contact me and tell me what they like, discuss my characters, adopt my heroes as book boyfriends and my heroines as bff, argue about the motivations of my villains, pick up some of my subtle jokes and codes.

And fellow writers. People who will laugh at the things I laugh at, tell stories about their craft that inspire, amuse, or dismay, help me out and accept my help, understand the journey — its costs and its rewards.

Above all, I want friends who care about books and about story telling, and who are happy to talk about them. And the heart of non-marketing is making friends.


How much should an ebook cost

In a recent post on a Facebook group, someone complained about paying 99c for a book that was advertised for sale, then finding it only had 185 pages. “I don’t think I should have to pay more than that for 185 pages,” she said.

I was a bit taken aback. 185 pages. That’s around 50,000 words, maybe more.

The discussion ranged widely and came to no conclusions, but it sent me back to the perennial question we self-published writers need to solve on their own. What price is a good price for an ebook?

(Note: all the prices below are in US dollars)

Average price for an indie published book

Author earnings says that indie books averaged $3.87 in May.


This is an increase of 5% in the past 15 months. By contrast, ebooks on Amazon from big-5 publishers have increased in price from $8.29 to $9.53.

Average price for a bestseller

According to Digital Book World, the average price for a bestseller in the first week of April was $6.14, and it’s been hovering around $6 for some time. Most of these are by big name authors, and traditionally published. When you buy a big name author, you know exactly what you’re going to get. When you buy a book from one of the big name publishers, you can assume a certain level of copy editing and professional publications values.

Indie books might be well written and professionally published, or they might not. It’s up to readers to decide whether they’re willing to pay 50% more for a ‘name’.

So what is a fair price for 50,000 words?

Third Scribe has written an interesting article on book pricing. They’ve based their assessment on 50,000 words (the same figure, I’ll remind you, as our Facebook friend’s 99c book). I’m not going to quote at length, but here’s the summary table – and it doesn’t include the cost of all the stuff that goes in behind, such as websites, newsletters, accountants, and so on.

Tallying these up…

Editing: $1,200
Cover Art: $400
Formatting: $100
Promotion: $400
Grand total: $2,100 ($12,100 if you count the author’s time).

That is a real, no bullshit, actual, honest to God cost of what it takes to produce a quality book in the digital age.

How many books does an author sell?

It’s hard to get the figures, but best estimates seem to be that 50 to 100 sales in the first year is average, and 250 sales in the lifetime of the book is pretty good.

And remember that, for books sold on Amazon, the author gets 35c of the list price of a book priced under $2.99.

To make back those basic costs – not your time, just your production expenses – at a cover price of 99c, you’d need to sell 6,000 books. That’s 24 times the average.

So people cut corners. They skip the editor and do their own cover art. Which impacts quality and disappoints readers. That’s not a path I’m prepared to go down.

How do readers feel about price?

Of course, the costs to the supplier are not the only factor. We’ve also got to consider demand.

Dear Author posted an interesting assessment of how readers feel about price. The quotes below summarise their views. Click on the link to see the whole thing.

1)  99c = I’ll buy you but I’m in no hurry to read you.  There’s no question that 99c will result in sales but how many people are reading it?

2) $1.99 is a dead zone.

3) $2.99 – $4.99 is the “I’ll try you even though I’m unsure whether I’ll love it.”  I think this is the discovery price range.

4) $5.00 to $7.99 is the “I’ve read you before and enjoyed what I’ve read.”  This price range is reserved for authors you’ve enjoyed in the past and figure you’ll be entertained for a few hours.

5) $8.99 and up is the “I’ve read you before and I love you.” At this price, you are foregoing purchasing at least one other book, if not more.

And Mark Coker of Smashwords has the figures to show that a 99c book may sell more copies, but a book priced between $3 and $3.99 will generate more income.

I have no conclusions

I don’t know the answer. I’m learning as I go, and trying new things. I’ve given away one book, a novella of 24,000 words, to show my writing style to prospective readers. I’ve priced a long novel at $3.49. And I’m thinking of putting A Baron for Becky – a long novella of nearly 50,000 words – on the market at $2.49. (It is currently for preorder at 99c.)

One lesson I did take from the discussion is to be very clear about labelling. So I’m going to change my book descriptions to say how long the books are. Beyond that, it’s all experimentation.