Monday, 30 September 2013

Gustav and Serena come back to life

I realised how real my hero and heroine were to me when I sat down in front of a blank computer screen on Monday morning last week. I was dreading it, to be honest. Or at least I was dragging my feet.
    I'd taken the summer off, refusing to think about book 3 of my Unbreakable Trilogy until The Silver Chain was launched onto an unsuspecting world and The Golden Locket was thoroughly edited. Then I had the York Festival of Writing to prepare for and deliver.
    Now it was mid September and there was no excuse. I tried every type of procrastination. Food that needed buying. Shoes that needed ordering online. Morning television to be watched. Nigel Slater recipes to try.  But now the house was empty, the kids were at school. The deadline was approaching, and I had to go back to New York where I left my characters.
    Unlike The Golden Locket, which picks up the action a couple of weeks after the cliffhanger of the first book, I decided to start The Diamond Ring immediately after the cliffhanger of the previous book. So they were already in position, waiting for me, frozen on their marks since July like actors whose director has just shouted 'Cut!' One of them had to move. One of them had to speak. They both had to react. But it was up to me to wind them up. I had to re-draw their physicality, their clothes, their gestures, all while pressing home the subtle signals showing the intensity of their relationship.
    I won't say what the shocking moment was where we had left them. But something happened which meant that they were forced to spring into action. Fast. And I think that's what helped, because once Serena had reacted in a way that made no immediate sense to Gustav - although if I've done my job right it should make sense to my readers - the questions and explanations started to flow, all in the context of an action sequence. So the drama made up of words and gestures, panic and urgency, discoveries and tension leading up to a volcanic confrontation, all started to fall naturally into place.
    By the time I'd finished page 3 I sat back and realised that we were properly re-acquainted. The two of them had come back to me. I always have a cinematic view of my characters and their locations anyway, but Gustav and Serena really were inside my head and, even more of a relief, they were inhabiting my story.      They may be facing their biggest, deadliest threat yet, but they are three dimensional and full of life. Eyes flashing, hair flying, shoes tapping - and of course lips and hands eventually finding their way back to each other, to remind us all of the passion that has burned so fiercely since the Halloween night when they met!
   And now that I've finished chapter 1, I've got all those old writer-in-progress symptoms back again. A conversation that slips into my mind when I'm lying in the bath. A canny description of someone or something as I'm driving along to fetch the kids. Scrabbling for paper and pen when a new character's introductory phrase comes to me.
   So hi, Gustav and Serena. I'll try to be gentle with you! Meanwhile, here's a gratuitous torso on a billboard in Manhattan, near the Meatpacking District where the action of Book 3 opens.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Down to Earth - Back from York Festival of Writing

Well, what a weekend of writing, teaching, laughing, drinking, talking, eating, and learning. From Thursday night, when I arrived at what appeared to be a deserted uni campus and was shown to a little single room which made me feel like a 19 year old student again, through to Sunday night, when I staggered back home, it was like being in a creative bubble, or on another planet, far away from loved ones, cooking, housework, even my usual diet of TV! Although the other kind of diet was more than satisfied with fantastic food, copious coffee, tea and biscuits all day long, and a bit too much nice white wine!
   And instead of my husband and sons, I was surrounded by birds of the same feather, all of whom had one thing on their minds. Who spoke the same language.  Who didn't glaze over or pat you patronisingly on the head when you said what you do, or what you dream of doing. That is, writing.
   When up to 300 aspiring and published writers, agents and publishers are gathered together, there will be one topic of conversation. Writing. Sub-divided into characterisation, plotting, dialogue, showing not telling. Genre, sub-divided into romance, historical, sci-fi, fantasy and, yes indeedie, erotica (of which more later!) And dreaming. The dream of sitting across the little table during the one-to-one sessions, facing an agent, and seeing a certain Simon Cowell-esque click in the eyes as they say, 'I like your submission and I'm taking you on.'
   I will never get over the excitement of being paid for my first short story, right through to meeting my latest Harper Collins editor and seeing my novel in Tesco, and I will never fully realise I've achieved my own dream, so seeing the hope and determination, the energy and humour of the people flocking to festivals like these is really humbling as well as inspiring.
   I have to say I haven't been as nervous as I was before giving my first workshop since my first job interview, or my first day at university, or climbing on a plane to take a job in Cairo. Or my wedding day, blissful though it was. Anyway, I had the best part of Friday and Saturday to anticipate it, but there was always such support and advice from fellow authors who quickly felt like friends that it was hard to be anxious for long.
   My erotica workshop had about 15 'customers', and I reiterated my blurb that I wanted everyone to leave their inhibitions firmly at the door before we jotted some naughty words on the blackboard to get us going.

(This image is from a menu board in Amsterdam, actually, but you get the idea!!)

Then I told them my story, how a romantic rejection became my first erotic short story, and then I gave them some technical stuff about setting, character, the use of senses, building a sex scene and so on. I then read some beautiful lines from D H Lawrence to illustrate great sex scenes and some hideous examples of how not to do it from the Bad Sex Awards.
   Then it was their turn to write. 10 minutes to hit me between the eyes. And my goodness, what a fantastic, uninhibited, warm, tender, adventurous clutch of offerings was read back to me. I realised that while my nerves were melting away, my class were trembling with anxiety at the prospect of a)writing and b)reading out loud, but they should have been proud of themselves. The pieces were fantastic.
   I was a little disappointed with one person who refused to write anything 'as 10 minutes wasn't enough' and another who refused to read hers out loud or let me read it for her, but the others not only read theirs out, eyes shining with pleasure when I praised them, but also clustered round me to chat some more at the end of the class.
   Although my abiding memory of the hour was of laughter and enthusiasm, apparently there was talk of my workshop at dinner later, including a couple of people who professed to be shocked by it. What was it that offended them? Seeing the word 'fuck' on the blackboard? Well, they were the ones who evidently firmly dragged their inhibitions into the room with them, know what I'm sayin? To all the others, thanks a million, both for entering the spirit of it and being my first ever guinea pigs!

This is also a sign from Amsterdam, but as I didn't take any pics in York, I couldn't resist it, or this one:
In fact, Writers Workshop, how about a writers' festival in Amsterdam next time!!!?

Friday, 6 September 2013

York Writing Festival 13-15 September

Well I signed up for this several months ago and now it's less than a week away.I'm nervous, and excited, too.  The Writers' Workshop is organising the popular writing festival in York, and this is my first time as a participant. Judging by the video of last year's festival on the campus at York University, it's a well attended affair, full of bright eyed, busily scribbling attendees, competent, attractive writers sharing their art, and jolly organisers running around making everything run smooth as silk.
  So what am I doing this year? Well, as well as helping aspiring writers, hopefully, I'll be doing what most of us, if we're honest, like doing best. Talking about ourselves. It's not just that, though. It's talking to people who all want the same thing. To write. And understanding each other's language.
  As well as brief one to one tutorials with eight different writers, all of whom have submitted high quality manuscripts on all genres from erotica through mystery and crime to sci-fi, I am giving two hour-long workshops. One on erotica, which should be a laugh. I've gathered from other workshop-devotees that what people most want to do at these conferences is write, write, and write some more, and then be brave enough to offer up their attempts to the others in the group. So I've had fun thinking up some exercises for everyone to indulge in and I've called my workshop 'Behind Closed Doors.' I've also asked everyone to leave their inhibitions at the door, because we want to write some red hot snippets!
   The other workshop is on short stories, and is entitled 'In a nutshell.' My erotic career began with short stories, and they are therefore my first love. But short stories are overlooked in this country. You won't get a short story published unless you're already a best selling author. I tried to get an agent to take my volume of short stories under my real name called 'Stabbing the Rain' which I had self published on Amazon, but that was what he told me (Watch out, though, mate - I know you're going to be at the festival so I intend to thrust a copy of my stories under your nose!).
  But I don't want to discourage anyone from trying it, even if only as a fantastic exercise before expanding into a novella or novel. So first we will be trying our hand at summing up an entire scenario in a few short words to begin with, then fanning them out into something small, but perfectly formed.
  We will all have our name badges on, and be milling about, endlessly socialising, and in between gulps of coffee we'll be signing our books, too. The Silver Chain will be in evidence, and some other past Primula Bond works, and in my suitcase I will be trundling up through the country carrying copies of my self published short story collection, too.
   Next time I will report back on how it all went! Meanwhile, here is a symbolic lantern of learning!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Passion amongst the Paddles

Well, another steamy evening in London and this time I took R with me as we were seeing No 1 son for his 25th birthday for dinner afterwards, and meeting his new girlfriend. So up town, we drove all the way through Knightsbridge, Piccadilly, Holborn, Clerkenwell which was great fun, the old place looking shiny and new and actually some of it IS shiny and new in the 15 years since I left. What's with this new 'Crossrail' thingy carving up Tottenham Court Road? Anyhoo, Hoxton was our destination, and the Hoxton Hotel our crash pad. An area I've never been before, so it was like a real city break.
   Anyway, to the Sh!Womens Store, pink-painted sex shop extraordinaire in Hoxton Square and down to the basement, adorned with paddles, handcuffs, tutus, creams, lotions, hen party gear, and of course some great books, to listen to some erotica authors I hadn't met before but chatted to a lot on Twitter: Justine Elyot, Kristina Lloyd and Ms Taylor, extremely worthy winner of the recent Daily Mail/Black Lace short story competition. Also K D Grace was there from the last In The Flesh reading I went to, and on her blog she has written her own great account of the same evening.
   I am still getting used to the friendliness, support and mutual nervousness of a writers' gathering. There's always a great welcome, smiles and enthusiasm. And I think I may have put my finger on why it feels so comfortable. It's because you're suddenly with people who speak the same language, rather than friends and family who listen politely but tend to glaze over when you talk of inspiration, deadlines and royalties... I wonder if it's the same rapport in a room full of accountants, interior designers, or plumbers?
  Anyway, inevitably some writers look more confident than others, but there's a certain fragility placing yourself in the face of a rapt audience and fellow authors as we start to read the work that for months has been created in the silence of our own heads, and our own homes.
   Because Kristine was caught up in traffic, the lovely Joanna who runs the sex shop asked if me or K D would like to read, and because I genuinely happened to have a copy of The Silver Chain with me to give to my son's girlfriend later, and was maybe fuelled a little by the lovely champers, I agreed to read a few pages before Kristine could arrive and hit us with her full-on blow job scene!
   Justine read a piece about some amateur dramaticists which was wonderfully funny, reminding me that erotica doesn't always have to take itself so seriously (note to self: RELAX!), and then Ms Taylor, shaking with nerves, read her stunning debut story about forbidden inter-racial love and lust. What an eye opener, and a great new talent, and bless her she was TOTALLY unfazed by an interruption by a rather mad-eyed pair who came charging down the stairs and who we didn't realise until later were shoplifters - trousering a vibrator, no less - who chose the wrong evening to mess with Renee who saw them off quick-smart while Ms Taylor continued calmly reading downstairs! Let's hope that vibrator gives that shoplifter some seriously unsexy experiences!
  There was champagne and cupcakes and a quietly attentive audience, and then it was time for R and I to slip away, back into the narrow streets full of hipsters, and into the roaring den that is The Tramshed for meat, chicken and my lovely son who was tickled pink to introduce his girlfriend to 'my mother, the eroticist!'
  I took a picture of ten pink paddles, hanging on the wall, but can't seem to upload it, so here is a sexy red rose I took for my photography portfolio instead!