Friday, 25 October 2013

The Blog Affair is now available!

I'm celebrating the launch today of my fourth novel, The Blog Affair. The road to its publication has been such an exciting journey and I'd like to thank my editor, Zee Monodee for all her help and input.

The Blog Affair is a contemporary romance with a chick lit flavour, and has been released by Decadent Publishing’s Ubuntu line – a new line that focuses entirely on African romance and stories set in Africa. Here's a little bit more about the book...


Twenty-something South African Emma Bradshaw has a pattern of falling for unsuitable men and starts a blog about these so-called “serial datists”. Her search for new beginnings takes her to Cape Town, where she gets a job working for sexy author, Nick Reynolds. Romance with her boss is a no-no, but slowly, Nick works his way around her defenses. Trust him, or not, especially with her awful track record with men? When an anonymous male reader of the blog challenges her on her ideas about the male species, Emma realises she must confront her past and find her true self before she can move forward...and love can blossom again in her future.


“For the past few weeks, she had been thinking a lot about changing her life, and had been toying with the idea of creating her own blog so that she could clarify her thought processes. She’d always kept a diary, and a blog, in a lot of ways, was an online diary—with the added benefit that she could interact with people online. The idea of venting her emotions in cyberspace was appealing, and in some way, symbolic of letting go…. And she certainly needed to let go. She went through the blog registration process, and then frowned at the blank screen as she contemplated what she should write for her first post. After a few moments, she started typing.

Serial Datism
The first time I ever met a serial datist, I was nineteen years old. At that age, I wasn’t capable of recognising the warning signs of this particular species of the human male. Needless to say, I got burned. Badly.
Serial datism is a concept I’ve been pondering recently. And it’s something I hope to examine in this blog. Any comments from readers are welcome, therefore, as I attempt to shed light on a variety of the dating male that has me completely bemused.
The best way to do this, I’ve decided, is to debate in an open forum—where I, and any other participants in the discussion, can flick on the switch, in a manner of speaking, and illuminate the matter.
I attract serial datists, and so it is perfectly fitting that I should introduce this topic into cyber space. But this doesn’t mean I’m an expert at identifying them. You see, the tricky thing about serial datists is that they aren’t easily defined.
They come in many shapes and sizes and forms, and they may even mutate! They can start off in one form and end up in quite another shape and size within a small space of time. And therein lies their danger.
Okay—to introduce myself. I’m Penelope (well, that’s one of my names) and this blog is called Penelope’s Pantry, because like Penelope from ancient Greek mythology, I’ve had loads of suitors in my life.
And the pantry part? Well, a pantry is a dark storeroom, and this is where I hope to stockpile my thoughts and feelings and emotions. On neatly stacked shelves, of course. I’m a fanatically neat person, and like things to be tidy.
So let’s start at the very beginning (my ordered mind demands this) with a definition of a serial datist: He is a male who, like a bee, goes from one woman to the next, landing on each female blossom for a short period of time. When he leaves, he stings them.
But unfortunately, unlike a bee, a serial datist doesn’t die after he stings. He goes on to sting again and again, and the only way to kill him is to swat him, or stomp on him with your heel. Or leave out a bowl of sugared water in which he can drown. But, on second thoughts, I think the latter technique is for ants....
Be that as it may, before anyone starts wondering whether I’m a convicted killer, I hasten to assure you I am not. I’ve certainly felt a strong desire to stomp on the various bees that have entered my life, but fortunately for these creatures, the thought of killing causes me to break out in hives. Therefore, it is only a fantasy I have indulged in from time to time.
Now that we’ve cleared up the fact that I’m not a murderer, I would like to point out that the bee who delivers his nasty stings is the real killer in the scenario. Why? Well, it’s obvious. He kills your feelings, and leaves your emotions bleeding to death. Some more pedantic readers out there might point out that bee stings don’t cause you to bleed. So what—I’m using it in a figurative sense.
But, and here I’m not being figurative at all, bees can make you swell up. Besides the fact that their stings can cause you to comfort-eat, it is possible to develop a life-threatening allergy to them. And I’m afraid that’s what’s happened to me. I am allergic to serial datists AKA bees AKA Emotionally Unavailable Men.
But I’m jumping ahead of myself. That is simply one of the categories of serial datists. According to my calculations, there are at least four others.
Allow me to list them:
1) The afore-mentioned Emotionally Unavailable Male
2) The Wannabe Player
3) The Commitment-Phobe
4) The Bad Boy
5) The Misogynist (before he finds a woman to control) I will be examining each category in more detail later. But in the meantime—any comments from readers on what I’ve already expounded are most welcome.
Posted by Penelope on Tuesday, July 8 at 08:32 p.m."

The Blog Affair is now available on Amazon.

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Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Realistic Romance

Is there such a thing as a realistic romance novel? People usually perceive romance novels as flights of fancy. However there are a number of authors who explore real life issues within the context of a romance novel, and do it very well. One such author is Iris Bromige. She wrote numerous novels from the 1940s to the 1990s and I’ve read as many of her novels as I could find in various libraries and second-hand book stores. (Unfortunately, her books are out of print, so I don't own many of my own copies).

I read somewhere once: “Choose an author as you choose a friend,” and I believe I did that when I chose to read Iris Bromige. When you invite a piece of fiction into your life, either you’ll “click” with the author or you won’t. Sometimes, you won’t understand why you don’t enjoy a book (the writing is good, the characterisation is excellent) but there’s just a missing element that you can’t put your finger on. That missing element is “book chemistry”, if you will. This applies to friendships, as well. We don’t choose our friends because of their excellent characteristics or their fine qualities, but because we click with them on some level; we have something in common with them and can identify with them to some degree. The same applies when you choose to read the work of an author in its entirety. If you choose to glom an author, you’ve chosen her/him as your “book friend” for want of a better expression.

Iris Bromige wrote gentle tales of love, family life and friendship. Her books are philosophical on a number of levels, and she portrays a wide spectrum of emotions. Greed, revenge, jealousy and hatred are themes she includes in her writing, and her books, although romance novels, are not romanticised. Instead she includes all aspects of human nature, writing about its many foibles in a perceptive, interesting way. I’ve learned a lot from her – and her gentle wisdom is something that I value.

When I first read one of her books as a teenager, I remember being a little disappointed. At that age, I liked reading romantic fiction that was very romantic, and Iris Bromige was a little too… well, unromantic for my liking at first! Strangely enough, a number of her female heroines tended to be idealistic and romantic in their outlook on life, while her heroes were invariably extremely realistic and matter of fact. This created balance in her books - between fancy and fact, romance and realism. However, as I read more of her work, I started to enjoy her writing more and more, as I realised I’d found an author that wrote romantic fiction with a realistic twist. Her characters are usually professionals, and I identified particularly with the female characters to a large degree.

It’s interesting to read the work of an author when it spans across decades. People no longer speak of “the permissive society” today, but in the sixties and seventies, this was something that was discussed and debated to a large extent, and Iris Bromige wrote about the changes she perceived in Britain as the years went by. Her books were always set in the year in which she wrote them, and they give a certain insight into the attitudes towards love, marriage, sex and family life in the society in which she lived.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Creating Strong Female Characters

Women can so easily be conditioned by society to believe that we aren’t worthy of love… everywhere around us there are messages that women are too fat, or too old, or not pretty enough… just not enough. I would say that all women suffer from some sort of insecurity or other.

A male friend of mine once told me that men see their romantic relationships as just one piece of the pie that is their lives, but that relationships for women can often be the whole pie.

Perhaps women do think about relationships more than men do, but a strong woman will never make her relationship the whole pie. It’s vital for a woman to remember her little girl dreams and go out and find them, and to focus on the things that bring her pleasure (her friendships, family, pets, hobbies, interests and sports, for instance). A fulfilled woman is an attractive woman.

In order for a woman to be happy in a relationship, she should choose to be with a man who is crazy about her otherwise she WILL end up hurt. Have you ever read a love story where the hero doesn’t madly cherish the heroine by the end of the book? And yet real-life women, for whatever reason, often stay in relationships where they don’t feel loved or cherished…

Creating female characters in fiction that are both strong AND realistic can be quite tricky, and a balance needs to be struck. Strong female characters must show their vulnerabilities in order to come across as both human and likeable. What’s important, however, in order for the female characters to be termed “strong” is that they don’t allow their insecurities to govern their behaviour at every turn. They should acknowledge their insecurities and hopefully grow and change as the novel progresses.

Healthy men are attracted to happy women who love life and aren’t dependent on a man for their happiness. And I would say that the key to creating a strong female character in a novel is to ensure that she maintains a healthy balance in her life, and loves herself first before she gives her love to any man. Only then will she be truly happy in a relationship.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The Essence of Attraction - Part Three

Another crucial element when it comes to creating attraction between a hero and heroine is likeability. Now I’m not saying that the hero and heroine will necessarily like one another all the time. In most romance novels, sparks are usually flying, and it’s fair to say that the hero and heroine don’t always see eye to eye on matters. But in a good romance novel the hero and heroine will often find themselves liking each other – even if it’s against their will. 

Leading on from this is the idea of humour as an import aspect of attraction. In a heated discussion between the hero and heroine, what often diffuses the scene, and also adds to the likeability factor between the two characters is humour. Nothing is more likely to create a buzz between your two main characters than some humorous exchanges.

Humour and intelligence are often linked, and when two characters connect, it’s because they have an appreciation for each other’s mind or way of thinking. This is a very important element of attraction because if two characters cannot connect on an intellectual level, then they’re doomed as a romantic couple… just think of Mr and Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice for a telling example of a couple who were mismatched intellectually… If the heroine never catches the hero’s jokes, or she finds him an inferior intellectually, any attraction between the two will fizzle out after a while, and die.

Mr and Mrs Bennet from the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice

Now I’ll come to the final element of attraction – which being the most obvious, I’ve left till last… and this is physical attraction! The hero and heroine must find each other physically attractive otherwise the relationship will never get off the ground, let alone approach anywhere near an altar.

Do you have any other aspects of attraction you’d like to add to my list? If so, please leave a comment…

Monday, 15 July 2013

The Essence of Attraction – Part Two

In my previous post I outlined three important elements that create attraction between a hero and heroine in a romance novel, namely mystery, desire and confidence.

Another important aspect in creating attraction between a man and a woman is unpredictability. In the beginning of a relationship the hero shouldn’t be able to predict the heroine’s behaviour, and vice versa. This generates romantic tension in a relationship, which creates an interesting dynamic between the hero and heroine. Of course, as the romance progresses the main characters will become more familiar with each other, in that they’ll start to know each other better, but this shouldn’t make them predictable.

What adds to the attraction between a man and a woman is some sort of challenge. The hero should find the heroine challenging in some way. Even if you’ve created a meek and mild heroine, something in her demeanour should challenge the hero. For instance, the hero might find it exciting to see if he can discover whether passion lurks beneath the quiet surface of the heroine; or he might try and find out why she behaves in a particular manner with certain people, while behaving quite differently around him…

The heroine should also find the hero challenging – either to her ideas about love and life in general, or something in his personality should intrigue her to get to know him better.

Social status is another important aspect of attraction. This doesn’t mean that the hero must be a powerful, wealthy character, but he should be able to command some sort of respect from the people around him. It boils down to a natural authority the hero should command, to be well… a hero! A similar thing applies to a heroine – she should have aspects of her character that other people admire, because think about it – if no one in the book likes and respects her, why would a reader bother to spend time with her between the covers of a book?

In my next post I’ll continue to elaborate on this theme…

Monday, 1 July 2013

Cover Reveal: The Blog Affair

I've received the cover of my soon-to-be-published novel, The Blog Affair, from my publisher. Getting excited as the publication date comes closer - it'll be published in October.

Here's the cover!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Essence of Attraction – Part One

When you write a romance novel, the attraction between the hero and heroine needs to crackle off the pages. It’s this romantic tension between the two main characters which drives the story forward and makes you want to continue reading.

An important aspect of attraction is mystery… the hero and the heroine need to spend time wondering about each other. A good way to create mystery in a novel is to have short, sparkling scenes of dialogue between the hero and heroine, interspersed with scenes where the main characters reflect about their interactions with the other person. The more they wonder about each other and try and figure each other out, the more they will become attracted to each other.

Another important aspect of attraction is desire… in order to keep the desire building between the hero and heroine, you should create obstacles between them that need to be overcome. This applies particularly to the hero of a novel, because the more he has to work for the heroine, the more he will appreciate her. Heroes in romance novels tend to be Alpha Males, who have the world (and most women) at their feet. That’s why it’s so important for men of this ilk to work hard for the heroine, because heroes who have it all need to be shaken out of their complacency if they’re ever to fall properly in love.

The third important aspect of attraction is confidence… even if you’ve created a shy, retiring female character she needs to have some element of confidence in herself, if she is ever to be a believable romantic heroine. If a heroine has no self-belief, it will be hard for the reader to believe in her and her love for the hero – it’ll appear to be a wishy-washy kind of thing without form or substance. The hero also needs to portray confidence in a romantic relationship so that the heroine (and the reader!) will fall in love with him. Just as a man leads a woman when they are dancing, in the same way a man’s confidence will either sweep a woman off her feet if it is present, or cause her (and the romance) to stumble if it is not.

In my next post, I will elaborate on other important elements of attraction, which are vital for a romance to be believable.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Historical vs Contemporary Fiction

Writing modern day fiction vs. writing historical fiction… which is easier? I’ve been pondering this question recently, especially as I have published two Regency novels as well as a modern/chick lit novel. Writing historical novels is far less hazardous than writing modern stories, I believe. Hazardous might be an odd choice of word, but for me writing a modern day story is a dangerous enterprise. You see - I cannot resist putting real people into my stories. When I write an historical novel, it’s easy to for me to disguise my characters. Great Aunt Sue is far less likely to recognise herself if she is dressed in a dramatic floor length gown with her hair swept off her face in my historical novel than if she is dressed in a skirt and blouse, and her rather scuffed brown shoes in my chick lit novel.

It’s not that I consciously look for real people to base my characters on - it’s just that when I’m writing a book, more often than not, someone I know - usually someone with an idiosyncrasy of some kind or other pops in to my head, and I think, “Oh - she’ll be PERFECT for the role of Jane or Sarah or Angela” and I promptly put them into my story. Usually a character who has been inspired by a real life person will take on a life of his or her own, once they’re within the pages of one of my novels, and often they change in quite noticeable ways, sometimes beyond recognition. But the fact remains that when you base a character on one of your friends or acquaintances, there’s always the chance that the person you’ve based the character on will find you out…

However, I’ve noticed that some people are quite pleased at the idea of being a character in a book - particularly if that character is the hero or heroine. It’s the secondary characters that I worry about more i.e. the best friend of the heroine, who wears too much makeup, for instance, and is always in trouble with men, or the heroine’s goofy male friend who complains to her about his lack-lustre love life, or alternatively, the charming bad boy who breaks hearts wherever he goes, or the bossy colleague who’s always telling everyone what to do. We all recognise these people, and it’s the most natural thing in the world that they should flavour the pages of a modern day story. And so I walk through a minefield when I write my chick lit stories, hoping that my characters (based on real people) are not too recognisable.

When I spoke to my editor about this, she set my mind at rest. In my chick lit novel, Send and Receive, I have based a number of the characters on people I know. When my editor commented that a certain character in the book reminded her of an acquaintance of hers, I explained to her that the character she was referring to was actually based on someone I know (I even wondered if my editor and I might have a friend in common). And when she commented on how another character bore a striking resemblance to one of her friends, I explained that that character was based on a friend of mine.

Finally my editor said to me, “Alissa - the characters in your books are people we all know,” and that is when I realised that my guilty secret wasn’t so bad after all. All fiction writing should try and capture the universal in the particular to some extent, and if you succeed in doing that, then it’s possible to reach a point where you realise that writing about individuals isn’t so individual after all. The common thread of humanity that binds us to together is universal in its reach, and the girl who lives next door to you might very well resemble the girl who lives next door to someone who lives thousands of miles away.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Dating Lessons From Historical Romance Novels

Historical romance heroines can teach modern day women on the dating scene a few interesting lessons… In Regency England, amongst the gentry and nobility, young women were brought to London and presented to Society. The young ladies would dress up in beautifully made gowns, and attend Coming Out balls where the eligible bachelors in Town would ask them to dance, and as they talked and waltzed about the room, the men and women would carefully assess each other’s marriage potential.

Fast forward to today and the modern dating scene and it appears as if there are virtually no similarities to historic courtship practices. Yet going out to a party is very similar to attending a ball, and going out on a date with a man, doesn’t differ too much from accepting a gentleman’s request to drive in the park with him.

What impresses me about some of my favourite heroines in romance fiction is their clear sighted view of relationships and what they entail. Rather than falling instantly in love with a man and feeling on cloud nine straight away, a sensible romance heroine assesses a man’s character before handing over her heart to him. She also requires a certain standard of behaviour from him, and expects him to treat her chivalrously. Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer’s novels are populated with female characters who have this particular mindset.

The old courtship rules have long since been abandoned, and there are no longer any modern rules when it comes to dating. However, if a woman wishes to survive in the dating jungle out there, adapting some standards from the past could prove quite beneficial. This might seem old-fashioned in view of the fact that women are now liberated and can date as they please, but being selective when it comes to dating, and only dating the men who treat you well, would be a good starting point.

This might seem obvious, but so many women seem to only want to date the men they cannot have, or the men who give them a difficult time. Perhaps some women view unavailable men as a worthwhile challenge to pursue, but chasing someone who isn’t interested enough to make an effort with you, seems silly to me.

A heroine in an historical romance novel might very well feel attracted to an unavailable male, but she would rarely make the mistake of chasing after him as society discouraged such behaviour, deeming it unseemly. Digging deeper in to the psychology of why society discouraged it, it becomes apparent why it was so frowned upon… a woman could never propose to a man, so if she chased after a man she was putting herself in the vulnerable position of being publicly rejected by him. Therefore, waiting for a man to show his interest (while ensuring that she let him know that she welcomed his advances) was the more sensible option.

And thinking about it, unless it’s a leap year, a woman rarely gets down on one knee and proposes to a man. So the more things change, the more they stay the same after all… Times may change but human nature doesn’t.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Heroes and Villains

Listen to a friend talking about the new boyfriend she’s fallen in love with and you’ll more than likely hear that he’s smart, clever, funny, exciting, good-looking, fascinating, and altogether wonderful. Fast forward to when she’s had an upsetting break up with him somewhere down the line, and you’ll get a very different picture drawn of him – she’ll probably say he’s mean, selfish, nasty, ungenerous and ugly to boot.

It’s funny how we can draw a picture in our mind of someone, and completely alter the colour, shade and line of that drawing within a split second, based on our emotions. The way we interpret something about someone can be either negative or positive, but in essence, it’s simply our interpretation of the facts.

A common theme in romance novels is to create a heroine who initially perceives the hero of the novel as a villain, but by the end of the book, when she’s got to know him, she usually slots him firmly into the hero category, as she starts to see all of his good qualities.

Realistically, though, we’re all a mix of good and bad, and most men have their heroic characteristics (rescuing kittens stranded in trees) and villainous tendencies (leaving beard stubble in the basin). But there’s a lesson to be learnt here from romance novels. Essentially in a romantic relationship, a man wants to be perceived as his girl’s Hero, and a woman wants to be her man’s Dream Girl. If a woman treats her man as if he’s her Hero, even when he messes up, she’ll bring out the best in him. And if a man treats a woman as if she’s his Dream Girl, even when she’s irritating him, he’ll bring out the best in her.

Often, though, when the rose-tinted glasses we wear early on in a relationship come off, and we start to see each other’s flaws, the Hero and Dream Girl treatment we’ve been giving to each other comes to an end.

But knowing how to shift our viewpoint from positive to negative within a short time span can be a very useful tool in dealing with conflict within relationships. It’s easy to interpret someone’s behaviour based on our own negative emotional response to it, but remembering that it’s only our interpretation of the behaviour can be very liberating.

Of course, repeated bad behaviour from a romantic partner could signal an abusive relationship, which it’s imperative to leave, but giving someone the benefit of the doubt and assuming their good will is, I’d say, vital to long-term happiness in a relationship.

In The Dashing Debutante, I created a feisty heroine, Alexandra, who gave the hero of the book, the Duke of Stanford, the benefit of the doubt when she heard something negative about him. I’ve included the extract here:

“There you are, Miss Grantham,” Lady Barrington said. “I have been meaning to have a word with you.”
“Good evening, Lady Barrington,” Alexandra said formally.
Lady Barrington acknowledged the greeting, before continuing, “I’m afraid that I am the bearer of some bad news, Miss Grantham. I feel it to be my duty, though, as one woman to another, to inform you about it.”
“Bad news, Lady Barrington?”
“Unfortunately, yes, my dear. When Sir Jason informed me of the wager, I was shocked. Quite shocked!”
Alexandra stiffened at the mention of her bĂȘte-noire. “What are you talking about, ma’am?”
Lady Barrington smiled sympathetically. “Sir Jason has informed me that the Duke of Stanford’s pursuit of you is merely the result of a wager that he and Stanford have entered into. A while back Sir Jason challenged the Duke, saying that you were such a high and mighty Miss that he doubted whether Stanford could manage to add you to his circle of admirers. So, if you believe his intentions to be serious, my dear, you are sadly mistaken. I thought it would be best to let you know this.”
Alexandra regarded the Marchioness with a sceptical look on her face. “I was under the impression, Lady Barrington, that the Duke of Stanford and Sir Jason were not on good terms. I therefore find it difficult to believe what you have said.”
Lady Barrington shrugged her thin shoulders. “My dear child, my concern is only for you! I would not fabricate such a tale, I assure you. However, if you doubt my words, by all means ask Sir Jason to verify them. You will not like his answer, but it will be the truth, nonetheless.”
“Better than that, Lady Barrington, I shall challenge his grace with these accusations,” Alexandra said coolly. “Now if you will excuse me, ma’am, I have to find my grandmother.” Nodding her head, she made to move away.
Lady Barrington put a restraining hand on Alexandra’s elbow. “Just a moment, Miss Grantham. I advise you not to question his grace about what I have said. He will only deny the story.”
Alexandra looked at the other woman for a long moment. “I am surprised that you say that, your ladyship. I would never have said that the Duke of Stanford was a dishonest man.”
Lady Barrington shrugged her shoulders again. “One can never be sure with gentlemen, Miss Grantham. In my experience, men are very rarely honest in their dealings with women.”
“And yet you expect me to ask Sir Jason to verify your story?” Alexandra said gently. “As I have said before, Lady Barrington, I may be young, but I am in no way stupid. Good evening.”

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Conflict in Romance Novels and Real-Life Relationships - Part Two

What is it about a relationship – fictional or not – that sustains it in the long-term? And can a conflict-ridden couple ever change their destructive pattern and live in peaceful co-existence?

In romance fiction, one of the most important elements of writing a great story is to create characters that somehow grow and develop as the story progresses. I wouldn’t want to read a story where the characters remained stagnant and had an inability to mature and change.

And in real life the same fundamental elements are necessary for a relationship to be ultimately satisfying.

The difficulty about romantic relationships, though, is that they contain… two people! Two people who come to the relationship with two sets of dreams, hopes, fears, hurts and histories. And somehow they have to find common ground, feel attraction, fall in love, and get along and understand each other to the point where they can start to plan a life together.

Internal conflict of some sort in each party is a given in any relationship, but how that conflict is managed can often mean the difference between a promising relationship, or a gone-off-the-rails-before-it-even-gets-started kind of experience.

So why do so many real-life romances derail within a few months?  Let’s look at romance novels to get a little guidance… Sometimes, when I’m reading a romance, and I observe the internal conflict that the hero and heroine are experiencing, I start to doubt that they’ll ever solve their problems and get together.

However, at the back of my mind, I have the comforting thought that there is an author behind the story whose duty it is to deliver a guaranteed HEA, so I sit back, relax and enjoy the read (or the ride depending on how caught up I am in the book). Misunderstandings, misperceptions, and miscreant behaviour are all sorted out by the author, and the HEA is ultimately reached.

But, if you think about it, in real life, there is no one behind the scenes manipulating our own love stories, and any misunderstandings or misperceptions about the person we’re romantically involved with are not automatically cleared up by some magic third-party author waving a relationship wand in the air.

And what makes it worse, is that during the infatuation stage of a relationship - when a host of crazy hormones are racing through our bodies - it’s very hard to remain calm and rational about a relationship, especially as people often arrive at different destinations along the relationship road at different times. This can create a host of problems that can make the most die-hard romantic throw up their hands in the air in despair. (Actually die-hard romantics often have the hardest time of all with relationships, as their expectations of romance are so high).

Sometimes a relationship that is full of conflict is simply not meant to work out, and it’s good to know when to let go of someone who just isn’t right for us. But sometimes, the problem isn’t so much with the other person, as much as it is with our own internal conflict.

So what can we do about how this affects our relationships? I can only speak from a female perspective in this regard, but I think a big problem that a lot of women have with relationships is that they’ve been disappointed by men in the past, and bring that negativity into their new relationship. When their new love interest disappoints them, they take all the accumulated disappointment of their past relationships and project that negativity on to the man they’re with, which is – let’s face it – not a recipe for a successful relationship with someone.

It’s all about the heroes and villains that exist not only in romance, but in our own imaginations… and in my next post, I’ll be elaborating on this theme.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Conflict in Romance Novels and Real-Life Relationships - Part One

Conflict is necessary in a romance novel to drive the story forward. If the hero and heroine of a book meet in the beginning of the novel, get on fabulously well, and decide straight away that they want to spend the rest of their lives together it would make for pretty dull reading. There’d be no conflict in the book driving it forward, and therefore no story. Conflict in a novel can be either external or internal, but usually it is a combination of both, and once the conflict has been satisfactorily resolved, the story comes to an end, and the inevitable HEA (Happily Ever After) is reached.

When I read Regency romance novels as a child, I longed to be the heroines of those stories. I dreamed of driving along in horse-drawn carriages, and twirling around candlelit ballrooms while having spirited discussions with my own dreamed up heroes. The thought of being a heroine in a novel thrilled me, and often was the time that I wished I’d been born in another era so that I could appear in my own Regency romance.

However, as I got older, I started to look at all the ordeals the Regency heroines had to go through on their paths to happiness, and I realised that they usually weren’t all that happy on their way to their HEAs. It was then that I came around to the way of thinking that a less conflict-ridden relationship in real life might actually be preferable to those drama-filled romantic tales, no matter how entertaining they were to read…

But, like it or not, there is always some external and internal conflict at the start of any real-life relationship. Guy meets girl, sparks fly, attraction is acknowledged, and the beginning of a relationship starts to unfold – sometimes unsteadily, sometimes more smoothly, but usually there are some bumps along the way.

Although conflict in relationships is inevitable, I wonder whether we don’t take this to the extreme, sometimes, and manufacture conflict in relationships where there needn’t be any. A single girl on the dating scene can usually recount far more dating horror stories to her friends than peaceful journeys on the way to love…

Have we, perhaps, been conditioned by romantic movies and books into thinking that unless there’s a lot of conflict in a real-life romantic relationship, then that relationship isn’t all that passionate and exciting? Do some people manufacture conflict that is unnecessary because they find the lack of drama in a relationship dull? Couples who fight, and then make up in a continuous cycle may find it thrilling, but is it really sustainable?

The interesting thing about the internal conflict a hero or heroine experiences in a romance novel is that unless it is resolved, then the HEA won’t be attained – or alternatively, the HEA may be attained, but it’s unclear whether the fictional couple would be able to sustain a long-term relationship beyond page 253 of a book, making the ending of the story unconvincing.

It is often the story after the HEA that is the most intriguing. Have you ever wondered about how Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy fared after she moved to Pemberley, or whether Jane ever fought with Mr. Rochester after they got married? What is it about a relationship – fictional or not – that sustains it in the long-term? Can a conflict-ridden couple ever change their destructive pattern and live in peaceful co-existence? Does internal conflict ever completely resolve itself in the story of life? I’ll be examining these questions in Part Two…

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

TSTL Heroines in Romance Novels

In the romance reading community there’s an acronym for a certain kind of heroine – the heroine who is described as TSTL (Too Stupid To Live). Every romance reader has probably encountered her within the pages of a novel, and she can engender such frustration in you that you literally want to throw the book against a wall. (Books like these are often described as “wallbangers”).

You all know this kind of heroine – she’s the one who purposefully walks into danger, or never believes anything the kind, sensible hero says. She’ll interrupt him when he’s giving his point of view, disappear in a huff, without resolving the conflict between them, and act like an annoying, immature child.

I’ve come across a number of these heroines in romance novels, which makes me wonder why any sane author would create such a poor example of womanhood. It’s quite bizarre. Perhaps it has something to do with traditional views of femininity and masculinity? In order for a hero to be masculine and “rescue” the distressed damsel, she needs to behave stupidly in order to get his attention?

However, I must admit, that in order to create a fun, exciting story (particularly if you’re writing an historical novel) sometimes it’s necessary to create situations where the heroine is rescued by the hero. However, for it not to be annoying, it’s important to at least show that the heroine has valid reasons for her behaviour. I tried to do this in The Dashing Debutante, my first novel, where Alexandra, the impetuous heroine, often falls into scrapes, but not to extent that the reader thinks her brain has gone into hibernation.

Writers of TSTL heroines often describe the heroine as clever or intelligent, and then, in order to create a certain plot device, the heroine suddenly suspends all rational thought and does something really stupid, which makes you want to pull your hair out in frustration!

I once read a book where I actually disliked the heroine so much, that I didn’t care what happened to her. If she had died, I wouldn’t have minded, which made me wonder whether I wasn’t a terrible person – a character murderer if you will. And that’s the crux of the matter. Romance fiction is escapist fiction, and readers want to laugh, cry, smile and nod their heads in satisfaction as they read these books. But when a character behaves in a way that doesn’t make sense, or is inconsistent or just plain stupid, the story dies for the reader, to the point where they might just put the book down, never to pick it up again. Or alternatively throw it against a wall.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Write what you know, but how?

Today romance writer Gina Rossi is a guest poster on my blog. Gina's second novel, Life After 6 Tequilas, has just been released by ThornBerry Publishing. Gina's debut novel, The Wild Heart, was nominated for the 2012 Joan Hessayon Award. Welcome Gina!

Hello Alissa, and thanks so much for inviting me to talk today about writing and my new brand-new release Life After 6 Tequilas.
Here’s a question: How many times have you finished a book with a satisfied sigh and thought, I could never, in a million years, have written this book, because I don’t know all that STUFF?
Aspiring writers are told, over and over, to ‘write what you know’. How, when you don’t know anything? I’m in awe of people who write fantasy.
Have you ever been stuck under the Polar ice cap with Mr. Universe in a nuclear submarine that’s about to explode? Or run for President, married a sheik or won the Grand Prix? Have you led barefoot men into battle, built an aeroplane out of coconut shells, dived on a wreck of a Spanish galleon, or performed brain surgery? No? Me either. Note to self:  Must. Get. Out. More.
As with so much in life, writing what you know starts with the little things. In my brand new book, Life After 6 Tequilas - just released by Thornberry Publishing on 4th March 2013, details at bottom of page – I portray some of the conflicts and stresses of ordinary life,  and hastily add that the realistic issues faced by my characters are – I hope – lightened with a chick lit angle and accompanying, essential dash of humour.
I placed the book in a familiar setting, casting my heroine as a regular middle-class young working woman in London, so similar to many I know. My heroine, Beth, juggles single motherhood with full-time work. Her son, Jacob, is nine months old as was my grandson, Sam, at the time of writing. They are peas in a pod –  the most pleasurable research I’ve undertaken to date, particularly the swimming lessons.
The story’s set in 2011, so I used true, current and traditional events to mark the passage of time. This backfired because I soon realised I had to wait until the end of the year before I could finish the book – otherwise I’d be writing what I definitely didn’t know!
The reference Armistice Day, apart from being relevant to the story, is a tribute to the British armed forces, past and present who gave, and continue to give, their lives for our freedom.
 Moving on to calmer subjects, like furniture (LOL, as they say), Beth’s boss has an antique partner desk similar to one my father had when I was a child. He did all his writing there and unfortunately sold it when he moved – it’s gone out of the family but it’s there, forever, in my book.
Plants in Beth’s tiny garden are pulled, gasping, from my own repertoire of long-suffering hydrangeas, hellebores and dead clematii.
A piece of jewellery is similar to some my daughters own, and Beth’s painted plates and green-stemmed wine glasses are the ones I coveted years ago in Italy, and still regret not buying.
In conclusion, like your characters, each event and object has a past life, present impact and, possibly, future repercussions. If you add what you know about them, then you add rich, colourful, personal detail to your story. Old hat and I-never-go-anywhere to you, but fresh and interesting to your reader.
As for the new cafe called ‘Cupcake’ in Wandworth, I wish such a place existed!
It’s been great to be here, Alissa. Thanks so much for inviting me. I’d love to hear other writers’ comments on the task of writing what you know. Readers are most welcome to join me on:

Life After 6 Tequilas by Gina Rossi is available in ebook format from Amazon. Paperback coming soon.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Writing on Valentine’s Day

The month of February is always about romance, yet the nature of expected romance means that it isn’t always all that romantic in the classic sense of the word. Have you ever read a romance novel where the hero proposes to the heroine on Valentine’s Day? I certainly haven’t, and I think there are a number of reasons why this is so. Firstly, when it is expected of people to be romantic, there’s an element of predictability about it all, and when you’re writing a romance novel, unpredictability is key in creating a strong, compelling plot. It’s far more dramatic for a heroine to receive a proposal from a hero on a windswept cliff after he’s rescued her from nearly tumbling down a cliff face, say, than for that same hero to propose in a staid restaurant setting with hovering waiters all around on 14 February.

And it’s far more romantic, it can be argued, to receive a bunch of roses unexpectedly from your lover for no particular reason than that he was thinking of you, than to be given a dozen red roses on a day that has been specifically designated for romance.

Having said this, simply writing off Valentine’s Day as unromantic and therefore not acknowledging it isn’t all that easy to do, either. By ignoring Valentine’s Day because it’s commercial, you are sending a very clear message as well, in that you are refusing to offer a romantic gesture to your loved one on a day that celebrates love.

The thing is, it may be my opinion that proposing on Valentine’s Day is unromantic (with my hero-and-heroine-on-a-cliff-face scenario playing through my mind). However, someone else might perceive receiving a proposal on Valentine’s Day as the epitome of romance. It all depends on the person concerned. If a man who finds Valentine’s Day commercial, for instance, is involved with a woman who finds Valentine’s Day incredibly romantic, wouldn’t it be a loving gesture for the man to set aside his reservations about the day, and make his loved one feel special by celebrating it with her?

Because that’s, in essence, what romance is all about… doing something that makes your loved one feel special - even if it goes against the grain, and even if it means spending a fortune on flowers that you could get at a far cheaper price on another day.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Ten Questions For Mary Jo Putney

Today, I welcome the warm and wonderfully talented Mary Jo Putney to my blog.

Mary Jo Putney

New York Times bestselling romance author Mary Jo Putney was born on a farm in the Northeastern United States and early realized that she had a reading addiction, a condition for which there is no known cure. Her entire writing career is an accidental byproduct of buying a computer for other purposes.

Traditional Regencies were her first love, and she has since expanded into historical and contemporary romance, young adult, and historical fantasy. She has written somewhere around forty books and won numerous awards, including two RITAs from the Romance Writers of America. She lives in Maryland, and most of her stories include cats.
Ten Questions For Mary Jo Putney
1) Of all the books you have written, do you have a favourite?
MJP: I love them all! But if forced to choose, it would probably be The Rake, a Regency historical with an alcoholic hero. I’d read so many romances where the hero drank like a fish but never suffered consequences. I wanted consequences. So the book is not only a romance, but a realistic description of addiction and recovery. (Yes, I like to write stories with edges.)
2) What’s a typical work day like for you?
MJP: The first thing I do is feed the cats, or there’s no telling what might happen. (Four cats, all rescue kitties.) After breakfast, I check my e-mail, do chores, go out to exercise three mornings a week, and generally waste time. Most of my serious writing is done in the evening. I am not very efficient!
3) What does your workspace look like?
MJP: My writing room is a sizable upstairs bedroom with a wide window looking into trees. Two walls are all bookcases, and the custom built workstation is U-shaped with more bookshelves.  (Custom because I’m short so the work surface is a couple of inches lower than standard.) There’s a sofa against the other wall, as well as a very comfortable easy chair. Oriental carpets on the floor, lounging cats, and usually it’s not all of that neat. <G>
4) What do you enjoy most about being a writer?
MJP: I love the flexibility of organizing my own time, and I love working for myself.  Like most writers, I like spending lots of time alone with my imagination.  It’s lovely to create characters, stories, and settings. 
5) What are you working on at the moment?
MJP: I’m on the sixth book of my Lost Lords Regency historical series. The heroes of the different books were all students at a school for boys of “good birth and bad behavior.” All were square pegs in round holes in different ways, and they bonded with each other to create powerful, life long friendships. The heroines are a varied and independent lot.
6) When you have time away from your desk, what do you enjoy doing?
MJP: I like to travel, cook, play with the cats, chat with friends. The usual sort of thing! I loved visiting South Africa, and hope to return in the future.
7) Any tips about writing and getting published?
MJP: The idea of being a writer is lovely, but the reality is seriously hard work. So read, read, read to learn what works in stories, what succeeds in the marketplace, and what you love. The kinds of stories you love to read will probably be what you should be writing, because that’s where your passion is. Then write, write, write — you have to keep sitting down and doing it, over and over, even though it won’t always be fun. 
8) How do you go about writing a novel – what process do you follow?
MJP: Sometimes I’ll start with a plot idea, other times with a character who has appeared in other books and now will step to center stage. If it’s a plot idea, I need to figure what kind of character is best suited to that plot. If I have a character, the reverse is true: what story will best test that character? What kind of partner will make the best match?
After I’ve played with an idea for a while, I’ll write a short synopsis, maybe 6 – 8 pages.  If I can work out a beginning, a middle, and an end, I have a structure that means I can write the whole book.  There’s still a lot I don’t know, but once that framework is in place, I can make it work.
9) What have been the biggest changes in your genre over the last ten years – both positive and negative?
MJP: That’s a big question!  The changes have been huge and varied, but the biggest is the explosion of e-books. Traditional publishers had a limited number of publishing slots, and had to choose books with fairly wide appeal. Now e-publishing can produce a much wider range of stories for every niche imaginable because the production costs are so low. This is very positive. The negative downside is that with so many e-books produced, the quality varies enormously, and it can be hard to find the stories that you’ll love. The e-book market is a work in progress, still evolving — but it’s exciting to be part of it. <G>
10) How (if at all) has your writing style changed over the years?
MJP: I loved Georgette Heyer and other British writers who reveled in language, so when I started out, I did the same. I never met a compound sentence I didn’t like. If two words were good, four were better. <G>  Over time, I’ve learned to streamline my writing to use fewer words more effectively.  But apart from that, the same kinds of stories and characters still interest me. I love history and good people struggling to do the right thing, and definitely always happy endings!
Thanks so much, Mary Jo, for answering my questions!
MJP: Thanks so much for having me, Alissa!

Friday, 8 February 2013

A Guide To Writing Romance - Part Eight

Authors often do a lot of research before putting pen to paper, and it is so very tempting to include all the fascinating details you’ve uncovered about a particular topic. However, it is important to restrain yourself! I once read a novel, set in Turkey, that was more of a travelogue than a romance.  The author clearly couldn’t resist including loads of extra details about Turkey. However, when a reader feels the needs to skip past large swathes of descriptive text to get to the meat of the story, then you know there’s something amiss.

Here are some more tips about this theme from “The Guide To Writing Romance” online course:
Eighth Secret: Every detail has a job to do

Detail is compelling. It’s exciting to research, and satisfying to include in your writing. It can tell us so much about your characters and your setting.

But too much, and you can choke on it, as James Wood says, in How Fiction Works.  Significant detail must have a reason to be there. Every description and every subsidiary character must take the story forward or develop your main characters.

Don’t get carried away by your research and write reams just for the sake of showing it off. Research is like good make-up. It should make you look better, but you shouldn’t be aware of it.

Think of your best friend. Which details, of her appearance and habits would you choose to include if she were your heroine? What will tell us more about what she looks like and what she’s like as a person? It could be as simple as a dimple, if people respond to it, or she uses it flirtatiously. Or it could be her habit of alphebetising her bookshelves.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

A Guide To Writing Romance - Part Seven

My first two novels were set in Regency England. In order to write about this period convincingly, I immersed myself in that world. I read all of Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels, bought books on Regency clothes, gardens, houses, and fashions and researched all manner of other details necessary to create a believable setting. One of the biggest challenges of writing an historical novel is the fact that no-one alive actually lived during the time you’re writing about, and so every detail of the setting you are creating has to be carefully researched.

Alternatively, it may seem that writing a book in a modern setting is therefore much easier.  But this isn’t necessarily the case. My third novel, Send and Receive, was set in Durban, a city I had lived in for a number of years. This made it easier for me to write about it. However, if I hadn’t lived in Durban, I doubt I would have set my novel there as it is so easy to get the atmosphere of a city wrong. Often you need to live in a city to know the myriad small things that lend it atmosphere. It’s not something that can easily be researched online, although online research is, of course, an invaluable resource for any writer.

Read on to find out more about this topic from “The Guide To Writing Romance” online course:

Seventh Secret: Give your characters a believable setting.

We want to see your characters in their natural environment. It must be vivid and have just enough detail for us to believe in it. To do this, you have to know it very well yourself.

You need to know far more about their environment, and perhaps their occupation, than will ever appear in your book. Don’t set out to set your first love story in a hospital if you know nothing about how doctors and nurses work.

Knowing the details gives you the confidence to write with authority. And it allows you to include just enough telling details to create a credible and solid world.

If the world in which you’ve chosen to set your story is not familiar to you, then you’ve set yourself a considerable task: you’re going to have to research it.

The internet, naturally, makes research into places – towns, villages, countries even - a much easier proposition than it used to be. In your research, look for not just the broad vista, but the specific detail. Here, as in almost every other area of writing, it’s the telling detail that convinces more than the generalisation.

But if you’re setting your romance in the world of nuclear physics, medicine, astronomy, or even a legal practice or newsroom, you’re going to have to do your research on the ground. Visit the locations, take photographs, and talk to the people.


A little thought experiment this time. What setting springs to mind when you think of romance? It could be as familiar as your own office or town. It could be the more exotic location of your favourite holiday.
Perhaps it’s the office where you worked as a temp, or the volunteer work you did in your gap year.
Consider how much additional research you may need to do to fill in the blanks. Do you know the details of other people’s jobs? Could you describe the walk to the beach? What trees grow beside the pond?


Monday, 4 February 2013

A Guide To Writing Romance - Part Six

How do you show your characters’ traits and personality, without falling into the trap of telling your readers what you think they should know about them? The secret is to learn to reveal things to the reader without being prescriptive about it. It’s a subtle tool of the writing trade that can take a while to learn, but it’s very important to look at your writing critically to see whether you may be falling into the “telling” trap.

Read on to find out more from “The Guide To Writing Romance” online course:

Sixth Secret: Show, don’t tell.

Show us what your characters are like, don’t tell us. Don’t explain to us that she’s struggled out of poverty and that she’s wary of men. Show us in her overly scornful attitude to material wealth, and in her skittishness around the hero.

Don’t tell us he’s kind. Show us his kindness through what he says and does, and how other characters relate to him.

This is a powerful skill to develop, one of the most important ways to lift your manuscript above the slush pile. No-one wants to read reams and reams of exposition – in which you explain to your reader, at great length, what is going on and why.

Once you’ve developed this skill, you’ll be able to do all that, and more, without explaining it in tedious detail. You’ll quite naturally show your characters to us through the things they say (and choose not to say); through their actions and inactions and how other characters relate to them.

You can also tell a great deal about characters through the details that you choose to include. What are they wearing, for example, or what do they hang on their walls? Do they have a house full of animals, or is their kitchen obsessively neat?


Look around you right now, wherever you happen to be sitting. Which details of your environment would you, as writer, choose to highlight to show something about yourself or your setting?


Friday, 1 February 2013

A Guide To Writing Romance - Part Five

A good writer plunges the reader into the story’s action, and doesn’t intrude on the story. But how can a writer intrude on a story, you might say? Surely the story belongs to its creator? It is very tempting, as a writer, to use your novel as a platform to elaborate on certain themes that are close to your heart, but unless something moves the story along, it shouldn’t be included.

Read on to find out more from the next extract from All About Writing's “The Guide To Writing Romance”:

Fifth Secret: Write in strong scenes.

Too many novices commit the cardinal sin of storytelling: Their narrative consists of just “one damned thing after another”, as Elbert Hubbard put it.
It should never be a series of “and then…and then…and thens.”  Neither do you want to tell us what happened, as though you were telling us quickly over the phone.

We want to feel we are there. We want to watch the action unfold and hear the lovers argue and make up.  Plunge us into the action by telling us the story in a series of tangible scenes that show us what’s happening to them.

Each should have a dramatic point which drives the story forward or reveals an important aspect of your hero or heroine’s character. You may choose to write a scene to extol the beauties of the landscape – but only if this gives us insight into the heroine’s state of mind.



If you like, try this to see how you get on with scenes. Write a short scene in which your heroine, who has just discovered that the hero has refused her leave application, marches into his office to find his personal assistant massaging his shoulders.
Show us what happens from the time she enters the room. What do they say to each other (in direct speech, or dialogue) and how does the scene end?  You may choose to include a scene where two people merely pour tea and exchange pleasantries – but only if this sheds light on your heroine, or someone says something shocking in this context of domestic banality.