Completing a book in lockdown

In my last blog, I talked about the weirdness of trying to write in lockdown, and how hard I was finding that. I am always honest with my readers, and so I wanted to share some of the process that went on behind the scenes. You can read it here.

So many people reached out and shared that they, too, were finding it a challenge to do normal activities while lockdown was in place. Our whole routines have been completely disrupted, and it’s hard to think of another event in recent memory that has been like this. The only thing I can think of is the Blitz, and sadly that’s almost beyond living memory now.

I wanted to update you with the joyous news that I finished a book yesterday! Not just written, but edited twice, proofread, and sent over to my editor.

I experienced such a huge sense of relief when I clicked ‘send’, because it’s been a real struggle for me to focus on writing. Ther are so many things going on in the world, and my day job interacts with the NHS (the UK National Health Service) on an hourly basis. It’s hard for me to mentally separate myself from the pandemic, and that’s been really hard on me emotionally.

It is thanks to amazing authors who I speak to on a regular basis, and thanks to you, my wonderful readers (thank you, those who got in touch!) that I am able to keep going.

And you know what? I think I’ve broken my funk. I woke up this morning wanting to edit the next book – and I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt like that.

It’s challenging to think about normal life, and what the world will be like when this is all over. But whatever that world looks like, we’re going to work it out together – and with some amazing books by our sides.

Writing in lockdown

Almost half of the world’s population is in lockdown, and so am I. Writing in lockdown has been something I’ve been really struggling with, and after four weeks of it, I wanted to write a blog about it and be really open and honest about it.

If you believed social media, you would think that everyone is loving lockdown! Enjoying baths, playing with their kids – there are some great moments that can be had when you are spending more time than normal with your loved ones.

But of course, there are downsides, and those aren’t the bits that we portray to the world, so it’s easy to get a skewed view on things.

My emotions, honestly, have pendulum-swung from side to side almost every day. Because my day job can be done at home, and my husband is a key worker so is leaving the house anyway, we made the decision that I would not leave the house/garden at all, and he would pick up food when we needed it when he was already out and about.

That means that I’ve not left the house for a month.

And it’s weird! In some ways, I love that: I’m very much a homegirl, and I love just being at home, in comfy clothes, relaxing.

But isn’t it funny: as soon as you are told you cannot do something, all you want to do is that thing!

I was also really looking forward to hosting a few family get-togethers this spring, all of which (of course) have been cancelled.

And in all of this, my writing has suffered. It’s hard to focus on a love scene set in Regency England when you keep hearing doom and gloom on the news.

I find it difficult to write light and frothy banter between my hero and my heroine when I am hearing such terrible news from friends and family about their loved ones.

It all feels a bit meaningless, do you know what I mean?

But yesterday, some of that shifted. I sent out a newsletter to my readers (late, sorry!) and I was really honest with them about how it was challenging, and I was doing my best. I wasn’t even expecting a response, I just wanted to be honest with them.

The emails I have received over the last 24 hours have been so lovely – some of them even made me cry! To know that my readers were absolutely standing with me, that some of them were finding it hard, but that my books – and the books from other authors – were keeping me going…

It reminded me why I love to write, and why I wrote in the first place.

So this morning, I woke up early and instead of lounging in bed (tempting, I know), I got up, headed downstairs, cracked open the laptop, and finally finished some edits on a book.

And it feels great.

How are you doing in lockdown? Are you finding motivation hard? Are your emotions all over the place?

Writing during the hard times

I have been a little quiet on the blog side of things, and I do apologise for that – it’s been a busy and emotional few weeks.

The details I will keep private to protect those I love but suffice to say, I’ve been bereaved about a fortnight ago and it’s been an emotional journey. Writing during such a time becomes challenging for two reasons: firstly because your head is simply not in that creative space, and secondly because there are so many other things demanding your attention.

So how do you keep writing during the hard times? Well, I typically follow a rule of three (always easier to remember!):

  1. Never guilt-trip yourself. When going through an emotional upheaval, the last thing you should do is punish yourself because you don’t reach some vague standard. Be kind to yourself.
  2. Set reasonable goals. Whatever you think you can do that day, half it. Maybe half it again. See point 1.
  3. Be honest with those around you. When you’re struggling, it’s easy to try and hide your difficulties – but people who love you want to help you, and they cannot if they do not know your situation.

They may not help you, but remembering these three points has helped me navigate the last few weeks, and I am sure they will be helpful for me as we enter 2020.

If you are going through a difficult time, my heart is with you. If you’re trying to balance it with writing, I completely understand, and you are not alone.

 

The perfect ending to a romance

I’ve written over 25,000 words this weekend (!) because I was desperate to finish book 3 of a new series which will be coming out next year. The words were just flowing from my fingertips and although I will of course lose some of them in the editing process, I’m glad to get so many of them down.

And yet the bit I found the most difficult?

The ending. Like, the actual ending.

Not the happily ever after bit – definitely got a gorgeous wedding scene in there. What I found difficult was deciding what the very last word on the page should be.

You see, when I finish writing a book, I want to leave my readers with a strong emotion. Usually it’s a sense of happiness, a feeling of rightness with the world. Sometimes I want to make them smile, and occassionally (!) I attempt to make people laugh out loud.

The strange thing is that I’ll never find out if I will succeed. My readers span the globe, but (so far) no one has finished one of my own books in front of me. I read the reviews and I am thrilled when someone enjoys my book – but that lasting emotion right at the end of the book. Do I hit the mark?

And that is why I spent two pages trying to finish this book. I knew I needed the right emotional beat, the perfect wording to end a very emotional journey for both my hero and heroine. But it took over twenty minutes to find the right ones, and they may change again in the editing process.

I’ve just got to do the best I can, and continue to improve my craft. After all, the perfect ending to a romance will always be:

And they lived happily ever after.

Writing deadlines

Well, I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m behind. Weeks behind!

I have a writing schedule that I do my absolute best to keep to, but sometimes, you know what, life gets in the way.

It’s just not possible to do everything, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and think that there’s no way that you can ever catch up, and this morning, that’s how I felt. I’m 16 days behind on my writing schedule, and it’s a challenging deficiet.

But you know what? I’m an author. I get down words. I create worlds. I write romances between heroes and heroines, and I’m so grateful for the people in my life who make it easy for me to write.

Today I wrote over 12,500 words, and you know what? I’m now ‘just’ 12 days delayed, and although there’s still a vestige of panic in my old bones, it’s not deep.

Why? Because I’ll catch up. I always do, and that’s the beauty of being an author. You call the shots. Even this series which I’m working on, which is for a publishing house, there’s understanding and flexibility – because they wonderful people there are authors too.

There’s never enough hours in the day, and there’s always something else I could be doing. But I don’t want to be chained to the keyboard, so I’m going to go out and enjoy the sunshine.

Rain, rain, go away…

I don’t want to confirm any stereotypes of England…but it’s been raining for the last six days.

In June! SIX DAYS!

It’s so grey here near Bath that I’m finding it difficult to write. All my creativity seeps out of my ears and all I want to do is put my dressing gown on (check), put the kettle on (check), and curl up with a good book.

The trouble is, I want to read one and not write one – and I’ve got deadlines to keep! Thankfully my friends, family, and most importantly readers are getting me through. Their little notes of encouragement keep me putting finger to keyboard to create the next most amazing love story.

And as the last book in my Ravishing Regencies goes on pre-order (which you can grab here!), it’s a nice way to end one era and start to plan for another.

As I sit here on the sofa, looking out of the window at the rain, I’m reminded that there are so many amazing things that happens because of rain.

The trees are now green, that sweet smell of wet earth, and the refreshing of crops – all this can only happen because of rain.

So here’s hoping that this rain will bring after it a renewed sense of creativity. I can’t wait to get started on the third (!) book in my new series for 2020!

Historical accuracy in romance

The age old question that many of us historical romance authors face is this: how much accuracy is needed?

It’s a difficult one to answer because there are two main groups of thought, both of which have their own positives and negatives.

Group 1: The Purists

“Write a historical romance without all the details 100% accurate? Nonsese!” They cry. “The whole point of a historical romance is to lose yourself in the time period, to feel as though you could actually be there!”

And in some ways, this is true. Nothing is more jarring when reading a historical book than for a character to use modern day slang, or for a historical character that definitely wasn’t alive then to appear on the page.

But the downside to absolute purist books are that authors can spend hours, days even, hunting down the exact time of cotton thread used in the sewing of a particular type of boot, which is actually only described in passing on one page. It’s a very exhausting way to work for the author, and readers don’t often realise how many hours of work have gone into describing the type of candle wax in a dinner scene.

Group 2: The Narratives

“It’s the narrative story that actually matters!” This group cries. “What does it matter if a character is wearing a gown that was popular five years earlier? It’s the emotions that the character, and the reader feels that matters!”

And in many ways, they are right. Our readers typically assume that we know what we’re doing when writing historical romance, and that means that small slips in accuracy go unnoticed if the story is strong enough.

The downside of this, however, is that for those lovers of the time period, they will quickly notice when something isn’t quite right, and that can mean they put down your book in disgust – and not only never pick one up again, but advise others that they don’t even bother.

So what’s the answer?

Honestly, I’m not entirely sure. I saw in an author Facebook group this week that someone got themselves tangled up in knots about whether a certain word could be used in her book based in 17th century England if it had not been invented until the 1800s – and the heated debate showed that there are strong feelings on both sides!

On the other hand, have you ever tried to read a 17th century novel – one written during that time, I mean? Sure, there are plenty of words that you recognise, but could you tell your addle-plot from your borachio, your gapeseed from your mulligrubs? Some of my favourites are nipperkin or pickthank.

You see, if historical accuracy is taken too far, then the story actually gets completely lost. So I’m all about balance: I sit between the two camps.

What do you think?

Planning a historical romance series

One of the biggest challenges of being an author is planning a historical romance series. I know that there will be people who disagree with me, but I think this is true for three reasons:

  1. Planning a series, any series, is complicated. You have way more characters to keep track of, you need to ensure that things like time of the year or even years in a decade don’t get all loose, and that your characters’ descriptions don’t change!
  2. Writing historical fiction is complicated. Depending on the level of detail you want to bring into your books, there’s a huge amount of research that you have to put in before you can even think about writing a word!
  3. Creating believable romances is complicated. This is especially true for a series because romance readers always want a ‘happily ever after’ – so how do you get them interested in reading the next book?

Put all of that complication together, and what have you got?

Yeah. It’s complicated.

But planning a historical romance series doesn’t have to be something you avoid, just because it’s complicated. What you need to do is have a really clear strategy to combat those three problems. Here is how I make sure that planning a historical romance series doesn’t need to be the end of your writing career – before it’s even begun!

Keeping track of everything

For me, it’s spreadsheets. For some authors, it’s notebooks. I’ve even got an author friend who has a whole wall whiteboard that she sticks post-it notes on! The point is, find out the best way that you need to keep track of everything – from character names, ages, descriptions, and emotional arcs – and treat that as your Bible.

Have more than one copy of it. And then never let it go.

Commit to the research

Especially true if you’re writing a series, if you know that you’re going to be creating 3+ books in the same historical time period, remember that all the research that you’re doing is essentially divided by three because you can use it as least three times. That makes all those hours worth it.

I’d also recommend typing up your notes so that you can use the ‘Find’ function to hunt down slightly remembered details. You’ll thank me later.

Link your books together

There are a whole bunch of different ways that you can do this for romance series. I’ve used seasons of the year, siblings, and secondary characters becoming primary characters. I’ve read childhood friends and neighbours on the same street. Whatever you pick, it will need to be something cohesive enough to make it clear to your reader that there’s more of your ‘world’ that they can explore, without being so restrictive that your readers get bored of you.

So is that it?

I wish. Planning a historical romance series is one of the most rewarding and challenging things that I think an author can do. Think I’m wrong? Tell me in the comments below!

Editing Away…

You know, I’m going to be honest: editing is exhausting. Honestly, it’s just exhausting! I can easily write 15,000 words in a day, but editing for more than three hours I start to get a headache and I have to look away.

Editing is challenging, especially if you are editing your own work. You know what you are trying to say, and you just kind of assume that the reader will understand you.

You can’t see the mistakes.

You can’t see the errors.

You can’t see the inconsistencies.

And so you spend hours staring at a print out of your latest manuscript trying to work out where you’ve gone wrong, hoping desperately that you’re not going to cut out anything that is golden!

It’s why I depend so much on my Beta editors. They don’t just point out when there’s a wrong word, but when I’ve forgotten that a heroine starts a scene wearing a green dress and ends the scene wearing a blue dress. When I introduce a new character and then never actually follow up with them. When I add a secondary storyline that goes…nowhere.

I could go on, but you can see the challenge. So a big thank you goes out to my Beta readers, my Mum (the best editor in the world!) and any poor editor that has to look through my manuscripts.

Because they are probably awful. Sorry!

It’s Almost Spring!

You know, I can’t be the only one who is desperately waiting for the summer. I love the sun, I love the heat, I love the sound of laughter as picnics spread across green grass, I love birdsong…

…yeah. You get the general idea. I just love it.

So when I start to notice the signs of spring coming, I just can’t help but start to get a little happier. The nights are a little warmer, the sun lasts a little longer in the evenings, the swallows start to return, and I can think about putting away the winter coat and getting out the spring jacket (I mean, this is Britain. It can still be miserable in the middle of summer!).

And yet something in me is a little sad. Because I love being outdoors so much, I find that I want to spend less time at the keyboard and more time topping up my tan.

But this year I have so many amazing book projects that I can’t do that! I have three more books in my Ravishing Regencies series coming, along with a super secret project that I can’t talk about right now, but I will in a few weeks…

So I am trying to get as much done as possible while the days are chilly and frosty, so that you, my lovely readers, have lots of nice books to read!