Mince Pies, Tinsel, Tea-towels and Zero Productivity: A Busy Mum’s Christmas

I’m sitting in the near-dark so that our fairy lights twinkle more brightly. My living room is covered in elves, ornaments, Christmas teddies and Christmas blankets (we have three. Why do we have three? I didn’t buy a single one of them. Are they multiplying in my loft? Actually, that wouldn’t surprise me. Everything either multiplies or disappears in my loft. There is no in-between.) Our Christmas tree is in the bay window, dropping pine needles as I write (my husband is a fervent fan of real trees and refuses to even hear of my buying a false one). My children are high on a combination of excitement, copious amounts of Christmas snack sugar, advent chocolates, and general good cheer. And, to help everything, my three-year-old’s pre-school has shut up shop for the holidays early. Everyday it’s just me and her, filling our days with yet more Christmas shopping and gingerbread baking, counting down the hours until my six-year-old finishes school.

I haven’t written a word in… oh, too long. And if I don’t write for long stretches, I tend to get waspish, antsy, frustrated and snappy. For me, writing is a way of letting out emotion and feelings.  And if I can’t write, I get bottled up, which eventually ends in an explosion of bitterness, tears, and resentment, usually directed at my husband (who I love, and who puts up with it because he knows exactly what’s going on in my head).

I have all these ideas in my mind swirling around, and zero time to spend writing them down. Without that morning work session when my daughter is at pre-school, my entire routine is thrown. I don’t get to go for my morning swim or run or yoga session, so that I feel sluggish all day. I don’t get my writing done. I don’t get that time to go over paperwork, or my admin, or anything really. And by the time 9pm rolls around, when I would normally turn on my laptop and work again, I’m too exhausted from having cared for a toddler all day. That, and the fact that this time of year is jam-packed with activities for my family.

Actually, I don’t mind the activities so much. In the last three weeks I’ve been to the theatre with friends (to see ‘A very very very very very dark matter’, which I don’t recommend on account of it being a very WTF? kind of play), a night which ended, as my nights out seem to do, with me cuddling one friend in the back of an Uber at 2am completely inebriated, before getting into bed and waking my husband up to discuss light fittings (I know, I know… but what can I say? He’s a patient man and he indulges me). I’ve been to see my son’s Christmas play not once but THREE times, because as Chairperson of my PTA I need to be there to sell raffle tickets and muster up support (and my son had a solo part this year, and he sang beautifully, a talent he emphatically did not inherit from me). My mother has been to visit and we’ve been into London to look at the Christmas lights, as well as into my local town to finish up shopping for Christmas day. I’ve been to Canterbury to see my nephew sing and play violin in his school orchestra, which was amazing, on account of the orchestra being ultra-talented and also because it was my nephew, who I adore. I’ve been to the RNA London chapter’s Christmas lunch, which was lovely, and I got to sit next to Maggie Sullivan (who has my dream job as resident author for Coronation Street) and hear all about the next book in her series. I also got to speak with Lucinda Lee about the Avengers (harassing poor Fi Harper in the process into seeing the entire MCU series of films) and generally fangirl with her for half-an-hour. I’ve been into London Bridge (my favourite part of the city) to meet with my Best Friend Forever and have noodles and Christmas coffee with her (she’s going back to our hometown in Australia for Christmas so I won’t see her to the New Year now sadly). I’ve also had an impromptu wine and cheese night with my neighbours where I possibly drank a little too much red wine and ate more mince pies than can be good for me.

Rather amazingly, my husband also took me out in this period. He surprised me by texting me in the morning with instructions to ‘glam up’ and meet him in London that afternoon from a particular train. He then met me at Charing Cross, kissing me under the Christmas tree, before taking me out for Mexican food and Margaritas (he knows me too well) to see ‘The Book of Mormon’ (which was irreverent fun and I loved every minute of it).

I still have, unbelievably, a North Pole Tea Party to attend tomorrow, as well as the Year Six Church concert, and then another Christmas party on Friday evening. This weekend I have a visit to Santa booked in, as well as our annual visit to the Pantomime. And then… finally, after what feels like weeks of preparations and parties and visits and decorating and Christmas baking, we have Christmas itself.

I love Christmas Day, but I’ll be glad when January rolls around and we can get back to routine. I’ve outlined my Christmas 2019 and Christmas 2020 novels, and I need- and I mean need- to start writing the 2019 one ASAP.

I know how terribly lucky I am. I have a husband who loves me, two children, a publishing contract, fabulous neighbours and friends (two of whom are a delicious mix of both), and a wonderful family. This Christmas my children will wake to a house full of family and presents under the tree. I already know what my gift is this year: my husband asked me what I wanted, and I said ‘Something French’ (I am a not-so-secret Francophile). So he’s taking me to Paris, for a purpose other than Disneyland, so I can finally see Versailles and the Mona Lisa (I skipped it on my first Paris trip, spending all my allocated time in the Louvre looking at the Etruscan artifacts in the basement (I’m also a not-so-secret Ancient History fan). I’m so, so lucky. I read somewhere once that the cup of gratitude provides the sweetest drink, and I never really understood that. But now, I can definitely say that yes, to be grateful in happiness is definitely sweet.

And I wish the same for everyone else.

Have a holly, jolly Christmas.

With love and gratitude, Sharon.x

P.S And if any of you see me mucking around on Twitter in the New Year instead of writing, set me straight, will you? Please?

christmas cookies
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

 

 

 

Christmas is coming… for the next four months…

So. Mild panic.

I have been asked to write a Christmas novel.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas and this time of year. I love the merriment, the food, the drink, and the sheer joy in the small faces of my children. I’m not so keen on Christmas decorations (my husband and I get caught in our yearly debate on real trees vs fake trees, and tinsel vs tinsel-free) and I’m not so keen on the crowds of people in every town centre, and nor am I keen on the cost (I have a six-year-old and lego is expensive). But while I’m not keen on the aesthetics, I very much enjoy the traditions and emotions of this time of year.

But writing about it? Hmm.

I’ve never attempted a Christmas novel or even a story before. Why would I? I write historical romance novels set in the period before Christmas trees were even a thing.  There was no Santa with his red-nosed reindeer. There were no turkeys, brined or otherwise. The gentle sounds of Bing Crosby crooning ‘White Christmas’ did not float across the Regency drawing room.

But I’ve been asked to write one, and I’m never one to back down from a challenge. So, I’ve pushed my other projects to one side and have given myself four months to write a 80,000 word Christmas book (for publication in 2019, when the new Star Wars comes out, at which point I will be living in the cinema and hardly blogging at all). So, I need to to write 20,000 words in January, or 1000 words a working day. This is doable, provided (and this is a big provided) that I can get the plotting/story and conflict right.

Wish me luck?

I plan on buying lots of mince pies and Christmas food in the January sales, to keep me in the mood over the spring. My husband will be delighted… my waistline not so much.

 

RNA Winter Party…

My love for the RNA runs deep, stemming from my adoration for one of its founders, the late, great Netta Muskett.

My mother was never what you would call ‘academic’, but when she was around fifteen (so this would be the late sixties) she won a book for an English essay she wrote at school. The book she won was The Light from One Star by Muskett,  and when my Mum and Dad emigrated to Australia, she left it with my Grandmother, who in turn gave it to my Aunt, who in turn gave it to her daughter. On a visit to the U.K in ‘96, my Mum mentioned that I was something of a ‘reader’ (a vague definition for her awkward, quiet, head-always-buried-in-a-book child) and the book was produced, still in mint condition, having been long forgotten in a cupboard for nearly twenty-five years.

To say I was entranced was an understatement. Quite frankly, I had never read a book like it. Fourteen-years-old and reading this book by torchlight from my Aunt’s spare bedroom, My younger sister asleep beside me, I was introduced to a world of high society, scandal, and romance.

The Light from One Star tells the story of a renowned British surgeon with a private hospital in Harley Street, whose head is turned by a young actress. Muskett was a talented author with an uncanny knack for breathing life into her characters, and the actress, for all that she is- outwardly- the antagonist of this story, is written with such honesty and charm that it makes it impossible to hate her. Because it soon becomes very clear that the greatest enemy of this surgeon- who marries the actress despite many warning signs that he should not- is really himself.

And that was the kicker that made me stay up all night, reading on. That it didn’t matter what the cold-blooded actress did or did not. That it didn’t matter how the lowly and plain secretary the surgeon soon fell in love with entered and eventually left his life. All that mattered was that this man, this surgeon, this hero-protagonist, was responsible for all the ills that fell his way, just as he was responsible for his own eventual happiness. The whole book was a masterpiece in human emotions and human frailty, and to this day I still adore every word.

Muskett was probably the prime reason I started writing my own novels, taking my own little triumphs and sadnesses, my heartbreaks and happiness, and jotting them down into notebooks, so much so that my mother stopped telling people I ‘read’ and started telling people that I ‘wrote’.

And Muskett is the reason I joined the RNA. She was a founding member of the association, and the day I got my membership card I the post I nearly wept for joy. Because in joining the RNA I was close to a woman who had, for so many years, shaped the sort of stories I wanted to tell. I was doing something that she had done, and I felt so close to her in that moment she almost became tangible before my eyes.

The RNA has brought joy to me in other ways. I love going along to my chapter’s meetings when I can, getting advice and hearing the stories of an amazing grouping women (particular shout outs to Clare Flynn, Sophie Weston, Carol Cooper, Jane Lacey Crane, Fi Harper, Lucinda Lee, and Janet Gover for their patience, stories and sheer openess). And I love going to their events, all of them brilliant evenings, where I get a chance to ‘glam up’ (I’m a mother of two smalls and I rarely get a chance to dress up these days). And on Wednesday evening, the annual Winter Party and Industry Awards, was no exception.

I started the night at The Shard, with my publisher and editors, for drinks with a sweeping view of London at sunset. I love the Shard- they were building it when I moved to London ten years ago and I always associate it with my ultimately good decision to move here. Of course, I set off both metal detectors on entering the building, thanks to the 64 pins I had gripping my hair in place, but after that initial embarrassment it was a quick trip to the 32nd floor.

I got to meet Lyn, Lu, Berni and Jane (who has the patience of a saint for editing my work) and also, delightfully, the lovely Kathryn Freeman and Lynda Stacey- who’d brought with her her husband Haydn (which is probably the best name I’ve heard in a long time). Not being from London they were puzzled by the tube, but I offered to lead them from the Shard to the venue. I’m not sure what Lynda was more impressed with- my innate knowledge of the London transportation system, or my quick change of shoes on the journey (I was wearing designer heels- beautiful but not ideal for walking!)

The RNA host their Winter Party in the gorgeous One Birdcage Walk- an Edwardian library five minutes from Westminster. I love drinking white wine and eating canapés here, surrounded by books… even if they are books I’m probably not going to read (applied mechanics being well out of my comfort zone).

The party was thriving, and five minutes after my sister and I picked up our lanyards and got our first drink, I’d managed to say hello to the lovely Jean Fullerton, whose London sagas always make me smile, as well as to Fi Harper, who knows more about this business than anyone else I’ve ever spoken to. I had a drink and a chat with my fellow Aussie, Janet Gover, as well as a quick word with Carol Cooper. I introduced my sister to the brilliantly talented and brilliantly haired Julie Cohen (and I beg all of you to read her ‘Together’ right now) and also managed to speak with Anita Chapman, Lucinda Lee and the incomparable Sophie Weston.

And this was all before the awards! It was a delight to hear about the new bursaries available to writers, and to see the positive steps the RNA is taking towards further inclusion. And it was also a delight to see libraries, book bloggers, agents and publishers lauded for their efforts in our industry.

I won’t go on about the food (although there was an old-fashioned pick and mix which I did pick and mix from) but I will say the venue was lovely and their efforts much appreciated.

The whole night just flew by, and although I was sad that it was over for another year, I know there is still the RNA Christmas lunch and the spring party to look forward to!

I went home tired but very happy, slipping into bed next to my husband, who woke just enough to ask me if I’d had a good time.

I corrected him with ‘I had a wonderful time’.

With many thanks to the RNA for this amazing party. I can’t wait for next year already.

By the way, the photo below probably shows how tired I was by midnight! I’m such a Cinderella these days, and my heels, while lovely, did make my feet feel they were walking on broken glass by the end of the night!

7735810C-D3ED-40FD-85D1-929C8D1B561F

 

Current WIP…

Now that The Marked Lord is out there and done, a friend called me to ask what I was working on now, or if I would write anything else.

The truth is, I’m always writing something.

I keep to a pretty intense writing schedule (if I don’t I find it very hard to get the words flowing again) and try to churn out 10,000 words a week (term time only, because I’m a Mum and I actually do like to see my children from time to time).

So, from 10-12 Monday to Friday I write without stopping. And then when my kids are in bed I write again, from around 9pm-midnight.

10,000 words sounds crazy on paper, but please remember that of those 10,000 words, around fifty percent will eventually be unusable, or require copious amounts of editing to resemble anything close to good English.

I’m also a multi-writer, which means I tend to have 3-4 works on the go constantly. I like multi-writing, it means whenever I’m not feeling one story I simply delve back into another. And then after a few days I’ll go back to the other story, remembering why I love it.

I’m also a sucker for tropes. Arranged marriage trope? Sign me up. Guardian-ward relationship? More please. Marriage of convenience? I’ll eat that trope for breakfast. Secret baby? Lock the doors and turn down the lights, because that trope gets me every time.

So when I start plotting a new story, I go through my list of tropes and find the one that appeals the most at that point. So right now, I have four different stories on the go. One is a ‘reunion romance’ (because I adore Jane Austen’s Persuasion and love writing stories where a couple who are clearly so right for each other get it horribly wrong, before finally getting it right- what can I say? I like to break hearts before putting them back together again). The second is a regency caper, because historical romance is my favourite, my one true love, and I’m always writing something set in the past. The third is a psychological romance, where I’m not even sure what’s going to happen, and sometimes, what’s even going on. While the last is a sweet novella about love at first sight, which has been an absolute joy to write.

I’m tidying up the novella to send to my editor next month, and I’m hoping the regency will be ready in January. After that? I’m leaning towards a marriage of convenience novel, simply because I’ve never attempted one before. I’ve read plenty, but never actually had the courage to start one- as a person who is generally crippled with low self-confidence (I’m the kind of girl who never felt pretty enough, clever enough, or outgoing enough) I would read the great romance novels of the past and feel like my words always came up short. But with the support of my husband and friends, I’ve been pushing myself recently to try those things I never thought I could. And I really, really want to write a marriage of convenience novel.

But I’m going to update this blog weekly from now on, so my WIP word count might drop. But any writing, whatever the subject matter, is good for an author. And my WIP word count for 2018 is standing so far at 265,986 words, a number I’m very happy with.

I’m off to the RNA Winter Party on Wednesday so hopefully I’ll be back on Thursday with some pictures to share and stories to tell!

Until then, happy writing.

 

Cover Reveal Day…

I don’t know which I find more exciting. That lovely feeling you get when there is an acceptance letter in your inbox, which I can only describe as being almost like a shiver running down your spine before you get that kick of adrenaline in your stomach, or seeing the front cover of your book for the very first time.

Both moments are special, to be honest. Both moments are wonderful. But for me, seeing my book in its actual book form, instead of just as a word document I’ve laughed and cried over for nearly a year, is pretty amazing. Suddenly, with a cover and an ISBN number and that lovely copyright page with my name on it… suddenly, my book seems more real. Suddenly, it seems like a book in the flesh, rather than just the book in my mind.

6919E578-ED52-47DA-9A06-2A290F9DFB39

I have to say, I love the cover that was chosen for my book (thankfully I don’t have to choose the cover or the title of the novel- writing it was hard enough without that stress to add to it). It’s dark and atmospheric and harks back to the romance paperbacks I consumed in my teenage years. But more than that, I love the fact that the couple on the cover aren’t caught in an embrace or a moment of passion. They stand away from each other, as they do in the beginning of the book. This cover is just as I pictured Sophy and Fitz in an early scene of the novel, before they start on the path to falling in love. I adore it. I even love the fact that Sophy has been dressed in blue, which is my favourite colour, and one I wear often.

So there’s something spectacular about seeing this cover for me, in knowing something that was only in my head has been captured and bound in this image. And I’m so glad I get to share it with you.

(author logs off, begins internet search for a replica of the dress on the cover with matching sash).

Baby steps…

Here it is. My long promised blog site.

And yes, I know.

It’s somewhat… delayed.

I do have reasons for this, my own ineptitude where ‘website design’ is concerned being the primary. Strange how I can shop brilliantly on the internet while discussing Star Wars meta and feminist issues on Twitter, all the while uploading images to Instagram, and yet the thought of actually having my own website leaves me terrified. I thought I was technology savvy, but there you go. Even now I’m sitting here with my grape smoothie (I’m in the café of my gym wearing yoga leggings, yet to decide if I will actually be doing any yoga today) wondering if I am getting this right.

And then there are the secondary reasons for this delay, the things I will simply list under a wide heading of ‘life’. My children, my work, my obligations, and the desire to be more than a passing acquaintance to my husband. You know what I mean. ‘Life’.

When I was younger, I had this image in my mind of what being an author would be. I always wanted to be a romance novelist, and even now, if I sit down to write something ‘non-romantic’ a love story will creep in anyway. So I thought I would be like Barbara Cartland, dressed head to toe in baby-pink and sipping a chilled white wine while writing at my desk, my handwriting a beautiful cursive.

Well, I’m no Barbara Cartland, and my handwriting is a terrible scrawl that even my son’s year 2 teacher frowns at. I tend to write in long stretches either very early in the morning or late at night, typing furiously on my laptop, surrounded by either piles of washing or children’s toys or school projects. Sometimes I’ll write with a child under the crook of one arm, while Teen Titans Go! or Scooby-Doo or Frozen or Little Einstein’s plays in the background. I’ll have a mug of lukewarm decaf coffee or Liquorice Tea in hand, because I’m not a great drinker, and can only have one or two glasses before I feel fuzzy-headed and lose all productivity.

So I’m not the image of what I thought an author would be. And one night, while I was lamenting this fact, one of my friends reminded me that no one really knows what a romance ‘author’ looks like because there is no definitive image of one. Cartland, Hibbert, Muskett, Quinn, Laurens, Mathers, McNaught and all the other great names of romance were or are very different people with very different lives.

So this blog, I hope, will let you see a little of mine.

I’m hoping to share something fairly lovely with you all tomorrow… so hope to see you then.

 

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

post