Sunday, 17 August 2014

Dear Quillers #1 - Plots and Sub-Plots

Apologies for taking so long to get around to starting the Dear Quillers column. I’ve spent the last few weeks chasing my own tail. Sadly one of our westies was taken ill and died, which, any pet lover will know, is just as painful as losing any member of the family.

I also had a birthday bash on Facebook which went very well. I’ve been for physiotherapy for my Achilles Tendonitis and have to go back in 3 weeks to see how the exercises are going and then to sort out my shoulder.

But now onto Dear Quillers. If you remember, Sue Barnard won my first competition on the blog, with her question:

Books cannot live by romance alone - so what advice can you offer for helping to construct a convincing and compelling sub-plot?

Some romance publishers don’t want any sub-plot and do indeed live by romance alone. Mills and Boon novels are wonderfully constructed to deal with just the emotions and conflict between the hero and heroine.

The Romantic Novelists Association Awards are structured so that novels with a predominant romance plot score higher, whereas those with a larger sub-plot (or plots) tend to score lower. So the important thing to remember is that you are writing a romance, first and foremost, and if writing for a particular market to give them what they want.

As I said in a previous post, I’ve always found it difficult to write a ‘straight’ romance. Whenever I got bored with my story or characters I threw in a dead body. It took me a while to balance things so that I had a romance and a sub-plot that tied together cohesively.

Any plot in a romantic novel has to have some bearing on the main romance. The characters must have a vested interest in the outcome of any sub plot, whether it be crime, intrigue, or as in the case of Sue’s novel, The Ghostly Father, which is based on Romeo and Juliet, a family feud. You need to ensure that these different ‘plates’ are kept spinning throughout your novel.

And Romeo and Juliet are a very good example of how to balance the different plots and sub-plots. In the story we have several plots.

Plot 1: The main romance between Romeo and Juliet

Plot 2: The feud between the Montague’s and Capulets (this is introduced first in the play, to add greater meaning to the fact that Romeo and Juliet fall in love at first sight).

Plot 3: How this feud affects the younger members of the families, thus leading to Mercutio and Tybalt’s death, and Romeo’s exile, taking him away from Juliet.

Plot 4: Friar Laurence’s own plot to try and bring the family together.

Plot 4: The plot for Juliet to feign death, which backfires horribly.

I’m sure I’ve missed something out there, but look at how everything comes back to Romeo and Juliet. The family stops them begin together. The death of Romeo’s best friend, Mercutio, leads to him killing Tybalt, which then means he’s exiled from Verona, taking him away from his beloved Juliet. Juliet’s plot with the Friar to fake her death, brings Romeo back to Verona and … well, you know the rest.

A simpler and more up to date example is one that I often use and that’s the film Die Hard. No, it’s not a romance, but it has romance in it, in the form of John McClane’s relationship with his estranged wife, Holly. When he tries to stop the terrorists, he’s not just doing it for all the other innocent hostages. He’s doing it because the woman he loves is in danger – hence ‘vested interest’.

How do you construct a convincing and compelling sub-plot in a romantic novel? The main thing is to ensure it always has a bearing on the romance. If you find yourself spending too long dealing with plots that has nothing to do with the hero and heroine, and which does not affect them directly – or indirectly – then ask yourself what you need to do to bring the story back to them.

Even if, as in many Regency Romances, you have a secondary love affair, it still needs to have some bearing on the main romance. For example, in Pride and Prejudice, the secondary romance is between Jane Bennett and Mr Bingley.  One of the reasons Lizzie Bennett turns Darcy down is because he is the one who persuaded Bingley that Jane Bennett did not really care for him. She is dismayed by Darcy’s prejudice towards her elder sister.

Later, the less savoury romance between Lydia and Wickham also affects the budding romance between Lizzie and Darcy. Or at least Lizzie believes it does, thinking that Darcy will want nothing to do with her now her younger sister has behaved so outrageously. This time she doesn’t blame him either, because she too is horrified by Lydia’s behaviour. This turns out to be a last minute ‘black moment’ and all is well, but it still gives Lizzie cause for concern, and also allows Darcy to show his more heroic side when he ensures that Wickham marries Lydia. (Though given that Lydia was only fifteen, I tend to sympathise with her more and think her mother should have taken better care of her!)

To build up your compelling sub-plot, look at every part of your story and ask the following questions:

Is this sub-plot relevant to the hero and heroine?

The answer should be yes.

Will it add to the conflict between them?

Again, this should be yes, even if it's a red herring, as with Lizzie believing Darcy won't want anything to do with her because of Lydia.

Would it leave a big hole in the romantic part of the story, if you removed the sub-plot?

Again the answer should be yes. If the answer  is ‘no’ you need to ask why you’ve included that particular sub-plot. That doesn’t mean you have to take it out of the story, but think about how you can make it affect the hero and heroine. If it’s a secret, will the revelation destroy their romance? And if it does, how can you find a remedy to ensure it all works out  in the end. 

One thing to beware, as I discussed in my blog post about combining love and death in romantic intrigue, is that you don’t overload your story with plots and sub-plots.

If the heroine is falling in love; hoping that the hero doesn’t realise that her two year old twins are his; saving her kidnapped brother from the mafia; sorting out her work problems with her despised boss; finding the cure for the common cold/cancer/acne and trying to become a pop-star at the weekends, it’s just possible that you’ve overdone it.

Keep it fairly simple. If it is as complicated as stated above – bearing in mind I am the mistress of twisty turny plots – then by the end of the story all those threads have to be tied up satisfactorily.  And as far as I know, Miley Cyrus isn’t anywhere near to curing the common cold…(Slacker!)


Friday, 15 August 2014

The Last Dance - Bobbie Blandford Book One - Now on Amazon

I'm pleased to announce that The Last Dance, the first in the Bobbie Blandford series, is now available to download from Amazon. The above link takes you to, but it can also be downloaded from local Amazon sites all over the world.

It is 1960 when WPC Bobbie Blandford starts her new job as the only woman at Stony End police station. As she chases down runaway cars, errant teenagers and attempts to investigate the murder of businessman Lionel Mapping, she is unaware that it will raise questions about her father's death and a life that Bobbie had forgotten. What does it all have to do with handsome doctor Leo Stanhope and just who can she trust in a male dominated world?

Saturday, 2 August 2014

A Place of Peace - Romantic Summer Mystery to download

I'm pleased to announce that my latest novella, A Place of Peace, is now available to download for Amazon Kindle. At only 77p, and at only 27k, it makes for a reasonably priced and quick summer read.

When Nell goes to stay on the beautiful Barratt Island for three months, she hopes to escape the shame she left behind in England. She soon meets gorgeous police chief, Colm Barratt, and scheming socialite Julia Silkwood, whose husband seems to be failing quickly. With Nell's over-active imagination running riot, she fears she could lose Colm forever.

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Steps of the Priory - My Proudest Writing Moment So far

This is the absolutely delicious cover for the Ulverscroft/Large Print version of my saga, The Steps of the Priory. I could never have imagined I would be the author of such a beautiful looking book. At 85k, it is also the longest book I've ever had put into print, making it an extra special pleasure for me. It will be in libraries from 1st August 2014, so please do ask for it at your local library. The ISBN is: 9781444820737

If you would like the longer and fruitier version, it can be downloaded for your Kindle today for the bargain price of 77p.

I've kept putting off writing the next book in the Harcourt Saga, but seeing the amazing Ulverscroft cover has made me itch to get started on it. The next book in the series will concentrate more on the girls, Charlie and Ronnie, introduced briefly in the first book, and a secret they share that could tear the whole family apart. But there will also be big changes for Becky and my favourite character, Bobby will find love but risk losing it when a shadow from the past arrives.

I expect the next volume to take place over a ten year period, from 1948-1958 (as opposed to the 30 year period that the first book covered), but that could change, depending on how the story I have in my head pans out. I can reveal that it will have the truly original title of Return to the Priory.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The RNA Conference, Mills & Boon, Square Pegs and Round Holes

As my post about romantic intrigue said, I spent last weekend at the RNA conference in Shropshire. It was a wonderful, but exhausting weekend. The exhaustion not helped by the fact I have since found out I have Achilles Tendonitis - that explains much of the hobbling anyway - it wasn't the wine after all!

The conference is a very buzzy time, with so many people to talk to. I liken it to speed dating where you get roughly three minutes with everyone. And even then I didn't get to talk to all the people I would have liked to talk to. But I'm a person who needs some alone time, so I made sure I left space in the itinerary to go back to my room and just be quiet for at least an hour. If you haven't been to an RNA conference or similar and are thinking of attending one, this is the best advice I can give you: Make space in the itinerary for some peace and quiet. People aren't offended if you disappear for a while - or if they are offended then they're not worth knowing. Not that anyone gave me the impression at the RNA conference that my occasional absence offended them.

The conference was at the Harper Adams University in Newport Shropshire. The accommodation was very comfortable and the food truly amazing! It's an agricultural university so much of the food is grown/reared on site. It did mean we got a few farmyard smells, but it was a small price to pay for the fillet steak we were served at the gala dinner. I am hoping that the RNA will return there one day. 

As well as giving my own talk, I attended talks by Pamela Hartshorne and Kate Long.  Both were very interesting, with Kate in particular giving some great advice on creating characters.

But I spent most of the time chatting to other writers, and this is where you can really learn stuff at conferences like this. You learn what editors are looking for, what publishers are up to, and who to avoid.

I also had a one-to-one with the lovely Laura McAllan from Mills & Boon. I'd picked Laura because she has worked across all the series at M&B and I thought she might know the best fit for my time slip novel. Laura was really nice about my writing, and I don't think it was all flannel. I asked her at the end if she had anything negative to say about it ("Give it to me straight, Doc, I can take it.") and she said not. But the novel, as I'd suspected, wasn't right for any of the series. She did, however, suggest I finish it and send it to Carina. She also suggested I try writing for M&B historical or intrigue.

Though my novel wasn't snapped up at that moment (I doubt many are at such events - unless anyone knows different), I came out feeling very positive and exclaiming 'I will write for Mills and Boon one day'.

It's been my dream for as long as I've been writing. But since the weekend, I've had a shift in opinion, and am beginning to wonder, after a rejection just before I attended the conference and the news that my book wasn't right for any of the series, whether it's time to stop trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Maybe, M&B are just not the right fit for me.

I began to question why I wanted to be published by them. Well, they pay well. That's one perfectly valid reason for someone who has to pay the bills. They also seem to employ really lovely people. I've never met an M&B editor or author that I didn't like. They're all so vibrant. It's natural that I would love to be a part of that buzzy community.

But I also looked at my own track record. I'm doing okay as a writer. I'm not making a fortune. In fact my earnings just about cover my conference attendances and other writing related activities. Basically it pays for itself. But I have been published extensively. I've got a great working relationship with Maggie Seed at DC Thompson, and also with Sarah Quirke at Ulverscroft, and I love what I write. So do I need to prove anything to myself by being published by Mills & Boon?

It's a question I can't really answer. For me, getting a contract with M&B would feel like the next step up the career ladder. But it also might mean I don't have time to write anything else, and neither would I have the autonomy I have now to write about what I want, set in whatever era I want. What doesn't fit with DC Thompson, Ulverscroft or the other publishers I've been connected with goes straight up onto Kindle nowadays.

If I had never been published, then all the rejections from M&B might start getting to me. As it is, I can be philosophical about them, knowing that someone out there likes my work and that the problem isn't with my writing, but with my inability to fit the M&B series.

I may try the time slip novel with Carina, but then again I may complete it and send it straight to one of my regular publishers where I know it has a pretty good chance of actually being accepted.

All I know is that my compulsion to be published by M&B is fading. But I'm a capricious soul, and next week I may feel differently again. As long as I keep on writing, it doesn't really matter, does it?

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Looking Back - Looking Forward

I'm a great believer in never deleting anything one has written. Even if it was rubbish, we learned something from writing it.

I've often dusted off old ideas and reused them. This has led to one short story sale and at least one novel sale.

The other day I was looking at something else I could dust off, and maybe just put up on Kindle. I was reminded of a novel I wrote in my first year doing NaNoWriMo. It was called The Cunning Woman and was an Elizabethan murder mystery, with a heroine called Kate Hepburn. I remember my late lamented pal, Neil Marr* of BeWrite Books ringing all the way from France to tell me (amongst other things) that I'd never get away with a heroine called Katherine Hepburn as it was too gimmicky. At the time I thought he was wrong, and told him I could never change the heroine's name. It was the one I'd chosen for her and therefore sacrosanct. Yes folks, I was that annoying newbie writer who thought I knew it all.

Last week I thought maybe it was time I listened to Neil's advice, and decided that I could dust off the book and change the heroine's first name to Jane. Jane Hepburn sounds suitably Elizabethan, doesn't it?

So I found the original file. Not only was most of it missing from Chapter 15 onwards (and I have no idea where the ending is!), but the writing was absolutely dire. I don't mean E.L. James dire. I could still string a grammatical sentence together. But it was dry, ponderous and very author-ish. I don't think I'd heard of dialogue in those days! I was clearly writing as I thought a writer should write, but not writing from the heart. I had not found my voice, and I imagine I was writing in the voice of what I thought was a real writer. But I am a real writer now; someone who writes in her own unique style.

There is no way I can just dust the novel off. It would take me too long to unpick it all. It would be much quicker to start all over again, using the more reader friendly style I've found for myself with my more successful books.

Then I asked myself 'Do I want to start all over again?' Surely what I should be doing is moving forward with new ideas, not back to old ones. Of course that could just be an excuse I'm making to myself because the job is such a big 'un. So The Cunning Woman has been put back in mothballs and left in a cool dark place to fester. Call me superstitious but I still won't delete it.

The title does survive, however, in my Bobbie Blandford books.  The main pub in the town of Stony End is called The Cunning Woman.

*Neil Marr sadly passed away a few months ago. I miss his sage advice and his unique sense of humour. He encouraged and inspired me and so many others on the BeWrite site, becoming a part of our family when he shared in the joy of our children's weddings and the birth of our grandchildren.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Literary Jargon - McGuffins

Literary Jargon – McGuffin

When I was at the RNA conference over the weekend, I met a lady who was not a writer, but was just there to accompany a relative. She made the point that there was a lot of jargon and acronyms being bandied about over the weekend, and she had no idea what all of it meant.

It occurred to me that we do that a lot, in any group. My closest friends and I have a code and mythology that means nothing to anyone else, but which as friends we only have to use to open up a discussion of every good time we’ve ever had. Families also have their own different words and phrases that have built up over the years.

When I first trained to work in the voluntary sector as an advisor, I was told about how jargon can be used as a means of excluding others and making them feel like outsiders. Of course, groups of family and friends should have their own mythology. That’s what makes the friendship/relationship. But for something like writing, especially new writers, we perhaps need to start breaking through this jargon and be more inclusive. So this is the first in an occasional series on literary jargon.

I thought I’d start with a word that I dropped into my talk on Saturday (I did, however, define it at the time). That word is McGuffin. What on earth is a McGuffin, I hear you cry. Chances are you already know, but for those who don’t, a McGuffin is an object which drives a story but which, of itself, is not that important. Its only importance is in how it makes the characters react.

The McGuffin I was talking about at the conference was the ‘stone’ in the film Romancing the Stone. The fact is that it could have been any precious jewel or artefact, which the bad guys wanted and which the good guys were trying to stop them getting.

There have been some notable McGuffins in films and literature, and I’m going to share some with you to give you an idea of the scope of the McGuffin.

In the film, The Raiders of the Lost Ark, the McGuffin is the Ark of the Covenant. This could have been any mystical religious object that the Nazis wanted to use to rule the world and that Indiana Jones wanted to put in a museum, out of harm’s way. What mattered was the journey they took to find it.

In The Lady Vanishes (the original Hitchcock version rather than the dire Cybill Shepherd version), one of the McGuffins is not a physical object at all. It’s the melody that the elderly lady, Miss Froy, carries in her head, which is supposed to be an important clause in a treaty to stop a war (I’m guessing they were out of pigeons). But this could easily have been a message hidden on a microdot or a bit of paper. Miss Froy could also be considered a McGuffin as she disappears for most of the film, and her disappearance is what drives the plot and puts Iris and Gilbert in danger, but also brings them together as a couple.

Hitchcock was the king of the McGuffin and I believe that he actually invented the term. His notable McGuffins include: A message on a piece of paper or whispered into the hero’s ear in the two different versions of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Then we have the steps in the eponymous The 39 Steps, and the proof that they’re a McGuffin shows in that the whereabouts of the said steps, and the reasons Richard Hannay and the Bad Guys look for them changes in each filmed version (My own favourite version is the one starring Rupert Penry-Jones).

In the film Gaslight, the McGuffin is a set of jewels that were hidden in the house in which the heroine and her husband came to live after her marriage. It is the husband’s obsession with these jewels that drives the plot and almost drives the heroine out of her mind as he tries to find a way to have her sectioned so she is out of the way.

In Jane Eyre, the McGuffin is a person; Rochester’s insane wife, Bertha. Though we hardly ever see her, she is the catalyst for everything Rochester does, and for Jane’s suffering from the moment she agrees to marry Rochester.  But Bertha could have been Rochester’s mad mother, brother, sister, daughter, though for plot purposes, he was stuck with her as one could not divorce an insane spouse in those days. Or she could have been any other secret he had which prevented him from truly committing to Jane.

Similarly, in Rebecca, it is the hero’s dead wife, who is the McGuffin. In fact, so important a McGuffin is she, that the 2nd Mrs De Winter is not even given a first name, so that Rebecca’s name dominates everything. Again, as with Jane Eyre, Rebecca De Winter could have been exchanged to be any dark secret that prevented the hero from truly moving on with his life.

Naturally I love using McGuffins in my own novels. In True Companion, the McGuffin is some weapons designs hidden somewhere (I’m not telling you, you’ll have to find out!). In The Secret of Helena’s Bay, it’s a set of rubies (and I even threw some Nazis in for good measure). In A Collector of Hearts, it’s a heart-shaped necklace, which the heroine is accused of stealing. But she could have been accused of stealing anything just as precious and the story would still have worked.

That is the point of a McGuffin. You can easily swap it with another, similar object or person, and it would still perform the same task. So have fun playing around with them, and see where the story takes you. Just remember, that the McGuffin must drive the characters, so there has to be a solid reason for it existing, even if it is interchangeable.

What literary related jargon has you scratching your head? Don’t be afraid to leave a message in the comments, and I’ll do my best to clear the fog.

Monday, 14 July 2014

My RNA Conference Talk - Love and Death in Romantic Intrigue

My RNA Conference Talk – Love and Death in Romantic Intrigue

There’s been so much interest in the talk I did at the RNA Conference over the weekend of 11th-13th July 2014, I thought I’d try and summarise it here for everyone.

So this blog post will discuss (as it did in the talk):

  • How I came to write Romantic Intrigue
  • What is Romantic Intrigue?
  • Romantic Intrigue Examples
  • Romance Tropes
  • Crime/Intrigue Tropes
  • Combining the Two – How Would you Do it?
  • Tips on intrigue and dealing with death in romantic fiction.
  • Who Publishes Romantic Intrigue?
    And I am more than happy to answer any questions in the comments afterwards.
    How I came to Write Romantic Intrigue
    Don’t worry. I’m not planning to go back in my writing career to Year 1 in High School when I had a poem published in the school magazine. I’ll only talk about it in so much as it applies to this talk and writing romantic intrigue.
    As my regular blog visitors will know, I had some success with writing short stories in my early writing career. I had tried writing novels, but I’d start writing a romance, then when I got fed up of the hero and heroine’s conflict, I’d suddenly throw a dead body in halfway through. Or I’d start writing crime, then shoehorn in a Mills and Boon type romance. The problem with this is that the novels were neither fish nor fowl. They weren’t cohesive or well written. So naturally I didn’t have much luck with them.
    In 2008 I decided to focus on writing for My Weekly Pocket Novels. At the time the novellas only 30k (they’re now 50k), and so it seemed a nice transition between writing short stories and novels. I researched the market (which is essential) but with all due respect to the authors whose books I read, I didn’t find anything that appealed to me as a writer. I decided to think about what I really liked, and the answer came back ‘Alfred Hitchcock  films’ and ‘Agatha Christie novels’. In essence, romantic intrigue. Now I’m not saying that My Weekly Pocket Novels had never published romantic intrigue and I certainly didn’t invent the genre. I just hadn’t found any during my research. But I decided to have a go anyway, and that was when I wrote The Secret of Helena’s Bay, inspired greatly by Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes.
    In writing that novel, everything fell into place, as I finally realised how to balance the romance and the intrigue element, which is why I felt this talk/blog would be helpful to other authors.
    Since then I’ve had 19 novels/novellas published, most of which have been in the romantic intrigue genre.
    Once I’d told everyone at the RNA conference my background, we got around to discussing:
    What is Romantic Intrigue?

  • A love story with a dash of mystery.
  • A mystery story in which romance plays a big part.
  • The hero and heroine are connected somehow to that mystery.
  • Could be psychological ‘crime’, such as ‘gaslighting’.
  • Could also be paranormal.
  • The outcome of the romance is tied to resolving the mystery.
  • Also known as Romantic Suspense.
    Romantic Intrigue Examples

  • Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier (novel) and Alfred Hitchcock (film)
  • Gaslight – film starring Ingrid Bergman and Joseph Cotten
  • The Lady Vanishes – Hitchcock film
  • Romancing the Stone – film starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner
  • Knight and Day – Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz film
    I then discussed the two separate genres of romance and crime, and how to combine them. So I started with the basic tropes for writing romance. What I like to call The Recipe for Making Love Stories. There are many more tropes in the genre, but these are the building blocks of a romance.

  • Hero and heroine
  • Conflict
  • ‘Getting to know you’
  • Pivotal moment
  • Black moment
  • Happy Ever After/Happy for Now
    Then we have the basic crime tropes (again not extensive, but the building blocks of the genre)

  • The sleuth
  • A mystery to be solved
  • The victim(s)
  • The cast of characters who all had a reason for wanting victim dead/to steal the McGuffin
  • The red herrings
  • The denouement (aka the reveal)
    Putting the two side by side, I asked the class how they would go about putting the two genres together to create a cohesive story, and they came up with some great answers.  So how would you do it?

Romance Tropes
Crime Tropes
¢  Hero and heroine (h/h)
¢  Conflict
¢  ‘Getting to know you’
¢  Pivotal moment
¢  Black moment
¢  Happy Ever After/Happy for Now
¢  The sleuth
¢  A mystery to be solved
¢  The victim(s)
¢  The cast of characters who all had a reason for wanting victim dead/to steal the McGuffin
¢  The red herrings
¢  The denouement (aka the reveal)


First of all I stressed that I run equal opportunities workshops and that the hero and heroine can easily be the hero/hero or heroine/heroine. I just don’t want to drown in pronouns so will continue to use hero/heroine.

I used the example of the film, Romancing the Stone to illustrate how the two are combined. To anyone who doesn’t know the film, it stars Kathleen Turner as a frumpy (Ha!) romance novelist, and Michael Douglas when he was hot for about 5 minutes in the 1980s, and Danny Devito who is basically playing Danny Devito.

Kathleen’s character, Joan Wilder, is told that her sister has been kidnapped, and the only way to save her is to bring a map that leads to some buried treasure (the ‘stone’ of the title). Don’t worry too much about the sister, as she’s going through a nice little case of Stockholm Syndrome with her kidnapper… So Joan travels to South America, where she meets Jack (Michael Douglas), a seemingly amoral adventurer, and gradually her clothes fall off and they fall in love. Here is my interpretation of how the crime and romance tropes combine and criss-cross to create a whole story:

Romancing the Stone: Romance Tropes
Romancing the Stone: Crime Tropes
¢  H/H: Joan and Jack
¢  Conflict: Joan wants the stone to save her sister. Jack wants the stone for financial gain.
¢  ‘Get to know’ each other on the quest to save Joan’s sister/find the stone.
¢  Pivotal moment, several but especially when Jack decides to help Joan during denouement.
¢  Black moment – Joan thinks Jack is dead and that she’ll never see him again (note however that the trip has changed her outlook on life).
¢  Happy ending: Jack turns up on his boat to take Joan away
¢  Sleuth(s) – Joan and Jack looking for the stone. Also Joan looking for her kidnapped sister.
¢  The mystery – The whereabouts of precious stone that Joan needs and Jack wants and that others are willing to kill for.
¢  The Victim – Joan’s kidnapped sister
¢  Lots of characters who want the stone
¢  Red Herrings – ‘Gangster’ who turns out to be a fan of Joan’s and helps them; the cop who turns out to be a bad guy. And Jack, who is a rogue but essentially noble.
¢  The denouement – when all is resolved regarding the bad guys (note that this comes before the romantic happy ending)


Tips for Writing Romantic Intrigue

  • Be clear from the outset what/whose story you’re telling.
  • Keep asking how the intrigue element affects the romance and vice versa.
  • Follow the rule of K.I.S.S. (keep it simple stupid)
  • Remember that all elements of both genres must be resolved by the end
  • Make sure bad guys/girls get their comeuppance in some way.
  • It helps to solve the mystery first, and then give the couple their happy ending.
  • Though there’s nothing wrong with a last minute ‘thrill’ to dispense with the bad guy/girl.
    In relation to the third point, about keeping it simple, I explained to the class that if you have too complicated a plot, then you have to somehow resolve all those issues. Now I like a complicated plot, with lots of twists and turns, but most plots that seem complicated have very simple main plots, regardless of what happens on the journey. Take Romancing the Stone as an example again (and I wish I’d thought of this in the workshop, so you can have it for free now…).
    The plot, which could practically be written on a postcard, is ‘Mousy woman goes to (insert name of exotic locale) to find (insert person or object), meets and falls in love with handsome adventurer, comes back a more assured woman, goes off into the sunset with handsome adventurer’. Yes, there’s a lot more going on there, with the various factions wanting the stone, but the plot itself is very basic and could be even utilised by anyone to create a very different story.  In my own novels, though I like twists and turns, the intrigue part of the plot usually boils down to ‘A did something to B, because…’
    Once we’d discussed the tropes and how to combine them, I moved on to the more general topic of how one deals with death and/or dark themes in romantic fiction. I gave the example of a romance I’d read somewhere (she says vaguely), which, in the first chapter started that mummy was a crack whore, daddy died in a hail of bullets, the heroine growing up on the streets and/or being abused by various foster fathers, then in the fifth paragraph of the first chapter (!) she’s suddenly an adult, working in a bright modern building and having a cute meet with the handsome hero (and ALL of the aforementioned told in the quirky tone of a Bridget Jones novel…). And my response on reading was ‘Hold on a minute! I haven’t even come to terms with your crack whore mother yet.’
    And the point is that if you give your character a back story like this, then it *must* be dealt with, and how on earth do you do that with so much anguish in the heroine’s background?
    Another example I gave was a crime novel I read, where in the first few chapters the two main heroines were revealed to be one whose boyfriend had cheated on her, but she had blamed herself because she had a career so forgiven him; the other was in a violent relationship so had had an abortion so as not to bring a child into that relationship, and the novel itself was about young women being murdered. Now this novel, by a best selling author, didn’t have to be what I thought it should be, but the misery (and the way women were shown as ‘victims’ – and by a woman writer no less!) was so relentless I had to put it down.
    That’s not to say that dark subjects can’t be dealt with. There’s a Penny Jordan/Mills and Boon novel where the heroine’s mother was indeed a prostitute and drug addict, but it’s dealt with in such a subtle way, that by the time the whole story is told (and Penny doesn’t go into the specifics of drug addiction) you realise just how far this heroine came in her life before she met the hero. And that was the main problem with the first example I gave. The heroine could not possibly have resolved all those issues, so it appeared that he hero was going to be the one to make it all right for her. Regardless of what some people might think of romantic novels, that isn’t how it works.
    We moved on to talking about death and grief in particular. I gave the example of one of my own novels (True Companion) where the heroine’s father was hanged as a spy. Yet the story begins a couple of years after that event and the novel deals with her attempt to clear his name, and at the same time she falls in love. Can you imagine how I might have dealt with it if I’d started the story the day of her father’s hanging? Do you think she’d have been in a fit to go off having adventures with the hero?
    Remember that romance, even romantic intrigue, is still a fantasy, and yes your hero and heroine might have gone through some crap in their lives, but it’s important to deal with it in such a way it doesn’t bring the reader down.
    Tips for dealing with death in light romantic fiction

  • Try not to pile on the angst too much. If you’ve killed off the heroine’s entire family and her dog, you may have overdone it a bit.
  •  It helps to have some distance between the characters and the ‘death’ aspect. Either physical difference or emotional distance.
  • So: Only kill off unpleasant people or have several months/years between ‘loss’ and current story.
  • If the hero/heroine is widowed, it’s particularly important to put some distance between that event and the new love affair. At least one year. Two years is better.
  • Use light and dark strokes to create a story that has highs and lows, but be careful the lows don’t last too long.
  • Use humour for light relief, as long as it’s appropriate to the situation.
  • Try not to make the death(s) too gruesome. Remember you are writing romance, not Hannibal Lecter-esque serial killer novels. Keep the death count low.
  • Cosy crime is more suited to romantic intrigue. This can include murder, but it’s better if the murder takes place ‘off-stage’.
  • However, supernatural plots are also good for romantic intrigue.
  • Characters, as in all novels, are always the most important aspect of your story.
  • Keep an eye on the market, but write what you would like to read.
    Who Published Romantic Intrigue?

  • DC Thomson – My Weekly Pocket Novels and The People’s Friend Pocket Novels
  • Harlequin/Mills&Boon
  • Pulse/Myrmidion
  • Harper Impulse
  • Accent Press
  • Ulverscroft Large Print (Linford Romance Library)
    (Sue Barnard, who was at my talk, also told me that Crooked Cat take Romantic Intrigue novels).
    And that was it. My talk at the RNA conference (though to be honest I’ve thought of things to say here that I didn’t think about on Saturday!) I did end by asking for questions, and I’ll do the same here. Do ask in the comments if there’s anything you'd like to ask me about the discussion above.
    I do hope people find this helpful. As I said to the attendees at the talk, I try not to be too prescriptive about writing. I just throw stuff out there, and even if people disagree with me, I hope it gives them some food for thought. Because sometimes even disagreeing with someone else’s view can really help you to decide what works for you as a writer.
     (Copyright (c) Sally Quilford 2014)

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Catching up, amusing romantic intrigue covers and a much loved favourite: Csardas

It occurred to me that I ought to catch up with where I've been and what I've been doing since I closed down my last blog.

I shan't go into why I shut it down. That's past now and it's time to move on. I can't remember if I'd passed my driving test before I closed it down, but in case I hadn't announced it, I did indeed pass my test on 3rd February 2014 at the ripe old age of 50. I now the proud owner of a dinky little Peugeot 107, and it's given me a new lease of life.

The reason it's taken me so long to start a blog again is because I've had some health problems, as well as being busy with RNA committee stuff. The health problems included a rather unpleasant growth on my lip, which had to be removed and biopsied. I'm glad to say that everything is fine and there were no hidden nasties.

On the plus side I also organised my first Romantic Novelists Association Summer Party, and it turned out to be a great success (phew!) I deny bribing everyone with cream scones served by handsome Italian waiters. It just turned out that way!

I'm now organising the Winter Party (details HERE) and also organising this year's RoNA Rose Awards. So if you have a novella that you think might be suitable to enter, you can find details HERE. The most exciting aspect of this year's award is not just a £1000 first prize (woohoo!) but also that the winning novel in the RoNA Rose will automatically be added to the shortlist of the Romantic Novel of the Year competition.

Writing wise, I have completed the first in a five part series for My Weekly Pocket Novels, about my 1960s copper, Bobbie Blandford. You can read a bit more about Bobbie and the first novel, The Last Dance, HERE.

I love old-time paperback covers. Yes they were cheesy, but they did what they said on the tin! With this in mind, Anorak have put together a plethora of great covers from the romantic intrigue genre, basically all on the lines of 'girl running away from spooky house'. Am I the only one who wants to read them all?

And finally, I've just found out today that one of my all-time favourite novels, Csardas, by Diane Pearson, is now available as an ebook. A sweeping novel that really needs to be made into a tv mini-series, I can't recommend this enough!

I'll be working on the first 'Dear Quillers' in the next day or two, and I will also be adding some of my old articles from my old blog. There will also be another giveaway to coincide with my birthday in August, so watch this space!

Friday, 27 June 2014

New Romance Release - Joanne Phillips Cupid's Way

In what I hope will be a regular feature, I will be sharing new Romance releases with you all. Not just my books, though I'll be announcing those too, but books by my romance writing pals.

So I'm delighted to announce the release of Joanne Phillip's newest novel, Cupid's Way

Cupid’'s Way – the new romantic comedy from Joanne Phillips

When Evie Stone’'s grandparents enlist her help to save their home in Cupid'’s Way, Evie is happy to oblige. On the cusp of her thirties, and still disappointingly single, Evie’s so-called dream job with a firm of architects has been driving her crazy for months. What she needs, even more than a new man, is a challenge.

But saving Cupid’'s Way won’'t be easy. A perfectly preserved Victorian terrace, surrounded by modern estates and retail parks, the street is a proud oasis of quirky characters, cobbled pathways and communal gardens. Unfortunately, it also sits on prime development land worth millions.

Dynamite Construction have the deal in the bag, and soon the residents of Cupid’s Way will be forced to sell up and ship out – CEO Michael Andrews, charismatic and super-successful, has certainly never let sentimentality get in the way of business. At least, he hadn’'t until he met Evie Stone.”

You can join in the Cupid's Way Launch on Facebook, where there will be prizes on offer!

About the Author
Joanne Phillips lives in rural Shropshire with her husband and young daughter. She'’s the author of romantic comedies Can'’t Live Without and The Family Trap, and the Flora Lively series of mysteries. Can'’t Live Without was an Amazon top 20 bestseller in 2012 and her books regularly appear on category bestseller lists. Before becoming a writer, Joanne had jobs as diverse as hairdresser, air hostess and librarian, but now divides her time between writing and finding creative ways to avoid housework. She'’s a fan of super-dark chocolate, iced coffee and Masterchef. Joanne blogs about writing and publishing at






Monday, 23 June 2014

Dear Quillers Giveaway Winner

I'm pleased to announce that the winner of a signed copy of Take My Breath Away in my first giveaway on this new blog, is Sue Barnard.

As I couldn't choose between all the great questions asked, I read them all out to hubby, and though he thought all questions were very good, he thought Sue's question: Books cannot live by romance alone - so what advice can you offer for helping to construct a convincing and compelling sub-plot? just had the edge.

I shall be answering that question and the others over the coming weeks in the Dear Quillers feature on this blog.

Thanks to everyone for taking part, and I'm sorry, as always, that there could only be one winner.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Dear Quillers Giveaway

For my first giveaway on this blog I am offering a copy of the Large Print version of my romantic intrigue, Take My Breath Away. Inspired by the film Cleopatra, and written especially for My Weekly Pocket Novels to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that film in 2013 (and also my own 50th birthday), Take My Breath Away is a murder mystery and romance.

I have one signed copy to give away, but I'm afraid you're going to have to work for it. I'm trying to amass questions for my Dear Quillers feature on the blog. So leave your questions about writing romance, or writing in general, in the comments section below (on this blog post only please), and the one I decide is the most interesting when the competition closes will win the book. I will, however, use every other question posted for Dear Quillers. Just to be clear, these questions need to be about the craft or business of writing romance or writing in general, and not about my personal writing life. You can read the answers to some of the more personal questions asked of me on my Intriguing Interview Page.

The closing date for this prize draw is Friday 20th June 2014 at 5pm GMT.

Please note: Only ONE question/entry per person.