Kate Allan

The online diary of Kate Allan, author

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Notes from a small city

Not that I haven't got already enough things to be doing, but I couldn't resist the offer to become a contributor to this blog:

Smallcity: an alternative to the metropolitan view.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Americans go wild for kilt-ripper romances

'SMOULDERING Scottish heroes are sending American women weak at the knees,' according to Christina Stokes in today's Daily Record. 'Bodice-ripper historical romances have been overtaken by the kilt-ripper - featuring heather-covered hills, feisty heroines and brooding kilt-clad hunks.' Read more.

British tabloid journalism. Love it.

For the proper story, here's the broadsheet version. 'Sales of Scottish romance novels are rocketing in the US, where readers lust for a Highland fling,' writes David Stenhouse in The Sunday Times - Scotland. 'American book shops offer delights undreamt of on this side of the Atlantic.'

I suspect it's because our own Brit idea of Scotland is as much about Ian Rankin and Rab C Nesbitt, as it is about hills and heather.

I toyed once with the idea of writing a Regency romance set in Scotland. But my Scottish Regency would be the one of rarified Edinburgh's New Town juxtaposed to learning and commerce, and aristocrats whose fathers were enlightened enough to ditch their draughty castles and employ Adam to design them something contemporary, such as Duff House.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Greenwood's Map of London 1827

I’ve been putting together a list of internet sources which I’ve found valuable over the last few years of writing Regency-set novels for my talk next weekend.

One, which deserves a special mention, is
Greenwood's Map of London 1827. My sister, who was curled up yesterday with a Georgette Heyer, was asking me about Regency Grosvenor Square. Look here. The middle of the square is laid out in a circular formal garden with cross-crossing paths and a circular path around the edge.

I especially like the way you can see the mews in the West End and that they are named, that you can see the features of Hyde Park – such as the statue of Achilles and the Serpentine – so decent sized a lake I’m amazed more Regency heroines haven’t half-drowned in it.

In 1827 you could have walked up
Wellington Street and across Waterloo Bridge. Or visited Earls Court farm or the village of Kensington. And the Finchley Road was still only a proposal.

Yes, I beat my writing goal for the holiday weekend! Unfortunately the rest of this week I won't be doing much writing. I need to finish reading Flashman on the March (It's great so not a chore. I read 50 pages on Saturday and was laughing out loud), write and send a review for it and another book to the Historical Novels Review, and write my talk for Sunday, which I ain't done yet.

BIRDS progress update:
Words written: 21,561
Words to go: 88,439

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Quick update

It's two weeks since I last posted an update for BIRDS so thought I'd do so now. At least the pace has picked up slightly to 1,500 words a week - that would mean I'll be finishing the first draft around a year from now!

Er... still not good enough so my goal is to get at least another 1,000 words done by end of Monday. Unfortunately I don't have as much free time as I'd like over the holiday weekend.

BIRDS progress update:
Words written: 18,373
Words to go: 100,000ish

Happy Easter - enjoy some mosaics!

Alex Bordessa writes that she's been mosaic making, so this is a flimsy excuse to post a couple of pictures from the Bardo museum in Tunis, which I visited at the end of January. Probably at least 1,000 mosaics in this museum, rooms and rooms of them, up to the 5th century - and I was most interested to see early Christian mosiacs... so as it's Easter I've posted:

  • a mosaic tomb
  • an example of an early Christian mosaic


The Lady Soldier has appeared on amazon, but the title is slightly wrong so I've submitted a correction request. I've just finished a short scene for BIRDS set in a greenhouse and I want to get some more done today before other writing tasks take over - I need to sign and send off the contract for Lincoln Book Festival and book my hotel there. Get The Lady Soldier galleys photocopied and posted to several places for reviews. And I need to write my talk I'm giving next weekend at the International Napoleonic Fair.

Mosaic tomb. Bardo museum, Tunis
(c) K Allan

Early Christian mosaic. Bardo museum, Tunis
(c) K Allan

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Write what you feel

This came up at my writers circle last night because someone had written a very moving piece from their real life. It's usually not easy to tackle emotional subjects, and write them from the heart. But to do so is very powerful.

And you can use them in fiction.

I was surprised that this was news to many people in the room. And it's a subject I feel strongly about and am developing a workshop about writing emotion because I think that a writer who believes they can write fiction while remaining emotionally detached from their work is somehow missing the point.

But this is what I do. I either have to press my imagination very hard to imagine my character's emotional responses - or I give them feelings I myself have already felt at another time, in another place...

A brief example:

This scene is set in a grand town house in Brentford, Middx. Winter 1810:

Lucinda’s mouth felt dry again. It was hot in here. The fire must have been going all morning and someone had recently stoked it. She wished she could pull the scratchy lace away from her neck and her stiff bodice felt uncomfortable.

This scene was first sketched out by me sat in sweltering Nice airport in 2002, overheating and having to take small sips of iced cola trying to keep cool. So in 1810...

She forced her mind to focus on the lemonade and nothing else. It would be cool and refreshing.

In Nice, I take to walking to stand near some doors to benefit from a tiny, warm breeze. In 1810, I can give Lucinda what I really wanted myself at that point:

A gust of cold air swept in. It stung Lucinda’s face but tasted delicious.

Excerpts from A Notorious Deception (c) Kate Allan

There is of course a reason why the heat preoccupies her. It's showing her unease with other matters. Which leads me on to another point - make the physical environment work for your story. But that's a topic for another day.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Sniff, oh dear

I've developed since yesterday an awful head cold. Not even Lemsip Max Strength is enough to keep it at bay, and I really, really wanted to write today. And so far I've done nothing.

It's reassuring to read some real life intruding into writer's blogs: Wendy Wootton has also had a cold. Kate Hardy found some fetching deely boppers. Even more distressing is that Anna Lucia has become a newt fancier.

Sela Carsen is over the moon because her husband has purchased her a butter dish. Earlier this week, McVane found her lost wedding ring. Diana Peterfreund bought a new car, Lydia Joyce posted some snow pictures and Riemannia has been skiing.

Lady Tess tried but didn't manage to get U2 tickets. Nell Dixon has been waiting for the postman who doesn't deliver. And Shadowrtr is back from her short vacation.

I'm not procrastinating from writing. Really, I'm not... ;)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Cover art for The Lady Soldier

I've just finished updating the look of jenniferlindsay.com and have uploaded the cover art for THE LADY SOLDIER which I got last week.

So what do you think?

Fly the Wild Echoes

‘Why do certain eras from the past draw you into history, hauntingly, as if their story were yours?’ writes Elizabeth Bailey in her website introduction to Fly the Wild Echoes.

I bought Fly the Wild Echoes because I’d enjoyed a number of Elizabeth Bailey’s historical romances, and was curious about her new contemporary romance.

It’s the story of Fliss, an actress suffering from feelings of inexplicable dread, and nightmares. She goes to a chateau retreat and her French therapist, Gerard, begin to explore why? And why does actress, beset with confusion, who’s been at the chateau for years, seem to be holding the clues?
Gerard is soft, warm, like thick French hot chocolate, and Fliss is drawn to him more than a patient to her therapist. Gerard knows the dangers of becoming too close, and then there is the uncontrollable jealously of his girlfriend, the daughter of the owner of the chateau on whom Gerard depends for his life’s vocation.

The past. And the present. People, emotions, danger. Fly the Wild Echoes is rich and compelling. Elizabeth Bailey writes an intimately observed story with high suspense. I had to go to bed early to finish it.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Reading your own stuff

My article is in the local newspaper moaning about how my home town, St Albans, has not only its own saint (and England's first martyr) and was the Roman city of Verulamium, and yet hardly anyone seems to care.

Of course I wanted a copy of the paper, but it felt very strange to be buying it, knowing my article was inside, and then reading it, and wondering about who else might be reading it and what they thought.

Will anyone write in to the paper as a rebuttal? Does anyone agree with my point-of-view? They must see at least I only wrote it because I do care about St Albans?

Then I of course read it again, and read it critically, wishing maybe I'd been a little less uncompromising, used a different turn of phrase here, and... STOP IT! Too late now, love, it's in print.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads

Love & Glory

Young Henry was as brave a youth,
As ever grac'd a marital story
And Jane was fair as lovely truth,
She sigh'd for love and he for glory,
She sigh'd &c,

With her his faith he meant to plight,
And told her many a gallant story,
Till war their honest joys to blight,
Call'd him away from love to glory,
Call'd him &c,

Brave Henry met the foe with pride,
Jane follow'd - fought - ah! hapless story,
In man's attire by Henry's side,
She died for love and he for glory,
She died &c.

Tom Dibdin
from The Royal Songster
Published by Birt, T. , London
1828 / 1829

I've just stumbled across this wonderful website - a project to make the Bodleian Library's collection of ballards available as digital images online. A feast!

When we were researching THE LADY SOLDIER we came across a number of ballads which were stories of women going to war. The idea that they went following their lovers is a popular one. We used it as the conclusion people lept as to why our lady soldier went to war.

Another example here tells the same story as above - she followed him, fought as a man and they died together). And here, as part of an even more complex story that transcends not only gender, but class when a lady falls for her serving-man.

Here, she wants to go to see where her bony light horseman has died. In the patriotic Britons Strike Home, class is also challenged, and her footman dies, but she fights on.

Not the ballads are romantic tragedies. In The Female Drummer, she finds a husband and lives happily ever after, prepared to again serve His Majesty if needed. In Nancy's Love, Nancy proposes to serve as a soldier, and her love agrees, and we end with her sailing valiantly to Holland, with her love swearing to be constant at her side.

Help! I could spend days looking at things in this resource. It's nearly as addictive as the Old Bailey Online. (100,621 trials, from April 1674 to October 1834!)

Monday, March 14, 2005

The moment

Yesterday, considering I had various other household things to catch up on, wasn't a bad writing day. Managed to write about 1,200 words. And now I'm at a critical point, and I get scared of writing it.

It's the moment when a heroine meets a hero.

In my previous sketched scene the moment was almost too brief.
I know it needs more substance, yet nothing heavy. This is women's fiction and so this man does not have to be the hero. The reader might guess, but that's all. They can't yet know this man's significance.

How do you write the moment?

To me it's one of the most pleasurable parts of writing romantic fiction.
In France it's a coup de foudre. In the UK people shift uneasily at the phrase 'love at first sight'. But in fictional romance, it's always there - isn't it?

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Sara Craven / MBA Agency / Simon & Schuster

Yesterday I went down to London to the RNA meeting. The panel consisted of Harlequin Mills & Boon author Sara Craven, agent Laura Longrigg from the MBA agency and Kate Lyall Grant, editor at Simon & Schuster UK.

A lot of authors are today at the London Book Fair and/or nursing hangovers but I came home late last night after deciding it would be better to use today to catch up on some writing.

Rushing into the room late, past Nicola Cornick on the door, I found a seat at the back next to Wendy Wootton, who I've seen at RNA events before but never properly met. 'I read your blog,' I said. 'You must be exicted about meeting your new publishers tomorrow at the London Book Fair?'
Wendy looked a little shocked. 'I keep forgetting 200 odd people a day read my online journal!'
'Well, I'm one of them!'

Speaking first from the panel was Sara Craven, who has been a Mills & Boon author for 30 years (she started as a child). She quoted Karin Stoecker, Editorial Director at Harlequin Mills & Boon, who was actually in the room seated close to the front among a small coterie of M&B authors.
What is Mills & Boon about? 'Character, character and character', Karin Stoecker had replied.
'It's no different from any fiction,' Sara Craven explained. 'You have to care. A Mills & Boon reader can pick up insincerity at one hundred paces.'
Sara said that it was vital to love what you were writing, and that authors must have a willingless to listen to editorial direction.

Kate Lyall Grant then spoke and explained that Simon & Schuster were the smallest of the big publishers with around 350 fiction titles a year, of which 60% come from the US. They publish 3-4 women's commercial fiction titles a month, and would be looking only to take on titles they were convinced could sell 30,000 copies. They certainly want British authors for their lists.
They set up a regional saga list in the autumn of 2003 and are 'seeing how it goes'.
Kate cited recent trends in women's commercial fiction to have been upmarket family sagas and comedies of manners, e.g. The Jane Austen Book Club.
They expect to take on 2-3 new novelists a year, but have unfortunately had to stop looking at unagented submissions after an unagented author tried to sue them for losing his manuscript.

Finally, Laura Longrigg, a literary agent from the MBA agency spoke. She described the role of the agent as being one who, in the early stages of an author's career at least, will do a lot of editing 'because there is no pouint submitting a manuscript to a publisher that is not as perfect as it cane be.' Agents are also there to nag publishers behind the scenes and find the best deal for their authors, not just financially, but finding the best editor with whom the author can work with.
She said that agents find their clients from, for example, organisations like the RNA, and from writing competitions and courses. Often a superb short story writer will have a novel behind them. Laura explained that the key thing to grab her attention in a query was to have a wonderful letter. She'd once asked to be sent glittery and sparkly letters, and had received literally this! 'If you can write a novel,' she explained, 'you should be able to write a great letter.'

A Q&A session followed which prompted a discussion of the differences between UK and North American fiction. It was generally agreed that in the UK openings can build, whereas in the US the first two chapters must take the reader into the action at breakneck speed. It was also concluded that US readers have a rose-tinted view of England - something like Four Weddings and a Funeral - which explained why some very popular UK crime writers hadn't made it big in the US.

After the meeting was over, there was tea, coffee and chatter, and then a number of us went to the pub, including authorbloggers Anna Lucia and Julie Cohen (who nipped out to 'phone US author Kathy Love with the exciting news that she'd just seen her books in a London bookshop that morning), Jan Jones, whose first novel is out in July, and Gill Sanderson, M&B Medical Romance's only male author.

I was not sure whether I was actually invited and had been dithering slightly because of other possible supper plans I had in London that evening but after being told sternly to 'go with the flow' I found myself in a lovely smart Italian in Chelsea for supper with, among others, Sara Craven, Sophie Weston, Catherine Jones and Julie Cohen.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

'Artefacts! I want Artefacts!'

said the lady from a major London auction house. We were stood in the basement room of a private members club in the West End at a drinks party last week. ‘The Lady Soldier… come on, there must be artefacts.’

‘It’s a fiction book,’ I said, trying to be helpful.

‘But you said it was based on some true examples. And so, what remains? Uniforms? Diaries?’

‘Well,' I replied, 'Nadezhda Durova, the lady who was in the Russian cavalry had a diary.’

Her eyes lit up. ‘You have it?’

‘No….' I felt a bit useless. After all, what could remain? Was it possible that Dr James Barry's surgical paraphernalia is now lying unknown in some dusty vault somewhere? How amazing it would it be to indeed have artefacts. And these were the very bandages she used to bind her breasts…

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Come back at the weekend

Cany readers of this blog will have noticed the lack of posts this week. Sorry. The day job's been tough and I've been out in the evenings at parties (so don't feel that sorry for me).

The RNA have posted up the Joan Hessayon New Writers Award shortlist. And I'm on there.

I have a couple of book reviews coming soon to the blog, and a report on the curious questions I was asked by an auctioneer at a party I was at this week. So come back at the weekend!

Monday, March 07, 2005

Quick update

Well, I finished proofing last night and posted the printers proofs back to Hale this morning, and then managed to write all of, let me see, 300 words for a new scene for BIRDS. I've got to pick up the pace with this novel. 1,000 words a week means one book written in two years. Frown.

BIRDS progress update:

Words written: 15,349
Words to go: 100,000ish

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Saturdays and military uniforms

One of the nice things about Saturdays is that I at least get a chance to write in my blog, and catch up on my non-urgent e-mails. However, this weekend I must finish proofing THE LADY SOLDIER, and write up at least of one of my new scenes for BIRDS, even if only sketchily.

I've just confirmed that I'm giving a lecture at the International Napoleonic Fair on 3rd April. (It's a talk but I guess they want it to sound serious. I shall try and be serious.) Unbelievably it's actually held in St Albans, Hertfordshire, where I live. I'm really looking forward to seeing the various re-enactors and I hope they will let me examine their uniforms and let me ask them about their experiences - e.g. what do the clothes feel like to wear? I've spent all day in a late 18th century design boned corset, and my that was an experience! But it would be useful to get some first-hand info about Napoleonic military uniforms. All the ones I've seen have been in glass cases.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Stuck... and a new idea

On the train into work this morning I must have been unusually awake because I was struck by an idea for a novel which makes me feel I must write it. In fact, it's a morph of an idea that has been floating around vaguely in my mind for at least a year.

The problem is that it does not really fit into my writing plans. So I'm going to have to leave it for now, and maybe... well, if I could just write BIRDS faster. You see the vague plan for 2005 is that I have BIRDS to write, and then after that is the next Jennifer Lindsay. And BIRDS is tough because it's a type of novel I've not written before. The plot is not linear for a start, and its themes are subtle, and... well, I don't know. Maybe I've got it wrong with what I am trying to do and the pushing water uphill of it all is too hard for me to pull off.

We'll see.

Nothing ventured.