Kate Allan

The online diary of Kate Allan, author

Monday, October 31, 2005


Seem to be aching all over and feeling awful. Hope its not the 'flu.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Cock and Bull story

This weekend I was some 50 miles north of London in a town on the old Roman road of Watling Street (now the A5) called Stony Stratford. Until the coming of the railways it was an important coaching town, with its heyday in the 18th century.

'Travellers on these coaches were regarded as a great source of current news from remote parts of the country - news which would be imparted in the town's two main inns, The Cock and The Bull. The two establishments rapidly developed a rivalry as to which could furnish the most outlandish and scurrilous travellers' tales. Hence a 'Cock and Bull' story.'
(Stony Stratford Online, History)

The Cock and The Bull are still in business, with their signs hanging over the street. I stayed in a crooked-floor first floor bedroom up some narrow, twisted stairs and facing the High Street in The Cock. As a stopover for stagecoaches, I wondered whether how stage passengers and other travellers would have found The Cock two hundred years ago. Might they have slept in the same bedroom as me?
Only a few yards up the street is The Bull. At one time there were 50+ inns. Cars drive slowly through the centre of traffic-calmed Stony Stratford today but I tried to imagine the town packed with horses and horse-drawn vehicles.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Blakeney Manor

Fans of the Scarlet Pimpernell will like this place, which I discovered via google last week. Includes some interesting info including pictures of Baroness Orczy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Literary fasionistas take note

Books are now fashion accessories, according to a survey by the BAA (British Airports Authority). 'Books are the new snobbery,' writes John Ezard in yesterday's Guardian. 'Social competitiveness about which titles we read has become one of the new mass forces of the era.'

'Where fashion is concerned, the only place to be is ahead of the curve, among the early adopters,' writes John Sutherland commenting further on the same survey in today's Guardian.

Well, only me, my mother and a handful of people in editorial at Hale have read Perfidy and Perfection. So if you want to stay ahead of the crowd next Spring...

The Independent reports a mainstream publishing deal won by a self-published author, Mark Robson, after he took a novel approach to marketing his books - floor walking in his local bookshops. He sold over 30,000 copies of his self-published fantasy novels before meeting by chance Scott Pack, Waterstone's head buyer, and probably the most powerful man in the UK book trade. '[Mr Pack] sent copies of the book to publishers and agents and finally won a publishing deal,' writes Lousie Jury. 'Mr Pack said he was won over by Mr Robson's enthusiasm. "But he has actually written a very good series of books."'

Monday, October 24, 2005

Fireworks and March

Startled walking up the road this evening by the crack of loud fireworks ricocheting through the night sky. A neighbour is having an early Bonfire Night party. The sound of gunpowder, though, and I immediately think of a Napoloenic battlefield. Probably just me.

I completed the final edit queries, emailed in the manuscript yesterday. Email back from my editor today saying all's fine. Great. And Perfidy and Perfection is scheduled at the moment to come out next March.


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Online travels including Trafalgar and coffee mugs

It occurs to me that I read more and more interesting things online these days, and not just the news from the BBC website.

There's an interesting interview with Alexander McCall Smith at Bookslut. 'People invest such significance in the small things,' says McCall Smith. 'For example, in my Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld is always worried about someone using his room while he’s away. That’s actually a very common human fear, worrying about people using our coffee mug or something.'
It set some thoughts in motion about a character I'm developing.

Fenella-Jane Miller, whose first Regency romantic adventure is out this month with Hale, has a really nice website which I perused earlier this week. The book blurb for The Unconventional Miss Walters begins, Eleanor Walters is obliged, by the terms of her Aunt's will, to marry a man she cordially dislikes... I'm looking forward to reading it.

One pleasure for Sundays in particular is catching up with Anne Weale's weekly column on her Bookworm on the Net blog. Anne Weale is so well informed and always writes something which is thought-provoking. This week she asks why a publisher promoting a charity campaigning to end violence against women should in the same breath be re-issuing a book which contains repeated rape.

On a lighter note, I was diverted for five minutes with the opportunity to win two tickets to the awards for Romantic Novel of the Year at London's famous Savoy hotel by taking part in the very easy RNA poll.

And finally, it's the big Trafalgar anniversary this weekend and I've certainly been reading much more about it online than in newspapers and magazines. I think if it wasn't for having something to read on the train I wouldn't buy newspapers any more.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Just when you think it's all over

I have an email today from my editor querying a few of my queries about the copy edits. Only a handful, and she is right, I think about most of them but I must have that perfectionist bit between the teeth now and I want to double-check and be certain in my own mind before I get back to her, which I'll do this weekend.

There is a piece in the Guardian today that John Banville, the Booker winner, is writing thrillers under a pen-name. 'With this, his main intent is to entertain,' the Guardian quotes his publisher saying.

'By adopting a pen name to pursue a sideline in genre fiction, Banville is following in a long and noble tradition', writes the Guardian. This may be the case, but are his thrillers really going to be a sideline. Surely there is at least a possibility they might sell quite well?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Done and dusted

I've finished checking the line edits for Perfidy and Perfection. Huzzah! One reason which made the time taken the greater was the checking of historical facts and etymology of word usage. Even with google and my ordinary reference library at one's fingertips, eventhing you want to double-check is at least a five minute effort. Then there is the fact that every thirty to forty minutes I have to take a break - even if it's just to get a cup of coffee or go and check my emails for a few minutes.

Now that's done my next urgent writing priority is the RNA New Writers Scheme report I still have outstanding on a manuscript. I feel really bad because I've had the script for over a month and I read it and started writing up a report, but then had to drop it to get these copy edits checked. When I was a participant in the New Writers Scheme myself I remember the nail-biting and my own impatience to get my script back, and tried to tell myself that real authors are busy with real authoring but I didn't quite believe it. My script was important, dammit! Now I'm on the other side of the fence all I can say to my poor NWS submitter is sorry. With Hale you have two weeks to check line edits and return with any further corrections and queries and your deadline is contracted and not movable.

Eagle-eyed blog readers will have noticed the advertising on the side bar of this blog. I signed up with the Google Adwords programme. If any of the advertisers look tempting, please do click-through and have a quick look as, in theory, I receive a few cents for every person directed from here. I shall let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

*$!^*!£" copy edits

Still doing them.

There is light at the end of the tunnel.
There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Frankfurt Book Fair

All over the publishing world executives will getting ready for the deal-making that is the Frankfurt International Book Fair which kicks off later this week. I checked the rights database on the website but no sign of The Lady Soldier on there so maybe next year I'll have an agent, or go to Frankfurt myself. Meanwhile struggling authors around the globe are doing their copy edits.

I'm still reviewing the copy edits for Perfidy and Perfection but actually it's proving enlightening. This copy editor is really good. I'm learning things. About correct use of the semi-colon and such like.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Pride and Prejudice

Research can sometimes be tiresome. Not on Friday evening when I went to see Pride and Prejudice at the cinema. I found the film, by and large, is faithful to Jane Austen’s novel and the period detail is right.

Keira Knightly (Elizabeth Bennet) grins infectiously. Any man would fall for such a smile. She pulls off the role of the ‘foolish, headstrong girl’, her mother describes. What’s missing is some of the depth of Elizabeth Bennet’s character. It’s difficult to believe that Knightly’s Elizabeth might actually sit down and read a book.

In the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (1995) Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy famously emerged from a swim in a lake, his wet shirt clinging to his chest. Matthew MacFadyen’s Darcy strolls across the dewy dawn grass with his shirt open at the neck and the fluff of some chest hair on view. The romance is there. Matthew MacFadyen’s Darcy is different from Colin Firth’s but not less agreeable. He cuts a tall, fine figure. Proud, like Firth, but he appears more vulnerable, somehow shyer. The scenes at Pemberley, with Georgiana Darcy are captivating. It’s completely believable that he should have falling in love with Elizabeth when we see the eagerness in his body language in her presence, and the way he smiles at her in these later scenes.

Brenda Blethyn plays Mrs Bennet exceptionally well and Rosamund Pike is absolutely convincing as Jane Bennet. Donald Sutherland portrays an amusing Mr Bennet, his dry humour works though his English accent sounded slightly odd in places. Tom Hollander gives us an exceptionally cringe-worthy Mr Collins – that’s the character – his eyes never meeting anyone he speaks to, and his voice absolutely in character with its obsequiousness.

Simon Wood’s Bingley comes into his own in his final scene with Jane Bennet. Watching Darcy’s dark and confident silhouette against a flustered and pacing Bingley beside a hazy lake just before this scene was a delight.

If the BBC’s 1995 version was all about balls and Chippendale elegance, then the 2005 film is set in a farmyard. Longbourn, the Bennet’s home in Hertfordshire, is not a scaled-up doll’s house. There is clutter on the tables, muddied hems and shoes, and the window sils need a lick of paint.
The sensuous feel and detail is rife. The sun shines when the Bennets are happy. rain showers down heavily when there is a crisis. There are pleasing quirks in the cinematography which add successfully to the atmosphere. Joe Wright (Director) captures the feel of rural England. (He should consider a Thomas Hardy for this next project.) There is a moment as Mr Bennet hussels a beloved pig through the hallways at Longbourn; another as he lifts a prize plant down from a high shelf. Uninportant in themselves, over in two seconds, these tiny glimpses are enough to make an impression.

Now it's just fingers-crossed that the DVD will be out next year at around the same time as Perfidy and Perfection.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Ten tedious author obligations

1. Reviewing copy edits
2. Reviewing copy edits
3. Reviewing copy edits
4. Reviewing copy edits
5. Reviewing copy edits
6. Reviewing copy edits
7. Reviewing copy edits
8. Reviewing copy edits
9. Reviewing copy edits

10. Reviewing copy edits

Guess what I'm doing today? No prizes. ;)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Chasing Bridget

Bridget Jones, the character who so perfectly captured the mid-90s angst of mid-30s-and-counting single womanhood is no longer amusing ten years on when she’s still drinking Chardonnay and alternately sleeping with the same two men, argues Amanda Platell in today’s Daily Mail.
The author who captures the zeitgeist, as Helen Fielding did with Bridget Jones, catches the worm. But the Bridget Jones of the 90s, the icon we know, is still with us. She is still with us because the insecurities she represents have always been there.
‘I quake at the thought of it,’ says Miss Persephone Lincoln, one of the characters in Perfidy and Perfection, speaking of her upcoming Season in 1812. ‘Yet one must go through it if one is to acquire one’s town bronze, and of course a husband.’

Gareth Sibson is promoting his writing via the intriguing blog
www.chasingbridget.com. What's the average man thinking when he finds himself dating the Bridgets or Carries of this world? asks the blurb to his romantic novel, Single White Failure, out this month. What is he thinking indeed? The premise of Sibson’s book seems to be that something’s gone wrong. Bridget Jones warmed the hearts of people who saw parts of their deepest fears articulated. ‘I would like to make a stand for marriage,’ writes India Knight in the Sunday Times (2/10/05) after a recent government population report which predicts increasing levels of singledom. ‘I think more people should do it and I also think tens of thousands of people are dying to do it but can’t express this ambition for fear of ridicule.’

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Blog meme and the postman

Wenlock has tagged me with this blog meme. Ok, why not... here are the instructions:

1. Delve into my blog archive.
2. Find my 23rd post (or closest to).
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in my blog along with these instructions. Ponder it for meaning, subtext or hidden agendas...
5. Tag five people to do the same.

My 23rd post is a short writing update from January this year, entitled Nearly half way through JOURNEY. It only has 4 sentences. This is the last sentence:

Hope to finish before the end of the month, so I can go on holiday with a clear conscience.

i.e. I was in the middle of editing the first novel manuscript I ever completed back in 2001 as the full had been requested by DC Thomson and wanted to finish before I went on holiday. I suffer from general guilt when I time waste and am not being productive and I was posting setting myself a goal in order to publically shame myself into meeting it!

Maybe I can learn something from this? i.e. set myself some goals for the wip.

Not that I will be doing much in the immediate future as my copy-edits for Perfidy and Perfection arrived from Hale yesterday morning:
'Hi!' the postman said as I, with hair not even brushed yet (I was still in the middle of getting ready for work), signed for the parcel.
'Hi,' I replied.
'I know you from the Writers'.'
'You probably don't recognise me in my uniform, eh? But I was that same talk with you by that literary agent.'

Right, better tag some people* for the blog meme:
Sela Carsen, Wendy Wootton & Kate Hardy

* I know it's not five but who's counting? ;)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Time to face up to the wip

I hate starting new books. It's really scary. You have to establish character, set the pacing, create the tone, make choices that will affect the rest of the narrative. You are writing in a state of doubt. Julie Cohen

Sometime in the middle of July, at an exact moment I can't now pinpoint, I started writing (but mostly in my head) a new wip, cautiously titled MRS RANDALL after the lead female character. This wip is now about to be code-named SISTERS and I think I dare shortly start a spreadsheet to record word-count as I seem to have down about 8,000 words on the page. (I'm not saying they are good words, but at least something there).

It's been slow-going but I'm at the point where I think the next step is to do a tiny bit of planning and to invest some time in writing-up the backstories of my main characters. (If I don't do this I tend to go heavy on the backstory in my early chapters, which I then cut, and then I forget. Solution: write little character histories elsewhere from the manuscript.)

I'm generally against planning. It takes the suspense out of it for me. But I know that time invested in planning probably saves time wasted in drafting. What's the ideal balance between planning, and what is known in writerly circles as pantsing*?

I'm still learning.

* Flying-by-the-seat-of-one's-pants. i.e. making it up as you go along.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Sunday and cover sketch

I will do some writing today, I've promised myself. In the meantime, here's the cover sketch which Robert Hale emailed over for Perfidy and Perfection. I love it. Possibly because Ben (the hero) looks so handsome.

Perfidy and Perfection cover sketch
(c) K Allan

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Writing with the senses - 3

Writing emotion

The reader does not want to be told what the emotions in a scene are, they want to pick up the clues for themselves and guess. Experiment by including emotion in your writing in various ways:

- using action
Show the reader how the character is feeling by their actions.

- dialogue
Make sure your dialogue matches the emotion of the character who is speaking.

- internal monlogue
Clever use of internal monologue (what the character is thinking in their head) can allow the reader to learn what the character is feeling.

While some emotions may be simple, for example anger or joy, characters may feel a number of emotions, possibly conflicting ones, in a short space of time. Giving your characters emotional complexity is an important way of making them three dimensional. Give clues to the emotion so the reader has to do some work to understand what is going on. The more you can encourage your reader to invest in your story, the more they are likely to get out of it. Use the senses and make every word count to show this. Remember that you can also show emotion through tricks like using the environment to match the mood of the scene. Using the other five senses can help to optimise the emotional response of the reader to your story.

Draw on your own experiences to understand how different emotions feels and define exactly how your character feels at each turn of the story and make sure you are communicating this to your readers with your words on the page.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Call in the cavalry
(c) K Allan

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Writing with the senses - 2

The sixth sense, and why you must use it.

We've seen the five senses and how these can stimulate the reader's imagination experience to create the reading experience. So can the sixth sense:


The reader wants to care about your characters, share their ups and downs and feel emotionally connected with them. If they don’t your story will be flat and forgettable. This applies even in plot driven stories.

When the reader opens your book they are like a lost duckling. They will try and connect with every character they meet on the page. They are not looking necesarily to like every character, but they want to meet characters they can empathise with and understand. You can create this by letting the reader share your characters' emotions. The reader may have never been in a character's exact situation, but human experience is such that they will have felt emotions similar to those the character is feeling. The sharing of emotions bonds readers to characters.

Editors in publishing houses are looking for emotion in the fiction they buy:

‘I want to see manuscripts that make me laugh and make me cry. If they don’t, I’m afraid it’s unlikely they will make it beyond the first read, no matter how great the story is, no matter how enthusiastic the agent was about selling it to me over a great lunch.’ (Editorial Director at major UK mainstream publisher, speaking at a writers' conference in 2004)

Tomorrow: Techniques for writing emotion

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Writing with the senses - 1

On 15th August I gave my 'Six Senses of Writing' workshop to Watford Writers. About 20 writers of all abilities hunkered around the small tables in the colourful Cha Cha Cha Cafe which is in it's own early 20th century building on the edge of a green-lawned park. I'm still up for giving the workshop to some more writing groups but I'd like to share the highlights from the workshop here online.

Today let's start with:

What are the six senses, and why use them in your writing?

As a writer you are communicating, using words, to your reader. These words are flat, usually in black ink, on a flat, usually white page. Your reader will take what they read on the page and imagine the story. You need to give them the cues to stimulate their imaginations and this can be done by making sure you write using senses.

These are five senses which we will talk about first:


Most people are naturally visual or aural. You’ll see by looking at your own writing which senses you include naturally. As your readers will all be different and may not sense the world as you do it makes sense to include all the senses in your writing so there is something there for every reader.

Smell and taste can seem the least obvious to use, but with practice it will come. For example:

Her nose wrinkled at the pungent smell - beer, tobacco and goose fat. (Smell)

Ben pecked his mother on the cheek and tasted the familiar, chalky powder. (Taste)
(From ‘Perfidy and Perfection’ by Kate Allan)

When you combine two or more senses in a short passage the effect will be very powerful. Here’s two examples:

She was dismayed to see a new puddle of water had appeared even since yesterday. She looked up at the dark timbers and then down again at the puddle, and heard the rhythmic splash of the drips. (Sight and sound)

She sat down on the bed, held the hem of the counterpane in her hands, closed her eyes. Breathed the scent of home, the faint teaser of lavender from the sprigs she placed in her drawers, the lingering jasmine perfume, a present from her mother’s sister when she had been in England two years ago from India. (Touch and smell)
(From ‘Perfidy and Perfection’ by Kate Allan)

Using the senses in your writing brings your created world alive for your readers.

Tomorrow: the sixth sense, and why you must use it.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Lady Soldier in Oz, and royalties

Thousands of miles from here, on the far side of the world, I discovered today that someone has borrowed The Lady Soldier from Beerwah Branch Library in Australia.

I also came home this evening to my first royalty statement. Robert Hale issues these twice-yearly so this was for the period 1/1/2005 to 30/6/2005 for sales of The Lady Soldier, which was released on 31/05/2005 so the statement only records sales in the first month. Attached to the statement was a cheque for small sum - hurrah!

However, before we get too excited that is actually possible to make much money from writing fiction - here are the truths:

Truth 1 - I'm in this for the love of writing stories.

Which is just as well as you will see when we come to Truth 2...

I'm told that The Lady Soldier hasn't done badly at all because it's possible for hardback fiction these days in the UK to appear and sell less than 200 copies. The Lady Soldier has actually sold over 400 copies.*

Truth 2 - Even if your book 'does quite well' there is not really any money in hardback fiction.

The royalty statement states that up to 30/6/2005 The Lady Soldier sold 210 copies at home (i.e. UK) which made enough for us to earn out our advance. In addition there were 63 export sales copies sold, and these garner a smaller royalty - I get £22.90 altogether for these export sales which works out at 36p per book, but as The Lady Soldier was co-written I only get 50% of the royalties, so the total royalties for a copy sold export would be 72p.

Assuming that The Lady Soldier stays in print for a year or so, I would expect sales to trickle in a little further, perhaps taking the total hardback sales to 5-600 copies. In additional to this, we have sold Large Print rights** which garners less per copy for the author as export sales so it's a nice extra, but nothing staggering. However, Large Print means more copies in libraries to boost PLR, which is the payment UK authors can claim against public library borrowings. So with a bit of luck with PLR and all that I guess I would expect The Lady Soldier to make me around £1,000 over a, say, two year lifetime, with a trickle of PLR coming in for an additional few years after that. Not a lot of money for so much work, and I have invested around half that sum on promotion in any case.

At least it's Buy A Friend A Book Week this week***, so if you've not bought a friend a book for no good reason yet, buy one now. Us authors need all the book sales we can get!

* My best estimate to date, and includes some author copies sold at events which would not appear on any royalty statement.
** Out next year sometime.
*** Thank you Wenlock for the heads up.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Back to the blog!

The best part of a month has passed while I’ve been away from blogging, but I’m back online at home and perhaps the break has been a chance to reflect on what this blog should be about, and I’ve had some time to think of some blog-posting ideas. I’d like my blog to be more creative, better written, and more interesting... so let's give this all a go!

Last week I must have simmering with creative energy as I ended up drawing some cartoons using MS Paint on the computer (see below). Not something I've ever done before, but that's no reason not to try something. Not that I can draw but, well, it amused me anyway.

The buck stops here!
(c) K Allan