Thursday, 28 February 2013

Latin Chick Lit

So, my brother returned home from school this afternoon and wanted to show me his Latin homework - some translation thing.

I reproduce here - verbatim - what he had written down.

“My dove,” he said.  “Why are you crying?”

  “I cry because I am sad,” the slave-girl replied to the cook.  “I work through the whole day.  How tired I am!  Now it is necessary for me to prepare the whole bedroom.  I am not able to work any longer.”

  “My dove, don’t cry!” said Volubis.  “I am able to prepare the bedroom for you.”

  “Volubis, how kind you are,” whispered the slave-girl.

  The cook returned to the bedroom with the slave girl.  He carefully worked and made the bedroom spotless.  The slave-girl was happy.

  “My honey!” she said.  “My darling!” and she kissed him.  The cook, blushing, returned to the kitchen.


Halcyon Thursdays: Summer Dreams, Winter Love

Everyone remembers what it was like to be fourteen and sneak around behind your parents' backs.  For me, however, it was a little different than most.  I was naive, innocent and more than a little studious.  So my rebellion?  (Pre-redhairgate of course.)  PointRomance.

I used to sneak home indulgent romantic pulp that wasn't the Jane Austen I should have been reading, and read on the sly, often hiding them beneath my mattress.  It's kind of the reason I'm the person I am today.

And so, even though I have graduated from the slush of my teens, I like reminisce about times long gone.  Hence Halcyon Thursdays, this week starring PointRomance's Summer Dreams, Winter Love.

Ellen can't get Michael out of her mind. She knows he might be dangerous, she knows she might get hurt - but she can't stop wanting him.

Yes, the premise sounds like every high school crush you ever had.  (Although dangerous?!  Really?!  Michael Tyler's hardly a bad boy - just look at the name!!)  And yes, there are moments when you cannot believe how self-indulgent you must have been when this was you; but at the same time, there's something really magical about the way that it happens.

Shura's pretty clever, leaving us guessing at Michael's feelings towards Ellen until the very when SPOILER (in case you hadn't already guessed), it turns out that he loves her too.

Now, I can't work out whether on rereading this I loved it or found it hysterical.  I think that I can't honestly mock it as much as I'd truly like, and that's got to mean something.  At school, it was there as an escape and now?  Now it reminds me what it was like to be fourteen and smuggling chick lit into the house without my mum finding out, to be wide-eyed and innocent, to be pre-heartbreak with everything out ahead of you.  So the characters are more 2.5D than 3D.  I don't really care.  It's frothy fun and warmly familiar.

Next Halcyon Thursday:  Kate Petty's Hannah.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Book Review: 'You Had Me At Hello'

So whilst visiting my delightful younger sister in Durham last weekend, we popped into Tesco's.  She had plans of  pasta-bake variety and I was following her discussing the pros and cons of penne pasta versus conchiglie pasta (tubes versus shells).  That is until we hit the book section.

Now book sections in supermarkets are rather bizarre - you are faced with books at knockdown prices - always good - but the quality of said books is not always of the highest order.  (Though my local Tesco's Extra has a Mills&Boon section - epic!)  Nevertheless, I challenge any bookaholic to walk past without browsing and so this is where my sister found me fifteen minutes later, nose-deep in 'You Had Me At Hello'.

Now, usually at this point I would have just put the book back on the shelf and gone with her to the checkout; that's how this usually goes.  But get a load of the blurb:

‘Think of the great duos of history. We're just like them.’
‘You mean like Kylie and Jason? Torvill and Dean? Sonny and Cher?’
‘I think you’ve missed the point, Rachel.’

Rachel and Ben. Ben and Rachel. It was them against the world. Until it all fell apart. It’s been a decade since they last spoke, but when Rachel bumps into Ben one rainy day, the years melt away.

They’d been partners in crime and the best of friends. But life has moved on: Ben is married. Rachel is not. Yet in that split second, Rachel feels the old friendship return. And along with it, the broken heart she’s never been able to mend.

Hilarious, heartbreaking and everything in between, you’ll be hooked from their first ‘hello’.

I am a sucker for 'what if' romances.

Possibly foolish, almost definitely going to bit me in the arse at some point, but I enjoy them.  Scrap that, I love them.  It's why I sob uncontrollably at the end of The Notebook every single time I watch it.

Unfortunately I am sans job at the moment, which is why when Cia placed the book back firmly on the shelf and physically dragged me away, I let her.

So imagine my delight when this morning, having just completed the last book in The Hollows series that I've been addicted to (dark paranormal fantasy, very funny, well worth a read), I turned to browse my Kindle ad there it lay - at the top of my Chick Lit folder.

Reader, it was clearly fate.

As a result, I've pretty much devoured it this afternoon and am here to give my verdict.

Firstly, I love the way Mhairi McFarlane (author btw) writes.  It's written in the first person and our narrator is a flawed, interesting, intelligent and funny woman.  She's not a pushover, she makes mistakes, and she is over thirty

I also like the questions it asks us of marriage and relationships.  Once people hit a certain age, do they marry just because they feel they should?  Or do people always marry because they're head over-heels in love with their partner?  It ends up demanding that we consider why and how people break up, and most importantly it explores the concept of an all-consuming love without reverting to tweeness or becoming saccharine.

There are moments of resonance in the novel where you see real life echoed in a bizarre, slightly discomforting way.  It's fascinating to read and more than a little brilliant.  Almost impossible to put down.

There's a brilliantly witty scene at the dinner party from hell where Rachel gets cornered by unbearable Smug Marrieds (as Bridget Jones would say).  Despite being excruciatingly awkward for her - as well as us - McFarlane takes the opportunity to challenge the sanctity of marriage as an institution; and love at first sight:
Love at first sight and all that stuff is crap.  It's just the thrill of your imagination working on insufficient information.  It's that moment when someone can be anyone.  Soon passes.  And it's all the worse because you've made disappointment absolutely inevitable.
And yet, despite all that, this novel makes you believe in it.

At the end it says that Mhairi's next novel is due for publication in December and I am disappointed that I shall have to wait that long.  Good going.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

When Marvel met Chick Lit

I am, without a doubt, not limited in my enthusiasm for the written genre.  I adore Shakespeare, have a large amount of time for manga, and have even been known to crack open the Game of Thrones novels (and by crack open, I mean buy them as soon as they're out in paperback).

So when I heard that Marvel prose had decided to expand their horizons, I couldn't have been happier.  Marta Acosta and Christine Woodward have taken on two of the more complex female characters from the Avengers and X Men universes:  She-Hulk and Rogue.

She-Hulk is probably the lesser-known of the two - outside of the comicbook scene.  Conspiciously absent from the most recent Avengers film, she is the cousin of Bruce Banner (The Incredible Hulk) and has been a member of any number of superhero groups including the Fantastic Four and S.H.I.E.L.D.  A highly skilled lawyer, she has served as legal counsel to various superheroes and goes by the name of Jennifer Walters.  Rogue, on the other hand, is fairly well-knwn, having been played by Anna Paqin in her pre-True Blood days.

Acosta's novel (aptly titled The She-Hulk Diaries) with its luminous green lipstick on the cover, is clearly trying to attract a different readership (Christine Woodward's Rogue Touch has a decidedly Twilight-y feel) and there appear to be two opposing camps about this.  Some people have argued that it lessens the characters to have such intelligent women reduced to their romantic adventures, but I think this is a very reductive and quite damaging view.  The She-Hulk of the comic books is hardly de-sexualised - what with her gravity-defying breasts - and Acosta isn't trying to transform her into some simpering idiot, but rather explore the balance between her attorney job and her wild alter-ego.

Even Elizabeth Dyssegard, the Hyperion head editor, has highlighted the fact that there will be a large emphasis on the characters' powers and challenges, calling them 'super heroines'.

As for me?  I can't wait for June to come...bring on the green!

Monday, 25 February 2013

On Revisiting Teenage Scribblings

Whilst ruthlessly culling my book collection in anticipation for the move home this week, I came across an old notebook filled with musings, angsty poetry and my first attempts at romance writing.

Looking back, I'd forgotten how voraciously my small group of friends wrote every week, churning out 'ficlets' (our mini-versions of novellas) like others churned out last minute homework assignments.

I perfected - or so I thought - the art of the page-long short story.  A friend and I even embarked upon what we considered to be a literary masterpiece named: Love Can Give You Wings.  A forty page love story starring one of our best friends, it took weeks of preparation and to this day remains one of the best birthday presents I've ever produced.

Nevertheless, however rose-tinted my reminiscings, one can't help but be bemused by delightfully cheesy passages such as:

  As well as having a bar, Ali soon found out, Haru’s club had a broom cupboard.

  From the other side of the locked door, she heard Haru and Sarah both dispute this fact loudly; Haru in particular seemed almost insulted at the thought of a broom cupboard in one of his clubs – it was, he claimed, a closet.  But they were wrong, Ali had decided, it was far too big to be a closet, and was therefore a broom cupboard.  Besides, it had a broom in it.

  It also had a Tyson in it.

It makes me wonder, though, where all that youthful enthusiasm went.  Off I went to university and I spent more time writing about Shakespeare (not that I don't approve of academic essays - I'm a massive Shakespeare geek) than being creative.  It took the revival of an old friendship and regular visits to The Poetry Cafe's Poetry Unplugged night in Covent Garden nearly a year after graduation before I started to write again.

It seems ironic, and more than a little exciting that now - seven years after I left sixth form college - I'm finally matching that pinnacle of past writing fervor.  Long may it last.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Rugby Players: The Perfect Alpha Male?

This weekend - blogging aside - has been taken up a fair amount by the RBS Six Nations Championship.

For those of you who are unaware of this annual tournament, let me just summarise it for you.  Six countries.  Fifteen games. Many many manly men rolling around in the mud with each other.

To the delight of my sister's housemates I hijacked the television and sat down to fret over the England v France match.  The Twickenham game was nail-bitingly close at times, the saving grace being the French coach's bizarre decision to substitute the new team with older players.  Thankfully - after much pointless yelling at the screen - we won, but it led me to think about the role of the alpha male within romance fiction.

I am personally of the opinion that there is a very thin line between the alpha male, and an overbearing hero who is convinced that women cannot possibly make decisions for themselves.  International rugby players, therefore, are close to being the perfect romance novel hero.  They are manly enough to make the heroine swoon, and yet are renowned for supposedly being gentlemen.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, Mills & Boon and the RFU (Rugby Football Union) agree.  Back in 2009 they teamed up to release eight steamy romances - each anchored with passionate moments on and off the pitch.  Being the proud owner of each (how could I not - with my love for the game outweighed only by my love of novels) all I can hope is that M&B commission a new series.  As soon as possible.

And if you're still not convinced, perhaps this may change your mind:

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Review: Grave Trouble

Title:  Grave Trouble

Author:  Camilla Chafer

Publisher / E-book Availability:  Available in PDF format from Chafer’s website. 

Summary:  The short story takes place between Books 2 and 3 of Chafer’s fantastically entertaining Lexi Graves Mystery series. Lexi’s father asks her to spy on her mum when he suspects that she’s having an affair.

Review:  I’ve loved Camilla Chafer’s Lexi Graves series ever since I came across the first Armed and Fabulous on Amazon’s Top 100 free Kindle Titles list.  Funny, gripping and with a sassy heroine whose forensic and romantic entanglements keep you laughing and reading, I was delighted to notice that she’d published a short story on her website.

The humour is – as ever – dry and more than a little chuckle-worthy.

“There’s a first time for everything. Hank MacIntyre’s mother was found in bed with a care worker at her residential home while his father was playing cards.”

And Lexi still manages to get tongue tied.

I think what I like best about the series is the fact that, written in the first person, we really engage with the heroine.  Lexi is bright and sexy, but she also has a habit of getting distracted and Chafer’s writing style manages to depict this without becoming overly convoluted. 

Being a short story, there’s not as much Soloman (Lexi’s boss) as would have liked, but Adam Maddox makes a brief appearance that promises so much more.  (“Fantastic. We can go anywhere you like. Kitchen counter. Couch. Bedroom.”)

All in all, Grave Trouble is an entertaining short story that should help to tide me over until Shock and Awesome comes out later this year.

CLA Seal of Approval: 


The Ultimate Conundrum: Book Sorting

That dreaded moment when you realise that you no longer have enough space for all your books...

As some of you already know, I recently (aka two weeks ago) invested in a career change.  (Translation:  I quit my job so that I could focus on doing what I enjoy)  However, with such momentous life changes come big decisions.

I am - for about a month - having to move back home, and the place I'm moving to after probably won't have space for all my books.

And therein lies the conundrum.

My book collection is infamous amongst my social circles.  Whittled down from around 3000 tomes last summer, it still takes up at least two good-sized bookshelves.  And yes, that is after having given 15 binbgs worth of books to charity.

So you see my dilemma.  Recently I bought a kindle (which I LOVE btw - fully converted from kindle-hater to kindle-lover) and so I can get rid of some of the duplicates and many of the books I now buy, unless academic, I buy in ebook format.  And there are classics and whole series of books that I simply can't part with.  But that still leaves me with a large surplus of books.

My parents - as well meaning as they are - suggest getting rid of my 'trashy novels'.  As an aspiring 'trashy novel' writer, I have tried not to take much umbrage with this, but being the proud owner of the entire RIVA line (my favourite Mills&Boon series) I simply can't imagine it.  Where else am I to find the research for my own romance/erotic novel - outside of the bedroom of course!

This Chick Lit Aficionado is well and truly stumped.  If you hear wails of despair, originating from the South London area, think of me.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Mills&Boon Erotica Workshop Review

So last night I trekked halfway across London to attend Mills&Boon's erotica writing workshop at Willesden Green Library.  Being a fairly big fan of their current SPICE series, as well as currently working on my own romance manuscript, any help with writing that all important sex scene seemed like a good plan.

And the evening certainly did not disappoint!

Mills & Boon digital erotica sales have increased by 2000% over the last few years.

The panel stated off by inviting the audience to define erotica.  Now erotica has a habit of crossing over with more contemporary romances - particularly those don't leave bedroom exploits behind a closed door - so I was particularly intrigued to see how the M&B editors see it.

Erotica, though escapism blended with fantasy, is effective precisely because it immerses us in an exploration of a different aspect of ourselves.

And erotica, just like any other genre, has numerous subgenres such as short stories (such as M&B's 12 Stories of Surrender), BDSM (Tiffany Reisz's incredible Original Sinners Series), emotional dilemmas (Megan Hart), historical (Portia Da Costa's Into the Flesh - 50 Shades meets Mr Darcy), and magical (The Harlot).

After the opening panel, the group split into three and then went to separate rooms to discuss some contrasting excerpts.  I found it particularly interesting to see how different people reacted to the different excerpts - especially getting a male perspective.

The final section of the evening was devoted to putting all the things we'd discussed into practice.  Anything can be sensual if you try...  So we were given three options (a glass of water, a shoe and chocolate) and tld to pick one.  Check out a snippet from my attempt at making a shoe sexy:

His eyes lingered on her ankle and she deliberately hesitated, inviting his gaze to settle as she slowly wound the ribbons of her shoe round her soft skin.

Overall, a highly entertaining evening, really helpful, and even though I ended up getting to Durham at 3 in the morning, I'll definitely attend another!

The M&B Guide to Writing Erotica:
  • Start with your characters
  • Tell a god story - sex alone is not enough
  • Motivate and contextualise your sex scenes
  • Sex...without the cliches
  • Delve into the specificity of the particular character's experience
  • Use the five senses to explain and express the uniqueness of your character's response to sex
  • Above all, don't be embarrassed - if you're uncomfortable writing your sex scenes, your audience will be uncomfortable reading it
Things to consider:
  • What flaws do your characters have?
  • What emotional and internal barriers are preventing your characters from being together?
  • Why is the sex scene the next inevitable step?
  • Sex must drive the action forward
    • What shift is there after sex happens?
    • What are the consequences of sex?

The Obligatory First Post

Welcome one and sundry to the exploits of a Chick Lit Aficionado.  Stay tuned for book reviews, tips from writing workshops, and updates on my very own writing turmoils.