Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Sex, Lies and Her Impossible Boss, or The Importance of Being Kinkpositive

“There's no such thing as 'just sex’, Cash.” 
When the new boss of Faith Harris's TV station, the famously ruthless and annoyingly gorgeous Cash Anderson, tells her he'll be canceling her sex and relationships show she knows she's in for a fight. She's worked her silk-clad butt off to get her high ratings, and no man's going to take them away from her--however hot under the collar he secretly gets her... 
But sugar's better than vinegar any day, so Faith decides to prove to Cash just how meaningful her show really is. The only trouble is, it's also rather...risque. And there was enough chemistry between them even before Faith set about proving just how riveting sex can be...
I'm all about sex positivity.

Seriously.  I think that it's an incredibly important debate and one that is often fueled by lazy misogyny.  So the premise of Sex, Lies & Her Impossible Boss immediately grabbed my attention:  an intelligent journalist, a producer who's all about the ratings and a television show that's at the centre of a big debate about sex.

It's really hard to approach this kind of topic in a serious way; so many people will denounce you for mentioning sex in public (horror of all horrors) and even authors have been pushed to drop sauciness and kink from their manuscripts due to big publishers not understanding the fact that BDSM isn't tantamount to abuse...

So when it's addressed as a light-hearted topic in a novel like this, it means that we can engage with the big issues, without being preached at or scared off.

And Jennifer Rae does this brilliantly!

In addition to this, it does help that the characters who are mediating this to are so engaging as well...  Faith is fun and determined; with an understanding and acceptance of everyone that is so wonderful to see.  And Cash is beyond dreamworthy.  An alpha male with a soft side, he matches Faith in terms of intelligence and business acumen and sensuality.

Sparks fly throughout the book - especially when Faith takes him along to see the filming of her segment - and he's really rather delicious.

Worth reading and downloading immediately.

Cue Mills & Boon boy Steve...  ;)

Jessica Hart: You've Written a Romance - What Do You Do Now?

I'm joined by Jessica Hart, who's well-known for her 60+ Harlequin/Mills & Boon novels.  An expert in narrative plotting, character development and romance itself, she has recently turned her hand at helping others achieve their writerly dreams.  She talks about what to do once you've completed your manuscript:

T H E   E N D: the best two words you can ever type!  It’s a huge achievement to complete a novel and the temptation to rush your book out there so that everyone can read it is huge. 

But if you’re sensible, you’ll wait and let someone else read it before you go public.  Not your mum, or your best friend, or – God forbid – your partner, but someone who really understands about stories and how they work.

Mr (Not Quite) Perfect

You’re much too close to your story to see the flaws in it.  I’ve written 63 books now, and I still wouldn’t dream of letting anyone read any of them until an editor had cast an eye over it.  The occasions when they love it just as it is are rare indeed.  My 60th Mills & Boon romance, Mr (Not Quite) Perfect (find the CLAficionado review of it here - it's remarkable!!) did go through without any revisions (and oh, how happy I was about that!) but it’s much more usual that my editor will point out some areas that need tightening or a gaping hole in a character’s motivation.  And as soon as she has, I can see how glaringly obvious a mistake it is, and beat myself up for not seeing it myself.

Revisions taught me how to write.  When I started writing romance – over 20 years ago – I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.  For my first attempt, I rattled off a story and sat back and waited for a cheque to drop through the door.  That didn’t happen (surprise!).  It took me two outright rejections before I thought to read a book on how to write romance, and the resulting third attempt got me out of the slush pile (thank you, Mary Wibberley) although I didn’t get a contract until my fourth submission, ASweeter Prejudice.  

I’d had a book published.  Hooray! I knew what I was doing now, right? Wrong.  Every manuscript I sent in came back with reams of revisions that I would read with growing dismay.  I used to allow myself a day or two to sulk, and then I’d go back and read the comments again, and I’d realise that every single one was right.  They meant that I would have to start at the beginning and rewrite the entire book, and it was always so much stronger as a result. 

I cringe to think about some of those manuscripts I submitted.  I thought I’d finished when I typed THE END, but I realise now that they were just first drafts, and pretty shitty ones at that.  I needed an experienced eye to identify the problems and help me develop what worked in my story.

It was only when I became a reader for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme that I was forced to think for myself about how and why stories work and what I was actually doing when I wrote.   I read decently-written manuscripts that were lacking a real conflict,  that became bogged down in banal dialogue or a sagging plot, or had erratic characters with no real motivation.  It wasn’t that the words weren’t put together well, it was a basic lack of understanding of how a romance is structured.   So how could I help the author put their story right?

Since then I’ve been fascinated by romance writing, and how and why it works, and I’ve taught a number of successful courses for the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York and at the Watermill at Posara, as well as various workshops. 

I was mentor to RITA®  nominated Leah Ashton, winner of Mills & Boon’s first New Voices competition, and Jessica Gilmore, now writing her fifth book for Harlequin Mills & Boon, was a student on my Slush Pile to the Shelves course. Jessica, whose Summer with the Millionaire is out now, says:  Pam was brilliant at explaining story structure, conflict and characterisation in fun, easy to understand and relevant ways, ensuring I had all the tools I needed to turn my ideas into workable, writeable plots.” (In case you’re wondering, Pam is my real name!)

Now I’m offering aspiring romance authors the chance to learn those tools too.  While professional editors can give valuable advice about the market, and point out weaknesses, I think only someone who’s been at the coalface of writing, as it were, understands how to go about putting those weaknesses right. 

As someone who knows just how hard it is to write a book, I’ll read your manuscript with a sympathetic but tough eye, and I’ll give you constructive feedback. I won’t just point out what’s wrong, but make suggestions about ways in which you could tighten your plot, make your characters engaging, and, most importantly of all, ensure that you have a strong emotional conflict at centre of your book. 

Maybe you’ll sulk the way I did when you get my report, but I hope you’ll also know that every suggestion is intended to make sure that whether you choose to submit to a publisher or publish yourself, your book is as good as you can possibly make it.

And maybe you won’t need to sulk at all! If I think the book is ready for submission, I can offer advice on that, and there will be a discounted rate for second reads of a manuscript and/or mentoring sessions by phone or in person.

For more details see my website or email me directly: jessica@jessicahart.co.uk

RITA® and RNA prize winner Jessica Hart has written 60 books for Mills & Boon and is an experienced writing tutor and editor.  Under her real name, Pamela Hartshorne, she also writes ‘time slip’ novels published by Pan Macmillan.  Her very first book, A Sweeter Prejudice, is part of the Jessica Hart Vintage Collection, now available to download on Amazon UK or Amazon US and visit her website for other e-readers.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

There Ain't No Party Like A Chatsfield Party...

I've always been more of a house party girl than one for clubbing…there’s something quite delightful about oscillating between gossip in the kitchen and dancing with your mates in the living room.

Of course, there’s a big difference between cider-drenched house parties at uni and parties in the Presidential Suite of a five star hotel.

Adam Brightman’s this media mogul who’s currently staying at The Chatsfield Hotel in London, and he’s a sweetheart – if a bit of a charmer.  (For charmer read irrepressibly flirtatious). 

Anyway, he was (in his words) “unceremoniously ejected” from the Presidential Suite whilst Sheikh Sayed bin Falah was in town, and on his return he announced a party to all and sundry.

So that’s how I found myself, last night, in a £5000 a night hotel suite, dancing to Poker Face with a quarter of the Swedish swim team.  (And no, the rumours about Ad and the Swedish swim team aren't true – I have it on good authority that that was the Austrian team…  Or at least three of them!)

And as evenings go, it was pretty epic.

We’re talking champagne cocktails on tap, selfies with Ben Montague (film star and general all round hottie) and his sister Juliet, as well as live music - all in the most opulent luxury that I've ever set eyes on.  No wonder Jessie loves her job.

The moment the lift doors opened I found myself in a world inhabited by celebrities and members of “society”.  Hardly like any Saturday night that I've ever had…  But I soon found myself holding some colourful concoction in stemmed crystal and being invited to join a card game where the stakes were way higher than any poker game I've ever played.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, I gravitated towards the bar (which seems to be the suite equivalent of a house party’s kitchen) where I talked to the Montagues about Ben’s new film, blagged my way through a conversation about gym routines with a handful of professional swimmers and ended up dancing my arse off…

Who knew that Lady Gaga songs would sound great as rock anthems?!

Adam himself spent the evening flitting from group to group, flirting with this model and then listening oh so very intently to that pop star.  He’s the consummate host, ever attentive, even spending fifteen minutes introducing the band to some hotshot DJ.

But there’s something rather odd about someone who simply doesn't ever tie himself down - not even in conversation.

Nevertheless he was utterly lovely; he even remembered some conversation I’d had with Jessie about the tulips he’d bought her, and handed me the most beautiful tiny tulip brooch.  Like I said, a charmer.

All in all, a fantastic evening.  Can’t wait for the next Chatsfield party…

This blog is part of The Chatsfield, a fictional interactive digital project run by Mills & Boon.  Check into The Chatsfield here.