Juliet’s Wednesday Ws – Wine, Women and … Writing


Tonight it’s the RNA Winter Party, where Wine, Women and Writing will be in full flow. Which got me thinking …

Do you buy it from the supermarket, or at your local specialist (if you have one) at a ‘tasting’ event with a guest speaker? Do you prefer something light and refreshing, or are you a connoisseur of the heavy stuff? And am I talking about wine, or books?

Both. Because writing covers the whole spectrum – from commercially produced, perfectly quaffable enjoyment, to rare vintages which may ultimately prove undrinkable for many of us! And then some wines/books cry out to be consumed with food (Choc Lit, anyone?), while others are best savoured on their own.

Actually, the same probably applies to women, too – and men!how-do-you-buy-books1

Looking forward to seeing you tonight, if you’re going. In the meantime, do your wine preferences match your writing/reading ones?

Henri ponders, To Plot or Not to Plot

Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Example of an outline

Example of an outline

By the way, I can’t take credit for that wonderful word “pantser” – I first heard it at the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference in Greenwich in 2010, from the writer Kate Hardy. You can find Kate here, www.katehardy.com

A pantser is the opposite of a plotter – it means that you’re writing your novel by “the seat of your pants”, or “into the wind” (wind, pants… sorry, no pun intended!).

I’ll admit to being a plotter through and through, creating detailed outlines broken down chapter by chapter, which may each include the setting for that particular section, the characters in it, whose viewpoint it is, what needs to be researched further, etc. I sometimes also include the discoveries the characters will make and the emotions this will produce, words of dialogue I’ve already “written” in my head, and how the section will end, i.e. on a cliff-hanger, raising further questions for the characters, or on an emotional note. All of it colour-coded so I can reference it at a glance.

Here’s an example of what one of my outlines may look like:

Well, I did say I like to be in control!

Do my characters ever surprise me? Sure they do, but I’m a hard taskmaster and quickly bring them to heel. Having said that, there are times when they insist on going in a different direction to where I want them to go, or saying something they weren’t meant to say. In such circumstances, no matter how hard I try, I can’t get them to toe the line, and I have to let them have their way. Despite my despair being the parent of such unruly children, interestingly the novel always works out for the better. It’s one of those weird and wonderful things about being a writer – you can plan your book, but you can also adapt when you have to.

And people who don’t write will think you’re off your trolley when you mention that you’ve just had a blazing row with someone who… er… doesn’t exist, but, hey, that’s par for the course.

Sarah: whining on a Friday

65571_293069960759273_1915019023_nWhilst so many of my fellow Choc Lit authors and writerly friends are partying away at the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Summer Conference, I get to blog. Or whine. Because I wish I was there too!

I also wish my 8 yr old hadn’t broken his arm. If he hadn’t, there’d be nothing half way sensible (other than money ― but what’s that?) keeping me away!

dmg-60_medInstead of great company and conversation, I’m sat at my kitchen table all alone, my eldest insisting on going to school to show off his cast and I am listening to the incurable dripping tap, and the higher than usual shrill of the fridge-freezer. Because even that is joining in with the whining.

No doubt, today will be the day it decides to shrilly whine its last, pop its clogs, implode, spontaneously combust, or whatever it is fridge-freezers do in their death throes. Because of course, just to make me feel so much better, I’ve just clocked: it’s Friday the 13th.

So I’ve googled. It had to be done in my present frame of mind.

And where is my husband when I need him? Evidently, I should not be doing the school-run today. If you believe everything you read, women drivers have a 64% increased chance of death when driving on Friday the 13th. Best excuse for getting out of the school-run I’ve ever come across ― and for being in Penrith today (removing broken child from the equation)!

scaredy_cat_0515-0909-1716-2629_smuOf course I should take comfort from my googling. As far as I can see, there are no stats on increased chances of fridge-freezer implosion. And neither am I, a Knight of the Round Table back in the fourteenth century. Poor blokes. They had an appalling Friday the 13th…. Or at least I don’t think I am. Eeek! I recently got past life regressed (research for my latest work in progress) and…today is NOT the day to go there!

It’s not that I suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia (don’t you love that word to describe fear of Friday the thirteenth?) I may be a little more cautious on the day ― and will definitely be factoring in school-run avoidance in the future (really chuffed with that discovery!) ― it’s just, today…I want to be in Penrith!

For all those at the RNA Conference ― have a FABULOUS time! For all those not ― Happy Friday the 13th!

And sorry for whining. Particularly on a Friday and not a Wednesday 🙂 Quite therapeutic though!

RoNAs – Result!

Monday was the Big Day – the annual RNA Awards now called the RoNAs (Romantic Novel Awards) – and as you may have heard already once or twice (or maybe more?), Choc Lit had a triumphant afternoon!

Kate, Christina and Jane

Kate, Christina and Jane

Jane Lovering won the Romantic Comedy category with Please Don’t Stop the Music, Christina Courtenay won the Historical Romantic novel category with Highland Storms and Kate Johnson only just missed out in the Contemporary novel category with her wonderful The Untied Kingdom.  As she lost to Katie Fforde, the RNA’s lovely President, we didn’t mind too much, and two out of three is a pretty good ratio any day!  And as Peter James, the chairman of the Crimewriters’ Association said before he handed out the prizes, all the shortlistees were winners – we totally agree with that.

Rather than boring you with endless trumpet-blowing though, we thought we’d give you Jane’s, Christina’s and Kate’s take on some other aspects of the awards ceremony.  Here is what they had to say and please let us know if you agree with them:-

awjane-with-awardsmallThere were some fabulous outfits on display, which was your favourite?

Jane – Well I was lusting ever so slightly over Katie Fforde’s full-length coat/dress thing.  I’d have looked like a bag of elderly onions in it, but she looked gorgeous.

Kate – There were so many lovely outfits, it’s hard to choose! Christina’s own lovely mauve jacket and boots – ooh, those gorgeous boots! – probably take the prize for me. Marina Fiorato gets Best Hair, Katie Fforde wins Best Cape, and of course our host, Jane Wenham Jones, for her platinum frock, gets Best Dress.

Christina – I was very taken with Jean Fullerton’s emerald green suit as I love bright colours, but I also coveted Liz Fenwick’s fabulous purple jacket.

awchristina-with-awardsmallAnd then there are the shoes – not counting your own, which ones did you wish you’d been wearing?

Jane – Um.  Is it wrong of me to say that I wasn’t looking at people’s feet?  Although, Christina, I did notice your rather lovely lilac boots…

Kate – I’m not sucking up here, but when I invited my mum her first thought was which shoes to wear. I covet her gold sandals terribly; it’s probably just as well we don’t take the same size!

Christina – My feet wished they’d been wearing Jane’s boots, but Bex Leith’s black shoes were wonderful so I’d probably have thrown caution to the wind and picked those.

The ‘bubbly’ was flowing, do you prefer it pink or normal?

Jane – As long as it keeps flowing I am really not bothered. Give it fizz and keep it coming!

Kate – Well, if there’s bubbly going I’m not picky about the colour. Although I will say that the first time I tasted Bollinger was the first time I “got” champagne!

Christina – Neither – hate the stuff!  Unless you put peach juice or Kir in to make it ultra sweet.

Which was your favourite canape?

Jane – I didn’t eat any.  I was too terrified and then too shocked.  And ever so slightly too busy drinking…

Kate – I’m not large on the canapés, being that it’s often hard to tell whats in them (I don’t eat meat or shellfish). But the salmon ones were nice. And matched the champagne.

Christina – Salmon, definitely, although I was in such a state of shock I can’t actually tell you what the others were!

awardauthorssmallMost amusing comment of the afternoon (either in a speech or normal conversation)?

Jane – Hazel Osmond and I had a discussion about weeing in handbags in extremis. It amused us and probably disgusted onlookers, particularly when I did the actions.  Not the real actions, I hasten to add.  Although it was a long way to the toilets and I feel that no-one would have blamed me.  Except Hazel, obviously.

Kate – Should I drop Jane in it for her split crotch/handbag comments? [Looks like she’d done it herself, Kate!] No, okay. I heard someone say that the Ladies bathroom was bigger than the Blue Banana. (It was. It really was.)

Christina – The whole of Peter James’s speech was great, but I can’t recall the specifics – fortunately Emma Lee Potter has mentioned it on her blog.

Finally, we heard Kate’s hero Harker mentioned quite a few times during the event (in fact, if there had been a ‘best hero’ award, we reckon he would have won it hands down!) – who was your favourite hero out of the ones in the shortlisted books?  (If you can’t choose, we’ll allow you two)

Jane –Nope, sorry, I refuse to acknowledge that any hero exists except for Harker.  Apart from maybe Gus, from Katie Fforde’s Summer of Love.  He’s cute too.  And my Ben… in fact, all of them are pretty phwoooaaar-worthy, now I come to think of it.

Kate – Aw, yes, Harker is grumpy he didn’t win anything. He’s not used to losing: where he comes from you win, or you die. I do recall Jan Jones’ Hugo from The Kydd Inheritance being rather heroic when it came to highwaymen, and of course, the lovely Brice Kinross in all his intelligent, brave, kind and handsome glory. Now … which book was he from, Christina?

Christina – Apart from Harker?  Well, Ben in Please Don’t Stop the Music is definitely my kind of guy – former rock star, slightly moody, handsome in a grungy kind of way.  And I loved Riccardo in Marina Fiorato’s Daughter of Siena – wow, gorgeous Italian with an amazing sense of honour, and also very kind and considerate!

So there you have it, our brief take on the RoNAs.  Now comes a nail-biting wait to see who of the five category winners will take home the overall “Romantic Novel of the Year” title – if you’d like to help vote for any of them, please go to the Awards Website.

Regency Day

regencyreadingwomanOn Saturday 8th October the Romantic Novelists’ Association will be holding a Regency Celebration – a one-day event to celebrate Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and the books they have influenced.

The day will be a mixture of serious talks (eg. Dr Jennifer Kloester on Georgette Heyer and Her Life) and more frivolous activities, such as demonstrations of Regency clothing and dancing, as well as parlour games, a Regency walk, afternoon tea, a quiz, a raffle (with some fabulous prizes!), a book stall and author signings. For anyone who loves the Regency/Georgian period and novels set in or inspired by that era, this is a must!

I’ll be doing a talk together with fellow author Louise Allen on Regency scents (a sort of “Sniff and tell” as it were), and I’ve been busy gathering information and perfumes for demonstration purposes. The Regency ladies seem to have had some lovely flower scents to choose from, although there are one or two that make you recoil in horror! If you’ve ever wanted to know what Emma, Lady Hamilton (Lord Nelson’s mistress) smelled like, please come along and I’ll show you!

A Regency Celebration – Saturday 8th October 2011 between 9.00am-6.00pm at the Royal Overseas League, Park Place, off St. James’s Street, London SW1A 1LR (near Green Park tube station). For more information, please click here and follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@RNARegencyDay).

Choc-Liteers at the RNA Conference



The Romantic Novelists’ Association’s annual conference took place this past weekend at Caerleon in Wales and almost all the Choc Lit authors were there. As we’re normally spread far and wide across the UK, it was great



to have a chance to catch up. Here are photos of some of us (plus a rather unusual conference attendee who couldn’t find his name badge!) – look out for more photos later in the week of us all dressed in our best party outfits for the Saturday night gala dinner!

A conference isn’t just a social occasion of course.  There were talks, panels and workshops and even a dancing lesson which proved interesting to say the least!



As it was Regency dancing, it took some getting used to and there were quite a few left feet in evidence 🙂  However, by the end of it we had (more or less) managed to get the hang of “Miss Poultney’s Delight” and felt we had more of an insight into the opportunities for flirting this kind of dancing afforded.



We were also inspired by such wonderful authors as Jill Mansell, Katie Fforde and Elizabeth Chadwick, given insights into the publishing industry today (and in the near future) by editors and agents, as well as tips on writing and promotion. It was all food for thought and extremely helpful. The collective buzz was phenomenal and I think most of us came away fizzing with enthusiasm.

Can’t wait to go again next year!

Please come back on Wednesday to see who this week’s Choccie Hottie might be and also for those gala dinner photos!

Evonne and Christina

Evonne and Christina

Here’s one gala dinner photo for now – more to follow soon:-


Christine Stovell: A New Experience

shatterproof-wine-glassesr You’d never believe it, me being the mother of two daughters as well, but this is my first time! Of attending the Romantic Novelists’ Association Summer Conference, that is. Oh, I’ve dipped my toe in the water for the odd day, and, last year, I joined the Choc Lit panel on stage. Even if I did have a terrible attack of stage fright. Sigh.

But this year, I’m looking forwards to the 8th July and a full weekend of authors’ talks and authors – of all stages from beginners to bestsellers – talking. We first-timers have been advised to pack extra teabags, midnight snacks, and hangover cures!

Decisions, decisions - which midnight snack to pack?

Decisions, decisions - which midnight snack to pack?

It sounds as if there’ll be plenty to talk about and I know when the Choc Lit authors get together, there’ll be some lively discussions about the inspirations for our delicious Choc Lit heroes!
Heathcliff could feel his ears burning yet again.

Heathcliff could feel his ears burning yet again.

Please come and say hello if you’re attending, but if you can’t make it there’s always something new to read at Author’s Corner. Do pop back on Monday when Evonne will be posting!

‘Trade Winds’ is Shortlisted!

ppa-historicalYesterday was the day the Romantic Novelists’ Association announced the shortlists for their annual awards and I’m absolutely delighted to be able to tell you that Trade Winds has been shortlisted for the RNA Pure Passion Historical Novel Prize – the Best Historical Fiction!!!

In order to celebrate the announcements, the RNA had arranged a Shortlist Breakfast at the lovely RAF Club in Piccadilly. As a former organiser of their main award, I’ve attended these events many times before, but it was great fun to be on the ‘other side’ for once. Below is a photo of me with the other authors shortlisted for this prize – they are (from left to right) Elizabeth Chadwick, (me – Christina Courtenay), Joanna Fulford, Kate Furnival, Rebecca Dean and Jane Jackson.

shortlistphotoThe overall winner will be announced on 7th March and if you’d like to read about the other shortlists, please go to the RNA website here.

Christina Courtenay – Get Writing

"Cotillion" by Georgette Heyer - a novel that has everything!

"Cotillion" by Georgette Heyer - a novel that has everything!

Last week I attended the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s first meeting of the year. It was a very interesting Question & Answer session with a panel consisting of two editors and an agent.

I’ve been to quite a few of these panel talks and the questions that are invariably asked are “what type of novels are you looking for” and “what will be the next big trend”. Unfortunately, there isn’t a straightforward answer to either. No one can ever predict what the next trend will be as they depend on so many factors and just seem to happen. And as for what type of novels editors and agents are looking for, they almost always say “great story-telling”.

So what makes for great story-telling? To me, a truly wonderful novel has to have a lot of romance and a little bit of everything else – adventure, thrills, danger, history and humour. That’s a tall order perhaps, but some of my favourite books have all that and more!

Whether I’m reading a romance or any other genre, another ingredient that’s very necessary for me is a charismatic hero. If I don’t like the hero, I won’t like the book – it’s as simple as that! Coincidentally, Sue Moorcroft and I will be doing a workshop on how to create compelling lead characters in contemporary or historical novels at the forthcoming Get Writing Conference in St. Albans on 19th February. I’m very much looking forward to that and hope to see some of you there!

What do you consider the main ingredients of a really great story? And would you enjoy a book where you didn’t particularly like the hero?

Christina Courtenay – A Love of History

I’ve been fascinated by history for as long as I can remember. All the fairy tales I loved as a child were set in a bygone age that seemed so much more romantic than the present. I longed to live in a world of knights and damsels in distress (as long as I was a princess of course, rescued by the handsome prince). Then, aged about eight, I was taken on a school trip to a museum and shown a stone age boat in the shape of a hollowed out tree trunk that had been found near the town where I lived. When the teachers told us it was several thousand years old, I was amazed and awed. I just had to find out more.

As soon as I could read fluently, I haunted the local library and although I read the same kind of fiction as everyone else, I also wanted to read about history. My father pointed me in the direction of the Odyssey and I became engrossed in Greek mythology and legends. Then there were the Vikings and Norse sagas of course, and later I had an obsession with Egyptian pharaohs among other things.

Bernard Cornwell and Christina

Bernard Cornwell and Christina

I suppose it was inevitable that I would graduate to reading historical novels and when I started to write books myself, there was never any question about what I’d write. And since I’d moved to the UK, I found the history here extremely rich and the possibilities and scope endless. I fell in love with Cavaliers, Jacobites and Regency bucks, to name but a few.

But the most wonderful thing of all was learning I’m not alone. First, I found the Romantic Novelists’ Association, many of whose authors write (and love) historicals too. Then I discovered the Historical Novel Society, where everyone is as enthusiastic about history as I am. I felt like I’d come home. A couple of weeks ago I attended their yearly conference, which was held in Manchester this year in conjunction with the Manchester Literature Festival. I had the great pleasure of hearing a talk by Bernard Cornwell, where he told us all about his latest novel and all the research he does. There were also talks on Romans, Viking invaders, Quakers and Victorians, to name but a few, and I was in seventh heaven.

Can’t wait for the next one!