My Writing Work Day

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I’ve had a few people ask me lately about my average working day. Only, I don’t really have an “average” working day, but I have phases of productivity which form a pattern. An overall working-month, more than a ‘working day’. I do work ‘full time’ as a writer, and yet it doesn’t resemble any other full-time job I’ve ever held, that’s for sure! I have a lot of flexibility in how I structure my diary, and I think it’s a very unique process. Every writer will have a different approach to their output. This is how it is, for me.

Phase 1. Plotting. This is a term I use pretty loosely. I’m not a keen plotter, in terms of detailed storyline development. I approach a story knowing my characters inside out, and their central conflict as well. I usually have an idea of how their conflict will come to a head, and how it will resolve. I also like to have a “Hollywood moment” in mind- that is, the scene that everyone would go, “ahhhh, awwwww!” at in the movie cinema. I’m often plotting up to five stories at a time (maybe more), in the same notebook and in my head. It starts as a kernel of an idea and drives itself around and around in my mind until it’s fleshed out enough as a concept for me to start writing. I’m plotting all the time. Even when I’m writing, an idea can come to me for another story and I add it to my notebook. Sometimes, it’s just a sentence, other times, the story is almost fully formed when it comes to me.

The plotting phase looks a lot like: vagueness. Distraction. Conversations that fade into the air, as my mind ticks over new ideas, distracting me from the real world completely.

Phase 2. Writing. this is, by far, my favourite phase. When I’m in a book, it is pretty much all I’m capable of focussing on creatively. I can’t read other books or edit books of my own. Apart from an errant idea for another book I’m plotting, it’s all about the Current MS. So, in this phase, I write obsessively. The only way to describe the intensity of this is ‘claustrophobic.’ I suffocate under the weight of my story until I have written it.

I want to put everything on hold except for my book, and to this end, when I’m gearing up for a ‘writing phase’, I do try to clear as much of my schedule as I can, but obviously, that’s not always possible! So I have to squeeze my writing into the gaps of life, around school drop off and pick up, grocery shopping, extra-curricular commitments, social obligations. Nonetheless, in the weeks I’m writing, I write diligently, usually getting a significant amount of words down per day. This means waking early, and writing late. And I love it! This is, without doubt, my favourite part.

I never feel like I don’t want to write. I resent it greatly if I’m not able to get into my story for any reason, and if I go too long without being in a writing phase, I get antsy and irritable. Writing isn’t just my job, it’s my passion and my hobby.

I often ruminate on the fact that I don’t consider myself a writer, so much as a storyteller. Don’t mistake me, I love playing with words, running them around the page until they find the right order, but what I really love is my people, and their world. I love their conflict, their tension and angst, and manoeuvring the pieces of their lives into place to find their genuine, authentic ‘happily-ever-after’. Once I have the idea for the story, I desperately need to commit it to paper. It overtakes me until it’s done, pushing all else to the extremities.

I write books that are between 50,000 to 55,000 words, with the exception of three single titles I’ve written that hover around 80,000 – 90,000 words in length (and are still being tweaked). I usually add a few extra thousand words during the editorial phase. A Mills & Boon is between 50,000 and 55,000 words.

The writing phase looks a lot like: endless cups of tea, a cramped neck, and a computer tan. I will dip into my story at every opportunity, meaning my MacBook often has toast crumbs spread across it from where I’ve been typing out a scene while getting brekkie organised for the kids…I’m also riddled with doubt for big patches of this phase. I doubt my story, my characters’ motivations and my ability to do them justice, but I know that doubt will disappear the closer I get to the end and so I keep my head down and push on.

Phase 3. Editing and promotion. Though I wish I could just write stories all day every day, there are other parts of the job that need my attention. When I’m not writing, I’m usually catching up on edits. I’m generally editing two projects at a time, one in structural and one in copy edits. On a day when I’m editing, I like to choose a time when I have a proper block to work at it. If it’s a day when my little girl is home, that’s during her midday nap. If it’s a day when both kids are at kindy/school, then I set myself up at the kitchen table with a pot of tea and have at it, not shifting until I’m happy I’ve done a solid chunk of the book. It’s important to see the book for what it is, putting aside all the visions that fill out your head when you’re writing it, and read it with as fresh eyes as possible.

To this end, once I finish a book, I usually put it away for as long as possible before I begin my first round of edits – sometimes that’s three weeks, other times, it’s several months. It means I can read it as a reader would, and I also find I pick up way more typos and mistakes this way, too.

I both love and loathe editing. Once I’m finished writing a book, I consider their story told, and I want to move onto the next adventure. I find the idea of revisiting it tedious. BUT, no book is perfect on its first draft. The editing process, once you can bring yourself to do it, is an opportunity to hone your words to make them really special. To cut out the waffle and tighten the prose, and to expand on ideas that you didn’t completely capture on the first pass.

I’m lucky in that I have always worked with fantastic editors, who hold up the PERFECT mirror to my words (a mirror that is both honest and kind!!) so that I can see what needs improving without doubting the quality of the book.

The editing phase looks like: I’m human, more or less, once again on top of the minutiae of daily life, able to function, grocery shop and finish an actual conversation.

If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear about your approach. Do you write every day? Or just on weekends? What keeps you glued to the screen until you’re finished?

 

 

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SECRETS OF THE A-LIST

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When I was growing up, I never missed an episode of The Bold & The Beautiful. I loved that show with an undying degree of commitment. I have lost track of how many times we went through a Rooke phase then a Raylor phase, but I was as invested each cast-of-the-bold-and-the-beautiful.pngand every time as though it were the first. There’s something enduringly appealing about the dynastic glamour of stories like this – not just because of the unimaginable wealth and social status that allows us to imagine we were them, for a moment, but also, there’s the air of reality. Beyond all the couture and paparazzi, these were real people with real emotions, and though they proposed with twelve carat diamond rings, their hearts were no less vulnerable.

Late last year, I was invited by Harlequin to take part in an incredible exciting project – a serial novel full of glamour, betrayal, sex and drama. From the very first moment I read the premise I was suckered in. The Santiago-Marshall family, with their powerful patriarch Harris02-SECRETS-OF-THE-A-LIST-Quote-800-x-800on in a coma after a mysterious car accident, reminded me of everything I loved most about the Forrestors and the Spectors.

With Harrison indisposed, a question arises with absolute urgency: WHO IS THE FIXER? And what is his relationship to the powerful businessman?

The mysteries (and there are many) of this series are set agains the backdrop of a rarified world – money, status, wealth, society… the cast of this series are instantly, infinitely fascinating.

And they did fascinate me. I wrote the second ‘episode’ of this series, but I have devoured them all voraciously! It is a fast-paced, page-turning read and I am so jealous that you get to enjoy it for the first time now!

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A new episode novella will drop each week for the next ten weeks (the first, Joss Woods’s awesome introduction to this world is FREE for a limited time so read it now and catch up!), and they’re designed to be devoured in a little over an hour – perfect, fast, exciting reading that will have you on the edge of your seat, hankering for the next instalment faster than you can say Netflix-and-Chill.

So, what are you waiting for? Go, go, go! Don’t miss Episode 1 of SECRETS OF THE A-LIST while it’s free, and then power through the series.

Enjoy, lovies!

The lastingness of love

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I write mostly about romantic love, and romantic love is something that most people experience in their life. The presence of it, or the absence, I believe intrinsically shapes who we are.

But I’m thinking about enduring love today. Romantic love is – or can be – but I mean real enduring-in-the-face-of-adversity love.

The reason this is playing around in my mind is because I write from a cafe and have come to know the regular cast of characters who are here at the same times I am. There is one pair, and I cannot say if they are mother and son or husband and wife, to be honest. I know only that the woman, who wears a wedding ring, has suffered something, at some point in her life, resulting in her being silent and locked away inside of herself. And once a week, her companion brings her for coffee, and they sit and he reads the paper and she stares at other people, watches him, drinks her coffee, and every now and again, if she has stared for perhaps too long at any one particular person, he reaches across and taps her on the hand to draw her attention back to him. Her staring isn’t malicious, of course, but if you don’t see it against the background of her situation you might feel a little targeted.

In any event, the affection between the two never fails to bring a swelling to my throat. He takes such beautiful care of her, making sure she’s warm, patting her back as he settles her into a seat, laying a newspaper out in front of her to look at even though she doesn’t seem to read it.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe this is something we all think we would do for our spouse or parent, if they were to require it of us. It shouldn’t be extraordinary – this level of love should be more normal.

It’s just very moving and beautiful to see it enacted, and their love and connection gives me faith in the goodness of humanity and the lastingness of true love.

 

THE END

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Every single book I have written has a special place in my heart. I love them all. And yet… there are some, certain books, certain characters, that go into a whole other place. The book I’m writing now (my second for Harlequin’s new DARE line) – and will finish today – is one such book.

It has been an immersive experience to write. My every waking thought has been consumed by Ally and Ethan, and their story. I have resented every minute not spent at the keyboard (sorry, real world). It’s as though the ocean has grabbed me by the ankles and sucked me under; I am being rolled by every current and wave in their narrative. It’s exhausting and emotional but a rare and beautiful feeling, all at the same time.

This is a book about two people who’ve had their hearts broken in love before, and about the way those experiences have shaped them. Having been wrong before, he’s quick to spot the ‘real deal’ but Ally won’t let herself trust again.

Rockman Guitar PlayerI can’t define what, in particular, it is that makes some books like this. The characters, definitely. Ethan Ash is only my second rock star hero (the other is yet to be published), and I have buried myself in the world of beautiful musicians in order to research this book. I’ve listened to Ed Sheeran, in particular, on repeat, watched his concerts on youtube (like this one!) and Ethan Ash has become a real-life person in my mind. And I love him! As for Ally, the thing I love about her is that she’s someone we’d be friends with. She’s funny, smart, motivated, interesting and her vulnerabilities are completely understandable. In fact, the more she falls in love with Ethan, the more I find myself wanting to tell her to be careful, because we know how badly she was hurt last time.

And today, I will finish their story, and type ‘THE END’. And while it will be a relief – much like coming up for air, and being ‘myself’ again, I am going to be bereft. These people have been living inside of me and suddenly they’re gone… it’s a strange void to have to deal with.

I can’t wait to share it with you (in the first half of 2018).

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I’m sorry for what happened at #Lovegonewild.

Following is a long, but not exhaustive, list of all that I’m sorry for at RWAus17.

First and foremost, I’m sorry to the presenters at the various sessions I attended. I’m sorry I didn’t smile and meet your eyes as you spoke – especially Marion Lennox. The thing is, when you’re busy scribbling notes so that you don’t forget a kernel of their wisdom (and WHAT wisdom was shared!), it’s hard to remember the social pleasantries.

I’m sorry to the organizers, who spent so much of the weekend with their heads down, running around behind the scenes making sure everything ran smoothly that they didn’t get to pause for breath, much less food. I’m sorry you probably didn’t get to experience chilled out afternoons at Sixteen Antlers, lazy breakfasts in the café, coffee overlooking King George Square, or really see how awesome the conference was like we outsiders did – it’s hard to do when running at a million miles an hour but rest assured, your hard work paid off!

I’m sorry to the people who pitched and did manuscript assessments. Whether you think you were successful or not, you were. Putting yourself out there like that is an achievement in and of itself. To those who received requests, I’m sorry for the months of nail-biting you have ahead (but how exciting!).

I’m profoundly sorry to those who bore witness to Ally Blake and my interpretive dance of THE LOVE SHACK.*

I’m sorry to all the word count warriors I roared at face to face! And even more sorry to any I missed. Our Facebook group has been an incredible source of motivation to me in the last few months and I love our camaraderie.

I’m sorry to the recipients of the RuBY, and all the award recipients of the night, who will be weighed down by their super-spectacular awesomeness forever more.  And I’m sorry to all the nominees who saw their names in lights and were commended on awesome work with admiration from the romance writing community, for the exact same reason.

I’m sorry to all the amazing authors (but most notably Annie West, Valerie Parv and Marion Lennox) who were subjected to my particular brand of enthusiastic fangirling. But how often are you in the same room with legends of their stature? My not-so-inner romance-reader apparently would not be silenced. I’m sorry. Especially to Valerie who I seem to vaguely remember tackling off the elevator on our way to the awards dinner. Please don’t let a restraining order come between good friends at next year’s conference.

I’m sorry to anyone who was bored with photos of my children, and stories about them. What can I say? #proudmum

I’m sorry to Maisey Yates and Jackie Ashenden for monopolising the last day of your holiday but how wonderful it was to shoot the breeze as much as we did – and to find you both so utterly delightful!

I’m sorry to Amy Andrews for the demands for late-night cups of tea, the failure to convert you to a die-hard Austen fan, and the wine. All the wine. I’m also sorry we didn’t get more time.

I’m particularly sorry to Kate Cuthbert for all the stalking – though I can’t really take the blame. You are particularly stalkable. Perhaps the midnight champagne in your room took the friendship too far though.

I’m sorry to Rachel Bailey for the persistent lobbying to name me an honorary Minion. But seriously. What are the chances?

I’m sorry to anyone I spoke to after that deadly Dare cocktail. Perhaps the most delicious thing I’ve ever drunk… and also the most potent.

I’m sorry to Daniel de Lorne (more specifically, Daniel De Lorne’s suit) for the melted Lindt chocolate bar, and to Michelle Douglas for things I don’t yet know to apologise for.

I’m sorry to Ainslie Paton for my undeniably-awesome bobby-pin wielding.

I’m sorry to Savannah Blaize that our coffee-catch-up was necessarily cut-short. Next time, we’ll have lunch! And, along the same lines, I’m sorry to Haylee Nash that despite organizing several glasses of wine, we didn’t quite manage to get it together.

In fact, I’m sorry to any friends I didn’t get to spend as much time with as I would have liked. While we’ll always have The Pullman and RWAus17, I’m thrilled we’ll also have RWAus18 to try again.

I’m sorry to everyone who attended the Indie panel I was a part of, alongside Chris Taylor and Rachel Amphlett, organized by RuBy award winner Amy Andrews, for all the questions we didn’t get to answer! We ran so short of time – please remember to email any of us any queries you didn’t feel we covered.

And I’m very, very sorry to those of you who could not attend RWAus17. I know your FOMO must have been in overdrive over the weekend, as social media was flooded with visual proof of our every delight. What can I say? It was AH-mazing! But there’s always next year…

Finally, I’m sorry to my liver, but the glasses of wine shared with dear friends (old and new) at Sixteen Antlers were all worth it. I am also sorry to my tummy for all those truffle fries but seriously… truffle fries.

*I cannot promise it will not be repeated next year. You have been warned.

 

Self-publishing gave me a wonderful professional start. I’ll be forever grateful.

I’m going to have to post a response to this article  so that I can put it out of my head.

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You have to forget writing for a living. 

The assertion that self-published authors ‘are going to be marketing for a living’, the inference being that they’ll do this instead of writing, is one I must disagree with. As a self-published author, I spent 95% of my work time writing. It was, and remains, the absolute bulk of what I did. I am a writer – writers write. However, I appreciate this isn’t always the norm. Self-publishing, like traditional publishing, has authors of all different types. To play devil’s advocate, marketing is an essential part of all business. I have many writer friends who spend a greater portion of their time marketing themselves and their books than I do – the thing is, the traditionally published authors are just as active in this! Publishers expect their authors to do their bit to contribute to their success and this is definitely not just about writing a fabulous book.

Self-publishing can make you behave like a fool. 

Here, we are made to sound like the wheel-greasers of every pyramid scheme known to man. For the record, I’ve never touted my wares to friends or family. To this date, my own mother hasn’t bought a single one of my books. Not a single one of my friends knew that I had self-published until about a year into my journey, at which point I was already earning a tidy income. To suggest that the only people who will pressure their nearest and dearest to show their support financially are self-published authors is as silly as it is untrue.

Gatekeepers are saving you from your own ego. 

I found this point hardest of all to stomach. The perception that there are no ‘gatekeepers’ for indies is utterly absurd and just shows a complete lack of comprehension of the entire industry. Readers are the gatekeepers. They are discerning and brilliant and incisive and they do not suffer fools lightly. I have never received a rejection from a publisher as damning as a bad review on Amazon. Believe me, there is plenty of ego-bashing that occurs to those authors who self-publish sub-par products, however, those who write good books that appeal to their audience will rise to the top, as with any free-market mechanism.

Good writers become good because they undertake an apprenticeship. Serving your apprenticeship is important. 

‘My first novel was my fourth novel’. Well, congratulations.  *facepalm* This is not at all unusual, whether traditionally or independently published. My first novel (self-published) was my tenth, and I published it more than a decade after finishing my first full MS. I have no statistical information to back this up – I doubt any such research has been conducted – but I would say most people who self-publish do not do so to their very first manuscript. Those that do? Well, it’s more than likely the free-market thing I mentioned above will take care of that. But who knows? Every now and again someone might write a first-novel that is an absolute gem. Crying about the injustice of their not having served their time smacks of jealousy (let’s face it, I could say the whole article does too).

You can forget Hay festival and the Booker. 

Boo hoo. That’s simply not why I write. I write to entertain and, FYI, so did Shakespeare, who was seen as the populist version of ‘literary’ playwrights like Ben Jonson and Robert Greene.

You risk looking like an amateur. 

Sure. Going into anything blind runs this risk. And I should know – I did go in blind (though I think I managed to avoid this fate). But here the author extolls further ‘insight’  about what an indie author should spend to avoid looking amateurish. And here-in lies one of the fallacies that angers me most (and I hear it a lot).

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My first cover. 

I think all authors should be mindful of producing the best product they can. Make sure it’s edited tightly, design a gorgeous cover, research your market, write a fantastic blurb. If you go into self-publishing you are acting as a sort of publishing house. So you either need to up-skill or engage professionals who will help you.

But, for the record, I was an Amazon All-Star in America (top 100 exclusive author) and the UK (top 15 exclusive author) within six months of publishing my first book and I paid $0 for covers, editing, marketing or reviews.

70% of nothing is nothing. 

Here the author cites the experience of an author who made 100GBP profit in four years of self publishing, across seven books. And the same author says they make little as a trad-pubbed writer. So no matter how you’re published, there’s no guarantee of high financial gains.

There are a great many of us who earn well from indie publishing.

And the summation of the piece:

…It isn’t a route to financial security. For those who prefer orchestrated backing to blowing their own trumpet, who’d privilege running a narrative scenario over running a small business, who’d rather write adventure than adverts, self-publishing is not the answer. 

For the last three years, I have found self-publishing incredibly financially rewarding despite the fact I’ve spent less than an hour a week doing any kind of marketing of my books or myself. I have the orchestrated backing of myself and the hundreds of thousands of people who have found their way to my books, and loved them (Whoops! I did blow my own trumpet there, didn’t I? Guilty as charged!). My business skills are non-existent (ask my accountant).

For those of you who love to write, who live to create people and worlds and stories and dreams, who find their minds wandering and their fingers running over the keys, who have stories they burn to tell, then I would simply say this: BACK YOURSELF. I don’t care if you write and write and write and submit to publishers and agents and continue writing, or if you write and write and take the self-publishing plunge, what I care about is that you listen to yourself and your own heart rather than articles like this.

When words fail

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I hugged my kids so tight tonight. So tight they complained and laughed and told me their heads would pop off. I hugged them tight, as though my life depended on it.

Because today, a tragedy unfolded in my little beach-side patch of suburbia. One of those God-awul tragedies that exists beyond the borders of comprehension; an occurrence so impossible to explain, to fathom, to accept that it fizzes inside your brain like a  bomb about to detonate, a sort of frozen-in-time terror.

Today, I drove past a neighbour’s house – a house I pass every day – and my heart was heavy, for I knew that its walls had witnessed death and loss and grief and pain, hardship and depression, and the kind of decision that no person should ever make.

Today I have grappled with humanity’s instincts and I have wondered at what we are capable of. Today I have struggled.

With so few guarantees in this world, so little promise of happiness, safety, health and longevity, today was a day to hold loved ones tight and breathe them in. I smelled my son’s rounded, warm scalp, rejoicing in the youthful aroma of six-year-old boy: sweat, sand, highlighters and vegemite. I stroked my daughter’s hair as she drifted off to sleep, her body still warmed by those extra layers of toddler insulation, her nose dotted with perspiration as she snored against my side, her toes curled back against her little thighs.

Tonight, I drank the wine, I ate the chocolate and I prayed for the people who have been heavily in my minds today. I thought of their pain and wished for a way to erase it; I despaired for the circumstances that led to this, and I am braced for the future grief those closest to this awful event must bear – life will never be normal for them again.  And today I have cried, hot tears that burned my cheeks and offered nothing in relief. Nothing. Sometimes, some acts, are too awful to be accepted.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

 

 

A sketch, in writing.

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I’ve been at a writing meeting tonight – a great evening spent with like-minded lovers of words, romance and red wine (ahem). We had a fabulous technical workshop to start us off. Harlequin superstar Trish Morey  brought in a picture of a man, and a picture of a woman and asked us to write a short biographical sketch about each of them, then to write a little bit on how they meet.

I haven’t ever attempted this and I adored the exercise. So much so that I’m itching to turn Ewan and Rowena’s story into a full-length story…! I thought I’d share what I came up with, just for fun.

HIS STORY

Ewan St Clair was good at two things, and two things only. He could recite the Latin alphabet perfectly, and in under seventeen seconds – a skill he’d honed to perfection on long nights in the dormitory of Marlebury Public School and that he still pulled out after a glass of unoaked Chardonnay. Surprisingly, it generally had the opposite effect on whomever he was attempting to impress, generally creating the impression that he was, in fact, just ramblingly drunk.

He was also, as it was turning out, discovering a talent for losing cats. Yes, cats. More specifically, the two cats his flatmate Rowena had entrusted him with: keeping alive, adoring, generally treating like Goddamned children for the two weeks she was ‘on assignment’ in Monaco.

He loved the way she did that – said ‘on assignment’ as though Mi5 itself had entrusted her with the very survival of the nation instead of what it actually was; modelling Dior swimsuits for a billboard that was, she’d informed him on at least two thousand occasions, going to be in Times Square. YES, that Times Square.

He’s afraid of two things as well. The smell of wood, from a childhood accident which saw him locked in an ancient attic for two full days; and being asked to play, watch or discuss any kind of professional sport.

Life is hectic and varied: Ewan has just taken every penny of his trust fund to open his own vegan café in Hampstead. Well, Café might be overegging it, it was more of a wardrobe with a seven year old cappuccino machine and the twenty six seats he’d bought at a furniture auction.

HER STORY

Rowena hated two things in life. The two days before a fashion shoot that required her to live on ice water, vodka and miso soup; and the fact that these shoots required her to leave her babies.

And by babies, she meant cats. Raisin and Toast, the two little strays she loved more than she’d ever loved another flesh and blood human. Not that she was particularly spoiled for choice. A Russian spy mother who’d ended up in that horrible prison (you know the one? Where in-mates are only allowed out for an hour a day?) and a father who’d gone underground, leaving her to be fostered out to a string of parents until, at fifteen, she was emancipated to Anna Wintour’s step-sister who did everything in her power to turn Rowena Main (Of course, she’d been Mastoyevic at first, but Main sold better in fashion bios) into a superstar.

At twenty one, she looked to have everything she could ever want. Money, fame (the right kind of fame – the one that opened doors but still allowed her to walk down Park Lane without being accosted by scum paparazzi who wanted to photoshop an extra five kilos to her hips and sell the image to OK!).

She was scared of two things in life. The first was her parents’ connections catching up with her. She thought about it every time someone took her photo and her fame increased and wondered if she needed to turn her back on the addictive lure of fame… and she was drop-dead, can-hardly-breathe, adrenalin-flooding terrified that her flatmate Ewan would realise she was in love with him and run a million miles. Because of course he’d never go for someone like her…

HOW THEY MEET

“The add says ‘no pets’.”

“They’re not pets.” She genuinely looked as though he’d dropped his pants and asked her to spank him right there in the middle of his Park Lane penthouse. Her shock was a tidal wave surfing towards him, so too her affront. “They’re really just like very small, very furry, super quiet and considerate people. They’re better than people. Look! Do you know anyone who makes this sound when you stroke their head?”

She ran a slender, manicured nail over the small spot of fur in between the paler cat’s pointed ears. The cat emitted a rumbling purr and slanted its eyes, regarding Ewan with completely open, unconcealed contempt.

“I think if I went up and started stroking people on the crown they’d knock me one,” he pointed out with the calm logic that came easily to him.

“Pleeeaaase.”

Ewan shifted his weight to the other foot, dragging a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry,” he shrugged, and saw the confusion slip across her features like a cloud ransoming the sun.

“You won’t know they’re here,” she said, her lips pouted – but not in a way where she was trying to be hot. This girl didn’t need to try. She was the last word in unassuming beauty, with her caramel tan, wide-set eyes, ski-jump nose and legs that went forever. “Please?”

He shook his head, thinking of the warning his parents had given him after Alexander had moved out, taking with him his drug bust and penchant for rock music and leaving behind a string of late-night, doped out callers looking for their next score and an unmistakable eau de pot.

“Will you at least show me the place?” She arched her brow and Ewan knew he should say no. Should tell her, firmly, that this was non-negotiable.

But then the one in her handbag, Raisin?, fixed him with an assessing, golden stare and Ewan found himself nodding slowly. “Fine,” he opened the door wider. “Just a quick peek…”

I’m three! I’m three!

It’s my third book birthday! Three years since I published THE ITALIAN BILLIONAIRE’S BETRAYAL and what a whirlwind it’s been.

I’ve had reason to reflect on this journey recently. I’ve had the incredible, wonderful experience of accepting a publishing deal with Harlequin Mills & Boon (a very long-held dream), and I’ve also had the good fortune of connecting with some incredible romance writers and readers through the Romance Writers of Australia, and this has led to many interesting conversations about process, ambitions, styles and difficulties.

I remember the day I self-published my first novel as though it were yesterday. I’d been at a fourth birthday party for the son of very dear friends. It had been a lovely affair, yet I was restless. Unfulfilled. Wanting in some way.

That sense of discontent had probably been festering for months, but on that day, surrounded by the squeals of happy children, upbeat conversation with loved ones, and frosty Autumnal sunshine, I was ready to snap.

What was I doing? I loved to write. I loved it (and still do) passionately. It is a fever in my blood. Not just writing, but story-telling. World-making. Thinking up people and problems and breathing life into them with each stroke of the keyboard. It is a seductively, hypnotically, all-consuming pastime and I knew, on this day, three years ago, that it would continue to hold me firmly in its thrall forever and ever.

On that day three years ago, I came home and, as my husband bathed our kids and settled them for bed with a  book, I poured a glass of Shiraz and sneaked into our bedroom, where my computer was set up (an old, rickety, loud PC we’d bought second-hand). I blindly followed the convoluted maze of Amazon’s instructions to self-publish. It took thirty minutes… and changed my life.

Gratitude is easy to have. I’m grateful for my children. I’m grateful for my insulin pump, for wine, for my husband, my house, the ability to put good food on our small table. But when I think about how easily I could have pushed this dream aside, accepted the limitations conferred by the unlikelihood of success, I feel like I am drowning. This was an almost-impossible-dream. A pinprick of hope in the darkness of self-doubt and for some reason, perhaps even without conscious thought or reckoning I chased it, and the lightness enveloped the dark.

Three years after I pressed ‘publish’, I am holding in my hand the print copy of my first book for Harlequin Mills & Boon, my forty fourth book, and I am walking on air every day I get to wake up and write for a living.

Happy book birthday me, and thank you for reading.

PS Book Birthdays are TOTALLY a thing. Here’s the post I wrote last year, to prove it.

 

 

Monachopsis

Travelling is one of the best things you can do in life. Sometimes I think it’s also one of the worst.

I grew up in the Gold Coast hinterland, a beautiful small mountain community with rainforests and gum trees, timber houses, kind people, tiny shops and that villagey sense of everybody knowing everyone. By virtue of its geographical location, it was degrees cooler than the muggy Gold Coast and Brisbane, with cool breezes offered in relief to summer’s intractable persistence.

Brisbane was ‘the big smoke’. The ‘city’ we would come to in order to visit grandparents, see exhibitions, or have a ‘day out’. As I got older, and more independent, I would catch the train from the foot of the mountain into the city, whiling away hours at the State Library (pretending to be a studious grown up… Very Dawson’s Creek of me), or meet up with friends so we could just kick around the busy streets and explore on our own.

My now-husband and I moved to London in 2005. Intending to spend six months or so, we stayed four years and began to feel completely at home in the ancient city. We made good friends, life-long friends, established favourite restaurants, knew our train timetables back to front, began to understand the complexities of Britons – their love of tea, consternation over weather, adoration of cricket, hatred for (the remarkable) public transport system that runs like arteries and veins over the country. The little convenience stores (express versions of their bigger selves) that sold ready-to-cook foods, tiny little 1/4 pints of milk and all sorts of groceries that were different and therefore exciting. The free newspapers handed out each morning and afternoon to ease the rigours of the daily commute.

After four years, though, we yearned to come ‘home’, to think about starting a family and ‘settling down’. My husband isn’t from my part of the world; he heralds from further South. South Australia, to be exact, and we thought it only fair that we spend a year or two in his fair city before resuming normality in my home-town.

Only we moved to a little beach-side suburb of Adelaide and found happiness and comfort. We loved everything about the lifestyle. There is an inordinate focus placed on food and wine in Adelaide, something that sits well with us. The people are relaxed and friendly, the city ridiculously easy to navigate, and it’s cuddled on all sides by areas of incomparable beauty. Watching Autumn settle over the Barossa, the sky heavy with mist, the air thick with smoke from the wood chimneys that are a staple in these houses, is something that fills my soul with magic.

It was a long time before I didn’t wake up longing for London, in a physically wrenching way. It took a long time before I stopped wondering if we’d made the wrong choice, if we were foolish to give up the incredible lifestyle we had built for ourselves, the friends, the ease with which we travelled to Europe. Had we lost a part of ourselves by leaving London?

Yes.

I’ve come to realise that every change brings with it loss. I felt I had a foot in London and Adelaide for many years, and I still find I can hardly think about the life we left behind in London without a pang of remorse and painful absence.

This weekend, we’ve travelled to Brisbane to catch up with family and friends, and there’s a poignant bitter-sweetness about this morning. I’m sitting in the hotel room, overlooking the glorious sweep of the Brisbane river with its network of writhing, pulsing bridges and highways, the stoic CityCats making their way proudly from pontoon to pontoon, the vibrant flamboyance of South Bank is a short stroll away and everything glistens.

But I’m an outsider. After more than a decade of living away, I have memories but no connection. I love my adopted city but I’ll always be an outsider. I don’t support one of their football teams as though my life depends on it (it’s the wrong code for me, anyway). I don’t have childhood memories of the landmarks that are being swallowed by modern life (skate parks, drive-in movies). I am always cracking the top off the egg, trying to find my way and, to some extent, faking it.

I think about my children and there’s a sense of sadness that they won’t grow up knowing what it’s like to hear the chorus of crickets at sunset in rural Queensland; they won’t pick leaches out from between their toes after running bare-foot through the creek bed; they won’t know what it’s like to be woken just after four with the Currawong’s morning call. And there is something imperceptible in our memories, a vibrancy that shapes them, made up of light and smells and sounds and tastes. The light in Queensland is particularly beautiful – but no more so than Adelaide. I think it just feels that way to me because it shapes all my childhood memories and I cannot catch it again.

There is a flip side to this sense of Monachopsis. I am new and exploring, and charting an adventure that I hadn’t foreseen. I have made wonderful friends, and when I think about it without emotion, I know that Adelaide is a wonderful place for us to live. We love the beaches, the beauty, the pace and the climate.

But today I’m feeling nostalgic and I’m wondering if people are happier when they stay firmly entrenched in their own homes. Travel, yes, but only to vacation, never to live. Never for long. Always knowing where home is and returning to it with the conviction that there isn’t anywhere else in life you’d rather be…