Sunday, 30 June 2013

Anna Jacobs talks about how she finds her characters.

  This week I'm deleighted to welcome Anna Jacobs to my blog. I asked her how she comes up with her characters and she has given us some interesting answers:

* Do you start with your characters or your plot?
I usually start with a situation, which sometimes involves a character, and sometimes only a vague ‘what if a person was in this situation?’ question in my mind. The whole of my present Traders series began because Bram, a secondary character in ‘Destiny’s Path’, would not stop walking through my dreams. He was, and still is, probably the most romantic hero I’ve ever created. He’s not tall, dark or handsome, but of middle height and scrawny, and yet, he fell so deeply in love it brought tears to my eyes. He stars in the first book (Trader’s Wife) and is involved in a minor way in the other four books.
So this series started with a character so strong, I postponed the book I was planning to write, then Bram and I together created a new series, starting in Singapore in 1865. He is the central character of Book 1 (The Trader’s Wife) and is involved in every book in the five-part series.

* Do you write a biography of all your character/main only/none?
I’ve never written a biography of any character. I tried to once, in the early days, when I was testing out various possibly useful writing techniques, and found I couldn’t do it, couldn’t ‘see’ the character that way. I dream up a hero or heroine (sometimes literally) and follow him/her into the first two or three chapters. As I rewrite the chapters, I then feel I’m getting to know that character better until he/she is vivid in my mind. Then I’m away . . . writing . . . dreaming about them . . . finding out what happens to them in the rest of the story.

* Do you base your characters on a real person/film actor etc or are they entirely imaginary?
I have never in all my 60+ novels used a real character as the basis for one of my characters. It’s never even occurred to me to do that. I’m writing fiction, and the characters have to fit my story not the other way round.

* Do you cut photos out of magazines to use as your main characters?
Good heavens, no! I’m a very visual person and I can see them so clearly in my mind’s eye I don’t want real people’s faces intruding. I don’t describe my characters’ appearance in great detail, either. I leave it to the reader to flesh that out. I’m more interested in my characters’ inner life and courage/emotions.

* Do you see your characters or only hear them or both?
Both. They walk through my dreams, especially when I’m drowsy, half-awake and fully relaxed, and I see a virtual movie show with sound effects. I feel as if I’m standing right next to the one who is the point of view character in each scene, feeling their every breath, every emotion.

* How many characters do you think are too many for a book to work?
I can’t give exact numbers, because each story has it’s own needs. I did too many for ‘Family Connections’. I’ve never counted the ones in that book, but if I were writing now, I’d make it two books. I knew by half-way through that I had too many sub-plots but I couldn’t bring myself to cut any of the plots/characters out, as I’d grown too fond of them. I still love the story. I think I managed to make what happens clear, but I’d not do that many characters/sub-plots again.
I’m published in historical and modern romance, fantasy, romantic suspense, sagas. Whatever the genre, I always have at least two sub-plots and accompanying characters. I write longer books (80-110,000 words) and that means not only more people but more points of view. If I were writing shorter books (50-60,000 words), I couldn’t put as many characters in. In fact, I tried a shorter book and found it very hard. It’s not ‘me’.

* How do you make your characters individual? Accent? Catch phrases? Mannerisms? Other things?
I don’t think of it as mechanically as that. They *are* individuals. I start with hair colour and height. If an accent is necessary eg an Irish character, I may mention that but I don’t try to write an Irish accent down phonetically. It’d slow the story down and puzzle readers not totally familiar with Irish accents. Accents are ‘music’ of how words are put together as well as ways of saying individual words. I learned 5 foreign languages when younger and feel I understand that aspect a bit.

I don’t think up mannerisms, either. These ‘people’ are so real that they seem to be complete once I’m into the book, past that magic first three chapters of setup. They already have their own ways.

The hero of ‘Heir to Greyladies’ for instance, is in a wheelchair (an early version of one, it’s 1900) and I didn’t intend him to be the hero. But Joseph was so interesting – intelligent and kind – that I let him improve his walking by persistent secret practice (his mother was too smothering) till he could manage to move awkwardly and not need a wheelchair around the house. His problems were due to a bad hip, curable now in infancy. And actually, at a crucial moment, he shoved his wheelchair in the villain’s way.

* Do you write with multi-view point/deep third/first/omnipotent/narrator – or a combination of these?
I don’t go into technicalities and think about it mechanically, eg I’m going to write in deep third, etc. I ‘tell’ a story, seen through the main characters’ eyes. I always write with several viewpoints, because to me it gives a more interesting story, and anyway, that’s how the characters show me what’s happening.

I usually change viewpoint character when I move to a new scene, but sometimes I stay with the same character through two or three scenes. Whatever fits the story. Oh, and I do quite a lot of introspection ie what the characters are thinking as well as what they’re saying.

* How often do your characters run away with your plot?
As I said, Bram inspired me with the series plot/background to The Traders, so he dragged me into the story. I’m writing the last (5th) book in the series now. Once I’ve seen the characters, they lead me through the plot, or I walk with them. That’s how it feels, at least. But I only go in a direction I hadn’t planned for mentally if the plot twist fits the whole story. It usually does, actually. I should explain that I usually ‘see’ the next few scenes as I write.
If I get stuck as to what happens next, I know I’ve missed some twist or turn, so I go back and re-read the last couple of chapters, and somehow one character starts moving again. I also give myself permission to write rubbish and I push on, whatever it feels like. It’s never rubbish when I come back to it the next day, but it’s sometimes weaker than usual, so I and my characters revisit the scene and make it more vivid.

* Would you ever kill a main character/child/animal/villain?
Not often with an important character, and I usually only kill children vaguely ie the neighbour’s child might die of a fever. I killed the current hero in Book 4 of my first series, the Gibson Family Saga, but Frederick was much older than his wife and he died ‘naturally’. It took me the whole book to do it and I wept buckets over the death. I needed a new direction to keep a five-book series alive and a new husband of Annie’s own age had already walked out of the mists – she didn’t know that then, only I did.
I cry even when I kill a minor character if it’s a nice person, but not if I kill a villain. If my husband comes home to find me red-eyes, he asks at once, ‘Who have you been killing now?’

* In your opinion which is more important – plot or character?
They’re so entwined, I can’t separate them. Plot is character, as far as I’m concerned. It has its own tone/needs and the ‘people’ in the story are an integral part of it. You couldn’t have that particular plot without those specific characters. You need a good plot, and you need vivid characters to put it all together.

Really, I like to call what I do story-telling, rather than writing, and my stories are about people, not characters.
  Thank you Anna - it's always fascinating to enter a writer's head and see how they work.

Here are some details of the two books she has told us about. I am intrigued by the Heir to Greyladies - a hero who can't walk? Sounds like a must read.

‘The Trader’s Gift’ (published by Hodder & Stoughton) will be released on 4 July, and ‘Heir to Greyladies’ (published by Allison & Busby) will be released on 29 July. This is the first time two of my publishers have coincided on a publication month.

‘The Trader’s Gift’ is Book 4 in the five-part Traders series. 1871: In England, Eleanor Prescott has not forgotten the ship's captain who was a true friend to her. Dougal McBride told her to come to him if she was free. When her ailing husband dies, she risks returning toWestern Australia. But will Dougal still want her after nearly a year? 

Mitchell Nash has asked his cousin in England whether he knows any suitable lady. For Jacinta, a penniless widow, desperate to keep her young son from a cruel relative's clutches, Mitchell's invitation to go to Australia and marry him is a lifeline she will grasp with both hands, however risky it is to marry a stranger.

‘Heir to Greyladies’ is Book 1 in a new series. In 1900, her father dies suddenly and life for fifteen-year-old Harriet Benson changes for ever. Sent into service in the country, she becomes friends with the owners' crippled son Joseph. Circumstances force Joseph to leave the family home at the same time as Harriet unexpectedly inherits Greyladies, a supposedly haunted house in Wiltshire. Could this be the safe haven she so desperately needs or will her stepbrother spoil things for her and take over her life and inheritance?

Friday, 28 June 2013

Does the title and length of a book influence sales?.

Last week I published the first of two Regency box sets. I already have two Duke Boxsets up on Amazon and these sold amazingly well -especially in the first few weeks. I was hoping for a similar result with my latest box set. Unfortunately this has not been the case - The Regency Boxset has not sold anyway near as well.
It has the same wonderful cover -is filled with three titles as good as the others -but has mad no impact at all. My conclusion -and I would be interested to hear your view on this -is that the title is the problem. A Regency without a duke in the title is never as popular.
I must elevate my lords to dukes for the fifth and sixth boxes - I was intending to call them 'Lords & Ladies Boxset One & Two -but maybe not.
As there were only around a dozen dukes around in the Regency it's amazing how many there are in fiction! In order to be a duke the family had to have been related to a King/Queen at some point in history.
Another strange thing that has happened is this. My sales in the US have fallen recently - used to be 60% US -and is now 30% - but my latest release, A Most Unusual Governess, has taken off in the US and not in the UK. The only difference I can see is that this book is a novella and nine of the others are full length books. My other 'best seller'  in the US was also a shorter book.  I'm hoping this is the case as my next few books will all be novella length.
Next week Anna Jacobs will be guesting here - can't wait!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Why More? The Allure of Sequels - guest post by Lindsay Townsend

This week I'm delighted to welcome Lindsay to my blog.  Go ahead, Lindsay, please tell us why you love to write a sequel.

Why more? The allure of sequels by Lindsay Townsend

Recently, Siren-Bookstrand accepted my historical romance 'A Summer Bewitchment'. This is a sequel to my historical romance 'The Snow Bride'.

I loved writing it. But why did I?

'The Snow Bride' is a complete romance in itself and can be read as a stand-alone title. Even so, when I had finished that story, I found the characters hard to let go. Magnus and Elfrida still had things to share with me and tales to tell me. Their differences in rank continued to intrigue me, also Magnus' battle scars and wounds begged the question, how deep did they go? I found myself thinking of them within their new home, in a summer landscape, and soon I had the first scene in my mind.

I was also drawn to write a sequel because I liked these people. I liked Magnus, his laconic, dry wit and rock-like dependability. I enjoyed the fact that he's the kind of Alpha male who doesn't have to yell about his masculinity all the time. I liked Elfrida with her fierce sympathy and deft skills, her courage and her self-doubt. They were challenging, interesting characters.

In 'A Summer Bewitchment,' the romantic conflict had to be different to that in 'The Snow Bride,' when the pair were learning each other and falling in love. Just as in real-life, Magnus and Elfrida have flash points in their relationship and I explored those. There were also new tensions I could build in. With 'The Snow Bride' I used the fairy story of Beauty and the Beast as an inspiration. 'A Summer Bewitchment' draws on the old, terrifying legend of the Pied Piper, who seduces youngsters away.

I am pleased with the resulting story, which takes Magnus and Elfrida to different places and different points in their relationship and marriage. I hope you will be too.

As a reader, do you enjoy sequels and series stories? If so, why?

As a writer, have you ever written a sequel to a story?


Lindsay Townsend website :

That was an interesting post -thank you Lindsay. Next week I am thrilled to have Anna Jacobs here answering questions about her writing.
Fenella J Miller

Monday, 10 June 2013

A Most Unusual Goveness

New title - out now.
I'm pleased to tell you my ninth book is now available on Amazon. This was written for D C Thomson and entitled 'A Dangerous Deception'. Two further novellas will be going up soon and a third box set next month.
Here is an extract -hope you enjoy it. This is a favourite of mine.
Chapter One
Cassandra had always known her name was unlucky and now she was sure of it. This morning her uncle had issued her with an ultimatum, she was to marry her cousin Peregrine or he would not be answerable for the consequences. Cassandra knew what this meant, her uncle, Sir James Digby, would not dare to incarcerate her in her room on bread and water, not after the last time he'd attempted it and she'd almost starved to death and still wouldn't capitulate. However, she knew that between them her aunt and uncle would make poor Perry's life a misery.
He was a dear boy, she loved him as a cousin, but if he had ever had two consecutive sensible thoughts, she would eat the cherries on her best bonnet. No – not even to save Perry would she be brow beaten into marriage with him.
She had no alternative. She would have to remove herself from Upton Manor. She had already formulated a plan for when this eventuality arose. The pressure on her to agree to become betrothed to Peregrine had been growing these past few months and now there was scarcely nine months to her majority, this was intensifying. Sir John was determined to get hold of her inheritance one way or the other.
Her companion, and governess, Ann Roberts had been summarily dismissed a year ago, but had found a small cottage in the village to rent. Cassie intended to buy a small estate as soon as she was one and twenty and then reside there with Ann, who had become, during the five years they had been together, her best friend and mentor.
She had no intention of getting married; she had been obliged to watch this institution destroy her parents' happiness. When they had both caught the fever and died whilst travelling abroad her mother had only been with her father because she had had no choice. They had been kind and supportive parents but had had made each other miserable. They had fallen in love, it was not an arranged marriage, but still it had been a disaster.
She had no intention of involving herself in such a union; as a wealthy heiress she would be courted for her money. Her intelligence and high spirits would be considered a necessary evil. A love match was also out of the question - look what it had done to her parents?
Quickly she donned her cloak and stout walking boots, then snatching up her oldest bonnet, a warm muffler and gloves she headed for the back stairs. The servants were on her side, and would not report her exit from the side door unless asked a direct question about her whereabouts.
A blast of cold November air whipped her cloak around her as she hurried, head down, through the park and out of the side gate which was the shortest route to the village. When she arrived thirty minutes later she was much warmer than when she had left. Her aunt did not allow her to have a fire in her chambers at Upton Manor.
She was almost blown down the short path that led to the front door of Ann's cottage. Cassie knocked loudly. Molly, Ann's sole servant, a young girl from the village, appeared, mob cap awry. The girl bobbed a curtsy and smiled.
'Come in, Miss Forsythe, Miss Robert's in the parlour and there's a nice fire burning, I can tell you. Shall you be staying for luncheon, miss?'
Cassie removed her cloak and other things and passed them to Molly. 'I expect so, for I shall get nothing if I go back.'
Ann Roberts, a woman with an unremarkable face but a neat figure and a pair of fine blue eyes, was in her thirtieth year. She had been with Cassie, first as governess and then as companion, until being obliged to leave her position. 'Come in, my dear Cassie, I didn't expect you today as the weather is so inclement. But you're most welcome indeed. I am sad company, I'm afraid, as I'm suffering from a severe head cold.' This last remark was punctuated by a series of sneezes and coughs.
'I had to come, Ann, it has happened as we expected.  I have to get away and am hoping we can now put the scheme into action.'
'I have been studying the advertisements in The Times this past week, my dear, and I think I have exactly the position for you. Look, one Jonathan Anderson Esquire, requires a governess - companion for his nine year old daughter. They live somewhere outside Ipswich, which I am reliably informed by the vicar, is in a county in the east of the country, called Suffolk. I'm sure you would be quite safe there for the next nine months.'
'Excellent. All I have to do is place the correct name at the start of the letter and sign the bottom. It will be a strange experience for me, being you. I only hope I have learnt enough these past years to bring the deception off successfully.'
'I'm certain no-one will suspect that you're not who your references say you are, my love. The dresses, and other things that you will need for your new life, are also ready. All I have to do is post the application this afternoon.'
'What if Mr Anderson rejects me? Or demands an interview? It would be impossible for me to get away from Upton to attend one. It will be difficult enough to do it once, but twice – never.'
Ann patted Cassie's hand. 'Don't fret so, my love. You will not be expected to travel all that way. My papers are impeccable – he would be mad not to snap you up. I'm certain not many well qualified governesses would wish to work so far away from Town.'
'I pray that you're correct. How long will it be, do you think, before we hear?'
'A week, perhaps a little longer. Can you endure for that long, my dear?'
Cassie sighed. 'I have no choice. Perhaps if I appear to be weakening in my resolve it will be bearable.'

'In that case, Cassandra, you must forget all about your problems and look forward to your future.'

Saturday, 1 June 2013

New Titles - New Beginnings

I can't tell you how thrilled I am to being a grandmother for the third time. Charlie is certainly my darling. Having a new baby in the family is a wonderful thing and something we never expected to be blessed with. My granddaughter is at Oxford University and is 20 years old, my other grandson is 15 and taking his GCSEs. I shan't be quite such a hands-on grandmother this time although we will see him several times a week as my son and daughter-in-law live locally.
I'm afraid that writing and editing have been put to one side of the past few days but I have these two novellas almost ready to be published on Kindle very soon.
This is out next month.
(It should read ' A Mistress for Stansted Hall')
My new grandson - four hours old.
A Most Unusual Governess was previously published by DC Thomson several years ago and then was available through Regencyreads. A Mistress at Stansted Hall has the same history. There will be a third novella available at the end of July. I intend to have all my books published on Kindle by this time next year. The second part of Barbara's War is on my list of things to do before the autumn. I have already got a detailed outline of the book and started the research: I haven't written anything entirely new for over a year and I'm not sure if I'm looking forward to it or dreading it. As Barbara's War is receiving excellent reviews, and has also been given 'The IndiePENdents' Seal of approval, I think it important to provide my readers with the promised second, and final, part.  I am also going to attempt to put Hannah's War, Miss Bennett & Mr Bingley and Barbara's War on other platforms. I'll let you know when they are available elsewhere.
This book is coming out next week.