Tuesday 3 March 2015

For the First Time in Forever, or How to Capture Setting

 Windswept, isolated and ruggedly beautiful, Puffin Island is a haven for day-trippers and daydreamers alike.
But this charming community has a way of bringing people together in the most unexpected ways…  
It's been a summer of firsts for Emily Donovan. From becoming a stand-in mom to her niece Lizzie to arriving on Puffin Island, her life has become virtually unrecognizable. Between desperately safeguarding Lizzie and her overwhelming fear of the ocean—which surrounds her everywhere she goes!—Emily has lost count of the number of "just breathe" pep talks she's given herself. And that's before charismatic local yacht club owner Ryan Cooper kisses her…

Ryan knows all about secrets. And it's clear that newcomer Emily—with her haunted eyes and the little girl she won't let out of her sight—is hiding from something besides the crazy chemistry between them. So Ryan decides he's going to make it his personal mission to help her unwind and enjoy the sparks! But can Puffin Island work its magic on Emily and get her to take the biggest leap of trust of all—putting her heart in someone else's hands?
I love Sarah Morgan's books.

Like really love them.  

From her M&B Modern romances, starring Greek, Italian and Sheikh alpha heroes, to the sizzling Notting Hill Diaries, to her enchanting Snow Crystal trilogy, she is a master of both character development and the painting of settings...

And First Time in Forever is no exception.

Let us first take the characters...

Emily is the kind of romance heroine for whom the hashtag #strongromanceheroine was made.  She had a tough childhood and an even tougher experience involving the sea.  And so when the death of her half-sister finds her left as the sole guardian of a niece she's never met before, she takes her to the one place she knows she can keep her safe:  Puffin Island.

Perhaps the best thing about Emily, is the fact that she's not perfect.  Her fear of the ocean - one which is more than a little justified - leaves her terrified of leaving Lizzie, her niece alone, and in some ways can be seen as quite a self-centred.

That's not to say she's unlikeable.  We like Emily because of her fears and her determination to do the right thing - even if she's not always certain what that might be.

And then there's Ryan.  Ryan who knows exactly how to bring up a little child because of his teenage years, helping to bring up his much younger siblings.  Ryan who is determined not to get stuck with overwhelming responsibility like that again.

There's great healing in this book.  Neither of our main characters - nor the accompanying cast of characters we get to meet and fall in love with on the island - are two-dimensional.  It would be very easy to make them so:  the heroine with a past; the hero who shirks commitment; the wise grandmother; the two best friends who hide their attraction for each other...  But it's the details about their lives that make them come to life on the page.

And this is in no little way, partly due to Puffin Island itself.

Morgan is a master of setting - whether close-knit community, or exotic hideaway - and PI is no different.  The place is intertwined with a feeling of belonging which is impossible to shake off.  We get a sense of the trials and tribulations of the island, from the lack of tourism trade during the winter months, to the annual cook-out on the beach!

We are introduced to everyone, from the elderly book club, to the lonely ice cream shop owner, from the gruff harbour master, to the vibrant school teacher, as well as everyone in between.

Puffin Island is a place.  It is real in the pages of First Time in Forever and it becomes real in our hearts.

Monday 29 September 2014

Amy Andrews Day!!

There has been an unexpected hiatus for a while on my blog; in part because work has been absolutely insane, and in part because I'm now an editor over at the Pink Heart Society blog.

HOWEVER, I bring you rather fantastic news - today is Amy Andrews day!!

Those of you who have been following me for a while are aware of my love of all things Andrews.  We're talking geeks and injured ex-soldiers, romance stories that deal with issues of abandonment and eating disorders.  And lots of really good, well-written sex - including the best phone sex scene I've ever read.  She's the person who got me to reconnect with Medical Romances and she's an award-winning writer.

So why is today Amy Andrews day?

Well, today is the release date of her first Entangled Brazen novel.  And what is EB?  On their website, they describe their stories as:

If you like your heroes hot, the sex hotter, and a swoon-worthy romance to swoop in and save your happily ever after, Brazen has the story for you. Sinfully sexy soldiers. Alpha cops who demand control. Sweet guys with a naughty side in the bedroom. At Brazen, we've got the hero destined to melt your... heart.
As you can imagine, I pretty much jumped for joy when Amy sent me her latest offering to read.

No More Mr Nice Guy is the story of Josie Butler .  When Josie finds herself single, she gets drunk and makes herself a sexy to-do list.  With explicit attention to detail.

But it's only when her best friend's brother, gorgeous vet Mack, finds it and laughs that she's filled with a new determination to see it through.

Mack's horror when he realises that good-girl Josie has gone to one of the worst bars in town, with the sole intention of proving him wrong and picking up someone to help her with her list.

It's not until he goes after her and - cue some incredibly hot sex up against an alley wall - discovers how bad they can be together, that he decides to ditch his nice guy attitude.

Josie is in for the best ride of her life.

Pun intended.
Now, I've read many books that are more than a little steamy, but this is why you should go pick up a copy of NMMNG:

It works.

Sexy stories are great, but usually infinitely forgettable.  When sex is one of the central components, it takes a damn good writer to balance that out with decent character development in a way that makes you want to read more.

I've read this three times in two weeks.

Three times.

And I still haven't quite got over it.  Not only have I been almost swooning on the Tube over certain scenes - wink wink - but I've also invested so much in the characters that I emailed Amy as soon as it was done, begging for a sequel featuring Mack's sister.

I defy you not to adore it!!

No More Mr Nice Guy is out today and you should go read it!!  If you want to know more about Amy Andrews, you can read her guestpost on Urban-Family Romances (inspired by her romance bookshop novel Risky Business), my interview with her when she won an award for Holding Out for a Hero, and reviews of The Most Expensive Night of Her Life and Girl Least Likely to Marry.

Thursday 31 July 2014

Nicola Griffith: Hild's Voice

As regulars to my blog will know, I’m a big fan of strong female characters and have recently found myself more and more drawn to fictional depictions of historical women.  Nicola Griffith’s Hild is one such novel.  Set in the Dark Ages, it tells the story of the girl who would later become St Hilda of Whitby.  It’s an utterly mesmerizing narrative, and Nicola talks here about how she crafted what would become Hild’s voice:

I was in my 20s when I first saw Whitby Abbey and heard about the extraordinary woman who had founded it. But I wasn't a writer then. I tucked her story in the back of my mind and went on to other things.

Fast forward 20 years. I was waiting for the proofs of Always, the third Aud novel. My mother was dying. I was going crazy. So I did what I’ve always done when I can’t sit still: I just started to write. In a blaze of energy I wrote a memoir. I wrote the whole thing, soup to nuts, in three months; there was no time to be precious or step around the truth. As I wrote the introduction, I found myself talking about history and language and landscape and how I was shaped as a writer by all three. It became clear that this story about an extraordinary woman called Hild was where I’d been going for years, where I’d always been going, I’d just been too afraid of failure—failing at this thing I’d been aiming for all my life—to admit it. So the day before my birthday I thought: Enough. I would celebrate by having begun. So I sat down, opened a new document. And there she was, lying under a tree, listening. She was three years old…

I’d never written from the point of view of a child before. I’d never written a novel set in the past. It was daunting.

I wanted Hild and all the other women to do their extraordinary and interesting things securely within the constraints of their time—while being fully, recognizably human (not idiotic stereotypes of Women In Ye Olde Past; you know the kind of thing). Hild had to be believable as a woman in her time and place, yet singular. Because she must have been. She began as the second daughter of a woman widowed in exile, hunted by rival petty kings, and ended as the most powerful abbess of Britain, counsellor to kings and teacher of five bishops. Now beloved as a saint.

But saints are never saintly in real life. They’re complicated, sometimes difficult, human beings. I wanted to know what made Hild who she is, how she managed to remain within her cultural constraints and become universally revered.

So I researched, and I pondered, and, frankly, quailed. And as I indulged in all kinds of avoidance behaviour—including more research—I stumbled over a new factoid: one scholar estimated that Anglo-Saxon women spent 65% of their time in the production of textiles.

This stopped me in my tracks. Sixty-five percent. That’s a greater proportion of her day than sleeping, child care, and food preparation combined. As I thought about it I understood that textile production was life-or-death technology for the whole community. I kept returning to it. It fascinated me. But I didn’t want to write that kind of book. I didn’t want to write about the restrictions of gender. Domesticity makes me claustrophobic. Hearth and home are all very well, but I love an epic canvas: gold and glory, politics and plotting.

To avoid that, I was tempted to take the easy way out and make Hild so singular that the restrictions didn’t apply to her. I tried everything I could think of; at one point I even had her learn and use a sword, although in reality she might have very well have been put to death for that.

It didn’t work: History is made by real people; the rules always apply. I despaired of being able to reconcile that reality with what I wanted, what somewhere inside I knew was possible.

In the end I did what any good Anglo-Saxon would: I got drunk, laughed in the face of fear, and charged. And I discovered what poets have known for millennia; that constraint is freeing. I had nothing to lose, so I committed. The words came. It felt like magic. It was Hild’s voice.

Nicola Griffith has won a Nebula Award, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, the World Fantasy Award and six Lambda Literary Awards. A native of Yorkshire - now a dual US/UK citizen - Nicola is a onetime self-defence instructor who turned to writing full-time upon being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1993. She lives with her wife in Seattle.

Follow her on Twitter @nicolaz

Friday 25 July 2014

An Interview with Annie Lyons

The lovely Annie Lyons is the first ever Carina author to be published in paperback!!  I caught up with her to chat about Not Quite Perfect...

1)  Firstly, congratulations for being the first Carina author to make the transition for ebook to print; what was your reaction when you found out?

Thank you very much and also for hosting me today.  I had known for a while that it was a possibility so it wasn’t a shock but it was fantastic when I finally got the news. 

To be honest, it didn’t sink in properly until I walked into Asda and saw it on the shelf nestled between Bridget Jones and Stephen King. Now THAT was a special moment…

2)  In
Not Quite Perfect, both Emma and Rachel face struggles in their relationships.  What do you think brings a relationship to life in a novel, and is there key to making it realistic?

I think dialogue is key for me. I spend quite a long time thinking about situations and what the person would actually say to make it as realistic as possible. I am also extraordinarily nosy and my husband gets a bit cross with me when we’re out in public because I am invariably listening to someone else’s conversation instead of him!

3)  In some ways, the two sisters represent two different routes in life, but each ends up making similar decisions at key moments.  What do you think this says about people in general?

Emma and Rachel have very different lives but the same background and the relationship with their parents is key to the choices they make. I think this is true for lots of people. You think you’re not influenced by your past and your family experience but it’s there, underpinning everything you do.

4)  At the opening of the novel, the sisters' mother Diana seems quite unsympathetic, but as the narrative unfolds, little by little we begin to understand her.  When writing, did you find that characters surprised you, as Diana does the readers?

Absolutely. My characters always surprise me and lead me by the hand through the story. I try to make people as rounded and realistic as possible. Human beings aren’t either heroes or villains – there’s more than one side to everybody. Everyone has their struggles too and I like to explore them if I can.

5)  One of the things that makes Not Quite Perfect unique, is the use of the present tense throughout the entire novel.  Was this a conscious decision and what impact do you think it has?

I have to come clean and say that it wasn’t a conscious decision. It was the first book I’d ever written and it just flowed in that way but it works for me. I hadn’t really considered what impact this has but looking at it now, it probably brings more of an immediacy to the story which flits quite quickly between the sisters and takes place over a relatively short period of time.  I think a few people have found it unusual but most don’t seem to mind and some love it!

6)  And finally, can you tell us about any other projects that you're currently working on?

I have been doing lots of fab interviews and writing blog articles for this fantastic tour to talk about Not Quite Perfect and my new book, Dear Lizzie. It’s been a blast – bloggers are an amazing, dedicated bunch – I salute you all!

I also have a new character nagging at my brain and an empty notebook to fill over the summer holidays in preparation for starting my new book in September. I’m quite excited about this one…
Does that sound suitably mysterious? I would tell you more if I could!

Annie Lyons is the best-selling author of Not Quite Perfect (now available in paperback) and Not Quite Perfect Christmas (A Short Story). Her new novel Dear Lizzie is published by Carina and is available as an eBook.