Wednesday, November 29

Contracted -- A Writers' Challenge

I'm back from my trip and into the swing of normal life again! I always miss home so much when I'm away -- anyone else?

I have two exciting contest announcements today, and another one to come in the next couple of days. Both of today's are being run by my publisher, Moonlit Romance.

The first is a writing contest which will run through 2007. Regular visitors to my blog and website will know that I was published in Fall In Love: An Anthology through entering a Moonlit Romance writing contest, so I can't recommend Contracted -- A Writers' Challenge highly enough! :) Here are the details:

Contest 1: "Contracted -- A Writers' Challenge"
Unique Enterprises, the parent company of By Grace Publishing and Moonlit Romance, is sponsoring CONTRACTED– A Writers' Challenge during 2007. We will hold 2 challenges, January-June and July-December, with the winner being announced and published in September 2007 and March 2008.

This contest is open to unpublished in romance authors only. The novels entered into the contest must have 12 chapters, and may be any romance sub-genre. All novels must meet the guidelines for either By Grace Publishing or Moonlit Romance. Please see the Guidelines at and

To Enter: Please send a query letter to Laura Hamby ( along with the completed entry form you'll find in the files sections of the Moonlit Romance and By Grace readers loops (click here for the Moonlit loop and here for the By Grace loop). All attached files must be saved in .rtf format, or they will not be opened. There will be 2 rounds of CONTRACTED— A Writers' Challenge in 2007.

Entry deadlines:

Round One — December 15, 2006
Round Two — May 15, 2007

Please put "Contracted -- A Writers' Challenge Entry" in the subject line of the email.

Contestants will compete for 6 months in two different forums: the public Blog Challenges and the private Editors' Challenges, based on a monthly challenge theme. Once a month, contestants will provide their Blog Challenges to Laura Hamby to be posted on the Unique Enterprises' Authors' Blog, in addition to submitting their private Editors' Challenge to Laura Hamby to be forwarded to the judging Unique Enterprises editors. Both the Blog Challenges and the Editors' Challenges will be rated on a rubric that will be provided to each contestant before each contest begins. In order to continue from month to month, contestants must complete both the Blog and the Editors' Challenges. Contestants who fail to participate in both monthly challenges every month will be disqualified. Standings will be determined by averaging the Editors' and Blog Challenges together.

Contestants who do not satisfactorily pass the monthly Challenges will not proceed to the next month's round. Points will be awarded on a 1-5 scale, and those authors not achieving an Editors' and Blog Challenge of 3.5 or higher won't progress to the next level. These contestants will receive a critique of the first 3 chapters of their novel from Unique Enterprises' Senior Editors Sheila Holloway or Laura Hamby, and will be encouraged to participate in the next Writers' Challenge.

At the conclusion of the 6 month competition, the authors who have made it successfully through the Writers' Challenge with a 6 month average of the equivalent to a 3.5 will have one month to revise, edit and polish their novel for the Final Competition. For entrants in the January-June contest, their final product will be due August 1, 2007. For entrants in the July-December contest, their final product will be due February 1, 2008. Contestants will receive the Final Judging Rubric at the conclusion of the 6 month competition.

Winners will be publicly announced on the Unique Enterprises Authors' Blog on September 1, 2007 and March 1, 2008. The winning novel will be published in September 2007 (1st round) and March 2008 (2nd round).

The winner(s) of CONTRACTED–A Writers' Challenge will win a contract for their completed, ready-to-publish novel with either Moonlit Romance or By Grace Publishing. The runners-up will receive comments on their novels from the judges, and are invited to resubmit their novels to By Grace Publishing or Moonlit Romance.

For further details and information about this exciting contest, please email Laura Hamby at Please put "Contracted-- More Details" in the subject line.

Contest 2: Moonlit Romance 1st Birthday Contest

Come celebrate with Moonlit Romance as they turn one year old. Enter their contest to win this gorgeous handmade moon pendant!

All you have to do is read one of Moonlit's books, write a review, and send it to The winner will be chosen by drawing. Contest ends February 1, 2007. Selected reviews will be posted on the Moonlit Romance blog.

Tuesday, November 21

Gifts For You, Gifts For Me

I'm going away for a few days so won't be back on my blog until Sunday at the earliest. Because of this, I wanted to remind you all that the Spooky Contest I am running in conjunction with Nell Dixon is open to entries until this Saturday, November 25th. If you'd like to find out more and submit your entry, just click here.

I found this great site today, where you are offered a number of visual picture choices on your favourite things, and from that the program works out ideal Christmas gifts for you. You can also answer it for friends and family to get some ideas on what to buy them. I did it for myself and all of my suggested gift selections were lovely! The site also told me this about myself:

If you want to have a go either for yourself or you family or friends, just click here.

In the meantime, have a great rest-of-week everybody, and Happy Thanksgiving to all who are celebrating it.

Just finished reading: Our Lady of the Forest by David Guterson (a novel that, for some reason, does not believe in speech marks)

Saturday, November 18

Premium Bond

Last night myself, The Bloke, my sister and her fiance trundled down to the Odeon to see Casino Royale. The men being the men were desperate to see the new Bond film, and my sister and I were brought up on Bond films so we weren't averse to the idea either.

Daniel Craig was very, very good indeed. When he was first announced as Bond I, like many others, thought the choice would never work, but then I watched Layer Cake (another of The Bloke's favourite films) and after that I was confident that Craig could pull off playing 007.

He has. So many people were ready to hate him in the role, but in the lead-up to the release I hadn't heard a single bad review about him or the film. In fact, a number of reports suggested he might possibly be the best Bond yet. To put it plainly, he rocks. He plays Bond straight without the cheesiness (although there are some of those Bond one-liners), suave without the sliminess, manly without the scariness, and smooth but with that edge of ruggedness he needs. He is the grittiest Bond yet, but there are still laughs and times for emotion. And though some have accused Daniel Craig of not having the right looks, I came out of the cinema fancying him. Though the film begins with him as your classic womanizer and a bit of a loose cannon, partway through, I, for one, started to see him morph into a bit of a romantic hero.

The plot of the film is good, too. Some Bond films get a bit yawnsome with their plot and villainy detail, but this one doesn't. The action is fantastic -- the free-running chase near the beginning is, in particular, truly exciting to watch. Settings are gorgeous, characters vivid, and "You Know My Name", the theme song co-written and sung by ex-Soundgarden alumni Chris Cornell also rocks. Vesper Lynd is beautiful and sassy, and I am in love with her purple evening gown.

An excellent, excellent job. Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 16

The Inspiration to Write

On Monday, Sue aka MsCreativity blogged about what inspires her to write and, in doing so, she inspired me to do the same thing! Make sure you’re comfortable -- this is my story. (It's long.)

I’ve always been a reader. Always. When I was little, every Saturday morning my dad would take my sister and I to our nearest mid-sized town, where he would get shopping and do odd jobs and then take us to the library. You could (and still can) take out ten books at a time on your library card and my sister and I used to pore over the shelves for things we hadn’t read. Once I started getting pocket money I would treat myself to a lip balm from Boots as well, and maybe a packet of strawberry laces from the sweet shop. Even now I get nice fuzzy feelings when I think of the journey home, listening to Dave Lee Travis's "wack wack oops" snooker quiz on Radio 1 with a bagful of books and my little purchases by my side! :)

I read many different kinds of books over the years, but like Sue, Enid Blyton was one of my staples. I enjoyed the Famous Five stories (particularly the one where they stay in a yellow gypsy caravan), but my favourites were the Magic Faraway Tree books, the St Clare’s school stories, Hollow Tree House, and – rather controversial these days – The Three Golliwogs. I was also a big fan of Joyce Lankester Brisley’s Milly Molly Mandy books and my all-time favourite children’s book was, and still is, Elizabeth Goudge’s The Little White Horse.

I must have been about eight when I first began to write; tales of adventure, usually revolving around my friends and I off into the woods with a knapsack of food and a mystery to solve. I didn’t know it then, but I was already doing what many fledgling writers do – emulating their favourite authors! Around the age of twelve I entered the WHSmith Young Writers Competition (I don’t think it's active any more) with a story about a wizard who lived on Atlantis. I lost the story ages ago, but the story basically explained what happened to Atlantis. If I remember rightly I blamed it on a band of fraudulent ne’er-do-wells who somehow managed to sell the island to a higher power…

I didn’t write for a while after that, but I was still reading. Around this time the “Point Horror” book series launched, and my friends and I were mad about them. We used to consult over who had what book and make sure that we each bought (or asked for at birthdays) different titles, so between us we had a full library that we could swap and share. Not long after “Point Horror” took off, a new series, “Point Romance”, was launched, and I fell headfirst into that, too. After I’d entered my teen years, I started my “adult fiction reading career” with that classic title – Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews. I devoured the rest of the series, but I never liked her other series half as much (particularly the ghost-written ones). Soon afterwards, my parents separated and I, feeling dreary and gothic most of the time, read only Stephen King and Dean Koontz.

When I began to study English Literature for GCSE and A-Level I started to make my own selective reading choices in the bookshops. I widened my horizons, picking up books I’d never heard of to try something new and catching up on the classics that other classes had been set at school that I thought sounded interesting. Around this time, I was living with my dad and his second wife. One day a package of Mills & Boon books arrived at the house, sent on a Reader Service promotion (with a free pen in a velvet pouch and, if I remember correctly, a dusky rose-coloured wine glass!). I can vividly remember taking one in to read during a bath – a Christmas story – and shivering in the rapidly-chilling water over an hour later because I could not put that book down. Shamefully, I can’t remember the title or the author.

I began to write again. I flirted with some poetry and wrote a few short stories, then tried to start a thriller about an American town dominated by an evil river. It didn’t go very far. Life intervened for a few years: I finished school and got a job (whilst working another part-time job in the evenings), and though I continued to read, I stopped writing. Then the new millennium hit, and things went pear-shaped. My dad got divorced again. I relocated, moved in with my mum, and started a new job, working for a pensions provider. A couple of scant months later, my dad passed away.

My world was rocked. It had come from nowhere. I felt like I’d been hit by a bus and though my mind and feelings were in a state of chaos, something felt very clear to me. It was trite phrase -- over-used, bandied about -- but suddenly it was all I could think about.

Life’s too short.

As my compassionate leave from work drew to a close, I called and told them I wouldn’t be coming back. The one thing about the job that had excited me was that it was the first time I had brought home a paycheck that, after tax, amounted to slightly over £1,000. But the work bored me. Nothing was interesting. I didn’t live for it.

I took the summer off, using some of the savings my grandparents had left me to help out with shopping and to buy myself books and a laptop. I surfed the net. Tried to think about what I could do next. Then one day, another promotional package from Mills & Boon dropped through the door. I consumed the books in less than two days, went online and ordered more. I found and joined the message boards. I scoured Amazon for books on how to write romance.

And I started to write.

The process from my initial beginnings (writing along to my stream of consciousness with no idea about my plot of my characters) to where I am now is long-winded, and since I’ve gone on rather longer than I’d expected already, I won’t bore you with it! The summer I’ve just described -- when I discovered romance writing good and proper as an escape from what had happened and as something I instantly fell in love with and thought, “yes, I can do this,” – was five years ago. In that time I’ve started a number of different projects. Two have been published. I wrote a number of short stories, as well. One has been published.

I’ve known, pretty much since then, that writing romance is my “calling”. It’s all I want to do (besides having a family and living a happy, comfortable life). And sometimes it’s hard work. Very hard work. But I still love it. It’s a constant. My love affair with it is my longest love affair yet (I met The Bloke just before Christmas, later that year).

So, getting back to the point… what inspired me to write?

My love of books.

The way I devour a great story, and the hope that I can create one for somebody else, if not for myself.

A life-changing event that showed me that life really is too short, and doing something you enjoy should be prized much more highly than doing something that just means you can afford to shop in nicer places.

And, above all, an instinctual love for writing that is always, always there -- even on the difficult days.

What inspires you to write?

Just finished reading: Heart of a Mercenary by Loreth Anne White

Sunday, November 12

Remembrance Sunday

While watching today's National Service of Remembrance live from the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, I felt I should post something in memory of the many servicemen who have lost their lives in times of conflicts, as well as those who came home battered and changed, and the families who suffered bereavement and loss. I wasn't sure what to write, but then I read a very meaningful post on Natasha Oakley's blog which sums up what I was feeling.

Many things struck me as being moving while I was watching the service, but a piece of information that has stuck in my mind is this: The Royal British Legion, the UK charity that provides financial, social and emotional support to millions who have served and are currently serving in the Armed Forces and their dependants, takes responsibility for the sale of poppies in the lead-up to Remembrance Day. They say that up to one thousand ex-servicemen are sleeping rough on the streets of London on any given night. In order to help these veterans and the many others who turn to the Legion for support, the charity needs £75 million a year.

Only a third of this amount is collected through the annual sale of poppies.

You can visit the Poppy Appeal website by clicking on the banner below. They offer many other ways to help, including a download of a virtual poppy to your mobile phone.

Wednesday, November 8

Julie Cohen's First Page Challenge

A couple of weeks ago, romance author Julie Cohen blogged about a "first page challenge", in which she posted the first page of one of her novels and annotated it to show how she had portrayed what her characters were like and what there problems were right from line one. She threw down the gauntlet to other writers to do the same with their first page, and many took up the challenge -- including (to name just a few) Donna Alward, Jenna Bayley-Burke, Michelle Styles, Kate Walker, Amanda Ashby, Fiona Harper, Ally Blake, and Liz Fenwick.

After I'd read all of these contributions and seeing how well-written they were, I got panicky about posting my own! But I've decided to do it now, because I think it's an excellent exercise in making sure your writing says what you mean to say about your characters, rather than just being words.

So here is the first scene of Haunted Hearts...

Beth Albright gazed up at the imposing Georgian country house and hoped that it really was haunted. [This shows that Beth is intrigued by the paranormal and is a hopeful, positive person.] Any paranormal investigator would be thrilled at the chance to investigate such a classically old-looking mansion such as Hoblington Grange, and she was no different.

She stepped down from the porch, walked across the gravel, and peered down the flagstone path at the side of the Grange. Her arrival had been right on time [she's a punctual person who plays by the rules], yet nobody seemed to be here. [Why would somebody who had arranged a paranormal investigation not be eager to greet their investigator?] Three rings of the doorbell and a couple of heavy knocks on the hulking wooden front door had not yielded any results. She shrugged and headed for the side-path that led to the back garden. [She doesn't want to let this investigation go easily and is prepared to go looking for her client.]

It felt more than a little strange to be back in Little Hoblington after the years she'd spent away, let alone being back in the grounds of the Grange itself. [She used to either live or spend a lot of time in the village -- where did she go, and why did she leave? She also used to spend time at the Grange, but is excited to be back here.] A lot had happened since Beth's last visit to the house--a weekend break from university [she's educated] that hadn't gone exactly as planned--but in contrast, the big red-brick country mansion sat here all along, apparently unchanged by the passage of time. [She had moved on emotionally once she'd left Little Hoblington, even if nothing else moved with her. Did she want to put something behind her?]

An overgrown butterfly bush came into view as Beth neared the end of the path. It shook violently. A hand appeared and dropped a bunch of clippings on to the ground before vanishing again. [The person clipping the bush is doing it quite roughly. Is it because they are angry, or because they're just trying to get the job done?]

"Hello?" She quickened her step. "My name's Beth Albright. I'm here for the paranormal investigation."

The bush stopped shaking. [The other person has heard Beth, but why have they not reacted immediately to her presence?]

"I'm sorry to intrude back here, but nobody answered the front door. I was told to be here at ten o'clock but perhaps I'm a little early?" Beth suggested out of politeness. [Being a professional, she wants to be sure the person knows that she was here at ten a.m. (on time), but adds the latter part of the sentence in order to allow them a get-out clause.]

She stepped over the pile of clippings and raised her head to greet the new owner of the Grange. [She's eager to meet the person even if they're not so enthused.]

Instead she found herself unable to breathe. [Why? Whose presence could shock her so, and why does it have this effect on her?]

A matter of inches away stood a tall, well-built man. [This guy looks after himself and can handle his own.] He held a rusty pair of secateurs in one hand, while the other was loose by his side. [He's doing the job with what equipment he's got, even if it's not the best, or perhaps he simply doesn't look after things that well.] His dark brown hair was short but unkempt [he makes an effort at neatness, but it doesn't always carry through -- has he given up?], and smudges of dirt decorated his stubbled jaw and white polo shirt. Exceptionally dark blue eyes bored into hers [he's assessing her] and for a minute, Beth felt as though she'd been transported back in time to that last awful visit to Little Hoblington. [This man is somebody from her past who brings back bad memories.]

It wasn't the new owner of the Grange who stood before her. [She had assumed the same person who'd owned the Grange when she had known it before was no longer here.] Nor was it the well-spoken woman who had called her two weeks previously to arrange the paranormal investigation. [This man hadn't arranged the investigation, so who did, and why is he here?] It wasn't even a gardener.

It was Sam Aston-Wilkes. Her first love. The man she'd given her heart to--along with her innocence--and who had later discarded her as if she were as useless as the wandering branches of the butterfly bush he had just been decimating so well. [Kinda speaks for itself, I think...]

I would love to hear your comments if you'd like to leave any, as I've been hesitant about posting to match Julie's challenge! This has been fun, though :)

I hasten to add that all the annotations I have made are my intentions as an author of what questions or insights I hope are coming across to the reader as they read. I realize that somebody may read the opening scene and get a totally different idea of things, not understand some pointers, or find a couple of new ones. If this is the case, It would be great to know which notes you do or don't agree with and whether there are any clues to the characters you've spotted that I haven't pointed out.

Just finished reading: Love on the Rocks by Veronica Henry

Wednesday, November 1

Five Things About Me

Nell has tagged me for a "Five Things You May Not Know About Me" list, which I will do a little lower down this post. In the meantime -- updates!

Haunted Hearts is selling well and is now available on Fictionwise, a superb site that I believe is the Internet's most comprehensive collection of popular fiction and non-fiction available in many different e-book formats. Their current Top Ten includes Dance of the Gods by Nora Roberts and Lisey's Story by Stephen King. When I first heard the news that HH was up on Fictionwise and I logged on to have a look, I was surprised and thrilled to see it featured on the homepage only inches away from those two authors! :D

I've now completed my initial plans for my beach-themed novella, which will be part of a duet with Nell, due for release in May 2007 with Moonlit Romance. Writing in earnest will begin this week. I'm also hoping to start fleshing out plans for my "fax suspense" novella idea, as I'd like to have both of these projects finished by Christmas so I can get on with planning and writing my possible-mainstream idea, The Truck of Luck.

Don't forget -- the Spooky Contest Nell and I are running, with signed copies of Haunted Hearts and From Darkness: An Anthology among the prizes, is open until 25th November. If you'd like to enter, click here. Good luck!

Now, on to my "Five Things..." list:

1. I know a lot about cheese. I worked on a deli for about three and a half years while I was studying for my GCSEs and A-Levels, and can slice a turkey crown, peppered salami, and crumbed ham (the messiest), split a whole Edam, cut a wedge of Parmesan (the most rock-hard cheese in the world), and can usually tell the weight of a block of cheddar just by looking at it. I was also a bit of a dab hand at spit-roasting chickens, but I can't say I've done that since I left...

2. I once smacked Deal or No Deal host Noel Edmonds on the bottom. (Stop laughing at the back!) When I was about five he lived in a village not far from us and he frequently flew his helicopter around the area. One time I was at the park with my mum and she'd bought me a packet of crisps from the pub over the road. Noel landed his helicopter in the park and was talking to a few people. He said hello to me and asked for a crisp, to which I (apparently) responded with a firm 'no' and smacked him on the bum. Lovely!

3. My family name on my mother's side and its coat of arms is engraved on the outside of the Canongate Kirk, the parish church of Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. An ancestor of mine, Thomas Moodie, was a local merchant and left some money to the disposal of the Crown, which King James VII ordered to be used to build the church. It was completed in 1690 and the initials of my ancestor and his coat of arms were engraved on the front of the church below the Royal Arms.

4. I was born on John Lennon's 40th, and what turned out to be his final, birthday.

5. I'm only 5 foot 1!

A note from Sharon, the creator of People Collection (which seems to have originated this "Five Things..." list), says:

Remember that it isn’t always the sensational stuff that writers are looking for, it can just as easily be something that you take for granted like having raised twins or knowing how to grow beetroot. Mind you, if you know how to fly a helicopter or have worked as a film extra, do feel free to let the rest of us know about it! :)
I tag Phillipa and Fiona!

Just finished reading: Decent Exposure by Phillipa Ashley