Tuesday, 24 January 2017

the repercussions of being a cheap Scot

Writing last week's blog post, about my new romance series set on an island, made me think about boats. Which made me think about boat trips. Which led to this blog post.

You see, I'm Scottish. Being Scottish comes with certain responsibilities - like never passing up a cheap deal. No matter the consequences. Which brings me to today's post about a deal in the local paper for cheap boat tickets to France. A deal I couldn't resist.

The paper offered tickets on the small catamaran ferry from Newhaven, over the English channel to Dieppe for $1 a ticket! That's a day trip to France for $1!!! Of course, I jumped at the chance and bought three, one each for me, my hubby and my friend Emma. I didn't let a little fact like it being November, winter and stormy, distract me from a day in France. Mainly, I was too busy crowing from my deal to think about when it was happening.

the tiny ferry

Until I got on the boat.

The English channel had been hit by a winter storm. The winds were howling. The waves were massive. The port had been closed behind us and the captain announced that if we'd left five minute later we wouldn't have been allowed to go. Comforting it was not, seeing as we were being tossed around like a toy boat in a bath with a three year old.

And then the vomiting started.

I mean, EVERYONE on board was vomiting. The poor crew spent all their time dispensing cold cloths and sick bags. In between being sick, I watched the crew trying to walk up and down the aisles. They were bouncing around so much that I suspect most of them were bruised by the time we got to France. The trip, which should have taken a couple of hours, took almost five.

By the time we arrived in Dieppe, I honestly thought I was on death's doorstep, begging to be let inside. I looked like a cast member of The Walking Dead. I felt like someone had whisked my internal organs. The whole world continued to sway. I have NEVER to this day, felt as bad as I did then. I lay on my back, on the bathroom floor of the Dieppe ferry terminal, and wished for death. That's where my friend Emma found me. She hauled me up and together with my husband, they dragged me to a pharmacy where Emma (the only one of us who spoke French) asked for something for sea sickness. The pharmacy, Emma told me later, said she didn't think there was anything strong enough to make me feel better and suggested the hospital. She also told Emma that the ferry company were in trouble with the authorities for sailing in such bad weather. Emma didn't pass any of this on at the time, probably fearing for my fragile sanity. Instead, she bought what sea sickness medication they had and force fed it to me.

And what about our lovely, cultural day in France? Well, the famous market we were going to visit was over and all the shops were shut. We spent two long hours sitting in a bus shelter watching the wind and rain before it was time to leave again. At which point, I pulled out my credit card, brandished it like a sword and declared I was flying home. I'd walk to Paris airport if I had to, but there was no way I was getting on another bloody boat.

As it turned out, there was no boat to get on anyway. The channel conditions were so bad that the company was no longer sailing to Newhaven. Instead, we were put on a bus to the larger port of Calais and the much bigger and weather appropriate ferries. I was still adamant (read hysterical) that I wasn't getting on ANY boat. EVER. But my hubby and friend talked me into getting the bus by using the argument that Calais was closer to Paris - and therefore the airport. He lied! I found out later it's in the opposite direction.

our trip

We got on the bus. The driver couldn't speak French. The bus got lost on the way to Calais. My friend Emma, the only French speaker on a coach full of British folk, had to go sit beside the driver and navigate him back to Calais. By the time we got to Calais it was late at night and most of the day trippers were hanging on by a thread. It wouldn't have taken much for one of us to snap and go on a rampage.

My husband bullied, blackmailed and cajoled me into getting on the huge boat. He even enlisted the help of the officials to inform me that the boat would not be as rocky as the little one we'd arrived on. I took as many over-the-counter-drugs as was allowed and got on the damn boat.

the big ferry (NOT big enough!)

I spent the trip vomiting in the ladies loo. I also threatened my husband with divorce.

When we arrived in England, we were in Dover. Which is nowhere near where we started and meant another long bus journey to get to the car we'd left in Newhaven.

We arrived home at two in the morning, sick, exhausted and depressed. We'd spent $1 to spend a day vomiting. We didn't see France. We didn't eat at a nice patisserie. We didn't buy fresh French cheese at the market. Nope, we paid $1 to ride on boats that should have been docked and sit on bus coaches that wandered over a dark and rainy France. We saw nothing. We did nothing. We came home ill.

Some would say we got our money's worth!

I learned two lessons from this experience:

1. I will never, ever, even if my life depends on it, get on another boat. (Seriously. NO BOATS EVER.)

2. I will never, ever jump at another too-good-to-be-true cheap offer...probably...mostly...unless it's really good and doesn't involve a boat, then all bets are off. After all, I am still Scottish...

Monday, 16 January 2017

New series coming in 2017

I'm writing a new contemporary romance series in 2017 and I thought you'd like to know a little about it. I can promise you the stories will be full of interesting characters and the usual amount of humor. But, for the first time, I'm setting my books outside of the UK.

Welcome To McClintock Island, Michigan 

McClintock island is a privately owned island that sits smack-bam in the middle of Lake Huron, about a hairs breadth away from the Canadian border. In fact, some of the islanders are adamant that the northern tip of the island really belongs in Canada. In recent times, a tiny group of residents have set up home in the northern tip and have established Trudeau Township. They hope to eventually secede from the United States and become part of Canada. The fact that the township is mainly populated by women who are obsessed with Justin Trudeau is purely coincidental.
Here is a map of the island.
As you can see, the residents and owners haven't had a lot imagination when it came to naming places.
Three quarters of the island is taken up by hills (and bumps) that are covered in forest. The McClintocks' private estate takes up almost a quarter of the land mass, including McClintock cove and the garden area of the island. McClintock town currently boasts a rundown bar, a cheap diner with bad food, a school house with two students and a town hall that's being used as a grocery store. The old harbor is in disrepair and the island no longer acts as a stopping off point for passing cargo ships or wandering boats. With one ferry a week from the mainland and most homes sitting vacant, McClintock island has the feel of a ghost town. The population has been dwindling steadily over the past forty years, local industry (mainly fishing) has been abandoned and island amenities are few and far between. If something isn't done to turn the fortunes of the island around, it will die - along with its last few residents.
That's where the McClintock men come in.
But first, you must be dying to know how the island got into this state. Well, here's a little history.

A Short History Of McClintock Island

McClintock island was first claimed by the McClintock family when they arrived fresh from Scotland in the 1800s. For several generations it was owned and run by the family, mainly as a fishing hub and harbor rest for passing boats. In the 1980s the head of the McClintock family was a feckless rogue by the name of Fergus. He was a gambling, hard-drinking and womanizing fool of a man who lost the island in a bet, leaving his wife and four sons without any financial support. Not long after he lost the island, Fergus moved to the mainland and was never heard of again. Some say he died of syphilis in a whore house in Texas, but I think that's just wishful thinking.
To add insult to injury, Fergus lost the island to old man Eddie Trainor. The Trainors were long term business adversaries of the McClintocks. Eddie Trainor was a ruthless man, who was more interested in ruining the McClintocks than in nurturing the island. His family moved into McClintock House and proceeded to lord it over the island inhabitants. Fortunately, Eddie died not long after he won the bet, so the McClintocks didn't have to kill him. Unfortunately, his son, Marcus was just as bad as his father. Only, where Eddie was a ruthless and cunning businessman, Marcus was a spoiled brat who was more interested in appearing rich than in working for his money. Because of this, he ran through his inheritance pretty fast and had to sell the island. It went through two more owners, who did more damage than good, until the McClintock brothers were old enough, and had saved enough, to buy it back - but not without having to take on a business partner from outside the family to do it. (Something they plan to rectify as soon as the island starts generating money again. They hope...)

Present Day McClintock

So that's the state of play for McClintock island right now. The McClintock brothers brought it back into the family and are trying to turn it into a thriving community. Their business partner, Phoenix Enterprises, has promised to build an airstrip, turn McClintock House into a resort and establish a golf course. The McClintock brothers want the island to be a thriving tourist destination, the likes of which will give Mackinac island a run for its money. They want the harbor up and running, new families and businesses in the town, and a year round population that will give the old island life again.
But first, the McClintock men have to negotiate their strained relationship with their business partner. Working together is proving difficult as the company representative has a stormy history with McClintock island - and with the youngest McClintock brother, in particular.
So that's it! McClintock island, coming your way in 2017. What do you think?
Don't forget to sign up for my newsletter to find out all about when the first McClintock Island book is coming out.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

reasons to never go camping

My husband wants to go camping. He's using arguments like: "great experience for the kids," and "family fun time."

No. Just no.

Unless you're Bear Grylls or my friend childhood friend, Tracy, (whom I think might be running the Scottish Guide organisation single handed by now) then camping is NOT something you should be doing. In order to explain this to my husband, I made a Powerpoint presentation. I thought I'd share it with you. :)


To summarize:

Yep, there's no way I'm going camping...

Thursday, 5 January 2017

It's time to schedule a mid-life crisis...

I was driving through my beautiful town this morning. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. The river glimmering with hope and joy. Unicorns were frolicking on the grassy embankment... Yeah, you get the picture.

In case you were wondering, this is the national animal of Scotland!

Anyway, I was mid-drive when I realized I've been in the same town for the past 13 years. That's longer than I've lived anywhere since I left home at 16. That realization made me pull over and park the car. Staring at the unicorns (who, by the way, don't actually fart rainbows) I came to a second stark realization - my life has become staid. I'm languishing in the humdrum repetitiveness of everyday life. I no longer suffer from wanderlust. I no longer plot new schemes to shake up my life. I am middle aged!

Yeah. It was a shock to me too.

Looking back, I'm not sure when my life became all about what to make for dinner instead of which country I planned to spend my summer in. I think it happened one October in my thirties when there was nothing on TV except for some generic cooking show. I should never have watched that show. I should have grabbed my husband and hit the town for a night of wild living. Instead, I found myself wondering if I too could make bread by hand. It's been a long, slow decline into middle age ever since then.

Don't watch cooking shows. It's how they steal your youth!

As I sat by the river, I took stock of my life and found it wanting. Being me, I pulled out my laptop and made a comparison chart to show the stark evidence of my slow decline into middle age.

Here it is:

Early Twenties
Middle Age
A good night was spent out on the town with friends
A good night is silent time with a book
Days were counted off in terms of how long until my next adventure or the next thing I wanted to experience.
I have no idea what day it is – they tend to blend into one long loop of making school lunches, planning dinner and ferrying kids to fun events. (Fun for them!)
Fashion was fun, shopping a blast, dressing up an entertainment in itself
I’m pretty sure I’ve been wearing the same jeans and black t-shirt for the past fifteen years…
Getting ready to face the day was a joy. It involved listening to my favourite music while painting my face and doing my hair
Most days I’m lucky if I remember to brush my teeth before I need to rush the kids out the door…
Sleep was for old age – I had too much I wanted to do!
I wish I got more sleep!!! Sometimes, I schedule events that don’t exist, just so I can have a sly afternoon nap.
I’d throw some stuff in a bag and jump a plane to somewhere I’d never been before, just for fun.
The thought of spending any time on a plane with my two kids makes me want to burrow into the ground and never come out.
New experiences were a must – the wilder the better.
I can still do this – but in small doses…maybe once a year…with lots of planning…Who am I kidding? If I haven’t been there before and it doesn’t have a five star hotel, I’d rather stay home.

After staring at my chart for half an hour, I came to a conclusion. I really only had one thing going for me - there was still time to have a mid-life crisis.

So, I've decided to schedule one. I'm thinking this July/August would be a good time. There's nothing to do during winter in my corner of New Zealand anyway. But a good crisis isn't effective unless you know what you're going to do during it. To prepare I Googled the signs of a mid-life crisis, chose the ones I liked best and made a list. Here it is:

  • I'm going to start wearing jeggings. I'm not sure what they are, but they sound like something a middle aged woman should avoid, so they're perfect for my crisis.
  • I'm going to dye my hair an unnatural color. Blue maybe.
  • Apparently a good mid-life crisis isn't complete unless you take up an extreme sport. I've decided to take up "blindfold darts", because that's about all my current level of fitness can handle.
Blindfolded darts. It's really a thing!
  • I'm going to look for job opportunities for my husband in Bolivia. Then, if I can talk him into one of them, I'll move the family there for a year or so - just long enough to remind me that I'm still young and carefree, but not so long that I'll really begin to miss my house and animals.
  • I'm going to learn to play the piano. Then I'm going to sing in a jazz club. (I should probably add singing lessons to the list too.)
  • I'm going to go to some concerts. Something by someone young, hip and trendy whom I've never heard of and will probably hate. I'll then buy the t-shirt and wear it to school when I pick up the kids.
  • I'm going to Google current slang because I'm pretty sure people don't say "hip and trendy" anymore.
  • I'm buying an expensive, all-singing/all-dancing phone (that I probably won't be able to work) and using it to take at least twenty selfies a day (the Karsdashian average) that I'll post on Instagram. 
  • I'm going to join Greenpeace and protest something. Anything. I don't really care what.

That's it. My plan for a mid-life crisis. Once I've dealt with this one, I'll schedule the one you have when you hit 60. I hear all you need to do for that one is buy a camper van. That sounds a whole lot less complicated.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

writing resolutions for 2017 that I'm going to try hard to keep...honest...

It's 11 a.m. on the 1st of January here in New Zealand. It's cloudy and windy, the kids are whining and hubby has decided to clean the whole house - which basically means he puts things away where no one can ever find them again! I'm sitting in my office working on a plan for the year. But plans are useless unless you assess what you've achieved already. Right? Yeah, that sounds good to me too!

So, in 2016, I published three books - Here Comes The Rainne Again, Reckless and Caught.


With Caught, the seventh in the Invertary, Scottish Highlands series, I ended the series. (Insert sobs here!) I also wrote several blog posts for other blogs and I designed about a million book covers that I'll never use. (Cover design involves the arduous task of assessing many, many photos of topless men...hard work....) Oh yeah, I also read too many books to count. (And reread some too - Nalini Singh might just be to blame for why I didn't manage to get four books out this past year!) I also spent hours farting around on Facebook, tried (unsuccessfully) to get my head around Twitter, and I worked hard at keeping up with celebrity gossip. Oh, and then there was Brexit and the American election - don't even get me started on the hours I spent watching CNN and the BBC to follow those disasters.

In conclusion: I may need some help with time management and my TMZ and Facebook addictions.

On to 2017! (Which has to be better than 2016, right?!)

Here are my writing resolutions for this coming year:

  • Blog on here at least twice a month. 

After all, I'm sure you're all deeply interested in how I'm going to deal with my Facebook addiction...

  • Write the next in the Benson's Boys series. 

Relentless is all about ex-US Marine, Joe Barone slowly seducing super-shy office manager, Julia. Yum!

  • Write the first in my new series. 

All I can tell you about it right now, is that it involves a woman who desperately needs a second chance to make things right with a man she totally screwed over in the past.

  • Stop making so many damn book covers! 
  • Manage my time better.
There has to be a book on this that I can read to help me. Oh wait, that reminds me of the next resolution...

  • Read less books!

  • Write two more books. 
What books, I don't know. It depends what happens in the first two I write. Yep, I am just that good at planning books. ;)

So that's it! My wishy-washy list of writing resolutions for 2017. Have you made any resolutions? Are they better than mine? (Let's face it - it couldn't be hard to top my list.) :)

Friday, 12 August 2016

*GIVEAWAY* New Zealand Swag Bag!

I'm giving away a huge goody bag stuffed with New Zealand swag. To enter all you have to do is follow the rafflecopter link and paste a URL for a review you've written for one of my books. The review can be on a retail site like Amazon, or on Goodreads, or a blog...you get the idea. :) 
If you haven't written a review, you'll need to do that before you can enter - don't worry, it doesn't need to be long, witty or even good! 

Good luck to everyone who enters. 

Keeping it fresh - advice for the mid-career writer

I originally wrote this for the lovely Tamar Hela and her blog. For once I'm being serious as I share the ways I try to keep my writing fresh. Hope all you writers out there find it helpful. :) 

There are a lot of fiction writing advice books out there. Most of them focus on teaching the basics of the craft and guiding you on how to find your voice. There are very few that concentrate on what to do once you have the basics down. I think this lack of balance reflects a deeper problem within the world of fiction writing—a lot of writers assume that once they’ve found their personal style and understand the basics there’s nothing else to learn.

They’re wrong.

If you don’t want your writing to stagnate… If you don’t want to write the same book over and over… Then you have to challenge yourself in every new piece of work you write. Think of the process as mining. You can dig down a little, find something interesting and then stay at that depth forever as you widen the same hole outwards. Or, you can go deeper and find something more precious. Maybe even find something that no one has ever found before. And yes, digging deeper is harder. But it’s worth it.

So, if you’re a mid-career writer and you want to dig deeper, how do you go about doing that? You could try some of the following:

Get out of your character comfort zone

Challenge yourself to write a character unlike any you’ve ever written before. If your speciality is alpha men, write the weakling—but do it in a way that makes him lovable, desirable and magnetic. (Be careful he doesn’t morph into your usual character type throughout the book. Keep him true to himself.) If you write great submissive women, try writing about a strong, leader-type woman. Get into the head of your character, changing your language and adapting your style to suit the character’s voice.

Make story, not plot, your priority

When we first start out, we cling to the formulas for plotting as though they are lifelines. The problem with this is that sometimes the flow of the story can become mutated or get lost to accommodate the structure you feel it must fit. Instead of following a pattern for your book, focus on the story. Story is the natural development of a tale which meets the criteria of your fictional world and the needs of your character. Plot is a series of events which follow a set structure. Do you see the difference?

Try not to think about whether your fiction fits accepted norms, but rather whether the story flows or not. Ask yourself: is this is the story your characters need to tell? Does it make logical sense within the frame of the world you’ve created? When you read something written by a natural storyteller, you often can’t see a structure at all. It’s buried underneath the very real dilemmas of the characters. It flows with a natural rhythm that suits the world the writer has set up. And it always surprises the reader.

Do one thing in each piece of work that you haven’t done before

With each new book, try to do something new and do it well. If you’ve always focused on the internal drama of your characters, write a scene where everyone has to deal with an external drama. If your last book was full of action, make this one full of emotion instead. If your last book flitted all over the world, set this one in a single room for the duration. Do something hard that will make you think deeper for every single scene in your story.

Never go with your first idea

I learned this one in art college! Always brainstorm your story ideas. Keep asking “what if?” until you hit an angle that you wouldn’t have come across otherwise. This will keep your stories fresh and give greater depth to your writing. The first few ideas we have are usually pretty obvious. Dig deeper. Find the idea that’s going to surprise you and your reader.

Critique your own work

There is a difference between having a critique and being a critic. Being a critic is often a negative thing; staging a critique is a productive event. The difference is that a critic often compares your work to the work of those around you, whereas a critique asks questions of the work itself to make you consider it on a deeper level.

Have a critique of your work by asking questions of it and not being afraid of the answers. Ask things like: “Is this truly in character or am I trying to bend the hero to fit the plot?” and “What other outcomes are possible from this set of circumstances?”

Always ask yourself why you’ve chosen something and whether there is a better, more unusual choice to be had. Make “what if?” your mantra. What if the plot took a different direction? What if the character did something else? What if there was another person in this scene? What if the setting was different? “What if?” is a question that will help you mine deeper into your work.

Okay, so that’s five things I try to do with each new book. I hope, if you give it a go, that you’ll let me know how it works out for you. And if you have some suggestions to add, all the better—I’m always looking to improve my writing!