New Year’s Resolutions for Writers

Happy New Year everyone! I wish you a healthy and content 2017. I don’t make new resolutions, these days – not in terms of giving up chocolate or promising to be in the gym every morning by seven. However I have lived through many years of making resolutions about my writing. Here are the top five I consider to be useful and realistic – and I’m sure some of you have tried and tested effective ones, and it would be great if you shared them here!

New year res for writers

Firstly – be true to yourself. Don’t try to mimic other writers because you will never be a better version of them – just as no one can be a better version of yourself. Love Lucy Diamond? Great – read her books and try to analyse how she pulls readers into her stories and makes her lead characters so likeable. But don’t aim to reproduce her style. You have your own voice which – in my experience – will eventually emerge. It may be a long journey to find it, driven by writing manuscript after manuscript, but when you finally have that lightbulb moment and feel the words in your head are translating to the page exactly as they should, it’s a precious thing that – ultimately – will make you stand out as different, on the slushpile.

Secondly – learn to appreciate constructive criticism. This one can be hard! If you are an aspiring writer and someone more experienced has given you negative feedback, try to step away from your personal hurt and clinically look at the comments. And the same applies to a published author who has just received a bad review. If it is personal and insulting then it doesn’t deserve your attention – but if it’s polite and makes potentially fair comments, then consider analysing the negatives and maybe take them on board. I’ve found some unfavourable reviews quite useful in the past as they have given me an insight into where I  might be going wrong, in terms of creating relatable characters and plots that keep readers wanting to read on, right to the end. And if the negative feedback is from your editor, during revisions, just remember – she/he believes in you and is simply investing their time in trying to make your book even better than they already believe it is.

Thirdly – Read, read and read more. I failed dismally at this is 2016. But some of the books I did find time to enjoy really helped me to be more adventurous with my own writing. It is easy to get stuck in a rut with your own style if you don’t get a taste of how other authors are pushing boundaries and hitting the pleasure-spot for readers. I try not to let my writing style stagnate.

Fourthly – don’t forget why you started writing. Presumably – like me – it was due to a love of words and crafting sentences together. If it was for fame and fortune (*hollow laugh*!) you won’t survive the path it takes to get published. But if writing is a dream that comes from the heart, then when you get rejected or published and have to deal with deadlines, promotional work, bad reviews etc, just remind yourself that you are doing what you love and leaving behind a legacy of your creativity.

Finally, aspiring authors – don’t do what I did in the early days, and make the resolution “to get published this year”. It doesn’t quite work like that! Instead resolve to achieve something more attainable like “this  year I will submit my work to twenty agents” or  “this year I will see if I can get one full manuscript request”. Don’t set yourself too high expectations as you will feel you’ve failed, even if, in the bigger picture, you haven’t. Savour small victories, like a positive rejection letter. The road to publication takes many small steps, not one giant leap.

Best of luck and above all else, don’t forget to be kind to yourself. It’s a crazy business, this publishing malarkey, and dealing with it can be a challenge for us sensitive writing souls.

A Year of Change…

Phew. What a year 2016 has been. Brexit, Trump, countless celebrity deaths…  Some days I hardly dared look at what was trending on Twitter! Global surprises aside, like many of you, I’ve also had a year chock full of peaks and troughs. With one thing and another, I was thinking to myself that I’d be glad to see the back of 2016 – but quickly took that back. Because, due to the difficult times, I’ve actually learnt a lot – about life; about myself.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? We learn nothing from remaining static. So even if the lessons are hard, I’m all for mixing it up and facing change. If we don’t continue to gain knowledge, then what’s the point? So I’m looking forward to facing what life throws at me in 2017.

Reading and writing have, of course, featured heavily in my life this year. There are my own books, including my summer Cornish romance which got to #8 in the UK Kindle chart. That was thrilling and huge thanks to all you readers. Your support and kind words mean so much.

breakfast under a sun small

I am super excited about my upcoming projects as well, and April 2017 sees the publication of my next novel which is all about being true to yourself – and coffee! You can imagine what fun I had, researching that subject (well, it would be rude not to have something sweet with each cup – even if it is as small as this macaroon)!

coffee and cake 2

 

I’ve taken up a course in Mindfulness which means reading books about visualisation and breathing. It was very difficult at first, learning to mediate, with lots of intrusive thoughts, ranging from problems to lists for shopping! But the more I practise, the easier it gets. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who feels like they sometimes need “time out” from their busy twenty-first century life.

mindfulness

I also started a health-kick three months ago and whilst it was difficult for the first few weeks, now I feel fantastic. It’s all about San Pellegrino mineral water, stir fries and blueberries… not that I have given up my daily chocolate fix. I have to be realistic 🙂  I’ve also rediscovered my love of baking which has meant researching and reading recipes online. Below is, ahem, a “healthy” banana cake!

banana cake

 

Finally, 2016 has been a year for discovering new authors. Below is a great debut read from Helen Cox – the style is what I’d call gritty chicklit. It’s a fabulous story for fans of American diner food and Grease.

Helen

Right. That’s me done for the year. Now I’m off to wrap presents. I hope 2016 has been good to you all – and if not, that you feel the negatives have nevertheless taught you something positive. Here’s to a great 2017 for everyone. Have a fantastic Christmas. I’ll raise a glass of fizzy mineral water to you all 🙂

Blind Dates and Writing Mates

On Saturday I had the pleasure of attending a get-together in Birmingham for authors and bloggers. It usually takes place once a month, either there or in London and is a fantastic opportunity to meet online friends from the writing world. And my enjoyment of this weekend had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the fact that I saw Peter Andre at Birmingham New Street station (but that’s another story…) 🙂

However it is not without some trepidation – excitement aside – that I board my train. Will I recognise everyone from their profile picture? Will their personality be as I expect, from the tweets and Facebook exchanges we have enjoyed? At its basest – will we get on? It is just like a blind date without the romance!

birmingham October better

 

Here I am with lovely Phillipa Ashley on the left, author of Christmas at the Cornish Cafe. We had known each other for years, but never met. I am glad to say she was just as friendly, sincere and funny as I expected and a walking oracle when it comes to Poldark. On the right is Tishylou, a fabulous book blogger. I had met her before and – again – her true, bubbly personality shone through in person, just like it does on the screen.

This, however, is not always the case. I have met writers I considered lighthearted, who turned out to be quite serious. And vice versa. No bad thing, it just comes as a surprise. Whilst you may feel you ‘know’ someone well online, it takes a face-to-face encounter to seal the deal. And it makes me wonder what other writerly folks think of me. Hmm. Perhaps I shouldn’t mull that over too closely…!

There have been humorous moments – humorous in retrospect that is. Some profile thumbnails, particularly on Facebook, are not very clear and I am ashamed to say that more than once I have spent a while talking to one author and eventually realised I have confused them with someone else. Try backing out of that one. And it’s an instant guilt-trip when someone greets me as an old friend and it takes me a few moments – panicking! – to fathom out their face. Perhaps it’s just as well that most of the parties provide nametags. That would have prevented me from muddling up an agent and editor like I did last year at an awards event. In my defence they were both young and blonde and… Okay. No excuses really. Especially as one was heavily pregnant. However the editor was lovely when I realised my mistake, and said I could call her anything I wanted 🙂

So yes. Blind dates with writerly mates. No romance but plenty of laughs and discussion. And it is interesting to talk about more than our love of books. As a full-time novelist, I forget sometimes that other writerly peeps also hold-down jobs unrelated directly to the profession. I met one author who is an accountant and a blogger who works in a library and as a teaching assistant.

Plus the networking is great. Members of the writing community are very generous and I feel, after real-life meets, are even more likely to retweet and support each other. Also I’ve yet to meet up with someone who has appeared nothing at all like I expected and after a meeting I’d say the online relationship does take on a different  – a deeper – dimension. Nothing beats giving someone a real-life hug instead of relying on typing emoticons.

 

Poldark’s Five Flirtiest Traits!

In my new Cornish romantic comedy, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun, Kate Golightly’s life is a mess. She needs to move forwards and, as part of the plan, heads off to Cornwall to find her very own Poldark lookalike, being a big fan of this super successful TV show.

And who could blame her? There is no doubt that this smouldering, scything sex-god has taken the viewing female population by storm. But why? Here are the five things about this character that really turn me on!

Firstly – and funnily enough – it isn’t that six-pack bare chest. Mesmerising as that grass-cutting scene was, it’s those raven eyes that captured my heart. With their dark, inky depth they show passion. They say eyes are the windows to the soul yet Poldark’s are less transparent than that, in a way, and leave us guessing as to his next actions. They hint at a recklessness and spontaneity that keeps me on the edge of my sofa. He has a lawless and risk-taking side that excites, especially as it is usually driven by his strong moral code. They also show his hurt, for example at losing the love of his life. And compassion. Here is a man who looks out for his neighbours and tenants.

Secondly – that scar. Emblazoned across his face it reminds us of his physical hurt, suffered during the American War and compounded by losing Elizabeth whilst he was abroad. In my experience, picture perfect heroes often lack depth. Flaws tell a story. Here is a man who has life experience and that’s very appealing.

Poldark traits

 

Thirdly – ooh yes, as a romance reader/viewer I do love a man in uniform so was always bound to find this British Army officer appealing, with the red jacket and tricorn hat. A uniform implies its wearer possesses a sense of duty, responsibility and selflessness if things take a turn for the worse. They shout “this is a person of integrity” who, in difficult times, would put you first.

Fourthly – those bedroom black curls. In an age of sculpting gels and groomed male haircuts, it’s refreshing to see a wild-at-heart style that taps into primeval desires unrestrained by society’s trends and expectations. Poldark’s masculine physicality and strength as a soldier and mine-owner compound his irresistible appeal on very basic levels. (Although I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but actor Aidan Turner actually wears a wig for the show!)

Lastly – okay, that grass-cutting scene was pretty hot. All the more so, because it was an impulsive idea down to Aidan Turner on the day, and this sums up the character he plays. There is no hidden agenda – Poldark is what he is. He’s not trying to impress anyone. He’s being himself. You either want to spend time with him or not. Um, yes please 🙂

If you’re interested to find out if Kate Golightly finds the fictional man of her dreams, my new fun romance is 99p for a limited time on Amazon and Kobo!

 

breakfast under a sun small

 

Gag that Green-eyed Monster!

Okay. Hands up. Which of you has NEVER  felt envious of another author? Very few I suspect. And there is no shame in that. A healthy sense of competition is a good thing, in my view. As long as you keep some perspective.

I like to think my authorly friends know me well enough to realise that I am always genuinely chuffed when they do well – as I feel they are when a book of mine climbs the charts. But I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t think, now and again, ooh, how wonderful to sell your film rights or go to that amazing party – wish that had been me, as well as you…

And it’s hard when you’re an aspiring writer, to see pals get that deal when you are still struggling with rejection. And if you finally get published and then your book doesn’t fly to the top of the Kindle store like your bestie’s, you can question your own talent.

green eyed monster

But all of this is pointless. There are so many factors to do with how successful a book is, aside from the actual writing. Some publishers give their books higher prices than others and this can seriously affect their rank. Others may not design as eye-catching covers or do much behind the scenes to help market the story. And then every book needs a degree of luck to catch the reading public’s eye and no amount of talent will help you snare that.

Recently I read an interesting article about how Olympians are trained. I mean, it must be hard for any runner competing against the unbeatable Usain Bolt, for example. How do they keep the green-eyed monster under control and  not let it affect their own sense of worth – and, ultimately, their performance? The answer? Olympians are trained to focus soley on their OWN personal bests. Didn’t win a medal? No matter, if they ran a race and beat their previous record, these athletes and their coaches consider they’ve done incredibly well.

So, my advice – that I try to follow! – is simply to aim to write my next book even better. To research more effective ways to market and promote my work. To continue to expand my social media platforms. To avoid getting stuck in a rut creatively. To concentrate fully on my own career. I am super-pleased with the current success of my new novel, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun. I feel my writing has moved up another step and that – so far! – is reflected in some lush reviews and that means everything to me. Okay, so I may not have millions in the bank, like EL James – but who’s to say that might never happen, as long as I continue NOT to fret  that Idris Elba isn’t begging to play one of my two gorgeous heroes in a movie of my book?!

We may never be the next Stephanie Meyer or land red carpet events galore, but if we can look back in a few years and see how our readerships have grown and our writing has developed, I reckon that makes us winners after all.

Five Top Traits for Heroes

I’ve been thinking lately about what is the difference between a romance, which I write, and Women’s Fiction. One is that far more attention is given to the hero in my genre. I’m a romantic at heart and as a teenager and young woman I would often lie in bed at night, plotting out stories starring me and my current actor crush. Some of these were quite complex and would last over several nights- oh yes, the list was long… Starsky, the Bionic Man – even Boy George! This was before I knew I’d be an author. Of course now those dark hours are spent plotting my next novel. And the driving force behind my story is often centred on the hero.

heroes

So what does a hero need to make my heart flutter and pulse rate? In my new release, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun, there are two heroes to whet your appetite and I’ll use them to demonstrate my five top favourite traits. And I’m not talking about physical appearance as women are very varied in what turns them on. Take Lucas in my new book – he is the perfect Poldark lookalike, with his raven curls and swarthy complexion and is an instant joy to Kate Golightly, who headed to Cornwall in search of this fictional hero. Whereas Tremain, on the other hand, is stockier with super short fair hair.

No, personality transcends looks every time when it comes to longstanding sexiness. And Lucas with his dangerous dark looks and couldn’t-give-a-damn attitude demonstrates the first trait I find irresistible. It’s not very PC to say, but I love a streak of arrogance, because this shows confidence. There is nothing more sexy than a man who is self-assured and unprepared to change just to please others.

Secondly, however, I need a degree of vulnerability that explains this cocksure behaviour, otherwise that utter confidence tips into becomes unattractive. Take Tremain, the other gorgeous man Kate Golightly meets when she visits Cornwall. He is surly. Unsociable. A man of few words. Appears rude sometimes. Yet when he does speak his statements seem loaded with emotion and hint at a tragic past only a special woman could get him to share. This vulnerability makes the hero a challenge – can the protagonist persuade him to open up? Because opening up makes a hero seem even braver.

Breakfast quote superhero clark kent

Thirdly, oh yes, I need heaps of passion and both Lucas and Tremain have fire in their eyes. Because passion hints at a sense of recklessness which, in good measure, means the difference between an average and breathless kiss. Passion means danger. Pleasure. Spontaneity. All the ingredients for a memorable encounter that will get readers turning the page.

Fourthly and equally important to passion is compassion. I need a hero who cares for other living things than himself. And in Breakfast under a Cornish Sun this is one quality that will help Kate decide if her future is with either of these two Cornish hotties. I won’t give too much else away, other than to say her chosen one takes a while to work out.

Finally – urgh, this is hard. Which trait to select?! There are so many other qualities I seek in my perfect fictional man. Tenderness. Strength. Humour. Sincerity… in fact I think that answers my question. Complexity. Complexity is everything when creating the perfect hero. Us women and readers like a challenge, right? So we want a hero who is going to take a whole book to work out. And both brooding Lucas and troubled Tremain have deep-seated reasons for their demeanour and behaviour. This makes them realistic and relatable and – I hope – hotter than ever.

Where To Find Inspiration

As an author, I am often asked where I get my inspiration from. People not connected to the writing world are amazed that us pen-pushers don’t run out of ideas. But – it may seem obvious to say it –  there is inspiration to be found all around us, if we keep our eyes and hearts open. Here are some of the places that have provided stories for me.

The Zeitgeist – I am fascinated by what grabs the public’s imagination. With my new summer novel, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun, it was the TV series Poldark. Women across the world seemed enamoured with this programme, especially the lead character. And this got me thinking, what would it feel like to meet your fictional hero in real life? Kate Golightly finds out, in my story, when she heads off to the coast to find her very own mining hero! Likewise, the public’s obsession with Downton inspired my debut novel, Doubting Abbey.

Whereas the inspiration for my Christmas bestseller Mistletoe Mansion was the public’s obsession with celebrities and the gossip magazines featuring them. The main character, Kimmy, lands a house-sitting job in a posh area and becomes friend with a famous person – and discovers that the celebrity life-style isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all…

Locations – places you have fallen in love with, over the years. For me, obviously rugged, brooding Cornwall. Plus Paris (as in my novel From Paris with Love). I worked there as a young woman and never forgot its romantic, bohemian feel. My honeymoon was on a Greek island. The cheery village feel and stunning sunsets inspired the setting for my award-winning 2015 novel Game of Scones. My novella, How to Get Hitched in Ten Days was set in a fifties diner after I’d eaten in one which blew me away with its fab American memorabilia, and reminded me of the film Grease. So think back over your life and places that have meant something to you. Draw on that passion. The setting doesn’t need to be exotic, just somewhere you can get excited about as a background to your characters’ stories.

Cornwall sea

The Tabloids/Magazines/Reality shows. Well, they do say life is stranger than fiction! If an article makes you gasp enough to tell your family or friends about it, then that is probably something worth writing down. I founds these forms especially useful when I used to write short stories for women’s magazines. And they don’t need to be the sensational stories – perhaps the heartwarming ones  instead, like communities pulling together to overcome adversity.

People. Keep your eyes and ears open. Tap into conversations you hear in a shop or pub. Speak to people on the till or in a queue. I’m a very chatty person and can’t help but strike up conversations. It is fascinating what people will tell you. I know many of the workers at my local supermarket – the one that plays darts, another who goes camping, the lady whose son has a Masters degree in astronomy, the man who works on local radio… I listen to the ups and downs they go through. I’ve also spoken to fellow customers who are on a health-kick or lonely ones who are widowed… Everyone has a story and are often keen to share it if just prompted by a friendly word or smile.

Moments of emotion – whether that is something sad, moving, hopeful, happy or funny. We all experience these on a day to day basis. Draw on the incidents that really make you feel something and stay in your mind. They could provide material for a plot or character. Keep a record of them in your notebook. Like in the short story I wrote about someone who accidentally poured hollandaise sauce over a pudding, instead of custard – that was based on me and my laidback husband still polished off his dessert! How that had made us laugh. Or the time we got burgled whilst we’d gone on holiday. We’d left the house in a terrible mess. The neighbours thought the criminals were responsible and we didn’t confess it was us. Oops! Cue a few feelings of shame!

spotted dick

Also, don’t be afraid to tap into your own mood when writing. Don’t hold back. I was in a very happy, sunny, shiny place when writing Game of Scones and I think that probably showed. Whereas this year has brought challenges and I think that is reflected in the heartache a couple of characters deal with in Breakfast under a Cornish Sun. So be your own inspiration, because that will mean the writing has real meaning, is heartfelt and true.

The Olympic Art of Writing

Up until about ten years ago, I didn’t watch  the Olympics much. So why the change of heart? I believe it’s got something to do with that roughly being the time I started to write. I even went to the London 2012 Olympics and loved every minute of our day, cheering on athletes. So as a desk-bound author, how can I relate to the super-active Olympians?

Olympic writing

Training – I read somewhere that it takes 10,000 hours to really acquire and excel at a skill, whether that be writing novel, playing the piano or swimming 100 metres as fast as you can. And I believe that is true. I still have a lot to learn but I added up my hours dedicated to writing once – over the last decade – and it was heading for that big number. So when I watch those athletes, I don’t just see sportsmen and women, I see ordinary people who’ve been training for years; who started out a ground zero, like I did with my writing; who probably – just like me – have wept and despaired many a time over failures such as rejection or not hitting goals. Who have had to learnt to face and deal with setbacks. And who, equally, have enjoyed moments of unadulterated joy.

Passion – you can see it in the Olympians’ eyes. And let’s face it, becoming a top athlete is not a job, it’s a lifestyle and I can relate to that. Writing takes over much of my mind, from the moment I wake to last thing at night when I am plotting books or fleshing out characters. I’ve put in the hours. I’ve put myself out there in competitions and by submitting my work. I’ve failed but tried again harder. Finally I’ve found a degree of success and now I work hard to consolidate that and meet the next challenge. I wouldn’t still be here, at my desk, without a burning passion for words. And that passion has got me through the hard times, just like it does for a an Olympian who may fall of his bicycle on the last lap or just miss out on winning Gold.

Luck – in my opinion there is a significant element of this involved in succeeding with a career. Your writing can be exquisite but may never reach a wide audience if you don’t find that one editor to believe in it, or if your story is given a misjudged price or poor cover. And I feel it’s exactly the same with excelling in a sport. You could be in your prime just before a major event and then sustain an injury. Or, one year, could just be up against some exceptionally strong competitors. I believe that talent and dedication alone aren’t enough – they also that little, mysterious ingredient called magic.

Of course, there are dissimilarities. An Olympian needs to have full control of their emotions, especially when actually competing. Whereas writers are sensitive, emotional creatures who probably improve their work by fully indulging their feelings. Unless we’re talking steady rejections or bad reviews. If possible, at those moments, you need to call on your logic and keep a grounded perspective.

heart biscuit

 

And as for the diet, ahem, well, I don’t think a sports person would get very far if they consumed my daily, writerly intake! We’re talking crisps at the keyboard, cake and biscuits, and of course the odd glass of wine. Also, I have to *research* food for my writing, naturally, like scones and fish n’chips for my new summer release, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun! In all seriousness, though, the really important consumption for an author is to read widely and observe people – to soak up the inspiration, not soak with perspiration.

So if you switch on the Rio Games, let those athletes motivate your writing. They are proof that with a determined attitude, solid work ethic and a little bit of luck, ANYTHING is achievable.

 

How to Survive Launch Week!

I am currently in the middle of launch week – for my sixth novel, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun – and as you can see from my wee desk, it has been pretty hectic and whilst enjoyable, hard work! So here are a few of my tips, to get the most out of this exhilarating but challenging time.

 

desk launch week

 

Firstly, I always allocate whatever spare time I have to promoting my book on social media. Sounds obvious? Yes, but some authors are very shy of doing this. However it is important, in my opinion, to connect with bloggers and readers, and COMMUNICATE. By this I don’t mean just try to sell, sell, sell. Instead, tweet or post on Facebook in a way that might excite  potential buyers. Share new reviews and snippets of the plot. Talk about the characters. Post about themes related to your story – I have tweeted a lot about Cornwall, Poldark and delicious Cornish food. Try to keep your various online feeds varied. And MOST IMPORTANTLY  interact with the people who show an interest. Like their comments. Retweet. Show gratitude. It is only good manners, actually great fun and very few authors these days have their own PR person – you are your own trumpeteer and your book deserves to be seen and heard. Just be polite and don’t shout too loudly 🙂

Secondly, don’t raise your expectations too high and get obsessed with rankings. Most of my books have usually taken around four weeks to peak in the Kindle chart, and during that time the ranking can fluctuate up and down. If it slips a bit on the second day of release, don’t flounce out of your office declaring the whole show is going to be a disaster (you can tell I’ve done that, right? 🙂 ) And, hand in hand with this… appreciate the supposedly smaller things. For example, one of my reader friends (you know who you are) told me that she’d waited up until midnight the evening before launch day, so that she could download Breakfast under a Cornish Sun as soon as it was available, and start reading it. That meant an awful lot.

Thirdly, pat yourself on the back and celebrate! You’ve done it! Regardless of sales and rankings, you’ve brought a bookbaby into the world and been through the gruelling writing, rewriting and copy-editing process. It’s a mammoth task, producing a novel. It requires real stamina, guts and passion. My new summer book features a quirky cocktail bar called Donuts & Daiquiris, so there was really only one way I could celebrate – cue this delicious Spiced Mojito!

me mojito 2

Fourthy… Don’t let launch week overwhelm you. Whilst I enjoyed  my cocktail evening out last week, I had intermittent stomach pain from sitting down working for too long. And the day before backache. Plus lately I’ve developed what I call Twitter Seasickness – a real sense of nausea from being on there too long, replying to tweets and scrolling up and down my notifications to find competition winners and… you get the picture. In other words, realise you have a life away from your writing and desk. Whilst launch week is super-important, in the bigger picture it isn’t the be all and end all. It takes a few weeks, sometimes a few months  for a book to be found by all its readers and some of you may even delay your blog tour, for example, until the hullabaloo of the actual launch has settled down. So remember to take stock and breathe 🙂

Finally… Get stuck into another project. The more novels you get out there, the more readers you’ll pick up. Plus, thanks to a widening back catalogue,  the bigger those royalty cheques will look. Still allocate a good part of your available time to spreading word about your launch baby… but one of my diehard mottos is:  you are only as good as your next book...

Characters are like Diamonds… the most interesting ones are flawed.

With every book I write, I become increasingly interested in a character’s flaws. Is there any such thing as a true villain, for example? Like the archetypal school bully, there is usually a reason why people are who they are. In the bully’s case they often have low self-esteem and make themselves feel better by denigrating others. Perhaps they themselves were abused or bullied in some way, as a small child.

I don’t believe people are born evil. They are what they are due to what has happened to them along the journey of life, the starting point of which is being born as a bundle of innocence. Getting to know the backstory about people fascinates me – and if you want to fascinate your readers then make sure your characters are not perfect people who would never exist in the real world. characters like diamonds

 

Take books’ heroes, for example.  Mr Darcy out of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. We all love him, don’t we, despite his stand-offish, arrogant ways? Because there is a sense of hidden vulnerability. That, combined with his imperious manner, makes for a killer combination because it makes us curious about our hero; makes us think that the haughtiness is perhaps all a front. This is much more appealing then if Mr Darcy had still been handsome, yes, but cheerful and charming to boot. Where’s the challenge?

You see, in my opinion, women and men  – and smitten readers – want a challenge when getting to know their love-interest. This doesn’t mean the latter has to be an out and out scoundrel. They just need a few interesting layers. Take good-looking Dave out of my fun novella How to get Hitched in Ten Days (which is FREE at the moment). He is heart-broken at having blown a marriage proposal to girlfriend, Jazz, and has to enrol the help of her best friend Mikey, to win her back. But his attitude to gay Mikey borders on homophobic and makes us question our initial impression that Dave is a decent, lovable guy. It takes the course of the story to find out what is at the root of his supposed prejudice.

And in my new summer novel, out this week, Breakfast under a Cornish Sun, we get to meet unapproachable, grumpy Tremain. The lead character, Kate, sees glimpses of a sensitive guy in him, now and again, and this means – to her annoyance! – she can’t easily write him off as a person not worth knowing. The same with Lucas, the other man (and a Poldark lookalike!) she becomes friends with on her trip to Cornwall. Yes,  he is gorgeous and swarthy and has the darkest, sexiest eyes – but would that alone really be enough to grab the attention of a woman looking for something meaningful?

There are all kinds of flaws in people – like in diamonds that can be cloudy, fractured or chipped – but this makes each one of them special and unique. Absolute clarity can be boring – there is no journey; nothing to discover than what is on the surface. And where is the empathy? If characters have imperfections they are more relatable and that makes us, as readers, more likely to care for them and read to the end. So if you want to keep your reader turning the pages, create an enigmatic hero or heroine with emotional and physical flaws, just like the scar on gorgeous Poldark’s face.