Sunday, 29 December 2013

The Perils of Trilogy Writing!

I’m currently writing the third draft of Dangerous Phoenix and as usual, this revision is focussed on style alone. But things aren’t working out like that. I have a problem and it’s one, I think, that’s specific to writing a series. Maybe specific to writing a trilogy which has as its base the protagonist’s development over a span of years and during particular events. Structure has reared its ugly head, and a little late in the day.

Before I started on this Indian trilogy, I’d never attempted anything similar before. I could see immediately that I’d need a clear idea of where I was going over all three books and not just in book number one - not necessarily the nitty gritty detail but the overall sweep of the story line. I’d have to drop clues or at least the shadow of a hint as to what might happen in future, otherwise readers of the later book would rightly complain that the plot didn’t ‘fit’ what had gone before. That was the only difficulty I could see with writing a trilogy. But I was wrong. There are others and I’ve just come upon one.

Reading through the ms of this second book for style, I’ve been uncomfortably conscious that at times the pace slackens and slackens considerably. As a reader, I’m thinking too much narrative, where’s the dialogue?, where’s the action? So what’s causing this hiccup? When I read back over the offending parts, I discovered they were all ‘back story’. Every novel has a back story, of course. The old adage is that you start writing as near to the action as you can and drop in little nuggets of back story as you wend your way through the plot. If you find you’re having to put in too much, then you’ve started too far in and need to go back and begin the novel at an earlier point in the story.

So far, so good. But what about when you’re writing something like a trilogy? If each story has a separate plot complete in itself, which mine do, that’s fine. In each novel, you need only minimal background details of your protagonists and where they’ve come from to ‘flesh out’ that particular story line. But what if your plot depends to an extent on protagonists’ reactions to events, and those events are heavily coloured by the past. Then the past needs to be part of the story you’re writing, and that can mean an awful lot of back story. And a problem with repetition, since some of the ‘past’ will have been detailed in a previous book. I’ve rewritten some of the narrative in dialogue and it’s certainly more dynamic now, but there’s an awful lot of back story still hanging around. I’m faced with the difficult decision of just how much I can include without losing my reader or conversely, how much I can cut and still make the characters’ motivations and actions credible. I’m struggling with at the moment and if there’s an easy solution out there, please let me know!

Friday, 13 December 2013

Do You Write an SFD?

Dangerous Phoenix has reached a crucial stage. My heroine, Daisy, has pulled it off by escaping from the mausoleum (with only the slightest bit of help from her creator) and storming to the rescue. Naturally her reward is a happy ending – more or less. I have the complete story down, the characters are partly fleshed out and the setting/s are introduced. In other words I’ve finished the SFD or the ‘shitty first draft’. Now how about the second?

This is the stage I love most. It’s the moment when I travel back to the beginning of the novel and begin to fill in the gaps I left – maybe research snippets I needed to check, or a more detailed description of a particular setting, or a deeper understanding of why one of my characters is acting the way they are. It’s also the time when I can start moving ‘stuff’ around, decide just how each chapter is best structured to create flow within and between chapters. And where I discover that though I’ve been too verbose at one point, I actually need an additional scene at another. Or, horrors, I’m guilty of repeating myself. It’s rather like being a potter with a slab of clay. The slab has been moulded into roughly the right size, roughly the right shape, but it needs a more delicate touch now to pinch, to add, to reshape until gradually a miracle happens – something better, tighter, emerges from what was once a little loose, a little baggy. Then all that’s left is to decorate - or in writerly terms, do a third draft. This is where I’ll focus on style and try to make sure that wherever I read, I’ve nailed the right word.

Of course, this sequence won’t work for everyone and it’s always interesting to hear how other writers do it. But for me, it works and I’m getting ready to flex those fingers!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Love's Tangle - Get Your Freebie!

                           Free on Kindle! This week only!

                         LOVE'S TANGLE


                                          From Amazon UK at

                                          From at

                         Go on - what have you got to lose?! 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Come to our Book Bash and Have Fun!

Thursday, November 28th - SAVE THE DATE!
We're having a party! Come and celebrate at our
Early Christmas Book Bash! Fun online party & book launch.

Four ladies writing, four books a-launching, four prizes waiting, 

one grand finale, and twelve-hours full of jo-o-lli-tyyyyy!' 
(Sung to twelve days of Xmas tune') 

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Release Your Inner Heroine!

The Major's Guarded Heart is published tomorrow, Nov 1.
It's my last Regency romance, at least for the time being, and I'm sorry to say goodbye if only temporarily to my swashbuckling characters. Particularly my heroines who are never anything less than courageous and spirited. The kind of heroine I'd choose to be!

Which brings me to a great quiz forwarded to me by a writer friend, Emily Harvale.

Which Jane Austen heroine are you?

It's at
and fun to do - so indulge your inner Austen!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Does Jonathan Franzen have a point about Twitter?

Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections and Freedom, hasn’t been happy with technology for some time. He uses it, of course, but has warned that it is ‘a weird, compulsive, almost addictive thing which doesn’t seem to have much to do with what were thought to be the great benefits of it.’ Recently he’s been talking about Twitter and sounding almost apocalyptic. He finds it ‘particularly alarming’ that freelance writers are now forced into ‘constant self promotion’ instead of ‘developing their craft’. New authors, he claims, are being told they must improve their social network presence before their manuscripts can be considered and cites 250 followers on Twitter as the point at which a new writer’s work will warrant notice. For him, this is terribly wrong. The act of writing is the antithesis of Twitter’s shared communal ethic. ‘The whole definition of literature is that people go off by themselves and develop a distinctive voice. It’s not a communal enterprise.’

It’s tempting for me to agree wholeheartedly with those sentiments. I’ve always had problems understanding how Twitter can work for a writer. I’ve seen the social network portrayed positively as a conversation between ‘friends’ - people contributing their thoughts, responding to others, supporting followers. Yet that hasn’t been my experience. It has seemed far more like a crowd of disparate voices shouting into the void. Only when individuals actually know each other through some other medium - email, internet forums and dare I say it, face to face – is there likely to be any response, any attempt at a ‘conversation’. Maybe it’s just that I’m woefully inadequate on Twitter. In over a year I’ve managed to amass the princely sum of 93 followers. Sounds pathetic? But it’s the result of only following people who interest me and when I see someone who notches up five thousand followers, I’m stunned. How can any one person be interested in five thousand different individuals?

So if you’re a writer and use Twitter, what’s the benefit to you? There has to be one. As Franzen intimates, time spent tweeting is not time spent ‘developing your craft’. Does it help authors sell their books? I’m dubious. How many people respond to the ‘Buy my latest Novel’ kind of shout. Very few I imagine. Does it lead to useful discussions on the craft of writing? Occasionally a tweet has taken me to an interesting blog post that’s been worth following up but that’s rare. Or is the site’s sole benefit to raise a writer’s profile? I think this must be the case, though I’m not even sure it does that. Still, I’m willing to be converted on Twitter’s virtues so here I am, waiting to be persuaded. Somehow, though, I think I’ll be hanging in that void again!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

A New Name

I’ve just signed a contract under a different writing name and ‘met’ my new editor for the first time.

A new name for a new genre. I’m leaving pure romance behind – at least for the moment – and embracing mystery, though the book still involves romance of a kind. I’ve been scratching my head over how to name what I’m writing and ‘romantic suspense’ is the nearest I can get. In the US romantic suspense is a recognised genre but it seems little known here in the UK. That may be one of the many challenges ahead!

Over the last few months, I’ve been debating whether or not to carry on writing as Isabelle Goddard. I talked a little about changing writing names on my blog in January and the discussion there is still a valid one. It would make sense to continue with my existing name - after four novels, and two more being published very shortly, it’s a name that’s beginning to get known and it would be helpful to capitalise on that fact. On the other hand, the new book is definitely a different genre and if people buy it without looking too carefully at the book description – and they sometimes do – they could end up disappointed customers. In the end, after much humming and hawing, I’ve decided to go for a new name. So meet Merryn Allingham!

The decisions don’t stop there though. The next one is whether or not to build a new website or whether simply to ‘share’ the existing one between two author names. And then, of course, there’s a new facebook page to consider and a new twitter address. I’m beginning to realise that it’s going to mean a complete restart. But then writing is always a challenge, so why not set myself one more?


Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Highgate Cemetery - Is This Where My Heroine Will Meet Her Doom?!

It looks fairly innocent, doesn't it, basking in the sunshine and seen from this angle, but once you're down those steps and surrounded by high walls on either side, it's pretty creepy. The West section of Highgate Cemetery is wild and overgrown. The photo below was taken in bright sun, but imagine what it might feel like at dusk on a cold, overcast day. Graves line every pathway and stretch into the distance wherever you look. Some of the graves seem to pop out at you when you're least expecting them, some have cracked open, and some are tilted at odd angles because of land slips.

I've just begun the second part of the 'Indian' trilogy I'm writing - although this book, in fact, is set in wartime London. My heroine, Daisy Driscoll, is due to face dire peril in the book's finale and I've been wondering just where that should take place. I had thought of the London sewers but a recent visit I made to Highgate Cemetery may have sealed her fate!

Friday, 2 August 2013

I know I’ve been picky about the book covers I’ve been given, so when the North American cover art arrived for my next Regency, I thought I should redress the balance. The book is called The Major’s Guarded Heart (no, not my title!) and is due be published on Nov 1. I can’t say I love this image but for once I quite like it, though I’m not entirely sure about the chap’s expression. Still, he is dressed in correct Regency gear and the hero he’s playing, Justin Delacourt, does have a library just like the one pictured. His hair is roughly the right colour too. In the book I describe Justin’s hair as ‘abundant and gleaming, challenging the dreariness of the place and the day. Even the dim lighting could not suppress its bright glory, catching at highlights and dancing them in the air, until it seemed the man’s head was circled by a veritable halo.’ I suppose it would be asking a bit much to find the right image for that! So I’m reasonably content - though this is only the North American cover and there may be a nasty surprise in store when the UK one arrives!

I’d be interested to know what you think. And all you writers out there, do you get some say in your covers and if not, how do you rate the ones you’re handed? 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Making the Most of the Media

Despite trying very hard, I’ve never been very good at social media while everyone else seems  supremely confident. But how about other kinds of publicity, the sort that was around long before social media  – using newspapers, for instance, or magazines or radio to trumpet how wonderful I am! Might I be any better at that? I thought I’d give it a whirl and recently attended Making the Most of the Media, a course run by Miranda Birch, For many years Miranda was one of the journalists behind Woman’s Hour and Desert Island Discs, so she certainly knows her stuff. It was a day long course and I wouldn’t attempt to distil all I learned into a few words but here are several tips I picked up on the way. I’ve summed them up under the three Cs of Context, Consumers and Contact.
·       Before you even begin writing a press release, do your research. Which media outlets are likely to be the most relevant for you? Read the magazines/newspapers you’re thinking of contacting and listen to the radio programmes. If your likely prey writes a blog or is on Twitter, be sure to read and to follow.
·       Keep a keen eye on the zeitgeist and be topical. If your writing touches on issues currently being discussed, wang off that press release.
·       Think seasonal. Summer can be a good time to strike with Parliament in recess, publishing slowed and people on holiday. Journalists are looking for new material. Ditto for the Christmas and New Year holidays.
·       Download a calendar of National Awareness weeks – does your writing connect to any of them?
·       And are there any umbrella organisations you might link to which would be glad to use  your material? Romantic novelists, for example, have the RNA blog.
·       It sounds basic but you need to work out who your audience is and what they want. Will they be interested in an angle that focusses on human interest or is their concern more with factual information? If you’re a writer, I imagine (though I could be wrong) it’s likely to be human interest that wins the day, whether it’s an interest arising from the actual book or from the author’s own story.
·       If you’re targeting a range of media, you need to consider their different ‘lead in’ times – radio works 4 to 6 weeks ahead, newspapers less, magazines sometimes six months in advance.
·       Don’t forget that sometimes journalists actually ask for material. You can check this out on Twitter if you type #journorequest into the box.
·       Once you’ve decided on the media outlet, make sure you target the right person. If it’s a magazine, for example, look down the list of editors on the title page and choose the right one. Always address your message to a named person.
·       Make your press release stand out. The title line should be eye catching. In the body of the email, always put the most important/interesting feature of your press release first. Be sure to send your message as part of the email and not as an attachment. You can add a photo if you think it might help!
·       Once you’ve sent the press release, don’t decide to leap aboard the Trans Siberian railway for a holiday. Make sure you’re easily contactable and available.
·       If you get no response, be brave and pick up the telephone. Check politely that the person has received your email and offer to provide more information if it’s needed.
So there it is. Simples!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Is There a Novel in Your Family?

As everybody tells you ideas for novels can come from just about anywhere – news items, magazine articles, films, music, other books, conversations overheard – and crucially from families. A story from my own family gave me the inspiration for the novel I’m currently writing.

My parents met when my mother was sixteen and my father two years older. They both lived in London, my mother in Acton and my father next door in Ealing. They met at a local dance hall which was not unusual at the time. I suppose they must have known each other four years or so before my father, who had joined the Royal Artillery as a fifteen year old boy, was posted with his regiment to India. He was stationed on the plains at Allahabad. The two of them wrote to each other - I’m not sure how often - but over the next six years my dad gradually climbed the army ranks to become a sergeant at the age of twenty-eight. At last he could afford a wife and he asked my mum to come out to India and marry him.

To our 21st century minds, that sounds simple. But my mother was a highly nervous woman and had never travelled further from London than Southend or on anything more exciting than a train. The fact that she found her way to Southampton, boarded a troop ship there, and sailed the seas for three weeks to a country that could only have been a word to her, still amazes me. And don’t forget she hadn’t seen her new husband for six years! My father met her in Bombay/Mumbai and they were married on the 18th April, 1937, at St John’s Afghan Church in the leafy suburb of Colaba with two soldiers as witnesses. I have their marriage certificate in my desk drawer.


These are photographs of St John’s. The church fell into disrepair, I believe, after Indian independence but has now been restored to its former glory. It gave me a thrill to see how beautiful it was and to imagine my mum and dad walking down that aisle together. It was a story I couldn’t resist.

My heroine, Daisy Driscoll, is a working class girl – as my mother was. She embarks on the same journey to Bombay and she marries a soldier in the same church in 1938. But that’s when the similarities end. I can’t allow Daisy to enjoy the forty-seven years of happy marriage that my mother did - that wouldn’t make a good mystery/crime novel!

Friday, 22 March 2013

An exciting week

This week has been an exciting one. I've sold two Regency romances, one to Harlequin, Mills and Boon who have published four other titles of mine and one to a US digital publisher, The Wild Rose Press which is a whole new venture for me. I've no definite titles or publication dates as yet but it's great to know that the books have found good homes!

Writing is always a solitary pursuit and often angst inducing, so validation is always welcome whether it comes from a publisher, editor, agent, or best of all, a reader. But I've a particular joy in seeing my last two Regencies sailing off into the sunset and that's because I'm taking a break from the period and the genre. It may turn out to be a short break - I really don't know at the moment - but I'm currently embarked on a whole new path and 40,000 words into a novel set in 1938 in the British Raj. The working title is An Inconvenient Marriage. I'll probably need to think again about that title since it could suggest to an unwary reader that the novel is a romance. Sure, there's a little romance in it (when isn't there?) but it's primarily a mystery, crime fiction even, though not a thriller or police procedural. As always, when I'm enjoying myself, the book doesn't quite fit any set category. It's a novel about finding one's feet, gaining confidence in a strange world as well as battling that mystery, and a book that includes quite a bit of social and political detail too. Ambitious, in fact, but I'm loving writing it. And if it's successful, then I'll commit to that trilogy I've already talked about. Yes, really! 

Monday, 11 February 2013


Over the last couple of years, I've been lucky enough to attend conferences held by the Romantic Novelists' Association and the Historical Novel Society and they've been buzzy and very interesting. Helpful too, though sometimes you don't realise how helpful until weeks later.

But since I'm about to jump genre from historical romance to historical mystery/crime, I thought it might be sensible at some point to immerse myself in all things criminal. So I've signed up for CRIMEFEST, described on their website as 'a convention for people who like to read an occasional crime novel as well as for die-hard fanatics.'

And it's not just for readers - there's an awful lot going on: interviews, panels, workshops and a chance to pitch your ideas to an agent or publisher. So at the end of May I'm off to Bristol, manuscript in hand (more likely part manuscript) to take a look at yet another different writing conference. If you fancy it too, you'll find details at

Sunday, 27 January 2013

How many pen names should you have?

Or should you have one at all? I know that many people write under their own name so why would you choose not to? Perhaps because you feel your real name is too long, too difficult to pronounce or doesn’t fit the genre you’ve chosen. Maybe you don’t want your employer knowing that you write erotic fiction in your lunch hour or maybe you simply fancy adopting a completely different persona. I decided not to write under my own name for some of those reasons and chose Isabelle Goddard for the six Regency romances I’ve published. I have a website under that name, a facebook page and a twitter account.

So why not continue with the same name when I jump genre? Giving myself a second writing name could be hard work and create problems. I might confuse, even annoy, readers who know me as a writer of historical romance and who might buy the new book under that impression. At the same time, I am only just getting known in the writing world so is it sensible to begin again with a new name? Wouldn’t it be better to build on the audience I’ve so far managed to create? The consensus seems to be that if your new genre is similar to what you’ve been doing, stick with the same writing name. If it’s radically different, choose a different one.
But how similar are we talking? I’m still writing historical but I’ve jumped a few hundred years to a very different period – the 1930s instead of early 19th century. There will a small amount of romance but it’s not central and what novel doesn’t have a little romance? The new book will set up a mystery, threaten my heroine’s safety, and hopefully make some thoughtful social comment in the process. That’s quite a long way from the feel-good escapism of Regency romance.
And if I do decide to go for a different writing name, the first problem I’m going to face is What? Isabelle was one of my mother’s names and Goddard my paternal grandmother’s maiden name. Because of the family connection, I felt comfortable with it and it sounded right for a romance author, though I could be wrong. The point is that it took me an age to decide on it. Finding another name that has meaning for me will be difficult enough, but finding one that sounds right for a mystery series could take longer than the books themselves!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Have You Ever Written a Trilogy?

I’m asking because that’s what I’m thinking of doing and already I’m realising some of the questions, problems even, that it raises. It’s obvious that a trilogy needs to be planned differently from a single title, but writing it will also differ from writing a series. In a series, the same central characters appear in each novel but are presented with a set of different circumstances. Characters may develop over the series, their back stories become more familiar, but essentially each story is complete in itself and as a reader you experience its full force within that one book. I imagine that’s why most series have their home in crime fiction, with each book offering a new crime for the central character to solve. 

To my mind, a trilogy is different. It has much more of a defined shape – an introduction, a middle, and a finale. Each novel tells a different story as in series writing, but there’s another story, too, which slowly unwinds itself from novel to novel, allowing the central character to develop, gradually raising and resolving whatever problems he or she may have, uncovering whatever mysteries lie behind their lives. In that way, the structure resembles a tryptich in painting, which tells its story in three distinct movements.

That being so, the plotting has to be on two levels: each novel must have its own resolution, complete for that particular book, but it will also have unanswered questions, loose ends as it were, from the wider ranging story – until, of course, the final pages of novel number three. The writer will need to know exactly where they’re going in order to raise the right issues, drop the right clues, in the right places as each book proceeds. They will also need to pace their main character’s development very carefully, so that the reader has more to learn of them with each book, but not everything until the final pages. And there will have to be a plan for secondary characters too: where they appear, where they disappear, how they link with each book. 

Did I just say I wanted to write a trilogy?!