Monday, July 30, 2012

Last Post from Anaheim

"There's no place like home...There's no place like home..."

Toto...it's time to leave the "Happiest Place on Earth" and return to the dull, drear Melbourne winter so this will be the last report from #RWA12. The first challenge will be packing - all those lovely books and the consequences of Tuesday's shopping spree have to be squeezed into a small baggage allowance.

Saturday promised another full day of workshops.

SESSION 1:  EMOTION - Brenda Novak

Brenda Novak is one of the (many) NY Times bestsellers one passes in the corridor at this conference so I attended the first part of her presentation on Emotion with some excitement.
Layering a story with emotion is about active writing and techniques for adding that all important emotion to your stories included

  • Use of internal thought (sparing)
  • Dialogue
  • Deep POV
  • Action
  • Metaphor

Unfortunately I couldn't stay for the second part of her session because I wanted to hear Michael Hauge.  I'm a bit of Hauge fan girl, having heard his Story Mastery workshop at home and I own the DVDs...and the books, but I wanted to hear how he contextualised his theories for romance writing.

SESSION 2/3:  USING INNER CONFLICT TO CREATE POWERFUL LOVE STORIES - Michael Hauge

Yes, I'd heard it all before, but Hauge is a charismatic presenter and his exposition of the Hero's Journey is worth hearing over again. He makes it sound so easy...

On my recent Writing Retreat with the Saturday Ladies Bridge Club, we watched his DVD on the HJ and then sat down to watch Prince of Persia...with the timer on and lo...the Prince of Persia followed Hauge's Three Act Journey to the second. How does this translate into romance...I think, particularly in category romance, that first 10% (the hero in ordinary life) does not necessarily apply but in all other respects seems to follow the theory.

RITA Award winner Fiona Lowe and her "date"
Grabbed a quick, unsatisfactory lunch with Fiona Lowe and went up to my room with the idea of watching a little bit of the Olympics.  Next thing I knew it was 3.00 pm and with a booking for dinner at 5.30pm, togged out in the glad rags, that was the end of my conference! I sat outside in the warmth and read a book for a little while.

The highlight of the conference has to be the RITA Awards. As I may have mentioned I was extremely touched to be asked by Fiona Lowe to be her "date" for the Awards. Fiona's editor at Carina Press, Angela James and senior Harlequin staff had invited us out for dinner. Because we had to be back at the Marriott and seated ready for the awards by 7.30, we met at a local restaurant for dinner at 5.30.  Angela had organised a special celebratory dessert for Fiona.

Fiona and her editor, Angela James with good luck dessert
Like everything about the conference, the Awards were incredibly well organised. Golden Heart and RITA finalists had spent 2 hours in rehearsal that afternoon and we were all seated at tables at the front of the room. The MC was the delightful Victoria Alexander and was interspersed with little pastiches of our favourite romantic moments on film. Golden Hearts (for unpublished MS) went first and then the RITAs.  Other Aussie nominees Christina Brooks and Trish Morey missed out and then came the Single Title Contemporary Romance category.  Fiona had no expectations of winning and when her name was called out she sat there in complete disbelief. I was no help...jumping to my feet and screaming like a teenager at a Bieber concert. 
 
As I may have mentioned Boomerang Bride was one of my favourite summer reads and thoroughly deserving of its win. The other big positive for this win is that it is a "digital first" ie it came out solely as an ebook. It is now in print.

So there we are...your Anaheim correspondent is now signing off and returning to Oz to gather her energy for the Australian Romance Writers Conference in two weeks! Thanks for bearing with me.





Hey, a girl can dream....


Saturday, July 28, 2012

RWA12 Day 2...And your correspondent wins an award

SO HAPPY (and a little unsteady on the unfamiliar high heels). Yes, your humble correspondent is the winner of the 2012 ROMANCE THROUGH THE AGES contest run by the Hearts Through History chapter of RWAm.  LORD SOMERTON'S HEIR is currently with the agency who judged the final entries and we'll see what happens next... terrific night! My darling Sebastian Alder (the hero of LSH) is delighted and thanks everyone for their warm wishes.

So back to the business at hand...I am pleased to report your Anaheim correspondent woke feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed this morning. The early night worked wonders.

A light breakfast is served at the conference venue and it's a great time to meet new people. Having a funny accent helps break the ice.  I just tell people now that it's a Melbourne accent...explaining the whole Out of Africa bit is just too complicated.

SESSION 1:  CARE AND FEEDING OF THE WRITER'S SOUL
A panel of 3 predominantly YA authors, Elle James, Trinity Faegen and Jordan Dane.
A good positive affirmation to start the day...and a won a prize (THE POWER OF NOW - a guide to spiritual enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle which looks really interesting). Winning prizes is always good!

  • Key points I took from this:  Don't let marketing/ networking/blogging/ social media take your creativity. 
  • Manage your time, use calendars to organise your day.
  • Develop positive rituals
  • Drink hot tea...
Above all believe in yourself. Your stories come from your and only you.

PITCHING
Oh my...lions, and tigers and bears....
I had a 1030 pitch with Heather Osborn of Samhain. We were instructed to be there 15 mins early. You are marshalled on to chairs and once all 1030s are assembled route marched to the other side of the room and put in alphabetical order of the person you are pitching to. Trish Morey was in my group - a pair of irreverent Aussies! It did feel a little like we were being lined up to be shot and the poor girl standing next to me looked as if she was expecting a blindfold to be handed out. A bell rang and we were route marched into the next room where the editors/agents were seated at tables.  A second bell rang and we had to find our editors PDQ. Talk about speed dating. Heather was very nice and glad to have a non-regency historical pitched to her. 
I now hold Bob Mayer's advice close to my heart. He said very few people who are asked to submit from a pitch, do. By not submitting you are rejecting yourself.

After the trauma, Trish and I had a debrief with Carol Marinelli and Fiona Simpson over coffee.

LUNCH
Another networking lunch and a chance to meet up with fellow Lyrical press author, YA Karen Bynum. Kandy Shepherd joined me again and we were on a lovely table. I met Mary Oldham from Melbourne, Florida. The speaker today was Robyn Carr. I am embarrassed to admit I have never heard of Robyn but the speech she gave was an antidote to the high drama of Stephanie's speech yesterday...light and funny 

Two Melbourne ladies
Fellow Lyrical Press author Karen Y. Bynum

SESSION 2:  HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF GOODREADS

Firstly I am pleased to report Kandy and I got through the afternoon sessions without nodding off.

Patrick Brown, head of the Author Program at Goodreads took us through how to get the most out of Goodreads. It is reassuring to find out that most of the things I am doing is on the right path. Goodreads is a powerful tool with a long reach for authors but like all the social media you have to engage in targeted communities and groups. Interestingly Romance is one of the largest.

SESSION 3:  THE SECRETS TO EBOOK PUBLISHING SUCCESS

Mark Coker Smashwords

I have been published with Smashwords since June 2010, when it was an itty bitty little enterprise. When I first put my two books up there, it was still a stigma to say "self published" - how the worm has turned. I have always been impressed with the professionalism and usability of Smashwords and seeing quiet, nerdy Mark speak was very encouraging. His little bitty company has quadrupled its users since I first signed on.

The universal messages coming out of today's sessions:
1.  Author empowerment (yes, again!)
2.  It all comes down to writing your best book and then writing your next best book.



Kandy Shepherd and your correspondent...awake!

Friday, July 27, 2012

And the Conference starts - RWA12 DAY 1

Your Anaheim correspondent has a confession to make. After three days of going like a steam train, I hit the wall today (of all days) so I probably don't have as much to report as I should have.

Unlike our Australian conference, there are no "plenary" sessions" to kick off the conference. It is straight into Workshops and for every time slot there are up to 10 different choices covering topics relevant to career, craft, publishing and research, writers life interspersed with author chats and spotlights on different publishers. Spoiled for choice? To make it even harder I am a member of the PRO Community of Practice...this is for the "almost published" (as I don't YET qualify for PAN - the Published Authors Network).

As an alternative to the workshops, I attended the "PRO Retreat" this morning.  The keynote speaker was a Chicago lawyer, Jon Tandler, on the topic of "Publishing Contracts Demystified". Those who know will know that I am a lawyer myself (although I've recently turned in my badge). We lawyers have a saying...if you act for yourself, you have a fool for a client and when it comes to publishing contracts, I paid for professional advice. Key issues he raised:

  • Term of Contract: Length of copyright is not unusual (given this is life of the author plus 70 years  seems a very long time)
  • Understand what rights you are giving to your publisher 
  • Registration of copyright (we don't have this in Australia but my Australian lawyer advised me to register my work with the American Copyright office)
  • Obligations and Indemnities of both parties
  • Make sure you check your royalty statements for errors.
  • Out of Print and Reversion Clauses
  • Competitive works and First Option Clauses
In summary READ your contract carefully and get independent advice. Do your homework with your publisher.

Following Jon Tandler was a panel of Publishers:  Michele Bidelspach (Grand Central), May Chen (Avon), Debra Dixon (Belle Books) and Lindsey Faber (Samhain). This when I had begun to nod off but I don't think that I heard anything from them that was new or startling:  Only 5% of submissions get picked up/ Looking for great story and voice - a submission that is less than perfect is fine / role of publishers in the self publishing world - they are there to do the heavy lifting and leave the author free to write the next best book.

A sit down lunch for 2000 people followed. I met up with Kandy Shepherd but it is a good  opportunity to meet new friends. An interesting presentation on an RWA sponsored initiative called Love Between the Covers - a documentary on the Romance Industry - writers, readers, publishers and agents by documentary film maker Laurie Kahn (who I met). The little bit we saw looked like a positive contribution to the industry and we had one of the participants on our table, Golden Heart finalist and Aussie, Joanne Lockyer. Fortunately she kept her video camera in her bag!
Stephanie Laurens gives the keynote luncheon address at #RWA12

Keynote speaker was Stephanie Laurens. I've heard Stephanie speak many times on her favourite topic...the Business of Writing but this time was different. Her emphasis was on "Weathering the Transition and Keeping the Faith". Her main point was that the revolutionary changes that are going on in the publishing industry are about the means of transmitting the story from writer to reader. It does not alter the essential paradigm that a writer's success is measured by her readership, not which publishing house, self publishing vehicle etc. she has signed up with.  We must keep faith in our calling and concentrate on writing great stories. "Take your passion and make it happen". She was so inspiring in her passion that it was hard not to feel caught up by her own emotion. Her conclusion..."There has never been a better time to make to be an author".

Oddly this was a theme echoed in the next workshop I attended after lunch, Ethan Ellenberg the agent who's topic was New Paradigms in Publishing. Like Stephanie he spoke about the impact of the changes to on line publishing, particularly self publishing. The message I took from him is that Self Publishing is a legitimate alternative BUT it is turning the author into a business with all the distractions that go with it (Stephanie would say it is distracting the author from writing the best book). It takes time, energy and money to self publish, limited print distribution, an overcrowded internet and the lack of interaction with editors and agents limits your ability to grow as an author.

At this point your roving reporter could no longer stay awake so I'm ashamed to say, it is no reflection on Ethan that I sidled out of the workshop. 

So glad I am staying across the road which forces me out into "fresh" Los Angeles Air and sunshine. The conference facility is freezing and of course I had packed for summer!

No activities tonight...just a quiet dinner and an early night. I must be getting old.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

RWA12 - PreConference Day

Well today's the day when it all kicks off with  "pre conference activities".

Your roving reporter, intent on making the most of every opportunity, had joined the "Beaumonde"Chapter of RWA (the Regency writers) and signed up for the mini-conference, which includes a "soiree" this evening (very late this evening). 


Regency? But aren't you a 17th century kind of girl? I hear you say...


I have a newly developed interest in the Regency. It began when I was writing Suzanna's diary for my September release GATHER THE BONES, which I wrote as a complete diary. If you want to know who Suzanne is and what relevance her diary has to a story set in 1923 - well you are just going to have to read the book!


Inspired, I thought I would turn my hand to writing a "Regency" and wrote Lord Somerton's Heir (the RTTA finalist - winner announced Friday) just to see if I could feel comfortable writing in what is arguably the most popular historical romance period. I confess have fallen in love with the genre and while I don't think I write classic regency (there is a murder mystery in there), I hope LSH finds a home. However it is not my historical period of choice so the more I can learn the better...hence the day with the Beaumonde.


I was late. I could say it was because I overslept but I think it was more I was just moving slowly. Day 2 and jetlag is catching up.  By the time I had registered and been lumbered with the biggest, heaviest bag of books I am unlikely to read, and dropped my humble Gather the Bones postcards in the "Goodie Room", the AGM of the BM had kicked off. Squeezing in to a seat next to Iona Jones (RWNZ Prez and friend), I managed to knock my knee on the table, slopping everybody's coffee. The whole room turned to stare. Pick the clutzy Aussie.


After the AGM, we moved into different workshops. I picked Popular Magazines of the Regency presented by Sandra Schwab. She was a mine of information about Journals of the period from the Gentleman's Magazine to Lady's Magazine (your source for music and decorative needlework patterns). If you are short of a plot or need to do the meteorological data for July 25th 1815, these journals are the place to go. They would be a mine of period detail, as well as useful props for your characters.

Before I had decided on the BM mini-conference I had booked a session with the resident photographer to get new "head shots" done. Heavy sigh...alas the lovely photos I had done 6 years ago ... in the words of G& S "She could easily pass for 43 in the dusk with the light behind her". Time for new photos. Deciding a jet lagged look was not good I pushed the boat out and indulged in a facial and a trip to the hairdresser (at this point I engage DH in another winning smile as I hear a heavy sigh echoing across the Pacific). I made a small error in telling the hairdresser I didn't want "boofy"...I ended up with dead straight. The photo session was fun but out of x-hundred photos,  it all came down to three. I took the lot.

After grabbing a quick lunch, it was back to the Beaumonde and a great session on Regency "costume" with the incredibly knowlegeable Isobel Carr, author and re-enactor.  I will feel very inadequate in my Regency dress this evening!

Delle Jacobs and a Regency corset
Isobel Carr dresses Delilah Marvelle in a drop front dress

By the time that session ended the Mariott was hopping with gaggles of romance writers in every corner and the lobby awash with people. I am rather glad to be staying across the road!

THE LITERACY SIGNING
Imagine if you will, the biggest trade show you've ever been to...close to 450 published authors all together in one place, mostly grouped in tables of 6. They are there to meet readers and sign books. Profits from the sale of the books go to charities promoting literacy. All the big names were there with long queues:  Norah Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jayne Ann Krentz, Stephanie Laurens, Julia Quinn and on the list goes! New Zealand's Nalini Singh had been given one of the "important people" tables...it seems like only yesterday when she sold her first book. Armed with my map and the marker, I went in search of the antipodeans. Fiona Lowe was proving popular (was it the koalas or the Tim Tams?). Poor thing is very poorly with a ghastly cold. Hope she is well by Saturday. RITA nominees had special little blue flags to distinguish them. The other RITA nominee is Trish Morey who had Haigh's orange flavoured chocolate buttons. You measure an author by the standard of their catering apperently.

It is quite overwhelming to be in the presence of so many writers in one place. I have to say it is a little bit daunting when you realise what you are up against in trying to get readers interested in your books!
Fiona Lowe - RITA finalist

Yvonne Lindsay

The 2012 Literacy Signing

THE BEAUMONDE SOIREE

The first challenge was to don my gown without the aid of my abigail. I was forced to summon Ms. Lowe fresh from the Literacy signing to safety pin me into the dress.

The second challenge was escaping the Hilton and getting to the Marriott looking like Jane Austen with a bad hair day. Then I figured half the people in the foyer were wearing Micky Mouse ears so what the hell was I worrying about.


A fine time was had by all. At least 2/3 of the assembly were, I am pleased to report, appropriately dressed. "Sir Carolus King" took time out from his club to teach a group of ladies the game of Looe. I had just won back the country estate and my precious virtue when it was time to dance. Now, dear readers, the last time I took a turn at "English Country Dances" was in the drawing room of Wellesley House, the dear Duke of Wellington's home. He alas, had been dead some two hundred years but it just happened to be Waterloo Day and there we were...in London...with nothing else to do.


And so dear reader, that has been my eventful day and it is long, long past my bed time. Conference proper starts tomorrow with the "PRO Retreat".  See you tommorow!



The Duchess of Melbourne dances the Knowle House
The Duchess of Melbourne





Wednesday, July 25, 2012

An Australian Abroad Day 2: Shopping

There is a slight chance my darling husband (DH) may be following my adventures in Wonderland so: "Hi, Honey! I did a little shopping today! Just one or two things. Only spent 6 hours at the South Coast Mall..." There was the little matter of the new dress I need for the Saturday night RITA Awards. I am attending as the "date" for my friend Fiona Lowe whose book, BOOMERANG BRIDE is a finalist in the Contemporary Single Title category. BOOMERANG BRIDE was one of my favourite reads this year so I am keeping everything crossed for her (and a bottle of champers on ice...no choice...I don't have a fridge)!

Alison aids the ailing American economy!
In my defence last time I attended a RW America Conference (New Orleans 2001), the Australian dollar was worth .57c. I could barely afford a souvenir fridge magnet, now I just see it as my civic duty to help our noble American allies in their hour of need. My next challenge is going to be getting the two bags I will now be carrying back on the plane!

Fortunately I had a willing ally in Sandra Allen who seemed quite happy to keep me company :-)

The Antipodean contingent has been drifting in over the last couple of days and we gathered in the bar of the Marriott this evening for drinks and a catch up. Needless to say Margaritas both liquid and pizzacal were consumed. Compared to New Orleans where there was less than 10 of us, there is a large, noisy representation from down under this year...so watch this space.

Australia NZ detente....Alison with NZ writer Yvonne Lindsay
Tomorrow the conference begins for me with the "Beau Monde" mini conference (the Regency afficionados) and soiree (the costume came with me!). So for now, your roving Anaheim reporter is signing out ready for a 7.30 am start.

Meanwhile some photos from the last few days...


Spot the Aussie
Cars...Cars everywhere. Never even seen the movie!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

AN AUSTRALIAN ABROAD


Toto...I don’t think we’re in Kansas. 
No, Dorothy, we are in a magical kingdom of beautiful princesses, wicked queens and fairy godmothers - the 2012 Romance Writers of America Conference which just happens to be at the Anaheim Marriott - right next door to Disneyland. The 2100 attendees will be jostling with 25,000 librarians who are attending their annual convention at the (enormous) convention centre next door. The romance writers will be at the convention centre at 5.00 pm on Wednesday for the annual Literacy signing (proceeds to charity).

I left a cold, wintry Melbourne (Australia) at 9.35am this morning and arrived at LAX at 7.00 am - two and a half hours before I left. Something about the international date line that just makes my head hurt. I have to say it was a fabulous flight. Not only was the plane not full, but my friend and Harlequin Presents writer Carol Marinelli was on the same flight...not only on the same flight, but on a plane of 480 potential seats, she was seated right next to me. Needless to say we talked non stop for the first 4 hours, slept some and then Carol, whose dedication to her work is an inspiration hit the keyboard and wrote a 1000 words before we landed in LA. Half guiltily I pulled out my computer and edited a chapter and a half of SECRETS IN TIME (just hope my editor is reading this!)

Another miracle, my room at the Anaheim Hilton was ready for me so I was able to unpack and grab a couple of hours sleep before venturing out in search of food. I had forgotten that everything in California is big...and what looked like a gentle stroll to Disney Downtown was a good half hour hike. Pick the Aussie...in a town where everyone is on holiday  and the wardrobe de jour for man, woman and child is shorts and a tee shirt, there I was in long pants, a long sleeve shirt and a decidedly unflattering (but lightweight) hat pulled down to my eyes. Sun...arrgh...I may turn to dust!


Lunch...Trying to find anything that wasn't cheesey, burgery, chocolately, icecream, taco, popcorn or general junk was a challenge. Thank God for a "French cafe" which sold baguettes with my favourite mozarella, tomato and pesto.  Language failed at the cash register. We do both speak English don't we? The ear is not attuned yet and the girl may as well have been mumbling in Kurdish. 


Buy Disney memorabilia...of course and yes, I picked up a couple of little things for my Disney mad smallest nephew and neice's birthdays but  I have a confession to make. I have never been a big Disney fan. Yes, I’m a heretic but Mickey Mouse just didn’t do it for me! That said I would NEVER have missed an episode of the Wonderful World of Disney at 6.00pm on a Sunday (in glorious black and white), but it was always on the off chance it was an “Adventure Land” episode - preferably with a historical bent and a dashing hero like THE SCARECROW OF ROMNEY MARSH or, my first love, the FIGHTING PRINCE OF DONEGAL.  Forget "Cars"...they just don't make good swashbuckling dramas like this any more.

The Fighting Prince of Donegal

Dr. Syn - the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and his henchpersons


In 1997 we brought our boys (then aged 12 and 9) to Disneyland. It was January and the queues were short (and quite a few of the rides closed for maintenance). We did everything we wanted to do in a day. My memory may be failing me but Disneyland today seems so much bigger. Maybe it had to do a major upgrade to keep up with its grander cousin in Orlando? Still, I remember being able to see the magic castle from the car park. 

And, yes, I did have fun with the boys in 1997 but I have no burning desire to battle the summer crowds to see Disneyland again so it was a long, warm, walk back to the hotel for a quiet afternoon and a catch up with Aussie mates this evening.

The conference proper starts on Wednesday and I will be blogging daily, so join me this week as Ms. Stuart requests the pleasure of your company to join her at the Romance Writers of America Conference.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Last Resident of Netherby


In my post of 25 June, Me and My Ghosts, I wrote of my experiences of working in two supposedly haunted Army buildings. This week - the tale of "Albert" - the last resident of Netherby.
Netherby House c1999 The orderly room was to the right of the front door, officers mess to the left

 "Netherby" House, in Queens Road, Melbourne is one of the few remaining Victorian mansions that once lined that street. Today it has been beautifully restored and forms part of a hotel.


The building has a chequered history having been variously a private residence, a maternity hospital, ASIO headquarters and since the 1960s had been the home of the Australian Army's Headquarters 3rd Training Group.  When I was a young pay clerk (Army Reserve) at Headquarters 3rd Training Group in the early 1980s (don't you love the uniform?) there were stories of boarded up cellars and secret rooms, reputedly a legacy of its use by ASIO.  


Alison in her days as pay clerk  at Netherby - HQ 3 Trg Gp - 1981
In my early researches about "Albert", staff posted to Netherby during those years complained of cold rooms and unexplained trips on the smooth linoleum floor.  I was just one of a group of youngsters and while we may have wasted time looking for the boarded up cellar and wondered why there was a room  (used as the Officers Mess wine cellar), secured with a safe locking mechanism that any bank would have been proud of, we never saw or experienced anything vaguely paranormal. 


In the mid 1980s a couple of members of the regular army staff, attending a late dinner in another part of the city, returned to retrieve a car one of them had left parked at the back of the building. To their surprise the hallway light was on and as they neared the building they saw a figure sitting near the window in the orderly room. The man wore what looked like a red checked shirt. Concerned about the security, the staff members unlocked the front door and, entering the orderly room, saw the PABX light on the phone in glowing red, as if the Commander was on the phone – unlikely as it was 1.30 in the morning. Thinking it had been left off the hook in his office, they went upstairs and found the phone in place on the hook. Back in the orderly room they noted the light still glowed red so they went back upstairs and this time found the phone off the hook. They replaced it, switched off the lights, locked the door and fled!


I left Netherby in 1982 to do officer training (that's another whole story - no ghosts!). In the early 1990s I returned as a student on a promotion course.  It had not changed at all, still the same linoleum floors and cold, dusty offices I remembered.  The chief clerk at the time was a mild mannered regular army Sergeant who in the latter part of his posting was quite often the only person in the building for days on end.  This is his story.


Alison, seated front row middle, outside Netherby 1992
The sergeant lived quite a distance from Queens Road so he began the practice of sleeping overnight after the Wednesday night parade.  The first night he did this, he chose a small, quiet room at the rear of the building.  About 3.00 am he was woken with a start.  The room was icy cold, despite a heater that was still on.  Struggling to focus, he had the distinct impression of a figure at the foot of the bed staring down at him.  He leapt out of bed, switched on the light and with his heart in his mouth did a tour of the house.  The room and the building were deserted.  He never slept in that particular room again but chose instead another room affectionately called "Netherby Hilton Suite 69".  


3 Training Group was in the throes of moving and this meant that during the day only one or two of the regular staff were present. One of the officers worked with him in the orderly room for company in the large empty building.  On one occasion the Major brought his dog to work.  The dog dozed contentedly in front of the heater.  Suddenly and without warning the dog leapt up, heckles raised and began barking and growling at one of the pillars which extended from the front verandah into the orderly room.  This continued for about 5 minutes before the dog returned to its slumbers in front of the heater.  Both men jokingly began referring to the third resident of Netherby as "Albert".


The massive front door to Netherby
Once the Major moved to the new headquarters building,  the sergeant was on his own during the day for the next twelve months and perhaps thinking the sergeant was lonely and in need of company, "Albert" began his haunting in earnest.  One fine spring morning while working in the orderly room (which was adjacent to the front door), the front door suddenly opened and slammed shut.  Footsteps were heard stomping up the rear service staircase to the area which would have been the old servants quarters.  Upstairs doors could be heard slamming shut and the footsteps descended the stairs again.  The front door, which I recall as being a large, heavy door (see picture), opened and slammed shut again.


Frozen to his desk during this visitation and wondering if he was suffering from an over active imagination, the sergeant went to investigate.  Upstairs he found three office doors which had been left open were now closed.  The front door, which was kept locked to deter salesmen, was still firmly locked and could not be opened without turning the handle.


One Saturday evening after a mess dinner at "Grosvenor" (55 Queens Road), the sergeant and his wife retired to Netherby to save the long drive home to Frankston.  Alone in the empty building, they made a cup of coffee and sat on the bottom step of the back staircase drinking their coffee and talking.  His wife removed her high heels and left them with the coffee cups on the staircase as they both retired to the "Netherby Hilton" for the night.


During the night they were awoken by the sound of a door slamming, but dismissing it as just the noise of an old house, they went back to sleep.  When they awoke the next morning, they found the high heeled shoes neatly placed at the foot of the wife's bed and the dirty coffee cups back beside the urn in the Officers Mess.  


Shortly after this incident "Albert" began to show himself.  The sergeant described him as a grey shadow with a lot of detail.  He appeared to be Caucasian and although his facial features were not easily distinguishable, he was about 175 -180 cm tall and wore a long coat of the style of the 50s and 60s.  I recall the sergeant speculating that he may have been a Romanian "diplomat" who died while being "questioned" by ASIO.  "Albert" was also seen by the sergeant’s young son who was visiting during the holidays.  Both sightings were at the foot of the service staircase, over the sealed trap door that led to the cellars.


"Albert" was not without a sense of humour and would occasionally play tricks.  One Tuesday evening the sergeant and another army reserve member were moving a filing cabinet.  The sergeant recalls that the office they were moving it from was icy cold on this particular evening.  The two men picked the empty cabinet up and as they carried it towards the door, the other man stumbled and fell.  When he recovered himself, he grumbled that it had felt like someone had tripped him.  When the sergeant looked out into the corridor, he had a fleeting glimpse of "Albert".


The telephone system in Netherby was a "PABX Commander" system.  At about 4.00 a.m one morning after a parade night, when the sergeant was quite alone in the building, the phone in his bedroom rang.  Blearily he picked it up.  The voice on the line was more of a grunt than anything else, so dismissing it as a crank call, he hung up.  As he closed his eyes, he realised that the call was an internal call made from another extension in the building.  He shot out of bed, turned on all the lights and did a thorough search of the building.  It was just as he had left it, locked up and secure and quite deserted.


Convinced by now that "Albert" had singled him out for special attention, the sergeant began to acknowledge his existence, greeting him cheerily in the morning and bidding him good night in the evening.  He even invited Albert to accompany him when he had to go out during the day, although whether he ever did is a question for speculation.  I rather like the idea of the spectral "Albert" occupying the passenger seat of an Army vehicle on little excursions.  


Once Albert's existence had been acknowledged the sergeant found that the hauntings ceased and the building became noticeably warmer.  Not long afterwards, the last elements of 3 Training Group moved out.  Netherby was locked up and left empty for many years before being bought by the hotel next door. 


Netherby today
Interestingly, the story of Albert reached the staff at the hotel and some years later, the sergeant and I were invited by the manager of the hotel to lunch and to view the restoration of the lovely old house. Albert, it seemed, had not taken kindly to the disturbance to his home. The builders complained about their tools being moved and unexplained cold spots in the house. One member of staff was on crutches having broken an ankle after being, in his words “tripped”. 


Many years have now passed but I still think of Albert when I pass by Netherby and wonder how he has taken to living in a hotel.


Next week I shall be in Los Angeles attending the Romance Writers of America National Conference. . I am so looking forward to a week with my writerly friends and I hope to bring some interesting information home with me. Just got to get the internet working and I hope I manage to find time to write my Tuesday blog.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Paws for Reflection - The "Mouslies" go on holiday...


Once upon a summer holiday (when my boys were still young) I rented a holiday house at Inverloch on the south east coast of Victoria for a week. It would just my sons H and J, and their (girl) cousin T and of course ...me. My DH was probably travelling overseas with work at the time (to be honest I don't remember!).

 Prospects of long summer days and swimming at the calm beach filled my imagination.

We encountered our first problem before we had even left home. My youngest son, J,  kept mice (I'll save the story of the Church Picnic Day Mouse Massacre for another post). The present residents were two female mice...Hunca Munca the mouse with Post Traumatic Stress (survivor of the aforemention CPDMM) and her companion the fat and slothful Chestnut. The cats could be sent off to the cattery but no one was around to look after the mice so we decided we had no choice-- the mice had to come on holiday with us. The kids thought this was a fantastic idea.  Cousin T (who is exactly between my boys in age and a kind of sister-they-never-had) flew in  from interstate, we packed the mice in their travelling cage and headed off to Inverloch.

Victorian weather is notoriously fickle and after two glorious warm, sunny days the inevitable mid-January cool change blew in. The beach was out so we amused ourselves with playing board games, rockpooling,  visiting the dinosaur beach,  and going for long walks. On one of these walks we invented a story of two mice who went on holidays to the beach...The Mouslies. 
Chestnut  and Max leave for their holiday
The story evolved over the next few days. They weren't exactly OUR mice...after all one was called Max and appeared to be male but they looked a  little bit like Hunca Munca and Chestnut. The Mouslies visited the Dinosaur Beach, went surfing and even went snorkelling (in fact had more fun than us!). T and J (with some help from me) did the illustrations and at the end of the holiday we had a marvellous little story complete with mentions of the movie Titanic (which was big that year). I love the fact Chestnut was drawn as being slightly rotund.

Chestnut goes rockpooling
When we got home, I wrote the story up and in the days before self publishing, printed and bound several copies for the family. I was only reminded of it the other day when T (now a gorgeous young woman) mentioned it in conversation with the added suggestion we should dig it out and publish it. 

I don't think so... but it did bring back memories of a happy week with three gorgeous kids and two mice. 

Alison

J, T and H with Hunca Munca and Chestnut on holiday in Inverloch





Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On Titles and Covers

Last Tuesday I received the news that all writers love to hear the most...a new contract.
My 40K word, time travel novella has been bought by Lyrical Press and will, tentatively be out around April next year.

The book is currently without a title. Unlike my other books, this little story has never had a proper title. It's a bit like not having a name for your baby...doesn't feel quite real.  Every animal that has ever set paw in our house, from mice and fish to the cats, have had names. Once you give something a name you have an emotional investment in it and I think the same applies to books. 

Its working title was "Slip in Time" but this conjured up images of ballroom dancing or petticoats.  My problem is that every "Time" title I come up with has already been taken and quite often graces the cover of several books - A Timeless Love, Love Through Time, A Time to Love etc....So I'm stumped, my editor's stumped and my writing group has taken to suggesting titles like "Love Among the Geraniums" (you'd have to read the story to get that one!). I'm on to cavaliers now...with a long list of titles like "Loving the Cavalier, The Cavalier and the Cardiologist" and the trouble is until it has a title I can't get on with all the other important stuff that needs doing when you first sign up for a book contract. 

This has got me thinking about the titles and how they influence reader attraction to a book.  I came across this  article that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. In it, writer Julian Barnes confesses to not reading one particular book for years because he thought it was about baseball - the book "Catcher in the Rye". 


There are plenty of blogs on this subject but one of the best I've come across is from Rachelle Gardiner, literary Agent. Rachelle writes "...Your title sets the tone, hints at the genre or style of book, and draws the reader in. It’s your very first opportunity to “market” your book and make someone want to read it...".  Thanks...no pressure, Rachelle!

In another post, Rachelle gives an important lesson in how to brainstorm a title your book and I'm working through that at the moment.  I guess I am lucky that I have a publishing house that allows the author input into titles. My friends who write for HMB, have little or no say in their titles (so don't blame the author for the "Millionaire Sheiks Secret Love Child"). Those I have spoken to have stopped even giving their books working titles so their work in progress tend be known just as "Sheik 5" or "Secret Baby 9".


This has got me thinking about not only the importance of titles but also covers and the more I thought about it, the more I realised we are a predominantly visual species and much as we may preach sanctimoniously that we "never judge a book by a cover". Yes we do. I have heard Stephanie Laurens say that for her books to sell, the cover has to be one that can be seen across a crowded Walmart.  We are drawn to bright and shiny and I am completely guilty of buying books by their covers. Jo Beverley's Three Heroes is a case in point.  I bought it like a shot...because I'm shallow and I judge books by their covers. - it was also, I hasten to add, a very good read!

The need for a cover to catch the eye and yet give an indication of genre and story was brought home to me when I was working with my publisher on the cover for Gather the Bones. I had imagined something World War Oneish but no, this is primarily a story about relationships and the cover needed to show that. It has poppies (World War One) but anyone picking up the book can see it is about a relationship between a man and a woman. - probably more man and woman than would generally be my taste but I have grown to love them. I learned it's about understanding the audience to whom you are pitching your book. Duh! I write books with a strong romantic theme. Yes, they are strong on the historical aspect but my audience is far more likely to be a reader interested in a relationship and a HEA than a reader of military history. Call a spade a spade. If I write romance then my cover needs to appeal to buyers of romantic fiction. It needs to look...well...romantic!

With this learning in mind I went back to my own books and reconsidered the covers. Take THE KING'S MAN. When it was first published in 2007 by an independent epress, the cover chosen was a computer graphic (Because that was how it was done back then!) and  at the time I was quite pleased with it - spies, inns, mysterious men. When I re-released the book myself in 2010 I chose a clever image of a man with a noose around his neck. I felt it captured the essence of the book but looking at it now, it's too subtle and muddy in colour. I just didn't understand what a cover has to convey! Back to basics...this is a book about a relationship - a love story and, frankly, you wouldn't get that from either of its first two covers, would you? Yes it's about spies and hanging but primarily it's about Kit and Thamsine. I finally understood! Glory be, now in 2012, enterprising people out there have caught on to the juggernaut of  the self publishing industry and you can buy off the shelf book covers. Wonderful covers (thank you Jimmie Thomas)! The King's Man finally has a cover that captures the essence of the book perfectly. Honestly which one would you buy...?

The King's Man original Cover


The King's Man:  Muddy cover


The King's Man: new cover

So there we are, I have a lovely bright new shiny contract for a story with no name, but if you like time travel stories, a wonderful seventeenth century cavalier and a thoroughly modern, no nonsense doctor are coming your way early next year. And I'm really looking forward to working with my publisher on an eye catching cover - once we have found the perfect title!


Alison

PS...this week I am over at Hoydens and Firebrands blogging about the tragic life of one of the noblest of the cavaliers...Lucius Cary, 2nd Viscount Falkland, killed at the age of 33 at the first Battle of Newbury in 1643. Was it a case of suicide by battle...?