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Friday, August 30, 2013

Taking Tea with - Elisabeth Storrs

Ms. Stuart is delighted (and slightly in awe) to welcome author, Elisabeth Storrs to take tea with her this week. Ms. Storrs may be a "new to you" author? 
As I have come to know Elisabeth over the last year, I am struck by how similar our backgrounds are...we are both lapsed (or is that 'recovering'?) lawyers, both corporate governance specialiasts and both writers of historical novels with romance. In fact, and I don't think I have told Elisabeth this, I also studied Ancient Civilisations at university and where I am in awe of her, is that she has landed on the Etruscans as her passion (and I thought the English Civil War was problematical!). With a language no one could translate, the Etruscans were...and I suspect, remain, an elusive and mysterious people so I am looking forward to reading Elisabeth's (highly regarded) books and find out more about them!

My dear Elisabeth, do sit down… do you take tea? If so what is your preference?
Twinings English Breakfast. White no sugar. In the morning and afternoon without fail.  Teabags, I’m afraid, although I do know how to use a tea strainer when my mother in law visits and I brew a ‘proper’ pot of tea. I’ve never worked out whether to put the milk in first or last, though. I don’t drink Earl Grey as I have my limits. ( see, we have so much in common!)

I am struck by the similarity in our backgrounds, from studying arts law to practicing as corporate lawyers and governance professionals. Quite eerie! The world tends to view lawyers as dry, crusty individuals but yet I know a great many lawyers practicing in different areas of the Arts, do you think there is a common thread that drives (some) lawyers to creativity?

There are definitely a lot of lawyers who have a creative side but they tend to keep it secret. I know my colleagues were astounded when they heard I’d been writing novels for years. I think people who study law tend to have expressive language skills which could be used for both analytical and creative purposes. When I left school I had the romantic notion I wanted to be a writer but the reality of having to pay my bills resulted in choosing law instead. I imagine it’s the same for many lawyers who have an artistic side. In a way I feel a little bit schizophrenic swapping between left and right sides of the brain. Lord knows what would happen if I worked out how to use both at once. Wait  – I do that when I write historical fiction! Research and writing. A perfect blend of the two.

(AS: It was my guilty little secret for many, many years. When I came "out", my colleagues may have been less surprised if I had announced I was converting to Hinduism!)

A question I am often asked is ‘Why don’t you write courtroom or “legal” dramas’, so I am going to throw that one over to you now! 

I think I’d be sued for libel if I wrote legal dramas as I’d subconsciously create characters who were suspiciously like people I’ve worked with!  

Mind you, I would never be short of inspiration. As a litigation lawyer I’ve certainly been involved in a few real life courtroom dramas. And truth is definitely stranger than fiction when it comes to the boardroom shenanigans I’ve encountered while working in corporations. But to answer your question, I’m not drawn to legal thrillers or courtroom novels because I use my writing to escape into an imagined historical world rather than remain in the modern one. Or maybe I should create a Roman lawyer embroiled in corruption and intrigue? There were certainly bizarre cases back then. Another cross genre perhaps? 

Your two novels are set in Ancient Rome. Has Ancient Rome always been a passion for you? Have you always written? And what was the first spark that kicked off the desire to write a novel?

Classical Greece and Rome have always fascinated me. I studied Classics because I wanted to read the works of the poets, Homer and Virgil, in their own language as well as understand the times in which they lived (yes, I’m a true nerd!).

Republican Rome is of particular interest to me but my greatest passion is for the Etruscans, a race of people who were conquered by Rome but who influenced the Romans into imperial times. The Etruscans afforded independence, education and sexual freedom to women. As a result there were considered wicked and corrupt by the rest of the ancient world who were busy repressing their wives and daughters.  

From the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Museum
My first book, THE WEDDING SHROUD, was inspired when I discovered a sarcophagus with a life size sculpture of a husband and wife lying on their bed in a tender embrace. Knowing that women were not commemorated in funerary art, I had to know what kind of ancient society would depict both a man and a woman in such a sensuous pose. The answer led me to the Etruscans who lived in an ancient equivalent of a sex, rock and roll culture. 

As for writing, my interest was sparked when I was 8 years old after a composition of mine was read out in school assembly. In my teens I started writing an atrocious novel (since lost to time, thank goodness) but it wasn’t until I had my own children that I decided to actually set aside time in my diary to write a little every week. Consequently, it took ten years to finish THE WEDDING SHROUD.

You are currently working on a new book, CALL TO JUNO, what is it about and is it a sequel to THE WEDDING SHROUD and THE GOLDEN DICE? 

CALL TO JUNO is the third book in my Tales of Ancient Rome series which has its genesis around two lovers who are blamed for starting a war. In The Wedding Shroud, the Roman treaty bride, Caecilia, is forced to marry Vel Mastarna, an enemy Etruscan nobleman, only to find love in his mystical and decadent society. Newly released, THE GOLDEN DICE continues Caecilia’s journey seven years later and poses an entirely different set of dilemmas for her as she is now seen as a traitor by Rome while being distrusted by her husband’s people. I have also introduced two other strong female characters in this book: Pinna, a Roman tomb whore, and Semni, a young Etruscan artisan who becomes a servant in the House of Mastarna. Call to Juno is set in the final stages of the ten year siege and continues to relate the challenges faced by these three women and the men they love. If you’re interested you’ll find more information on the background to the books in this post on my blog.

I’m an Australian author who lives in Sydney with my husband and two sons. A self-confessed Romaholic and Etruscomaniac, I sometimes forget to cook their dinner when I’m visiting ancient Rome and Etruria. Over the years I’ve worked as a solicitor, corporate lawyer and governance consultant but don’t hold that against me. Apart from living in real and imagined times I also exist in the ether at Facebook, Twitter and at my blog Triclinium where I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Alison (two can play at this game!)
The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice are available on Amazon as an ebook and paperback or via other retailers listed on my website

The Golden Dice: A Tale of Ancient Rome

During a ten year siege between two age-old enemies, three women follow very different paths to survive:

Caecilia, a young Roman woman, forsakes her city by marrying the Etruscan Vel Mastarna, exposing herself to the enmity of his people and the hatred of the Romans who consider her a traitoress…

Semni, a reckless Etruscan girl, becomes a servant in the House of Mastarna, embroiling herself in schemes that threaten Caecilia's children and her own chance for romance…

Pinna, a tomb whore, uses blackmail to escape her grim life and gain the attention of Rome's greatest general, choosing between her love for him and her loyalty to another…

In this second volume in the Tales of Ancient Rome series, the lives of women in war are explored together with the sexuality, religion, and politics of Roman and Etruscan cultures, two great civilizations of ancient history.

Here's a question to get you thinking:  What would you do if asked to give up your family, beliefs and home to marry a stranger in an enemy world?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Writers LIfe: Who are you and what do you write?

Ms Stuart glumly contemplates her writing
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, I had coffee with my agent. It was New York and I was having coffee with MY agent in New York. You have to understand for an aspiring author from “downunder” this was pretty exciting. This particular agent had taken on my first book, which eventually came out as BY THE SWORD (no thanks to him… we did in fact part company not so very long after that coffee in a New York Deli). He had ALMOST sold it to Bantam, the editor liked it and wanted to buy it but the marketing department had said “No… we can’t sell it.” and that was that.

The ghist of what my agent was telling me was that, apart from being set in the English Civil War (”unsaleable period of history”), it could not be neatly labelled as either “historical fiction” or “romantic fiction”. “Make up your mind what you are writing,” he told me. “Publishers need to be able to file books in the right part of the bookstore, and you are straddling the fence.”

I didn’t listen, I didn’t learn from what he was saying, I just went right on writing the stories I liked to read - good solid historical fiction with romance. BY THE SWORD eventually found a publisher, as did THE KING’S MAN. Then came a long hiatus which ended with the publication of GATHER THE BONES. That agent would be throwing his hands in the air. What was I thinking? Here was a story set in 1923 (historical), we had a hero/heroine and a HEA (romance) but there were ghosts (paranormal?) and a murder mystery (suspense?). How many fences could I straddle at one go? Of course, because I don't listen, I promptly followed this up with SECRETS IN TIME… It’s time travel with witchcraft…

I have to say there is a genuine craft to writing a good cross genre story - the parts must blend seamlessly. You can't just bolt bits on and hope it hangs together or you end up with a "Frankenbook", as I did when I attempted to change a regency romance with a mystery to a regency mystery with a romance. You are fooling no one - particularly your readers. I have written about my journey with the "Frankenbook" in a previous post: Black Moment of the Writer's Soul.

The “Submission Island” segment of the recent Romance Writers of Australia was an eye opener. A panel of editors passed judgments on different pieces of work submitted by brave authors. They then had to say why they would have passed on the book or asked for more. I have written about this at greater length HERE. What that session did for me was to bring home the lesson that the long ago agent (and a number of loyal friends) have been drumming into my head for the past *ahem* years. MAKE UP YOUR MIND WHAT GENRE YOU ARE ADDRESSING. I knew that…I really did know that…but…but… I like to read the sort of books I write.

Needless to say I returned from Perth feeling a little glum until I picked up the August edition of the Romance Writers Report (the journal of Romance Writers America) and the magazine fell open at this article ‘A DASH OF THIS, A PINCH OF THAT: Serving up a slice of history, mystery and romance” by Anna Lee Huber. What? Isn't that what I write?

Anna Lee Huber, I love you… you are my soul sister.

Anna Lee writes: “…Like a well-brewed cup of coffee, rich dark rum and expertly whipped cream are each delicious, so are historicals, romance and mysteries. But combine all of the elements, and, as Laura Willig said ‘You have the literary equivalent of tiramisu: coffee, alcohol and cream all layered together’…”. I haven’t read any of Laura Willig’s works (or Anna Lee but I have added her to my TBR pile).

It is an excellent article and I am cutting it out and keeping it next to my computer because Anna Lee Huber, has given me permission to write “cross genre novels”. I finally have a “label” I can live with. 

People...READERS… my name is Alison Stuart and I write “cross genre historical novels”. 

As one dear friend who bailed me up in a corner once said. “Ask yourself… if a reader picks up an Alison Stuart do they know what they are getting?” YES! Dear friend, they are getting a cross genre story… There is romance for those who like romance, history for those who like a meaty plot and those extra little elements for people who like ghosts or mysteries or time travel, or medicals… That is who I am, that is what I write. I have changed all my descriptions to read “author of cross genre historical fiction” because I have a label and I am not afraid to use it!

There is of course a downside to this revelation and that is how to sell books, which is a universal problem. As Nina Bruhns said at the Perth conference (paraphrasing). “In today’s publishing world, you can certainly publish that sixteenth century Japanese gay spy story — just don’t expect to pay the bills”. Anna Lee doesn’t have an easy answer for me… (curse you, Anna Lee!). It all comes down to word of mouth. So (pathetic plea follows…) if you have read my books and liked them, tell one other person - that’s all it takes. Or write an Amazon or Goodreads review and if you are a fellow author, remember Julia Quinn’s words of advice from the RWA Conference: “No author ever harmed their career by helping another author.”

Dear readers,if you are looking for historicals with a bit of a difference - that is cross genre historicals, the fine tiramisu of the writing world, try an Alison Stuart. You can find out about them by clicking HERE.

PS. GATHER THE BONES has been nominated for four major awards this year... in several different categories from paranormal through to mainstream. Another downside of cross-genrism!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Taking Tea with - Erin Grace

It has been a busy week for Ms. Stuart with the Romance Writers Conference and definitely time to put the feet up in front of a roaring log fire and enjoy a cup of tea with an old friend, fellow historical romance writer, Erin Grace.

Ms Grace, like Ms. S, is rather partial to dressing the part and has graced previous Romance Writers Conference in full Victorian Costume, including a crinoline and a bustle (not at the same time!). She was missed this year.

Erin, you are a lady of discernment and taste and, I suspect a lover of fine tea. Will you join me in a pot of afternoon tea?

EG:  My afternoon ritual isn't simply to have a huge mug of steaming hot tea (AS...Oh, so sorry...I will put it away!) - no, that's my morning ritual! - afternoon tea is a special time for me. I like to take a few moments to brew a proper cup, warming the pot first then dressing a small tray with my favourite cup and saucer (tea always tastes best from porcelain), milk, sugar and some biscuits to nibble on. (AS...don't mind if I do. My cook is on holiday!)

And whilst I admit I don't always have time for such an indulgence, I found that on my recent travels to the United Kingdom that they take afternoon tea much more seriously. Cake must be had, and biscuits too. Weather permitting, a small table outside would be laid with a pretty porcelain tea set and all the trimmings. Failing that, a delicious 'Cream Tea' of tea, scones, jam and clotted cream, could usually be found nearby to satisfy hungry appetites - dinner wouldn't be til eight.

My first real Cream Tea was had aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, on a lovely sunny day in Scotland. Yes, it really was a lovely sunny day. Hardly the kind of weather to inspire those misty Highland stories I love to write and read.

But for now, I'll just have to pop the kettle on, warm the pot and settle in for some more words about Katie and Callum, the heroine and hero of my coming book 'From the Ashes'.

'From the Ashes' is the sequel to my time travel romance 'Love in Ruins' and should be available before Christmas.

Suppressing a sudden swell of nausea, he forced a smile. “Sure I can ride.” Shit. Ride? Seriously? He hoped there was a shovel somewhere nearby, cause he was getting in deeper by the minute. “But, before we go anywhere, don’t you think it’s about time you told me your name? I mean, if we are to trust each other.”
She glanced away, then brushed a short spiral lock of hair from her face.
“Heather...Heather Macdonald.”
“Okay then, Heather Macdonald. Why do I get the feeling we’re not going to Mackinnon keep?” 
She met his eye with a determined stare. 
“We will be, ye have ma word. But first I must find out what happened ta Robbie. And, if ye have nothing ta hide, then ye willna protest going with me.” She gathered up the reins and nodded toward the horse. “Now, do ye want to be in front or back?” 
Man. At any other moment that question would have had him grinning ear to ear, but this time he wasn’t amused.
On unsteady legs, he approached the animal and determined the best way to mount it without looking like a complete idiot. There didn’t appear to be any stirrups or a saddle to cling onto, and the closest he’d ever come to riding was sitting on a lead pony at a carnival when he was six.
But hey, he’d watched plenty of westerns on television, how hard could it be?

Erin Grace’s love of collecting and reproducing antique lace led to a deep connection with the past. She felt every snippet of the precious fabric held a unique story – one Erin longed to tell.
But, as no two pieces of lace are the same, neither are Erin’s stories. Escaping from her ‘real world’ of sales and marketing, she immerses herself in unfolding tales of dire circumstance, brave heroines, unscrupulous villains and, of course, passionate hot-blooded men.
When not writing, Erin indulges in her love of home-style food by teaching her children to cook. Erin lives with her husband and three sons in the beautiful Blue Mountains of Australia.
To find out more about Erin Grace, visit her website:

Thank you for being my guest this week and sharing some of you work in progress with us. Next time we share a cup of tea I must ask you about your lace. My grandmother, the late Gabrielle Pond was a world expert on antique lace and tried desparately to interest me. I was a total fail...

Monday, August 19, 2013

RWAus13 Day 3 - Exhausted but Happy

First an apology for not getting this out last night but quite honestly, Ms. S is ashamed to say that she didn't make it make to her room until late and then had to pack with an early start on Monday. So the Day 3 report is coming to you live from chilly, damp Melbourne (apparently the weather in Perth is perfect today).

First the Awards ceremony on Saturday evening. Traditionally this has been a formal dinner but this year the conference committee went with a late start, dessert and champagne only affair. This left us free to have an early meal with friends and it was a delight to share fish and chips with Nina Bruhns from Entangled Suspense. A charming and delightful visitor to our shores.
Pretty tables :-)

The room looked stunning with blue swirly spotlights over tables groaning with rich desserts and Baci chocolates. I don't have that much of a sweet tooth and I have to admit, having been awake since 4.00am and surviving a workshop, a roundtable and my traditional role at the AGM...I was actually quite weary! Our little writing group celebrated Sasha Cottman's First Sale

The awards winners can all be found on the RWA Blog but I do want to mention a very special award for an old and dear friend, Bronwyn Jamieson who was awarded Honorary Life Membership. Bronwyn and I met at our first conference in 1997 when she won the Emma Darcy Award and I came second. We have been friends ever since and she has worked her heart out for RWA. Well done, Bron!

RWA's Honorary Life Members:  Alison Stuart, Kez Delaney and Anne Gracie with newest member, Bronwyn Jamieson

Following the Awards was an "After Party". I managed a bad rendition of the "Nut Bush" and went to bed!

Sunday morning kicked off with a Harlequin spotlight. Great supporters of RWA, Harlequin Australia stuck with us through thick and thin. Interesting to see the new lines and move towards Single Title.

The next session was "Survivor Submission Island"--a panel comprising Abby Zidle, Laura Bradford, Nina Bruhns, Margaret Marbury, Joel Naoum and Alex Adsett, publicly appraise anonymous submissions.mThe entries are read out and the panel have a choice of putting up signs that say STOP or MORE and then gave reasons why they stopped when they did. Very interesting...the themes coming through seemed centred on pacing, scenes starting in the wrong place, too much exposition, labored dialogue. One thing that became very clear is the importance of establishing the genre of the story immediately and exactly WHY the synopsis is so important. On more than one occasion the panel members said "If I had the synopsis and could see where this was going...". I've heard of these sessions but never seen one live and kudos to the brave souls who submitted their work. One thing that struck me is how important hearing your work read out loud can be illuminating. It became so obvious where the passages dragged or the writing seemed clunky. One of the best sessions I have seen at a conference for many years.

Nina Bruhns had the next keynote. She has a "post it" on her computer "What is the WORST thing you can do to your characters?". It served as a healthy reminder to stick your characters up a tree and hurl rocks at them! Nina also gave permission to write what you want to write (but don't expect to pay the bills!). It is a question of WHY you are writing (which sort of echoed some of my self discussions of the past few weeks).

We then moved into the Breakouts. So much choice! I had a pitch so I was late coming into Sarah Wendell's workshop on Blogging 101. Actually it was on social media generally. Sassy and funny, Sarah may not have imparted any new information to me but what it did do is confirm that what I am doing in the social media space is about right. Indeed I found myself "tweeting" madly all through the workshops and flattened the battery on my iPad by the end of the day. A few tips I tweeted.

  • Facebook is privileging images so if you want your post seen attach an image.
  • Watch auto tweets...the timing could be inappropriate.
  • Pinterest is about aspirations, doing and being. Not the best place to promote your writing.
  • You MUST have a website because you own the content and it is your professional window to the world.
  • Make yourself available to your readers by providing a way for them to contact you privately.
  • You don't have to have a blog but if you do the key to good blogging is generosity, authenticity and consistency.
On to the Self Publishing Panel with Nina Bruhns, Kandy Shepherd and Cathleen Ross. Why? Well I am looking at plunging myself into the self publishing morass by the end of the year (watch this space!). Key take aways:
  • Have a fabulous book, cover, formatting and most importantly an EDITOR
  • Don't spam people on FB and Twitter with "Buy my book"
  • Reviews are critical
  • Self publishing is a business. You have to invest time and money.
Finally I rounded off the day with a discussion on psychopaths given by Ken Milling. Masters of lies and deception, psychopaths can be charming people. What they lack is empathy. They exist everywhere and can be found in the corporate world (know any? Think James Bond!).

The "Stand ups..." with Anne Gracie
Into plenary for the wind up. A few final words from guests Kim Hudson and Sarah Wendell and the announcement of next year's conference in Sydney (7-10 August 2014...get it in your diaries NOW). Best part of the weekend "the stand ups" orchestrated by Anne Gracie. "Stand up if you...published a book/submitted a manuscript/entered a contest" etc. Always gives me goose bumps!  
An evening of social catch up which I won't go into...suffice to say I shall be glad to be tucked up into my own bed tonight :-)

Thank you for the comments and joining me vicariously in Perth. Until next year :-) Can't wait.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

RWAus Conference 13 - Day 2

Another damp morning in Perth (really...if I wanted this weather I never should have left Melbourne). A HUGE day for your humble reporter.

The "Nautical and Nice" Cocktail Party last night was a blast with a good representation of Pirates (I am a hearties!), vikings and sailors. Winners of the best costume was the Melanie Milburne and her lovely husband...unrecognisable as Olive Oil and Popeye. I suppose with  a room full of creative people, I shouldn't be surprised at the amazing costumes.

Conference proper kicked off this morning with the personable Julia Quinn as the keynote speaker. the theme of her talk was based on lists. She gave us 4 wonderful, affirming lists. No blue sky stuff but practical down to earth advice. She talked about goal setting...not just "I want to be a NY TImes best seller" but to set goals for each manuscript whether published or unpublished. Other items on her list.
  • Finish your book...the world is full of first chapters
  • Have a life outside writing.
  • SAVE your work at regular intervals
  • Help other authors. It may not help your career but could do wonders for theirs.
  • Everyone needs an editor and when you find a good one don't let them go
  • Get a treadmill desk.
Next up were Sheila Hodgson and Margaret Marbury from Harlequin talking about the revitalized E Harlequin and single titles. 

Paths to Third Party Publication panel discussion: Kate Cuthbert (Escape), Bernadette Foley (Hachette), Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press), Nina Bruhns (Entanged), Abby Zidle (Pocket). Some forthright questions about response times and reversion clauses in contracts. We have an educted membership these days!

Unfortunately my first pitch appointment cut across the first breakout session and I had a workshop to prepare for. An early lunch and then straight into the workshop Sasha Cottman and I had prepared on Scrivener for complete beginners. With only an hour to covers such a big topic we had to keep it moving but I think our punters were up to the challenge. We had fun and hopefully won a few converts :-)

From there it was straight into moderating the Published Authors Digital First Roundtable. Wow! How the landscape has changed in 12 months.  The Destiny and Escape Authors were there in force and we had some great conversations around marketing and promotion and most importantly,  the support we can offer each other.

On the RWA AGM. For those of us who were there in 2003 when the organisation nearly folded, we can hardly recognise this organisation today. Nearly 1000 members and a comfortable bank account. It just goes from power to power. So proud to be part of RWA!

So over and out from your Fremantle correspondent for tonight. Time to put my feet up and rest my bones before the Awards Event tonight. Will I have the energy for the After Party? I suspect not!

Post Script:  The "pretty" was in my Inbox this morning. An Honourable Mention from the RONE Awards for Gather the Bones.

Friday, August 16, 2013

RWAus13 - Day One

In 1968 my little family traversed the Indian Ocean from Kenya to Australia (not by boat I hasten to add). We were perfectly respectable assisted settlers who arrived by plane...once we got over that little problem of proving my mother was white. Having been born in Africa and Australia being in the grip of a form of apartheid known as the "White Australia Policy", there was apparently a doubt that mother was anglo saxon in origin. We had to be produced to meet with a visiting member of the Australian parliament!

My father, good military man that he was, had done a reconnaissance and decided on Perth as the place we would settle. There was already a well established community of former colonials in Perth and was the closest place to Africa. Interestingly he swore the LAST place in Australia he would settle was Melbourne.

The "Round House" of Fremantle Jail
Perth in 1968 was by modern standards little more than a large country town but coming from East Africa it seemed like the most amazing metropolis. I can still recall my astonishment that television was not only available 24 hours a day but it came on 3 different channels. I sat glued to Adventure Island and Skippy. We lived across the road from King's Park where I discovered Kangaroo Paws and gum trees and, oddly, jonquils. Whenever I smell jonquils I always think of Perth. We survived the Meckering earthquake and I survived my first 6 months at an Australian school. It was a bruising experience as my mother could not afford the school uniform and for the first term I wore 'civilian' clothes. At the back of the playground as a group of 10 year old girls huddled over a radio, I learned about the cult of the Melbourne Cup and can still tell you that in November 1968 Rainlover won that great race.

But home life was unsettled. Despite his experience Dad couldn't find work and I learned in subsequent years that he and my mother were considering debunking to South Africa when a job came up in...Melbourne. The rest, as they say, is history.

So after that preamble, it is strange to find myself back in Perth. I have only ever been back once before, about 14 years ago, accompanying my husband on a business trip. Perth is the most isolated capital city in the world, being 4 hours flight from the east coast of Australia.

So here I am at the Esplanade Hotel in Fremantle. I recall the Fremantle of 1968 as being a very down at heel, rough port area that no respectable person would visit. These days, like my own home town, it has been gentrified, the lovely sandstone buildings restored and the notorious Fremantle Jail, a popular tourist drawcard. Here you will find the Martime Museum with the Wreck of the Batavia and here you will find the 2103 Romance Writers of Australia Conference.

The festivities kicked off last night with the Penguin Party to celebrate the first birthday of its romance imprint, Destiny. Friday is traditionally the "Workshop" day but this year I passed on the workshop for the chance to attend an "academic" conference - the inaugural Elizabeth Jolley Conference, facilitated by Curtin University. The subject of the conference is Reading and Writing Romance in the 21st century...which one has to admit it is a pretty broad subject.

The wonderful Elizabeth Jolley herself did not write romance and may, if she is looking down on proceedings, be slightly bemused by having her name used in this context. Curiosity more than anything drove my decision and I am glad that I made that choice. I make no pretensions to academia and am constantly bemused by "academic speak" eg "modalities of power in fiction", "Desire and Compulsory Demisexuality in the Romance Novel', "Destabilising Divides and Re-imagining Subjectivities" etc etc. Once you get past that secret squirrel language of the academic there has been some fascinating insights and conversations kicking off with Professor Imelda Whelehan's Keynote address on "Meaningful encounters - 40 years of feminists reading romance".  Unfortunately the romance feminists seem to read is that of 30 years ago, more particularly HMB in which feminist characters are depicted as dowdy and slightly pathetic. It would be interesting to see a feminist perspective on modern romance. I think Professor Whelehan's conclusion is something along the line that there are as many different types of feminism as there are genres of romance fiction and both defy any attempt to box them up and present them as either right or wrong.

Having given myself till lunchtime (with the promise of sightseeing around Freo and maybe a tour of the jail), I found my steps drawn back, only to have to depart early to sort out my room issues (now, mercifully fixed). Tonight is the traditional fancy dress Cocktail Party and conference proper kics off tomorrow. Watch this space!

Esplanade Hotel Fremantle

Friday, August 9, 2013

Taking tea with Té Téa Cooper (and a Giveaway)

It's a cold, wet wintry morning here at the bottom of the world.  I have lit the fire and the crumpets are toasting nicely ready for my next tea guest, fellow historical writer, Téa Cooper. I do hasten to say Téa also writes contemporaries, drawing on her life in the small country town which goes by the improbable name of Wollombi (FOR DETAILS ON THE GAME OF 'WHERE'S WOLLOMBI' SEE BELOW).

Ms. Cooper do sit down… do you take tea? If so what is your preference?

Why yes! I am very fond of tea…I’m beginning to feel a bit like Alice. (AS: I did once play the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland)

I’m rather a creature of habit. It’s all a question of time…What day of the month is it? Are you sure the Mad Hatter isn’t going to appear? (AS:...and I also played the Gryphon in another production of Alice in Wonderland...) 

Right tea! Yes. Love the stuff. English Breakfast, builders’ style, two mugs first thing in the morning. Afternoon … one cup of Earl Grey (sorry I know you hate the stuff) taken black with a slice of lemon, and preferably the odd cucumber sandwich or two. Do you have sandwiches?

AS:  The cook is providing crumpets and honey today...

You have two historical romances set in Australia, LILY’S LEAP and MATILDA’S FREEDOM (more on that book later). I believe the original inspiration for at least one of these stories has a ghostly background. I love a good ghost story, so please tell us about the ghosts of your local museum?

Ah my muse – Wollombi Museum!
The Wollombi Museum
Let me tell you the story of poor Partrick Bruin…It was a dark and stormy night (isn’t it always?) and Patrick, in his infinite wisdom, decided to bail up the local JP one Mr Thomas Crawford. What poor Patrick had forgotten was that while in his cups he had let slip his plans. Mr Crawford and his servants were armed and ready. When they crossed Black Creek, just outside Cessnock, Patrick leapt out to do his dastardly business and they got him in the shoulder, arm and chest. They chucked him in the cart and dumped him off in Wollombi Lock Up at the Court House. When the local sergeant took him a cup of tea in the morning they found him dead in the cell with two pounds two shillings in his pocket.

 Being a good upstanding citizen and JP Mr Crawford sent the proceeds to the Colonial Coroner. Rumour has it that Patrick was pretty annoyed and is still looking for his money….
The Museum is now housed in the old Courthouse and Patrick’s cell, chains and bed are still there. 

Once a month I go and do Museum duty. The first thing of course is to unlock the building and turn on the lights but you have to take it very slowly and make sure you let Patrick know you haven’t got any money in your pocket! I have finally convinced him I’ve never got any money but he still keeps trying it on. I think that’s why he told me about Lily’s Leap!

You also write contemporary stories, set in Australia.  The problem I’ve always had in looking at Australian settings for books is that Australia is a young country at the bottom of the world. How would you sell our wonderful and exciting country as a setting for fabulous stories to the outside world? What is that we have that is unique?

On another dark and stormy night – Christmas Eve to be exact – I was born at Hampton Court, not actually in the Palace but in one of the ‘lesser buildings’ on the river and grew up and went to school just around the corner. All the wonderful English historical heritage sort of seeped into my skin and needless to say I went on to study it at University but Australia fascinated me simply because it had no Hampton Courts, thatched cottages and Roman ruins. I ended up in Australia by accident. I went to India and just kept going. I couldn’t believe what I found.

I’m not answering the question at all am I. Seriously rabbiting on. (AS: Is that a reference to my acting career as a white rabbit?)

Bottom line is I fell in love with the place. Sydney first – the Harbour and the beaches, that’s where the inspiration for my two contemporaries TREE CHANGE and PASSIONFRUIT & POETRY came from. Then I found the Hunter Valley (THE PROTEA BOYS fits in here!) and Wollombi and discovered Australia did have a fascinating history. It was just unlike anything I had ever imagined before.

And Australia is so BIG! I remember someone telling me a long time ago (probably an urban myth but never mind!) if everyone in England went to the coast at high tide, at the same time, they’d have just enough room to stand packed shoulder to shoulder. In Australia, in my back yard even, there are places I can stand and be fairly certain no-one has ever walked there before and then I can turn around and find Aboriginal rock paintings thousands of years old. And besides the sky is higher in Australia!

Your latest book, MATILDA’S FREEDOM, involves a romance between an aristocrat and a convict girl.  We understand about the convict history of our country but perhaps the wider world is a little vague about it. Can you give us a quick potted history on the convict history of Australia and why a romance such as that between Christopher and Matilda should be so fraught with difficulty?

I don’t think I’d describe Christopher as an aristocrat actually. His family would like to have people believe they are….spoiler alert! I’d like to pass!!

Australia wasn’t only a dumping ground for convicts and the few red coated officials who ran the place, all sorts of other people made up society and by the mid nineteenth century the British class system was well and truly entrenched. There were the entrepreneurs who came to Australia intent on making a quick quid, there were the black sheep whose families couldn’t wait to see the back of them, there was the indigenous population who played a significant role in society, and of course there were the original convicts who having served their sentences found all kinds of opportunities. Then gold was discovered and the whole world discovered Australia…and that’s another of the things I love about Australia – the diversity.

Thanks for the lovely tea and chat…is it time for a G & T now? My preference is Bombay Sapphire! (AS: It's ALWAYS time for a gin and tonic!)


An unconventional woman turns a society family upside down in this Australia-set historical… 

Matilda has lost everything, so it feels like a miracle when Christopher Matcham turns up, offering her security, a place to stay, and a position as companion to his teen-aged sisters. Though Christopher likes her fresh outlook and unusual ideas, his family view her as a threat. Christopher has responsibilities – and those include a good marriage that will improve the family’s connections and finances. After all, love is just for the lower classes.

Téa Cooper lives in a stone cottage on one hundred acres of bushland, just outside the time-warp village of Wollombi, NSW Australia. When she isn't writing, Téa can be found haunting the local museum or chatting to the locals, who provide her with a never-ending source of inspiration.Matilda’s Freedom is Téa's second Australian historical romance. Her first Lily’s Leap is available now and she is currently working on her third set on a schooner somewhere between Hobart Town and Sydney.Téa’s three contemporary romances Tree Change, The Protea Boys and Passionfruit & Poetry are available on Amazon.To keep up with all of Téa's news visit her website where you will find links to her blog and social media pages.

(The copyright on the photos are author pic and Wollombi today ©2012HarrisonPhotography and the museum ones and my backyard  ©2013amandaclymo)
Tea's backyard!

Please drop by and feel free to leave a general comment or you can join in a game of WHERE'S WOLLOMBI...a bit like Where's Waldo/Wally only with a town...and the more alliterative you can be... eg Wollombi wanders west of Wollongong...

Next week we are taking a break from tea as Ms. Stuart will be attending the Romance Writers of Australia Conference in Fremantle, Western Australia where she will be reporting on proceedings (and bailing up likely looking writers for future tea dates...)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Writer's Life: Kickstarting the Muse

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy..." so goes the old adage -  and I think that all writing and no play makes Jill a dull writer.

I am reasonably blessed as a writer as I am yet to meet real "publisher deadlines". I have watched so many friends flushed with the euphoria of selling that first book that they spent years writing and polishing and rewriting and repolishing, suddenly going into panic mode when they realise book #2 has to be finished, polished and on the editor's desk in only months. 

I  have no idea how I would cope with that sort of pressure. My muse is a skittish miss at the best of times, I think she would just take to the gin bottle and huddle in a drunken stupor under my desk, where she seems to have spent the better part of this year...

What my muse should be doing...

What my muse is really doing...

Since taking the decision to abandon the book that had been dragging at my ankles for the last twelve months, the muse climbed out from under the desk, took a cold shower and several cups of coffee, did her makeup and is even now, sitting on my shoulder telling me to hurry up and finish this blog because we have to get back to the work in progress.

I have a which is entirely incompatible with writing...or at least writing the way I have been doing it.  I love patchwork and quilting (and yes, I am also a Crazy Cat Lady, so I fit all the stereotypes). The hobby had become entirely suborned to writing.  "MUST...FINISH...THIS...BOOK..." became a mantra I got very tired of so a couple of weeks ago, I took advantage of DH (DARLING HUSBAND) being away for a weekend, hauled all my sewing stuff down to the dining room, covered the house in pieces of material and just worked on my "UFOs" (Unfinished objects), of which there are many...

What I discovered amidst the piles of coloured fabric, was by using my hands and my brain in another creative manner, I had time to think about my current work in progress. As I calculated and measured and matched fabrics, my muse lounged on the sofa and took notes. On Monday morning when I went back to the WIP, I had goals, motivation and conflict worked out for the protagonists and the entire thrust of the story had changed.

I have decided to devote a weekend a month to my hobby. No writing,  just reducing large pieces of material to small pieces of material and sewing them back together again (my husband's observation about patchwork!). 

I am not suggesting that every writer should take up patchwork and quilting (I also do cross stitch). It may be knitting, scrap booking, painting, jewellery making... I have also found gardening has a similar effect in freeing my mind just to range through the work in progress while I tug at weeds.  I think it is that right brain/left brain thing and the connection with using your hands that is hard wired into our DNA. Perhaps someone knows of an interesting article on the subject?

Do you have an alternative creative way of kickstarting the muse...?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Taking Tea with - Elisabeth Rose

A concert standard clarinet playing, tai chi master and author...Meet Elisabeth Rose

I have known Elisabeth Rose for some years now and I am thrilled to have a chance to get to know her better. So settle yourself down, grab a nice ginger biscuit for dunking and let's have a chat with Elisabeth Rose...

My dear Ms. Rose, do you take tea? If so what is your preference?

I’m partial to a cup of tea with milk, thank you. I’m delighted to see you have a very attractive teapot. At home I use leaf tea made in a pot and only occasionally use teabags—Twinings Irish Breakfast. My Mum used to say they swept up the dust from the factory floor to put into tea bags. I always find it disappointing in a restaurant or café to be presented with a tea pot with tea bags in it. I do like Chinese jasmine tea and have several mugs with their own infuser insert for green leaf tea. 
(Thank heavens you didn't mention Earl Grey...AS)

I had a short lived career playing the clarinet. My father complained I sounded like a “Nadi war horn” (a Kenyan joke, I suspect) and on my last exam, the examiner wrote in block letters “CANDIDATE MUST LEARN TO COUNT”.  As I obviously lacked any sense of rhythm, that was the end of me playing a musical instrument. However for you the clarinet is a part of your life. I would love to know more about your career as a musician and the importance of music in your writing?

Gosh, I’ve had students like you! It’s amazing the sounds an inept player can produce from a clarinet — from a ship’s foghorn through a duck to your Dad’s war horn. And teaching someone who has no sense of rhythm is one of the most difficult things of all. (Thanks! AS)

I did a performance degree on clarinet after I left school. I was a member of the 1975 Australian Youth Orchestra and toured Asia with them plus we gave a concert in the Opera House. I never worked in a professional orchestra on a long term basis but I’ve done a lot of freelance playing in pit orchestras for local opera companies over the years. Now I play in a wind trio and we do weddings and functions. I used all that experience in my earlier books because it was the most natural area to start writing in. I invented a fictional orchestra as a basis for different stories — The Right Chord, The Tangled Web, Love On the North Shore Line and Trouble In Nirvana. Strings Attached and Coming Home share a couple of musician characters, Instant Family and Outback Hero feature a guitarist and pop singer respectively.  I always try to incorporate some music into my character’s lives, mostly as listeners in my later books.

Your other great passion is Tai Chi. In the public gardens of Asia I have been continually struck by the beauty and grace of this practice. What drew you to Tai Chi and do you think it could help writers?

I’ve always been interested in wholistic exercise styles. I did yoga for about ten years on and off from about the age of nineteen but stopped when I was pregnant with number two. I enjoyed the stretching and the meditation aspect. A friend showed me some Tai Chi movements. I signed up for classes in 1987 and haven’t stopped practising since then. I was immediately hooked. I loved the flowing movement as opposed to the static postures of yoga and the fact that taught correctly, all the movements have self defense applications which give them purpose and meaning. And meditation or Qi Gong is an integral part of Tai Chi as well.

I think I can safely say I’ve retained joint flexibility, have good leg strength and balance and in my early sixties have no back, hip or shoulder problems because of the length of time I’ve been practicing Tai Chi and before that the yoga. I know a range of simple but effective exercises to alleviate writer’s issues — tightness in my back, neck, wrists and shoulders and add those to my daily routine if I feel I need to. Tai Chi has a slow building cumulative effect which comes from regular practice over a long period of time. Short term benefits can be achieved quite quickly but maintaining that routine is most important. Same as writing and musical instrument practice. Do a bit every day.

My husband and I love travel, so there are  photos of me practicing in all sorts of places in the world.

(The Tai Ci and Chi Kung Academy has a range of dvds with sets of beneficial Chinese exercises and meditation techniques you can learn without an instructor.

I would call you one of the quiet achievers of the writing world. Your books have done tremendously well in prestigious contests and you are now writing for several different publishers at the same time. What is a typical writing day like for you?

Thank you for that lovely compliment, Alison. When I wrote for Avalon there wasn’t much Australian reader feedback because the books went into libraries in the US, were hardcover and thus very expensive to buy and ship. I loved writing for Avalon and they seemed to like my style because they bought eight titles. When, in 2012, the publisher sold to Amazon all the Avalon authors had a sudden whole new exposure with the rerelease of our books in e and paperback format. With Amazon’s promotional department behind us we are all reaching a vastly bigger audience.

I was thrilled to sell to HM&B at last, through the new Escape Publishing imprint. The Ripple Effect came out in April and I’ve just contracted Mango Kisses for a November 1st release.

Listen to me—talk, talk, talk and not answering the question! My days are fairly free flowing time wise so I write any time I’m free but I find I can’t write at night. I always reread what I’ve done previously and go back to layer in emotion and context. I write cleanly as far as grammar and spelling goes. I tend to get dialogue down first then fill in around it. I’m not a plotter but once the story starts moving I spend a fair bit of time thinking about what’s going to happen in a story and character arc sense. Characters constantly surprise me.
(And you always seemed like such a quiet person! AS)

I shall pour us another cup of tea and raise my cup to the success of your latest book, E for England, which was released on 1 August. What was the inspiration behind this story?

My daughter often says ‘Mum, you should write a book about this . . .' . Love On the North Shore Line came from one of her ideas and so did E For England. She lives on the seventh floor of a harbourside apartment block in Sydney. It has a balcony, handy for drying underwear on a clothes rack. Trouble is items sometimes blow off and end up down on the ground. This particular time her favourite Victoria’s Secret knickers —bought in the VS store in Washington — disappeared. She went down in the dark to search for them but they were stuck in the oleander bushes out of reach.  She proceeded to clamber into the shrubbery and try to shake them down. (‘I wasn’t losing them, they cost a fortune!’) Neighbours on the ground floor had a conversation with their window open about what was making such a commotion outside — a cat? possum? Daughter realized they were talking about her and yelled ‘It’s me!
My heroine Annie has the same experience right at the start of the book but her assistant is, of course, the hero, whereas my daughter’s was a young married couple with a broom. 
(Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction! AS)

To find out more about Elisabeth Rose and her books visit her WEBSITE.

E For England can be purchased directly from ESCAPE or from all good online shops

Annie never thought to use underwear to meet a man, but the trick works on her downstairs neighbour, Hugh. Though he’s a handsome English doctor, Annie wants nothing more than friendship. Luckily, neither does Hugh.
But their friendship is shaken and their resolve tested when Annie’s flatmate, sexy and voracious Leonie, meets Hugh. Annie has no claim on Hugh’s nights, but can she bear to lose him to Leonie? And when Annie’s husband suddenly reappears, will Hugh fight for the family he didn’t know he needed?