Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Celebrity Big Brother - the Final!

And the winner is...

As those of you who've read my debut romcom Doubting Abbey know, it features a reality show Million Dollar Mansion, in which run-down stately homes vie with each other to win a million dollars, to secure their financial future.

I guess it was inevitable that I would eventually write about this subject. The reality show genre is one I have always favoured. From the very first Big Brother to Celebrity Love Island and Strictly Dancing, there's something fascinating about watching people - famous or ordinary - strive to achieve something out of their comfort zone, whether that's to live in a house with a bunch of strangers, to the Rumba or ski-jump... It can inspire and the emotional  journey they undergo is always good viewing.

So this year's Celebrity Big Brother? It's been one of the best, yet, at the same time, uncomfortable to watch. Clearly some participants are in the house out of financial need, not a burning desire to live through the Big Brother experience. Jim and Dappy, both lovely, have been the biggest surprises to me - along with Liz Jones who, despite her tough hack reputation, came across as a gentle woman. After the turmoil of the Lee, Casey and Jasmine love-triangle, and Jim and Linda's backbiting, the last couple of days have been a pleasant end to a rollercoaster series. Daddy Jim, bonkers Dappy or True Gent Ollie to win, please.

Here is what some of my fellow writer fans of the show think:

Eve Mitchell - author of Seven Days, out with Scholastic Feb 15
I've enjoyed this series, even though I've watched the majority of it behind my cushion, cringing. I've can't help thinking so much is scripted now - especially the fake Ollie (grow some balls) and Sam (who?) relationship. I would like Luisia to win I think, but I really don't mind.

CL Taylor - author of The Accident, a tense, edge of your seat psychological thriller
Definitely one of my favourite CBBs - a little short on comedy (other than the Liz Jones bath scene) but full of sex, scandal and screaming rows. I like to pretend I watch reality TV because I'm an author and it's a form of people watching but the truth is it's TV that doesn't require me to engage my brain and, after 12+ hours of the day job, novel writing and toddler wrangling that's more than welcome!

Karen Clarke - short story and romantic comedy writer
This is the best series ever of CBB in my opinion, thanks to the mix of characters, which I'm sure was more good luck than management on Channel 5's part! I've never changed my mind so many times, liking someone then going off them, then liking them again. I didn't think I'd like Liz Jones, but did and actually wouldn't mind if Jim Davidson won and I NEVER thought I'd say that!

Kelly Florentia - writer of women's fiction
It can't be easy. I think certain cirumstances bring out different aspects of your personality. Generally, people would describe me as a laid back kind of person, but I think I'd go mad in there.

Portia MacIntosh - author of Between a Rockstar and a Hard Place, out 12th February from Carina UK 
This series of Celebrity Big Brother had been amazing. I think the reason it has been so great is because the celebs involved seem to have momentarily forgotten that they're celebrities at all. They're being housemates - falling out, getting together, making fools of themselves and most importantly making us laugh. Celebs can be so uptight and overly concerned with their public image, so this series has been a nice change.

So what do you think? Who's your winner? And what will we all do with our evenings after tonight's final?!

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Aspiring Novelists - Learn From My Mistakes

Not a pretty sight, is it? Or some, might say, it's impressive. Either way, that pile represents the work I've put in, over the years, in trying to get published.

I'd written, ahem, let's just say a few novels before getting a publishing deal for my debut romantic comedy, Doubting Abbey. A bit like kissing lots of frogs to find your prince, quite a number of submissions went out, over the years, before I found Harlequin's Carina UK.

So what mistakes did I make along the way? Here's the benefit of my knowledge for you.

1 - Don't set yourself a New Year's Resolution of "to get published" like I did, as this is an unrealistic goal. Set yourself small achievable (and therefore ego-boosting) steps such as "this year I will complete my novel" or " this year I will take the plunge and send my book out to agents".

2 - Don't write novels for years, without writing short stories as well. The short form will help you in so many ways and really focus your eye on chapter structure and padding in your work which needs to be cut out.
Also, if you make a short story sale, this will be a real boost and form of validation, if your novel rejections are  piling up.

3 -  Don't nudge about submissions too early. I am the most impatient person on earth and in retrospect some of my early nudges probably resulted in a straightforward rejection. Having said  that don't wait forever either - you deserve the courtesy of a reply within a few months. 

4 - Get feedback on your work. I didn't do this with my first novel until I'd written the whole thing. Join an online forum like WriteWords where you can join groups and get critques. Or, if you can afford it, get an editorial report done on one of your manuscripts, from agencies like Cornerstones and BubbleCow (both of which I have used to my satisfaction.)

5 - To save unnecessary tears, try to accept, early on, that your journey might be a long one. When I started out, in my late thirties, writing novels, I was convinced I'd be published by the age of forty. That was very naive looking back. I had a lot to learn about my craft.

6 - Don't mentally hinge all your self-worth on becoming a published author. I did this for a long time and it's not good for the soul. Remind yourself of all the other things you are great at - being a parent or partner or in your full-time job... Writing may be your vocation but if your journey to publication is a rocky one, you must try to distance yourself from the criticism, disappointments and rejection you will meet. Yet another " no" from an agent does not mean you are a failure - it means you are forging your way forward, getting your work out there.

7 - And finally, my journey to publication has been a rollercoaster of emotions and dress sizes... Try not to get into the habit of eating chocolate over the keyboard!

Friday, 17 January 2014

New Spring Cover for Doubting Abbey!

I am thrilled  reveal the new spring cover for Doubting Abbey! With its pretty cherry blossom and warm green lawns, it will doubtless sweep away any winter blues!

I am currently writing the sequel which promises more of Gemma's bonkers escapades. I'm very happy to know i'm going to be spending every day of the next few weeks with her!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Downton Interview with... Author Lynn Marie Hulsman!

Hello Lynn, great to have you visit my Doubting Abbey blog! I hope you enjoyed the Downton Xmas special as much as I did -  particularly the ending with Mrs Hughes and Carson in the waves! I'm wondering if we can e expect a Lady Chatterley- esque affair between Edith and the farmer...!

Which character out of the series would you love to take the credit for creating? I’d love to have thought up those sharp put-downs given to the Dowager Countess!
There's no denying that the Dowager Countess has the best one-liners, and perhaps the sharpest point of view. She's so quotable! How could anyone NOT love her? There's another great character on the other side of the green baize door, though, who is richer and more well drawn in my opinion: Daisy. As a kitchen maid, she has little power and little chance for advancement. She's offered a chance to marry a servant whose father has a little money and property, but doesn't jump at the chance because she feels it's immoral. She considers long and hard before deciding that the kindest thing to do it to give him his dying wish. When she later falls in unrequited love with Alfred, she models the ideal of "if you love something, let it go" and finds a way to wish him well when he chooses a future that has nothing to do with her. For an innocent, uneducated girl of the time, she shows great introspection and wisdom. 
Yes, it is wonderful watching Daisy mature, as the series progresses... So who is your favourite character out of your own novel, Christmas at Thornton Hall?
Without a doubt, it's Juliet, the protagonist. She's a young woman with a lot of strength and a lot of skills. She's at a crossroads in her life. Characters facing forks in the road, struggling with choices, are my favorites. She makes a lot of rookie mistakes on her journey, and has to live with the consequences. She learns as she navigates and effects change. 
My debut novel Doubting Abbey features a stately home, Applebridge Hall… Can you tell us a bit about your own creation, Thornton Hall?
Thornton Hall exists only in my head, but I can see every door, stair, and archway. The drive off of the main road to the house is impossibly long as the family owns acres upon acres of land. It's a stately home in the Cotswolds featuring the duality of inherited English country houses: It's at once luxurious and crumbling. Stocked with ancient rugs, heirloom silver, and antique furniture, it's walls are filled with mice and the floorboards creak and complain from age. Money, however, allows the family to kit it out with modern conveniences such as a top-shelf Aga, specialty ice-makers, central heating, and a fleet of cars and trucks for every occasion. There's a fireplace in nearly every room, and there's so much fine wood, leather, and flagstone, that it could be mistaken for a gentleman's smoking club. The land is populated with outbuildings, such as cottages for the staff, a slightly less stately home for the family to branch out into, an apple store, stables, and even an orangerie. I certainly wouldn't mind staying in one of the bedrooms outfitted with ultra-high thread count sheets, or cuddling up to read with a hot toddy in the library.
It sounds like the perfect destination for a weekend break! 

Which male character out of Downton attracts your romantic attention, and can you tell us a bit about your novel’s hero?
My ego says Lord Grantham, because like all women I fancy myself to be so special that I could unmelt the heart of someone proper who wears his emotions close to his vest if given half a chance. I think he's handsome, and alpha. You can't argue with that as an attractive combination. My middle-class upbringing, however, launches me toward Branson. His bravery in flouting convention, and the strength of his ideals are as attractive to me as they were to Lady Sibyl. My novel has two heroes, arguably. Our girl, Juliet, thinks with her body and her emotions more often than she does with her head. One object of her curious desire is Jasper Roth, a powerful American banker who knows his own mind and takes what he wants. She delights in knowing that she is something he wants, but cannot snap his fingers or pull out his wallet to acquire. The other magnet for her attention is Edward, the Hall's head chef. Ex-military, he's a renegade with tattoos and his own morality, but he knows the rules and how to navigate within their parameters. He's a heady combo of the perfect soldier and servant and outlier.
Funnily enough the hero in Doubting Abbey is also called Edward...!

Would you rather live upstairs or downstairs?
While I think it's more interesting downstairs because the folk there don't have to worry as much about societal constructs. However, as I answer these questions, I'm just really tired. Lots of holiday cooking, cleaning, driving, and unpacking has left me depleted. So, today I would most decidedly like to be upstairs. I want someone to bring me tea, lay out my dinner, and dust the corners of my house. Even if it means I have to put on a ball gown the minute I step out of bed. 
Who do you root for most - Edith or Mary?
Edith! Poor girl. She's the Jan Brady or the Fredo Corleone of the Crawley family. The horrors Mary has visited upon her, thwarting her chances at happiness with men, incense me. Mary already has high status. She doesn't need to lower Edith's. I like that she began as so meek and unsure, and it now beginning to see that she deserves her slice of the pie, even if it comes at the cost of other peoples' comfort.
Who would you prefer to employ as your personal chef - Mrs Patmore or Daisy?
I can't see breaking them up. I'd pay whatever it would take to keep them as a team.
Julian Fellowes is also an actor – are you creative in any other way, apart from writing?
Yes, I'm a performer.I left college with a double major in theatre and English. I did an apprenticeship at The Williamstown Theater Festival and had a chance to work with Austin Pendleton, Frank Langella, Ed Begley, Jr., James Whitmore, and other greats. I co-founded an all-femail sketch comedy group that performed at Caroline's and headlined at the Austin, TX Big Stinkin' Comedy Festival. I did stand-up for years, and hosted shows at Don't Tell Mama and Rose's Turn. Currently, I'm the artistic director of ComedySportz New York, an improv company that does both training and performance. On the home front, I cook and bake, and am happy to have had the opportunity to co-write and write cookbooks. 

That sounds really interesting, Lynn Marie! Thanks so much for joining me and best of luck with your book! 
Thank you for having me, Sam! I'm so excited that Rom Com and Chick Lit is making a comeback with new presses, new authors, and new books like Doubting Abbey.

Lynn Marie lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Find out more here.

Why not buy Christmas at Thornton Hall, published by digital-first Harper Impulse, here.

"At 28, Juliet Hill is finally ready to be a grown-up. Her New Year's plan of leaving behind a career as chef to the rich and famous in order and go back for her Ph. D in psychology is sure to satisfy both her ultra-logical psychiatrist mom and her buttoned-up lawyer boyfriend. She'll be on the right road to stability right after one last Christmas stint in private service at Thornton Hall, arguably one of the grandest estates in the swanky Cotswolds region of England (think The Hamptons, but with thatched roofs).
Unfortunately, true to her nature, she can't convince her brain to override her heart when sticky situations arise involving lies, paternity, a one-night stand and poison mushrooms! Is a sane and predictable life in the cards for our passionate pastry prepper? Can this creative girl toe the line, leaving her secret spice blends and unpredictable men behind? On the road to womanhood, sometimes decisions are made for us, and other times we have to cook up our own destiny. Join Juliet's journey as she straddles the line between romance and reason."