Vacations and Presentations

While on a vacation in Florida in December, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to promote my latest novel, Ring of Lies and give a presentation to the members of the Suncoast Writers’ Guild, chaired by Edwin Ellis, the director of the Guild.

After my presentation was over I signed copies of my novels and spent time chatting to the members. As everyone was very complimentary on the content of my presentation, I’ve decided to put my notes for the event here, so that any members who couldn’t attend can have access. I hope you find it useful.


Why all books need strong protagonists.

We’ve all read books and been disappointed when the characters fail to meet the demands of the plot. My job as a novelist is to get you totally absorbed in the story from page one to such an extent that you feel as if you are standing in the corner of the room witnessing the action.

So how do we, as writers, achieve that?

The magic key is character development – the one element that can define a book as a success or a failure.

Every work of fiction needs a hero – he may be a detective in a crime novel, an astronaut battling the alien in a science fiction book, the war hero in an historical, or in the case of romantic suspense, he’s the guy the heroine finally falls in love with.

Regardless of the genre, they all have something in common. They have to be someone you, the reader, can identify with. Someone you will care about. Moreover, it’s not just the main protagonists who need to be interesting, the villains should be compelling too. Otherwise, I’m pitting tough, intelligent protagonists against stupid villains which lead to a dull, contrived plot.

The romantic hero or protagonist differs from other heroes in fiction in that he must evolve from being self centered with a closed heart to loving fully, in other words, he must learn to commit.

At one time, he was required to be single, sexy, sweet (although that might not be evident at first), smart, and of course, solvent. But tastes have changed over the years. We no longer want the classical tall, dark and handsome hero of Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte. Although, that said, my heroes do fit the stereotype to a certain degree, only because I’m short and never had much luck with blond haired men.

Bonnie Tyler’s song ‘I need a hero’ sums up the modern romantic hero perfectly. He’s strong, intelligent and somewhat larger than life. Not only is he a good ‘people reader’ and able to see through everyone’s lies, he also has to be human, make mistakes and learn from them as we all do. He’s the guy we want on our side. The one who’s a little bit dangerous, the one our mother warned us about when we first started dating.

His strengths are the qualities that make the heroine and the reader fall in love with him.

But how do I create this desirable male?

Like many novelists, I write a short biography for each of my characters, other authors prefer to use a chart such as the one to be found on this website : http://www.epiguide.com/ep101/writing/charchart.html I include physical attributes, such as height, weight, hair and eye colour, whether they have any tattoos or scars. I also include such things as whether they had a college education, can drive and own a car, what their employment is. Some novelists I know write two or three pages on each character, but I would suggest you add as much or as little detail as you are comfortable with.

But you need to know more than your character’s background. You have to place them in conflict with each other and give them goals.

So what do I mean by goals?

The external goal is usually something simple and obvious – catch the killer or thief, solve the mystery and find the priceless antique. The villain’s goal, on the other hand, might be to exact revenge on the police officer who put him in jail or destroy the small town that shunned him. It is the external goal that drives the plot forward, and obviously, the protagonist’s goal is going to directly conflict with the antagonist’s external goal.

For example, in my latest novel, Ring of Lies, Grace Elliott’s goal is to discover her dead husband’s true identity and find out where the money to purchase the beach house on Gasparilla Island came from.

The internal goal is usually an emotional goal, hidden in the hero or heroines psyche, something which reveals an area of vulnerability. For example, a female police officer’s goal might be to catch the criminal, but her internal goal is to win the approval of her colleagues and family.

For example, in Three Weeks Last Spring, Walker’s external goal is to catch whoever is poisoning the fish in Puget Sound. His internal goal is to overcome his fear of commitment because every woman he’s ever dated has walked out on him when she learns how often he is working away from home.

Whatever the internal goal, the hero and heroine have to change and evolve during the course of the novel and become better persons through their relationship with each other.

The key is to create characters that are strong in their ideals and values, but who are prepared to listen, and if necessary change during the course of 100,000 words. After all, you don’t want to be three chapters into writing your novel only to realize you hate your characters. If you don’t like them, neither will your readers.

But internal and external goals and inner conflict isn’t the only trait characters need. To create tension and excitement, something must impede both the protagonist and antagonist achieving their goals. Without it, there is nothing to make the reader keep turning the page. Every major character must have something to lose as the book reaches the final climax.

It’s the combination of all these factors – believable characters and a realistic plot which makes a novel an enjoyable read. If I can achieve that, then I know I’ve done my job well.

Talks and Puppy Dog Tales….

Writing is, for the most part, a lonely profession, but once in a while I receive an invitation to give a talk. A couple of weeks ago, I spent a delightful morning talking to the members of the Parkgate Branch of the University of the 3rd Age.

For those of you unfamiliar with the name, the University of the 3rd Age is an organization for those people no longer in full-time employment. Members can take part in educational, creative, and leisure activities including, languages, music, computing, bird watching, crafts, and of particular interest to me, literature and book groups.

This was my second talk to members of the U3A, and I can honestly say that on both occasions I felt welcome. I had a great time talking about my books, writing and the publishing industry. Thank you Birdwell and Parkgate Branches for inviting me, I just hope I didn’t waffle on for too long!

I said at the start of this post, that writing is a lonely profession, and it is. For the last ten years I’ve had a constant companion in the form of my Border collie, Lucy. Sadly, Lucy passed away in December. Since then the house, and my office, have been a quiet, empty place. No more.

Meet Rosie, my nine week old Border collie.

Like her predecessor, she’s intelligent, (too intelligent at times) and is now my constant companion. There’s not a room or place I can go without her following me. Given time, I know that will change, but for the moment, I kind of enjoy being a surrogate mum, although she’d rather I played with her than write. But I like a good challenge, so I’m finding new, interesting ways to make book number three come to life.

London Book Festival 2009

The winners of the London Book festival Annual Competition 2009, http://londonbookfestival.com/portal/content.asp?ContentId=600 honouring the best of international publishing have been announced, and I’m delighted to say that my novel, The House on the Shore, received an honourable mention.

The House on the Shore is a romantic suspense novel set in Scotland. It interweaves the lives of Anna, a scholar who is reaching for her long-buried creative dreams, and Luke, an American artist, who is running from his tumultuous past. One man stands between them and happiness. And survival.

Recently, The House on the Shore was shortlisted for the Joan Hessayon New Writers Award 2009, presented by the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the United Kingdom’s counterpart to Romance Writers of America.

“The House on the Shore is a sensually suspenseful story filled with non-stop action, romance, and mystery. The facts of Scotland are told with brilliant description that bring the land to life and leave you feeling as if you have stepped out of your world and into the pages. Ms. Howard uses such passion and emotion when telling her story, making the tale flow right along until the last page is turned. With many different characters that will keep you guessing, this novel is the perfect example of how a suspenseful story should be told. …Thrilling until the very end, this book has a who-done-it attitude with such an aching tone of sensuality and love, it will keep you up all night just so you can finish this fantastic tale.” —Danielle. Reviewer for Coffee Time Romance & More

Book signings, radio shows and talks!

This week has been a rollercoaster ride, and it’s not over yet!

Monday evening I attended a talk given by best selling author of romantic comedy, Adele Parks. It was good to take time out from working on my third novel to listen to Adele read excerpts from her new novel, ‘Love Lies,’ and to hear how Adele approaches the writing process.

I spent most of yesterday away from my desk visiting my best friend and my goddaughter on the Wirral. It’s always a pleasure to see them, and the time spent in their company yesterday was no exception. While we were chatting over a cup of coffee my cell phone rang. More often than not I forget to switch the darn thing on, so it was a surprise to learn the call was from the producer for BBC Radio Sheffield inviting me to take part in a programme called “Girl’s Talk.”

Not only that; I arrived home to find a message on my answering machine from the organiser of the local branch of the University of the Third Age inviting me to talk to their group.

This morning I received an email informing me that my interview with host Don McCauley of The Author Show, http://www.wnbnetworkwest.com/WnbAuthorsShow.html, be available on Friday 7th August. This weekend I shall be signing copies of my novels, The House on the Shore and Three Weeks Last Spring, in Borders Books, Warrington, and on the 14th August at 11.30 I can be heard on Girls’ Talk on BBC Radio Sheffield http://www.bbc.co.uk/southyorkshire/radio_sheffield/.

Saturday 15th August will find me signing books in Borders Books in Stockport, and I be talking to the readers’ Group at Borders Books, Cheshire Oaks on Wednesday the 19th August.

And in my spare time? Well, hopefully you’ll find me hard at work on my manuscript!

Readers’ Groups

Thank you to Jill Craven, Reader Development Officer for Barnsley Libraries, and all the members of Dodworth Readers’ Group for making me feel so welcome on Tuesday evening. There’s nothing nicer than talking about books with people who love books too.

While I’m no stranger to chatting to people in book stores during signing events, I’ve never stood in front of an audience and given a ‘formal talk’ before.

Now I’ve been interviewed by the local paper and by BBC Radio Sheffield, but the idea of addressing an audience really made my knees knock! Not only was the prospect daunting, I also had to think about what to say. Fortunately, Jill had given me plenty of time to plan my talk, but I still had to decide whether the members would want to learn about how my plot for The House on the Shore came about, or whether they’d like to hear about my writing process. And should my talk be ‘off the cuff’ or planned down to the last comma and full stop?

I’ve attended author talks before, and most of the speakers have the audience rolling in the aisles, but I’ve never thought of myself as a funny person. Oh, I enjoy a joke like everyone else, but I’m not known for coming out with witty or pithy phrases.

So it was with some trepidation that I set out on a rather damp Tuesday evening. But I need not have worried. The ladies I met were charming and I managed to raise a laugh or two from them when I told them about my own experience of staying on my own in a remote Highland croft!

Jill is a mine of useful information for any writer, and through her kindness I’ve made many useful contacts. Thank you, Jill!

And I raise my glass to the ladies of the Dodworth Readers’ Group. Not only did you listen to me, but you made me feel very welcome. I had a lovely time talking to all of you, and the supper afterwards was fabulous. Stephen especially liked the scones!

Author Events

Gone are the days when most authors could sit back and let their publisher sell their book. Nowadays authors new and established often get little marketing help, and the prospect of doing it yourself can be daunting. But with a little perseverance and a little practice it can be fun, especially if you enjoy talking to people, as I do.

I’ve been fortunate; every Borders Books store I have approached has agreed to host a book signing event for me. So far, I’ve met readers in Batley, Leeds, Cheshire Oaks, York, and only last weekend, I was in Inverness.

And while the shoppers might have co-operated, sadly the same can’t be said of the weather. I’ve roasted in York, and been rained on in Inverness. The British weather has an odd affect on shoppers. When it rains, they seem to flock to the stores in droves, and conversely, when the sun is shining and there’s no need for raincoats and umbrellas, they stay away!

Everyone I’ve met has been charming, which makes my job of engaging them in conversation and telling them about my book and the writing process, a pleasure.

Surprisingly, everyone who purchased a copy of The House on the Shore during the signing in York lived in Scotland, and what’s more, within fifty miles of where I used to live in Keith. Even more surprising, was the encounter in Inverness with a gentleman who at one time taught at Queen Mary Grammar School in Liverpool – my first grammar school. And while in a restaurant that same evening, I bumped into the guy who cut my hair during my twenty years living in Scotland! It just goes to prove what a small world it really is.

But occasionally, you do meet strange people, for example, the child who just stood in front of the signing table and stared at me for what seemed like hours in Barnes and Noble in Dayton, Ohio, and the pleasant gentleman in York who wanted to tell me what was wrong with our current government here in the UK (as if I didn’t know!).

What if someone asks seemingly endless questions about writing a novel and the publishing industry, or just wants to stop and talk about the weather, before walking away without purchasing a book? I smile and remind myself that an author event, be it a book signing session or an author talk, is a means of a creating a presence – getting your name out there and interesting people in your work. Any sales they generate are a bonus. And if you’re very lucky the local media might take an interest.

So, if you’ve a spare half hour or so, and happen to be in any of the following bookstores over the coming weeks, pop in and say ‘hello,’ and see if I can’t tempt you into buying a book – preferably mine!

Saturday 1 August 2pm-5pm Borders Books, Speke

Saturday 5 August 11am-3pm Borders Books, Warrington

Saturday 15 August 2pm–5pm Borders Books, Stockport