Category Archives: Writing Advice

How To Write An Engaging First Chapter

I met up with the inspiring London Writers’ Cafe group again last week, at our usual haunt at a local pub near Liverpool Street station. This time the topic was “First Chapter Feedback”.

We had all submitted our first chapters and went along excitedly to hear what literary agent, Ella Diamond Kahn, thought about our work.

Ella was one of those lovely, chatty agents who freely offered heaps of advice to budding authors. She began by giving us some very useful tips on how to write an eye-catching first chapter. I’ve summarised the key points below:

  • Engage the reader from the first word.
  • The first sentence is the most important. Use it effectively. Short, punchy or catchy works best, but longer sentences can be effective too.
  • Root the reader in the main character by bringing out their personality, their quirks, their uniqueness. Avoid anonymity by introducing the main character immediately.
  • Create a sense of place and atmosphere in your first chapter. This helps to anchor the reader and let them know where the story is set. Without this, readers can get confused.
  • Focus on what is happening in your first scene, rather than overloading the reader with information. The info you can filter in throughout the chapter, or later on in the book. You have 70,000 to 90,000 words in which to dish out information. Don’t dump it all in the first chapter. Leaving the reader with things to find out also creates the will to read on.
  • Resist over-elaborate descriptions. While some description is vital, using too much flowery language can be off-putting and confusing for the reader. If you’re submitting to an agent, let them “get it” without having to work too hard. BTW. This was a very common mistake, and one that was pointed out repeatedly, later in the meeting, during the personal critiques.
  • Don’t start with a lot of dialogue. It’s important to ground the reader and dialogue can be a bit confusing before the characters are introduced, or before the reader has a feeling for who is talking. Also, don’t use dialogue as a device to info dump. For example: He pointed upwards. “The Eiffel Tower is an iron lattice tower located on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France. It was named after the engineer Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower.” This doesn’t ring true, unless your speaker is a tour guide.
  • Land your reader in the middle of the action.
  • Be consistent with your tense and narration. Don’t switch from first to third person, or stick in bits of omniscient narrative. Head-hopping is confusing for the reader. Ground the reader in the first chapter by keeping your narrative and tense steady.
  • Try to create a sense of anticipation in the first chapter, that gives the reader an idea of your plan for the rest of the story. This makes the reader feel like they’re in good hands, that the journey you’re going to take them on is well planned, and will be satisfying.
  • Raising questions in the first chapter is a great device, especially if the protagonist doesn’t know what is going on. This gives direction to the novel.
  • Little clues planted in the first chapter are always a good idea, especially if you’re trying to show that this is an alternative world, or a different time.

After keeping us scribbling manically for half an hour, Ella, who had kindly pre-read all of our first chapters (where does she find the time?), went through them one by one, offering constructive criticism along the way.

I’m not going to divulge the short-comings of my own personal offering, but I am going to summarise the most common errors that she found. This will highlight what to concentrate on when writing/re-writing/editing your own first chapter.

  • Many first paragraphs fell into heavy descriptions which detracted from the story.
  • Switching from first person to omniscient disorientates the reader.
  • Be careful of disembodied body parts (a personal hate of Ella’s). E.g. gaze swimming, eyes darting, arm reaching out…
  • Always, always proof read your manuscript for typos before submitting to an agent. Even though we all know this, it was amazing how many typos there were in those submissions.
  • It might be better to hint at a place, rather than spell it out. For example, the thick, tropical trees… the dust… the funicular (all means they’re in a mine, rather than just saying, “In the mine…”)
  • Avoid stereotypical dialogue. Inject more personality into your speakers.
  • Orientate the reader before launching into dialogue. Many writers began with dialogue, without letting the reader know who was speaking, or why. And if the dialogue doesn’t inform the reader, they will be confused.
  • Avoid information dumps.

I was amazed to find that out of a diverse group of about 20 writers of different genres, all of the mistakes/comments were variations of the above. This type of feedback, I think, is invaluable to authors, whether they’re starting out or established. It pays to go over that first chapter to hone out the common mistakes, tighten the prose, engage the reader, leave clues, inject personality and basically raise the overall quality of your writing.

Have you got any tips or advice regarding first chapters that you would like to share? If so, we’d love to hear what you have to say. Please leave your comment below.

ella diamond kahnElla Diamond Kahn is co-founder of Diamond Kahn & Woods Literary Agency.  She represents upmarket commercial adult fiction across all genres, with a particular interest in historical fiction, science fiction, and crime, and some non-fiction. She also represents a wide range of children’s fiction for the 9-12 and YA age groups.

Jim’s Writing Masterclass

James-Patterson-006After seeing so many internet adverts pop up on my screen about James Patterson’s Masterclass, I felt like the universe (or the God of Google’s Search Algorithms) was trying to tell me something.

So eventually (after a relaxing two week break on a Greek island recharging my batteries), I succumbed and downloaded the class.

Let me say outright that for me, it was money well spent. Jim, as I now think of him, shares a great deal about his writing process… What works for him, what makes him more efficient, plus he gives us heaps of useful advice to incorporate in our own writing or “tricks of the trade” as he calls them.

These little gems are what makes our writing easier, faster and just plain better. I listened to the entire masterclass in one day, scribbling away on my notepad, pausing only to fetch my son from school, and making supper. I felt like the tips kept on coming. The hard part, I think, is remembering to implement all of this stuff in my manuscript and writing process. Even now, while I’m well and truly into writing my next book, I keep going back to those notes I made, to remind myself of the advice he gave.

As he says, the more you write, the better you’ll get, and building good habits now will help you improve faster. So I’m focusing on my writing process, and trying to implement as many of Jim’s tips as I possibly can.

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He covers things like what it takes to write. Do you have the passion? It’s okay if you don’t, but that just means you aren’t cut out to be a writer, and your talents probably lie elsewhere.

He talks about how he finds ideas for his novels, and how to throw it all together in an engaging plot. This was a big section for me. I scribbled furiously as he talked about plot lines and how to keep the reader turning those pages.

With any complex novel, be it crime, or romance, or literary fiction, there is always going to be an element of research. Jim tells us how to research effectively, and how to incorporate this into our writing.

The outline is a big deal for Jim, and many other authors I’ve listened to or read about. The more complex the plot, the more essential the outline. An author needs a road map to refer to along the way, and Jim shows us how to do this effectively.

Characters are a big part of any novel. For romance, they are the driving force. The characters are what the reader relates to. They share their experiences and laugh with them, and cry with them. So Jim’s notes on creating memorable characters were extremely useful for me.

Other chapters include dialogue, creating suspense, and editing, as well as those all-important first lines that have to hook the reader. He covers marketing and promotion at the end, which although is important, shouldn’t become the focus of our work. The most powerful marketing tool you’ll ever have, is your book.

I feel I’ve truly benefited from doing Jim’s Masterclass and, in my opinion, even if you get nothing from the course content, it is worth it for pure inspirational value. The day after I finished the course, I sat down and wrote 4000 words in one sitting. James Patterson is motivational and his love of his craft shines through.

Here’s a link to James Patterson’s Masterclass if you want to check it out – https://www.masterclass.com.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a quote from James Patterson:

“Keep that passion alive. It’s going to drive you through the hard times, and really make you enjoy the good times.”

Have you listened to Jim’s Masterclass? If you have, I’d love to know your opinion? Did you feel it was worth the money spent? What great advice did you get out of it? Let us know in the comments below.

 

 

How To Write A Synopsis

It’s a generally acknowledged fact that the synopsis is the hardest part of any submission to write. Sure, you can write 60,000 words, but when it comes to summarising it in a catchy, emotive and well-written synopsis, authors freeze.

Last weekend I attended a very useful agent feedback evening with the London Writer’s Cafe run by PR guru, Lisa Goll. Here, agent Ben Clark and editorial genius Ben Seales spoke to us about what goes into a synopsis and what they consider to be one that will catch your prospective agent or editors attention.

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An avid crowd had gathered in the pub’s meeting room, pens poised, ready for feedback. Below, I’ll share with you what the main points of the discussion were:

Four essential elements of any synopsis, according to Ben Seales, are:

  1. Plot outline – Outline the key turning points in your plot. Agents want to see where the story is going and how it ends.
  2. Tone – Try to mimic the tone in your novel.
  3. Emotional arc – Your characters personal arcs need to be fully expressed here.
  4. Back story – Detonate your back story in two or three key moments in your synopsis.

Synopses should be between 300 and 1000 words. Ben Clark stressed that he prefers shorter synopses, and that as an agent he reads the covering letter first, then the chapters submitted and then if he likes what he sees, he’ll read the synopsis to see where the story is going.

Here are some other key pointers:

  • Keep your synopsis short (this is a recurring theme for both experts)
  • Make sure you include the ending of your story in your synopsis.
  • Show that you are able to write in your synopsis. Agents and editors can work on ironing out plot points with you, but they need to know up front that you can write.
  • Include your main characters and motivations, even a one-line bio on the character if it gives the agent a better sense of who he or she is.
  • Cut out all excess words such as “and then”.
  • Your synopsis should flow, and have a narrative voice that mimics your own, as in your novel. This is difficult to do but helps give the agent a sense of how you write.
  • Synopses are really useful when pitching a series or film or foreign rights. The editors use them to pass on to other industry third parties.

If you’re struggling with your synopsis, here are some links that might help:

https://literaryconsultancy.co.uk/media/press-publicity/how-to-write-a-synopsis/
https://janefriedman.com/novel-synopsis/
http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/Synopsis.html

The Panellists:

• Agent Ben Clark, LAW Literary Agency 

• Editor Ben Seales, Ebook Editorial

If you have any tips to share on writing a synopsis, please share in the comments below. We’d love to hear your feedback.

Thanks and happy writing!

~ Louise

Turning to Crime

This weekend I attended the Write on Kew literary festival. What a beautiful venue for it. The weather cooperated too. It was a stunning afternoon in south west London, as I made my way through Victoria Gates into the great botanical gardens. The lecture theatre took a little finding, but I got there in the end, after a detour that saw me admiring a gaggle of waddling Egyptian Geese and the remarkable board-walk borders, as they are locally known.

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Turning to Crime was a talk hosted by Mark Lawson, and included esteemed crime writers Sophie Hannah, Stuart Prebble and Paula Hawkins. The authors revealed what made them ‘turn to crime’. I was most interested in Paula Hawkins, as she wrote romantic fiction under a pseudonym before penning this year’s runaway bestseller, The Girl on the Train.

I found the talk amusing and interesting, with some great insights that I’ve listed below.

There seems to be a trend in crime writing at the moment to explore the psychological thriller. Normal motives for murder, like sex and money, are no longer enough; authors are turning to deeper, more psychological motives, like paranoia, self doubt and pathological conditions.

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The “unreliable narrator” also seems to feature strongly in new crime fiction. Paula’s book features an alcoholic who has blackouts as her main narrator, which has the reader (even the character herself) questioning if what she is seeing is the real thing. Sophie explores pathological lying, where the character truly believes what she’s seen is the truth. There has even been instances where the narrator is the killer… but there was some debate over whether this is satisfying to the reader. The reader, it seems, likes to trust the narrator, and as Sophie pointed out, sometimes it is better to have a reliable narrator in a world where nothing makes sense. Food for thought.

There was some discussion around red herrings and the overuse of them to the point where the reader is totally confused. Alternatively, as James Patterson once said, red herrings can’t be so convincing that the reader closes the book thinking, “well, that was SO predictable.” There is a fine line between convincing the reader and still maintaining that shadow of doubt.

An interesting topic of conversation revolved around the use of modern technology in novels. While the mobile phone makes it hard for anyone to be out of touch, it can also be used to a writer’s advantage, in so far as tracking is concerned. Likewise with DNA testing, which can make a who-dun-it much easier to solve, it can also be used as a plot device.

Finally, the discussion around US crime drama, with deeply flawed characters like Dexter and Breaking Bad, was interesting, as Stuart said it was unlikely that they would have been excepted for British TV when they first came out, as the characters weren’t ‘likeable’ enough. So they discussed the impact of likeable characters in crime fiction, and how important is it really, for the reader to ‘like’ the characters in a book?

All in all, a very interesting talk, and money well spent.

If anyone has any of their own insights into crime writing, please let me know in the comments below.

Another Decade and Lessons Learned

My beautiful little boy turns 10 years old today. Double digits. Quite a milestone.

I can’t believe how time has flown by. It was almost exactly ten years ago that I penned (or typed) my first novel. My son was in his cot, gurgling away and I sat down at my laptop, with an idea that had been brewing for sometime and began to write. It wasn’t a seamless process. How could it be with a newborn? It took a lot of stopping and starting, revising and re-writing, but finally, by his first birthday, I had a rough draft. (Yes, it took a year!)

After that it simmered for a long time until I finally got round to re-writing it again, properly and in one sitting. I had gone back to work by that stage, so I took two weeks off and rewrote the entire rough draft, elevating it to another level entirely. It was my first completed novel, Antarctic Affair.

Since then I’ve written two more contemporary romances, one non-fiction book and two novellas. Not a great track record for ten years. But with a young child, a day job, and an international move, it’s all that I could manage. So I’ve stopped beating myself up about it.

What have I learned from the last 10 years?

1. That writing is a journey. It’s not something you can master quickly. Rather, it’s a constant learning curve. With every page you write, you get better at it. Practice is the key.

2. Write everyday when writing a novel. If you’ve started a book, the best thing to do is to write every day so you don’t lose momentum. If you can’t write every day, then at least read through what you’ve written the day before so the story stays fresh in your mind. If it’s left alone, you lose your train of thought and the story fizzles out. It’s much harder trying to resurrect an old story, than to keep going with a new one.

3. Planning. It’s important that you plan your novel. You don’t have to outline every chapter but you must know all the key turning points in the story. I recommend creating a “Beat Sheet” to steer you in the right direction and to keep you on track.

4. Join on-line writing communities for support. You’re going to need it. There are many questions that you’ll need answering and research that you will need to do, and writing forums, Facebook groups and local chapters provide a wealth of information and support. The same goes for writing associations such as RWA (Romance Writers of America) or RNA (Romantic Novelists Association) in Britain. You will meet lots of other authors, who have valuable advise to offer, attend social functions, Christmas parties and luncheons. And make lots of new friends.

5. Don’t ever quit. Writing is hard work, time consuming and creatively draining. You sacrifice a lot of family and social time along the way, and sometimes for nothing but a big fat rejection letter. Don’t take it personally. Keep at it and keep going. You will get there.

6. Enter writing competitions. It’s motivating and inspiring and gives you something to work towards. Plus, you often get great feedback from other authors/judges.

7. Enter Nanowrimo (www.nanowrimo.com) – National Novel Writing Month (November). It’s really does get you going and help you hone your craft. You can almost knock out a rough draft of 50,000 words in a month. Plus you get to enjoy the social side of writing, and join meet ups and write-ins with fellow authors in your area.

8. To be a writer you have to be disciplined. There are a lot of distractions out there, including Facebook, Pinterest (my worst!) and group interaction. While they’re all very useful, stick to your writing schedule and don’t procrastinate. If you want to finish that book, you have to put in the time.

9. Plan what you’re going to write that day before you start writing. That way you don’t have to stop to ponder things and work out plot points. If you’re scene is mapped out in your head, or on paper first, then you can just put your head down and write. That’s how I clock up the most word counts in a day.

10. Enjoy your craft. Writing is a lonely endeavour so you have to love it, to keep at it, despite numerous rejections and distractions. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. That simple.

Happy writing,

Louise x

Traditional vs Self-Publishing: My Experience

I’ve recently finished working on my latest novel, Personal Assistance. It’s an exciting romantic suspense set in a Middle Eastern kingdom, in the midst of a civil war.

The beautiful and stylish heroine, Hannah, who works as the Arab Prince’s personal assistant, comes across a top-secret document that could change the course of the war. Knowing that she’s committing treason, a crime punishable by death, she flees to the British Embassy and enlists the help of a disgraced (but devastatingly attractive) special forces operative.

Tom has been posted to the war-torn country on “embassy duty” as punishment for a botched mission in Afghanistan. Suffering from survivor’s guilt, and eager to redeem himself, he’s a man with everything to prove. The beautiful Englishwoman and her devastating secret couldn’t have come at a better time.

So Tom agrees to help  Hannah get the information out of the country and into western hands – with the Royal security force hot on their tail, and a revolution unfolding around them.

Read the first chapter of Personal Assistance on the Entangled website.

What Being Traditionally Published Taught Me:

1. That even when you think your novel is finished, your editor might have very different ideas. I rewrote Personal Assistance three times, each time taking three to four months. It was a loooong process. I realised that winning the NaNoWriMo Entangled Competition didn’t automatically mean they liked the book as it was. In my case, they liked the style for their imprint, but I had to change a lot of things before they were happy with it. Some of the changes I agreed with, and some I didn’t, but in the end, being a published author means team work, and you have to put your faith in your editor, and trust that they know what they’re doing.

2. You never stop learning. This process taught me how the cogs of a publishing house work. It was an eye-opener. The self-published novels I’d written before were edited professionally, proof read and copy edited. I’d worked with professionals, cover designers and formatters, but nothing prepared me for the time delays, edits, approvals, red-tape, rewrites and deadlines that came with being traditionally published. I’d recommend even the most stalwart self-publishers to go down this route at some point, if they can. It’s an experience that makes you more professional in yourself, and pushes you to the limit of your ability.

3. Not even publishers are perfect. I wasn’t happy with my physical book cover, and I had limited ability to affect changes. I didn’t think the marketing was very good, and I did more to promote the book than with many of my other self-published novels. I wasn’t happy with the purchase price, but that too was out of my control. You realize how limited your influence is when you’re with a big publishing house and you’re ‘just the author’. Traditional publishing definitely has it’s limitations, and given the choice I’m not sure I’d go down that road again. Although, for the reasons above, I’m glad I’ve done it once.

4. Networking really makes a difference. Through the Entangled network I met many virtual on-line friends and their support and encouragement was vital in the launch of my book. That in itself is worth the journey.

5. Being traditionally published doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll make more sales. For starters… you take home less. Traditional publishers take a chunk out of your sales, and you’re left with the scraps. Unless you are making thousands of sales per book, I don’t think this is a financially viable option any more. Also, you can’t leave it up to the publishers to promote your book. Again, unless you’re a mainstream author with a solid fan base, you are going to have to do most of the marketing work yourself. Just because a publisher has a big name, doesn’t mean you get the exposure that goes with it.

In conclusion, being traditionally published is a worthwhile exercise for unpublished or self-published authors. There is a lot to learn about the writing and publishing process. It pushes you, it challenges you and it makes you dig deep into your reserves of patience and motivation. These are all great learning experiences that will make you a better author. Does it translate into more sales? Rarely. And your limited control over your book cover, the editing process and the price can be frustrating, if you’re not happy with what is provided.

Please let me know your thoughts on traditional vs self-publishing in the comments below. I’d be interested to hear about the experiences of other authors.

Thanks and happy writing!

Louise x

The eBook Revolution – It Will Effect Your Life

As a writer, the ebook revolution will transform your writing career. The brilliant and innovative Mark Coker was recently speaking at the San Francisco Writers’ Conference and had this to say about the future of publishing.

10 Trends that will Transform the Future of Authorship

  1. Reading moving to screens: Yes, screens are the new newspapers and magazines. Ebooks look set to overtake print books in the very near future. On some platforms like Amazon, this is already happening. But why is this the case? Well, screens offer a better reading experience that paper, they have a changable font size, they’re portable and compact, they cost less and there is a bigger selection.
  2. Bookselling moving to the web: Book purchases made online has increased exponentially in the last ten years. This is putting many smaller bookstores out of business and consequently book stores are disappearing, print is declining, and big publishers are losing control of distribution.
  3. Authors gain control of publishing: The power has shifted from the traditional publisher to the self-published author. Ebook printing and distribution is free. Author tools and self-publishing advice is free and plentiful. There are no barriers to entry. Writers no longer need publishers in order to publish, distribute and sell their work. A question authors are asking themselves is “What can a publisher do for me, that I can do for myself?”
  4. The rise of indie book publishing: Self-published books are dominating bestseller lists. Why is this? For authors, it’s faster to self-publish than wait for feedback from a traditional publisher. The author has more control over the publishing process from editing to cover design and pricing.  Expenses are low. Distribution is easy and free of cost.  For consumers ebooks cost less than print books, they’re easy to download onto an ereader.
  5. Traditional publishers are suffering from high prices: Book buyers are price sensitive. From every sale the author earns a royalty and gains a fan.
  6. Current explosion leads to downward pressure on prices: As more and more authors flood the market with ebooks, the demand wanes and price competition sets in. Lower prices make ebooks more affordable and accessible for consumers with more books being read than ever before.
  7. Print is dead: For most self-published authors, print doesn’t even feature as one of their distribution options. Customers chose cheaper ebooks over more expensive print books.
  8. Ebook retailers going global: Online retailers are going global and expanding into markets outside the US.
  9. Big publishers getting into self-publishing: It really is a case of adapt or die. Smaller, specialised agencies dealing in online publishing are rising to the challenge and creating opportunities for writers that never existed before.
  10. Stigma attached to self-publishing is disappearing: Thankfully. The old model Author-Agent-Publisher-Bookstore-Reader has changed to Author-Bookstore-Reader. Many successful authors will straddle both worlds.

Exciting times. The power is in the writer’s hands now. We have more options than ever before. As writers, it’s up to us to take advantage and create our own success.

 

Planning vs Spontaneity

I recently joined an online chat with author Polly Courtney, who rather infamously ditched her publishers, Harper Collins over ‘naff covers’ (and a few other issues like how her books were positioned in the market) to pursue the self-publishing path. Here’s what she had to say about Planning vs. Spontaneity.

Louise: Hi Polly. I’d like to know if you plan your novels to an inch of their lives, like the worksheets here, or if you shoot from the hip on a few things. I’m a planner, but I do find I can kill my enjoyment of the story if I plan each scene too much before I sit down and write. Although it is easier to keep the flow going with everything planned out carefully. Just wondered how you handle the split between planning and spontaneity.

Polly: Hi Louise, I’m with you there – I’m a planner. However, I also agree that there should be a degree of spontaneity and freedom for characters to do what they like. My process is to think (for quite a while) about the theme, what I’m trying to achieve with the book (e.g. ‘open up people’s minds to how it feels to be a youth today’ or whatever), then I think about main characters and map out key events that need to happen, then I go to the next level of detail and write 1-2 lines about what happens in each chapter. It’s only when I’ve got this (relatively tight) plan that I sit down to write the chapters. But as I said to Charlotte, often the characters go off and do their own thing as the book develops, so I am continually updating the storyline to suit them. The characters are the most important thing!
That’s just me, though – there are no rights or wrongs. I know a lot of writers (including PD James apparently) who just sit down with a blank page on their screen and see what comes…

I’d like to dissect a few pieces of this comment to explore further.

Think about the theme – As we know, a theme in a romance novel is an important part of the story. The theme sets the tone of the story and dictates the plot. Common romantic themes (often called ‘tropes’) are accidental pregnancy, baby on the doorstep, reformed playboy, blackmail, boss and employee – you get the picture. A good, tried and tested trope goes a long way to catching a publishers attention. Read more about tropes here.

Map out key events: Now this is plotting and in a romance is based on the characters goals and motivations. This is what drives the plot. So by mapping out key events what she really means is doing a detailed character analysis so you know what drives your characters, what they long for and what they fear. Then using this as your divining rod, develop the plot or key events.

Write 1-2 lines about what happens in each chapter: Here she’s fleshing out what happens in each chapter. This means concentrating on how your characters react to each other and to the situation they find themselves in. Every action must have a purpose and every reaction must be in line with your characters motivation.

Doesn’t sound so simple now, does it?

But within this framework the characters develop as the story progresses. Updating the structure to accommodate them keeps you to your format and keeps your story on track to the inevitable HEA!

Read the full chat archive here.

Setting in a Romance Novel

My latest guest post on the Romaniac’s site:

Louise’s books are always set in interesting or exotic locations. Here she talks about how she uses setting to add depth and substance to her stories. Over to you, Louise.

I love to travel. Growing up in South Africa meant that we had to travel long distances to get to Europe and America, so as a family, we contented ourselves with shorter trips to more unusual destinations. The rugged and wild west-coast of Namibia, Kwazulu Natal, Mauritius, Mozambique and Lesotho all featured in my childhood. I learnt early on how the culture and atmosphere of a location can influence your stay there.

After university I jetted off to Europe and spent a few gloriously care-free years working in London and taking frequent trips to Italy, Spain, Greece, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and everywhere else in between. Not being a 5 star hotel kind of gal, I stayed mostly in family-run B&Bs and met a variety of interesting and colourful characters many of whom have influenced my characters over the years.

My latest release, The Italian Inheritance, is set on the glamorous island of Capri, off Italy’s Amalfi Coast. I visited Capri with a friend in 2003 and the dry, lazy heat and classy glitz and glamour of the place left an indelible imprint in my mind. It struck me as the perfect place to stage a romance, because of its laid-back charm and eloquent lifestyle. Not only is the island incredibly dramatic in its beauty, but it’s also historically relevant, once being the summer playground of much creative and literary talent.

Being only a short ferry ride to Naples and Sorrento gave my island setting the lifeline to the ‘real world’ which I needed. This added substance to my hero – the darkly cynical, Rafael Vialli.

Character development is important in a romance novel and I wanted my hero in
The Italian Inheritance
to have flaws and trust issues resulting from a difficult past.

Naples is not a pretty city. It has elements that are beautiful about it, but it is rough and dirty in parts and provided the perfect background for my hero to have grown up in. Its gritty character also contrasts nicely to the idle and luxurious personality of Capri, only a stone’s throw away.

Setting can play an important role in a romance if it contributes to the depth or conflict of the story. Here are my top tips for creating a setting that adds impact to your story.

  • Pick a setting that either compliments or contradicts your characters personalities. In my first novel, Antarctic Affair, my hero was a fiery adventure photographer so I set the story in Antarctica. The heroine by contrast was a city bound journalist, with an inherent dislike of the outdoors. So pitting her against the elements (and the hero’s fiery personality) made for interesting reading.
  • Let the setting add insight into your character’s personality. In The Italian Inheritance, the rough neighbourhood in Naples where Rafael grew up made my heroine, a London-based nurse distinctly uncomfortable. It unleashed empathy and provided a glimpse into his past that she might otherwise not have had. By contrast, his elegant villa in Capri was a symbol of how far he’d come in life and how his ambition had paid off. It signified his pride and sense of achievement.
  • The setting should provide obstacles to your heroes’ journey. This can either be in the plot or the personal development of the love story. In The Italian Inheritance my heroine, Anna, is a hardworking nurse from London. She can’t afford to stay in Capri for long. The island is notoriously expensive. When the legal process around her identity drags out, she is forced to accept Rafael’s offer of a place to stay. This forces them together and enables the love story to progress.
  • The characteristics of the location can contribute to the ‘heat’ in the story. Capri is hot and dry, most people wear little in the way of clothing, the water is warm and inviting so there is a lot of wondering around in bikinis and sarongs… You get the picture? It can work the opposite way round too. In Antarctic Affair the biting cold forced the characters to huddle together, drink mulled wine, generate body heat and stay in bed for longer…. Use your imagination.

The Italian Inheritance is out now on Amazon.com.

The Italian Inheritance

A mysterious letter… A father she never knew… A vast family fortune…

Life couldn’t get any stranger for quiet, conscientious, London-based nurse, Anna Crawford. On a trip to the glamorous Italian island of Capri Anna discovers a family legacy too great to ignore and a man, whose trust she must win, in order to change her life forever.