Clammy palms, heart dancing a fox trot, knocking knees. The questions: Will I make a fool of myself? Will I end up standing alone in the corner? Will they want to talk to me?
Classic first date nerves, right?
I have been to half a dozen writing festivals as an author and experienced all of the above symptoms before I even stepped through the door!
No matter what anybody tells you, it does not get easier with practice (again, similar to dating).
Knowing this, I prepared myself for my attendance at this year's WriteFest, held annually in Bundaberg, Australia, the same way I would for a date: by pasting on a confident smile and faking it.
As I took my initial step into the building, I held my breath. It released with a rush of relief when I was greeted with a warm smile and welcoming wave by an acquaintance, fellow author Shelley Russell Nolan.
I couldn't help making the connection to first dates, when the man I was meeting had reacted the same way. It felt even more like dating once the awkward small talk and "getting to know you" was out of the way, and I realized I was having fun.
The festival progressed with a variety of guest speakers and presenters.
First up was fellow romance author, Shannon Curtis. Her talk focused on plot development and novel structure. I found her guidelines to be applicable and useful to aspiring, emerging and established authors.
During the lunch break, I spoke with a number of people I'd met at previous writing festivals as well as some new faces. The most memorable was a member of the Bundaberg Writer's Group. I've chosen to keep her name anonymous for her privacy. She wished to discuss my debut novel, See Her Run. A story with strong domestic violence themes. She told me she was aware of my history as a survivor of domestic violence and shared her own tale.
I was also asked to jump into a photo with Bundaberg Regional Councillor, Lynne Forgan!
After lunch, I met and chatted with the talented and approachable Graeme Simsion (author of The Rosie Project and The Rosie Effect). His talk on screenwriting for authors was not only informative, but relevant to the writing process. It made me see novel writing in a new and interesting way.
Overall, my experience at WriteFest 2015 was a heady mixture of nerve-wracking, exciting and fun. The way any good date should be.
*Click on the links below for more information on:
Shelley Russell Nolan
Bundaberg Writer's Group
Bundaberg Regional Council
I can’t tell you what it was that made me leave that night. Nothing abnormal happened. I was making dinner––honey mustard chicken, his favorite––when he strolled into the kitchen. He opened the fridge door and looked inside. A few seconds later, it slammed shut so hard, the fridge shook. He was in my face before I could take another breath. The yelling began. He wasn’t pleased with the way I’d wrapped the leftovers from lunch. His face was red, his eyes were fireballs, his mouth was twisted. I’d seen it so many times before. And, after too many years together, I knew what was coming.
Yet, for a reason I still don’t understand, a deep calm penetrated my soul. I remember I stared at him and whispered, “I’m leaving you.”
He didn’t take the news well.
After a scene upstairs, he said he was taking something from the car’s engine so I couldn’t go, and stormed downstairs. Banging and crashing sounds echoed through the floorboards. I knew the lower level would soon match the destruction he’d left around me.
My heart pounded. How could I get away if I had no car? At night? The neighbors wouldn’t help, as usual. I began to panic. If I was still there when he came back upstairs, I knew the situation would get worse.
Again, I can’t really explain what happened next.
I felt the same deep calm I’d experienced in the kitchen . . . then something inside me yelled, “Run!”
I grabbed a bag, stuffed the bare essentials inside and crept toward the front door.
Outside, the night sky seemed blacker than usual. I couldn’t see well even with the street lamps lighting the way. The noises made by the wind made me think I was being chased.
That was the night I learned to run.
And I didn’t stop there. I ran, figuratively speaking, from every other man that came into my life, especially if commitment or intimacy seemed probable. Most didn’t make it past the first date. None made it to the third. I became reconciled to the idea that I’d be single forever.
Three years passed that way. Then, one of my sisters arranged a blind date for me. I agreed, thinking I would give dating one last try and be done with it. His name was John. It took about half an hour before I noticed something different about him. I liked him. Really liked him. He asked me out again. And again. He made it past the third date. It was official. We were ‘dating’. Friends started making jokes about love and marriage.
That’s when it all went wrong.
After another fantastic date, the reality of commitment closed in on me. My lungs squeezed the air from my chest, my heart raced and my mind spat ‘what-if’s’ at me so fast I couldn’t think. I had a full blown panic attack.
Of course, I reacted the only way I knew how: I ran . . . straight to one of my sister’s.
After making me a chamomile tea and letting me freak out, she asked, “And how is he different from (ex’s name)?”
That question made me stop. The more I talked with her, the clearer I saw things. My sister asked me to give John one more chance before I made a decision about calling things off. I’m so glad I listened to her.
Less than three months later, we were at a lighthouse overlooking the sea. The weather was perfect: no clouds, soft breeze and bright sun. He popped onto one knee and proposed, with strangers smiling and looking on. I said, “Yes,” without hesitation.
That was the day I stopped running.
And I haven’t since. Turns out, it was easier than I’d expected.
I was nine when I wrote my first love story. It was about a boy in my class at school who I was head over heels for at the time. He was tall (for a fellow nine year old), tan and blond. I won’t mention his name because he is now a well-known Australian Triathlete, Olympian and Iron man! I know, I couldn't have written a more perfect romance hero, right? What I will say is it ended with him confessing his undying love for me and vice versa.
Of course this didn’t happen in real life, but it didn’t matter, I’d developed the writing bug. My teachers would complain in my report cards that I was an excellent student who had a tendency to “daydream” and “stare out the window”. Little did they know I was developing plot twists.
Over the years, I continued to scribble stories and ideas in notepads, but didn’t consider attempting a full length novel until I turned seventeen. As it does, life got in the way and I pushed plans of novel writing aside.
Until a series of dreams in 2011 changed that.
For three nights in a row, parts of a story played out in my dreams. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The characters, the town, the story was so real to me, and because of the subject matter––domestic violence, which I have experienced––I felt a particular affinity to it.
I told my supportive husband that I thought the dreams were a book and needed to be written down.
He said, “So write it down.”
My childhood scribbling returned. So did the daydreamer and window gazer. By the end of 2012 I had a full length manuscript of about 84000 words. Ah. But what to do with it? I sent it off to publishers and agents and entered competitions. Any feedback I received I used to improve my manuscript. I attended workshops and conferences, booked myself in for master classes and read books on the craft of writing.
In 2014, I applied for, and received, an interview with the Commissioning Editor at Pan Macmillan. I was ecstatic. As a result of that interview, I was offered a contract for the release of my book through their digital imprint, Momentum. I thought I would hit the clouds I was so high. Never in my childhood imaginings did I think this would happen. But it has. On 26th February 2015, my debut novel, See Her Run, the result of those dreams in 2011, will be released through all digital formats.
There are some people who don’t believe in dreams. After reading this, I hope they do.
Everybody knows that Valentine’s Day evolved from the martyrdom of St. Valentine right? Right? Well, not exactly. The real origins of this celebration have a deeper, more ancient, and Pagan link, which has nothing to do with love and romance.
In ancient Greece, the period around the middle of February celebrated the Hieros Gamos (sacred marriage) of the Deities, Hera and Zeus. Not to be outdone, the Romans had Lupercalia, a fertility festival in honor of the Goddess-wolf Lupa, and Lupercus, the God of wolves and shepherds, which was observed around the 13th to 15th of February each year. Other parts of Italy celebrated ‘Juno Februa’, a month long festival dedicated to Juno, the Goddess of marriage.
When the Holy Roman Empire adopted Catholicism as its official religion in 313AD, many of the pseudo converted Pagans continued to celebrate Lupercalia, the Hieros Gamos and Juno Februa in secret. To combat this, in 496 AD, Pope Gelasius established Saint Valentine’s Day as a kind of compromise.
Still, the strong romantic, rather than fertility and marriage, based connections to the day were more or less unknown. So, why do we associate love and romance with this day in modern times?
We can thank poet Geoffrey Chaucer for that. His 1382 ‘Parlement of Foules’ (the Parliament of Fowls) is the earliest existing evidence that links Valentine’s Day with romance, courtship and the Deities of love:
“For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,
When every fowl comes there his mate to take . . .
I will not serve fair Venus nor Cupid,
In truth, as yet, in no manner of way . . .”
As to why Chaucer made this connection, nobody knows for certain, though there has been plenty of speculation.
The next, and arguably most famous, reference to a romantic Valentine’s Day after this is over two hundred years later in William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, where it states:
“Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day . . . and I a maid at your window, to be your Valentine”.
By the 1800’s the exchange of love notes and cards on Valentine’s Day was the norm. From here, the day continued to gain popularity, along with the link to romance, until it became the celebration of fuzzy teddy bears, helium-filled balloons and chocolate roses that we observe today.
However you decide to mark Valentine’s Day, whether the old way, the new way, or not at all, I wish you a happy one.
Like a rose, love comes in many varieties – and is all around you, waiting to be plucked. The ancients knew this. They wrote about it, performed plays about it and debated it. Modern life, the media, culture and outdated religious views have combined to skew what we think about love and how we experience it. We are told that one person (‘The One’) must fulfill every emotional, sexual, mental, spiritual, physical and intellectual need we have. Being aware of the different types of love can help you think about it in new and fulfilling ways, and change your experience of it.
So, what are the seven types of love?
Eros is sexual love. Whenever the word ‘sex’ is mentioned in regards to love, most people think of a fiery, passionate, can’t-keep-my-hands-off-you kind of feeling and, whilst there is that aspect to it, according to Plato, ‘divine Eros’ is that deep connection you obtain through sexual union. It is closer to Tantra, felt within the body but also the soul. It is not experienced through sexual attraction based on a conception of physical beauty (what Plato called ‘vulgar Eros’) or one night stands, or even sexual release. It is a soul connection deepened by the act of sexual union. Eros fills a sexual and spiritual need.
2. Agape (pronounced a-gop-aye)
Agape is spiritual love, based on a sense of connection to all people and/or things. This type of love sacrifices for the greater good. The ‘other’ is considered as much as the ‘self’. It is not self-deprecating or abusive, but rather, the united ‘all for one, one for all’ comradeship of the Musketeers and the ‘Metta’ (universal love) of Buddhism. Having said that, it must be noted: religion has nothing to do with agape because it is not dependent upon belief in any particular Deity or dogma in order to feel it. Agape fills a spiritual need.
3. Philia (also called Platonic)
Philia is the fondness you feel toward those you consider close friends. Sex (i.e ‘friends with benefits’) is not a feature of this type of love. At its highest incarnation, it is what the Irish call ‘Anam cara’ (soul friendship). With an Anam cara you can ‘be yourself’ and share your innermost desires, dreams and fears without judgment. Philia can develop into Eros, but it is not to be confused with the distorted sexual compulsions often found with this suffix (i.e. necrophilia, pedophilia). Philia fills an intellectual, mental and emotional need.
4. Storge (pronounced store-gay)
Storge is familial love. That innate bond or tie we feel toward family members (immediate and extended), our children, other people’s children and even pets. Most times it comes without any real effort (though sometimes it must be worked on to remain strong or develop). The level of storge bond one experiences varies, and may not be reciprocated at the same rate; different family members will elicit different experiences of a bond. There is nothing wrong with this and is normal. Furthermore, although storge is ‘familial love’, it is not a necessity to have blood family in order to feel it. Many of us have people we meet with whom we ‘click’ instantly. This is storge – an innate bond or tie – as much as anything felt by those we share blood. Storge fills an emotional and physical need (note: ‘physical’ does not mean ‘sexual’. It refers to non-sexual touch such as hugging).
As the name suggests, pragma is pragmatic love. I like you because you can offer ‘x, y, z’ to me and I can offer you ‘a, b, c’. Even though it is unromantic in nature, and based on practical, mutually beneficial, business-like considerations, it is possible to have a fulfilling, long lasting, committed romantic relationship with this type of love. However, for most people, this is where we place networking, acquaintances and business associates with we feel a connection deeper than ‘stranger’ but less than ‘friend’ (philia). Pragma fills an intellectual, mental and sometimes even emotional need.
Philautia is love of the self. Again, when you say that, people think ‘selfishness’. Philautia is not about being selfish, it is having a healthy (i.e. no egotistic or narcissistic) sense of value directed toward the self. One cannot experience any of the other types of love in a meaningful way without first having philautia. Loving yourself will help you understand what you need where the other types of love are concerned.
7. Amour courtois
Amour courtois (courtly love) is my favorite type! It is the outward expression of feelings of admiration, connection and respect for one person by another. Romance is definitely a part of this, though not in the way most people think of it (i.e. a man buys a woman roses and chocolates). In the middle ages, where the idea of courtly love originated, both people showed their feelings for the other in a tangible, visual way. For instance, knights would go off on adventures in their beloved’s name and bring her back treasures; Damsel’s would embroider pieces of their hair into handkerchiefs (there’s some ideas for Valentine’s Day!). It is not sexual (that’s Eros), but can certainly be physical. Intimate caressing, hand holding and kissing fall under this category. Numerous studies have shown that all human beings cannot thrive without positive physical contact. Therefore, amour courtois fills a physical as well as emotional need.
Now you are aware of the variety of love available to you, go out and pluck it with both hands. And remember: love more, love often, love unconditionally.
Bruce Lee was a prolific writer. He wrote letters, jotted ideas down in notepads and even wrote in the margins of books (I know, shock horror for an author right?). The master of martial arts is known for many quotes; and some are relevant to the art of writing – in fact, if you Google it you will find a top ten list of Bruce Lee quotes for writers (see picture below if you are interested). However, the one I find the best is this one:
‘Absorb what is useful, discard what is not; add what is uniquely your own’.
Let me break this quote down into three simple steps.
Step one: Absorb what is useful.
In other words, learn from other writers. What has made them successful? What techniques, style and voice have they used? Read books by successful authors on the art of writing (I recommend Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’). Take what you find useful and incorporate it into your own craft.
Step two: Discard what is not.
To achieve this, you do the reverse of the first step. All of us have read books that we hated. Why? What was ‘wrong’ with it? How did the author write? Was it their plot? Style? Word usage? Book length? Figure out what it is you dislike in other books then be mindful of making those same errors in your own writing.
Step three: Add what is uniquely your own.
This is the hardest of the three steps (I’m sure Bruce Lee would have agreed). How do you add what is uniquely your own? To answer, ask yourself the following question: what comes naturally to you when you write? Everybody is unique, even in their writing. How are you unique? Look over your writing, compare it to other authors. Where do you differ? Is it style? The way you use point of view? Your dialogue? The way you plot your stories? The characters, or lack of, that you use? Do you add something that other authors don’t? Do you discard something that other authors don’t? Sit down and discover what makes your writing unique.
As a final note, remember another Bruce Lee quote: ‘Even today, I dare not say that I have reached a state of achievement. I’m still learning, for learning is boundless’.
The journey for the writer is never finished. You will learn, absorb, discard and add for as long as you write, for the art of writing too is boundless.
With a raised eyebrow and accusing tone, she says, “You write romance?”
I nod then exhale in preparation for the inevitable, “Why?” that is sure to follow.
It does. I play the game and respond with a forced light-hearted, “It suits me.”
After an awkward pause, I hear the same answer I’ve heard dozens of times before: “I just assumed you’d write something more...serious.”
I sigh. Not this again. In defence of romance writing...
First of all, I want to make this clear: it’s not as though I have a choice in what I write. My ideas come to me of their own accord; I do not ‘choose’ them, they choose me.
Second of all, I will argue that the history of stories is the history of romance writing; of love and relationships. For instance, Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus – the trio of great Greek writers– wrote stories about...? That’s right: love (romantic tragedies to be exact). Fast forward to Shakespearean England. What does everybody think of when the Bard’s name is mentioned? Romeo and Juliet – the most famous love story ever told. The 1700’s arrive. The most popular story genre sold is...gothic romance. Who was popular in the late 1700’s-1800’s? Jane Austen, the Brontë’s, George Eliot (the woman who crafted the novel in the format we know it today). What did they write? Yep, romance.
Finally, romance or romantic elements form the plot or sub plot of most stories (whether ancient or modern). That makes almost every story a love story. Don’t buy it? I challenge you to read your favourite novel, then tell me there is no romance or romantic element in there. Tell me there is no hint of love (lost, found or unrequited), a relationship (current or ex) or a love triangle (current or ex).
Go on, I’ll wait...
See. You found it right? Now wait while I pull a smug smiley face...
So, if the majority of novels are, arguably, romance novels, why does the genre cop the accusations I so often hear? There is probably two issues at work. The first is the long-held prejudice that ‘women’s writing’ is trifle. This thinking stems from ancient days and seems to have remained in the psyche of society, in various forms, up to modern times. To this I say – get over it - and read some books written by women, heck, read a romance written by a woman. Start with ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen, my favourite.
The second issue stems from societal mores of the early 60’s. A time when, morally, women were being pulled two ways. One part of society was telling them they needed to be virgin’s before marriage, but at the same time, there was a movement occurring: the sexual revolution. As a result, implausible and fantastic story lines had to be imagined in order to integrate these opposing values. These were the so-called ‘bodice rippers’ that many still associate with the genre. But, something wonderful happened in the early 80’s. All of a sudden, the former sexual constraints lifted and, guess what? So did romance writing. Authors were free to write what they’d always wanted: something that was new, exciting and... serious.
Don’t get me wrong, there is still that element of ‘fluff’ where the genre is concerned (hey, we all have different tastes right?), but, the contemporary romance features a variety to suit almost every palate. There are murder mysteries and thrillers (J.D. Robb, Elise K. Ackers and Sandy Curtis), issues relevant to modern women, such as domestic violence (myself, Nicholas Sparks, Anna Quindlen and Rachael Johns), historical, time travel and past life stories (Sussanah Kearsley and Anne Fortier) and fantasy-related themes (Stephenie Meyer, Amanda Hocking and Nora Roberts).
In fact, romance is the highest-selling genre, making up almost 60% of the market. All because of love. Why is this? Everybody – male, female or other – wants to be accepted, supported and loved by another. Stories about love, and the problems we encounter in love relationships, are relevant and serious. This has been the case from Sophocles to Shakespeare and from Shakespeare to modern times; and, as long as we love, it always will be.
As such, stop asking me why I write romance! I speak in defence of romance writing...and you should too.
Over the years, I’ve written: poems, songs, articles, newsletters, novels and blogs; but the short story eluded me. Then I saw a handful of short story competitions being advertised and, since I like to challenge my writing skills, I thought ‘why not’? Not only did I discover that I enjoyed writing short stories, I also realised that my novel writing skills had been sharpened as a result. In particular, I noticed changes in three main areas:
1. Character development
Due to the limited word counts in short story competitions, I had to learn how to show the motivation and personality of each character in a short space of time. This is a beneficial skill to have in novel writing, as it stops you from reaching the end of the manuscript without a clear picture of your characters.
I’m a waffler. At least, I used to be. I tended to repeat the same thing numerous times in my manuscripts. Once again, the word limits taught me how to omit pointless words and get down to what I really wanted to say.
3. Development of style and voice
Writing your first novel is both an exciting and frustrating time. Although the story is bubbling within you, it can be difficult to develop a unique style and find your own voice. Multiple short story writing is a great way to develop this because; the more you write, the quicker you will improve. By exploring a range of characters and situations (as opposed to the same ones in a novel), you increase your skills.
So, if you are struggling with your novel writing skills, and need assistance with any of the above-mentioned issues, why not give the short story a try?
At this time of year I often hear men ask (read: complain) about the fuss surrounding Valentine’s Day. Here are my answers to the most common questions:
1. “What is the point?”
Valentine’s Day is about intimacy, connection and, of course, romance. It is a time to show the special person in your life how much they mean to you.
2. “But I show my partner I love her every day, why does there have to be a specific day for it?”
You might think you show her you love her every day, but do you really? Be honest. We don’t always show people how much we love and appreciate them.
3. “It’s just a commercial holiday.”
Yes, you are right. But, I could also argue that birthdays are commercialised, yet you still expect a present and cake. The same is true for Christmas and Easter. If you’re going to play the ‘commercialisation’ card, be an equal opportunity player.
4. “Why should I bother?”
It will make the person in your life feel special and important to you. Most women will not say it, but whenever a bunch of roses turns up at their workplace on Valentine’s Day they ALL secretly wish it’s for them (even the single women). Besides, doesn’t your partner deserve a special day?
Remember, romance doesn’t have to be expensive. It is about showing the person you love how you feel about them, that you appreciate them and that you love them and want to be with them. Here are some tips to bring the romance back but not break the bank:
-Pick some wildflowers and when you hand them to her tell her there’s one for each moment you thought of her that day.
-Write a note describing your best memory of her.
-Make a candlelit dinner at home for the two of you (make as much of it heart shaped as possible).
-Stick paper love hearts on the bedroom walls.
-Place a chocolate rose on her pillow.
-Give her a hand-made card.
-Give her a poem that describes your feelings for her (Google search or write your own).
-Make up a collage related to the two of you.
Come on men, get into the spirit of Valentine’s Day!
‘I don’t have time to write’.
These are the most common words I’ve heard from the writers I know. It’s also the biggest lie I’ve heard them tell. The real meaning of these words comes down to one of two things:
1. I don’t believe in my ability to write, so this is my excuse to avoid it.
2. I am unwilling to make writing a priority in my life.
The next time you say, or think, the words, ‘I don’t have time to write’, I want you to stop and be honest with yourself. Which of the above-mentioned meanings relate to how you’re feeling at the time?
If you don’t believe in your ability to write, there are steps you can take to change that. The best way to gain confidence in your writing ability is to write. As much as you can, as often as you can. You can also read books on how to refine your writing skills and gain feedback from those you trust to be honest with you.
If you are unwilling to make writing a priority in your life, you may need to question how important it is to you. ‘Oh, but I am so busy’, I hear some of you cry. Let me share my story with you:
I am a mother and wife. When I was writing my first novel, After The Dawn, I was also studying full-time, working part-time and writing a regular feature column. I managed to finish the complete manuscript, including edits, within twelve months. It was hard. Sometimes I didn’t want to make writing a priority, sometimes I didn’t believe in my abilities, but I kept going.
I would write as soon as my children went to sleep at night and, sometimes, I wouldn’t get to sleep until one or two o’clock in the morning. I adjusted to less sleep (as a mother I was already adept at that!) and the habit of writing everyday increased my confidence.
Even if you can spare ten minutes per day to your writing, by the end of the year, you will have contributed over sixty hours. That’s sixty hours more than if you hadn’t bothered at all.
Stop the excuses, stop the doubt and stop the lie. Just write.
About A.K. Leigh
A.K. Leigh is an international-selling romance author, identical triplet, book lover, incurable romantic, love guru, star-gazer, sometimes blogger and vlogger, mystic, ex-astrologer, vegetarian/vegan, nature lover, Michael Jackson fan, MMA buff, martial arts movie watcher, and trauma survivor.