Two nuns went into a bar…

The English language is a wonderful thing, particularly in this age of “democratization” when – apparently – anyone can write. Here’s an example of what happens when “anyone” does.

BTW: this little story, passed on by a friend, is a not only a glorious example of how a missing apostrophe can mean so much, but also of how not knowing the difference between you’re and your can change the world, for better or worse. A by-product is also how to incorporate racism and sexism into a paragraph without really trying!

 Once upon a time two nuns are waiting at traffic lights in their car when a truckload of rowdy young blokes pulls up alongside.

“Oi, get yer tits out, yah ragheads!” shouts one of the lads.

Mother Superior turns to Sister Immaculata, “I don’t think they know who we are, show them your cross,” she instructs.

So Sister Immaculata lowers the window and shouts, “Bugger off you fucking wankers, unless you want me to come over there and rip your fucking balls off!”

She turns back to her companion and asks, “Was that cross enough Mother?”

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Silver Lining

 

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Published in August 2013 by Bella Books, Silver Lining is the long awaited (by some) follow-up to Forty Love and Heart on Fire (originally Naiad, also now published by Bella Books). Available in paperback and as an ePub – check Bella’s website or go to Amazon.com.

The blurb (written by Kate Genet who’s a wiz at this tricky form) goes like this:

“Global finance in tatters, Amanda McIntyre’s career is toast.
What better then than a trip to Australia? The only dark cloud on that horizon is Clancy. There’s history between Amanda and Clancy, and it’s not the good sort.
“But there’s a saying – every dark cloud has a silver lining – and it might even be true, if Amanda and Clancy can stop raining on each other’s parade long enough to find out.
“Diana Simmonds … returns to lesbian romance with this irreverent tale of looking for—and finding—the silver lining in the darkest clouds.”

 

So far the response has been positive and the Amazon reviews are cheering. For instance:

“…What follows is a humorous tale as Clancy and Amanda clash, even as each is drawn to the other. Clancy and Amanda are both bright women and their dialogue sparkles with wit, as does Malcolm’s. Simmonds has also created some very enjoyable supporting characters, including the residents of Two Moon Bay and some very nasty ex lovers!…” (This reader is extremely intelligent.)

and 

“Finally a romance that is as far away from formulaic as possible. I loved every page of it – the lovable but realistic flawed characters, the Australian scenes, the descriptions, the humor.
“Due to travelling and work I wasn’t able to read it as fast as I would have liked, but I returned to it every possible free minute I had.
“I’ll definitely read other books of this author!” (I like this reader very much.)

And this reader is really, really smart too…

“…Diana Simmonds has done a really good job educating readers about the global financial crisis, introducing non-Aussies to the beautiful coast of Australia and keeping our attention riveted to a “will they/won’t they” romance. The writing is detailed and specific, especially in the second half of the book which takes place in Australia. Simmonds made an interesting POV choice by writing the entire book from the point of view of her main character, Amanda McIntyre, the American whose arc of change is at the center of this book….”

The Goldie Award-winning Clare Ashton (After Mrs Hamilton) also likes it, but she’d have to say that because she was my one and only beta reader.

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Winking and hoping

Reading a lot – obsessively even – can have the weirdest effect on a person. Anyone who gets really involved in a book will understand. Hand up if you sometimes find yourself saying a line out loud to hear how it sounds. Raise the other hand if you try out what a character is doing to see how it looks or feels…yes?

Recently I’ve been winking while reading – often. Winking is not actually one of my many annoying habits, so I have to really try to do it. It doesn’t come naturally. I’m not sure that it’s a common trait – since taking up winking (in private, that is, I’d never do it publicly or in the direction of another person) I’ve carefully watched other people to see who winks.

I can report that I’ve yet to see anyone winking either in the street or in a social situation. The only winks noted have been in a 1940s romantic comedy on late night TV and a lot more in one of those British “Carry On” movies where the lecherous “hero” is always leering or winking at the busty blonde. In real life I think it’s safe to say that very few people wink unless they’re suffering some kind of stress disorder when the wink is more of a tic and not intended to be attractive to the winkee.

So – and this is my point and question – why do so many heroines of lesbian romantic novels wink at one another? In the past year, because of researching and writing a thesis, I’ve read a lot of what is popularly called “lesfic” (but which I think is a really ugly and demeaning description). In the course of this research I’ve been amazed and bemused by the amount of winking that goes on. For instance, in R.E. Bradshaw’s hugely entertaining Molly: House on Fire  Molly and her paramour Lesley wink at each other 44 times.

Winking is a major activity in American lesbian romance novels, to the point where I had begun to think it must be a cultural thing – like mac and cheese and baseball – but then, along came Brit author Kiki Archer’s Binding Devotion. It’s set firmly in the UK yet its heroines wink at one another a total of 36 times in a novel about the CEO of a major corporation and her wife, the leader of a political activist outfit bent on achieving marriage equality in the UK. 

And there are many, many other instances of mass winking activity in contemporary popular lesbian fiction – these two are highlighted at random.

My Writing 101 manual says repetition is to be avoided – unless you’re writing about a serial killer and the repetition is murder. So what is it with winking and women? Do you wink? If so – at whom and when and why? Do you do it often? Does anyone in particular wink at you? (Please don’t answer if you have a tic as described above.) And do you find yourself noticing authors’ funny little habits (tics, really!) in their writing? Are they charming – characterful – irritating – weird – or what? I’d love to know what you think. Meanwhile, it’s back to trying to stop myself doing odd things as I imitate whichever character I’m involved with today.

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The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

I’ve been tagged by my friend, British author Clare Ashton for the 26th week of The Next Big Thing Blog Hop. The idea is to hop from blog to blog to discover books and authors we might not know about or that are still works in progress. Each author will answer the same ten questions, then tag authors who will answer the questions on their blogs next time around.

What is the working title of your book?

The title seems to pop out first – like the baby alien from John Hurt’s stomach, although neither painful nor messy. If I said “working title” it would mean “in case you don’t like it”, but the truth is I don’t mean that. I’ve published two in the past – both through Naiad Press – and they were Heart on Fire and Forty Love. Bella Books have reissued them and were nice enough to let me do a tidy up and fix the ending of Forty Love, which was always lame and never intended for publication. The new one – also with Bella Books – is called Silver Lining and it’s due out in 2013.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

So many people lost their jobs and their everyday lives because of the global financial crisis of 2008-onwards and I was attracted by the idea of anchoring a romance to a real-world event, with real consequences. It’s the “what if..?” question. In this case: what if a young, gorgeous hotshot banker is suddenly dumped on her ass and at the same time meets someone a bit older and wiser (and also gorgeous of course) who isn’t even slightly impressed by her. Meanwhile, western civilisation is creaking and “Occupy Wall Street” hasn’t happened yet. Hmmm…

What genre does your book fall under?

Romance. I love the twists and turns and wriggles that happen within the classic traditions of girl meets girl, then it’s all too difficult and life and other lovers intervene and just when you think it’s never going to happen – ta da!

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I don’t like pre-empting those choices because half the fun for a reader is imagining each character for herself. At the same time for Heart on Fire I had very clear image in my mind for the country star Jodie: she looked like Ellen and as Jodie was created in 1996, that isn’t as cheesy as it would be now. Her lover, Grace, was very Julia Louis Dreyfus, especially the hair and cute spunkiness.

In Forty Love the Wimbledon champion Julia is actually described as looking like Gabriela Sabatini and playing like Martina Navratilova; that combination is still my ideal tennis player! Her love interest, the painter Eliot Bancroft, has always looked like Kelly McGillis to me – serene, lovely and a bit mysterious.

Silver Lining is different again; I’ve chosen to have two blonde heroines and neither has green eyes, which makes them very unusual in the world of romance. Amanda looks rather like Portia de Generes – or the 60s model Twiggy, as is mentioned in the book; and Clancy is a dead ringer for Victoria Smurfit (star of Trial and Retribution, the UK cop-thriller series). But who knows…

Victoria Smurfit: dream casting for Clancy Darling

Victoria Smurfit: dream casting for Clancy Darling

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Follow the flawed but loveable Amanda from Wall Street across the world to see if she can keep her undies on long enough to avoid the thunderclouds and find her silver lining .

What is the longer synopsis of your book?

Amanda McIntyre is queen of the world, making millions on Wall Street with women falling in her lap. But quicker than you can say “Lehman Brothers” she is fired, finds her girlfriend up to her neck in another woman and has nothing better on offer than a trip to Australia with her best friend Malcolm.

Unfortunately, that means reconnecting with his big sister Clancy, a woman who knows more about global finance than Amanda and wasn’t impressed by her when they first met. It starts out all wrong, but there was that one time when it felt so right…

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Bella Books are such a great bunch of women; when you have help and encouragement from women such as Linda Hill, Katherine V Forrest and Karin Kallmaker, why would you try to do it yourself?

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It was going along nicely but suddenly stalled: then I got really, really sick. In retrospect the two things were probably connected. For the first time in my life I missed a deadline. A heart attack will do that. It was an interesting experience but I didn’t realise for some time – months – that it had really messed with my mind. Katherine V Forrest read the half-cooked manuscript and gave me some great encouragement and advice. I plodded on, but wasn’t really enjoying myself, which has never happened before. I thought “maybe this is a sign – maybe you don’t want to write any more” and that was quite a shock as I’ve identified as a writer – a wordsmith – for so long.

A cyber-meeting with Clare (After Mrs Hamilton) Ashton was the game-changer. She was having a fight with Mrs Hamilton (one of the great characters in modern lesbian romance, in my opinion) and I was tussling with Amanda and Clancy. We swapped manuscripts and promises of honesty – no matter how painful – and that was that. Suddenly the energy and enthusiasm returned and I finished Silver Lining in a flurry of drafts and re-drafts.

Long answer to a short question, but the correct answer is: I don’t really know, I lost track.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

When Linda Hill got in touch to ask if Bella Books could re-issue Heart on Fire and Forty Love I had given up the idea of more romantic adventures (as in novels). But Linda’s approach was so friendly, professional and encouraging I was immediately won over. And when she asked if I was writing anything else, I realised Silver Lining was already in the back of my mind. If you’ve read the answer above you’ll know it turned out to be a bit more complicated, but that’s how it happened.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Clare Ashton has said I write with “ease, wit and flair”. By that I think she means I find it hard to be serious, even when I’m being serious, so there is a lot to smile at along the way. And the way is New York City to the south coast of New South Wales – two places I know well and love. Clancy and Amanda are also interesting women and they’re surrounded by some odd and fun people; they don’t live in a totally gay universe, which I have to admit to finding rather unreal.

I’ve been fascinated to watch the progress of various world economies after the 2008 Wall Street collapse; in particular, the way “experts” didn’t have a clue what was going to happen; then when it did happen: what to do about it. How did ordinary (non-expert) people cope with getting on with their lives?

I like the main characters too. (I know this is controversial, but it’s a bit like whether or not you laugh at your own jokes: if you don’t find them funny, why would anyone else? Of course you laugh at your own jokes.) Amanda is a real pain in the ass, but she learns and changes – and I really enjoy that. Clancy is enigmatic and is someone I’d like to know and of course, if she actually looks like Victoria Smurfit, then I’d really like to know her!

Next Wednesday check these far-flung authors for the next big thing:

I’m thrilled that two of my favourite and most amazing, award-winning and prolific authors have said they’d be in on this fun and informative Q&A.

Radclyffe is one of the undisputed queens of lesbian fiction and her novels, such as the First Responder series, the Honor series and Provincetown Tales, are constant bestsellers as new generations of readers discover them. I’ve just finished her latest hospital drama/romance, Crossroads, which is depressing as it means waiting; and I hate waiting. Her imprint Bold Strokes Books is also one of the best-known in the USA and you should check it out if you don’t know it already.

Karin Kallmaker is another of the queens of lesbian fiction (this is an unusual empire – there can be more than one monarch) and her backlist and new work are to be found at Bella Books. Like Radclyffe, she is blessedly prolific and she really knows what she’s doing.

I enjoy these two in particular because they write well, have a fabulous grasp of what they’re doing and can spin exciting and erotic yarns as easily and fatally as a spider spins a web – venture too close and you’re done for.

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Best friends and romantic heroines

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When you’re grown up, discovering a new friend that you absolutely adore is a bit like being hit on the head by a chunk of meteorite – it’s unlikely to happen and when it does it’s one helluva shock.

Recently I found a new friend who is one of the funniest, most interesting, wisest, and [insert your favourite adjective here] women I know or have known. She made me realise I’ve been mourning my best friend since her untimely death in 2003 and that I never expected to have another. I admit it’s a bit presumptuous to claim her as “bestie” – having neither consulted nor secured approval – but this is about me, so … so there. 

Anyway, she’s written a terrific new book and I’d like you to know about it. After Mrs Hamilton is her second novel and it’s tremendous. Her first, Pennance, was pretty good too, but this one is on another level altogether.

 More often than is acceptable the lesbian romantic genre is populated by romance-by-rote plots and wafer-thin characters; and let’s not start on the atrocious writing, absence of style and ignorance of plain English. After Mrs Hamilton is so different it’s astonishing.

It begins with Clo (Clothilde), a young Londoner whose clandestine night job is as a call girl specialising in “older” women clients. Her cover occupation is as a talented specialist baker of exquisite cakes and pastries – a job that enables her to disappear into the night and return in the early hours without raising eyebrows.

Clo goes off to a posh hotel to “service” a new client – the mysterious Mrs Hamilton – and it’s the beginning of one of the most intriguing and irresistible relationships in lesbian romance novel history. Every reader will imagine their own picture of Mrs Hamilton – the older Catherine Deneuve, for instance, not least because… well, if I go on with that thought it will need a spoiler alert.

Clo’s life is populated with friends and relations whose lives entwine with hers and with one another. The result is an uncommonly rich tapestry of characters and shorelines including one pair of women whose relationship will shock some and amaze others. You’ll have to read about them all for yourselves to find out who and why.

Meanwhile, you can find After Mrs Hamilton at Amazon in print or as an ebook, and also at Smashwords – give yourself a Christmas gift, and anyone else you’re fond of.

 
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This pain is not worth that kind of “freedom”.

I was brought up with a gun in the house because my father was a police officer. He was a gentle man and never once drew his weapon while on duty, despite being threatened on a number of occasions. I was taught to shoot a rifle when I was about 12 and I could kill a tin can on a fence post at 50 paces. Not long after that I shot and killed a guinea fowl. As the bullet hit the bird it fluttered up and struggled for a second, then fell dead in the grass. I was appalled and have never shot at a living thing again.

 If it were a matter of starving or eating, I could shoot an animal, I know that. But I don’t live in that kind of society – I can go to a shop for meat and I do. Killing for fun – which is what hunting is – just doesn’t make sense, it is revolting. There are photos all over the internet of men who clearly believe they are extra-manly and macho as they pose proudly beside a dead animal – a lion, elephant, buffalo, antelope, you name it, they’ve shot one – and I look at their faces and try to figure out what it is that allows them to think it’s okay. Admirable, even.

 But it’s not. It’s pathetic. These are people who use telescopic sights, high powered rifles and all the paraphernalia of the modern “safari”. They do not stalk the animal on foot, they have no knowledge of bushcraft. They don’t have the skill or inclination to patiently work their way into a position where a single shot kill is all but guaranteed. The rifles depicted in these “safari” photos are grotesque – huge things that  are the equivalent of using a blunderbuss to kill a fly. 

 A real hunter, like a real fly fisher, is able to kill a buffalo – or land a trout – with the lightest possible equipment. And be adamant that it’s the only way to go. How many so-called hunters these days would have a clue as to where to place a shot in a buffalo in order to drop it in its tracks? How many Big White Hunters on their African safaris have to rely on their hired guns to track and finish off wounded animals after their own inept attempts to kill it?

And what is it about “trophies” – can anyone explain? Home decor has never been enhanced by the addition of a dead animal’s head hung on the wall.

And I haven’t begun to wonder why a woman – a school teacher – would think it necessary, permissible or reasonable to own three high-powered firearms. What is any civilian doing with assault weapons and semi-automatics in their possession? What kind of society allows it? Unfortunately, the woman – the school teacher – is dead; killed by her own weapons, by her own son, so there will never be a chance to ask her these questions. But there are millions of Americans – and many women – who will be lying in their beds tonight, staring at the ceiling and maybe – I hope maybe – wondering about the high-powered military-style weapons they have in their houses; and maybe, just maybe they might be thinking about the concept of self defines, and quite how they imagine they would defend themselves or their loved ones, or 20 small utterly innocent children against their mis-use.

Somewhere I read that more than 10,000 Americans die by gunfire every year. That’s more than double the next top 10 gun homicide countries added together. Guns are not the answer to anything – especially not self-defence; and especially not arguments and disagreements. 

Think of those 20 Newtown families whose lives have been shattered, never to be rebuilt. There is no “closure” – that’s a fatuous and insulting idea. There is only learning to live with undying pain. No gun or outdated idea of “freedom” is worth that kind of anguish.

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In the beginning…

…there was Clare Ashton, known as Tig, who said “why don’t you have a blog?” And I said,  “why don’t you mind your own business?” She, being named for a very determined little hedgehog, as Beatrix Potter fans will know, employed the drip technique. So, as you can see, I gave in.

Today is 12/12/12 – an auspicious day in more ways than one. Aside from the nice numbers, it’s also Kenya Independence Day and that’s a good thing to celebrate even though the poor of that wonderful country still suffer just as they did in colonial times; except these days they have a black foot on their necks rather than a white one. But the shoes are still hand-tooled in London. It was ever thus.

Digressions beings what they are, I’ve digressed. This is going to be about writing, in the main, and other things that make me happy. Like sniffing the back of a baby’s head – the scent of sunshine and miracles as I’m sure someone else has already said, but it’s a true thing anyway.

More later…

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