Jan 31, 2018

In pursuit of a hobby

Recently, someone asked me what were my hobbies. I really had to think about how to answer him.

Eventually I concluded I didn’t seem to have any hobbies.

All around me, people have hobbies. Our own LoveCat Stefanie London is sewing beautiful clothes. A friend is knitting socks and gloves and sweaters that don’t need stitching together using circular needles and intricate stitches that have me mindboggled. Another friend’s house is filled with the most beautiful tapestries—I’ve begged her to leave me her cushion covers in her will. Another has taken up painting and has found she has a real talent for it. (Guess I might be talking to her about her will, too!)

But me?

I ask my husband what he thinks my hobbies might be. “Your iPad, you’re never off the thing,” he says.

“But I’m a writer,” I whine. “I have to be in touch with the world.”

“Okay, so Facebook is your hobby,” he says.

Does Facebook count as a hobby? I enjoy it as much for the social contact—and the cat and dog photos—as the writerly stuff. So maybe.

Hubby’s hobby, by the way is his bicycle. Yes, he’s a MAMAL—a middle aged man in Lycra—who takes his cycling very seriously indeed. Along with it comes a high level of physical fitness about which I’m not complaining.

I looked up “hobby” to find that its definition is a “leisure pursuit for fun”. So that’s the problem. I don’t have much leisure. Not with books to write and publicise and family and housework and four cats and two horses and other animals to feed and look after.

I ask a close friend what she thinks my hobbies are. “Gardening? Cooking?” she suggests.

“Do they count as leisure time pursuits?” I ask. “There’s a good deal of work involved there.”

She tries again. “Taking photos of your garden and your food and your cats putting them on Instagram?”

“I guess so,” I say, not totally convinced.

So I look back at my life—at the dressmaking and knitting I used to do and the embroidery I always wanted to do. At the swimming I still do and the golf I’d like to get back to. And I conclude that the thing I’ve always liked to do in my leisure time and what I think I’ll always want to do is read. Books, books and more books. Newspapers. Magazines. Articles on the internet. At any opportunity, in every spare moment, I read. Reading is my very first choice of leisure activity no matter how small the time available.

Can I count reading as my hobby? What do you think? Can we have a vote here? What about your hobbies? Care to share? I’d love to read your comment!

Jan 29, 2018

Trigger Warnings? Yes or no? by Amy Andrews

It was recently pointed out to me by a blogger on twitter that she loved my new book - Playing House - coming out in Feb (yay!!) but was grappling with reviewing it because there were some scenes that might trigger people and she felt she needed to warn them but she was aware that, in doing so, she’d be giving away a huge spoiler, which other review readers mightn’t like. 

She was finding it a tricky tightrope.


I must admit I’ve not read a book that’s triggered anything for me ever but then, I’ve been blessed with a pretty charmed life. 

Have some books surprised/shocked me? Yes. Has it turned me off them? Occasionally, yes. Has it stopped me reading? I can think of maybe only once but that was due to the graphic depiction of violence and it wasn’t in romance. 

Yes, I’m looking at you Wilbur Smith. 

Has it stopped me buying/reading that author? Yes. I didn’t read Wilbur again for two decades but I’ve given up on way more authors because I didn’t like their style rather than the content of the plot.

So…now I’m curious. Do you like to know if there are any triggers in books before you read them? And what makes you stop reading a book/author, if anything?

Jan 24, 2018

Take the pressure down

 Look, I don’t want to come across all bah humbug (especially after Stefanie and Clare's gorgeous posts earlier in the week), but I’ve made a decision. This year—2018—is my year for:

* No New Year Resolutions
* No Word of the Year
* No Goodreads Challenge,
* No saying yes to things when I really want to say no.

Doesn’t mean I haven’t enjoyed hearing what others have chosen for their word of the year.

Doesn’t mean I’m not cheering others on with their reading goals.

Doesn’t mean I hope everyone’s New Year resolutions have already fallen by the wayside. No sirree. I hope everyone is on track with those (or as on track with them as they want to be).

I started the year off thinking I’d do the same as in 2017—have some goals (both professional and personal) to work towards. Decide on a word of the year. Look forward to reaching my target reading goal. But here’s the sad truth—I can’t remember what my Word for the Year last year was. As for the Goodreads challenge, I was five books short. Which certainly doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things. But the fact I didn’t reach my target still left me feeling a bit flat.

And when it came to setting a new Goodreads challenge and to fix on a Word for the Year, I basically slumped to the floor, my brain a melted mass of: ‘Please, no more!
There’s no secret as to why I’m feeling this way. :-) I have to submit my PhD in three months. And my next book is due on my editor’s desk two months after that. So I’ve made an executive decision—I don’t need any additional targets or goals this year. I have enough to keep me busy.

Oh, with the exception, perhaps, of one additional target—to try and get down to the beach a couple of afternoons a week for a swim or a walk. It’s hard to feel pressured when you’re floating on your back and staring up at a blue, blue sky, right? :-)

Who else is refraining from resolutions and challenges this year? I can’t for a minute believe I’m the only one. :-)

Jan 22, 2018

2018: a year of online kindness

I had something else planned for today's post. I've been having a ball with my sewing machine and was planning to share of the garments I have made with you all. However, an incident over the weekend prompted me to change course with this post.

We first got the internet when I was sixteen years old which means I've been online all my adult life. Prior to writing fiction I ran a beauty blog/website and an accompanying YouTube channel. I've dabbled with fashion and food blogging, as well. I've had A LOT of nasty things said to me online over the years. (Fun fact: this is precisely what inspired my Bad Bachelors series) The relative anonymity of being online means people often say things to people they would never dream of saying in person. And while the internet is an awesome tool for so many things, it's also a place where a lot of nastiness comes to the surface.

When I entered the romance writing community it was like I'd finally found my people. Here was this creative, supportive, encouraging, knowledgable, welcoming, diverse, intelligent, passionate group of people who treated me like I belonged from day one. I was embraced with open arms.

Although the rose coloured glasses have to come off at some point, my honeymoon period with the romance community was long.  The Lovecats approached me (Rachel Bailey asked me at my second ever writer's conference, and to this day I am still so grateful!) to be part of their pride when I only had a single book out. By the end of this year I will have 20 books published. So this community has been a big part of my life.

But publishing is a tough gig. Despite what ill-informed journalists might tell you, many of us work crazy hours to see this dream through. We battle with uncertainty of income and having our work publicly criticized on a daily basis. We deal with nasty emails, snide remarks about our genre, and face on-going rejection in some form or another. It sounds dire, but even on my worst day as a writer I am still so grateful to have this job. It's my calling, and I'm here to stay.

But one thing that I find very hard to swallow is watching authors in our community tear one another down. I am a big believer that there is space for us all, and that success of one does not mean less chance for someone else. I know many disagree, and I'm fine with that. This belief keeps me going on tough days and it allows me to genuinely celebrate the success of my writer friends.

Not all people in our community work this way. Lately, I've seen an uptick in dog-pile situations, open and public tearing down of writer's work from their peers, and several other forms of unacceptable, unprofessional behaviour. Now, I could speculate on what the cause might be (professional jealousy? Scarcity of publishing contracts? Diminishing visibility on retailer platforms?) But whatever the reason, it makes me sick. Our job is tough enough without us turning on one another.

So, in the spirit of making 2018 a year of kindness, here are some suggestions for how you can be kinder online both to yourself and to others:

  • Unfollow/unfriend people or accounts who don't make you feel good about yourself. Got that one person in your life who's always spewing negativity and stirring up trouble? Unfriend or unfollow. Seriously, you don't need that crap.
  • Send a DM/email/comment to someone who's having a hard time to let them know you're thinking of them.
  • Go offline for a while if social media is stressing you out. It's perfectly okay to disengage and revel in some "offline" time. In fact, try to schedule this in at regular intervals.
  • Curate the images you see. Follow diverse accounts that showcase all kinds of cultures, bodies, content and opinions. The world has a lot of different people, but often only a select few are heralded as worthy of our pixels.
  • Remember that social media is everyone's highlight reel. We all have crappy days, most just choose not the share it online for fear of shattering the illusion. But that's exactly what it is...an illusion.
  • If you're feeling down/worries/confused/scared/uncertain, ask for help. You'd be shocked at how many people are willing to chip in with advice or a kind word if you need it. There's nothing wrong with reaching out to people.

Want some book community specific examples? Here a list of things to do that make the romance community a better place to be:

  • Take a picture of your Keeper Shelf or one of your all-time favourite reads, and share it online
  • Re-read a favourite book
  • Have you read a book that you loved recently? Let the author know.
  • While you're at it, pop a review on Amazon.
  • Has one of your author or reader buddies shared some good news? Let them know how proud you are of their achievements.
  • Found a blogger whose reviews are really insightful or fun? Share the link!
Which kind things are you going to do today?

Jan 20, 2018

Girl Power by Clare Connelly

Mills & Boon Dare series is due to release in a week and while it promises the same high standard of fantastic, escapist romance that Mills & Boon is renowned for, it also brings a heap of heat, and features women who are super strong, sensual and confident. I've written four Mills & Boon Dares, and I can say that I absolutely love the series. 

High school besties
There's been a lot of interest in the powerful female characters, and so I've been thinking about 
women lately, and particularly, empowering women, strong women, how women can be confident and resilient, how owning our sensuality is a mark of triumph over old-fashioned ideals held by a patriarchal society... and what really resonates with me is the idea of strong friendships. The thought that part of being a strong woman is to be a woman who lifts other people up, who helps, motivates, inspires, says kind things, practices kind acts. 

I'm fortunate to still be really great mates with my high school besties. We all live in different states now but we are as close as ever. I have two sisters whom I adore, and a strong, awesome mum I really admire.

I have a lot of kind women in my life, and since I came into the RWA fold, and I've experienced some incredible acts of kindness too. Notably, after meeting Amy Andrews at the 2016 conference
At the Harlequin party 2017 RWA conference
 and giving her some of my books, unbeknownst to me, she contacted her editor at Mills & Boon to rave about me. How nice is that? It was unqualified, selfless support and championing, and I will never forget her willingness to speak up for me when we barely knew one another. 

Then, there are the LoveCats who invited me to be a part of this awesome blog, and who I have so enjoyed getting to know!

Jillian Jones & me
I joined our state romance writing group in January of last year and began to attend the monthly meetings. What a pleasure it's been to get to know these writers, women who sometimes share my passions and other times don't; to enjoy the lively conversations that centre around books we've read and loved, books we've hated, where our writing journey is at - and to share wisdom. We're all at different stages in our journey and the exchange of information is always lively and informative. We have our annual lunch tomorrow and I can't wait to see the gang! 

With my SARA sister Bronwyn
I could go on and on, listing all the beautiful souls I've connected with through my writing (readers who are just the loveliest and most supportive group) , but the common theme is the giving of time and thought. Whether it's a small message to touch base on a problematic manuscript, a tweet shared, a review of a book - and beyond that, sharing recipes and laughing about children, all the small little irrelevancies that form the background of our lives.

What about you? Got any kind acts you can share? Something a friend has done for you or that you go out of your way to do for a friend? 

Jan 15, 2018

Action Holiday or Leisurely One?

I’m an action holiday kind of gal. 

I’m currently in Whistler on a ski holiday with the family. I love flying down the slopes and getting a nice hot chocolate as a reward after a few hours of hard skiing. Then, out there again for more. I love being totally exhausted by the end of the day. Jumping in that nice long hot shower in the afternoon after a full day of skiing – heavenly.

I’ve tried to do ‘relaxing by the pool’ holidays. I pack great books to try to keep me on the sun lounger, but after about half an hour I’m itching to get moving. To do something active.

Image by Tourism Whistler / Mike Crane
Whilst being here in Canada, I’ve been thinking that a snowy backdrop would be wonderful for a romance. Log fires. Mulled wine. Snowed in in a log cabin with gorgeous views of the mountains. Icicles framing the windows (they are framing the one I’m looking out of now).

Anyway must away. Time to put on the ski suit and get back out there.

What type of holiday-maker are you – action or leisurely? I’d love to hear.

Jan 8, 2018

Word of the Year

New Years Resolutions have always made me twitchy.

I’ve tried them, of course. I mean, any chance to write a list, right?  #stationeryaddict

But I’ve never really bothered to follow through in a real way.

Partly because I’m hopelessly laid-back and partly because I’m a naturally contented person, so the idea of making wholesale changes has never really stuck.

Mostly because I’m not great with being told what to do. Tell me not to eat a Tim Tam.  Go on.  I dare you.  I’ll show you!  Watch me eat this whole packet, right in front of you.  Take that!

But, in the contrary nature of the human condition, I love the thought of a New Year.  It’s the ultimate Fresh Start.  The chance to shake off the cobwebs. To take a deep refreshing breath and do better.  Be better.

Which is why I have fallen in love with the concept of Word of the Year.

Rather than a list of ways to self-improve, for me my Word of the Year is a touchstone, a way to gently tug me back to something meaningful.

For example, last year my WotY was SIMPLIFY.

I decluttered like crazy. Oh the bliss of a tidy house!  I cut back – on worries, on endeavours that sapped my time. I let go. Having that word as my touchstone worked. It made my life lighter.

This year it’s MOMENTS.

For me that could mean a hundred different things all of which speak to me at this point in my life.

It can be a reminder to stop. To breathe. To notice.  To soak in a bright blue sky filled with fluffy white clouds. To take a moment to Shazam that song that made me dance in my seat. To see beauty in a wasp flittering over the pool. To spend a minute soaking in the first Jasmine flowers of the season. To look for accidental art in my coffee.

To put not only the big events in our family’s yearly Jar of Awesomeness, but those small moments, the forgotten joys – when my daughter tried to do a handstand in the pool, failed, and laughed at herself with the most gorgeous lack of self-consciousness. When my son made his Captain Underpants, fan–fiction comic book.  When I forced my mum to wear a huge pink ‘birthday girl’ badge the day we took her out for her 70th birthday.

These moments are my bliss.  My happy place.  My smiles.  My delight.

I'm pretty good at knowing what they are when I see them, but this year I intend to bask in them longer.  To bank those feelings.  To swim in the sparkles till I turn all pruney.  So that it will become habit.
And I can't wait.
So how about you? If you had a word of the year, what might it be?