Music: do you hear without listening?

I met the lovely Elaina James last week at the RNA Birmingham chapter meeting. She told us about the blog series she’d written for Mslexia, detailing her inspiring journey from being a lyricist with stage fright to performing one of her songs on stage. She asked if any of us would like to blog about our own relationship with music, to link in with the final week of her blog series.

I didn’t offer.

I love music – many different types – but I don’t listen to it when I’m writing and I thought I had nothing of much interest to say. I don’t compile a playlist for each book, unlike many writers, and I find it distracting when I’m trying to write – the lyrics take over the part of my brain that is meant to be composing my own, original prose!

Disturbed-the-sound-of-silence-music-video

Then, today, I heard – again – Disturbed’s wonderful rendition of The Sound of Silence and – again – goosebumps spread over my whole body. And I realised I do have something to say about music.

 

 

Just over seven years ago, I assumed everyone listened to music in the same way I did. I can pinpoint the exact time I realised I was wrong because my (now) husband and I were choosing a playlist for our wedding. He has a vast collection of music, from Led Zeppelin to Sinatra, and came up with many suggestions for our playlist.

‘You can’t have that,’ I said, when he vigorously championed the inclusion of one particular song. I can’t remember what song it was, but it was all about regret over lost love.

‘Oh,’ said he, when I explained why. ‘I never realised that!’

Although he knew every word of that song, he had never registered the meaning, and it is the same for (virtually) every song he loves. The music is paramount; the lyrics are just words. And it seems there are many other folk who hear the lyrics, and sing them, without actually listening to them.

I, on the other hand, listen to songs. Yes, the tune is important but, for me, it is the lyrics that touch my heart. I absorb the poetry and the story, and that inspires my writing. So, you see, just because I don’t listen to music while I write doesn’t mean they are disconnected.

I simply didn’t make that connection last Saturday when I met Elaina.

It was hearing The Sound of Silence that inspired this post, and there is a line in that song (penned over 50 years ago by a youthful Paul Simon – a wonderful lyricist and songwriter) that is particularly apt:

‘People hearing without listening…’

Do you hear without listening or are you, like me, a listener?

 

This blog post is part of a music themed blog event organised by Elaina James, a guest blogger on Mslexia. Her author page on Mslexia can be found at www.mslexia.co.uk/author/elainajames.

Details of participating bloggers in this event can be found on Elaina James’ blog.

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Glitter, glamour and pink champagne!

On 7th March – which also happened to be our 7th wedding anniversary – my DH, Ian, and I set off to London to attend my first ever Romantic Novel Awards (RoNAs). Even more exciting than attending the most prestigious event in the RNA calendar was that my second published novel, From Wallflower to Countess, had been shortlisted for the RoNA Rose, which celebrates the best in shorter or category romance.

We parted company at Euston, as I had a lunch date with my publishers, Harlequin Mills & Boon, together with their other shortlisted authors: Annie O’Neil, who writes for the Medical series, and Scarlet Wilson, who writes for Cherish.  The lunch, at the glamorous Northall restaurant in the Corinthia Hotel, was hosted by Joanne Grant, HMB senior executive editor, and was also attended by each shortlisted title’s editor – including my editor, Julia Williams – and other senior editors.

I still haven’t trained myself to take photos of everything, and maybe that’s a good thing, as I now can’t bore you with pictures of the sumptuous food and numerous glasses of prosecco we enjoyed at the Northall 😉

The Corinthia Hotel is just around the corner from the Gladstone Library where the evening ceremony was to take place so, after lunch and a quick change, Annie, Scarlet and I made our way to the Gladstone as we had been asked to arrive early for photos to be taken. The two other authors shortlisted for the RoNA Rose award also arrived early – they are both Choc Lit authors: my good friend and fellow Anti Doubt-Crow, Alison May, and Angela Britnell – and then there was nothing left to do but partake of the free champagne until the event kicked off at 6.30.

Here is the photo of the five of us who were shortlisted for the RoNA Rose:

From L to R: Annie O'Neil, Scarlet Wilson, Janice Preston, Alison May (behind), Angela Britnell.

From L to R: Annie O’Neil, Scarlet Wilson, Janice Preston, Alison May (behind), Angela Britnell

 

2016-03-07 18.09.36

Ian arrived in time for the evening party, and he sneaked into the main room to take a photo of the Library which provided a magnificent backdrop for the actual awards.

 

It was lovely to meet up with friends old and new and, as ever, the noise rose to near-deafening levels as more and more romantic novelists (not all women, by any means!) arrived.

2016-03-07 19.13.58The ceremony – full of glitter and glamour, with pink champagne flowing – was introduced by the RNA chair, the very charming Eileen Ramsay and compered in her usual entertaining style by the inimitable Jane Wenham-Jones, with Fern Britton in attendance to present the trophies.

Well, reader, I may have failed in my first attempt at bringing one of those beautiful crystal stars home, but I consider myself a winner to have been shortlisted amongst so many talented writers. The very lovely and very funny Annie O’Neil triumphed in the RoNA Rose category with her medical romance Doctor… to Duchess?

The winners of each category are standing at the back of the photo. RoNA16 winners, Fern Britton, Anita Burgh, Claire LorrimerFrom left to right, they are:

Emma Hannigan, The Secrets We Share – winner of the Epic Romantic Novel

Milly Johnson, Afternoon Tea at the Sunflower Café – winner of the Romantic Comedy Novel

Iona Grey, Letters to the Lost – winner of the Historical Romantic Novel

Annie O’Neil, Doctor… To Duchess? – winner of the RoNA Rose

Lucy Inglis, Crow Mountain – winner of the Young Adult Romantic Novel

Melanie Hudson, The Wedding Cake Tree – winner of the Contemporary Romantic Novel

Two amazing authors were also honoured with Lifetime Achievement Awards, and they are pictured at the front of the photo: Anita Burgh and Claire Lorimer, flanking guest presenter Fern Britton.

The overall winner of the Goldsboro Books Romantic Novel of the Year 2016 was Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey. I can’t wait to read it, and all the other winning titles too!

I must include my appreciation of all the people who worked so hard behind the scenes to make a success of the evening. I will not attempt to name them, as I’m certain to miss someone out, but they know who they are! And I also wish to add my thanks to my publishers, Harlequin Mills & Boon, not only for inviting me as their guest on the night (and not forgetting that delicious lunch!) but for taking a chance with an unknown writer and helping me realise my dream of becoming a published author. Without them, I would not have been in that shortlist on Monday night!

It was an evening to treasure, made more special by having Ian by my side – the first time he has attended an RNA event. I hope it won’t be the last.

Happy Anniversary!

Happy Anniversary!

It’s been a busy summer…

The last line of my blog Working with an Editor, Part 2, way back in March, was… Yikes! I’d better get writing. And, in the main, that’s what I’ve been doing. Alongside procrastinating, although not productively; I could have blogged (that’s always a good procrastination technique) but I didn’t. I procrastinated about that as well. This is turning into a confessional, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be easier just to blog regularly, and save myself having to make lame excuses? Yes, and yes again. But I doubt I’ll change!

I should have blogged in July about the fabulous RNA Conference at Queen Mary’s University, London, but by the time I got around to it the moment, as they say, had passed. So many others had already written great blogs on the subject, any contribution of mine would surely be superfluous. And then the revisions on my work in progress came in (see my next blog for more about that!) and the decision was made.

'Jazz hands'

‘Jazz hands’

 

But, so that the moment doesn’t quite slip by without at least a nod from me, here is a photo of some friends and me at Saturday night gala dinner, which took place in the stunning Octagon Library.

Octagon Library July 2015

Thanks to Wendy Harris for the ‘Jazz hands’ photo and to Lynn Forth for the photo of the library setting for the dinner.

Facing a fear – my first talk

Yesterday was another first. I gave a talk at my local library—my first talk as a published author. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew the ‘audience’ (it seems a rather grand title for a small event) was the relatively newly-formed creative writing group, and I also knew that my library had informed a couple more local libraries of the talk in case their creative writing groups or book groups might like to come along. I originally intended to publicise the talk on Facebook, through my membership of a couple of local Facebook groups but, in the end, decided against it as it was my first time.

When I first agreed to do the talk I was a touch blasé. It’ll be fine, thought I. It was only the day before that the knot of nerves in my stomach threatened to overwhelm me and, by the time I arrived at the library (on high heels that already pinched as I hobbled up the stairs), I was deeply regretting my initial bravado. I felt unprepared and the old adage ‘Fail to prepare and prepare to fail’ kept buzzing around my head.

As it happened, it was great. It was informal—we all sat around a large table (thank God. Remember those heels!)—and it felt more like a chat than a talk, albeit with me doing most of the chatting. There were 7 people there, including my friend, Morton Gray, who came with me as chief cheerleader. I talked about how I came to be published: from my ambition as an 8 year old to be an author, to the way ‘real life’ gets in the way, to the moment I got ‘The Call’.

I had written a few prompts, mainly to keep my timeline straight (sounds like writing a novel, doesn’t it?). Also, knowing that one of the questions I am asked most frequently is ‘How long does it take you to write a book’ (to which I normally mumble and fudge my way around the answer), I set out to find out how long it does actually take me. Answer? I don’t know. The three books I have completed so far have been started and stopped and interrupted by Nanowrimo (http://nanowrimo.org/ ) and editing demands of the previous books and real life too many times to count. I even created an Excel sheet to try and reach an answer (now that’s a grand way to procrastinate!) but I am still no wiser. As it happens, nobody did ask that question which is just as well.

We had a lovely Q&A session at the end, finding out what everyone was writing and whether publication was the ultimate aim and, afterwards, one of the ladies attending asked me if I would be interested in giving a talk to a local Townswomen’s Guild. Of course, I said ‘yes’, particularly on being told they have a budget for speakers ;-).

Afterwards, I treated Morton to a cappuccino and we reminisced about how far we have come since we first met 3 years ago at our local RNA chapter lunch. The questions asked after my talk were the same questions we were asking back then. Now, we are supplying the answers.

Have you had any experience of speaking in public and do you have any top tips for people, like me, who are just getting started?

The RNA Conference 2014 and dubious medical practices

This time last week, I was dogging Katie Fforde’s footsteps around a table. We were compiling bundles of bookmarks and postcards for inclusion in the goody bags for the delegates due to arrive at the 2014 Romantic Novelists’ Association conference. The conference was held at Harper Adams University, a former Agricultural College, near Telford in Shropshire. I’m told the smell was all-pervading. I wasn’t sure whether or not to be grateful that I’ve no sense of smell. Having lived for so many years on a farm I would no doubt have felt right at home.

The venue was great; the food superb (the meat, raised on the farm, was mouth-wateringly tender); and the company, as ever, stimulating and joyful. As we are only an hour’s drive from Harper Adams, my friend, Morton Gray, and I planned to arrive early and help with the bags, which is how I came to be following Katie Fforde (president of the RNA, no less) around the table. It’s what is so great about the RNA, everyone pitches in.

Of course, the main reason for attending the conference is the many brilliant sessions on offer. Not the wine, the food, the chat, the laughs, meeting old and new friends. Honest! There were 34 sessions to choose from, usually 3 for every one hour slot. It was so hard to choose which to attend and inevitably there were sessions I regretted missing.

Of all the sessions I went to, the one that really stood out for me was Melanie Hilton and Jan Jones: Into the heart of the past. All about romantic fiction research, it was particularly apt for me. It was fascinating to hear how these authors carry out their research. There were wonderful slides to illustrate the talk, including some of Melanie’s vast collection of original prints. A few original artefacts were passed around the audience, and it was a privilege to handle, amongst other things, a genuine Norwich shawl: to see the size of it (huge, since you ask – full length) and to examine the workmanship up close. I learnt many fascinating facts (all of which I religiously recorded!), including that it was possible to make love in a park drag, which is a gentleman’s sporting vehicle built to look like a stage coach.

We also learned of some of the pitfalls in using language in Regency times. For instance, the word fiancé did not come into use until the 1850s. Before then they used betrothed or affianced wife.  Also, in 1801, the word debutante referred to a female stage actress. It was not used for a girl coming out into society until 1817. That’s definitely one to remember!

A challenge was set for the audience at the start of the talk: to identify the purpose of what looked like a pair of wooden bellows, complete with the usual tapering nozzle and with an additional short tube-shaped inlet at right angles to the nozzle. This instrument raised a laugh at the end of the talk when it was revealed as a Tobacco Smoke Enema Device for Reviving Drowned Persons. Yes, it was inserted into some poor half-drowned soul’s rectum and smoke from a pipe was directed through the inlet and puffed up the victim’s bottom! We didn’t learn if anyone had actually been revived by this method, but it seems somewhat doubtful.

My only quarrel with Melanie and Jan’s session is that it clashed with two other talks I would have loved to attend. C’est la vie.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference in London. Special mention here to Jan Jones (organiser extraordinaire), Roger Sanderson and Jenny Barden for making the conference such a success.