Once Upon a Time…

Great opening lines. We all want one. But let’s admit it, some do it better than others.

I myself suffer from performance anxiety.

I write what I think is a fantastic line and then I begin to doubt myself. Am I just writing that for shock value or is it really a relevant opening line? Is it wanky? Are there too many words? Am I telling a joke that no one else gets?

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that it’s easy to come up with a list of great first lines of all time, but I’m interesed in what makes a great first line in a romance novel.

So here’s how I roll. I go into the bookshop. I don’t take much notice of covers as well as know, you don’t judge a book by it’s…well you know how that ends. I check to see how big the author’s name is. The bigger the name, the badder the book. By then, I’ve checked to see the clerks not watching me (no, I can’t explain why I do that) then I pick up the book. Do I look at the back? No Bob. Do I check the inside cover? Do books have inside covers any more? I don’t do it anyway. I open up and read Line 1. Then Line 2. Then Line 3.

If I haven’t got goosebumps or if I’m not standing in the bookshop with a silly smile on my face – then it’s not the book for me. Yes, I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a first line snob.

First line? Killer.

I thought I’d turn to my own little library of (mainly historical) romance novels and do a little countdown a-k-a Oprah. But your not all getting one. Sorry.

No. 5

“She would not be sold like a prized mare at Tattersalls!” – Notorious Rake, Innocent Lady, Bronwyn Scott

I should hope not. But if she was, I hope she fetched a good price.

No. 4

“Finish the words and you will be a widow before you are a wife,” Giles Fitzhenry, knighted warrier of William the Conqueror, promised in a harsh whisper. – His Enemy’s Daughter, Terri Brisbin

I wish I could be that pithy under pressure.

No. 3

“Jane looked with distaste and a cringing fear at the chair Jacob Atkins would have her bend over so he could beat her with the thin cane which was casually slapping against his booted right leg.” – Destitute on his Doorstep, Helen Dickson

Bloody hell Helen.

No 2.

“Damien had suicide in his sights.” – Wattle Creek, Fiona McCallum

Don’t do it Damien.

But, my current favourite…my

No 1.

“Madeline Mercy Delacourte quite liked looking at near-naked men.” – Untameable Rogue, Kelly Hunter

Oh how I feel your pain Madeline.

And now, just for my own enjoyment, here’s one of mine;

“Brooke liked getting what she wanted and he just happened to be what she wanted.”

Hold your applause.


Why I love the old boys

I’m a sucker for a historial novel. Give me a highland warrior in a kilt a-la Terri Brisbin or a renegade knight (See Deborah Simmons The Dark Knight) and, sigh. I’m lost.

But why?

I am a well educated, confident 21st century woman. I believe in equal pay for equal work and I don’ need me no man, girlfriend. But. There’s something about those historical heros.

They are bold, decisive, ruthless and their bodies are honed from things like chopping wood and heaving logs rather than staring at their biceps in a gym mirror. But it’s a truth universally acknowledged that no red-blooded gal can resist a shirtless man chopping wood, all rippling muscles and brute strength.

It’s the other bits I don’t get. Like the bit in Terri Brisbin’s The Conqueror’s Lady where the hero claims the land and the heroine as his own without even a “How ’bout marrying me darl?”. But I love it! I love how he takes control and takes charge and does what he wants without asking her first.

What is it about these ol’ fashioned blokes? Do I suffer from the dreaded Cinderella Complex? (I read that book, but have forgotton what it said. Something about all women want to be saved…Yawn.) Maybe the idea of a big strong man taking on all my worries is appealing sometimes, but I’m no whimpering bunny and I’m too much of a control freak for that and besides I prefer the kick-arse heroines like the one’s Kelly Hunter conjures.

But all those manly men doing manly things…I just can’t resist. They make my brain swell. It’s crazy. I even like the dumb things they do and the stupid things they say. This scene from Jeremy Kirk’s The Build Up Boys is one of my fav’s (and it’s not even a romance novel!)

‘”You’re selling ‘Make Mine Anne Tremaine’. Do it right and he’ll buy it.”

Her eyes widened in horror. “Clint, I can’t, I’m not built that way, I – ”

He didn’t hear the rest. Something was wrong inside his head. It was a boiling tea kettle getting ready to blow off its lid.

He cried, “I’ll show you how your built.”

He grabbed the collar of the white blouse, wrenched. A button spun off. His fingers had a life of their own. They raced down the blouse. Soft cloth folded back. There was flesh under his fingers now, cool white flesh that suddenly flamed red.

She slapped him. He blinked.

The boiling tea kettle in his head simmered down and a haze cleared away from his eyes. She was standing very straight in front of him, blouse open to her waist, breasts heaving under the twisted cloth of her brassiere.

She said coldly and clearly, “You dirty pimp.”‘

Wowser. This book was published in 1951. The hero is asking the heroine to flaunt her stuff to win support of a business partner. I should hate him. But I don’t. He’s an idiot, yes. But she gives it back to him with a good hard slap.

Maybe that’s it. Strong men need strong women to simmer down their tea-kettle. And historical novels often feature strong independently minded women. (The one’s I read anyway.) So maybe it’s the competition these old boys offer that makes them so irrisistable and not the fact that they’re riding in on their white horse to save the day. The push and pull, the matching of wits. The challenge of whether the heroine can stand up to his controlling tendencies. I adore that the historical hero is the alpha male times one thousand. But what really floats my boat is that the historical heroine is no simpering Cinderella.

Bring on the biff I say.


Inspiration – Bond Style

If I’d ever met Ian Fleming, I would have slapped him. There I was, merrily writing away thinking I had written an elegant, yet interesting description of my characters. Then I read To Russia With Love. In the words of Shultz I realised that, “I know nothing.” (You must say that line in a bad German accent)

Fleming has now made me question everything I’ve written. Slap.

If you are a fan of the supremely strange Mr Fleming, you’ll know there is nothing like reading about a James Bond character. He uses graphic and evocative scenes that work with the descriptions to build a personality for the character.

“A blue and green dragonfly flashed out from among the rose bushes at the end of the garden and hovered in mid-air a few inches above the base of the mans spine. It had been attracted by the golden shimmer of the June sunshine on the ridge of fine blond hairs above the coccyx. A puff of breeze came from the sea. The tiny field of hairs bent gently. The dragonfly darted nervously sideways and hung above the man’s left shoulder, looking down. The young grass below the mans open mouth stirred. A large drop of sweat rolled down the side of the fleshy nose and dropped glittering into the grass. That was enough. The dragon-fly flashed away through the roses and over the jagged glass on top of the high garden wall. It might be good food, but it moved.” -Ian Fleming, To Russia with Love, Pub1957

Shudder. The man in the paragraph is a cold blooded killer – even the dragonfly is scared!

His descriptions of his characters are sometimes unpredictable; handsome killers, beautiful exotic women who harbour a naive nature, hardened soldiers with a soft side; but it’s the way he blends action with physical descriptions that make you lose yourself in the story.

Here is a one of the introductory descriptions of Bond, from the point of view of his enemy who is looking at his photograph;

“It was a dark, clean-cut face, with a three-inch scar showing whitely down the sunburned skin of the right cheek. The eyes were wide and level under straight, rather long black brows. The hair was black, parted on the left, and carelessly brushed so that a thick black comma fell down over the right eyebrow. The longish straight nose ran down to a short upper lip below which was a wide and finely drawn but cruel mouth. The line of the jaw was straight and firm. A section of dark suit, white shirt and black knitted tie completed the picture. General G held the photograph out at arms length. Decesion, authority, ruthlessness – these qualities he could see.” – Ian Fleming, To Russia with Love, Pub 1957.

Sigh. Although General G uses factual language and tells us nothing of Bond’s thoughts or past – we have a very distinct picture of a striking, very alpha man.

So back to editing. Time to play with my own characters and find ways of incorporating evocative scenes and different points of view into the story to make them come alive. Thank you Mr Fleming. Slap. There’s another for good measure. Very good sir.

JenRae x

Flicking the switch on my creative brain

I have called myself a writer ever since I wrote my first story. I was six and there was a situation concerning a mother ferret and her lost unborn child…don’t ask…it was complicated.

As soon as I received that sticker with a smiling ladybug on it, I decided writing was for me.

But not all writing is the same and even though Mrs Britt, my Yr 1 teacher loved my creative re-telling of the birth process of ferrets, my current magazine editors would rather I stick to the facts. When I write my stories about the lavish and decadent homes and gardens throughout Australia. (You can check out some of my stories at www.countryhomeideas.com.au or www.modernhomeideas.com.au) I use words like ‘delightful’ and ‘sustainable’ and french country’ and I make sure that everything I write was actually what was said. Being a freelance writer I get to write all sorts of articles (including one on romance authors which was a finalist in the 2011 ROMA awards) which means I keep having to switch my thinking as my potential audience switches.

But when writing romance, the storylines and characters are not sitting in front of me offering a cup of tea and a homemade macaroon. They say crazy (and sometimes irrelevant) things and go amazing, outrageous places. Sometimes I try to reign them in saying ‘do you know how much that trip would cost in fuel?’ but I find I have to stop myself. I have to let the characters tell the story and see where it goes.

Romance writing is by far the most exciting and most frightening writing I have ever done. But I bloody love love it. So when my characters call and says there winging their way to Sorrento – I will go with them, let them have their fun and not once mention sensible shoes. JenniferRaeX