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Good At Writing?

Today I’m answering a question that came up in another context: How did you decide or know you were good at writing? 

At school I knew I was pretty good at writing essays, and once, in American history I wrote a “creative response” to an essay topic that my teacher really liked. But generally, creative writing was not something my very academic school encouraged, and when it did, it took the form of “exercises”. Never stories. 

I think the particular teachers I had for English were generally not very imaginative, and didn’t encourage that kind of thing in their students. I remember one exercise where we were asked to write about a rainy night, using as many colors as we could. I did it of course, but struggled — it contained traffic lights, as generally colors don’t show up much at night and in the rain.  I passed, but it was made very clear to me that I wasn’t very good at “creative writing.”

I also remember being shown some examples of “excellent” final year exam pieces (in the state-wide exams) from the previous year.  They were lively and sometimes funny, and entertaining, and I recall thinking, “Wow, are you allowed to write like that in an exam?” Because we were strongly encouraged to be serious and earnest in all things. And when I queried my teacher about it, she said, “No no no!  You should NOT try anything like that.” So I didn’t.

I travelled a lot during university holidays, and wrote lots of letters to friends and family, and when I got home people said how much they enjoyed them, and that I’d made them laugh, etc. But I never thought, “Hey, I could be a writer.” 

Then I started full time work and was so busy I never thought about writing for myself — only work related. But then I was asked to write some non-fiction pieces for an educational magazine. The editor not only liked them she said something like, “These are great. You really can write.”  

My response was, “Can’t everybody write?” — it was an educational publication after all. And she said, “No, you’d be surprised how many people can’t write to be clear, interesting and educational.” That was an eye-opener.

Some years later I took a year off work and went backpacking. I went solo — the friend I’d planned to go with had pulled out. So there I was, in countries where I didn’t speak the language, with nobody to talk to, so of course I wrote lots of letters. But also, stories started to spin in my mind. I bought an exercise book and started to write them down, and by the time I got home at the end of that year, I’d filled several exercise books and had a firm resolve to try for publication. (That photo above is of Quebec, where I bought my first exercise book (cahier) and started writing.)

I’ll talk about that in a future post.

One reason I’ve been thinking about this, apart from the question I started with, is because on the weekend I listened to a TED talk on schools and creativity by the late Sir Ken Robinson. Wonderful talk — funny and entertaining as well as educational and really, really important. If the video doesn’t show up below, you can watch it here.

Lucky Blackmail?

The Italian cover of THE SCOUNDREL’S DAUGHTER has arrived, and I love it.

They’ve translated the title to Lucky Blackmail, or maybe Fortunate Blackmail — which sounds a bit odd in English, but it does suit the story, don’t you think?

I love getting my foreign language translations and seeing how the various countries interpret the title and the style of the cover.

There are two couples in this story, and I’m not sure which ones are on this cover, but I don’t really care. It signals there’s a romance, and that’s what matters.

You can see some of my other Italian covers here. And buy them from amazon Italy, and other places, of course.

The Heyer Con

On the weekend I attended (via Zoom) a Georgette Heyer Conference. It was run by the International Georgette Heyer Society.

I came to Georgette Heyer young — when I was 11, and it was on a dare from my friend Merryn, in the Belmont Library (in Geelong.) You see, the library had a rule that you had to be 12 to borrow from the adult section, and Merryn and I, being prolific readers had pretty much exhausted the junior library selection. So the dare was to try to borrow from the adult library. “Who will I get?” I asked her. “My mother likes Georgette Heyer,” she said.

To our amazement we got away with this daring crime. Ten minutes later I walked out with an adult book, legitimately borrowed. It was These Old Shades. I know from hanging around Heyerites for years that most of us remember our first Heyer with fondness, and of course, it’s the start of a lifelong addiction. 

Many years later, in the late 1990’s,  before I was published, I joined the Heyer List, a wonderful email group that flourished for years. I was very sad when it broke up and members went a variety of different ways. As the second Anne to join (after NZer Anne Woodley) I dealt with the confusion of Annes by naming her Anne the Original, and myself Anne t’other.

I remember when I made a trip to the USA to attend my first Romance Writers of America conference, where my first book was a RITA finalist, a lovely group of Heyer List members in LA met me and took me to lunch. One of them, Nancy “the Bosom” Meyer even drove me out to Pasadena to visit the gorgeous Norton Simon Museum. I have very special memories of that group.

So, naturally, Heyer is also the reason I now write Regency-era romances. In some ways I feel as though I grew up in her Regency world.  I still tell people in dog park that my dog (I’ve always had rescue dogs) is a Baluchistan Hound. Nobody ever gets it but I live in hope. (That’s a photo of Georgette Heyer with one of her dogs, also not a Baluchistan Hound.)

So the conference on the weekend was fun — though a bit strange, with us all sitting at home.

There was a reading of several of Georgette Heyer’s letters which gave a fascinating insight into her relations with her publisher, and the way she plots. I was terribly impressed. She seemed to think it out first — sorting it all out in her head — and then write the book, often in a matter of a few weeks. 

  Back to the conference, where attendees were then invited to share some of their precious Heyer things — there were some serious collectors in the group.  I shared my earliest Heyers, bought for 20c each from an antique shop in Melbourne, where books from deceased housing clearances were piled on tables down the back. (That’s part of my battered, beloved collection.)

Then there was a showing of the first part of a 1950 German film of Arabella, with subtitles provided by two of the Heyer members. It was fascinating, though not exactly true to the book — in fact only the names of the characters were the same. I’m looking forward to seeing the whole movie. 

There were a couple of panels, one a publishing panel with publishers from the UK and USA,  and then a panel of writers — with romance writers Stephanie Laurens and Eloisa James and Jennifer Kloester (Heyer’s official biographer and walking encyclopedia of All Things Heyer), with academic Kim Wilkins as moderator.

I did a reading, a small scene from my book, The Scoundrel’s Daughter, and Regency/Fantasy writer, Alison Goodman read from one of her Lady Helen books. I think I’m going to have to get a microphone to ensure good quality sound, as I was worried when I was reading that it wasn’t loud enough, and I think there are going to be more on-line events, not only because of the pandemic, but simply because they enable international events to take place easily.

The day finished with a fun quiz on Heyer’s books — I got 19 out of 20 right — for the question “In what suburb is the house bearing Heyer’s Blue Plaque?” apparently the answer “Somewhere beginning with W” was insufficient. <g> So it was a fun day.