Thursday, 29 April 2021

Why I Write What I Write

Many years ago I told my friends that I wanted to write a romance and be published by Mills and Boon. Their eyes widened in disbelief. I drafted a few stories and even submitted one manuscript to M&B in London. I received a message that they liked my writing 'voice' but the storyline didn't suit them. My story didn't fit a genre where you must meet a hunky hero on page one and something 'sparks' between the hero and heroine but they have to overcome various stumbling blocks before they reach their happy-ever-after ending. 

M&B enclosed a 'With Compliments' slip for me to attach to my next submission - which I never made. I realised I didn't want to write that kind of story. I began a long journey as a non-fiction writer (as Louise Wilson) of family history, still writing about how people got together but trying to understand the actual lives they'd led, not a made-up life. 

Writing non-fiction can be quite constraining - the facts and nothing but the facts - and eventually I broke free and completed a novel, 'Retreat into Paradise'. It honoured a promise I once made to an old neighbour, who taught me all I know about farming, that I would write a book about her. 

Then I wrote a second novel, 'Trading Secrets', drawing on my experiences in the financial markets.

I wondered - of all the possible novels I might have written, why did I choose to write those particular stories? Now that I'm working on my third novel, my themes are coming clearer to me. Why I feel compelled to write what I write is beginning to make sense. 

My books are slowly revealing what's been important to me in my own life. As a Baby Boomer, the eldest of four girls, a student at an all-girls high school, a university student in a predominantly-male faculty and the ex-wife of three different men, feminist issues naturally attract me. So do the struggles of being taken seriously at work and trying to combine work with marriage and motherhood. Plus infertility problems, family dramas, managing as a single parent with a full-time career. I'm fascinated by people who don't fit the mold - nerdy people, serious people, loners, introverts, people lacking in confidence, confident men with power or influence who are trying to achieve something of value in their lives. Moral choices. 

The ambience of 'place' is important to me too. All the lovely harbourside suburbs of Sydney featured in my second novel 'Trading Secrets' - Mosman, McMahons Pt, Kirribilli, Manly - are suburbs where I've had homes at different times in my life. 

I love a good story but I hope my novels - women's fiction - show the benefit of having many decades of life experience to call upon as an author. As an example, consider this article published in 'Bank Notes' in 1966. After I did the Leaving Certificate in 1962 and won a Commonwealth Scholarship to attend the University of Sydney, the Commonwealth Bank advertised for 'boys interested in a career in banking'. Aged sixteen, I rang the bank and said 'what about girls?' At the next Board meeting the directors agreed that, indeed, girls could aspire to a professional career in banking. Thus, in 1963, I entered the man's world partially described in 'Trading Secrets', which is set in the mid 1990s, well after my time working in Sydney's financial markets! Can't believe it was so long ago.

I'd love to know what you think of my books - find me on Facebook.


Sunday, 14 February 2021

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is a big day for me this year - even if I can't claim a secret admirer. A bunch of expensive red roses won't arrive at my door in locked-down Melbourne, but I had fun describing such an event when writing 'Trading Secrets', released today. Come to think of it, I didn't need too much imagination, as red roses have arrived several times in the past - back in the good old days. I can still recall the pleasure it gave me.

'Trading Secrets' is my second novel, written as Louisa Valentine. Yes, I was once a Mrs Valentine, so what other nom-de-plume could I possibly choose when writing women's fiction? 

By focusing on a good, believable story line I aim to provide reading enjoyment for people in my own age group and my daughter's age group. We've had enough life experience to know that a Happy-Ever-After relationship is based on much more than jumping into bed five minutes after you meet someone. I generally keep the bedroom door shut in my stories. As one friend and beta reader said to me, 'I was glad to see you managed to avoid all the soppinesss'. 

I prefer the 'getting to know him' type of story - with the addition of a few surprises and a few social issues. Another beta reader said to me 'I didn't see that coming'. It's why I've kept a lot of the story line.

Nicola Pearson is a new recruit to the Federal Bank in Sydney, hired to devise a new system to manage the trading risks of the bank. It is the mid-90s and she has to prove herself professionally and intellectually to win over the dealers, especially their boss Tom Forrester. He has recently returned from a three-year stint in London to run the Federal Bank’s financial trading operations. 
Nicola has been left in the lurch by her ex-husband and does not trust men, lacking confidence in her judgment of them although she is confident of her workforce skills. She lives quietly, keeping her private life to herself and worrying over a secret.
Tom is also divorced, following a marriage experience which left him very disillusioned. The world sees him as living in the fast lane and Nicola is not his usual ‘type’ but something about her calls to him.
He gradually recognises she is bottling up a secret. Does he hold the key to relieving her worries and changing her life?

As Louise Wilson I've written many family histories, from which it's clear that love really does make the world go round. Ignoring the unpleasant exceptions, none of us would be here without the benefit of some love along the way. Listening to songs like 'Hello Young Lovers', 'Love is in the Air' and 'As Time Goes By' reminds me that I may be a 'golden oldie' now, but at least I'm still young at heart! (Sorry about all those over-used phrases - they're clich├ęs because they're true.)

'Trading Secrets' is available as an e-book and as a paperback through this link. Please enjoy it. All feedback is welcome.

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Trading Secrets

'Write what you know.' Authors often receive this advice. That's why 'Trading Secrets', a work of fiction, is based on the world I inhabited many years ago.

Let me introduce you to Nicola Pearson, a new recruit to the Federal Bank in Sydney, hired to upgrade the system for managing the trading risks of the bank. It is the mid-90s and she has to prove herself professionally and intellectually to win over the dealers, especially their boss. 

Now meet Tom Forrester. He has recently returned from a three-year stint in London to run the Federal Bank’s financial trading operations.

Their secret will surprise you. 

Why not pre-order this ebook? It's coming in February. This link will take you to your favourite online store.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes


In the past I've been a member of the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild and of Romance Writers of Australia. More recently I've attended two biennial weekend conferences of the Historical Novel Society of Australasia. 

Yet, while everyone around me surged ahead with their novels, I continued to write as Louise Wilson in my comfort zone of non-fiction. 

Progress as the writer Louisa Valentine crept forward at a snail's pace despite my selection of a seemingly perfect pen name. I chose Louisa Valentine for two reasons: a) I liked that my grandmother always called me Louisa and b) an earlier married name of mine was Valentine.

This year I gave myself a figurative rap over the knuckles and decided to 'do something'. I entered a short story competition for historic novelists, where the story length could not exceed 3,000 words. By converting a factual story of my forebears Stephen and Sarah Flockton I ventured into writing creative non-fiction.  They married twice in 1827, the first time at Melbourn, Cambridgeshire and the second time at All Hallows Lombard Street, London, when the groom adopted his wife's surname.

Given today's attitudes, 'Ahead of His Time' might have been a good title for this story but in the end my focus was romance and I went with 'Take a Pair of Sparkling Eyes'. A more experienced novelist won the competition but it was fun to try and the judges commented on the high standard of entries.

P.S. I invite you to 'Like' my Louisa Valentine Facebook page.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

That Kiss

At yesterday's meeting of MRWG - Melbourne Romance Writers' Guild - we were given 5 minutes to react to, and write about, this famous photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt of an American sailor kissing a woman on V-J Day in Times Square, New York, on 14 August, 1945.

Some of us wrote from the feminist perspective - 'How dare he?’ ‘I'd smack his face.’ ‘He's manhandling her.' Others said 'No, he's holding her carefully.’ ‘If she didn't like it, she'd be pushing him away.' Others saw it from the sailor's viewpoint - he was celebrating LIFE, having survived the war.

Being immersed in the analysis of family history photos, I think I was the only one in our group who picked up on the word 'Bond' on the hoarding, and the woman's attire, as the guide for my little story. Just for fun, here’s my take on the image:

That bond of joie-de-vivre in the crowd … she shared it too. She had no objection to a sexy sailor demonstrating it on her. Tired of war she was. Yesterday she’d been nursing a guy like this, wondering when it would all end. Today she felt free. She’d be smiling too, like all those around her, if her mouth hadn’t been claimed by this stranger. She hoped he wouldn’t stay a stranger … his kiss stirred feelings that she’d like to feel again. Soon.

We were told afterwards that the couple appeared to have been unconnected before the moment of 'The Kiss'. As the photo gained fame, efforts were made to identify its subjects, and many individuals came forward, claiming to have been its unforgettable stars. However, kissing random strangers was popular that day and giving names to the 'faceless' sailor and the 'faceless' woman in white proved impossible.

Thank you Elvina Payet, of MRWG, for giving us this great writing exercise.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

50ks30days

A week ago I had a draft m/s of 12,500 words which had languished in my computer for more than a year.

Now - 30,000 words, more or less.

Thank you, Romance Writers of Australia, for organising this annual event - writing 50,000 words in the 30 days of June. And thank you, Sarah Brabazon, for co-ordinating it. For me, having a goal, a deadline, is a great benefit of 50ks30days, as I'm a 'last-minute-Louie', inspired by the adrenaline rush of meeting a 'due date' but not so cavalier with the creation of fresh words at my leisure.

It's amazing what a difference this week's increased word count makes, psychologically. Suddenly I feel as if I've reached the half-way point. The daunting word mountain which must be climbed to reach the top (those magic words, 'The End') is now achievable.

True, I did cheat a bit. I grabbed bits of relevant descriptive writing from other places - my blogs, some old letters of mine, some paragraphs from my other ideas for books - and dumped them at the end of my current w.i.p. All contain useful scenes and ideas which can be worked into my story.

And that is precisely what I've done over the past week, although it's a case of two steps forward and one step back because the count of 'new words' created, as conversation and action are added, is almost negated as I delete the superfluous imported words.

One day I may be able to conceive a fiction book in its entirety and write it from scratch. I've heard one prolific category romance writer admit that she sat down and wrote her entire story in ten days. Others with full-time work and busy lives say that they take their annual holidays specifically for the purpose of generating the first draft of their next m/s.

Romance writers often categorise themselves as 'pantsers' or 'plotters'. That 'book in ten days' writer I just mentioned is a self-confessed pantser. The opposite is a plotter who, in extreme form, conceives and plans out the whole book before the first word of the main text is ever committed to the page.

I'm neither a pantser nor a plotter, although my long-ago university-level training in maths suggests that I should be a plotter. For now, I'm a victim of my years as a non-fiction writer. In a family history, in particular, you don't know what the story is when you start. Years are spent progressively building up a story from snippets of information. It often doesn't become clear to you until you've completed a great deal of exhaustive and exhausting research. That's when you try to shape and rearrange your words into a coherent and flowing story.

When I do write by the seat of my pants it's an exhilarating experience, generating a marvellous sense of freedom. I discovered that feeling when writing my first 'romance', currently under consideration by a publisher. Over the past week I've had flashes of flying high with this second draft. By the time I reach 'Draft No 3', in the future, I might have learned enough new tricks as a novelist to free myself completely as a writer.

For now, this old dog is sticking with her old tricks by fixing blocks of words and shaping them into a story. I have a clear view of the hero and heroine and their internal and external conflicts, and of the feeling I wish to convey from this draft, but although technically I'm half way through, I haven't yet finalised the plot line. By the time I reach The End' of 50ks30days, my objective is to bring everything together into a completed first draft of a satisfying 'sweet' romance.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Old Boilers and New Tricks

I now feel a whole lot better, after reading the tribute to Betty 'Ashleigh' Bingham, 1929-2013, in this month's Hearts Talk (the official journal of Romance Writers of Australia). She published her first novel at the age of seventy, a romance entitled The Dream Hunter, and subsequently published seven more romances.

Her story means I still have time. My birthday is coming up - and there's no escaping the fact that I'm a grandmother - BUT, I'm still three years short of Betty's age as a debut novelist. (That's what's called the glass half-full view of life.)

About thirty years ago, when I had a senior position in the finance sector, the editor of Business Review Weekly (BRW) said to a journalist friend of mine, who wanted to write a story about me and several other women - 'Who wants to read about a lot of old boilers?' And they say that chauvinism is not rampant in this country! I took umbrage at the time but, now that I am more legitimately within the 'old boiler' category, I see the humour in trying to learn some new tricks. After so many years as a non-fiction writer, the art and craft of writing fiction remains a challenge, but a commercially-published romance with my name on the cover is still on my bucket list.

At present I'm trying hard to complete my second draft manuscript - by participating in the RWA's amazing #50ks30days event - the aim being to write 50,000 words during the month of June 2013. More on that anon.