Thursday, 10 February 2011

My date with Heidi Rice

Hah, thought that would get your attention ;-)

I was very fortunate to secure a place on one of the Heidi Rice workshops she is currently holding at Selfridges, so a very excited little me hotfooted it to London this morning.

My first ever writing workshop with one of my favourite authors, well it doesn't get much better than that! I was the first to arrive, so had a few precious minutes chatting with Heidi on my own :-D Did I mention I'm a huge fan...

If you have ever read a Heidi Rice, then her voice is very much like she is in person, funny, warm and very bubbly. It was a bit like talking to an old friend.

There were only six of us round a tiny table in the Wonder room, right in front of those gorgeous M&B covers through the ages - still giggling at the one entitled Brittle Bondage - so it was very intimate and we could all have a good chat. It was more of a question and answer session and really informative.

One of the things we discussed was voice. Heidi explained that voice comes through really strongly in your dialogue and it's what defines you as a writer and makes you stand out from the rest of the slush pile. As a new writer the only way you can find your voice is by writing and refining your craft and of course lots and lots of reading. She warned of the dangers of imitating authors that you like - something she did herself when she first started out. If you find yourself repeating things that you have read, then that is not your voice. You need to find something unique and fresh to you.

On the subject of reading, she reiterated the importance of knowing the line that you're targeting and of reading new books, as M&B evolves with its readers, so what was published several years ago, will not be needed or wanted now. Know your guidelines, but do not let them define you as a writer. Guidelines can be broken by a skilled writer and sometimes need to be to create the new, exciting voice that the editors are looking for, but they are there for a reason and you need to be aware of them.

We also discussed the good old Alpha Male. Heidi had a nice sheet of eye candy for us to oggle, research can be such a chore ;-) It is important to not make him too alpha though. If your reader wants to slap him and wonders why your heroine puts up with him, then you may need to turn him down a tad. Heidi said that all of her heroines were her, a more glamorous, younger sassier version of her, who said all the things that she would like to say to her hero, but essentially her. It's important to like your H/H and to make their journey believable so that the reader can identify with them.

One thing I personally found very reassuring was Heidi sharing the way she writes. She is a seat of the pants writer, who starts off with the hook, or an idea and lets the characters evolve from there. She writes a rough draft and then goes back to edit, sometimes a lot of revisions are needed, for the finished product, but she does not like plotting in advance and is not very good at writing a synopsis! Music to my ears, even if I didn't get an answer as to how to make synopsis writing easier. Oh well, drat!

She did stress, that even once you are published it doesn't get any easier, though her editor doesn't ask her for a synopsis any more, just a first chapter, as in the past her synopsis had very little to do with the finished manuscript! Something that is familiar territory to many I am sure, though personally I write the story first then write the synopsis and bore myself to tears over the first few attempts, lol.

Heidi also shared some interesting figures. M&B receives something like two thousand manuscripts a year and out of that they may get ten new authors. So the slush pile really is huge. She stressed the fact that M&B buy authors, not a book, so if they do buy your book, you need to be prepared to carry on writing. One book is not good enough, so to speak, you have to turn it into a career.

One way to break through the slush pile is by entering first chapter competitions. If you do make it through the finals then you know your work will be looked at by the people in the know. It is important though to enter competitions that are relevant to you, which is common sense really.

Heidi recommended the New Writer's scheme with the RNA which she found incredibly helpful, when she first started out, but it is extremely difficult to get into. The other one she recommended was the RWA There is an on-line chapter for overseas members, so I will have to check that out myself :-)

I could witter on for hours, really and I'm sure I've left something out, but it really was a lovely way to spend one and a half hours and it went far too quickly.

Heidi kindly signed two books for me and we also received a goody bag, which contained Heidi's latest book Surf, Sea and the Sexy Stranger, re-launched as a Riva - if you haven't read it yet, then DO! I could not put that book down, when I read it :-) The other book was Barbara Hannay's Molly Cooper's Dream Date, which I started reading on the train on the way home. My chuckling out loud caused a few raised eyebrows I tell you. It's very funny and original. And the facial mask will come in very handy next time I have a soak in the bath.

So, summing up, I had a fantastic day, even if I was completely wiped out by the time I got home. I consider myself very lucky to belong to this amazingly supportive romance writing community.

And last but by no means least, a huge Thank You! to Heidi for sharing her time and knowledge so generously and in such a glamorous setting :-D