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Twitter: a social media platform used regularly by 302 million people, including me. I use Twitter extensively as a means by which to connect with readers and fellow romantics – I chat, I publish news relating to my books, and I share quotations about life and love.

As yet, however, I have not embraced Twitter as a platform via which to publish my own fictional writing. My novels are upwards of 100,000 words in length. I write sweeping, epic stories full of depth and detail. I do not think I could tell a story in 140 characters or less. But I have been fascinated to see others doing so!

It was Ernest Hemingway, famously, who penned the perfect shorter-than-short story: ‘For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn. ’In his day, there was little interest in such condensed works. But since the advent – and explosive growth – of micro-blogging, especially on Twitter, a passion for short fiction has evolved.

Robert Swartwood, editor of the anthology Hint Fiction, comprising stories of 25 words or fewer, told The Huffington Post, ‘A story should do four basic things: obviously it should tell a story; it should be entertaining; it should be thought-provoking; and, if done well enough, it should invoke an emotional response. And if a writer can do that with a story that’s 140 characters or less, even better!’

With those criteria in mind, in May 2015 the world has been watching the events of #TwitterFiction Festival unfold via @TWfictionfest. Authors as diverse as Margaret Atwood, Gayle Foreman, Lemony Snicket, Celeste Ng and Jackie Collins signed up to participate.

#TwitterFiction has enabled a range of sharing and producing fiction:

  • Invite readers to tweet a prompt, and write from there.
  • Share fiction broken into bite-sized chunks.
  • Tell stories in a single tweet.
  • Preview a current work, or write anew.
  • Write ‘live’ – fluid and improvised.
  • Share pictures to tell, or accompany, a tale.
  • Create accounts in characters’ names and tweet as them.
  • Co-write by collaborating back and forth.

What comes through is the originality and innovative nature of the work, and the core themes of mastery and valour. Take the author Lauren Beukes, for example, who invited people to offer genre mashups as prompts, such as ‘Cold War fairy tale’ and ‘Muppet prison drama’, and then wrote Twitter-length stories live in response. That is art stripped bare – and all the more fun, inspiring and beautiful for it.

Did you follow the #TwitterFiction Festival? Did a particular author hold your attention? Are you inspired to read (or write) ‘hint fiction’? I would love to hear your thoughts.



On a mild summer’s day, once I have completed the writing tasks I set myself, I am usually to be found sitting in my garden near sweet-scented flowers, reading a book. Romance novels are, of course, firm favourites, and I spend much time reading background materials on the country in which my latest novel is set. But there is another, quite different, kind of book I immerse myself in often, a wonderful, weighty tome: the dictionary.

My interest in lexicography began in my teenage years. At first using a dictionary was a necessity for my studies: as I looked up new words in the classic French literature I was reading; as I sought the English term for the French word in my mind; and as I looked to increase my vocabulary to impress my peers through the romantic stories I wrote for them.

But once I was a young woman, and writing had transformed from hobby to serious passion, I found myself not only looking up the occasional word, but reading the entire page. The dictionary became a sort of treasure trove of knowledge for me, and I took to noting down words I found interesting and beautiful to the ear, to weave into my prose. I took to heart the wisdom of Nathaniel Hawthorne: ‘Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent… they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.’

These days, my dictionary is delightfully well thumbed, and I would not be parted from it for a newer version. But given the rapid development of the English language, I try to keep abreast of new words not included in my own tome.

Each year the major dictionary compilers share a list of the new words that their lexicographers have officially included in the newest version. The lexicographers read widely, on the lookout for brand-new words entering the vernacular, and for words whose meaning has shifted. (‘Wicked’, for example, traditionally meant bad; then for a while it was slang for good; now it is back to being bad again!)

This year, Dictionary.com added more than a thousand new words, including:

  • crash blossom: an ambiguously worded headline
  • dox: to publish the private personal information of (another person) without the consent of that individual
  • lifehack: a tip, trick, or efficient method for doing or managing a day-to-day activity
  • ship: to take an interest in a romantic relationship between fictional characters or famous people
  • slacktivism: actions taken to bring about political or social change but requiring only minimal commitment, effort, or risk

Am I about to dox an individual, include a crash blossom, offer a lifehack or weave some slacktivism into my latest novel? I think not! Knowing words does not mean one must use them. But ‘ship’ is interesting. I certainly ship Alexandra and Salvador in Indiscretion

Avon FanLit

I know that many of my readers enjoy historical romance, and a number of you either write in the genre or aspire to. So I thought I would share details of an intriguing collaborative writing contest.

Avon Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, has launched Avon FanLit, a 12-week onliune writing programme beginning on 8 May. Avon provides a writing prompt, you write the chapter as you’d like it, and Avon selects and publishes the winner – then provides the next prompt. So the book unfolds according to input from various writers.

The book is set to be a lot of fun to read and write. The first prompt opens a story of Lady Felicity Stratford meeting her childhood Maxwell Trent, the Duke of Highcliff, at a society ball. Instructions are to include in your chapter a whispered argument, a daring waltz and an annoying interruption.

Writers have ten days to submit for each round – and readers can then vote on the chapters. The winning chapter will be revealed every two weeks, and the next prompt will follow on from the winning chapter’s narrative.

To make the exercise really valuable for writers, bestselling Avon authors and editors will be providing feedback along the way, and winners will receive signed books. One overall winner will be considered for an Avon Impulse publishing contract. The final book will be available to buy as an Avon Impulse eBook.

Such an innovative idea, don’t you think? I’d love to participate, but sadly entry is for United States citizens only. If you’re US based, why not get involved? Please do let me know how you get on – I’m registered and eager to read your chapters.

Is reading romance a ‘guilty’ pleasure for you? Do you read romance novels on an ebook so no one knows what you’re reading and judges you by it? Do you associate the words ‘trashy’ or ‘illicit’ or ‘low-brow’ or ‘anti-feminist’ with the romance genre?

Then may I suggest you read this fantastic article in Bustle: ‘7 Reasons It’s Actually Totally Feminist To Read (And Write) Romance Novels, Thank You Very Much’. The author, Maya Rodale, explains:

My inner feminist resisted reading romance novels because I thought these trashy books were somehow bad for women by filling their heads with unrealistic ideas about life and love. But the more I read them (and eventually wrote them), the more I realized that these books are totally fairytales for feminists.

She goes on to explore different reasons that put romance novels firmly in the feminist camp, like the fact that they are by women, for women and about women, and that they reward women. She writes:

Unlike any other literature, romance novels champion women who defy expectations, they validate their interests and experiences, they declare women deserve love, respect and pleasure, and they reward them for refusing to settle for second best. What’s more feminist than that? 

Maya is the author of this book on the subject:


From the blurb:

Long before clinch covers and bodice rippers, romance novels had a bad reputation as the lowbrow lit of desperate housewives and hopeless spinsters. But why were these books—the escape and entertainment of choice for millions of women—singled out for scorn and shame?

Dangerous Books for Girls examines the secret history of the genre’s bad reputation—from the “damned mob of scribbling women” in the nineteenth century to the sexy mass-market paperbacks of the twentieth century—and shows how romance novels have inspired and empowered generations of women to dream big, refuse to settle, and believe they’re worth it.

For every woman who has ever hidden the cover of a romance—and every woman who has been curious about those “Fabio books”—Dangerous Books For Girls shows why there’s no room for guilt when reading for pleasure.

Maya also has a well-argued website at www.dangerousbooksforgirls.com which contains some compelling reading. I was especially fascinated by her infographics, based on a study she conducted, that give a broad picture of the romance genre and, especially, attitudes towards it.

If you have a little time, I really recommend checking out Maya’s writing. She’s a champion for all of us romantics. Thank you, Maya!


Mr Darcy, the archetype of the brooding, aloof romantic hero who is famous the world over more than two hundred years since his inception. Clearly, Jane Austen wove magic into this character, so lasting and powerful has been his legacy.

But does the character of Mr Darcy stand as testament to Austen’s vivid and clever imagination, or is he in fact the embodiment of her social scrutinising? How far is Fitzwilliam Darcy a fictional character, and how much the representation of someone Jane Austen knew?

In her new book Through the Keyhole: Sex, Scandal and the Secret Life of the Country House, Dr Susan Law puts forward the case that Austen’s inspiration for Darcy was the first Earl of Morley, John Parker. Based on letters, diaries and newspaper articles, Dr Law has found the Earl to be a logical contender. He was the husband of Frances, with whom Austen was close, and she spent time at their home in Plymouth while writing Pride and Prejudice. Apparently, the physical similarities between the two men were strong.

The Earl of Morley is the latest in a line of contenders for the title of ‘the true Mr Darcy’, which includes alleged lover Thomas Lefroy, and Dr Samuel Blackall, whom Jane met on holiday. Certainly, unless new evidence alights, none of the theories can be proven.

What do you think? Was one of the most beloved heroes in romantic literature a living, breathing man – or was he a product of the imagination of a very gifted writer? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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