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In my novel Indiscretion, it is the power of heredity that pushes the heroine, Alexandra, to return to the place of her birth: Spain. She has lost her mother, and is estranged from her father and now, in her twenties, she has been feeling unsettled. She reads this poem by Thomas Hardy:

I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on,
Projecting trait and trace
Through time to times anon,
And leaping from place to place
Over oblivion.

The years-heired feature that can
In curve and voice and eye
Despise the human span
Of durance – that is I;
The eternal thing in man,
That heeds no call to die

The first lines speak to her, and she thinks:

Perhaps it was time to listen to the quiet voice inside urging her on; time to acquaint herself with her own ‘heredity’. The exotic allure of her homeland had always been undeniably potent. Would she discover the missing piece of herself there?

With heredity on my mind, I was very moved by a piece in the New York Times recently on the subject, as it relates to the passing on of books.

In his article ‘In a Mother’s Library, Bound in Spirit and in Print’, Nick Bilton gives a poignant account of how prominently books featured in his relationship with his mother:

As I grew up, my mother held my hand as we wandered through the fictional worlds of Harper Lee, Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll. Birthdays and Christmases were always met with rectangular-shaped gifts.

And every book in our home was inscribed with a pithy note from my mother. ‘Dear Nick. Never live without beautiful books. Love Mum,’ she scribbled into a copy of ‘War and Peace.’

But a few years ago, he explained, they got into an argument over books, when he gave up much of his printed book collection in favour of a Kindle. Over time, he tried to persuade his mother to join the digital revolution, by giving her an ereader, but she barely used it.

Then his mother died, and she left her 30,000 printed books to her daughter. Finally, Nick realised how much those printed books meant to him, and how little his mother’s Kindle did now.

Suddenly, his mother’s argument on the importance of reading in print gained new meaning:

She spoke passionately about being able to smell the pages of a print book as you read, to feel the edges of a hardcover in your hands. And that the notes left inside by the previous reader (often my mother) could pause time.

Heredity. It matters. And printed books can have a part to play in that. Holding a book in your hands that your ancestors once read forms a powerful connection between you and them. You can occupy the same place together; time ceases to have meaning. Even better are those books containing dedications – treasures to hold on to.

The article certainly gave me cause to think. I looked at my own bookshelves and recognised that the books most important to me fall into two categories: those that were passed down to me from the family, and those I hold on to with the intention of passing them down to my children and grandchildren someday.

Of course, I read ebooks. But this idea of heredity reinforces my belief that the books that matter, the books that are a part of you, that define you, must exist in print. My ideal home library is one which contains only the books I most love, that have meaning to me. With this in mind, I embrace the ereader for its convenience and as a means of discovering books; but then, when I do discover a new gem, I buy it in print and put it on the shelf.

How about you? Do you have printed books you treasure, that were passed down to you or that you would pass on? Do you see a future without print, entirely digital, or do you think we must protect the printed book for the sentiment and meaning embodied within it? I would love to know your perspective.

This morning, I logged onto Amazon UK and had a look at the books bestsellers list. What did I find at the top? Not a novel, not a biography, not a non-fiction tome, but one of these:

Colouring Books

Of the top twenty bestselling books on Amazon this morning, five were adult colouring books (another five were cookbooks, but that’s a different blog post…).

Have you noticed this new craze for adult colouring? It’s making those who design the books and their publishers very wealthy indeed! Take Johanna Basford’s book Secret Garden. It has sold 1.4million copies worldwide to date (source: Guardian), taking the small British press that published it, Laurence King, by surprise. The illustrator told the Guardian:

‘[The pictures] are all over Twitter and Instagram. People are really proud of them – they are so intricate. You don’t have to have any artistic talent but what you create is unique. People send us pictures of them framed, and laminated. The appetite is simply enormous. I reckon people are taking their kids’ pictures off the fridge and replacing them with their own.’

Of course, these colouring books can be used by children, but they are marketed at ‘stressed-out, work-addled adults, who want to benefit from the quiet zen that a coloring session can bring’ (CNN). The trend is growing fast, largely through word of mouth and the growing acceptability of the pursuit as acceptable, and indeed meaningful, for adults.

So why are increasing numbers of adults buying their first packet of colouring pencils for twenty years and settling down to neatly shade between the lines?

First of all, it offers a break from the exhausting pace and digitally driven style of modern life. These days, we are inundated with computer screens and we rarely handwrite; there is some release to be found in time with paper and pencil, and a pleasant nostalgia.

Then there is the sense of mastery. In an adult world in which you frequently feel helpless and out of control, colouring between lines appeals: you can control this, you can at least feel that you are getting this right.

The peacefulness of the activity is also important. It’s a calm one, a quiet one; one that allows you to zone out and just be. Indeed, ‘mindfulness’ is a concept that is regularly being related to adult colouring – the practice of being in the moment, connected to it, which is spiritually beneficial. Colouring can even be meditative. In the Guardian writer Matt Cain wrote: ‘If I switch off the phone, computer and TV and concentrate solely on choosing the right shade of blue, avoiding going over the lines and slowly filling up my page with colour, all my other concerns, I’ve discovered, fade to nothing.’

Most interesting are the therapeutic benefits of colouring. Of course, art therapy has long existed, and has been used by therapists through the years to help clients relax, express themselves and reconnect with the ‘inner child’. Carl Jung used colouring with his clients; he would give them a mandela to colour.

So, having got past any hang-ups you may have had that colouring is for children, which book do you choose? Many are available, with a variety of themes:

 

What do you think of this new passion for colouring? Have you tried it? Would you buy a colouring book as a gift for a friend? I would love to hear your thoughts.

TwitterFiction

 

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.

Dictionary

 

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.

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