Quick message about me NOT being on Twitter

Because some people have nothing better to do with their time than obsess over folks who are actually doing what they only wish they could do — i.e. writing and publishing books people want to read — I’m compelled to write this quickie blog post.

There’s someone on Twitter posing as me under the account name @parlettscarish

Note the single letter R in the ‘scarish’ part of the name. They’re posing as me, but it is not me. I only have a Facebook account now, and an Instagram I hardly ever use. And this blog of course. (I’m also on Patreon, but that’s not really ‘social media’, is it?)

The person on Twitter is not me and should be reported as an impostor immediately; do not engage.

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The Story Behind the Story 15: Take Me Home

If you don’t know how this book came about, you obviously don’t follow me on Twitter because I’ve been quite open about the fact Jenny Trout is to blame for all this.

For…a while…we’d been exchanging DMs about a particular celebrity who was famous before he went to the States but really made it big once he settled there in the early 2000s. Lost weight, dried out, sobered up, picked up more acting jobs, appeared in a friend’s show then got his own, blah-de-blah.

What did these DMs entail? The polite answer would be appreciating his good looks and humour. The slightly less ladylike response would be along the lines of “I’d bang him like a storm door in a hurricane.”

As a joke, I made a throwaway remark like, “I should write a book about him getting his end away,” and Jen’s response was…enthusiastic, to say the least. Especially as, being Scottish, I’d have first-hand knowledge of this totally fictional romance hero’s origins and places with which he’d be familiar.

I’ve often spoken on social media about how there are far too many American authors who fetishise Scotland and Scotsmen, treating this country like a bloody theme park/tourist attraction. Nine times out of ten what they think is a swoonworthy romantic hero is just a two-dimensional caricature that bears no resemblance to any kind of Scot I’ve ever met, but hey, who cares about realism when you’re appropriating an entire fucking country so your readers can Jill themselves silly over cardboard characters called Angus or Jock, who have red hair and wear tartan every day?

I’m just the Scot who was dinged in a review once for “trying too hard to sound Scottish”, whatever the fuck that meant. Would you tell an American they were trying too hard to sound American? An Englishwoman they were trying too hard to sound English?

(Do I sound angry? Well, that’s because I fucking am.)

Upshot is, lesson learned. Never make a joke to Jenny Trout or she’ll hold you to it and make you write the book. From time to time she would send ‘encouraging’ messages asking how things were going on the manuscript, and by that I mean, “Hurry the fuck up with this damn book, Scarlett, I need to masturbate.”

I started Take Me Home on the first of November last year, of course for NaNoWriMo, but a couple of weeks in, realised I wouldn’t finish the book in time for the last day of the month. Pretty soon after that, it became abundantly clear there was no way this book would stick to my original word count estimate of 40k. (I’d planned to write TMH then start another manuscript to make up the remaining 10k words of NaNoWriMo.)

In the new year, just before the world went mad, I told Jen, “You know, I don’t think this book is going to come in much under 50k, you know. Possibly 60k.” And it just kept…growing.

My original outline was 16 index cards pinned to a corkboard, and I thought, maybe 2-3,000 words each would give me a fairly respectable word count. But conversations between the two main characters went long and I had to split a couple of chapters into two parts. Maybe three. More backstory was required to avoid the story looking rushed. So I added more index cards to my outline. And as I’d visited all of the locations (aside from L. A.) used in the book, I was able to go into detail about Edinburgh, Glasgow, the Trossachs, Glencoe, Ballachulish. Drop a little history into the narrative here and there, sprinkle the dialogue with Gaelic.

Then, as mentioned, the world went mad. In March, Scotland went into lockdown which meant I only left the house once a week to do grocery shopping, and perhaps briefly in the evenings to run to the local corner shop for a jug of milk or some munchies for after dinner. I mean, seriously, the amount of crap I’ve eaten since then, it’s a wonder my lockdown chub/pot belly isn’t a lot bigger. Anyway, who cares? It’s a sign I have enough to eat, and that’s a blessing.

On with the show.

Like pretty much everyone else on the planet, my everyday life just…stopped. I make a big deal of hating people (and to be honest, the past few months of selfishness from politicians and civilians alike regarding social distancing and mask-wearing have only served to confirm I am right in my belief that people are bastard-coated bastards with bastard filling) but I did have outside-the-house obligations, commitments, errands, and so on, which just…ceased. Occasionally, I socialised. Not often, but sometimes. And being told I couldn’t do something I rarely wanted to do anyway, just made me want to do it all the more.

But I didn’t, because I’m not a selfish cunt. Anyhoo.

I suddenly had a lot more spare at-home time on my hands. You might have thought, with all the stress people have been under with this pandemic to deal with, increasing one’s productivity must be impossible, but not so. I like to be contrary, so in March, I made an effort to rebuild my writing momentum still further.

In February I’d had a couple of 6k-word days which was my best showing in not just months, but years. I remembered finishing Stay the Night with a 5k day but that was around a decade previous, and I hadn’t written so many words in one day since, I believe. So these 6k days were a real boost to my confidence.

I decided to really aim high, and go for a 10k day in March. That would be my best daily word count in over a decade; I think the last time I’d had a 10k day was during the writing of Plus One, but I could be wrong.

There was a lot going on in my ‘real’ life in March, a lot of stress (not connected to the pandemic and quite frankly no-one else’s business) but somehow…somehow…I did it.

Twice.

On two separate occasions in March, I wrote 10k words in one day, and after that…writing got easier and easier, even while the world fell apart outside my front door.

In April, I thought, if I could have multiple 10k days in one month, the next step would be…beating my all-time personal best, right? Years back I remember blogging about writing just a smidge under 12k words in one day, and being proud of the achievement but still annoyed that, on totting up my day’s total, discovering I’d just missed the next landmark by a hair’s breadth. If only I’d kept writing for a few pages more, I’d have crossed the next thousand-word mark.

So I was determined to exorcise the ghost of that ‘so near, yet so far’ 12k day, and beat my personal best.

Which I did, on Monday the 20th of April (yes, I keep a record) when I wrote 12,036 words in one day.

I’d done it. Ended up bloody exhausted, but I’d done it.

Between the start of lockdown and June when I finished the book, there were numerous occasions when I would send Jen extracts from the book to butter her up before confessing, “Uh…this might take a bit longer than expected. I’ve just had to add another scene to the outline.”

It wasn’t that I was being long-winded as an author. Just that the story required more detail to fill in Afton and Glenn’s backstory. You can’t spend nineteen years apart then hit the reader with “And we lived happily ever after, the end.” They would have got up to shit in the intervening years before their reunion, and a lot of resentment would build up on both sides, which would then need to be worked through.

I’m not a fan of what I refer to as ‘Hollywood endings’ where a solution drops out of the sky and wraps everything up with a neat little bow. Such books have me wondering if the authors are contractually obligated to limit themselves to a set word count, which they cannot exceed on pain of torture by their publishers, editors or fans.

But how did I come up with the storyline? For a while I’d had a couple of ideas scribbled down in my writing notebook. Just vague hints of characters or situations I could use. One of them was the reunion of a young woman who had previously had a one-night-stand with someone who didn’t remember who she was. For the sake of Take Me Home, this became a woman in her late thirties (to allow for the passage of much more time) who had had a brief, but intense relationship with an actor/comedian with whom she shared an agent. He’d have to remember her, but if the relationship was that intense, why would they split in the first place? Perhaps…they were into partying a little too hard and she wanted to cool it with the substance abuse and he did not? Okay, good. That allows for a lot of heartbreak. An emotional split, but not down to either of them no longer having feelings for the other. It was because of the heroine’s love for the hero, her desire to see him safe and healthy. An attempt at staging an intervention to which he, in his drugs haze, strongly objected.

Living in different countries and building their own careers would keep them apart, but what would bring them together? Well, I can answer that by referring to yet another “Hey ha ha how’s this for an idea,” I threw at Jen, and her “YES WRITE THIS NOW,” reply. I suggested setting the book in Edinburgh and using the Fringe Festival as a set-up for Afton and Glenn’s reunion. As an actor/comedian, he could bring a one-man show to the city of his birth, and contact Afton to say “Hey, I’m going to be in town again, let’s catch up.”

Sure, the Fringe was cancelled, but by the time the announcement was made, I was already halfway into the book and wasn’t going to rewrite it at that stage. Not when it was already careering towards the 80k mark, double what I’d already intended.

I carried on with the outline I had and decided to add an author’s note to the front matter, explaining the circumstances under which I’d written Take Me Home. Everyone knew what the circumstances were; a pandemic is global, after all, but I added a wee paragraph just to explain why I’d decided to set the greater part of the novel during the festival that never was.

Basically, I couldn’t be fucking bothered changing the outline at this late stage. It’s my book; if you don’t like it, blow me. I wrote a first draft of over 130k, half of which was produced during lockdown.

Because I desperately wanted Jen to like the book, I hung on her every DM and message while she read it and in revenge for my many “Um, I think I might need a bit more time to finish this,” messages, she told me “I loved it, but you’ll have to wait for my blog post to read the details.”

Gah!

And here’s the blog post I refer to: I Love This Book. The title says it all, right?

I hope you do too; after all, I’ve often referred to it as my ‘love letter to Scotland’. And it’s the book which showed me what other authors mean when they claim to miss their characters once they’ve written ‘The End’.

* * * * *

When successful actress and newly-single Afton Collier returns to Edinburgh after her divorce from an American comedian, she doesn’t expect her distant past to reappear.

Fellow Scot Glenn Peterson is nearly fifty and looking back over twenty years of getting clean and sober, building his television career in the States and interviewing the great and the good…and a few scoundrels. When he decides it’s time to move on, that includes taking his one-man show to the city of his birth, which also gives him an excuse to seek out the one who got away.

Afton wants to believe Glenn’s attempts to atone for the mistakes of their shared partying days are genuine, but she has a broken marriage to recover from, and as the saying goes, you can’t go home again.

* * * * *

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The Story Behind the Story 14: Read Me (Connections #3)

After Eat Me and Drink Me, I knew if there was a third book in the series, it would have to be called [Something] Me — pipe down, you perverts; not that. Anything four-lettered and I’d be in trouble with Amazon.

Except, it did end up with a four-letter word in the title. A clean one, though…which is probably the only clean thing about the book.

As Connections is an open-ended series, that is to say each character’s story is complete in and of itself, confined to one book, I knew I wasn’t committed to writing about any particular background character in a following book, but I kinda sorta wondered a bit about Leah. One would have thought that Amelia playing such an important role in Book #2 would be my subconscious prepping her for her own book, but I couldn’t really think of a storyline to fit her, then fate stepped in and said, right. It’s Leah’s turn.

In the before times, i.e. before lockdown, I would occasionally go into town and look around a particular charity shop that sells donated furniture. I usually keep my eye out for storage, or office-related furniture. Maybe a desk that suits me better, or a new chest of drawers that will hold all of my clothes in the one place. I don’t like to leave things out, and much prefer surfaces to be clear.

Anyway, one day I spotted a writing bureau for…around £35, I think it was. One of those 1970s-type items, with the fold-down door that becomes a sort of makeshift desk, with pigeon holes behind it for stationary, pens, correspondence and so on. The bottom half of the unit was three drawers. The only thing I didn’t love about it was the fact it had four legs, rather than the whole unit sitting directly on the floor. I have this thing about furniture that has legs to it — they leave the carpet underneath exposed, but it can be difficult to get to while vacuuming, which means I have to physically move the whole unit to clean underneath it properly.

But that’s just me being picky.

So I paid for the bureau and arranged a delivery date, just like Leah Deacon does in Read Me. When it eventually came, I instructed the delivery men to leave the bureau in my hallway and I’d move it into place myself. I reasoned it would be possible if I removed all the drawers, making the shell of the piece if not light, then at least moveable for one person on their own.

And whadaya know? When I took all three drawers out, I discovered a folder of papers. You know those document wallets that usually come in manilla, or pale blue? One of those. A blue one. The papers I found belonged to an elderly gentleman, judging by the date on some. No photographs, just warranties, that kind of thing, going back years. I concluded, given the age of this person, that the reason the piece of furniture had ended up in a charity shop was, he had died and his house had been cleared of all belongings. Maybe no-one had come looking for these papers, or perhaps they had and no-one had managed to find them. But the bureau had been otherwise emptied and this folder hadn’t been picked up. Maybe it had accidentally slid down the back of the drawers; that was probably why. But imagine if the papers (unimportant ones, generally, as I concluded from my flip-through) hadn’t been lost, but hidden.

I went online and tweeted about the incident and a Twitter mutual, Ella Drake, replied words to the effect of, “Ooh! You could get a book out of that!”

And here we are. Read Me. And it’s dedicated to Ella, who put that thought in my head. (She’s @Lori_Ella on Twitter if you want to follow her. She can be bribed with colour-coded spreadsheets.)

True; I could get a book out of it. But what would be the storyline?

A young woman buys some second-hand furniture…for what reason? She runs her own business and needs a desk or a writing bureau to do all her at-home paperwork. Okay, cool. Why would she buy second hand? She likes old furniture? New would be too expensive and all of her money has been sunk into her business. What would that business be? Not important at this stage. What is important is working out what she finds. Not warranties and boring stuff like I discovered in real life, no. This needs to be enough to carry an entire novel.

Something really controversial like…photographs that reveal a deep, dark family secret. And a birth certificate! But why would a birth certificate be controversial? Because…the father isn’t the person he should be. Ooh, now we’re getting somewhere. Ella was right; there really is a book in this!

But whose birth certificate? I decided to make it an old one, from nearly forty years back, because then the hero would be just the right age to get involved with our heroine, Leah.

And what is Egyptologist Doctor Andrew Kendall’s birth certificate doing hidden in the back of a writing bureau which formerly belonged to a man he’s never even heard of?

You’ll have to do what the title says to find out…

* * * * *

Denial is not a river in Egypt.

Running her own coffee shop doesn’t leave Leah Deacon much time to go looking for trouble, but trouble has a way of finding her. The bundle of papers she finds concealed in a second hand writing bureau needs to be returned to its rightful owner, but that rightful owner would rather pretend the past hadn’t happened, and Leah had never uncovered it.

Historian Andrew Kendall is definitely not pleased with Leah for crashing into his family and upsetting his mother, but there are long-buried secrets to be revealed. As a Doctor of Egyptology he’s well used to investigating history’s mysteries and if solving the puzzle of his own family’s past means spending time with the infuriating Leah Deacon, so be it…

Warning: contains some accidentally-on-purpose spilled coffee and even more spilled tea…

* * * * *

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Universal Book Link for READ ME showing all available vendors.

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Well that was weird, Patreon

Just banging out a very quick blog post to see if anyone else has experienced this. I was just catching up on my Patreon obligations tonight, and posted an excerpt from my current WIP, The Hour of Our Death. You know the score, lots of hot and sweaty demonic nakedness, tattoos, violence, the works.

But the excerpt I’d chosen triggered some mysterious alert in Patreon’s algorithm and I got a message at the bottom of my screen saying something like, “It looks as if you are promoting a raffle, which is against our rules. Sort yourself out, slag, or we’ll send the boys round to do you over.”

Or, you know, words to that effect.

I couldn’t imagine what the hell was going on. It was a thousand-word excerpt from my current manuscript, no gambling involved. I don’t gamble in real life (it’s a mug’s game) and I would actively discourage anyone else from doing so.

All I could do was leave the excerpt in the text window and delete it paragraph by paragraph, until the warning from Patreon disappeared; that way I’d know which was the problematic section. Once I had that narrowed down, I pasted the paragraph in question into the text window and narrowed it down sentence by sentence.

By a process of elimination I worked out the trigger phrase was ‘giving away’.

That’s it. Just those two words. ‘Giving away’.

In context, my heroine, Portia, used those words to refer to blurting something out to her lover and her words giving away, or revealing, her true feelings. In the end I pasted in my original post, with the problem phrase replaced with the single word ‘revealing’.

So, take this as some friendly advice. Don’t use the phrase ‘giving away’ on Patreon, or it’ll think you’re trying to encourage your sponsors to gamble.

I guess this gives me the perfect lead-in to saying if you want to find out what all the fuss was about, and sponsor me on Patreon, you can gain access to excerpts from my works-in-progress, cover art reveals, polls, playlists and other shiz for $2 or $5 a month on my page, right here.

And it’s back to work for Yours Truly!

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The Story Behind the Story 13: Temporary Position

Bit late this week, but I’ve had a lot to deal with, so you’re getting Tuesday’s blog post on Friday night!

Temporary Position was my second book to be published at Total-e-Bound as was, before it became Totally Bound. Stay the Night was contracted but not yet published and in the middle of the editing process, my editor got in touch to say she was organising an anthology and would I like to be part of it? Each title would begin ‘Temporary’ and be set in the workplace.

And it’s been around nine years since this conversation happened, and details are a bit fuzzy but I think another requirement was a threeway. I could be misremembering that as maybe one of the other books in the anthology was M/M? Anyhoo. The plan was to release eight related novellas of less than 20k words in individual ebook format, and in paperback too — two volumes of four stories each.

Of course, flattered, I jumped at the chance. Even if restricting myself to under 20k words would be difficult! I threw some ideas at my editor, even telling her who the two male leads were based on. One of them is an actor on whom she had a raging crush at the time, so that was to satisfy her. The other was based on a certain Swedish person and that’s all I’ll say on that!

I like to start off in medias res, as the saying goes; in the middle of the action, then jump to a flashback, if backstory is necessary. When I handed in the manuscript, the higher-ups said they’d prefer it if the story was told in strict chronological order, so the reader could follow along. I didn’t like it, but fuck it, I went along with it. It wasn’t the first time I’d had a publishing house more or less tell me to dumb things down because their imagined readers needed every story beat to be spoonfed to them. I happen to not think people are that daft, and they can handle a flashback. It’s not that difficult to understand when we’re jumping back in time, and the reason is to fill in the blanks regarding a character or scene you need to know more about. So when it came time to self-publish, I did so with the scenes in the order I prefer.

Because I made one of the male leads Swedish I of course had to have some of the dirty talk in Swedish…even though I don’t speak a word of that language. So what did I do? Consulted with a friend from that part of the world who said he was perfectly willing to translate some phrases from English into his native tongue.

(And I have to admit, Max, if you’re reading this now, nearly a decade later…yes, I did read your phrases  backwards through Google Translate, just to double-check you weren’t messing with me!)

Temporary Position has had a number of covers since it was first published but the one I’ve settled on right now is by Bianca Sommerland who has also done the cover for my Life & Death vampire paranormal series. It’s tough to find stock photos with one woman/two men, but she photoshopped some suitable smut together.

According to the Scrivener file where I have the manuscript for Temporary Position saved, it’s only 16,837 words long, which makes it my shortest-ever published book.

Which explains why this is the shortest blog post in this series! Here’s the blurb:

* * * * *

Jess Ludlow thought she was agreeing to work on the shop floor, not all fours.

Jess Ludlow’s spent three months trying to pretend she didn’t kiss two work colleagues after a staff dinner. They might not all work in the same department store but they’re employees of the same parent company and these things have a habit of refusing to be forgotten. The biggest problem is deciding what she regrets more – kissing Tyler and Sebastian at all, or walking away.

Both men have a vacancy only Jess can fill. A staffing dilemma gives them the perfect excuse to draft her in, and a brief window of opportunity to convince her they have unfinished business. Tyler can sweet-talk her in English, Sebastian’s fluent in Swedish, so between them (which is where Jess belongs), they’re ready to pull out all the stops.

And the nipple-clamps.

* * * * *

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The Story Behind the Story 12: Bring Me to Life (Life & Death #2)

Well this is a book that’s been through a couple of incarnations. And its very existence? I lay the blame for that solely at the feet of Sue Laybourn. (Also writes as SA Meade, on Twitter as @kestrelrising.)

You all know about A Little Death, right? Well if you don’t, you should. Go read that blog post. Tell it I sent you.

All done? Good.

Well, after Sue had read that book while it was still at Loose Id, she said regarding that book’s antagonist, Cian Ambrose, “All he needs is the love of a good man.”

My reply was, “But he’s not…”

“Oh. Oh, is he not? He always struck me as bi.”

“No, he’s straight. I think. Well, I mean…”

And as soon as I’d said that, I began to think. Apparently I’d written a bi-coded male vampire without even realising? Huh. How about that?

So, we (that is, Sue and I) chatted a bit more, and I began to think about Cian Ambrose’s backstory, how he came to be so bitter about his ‘friend’ Jonathan’s relationships. (I put ‘friend’ in brackets, not because Jonathan did him wrong, but because Cian himself has some very funny ideas about how to treat people who treat him well. He’s everyone’s worst frenemy.) Turns out he had a broken love affair in his past. But, he’s a vampire, so…how about the person he thinks is dead…isn’t?

The trouble was, at the time this plot bunny started nibbling away at my brain, things were going wrong at Loose Id. If I wanted this to be a sequel to A Little Death, I’d have to give that publisher first dibs on it. And there was no way in hell I’d ever send Loose Id another book after their continued “Whoops, we forgot to pay you…again,” bullshit, so what to do, what to do?

In the end I decided to simply file off the serial numbers and pitch it to another publisher. I changed the character names, removed any reference to returning characters from A Little Death, and sold the book on the strength of the outline alone. No point writing a book until I had to, right?

The character who was in my mind, Cian, became Adam. His ex-boyfriend from the war years, Nathan, kept that name because he was a new character. Jonathan and Mallory from Book #1 became a M/M couple, I wrote the book, job done.

But…I was still disappointed in the whole scenario. I really liked my worldbuilding, and the characters, and…I just really, really wanted those two books to be at the same publisher and sold as a series.

So when I got the rights to A Little Death back, I sold it to Totally Bound. When BMTL’s first publisher went under and the rights reverted to me early, I replaced the serial numbers which I’d previously filed off, and turned it back into a sequel to ALD. Adam became Cian again. The M/M couple magically turned back into Jonathan and Mallory from Book #1 and I sprinkled a few references to my already-established vampverse throughout the novel.

And I sold it to Totally Bound.

Happy ever after, right?

Wrong.

Totally Bound refused to market the two books as a series, because, and I quote, “M/M and M/F readers don’t cross over.”

I said, “I may be a writer, but I’m also a reader, and I read both subgenres of romance.” I still do, to this day.

But nothing doing. Apparently writers don’t count; people who are purely readers and readers alone, tend to stick to either M/M or M/F, one or the other. Not both.

And no matter how much I disagreed — politely — Totally Bound steadfastly refused to market Bring Me to Life as a sequel to A Little Death, even, and this is the kicker, publishing those books under separate imprints.

I’m not kidding. Two books set in the same universe, were published under different imprints, and sold on different web pages. All right, both websites were owned and run by the same publisher, the same ‘parent’ company, if you will, but there were no links between the two novels. Just “This book is set in the same universe as [other book],” on each book’s sale page, but no links given for readers to go find and buy the related novel.

Which made no fucking sense to me. The titles were similar, characters from Book #1 made appearances in Book #2; Bring Me to Life is the story of Cian’s heartbreaking relationship with Nathan Stephenson and explains why Jonathan, though appearing to not much like Cian, still shows him respect and sticks close by him through the years.

No. Damn. Sense.

And God damn, I loved Bring Me to Life. Hell, I made myself cry writing one particular chapter. Yep, even if the early edition had ‘Adam’ instead of ‘Cian’ appear, because I knew who Chapter 10 was really about.

There are plenty of opportunities for a third book in the series, many plot threads I could pick up, but I’m still waiting on one standing out, grabbing me, and demanding to be written. This mysterious Book #3 already has a title, though. But I’m not going to tell you what it is. Suffice it to say you can rest assured it continues the pattern set by the preceding two books.

And I’m not writing it until I’ve come up with an outline that threatens to rip out my heart like Chapter 10 of Bring Me to Life did as I wrote it.

* * * * *

Nathan Stephenson died seventy years ago and he’d like the world—or at least one person—to think he stayed that way.

In 1940s London, Sergeant Nathan Stephenson ignored his rank and the expectation that he’d wait for the war to be over and find a nice girl to settle down with, and took a lover. Not only was Cian Ambrose unashamed of his bisexuality, he was also proud to be a vampire. Back then, he was certain that his and Nathan’s relationship would last forever, refusing to take no for an answer.

One evening, Cian went too far in his attempts to persuade Nathan to become a vampire and left a mutual acquaintance, Jonathan Cutler, to deal with the aftermath. What Cian doesn’t know is that Nathan didn’t die—Jonathan brought him back to life, agreeing to keep Nathan’s continued existence a secret.

It’s now the twenty-first century and Jonathan’s back to call in the favor. Nathan’s an honorable man and can’t say no, but the trouble is, wherever Jonathan goes, Cian Ambrose can’t be far behind…

* * * * *

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The Story Behind the Story 11: Drink Me (Connections #2)

The first book in my Connections series (and you can tell I spent a long time coming up with that series title), Eat Me, was published in 2018 and towards the autumn of that year I began to think if I was ever going to publish a sequel, I’d better get on with it otherwise my readership would forget the characters from Book #1 ever existed.

I’d put a teaser that Wallis’s story would be told soon in the back matter to Eat Me, thereby dropping myself in it. “You have to write Book #2 at some point, Scarlett; you have to!”

Because of the title of Book #1, its sequel clearly had to be titled Drink Me, and this in itself influenced some of the plot points. The hero, Oliver Chandler, was a barman who had a second job as a waiter, and the heroine, Wallis, wasn’t just dealing with depression and social anxiety as I’d originally planned; she became a reformed party animal whose current group of friends know nothing at all about her past. And, as the project progressed, that past became more and more detailed, and traumatic. She’d gotten into the party scene as a way of forgetting a toxic relationship and ended up more than dabbling in what would be termed ‘self-medicating’ with alcohol.

So, for her to get involved with a barman would be a super-bad idea, right?

Wallis’s friend sets her up with a guy, and Wallis can’t resist because Oliver is just so damned pretty.

But Oliver has secrets of his own, and these secrets involve a cannibalised idea for a story I’d had lurking around in my brain for quite some time.

Mild spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t read Drink Me (and why not?), stop now.

Still here? Good. Let’s proceed.

I had an image in my head of a guy rushing a woman to the hospital because of an injury she’d sustained and the doctors and nurses there assuming it was a domestic violence incident, and the woman had a hard time convincing the medics that this guy wasn’t her lover, he was her brother, and no, she wasn’t covering for him.

Originally, this lass was supposed to get romantically involved with someone who worked at the hospital, whom she knew from…back in her schooldays? Some kind of former, casual connection. But I couldn’t figure out a way to do this without all kinds of ethics violations happening. You know, a doctor becoming involved with a patient and so on…

So I backburnered that whole idea, but the hospital dash scene refused to die.

And it found its place in Drink Meexcept the heroine isn’t Amelia, the injured woman in the car (maybe in a future instalment?); it’s Wallis, and the hero doesn’t work at the hospital; it’s Oliver, the patient’s brother. And Wallis is driving, after borrowing the car off her flatmate, the heroine from Eat Me, who’s now romantically involved with Wallis’s younger brother, and—

Look, look. It all makes sense in context, right?

What doesn’t make sense is the word count. I thought…I assumed…the word count would be consistent throughout the Connections series but when will I learn that I have virtually no control over what my characters do? Eat Me had been inspired by a dream; Drink Me was kind of…I guess you could say hothoused? Forced? I felt obligated to write a follow-up as I’d dropped myself in it by declaring my intention to do so in Eat Me’s back matter. So you’d think it would be a matter of mechanics. Outline X number of chapters, get them written, done.

Not so.

Once I started writing the book, the characters took over and my goodness, that sounds pretentious. What I mean is, there was a lot more to their backstories than I’d planned for, and that influenced their behaviour in the here-and-now, which meant more drama and conflict, which is fantastic for the story, not so much when it comes to my sanity.

Plus, the chemistry between Wallis and Oliver — relationship portmanteau Walliver — was a hell of a lot more steamy than I’d expected, but hey, the smutty chapters I wrote fit their character development, so who am I to argue? Only the author.

The manuscript ended up at somewhere around 75k words or thereabouts. Twice the length of Book #1, but I was immensely proud of it. Saying it was fun to write sounds wrong because the material is so dark in places. We’re talking domestic violence and alcoholism and toxic, borderline-abusive past relationships and mental illness. But it worked — of course I would say that — and I proved to myself I could deal with slightly murkier topics than I’d touched on in my previous contemporary romances.

And the series didn’t end there.

Just you wait.

* * * * *

Wallis Jackson needs a stiff one – either some alcohol or the other definition – to take her mind off the day-to-day stresses of life, and it’s been too long since she tasted either kind.

Barman Oliver Chandler might be able to help with both; in fact, he’s definitely up for a friends-with-benefits arrangement. However, after a shocking act of violence against his sister interrupts one of their date nights, Wallis has to decide if she can handle being around a family that makes relationships so complicated. Besides, the closer she gets to Oliver, the more difficult it is to avoid revealing her own relationship history.

Warning: contains a tall drink of water who causes thirst rather than quenches it, to say nothing of the inappropriate use of the word ‘Daddy’…

* * * * *

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The Story Behind the Story 10: Plus One

Another first in this blog post; Plus One, an older man/younger woman romance, was the very first novel I ever outlined, on a dare from a ‘friend’ and yes, those scare quotes were deliberate. In return, she had to pants a novel, ended up getting a few chapters into the book and losing her way, having to outline the rest.

Sucks to be her.

The outline method I used was partially cribbed off my ‘friend’, which makes a change from her helping herself to my ideas. I no longer have the outline for Plus One, instead only keeping the MS Word manuscript, Scrivener file, mobi document, contracts and rights reversions, stock photo and cover art. So basically any legal paperwork, plus the finished product. Nothing of the actual process.

But the way I worked it was, I scribbled out ideas for scenes in a normal notebook, longhand, with a pen, and rewrote each scene summary but in reading order this time. After that, I created an Excel spreadsheet with columns for the chapter number, a brief summary of what happens in that chapter and its word count. To the right, I created cells which gave me a total word count for the whole project, a projected total (chapter average word count multiplied by the number of chapters in the outline), words to go (projected total minus the word count so far), chapter average (total word count divided by the number of chapters begun) and also words written that day (each day I would reset this to zero, and as I added to my word count column, my total would show in that little cell).

I believe I also had percentages as well — of the manuscript done, and of the manuscript still to write. I don’t bother with percentages any more, although the outline spreadsheets I use nowadays are very similar to my first attempt at using one. Perhaps I should do a blog post some day about my MS Excel outlining process.

Did I learn anything worth knowing from this outlining challenge? I’d say yes; much as I hate to admit it, not-a-friend was onto something with her love of outlining. Having a very, very loose and subject-to-change outline meant I could write out of sequence, depending on whichever scene I felt like working on, on any given day. Of course, while I got used to the process it meant that I had to cover over the joins, but that could easily be dealt with during the editing process. I could drop information into more than one chapter, and later decide which was more suitable for the progression of the plot. Should the heroine discover the hero’s great secret in chapter 15 or chapter 22? Bung it in both and sort it later. What is his big secret? Well, writing out of order means I could deal with that later on in the book, then go back to plant seeds in chapter seven.

As I believe I’ve mentioned before (possibly on social media), Plus One was the book in which I once wrote 20k words in three days. Okay, more like 6,500 per day, which adds up to 19,500 but close enough. Why? I fucking loved the hero, who’s based, looks-wise, on one of my celebrity crushes. The character of Dr. Spencer Flynn is entirely of my own invention. His physical appearance, on the other hand, meant I could watch videos of this guy and call it research. Too, I came up with a technique I christened ‘Wikibullshit’. For some reason, I made Dr. Flynn an expert in applied (or was it theoretical?) mathematics, hence the puntastic title Plus One and I relied on Google and Wikipedia for just enough details to make it look as if I knew what I was talking about.

In all seriousness, I could say basing an MMC (male main character) on a celebrity means I can easily reference eye colour or height, that kind of thing, as photos of them are all over the internet. If I’m being non-serious, I can say head-casting a famous hot guy for a smutty novel full of sex scenes is a hell of a lot of fun.

A distraction, but fun, nonetheless.

I can’t remember how long it took me to draft Plus One, but I do know I wrote it in the autumn of 2009. I would have finished it by October, because NaNoWriMo started on the 1st of November and that was when I began work on By the Book. What I do remember is that its first draft was 125k words long and when it came time to edit the beast, I got it down to 75k. So it just goes to show that outlining most definitely did not stop me producing bloated manuscripts. I now see it was nothing to do with pantsing or plotting…just my inexperience. As my writing career has progressed, my first drafts have become tighter. For example, just look at my last release, Take Me Home. Its first draft was 131k words, and on editing, it shrank to just under 125k words. A ‘loss’, or should I say a tidy-up, of 6k words isn’t bad at all for a manuscript of that size.

Some of you might be surprised to know that a lot of the scenes I cut were naughty bits. Yep, even with erotic romance, if the two (or more!) main characters are playing hide the sausage, that’s all well and good, but if it doesn’t serve the story? The scene’s a goner.

I sold Plus One in the summer of 2010, to Carnal Passions, and as their lead time was quite short, it released soon after that. Third book I ever sold, second book I had published. The cover it had back in the day was by Amanda Kelsey and it’s one of my favourites ever. I’m not sure what the legal position is with me posting it here as my rights reverted from Carnal Passions and the book has a different cover now, so I won’t, but you should be able to eyeball early editions on Goodreads, or other reader-centric websites.

After Carnal Passions, I re-sold the book to Totally Bound, mainly because I wanted to see it in paperback, and this was a publisher which gave its authors 5 free paperbacks of each release. Carnal Passions had a paperback edition of the book too, but it was POD and you had to pay for them. I’d bought copies of Long Time Coming as it was my first ever publication, but by the time Plus One came around, I’d seen how many publishers gave free copies to the author and nuh-huh, ain’t doing that again. Also I’m Scottish and some national stereotypes I like to live up to. I don’t believe in spending money if I don’t have to.

And you know that old publishing motto? Money flows to the writer.

Eventually, I pulled my books from Totally Bound too, and the third edition of Plus One is my self-published version. The characters refer to using shorthand at work, and DVDs at home, so those details date it a little, but as a whole the book is very dear to my heart.

And other bits.

* * * * *

Something doesn’t add up…

Lydia’s looking for a job not a lover, but after her interview at Saint Joseph’s University, she ends up with both. There’s a need for discretion despite her bright pink hair and Doctor Spencer Flynn’s candy apple red Mustang—after all, she’s an admin assistant now, he’s a lecturer in applied mathematics and they work together. So they conduct their liaisons behind closed doors, which is all right with Lydia—she’s never experienced chemistry like it.

‘Discreet’ soon begins to look a lot like ‘secretive’ and a last-minute cancellation of a date prompts Lydia to rethink her role in the relationship. Braced for a break-up, she’s amazed when Spencer confesses the secret he’s been keeping all along. His loyalties are divided and when Lydia’s attempts to hold on to his attention backfire publicly, she wonders if playing house with a mathematician is a zero-sum game…

* * * * *

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The Story Behind the Story 9: Dark-Adapted Eyes

Ah, Dark-Adapted Eyes, the only third-person novel I’ve published thus far. And why is it written in third person? Because at the time of its first (like, very very first, earliest of earlies) draft, third person was my default. I pretty much thought that was my only option. I’d never tried first person and why? I guess I believed it was too personal, would lead to me putting too much of myself in my books. But that was before I learned the words ‘author’ and ‘narrator’ didn’t necessarily have to refer to the same people, and first person narrative can bring the reader closer to the action, if you’re careful not to put too many filter words in the text. (”I felt,” “I heard,” “I saw,” and so on, can put the reader at one remove. Try not to do it all that often.)

I think it was around 2007 that I was pootling through Waterstone’s looking for nothing in particular when I gravitated towards the writing books, as I usually did. I discovered something called No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. Turns out it’s the official NaNoWriMo guidebook, but at the time, NaNoWriMo was virtually unheard of in this country. In fact, the price on the back of the book was in dollars only and I had to ask a member of staff to scan the barcode and let me know what they’d charge for it in pounds, if I decided to buy. As it happened, I did buy, as it promised to teach me how to write 50,000 words in a month. Not necessarily good words, just 50,000 of the bastards.

I won’t go into detail here as it’s 2020 and NaNoWriMo is much more popular than it was back in ‘07. You all know the score. The book gives you tricks and tips on how to just get that brainvomit first draft out. It doesn’t have to be any good, but you can’t edit a blank page. Hell, no-one else has to ever read it unless you want them to. Just get the words down.

So, I decided to give it a go. On the day I finished reading the book (because I didn’t obey the ‘rule’ of reading each section at the beginning of a new week), which was two or three days after purchasing it, I counted ahead 30 days, opened up an MS Word document, and just…started writing.

Honestly, that was all the preparation I made. Virtually none at all. I asked myself, “What do I want to write about?” At the time my cousin had just got a new cat, or his cat had had kittens, something like that. So they were on my mind, and I thought, “Fuck it, cats. People. Cat people. Yeah, that’ll do.”

30 days later in mid-May, shortly before midnight, I typed the 50,000th word, screenshotted the little MS Word word count pop-up, and posted an announcement on a forum of which I was a member back then. I remember one person saying, “Well done, but…50k isn’t that many words, is it?”

I wonder how many books she’s written?

All the same, I was proud of myself and my messy manuscript. 50,000 words about four cat shifters with the last chunk of story rushed to fit the deadline and the required word count. Nevertheless, I’d done it. Proven to myself I could write a novel (albeit a short one) in a month.

And that was that, until I wrote Long Time Coming, finishing it in April of 2009. I revisited Dark-Adapted Eyes now I’d realised I was an erotic romance author, and tried to see if I could rework DAE to fit this genre…and whadaya know, it worked. I kept it in third person though, because rotating first didn’t make sense. (And in another example of — I hope — progress being made, my current work-in-progress is written in rotating first person between three main characters. They’re all keeping secrets from one another that the reader needs to know about.) That is to say, if I’d written from Cressida’s, Gabriel’s, Fern’s and Alexander’s points of view, it would have been nigh-on impossible to keep certain facts from the reader until the final chapter. When you’re inside someone’s head, and keeping things that character would know and think about from the reader, you better be a damn sight more skilled than I was ten years ago.

Anyway, upshot is, I rewrote DAE from a messy, 50k-word urban fantasy into a 120k-word erotic urban fantasy. Then I chopped it down to approximately 90k words. When it came time to shop it to various publishers, it wouldn’t sell. Not because the writing is bad (well I would say that, wouldn’t I) but because it’s not strictly speaking a romance. That is to say, three of the main characters end up together at the end, but the world-building and paranormal elements take precedence. There’s a murder in this book, by an unapologetic character who really doesn’t give a fuck because when you’re a cat shifter who can pretty much come and go as you please because the world doesn’t know you exist, why wouldn’t you kill people who piss you off?

Samhain, Loose Id and one other epublisher turned it down; I can’t for the life of me remember the third publisher’s name. Lyrical, that was it! So DAE lurked on my hard drive, not earning its keep. Then, when I started selling books to Totally Bound, I wondered…I already had a backlist, and a following there, so why not chance it? And spank my arse and call me Charlie, they took it! It didn’t stay at Totally Bound for long, given that I pulled all my books at the earliest opportunity once things started to go downhill. Payment always on time unlike Loose Id, yes I’m still salty, but I was sick of being given a week to edit entire novels, and having 100s of instances of the word that inserted into my manuscripts, or having great swathes of my books italicised for no good reason. So, I pulled my manuscripts and self-published them and here we are.

The novel that began with the official NaNoWriMo book and “Fuck it, I’ll write about cat people.”

* * * * *

Everything can change in the blink of a dark-adapted eye.

Fern Mansfield drags one of her pack-mates out to find more of their kind, but Gabriel Devlin is sure it won’t happen. However, at a local bar, a young woman with a feline way of moving grabs their attention. She must be like them, so Fern thinks – normal people don’t have three eyelids, nor a skin-burning itch on the backs of their hands where claws want to grow. And usually, what Fern wants, she gets. Even if she has to commit murder to make a point.

Cressida Naismith doesn’t want to belong to anyone – nor any pack – but becomes the prize fought for by two sides of a fast-dwindling group of shape-shifters. The pack doesn’t have an alpha male but if it did, Alexander Butler would be it. He’s more than willing to have his fun with Cress, especially if it means leaving the increasingly difficult-to-deal-with Fern out in the cold, but one thing stands in his way: the fact Fern is more than willing to commit murder to make a point.

* * * * *

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The Story Behind the Story 8: A Little Death (Life & Death #1)

Oh, this is a good one. I hope it’s worth the wait, what with this blog post being late. But I have a good excuse — I published a book! Go check it out here; there’s buy links! And you can read the first chapter.

So, how did A Little Death come to be? It started way back in the 90s when I was a teenager obsessed with vampires. I wrote Twilight before Twilight was a thing. The doesn’t-know-she’s-pretty teen who somehow manages to be chased by every boy she meets, the brooding stranger with a family of vampires, the parents who were, to all intents and purposes, absent. Even the end where the bad guy lures her some place on the pretext of “Sacrifice yourself to me or I’ll kill your family, ha ha, I’m gonna kill them anyway once you’re gone.”

And of course the heroine (who was called Ruby Northam at that time because ha ha, Ruby red, like Scarlett, and I had the horn for Jeremy Northam) ended up being turned into a vampire herself at the end of the book, which I, in my teenage hubris, planned to use as a set-up for the sequel, which I never got around to writing…at least, at that time. The book was called Come to Me, after the Bjork song of the same name, from his debut album called…uh, well…Debut, which I listened to over and over again on cassette tape around that time of my life, which shows you how long ago it was.

Even though it was a while back, I still remember writing the whole thing longhand, in a different colour ink each day so I could see at a glance how much I wrote in each writing session. Computers existed back in the day, but people didn’t have them at home. They were strictly schools-and-colleges only. A4, narrow-ruled refill pads from Asda, kept in a ring binder. As the manuscript got bigger and bigger, I moved it over to a lever-arch file. It ended up being around 420 pages in the end if I remember correctly. Funny the details that stick. I started writing it on the first of October 1994, and finished it on the last day of March 1995. Exactly six months.

And here’s the thing — my target, not always met, was 10 pages a day. But for the first fortnight I stuck to that, and at a rough estimate of 8 words per line, and 45 lines per page, that means in two weeks I wrote over 50,000 words.

That’s a whole NaNoWriMo in a fortnight. Longhand.

No, I didn’t have a social life. I’d just been dumped by my first boyfriend and prioritised my writing over finding another one. (Please leave your “Yas Queen!” to the end of this blog post.)

Trouble is…it was shit. Unadulterated shit. Definitely not good enough for publication, but, I’d written a book. And even though received wisdom in publishing dictates that the first book you write is dreck, this story wouldn’t let me go.

Years later when I was published, I no longer had a copy of Come to Me; I hadn’t kept it and transcribed it onto a computer once I owned one, but I remembered the basic story. But it was missing something. Talent. A story. 3D characters. Realistic dialogue. A merciless edit.

Okay, several somethings.

But once I’d become an erotic romance author, I realised that what CTM missed was a sexual element. Not that I was a virgin when I wrote the book at first, but I didn’t have much experience, let’s say. And not just of sex — of life. I was much better equipped to write the book in my thirties. Or rewrite the book, I should say.

How could a book about feuding vampires be anything but sexy? I mean, the whole vampire mythology itself…penetration of a quivering young woman with extendable penisfangs, come on.

I aged up the heroine to university rather than high school and dropped several background characters. And Cian Ambrose remained the bad guy; he just needed a good guy to balance him out. Enter Jonathan Cutler.

(I will confess I named him Cutler because it sounds like cutlery, and Twilight is set in the town of Forks. While redrafting, I even had Jonathan make a scornful joke that “Vampires don’t sparkle, Mallory,” but I can’t for the life of me remember if I left that in or snuck it past the editors.

Mallory being Ruby Northam’s new name in this version. Surname Sharpe, because that’s what vampires’ fangs are.

I changed the title of the book too, because hurr hurr…A Little Death, or le petit mort, is French for orgasm, and it was now a dirty book. If you’re interested in the soundtrack, I was heavily into 30 Seconds to Mars at the time, even thanking them in the dedication for the first published edition. I listened to their albums, 30 Seconds to Mars and A Beautiful Lie over and over. Not while actually writing, as I can only write in silence, or as near to silence as I can get, but while preparing to write, or while away from my computer, on an mp3 player, to maintain the creative mood. My publisher even gave me a telling off for styling the band name as 30STM at one point; never mind that’s how it’s commonly spelled; how dare a rock band’s name not fall in with Loose Id’s house style?

I subbed ALD to a couple of publishers and it was eventually bought by Loose Id first time around and maybe some would say this isn’t professional of me, but they’re out of business now so fuck ‘em. But during the time I was feuding with them over lack of payments (and I’d already signed the contract for A Little Death and put it through edits, so couldn’t do a damn thing about withdrawing the book) a staff member ‘accidentally on purpose’ forwarded me some emails in which the bosses of Loose Id, commonly known as the ‘Big 4’, discussed how difficult I was being.

As in…expecting to be paid for my work.

Anyhoo, the CEO of the publishing house didn’t even ‘get’ the title of the book. “Why A Little Death anyway? It’s not like it’s a murder mystery.” And she had to be told by someone else what it meant in French.

So. I signed the contract, put ALD through edits, and by then Loose Id were consistently ‘forgetting’ to pay me, so I knew by the time the book was even out in ebook format that I would never ever send them another book. I emailed my editor to say I was putting them on notice that I wanted my rights back to both novels — By the Book and A Little Death — at the first legal opportunity.

And that put paid to A Little Death ever being released publicly in paperback. At one point, the ‘Big 4’ even denied they had ever promised me a paperback release, and it had never been formatted for such.

Which was strange, as my insider contact sent me some copies that had been sitting in a warehouse, but which were withheld from sale to punish me. I actually had copies of my book, in paperback, sitting on my desk, while Loose Id staff emailed me to deny they had ever put the novel to print.

However, a paperback release would automatically extend my contract, so not releasing A Little Death in print meant I got my rights back sooner than I expected. I then subbed the book to Total-e-Bound, later known as Totally Bound. They in turn refused to market A Little Death and its sequel, Bring Me to Life, as a series because, and I quote, “Readers don’t cross over from M/F to M/M.”

O RLY.

I said, “Well I’m a reader and I do.” But nothing doing. Totally Bound put two books from the same universe, into different imprints.

*headdesk*

Upshot is, both books are mine again now, and I can market them as a series entitled — what else? — Life & Death.  I’m really proud of my world-building in these books and if I ever write a third book in the series (and I’ve had requests for this) it’ll have to have something death-related in the title, to keep the alternating pattern going. Life and death, life and death.

And you can bet your arse I’ll be after Bianca Sommerland for another one of her gorgeous branded covers when it happens!

* * * * *

Seeing dead people is all very well…unless one of them wants to kill you.

To Mallory Sharpe, vampires are a fact of life. They exist, walk the streets and for the most part mind their own business. As a second-year university student, she doesn’t pay the undead much attention until she meets Jonathan Cutler. He has needs, and blood is only one. The other, Mallory is more than willing to help him with. After all, he has but one rule, to never spend more than one night with a woman. He won’t get attached, or consciously put anyone’s life in danger.

Another vampire, Cian Ambrose, isn’t so troubled by conscience. Mallory’s fair game, a weapon with which to taunt Jonathan. In fact, it might be fun to make her his grail, or living blood donor, and Cian Ambrose doesn’t take kindly to the word no. He hasn’t heard it often in his one hundred and fifty years and it usually results in the other person ending up dead.

So with Mallory’s tolerance for undead guys running very low, Jonathan has to regain her trust, stop Cian killing her, oh…and for God’s sake, not fall in love.

* * * * *

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