What is Juliet reading now?

Actually, it’s sad-facemore a case of – is Juliet reading now?

Whenever a parent says, ‘Little [insert name, usually a boy’s] won’t read anything!’, they mean that they never see them engrossed in a story.

A teacher’s stock answer is: ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s the back of a cereal packet, or a newspaper article – as long as they are reading something.’

At the moment I feel like one of those young children.

This is a typical day’s reading for me:

  1. Several lists (like this one).
  2. Ingredients on a ready-meal packet, just in case the manufacturer has listed ‘HORSE’ in a fit of transparency.
  3. Free commuter newspapers – Metro, Evening Standard.
  4. Emails, contracts, policies, reports, minutes – in many jobs, the sheer volume of required reading has made the concept of ‘Monday to Friday, 9 to 5’ redundant.

It’s like being on a particularly unpleasant diet. Recently, the nearest I’ve got to the land of make-believe (although some of the business reports I read are pure fiction) is the weighty Miranda Hart autobiography Is It Just Me? that’s been languishing at my bedside since Christmas. (I was using ‘weighty’ to describe the autobiography, by the way, not Miranda herself.)

Like most diets, it doesn’t feed the soul; whereas a novel …

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‘… there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. “I am no novel–reader — I seldom look into novels — Do not imagine that I often read novels — It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.’

Those are the words of Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, surely the most passionate and amusing defence of the novel ever written. And that is why I return time and again to Austen – her ‘genius, wit, and taste’ feed my soul.

How do you feed yours?

Juliet’s Romance Day – Happy 200th Birthday, P&P!

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, P&P 1995

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, P&P 1995

Next Monday, 28th January 2013, it’ll be exactly 200 years since Pride & Prejudice was first published. Today this book is more popular than ever – an amazing achievement for its author, an English spinster who lived quietly in the Hampshire countryside.

Jane Austen’s shelf life has been far longer than her own (she died in 1817 at the age of 41), and her golden rules for publishing longevity still apply:

1. A catchy title – even if you’re borrowing it from someone else. Austen originally called her novel First Impressions, but two other works had been published with that title by the time hers was accepted for publication. Pride & Prejudice was probably inspired by the final chapter of Fanny Burney’s Evelina, where the phrase appears 3 times in block capitals. Alliteration is not compulsory, but it helps …

2. The power of editing - we know that, following the success of Sense & Sensibility in 1811, Austen ‘lop’t and crop’t’ the novel that she’d written between 1796 and 1797, when she was the same age as its heroine, Elizabeth Bennet. And we’re always being advised to put our writing to one side before editing – although 15 years is taking this a bit far!

3. A heroine you’d like to be – Lizzy Bennet’s self-belief and zest for life, tempered with witty cynicism, sparkle on the page even now. And, from what we know of surviving letters, she seems to have more of the 20-year-old Jane Austen in her than any of the author’s other heroines.

4. A hero you’d like to … [please insert word of your choice] Oh, Mr Darcy! Even BC (Before Colin), he set my pulses racing. Difficult to know why at the start, when he insults our beloved heroine. But then that’s become a bit of a winning formula, hasn’t it?

Any more rules for being a bestseller after 200 years?

Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley, P&P 2005

Matthew Macfadyen and Keira Knightley, P&P 2005

Juliet’s Split Personality of the Year Award

Last night was the award ceremony for BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year and, despite competition on an Olympian scale, the overall winner was the fabulous Bradley Wiggins.

2012 Sports Personality of the Year Bradley Wiggins holds the trophy aloft after being presented it by the Duchess of Cambridge

It’s now time to hear your nominations for a far less famous award – Split Personality of 2012. My husband has nominated me, having sat through numerous meetings with our accountant where I refer to Juliet Archer in the third person. I am an employee and director of our limited company under my real name, but our activities include my/Juliet’s writing income and expenditure. Our accountant has got used to it and even joins in, pulling out a chair for Juliet and offering her a coffee!

I certainly wouldn’t want Juliet to ‘come out’ in my day job, where my livelihood depends on a completely different sort of professional credibility – although I’m sure some of what I encounter there may be ‘pure fiction’! So I’m stuck with this split personality thingy going on – great fun most of the time, but scarier as I get older, when launching into a talk about Mr Darcy to an audience of baffled clinicians becomes a distinct possibility …

Of course, split personalities needn’t be writing related. People often show different sides of themselves with different family members or friends – whether it’s biting your tongue in front of the in-laws or remembering your children may look to you as a role model.

What about you? Do you have a split personality, or do you know someone who has? Let’s have your nominations!

Juliet’s Wednesday Ws – Wine, Women and … Writing

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Tonight it’s the RNA Winter Party, where Wine, Women and Writing will be in full flow. Which got me thinking …

Do you buy it from the supermarket, or at your local specialist (if you have one) at a ‘tasting’ event with a guest speaker? Do you prefer something light and refreshing, or are you a connoisseur of the heavy stuff? And am I talking about wine, or books?

Both. Because writing covers the whole spectrum – from commercially produced, perfectly quaffable enjoyment, to rare vintages which may ultimately prove undrinkable for many of us! And then some wines/books cry out to be consumed with food (Choc Lit, anyone?), while others are best savoured on their own.

Actually, the same probably applies to women, too – and men!how-do-you-buy-books1

Looking forward to seeing you tonight, if you’re going. In the meantime, do your wine preferences match your writing/reading ones?

Juliet – Savaged by a Dead Sheep?

People of a certain age may remember MP Denis Healey’s comment that being criticised by Geoffrey Howe in the House of Commons was ‘like being savaged by a dead sheep’.

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Well, today I am hoping for a similar experience. While the Olympians parade through London to universal acclaim, I will be doing a work presentation to a group of patient (as in the noun, not the adjective) representatives – introducing them to a new NHS service that is intended to improve their health care.

On the face of it, they sound like a harmless bunch of mainly senior citizens. But I have already been warned to watch out for Mary, ‘the one who looks like a sweet old lady but goes for the jugular’; and Harry, ‘who will eat you alive if he doesn’t like what you’re saying’. So while I would like to think that they will savage me like dead sheep, rather than ravening wolves, I’m not over-confident.

This happy prospect made me think about my talks as a writer. Those audiences are anything but hostile – the worst that can happen is that a sweet old lady (usually in the front row, in full view of the speaker) falls asleep. Many of them share my passion for Jane Austen and give me every encouragement. If it’s a Women’s Institute talk, then I often have to judge a competition – anything from ‘oldest book’ to ‘best rose’ – but it’s hardly high-risk (provided I make a quick getaway afterwards).

Of course, if you put the same gentle people in the arena of the NHS they may well react like Mary and Harry to protect their interests. And who could blame them, when it might literally be a matter of life or death?

Have any of you ever had particular challenges as a speaker – or as a member of the audience?

PS If I don’t survive today’s presentation, it was lovely knowing you …

Juliet’s Olympic Thoughts

Image for Catastrophisation

This isn’t a dutiful homage to the Olympic Games – you’ll get plenty of that elsewhere. And as an antidote to the coverage itself you can always watch the BBC’s Twenty Twelve, with the wonderful Hugh Bonneville.

But what if there was such a thing as the Writing Olympics? Which events would we have?

The equivalent of the 100m and 200m sprints could be haiku poetry and ‘flash’ writing. 400m – a short poem. 1500m – a short story. 5,000m – a novella. 10,000m – a novel. 26km marathon – a saga/bonkbuster. Relay – an anthology. Javelin – unfavourable reviews?!

And who would be the medallists in each event? Difficult to pick outright winners from so many different participants. Maybe, as with sport, it’s who performs best at a given time. And perhaps all writers deserve a gold medal for ‘staying the distance’, whatever their chosen event.

Any other Olympic thoughts on writing?

Juliet’s Wednesday Wettie

Wimbledon – what else? The grunts, the sweat, the calls for ‘new balls, please’ – at times it feels like a scene from Fifty Shades of … White!

And today it’s wet. Again. Wimbledon would not be Wimbledon without rain stopping play. Why would anyone want a sporting event to run like clockwork? Except perhaps the Swiss …

Which brings me to my Wimbledon Wednesday Hottie – had to get one in somewhere! My nomination is Roger Federer. This man is wasted on a tennis court – see evidence below.

Who’s your Wimbledon Wednesday Hottie?

See what I mean? Model, actor, or even lookalike in an identity parade

See what I mean? Model, actor, or even lookalike in an identity parade

Long-haired version, for Christina

Long-haired version, for Christina

A would-be Mr Darcy, minus shirt

A would-be Mr Darcy, minus shirt

What on earth is he holding?

What on earth is he holding?

Invisible Blogging by Juliet

Some of you may have missed my blog post on 1st June. That’s because it was one of those new invisible ones.

Naturally, it was supremely interesting, witty and hilarious. If you’d like to see it, just click on this link:

PS Anyone thinking this is just a cover-up for forgetting that it was my turn on the Choc Lit blog rota is completely mistaken!

The Male Voice of Choc Lit

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I’m not the first Choc Lit author to have a novel brought to life as an audiobook, courtesy of W.F. Howes at Whole Story Audiobooks. And I certainly won’t be the last.

But am I the first Choc Lit author to have one read by a man?

The bloke in question is called Jonathan Keeble and he’s currently the voice of Gareth Taylor in BBC Radio 4′s The Archers.
jonathan-keeble

More importantly, in The Importance of Being Emma he’s the perfect voice for Mark Knightley. I can only imagine it’s like being wrapped naked in warm ganache. (Wikipedia defines ganache as ‘normally made by heating cream, then pouring it over chopped dark semi-sweet chocolate … stirred or blended until smooth, with liqueurs or extracts added if desired’ – get the idea?)

The book alternates between the viewpoints of Mark and Emma, so there’s also a female voice. That’s provided by Melody Grove, who sounds as delightful as her name.

Of course, in my fantasy world, Jonathan’s voice would face strong competition – Richard Armitage, Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen and Benedict Cumberbatch for starters.

Whose voice would you like in the audio role of your favourite hero?