Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I almost forgot...Teaser Tuesday

eeeee, the three day weekend threw me for a loop and I forgot it was Teaser Tuesday.

I received some very good feedback from someone last week on the opening pages of 'A Kestrel Rising' and one of the main shortfalls was my leisurely start. So, I threw out the first two chapters and wrote a new beginning. The first few paragraphs were posted on AW in the Historical SYW, for fine-tuning. After sifting through the comments from critters, here is the new opening for Kestrel. Gretchen asked for a 'plot-driven' extract last week so, here it is!


Edited to add: Have deleted first sentence. :)

The low thrumming of an engine broke the afternoon silence, growing louder until the plane burst from beyond the trees with a roar that had Ilona and her sister scrambling for cover.

‘What on earth is that?” Aislinn asked, clinging to her arm as they ducked behind the low wall of the terrace. “Is it the Germans, Ilke?”

Ilona gripped the warm brick, her fingernails dug into the moss as the ground trembled. She was convinced her heart was going to hammer through her ribs. The noise reverberated through her bones. “I don’t think so. I think there’d be more than one plane.” She glanced up as the plane swept into a banking curve above the house. It was low enough that she could see the RAF roundels on the underside of its elliptical wings and she took a deep breath. “It’s all right. It’s one of ours.”

“Are you sure?” Aislinn’s voice quivered.

“Yes, I’m sure.” She stood up, her fear gone, and shielded her eyes against the glare of the afternoon sun. “What a sight!” It seemed impossible to her that it had been made in a factory, its slender fuselage and upswept wings were something that nature would fashion, it echoed the shape of the kestrel that rose, screeching, out of the woods in pursuit of the intruder. Ilona watched the bird for a moment and wished she could fly with it, to follow the plane and see off the enemy that waited in the east.

“Bloody cheek,” Aislinn declared as the plane straightened and launched into a steep, fast climb. The throaty growl of its engine stunned the squabbling blackbirds into silence and brought the girls’ parents out onto the terrace. “He nearly took the chimney off.”

Ilona wasn’t listening to her sister. She stared at the plane as it continued its climb, rising into the sky before it turned and leveled, sweeping away to the south. The heavy purr of its engines faded away. Something inside her took flight, rising with the plane. The engine’s song was in her blood, she had to hear it again. She knew she would never be able to fly one but to see them again would be enough. It thrilled her that such a marvelous plane belonged to her country. For the first time since war was declared, Ilona knew what she was going to do.

Her father put his hands in his pockets and whistled softly. “That was some machine.”

“What was it, Papa?” Aislinn asked.

“I think it was a Spitfire. They test fly them out of Aldermaston.”

Ilona sat on the wall. “I didn’t think something like that could be beautiful. It looked like more like a living thing.” She hoped that fleeting, heart-racing glimpse would not be all that she ever saw. The ease with which it moved tugged at her. She had only ever loved living things, her family, her horses, her dogs and cats, never a machine. It didn’t seem possible that she could fall in love so quickly. She had to be where they were, to stand in the grass and watch them soar overhead. It would not be enough to stay at home when there was a war to fight. She looked at her sister and her father, her mind made up.

“I’ve decided,” she said. “I’m joining the WAAF.”

She took the train to Reading the next day and joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Teaser Tuesday strikes again

This is another excerpt from 'A Kestrel Rising'.
Francis and Ilona have struck up a warm friendship. They've managed to meet once or twice since Christmas and, in this piece, Francis has turned up unexpectedly at the local pub on a Saturday night.

“Can we go for a walk?” Francis whispered in her ear. “I need to talk to you.”

She looked at him. “Yes, all right.”

He rose and helped her with her chair. “We’re just going for a little stroll before it gets too dark.” He held out his hand and she took it, ignoring Lily’s raised eyebrow. They walked along the quiet lane as the swifts still called out in pursuit of midges and bats began to emerge in the silvery dusk. They walked close, their shoulders touching.

“Is everything all right?” she asked him.

He sighed, “I’ve been thinking, Ilke. This war isn’t going to get any easier or any less dangerous, especially if we finally manage to get onto the continent. If anything happens to me, my parents get a telegram, as next of kin. I don’t want you to have to get a letter from your parents or my grandparents telling you the news. I don’t think that’s fair on you because you deserve more than that.” He offered her a sad smile, “My constant friend.”

She smiled back.

“I’ve had a word with Harry,” he continued. “I’ve made him promise that if anything happens to me, he’s to come and tell you himself. After all, he’s my wingman. He’ll know more than anyone will. Plus, he has a car so he can drive here sooner rather than later.”

She paused and looked at him. His eyes were dark and sad. “You would do that for me?”

His fingers trailed across her cheek. “I think it’s only fair, don’t you? You’re very important to me. You’ve kept me sane these past few months.”

She stared at him and felt numb.

“Are you all right?”

She nodded, “I…I think so. I just don’t know what to say. I don’t want to think about anything happening to you.”

“Neither do I but I thought it would be best to be prepared, just in case.”

Her mind was a tangle of thoughts. Old hurts threatened to rise to the surface and she pushed them away but quick tears betrayed her and she dashed at her eyes with her hand.

“Ilke,” He drew her into his arms and held her. “I didn’t mean to make you cry, I’m sorry.”

She let him hold her, not caring that they were standing in the middle of a quiet lane in the gathering dusk, while bats fluttered overhead and the waning moon crept above the shadowed rooftops. She felt his hand move through her hair and his lips brushed her temple, a light, fleeting touch. “It’s all right,” he whispered. “I will do my best not to hurt you.”

“I know.” She sniffed.

He put his hand under her chin and kissed her. It was sweet, languid and stirred up things that she had long forgotten. She responded with equal deliberation, letting her hands drift to his face to feel the warmth of his skin against the evening chill.

He kissed her palm and sighed. “I could do this all night, Ilke, but you do realize that we’re standing in the middle of the road, it’s getting dark and there is a blackout. We will likely be run over.”

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Historical Romance/Historical Fiction - Grumpy Arse's Saturday Whinge

I've had a crap week.

So, I'm going to have a whine. Bear with me.

I write Historical Romance and Historical Fiction. I can't help it. As soon as I emerged from my girlhood obsession with horse books, I stumbled onto these genres. This was in the 1970s when you could wander into a British bookshop and find lovely, thick tomes by Anya Seton or Rosemary Hawley Jarman. These were wonderful books, rich with plot, real characters and history woven with beautifully written, leisurely descriptive passages. I devoured them and my love for these huge stories never faded. In the eighties I fell in love with Diane Pearson's books. For a moving and compelling tale of Hungary during the two World Wars, 'Csardas' can't be beaten. Likewise, Pearson's 'The Summer of the Barshinskeys' is a gorgeous portrait of rural England and the crumbling Russian Empire during the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution. There were many others and I spent many a rainy Sunday afternoon wallowing in these stories.

I'm a fast reader and I like BIG books. I like the writer to set the scene, I want to see the red brick house, as old as the land, surrounded by beeches and oaks. I want to see the grumpy Cook in the manor house kitchen, her arms covered in flour as she kneads the daily loaves of bread. I want to hear the blackbirds calling across a shadowy green lawn and I want to smell the honeysuckle that grows wild and tangled on a grassy verge.

I tell stories and I like to take my time telling them. I want my readers to see my MC reading a book under the spreading blue shade of an ancient copper beech. I want them to fall in love with my characters and cry when things go wrong and cheer when it all goes right. My great love is early 20th century history. Anything from the Great War, to the Boshevik Revolution to World War 2. Ordinary people became entangled in great events, their lives changed and society changed. To me, telling these stories takes a little time. I don't want to start my books with mortars landing in trenches or Spitfires crashing in flames. I think readers should get to know the characters and their settings. I know, as a reader, that I'm not alone in this.

There has been some discussion in the Twitterverse, with Agent Day and Query Day about writing for trends. Agents are quick to advise writers, quite rightly, to write what they love because that passion will shine through in their work. So, that's what I do. Unfortunately, writing what I love leaves me out of the loop. I don't do pirates, Scotsmen or courtesans. Nothing much happens in the first few pages because I Set The Scene.

There are days when I wake up to an in-box full of Query Rejections and I light a cigarette, drink my coffee and wonder if it's worth it. I feel like a moth dashing itself against a lightshade. Yet, I stub out the cigarette, open up Querytracker and search for another agent.

That's all I wanted to say. I've always been one for wearing my heart on my sleeve. I also leave my heart on my pages.

Thank you for your time. Have a great weekend.

Monday, May 11, 2009

It's...the second teaser in May

This is from 'A Kestrel Rising'.

This takes place about 18 months after Ilona's fiance was killed during the Battle of Britain. She has since become reacquainted with Francis. They have been home for Christmas and are now returning back to their respective stations.

“Ilke.” Francis’ whisper intruded on her peaceful, dreamless darkness. He shook her shoulder gently. “Ilke, wake up…your stop is coming up.”

She opened her eyes and felt the coarseness of wool beneath her cheek. It smelt of rain and aviation fuel. For a moment, she had trouble remembering where she was. Only the sound of rain against the windows and the cold grey light brought her back to reality. She sat up, blinking as the train began to slow. “Already?” she smothered a yawn. “That didn’t seem to last long.”

Francis retrieved her bag from the luggage rack. “You’ve been asleep for a good hour,” he told her. “I guess you must have needed it.”

“I suppose so.”

“Come on, I’ll take your bag for you then you’re on your own, I’m afraid.”

She managed a smile as she followed him along the narrow corridor to the nearest door. The train was easing to a stop and the wind was blowing through the open window full of rain and cold and winter. He opened the door and stepped down onto the platform and she followed, shivering as the full blast of winter hit her. Doors were slamming open and closed along the length of the train as it idled in the station. “That’s Christmas over and done with,” she sighed. "Thank you for your company, Francis. I really enjoyed it”. She kissed his cheek and stepped back.

“The pleasure was all mine.” he lifted her chin and kissed her, swiftly. “Goodbye, Ilke, look after yourself.” His eyes were dark and unreadable.

“And you,” she replied. “Be careful, please.”

He grinned, then, “I will, as long as your bomber boys behave themselves.” He stepped back onto the train, closed the door and leaned out of the open window as it began to move, “Safe journey.”

“Thanks.” She waved until the train was out of sight, swallowed by the dark bulk of another train. With a sigh, she picked up her bag and walked slowly along the platform, oblivious to the rain as her hand strayed to her lips. She did her best to dismiss the gesture but his lips had been warm and firm and she admitted to herself that she enjoyed it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Oooh, it's another Teaser Tuesday thingie!!

Here's another excerpt from 'A Kestrel Rising'.

Ian and Ilona are attending a dance at the NAAFI on Catterick base. Ilona has just discovered that Ian can't sing very well. Ilke is the diminutive for Ilona...just to avoid any confusion :).

“You are an amazing woman, Ilke.”

“Why do you say that?”

“I take a perfectly romantic moment and reduce you to tears of laughter, when most women would’ve been upset with me for not taking things seriously. I’ve had women storming off dance floors for less.”

She found her handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes, “More fool them.”

“Oh, Carstairs, you’ve not made Ilke cry already have you?” Sandy, with Faith in tow, reappeared bearing more drinks, “What have I told you about that?”

“It’s all right, Williams, she just was overwhelmed by my singing, that’s all.”

“It’s dreadful isn’t it?” Sandy patted her shoulder, “Imagine being trapped in a plane, at fifteen thousand feet, with that racket in your ears. That’s why he’s the Tail End Charlie, because if his singing gets too bad we can leave him behind.”

“Now, that’s just cruel, Sandy.” Ian took a sip of beer, “You’re making me look very bad in front of Ilke and I’ve spent all evening working hard to impress her.” He tweaked her ear, gently, “Haven’t I? Tell them how impressed you are.”

“I’m impressed.” She told them, trying to keep a straight face, “I really am.”

“Could you be a little bit more convincing, darling?”

Ilona laughed, “I’m trying.”

He stood up and held out his hand, “Try a bit harder and dance with me again. I promise I won’t make you laugh this time.”