Less Than Avid

For many authors, seeing their words in print is the culmination of a childhood dream. They talk about how they grew up reading anything they could get their hands on and making up stories in their heads. It all sounds terribly romantic. I kind of wish I could count myself among these imaginative souls who seem like they were born to be writers. But in truth, I didn’t read much as a kid. While the other girls in school were devouring Anne of Green Gables, I never even bothered to crack the cover on the first book.

One day in particular stands out for me. I would have been about 10ish, and my whole class was crammed into the school classroom for lunch because it was raining (There’s no such thing as a school cafeteria in Australia. You’re either in a classroom or you’re outside). Me and twenty-something other ten-year-olds were mucking around and seeing how much mischief we could get up to without getting into trouble from the teacher.

But there was one girl who sat quietly at her desk reading a book. I remember staring for a while before sidling up to her and asking why she was reading when she could be… you know… having fun. She told me how much she was enjoying her book and that reading was also fun.

Cue my confusion and disbelief. Sure, I’d enjoyed a handful of books, but reading hardly seemed like a good use of a whole lunchtime. Eventually, I shrugged and slunk away, leaving her to her madness.

I was sixteen when my Mum allowed me to read one of her many romance novels. It was hilariously funny, wildly romantic and even a bit steamy (which I promptly thought was gross). But somewhere between those pages, a reading bug lay waiting. I didn’t just catch it, I gobbled it down whole. Before long I was devouring a book a week. Mostly romance, but also psychological thrillers, classics, and the odd horror. Dare I say it… anything I could get my hands on!

The urge to write was still a long way off, and I’ll certainly never be able to claim I was born for this. But I am proof that a love of reading can blossom at any moment. All you need to do is find the right book.

As for the girl who first promised me reading could be fun? She became my best friend throughout high school. We read a ton of books together.

My Favourite Books of 2021

Every January, I like to take a moment to revisit the books I read for the first time in the previous year (they may have been published in a different year) and pick my favourites. I’ve had the pleasure of reading some wonderful books over the past 12 months, so picking a handful has been tough, but here they are:

My Favourite Book of 2021:

the boy who loved Wicked by C.P. Harris
If I could only recommend one book I read this year, it would be this one. It was the first book I read by C.P. Harris. I was already hooked (and crying, which doesn’t happen often) by the end of the prologue. I don’t usually read age-gap romance, but I could not resist that cover and decided to give it a go. It totally blew me away. Phoenix and Sebastian broke my heart over and over again as they slowly, haltingly, worked their way towards their happy ending. Amazing writing! Plus, if you’re a fool for men talking about philosophy (which I am) you will be in absolute heaven. *swoon*

My Other Favourite Books of 2021 (in no particular order):

Not So Sincerely, Yours (For Him, Book 2) by A.M. Johnson
I haven’t read the first book in this series, but I picked this second book up when it was on sale and… WOW. Again, A.M. Johnson was a ‘new to me’ author. The other books in the For Him series are now firmly on my TBR list. Ethan and Anders’ story was cleverly written and well-paced. It had plenty of laughs along with the angst and tenderness. The emails sent between the two main characters were perfect. Loved it so much!

In the Middle of Somewhere (Middle of Somewhere, Book 1) by Roan Parrish
Roan Parrish is my favourite author of all time. She’s the kind of writer I want to be when I grow up. I enjoyed all three of the books in the Middle of Somewhere series, but I think this first one is my favourite. Daniel and Rex were just beautiful together.

Ever After: A Gay Fairy Tale (Forbidden Love, Book 1) by Christina Lee and Riley Hart
The sweet romance of a fairy tale, but with lots of hot and steamy thrown in. What could possibly be better than this? Add a prince who falls head over heels for his valet, and I was totally in love. Lee and Hart are a magical combination every time.

Virgin Flyer by Lucy Lennox
This was a couple who had sex before they ever spoke a word to each other. In fact, that was entirely the point. Their story was sweet and romantic (despite the less than traditional way they began) and I was enamoured with them from start to finish. Runner up favourite (because I can’t bare not to mention it): Say You’ll Be Nine, also by Lucy.

Charisma Check (Roll for Love, Book 2) by Charlie Novak
Charlie Novak is the third ‘new to me’ author to make it to the list. This book was all kinds of fun. Comic cons, costumes, hate sex, and forced proximity. What’s not to love? Also, I’d been binging Castlevania on Netflix and this book was like watching two of the lead characters (Alucard and Trevor) get it on. I was absolutely 100% into that! 🙂

Moon Flower (Fated, Book 1) by Christina Lee
Soft bois in a fantasy setting. That’s pretty much all you need to know. Soft bois, everywhere. Galen and Azriel needed to be together. The fact that they found a safe place to live out their happily every after made me so relieved. A different and refreshing story.

Wrath by Elle James
This was a monster of a book. The author admits at the back that she would have turned it into two books if she’d realised it was going to be so long. And yet, in no way did it feel too long. Josh and Ezra were a complicated, but devoted, couple. They were co-dependent in a way I found unhealthy at times, which managed to put me off and pull me in deeper at the same time. Because angst = gah! Ultimately, it was a great book that spanned multiple years and left me completely satisfied at the end.

If you missed any of these amazing stories on your book travels, I highly recommend each and every one.

Anywhere, But Somewhere

Location. Location. Location.

A sense of place is as important in fiction as it is in real estate. Why? Because story events never unfold in a void. They always happen in a place. A darkened room. A crowded beach. A craggy mountain top in Mordor. It can be anywhere, as long as it’s somewhere.

When I’m writing a new scene, I prefer to use a location I’ve been to personally whenever possible. It helps ground the characters in a physical space, and often gives me ideas for how they can interact with their environment.

Sometimes, this includes taking characters out to actual landmarks in my home town of Brisbane, where my recent novels are all set. In The Experiment, Patrick and Logan go to dinner at a restaurant in South Bank and then walk along the riverfront. In The Harder We Fall, Tristan and Sam drive up to the Mount Coot-tha lookout to see the view of the city and have dinner at the cafe up there.

Other times, I use places like templates and drop characters into them. In my new book, Toni lives in a tiny apartment in Kangaroo Point. It looks suspiciously like my niece’s old apartment in the same suburb. Toni and Ned also go an engagement party – in the same room where I attended an engagement party late last year.

But here’s the kicker. In Becoming Us, my trio of love interests (Gabi, Law, and Connor) attend the wedding of Gabi’s brother, Frank. The entire setting for all those chapters was lifted straight from my niece’s wedding a few years ago. The hotel lobby, the rooms, the chapel, the footpath through the grounds. Everything! If my niece hadn’t gotten married, I have no idea where Gabi and her boys would have ended up!

The setting for any particular scene has a lot to offer in terms of atmosphere and potential action. So, it’s important to choose each location with care. You know, when you’re not simply pilfering floor plans from other people’s homes and adjusting them to fit. As techniques go, there’s room in my writer’s toolbox for both.

Space to Write

I’ve always thought it would be cool to write in a coffee shop. With a big, spiral notebook and pen, or my trusty laptop. The motivating scent of caffeine would waft around me as I spent hours engrossed in the lives of my characters, ignoring the hustle and bustle of the staff and my fellow customers. It all sounds so idyllic. Like a scene from a movie. Which also means my hair would be shiny, my clothes chic, and the lighting softly filtered.

Enter reality. My husband and I spent a few hours in a coffee shop one morning a couple of years ago. We were waiting for some problem with our car to be fixed. Until it was, we were stuck. It also happened to be a work day and we both had tons to do. And so, a table at a nearby coffee shop ended up becoming our joint office for a while. My husband worked on his laptop on one side of the table. On the other side, my red pen and I went to town on draft pages of The Experiment.

This coffee shop was so esoterically trendy, and weirdly located, it could have made a millennial cry. The staff were friendly, the coffee delicious, and the banana bread fresh. It should have been a writer’s dream come true. Instead, it forced me to a sudden and awkward realisation: I hate taking up space in other people’s places of business.

In the three or so hours we were there, we collectively went through three coffees, two hot chocolates and four morning tea items – because it seemed rude to stay if we weren’t actively consuming something. I obsessively kept one eye on the other tables to make sure there was always at least one free for new customers. On our way out the door, we bought a kilo of coffee beans to thank the staff for having us for so long. They were kind and appreciative. They may also have thought we were a bit crazy. We pretended not to notice.

I’ve scribbled words in some weird and random locations over the years. Hospital cafeterias, in my car, standing in line outside the school hall, and – on the odd occasion – in a coffee shop. But I’ve decided I definitely do my best writing when I’m at home. On my couch, in my bed, at my desk. My hair is usually a mess, my clothes are more comfy than chic, and the lighting is filter-free. But the coffee is still good and my characters are all around me. These places are the perfect writing spaces for me.

Who Are All You People?

After I finished writing The Harder We Fall, I had thoughts of starting work on a new series of books. Known only as The Housemates Series, it will feature the stories of a bunch of blokes who are sharing a big ramshackle house in one of the older suburbs of Brisbane. I have heaps of ideas for it, including all the tropey goodness I want to explore. The series will have six books. I was pretty excited about getting to work on it.

But then, when it came time to sit down and start writing ‘the next book’ Toni with an I swooped in with one hand sticking straight up in the air. “What about me?” he cried, lifting a snarky eyebrow. “People have been asking about me, you know. And I can be fun, too. Have you seen my dimples?”

I quickly learned there is no saying no to Toni (his love interest, Ned, has been learning the same thing). With a quiet sigh, I put my Housemates notes aside and started working on Toni and Ned’s story.

All was well. Until Ned’s friend, Johnny, ambled in from the sidelines and started spouting off about his backstory and generally trying to take over every scene he appeared in. I just kind of stared at him sideways. “Dude, who the hell are you?” His grin said it all. “I’m your next­ book.” After some major eye rolling and vague muttering about entitlement issues, I asked Johnny to go stand in a corner and wait his turn. Some days he does as he’s asked, other days… not so much.

I am definitely going to write my Housemates series. I still play with ideas for it when I have the chance. But it’s going to have to come after Johnny’s book. Which will be written after Toni and Ned’s book. Which is the unplanned sequel to Patrick and Logan’s book.

Honestly, I have no idea where all these people come from. I’m just trying to keep up. My head is getting crowded.

Tools of the Trade

One of the great benefits of deciding to try your hand at writing is that the barriers to entry are practically non-existent. Your only requirements include something to write with and something to write on. You can get started in seconds with any old pen or pencil that happens to be lying about. Your paper needs only plentiful and blank.

Old, dodgy notebooks are even better than pretty, new ones. There’s less pressure to write ‘well’ in a dodgy notebook. For years now, I’ve been writing in the unused portions of my kids’ discarded school books. Does it feel weird to write hot and steamy romance in a notebook that’s covered in Lightning McQueen wrapping paper? Why yes, yes it does. But it’s cheap and it gets the job done.

The downside of writing on paper is that once your pen has touched down, and the words have spilled across the page, there’s no taking them back. You can’t hit undo. There’s no copy and paste. The only way to rearrange the words is with a pair of scissors and a whole lot of sticky tape. Oh, the inefficiency!

All of these issues can, of course, be solved by moving to a computer. This is certainly my go-to for editing and for those times when the words are coming faster than my hand can write. But the imagination doesn’t always avail itself to the clack, clack of a computer keyboard. Some words want to emerge quietly. Some words demand ink.

The solution to this (incredibly first-world) quandary arrived on my doorstep about a week ago in the form of the reMarkable 2 writing tablet. A gift from my wonderful husband, who I’m fairly sure was sick of watching me drool over the ads for it online. This baby is designed to feel like you’re writing on paper (it is a fairly decent facsimile). The words written with the stylus appear by way of e-ink (the same kind of ink used by kindles).

It’s worth a veritable truckload of cheap, spiral notebooks from the local newsagency, but… I adore it! It is every notebook I’ll ever need, all in one place. With the added bonus of undo, erase, copy, move and paste thrown in. I can convert my handwriting to text (also decent) and email it to myself for editing. And don’t even get me started on the calligraphy pen option. The wonders never cease!

Sometimes when it comes to technology, less is more. I certainly haven’t given pen and paper the flick entirely. But I am enjoying this new addition to my writing toolbox. With any luck it will even lead to me writing faster and publishing more often. That really would be a dream come true.

PS. How did I write this article I hear you ask? Okay, you probably weren’t asking, but I’ll tell you anyway. I wrote it on my reMarkable 2, of course.

Give Me All the Books!

As readers we all love to get our hands on as many books as possible. In the olden days (of not so long ago) that meant buying pretty much every book you wanted to read. These days, readers have something we as consumers all love: options.

We can buy: This is me. My pleasure reading time is limited so I don’t make it through enough books each month to make a subscription service worthwhile. Plus, there’s something about owning a big book collection makes me giddy (even if they are all electronic). I’m definitely a book buyer.

We can lend: This is my mum. As a voracious reader, she loves her Kindle Unlimited subscription and often tells me about whatever new series she’s been reading. For her, not owning the books she reads isn’t an issue, because when she finishes one book, there is always another waiting to be discovered.

We can wait for new episodes: With Amazon’s new Kindle Vella we can get books in a serialised format and wait for new ‘episodes’ to come out. I haven’t had a chance to check this format out yet, but would love to hear the verdict from anyone who has read books this way.

How do you like to get your hands on books? Are you a buyer or a lender? Do you enjoy a little of both? Or are you loving the new Vella format? I’d love to know more about you.

What’s in a Name?

I have all sorts of weird and wonderful stories when it comes to how my characters got their names. Jeremy (Everything We Need and All the Broken Pieces) walked into my head fully formed and introduced himself. In the early days of writing The Experiment, Logan yelled at Patrick to get his attention, giving me his name in the process. Sometimes, I lift names from whatever TV show I happen to be watching when I start writing. Sometimes the name reflects an aspect of the character’s personality. Honestly, character names can come from pretty much anywhere.

When I first started writing The Harder We Fall, I didn’t know much about the main character I was working with. I did know he struggled with guilt stemming from some event that happened in his past. And I knew he was incredibly sad. This sadness permeated everything about his life and the way he viewed the world. I could feel it like an ache in my gut whenever we spent time together. I quickly realised this was a man whose name needed to be chosen with care. Baby naming websites are fantastic for this. A few keyword searches later, I came upon the name Tristan. It means ‘full of sorrow’. It was perfect.

The name for Tristan’s love interest came to me a little differently. The one thing I knew about the character was that he had a compelling voice. This was the thing that would initially draw Tristan to him. In my head, Tristan kept referring to the man as his siren. I thought that it would be quirky to give the character a nickname, one that would embarrass the hell out of him. The words, “Siren Sam,” literally popped out of my mouth with the next breath. Then I had a quiet chuckle to myself. Sam had his name and I loved it.

Naming characters is always an interesting part of the creative process, but I do believe it’s important to get it right. After all, if you give a character the wrong name, they may not answer when you call.

Soundtrack: The Harder We Fall

Music is a huge part of my life. So, when I first picked up a pen and started to write, it was no surprise that the urge to create a soundtrack for each book followed close behind. I listen to my soundtracks constantly during the writing process. While driving, cleaning the house, cooking dinner, doing the grocery shopping. Any time I can put my playlist on and let the creative part of my brain get lost in the music.

Populating a new soundtrack can be fun, but it’s often frustrating. The songs need to reflect the themes and characters within the story, set the tone for writing sessions, and inspire new and interesting plot twists.

I got lucky when I began writing The Harder We Fall. One weekend, I set up my ironing board (ironing is a perfect soundtrack-building activity), put in my earbuds and started my Story Inspiration list on Spotify. Just to see what would pop up. I absolutely did not expect the first song that played to end up being the theme song for the whole book! But there it was, a song in which the performer sings to an unknown person in need of emotional support to get through a sleepless night. It was perfect for my chronic insomniac and the voice he becomes enthralled with!

Of course, not every song I add to a playlist stays there. At one stage, I decided to add My Immortal by Evanescence to my The Harder We Fall soundtrack. It’s a profoundly beautiful song about grieving the death of a loved one, and the struggle of wanting to hold on to that person but needing to let them go at the same time. I thought it would be a good song for my main character, Tristan, who was also struggling with grief.

Tristan objected. Strongly. There were lyrics in the song that did not fit the relationship he had with his lost loved one and he felt the song was a misrepresentation of his experience. When your main character starts growling ‘don’t tell me how I feel’ at you every time a certain song plays, you know it’s time to pay attention. The song lasted about a day and a half before it was removed.

The soundtrack for The Harder We Fall was a huge contributor to the mood of the book. But the subject matter was heavy, and I must admit I was relieved to leave it behind when the book was done. I know there will be days in the future when I’m moved to listen to it again, and as I listen it will take me back to that time when I was first writing the words. That’s when I’ll fall in love with Tristan and Sam’s story all over again.

Here it is, the soundtrack for The Harder We Fall

Song for Someone – Vertical Horizon (The theme song for The Harder We Fall)
I’ll Be Good – Jaymes Young (Tristan’s song before he meets Sam)
Unsteady – X Ambassadors (Tristan and his parents)
Ghost – Jacob Lee (Sam, meet Tristan)
Looking Too Closely – Fink
Find A Way – SafetySuit (Sam invites Tristan to stay the night)
Through Glass – Stone Sour
Beautiful Crime – Tamer (I’ve been wanting to put this song on a soundtrack for years. It never quite fit – until now)
Wildfire – SYML (“You’re not a curse. You’re not too much. You are needed here. You are enough.” Sam’s message for Tristan)
Collide – Sleeping Wolf (Tristan wishes he could turn back time and start again – but still end up with Sam)
Pieces – Andrew Belle
Lover, Please Stay – Nothing But Thieves (Sam’s song for Tristan)
Better – SYML (Tristan’s thank you for Sam)
Love Don’t Die – The Fray (The theme song for the end of the book, because I had a desperate need to finish on a high note)

I hope you enjoyed the soundtrack for The Harder We Fall. All my soundtracks can be found on the music streaming app, Spotify. Just do a search for my profile (rrainewriter) to check them out!