Today it is my Pleasure to host USA Best Selling Author and Rita Award winning writer LIZ FIELDING!
Liz, Welcome to HarlequinJunkie! Over to You...
The process of writing a book is endlessly fascinating and for me, always different. The big question most people ask me is “Where do you begin?”
For some books the answer is easy. When I wrote The Last Woman He’d Ever Date, I started with a cute meet. An awkward situation where Claire Thackeray is caught out but recovers the situation with aplomb. And then I found myself writing backwards.
I’m a dyed in the wool pantster. I wind my characters up, put them on the page and let them go. It’s not always an easy process but this is the first time they’ve simply stood there, looking at me, tapping their feet.
“What?” I said, confused.
They just rolled their eyes. Characters do that when you’re being a bit thick. But not usually in chapter one.
Finally, it occurred to me that if this was the moment when Hal North used his power to retaliate for Claire’s stories about him in the local newspaper, they had to have met before. But when? How long ago? Under what circumstances? And as the story developed, I found myself working backwards. I began again, a week or so earlier. Wrote a different cute meet involving mud, embarrassment and a rush of memory that told me, and the reader, about the past.
I nearly had it.
But I needed to know why Hal was back in Cranbrook. And that was the moment I took another step back to his moment of triumph over an old enemy, giving the reader a hint of what was to come for the heroine. A hint that his triumph will be a hollow thing.
Here are all three moments.
SIR Robert Cranbrook glared across the table. Even from his wheelchair and ravaged by a stroke he was an impressive man, but his hand shook as he snatched the pen his lawyer offered and signed away five hundred years of power and privilege.
‘Do you want a sample of my DNA, too, boy?’ he demanded as he tossed the pen on the table. His speech was slurred but the arrogant disdain of every one of those five hundred years was in his eyes. ‘Are you prepared to drag your mother’s name through the courts in order to satisfy your pretensions? Because I will fight your right to inherit my title.’
Even now, when he’d lost everything, he still thought his name, the baronetcy that went with it, meant something.
Hal North’s hand was rock steady as he picked up the pen and added his signature to the papers, immune to that insulting “boy”.
Cranfield Park meant nothing to him except as a means to an end. He was the one in control here, forcing his enemy to sit across the table and look him in the eye, to acknowledge the shift in power. That was satisfaction enough.
Claire Thackeray swung her bike off the road and onto the footpath that crossed Cranbrook Park estate.
The “No Cycling” sign had been knocked down by the quad bikers before Christmas and late for work, again, she didn’t bother to dismount.
She wasn’t a rule breaker by inclination but no one was taking their job for granted at the moment, besides, hardly anyone used the path. The Hall was unoccupied but for a caretaker and any fisherman taking advantage of the hiatus in occupancy to tempt Sir Robert’s trout from the Cran wouldn’t give two hoots. Which left only Archie and he’d look the other way for a bribe.
As she approached a bend in the path Archie, who objected to anyone travelling faster than walking pace past his meadow, charged the hedge. It was terrifying if you weren’t expecting it — hence the avoidance by joggers — and pretty unnerving if you were. The trick was to have a treat ready and she reached in her basket for the apple she carried to keep him sweet.
Her hand met fresh air and as she looked down she had a mental image of the apple sitting on the kitchen table, before Archie — not a donkey to be denied an anticipated treat — brayed his disapproval.
Her first mistake was not to stop and dismount the minute she realised she had no means of distracting him, but while his first charge had been a challenge, his second was the real deal. While she was still on the what, where, how, he leapt through one of the many gaps in the long neglected hedge, easily clearing the sagging wire and she was too busy pumping the pedals in an attempt to outrun him to be thinking clearly.
Her second mistake was to glance back, see how far away he was and the next thing she knew she’d come to an abrupt and painful halt in a tangle of bike and limbs — not all of them her own — and was face down in a patch of bluebells growing beneath the hedge.
‘Everyone’s a comedian,’ Claire said, pushing her seat back and doing her best to put a brave face on things. ‘If Mr North has seen the error of his ways and is prepared to salve his conscience by helping with a project that benefits the town, let’s make it a good one. Something to make his eyes water.’
Toughen up, be ruthless…
Meanwhile, in return for sprinkling the fairy dust of publicity on local suppliers who supported the “Wish” — free promo in the paper in return for their generosity — and hours of extra unpaid work spent drumming up that support, chasing down grants, organising local youth groups, she was about to be working with Hal North. Given the choice, she wouldn’t have done it dressed in a tutu and wings.
She paused just before she reached the door, pasted on a broad grin for her colleagues, she turned to face them and was confronted by the display of the week’s front pages.
“Mr Mean Targets Teddies” leapt out at her.
‘Ladies, gentlemen…’ She waved her ballpoint over them with a flourish before executing a low curtsey. ‘I leave you to fight over the front page while I don my wings and fly away to part Mr Mean from his money.’
She’d anticipated an ironic cheer. At the very least a laugh. What she got was dead silence. She glanced at Tim. He was always good for a jeer, if nothing else. He’d paused in the act of mopping the coffee off his shirt but didn’t respond with as much as a twitch of an eyebrow and with a sudden sick feeling in the pit of her stomach she turned around.
Behind her, Willow Armstrong, the CEO of the Melchester-based Armstrong Newspaper Group which owned not only the Maybridge Observer, the County Chronicle and dozens of other titles in the region, but the local commercial radio station, was standing in the corridor.
With her, Hal North, a head taller, was looking down his long, not quite straight nose, piercing her with eyes that were of a blue so intense, so dark that it sucked the breath right out of her body.
‘Hal…’ Mrs Armstrong, ignoring the pregnant silence said, ‘I believe you know Claire Thackeray?’
Where would you have started?
The Last Woman He’d Ever Date is available now at Harlequin.com in paper and ebook, and will be available retail in July.
And if you’re keen to write your own romance and would like to know how to get it right first time, Liz Fielding’s Little Book of Writing Romance is available as an eBook everywhere.