Letting go…

I find myself, for the fourth time, in a state of what Gwyneth and Chris would call ‘conscious uncoupling’. Not from the ever devoted Husband, I hasten to add, but from a novel.

It’s a funny old feeling. You live with characters in your head for so long as a novelist; even when you’re away from the keyboard, they carry on living their fictional lives in the gaps, and for nine months now I’ve lived, breathed and slept their experiences alongside them. My heart has beaten faster, I’ve smiled, I’ve felt sad and I’ve felt cross with and for them during the whole process. But then, when I’ve finished, edited and proof read the draft I’m prepared to send out, something happens to me, and it happens every time I get to this point.

You see, for nine months, the story has been mine. I’ve talked a lot about it to friends and industry professionals, and I’ve sent the odd funny snippet to friends and family, too, but to all intents and purposes, I’ve been my only reader, and my only critic. This week, as always when I get to this point, that changed. I took a deep breath, sent some emails and now it’s out of my hands. It’s out there to its first readers, and somewhere in that process, it’s not entirely mine any more.

Suddenly, other people are reading it, evaluating it and either loving, hating or going ‘meh’ at certain points. And the complicated attachment I’ve felt to the story and the characters, that metaphorical umbilical cord, has been carefully snipped. I’ve begun the inevitable process of separating myself from the story. And I’m completely fine with that. I’ve never had an issue with taking feedback of all kinds. Let’s face it, if I did, I’d never have survived as a writer!

Now that’s not to say the book’s finished. Nope. Far from it. Experience has taught me that there will be a lot of work to do yet, once the first readers, my agent, then my editor, then the proof reader and copy editor have set eyes on it and gone deep. But I’ve begun the process of letting go of the book, of setting it free. And, as ever, my thoughts are turning to the next one, book 5. Suddenly, new characters are stealing into my mind, whispering in my ear, quietly demanding that I pay attention to them.

I would take a good guess and say that this process is similar for a lot of writers; we have to disengage, we have to pull back and start viewing our story through slightly different eyes. If we didn’t, we’d never put anything out there, after all! It sort of makes me feel like a serial monogamist; I commit totally for a period of time, and then it’s time to move on to the next one and commit again. It truly can feel like the end of a relationship when I get to this point, but without the gut wrenching grief and heartbreak. There’s a melancholy there, that the sheer joy of telling my version of the story from start to finish has now ended, but also there’s a sense of relief that it’s over, pride that it’s done and excitement and nervousness for the next stages of that process.

That’s what I would say to writers who are embarking on their first project; letting go is perfectly natural, and it’s part of the publishing process. While there’s still a lot of work to come, I feel as though I’ll be seeing the book more objectively when it comes back to me and I need to start deep editing. Don’t be afraid if you feel less involved when you’ve finished; it’s part of the journey.

And in the meantime, decrapinating my house of nine months’ worth of stuff is keeping me busy. Because, let’s face it, who has time to clean when you’re in love?

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The (Dare) Devil is in the details…

I’m currently on the home stretch of the first draft of my fourth novel, and I thought it would be a good point to share with you some of the things I focus on when I’m writing about the relationships that drive my work. I also want to think about how something I’ve been watching lately, Daredevil, has a similar approach.

One of the questions that comes up a lot from readers is how does a writer write a believable romantic scene in a novel? And actually, the ‘rules’ for writing that kind of scene are exactly the same as for writing any other scene in a book; it’s all about the details. Likewise, when working with film as a genre, the same seems to apply.

Let’s take Daredevil series 2, Episode 1, as an example. Early on in the episode, Foggy, Matt and Karen are playing pool at Josie’s bar after work. Here’s the scene (well, 41 seconds of it, anyway) for reference:

What I love about this scene is the emphasis on the details. The fall of Karen’s hair so that it just touches Matt’s back is the first thing I noticed, and the mirrored poses in the mid shots. the way they synchronise their movement around the table is like a dance, too, as first her hand touches the table, and then his. They move together to the end of the table, during which time her hand rests on his shoulder, guiding him into place, but also lingering a little longer than necessary to emphasise an undercurrent of emotion. If asked, she could say she was just assisting him, but we, as an audience, see a little more than that from the languor of the movement, the need to stay connected to him as long as she can. And he’s not objecting, either.

I love the way the camera then pans to their hands on the pool table, hers over his, guiding his hand into place, for sure, but then fingertips gently brushing up his hand to his wrist, that little movement again betraying a deeper emotion than just friendship. She leans in close, her hair brushing his shoulder and you get that depth of field effect when the camera focuses from one to the other, as Matt picks up Karen’s trembling voice, racing heartbeat and breathes in. She is close to his ear, and you see, even out of focus, her eyes darting to his mouth. All subtle signs of attraction, of desire.

There’s no doubt that Deborah Ann Woll and Charlie Cox make a great onscreen representation of Karen and Matt, and their screen chemistry brings a real tremor of emotion to all of their encounters. As a viewer, I believe in them as a potential couple, and that’s absolutely testament to their brilliant performances. Thanks, both, for those wonderful moments!

That’s a similar thing to what I’m doing when I write a scene that’s rich with romantic tension. It’s about focussing on the details, letting those speak for the bigger picture, so that a reader can visualise how a character who is attracted to another acts in a heated situation. Example? Here you go, from my debut novel, The Second Chance Tea Shop:

So it’s all about the details – the feel of the jumper underneath a palm, the heartbeat, the hand moving to the small of the back, to build up a picture of a moment. It’s not about the actual kiss, as such, as there are only so many ways to describe the meeting of lips, it’s about what goes before, and the sensations that the kiss evokes in those doing the kissing. And, hopefully, that creates a sensation and emotion in the reader/viewer too!

I hope that gives a little insight into what makes me tick when I’m writing a scene like this – what can I say except I’m a hopeless romantic?!

And if, after reading that, you’d like to see some other examples of how this works in my novels, click here for my Amazon Author’s page!

The Little Somerby Series, published by Aria/Head of Zeus (UK) and Droemer Knaur (Germany)

Daredevil: A love story

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There’s been a lot of talk, and a lot written, by writers more articulate than me, about the ways in which fiction that explores love and relationships as a theme is often written off as lightweight or somehow not worthy of closer intellectual consideration. As a writer of what has been termed ‘women’s fiction’ by the industry, with three novels to my name, I do feel somewhat qualified to enter into this debate, though, and poke the hornet’s nest a little. So, since I’m currently very invested in the Netflix/Marvel series Daredevil, let’s use that as an example.

I’ve been watching Daredevil over the Easter holidays. It’s been a treat, once the children have crashed out in bed, to sit down, click the button and watch an episode or two of an evening. At first glance, you might think that this is just another show about a good guy who punches bad people, but give it a few minutes and you realise it’s a bit more complicated than that. And the reason it’s more complicated, and thus more emotionally engaging, is because, actually, Daredevil isn’t about a blind guy who brings in villains; it’s about him, and his friends, lovers and enemies, and the relationships. The fact the he, Matt Murdock, also rounds up New York’s bad guys is almost incidental.

Daredevil is a story about love; the love between friends (S1, Ep 10 Nelson vs Murdock), friends to lovers (S2, episode 5), the love of a man for his city (pretty much all of it), family and parental love (take your pick of the Jack Murdock scenes) and everything in between, with some action scenes thrown in to remind you that Matt Murdock is an awesome superhero.

tumblr_pgx1dnvi3d1qh1qauo1_500So many wonderful scenes play on the theme of relationships in this series. A couple of the most arresting, for me, have been the final few minutes of S1 Ep 10, Nelson vs Murdock, when Foggy Nelson realises best friend Matt has been lying to him all along about who he is, and exactly what his condition entails. To see two such great actors bringing life and emotion to the breakdown of these characters was a heart wrenching treat.

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My current OTP (about a third of the way into S2 so far) is the cutely named ‘KareDevil’ (aka Karen Page and Matt Murdock). There are so many good scenes to reference including the great ‘pool table at Josie’s’ scene in  S2 Ep 1, which builds the romantic tension between Karen and Matt to a real sizzle.daredevil-201-featured-03162016There is something so incredibly charming about the way their relationship has grown; the subtleties in their body language and the slow burn of their developing love for each other that just makes my heart sing. Matt might have done that classic superhero thing and saved her life in the first episode, but since then it’s been more about their growing trust, friendship and love after that. There was no better example for the angst lover in me than at the end of S1 Ep 12, when he breaks down in tears in her arms (caution, watching this might make you cry, too!):

I think I might have let this investment in them as a couple slip a couple of times to my husband while we’ve been watching, as, last night, when the first proper kiss happened, he turned to me and simply said ‘there you go.’ I squeaked a bit; I admit it!

And there’s the rub. All fiction, if it’s good fiction, deals with relationships; functional, dysfunctional, perfect, imperfect, conflicted or calm, good fiction deals with them all, whether it’s tagged as ‘romance’ or ‘chicklit’ or ‘women’s fiction’ or, and here’s a radical concept, ‘fiction’. I’ve often referred to myself as a hopeless romantic, and a die hard shipper, whatever I happen to be watching. If it’s got a pairing, and sometimes if it hasn’t, I’ll find it and get invested in it. Does that make me less of a person for admitting it? And by marketing my fiction as dealing explicitly with relationships, often romantic ones, does that make me less of a writer?

So, I suppose what I’m saying in this post really is that all fiction has its relationships, otherwise readers and viewers wouldn’t get invested in the characters. Daredevil might not, at first glance, strike anyone as a romance (just look at the colour coding in the placeholders on the Netflix app and that’s obvious), but in my eyes that’s just what it is, even though Netflix wouldn’t market it as such in a million years. It’s about a man, at the end of the day, who happens to punch bad guys, but who is going through the agony and ecstasy of learning to love and trust after tragedy and loss. And that’s the way I shall continue to read it.

If you’d like to read a novel or three, here’s where to find them: https://amzn.to/2Iu2vt6

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Beautiful, Bold and Brilliant: Forget Tchaikovsky, Swan Lake is Bourne’s Ballet

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I popped my ballet cherry last night. Having never seen any live ballet (except years ago when a student danced beautifully en pointe in an English lesson as part of a presentation), I didn’t really know what to expect. Added to that, I was totally ignorant of the story, too. But, do you know what? None of that mattered. At all.

From the moment the curtain raised on Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, I was transported. The storytelling was excellent, and the dancers were incredible. The theme of duality is explored in so many ways, and the audience is left with two complementing interpretations of what’s actually going on in the narrative. Is the prince going mad? Are the Swan and the Stranger merely two interpretations of the opposing side of his mind and sexuality? Or is this an actual, real life love affair with a tortured ending? The beauty of this performance is that you actually don’t need to make that decision; it’s all there.

The set and costuming is straight out of a contemporary romantic fairytale – with echoes of those films about royal families from imaginary European countries where the heroes are all inexplicably English. The initial domestic story of distant mother (a brilliantly frosty performance), insecure son and out of place new girlfriend (whose lack of understanding of royal protocol generated by far the most laughter from the audience) soon gives way to a broader feeling of frustration and malaise, by way of a ballet-within-a-ballet and a great scene at a seedy club with the world’s laziest stripper (a role that was brilliantly physical and so, so funny).

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This setup makes the contrast with the swans all the more powerful when they do arrive. And boy, do they arrive. The Prince, driven to despair by the rigid demands of his role and lack of affection from his mother, as well as being dumped by his girlfriend, contemplates suicide by the lake, only to be distracted by a company of swans. The ensuing encounter, wary, antagonistic, passionate and eventually unifying, changes his life forever. The dance is aggressive, primal, masterful and dominant; everything a swan flipping well should be. The dancers bring these creatures to life with almost impossibly synchronised contortions (down to the shared breaths) and a rampant physicality that is always expressive, never over the top. I adored the unquestionable masculinity of the choreography, and the contrast between the intensity of the group of swans’ courtship of the Prince and the brief, lighter interludes of the younger cygnets with their cocksure, strutty moves, like teenagers on a night out. All oozed charisma and dominance. The dance of love between the Swan and the Prince is incandescent with chemistry, with the two male dancers vying for control and finding a beautiful and elegant synchronicity.

Screen Shot 2019-03-16 at 18.42.09The central performances of the Prince and the Swan/Stranger are electrifying. The stage feels like it’s going to ignite, the drama is so intense. The interweaving narrative conceits of love affair and duality of the mind leave the audience unsettled, electrified and enthralled, especially when the Stranger takes centre stage at the start of Act 2. Is he the Swan brought to human life? A doppelganger? A manifestation of the Prince’s tortured mind made flesh?

The ensemble scenes here are magnetic; the ‘bring it’ of the female dancers in response to the lead-with-the-hips bravado of the males works brilliantly. It’s less a courtship, more of a siege as the Stranger works his way through the princesses, eventually absconding with the Queen. On his return, the lights change and his seduction of the Prince begins. And as with the pair’s dance in the previous act, when the Stranger is the Swan, it’s intoxicating. The waves of tortured desire coming from the Prince are palpable in every move he makes, and the Stranger counters this with unashamed, blatant, heated sexuality. The two are spellbinding.

In the final scenes (after a heartbreaking sanatorium scene which could, in some senses, be read as a sort of gay conversion electro shock therapy), the Prince lies drugged in his bed, and the swans return. Once again the dual narrative weaves its magic as the Swan is injured and dying, and eventually turned on by his company. Are the Swan and the Prince the two sides of a single psyche, which, through the shock therapy have both been irrevocably damaged, or are they two lovers, who, much like swans, partner for life and literally cannot live without each other? The beauty of Matthew Bourne’s reimagining of this story is that both versions are true, and the layers of the narrative are in perfect synchronicity.

In a final, heartbreaking coda, the Swan and the Prince are seen together in a back projection in the mirror above the royal bed. This was the bit where I cried. Again, the concept of duality is played beautifully here; the Prince’s mind is reunited and at peace in death, and also the lovers are brought back together, too. I cannot recommend this production highly enough; it was utterly breathtaking, and I adored every minute.

Feeling the love for Valentine’s Day…

I was reminded of this post today and thought it was worth rebologging, just for the fabulous kissing scenes! I might do an updated version when I get the chance, although a lot of these still make the list! Which are your favourite film/TV kisses? Feel free to link me to them in the comments :).

Fay Keenan

I’m a bit of a sucker for list shows, so I thought I’d share my top ten romantic moments, that probably inspired me to be a writer of romantic fiction. In no particular order, here are my top ten kisses and heart stopping ‘pashes’.

1. Sir Guy of Gisborne and Marian of Knighton’s infamous doorway grope. Lucy Griffiths and Richard Armitage got this one so right. It’s eight seconds of snogging perfection, in my book!

2. The Doctor and Rose at Bad Wolf Bay. I loved the Tennant/Piper combination, and BBC’s rendering of the scene was marginally better than what ended up in the actual episode. Long live Ten (2) and his beautiful Rose! 🙂

3. Mulder and Scully from ‘The X-Files: Fight the Future’. So close, so very very close! I love Gillian and David with equal passion, and this moment from the first film makes my heart flip…

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‘Summer In The Orchard’ (Little Somersby book 3) by Fay Keenan

A truly gorgeous review…thank you so much, Amanda xxx

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Summer in the Orchard (Little Somerby Book 3) by [Keenan, Fay]Synopsis

Sophie Henderson loves her job at Carter’s Cider in the picturesque Somerset village of Little Somerby, but with summer dawning before yet another picking and pressing season, and her boss David showing no signs of wanting to hang up his cider jug, perhaps it is time to move on.

She’s all set to hand in her notice when Alex Fraser, an intern from Vancouver, comes to Little Somerby to learn everything he can about the cider business. With Sophie as his mentor, attraction between them starts to grow alongside the apples.

For Alex, however, being in Little Somerby is about more than cider, and as the summer grows warmer, and his relationship with Sophie blossoms, can he find the courage to tell her the truth before it’s too late?

My Review

When I agreed to take part in the blog tour for ‘Summer In The Orchard’, I didn’t realise…

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Summer in the Orchard by Fay Keenan Blog Tour – Review

Another simply gorgeous review of’ ‘Summer in the Orchard’ – thank you so much for sticking with Little Somerby 🙂 xxx

Bookish Jottings

Sophie Henderson loves her job at Carter’s Cider in the picturesque Somerset village of Little Somerby, but with summer dawning before yet another picking and pressing season, and her boss David showing no signs of wanting to hang up his cider jug, perhaps it is time to move on.

She’s all set to hand in her notice when Alex Fraser, an intern from Vancouver, comes to Little Somerby to learn everything he can about the cider business. With Sophie as his mentor, attraction between them starts to grow alongside the apples.

For Alex, however, being in Little Somerby is about more than cider, and as the summer grows warmer, and his relationship with Sophie blossoms, can he find the courage to tell her the truth before it’s too late?

Fay Keenan’s charming, funny and deliciously romantic Little Somerby novels are sure to delight all fans of Jilly Cooper, Fern Britton and Katie Fforde.

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