Happy Ever After – A sneaky peek…

With Happy Ever After ready to go back to my editor I thought I’d give you a sneak peek at the story and its setting.

The blurb…

Kate and Neil Spence met at Circular Quay after the Hiroshima Day march in August 1985. Kate was marching, Neil was not. It was love almost at first sight.

And they all lived happily ever after…or did they?

Over thirty years have passed, their children have grown and Kate and Neil have gone from being happily married to being happily separated. That is until Neil asks for a divorce – and another wedding brings up feelings that both had thought were long gone.

What’s it about?

Happy Ever After is a love story, but more than that it’s a story about love. It’s a story about how love changes, grows and is challenged over the years. It’s about the curve balls life throws us just when we’re ready to begin realising our dreams. It’s about living the better or for worse and richer and poorer thing and it’s about coming out the other side. It’s about family, friends, second, third and even fourth chances for a happy ever after. Mostly though, it’s about love.

The setting…

Happy Ever After is set mostly on Sydney’s north shore. We also visit Queenstown and the Milford Track – in the rain when the mountains look like they’re crying silvery streams of tears.

A starring role goes to my favourite tree in Sydney’s Botanical Gardens. It’s the Moreton Bay Fig that sits above the Opera House. From here you can see across to Fort Denison. I’ve eaten many a sandwich under the shade of that tree.

Where did the idea come from?

I was listening to some of my old protest style music from the mid 80’s while I was cooking one Saturday afternoon– songs by Goanna and Shane Howard, Redgum and Midnight Oil.  The music took me back to my first year at uni. Although I wasn’t involved in student politics, there was a rumour going around that Midnight Oil might be playing at the end of the annual Hiroshima Day march. So I marched…well, sort of. To be honest, it started off as a lark but got a tad boring and I bailed out about halfway down George Street.

Not that it mattered – Midnight Oil weren’t there. They were touring the US at the time. I got to see them later that year at a Wilderness Society concert for the Daintree Rainforest.

Of course, these days rumours like that couldn’t get properly started, but back then we didn’t have social media, the internet or mobile phones. Back then it was harder to stay in touch if you fell out of it. I had fun having Kate find coins and a pay phone to call and let her parents know she’d be home late.

Anyways, it started with the music and, just a week later Happy Ever After became my 2017 NanoWrimo project.

Happy Ever After will be published later this year. Sign up to my newsletter for publication dates and pre-order deals.



Happy Ever After – The Update

Lilacs at Chateauneuf
Lilacs at Chateauneuf

I realised this morning as I was drafting my post for tomorrow’s Lovin’ Life linky that I’d neglected to write anything about, well, writing, in months. I’ve completely fallen out of the habit of posting each Wednesday about something book or publishing related – and the last monthly newsletter I sent out was back in (gulp) October last year.

Sure, I was on holidays for a few weeks from the middle of April, and before that, I had some freelance astro deadlines, but since I’ve been back from France, I’ve had no such excuse. Other than the day job, of course.

Speaking of France, I’ve come back with a few ideas for new stories. A house, a garden, a village, a cake – even some characters have popped into my head. There’s still a lot of thinking to be done though before I even start drafting The Lilac Queen. Yes, I have a title. I suspect that I’ve found my NanoWrimo project for this November.

That’s more than I can say about my current novel. I’m yet to decide on a definitive title. I called it Happy Ever After because I intended to talk about what happens after most romance novels finish. I wanted to deal with what happens after the happy ever after and whether one is all we get. Sure it’s a love story, but it’s also about love – and how that changes and is challenged. To that end, the title works.

My husband and daughter, however, thought that it sounded clichéd.

Then I was listening to the playlist I’d put together for the book, and there was a line in an Abba song – Dance (While The Music Still Goes On) – that resonated with one of the pivotal scenes.  The experts that are my family agreed that One More Dance was the perfect title and continues my tradition of using pop music lyrics in my titles.

I love it – but it doesn’t feel right either.

Then my editor’s structural notes came back, and she also said that she felt Happy Ever After worked with the content. I’m still undecided, but the more I think about it, the more I think that she’s right.

Speaking of the structural notes, aside from moving a few chapters here and there and adding a couple of new scenes, I’ve ripped through the rewrite in three weeks. It’s not due to be sent back to my editor until July.

I’ll use the time in between then to deal with the cover. I’ll also be picking up the second book in my Be Careful What You Wish For series. The first – I Want You Bank– is sitting there with the cover done and ready to be formatted and published as soon as the second is in copy edit. I’m due to have the draft of this to my editor for a read through in July as well.

It’s all a bit of a juggle, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Finally, I’ll be re-launching my newsletter at the end of this week and will be sending it out monthly. Truly. If you want to catch up with what’s going on, be the first to know when my next happy ending is due to hit the virtual bookshelves, be updated with any promos and maybe pick up a recipe or two, you can sign up here.

Next week: A sneak peek into Happy Ever After

Happy Ever After – Week 9

I’m not long back from my morning walk. The surf has been spectacular over the last couple of days. It’s because of the Super Moon bringing super high tides, and a tropical low off somewhere in the Coral Sea.

I could have stayed down there and watched it for hours. Plenty were. I don’t think I’ve seen so many people (outside of whale season) just standing and watching the ocean – or quite as many surfers in the water at one time. There is, however, work to be done. And, as I have to log on later this afternoon into a teleconference for the partition job, a limited number of hours to do it in.

So, progress on the novel. I’m nearly done – with the first draft anyway. A couple of chapters will have it finished – hopefully by the weekend. I’ll be going straight into re-write mode with this – it has an appointment with my editor mid-March.

I also pulled out I Want You Back over the weekend and did another proof-read. It feels as though I’m missing something, but I don’t know what. Perhaps it’s because I intended releasing this as part of a three-book mini-series that I’ve managed to interrupt with Happy Ever After, I don’t know. At just 73,000 words it’s also much smaller than anything I’ve written previously – again because I intended it to be the first in a three-book mini-series. It’s not much longer than a genre romance. At that length, there’s very little room for sub-plots.

Anyways, I’ll write the blurb this week and send it off for formatting, but I’m still undecided as to whether I release as a stand-alone. The alternative is waiting until I’ve completed Tiff and Alice’s stories. I’ll need to think about that, but if anyone has ideas, please let me know!

Until next week…


Happy Ever After – Week 6

Ever wanted to know what it’s like to write a novel?  I’m in the process of writing a new novel and will be blogging my progress week by week here.

Ok, so the words are coming again. Having solved my plot problem and finished the second season of The Crown, I no longer had a valid excuse.

I’ve actually gone back and looked at the first few chapters again over the past week. I woke in the middle of the night the other day – something I do most nights – and realised two things:

  • I hadn’t given Kate any friends. She has an extensive family – and family is very much a theme of the novel – but if she’s lived in the same city for 50 years, she’d have friends.
  • I hadn’t given Kate a job – or even a daily purpose

Without either of these things, the story was always going to be single dimensional and overly introspective – both of which would mean the story was likely to be as boring as batshit and Kate about as likeable as that.

So I’ve gone back and started to flesh some of that out. I’ve mentioned before that I really start to hit the stride of a story in the second half? That means that the front part of my story usually requires a lot more re-writing. I’m covering some of that as well, but won’t be spending too much time on this – my aim is to get the first draft done as quickly as possible and then come back and flesh out the layers.

Am I on track to finish before Christmas? No. I think I’m going to need more words to tell this story…speaking of which, I’d better get back to the writing!

While I have your attention, thank you to everyone who has followed or supported my journey this year. I wish you and yours all the very best of everything for the season.


Why you should write a novel in November

So anyways, November is around the corner…and if November is around the corner, so too is NaNoWriMo. Nano wtf? National Novel Writing Month.

Essentially the challenge is to, along with a few hundred thousand other people, get 50,000 words out of your head and onto a page – or a laptop -during the month of November. It’s a bit like a novel writing marathon.

By the end of November, our poor little novel writer’s wrists are burning, our eyelids need propping open, our body fluids have been gradually replaced by copious amounts of caffeine or alcohol, and most of us have hit a wall at some point through the process. In our case the “wall” isn’t extreme physical exhaustion (although it can be) – more often it’s a blank screen, or page.

The hardest part of the process by far is fitting writing a novel in around life – because, as we know, it doesn’t stop just because we’ve committed to writing a novel. For those of us with kids, November is the time of the year where end of year exams and end of year performances and presentation nights all start to fill up the calendar. In addition, most of us have jobs and other responsibilities. We don’t have time to add writing a novel to that list. Do we?

So, if it’s that flipping hard, why do we do it? To be honest, asking a writer that question is a little like asking a marathoner why they lace up the trainers to put their bodies through 42kms of pain, or asking a climber why they do Everest. The answer is simple – because it’s a challenge and it’s there.

I’ve done it most years since 2009. Each of my novels has started life during Nanowrimo. Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry were both managed while I had a full time job – with large chunks written in hotel rooms and airports during office relocation projects – and all the things that go along with being a Mum with a (then) school age child. The bulk of Wish You Were Here was written during nanowrimo in 2015 – even though I was on a road trip through Britain for the 2nd half of November.

I even signed up last year – even though I knew that I’d be on Milford Track with access to no technology for a week of the month. The first 30,000 words of I Want You Back came from that.

Should you enter? Yes. Especially if:

  • You’ve been talking about writing a book someday for ever and flipping ever
  • You’ve got a story in your head that needs to escape
  • You like a good graph

Need more convincing?

  • 50,000 words isn’t a full novel (unless you’re writing novellas, category romance or children’s books), but it’s a bloody good start.
  • It’s a great way to take a new idea for a test flight. By 50,000 words you’re going to know whether it’s got legs and, if it doesn’t, you’ve only wasted one month. In my view, that’s an efficient outcome.
  • It doesn’t need to be a novel. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about a non fiction project, a memoir, a collection of short stories or poems, a screenplay.
  • It never needs to be seen by anyone other than yourself. The book I wrote in 2009 was vaguely semi semi autobiographical shite. It will never be published – although I have used parts of it in everything I’ve written since. I’d had it in my head for so long that writing it down allowed all the other stories that had been waiting their turn behind it in my brain to come tearing out. (I think my brain is a tad like an air traffic control tower.) Anyways, that character – my runaway astrologer Alice – has her own story that I’ll be writing this year. And no, it’s no longer even vaguely semi semi autobiographical. Except for the astrologer bit.
  • It’s one month where you can experiment with different genres, different voices. Again, if it doesn’t work, you’ve only wasted a month. The year I drafted Big Girls Don’t Cry, I experimented with writing as if it were a project plan ie from the end backwards. The year I wrote Baby, It’s You, I wrote to a playlist. I wrote 3 different viewpoints in I Want You Back. Because it is only a month, you can try out different techniques to get you through the wall, through the saggy middle, and to have a little fun with the process.
  • Even if you don’t get to 50,000 words, you’ll have more words at the end of November than you did at the beginning.
  • It’s great training. To be a writer you have to get in the habit of writing – every day.
  • If you’re a plotter or edit as you go, this is a great opportunity to just let the words flow. See what happens. No edits – not until December 1.
  • You get to see the graph on the nano site. It’s a great graph.
  • With nanowrimo, there’s no escape, no catch-ups. If you’ve been struggling to establish a writing habit, I can’t think of a better way to do it.

Am I entering this year? Absolutely. I have Alice’s story – or the The Book After The Book That’s After I Want You Back – to tell. It’s the last in my Melbourne Girls series and will tie up any loose ends – all the way back to Baby, It’s You.

If you’re up for it, you can sign up at the official site. You’ll find forums, events, cool widgets for your blog, emails of encouragement and a cast of hundreds of thousands of other people doing it with you. I’m Astrojo, so if you’re signing up, come follow me.

6 tips to writing a satisfying sexy scene

I’m writing this post on a Saturday afternoon. I have a zucchini slice in the oven that I’m keeping an eye on, and in the background is an annoying electrical alarm – like when the washing machine is out of balance and needs to have the load shifted. The problem is that it’s coming from next door and, as it’s been bleeping most of the day, I suspect that he put a load on before going out – and it won’t be stopping any time soon.

As for me? I’m sitting at my kitchen counter staring at my scrivener page and trying to sex up a couple of chapters. I’m working through my structural edit and my fabulously wise editor thinks there needs to be a tad more sexiness in a couple of chapters of the book.

She’s absolutely right – it was lazy writing…my words, not hers – and the scene felt, as a result, flat and lifeless. the same goes with my final chapter. It definitely needed the sensuality notched up a tad too.

So, I’m sitting here watching a zucchini slice do it’s thing and listening to the washing machine next door annoyingly bleep. My protagonists are getting sexy and hubby is now home and wants a detailed discussion about green fees and golf cart hire – and the relative value of each – at the golf course he’s looking for cost justification to join.

Each of the sex scenes in previous books has been written in equally unsexy settings – mostly on my lunch break in the food hall at Rhodes Shopping Centre with screaming kids and IKEA trolleys all around. Then there have been those scenes I’ve written while still in bed on a Saturday morning with hubby in the doorway asking if I’d like scrambled or poached eggs – or maybe an omelette?

The thing is, writing a squidgy scene isn’t a whole lot more different than writing anything else. Plus, if you let your imagination go wild, it can even be kind of fun – although it helps if you pretend that it will never be read by your mother. Speaking of which, after Mum read Wish You Were Here, she told me that she thought the sex was nicely done. Hashtag awkward. But, I digress.

One of the panel sessions I attended at RWA was about trusting your voice. Amongst other topics it touched on writing sex scenes when you’re uncomfortable doing so. The consensus from the panel – Anne Gracie, Marion Lennox, Trish Morey and Keri Arthur – was that if you’re not comfortable writing sex, that will come across. Marion Lennox – who has written over 110 romances – doesn’t write sex…and that’s how her readers like it. Trish Morey, on the other hand, writes some seriously steamy scenes and is eminently comfortable writing sex. I’m somewhere in the middle, I think.

Another of the sessions I attended at RWA the other week was a “round-table” with Amy Andrews. Essentially it was just 10 of us around a round table (hence the name) with Amy – and an opportunity to ask whatever writing related questions we wanted.

The question I asked was about her sex scenes – Amy writes scorching sex scenes. Seriously scorching ones. Not only are they hot (I already said that, right?) but they do what every satisfying scene should do – they are integral to the story.

I wanted to know if she has to get into any special sort of mood to write these – and no, I don’t mean that sort of mood, I mean as in a ritual sort of thing. Does she light candles, set mood music or maybe have some other method of getting into the right space? Actually no. She just writes.

She also had the following to say about writing them. Naturally I took notes:

  • The first sex scene between your protagonists should be the longest one in the book. It’s a turning point and a huge emotional whammy.
  • It’s also primarily an emotional act rather than a physical one. Whatever it is that our characters are doing – or how they’re doing it – we want to know how they’re feeling.
  • If you can delete the sexy bits without impacting the story, they probably shouldn’t be there. It has to advance the story in some way – either through bringing your protagonists together, pushing them apart, or complicating things enough to make a situation worse before it gets better

I’d add the following to these:

  • Sex is when we’re at our most raw, most needy, and most emotionally vulnerable – this should come across (no pun intended) in that first scene.
  • Stay away from the IKEA style tab A into tab B type of physical instructions. As, (I think it was) Anne Gracie said in the Trust Your Voice session, sex is about more than the docking procedure.
  • With your attention (and blood) diverted to areas much further south than your brain, deep and meaningful or philosophical conversations can happen before or after, but absolutely not during. Speaking of which, sex is real – as is humour – so don’t be afraid to lighten the mood as well.

So, there you have it – now I just have to put these tips into action myself. If only that bleeping washing machine would shut up!


What makes a happy ending?


So anyways, I’ve got to thinking about happy endings – which is probably a good thing given that my tagline is all about happy endings: Happy Endings Begin Here. When you think about it, it’s pretty much the ultimate spoiler.

The thing is, my current character isn’t really playing ball – at least, not as far as the stereotypical happy ending goes.

I had a similar issue with Emily – my lead character in Baby, It’s You. She had a happy ending (hey, it’s not a spoiler alert to say that – after all, as I said, it’s in my tagline) but it wasn’t the down on one knee proposal sort of happy ending. That wasn’t the point with Em.

I had quite a few people asking me why she didn’t – or rather why I didn’t give her that particular conclusion. I wrote the ending I wrote for Em because that was the ending that she needed. Anything else would have made everything else all for nothing. Besides, it was still a hopeful and satisfying end. I think Em was happy with it.

Callie, my lead in I Want You Back, is proving to be just as elusive.

The thing is, a happy ending doesn’t have to be a proposal and a white dress and a happy ever after – especially if that doesn’t fit with the journey the character has taken. As an aside, I hate that word – journey…but I digress.

I’ve been reading some straight romance genre of late – namely some regency romances by Anna Campbell, an Aussie author who I admire greatly. Unusually for the genre, her heroines don’t always end up in the frothy white toilet roll doll dress – well, not immediately anyway – unless it suits the story arc for them to do so. Of course, we know that they’re in love and assume that it’s a forever thing, but these women don’t say “I will” until they are ready to do so. I find that refreshing. It shows a strength of character and, dare I say it, a sort of feminism that way too many people believe can’t be found in a romance novel.

I want my girls to find love and the forever thing too – but also on their terms….although very often they need someone else to help them with that – or, at the very least, help point them in the right direction.

As for Callie? She’ll get her happy ending, but I’m not quite sure at this point what that looks like. Nor is she anywhere near to deserving it. Not yet. She’s still got a bit of work to do.

Aaaah the joys of being a pantser.

8 ways to beat writer’s block…

Exhausted and overworked

Writer’s Block.

noun. A usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.

I’m at the soggy middle stage of I Want You Back. I’ve written the beginning, I’ve written the ending, now I need to work out how A will get to B…so to speak…and the words are having problems coming through.

My characters are still chatting away and jostling about in my head – as they do. The problem is, they’re chatting away and jostling about with other characters whose turn to come out and play hasn’t yet arrived.

Plus, their chatter and story is currently being drowned out by all the noise in my head associated with buying a house, selling a house, and arranging an interstate move. Next time I pronounce, ‘seriously, how hard can it be?’ remind me of this moment.

I know I’m being hard on myself – there’s a lot going on and perhaps I should give myself a break, but:

  • This is a business and commitments that get made have to be kept – just as they would be in any other business or if I had a book with a deadline to a traditional publisher
  • I am busy – as are all of us who are juggling writing with day jobs, kids and other responsibilities. As such I can’t afford to waste any of that precious time staring at a blank screen
  • I knew that we were moving when I set my production schedule at the end of last year. Any over-commitment is my problem.

I’m in this game because I like the process of creating – and (mostly) find writing fun. It got me thinking about what I do to keep it fun when the words aren’t behaving themselves.

1. Write a scene any scene.

When I’m stuck for words, I write a scene that’s completely out of order to where the manuscript is up to. Often the scene playing in my head is not the one that I set out to write, but there’s no way I’m wasting the limited time I have to write by trying to force a scene that isn’t yet ready to be written.

Because there’s always a lot going on in my life (and my head) I write this way a lot. It’s one of the reasons I love scrivener – I can easily move the scenes about when I work out where they need to go.

Writing in this higgledy- piggledy fashion certainly adds to the edit effort, but you know what they say: you can’t edit the words you haven’t written. Besides, we’re in this game because we like the process of creating – so

2. Finish at least one paragraph before you run out of words.

This is a little like the writer’s version of the rhythm method. Yes, I truly did say that. Anyways, my point is, leave a little behind. I’m making this worse, aren’t I? If you stop a few sentences from the end of your scene, you have somewhere to start in your next session that doesn’t require too much thought.

3.Write a blog post.

Aside from this site, I also have an astrology site (Jo Tracey Astrology), and and anyways – a site where I blog pretty much anything else: food, travels, rambles, thoughts, whatever.

I keep a loose schedule for astro blog posts, and a sheet of paper on my desk with a heap of word hints for blog ideas for here and for and anyways, so when the block hits, I get the juices flowing again with something from the list.

4.Watch good writing.

Ok, this could possibly be drawing a fine line between procrastination and research, but watching good writing (and I mean good writing) or something in the genre that you’re writing can help. Again this is about learning and inspiration – not entertainment. Oh, and set a time limit or before you know it you’ll be binge watching episodes of Lewis…did that come out loud?


Preferably away from the genre you’re writing. Sometimes the problem is that you can’t hear your voice over the voices you’re reading – especially if you’re reading something of a similar feel to what you’re writing.

I’m reading Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series at present. It’s cozy crime set in in 1920s London and country England. I’m reading it not just because I’m enjoying the jolly hockey sticks, and spiffiness of it, but because it’s so different to I Want You Back – which is contemporary women’s fiction set in modern day Melbourne and Hong Kong.

6.Go for a walk.

This is usually my fail-safe never fails to work option…except when I don’t do it – which I’m not at present. Somehow walking has the same effect as a moving meditation. Focusing on something else – being aware of everything else around you – clears your brain so you can sort out whatever plot or character problem that’s stopping you from moving forward.

7.Pull out your playlist…or pinterest board.

Playlists are to me an audible inspiration. I’ll listen to a song that I just know a particular scene has to feel like. I know that it doesn’t sound like it makes much sense, but it does. Yesterday I wrote a scene that I’m hoping reads like Missy Higgins’ The Way You Are Tonight looks in my head.

Maybe you use a pinterest board or some other type of vision tool. Whatever it is, revisit it.

8.Interview your characters.

I went through a similar stage with Wish You Were Here. In that case my “block” was largely because I didn’t understand Max’s motivations. What did she really want, and what was she prepared to do to get it? Knowing her chart helped me answer that question, but so did a spot of free writing in her voice. Have some questions up your sleeve that could help, as could writing some back story that while never seeing the light of day will help you understand what it is that makes your characters react the way they do.

As the definition says, writer’s block is usually temporary – so take comfort in that.

Do you have any tips to beat the dreaded white page or blank screen?

Astrology For Romance Writers…


I’ve wanted to write love stories since I was way too young to know what a love story really was. I’m not necessarily talking about category romance (although I’d like to have a shot at that one day), but the sort of stories that allow you to escape from your own life into one where despite the crap, there is the possibility of a happy ending. Even if that ending doesn’t involve a bended knee proposal, the whole point is for the heroine to learn something and for me – the reader – to feel hopeful for her.

That’s why I started writing about astrology – and yes, I know that some of you reading this who would say that writing astrology is the perfect base for writing fiction, but go with me on this…

They say that if you want to write, then you have to read, and you have to write. The reading part I had no issues with – I’ve been a prolific reader my whole life. The writing part? Well, that was different. What could I write about? Most of my writing had, until then, consisted of project charters, credit proposals, or tender responses.

I was studying astrology at the time – initially the result of a rather drastic mid-life crisis, and later out of a real enjoyment of the subject.  I figured I’d write about what I was learning… as I learnt it. And the astrology blog was born.

It’s through the thousands of posts that have followed, that I’ve discovered my style and my voice – and developed a writing habit.

It’s also the tool that I use to help me get into the head of my characters.

I’m not what you’d call a plotter. The manuscript I’m working on now is at the 40,000 word mark. I’m about halfway through and due to finish the first draft at the end of February – yet I’m still not entirely sure how Callie (my heroine) is going to have the happy ever after she deserves. What I do know is what her chart looks like – no spoilers. In knowing this I know what her motivations are, how she thinks, how she reacts instinctively to stresses and challenges, how she relates, how she goes after what she really wants, and what (and who) turns her on.

In my first draft of Wish You Were Here, Max was seriously floaty. I knew what was going to happen, but I didn’t know why – because she didn’t know what she wanted. As soon as I gave her a chart, I had her motivation. Once I had her motivation, I could create a conflict that would send cause her more than a few problems.

It was the same with my heroine, Abby Brentnall in Big Girls Don’t Cry. I knew right from the start that Abby was an Aries. I also knew right from the start that she needed some triggers to confront the events of her past and take her to who she needed to be and what she needed to be doing. Without getting too technical, I used astrology for that too. In order to bring Abby forward, I needed to take her into her shadow side.

Every sign has strengths and shadows. Generally we stray into the shadow without knowing. We escape to there from whatever is stressing or haunting us, so we don’t have to deal with whatever it is we don’t want to face. Of course, being fiction, we highlight these in order to create a contrast between who the character is at the start of the book, and how she has grown.

Very often that shadow is the exaggeration of the strength of our Sun. Abby, an Aries, is assertive and independent. Qualities that, in extreme, can easily be seen as selfish, self-centred and willful – both words associated with the Aries shadow. Abby laughs at herself when she says to Todd:

‘Typical fricken Aries ‒ it’s all about you.’

‘You’d know,’ he said.

Brad used to laugh at the self-centred impatience that Todd and I ‒ whose birthdays were only a week apart ‒ had in common.

The famous Aries need to compete can become a need to win at all costs, or regardless of the cost. I used Andi, Abby’s best friend, to illustrate this when she warned Abby:

‘You don’t have to win every battle. If you’re not careful, you’ll take it too far and be left with nothing.’

If taken too far, the Aries self-reliance, or doing it for themselves by themselves can also result in isolation or loneliness- as Abby finds out.

We can also find our shadow when we stray too far into our opposite sign and find instead its shadow. This is what happened with Abby. Ever so gradually over the years her independence and fearlessness – the strengths that saw her stand up for what she believed in; the courage that made her charge head-first into whatever it was that was challenging her – those edges were smoothed, civilised and compromised.

In the first chapter, Brad sets this up when he tells her:

You’re picking an argument because I asked you to come with me and you don’t want to make the decision. What’s happened to you? There was a time when you would have jumped at the chance of an adventure ‒ you’d have been on that plane before I finished the sentence. Once upon a time, you would have jumped out of the plane!’

Once I’d put Abby into her shadow, I needed to give her the tools to find herself again.

I did the same with Em in Baby, It’s You. Em is in many ways a good example of the textbook Pisces shadow – inappropriate footwear and a tendency to fall for unattainable men… not that she fell for anyone who belonged to anyone else, just men who were rebounding from someone, and needed to be fixed up so their past wanted them back. Her friend Susie, referred to it as renovation dating.

Em had, over the years, gone to her opposite sign (Virgo) to find a way of controlling her environment, but in doing so had become dependent on lists, organisation, and her comfort zone. For Em to have her happy ending, I needed to take her beyond her own boundaries so that she could step out into possibility and trust that things would still be ok. To do that, I gave her someone else’s bucket list.

As for my heroes? They have a chart as well. Not so that I can send them on any personal growth journey, but so that I can develop their character. Josh in Baby, It’s You, has all of the mutable, how – hard – can – it – be optimism of Sagittarius. For him, life is an adventure. An exhausting adventure.

Brad in Big Girls Don’t Cry has the steady patience and reliability of Taurus. Yes, he has a stubborn streak, but he’s learnt to temper that and save his anger for when it really matters.

As for Richie in Wish You Were Here, he’s a Scorpio – and has all the magnetic, strong and sexy appeal that goes with that. And, he should have been taught how to use his words when he was growing up. Just saying.

Am I in it?

Masks with theatre concept

Am I in it?

It’s one of the most common questions I get asked- although one of my closest friends doesn’t bother to ask…he tells anyone who’ll listen that he’s the lead character in each of the books. Life is full of disappointment.

The people who ask this question assume, incorrectly, that they are in the story…or that they know someone who is. I suspect some are worried that they are- especially the ones who know they’ve pissed me off. What did the coffee mug say? Something about not pissing off a writer- you could end up in a book. Dead. The thing is, they’re not either- yet.

It is, however, a reasonable question. It’s also a question that my husband has never asked. Part of him, I think, doesn’t want to know. For the record there will never ever ever ever be any part of my husband in anything I write. Ever. Probably. Maybe. Some of his qualities are, however, in each of my heroes. Naturally, they’re the qualities I fell in love with all those years ago. Good answer?

It’s safer to say there’s more than a little of me in each of my heroines. There’s a little of me in Emily, my heroine in Baby, It’s You. Like me, she’s a Pisces, has a thing about daggy pop music, will never ever ever run again, and is prone to blisters. There’s also a little of how I’d like to be in Emily- I’d especially like her hair and her waist.

There’s only a little of me in Abby from Big Girls Don’t Cry. Abby is the most complex, damaged and inherently strong of my leading ladies (to date). Abby was not (especially at the start) a particularly likeable character, but by the end of the story, I hope readers could connect with her.

Of them all (so far), Max from Wish You Were Here is most like me. Not physically, of course, but for much of the story, she’s the most passive of my girls and also the least damaged. Because she isn’t damaged, her flaws are possibly going to be more frustrating.

Like me, Max has a habit of drifting along and falling into decisions rather than making choices. I suspect this is because she hasn’t really been challenged before. Not really. Max needs some pretty drastic things to happen to her and around her before she makes the changes she needs to make, sees what she needs to see, and goes in the direction she needs to go. She has an almost immature and self-contained view of her own world and doesn’t see what’s even slightly below the surface or how her action (or inaction) can impact others. In a way, she’s oblivious to all of that.

The similarities between Max and myself didn’t occur to me until I was finishing the copy edit for Wish You Were Here the other day. Although most of this book was drafted between November and February, the layers were added since. Coincidentally (?) I’ve had some pretty chaotic stuff happening to me personally in the last 6 months- much of it in the same theme (although not the same events, of course) as what I’d written in for Max all those months before.

Although I tend to go with the flow, it’s only been in response to the (increasingly heavy-handed) hints that the Universe has dished out that has prompted me to start making the decisions that need to be made- rather than drifting on pretending that it will all go away and life can go on as I know it…or knew it.

I don’t know whether subconsciously Max responded in the way that I would or whether I wrote her that way because of what was happening in background of my life. I’m not even sure that the distinction matters. While Max shares these traits with me, she is also a very different person, with very different motivations and trigger points- and is a much better cook.

The thing is, writing what we know doesn’t mean that we write who we know.

As a writer, it stands to reason then, that our characters will say things we’ve heard others say, or do things we’ve observed others do. Then we exaggerate it. In the case of my “villains” or antagonists, I exaggerate an awful lot. All of my friends have been warned that anything they say could be taken down and used later by a character who will probably bear no resemblance to them.

Likewise, it would also be easy to say that the starting point when writing about relationship is what you know. Or what you think you know. Or what you imagine you know. Or what you want to know and experience. The rest comes from your imagination- and the characters themselves. As it should.

Before Baby, It’s You was published I lay awake worrying about what people would think of me when it came out. Would they read too much into it? Layer me into Emily, layer what they thought they knew of me into the rest? And that’s exactly what some people did. ‘Oh, I didn’t know that you felt that way,’ someone said. ‘I don’t,’ I replied, ‘but Emily does.’

It was only a few months down the track when I realised that I hadn’t exactly sold that many copies that it occurred to me just how arrogant I was being. It’s not something I even thought about when Big Girls came out. It’s not something that’s worrying me this time around either- even though, as I’ve admitted above, it could be reasonable this time to draw some similarities between Max and myself.

As for the other characters in Wish You Were Here? I’m sorry to disappoint, but they’re completely made up…even my “villain”… especially my “villain”…

Wish You Were Here will be available from the end of October, 2016