Thursday, 16 November 2017

Inventing Family History

For ‘Irish Inheritance’, the first book in my 'Mist Na Mara' series, I needed to invent some family history for my American hero and English heroine. They have jointly inherited a house on the west coast of Ireland, but neither of them has ever heard of the Irish woman who has bequeathed it to them. This leads them into an intriguing, and sometimes puzzling, journey into their individual family histories, until they eventually unravel the tale of a 19th century love affair.

Sorting out this family history was fascinating for me too! I’ve done quite a lot of research into my own family history, so at least I was aware of the resources that are available online and in other places.

What I didn’t know before I started was that only the 1901 and 1911 Irish censuses are available. The census records for 1861-1891 were pulped, by government order, during the 1st World War, and the earlier records from 1821 to 1851 were destroyed by a fire at the Public Record Office in 1922.

This actually worked to my advantage, as it meant my characters couldn’t find out where their ancestors were living before 1901. The census records did help me, though, to see what names were popular in the early 20th century, and also to find out what streets and houses existed at that time in the Irish town of Clifden in County Galway.

Coincidentally, most of the USA 1890 census was destroyed by a fire at the Commerce Building in Washington DC in 1921. Again, this proved very convenient for me – although it must be so frustrating for American researchers!

My own research came in useful, too, when my heroine asks someone to look up information about her great-grandmother, because the 1911 census does not shown the maiden name of a wife. The heroine needs to know this, and I could easily imagine her researcher trawling through the marriage records to find one that seemed to be the right one. I say ‘seemed’ because in family history research, we can’t always assume that something that looks right actually is the correct record.

Another ‘headache’ in creating an imaginary family tree was getting ages right. I couldn’t have someone getting married when they were 12, or a woman having a child when she was in her 70s!

When I needed one couple to die relatively young, I had to search for plausible reasons for this, which was where my knowledge of history came in useful. The Spanish flu epidemic at the end of World War 1 fitted the bill perfectly, and so did the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940.

I must have drawn and re-drawn the ‘family tree’ a dozen or more times before I eventually decided it worked - and now I'm very glad I kept it, because in my 5th novel in the series, I'm re-visiting the family, and adding another strand to it. Watch this space! 

Irish Inheritance
English actress Jenna Sutton and American artist Guy Sinclair first meet when they jointly inherit a house on the west coast of Ireland. Curious about their unknown benefactress and why they are considered 'family', they discover surprising links to the original owners of the house.
They soon unravel an intriguing tale of a 19th century love affair. At the same time, their mutual attraction grows, despite personal reasons for not wanting romantic involvements at this point in their lives.
A local property agent appears to have her own agenda concerning the house while other events pull Jenna and Guy back to separate lives in London and America. Friction builds over their decision about the house and its contents.
Will their Irish inheritance eventually bring them together - or drive them apart? 


Available as an ebook from all major distributors - click here

Thursday, 9 November 2017

'Thought-provoking and powerful'

At the end of last year, I entered my novel ‘Irish Secrets’ into the Wishing Shelf Book Awards (http://www.thewsa.co.uk/). Although I didn’t win, I was delighted to be a finalist, and to receive an overall ranking of 4.5 stars. In addition, finalists receive feedback from the readers, which is also posted on Amazon and Goodreads by the award organiser.

I was very happy with the feedback I received!


Of the 17 readers:
16 would read another book by this author.
17 felt it was easy to follow.
16 would recommend this story to another reader to try.
17 felt the pacing was good or excellent.
16 thought the author understood the readership and what they wanted.

8 felt the author’s strongest skill was ‘plotting a story’.
9 felt the author’s strongest skill was ‘developing the characters’.

Readers’ Comments:

‘An interesting look at the Irish system of baby adopting many years ago. Excellently written; sad in many parts. Books of this nature are important reminding us of how lucky we are and how terrible history often was.’ Male reader, aged 41

‘I liked the romantic element I thought that was well written; lots of chemistry.’ Female reader, aged 56

‘Well plotted with a strong romantic undercurrent. I enjoyed this very much.’ Female reader, aged 47

‘This author is best working with characters and speech. The characters develop well this way. A powerful novel looking at a very dark Irish secret. Well done.’ Male reader, aged 55

Summary: ‘Thought-provoking and powerful. A FINALIST and highly recommended.’ The Wishing Shelf Book Awards


Irish Secrets
While working at Mist Na Mara Arts Centre, Kara Stewart embarks on a search for her mother’s birth parents; she’d been adopted in the 1960s by an American couple. Kara soon realises the task is not as simple as she’d anticipated when she meets with a wall of secrecy surrounding Irish baby adoptions.
Ryan Brady is hiding the secret of his real identity, but when he offers to help Kara trace her Irish family, his attraction to her is undeniable.
As the mystery unravels, secrets drive a wedge, not only between Kara and her mother, but also between Kara and Ryan.
Can Kara and Ryan find a way to heal the rifts created by all these secrets and find love?

Irish Secrets is being re-published by Tirgearr Publishing, and is available (until November 13) at the pre-release sale price of 99 cents/99 pence! http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/Martin_Paula/


Thursday, 2 November 2017

When One Door Closes...

‘When one door closes, another door opens’ is a well-known saying which has certainly proved to be true for me.

The ‘closing door’ was that of my publisher, Rebecca Vickery, who regretfully announced last April that her publishing business would be closed on October 31st. The ‘open door’ belongs to Tirgearr Publishing with whom I signed a contract in August, initially to re-publish my ‘Mist Na Mara series’ of 4 books, all set in the beautiful Connemara area in the west of Ireland.

Maybe it is symbolic (and hopefully auspicious) that these four books became available for pre-order last Monday, October 30th, just one day before the ‘official’ closing of Rebecca’s business, and they will be released on November 13th – which is exactly seven months since I first learned I would need to find a new home for them.

My grateful thanks go to Kemberlee at Tirgearr, and also Christine, my editor, and Elle, my cover designer, for pulling out all the stops to get the books ready for publication in record time!



The pre-order price for each book in the series is 99 cents/99 pence. This will go up to ‘normal’ price level after November 13th, so do order now!

You can find links for all 4 books at http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/Martin_Paula/
(Kindle, Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, and Nook)

And here are a couple of reviews to whet your appetite!
"Paula's description of the scenery and charm of the Irish countryside is amazing but most of all, I love the story. What a great plot, characters and setting. Could not put it down."

"I was hooked from the first page and felt that I was there with the hero and heroine. The intriguing story line is fascinating and I could not wait to find out what happened."

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Can Anyone Write a Novel?

Last month, I gave a talk to a local seniors group. It was similar to the ones I have done in the past – describing my writing ‘career’, including the differences between writing in the 1960s and writing today, and also giving some examples of where I get my ideas and how I develop my stories.

At the end of all my talks, I’ve had various questions, ranging from ‘How long does it take you to write a novel?’ to ‘How much research do you have to do?’

This time I had a different question. Someone said, “They say there is a novel in everyone. Do you think anyone can write one?’

I had to think on my feet! In the end I said something like, “First I think you have to want to write, and then you have to make the time to do it, rather than just write when you happen to have some spare time or feel like writing. There can also be a big difference between simply writing a novel, and writing something that will be accepted by a publisher. It can involve a lot of time and hard work – not just the actual writing, but also the research you need to do, even for a contemporary novel. You might also have to learn about plotting, using dialogue, and developing your characters, and I also think you need to have a good grasp of grammar, punctuation and spelling.”

That’s a summary of my ‘off the cuff’ answer, which I’m aware might only have covered a small part of what is involved in writing a novel. 

While we were having a cup of tea afterwards, someone else said to me, “I couldn’t write a novel. I don’t have the imagination to create a story.”

On my way home, I thought about this and realised this person was right. The need/desire to write (which means you make the time to do it) is combined with the imagination to create characters and their story. You can learn all the other things – and indeed, we all learn as we go along.

What do you think? Can anyone write a novel? And how would you have answered that question?

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Plot Driven or Character Driven?

A blog interview question asking ‘Are you plot driven or character driven?’ made me wonder what the difference is between these.

One definition I found was that ‘character driven’ means the story concentrates on characterisation, internal conflict, and relationships, with the characters changing an attitude or otherwise resolving a personal problem. ‘Plot driven’ seems to describe stories with more emphasis on plot twists, external conflict, and action. The goal in these is to win, escape, or change a situation.

At first glance, it’s easy to say ‘character driven’ applies to romances, while ‘plot driven’ applies to mysteries or thrillers.

However, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. A romance story which only concentrates on internal agonising and/or problems in a developing relationship can soon become tedious. A thriller or mystery, with no characterisation of the protagonists, soon becomes a puppet show, where the characters are jerked around with lots of action, but no motivation or emotions.

I believe we have to combine the two aspects to create a good story, whether it’s a romance or a thriller. We need the ‘real’ characters of the character driven stories, with their hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses. Yes, they may have internal conflicts to resolve, they may need to change an attitude or learn some kind of lesson. But if they are only doing this within the confines of a developing relationship, with not much else happening to influence them or show them the way, it won’t be a very interesting story, unless your reader is interested in the psychology of relationships and the inner workings  of your characters’ minds.

Therefore we need the plot twists, and the external events to keep the reader turning the pages.

Would ‘Gone With the Wind’ have worked if it had just shown the relationship between Scarlett and Rhett in peaceful, uneventful times?

Would a Civil War story work if we didn’t get involved in the characters’ lives and loves?

To my mind, stories need to be both character driven and plot driven. I start mine with the growing seed of a situation/plot into which I throw my characters. After that, plot and characters develop equally and interact throughout the story.

How about you? Are you plot driven or character driven?

Thursday, 28 September 2017

"Stormy Hawkins" by Ana Morgan


My guest today is Ana Morgan whose debut novel Stormy Hawkins was published yesterday.

When she was small, Ana's dream was to know something about everything. She has studiously waitressed, driven a school bus, run craft service on indie film sets, milked cows, wandered through European castles, wired a house, married a Marine, canned vegetables, and studied the stars. She knows how to change a flat tire but prefers a gallant, handsome stranger who strips off his jacket and spins the lug nuts for her.

She began her writing career with essays about living on an organic farm and raising vegetables for a 100-member CSA. Now, in addition to writing sensual historical romances, she is the current president of From the Heart Romance Writers and an editor for The Talking Stick, a regional literary publication.

Today she tells us about the research she did for her novel: 

A poet-friend confessed recently, when I showed her the cover for my debut romance, Stormy Hawkins, that she had the start of a western romance buried under her bed. But she’d never write it because the research would be too demanding, and take too long.

I was surprised. I love the research aspect of writing stories set in unfamiliar times and places. Maybe this stems from my life-long goal to know something about as many things as possible.

Stormy Hawkins is set on a cattle ranch in 1890 southeast South Dakota. I live on a farm in north central Minnesota, so I had a leg up on some essential aspects of the story. I’ve driven through both North and South Dakota with a husband who provides running commentary about the geological and agricultural history of every small town and continental divide, and who will slam on the brakes to read a historical marker.

We moved to our then-rundown farm in March 1972. The “house” was a roof over three pushed-together hunting shacks. We had running water but no bathroom. The outhouse was a two-seater. My grandmother was the first relative to visit. She bit her tongue and bought for me a wringer washing machine, which I filled using a hose that attached to the kitchen faucet.

My eager hubby went to the local sale barn and bought a Jersey milk cow. She gave birth to twin heifers, and we learned to milk her by hand. Soon we were in the cattle business.

So, I had some first-hand knowledge of what daily life might look, feel and smell like on an 1890’s ranch. Act 1 of my story was research-lite. In Act 2, the heroine Stormy pursues the hero Blade Masters onto a Missouri River steamboat. I needed to research that.

I ordered books from the local library on steamboats. I bought used books—hardcovers with oodles of pictures—from ABE Books (a fantastic resource). I searched historical society websites for riverboat arrival and departure schedules from St. Louis, MO (my hero’s intended destination) to Yankton, SD., and found first-hand accounts of riverboat boiler explosions (frighteningly common) and boat sinkings due to hitting snags (trees submerged under the Missouri River’s surface).

I knew how the characters would dress on the ranch, but made sure to check when jeans were invented. I took a fascinating workshop on the history of clothing so I would envision correctly the fancy dress that Blade orders for Stormy as a ploy to win her father’s trust. (Blade wants to buy their ranch.)

Barbed wire, too. I couldn’t have the characters erect a fence before barbed wire was invented. That detail, and the history of the army forts established along the Missouri River to protect settlers from Indian attack, set the exact date for the story.

My editor at SoulMate Publishing checked on—and correctly called me out on—the dates when double hung windows came into use. She googled the French brandy in the story to see if it could have been imported. (I invented the brand, so yes, it could have.)

The research I gathered to write Stormy Hawkins will be useful as I write the next book in the Prairie Heart series. Book 2 will propel Blade’s sister, Mary, on a Missouri riverboat and port hopping search for her missing fiancĂ©. But, I will have to pull out the picture books. Passenger riverboats were grand conveyances with stately dining rooms, gambling, and promenades—if you had money. Steerage passengers slept beside stacks of cargo and ate what they brought aboard.


Stormy Hawkins
Blade Masters has finally spotted his ideal Dakota Territory ranch, where he can live alone, forget his cheating ex-fiancée, and bury the shards of his shattered heart. All he needs to do is sweet-talk the ailing owner, and his spitfire daughter, into retiring.

If she weren’t desperate, Stormy would never hire a cowhand. She’s learned the hard way that she’s happier working her family’s ranch alone. But, the greedy banker who holds their mortgage just demanded payment in full—or her hand in marriage.

Will this handsome drifter protect her? Or does he have designs of his own?

Available from Amazon

Thursday, 21 September 2017

What Makes a Page-Turner?

Comments and reviews about my romance novels quite often contain phrases like:’ Couldn’t put it down’ (or ‘unputdownable’ as one person said!) or ‘I was glued to it’ or ‘Once I started, I had to carry on until I finished it.’ In fact, one of my readers once ‘complained’ that I had kept her up late because she had to read ‘just a bit more’ until she got to the end of the book!

Obviously, these are very satisfying remarks for an author, but they made me think about what aspects of a novel make it a page turner.

The first requisite, of course, is that readers want to know what happens next. This means that the plot must be intriguing enough for them not to be able to guess the rest of the story by the time they get to Chapter 2. Of course, with a romance novel, they know the hero and heroine will get their happy ending, but the author must introduce enough unexpected twists and turns to keep readers in suspense and wondering how that is ever going to happen.

Another important aspect is to keep the story moving forward. Long descriptions of people and places might be suitable for literary fiction, but romance readers don’t want to read a whole page describing the scenery, or the layout of a house or exactly what the characters are wearing down to the last detail. A short paragraph with well-chosen words is enough to allow readers to use their own imaginations. Anything more can slow down the action – which brings me to another big turn-off i.e. irrelevant scenes where nothing actually happens.

There’s no need to describe the heroine’s shopping trip, or her day at work, or her cooking or gardening efforts, unless something happens during these events that advances the story. This may seem obvious, but I’ve read some stories with scenes that add nothing to the story. It’s worth remembering that every scene, indeed every page, should contain some kind of action or development. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something dramatic, but there should be a significant ‘something’ that relates to the plot or to the characters. This could be anything from a major turning point in the story or the introduction of a new character to a subtle change of attitude or a character learning something about themselves or the other person or the situation they are in. This applies to conversations, too. Skip all the ‘Hello, how are you?’ pleasantries and any other dialogue that rambles on with no real relevance to the rest of the story.

Cliff-hangers are a well-known device to keep readers turning the pages, especially at the end of a chapter. It’s been said that you should never end a chapter with a character turning off the light and going to sleep – because if your readers are reading in bed (which, of course, many people do) they will probably do the same. You should aim to ‘End each chapter with a bang, not a whimper’! Ask a question, foreshadow something that is going to happen (without giving it away), end with a critical moment for one or more of the characters – anything that will make your readers want to carry on reading to find out what happens next – even though it might be midnight.

An author can also drop hints during a chapter which make readers start asking questions e.g. Character A seems to have a hidden agenda – what is it? I used this in my novel, Irish Inheritance, which brought this comment from one reader when she was part-way through the book, “I’m dying to know what …. (no spoilers!) is up to.” There are also times when readers can be one step ahead of your characters. In Irish Secrets, for example, the hero is not what he is pretending to be and in Irish Deceptions something is revealed by the hero which the heroine doesn’t suspect. Hopefully, this makes people want to continue reading to discover what will happen when the heroine discovers the truth.

My final point is the characters themselves. Romance readers want to empathise with the heroine and fall in love with the hero, and the author needs to ensure that readers get to know the characters well enough to care about them. This means that they’ll be interested enough to turn the pages to find out what happens to them, and how they will eventually reach their happy ending.