Thursday, December 29, 2011

Where do I get my ideas?

I'm blogging at The Romance Dish today, about where my ideas come from, and specifically, what sparked my new book, Bride By Mistake.
Where do you get your ideas?
It's a question often asked of authors, and most writers hate it. Not me.  I get ideas for stories all the time - there's no shortage. They come from all kinds of places — a snippet of overheard conversation, an image, a scene in movie or a book where I think, "No, it wouldn't have happened like that," and an idea is sparked.
(This image is from )
But most often stories come to me just as I'm drifting off to sleep, or just as I'm waking in the morning. A scene starts rolling in my head like a movie and depending on my state at the time, I'll either scribble it down into the exercise book I keep beside my bed, or stagger out to the computer and type it up. If it's a scene from my current novel, I'll head for the computer, but if comes out of the blue, I usually use the notebook.

I always write it down, because if I let myself drift off to sleep, I know I'll forget it. I've learned that the hard way, waking in the morning, remembering that I'd thought of a really good scene, but with no memory of what it was, except that it was The Best Idea Evah!  ...          
 Read the rest of this blog here, and leave a comment to be in the draw for a copy of BRIDE BY MISTAKE.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

'Twas the Lull after Christmas. . .

Here's a little poem I composed for that period after Christmas.

'Twas the lull after Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a spouse.
Leftovers are placed
On the fridge shelves with care
With instructions that 
"You all can just graze from there."
"Please do not disturb me
Unless there is blood.
'Tis my time for reading
'Bout a fictional stud."
"Just leave me alone
With my books for a while
I'm a much nicer person
With the TBR pile."

Read the rest of the post that goes with this poem here, at The Season for Romance.
And if you go there, scroll down to the post below mine— they're giving away a kindle.
(That's not my TBR pile, by the way — I borrowed it from

I Visit the Ballroom with my latest hero, Luke. . .

As you know, I'm on a blog tour to launch Bride By Mistake — see below for the dates of each blog.
I've decided to post the beginning of each blog here, so if it appeals, you can click over to the site I'm visiting.

This is The Ballroom Blog, and my hostess is the wonderful Katharine Ashe. She says...

Today I’ve donned my prettiest gown, new kid gloves, and a pair of antique pearl earrings I borrowed from one of my heroines. I’ve even dabbed lavender water behind my ears and on my wrists. Why the extra primping? Because it’s my first time bringing an author as a guest to the ball, and I’m feeling celebratory! 
And what a guest! Anne Gracie – author of deliciously emotional, sexy, captivating stories – enters the ballroom with me. She’s dressed in a flowing purple gown and is wearing a string of glittering beads and a turban with peacock feathers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Blog Tour

I'm doing a Blog Tour to launch BRIDE BY MISTAKE.
Here's the schedule. I hope you can join me. Each blog is individual to that site, so you shouldn't get bored, and at each place I'm giving away a copy of the book.

19th Dec — the Affair de Coeur blog

22nd Dec — the Ballroom Blog
27 Dec — 
The Season for Romance
27 Dec 
— WordWenches (Christmastide mini Blog)
29 Dec — The Romance Dish
3 Jan — SOS Aloha
4 Jan — WordWenches (Christmastide mini Blog)
5 Jan — Jaunty Quills
5 Jan — Tote Bags 'n Blogs 
6 Jan — MaryJo Putney interviews me about the book
8 Jan — Risky Regencies
9 Jan — the Goddess Blogs
10 Jan — Fresh Fiction
11 Jan — Regency Romance UK
12 Jan — Berkley Jove Author chat 9pm ET (USA) 12 noon (Aust'n Eastern states)
13 Jan — WordWenches 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Listening to writers

Last night I went to see Tom Stoppard and Neil Gaiman talk. 
(This is Neil Gaiman in the pic)

The event was put on by the Wheeler Centre and was 2 separate talks/interviews. The old Athenaeum Theatre where they had it was packed. It was first come first served seating, though we'd all paid weeks before, and for Tom Stoppard I was in the middle of the stalls about half way down, which I thought was great, but then they made us all leave in the interval while they did a sound check for the next part, so the scrum was on for seats again for the second half.

I've been an admirer of Tom Stoppard most of my adult life. (I remember arriving in London aged 19 after a 23 hour flight and going to a Tom Stoppard play (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead) that same night and, not knowing about jet lag, I ended up staring down at the stage from my seat in the gods, holding my eyelids open with my fingers, thinking, this is brilliant, this is brilliant, don't fall asleep. )

It was such a treat, listening to this grand old man of the theatre talking about his life and his work and his  insights into writing and acting, and all with such a lovely dry sense of irony and humor. He was particularly incisive when talking about actors "interpreting" his words and his attitude to workshopping scenes and doing improv "to see where it takes us"w as pretty funny — just speak the words I wrote, he said.

So, back to the Athenaeum, as I said, we had to hang around for an hour in between the two sessions and queue for seats again, which wasn't much fun as it was crowded and airless and hot, but all of a sudden this young woman jumped up onto the bar bearing a ukelele and started performing this brilliant song about ukeleles. It's a bit of a blurry pic, I'm sorry, but I was at the back and had to hold the camera high.

It was Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman's wife. At first some people thought she was just some ratbag exhibitionist, and were scowling and muttering but then they listened to the lyrics and soon started smiling and laughing. It was fun and unexpected and generous of her - a real treat — and in the end she'd charmed the whole crowd, and we'd have happily waited another hour.

So then it was back inside to grab a seat for Neil Gaiman and this time I was about four seats from the front, and it was great —I could see every expression. He was witty, frank, very warm and appealing and acerbic and funny and brilliant.

He fielded a lot of questions from the audience, but before the Q&A started he fixed the audience with a gimlet eye and explained that a question was a short, interrogative sentence, not an invitation to give some long-winded opinion. The audience applauded, me included. And it did have an effect. So often at these things you get some opinionated person trying to impress, rather than asking a question, but this time most of the questions were okay.

The only fly in the ointment for me was a couple in front of me who were recording the interview on their i-pad, holding it up and passing it back and forth, so that it was like having a TV screen between me and Neil Gaiman. Soooo annoying and distracting. I don't mind people taking photos — I took some myself at the beginning (with no flash) but having this lit-up screen floating around and occasionally blocking my view of the stage throughout the entire interview, was extremely irritating.

I noticed, too, that all around me people were tweeting on their phones. That wasn't too distracting, but I did wonder why people can't simply be in the moment and listen and absorb what's happening.

But in general, it was a lovely night — a real treat all around, so thank you Tom Stoppard, Neil Gaiman, Amanda Palmer and the Wheeler Centre.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Paper earrings for Christmas

A friend sent me a link to a photo of some folded paper Christmas trees, and they seemed pretty simple so with a little experimentation, I worked out how to make them, and with some cut out red ads from a catalogue I made some little ones, just to see if they worked and they did.

It's very easy -- just a circle folded in half then folded back and forth. But light and fun.

Then I found some double sided colored paper, so of course I had to try it with that, too. I snipped a shred away from the top layer of each fold to show the color beneath, and attached earring wires.

Then I made the ones below with a music print and I tried slipping in a slightly larger red semicircle between the fold, and that worked a treat, I think. 
They'd look lovely, I think, hanging in a line on a string but here they are just as small ornaments to hang.

And someone just sent me this link, so I can also send you to a pattern
She's used semicircles for her cards, but I used circles folded in half — it makes for a more dimensional earring or hanging ornament, I think.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Secret of Babaganoush

I've probably spelled it wrong, but you probably know what I mean -- babaganoush, the middle eastern dip made with eggplant (aubergine) and tahini and lemon and garlic.

When I first started cooking, back when I was a student in a share household, we'd developed a taste for middle eastern food from the many cheap and delicious Lebanese restaurants along Sydney Rd (in Melbourne.) For a few dollars we'd order the "dips and salads", which started with a large basket of Lebanese bread hot from the oven and a dozen or more little bowls of various dips and salads — at the time the number of little bowls seemed endless.

It was enough for a meal in itself. If we were feeling extra hungry, or it was a celebration, we'd order the set menu, and the many little bowls of deliciousness were then just a prelude for the main course that followed, of various grilled meats, rice and salad, followed by sweet pastries and tiny cups of thick, strong, sweet coffee.

Of course, I wanted to make these dishes at home, and most of them I was able to reproduce quite nicely. but not babaganoush, never babaganoush. Mine was always too bland, tasteless, dull. I tried various recipes and followed each one faithfully, but was never happy with the result. There was something missing from the recipes, some essential ingredient.

Enter my friend Mae, Lebanese heroine and fabulous person who, before a party one night, offered to come around and show me how to make proper Lebanese babaganoush. Fantastic, I said. I'll provide everything. I made a list and she checked it twice.

So she arrived. All the ingredients were laid out at her fingertips, as well as a cool glass of white wine — it was a warm summer night. I had the griller going for the eggplant, and in case she preferred the oven method, I had the oven preheated, too. These were the two methods recommended in every recipe I'd ever seen.

"We won't need those." Mae turned off the grill and the oven. She lit a gas burner on the top of the stove and plonked an eggplant on top of it. Flames licked at the hapless vegetable's naked skin. Not high flames, low and even. Slow charring, not instant conflagration.

"Won't it burn?" I asked.

"Yes, that's the idea." Mae sipped the wine as the smooth shiny skin of the eggplant crumpled, then blackened. It hissed gently from the cracks.  From time to time she turned the eggplant so it charred evenly. The kitchen smelt of burnt skin of eggplant, oddly attractive.

Finally it was done to her satisfaction and she took it off the heat and placed it in a bowl. "Too hot to handle yet."

I poured another wine and we waited. When the poor sad, crumpled blackened eggplant had cooled enough, she picked off the charred skin. The inside flesh was soft and well cooked. She mashed it with a fork, then stirred in garlic, lemon juice, tahini, salt and a drizzle of good olive oil, mixing it well but not thrashing the life out of it. She tasted it then pushed the bowl toward me. "Try it," she said.

I tasted. It was fabulous. Perfect. The exact flavor I'd fallen in love with at the restaurants and hadn't been able to replicate. I'd had all the right ingredients all along. What was missing was the smoky flavor that had come from cooking the eggplant directly on the flame.

For me, all those years ago, it was the Secret of Babaganoush and I think of my friend Mae every time I make it. I've seen that method of cooking the eggplants show up in recipes since, but a distressing number still talk about cutting the eggplant in half and baking it in the oven or under a grill, which is what I'd been trying all those years ago. Useless!

It's even better cooking them on a wood fire barbecue, BTW, and utter bliss is to slow roast/char peppers the same way. The most popular peppers to roast are red bell peppers, but for my money, though they're fiddlier to handle and have less flesh, the most delicious are the long yellow peppers — sweet or hot. I strip off the blackened skin and chop them into chunks with my kitchen scissors — inside with seeds and all — add lemon juice, crushed garlic, salt,  olive oil, and the juice of the peppers and let cool. Absolutely delish!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Kerry Greenwood's Corinna Chapman books

I've been on a Kerry Greenwood reading binge lately. It started when I went to SheKilda, the Sisters in Crime conference a few weeks ago, and browsing through the bookstore, I spotted a series of hers I hadn't read. I've been reading her Phryne Fisher books since the first one was published in 1989 — and there are currently 19 in the series. (And by the way, I'm interviewing Kerry over at Word Wenches right now, and she's giving away a book to someone who leaves a comment.)

But I hadn't read the Corinna Chapman series at all. So I bought the first one at the conference... and ended up buying and devouring all 6 in the series.

They're cosy contemporary mysteries set in the heart of Melbourne — in the laneways/arcades area of central Melbourne, an area I happen to be very familiar with, especially because I've taught at the CAE and also done some courses there myself. The main character, Corinna Chapman is an accountant turned baker, and her shop is on this very lane.
Corinna lives above the shop in an elegant eccentrically designed Roman-themed apartment building, a lot like the one below.
It's a very foodie-friendly area, with all kinds of small coffee shops and restaurants, all of which are pretty good because the area has so many eateries the competition is fierce. Apparently these days it's also become a place for tourists to visit and take photos of the vibrant grafitti that abounds in any unused space. They also eat and shop.
There's also a wide variety of choices, for eating and shopping -- from the funky little places like the ones pictured above, to the timeless and elegant Block Arcade, which has been a popular destination for shoppers and eaters since the 1880s.
Part of the ritual of coming up to the city from the country when I was a kid  — if you'd been good — was having morning or afternoon tea at the Hopetoun Tea Rooms — still a gorgeous place to visit and just as popular now as it was when it opened in 1892. You can see why — and there are more delights inside...
So it's the perfect setting for mysteries that also feature yummy food (it's not recommended that you read the series while dieting) a cast of quirky and interesting other characters, a gorgeous ongoing romance, and some delightful cats.

A friend of mine who lives in another state altogether loves this Kerry Greenwood series, too. "For me, it's got a very Melbourne vibe," she told me, "but it might not ring as true to a Melbournian."
 But it does to this Melbournian, completely. The books are a lot of fun in themselves, but you don't need to know the place to enjoy the books
Though I have to admit it's fun knowing the places where Corinna and her Daniel visit. It's a rare pleasure to read a book set in a place you know well. 
What about you — have you read any books set in your home town?

Monday, October 10, 2011

What is Popular Fiction?

I'm thinking about my forthcoming trip to Queensland — I'm teaching in Brisbane on the 22nd October and in  Rockhampton on the 23rd — running workshops on Writing Popular Fiction, and I've had a few questions about it, so . . .
Popular fiction isn't simply fiction that aims to be popular — every writer wants that. Popular fiction includes genre fiction, such as crime, action adventure, romance, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy and so on, though it doesn't have to be a genre novel as such. It includes the kind of books you see in airport bookshops, the books that make you laugh or cry, and take you away — and not just in a plane.  The prime aim of popular fiction is to entertain readers and keep them turning pages far into the night because they can't put the book down.

One of my favorite quotes about popular fiction is this:
"Readers of "serious"  fiction expect to be challenged and like to be entertained; readers of popular fiction expect to be entertained and like to be challenged. They're often the same readers in a different mood." Daphne de Jong.

And here's another one I like:
"One of the problems, it seems to me, is that we have got it into our heads that books should be hard work, and that unless they're hard work, they're not doing us any good.Nick Hornby

Every genre has its own conventions, and this workshop will show you how understanding these conventions can make your story more exciting, satisfying and marketable. 
We'll look at how to make a story compelling;  from crafting an opening that intrigues readers, to deepening the conflict that forms the spine of any good novel. We'll focus on how to make readers care about your characters and want to spend time with them, and how you can sweep a reader into the world of your story, and keep them there.
I'm really looking forward to it - I love talking craft-of-writing with like-minded souls, and I love teaching. And it's a huge source of pleasure to me when new writers get published. 
I'm also looking forward to catching up with writer friends in Brisbane and the Gold Coast and seeing a bit more of beautiful regional Queensland. I was up in Bundaberg in May, teaching writing, and I guess word has spread because I think the Rockhampton workshop is already full. Thanks, people. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Green Tea

I've never been much of a tea drinker — coffee is my hot beverage of choice: strong, with a good splash of milk, no sugar. My family were always tea drinkers, also strong, sometimes with a dash of milk, mostly not.

It wasn't until I drank Chinese tea that I realized I liked tea. So now, when tea is offered I ask for weak, black, no sugar, and it's fine. Then I went on a health kick and decided I should drink green tea. I found it bitter, nasty stuff. I struggled with it a while, then gave up. It wasn't for me — or so I thought.

Enter Keri Arthur, who's become an inveterate drinker of green tea. At a conference earlier this year, she offered me  a cup of green tea. I pulled a face. "No thanks, too bitter for me."

"Then you're making it wrong," she told me. "Don't make it with boiling water — wait a few minutes to let the water drop below boiling point, then make the tea. And don't let it steep too long." And she made me a cup and I liked it.

Since then, I still start my day with a lovely strong cup of coffee, but for the rest of the day it's green tea, nothing fancy -- tea bags from the supermarket. I have less patience than Keri - after the kettle boils, I add a dash of cold water and pour straight away.

And I drink my tea from the very special mug pictured above, a gift from a friend in memory of the time a bunch of romance writers sat down to order a meal. The gorgeous French waiter ran through the specials. We gazed up at him attentively — and took in not a word. The looks, the accent — who cared what was on the menu? This is the coaster that came with the mug. It shows the full picture.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Movie: Beginners

I saw a movie recently that completely charmed me. It's called BEGINNERS and stars Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer as a father and son, and also Mélanie Laurent— and a very cute dog.
I'm not going to tell you the story — it's about a man and his father and a young woman he meets — but I will say the movie wasn't quite what I expected from the trailers I'd seen. I thought it was going to be all about the son and father relationship, and that's partly true, but it wasn't the way I expected. It's really about love in all its aspects, and there's also a lovely romance... well, two, really.
It's about acceptance, and being open to love, and living in the moment, and learning. My friend and I emerged from the cinema with smiles, and we went for dinner and kept throwing up thoughtful comments about the movie long afterward.
It's a life-enhancing movie, and definitely worth seeing.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I wrote a post about buttons on Word Wenches a short while back and I searched everywhere for some entertaining/interesting and copyright-free pics of buttons. I ended up tipping out the old button jar and taking some pics of those buttons, but wouldn't you know it, a short time later I bumped into a friend of mine and she was wearing this gorgeous button-decorated top.
Too late to put the pic up on WordWenches, but not too late to share it here. Isn't it pretty?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Through Visitors' Eyes

Recently I had some friends visit Melbourne, my city, and we went wandering for a few hours down Brunswick St. I've been wandering that street for years — it's very close to my home and I know it really well. But seeing it through my visitors' eyes was so interesting, and I appreciated it all over again.

We poked through the tea house, sniffing, and tasting so many gorgeous teas and admiring tea pots, teacups, tea-glasses and all sorts of tea-making paraphernalia.

We browsed in a leisurely way through the various book and gift shops, and found a fun book for a romance writer.
My visitors became fascinated by the variety of different sculptural signs that adorn many of the Brunswick St shops. Some signs proclaim businesses that no longer exist, like the cow over the former Charmaine's, who used to make the most wonderful ice-cream. My favorite was chocolate-chilli ice-cream, a taste sensation.  Charmaine's, I do miss you.
There are lots more, and I like the idea of them, even though not all the sculptures appeal to me aesthetically.

We sniffed our way through Kleins, the shop of amazing scents and giggled a bit at some of the labels for the scented candles. This one reads "Trianon. Flourished Smell of Marie Antoinette Dream." We decided she was having a good dream, not one that reeked of guillotines.

We stopped at one of the many restaurants for lunch and ordered some green refresh-and-revitalizer drinks, having no idea what they were but being intrigued and, after the previous night,  in need of revitalization. 
When the drinks arrived, they looked exactly like a healthy drink should look, sludgy green and unappetising. Spinach juice? Essence of compost? 
But they were, in fact, delicious and fruity and I'll definitely order them again next time.
The green stuff is spirulina, a healthy algae weedy thingy, but the drink tasted of the other fruit juices that were in the drink. It didn't taste green or weedy at all.

We all loved Flowers Vasette, my favorite flower shop in all the world, a cool dim cave of gorgeousness —banks of the most glorious flowers, arranged in shades of colour, and scented like a dream. Of the Marie Antoinette good sort. Better actually.

Then we shopped and wandered some more, and finally whizzed up to Carlton to Brunetti's and some hot chocolate and possibly a cake. If we could fit one in.
All in all, a sleepy, indulgent afternoon.
We finished up eating delicious Vietnamese food at one of my favorite restaurants in Victoria St, Richmond.

Even though all these places are so familiar to me, showing them to visitors make me feel like I'd viewed them with fresh eyes. It's good to play tourist in your home town.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spontaneous Poetry

My habit most mornings, during my coffee break, is to read something from the pile of books on my bedside table.

This morning I opened Natalie Goldberg's WRITING DOWN THE BONES at random and found a piece where she'd written poems on demand at a stall, like a school cake stall. Any topic, a page of poetry, no crossings out, for 50 cents a poem.

It was amazingly popular, she said. People queued up to buy her  poems all day — kids, men, women, old and young from all walks of life. The next year she did it again and charged a dollar.

Years later she got a letter from a man who still carried the poem she'd written for him around in his wallet. It and some photos of his family were the only possessions he took with him when he joined the coastguard service.

What a beautiful idea, selling spontaneous poems at a stall.

And how brave. Half the time I can't think what to write when someone asks me to sign their book.
But maybe I'll try it some time.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

My favourite Easter picture book

I made some paper earrings for a friend the other day and the colours reminded me of my favourite easter picture book when I was a kid, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes. It was my mother's book, and I have it still.

The story is very sweet, and with a nice moral to it — mother rabbit, despite having 21 kids and living in the backblocks of the country, still gets plum job over noisy show-off buckrabbit boys and frightful snobby city rabbits. Basically by using her kids as slave labour.

The story is about being selected to wear the magic gold shoes and being one of the five Easter Bunnies who deliver the eggs to the children of the world. It's a huge honour, of course, and everyone wants it. But when the country bunny Cottontail says that one day she will be an Easter Bunny, the others laugh at her.

So fast forward and our Cottontail is a mother of 21 little rabbits, but she applies for the job and again she's laughed at for dreaming foolish dreams. Even the wise old rabbit who does the choosing asks her gently if she shouldn't be home looking after her kids. But our girl has the kids well trained. Working in pairs they do everything that needs to be done, from cooking and cleaning to dancing, making music and painting cheery pictures.

The illustrations are lovely, aren't they? They're simple but quite detailed and with a limited palette of colours, and quite unusual colours, at that.

For me then and now, they're entrancing, but more than that, the story is quite touching.
The job of being the easter bunny is hard and exhausting and little Cottontail doesn't have an easy time of it. After all her deliveries are done, there's still one more job for her — to take an especially beautiful egg to a far-distant mountain where there is a sick little boy, who is very good and never complains. She travels far, over high mountains,  and is climbing the last, highest mountain when she falls... but saves the egg. But it's almost dawn. How can she ever find the energy to climb the mountain again, in time.

Then the wise old rabbit appears and tells her she's not only wise and kind and swift, but she's brave. And he gives her a pair of magic gold shoes. And suddenly her aching feet are no longer tired... and she takes the beautiful egg to the sick little boy and is soon home... where her house is in perfect order, and all her kids are still asleep in bed.
It's a gorgeous book, and even though it's older than me, it's still in print, which goes to show that I'm not the only person who loves this story.
Happy Easter. Do you have any favorite Easter stories?