Monday, 26 December 2011

Is it still a man's world?

Writers of historical fiction talk a lot about the importance of getting the facts right. But do we? Take your average hero, for example. Admiral Lord Nelson. 

Now there’s a man worthy of the accolade in ever I knew of one. And yet he was only five foot six tall. Now that wasn’t considered below average in his day and yet have you ever read a Georgian or Regency romance with a hero that short?

Thought not.

How about an ugly hero, come to that, or one with a squint, male pattern baldness, missing limbs or bad breath. I’ve yet to encounter one. In fact I’ve seldom come across one who doesn’t top six feet, has a muscular physique, a full head of thick hair and thighs that look damned good in tight breeches.
Why is that, do you suppose?

Personally, I reckon us girls ‘invent’ the sort of man we wouldn’t mind bumping into in a dark alley and then just add the features that do it for us. My heroes are always…well, tall dark and handsome. How stereotypical is that? In my own defence, some publishers do kinda insist upon hunky heroes, presumably because romances are predominantly read by woman and they’re supposed to fall in love with the guy.

Which leaves the poor old heroine to take the brunt of any physical shortcomings on offer. I mean, if every single historical romance had a handsome hunk playing the male lead and a drop dead gorgeous female with an hour glass figure sharing the limelight, things would get pretty boring. I’ve read books that feature heroines who are timid, (don’t try that one at home), plain enough to fade into the woodwork, myopic, flat-chested and even disabled. Daphne duMaurier’s wonderful novel The King’s General is a fabulous example of how that can work when handled with skill and sensitivity.

My novel Downsizing features, (brace yourselves), an overweight heroine. It’s a contemporary and tackles the misery of obesity, the scourge of the modern age. I didn’t think twice about casting the heroine in that role but making the male lead a fattie didn’t even cross my mind.

See what I mean? It’s still a man’s world.

Happy New Year everyone.


Thursday, 15 December 2011

Seasonal Business

My retired policeman, Charlie Hunter, features in the Hunter Files series published by Carina Press. He lives on his trawler yacht. Could this be how he spends his first Christmas afloat?

Christmas. It was a nightmare time of year when I was in the job. Being a civilian hasn’t changed anything. The season of goodwill brings out the worst in people, and I wanted none of it. I’d declined all invitations and was happy to spend the day alone, doing normal things. I’d have Harry, my son, on Boxing Day. I’d bought him a couple of modest presents—no way could I compete with his step-father, nor did I intend to buy Harry’s affection. I’d give him my time, and take him to Stamford Bridge for Chelsea’s fixture with Arsenal. Normal father and son stuff that we’d both enjoy.

Late afternoon on Christmas Eve. I walked Gil, my shaggy mongrel dog, on the rocky beach to the east of the marina, away from the madness of a city gearing up for party night. It was perishing cold, which is why I was surprised when I saw a figure huddled beneath the bluff. I didn’t want to know what a be-suited man was doing there, freezing to death, drinking straight from a bottle of what looked like scotch, but no way could I just ignore him. I guess you can take the man out of the police force but…

“You all right, mate?” I asked.

No answer. How do I get myself into these situations? I sat down next to him but said nothing. Experience had taught me that people can’t handle silences. This guy proved no exception.

“What’s the bloody point of it all?” he asked.

“Hell if I know.”

“Christmas,” he said, waving the bottle of scotch about. “It’s a ruddy circus.”


“Kids were happy with a couple of toys and a tangerine in my day. Now it’s all bloody commercialism, the latest electronic gadgets that no one really needs.” He expelled a long breath. “And don’t get me started on keeping up with the neighbours cos—“

“Not your favourite time of year then?”

“Is it anyone’s?”

“It’s supposed to be a time for families,” I pointed out.

“Christ, my mother-in-law.”

“That bad, eh?”

“The wife wants her to come skiing with us in January. Thinks she’ll look after the kids and give us a bit of freedom.”

“Well, that might—“

“Only trouble is, there’s no skiing holiday this year.” He took another long swig of scotch. “ Just haven’t found a way to tell my wife yet?”

“She doesn’t know?”

“She doesn’t know I lost my job three months ago, either.”

“Where does she think you are all day then?”

“Working for the blood-sucking stockbrokers who fired me.”

I frowned. “So, you had a well-paid job, haven’t told your wife you lost it and she thinks you’re all going off to Switzerland in January.” I paused. “Don’t you think you ought to come clean?”

“How can I? She’ll leave me and take the kids.” Tears streamed down his face. “But I have a plan.”

I didn’t like the sound of that. “Oh yeah?”

“I reckon if I get drunk enough, I can just walk into the sea, make it look like an accident and at least she’ll get the life insurance.”

Christmas is peak suicide time. Talking to this bloke, I could see why. “Sounds a bit drastic. Have faith and talk to her. If she loves you she’ll understand.”

“What if she loves her lifestyle more?”

“Isn’t it better to know?”

I thought I’d talked him down but without warning he lurched to his feet and waded into the sea. Cursing, I went after him and tried to pull him clear but determination lent him superhuman strength and he shook me off. I half fell into the freezing water, cursing some more. My feet were now soaked and I’d had about enough of this. Knee deep in water, I caught up with the bloke and aimed a right hook at his chin. Unprepared, his legs folded beneath him like a pack of cards. Catching him and dragging him clear of the sea warmed me a little. I searched his pockets, found his phone and scrolled through until I found his home number. A woman with a pleasant voice answered. I told her where I was and that her husband needed rescuing.

“On my way,” she said, without asking more questions.

By the time she arrived, her husband was just regaining consciousness.

“What happened?” she asked.

“I’ll let him tell you.”

I ought to have left and gone back to the boat before I caught hyperthermia but I was curious to see how she’d react. The whole story came tumbling out and the woman looked appalled. Perhaps she would walk out on him after all.

Then she wrapped her arms round him, tears streaming down her face.

“You idiot,” she said gently. “I can’t believe you kept this all to yourself. Do you really think I care about anything other than you?”

I whistled to the dog and did leave then. Neither of them noticed me go, which suited me just fine.

Perhaps I’d just rediscovered the true spirit of Christmas.

Unfinished Business, the first of the Hunter File mysteries by W. Soliman is now available from Carina Press and all on-line ebook suppliers. For more information about me and my books, and to read the first chapter of Unfinished Business, please visit my website at:

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Happy holidays to you all.


Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The laws of writing according to Jane Austen

Unpacking my much loved books to store them on my shelves here in Florida, the task took longer than anticipated because I got distracted each time I rediscovered an old favourite. One such was a small tome entitled “The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen”. Flicking through it, I came across extracts from her letters to her niece Anna Austen, written in 1814, offering tips in the novelist’s art.

Listen to this advice about writing what you know:

We think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland, but as you know nothing of the manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representations. Stick to Bath and the Foresters.

On practical plotting:

Your aunt C. does not like desultory novels, and is rather fearful yours will be too much so, that there will be too frequent a change from one set of people to another, and that circumstances will be sometimes introduced of apparent consequence, which will lead to nothing. It will not be so great an objection to me, if it does. I allow much more latitude than she does – and think nature and spirit cover many sins of a wandering story…

On the need for consistency in characterisation:

I like your Susan very much indeed, she is a sweet creature, her playfulness of fancy is very delightful. I like her as she is now exceedingly, but I am not so well satisfied with her behaviour to George R. At first she seemed all over attachment and feeling, and afterwards to have none at all; she is so extremely composed at the Ball, and so well-satisfied apparently with Mr Morgan. She seems to have changed her character.

On finding a situation that works, and the right sort of character-chemistry:

You are now collecting your people delightfully, getting them exactly into such a sport as is the delight of my life; - 3 0r 4 families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on – and I hope you will write a great deal more, and make full use of them whilst they are so very favourably arranged. You are now coming to the heart and beauty of your book…

Not much different to the advice writers get two hundred years on. The more things change, the more they stay the same.