Natasha Oakley - British Romance Author

Writer of tug-at-the-heartstrings, feel-good romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Confessions of a truly bad blogger ..

I'm still alive! I bet you all thought I'd sickened and died, but no. I was writing - steam coming off the keyboard.

I did have to tip my day upside down and I've been working between midnight and six in the morning. Now feel unbelievably jet-lagged but I've finally finished my Mothers' Day novella. I'm a little too tired to know whether it works or not.

Nice hero though! Based on a very specific picture of Orlando Bloom whom I usually find too 'pretty'.

I've resurfaced to find the house is a complete mess (as it all too often is). So, I've spent much of the day rediscovering surfaces and making it possible to walk across the floor in a straight line. In fact, I think I may well threaten my children with posting a picture on here showing the destruction they can do to a room. Now, that's a delightfully vengeful idea ...

I've just rewarded myself with a long soak in the bath, glass of wine and the Summer 2006 edition of Mills & Boon's Romance magazine to read. (It's delivered free to all members of the Reader Service Diamond Club.) And I'm featured!

I was interviewed a while back because, along with bestselling authors Liz Fielding, Raye Morgan and Lucy Gordon, I've a book in the launch month of the new 'Romance' line. The four of us are shelf buddies again in February 2007, the 'merge' month, when Silhouette Romance finally finishes. It's all very exciting.

My September book is 'Accepting The Boss's Proposal'and I've now posted an excerpt from it on my website. If I were clever I'd post the cover here but that's technologically beyond me.

The one sad thing about the interview was that I'd said in it that my husband was 'thankfully in remission from cancer' - which he now isn't. That, of course, is the reason why I'm finding it so difficult to keep on top of everything. There really aren't enough hours in the day for me at the moment.

Right now it's late, I'm tired and I'm feeling a little sad ...

What I need is a really good book to read!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Cookers and car seats ..

Goodness, but it's hot. You know it's bad when the Aga has to be turned off. (An Aga being a large range type cooker that pumps out a gentle heat all the time and engenders great love in its owner.) Normally opening a window is enough to deal with the problem - but not yesterday. So, finally, I did the deed.

To give you a picture of how serious this is - I've had to borrow a kettle from my mother-in-law (because I don't own a plug-in model) and have no means of cooking anything other than by lighting a bar-be-que. Won't that be interesting!

Meanwhile ...

The talk over the breakfast table this morning is the new UK legislation about child restraints. It comes into force in September and will mean all children up to 135cm must be in an appropriate child seat or booster. Having measured my brood I've discovered my youngest should - and will - be on a booster. He's not happy.

The funniest part of the conversation was the bit where I told them that the Department of Transport believe all children up to 11 (and under 150 cm) are not big enough to travel without a child seat. Age-wise that catches both offspring number 3 and offspring number 4.

I think 'incensed' is probably the word to describe their reaction. Maybe this is the start of a couple of political careers???

Right, five packed lunches to make and ten water bottles, one swimming kit, cello music and maths homework to find ...

Then I'll write - up to the point I have to go and see the Year 2 production of 'Joseph'anyway.

Hmmm. I think I may have to tip my day upside down again!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

How to ... write a synopsis

Leastways, this is how I did it!

I'm assuming you've finished the book and you now want to attract an editor? You've got your glass of wine, the CD player on, your foodie nibble of choice ... ?

You are now ready to write the synopsis.

I write category romance so that's what I shall concentrate on. Mills & Boon like a short synopsis. Two pages is fine. One page is better! And it's tough to do - particularly when you've already written the entire story and it's full of wonderful bits you just want to share. But, you are going to be *firm* with yourself.

Grab yourself a large pad of paper and scribble down all the big scenes. The 'And then ...' method is great because it stops you filling in too much detail. Don't worry too much about this stage of things. These are merely your notes. No one will see them ....

Next it helps if you understand what an editor is looking for when they read a synopsis.

They want to know:

- If what you've written is appropriate for the line you're submitting to.

- If you inspire confidence that you know what you're doing.

- If you've got enough story to fill the pages.

- If there's something a little bit 'special' about what you're giving them. That's the 'X' factor.

Now you're on to your headings. Give yourself a page per heading.


Depending on the story - this could be a simple statement about when and where the story is set or it could be an attention grabbing sentence. Your choice! Take your time. Play about with your options.


Introduce your main characters. Keep it simple. State facts. Be very selective about what you include. It probably doesn't matter if your heroine is blonde, but it might be worth mentioning if it's a wig she wears to cover her baldness ... (Though that might be a tricky sell!! *g*)


A very little bit about where they've come from. Keep it really tight. Again state facts.


The situation that brings them together and the reason the story doesn't stop there! What's keeping two people, who clearly should be together, apart??


This is the bulk of your 'And thens ...'. What happens. List the scenes. Don't keep secrets.


If you've got enough plot to sustain the book you'll have new conflicts to put in here. Keep it specific. An editor will want to know there's enough substance to your story. What's still keeping your hero and heroine apart? Start pulling the threads of your story together.


Everything changes. Tell the editor what happens!


Nice big dramatic finish. Pull together all the loose ends in a great final 'happy-ever-after' paragraph.

And that's it! Well, almost. You now have to hone the thing into a smooth bit of prose. Take your time. Tighten and polish. Use the strongest words possible. And then print it out and place it on top of your manuscript. Deep breath ... and send it out.

If you look at my 'selling' synopsis below you'll see how I used these building blocks to put it together. I'm sure there are better synopses out there - but it was good enough to make an editor ask for the rest of my manuscript. And, honestly, that's all you need!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

And now ... the Synopsis

Or the synopiss as I frequently mis-type it.

Tagged by Trish Wylie - I take up the challenge. And what did I ever do to her???

First off, I don't know anyone who likes writing them. They are, without doubt, the blackest of black arts. Best approached with a full glass of wine and the determination of a rottweiler. But, it's an unavoidable task the minute you decide you want to 'sell' your writing - so you may as well get on with it!

These days my synopsis is different. I need it to give my editor confidence that I'm going to produce something worthy of the slot I'm pencilled in for. Something that she knows she can sell. Trish, Ally and I all share Jenny Hutton as our editor and we often send her pictures because it makes her laugh. She knows I haven't written the book, that the ideas are fluid, that I may change a goodly part of it ... But, I'm passed the 'sale' post and I think it's different if you're not - yet!

For a start, you have probably got the finished book in front of you, double-spaced and held together with a serviceable elastic band. You *know* what happens - so make sure you tell her.

So, feeling very brave, here is the synopsis that helped sell my breakthrough book 'For Our Children's Sake'. It's not perfect. I'd change lots of it if I wrote it now, but it worked!


An embryo mix-up at a London fertility clinic is the human tragedy that leads to a DESPERATE MARRIAGE six years later.

When blood tests reveal widower DOMINIC GRAYLING’s daughter to be rhesus negative he knows Abigail cannot be his biological child. The horrifying truth that his wife Georgina died from blood clotting problems giving birth to another couple’s baby is taken into another dimension when he learns their natural child is alive and living with her widowed ‘mother’ LUCY GRAYFORD.

Lucy’s life was rocked when husband Michael finally succumbed to leukaemia; her one consolation is their daughter Chloe. Eighteen months later Lucy has returned to her parents’ home in Dorset and begun teaching again in the local primary school.

Into this hard-won peace millionaire businessman Dominic erupts with his life changing truth. He sees the solution as obvious – a platonic marriage of convenience for the sake of their respective children – and faced with impossible choices Lucy reluctantly agrees.

Arriving in London with Chloe, Lucy starts to build a relationship with Abby. The girls adapt quickly to their parents engagement but Lucy struggles to adapt to Dominic’s elegant and meticulously tidy home – and to Dominic himself, to whom she is becoming increasingly drawn. The intrusive presence of Dominic’s in-laws further complicate matters with their over-indulgence of Abby – who they still believe to be their natural granddaughter - and blatant desire for their niece Fiona to take Georgina’s place as Dominic’s wife.

Lucy’s love for Abby grows swiftly and she sees haunting echoes of her late husband in the little girl’s smile – just as she can see a look of Dominic’s dead wife in Chloe. As the wedding day approaches Chloe and Abby, unaware of any mix-up, are excited at the prospect of becoming sisters. Inextricably linked to Dominic because of the girls, Lucy knows the marriage is inescapable despite her growing unease at marrying a man she’s come to love but whose heart, she knows regretfully, is buried with his beautiful late wife.

Their wedding is an impersonal, civic affair. For both of them the contrast from their earlier marriages is marked. Feeling all the pain of Dominic’s misery, Lucy wants to comfort him and when he begins to kiss her she knows this is something she can do for him – for them both. “Just for tonight” they agree. Their lovemaking is tender and Lucy allows herself to hope for a happy future. But her feelings are completely misinterpreted by her new husband. Catching a tear on Lucy’s face convinces Dominic he will never replace Michael and he backs away.

Thinking that Dominic regrets their lovemaking, Lucy tries to adapt her thoughts to the platonic marriage she’d agreed to. Their life as a family unit begins but the strain of living in close proximity to an unfailingly polite but distant Dominic is increasingly difficult. Under the skilful manipulation of Fiona, Lucy is brought to believe Georgina is irreplaceable in Dominic’s life. His guilt at his wife’s death – she underwent the fertility treatment against medical advice – is another barrier. Increasingly he spends more and more time away from home shattering Lucy’s fragile hopes that a real loving marriage can heal the pain of their pasts.

Having put her depression down to the problems in her marriage Lucy is stunned to discover she’s pregnant. It’s the ultimate irony they should have created a child together just as Dominic decides he can no longer carry on living in this way. His suggestion is they live largely separate lives. His plan is to buy a country house for Lucy and the girls with a separate annex for him to stay in during weekend visits. The sudden revelation he is finding their parting as difficult as she is gives her the courage to fight for their future as a couple and as a family. Unbelievably he discovers Lucy loves him the way he has come to love her and everything they’d ever hoped for in their lives is within their grasp.

That's it! It's short because that's what Harlequin Mills & Boon ask for. Trish is absolutely right when she says you need to do your research.

I'll blog about how I did it another day - because I've still got my novella to write. And what will I give my mum next year if I don't finish it!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

All change ...

I'm still in the cave, but am now writing something quite different - my first ever novella. 30,000 words that should, hopefully, end up in a Mothers' Day pack next year.

My synopsis is tight. I have my hero and heroine. I have a baby! (It's Mothers' Day, after all.) Now where do I fancy setting it???

I'm thinking Cambridge.

There's no time for indecision. I need 2,500 words a day to meet this deadline comfortably. On your marks, get set .... go!