Today I launched launched Leisl Leighton’s romance novel Killing me Softly
Here is the launch speech:
Friends, this is a day that has been coming for a long time.
And as many of you have known Leisl longer than me, I expect you could well and truly out remember me in just how long this journey has actually been – through schooling and drama, through a degree in English literature and then on to writing scripts for her own theatre restaurant, Leisl has always been a novelist waiting in the wings.
But as you have not been asked to make this speech and I have, I will start today’s memories in 2008. And as Leisl is the first member of our writing group to have a full length manuscript published, I hope you will excuse me for indulging in a little nostalgia along the route.
I first met Leisl in 2008. She turned up at Balwyn writers clutching her notebook to her chest and, from the outset, she knew what she wanted to achieve. She’d been writing romanic suspense and fantasy for some time, she explained, and had received a number of encouraging rejection letters. She wanted to be part of a writing group to improve her craft and hoped to make a living as a romance writer.
Now, Balwyn writers was a bit of an odd writing group. It was run by me who knew very little about writing and attended by a motley assortment of characters who knew even less. We met once a month for the sheer thrill of reading our work aloud and receiving feedback. I don’t remember who was there that first night. Were you there Laura? I do remember that we didn’t even let Leisl read her work because she didn’t have the requisite number of printed copies. I often wonder why she came back at all? At the time, she was writing the early drafts of a romantic suspense novel called Sounding the Heart.
Over the months she became a regular attendee at Balwyn writers. Always with comments to make. Always with work to share. And although she was writing romance and I wasn’t and although she wrote prolifically and I plodded along at the pace of a turtle, I soon worked out hers were the comments worth listening to. I think she decided the same about me. It wasn’t long before we were reading, writing and exchanging work between meetings.
Looking back, it was a bit like the blind leading the blind. But we worked that out too. Somewhere around 2010 we broke away from Balwyn Writers and formed our own small writing group, with Laura, Denis and Chris.
We have been working together ever since.
And, Leisl, on behalf of the others, I think I can say that we have appreciated your support in the times of rejection and your generosity in times of success. We have also enjoyed watching you take these momentous steps along the path to publication with Destiny eRomance.
Leisl joined Romance Writers Australia in the same year she joined Balwyn Writers and began attending their conferences. She picked up critique partners in New Zealand the USA and in other parts of Australia. She started judging and organising RWA competitions and writing articles for HeartsTalk magazine. Joined another more romance focussed writing group, some of whose members are here today. She also started entering competitions. I’m not going to list your successes here, Leisl. There are too many. But in summary You’ve had five outright wins, made ten placings and been in the final round of about eleven Romance Writers competitions.
As I said, this is day that has been coming for a very long time.
But although, we, your writing buddies all knew you were going to make it, and, although you’ve had publishers expressing interest in your work, it all kind of happened by accident in the end, didn’t it?
You’d submitted a paranormal urban fantasy to Destiny, Penguin’s new ebook imprint, and though they they liked your work, they weren’t willing to commit to that particular novel. Almost as an after thought they asked, ‘do you have anything else to show us?’
‘Oh, well, I used to write romantic suspense,’ you admitted.
‘Really? They asked. ‘We’re looking for romantic suspense. Can you send us something?’
That’s when you pulled Sounding the Heart out of the drawer.
It had been placed in the Emerald Awards a few years back and won the Central Florida Romance writers touch of magic competition but never been picked up by a publisher until now, in 2013. For of course, Destiny loved Sounding the Heart.
We celebrate its release as Killing me Softly this afternoon.
But it hadn’t just been sitting in the drawer, had it Leisl? I doubt it needed too much dusting off at all? As I read the pre-release copy of Killing me Softly earlier this week, I realised how much work she’d done.
She’d started with a different scene, that’s the first thing I noticed. And it works really well by the way. She’d also sharpened your dialogue and given it a tangible sense of place. I’m breaking the writers golden rule here by not being specific about those changes because I don’t want to give too much away. But the setting is vivid and evocative. This gets a huge tick with me. As a reader and writer of historical fiction, I like to feel where a book is set. The novel’s action scenes are compelling. It’s romance scenes include all the hallmarks of her genre – but that is a given. Leisl never seems to have any trouble with plot or description. Her muse seems to follow the lead of strong images. You write towards an overarching sense of plot and story – all essential elements of suspense and epic fantasy writing.
But the change that stood out to me most in Killing me Softly, is how well you’d nailed the character motivations.
Ah…those old goals, motivations and conflicts. Or as Michael Hague put it the tug of war between a character’s essence and identity. Hard to do in any novel. But particularly hard in a romance novel when, let’s face, we all know the score. A couple are going to meet, have a mutual attraction, and then all sorts of obstacles are going to get in their way, but at the end of the novel, we know the main character is going to get laid.
The challenge for the romance writer, is to do this in a new and interesting way so that the same story, the same old primally important story of love and belonging seems fresh and new. So that the obstacles don’t feel like something made up by the writer but seem to somehow originate in the heart of the character.
You have achieved that in Killing me Softly. Your main character Alexia is a perfect mix of fear and fragility.
And having seen this novel in its inception and having walked part of that blind leading the blind journey with, Leisl, and having watched her enter competition after competition, seen her pick herself up and dust herself off after disappointments, watched her apply herself, and then re-apply herself, I know that this has been a day hard won.
It is also a day that she truly deserve.
We meet today to celebrate Leisl’s hard work and commitment, to toast to her success in Killing me Softly, and to invoke the continued leading of her muse in the coming years. For this is not the end of the journey, is it Leisl? Only the beginning of what you hope will be a long and fruitful writing career.
So, you’ve heard the speech. Now it’s time to buy the book. Just follow the link below.