Aspiring writers step away from the scorpions! The WRs are here to tell you why…

Hello and happy bank holiday weekend!

If you’re a regular follower of our blog, you’ll know that a Saturday normally means The Saturday Spotlight in which we interview writers at all stages in their career – aspiring to chart-topping, indie or traditional – as well as the occasional interview with an editor, publisher or agent. Today, though, we’re doing something a little bit different. We want a little exploration of the past, present, and future of the Write Romantics…

conf 2014 10In the beginning, there were just a pair of Write Romantics. Jo and I ‘met’ when I was in my first year of the RNA’s NWS and Jo was in her second year. I’d finally got around to joining Romna, the RNA’s online community, where newbies are invited to introduce themselves so I tapped in a “hi, this is me” kind of email. Jo immediately contacted me as we shared a writing genre and other interests. A friendship was instantly formed and we exchanged incredibly long and detailed emails over the next few months. In early 2013, the idea developed to set up a blog. We found our name, we found a format, and away we went. But it soon became apparent that finding enough writing-related things to say to regularly contribute to a blog when there were just two of us, neither of whom were ready to seek a publishing deal, was going to be a massive problem. But a problem shared is a problem halved. Or tenth-ed in our case because we put an offer out on Romna to extend the group and were quite overwhelmed to find eight other writers who wanted to join us. Phew. Because it could have been a bit embarrassing if we’d had no response!

Conf 2014 3We don’t mind admitting that we hadn’t a clue what we were doing! None of us were expert bloggers. In fact, we weren’t bloggers at all! I’d set up a blog a couple of months previously following my journey to get fit and lose half my body weight through a beach-based bootcamp (which I still run although I’m slightly ashamed to say that I’m still, 2.5 years on, trying to lose half my body weight – oops!) so I had a little bit of experience of regularly posting, and Rachael had some experience of being part of a writing group who blogged, but that was it. So we had to pretty much start from scratch.

It’s been great working together as a team to develop the format for the blog into the regular bi-weekly slots we have now. We all contribute posts and we all bring interview guests to the party. Two years ago, after about 4-5 months of blogging together, we asked the WRs if they’d like to re-affirm their commitment. Were they happy with what we were doing? Was it what they expected? Did they have the enthusiasm and willingness to really move the blog forward and start posting more regularly? At that point, one of the WRs decided to dip out because her commitments outside writing meant she was going to struggle to contribute and, for a year, we were nine. Then last September, we asked Sharon to join us. I’d met Sharon the year before, as had WR Alys, and she’d become a great supporter of the group. She already felt like one of us so it was a natural step to officially invite her into the fold, restoring the power of 10.

Although we live all over the country – Cumbria, North & East Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Wales, East Sussex, Hertfordshire, Somerset, Kent (hope I haven’t missed anywhere!) – and have never all been in the same place at the same time, we’ve become really close through the power of social media. We’ve celebrated the highs, sympathised during the lows, built each other up during down moments, and learned from the various paths the group’s writing journeys have gone down. It’s often said that writing can be a lonely business but the WRs are never really alone and we’d massively recommend all writers find themselves a support network, whether that’s a writing partner or a large group like ours. We’re all convinced that some of the amazing things that have happened to the group over the last couple of years have been thanks in part to the support and encouragement of the group. So what are those amazing things? I’ll hand over to Jo to let you know more …

Reproduced by kind permission of © Ra\'id Khalil via Dreamstime Stock Photos

Reproduced by kind permission of © Ra\’id Khalil via Dreamstime Stock Photos

‘What a difference a day makes, twenty four little hours…’ or so Dinah Washington’s song goes. It might have taken more like twenty four months since deciding we wanted to stay Write Romantics, as Jessica says above, for our fortunes to really change, but the sentiment’s exactly the same. Even on our down days, when we do consider giving up to take up scorpion petting instead, as one of the Facebook jokes about writing goes, it’s been a pretty incredible two years.

If you’d told us back then what we might have achieved by now, we’d probably have given you a bitter little laugh – how little you knew. Most of us were wearing the battle scars of rejection already and some had been pursuing the publishing dream for ten years or more. Did we give up? No, but boy did we talk about giving up! That’s the beauty of the group though, just when you are about to put a down payment on a pair of breeding scorpions, someone is there to talk you off that particular ledge.

I’m about to give you a round-up of what those two years has seen for us. Not because the WRs like to big themselves up, as my kids would say; in fact, the other eight don’t even know Jessica and I are doing this and they’ll probably cringe when we sing their praises. The reason we are writing this blog is the opposite. It’s because we remember exactly what it’s like to be an aspiring writer – not one who used to write for Tatler or produce radio plays for the BBC and has the sort of connections you don’t get when the height of your networking involves spotting Bob Geldof buying carrots in your local branch of Tesco – but ordinary people who just love to write.

Is it really possible to get published if that’s your starting point or will it only ever be your mum who downloads a self-published tome from Amazon, as you languish at chart position number three million and thirty two? We want to tell you, if you are an NWS member reading this, or an aspiring writer of any sort, that it’s not only possible but there are lots of ways to get your work out there and, whether indie, traditionally published or some hybrid of the two, there are also lots of ways to measure success. Not everyone is lucky enough to be part of a group like this, who will tell you to step away from the scorpions, but we hope reading a round-up of our journeys so far will reassure you that if you keep going, it can happen for you too.

So what is it we’ve done? Well, being of a certain age – I think Helen R was just clinging to her thirties when we first joined together, but we are now all in our forties or beyond – I think IMG_0076most of us dreamed of having a paperback with our name on and maybe even seeing that on the shelves of WHSmiths or Waterstones. Okay, so we know that all the statistics reveal that books in the commercial genres we write in sell better as ebooks than in print, but we’ve had this dream since before Kindle was even a twinkle in Amazon’s eye. So are we living the dream? Well, of the ten of us, eight of us now have paperbacks out there or are in the process of going in to print and four of us have had books in WHsmiths and/or Waterstones and supermarkets, with Jessica’s about to appear in some of the Yorkshire Waterstones really soon and Sharon’s pocket novel hitting the shelves in October. Nothing beats seeing your book on the shelf, despite how times have moved on… although being caught taking a selfie with it is a bit embarrassing, hence me using my son as bait in Smiths! Our books are also starting to hit the shelves of libraries too, with Jessica leading that particular charge.

Helen P, Rachael, Jessica and Sharon all have multi-book deals with the same publisher and I’m awaiting finalisation of my contract before revealing some news of my own on that front.  We’ve also seen the launch of The Write Romantic Press for our anthology and a number of us have dipped our toes into the world of indie publishing, with Lynne riding consistently high in the charts with her first indie published title. Fabrian Books, which started off as a small indie publisher, is now handing over the ownership to its authors, giving them the benefits of having more of a say in their publishing journeys and hoping to follow in the footsteps of other publishing cooperatives like The Notting Hill press, with two of the Write Romantics breaking new ground in this exciting venture of what’s termed publishing’s ‘third way’.

We’ve had almost twenty five books published (or about to be) between the ten of us, through publishers including Carina, Crooked Cat, DC Thomson, Fabrian Books, Mills and Boon and So Vain Books, with more news pending and work under consideration by a number of places that are the stuff of dreams, including the BBC no less!

Chart position wise, Deirdre, Helen R, Jessica, Sharon, Lynne and myself have all appeared in the top hundred or higher of our genre charts at one stage or another, with a number in the top ten. Helen P and Rachael have hit even dizzier heights than that though, with Helen P regularly knocking her own hero, Stephen King, off the top spot and Rachael hitting number two across the hugely competitive Mills and Boons chart, although the rest of us know that the number one spot is hers for the taking.

author 2Alys secured something else we’ve all dreamt of at one stage on another, with agent representation, and her debut novel will be out in time for Christmas. Jackie made the top ten shortlist of a hotly fought Mills and Boons contest and is about to make a round of submissions which we are sure will see all ten WRs published by 2016.

So for all you NWS members who’ve recently submitted your manuscripts – or, if you are like I used to be, who’ve just run down to the post office to send it last minute, days before the deadline, with your hair stuck to your forehead and a hopeful surge in your heart as you send it off – or if you’re an aspiring writer of any sort, it can happen. There’s a hackneyed phrase that says the difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer, is that the former never gave up. It’s the sort of advice that used to make me want to French-kiss a scorpion after yet another rejection, but believe me it’s true. So step away from the poisonous arthropod and keep going, it really is worth it in the end.

Jo and Jessica xx

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Book Review: The Property of a Gentleman by Catherine Gaskin

The Property of a Gentleman cover artwork

I fell in love of romantic suspense at a pretty early age.  I used to scour my local library for Mary Stewart and Josephine Tey novels and when, many years later, I wanted to figure out how to write romantic suspense those were the writers that I read again.  I wish I’d known about Catherine Gaskin back then as I’m sure she’d have been another of my favourites.

The tag line for The Property of a Gentleman is ‘one house, many secrets’ and that describes this book perfectly.  The house is Thirlbeck, hidden in a secluded valley in the Lake District, and it has a very troubled history. Local legend has it that the Earls of Askew are cursed because of The Spanish Woman, who was murdered by her brother-in-law to get his hands on the title, during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Jo Roswell accompanies her friend and colleague, Gerald, to Thirlbeck at the invitation of the current Earl of Askew, Robert Birkett.  Robert has recently returned to England after years of living abroad and finding that his income isn’t keeping pace with his lifestyle he’s thinking of selling off a few of the antiques that fill the house.  Jo and Gerald work for London auction house, Hardy’s and they immediately spot that not everything in the house is quite what it seems.  The Rembrandt self-portrait that Robert expects to raise a small fortune is actually a fake.

When Jo discovers that her mother, who was an antique dealer, had been to Thirlbeck many times but never mentioned it she starts to ask more questions.  But her mother died in a plane crash in Switzerland a few weeks before and Jo’s grief twists as she starts to uncover the extent of her mother’s involvement with Thirlbeck.  But that’s not the only secret that the house conceals and as Jo spends more time there more and more is revealed.

Now it’s only fair to tell you that The Property of a Gentleman was written in 1974 and for a modern audience the pace might seem a bit slow at the beginning.  However I really like the slow build, that steady drip, drip of information and I can promise you that when it gets going it’s utterly gripping. I’ve read it twice now and both times I couldn’t put it down.  When I mentioned to the other Write Romantics that I would be reviewing this book, Sharon said she was quite tempted but had too many things on her TBR pile.  But when I said ‘it’s like Daphne Du Maurier but set in the Lakes rather than Cornwall,’ she downloaded it straight away.    It’s got the same kind of strong but flawed heroine that you find in Du Maurier, a wonderful sense of place and a rather special hero.  So if you like Daphne then take a break from Cornwall and check out The Property of a Gentleman.

Alys xx

Crooked cats, rescued dogs, love shacks and the chapters of life… They’re all in Tina K Burton’s writing life!

Tina BurtonOur guest on the blog today is the lovely Tina K Burton. Tina writes short stories, articles, novels, and even the occasional haiku. Both her novels, Chapters of Life, and The Love Shack, are signed with Crooked Cat Publishing. She’s working on her third novel, a story about a girl who dies suddenly, and finds herself back in the thirties. When she’s not writing, Tina spends her time crafting, relaxing with friends, and taking her rescued greyhound for walks across the beautiful moorland in Devon, where she lives with her husband.

We got loads of questions we want to ask Tina, so we can’t wait to get started…



What’s the best bit of feedback you’ve had about Chapters of Life?

One reviewer who loved the book, described me as an English Maeve Binchy. I was so flattered by that.

How important was it for you to sign with a publisher as opposed to going down the route of being self-published?

I had initially self published it on Amazon and Smashwords, but because so many people liked it, I thought it deserved to be with a publisher. I do think there’s more kudos to having a publisher, and other people seem to take you a bit more seriously too.

How did it feel the first time you saw Chapter of Life available for sale?

It was the best feeling in the world. I don’t think I’ll ever get blasé about having a book published though. For me, it’s such an achievement.

What has surprised you most about being published and has it lived up to the dream?

Yes, it’s a wonderful feeling. The only thing that would top it, would be walking into a bookshop and seeing my novels. I’m surprised at how many people have read and liked the book. I thought it was a good story, but we all think that about our books. It’s fab when other people think so too J

Your second novel is called the The Love Shack. How would you define love? sfondo arcobaleno vintage

Hmm. The feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, and your heart, when you think about or look at the person you love. Wanting to be with that person as much as possible, not being able to imagine life without them.

We love the name of your new novel, how did you come up with it?

I had the idea for a fun novel set around a dating agency, and was trying to think of names for it. That evening, I was running on my treadmill, while listening to my ipod, and the B52s song came on. I knew I’d found my title.

Can you tell us a bit about the plot for The Love Shack?

The main character, Daisy Dorson, stomps into The Love Shack, to complain about how useless their matchers are, and ends up getting a lot more than she bargained for. There’s plenty of fun, quirky characters, and of course lots of romance too.

What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done?

I’m not particularly romantic myself. I don’t like all that lovey dovey hearts and flowers stuff, but, I used to write little notes to my husband and tuck them into his lunchbox, so he’d find them when he opened his sandwiches at work. Nothing slushy, just things like, ‘Have a good day at work, see you later.’ I guess you could call that romantic.

author 2Who was your first hero and how do you think he’s influenced your writing, if at all?

I was in love with Donny Osmond when I was about twelve, ha ha. Apart from that, I’ve never had a hero really. I’m not that sort of person.

Do you think it’s true that you should ‘write what you know’ and, if so, to what extent have your experiences influenced your writing?

Yes I do. I like to read about ordinary people, and that’s what I write. I’ve worked as a youth counsellor, in a homeless centre, and in the funeral profession, and I think this has helped me to write characters with real emotions and feelings. It’s no good trying to write crime, if you’ve never read it or experienced it. Having said that, we can easily learn how to write a different genre by reading as much of it as we can and seeing how writers for that particular genre do it.

What are you working on at the moment?

A time-slip story about a girl, Emily, who dies suddenly, and finds herself back in the thirties. It’s a huge shock, but she’s looked after by her great aunt Clarissa, who explains she’s experienced Sudden Death Transition. You’ll have to wait to find out what that is. On the whole it’s a fun read, but it does have an underlying sadness to it.

Do you ever think about writing in a different genre, if so, what would you choose?

Well, I’ve written a couple of children’s stories, but haven’t plucked up the courage to send them off yet. It’s something I’d like to explore though as I’m a big kid myself most of the time.

What’s the hardest type of scene for you to write?

Sex scenes. In fact I don’t do them. I’d much rather just suggest what’s going to happen, with something like, ‘Jacob, grabbed Clara by the hand and with a meaningful look, led her into the bedroom.’ Readers have imaginations, I’d rather leave it up to them!

Can you tell us a bit about your other writing?dreamstime_s_28682146

I actually started by writing articles and short stories, which I’ve sold to the women’s magazines. I still do, and have articles on the OapsChat website, short stories up with Alfiedog Fiction, and stories in several anthologies.

Do you ever get writer’s block and, if so, how do you deal with it?

Yes I do, far too often. I start a quilling project – I’m a quilling artist – and that usually helps clear my head.

If you could have three writing-related wishes, what would they be?

That my books were sold in bookshops, that I actually made enough money to pay the bills, and that I can continue coming up with enough ideas to write future books.

What piece of writing advice do wish you’d known when you started out?

That it isn’t as easy as you think, it’s a long hard slog, but, the sense of achievement when you’re finally published makes it all worthwhile. Thank you, Write Romantics, I enjoyed these questions xx
Thanks so much Tina for joining us on the blog and we wish you every success with The Love Shack, which you can buy here.

You can also find out more about Tina and her books at the links below: http://tinakburtons.blogspot.co.uk/

@TinaKBurton

The Way they Were.

On a recent holiday to St Ives we visited their small museum which houses many examples of the way life was for the locals many years ago. It showed a life of hardship and make-do for most of the inhabitants who were mainly fishermen or miners in the tin mines.
My daughter who is thirteen was fascinated by how incredibly difficult it was for women to get through the average day. She couldn’t believe the old dolly washing tub, mangle and washboard that was used for the weekly wash.‘They must have had strong arm muscles,’ Rosie said, as she tried to turn the large metal handle on the mangle that squished the clothes to squeeze out the water.
My first thought was that it must have taken hours out of the day to get through a family wash, especially if they had young children. There were photographs of woman carrying their clean washing down to the bay where they would hook up a makeshift washing line in the sand to peg out their sheets and towels. Young children would patiently hold on to the long wooden pole that kept washing line up, if it was exceptionally windy.
There were so many old photos of stout and stoic women, leathered and worn, sorting fish in a bucket of cold water, mending fishing nets and picking over the sand to find molluscs to cook and eat. How hard their lives were, looking after as many children as God sent them, and living in damp and dismal conditions, eking out the paltry wages that their husband bought home and working from dawn until dusk just to survive. I wish I had appropriate photo’s to show, but taking pictures was not allowed in the museum.

St Ives

Back street in St Ives

How lucky we are nowadays. Our clothes wash themselves once they are shoved in a washing machine, supermarkets prepare our food, that ovens then heat for us at the touch of a button and a dishwashers then cleans the dishes. Sounds like Utopia doesn’t it? Yet how easily we take it all for granted.
I wonder what those women would think if they could see the fast food outlets in their cobbled and narrow streets now, selling hot food ready to go, ‘boutique’ apartments with double glazing and central heating that are springing up everywhere, and the the rows of bobbing red fibreglass boats to hire for half an hour, replacing the lines of fishing boats that used to fill the harbour at the end of the day. I would love toIMG_3042 see the look on their faces!
Now if there was a time slip novel waiting to be written, that would be the one I’d choose. Hang on, let me just write that down in my notepad of ideas- I’ll earmark it for next year’s “novel to be written.”

Hope you are all enjoying your summer

Jackie

Author Interview – R J Gould

This week we welcome contemporary fiction author, Richard Gould to the blog. Hi Richard, welcome!

 

photo R J Gould

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?

I live in Cambridge and work for a national educational charity. The job includes writing a considerable amount of fairly academic literature on social mobility and educating able young people, so I suppose my fiction – light and humorous – is my therapy or antidote or something. Though not uniquely so, the themes I cover are somewhat unusual for a male author, my starting point being a fascination with ordinary people trying to make the most of their lives.

  1. Where do you get the inspiration for your books and your ideas?

To date, the novels I’ve written have started with an idea sparked by an actual event which has set me off on a fictitious journey with fictitious characters. My inspiration comes from observing people, followed by a make believe delving deep into their lives and thoughts. Of course plot is essential, but for me the starting point is always character.

  1. On your Amazon page you describe your writing as ‘loosely romantic, but with an edge’. Tell us more about that.

I write about past, current and new relationships which sets the genre as Romantic. My use of the term ‘edge’ is based on two elements in what I write. Firstly, I like to include social commentary covering class, gender, culture and society. My favourite reader’s review includes: “the characters are recognisable in an East Enders meets F. Scott Fitzgerald sort of way.” Secondly, there is humour, often dark, running through my fiction. This covers some compulsive betrayals (in The Engagement Party), an attempted suicide (in Nothing Man) and even murder (in A Street Café Named Desire). Starry-eyed romance is there but not overtly so – many of my characters are middle aged and carry several cartloads of baggage.

photorjgould24. As a man writing romantic fiction, have you found any barriers or perhaps advantages along the way?

I’m aware that the vast majority of both writers and readers of romance are female. One agent suggested I take on a female pseudonym, and using my initials ‘R.J.’ rather than ‘Richard’ is a cowardly compromise. My readers are by and large women and the feedback I receive is that they have enjoyed exploring the male take on romance. So perhaps the rarity is an advantage.

  1. Tell us how you found the RNA and how it has benefited you in your writing journey.

I’m a member of Cambridge Writers, a local writing group, and several participants were in the RNA before I joined. I signed up for the New Writers’ Scheme and got a tremendously encouraging review for A Street Café Named Desire. Having self-published with some success, this gave me the incentive to search for a publisher again (yes, I had tried in the past and we all know how tough that is) and Accent Press took me on. A member of the local chapter of RNA introduced me to the Society of Authors who were a great support in looking at the draft contract. RNA is a tremendous organisation for meeting other writers to discuss all sorts of issues.

  1. What is your favourite part about being a writer?

The wonderful feeling on a good day when the prose flows. I’m particularly pleased when something that’s intended to be humorous makes me smile when I read it, even though I know what’s about to happen because I’ve written it.

  1. Do you have any particular favourite characters from your books?

Maybe Jack, a rogue plumber in The Engagement Party. However, I really do like them all. I think it’s important to create characters, even the bit players, who you feel close to and care about.

  1. Are there any scenes you find particularly difficult to write?

Writing backstory in a predominantly humorous novel is a bit of a challenge, but in general it’s more about how creative I’m feeling on the day rather than difficulty writing any particular type of scene.

  1. How do you go about planning your latest novel?

At the outset I know the start and end points of a novel and some mid-story events that I want to include, but I don’t plan in detail ahead of starting to write. I let the characters grow as the plot develops and they can drive the story forward – a remarkable experience in one case when the protagonist was surprising me with his actions! The process isn’t quite as random as it sounds; before long I’m producing things like timeline grids to ensure consistency, and for me editing is an ongoing process rather than something tagged on at the end.

photorjgould3

  1. And finally, what can we expect to see next from Richard Gould?

I’ve just submitted Nothing Man, which should be released by Accent Press by the end of 2015. It’s the story of a man with narrow horizons and low self-esteem. Various events push him to the point of contemplating suicide. He decides not to go through with it, but his post-no-suicide life doesn’t get off to a great start when he has a car crash on leaving the supermarket where he’s purchased his pills. Laura, the woman in the other car, turns out to be his inspiration for starting afresh, but it’s her mother who provides the romance in his life. The excitement of this relationship is coupled with membership then employment at Preserve Our Countryside Society and it turns out that he’s anything but a nothing man.

I’m at the first edit stage of Jack and Jill went Downhill, the story of two students who meet at the Freshers Big Party Night. It traces developments over the next fifteen years as the pair, initially amused by the coincidence of their names matching that of the nursery rhyme, fail to recognise that their lives are following the events of the rhyme with Jack falling down (from his high-powered job in the City) and Jill coming tumbling after (sacked for serious misconduct when teaching).

Thank you so much for being a guest on the blog today. We wish you every success with your novels!

Helen J Rolfe.

If you’d like to find out more about Richard and his books, please follow the links below…

Website:                      http://www.rjgould.info/

Twitter:                       @rjgould_author

Facebook:                    https://www.facebook.com/RJGouldauthor

 

Wednesday Wondering – What are your childhood summer memories?

P1060508Welcome to August’s Wednesday Wondering. A few weeks ago, my eight-year-old daughter broke up for the school holidays; the start of a whopping 7 weeks and 2 days off! That’s a phenomenally long time. Panic set in. Would we be able to keep her entertained for that long, especially as we’d booked our main “summer” holiday for October half term so wouldn’t be going away and I’d started a new job and had very little time available to take off? Thank goodness for grandparents is all I can say on that one! Thinking about the long summer break ahead of her got me a bit nostalgic for my own long summer holidays as a child so my question to the Write Romantics this month was:
What are your memories of the long summer break as a child? Endless days playing out? Bored? Caravan holidays? Tell us all about it.
So they did …
Deirdre says …
Endless blue-skied days spent playing outside were very much a feature of my school summer holidays – because, wasn’t it always sunny, back then?  The freedom of being able to stay out until dusk, making ‘camps’ with the grass at the back of our flats when it was cut, hurtling down the slopes on roller skates, wandering round the estate where we lived and visiting friends’ houses – all of that made the holidays special.
Patty & Deirdre 1But my favourite time was when my two cousins, Pat and Linda, came down from London to stay with our Nan and Grandad for a week, and then I would be despatched by bus, with my little suitcase, to stay with them too.  The three of us slept in one double bed and of course there was more giggling than sleeping.  There were some old books about film stars, and Pat used to read to us out of them, making up funny accents.
Being Londoners, Brighton beach was the main attraction for the cousins, and Nan would take us down to spend most of the day there.  The photo shows Pat and me (I’m on the right) enjoying a splash about.  We’d stay in the sea until our skin was wrinkled like the skin of an old apple.
When the cousins had gone home, there were trips into the countryside to enjoy, just Mum, Dad and me.  We were lucky in that we had a car – hardly any of our neighbours did – and that was because my father worked in a garage and could get his hands on old bangers for very little money.  But they did us a turn, and we would pack a picnic and set out for our favourite spots.  No thermos flasks of tepid tea for us – we had a tiny stove that ran, I think, on methylated spirits or some such.  It was housed Leslie and picnic stovein an old biscuit tin and my Dad took great pleasure in getting this thing going in order to boil the kettle for the tea.  This photo of Dad plus stove is one of my favourite pictures of him.  I do remember great consternation – and a bit of a row – when on one occasion, nobody had remembered to bring the milk.
If I was ever bored in the summer holidays I don’t remember it.  I do remember feeling a bit miserable when all the other kids had gone indoors but I was an only child, so I was used to amusing myself.  At those times I’d escape into the current library book. This is nothing to do with summer holidays but that reminds me of something my Dad used to say, especially in his last years, after Mum had died: You’re never alone if you’ve got a book to read. Nice that, isn’t it?

Jackie says …

As a family we always went to Wales for our summer holiday and my memories are mostly of wearing a clingy, plastic rain mac, dragging it through puddles in Borth as water dripped into my eyes from the rain lashing down. I do recall the wonder of seeing flabby jellyfish lying in the sand and of finding tiny cowrie shells, clutching them furtively in my palm in case my dad said I wasn’t allowed to keep them. I’ve never seen them on any other beach in the UK since.

But the holidays I remember the most, were camping with the Girl Guides in the days when you had to make tripods for your rucksacks to sit on, and dig latrines in the ground with a tent put over the hole. By the end of day one, the tent was buzzing with flies and the smell was pretty horrific. When it was full, someone would then be told to fill in the hole and another one would be dug. 

I remember spiders and daddy long legs giving me evils from the top of the tent, and I remember trying to wash my hair in a round washing up bowl that was perched on a homemade tripod, and the whole thing tipping up on my shoes. 

There were frogs in the swimming pool and Captain pushed me and another girl in, and I thought I would die of fear and shock as I splashed into the cold water, although I don’t know what I thought the frogs would do to me! Nowadays she would probably be reported, but back then it was just considered par for the course.

My middle sister had Blancmange clumped in her fringe for most of the week and my elder sister cried when we sang ‘Taps’ around the camp fire before going to bed  ‘cos she missed my parents so much. That song makes me cry now. All I have to hear is the opening bars of ‘Day is done,’ and I’m welling up!

The most magical time of that holiday was being allowed to sleep under the stars on the last night. Us younger ones were hemmed in by the older girls as we all laid on the grass in our sleeping bags. We stared up at the clear sky, sprinkled with silver stars while Captain told us about each of the constellations and stories of how they got their names. 

I clearly remember appreciating the miracle that was the world I lived in and felt truly blessed to belong to it. 

I don’t think any of us realised how lucky we were to have our Captain, ‘Chad’ as she was known by the ones ‘in the know,’ But if she is still out there, I would love to be able to tell her how much she shaped my childhood and made me question and appreciate the world I live in. 

Thanks Chad, with love and respect from Jackie Dormouse.

Rachael says …

The long lazy days of my childhood summer certainly feel that way now. Firstly because life is so much busier today, but also because they were days of summer, if you know what I mean!

For me, six weeks out of school meant time to go for long walks with the family dog, to cycle  – on my mother’s old shopper, to go to town and feel all grown up hanging out in the city centre with my friends. Most of all, it was family time. With three younger brothers to keep in order, the noise level in our house was far from quiet and the activities we embarked on were varied to say the least. From playing on the garden swings to playing schools, to just generally fighting on the living room floor. They are all conjured up in my mind when I think of the summer holidays.

photoHelen P says …

I loved summer holidays, mainly because I hated school but it meant that we had our annual family holiday to Scarborough to look forward to. The whole family would go including my three brothers, nan, Aunty Dot & Uncle Pat. We would always stop in a self catering holiday flat and I loved it. In fact I still do, I took my own family there about ten years ago and they loved it too.

Below is a rare picture of Josh & Jeorgia enjoying playing out at Primrose Valley Caravan Park. It doesn’t seem that long ago, time really does fly.

P1060511

As for me, I smiled when I read through the responses as they had so many echoes of my own reaction to summer. We usually had two weeks away on holiday as a family. When I was very young, we had a tent, but this was swapped for a caravan. We had a lot of UK-based holidays, but we also travelled abroad with the caravan including very long trips to Germany and Norway. The caravan holiday that stands out the most for me was a trip to Great Yarmouth. It was probably the biggest caravan site we’d ever stayed on with a pool, huge playground and a clubhouse with entertainment until the early hours. My second cousins Andrea and Lisa were also on holiday in the area with their parents and we met up with them a few times, including a couple of nights at the campsite disco. I absolutely loved it.

P1060509But that still left about four weeks. Like Deirdre, I remember sun all the time. I used to play out on my bike and build dens in the fields and hedgerows that bordered our housing estate. Sometimes I played adventurous games with the boys in the neighbourhood and sometimes I wore dressing-up clothes or donned my roller boots and played out with the girls.

Days out with the family – including those whilst away in the caravan – always involved pre-prepared picnics. I don’t remember ever eating out. Mum would always prepare a jug of juice and we’d huddle round the back of the car, or sit on deck chairs in lay-bys with our sandwiches and juice. I can still picture that jug with it’s sealable lid and those beakers now, and hear the little sigh as the lid was eased up ready to pour. Isn’t it funny the little things that stick in your mind?

Sharon says…

It’s funny, but the summer holidays seemed to be always sunny and bright when I was young. I don’t remember it raining at all, though I’m sure it must have. Well, except for the summer of 1976, when the drought stretched on and on, and water was rationed, and it was too hot to do anything much except lie on the grass or eat ice cream.

Most summers, we went away to Primrose Valley. That was in the days before Haven owned it, and it wasn’t as big as it is now. I remember there was an outdoor roller skating rink and swing boats on the cliff top. There was a small shopping arcade, and a pub, “The Log Cabin”, where we all met every evening, and where my sister and I would sit in a little room drinking Coke and eating peanuts while the grown-ups had all the fun!

I loved those holidays because it seemed as if all the family went – grandparents, great aunts and uncles, cousins, half-cousins, the lot. My grandparents and aunt stayed in a pretty bungalow in the village, and we were in a posh caravan in a field across the road. There are photographs of those holidays stretching right back to when I was a baby in my pram on the beach, but the first time I remember going, I recall how shocked my parents were when we walked into the caravan and saw how grand it was. I don’t know what they’d been staying in before! We used to walk along the beach from Primrose Valley to Filey, and go winkle picking on Filey Brigg. Then we’d get fish and chips in Filey and walk back along the sands, tired but really happy.

At home, the days were spent roller-skating up and down the street, playing games like “May I?” and “Mr Wolf” across a road that had remarkably few cars passing through it, brambling, and going to the local swimming baths to cool off in the outdoor pool. I also remember warm summer evenings, sitting on the front garden wall, waiting eagerly for the ice cream van while Dad mowed the lawn. To this day, the smell of freshly-cut grass reminds me of those early evenings, sitting on the wall with my sister, watching my dad in the garden and listening out for those familiar chimes. Happy days.

We’d love to hear all about your summer memories. Please click on the comments at the end of the words below to join in the conversation.

Jessica xx

Today’s Spotlight Lets in Light with Emma Davies

We’re delighted to welcome Emma Davies as our Saturday Spotlight guest. Emma is an indie-published author whose debut novel Letting in Light – which we reviewed last week – has stormed the charts and we were eager to get to know the author behind the success. Over to Emma …

IMG_0254Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself (e.g. where you live, family, day job (if there’s one other than writing) etc.

I live in Shropshire which is a beautiful but undiscovered (by many) county just shy of Wales, and have lived there for about 14 years since our children were little. There’s me, my husband, three children, mum in law, and two guinea pigs, so life is mad / busy / hectic / fun / frustrating / noisy / all of the above. I’m currently a finance manager for a group of four schools, but like a lot of writers would love to be able to give that up and write full time. I’ve taken a little step closer to that by reducing my contract from full time to a four day week from September, something I’ve been hoping to do for a long time, especially since my full time role is not exactly a nine to five one. I’m so excited at the thought of having a whole day a week to write!

What led you to becoming an indie writer?

I think it was a natural progression for me really rather than a conscious decision. Since getting a kindle a few years ago, I’ve read many books by authors who are not traditionally published and found some absolute gems, by writers who I now count among my favourites. I hadn’t realized before until I looked into self-publishing this was even possible, and in fact how easy it is to do. As I was writing Letting In Light at the time it seemed the best way forward for me. I was getting older, I didn’t know if what I had written was any good, and I was put off by the length of time that seeking a traditional publishing route can take. It was a way of dipping my toe in the water and testing things in my own time and on my own terms.

The new cover

The new cover

Would you consider becoming traditionally published? What might tempt you?

I’ve always been very honest about my views on traditional versus self-publishing, and indeed readers of my blog will have read my countless deliberations before. I am still a bit on the fence, purely because I like to keep my options open; things change and I think you have to change with them. I’m not against traditional publishing, that’s not why I self-publish, but equally I don’t self-publish because I’m an ardent supporter of the ‘cause.’ I’ve done what felt right for me at the time. Both types of publishing have pros and cons and at the moment I can see that financially, self-publishing is the better option for me, and I like the greater flexibility it gives me. Having said that my ego would love nothing more than to walk into a bookshop and see a huge pile of my books on a table, so who knows? If I get a tempting offer I’ll let you know!

‘Letting in Light’ is an emotionally-packed read. Where did the idea come from?

That’s a really difficult question to answer without giving away a huge spoiler so I’ll have to stick to the book’s setting to answer the question if I may. I’ve always loved walled gardens and country estates, simply because of the capacity they have for the imagination to run riot, and that’s what really appealed to me; that I could take a setting such as Rowan Hill, put a bunch of people in it, and see what happened. The setting and characters have been with me for a very long time, and I knew the type of story I wanted to write. When I discovered the story line that would give the book the impact I wanted the rest just fell into place.

‘Letting in Light’ has been very successful. Have you been surprised at the success?

Utterly, but although it’s currently doing very well it has taken over a year to achieve this.

What do you do to promote your novel? What method do you think is most effective and why?

I guess like most people I just look for any opportunities that are out there, so guest appearances on blogs such as this one are a great way of getting your name and book information out there. I’ve done quite a few ‘interview’ features and also other fun posts, but these have all been quite widely spaced so it’s been a bit of a drip feed to be honest. When I first published Letting in Light I didn’t even know that book bloggers existed, let alone think about setting up reviews prior to launch. I have had a few blogger reviews now, but again perhaps this is unusual for a book already published. Social media is brilliant for networking with other authors, readers and bloggers etc but I have to say that Twitter has been the most effective for me. I try really hard to be as generous as I can to other writers because the one thing I have learned over this last year or so is how supportive and friendly everyone is. Twitter is great for this, and I really enjoy the interaction I have with people.

Recently you had 100 copies of your book downloaded in one day. The Write Romantics were in awe! What’s your secret?

The scary thing is that if I have one I’m really not sure what it is! I think for me a combination of things seemed to come together at the same time, and once sales started to pick up I think Amazon starts to play its part too. Much is written about the mystery of Amazon’s algorithms and how they work. Personally I don’t have a clue either but I’m sure that they have been wafting my book under people’s noses and undoubtedly I’ve benefited from that. One thing I have done it to create a SmartURL for Letting in Light. Essentially all this does is allow whoever clicks on it to be taken to their own country’s Amazon site so that you don’t have to post lots of links. However it also provides you with a whole range of statistics and as soon as I started to use it, with some very carefully put together tweets, I could see that my links were being clicked on, and at a rate that really surprised me. When I started I had over 500 click throughs in a matter of days so I knew that my tweets were attracting attention. Once I discovered that, I just kept going, and things have gathered their own momentum. Obviously now it’s a combination of things that are contributing, and I’m just thrilled that people are loving it the way that they are.

The original cover

The original cover

‘Letting in Light’ has a gorgeous cover, but we’ve seen a different version. What made you change the cover design and when did you do this? Did the cover change have an impact on sales?

I changed the eBook cover in May of this year from a design which I produced myself. A friend of mine who is an artist painted a beautiful watercolour which is the central image, but my desk top publishing skills really did not do it justice. I still have the watercolour though which is just lovely. When Letting in Light was first published I couldn’t afford or justify spending any of our family’s budget on a professional cover and so I did the best I could at the time. Earlier this year though when things started to pick up I realised that the cover really didn’t have the kerb appeal it needed to get noticed. People might look at it, but it wasn’t saying ‘buy me’. Also the thing about eBooks is that when people browse they are only looking at a thumbnail image and so this has to stand out. I spent a long time looking through pages of bestsellers so see what colours and types of design were more noticeable than others. There is only a very small window of opportunity to grab someone’s attention when they’re browsing before they’re onto the next book. So, I saved up and when I could had the cover redesigned professionally. I always knew what I wanted and the end result is exactly what I hoped for. Now of course I wish I had done it much sooner as I’m convinced it has helped sales.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently writing the sequel to Letting in Light which I had hoped to release later this year. However a few weeks ago, with the school holidays looming (and therefore for me more writing time) I had a mad idea about writing a novella for Christmas. Then one morning as I was brushing my teeth the perfect plot came to me, and so I’m right in the thick of this at the moment. It will (she says through gritted teeth) be published in October.

What’s the best thing that’s happened to you since you published your novel? What’s the most challenging thing?

I don’t know whether it’s the best thing that’s happened, because this year has certainly been a year of firsts, but the nicest thing happened recently when I received a message from someone via my website; ‘I enjoyed your book so much I just wanted to let you know. I was devastated that this is your first and I can’t go straight out and buy all your others. Please write us another one soon.’ I was so touched that someone had actually taken the trouble to contact me personally; I got a bit emotional over than one!

The most challenging thing has to be trying to get the balance right between all the areas of my life, when most of the time what I want to do is just sit and write. I don’t think I’ve got the hang of it yet, but perhaps this comes with time!

You say on your website that you love Pringles. What’s your favourite flavour? Did you ever sample the Mint Choc Chip ones that came out a couple of Christmases ago?

I’m on record as saying I never met a Pringle I didn’t like, and that’s probably true, although my least favourite are salt and vinegar, not because I don’t like them but because if I eat too many they take a layer of skin off the inside of your mouth. I do however always keep going back to the original flavour, which on balance are probably my favourite. I did try the mint chocolate ones when they came out and loved them too, but really, chocolate Pringles? It’s not right; they’re a savoury snack, and if they’re not then I’m sorry but they’re an Elizabeth Shaw mint and I love those too!

Huge thanks to Emma for joining us. We look forward to reading the sequel to Letting in Light and wish her continued success. We’re not convinced about the mint chocolate Pringles though. Ew!

Jessica x

You can buy Letting in Light here and find out more about Emma on her website. You can also find Emma on Twitter @Emdavies68 and on Facebook.