(York) Tea for Two – and a Whole Host of RNA Writers

(York) Tea for Two – and a Whole Host of RNA Writers

Official tickets! Exciting. Or scary!

So there we were, Julie Heslington and me, standing outside The Royal York Hotel, all ready to go inside and brave our first “proper” Romantic Novelists’ Association event. Julie had been to a couple of conferences before but, for me, it was my first RNA event, full stop. The York Tea. A gathering of well-known, well-established romance writers, who would wonder who on earth we were, and how we dared to darken the doorstep of this place and rub shoulders with the elite of romantic fiction.

Well, that’s what we thought, anyway, in our darkest moments. “On the other hand,” we decided brightly, “they might be nice. We have to try, at least.”

Squaring our shoulders, we marched purposefully forward. Julie sailed into the hotel. I got tangled up in the revolving door and it took me slightly longer. Typical. Then, heads held high, we walked up to reception, where Julie immediately asked where the toilets were. Priorities and all that. As an afterthought, we enquired where the RNA Tea was being held, and a rather bemused looking man told us we were in the Garden Room. So, a few minutes later, we approached said room, only to be told by a young woman that no, we weren’t in there at all. We were at the end of the corridor, if you don’t mind. So off we went again and, as we approached, it became clear that we were finally in the right place. Little things gave it away – like the big table covered in dozens of name badges with RNA written on them. Yay! We’d made it.

Sadly, he didn’t talk to me. Elegant, though.

There was a  heart-stopping moment when Julie couldn’t find her name badge. Would it, she enquired, be under Julie Heslington, or Jessica Redland? Huge relief when we spotted it. Turned out, it had both names on it. The RNA cover every eventuality! So name badges were collected, coats handed over, deep breaths taken, and in we went. The room seemed enormous, and there were lots of large, round tables, each elegantly adorned with silver candlesticks that reminded me of Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast.  If only, I thought wistfully. I’m sure Lumiere would talk to us and be kind. We hovered and dithered for quite some time as, around us, groups of writers chatted to each other as if they were best friends.

“Oh dear,” we said. “This is worse than we thought.” We’d selected a table in the middle of the row, but I had a panic suddenly. “We’ll have to squeeze between people every time we get up,” I pointed out. “And it’s a long way from the door.”

“We’ll sit near the door,” Julie decided, heading over to the first table in the room. “That way, we can get out easily enough.”

“So if no one speaks to us, we can escape,” I said, feeling suddenly more cheerful. There were, after all, dozens, probably hundreds, of places to eat in York. We could soon make our getaway and have our own afternoon tea, if we needed to. It didn’t have to be a complete disaster.

The room filled up. As we headed to the door to collect our complimentary glass of wine, I spotted Lizzie Lamb. Lizzie Lamb! I was thrilled to see her, as Lizzie was the very first writer I ever approached, years ago when I was just beginning my writing journey. I’d seen something she’d written in either Writing Magazine or Writer’s Forum – I can’t remember now which one it was – and she’d mentioned the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. I plucked up courage and messaged her on Facebook, asking for advice about joining. She was brilliant, and so kind, giving me information and encouragement. I’ve never forgotten that, and I am such a big fan of her books, so it was wonderful when she came over to me and hugged me. It felt like she was an old friend!

Lovely Erin Green/ODwyer Author and her equally lovely hubby

Then a lovely couple came over. They knew Julie, but I’d never met them before. When Julie told me who the lady was, I realised I actually knew her from Facebook – from her ODwyer Author account and her Erin Green Author page. She’d brought along her husband, and we had a lovely chat with them both. They really helped break the ice and eased us into the event beautifully.

Julie looking very glam x

So, I had my very first glass of prosecco. I rarely drink alcohol at all, but, you know, it was free and it seemed rude to say no. Besides, it might help calm my nerves. I sipped it cautiously, being no fan of wine. Any wine. Hmm. That was actually quite nice. I finished my very first glass of prosecco.  I glanced around the room, recognising various faces from social media and Romance Matters, the RNA’s magazine. Would I ever dare speak to any of them, I wondered. Probably not, was the dismal, if realistic, reply. I hate social events. I’m a bag of nerves and I didn’t think a whole bottle of prosecco would be enough to see me through this.

Julie had gone to the bar to get us more drinks. I’d decided to stick with soft drinks. Alcohol has a most unfortunate effect on me and, sure enough, I could already feel the tell-tale burning sensation in my face. It seems to mimic a mini-menopause, making me red-faced and giving me terrible hot flushes. I could never be a secret drinker, that’s for sure. With no Julie to talk to, I clutched my empty glass, looked around me and tried to appear as if I was relaxed and chilled, not a quivering wreck who just wanted to go home.

Julie and me, with our lovely neighbours Dorinda and Rowena. Fab company!

“Hello, is this seat taken?” I looked around and a lady, whose face I knew from Facebook, was standing beside me. “Only, my friend and her sister are coming, and they’re going to be a bit late, so I wondered if it was okay for them to sit here?” Perhaps it was the sheer astonishment that someone had spoken to me, or perhaps it was the prosecco, but I nodded enthusiastically and said, of course, it was fine. Then I remembered that a writer Julie knew, from her home town of Scarborough, had said she was going to be a bit late, and she was bringing her sister. Could it be? Turned out, it was the same people that this lady – who introduced herself as Julia Ibbotson – was reserving seats for. What a coincidence. As it happened, it was a very happy coincidence. The ladies in question were Dorinda Cass and her sister, Rowena, and a nicer couple of neighbours I couldn’t have wished for.  We had a blast, talking non-stop, and my nerves vanished. Julie was engaged in conversation with the neighbours on her left side. Across the table from us sat Julia Ibbotson and another lady called Karen Critchley/Violet Fields. Next to them were two more ladies. One of them looked familiar, but I couldn’t put a name to the face. We all got talking, and she said her name was Janice Preston. Without thinking, I blurted out, “Oh, I know you!” Of course, I didn’t, but I knew her from Twitter and Facebook, and I knew of her books.

After that, conversation was buzzing. We had quite a debate about scones/sconns. Julie says “sconns” and I say “scones”. Jenni Fletcher, who was sitting next to Janice, insisted it was “sconns”. She demanded, “Where do you come from?” I replied “Hull.” Her jaw dropped. “Never!” Turns out, she lives just up the road in a local village. Who’d have thought it?

Rhoda Baxter, with Jane Lovering, who I didn’t pluck up the courage to speak to. Gutted!

Rhoda Baxter came up to chat. Another face I knew instantly from social media. I knew Rhoda was local to me, and I knew she attended the Beverley Chapter meetings, where another Facebook friend, Ellie Gray, was a member. Rhoda was lovely and friendly, and told us all about her new adventures in indie publishing. I asked if Ellie was coming. “She’s here,” came the reply. “Come and meet her.”

The lovely Ellie Gray and Anne Williams.

Feeling a bit nervous, I followed her over to the other side of the room, and there was Ellie, who I recognised immediately. Nerves vanished. I was so pleased to finally meet her, and she was just as lovely as I’d imagined she would be. We chatted for ages and I promised I would join the Beverley chapter and attend as much as I could, work hours permitting – and will definitely attend when I leave my day job and write full-time.

Afternoon tea. By the time Lizzie took this, Julie and I had probably cleared our plates.

Seeing some activity and a flurry of movement suddenly, we hurried back to our table. We were officially welcomed to the York Tea by organiser, Lynda Stacey, and then food was served. You know, it was only when we had nearly finished stuffing our faces that Julie and I realised a) we were the only ones who had eaten just about everything on the plates, and b) we’d been so preoccupied with the food that we’d quite forgotten to take a photograph of it to show you. Luckily, Lizzie Lamb had the foresight to snap hers, and she’s very kindly lent me a picture for your delight.

The fabulous Milly Johnson

“I wonder if Milly Johnson’s here yet,” I said, to no one in particular. I am such a huge fan of Milly. Back when I was wondering if I could really write contemporary romance/romcoms, I decided to read as many books in the genre as I could find, so I trawled Amazon for appropriate titles, and Milly was immediately recommended. Her book, The Birds and the Bees, was the first I read, and I remember feeling so excited about it. I quickly read The Yorkshire Pudding Club and Here Come the Girls. Here were books about women I recognised. Ordinary, working class women with accents like mine, and families and worries and problems I could relate to, and a sense of humour I could really understand and enjoy. Milly’s books gave me hope that, just maybe, you didn’t have to be middle class and posh to write books, after all.

When Milly was introduced, I felt my heart thud with anticipation. There she was. I was actually in the same room as Milly Johnson. She gave a wonderful speech that made me laugh, but also moved me to tears at various points. It was worth all the anxiety and stress and sleepless nights the thought of attending this event had caused me, just to see and hear Milly in action. My job was done. Or so I thought.

When the food was cleared away, another familiar face loomed into view. Anne Williams! Anne is a book blogger, and she has written some amazing reviews for my books, Baxter’s Christmas Wish and Resisting Mr Rochester. I was so grateful to her, and told her so. We had a lovely long chat, and she introduced herself to Julie and told her one of her books was on her to-be-read list. Anne was just as friendly and chatty as I knew she’d be, and I was so pleased to finally meet her.

Me and the truly delightful Lizzie Lamb.

Then, as Anne walked away, Lizzie came over, camera in hand, and asked for a photo of the two of us. Julie very kindly took one of us both, and then we launched into conversation as if we’d met loads of times before and had known each other for years. It was fabulous to talk to her properly. She was every bit as lovely as I’d heard she was, and we chatted for ages.

When we finally parted, I turned round to go back to my chair and nearly fell over with shock. Sitting next to Rowena was none other than Milly Johnson! I gaped at her, my heart hammering. Milly was sitting in the next chair but one to me. I think my mouth dropped open. She looked up, gave me a puzzled sort of smile, then resumed her conversation with Rowena as I plonked into my chair and tried to look as if I was used to this sort of thing. When she got up to leave, she hugged Rowena, and wandered off, and I gaped at Rowena. “What?” she said. “That was Milly Johnson,” I said – rather unnecessarily, I feel, in hindsight. “I know. Isn’t she lovely?” “I wouldn’t know,” I replied. “I’ve never met her.” Her eyes widened. “Why didn’t you say? I’d have introduced you.” Jeez. Probably a good thing she didn’t. I might still be unconscious.

The lovely Janice Preston, with Alison May, another one I wish I’d had the nerve to speak to.

Later, Jenni Fletcher came round to our side of the table. She told us all about the Beverley chapter, and Julie and I both agreed we would love to join. She was bubbly and friendly and made us laugh. I realised, suddenly, that not a single person we’d spoken to had been unfriendly or stand-offish at all. Everyone had been absolutely lovely to us – a fact confirmed when Janice came over to talk, and we had a fascinating conversation about clothes shops, among other things. Then Nicola Cornick came over to talk to Dorinda, and she was another friendly, warm person. Yep, the room was full of delightful, kind, funny, interesting people. What on earth had we been so worried about?

Me. Really. This is what one glass of prosecco does to me. Totally out of focus.

As we were leaving, I handed over my badge and waited for Julie, and John Jackson wandered over to hand in his. I introduced myself and thanked him for all his Friday Follows on Twitter each week, and congratulated him on his forthcoming book. He took out his camera and snapped me there and then. When I saw the photo later, I looked a bit blurry and out-of-focus. That prosecco must have affected me more than I realised!

Julie and I headed for the front door, passing Julia Ibbotson, who was being interviewed in the lobby. As I heard her discussing her work with the reporter, I thought, I can’t believe this is my life now. How lucky am I to mix with such amazing people, to meet authors whose work I really enjoy and respect, to be able to chat about books and writing to my heart’s content, and to make such wonderful friends? I feel so blessed to be part of this world.

We  left the hotel and headed back to the station to catch our respective trains. We both agreed we’d had a fabulous time. We’d chatted to Facebook friends in person for the first time, found new friends that we’d never spoken to, even online, before, and picked up tips and information. We’d heard a wonderful speech by a fantastic author, had lots of laughs, and a pretty cracking afternoon tea. All in all, it was a fabulous event, and we were both really glad we found the courage to attend.

But it’s still scones.

Sharon xx

Many thanks to Lynda Stacey for organising this event, and thank you, too, to Julie Heslington, John Jackson and Lizzie Lamb for the use of their photographs.

Julie’s/Jessica’s latest book, Charlee and the Chocolate Shop, is out now, and you can buy it here.

 

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Saturday Spotlight: Ellie Gray

Ellie Gray Profile PicToday on the blog, we’re delighted to welcome Ellie Gray. Sit down, Ellie, and make yourself comfortable, while we turn the spotlight on you. Don’t worry, this won’t hurt a bit…

First things first. When did you start writing?

I think I first started writing not long after I had my first child, when I was working part time. It suddenly occurred to me that, all those stories I had written in my head, the ones that kept me awake at night, carefully planning and constructing, should actually be put down on paper!  I’ve been ‘writing’ ever since I can remember but, up until that point, it never really occurred to me that I should physically write them down.

Yep, always useful to put the words on the paper! What genre do you write in, and why?

I write contemporary romance, erring on the sweet side, with strong male and female characters who have the same flaws we all have – no-one is perfect! I love writing about their hopes, fears and struggles and, best of all, helping them get to that happy ending; something that is not always guaranteed in real life. I also enjoy writing young adult novels with a fantasy-type edge.

Like Sharon, Alys, and Jessica, you’re a Yorkshire lass. Is setting important in your novels?

I think setting is really important and I love setting my novels in Yorkshire. I think readers like to ground the characters they are reading about, to know about where they live and how that affects them. I try to give enough description to enable the reader to really picture the surroundings, without being too prescriptive and degenerating into sounding like a travelogue! Although my debut novel is set in Yorkshire, my current work in progress is set in the exotic surroundings of Egypt and the Nile.

Exotic, indeed! When do you write? Tell us about your writing day.

That’s a tough one. Like many writers, I also have a full-time job and a family to work around. I am also studying for a Masters degree, just about to start my dissertation (gulp!) so it feels like a real juggling act. I try to write on a weekend and, if the writing itch gets too itchy to ignore, I’ll do a couple of hours on an evening, but I really do try to limit my evening writing during the week and spend some time with my family, and to drag myself out of the writing cave after an afternoon’s writing on a weekend.

Yes, we can all relate to juggling writing time with family time. As authors, we also have to get to grips with social media. How do you feel about that?

I know that social media is an important way of raising an author’s profile and I am building up a profile, using Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Pinterest etc. I’m also trying to learn as much as I can about how best to build up a following without shoving the ‘buy my book’ message down everyone’s throat. I do worry about how best to utilise social media, particularly when there are so many authors out there promoting their work. How do you get heard over the crowd? I don’t know the answer but it is something that I’m willing to work at and to learn from others.

Do you read much? What books do you like to read? Who is your favourite author?

I love reading. With reading comes the guilt complex, though – when I’m reading, there’s a little voice in the back of my head telling me that I should be writing. However, I know that to become a better writer, I also need to read as much as I can – so that’s what I tell that little voice when it whispers in my ear. I like to read a range of genres – contemporary romance, of course, but I also like to read the classics, Austen and Du Maurier, horror such as King, Herbert and Koontz, and I love the Harry Potter and Tolkein books. Oh, there’s the Sharpe series, I love those, and Elizabeth Peters with her Amelia Peabody adventures.

All of the Write Romantics were, at one time, members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. Indeed, that’s how we met, so we’re very grateful we were accepted onto it. You were a member of this scheme. Do you feel it helped you? Would you recommend it to other aspiring authors?

Joining the RNA NWS is the best thing that I could have done to kick-start my writing career. I’d toyed with joining for several years but never seriously looked into it until late in 2014. Then, last year I decided that this was the year I was going to take my writing seriously. I knew the NWS is always oversubscribed so I stayed up on New Year’s Day to email my application just after midnight and kept my fingers crossed. Fortunately, I was successful and, since then, I have been overwhelmed by the support offered by RNA members. Even though I can’t always make the planned events down in London, there are lots of other ways to keep in touch and offer support and encouragement, not least via the email and Facebook forums. This year also saw the first RNA Afternoon Tea event in York which I attended and it was lovely to meet up with the people that I’d been connecting with online. Add to this the fantastic manuscript critique that is part of the NWS – I can only say that I would definitely recommend the RNA NWS to any aspiring author.

You recently signed a publishing deal with Tirgearr Publishing. Tell us about your path to publication.

It came out of the blue, which sounds ridiculous because, of course, I had sent the manuscript off for consideration. Beauty and the Recluse is a novel I wrote several years ago and which has been revised several times. Harlequin M&B requested to see the full manuscript about two years ago and, although they passed on it, they did give me an excellent and detailed critique.  As I was already well on with my next novel, I took it on the chin, put it in the proverbial drawer and kept on working on my new novel. Once I had drafted that, I took a break from it and pulled out Beauty and the Recluse and decided to re-work it, taking on board the M&B advice.  Once I had done that, I left it for a while and went back to editing my next novel. It was only when, during one of the email forums, one of the other RNA members mentioned that they had a new novel out for release with Tirgearr Publishing that, out of interest, I had a look at their website, liked the look of their titles and their approach and, on the off-chance, decided to send them Beauty and the Recluse – not holding out much hope. However, less than two weeks later, I had a response from them telling me that they loved the book and the characters and offering me a contract on the spot. I was at work at the time and thought that it must be a hoax!

Loving the title of your first novel! Can you tell us a bit about it? When is it due for release?

As you might guess from the title, it has elements of Beauty and the Beast and, while it isn’t a true, modern day re-telling of the tale, it does have certain similarities to the fairy tale.

Following the recent death of her father, and in need of both a job and somewhere to live, Kiya takes a housekeeping job on the spur of the moment.  She soon finds herself living in a beautiful but neglected mansion, working for a strange and reclusive man.

St. John is a man scarred by the past, both physically and emotionally, and is determined to live out his life alone.  They are two very different people, drawn to each other almost against their will, but can Kiya convince St. John that he is not the monster he believes himself to be? 

It is due for release in February 2016 and I am so excited, although nervous about how it will be received.  I can’t wait to get the first sight of my cover which should be fairly soon.

Very exciting times ahead! What are you planning next? Is there another book in the pipeline?

Yes, I am currently editing my next novel which is set in Egypt and follows the themes of love, loss and letting go of the past.

Thank you for being such a lovely guest, Ellie. Hope the spotlight didn’t shine too brightly in your eyes! Good luck with Beauty and the Recluse. We look forward to reading it. 

You can find out more about Ellie at:

https://elliegrayauthor.wordpress.com/

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

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/elliegray58

Pinterest:  https://uk.pinterest.com/elliegray71/

 

Valerie-Anne Baglietto on The Irresistible Lure of Fairy Tales

 My favourite book for a few years now has been Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones. It was written for children, but works beautifully for adults as a page-turning love story. Or it does for me, anyhow. It’s the sort I enjoy most of all, where the couple go to great lengths for each other but can’t acknowledge why for most of the book, even to themselves. It alludes to the attraction rather than presenting it neatly tied up with a bow. I don’t mind a more direct approach, of course, and I read plenty of those, too. But anyway, I digress slightly.

Where else but in a fairy tale can you have a romance between a girl under a spell, who spends most of the book as a wizened old woman, and a vain, selfish young wizard whose main hobby seems to be breaking hearts? They are so outrageously incompatible on the surface, and yet we know that they’re made for each other.

Soulmates pop up regularly in fairy tales. The princess and the talking amphibian by the pond. The girl in cinder-coated rags, imagining herself whirling around a ballroom in the arms of a prince. The beautiful merchant’s daughter who sees beyond the abrasive manner and hideous exterior of a beast to the lonely, tortured soul beneath.

I wrote fairy tales as a child, but then stopped as an adult in an attempt, I suppose, to behave like a grown up. It was in the throes of Harry Potter fever that I started experimenting with them again, eventually blending subtle magical elements with the romances I also enjoyed writing. I grew up on a diet of fables and folk stories, just like my own young daughter. Currently, she’s unaware of how much she inspired the character of the stepdaughter Lexie in my latest book Four Sides to Every Storyblog vb1

Of course, we now know how much darker these old morality tales were originally. They’ve evolved over the decades for various reasons too convoluted to go into in this post. This development seems to have peeved some people, but I don’t see why we can’t have both. The whitewashed versions and the more sinister ones. The sweetness and light, to contrast with the gloom.

My readers want the innocence, the enchantment, and often tell me so! We need that kind of wholesomeness and hope in what seems an increasingly dark and sinister world. That doesn’t mean I don’t have heartbreak in my books, or more shady, reprehensible characters. Of course I do. How can you possibly have a fairy tale without some sort of villain? And I like my heroes flawed, but with a big heart. And stubble. They usually start out more like the frog or the beast than the smooth-talking, debonair prince.

blogvb2The stories I digested as a child weren’t as diluted or sanitised as the current ones offered to children. And my daughter still reads from the same treasured book of fairy tales that I devoured myself. It’s the source of countless discussions between us. Because there’s no marry-the-prince happy ending for the Little Mermaid in this anthology from the 1970s. No Disney makeover. Here is Andersen’s version, retold but not drastically altered, with its message of love and sacrifice.

We also have the stories of The Little Matchgirl and The Little Tin Soldier. They have poignant conclusions, not the unashamedly happy endings we’ve come to associate with fairy tales these days. Not all the stories in the anthology end on a high note, but they still influence me today. Possibly they’re another reason I became a writer in the first place. As a child – just like Lexie in Four Sides to Every Story – I wanted to rewrite the sad tales. I longed to give them a HEA. Yet now, looking back with adult eyes, I understand why the sadness is there, and why sacrifice is necessary and redemptive.

It probably won’t surprise you to know I love Disney Princess movies, will it? Especially the latest crop. Throughout my new book you’ll find conscious and unconscious little moments of homage to some of my favourite films and novels… Tangled… Enchanted… And the (non-Disney) Howl’s Moving Castle gets a look-in, as I realised after finishing my first draft that I’d used the names Sophie and Lily (characters in Howl’s). More deliberately, however, was the hobbling old woman with the stick. The use of Travers and Brand as the name of the nanny agency was no accident, either. Nothing to do with Howl’s Moving Castle, though. I’ll leave you to work it out – far more fun that way!

Then, of course, there’s Cinderella. That’s probably the fairy tale I reference most. After all, it’s the most famous one to feature a fairy godmother. But I didn’t want to write about the sort of older, theatrical fairy godmother we might visualise when we hear the term, so I put a new spin on a classic tale, and then set it in the quaint fictional village of Fools Castle, which seems to be a hit with readers. So much so, that I’ve decided to revisit it in my next book. I hadn’t intended to, but to be honest, I’m missing it too much not to go back; and all those familiar characters are scrambling about in my head trying to get themselves heard again. There’s so much more to be said, I’m discovering. Who knew? Not me. Not till now, anyway.

Because, apparently, true love isn’t the end of a story. It seems it’s just the very beginning. ‘Happily ever after’ left to our own imagination may be the conclusion of most fairy tales. It’s what we’ve come to expect. But what we’ve come to expect from a fairy tale has never stopped me before…

My favourite mode of transport. Naturally 😉

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You can read Sharon’s review of Valerie-Anne’s latest novel Four Sides to Every Story here

You can buy Four Sides to Every Story here

Author Bio:

By day, Valerie-Anne Baglietto writes modern, grown-up fairy tales. By night, she clears up after her husband and three children. Occasionally she sleeps. During her career, she has written rom-coms for Hodder & Stoughton and won the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writer’s Award (the little silver rose bowl was a nightmare to polish, but it did look very pretty on the Welsh dresser). Aside from writing and household management, she takes perverse delight in bossing around the other members of Novelistas Ink, a writers’ collective founded by the bestselling author Trisha Ashley. You can also find her hanging out in the usual places on social media:

Facebook – Valerie-Anne Baglietto Author

Twitter – @VABaglietto

Pinterest – Valerie-Anne Baglietto

Instagram – valerieannewrites

Website – www.valerie-annebaglietto.com