A New Look for Winter Tales, Our #charity #anthology

It’s hard to believe, but November is almost upon us, and winter is just around the corner. Shops are already filling up with Christmas goodies, and the dark nights are drawing in.

Social media has been full of promotional posts for, and news of, forthcoming or newly-released Christmas books. Some might say (and some have) that it’s far too early for all that, but the truth is, whatever your opinion, festive books are on sale and they’re proving to be very popular.

In a world that can sometimes seem harsh and uncaring, it can be a relief and a joy to settle down with a story set at the time of year when peace and goodwill to all men reign supreme. There’s something very cosy and comforting about Christmas books, and this year, the Write Romantics have a bumper crop on offer. You’ll be hearing more about that in future posts.

But first and foremost, the important news is that, as you can see by the picture above, we have given our anthology, Winter Tales, a fresh look, and we love the gorgeous new cover with the festive robin and the warm, cheerful colours. We released Winter Tales back in November 2014, gathering together stories from generous writing friends, who happily contributed their seasonal tales in aid of two great causes.

Winter Tales was put together for the benefit of The Cystic Fibrosis Trust and The Teenage Cancer Trust – two charities very close to our hearts. At the time, we were ten writers with only one publishing deal between us, and we knew we needed help from our friends! Luckily for us, the writing community is a big, helpful and friendly one, and before long we had contributions from plenty of lovely authors. We raised lots of money for our chosen charities, and we managed to garner some good reviews for the book.

It’s now three years on (I know! Unbelievable!) and, with it being that time of year again, we’ve decided to give Winter Tales a new look and try our best to raise more money for the charities. The new cover has proved very popular, and we had a brilliant weekend of sales, earning our anthology a bestseller flag on Amazon for the very first time. But we need to keep this going, so, in the spirit of Christmas, we’re just giving anyone who hasn’t bought the book a gentle nudge.  Winter Tales is just 99p at the moment, and here’s a list of all the stories you can find inside.

Not Just Another Winter’s Tale by Jessica Redland

Reserved by Rhoda Baxter

Seasonal Encounters of the Cafe Kind by Zanna Mackenzie

In All the Wrong Places by Jo Bartlett

Winter Melody by Deirdre Palmer

The Handsome Stranger by Alison May

Loving Mr Perfect by Holly Martin

The Other Side of Christmas by Sharon Booth

The Art of Giving by Sarah Painter

All I Want for Christmas by Jackie Ladbury

The Bookshop of Dreams by Helen Phifer

Muriel’s Christmas Surprise by Jennifer Bohnet

Wherever I’ll Be by Deirdre Palmer

Christmas in July by Helen J Rolfe

A Pistol for Propriety by Alys West

A Tooth for a Tooth by Terri Nixon

It’s a Wonderful Life by Annie Lyons

Something Blue by Linda Huber

Ghosts of Christmas by Sarah Lewis

Meet Me at Midnight by Rachael Thomas

Into My Loving Arms by Lynne Pardoe

An Early Christmas Present by Samantha Tonge

Butterfly Nights by Deirdre Palmer

So, you see, we have some really fabulous authors in there and some fantastic stories for your reading pleasure. We hope you’ll take a chance on this anthology and, if you enjoy it, why not leave a review, or spread the word to friends and family so that we can raise as much money as possible to help everyone affected by cystic fibrosis and cancer, who need and deserve our help. You can buy Winter Tales here.

Thank you! And Merry Christmas. xx

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Saturday Spotlight: Interview with Kendra Smith, bestselling author of ‘Jacaranda Wife’

It’s a real pleasure to welcome Kendra Smith to the blog today.  Kendra’s first novel ‘Jacaranda Wife’ was published by Endeavour Press in March.  It has been hugely successful and a few weeks ago was #1 on Kindle in Australia.  I’ll hand over to Kendra to tell you more. Alys x Kendra, PHOTO

What inspired you to write Jacaranda Wife? Life. We had recently moved back to Australia and whilst I absolutely love the country, it was a time of great upheaval for me. I wanted my heroine to grapple with conflicting thoughts and issues and, at the time, I was exploring the idea of where ‘home’ is. Also, I was missing using words. I’d started typing away as the baby napped and scribbled notes where I could. Funnily enough, as the kids were young, it was one of the busiest times as a mum, but I really needed a creative outlet.  Finding new and fun ways to stack the dishwasher wasn’t quite working for me – and neither was a great Australian stay-at-home mums’ sport – cake baking & icing. I was terrible at it! So I found my outlet on the computer instead.

What are your biggest influences as writer?

I think everyday life is. I would find it hard not to capture things with words. My husband often says to me, ‘your brain is so busy!’ That’s what I try to put down on paper, all my thoughts and the emotions of life. I also play with dialogue in my head on the school run, and end up feeling a bit startled as I pull up outside the school, as my head has been somewhere else. Of course, other writers inspire me, too, and how brilliantly they write, how they can capture the essence of something in a few words and how writing styles can differ so much and convey so much emotion in one sentence.JW cover copy

Do you think being a journalist previously helped you to get established as an author?

I think being a journalist meant that I am used to working with words and enjoy writing. The idea of penning, say 1,000 words from the off didn’t phase me, as it might do some other non-writers. But in a funny way, it hindered me for a while. For years you are taught to write about facts. Is this true? What backs it up? What are the figures for this trend, how can we explain it? The stress of editing on a national woman’s title never leaves you, as I’d remember how I’d look over the copy and wonder if it had been checked properly, when you found yourself ringing the writer to say, ‘so when you say that the coffee was black, was it actually black, can you remember it being black? What kind of black?’ And then realising that you took your job far too seriously.

When it came to fiction, I felt like I was free-falling; all my normal guide ropes for writing had vanished, I had to hold onto new ones. I spent a lot of time reading about how to write fiction: I was playing in a totally new playground this time and wasn’t always sure what the rules were. I remember thinking, once I got into my stride, ‘I’m making this up!’ as I tapped away at the keyboard, and was feeling slightly guilty! But it was fun, I was learning all the time – in fact, you never stop, do you?

How important do you think the old saying ‘write what you know’ is?

I think it can be very important, because then the writing will be from the heart. Also, I really feel you need to have lived a bit of life before you can write. Wasn’t it Joanna Trollope who said you can only create your ‘best works’ after you are 35? She felt that you needed life to have ‘knocked you about a bit’? I think that’s true. You have stories, feelings and emotions which you simply couldn’t mine out of yourself, say, in your early 20s.

As for writing about what you know, for me, having lived in Australia on and off for almost 10 years, I wanted to capture some of the essence of the country, some of the challenges it presents to you when you first get there (humorous and emotional ones) and I also wanted to remember its beauty and spirit; so for me, I certainly did write about ‘what I knew.’ Equally, however, you need to do your research and talk to people if you are ‘covering’ a topic or emotional situation that you know nothing about. For example, you need to read about or interview someone concerning about a particular journey they have had (IVF, cancer, bereavement, sibling rivalry etc) in order to be able to create believable characters who have travelled down the same road. JW & pink bubbles

What’s been your writing highlight so far?

I think reaching the number one spot in the Australia Kindle charts a couple of weeks ago, really was one of my absolute highlights. My husband came home and with a lovely bottle of pink champagne that night – it matches the cover! It was such a marker for me, for all the hard work, that it had reached that spot. So, thank you, Aussie readers!

If you had three writing-related wishes what would they be?

That I could have a machine that kept my coffee hot in my study. The number of times I re-heat my coffee, which has gone cold by my computer… That I could go on a week’s writing course or retreat and really take myself away from everyday life, when I need to read through my book and get expert help. That I could meet Allison Pearson in person!

What’s your connection with Australia (other than the fact that Jacaranda Wife is set there)?

Huge. The whole family have dual nationality and my youngest son was born there. I have lived there on and off for almost 10 years, but currently live in Surrey. I went straight to Sydney after I graduated with the intention of working around Australia and making cappuccinos for tourists. What in fact happened was that I got a job on a magazine and absolutely loved Sydney. After that, came the travelling, a move back to London, but then two other long periods back in Sydney. So I’ve lived there as a young working woman, travelled to every state except WA, I’ve been there without kids soaking up Sydney’s nightlife and beaches – learned to scuba dive on the barrier reef and body board on the Northern Beaches; I did a 1km ocean swim for charity – practically drowned when I thought a shark was underneath me, (in fact it was a diver employed to deter any possible sharks) – and have been back as a married mum with three children. We have great friends there too.  It’s definitely our second home.at winchester shot

What has surprised you most about being published?

You somehow imagine that once you are published, that that might be ‘it’.  Rather like when the lovely NCT woman talked to you about motherhood, the whole focus of the course was on giving birth. Having a baby, as everyone knows, is really just the start of a long learning curve. She forgot to mention the months of vomit and the sore tits. And giving ‘birth’ to a book is the same, you’ve got to grow and learn your trade once the book is published, much like parenting! There has been so much work to do in terms of networking, promoting Jacaranda Wife. All lovely things to do, but all very time consuming. And it’s been a very steep learning curve, but fantastic fun.

What are you working on now?

As well as all my Tweeting, Facebooking, buying surf boards for our next holiday, guest blogging and tearing three boys apart from fighting over one Kitkat, I’m writing my second book. It’s about three women who all have different wants and desires – plus a few secrets. Essentially, it’s about love, honesty and friendship.

Thank you so much for letting me take part!

Here’s a taste of Jacaranda Wife postcard shotWhen a double dip recession hits along with a tax bill, most people tighten their belts, cancel the summer holiday and look for the two-for-one offers. But not Katie Parkes. The home-loving mother of two from London finds herself tightening her seatbelt on a plane to Australia, where her husband has been sent to save their financial bacon. And, she realises, it might just be what they need to save their marriage… Trouble is, she doesn’t much like heat, can’t swim properly, hates spiders and finds herself further outside the M25 than is strictly necessary. Then there’s the Sydney yummy mummy with a cleavage you’d lose your car keys in eyeing up her husband, bouts of homesickness – and a few deadly spiders. Taking the bull by the horns (or at least pulling on an old Speedo) she tackles her fear of the ocean first. Find out how Katie copes in her new country – does it provide the spark to ignite her marriage, or send the whole thing up in smoke…?

Sophie King, best-selling author of The School Run: ‘An entertaining, fast-moving, page-turner for anyone dreaming of a new life….’

Kendra Smith has been a journalist, wife, mother, aerobics teacher, qualified diver and very bad cake baker. She started her career in Sydney selling advertising space in the late 80s. She has lived and worked in London and Sydney, working on Cosmopolitan, OK! Magazine and the BBC’s Eve as well as freelance for Woman & Home, Delicious, New Woman, Prima Baby and Junior. Born in sunny Singapore, she was educated in sub-zero Scotland, including Aberdeen University. She has lived in Australia three times. With dual Australian-British nationality, she currently lives in Surrey with her husband and three children.  Jacaranda Wife is her first novel and she is well underway with her second when she’s not burning food.

Find her on www.aforauthors.com and www.kendrasmith.co.uk or follow her on Twitter  @KendraAuthor or https://www.facebook.com/kendrasmithauthor Book link  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jacaranda-Wife-Kendra-Smith-ebook/dp/B00UZ2B3UE/ref

A cast of characters you’ll never forget: guest blog with Carol Cooper

Women-Writing-Women-Box-Set-Cover_finalJPEG (1)A woman accused of killing her father. A young woman fleeing from the shadow of her infamous mother. A bereaved biographer who travels to war-ravaged Croatia to research the life of a celebrity artist. A gifted musician forced by injury to stop playing the piano. A single mother of four who dares to date again. A prima ballerina who turns to prostitution to support her daughter, and the wife of a drug lord who attempts to relinquish her lust for blood to raise a respectable son.

All these unlikely heroines – and more – appear in a new ebook anthology from seven indie authors called OUTSIDE THE BOX: WOMEN WRITING WOMEN.

Carol“Women characters in novels are often too good to be true. Too smart, too beautiful, too kind – or, even worse, all of these things at once. Or else they’re hapless, which is equally unrealistic,” says Carol Cooper. She’s an author, doctor and journalist; her fiction debut One Night at the Jacaranda, a gripping story about a group of people searching for love, is one of the seven full-length novels in this box set. “I wanted my characters to be feisty but imperfect. To me, that’s far more compelling.”

Orna Ross (founder-director of The Alliance of Independent Authors, and named by The Bookseller as one of the 100 mostOrna influential people in publishing) is the author of Blue Mercy, a tale of betrayal, revenge, and suspense. Her principal character Mercy stands accused of killing her tyrannical father, and now she wants her daughter to know what really happened that fateful night.

Orna says, “The mother-daughter relationship is one of the most fascinating, complex, and under-explored relationships in fiction. It was my hope, in writing the story of Mercy and her daughter Star, that it might help us all to look more closely at our own mothers and daughters.”

JaneThe mother-daughter relationship also features in Jane Davis’s An Unchoreographed Life. Prima ballerina Alison Babbage finds herself pregnant, and turns to prostitution to support her young daughter. Jane won the Daily Mail First Novel Award for Half-Truths and White Lies, and has gone on to self-publish four more acclaimed novels.

Jane says, “I wanted to address a major issue: the lengths that a mother will go to in order to provide for her daughter. I was gripped by a 2008 court case, when, in an interesting twist, it was ruled that a prostitute had been living off the immoral earnings of one of her clients. The case also challenged perceptions of who was likely to be a prostitute. She might well be the ordinary middle-aged woman with the husband and two teenage children who lives next door.”

In Crazy for Trying, the heroine Tulsa is a bookish misfit, says author Joni Rodgers. “Much as I was in my early 20s,” shejoni adds. “I also drew on my experience as the lone female disc jockey at a rock station in western Montana.” Joni is a New York Times bestselling author who’s also an accomplished ghost-writer.

The box set OUTSIDE THE BOX: Women Writing Women is the brainchild of Australian author, artist, and musician Jessica Bell. She’s also the editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and the author of books on the craft of writing (the most recent is Polish Your Fiction). In her novel White Lady, Sonia, unfaithful wife of a Melbourne drug Jessicalord, yearns for sharp objects and blood. But now that she’s rehabilitating herself as a “normal” mother and maths teacher, it’s time to stop dreaming about slicing people’s throats. Easier said than done.

The spotlight here is on unlikely heroines. As Jessica says, “Though the seven novels included may fit through the Contemporary Fiction/ Women’s Fiction slot, they are all remarkably and uniquely different in style, which I believe to be a very strong attraction. There are readers out there who don’t like to read the same kind of genre, or about the same kind of characters over and over. This box set is for them.”

Roz Morris is a ghost-writer and teacher of creative writing master classes. “But I was busting to write as myself, with my own Rozcharacters, my own style and my own vision,” she says. Her novel My Memories of a Future Life is the haunting story of how one lost soul searches for where she now belongs. “My principal character Carol fits well with this collection of unconventional female protagonists. On one level, Carol is hardly an everywoman because her life has been unusual – she is a concert pianist. But the impulse that started her on that path, and ultimately undoes her, is certainly universal – she wants a place to belong and to feel loved.”

KathleenThis reader’s smorgasbord also includes Kathleen Jones’s novel The Centauress. A Royal Literary Fund fellow, and best-selling author, Kathleen contributes a story about a bereaved writer Alex, a young woman from a conventional background, who has come to Croatia to write the biography of a celebrity sculptor. Alex brings her own problems with her, and also encounters the puzzle of the eccentric artist’s ambiguous gender and a disputed inheritance. “As we were compiling books with unusual female protagonists,” says Kathleen, “The Centauress was the obvious choice.”

Outside the Box: Women Writing Women brings these uncommon heroines together in a limited edition box-set from February 20. It’s already had interest from the BBC, The Bookseller and the national press, and now it’s available for £7.99 for just 90 days across a range of ebook platforms. More info on www.womenwritewomen.com

Here are some short excerpts to give you a taste of the novels in Outside the Box:

From Blue Mercy:

We stay out until the bats start to appear and then we leave the lake and turn back the way we came down. I pick another flower, an orchid for my daughter’s hair, and we walk, with me just a shade ahead of you, through the slow-gathering darkness, back to the house where my father no longer lives.

From Crazy for Trying:

Trekking into Helena, Tulsa was somehow surprised by the full-size laundromats, buildings and Burger King. She’d half expected log cabins and free-ranging cattle and was a little disappointed to realize that, for all its legends of copper kings and Chinese muleteers, this town was still, on a mechanical level, the same as any town, including the one she’d just run away from.

From My Memories of a Future Life:

I wasn’t born gifted. It’s how I’ve cheated with the unsatisfactory clay I’m made from. When love went wrong, I turned to the intimate communion with ivory, iron, ebony and wire. Take the piano out of my life and what is left?

From The Centauress:

In every tragedy there is the accidental moment – choosing a particular seat on a train, turning down the wrong road, deciding to take a lift from the 89th floor – the arbitrary, pivotal moment that means destruction or survival.

From An Unchoreographed Life:

None of her mother’s friends ever stayed for tea or sleepovers, thank goodness – not like Emily’s mummy’s horrible bristly boyfriend, who transformed breakfast into a circus of broken eggshell and tossed pancakes, leaving washing-up piled high in the sink after he had basked in applause.

From One Night at the Jacaranda:

Superglue was a wonderful invention. They should have made some that worked on relationships.

From White Lady:

The warm soothing blood oozes from my skin and releases the pressure in my head as if I’ve injected myself with a sedative.

I drop the knife to the floor. It clangs on the tiles. I spread blood all over my arm and admire the patterns it makes on my skin.

Ibrahim. I miss you.

Outside the Box: Women Writing Women is a limited edition box-set available for £7.99/$9.99 across a range of ebook platforms. Details on www.womenwritewomen.com.