There are four thousand love stories in Central Park

Central Park has over nine thousand benches. You might wonder why I’m telling you this, but I promise it will all become clear. Most people who head to New York, can’t wait to hit the shops, take in a Broadway show, visit the Statue of Liberty, and look out from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. I was no different, but what I didn’t expect, is that all of those things would pale into insignificance for me, when I fell in love. With Central Park.

At heart, I’m a country girl, so maybe it’s no surprise that I loved the oasis of tranquillity that Central Park provides in such a vibrant city. But it fired my imagination in a way that I’d never thought possible. And it was all down to those benches.

Over four thousand of them have been ‘adopted’, which means they’ve had plaques assigned – each one a mini love story in its own right. There were hundreds of them that touched my heart, and, if I’d had the time, I could have spent the entire ten days I was in New York, just wandering around Central Park, reading those plaques. There were proposals, dedications of love, and the marking of every momentous occasion you can imagine. But this was my favourite:

Isn’t that the most beautiful love story you’ve ever read, in so few words? I’d really like to know more about Meg and Wes, but what I do know is that they inspired the idea behind my latest novel The Christmas Shop at Central Park’. When Libby moves to New York to recover from the death of her parents, and takes a job working in a Christmas shop on Seventh Avenue, she reads a message on a bench – from Charlie to Grace – that changes her life.

The benches in Central Park weren’t the only things to influence the story, though. There’s a scene in the novel where the heroine can’t find the Empire State Building, even though she’s standing right in front of it. It happened to me, and I’ve never seen a police officer laugh so hard! But shrouded in mist, it didn’t look anything like I’d expected. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it… Just look how different it looked in these two pictures, taken on the same trip, I think it was a case of being too close to see what was right in front of me, first time around!

Leeds trip – Paula’s in the centre and I’m back left.

 

Four of the characters in the book are named after some friends I met up with on a trip to Leeds, and a throw away comment from someone when we were at that stage of the evening where rash promises are made! I’d gone on the trip with one of my best friends, Paula, and she was probably an even bigger influence on the story than those beautiful benches in Central Park. She’s an absolute inspiration, dealing with health issues which would stop most people, but somehow she keeps grabbing life by the scruff of the neck. One of the main characters in the story represents everything I love about her – intelligence, wit and the absolute refusal to do anything but live life to the full. I’d give Paula her own plaque in Central Park if I could, but for now she’ll just have to settle for having the novel dedicated to her instead.

If you get the chance to spend an hour or ten wandering around Central Park, reading those plaques, you won’t regret it. After all, you can go shopping in any city, but where else will you get the chance to read thousands of mini love stories, all in one place?

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The Greatest Love Story Ever Told

You can choose your friends, but not your family. Isn’t that how the old saying goes? Well actually, that’s not strictly true, some of us choose our families too and I think those families are every bit as special – sometimes even more so – because of that.

As one of the Write Romantics, I write about love, of course; the clue is in the title. The funny thing is that although there remains an element of boy-meets-girl in my novels, I’ve always had an equally strong focus on wider relationships  – mothers and fathers, friendships and even the pivotal role of the family pet!

I’m not remotely linking the title of this blog to anything I’ve ever written, but I think I have discovered the greatest love story ever told… It’s not in any Amazon top ten lists, or gracing the shelves of Waterstones, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes and it’s called adoption. swalecliffeChoosing to love a child, who needs that more than anything in the world, with all your heart, has to just about sum love up, don’t you think?

Here’s a little picture of me and my childhood best friend, Claire, back in our primary school days. I won’t point us out in the photo, but we were a little bit nerdy if I’m honest, top of the class and slightly swotty back then, so we’re the only ones wearing the proper summer dresses and rocking some seriously horrendous sandals!  We both came from traditional families, a mum and dad, a sibling (or three in my case) and I bet back then we both expected we’d follow suit…

christmas2014-no1Life turned out to be a lot more interesting than that, though, and I’ve got the most cfwonderful jigsaw family, as we’re now called, made up of my children and step-children, oh and my husband of course. Not a lot of romantic novels have that sort of set-up, but I honestly wouldn’t change it for the world and it’s far and away the greatest love of my life. But Claire’s story is even more amazing. After a journey to motherhood that could probably fill a whole shelf of novels, Claire and her husband took the last leg of that journey to China, to bring their beautiful daughter home.  I won’t tell you all the details, because I’m still hoping that Claire might write that story herself one of these days and it really will be the greatest love story ever told.

claire-on-kindle-2I love Claire to bits, for a friendship that goes back so far, but more than that for being one of the people to teach me that love and motherhood are about so much more than genetics. Let’s face it, that’s the easy bit. When I wrote ‘The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come’, Claire was on my mind. The story isn’t hers, but the sentiment is. There are two books in the St Nicholas Bay series so far and whilst you’ll find a traditional love story in them both, you’ll also find the love story of motherhood that comes about in unexpected ways. I hope I’ve done that justice and there was only one person I could dedicate The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come’ to – Claire, a friend I chose, and the beautiful family she chose to build.

 

tgocytc-artwork‘The Gift Of Christmas Yet to Come’ is available as an ebook priced at 99p here.somebody-elses-boy-cover-final

‘Somebody Else’s Boy’ is available in paperback and ebook form here and for one week only is on special offer at 99p in ebook format.

The story behind my paranormal romance – An Extraordinary Life

Our guest on the blog today is the lovely Jo Hollywood. Jo is a columnist and has written two non-fiction books about her youngest son who has Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) under her real name, and has now written her first romantic novel under the pen name of Hollywood. So without further ado, we’ll hand over to Jo to tell us a bit about her inspiration and why she simply has to write come what may.

hollywood2I love to write; I write every day. For the past five years or so I had devoted time to writing on the subject of autism. However, a few years ago I decided that I needed to take a break from writing daily on the subject. This was for a number of reasons. My books on autism are about my youngest son who was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at the age of three, and when he turned 7, I knew that I had set out to do what I had originally planned, that of helping parents during the very early years of diagnosis. So I stopped blogging and writing books, although I do still write a weekly column about autism.

However, I felt twitchy, as I still needed to write. In a former life I had had studied English literature at University, and as a voracious reader and lover of all things books, I decided to write a novel. This was when I decided to join Wattpad. I felt that it would give me focus and a reading and writing community that would support me on my journey. When it came to choosing my genre, it just had to be romance. I love to read romantic stories and I suppose that I am a hopeless romantic at heart. The paranormal element was simply a pleasant surprise as I began to form the character of the rather lovely and handsome ghost, Jack. Originally, he had not been a ghost, but while writing my first draft I decided to add a paranormal element to the story and Jack became the ghost that he is today.

Readers have told me that An Unextraordinary Life is a very different kind of paranormal romance and that it is slightlyhollywood1 quirky, and I suppose that this is true. At its heart is a story of love and loss and ultimately, one that is of new beginnings. It just so happens that one of the protagonists is a ghost. I wanted to write a romantic novel, with real emotions and which conveyed the message that love never truly dies. This is explored via the love triangle of Tess, Rob and Jack; all of whom have suffered loss at some time in their lives.

I really did enjoy writing the paranormal element of this story, as I could let my imagination run wild and play around with the narrative. However, for my second novel I am sticking firmly to the restraints of reality. Picking up the Pieces, is a romantic story that is based around Kate, a mother caring for an autistic son. When Matt, a handsome neighbour moves in next door, she is forced into facing up to her past in a way that may very well threaten her future. Matt too has some issues from his past that he needs to deal with. It is through their exchanges with Kate’s son, Sam, that their friendship grows.

I find writing romantic fiction to be incredibly cathartic and cheaper than therapy. It is what I do as part of my ‘me time’, an activity that is just for me. I just hope that those who read my books enjoy them as much I enjoy writing them.

Jo Hollywood

Thanks Jo, we love hearing about other author’s writing lives, so thank you for giving us a peak into your world. The Write Romantics’ own Jo – Jo Bartlett – has read and really enjoyed your book, so we thought we’d add Jo’s review below, so that our readers can find out a bit more about the story:

dreamstime_s_28682146An Unextraordinary Life by Jo Hollywood

So many romances are predictable from the first page, you know who the heroine is going to end up strolling into the sunset with, but ‘An Unextraordinary Life’ is not like most other romances. Paranormal romance is not my usual reading genre, but the book was recommended to me as a really different read to the norm and Jo Hollywood’s novel did not disappoint. It had me reading until late into the night and I felt like I knew Tess almost as a friend from the start, which might have been because the first person point of view was handled so well. I could really empathise with her desire to re-invent herself to try and escape the ghosts of the past and make new friendships where she wouldn’t just be the girl who’d lost her husband. Only the ghosts of the past aren’t so keen to be escaped and when her late husband makes a reappearance in her life, no-one is more shocked than Tess. Although the resulting triangle, with new love interest Rob, isn’t the sort you’d normally expect, the author handles it with both believability and sensitivity. I didn’t know right up to the end who Tess would choose and both heroes certainly had the ability to make the reader fall for them. I really recommend this novel and if, like me, you haven’t read much paranormal romance, you really should take a chance on this one. Original, poignant and well-written, I’d say this is pretty extraordinary after all!

You can purchase Jo Hollywood’s book here and follow her on Twitter on @mummyworgan

 

Jessica is Dreaming About Daran

What started out as a snippet of an idea thirteen years ago grew into something bigger. I had a protagonist, Sarah, who needed two best friends for her story to work. One of them needed to support her in her ‘quest’ and the other needed to think that the ‘quest’ was a “pile of bollocks”.

Whilst I loved Sarah and her supportive friend, Elise, her not-quite-so-supportive friend, Clare, really captured my imagination. Feisty and full of fun, she was a friend with a past and, as the words to my debut novel Searching for Steven poured out, it became apparent that both Elise and Clare had their own stories to tell. Stories that could not possibly be justified as a sub plot in Steven. They needed novels of their own! (Greedy characters!)

Dreaming About Daran CoverElise’s story  – Getting Over Gary – naturally needed to be told as the first sequel because I knew hers was going to be a bit gentler. Clare’s would be more explosive and bring a fitting climax to the trilogy.

Today is the launch day and I’m delighted to release Dreaming About Daran into the world to join my other boys. It’s my favourite cover of the three stories, my favourite character, and my favourite story… although don’t tell Sarah and Elise as I love them too and don’t want to upset them.  It’s also a bit deeper and darker that the two before so be warned!

I’ve had a few technical issues with my paperbacks so can’t include any pictures here of me dressed in blue to match the cover (I have colour coordinated myself for both of the other ones – does that make me a bit sad?) but I can put a picture of what they look like together before Daran got boxed up again and sent back to the printer.

I’m thrilled to hear that there are already three 5-star reviews on Amazon from reviewers who obtained a copy early for an honest opinion. And I mean honest opinion. If these reviewers don’t like a book, they will say so. Therefore, getting 5-star reviews from them is a dream-like thing!

Here’s the blurb about Daran:

Sometimes, you can run from the past, but you can’t hide. Since the age of sixteen, Clare O’Connell has lived her life by four strict rules:

  1. Don’t talk about Ireland
  2. Don’t think about Ireland
  3. Don’t go to Ireland
  4. Never let anyone in

And so far, it’s worked well. She’s got a great career, some amazing friends, and she’s really happy. The future’s all that counts, isn’t it?

However, when her boss insists she travels to Ireland to repair a damaged relationship with a key client, Clare finds herself drawn back to the small village of Ballykielty where she comes face to face with the one person she’d hoped never, ever to see again.

With the door to her past now wide open, the first three rules have gone out of the window. Can Clare stick to rule number four?

Happy reading!

Jessica xx

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Measuring success as an author

IMG_0544How do you do it? The concept of what success means is constantly shifting, not just for writers as a collective, but for each of us as individuals. Even when we achieve what we thought we wanted to achieve, there’s no guarantee it will actually make us *feel* successful. There are always others who seem to be doing better or perhaps doing things differently to us, who will make us question whether we’ve made the right decisions or whether we should be on a different path altogether.

 

So what’s writing success? Perhaps it’s…

  • Getting a publisher?
  • Getting an agent?
  • Owning your writing journey as an indie author?
  • Seeing your novel in a book shop?
  • Appearing in an Amazon top one hundred chart?
  • Receiving lots of 5 star reviews from people you’ve never met?
  • Making a decent amount of money from writing?
  • Getting an email from a reader to tell you how much they loved your book?
  • Making your mum, dad, children or next door neighbour proud?
  • Creating a social media presence with followers in their thousands?

Maybe it’s lots of these things or something else entirely. In the last couple of years, between us, the WRs have achieved more of these measures of success than I think we ever really thought possible. But, lately, I’ve been questioning what it is that would make me feel I’ve been successful as a writer and I happened upon a quote that really resonated with me:

‘Success should be measured by how much joy it gives you.’

For my writing life, this is so true. Whilst I’ve ticked a lot of things off the list above, there are several still to achieve.Chart position AATS However, I’ve discovered if I approach writing chasing too many of those measures of success, I can rob myself of that joy. I started writing just because I loved it and that’s how I want to measure my success. If my writing gives me joy, then I can’t really ask for more. The rest is all just garnish.

As for my social media presence, that’s probably strongest here, on this blog, with the rest of the WRs. There might be lots of blog awards we could have won with a different approach and there are writing collectives with a higher profile than ours. However, if success really is measured by the amount of joy something brings you, then being part of this blog and, more importantly, this group has also been a resounding success for me.

I’d love to know how other writers measure their success and, whatever form that takes for you, I wish you lots of it.

Jo

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

Publication Day – The Friendship Tree by Helen J Rolfe

 

Helensparklers

I signed my contract with Crooked Cat Publishing in October last year and the lead up to publication day for The Friendship Tree has been hard work, but really exciting.

bookcaketopperChoosing the cover for my debut novel was one of the most exciting parts of the process because it all began to feel so real. I loved discussing images with my publisher and working out what was the best fit for The Friendship Tree, and I was delighted with the finished design.

The book came out for pre-order on Amazon a couple of weeks ago and it was fantastic to see The Friendship Tree ‘out there’, but nothing compared to the actual publication day itself. I slept until 5:30am when I couldn’t resist the temptation any longer, and then switched on my Kindle to find my own book waiting there for me. It was the best feeling in the world.

 

cupcake2I was a bit unsure of what to expect with an online Facebook launch party, but I had a fabulous day with so many lovely messages from friends, family and strangers who not only said well done, but also told me that they were enjoying my book.

Publication day was a whirlwind of excitement with cupcakes, champagne and congratulations, and I enjoyed appearing on a number of blogs to talk about The Friendship Tree.

Cheers to a brilliant year of writing for all The Write Romantics!

Helen J Rolfe x