Plastic trees, shag-pile disasters and possible lead paint poisoning – Yes, it’s ‘nearly’ Christmas!

Jo Bartlett Amazon 1Remember when we were kids and the countdown to Christmas was calculated in shopping days? Now that we live in a 24/7 culture, we can just talk in plain old days. Right now, I can tell you there are thirty eight of them left. That still seems like a long time to go, right? And far too early to be talking about Santa Claus, turkeys or over-done sprouts. As far as the latter is concerned, it’s always too early for me. But, since today marks the official release of my Christmas novella, I am going to try to get festive and put you in the mood, in the hope that you might forget yourself, go crazy, splash out 77p and download a copy.

As a believer in you-know-who, in the late 70s, I knew how to write a Christmas list. Although my mum would tell you that her generation knew the true meaning of Christmas – something about a walnut, an orange and being grateful to have them in your stocking – I’m just as likely to tell my children that my childhood spanned the real ‘good old days’, as far as Christmas is concerned. I remember waiting all year for Santa to bring me a Tiny Tears doll and I loved her, when she finally turned up on the 25th December 1978, almost as if her tears weren’t the only ‘real’ thing about her.

These days, my children want everything, but don’t really *want* anything at all. My nine year old will put his initials next to hundreds of things in the Argos catalogue. I’ve told him more than once that it would be quicker, and save ink, if he were to put his initials next to the things he doesn’t want. They get allowances and treats from grandmas and aunts, so, more often than not, they can buy what they want during the course of the year. I feel sorry for them, in a way, as they’ll never know that torturous wait for the one toy they truly want above all others and the sheer joy that accompanies its arrival.

The piles of presents have shrunk in size as my children have grown older, although the price hasn’t. iPods, iPhones, iPads, iReally-wish-I-had-shares-in-Apple, don’t look nearly as impressive in their wrapping as wooden train sets or Barbie’s deluxe town house. But, now that I’m a grown up, at least I get to make some of the decisions. Back in the era that taste forgot, my mum wouldn’t let us have a real Christmas tree, in case the pine needles got stuck in the cream shag-pile carpet. We weren’t allowed to put together the artificial tree until the twenty-something of December, either, and each year that passed the complicated colour coding system (probably lead paint) had flaked off a bit (making construction more tricky) and many of the artificial pine needles had found a new home nestling in the loft insulation.

Now the decorations go up as close to the 1st December as possible and, when the wood burner allows it to survive the M4034S-4211heat, we have a real tree. Not that I’m completely guilt free when it comes to my own children at Christmas. A good example of this would be the card I produced back when my youngest was just a baby – making all four children pose for a nativity scene outside my mum’s garden shed! Now aged, 16, 14, 13 and 9, I would have zero chance of recreating it this year. It’s all about the puckered-lip, fish-faced selfie, as far as my teens are concerned. But this photo is just one of the wonderful memories we have and something we still laugh about almost a decade later.

Four years ago to this very day, I received a cancer diagnosis that changed my life and, because I suddenly realised I was a mere mortal and that time is finite for everyone, I thought about the things I really wanted to do. One of those things was to fulfil a childhood dream of writing a novel and seeing it in print but, most of all, I just wanted to be around to see my children grow up and live to enjoy a misspent retirement with my husband. Christmas, and life in general, would be nothing without my friends, family and those absolutely dearest to me – my husband and children.

‘The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come’ is set in the present day, rather than the 70s, but it’s about those same special bonds and one woman’s search to complete the missing piece of her family. It’s also about the humour in life and the things people do that only those you really love can get away with and live to tell the tale.

Back when I was growing up, you could probably have bought a Sloe Gin Fizz for 77p and maybe even a whiskey chaser but, today, it wouldn’t stretch to a cup of tea in most places. So, for that little bit of warmth, and to kick-start an early Christmas, you could always check out the novella on Amazon instead via this link. Frankly, that’s as hard as my hard sell is likely to get…

Anthology coverTo counter that shameless self-promotion, there are some other fantastic books out at the moment, too, from those I would count on that list of special people in my life this Christmas – my friends – including The Write Romantics’ Anthology, Helen Phifer’s latest in the ‘Annie Graham’ series, Deirdre Palmer (aka Harriet James’) ‘Falling to Earth’, Steve Dunn’s ‘Viking Resurrection’ and debuts by Kerry Fisher, Jane LythellRachael Thomas and Sarah Lewis. Plenty to keep you warm this Christmas yet to come.

An extra-specially merry Christmas to my fantastic beta readers too – Julie, Lynne, Paula, Jennie and Steve – Sharon, for the endless encouragement and cheerleading, plus my old school friends – Sarah, Kate and Claire – who inadvertently helped plant the seeds of the idea for this story.

I hope you have good one, too, and watch out for those pine needles in the shag-pile.

Jo x

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Launch Day Has Arrived!!!! Crack Open the Champers!

Anthology coverIt’s here! The day we’ve been talking about since early spring has finally arrived and we are beyond excited. For The Write Romantics, today is the day when our dreams come true because it’s the day we can all stand proudly and declare: “I’m a published writer!” Is it a bit sad to admit that I really will be doing that?!

Wow!

For most of us, this has been a dream spanning a decade or several. Some of the group have had success over the last couple of years and others will see their debut novels launched in 2015 but, wherever we are in our journeys, today is an exceedingly proud day for us all.

The Write Romantics and guests are absolutely thrilled to present to you: Winter Tales – Stories to Warm Your Heart. And they really will warm your heart because, not only are the stories all uplifting, but all proceeds go to charity. Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust are charities close to our heart and we’ve felt quite touched and privileged that eleven other writers have spared their time and talent to share a short story alongside those penned by The WRs. We can’t thank you all enough for your generosity and all the promotional work you’ve done/will do for this book in order to raise as many funds as we can for the two worthy causes. For the full listing on who has joined us, please click here.

IMG_0671The e-Book is available right now on Amazon at a price of just over 10p per story. Where else can you claim such an amazing bargain? The weather’s looking pretty grim this weekend so we suggest you curl up on the sofa with your Kindle, a mug of hot chocolate, and a slice (or three) of cake and read, read, read. But if you can bear to wait a little longer, the paperback will be available from 22nd November although we hope it will appear for pre-order before then (watch this space!)

This afternoon, we partied online. This post was meant to be another reminder of it but, for some obscure reason, it didn’t post so I’m tweaking and re-posting! Thank you to everyone who joined in. If you want to see what we discussed, feel free to check it out but, please note, we’ve all staggered home with our bellies full of cake and cocktails so we won’t be able to participate in any more banter.

10733884_10205442784014952_4540159388851962023_oThank you to everyone who has supported us in this journey and thank you in advance to everyone who is going to download or buy (or both) a copy of Winter Tales. You really can make a difference to the lives of children with Cystic Fibrosis like Write Romantic Alys’s three-year-old nephew, Thomas, and those who are battling against cancer like Stephen Sutton whose story inspired us to pick Teenage Cancer Trust as our second charity.

Enjoy the read, thanks for your support, and let us know what you think of the stories. Because if you love them, we may do a summer one too … but perhaps in 2016 as this has been a long journey so far!

Jessica xx

Entitled to Change a Title

“We were thinking about the titles of your trilogy. The second book is absolutely fine, but are you sure about the third title…?”

Eek! The email from my editor stopped me in my tracks. (Well, it would have done if I hadn’t already been sat down at my desk but you get the picture.) I knew that many writers had their titles changed by their publishers but, as there’d been no indication of changing any of mine, I thought I was “safe”. Until the email.

The Moon on a Stick‘Searching for Steven’ – the title for book 1 – materialised at the same time as the idea and I’ve lived with it for eleven years. It absolutely works and, thankfully, my publishers agree. I’d have struggled so much if somebody had asked me to change it.

‘Getting Over Gary’ – the title for book 2 – came to me a couple of years later. I knew I wanted the title to include alliteration and a man’s name so that the trilogy felt connected and this title suddenly popped into my head. The character Gary was called something different at the time but I had no qualms about changing his name and it’s clearly been the right move because I can’t remember what I called him originally! Thankfully, my publishers like that title too.

Book 3 remained nameless for a while. The story was less developed and I wasn’t as sure about the characters but, as the plot progressed, ‘Discovering David’ came to mind. It still had a man’s name in. It still had alliteration. But it was missing the middle word. I hmmm’d and haaa’d about it for ages but ‘Discovering ABOUT David’ didn’t sound right and, by then, I absolutely loved the word “discovering”. I don’t want to give any spoilers away about the book but “discovering” absolutely fits with what the book is all about.

A Cottage by the SeaThere are options. I’m not massively precious about David being called David and there are other characters who could be the focus of the title instead but I keep coming back to the “discovering” part being right. No decisions need to be made just yet so we’ll see how that one goes.

I should actually rejoice in the fact that my publishers love the first two titles and not focus on the fact they don’t (yet) love the third because title changes are so commonplace. I was the fourth Write Romantic to be offered a publishing deal and the previous three have all had their titles changed. Helen Phifer had her debut novel changed from “Deadly Obsession” to “The Ghost House” but she admits that she absolutely loves the new title (and so do I). The next published WR, Rachael Thomas, entered the “So You Think You Can Write” competition using the title, “Behind the Scandalous Façade.” She got a publishing deal with Harlequin M&B on the back of this but the title was changed to “A Deal Before the Altar”. Jay Bartlett’s debut novel “Among a Thousand Stars” (out in June 2015) had two different titles before agreeing on the final version with her publisher. So I really shouldn’t be surprised that the subject of titles has arisen. I’m delighted to say that Helen, Rachael and Jay all love their new titles but all would admit it was hard to hear initially that the title they’d been living with for so long wasn’t going to be the final one. A lot of writers refer to their novel (particularly their debut one) as their “baby” so I suppose this could be likened to naming your child then having them start primary school only to be told that their child now needs to be known as a completely different name.

The Memory GardenI’m curious as to which path book 3’s title will take. One thing that I feel very fortunate about is that I have a wonderful publisher who sees this as a shared journey and will work towards finding a title that works for both of us; not one that they impose on me. I know many writers aren’t that lucky.

Which got me onto thinking about titles for books. How important are they? I did a quick survey amongst the Write Romantics to ask them three questions:

  1. Have you ever bought a book simply because you loved the title? (If so, what was it and why did the title speak to you?)
  2. Have you ever not read a book because of the title?
  3. What’s your favourite title for a book and why?

I’ll take each in turn …

Buying a book because of the title:

P1050743The general consensus was that they were more likely to be drawn to reading the blurb on the book because of a title rather than purchasing a book because of the title. Having said that, certain words drew the WRs. Helen R loves books with the word “secret” in the title because she loves to know things and curiosity gets the better of her. Harriet is drawn to titles with the homely feel of the words “cottage”, “house”, “street” or “road” in them or any reference to Cornwall as she adores Rosamund Pilcher’s books. Lynne is drawn towards ones that feature “sun” or “old houses.”

Helen P bought Stephen King’s “It” purely on the title and it’s turned into her all-time favourite. Sharon bought Carole Matthews’s “A Cottage by the Sea” based purely on title although she had enjoyed other books by her. She wasn’t familiar with Valerie-Anne Baglietto’s books but bought both “Once Upon a Winter” and “The Moon on a Stick” on titles alone and was very pleased that she did.

I personally bought “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” because the title massively intrigued me. I knew nothing about the book or the author at the time but I just loved that title!

Avoiding a book because of the title:

P1050742Jay admits that she was once recommended a book called “The Billionaire’s Virgin” on her newsfeed which was an absolute no-no for her. Any book titles including the words “desire” or “virgin” are inclined to put her off. Helen R avoids the words “sexy” in titles. I’m with both of them on this.

Lynne was put off reading “Hideous Kinky” for years, simply because of the title although she loved it when she finally settled down to read it.

On the whole, the WRs were of the feeling that certain titles fit with certain genres and, if that’s not the genre for them, they’d probably be avoiding that book anyway.

Favourite Book Titles:

There are some crackers out there but we’ve all agreed that our memories are like sieves and we’ve struggled to come up with them all. We’re bound to think of loads after this post comes out!

Some great examples are:

  • Harriet loves “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn as it’s a short, snappy title
  • Sharon loves “Honeycote” by Veronica Henry because it sounds so lovely and “The Memory Garden” by Rachel Hore
  • Jay is drawn towards our very own Helen R’s “The Friendship Tree” (out next year) and “The Divorce Domino” by friend of the blog Kerry Fisher (out soon)
  • Helen R loves Hazel Gayor’s new title: “Memory of Violets”. She says it’s “such a gorgeous title and sounds cosy”

P1050744Browsing along my bookshelves, some of my personal favourites are:

  • “The Truth About Melody Browne” by Lisa Jewell. I love her books anyway but I found this title particularly intriguing. I think I’m very similar to Helen R in that I’m also drawn to the word “secret” in a title
  • “A Quiet Belief in Angels” by R J Ellory. I was in a writing group once and one of the members was raving about this book. It stuck in my mind because of the title … although I confess that it’s been on my TBR pile for years so title adoration doesn’t always turn into the actual art of reading!
  • “The Book of Tomorrow” by Cecelia Ahern. Also on my TBR pile although I’ve read several of hers. It’s my favourite title of hers closely followed by “A Place Called Here” which I have read

There are two other fairly recent books whose titles intrigue me. I don’t own them but I keep meaning to download them – “We Need to Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver and “The Last Time We Saw Marion” by Tracey Scott-Townsend. Even though I love romantic comedies and that’s the genre I write, I do have a penchant for mystery and intrigue and the titles of both of these draw me in. We’re back to that secrets thing again.

What about you? What titles do you love? Have you ever bought a book purely on the title? I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks to The Write Romantics for their contributions to this post 🙂 x

Jessica xx

Another Mega Monday announcement: Lynne Pardoe ‘pockets’ a deal!

Who could have believed the speed with which the Write Romantics have been landing book deals recently. First there was Jessica Redland’s 467141_105087346295108_93731370_oexcellent (I know cos I’ve read it) ‘Searching for Steven’ and her three book contract with So Vain books. Then Harriet James ‘Remarkable Things’ to be published by Crooked Cat, then Helen J Rolfe’s ‘The Friendship Tree’ also to be published by Crooked Cat.

I thought the good luck was bound to run out there. I’d sent a partial of a pocket novel I’d been working on to D. C. Thomson in Dundee around that time. I’d been working on it for months and lacked confidence to send it to them. Then I had an email conversation with one of their staff on their editor’s fiction blog which was really helpful. The next day I saw a blog post by another of their fiction staff, Tracey Steele talking about how to write pocket novels and I thought ‘fate is trying to tell me something, send it off fast!’ So I popped three chapters and a synopsis off one morning and got a request for a full later that day. I was delighted and sent the rest straight away.

I thought it would be months until I heard and prepared myself for a long wait. I knew how many submissions they must have and tried my best to be patient. You see, to me it wasn’t just an ordinary book because my mum helped me write it. Mum has been very poorly lately. She contracted flu many years ago and the virus got into her heart muscle and infected it. That caused the muscular layer of the heart to stretch, get thinner and to work more slowly. Bolstered by tablets you’d hardly have noticed any difference in her for over thirty years, but she’s now 85 and time is catching up with her. She was very, very, poorly for a while recently. Going out was a thing of the past and it was a major effort for her to even walk across the room.

I?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? can only imagine how painful that was, and boredom soon set in too. But then I thought I’d talk to her about the plot for the novel I was then about to write, and her world lit up. She totally followed me into my imaginary world and we chatted for ages about the characters I’d described and why they were behaving as they were. Mum suggested a couple of scenes and the motive for one person’s actions that were crucial to the story. Spending time with mum in our world of make-believe was a tonic to us both.

Now I haven’t told you what happened to this story once I’d consigned it to paper. I’ve left you in the lurch a bit about the outcome of this tome. I thought with the rush of publishing contracts coming to the Write Romantic’s there would be no way I would get one, so I got ready to slog in with my trilogy of social work books. Then about a week later, I saw an email from Tracey from D. C. Thomson. I opened it fully expecting to see a ‘..thanks but no thanks,’ sort of comment.

The first sentence yielded nothing of the sort. Nor the second. Then the third seemed to say she liked it and would like to buy it! I could hardly believe my eyes but when I saw the word ‘Congratulations!’ later on I knew what I read was true! It was all confirmed the following day when a paper contract arrived in the post. I quickly signed it and sent it back before they could change their minds!

D.C. Thomson is a bit special to me. My dad was Scottish and always spoke very highly of them. He was a printer at The Daily Telegraph and cameauthor 2 home with ‘The People’s Friend’ and ‘Beano’ every week. I loved them and read every word. As I grew older I read ‘The Friend’ in the nursing homes I worked in, often with the patients. I kept reading it when I left nursing, so getting published by them is very special.

Now I won’t keep you much longer, you must have plenty to do. But do check back soon because I’m hoping this lucky spell will continue. I’ve read some of my fellow WR’s work and know how good it is and how close to publication they must be!

Lynne x

Wednesday Wondering – Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Back to School We Go!

Schools went back last month and anyone with school-aged children or relatives will hopefully find that they’ve settled nicely into the new term and are probably already counting down the weeks (maybe even days) till half term.

My question to The Write Romantics this month is therefore school related:
 School days: love or hate? What are your fondest and/or worst memories of school?

For me personally, school days were mixed. I have vivid memories of certain parts of primary school: bad moments such as throwing up all over the carpet in reception class before the older kids came in for singing practice, constantly being told off and made to stand in the corner of the room in top infants, being asked to sing Abba’s ‘Super Trouper’ in a class talent show while my friends danced to it then completely blanking on the words and sobbing my eyes out (we won; sympathy vote!), and the boy over the road pinching my hat on a winter’s walk home and making me cry. I also have positive memories like winning a pencil case in the school raffle, building a fort on the playing fields in heavy snow, being fascinated by The Plague and The Great Fire of London, and acting in a school play about The Palace of Versailles. I’d probably say that infants wasn’t good and juniors was.

P1050711My comprehensive days weren’t good at all although I did have a small group of very good friends, some of whom I’m still good friends with although we don’t live close so thank goodness for Facebook. I enjoyed the variety of subjects, especially when we got to pick our options, but I hated the other kids 😦 I was bullied. I was the fat kid (although looking back at photos, I wasn’t really that fat which makes me so mad because it’s been a life-long issue for me thanks to those school days) and I was bright. We were streamed so I got bullied by students in the lower streams for being in one of the top sets and bullied by everyone else for my weight. A nasty rumour went round school about me too which wasn’t true but it haunted me for three years and made my life hell. I couldn’t wait to leave. (The picture is my form in 5th Year. I’m front right. As you can see, I’m far from fat but I believed I was enormous).

College was OK. I went to a technical college to study a BTEC instead of sixth form to do A Levels. I loved the subject, I didn’t love the commute to another town, and I was a bit lonely as none of my friends went there and I felt a bit left out when I’d hear about their exciting time at sixth form. If I could do it all again, though, I’d still do the same thing.

P1050712University was mixed too. My first year was pretty good. I could just about do the subjects and I made a few friends but it all fell apart in my second year. I couldn’t do some of the compulsory subjects so had to spend hours pouring over books trying to understand the basics. I’d also made the mistake of staying in Halls with a close friend but he got in with a clique who rejected me because I spent so much time studying and all my friends who’d moved out had moved on with their lives and didn’t need me. I’ve never felt so surrounded by people yet so incredibly alone. Thankfully I had a year out and it was the making of me. I loved my job, had two great house-mates (pictured either side of me in my graduation photo) and a great social life with the other sponsored students and graduate trainees. I returned to uni with a fresh approach to learning and friendships and I had an amazing time. I just wish I’d known at the start of uni what I’d known in my final year as things could have been very different.

Over to the others …

Harriet says …

I was a painfully shy child, and as an only child who had never mixed with more than two or three other children at a time, school was far more traumatic than it should have been, especially at the start.  Things didn’t improve much as time went on.  I remember crossing the junior school playground with my mother one afternoon when all the others had gone – why we were still there I don’t know – and the headmistress, a tyrant if ever there was one, came over and spoke to my mother.  She then spoke to me, and I froze.  I couldn’t move, I couldn’t speak, and no matter how much Mum urged me to say something, anything, I just couldn’t. I got a telling-off for it, but that was my mother all over.  She was embarrassed I suppose.

Being the way I was, I was desperate to melt into the background and be the same as everyone else.  When it came to reading lessons, I could already read fluently and had been able to since before I started school but when it was my turn to read I would stumble over a few words on purpose so that I didn’t appear different from the others.  And another daft thing, for some reason I had trouble identifying my own possessions and when a scarf which had been found in the playground was held up in front of the class, I didn’t recognise it.  It was only when I went to put my coat on later that I realised it was missing, then had to confess, red-faced, to my teacher face that it was indeed my scarf.

I was lucky enough to go to an old-style grammar school where the teachers were dedicated and passionate about their subjects, and I still recall vividly many of the actual lessons.  I remember our English teacher, Miss Egan, leaping in her lace-ups from one side of the dais to the other to demonstrate parts of a sentence; the smelly Biology lesson when we, pointlessly, dissected a herring; the fruit salad I made in Domestic Science using plain tap water as I hadn’t been listening when we were told to boil it with sugar.  I remember it all, which goes to show what a wonderful education we had.  None of us appreciated that at the time, of course.

The highlight of my entire schooldays has to be meeting my three friends, Val, Angie and Marion, in the second year of grammar school.  They were my soul-mates, my saviours, the sisters I never had, and we’re still friends now.  Last time we were together, we realised it was fifty years since we left school.  Fifty! We toasted the occasion with a bottle of Prosecco on top of the wine we’d already had.  Any excuse!

 

Jackie says …

The lesson I liked most in school was art. it was not because I was any good at art, in fact I am embarissingly bad at it, I can only do Noddy cars and seahorses. But our art teacher, Mrs James, was really cool and loved her art so much that she painted her own canvass’s when she was teaching us, leaving us mostly to our own devices. The art shed was at the bottom of the school garden and this particular summer, we were shoo-ed out every lesson so Mrs James could paint and smoke in peace ( she really did smoke in class!) We spent the art lesson’s practising levitation, Ouija (we had to huddle in Mr Mountford, the handyman’s shed, as it was dark) and fainting. Levitation scared the hell out us because it appeared to work, Ouija board scared the hell out of us because we didn’t know my friend Helen was pushing the glass to write BANSHEE. We didn’t know what a banshee was, so it must have been a real banshee writing it! Fainting (you know, where you breathe deeply for 20 and then stick your thumb in your mouth and blow hard) actually did work and scared the hell out of us because we kept thinking we were going to die. It was the best summer ever and we were really sad when Mrs James suddenly left, mid term, never to be seen again.

 

Helen R says …

I’m one of those people who loved their school days. I didn’t love every subject – maths and science were enemies – but I loved being there in that environment with friends.

I’ve overheard so many mums talking about results for this and results for that and perhaps I should be more worried about the academic side of my girls’ schooling, but for me, the last thing I say in the morning when I drop them at the gate is ‘have lots of fun’ and the first thing I say at pickup is ‘did you have a good day?’

High school was the most fun I think…I valued the independence of walking to and from school each day, meeting friends afterwards, the whole future ahead of us. My only regret is that I didn’t pursue writing earlier, but then again, without the business degree I wouldn’t have made the choices that have ultimately led me to the life I lead today, and I don’t think I’d have it any other way.

downloadAlys says …

Because I’ve always been a bit of a girly swot I generally loved school. I went to a very old fashioned all girls grammar school in York.  The school was in a large Victorian house with lovely grounds and pretty much entirely staffed by total eccentrics.  There was a geography teacher who had toy bunny rabbits that she talked about as if they were real. If she was cross with you she’d say, ‘Pinky bites’ referring to her rabbit called Pinky. There was a male teacher, who had unfortunately lost a leg to Polio, and who was banned from teaching Latin after he threw the board rubber at a girl and it hit her. Allegedly she chucked it straight back!  However, we was still allowed to teach history which must have made him less irritable because he never threw the board rubber in any of my lessons.

photo (2)In many ways it was an education from a much earlier time. I was taught Latin (which I was terrible at and really hated), to play tennis (also very badly) on the grass courts in the grounds and treated as a ‘young lady’.  The lack of boys meant that only the fast girls (and I definitely wasn’t one of them) had boyfriends.

I’ve had an idea recently for a book that would use all of this wonderful material but I think I’ll have to tone some of it down because people probably wouldn’t believe it really happened. It was a huge influence on me because, for all its faults, it had an ethos that women could achieve anything they put their minds to.  To remind me of that the mug that they gave me when I left still stands on my desk.

Rachael says …

img002-croppedLove them or hate them, school days are the best days of your life, or so we are told. For me my primary school days weren’t much fun. My family moved every couple of years and this meant new schools and new friends. But my secondary school days, or high school as it’s now known, were much better. I still have contact with friends from school, despite having moved away from the area and my ‘best friend’ visits each summer with her family. It’s wonderful to be able to just pick up with her as if we saw each other just the other day instead of months ago.

One of my favourite memories was hanging out in the school corridors, chatting and catching up with friends. I loved English lessons, because they were in the school library and I could spend time surrounded by books. I also loved science and home economics, which today probably go under a different name. I hated, with a vengeance, sports. Why would anyone want to go out in the cold and wet, armed with a stick and whack a ball around? As you can tell, hockey was my least favourite sport, closely followed by cross-country.

Jay says …

then and nowDid I love or hate my school days… Well, I suppose it was a game of two halves.  I loved primary school and really only have good memories of that, apart perhaps from Nitty Nora the flea explorer… In my last year there, I had the most marvellous teacher, Mrs Muldoon and a wonderful best friend Claire, with whom I’m still in touch.  I remember doing a puppet show, I was the fairy godmother, and we made the puppets ourselves from paper mache, string and scraps of fabric.  Through my rose-coloured spectacles, the puppets looked incredible and the show was a triumph – although I’m sure the reality was somewhat different!

Secondary school I wasn’t a big fan of.  I went to an extremely competitive all girls’ grammar and I was in no way enough of a high flier to stand out.  That said, I made some more great friends, including one of my now best friends, Sarah.  Here’s a photograph of us then and now.  We used to get the train in together and got up to all sorts, including strong arming John Cleese for an autograph and, on another occasion, almost getting arrested by the railway police – until we bribed them with Maltesers!

Sharon (in her first official WW as a Write Romantic) says …

I loved school! Well, mostly. Primary school was lots of fun. We were mostly taught in ancient white prefabs with huge old boilers in the middle of the classroom. When it was particularly cold we would pull up our chairs and gather round the boiler to keep warm while the teacher read to us. Sometimes, on very wet days, bits of sodden clothing would be draped on the fireguard to dry! I doubt that would be allowed these days and I believe the prefabs have been pulled down which is a shame. The central part of the school was a newish, brick-built, one storey high building. This housed the hall where we’d have our daily assemblies and perform our plays and carol concerts. There were other classrooms in this part, too, with big french windows that opened out on to a lovely garden. In warm weather the windows would be wide open and I used to daydream, gazing at the rose bushes and the cherry blossom trees and making up stories in my head when I was supposed to be doing sums.

Every week we had a spelling competition and we each had to ask another pupil a word that they had to spell correctly. If they spelt it incorrectly they were eliminated. One week a brainy boy decided to test me and asked me to spell miscellaneous. As the whole class gasped, I thought, is he mad? I remember my lovely teacher smiling and nodding at me encouragingly and saying, “Go on, Sharon!” So I did. I still remember the relief when I got it right! We had a lovely library at the end of the building which was where I discovered pony books. We also had a year of various fund-raising activities to raise enough money to build a swimming pool in the grounds, which we did. A local news reporter from the Calendar television programme came to open it because he was engaged to one of our teachers.

I remember the autumn being really exciting. We’d go outside and collect fallen leaves and conkers to make displays for the classroom, and of course there was all the fun of Hallowe’en to look forward to. Christmas at primary school was fantastic. We’d decorate the classrooms, make a postbox for everyone to bring cards and presents for their friends, file into the hall each morning where the usual hymns would be replaced with those fantastic carols. The fourth-year juniors (the eldest ones) would perform a Christmas play each year and when it was our turn we did an interesting one written by one of the teachers which combined Oliver Twist with A Christmas Carol. I remember rushing home from school in the dark, having stayed late for rehearsals, walking along the banks of a drain as a short cut, mindful of the parts that had crumbled away and all too aware of the scurrying sound of rats. I definitely wouldn’t want my kids coming home from school in those circumstances!

Lower High school wasn’t much fun, except they had the most fantastic library, stacked to the rafters with pony books. From the second floor science lab I had a fabulous view of ponies grazing in the fields, so that got me through. Upper High School was great. It was built in the grounds of a grand old house.  I loved that building. It had once belonged to an important man in the area who had actually survived the Titanic disaster, and I used to love walking into that huge hallway, climbing those stairs, my hands trailing along the bannisters and sweeping up to the landing where – you’ve guessed it – the school library was now situated! I used to sit in that library looking out over the grounds that was now a school playing field and imagine the people who’d once lived there.  We weren’t allowed in the main house much. It was the base for the staff mostly, housing the staff room, offices and headmaster’s room. Only a maths room and a library were for our use so I only got to go in there occasionally but it was always worth the wait. I was a bit disappointed to find the library didn’t have any pony books, though. I started to look for other things to read and, remembering the name of one of my mum’s favourite authors, I selected The Dwelling Place by Catherine Cookson. I was soon hooked! I did try Barbara Cartland but couldn’t get to grips with her heroines who were always gasping and swooning.

I had a major crush on the English teacher at the Upper School. He was always so complimentary and encouraging about my work and I just fell for him big time. I even wrote a poem for him once and persuaded my friends to give it to him. He was very kind and patient with me and I’ve never forgotten that. He really made me believe in my writing ability so I have a lot to thank him for! For a short time we had a school newspaper, and I volunteered to help out. I ended up writing most of the articles, helping to print it out, harassing other kids for their contributions, making up the shortfall when they didn’t bother, coming up with ideas for the next issue and then traipsing round the classrooms selling as many issues as I could to uninterested fellow pupils. Needless to say it didn’t survive long. Ah well. Happy days..

What about you? We’d love you to join in and tell us all about your school days. Did you love them or hate them? What memories have lingered with you for life?

Jessica xx

Mega Monday Announcement – It’s Helen J Rolfe’s turn to sign a publishing deal!

Mega Monday Announcement – It’s Helen J Rolfe’s turn to sign a publishing deal!

In 2011 I wrote my first novel. Of course I thought it was fabulous, I thought that I’d be an overnight success and that I’d have publishers falling at my feet. However, reality soon hit after I submitted it to a few agents and was of course rejected. Realising what a feat it really is to not only write a book but write a book that people would want to read, I joined the RNA’s New Writer’s Scheme in 2012 and began to get serious.

‘The Friendship Tree’ was my second completed novel and just over a week ago on a Saturday evening I received an email from Crooked Cat Publishing. Glass of wine in hand at eleven o’clock in the evening I decided to turn off the iPad and relax but of course, I quickly checked my emails first. Skimming the mail I noticed there was a reply from Crooked Cat but totally missed the title which said that this was an offer of a contract. I clicked on the email fully expecting a rejection but what a lovely surprise it was to receive that offer.

‘The Friendship Tree’ will be published in 2015 and I am beyond thrilled to have become part of the team with Crooked Cat Publishing and to be so warmly welcomed by the other authors. I join fellow Write Romantic Harriet James who will also be publishing her novel, ‘Remarkable Things’, with Crooked Cat in 2015.

A very timely article appeared in the Romance Writers’ of Australia’s Hearts Talk magazine recently titled ‘Living the Dream’. In the article Anne Gracie writes about how the learning curve of a writer never stops whether you’re just starting out or whether you’re writing your next book, or the one after that. My writing journey has been both fun and exhausting along the way. At times I’ve written for hours on end, at other times I’ve wondered whether it’s all worth it. But those ups and downs, I now know, are all a part of a writer’s life. And it’s the life that I really want.

Yesterday I celebrated my publishing deal and the realisation of my dream in the only way I could…with a few glasses of champagne overlooking Sydney Harbour 🙂

 

Exciting Anthology News – Line Up Confirmed!

It’s the 1st October; the start of the final quarter of the year. Where’s the rest of the year gone? Absolutely no idea.

IMG_0671The Write Romantics are incredibly busy at the moment. As well as welcoming new member, Sharon, celebrating the launch of Rachael’s debut novel, and the Super September publishing-deal news for Harriet and me, we’re gearing up to the launch of our very own charity anthology, ‘Winter Tales – Stories to Warm Your Heart’. Even the sound of the title makes me want to curl up on a large armchair by a roaring fire and read, read, read. And eat chocolate. And probably drink wine too but let’s not go there!

Without further ado, we’re thrilled to confirm the final guest list and the running order of stories in our anthology. The Write Romantics have seen this already (hot out of the hat last night because that was the only fair way to do it) but this will be the first time our guests have seen the full list. We’re delighted to have a mix of lengths, genres and settings for our stories. The one thing they all have in common is the winter-setting and the uplifting feel.

  1. Jessica Redland – Not Just Another Winter’s Tale
  2. Rhoda Baxter – Reserved
  3. Zanna Mackenzie – Seasonal Encounters of the Cafe Kind
  4. Jay Bartlett – In All The Wrong Places
  5. Harriet James – Winter Melody
  6. Alison May – The Handsome Stranger
  7. Holly Martin – Loving Mr Perfect
  8. Kerry Fisher – 1st & 2nd chapter of The Divorce Domino
  9. P1020184Sharon Booth – The Other Side of Christmas
  10. Sarah Painter – The Art of Giving
  11. Jackie Ladbury – All I Want for Christmas
  12. Helen Phifer – The Bookshop of Dreams
  13. Jennifer Bohnet – Muriel’s Christmas Surprise
  14. Harriet James – Wherever I’ll Be
  15. Helen J Rolfe – Christmas in July
  16. Alys West – A Pistol For Propriety
  17. Terri Nixon – A Tooth for a Tooth
  18. Annie Lyons – It’s a Wonderful Life
  19. Linda Huber – Something Blue
  20. Sarah Lewis – Ghosts of Christmas
  21. Rachael Thomas – Meet Me At Midnight
  22. Lynne Pardoe – Into My Loving Arms
  23. Samantha Tonge – An Early Christmas Present
  24. Harriet James – Butterfly Nights

We’ve been proofreading, writing the blurb, opening a bank account, liaising with the charities (Teenage Cancer Trust and Cystic Fibrosis Trust), writing our dedications, organising an introduction from Dr Carol Cooper … the list goes on! Our typesetter (who also happens to be my husband) is currently setting the pages and we’ve had a peek this evening of the first draft of the cover which is very exciting. We hope to do a full reveal within the next week or so.

Please keep checking back for more news, both about our anthology and about another very exciting development within The Write Romantics.

Bye for now.

Jessica xxx