Lies, polaroids and taping the Top 40 – how we connected with Kerry Fisher’s brilliant new novel

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I’m an unashamed child of the late 70s and early 80s, when Arctic Roll passed for a sophisticated dessert and you could lose your car keys for a week in the depths of the new shag pile carpet. I remember one birthday, when I was about seven or eight, being given the two things at the top of my wish list – a pogo stick and a Polaroid camera. I never did manage to pogo more than about twice in a row, but the Polaroid camera? Now that was nothing short of a miracle. Within moments – and some vigorous shaking that would give a Jane Fonda workout a run for its money – you had a passable instant image. I remember my dad saying “what will they think of next?”, if only he’d known! Those growing up now can’t move without taking a selfie (from 23 different angles, until they get it right) and posting the ‘wrong’ photo online carries with it the risk of going viral. In 2016 teenagers have their phones permanently attached to them, so almost nothing is safe from being caught on camera.

The WRs – many of whom were children in a similar era to me – were reminiscing this week about the tall tales our parents told in an attempt to protect us, and the fibs we told them in response, hoping to get away with pulling a fast one in an era before cameras came with us everywhere to capture every momentAAA Polaroid Camera.

Jessica confessed to being a secret Easter egg rustler – munching not just hers, but her brother’s Easter eggs before she was supposed to. Smoothing out the foil in the packaging afterwards to give the illusion the eggs remained untouched. Jessica was also warned that, if she played on a local building site, the police would cart her off. When her poor Easter-egg-deprived brother decided to test out his parents’ theory, he just got a polite warning from the boys in blue, but that didn’t stop his sister blackmailing him for sweets for some time to come, it order to keep schtum.

AAA nailbitingHelen R was told that if she bit her fingernails, she’d end up with a ‘manly’ fingernail like her aunt! We have to say that made all the WRs smile.

Lynne was told that if she didn’t eat her greens, she’d never get hairs on her chest. Unsurprisingly, that did little to convince her to tuck in…

Then there were the usual stories about eating carrots helping you to see in the dark and the warning that your face would stay like that if the wind changed. I remember one instance, when my mum had just finished wallpapering the tricky hallway and landing, only for me to accidently tear a bit of the new wallpaper off when I was dashing down the stairs. She asked my sister first and then me, if either of us had done it. We both denied it of course. My mum, wannabe Columbo that she was, told us it was fine and that she’d soon find out who the culprit was, because their tongue would turn black from lying. Cue me, running around hysterically, pulling out my tongue to see if was already too late! Put it this way, in the end, it didn’t take Columbo to work out who the guilty party was.

All of this explains why I loved reading Kerry Fisher’s ‘After The Lie’ so much and connected with Lydia from the prologue, where she was busy trying to tape the Top 40 off the radio, without the DJ butting in. My kids and their Apple Music downloads don’t know they are born. ‘After The Lie’ reveals the dangers a family’s secrets can risk, even in an era when going viral meant a bout of flu and the internet wasn’t even the stuff of science fiction movies. The novel moves from the prologue in the 80s to the present day, but the events of years before are still taking their toll on Lydia’s life:

Something happened in Lydia’s past that has shaped her whole life. Especially as her mother doesn’t given her a second to forget what the incident meant for the whole family. StillAAA After the Lie Lydia manages to put it behind her, or at least to shut it up tightly in a metaphorical box, until her past suddenly collides with her present in a way she could never have envisaged.

I loved both of Kerry Fisher’s earlier novels, ‘The School Gate Survival Guide’ and ‘The Island Escape’, but for me ‘After the Lie’ has hit a new high. As a forty something year old, I’m past the stage where I want to read about the search for ‘Mr Right’. I want to read something I can relate to and ‘After The Lie’ definitely gave me that.

This novel is beautifully written and even the most minor characters have an important role to play. ‘After the Lie’ has you rooting for Lydia, even when you want to shout at her not to do what she’s about to do. It’s believable, relatable and oh so real. This novel’s for readers who know that there’s so much more to life than a happy ever after and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

‘After The Lie’ is currently available on Amazon for just 99p. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and, in the meantime, we’d love to hear about those little white lies you told growing up, or the ones your parents told you.

Have a great week

Jo xx

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Somebody pinch me!

book14I know there’s nothing more annoying than someone telling you about the dream they had last night, but bear with me please, or perhaps that should be ‘bare’ with me given the nature of the dream…

It was one of those almost nightmarish scenarios where you realise you are totally exposed. It wasn’t quite as bad as the recurring dream my friend has about pushing a shopping trolley around Morrisons, in her birthday suit, but it was bad enough. Somehow, in my dream, I had got myself a job promoting gym membership. Now trust me when I say I wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice to promote their gym. Perhaps I could make it as a ‘before’ photo, but I’ve somehow never got round to getting the necessary physique for the ‘after’ shots. Anyway, I digress. In this dream it was my job to stand in the high street, wearing nothing but a lycra leotard and one of those signs you see being held up by someone who wishes they’d done better in their GCSES, about a golf sale being around the corner, that sort of thing.

People, understandably, were looking at me agog and I think it was their laughing that woke me up in the end. I did one of those flinching, falling-from-a-cliff type jolts awake, giving my long suffering husband a swift kick in the shin in the process. So far, so weird you might be thinking. But I know exactly why I had this dream and it wasn’t entirely down to the birthday Prosecco consumed the night before. It was all about being exposed and thinking I’d somehow been given a role for which I was a complete fraud and that I was about to be found out any minute. Which is more or less how it feels to be published.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely thrilled, but I can’t quite believe it’s happening to me and that today marks the release of my debut full-length novel. I’m expectingAATS Cover someone to tap me on the shoulder any moment and ask me to move along, make room for the real authors. Getting somewhere with writing wasn’t something that happened to people like me and yet, once it did, it was a bit of a domino effect. I ended up with several potentially interested publishers for ‘Among A Thousand Stars’ and I’m so glad that I went with So Vain Books, as they’ve been beyond brilliant and I can’t recommend them enough.

Publication deals ended up being like buses and shortly after signing with So Vain Books, I had an offer on a pocket novel from DC Thomson, ‘No Time for Second Best’ which hits the shops tomorrow. So if you happen to read in the news online that a woman has been arrested for taking selfies in WHSmiths over the next two weeks, that will be me. DC Thomson have also bought another pocket novel from me and it will be their Christmas release this year, so Christmas shopping with me could be a trial whilst I see just how many shops I can spot it in! I also had an email this week, which could bring some more exciting news, but I’m not talking about that just yet, in case I really do jinx all this.

snorkelI’m not cool in any sense – my thirteen year old, who has the wit and merciless delivery of Joan Rivers, will attest to that – and I’m certainly not cool about being published. I’ve been getting stupidly excited by the lovely reviews for ‘Among A Thousand Stars’ and if I spot someone reading it on the beach this summer, they’re likely to have to take a restraining order out against me! But if someone as terminally uncool as me can become a writer, then anything is possible.

 

 

 

Blurb for Among A Thousand Stars by Jo Bartlett

When her mother turns up naked and proud during her first term at college, Ashleigh Hayes assumes that life can’t get any more embarrassing. Ten years later, with best friend Stevie at her side, and a successful career as a freelance photographer for monthly magazine Glitz, it looks like she might have finally got the hang of things. Only she seems to have inherited the embarrassment gene from her mother and her every encounter with new boss, Tom Rushworth, looks set to send her career spiralling backwards. Getting past their shaky start, Ashleigh and Tom embark on a relationship that was only ever meant to be a bit of fun. But when life, paparazzi and love-sick Labradors get in the way, they suddenly find themselves caught in a roller coaster ride of emotions.

‘The perfect feel-good read’ Kerry Fisher, Bestselling Author

‘A very funny and thoughtful look at relationships behind the lens – a really enjoyable and poignant debut’

My Reading Corner ‘Sharp and witty dialogues, realistic characters, laughing-out-loud and tear-jerking situations’ On My Bookshelf

A welcome escape with Kerry Fisher

IMG_2046Today we are joined for a Q&A session by good friend of the blog, Kerry Fisher, who tells us why, this summer, we might hear her screaming from over ten thousand miles away…

What’s the best bit of feedback you’ve had about The School Gate Survival Guide?

I have been so lucky to have lots of lovely reviews but I think one of my favourites was from a Yorkshire postman: ‘Just finished The School Gate Survival Guide on my new Kindle, first book I’ve read in 10 years, bloody great read, thanks.’ I loved the idea of a little red van trolleying around the Yorkshire Dales with a Kindle and a copy of my novel on the dashboard.

How important was it for you to sign with one of the big publishers and what are the biggest differences to being self-published?

That’s an interesting question. I am so privileged to have self-published because what I learnt about marketing, promoting, networking during the process has been invaluable now I’m traditionally published – I have the confidence to suggest ideas and discuss decisions that I don’t think I would otherwise have had. However, I always felt that what I could achieve sitting at my kitchen table on my own would be more limited than the opportunities offered by a big publisher – foreign rights, audiobooks and of course, even paperbacks.

TescoHow did it feel the first time you saw The School Gate Survival Guide in your local supermarket?

I made a total fool of myself in Tesco by asking someone to take a photo of me with my novel. I blushed so hideously that the poor woman had to back away from the heat. Plus she managed to capture me at such an angle that I looked as though I had a couple of watermelons stuffed up my T-shirt. Not quite the glamorous composed author on publication day photo I had in mind. I don’t think the fact that my book was out there, available to buy, really sank in until readers started tweeting pictures from supermarkets all over the UK.

Your second novel is called The Island Escape. What do you do to escape from the pressures of writing and everyday life?

A couple of times a year, I leave my whole family behind and disappear off with my best friend from university. We walk, talk until the early hours and eat fab food – we both love cooking. Just for those few days we’re twenty again – but without the Silk Cut and lager black. On a day-to-day basis, I walk on the South Downs with my dog, a Lab/Giant Schnauzer cross. It never fails to relax me – unless she steals someone’s picnic.

Your new book was promoted as The Divorce Domino in our anthology. How did the name change come about?

Because the book is coming out on 21 May, I think the publishers felt that having divorce in the title was a bit gloomy for a summer read.

Can you tell us a bit about the plot for The Island Escape? tie 2

The idea behind it was ‘Can one woman’s marriage survive her best friend’s divorce?’

When Roberta finally divorces her bullyboy husband, her best friend and former wild child, Octavia, takes stock of her own life. She wonders how the carefree person she was at twenty ended up married to a man who cares more about opening milk bottles in date order than having fun. She begins obsessing over the ‘one that got away’ – until she ends up going back to Corsica, the place where it all began. But will he still be there and if he is, what then?

What’s your favourite holiday destination, island or otherwise, and why?

I love Australia. Pre-children, I was a travel journalist and spent six weeks writing a guidebook out there. There’s so much that’s different and exciting. This year we’re taking the children (13 and 15) – it’s the first time I’ve felt I could bear a 24-hour flight with them, though being together 24/7 for several weeks should pose its own challenges. I’ve booked to do the bridge climb over Sydney Harbour with my son, so you’ll probably be able to hear me screaming back in the UK.

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

I think there are some people who do an amazing job of writing about things they don’t have firsthand knowledge of – I’m always absolutely in awe of writers of historical novels. I always find so many inaccuracies when I’m editing despite the fact that my books are contemporary. I prefer to write about things I know, but that’s probably because I’m fascinated by ordinary people and their experiences. I always use settings I’m familiar with – I’m lucky enough to have lived all over Europe in my twenties, so I haven’t run out of locations yet!

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m in the process of editing book three, which is about how modest secrets become more toxic as they pass down the generations, intertwined with modern parenting dilemmas.

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

I’d love to be able to write a psychological thriller but that would need careful plotting in advance. It probably wouldn’t suit the way I write – I tend to know the beginning and the end, but not too much in between. I would like to write a sit-com about modern families for TV, though I don’t think my teenage children would ever forgive me.

WP_20141002_11_49_02_ProWhat’s the hardest type of scene for you to write?

I find sex scenes absolutely mortifying, because I’m quite prudish and hate the idea that people I know feel that they have a window into a very private world (they don’t!). There’s a little bit of real – rather than hinted at – sex in The Island Escape. I wanted to staple those pages together when my dad was reading it. I’ve forced myself to take author Raffaella Barker’s excellent advice, which was ‘I’d never write another word if I ever thought about what people think about any aspect of my writing.’

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

I don’t get writer’s block really because I treat writing very much as a job. I turn up at Starbucks every day and write 1000 words in three hours. If I worked in an office, I wouldn’t be allowed to sit there and wait to feel in the mood for work, so I just get on with it – though of course, some days it’s easier than others. Having said that, I do get plot block…I’m currently thinking about what to write for book four and feel as though I’m trying to catch ideas in a butterfly net before they flit off.

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

Probably the same as all writers, I suppose – to have my book made into a film and to make The Sunday Times bestseller list. In the meantime, a smaller and more achievable wish would be to stop stuttering when I utter the words, ‘I’m an author’.

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

Where to start? I was so naïve about how tough it would be to get published. I thought writing the book would be the hardest part, so I probably needed someone to tell me: ‘You’ll have to believe in yourself for an awful long time before anyone else does.’ I don’t think I’d fully understood that rejection is an inevitable part of the process. However, the important thing is to allow yourself one day to rant (privately) then channel your energy into creating as many opportunities as possible to get your work in front of the decision makers.

Thanks so much for joining us on the blog Kerry and good luck with the release of The Island Escape – our Kindles are primed and ready!

Find out more about Kerry and her fantastic novels at the links below:

http://www.kerryfisherauthor.com

on Facebook 

on Twitter @KerryFSwayne

and Amazon

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

 

 

Wednesday Wondering – Life Swap with a Fictional Character

Hello there and welcome to the first Wednesday Wondering of the year. Hope the first two weeks of 2015 have been good to you and, if not, there are still 50 to go so plenty of time for improvement.

How many times have you read a book and recognised yourself in the protagonist? Or perhaps one of the characters says or does things that you’d love to do if you were older/younger/prettier/slimmer/taller/more daring/less self-conscious and so on. What if you could swap lives with that protagonist? How exciting would that be?

With this in mind, my question for The Write Romantics this month is:

If you could leap into any book, current or historical, which character would you like to be and why?

P1060112I’ve read hundreds of books in my time and I have definitely related to characters (particularly Bridget Jones) and I’ve definitely been envious of where other characters get their happy ever after (particularly  classics brought to life on the big or small screen like Emma and Pride & Prejudice) but there is only one occasion in my life where I’ve absolutely wanted to be someone else. So much so that I used to actually write her name in books and on other possessions. The name of the character was Darrell Rivers which will probably bring back memories for so many of you as the protagonist of Enid Blyton’s wonderful Malory Towers series.

I loved Darrell right from the start as a rather sullen judgmental character who made quite a few mistakes right through to the mature, popular individual she became at the end. Talk about a major character arc! I would imagine she went on to be incredibly successful with a wonderful partner and perfect children and never had to diet in her life. So who wouldn’t want to be her!

Here’s what the rest of the WRs said …

Alys says …

photo-1When I started thinking about this I realised that although I’d love to say Elizabeth Bennett if I actually had to live her life I wasn’t sure I could handle Regency plumbing. So it had to be someone post-1900 and then the answer was obvious. You’ve all heard me bang on about Dorothy L Sayers and my love of Lord Peter Wimsey. If I was going to live a character’s life then I’d want to be Harriet Vane, the crime novelist that Lord Peter falls in love with. Harriet has an amazing life. She’s a very successful writer, she studied at Oxford, goes on healthy walking holidays in Devon (where obviously she finds a corpse!) and has dates in glamorous nightspots with Lord Peter. There is just one complication which is that she also gets tried for the murder of her former lover. Obviously she’s not guilty as Lord Peter proves but she spends rather a lot of time in prison and the penalty for murder at that time was hanging so I’d really rather avoid all of that. So if I could take over just before the start of Have His Carcase then that’d be great, thanks!

Lynne says …

It wasn’t till I thought about this post that I realised that many of the heroines of books I’ve enjoyed are tragic heroines!

But there is one who is totally not a tragic figure, more a very lucky person indeed, and this is Elizabeth Bennett, heroine of Pride and Prejudice, who learns during the course of the story to ditch her pride and prejudice and take up with the totally dashing and handsome Darcy who comes complete with a huge and very beautiful home.

Anyone who knows me will know that I love ancient buildings and help run the Gloucestershire group of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings which was started by William Morris. I also had a couple of false starts in the relationship department, it took me a while to find someone who was a worthy partner.

Together they make an irresistible package, handsome and kind man with a ready made property ready to fill with babies, what more could any girl ask for? So, without a doubt, Elizabeth Bennett is my choice!

Jo says …

P1060110I thought about trying to come across as intellectual when answering this question, but then I thought “stuff it, I’ll be honest instead!” I think, at times when I need comfort, there isn’t anything better than returning to the books I read and loved as a child – nothing quite gives me that cosy feeling and sense of home. If I had to have one feeling for the rest of my life, it would be that and so it is one of these characters I have to choose. My dad always read Wind in the Willows to me and I wouldn’t mind being Mole. He’s got a close group of friends and he overcomes his fears but ultimately loves nothing better than his home life. Sounds, good to me.

P1060111I loved Paddington and Winnie the Pooh growing up too and, if I became a bear, I could give up the battle to try and lose weight that I’ve tried to fight (mostly unsuccessfully) for my whole adult life. Plus, who doesn’t love the cover-all-qualities of a duffle coat? However, I think it’s Pooh’s friend, Tigger, I’d most like to be. His boundless energy, capacity for bouncing and, as AA Milne put it, “love for everything” has to be a recipe for happiness, so I’ll take that.

Rachael says …

This is a great wondering, but the question is whether to go for a modern character or a historical one?

School_Gate final jpegIf I were to choose a historical character it would have to be Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett, a favourite for many I’m sure. Her constant denial of Mr Darcy throughout the story holds you from the beginning to the end. But what did she really think? Stepping into her shoes would be a fascinating experience. Check out this link.

On the other hand, to choose a modern character, I’d like to leap into Kerry Fisher’s The School Gate Survival Guide, a book we reviewed last year in our book group. I so want to be Maia and sort that no-good-for-nothing husband of hers out. You’ll have to read it to find out why!

Deirdre says …

Friends at Thrush GreenI’ve always thought I’d like to be Miss Read.  Miss Read is the pen-name of Dora Saint, and she appears as a character/narrator in many of her own books which are based largely on her own life experiences.

The stories are set deep in the heart of1950s rural Oxfordshire. Miss Read is headmistress of the village school at Fairacre and lives in the adjoining school house with her cat, Tibby. Despite her friends’ attempts at matchmaking, she has never married (although Dora herself did), but she is no lonely spinster. She leads a busy and fulfilling life among the lively inhabitants of Fairacre and the neighbouring village of Thrush Green, and there’s no shortage of children in her life as generations of them have passed through her capable teaching hands.

Fairacre AffairsMiss Read’s life has its moments of high drama but any troubles she encounters always resolve themselves, and then it’s all about jam-making and jumble-sales, tea at the vicarage, and the yearly round that constitutes country life. Post-war Britain was a peaceful yet celebratory time and the villagers needed little excuse to put out the bunting. As the headmistress, Miss Read is a well-loved and respected figure who plays a key part in village life, but at the end of the day she shuts her door, lights the fire and turns to her many books for company. Yes, I’d definitely like a taste of that.

photo-2Helen P says …

If I could be anyone it would be Bella Swan from Breaking Dawn. Who wouldn’t want Edward or Jacob fighting over them. Plus I’d get to be a vampire, I love vampires. I’d also get to drive a really nice Mercedes and sparkle every time I stepped into the sunlight. What more could a girl ask for 😉

Helen R says …

If I could leap into any book I’d like to leap into The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton, as any of the children, Jo, Bessie and Fanny! They had such amazing adventures, even just climbing the tree in the first place. What fun it would be to meet Saucepan Man, Moon-Face, and run from Dame Washalot when she pours water down the tree. I’d love to discover new lands at the top of the tree, forever guessing what we would come up against next.

Sharon says …

FollyfootThis is a tricky one. At first I tried to be sophisticated and thought of all those classics – Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Rebecca…then I thought, fascinating as those stories are, would I really want to live the life of Jane, Elizabeth or the second Mrs DeWinter? The truth is, I wouldn’t.

So then I tried to think of characters who I thought had fabulous lives and that proved more difficult than I thought, too. The trouble is, of course, that fictional characters have such rollercoaster lives. The very thing that makes them interesting – all the ups and downs and trials and tribulations that they have to endure – is the very thing that makes me think, no thanks. I have quite enough problems to deal with without going through all theirs.

My initial reaction was, I’d like to be Dora from Monica Dickens’ Follyfoot books. Then I thought, but hang on – Dora was ever-so-slightly over-emotional, highly sensitive, suffered the endless angst of worrying about all those poor ill-treated horses, and seemed to spend most of her time in tears. So I scrapped that and tried to think of someone else. But you know what? I kept coming back to Dora, and I think it’s Dora I would choose finally.

Dora and SteveWhen I was a child, she was my absolute heroine, and I thought she had the perfect life. Really, when I look at it I think she did. Okay, she worried endlessly about the fate of all those horses, but we all have to worry about something and I can’t think of a better thing to worry about. Plus – she was surrounded by horses! And she got to rescue so many of them! And she lived at Follyfoot Farm which seemed like pretty much the perfect home to me. She had an uncle who doted on her and friends who shared her compassion and beliefs – even the tearaway, Ron. And she had Steve! I mean, Steve! Even if he did mysteriously change his name from Paul (I suspect something to do with the television series) he was a bit of a sweetheart wasn’t he? And he loved horses, too, while being calm and rational enough to balance and steady Dora who sometimes let her heart rule her head far too much.

So yes, I’d be Dora from Follyfoot. Not the most sophisticated choice, but I think I’d have a jolly nice life!

We’d love to hear from you. Which character would you be and why? What do you think of our choices? Would you go for one of the ones we’ve chosen?

Thanks for reading.

Jessica xx

Finding A Sense of Place with Jane Lythell

13 Oct 2014 Author picOur guest on the blog today is the lovely Jane Lythell. Jane lives in Brighton and is a sea-lover, star-gazer, film and football fan. She was formerly a Producer at TV-am and Commissioning Editor of Features at Westcountry Television. Jane left to become Deputy Director of the British Film Institute and later Chief Executive of BAFTA before joining the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for seven years. She now writes full time and her second novel has just been published by Head of Zeus. Write Romantic Jo was lucky enough to meet Jane at a writers’ lunch organised by the equally wonderful Kerry Fisher. It was a day filled with laughter, fun and some brilliant advice for new writers, so we are really lucky that Jane has agreed to write a guest post for us, to tell us all about the inspiration for the setting of her second novel, her experiences with the first and to share her top writing tips. Here’s Jane to tell us more…

I’ve been a bookworm since primary school and wanted to write all my life, but I was a single parent with a small daughter and a large mortgage. For years I worked in the kind of jobs that didn’t end at six pm. There would be calls and emails deep into the evening and very little thinking and writing time. My great treat was to go on Arvon residential writing weeks. Arvon is a terrific organisation and those courses certainly helped keep my writing flame alive. In May 2011 I finally got into a financial position where I could give myself two full years to write. At last I had the time to do the one thing I’d wanted to do for years.

I’m interested in the dark side of people and what makes them do extreme things. My first novel ‘The Lie of You’ explores jealousy that deepens into full blown obsession. My second novel ‘After The Storm’ also has one character in the grip of psychological trauma.

‘After The Storm’ opens in Belize City and then moves to an island in the Caribbean called Roatan. An English couple,FINAL After the Storm_JANE Rob and Anna, have just met an American couple Owen and Kim who have a handsome old wooden boat. Owen suggests they charter his boat and he will take them to Roatan, where the diving is sensational. Anna does not want to go at all, but Rob is really keen and he persuades her. Unknown to them Kim is desperate to go home to Florida. It is Owen who is determined to continue their life on the boat. So straightaway we have conflict of wishes between the four characters and a boat can be a very claustrophobic place when tensions start to build.

They set off. With only the four of them on board it should be paradise: lazy afternoons spent snorkelling; long nights enjoying the silence and solitude of the sea. But why does Owen never sleep? Why is he so secretive about his past? And why does Kim keep a knife zipped into her money-belt? Anna, who is a speech therapist, can usually get people to talk… but this time does she want to?

I wanted ‘After The Storm’ to have a strong sense of place. I’ve been to Belize and to Roatan and I always felt they would make a great setting for a novel. Roatan is beautiful but it also has a kind of frontier feeling to it where the normal rules don’t seem to apply. I kept a journal when I was there and took lots of photos and I used these to help me create the atmosphere of the island. I try to write character driven stories rather than plot driven stories. My aim is to let the plot develop from how a particular character reacts to circumstances given their history and their psychology.

The shoutline on the cover is ‘Some Secrets Destroy You…’ It took us a while to get to this but I think it’s a very apt one because there are all kinds of secrets in the novel – some are trivial, some are serious and some are deadly.

LOY Paperback Cover‘The Lie of You’ has had over a hundred reviews and I can’t thank readers enough for taking the time to write down their reactions. These reviews are pure gold for a debut writer. And yes a few of them are negative but you learn from these ones too. One of the points that emerged was a difference of opinion about whether or not to sympathise with Heja by the end of the book. This definitely divided people. In ‘After The Storm’ there are four main characters and I’m so looking forward to hearing what readers make of them all because you do become attached to your characters.

Quite a few readers said they found ‘The Lie of You’ very ‘filmic’ and I hope ‘After The Storm’ has this same quality. This could be because I worked in film and television for fifteen years. I do see the scenes in my novel unspooling as film sequences as I’m writing them.

My top writing tips
For me it’s all about creating characters that readers will believe in. I try to think about what food they would eat, what flat they would live in and what single thing they fear most in life. You don’t have to put this in but it will help make them real to you as you write them.

Don’t worry if your characters are flawed or have some nasty sides to them. Flawed people are interesting. It doesn’t matter if your readers dislike them or adore them. But it does matter if they don’t believe in them.

Show your drafts to people you respect. I asked two close friends and my partner, who is a TV writer, to give me some frank and honest feedback. You can only learn from that and their comments helped me so much.
Take the time to edit your writing again and again. Your first draft is just that – a first draft. You only get one chance with a publisher so you need to get your book into as perfect a form as possible. Never submit too early.

And finally, I find it helps me to write standing up! I’ve rigged up my laptop to be the right height and it certainly makes me feel more alert.

Jane Lythell

Find out more about more about the Avron Foundation and Jane’s books at the links below:

ARVON FOUNDATION http://www.arvon.org/

AFTER THE STORM – on Kindle from 1 December and in bookshops from 7 January is available here.

THE LIE OF YOU is available here.

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