Reach for the Stars by Helen Phifer

The past few weeks I’ve been thinking, actually I’ve been thinking a lot because I haven’t had time to write with various family emergencies and long hospital visits. In fact I have very itchy fingers, for me not being able to write is the equivalent of depriving myself of chocolate, I can’t live without it and I can’t live without writing. It’s the most amazing feeling being able to lose yourself in a completely different world as any other writer will tell you, I love the excitement that writing about police officer Annie Graham brings into my everyday life. Although I’m quite relieved that I don’t have to do battle with the serial killers, ghosts and monsters that she does. My amazing readers have been telling me how much book four, The Lake House has been scaring them when Annie finds herself face to face with the creature that dwells in the cellar. In fact I’m relieved that I don’t have a cellar because it gave me nightmares writing about it, but to hear such brilliant feedback is truly amazing and I don’t think I will ever get over the excitement of hearing someone tell me how much they enjoyed a story that I wrote.

Whilst I was doing all this thinking I came up with lists, then lists about my lists. What I realised is that I want to take my writing career as far as it can go and to do this I would have to start stepping out of my comfort zone. I’m quite shy and not to keen on putting myself out there in front of crowds of people but I was offered the opportunity this year to take part in a literary festival where I was to be interviewed in front of an audience. I have to say that I was dreading it but I knew that it was something I would enjoy once I got over my initial nerves, unfortunately because of my son becoming very poorly I wasn’t able to go but I’m hoping to take part next year. I also have big plans next year to attend as many networking author events as possible, again something I’m not too keen on but it’s on one of my lists therefore I will force myself to do it.  Which brings me back to today, well last week actually I got an email from my publishers Harlequin inviting me to attend a ball they were hosting at The Waldorf Astoria in New York. I read that email and sighed, as if I could ever go to a ball especially in New York. I had a list of reasons why I couldn’t, I’m too fat, I’m too shy, I haven’t got a passport was actually the biggie, I haven’t flown for over twenty years, I can’t leave my kids (Who are all adults now as much as I hate to admit it) So I printed off the email and pinned it to my fridge hoping it would inspire me to actually stop eating chocolate and follow my Slimming World plan. Fast forward two days later and my eldest daughter came to visit, she read the invite on the fridge and said ‘You have to go.’ Just like that, I laughed and told her maybe next year. She then made me list why I couldn’t go this year so I told her and she told me they were just excuses, I could get a passport in fact she phoned up and booked appointments for both me and my husband to go to Liverpool to get one three days later. She also told me that there was no point putting it off because I might not get another chance to go. She even talked her dad into going and after a lot of debating and worrying it was finally decided we would. So I’ve started working on my list, the one that said network with other authors and I have to say that I’m thrilled to be finally fulfilling a twenty year old dream of going to New York for my first networking event this year. So reach for the stars my friends because you just might touch them and if you get the chance to do something exciting then go for it because as I’ve learnt this year more than anything life is short so live it.

Helen xx

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The Write Romantics and the sweet smell of… togetherness

Okay, so maybe the cowsheds at the Harper Adams agricultural campus didn’t exactly smell sweet at this year’s RNA conference, near Telford, but one thing that was sweet  conf 2014 10was the chance to meet all of the Write Romantics. Some of us were lucky enough to catch up with the whole group for the first time ever, at various points, although other commitments meant that all nine were never quite in the same place at the same time. Whether we’ll get the chance to put that right, anytime soon, depends largely on our Australian contingent. Although we’re sure Helen R won’t mind the other eight of us turning up for a holiday in Oz at some point… In the meantime, we thought we’d share our other conference highlights with you, including some dubious poetry porn and a photo of Alys getting far too excited at the thought of owning her own tractor! conf 2014 14Helen R Just being a part of a “workplace” was the high for me. Writing can be a lonely profession and it improved for me when I joined The Write Romantics, and actually being around so many writers at the weekend left me buzzing. conf 2014 15I met so many approachable, friendly writers, in particular Lizzie Lamb who chatted to us outside the coffee shop; Hazel Gaynor whose novel “The Girl Who Came Home” I can’t put down right now; Talli Roland who kept me amused at the gala dinner; and Amy Gaffney who couldn’t believe I had never heard of Michael Fassbender! But most of all I came away from the conference feeling even more motivated. Now I just need to get back to Sydney, move house and get back to my desk 🙂 conf dee 2Deirdre As a conference first-timer I was made to feel welcome from the moment I picked up my special pink-jewelled name-badge and lovely goodie bag.  I was lucky enough to have friends at the conference, including the Write Romantics, of course, but the whole atmosphere was one of inclusivity with plenty of opportunity to chat and make new friends, too.  I attended on the Saturday only as a day visitor but didn’t feel I’d missed out as the schedule was impressively full, and I take my hat off to the organisers for that. conf deeIndie-publishing and marketing were definitely the hot topics and featured in one guise or another several times over the day.  I’ve self-published in the past and may do so again so it was good to see this important shift in the industry being addressed at the conference and so much practical information coming our way. My favourite session was Sally Quilford’s which was all about writing romantic intrigue.  Sally’s inspiring and amusing talk was the perfect ending to the day and I came away already planning to go to next year’s conference. Julie conf 2014 132013 had been my first conference experience and I’ll admit I found the whole thing pretty daunting. I think most unpublished writers will find the idea of going to an event where they don’t really know anyone and are surrounded by people who’ve already achieved the dream to be a pretty scary thing. This year, I felt much more relaxed because I knew I’d be amongst friends. The Write Romantics have been blogging together since April 2013 but I’d only physically met four of the group. This year we were all going to be there. Not quite all at the same time but, nonetheless, I had the privilege to meet the remaining four across the course of the weekend. It’s been amazing meeting everyone in the flesh. I just wish I hadn’t been so wiped out after a pretty challenging six months at work so I didn’t quite have the energy to stay up and chat till the early hours. conf 2014 8Conference-wise, the stand-out sessions for me were a couple that were relevant to those going indie, in particular hearing about how much happier and satisfied those who’ve gone down that route appear to be. It was also encouraging to hear the story of Hazel Gaynor who was picked up by an agent then a publisher after going indie with her debut novel ‘The Girl Who Came Home’. Indie definitely does seem to be the new slush pile. Jackie conf 2014 12It was fabulous to meet the writeromantics at the conference and I enjoyed some but not all of the talks. Sometimes there was a good message to impart but the delivery wasn’t quite right and others had me hanging off every word.  Jean Fullerton and Janet Gover are excellent at giving talks and Hazel Gaynor’s talk about the Titanic was very interesting. It was great to catch up with old acquaintances and I have made some new Twitter friends (if only I knew what to do with them!) The general feeling about the publishing conf 2014 16industry was much more upbeat than the last conference I went to, mostly I suspect, thanks to Amazon and the ease of self-publishing. It is very heartening to know that someone apart from your sister and best friend will be able to read your novel and we don’t have to wait to get a publishing deal. Probably the most promising bit of the conference for me, was meeting Tessa Shapcott who is a freelance editor of many years standing. She is going to knock my latest offering into shape and after that I can finally put it out there – somewhere, who knows where, yet! Helen P Conf HelenI had a fantastic weekend catching up with The Write Romantics at Harper Adams University, which is a beautiful campus, and skiving off sessions to hold our very own out in the sunshine! It was great to spend time with my editors from the fabulous Carina UK off campus, in a pub. Amazing, too, to see the lovely ODwyer (Author), although not for as long as I would have liked, as well as all the other fabulous writers I know. Alys Conf 2014 6Obviously the best thing about the conference was spending time with all of the other Write Romantics. I’d not met Helen R, Jackie and Deirdre before and it was like meeting people I’d known for years rather than someone new.  I also enjoyed catching up with friends I’d met last year like Alison May and meeting some lovely new people like Alison Morton, Ian Skillicorn and Lizzie Lamb. For me the stand out session was Nikki Logan’s talk on the Chemistry of Reading.  It made an awful lot of sense to me and made me realise that there are good biological reasons why I get so attached to certain books or characters.  I can now blame the Oxytocin in my brain for making me believe that Borchester is a real county somewhere between Gloucestershire and Herefordshire and that if you know where to look in London you will find Diagon Alley. Nikki’s talk made me see how as a writer I can use those reactions to really engage readers. I’m going to check out some of the novels that she recommended and get a copy of her book so I can learn more about the techniques you can use to do this. IMG_0369Getting all of the Write Romantics together was always going to result in a lot of laughing and the attempts to write sex scenes with Jo’s magnetic nature poetry probably created the most hilarity.  There’s clearly a good reason why none of us write erotica!  Most of our attempts are too X rated for a Saturday Spotlight (we may need a new post-watershed slot for them) but this one isn’t too inappropriate. Rachael conf 2014 11Naturally the best moment from the conference was being able to catch up in person with fellow Write Romantics. I didn’t make the Friday lunch, which most of the group enjoyed, due to being lost in transit. Myself and my friend managed to get completely lost, as whilst driving we were happily talking about writing and suddenly realised we were not where we wanted to be. All the talks at the conference were interesting, but I my favourites were Nikki Logan, Janet Gover and Clare Mackintosh and catching up with friends as well as making new ones was another highlight. I also enjoyed the fact that Harper Adams is an agriculture campus and slipped away from writing – only briefly, to get my farm fix each day. It was the cows and calves I was interested in, not the pig unit. This emitted the kind of smell even I wasn’t used to! Lynne Conf 2014 3‘I, or I should say we, had a really unusual ‘mini’ conference when my little puppy Rosie and I travelled to Newport to meet some of the group for lunch on the first day. At that point I had only met Deidre and her husband when they stayed near Oxford, and Alex when she visited me on her travels to Glastonbury, the rest of the group were new to me. But first I met Jo, then Jackie and Deidre and later Julie and Alex again. I can honestly say it was one of the nicest lunchtime meetings I’ve ever had, I couldn’t have asked to meet a nicer group of people and its so nice to be able to ‘talk shop’ with others that understand. So it might have taken me two hours driving each way for a two-hour lunch, but it was well worth it. And Rosie had a wonderful time too! As for me? photo (1)My highlight has already been spoken about. It was really all about seeing the WRs. Meeting Lizzie Lamb for an impromptu chat outside the coffee shop, whilst some of the WRs were playing hooky from a session, was also a bit of a light-bulb moment conference-wise, though. Lizzie was incredibly generous in sharing her hints and tips for going indie, and marketing more generally, and she said something like ‘this business isn’t for shrinking violets’. Apologies if I haven’t got that quite right, Lizzie, but you get the gist!  Networking isn’t my favourite thing in the world, so does that mean this game isn’t for me? I guess only time will tell, but I do think it means that the conference probably isn’t. Across the two years I have attended there have conf 2014 4been some good sessions, but the stand out one for me was one led by Julie Cohen last year and I felt like a different writer with new insight after just an hour. So I think next year’s conference fee has already been ear-marked to attend one of Julie’s training courses instead. It will still give me the opportunity to meet other writers and promote myself from shrinking violet to something else – perhaps a tree hugger… I’ve already made a start. If not, then I guess I can always take up crochet! We’d love to hear about the experience of others who attended the conference. What were the highs and inspirational moments for your? And, perhaps even more importantly, have you got that smell out of your nostrils yet? Jay xx

The Saturday Spotlight – The Seaside, Sherlock and Sharon Booth

Across the past year or so, we’ve been delighted to welcome a variety of guests to our Saturday Spotlight slot. Some have been successful prolific authors, some have been a few books into their journey, others have been new writers launching their debut novels and a couple have even been like most of The Write Romantics: starting their journey.

meToday we’re delighted to welcome a fellow NWS-member, Sharon Booth, to our blog. Sharon joined the NWS in 2013 and is making great progress by preparing to write her third novel already! She runs a fantastic blog – The Moongazing Hare – and is generally an all-round lovely person. I know because I’ve had the pleasure to meet up with her on a couple of occasions for tea and cake and the time has just whizzed by.

The Write Romantics have posed some questions so, without further ado, I’ll hand over to Sharon who can tell us all about her journey, her current activities and how she’s so great at blogging and networking. Plus, she’s given us some fab piccies of the inspiration for her debut series.

Welcome Sharon!

Why now in terms of starting your writing journey? Have you wanted to do this for a long time and, if so, what makes now the right time?

I spent most of my childhood writing stories – apart from the time I was reading them, of course. I always said I’d be a writer when I grew up, but when I reached school-leaving age, writing as a career seemed like a ridiculous dream for someone like me. In fact, my careers interview at school can be summarised like this: “Okay, you’re a girl. (Well spotted.) Right then, shop or office? (Gosh, decisions, decisions.) Ah, you’re doing ‘O’ levels. (Only in English Language and English Literature. Doesn’t that tell you something?) Office then. Off you go. (Eh? What just happened?)” I got drafted into doing an office practice course and that was more or less it. I got married, had five children, and spent a good many years in the wilderness of depression – to the point of rarely going out of the house – and total lack of self-belief. I still read a lot but I rarely tried to write. I think it was a combination of factors that pushed me back into writing: I’d been home-schooling my daughter and she’d turned sixteen and started college so I had more free time and was looking around for something to challenge me; I’d got a job which, at the time, involved working afternoons only, which meant I had every morning to myself; I had a new-found confidence after graduating from the Open University with an honours degree in literature; I heard about NaNoWriMo which seemed an excellent way to discipline myself into writing that first draft; but most of all, I had a bunch of characters, buzzing round my brain like annoying flies, who appeared from nowhere as I was journeying to Somerset back in 2011 and simply wouldn’t go away. They forced me to buy a notebook and spend a lot of that holiday jotting down preliminary thoughts and ideas that would eventually become There Must Be An Angel. My husband and kids were thrilled. Once the idea was in my head there was no stopping me. I remembered how much I’d loved writing. Now I can’t imagine my life without it.

julie blog3Where do you get the inspiration for your setting and characters from?

Sherlock! Doctor Who! The Musketeers! Hehe…truthfully, when it comes to my characters, I don’t think anyone actually inspires their personalities. They come from somewhere inside my head. Possibly they’re all aspects of me which is a rather worrying thought, given the way some of them behave. However, I do like to put a face to the name, so I like to “cast” my characters as if I’m making a film of the book and in my head almost every single one of them looks like a famous actor or actress who suits the part. (See above list). However, I can’t seem to find anyone suitable to play the heroines. No one seems right. Maybe that’s because I write in first person so I see the events from “inside” the character and never really get a clear picture of what she looks like from the outside, if that makes sense. I do have a Pinterest board with the people and places that inspired me for There Must Be An Angel, but I’m wary of that really. I may see my hero in one way but I’m sure that every reader will have their own view of what he looks like and that’s fine. Whatever floats their boat! I love the fact that I can cast a gorgeous actor as my hero and make him do or say whatever I like. It’s like stalking but without any danger of being arrested. Louise Marley asked me if it was Benedict Cumberbatch or Sherlock I was bending to my will and I said that was too deep for me! When I thought about it, though, I realised it was neither. In my mind, one of my heroes may have Benedict’s physical appearance but his actual character is nothing like Sherlock or any other role that he’s played and I wouldn’t know what his own character is like, having never met him 😦 (Give me time…) My hero is my own creation. I’ve just borrowed the face! I’ve been having a lot of fun lately falling in love with someone who looks uncannily like Matthew Rhys. I have a Doctor and a Musketeer to go yet. Yum. As for the setting, the series of books I’m writing now is set in a fictional village called Kearton Bay, but it’s very closely modelled on the gorgeous North Yorkshire village of Robin Hood’s Bay, up near Whitby. I just knew it was the right place for my characters to live. I went back there only last week and got very emotional. I’ve spent the last three years living with that place inside my head so it felt like coming home. I kept getting all excited and saying things like, “That’s where such and such happened,” and “That’s where my heroine did this,” and taking lots of photos and muttering, “But would she be able to see that from this viewpoint?” and other such things which made my family members sigh a lot and roll their eyes and walk away pretending they didn’t know me, which I thought was rather rude.

You write great blog entries. Do you enjoy writing these for the pure enjoyment of writing them or is it all about raising your profile?

the inspiration for keartonbay 2Well, firstly, thank you for saying that! I’m always a bag of nerves every time I hit “publish” on a blog post so it’s reassuring to hear you like them. I set up a blog in the first place because I wanted to prove to myself that I would be able to let someone else read my writing. I’d never shown my work to anyone other than various creative writing tutors before so it was a big thing to overcome, and I knew I had to have the courage to send my words out into the world if I was ever going to publish a novel. Setting up a blog seemed a good way to start. I love messing around with it, to be honest. It’s had several facelifts and I like trying different things and seeing what works. I love writing the book reviews. I just wish I had more time to read so I could publish more of them! I understand that having a blog is an essential part of an author’s profile nowadays but it has to be fun, too. If it was all about the profile I’d make sure I posted at least once a week and in a regular slot, but I’m not as organised as that. I write when I have something to say and as inspiration strikes. It may not be as professional as some but at least I’m blogging because I want to. I write as if I’m chatting to my friends – and in a way I am. I’m still stunned that someone else takes the trouble to read my posts and even more astonished when people comment. I’m very grateful to all the followers of The Moongazing Hare.

What is your greatest single writing ambition and your biggest single fear about the foray into publication?

I had a dream a few weeks ago that my book had gone live on Amazon and I had four reviews – all of them one star. The comments ranged from “Don’t give up the day job” to something that is completely unsuitable for the delicate eyes of The Write Romantics. I guess that’s my biggest fear! I suppose, therefore, my biggest ambition is to have people read my books and say they love them. I’d like to be able to make a living from writing and be able to give up the day job and I’d like to be taken seriously as a writer by my peers, but more than anything I’d like to get a message from a reader to say they’d loved one of my books and it had made them smile or laugh or cry and they couldn’t wait to read the next one. That would mean the absolute world to me.

the bayWhere would you like to be, in terms of your writing career, in five years’ time?

I’d like to have had three or four books published by then and have built up a group of readers who actually look out for my next novel. There are four books in The Kearton Bay Chronicles and in five years I’d like to think my next series will be well underway. I have some interesting ideas for a new bunch of characters and another glorious setting. I’m looking forward to getting on with that. I’d like to have met some of the fabulous writers I’ve spoken to on Facebook and Twitter, and to have the courage to say to anyone who asks what I do, “Actually, I’m a writer,” without going bright red, stammering and backing away before they start to laugh. Dammit, the day will come I tells ya!

Indie or traditional publishing?

In an ideal world I’d eventually like to have experience of both. I read an interview with the wonderful Milly Johnson in which she said she’s glad she waited to be published traditionally because it taught her an awful lot and gave her a great deal of support. I then read an interview with Val McDermid who said that she thinks it would be highly unlikely that she’d have a writing career if she’d been starting out today, given how tough it is to get a publishing deal and the fact that writers are dropped if they don’t perform well enough with their first book. So while I can see that being traditionally published would be wonderful in many ways, being realistic it would be foolish to dismiss indie publishing out of hand. There are pros and cons to both paths. I think these days indie publishing is seen as a valid publishing choice by most writers. I know it would be lovely to have all the experience and support of a big publishing house behind you, but really, I’m drawn to the control that indie publishing gives the author. I love the idea of choosing my own cover and title and deciding on my own publishing schedule. I know there are many indie authors out there making a respectable living from self-publishing and loving the freedom it gives them. It’s true that many indie books sink without trace, but then, so do many traditionally-published books. Being contracted to a traditional publisher doesn’t guarantee sales, and I’m sorry to say it doesn’t guarantee error-free books either. I understand the moans about people who dash off a story and rush to publish it but I’ve read lots of indie books and have thoroughly enjoyed them. A lot of the books I’ve reviewed on my blog have been indie published. Indie authors can hire cover designers, professional formatters, editors and proof-readers, and the indie authors I know take a great deal of time and care to get their books just right. It seems the days of the publisher doing all the promotional work are long gone, too, so I don’t think having to plug your book should put people off the indie route. You’ll more than likely have to plug away whichever path you choose! In the end it all comes down to personal choice. What works for one person may not work for another. And I think most readers don’t care one way or the other who publishes the book they’re reading as long as they love the story.

the beginning of bay street julie blog1You seem fab at networking. Can you give us any tips?

Honestly, I didn’t realise I was networking at first! The first contact I ever made with another writer was on Twitter. I’d just read What a Difference a Day Makes by Carole Matthews and loved it so much that I tweeted about it. She replied! Writers make me as starstruck as Hollywood stars make other people so I was stunned. The day I got a reply from Veronica Henry my hands were shaking so much I could barely operate the mouse 🙂 My point is, I didn’t consciously try to network. I just followed people who interested me on Twitter and Facebook and tentatively joined in with some of their conversations and was highly relieved to find they didn’t snap at me and tell me to go away! I started reviewing books I liked and was astonished to get thank you messages from some of the authors and eventually requests from other authors to review their books. I nervously messaged the lovely Lizzie Lamb for some advice about joining the RNA after reading an interview with her in a magazine, and she very kindly replied, giving me lots of tips and encouragement. I’ve never forgotten that. Bit by bit I found I was chatting to writers just as I would anyone else. I’ve found the writing community in general to be a very friendly and generous group of people who are more than happy to pass on tips and advice and are, with few exceptions, supportive and encouraging to newbie writers. I try to share as many blog posts and book releases as I can because I think being a writer is damn hard work and the more we help each other the better. If I don’t like a book I don’t review it. I only ever publish positive four or five star book reviews because I think there are more than enough people ready and willing to give horrible reviews, even to books they haven’t read. I once read a review for a book which gave it one star because the seller hadn’t delivered it in the estimated time. I mean, honestly! *bangs head on desk*.

What do your family and friends think?

I’m a bit of an odd-bod in my family. Hardly any of my relatives read! I know!! My brother and sister rarely pick up a book. My mother used to read sagas but is now more likely to do a crossword. My children don’t read (which is a source of anguish to me, given the amount of books I bought them when they were little and the effort I put into encouraging them) and my husband has only ever read one book in his life. *sigh*. DH is very supportive now, although we went through a difficult time when I started writing regularly, and it took him a long time to realise how serious I was about it. When he finally understood what it meant to me he changed completely, and is very understanding now and rather proud of me which is nice. I think at first my family and friends thought it was a joke. Then they got excited and there were lots of comments about me being the next JK Rowling. (I sometimes think that JK Rowling is the only author some people have heard of and, much as I adore her, I got pretty sick of hearing her name.) Then they got bored and started asking why my book wasn’t finished yet and demanding to know when it was going to be published. They seemed to think that a book can be written in a matter of weeks, be sent to an overjoyed publisher and appear in the shops before you can say “Harry Potter”. Now they’ve lost interest entirely which is a relief all round. My boss informed me that he is going to take up writing when he retires and he thinks he should be able to “knock off” a novel a month. I was so angry I wanted to throw my keyboard at him, but I merely raised an eyebrow and told him he was a gifted man and I would look forward to reading his work. If he beats me to publication I may turn to gin.

julie blog4What do you personally get from writing?

Backache, sleepless nights, and a hatred of the comma that borders on a phobia. Actually, that’s true, but I also get the most incredible pleasure from it, too. If I didn’t I wouldn’t do it. In this day and age I don’t think any writer does it for the money – unless you’re already well-established and selling shed loads of novels, in which case congratulations and hats off to you. Long may it continue! For me, writing lets me enter a world where people I love make their homes. It lets me work out aspects of my life that perhaps haven’t gone according to plan and rewrite them with a happy ending. It’s where I find my friends. It’s where I get to fall in love all over again. It’s where I laugh and cry and hang out with people who interest, amuse, delight or annoy me. With a hard afternoon in the office ahead of me, a letter box stuffed with bills, a medical appointment on the horizon and a car that’s failed its MOT, I switch on my laptop and head off to meet my pals and find out what they’re up to. They’re like my version of Wordsworth’s Daffodils. When I’m feeling down, “they flash upon that inward eye” and make me smile and I can’t wait to meet them again. It’s given me a sense of purpose, helped me make new friends (not least the lovely Write Romantics!), increased my confidence and made me proud that I’ve achieved something. I honestly can’t imagine not writing. What the hell was I doing all those years?

What part of the writing process do you enjoy the most? What part do you dislike (if any)?

I love it when the writing is flowing and the words are coming easily and it feels almost as if the book’s writing itself. Days like that are fabulous. I especially love it if I’m making myself laugh as I write. Nine times out of ten I’ll go back to that passage and wonder what the hell I was thinking and delete it, but sometimes I still laugh and there’s nothing better than that. The bit I dislike most is having to be brutal and cut out all the stuff that doesn’t need to be there. I feel like I’m The Grim Reaper sometimes. I can’t count the number of scenes I’ve written that have ended up in a file titled “Deleted Scenes…keep in case they come in useful one day.” They probably won’t. Ninety per cent of them are rubbish which was why they were deleted in the first place, but I hate to throw anything away. I’m from Yorkshire. What do you expect? 🙂

 

Thank you for joining us today, Sharon. It’s been a pleasure to hear all about your writing journey and to see your lovely pictures. I’m sure we’ll be welcoming you back again very soon as a published writer, whether that’s indie or traditional. Can’t wait!

Julie xx

Mega Monday: We’re influential bloggers!

most-influential-bloggerThank you to Carol Cooper who awarded this badge to the Write Romantics.  We already loved Carol for inviting us to review her wonderful novel, being interviewed for the blog and for agreeing to write the introduction to our anthology, but now we love her even more.

One-Night-at-the-Jacaranda_cover_eBook_smlIn case you didn’t know, Carol is a doctor, teacher, writer, broadcaster and mother, whose debut novel, One Night at the Jacaranda, has received a wealth of rave reviews on Amazon. Carol is also a successful writer of non-fiction books, mainly on child health and parenting, and is The Sun newspaper’s doctor. As well as being a great friend of the Write Romantics blog, Carol has a fab blog of her own. If you’ve been missing out on Carol’s beside manner up until now, then you really should check out her blog.

Now we’re passing on the award to ten other bloggers. They might not get quite as excited over blog awards as we do – perhaps they’ve already had thousands – but we’re going to recognise them anyway, because their blogs have been influential to us.

Diana Blacklock was nominated by Helen R, both of whom are based in Australia.  Diana’s writing has been influential to Helen and her blog regularly features other writers who open up new worlds and add even more titles to Helen’s bulging Kindle!  Just the blog to visit if you’re wondering what to read next.

Sheila Norton, was nominated by Deirdre.  Sheila is a member of the Romantic Novelist’s Association and was traditionally published for some time, but is now blazing a trail for indie publishing.   Deirdre also recommends Sheila’s book Yesterday, which is set in the sixties and is well worth checking out.

Sharon Booth’s blog, the Moongazing Hare was nominated by both Alex and Julie – I might well have got in there too, if they hadn’t been so quick!  Sharon’s posts are always entertaining and she has a great writing style.  Sharon is brilliant at networking and supporting other authors and we are absolutely delighted that she is going to be a guest in our anthology.

WeddingSarah Lewis who runs the My Eighties blog has been influential on me (Write Romantic, Jo) for many years, having been one of my besties for (*clears throat*) 32 of them. Of course we met in a test tube! Sarah’s blog is a must read for fans of what surely was the best decade of all time (although Sheila and Deirdre might beg to differ). Sarah is currently writing a memoir and will also be a guest writer in our anthology.

The Murmuring Cottage was nominated by Lynne, who tells us that the blog is just beautiful, with still life pictures similar to Country Living magazine, very peaceful and restful, with an atmosphere that’s great for getting her in the mood to write.

Alison May is a brilliant friend to the Write Romantics blog and we have really enjoyed tracking the journey on her blog from nervous NWS member to published author, winning and being shortlisted for various awards along the way… giving those of us still in the NWS something to aim for. In fact she might already have this award, too, but we’re sure she’ll make some room in her trophy cabinet! Alison is also going to feature in our anthology and we can’t wait to read her story.

JKellerFord-web-301J Keller Ford was a recent guest on the blog,we absolutely loved having her visit and we have enjoyed following her blog ever since.  She’s got us thinking about the type of book cover we want for the anthology, which has been really influential on our plans, and has contributed to two anthologies herself, so really knows her stuff.

Rhoda Baxter, is another wonderful supporter of our blog and has helped many of the Write Romantics with advice and, especially, her knowledge of the US market. We really like Rhoda’s inheritance books slot on her blog and although we’re pretty certain she will already have been nominated, we’re including her in our top ten nonetheless. As you can already tell, we’ve been incredibly lucky that many of the bloggers and writers we have found so influential, in our first year of blogging, are also going to be involved in our anthology and Rhoda is no exception.

VIKKITHOMPSON_PICVikki Thompson is about the most prolific blogger we have ever met!  Vikki’s blog, The View Outside, was really influential on the Write Romantics in the early days and she taught us all about the value of tagging our posts properly and the joys of the scheduling function!  She takes on A-Z challenges with admirable enthusiasm and her writing prompts and insecure writers’ group posts are definitely worth the visit.

_MG_1008Linda Huber is another contributor who we have been thrilled to get on-board.  Just the picture on Linda’s blog, of where she lives on the banks of the beautiful Lake Constance in Switzerland makes us want to write!  She’s been inspirational in her support of the anthology and we have all been downloading her debut novel, The Paradise Trees, so we are ready for the release of her forthcoming second novel The Cold Cold Sea.  Her writing is every bit as evocative as the titles suggest and we can’t wait to get her anthology story in our hot little hands!

Carol asked us to include a YouTube video of our current favourite song.  Getting nine romance writers to agree on a single song was not something I wanted to attempt, so I posted a request on our Facebook group, promising the first person who came back to me that they’d get their choice.  So here is what Jackie chose, Ed Sheeran’s Sing, and we’ll be playing it in our flat at the RNA conference, at full volume.

So if you find yourself in the room below, and there’s some less than tuneful singing coming through the floor, you’ll know that the Write Romantics have been on the vanilla vodka again!

Liv Thomas on fulfilling her promise

We are delighted to be joined again on the blog today by Liv Thomas. Liv wrote her debut novel, Beneath an Irish Sky, with fellow writer Val Olteanu, under the pen name Isabella Connor. Beneath an Irish Sky was released by Choc Lit in August of last year and their second novel, An Irish Promise, is due for release in November. All this, despite the fact that Val and Liv have never met in person!

Liv’s long held dreams of becoming a writer took a while to come to fruition, as it was only after she received praise for some Lord of the Rings fan-fiction that she decided to make it a reality.

a_LivCongratulations on the success of Beneath An Irish Sky and the completion of the next novel in the series, which we know is due for release in November.  Please can you tell us a little bit about An Irish Promise?

An Irish Promise is the story of how bullying affects a young girl, both in childhood and as an adult. She returns to the village in Ireland where the bullying took place, set on revenge, but of course, romance gets in the way in the form of a handsome Aussie.  The novel also deals with how the results of their actions impact on the bullies themselves.

Is writing a second novel really as difficult as people say and just like the notoriously difficult second album that musicians often describe?  

On the whole, I think it was easier this time because we’re more aware of what’s required.  We’ve also become more used to each other’s writing style.

What have been the best and worst things about being a published author?

The worst thing is having to grit your teeth (and not cry) when someone criticises your baby.  The best thing is the sense of achievement … I don’t know if you ever lose that.

Do you read reviews for your novels and have you had any that you have found it difficult to deal with or been bowled over by?

We’ve been incredibly lucky, and have had some lovely reviews.

Who would play the lead roles if An Irish Promise were made into a film?

We used this visual of Chris Evans (the actor not the presenter!) for the character of Aussie actor Finn.

http://hdwallpappers.com/images/wallpapers/Chris-Evans-Wallpaper1.jpg

He has an incredibly soulful/vulnerable look which conveys Finn’s emotions to perfection. Finn is something of a tortured soul, bless him.

Beneath an Irish SkyHow important do you think networking with others in the publishing industry is and how do you do this?

I have a sadly neglected blog, and am active on Twitter and Facebook.  It’s extremely important to be a part of social media, which is a bit like a rolling stone gathering a huge amount of moss. I think it’s important not to view it purely as a means to promote your work though – on Twitter in particular, there’s nothing worse than following someone who only ever tweets links.  I’m far more likely to click on a link from someone who has socialised and interacted with me.   A Facebook ‘author page’ is also useful.  Try and treat social media as an actual get-together – make conversation, respond to others, and don’t expect help with promotion unless you’re prepared to do the same for them.

If you could go back and give your un-published self any advice what would it be?

Don’t get carried away – we wrote 240k words for Beneath an Irish Sky because we thought there was a minimum number of words that would be accepted, not a maximum!  We had to lose half of it.  In hindsight, it was for the best!

What do you think the main benefits of being supported by a publisher, rather than self-publishing, are?  

You obviously get promotional support, but it’s also a huge psychological boost.  Being accepted by a respected publisher is the realisation of a dream.  I’ve only ever been with Choc Lit, so can’t speak for other authors/publishers, but I would say the support we’ve had is second to none, not just from CL themselves, but from the other writers.  We call it the Choc Lit family, and it is.

What is next for you in terms of working in partnership as Isabella Connor and do you envisage writing separately at some point?

We’re working on a third novel together, so that will take priority.  Eventually, if time allows, we might give solo writing a go, but not at the expense of our partnership.  With a co-author you have moments when you’re like a reader – you don’t know what’s coming next.  And we’ve both had ideas for scenarios in both novels, that the other wouldn’t have come up with.

Thanks again for taking the time to come back for an update interview with us. The Write Romantics wish you every success for the future and we will be pre-ordering An Irish Promise!

Find out more about Liv and purchase Beneath an Irish Sky or pre-order An Irish Promise on the ChocLit website at: http://www.choc-lit.co.uk/html/isabella_connor.html

Or on Liv’s own blog at: http://livbet.webs.com/

Follow Liv on Twitter at: @Livbet

Join Liv on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/livvie.thomas

The link to Beneath an Irish Sky on Amazon can be found here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Beneath-Irish-Sky-Isabella-Connor/dp/1781890048/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1378056623&sr=8-1&keywords=beneath+an+irish+sky

Monday Interview with Allie Spencer

Allie Spencer is author of laugh out loud romantic comedies.  She is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association and a keen supporter of the New Writers Scheme, being one of its readers and a former member.  Here Allie tells all about the journey that led her to graduate from NWS newbie to one of the wonderful writers who share their knowledge with the aspiring authors on the scheme.

Allie[1]

 

We know that, like us, you were once a member of the NWS but we wondered if you could tell us a bit about how you came to join, how long you were a member, the genre you write in and what inspired you to start writing?

I think I’ve always written in one form or another – although the desire to ‘be’ a writer was sometimes been mixed-up with other things (acting was a popular choice for a while when I was a child!) but I only started writing novels when I went on maternity leave. I’d had an idea for a book batting about in my head for a while and I thought ‘Now is the time to do it – when will I ever have the time and opportunity again?’. So I booted up the laptop and got going. That book – a country house rom com – has never been published, but I had enough positive feedback from it to make me start my next. That second novel, Tug of Love, not only got published but won the Joan Hessayon Prize for the NWS and was shortlisted for the Melissa Nathan Award too, something I would never have dreamed possible when I got that first rejection.

All in all, I did three years in the NWS – the middle year of which I entered ‘Tug’ into the scheme. I love witty, intelligent books that cheer me up and make me laugh and my favourite authors are all comedic writers – Douglas Adams, Jasper Fforde, David Lodge and the great PG Wodehouse. When I started writing novels, the women’s fiction market was dominated by clever, funny women like Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella and it was their style I hoped to emulate. When I grow up, I still want to be Marian!

Please can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication and how ‘The Call’ came about?

The journey to publication was perhaps not as long as some, but still filled with quite enough rejection and heartbreak for my liking! I sent the first three chapters of my country house rom com to Arrow, who were then accepting unsolicited submissions. Amazingly they wanted to see the rest…which I hadn’t actually written (a-hem). It took me about 5 months to finish and edit the rest of the book but, sadly, it was rejected. I then girded my loins and sent it everywhere I could think of, joining the NWS along the way, but it was promptly rejected by all the agents I sent it to and failed to progress in the NWS – although I did have a lovely, encouraging report which gave me some hope!  The summer after that, I met my agent at an RNA party and sent her ‘Tug’ which by then I’d written, polished and submitted as that year’s offering to the NWS. My agent loved it and took me on – but it was another few months before she could find a publisher who would take ‘Tug’. Each time it was rejected was another blow to my confidence: was I kidding myself about this writing lark? Was I actually good enough to make it into print? I was so worried she was not going to be able to place it that I think, when it was finally accepted by Little Black Dress, my overwhelming feeling was one of relief rather than celebration!

Save the date cover

 

Have you got any advice for others who might be hoping to emulate your success in securing a publisher and/or an agent?

It is a difficult market at the moment. Anything that could be labelled ‘chick lit’ is not currently in favour with the big publishing houses and overseas sales for the genre are thin on the ground too. A lot of former ‘chick lit’ authors – unless they are well-established names – are having to re-brand themselves as sales fall. My advice therefore is, firstly, write the sort of book you would like to read yourself. It’s a long process on to Amazon and you have to love your novel! Next, polish, polish, polish until you need sunglasses to look at your ms – editors and agents will be expecting you to submit your best possible work, so make sure that is what they get. Make certain your work looks good too – do take the time to comb through and weed out all the typos and spelling errors; make sure the pages are all there and in the right order and, if you are submitting in hard copy, don’t send in a dog-eared ms that has obviously already been rejected by everyone and their cat. Do network – the RNA parties are fabulous for this. Where else will you have all the agents and editors you could ever wish for in one room, all waiting for your pitch? Finally, stay strong. It can be a long process, even when you have been taken on by an agent. Love what you do and try hard to believe in yourself.

What was the single biggest benefit of joining the NWS, do you think?

I think there were two: the first was getting the report. What you should receive from your NWS reader is a helpful, supportive report that enables you to go back to your ms and improve it. As a reader now, I do my best to give as much encouragement as I can without raising false hopes. I know how hard it is to get that report back, though: with my first one, even though it was very positive, I cried when I knew my book wasn’t going for a second read. To get the most from your report NWS members should try and submit their best polished and completed work (although we understand it is not always possible to submit a full ms). The less we readers need to talk about typos, missing chapters and the like, the more time we have to help you improve the big, tricky things like character development and story arcs. The second (huge!) benefit of the NWS is simply getting you inside the RNA – writing is a lonely business, and you can often feel isolated. The RNA is a wonderful, friendly organisation where you will be amongst friends and where everyone genuinely wants you to succeed as a writer. Seriously, that sort of support is worth more than diamonds!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us or any other advice you can offer?

Keep writing. If it’s what you love doing, don’t let anyone or anything stop you. Success comes in different packages – for some it will be a major international book deal; for others, it will be self-publishing on Kindle – but in my opinion, both are huge achievements. Think of all the people you know who say they ‘really want to write a book’ but have done nothing about it – you have. Hold your head up and feel proud!

You can buy ‘Save the Date’ at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Save-Date-Allie-Spencer/dp/0099579979/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1368621749&sr=8-1&keywords=save+the+date

And find out more about Allie at http://www.alliespencer.com/

Monday Interview – Donna Douglas

Donna Douglas is the author of the bestselling Nightingales novels, set in an East End hospital in the 1930s. The first, The Nightingale Girls, was published in August 2012, and The Nightingale Sisters was published in April 2013. She was born and brought up in London, and started her career writing photo love stories for teenage magazines! She now lives in York with her husband.

donna 1

We know that, like us, you were once a member of the NWS but we wondered if you could tell us a bit about how you came to join, how long you have been a member, the genre you write in and what inspired you to start writing?

I first joined the RNA back in 1997, purely because of the New Writers Scheme. Before that I’d been floundering about, trying to write a novel for nearly 20 years (I’m a great starter, but not so keen on finishing anything!). I heard about the NWS and thought it would be good discipline to have that deadline of having to send in a full MS every year. Also, no one had ever really read my work before, so I had no idea if it was any good. I wanted an honest critique from someone who wasn’t afraid of hurting my feelings!

Please can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication and how ‘The Call’ came about?

I really had two publishing journeys, and I guess there’s a lesson in that. After joining the NWS, I was fortunate enough to get a second reading in the first year. That reader sent my novel to Orion, who bought it in a two book deal. I won what’s now called the Joan Hessayon Award for my first novel, Waiting In The Wings, under my real name, Donna Hay.

But the story didn’t end there. As any writer will tell you, staying published can be as tricky as getting published in the first place. After eight contemporary novels, I was a bit disenchanted and stopped writing for a couple of years. I just didn’t have it in me to write another romantic comedy. But I found I really missed telling stories. Shortly afterwards, I signed up with a new agent who suggested I should try a different genre. That made sense, because I’d always loved reading historical novels. I started researching the lives of nurses in the 1930s, and unearthed the most incredible fund of fascinating stories. I’d only been researching for a few days before I had my three main characters in my head, crying out for me to tell their story. And so The Nightingale Girls were born!

DonnaDouglasNightingaleGirls

What’s next for you, Donna?

Well, I’ve just finished writing the third book in the Nightingales series. It’s called The Nightingale Nurses and it comes out in November. It’s a real emotional rollercoaster of a book, with lots of happiness and heartbreak. My daughter read it, and ended up crying on the bus! After that, there are two more Nightingales books, both due out next year.

DonnaDouglasNightingaleSisters

Have you got any advice for others who might be hoping to emulate your success in securing a publisher and/or an agent?

Don’t give up. Being published is about talent, but it’s also about persistence and a lot of luck, too. I can’t believe how often something good has come about because I’ve been in the right place at the right time. But to be in the right place you need to put yourself out there. That’s where the RNA can really help. And don’t take rejection personally, either. It’s that one piece of work they’re saying no to, not you as a person or as a writer. The next piece might be just what they’re looking for. If someone offers you criticism, take it on board and learn from it.

What are your dreams and aspirations as a writer, in terms of your long-term career?

I would love to write more Nightingales novels, because I love the characters and I couldn’t imagine not having them in my life. Even if I didn’t have a contract, I’d probably go on writing Nightingales stories for fun! I also have a secret ambition to write a crime novel. I think it would be interesting to try, anyway.

What was the single biggest benefit of joining the NWS, do you think?

If I had to pick one, it would be the inside track it gives you on the publishing business. I learned lots from just talking to published writers and picking up their words of wisdom. That pool of expertise is immense!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us or any other advice you can offer?

Let me see…I would say never stop learning. No matter how good you think you are, you can always become a better writer. I still read how-to books and go to workshops and do everything I can to improve my skills. And revise, revise, revise. I write at least three drafts of every book, and often more. You can always make it better!

You can find out more about Donna and her writing on her website – http://www.donnadouglas.co.uk
You can also follow her on Twitter – @donnahay1
Her books are available in supermarkets and bookshops, or from Amazon – http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Nightingale-Sisters-Donna-Douglas/dp/0099569426/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_z