There are four thousand love stories in Central Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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Stop, look & listen with Kathy Paterson

KP pictureOur guest on the blog today is Kathy Paterson, a writer from West Sussex whose poem was recently selected from among hundreds of entries into a competition held by the British animal rescue charity, Waders, to feature in an anthology raising funds for its vital work in wildlife rescue. Kathy is also busy penning short stories for women’s magazines and is in the process of writing her debut novel. Welcome to the blog, Kathy, and over to you.

Well, this is a nice diversion, writing a guest post for the Write Romantics rather than my own – how lovely to be asked and rather scary to live up to the expectations of another blog!

I was thinking about why I started to write – if I’m perfectly honest, it wasn’t down to a burning passion to get the stories whirling in my head committed to paper. Instead it was a solution to a problem that I had – ever practical, that’s me. I’d been ill and as a consequence my life was changing dramatically. Physically I was limited, and mentally too to some degree, so I knew that, just as it was vital to exercise my body to retain what capability I had, I needed to do the same for my brain.

Cue a new Creative Writing Group at my local Community Centre. It fitted the bill and so I signed up. From the get go, the Group has been astonishing. I am in awe of the creativity and quality of the writing. Their breadth of knowledge and passion is inspirational. Above all, there’s no judgement. Honest appraisals will be given – make no mistake about that! But there’s encouragement to try new styles and genres. Being part of a trusted circle has allowed me to experiment and write outside my comfort zone.

I feel rather ashamed to have admitted that’s how I started writing. I’d always written – factual (for the most part) reports for work and I am passionate about reading – if I wasn’t a ruthless de-clutterer, the house would be subsumed by stacks of books. However, there are so many astounding authors; it can let fear and laziness persuade me that I have nothing to contribute.

So, due to said fear and laziness, I know that I have to set myself writing goals. First up was to start writing my own blog, The Middle-aged Pensioner which I did in 2014. I aim to write at least one post a month; sometimes more if I discover a rich subject seam. This writing is non-fiction, more observations on my own situation which may perhaps offer help to others.

My second goal is to finish my novel. I began it properly earlier this year; but the pesky characters keep surprising me, so I’m not quite clear where it’s going or what genre it will be. This for me is the joy of writing – it’s consistently surprising and I’m baffled how a concept in my imagination can take on a life of its own.

I usually write at my dining table, once all chores have been completed. Malin with toyThe radio is switched off as is the internet connection. Total silence apart from a ticking clock and the tip-tapping of my fingers on the keyboard are the only sounds. The afternoon is usually best as the street where I live is quiet and my young dog is walked and, hopefully, asleep! The discipline of writing for an hour each day works best for me – when and what is written is not as important so much as actually getting into the habit. Invariably, I write for much longer than the sixty minutes.

That sounds terribly formal doesn’t it? I can honestly say that inspiration does suddenly strike too and that’s when I tend to write poetry. If I can translate a sight or emotion in a form that triggers the same in another person, it’s magical. Inspiration itself can literally come from anywhere. I’m a great believer of taking time to “Stop, look and listen”. Almost any situation, conversation, written article or notice can trigger an idea or concept which can be explored further. Then it’s a case of hoping I’ve remembered a notebook and pen to record the idea; or if those are not to hand, usually I have my mobile ‘phone to capture a cryptic note or a snatch of dialogue.

So what would be my advice to share? Hmmm, well based on my experience, if you can identify what’s stopping you from writing, you’ll be able to find a way to overcome it. Equally important, find a cheerleader or three (family, friends, complete strangers who’ve come across your musings via the internet); their motivation will act as a spur or sharp stick when yours is flagging. Finally, remember your Green Cross Code!

Kathy Paterson

Thank you so much for joining us on the blog today, Kathy, good luck with the anthology and please let us know how your novel is progressing.

Follow Kathy at her blog:

https://middleagedpensioner.wordpress.com/

You can purchase a copy of the anthology featuring Kathy’s poem – Words for Waders – here.

 

 

 

 

Friday Friends Competition – win a signed copy of Jane Lythell’s ‘After the Storm’

FINAL After the Storm_JANEWhen I was in my twenties, life was very different. I could stay up all night, drink whatever I wanted and still wake up the next day bright-eyed and ready to take on the world. Since becoming a mum, sleep is like gold dust and it takes me about four days to recover from a late night. Children just don’t give you the luxury of lying on the sofa until 3 pm, eating bacon sandwiches and watching re-runs of Friends until you feel ready to face the world, do they? So, reading into the small hours, just like late nights out, has largely become a thing of the past. Only a handful of books now keep me reading through the night, knowing that I’ll suffer the next day but not caring because the story is so worth it. In the last year, two of those very books were written by Jane Lythell.

Jane writes novels that you simply can’t put down. I was on the edge of my seat (well, more accurately, my bed) reading both The Lie of You’ and After the Storm’. I woke up in the morning, on both occasions after finishing Jane’s books, exhausted, with a hint of tan from the glow of my Kindle and serious writer envy, but over-ridingly pure enjoyment as a reader of two great books.

I don’t know what the weather is like where you are today but, down here in Kent, we woke up to a terrific thunderstorm, the low rumblings waking me up before either the children or the alarm clock had the chance, but it’s also tropically hot and humid. All of that seems pretty apt for this blog post, since today I have the privilege of running a competition to give away not one, but two signed copies of Jane’s second novel ‘After The Storm’, which tells the story of two couples setting sail for an idyllic island cruise in the Caribbean – except there are secrets simmering just below the surface, so it’s far from plain sailing and, as the tagline says, some secrets can destroy you…

All you have to do to win a signed copy of this fantastic thriller is to write one or two sentences on your worst ever holiday disaster!Picture 405

You can leave a comment here (click comment in the tiny green writing at the bottom of the screen) or tweet us @writeromantics, leave a message on our Facebook page or email us at thewriteromantics@hotmail.co.uk. Jane will pick two lucky winners and you’ll also get a mention on her blog.

I’d love to enter, but of course I can’t – suffice it to say that my worst holiday disaster involved missed transportation, a serial-killer style haircut and gravel in the inner ear! You can read more about ‘After the Storm’ in the publisher’s press release here, it’s available right now in WHSmiths travel outlets nationwide and, of course, online.

Good luck and, to the winners, you are in for a treat!

Jo

PLEASE NOTE: The competition closes at midnight BST on Tuesday 16th June.

From Christmas Books to Literary Bikinis…

DebbieYoung_001Today we welcome author Debbie Young to the blog, who gives us the lowdown on writing seasonal stories.

Like Christmas jumpers in clothes shops, festive-themed books have been popping up all over the place during the last few weeks. But for those of us involved in their production, their advent (ho ho) will have been much sooner, because when planning to publish seasonal books, authors have to think like the fashion industry, designing festive sweaters in July and bikinis in midwinter.

My own collection of Christmas short stories, Stocking Fillers, began to take shape back in August,Laura in sea while I was soaking up the sun at the Homeric Writers’ Retreat in Greece. For someone like me, used to spending Christmas in the northern hemisphere, Ithaca seemed an incongruous setting in which to weave wintry words. Not so for the retreat’s organiser: as an Australian, Jessica Bell may have spent the week hankering after the traditional Christmas dinner down under on Bondi beach.

A little later in the summer, I found myself beside a rather colder beach, in Aberdeen, on the north east coast of Aberdeen beachScotland. The acres of pale sand were completely deserted, thanks to gunmetal grey skies, blasting winds and stair-rod rain. At night, in our camper van, snuggling down in my winter-weight sleeping bag was far more conducive to dreaming up the rest of my Christmas stories.

 

THE CHRISTMAS IMPERATIVE

 What is it about Christmas that compels us to write seasonal fiction? It has always struck me that by penning A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens made the rest of us redundant, for who could possibly write a more moving or memorable festive story than that? So many characters, phrases and icons have crept into our culture from the story of Scrooge’s redemption, taking root there as stealthily as the ivy from a Christmas wreath. Although festive traditions provide plenty of prompts, the more stories that are written about Christmas, the harder it is to produce something original.

But still those stories keep coming! Because for authors, the most natural way to share the true spirit of Christmas is not through sending Stocking Fillers Kindle Cover brightercards (I confess I have yet to write mine), but through penning feel-good stories. Every author’s story is different and interesting in its own way, as proven by the Write Romantics’ own Christmas anthology, Winter Tales. That book’s generosity of spirit oozes not only from the stories themselves but from the group’s decision to donate all profits to charity.

In Stocking Fillers, I’ve tried to be different and original in my stories too. Though all the usual suspects and situations are in there, there are also plenty of surprises, and I hope at least one icon that people will remember and hark back to in the Christmas yet to come. “I want one of those clocks!” one reader has already said to me. Which clocks? If you want to know, turn to the story called Christmas Time.

This Christmas I’ll be reading many new Christmas stories that I’ve been stockpiling on my ereader for the holidays. No doubt more will turn up under the tree on Christmas morning, because Father Christmas knows that bringing me books is always a safe bet.

Lighting Up Time cover for KindleOn the other hand, I hope he’ll also leave me a new notebook (A4 spiral bound hardback, please, if you’re reading this, Santa) – because my other big plan for the holidays is to get down to work on my summer collection. Now, where did I put that bikini…

PS If you’re still not convinced that you ought to be reading Christmas stories, here’s a seasonal and topical alternative: my single short story set at the winter solstice, Lighting Up Time, about a young woman’s fear of the dark – something to light up even the darkest, longest night tomorrow on December 21st.

 

Links:

My author website: www.authordebbieyoung.com

Stocking Fillers on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stocking-Fillers-Twelve-Stories-Christmas-ebook/dp/B00PF018YC/

Lighting Up Time on Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lighting-Up-Time-Winter-Solstice-ebook/dp/B00QFZDHGS/

Homeric Writers’ Retreat: http://www.homericwriters.com

 

Eight more sleeps…

SS102687It’s difficult to believe, isn’t it, that this time next week it will be Christmas Eve? Truth be told, I’ve been trying not to think about it galloping towards me as I am so far behind with my preparations and, as the days whizz past, I have to control the urge to hyperventilate into a paper-bag or slide into oblivion on a wave of mulled wine – the latter always the more appealing.

I think my lack of preparation is down to a series of things. I have been busy with the promotion of my Christmas novella, The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come, and the Write Romantics charity anthology, Winter Tales, currently a complete bargain at 98p. But it’s not just that, things have shifted in my household. All but the youngest of my four children is no longer a believer in you-know-who and for the first time, in I don’t know how long, it will be just the six of us on Christmas day. We’ll be joining the extended family on Boxing Day, but the big day itself is just about us and what we want.

The question is, when everyone stops being involved in leaving out carrots for the reindeer and mince pies for Santa, what do they want to do instead? We’ve started by talking about what to eat. We’re having a traditional Christmas dinner on Boxing Day, cooked by my lovely mum-in-law, so we’re free to choose what we want on the 25th. So far, the children’s lunch time order looks like this:

• One full English – hold the mushrooms and tomatoes
• Steak and chicken wings
• Coronation chicken
• Chinese Takeaway – reheated from the night before!

Not sure I’ll be joining any of my children in their choices, but we are starting to make new traditions for ourselves nowM4034S-4211 that they are getting older. To-the-death dance-offs on the Wii have replaced Mr Pop and plain old Monopoly has been usurped by the One Direction version – I know far more about those five boys than a woman of my years really should… The children can now stay up late enough to make midnight mass, but the crib service, in full fancy dress as a shepherd or angel, no longer holds such appeal.

And yet, the fundamentals haven’t really changed. So the non-believers know that the only similarity between Santa Claus and the giver of their gifts, these days, is rather more padding around the midriff than is good for you, but they enjoy the exchange as much as ever. The games have changed, but it’s still all about laughing and out of proportion competitiveness, which arises from a combination of sibling rivalry and competitive dad syndrome. Clichéd as it sounds, it is all about being together as a family that’s really important. If further proof of my theory that the heart of things stays the same is needed, I read a story this week that proves that nothing really changes, it just wears a new (Christmas) hat.

SS102598It goes something like this… The history of St Nicholas is that one of his first acts of giving, which generated the legend who became Santa, back in the 4th century, occurred after he heard of a man too poor to allow his three daughters to marry. Late one night, Nicholas went to their house and threw a bag of coins down the chimney allowing the eldest daughter to marry. Eventually, he repeated the gesture for the second and third of the man’s daughters.

Fast forward 1700 years or so and the staff of St Oswald’s Charity Shop in Blaydon have followed St Nicholas’s lead and made two of their colleagues’ dreams come true. Paula Kunes and Ellis Taylor have been working together in the charity shop since Ellis was made redundant four years ago and thought they would never be able to afford to get married. But some modern day saints, in the form of their workmates, gave the pair the money to tie the knot making it a Christmas they’ll surely remember forever.

So you see, things may seem to change, but Christmas is still Christmas and at the heart of it is love in one form or another. This must mean there’s no need to panic about not being ready, right? Now did anyone see where I put that paper bag…

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.

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

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

Wow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jessica xx