Meet historical fiction author, Elizabeth Bailey

I am really delighted to invite my fellow Sapere Books author, Elizabeth Bailey, as my guest this month.

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Welcome, Elizabeth!

My first question has to be where did your love of storytelling and writing begin?

My father read to us and my older sister made up stories for my brother and me, thus fostering an early interest in literature. I can’t remember when stories were not part of my life. Difficult to recall when I began to write them. In school, for festivals, and for pleasure.

My first fairy tale featured a hero who had to rid the lake of a plague of giant spiders in order to win the princess – hence romance. But the darker side was there too in an epic tragi-poem of a sailor who murders the mermaid who loves him. Shades of the future there?

There is a touch of horror in there for me too – spiders!

Do you find switching between the two very different genres of romance and crime keeps your writing fresh?

To be honest, I don’t switch much. I’m either writing romances one after another, or mysteries ditto, whatever happens to be driving the bread and butter. I contributed to anthologies with five other authors, producing a string of Regencies which became the Brides by Chance Regency Adventures. My Lady Fan mysteries had languished when I lost my first publisher. When Sapere picked them up, I began a feverish assault on those and haven’t swapped back yet. I write the occasional snippet of something completely different when the mood strikes.

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You touch on the paranormal in some novels, is this an area of research that you find fascinating?

I am absolutely sold on the supernatural. Powers above the norm, which I believe we all possess if we can access them. Telepathy is everywhere. You think of someone out of the blue and then they ring you up. Magic. Saying which, I was hooked on the Harry Potter series and I’m a sucker for fairy tales. As for past lives, we have all lived many times before. Far too much proof for doubt. One of my paranormals is based on an incident from one of my own past lives. I have no truck with the prevalent one-life belief!

That is fascinating. I admire your certainty.

In the ‘Lady Fan Series’ your protagonist is a woman who has to overstep the conventions of a lady in her day. This is a difficult challenge for an author and is a factor I also try to balance. How do you enable her to complete her investigations in a credible way for the period?

This is why I gave her Lord Francis. He is both husband and champion, her protector, and he can go where Ottilia can’t. If she does venture where ladies don’t, she is always accompanied by a stout male guardian – Francis or her Barbadian steward. Nevertheless, she still gets into dangerous situations. Her medical lore is gained from helping her brother doctor Patrick, with whom she lived for years before her launch into solving murders.

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Her background is “the middling sort” – genteel but not moving in the first circles. She observes the aristocratic milieu she is now in with an outsider’s eye, and she is free of the shibboleths governing the behaviour of ladies in that strata. That’s why she oversteps the bounds of convention, relying on her status for impunity. She has married into the elite where eccentricity is tolerated. In other words, she gets away with it!

Writing a series with recurring characters means that they have to continue to grow and develop with each new novel. How do you keep track of their biographies so that this development is consistent?

Wow, I have no idea! Every story has its own “bible” with cast, places, etc and snippets of potential plot, all of which I add to as I go along. The basics are copied into the new bible for a new book. If I’m missing one, I get it from an old bible. I probably ought to keep a spreadsheet, but I know I’d never manage to keep it up! I’ve always written this way – a cast/plot document and a text document, plus research docs, discarded text in a temp doc in case I need to retrieve it.

How I keep track is a mystery, but I do. So far. The characters who keep coming back are a fistful really. When other family members intrude, it’s usually in a minor way and about the only thing I have to figure out is how old they are now. Francis and Ottilia have developed without much help from me. They evolve story by story. I do enjoy their relationship. They have their ups and downs, but I find readers are engaged by their enduring love story.

When I began the series, I determined to marry them off after the first book because a personal bugbear of mine is those off/on romances that persist through a whole series. Why can’t they just get it together? Instead, I decided to give each story a secondary romance, but in the event, it turned out my hero and heroine are still very much the romantic couple in every story. I didn’t plan it. They just are, those two!

You have had some fascinating career roles to date: acting, directing, teaching and of course writing. Has each one contributed something to your current profession of being an author?

Absolutely. Theatre has shaped my writing. Dramatic structure parallels story structure in terms of build-up, highs and lows, climax and denouement, not forgetting cliff-hanger scene endings, “curtain” in drama. There’s also motivation, emotional journey, conflict (inner and external), character, dialogue, sub-text – the spaces between the words and character introspection. As an actress, these things became part of me. As a teacher, I had to dissect them. Ditto as a director, viewing my “staged drama” as a whole moving picture. The difference is that words encourage the reader to watch “the play” in their imagination.

You have been blessed with cross-cultural experience and travelled widely throughout your life. Do you agree that these aspects of life help to deepen an author’s ability to create engaging characters and plots?

I think it has given me a large tolerance of other cultures. Perhaps most telling, an understanding that human nature is pretty much the same, nation to nation. Such cultural differences as there are consist by and large of moral standards and artistic appreciation. But the human condition is what it is throughout. We all run the gamut of emotions and struggle with our personal demons as we try to survive. Observation enables you to engage as you mirror the inhabitants of the world around you.

Who or what would you say has had a strong influence on your life/work ethic?

My values echo my father’s. A true gentleman, he had wide tolerance, liberal ideals, intelligence. Articulate, funny, considerate and kind, he was a big teddy bear to me. As to work ethic, I imagine my mother’s bundle-of-energy personality must have rubbed off on me. Not that I could keep up! But I do have her drive to push through and get things done.

You have been published and self-published. What would you say are the main advantages or disadvantages of each?

Oh, this is a hard one. These days, you can’t talk of leaving promotion to others because both avenues require you to play your part in touting the books. I think traditional publishers help with visibility and take the burden off in terms of editing, proofing, formatting, book cover design and initial launch. On your own, you have to do it all and that’s tough. On the plus side, you have artistic control and personal satisfaction, even if sales are not as easy to promote.

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What advice would you give your younger self if you could as you set out on a life as an author?

Well, this is interesting because I am constantly giving advice to new authors. I’m not sure I would give the same advice to my younger self because things were very different in publishing when I started out. I had also already struggled to make it as an actor so persistence was not new to me. I think I would say: “Just do it. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

What is next for Elizabeth Bailey?

Here’s where I reveal the dream! If I get my dearest wish, it will be a TV series of Lady Fan. That would put the icing on the cake of my writing career.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all my questions and I wish you every success in your career and in life. I hope you realise your dream!

 

 

 

Catching up with Nicola Cornick!

 

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Welcome back, Nicola!

Thank you very much! It’s a pleasure to be here.
What have you been doing since you stepped down from being chair of the RNA?

It was only after I stepped down at RNA Chair that I truly realised what an intense two years it had been so the first thing I did was to go on a long holiday, which was a wonderful break and also a way of marking the end of what had been a very important and significant part of my writing life. Then I came back and got stuck into my latest manuscript which is a dual time novel set in the 15th century with the mystery of the Princes in the Tower at its heart.

The role of RNA Chair was one I enjoyed enormously and I did all I could to further the cause of romantic fiction during my time on the committee, but I was very happy to hand it on to the next generation of romantic fiction writers. They are doing a truly stellar job during the most difficult and unpredictable situation that could have hit us all and I admire them so much for it, and all the member of the RNA who are making this 60th anniversary year very special despite the challenges.
What was it about the protagonist’s story that attracted you to the lady behind The Forgotten Sister?

My dual time fiction centres on women whom I think of as being in the footnotes of history, those characters whose stories have been told usually from a male perspective or not at all. In this instance I was drawn to Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley who was, of course the favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. Both Elizabeth and Dudley are big characters whose love story tends to dominate the narrative and Amy is usually portrayed, if she’s mentioned at all, as a helpless victim who dies in mysterious circumstances. I wanted to give Amy some agency and tell the story of her life and death from her own perspective, and also to look at how the legend and myths about her grew after her death.

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How did you learn about the history of Lady Diana Spencer of The Woman in the Golden Dress?

There’s a room at Lydiard House in Swindon, where I am a trustee that is devoted to Lady Diana Spencer and her artistic work. The very first time I stepped into the “blue closet” as it’s known, I was enchanted by her drawings and the designs she did for Wedgwood. I went away to read more about her and her life. It was intriguing to discover that not only was she an ancestor of the late Princess of Wales as well as her namesake, but that their personal lives had some uncanny parallels.

 

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What are the specific challenges of writing an absorbing dual time novel?

For me the challenges are huge, firstly because I’m not by nature a planner but a dual time novel really does need careful plotting in order to weave the two timelines together successfully. Then there’s the challenge of fitting what is essentially two stories into one book and giving them both sufficient depth. Also, there is the issue of making sure that the present and the historical strands are both equally compelling. Most authors have a preference for writing one over the other but it’s our job to make sure the readers enjoy them both equally.
What do you do to stay fit – physically and mentally in this lock down situation?

I find that my physical and mental health are connected even more closely than usual at the moment. We’re all under enormous stress and living through an unprecedented situation and we all have to find the means to cope. I make sure that I take a walk each day – I’m fortunate to have a dog so I always have a walking companion and we’ve been exploring all the walks in our local area. I also do a Pilates class each week via zoom and an additional workout each week. That’s about the best I can do as I have an auto-immune condition that varies considerably from day to day in its effects; if I’m not feeling great, I will still go out and sit in the garden so I get fresh air and sunshine.
Mentally I find that having a schedule each day helps me to concentrate and I also limit the number of times I watch or read the news. Keeping in touch with friends and family remotely and having the dog to cuddle are the other two essentials for me!
How has the current situation affected the voluntary work you do with the Guide Dogs?

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We’ve had to put our work with Guide Dogs on hold at present as it isn’t possible to train puppies in all of the things that they need to do with shops, libraries and other venues closed and travel at a minimum. Fortunately, it’s still possible to do plenty of training in things like obedience, and to keep dogs entertained and interested with other games and activities! There’s going to be a lot of work to do when we’re all allowed to go out again!

I wish you, your new novel and hope that you and guide dog, Lucy, stay safe and have lots of hugs! 

 

In Sickness and In Health

In Sickness and in Health
Class prejudice is inbuilt within our culture going back centuries. In In Sickness and In Health Sophia and Isaac are meant to be together, but like so many people whose love was thwarted within the early nineteenth century, propriety, social divisions, war and need prevented this from happening.

Survival of the under classes depended upon their good health and equally good fortune as there was no health care, and knowledge of the human condition was limited, superstition and trial and error were rife. Therefore, being healthy to provide a living was essential. Isaac can provide for Sophia through his good fortune and hard work, but will not be a ‘cripple’ and a burden to her.

He and Sophia are a love match. However, he would not have dared approach Sophia if she had not been so open and honest with her desire for him. Naivety and youthful passion resulted in Isaac being sent away; his father dies in his absence. Yet, Joshua was forever proud of his son and would only wish Isaac happiness with Sophia.

Love finds a way, but at a high cost.

I have always been fascinated by the major changes that happened in the early nineteenth century. It was a period of great conflict and change: a time of war, pressgangs, and extreme social, agricultural, religious and political changes. All these impacted on the ordinary people who were left behind, whilst the wars with Napoleon dragged on.

The countryside was changing as mills were being built and cottage industries suffered, along with their communities. The population gravitated to these places of work and life in the countryside changed.

The government taxed its people harshly, whilst still fearing the possibility of a revolution as had happened in France. It was hardly surprising then that smuggling and opportunists abounded, yet in plying the trade they gave coin to an enemy. Some gangs were known for their violence, others were less so and merely supplied a ready market that crossed over social rank and was often funded by a moneyed man.

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, Luddite activities and the growth of new money, lives were changing and the old money was feeling threatened.

In the cities ‘society’ had strict rules: influence and connections were so very important.
In my books the settings are more remote. These influences mean nothing when a character is dealing with survival, either their own or someone who they have met. So boundaries are crossed, rules of society are broken or are made irrelevant.

Most of my titles are set in an area of the country that I love: North Yorkshire, with its beautiful coast and moors.

My villages of Beckton and Gorebeck are based upon typical North Yorkshire market towns, such as: Guisborough, Yarm, Thirsk, Helmsley. By 1815 both have their own small mills situated just outside the towns.

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Ebton is based on the well known Victorian town of Saltburn-by-Sea,only my version is as I imagine it to have been at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Love is a timeless essential of life. Throughout history, love in all its forms is a constant: be it passionate, caring, needy, manipulative, possessive or one that is strong enough to cross barriers of culture or faith. When two souls meet in a situation which takes them out of their normal social strata or into a shared danger, a relationship forms as the adventure unfolds.

If you have enjoyed reading any of my titles I would really appreciate it if you could take a moment to leave a review either on Amazon or Goodreads, or wherever you wish.
It is helpful to read feedback and I am always interested in what my readers think, or would like to read next.

Stay safe in these difficult times everyone wherever you are in the world!

If you are a new writer or need advice on a work-in-progress I also offer an independent manuscript appraisal service and/or mentoring, always aiming to give constructive and professional, honest feedback. I have worked as a creative writing tutor for over fifteen years. You can contact me here for information and fees.

Catching up with Peter Jones

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Can you tell us about your exciting new self help weight loss book?

Sure. It’s called How To EAT LOADS And LOSE WEIGHT. Or just EAT LOADS, LOSE WEIGHT. And that’s pretty much the entire concept, right there in those four words. How to eat loads of proper, tasty, satisfying meals, and yet somehow still lose weight – all without feeling hungry, without calorie counting, and without exercise.

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What makes your book different from the established slimming regimes?

I suppose the key difference is that this book is based on actual science.

The mainstream low-fat diet advice that we’re used to hearing on a daily basis is actually rooted in a misunderstanding of how the body works; ie. the idea that your body needs a certain number of calories (per day) to sustain itself and stores any excess. But in more recent years we’ve discovered that this is actually a huge over simplification. What you eat – so it turns out – is actually more important than how much.

Of course, being a huge nerd, this is what got me excited about the subject in the first place. I wanted to get to the bottom of how the body actually works. If it isn’t fat making us fat, what is? If calorie counting doesn’t work, what will? If cholesterol doesn’t cause heart disease what does?

Turns out the answers weren’t all that difficult to find. Just complicated. So a large part of my job when writing this book – the bit I enjoyed the most – was to describe those biological processes in a way that the average man (or woman) on the street would a) understand and b) find interesting and entertaining.

That’s the kind of non-fiction I love to write.

How has your opinion on diets and dieting changed since writing the book?

It’s made me more cynical! We’re a nation of people struggling to maintain our collective health, yet the mainstream media would have us believe that it’s all our fault: We’re lazy. We’re greedy. We’re not doing enough exercise. We’re eating too many fatty foods. We’re ignoring the experts. We’re not buying diet books. We’re not going to slimming classes. But it’s all nonsense! The data shows the exact opposite – yet somehow we’re still getting fatter, and sicker.

But it’s difficult for governments to radically change health guidelines that have been in place since the 1980s without raising eyebrows and risking an angry outburst. It’s difficult for doctors to dish out advice that isn’t in line with strict NHS policy. It’s difficult for slimming clubs and food manufacturers to switch to a weight loss model that would work so well people wouldn’t need to come back. And it’s neigh-on-impossible for drug companies to support any kind of advice that might eliminate the need for their most profitable products.

But the tide is turning. Slowly. There are more and more books like the one I’ve just written. And I’m proud to be apart of this health revolution.

What feedback have you had from your readers?

The feedback has been lovely. I decided to start a Facebook group for readers of the book (or those interested in learning more) and rarely a day goes by when someone doesn’t post about how much weight they’ve lost, how that gnawing hunger has dissipated, and how much better they’re feeling. People keep sharing recipes, and tips, and giving each other encouragement, and sometimes I have to pinch myself and say “you started this Jonesy – you!”

Where can interested readers contact you?

Several places!

Amazon: http://getbook.at/ELLW

The website: http://www.eatloadsloseweight.com

The Facebook group:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/443208936345878/

Meet bestselling author, journalist, interviewer, tutor, agony aunt and speaker, Jane Wenham Jones

Welcome, Jane!

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You grew up with quite a varied and strong literary heritage in your family. Were you encouraged to write and develop your own ideas from childhood, surrounded by books and such talent?

Yes, I was always encouraged to read and to write. My father wrote some textbooks (he was an English teacher), my mother writes poetry, my grandfather Frank Brookesmith had a memoir I Remember the Tall Ships published in his 80s (Foyles put on a window display!).  And his daughter, my aunt Shelagh Macdonald, won the Whitbread Prize (as it was then) for the Children’s Book of the Year back in 1977. Sadly,  she now has severe dementia and her decline was the inspiration for the mother in my last novel, Mum in the Middle. Uncles various have also been published in different ways and a couple of cousins are journalists. So writing was always seen as A Good Thing.

When did your first break as a published writer happen? Was it non-fiction or fiction first?

Short stories for women’s magazines. I started writing these when I was at home with a toddler and my brain had all but atrophied. When that toddler locked me in a cupboard and I had to talk him through phoning 999* to get me out, I realised how many stories there are all around us. And ended up publishing about a hundred of them. (For the full dramatic saga see my first non-fiction book Wannabe a Writer?)

Of all the impeccable research you have completed, is there one project or person that has intrigued, touched or surprised you more than you expected?

I often seem to include a storyline about some form of mental illness. That is in my family too.

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Many of the real issues such as dementia and cancer included are very serious and are given total understanding and respect for the impact they have on the character diagnosed and those supporting them. How do you balance this with the overall tone of your books which is humorous and optimistic?

It’s odd isn’t it, really? But humour has always been my way of getting through. There is a lot of black comedy in the worst things that happen to us, if you know where to look. And I think it is possible to still find humour and optimism in everyday life even when the chips are really down. So I suppose I don’t have any problem writing about bleak issues and amusing encounters side by side.  I recently found some parodies I wrote for my sisters after  our parents had split up in my late teens, and everyone was being even more bonkers than usual, and they made us all laugh hysterically all over again  – even though it was all quite appallingly  dysfunctional at the time.

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You capture the essence and conflicts within strong female friendship groups well. Have you been strongly influenced by female friends/peers in your own life?

Friends are everything. Both the male and female variety. But I have some wonderful women friends who have been amazingly supportive to me. Both in the publishing world – lovely pals in the RNA for example – and in my personal life.

Over the course of your novels have you noticed the social trends affecting women changing dramatically such as: the boomerang effect, empty nesters, and the sandwich effect between younger and older generations?

Absolutely! I was very aware of this when writing both Mum in the Middle and The Big Five OWomen in their forties and fifties can no longer be pigeonholed. I wrote recently that my earliest memory of my grandmother was of  a tiny, silver-haired old lady who wore a pinny, was keen on gardening and polished the teapot a lot. I calculate now that at the time, she was younger than I am! Her parents were long gone and all of her four children had their own homes. Today women of this age will still have ambitions for their careers, might have teenagers at home, or kids even younger, or be supporting adult offspring who can’t afford a place of their own. They’ll still expect to scrub up well for a hot night out, will probably go to the gym, or dance classes or be training for a marathon, and may well be online dating.  Just at the time when their elderly parents start kicking off! We are the stretched generation – in more ways than one!

I’ve also had reason  to revisit my third novel that was published in 2005 – One Glass is Never Enough. Re-reading the opening pages – which is a party scene –  for the first time in a decade, I was struck by how some of the sexual banter I had included would be considered  unacceptable in the current climate. The world has moved on a pace since I started writing – which rather dates me, doesn’t it? 🙂

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What has being a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association meant to you over the years?

A great deal. Prominent members like Katie Fforde, Jill Mansell and Judy Astley have been exceptionally kind and supportive to me and when I first pitched up to a conference knowing nobody, Catherine Jones made me laugh till  I cried.  So many, many lovely RNA members have become good friends  and are a constant source of inspiration and joy. I have especially loved acting as compere at the RNA awards for the last eight years. It is one of the  annual highspots.

What was the most important piece of advice that you were given that you would like to pass on to as yet unpublished writers?

 “Get the story down.”

But my own best piece of advice is: Marry someone rich!

Each author has their own favoured way of working. Do you have a strong work ethic: rise early, write late, or with such a hectic and varied schedule work as you move from event to event?

Oh it’s utter chaos. If I’m on a deadline, I get myself out of bed early and glue myself to the chair – out of sheer panic. But generally, on a day at home, I potter about, and tidy the airing cupboard, think I’ll make some bread, send emails and then suddenly – EEK – it’s 4pm and I’ve not even opened the manuscript. But I do do a lot of different things – so it is quite hard to stick to a rigid routine. I usually get there in the end.

How and when did you venture into interviewing and public speaking?

The speaking came about from being asked to talk to a local  “Ladies’ Dining Club” when my first novel was published.  I think they were a bit shocked – usually they had someone talking about flower-arranging or the history of the rubber stamp. But I had a really fun evening and then I got other bookings from word-of-mouth. The Rotary and Rotarians and such-like .

The interviewing started when I’d been on a panel at the Guildford Book Festival and the then director, the late Glenis Pycraft, invited me to chair a similar panel the following year. It grew from there and now I work at several different festivals each year and am a founder member of BroadstairsLit here where I live, which is huge fun.  I really love interviewing on stage. And I’ve been lucky enough to chat to a lot of top authors.

Do you embrace technology and social media with enthusiasm?

I would like to! But I’m not the best at it. I enjoy twitter (@JaneWenhamJones) but I’m a bit sporadic about it – so I’ve never really built that  up. And I’m hit and miss with facebook also – it’s all feast or famine.  I don’t fully understand how to best utilise my author page either (yes I know I should find out but it’s too easy to lose your life in this stuff.)  I’m envious of people who seem to just slide it in to their lives and have zillions hanging on their every word.  For example, I love Instagram –  which I came late to – but still haven’t properly grasped this “my story” business. I need a friendly seven-year old to instruct me…

What has been the highlight of your writing career to date?

I always think that the wonderful thing about this game is that every day there is the potential for something uplifting to happen. A foreign rights sale or a lovely review or a little surge in the amazon ratings. The are all highlights at the time.  It was exciting when Prime Time was shortlisted for the RNA awards some years ago and when Perfect Alibis was optioned by the BBC. Tho unfortunately that came to nothing in the end. Playing the chat show host for Peter James at Brighton’s Theatre Royal to an audience of over 700 was pretty fab…

What are your inspirations or ambitions now?

Oh the screen rights, my own TV show – you know the usual modest stuff… 🙂

 What project are you currently working on?

                             A 10th book and the 2020 programme for BroadstairsLit

 

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I love your hairstyle and wondered if there was a point when you decided that you were going to redefine your image, or if it was something that has just developed over time?

It started with my very first novel Raising the Roof.  I thought it would be a laugh to dye my hair the colour of the book jacket – which was turquoise and purple, as they all were then! You couldn’t get the fun colours you can now, so I had hair extensions put in, in the right shades and thus begun my love affair with multi-coloured locks. Everyone’s at it these days but I was a pioneer! People used to stop me in the street to comment on it.

What do you do to keep yourself fit away from the computer and to relax?

Yoga, walking, reading – of course. In the summer I play bad tennis if I can find anyone equally bad to join me. Two years ago I took custody of a tiny, flea-ridden, runt-of-the-litter black kitten and I have turned into a mad cat lady with bells on. Much time is spent admiring the now-huge-and-glossy creature that is Nugget (named by my son after a hop they make real ale with – spelled with two Ts – and not a deep-fried chicken snack) and attending to his every whim.  He totally rules the roost and has brought me huge pleasure. I definitely feel calmer and happier since he’s been around. Even when he wakes me at 3.am with a mouse in his jaws…

What is next for Jane Wenham-Jones?

A nice glass of Macon blanc villages I think…. possibly with some crisps….

Many thanks for taking the time to answer all of my questions and sharing some insight into your amazingly varied world.

I wish you every success in 2020 – Merry Christmas, Jane!

And to you – thanks for having me xxxx

A day in the life of Margaret James

A warm welcome back to Margaret James who is sharing a day in her busy life as an author, tutor, mentor and journalist.

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My writing days are from Monday to Friday – I try to have weekends off to do family and friends stuff – and begin at about ten in the morning. I’ve tried starting earlier, but I’m an owl rather than a lark, and find I can’t write anything before I’ve had that second coffee.

So, from ten o’clock onwards I do some online housekeeping – answering emails, writing blog posts, spending a bit of time on social media, and making notes for future articles and author profiles in Writing Magazine, the UK’s bestselling title for authors of all kinds.

I’ll have a break about eleven-thirty and take a walk around my very tiny inner city garden, snipping anything that’s grown too big for its space and checking the bird baths and feeders are full.

The afternoons and evenings are my most creative times. So then I’ll be busy writing articles, working on a novel (there is always a novel in development) and maybe writing a few short stories, too. My local writing group sets homework (I know – it’s outrageous!), giving us a one or two word theme, and asking us to produce a piece of work up to about 300 words long. I’ve written lots of pieces of flash fiction that way.

I might also do some reading for competitions. I’m involved in several and I enjoy reading the entries. I never know when something amazing is going to pop up with the next click. Some competition entrants also ask for reports on their stories, and it’s good for me to have to think hard about what they’ve written. Oops, I sometimes think, as I point out that the author has spent the first few pages describing the set-up for the story, I’ve been guilty of that. I’m part of the team that runs Creative Writing Matters, and we organise several short story competitions every year, as well as the Exeter Novel Prize.

I’m also the author of three creative writing guides with my writing partner Cathie Hartigan. We’re very proud of the success of The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook.

The late afternoons and early evenings are for winding down, perhaps meeting friends in town, maybe going to the cinema or having something to eat, and having the obligatory good natter, too. Then it’s home to open my laptop again, just to make a few notes on what I’ve done that day, and before I know it it’s two o’clock in the morning and I really, really, really need to go to bed!

My crime and mystery novel The Final Reckoning is published by Ruby Fiction and is available in ebook and audio format from all the usual platforms, including Amazon and Kobo.

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Here’s the blurb.

What if you had to return to the place that made you fall apart?

When Lindsay Ellis was a teenager, she witnessed the aftermath of the violent murder of her lover’s father. The killer was never found.

Traumatised by what she saw, Lindsay had no choice but to leave her home village of Hartley Cross and its close-knit community behind.

Now, years later, she must face up to the terrible memories that haunt her still. But will confronting the past finally allow Lindsay to heal, or will her return to Hartley Cross unearth dangerous secrets and put the people she has come to care about most at risk?

I always love to hear from readers, so please feel very welcome to contact me!

https://www.facebook.com/margaret.james.5268
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Meet best-selling author, Lorna Cook

Lorna Standing

Congratulations Lorna on winning the Joan Hessayon Award with your lovely novel The Forgotten Village. You must still be thrilled! When did you first decide to write fiction or have you always been a natural story-teller?

Thank you for the kind congratulations! I wrote my first (unpublished and never will be) novel in 2016. It was a pure historical romance and was very very bad. But I managed to learn so much from writing it and also from having it critiqued privately so I knew the silly mistakes I was making such as head-hopping, and knew not to transfer the same mistakes over to anything else I wrote. While I was writing the very bad novel, I had the idea for The Forgotten Village. I finished the very bad novel, just to prove to myself I could finish something, filed it away and prayed no one would ever find it and then after a bit of breathing space, in 2017 I began The Forgotten Village. I had just joined the RNA via the New Writers’ Scheme that January and so I was determined that I would have something to submit by the August deadline. I managed to finish it in time.

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Were you fortunate to gain publication of your first novel or has it taken a while to achieve your goal?

I have been very lucky. The Forgotten Village went out on submission to a handful of agents in February 2018 and I met with a couple of lovely agents before meeting Becky Ritchie at A.M. Heath. We worked together on the manuscript with a few key changes. Three months later Becky and her team had found me homes with publishers in the UK, Germany and Netherlands.

How long ago did you decide to write about the village of Tyneham and what inspired you about its history?

The village is utterly intriguing. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t been entranced by the real story of Tyneham, the village requisitioned in entirety in WW2 and never given back. I stumbled across an article in a national newspaper about how the village looked now (decimated) compared to how it looked before it was requisitioned (thriving) and I fell down an internet research rabbit hole. Once I’d researched I just knew the story I had in mind – about a woman trying to leave her husband in the middle of the war and a modern-day heroine on a mission to discover what happened to the woman in the past – had to be set in Tyneham during the frenzy of requisition.

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Will you be writing more books in this genre?

Yes, my second novel The Forbidden Promise is out in March 2020 and is set in the Scottish Highlands. (It’s available to pre-order now, she says shamelessly.) It moves between WW2 and present day as the modern day heroine, Kate arrives at Invermoray House to find that a woman who lived there eighty years ago has been all-but removed from the family history.

Did you find it difficult to keep the story predominantly as a romance as there is a very strong mystery element?

Yes and No. I found lots of things difficult when writing The Forgotten Village! The key challenges in writing a book like this are that I adore it when a romance springs as a by-product of something else, especially a mystery. It’s a challenge to develop characters a reader will root for, develop a romance a reader will enjoy, create enough intrigue to keep them reading two timelines and then to give them a conclusion to all of it they’ll feel satisfied with. I have to do that for two timelines! And so essentially, with each section, the reader gets half the book so it’s quite condensed. I learnt to write succinctly because at 100,000 per book, it’s only really 50,000 words in the past and 50,000 words in the present. It’s a bit exhausting my end! A big glass of wine gets drunk in this house at the end of a writing day.

Are you very disciplined in the way you organise your project from research through to finished manuscript?

Yes. I plan the past section out intricately because it’s the past section that informs the mystery element of the present sections. I tend to plan the past sections and ‘pants’ my way through the present sections while knowing exactly what twists and turns there will be. See above comment about wine 😉

You obviously love historical fiction and research your chosen topic thoroughly. What advice would you give to anyone who was considering writing an historical or dual time novel?

I would echo some great advice I read by historical fiction authors, which is don’t get too wrapped up in the research in the early stages. Just write the story and if there’s a fact you don’t know just shove ‘XXXX’ into the manuscript. Then when you’ve finished your first draft and need to give yourself some breathing space, that’s when you can go off and start looking up all the facts you don’t know the answer to such as, ‘when did petrol go on the ration?’ or ‘what was the tape that criss-crossed the windows for air raids called?’ Also, researching all the nitty gritty afterwards means you won’t be tempted to put huge swathes of (probably rather boring) research into your manuscript that just slow it down. I can now tell you everything you want to know about requisition orders in WW2 but purposefully put very little of it into The Forgotten Village because…yawn.

What does being a member of the RNA mean to you?

It means so much. First and foremost, it’s friendship. After I finish writing this I’m off to see my buddies at the RNA Chelmsford Chapter for our monthly lunch. I’ve not been since January because I’ve been knee deep in writing The Forbidden Promise and on a very intense deadline and I’ve really really missed catching up with everyone.

Secondly, it’s the events and talks which have really educated and informed me these past couple of years. The conferences are so well thought out. The RNA gave me such a boost to my career via the NWS critique and then winning the Joan Hessayon Award has been phenomenal. The association is so well thought of in the industry and I’m incredibly proud to be a member.

What do you do to switch off from writing/researching/deadlines?

Reality TV! Isn’t that embarrassing. Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex. Often back to back. For hours! I’ve also just discovered Real Housewives of Cheshire and I am HOOKED! Glamour and drama and some fantastic dialogue. I do find myself listening to some great lines and wondering if I can pinch them for future novels, especially when the blokes apologise for cheating or when they try and hit on a girl. Marvelous stuff.
On a more healthier note, I walk the dog and listen to podcasts or audio books and I love swimming because I can really switch off. Also there’s nothing like curling up in bed and reading a good book.

Do you embrace social media or control the time spent on it carefully?

I’m pretty good at switching off from social media. I post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter a couple of times a week. I’m more of a social media voyeur though. I cruise in, look around at people’s posts, cruise back out and it was like I was never there.

What is next for Lorna?

Book 3! Oh the fear. This one is going to be a bit meatier, I think, than The Forgotten Village and the upcoming The Forbidden Promise. It’s set in a location quite close to a lot of people’s hearts and so I need to research to within an inch of my life beforehand, which is the very thing I recommended above that people don’t do! However, on this occasion, the timeline of events is something that I need to get absolutely right from the start and so I have covered the walls of my office with sheets of paper and am planning very intricately what happened on which dates as I prepare to weave a plot around it. I’m exhausted already but am determined that every book I write will be better than the last and so onwards we go!

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to complete the interview and best wishes for future success in your writing career, Lorna!

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Catching up with Michael Fowler

I am delighted to invite crime writer and artist Michael Fowler back to my site. So what has changed since 2015?

Last year I made the difficult decision to leave the publishing company I had been with since 2011; not an easy decision but I felt I had gone as far as I could with them and needed a fresh challenge, and so with a certain apprehension, but also a sense of excitement, I began pitching my work again.

A bold decision for an established author to make, but one that has worked out well.

For two months nothing happened and the doubt set in but then in in the same week I got three offers from publishers, two on the same day. I was buzzing again, and after a bit of googling and research, I learned that Sapere Books were spearheaded by three young, talented people who had experience of the publishing industry and produced terrific eye-catching covers for their authors so I plumped for them. A year on my DS Hunter Kerr series is about to be launched with re-edited versions of previous books, a brand new prequel, two further additions – one of those set on the island of Sark – and more lined up.

I am going to take Hunter Kerr into new territory that will be revealed in the very near future.

Heart of the Demon 2019 cover

 
Aside from that, in the past week, I have been approached by a script writer/producer asking for an option on my true crime novel – Safecracker – to develop a movie or TV series from the book. I am so excited to see where this develops.

I wish you every success with DS Kerr series and hope the TV option works out on Safecracker. 

Click here to read Michael’s original interview.

An Interview with Alison May

Director Alison MayI am delighted to welcome the new chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Alison May. Welcome and congratulations, Alison!

Before we talk about the RNA I would like to ask you about your own writing life and you’re your lovely books written independently or as one half of Juliet Bell.

What were your first breakthrough moments as a published writer?

I sold my first book, Sweet Nothing, in 2013 and it was actually the very first novel that I wrote. I’d been writing seriously for 11 years at that point though but it had taken me about six of those to work out that I wanted to write a novel. So my biggest and first major ‘breakthrough’ moment as an author was probably realising that I wasn’t built to a be a Very Serious Playwright, but am much happier writing novels.

My second big breakthrough was discovering the RNA’s New Writer’s Scheme, which I joined in 2011. The New Writers’ Scheme gives unpublished authors membership of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and a critique on a full manuscript each year from a working author in your sub-genre. Joining the RNA also gave me access to a whole world that I never understood before – a world of writers, but also editors and agents. I think it takes a village to shepherd a novel from idea to publication and the RNA is my village.

You co-write novels with writer and TV journalist Janet Gover, as Juliet Bell. Does this present very different challenges to writing your own novels?

Completely different. Neither of us are big planners when we’re writing on our own – Janet is probably more of a planner than me but that’s not saying much. Writing collaboratively we have to plan. We hardly ever actually write together in the same room so we have to plan the story to stop either one of us getting over excited and killing off a character the other desperately needs in the next chapter. That makes it a really different writing experience.

Writing collaboratively is also a great way to stop you from being precious about your own work. Having a writing partner who can, and will, just put a red line through your masterpiece is a sobering experience but ultimately a very healthy one I think for any writer.

How would you describe an Alison May novel?

That’s tricky! I started my career writing romantic comedies, and I still love to write comedy. I’m planning a return to that genre after I finish my current novel-in-progress. But, my most recent Alison May book, All That Was Lost, is neither romantic nor comedic. It’s an emotion-driven story about a woman who’s built her whole life on one single lie – the lie that she can talk to the dead.

How would you describe a Juliet Bell novel?

Juliet Bell writes modern retellings of misunderstood classics. She’s a sucker for a Bronte novel with a hero who is really anything but heroic!

What key advice would you share with aspiring writers?

Read lots and write lots. There is no substitute for actually getting words down on the page.

It’s definitely worth investing whatever time and money you can spare in developing your craft. I’m a big fan of writing courses and retreats – I run them myself and you should definitely all come on one – but they’re something to do if you are able on top of actually writing not instead of it.

Each author has their own favoured way of working – would you share yours with us?

I’m currently working on book 9, so you’d think that by now I’d have a definite process, wouldn’t you? Realistically it’s different for every book. There are a few constants though. I write horribly shoddy first drafts, and do most of the work on shaping the idea into an actual novel when I edit and revise. I always hate the book at around twenty thousand words, and regularly chuck out the opening 20k of a first draft and start again. I do very little plot planning and what I do I generally never look at while I’m actually writing. So what process I have is messy and disordered but if I try to organise and plan more and create order then I don’t write at all. It turns out messiness suits my writer brain.

 What project(s) are you working on next?

I’m currently working on a dual timeline contemporary and historical novel about witchhunts, both literal and metaphorical. It’s my first novel with a substantial historical storyline – the earliest I’ve gone in time before in 1967, and this goes back to 1695 so it’s a big departure for me from writing contemporary fiction, but I’m really excited about it.

You have just taken over from the lovely Nicola Cornick as chair and next year is very important as the RNA is 60!

What is your vision for the future of the RNA?

I see the next couple of years for the RNA as being about two things. Firstly I want to protect and nurture the things that are already so brilliant about the organisation – the sense of community, the mutual support, and the generosity towards new writers. I’m really keen to ensure that that sense of community continues and to ensure that it’s an inclusive community that welcomes writers of all forms of romantic fiction and from all backgrounds.

Secondly, I think every Chair wants to develop the association and make sure we keep moving forward. We have our diamond anniversary year coming up in 2020 with lots of events planned and lots of online activity to help our members engage directly with readers. We’re also working to develop some new education activities, alongside our existing New Writers’ Scheme, to provide professional development opportunities for both published and unpublished authors.

What has being a member of the organisation meant to you over the years?

So much. It’s almost impossible to overstate the career benefits of joining the RNA for me. I found my first publisher after a recommendation from my New Writers’ Scheme reader. I heard about my agent through a contact I made in the RNA. It’s a genuine privilege to be involved in leading the organisation.

I also can’t overstate the personal benefits. I’ve already said that the RNA is my village in writing terms, but that’s true in life terms as well. My RNA friends are some of the first people I message in a crisis or turn to celebrate good news.

How has the romance genre changed since you joined?

There are always trends and fashions in romantic fiction. I joined the RNA around the time Fifty Shades of Grey came out and kickstarted a boom in erotic romance. At the moment we’re seeing a big peak in sales of lighter, more escapist fiction. Sagas are also selling in huge numbers at the moment, often set in the mid twentieth century, and following a heroine, or group of heroines, through a range of trials in their lives, not just finding love.

Romantic authors are also at the forefront of tackling issues raised by movements like ‘Me too’. It’s absolutely right that we’re thinking about consent as a central part of how we write about sex and relationships.

LGBTQIA+ romance is also finding new readers at the moment which is brilliant to see. We want readers to be able to access as wide a range of romantic stories as possible – every reader deserves to see their own version of Happy Ever After on the page. And if you’re a reader who can’t find that in a book yet, why not join the New Writers’ Scheme and write your own?

Looking forward, how excited or optimistic are you about the future of the romance genre within publishing?

Incredibly excited. If you look at Netflix and other streaming services you can see that there’s a huge appetite for romantic stories. As romantic novelists we’re competing with all of those other forms of entertainment, but ultimately I believe that story is king. If you can tell a satisfying romantic story then there are readers out there desperate to hear that story.

Do you think organisations can stay genre specific, or is there a need for a more open working relationship within the industry, which reaches out to other genre specific organisations? 

I don’t think it’s an either/or question. There are no plans at the moment for the RNA to stop being a genre-specific organisation. I think there are genre-specific challenges that it’s good to be able to view as a single group. In romantic fiction, for example, we’re still fighting the perception that books predominantly written and read by women are somehow ‘less than’ and I think it’s valuable to have a strong genre-specific voice to address those sorts of issues.

But I’m also really keen to work across genres with other organisations. We’re really pleased to have a strong relationship with the CWA for example. Some of our local groups have already organised joint events, and I hope more will do so in the future. We also share ideas with one another at a Chairperson level and I think both organisations are stronger for having that relationship.

BIOGRAPHY
Alison May is a novelist, short story writer, blogger and creative writing tutor who grew up in North Yorkshire, and now lives in Worcester. She worked as a waitress, a shop assistant, a learning adviser, an advice centre manager, a freelance trainer, and now a maker-upper of stories.

She won the RNA’s Elizabeth Goudge trophy in 2012, and her short stories have been published by Harlequin, Choc Lit and Black Pear Press. Alison has also been shortlisted in the Love Stories and RoNA Awards. Alison writes romantic comedies and emotion driven fiction. Her latest novel, All That Was Lost, was published by Legend Press in September 2018.

She also writes modern retellings of misunderstood classics, in collaboration with Janet Gover, under the penname Juliet Bell (www.julietbell.co.uk & Twitter @JulietBellBooks).

Alison is currently Chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Website: http://www.alison-may.co.uk

Twitter: twitter.com/MsAlisonMay

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AlisonMayAuthor

Instagram: instrgram.com/MsAlisonMay

BUY LINKS:

Juliet Bell – The Heights

Juliet Bell – The Other Wife

 

Alison May – All That Was Lost

Whitby: unique, beautiful and historic

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The historic maritime port of Whitby conjures up a myriad of images that connect people through time to this beautiful ancient town.

 

From the iconic Abbey ruins atop its headland, reminding us of its Christian heritage, to the harbour below where the Esk flows into the sea, a booming whaling industry thrived; now it is a tourist magnet and thriving community.

The existing Whitby Abbey ruins date from the Norman period when Benedictine monks founded a new abbey on the site of the original, which had been destroyed by Viking raiders in 867 AD. The order and abbey was to be destroyed and dissolved by Henry VIII.  However, it is the original abbey that holds its lasting place in history, founded by Oswy, King of Northumberland in 657AD and associated with St Hilda. The Synod of Whitby, which was held in 664AD, was noteworthy as Celtic Christians lost the debate with Roman Christians on how the calculation of Easter would be made, the effect of which we still feel today.

Whitby as a settlement can be traced back to the Bronze Age. Brigantes, Romans, Saxons, Vikings all played their part in the town’s development, but it was the abbey that first made the difference between a settlement and the town it would become, between the mid-C18 and C19, a thriving maritime port.

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The Yorkshire Saga #1

The Alum industry in the C16 century also played an important part in the growth of the importance of the port. Alum was an important fixative used in the dyeing of cloth. The remains of such a works can be explored at Ravenscar further along the coast. In To Love Honour and Obey this is mentioned, as the fires and smells of the process polluted the coastline at the time. Modern methods of production made the century old methods of alum production obsolete, but in the early C19 it thrived.
From the mid C18 to mid C19 the port was an important whaling, fishing, boat-building, rope and sail-making harbour with many associated industries prospering alongside.

One of these ‘trades’ was smuggling and the narrow alleyways and snickets were excellent for moving contraband through the streets unseen to the prying eyes of the customs or revenue men. Another use for them was for young and able men to dodge the pressgang should one dare to come by.

 

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Today Whitby is a bustling town where freshly caught fish are savoured in the many restaurants and inns. Whitby crab is delicious.

The White Horse and Griffin is a restored C18 coaching inn on the east side where Charles Dickens once stayed. The cobbled yard to its side, and the style of small brick out houses further along hidden in one of these yards, inspired the bath house where Willoughby takes Beth in The Yorkshire Saga series Book 1.

The visitor can take a trip out of the harbour and see for themselves the view many a returning sailor would have seen, as the church on the headland welcomed them home.

 

Whitby has many historic sites and buildings to explore, a myriad of gift and crafts shops. It also holds a number of popular festivals including the very lively and colourful Whitby Folk Week, the dramatic costumes of the Whitby Goth Weekend and even a Pirate Festival to name but a few.

The famous cartographer and explorer, James Cook, lived at his master’s house in Grape Lane in 1748 at age 18 as he served a merchant seaman’s apprenticeship.  The house is now the home of The Captain Cook Memorial Museum and is well worth a visit.

Sir William Scoresby is another famous native who invented the ‘crow’s nest’ to protect sailors, and his family’s legacy to the town and whaling industry is also celebrated within the town’s museum.

After the mid C19 the whaling industry and shipbuilding trade died down but a new invention, the railway, arrived and the town on the west side of the Esk developed to accommodate guests in fine hotels. This railway accesses the beauty of North Yorkshire NYMR such as Goathland, Grosmont and Pickering; some of the locations were used in TV’s Heartbeat series and Harry Potter. It is a really beautiful journey to take.

One of the guests who stayed here was Bram Stoker. This gave the town a connection to his famous work ‘Dracula’.

 

The 199 steps lead up from Church Street from the C15 cottages to St Mary’s church at the top and the abbey beyond it. The church inspired another scene within To Love Honour and Obey because of the unique box pews and the gallery above. The setting, building and views from outside this church are well worth a visit.
When Queen Victoria went into a long period of mourning, another of Whitby’s industries thrived; that of Whitby Jet. The Jurassic period’s fossilised remains were mined and skilfully crafted into jewellery. Once the fashion changed, and association to death dulled its popularity in the early C19, demand faded, but not completely as it has regained some popularity today.

 

Whitby also features in For Richer, For Poorer as Jerome and Parthena escape their pursuer in a Yorkshire coble. The harbour would have been busy with many vessels leaving from the steps at all times of day and night to catch the tide.

 

The Yorkshire Saga series is set against the beautiful setting of North Yorkshire weaving fact and fiction, real and imagined towns along the coat and moors.

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