Meet Louise Douglas -the RNA’s 2021 Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award winner

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I love the description of ‘contemporary gothic mysteries’ – where and when did you first discover your desire to write novels?

Thank you, Valerie and thank you for inviting me to your website, it’s a treat to be here 🙂

You are very welcome!

I’m one of those people who never wanted to do anything but write. When I was a child and people asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, I always answered: ‘Bookmaker!’ I still love that word now!

I was a dreamy child, often in trouble as I never listened to instructions, struggled to concentrate in school and was always getting lost. This was because I was imagining alternative lives in my head and not paying enough attention to the real world. I loved fiction books; loved the pictures, the feel of the pages, the way the stories unfolded. I was often told that writing was all very well but I needed a ‘proper’ job too. Which was fine, as long as it was a job that I could do while I was day-dreaming.

What is it about this genre that attracts you?

I’ve always been drawn to the dark, but that’s because it’s necessary to accentuate the light. I like pre-Raphaelite paintings, epic Gallic poetry and music with a mysterious edge to the lyrics (Nick Cave, Massive Attack). From a young age, I liked exploring old graveyards, because of the way nature takes over, and because of the inscriptions on the gravestones, the stories they tell and the stories they hide. I love that these sad places inevitably evolve into magical and joyous havens for wildlife. It was inevitable I’d be drawn to the kind of books that meld death and love and wild countryside places and big old abandoned houses with secret doors and love letters hidden between the pages of novels.

The night is darkest before dawn; that’s what makes the sunrise so glorious.

Your winning novel was inspired by a real place – is it place, character, theme or another inspiration that triggers most of your plots?

It is usually places that are the inspiration, I can’t say exactly why. But that’s another habit that has carried through from childhood – finding a certain place and knowing that I have to write about it. I remember being about nine years old and riding in the back of my dad’s car, going past a massive old building that was completely derelict and (I know this will sound weird) although I’d never seen it before, I recognised it. It was somewhere in the East Midlands – that’s all I could tell you about it now, but it’s always stayed clear in my mind. That building has become the asylum-turned-reform school that’s at the centre of the novel I’m writing now.

Are you a meticulous plotter or a more organic writer?

Oh, I wish I could plot! I’ve tried everything to turn myself into a plotter, I’ve got a bookshelf full of ‘How to plot…’ instruction manuals, I’ve asked other writers for advice, scoured the internet for tips, I’ve tried and tried and tried and I just can’t do it! Even if I start with a plot within about 500 words it’s all gone to pot and the characters are doing their own thing or turning into different characters altogether and everything that started off clear in my mind has become a mess.

‘Organic writer’ is a lovely phrase but it doesn’t really describe the chaos that I go through every single time. And the not-plotting is so wasteful. I end up deleting tens of thousands of words because I’ve written myself into a dead end. It’s annoying and frustrating and I wish I could be different but it’s the way it is.

You have a love of nature, creativity and the outdoors, does this shine through your work?

Thank you for this question. I do love nature, plants, animals, the moon and stars, the countryside, urban foxes, the oceans, birds, all of it. I hope it shines through in my work because nature is so important to me. One day I really want to write a book about how the outdoors grounds, inspires, heals and calms. Climate change and the threat to the environment terrifies me.

What has winning this amazing award meant to you?

It means the world to me. Being shortlisted gave me a huge boost; it’s done wonders for my confidence. I’m incredibly grateful and proud to have won. And also… to have my name mentioned in the same sentence as the wonderful Jackie Collins is just.. well it’s amazing! Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster UK for sponsoring the award in her name. #BeMoreJackie.

Has your road to success been long or short?

It’s been a long road, with plenty of steep hills, bumps and potholes and I’ve got lost many, many times and had many a flat tyre but I’m still on that road and still enjoying the ride.

What tip would you give your unpublished self-looking back, or would you not change a thing?

I’d tell myself to learn to plot.

How important has being a member of the RNA been to you as a writer?

It’s been important to me both as a writer and as a human being. Through the RNA I met my first ever writer friends; we used to meet once a month in a pub and we laughed and encouraged one another and I realised what a warm and wonderful community it is. It’s a superb organisation run by incredible people.  I admire and respect the way it promotes romantic fiction in its myriad guises, challenges the sometimes patronising assumptions that appear in the press, supports both new and established writers and helps those of us in what is effectively a solitary profession feel part of a collective.  I’m incredibly proud to be part of it.

What is next for Louise?

Book number eight, The Scarlet Dress, has just been published and I’m currently working on the asylum-turned-reform-school book which is my first ever full-on ghost story.  

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Congratulations and I wish you every ongoing success!

Comments, likes and questions can be left below.

Meet Christina Courtenay – winner of the RNA’s 2021 Fantasy Romantic Novel Award

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The story was inspired by a Viking style ring I own, an exact replica of one displayed at the Historical Museum in Stockholm. When I went to the museum to compare the two, I was struck by the germ of an idea for this book. My agent just happens to be Swedish as well and she encouraged me to explore our mutual heritage, so it seemed like it was meant to be – serendipity!

I am intrigued by the connection between your replica ring and the original – how long did you need to research this fascinating tale?

I can’t say precisely – the ring was the catalyst, and after I’d been to see the original in the Stockholm Historical Museum, I had the story in the back of my mind for many years but never did anything about it. Then all these weird coincidences started to happen – there was a huge Viking exhibition at the British Museum in London, several TV series about Vikings (both fiction and non-fiction), a couple of new books about them and some exciting new archaeological finds. I also managed to go to the Jorvik Viking festival at last, which I’d wanted to do for ages, and then I found my Swedish agent. It was as if the universe was telling me to just go for it – so I did and ECHOES OF THE RUNES was the result. I did some basic background research at first, then continued more in-depth as I went along, continuously reading, visiting museums and travelling to Viking sites.

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What appeals to you about the romantic fantasy genre in particular?

I’ve loved timeslip and time travel stories ever since I first read The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier and Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine. I think most history buffs (and I’m definitely one of those) imagine they’d love to travel back in time or somehow be able to experience the past. Within the romantic fantasy genre readers can do that – whether it’s by way of dreams, ghostly apparitions or proper time travel, the past comes to life. And we get to meet the people from the past, especially the heroes. It’s exciting and a great way to learn about history.

Christina in a Viking Longhouse

Will you stay within this or have you other projects in different sub-genres ongoing?

For the moment I’m staying with timeslip and time travel stories. I was writing YA a while back, but that’s on the backburner now. I think I’ve realised that I’m now writing exactly the sort of stories that appeal to me and that I enjoy most, so there is no reason to change that.

How have you coped/worked during lockdown life?

It’s been very up and down. To begin with, I was very enthusiastic and determined to get loads done. There are always so many things we put off doing, isn’t there? I did lots of writing at first and also tackled something I’d been meaning to do for ages – create a website for my genealogy project (on my maiden name). Once that was done, I sort of ran out of steam a bit, and the anxiety of the whole pandemic situation got to me. Now we seem to be heading for more normal times though, so I’m back to writing with a vengeance and actually working on two stories at once!

What advice would you give your younger unpublished self?

Join an organisation like the RNA straight away, go to as many workshops and events as possible and really listen to the advice, network, and find a writing buddy/critique partner. Before I found the RNA, I was floundering because I hadn’t come across any likeminded authors, but once I did, it felt like coming home.

The RNA obviously means a tremendous amount to you as a previous chairman but how much does winning this award mean to you?

It means so much, I can’t even begin to tell you! ECHOES OF THE RUNES was my first book with a new publisher, as well as being close to my heart because of the connection with my heritage. And after the horrible year we’ve all had, it really did feel wonderful to finally have something positive happening!

What is next for Christina?

I have two more books coming out this year with Headline Review in the Viking time travel series:  WHISPERS OF THE RUNES will be published at the end of June, and it follows a hero and heroine who get mixed up with the so-called Great Heathen Army that rampaged through Britain in the 870s AD. Then there is TEMPTED BY THE RUNES which will be out in December, and the couple in that story take the huge step of being among the first settlers in Iceland. Both these are time travel tales, where the heroines are from the present and have to adapt to living in the Viking age. Not an easy thing to do!

I wish you every continued success and look forward to reading your worthy winner.

You can follow Christina at:-

http://www.christinacourtenay.com

https://www.facebook.com/christinacourtenayauthor

Comments, likes and questions can be left below.

Meet award winning author – Val Wood

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Please share with us the amazing route that you took to becoming a published author when you had your first book accepted back in 1993, winning the Catherine Cookson Prize.

1993 seems like a lifetime ago and yet only yesterday. When my first novel THE HUNGRY TIDE was published I was totally shell shocked and astonished that I had won such a prestigious prize as the Catherine Cookson Award. My husband Peter had persuaded me to enter the manuscript, for I didn’t have the faith in myself to consider that it would be good enough, particularly as the competition was open to published as well as unpublished authors. When I was presented with the award by Joanna Trollope on a launch on the River Thames, I had no idea that this was only the beginning.

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You have your own prize now, was this inspired by a desire to also give back to upcoming talent?

I had had great encouragement whilst learning my craft of writing through many years of writers’ workshops, university lectures and discussion groups with other writers. The most pleasing aspect of all, was that most of my fellow writers wanted to write, not with the prospect of being published with a book to show, but to put meaningful words on the page that came from the heart and would interest anyone who might read it. Not forgetting the art of story-telling, which is probably one of the oldest crafts in the world. Most of us, and not only professional writers, have at some time in our lives enjoyed being read to, or have told an impromptu story from our imagination.

Ten years on and being totally committed to my work and with more books under my belt as I became established as a professional author, I began to consider that with the luck and encouragement that I’d had before and during my career, it was beholden of me to inspire others who were as keen to write as I was, and so with the help of an incredible team who organised the detail and with the assistance of the Hull Central Library, in 2013 we set up the annual Val Wood Creative Writing Competition, free to enter and with a prize. We have had many hundreds of entries over the years, we have a good system with skilled readers and I choose the final winners. 

Because of the pandemic the competition has taken longer to organize during this year’s library closures; the winners are about to be announced and we are already planning next year’s competition.

You live and write about a beautiful part of the country but is it the place or a character or a piece of historical detail that triggers the first ideas for your novels?

For me, when beginning a novel, the theme or subject matter is always of paramount importance and because the Victorian period was a symbol of change in industry, science and the women’s movement, I set my novels during this time, often with the background of poverty, injustice, women’s rights or lack of them as in No Place for a Woman, and how they set about righting the wrongs against them. From my imagination I have created women who didn’t want to sit and wait for a husband to claim them and who set out to find their own role in their lives as in Far from Home, and others who found they had made the wrong choice as in my latest novel The Lonely Wife. 

Do you let your characters grow organically on the page or do you plan ahead?

I don’t know my characters until I name them and then I watch them grow into the life I create for them. There are times when I don’t know which direction they will take, or sometimes I know the ending before I am halfway through. It is very important that the characters behave as real people of the nineteenth century would have done and don’t fall into  the trap of twenty-first century manners or speech such as OK or getting sorted, level playing field or even the latest phrase of roadmap! This would totally confuse a nineteenth century character. 

I always give the men in the novels a strong part; my males are considerate on the whole, though some are not and get their cum-uppance! And of course, there is always a romantic element, and I generally fall completely in love with the male protagonist!

Having written so many books based in the region, was it your inspiration to create the Val Wood’s Trails?

Alongside the theme and the characters, I think of the place or setting. I have done this from the very first novel because I need to know where my characters live; I drive out or walk to look at locations in East Yorkshire and I might well have terrified bystanders at some time in the past by standing on the edge of the crumbling cliffs of Holderness; confused others as I stare into space to imagine where a building or street in the heart of Hull might have been before it was blitzed, or clutching a cup of coffee in a café in an East Yorkshire market town that has retained some Victorian element. I place my characters there; this then inspired the idea of bringing those characters to life and allowing readers to follow their trail either physically or online as I did with The Kitchen Maid and The Harbour Girl.

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Pre Covid the libraries were a place that you have supported and being actively involved with so in what ways have you missed this side of your writing life and tried to compensate for it?

During this pandemic, I feel that many people including authors have felt the strain of uncertainty and doubt.  Beginning the present work in progress was difficult; I felt slowed down, uncertain where to begin; this was the first time ever that I have felt this way; I wanted to write a ‘feel good’ story, something to make readers happy and uplifted, but it just wouldn’t come. 

I was sorry to read of your personal loss due to Dementia and understand that you are actively involved in work with the Friends of the Hull Memory Clinic to spread greater awareness and understanding. Have you post-lockdown plans to continue with this?

Since my husband died from dementia in 2009 I have lived alone but haven’t felt lonely; my writing and a loving family saved me from that, but I have missed not being able to meet friends, not feeling safe enough to shop in a store or being unable to visit a favourite historical building. Simple things that we took for granted but won’t ever again.

I told myself to take it easy, to be kind to myself. I have written a book a year since 1993 even through my sad and difficult times, plus several short stories for magazines, essays and lectures and published one ‘long’ short story of 50 pages for a local charity in order to raise funds for a memorial to the people of Hull who died in the Second World War.

So I took a short time out and walked on the green and lovely common land of Westwood here in Beverley and I regained my equilibrium and after a time was able to begin again, deciding that I would continue from The Lonely Wife and write a sequel.

In the past I have been a ‘hands on’ volunteer, being with one charity for almost thirty years; but now in my later years I have changed roles to give support by becoming patron and vice president with charities that I have long supported. I consider that I do very little now but most of us can do some small thing and it is appreciated.

I contemplate that I have been very fortunate in my life, and the schoolgirl who struggled with maths and dates in history, but loved writing stories would not have believed how life could change because of a fertile imagination.

No Place For a Woman. PB

Which historic figures stand out as inspiring of the women you have researched?

I have learned so much during my writing life and read about some incredible women through my research; Marie Curie who was honoured with the Nobel Prize and under intense pressure from her male peers, went on to invent the first mobile X ray machines and took it herself to the Front during the First World War thus saving thousands of lives.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and her daughter Louise Garrett Anderson, both suffragettes and campaigners for women’s equal rights as men had, and Caroline Norton who petitioned Parliament to change the laws regarding Custody of Children, and so many more.

What have been the highlights of your career to date: the Honorary Doctorate, being a Times Bestseller, winning the Catherine Cookson Award – all or something else?

Winning the Catherine Cookson Award opened up a host of other opportunities from becoming a Sunday Times best- selling author to being honoured in 2017 by the University of Hull with an Honorary Doctorate for the contribution to literature, my greatest achievement; and in 2019 an invitation to a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace that brought tears to my eyes as I walked through the hallowed portal. All for the love of writing.

What is next for Val Wood?                     

What comes next?  First of all finish the sequel to The Lonely Wife which is running head to head in popularity with The Doorstep Girls. My working title is Children of Fortune and features not only the children from the Lonely Wife as they grow into adulthood but also another child from a different family with a question mark over her parentage. I don’t yet know the ending.

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Charities I support.

Home-Start (Hull) the children’s charity

Sight-Support – Hull and East Riding for people with sight loss 

Butterflies – The Hull Memory Loss Support group.

Meet Milly Johnson – winner of the RNA’s 2021 Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award

Johnson- one true north author

I never wanted to be anything else but a novelist. Even when the sensible part of me was saying, ‘Get a proper job. Girls like you don’t become them,’ I never stopped dreaming. But such dreams need hard work behind them to come true so I gave it my all. I wanted to write books that made readers feel the way I did when reading the best ones: a willing prisoner trapped in the pages. 

Can you share some of your career path enroute from unpublished to published author with us?

I wanted to be a novelist more than anything but I didn’t think I had a chance as a northern working class girl with no connections in the industry. I had a passion for writing, but I had a friend who was brilliant at English and I came up very short when compared to the literature she could produce. She didn’t want to be a writer (she became a dressmaker) I was desperate to be a novelist, and I reckon over the years I just got better with all the hard work and practice. I was split down the middle: half of me wanting to be a writer, half of me convincing myself I was dreaming too high and I should get a proper job. So, after university, I got a proper job and then followed many other proper jobs – all of them ill-fitting because I only ever wanted to write. As soon as I’d come home from the building society/office/mill, I got out my typewriter and worked on my novel, which was a paranormal romance. I sent it off to various agents and the period between it going off in the post to me getting it back with a rejection stamp on it was filled with wonderful anticipation. Those rejections came thick and fast (rightly so) but I was getting comments from agents saying that my work was of a publishable quality which kept my hope burning.

Back then, I didn’t think anyone would be interested in a book set in the north, and I couldn’t write about the south with any authenticity so my stories were set in some airy-fairy no man’s land.  Then I was sacked from a firm because my accent was too ‘common’ and it was part-therapy, part-bloody-mindedness that I starting setting my stories in the north so I could stuff them full of my common accent. I had all but given up on ever making it, when I fell pregnant at the same time as two of my friends and we travelled our nine months together. When the babies were born, we were sitting in my front room and it was as if a bolt of lightning came through the window with an attached message. ‘Why aren’t you writing about this – the stuff you know: Yorkshire, friendships, babies, the workplace, love.’ I started to pen a story about three friends who get pregnant at the same time, sent it off to the same agent I’d been chasing for fifteen years and they said, ‘This is the one we have been waiting for’. Me and my northern books have never looked back.

What advice would you give to your younger unpublished self?

I would say to her, ‘Your association with the north is what will give you the break, so don’t ignore it, use it. Use your life and your experience to fuel your writing, nothing is ever wasted. Don’t give up – you can write and you have a backbone of iron so you will make it’.

Are you a very organised plotter or do you write from a specific starting point and then let the characters evolve and take you through the plot?

I would love to plot but I can’t – and believe me I’ve tried. I start the book on page one and somehow I manage to get to the end of it. I enjoy that I’m surprised by what spills out onto the page. When people say to me ‘I’d love to write a book but I wouldn’t know where to start’ my stock answer is ‘Neither do I.’ I’ve written nineteen full length novels not having a clue what else is inside me when I type ‘Chapter One’.

Writing accessible ‘unputdownable’ fiction that balances heavier topics with humour takes great skill, is this used in facing life, especially in a time of pandemic?

Humour has a great power and can help us in the darkest times. I always liken it to a chocolate mousse my friend used to make at university (bear with me). ‘It’s too rich’ she’d say, ‘So you have to eat it with double cream’. That dark sweet mousse needed to be offset with its total opposite and together they were a perfect combo.  Stories that are all too light are insubstantial, too dark and they’re cloying – you need one to offset the other. Even a little humour can pop a balloon of swollen tension, even if it’s slightly inappropriate, but it is a badly needed valve to give one breathing space. I like to write about ups and downs, my life has been full of them and my writing reflects that. I want to take my readers on a roller-coaster not a baby ride. But ultimately I leave readers with hope and however gritty some of my story threads might be, readers take from my books that there is light at the end of nearly every tunnel. That has been very needed in the pandemic. We all need to know that however frightening things are, hope shines eternal.

How have you coped to keep yourself mentally and physically fit during lockdown?

Physically – could have done better. But I have now invested in a treadmill which is in my office and was a brilliant buy. I wish I’d done it at the beginning of the pandemic, I’d have been running marathons now.  Mentally – it was a struggle to be honest at the start of lockdown because I was very frightened. I ended up downing tools and letting my son persuade me into watching the whole of Game of Thrones which gave my head a total break. Then I eased myself back into my work, because we are used to cracking the whip over ourselves, and now I’m back up to full pelt.

What has the RNA and winning this award meant to you?

I was determined not to join the RNA until I was a published author and that was daft because I missed out on a lot of support and camaraderie (and Prosecco and kitchen parties) that would have helped me along the way. It has brought me friendship and support and a lot of knowledge because you never stop learning in this game. I love that you can cheer on rivals because we all have the common aim of promoting our genre and encouraging reading. I feel as if I am in a fragrant army of kick-ass soldiers and I’d encourage everyone who is eligible to join.

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As for winning the award. I wanted it very much for My One True North (so much so I felt sure I wouldn’t get it, hence the shock when I did). It is one of two books that I wrote when my dad was very ill and I pressed him into the pages. I felt as if it was the best thing I’d ever written, as if it was pulled out of my soul and so to be honoured for it was very special. I have a trophy shelf at home now and I have so many freeze-frame moments when I think ‘those trophies are for MY writing’. It makes me so glad I am a stubborn little sod who never gave up because it really does prove what you can do when you want something so much that you’ll give it your all to get it.

What is next for Milly?

I’ll write until I drop.  I’m having a crack at a crime novel as well as a romance because I’ve always wanted to stretch in that direction and I’ve been writing some poetry which I love to perform in theatres. I just want to get back to mingling and doing talks and meeting readers.

Thank you so much for sharing your personal writing story with us. I wish you every further success with your future projects and look forward to reading many more of your books.

Comments, likes and questions are always welcome…

Celebrating: The Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award shortlist!

Popular romantic

The Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award

Sapere Books is a digital first publisher of romantic fiction, historical fiction, women’s fiction, crime fiction and thrillers. Sapere Books launched in 2018 and specialises in reissuing novels which have gone out of print and developing relationships with both new and established writers.

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A Perfect Cornish Escape – Phillipa Ashley

Avon

Wild landscapes and small communities inspire my novels. The idea for A Perfect Cornish Escape came from a visit to an isolated coastwatch station on the Cornish coast. After Marina’s husband, Nate, is lost at sea, she reopens her local station, determined that others won’t have to go through the agony she has. Marina vowed to love Nate forever but when kind-hearted Lachlan arrives in her life, should she deny herself another chance at happiness?

Sing Me a Secret – Julie Houston

Aria, Head of Zeus

I was inspired to write SING ME A SECRET after taking part in a musical production of Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar in Leeds Town Hall several years ago. In the actual book, a family secret held between four sisters is played out, and eventually revealed, while rehearsing and performing in their village’s own production of this fabulous musical. I’d loved every minute of taking part in the show, especially as we all fell in love with Jesus. And what a Jesus…

Sunny Days and Sea Breezes – Carole Matthews

Sphere, Little, Brown

I won a short story competition in Writing magazine and did the most sensible thing I’ve ever done. I spent the prize money on a writing course. The tutor told me that my work-in-progress was good enough to send to an agent. He took me on straight away and sold the book within a week which became Let’s Meet on Platform 8. I never imagined that it would launch a career that would last twenty-four years and see me write thirty-four books.

Christmas Wishes – Sue Moorcroft

Aria, Head of Zeus

When I heard a sportsman talking about battling an eating disorder I gave the issue to Nico, a Swedish man and single dad who was once a rising ice hockey star. I wanted to give him issues traditionally allotted to female characters. I gave Hannah a contrastingly easy life in Stockholm … then snatched it away and returned her to her English village.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird – Josie Silver

Penguin

The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

Please feel free to leave a comment or like the post.

Celebrating: The Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller shortlist!

“Jackie Collins was a creative force, a trailblazer for women in fiction, and, in her own words, ‘A kick-ass writer!’ Since her 1968 debut The World is Full of Married Men, her books have sold in their millions in more than 40 countries and she is one of the world’s top-selling novelists. Ian Chapman, CEO of Simon & Schuster UK and International, said “Jackie was kind, brilliantly astute, with a wicked, mischievous sense of humour. She was a consummate storyteller and made her craft look easy, like all great practitioners. I – along with many others – miss her still and often expect to see her appear suddenly in our midst. We have long made a solemn commitment to ensure that her legacy endures and are incredibly proud to partner with the Romantic Novelists’ Association again to sponsor the Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller award to support her fellow writers.”

Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist. Read on to find out the stories behind the talented authors shortlisted for the prestigious award, as they reveal them, and the inspiration behind their lovely novels.

The Forgotten Sister – Nicola Cornick

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I’ve always been fascinated by historical mysteries and I also love writing about lesser-known women from history. The two things came together in The Forgotten Sister which was inspired by the mystery of the death of Amy Robsart, wife of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite, Robert Dudley. So often Amy’s story is eclipsed by Elizabeth and Robert’s love affair, but I wanted to bring Amy into the spotlight instead. Telling her story alongside a tale of modern day celebrity made me realise how many themes from history are still relevant now.

The House By The Sea – Louise Douglas

Boldwood Books

The inspiration for this novel was a derelict villa on a small headland in a remote corner of Sicily. We were on holiday and spotted it from the beach, climbed a sandy path to reach it. The villa was enclosed by high walls, with bougainvillea and other plants tumbling over as if they’d been imprisoned and were trying to escape. Behind rusting gates, chained together, we glimpsed a lovely, fading old house… and I fell in love.

 

Death Comes to Cornwall – Kate Johnson

Dash Digital, Orion

Honestly, I was trying to write a nice romantic comedy about a gorgeous actor and a girl trying to escape her hometown, and then a dead body turned up in chapter three. Which doesn’t usually happen in romcoms, so it became more of a cosy mystery. And setting it in Cornwall meant an excuse to eat pasties and drink Cornish beer. You know, for inspiration.

 

The Twins – J. S. Lark

HarperCollins

My writing history began with Bridgerton style bodice rippers as Jane Lark, before becoming the gripping domestic, psychological, thriller I created in The Twins. The progression to The Twins came about after watching the Dr Foster TV series. My romantic books have always had a harder, darker, edge to them. The TV series that focused heavily on the character relationships while weaving a twisty shocking story around that encouraged me to take the step into the full-on thriller space. I love creating gritty, shocking and yet passionate characters.

But the root of my writing is thanks to a teacher, who identified my exceptional story-telling capability when I was eight. She called me forward to the front of the class and told everyone that one day I would write a novel. That didn’t happen for 33 years, but now there are twenty-six novels. I am told I’m quite prolific.

 

Escape to the Little Chateau – Marie Laval

Choc Lit

As a teenager growing up in France I loved reading historical romance and used to make up stories before falling asleep every night. My dreams were full of sword fights, daring rescues and brave heroes and heroines battling evil villains as they fell madly in love. Picking up a pen and writing the stories down was the next, logical step, and I never looked back!

The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

Please feel free to leave a comment or like the post.

Celebrating: The Romantic Saga Award shortlist!

Romantic saga

Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist. Read on to find out the stories behind the talented authors shortlisted for the prestigious award, as they reveal them, and the inspiration behind their lovely novels.

The Romantic Saga Award

The Girl from the Tanner’s Yard – Diane Allen

Pan

How I became an author.

I always had a love of reading and was always found with a book in my hand when growing up. Once married and my children grown, I found my niche in life working for a large print book firm. It was then I found that I also had the skill of writing. Bored one evening I decided to put pen to paper and now ten years later I have had fifteen books published.

My inspiration for The Girl from the Tanners Yard

My inspiration came when we were visiting an elderly aunt that lived above Haworth. We always passed a pub called THE FLAPPIT and because I have a love of Yorkshire history, I started looking into its past life and the moors around it. Finding that it used to be used by the tannery workers that worked nearby and that thriving industries were based all around that area. With the wild moors as a background and a good base the rest is history.

The Variety Girls – Tracy Baines

Ebury

The inspiration for The Variety Girls stems from my passion and my experience. I love theatre and live entertainment and was surrounded by it when I was growing up. The setting is my childhood playground – the beach, the pier, the theatre. I am fascinated by the way performers leave their worries and heartbreak in the wings when they step out on stage – and by entertaining the audience, allow them to do the same.

The Ops Room Girls – Vicki Beeby

Canelo

I’ve always loved old Battle of Britain films, and often wondered about the WAAFs you’d see in the background, placing blocks on a map using long poles. When I started my research, I discovered they were mapping incoming enemy aircraft. I immediately knew this was the perfect role for my maths-loving heroine, and so THE OPS ROOM GIRLS was born—a story of WAAFs serving in an RAF fighter station during the Battle of Britain.

Bobby’s War – ShirleyMann

Zaffre, Bonnier Books UK

My parents’ wartime romance provided the inspiration for ‘Lily’s War’ and then, because I hadn’t asked enough questions, I raced around the country to talk to service women, already in their 90s to make sure my books were authentic. One of those women was Mary Ellis, the ATA pilot. Once I’d met her, I was hooked, and ‘Bobby’s War’ is a reverential acknowledgment of what these amazing women did. I hope their legacy now lives on.

The Orphan’s Daughter – Sandy Taylor

Bookouture

I believe that it was my love of reading that led to me becoming a writer.

There were no books in my house growing up as I was the only one who could actually read but I found a little library and read everything I could. My family are from Co Cork in Southern Ireland and that was my inspiration for The Orphans Daughter. Money was scarce but love and laughter more than made up for that. I love the Irish humour and use it a lot in my books.

Secrets of the Lavender Girls – Kate Thompson

Hodder & Stoughton

I started writing because I fell in love with a woman named Kate Thompson. Finding out I shared a name with this woman led me on a quest to discover more about my namesake. The other Kate Thompson was a tough mum-of-nine who lived in two rooms of a slum in Bethnal Green, East London. She fought heroically to improve living standards, led a successful rent strike and cared for the women and children of her buildings. She was crushed to death in an entirely preventable accident during WW2. Since then, I’ve discovered that in the 20th century, the East End was full of Kate’s. Resilient, irreverent, subversive, crafty, kind and courageous women. All my wartime novels are a kind of a love letter to these women and discovering the richness and complexity of their lives is what keeps me writing.

The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

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Celebrating: The Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award shortlist!

Liberta shorter

The Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award

Libertà Books is a light-hearted website (libertabooks.com) where readers and authors share their experience, discoveries, favourites and occasional oddities. Run by four multi-published authors, it has evolved to cover advice on writing and, in the real world, well-received workshops for both experienced and aspiring writers. Limited to the virtual world in 2020, Libertà offered visitors a huge variety of blog posts, including a multi-part mystery serial set in today’s Covid world. Expect more interesting material in 2021.

Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist. Read on to find out the stories behind the talented authors shortlisted for the prestigious award, as they reveal them, and the inspiration behind their lovely novels.

A Will, A Wish and a Wedding  Kate Hardy  

Mills & Boon True Love  

I’ve been fascinated by butterflies since I was tiny and saw the Margaret Fountaine collection in Norwich Castle, so I wanted that as a background for my heroine. I also love glass buildings, so my heroine had to be an architect specialising in glass. Add an unusual will, a tragic past and an Iron Age hill fort (not far from me!) – and there was the inspiration for A Will, A Wish and a Wedding. 

The Warrior Knight and the Widow – Ella Matthews  

Mills & Boon Historical  

Oystermouth Castle, in the fishing village of Mumbles, sits on top of a hill over-looking a wide bay. Since childhood, I’ve made up stories about the people who lived there in times gone by. The castle appears in The Warrior Knight and the Widow as the home Lady Ellena wants to protect at all costs. Sir Braedan is the knight who could take it all away from her. I hope I’ve done it justice! 

The Day that Changed Everything – Catherine Miller  

Bookouture  

The main inspiration for The Day that Changed Everything came from a dream. In that dream, I moved into a bungalow and because it was to help care for foster children, I named it the Bunk-A-Low because it would be filled with bunk beds in the future. That was how Tabitha’s story began and the Bunk-A-Low came to exist in this story about all the loves we might experience in a lifetime.   

Second Chance for the Single Mom  Sophie Pembroke 

Mills & Boon True Love  

Second Chance for the Single Mum was actually inspired by my lovely editor, Megan Haslam. When we started working together we quickly bonded over a love of Welsh rugby, and I promised her that one day I’d write her a rugby romance. Several years later, she held me to it. We met up at the RWA conference in New York and brainstormed the characters and the conflict – one of the most fun working lunches ever!  

The Return of the Disappearing Duke – Lara Temple  

Mills & Boon True Love  

The Return of the Disappearing Duke started with a childhood fascination with Egyptian history that deepened when I spent several months travelling and studying there. It was a matter of time before Egypt infiltrated my historical romances and one day I found the perfect hero and heroine for the job — a scarred mercenary-duke on the run from his past and a Shakespeare-loving heroine on the run from her present. I added a couple of opinionated camels, temples, hammams, and a ton of sizzling romance. The result is The Return of the Disappearing Duke — I hope it gives readers as much joy as it gave me to write it. 

Cinderella and the Surgeon – Scarlet Wilson  

Mills & Boon Medical  

The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

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Celebrating: The Romantic Comedy Novel Award shortlist!

Romantic comedy

The Romantic Comedy Novel Award

Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist. Read on to find out the stories behind the talented authors shortlisted for the prestigious award, as they reveal them, and the inspiration behind their lovely novels.

The Garden of Forgotten Wishes – Trisha Ashley

Bantam Press

After several years of writing domestic satire to increasingly rave rejections, I had two short novels in a different genre published in the early eighties. But then I reverted to what I really wanted to write and, after several more years in the wilderness I met my wonderful agent, Judith Murdoch, who made me see that I was really writing romantic comedy…without enough romance.

Someday at Christmas – Lizzie Byron

Coronet, Hodder & Stoughton

I wrote this for all the fat people out there who are so often relegated to the funny best friend in stories. Or, worse, have to lose weight to get what they want. I hope Someday at Christmas shows them that they don’t have to have everything figured out yet and can still love and be loved without having to change a thing about themselves.

Christmas at the Island Hotel – Jenny Colgan

Sphere, Little, Brown

One Winter’s Night – Kiley Dunbar

Hera Books

The inspiration behind One Winter’s Night (and its prequel, One Summer’s Night) is my love for Shakespeare and beautiful Stratford-upon-Avon, my happy place. Like Kelsey Anderson, my main character, I moved to the town to work as a tour guide in my twenties, and like Kelsey I met my own leading man there. Stratford will forever be linked in my mind with adventure, romance and stunning scenery – the key ingredients in my stories.

Sunny Days and Sea Breezes – Carole Matthews

Sphere, Little, Brown

I won a short story competition in Writing Magazine and did the most sensible thing I’ve ever done. I spent the prize money on a writing course. The tutor told me that my work-in-progress was good enough to send to an agent. He took me on straight away and sold the book within a week which became Let’s Meet on Platform 8. I never imagined that it would launch a career that would last twenty-four years and see me write thirty-four books.

The Switch – Beth O’Leary

Quercus

My fierce, funny grandmother inspired me to write The Switch, which is about a grandmother and granddaughter swapping lives. But my inspiration to first start writing is harder to pin down… as it was so long ago! I have loved to write stories since I was old enough to hold a pen. I used to write stories about fairies on the back of printouts my mum needed for work (she was always very understanding!

The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

Please feel free to leave a comment or like the post.

Celebrating: The RNA’s Fantasy Romantic Novel shortlist!

RNA fantasy

Fantasy Romantic Novel

Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist. Read on to find out the stories behind the talented authors shortlisted for the prestigious award, as they reveal them, and the inspiration behind their lovely novels.

ECHOES OF THE RUNES – Christina Courtenay

Headline Review

The story was inspired by a Viking style ring I own, an exact replica of one displayed at the Historical Museum in Stockholm. When I went to the museum to compare the two, I was struck by the germ of an idea for this book. My agent just happens to be Swedish as well and she encouraged me to explore our mutual heritage, so it seemed like it was meant to be – serendipity!

The Start of Us – Hannah Emery

One More Chapter, HarperCollins

The Start of Us was inspired by the idea that small moments can change everything. The main character Erica is able to see another version of her life and decide which one she wants to live. This huge choice prompts her to explore something else that fascinates me: how love and grief often go hand in hand. Is it better to never experience pain, if you also have to forfeit love?

The Reluctant Witch – Amelia Hopegood

Independently Published

I come from a working – class background and not only read but scribbled stories throughout my childhood. I’ve still got the manuscript I wrote when I was sixteen – full of teenage angst and funny for all the wrong reasons! I concentrated on my career, but a hospital admittance made me reassess. I write Regency Romance and Paranormal Cozy Mystery and by indie-publishing I’ve been able to write full-time which overwhelmingly readers seem to enjoy!

The Cornish Connection – Amanda James

Independently Published

My inspiration came from reading, I think. But I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write, I suppose it’s in my blood. I was a voracious reader as a child – first Enid Blyton and Marguerite Henry, then in my teens, I became lost in the world of Tolkien. I loved words, stories and going off on virtual adventures. I asked for a typewriter for Christmas when I was eight, and never looked back!

Someday in Paris – Olivia Lara

Aria, Head of Zeus

The Someday in Paris manuscript was a wedding anniversary gift for my husband: a magical love story inspired by our own, set in Paris and Colmar—our favourite French towns— and centered around art, which we both love. While I hoped he’d like it, I didn’t expect his immediate, powerful, and emotional reaction while reading it, which ultimately emboldened me to follow my lifelong dream of becoming a published author.

The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

Please feel free to leave a comment or like the post.