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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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
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
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
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
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.
Welcome, Suzanne, and congratulations on the upcoming release of The Cottage of New Beginnings! Before you tell me about the book let’s go back to when you began your writing career. Was writing books always something you wanted to do?
Yes, I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was very young. I read all the time as a child and loved to make up stories about adventurous girls and their ponies. I always hoped to be an author one day.
Reading your website it is clear that you love romance set against a rural setting. Are you definitely inspired by setting rather than a character initially?
A landscape is usually the first thing that draws me to create a story. It might be a village or a beautiful view, but there’s always a community at the heart of my writing. Once I have my setting, I begin to imagine the characters who might live there, and those who might be newly arrived and why. I hope to convey a real sense of place in my writing.
Does family and faith play a strong part in your plots as they do in your life?
Friendship and family are very much part of my writing and faith is something shared by a few of my characters but not all. Charlie and Sam Stewart, the young vicar of Thorndale and his wife, have proved popular with readers and they do return in later stories. Sam in particular is mischievous with a lovely heart, and great fun to write.
What character traits do you think are essential in a hero/heroine?
I write heroes who are sensitive without being overly sentimental; and honourable, even if that is not immediately apparent. Kindness, an ability to understand when they are wrong and passionate also go a long way.
I like heroines to be independent, have confidence and warmth. Both hero and heroine need to have some self-awareness, along with the opportunity and willingness to change and develop.
Do you always aim to deliver a feel-good story with a happy ending?
I do, yes. I read romantic fiction as well as write it, and I so enjoy characters falling in love, whether that’s a gradual realisation or something more immediate. As an author, I hope for my readers to feel uplifted, following characters working out their differences to consider a future together.
Since joining the RNA you have been taken on by an agent and signed a three-book deal (huge congratulations on that!). How important has being a member of the RNA been in finding your route to publication?
I don’t think I can overstate the importance of the RNA to unpublished romantic writers. I’ve made great friends and received lots of support since joining and benefitted from opportunities to learn, and Conference is just one of them. I believe it’s important to discover how publishing works, along with the roles of industry professionals such as editors and agents, whether you plan to follow a traditional or indie route to publication.
What is your favourite part of the writing process?
I love to actually just write a draft, something I mostly do early in the mornings. When the story is flowing well and the characters are making themselves heard, then it’s a complete joy and difficult to stop. Editing is also something I find very satisfying, and I enjoy going back and finding ways to improve the manuscript.
What is your least?
I’d probably say the amount of time I manage to spend distracting myself researching something online when I should be writing!
How have you coped with life during a pandemic?
Life has changed, as for so many people, and my husband now works from home and my son is studying mostly online for his A levels. We are thankful to have close family nearby and have been able to support one another during the pandemic and very much appreciate the community we are a part of. The house is busier now and we are all adapting to a new way of working. I’ve also realised how many simple things we took for granted, like meeting up with family and friends for a meal, and I’m really looking forward to being able to hug my wider family again.
I think we are all waiting that day. Having come this far on the road to publication what advice would you give to anyone considering joining the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme?
Join, if you possibly can, the opportunities to develop your knowledge and make friends are so brilliant. And once you are a member, do try and get the best from your membership by taking part in the activities on offer, whether that’s social media, online learning, chapter meetings (currently all online) and attending events. The RNA is excellent at welcoming people, and Conference, once it is able to run again, is a real highlight and not to be missed if at all possible.
What is next for Suzanne?
Right now I’m finishing my Christmas story, which is set in Thorndale, and I’m looking forward to the publication of my second novel, The Garden of Little Rose, in February 2021. After that I’ll be planning my fifth book and hopefully spending some time on a tiny Hebridean island for research, rules permitting.
That sounds lovely!
Thank you for the opportunity to be included on your website, Valerie, I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions.
You are very welcome. If any readers have any other questions please leave them below.
Merry Christmas, Suzanne and good luck with the book!
What childhood influencers encouraged your interest in books, storytelling and ultimately writing?
As a child I was very poorly with chronic asthma so very often I just didn’t have the energy to do anything. My mum would read to me for hours (Enid Blyton and Fairy Tales were our favourites) and I would retell and relive these stories in my imagination. Of course, I was always the hero in my version! I’d sit for hours in the garden talking to imaginary fairies and giants, completely lost in my own world.
By the time I started school I was already able to read quite well (although it took my teacher several weeks to realise this) and I had started writing little book reviews and was trying to write my own stories. At the age of six I had letters published in the local newspaper and the Bunty comic. Hammy Hamster’s exploits were legendary in our family including a three day trip up the chimney and ghostly piano playing in the night!
I’d love to say that was the start of a lifelong passion for writing but I didn’t start to write stories again until a few years ago. As a teacher I always loved reading and writing with my class and it was here that the lovable characters of Digger and Biscuit came to life. Children loved learning with them and took them into their hearts as extra class mates.
What was the appeal of writing a longer picture book?
I always knew that Digger and Biscuit’s stories were a lot longer and more complex than a picture book. With the first book, The Mystery of the Magic Mirror, I plotted around twelve chapters with each one taking around fifteen minutes to read aloud, so ideal for bedtime or story time in a classroom. It’s also a good length for children reading independently.
The Mystery of the Missing Christmas was always intended to be longer at around twenty-five chapters. My idea was that if a reader wanted to, they could read a chapter a day through December leading up to Christmas Day.
I want to tell my stories for anyone who wants to read them – young children, older children or adults. I often see authors discussing the moral of their stories. I just hope my readers enjoy Digger and Biscuit’s adventures and that they make them smile. Of course there are friendships, team work, problem solving and some character who need to learn some manners (!) but really my moral is: stories are fun J
What was the inspiration behind Digger and Biscuit as you capture their gestures of puppyhood so well?
Oh, I’ve always been a dog lover, but we couldn’t have a dog when I was growing up for health reasons. I cried for a week after a farm holiday in Devon because I missed the farmers’ dog, Nipper, so much. My mum banned me from watching dog films because I’d get so upset. My husband understood this when he made the mistake of taking me to see Marley and Me!
So, it won’t come as a surprise to know that my husband and I share our lives with two utterly spoilt Golden Retrievers. They are very like Digger and Biscuit in their behaviour and personalities. Ellie (Biscuit) is particularly good at making up games including “four paw bounce”, “Drop, cheek, roll” (need a pool for that one) and the latest, hiding a ball in a hole in the garden then laying across it. Layla (Digger) tries to tunnel underneath her to retrieve the ball. Hours of fun!
How involved have you been in creating the lovely illustrations?
I was so lucky to spot a post on social media from Bex Sutton at Primal Studios. It’s such fun working with her. I have a clear picture in my head to the whole book but I can’t draw so I literally scribble a scene and add labels. Bex then turns it into an amazing illustration and she’ll suggest things that I haven’t even thought of. She’s really good (and patient) with my “It’s not quite what I had in my head” moments, but they are very rare. We work really well together.
The Mystery of the Missing Christmas will be available in paperback with black and white or colour illustrations so the reader can choose.
As a teacher you have experience of the target market and its shortfalls. Where do you see Digger and Biscuit fitting into it?
There are so many beautiful picture books on the market and there are some fantastic series and longer novels for older readers. I always struggled to find chapter books that cover that period when children can follow and enjoy a more complex story, but they don’t yet have the fluency and resilience to read hundreds of pages independently. At this stage they want to experience serialised plots and can hold the characters and events from day to day, whilst still enjoying being read to.
I have had some lovely feedback on The Mystery of the Magic Mirror from adults who loved reading it aloud, younger children who enjoyed being read to and ten / eleven year olds who enjoyed reading it independently and that’s fantastic. Now they want to know when book two will be out!
I wanted to write stories that were fun for adults to read aloud, which children would then want to reread independently. I always think it’s sad that we take illustrations out of children’s books because they can bring to life a more complex image or concept. When I’m reading (and writing) I have very clear pictures in my mind, but not everyone can visualise a scene.
What books have been inspirational to you and your children?
Storytime was always my favourite time as a teacher. It was a chance to slip away into another world and it’s so special to share those memories with a group. I’ve always been a fan of Julia Donaldson, Martin Waddell, Colin and Jacqui Hawkins and Michael Foreman. I love it when stories have cross over characters and the children were always so excited when a well-known character appeared in as different story.
As I said before, it can be quite a challenge to find suitable chapter books, but there’s nothing like a class bursting into spontaneous applause with cries of “read it again’ at the end of a book.
What are the advantages of being an Indie author?
I have the freedom to write what I want, when I want and I have control over the whole process. I’m very attached to Digger and Biscuit and I want to tell their stories to the best of my ability. Fortunately, I work with a great illustrator and editor which leaves me free to write. The technical side of formatting and publishing brings me out in a cold sweat and I’m a great believer that you should play to your strengths. I also have an excellent developmental editor who can reign me in and refocus me if my pen wanders into over long convoluted plots!
What advice would you give to a writer about to embark upon this path?
In all honesty, don’t expect to make a fortune overnight. It’s a hugely competitive market and writing a great book doesn’t necessarily mean it will sell in huge numbers. You have to be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort to market your book and build up a following.
If you love writing and have stories to tell, go for it, but make sure you invest in a good editor who is enthusiastic about your work who can criticise constructively.
Don’t be in a hurry to publish. The Mystery of the Magic Mirror was two years in the writing and evolved so much over that time. The Mystery of the Missing Christmas was less in terms of months, but a lot more hours! I was more focused and disciplined with the second book.
What is next for Heather Watts?
I was planning to try my hand at a different genre and even completed a Sci–Fi course, but I woke up at four one morning with an idea racing around my head. Experience has taught me that I won’t remember it when I wake up properly, so I quickly scribbled an outline on my large whiteboard. It was a revelation when I saw it later that morning! So there will be a third adventure for Digger and Biscuit.
What is next for Digger and Biscuit?
Are they going to save the Easter Bunny? 🙂
Funny you should mention the Easter Bunny…No, I don’t think Digger could resist all those chocolate snacks and that would be very bad for him. The third adventure sees Digger and Biscuit on a quest to solve a mystery that has been hinted at in the previous books. Will they see any old friends – or enemies? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see J
I wish you every success with Digger and Biscuit and hope you and your family have a lovely, safe Christmas! x
You can keep up to date with Digger and Biscuit here:
Facebook: Heather Watts (Digger and Biscuit posts are public)
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.
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.
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 O. Women 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? 🙂
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
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!
I just had to ask you back when I realised that it was Alfie’s birthday, Rosemary!
It is now five years since I started the short story download arm of Alfie Dog Fiction. Over that time I’ve had the privilege to work with many hundreds of talented authors and read quite literally thousands of stories. For some well-established authors we are the publisher they turn to for republication of their stories, but we have also been responsible for launching the careers of many new writers and I don’t say that lightly. It has been a privilege to work on stories for talented authors who have gone on to be very successful, either with their stories or novels. Many have told us that we have helped them on the way, giving them direction in some cases and in others simply the confidence that their work is good.
We realised with the resources we had available that it was not possible to grow the site exponentially and, in reality, that wasn’t what our readers wanted. What readers wanted to see was new stories regularly, but in place of, rather than as well as, all the old ones. We’ve worked with authors to achieve this and in the recent submission window selected around 60 new stories which are going live on the site over the coming weeks. It will give us a current total of around 325 authors and 1600 short stories to choose between.
Another more recent development has been a number of our book titles being made into audio books. So far this has included four novels and one short story collection, but we’re looking at further titles being added to the selection shortly.
Over the five years, we’ve brought out quite a significant number of book titles and there are currently 34 out in paperback or ebook.
What will the next five years hold? It’s always hard to say. One of the beauties of being a small organisation is that we can change easily and take opportunities that are presented. We have more books due out in the coming months and more short stories. At the outset we created the site because we believed in the medium of the short story. That remains as true now as it did five years ago.
If you would like to help us celebrate then this is what will be happening:
June 11th: You are very welcome to join our fifth birthday then you will be very welcome to join our ‘On-line birthday party’. We will be having party games and there will be prizes. You may need to bring your own cake as that’s harder to send out over the internet! The party is on Sunday June 11th from 7pm to 9pm UK time and you can find it HERE
In previous blog posts I have looked at how to keep yourself fit for the task of writing thousands of words and then how to set realistic goals to achieve them. Before moving on to looking at the actual writing of the fiction, two factors play an important part in beginning and completing the process: inspiration and motivation.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
What motivates you to write fiction?
These two questions are asked to many authors and the answers may be as varied as the individuals who the questions are posed to.
I am constantly inspired by anything from a name, a newly learned and intriguing little known fact, a place that sparks an idea or a simple overheard statement. Inspiration is all around us, we just have to be open to it and use our imaginations to ask that simple question: “What if?”
Once inspired to write, then motivation kicks in to drive our effort so that the idea turns into a real manuscript. We can be both inspired and motivated at the same time by reading our favourite author’s work.
Here are a just a few common motivators:
To escape from reality into a world of our making that we may or may not share with others.
To earn money (realistically, this is not an easy industry to break into or make a liveble wage from.)
Whatever your inspiration, you need the motivation to keep going, learning and growing as a writer; going beyond rejection to reach that place of acceptance and becoming a published author.If you choose to write for your own enternment that is fine. Once published there are always those who will look upon your work negatively and leave reviews to say so. This should not stop you writing what you want to, but the choice and opportunity to become published does mean that you have to accept the positive and negative reviews alike. Ultimately we have to believe in what we do.
Learn from those who have done it and also from any of their early mistakes, so that you can avoid some of the common errors yourself. Accept that it is all part of undertsanding the business and put rejection and destructive criticism aside, which is why I share author interviews, whilst taking on board the constructive advice.
Once you are keen to begin your project, then set your realistic goals and be determined!
You can network at conferences, online and in local writing groups. Or invest in a reputable course, join in schemes such as The New Writers’ Scheme run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association and seek professional feedback.
Writing is a lonely business. I am often asked how can you teach a person to write a novel or short fiction. My answer is simple: imagination can be encouraged not taught. It has to spark from within the writer. However, there are common errors new writers make as they learn their craft that can be corrected. Every person, every student that I have had the pleasure of teaching over many years has been unique. Therefore, my feedback is always tailored to the individual. If you have a manuscript that you are working on at the moment, or have finished, and would like constructive, professional feedback on, then please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org for a quote.
In November 2015 I interviewed Sally Bridgewater, Creative Writing Courses & Competitions Coordinator for Writing Magazine, who was about to embark on an extreme writing challenge of hitting the 50,000 word target for the NaNoWriMo Challenge – but in one day!
I thought I’d catch up with Sally and see what has happened since.
Hi, Sally, welcome back. Can you share with us what has happened as a result of completing the challenge?
Doing the twenty-four hour wordathon was a fun challenge, but I wouldn’t class it as life-changing. I did really appreciate getting the chance to write a piece about it in the Writing Magazine, which is my first proper published article. It did really help me get the rest of my novel draft done back in November 2015, and getting a full draft down on paper gave me a lot more confidence that I really will finish this novel one day.
Have you submitted the finished draft yet?
Nowhere near! I took a break after NaNoWriMo in 2015 – one of the downsides of taking on extreme challenges is that afterwards you usually feel in need of an extreme rest. So I only picked my novel back up in April 2016, when I started world-building and generally trying to re-plot the whole thing. I just aimed for twice a week as I’ve been pretty busy with other things, and that gave me a good stretch of steady progress on it over the summer.
Believe it or not, I have not yet gone back and re-read what I wrote in the wordathon or in the rest of that November – as soon as I started working on the novel again I knew I’d be changing so much that there wasn’t too much point in working from the draft outwards. I still don’t see it as a waste of time though – doing that really rough draft gave me a rough sense of the characters, the world, the plot, and most especially got me far enough to imagine what would happen at the end. All of that was crucial, and as I am a first-time novelist I don’t think there was any other way for me to work out a full plot from my first ideas. I’m hoping with my second or third book I won’t have to write completely discarded drafts though!
I hope not. However, I can see how completing this punishing challenge has taught you so much and given you a tangible first draft to build upon.
In November 2016 I wanted to do NaNoWriMo again, of course, and I was aiming for a complete rewrite of the novel with my new plot. Even though I was the most prepared I’ve ever been, with a spreadsheet of all the scenes I was planning, unfortunately life got in the way. I finally reached the top of the waiting list for a much-delayed jaw surgery during November so I had to give that priority. I thought lying on the sofa recovering would give me lots of time to write, but it turns out that healing is a lot more tiring than it looks! I didn’t want to push myself while I was obviously not at full health, so I’ve not given myself a hard time about it.
I hope you are fully recovered now. What are your writing goals for 2017?
Get this second draft finished! I have recommitted to writing 1000 words a day, and it’s really working pretty well at the moment. I use the Jotterpad app on my phone to write on the bus on my way to and from work, and I am genuinely surprised how much easier I find it to do that than to carve out a chunk of time to sit at my computer – somehow that just feels more like Hard Work. I am using all the psychology tricks I can to make it easier, such as congratulating myself just for making the three short taps it takes to open the Jotterpad on my phone. I know that’s all I have to do really, and then once it’s actually in front of me it’s much easier to contemplate doing the actual writing.
I am also using a site called Beeminder.com to keep me on track – it makes a graph of a goal you want to achieve, so in my case I have one tracking the number of ‘days I worked on my main fiction project’ and I’ve set my target as only three days a week. This is because if you fall off the line on the graph of how many things you said you’d do, then Beeminder charges your credit card an ever-increasing amount of money. It is scarily effective at keeping you motivated, I’d seriously recommend it for anything you’re stuck on.
I’ve then got a great writing project I’m looking forward to in April – my friend Tonks and I (who helped with the Wordathon in the first place) have agreed to do ‘Camp NaNoWriMo’ and make it Editing Month. The real twist is that I will edit her first draft and she will edit mine. It’s a little scary but we trust each other and it will be so much easier seeing how to improve someone else’s work rather than your own. So that gives me a deadline to get the second draft done!