I am delighted to welcome back Nicola as chair of the RNA.
What can the organisation offer romance writers in 2018?
‘The RNA is the professional organisation that supports and promotes romantic fiction in the UK. Membership of the RNA offers authors the chance to strengthen their career through developing their craft at our workshops and conferences and to build a network with other authors who understand the challenges we face and can offer advice and support. We are also building strong links with the industry and our events give authors the chance to meet a wide range of agents, publishers, booksellers, librarians and other professionals.’
That seems to present a broad spectrum of activities and opportunities to support your members.
‘In addition, members receive Romance Matters, our quarterly journal covering all aspects of writing romantic fiction from the craft to industry issues, discounted tickets to all our events and the opportunity to join regional groups. So the benefits are both professional and social.’
Nicola stresses that although the emphasis is on the professional advice, events and networking a friendly and welcoming atmosphere is nurtured. So how does a writer become a member?
‘The RNA welcomes traditionally and independently published authors. Membership is in different bands: A full or independent Author Member is currently £50 (£57 for non EU based) and £60 for Associate Members (£67 for non EU based). All the details can be found online at or by contacting the membership secretary, Gill Stewart, on firstname.lastname@example.org.
The organisation also welcomes and encourages as yet unpublished writers into its ranks. The New Writers’ Scheme is unique as Nicola explains.
‘We’re very proud of the New Writers’ Scheme (NWS), which provides the opportunity for aspiring authors to submit a manuscript for critique by an experienced writer in the genre. Not only is it a great way for new writers to improve their craft, it also gives encouragement and support. As the RNA has close links with publishers and agents the NWS can provide a route for them to make those connections. Unsurprisingly it is hugely popular and each year a number of NWS members go on to achieve publishing contracts.’
The scheme is open to writers interested in submitting an unpublished romantic novel (or partial) and this year the membership fee cost was £135 (£145 for members outside the EU). This also allows unpublished authors to take part in all RNA activities as well as submitting a manuscript of a full-length novel for appraisal. More details are available by email to: NWS@romanticnovelistsassociation.org There is a cap on the number of submissions that can be accepted each year and acceptance into the scheme is therefore on a ‘first come first served’ basis. The entry slot for submissions closes at the end of August each year.
Today’s publishing environment seems to be becoming more challenging, but Nicola is very optimistic about the present market for the romance genre.
‘I think the romantic fiction genre is changing all the time to reflect both modern life and the changing publishing world. The genre is a broad one. You can find strong romantic elements in many different sorts of novels where people are writing about relationships, whether this is contemporary fiction or epic historicals or books for young adults. Our membership reflects all of these different threads. We also see the books reflecting the concerns of contemporary society, whether it is issues such as work life balance, infidelity or health. The recent return to popularity of Gothic romance perhaps reflects the idea that spooky stories resonate in uncertain times. And of course romantic fiction also continues to provide its readership with the wonderful feel-good stories that readers love.’
Looking forward, I asked Niocla if she thought that the scope for romantic fiction will narrow as lines in the market place are redefined, or do she saw it flourishing as it has done in the past?
‘I see a lot in the press about how the genre is being more and more tightly defined and categorised into sub-genres, but actually at the genre level, in the UK at least, I see it continuing to broaden out. There are romantic relationships represented in a whole range of novels from crime and sci fi to literary fiction. The RNA’s membership reflects that and our awards and events will continue to embrace that wider focus.’
How would Nicola like to see the organisation evolve under your tenure?
‘I’d like to see the RNA continue to provide great support for its membership whilst looking outward a bit more in our promotion of excellence within the genre. We would particularly like to build our relationships within the industry, with booksellers and librarians as well as with publishers and agents. We’d also like to put romantic fiction even more firmly on the map by reminding people what a very successful and dynamic genre it is in business terms.’
Nicola’s natural energy and enthusiasm for the genre shines through her vision, but can romance remain genre specific if there is a need or desire for a more open working relationship within the industry?
‘I think we can do both if we don’t constrain the genre too tightly. Our core role is to support our membership and as this is drawn from a broad range of romantic fiction this fits with the idea of needing a more open working relationship within the industry. With this in mind we are planning a series of joint events with the Crime Writers’ Association and the Historical Writers’ Association, amongst others, where we can explore the things we have in common and the support we give each other as writers more generally.’
Nicola Cornick is the author of dual-time gothic novels House of Shadows and The Phantom Tree (HQ) and also forty plus Regency romances. She is a former trustee of the Wantage Literary Festival and a historian and speaker specialising in public history.
In 1809 Elizabeth Matthews shares many a childhood adventure with her soul-mate, Thomas Lamb, son of the estate’s handyman.
Elizabeth is entrusted with the safe keeping of a tin box by her Mama but instead, leaves the task to Thomas’s father Joseph. However, life in the windswept north-east coastal village of Alunby is left behind when she is promptly sent away to be schooled in the city of York.
Risking her reputation, and a possible marriage match, Elizabeth dreams of the day when the secret inside the tin box will be revealed to her, and goes on a journey of rediscovery to find Thomas and seek out the stolen treasure.
Some secrets were intended to stay buried, however, what Elizabeth discovers is of greater value than she could ever have imagined.
Welcome back, Margaret! I was amazed when I realised that you were my first guest in 2013!
I was amazed, too! My goodness, doesn’t time fly? Perhaps this is because writing a novel is such a long process and sometimes another year goes by without us really noticing? It’s very good to be back. I see that since we were last in contact you’ve had several of your books published by Endeavour Press. Many congratulations!
Thank you! I love the cover of your new novel ‘Girl in Red Velvet’, which is book 6 in the Charton Minster Series. What inspired you to create this series?
The inspiration for the Charton Minster stories was driving past a country house in Dorset at least a decade ago. I wondered who lived there and later that evening my imagination started to run riot, conjuring up a whole family and their descendents. The first novel in the series is The Silver Locket, which is Rose Courtenay’s story. The subsequent five novels are about Rose’s children and grandchildren and even her great grandchildren.
The girl in Girl in Red Velvet is Rose Courtenay’s granddaughter Lily Denham, who goes to university in the 1960s and meets two men who become her friends, the three of them have some great fun together, but then Lily finds she is falling in love with both of them. She makes a choice which looks as if it will turn out to be a very bad choice indeed. Or will it? What do all three of these people want and how will they get it? I hope I’ve given them plenty of challenges but that I’ve also given all their stories satisfying endings.
Do you remember the 60s with fondness?
I do because I was young and at university myself and having a lovely time living away from home. It’s quite difficult for younger people alive today to realise what a huge place the world was then. I went from living in a small rural community where I never met anyone who wasn’t British and white to living in a big city where I met and made friends with people from all over the world.
What is next for Creative Writing Matters?
We’re expanding our range of writing-related services all the time. We run two major international competitions (The Exeter Novel Prize and the Exeter Story Prize which incorporates the Trisha Ashley Award for a humorous story) and we offer mentoring and various shorter courses and smaller competitions, too. We’ve found that offering feedback on competition entries has proved very popular so next year we will be doing more in that respect by offering feedback on some of our short story competitions as well as on entries for the Exeter Novel Prize.
What is next for Margaret?
It’s reading the entries for this year’s Exeter Story Prize, which closed on 30 April. We’re constantly astonished and impressed by the range and quality of entries, so although this is a pleasurable task it’s always quite demanding, too.
Ellie has recurring nightmares of a child surrounded by early nineteenth century luxury who is kidnapped. When Ellie wakes it is to the normal sparse surroundings of her attic room and a life devoid of love. Yet, haunted by the child’s fear, she still dares to dream that one day she will be happy and find love.
Living in the old hall with her Aunt Gertrude and cousins Cybil and Jane, she feels as if she neither belongs to the family nor the ranks of the few servants. Her aunt frequently reminds Ellie that she is the child of shame – her mother had eloped with a Frenchman. The scandal, apparently, cast a long shadow over Ellie and the family.
However, when Aunt Gertrude announces that a suitor has been found for her Ellie’s initial excitement quickly turns to dread and humiliation.
Mr William Cookson’s unwelcome presence shines a light onto her past, but how can Ellie escape from her aunt’s plan for her future?
Laura’s story begins fifteen years after the fire that nearly destroyed Ebton in To Love Honour and Obey. 1820 Ebton, England.
Laura Pennington’s parents think it is time for her to marry, but they are concerned. She likes to take long walks by herself, and doesn’t quite fit in. Laura’s father, Obadiah, thinks local mill owner Daniel Tranton is the perfect husband for Laura, so he suggests marriage to Daniel while working on a business deal.
Daniel is not keen, but does not want to lose Pennington’s business. He is not sure what to do, as he has his hands full with disgruntled mill workers. Daniel has always treated his workers well, but that is the exception, not the rule.
A new problem arises, when Jeb, a young boy who works for Daniel’s cousin Roderick, runs away from the mill where he works. Daniel, not wanting to see him captured and beaten by the local louts who enforce the law, tries to track him down. He finds Laura hiding Jeb, who she stumbled upon while out on one of her walks.
Roderick has his henchman Mr Bullman hunting for Jeb as Laura hides him at her father’s boat house.
Checking on him one morning, Laura sees the boat is gone, but it’s seeing her father stepping out from the hotel he owns that shocks her the most.
For all his efforts to make Laura a lady, it seems Mr. Pennington is not a gentleman.
With the hint of revolution in the air, will Daniel and Laura find a love worth fighting for?
Laura’s Legacy is a historical tale of romance and family strife in a past world.
The buildings link the lifestyle of people in the region throughout the centuries. Folklore, husbandry, social history and crafts, such as: rope making, wheel hooping, saddlery, woodturning and hayrake making are demonstrated to name but a few.
The atmospheric buildings span history from Iron Age to the 1950’s showing the way of life of their inhabitants. It is a great place to take children to show them how we arrived at the lifestyle we have today. By going back to basics they, and adults, can see how labour intensive surviving day to day was. Food had to be grown, harvested or killed and prepared. Clothes had to be made from cloth that was woven or leather that was skinned and tanned. Food was prepared in advance of harsher seasons and had to be safely stored.
Before the Internet and our technological ways information was rarer and precious. News travelled slowly and superstition was rife. Ignorance was not bliss when it came to accusing people out of fear. However, people knew far more about the land and what it gave us that we could use for survival than we generally know today.
I find history fascinating. I love seeing a snippet of yesteryear within various different ages. I imagine characters and the adventures they could have had, set within my favourite periods in time. However, I am rarely nostalgic. When asked I have to say that I would never want to live in a time before antibiotics, washing machines, cars and computers. I love learning from history, but one thing I have learnt is that life was harsh but unfortunately wars still happen. Some lessons are never learnt it seems.
On a lighter note, I found the medieval hall, cottages and herb garden fascinating, but it was the simple potting shed that inspired a tranquil setting for a scene from Thomas’ father’s recovery in Stolen Treasure.
Thomas put down the bag and stepped into the half-light inside.
His father was sitting, just as he used to, on a stool with a chisel in one hand and a small mallet in the other as he worked at fixing a broken gate latch.
“Well, doctor, put your potions aside, for I’ll take none. Say your business and leave!” He looked up. “I am not in need of a doctor of body nor mind, so you have had a wasted journey. Whoever sent you will have to be disappointed.”
Thomas slowly removed his hat and propped it on top of the discarded bag. He then stepped a pace nearer to his father. “Pa… Pa what happened? Tell me the truth of it for it is I, Tom?”
His father’s tired eyes squinted and focused on his son’s face. He looked shocked, the chisel fell from his hand, but the mallet was still raised. “Tom, is it really you?” his voice cracked with emotion as he uttered the words.
Thomas stepped forward. “Yes, it is! I sent letters…”
The man stood. “You!” he muttered as he rushed forward.
Thomas opened his arms, but the mallet was still raised high.
Margaret has been a shining light to me and many unpublished authors as she was the New Writers’ Scheme Organiser for the Romantic Novelists’ Association when I first became published. Cathie is a prolific writer, lecturer and founder of CreativeWritingMatters.
Hello, Valerie –thank you for inviting us to chat with you! It’s lovely to be here.
You are both successful writers so my first question must be where did your own writing journeys begin?
Margaret: I started writing short stories while my children were still babies and eventually I began selling them to women’s magazines.
Cathie: I was a hobby writer until about ten years ago, but after a foundation course with the Open College of Arts, I began having success in short story competitions. Since then I have taken my hobby much more seriously.
CreativeWritingMatters is the inspirational name of the business you founded along with Sophie Duffy. I love the logo. Could you tell us about CreativeWritingMatters and how it came into being?
Cathie: CreativeWritingMatters came into being when I left teaching in mainstream education. The flexibility of being freelance meant we could offer workshops and short courses on all aspects of writing. The competitions came later following the success of a flash competition that we ran for our students.
The name came about because of a conversation I had, during which I became rather too vehement about the importance of creative writing. ‘Creative writing matters,’ I heard myself shriek. Our logo features Sophie’s cat, Henry, the star of her story in our Cat Walks ebook. He’s perky and forward-looking, just like the three of us!
You have jointly written an excellent handbook and a workbook on aspects of creative writing so obviously have a great working relationship, but how do you set about working on a non-fiction joint project as opposed to your independent fiction?
Margaret: I first met Cathie when she joined my local writing group, Exeter Writers. I loved her short stories and she was kind enough to say she liked my own writing, too. We collaborated on producing an anthology of members’ work and found we got on very well. We both teach creative writing (Cathie teaches face-to-face while I teach online) and, after we’d finished editing and producing the anthology, we decided to write a guidebook for our students.
When we wrote The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook, we wrote alternate chapters and then we swapped files and edited these chapters. It all seemed to work well! But when we wrote The Short Story Writer’s Workbook, Cathie wrote the whole of the first draft and then I did a heavy edit, making the second draft twice as long as the first. This approach worked very well, too. We find our non-fiction writing styles are very similar. A few months down the line, we often can’t remember who wrote what.
Will there be more in this series?
We enjoy working together so we intend to produce a handbook for novelists and we have other projects in the pipeline, too. We hope to produce some more anthologies featuring either our own work or that of other people.
You are both very experienced tutors so I would like to ask:-
Margaret, what three tips would you give to an aspiring unpublished novel writer?
Plan your story and know roughly how you want it to end. But don’t be too rigid in your planning. Be prepared for the story to change and grow while you write.
Your reader should want to spend time with your characters. So don’t write about people you don’t actually like or don’t find very interesting yourself. Your characters ought to be your friends.
A novel is a big project. So whenever you get tired or disenchanted – which you almost certainly will – take some time out to reflect and to think about how and where you want this story to go.
Cathie, what three tips would you give to an aspiring unpublished writer of short stories?
Use vivid and specific details that tell a lot, rather than generalisations. If a character puts up an umbrella, we don’t need to be told it’s raining.
How much time you have to set up your story depends on the number of words that have been stipulated by the competition or magazine. Your story needs to develop and reach its resolution without a sudden rush at the end. Once finished, check the balance of set up, development and resolution, then be prepared to cut ruthlessly at the beginning.
Use dialogue and gesture to reveal character rather than word-hungry narrative.
The Exeter Novel Prize is going from strength to strength, what inspired this, and how do you see it evolving?
Will there be a CreativeWritingMatters short story competition in 2016? If so, what advice would you give to entrants?
CreativeWritingMatters runs lots of competitions for both short and longer fiction, so here is some general advice.
Read the rules.
Abide by the rules.
Start your story as something interesting happens.
Round off your story with a satisfying ending.
What is next for Cathie and Margaret, jointly or independently?
Margaret: I’m about to start the second draft of a novel and to plan a new non-fiction project that has nothing to do with writing.
Cathie: My debut novel, Secret of the Song will be out later this year and there will also be another collection of stories by the three of us at CreativeWritingMatters. Right now, the characters in my next novel are twitching for me to get on with it.
Thank you for taking the time to share your experience and advice with my readers.
Thank you for inviting us! It’s been great to talk to you.