Meet poet, blogger and author Wendy Van Camp!

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I am delighted to welcome a writer, poet and blogger based in Orange Country, California, as my guest this month. We share a mutual love of Jane Austen’s work, an affinity with notebooks and pens, as well as a keen interest in Celtic designed jewellery. There are other aspects of Wendy’s talents and career, which I am keen to discover.

Welcome, Wendy!

Orange County sounds a fascinating place to live, is that a fair comment? Is it the place you moved to, or has it always been your home?

I have grown comfortable here in Southern California. I am close enough to the beach to go for an afternoon visit, but far enough away that I am not in the path of tourists. We have a wide range of concerts, public fairs, and outdoor activities to choose from. The white sand beaches are a world-wide travel destination and a mecca for surfers.

I did not start out in Orange County. I always moved around most of my life. My father transferred often when I was a child, and I have lived in many cities. I moved to Orange County when my husband and I got married. A few years later, we purchased our current residence only a mile away from our original condo. My house is modest, but it allows me a home office and a small garden where I can grow roses and sit in the sun. Can a writer ask for more?

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No, I don’t think so, it sounds lovely!

As an author of Regency romantic adventures I want to ask about this aspect of your work first. What is it that appeals to you about Jane Austen’s work?

I had not read Austen until my early forties. I sought her out because of the desire to read more classic literature. The only Austen novel available at the local library at the time was “Persuasion” and this is the first of her books that I read. I fell in love with this book about second chances and read all of Austen’s work.  “Persuasion” was my favourite of them all and eventually I felt the need to write a story based on these characters because they haunted me.

How challenging was it to take The Curate’s Brother from NaNoWriMo to published eBook?

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It has been an incredible challenge.  I am normally a science fiction writer and poet.  Writing a Regency era historical was a huge undertaking for me.  I had never read romance novels and had little idea of the amount of research a historical novel needs.  My first attempt was a complete failure. I trunked the manuscript for a full year.

After that first NaNoWriMo attempt, I read around eighty romance novels to better understand the romance genre as I researched the time the story took place. My second NaNoWriMo attempt went easier, but I discovered the story had grown and would need more than a single book to complete.

As I was revising the book, I realised that the first chapter was the only one told from Edward Wentworth’s point of view. He is the brother of Captain Wentworth and merely mentioned in Austen’s original novel.  I removed the chapter from the book for that reason, but the ideas in that chapter would not let me go.

I took the chapter to my science fiction writing critique group for help, thinking it might work as a short story.  The men refused to read it because it was “romance”. Most of the group hated the story, except for one, who was a professor of literature. She wrote what she understood of my outline to make it clear to me and to show my story followed a standard beat structure. She ended her critique with “it needs another ten thousand words”. I took her advice and over a two-week period, I wrote those ten thousand additional words. I took the new revision to a different critique group, one that was multi-genre, and they loved the story, urging me to publish it as is. That is how “The Curate’s Brother” was born. It has garnered good reviews on Amazon and has sold many copies down the years.

Were you ever daunted at the prospect of adapting characters from such a well-known classic as Persuasion?

At the time I started this project, I was an inexperienced novelist. Writing was still a hobby.  I had little idea about the hard work and dedication needed to bring a novel to publication.  I saw hundreds of Austen fanfictions online and figured the world could use one more Austen inspired author. Now that I’ve been writing and publishing for over a decade, my viewpoint has changed. I realise what a tremendous task I have undertaken. But I still have love for Jane Austen’s work, and I want to finish this project that I began so long ago, creating a story that ‘Janeites’ will love.

Will there be sequels?

I have three more books semi-drafted in my Austen Regency series. As I complete revisions, new characters pop up, along with connections that enrich the story. I am far behind schedule on finishing the final three books (I apologise profusely to my readers for this), but I have been making progress.  Book two of this series, “Christmas in Kellynch”, is close to completion.

Regency is far removed from your favoured genres of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Please share your interest in them and how your blog No Wasted Ink came into being?

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I have always been a hard-core science fiction and fantasy reader. The first “science fiction” I read was Edgar Rice Burrough’s “A Princess of Mars”. I loved the strong female characters of this series. I got hooked on Robert A Heinlein’s juveniles and Anne McCaffery’s Pern in middle-school.  Later favourite authors were Elizabeth Moon, Ursula Le Guin, and Andre Norton.  I still read a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy books.  I love to look into the future and see what humanity may become. I tend to be an optimist. I feel through technology and science we can solve whatever problems we as a people may face and that there are fantastic lives ahead of us all.

No Wasted Ink started not long after I published my first short story. I realised that this writing hobby of mine may turn into something more. I had always had a website for my jewellery business. It was a no brainer I would need a website for my writing business too. Over the years, No Wasted Ink has taken on its own life. It holds my writing clips, appearances, and links to my books, but it has grown into its own publication with a large following. I interview authors of science fiction and fantasy, have a top-ten writing article link page twice a month, host guest posts about the craft of writing, and the occasional article or essay I write on my own. You can also see illustrated poetry art featuring my scifaiku poems.

Your interest in these genres has evolved into two forms of poetry: Scifaiku and Astropoetry, which has gained you acclaim. When did you discover your poet’s voice and is this something you intend to continue publishing in the future?

It is funny, being a poet is the last thing I expected to happen to me as a writer.  I had a few negative run-ins with poetry as I was growing up and during my years as a television producer/director. One day in my forties, I was at a small science fiction convention and needed to kill time for two hours. I sat on a bench and a sign next to me said: “Scifaiku Workshop”.  I did not know was scifaiku was, but there was cold water in the room and I could get out of the heat for an hour.  So I went in. I ended up being the sole student of a poetry workshop, attended by a cadre of national level poetry magazine editors who came to support the instructor. I wrote my first poem in over twenty years that afternoon. I was told to read the science fiction haiku out loud to “the class” and I did…my only audience, that group of poetry editors. After my reading, one of them leaned over and whispered into my ear, “I loved your poem. I’d like to publish it in my magazine.  I’ll pay you.”  That was the moment I became a poet!

I suppose I have a distinctive “voice” in my poetry. To paraphrase, a critic described my voice as “poetry coming in undulating waves, like a white lily under a blood moon. Pure ideas surrounded by dark tension, but always reaching for the light.” I write from the gut and am self-taught. This is how the words come out for me and have since the beginning.

My debut poetry book “The Planets” has been nominated twice for the Elgin Award for Best Speculative Poetry Book of the Year. You can also find my poetry in magazines such as “Far Horizons”, “Starlight Scifaiku Review”, and in the anthology series “Eccentric Orbits” among many others.

Do you write in pen & ink first in a lovely notebook or on the computer?

It depends on the project. I compose poetry in a paper bound notebook with a fountain pen.  It is portable and I can take it out to coffeeshops or to the park. It also allows me an excuse for my fountain pen collecting hobby! Novels are different. I keep story ideas in notebooks, but I outline in Scrivener and set up my chapters there before the writing process. I create rough drafts on an AlphaSmart typewriter or via dictation with my Olympus Recorder.

Do you think your background in TV and the film industry has helped you to structure your plots and create credible characters within your novels?

Not at all. It was my dream to be a Hollywood filmmaker. creating stories for the screen.  What I ended up being was a television producer/director who handled events such as parades, city council meetings, and other municipal activities. I also directed hundreds of multi-camera talk shows, and two series.  One called “Musician Discoveries” which was a band showcase program, and the other “Cofeehouse Poetry” which featured poets reading their work in a coffeehouse setting. Returning to writing novels and short stories was my way back to the original dream of telling stories. While I loved working in television and wouldn’t trade a day of it, I don’t miss the pressure and dealing with all the negativity of Hollywood. I’m far happier as a writer and poet, working from home on my own schedule.

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Do you create jewellery to relax, or is it still very much your profession?

Believe it or not, I still run an occasional jewellery table, but I don’t consider myself an artisan jeweller any longer. Over the years, I have gradually made the shift from selling handcrafted Celtic jewellery to being a full-time author and poet. I do not make jewellery for fun. After thousands of earrings, bracelets and necklaces, I have hung up my pliers.

What triggered the Celtic design connection?

I am half Scottish/English and always had a love of the Celtic designs from my heritage. These designs are also very popular on the science fiction convention circuit. It was a profitable choice of theme for my work.

What is next for Wendy?

I’m in completion mode. I have two series that are drafted due to my years in NaNoWriMo, but in revision.  One is my Austen Regency series, of which “The Curate’s Brother” is the first instalment and the other is a Steampunk Alice in Wonderland adventure.

Poetry has become important to me in a way that is quite unexpected, but an art form I have embraced. I have two more scifaiku poetry collections, plus a hybrid poetry/essay book about a rare illness that I experienced and recovered from, in development.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions.

Wendy Van Camp is an Elgin-finalist poet, writer, and artist. Her work has received Honorable Mention at the Writers of the Future Contest and she is a graduate of the Ad Astra Speculative Fiction Workshop. Her short stories and poems have appeared in magazines such as: “Starlight Scifaiku Review”, “Scifaikuest”, “Quantum Visions” and “Far Horizons”. She is the poet and illustrator of  “The Planets: a scifaiku poetry collection” and the editor of the speculative poetry anthology “Eccentric Orbits 2”. You can hear Wendy as a semi-regular panelist on Sci-Fi Roundtable Podcast. She is the Con Coordinator for the SFPA.

LINKS

No Wasted Ink – http://nowastedink.com

Amazon – https://www.amazon.com/author/wendyvancamp

Medium – https://medium.com/@wvancamp

Twitter – https://twitter.com/wvancamp

Instagram – https://instagram.com/nowastedink

Esty Print Shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/NoWastedInk

Meet award winning author, USA Today bestseller, Evie Dunmore!

Evie Dunmore,  USA Today bestseller.

Welcome, Evie!

When did your love of novels, especially of the romance genre, begin?

My love for novels began when I could read, so, age five. I fell into the romance genre in my mid-twenties when I was working and commuting very long hours and was very receptive to the escapism romance novels offered. I noticed that no matter how dramatic the novel, as long as I could rely on there being a happy ever after, I could just switch off for a few hours. I never looked back.

What is the attraction of the Victorian era that so appeals to you?

It was a time of great economic, social, and technological changes, which gave rise to social movements such as the women’s rights movement and the labour movement that we still benefit from today. It means I could write heroines who are authentic and plausible for the era all while I can still find myself relating to them 140 years later. In a way, it allows me to explore how far we have come, and which issues remain that some people have already tried to change for more than a century.

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Bringing Down the Duke is the first engrossing novel in The League of Extraordinary Women series. The attraction between the two main characters is undeniable and absorbing. The protagonist attends Oxford against her family’s wishes, by being offered a scholarship from the Suffragettes. Is the series based upon the unsung heroines who paved the way for women today?

It is not based on any woman in particular but is certainly inspired by the first group of women students at Oxford and by the early suffragists, and their many allies whose names we will never know. The fight to access higher education took women decades; even after women had enrolled at Oxford for the first time in 1879, it should still take another 40 years before they could sit the same exams as the male students. The fight for women’s rights, especially the right to vote, was even longer, going back to the 18th century to Mary Wollstonecraft if you will. We hear quite a lot about the suffragettes, the militants of the Edwardian era, but countless women before them laid the groundwork for the charge and I loved learning more about them and their tactics while I wrote the novels.

Which three of the many ‘extraordinary women’ from the past do you admire the most and why?

Looking at the late Victorian era/early Edwardian era, it would be Annie Kenny, Christabel Pankhurst, and Cornelia Sorabji.

Annie Kenney was the only working-class suffragette to ever hold a leadership position in the suffragette movement after working her way from a Northern factory up to travelling the world and talking to heads of state for the cause. She was responsible for the incident that turned some suffragists militant and caused them to form the suffragette branch. She was also very likely bisexual. Her autobiography was fabulously insightful and stayed with me for a long time. She came across as incredibly loyal, brave, and funny.

Christabel was the strategic head and in some ways the heart of the suffragette movement. She held a law degree from Manchester University though as a woman she was not allowed to practice law at the time. What impresses me about her is the mix of both fanatic grit as well as level-headedness which she displayed for the entire duration of the movement.

Cornelia Sorabji was the first woman of colour and first female law student at Oxford University in 1889. When she arrived at Oxford, she already held a first-class degree from Bombay University, and she successfully fought tooth and nail to be treated like her fellow male students at Oxford. Back in India, she was not allowed to practice law for over a decade, but she found her own niche to assist women and girls in legal matters and had over 600 female legal wards and several successful pro-women social policies under her belt by the time she returned to Britain in her later years.

You have a personal connection to Oxford University having studied for a master’s degree there and an advanced creative writing course. From your experience, would you say that women academics have achieved equality there alongside their male counterparts?

A lot of brilliant women are hard at work at Oxford and fill important positions; since 2016, we even have a female Vice chancellor (Louise Richardson). My heroines would love to see it. However, personally I think female academics won’t achieve real equality in the workplace as long as they are compelled to choose between family and an academic career, or have to somehow juggle both, as this is something their male counterparts still don’t really have to worry about unless they are committed to fully sharing the care-work out of principle. The statistics still show a sharp drop in female academics from third year PhD to actual tenure, and we can already see that the pandemic disproportionally affected the output of female academics. Successful academic work requires you to think original thoughts and to write cutting-edge papers. It’s harder to do that amid years of sleep-deprivation and a mind loaded with other people’s needs and schedules. Without fathers stepping up or affordable external assistance, we’ll always have shining examples of some women having it all, but the overall statistics will probably continue to tell a different story.

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How challenging was and how did you go about writing the perspective of Queen Victoria in Bringing Down the Duke?

I had read her letters to her acquaintances where she raged about women’s rights activists and called for them to be whipped. Her official stance was also anti-suffrage and minced no words. Her close friendship with Disraeli and her behind-the-scenes meddling in politics when she was younger, is also no secret. It therefore wasn’t challenging as I put words into her mouth she herself had either written down verbatim or were very much in the spirit of her position. I guess it helped that I always had her actual photographs before my mind’s eye rather than the TV version played by the lovely Jenna Coleman.

Did it surprise you that such a prominent female monarch did not support women’s rights?

Not really. The queen saw herself as set apart from regular humans, and the dividing line between progressive people and those who want to keep things as they are does not neatly run along gender lines, it never has. A lot of women back then felt more comfortable with upholding the structures that suppressed them and harnessed the narrowly defined power allocated to the role of mother and wife instead. And sometimes, women’s reasons to be anti-suffrage were simply due to clashes with their other interests. For example, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was founded and run by women in the late 19th century, and they were anti-suffrage. Why? Because the suffragists and later suffragettes continued to use plumes as accessories.

How have you kept mentally and physically fit during the recent pandemic?

Unfortunately, I didn’t do a good job on either front, so I’m afraid I have no valuable tips to share here…

When life returns to the new ‘normal’ what do you look forward to doing when not writing or researching?

I look forward to the brain fog lifting. An end to this limbo of being unable to plan anything with certainty, all while we can’t really be spontaneous, either. I look forward to not having to worry about schools shutting down again and how the kids are affected by the situation; or about loved ones falling ill. I’d love to ditch the mask, and to hop on a train or plane to see family and friends I haven’t seen in nearly two years. I would like to offer my readers an in-person book signing. And I want to go to the movies and eat popcorn and not flinch when someone in the row behind me coughs.

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When and where did your affinity with Scotland begin?

I think it began when watching nature documentaries about the Highlands when I was a child. It was sealed when I moved to Britain and dated a mountaineer from St Andrews. The first time we entered Glen Coe around 15 years ago, it literally took my breath away. I felt moved to tears, it felt like coming home, when I had no prior connection to the place. Odd how that happens sometimes. Before the pandemic, I would regularly go up to Scotland a few times a year to stay with friends and to go hiking. Edinburgh is my favourite city in the world. I have been invited to RARE, a big romance author event, in Edinburgh in 2022, and I can’t wait to go and meet readers and colleagues.

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The Portrait of a Scotsman (Published 7th September) has a Scottish hero, when and where did the inspiration for this novel begin?

Inspiration for the story sparked during my research for my debut Bringing Down the Duke, where I came across photographs of Victorian women in trousers. The women in question were pit-brow lassies—they worked on the coalfields and frequently underground. Their existence was entirely at odds with the ideal Victorian image of women as the dainty Angels in the House, and I knew I wanted to highlight these remarkable women in one of the books in the series.

This, and my love for the Hades and Persephone myth, come together in the hero, Lucian Blackstone, a successful self-made Scotsman who he began his journey underground in a Scottish colliery.

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What is next for Evie?

I’m currently trying to finish the fourth and final book in the series, and I for the last year I have been playing around with an idea for a fifth book. We’ll see what comes from that.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule. I’m looking forward to reading Portrait of a Scotsman!

Catch up with Sunday Times bestselling, award winning romance author, Sue Moorcroft!

Welcome back, Sue!

Thanks very much for inviting me, Val.

The last time we chatted was back in 2016 when you had made some monumental decisions as to what you were doing with your writing/tutor time.

You were setting out new goals for the future. Now the future is here: what has worked and, if anything, what did not?

Things have gone very well. I have to pinch myself, sometimes. Since I began working with my agent, Juliet Pickering of Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, everything has taken off. I’ve been with Avon HarperCollins for ten books, with more in the pipeline, and I’m published in about fourteen other languages and territories. I’ve been to number 1 in the Kindle UK chart, I’m a Sunday Times bestseller, and I’ve been in the Top 100 US Kindle chart and the Top 50 in Germany.

There have been challenges and setbacks along the way, of course, but I can’t think of anything that ‘didn’t work’. Although I continue to write a few short stories and two-parters, I’ve achieved my ambition of living on the earnings from my novels.

Huge congratulations, but also it is success that is well deserved!

Covid has affected everyone, directly or indirectly. How have you coped with lockdowns and keeping healthy?

I’m lucky that I have a garden and I live near a park. I’ve been able to continue writing because it means going to another place in my head every day, where people hug and kiss and mix freely. That’s not a bad state of mind in which to spend fifty or sixty hours each week. I’ve stuck to the guidelines and kept healthy, thank you. On the downside, my classes at the gym have collapsed, I haven’t seen some of my best friends for ages and I haven’t been able to go abroad. But I’ve been much more comfortably circumstanced than many so I live the best life I can.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just completed the edits for my winter book, Under the Mistletoe, which is set in ‘my’ village of Middledip and features Laurel who left the village when she was sixteen but now has to go back. The reason she left is still living in the village. I’m also in the middle of the first draft of my summer 2022 book. It’s set in France, which I chose because I’ve set a book there before and have my photos and memories for reference. A big park features heavily which, funnily enough, bears quite a resemblance to the one I walk around several times a week. The book’s about blended families and cybercrime. The cybercrime element is stretching my powers of understanding …

What goals do you have for the next five years?

Keep writing, keep selling – and hope I can sell more!

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Sue Moorcroft is a Sunday Times bestselling author, has reached the #1 spot on Kindle UK and top 100 in the US. She’s won the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award, Readers’ Best Romantic Novel award and the Katie Fforde Bursary. Published by HarperCollins in the UK, US and Canada and by other publishers around the world.

The beautiful abbey ruins of North Yorkshire… 

The beautiful abbey ruins of North Yorkshire 

Henry VIII is perhaps most infamously remembered for his treatment of his six wives. However, this king changed a nation by separating his country from the power of the Roman Catholic church and proclaiming himself head of the Church of England, in 1534.  Two years later the Reformation in England took a more profitable turn for Henry as a destructive and brutal phase began with the dissolution of the monasteries.  

North Yorkshire has many majestic reminders of the magnificent abbeys that once served and dominated local rural life: Rievaulx, Whitby, Fountains, Byland, Ampleforth and Mount Grace Priory to name a few. 

These are fascinating ‘places of interest’. They inspired many during the years they were inhabited and – in a non-pandemic year – are visited by many people now who soak in their history and sense of peace that their lovingly tended sites exude. 

Life in days gone by can be easily imagined; both harsh and cold and yet their lives encouraged selfless devotion whilst supporting their local community.   

Often constructed in beautiful rural surroundings of agricultural land, woods and moors. They would grow crops and raise animals to feed themselves and create profit from a trade, the land they owned and tenancies. The monasteries owned a quarter of the cultural land within the country – a vast wealth and Henry was a man who needed to fund his own lifestyle and wars. 

Their majestic ruins have influenced and inspired some of the scenes with in my novels such as Georgina’s escape in Betrayal, Beth’s and Willoughby’s earnest discussion under the arches of Whitby Abbey in To Love Honour and Obey or Wilson’s hiding place in Dead to Sin. 

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In my most recent novel ‘Betrayal’ Lydia Fletcher is part of a rescue of her friend within the grounds of one such building: 

 The monastery’s stone walls slowly emerged before her – a testament to their ancestors’      achievements and faith. This sanctified place once filled with holy praise, was now losing the fight against the ravages of time as they crumbled back to the earth. Encased within the lush undergrowth it had not been revered for centuries. 

In the novel the ruins are being used by a band of smugglers who dress as the monks of old to keep the superstitious locals away. 

Between the old arches of the ivy clad fallen parapets, moving smoothly through the distant mist, was the distinctive figure of a monk, the ghostly habit covered by a dark hooded cape. Kell looked to see what had caught Jeremiah’s attention.  

“Souls of monks, long gone… they got no truck with us… so dig!” he ordered. Kell stared at him. Both Lydia and Jeremiah watched the monk disappear once more into the forest. The boy’s mouth hung open as the shovel fell from his hand. 

The Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 consisted of 30000 strong rebel army from the north demanding that the abbeys be reopened. They were promised a pardon and a parliament on York, but once they disbanded their leaders were executed. In 1539 the larger monasteries also fell. Those monks who would not conform were also executed. 

The abbeys were hugely important to the life of the people in the area. Their battered walls and fallen arches are now preserved for all to discover and admire. 

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Catching up with best-selling author, Nicola Cornick!

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Welcome back, Nicola.

Thank you very much for inviting me, Val. It’s a pleasure to be back!

How time flies by. You were my guest back in 2018!

Since then a lot has happened – how have you found working during lockdown? Has it been a challenge to stay focused; mentally and physically?

Like a lot of people, I’ve found lockdown very difficult. When it began a year ago, I found the uncertainty and anxiety very unsettling, and couldn’t concentrate. Then my stepfather became ill and died, followed six months later by my mother, which was incredibly stressful and upsetting, and left me mentally exhausted.

I don’t normally talk about my personal life that much but I feel I want to be honest about this in case it helps reassure any other people who have found their life and work so disrupted that their focus has inevitably suffered. I couldn’t write at all a lot of the time; I couldn’t read either. Unfortunately this coincided with me needing to do big revisions to the book I have coming out next month. It took me months and months to do them. Just sitting down at the computer was an effort I didn’t want to make, and each word felt as though it had to be dragged out of me. I managed it in the end but I’ve never known writing to be such a process of attrition. Then, in a bizarre twist, the final revisions to the book were due the week my mother died and I found the reverse was true. I found an escape by losing myself completely in the book and racing through the revisions with nothing else at all in my mind – until I stopped. It’s the only time I’ve ever been able to escape the intolerable present through writing. All of which is to say that if you experience a similar challenge to your focus, accept it, do what you can and be kind to yourself.

You have been through an incredibly trying time and I appreciate your honesty. It is excellent advice and I hope it helps to reassure others who have been struggling with the new reality of pandemic life.

How much has changed in your writing world since we first chatted?

A few things have changed and developed. I’m still writing dual time books and enjoying it enormously. I like to choose as a central character a female protagonist who is probably largely overlooked in history – women from the footnotes, I call them – and explore her story. There’s also usually a real- life mystery in the story as well. My next book deals with the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower in 1483. Other than that, I’m enjoying mentoring historical fiction authors for The History Quill site and giving talks on the historical background to my books.

What have been the highlights?

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A recent highlight was when my Tudor-set book The Forgotten Sister was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists Association Romantic Thriller Award, which was a lovely surprise and wonderful recognition. Despite the pandemic – or perhaps because people have been reading more in Lockdown – that book has done so well, reaching the top 10 in the Heatseeker chart and gaining lots of amazing recognition. But it’s not all about prizes and sales, of course – the most important thing is having contact with readers and fellow history fans, so the return of live events and the opportunity of live online ones is a terrific highlight. Just being able to chat with people about all sorts of history and writing topics is wonderful.

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What are you working on now?

I’m working on preparing a lot of online and live events to celebrate the launch of The Last Daughter on 8th July but trying not to let that eat into my writing time too much! My next book is also due in a couple of months so there’s a lot of work still to be done there. It’s a timeslip set in the later 16th and early 17th century in the run up to the Gunpowder Plot, and the heroine is Catherine Catesby, wife of the plot’s ringleader Robert Catesby. When I was researching it, it seemed to me that there is such a big focus on the plot and what happened afterwards, but not so much on events beforehand and the huge influence that Catherine had on Robert Catesby’s life. She is another woman from the footnotes of history!

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What is next for Nicola?

Well it’s an exciting time for me as my Gunpowder Book (as I call it) is the last book on this particular contract with Harper Collins HQ so I’m starting to think about all sorts of ideas for future writing. It always feels like such a promising time when all the potential ideas are there to be explored! Plus I have lots of other projects on the go – the mentoring, which I love, and my involvement with the Wantage Literary Festival, and various history events and talks coming up. I’m very fortunate, I think, to have so many opportunities. Most excitingly, though, we will be getting a new guide dog puppy to raise in the summer!

Now that sounds like a busy schedule, but with lots of potential play time with the new puppy. I hope it passes all its training. Thank you for being my guest!

Meet Regency author, Natalie Kleinman

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I am delighted to welcome fellow Sapere Books author, Natalie, to chat about her new release.

With publication of The Girl With Flaming Hair only a few days from now, what plans do you have for launching it on its way?

I’m so delighted with the cover image – she may not be Helen of Troy but she’s beautiful nonetheless and I will be sharing her on social media, primarily Facebook and Twitter. I’m also lucky in that Rachel Gilbey (Rachel’s Random Resources) has organised a blog tour for me which will begin on 18th June. Bloggers and reviewers are so generous with their time and I’m especially grateful to them, and to you. There will be ongoing news as well with giveaways and competitions for those who subscribe to my newsletter.

The Girl With Flaming Hair Full Tour Banner

Everyone’s route to publication is different – what was yours?

An unexpected one! I’d finished studying with the Open University and was looking for something to occupy my little grey cells so I joined a ten week creative writing course run by my local council. What a magnet that turned out to be! Fast forward through various interest groups until in 2011 I discovered The Write Place (TWP), a creative writing school not too far from where I live. Up to this point I’d been writing short stories but I was made to wonder if I couldn’t write a book as well. Since then I’ve written fourteen though three will never see the light of day but I’m grateful to them – they were my learning curve. I found out about the Romantic Novelists Association from TWP and joined their New Writers Scheme. You may imagine my joy when my first submitted book, a contemporary romance, was taken up by a publisher and I graduated the scheme in the first year. That was in 2014.

We both share a love of Regency with our publisher Sapere books, but when did your love of the period begin and sustains your interest with it?

I must have been about eleven at the time and I have my mother to thank, as do so many others theirs, for it was she who handed me my first Georgette Heyer. It’s never palled and I’ve had books fall to pieces in my hands, not from abuse but because they just weren’t up to the number of times I’ve re-read them. When that happened they were replaced. Some outstanding productions have illustrated how well stories in this genre translate to the screen. And recently Bridgerton did a great job of raising the profile of Regency romance.

You have written many short stories. Do you enjoy switching between the two disciplines of writing short and long fiction?

I love them both and they are entirely different disciplines. It’s wonderful to create a world in just two or three thousand words and very satisfying. I’m very grateful that my stories have been enjoyed by so many. Long fiction gives the opportunity to develop one’s characters and, as my stories tend to be character-driven, that’s of huge benefit to me and the way I write. I just have to be careful they don’t start writing themselves as they have a tendency to run away with the plot.

What has been a member of the RNA meant to you?

The RNA is a place for making friends as well as acquiring knowledge. Writers tend to be pretty genuine people and very ready to help each other. Consequently, having attended numerous conferences, workshops and chapter meetings, I’ve had the chance to meet, to learn and to move forward. Everyone is so kind. Maybe it’s the romanticism in us.

How have you kept mentally and physically fit during lockdown?

Does one out of two count? I loved sports when I was younger but I’ve never been a fan of what I think of as gym-based exercise. I have disciplined myself to do online exercises but I know they are the barest minimum. Mentally though I’m so very grateful for my occupation. What better than losing oneself either in one’s own creation or in that of another author? Other time periods, science fiction, cosy crime, they’ve all taken me to places I wouldn’t otherwise have visited. And Zoom and other video links have been invaluable.

What is next for Natalie?

Exciting times for me. You will know that Sapere recently published The Reluctant Bride. Well, after The Girl With Flaming Hair there are three more in the pipeline so I guess I’ll be pretty busy for the foreseeable future.

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Thank you so much for having me on the blog today, Val.

Natalie

You are very welcome!

About The Girl With Flaming Hair:

While driving his curricle, Rufus Solgrave, Earl of Luxton comes across Sophie Clifford lying unconscious in the road, having fallen from her horse. Not too far from home, he takes her back to Ashby, his country seat, leaving her in the care of his mother, Elizabeth, Countess of Luxton, and his sister, Lydia. Under their kindly supervision, Sophie soon begins to recover.

Upon discovering that Sophie has never mixed with London society, Elizabeth invites her to accompany the family to town for Lydia’s come-out. Unhappy with her home life and eager to sample the delights of the season, Sophie accepts. However, her enjoyment is marred when talk of an old scandal surrounding her birth resurfaces. What’s more, her devious stepbrother, Francis Follet, has followed her to London, intent on making her his bride.

Sensing Sophie’s distress, Rufus steps in to protect her from Francis’s unwelcome advances. And although neither Rufus nor Sophie are yet thinking of marriage, both soon begin to wonder whether their comfortable friendship could blossom into something warmer…

About Natalie:

Natalie’s passion for reading became a compulsion to write when she attended a ten-week course in creative writing some sixteen or so years ago. She takes delight in creating short stories of which more than forty have been published, but it was her lifelong love of Regency romance that led her to turn from contemporary romantic fiction to try her hand at her favourite genre. Raised on a diet of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, she is never happier than when immersed in an age of etiquette and manners, fashion and intrigue, all combined into a romping good tale. She lives on the London/Kent border, close to the capital’s plethora of museums and galleries which she uses for research as well as pleasure. A perfect day though is when she heads out of town to enjoy lunch by a pub on the river, any river, in company with her husband and friends.

Natalie is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Society of Authors and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists.

Meet Carole Matthews – winner of the RNA’s 2021 Romantic Comedy Novel Award.

Welcome, Carole!Matthews summer days sea breezes author

How long has your road to success been from that first publication breakthrough?

I had my first book published in 1997, Let’s Meet on Platform 8, and since then I’ve written another thirty-three novels. I didn’t realise when I started that I’d still be around twenty-five years later.

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

Friendship and support. It’s lovely being able to mix with a group of like-minded people who are willing to share your successes and struggles. It’s a great asset for authors.

What was your reaction to firstly receiving the RNA Outstanding Achievement Award and now this one?

The Outstanding Achievement Award was wonderful. I shared the honour with Jill Mansell and we were both presented with our awards by Barbara Taylor Bradford which was amazing – what a woman! It’s very nice to be recognised by your peers. I received three nominations – two for Sunny Days & Sea Breezes, plus one for Christmas for Beginners which was a lovely surprise. To receive the award for Romantic Comedy Novel of the Year was such a thrill. Sunny Days & Sea Breezes has already proved to be one of my most popular books with readers and this feels like the ultimate stamp of approval.

Happiness for Beginners was inspired by a real animal farm helping people – how do you balance the harsher realities and issues of life with a lighter touch to convey a heartfelt and serious theme?

That’s something that I’ve tried to do with all of my books and I think they reflect life in general. It’s not all ha-ha-hee-hee, but sometimes we’re able to see the funny side in difficulties. While my books are romantic comedies, I hope they reflect real life too. With Happiness for Beginners, the real farm helps people with behavioural and mental health issues, so that created the darker side of the book. They also rescued troubled and damaged animals and they definitely provided the comedy element!

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Are you a detailed plotter or do you develop your work on the screen as you go and through revisions and edits?

A detailed plotter! As I’ve written two books a year for the last ten years, I don’t have the luxury of wondering what happens next – I need to know! I do, however, change and adapt as I go, but I start off with a definite beginning, middle and end. I spend about two weeks writing out character profiles and that helps me to get into their heads. Each morning, I start by editing what I’ve done the day before and then I have one final pass at the end. I do as little editing as humanly possible.

Your locations vary, keeping your work fresh and inspiring. Are there any that have been particularly memorable?

I have been fortunate to be able to base my books in some wonderful locations over the years. Part of With or Without You was set in Nepal and that was a very memorable trip. I loved every minute – the people and the culture are fantastic. I went to Swedish Lapland and stayed in the Ice Hotel as research for Calling Mrs Christmas and that was wonderful too. We had the most fabulous display of the Northern Lights – one of the highlights of my life. My latest, Sunny Days & Sea Breezes, is set on the Isle of Wight and I’ve fallen in love with the place and plan to visit time and time again. I must have described it nicely as many of my readers – and my editors – booked holidays there as a result!

You are a prolific author, but roughly how long does it take to do the research, writing, editing to final manuscript?

I’ve been doing a book every six months, so research, writing and editing all tends to roll into one. I’m usually researching the next book while writing the current one and editing the last one. I really wouldn’t like to see inside my brain!

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What is next for Carole?

Lots to look forwards to! The paperback of Sunny Days & Sea Breezes is out in May, so I’m looking forward to that. My publisher is re-jacketing and reissuing a lot of my backlist which is quite a job with thirty-odd books to do. The new-look Chocolate Lovers’ Club is out in eBook at the moment for 99p and the whole series will be reissued in paperback in August. This series of four books is among my most popular worldwide, so it’s nice to see them given a new lease of life. Later in the year – October – will see the paperback of Christmas for Beginners which was also nominated for an RNA award and sees another visit to Hope Farm.

Meet author and cat behaviourist, Anita Kelsey!

I am delighted to welcome cat behaviourist, Anita Kelsey, as my guest to talk about her work and her new book – all about cats!

Hi Anita,

Let’s begin at the beginning! Can you tell me how and when your love of cats developed?

 I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love cats. Mum likes to tell the story of me as a little girl being taken to primary school – how I used to insist on going the long way around, down a particular road where lots of cats lived.

When did you realise that books and information about cats were underrepresented?

You’re always going to get fewer books on a specialist subject than those in the mass market. Within the specific genre of cat care and behaviour there are actually some excellent books out there, so I never really had the realisation that books and information about cats were underrepresented. That wasn’t the reason I decided to write my current book.  Let’s Talk About Cats grew organically from interviews I enjoyed writing for my online blog. I did a search on Amazon when thinking of a follow-up for my first book Claws and saw that no-one had written a book that included interviews with cat experts. I thought how exciting it would be to give people expert inside knowledge in the form of questions from a cat behaviourist to her peers and other inspiring cat folk. How interesting to open up conversations on different subjects such as cat grief, diet and how felines communicate. There’s always room for more cat books and I am hoping mine will get support and be enjoyed, because it’s presented very differently to anything that’s been written about cats so far. Also, it was a great opportunity for me to learn more about my favourite subject!

Do you think cats are generally misunderstood?

The general population may not understand cats as much as they should, but I’m always impressed by the care and patience of experienced cat guardians, people that foster, work in rescue centres or people who have spent a lifetime looking after different cats. What I do find though is that sometimes people expect too much of cats and credit them with human emotions. To really understand cats we must understand them away from the label of ‘pet’ and understand life from their viewpoint, not our own. 

What are the most commonly held misconceptions about cats?

That cats love to be stroked as much as we like to stroke them, that all cats need or want other feline ‘friends’ to live with, that a new cat should be able to like the same things as a recently deceased cat, that cats can be bred as indoor only cats, that cats are aloof and do not need daily care and attention.  I mention the latter as I still know people who go away for 2/3/4 days and leave dry food out for their cat(s) stating that they are fine being left alone as they are independent. There are just a few that come to mind.

What are the most frequently seen problems you have to deal with concerning the cats and/or their owners?

The most frequent issues I have to deal with are:

Multi-cat tensions, especially when a nice balance of cats and cat personalities has been reached only for the cat guardians to bring home another cat.

Spraying around the home either due to outside stressors or territorial stress due to tensions between other cats in the home.

Boredom/frustration usually with indoor only cats.

I’ve had plenty of unusual cases too, such as a cat who was obsessed with eating stones!

What considerations do you feel people who wish to buy a cat/kitten should make before committing to it?

First of all: what kind of lifestyle do you lead and have you the time to give to your cat or kitten, plus do you have the space in your home to meet all of their needs? Are you financially able to meet all of their needs in terms of food, cat litter trays, litter, cat furniture, flea treatments, cat toys, pet insurance, and vaccines – it all adds up. When thinking of buying/rescuing a kitten I would always recommend two, so that they have company during the time their carers are at work, as well as a playmate they can play with and learn from.

Another aspect to consider is the maintenance and grooming of longhaired breeds of cat. Many carers have no idea of the grooming needs of particular breeds, so this is a consideration that should be made before deciding to get breeds such as Persians, Maine Coons, British Long Hairs and all of the Forest cats/Norwegian/Siberian. Also, consider the life span of the cat. Buying a kitten is cute and fun but kittens grow into adult cats and can live well into their twenties. Do you just want a kitten for fun and cuteness or are you committed to the lifetime care of your cat?

You have a specialist grooming service for phobic and aggressive cats – other than ‘very carefully’ how do you approach this challenge?

LOL! Each cat is approached differently and what I decide very much depends on the past history of the grooming experience of the cat and how severe their reactions are to the process.  My approach also very much depends on the coat condition of the cat. For example, an extremely matted cat that is fearful of grooming due to past negative experiences cannot be helped if I treat the groom like a normal one, because it wouldn’t be normal. I would be battling with a cat that is showing fear-based aggression while I’m trying to shave a matted coat. That just isn’t going to happen and would just re-affirm in the cat’s mind that grooming is something to be feared. In this situation I would advise that the cat be sedated at my local vet, where I regularly work, so the coat can be taken off safely and humanely. I would then teach the owner how to slowly reintroduce grooming using the correct tools, the correct technique and doing very short sessions at a time on various parts of the body.

Also using positive associations such as treats or a catnip mouse as part of the experience. Other cats can be handled more easily because they are using a learned behaviour to get the groom stopped. For example, a cat may hiss and growl as a warning when the carer has tried to groom them, leading to the carer stopping. In this way the cat has learned how to get the desired end-result. These kind of cats can usually be groomed quickly and safely by being confident and knowing that what I am doing is not hurting them, making them feel discomfort or making them feel threatened. Because my response is different to that of their carer, the outcome is different. With timid cats I always allow them movement on my table, plenty of breaks when they need them and I always request that the owners stay to help calm them. I use classical music on all grooms, tasty treats and toys. Not only should it be a nice experience for the cats, but for the humans too.

What breed(s) of cat, in particular, make good companions?

There’s no one breed of cat that makes a better companion over another. It’s very much down to the individual cat’s personality and the home territory they are being introduced to.  I think the person wanting a cat needs to think about what they want from them and what their expectations are. Not every cat likes to be held or stroked to within an inch of his or her life, so getting the right personality is key. Also, think about the territory for your furry companion and their individual and evolutionary traits. Many cats do not thrive in indoor only situations. For example, keeping Bengals in a small urban flat with no outside space to roam is not ideal, as this breed particularly needs plenty of stimulation, things to climb and lots of attention and space.

I was intrigued to read about your Norwegian Forest Cats – they look beautiful, what attracted you to this specific breed?

I love the look of the big cats and I love their long manes and chunky feet and paws. The ‘weegies’, as they are known, have more delicate pointed faces than that of the Maine Coons, who have more square broad faces. I also love the fact they are a natural breed from the forests of Norway, hence the breed name. I fell in love with Kiki and Zaza after seeing a photo of them online as kittens. They were two tiny balls of fluff and they were stunning. The breeder wanted to keep Zaza as a show cat but I begged her to let me have her and she finally agreed that they could both come to live with me. At the end of the day I think all cats are beautiful, even the average street moggies. My next cats will all definitely be rescue ones and probably special needs ones, as they get overlooked more often than not. Recently a rescue in Cornwall advertised three blind brothers who had been rescued from abroad. I would have had them in a heartbeat if not for Kiki and Zaza.



Let’s Talk About Cats
Conversations on feline behaviour
 
By Anita Kelsey
Published by KiZa, 28th November 2020, paperback £12.99

What is next for Anita Kelsey?

Well, I’m in the process of trying to relocate to live by the sea, a long time dream of mine so that’s next on the cards on the personal front. Career-wise, who knows! I’m pretty much content doing what I’m doing and have little time to do much else besides grooming and behaviour work. I can’t help thinking a third book may follow when I’m relaxing by the sea with pen in hand (or maybe laptop)! I loved writing my first book Claws, Confessions Of A Cat Groomer and many readers have been asking when Claws 2 will be out! So, perhaps that is what will be next for me! Watch this space….

Meet historical fiction author, Elizabeth Bailey

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

Elizabeth Bailey author photo

Welcome, Elizabeth!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is fascinating. I admire your certainty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is next for Elizabeth Bailey?

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

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

 

 

 

An Interview with Alison May

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

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

What were your first breakthrough moments as a published writer?

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

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

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

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

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

How would you describe an Alison May novel?

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

How would you describe a Juliet Bell novel?

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

What key advice would you share with aspiring writers?

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

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

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

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

 What project(s) are you working on next?

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

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

What is your vision for the future of the RNA?

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

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

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

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

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

How has the romance genre changed since you joined?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison is currently Chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

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

Twitter: twitter.com/MsAlisonMay

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

Instagram: instrgram.com/MsAlisonMay

BUY LINKS:

Juliet Bell – The Heights

Juliet Bell – The Other Wife

 

Alison May – All That Was Lost