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

Johnson- one true north author

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

Can you share some of your career path enroute from unpublished to published author with us?

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

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

What advice would you give to your younger unpublished self?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is next for Milly?

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

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

Comments, likes and questions are always welcome…

Meet best-selling author, Lorna Cook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will you be writing more books in this genre?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is next for Lorna?

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

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

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An Interview with Sue Moorcroft

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Sue Moorcroft is an amazingly versatile writer and tutor who has taken time out of her busy schedule to share her world with us. 

Welcome to my blog, Sue!

Thanks for inviting me.

Do you have a very set and organised working week or, with your busy and diverse writing commitments, do you work to ever evolving priority lists?

Both, I suppose. I have deadlines to meet for novels, serials and my monthly columns for Writers’ Forum, and also sometimes for other work including promo. To fulfill those deadlines I have a fairly long working day, often devoted to working with students in the morning and writing in the afternoon. In that way, I keep fresh for both. I punctuate most days with a class such as yoga, Zumba, FitStep or piano. These seem to see to my physical and mental health as I do most of those classes with friends.

Sometimes I have a teaching commitment that takes precedence or I go somewhere for research purposes. I enjoy spots on local radio, too. Variety is the spice of my life.

When did you first make your first breakthrough as a published author?

I sold my first short story, to The People’s Friend, in 1996. It was April 1st and I just hoped it wasn’t someone’s idea of an April’s Fool joke… I stopped counting at 130 short stories so that first one was quite important. The short stories led to serials but it wasn’t until 2004 that I sold a novel.

How important a role has the RNA played in your writing journey to date?

Very. It helped me to make the transition from short fiction to long. I was actually at a party thrown by a short story agency that placed some of my work when somebody told me about the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. Then I saw that Marina Oliver was appearing at a library about 20 miles from my home so I went along to that and asked her about the RNA, as she was then (and for many years) a committee member. I applied the next day.

Margaret James was the NWS co-ordinator then and she took a personal interest, including introducing me to someone who became my agent for the next seven years. I left that agent for personal reasons that affected my career in 2009 but have just signed with another, Juliet Pickering at Blake Friedmann.

The RNA members also gave me a ‘can do’ attitude. I’d be at a conference chatting to someone in the lunch queue and realise that they were the author of dozens of novels. But they just seemed ordinary aside from that … It made me realise that it’s hard work, education and talent that makes a writer, rather than some mystical power endowed to people other than myself. And, of course, the RNA gave me a massive number of writing friends.

What can a reader expect from a Sue Moorcroft novel?

A dauntless heroine and an irresistible hero to create sizzle, a contemporary setting, an entertaining read but meaningful subjects explored. Readers say that I make them fall in love with the hero, which is only fair because I fall in love with them all, too!

What have been the 3 stand out highlights of your writing career to date?

When I got ‘the call’ from my agent that began, ‘I have an offer for you.’

When I won Best Romantic Read Award for Is this Love? at the Festival of Romance.

And when a customer at a bookshop signing saw my display, picked up All That Mullarkey and asked, ‘Her! Do you write anything like her? This is what I’m reading at the moment and I love it.’ I squeaked, ‘I am her!’ It turned out that the lady was very ill and had been in hospital a lot. She was reading in the afternoons while she rested and any book that ‘grabbed’ her had become a lifesaver. She bought all of my books apart from Want to Know a Secret? because it had a hospital in it. I felt privileged to have made her illness a little easier to live through.

Sue M Wedding ProposalPlease tell us about your new book The Wedding Proposal and the inspiration behind it?

It’s set in Malta, which is a place I love as I lived there as a child. Because I like to read them I wanted to write a reunion book and that turned out to mean a lot of extra plotting. It was getting the balance right. The reason Lucas and Elle parted four years earlier had to be plausible yet they had to get over it in order to come together when they met again. Lots of backstory plotting required! One of the flats I lived in as a child overlooked a marina so I set the book there, ie I put Lucas and Elle together on a small boat for the summer. I thought it would make it hard for them to avoid one another. (I was right.)

Elle and Lucas have both mellowed while they’ve been apart. Lucas has made his hobby, scuba, into his job, by qualifying as a divemaster. Elle has been made redundant from her whizzy corporate life in IT and in a complete change of direction has begun to volunteer in a drop-in centre for young people. Lucas’s little brother Charlie is loveable but crazy so I brought him on stage to have an accident with far-reaching consequences. Elle still has secrets and Lucas still doesn’t like secrets, so that ignites the plot nicely.

What is next for Sue a) as an author and b) with your upcoming writing events/courses?

I’m writing two things. One is a three-part serial for My Weekly, scheduled to be published over Christmas and New Year. The other is a novel called The Twelve Dates of Christmas which is about dates and Christmas but also revenge porn, hats and ovarian cancer. I know the plot and I’m about one-third of the way through the writing. I’m not sure how I’ve ended up writing about Christmas twice as I actually love summer!

I’ll be at the Festival of Romantic Fiction in Leighton Buzzard on the 13th of September, at the book fair 10am-3pm and the Traditional Afternoon Tea at The Green House 4-5.30pm. I will be at the Romance Readers Awards at Leighton Buzzard Theatre in the evening because I’ve just heard that The Wedding Proposal has been shortlisted for the Best Romantic Read Award!

Next year I’ll be running a week-long writers’ holiday for fabulous Arte Umbria 22-29 July (already filling up) and hopefully one for equally fabby Chez Castillon but I don’t have the dates yet.

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share some of your writing experiences with my readers.

And thank you for having me.

Sue Moorcroft writes romantic novels of dauntless heroines and irresistible heroes. Is this Love? was nominated for the Readers’ Best Romantic Read Award. Love & Freedom won the Best Romantic Read Award 2011 and Dream a Little Dream was nominated for a RoNA in 2013. Sue received three nominations at the Festival of Romance 2012, and is a Katie Fforde Bursary Award winner. She’s a past vice chair of the RNA and editor of its two anthologies.

Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a competition judge and creative writing tutor.

Sue’s latest book The Wedding Proposal is available as an ebook from 4 August 2014 and as a paperback from 8 September.

 TWP_RGBpackshotMore from Sue:

Website: www.suemoorcroft.com

Blog: http://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com/

Facebook: sue.moorcroft.3 and https://www.facebook.com/SueMoorcroftAuthor

Twitter: @suemoorcroft