Meet bestselling author Liz Fenwick

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Liz Fenwick

 

You grew up in Massachusetts, moved to the UK and now commute between London and Cornwall. Did you ever think that you would travel so broadly?

I grew up with an inbuilt wanderlust. My father had travelled a fair bit and I would spend hours looking at his slides and dreaming of a time when I too could venture forth. I hadn’t quite imagined that I would lead the travelling life I did for so long. I moved to the UK when I was 26 and that was when it truly began. I met the man who is now my husband of almost 28 years two weeks after I arrived in the UK. We married two years later and that was when moving about began in earnest. We’ve lived in Canada, Moscow, Houston, Indonesia and Dubai. While in those locations we explored as much as was feasible with three small children in tow. But of course there is still more travelling I want to do!

The variety of cross-cultural experience that this life-style has given you is amazing, but the love of Cornwall shines through each of the books you have set there. When did this love affair begin?

It began with my first trip there one hot weekend in June 1989. My boyfriend of just a few months took me to meet his parents…or so I thought. It was in fact the ‘Cornwall Test’. If I hadn’t fallen in love with Cornwall then we wouldn’t have married. I’m certain of it. But how could I not fall in love with bright blue skies punctuated with foxgloves, cliffs falling into the sea and hidden creeks caressed by low tree branches. Cornwall stole my heart and has never let go…even when the sky feels low and the mizzle is so dense I can’t see the bottom of my garden.

Could you explain how and when your first breakthrough as a published writer happened?

My first breakthrough was finding an agent. I had met Carole Blake on line first via Twitter then in person through a TweetUp. We hit it off on a social level and became friends over our love of wine, shoes and books. I was still in the process of finding my writer’s voice. Finally two years after we became friends I knew what my voice was and what I was aiming for. This coincided with me attending the first York Festival of Writing. There I was to pitch to someone else in her agency. I knew this person wasn’t the right agent for me but I also knew the book wasn’t ready…so it was more for the feedback. During our session he asked me why I hadn’t pitched to Carole…fear was the first thing in my mind. She was Carole Blake but in my heart I knew The Cornish House wasn’t what it could be. So I emailed her…knowing her colleague would feed info back to her, saying the book wasn’t ready but I was aiming for Daphne du Maurier meets Jodi Picoult or Cornwall with issues. She told me to send it to her when it was ready. That was April and in February I sent The Cornish House off to four agents, all who I had met through the Romantic Novelists’ Association. By lunch time I had my first request for a full…but I hadn’t heard from Carole. So I emailed her asking as a friend what should I do because her book From Pitch to Publication didn’t say. She emailed saying as a friend you inform the other agents. Three requested the full and by Saturday Carole had offered me representation. By St Patrick’s Day I had my first publishing deal with The Netherlands and in April I signed with Orion. That was the beginning.

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Of all the impeccable research you have completed, is there one project that has intrigued or surprised you more than you expected?

I loved researching The Returning Tide. I was terrified as growing up in the States the knowledge that people in the UK have is different and I was terrified of getting it wrong…I lost sleep over it. But I love research and my favourite part of the research for this book was interviewing four people who served during WWII. One of them lent me her diary from 1945 and I was able to see first hand how little everyone knew. This was my biggest struggle in the end. Today if a bomb falls we know minutes later. Then they knew only their part and nothing more….

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You are a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association – what does the organisation mean to you?

The RNA is my tribe. I learned so much there during my pre-published days, my apprenticeship. The published novelists were and are so generous with their knowledge. I know that this cut my time waiting for publication. I also know they have my back as I have theirs.

What was the most important piece of advice that you were given that you would like to pass on to as yet unpublished writers?

Don’t rush to publication. I wish I knew who gave me the advice but I am grateful. I would add to it take that time to learn about the industry…because once you are published it all becomes harder!

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

Ideally the idea for the story will have been in my head for a year or more. It will slowly build and then I will brain storm with my editor…I love this part. If research is required I will then do the minimum – just enough to write a fast and dirty first draft. This I learned the hard way. I love research and for A Cornish Stranger I thought the historical thread of the story would be about the SOE so I read extensively. I then wrote the story…it’s not about the SOE. So I wasted key time. Now I leave XXXX directly in the text to indicate that more is needed and fly on with the story. What I have discovered is in this more targeted research I have found things that enrich and twist the story…especially since by then I know my characters. Once I have the dirty first draft the real work begins. I write many drafts…not as many as I used to but by the time I send it to my editor this first time it will normally have been through four to six drafts. The final one of these edits will be having my computer read the story to me. Believe me you can’t hide from a clunky sentence, missed word or lack of transition when there is no emotion in the reading voice.

I used to dread the editing process but now I embrace it. With my editor’s input and my own (obtained from stepping back from the book for even as short as two weeks) I can see how to make the story better, stronger and more emotionally charged. So I will normally have two to three rounds of edits with editor then there is the copy edit (hate this bit…when I’m forced to look at the small stuff) and the final proof reading edit is always a bit lost on me…I can’t see a spelling mistake for love nor money. I’m dyslexic.

You are an inspiration to many as you have dyslexia. How much of a challenge has it been to write your lovely novels and overcome the difficulties that this may have presented?

Dyslexia has presented many challenges along the road to writing my novels. Not being able to spell has created two problems one of which has become a blessing. I cannot see a spelling mistake so I need to have someone proof read and a very understanding editor. This is a nightmare. My dyslexia can be so bad sometimes that I can’t look it up in a dictionary or spell it enough for spell check to even offer a possible spelling. This is so frustrating. It has made me many times select a different word, a simpler word. And this has been the bonus. My writing is simple which has brought me many readers who struggle with reading. Unless it is a necessary technical word or the character absolutely would say the simple word the vocabulary used in the books is basic. This means the story can be read by a larger audience. I never thought that my struggles with dyslexia would help others to access stories, but it has.

I was fortunate enough to interview the amazing Carole Blake shortly before her tragically early death. How much of an influence did Carole have on your career?

She was the ideal guide through my first years as a published author. Despite my time pre-published learning as much as I could there is so much to take on board and understand. She answered every question, went to battle for me, reprimanded me if I took a wrong step and laughed with me. She taught me to enjoy every step of the journey, toast every success no matter how small and not to sell myself or my work short. With each and every book she had to sell it back to me because I hated it by the time all the editing was done! She excelled at selling.

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Do you embrace technology and social media with enthusiasm?

Yes! As I mentioned earlier it was through Twitter that Carole and I became friends. I also love interacting with readers through the various platforms. It is also where I interact with other writers…making the work process less lonely.

What has been the highlight of your writing career to date?

There are two…the first was when a reader stayed behind at a talk and told me how a story I’d written had helped her. I stood there in shock. I had never imagined reaching someone so deeply. And the second was when The Returning Tide made the short list for the Winston Graham Historical Novel Prize.

What project are you working on now?

I’m doing the preliminary research on a novel that is located on both sides of the Tamar (yes leaving Cornwall briefly) and is set in WWI and the current day. More sleepless nights hoping I don’t mess up the historical details!!

What is next for Liz Fenwick?

The Path to the Sea is out on 6 June 2019. It is a story of three generations of the Trewin women all with secrets. At Boskenna a large rambling house perched on a cliff above a Cornish beach on a hot August weekend in 2018 the past comes closer to the present. The youngest Trewin, Lottie, tries to keep her own secrets hidden as she searches for answers. But once she uncovers what happened in 1962 what is she going to do?

 

I wish you every continued success and am looking forward to reading The Path to the Sea!
www.lizfenwick.com

Liz F

An Interview with Carole Blake

[Update: 27/10/2016]

It is with great sadness and total shock that I have learnt that Carole died last night. She was an amazing lady and inspiration to many, myself included. My sincere condolences to her family, her many friends, colleagues and authors that she represented and respected so much. She will be greatly missed.

Val


My guest this month is Carole Blake, a lady whose amazing career has taken her from working as a secretary in a packaging company to forming the incredibly successful London literary agency, Blake Friedmann. This journey involved becoming the first Rights Manager for Michael Joseph, then Marketing Director at Sphere, before starting up her own agency in 1977. Five years later she merged with Julian Friedmann’s Agency.

Throughout this time Carole has worked tirelessly to develop the careers of her authors and yet still found time to serve on many boards and institutions to contribute to the industry she loves so much. In 2013 Carole was the recipient of the Pandora Award for her ‘significant and sustained contribution to the publishing industry’.

Photo by Jack Ladenburg
Carole Blake, co-founder of Blake Friedmann. Photo by Jack Ladenburg.

Welcome, Carole!
Did your childhood inspire and nurture your love of books?

My childhood home didn’t have many books, but I was always focussed on them & asked for them as presents. I can remember my first ever rag-books (made of a linen-like material) that I used to ‘read’ in the bath before I could actually read. I loved turning the pages and pretending. Once I could read, my early favourites were the Rupert books, which I still have, with my parents’ messages & dates written inside. When I was 8 I asked for a bookcase for my Christmas present. I got it (& only relinquished it when I moved house 8 years ago). I then set out to catalogue and categorise all the books I owned. I worked out a complicated system of letters and numbers and wrote them inside each book, then listed them all against their titles and authors. Very proud of it. Some years later when I discovered the Dewey System I was crushed. I had thought I was being entirely original!

Was it challenging for a woman in your early career to progress in the industry as you did?

I don’t remember it as difficult. I answered an advert in the Evening Standard, went for an interview & got the job. I commuted from Mitcham in Surrey to Marble Arch, & found myself – a working class girl, in a cotton dress and a white cardigan – working as a secretary to a team of university-educated art experts working on a multi-volume art encyclopedia. I kept a low profile, soaked up information like a sponge (including which pieces of cutlery to use when we went out to restaurants) and made friends there (50+ years ago) that I am still in touch with. It was literally a life-changing experience.

Who inspired you the most to keep moving forward? Are you naturally self-motivated to achieve?

The lovely people I worked with at Rainbirds, in my first job, were extremely encouraging. Working there for 8 years kick-started my life-long love of art. It introduced me to the classics (I compiled a company-wide order of Penguin paperbacks every few months. We could get a discount if we ordered 30 or more. Soon I stopped asking anyone else to mark up the Penguin stocklists, because I was ordering 30 at a time myself. I read my way through all the Russian and French novelists, and I remember crying on the no 16 bus as it went round Marble Arch because I finished Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot and found it unbearably sad. How nerdish is that for a teenager in the swinging 60s?

But later when I was marketing director of Sphere, Edmund Fisher fired me, quite rightly. I was running the marketing, publicity, rights and contracts departments and wasn’t juggling them very well. We were having a row – we had a very volatile relationship over the three companies and 12 years that I worked with him – and I was in the middle of resigning. When I realised he was firing me I withdrew my resignation and sued for wrongful dismissal. I knew he hadn’t followed all the right procedures (indeed he hadn’t followed any procedures at all!) and as I was a director, I was employed by Sphere’s then owners, Thomson Newspapers, so he didn’t actually have the right to fire me at all. I won, they settled out of court, and I discovered I had a list of authors who wanted to be represented by me if I started an agency. So I did. The fact that Edmund fired me was the best thing ever to happen to me. I would never have had the courage to ask someone to stop paying me if he hadn’t. No one in my family had ever started a company. If I hadn’t been out of work for 6 months, dealing with lawyers it would never have occurred to me to do so.

You are also encouraging new blood into the publishing industry through your associations with UCLA postgraduate publishing course. Is this something you feel passionate about as much as discovering new writing talent?

Given my start in the industry, remembering how kind people were, and aware that it’s a much more difficult area to get work in now I think the least I can do is to encourage and help others into a business that has given me such a wonderfully satisfying lifestyle. I’ve been associated with other postgraduate publishing courses as well, and am always happy to talk to people wanting to get into the book world.

I am the only person in my company who doesn’t have a degree; many of my staff have several. I didn’t have to go through the purgatory of unpaid internships, which I think are morally indefensible: we pay our interns properly.

Whenever I can I try to introduce people to others in the industry who can be of use to them. We have actually employed more than a dozen of our interns over the years – it’s so much more successful than a 40 minute interview. We also have an annual get-together of all our past staff, past interns. It’s officially known as networking but we all know it’s a great gossip-fest. So great to see where people have moved on to. You might have heard of the singer Dido? She was my assistant for 4 years and was an ace at selling serial rights!

Her parents were both publishers. I work with her mother at Rainbirds in the 60s, sold books to her father when he was running Sidgwick decades later. He and I used to lunch together and regarded ourselves as in-laws while she was working for me. When she resigned ‘to spend more time on her music’ I gave her a very motherly speech. ‘Can’t guarantee to keep your job open Dido.’ I don’t think she’s ever wanted to come back to publishing again …

I do quite a lot of public speaking – at literary festivals, conferences (I’m an honorary vice-president of the RNA, a member of the HNS) and I teach a course on how to sell rights. I’ve been a board member of The Book Trade Charity, and its Chairman, and President over many years and am now a Patron.

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Your guide ‘From Pitch to Publication’ is widely used throughout the publishing industry. How much of a challenge has it been to update it?

An extreme challenge, as you can tell from the fact that I’ve not managed to deliver it yet. It took Boxtree (later to become an imprint of Macmillan) several years to persuade me to agree to write it in the first place. And then I renegotiated the delivery date several times, in order not to be in breach of contract (how embarrassing would that have been for a literary agent?). Same has happened with the contracted update/new edition. My agency is SO much bigger & busier than it was when I delivered the original manuscript – 20 years ago! – and so much has changed. I now know what I want to write, what I need to update, what I need to add … but time is the enemy. My editor at Macmillan (a friend) is understanding … up to a point. I now so want to have this new manuscript behind me. There are so very many more ways to promote a book now (social media?!) and I am now writing it but in such small spaces of time.

You represent many of my favourite authors, but two especially. Could you share with us what it was that you loved so much about ‘Lady of Hay’ and the amazing Barbara Erskine?
Likewise, when Elizabeth Chadwick’s first manuscript arrived on your desk did you instantly realise that you had found gold?

Two authors very close to my heart: both are good friends.

Barbara Erskine: I was already representing her short stories. She wrote many, and magazine editors around the world would line up for them. We had talked about an unusual novel she was thinking about writing. Two time periods, linked. We talked about it for a long time: years. I remember saying at the outset that it would be vital that every time, at the end of each chapter, the reader was required to move from present to past, from past to present, it must be a wrench. Each time period must be equally compelling, and hard to leave or the novel would be broken backed. Oh my … did she deliver. But although publishers and editors always ask for something new, a fresh voice – they always actually want something that is recognisable. I submitted the partial manuscript for 4 years. ‘I don’t know if it’s a contemporary novel, or a historical?’ Me: it’s both. ‘I don’t know if it’s a love story or a mystery?’ Me: it’s both. Every editor who arrived in a new job found the manuscript on their desk. When Maggie Pringle arrived at Michael Joseph in 1983, she read it, loved it, & recognised it as something fresh and new and exciting, and she was allowed to buy it even though it had been rejected twice by other Michael Joseph editors over the years. They auctioned paperback rights back then and it set a record for the highest paperback advance for a British first novel. This summer it celebrated 30 years continuously in print – quite something for a commercial novel. And it’s in print in many other languages too. In 2017 it will be celebrated for its 30th anniversary in German.
Barbara and I are friends. We’ve worked together for so long: we have even been on holiday together. That Nile cruise will never be forgotten. The only holiday that I’ve ever got a holiday-tie-in best-seller novel from – ‘Whispers in the Sand’! Barbara always stays with me at home when she’s in London overnight.

Elizabeth Chadwick: the early chapters of ‘The Wild Hunt’ arrived in the late 80s in a brown envelope – back in the days when submissions were made on paper, via snailmail. And back in the days when I opened my own mail every morning at my desk. I read it as soon as I opened the envelope and knew there was something very special in my hand. A few weeks later I had sold it, via auction, to hardback and paperback publishers (back in the days before publishers always published in both formats themselves.)

‘The Wild Hunt’ won a Betty Trask award, and Prince Charles was the person giving out the prizes for The Society of Authors that year. That was quite a memorable evening!
As with Barbara, this led to publishing success and a long and on-going friendship. Elizabeth stays with me when she’s in London too, and we often talk into the small hours.

I think it is unfair to ask you which are your favourite books or authors, but of all the novels you have read are there a few characters that really stayed with you? If so, why?

There’s no way I could choose between novels by my clients – I represent them all because they are so original, and so special. It would be like asking a mother to choose between her children! Not that I think of my best-selling authors are children for one moment. But the novels – apart from those written by my clients – that always stay with me are Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot (I finished it on a no 16 bus going round Marble Arch roundabout in the late 60s, crying my eyes out), and Alain Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes. A haunting work.

You have travelled extensively in your work, but where do you enjoy going to relax and explore?

Italy, always Italy. I go for art, music, food (and Negronis!), shopping. Venice, in particular if I had to pin it down more narrowly. I was lucky enough to take a sabbatical earlier this year and I spent 5 weeks in Italy: Florence, Siena, Padua, Mantua, Venice. Absolutely heaven.

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Is it your love of detail that first led you to becoming a collector of dolls’ houses and miniatures (OOAK)? Where did this begin? How is the collection growing?

I’ve always loved houses, furniture, interior decoration. My home is full now so miniatures are the way I buy furniture. I dare not add up the number of miniatures I own … they are stored in many boxes, and I’ve had to forbid myself to buy more until I’ve finished building the 5 floor Regency house which will be taller than me. And I’m forbidden to do any more work on that until I’ve delivered my next book. In addition to that house, I have a Georgian hand made one that I bought already finished. That is fully furnished. I also own an antiquarian bookshop which I made from a kit. Every book is real; they can be opened and read (with a magnifying glass). Most of them are miniature copies of real antique illustrated books that I buy from a particular maker whose work I really admire. I have more than 1000. And I have two more kits to build – they are going to become a row of shops. And then there is the greenhouse, and a conservatory, both full of flowers. My favourite collection though is mouth-blown cranberry glass. Five (miniature) cabinets full so far. The most satisfying thing I achieved myself, was laying a floor of terracotta tiles. Real tiles, 1:12 scale. Laying the tiles was easy: the grouting was murder, the air blue!

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What other interests do you enjoy away from the world of publishing?

Early music – I still buy cds because I enjoy the booklets. I’ve got about 5000, all stored on a hard drive and easy to find. But I also like Meat Loaf (that’s Elizabeth Chadwick’s fault!). Art – I always make time to go to exhibitions. I find cooking very therapeutic, and always have freezers-full of home cooked food. I enjoy a variety of crafts – I make greetings cards, keep scrapbooks, make jewellery (I have 1000s of beads, and like to buy them on my travels), and I love taking photographs (check out my 56 Pinterest boards, and my Instagram posts!). I took 8000 photographs during the 5 weeks in Italy. And of course reading. I read a lot of non-fiction for relaxation as a change from the fiction that I work with. I love history, memoir, African wildlife (I’ve been to Africa on safari many times). And I collect books about the publishing industry. I’ve recently taken up knitting and crochet again. But there’s not a lot of time to fit these in around work!

You have achieved a great deal in your career, but what is next for Carole Blake?

I’ve got to make time to finish the new book. Then I can get back to (miniature) house building …

Thank you for the fascinating insight into your career and for sharing some personal photographs of your lovely miniature worlds!

An interview with Cindy Nord!

Cindy Nord - Professional ImageI am delighted to welcome my special guest this month, bestselling Historical Romance author, Cindy Nord.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview and share your experiences with us.

What inspired your love of books, or the desire to be a story-teller/writer yourself?

Coming from a family of educators, I’ve always been encouraged to read.  I devoured books by the dozens.  From classics to childhood favorites, books expanded my world. As I grew older, I also grew to love history, with a specific focus on the Victorian era.  I read my first romance, and fell in love with the genre. I enjoyed the details of history sprinkled throughout the storyline, coupled with an unrestrained romantic entanglement. Because of this combination, I felt moved to put pen to paper and craft my own love story.

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What characteristics do you think are essential in a hero or heroine?

I want my hero to be strong, involved and engaged. A man who transforms compassion into heroic action with a unique leadership ability that separates him from the rest of the pack. Of course, he’s not perfect, he does have his weaknesses, AND, ultimately, it will be the heroine who helps him overcome those internal conflicts and imperfections. Likewise, I want my heroine to have a resourceful and internal focus that becomes challenged when she meets her hero. She must have a resilient sense of purpose with an unfulfilled need that even she doesn’t know she has. And, in turn, the hero, at first overwhelming and unwanted, eventually fills this void inside her heart. Of course, the romance wrapped around these two individuals is the catalyst that spurs them onward to completing their tumultuous journey to happily-ever-after.

Reliable research is essential to historical authors, but when did you first become involved in Civil War re-enactments?

As a Victorian lecturer and historian, I appreciate the details that breathe a character to life upon the pages. Wonderful tidbits that immerse the reader fully into the time period.  And my experience in re-enacting only helped solidify this knowledge. Many years ago, when I began writing my first novel, I read in the newspaper that they were having a Civil War living history weekend at our local university. Holy Toledo! I couldn’t believe that they actually did this sort of thing.  Here was American history brought to life. The acrid aroma of campfires. The thundering gallop of cavalry horses. Women clad in Victorian gowns sashaying across a lawn. All the things that I was writing about at the time. Indeed, I was swept straight back into the nineteenth century, and fell head-over-heels in love with this whole new experience. Immediately, I threw myself into the hobby.  I even ended up meeting my future husband on the battlefield.  Although we no longer re-enact now, I’ll forevermore cherish those years spent living in the time period I love so well.

What can your readers expect from a Cindy Nord novel?

Passion. Emotion. Conflict. Indeed, an accurate, historical immersion. All those things plus an ardent romance filled with sensations that tug at a readers’ heartstrings. Getting my characters to ‘The End’ is a hard won journey, for sure. And the greatest test of success for any writer is when their readers make the trip through their novels and never want the love story to end.

In your fascinating career to date, what memorable moments stand out?

Oh my, such a great question. Let’s see… I’ll begin with being a Romance Writers of America National Golden heart finalist with No Greater Glory which started this whole incredible journey, signing with my fabulous literary agent, Louise Fury of the Jenny Bent Agency in New York City, the day my first box of books arrived from my publisher, being a USA Today Lifeblog ‘Recommended Read’ author, having my Civil War romance novel used as a supplemental read in a well-known university history class, receiving a stellar review by the Library Journal (buying bible for all libraries in the U.S., Canada & the U.K.), my first invitation to be a keynote speaker at an RWA affiliated chapter, and having my very first book signing at Barnes & Noble…these, and so many more, have truly brought me untold joy.

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Do you have a very organized day, or do you write around ‘life’, but to set targets?

Balancing my time and attention between writing, social media, my family and my friends is always a difficult task. I try to set up a schedule with mornings spent on the internet and my social media sites, with my afternoons devoted to writing. In the evening, my husband listens as I read what I’ve written for the day.  This is a routine that works well for me. I’m what they call a ‘pantser’ (writing without an outline), and must completely finish each chapter before moving on to the next. I wouldn’t advise anyone else to follow this writing style, so say the ‘plot-first’ experts, but it does seem to work for me.

Writing books involves long hours working at a computer. What do you do to keep healthy and active?

I thoroughly love to ‘water walk’ at the gym, plus I walk my two shelties daily around our neighbourhood. I also enjoy working in the garden, as well as bicycling with my husband. We are both passionate followers of an ‘organic’ lifestyle, along with nutraceutical supplementation.

Along with other writers, I understand that you contributed to an anthology for ‘Women in Need’. Could you tell us something about this work and the charity?

I was invited by writer-extraordinaire, Hope Tarr, to be part of her project entitled, “Scribbling Women and the Real-Life Romance Heroes Who Love Them” non-fiction anthology where I joined several New York Times & other romance fiction writers.  Each real-life story in this body of work details how we writers met, wed and love—and are loved and supported by—our spouses and life partners. All proceeds from this literary compilation go directly to Women In Need, a New York City women’s shelter for abused females & their children. I am so honoured to have been asked to participate. Happily Ever After isn’t only the stuff of romance novels and fairy tales.

What single piece of advice would you give to any, as yet, unpublished author?

Never, ever, ever give up on your dream. And since we’re going to dream anyway…DREAM BIG!

What is next for Cindy?

I am putting the finishing touches on AN UNLIKELY HERO, the third book in my four-book The Cutteridge Series. I anticipate this love story debuting Spring, 2016.  I’ve also been invited to host one of the ten coveted ‘opening night’ tables at the 2015 Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in Dallas in May.  I’m also doing several book signings, as well as guest interviews for television stations. Plus, lecturing on Victorian fashions at several locations across the Midwest.

More from Cindy:

An Interview with Elizabeth Chadwick

Welcome to my blog, Elizabeth. From the moment you began writing manuscripts you never gave up on your goal of becoming a published writer. How long did this take?

I decided I wanted to write for a career when I was 16. This was after I had spent a year hand writing my first novel. Prior to that I’d always told myself stories verbally as imaginative fun. It wasn’t until I was 15 I wrote anything down, but having done so, I decided that writing novels was what I wanted to do for a living. It took another 16 years for me to realise that dream. Part of that time was taken up by growing up, entering the world of employment, getting married and having a family. During that period I learned to touch type and as technology advanced, transferred from manual typewriter to computer – in those days the Amstrad green screen. I always hoped to get published, but I figured it didn’t matter if I didn’t because this was my hobby and storytelling had been a part of me since I first had language, so I wasn’t just doing it for the fame and fortune (!), I was doing it for me.

Your big break came when Carole Blake became your agent after reading The Wild Hunt. How quickly did your world change as a result of this?

Not immediately because it takes time for contracts to be arranged and for money to begin flowing through so I didn’t give up the part-time day job immediately. When I was first offered a publishing contract, my children were aged six and three, and I was staying at home looking after them during the day and going out to work the twilight shift in a local supermarket at night while my husband took over the childcare. So although I was offered a publishing contract in the summer of 1989, I didn’t give up the job until late autumn of the same year. While my first contract wasn’t exactly enough to move to Millionaire’s Row, it allowed me to be a stay at home mum and write in the spaces between the children. In those early days it was still very much a part time income, but enough to get by when added to my husband’s full-time wage.

Do you look back at your early work affectionately or critically?

Both. I think any writer worth their salt is always learning and seeking to improve. I know I have moved on since my early days, but my early novels were still strong enough to be published and short-listed for awards in a very competitive market. I have since had the great opportunity to overhaul those early novels in the light of experience gained and it was interesting to go back and look at the learning curve. But I am very fond of my early works because they are the foundation stones on which my career has been built.

I totally agree with you. What advice would you give to an author who is about to make the step into the world of an agent and publishing deals?

Be professional. If you don’t know something and it’s genuinely out of your range, then ask. But do some homework first and make sure that it’s not something you can’t answer for yourself. Talk to other writers and professionals who have knowledge of the publishing industry and get a range of opinions. Go to events and network. The more you know the better you will be able to make decisions. You might even decide to go the route of self publishing, but you need to know all the ins and outs of what this entails and be realistic about expectations.

Your love of the medieval period began when you watched your TV hero on screen in the 70’s adventure series Desert Crusader. Which of your heroes/heroines would you love to see televised to inspire a new generation?

Without a doubt it would have to be the great William Marshal and his family. They win hands down! He was a man who took the helm of the country in a time of great upheaval during the early 13th century. Without his political, military and people skills, the pages of England’s history would probably have looked very different.

I would love to see William on TV.

You are renowned for your detailed research and historical accuracy. How has this deepened or broadened over the years since you started writing?

When I began writing it was at the more romantic end of historical fiction and the research books I was using were often fairly general in their outlook although I did even at that time possess a core number of books from university presses. By the very nature of time I gained experience, adding layer upon layer as each successive novel came out. I bought more books; as my knowledge levels increased so did the complexity of my reading. These days I mostly buy my research books from specialist publishers and university presses and my research has become more academic. I am now sometimes asked to give talks at universities and heritage sites – something I couldn’t have envisaged 20 years ago. My research has also become multi-layered. The Internet is obviously a fabulous resource and primary source documents are now available online that couldn’t be obtained when I first began writing. Even so one has to be careful because there is an awful lot of mediocre rubbish out there and all writers need an inbuilt drivel alarm! As well as research reading, I also re-enact with a living history society called Regia Anglorum. This helps me to get a feel for the period by working with replica artefacts and not just reading about how things were done, but having a go – see the next question. I also visit sites mentioned in my novels where possible, and this helps to give a feel for the lie of the land, although Google Earth is also your friend.

Regia Anglorum has obviously been an important part of understanding life within medieval England. What is your favourite artefact/garment that you have had recreated, through knowing the experts associated with the group?

I have a dress. It’s made from woollen fabric especially commissioned and woven to an 11th century pattern using the same loom width that a person of that period would have used. I’m rubbish at needlework and a bit awkward when it comes to cutting out patterns, so I had someone I know make the dress for me. This particular person has degree level knowledge of textile archaeology and mediaeval costumes and was able to design the dress to an 11th/12th century spec. It was then all handsewn using mediaeval stitch techniques. It’s the nearest I’m ever going to get to fully authentic!

In all the places you have been and the artefacts you have studied during your research, do you have a particular favourite(s) that has inspired you or left a lasting memory?

I absolutely love trawling museums, and the London ones are fabulous if one is in the capital. I would say that one of my favourite places to go is the Museum of London which has some terrific exhibits in the mediaeval gallery many of which are ordinary everyday objects and not just the stuff of high aristocracy. There are things like 14th century spades, fish traps, a wonderful little tinned mirror case, a terrific money box that looks like something out of the 1970s! They have a codpiece too!

For a single one I’d have to say the effigy of William Marshal at the Temple Church in London. I always go and see him and honour him when I visit London. He gave me my first New York Times bestseller and he has touched so many people, myself included. He has a life beyond his mortal life, and it always makes my throat tighten with pride when I go to the Temple Church.


What appealed to you most about the character of Eleanor of Aquitaine, inspiring your critically acclaimed trilogy?

I think it’s not so much a case of appealing. It’s more a case of downright curiosity. I had written about her and several novels and at first had followed the usual path of the biographers when I needed to put her in a story. But that came to be not enough. I began to ask questions; I began to see anomalies in her story that didn’t agree with the biographies or what was being accepted as historical veracity. I began to think about Eleanor in a bit more detail. What was she really like? What could she tell me that she hadn’t told anyone else? And the more I researched the more I found out and the more biographical discrepancies came to light. For example you will find her biographers describing her variously as an olive skinned black eyed beauty with a curvaceous figure that never ran to fat in old age, as a saucy blue-eyed blonde, as a humorous redhead with green eyes. And the thing is there is not one single physical description of Eleanor recorded anywhere. Even the supposed mural of her in the chapel of St Radegone in Chinon, is now thought by a leading art historian who has examined the mural in detail, to be a man. A recent academic work on Eleanor titled “inventing Eleanor” by Professor Michael R. Evans, investigates these odd ideas about her appearance, and actually quotes my research into the biographers’ notions about Eleanor’s appearance.

Non-historians also have some strange ideas about Eleanor – that she was a feminist and way ahead of her time, both of which are false assumptions. So I felt I wanted to explore my own version of Eleanor and see if I could discover the 12th century personality behind the detritus of the centuries.

What is next for Elizabeth Chadwick?

First I have to finish and hand in THE AUTUMN THRONE, but when that’s done I strongly suspect that William Marshal is going to be riding again as there are aspects of his story still to be told.

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to give us an insight into your fascinating career and love of history. Have a lovely Christmas and every good wish for further success in 2015!

An Interview with Sue Moorcroft

Sue M Portrait 300px

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

An interview with Trisha Ashley

267398_163150827092202_2914025_nI am excited to welcome the lovely Trisha Ashley, an award-winning and best-selling author of humorous romantic fiction. 

How much have your entertaining novels been influenced by your own studies, hobbies and work experience?

There are elements of my interests and experiences woven in all of them, of course, but like most novelists I tend to use turning points and situations in my own life as jumping off points to explore new directions my characters can take – because after all, they’re not me and they would do things very differently.  They constantly surprise me.

      There is, of course, rather a lot about food in my books and all the research has taken its toll on my figure – but then, you have to suffer for your art.   I also love animals and gardens – especially roses – and often, too, my novels reveal the enduring power of good friendships and the supporting love of families, however dysfunctional they may at first appear.

      I’ve had a series of part time jobs over the years to support my writing and I think probably the seasonal work for the National Trust was the most useful.  For a few years I spent six days a week either in the draughty front hall of a large gloomy mansion, or in a little wooden hut at the entrance to the lovely Bodnant Garden in North Wales.  Now, those gardens were really inspiring and I was lucky enough to be there when a new young (and handsome) head gardener, Troy Scott Smith, had just taken over and was slowly revitalising it.  I think you can date my passions for roses, mazes and knot gardens to this time…

      But all of life’s experiences, good or bad, can be composted down and used to grow something fresh and new: nothing need be wasted.

When did the Muse enter your life? I hope he gets on with Dog.

I don’t think I can do better than to quote the update I put at the top of my quarterly newsletters for new subscribers:

      The plot so far: Except when she is occasionally let out to enjoy a couple of days of frenetic partying in London, or to give a talk, Trisha lives in beautiful North Wales, together with the neurotic Border Collie foisted onto her by her student son and an equally neurotic but also vain, bad-tempered and chancy Muse.  Muse, whose first name is Lucifer, slipped into her head and took up residence while she was reading Paradise Lost at school and refuses to leave.  He is male, steely-blue, wears a lot of leather, is winged, has talons (so that’s where her blue nail varnish went, then) and is devilishly handsome, if you like that kind of thing.  He only eats words, but gets through a lot of Leather Food and Trisha is starting to suspect that he does more with it than just rub it into his wings…

     Lately, Muse has been writing a hiss-and-tell account of his life with Trisha, called The Muse Report, though due to the fact that he eats his words almost as fast as he writes them, it could be quite some time before this appears in print.

      Muse takes little notice of Dog, except to eye the name tag on his collar when hungry…

Meeting your agent, Judith Murdoch, was a major turning point in your career.  What key advice would you offer to, as yet, unpublished authors?

There’s too much temptation now to rush out your first novel yourself as an e-book, so if you take that route I’d advise you to have your novel independently edited, and consider the constructive criticism you receive very carefully.  You want your novel to be perfect and whole, not some poor, half-formed creature, and with a first novel you aren’t going to spot what’s wrong with it yourself.

      If you’re lucky enough to be taken on by an agent or publisher, of course, they will tell you what’s wrong with it and being able to accept and work with constructive criticism is something you need to embrace if you’re taking writing seriously.

Are you a very planned and disciplined writer, plotting an outline in advance or do you start with a scene, character or situation and go from there?

I am character driven and, since I write in first person, must get to understand my heroine and her background first. Then I put her into a situation and see where she goes, and the book unrolls before me as I write like a magic carpet.  I don’t know where we’re going until we get there.

You have achieved success as a writer despite having macular degeneration. For those unfamiliar with the condition, would you  please share with us how you have worked around this?

 I have had myopic macular degeneration and very poor eyesight (minus 20) for many years, but the MD has been getting increasingly worse recently.  Macular degeneration means that blind patches increasingly appear on your retina and although I automatically focus around them, when tired that gets harder to do and my vision generally blurs.

      I have little night sight either, so tend to fall off kerbs etc and have been known to try and flag down any dark and vaguely taxi-shaped vehicle in London at night…

      There’s currently no treatment for my kind of MD and I’m supposed to take regular breaks from the computer screen…

      I am exploring new ways of writing at the moment in case I ever get to the point where I can’t see the screen at all, but this isn’t easy since I’ve been touch typing my books since I was fifteen and made the transition to word processors and then computers as soon as they appeared.

      At the moment, I write on screen in large print, but still have lots of room to increase the font size if necessary, so it’s okay.  I print everything out to work on.  But then, I’ve always needed to see my words on paper before they become real.

Please tell us about your new novel?

Wish Upon a Star jacketWish Upon a Star will be released on November 7th and has a Sticklepond setting, the village in West Lancashire where some of my other books are set.  It’s very much about following your star, wherever it may lead you and however hard the going gets.

    Single mum Cally’s life revolves around her little girl, Stella, who has serious health problems and when her condition suddenly worsens, they move in with her mother in the remote village of Sticklepond, while she tries to raise enough money to take Stella to America for a potentially life-saving operation.

      Cally only realises quite how tough it’s been shouldering everything alone when all the villagers – and especially laid-back and charming baker Jago – rally round to help.  All Cally wants for Christmas is a miracle to save Stella and with Jago’s help she may yet discover that all the best presents aren’t always found under the Christmas tree…

What is next for Trisha Ashley?

      I’m very happy to say that next year Avon will be doing a new edition of one of my long out of print novels, Every Woman for Herself.  I know you shouldn’t have favourites among your children, but I have to admit that this book is the closest to my heart.  It’s set in Yorkshire, where the Rhymer family, Emily, Charlotte, Anne and Branwell (the result of a failed attempt by their father to recreate the Bronte family situation) slowly return home, one by one to the haven of Upvale – only to find that things are about to change, forever.

      Every Woman for Herself was voted one of the three best romantic novels of the last fifty years in a reader poll, which was a truly wonderful moment, and I’m constantly being asked by readers where they can buy a copy, so I’m delighted it will soon be out again in paperback and e-book formats.  I’m adding a couple of new recipes to the end, too and it will also, of course, have a lovely new cover.

Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Valerie, and I wish everyone lots of very happy reading!

Good husband material high resMore by Trisha:

Another warm, wise and witty offering from Sunday Times bestseller Trisha Ashley.

James is everything Tish has ever wanted in a husband – she’s married a man who even her mother approves of. He’s handsome, dependable, and will make an excellent father – unlike Tish’s first love, the disreputable Fergal. Her teenage sweetheart abandoned her for a music career and now lives a typical celebrity lifestyle. Fergal broke her heart – James helped mend it.

Now, they’ve bought a cottage in the country. The next step – kids and a lifetime of domestic bliss. Well, that’s the plan. And even if James has a slight tendency to view the village pub as a second home, their relationship is still in pretty good shape after seven years of marriage. So why is marriage to Mr Right making her long for Mr Wrong?