Introducing the short list for the prestigious RNA Joan Hessayon Award 2020!

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Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist.

Read on to find out the stories behind the talented shortlisted authors for the prestigious award as they reveal the themes that are at the heart of their lovely novels.

Zoe Allison, Impervious, Totally Bound

After years of hard work and burn out in Medicine I came to realise how much I loved writing and what a release it was – a balm for the soul. I wrote a couple of opinion pieces for a medical newsletter and after that tried my hand at writing children’s picture books. As my own children grew I got back into reading romance and remembered what I enjoyed most about the genre – the happy endings. I decided to write my own romances, with the strong heroines and non-toxic heroes that I craved to see in the books I read.

Jan Baynham, Her Mother’s Secret, Ruby Fiction

On retirement, I joined a local writing group. Once my stories started getting longer, I undertook a novel-writing course, enjoying the challenge to explore my characters in more depth and delve further into their stories. Joining the RNA New Writers’ Scheme was the best decision I made on my journey to becoming a published novelist.
I love writing about families and the skeletons lurking in their cupboards. In ‘Her Mother’s Secret’, my main character, Elin, has a well-hidden secret. The novel explores the bond between a mother and her daughter, forbidden love, cultural differences and a search for true identity.

Laura Bambrey, The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness, Simon & Schuster

The theme of The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness was dictated by my main character, Tori. As I spent time getting to know her, looking past her severe anxiety and issues with specific phobias I realised that, right at her very core, she was chronically lonely. This sent me off on a fascinating trail of research. Loneliness has so much stigma attached to it – it’s a strangely taboo subject and something that is very difficult to discuss – but we’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives. I hope this book helps to open up those conversations.

Victoria Garland, Finding Prince Charming, DC Thompson

My first attempt at writing was at the age of twelve. I was given a typewriter for Christmas and started pounding out my own version of a Nancy Drew mystery. Remember those? Fast forward three decades to when I joined the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. After having several short stories published in My Weekly I decided to write a pocket novel for them. I was asked for a sparkling Cinderella story for Christmas and Finding Prince Charming was born. I had an absolute blast writing it, playing with the fairy tale theme and falling madly in love with the hero.

Rosemary Goodacre, Until We Meet Again, Hera

As RNA members know, the New Writer Scheme is a great way for debut novelists to have work critiqued by professionals, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity.
The centenary of the Great War reminded me of this tragic period of history. What must it have been like to have been suddenly swept into it? My characters, Amy and Edmond, had to be special people. They fall in love as war breaks out, snatching days and weekends together, uncertain of their future. Only their love brings them through disaster.

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Annette Hannah, Wedding Bells at the Signal Box Cafe, Orion Dash

About fifteen years ago the Signal Box near where I live became automated and I always thought it a shame that such a lovely building should be neglected and boarded up. I often visualised it as a café and when my protagonist Lucy needed a venue for her wedding planning business, I decided to use the old Signal Box as inspiration and followed my dream even if it was just in my imagination. Writing a book has been my lifelong ambition and to have achieved it feels fantastic. Being a contender for the Joan Hessayon Award is a wonderful rite of passage.

Stephanie Harte, Risking It All, Aria

I’d dreamt of writing a book for years but had been put off by the daunting task. Filled with self-doubt, I talked myself out of the idea every time it resurfaced until I plucked up the courage to put pen to paper and join the New Writers’ Scheme.
In Risking It All, Gemma’s forced into a life of crime to clear her husband, Nathan’s debt after he secretly borrows money from a gangster. Her loyalty is pushed to the limit as she battles with her conscience. Losing Gemma could be the price Nathan has to pay for his reckless behaviour.

Stefania Hartley, Sun, Stars and Limoncello, Totally Bound

When I moved to the UK from Sicily, my English was too poor to imagine that I could ever write anything. Eventually, my Italian became rusty too. But one day I discovered that I could write articles about my subject (I was a Science teacher). After twenty years, I finally knew English well enough to write! It was as exhilarating as sprouting wings. I started writing about anything that excited me and memories of my Sicilian youth popped up more and more. Now I love to share with others those memories and stories of hot Sicilian summers, sun-drenched passion and sparkling seas.

Kirsten Hesketh, Another Us, Canelo

My debut, Another Us, is inspired by my son who was diagnosed with mild Aspergers when he was ten. A few years later, sorting through some of the bumpf I’d been given at the time, I stumbled across a statistic which claimed that eight out of ten marriages with a child on the spectrum end before that child is sixteen. Our son was already sixteen by this point and I decided the statistic was rubbish. But what if I’d known about it earlier on? Might I have reacted differently, behaved differently? And so the idea behind Another Us was born.

Sharon Ibbotson, The Marked Lord, Choc Lit

As a child, I never wanted to be a novelist. I wanted to be a nun. But after my parents informed me that I was neither Catholic nor was being a nun like it was in ‘The Sound of Music’ I started to consider other options. I loved reading – in fact, I still believe I am a better reader than I am a writer – and I started writing when I lost a copy of a library book I never got to read the end of, making up my own conclusions to the story and seeing where I could take the characters I had fallen in love with. I wrote ‘The Marked Lord’ when I was pregnant, sitting in my garden and dreaming of home (Australia plays a large role in this story). It’s all about second chances and letting go of past hurts, both physical and emotional. It was a lovely book to write and I’m still very fond of it (I am also still very fond of ‘The Sound of Music’ but then who isn’t?)

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Emma Jackson, A Mistletoe Miracle, Orion Dash

“Back in 2013 I went along to see the Christmas lights being turned on in Alfriston village with my partner and one-year-old daughter. It was a bitter night, but the buoyant atmosphere and chocolate-box setting set my mind racing with possibilities for a Christmas novel. From that spark of an idea, A Mistletoe Miracle, a festive romantic comedy, grew. Slowly. I squeezed in writing in the evenings and children’s naptimes over the next six years and in 2019 joined the RNA NWS, knowing that if I wanted to be published it was up to me to start taking my writing seriously.”

Lynn Johnson, The Girl From The Workhouse, Hera

I didn’t mean to become a novelist. In my fifties, I began researching my family tree and discovered things I never knew about my mother’s family. At my local writing group, I started to write short stories. The Girl From the Workhouse, was one of those very early stories and it grew – but was I writing history or fiction? I decided on fiction. And my biggest stumbling block took time to resolve itself. Dare I give my Grandma a boyfriend who was not my Grandad? Once I had the answer, my writing flowed. Fifteen years later…success!

Nina Kaye, The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating, Orion Dash

My childhood dream to write became real when I turned to writing to support my rehabilitation from a difficult illness, and to provide escape from it. Recently, I’ve completed another story inspired by this time, and I hope to share this in the future.

The key ingredients of The Gin Lover’s Guide to Dating are the beauty of Edinburgh’s setting, personal experience in the hospitality industry, and (of course) my appreciation of gin! Real life issues are an important touchstone for my writing, as is the light-hearted side of life.

Lucy Keeling, Make It Up To You, Choc Lit

I wrote my first story when I was 8 and not to toot my own horn, but it was good. It had Ice Monsters roaming the streets. From then on, every few months I would get this urge to write. As I got older, I would manage a solid three chapters before I ran out of steam. It was only when I discovered that I could plan out a story, that it didn’t have to just magically spill from my fingertips, that I actually managed to finish one. Now, the only ice monsters I write about are the ones that melt with a HEA.

Ruth Kvarnström-Jones, Halleholm – Lovisa’s Choice, Printz Publishing

One is seldom too sick to scroll through Facebook. That said, as a copywriter flattened by pneumonia back in 2012, even scrolling depleted my energy supply pretty pronto. Until I saw a meme that suggested one had an obligation to use up every ounce of talent before one died. Must write my novel! Energy inexplicably refreshed, I began making notes for Halleholm- Lovisa’s Choice.
Set in the chocolate-box environs of the Stockholm Archipelago, Halleholm – Lovisa’s Choice is a modern-day Romeo and Juliet saga: the tale of a multi-generational family feud that nearly rips apart a town and shatters one woman’s dream.

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Mairibeth MacMillan, The Viking’s Cursed Bride, Tirgearr

When I was wee, I got a tape recorder as a birthday present. My friends then spent several summers voicing the characters in the radio plays that I wrote – I still have some of the tapes! Later, when I took a career break from teaching drama, my interest in writing was rekindled and I completed degrees in creative writing and playwriting. I became interested in using writing to explore the stories associated with place, and most of my initial ideas are inspired by visits to particular buildings or places. The Viking’s Cursed Bride was initially inspired by a visit to Dumbarton Rock.

Melissa Oliver, The Rebel Heiress and the Knight, Mills and Boon Historical

My debut is a sweeping medieval romance, set against the back-drop of the Baron’s Conflict, which began in 1215. There’s a nod to the legend of Robin Hood- which, in turn, took its inspiration from the real-life story of Fulk FitzWarin III.
King John demands that his trusted knight; Sir Hugh de Villiers marries the reluctant widow; Lady Eleanor Tallany, and also quashes local outlaws…. Unknown to Hugh, his new wife and the outlaw are one and the same.
Through twists, turns, and intrigue; Hugh and Eleanor’s spark of attraction need to overcome standing on opposing lines, or extinguish forever.

Maggie Richell-Davies, The Servant, Sharpe Books

Novels were always a portal through which to roam the moors with Heathcliffe and Cathy, to take the waters at Bath with Beau Brummel, or to fall in love with Darcy, so it was inevitable to yearn to write my own. Then a visit to London’s Foundling Museum, with its heart-breaking scraps of fabric and ribbon left by women in the hope they might, one day, be able to reclaim their precious child, inspired me to write The Servant, the story of a poor eighteenth-century girl battling to survive the injustices of the age – and to find love.

Jacqueline Rohen, How To Marry Your Husband, Arrow

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Written by Jacqueline’s family: From childhood, Jacqueline was an avid reader and budding writer. She found ideas for stories everywhere, notebook at the ready. One such inspirational nugget was Mick Jagger’s public statement that he and Jerry Hall were never officially married; the story stuck with Jacqueline for years, finally evolving into the plot of her debut romantic novel. Eventually, Jacqueline’s own romance led her to chimpanzee conservation in Uganda where, forcing herself to become a morning person, she determinedly set aside the time necessary to fulfil her dream of being a published author. She would have been so proud to be nominated.

Kathleen Whyman, Wife Support System, Hera

Working as a magazine journalist, Kathleen always aspired to be a novelist, but got slightly sidetracked over the years by work, children and Mad Men box sets. It was her eight-year-old daughter’s words – ‘Stop talking about writing a book and just write one’ – that gave her the push she needed to write Wife Support System.
The novel, published by Hera Books, was inspired by Kathleen’s own feeble attempt to juggle a career with childcare, never-ending house ‘stuff’ and, outrageously, occasionally some time for herself. She is still struggling.
Kathleen’s next novel, Second Wife Syndrome, has been shortlisted for the Comedy Women in Print prize 2020.

Fiona Woodifield, The Jane Austen Dating Agency, Bloodhound Books

I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since my childhood love of reading spilled into the desire to write stories of my own. In 2018, I sent the manuscript for my first novel, The Jane Austen Dating Agency off to the fantastic RNA New Writer’s Scheme and had lovely feedback.

The Jane Austen Dating Agency focuses on a heroine who has spent rather too much time reading romantic novels, so her reality fails to live up to the dream. She joins a regency dating agency where she meets some wonderful friends, some rather interesting and familiar characters, to the Jane Austen fan at least and discovers her true self.

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The inspirations for Magic Sometimes Happens

I am delighted to welcome Margaret James back to my blog as she tells us about her enchanting new book Magic Sometimes Happens!

Thank you for inviting me to be a guest on your blog, Valerie. It’s great to be here! Today, I’m going to tell you about the inspirations – music, poetry and places – for my latest novel, Magic Sometimes Happens.

The story is about second chances for both my hero and my heroine. My hero Patrick Riley is married, is the father of two small children and doesn’t expect his wife to leave him for a man she says makes her fly. My heroine Rosie Denham is running away from a bad mistake and needs to learn to forgive herself.

The story starts when Rosie visits Minnesota in the fall, a season which is probably the most beautiful time of year in one of America’s most beautiful states. The whole place seems to turn red and gold almost overnight as the trees change colour. But fall is a very short season. Minnesota’s long, harsh winter will soon be on its way, and the whole place will be frozen solid for almost six months until spring makes a brief appearance before the next sweltering summer comes around.

So yes, Minnesota has an extreme climate. But it’s place that is full of extremes. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul are divided by the Mississippi River, which winds between limestone bluffs and through various locks and channels to join the Missouri before flowing on to the Gulf of Mexico. There are quiet, very beautiful stretches of river very close to the urban hearts of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. But some parts of the Twin Cities are very built up. Minneapolis is home to the Mall of America, the biggest shopping centre in the western world. But there are also hundreds of parks, lakes and playgrounds dotted between the buildings, and – in spite of the dozens of high-rise buildings and skyscrapers in downtown Minneapolis – the whole place has a countrified feel to it.

Most American schoolchildren are probably familiar with Henry Longfellow’s narrative poem, The Song of Hiawatha. It’s the story of a Native American warrior and his bride Minnehaha and it’s set in Minnesota. When you visit the Twin Cities, you can’t help but be aware of the influence of Longfellow on place names. You’ll come across Minnehaha Park, Hiawatha Avenue, the Hiawatha Clinic and many more. My fashion PR consultant heroine Rosie is a British girl who has never heard of Longfellow, but American-born Patrick knows long stretches of the poem by heart.

As for music – although Patrick is a professor of IT and very science-oriented, he is in love with music, especially American classical music by the likes of George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber – Pat listens to them all. But his absolute favourite is Gershwin who wrote, among many other compositions, Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris. So, when Rosie takes him to Paris, Patrick can’t help but be enchanted and magic is surely bound to happen!

Maybe have a listen and see if you’re enchanted, too?

More from Margaret

Why not have a peek at her blog, or chat with her on Facebook and Twitter?

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

An Interview with Janet Gover

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My guest author this month is an experienced novelist, TV journalist, and short story writer, as well as an award-winning Australian author, Janet Gover. She has graciously taken time out of her busy, globe-trotting schedule to answer some of my questions and share her vast experience with us.
 
Welcome, Janet!

How did your childhood fuel your love of books, travel and adventure?

Hi Val – thanks for having me here on your blog.

I grew up in a tiny bush town in Queensland. There were only 18 buildings in Bowenville back then – I know this because I counted them. There was no-one else my age in the town, and my school was many miles away. I took a bus there each day – which meant I didn’t get to hang out with the other kids after school. Our nearest ‘big’ town was Toowoomba. It had movies and shops and things – but it was quite a drive to get there and we didn’t go often. I guess would have been lonely without my ponies and my books.

My Dad was a great reader and he taught me to love books as he did. It was such a great escape. I rode to the stars with Ray Bradbury, solved mysteries with Sherlock Holmes and fell in love with many a knight in shining armour.

Books were full of people and places that were such a long way from my tiny bush town. They fired my imagination. And the really great thing is – I have managed to visit some of those places I read about – although I have yet to go into space…

On January 10 2011 floods hit Brisbane and Toowoomba. Has Toowoomba changed greatly from the place you grew up in as a result of the devastation caused?

I was in Miami, Florida, working, when those floods hit. I woke up in the morning and turned on the TV news – and was shocked by the pictures I saw. It was so hard to understand how Toowoomba, a town on the top of a mountain could have a flood. I lived and worked in Brisbane as a young journalist, and that day in Miami I saw pictures of one of my favourite restaurants being washed away.

Floods are not uncommon in Australia – and people fight back. If you went there now, you wouldn’t know what had happened.

One of the things I am very proud of is my involvement with a book called 100 Stories For Queensland. I donated a short story to this project – as did many other writers. All the proceeds from sale of the book went to help flood victims. I was pleased to be able to help, even in such a small way.

You have written stories from an early age, but when did you make that initial breakthrough into print as a fiction writer?

I was a journalist for many years – working mostly in TV. I thought it would be easy to switch from writing fact to writing fiction – but I was very wrong. It was really hard.

I tried my hand at a novel when I was still working as a journalist – and it was really bad. Seriously bad! Some years later, I moved from being a journalist to a more managerial role – where I wasn’t writing daily news stories any more. Something inside me needs to write – and that’s when I seriously started to write fiction.  It took a while to change my style. My first efforts were rejected.

A holiday in Wales changed everything for me. I was very inspired by the places we visited – the fabulous scenery, the people and their history… the dragons.  I wrote a short story called The Last Dragon. It was my first published fiction (and I still love it).

I wrote short stories for a year or two – and each taught me something else about the art of writing. And every one that was published gave me a bit more confidence. My first novel, The Farmer Needs A Wife was published in 2009, and owes a lot to those short stories.

Janet, you travel widely with your work. Do you develop plots/characters for your novels as you journey, being inspired by new experiences?

I love people watching. Everywhere I go, I look and listen and learn. People are endlessly fascinating.

One thing I have learned in my travels is that whatever the cultural differences, deep down people all over the world want the same thing – they want to find someone to share their lives with. They want a home and a family. They want to give their children a good start in life. That’s why I write the sort of books I do.

I feel most comfortable writing about places I have been – I do like to properly capture the essence of a place. As I travel more, some of that is sneaking into my work. A boat cruise around the tip of Norway in mid-winter helped me to write Bring Me Sunshine. A trip to Iraq was the key to writing a troubled ex-serviceman as a hero. Living in New York has given me a heroine – we won’t meet her for two more books, but she is waiting there for me.

What places, of the many you have visited really stand out as memorable and why?

Wow – that’s a hard one. Very place has its own magic. Even though I write contemporary novels, I am a big history buff. I have visited the ruins of Carthage, of old Constantinople and Pompeii. I walked the Great Wall of China – I had a terrible cold at the time and pretty much collapsed at the end of the day, but loved it all the same. I love the ancient feel of places like this – and wonder a lot about the people who lived there.

The other thing I love is wild places – the central Australian desert, the Everglades. A frozen lake in Norway. The Rocky Mountains. Nature is beautiful and powerful…

And, I have to say – my favourite city in the world is London. I just love walking across Waterloo Bridge as the sun sets over the Thames. Beautiful!

What top tip would you give to new writers?

Be passionate about what you write. If you don’t love your story and your characters … no-one else is going to.

And respect your reader – never give them anything but the very best book you can write.

Flight to Coorah Creek, the first in a series based in the Australian outback is out in paperback this month. Could you tell us about this exiting new series?

Flight To Coorah Creek

I am loving writing about Coorah Creek. It’s a fictional town – in the far west of Queensland. Very close to the desert. In this series, I am trying to capture the feel of the small outback towns I have known all my life. These towns are a long way from the sort of amenities we are all used to. There are no shopping centres, or cinemas. Not much in the way of hospitals or schools either. Often, they hover on the brink of collapse. Coorah Creek is a mining town – if the mine was to close, the town would die.

People who live in these towns become very close to each other. They form very tight knit communities. The books are all romances – with new hero and heroine in each one. But the town and the people of the town appear in each book. It’s a chance to see the life the characters live when they move off the centre stage.

I hope to the readers, each new book will feel a little like coming home to a place you know well and to people you love.

By contrast Bring Me Sunshine was set in a much cooler environment. This was quite a change. Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

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Bring Me Sunshine is set in as wild a place as I could image – Antarctica. Well, on a cruise to Antarctica. The book was inspired by my sister-in-law – who went there with her mother… who at the time was well into her sixties. What a journey for a woman of her age!

I couldn’t afford to go there myself, but my sister-in-law helped with the research. I did take a cruise to the Arctic by way of research – which was a lot of fun.

I didn’t realise until after I had finished it – but this is the first (and so far only) book I have written that doesn’t have horses in it. There are, however, several million penguins – and who doesn’t like penguins?

It’s also the first (and so far only) book I have written with a wedding in it – which is a bit strange for a romance writer.

What is next for Janet?

I am almost finished writing the second Coorah Creek book – it has a lot of horses in it. And a fabulous hero who was inspired by a trip to Iraq.

There is a third Coorah Creek novel in the back of my head – a New York girl is just desperate to go and visit the town. But she’ll have to wait until I finish book two.

I am also planning another lighter novel – set on an archaeological dig…

And then there is this tropical island – where three sisters organise dream weddings…

And the story about the circus… (which will probably have horses in it too).

I’m not sure what order I’ll be writing these books in – one this is certain though – I am not about to run out of ideas…

More from Janet

An interview with Pia Fenton, a.k.a. Christina Courtenay

ChristinaCourtenayMarch2013I am delighted to welcome award-winning author and new chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Pia Fenton, who writes as Christina Courtenay.

Congratulations on becoming the chair of the RNA. How much of an influence has the RNA had on your own career?
I think it’s safe to say that without the RNA I wouldn’t be published at all!  I found my way to the association at a time when I was about to give up on writing and it changed everything for me.  When I sent in my first m/s to the New Writers’ Scheme and got a critique back from someone who took my writing seriously and liked what I’d done, it was an amazing feeling.  And although there was a lot wrong with that first novel, I was basically on the right track and needed to be told what my mistakes were, so that was really helpful.  The other thing the RNA has done for me is give me wonderful writing friends and critique partners – I can never thank them enough!

Childhood is a time when imaginations really develop. Do you think that yours influenced your writing style and interests?

 Yes, absolutely.  I was hooked on fairy tales with handsome princes and happy ever afters and that’s what I want now too, albeit a grown up version.  I was also always interested in history, so for me writing historicals was inevitable.

Would you agree that your work reflects your unique cross-cultural experience?

I think so, yes, as most of my books feature heroes and heroines from different cultures who have to overcome their differences and realise that we are all the same underneath.  Also that no one culture is necessarily right about everything, we have to compromise.  Being half Swedish and half English I can see things from two sides, and having lived abroad has given me a different perspective on things as well.

Could you give us an insight into your own preferred way of working when you set out on a new novel adventure?

It’s a bit messy I’m afraid!  It usually starts with a scene that appears in my head, often triggered by something or someone (a handsome actor?) and then the rest of the story develops from there.  That scene can be anywhere in the book, so sometimes I work backwards, sometimes forwards.  As I said, it’s a bit chaotic but somehow it always works out in the end!  And incidentally, I always know how I want it to end, even if I don’t know anything else.

In August your first YA novel is published by Choc Lit. Could you tell us about it and if this is a permanent change of direction for you?

As I’d been writing historicals for many years, with all the research that entails, I decided to give myself permission to write something else just for fun last year.  The result was a contemporary YA book that needed no research and reflected the sort of high school experience I would have liked to have had myself.  Here is the blurb for New England Rocks:-

NER FrontFirst impressions, how wrong can you get?

When Rain Mackenzie is expelled from her British boarding school, she can’t believe her bad luck. Not only is she forced to move to New England, USA, she’s also sent to the local high school, as a punishment.
Rain makes it her mission to dislike everything about Northbrooke High, but what she doesn’t bank on is meeting Jesse Devlin…
Jesse is the hottest guy Rain’s ever seen and he plays guitar in an awesome rock band!
There’s just one small problem …  Jesse already has a girlfriend, little miss perfect Amber Lawrence, who looks set to cause trouble as Rain and Jesse grow closer.
But, what does it matter? New England sucks anyway, and Rain doesn’t plan on sticking around…
Does she?

I hadn’t intended to send it to my publisher, but eventually I did and Choc Lit decided they wanted to start a YA line, which was great!  I’ve since allowed myself some more time off from the historicals, so this is the first in a series.  The second one will hopefully be out next year.  But I’ll still be writing historicals and time slips as well.

What is next for Christina Courtenay?

I’ve just finished writing the third book in the Kinross trilogy, Monsoon Mists.  It’s gone off to Choc Lit to see if it passes muster, so now I can concentrate on something else for a while.  In February next year I have another time slip novel coming out, The Secret Kiss of Darkness – I love time slips, so am very excited about that – and as I said, after that hopefully number two in the YA series.

Sincerest thanks for taking the time to complete this interview.

Thank you very much for inviting me!

More by Christina:

  • New England Rocks, paperback out on 7th August:-

An interview with Henriette Gyland

Author photo - HNS Conference 2012, v2 - cropped (1)I have the pleasure of welcoming novelist Henriette Gyland as my guest of the month. Her second novel, The Elephant Girl is due to be published on the 7th July 2013. 

I read in a recent interview that you have an ‘ideas box’. How and when did this begin?

I’ve had this box for years. I used to toss anything in there – newspaper clippings, notes from talks, overheard conversations etc. Even conversations I’d “heard” in my own head. I then discovered that I had real problems deciphering my own reasons for keeping a particular item and ended up throwing stuff away. Now I carefully date the note or clipping, and scribble my reasons in the margin, whether it’s a short story idea or an idea for a longer piece. I also bundle notes together if they relate to the same idea or theme. So there’s a certain method now to what used to be just madness!

How would you describe your work?

Some genres are easier to pin down than others, but mine is tricky because it straddles two of them – crime and romance. Romantic suspense or romance mystery explains it quite well, but I also add a hefty dose of difficult family or personal issues, social topics, political comment. The Elephant Girl is a very loose reworking of Cinderella, which is a fairy tale with a LOT of family stuff going on in it!

What has been your proudest or most memorable moment of your career to date?

There have been a few – being awarded the Katie Fforde Bursary, winning the New Talent Award at the Festival of Romance – but I think the absolute proudest moment to date was when my first novel Up Close was heralded as “Nora Roberts territory” by Sarah Broadhurst in The Bookseller. I’m a huge fan of Nora Roberts, so this was really the best kind of compliment.

I love the cover design of The Elephant Girl. What inspired the idea for this intriguing novel? Did it start by rummaging through your ideas box?

9781781890202

The idea is based on a real-life horrific murder, witnessed by the victim’s young child, and also the old maxim that elephants never forget anything, hence the title. The pendant on the cover is one the main character, Helen, inherits from her dead mother. This story didn’t come from the Ideas Box because I wrote it very shortly after the real crime had happened, and although in some ways I feel a bit strange about creating a story out of another person’s tragedy, I think as writers we just can’t help ourselves sometimes.

Is there one piece of advice that you were given as a new writer which you consider helped you to make the breakthrough as a writer?

When I met the lovely Katie Fforde, about ten years ago, she told me to “keep the faith”. And I she was right. Perseverance and the belief that one day you will get published is the only way to survive the numerous rejections leading up to it.

What do you choose to read to relax?

I’ve just finished Scarlet, the second in a series by Marissa Meyer and now have to wait until 2014 for the next one (sigh). I’m also hoping that C J Sansom will write another Tudor mystery novel in his Shardlake series, but in the meantime I’ve started reading Blackout by my favourite writer, the American sci-fi author Connie Willis. As always, I find every sentence of hers a genuine delight.

What is next for Henriette?

THD_front4 - shaded eyesMy next novel is a complete departure from anything I’ve written so far. It’s a swash-buckling historical tale set in the Georgian period, with highwaymen, a spirited heroine, and a mystery at its core. Well, mystery is my trademark, isn’t it?

My thanks for being my guest. I wish you every further success with your fascinating novels.

More by Henriette:

An interview with Linda Mitchelmore

LINDA WRITING ROOMI am delighted to welcome prolific short story writer and successful Choc Lit author, Linda Mitchelmore.

When did you first realise that you wanted to be an author?  
I did things rather back to front. I didn’t consciously start out to be a writer. One Christmas – back in the day – there was a short story writing competition in Woman’s Own. On Christmas Day evening, my family were all glued to the TV – something I don’t get a huge lot of pleasure from as I am deaf. So I thought I’d have a go at the short story competition for something to do. To my utter amazement my short story was short-listed  and published. And I was paid for it. The old cash registers behind my eyes started to ring and I thought, hey, I could make money from all the ‘stuff’ that goes around in my mind…

Your stories have sold internationally. How many have you had published to date? 
I’ve lost count of the exact number of short stories I’ve had published but it is definitely 300+ now. I’ve also had a story broadcast on radio – the irony of that not lost on me.

Writing short stories and longer fiction involve two very different disciplines. What attracted you to short fiction initially, and how much of a challenge was it making the switch to longer fiction? 
Short fiction is just that – short. 750 word stories are quite popular with some magazine editors. I tend to write 1000 word or 2000 word stories as they’re the lengths that tend to fit into most magazine slots. When working on a short story I don’t have to think too much about viewpoints – I only ever write one character’s viewpoint into a short story. I don’t have to have sub-plots, and foreshadowing is something that – depending on the story – doesn’t raise its head much. So they are much quicker to write. When I first started writing I had two teenage children at home, a husband (still got him!) and a part-time job as well as ageing parents and parents-in-law to be doing things for. Short story writing was easier to fit in around all that. Writing longer fiction – 80,000 words or so – seemed a natural progression for me once I had more time to write it. The same premise of ‘person, problem and plot’, with a ‘beginning, middle and an end’, is the same for short stories and novels. The only difference is the time it takes to tell the story.

Your novel, the first of a trilogy, ‘To Turn Full Circle’ is set in your beautiful home county of Devon. Please tell us something about the inspiration behind it? 
The seeds of To Turn Full Circle were sown when I was helping my husband research some family history. We discovered that his great uncle, George, had fished out of Brixham. George had had two trawlers. One of them was lost to the sea in a storm (although with no loss of life) and George had a bad accident on board the other one which meant he had to come off the sea and lost his livelihood. He had to move his wife and daughter back in with his mother. I had a ‘What If’ moment! What if it wasn’t a man who had lost his home because of circumstances, but a young girl? And ‘What If’ the sea still controlled her struggle to survive? And so, To Turn Full Circle was born.
When you begin a new project does your initial idea start with a character, situation, place or theme or does it vary? 
For me a story always starts with an emotion or a feeling – something deep inside my main character. In To Turn Full Circle’s story it was Emma’s determination to survive which drives the story.

You have two more novels to write to complete this trilogy. What do you see as the next challenge for Linda Mitchelmore? 
Writing the next two books is keeping me busy at the moment. I do, however, have a contemporary novel under consideration – the heroine is older than Emma. The feeling driving this story – tentatively called Red is for Rubies – is regret. Most of us have them and in Red is for Rubies, my hero and heroine have lived – apart – with their own regrets for a long time. Will they get a chance to redeem themselves?

Also, I have now signed a contract with Choc Lit for a novella – Hope For Hannah. It will be an e-book initially and out in the close future.

My thanks for a very insightful interview, Linda.

More by Linda:

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An interview with Margaret James

Marge2Welcome!

You have written many historical and contemporary romantic novels as well as being a prolific journalist and inspiring writing tutor. Could you take us back to the beginning of your career and tell us when your desire to be a novelist began?

Thank you for inviting me to be the first guest author on your blog, Valerie. I’m delighted to be here. Ooh, back to the beginning of my career – that’s a long time ago, almost thirty years. I had two very small children. My husband worked away from home a lot so I wanted to find something to do at home which would earn some money, too.

I decided I would write some short stories for women’s magazines, because that had to be easy, right? No, of course it wasn’t easy. As I soon came to realise, writing any sort of fiction isn’t easy. But, after trying for several months and failing to sell anything, I finally had my first acceptance and this encouraged me to keep going.

Okay, I thought, could I write novel, too? At that time, family sagas were hugely popular so I thought I would try writing one myself. Again, it wasn’t easy, but I was determined to finish my novel and also sell it to a publisher. Rejection after rejection came along, but I carried on sending my novel to agents and publishers because – as many of my friends and family members know – I’m not the sort of person who gives up!  Finally an agent took me on and sold my novel A Touch of Earth to Futura.

I think I was determined to become a novelist because although I could see it would be a challenging career it would also be possible – with a bit of luck – to get somewhere.

What originally drew you to writing romance?

I’ve always been fascinated by how human relationships work – what makes us like one person and dislike someone else, what happens when we fall in love and out of love again, how families work and why family relationships break down. So I think I was always going to be a romantic and relationship novelist.

Your latest novel is a romantic comedy. What inspired the change in direction?

My next novel The Wedding Diary is set in the present day and is mostly about people I haven’t written about before, but it also mentions characters and settings from my most recent historical trilogy – The Silver Locket, The Golden Chain and The Penny Bangle.

What key advice/tips would you give aspiring writers?

If you’ve decided you’re going to be a writer, stick at it and believe you have something interesting to say. There will be times when the going gets hard and you’ll need to be able to convince yourself that it’s worth going on.

Make friends with other writers face to face and online, via Twitter, Facebook and their blogs – most writers these days have blogs and will be delighted if you follow them. Think about joining a local or national writing group in which you can meet people who understand the joys and frustrations of being a writer. Then you’ll never feel isolated and alone.

Read other people’s novels because then you will absorb good practice and realise there are many different ways in which you can tell a story.

What’s next for Margaret James?

I would like to write another novel set in the present day. I also have a Victorian murder mystery simmering on my back burner, but there is a lot of research to do for that one and I don’t know if it will ever come to the boil!

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I shall look forward to reading The Wedding Diary.

More by Margaret:

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