Meet poet, blogger and author Wendy Van Camp!

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

Welcome, Wendy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will there be sequels?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What triggered the Celtic design connection?

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

What is next for Wendy?

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

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

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

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

LINKS

No Wasted Ink – http://nowastedink.com

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

Medium – https://medium.com/@wvancamp

Twitter – https://twitter.com/wvancamp

Instagram – https://instagram.com/nowastedink

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

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

Welcome back, Sue!

Thanks very much for inviting me, Val.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you working on now?

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

What goals do you have for the next five years?

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

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

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

Welcome, Carole!Matthews summer days sea breezes author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What is next for Carole?

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

Celebrating: The Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award shortlist!

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The Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award

Sapere Books is a digital first publisher of romantic fiction, historical fiction, women’s fiction, crime fiction and thrillers. Sapere Books launched in 2018 and specialises in reissuing novels which have gone out of print and developing relationships with both new and established writers.

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A Perfect Cornish Escape – Phillipa Ashley

Avon

Wild landscapes and small communities inspire my novels. The idea for A Perfect Cornish Escape came from a visit to an isolated coastwatch station on the Cornish coast. After Marina’s husband, Nate, is lost at sea, she reopens her local station, determined that others won’t have to go through the agony she has. Marina vowed to love Nate forever but when kind-hearted Lachlan arrives in her life, should she deny herself another chance at happiness?

Sing Me a Secret – Julie Houston

Aria, Head of Zeus

I was inspired to write SING ME A SECRET after taking part in a musical production of Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar in Leeds Town Hall several years ago. In the actual book, a family secret held between four sisters is played out, and eventually revealed, while rehearsing and performing in their village’s own production of this fabulous musical. I’d loved every minute of taking part in the show, especially as we all fell in love with Jesus. And what a Jesus…

Sunny Days and Sea Breezes – Carole Matthews

Sphere, Little, Brown

I won a short story competition in Writing magazine and did the most sensible thing I’ve ever done. I spent the prize money on a writing course. The tutor told me that my work-in-progress was good enough to send to an agent. He took me on straight away and sold the book within a week which became Let’s Meet on Platform 8. I never imagined that it would launch a career that would last twenty-four years and see me write thirty-four books.

Christmas Wishes – Sue Moorcroft

Aria, Head of Zeus

When I heard a sportsman talking about battling an eating disorder I gave the issue to Nico, a Swedish man and single dad who was once a rising ice hockey star. I wanted to give him issues traditionally allotted to female characters. I gave Hannah a contrastingly easy life in Stockholm … then snatched it away and returned her to her English village.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird – Josie Silver

Penguin

The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

Please feel free to leave a comment or like the post.

Celebrating: The Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Shortlist!

 

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The Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel 

Goldsboro Books is the UK’s leading independent bookshop, specialising since 1999 in first editions, signed, collectable and exclusive books. Situated in Cecil Court in London’s West End, and – as of December 2020 – Brighton’s famous Lanes, it has gained a reputation for championing debut authors, as well as creating the UK’s largest book collectors’ club, and is influential in selling large quantities of hard-back fiction. 

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 authors shortlisted for the prestigious award, as they reveal them, and the inspiration behind their lovely novels.

Where We Belong – Anstey Harris  

Simon & Schuster  

It has been a goal of mine, for a long time, to write a novel featuring someone with a learning disability whose disability doesn’t define them and whose story arc isn’t connected to that disability. Wrapping that up in a love story made it even more valuable thing to write about – love is the thing that binds us, that makes the world go round, and something we all have a right to experience. 

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My One True North  – Milly Johnson  

Simon & Schuster  

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

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One Day In Summer – Shari Low  

Boldwood Books  

One Day In Summer was inspired by every woman I’ve ever known who put their own dreams to one side to take care of their family. The main character, Agnetha, wakes on her 40th birthday, having spent the last twenty years caring for her parents, her daughters, and the husband who left her for her best friend. It’s her time now. And Agnetha, just like all those other women, deserves another shot at life and at love.  

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Eudora Honeysett is Quite Well, Thank You  – Annie Lyons  

One More Chapter, HarperCollins   

Eighty-five-year-old Eudora Honeysett is inspired in part by my mum. She also lived through the Second World War and they share that ‘dig for victory’ resilience. The irrepressible Rose, who befriends a reluctant Eudora, is inspired by every ten-year-old I’ve ever known bringing sparkle and relentless curiosity about life, death and everything in between! Their adventures with the recently-widowed Stanley help Eudora to reconsider this ‘noisy, moronic world’ and come to terms with her past. 

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Christmas For Beginners  – Carole Matthews  

Sphere, Little, Brown  

I won a short story competition in Writing magazine and did the most sensible thing I’ve ever done. I spent the prize money on a writing course. The tutor told me that my work-in-progress was good enough to send to an agent. He took me on straight away and sold the book within a week which became Let’s Meet on Platform 8. I never imagined that it would launch a career that would last twenty-four years and see me write thirty-four books.  

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The Little Shop in Cornwall  – Helen Pollard  

Bookouture  

I always want my books to provide an escape from everyday life for my readers, transporting them to somewhere special. Since I love creating fictitious places set within a real region, what could be more fun than to dream up my very own pretty coastal Cornish village for The Little Shop in Cornwall? Beach, harbour, wooded cliffs, fishermen’s cottages… Perfect. As I was writing, I would sometimes forget that Porthsteren only exists in my imagination! 

 

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Mix Tape  – Jane Sanderson  

Bantam Press  

I’ve always listened to and loved music, but the idea for this novel actually arrived in a eureka moment; a waking thought one morning, that I should write a novel which harnessed and celebrated the power of song to speak to the heart. A girl and a boy lost to each other, then finding their way back, through music – that was the central premise, and it was pure joy for me as a writer to capture those heady, heart-hammering emotions inspired by the perfect song.  

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The Spark  – Jules Wake  

One More Chapter, HarperCollins  

Normally my books are about couples who gradually fall in love over the course of a book. With this story I wanted to explore those lovely falling in love moments from the outset but of course if they fall in love straight away, there is no story. The Spark was born when I thought about what conflicts might spoil that early happiness and how the characters will overcome them.   

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The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

Please feel free to leave a comment or like the post.

Meet children’s author, Heather Watts, as Digger and Biscuit begin their Christmas adventure!

What childhood influencers encouraged your interest in books, storytelling and ultimately writing?

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As a child I was very poorly with chronic asthma so very often I just didn’t have the energy to do anything. My mum would read to me for hours (Enid Blyton and Fairy Tales were our favourites) and I would retell and relive these stories in my imagination. Of course, I was always the hero in my version! I’d sit for hours in the garden talking to imaginary fairies and giants, completely lost in my own world.

By the time I started school I was already able to read quite well (although it took my teacher several weeks to realise this) and I had started writing little book reviews and was trying to write my own stories. At the age of six I had letters published in the local newspaper and the Bunty comic. Hammy Hamster’s exploits were legendary in our family including a three day trip up the chimney and ghostly piano playing in the night!

I’d love to say that was the start of a lifelong passion for writing but I didn’t start to write stories again until a few years ago. As a teacher I always loved reading and writing with my class and it was here that the lovable characters of Digger and Biscuit came to life. Children loved learning with them and took them into their hearts as extra class mates.

What was the appeal of writing a longer picture book?

I always knew that Digger and Biscuit’s stories were a lot longer and more complex than a picture book. With the first book, The Mystery of the Magic Mirror, I plotted around twelve chapters with each one taking around fifteen minutes to read aloud, so ideal for bedtime or story time in a classroom. It’s also a good length for children reading independently.

The Mystery of the Missing Christmas was always intended to be longer at around twenty-five chapters. My idea was that if a reader wanted to, they could read a chapter a day through December leading up to Christmas Day.

I want to tell my stories for anyone who wants to read them – young children, older children or adults. I often see authors discussing the moral of their stories. I just hope my readers enjoy Digger and Biscuit’s adventures and that they make them smile. Of course there are friendships, team work, problem solving and some character who need to learn some manners (!) but really my moral is: stories are fun J

What was the inspiration behind Digger and Biscuit as you capture their gestures of puppyhood so well?

Oh, I’ve always been a dog lover, but we couldn’t have a dog when I was growing up for health reasons. I cried for a week after a farm holiday in Devon because I missed the farmers’ dog, Nipper, so much. My mum banned me from watching dog films because I’d get so upset. My husband understood this when he made the mistake of taking me to see Marley and Me!

So, it won’t come as a surprise to know that my husband and I share our lives with two utterly spoilt Golden Retrievers. They are very like Digger and Biscuit in their behaviour and personalities. Ellie (Biscuit) is particularly good at making up games including “four paw bounce”, “Drop, cheek, roll” (need a pool for that one) and the latest, hiding a ball in a hole in the garden then laying across it. Layla (Digger) tries to tunnel underneath her to retrieve the ball. Hours of fun!

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How involved have you been in creating the lovely illustrations?

I was so lucky to spot a post on social media from Bex Sutton at Primal Studios. It’s such fun working with her. I have a clear picture in my head to the whole book but I can’t draw so I literally scribble a scene and add labels. Bex then turns it into an amazing illustration and she’ll suggest things that I haven’t even thought of. She’s really good (and patient) with my “It’s not quite what I had in my head” moments, but they are very rare. We work really well together.

The Mystery of the Missing Christmas will be available in paperback with black and white or colour illustrations so the reader can choose.

As a teacher you have experience of the target market and its shortfalls. Where do you see Digger and Biscuit fitting into it?

There are so many beautiful picture books on the market and there are some fantastic series and longer novels for older readers. I always struggled to find chapter books that cover that period when children can follow and enjoy a more complex story, but they don’t yet have the fluency and resilience to read hundreds of pages independently. At this stage they want to experience serialised plots and can hold the characters and events from day to day, whilst still enjoying being read to.

I have had some lovely feedback on The Mystery of the Magic Mirror from adults who loved reading it aloud, younger children who enjoyed being read to and ten / eleven year olds who enjoyed reading it independently and that’s fantastic. Now they want to know when book two will be out!

I wanted to write stories that were fun for adults to read aloud, which children would then want to reread independently. I always think it’s sad that we take illustrations out of children’s books because they can bring to life a more complex image or concept. When I’m reading (and writing) I have very clear pictures in my mind, but not everyone can visualise a scene.

What books have been inspirational to you and your children?

Storytime was always my favourite time as a teacher. It was a chance to slip away into another world and it’s so special to share those memories with a group. I’ve always been a fan of Julia Donaldson, Martin Waddell, Colin and Jacqui Hawkins and Michael Foreman. I love it when stories have cross over characters and the children were always so excited when a well-known character appeared in as different story.

As I said before, it can be quite a challenge to find suitable chapter books, but there’s nothing like a class bursting into spontaneous applause with cries of “read it again’ at the end of a book.

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What are the advantages of being an Indie author?

I have the freedom to write what I want, when I want and I have control over the whole process. I’m very attached to Digger and Biscuit and I want to tell their stories to the best of my ability. Fortunately, I work with a great illustrator and editor which leaves me free to write. The technical side of formatting and publishing brings me out in a cold sweat and I’m a great believer that you should play to your strengths. I also have an excellent developmental editor who can reign me in and refocus me if my pen wanders into over long convoluted plots!

What advice would you give to a writer about to embark upon this path?

In all honesty, don’t expect to make a fortune overnight. It’s a hugely competitive market and writing a great book doesn’t necessarily mean it will sell in huge numbers. You have to be prepared to put in a lot of time and effort to market your book and build up a following.

If you love writing and have stories to tell, go for it, but make sure you invest in a good editor who is enthusiastic about your work who can criticise constructively.

Don’t be in a hurry to publish. The Mystery of the Magic Mirror was two years in the writing and evolved so much over that time. The Mystery of the Missing Christmas was less in terms of months, but a lot more hours! I was more focused and disciplined with the second book.

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What is next for Heather Watts?

I was planning to try my hand at a different genre and even completed a Sci–Fi course, but I woke up at four one morning with an idea racing around my head. Experience has taught me that I won’t remember it when I wake up properly, so I quickly scribbled an outline on my large whiteboard. It was a revelation when I saw it later that morning! So there will be a third adventure for Digger and Biscuit.

What is next for Digger and Biscuit?

Are they going to save the Easter Bunny? 🙂

Funny you should mention the Easter Bunny…No, I don’t think Digger could resist all those chocolate snacks and that would be very bad for him. The third adventure sees Digger and Biscuit on a quest to solve a mystery that has been hinted at in the previous books. Will they see any old friends – or enemies? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see J

I wish you every success with Digger and Biscuit and hope you and your family have a lovely, safe Christmas! x

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You can keep up to date with Digger and Biscuit here:

Facebook: Heather Watts (Digger and Biscuit posts are public)

Instagram: diggerandbiscuitadventures   

Twitter: @diggerandbiscuit

LinkedIn: Heather Watts

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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Catching up with Rosemary Kind!

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I just had to ask you back when I realised that it was Alfie’s birthday, Rosemary!

It is now five years since I started the short story download arm of Alfie Dog Fiction. Over that time I’ve had the privilege to work with many hundreds of talented authors and read quite literally thousands of stories. For some well-established authors we are the publisher they turn to for republication of their stories, but we have also been responsible for launching the careers of many new writers and I don’t say that lightly. It has been a privilege to work on stories for talented authors who have gone on to be very successful, either with their stories or novels. Many have told us that we have helped them on the way, giving them direction in some cases and in others simply the confidence that their work is good.

We realised with the resources we had available that it was not possible to grow the site exponentially and, in reality, that wasn’t what our readers wanted. What readers wanted to see was new stories regularly, but in place of, rather than as well as, all the old ones. We’ve worked with authors to achieve this and in the recent submission window selected around 60 new stories which are going live on the site over the coming weeks. It will give us a current total of around 325 authors and 1600 short stories to choose between.

Another more recent development has been a number of our book titles being made into audio books. So far this has included four novels and one short story collection, but we’re looking at further titles being added to the selection shortly.

Over the five years, we’ve brought out quite a significant number of book titles and there are currently 34 out in paperback or ebook.

What will the next five years hold? It’s always hard to say. One of the beauties of being a small organisation is that we can change easily and take opportunities that are presented. We have more books due out in the coming months and more short stories. At the outset we created the site because we believed in the medium of the short story. That remains as true now as it did five years ago.

If you would like to help us celebrate then this is what will be happening:

May 16th – June 20th A special feature of some of the best stories from our original authors http://alfiedog.com/fiction/featured/

May 16th onwards – five stories half price for five weeks – with stories changing weekly http://alfiedog.com/fiction/sale/

June 11th: You are very welcome to join our fifth birthday then you will be very welcome to join our ‘On-line birthday party’. We will be having party games and there will be prizes. You may need to bring your own cake as that’s harder to send out over the internet! The party is on Sunday June 11th from 7pm to 9pm UK time and you can find it HERE

Jun 13th onwards – five books free for download for five days each. For details of these offers see our Facebook page, Twitter @AlfieDogLimited , or Newsletter

Best wishes
Ros Kind

Co-author of  – From Story Idea to Reader – an accessible guide to writing fiction

Sign up for my newsletter HERE

Thank you for the update and for accepting seven of my stories!

I wish you every continued success.

Catching up with Cathie Hartigan

Thank you for inviting me back on your blog, Valerie.

You are welcome, Cathie. So what has been happening in your world since I interviewed you and Margaret James in July 2015?

I can’t believe that it’s been a very busy eighteen months since Margaret and I were here last!

Our textbooks, The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook and The Short Story Writer’s Workbook have proved to be successes for us and we hope they had helped those who have read them. The feedback we’ve had has been fantastic. The handbook was one of our early projects, but more recently, the whole team at CreativeWritingMatters, that’s Margaret James, Sophie Duffy and myself, published A Christmas Celebration, an anthology of stories, quizzes and puzzles. A perfect Secret Santa!

It seems only yesterday that we set up CreativeWritingMatters, but recently, the ever-watchful Facebook reminded me the page is already five years old. It isn’t really surprising when I think of how our competitions; the Exeter Novel Prize, Exeter Story Prize – including the Trisha Ashley Award for the best humorous story, have become fixtures in the literary calendar. Trisha is a Sunday Times bestselling author of romantic comedies and knows a thing or two. We are delighted that so many of our winners and shortlisted entrants have achieved publication.

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Right up at the top of the achievement list for me personally in the last year and a half, is the publication of my debut novel, Secret of the Song. It’s a time-slip mystery set in renaissance Naples and contemporary Exeter (my home city). I knew little about wicked Prince Gesualdo whose music and madness lies at the heart of the story, but my research soon revealed that the Italians make our Tudors look like lightweights when it comes to bad behaviour. How awful, I thought, for those innocent servants who were caught up in the crimes of their masters and mistresses. When I read the witness statement of a young maidservant, I straight away heard the voice of my heroine.

Secret of the Song’s success has been really thrilling, especially after I decided to independently publish. This decision was made after considerable thought, and only because I was reasonably well established with the textbooks, short stories and competitions. Everyone who read Secret of the Song was enthusiastic, but when it came to agents and publishers the response was the same. Loved it – don’t know how to sell it. Music is too niche. Hmm, I thought, tell that to Gareth Malone.

A word of warning to anyone thinking of self-publishing – if it’s for your friends and relations, that’s fine, but if you want a wider readership, you’ll need a huge social media presence before you publish. Make sure you get a professional edit and proof as well.

One of the most exciting things about preparing your own book for publication is that you get to decide on the cover. I opted for Berni Stevens, a cover designer with considerable experience. I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.

One year later, having reached number thirty-five on Kindle and acquired over fifty rave reviews, I’m happy to say that’s not the case. Phew! Thank you, lovely readers.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and every continued success in 2017!

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!