Meet Louise Douglas -the RNA’s 2021 Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award winner

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I love the description of ‘contemporary gothic mysteries’ – where and when did you first discover your desire to write novels?

Thank you, Valerie and thank you for inviting me to your website, it’s a treat to be here 🙂

You are very welcome!

I’m one of those people who never wanted to do anything but write. When I was a child and people asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, I always answered: ‘Bookmaker!’ I still love that word now!

I was a dreamy child, often in trouble as I never listened to instructions, struggled to concentrate in school and was always getting lost. This was because I was imagining alternative lives in my head and not paying enough attention to the real world. I loved fiction books; loved the pictures, the feel of the pages, the way the stories unfolded. I was often told that writing was all very well but I needed a ‘proper’ job too. Which was fine, as long as it was a job that I could do while I was day-dreaming.

What is it about this genre that attracts you?

I’ve always been drawn to the dark, but that’s because it’s necessary to accentuate the light. I like pre-Raphaelite paintings, epic Gallic poetry and music with a mysterious edge to the lyrics (Nick Cave, Massive Attack). From a young age, I liked exploring old graveyards, because of the way nature takes over, and because of the inscriptions on the gravestones, the stories they tell and the stories they hide. I love that these sad places inevitably evolve into magical and joyous havens for wildlife. It was inevitable I’d be drawn to the kind of books that meld death and love and wild countryside places and big old abandoned houses with secret doors and love letters hidden between the pages of novels.

The night is darkest before dawn; that’s what makes the sunrise so glorious.

Your winning novel was inspired by a real place – is it place, character, theme or another inspiration that triggers most of your plots?

It is usually places that are the inspiration, I can’t say exactly why. But that’s another habit that has carried through from childhood – finding a certain place and knowing that I have to write about it. I remember being about nine years old and riding in the back of my dad’s car, going past a massive old building that was completely derelict and (I know this will sound weird) although I’d never seen it before, I recognised it. It was somewhere in the East Midlands – that’s all I could tell you about it now, but it’s always stayed clear in my mind. That building has become the asylum-turned-reform school that’s at the centre of the novel I’m writing now.

Are you a meticulous plotter or a more organic writer?

Oh, I wish I could plot! I’ve tried everything to turn myself into a plotter, I’ve got a bookshelf full of ‘How to plot…’ instruction manuals, I’ve asked other writers for advice, scoured the internet for tips, I’ve tried and tried and tried and I just can’t do it! Even if I start with a plot within about 500 words it’s all gone to pot and the characters are doing their own thing or turning into different characters altogether and everything that started off clear in my mind has become a mess.

‘Organic writer’ is a lovely phrase but it doesn’t really describe the chaos that I go through every single time. And the not-plotting is so wasteful. I end up deleting tens of thousands of words because I’ve written myself into a dead end. It’s annoying and frustrating and I wish I could be different but it’s the way it is.

You have a love of nature, creativity and the outdoors, does this shine through your work?

Thank you for this question. I do love nature, plants, animals, the moon and stars, the countryside, urban foxes, the oceans, birds, all of it. I hope it shines through in my work because nature is so important to me. One day I really want to write a book about how the outdoors grounds, inspires, heals and calms. Climate change and the threat to the environment terrifies me.

What has winning this amazing award meant to you?

It means the world to me. Being shortlisted gave me a huge boost; it’s done wonders for my confidence. I’m incredibly grateful and proud to have won. And also… to have my name mentioned in the same sentence as the wonderful Jackie Collins is just.. well it’s amazing! Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster UK for sponsoring the award in her name. #BeMoreJackie.

Has your road to success been long or short?

It’s been a long road, with plenty of steep hills, bumps and potholes and I’ve got lost many, many times and had many a flat tyre but I’m still on that road and still enjoying the ride.

What tip would you give your unpublished self-looking back, or would you not change a thing?

I’d tell myself to learn to plot.

How important has being a member of the RNA been to you as a writer?

It’s been important to me both as a writer and as a human being. Through the RNA I met my first ever writer friends; we used to meet once a month in a pub and we laughed and encouraged one another and I realised what a warm and wonderful community it is. It’s a superb organisation run by incredible people.  I admire and respect the way it promotes romantic fiction in its myriad guises, challenges the sometimes patronising assumptions that appear in the press, supports both new and established writers and helps those of us in what is effectively a solitary profession feel part of a collective.  I’m incredibly proud to be part of it.

What is next for Louise?

Book number eight, The Scarlet Dress, has just been published and I’m currently working on the asylum-turned-reform-school book which is my first ever full-on ghost story.  

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Congratulations and I wish you every ongoing success!

Comments, likes and questions can be left below.

Meet Christina Courtenay – winner of the RNA’s 2021 Fantasy Romantic Novel Award

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The story was inspired by a Viking style ring I own, an exact replica of one displayed at the Historical Museum in Stockholm. When I went to the museum to compare the two, I was struck by the germ of an idea for this book. My agent just happens to be Swedish as well and she encouraged me to explore our mutual heritage, so it seemed like it was meant to be – serendipity!

I am intrigued by the connection between your replica ring and the original – how long did you need to research this fascinating tale?

I can’t say precisely – the ring was the catalyst, and after I’d been to see the original in the Stockholm Historical Museum, I had the story in the back of my mind for many years but never did anything about it. Then all these weird coincidences started to happen – there was a huge Viking exhibition at the British Museum in London, several TV series about Vikings (both fiction and non-fiction), a couple of new books about them and some exciting new archaeological finds. I also managed to go to the Jorvik Viking festival at last, which I’d wanted to do for ages, and then I found my Swedish agent. It was as if the universe was telling me to just go for it – so I did and ECHOES OF THE RUNES was the result. I did some basic background research at first, then continued more in-depth as I went along, continuously reading, visiting museums and travelling to Viking sites.

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What appeals to you about the romantic fantasy genre in particular?

I’ve loved timeslip and time travel stories ever since I first read The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier and Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine. I think most history buffs (and I’m definitely one of those) imagine they’d love to travel back in time or somehow be able to experience the past. Within the romantic fantasy genre readers can do that – whether it’s by way of dreams, ghostly apparitions or proper time travel, the past comes to life. And we get to meet the people from the past, especially the heroes. It’s exciting and a great way to learn about history.

Christina in a Viking Longhouse

Will you stay within this or have you other projects in different sub-genres ongoing?

For the moment I’m staying with timeslip and time travel stories. I was writing YA a while back, but that’s on the backburner now. I think I’ve realised that I’m now writing exactly the sort of stories that appeal to me and that I enjoy most, so there is no reason to change that.

How have you coped/worked during lockdown life?

It’s been very up and down. To begin with, I was very enthusiastic and determined to get loads done. There are always so many things we put off doing, isn’t there? I did lots of writing at first and also tackled something I’d been meaning to do for ages – create a website for my genealogy project (on my maiden name). Once that was done, I sort of ran out of steam a bit, and the anxiety of the whole pandemic situation got to me. Now we seem to be heading for more normal times though, so I’m back to writing with a vengeance and actually working on two stories at once!

What advice would you give your younger unpublished self?

Join an organisation like the RNA straight away, go to as many workshops and events as possible and really listen to the advice, network, and find a writing buddy/critique partner. Before I found the RNA, I was floundering because I hadn’t come across any likeminded authors, but once I did, it felt like coming home.

The RNA obviously means a tremendous amount to you as a previous chairman but how much does winning this award mean to you?

It means so much, I can’t even begin to tell you! ECHOES OF THE RUNES was my first book with a new publisher, as well as being close to my heart because of the connection with my heritage. And after the horrible year we’ve all had, it really did feel wonderful to finally have something positive happening!

What is next for Christina?

I have two more books coming out this year with Headline Review in the Viking time travel series:  WHISPERS OF THE RUNES will be published at the end of June, and it follows a hero and heroine who get mixed up with the so-called Great Heathen Army that rampaged through Britain in the 870s AD. Then there is TEMPTED BY THE RUNES which will be out in December, and the couple in that story take the huge step of being among the first settlers in Iceland. Both these are time travel tales, where the heroines are from the present and have to adapt to living in the Viking age. Not an easy thing to do!

I wish you every continued success and look forward to reading your worthy winner.

You can follow Christina at:-

http://www.christinacourtenay.com

https://www.facebook.com/christinacourtenayauthor

Comments, likes and questions can be left below.

Meet award winning author – Val Wood

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Please share with us the amazing route that you took to becoming a published author when you had your first book accepted back in 1993, winning the Catherine Cookson Prize.

1993 seems like a lifetime ago and yet only yesterday. When my first novel THE HUNGRY TIDE was published I was totally shell shocked and astonished that I had won such a prestigious prize as the Catherine Cookson Award. My husband Peter had persuaded me to enter the manuscript, for I didn’t have the faith in myself to consider that it would be good enough, particularly as the competition was open to published as well as unpublished authors. When I was presented with the award by Joanna Trollope on a launch on the River Thames, I had no idea that this was only the beginning.

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You have your own prize now, was this inspired by a desire to also give back to upcoming talent?

I had had great encouragement whilst learning my craft of writing through many years of writers’ workshops, university lectures and discussion groups with other writers. The most pleasing aspect of all, was that most of my fellow writers wanted to write, not with the prospect of being published with a book to show, but to put meaningful words on the page that came from the heart and would interest anyone who might read it. Not forgetting the art of story-telling, which is probably one of the oldest crafts in the world. Most of us, and not only professional writers, have at some time in our lives enjoyed being read to, or have told an impromptu story from our imagination.

Ten years on and being totally committed to my work and with more books under my belt as I became established as a professional author, I began to consider that with the luck and encouragement that I’d had before and during my career, it was beholden of me to inspire others who were as keen to write as I was, and so with the help of an incredible team who organised the detail and with the assistance of the Hull Central Library, in 2013 we set up the annual Val Wood Creative Writing Competition, free to enter and with a prize. We have had many hundreds of entries over the years, we have a good system with skilled readers and I choose the final winners. 

Because of the pandemic the competition has taken longer to organize during this year’s library closures; the winners are about to be announced and we are already planning next year’s competition.

You live and write about a beautiful part of the country but is it the place or a character or a piece of historical detail that triggers the first ideas for your novels?

For me, when beginning a novel, the theme or subject matter is always of paramount importance and because the Victorian period was a symbol of change in industry, science and the women’s movement, I set my novels during this time, often with the background of poverty, injustice, women’s rights or lack of them as in No Place for a Woman, and how they set about righting the wrongs against them. From my imagination I have created women who didn’t want to sit and wait for a husband to claim them and who set out to find their own role in their lives as in Far from Home, and others who found they had made the wrong choice as in my latest novel The Lonely Wife. 

Do you let your characters grow organically on the page or do you plan ahead?

I don’t know my characters until I name them and then I watch them grow into the life I create for them. There are times when I don’t know which direction they will take, or sometimes I know the ending before I am halfway through. It is very important that the characters behave as real people of the nineteenth century would have done and don’t fall into  the trap of twenty-first century manners or speech such as OK or getting sorted, level playing field or even the latest phrase of roadmap! This would totally confuse a nineteenth century character. 

I always give the men in the novels a strong part; my males are considerate on the whole, though some are not and get their cum-uppance! And of course, there is always a romantic element, and I generally fall completely in love with the male protagonist!

Having written so many books based in the region, was it your inspiration to create the Val Wood’s Trails?

Alongside the theme and the characters, I think of the place or setting. I have done this from the very first novel because I need to know where my characters live; I drive out or walk to look at locations in East Yorkshire and I might well have terrified bystanders at some time in the past by standing on the edge of the crumbling cliffs of Holderness; confused others as I stare into space to imagine where a building or street in the heart of Hull might have been before it was blitzed, or clutching a cup of coffee in a café in an East Yorkshire market town that has retained some Victorian element. I place my characters there; this then inspired the idea of bringing those characters to life and allowing readers to follow their trail either physically or online as I did with The Kitchen Maid and The Harbour Girl.

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Pre Covid the libraries were a place that you have supported and being actively involved with so in what ways have you missed this side of your writing life and tried to compensate for it?

During this pandemic, I feel that many people including authors have felt the strain of uncertainty and doubt.  Beginning the present work in progress was difficult; I felt slowed down, uncertain where to begin; this was the first time ever that I have felt this way; I wanted to write a ‘feel good’ story, something to make readers happy and uplifted, but it just wouldn’t come. 

I was sorry to read of your personal loss due to Dementia and understand that you are actively involved in work with the Friends of the Hull Memory Clinic to spread greater awareness and understanding. Have you post-lockdown plans to continue with this?

Since my husband died from dementia in 2009 I have lived alone but haven’t felt lonely; my writing and a loving family saved me from that, but I have missed not being able to meet friends, not feeling safe enough to shop in a store or being unable to visit a favourite historical building. Simple things that we took for granted but won’t ever again.

I told myself to take it easy, to be kind to myself. I have written a book a year since 1993 even through my sad and difficult times, plus several short stories for magazines, essays and lectures and published one ‘long’ short story of 50 pages for a local charity in order to raise funds for a memorial to the people of Hull who died in the Second World War.

So I took a short time out and walked on the green and lovely common land of Westwood here in Beverley and I regained my equilibrium and after a time was able to begin again, deciding that I would continue from The Lonely Wife and write a sequel.

In the past I have been a ‘hands on’ volunteer, being with one charity for almost thirty years; but now in my later years I have changed roles to give support by becoming patron and vice president with charities that I have long supported. I consider that I do very little now but most of us can do some small thing and it is appreciated.

I contemplate that I have been very fortunate in my life, and the schoolgirl who struggled with maths and dates in history, but loved writing stories would not have believed how life could change because of a fertile imagination.

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Which historic figures stand out as inspiring of the women you have researched?

I have learned so much during my writing life and read about some incredible women through my research; Marie Curie who was honoured with the Nobel Prize and under intense pressure from her male peers, went on to invent the first mobile X ray machines and took it herself to the Front during the First World War thus saving thousands of lives.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and her daughter Louise Garrett Anderson, both suffragettes and campaigners for women’s equal rights as men had, and Caroline Norton who petitioned Parliament to change the laws regarding Custody of Children, and so many more.

What have been the highlights of your career to date: the Honorary Doctorate, being a Times Bestseller, winning the Catherine Cookson Award – all or something else?

Winning the Catherine Cookson Award opened up a host of other opportunities from becoming a Sunday Times best- selling author to being honoured in 2017 by the University of Hull with an Honorary Doctorate for the contribution to literature, my greatest achievement; and in 2019 an invitation to a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace that brought tears to my eyes as I walked through the hallowed portal. All for the love of writing.

What is next for Val Wood?                     

What comes next?  First of all finish the sequel to The Lonely Wife which is running head to head in popularity with The Doorstep Girls. My working title is Children of Fortune and features not only the children from the Lonely Wife as they grow into adulthood but also another child from a different family with a question mark over her parentage. I don’t yet know the ending.

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Charities I support.

Home-Start (Hull) the children’s charity

Sight-Support – Hull and East Riding for people with sight loss 

Butterflies – The Hull Memory Loss Support group.

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 Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller shortlist!

“Jackie Collins was a creative force, a trailblazer for women in fiction, and, in her own words, ‘A kick-ass writer!’ Since her 1968 debut The World is Full of Married Men, her books have sold in their millions in more than 40 countries and she is one of the world’s top-selling novelists. Ian Chapman, CEO of Simon & Schuster UK and International, said “Jackie was kind, brilliantly astute, with a wicked, mischievous sense of humour. She was a consummate storyteller and made her craft look easy, like all great practitioners. I – along with many others – miss her still and often expect to see her appear suddenly in our midst. We have long made a solemn commitment to ensure that her legacy endures and are incredibly proud to partner with the Romantic Novelists’ Association again to sponsor the Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller award to support her fellow writers.”

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.

The Forgotten Sister – Nicola Cornick

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I’ve always been fascinated by historical mysteries and I also love writing about lesser-known women from history. The two things came together in The Forgotten Sister which was inspired by the mystery of the death of Amy Robsart, wife of Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite, Robert Dudley. So often Amy’s story is eclipsed by Elizabeth and Robert’s love affair, but I wanted to bring Amy into the spotlight instead. Telling her story alongside a tale of modern day celebrity made me realise how many themes from history are still relevant now.

The House By The Sea – Louise Douglas

Boldwood Books

The inspiration for this novel was a derelict villa on a small headland in a remote corner of Sicily. We were on holiday and spotted it from the beach, climbed a sandy path to reach it. The villa was enclosed by high walls, with bougainvillea and other plants tumbling over as if they’d been imprisoned and were trying to escape. Behind rusting gates, chained together, we glimpsed a lovely, fading old house… and I fell in love.

 

Death Comes to Cornwall – Kate Johnson

Dash Digital, Orion

Honestly, I was trying to write a nice romantic comedy about a gorgeous actor and a girl trying to escape her hometown, and then a dead body turned up in chapter three. Which doesn’t usually happen in romcoms, so it became more of a cosy mystery. And setting it in Cornwall meant an excuse to eat pasties and drink Cornish beer. You know, for inspiration.

 

The Twins – J. S. Lark

HarperCollins

My writing history began with Bridgerton style bodice rippers as Jane Lark, before becoming the gripping domestic, psychological, thriller I created in The Twins. The progression to The Twins came about after watching the Dr Foster TV series. My romantic books have always had a harder, darker, edge to them. The TV series that focused heavily on the character relationships while weaving a twisty shocking story around that encouraged me to take the step into the full-on thriller space. I love creating gritty, shocking and yet passionate characters.

But the root of my writing is thanks to a teacher, who identified my exceptional story-telling capability when I was eight. She called me forward to the front of the class and told everyone that one day I would write a novel. That didn’t happen for 33 years, but now there are twenty-six novels. I am told I’m quite prolific.

 

Escape to the Little Chateau – Marie Laval

Choc Lit

As a teenager growing up in France I loved reading historical romance and used to make up stories before falling asleep every night. My dreams were full of sword fights, daring rescues and brave heroes and heroines battling evil villains as they fell madly in love. Picking up a pen and writing the stories down was the next, logical step, and I never looked back!

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

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

Catching up with award winning author Janet Gover!

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Welcome back, Janet.

How time flies by. You were my guest back in 2014!

Wow – is it really that long? It’s great to be back chatting to you again.  

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

2020 was a tough year for everyone. This year hasn’t started too well either, but I am holding on to hope that things are getting better – even if it’s a bit slow. The big change for me has been my husband working from home. Luckily we’ve managed to make him a small office at the other end of the house, as far away from my office as possible, so we don’t disturb each other too often when we’re working. But we do miss our Sunday walks that seemed to always end with a nice lunch at some pretty rural pub.

It has been hard to stay focussed, although writing is a great escape for me. And deadlines are a great motivator. I have kept to my schedule, but it’s been slighter harder work than in the past.  

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

So much… it’s hard to know where to start. I’ve just had my 14th book released. Close To Home is a story of two strong matriarchs in one small country town. I think it’s my favourite book. But I say that about every new book.

I have given up my ‘day job’ and am now a full time writer and writing tutor, which is the achievement of a long held dream.

And I’m now contracted to Harper Collins (Harlequin) Australia, who are just the best publishers I’ve ever worked with.

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What have been the highlights?

So many highlights…. some of them are as simple as suddenly having that lightbulb moment when I’m struggling with a scene or a book.  The big ones? Let’s see…

In 2017 I won the RNA’s Epic Romantic Novel of The Year award for Little Girl Lost.  To receive such an award from an organisation that means so much to me was a real honour – even if Prue Leith did pronounce my name wrong when she announced it.

Finally writing the Wuthering Heights re-imagining I’ve always wanted to do. Heathcliff’s story set against the Thatcher years and the miners’ strike. I co-wrote this with my friend Alison May and I remain so very proud of it.

Meeting and signing with my agent, Julia Silk – who has turned my writing world around. And in the same breath, signing with my Australian publisher, and meeting my editor Rachael Donovan. Only virtually so far, but one day we will get to meet in person. There will be cake. 

You are now the organiser of the RNA’s amazing New Writers Scheme – please share what a challenging and yet rewarding experience this is?

For those who don’t know about it, it’s a scheme which gives 300 unpublished authors a chance to have a manuscript read by a experienced published author, who will offer some guidance on how to become a better writer and achieve that goal of publication. I graduated from the scheme more than a decade ago, and have been a reader for many years. Now I organise it. It’s very time consuming, but I love doing it… its nice to give something back for the help I received.

The hardest part is matching a new writer with the reader who can help them the most. And the very best part is when I get an email from a new writer who had been offered a publishing deal. That means so much to me and to the readers.

What are you working on now?

I’m deep in edits for book number 15. The working title is The Librarian’s Daughter and it’s scheduled for release in 2022. It’s based around a mobile library in rural Australia… just like the one that used to call on my little community.  And in some ways, it’s also a tribute to all the books I read and loved as I was growing up.

It’s a complex book, structurally. I’m trying to ensure that, for the reader, it doesn’t seem complex at all – but flows smoothly from one moment to the next.

What is next for Janet?

Hopefully, soon, a trip back to Australia. More books of course. I have been playing with a couple of ideas for very different books to my rural stories. I’ll always write those rural stories of course, because I love them so much. But maybe there’s room for something else too.

And one of these days – a long Sunday walk followed by a nice pub lunch.

Congratulations on your many successes and best wishes for all your future projects!

Thanks for stopping by again, Janet.

Close To Home

Meet prolific author, Paula R C Readman!

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Welcome, Paula

What are you currently working on?

At the moment I have two projects in the pipeline.  A follow-on novel to my novella, The Funeral Birds, a tale about a failing detective agency run by Dave Cavendish and his side kick, a sixteenth century witch called Granny Wenlock who’s his ancestor. 

The follow –on novel, As the Crow Flies I’ll be exploring more of Granny’s background as well as giving the characters a new case to solve. The novel allows me to bring together two interesting timelines. My problem at the moment is how to make the flow of the plot work as the timelines shift.

My second project is a 7k short story for Black Hare Press Alice 13. It is thirteen different stories, in thirteen different genres all featuring Alice from Wonderland. I’ve written the plot idea, a synopsis and the first four pages. The deadline is allowing me plenty of time to think about it.

As my new novel is flowing nicely I want to focus on that for a little while before finishing my Alice story.       

 That sounds fascinating! Your work crosses different genres. Which came first?

I’ve always loved a good mystery. I think my love of mysteries comes from my love of history. At school I loved learning about ancient history.  We can only imagine how different the world must have been to our ancient ancestors. We know how most things work as science has shown us the key to all life, but to the people in the past it was a real mystery.

A mystery in fiction can cover a wide range of genre from romance to crime novels. I don’t write romance, but I do enjoy writing a wide range of genre from gothic ghost stories to Sci-fi tales.   

 Do you switch from one project to another to stay fresh?

All the time. When one deadline appears on the horizon I will stop and focus on that one and complete it. It gives you the break you need to see any typos, plot failures or weaknesses as well as sparking fresh ideas. When I return to a project I re-read the whole of it before writing more.      

 Do you plan out a story first with a detailed synopsis or work organically, allowing the plot to develop on the page.

A bit of both really. I normally have an idea of the beginning and the ending, so it’s a case of getting from A to B in the most interesting way. With books, I tend to create a paragraph of the overall plot and work out who is the best person to tell the story. My synopsis is written once I’m half way through writing the first draft. You can’t know your full plot until you’ve written the first draft because everything is very fluid when you initially start. 

 Do you begin with an idea of the plot, a character, a setting or does it vary depending upon genre?

I normally write a rough plot idea down, and then work out who my main character will be, along with the setting, timeline whether it is a short story or novel. Once I have the opening paragraph then I’m up and running. As the plot line develops so I add new characters and write up their background. I keep adding important information to a file like the type of car my main character is driving, hair and eye colour etc. I don’t spend time writing a detailed background sheet before starting because none of it may be of relevance to my storyline.   Do I really need to know what school my serial killer went to in my 5k word short story before writing it unless it is relevant to the plot?

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

My best time for writing is just after I’ve woken up. My mind is fresh and sharp and I can get quite a bit written. New ideas flow easier and I can pick up typos too. My husband is normally up early for work, so I’m at my keyboard at 4.00 in the morning.

 That is really impressive! Do you ever write real life experiences into your work?

All writers do through their emotions. No experience whether good or bad is wasted as it all feeds into our writing whether we like it or not. For our characters to be three dimensional we need to use all of our life experiences, which have made us rounded people to create them.  

What was your hardest scene to write?

I wrote a short story called The Meetings which tells of two people meeting in a park. The narrator is the park keeper.  Through him we learn about the couple, but there’s a twist. It touched a real nerve with me as I wrote it not long after my father passed away.

The story was rejected by People’s Friend Magazine but went on to become an overall winner in a writing competition.

How long on average does it take you to write a book or novella?

Oh goodness, how long is a piece of string? Too long in some cases, right? I have eight novels sitting on my computer in various stages of completion. Since I have been writing over 18 years and have only had three books published I’m not 100% sure how long each novel has taken to write. Stone Angels took me six years in total and then another eight months of editing.  In those six years, I lost my mum and life got a little crappy too.  My novella took a week to write but sat on my computer for a long time until the right submission call out came along. 

How have you coped with life in the pandemic?

Quite well. I was already in self-isolation as I was busy editing. So I’ve just continued doing what I was doing. My husband and I are missing travelling to Whitby for the Goth Festivals and I didn’t get my book launch I always dreamt of doing. Unfortunately, I lost two dear friends last year which dampened my excitement at seeing my work published.   

I so miss travelling in North Yorkshire and Whitby in particular. I wish you every success, Paula, with all of your projects and look forward to learning of your next publishing deal.

A warm winter welcome to romance writer, Suzanne Snow!

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Welcome, Suzanne, and congratulations on the upcoming release of The Cottage of New Beginnings! Before you tell me about the book let’s go back to when you began your writing career. Was writing books always something you wanted to do?  

Yes, I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was very young. I read all the time as a child and loved to make up stories about adventurous girls and their ponies. I always hoped to be an author one day.

Reading your website it is clear that you love romance set against a rural setting.  Are you definitely inspired by setting rather than a character initially?

A landscape is usually the first thing that draws me to create a story. It might be a village or a beautiful view, but there’s always a community at the heart of my writing. Once I have my setting, I begin to imagine the characters who might live there, and those who might be newly arrived and why. I hope to convey a real sense of place in my writing.

Does family and faith play a strong part in your plots as they do in your life?

Friendship and family are very much part of my writing and faith is something shared by a few of my characters but not all. Charlie and Sam Stewart, the young vicar of Thorndale and his wife, have proved popular with readers and they do return in later stories. Sam in particular is mischievous with a lovely heart, and great fun to write.

What character traits do you think are essential in a hero/heroine?

I write heroes who are sensitive without being overly sentimental; and honourable, even if that is not immediately apparent. Kindness, an ability to understand when they are wrong and passionate also go a long way.

I like heroines to be independent, have confidence and warmth. Both hero and heroine need to have some self-awareness, along with the opportunity and willingness to change and develop.

Do you always aim to deliver a feel-good story with a happy ending?

I do, yes. I read romantic fiction as well as write it, and I so enjoy characters falling in love, whether that’s a gradual realisation or something more immediate. As an author, I hope for my readers to feel uplifted, following characters working out their differences to consider a future together.

Since joining the RNA you have been taken on by an agent and signed a three-book deal (huge congratulations on that!). How important has being a member of the RNA been in finding your route to publication?

I don’t think I can overstate the importance of the RNA to unpublished romantic writers. I’ve made great friends and received lots of support since joining and benefitted from opportunities to learn, and Conference is just one of them. I believe it’s important to discover how publishing works, along with the roles of industry professionals such as editors and agents, whether you plan to follow a traditional or indie route to publication.

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What is your favourite part of the writing process?

I love to actually just write a draft, something I mostly do early in the mornings. When the story is flowing well and the characters are making themselves heard, then it’s a complete joy and difficult to stop. Editing is also something I find very satisfying, and I enjoy going back and finding ways to improve the manuscript.

What is your least?

I’d probably say the amount of time I manage to spend distracting myself researching something online when I should be writing!

How have you coped with life during a pandemic?

Life has changed, as for so many people, and my husband now works from home and my son is studying mostly online for his A levels. We are thankful to have close family nearby and have been able to support one another during the pandemic and very much appreciate the community we are a part of. The house is busier now and we are all adapting to a new way of working. I’ve also realised how many simple things we took for granted, like meeting up with family and friends for a meal, and I’m really looking forward to being able to hug my wider family again.

I think we are all waiting that day. Having come this far on the road to publication what advice would you give to anyone considering joining the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme?

Join, if you possibly can, the opportunities to develop your knowledge and make friends are so brilliant. And once you are a member, do try and get the best from your membership by taking part in the activities on offer, whether that’s social media, online learning, chapter meetings (currently all online) and attending events. The RNA is excellent at welcoming people, and Conference, once it is able to run again, is a real highlight and not to be missed if at all possible.

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What is next for Suzanne?

Right now I’m finishing my Christmas story, which is set in Thorndale, and I’m looking forward to the publication of my second novel, The Garden of Little Rose, in February 2021. After that I’ll be planning my fifth book and hopefully spending some time on a tiny Hebridean island for research, rules permitting.

That sounds lovely!

Thank you for the opportunity to be included on your website, Valerie, I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions.

Suzanne x

You are very welcome. If any readers have any other questions please leave them below.

Merry Christmas, Suzanne and good luck with the book!

A warm welcome to romantic novelist, M. A. Nichols

Welcome, Melanie

Looking at your website your sense of fun comes through very strongly. Do you look on every task as a challenge to be enjoyed? Is this your approach to life?

Oh, I wish I had the optimism to approach life like this all the time. I definitely try to ascribe to the “brighter side of life” mentality, but I’ve had plenty of heartache and difficulties in which I struggled to see any reason to be happy. Many of the hardships my characters have gone through are directly influenced by my past, and there are definitely moments where I just need to wallow in my misery for a little bit.

However, I do believe that happiness in life isn’t due to circumstances but to outlook and attitude. It’s important to acknowledge that life sucks sometimes and sometimes you need to cry for a little bit, but I’ve found that there are always reason to be happy despite a crappy situation, if I just open my eyes.

Do you try to filter humour through your novels to lighten the darker moments?

To quote Steel Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

You work full time, love to travel, read extensively, paint and have a large family so how do you fit in writing? Do you have a set routine?

Whew. That’s a tricky question. I think one of the most difficult things in life is to find balance between all the things we need to do, all the things we want to do, and maintaining our physical and mental well-being.

One of the ways I try to maintain good balance is through schedules and to-do lists because if left to my own devices, I’d probably sit in front of the TV all day. Success isn’t something that happens by accident, so I try to plan and organize my time to be more efficient. In fact, I had to set a goal to read less the last couple of years because I found I spent too much time reading others’ books and not working on my own. Lol.

I empathise completely with the desire to become an Indie author, which you explain in detail on your website, but for those authors who are about to take their first Indie steps, what key advice would you give them?

There is no easy path to publishing success. While getting your book published is easier through indie publishing, it’s no guarantee that you’ll make any money. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t expect instant fame and riches. Your first books likely won’t do well, but successful indie authors don’t give up after those first flops. They keep putting out books and trying new things until something catches on.

My first two series have never done well. I spent two years building up those fantasy series, and nothing has ever come of them. Then I decided to publish a passion project — Flame and Ember — which was a historical romance. Not exactly the same fanbase. But I went for it, and the book took off. It was my fifth published book.

Don’t give up. Keep trying.

Has your knowledge of landscape management and landscape architecture into practical use in your writing?

Not really. I’ve used it for some descriptions, but that’s about it. I would say that it, along with my music and art background have given me a lot of training in the creative fields, which has helped me overall.

I loved Flame and Ember, what attracted you to Regency England?

I’ve been a fan of the sweet historical romance genre for a few years, and I’ve loved classic literature from the 1800s for most of my life. That century had so much upheaval and changes that are fascinating to explore.

Have you visited any of the UK cities linked to this period of history or the country houses around them: London, York, Harrogate, Bath?

Yes, and I plan to do a lot more. I’ve been to England three times now, and while the first two were purely for fun, the last time was for research purposes. I learned so much, and it was so inspiring. I came away with a notebook full of notes, several gigs of photos, and a lot of ideas to make my books more realistic.

I am hoping to return very soon. I had planned on visiting this fall, but of course, that’s not happening. Crossing my fingers for a spring trip instead!

You plan to write in the Regency, Victorian and eventually about the Wild West – How extensively do you research?

Researching is a never-ending process. Honestly, I dove into the Regency era with little background in it — other than a love of Jane Austen and having read a ton of novels set in the era. Now, I’m constantly reading some non-fiction book about the period, and each time I learn something new that will inform my future books.

The Wild West was a very popular market in my youth ( a short while ago ☺ ) Is it still a big market in the US?

I believe it is. I haven’t taken the dive into that subgenre yet, but I do love reading those types of books, so I will be writing some in the future. But I’m focused on my England-based novels right now.

Where, in a post pandemic world, would you like to travel to?

Right now, the highest priority is getting back to England. I’ve got a list of several hundred places I’d like to go for research purposes (museums, estates, etc.), and I’m desperate to make a dent in it. Every time I cross one off, I seem to add a dozen more!

But if we’re talking just for fun, Ireland has been high on my list for a few years now, and I was planning on a tour of the Dalmatian Coast with my brother and his family for this summer that has gotten pushed back.

Who or what has influenced you strongly in life and/or in your writing?

There are so many people and things. Seriously, this is a massive list that would take a long time to go through, but first and foremost, would be my parents. I grew up in a household where we loved literature. They taught me to love the written word and exposed me to so many different genres. Between the two of them, they read everything and gave me a love of all sorts of books.

My dad was the CEO of a company for most of his career, and he’s now a business consultant of sorts. He’s my sounding board and guide through all the business aspects. My mom is an artist and loves helping me with the creative side. She’s one of my best beta readers / critiquers. They both are massive cheerleaders and supports through the ups and downs of this publishing journey.

Please tell us about your latest release.

The Honorable Choice came out August 25th and is the second book in my Victorian Love series, which is a spin-off of my Regency books and follows the next generation. Conrad Ashbrook is the son of one of my previous couples, and when his brother ruins a young lady and refuses to save her good name, Conrad steps up and marries her.

A marriage they didn’t choose. A child conceived in a lie. Can they overcome their broken dreams and find happiness in a life forced upon them?

Congratulations to Melissa Oliver – winner of the Joan Hessayon Award 2020!

Have you stopped celebrating yet?

I’m thrilled and utterly elated to be the winner of the 2020 RNA Joan Hessayon award for The Rebel Heiress and the Knight.

I had a wonderful time celebrating over the weekend with my husband, Jack, our three daughters, and lots of lovely messages from family and friends. There was lots of bubbles, cake, a lovely pub lunch, and even a family game of Cluedo!

Going back to the beginning of your desire to write – when did you realise that you needed/wanted to write fiction?

It probably started as a child. I had a fervent imagination and loved nothing better than to escape into the wilds of make believe. The writing bug really caught when I was a little older but to be honest, a lack of confidence and self- belief held me back from pursuing my dream. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties with young children at home, and working part- time, that I began to question what it was that I really wanted to do in life. That itch to be a writer had never gone away and so I decided to do something about it. I have to add, however, that it has taken many, many years to realise that dream!

Were you always in love with writing romance?

I enjoy many genres from thrillers, whodunit, classics, to every kind of historical fiction but I LOVE romance, especially historical romance more than any other and have done so ever since I was a teenager. From Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Anya Seyton, to Daphne du Maurier and many, many others.

How helpful has being a member of the New Writers’ Scheme been to you developing your talent?

The New Writer’s Scheme and the RNA have been amazingly supportive in my writing. The detailed feedback that you get back from an anonymously assigned reader has been incredibly valuable to develop and hone my writing skills.

Was The Rebel Heiress and the Knight your first completed novel?

Yes, The Rebel Heiress and the Knight was my first fully completed novel. Previously, I had written screen & radio plays, and I once started a YA thriller that never went anywhere. I do believe that it’s good to try different things creatively until you find your voice, so nothing is wasted – at least, that’s what I tell myself.

What drew you to the C13?

I love anything historical and once I had created the general outline of my story, it was a question of working out which era would work best.  Eventually, I felt that the early 13th century with King John’s turbulent reign was the perfect foil for my story.

Your heroine has a dramatic backstory, did this give her character more depth?

Absolutely. I knew that I wanted my characters to feel ‘real’ within the context of the story, and whilst there was a huge amount of external conflict, I knew I had to explore why they behaved in the way they did, to make the story work. This is especially true of Eleanor, who is a quite extraordinary character for the times she lived in.

Few will know who Fulk FitsWarin lll is – how did the link happen to the legend of Robin Hood?

The life and times of Fulk FitzWarin III ( Foulke le FitzWaryn) was intriguing, romantic, dangerous and pretty incredible. The parallels between what happened to him and Robin Hood are strikingly familiar. FitzWarin was forced to become a rebel and later an outlaw after Whittington Castle and his hereditary lands were confiscated by King John. He lived for many years in woods & forests with his band of outlaws and even his right-hand man was apparently called John. He never gave up the claim of his birth right and did eventually win it back, but only after much heartache and strife. He also won the hand of the heiress Maud le Vavasour, who some believe to be the inspiration behind Maid Marian. There were other real-life inspirations for the legend of Robin Hood such as Herewerd the Wake and Eustace the Monk but in my opinion, no one epitomised Robin as well as Fulk did.

What has working with Harlequin Mills and Boon been like?

It has been amazing working with Harlequin Mills and Boon. They have a wonderful, collaborative team who are very supportive and insightful. In particular, my editor, Charlotte Ellis, who has been a pleasure to work with.

What is next for Melissa Oliver?

The Rebel Heiress and the Knight is part of a linked series, The Notorious Knights. The next book, Her Banished Knight’s Redemption, is William Geraint’s story (he’s a secondary character in the first book) and is due to be published Jan/ Feb 2021. I’ve also signed another two- book deal with Harlequin Mills and Boon, so I’m currently writing the next Notorious Knights book.

I wish you every success in your writing career.
What a great start!