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!

Meet prolific crime writer, J.C. Briggs!

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Welcome to my website, Jean!

Your international career, before becoming a prolific author, was as an English and Drama teacher. Can you tell us something about this fascinating part of your life and how you came to be working in the Far East?

I went to teach in Hong Kong because of two love affairs – one that had ended and one that was beginning. The one that ended was painful and I wanted a fresh start; the one that was beginning led me to Hong Kong, but, alas, the person concerned was posted to America and that was the end of that. However, I loved the new school, made many friends, and met my husband so Hong Kong has a special place in my life, though I have not been back for many years and will probably never return.

 

Do you think that your previous involvement in drama has enabled you to deepen the characterisation and events within your novels?

I think reading made me a writer, and teaching English and Drama, too. Everything you have ever read feeds your imagination and contributes to your experience and understanding.

 

In 2012 retirement coincided with the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth. This sparked the idea of creating a detective series featuring Charles Dickens. How daunting was this once you had made the decision to commit to writing the series?

I didn’t think about a series. I just had the idea for a detective story – I’d always wanted to write one and when I read about Dickens’s founding of The Home for Fallen Women, the idea came to me about a murder there. The first book sparked the second. At this stage I was thrilled to find that I could do it and it wasn’t until I embarked on a third that I realised what a hazardous undertaking it was – to have the nerve – cheek, even, to use Charles Dickens as a detective, but it was too late, the first one was published. No one seemed to object so I have carried on to write eight so far – number six has just been published by the wonderful Sapere books.

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You obviously had an in depth knowledge of the author’s work, but how much further did you need to delve into his life and writings to really feel you understood the man?

I read as many of the biographies as I could – I knew the facts must be right. The most important resource to stimulate my imagination is the letters – 14,000 of them in the Pilgrim edition, and these give me Dickens’s voice as well as facts about his life, opinions he held, and his attitudes to the issues of his day and to the people he knew. The speeches are very useful, too, as is Household Words for which there is an on-line edition. If I get stuck, lack inspiration, or generally feel I can’t get on with a book, I read his, and very often a quotation or incident sets me off again.

 

What was the most surprising aspect of his amazing life that you discovered?

His boundless energy – it is astonishing how much he did, not only as an author, but as a journalist, editing Household Words and writing numerous articles for it, making speeches, presiding over philanthropic enterprises, directing and acting, writing all those letters, walking as many as 17 miles a day, dining out, and having a wife and family of nine children. There were actually ten, but Dora died as a baby.

 

Were you surprised when you realised that Charles Dickens had generously supported The Home for Fallen Women? Do you think he was ahead of his time in understanding some of the social issues impoverishing women?

I was surprised to read about The Home for Fallen Women. It was an extraordinary thing for an author to do. What concerned him was the grim cycle of criminality – created by poverty – imprisonment followed by further crime because there was very little provision for women who went into prison. There has been some comment on his arranging for the young women to emigrate, but Dickens knew that they had to escape their past lives and start again.

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Have you had a strong response to your series from Dickens’ fans?

Yes I have. The most touching comment was ‘Charles Dickens would be proud of you.’ I’m not sure about that, but people do say that they have gone on to read Dickens again or for the first time because they’ve liked what they’ve read in my books and that is really pleasing – for a former English teacher.

 

Charles Dickens travelled widely giving readings. Do you intend to include various settings as the series continues, although mainly set in London?

I love the London setting – all gaslight, fog and dark alleys, made for murder. I did venture to Manchester in the third book. As luck would have it for Dickens, Superintendent Jones happened to be visiting Manchester at the same time. They went to Paris in the second book and Dickens was in Venice at the beginning of number five. The question set me thinking, though, about a country setting – a Chesney Wold sort of setting appeals, a large and gloomy house with wastes of empty rooms.

 

He was interested in ghosts, supernatural entities, mesmerism and séances as were many in the Victorian era. Would you ever attend such an event to try to make contact with the soul of the man himself? If so, is there a question you would love to pose to him?

He was very sceptical about séances or table-rapping as it was called. I don’t think I’d dare to try to make contact. Suppose he hated the idea of becoming a character in a book!

At Midnight In Venice

It is well documented that his marriage and his parenting skills were perhaps lacking by today’s expectations, but he had many dimensions and seems to have been gifted in other areas of his life. How much do you think his experience of Marshalsea debtors’ prison in his younger life affected his outlook upon the shortcomings of society and fuelled his drive to try and help educate people about these issues?

The number of prisons which appear in his works testify to the deep and enduring impression made by his father’s imprisonment in the Marshalsea. It was a scar on his heart and I do think it heightened his sympathy for the poor, especially children who were born into the most abject poverty and received no education. He supported the Ragged School Movement, the Foundling Hospital and various other charities for orphaned and abandoned children. He sponsored a shoe-black boy who was a Ragged School pupil, and there are many, many instances of private charitable acts. It was as if he felt that he would have been one of them had the family’s fortunes not improved.

 

Has your investigative Charles Dickens been compared to the fictional Sherlock Holmes? If so do you see them as very different characters or similar and in what ways?

I haven’t seen any comment about Sherlock Holmes. I think Dickens’s approach to the investigations is more intuitive and emotional than Holmes’s, though Dickens was said to be incredibly observant. His eyes missed nothing and he had a very exact memory for detail – useful traits for a detective. Holmes seems more ‘scientific’ to me and rather bloodless at times.

 

How careful/respectful are you of what he does within the fiction so that the reader who is not aware of the real man’s life is given a distorted reflection of the man he actually was?

I do try to be very careful about my portrayal of Dickens. As I said before, the facts must be right, but it is in the gaps where the historical novelist can invent something that might have happened in that space. A good example is my Manchester story. Dickens did go to Manchester with his amateur theatrical group and they performed a play by Bulwer-Lytton. I invented another occasion and included a different play by Bulwer-Lytton – a play that Dickens admired. I invented the murder, of course, and I chose a different theatre in Manchester, one which had been demolished, but I was astonished to find that there had been an accidental shooting in that very theatre and the property manager had been tried for manslaughter.
As to my version of Dickens, there have been comments that it is rather too fond a picture, but I have based it on my reading of him, and I do think his relationship with Superintendent Jones would be rather different from other relationships, and I do try to hint at his faults and his growing dissatisfaction in his marriage. Claire Tomalin says ‘everyone finds their own version of Charles Dickens’ and Charles Dickens, the detective is mine. I wanted to be true to the character of Dickens as I discovered him in his own works, his letters, his speeches, and the biographies. There is a very amusing – and rather prescient – quotation from Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest: ‘I am not in favour of this modern mania for turning bad people into good people at a moment’s notice…’ I’m saying the opposite – I am not in favour of turning good people into bad people, so I am careful. There is a danger that when a writer presents a famous figure in a very unflattering light, or even invents incidents in which the person, say, turns to crime or deviancy that is then believed by the general reader who may not have an academic knowledge. In the end, though, the detective story sets out to entertain so I really don’t think it is my place to invent a Dickens who is wicked, or criminal, or deviant.

 

The books are intriguing detective novels in their own right, but are also layered so that Dickensian references and threads are woven throughout. Do you consciously add these in or does it happen organically as you have absorbed so much research about the man, his life, his letters, novels and the reports about events he held?

I think the references to his life and works do come naturally now as I have read so much, though I still have to check the facts and dates.

 

Would your ideal dream to be to see your series televised? If so, who do you think would do the part justice?

It would be amazing to see the stories televised – what a dream! I saw Ralph Fiennes as Dickens in The Invisible Woman – he’ll do very nicely, thank you.

 

Who has inspired you the most in your work and your life?

My husband whom I miss every single day.

 

How have you stayed fit in mind and body throughout lockdown and these challenging times.

Gardening and walking about the country lanes to keep fit in body, and writing a new book, finding a new story for Dickens and Jones.

 

What is next for J C Briggs?

I have just signed a new contract with Sapere for two more Dickens books which are finished. I’ve started another, and I am contemplating a new series with a female protagonist. I’ve started writing fragments, but there’s no discernible plot yet, which is something of a problem. I hope one will emerge.

Thank you for your time and patience answering my questions in such an inspiring way and every continued success with your fascinating books.

Catching up with Nicola Cornick!

 

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Welcome back, Nicola!

Thank you very much! It’s a pleasure to be here.
What have you been doing since you stepped down from being chair of the RNA?

It was only after I stepped down at RNA Chair that I truly realised what an intense two years it had been so the first thing I did was to go on a long holiday, which was a wonderful break and also a way of marking the end of what had been a very important and significant part of my writing life. Then I came back and got stuck into my latest manuscript which is a dual time novel set in the 15th century with the mystery of the Princes in the Tower at its heart.

The role of RNA Chair was one I enjoyed enormously and I did all I could to further the cause of romantic fiction during my time on the committee, but I was very happy to hand it on to the next generation of romantic fiction writers. They are doing a truly stellar job during the most difficult and unpredictable situation that could have hit us all and I admire them so much for it, and all the member of the RNA who are making this 60th anniversary year very special despite the challenges.
What was it about the protagonist’s story that attracted you to the lady behind The Forgotten Sister?

My dual time fiction centres on women whom I think of as being in the footnotes of history, those characters whose stories have been told usually from a male perspective or not at all. In this instance I was drawn to Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley who was, of course the favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. Both Elizabeth and Dudley are big characters whose love story tends to dominate the narrative and Amy is usually portrayed, if she’s mentioned at all, as a helpless victim who dies in mysterious circumstances. I wanted to give Amy some agency and tell the story of her life and death from her own perspective, and also to look at how the legend and myths about her grew after her death.

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How did you learn about the history of Lady Diana Spencer of The Woman in the Golden Dress?

There’s a room at Lydiard House in Swindon, where I am a trustee that is devoted to Lady Diana Spencer and her artistic work. The very first time I stepped into the “blue closet” as it’s known, I was enchanted by her drawings and the designs she did for Wedgwood. I went away to read more about her and her life. It was intriguing to discover that not only was she an ancestor of the late Princess of Wales as well as her namesake, but that their personal lives had some uncanny parallels.

 

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What are the specific challenges of writing an absorbing dual time novel?

For me the challenges are huge, firstly because I’m not by nature a planner but a dual time novel really does need careful plotting in order to weave the two timelines together successfully. Then there’s the challenge of fitting what is essentially two stories into one book and giving them both sufficient depth. Also, there is the issue of making sure that the present and the historical strands are both equally compelling. Most authors have a preference for writing one over the other but it’s our job to make sure the readers enjoy them both equally.
What do you do to stay fit – physically and mentally in this lock down situation?

I find that my physical and mental health are connected even more closely than usual at the moment. We’re all under enormous stress and living through an unprecedented situation and we all have to find the means to cope. I make sure that I take a walk each day – I’m fortunate to have a dog so I always have a walking companion and we’ve been exploring all the walks in our local area. I also do a Pilates class each week via zoom and an additional workout each week. That’s about the best I can do as I have an auto-immune condition that varies considerably from day to day in its effects; if I’m not feeling great, I will still go out and sit in the garden so I get fresh air and sunshine.
Mentally I find that having a schedule each day helps me to concentrate and I also limit the number of times I watch or read the news. Keeping in touch with friends and family remotely and having the dog to cuddle are the other two essentials for me!
How has the current situation affected the voluntary work you do with the Guide Dogs?

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We’ve had to put our work with Guide Dogs on hold at present as it isn’t possible to train puppies in all of the things that they need to do with shops, libraries and other venues closed and travel at a minimum. Fortunately, it’s still possible to do plenty of training in things like obedience, and to keep dogs entertained and interested with other games and activities! There’s going to be a lot of work to do when we’re all allowed to go out again!

I wish you, your new novel and hope that you and guide dog, Lucy, stay safe and have lots of hugs! 

 

In Sickness and In Health

In Sickness and in Health
Class prejudice is inbuilt within our culture going back centuries. In In Sickness and In Health Sophia and Isaac are meant to be together, but like so many people whose love was thwarted within the early nineteenth century, propriety, social divisions, war and need prevented this from happening.

Survival of the under classes depended upon their good health and equally good fortune as there was no health care, and knowledge of the human condition was limited, superstition and trial and error were rife. Therefore, being healthy to provide a living was essential. Isaac can provide for Sophia through his good fortune and hard work, but will not be a ‘cripple’ and a burden to her.

He and Sophia are a love match. However, he would not have dared approach Sophia if she had not been so open and honest with her desire for him. Naivety and youthful passion resulted in Isaac being sent away; his father dies in his absence. Yet, Joshua was forever proud of his son and would only wish Isaac happiness with Sophia.

Love finds a way, but at a high cost.

I have always been fascinated by the major changes that happened in the early nineteenth century. It was a period of great conflict and change: a time of war, pressgangs, and extreme social, agricultural, religious and political changes. All these impacted on the ordinary people who were left behind, whilst the wars with Napoleon dragged on.

The countryside was changing as mills were being built and cottage industries suffered, along with their communities. The population gravitated to these places of work and life in the countryside changed.

The government taxed its people harshly, whilst still fearing the possibility of a revolution as had happened in France. It was hardly surprising then that smuggling and opportunists abounded, yet in plying the trade they gave coin to an enemy. Some gangs were known for their violence, others were less so and merely supplied a ready market that crossed over social rank and was often funded by a moneyed man.

With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, Luddite activities and the growth of new money, lives were changing and the old money was feeling threatened.

In the cities ‘society’ had strict rules: influence and connections were so very important.
In my books the settings are more remote. These influences mean nothing when a character is dealing with survival, either their own or someone who they have met. So boundaries are crossed, rules of society are broken or are made irrelevant.

Most of my titles are set in an area of the country that I love: North Yorkshire, with its beautiful coast and moors.

My villages of Beckton and Gorebeck are based upon typical North Yorkshire market towns, such as: Guisborough, Yarm, Thirsk, Helmsley. By 1815 both have their own small mills situated just outside the towns.

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Ebton is based on the well known Victorian town of Saltburn-by-Sea,only my version is as I imagine it to have been at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Love is a timeless essential of life. Throughout history, love in all its forms is a constant: be it passionate, caring, needy, manipulative, possessive or one that is strong enough to cross barriers of culture or faith. When two souls meet in a situation which takes them out of their normal social strata or into a shared danger, a relationship forms as the adventure unfolds.

If you have enjoyed reading any of my titles I would really appreciate it if you could take a moment to leave a review either on Amazon or Goodreads, or wherever you wish.
It is helpful to read feedback and I am always interested in what my readers think, or would like to read next.

Stay safe in these difficult times everyone wherever you are in the world!

If you are a new writer or need advice on a work-in-progress I also offer an independent manuscript appraisal service and/or mentoring, always aiming to give constructive and professional, honest feedback. I have worked as a creative writing tutor for over fifteen years. You can contact me here for information and fees.

Meet bestselling author, journalist, interviewer, tutor, agony aunt and speaker, Jane Wenham Jones

Welcome, Jane!

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You grew up with quite a varied and strong literary heritage in your family. Were you encouraged to write and develop your own ideas from childhood, surrounded by books and such talent?

Yes, I was always encouraged to read and to write. My father wrote some textbooks (he was an English teacher), my mother writes poetry, my grandfather Frank Brookesmith had a memoir I Remember the Tall Ships published in his 80s (Foyles put on a window display!).  And his daughter, my aunt Shelagh Macdonald, won the Whitbread Prize (as it was then) for the Children’s Book of the Year back in 1977. Sadly,  she now has severe dementia and her decline was the inspiration for the mother in my last novel, Mum in the Middle. Uncles various have also been published in different ways and a couple of cousins are journalists. So writing was always seen as A Good Thing.

When did your first break as a published writer happen? Was it non-fiction or fiction first?

Short stories for women’s magazines. I started writing these when I was at home with a toddler and my brain had all but atrophied. When that toddler locked me in a cupboard and I had to talk him through phoning 999* to get me out, I realised how many stories there are all around us. And ended up publishing about a hundred of them. (For the full dramatic saga see my first non-fiction book Wannabe a Writer?)

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

I often seem to include a storyline about some form of mental illness. That is in my family too.

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Many of the real issues such as dementia and cancer included are very serious and are given total understanding and respect for the impact they have on the character diagnosed and those supporting them. How do you balance this with the overall tone of your books which is humorous and optimistic?

It’s odd isn’t it, really? But humour has always been my way of getting through. There is a lot of black comedy in the worst things that happen to us, if you know where to look. And I think it is possible to still find humour and optimism in everyday life even when the chips are really down. So I suppose I don’t have any problem writing about bleak issues and amusing encounters side by side.  I recently found some parodies I wrote for my sisters after  our parents had split up in my late teens, and everyone was being even more bonkers than usual, and they made us all laugh hysterically all over again  – even though it was all quite appallingly  dysfunctional at the time.

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You capture the essence and conflicts within strong female friendship groups well. Have you been strongly influenced by female friends/peers in your own life?

Friends are everything. Both the male and female variety. But I have some wonderful women friends who have been amazingly supportive to me. Both in the publishing world – lovely pals in the RNA for example – and in my personal life.

Over the course of your novels have you noticed the social trends affecting women changing dramatically such as: the boomerang effect, empty nesters, and the sandwich effect between younger and older generations?

Absolutely! I was very aware of this when writing both Mum in the Middle and The Big Five OWomen in their forties and fifties can no longer be pigeonholed. I wrote recently that my earliest memory of my grandmother was of  a tiny, silver-haired old lady who wore a pinny, was keen on gardening and polished the teapot a lot. I calculate now that at the time, she was younger than I am! Her parents were long gone and all of her four children had their own homes. Today women of this age will still have ambitions for their careers, might have teenagers at home, or kids even younger, or be supporting adult offspring who can’t afford a place of their own. They’ll still expect to scrub up well for a hot night out, will probably go to the gym, or dance classes or be training for a marathon, and may well be online dating.  Just at the time when their elderly parents start kicking off! We are the stretched generation – in more ways than one!

I’ve also had reason  to revisit my third novel that was published in 2005 – One Glass is Never Enough. Re-reading the opening pages – which is a party scene –  for the first time in a decade, I was struck by how some of the sexual banter I had included would be considered  unacceptable in the current climate. The world has moved on a pace since I started writing – which rather dates me, doesn’t it? 🙂

Mum in the Middle

What has being a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association meant to you over the years?

A great deal. Prominent members like Katie Fforde, Jill Mansell and Judy Astley have been exceptionally kind and supportive to me and when I first pitched up to a conference knowing nobody, Catherine Jones made me laugh till  I cried.  So many, many lovely RNA members have become good friends  and are a constant source of inspiration and joy. I have especially loved acting as compere at the RNA awards for the last eight years. It is one of the  annual highspots.

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

 “Get the story down.”

But my own best piece of advice is: Marry someone rich!

Each author has their own favoured way of working. Do you have a strong work ethic: rise early, write late, or with such a hectic and varied schedule work as you move from event to event?

Oh it’s utter chaos. If I’m on a deadline, I get myself out of bed early and glue myself to the chair – out of sheer panic. But generally, on a day at home, I potter about, and tidy the airing cupboard, think I’ll make some bread, send emails and then suddenly – EEK – it’s 4pm and I’ve not even opened the manuscript. But I do do a lot of different things – so it is quite hard to stick to a rigid routine. I usually get there in the end.

How and when did you venture into interviewing and public speaking?

The speaking came about from being asked to talk to a local  “Ladies’ Dining Club” when my first novel was published.  I think they were a bit shocked – usually they had someone talking about flower-arranging or the history of the rubber stamp. But I had a really fun evening and then I got other bookings from word-of-mouth. The Rotary and Rotarians and such-like .

The interviewing started when I’d been on a panel at the Guildford Book Festival and the then director, the late Glenis Pycraft, invited me to chair a similar panel the following year. It grew from there and now I work at several different festivals each year and am a founder member of BroadstairsLit here where I live, which is huge fun.  I really love interviewing on stage. And I’ve been lucky enough to chat to a lot of top authors.

Do you embrace technology and social media with enthusiasm?

I would like to! But I’m not the best at it. I enjoy twitter (@JaneWenhamJones) but I’m a bit sporadic about it – so I’ve never really built that  up. And I’m hit and miss with facebook also – it’s all feast or famine.  I don’t fully understand how to best utilise my author page either (yes I know I should find out but it’s too easy to lose your life in this stuff.)  I’m envious of people who seem to just slide it in to their lives and have zillions hanging on their every word.  For example, I love Instagram –  which I came late to – but still haven’t properly grasped this “my story” business. I need a friendly seven-year old to instruct me…

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

I always think that the wonderful thing about this game is that every day there is the potential for something uplifting to happen. A foreign rights sale or a lovely review or a little surge in the amazon ratings. The are all highlights at the time.  It was exciting when Prime Time was shortlisted for the RNA awards some years ago and when Perfect Alibis was optioned by the BBC. Tho unfortunately that came to nothing in the end. Playing the chat show host for Peter James at Brighton’s Theatre Royal to an audience of over 700 was pretty fab…

What are your inspirations or ambitions now?

Oh the screen rights, my own TV show – you know the usual modest stuff… 🙂

 What project are you currently working on?

                             A 10th book and the 2020 programme for BroadstairsLit

 

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I love your hairstyle and wondered if there was a point when you decided that you were going to redefine your image, or if it was something that has just developed over time?

It started with my very first novel Raising the Roof.  I thought it would be a laugh to dye my hair the colour of the book jacket – which was turquoise and purple, as they all were then! You couldn’t get the fun colours you can now, so I had hair extensions put in, in the right shades and thus begun my love affair with multi-coloured locks. Everyone’s at it these days but I was a pioneer! People used to stop me in the street to comment on it.

What do you do to keep yourself fit away from the computer and to relax?

Yoga, walking, reading – of course. In the summer I play bad tennis if I can find anyone equally bad to join me. Two years ago I took custody of a tiny, flea-ridden, runt-of-the-litter black kitten and I have turned into a mad cat lady with bells on. Much time is spent admiring the now-huge-and-glossy creature that is Nugget (named by my son after a hop they make real ale with – spelled with two Ts – and not a deep-fried chicken snack) and attending to his every whim.  He totally rules the roost and has brought me huge pleasure. I definitely feel calmer and happier since he’s been around. Even when he wakes me at 3.am with a mouse in his jaws…

What is next for Jane Wenham-Jones?

A nice glass of Macon blanc villages I think…. possibly with some crisps….

Many thanks for taking the time to answer all of my questions and sharing some insight into your amazingly varied world.

I wish you every success in 2020 – Merry Christmas, Jane!

And to you – thanks for having me xxxx

A day in the life of Margaret James

A warm welcome back to Margaret James who is sharing a day in her busy life as an author, tutor, mentor and journalist.

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My writing days are from Monday to Friday – I try to have weekends off to do family and friends stuff – and begin at about ten in the morning. I’ve tried starting earlier, but I’m an owl rather than a lark, and find I can’t write anything before I’ve had that second coffee.

So, from ten o’clock onwards I do some online housekeeping – answering emails, writing blog posts, spending a bit of time on social media, and making notes for future articles and author profiles in Writing Magazine, the UK’s bestselling title for authors of all kinds.

I’ll have a break about eleven-thirty and take a walk around my very tiny inner city garden, snipping anything that’s grown too big for its space and checking the bird baths and feeders are full.

The afternoons and evenings are my most creative times. So then I’ll be busy writing articles, working on a novel (there is always a novel in development) and maybe writing a few short stories, too. My local writing group sets homework (I know – it’s outrageous!), giving us a one or two word theme, and asking us to produce a piece of work up to about 300 words long. I’ve written lots of pieces of flash fiction that way.

I might also do some reading for competitions. I’m involved in several and I enjoy reading the entries. I never know when something amazing is going to pop up with the next click. Some competition entrants also ask for reports on their stories, and it’s good for me to have to think hard about what they’ve written. Oops, I sometimes think, as I point out that the author has spent the first few pages describing the set-up for the story, I’ve been guilty of that. I’m part of the team that runs Creative Writing Matters, and we organise several short story competitions every year, as well as the Exeter Novel Prize.

I’m also the author of three creative writing guides with my writing partner Cathie Hartigan. We’re very proud of the success of The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook.

The late afternoons and early evenings are for winding down, perhaps meeting friends in town, maybe going to the cinema or having something to eat, and having the obligatory good natter, too. Then it’s home to open my laptop again, just to make a few notes on what I’ve done that day, and before I know it it’s two o’clock in the morning and I really, really, really need to go to bed!

My crime and mystery novel The Final Reckoning is published by Ruby Fiction and is available in ebook and audio format from all the usual platforms, including Amazon and Kobo.

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Here’s the blurb.

What if you had to return to the place that made you fall apart?

When Lindsay Ellis was a teenager, she witnessed the aftermath of the violent murder of her lover’s father. The killer was never found.

Traumatised by what she saw, Lindsay had no choice but to leave her home village of Hartley Cross and its close-knit community behind.

Now, years later, she must face up to the terrible memories that haunt her still. But will confronting the past finally allow Lindsay to heal, or will her return to Hartley Cross unearth dangerous secrets and put the people she has come to care about most at risk?

I always love to hear from readers, so please feel very welcome to contact me!

https://www.facebook.com/margaret.james.5268
https://twitter.com/majanovelist
https://margaretjamesblog.blogspot.com/

 

Meet romantic novelist Jane Cable

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Your first writing successes with The Cheesemaker’s House were very impressive. How did this help you find your way as a successful author?

The Cheesemaker’s House doing so well in a national competition gave me the confidence that I could tell a story, but also that I had a significant amount to learn. One of the judges, Sophie Hannah, took me to one side and told me that although she loved my authorial voice there was a great deal of polishing to do. I didn’t have the knowledge to polish it – I was self-taught so barely knew what she meant – so I took myself off to Winchester Writers’ Festival and began my real writing journey.

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What was the best advice you have been given by an experienced writer?

One of the tutors at Winchester that year was Margaret Graham and she has proved hugely influential. I knew nothing when I first attended her workshops – I’d never even heard of ‘show not tell’. She showed me (not told me!) what it meant and how to use it; she taught me about using all the senses, and so much more. She’s an incredible writer and a great tutor and I would urge anyone starting out to get hold of her wonderful little book, The Writer’s Springboard.

Please tell us about your exciting new release Another You.

Yes, the release of Another You has been exciting for me. With our wonderful mutual publisher, Sapere Books, it’s been given a great start in life so is selling well and getting some great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

Another You final cover.jpgIt’s set in Studland Bay in Dorset around the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day, and tells the story of Marie, who while struggling to escape her poisonous marriage meets a charming American soldier walking on the cliffs. But nothing is what it seems, and so begins a chain of events that will change her life forever.

How would you describe a Jane Cable novel?

Romance with a twist. My strapline is ‘the past is never dead’ and that’s a theme which runs through all my books.

How do you balance your research/writing/social media time?

Not always as well as I could! Whether I’m writing or researching depends on the stage I’m at with the manuscript, and I maybe spend too much time on social media, Twitter especially. I say maybe, because I do encourage interaction while I’m there and it’s now leading to some valuable contacts and activity, which is broadening the reach of my books.

Are you an owl or a lark?

Lark. Definitely. I get up early and start to write straight away. I’m good for nothing by late afternoon.

Do you plot your stories out first before writing the first draft?

The answer used to be ‘no’, but recently that has changed. I had an idea in my head for something slightly different, and when I approached Sapere they wanted a detailed outline and sample chapters. So I had to plan. Now I’m about to start writing the bulk of the manuscript and it’s useful to have the journey mapped out, but even when I was writing the sample chapters the characters began to do their own thing. And to be honest, I’m going to let them. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that they know best!

How influential have strong women been in your life and have they inspired your heroines?

My heroines do not always start out strong – Marie in Another You is battered and cowed by her marriage – and it’s her journey to find her strength that fascinated me. I guess I just like writing about wounded people. Life throws so many curve balls and people react to them in different ways, which is fascinating. But healing is possible – probable, even – and I like to show that in my books. It’s quite a recurring theme for me, now I come to think of it.

There are strong women in my family, and they have inspired me the most. Both my mother and my grandmother fought to make sure their children had better lives and although they were very loving women, they had rods of steel in their backs too. My mother taught me that above all I should be independent and it has proved a valuable gift.

How important has being a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association been to you?

It’s been hugely important. It’s a fantastic network and when you embrace it, it embraces you back. The support is well and truly mutual. I’ve also made some great friends by being a member, most importantly when I moved to Cornwall. We don’t have a chapter here but meet informally and it’s great fun.

Other than reading what do you do to relax away from the world of books?

I’m an outdoors person so I love to walk and of course live in a great part of the world to do it. I also love the sea, although this year I’ve had some shoulder problems so I haven’t been in it as much as I would like. I love to travel too and adore spending time planning our next trip. Or the one after. Or the one after that…

You are passionate about ‘Words for the Wounded? How did you become involved with this inspirational charity?

Margaret Graham is the moving force behind this charity and at first I wanted to pay her back for all the help and support she’d given me. When I lived in Chichester our local independent authors’ group, Chindi, organised a mini litfest over a weekend and raised almost £1,000 for them. We were so proud.

Words for the Wounded exists to raise funds to help injured service personnel, and because the founders underwrite the running costs themselves every penny raised goes for the intended purpose. I’ll be making a donation for every Amazon review of Another You.

What is next for Jane Cable?

I’ve just delivered my next manuscript to Sapere and the book should be out towards the end of the year. It’s called Winter Skies and, like Another You, it’s a contemporary romance looking back to World War Two. It’s set in the Lincolnshire heartland of Bomber Command, and is about Rachel, who is trapped in a cycle of destructive relationships. But the past has a habit of repeating itself, so maybe it can provide the impetus she needs to set her free.

Social media links:
www.janecable.com
Twitter @JaneCable
Facebook Jane Cable, Author
Goodreads 

 

Meet bestselling author Liz Fenwick

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Liz Fenwick

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Do you embrace technology and social media with enthusiasm?

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

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

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

What project are you working on now?

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

What is next for Liz Fenwick?

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

 

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

Liz F

Catching up with Linda Stratmann

Welcome back, Linda.
Congratulations on becoming the new Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association!

Photographs by Gary Stratmann
Linda, what is your vision for the CWA as the new Chair?
One of the greatest pleasures of being a member of the CWA has been the people I have met and the friends I have made. I joined in 2004 and have served as Membership Secretary, Dagger Liaison Officer and Vice Chair. Seeing the membership numbers grow, with new Chapters formed both at home and abroad has been a rewarding and exciting experience.
The benefits to our members as listed on our website, are substantial. We are doing so much more to interact with other organisations, supporting libraries, booksellers and publishers and have established National Crime Reading Month, and formed the Crime Readers Association, which is free to join, and provides a regular newsletter to over 10,000 subscribers and bi-monthly Case Files.
The CWA has never been in a more vibrant and healthy state than it is now. For that I must express my gratitude to all the former Chairs, whose contribution has made the Association what it is today. I must especially thank Martin Edwards, who in the last two years has striven to make us more businesslike and efficient. Martin has established a CWA archive at Gladstone’s Library, a beautiful location which holds regular events, notably the crime writing related Alibis in the Archive which has proved extremely popular.
I can assure everyone that I do not intend to be the new broom that sweeps away the past. Neither do I want to rush into new ventures before we are ready. The foundation we have now is a firm one, and I want to consolidate what we have before considering how we can move on in the ever-changing world of publishing. I do want to further develop the already formed links with the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of Authors as well as other crime, thriller and mystery writers associations worldwide.
Above all, I see the CWA as an organisation which should serve all its members at whatever stage they are in their writing career; whether debut, mid-career or long-established. We all have something both to contribute and to gain. The CWA is the flagship organisation for crime writers, and a brand of quality. The Dagger prizes we award annually are a recognition of the best in crime writing. My hope is that the future will further strengthen that position.
I wish you and the CWA ongoing and even greater success!

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Twitter – @LindaStratmann
Linda Stratmann is the author of thirteen non-fiction books mainly about true crime, but her work also includes Chloroform, the Quest for Oblivion, a history of the use and misuse of chloroform, and three biographies, notably The Marquess of Queensberry: Wilde’s Nemesis. The Secret Poisoner chronicles the efforts of science and the law to tackle poison murder in the nineteenth century. She has recently edited a new volume in the Notable British Trials Series, The Trial of the Mannings.
Linda also writes two fiction series. The Frances Doughty Mysteries set in1880s Bayswater, feature a clever and determined lady detective, whose adventures explore aspects of Victorian life such as diet, education, medicine, women’s rights, fear of premature burial and the fashion for cycling.
The second series is set in 1870s Brighton. Mina Scarletti is a deceptively diminutive lady with a twisted spine, whose boldness and confidence enable her to overcome her apparent disadvantages. Mina writes horror and ghost stories and exposes the activities of fraudulent spirit mediums who prey on the vulnerable bereaved.