An Interview with Alison May

Director Alison MayI am delighted to welcome the new chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Alison May. Welcome and congratulations, Alison!

Before we talk about the RNA I would like to ask you about your own writing life and you’re your lovely books written independently or as one half of Juliet Bell.

What were your first breakthrough moments as a published writer?

I sold my first book, Sweet Nothing, in 2013 and it was actually the very first novel that I wrote. I’d been writing seriously for 11 years at that point though but it had taken me about six of those to work out that I wanted to write a novel. So my biggest and first major ‘breakthrough’ moment as an author was probably realising that I wasn’t built to a be a Very Serious Playwright, but am much happier writing novels.

My second big breakthrough was discovering the RNA’s New Writer’s Scheme, which I joined in 2011. The New Writers’ Scheme gives unpublished authors membership of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and a critique on a full manuscript each year from a working author in your sub-genre. Joining the RNA also gave me access to a whole world that I never understood before – a world of writers, but also editors and agents. I think it takes a village to shepherd a novel from idea to publication and the RNA is my village.

You co-write novels with writer and TV journalist Janet Gover, as Juliet Bell. Does this present very different challenges to writing your own novels?

Completely different. Neither of us are big planners when we’re writing on our own – Janet is probably more of a planner than me but that’s not saying much. Writing collaboratively we have to plan. We hardly ever actually write together in the same room so we have to plan the story to stop either one of us getting over excited and killing off a character the other desperately needs in the next chapter. That makes it a really different writing experience.

Writing collaboratively is also a great way to stop you from being precious about your own work. Having a writing partner who can, and will, just put a red line through your masterpiece is a sobering experience but ultimately a very healthy one I think for any writer.

How would you describe an Alison May novel?

That’s tricky! I started my career writing romantic comedies, and I still love to write comedy. I’m planning a return to that genre after I finish my current novel-in-progress. But, my most recent Alison May book, All That Was Lost, is neither romantic nor comedic. It’s an emotion-driven story about a woman who’s built her whole life on one single lie – the lie that she can talk to the dead.

How would you describe a Juliet Bell novel?

Juliet Bell writes modern retellings of misunderstood classics. She’s a sucker for a Bronte novel with a hero who is really anything but heroic!

What key advice would you share with aspiring writers?

Read lots and write lots. There is no substitute for actually getting words down on the page.

It’s definitely worth investing whatever time and money you can spare in developing your craft. I’m a big fan of writing courses and retreats – I run them myself and you should definitely all come on one – but they’re something to do if you are able on top of actually writing not instead of it.

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

I’m currently working on book 9, so you’d think that by now I’d have a definite process, wouldn’t you? Realistically it’s different for every book. There are a few constants though. I write horribly shoddy first drafts, and do most of the work on shaping the idea into an actual novel when I edit and revise. I always hate the book at around twenty thousand words, and regularly chuck out the opening 20k of a first draft and start again. I do very little plot planning and what I do I generally never look at while I’m actually writing. So what process I have is messy and disordered but if I try to organise and plan more and create order then I don’t write at all. It turns out messiness suits my writer brain.

 What project(s) are you working on next?

I’m currently working on a dual timeline contemporary and historical novel about witchhunts, both literal and metaphorical. It’s my first novel with a substantial historical storyline – the earliest I’ve gone in time before in 1967, and this goes back to 1695 so it’s a big departure for me from writing contemporary fiction, but I’m really excited about it.

You have just taken over from the lovely Nicola Cornick as chair and next year is very important as the RNA is 60!

What is your vision for the future of the RNA?

I see the next couple of years for the RNA as being about two things. Firstly I want to protect and nurture the things that are already so brilliant about the organisation – the sense of community, the mutual support, and the generosity towards new writers. I’m really keen to ensure that that sense of community continues and to ensure that it’s an inclusive community that welcomes writers of all forms of romantic fiction and from all backgrounds.

Secondly, I think every Chair wants to develop the association and make sure we keep moving forward. We have our diamond anniversary year coming up in 2020 with lots of events planned and lots of online activity to help our members engage directly with readers. We’re also working to develop some new education activities, alongside our existing New Writers’ Scheme, to provide professional development opportunities for both published and unpublished authors.

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

So much. It’s almost impossible to overstate the career benefits of joining the RNA for me. I found my first publisher after a recommendation from my New Writers’ Scheme reader. I heard about my agent through a contact I made in the RNA. It’s a genuine privilege to be involved in leading the organisation.

I also can’t overstate the personal benefits. I’ve already said that the RNA is my village in writing terms, but that’s true in life terms as well. My RNA friends are some of the first people I message in a crisis or turn to celebrate good news.

How has the romance genre changed since you joined?

There are always trends and fashions in romantic fiction. I joined the RNA around the time Fifty Shades of Grey came out and kickstarted a boom in erotic romance. At the moment we’re seeing a big peak in sales of lighter, more escapist fiction. Sagas are also selling in huge numbers at the moment, often set in the mid twentieth century, and following a heroine, or group of heroines, through a range of trials in their lives, not just finding love.

Romantic authors are also at the forefront of tackling issues raised by movements like ‘Me too’. It’s absolutely right that we’re thinking about consent as a central part of how we write about sex and relationships.

LGBTQIA+ romance is also finding new readers at the moment which is brilliant to see. We want readers to be able to access as wide a range of romantic stories as possible – every reader deserves to see their own version of Happy Ever After on the page. And if you’re a reader who can’t find that in a book yet, why not join the New Writers’ Scheme and write your own?

Looking forward, how excited or optimistic are you about the future of the romance genre within publishing?

Incredibly excited. If you look at Netflix and other streaming services you can see that there’s a huge appetite for romantic stories. As romantic novelists we’re competing with all of those other forms of entertainment, but ultimately I believe that story is king. If you can tell a satisfying romantic story then there are readers out there desperate to hear that story.

Do you think organisations can stay genre specific, or is there a need for a more open working relationship within the industry, which reaches out to other genre specific organisations? 

I don’t think it’s an either/or question. There are no plans at the moment for the RNA to stop being a genre-specific organisation. I think there are genre-specific challenges that it’s good to be able to view as a single group. In romantic fiction, for example, we’re still fighting the perception that books predominantly written and read by women are somehow ‘less than’ and I think it’s valuable to have a strong genre-specific voice to address those sorts of issues.

But I’m also really keen to work across genres with other organisations. We’re really pleased to have a strong relationship with the CWA for example. Some of our local groups have already organised joint events, and I hope more will do so in the future. We also share ideas with one another at a Chairperson level and I think both organisations are stronger for having that relationship.

BIOGRAPHY
Alison May is a novelist, short story writer, blogger and creative writing tutor who grew up in North Yorkshire, and now lives in Worcester. She worked as a waitress, a shop assistant, a learning adviser, an advice centre manager, a freelance trainer, and now a maker-upper of stories.

She won the RNA’s Elizabeth Goudge trophy in 2012, and her short stories have been published by Harlequin, Choc Lit and Black Pear Press. Alison has also been shortlisted in the Love Stories and RoNA Awards. Alison writes romantic comedies and emotion driven fiction. Her latest novel, All That Was Lost, was published by Legend Press in September 2018.

She also writes modern retellings of misunderstood classics, in collaboration with Janet Gover, under the penname Juliet Bell (www.julietbell.co.uk & Twitter @JulietBellBooks).

Alison is currently Chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Website: http://www.alison-may.co.uk

Twitter: twitter.com/MsAlisonMay

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AlisonMayAuthor

Instagram: instrgram.com/MsAlisonMay

BUY LINKS:

Juliet Bell – The Heights

Juliet Bell – The Other Wife

 

Alison May – All That Was Lost

Sally Bridgewater – From Newbie to Novelist!

I am delighted to be interviewing a ‘Newbie’ writer, Sally Bridgewater, this month. November is the month when many eager writers embark on the challenge of creating 50,000 words in thirty days as they join the NaNoWriMo challenge. Sally has taken this to the extreme and decided to try writing them in one day. 

 

Welcome, Sally!

Where, when and why did you develop the idea of attempting this personal challenge of moving from ‘Newbie to novelist’ within 24 hours?

Since graduating a couple of years ago I have supposedly been focusing on becoming an author, but distractions (like bills) keep getting in the way. I was getting quite frustrated at not having finished a story yet (apart from one short-ish one here), and never finishing any stage of my goal was really drain my enthusiasm. So actually my primary purpose is to go from Newbie to Novelist in 30 days, and get to ‘The End’ no matter how many words it takes. I added the extra #50Kinaday Wordathon part of the challenge when I stumbled across this podcast from Matt Ahlschlager back in March or April sometime. He makes it sound simple, even quite easy to take on NaNo in a day. I remember I was walking the dog down by our local canal while listening to it, and I could feel the idea of doing it myself getting lodged in my mind. I think I want to do it mainly because it is a neat way to make sure I get a lot of words down on my way to the full first draft. Also, I like turning my life into ‘events’ that I can share with my friends and family, and this one gets particularly fun reactions from people.

This is the equivalent of a writing marathon. How have you prepared for the event physically and for your novel?

Physically speaking, I am just trying to keep myself well and avoid getting too stressed out about it. I could do better though – I often stay up late, I don’t eat enough fruit and I don’t do much exercise, so avoiding the autumn sniffles so far has been mostly luck.
I have been ‘in training’ of a sort over the last few days by trying out a standing desk (I made it myself with two boxes under my laptop and a pile of Writing Magazines under my keyboard). It will definitely help me avoid bad posture if I’m not sitting for the whole day.
Of course, I have also become quite obsessed with my typing speed, and whether I can concentrate for twenty-four hours straight. I don’t know how much direct practice I can do for those things though; I am just going to wait and see. At least I have past experience of working fast when I was writing weekly last-minute essays during my degree.
I have been busy (some might say distracted) preparing the online infrastructure, such as my website and my Facebook page, in time for November. Because of this I have not yet started the plotting for my novel, and at the time of writing there are only 7 days left before it all starts! I have a colleague at work called Tina who has started chanting ‘Plot! Plot! Plot!’ whenever she sees me – I think she’s quite concerned… I work quite well under pressure though so I’m hoping one week is long enough to plan a novel, right?

Have you ever completed the NaNoWriMo challenge before?

Yes, I have ‘won’ (got to the 50,000 word mark) NaNoWriMo for the last two years. I also did Camp NaNoWriMo in July (it is the same concept but less difficult as you can set your own wordcount goal). It really helped me to start writing again. I had heard about it during my degree but didn’t have time to try it, so I promised myself I would do it when I graduated. Both years I worked on a novel about a deaf girl and a Romani boy (they are both prodigies: the boy for music and the girl for mazes). I will finish that novel one day, but I wanted to go with something fresh for this year’s challenge.
The first year I did NaNoWriMo, November 2013, I got as involved as I could with the community, looking around the forums, visiting my local ‘Come Write In’ group each Saturday, and signing up to have a NaNo veteran mentor. I happened to get one of the kindest people on the planet as my mentor, I am sure of it – they even posted me a handmade care package from America, including knitted fingerless gloves and a little jar of coffee. For NaNoWriMo 2016, my fourth, I won’t try and do anything like this Newbie to Novelist challenge again. Instead I will put my experience to some use and take on a couple of mentees myself. My goal is to go above and beyond to encourage them, like my mentor did.

You obviously love writing and reading. Which is your favourite genre to work in?

I’m not sure I know what my favourite genre is to write in, as I have barely started exploring different ones. The story I worked on before for NaNo was a historical adventure set in a slightly-alternative French Revolution; the one I am planning now is science fiction, set in the far future on a different planet. I don’t actually feel qualified to tackle either of those genres, and they are not what I mostly read – they just came out of whatever ideas I had at the time.
I read very widely and in fact I would say that I am addicted to novels. Many a time I read for hours when I should be doing other things, like sleeping. Looking at my bookshelf I can see a lot of fantasy in particular – Game of Thrones, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke – and some steampunk sci-fi (the Mortal Engines series by Philip Reeve). There’s a lot of my old favourites from growing up. I don’t think I am particularly original in my tastes, I absolutely adore Harry Potter and I even have all the Twilight books (I know they are very problematic, but I was exactly the right age of teenage girl when they first came out…).

Where did your love of writing begin?

I definitely have my parents to thank for giving me a love of reading and writing. They put in hours of extra work with me outside of school when I was really young to teach me how to understand written language (I remember jumping from word to word on pieces of paper across the floor of the living room). They also read bedtime stories every night for my whole childhood, and when my sister and I got ‘too old’ for such things, we started reading books aloud to our parents instead, or as a family. I still do read aloud with my boyfriend – it is a really good way of sharing a story with someone. I feel that the best characters from those early bedtime stories have stayed with me. For instance, to this day I consider Matilda from Roald Dahl to be a role model (and Tim Minchin’s adaptation as a musical is brilliant too).
Wanting to be an illustrator and an author are the earliest ambitions I can remember. I wrote a lot of story fragments from being very young (some got saved from our ancient PC and I still have them). When I was 12 my sister turned 10 years’ old and I wrote her a toy-sized trilogy about her stuffed Panda going on an adventure with our hamster across the globe. And when I was in high school and not having a great time (some bullying and so on), I would sometimes spend my break times scribbling in a notebook in the toilets. In the only detention I ever had (I was what one calls a ‘swot’) the headmaster set us to writing a story as punishment, and I couldn’t believe I was being told I could sit and just do my favourite thing for an hour. I was very busy practising my musical instruments usually though (I play violin and piano) so I didn’t make time for it properly until NaNoWriMo 2013.

How supportive are people being of your challenge?

I almost feel a bit silly telling people, because everybody does a double-take when I say how many words I am aiming to write in my Wordathon. Then they usually doubt whether such a thing is even possible, and finally express at least some degree of concern about me undertaking such a thing. I am glad I am getting people interested, but I didn’t want to alarm anyone!
I have had some lovely responses when I have asked for help with the project. I still haven’t done that enough though – apparently I just don’t have a knack for delegation. So if anyone can see a way that they could get involved, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. My e-mail address is new2nov@gmail.com.

What is next for Sally both with your writing and in your career?

Well, after getting this first draft under my belt, I want to leave it for a bit and then come back to the manuscript with fresh eyes in 2016 and edit it. I guess in the long run I want to find myself an agent and look at getting published, but I’m not expecting my first novel to be good enough to do that.
In the meantime, I won’t just be waiting around idly for luck and traditional publishing methods to find me. I am hoping to build up support for my writing by using the crowd-funding platform Patreon. I am still figuring out how to run my own blog, so it will take me a while to discover the best way to self-publish, but if I go that route then I want to make a proper go of it.
I also have plans for my parallel career dream: setting up a social enterprise company to build a website of tools and resources to help people use their brains better. I call it ‘Think Sharp.’ It is going to be my attempt at improving the world, but I will only really have time to think about getting started on it in the New Year after I’ve done this!

Thank you for taking the time to share your ambitions with me. I wish you every success in achieving your goal on the day, but more than that in your literary ambitions over a longer and perhaps more sustainable writing career.

Thank you very much for having me on your blog, Val. I really appreciate it.

The future of romance with Pia Fenton

I would like to welcome back Pia Fenton to my blog (Christina Courtenay) who has been the RNA Chair for nearly two years.

Hi Pia!

NEC front LatestAs Valentine’s Day approaches can you share with us some of the major changes you have seen in the last couple of years within the world of romance?

I don’t think the world of romance has changed very much, but rather the publishing industry as a whole.  With the advent of ebooks and ereaders (and especially the Kindle which had a massive impact the year it was first launched in the UK), the way people read books has changed enormously in a very short space of time.  Things seem to have settled down a bit now though and paperbacks are holding their own, which is great (I love proper books myself!), but I think ebooks have given both readers and authors more freedom to read/write what they like.

As for the books themselves, the popularity of certain sub-genres come and go, but editors and agents are always saying they’re just looking for really good stories.  I think that if a story is gripping enough, it doesn’t matter what it’s about – good story-telling is key.

Are you excited about the future of romance as a genre?

Yes, I think it’s going from strength to strength.  The RNA commissioned some research into sales and trends recently, and it showed that figures for romantic fiction are going up year by year, which is fantastic.  People will always want love in their lives and I’m sure they will continue to want to read about it too.

You have branched into the Young Adult market. Could you share with us the inspiration for this exciting new venture?

I discovered a while back that I love reading YA fiction – it’s an amazing sub-genre where imagination seems to have no bounds.  Then I went to a high school reunion and it really made me think about my own teenage years, both all the fun I had and the angst that comes with being that age.  I attended an American high school for three years, which was a bit of a culture clash to begin with and it occurred to me that it would be fun to write a series of books with UK heroines and US heroes and so the Northbrooke High series was born.  I have now self-published the second book in the series, New England Crush.

What is next for Pia/Christina?

I have just finished edits for the third book in my Japanese trilogy – sequel to The Scarlet Kimono and The Gilded Fan – which is due out in paperback in August this year.  I’ve also started work on a new time slip novel, which is based on the final few months of the English civil war.  I love that period in history and was inspired to write about it as there are several ruined castles, destroyed during that time, near where I live. (Both these books are for adults, not YA).

More from Pia:

Character, plot or pace – which one comes first?

One of the most difficult issues a new writer faces is to know where they should begin their story. Creative writing books often advise that a story, whatever its length and genre, should begin at a point where something is happening. Ideally the protagonist, your main character, is facing the essence of drama – a conflict. I agree, but what is essential is that the reader should begin to establish a relationship with that character so that they want to read on to follow them on their journey through the story, to what will hopefully be a satisfying ending.

The initial conflict provides a situation, which brings out aspects of their character that should appeal to the reader as they face their dilemma. The background to these is the place – the setting. This will help set the era, the physical aspects – the stage – against which the characters are performing on the page.

A common mistake is to open with too much explanation about their character’s life before the current situation. This means the reader may become bored before they understand who the protagonist is and become interested in them as a person who they can relate to.

Every writer will be inspired differently by people, places and plot to create that spark, which drives them to convert an initial idea into the first gripping page of a novel.

For example:-

Phoebe’s Challenge: Phoebe is a young woman who works in a mill with her younger brother, Thomas. The idea for the opening was triggered by an illustration in a children’s book written about the hardship of life in cotton mills at the turn of the nineteenth century. I then created the evil overseer Benjamin Bladderwell as the main reason why it became imperative that Phoebe escapes. I liked the idea that the plot would become more complex if a mysterious stranger helped them. Without giving any spoilers away, this then broadened the whole plot out into the world of smuggling around the bay towns of North Yorkshire, England. A time when we were  at war with France. From here Phoebe and Thomas’s adventure involves more conflict amongst the different social classes and a life and death chase with a man who they do not know if they can trust. Over the pace of the adventure another thread is layered, that of the developing romance.

From one initial idea, others spark until what is created is a tightly written romance or mystery to be enjoyed. Wherever my initial idea comes from for a story, I always aim to take my readers on an adventure which will end at an optimistic point, where the main character has overcome problems and survived.

I am always fascinated to hear how other writers work, published or not. What inspires you to write? Where have your best ideas come from?

Meet the talent behind Valerie Holmes eBook covers, Jan Marshall!

jan_in_hat_picI am delighted to share an interview with Jan Marshall, the talented book-designer who has created the Valerie Holmes eBook covers.

What inspired you to become a graphic designer?

First of all, Val, thank you for inviting me to take part in this interview; I’m so flattered you asked me.

I suppose the simple answer to your question is I didn’t really do much choosing; graphic design rather chose me. Creative pursuits – mainly drawing with a pencil – had always been in my blood. So, all I had to do was pin down a way of converting my creative obsession into a way of making a living, and graphics was my answer.

You have a vast experience within the industry. How did you learn the job?

Art college was a great starting point, and I’d recommend it to anyone embarking on a career in the business – it taught me how to ‘think’ like a designer – but, like learning to drive, as soon as your training’s over, although you’re qualified, you’re not necessarily good at it yet. My first job, in an ad agency, made me aware of gaps in my art college education – mainly technical skills. So I spent some years in the typesetting and pre-press industry, where I absorbed essential hands-on skills, some of which I still use today: typography, artwork, hand-lettering, proofreading. Learning doesn’t ever end of course; especially since the advent of computers and rapidly changing software, designers’ skills must constantly be reinforced and updated.

What have been your personal highlights so far?

Derek & Clive cover pinkThe most rewarding time in my career has to be the ten years I spent immersed in the world of movies, creating designed materials for mainly Universal and Paramount films, ranging from huge outdoor posters to video covers and film-based interactive teaching aids for schools. I was privileged (and extremely proud) to work on movies as diverse as: Babe, The Rugrats Movie, Apollo 13, the three Pierce Brosnan Bond movies, The Addams Family Values; Dragonheart, Twister, Twelve Monkeys, and The Mummy. On a more personal note, another highlight came in the shape of a short thank you message. It was from the late, truly adorable Peter Cook, who, having briefed the job to the team in a safari suit and pith helmet, later described my design for the ‘Derek & Clive Get The Horn’ video sleeve as: “…the best I have ever seen on a video pack. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am”. I was thrilled too.

If I may, I’d like to give credit here to the rest of the talented design team from those days, especially the lovely Lizy Thompson, my hard-working right-hand woman and loyal friend.

 Of the various styles and techniques you use, which is your favourite?

The movie work taught me how to use photoshop to comp images and type in intricate detail – large media can be unforgiving of less than perfect retouching; a tiny error on screen can be seen at ten feet tall on a supersite poster! And that attention to detail has stayed with me; I get a great deal of enjoyment out of combining images and type to make tight, detailed book covers.

What is the technique used for the beautiful Valerie Holmes ebook covers?

Thank you for your lovely compliment, Val. When we embarked on this big project – to repackage more than 30 titles plus some new stories – we decided between us that, for speed, economy and ease, it would be best to ‘keep it simple’.

Your covers are incredibly enjoyable to illustrate, not least because, in the same way that characters in a novel seem to take on their own personalities, the people I draw for your delightful Valerie Homes stories emerge, almost accidentally, from their scribbly beginnings into fully formed ‘human beings’ with their own individual characteristics.

What other interests/hobbies do you enjoy?

In my work life, I’m embarking on an exciting (to me, anyway!) new venture to run alongside the cover design, that of proofreading and copy-editing, a discipline I used to love so much while working in typesetting all those years ago; I’m presently working through a certification course.

And I have lots of hobbies and pastimes: I sew, make jewellery, up-cycle junk, grow bonsai trees, cook, paint, draw… And I walk miles every day. But the most important thing I’m doing in my free time right now is writing: I’m attempting my first novel. And it’s an amazing experience – it’s like nothing else I’ve ever done. Pure escapism. I can see why you love writing so much, Val!

Thanks so much for all your dedicated work and I look forward to seeing yet more original covers in 2014. Happy New Year!

Jan Marshall

I’ve been a graphic designer for many years more than the requisite ten thousand hours. Specialising in book cover design at present, I’ve worked on all sorts of graphic design projects in my time – some simple, and some utterly extraordinary, from key rings for the CBI Conference to supersite outdoor posters for Universal and Paramount movies. “It’s been an amazing journey, and I’m not even there yet!”

Services

Cover design: I’m not the cheapest designer you’ll find, but I do go the extra mile to provide a premium service: I’ll send you a questionnaire/brief sheet about your book, read your manuscript, produce concept after concept until we find the one we both like the most, then hone it (in high resolution) until it’s perfect. And I guarantee we’ll end up with a cover you’ll love.

Cover critique: Creating your own cover design? Why not get some expert advice to help you along the road. Send me a jpeg of your cover design at any stage in its completion and I’ll give you an idea of how you’re doing. Critiques start at £20/$35 for a 10-point ebook cover checklist. Contact me for a quote if you’d like an in-depth report or if you want help with a particular aspect of your project.

Proofreading and copy-editing: Please contact me at thecopyeditor@btinternet.com. Although this service is available now, my formal training and certification will be completed late Spring 2014.

You can follow me on Twitter here: @Jan_Marshall and visit my website here: jan-marshall.wix.com/thebookdesigner. There’s a contact page on the website or you can email me at bookcoverdesign@btinternet.com – I’d love to hear from you.

Happy, Healthy and Successful 2014!

2014 is already over a week old. New Year resolutions have been made. If starting a creative writing project is one you are considering. Enjoy your writing, whilst experimenting until you find your own voice within your chosen genre.

To get you started here are some top-tips given by a selection of my author guests of 2013.

Margaret James: Stick at it and believe you have something interesting to say. There will be times when the going gets hard and you’ll need to be able to convince yourself that it’s worth going on. Make friends with other writers face to face and online, via Twitter, Facebook and their blogs. Read other people’s novels because then you will absorb good practice and realise there are many different ways in which you can tell a story.

Freda Lightfoot: I put my heart and soul into my stories, which is absolutely essential. You must lose your inhibitions and be entirely sincere, but yes, it does take hard work and dedication. I’d say it demands the three p’s, which stand for practise, persistence, and passion for your craft.

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

Jean Fullerton: If it took me three years to become a nurse, another two to qualify as a district nurse and a further three to become a lecturer, why on earth would I think I could learn the craft of writing overnight?  Very few first books are of a publishable standard. Mine wasn’t. Learn your craft and persevere!

Gwen Kirkwood also stresses the need to persevere: Try to write a little every day, even if it is only a couple of sentences. Keep a notepad handy. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of your characters, or improve your plot, while you are travelling, ironing, peeling the vegetables. Thinking time is important too. Listen to the advice of agents and editors, not friends. If you do self-publish pay a reputable copy-editor to check your work first.

Whilst Gwen advocates writing a little every day, Christina Jones, points out it is not essential: Don’t feel you have to write every day. Write the way that suits you. Some people write 10,000 words a day, others write 500. Some (like me) know that if the words aren’t there then it’s best to forget writing until they are and go and scrub the kitchen floor or go for a walk or chat with friends or read or watch telly, whatever – be yourself and do what’s right for you. Just don’t feel pressurised to be like everyone else.

Linda Mitchelmore, the author of many short-stories and now novelist advises: The same premise of ‘person, problem and plot’, with a ‘beginning, middle and an end’, is the same for short stories and novels. The only difference is the time it takes to tell the story. Whilst Valerie-Anne Baglietto reminds us: You can never please everyone, so above all please yourself and write something you feel passionately about. It will show if you don’t.

More advice is offered within the interviews.

If you love creating fictional worlds, have a strong desire to commit them to paper and share them with others, then enjoy the whole process and good luck!