Meet, Aneeta, winner of The Trisha Ashley Award 2022!

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I wanted to start my New Year interviews off with a celebration!  So, when I learned that Aneeta Sundararaj, one of my London School of Journalism students, had won The Trisha Ashley Award, I asked her to share the inspiration behind her winning story.

 Welcome, Aneeta,

First, thank you for inviting me to your website, Valerie. It’s much appreciated. I must also thank the organisers for running this competition, choosing my story to be forwarded to Trisha, and to Trisha for choosing it as the winning one.  

You are welcome, Aneeta, and I passed on your thanks to both.

Margaret James of Creative Writing Matters who runs the competition was delighted and explained,

When we first set up the Exeter Story Prize, Trisha asked if we would like her to sponsor an award for a quirky or humorous story, and we said lovely, please do. So, when Cathie, Sophie and I have read all the entries, we choose a few that we hope Trisha might like, and she picks the winner, who gets £200.  Also, anyone can enter the ESP, so Aneeta was up against some very well-published authors, and she did very well to win.

The Weathermen – A Love Letter was based on a conversation I had with my friend, Swagata. I was sharing some of the challenges that I (and many girls I’ve spoken to over the years) faced. When the phone call ended, I decided to write it all out. More than inspiration, writing this story was a form of therapy.

Trisha had this to say,

I loved the quirky and original voice of the narrator in this unusual story.  It was, for me, the knock-out winner and I hope will lead to much more writing success in future.

 So, huge congratulations, Aneeta!

When did you discover a need to branch into creative writing after a successful career as a lawyer?

I left legal practice a long time ago.  I didn’t plan on a full-time career as a writer. I knew it would take me at least three months to find another job. So, I wrote the first draft for The Banana Leaf Men  I found that I liked ‘this writing thing’ and decided to try it for a while longer. I’ve never stopped.

The Banana Leaf Men (Reprint)

You are an experienced writer/journalist – what appealed to you about the challenge of writing for the RomCom genre?

This is a very good question, Valerie. I think that it wasn’t so much a challenge, but more applying all I’d learnt thus far. It starts with my need for variety. For instance, for years, I was a contributing writer for the Lifestyle section of the Sunday papers. This meant learning the art of writing feature pieces. When this sojourn ended, I focused on writing/fine-tuning the novel, which came with its own set of elements to follow. Then, I did something completely different and that was to pursue a PhD which meant returning to writing for academia. Once that was complete, I went back to fiction. This time, I focused on the short story form and creative non-fiction, like a piece called ‘Lord of the Ocean’. This story was about an invasion near my hometown that happened close to 1000 years ago. So, The Weathermen – A Love Letter was part reportage, part academic writing with a huge dose of all the elements of writing fiction.

 What challenges did you find or did the story flow naturally as the idea occurred.

The main challenge was to strike that balance between  having the courage to tell the story, still respect the practices of the East and make it all plausible for a Western reader. Nothing is worse than reading stories about a Malaysian or Malaysians that I don’t recognise. It’s painful! The best example from The Weathermen – A Love Letter is when a spiritual master asked Anjali if she was ‘clean’ to make sure that she wasn’t on her period. I understand the religious strictures at play. However, ask any Indian girl how she feels when she’s asked this question in the presence of men and I guarantee her honest (operative word, here) answer will be a negative one. If she’s ‘dirty’, she cannot step into a spiritual centre or temple and is only good for sweeping up rubbish. We girls are taught to hide our shame, but I often wonder how a man would like it if I asked him, “Are you clean?” My challenge was to write this without causing maximum offence.

Whenever I’ve faced such challenges, I think of two things. One is that there must be readers like me elsewhere who are open-minded enough to appreciate the practices of others. I mean, if I can accept reading stories about stigmata and what people put themselves through during Easter, why can’t others understand what my people will put themselves through in the names of faith and religion. Second, I go back to the British television series, Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. The topics discussed were always so serious, but the writing was entertaining and everlasting.

The Age of Smiling Secrets is an intriguing title – but the topic covered is very serious and highlights the problem of having religious law running alongside that of the country’s High Court, where the two can give conflicting outcomes. This is obviously a subject that is close to your heart. Why did you decide to write a fictional tale to illustrate the issue?

Thank you for saying that the title of The Age of Smiling Secrets  is intriguing.The Age of Smiling Secrets

I started to think about this story as early as 2005. As you’ve said, Malaysia is in the unique position where both the laws of Syariah and the Civil Law are practised concurrently. It was only a matter of time before conflicts about which jurisdiction should apply would arise. For ease of reference, my fictional story is based on the legal position when such conflicts arise. It’s about a family torn apart when a man converts to Islam and, without the consent or knowledge of his wife, converts their child as well.

As a lawyer, I understood the position of every person involved in this drama from the lawyers pursuing and defending the case, and the judges who had to hear the arguments from both sides, to the plaintiff, defendant and the children.

No one I know has ever looked at the all the emotions at play such as love, loss, betrayal, sacrifice and so much more. What happens when everyone returns home after a day in court? What does a parent say to the child at bedtime? “You’re my baby, but the court said you’re not.” How does the wife reconcile with the fact that the man she married is no longer her husband, or vice versa? And that’s simply because a court that has no jurisdiction over her says so? Why is the second wife accepted as a legal wife in one court and the husband is committing bigamy in another? Why is the child of the second wife considered legitimate in one court and the child of the first wife is considered illegitimate in another? Worse, how on earth does a parent explain all this to a child?

I cannot imagine what it must be like for a mother when the laws of the land allow her child to be taken away from her. So, these are the emotions I wanted to explore.

I must add that I remain surprised at how successful the publication of The Age of Smiling Secrets has been. I didn’t make much effort submitting the manuscript to agents/publishers after one of them asked me to fundamentally change the story so that a British reader would ‘get it’. It implied that the average British reader was too dumb to understand the conflicts that would arise and use of local lingo. I knew that this wasn’t the case. And after ten years of the story ‘percolating and marinating’ in my psyche, I wanted it published. So, I didn’t bother with the British publishing industry, stuck to the story I wanted to tell and worked with the wonderful team at MPH Publishers in Malaysia. I am not at all active on social media and I didn’t take part in the kind of publicity that I’ve seen so many authors do. I was, therefore, pleasantly surprised and delighted when the novel was short listed for the 2020 Book Award organised by the National Library of Malaysia. Furthermore, since it’s publication, edited versions of various chapters of this novel have been periodically included in various anthologies published internationally. Many readers have written to say that they cried at the end of reading the novel. Like all my books, once the first print run was over, I didn’t bother with another one. I’ve just placed them all on Amazon.com.

What is next for Aneeta?

I spent 2022 learning about submitting my short stories for many online competitions and literary journals. I figured out what it was like from the inside and, now, I’d like the chance to give back to others. So, together with a few friends, I’m using my website to host a short story competition. It’s called ‘Great Story Competition’ and we will open for submissions shortly.

Thank you, Valerie, for this chance to share my stories with you.

You are very welcome. I wish you every continued success with your projects and a happy and healthy 2023!

My thanks to Trisha Ashley Ashley gardn forgotten wishes author Margaret James 1A and to Margaret Jamesfor their kind comments and the team at Creative Writing Matters

Please like if you found this interview interesting or inspiring and leave any comments or questions below.

Check out my manuscript appraisal page, or please contact me, if you have a project you would like professional help with.

Happy writing!

 

Regency Christmas celebrations

Merry Christmas

Christmastide in Regency times was a prolonged period of celebration, compared to our modern holiday, for those who could enjoy it. Public holidays did not exist so for the working class it was not a given that the day would be given  

It began on December 6th, Saint Nicholas’ Day. This was marked by exchanging small gifts.  

Christmastide ended on January 6th, otherwise known as ‘Twelfth Night’, marking Epiphany.  

For those who could celebrate Saint Nicholas’s Day, it was a period for parties, suppers, and balls to be held. But for all who had them it was a time for family and friends.  

This period did carry the feeling of ‘goodwill’ so it was expected that charity would be given to the poor, particularly on December 21st, Saint Thomas’s Day when the widows of soldiers who had died in the Napoleonic wars would go ‘Thomasing’, calling at the kitchen doors seeking alms or food parcels. 

On Christmas Eve holly and evergreens would be gathered and brought into the house to decorate and bring in the fresh small of nature. Garlands and wreaths would be woven with rosemary, bay, and laurel, and then embellished with apples, oranges, ribbons, and holly berries. 

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Mistletoe brought its own added spice to the festivities as kissing balls or boughs were made from it, a tradition that still lingers today. With each exchanged kiss a berry was plucked, once all the berries were gone then the kissing had to stop.  

A candle was lit on Christmas Eve and the Yule log was brought in wrapped in hazel twigs and custom stated that it should be lit with a remnant of last year’s log. The fire would then be kept burning as long as possible and be at the heart of family gatherings; a small piece being saved for the next year.  

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On Christmas Day people attended church and then the gentry had a celebratory dinner of turkey, venison, or goose for the gentry, followed by plum pudding. Much of the seasonal food could be prepared ahead of time with a favourite being cold, brawn pies. 

The next day, Saint Stephen’s Day, was a day for charity. Richer people gave servants and tenants their ‘Christmas boxes’, usually gifts of money, hence it becomes known as ‘Boxing Day’. 

Finally, on the twelfth night there might be a party held with much dancing and singing. Hot spiced, mulled, wine was offered, and a special cake made to share amongst all the members of the household.  

Games such as ‘bobbing for apples,’ and ‘snapdragon’ – a game where raisins were soaked in a brandy in a large shallow bowl, were enjoyed. A more challenging one involved candles being blown out and the brandy lit, people then had to try and grab a raisin and eat it without burning themselves – health and safety was yet to be implemented!  

Men’s names were put into a hat so that ladies could then pick a name out to be her partner for the night.  

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A C17 yew wood wassail bowl.

A wassail bowl was often carried from house to house, filled with warmed ale, mulled wine, or punch, sometimes accompanied by the singing of carols.  

The feeling of goodwill to all humankind was the message of the season. It depended on where you were on the social scale from impoverished to rich as to how much you could be a part of the tradition, but the feeling and love shared at this time was priceless then, just as it is today. 

Merry Christmas and season’s greetings to all my readers! 

A warming tale of Regency

Ellie encounters a handsome stranger, when escaping the claustrophobic presence of her widowed aunt, Mrs Hemming in The Old Hall. She is initially distressed and annoyed, until he introduces himself as Mr. Montgomery Cookson causing Ellie’s dark clouds to instantly lift, for she knows they will formally meet again.
Mrs Hemming homed the deserted Ellie, whilst bringing up her two cousins, Dorcas and Sybil, despite the ruinous reputation of her mother for deserting her husband and child.
Ellie had been shocked and scared, when infirmed she was expected to marry Mrs. Hemming’s own cousin, Mr. MONTGOMERY COOKSON.
But has Ellie met her match in Mr. Cookson?
Will her future be as grim as she envisaged?
When Fate has cast a shadow over her life for so long, can destiny shine a light into Ellie’s world?
Will Ellie finally discover who she really is?

Available on:  iBook    Kindle   Kobo   Smashwords 

Catching up with M.A. Nichols!

Welcome back, Melanie!

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Since your Sept 2020 interview, when the UK thought Covid was on its way out – we have had two further lockdowns – how did you fare in the States?

I live in a sparsely populated state, so my experience is certainly different from a lot of others. My city had a couple of lockdowns, but at this point, it feels like a lifetime ago.

Did you make it back to the UK for your research trip?

I did! I recently made the transition to full-time author and said goodbye to my day job. A few weeks after that, I flew out to the UK and spent two months traipsing around the country. I’ve visited a couple of times before, but I really wanted to spend a lot of time there, immersing myself in the history. There are so many amazing estates to tour and museums to see, all of which have information and experiences I can’t get from studying books.

Congratulations on making this the full-time day job.  What lovely historic sites did you visit?

I spent one month based in London, but then hopped the train out for day trips to Bath, Bristol, York, Plymouth, and a handful of other places. Then, I spent the second month moving all over the place, spending time in the West Country, the Midlands, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.

What in particular inspired you?

If I were to share all the things that inspired me, I’d end up writing an essay. This was my second major research trip to the UK, and every time I find so many details and historical titbits that spark ideas. If I had to list some of the most inspiring things I did, I would say the Plymouth Historic Dockyards, the Royal Opera House Tour (and going to see a couple of performances there), the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane Tour, the London Canal Museum (and tunnel boat tour), the National Railway Museum, and…if I don’t stop now, I’ll end up listing every museum I visited.

And all the amazing ruins… *sigh*

Of course, the historic estates, houses, townhouses, and the like are super important for my research. I took over 11,000 photos and hundreds of pages of notes, most of which are all the little details I find when I’m wandering those historic properties. The sights, sounds, smells, and all the other possible descriptions that can later be used. I’m not a very visual person when I’m imagining my stories and don’t generally see clear, vivid pictures in my head, so I use those photos to help me design and describe my books’ locations.

Oh, and in a very real way, that trip inspired a scene in my latest book, “To Have and to Hold.” I needed a picnic scene, and I had visited quite a few ruins on this trip. I ended up creating a fake one (since the area in which my book is set didn’t have any readily available ruins that suited my needs), which was an amalgamation of two ruins I’d visited.

I love the new cover designs – what was their inspiration?

Honestly, part of the inspiration was that I wanted a style that would be easy to manipulate. Swapping out the model’s head or hands or some other feature can look weird if not done right, so adding the watercolour style over the top makes it easier to Frankenstein an image together from different bits and make it look uniform. Not to mention, finding male historical stock photos can be difficult, and even when you do, I think they often look slovenly or not period accurate. With this style I can use historic paintings for their bodies. For example, on “The Shameless Flirt,” the male torso is actually from a painting and the head is from a stock photo.

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But also, I just really love it. I spent months playing with different ideas and styles, and one day, I stumbled upon some stock photos that someone had manipulated into looking like a painting. I watched a bunch of YouTube videos on how to do it, experimented a ton, and came up with the style.

Have they proved successful?

Depends on what you define as successful. Financially, they haven’t helped my sales, and in some ways, I worry that they may have hurt them a little. While being unique seems like a good thing, a common bit of advice to cover designers is that you don’t want to do that. If a book looks too different from the rest of the genre, it may turn off readers. So, yeah. I worry about it.

Artistically, I love them, and I’m so proud of the work I did on them. It was a massive effort to get them to where they are, and I have no interest in changing them again. And while some fans say they like the old ones better, most love them, too.

And they definitely fulfil the original purpose that inspired me to make the change in the first place. They’re more work, but I have a lot more artistic freedom when it comes to the base photos I use.

I think they look fresh and attractive!

I was recently at the Historical Novel Association conference in the ancient city of Durham and the question of how much time authors spend on social media came up. Do you think of social media as a friend or foe?

A bit of both. Personally, I’m not a fan of social media. I don’t use them in my personal life at all anymore because I prefer personal contact. But as an author, I use it all the time. I don’t view it as a marketing platform in which I can find new readers but as a place in which I can connect with my readers and fans. One of my favourite things to do is sharing behind the scenes info or research titbits. All those little things that are interesting to me an author but never made it onto the pages of my books.

It is a bit of a chore for me at times to come up with content, but I’ve developed a system that works for me.

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How do you split your time between research/writing/ marketing?

I write every work day. Or I try to. I need an outline before I can write, and that isn’t always ready when I’m sitting down to start for the day. Generally, that takes up 3-4 hours a day. Then I spend the afternoon editing, outlining, researching, and any other prep work so that the next day I can sit down and write.

Generally, I do my marketing in the evening. A lot of it is stuff I can do while watching TV, so I’ll take my laptop down to the couch and relax while I input stats, work on my ads, or create social media content. This isn’t something I do every day. I’ve always heard that the best marketing is putting out a new book, and I ascribe to that mentality. I do a few traditional marketing things, but I try to keep it to a minimum and focus on creating new stories.

Researching is something I try to fit in wherever I can. Sometimes it happens as I’m writing or creating an outline, when I realize I need to know something. But often, I’m just always trying to watch documentaries, read books, listen to podcasts, and learn stuff I don’t know that I don’t know. You can’t learn it all, but I try to keep learning new things because I never know what’s going to spark an idea.

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What are you currently working on?

I’m writing my first Christmas novel, “The Christmas Wish.” It’s part of my Victorian Love series, and I’m outlining my next project, which will be my first novella. I’ve wanted to try my hand at shorter stories because I have some ideas that just won’t work in a longer format, and I think now is the time to do it. I’m not entirely sure what it’s going to be because I have a lot of ideas right now, but we’ll see. I don’t always know what I’m going to write next until right before I need to start writing the 1st draft.

What is next?

Now that I’m writing full-time, I’ve put together a pretty amazing publishing schedule. I’m alternating between novels and novellas, and the plan is to publish 4 novels and 4-5 novellas in 2023. While I am focused on Regency & Victorian right now, I would like to branch into historical western romance sometime in the near future. And maybe a bit of historical paranormal romance maybe…

What can I say? I’m an eclectic reader, and I like writing in different genres. I started off in fantasy and would love to do more with it.

You are certainly inspiring. I wish you every continued success with all your projects.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to do the interview.

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“Man traps, beware!”

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Micah, the charismatic hero of Secrets, encounters a man trap and saves a young lad from a terrible fate as the jaws snap shut.

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Godalming Museum

These devices were cruel, vicious deterrents that were set in the ground and when the central plate was pressed the jaws clamped shut, maiming the unsuspecting trespassers. 

Micah swung a leg over a fallen tree trunk, but then, as the metal’s edge caught his eye, he froze. He saw the danger and the notion of his peaceful village suddenly dispersed – man traps, never before had he seen such things around Dibbledale. The woodland had always been open to all.” 

Man traps have been used since the 18th century as the amount of what had been common ground or shared woodland began to be increasingly enclosed by unscrupulous and greedy landowners. 

Private landowners saw no reason to share the game that lived on the land with the ‘common folk.’ The 19th century progressed but so did poverty – rapidly, and many families struggled. Large pieces of what had previously been common land, free for all to graze their flocks and hunt on had been enclosed into private estates.

The Napoleonic Wars with France had incurred huge costs which had been passed on through taxation and by raising the cost of basic foods. Men had left to fight so their homes, wives and children had to cope alone. These were desperate times.

Beamish Museum

Man traps were cheaper than employing additional gamekeepers and were perfectly legal. The only proviso being that signs should be posted about the traps, or anyone injured could claim compensation. However, this aspect was not widely publicised, and it was hardly affective when literacy was rare.

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Hunger motivated poaching gangs, breaking the law to feed their own families, and selling excess on. This upscaling of illegal activity meant landowners were more aware of the losses than they would have been with only occasional rabbits or birds disappearing. 

Man traps were an inhumane method of control, which could maimed and sometimes killed their victims. Easily disguised by putting leaves, twigs, or grass over them so that any foot, hoof or paw would spring the trap shut.

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Ryedale Museums

They generally had a central plate with toothed jaws that would be held back by a spring until triggered when they would come together with considerable force leading to a bloodthirsty and gruelling result.

They were made illegal in 1827. Following this ‘humane’ man traps were created. A hole was dug, and the trap placed in it. These were then covered with suitable undergrowth. They still had a central plate, but the jaws were no longer toothed. No doubt it was not without pain, but it did not maim as it would previously. These had to be unlocked by the gamekeeper who had the key, but I imagine, extraordinarily little sympathy was given to the poacher who was then caught and sentenced. 

The Friends and Foes series, for lovers of romantic adventures is now available on Amazon and #KindleUnlimited. Just click here to take a peek!

The ‘Wise-Woman’ and her place in history!

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In the days before communities were served through the NHS with a local doctor or even before that with a doctor who had to be paid for his services there existed ‘Wise-Women’ otherwise known as folk-healers, or what we would call early midwives.

These women became synonymous with ‘witches’ and many suffered after the renaissance through the persecution of witchcraft. This in part was justified by their use of lucky or healing charms, amulets and crosses made of Rowan, to ward off evil. Ironic really as they used natural, God-given cures that they should have been accused of dancing with the devil.

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 “…she never was a witch. She never traded potions, poisons, or spells; she was just a wise woman who knew how to survive off the land. She believed in a god, whether it was the God or a greater spirit, or a mother of all the earth, but her instincts were acute.” Mary Underwood in ‘Secrets’

However, ‘Wise-Women’ deserve a place of their own in history. They aided their communities since the Middle Ages and could often be held in some regard and notoriety. Which is perhaps why they were so heavily hunted by radicals in the Reformation. When their ‘patient’ died opinion could turn against them quickly. Mary Underwood describes her grandmother’s life in Ireland to her daughter Imogen:

“She lived in a small cottage with a peat fire. It was not as comfy as this one, but I loved it. She was full of tales, and she knew how to read the seasons, use the plants, see beyond the obvious and I so wanted to be like her. The local folk used her potions, asked about what they should do – she was wise and kind. She even knew her letters and taught me as I have taught you.” Secrets

Medicine, in its early development took place in cities and towns and was purely the province of men. The term ‘doctor’ was not used for people who healed outside of universities until the 19th century.

In the rural parts of the UK, healing was down to these ‘wise-women’. They were people who would create remedies from things in the local landscape: plants, animals, water and minerals such as salt.

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Hence, vicar’s wife Ruth Arrow’s comments, that lingered with her son Micah:

“Micah’s mother had forbidden him to ever go near the Underwoods, the ‘wise woman’ who used plants to heal. They were considered ungodly ways…”

Traditionally the cures were passed down from mother to daughter and the results shared with the local community.

As scientific knowledge of the human body was very limited, these cures sometimes became known as charms or spells. Terminology that later became very dangerous for these women.

Even when being a ‘doctor’ became a paid job, in the rural areas the citizens would still turn to the local ‘wise-woman’. She could be paid through a barter system and was trusted – until something went wrong!

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These practises continued into the rural areas until into the twentieth century and the advent of the NHS to varying degrees. The practitioners ran the risk of being turned upon by those they treated. This could mean being isolated or being physically attacked.

Just as in today’s homeopathic treatments, many of the old ‘cures’ would be able to help common ailments, particularly when diets were much more limited than they are today.

You can read Mary’s story in Secrets, available on Kindle and KindleUnlimited.

Meet poet, blogger and author Wendy Van Camp!

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

Welcome, Wendy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will there be sequels?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What triggered the Celtic design connection?

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

What is next for Wendy?

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

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

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

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

LINKS

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

Medium – https://medium.com/@wvancamp

Twitter – https://twitter.com/wvancamp

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

Meet prolific Regency romance author GL Robinson

Welcome, Glynis!

How did a girl from Portsmouth come to settle in New York?

A  pretty simple story, really.  I married an American! What led up to it was: I was working in London for an industry lobby group at the time Britain joined the Common Market (as it was then). At a meeting one day, the boss asked if anyone spoke French.  The nuns at the convent I was brought up in were a French order and I’d been around the language for years, as well as studying it, so I put my hand up. The result was I was sent off to Brussels for an information tour with our European sister organization.

I’d been there about a week when they asked if I’d stay and take a job with them. They needed someone who could speak English! I said yes, and that was it! I never went back to live in the UK again!

The British Embassy in Brussels had a Singles Group called The British Birds Club (!) and they had a party one weekend. I went, a bit unwillingly, actually, but my secretary was one of the organizers so I felt I had to, and that’s where I met my husband! It was a Baked Potato Party, with all sorts of toppings for the potatoes. So when I met him I had my mouth full!

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We were in Brussels for four years, and then went to Bonn, which was the German capital at the time.  We were there for just over three years. I had learned German in the convent, so it was great to use the language. In fact, I had one baby in Brussels and twins in Germany, so I often say I never had a baby in English! We moved to upstate New York in 1978 and we’ve been here ever since. It’s really lovely here – semi-rural, with not a skyscraper in sight! We’re half way between New York City and Montreal.

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You have dedicated your novels to your lovely sister. What was it about the Regency period that led you to create your own book set based within the era?

My sister was with me in the convent. We used to read Georgette Heyer under the covers with a torch after lights-out, and we both always loved her Regencies.  When my sister died unexpectedly in 2018, I just felt compelled to write in that genre. I think now it was part of the grieving process. I feel her with me when I write. My books are sort of humorous, like Heyer’s are, and I know she’s laughing with me when I write. But quite apart from that, I find the period fascinating.  It really is the beginning of the modern era. We see the results of the Industrial Revolution both in its good aspects, and its bad – the development of the railways making travel possible for everyone, but also the growth of factories and the appalling working conditions in them. I deal with this historical background a lot in my books.

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What can readers expect from a G.L. Robinson novel?

You can expect to smile a lot and not cry very much, if at all.  You can expect gorgeous strong women and hunky men who appreciate them (sometimes only in the end, but you know they will).  You can expect a writing style that is very classically English and very proper. I really do try not to have linguistic anachronisms in my work, and because of my background in languages I know a lot of words. There are no sex scenes, though there is sexual tension. I write about real places, real historical events and I hope my characters are interesting. I’m especially proud of my latest, The Lord and The Bluestocking which is currently on Amazon pre-order, because my MC is a man who nowadays would be diagnosed as being on the Asperger’s Spectrum. He’s really great, but he’s a bit odd, and it takes a special woman to see past that. You can listen to the first chapter, which is really quite funny, on my website: https://romancenovelsbyglrobinson.com

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Pre Covid did you regularly visit the UK to visit actual locations of the period? If so, which was the most memorable?

I have always gone to England at least once a year for a month or more, because my family is there, including my dear old Mum, who’s 96, nearly 97. I was at university in London, so I know it fairly well, though it’s changed enormously since the 1960’s! Brighton isn’t far away, and I’ve been there a lot, especially the Pavilion, which features quite often in my books. I know Bath, too, as a family member used to live there. Those are the three places I most often refer to in my books. I can’t say which is the most memorable, as I’ve known them all forever.  The biggest fun I had was putting Portsmouth, my home town, in Cecilia or Too Tall To Love  because I was able to talk about the seafront and the Dockyard, which I’ve known all my life. It’s a wonderfully historical city.  I’m so lucky to have come from there.  I was born around the corner from where Charles Dickens lived (no, not at the same time!)

Did your early life strongly influence your love of literature?

Very much so! I’ve told you I was brought up in a convent (my father worked in Africa), and we had no TV, no radio, no telephone. What did we do? We read! It was a very old-fashioned place and the school curriculum was almost wholly the Humanities. I studied Shakespeare from about aged 11 onwards.  By the time I was 16, I could read all the French classics in the original, plus we did Chaucer in Middle English, and I did 8 years of Latin. Language and literature completely formed me. It’s no surprise I became a literature professor!

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Animal welfare features in your latest title; do animals feature in your family life?

I didn’t have a pet growing up, because of being in the convent. But we had a dog when my kids were growing up, and they all have dogs. Three kids, seven grandchildren, five granddogs!! I’ve never had a cat because both my sons are allergic, but I have lots of friends with cats, and they gave me lots of ideas for Horace in my last book. I love the way cats are sure they’re in charge. Horace certainly is. I was inspired to write The Lord and The Cat’s Meow  because 2022 is the 200th anniversary of the first Animal Rights Law.  I was going to release it in 2022, but I was too excited once I’d finished it!

Is there a period of American history that you would consider writing about?

No, I don’t feel I know it well enough. Not like British history that I grew up with and is in my bones. But I’m now writing my second contemporary American crime book and I LOVE IT! My characters don’t sound a bit like me!

During lockdown many families in the UK have had to endure long periods of separation, even when living near to each other, how have you been affected by the Covid 19 situation Stateside?

We were on lockdown pretty much from March 2020 to May 2021, so I didn’t get to see my kids and grandkids for over a year.  They don’t live near us anyway, so we were used to Face-timing etc. But it wasn’t easy. We cancelled a family reunion in the Mid-West in June, which broke my heart. But in November 2020 my Mum fell and fractured her hip so I spent four months in England with her. That was worse. The lockdown in the UK was much stricter than in the US, and my Mum was quite poorly after being in hospital, so I think I left the house maybe ten times in four months. Thank God for writing! I wrote the whole of The Cat’s Meow and began another Regency, which I’ve since finished.

When not writing, which genre/author’s novels do you read for relaxation?

I have a very wide-ranging taste, probably stemming from my upbringing. I still read Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen compulsively, all the time. I love the British writer Barbara Pym who wrote social comedies in the 1950’s.  She is honestly a bit dated now, but her books are so funny and her characters so well drawn, I re-read them with pleasure. I think Kate Atkinson (Brit) is the best female writer alive today, closely followed by Ann Tyler (American). Then I like the American authors Wallace Stegner (died 1993) and  Amor Towles whose book A Gentleman In Moscow is definitely the best book of the 21st century so far. And who doesn’t love Lee Child and the Jack Reacher books? I devour them at one sitting. You can see – I read all over the place!

What is next for G.L Robinson?

Forgive me for quoting a poem I learned in the convent and now appreciate even more, like Tennyson’s Ulysses in his old age, I intend To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths/Of all the western stars, until I die. In other words, I’m going to keep on keeping on! I’m 75 this year and I figure I’ve got ten good years to keep writing! I have a Regency on pre-order , another ready for publication in 2022,  a contemporary American crime series begun (book one is done, book two is well under way) and I’m collaborating with six other writers on an Anthology called Love Yesterday, Today and Forever, a set of all sorts of different genre romances we hope to publish for Christmas. I hope you don’t mind my adding:  if you’d like a short story, or to hear me read from my nine published novels, please go to my website: https://romancenovelsbyglrobinson.com

Thank you, Glynis, for sharing with us.

Please leave comments and/or questions below. 

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

Welcome back, Sue!

Thanks very much for inviting me, Val.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you working on now?

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

What goals do you have for the next five years?

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

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

The beautiful abbey ruins of North Yorkshire… 

The beautiful abbey ruins of North Yorkshire 

Henry VIII is perhaps most infamously remembered for his treatment of his six wives. However, this king changed a nation by separating his country from the power of the Roman Catholic church and proclaiming himself head of the Church of England, in 1534.  Two years later the Reformation in England took a more profitable turn for Henry as a destructive and brutal phase began with the dissolution of the monasteries.  

North Yorkshire has many majestic reminders of the magnificent abbeys that once served and dominated local rural life: Rievaulx, Whitby, Fountains, Byland, Ampleforth and Mount Grace Priory to name a few. 

These are fascinating ‘places of interest’. They inspired many during the years they were inhabited and – in a non-pandemic year – are visited by many people now who soak in their history and sense of peace that their lovingly tended sites exude. 

Life in days gone by can be easily imagined; both harsh and cold and yet their lives encouraged selfless devotion whilst supporting their local community.   

Often constructed in beautiful rural surroundings of agricultural land, woods and moors. They would grow crops and raise animals to feed themselves and create profit from a trade, the land they owned and tenancies. The monasteries owned a quarter of the cultural land within the country – a vast wealth and Henry was a man who needed to fund his own lifestyle and wars. 

Their majestic ruins have influenced and inspired some of the scenes with in my novels such as Georgina’s escape in Betrayal, Beth’s and Willoughby’s earnest discussion under the arches of Whitby Abbey in To Love Honour and Obey or Wilson’s hiding place in Dead to Sin. 

Whitby Abbey

In my most recent novel ‘Betrayal’ Lydia Fletcher is part of a rescue of her friend within the grounds of one such building: 

 The monastery’s stone walls slowly emerged before her – a testament to their ancestors’      achievements and faith. This sanctified place once filled with holy praise, was now losing the fight against the ravages of time as they crumbled back to the earth. Encased within the lush undergrowth it had not been revered for centuries. 

In the novel the ruins are being used by a band of smugglers who dress as the monks of old to keep the superstitious locals away. 

Between the old arches of the ivy clad fallen parapets, moving smoothly through the distant mist, was the distinctive figure of a monk, the ghostly habit covered by a dark hooded cape. Kell looked to see what had caught Jeremiah’s attention.  

“Souls of monks, long gone… they got no truck with us… so dig!” he ordered. Kell stared at him. Both Lydia and Jeremiah watched the monk disappear once more into the forest. The boy’s mouth hung open as the shovel fell from his hand. 

The Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 consisted of 30000 strong rebel army from the north demanding that the abbeys be reopened. They were promised a pardon and a parliament on York, but once they disbanded their leaders were executed. In 1539 the larger monasteries also fell. Those monks who would not conform were also executed. 

The abbeys were hugely important to the life of the people in the area. Their battered walls and fallen arches are now preserved for all to discover and admire. 

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Catching up with best-selling author, Nicola Cornick!

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Welcome back, Nicola.

Thank you very much for inviting me, Val. It’s a pleasure to be back!

How time flies by. You were my guest back in 2018!

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

Like a lot of people, I’ve found lockdown very difficult. When it began a year ago, I found the uncertainty and anxiety very unsettling, and couldn’t concentrate. Then my stepfather became ill and died, followed six months later by my mother, which was incredibly stressful and upsetting, and left me mentally exhausted.

I don’t normally talk about my personal life that much but I feel I want to be honest about this in case it helps reassure any other people who have found their life and work so disrupted that their focus has inevitably suffered. I couldn’t write at all a lot of the time; I couldn’t read either. Unfortunately this coincided with me needing to do big revisions to the book I have coming out next month. It took me months and months to do them. Just sitting down at the computer was an effort I didn’t want to make, and each word felt as though it had to be dragged out of me. I managed it in the end but I’ve never known writing to be such a process of attrition. Then, in a bizarre twist, the final revisions to the book were due the week my mother died and I found the reverse was true. I found an escape by losing myself completely in the book and racing through the revisions with nothing else at all in my mind – until I stopped. It’s the only time I’ve ever been able to escape the intolerable present through writing. All of which is to say that if you experience a similar challenge to your focus, accept it, do what you can and be kind to yourself.

You have been through an incredibly trying time and I appreciate your honesty. It is excellent advice and I hope it helps to reassure others who have been struggling with the new reality of pandemic life.

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

A few things have changed and developed. I’m still writing dual time books and enjoying it enormously. I like to choose as a central character a female protagonist who is probably largely overlooked in history – women from the footnotes, I call them – and explore her story. There’s also usually a real- life mystery in the story as well. My next book deals with the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower in 1483. Other than that, I’m enjoying mentoring historical fiction authors for The History Quill site and giving talks on the historical background to my books.

What have been the highlights?

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A recent highlight was when my Tudor-set book The Forgotten Sister was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists Association Romantic Thriller Award, which was a lovely surprise and wonderful recognition. Despite the pandemic – or perhaps because people have been reading more in Lockdown – that book has done so well, reaching the top 10 in the Heatseeker chart and gaining lots of amazing recognition. But it’s not all about prizes and sales, of course – the most important thing is having contact with readers and fellow history fans, so the return of live events and the opportunity of live online ones is a terrific highlight. Just being able to chat with people about all sorts of history and writing topics is wonderful.

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What are you working on now?

I’m working on preparing a lot of online and live events to celebrate the launch of The Last Daughter on 8th July but trying not to let that eat into my writing time too much! My next book is also due in a couple of months so there’s a lot of work still to be done there. It’s a timeslip set in the later 16th and early 17th century in the run up to the Gunpowder Plot, and the heroine is Catherine Catesby, wife of the plot’s ringleader Robert Catesby. When I was researching it, it seemed to me that there is such a big focus on the plot and what happened afterwards, but not so much on events beforehand and the huge influence that Catherine had on Robert Catesby’s life. She is another woman from the footnotes of history!

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What is next for Nicola?

Well it’s an exciting time for me as my Gunpowder Book (as I call it) is the last book on this particular contract with Harper Collins HQ so I’m starting to think about all sorts of ideas for future writing. It always feels like such a promising time when all the potential ideas are there to be explored! Plus I have lots of other projects on the go – the mentoring, which I love, and my involvement with the Wantage Literary Festival, and various history events and talks coming up. I’m very fortunate, I think, to have so many opportunities. Most excitingly, though, we will be getting a new guide dog puppy to raise in the summer!

Now that sounds like a busy schedule, but with lots of potential play time with the new puppy. I hope it passes all its training. Thank you for being my guest!