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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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.

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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 award winning author, USA Today bestseller, Evie Dunmore!

Evie Dunmore,  USA Today bestseller.

Welcome, Evie!

When did your love of novels, especially of the romance genre, begin?

My love for novels began when I could read, so, age five. I fell into the romance genre in my mid-twenties when I was working and commuting very long hours and was very receptive to the escapism romance novels offered. I noticed that no matter how dramatic the novel, as long as I could rely on there being a happy ever after, I could just switch off for a few hours. I never looked back.

What is the attraction of the Victorian era that so appeals to you?

It was a time of great economic, social, and technological changes, which gave rise to social movements such as the women’s rights movement and the labour movement that we still benefit from today. It means I could write heroines who are authentic and plausible for the era all while I can still find myself relating to them 140 years later. In a way, it allows me to explore how far we have come, and which issues remain that some people have already tried to change for more than a century.

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Bringing Down the Duke is the first engrossing novel in The League of Extraordinary Women series. The attraction between the two main characters is undeniable and absorbing. The protagonist attends Oxford against her family’s wishes, by being offered a scholarship from the Suffragettes. Is the series based upon the unsung heroines who paved the way for women today?

It is not based on any woman in particular but is certainly inspired by the first group of women students at Oxford and by the early suffragists, and their many allies whose names we will never know. The fight to access higher education took women decades; even after women had enrolled at Oxford for the first time in 1879, it should still take another 40 years before they could sit the same exams as the male students. The fight for women’s rights, especially the right to vote, was even longer, going back to the 18th century to Mary Wollstonecraft if you will. We hear quite a lot about the suffragettes, the militants of the Edwardian era, but countless women before them laid the groundwork for the charge and I loved learning more about them and their tactics while I wrote the novels.

Which three of the many ‘extraordinary women’ from the past do you admire the most and why?

Looking at the late Victorian era/early Edwardian era, it would be Annie Kenny, Christabel Pankhurst, and Cornelia Sorabji.

Annie Kenney was the only working-class suffragette to ever hold a leadership position in the suffragette movement after working her way from a Northern factory up to travelling the world and talking to heads of state for the cause. She was responsible for the incident that turned some suffragists militant and caused them to form the suffragette branch. She was also very likely bisexual. Her autobiography was fabulously insightful and stayed with me for a long time. She came across as incredibly loyal, brave, and funny.

Christabel was the strategic head and in some ways the heart of the suffragette movement. She held a law degree from Manchester University though as a woman she was not allowed to practice law at the time. What impresses me about her is the mix of both fanatic grit as well as level-headedness which she displayed for the entire duration of the movement.

Cornelia Sorabji was the first woman of colour and first female law student at Oxford University in 1889. When she arrived at Oxford, she already held a first-class degree from Bombay University, and she successfully fought tooth and nail to be treated like her fellow male students at Oxford. Back in India, she was not allowed to practice law for over a decade, but she found her own niche to assist women and girls in legal matters and had over 600 female legal wards and several successful pro-women social policies under her belt by the time she returned to Britain in her later years.

You have a personal connection to Oxford University having studied for a master’s degree there and an advanced creative writing course. From your experience, would you say that women academics have achieved equality there alongside their male counterparts?

A lot of brilliant women are hard at work at Oxford and fill important positions; since 2016, we even have a female Vice chancellor (Louise Richardson). My heroines would love to see it. However, personally I think female academics won’t achieve real equality in the workplace as long as they are compelled to choose between family and an academic career, or have to somehow juggle both, as this is something their male counterparts still don’t really have to worry about unless they are committed to fully sharing the care-work out of principle. The statistics still show a sharp drop in female academics from third year PhD to actual tenure, and we can already see that the pandemic disproportionally affected the output of female academics. Successful academic work requires you to think original thoughts and to write cutting-edge papers. It’s harder to do that amid years of sleep-deprivation and a mind loaded with other people’s needs and schedules. Without fathers stepping up or affordable external assistance, we’ll always have shining examples of some women having it all, but the overall statistics will probably continue to tell a different story.

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How challenging was and how did you go about writing the perspective of Queen Victoria in Bringing Down the Duke?

I had read her letters to her acquaintances where she raged about women’s rights activists and called for them to be whipped. Her official stance was also anti-suffrage and minced no words. Her close friendship with Disraeli and her behind-the-scenes meddling in politics when she was younger, is also no secret. It therefore wasn’t challenging as I put words into her mouth she herself had either written down verbatim or were very much in the spirit of her position. I guess it helped that I always had her actual photographs before my mind’s eye rather than the TV version played by the lovely Jenna Coleman.

Did it surprise you that such a prominent female monarch did not support women’s rights?

Not really. The queen saw herself as set apart from regular humans, and the dividing line between progressive people and those who want to keep things as they are does not neatly run along gender lines, it never has. A lot of women back then felt more comfortable with upholding the structures that suppressed them and harnessed the narrowly defined power allocated to the role of mother and wife instead. And sometimes, women’s reasons to be anti-suffrage were simply due to clashes with their other interests. For example, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was founded and run by women in the late 19th century, and they were anti-suffrage. Why? Because the suffragists and later suffragettes continued to use plumes as accessories.

How have you kept mentally and physically fit during the recent pandemic?

Unfortunately, I didn’t do a good job on either front, so I’m afraid I have no valuable tips to share here…

When life returns to the new ‘normal’ what do you look forward to doing when not writing or researching?

I look forward to the brain fog lifting. An end to this limbo of being unable to plan anything with certainty, all while we can’t really be spontaneous, either. I look forward to not having to worry about schools shutting down again and how the kids are affected by the situation; or about loved ones falling ill. I’d love to ditch the mask, and to hop on a train or plane to see family and friends I haven’t seen in nearly two years. I would like to offer my readers an in-person book signing. And I want to go to the movies and eat popcorn and not flinch when someone in the row behind me coughs.

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When and where did your affinity with Scotland begin?

I think it began when watching nature documentaries about the Highlands when I was a child. It was sealed when I moved to Britain and dated a mountaineer from St Andrews. The first time we entered Glen Coe around 15 years ago, it literally took my breath away. I felt moved to tears, it felt like coming home, when I had no prior connection to the place. Odd how that happens sometimes. Before the pandemic, I would regularly go up to Scotland a few times a year to stay with friends and to go hiking. Edinburgh is my favourite city in the world. I have been invited to RARE, a big romance author event, in Edinburgh in 2022, and I can’t wait to go and meet readers and colleagues.

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The Portrait of a Scotsman (Published 7th September) has a Scottish hero, when and where did the inspiration for this novel begin?

Inspiration for the story sparked during my research for my debut Bringing Down the Duke, where I came across photographs of Victorian women in trousers. The women in question were pit-brow lassies—they worked on the coalfields and frequently underground. Their existence was entirely at odds with the ideal Victorian image of women as the dainty Angels in the House, and I knew I wanted to highlight these remarkable women in one of the books in the series.

This, and my love for the Hades and Persephone myth, come together in the hero, Lucian Blackstone, a successful self-made Scotsman who he began his journey underground in a Scottish colliery.

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What is next for Evie?

I’m currently trying to finish the fourth and final book in the series, and I for the last year I have been playing around with an idea for a fifth book. We’ll see what comes from that.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule. I’m looking forward to reading Portrait of a Scotsman!

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. 

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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!

Ethel bookshop

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!

Meet author and self help guru, Peter Jones

Me


Welcome, to my website, Peter, and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

When and where did your passion for writing begin?

Pretty much as soon as I could string two words together I was ‘making books’. I would kneel on my grandmother’s living room carpet, fold several sheets of A4 paper in half, staple down the folded edge, then start writing a story and drawing the pictures to go with the story – and once finished my books would be passed around my family on a kind of a ‘read and return’ basis.

Which came first fiction or non-fiction?

Well, technically I guess it was fiction (back when I would visit my grandmother). By my twenties I was writing science fiction short stories (although none of them were ever submitted for publication). In my thirties my wife encouraged me to start writing a rom-com novel… but it was HOW TO DO EVERYTHING AND BE HAPPY – a self-help book – that first made it into print.

How did you become a ‘self-help’ guru?

Well therein lies a tale: I met my wife Kate in my mid-thirties. At the time I was a frumpy grumpy banking consultant. She was a NLP practitioner (a kind of hypno-therapist). She taught me so much about how our brains work, how we motivate ourselves, how to get more out of life… and then she died. Of a brain haemorrhage. Thirty nine years of age. And I was devastated. More than that I was crushed with guilt, because back then I wasn’t a particularly happy person. I had been a misery to live with! What’s more, Kate and I had managed to waste most of our three years together working. Oh, we had big plans about how we’d make enough money to move somewhere sunny… but it never happened. We ran out of time.

So I decided to do something about it. I set about fixing my life. I made lists, drew up plans, devised new habits… and it worked. Some of those ideas actually made me happier. One day a colleague said “you ought to write this stuff down – turn it into a book.” So I did. That ended up being HOW TO DO EVERYTHING AND BE HAPPY. Published by Harper Collins and Audible.

Still not sure about the term guru though! Michelle Ward (of Phoenix FM) gave me that label. But really I’m just a fix it man at heart.

You seem to love public speaking – has this always been the case?

I’m afraid so. I’m just a big show off! No, actually there’s more to it than that. My childhood love of storytelling morphed into a desire to become an actor. To me, writing and acting are the same thing. In fact, one of the joys of writing is that you get to play ALL the parts, even the women. But there’s something utterly amazing about being in front of an audience. I used to be part of a travelling theatre company, but now public speaking fills that need. My talks are quite ‘theatrical’.

You seem to be a very organised person is this essential to the way you approach each project?

I guess I am. I never used to be. In my teens, twenties, even thirties I lived in a perpetual state of barely-organised chaos. Kate was the organised one. Becoming organised was part of my get-happy strategy. A way of taking control of my chaotic, unhappy life.

But you’re right. It bled into everything I do. Becoming organised was how I finally managed to finish that novel that Kate started me writing; THE GOOD GUY’S GUIDE TO GETTING THE GIRL. There have been two more since then and I’m finishing up my fourth.

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

I love the RNA! I was a real sceptic at first. Couldn’t see how belonging to an organisation like that would be particularly useful. Surely it would be a lot of flouncey women writing about chiselled jawed heroes? But then my pal Bernadine Kennedy said “it’s quite good fun,” and If anyone knows about having a good time, it’s definitely Berni. And it turned out she was right! It is fun! But more than that it’s been enormously useful rubbing shoulders with all sorts of creative people, all of us trying to carve a living out of what we love.

What key advice would you share on writing or on life.

Write what you love. Do what makes you happy.

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

I try to write at least three days a week. I start at 7am and count the number of words I’ve written at the end of each hour. If it’s less than 200 I give myself a good talking to! By midday I’m usually done. In the afternoons I talk about writing or do post, answer emails, tackle the admin…

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

The day my agent told me that a producer in Hollywood had enquired about the film rights for THE TRUTH ABOUT THIS CHARMING MAN was pretty special! But actually there have been far more less dramatic, more humbling moments along the way. Recently a teacher’s assistant in Dubai emailed me to tell me that she’d enjoyed my ‘happy book’ and had been asked to do a presentation to the staff about it. Turns out my book is on a recommended reading list, in India. And her school adopts some of my happiness ideas for the children!

That is amazing, Peter. What project are you working on now?

My fourth novel is currently out with my first readers, so in the meantime I’m working on another self-help book. My fifth. I’m particularly excited about this one… though I can’t say much more at this point.

What is next for Peter? 

Who knows!? Hopefully more novels.

Although after some encouraging advice I might take a break to work on a film proposal for MY GIRLFRIEND’S PERFECT EX-BOYFRIEND. So long as I can continue to make a living putting a smile on the faces of my readers (or audience) I really don’t mind.

I wish you every continued success!

Find out more about Peter:-

 

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