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!

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!

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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!

Meet Regency author, Natalie Kleinman

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I am delighted to welcome fellow Sapere Books author, Natalie, to chat about her new release.

With publication of The Girl With Flaming Hair only a few days from now, what plans do you have for launching it on its way?

I’m so delighted with the cover image – she may not be Helen of Troy but she’s beautiful nonetheless and I will be sharing her on social media, primarily Facebook and Twitter. I’m also lucky in that Rachel Gilbey (Rachel’s Random Resources) has organised a blog tour for me which will begin on 18th June. Bloggers and reviewers are so generous with their time and I’m especially grateful to them, and to you. There will be ongoing news as well with giveaways and competitions for those who subscribe to my newsletter.

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Everyone’s route to publication is different – what was yours?

An unexpected one! I’d finished studying with the Open University and was looking for something to occupy my little grey cells so I joined a ten week creative writing course run by my local council. What a magnet that turned out to be! Fast forward through various interest groups until in 2011 I discovered The Write Place (TWP), a creative writing school not too far from where I live. Up to this point I’d been writing short stories but I was made to wonder if I couldn’t write a book as well. Since then I’ve written fourteen though three will never see the light of day but I’m grateful to them – they were my learning curve. I found out about the Romantic Novelists Association from TWP and joined their New Writers Scheme. You may imagine my joy when my first submitted book, a contemporary romance, was taken up by a publisher and I graduated the scheme in the first year. That was in 2014.

We both share a love of Regency with our publisher Sapere books, but when did your love of the period begin and sustains your interest with it?

I must have been about eleven at the time and I have my mother to thank, as do so many others theirs, for it was she who handed me my first Georgette Heyer. It’s never palled and I’ve had books fall to pieces in my hands, not from abuse but because they just weren’t up to the number of times I’ve re-read them. When that happened they were replaced. Some outstanding productions have illustrated how well stories in this genre translate to the screen. And recently Bridgerton did a great job of raising the profile of Regency romance.

You have written many short stories. Do you enjoy switching between the two disciplines of writing short and long fiction?

I love them both and they are entirely different disciplines. It’s wonderful to create a world in just two or three thousand words and very satisfying. I’m very grateful that my stories have been enjoyed by so many. Long fiction gives the opportunity to develop one’s characters and, as my stories tend to be character-driven, that’s of huge benefit to me and the way I write. I just have to be careful they don’t start writing themselves as they have a tendency to run away with the plot.

What has been a member of the RNA meant to you?

The RNA is a place for making friends as well as acquiring knowledge. Writers tend to be pretty genuine people and very ready to help each other. Consequently, having attended numerous conferences, workshops and chapter meetings, I’ve had the chance to meet, to learn and to move forward. Everyone is so kind. Maybe it’s the romanticism in us.

How have you kept mentally and physically fit during lockdown?

Does one out of two count? I loved sports when I was younger but I’ve never been a fan of what I think of as gym-based exercise. I have disciplined myself to do online exercises but I know they are the barest minimum. Mentally though I’m so very grateful for my occupation. What better than losing oneself either in one’s own creation or in that of another author? Other time periods, science fiction, cosy crime, they’ve all taken me to places I wouldn’t otherwise have visited. And Zoom and other video links have been invaluable.

What is next for Natalie?

Exciting times for me. You will know that Sapere recently published The Reluctant Bride. Well, after The Girl With Flaming Hair there are three more in the pipeline so I guess I’ll be pretty busy for the foreseeable future.

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Thank you so much for having me on the blog today, Val.

Natalie

You are very welcome!

About The Girl With Flaming Hair:

While driving his curricle, Rufus Solgrave, Earl of Luxton comes across Sophie Clifford lying unconscious in the road, having fallen from her horse. Not too far from home, he takes her back to Ashby, his country seat, leaving her in the care of his mother, Elizabeth, Countess of Luxton, and his sister, Lydia. Under their kindly supervision, Sophie soon begins to recover.

Upon discovering that Sophie has never mixed with London society, Elizabeth invites her to accompany the family to town for Lydia’s come-out. Unhappy with her home life and eager to sample the delights of the season, Sophie accepts. However, her enjoyment is marred when talk of an old scandal surrounding her birth resurfaces. What’s more, her devious stepbrother, Francis Follet, has followed her to London, intent on making her his bride.

Sensing Sophie’s distress, Rufus steps in to protect her from Francis’s unwelcome advances. And although neither Rufus nor Sophie are yet thinking of marriage, both soon begin to wonder whether their comfortable friendship could blossom into something warmer…

About Natalie:

Natalie’s passion for reading became a compulsion to write when she attended a ten-week course in creative writing some sixteen or so years ago. She takes delight in creating short stories of which more than forty have been published, but it was her lifelong love of Regency romance that led her to turn from contemporary romantic fiction to try her hand at her favourite genre. Raised on a diet of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, she is never happier than when immersed in an age of etiquette and manners, fashion and intrigue, all combined into a romping good tale. She lives on the London/Kent border, close to the capital’s plethora of museums and galleries which she uses for research as well as pleasure. A perfect day though is when she heads out of town to enjoy lunch by a pub on the river, any river, in company with her husband and friends.

Natalie is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Society of Authors and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists.

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

Have you stopped celebrating yet?

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

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

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

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

Were you always in love with writing romance?

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

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

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

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

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

What drew you to the C13?

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

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

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

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

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

What has working with Harlequin Mills and Boon been like?

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

What is next for Melissa Oliver?

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

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

An Interview with Alison May

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

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

What were your first breakthrough moments as a published writer?

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

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

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

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

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

How would you describe an Alison May novel?

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

How would you describe a Juliet Bell novel?

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

What key advice would you share with aspiring writers?

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

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

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

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

 What project(s) are you working on next?

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

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

What is your vision for the future of the RNA?

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

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

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

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

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

How has the romance genre changed since you joined?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alison is currently Chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

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

Twitter: twitter.com/MsAlisonMay

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

Instagram: instrgram.com/MsAlisonMay

BUY LINKS:

Juliet Bell – The Heights

Juliet Bell – The Other Wife

 

Alison May – All That Was Lost

An interview with Linda Stratmann: Vice-Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association.

 

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Welcome Linda,

Your writing career did not begin with fiction, but with non-fiction study of historical crimes. Where did this interest in researching and writing about real crime begin?

It began with my mother! She was an avid reader and a lover of history, and she was fascinated by famous trials. We used to watch true crime programmes on television – we especially liked Edgar Lustgarten – and also discussed cases reported in the newspapers.

In all the cases that you have researched did one motive stand out above all others: greed, hate, love, necessity, premeditated or spontaneous revenge?

The foundation of so many murders is financial, but it is not necessarily always greed, sometimes it is desperation. People kill for insurance money, often to extricate themselves from debt. They kill to escape a relationship because of the costs and consequences of divorce. In the nineteenth century, which is the era I write about most often, poor families poisoned their children just to get the money from burial clubs.

It is not surprising that with such a vast amount of accrued knowledge on true crime that you turned to writing fiction. What was it that enticed you to set both your Frances Doughty and Mina Scarletti series within the Victorian period?

Many years ago I wrote about a Victorian case, the trial of Adelaide Bartlett in 1886 for the murder of her husband. The case was so complex that I realised I needed to understand the Victorians in order to discover the truth behind the lies and the euphemisms; I needed to know how they thought, and how they expressed themselves, and what they believed. The more I researched the more fascinated I became with every aspect of that period. It was natural to want to recreate that time in my fiction.

Both of these women have to overcome difficulties and work to make a life for themselves that is at odds with the expectations of their gender within the period. Were they influenced or based on real characters that you had researched?

Frances is not based on anyone, however Mina Scarletti, who suffers from scoliosis was inspired by two people. Eva, who had a very severe distortion of the spine, was the aunt of a friend of mine. I never got to know her well and she died when I was a child.
Annie Jane Fanny Maclean had a curvature of her spine and walked with a limp. In 1879 a scoundrel called Lewis James Paine romanced her and induced her to transfer her property to him. He then plied her with alcohol and withheld food until she died. A court found him guilty of manslaughter and he was imprisoned for life. Annie’s fate highlighted for me the vulnerability of a disabled young woman in the Victorian marriage market. I wanted a heroine who could overcome this and be strong and independent.

How far did you delve into the world of psychics to help Mina Scarletti unmask the Victorian fraudsters?

I have about a hundred books on the subject – so far! These are both contemporary accounts and modern studies. I have read numerous online journal articles and newspapers, both nineteenth century and more recent. I have also read books by Victorian conjurors and illusionists, and attended a Victorian séance workshop. When I describe a séance in my books I always have to know before I write it how the effects were produced.

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In the light of all your research would you agree that the truth is often stranger than fiction?

That is often the case, which is why I like to append historical notes at the end of my fiction books. I have just written one for the fourth Mina book because a reference I included was so odd that I felt I needed to reassure the reader I was not making it up.

Are you a detailed plotter when you start a new project?

I always know when I start who the villain is and how and why the crime was committed. I also write what I call the ‘back story’, the details of what has happened up to the point when my book begins. So I know the start and the finish, but what happens between those points has to be natural and organic, as my heroine needs to learn the facts and solve the mystery in a convincing way. That develops as I write.

In all the cases you have studied:-
Which real criminal did you most despise and why?

There are so many! When I wrote The Secret Poisoner I was especially appalled by Richard Overfield who cruelly and cold-bloodedly murdered his baby so he wouldn’t have to support it, by giving it sulphuric acid. He was hanged in 1824.

Was there a real criminal that you admired the cunning of even if not their actual acts?

In cases of fraud there are many clever people who misuse their considerable talents for criminal purposes. Harry Benson and Willam Kurr who I wrote about in Fraudsters and Charlatans were extremely able career criminals who overreached themselves through greed.

Was there anyone you empathised with, or at least understood their motive to commit murder?

Of course I don’t approve of murder, but I did feel sorry for Eric Brown. (Essex Murders) He had suffered constant abuse and cruelty from his father for many years and seen his mother being led a life of terror and misery. He dealt his father a fast and merciful death by planting an anti tank mine under the old man’s wheelchair.

Did you come across anyone who was condemned, yet would have been acquitted as innocent if they had been tried today?

I tend to find that most failures of justice go the other way – people who are almost certainly guilty being acquitted due to insufficient evidence to convince a jury. In the case of Holloway and Haggerty, however (Middlesex Murders) two men were hanged for a murder it is almost certain they did not commit, on the false evidence of a man who was trying to get his own sentence reduced.

What has been your proudest author moment?

The publication of The Marquess of Queensberry: Wilde’s Nemesis. Between forming the determination to write the biography and actually holding it in my hands was eleven years. The first eight were spent trying to find someone who believed in the project as much as I did!

How long ago were you diagnosed with hyperacusis and has it dramatically affected your daily routine?

Hyperacusis is a condition usually resulting from noise damage or physical accident, in which everyday noises, especially if high pitched are painful. The sound of laughter, squeaking brakes, babies crying, electronic beeps, clattering dishware, are all examples. I have had hyperacusis for over twenty years but it took several years to get a diagnosis because it was not well understood or known about. At the time I was working in an office and general office noises and daily travel were hard to tolerate. I can’t wear earplugs all the time as over-wearing makes my tinnitus worse. Since I retired from the day job I have worked from home and been more in control of my daily environment, so life is better. If I go out I carry hearing protection, but even with that, social gatherings are difficult and some locations, especially noisy restaurants, are impossible. I wrote about hyperacusis in one of my novels, The Children of Silence.

What do you do to relax away from the world of writing about crime?

I love cooking, and in the last few years have taken up baking sourdough bread. The scent of a crusty loaf baking in one’s oven is magical!

What is next for Linda Stratmann?

I am near to completion of the fourth Mina book, The Ghost of Hollow House, in which she is asked to investigate a haunting. I have also been commissioned to edit a new volume in the Notable British Trials series, which is a huge honour.

Thank you, Linda, for taking the time to do the interview and I wish you every success with your ongoing and future projects.

www.lindastratmann.com , Facebook and  Twitter 

Martin Edwards, chairman of The Crime Writers’ Association (CWA), explains what the organisation offers its members.

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‘The CWA is constantly expanding. So are the benefits we offer our members. Writing is a solitary occupation but we offer the chance to join regional chapters, attend our national conference, and receive an excellent monthly newsletter, Red Herrings – plus much more besides. Members value our various social media platforms, and the chance to promote their work to the large subscriber bases of the very popular Case Files and Crime Readers’ Association newsletter. But it’s the collegiate ethos of the CWA that remains its most valuable asset and benefit. In my 30 years of membership I’ve met many wonderful people, and made some very good friends. And their support, through good times and bad, is beyond price.

The CWA has changed a lot in the 64 years since it was founded by John Creasey. Although it is UK based the membership is international and is open to published crime writers, with provisional membership to writers who have a contract but whose book is not yet out: Full or Provisional Membership cost from £55 annually. There is also an option for associate membership for those in the publishing industry.

This does not mean that the aspiring crime writer has been forgotten.

We are keen to encourage new talent within the genre. The CWA is a professional organisation for professional writers, and others in the crime writing business, but – to take just two examples – the CWA Debut Dagger for unpublished novelists and CWA Margery Allingham Prize for new short stories both play an important part in encouraging and developing talent. We also have the CWA Criminal Critique service where, for fees beginning at £87 writers can receive professional feedback on, as yet, unpublished work.

The Crime Readers’ Association, which is free to join, was set up to make the authors, their works and events accessible to their readers. However, the new writer can pick up advice and tips, such as the Do’s and Dont’s when approaching a literary agent.’

Martin is very optimistic about the way the crime genre continues to evolve.

‘Digital publishing is changing the industry fast and nobody knows exactly what the future holds. But crime writing (fact as well as fiction) is as popular as ever. I’m a contemporary crime novelist, but I’ve been delighted by the revival of interest in classic crime fiction, and the truth is that the genre is a very broad church. So is the CWA.’

In light of all the changes that have happened in recent years within the publishing industry Martin views the future of the crime genre and the organisation in a very positive light.

‘I’m confident about the future of both crime writing and the CWA. Despite the fact that we have been around so long, today we have more members than ever before – and the number is rising all the time. That’s genuinely exciting. Writers face many challenges, not just when they are starting out, but throughout their careers, and the CWA is doing more and more to support them. I’ve also just appointed our first Libraries’ Champion and our first Booksellers’ Champion as we seek to collaborate with others for the benefit of all.’

Although the organisation is genre-specific Martin is keen to establish mutual links with other writing organisations within the industry.

‘Whilst the CWA is by definition genre-specific, I’m a firm believer in collaboration, and since becoming Chair I’ve initiated dialogue with a range of groups both here and overseas. A good example is our developing links with the Romantic Novelists’ Association, at both local and national level. Again, these relationships are mutually beneficial, and have great potential for all our members.’

Martin is a relatively new chair but he has already set many new goals to achieve during his tenure.

‘My aim is to oversee the modernisation and professionalization of the CWA, whilst remaining absolutely committed to its core traditional values of collegiality. Achieving this requires action on many levels – local, national, and international. We are modernising our infrastructure, strengthening our finances, recruiting more members here and overseas, and developing relationships with sponsors and other like-minded organisations. What we are seeing really is a quiet revolution, a radical one in some respects, but a process of making sure that the CWA and its members thrive in a challenging environment, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We don’t neglect our past – for instance, we’ve just launched the British Crime Writing Archives at the wonderful Gladstone’s Library, near Chester, with a weekend festival, Alibis in the Archives, that was such a success that we plan to repeat it next year. But we also look to the future – for instance, we’re starting to work with the ALCS, and looking at how we might contribute to the work of the All Party Parliamentary Writers’ Group. A huge amount remains to be done, but our continuing growth illustrates vividly that writers see a real need for the CWA, and are keen to be part of a forward-looking association that always strives to support and promote crime writing in general, and its members in particular, as well as encouraging new writers into the genre.’

When asked what advice Martin would give to new writers of crime he explains that he is a planner.
‘The great thing about writing is this – you can always improve what you have written. A plan works well for me – not everyone is the same, of course. But even the best laid plans are sometimes capable of being changed for the better. So far, I’ve never changed the original solution to any of my novels, but I’ve tinkered with many other elements of my stories.’

Martin Edwards’ eighteen novels include the Lake District Mysteries and the Harry Devlin series, and The Golden Age of Murder won the Edgar, Agatha, H.R.F. Keating and Macavity awards. He has edited thirty five crime anthologies, and won the CWA Short Story Dagger, CWA Margery Allingham Prize, and the Poirot Award. He is series consultant for the British Library’s Crime Classics, President of the Detection Club, and Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association. His The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books was published in August.

Catching up with Rosemary Kind!

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I just had to ask you back when I realised that it was Alfie’s birthday, Rosemary!

It is now five years since I started the short story download arm of Alfie Dog Fiction. Over that time I’ve had the privilege to work with many hundreds of talented authors and read quite literally thousands of stories. For some well-established authors we are the publisher they turn to for republication of their stories, but we have also been responsible for launching the careers of many new writers and I don’t say that lightly. It has been a privilege to work on stories for talented authors who have gone on to be very successful, either with their stories or novels. Many have told us that we have helped them on the way, giving them direction in some cases and in others simply the confidence that their work is good.

We realised with the resources we had available that it was not possible to grow the site exponentially and, in reality, that wasn’t what our readers wanted. What readers wanted to see was new stories regularly, but in place of, rather than as well as, all the old ones. We’ve worked with authors to achieve this and in the recent submission window selected around 60 new stories which are going live on the site over the coming weeks. It will give us a current total of around 325 authors and 1600 short stories to choose between.

Another more recent development has been a number of our book titles being made into audio books. So far this has included four novels and one short story collection, but we’re looking at further titles being added to the selection shortly.

Over the five years, we’ve brought out quite a significant number of book titles and there are currently 34 out in paperback or ebook.

What will the next five years hold? It’s always hard to say. One of the beauties of being a small organisation is that we can change easily and take opportunities that are presented. We have more books due out in the coming months and more short stories. At the outset we created the site because we believed in the medium of the short story. That remains as true now as it did five years ago.

If you would like to help us celebrate then this is what will be happening:

May 16th – June 20th A special feature of some of the best stories from our original authors http://alfiedog.com/fiction/featured/

May 16th onwards – five stories half price for five weeks – with stories changing weekly http://alfiedog.com/fiction/sale/

June 11th: You are very welcome to join our fifth birthday then you will be very welcome to join our ‘On-line birthday party’. We will be having party games and there will be prizes. You may need to bring your own cake as that’s harder to send out over the internet! The party is on Sunday June 11th from 7pm to 9pm UK time and you can find it HERE

Jun 13th onwards – five books free for download for five days each. For details of these offers see our Facebook page, Twitter @AlfieDogLimited , or Newsletter

Best wishes
Ros Kind

Co-author of  – From Story Idea to Reader – an accessible guide to writing fiction

Sign up for my newsletter HERE

Thank you for the update and for accepting seven of my stories!

I wish you every continued success.

FOR THE LOVE OF WRITING: INSPIRATION AND MOTIVATION

picture1In previous blog posts I have looked at how to keep yourself fit for the task of writing thousands of words and then how to set realistic goals to achieve them. Before moving on to looking at the actual writing of the fiction, two factors play an important part in beginning and completing the process: inspiration and motivation.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
What motivates you to write fiction?
These two questions are asked to many authors and the answers may be as varied as the individuals who the questions are posed to.

I am constantly inspired by anything from a name, a newly learned and intriguing little known fact, a place that sparks an idea or a simple overheard statement. Inspiration is all around us, we just have to be open to it and use our imaginations to ask that simple question: “What if?”

Once inspired to write, then motivation kicks in to drive our effort so that the idea turns into a real manuscript. We can be both inspired and motivated at the same time by reading our favourite author’s work.

Here are a just a few common motivators:

  • To escape from reality into a world of our making that we may or may not share with others.
  • To earn money (realistically, this is not an easy industry to break into or make a liveble wage from.)

Whatever your inspiration, you need the motivation to keep going, learning and growing as a writer; going beyond rejection to reach that place of acceptance and becoming a published author.If you choose to write for your own enternment that is fine. Once published there are always those who will look upon your work negatively and leave reviews to say so. This should not stop you writing what you want to, but the choice and opportunity to become published does mean that you have to accept the positive and negative reviews alike. Ultimately we have to believe in what we do.

Learn from those who have done it and also from any of their early mistakes, so that you can avoid some of the common errors yourself. Accept that it is all part of undertsanding the business and put rejection and destructive criticism aside, which is why I share author interviews, whilst taking on board the constructive advice.

Once you are keen to begin your project, then set your realistic goals and be determined!

You can network at conferences, online and in local writing groups. Or invest in a reputable course, join in schemes such as The New Writers’ Scheme run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association and seek professional feedback.

Writing is a lonely business. I am often asked how can you teach a person to write a novel or short fiction. My answer is simple: imagination can be encouraged not taught. It has to spark from within the writer. However, there are common errors new writers make as they learn their craft that can be corrected. Every person, every student that I have had the pleasure of teaching over many years has been unique. Therefore, my feedback is always tailored to the individual. If you have a manuscript that you are working on at the moment, or have finished, and would like constructive, professional feedback on, then please contact me on vholmesauthor@gmail.com for a quote.

What inspires or motivate you to write?