Meet historical fiction author, Elizabeth Bailey

I am really delighted to invite my fellow Sapere Books author, Elizabeth Bailey, as my guest this month.

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Welcome, Elizabeth!

My first question has to be where did your love of storytelling and writing begin?

My father read to us and my older sister made up stories for my brother and me, thus fostering an early interest in literature. I can’t remember when stories were not part of my life. Difficult to recall when I began to write them. In school, for festivals, and for pleasure.

My first fairy tale featured a hero who had to rid the lake of a plague of giant spiders in order to win the princess – hence romance. But the darker side was there too in an epic tragi-poem of a sailor who murders the mermaid who loves him. Shades of the future there?

There is a touch of horror in there for me too – spiders!

Do you find switching between the two very different genres of romance and crime keeps your writing fresh?

To be honest, I don’t switch much. I’m either writing romances one after another, or mysteries ditto, whatever happens to be driving the bread and butter. I contributed to anthologies with five other authors, producing a string of Regencies which became the Brides by Chance Regency Adventures. My Lady Fan mysteries had languished when I lost my first publisher. When Sapere picked them up, I began a feverish assault on those and haven’t swapped back yet. I write the occasional snippet of something completely different when the mood strikes.

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You touch on the paranormal in some novels, is this an area of research that you find fascinating?

I am absolutely sold on the supernatural. Powers above the norm, which I believe we all possess if we can access them. Telepathy is everywhere. You think of someone out of the blue and then they ring you up. Magic. Saying which, I was hooked on the Harry Potter series and I’m a sucker for fairy tales. As for past lives, we have all lived many times before. Far too much proof for doubt. One of my paranormals is based on an incident from one of my own past lives. I have no truck with the prevalent one-life belief!

That is fascinating. I admire your certainty.

In the ‘Lady Fan Series’ your protagonist is a woman who has to overstep the conventions of a lady in her day. This is a difficult challenge for an author and is a factor I also try to balance. How do you enable her to complete her investigations in a credible way for the period?

This is why I gave her Lord Francis. He is both husband and champion, her protector, and he can go where Ottilia can’t. If she does venture where ladies don’t, she is always accompanied by a stout male guardian – Francis or her Barbadian steward. Nevertheless, she still gets into dangerous situations. Her medical lore is gained from helping her brother doctor Patrick, with whom she lived for years before her launch into solving murders.

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Her background is “the middling sort” – genteel but not moving in the first circles. She observes the aristocratic milieu she is now in with an outsider’s eye, and she is free of the shibboleths governing the behaviour of ladies in that strata. That’s why she oversteps the bounds of convention, relying on her status for impunity. She has married into the elite where eccentricity is tolerated. In other words, she gets away with it!

Writing a series with recurring characters means that they have to continue to grow and develop with each new novel. How do you keep track of their biographies so that this development is consistent?

Wow, I have no idea! Every story has its own “bible” with cast, places, etc and snippets of potential plot, all of which I add to as I go along. The basics are copied into the new bible for a new book. If I’m missing one, I get it from an old bible. I probably ought to keep a spreadsheet, but I know I’d never manage to keep it up! I’ve always written this way – a cast/plot document and a text document, plus research docs, discarded text in a temp doc in case I need to retrieve it.

How I keep track is a mystery, but I do. So far. The characters who keep coming back are a fistful really. When other family members intrude, it’s usually in a minor way and about the only thing I have to figure out is how old they are now. Francis and Ottilia have developed without much help from me. They evolve story by story. I do enjoy their relationship. They have their ups and downs, but I find readers are engaged by their enduring love story.

When I began the series, I determined to marry them off after the first book because a personal bugbear of mine is those off/on romances that persist through a whole series. Why can’t they just get it together? Instead, I decided to give each story a secondary romance, but in the event, it turned out my hero and heroine are still very much the romantic couple in every story. I didn’t plan it. They just are, those two!

You have had some fascinating career roles to date: acting, directing, teaching and of course writing. Has each one contributed something to your current profession of being an author?

Absolutely. Theatre has shaped my writing. Dramatic structure parallels story structure in terms of build-up, highs and lows, climax and denouement, not forgetting cliff-hanger scene endings, “curtain” in drama. There’s also motivation, emotional journey, conflict (inner and external), character, dialogue, sub-text – the spaces between the words and character introspection. As an actress, these things became part of me. As a teacher, I had to dissect them. Ditto as a director, viewing my “staged drama” as a whole moving picture. The difference is that words encourage the reader to watch “the play” in their imagination.

You have been blessed with cross-cultural experience and travelled widely throughout your life. Do you agree that these aspects of life help to deepen an author’s ability to create engaging characters and plots?

I think it has given me a large tolerance of other cultures. Perhaps most telling, an understanding that human nature is pretty much the same, nation to nation. Such cultural differences as there are consist by and large of moral standards and artistic appreciation. But the human condition is what it is throughout. We all run the gamut of emotions and struggle with our personal demons as we try to survive. Observation enables you to engage as you mirror the inhabitants of the world around you.

Who or what would you say has had a strong influence on your life/work ethic?

My values echo my father’s. A true gentleman, he had wide tolerance, liberal ideals, intelligence. Articulate, funny, considerate and kind, he was a big teddy bear to me. As to work ethic, I imagine my mother’s bundle-of-energy personality must have rubbed off on me. Not that I could keep up! But I do have her drive to push through and get things done.

You have been published and self-published. What would you say are the main advantages or disadvantages of each?

Oh, this is a hard one. These days, you can’t talk of leaving promotion to others because both avenues require you to play your part in touting the books. I think traditional publishers help with visibility and take the burden off in terms of editing, proofing, formatting, book cover design and initial launch. On your own, you have to do it all and that’s tough. On the plus side, you have artistic control and personal satisfaction, even if sales are not as easy to promote.

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What advice would you give your younger self if you could as you set out on a life as an author?

Well, this is interesting because I am constantly giving advice to new authors. I’m not sure I would give the same advice to my younger self because things were very different in publishing when I started out. I had also already struggled to make it as an actor so persistence was not new to me. I think I would say: “Just do it. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

What is next for Elizabeth Bailey?

Here’s where I reveal the dream! If I get my dearest wish, it will be a TV series of Lady Fan. That would put the icing on the cake of my writing career.

Thank you for taking the time to answer all my questions and I wish you every success in your career and in life. I hope you realise your dream!

 

 

 

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

Welcome, Jane!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “Get the story down.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you embrace technology and social media with enthusiasm?

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

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

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

What are your inspirations or ambitions now?

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

 What project are you currently working on?

                             A 10th book and the 2020 programme for BroadstairsLit

 

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

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

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

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

What is next for Jane Wenham-Jones?

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

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

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

And to you – thanks for having me xxxx

Jacobean Architecture and Kiplin Hall, Richmond, North Yorkshire.

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Leaham Hall in For Richer, For Poorer is a Jacobean style of country house that provides employment for its estate workers and the small nearby village of Leaham. In reality the image of Kiplin Hall inspired its fictitious counterpart.

Jacobean architecture gained popularity during the reign of King James I (1566-1625) with its love of symmetry and the mixture of gable or flat roofs; these brick built buildings were houses of the well-to-do landed gentry.

The era’s love of colour, Palladian columns, woodwork and carvings, along with the use of granite made them quite unique. The central staircase would be a focal point that lead the family or visitors up to the first and second  floors.

The Jacobean period was one that was tumultuous and the use of heraldry could reveal the owner’s loyalty. These houses, like many of the time, could also have been used as safe havens for those who had Jacobite sympathies.

Kiplin is a treasure to be discovered, tucked away in the beautiful countryside of North Yorkshire near the village of Scorton. It was built by George Calvert who was the Secretary of State to James 1 and founder of Maryland USA.

I borrowed some aspects of this tranquil setting for my plot in For Richer, For Poorer and placed Leaham Hall under threat.  The early nineteenth century was a time of great social, industrial, political and religious change; so I set Parthena and Jerome Fender loose on a quest to save the Hall, the estate and the village.

Here are some pictures of the moorland trods that Parthena and Jerome have to cross. You can find out more about these ancient pathways in my blog post at Sapere Books

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Catching up with Martin Edwards!

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Hi, Martin, and welcome back.  It was great to meet up again and congratulations on becoming the Chair of the CWA.

Thanks, Val. It was a pleasure to spend time in your company at the CWA’s enjoyable annual conference in Edinburgh recently. You know from your own experience that the CWA is a vigorous and highly collegiate organisation. For me, it’s a huge honour to be elected Chair.

Cwa-logoThe CWA keeps growing – it now has more members than ever before in its 64 year history. Although most are British writers, we have an increasing number of members based overseas, plus corporate and associate members involved in many different ways with the business of crime writing. We also prize non-fiction crime writing – a CWA Gold Dagger is awarded each year for the best factual book as well as for the best novel.

So the CWA is a very broad church. That makes it a vibrant organisation, but it also presents challenges. How can we make sure that we deliver value to all our members? That has to be our central aim. It’s not the committee’s organisation, far less my own. It belongs to the whole of the membership. And that’s something I keep at the forefront of my mind.

At present, for instance, self-published writers are not eligible for membership. The writing business is changing rapidly, and my personal view is that our eligibility criteria will change too. But this will only happen when there’s a clear consensus in favour on the part of the membership – it’s not a decision that can or should be imposed.

Already, we do a great deal for our members. If you take a look at the membership benefits on our website, you’ll find that there are very wide-ranging, and rarely matched by comparable groups. Our regional chapters offer an eclectic mix of social and professional activities; each chapter operates with a high level of autonomy, which is the way our members like it. As well as social media platforms, we run the Crime Readers’ Association, with its monthly newsletter going to over 10,000 subscribers. The bi-monthly Case Files has a similar readership. Our members have exclusive access, therefore, to a key target audience, an audience that is expanding all the time.

Golden Age pbkBut I want us to keep growing, and to offer our members even more. My belief is that the CWA’s potential is almost limitless. Crime writing is, after all, enormously popular worldwide, and few “brands” within the genre can match the prestige of the CWA, and of our internationally renowned Dagger awards.

Let me mention just a few of the areas that I’d like us to explore in the coming years – not just while I’m Chair, but on a continuing basis. Our links with libraries are very important, and mutually beneficial. The CWA Dagger in the Library is a popular award, and our National Crime Reading Month links writers, readers, and libraries each June. I’ve just appointed our first Libraries Champion, Ruth Dudley Edwards, who will develop those links further, to everyone’s benefit.

I’m equally keen to develop our links with booksellers nationwide, and with publishers large and small, as well as with like-minded people and organisations in the UK and further afield. So I’m talking to – among others – the Society of Authors, the Romantic Novelists’ Association, the Crime Writers’ Association of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Mystery Writers of America to explore ways of deepening our relationships to the benefit of all concerned.

And there’s much more – too much for one blog post! But I’d like to highlight the valuable work we do for the public benefit, not least encouraging the next generation of writers via the exceptionally successful CWA Debut Dagger, and also a flash fiction competition for students at the Edinburgh conference. This is another area of our activities that I’d love to expand.

I’Story of Classic Crimem also proud that our archives are a central part of the British crime writing archives now held at Gladstone’s Library. Over time, I hope this will become an internationally recognised resource for researchers and crime fans. The archives are being opened officially at a week-end event in June, Alibis in the Archive, which quickly sold out – surely a sign we are doing something right. In fact, the tremendous level of interest means that we’ve already agreed to run another Alibis next year.

Of course, there are constraints. Our resources are limited, and so – crucially – is the time of committee members who are unpaid volunteers. We can’t do everything we’d like to do, and we will never be able to please everyone – no organisation can. We need to build up our management infrastructure, and operate as professionally as possible, so that our worthy aims can be implemented efficiently and over the long term. Making sure that all this happens in a sound way cannot be achieved overnight. But the portents are good. The future of the CWA promises to be even more exciting than its prestigious past.

Read Martin’s original interview here!

Dungeon House UKMartin 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 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 appears in July.

The CWA Dagger logo is a registered trade mark of the CWA

King Ludd & trouble at the mills!

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The term ‘Luddite’ is widely used even today, but its origins are shrouded in both truth and myth.

Two names that are supposed to have been associated with it are Ned Ludd and King Llud. Whatever the truth, the term has stayed in common language. Today it is used to describe someone  who is averse to technical change, but its origins stemmed from men who thought they were fighting to save their livelihoods and their families from being destitute.

Since medieval times the wool trade had been of great importance to the working people of our nation. Traditionally women and their children spun the yarn and the menfolk were skilled loom weavers. Each piece of cloth was then taken to market to be sold in the Piece Halls. In the early nineteenth century new inventions took over this traditional family method of making and selling cloth.

With new cotton and wool mills growing in size and numbers, the workers that left their villages to work in them need not be so skilled. They could be taught a task and become part of the overall process.

The volume of cloth produced could therefore be increased. Uniformity and scale of production would be guaranteed by the use of these wider weaving machines. But the downside was that the employment was no longer a cottage industry, but required a central approach, breaking up communities and leaving men without the means to feed their families. With the price of food, particularly bread increasing, the men felt somehow their concerns needed to be heard.

The actions of a man allegedly called Edward Ludlam also knonw as ‘Ned Ludd’ in 1779 was given the label ‘Luddite’. He was accused of breaking two frames in anger. So when in Nottingham in 1811 groups of weavers gathered and planned attacks on targeted mills to destroy the machines that had taken away their livelihood, the term ‘Luddite’ was used again and stuck.

These attacks spread to Yorkshire and other counties and continued for a number of years. Groups banded in numbers of up to three figures, but surprisingly few were actually caught or hanged.  Some were transported, perhaps unjustly, as those who were accused of being part of a gathering or an attack would have little defence heard to save them. King Llud was used on letters of demand to add weight to their threats and demands.

In 1812 The Frame Breaking Act made the breaking of stocking-frames a capital felony, hence allowing the death penalty to be given to those caught. Rewards were offered, but the local people were the very families of the men who were trying to stop a revolution of machine replacing manual labour, soit was unlikely that many would provide information. It is also likely they would be in danger if they were discovered by the gang members. It was a battle they could never win,

The government and the mill owners did not listen to their pleas. Workers, including young children, were paid low, had no say over their conditions and were often exploited.This was exactly the situation Phoebe and Thomas escaped from in Phoebe’s Challenge. As mills developed not all owners were as harsh (they were by comparison to today’s working practices) but some introduced education, shorter hours for children and healthier diet and living conditions. This is where the idea for Laura’s Legacy came from.

Just click on the link to see how Phoebe rises to the challenge or how Laura’s Legacy survives!

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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?

Catching up with Valerie-Anne Baglietto!

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Hi Val, welcome back!

Your first interview was back in 2013. So what exciting things have happened since then?

When you asked me, just before Christmas, if I’d like to do this update, I seem to remember silently screaming, No, go away, can’t cope with this, or something along those lines. Basically I was in festive meltdown – organising kids, grandparents, husband etc. – and didn’t want to have to think about work. After I calmed myself down and messaged you back, you kindly reassured me I could leave it until after January.

So here I am, revisiting my old self from a few years back, remembering what goals she set and what she was planning writing-wise. I’m satisfied that she appears to have achieved her aims, and of course, she’s set some new ones since then, too.

 (I’ll slide firmly into first person POV now, so I don’t sound any more pretentious than I have to.)

Firstly, ONCE UPON A WINTER, which had just come out before I was last here on Val’s blog, went on to top the Amazon UK Fairy Tale Chart in 2013 and at the last count had over sixty 5-star reviews. Understandably, I was thrilled about that, considering it was my first attempt at modern magical realism. The feedback from readers, both old and new, was encouraging.

Last time round, I also mentioned a short story I was contributing to the ‘Sunlounger’ anthology organised in 2013 by Belinda Jones. There was another one the following year, and I took part in that, too. My second tale, PANDORA  AND THE MUSIC BOX, has also been a featured read on Wattpad. I hadn’t attempted a short story in years, but I valued the discipline of keeping to a strict, low word count.

As for the novella I spoke about last time, I actually ended up writing two that year. A GIRL I KNEW (formerly known as The Trouble With Knights in Shining Armour) and my Christmas themed THE LITTLE BOOK OF LOST HEARTS. The latter set the scene for the next full length work, FOUR SIDES TO EVERY STORY, which I have to admit is the favourite of my contemporary fairy tales so far. It was shortlisted in the 2015 Love Stories Awards and was a 5-star read of 2015 on Chat About Books.

Last year was a bit of a departure, though, as I started working on something different from anything I’d attempted before. I even invented a pen-name – a whole other person to hide behind, which was liberating. But as the year drew to a close, I realised I wasn’t happy. I missed my fairy tales. For reasons rooted in insecurity, I’d begun to think they weren’t ‘proper’ books, not worthy somehow, and could never stand alongside the amazing, emotive fiction being published today.

Then it all changed. FOUR SIDES TO EVERY STORY was listed as a top read for 2016 on Portobello Book Blog, along with a dozen other titles, many of which I’m in awe of. Out of the 140 or so novels Joanne (@portybelle) had read that year, mine had been memorable enough to hover in her top 10(ish). I felt touched, and very grateful. Something clicked in my fragile writer’s brain. A realisation. Just because I choose to weave reality – or our concept of it – with traces of magic, doesn’t mean my work isn’t of value, or unable to hold its own in a crowded market. If this were true, then why is it  some of the most famous and enduring stories in our culture happen to be fairy tales, myths and parables? All through history, fiction has worked to make sense of the world around us, and often metaphors are the best way to do it.

So, when the kids went back to school at the start of this year, I dug out a notebook bursting with the plot for a sequel to FOUR SIDES TO EVERY STORY, and sat down as Valerie-Anne to begin this new project. And that’s what I’m working on right now. Oddly, it’s as liberating as having a pseudonym. I feel as if I’ve come home, having forgotten what a wonderful place it can be. I’m  energised by my writing again, rather than drained, and excited to find out what 2017 holds for me.

Thank you, Val, for inviting me to return to your blog, to share an update. I’ve enjoyed looking back as well as forward, and come to the conclusion that it’s quite a healthy thing to do at this time of year. Maybe everyone should give it a go!

 Exciting times for you, Val. I wish you every continued success in the future!

Meet Sophie Duffy!

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When did you discover your love of books?

I could read before I started school so as long as I can remember I’ve loved books. Mum or Dad read to me every night and once they’d tucked me up, I would hide under the bedclothes with a torch, up late (a notoriously bad sleeper all my life), with a heap of books, looking at the pictures and making up stories until I could make out the text. I loved Ladybird books (which I still have on my bookshelves), Enid Blyton, especially Mr Pink-Whistle and Amelia Jane, and ‘Twinkle’, the comic I got every week as we lived above the newsagent’s run by my parents in Torquay.

When did you decide that you wanted to write your own?

I wrote a lot of stories when I was a child but that fizzled out by the time I reached secondary school when I was more concerned with Wham! and boys. At university I studied English and wrote bad poetry. It wasn’t until my children were small that I went to a creative writing class at the adult education college. By the end of that first lesson I was hooked, and knew I wanted to be a writer. I was 33. It was another ten years before I had my debut novel published.

What can a reader expect from a Sophie Duffy novel? 

The reader can expect a nostalgia-fest with a few tears and laughs along the way. They will get a blended, dysfunctional family or group of friends, and a main character trying to negotiate their hazardous journey through the world with all its ups and downs.

Change and facing the difficulties that this presents is a strong theme in your novels. How much of an influence has change in your own life experience driven the empathy you create for your own protagonists?

 The one certainty in life is that we will face change. It’s how we adapt to change that marks us as individuals. Sometimes we resist change, sometimes we embrace it. We might make bad decisions. We probably will. And it’s the repercussions of these decisions that echo down the years that I am interested in as a writer.

 

The award winning The Generation Game (The Yeovil Literary Prize 2006 and Luke Bitmead Bursary 2010) confronts many issues including childhood abandonment and buried secrets. Where did the idea for this acclaimed novel come from?

The idea for ‘The Generation Game’ came from a short story wot I wrote. The idea for the story came from my early childhood when we lived above the newsagent’s (also a sweetshop/tobacconist’s) in the early 70s. Sadly, my father took his own life when I was ten which I suppose counts as abandonment of sorts, so maybe that is why I am drawn to this as a theme. Love and loss go hand in hand but I truly believe that love – often from unexpected places – conquers all. I have bitter sweet memories (if you’ll pardon the pun) from this era, as do most of Generation X who grew up in the golden years of Saturday night television. We have seen several of our childhood icons fall by the wayside in the wake of Operation Yewtree. Thank goodness for Sir Brucie is all I can say.

This Holey Life (runner up of The Harry Bowling Prize 2008) is another successful novel that looks at change and faith with humour, yet balanced reality. What was the greatest challenge this project posed?

I was worried that readers might be put off by a vicar’s wife as a main character but felt encouraged when I saw ‘Rev’ on the television, a sitcom which looks at life in the church and all the eccentric characters that make up a spiritual community. It’s not a ‘Christian’ book as such but a story that embraces life with all its flaws and imperfections.

 

You are part of the Creative Writing Matters team. How much do you enjoy sharing what you have learned with new writers?

It’s brilliant! I know how much I have learned and continue to learn from other writers. I know that being a writer is a life long process and that I receive more from my students than they get from me. Administering the Exeter Novel Prize and the Exeter Story Prize has also been a revelation. Having read hundreds of thousands of words over the years, I understand more about what makes good writing and good storytelling. I hope this feeds into my own work!

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What key piece of advice would you give to an, as yet, unpublished author?

If it’s what you really want, then keep trying. Don’t give up. Enter competitions where your writing will be both read and considered. Keep writing. Read a lot. Listen to feedback, sit on it, and when it rings true, rewrite, edit, submit.

 

What is next for Sophie?

I have just signed a contract for the next book. All I can say for now is the novel involves two ninety year old ladies, one of whom is the queen. Watch this space…

Catching up with Sally!

 In November 2015 I interviewed Sally Bridgewater, Creative Writing Courses & Competitions Coordinator for Writing Magazine, who was about to embark on an extreme writing challenge of hitting the 50,000 word target for the NaNoWriMo Challenge – but in one day!

I thought I’d catch up with Sally and see what has happened since.

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Hi, Sally, welcome back.  Can you share with us what has happened as a result of completing the challenge?
Doing the twenty-four hour wordathon was a fun challenge, but I wouldn’t class it as life-changing. I did really appreciate getting the chance to write a piece about it in the Writing Magazine, which is my first proper published article. It did really help me get the rest of my novel draft done back in November 2015, and getting a full draft down on paper gave me a lot more confidence that I really will finish this novel one day.
Have you submitted the finished draft yet? 
Nowhere near! I took a break after NaNoWriMo in 2015 – one of the downsides of taking on extreme challenges is that afterwards you usually feel in need of an extreme rest. So I only picked my novel back up in April 2016, when I started world-building and generally trying to re-plot the whole thing. I just aimed for twice a week as I’ve been pretty busy with other things, and that gave me a good stretch of steady progress on it over the summer.
Believe it or not, I have not yet gone back and re-read what I wrote in the wordathon or in the rest of that November – as soon as I started working on the novel again I knew I’d be changing so much that there wasn’t too much point in working from the draft outwards. I still don’t see it as a waste of time though – doing that really rough draft gave me a rough sense of the characters, the world, the plot, and most especially got me far enough to imagine what would happen at the end. All of that was crucial, and as I am a first-time novelist I don’t think there was any other way for me to work out a full plot from my first ideas. I’m hoping with my second or third book I won’t have to write completely discarded drafts though!
I hope not. However, I can see how completing this punishing challenge has taught you so much and given you a tangible first draft to build upon.
In November 2016 I wanted to do NaNoWriMo again, of course, and I was aiming for a complete rewrite of the novel with my new plot. Even though I was the most prepared I’ve ever been, with a spreadsheet of all the scenes I was planning, unfortunately life got in the way. I finally reached the top of the waiting list for a much-delayed jaw surgery during November so I had to give that priority. I thought lying on the sofa recovering would give me lots of time to write, but it turns out that healing is a lot more tiring than it looks! I didn’t want to push myself while I was obviously not at full health, so I’ve not given myself a hard time about it.
I hope you are fully recovered now. What are your writing goals for 2017?
Get this second draft finished! I have recommitted to writing 1000 words a day, and it’s really working pretty well at the moment. I use the Jotterpad app on my phone to write on the bus on my way to and from work, and I am genuinely surprised how much easier I find it to do that than to carve out a chunk of time to sit at my computer – somehow that just feels more like Hard Work. I am using all the psychology tricks I can to make it easier, such as congratulating myself just for making the three short taps it takes to open the Jotterpad on my phone. I know that’s all I have to do really, and then once it’s actually in front of me it’s much easier to contemplate doing the actual writing.
I am also using a site called Beeminder.com to keep me on track – it makes a graph of a goal you want to achieve, so in my case I have one tracking the number of ‘days I worked on my main fiction project’ and I’ve set my target as only three days a week. This is because if you fall off the line on the graph of how many things you said you’d do, then Beeminder charges your credit card an ever-increasing amount of money. It is scarily effective at keeping you motivated, I’d seriously recommend it for anything you’re stuck on.
I’ve then got a great writing project I’m looking forward to in April – my friend Tonks and I (who helped with the Wordathon in the first place) have agreed to do ‘Camp NaNoWriMo’ and make it Editing Month. The real twist is that I will edit her first draft and she will edit mine. It’s a little scary but we trust each other and it will be so much easier seeing how to improve someone else’s work rather than your own. So that gives me a deadline to get the second draft done!
If anyone would like to follow developments, they can like my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SallyBridgewater. I could do with your support!
I wish you a very happy, healthy and successful 2017!

Catching up with Cathie Hartigan

Thank you for inviting me back on your blog, Valerie.

You are welcome, Cathie. So what has been happening in your world since I interviewed you and Margaret James in July 2015?

I can’t believe that it’s been a very busy eighteen months since Margaret and I were here last!

Our textbooks, The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook and The Short Story Writer’s Workbook have proved to be successes for us and we hope they had helped those who have read them. The feedback we’ve had has been fantastic. The handbook was one of our early projects, but more recently, the whole team at CreativeWritingMatters, that’s Margaret James, Sophie Duffy and myself, published A Christmas Celebration, an anthology of stories, quizzes and puzzles. A perfect Secret Santa!

It seems only yesterday that we set up CreativeWritingMatters, but recently, the ever-watchful Facebook reminded me the page is already five years old. It isn’t really surprising when I think of how our competitions; the Exeter Novel Prize, Exeter Story Prize – including the Trisha Ashley Award for the best humorous story, have become fixtures in the literary calendar. Trisha is a Sunday Times bestselling author of romantic comedies and knows a thing or two. We are delighted that so many of our winners and shortlisted entrants have achieved publication.

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Right up at the top of the achievement list for me personally in the last year and a half, is the publication of my debut novel, Secret of the Song. It’s a time-slip mystery set in renaissance Naples and contemporary Exeter (my home city). I knew little about wicked Prince Gesualdo whose music and madness lies at the heart of the story, but my research soon revealed that the Italians make our Tudors look like lightweights when it comes to bad behaviour. How awful, I thought, for those innocent servants who were caught up in the crimes of their masters and mistresses. When I read the witness statement of a young maidservant, I straight away heard the voice of my heroine.

Secret of the Song’s success has been really thrilling, especially after I decided to independently publish. This decision was made after considerable thought, and only because I was reasonably well established with the textbooks, short stories and competitions. Everyone who read Secret of the Song was enthusiastic, but when it came to agents and publishers the response was the same. Loved it – don’t know how to sell it. Music is too niche. Hmm, I thought, tell that to Gareth Malone.

A word of warning to anyone thinking of self-publishing – if it’s for your friends and relations, that’s fine, but if you want a wider readership, you’ll need a huge social media presence before you publish. Make sure you get a professional edit and proof as well.

One of the most exciting things about preparing your own book for publication is that you get to decide on the cover. I opted for Berni Stevens, a cover designer with considerable experience. I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.

One year later, having reached number thirty-five on Kindle and acquired over fifty rave reviews, I’m happy to say that’s not the case. Phew! Thank you, lovely readers.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and every continued success in 2017!