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 The New Writers’ Scheme gives unpublished authors membership of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and a critique on a full manuscript each year from a working author in your sub-genre.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

Meet author and self help guru, Peter Jones

Me


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

When and where did your passion for writing begin?

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

Which came first fiction or non-fiction?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Write what you love. Do what makes you happy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is next for Peter? 

Who knows!? Hopefully more novels.

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

I wish you every continued success!

Find out more about Peter:-

 

Freedom’s Flow

New release!

1815: Raised in a convent, Ruby has been taken from its shelter to be placed in the service of Mr Sedgwick of Tilbury. Her new master is elusive, and the reason for her presence there seems a mystery.

Meanwhile, Giles Marram has returned home from the wars to find much has changed – a beautiful maid has been moved into the Hall. But why is Marram’s former captain seeking her out?

 

 

Promotion Time!

Stolen Treasure is now only 99p!

Some secrets are intended to stay buried...

In 1809 Elizabeth Matthews shares many a childhood adventure with her soul-mate, Thomas Lamb, son of the estate’s handyman.
Elizabeth is entrusted with the safe keeping of a tin box by her Mama but instead, leaves the task to Thomas’s father Joseph. However, life in the windswept north-east coastal village of Alunby is left behind when she is promptly sent away to be schooled in the city of York.
Risking her reputation, and a possible marriage match, Elizabeth dreams of the day when the secret inside the tin box will be revealed to her, and goes on a journey of rediscovery to find Thomas and seek out the stolen treasure.
Some secrets were intended to stay buried, however, what Elizabeth discovers is of greater value than she could ever have imagined.

‘Great read, especially for the price!’

King Ludd & trouble at the mills!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

Laura's Legacy

 

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?

Meet Sophie Duffy!

sophiecol-matt-austin-44

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!

creative-writing-matters

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…