Nicola Cornick, chair of The Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA), an historian and award winning novelist, explains what the organisation offers both published and unpublished writers of romance.

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I am delighted to welcome back Nicola as chair of the RNA.

What can the organisation offer romance writers in 2018?

‘The RNA is the professional organisation that supports and promotes romantic fiction in the UK. Membership of the RNA offers authors the chance to strengthen their career through developing their craft at our workshops and conferences and to build a network with other authors who understand the challenges we face and can offer advice and support. We are also building strong links with the industry and our events give authors the chance to meet a wide range of agents, publishers, booksellers, librarians and other professionals.’

That seems to present a broad spectrum of activities and opportunities to support your members.

‘In addition, members receive Romance Matters, our quarterly journal covering all aspects of writing romantic fiction from the craft to industry issues, discounted tickets to all our events and the opportunity to join regional groups. So the benefits are both professional and social.’

Nicola stresses that although the emphasis is on the professional advice, events and networking a friendly and welcoming atmosphere is nurtured. So how does a writer become a member?

‘The RNA welcomes traditionally and independently published authors. Membership is in different bands: A full or independent Author Member is currently £50 (£57 for non EU based) and £60 for Associate Members (£67 for non EU based). All the details can be found online at or by contacting the membership secretary, Gill Stewart, on info@romanticnovelistsassociation.org.

The organisation also welcomes and encourages as yet unpublished writers into its ranks. The New Writers’ Scheme is unique as Nicola explains.

‘We’re very proud of the New Writers’ Scheme (NWS), which provides the opportunity for aspiring authors to submit a manuscript for critique by an experienced writer in the genre. Not only is it a great way for new writers to improve their craft, it also gives encouragement and support. As the RNA has close links with publishers and agents the NWS can provide a route for them to make those connections. Unsurprisingly it is hugely popular and each year a number of NWS members go on to achieve publishing contracts.’

The scheme is open to writers interested in submitting an unpublished romantic novel (or partial) and this year the membership fee cost was £135 (£145 for members outside the EU). This also allows unpublished authors to take part in all RNA activities as well as submitting a manuscript of a full-length novel for appraisal. More details are available by email to: NWS@romanticnovelistsassociation.org There is a cap on the number of submissions that can be accepted each year and acceptance into the scheme is therefore on a ‘first come first served’ basis. The entry slot for submissions closes at the end of August each year.

Today’s publishing environment seems to be becoming more challenging, but Nicola is very optimistic about the present market for the romance genre.

‘I think the romantic fiction genre is changing all the time to reflect both modern life and the changing publishing world. The genre is a broad one. You can find strong romantic elements in many different sorts of novels where people are writing about relationships, whether this is contemporary fiction or epic historicals or books for young adults. Our membership reflects all of these different threads. We also see the books reflecting the concerns of contemporary society, whether it is issues such as work life balance, infidelity or health. The recent return to popularity of Gothic romance perhaps reflects the idea that spooky stories resonate in uncertain times. And of course romantic fiction also continues to provide its readership with the wonderful feel-good stories that readers love.’

Looking forward, I asked Niocla if she thought that the scope for romantic fiction will narrow as lines in the market place are redefined, or do she saw it flourishing as it has done in the past?

‘I see a lot in the press about how the genre is being more and more tightly defined and categorised into sub-genres, but actually at the genre level, in the UK at least, I see it continuing to broaden out. There are romantic relationships represented in a whole range of novels from crime and sci fi to literary fiction. The RNA’s membership reflects that and our awards and events will continue to embrace that wider focus.’

How would Nicola like to see the organisation evolve under your tenure?

‘I’d like to see the RNA continue to provide great support for its membership whilst looking outward a bit more in our promotion of excellence within the genre. We would particularly like to build our relationships within the industry, with booksellers and librarians as well as with publishers and agents. We’d also like to put romantic fiction even more firmly on the map by reminding people what a very successful and dynamic genre it is in business terms.’

Nicola’s natural energy and enthusiasm for the genre shines through her vision, but can romance remain genre specific if there is a need or desire for a more open working relationship within the industry?

‘I think we can do both if we don’t constrain the genre too tightly. Our core role is to support our membership and as this is drawn from a broad range of romantic fiction this fits with the idea of needing a more open working relationship within the industry. With this in mind we are planning a series of joint events with the Crime Writers’ Association and the Historical Writers’ Association, amongst others, where we can explore the things we have in common and the support we give each other as writers more generally.’

 

Nicola Cornick is the author of dual-time gothic novels House of Shadows and The Phantom Tree (HQ) and also forty plus Regency romances. She is a former trustee of the Wantage Literary Festival and a historian and speaker specialising in public history.

 

Welcome Roger Sanderson

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It is my pleasure to introduce Roger Sanderson as my guest author this month. Roger is a prolific romance author and assistant organiser of the fantastic RNA Conferences along with Jan Jones.

Welcome, Roger, and thank you for giving up your time to do this interview.

When and why did you break into the world of romantic fiction?

For many years I lectured in English at a Further Education College, and as everyone knows, all English teachers really want to write novels – so when I retired, I decided to give it a go. I was already writing Commando comic scripts. While waiting at the publishers one day, I picked up their matching romance line STAR, so started with that. I went on to write for Hale, then M&B and am now with Accent (as Gill Sanderson) and Desert Breeze (as Roger Sanderson).

The RNA is a very supportive organisation. When did you first discover and join it?

I was a member of a local writing circle run by the late Sheila Walsh. She was on the committee of the RNA at the time and suggested I join. I am very glad she did!

Did your previous experience of writing scripts for Commando Comics influence the way you plot and write your novels?

They both demand a tight plot and extra care dealing with characterisation because there isn’t the room to over-develop the storyline. You have to focus. Possibly the experience of writing Commando scrpits has left me with a liking for a ‘big finish’. Of course, in a Commando, the hero shoots the enemy. In a romance novel the hero kisses the heroine. An important difference.

You are a prolific writer. How many titles have you had printed by Mills & Boon?

I think I wrote 44 or 45, all of which have now been re-edited and republished by Accent Press. It’s great to know these new digital editions are reaching a second audience.

You must have researched so many medical books and procedures over the years for your medical romances that I wondered if part of you had a leaning towards actually being a doctor or physician. Or do you prefer to stay away from the actual blood?

The latter, definitely! However three of my children are in the medical profession (Mark is a consultant oncologist, Adam is a dispensing nurse and Helen was a midwife for many years) so I have a wealth of research at the end of the phone.

I know many people ask you about writing as ‘Gill Sanderson’, but as many women writers create male protagonists I find this natural and refreshing. Did you choose to adopt a female pseudonym or was it advised?

It was very strongly suggested to me that I write under a female name. At the time the perceived wisdom was that when reading romance, women preferred a female name on the cover.

You have a love of the outdoors and hiking. Do you use this time to switch off from writing or to ponder and plot?

Originally I mountineered at the weekends to counteract the pressures of the staff room. The habit of outdoor exercise never leaves you, even if these days it’s more of a long daily walk by the sea. I rarely switch off from writing. I use walking time to think about the current book and also mull over ideas for future ones.

What is the best piece of advice you could offer to an as yet unpublished writer?

One: read as much as you can. Two: aim to write at least 500 words a week. Some weeks, this might be all you manage, some weeks it might be 5000 words. The important thing is to write something.

What do you like to read to relax?

Anything! I have very wide reading tastes.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently writing a sequel to my light-hearted romance LIVERPOOL TO LAS VEGAS (Desert Breeze Publishing), which features an ex-PE teacher and a documentary film maker and is one of my US-published novels under my own name.

What is next for Roger?

I had a major heart operation last year which is taking me a lot longer than I hoped to recover from. My goal at the moment is to get back to full health and keep on writing!

An Interview with Louise Allen

A photo of Louise Allen

When did you first decide to become a writer or discover your love for the written word?

I’ve always had a vivid imagination and loved fiction but I think academic work knocked the urge to actually write it out of me. Then I started for all the wrong reasons – I was a librarian and saw how popular Mills & Boon novels were. I thought it would be easy money – idiotic of me, of course. However, by the time I sorted myself out and took it seriously I was hooked.

What appealed to you about the romance genre?

It is a great genre for exploring relationships, which is always interesting, and when I discovered historical romance, there was no stopping me – two passions in one!

Your research is impeccably thorough. At what point do you take a step back from it and begin to write the book?

Walks Through Regency London Cover LARGE EBOOKThe story and the characters have to come first, always, although some plot lines can be sunk from the start if the historical premise is incorrect – 18thc characters getting an easy divorce, for example or a sub-plot that involves getting from London to York in a day. Generally I know what I don’t know and therefore what to research – politics, for example. I’ve got a huge personal reference library. But once I know I have a plot that will work in a particular historical context then I leave the research until afterwards and go back to it so it doesn’t take over. When I wrote a story set in AD410 during the Sack of Rome (Virgin Slave, Barbarian King) I just left questions in red for bits I needed to check and went back to them to be sure my characters left Rome by the right gate onto the right road and I’d got the layout of a bath house correct and so on.

I also write historical non-fiction – Walking Jane Austen’s London (Shire), Walks Through Regency London (Kindle), Stagecoach Travel (Shire, July) and I’m working on something on the Great North Road at the moment, so I can channel the hard facts somewhere they won’t take over.

You must have visited some fantastic locations and discovered some unusual facts during your research. Could you share some of the most memorable with us?

Finding three of the houses that Jane Austen stayed in when she was in London was a thrill. Only one, in Covent Garden has a Blue Plaque, but I discovered the other two when I found a pamphlet about research that was done after the war which revealed that her brother Henry’s homes in Sloane Street and Hans Place were not demolished by the late Victorians, but simply refaced and had new upper floors added. The originals are still there under the later shell.

Practical research is great too – I took carriage driving lessons, for example and I’m about to go on a practical osteoarchaeology course handling real skeletons. Goodness knows when that will come in useful…

Do you have a strict writing routine?

Yes, or I’d never get anything done! I write every afternoon until I have hit at least the minimum number of words I need to do to make sure I finish a week before the deadline, and hopefully a few more. That way I have some time in the bank for catching flu or unexpected commitments.

How do you balance the need of keeping your work accessible to contemporary readers against your desire for historical accuracy?

I won’t distort history but it is possible to use it to appeal to contemporary readers. For example I tend to write heroines who are older and who have the freedom to act in a more assertive, interesting way. They may be widows, or following one of the career paths open to women at the time. Where there are strong differences in beliefs and norms between the time I am writing about and the present – the fact that many wealthy families in the 18th century owed their fortunes to slavery in the West Indies, for example – I simply avoid putting my characters into those situations. On the other hand, the ‘long Regency’, which is the period I usually write about, saw the beginnings of many of the freedoms we are concerned about now, or at least the fight for them. Education for women, abolition of slavery, prison reform, concern for child welfare can all be woven in to some plots and engage the sympathy of readers.

As the New Writers’ Scheme Organiser for the RNA, what key advice would you give to someone who wanted to break into the romantic fiction market?

Read widely in the genre you are interested in and do so analytically as well as for pleasure. What works, what doesn’t? Why? Then work at developing your own voice – there is no substitute for practice!

Please tell us about your latest release?

UnlacingMy latest book is Unlacing Lady Thea (Harlequin Mills & Boon. April). I got the idea for it when we took a small-ship cruise down the eastern coast of Italy. My heroine is no great beauty, and thoroughly practical with it (and I had some fun with the fact that, unlike many romantic heroines, she doesn’t fool the hero for a moment when she disguises herself as a boy). My hero begins the book seriously the worse for drink and talking to the kitchen cat. He’s so drunk that he agrees it would be a good idea to allow Thea to accompany him on his Grand Tour so she can join her godmother in Venice. By the time he sobers up, it is too late and he is stuck with escorting his childhood friend for whom, of course, he has no amorous feelings… None at all, he tells himself.

What is next for Louise?

Scandal’s Virgin is out in June and Beguiled By Her Betrayer, which is set in Egypt in 1801, is released in August. Stagecoach Travel comes out in July.

Currently I’m working on book three in a trilogy, provisionally called Battlefield Brides. Book one is by Sarah Mallory and book two by Annie Burrows. The three books are set before, during and just after the battle of Waterloo and will be released to coincide with the bicentenary of the battle in 2015.

More from Louise

Website: louiseallenregency.com
Blog: janeaustenslondon.com
Twitter: @LouiseRegency

An Interview with Freda Lightfoot

Freda L-close up 6My very special guest for Christmas is prolifically successful historical author, Freda Lightfoot, with an insight into her career and sharing with us how she now enjoys the best of two worlds.

You have served a very interesting writing apprenticeship in order to attain the success you now enjoy. Could you share some of the key moments with us?

My first published piece was called An Elizabethan Toothache, published by Today’s Guide in 1972. I followed this small success with pieces on how to pass various badges, how-to’s, crosswords, quizzes and puzzles, then short stories and a serial, all of which sold to Guide and Brownie magazines and annuals. Fiction was what I really wanted to write but amidst all the child rearing and running a book shop, time to write was hard to come by. It wasn’t until I sold the business and moved out into the country that I started writing articles and short stories for adult magazines. My first success with a novel was a historical romance for Mills & Boon called Madeiran Legacy. I went on to write four more before my plot lines were becoming far too complicated and I wanted to write about real women.

Polly Pride-webYour Lancashire routes have provided a strong background for your Sagas. Have you used some of your own family’s historical experiences within the fiction?

Indeed I have, many times. My grandmother was the spark for Big Flo in Polly Pride. She’d had a hard life but was a real stoic, as Lancashire women were in those days. And the idea for the story came from my Great Aunt Hannah, who did exactly as Polly did and sold or pawned her furniture in order to buy a piece of carpet from a ship in Liverpool. Then she cut it up and sold the squares on the market. But her husband didn’t object as Polly’s did. Family stories may be the inspiration, but the story is fiction.

I often advise new writers that in order to succeed you need to be determined and dedicated. You seem to have these attributes in abundance as you have owned a small holding and a bookshop as well as becoming a successful writer and now live in an olive grove in Spain. Do you have a strong work-ethic, which you apply to your writing routine? 

I dare say that is true, maybe I inherited it from my grandmother, and a long line of Lancashire and Yorkshire weavers. But then I love my work so it is no hardship to spend hours each day at the job. I put my heart and soul into my stories, which is absolutely essential. You must lose your inhibitions and be entirely sincere, but yes, it does take hard work and dedication. I’d say it demands the three p’s, which stand for practise, persistence, and passion for your craft.

Lady of PassionYour fictionalised biographies must need meticulous research, even more so than historical sagas. How long do you spend researching a new project? Roughly how long do you take to write a completed first draft? 

When I reach a certain stage with my work in progress, I start a little preliminary research on the next book, which gradually builds, taking several months altogether. All my books demand a good deal of research, for which I have a substantial library, plus interviews for my sagas. I’ve met some marvellous old folk who share their working lives and memories with me. The biographical historicals do take longer though, as you can’t make it up, and I like to be as accurate as possible. It’s rather like detective work trying to build the character and life of a real person. Fascinating.

Breaking into the eBook market was another bold move, which has certainly worked. Could you share any tips on how you made this a success? 

I entered the digital market back in 2010, which were pioneering days for ebooks but I taught myself how to do the necessary formatting and put them up by way of experiment to see what would happen. Nothing much did at first but when the UK came on board in December 2011 and Santa Claus delivered a load of Kindles, they really took off. The more books you publish, the more you sell. But they must be good, page-turning stories, well-written and not rushed, error-free and properly edited with good commercial covers.

You now live in Spain. How did this move come about? 

It all began back in 1997 when we bought a holiday home here, a little village house high in the mountains 20 kilometres from the coast. We fell in love with the village and found we were spending more and more time here, so finally bought a piece of land with an olive grove on it and built ourselves a house for our so-called retirement. Of course, writers don’t retire, but we love spending our winters here, and summers in the UK.

Will Spain feature more in your future novels?

I do have one or two ideas, so watch this space. It could happen.

You have the best of both worlds – Would you share a couple of things that you love most about your home country and your new one?

We do have the best of both worlds as here in Spain we can avoid the British winter. Almeria is the last designated desert in mainland Europe so in the daytime we can enjoy some sunshine and gardening, and as the nights grow cold we can light a fire and be cosy. The Spanish people are very friendly and we have a good life here with many friends of all nationalities. In the UK I love taking part in writer’s events, talks and conferences, visiting stately homes, and enjoying all things British.

Could you give a seasonal insight as to how Christmas in Spain varies to our traditional one in England?

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One of the joys of living in Spain is that there isn’t the same commercial fuss made. Feliz Navidad will be up there in twinkling lights, and pontsettias everywhere, the Nativity scene ‘Nacimiento’ can be seen in plazas as well as many Spanish homes and shop windows, but Christmas itself is fairly low key.

Christmas Eve, Nochebuena, is when the main Christmas meal is taken, often roast lamb or suckling pig, a feast that takes place quite late, as do all Spanish fiestas, starting around 10 p.m. and going on until the small hours. Some families will sing carols around the nativity scene which remains without the baby until the stroke of midnight. Others go to midnight Mass ‘La misa del Gallo’, Rooster Mass, named after the bird who announced the birth of Christ. Many people, of course, like the rest of us, just watch the Christmas programme’s on TV while enjoying the traditional Turrón (nougat), or mantecas (a range of butter-based biscuits) with cava.

The big celebration for the Spanish is Fiesta de Los Reyes, Three Kings Day on January 6th. What we would call Epiphany. Traditionally, this is when Spanish children get their presents, not on Christmas Day from Papa Noel, although these days some enjoy gifts on both days. By then we’re packing our Christmas decorations away, but the Spanish are still partying.

What is next for Freda?

I’m currently working on another saga, which I never talk about until it is done. After that I plan to write a sequel for Polly Pride, and also another biographical historical in my royal mistresses series about Sarah Lennox, who had the chance to marry George III, but blew it. I do like to have lots to look forward to.

More by Freda:

An Interview with Nicola Cornick

Nicola Cornick - profileWelcome to my blog, Nicola. I must confess that your childhood interests me. I have visited many stately homes and heritage sites over the years and the idea of going to school in the dower house of C18 Harewood House fascinates me. Was this where your love of history and academic research began?

Thank you very much for inviting me to visit today! It’s a pleasure to be here.

I think I was very lucky to go to school in an 18th century house! It was definitely inspirational. There was a very grand staircase, a beautiful “winter garden” where we took our art lessons and lots of old nooks and crannies to explore. The house was surrounded by parkland too so we could run wild in the grounds and we could tell each other scary ghost stories on the dark winter evenings! I think that being in such a historic atmosphere intrigued me and sparked my curiosity; I wanted to learn about the house and its past occupants and from there my love of history developed.

Could you tell us about the work you do at the National Trust’s Ashdown House?

I’d love to! I work as a guide and historian at Ashdown House, a stunning 17th century hunting lodge in Oxfordshire. I show people around the house and give them a guided tour telling them about the history of the house and the Craven family who owned it. It’s a fabulous, romantic-looking place and the history is rich and romantic too! I also do lots of research into the history of the house. I’m learning about it all the time and the more I discover the more fascinating it becomes. We’ve just found some secret tunnels leading off from the wine cellar!

Your first Regency novel was published in 1998. What is it about this era that appeals to you so much?

I’ve always loved the Regency era as a writer and a reader. Like so may readers I started with the books of Georgette Heyer and their wit and the beautiful way that Heyer evokes the era really enthralled me. I love the elegance and the manners and the fascinating contrast between the outward show and the intense emotions that may be hidden beneath the surface. One of the challenges for a writer is to find a way for those emotions to be expressed within the constraints of the behaviour of the time.

How did your breakthrough into publication happen?

I had a long journey to publication. My first book, True Colours, was twelve years in the writing because I was also working full time and could only snatch short periods of time to write. Mills & Boon rejected my first attempt as having too much adventure and not enough romance. I re-wrote it twice more before they finally accepted it.

Who or what was your biggest inspiration in becoming a fiction author?

There have been so many people who have inspired me. The writing of authors such as Mary Stewart and Daphne Du Maurier fired me with the desire to be a writer when I was in my teens. My teacher, Mrs Chary, inspired in me a huge love of history and for that I will always be grateful to her. I always knew that it was historical fiction that I wanted to write. The other big influence was my wonderful grandmother, whose collection of historical novels I devoured and with whom I watched costume dramas on a Sunday night!

One Night with the Laird - US copyYou are an enthusiastic traveller on a world-wide scale, but for your latest series you have headed north of the border and changed period for The Lady and the LairdOne Night with the Laird out this month and the final book Claimed by the Laird, which will be published next year. What triggered this change in location and direction?

I do love travelling and have been lucky enough to visit some amazing places all around the globe. One of my favourite places, though, is Scotland and I have wanted to set a book there for years. It was fascinating to research Scotland in the early 19th century and see the similarities and differences in politics and culture compared with south of the border. It was huge fun to write the Scottish Brides trilogy!

What is next for Nicola?

I have lots of exciting plans for next year.  There are several new Regency ideas I’m going to be working on, plus a book inspired by Ashdown House!

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and for sharing some of your unique experiences with us.

Thank you!
More by Nicola: