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 The New Writers’ Scheme gives unpublished authors membership of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and a critique on a full manuscript each year from a working author in your sub-genre.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

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?

Laura’s Legacy – New from Endeavour Press!

Laura's Legacy

Laura’s story begins fifteen years after the fire that nearly destroyed Ebton in To Love Honour and Obey.
1820 Ebton, England.

Laura Pennington’s parents think it is time for her to marry, but they are concerned. She likes to take long walks by herself, and doesn’t quite fit in. Laura’s father, Obadiah, thinks local mill owner Daniel Tranton is the perfect husband for Laura, so he suggests marriage to Daniel while working on a business deal.

Daniel is not keen, but does not want to lose Pennington’s business. He is not sure what to do, as he has his hands full with disgruntled mill workers. Daniel has always treated his workers well, but that is the exception, not the rule.

A new problem arises, when Jeb, a young boy who works for Daniel’s cousin Roderick, runs away from the mill where he works. Daniel, not wanting to see him captured and beaten by the local louts who enforce the law, tries to track him down. He finds Laura hiding Jeb, who she stumbled upon while out on one of her walks.

Roderick has his henchman Mr Bullman hunting for Jeb as Laura hides him at her father’s boat house.
Checking on him one morning, Laura sees the boat is gone, but it’s seeing her father stepping out from the hotel he owns that shocks her the most.

For all his efforts to make Laura a lady, it seems Mr. Pennington is not a gentleman.
With the hint of revolution in the air, will Daniel and Laura find a love worth fighting for?
Laura’s Legacy is a historical tale of romance and family strife in a past world.

Laura’s Legacy is availble on Amazon Kindle

An Interview with Margaret James and Cathie Hartigan

I am delighted to welcome two successful writers and tutors of creative writing to my blog this month, Margaret James and Cathie Hartigan.

Margaret has been a shining light to me and many unpublished authors as she was the New Writers’ Scheme Organiser for the Romantic Novelists’ Association when I first became published. Cathie is a prolific writer, lecturer and founder of CreativeWritingMatters.

Welcome!

Hello, Valerie –thank you for inviting us to chat with you! It’s lovely to be here.

You are both successful writers so my first question must be where did your own writing journeys begin?

Margaret: I started writing short stories while my children were still babies and eventually I began selling them to women’s magazines.

Cathie: I was a hobby writer until about ten years ago, but after a foundation course with the Open College of Arts, I began having success in short story competitions. Since then I have taken my hobby much more seriously.

CreativeWritingMatters is the inspirational name of the business you founded along with Sophie Duffy. I love the logo. Could you tell us about CreativeWritingMatters and how it came into being?

Cathie: CreativeWritingMatters came into being when I left teaching in mainstream education. The flexibility of being freelance meant we could offer workshops and short courses on all aspects of writing. The competitions came later following the success of a flash competition that we ran for our students.

The name came about because of a conversation I had, during which I became rather too vehement about the importance of creative writing. ‘Creative writing matters,’ I heard myself shriek. Our logo features Sophie’s cat, Henry, the star of her story in our Cat Walks ebook. He’s perky and forward-looking, just like the three of us!

You have jointly written an excellent handbook and a workbook on aspects of creative writing so obviously have a great working relationship, but how do you set about working on a non-fiction joint project as opposed to your independent fiction?

Margaret: I first met Cathie when she joined my local writing group, Exeter Writers. I loved her short stories and she was kind enough to say she liked my own writing, too. We collaborated on producing an anthology of members’ work and found we got on very well. We both teach creative writing (Cathie teaches face-to-face while I teach online) and, after we’d finished editing and producing the anthology, we decided to write a guidebook for our students.

When we wrote The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook, we wrote alternate chapters and then we swapped files and edited these chapters. It all seemed to work well! But when we wrote The Short Story Writer’s Workbook, Cathie wrote the whole of the first draft and then I did a heavy edit, making the second draft twice as long as the first. This approach worked very well, too. We find our non-fiction writing styles are very similar. A few months down the line, we often can’t remember who wrote what.

Will there be more in this series?

We enjoy working together so we intend to produce a handbook for novelists and we have other projects in the pipeline, too. We hope to produce some more anthologies featuring either our own work or that of other people.

You are both very experienced tutors so I would like to ask:-

Margaret, what three tips would you give to an aspiring unpublished novel writer?

  1. Plan your story and know roughly how you want it to end. But don’t be too rigid in your planning. Be prepared for the story to change and grow while you write.
  2. Your reader should want to spend time with your characters. So don’t write about people you don’t actually like or don’t find very interesting yourself. Your characters ought to be your friends.
  3. A novel is a big project. So whenever you get tired or disenchanted – which you almost certainly will – take some time out to reflect and to think about how and where you want this story to go.

Cathie, what three tips would you give to an aspiring unpublished writer of short stories?

  1. Use vivid and specific details that tell a lot, rather than generalisations. If a character puts up an umbrella, we don’t need to be told it’s raining.
  2. How much time you have to set up your story depends on the number of words that have been stipulated by the competition or magazine. Your story needs to develop and reach its resolution without a sudden rush at the end. Once finished, check the balance of set up, development and resolution, then be prepared to cut ruthlessly at the beginning.
  3. Use dialogue and gesture to reveal character rather than word-hungry narrative.

The Exeter Novel Prize is going from strength to strength, what inspired this, and how do you see it evolving?

Margaret: The Exeter Novel Prize came into being because it filled a gap in the world of novel-writing competitions. It’s open to previously published and also self-published novelists. There is more information here: http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk/2015-exeter-novel-prize.html

Will there be a CreativeWritingMatters short story competition in 2016? If so, what advice would you give to entrants?

CreativeWritingMatters runs lots of competitions for both short and longer fiction, so here is some general advice.

  • Read the rules.
  • Abide by the rules.
  • Start your story as something interesting happens.
  • Round off your story with a satisfying ending.
Read Making the Grade by Cathie Hartigan
Read Cathie Hartigan’s story, Making the Grade!

What is next for Cathie and Margaret, jointly or independently?

Margaret: I’m about to start the second draft of a novel and to plan a new non-fiction project that has nothing to do with writing.

Cathie: My debut novel, Secret of the Song will be out later this year and there will also be another collection of stories by the three of us at CreativeWritingMatters. Right now, the characters in my next novel are twitching for me to get on with it.

Thank you for taking the time to share your experience and advice with my readers.

Thank you for inviting us! It’s been great to talk to you.

An Interview with Della Galton

Della Galton

 

I was intrigued to read that your first published story was achieved when you were six. You obviously have not looked back since. Could you share with us how this early success came about?

I have to confess, Valerie, that this comment on my home page is actually a bit tongue in cheek and an effort to pretend I am younger than I am. I wasn’t really six. Although I think my very first publication credit, which was a poem in Pony Magazine was actually published when I was about eight 🙂

Would you agree that you are a person who has a natural empathy with people, their problems and situations and that this is part of the appeal of your many successful character driven stories?

I do hope so. I do like people very much. And I think that all writers need empathy and sensitivity in order to step into the shoes of a character who may be quite different than themselves.

How would you describe your work ethic?

Workaholic. Definitely.

To achieve all that you do I can only imagine you are a fantastic organiser of your time. Roughly what percentage of time would you spend researching, writing and promoting a novel on social media?

I spend a little less time on social media that I did once – as it’s not easy to justify spending too much time there. I have a tendency to use it as a procrastination activity to avoid writing. But I would still say, writing a novel 60 per cent, researching 20 per cent, promotion 20 per cent.

Ice And A Slice Book 1

I remember driving my son back from college and hearing you on Steve Wright in the Afternoon discussing one of your non-fiction books ‘Eat Loads and Stay Slim’. Then I saw a new title of yours called ‘Ten Weeks to Target’ and I wondered if the research and work on one project creates a ‘spin off’ of ideas for new stories as an ongoing process?

I am thrilled that you heard the Steve Wright Interview – my one claim to fame, that!
Actually, the two books were entirely separate. Ten Weeks to Target came first – it was originally published as a serial in Woman’s Weekly. However, there’s definitely a spin off process that goes on constantly. Both of these titles came from my own experiences of trying to stay slim – and eat loads!

Could you tell us about some of the lovely pets that share your life?

I adore dogs. Currently there is Maggie May, my ten year old white German Shepherd. And Seamus who is a wolfhound, fourteen stone, and five years old.

You are not only a lecturer, public speaker and a creative writing tutor, but you also still attend writing events yourself. How important is this two way interaction?

Writing is my passion as well as my work. So I guess it’s just how things pan out. I think I must be quite boring. So recently I’ve taken up singing lessons and am learning to play the guitar, in an attempt to be more balanced.

Could you give a short piece of advice to as yet unpublished writers who are trying to break into the limited short fiction market, especially in the UK?

Don’t assume that rejections mean you aren’t any good. I still get my fair share of rejections. Not every story is saleable at the time you send it out. That doesn’t mean it won’t be later.

Ice And A Slice Book 2

Of all the things that you have achieved within your career what have been the top three most memorable highlights that you hold fondly?

This is tricky. There have been many. I will try and narrow it down.

I quite liked going on the Steve Wright Show.
Selling my first short story was awesome, as was selling my first novel.
And the third one, was when the editor of My Weekly phoned me and asked me if I fancied going on an all expenses paid trip to Malawi – I’m a journalist as well as a fiction writer. That experience and the going bit – I went twice – was fabulous.

The more I researched this interview the more convinced I was that your love of the world of writing is a driving force which means there are many more delights for us to look forward to. Could you share with us what is next for Della Galton?

At the moment I am writing a series for People’s Friend – I can’t tell you too much about this as they haven’t started publishing it yet. Watch this space. But I’m also keen to write a third novel in my Ice and a Slice series. The first novel is called Ice and a Slice. The second is The Morning After The Life Before. I don’t know what the title of the third one will be yet. If any of your readers have any suggestions I’d love to hear them though.

Many thanks for having me as a guest.

More from Della

Abigail Moor – Biddy’s Bakery

Abigail was rescued as a baby by Lord Edmund Hammond – or so she believed.

Raised as a lady, calling him father, she enjoyed a sheltered life as she grew up and loved her step-brother, Frederick. Life dramatically changes because she has to flee from a forced marriage when Lord Hammond falls ill. With her lifelong maid she travels to the port of Whitby via the beautiful ancient city of York.

To Abigail’s naive eyes Whitby would have been a noisy, bustling place with a myriad of smells from the various industries surrounding the whaling, fishing and boat making industries. Even Abigail’s name, like her situation, has a double irony. Abigail literally means ‘my father’s joy’, yet she does not know who he is. The name is also used commonly to refer to a lady’s maid.

When I explored Whitby I came across a narrow snicket in which was a love old ram-shackled set of buildings I borrowed this setting for ‘Biddy’s Bakery’, placing it next to an old inn like the amazingly well restored White Horse and Griffin and took the extra liberty of placing a laundry opposite. Whitby was so wealthy through the whaling industry that in 1790 there were two street lamps in Church Street outside this original coaching inn.

I had the pleasure of staying in the same room that it is said Charles Dickens once used. It was a lovely friendly place in a fascinating location, and serves excellent food.

The eBook of Abigail Moor: The Darkest Dawn is available from Smashwords and Amazon directly for $2.99/£1.88 from most eBook sellers.

An Interview with Juliet Greenwood

I first met Juliet when we were at Writing Magazine’s awards ceremony back in 2002. We were both winners embarking on our writing careers. A fellow member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Juliet had several works of fiction published under the pseudonym Heather Pardoe and is now a novelist under her own name.

Welcome Juliet!

In what way did ME lead you into a writing career?

It was a really bad viral infection that left me with ME for years. Before then, I’d been energetic and healthy, holding down a career, cycling, rushing up mountains, and working for hours in my garden. Being so ill for so long, and not knowing if I would ever get better, forced me to completely reconsider my life. That’s when I decided I would work part time in a far less stressful job, and just go for my lifelong dream of being a writer. I’d never had the courage to do it before, in case I failed. Having ME made me realise I’d nothing to lose, so it gave me the courage to try.

Have you always been a story-teller with a love of the written word?

Definitely! As a child I used to devour books and write my own wild adventures and the only subject I ever wanted to study was English. In my twenties, I lived in a garret (well an attic room) in London, bashing away on a typewriter, sending stories out and finding them flying right back again. Then I did the sensible thing and found a ‘proper’ job and did a bit of living (the best kind of research). But I never quite lost sight of the dream.

You had established your work under the lovely name of Heather Pardoe, why did you decide to revert to your true name for novels?

I’m very fond of ‘Heather Pardoe’, but I’d always known I was going to write under two names. Writing stories and serials for magazines was a really valuable learning curve. I loved doing them, and had great fun with the novellas I wrote for the ‘My Weekly Story Collection’. But my novels are very different. The kind of story you write is a pact with your readers, which is why many authors write under several names. My Juliet Greenwood books aren’t dark, but they deal with much darker themes (like my heroine racing through the battlefields of WW1 in a beaten up ambulance, on a desperate rescue mission), so I’m very happy writing under two names. I definitely see them as two aspects of me, so when I sit down as Heather, it feels different than when I sit down as Juliet. Although Heather is my middle name, so my two writing personas are not that far apart…

Which author’s work have inspired you the most and why?

There are so many! As a child, the novels of Rosemary Sutcliffe gave me a passion for historical fiction. I love Elisabeth Gaskell, George Elliot and the Bronte’s for their portrayal of strong, passionate women trying to make sense of the world around them on their own terms, and I can never get enough of the twists and turns of Dickens’ plots.

I love the description you gave in one interview of your ‘crog loft’. I have just converted my garden shed – it does not quite have the same ring to it. How structured is your writing day/process? Are you a plotter or do you let the ideas grow organically through the story?

WW1 Seed Cake smallMy crog loft is tiny, but it’s nice and cosy and womb-like (and has steep stairs that stop me from sneaking out into the garden when I hit a tricky bit!). When I’m writing serials, I have to plot everything out, as there is no chance of going back and changing things. When I’m writing my novels, I start with a general idea of the plot, but I know that’s going to change as soon as I start, and find the heroine needs a mother, or a brother or best friend, who turns out to be far too interesting to ignore! I generally know the beginning and the end, but once the first draft is done and the real work begins, anything can happen. That’s the exciting, and the scary bit, because I’m never sure if it’s going to work. I love tightening up the plot, and developing the twists and the turns to (hopefully) keeping the readers on the edge of their seats. ‘Eden’s Garden’ was a real challenge, moving between the modern heroine and Victorian times, and keeping the two stories weaving in and out of each other while not giving the twists (especially the one no one ever spots!) away. ‘We That are Left’ had some of its structure dictated by the historical events of WW1, even though the action is focused mainly on the experience of the women and civilians at home. The next book is also based around historical events, but with some family twists and turns too.

You are a member of the Novelistas whose members include amongst others Trisha Ashley and Valerie-Anne Baglietto. How did you become involved with the group?

I’ve been meeting with the Novelistas for years. We all live in very rural parts of Wales and the North West, and writing is a lonely life, so it’s great to be able to meet up and support each other.

How important do you think it is for an author to be a part of a supportive group/organisation?

I feel it’s very important to be part of a supportive group of fellow writers. It’s like any specialism you feel passionate about – you need fellow geeks, and those going through the same experience, otherwise you can bore the socks off family and friends (after all, I’d glaze over if a stockbroker discussed the minutiae with me every day, even if I had some interest in getting rich quick!).

What would you say a reader can expect from a Juliet Greenwood novel?

A big emotional story, set in a rambling old house in Cornwall or Snowdonia in Victorian or Edwardian times, with women firmly at the centre of the action, each making her own way towards self-fulfilment. There is a mystery to be solved, and danger to be overcome, and the path of true love definitely never runs smooth. There will be a garden in the background somewhere, and probably cake. For ‘We That are Left’ I researched authentic dishes from WW1 newspapers for my heroine to use, as she struggles to keep her family and the local village fed on limited resources, mainly anything she can grow in the kitchen garden on the family estate.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve just finished another serial, this time set among the paddle steamers of Conwy in Victorian times. I’m also deep into my next novel, which is a still a secret, but I can reveal that both cake and bricks are involved. And possibly a suffragette or two?

What is next for Juliet?

I’m looking forward to finishing my next book – especially as I’ve already got ideas I’m passionate about for the next one, or even two. The kindle editions of ‘We That are Left’ and ‘Eden’s Garden’ both reached the top five in the kindle store. I never expected it to happen, but it was such an exciting experience, I’m just itching for the chance for it to happen again. Writing is always a rollercoaster ride. Just watch this space…

More from Juliet

Website: http://www.julietgreenwood.co.uk/
Blog: http://julietgreenwoodauthor.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/juliet.greenwood
Twitter: https://twitter.com/julietgreenwood

‘We That Are Left’, Honno Press, 2014

‘Eden’s Garden’, Honno Press, 2012

An Interview with Sue Moorcroft

Sue M Portrait 300px

Sue Moorcroft is an amazingly versatile writer and tutor who has taken time out of her busy schedule to share her world with us. 

Welcome to my blog, Sue!

Thanks for inviting me.

Do you have a very set and organised working week or, with your busy and diverse writing commitments, do you work to ever evolving priority lists?

Both, I suppose. I have deadlines to meet for novels, serials and my monthly columns for Writers’ Forum, and also sometimes for other work including promo. To fulfill those deadlines I have a fairly long working day, often devoted to working with students in the morning and writing in the afternoon. In that way, I keep fresh for both. I punctuate most days with a class such as yoga, Zumba, FitStep or piano. These seem to see to my physical and mental health as I do most of those classes with friends.

Sometimes I have a teaching commitment that takes precedence or I go somewhere for research purposes. I enjoy spots on local radio, too. Variety is the spice of my life.

When did you first make your first breakthrough as a published author?

I sold my first short story, to The People’s Friend, in 1996. It was April 1st and I just hoped it wasn’t someone’s idea of an April’s Fool joke… I stopped counting at 130 short stories so that first one was quite important. The short stories led to serials but it wasn’t until 2004 that I sold a novel.

How important a role has the RNA played in your writing journey to date?

Very. It helped me to make the transition from short fiction to long. I was actually at a party thrown by a short story agency that placed some of my work when somebody told me about the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. Then I saw that Marina Oliver was appearing at a library about 20 miles from my home so I went along to that and asked her about the RNA, as she was then (and for many years) a committee member. I applied the next day.

Margaret James was the NWS co-ordinator then and she took a personal interest, including introducing me to someone who became my agent for the next seven years. I left that agent for personal reasons that affected my career in 2009 but have just signed with another, Juliet Pickering at Blake Friedmann.

The RNA members also gave me a ‘can do’ attitude. I’d be at a conference chatting to someone in the lunch queue and realise that they were the author of dozens of novels. But they just seemed ordinary aside from that … It made me realise that it’s hard work, education and talent that makes a writer, rather than some mystical power endowed to people other than myself. And, of course, the RNA gave me a massive number of writing friends.

What can a reader expect from a Sue Moorcroft novel?

A dauntless heroine and an irresistible hero to create sizzle, a contemporary setting, an entertaining read but meaningful subjects explored. Readers say that I make them fall in love with the hero, which is only fair because I fall in love with them all, too!

What have been the 3 stand out highlights of your writing career to date?

When I got ‘the call’ from my agent that began, ‘I have an offer for you.’

When I won Best Romantic Read Award for Is this Love? at the Festival of Romance.

And when a customer at a bookshop signing saw my display, picked up All That Mullarkey and asked, ‘Her! Do you write anything like her? This is what I’m reading at the moment and I love it.’ I squeaked, ‘I am her!’ It turned out that the lady was very ill and had been in hospital a lot. She was reading in the afternoons while she rested and any book that ‘grabbed’ her had become a lifesaver. She bought all of my books apart from Want to Know a Secret? because it had a hospital in it. I felt privileged to have made her illness a little easier to live through.

Sue M Wedding ProposalPlease tell us about your new book The Wedding Proposal and the inspiration behind it?

It’s set in Malta, which is a place I love as I lived there as a child. Because I like to read them I wanted to write a reunion book and that turned out to mean a lot of extra plotting. It was getting the balance right. The reason Lucas and Elle parted four years earlier had to be plausible yet they had to get over it in order to come together when they met again. Lots of backstory plotting required! One of the flats I lived in as a child overlooked a marina so I set the book there, ie I put Lucas and Elle together on a small boat for the summer. I thought it would make it hard for them to avoid one another. (I was right.)

Elle and Lucas have both mellowed while they’ve been apart. Lucas has made his hobby, scuba, into his job, by qualifying as a divemaster. Elle has been made redundant from her whizzy corporate life in IT and in a complete change of direction has begun to volunteer in a drop-in centre for young people. Lucas’s little brother Charlie is loveable but crazy so I brought him on stage to have an accident with far-reaching consequences. Elle still has secrets and Lucas still doesn’t like secrets, so that ignites the plot nicely.

What is next for Sue a) as an author and b) with your upcoming writing events/courses?

I’m writing two things. One is a three-part serial for My Weekly, scheduled to be published over Christmas and New Year. The other is a novel called The Twelve Dates of Christmas which is about dates and Christmas but also revenge porn, hats and ovarian cancer. I know the plot and I’m about one-third of the way through the writing. I’m not sure how I’ve ended up writing about Christmas twice as I actually love summer!

I’ll be at the Festival of Romantic Fiction in Leighton Buzzard on the 13th of September, at the book fair 10am-3pm and the Traditional Afternoon Tea at The Green House 4-5.30pm. I will be at the Romance Readers Awards at Leighton Buzzard Theatre in the evening because I’ve just heard that The Wedding Proposal has been shortlisted for the Best Romantic Read Award!

Next year I’ll be running a week-long writers’ holiday for fabulous Arte Umbria 22-29 July (already filling up) and hopefully one for equally fabby Chez Castillon but I don’t have the dates yet.

Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to share some of your writing experiences with my readers.

And thank you for having me.

Sue Moorcroft writes romantic novels of dauntless heroines and irresistible heroes. Is this Love? was nominated for the Readers’ Best Romantic Read Award. Love & Freedom won the Best Romantic Read Award 2011 and Dream a Little Dream was nominated for a RoNA in 2013. Sue received three nominations at the Festival of Romance 2012, and is a Katie Fforde Bursary Award winner. She’s a past vice chair of the RNA and editor of its two anthologies.

Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a competition judge and creative writing tutor.

Sue’s latest book The Wedding Proposal is available as an ebook from 4 August 2014 and as a paperback from 8 September.

 TWP_RGBpackshotMore from Sue:

Website: www.suemoorcroft.com

Blog: http://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com/

Facebook: sue.moorcroft.3 and https://www.facebook.com/SueMoorcroftAuthor

Twitter: @suemoorcroft

Character, plot or pace – which one comes first?

One of the most difficult issues a new writer faces is to know where they should begin their story. Creative writing books often advise that a story, whatever its length and genre, should begin at a point where something is happening. Ideally the protagonist, your main character, is facing the essence of drama – a conflict. I agree, but what is essential is that the reader should begin to establish a relationship with that character so that they want to read on to follow them on their journey through the story, to what will hopefully be a satisfying ending.

The initial conflict provides a situation, which brings out aspects of their character that should appeal to the reader as they face their dilemma. The background to these is the place – the setting. This will help set the era, the physical aspects – the stage – against which the characters are performing on the page.

A common mistake is to open with too much explanation about their character’s life before the current situation. This means the reader may become bored before they understand who the protagonist is and become interested in them as a person who they can relate to.

Every writer will be inspired differently by people, places and plot to create that spark, which drives them to convert an initial idea into the first gripping page of a novel.

For example:-

Phoebe’s Challenge: Phoebe is a young woman who works in a mill with her younger brother, Thomas. The idea for the opening was triggered by an illustration in a children’s book written about the hardship of life in cotton mills at the turn of the nineteenth century. I then created the evil overseer Benjamin Bladderwell as the main reason why it became imperative that Phoebe escapes. I liked the idea that the plot would become more complex if a mysterious stranger helped them. Without giving any spoilers away, this then broadened the whole plot out into the world of smuggling around the bay towns of North Yorkshire, England. A time when we were  at war with France. From here Phoebe and Thomas’s adventure involves more conflict amongst the different social classes and a life and death chase with a man who they do not know if they can trust. Over the pace of the adventure another thread is layered, that of the developing romance.

From one initial idea, others spark until what is created is a tightly written romance or mystery to be enjoyed. Wherever my initial idea comes from for a story, I always aim to take my readers on an adventure which will end at an optimistic point, where the main character has overcome problems and survived.

I am always fascinated to hear how other writers work, published or not. What inspires you to write? Where have your best ideas come from?

An Interview with Peter Lovesey

DSC_2534Thank you for taking the time to discuss your fascinating career and share some of your experiences with us.

Your love of the English language shines through the quality of your work and the complexity of the plots you weave through your books. When did your love of storytelling begin?

I was a dreadful fibber as a child, so it must have been there from the start. I led a Walter Mitty existence, top of the class, popular, brilliant at games and with a girlfriend called Dahlia, the prettiest in school. None of it was true and Dahlia didn’t even exist. From there it was a smooth progression to making up stories for what was then called composition.

You also had a keen interest in sport which led to your first breakthrough as an author. Can you describe how this came about and if it is still one of your proudest moments?

At twelve I was taken to the post-war Olympic Games in London. There’s a lot of talk about legacy from the recent Olympics and for me the 1948 Games were a rich legacy indeed. I was hopeless at sport but desperately wanted to be a part of it, so I wrote about it, doing unpaid articles for small magazines. Out of it eventually came a book on distance running and then two years later, using distance running as a background, I entered a competition for a first crime novel. Wobble to Death won me £1000 and publication in England and America. A dream start to my career.

Stone Wife (2)From your initial breakthrough, how did you then go on to develop the successful series of Sergeant Cribb and Peter Diamond?

Cribb was the Victorian detective I created to clear up the mystery in that first novel and he went on to seven more, using Victorian entertainments such as boxing, the music hall, boating, spiritualism and Madame Tussaud’s as the backgrounds to whodunits. The eighth, called Waxwork, won the CWA Silver Dagger and was turned into a pilot for a TV series, made by Granada, starring Alan Dobie as Cribb.  Two series followed, based on the books and original scripts written together with my wife Jax.

The more recent series features a contemporary police detective called Peter Diamond, who is with Bath CID. The first book was going to be a one-off, called The Last Detective, and he resigned from the police. But it won the Anthony for best novel at the Toronto Bouchercon and I was asked to follow it up. So I contrived a story called The Summons in which the police needed him back and were forced to ask him to return and reinvestigate an old case. He’s been going ever since. The fourteenth, called The Stone Wife, is published this spring.

In which era do you prefer setting your novels – historical or contemporary, and why?

I wouldn’t say I have a preference. I enjoy the challenges of each. The Victorian period had a rich, rather daunting tradition to work in, thinking of Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle, and the task was to avoid a pale pastiche of those great writers. The research was enjoyable, mainly using the British Library newspaper library. Today, with the internet, it would be quicker and easier. Turning to the contemporary police novel was scary, too. I wasn’t sure how I would cope with modern policing and the huge advances in forensic science, so I made Diamond a bit of a dinosaur. I get a lot of pleasure from using little known historical anecdotes in these modern books. Examples are Jane Austen’s shoplifting Aunt Jane and Mary Shelley’s writing of Frankenstein in lodgings right next to Bath Abbey.

You have had work both televised and filmed. When this happens, do you become involved in the process and maintain control of what the producers can change?

I doubt if any producer allows the author control. They do take liberties and will tell you it’s necessary in visual terms. But I was lucky enough to attend read-throughs of the Cribb series and of Rosemary & Thyme, as the consultant. I was fortunate, too, that the adaptations of my books kept pretty faithfully to the plots – and that includes the movie Goldengirl and the TV drama Dead Gorgeous.

Do you write stand alone novels to have a break from the series, as a kind of refresher?

Yes, it’s fun to break out from time to time. I’ve written several from the point of view of the killer – and that’s very liberating. The False Inspector Dew won the Gold Dagger  and has been translated into more than twenty-five languages, but the one I’m proudest of is The Reaper, a black comedy about a rector called Otis Joy, who murders the bishop in chapter one.

Every writer has their own way of working. Do you plot in detail first and then set wordage targets, or do you let the story grow as it builds on the page?

When I started I would plan meticulously and write the synopsis before beginning Chapter One. I don’t write in drafts. The pages I write each day aren’t altered, except in minor ways, so it’s a slow process. If I tell you how few words I manage in a day you won’t believe me. It has to be right before I can move on. These days I carry much more of the plot in my head, but it’s basically all there. It’s not a method I would recommend to anyone.

I first met you when you did a local library talk, which was both interesting and inspiring. Do you intend to tour again in 2014?

If I’m asked, yes. I’ve done several recent US tours, visiting cities I wouldn’t ever have known otherwise. And it’s lovely to meet readers who enjoy the books. Plus, of course, the occasional writer such as you – and that’s a bonus.

Thanks, Peter! Of all the accolades and achievements you have received in your career to date, which one(s) stand out as something very special to you?

Difficult. The CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2000 was a great honour, but couldn’t quite match the thrill of that first competition win with Wobble to Death. Another unforgettable moment came when I was Chair of the CWA and presented the Diamond Dagger to one of my early inspirations, Leslie Charteris, the creator of The Saint.

The Tooth TattooThe Tooth Tattoo also shows that you have a love and understanding of classical music. The humour within the book works on many levels, which balances the much darker twists of the plot. What inspired this book?

I can answer this with more certainty than any of your questions. A 2004 article in the arts section of the Guardian by David Waterman had this intriguing headline: HOW DO THE MEMBERS OF A STRING QUARTET PLAY TOGETHER AND TOUR TOGETHER YEAR IN, YEAR OUT, WITHOUT KILLING EACH OTHER? The piece stayed in my mind for eight years until I was ready for Peter Diamond to investigate. I’m glad to say The Tooth Tattoo was well received, not least by the writer of the article, who still plays with the Endellion quartet. And it’s just out as a February paperback.

What is next for Peter?

The fourteenth Diamond novel, The Stone Wife, will be in the shops in April and I’m halfway through the one I’m currently calling Diamond Fifteen. Thanks, Valerie, for this stimulating interview.

My sincerest thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.