Where did your love of books originate?
I am delighted to welcome author Rosemary Kind, who is the founder of Alfie Dog, a publisher of short fiction based in the beautiful county of North Yorkshire.
What was the deciding factor that motivated you to switch from a successful business career to becoming a full time author?
My husband had the opportunity to move to work in Belgium and I said ‘Why not?’ Because we were going back and forth every fortnight to see my stepchildren an ordinary career wasn’t going to work, so as I’d proved everything to myself that I needed to in a traditional working environment it was the perfect time to follow my heart. I’ve always written, but in my spare time. I knew I’d regret it if I never found out if I could do more.
Please tell us about your published work and what inspires you?
I write in a number of genres. Inspiration can come from the strangest places. My first published book (leaving aside ‘Negotiation Skills for Lawyers’ which was commissioned), was a humorous guide to travelling on the London Underground ‘Lovers Take Up Less Space’. I wrote most of the ideas as therapy when I was working in London. ‘Alfie’s Diary’ started as a daily blog in January 2006 when our first dog moved in. I’d been in Belgium for a couple of months and was writing mainly non-fiction, business articles, company newsletters etc. I wanted to write fiction, but it felt like a big step. Writing Alfie’s view of the world was a way to make myself write something every day. I originally intended to write it for a year of two, but nine years on it’s still growing and has spun off into several other projects, not least because he set up his own political party The Pet Dogs Democratic Party.
Inspiration for my novels is more interesting. ‘The Appearance of Truth’ came out of a writing group project to write 300 words on ‘verisimilitude’. Once I’d looked it up in the dictionary I started mulling it over. I was researching my own family tree and had ordered a birth certificate. It occurred to me that it would be quite possible to pass a birth certificate off as belonging to someone that it really didn’t relate to and it all went from there. Lisa was given the birth certificate of a baby who died at 4 months old and the story is her search for who she really is and why it happened. ‘Alfie’s Woods’ came from our woodland walks. We’d just rescued a hedgehog, who was stuck in a fence, when a helicopter passed overhead. The rest of the walk was spent thinking ‘What if they were looking for the hedgehog? What if he had escaped from the woodland prison?’ ‘The Lifetracer’ was inspired by seeing an electronic countdown clock in a catalogue and finding myself thinking ‘What if it could be programmed with Time to Death and used to send a death threat?’ I have more ideas than I have time to write them.
What appeals to you most about Entelbucher Mountain Dogs and Alfie in particular?
I fell in love with the breed long before there were any in the UK. They are incredibly loyal affectionate dogs who are great with children and like nothing more than to be close to you. I also adored the way they look, not only their colouring but the fact they are such happy smiley dogs. Alfie is my pride and joy. He is a gentle giant who is everything I had ever dreamed of in a dog. We are incredibly close.
When did the inspiration for an online digital site for short fiction first occur to you?
Not only do I write short fiction as well as books, but I have many friends who are widely published in that field. The more I talked to other writers the more frustrated I felt that there were so few outlets for short stories and for earning an income from secondary rights. It was January 2012 when I wrote the business plan. I launched to authors in February and to readers in May. I was overwhelmed by the response and we had more than 100 stories by the launch and have rapidly built a library of 1700 stories. I also wanted to set up a site that gave as much back to authors as possible. The culture is very much to give support to the writing community where we can. I was amazed by how word of mouth spread the message across the globe and we very soon had writers from more than 25 countries, all writing in English.
What can a reader expect to find on www.alfiedog.com?
We carry good quality stories in a wide range of genres. All submissions are reviewed and where necessary edited and only the best are accepted for publication. We want our readers to come away having had a really good read and be looking forward to coming back for more. We carry work by over 400 authors, so there really is something to suit everyone’s taste. Many of our authors are widely published, but we enjoy introducing high quality work from new writers too. Unlike most sites, we carry the stories in a range of formats to suit all types of ereader or to print. We also publish a range of books in both electronic and paper formats. They are mainly short story collections, but we do carry some novels as well.
Of course for writers, our International Short Story Competition may also be of interest. The closing date is the end of September so there is plenty of time to take part. First prize is £200 and book publication.
How do you see www.alfiedog.com developing in future?
The site is already one of the biggest short story publishers in the world, but hopefully it will be the site on everyone’s list when they talk about short stories. I want it to be ‘THE’ place that people go to when they are looking for quality short fiction.
What is next for Rosemary?
I’m writing another novel at the moment. This one was inspired by a chance comment in a meeting. Someone made reference to the ‘Orphan Train’ movement in America in the late 1800s and I had to go and find out more. As soon as I did, I was hooked on a story idea and the lives of three Irish immigrant orphans, fighting for survival, was born. It is my first full historical fiction writing and the research has been fascinating. It even made me get on a plane for the first time in over seven years, but that’s another story!
More from Rosemary
I would like to welcome back Pia Fenton to my blog (Christina Courtenay) who has been the RNA Chair for nearly two years.
As Valentine’s Day approaches can you share with us some of the major changes you have seen in the last couple of years within the world of romance?
I don’t think the world of romance has changed very much, but rather the publishing industry as a whole. With the advent of ebooks and ereaders (and especially the Kindle which had a massive impact the year it was first launched in the UK), the way people read books has changed enormously in a very short space of time. Things seem to have settled down a bit now though and paperbacks are holding their own, which is great (I love proper books myself!), but I think ebooks have given both readers and authors more freedom to read/write what they like.
As for the books themselves, the popularity of certain sub-genres come and go, but editors and agents are always saying they’re just looking for really good stories. I think that if a story is gripping enough, it doesn’t matter what it’s about – good story-telling is key.
Are you excited about the future of romance as a genre?
Yes, I think it’s going from strength to strength. The RNA commissioned some research into sales and trends recently, and it showed that figures for romantic fiction are going up year by year, which is fantastic. People will always want love in their lives and I’m sure they will continue to want to read about it too.
You have branched into the Young Adult market. Could you share with us the inspiration for this exciting new venture?
I discovered a while back that I love reading YA fiction – it’s an amazing sub-genre where imagination seems to have no bounds. Then I went to a high school reunion and it really made me think about my own teenage years, both all the fun I had and the angst that comes with being that age. I attended an American high school for three years, which was a bit of a culture clash to begin with and it occurred to me that it would be fun to write a series of books with UK heroines and US heroes and so the Northbrooke High series was born. I have now self-published the second book in the series, New England Crush.
What is next for Pia/Christina?
I have just finished edits for the third book in my Japanese trilogy – sequel to The Scarlet Kimono and The Gilded Fan – which is due out in paperback in August this year. I’ve also started work on a new time slip novel, which is based on the final few months of the English civil war. I love that period in history and was inspired to write about it as there are several ruined castles, destroyed during that time, near where I live. (Both these books are for adults, not YA).
More from Pia:
I decided I wanted to write for a career when I was 16. This was after I had spent a year hand writing my first novel. Prior to that I’d always told myself stories verbally as imaginative fun. It wasn’t until I was 15 I wrote anything down, but having done so, I decided that writing novels was what I wanted to do for a living. It took another 16 years for me to realise that dream. Part of that time was taken up by growing up, entering the world of employment, getting married and having a family. During that period I learned to touch type and as technology advanced, transferred from manual typewriter to computer – in those days the Amstrad green screen. I always hoped to get published, but I figured it didn’t matter if I didn’t because this was my hobby and storytelling had been a part of me since I first had language, so I wasn’t just doing it for the fame and fortune (!), I was doing it for me.
Your big break came when Carole Blake became your agent after reading The Wild Hunt. How quickly did your world change as a result of this?
Not immediately because it takes time for contracts to be arranged and for money to begin flowing through so I didn’t give up the part-time day job immediately. When I was first offered a publishing contract, my children were aged six and three, and I was staying at home looking after them during the day and going out to work the twilight shift in a local supermarket at night while my husband took over the childcare. So although I was offered a publishing contract in the summer of 1989, I didn’t give up the job until late autumn of the same year. While my first contract wasn’t exactly enough to move to Millionaire’s Row, it allowed me to be a stay at home mum and write in the spaces between the children. In those early days it was still very much a part time income, but enough to get by when added to my husband’s full-time wage.
Do you look back at your early work affectionately or critically?
Both. I think any writer worth their salt is always learning and seeking to improve. I know I have moved on since my early days, but my early novels were still strong enough to be published and short-listed for awards in a very competitive market. I have since had the great opportunity to overhaul those early novels in the light of experience gained and it was interesting to go back and look at the learning curve. But I am very fond of my early works because they are the foundation stones on which my career has been built.
I totally agree with you. What advice would you give to an author who is about to make the step into the world of an agent and publishing deals?
Be professional. If you don’t know something and it’s genuinely out of your range, then ask. But do some homework first and make sure that it’s not something you can’t answer for yourself. Talk to other writers and professionals who have knowledge of the publishing industry and get a range of opinions. Go to events and network. The more you know the better you will be able to make decisions. You might even decide to go the route of self publishing, but you need to know all the ins and outs of what this entails and be realistic about expectations.
Your love of the medieval period began when you watched your TV hero on screen in the 70’s adventure series Desert Crusader. Which of your heroes/heroines would you love to see televised to inspire a new generation?
Without a doubt it would have to be the great William Marshal and his family. They win hands down! He was a man who took the helm of the country in a time of great upheaval during the early 13th century. Without his political, military and people skills, the pages of England’s history would probably have looked very different.
I would love to see William on TV.
You are renowned for your detailed research and historical accuracy. How has this deepened or broadened over the years since you started writing?
When I began writing it was at the more romantic end of historical fiction and the research books I was using were often fairly general in their outlook although I did even at that time possess a core number of books from university presses. By the very nature of time I gained experience, adding layer upon layer as each successive novel came out. I bought more books; as my knowledge levels increased so did the complexity of my reading. These days I mostly buy my research books from specialist publishers and university presses and my research has become more academic. I am now sometimes asked to give talks at universities and heritage sites – something I couldn’t have envisaged 20 years ago. My research has also become multi-layered. The Internet is obviously a fabulous resource and primary source documents are now available online that couldn’t be obtained when I first began writing. Even so one has to be careful because there is an awful lot of mediocre rubbish out there and all writers need an inbuilt drivel alarm! As well as research reading, I also re-enact with a living history society called Regia Anglorum. This helps me to get a feel for the period by working with replica artefacts and not just reading about how things were done, but having a go – see the next question. I also visit sites mentioned in my novels where possible, and this helps to give a feel for the lie of the land, although Google Earth is also your friend.
Regia Anglorum has obviously been an important part of understanding life within medieval England. What is your favourite artefact/garment that you have had recreated, through knowing the experts associated with the group?
I have a dress. It’s made from woollen fabric especially commissioned and woven to an 11th century pattern using the same loom width that a person of that period would have used. I’m rubbish at needlework and a bit awkward when it comes to cutting out patterns, so I had someone I know make the dress for me. This particular person has degree level knowledge of textile archaeology and mediaeval costumes and was able to design the dress to an 11th/12th century spec. It was then all handsewn using mediaeval stitch techniques. It’s the nearest I’m ever going to get to fully authentic!
In all the places you have been and the artefacts you have studied during your research, do you have a particular favourite(s) that has inspired you or left a lasting memory?
I absolutely love trawling museums, and the London ones are fabulous if one is in the capital. I would say that one of my favourite places to go is the Museum of London which has some terrific exhibits in the mediaeval gallery many of which are ordinary everyday objects and not just the stuff of high aristocracy. There are things like 14th century spades, fish traps, a wonderful little tinned mirror case, a terrific money box that looks like something out of the 1970s! They have a codpiece too!
For a single one I’d have to say the effigy of William Marshal at the Temple Church in London. I always go and see him and honour him when I visit London. He gave me my first New York Times bestseller and he has touched so many people, myself included. He has a life beyond his mortal life, and it always makes my throat tighten with pride when I go to the Temple Church.
What appealed to you most about the character of Eleanor of Aquitaine, inspiring your critically acclaimed trilogy?
I think it’s not so much a case of appealing. It’s more a case of downright curiosity. I had written about her and several novels and at first had followed the usual path of the biographers when I needed to put her in a story. But that came to be not enough. I began to ask questions; I began to see anomalies in her story that didn’t agree with the biographies or what was being accepted as historical veracity. I began to think about Eleanor in a bit more detail. What was she really like? What could she tell me that she hadn’t told anyone else? And the more I researched the more I found out and the more biographical discrepancies came to light. For example you will find her biographers describing her variously as an olive skinned black eyed beauty with a curvaceous figure that never ran to fat in old age, as a saucy blue-eyed blonde, as a humorous redhead with green eyes. And the thing is there is not one single physical description of Eleanor recorded anywhere. Even the supposed mural of her in the chapel of St Radegone in Chinon, is now thought by a leading art historian who has examined the mural in detail, to be a man. A recent academic work on Eleanor titled “inventing Eleanor” by Professor Michael R. Evans, investigates these odd ideas about her appearance, and actually quotes my research into the biographers’ notions about Eleanor’s appearance.
Non-historians also have some strange ideas about Eleanor – that she was a feminist and way ahead of her time, both of which are false assumptions. So I felt I wanted to explore my own version of Eleanor and see if I could discover the 12th century personality behind the detritus of the centuries.
What is next for Elizabeth Chadwick?
First I have to finish and hand in THE AUTUMN THRONE, but when that’s done I strongly suspect that William Marshal is going to be riding again as there are aspects of his story still to be told.
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to give us an insight into your fascinating career and love of history. Have a lovely Christmas and every good wish for further success in 2015!
I am delighted to welcome Liesel Schwarz, Queen of Gothic Steampunk to my blog this month. I first came across Liesel’s work when I read her debut novel ‘A Conspiracy of Alchemists’, which is an action packed adventure described as “Combining the best elements of Gothic fiction with contemporary Steampunk”. It was chosen by Random House to launch their SFF imprint (Science Fiction and Fantasy) Del Rey in the UK.
Welcome, Liesel, and thank you for taking the time out to answer my questions.
To me the combination of history, invention, science, fantasy, romance and thrilling adventure is a magical blend – literally too, as it reveals a deadly game between Alchemists and Warlocks as the creatures of light and dark walk among us.
Hi. Thank you for inviting me!
How do you describe Gothic Steampunk?
That’s a question that requires a rather long and convoluted answer. I think steampunk, in broad terms, is the fascination with Victorian optimism. It concerns itself with technology and progress. The Victorians had this obsession with making the world a better place, by “civilising” it. We know today that much of what they did was deeply misguided, but I think their hearts were in the right place. Steampunk takes its cue from those intentions. Gothic romanticism is more about Victorian disillusionment. It is the 19th century’s nostalgia for the romantic ideals that originated in the Dark Ages. I’ve always been a fan of the 19th century Gothic literature and I love steampunk and so I thought it would be cool to create a world that was bright and technologically progressive on the one side while dark and organic on the other. Two sides of the same coin, but in direct opposition with the other. This is how Elle’s world came into being and so I suppose in a way this is why they described the books as Gothic Steampunk.
That’s a great description which captures the complex essence of the genre. When I read your first novel what struck me most was the energy and enthusiasm that came through the words on the page. Have you always been a natural story-teller?
I’m not so sure about the story telling part, but I do know that I have however always been a natural story maker-upper. Telling the stories you create in your head is, I think a natural progression in this case.
Where did your writing journey begin?
When I could hold a crayon. It took a few detours, and I decided to start writing more seriously after I left university but I think writers tend to be born that way. It is again a natural consequence of story maker-uppers.
How long did it take you to become a published author?
A few weeks! No, I’m serious. I was incredibly lucky. I met my agent, he sent my book out to market and I literally had a book deal a few weeks later. Before I met my agent, I did however spend years and years honing my craft. This involved writing stories, polishing them, having them rejected and then starting all over again. I also studied the craft of writing quite intensely. I have an MA in Creative Writing and I am also busy with my PhD on the subject.
Will you ever forget the moment when you were told yours would be the debut novel of Del Rey?
I think I was more excited by the mere fact that my book was going to be published, to be honest. The fact that it would be the debut for a new imprint only really registered with me a bit later. It’s great when you have a good relationship with your editor and publishers and again, I am extremely lucky in this respect.
There are many aspects to your novels. The research of actual inventions must be meticulous – but you have also blended in your own to make the fiction appear real and the impossible plausible. Have you always been drawn to this age of invention?
Yes. I think it started when I was very young. I remember watching films like Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and I found the sheer eccentricity of it all irresistible. This fascination grew as I started reading and it’s been with me ever since.
Do you have great fun spending many hours inventing your own machines on the page?
Actually, many of the machines I use in the books were actual patents filed in the British Library. I think the Victorians were far better at inventing fantastical machines than I could ever be. I think the reason for this is because there was an element of naivety about their inventions. Today, with all the marvels we have at our fingertips, we are a little jaded. Although, I suppose that in a hundred years from now, people will look at us and think, “Oh, how quaint!”
Elle Chance and Mr Marsh are strong characters who continue to develop. Do you have plans for the series to continue over many novels?
I think all characters must develop within a narrative. You can’t really have a story without that and so yes, I have further plans for Elle and Marsh. There will be a book 4 and a book 5 in the future.
Do you constantly jot down ideas for the next book as you work?
I must admit that I am quite bad at jotting things down. Or, I tend to jot things down and then forget about them. Ideas that are live and have potential tend to stick in my mind. They niggle away at me until I write them into a story. I do however carry a notebook with me at all times. I sometimes jot down bits of conversation I’ve overheard when I’m sitting in a coffee shop.
Elle travels widely – how do you research the many locations that your novels cover?
I like to travel and so the settings I use tend to be places I’ve visited. You have to place settings into historical context though and so I do a lot of research as well. I am particularly fond of old city maps. For example – the Cafe d’Enfer in Paris which appears in Sky Pirates really existed in the early 1900s. Today, it is a 1-Euro store (Pound/dollar store) but the doorway still exists. I find that fascinating.
What is next for Liesel?
Well, I have two short stories which will be appearing in anthologies next year and I am currently working on a standalone novel before continuing with the Chronicles of Light and Shadow – so keep watching this space.
More from Liesel
- Website: http://www.lieselschwarz.com/books/
Thank you for being my guest this month.
When/how did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?
I was four when I ‘wrote’ and illustrated my first book, and my granddad stapled it together for me. I think I knew back then it was something I wanted to do. I quickly got bored of the books school tried to foist on me, with barely any plots, and my parents introduced me to Enid Blyton and the Famous Five. When I realised the worlds that books could introduce me to, I was hooked! I instantly wanted to reproduce some of that magic for myself.
You were born in Gibraltar. Do you think this has influenced your work?
I am currently working on a short story for Belinda Jones’s ‘Sunlounger’ anthology, coming out this summer. My contribution is set in Gibraltar, but this is the first time I have used it in a story this way. My great-grandfather and grandfather were writers, though, so I suppose the writing gene is in my blood.
Your stories mix reality, romance and fantasy, such as ‘Once Upon A Winter’. ‘The Moon on a Stick’ is another eye-catching title. Where does your inspiration for the titles come from? Do you begin with the plot, character or title first?
This really varies from book to book. Each one has been different. My first four novels, published by Hodder, were rom-coms, including ‘The Moon on a Stick’. Now that I’ve added a magical, fairytale element to my work, I suppose my titles will need to reflect that. ‘Once Upon A Winter’ had an altogether different title while I was actually writing it, but when I finally tested it out everyone hated it! So I started playing around with ‘Once Upon…’ until I hit the right note. When it comes to ideas for the books themselves, sometimes it stems from a fragment of a plot, or a character. I have no set rules I work by. I usually let ideas ‘slow-cook’ before I start putting them down on paper, but with ‘Once Upon A Winter’ it was more of a quick blast in the microwave before I sat down to write the first chapter.
Could you tell me something about the Novelistas?
I could go on all day about the Novelistas! The group has evolved over time, but it was started by Trisha Ashley over ten years ago. I was one of the early members, along with best-selling saga author Anne Bennett. I hadn’t long moved to North Wales from Essex, so it was wonderful to find a group like this so quickly. We became the ‘Novelistas’ about two years ago. I was inspired by the term ‘fashionista’. And the Spanish for ‘novelist’ is ‘novelista’… you can see where I’m going with this. There are a dozen of us at the moment and we meet once a month near St Asaph, coming from as far as Anglesey in one direction and Manchester in the other. We’re also very varied in what we write, and all at different stages in our careers. We’re good friends as well as writing buddies and we inspire and support one another, and we always seem to have something to celebrate, so lots of champagne corks get popped at our lunches – and launches!
What key advice/tips would you give aspiring writers?
OK, my favourite pieces of advice are: firstly, you can never please everyone, so above all please yourself and write something you feel passionately about. It will show if you don’t. Criticism is hard to hear, but it is inevitable because any sort of creative work is subjective. If you can truly connect with just one person through your writing, though, everyone else who may also come to love it is a bonus.
Secondly, don’t rush it. Write with your heart, finish it, put it away for as long as you can. A month or more, if possible. Come back to it and use your head this time. This is the only way you can really discover your inner editor and see your work through fresh eyes. Sending it out too prematurely can be the difference between rejection and acceptance, so why risk it? Similarly, publishing it yourself before it’s ready can be the difference between the best-seller charts and obscurity. Don’t hit that ‘publish now’ button too soon!
What is next for Valerie-Anne?
As well as the short story for the ‘Sunlounger’ anthology, I am working on a novella which will be out spring/summer this year. Just like ‘Once Upon A Winter’ it has a contemporary fairytale theme and is set in North Wales. I’m constantly inspired by my surroundings, and feel very lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world. There is also another full-length novel simmering away, but this won’t be out until 2014.
Thank you for taking the time to write such interesting and inspiring answers.