Meet Elaine Everest, Sunday Times Bestseller historical saga writer.

Welcome, Elaine,

The success of The Woolworth Girls and The Teashop Girls series is partly down to your in-depth understanding of the characters, setting and conflicts that these women faced. What is it about this generation that resonated so strongly with your desire to write their stories?

Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog, Valerie.

I grew up during the 1950 and 1960s listening to my mum’s stories of her life as a child during the war years. Add to that my dad’s family gatherings and living in a small town with so much war history it is no wonder I was hooked on writing about the forties and fifties. It was later I began to ask myself what happened to my older characters before WW2, and I delved into life for them earlier in the century.

As for The Teashop Girls, the idea came about as I spent many happy holidays as a child in Ramsgate, and of course we stayed in guest houses. It was the perfect setting for my Nippies.

How has your experience as a former journalist prepared you for life as a fiction writer?

Above anything else the discipline needed to be a freelance journalist helped me in my quest to be a published author. I started writing for my living in 1997 after my dad died. It was a life changing year when I realised if I didn’t change my life then I’d never do it. I’d left an awful job, been ill and lost loved ones. Of course, I’d dabbled as a writer, but made that conscious effort to turn my writing into a career. My first love was short fiction, and I did write short stories for magazines. However, the money was in article writing and as I needed to earn a living, I started to pitch ideas to magazines while still dreaming of being a novelist. I had a goal and never wavered.

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You ‘graduated’ from the Romantic Novelists’ Association’ fabulous New Writers’ Scheme – how important was this to you in forging your saga writing career?

It took me three years to be accepted onto the scheme. Back in those days we had to apply by letter and places were fewer than they are today. Because of my journalism CV, and by then I’d also qualified as a tutor, I was offered an ‘associate membership’. I turned it down as I really wanted to learn the craft and there was no place better than with the NWS. It was a proud day when I graduated and by then I’d met my literary agent, Caroline Sheldon.

Which came first, success as a short story writer or as a saga writer?

Short stories came first, and at that time magazine opportunities were plentiful. In fact, some short story writers earned a very good living from short fiction writing for publications around the world. To begin with I didn’t attempt writing sagas even though I read many saga novels. I dabbled with romcom and crime writing, in fact, one of my romcoms was placed in a shortlist for the prestigious Harry Bowling Prize in 2003.

Do you enjoy reading across genres?

I do. If there is something in the blurb that attracts me then I’ll purchase the book. All forms of crime as well as romcom are my favourite genres.

I am also a dog-lover and read that you have written non-fiction books about dog-rearing. Is this something you would still like to develop further?

I’ve written three books for dog owners. It was a natural progression from specialising in canine articles to being commissioned to write those books. It also fitted in with my breeding, showing, and judging lifestyle which was a very happy time in my life. I would at some time like to rewrite the dog showing book as so much has changed since the book was published.

I recently bumped into an Old English Sheepdog owner and was surprised to learn that they are declining in numbers, are you still breeding them?

They are a declining breed and have been put onto the ‘vulnerable breed’ register by the UK Kennel Club. Although an adorable breed they are high maintenance and don’t fit into the modern family lifestyle. Breeding takes a lot of commitment and I’ve not had a litter for some time. At the moment we own Henry, a Polish Lowland Sheepdog who was brought over from France for us by good friends in the breed. Their journey to collect him in a snowstorm is a novel in itself!

Please tell us about The Write Place.

I started to teach creative writing some twenty years ago for Kent Adult Education Services and after a while decided to branch out on my own and set up The Write Place. I’ve made many friends and seen so many students published during that time and feel it is an honour to have played a part in their writing lives. Since the pandemic classes have moved online and teaching has changed although students are doing just as well, I’m pleased to say.

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What inspired The Woolworths Saturday Girls?

‘Saturday Girls’ came out in mid-March and has been welcomed by readers of the previous seven books. It is now 1950 and we focus on the children of some of our original Woolies staff. I was aware as I wrote the books that the youngsters were getting older in each book and began to wonder what they would get up to. Of course, they would become Saturday girls and I’d also include their mothers in my stories. I could never day goodbye to Sarah, Maise, Freda, Betty, and Ruby.

The real world has been challenging in recent years and is ever more so now. What do you do to relax and to help you focus on still hitting targets and deadlines?

Like many people I read a lot more books and I eat far too much! Contracts still had to be honoured and despite not knowing how life would pan out I had to meet those deadlines. Sadly, so many authors found their books not appearing in supermarkets when people could only shop for ‘essential item’ – I thought books were essential? We sold more eBooks, and we moved our talks online.
I also started sewing again and I have The Patchwork Girls to thank for that. Researching and writing about women who sewed during WW2 brought back my love of crafting and dressmaking.

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What is next for Elaine?

The past six months changed my writing life so much. A serious problem with my eyes meant I had to step away from the computer screen with book publication dates having to be changed. I’m on the mend now, but sadly my eyes tire easily, and I’ve been told this can take around two years to rectify. I’m learning to work around my ‘bad eye days’ and control stress levels to control my blood pressure.

However, I have almost finished writing The Woolworth Girls Promise and hopefully publication will be early in 2023.

I am sorry to learn about your eye problems and hope they heal really soon. Good luck with your ongoing projects and work.

Links:

Website: elaineeverest.com

Twitter: @elaineeverest

Facebook: Elaine Everest Author

Instagram elaine.everest

Meet Lizzie Lamb, finalist of the RNA Indie Champion 2021

Welcome, Lizzie!

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Having just listened to your interview on radio Leicester I wondered what it was that swayed you away from fantasy and faerie folk of your younger years to the romance genre?

Growing up in Scotland with the Ravenscraig Steel Works literally at the bottom of my garden I, along with my friends, created an alternative reality. In the nearby woods we went in search of faeries under toadstools, nyads at the bottom of wells and dryads in the trees. Having no luck in finding them I started reading historical novels, starting with the Prisoner of Zenda, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Margaret Irwin et al. Via their work I discovered the romance of history, castles, knights and feisty princesses prepared to give any dragon a run for its money. Having found my milieu, I never looked back until . . . I read my first Jilly Cooper novel.  

You were a founder member of the New Romantics’ Press – what was it that inspired this bold move?

When we self-published our novels in 2012 indie authors were rare beasts and social media was in its infancy. We realised that if we wanted to find readers and for our books to ‘be discovered’ we would have to come up with a plan to bring them to readers’ attention. We created a blog, embraced social media and created an online presence. We held book tours, gave talks and workshops on the theme: Sisters are Doing it for Themselves and created a stir around our name.

What has been shortlisted for the RNA’s Indie Champion of the Year Award meant to you?

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The recognition of my peers for self-publishing six novels, forming the Leicester Chapter of the RNA The Belmont Belles and Beaux and showing what indie authors can achieve means a great deal to me. I love organising workshops, presenting talks and inviting agents, publishers and well-known authors to share their collective wisdom with us and this nomination has inspired me to continue with this work and to get on with my next novel.

You have spent a successful teaching career encouraging young minds to develop so did you find running workshops and holding talks a natural progression to your love of writing?

Public speaking and sharing my knowledge and love of writing has been a natural progression after 34 years career as a primary school teacher and deputy head. Helping others is part of my psyche and I get a real buzz from encouraging wannabe authors to believe in themselves, finish their WIP and start sending it out to agents and publishers.  

Have you ever been tempted to revisit the faerie folk and write for a younger audience?

I must admit that the faerie realm still appeals to me. Perhaps that’s why I’ve set four of my six novels in Scotland which is a magical, mystical place where anything can happen: creatures in the mist, myths and legends, clootie wells, Jacobite treasure and water horses. After I retired from teaching everyone expected me to write children’s books but that didn’t appeal. However, the heroine in Harper’s Highland Fling is a primary school headmistress who finds herself in a spot of bother after meeting the hero. Many friends and readers have wondered if the character is me, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

You have described writing as being an aid to help mental health as is reading and losing yourself in a good book – which writers have definitely inspired or influenced you over the years?

Oh, this is a tricky one. Jilly Cooper for sure and looking at the books on my shelf Jill Mansell, Jenny Colgan, Carole Matthews, Cathy Bramley and Sue Moorcroft. And, obvs, fellow members of New Romantics Press – Adrienne Vaughan and June Kearns.

How has Covid impacted your writing life and how have you coped mentally and physically through lockdowns?

I’m very happy in my own world and my husband and I happily exist side by side pursuing our different hobbies and interests. I must admit that I’ve missed seeing my friends and was glad to keep in touch through Facebook, Zoom, videos and phone calls. When lockdown was in place (and Leicester fared worst than most) we would pack a picnic and flask, drive into the countryside to escape the four walls which at times felt like they were closing in. Physically we tried to walk as often as we could – not easy when the next chapter of the novel is demanding to be written.

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You have a great affinity with Scotland even though you live south of the border, where does this connection come from?

I was born in Scotland and lived there until I was eleven years old, and my family moved to Leicester to find work. I’ve never lost that connection with Scotland and then we cross the border and I see the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign I feel tingly all over and I know I’m home. Although I no longer ‘sound’ Scottish I can soon find my accent and start using the patois. It was a no brainer to set my novels north of the border and to remind myself what my Scottish heritage means to me.

Which locations/places are your favourite to revisit?

We both adore Wester Ross and the coast from Fort William to Ullapool and beyond. We have a large caravan which we tour in and its our home on wheels and have twice completed the North Coast 500 in it. This summer we spent six weeks sightseeing, chilling, researching, writing and absorbing the scenery and culture around Mallaig, Camusdarach and Arisaig where my next novel is set. During that time, we clocked up three thousand miles although I dare not look at the petrol receipts! My husband and I would happily live there 24/7 but I’d miss my friends and family, so it’ll have to remain a pipe dream and a holiday destination.

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Gairloch, Wester Ross

What can a reader expect from a Lizzie Lamb novel?

Heroes you’ll fall in love with, heroines who’ll become your new best friend, secondary characters who’ll make you laugh and cry. Not to forget gorgeous, romantic locations and passionate encounters which will help you to remember that ‘moment’ when you met the person fate decreed you would spend the rest of your life with and fell in love.

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Silver sand of Morar

What is next for Lizzie?

Firstly, a series of blog post about my six-week research trip in Scotland and, of course, finishing #7 – DARK, HIGHLAND SKIES, and publishing it in 2022, the tenth anniversary of my becoming an indie author.

Here’s the blurb –

Astrophysicist Dr Halley Dunbar has spent her career searching for the one-in-a-billion exoplanet outside the solar system capable of sustaining life. Required to travel to Scotland for her great-uncle’s funeral she leaves behind the safe world of academe for Lochaber where she meets a smorgasbord of characters who make her realise there’s more to life than searching for something that might not exist. When the laird’s son, Hector (Tor) Strachan rocks up, he turns her world on its head and Halley discovers, not the exoplanet which will establish her reputation as an astrophysicist but the one-in-a-billion man capable of making her happy. But there are obstacles in the way of their happiness, and it soon becomes clear that Tor has demons to confront before he can be the man Halley deserves. As for Halley, she has a secret she’s kept for eighteen years, one which she won’t/can’t reveal to anyone, and that includes Tor.

Thank you for stopping by, Lizzie. I wish you every continued success.

Please leave comments and questions below.

Welcome author, Paula R.C. Readman!

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Welcome back, Paula.

Thank you for your invitation to join you on your blog, Valerie.

Tell me what it is that appeals to you about Victorian Gothic Ghost Stories?

As your readers may know I am a big fan of the genre. I’ve always enjoyed reading them because the narrators build a chilling atmosphere without resorting to blood, guts, and gore as they tell their tales.

Of course, when the Victorians were writing their tales they were to be read aloud to the family, so the stories had to be suitable for even the children to hear. I don’t write expecting children to read my work as I’m aiming for an adult audience so I may use stronger language when it is needed, but I am aware that bad language does put some people off. I see myself more of a ‘Quiet Horror’ writer. In the horror writer’s world quiet horror is equivalent to cosy crime i.e. more Agatha Christie than Stephen King. I think more mainstream readers are put off by the word Horror and therefore are missing out on some well-crafted books with some amazing plot-lines. I’m hoping if I can establish a name for myself in the quiet horror genre and my books are a cross-over into the main crime/mystery genre then maybe more mainstream readers will look at horror in a different light.

My latest book, Seeking the Dark has been listed under the category on Amazon as Vampire Suspense. The book has three main threads to the storyline. One of these is the fact a journalist Jacob Eldritch is trying to uncover the mystery of the Dead Men Sleeping, a series of unexplained deaths in and around Whitby in North Yorkshire. And, of course the name Whitby, North Yorkshire would automatically tell most readers and film-buffs that vampires and Dracula would play a part within my tale. I hope any new reader to my work would be pleasantly surprised to find a story they weren’t expecting when reading, Seeking the Dark.     

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How did you cope during the pandemic?

I don’t feel comfortable about saying that 2020 was a brilliant year for me, as the Covid Pandemic brought a lot of sadness into people’s lives. For me, my personal life continued without any disruptions. Obviously, I wasn’t able to see family and friends, but I was able to stay focused on my writing and had connections to the outside world via the internet. My husband was able to continue working throughout the lockdowns and he did the main shopping on his way home from work, so we were untouched by any panic buying, as I make my own bread and already had a supply of bread flour in the house.

My first novel Stone Angels was published during the early part of the pandemic. Unfortunately my excitement was marred by deep disappointment at not having a physical book launch to share with family and friends. During this awful time, I did lose two of my dearest writing friends, but not to Covid, Ivy Lord and Nicola Slade had always encouraged me with my writing and I miss them deeply.

In total, I had three books published during 2020. The Funeral Birds a crime novella published by Demain Publishing, a single collection anthology of dark, gothic tales Days Pass like a Shadow, published by Bridge House Publishing, and Stone Angels published by Darkstroke Books. This year, 2021, I had Seeking the Dark published by Darkstroke Books but again, my dreams of a physical book launch was put on hold as the country went back into lockdown. During this year, three local libraries accepted all four copies of my book which was something I never imagined happening when I first set off on my writing journey.

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What are you working on now?

I’m excited to say I’m working on two novels. I’m just finishing the edits on my fifth book; The Phoenix Hour. It is a time-travel novel about a scientist, Doctor Louise Brimstone who travels back to the 1900 to escape the pressure she’s under in her own time 2055.  In the 1900, she hopes to create a new life for herself, but becomes embroiled in a love affair that leads her to hide her lover’s terrible crimes by taking his victim’s bodies back to her own time.

My next project is to complete another time-slip novel.  I’m six chapters into a book that has three timelines. It’s about a wise woman, Granny Wenlock who originally appeared in The Funeral Birds a crime novella. Granny Wenlock will become a more rounded character in the book as she helps her descendant Dave Cavendish to solve ancient crimes in his own time. It may take me awhile to write this book but, I’m hoping to have the first draft completed sometime late next year.

That sounds like a book worth waiting for. What’s next for, Paula?

Oh good question, Valerie!

Well, I guess like all authors we want a bestseller. I hope to continue to write the sorts of books I enjoy writing, without the pressure of having to write to order. I have quite a few unfinished novels waiting to be sorted on my computer, so hopefully I may have a bestseller amongst them, but who knows. All I can do is stay positive and keep on writing.

I love your positive attitude and could not agree more.

Paula, if a film maker chose your book to adapt, would you be happy with a ‘based-on version’ film or series, or would you want them to stick as closely as possible to your original idea? What wouldn’t you be happy with i.e. too much violence, complete change of character etc.?

Hmm, Valerie, this is a difficult question. I understand that the author has plenty of scope to explore different elements within their storyline when writing their novel. Unlike a filmmaker who has only a limited amount of time in which to tell the story so they have to cut away a huge chunk of the novel and stick closely to one thread. I hope at least to find my characters recognisable as the ones in my novels. The thing that would worry me the most was if the screenwriters focused on making the hinted-at sexual and violent parts within my plotlines into stomach-churning blood and gore scenes.

If you want to find more about Paula’s writing check out the social media link below:  

Blog: https://paularcreadmanauthor.blog

Twitter: Paula R C Readman@Darkfantasy13

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/paula.readman.1

Instagram: Paula R C Readman (grannywenlock)

Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/paula-r-c-r-540680b3

Amazon Author’s Page: Paula R C Readman

Goodreads: Paula R C Readman

Please leave any comments, questions and likes below…

Meet award winning author, USA Today bestseller, Evie Dunmore!

Evie Dunmore,  USA Today bestseller.

Welcome, Evie!

When did your love of novels, especially of the romance genre, begin?

My love for novels began when I could read, so, age five. I fell into the romance genre in my mid-twenties when I was working and commuting very long hours and was very receptive to the escapism romance novels offered. I noticed that no matter how dramatic the novel, as long as I could rely on there being a happy ever after, I could just switch off for a few hours. I never looked back.

What is the attraction of the Victorian era that so appeals to you?

It was a time of great economic, social, and technological changes, which gave rise to social movements such as the women’s rights movement and the labour movement that we still benefit from today. It means I could write heroines who are authentic and plausible for the era all while I can still find myself relating to them 140 years later. In a way, it allows me to explore how far we have come, and which issues remain that some people have already tried to change for more than a century.

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Bringing Down the Duke is the first engrossing novel in The League of Extraordinary Women series. The attraction between the two main characters is undeniable and absorbing. The protagonist attends Oxford against her family’s wishes, by being offered a scholarship from the Suffragettes. Is the series based upon the unsung heroines who paved the way for women today?

It is not based on any woman in particular but is certainly inspired by the first group of women students at Oxford and by the early suffragists, and their many allies whose names we will never know. The fight to access higher education took women decades; even after women had enrolled at Oxford for the first time in 1879, it should still take another 40 years before they could sit the same exams as the male students. The fight for women’s rights, especially the right to vote, was even longer, going back to the 18th century to Mary Wollstonecraft if you will. We hear quite a lot about the suffragettes, the militants of the Edwardian era, but countless women before them laid the groundwork for the charge and I loved learning more about them and their tactics while I wrote the novels.

Which three of the many ‘extraordinary women’ from the past do you admire the most and why?

Looking at the late Victorian era/early Edwardian era, it would be Annie Kenny, Christabel Pankhurst, and Cornelia Sorabji.

Annie Kenney was the only working-class suffragette to ever hold a leadership position in the suffragette movement after working her way from a Northern factory up to travelling the world and talking to heads of state for the cause. She was responsible for the incident that turned some suffragists militant and caused them to form the suffragette branch. She was also very likely bisexual. Her autobiography was fabulously insightful and stayed with me for a long time. She came across as incredibly loyal, brave, and funny.

Christabel was the strategic head and in some ways the heart of the suffragette movement. She held a law degree from Manchester University though as a woman she was not allowed to practice law at the time. What impresses me about her is the mix of both fanatic grit as well as level-headedness which she displayed for the entire duration of the movement.

Cornelia Sorabji was the first woman of colour and first female law student at Oxford University in 1889. When she arrived at Oxford, she already held a first-class degree from Bombay University, and she successfully fought tooth and nail to be treated like her fellow male students at Oxford. Back in India, she was not allowed to practice law for over a decade, but she found her own niche to assist women and girls in legal matters and had over 600 female legal wards and several successful pro-women social policies under her belt by the time she returned to Britain in her later years.

You have a personal connection to Oxford University having studied for a master’s degree there and an advanced creative writing course. From your experience, would you say that women academics have achieved equality there alongside their male counterparts?

A lot of brilliant women are hard at work at Oxford and fill important positions; since 2016, we even have a female Vice chancellor (Louise Richardson). My heroines would love to see it. However, personally I think female academics won’t achieve real equality in the workplace as long as they are compelled to choose between family and an academic career, or have to somehow juggle both, as this is something their male counterparts still don’t really have to worry about unless they are committed to fully sharing the care-work out of principle. The statistics still show a sharp drop in female academics from third year PhD to actual tenure, and we can already see that the pandemic disproportionally affected the output of female academics. Successful academic work requires you to think original thoughts and to write cutting-edge papers. It’s harder to do that amid years of sleep-deprivation and a mind loaded with other people’s needs and schedules. Without fathers stepping up or affordable external assistance, we’ll always have shining examples of some women having it all, but the overall statistics will probably continue to tell a different story.

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How challenging was and how did you go about writing the perspective of Queen Victoria in Bringing Down the Duke?

I had read her letters to her acquaintances where she raged about women’s rights activists and called for them to be whipped. Her official stance was also anti-suffrage and minced no words. Her close friendship with Disraeli and her behind-the-scenes meddling in politics when she was younger, is also no secret. It therefore wasn’t challenging as I put words into her mouth she herself had either written down verbatim or were very much in the spirit of her position. I guess it helped that I always had her actual photographs before my mind’s eye rather than the TV version played by the lovely Jenna Coleman.

Did it surprise you that such a prominent female monarch did not support women’s rights?

Not really. The queen saw herself as set apart from regular humans, and the dividing line between progressive people and those who want to keep things as they are does not neatly run along gender lines, it never has. A lot of women back then felt more comfortable with upholding the structures that suppressed them and harnessed the narrowly defined power allocated to the role of mother and wife instead. And sometimes, women’s reasons to be anti-suffrage were simply due to clashes with their other interests. For example, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was founded and run by women in the late 19th century, and they were anti-suffrage. Why? Because the suffragists and later suffragettes continued to use plumes as accessories.

How have you kept mentally and physically fit during the recent pandemic?

Unfortunately, I didn’t do a good job on either front, so I’m afraid I have no valuable tips to share here…

When life returns to the new ‘normal’ what do you look forward to doing when not writing or researching?

I look forward to the brain fog lifting. An end to this limbo of being unable to plan anything with certainty, all while we can’t really be spontaneous, either. I look forward to not having to worry about schools shutting down again and how the kids are affected by the situation; or about loved ones falling ill. I’d love to ditch the mask, and to hop on a train or plane to see family and friends I haven’t seen in nearly two years. I would like to offer my readers an in-person book signing. And I want to go to the movies and eat popcorn and not flinch when someone in the row behind me coughs.

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When and where did your affinity with Scotland begin?

I think it began when watching nature documentaries about the Highlands when I was a child. It was sealed when I moved to Britain and dated a mountaineer from St Andrews. The first time we entered Glen Coe around 15 years ago, it literally took my breath away. I felt moved to tears, it felt like coming home, when I had no prior connection to the place. Odd how that happens sometimes. Before the pandemic, I would regularly go up to Scotland a few times a year to stay with friends and to go hiking. Edinburgh is my favourite city in the world. I have been invited to RARE, a big romance author event, in Edinburgh in 2022, and I can’t wait to go and meet readers and colleagues.

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The Portrait of a Scotsman (Published 7th September) has a Scottish hero, when and where did the inspiration for this novel begin?

Inspiration for the story sparked during my research for my debut Bringing Down the Duke, where I came across photographs of Victorian women in trousers. The women in question were pit-brow lassies—they worked on the coalfields and frequently underground. Their existence was entirely at odds with the ideal Victorian image of women as the dainty Angels in the House, and I knew I wanted to highlight these remarkable women in one of the books in the series.

This, and my love for the Hades and Persephone myth, come together in the hero, Lucian Blackstone, a successful self-made Scotsman who he began his journey underground in a Scottish colliery.

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What is next for Evie?

I’m currently trying to finish the fourth and final book in the series, and I for the last year I have been playing around with an idea for a fifth book. We’ll see what comes from that.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule. I’m looking forward to reading Portrait of a Scotsman!

Catch up with Sunday Times bestselling, award winning romance author, Sue Moorcroft!

Welcome back, Sue!

Thanks very much for inviting me, Val.

The last time we chatted was back in 2016 when you had made some monumental decisions as to what you were doing with your writing/tutor time.

You were setting out new goals for the future. Now the future is here: what has worked and, if anything, what did not?

Things have gone very well. I have to pinch myself, sometimes. Since I began working with my agent, Juliet Pickering of Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, everything has taken off. I’ve been with Avon HarperCollins for ten books, with more in the pipeline, and I’m published in about fourteen other languages and territories. I’ve been to number 1 in the Kindle UK chart, I’m a Sunday Times bestseller, and I’ve been in the Top 100 US Kindle chart and the Top 50 in Germany.

There have been challenges and setbacks along the way, of course, but I can’t think of anything that ‘didn’t work’. Although I continue to write a few short stories and two-parters, I’ve achieved my ambition of living on the earnings from my novels.

Huge congratulations, but also it is success that is well deserved!

Covid has affected everyone, directly or indirectly. How have you coped with lockdowns and keeping healthy?

I’m lucky that I have a garden and I live near a park. I’ve been able to continue writing because it means going to another place in my head every day, where people hug and kiss and mix freely. That’s not a bad state of mind in which to spend fifty or sixty hours each week. I’ve stuck to the guidelines and kept healthy, thank you. On the downside, my classes at the gym have collapsed, I haven’t seen some of my best friends for ages and I haven’t been able to go abroad. But I’ve been much more comfortably circumstanced than many so I live the best life I can.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just completed the edits for my winter book, Under the Mistletoe, which is set in ‘my’ village of Middledip and features Laurel who left the village when she was sixteen but now has to go back. The reason she left is still living in the village. I’m also in the middle of the first draft of my summer 2022 book. It’s set in France, which I chose because I’ve set a book there before and have my photos and memories for reference. A big park features heavily which, funnily enough, bears quite a resemblance to the one I walk around several times a week. The book’s about blended families and cybercrime. The cybercrime element is stretching my powers of understanding …

What goals do you have for the next five years?

Keep writing, keep selling – and hope I can sell more!

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Sue Moorcroft is a Sunday Times bestselling author, has reached the #1 spot on Kindle UK and top 100 in the US. She’s won the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award, Readers’ Best Romantic Novel award and the Katie Fforde Bursary. Published by HarperCollins in the UK, US and Canada and by other publishers around the world.

The beautiful abbey ruins of North Yorkshire… 

The beautiful abbey ruins of North Yorkshire 

Henry VIII is perhaps most infamously remembered for his treatment of his six wives. However, this king changed a nation by separating his country from the power of the Roman Catholic church and proclaiming himself head of the Church of England, in 1534.  Two years later the Reformation in England took a more profitable turn for Henry as a destructive and brutal phase began with the dissolution of the monasteries.  

North Yorkshire has many majestic reminders of the magnificent abbeys that once served and dominated local rural life: Rievaulx, Whitby, Fountains, Byland, Ampleforth and Mount Grace Priory to name a few. 

These are fascinating ‘places of interest’. They inspired many during the years they were inhabited and – in a non-pandemic year – are visited by many people now who soak in their history and sense of peace that their lovingly tended sites exude. 

Life in days gone by can be easily imagined; both harsh and cold and yet their lives encouraged selfless devotion whilst supporting their local community.   

Often constructed in beautiful rural surroundings of agricultural land, woods and moors. They would grow crops and raise animals to feed themselves and create profit from a trade, the land they owned and tenancies. The monasteries owned a quarter of the cultural land within the country – a vast wealth and Henry was a man who needed to fund his own lifestyle and wars. 

Their majestic ruins have influenced and inspired some of the scenes with in my novels such as Georgina’s escape in Betrayal, Beth’s and Willoughby’s earnest discussion under the arches of Whitby Abbey in To Love Honour and Obey or Wilson’s hiding place in Dead to Sin. 

Whitby Abbey

In my most recent novel ‘Betrayal’ Lydia Fletcher is part of a rescue of her friend within the grounds of one such building: 

 The monastery’s stone walls slowly emerged before her – a testament to their ancestors’      achievements and faith. This sanctified place once filled with holy praise, was now losing the fight against the ravages of time as they crumbled back to the earth. Encased within the lush undergrowth it had not been revered for centuries. 

In the novel the ruins are being used by a band of smugglers who dress as the monks of old to keep the superstitious locals away. 

Between the old arches of the ivy clad fallen parapets, moving smoothly through the distant mist, was the distinctive figure of a monk, the ghostly habit covered by a dark hooded cape. Kell looked to see what had caught Jeremiah’s attention.  

“Souls of monks, long gone… they got no truck with us… so dig!” he ordered. Kell stared at him. Both Lydia and Jeremiah watched the monk disappear once more into the forest. The boy’s mouth hung open as the shovel fell from his hand. 

The Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 consisted of 30000 strong rebel army from the north demanding that the abbeys be reopened. They were promised a pardon and a parliament on York, but once they disbanded their leaders were executed. In 1539 the larger monasteries also fell. Those monks who would not conform were also executed. 

The abbeys were hugely important to the life of the people in the area. Their battered walls and fallen arches are now preserved for all to discover and admire. 

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Catching up with best-selling author, Nicola Cornick!

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Welcome back, Nicola.

Thank you very much for inviting me, Val. It’s a pleasure to be back!

How time flies by. You were my guest back in 2018!

Since then a lot has happened – how have you found working during lockdown? Has it been a challenge to stay focused; mentally and physically?

Like a lot of people, I’ve found lockdown very difficult. When it began a year ago, I found the uncertainty and anxiety very unsettling, and couldn’t concentrate. Then my stepfather became ill and died, followed six months later by my mother, which was incredibly stressful and upsetting, and left me mentally exhausted.

I don’t normally talk about my personal life that much but I feel I want to be honest about this in case it helps reassure any other people who have found their life and work so disrupted that their focus has inevitably suffered. I couldn’t write at all a lot of the time; I couldn’t read either. Unfortunately this coincided with me needing to do big revisions to the book I have coming out next month. It took me months and months to do them. Just sitting down at the computer was an effort I didn’t want to make, and each word felt as though it had to be dragged out of me. I managed it in the end but I’ve never known writing to be such a process of attrition. Then, in a bizarre twist, the final revisions to the book were due the week my mother died and I found the reverse was true. I found an escape by losing myself completely in the book and racing through the revisions with nothing else at all in my mind – until I stopped. It’s the only time I’ve ever been able to escape the intolerable present through writing. All of which is to say that if you experience a similar challenge to your focus, accept it, do what you can and be kind to yourself.

You have been through an incredibly trying time and I appreciate your honesty. It is excellent advice and I hope it helps to reassure others who have been struggling with the new reality of pandemic life.

How much has changed in your writing world since we first chatted?

A few things have changed and developed. I’m still writing dual time books and enjoying it enormously. I like to choose as a central character a female protagonist who is probably largely overlooked in history – women from the footnotes, I call them – and explore her story. There’s also usually a real- life mystery in the story as well. My next book deals with the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower in 1483. Other than that, I’m enjoying mentoring historical fiction authors for The History Quill site and giving talks on the historical background to my books.

What have been the highlights?

forgotten sister cover

A recent highlight was when my Tudor-set book The Forgotten Sister was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists Association Romantic Thriller Award, which was a lovely surprise and wonderful recognition. Despite the pandemic – or perhaps because people have been reading more in Lockdown – that book has done so well, reaching the top 10 in the Heatseeker chart and gaining lots of amazing recognition. But it’s not all about prizes and sales, of course – the most important thing is having contact with readers and fellow history fans, so the return of live events and the opportunity of live online ones is a terrific highlight. Just being able to chat with people about all sorts of history and writing topics is wonderful.

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What are you working on now?

I’m working on preparing a lot of online and live events to celebrate the launch of The Last Daughter on 8th July but trying not to let that eat into my writing time too much! My next book is also due in a couple of months so there’s a lot of work still to be done there. It’s a timeslip set in the later 16th and early 17th century in the run up to the Gunpowder Plot, and the heroine is Catherine Catesby, wife of the plot’s ringleader Robert Catesby. When I was researching it, it seemed to me that there is such a big focus on the plot and what happened afterwards, but not so much on events beforehand and the huge influence that Catherine had on Robert Catesby’s life. She is another woman from the footnotes of history!

Ethel bookshop

What is next for Nicola?

Well it’s an exciting time for me as my Gunpowder Book (as I call it) is the last book on this particular contract with Harper Collins HQ so I’m starting to think about all sorts of ideas for future writing. It always feels like such a promising time when all the potential ideas are there to be explored! Plus I have lots of other projects on the go – the mentoring, which I love, and my involvement with the Wantage Literary Festival, and various history events and talks coming up. I’m very fortunate, I think, to have so many opportunities. Most excitingly, though, we will be getting a new guide dog puppy to raise in the summer!

Now that sounds like a busy schedule, but with lots of potential play time with the new puppy. I hope it passes all its training. Thank you for being my guest!

Meet Regency author, Natalie Kleinman

Author image - Natalie Kleinman

I am delighted to welcome fellow Sapere Books author, Natalie, to chat about her new release.

With publication of The Girl With Flaming Hair only a few days from now, what plans do you have for launching it on its way?

I’m so delighted with the cover image – she may not be Helen of Troy but she’s beautiful nonetheless and I will be sharing her on social media, primarily Facebook and Twitter. I’m also lucky in that Rachel Gilbey (Rachel’s Random Resources) has organised a blog tour for me which will begin on 18th June. Bloggers and reviewers are so generous with their time and I’m especially grateful to them, and to you. There will be ongoing news as well with giveaways and competitions for those who subscribe to my newsletter.

The Girl With Flaming Hair Full Tour Banner

Everyone’s route to publication is different – what was yours?

An unexpected one! I’d finished studying with the Open University and was looking for something to occupy my little grey cells so I joined a ten week creative writing course run by my local council. What a magnet that turned out to be! Fast forward through various interest groups until in 2011 I discovered The Write Place (TWP), a creative writing school not too far from where I live. Up to this point I’d been writing short stories but I was made to wonder if I couldn’t write a book as well. Since then I’ve written fourteen though three will never see the light of day but I’m grateful to them – they were my learning curve. I found out about the Romantic Novelists Association from TWP and joined their New Writers Scheme. You may imagine my joy when my first submitted book, a contemporary romance, was taken up by a publisher and I graduated the scheme in the first year. That was in 2014.

We both share a love of Regency with our publisher Sapere books, but when did your love of the period begin and sustains your interest with it?

I must have been about eleven at the time and I have my mother to thank, as do so many others theirs, for it was she who handed me my first Georgette Heyer. It’s never palled and I’ve had books fall to pieces in my hands, not from abuse but because they just weren’t up to the number of times I’ve re-read them. When that happened they were replaced. Some outstanding productions have illustrated how well stories in this genre translate to the screen. And recently Bridgerton did a great job of raising the profile of Regency romance.

You have written many short stories. Do you enjoy switching between the two disciplines of writing short and long fiction?

I love them both and they are entirely different disciplines. It’s wonderful to create a world in just two or three thousand words and very satisfying. I’m very grateful that my stories have been enjoyed by so many. Long fiction gives the opportunity to develop one’s characters and, as my stories tend to be character-driven, that’s of huge benefit to me and the way I write. I just have to be careful they don’t start writing themselves as they have a tendency to run away with the plot.

What has been a member of the RNA meant to you?

The RNA is a place for making friends as well as acquiring knowledge. Writers tend to be pretty genuine people and very ready to help each other. Consequently, having attended numerous conferences, workshops and chapter meetings, I’ve had the chance to meet, to learn and to move forward. Everyone is so kind. Maybe it’s the romanticism in us.

How have you kept mentally and physically fit during lockdown?

Does one out of two count? I loved sports when I was younger but I’ve never been a fan of what I think of as gym-based exercise. I have disciplined myself to do online exercises but I know they are the barest minimum. Mentally though I’m so very grateful for my occupation. What better than losing oneself either in one’s own creation or in that of another author? Other time periods, science fiction, cosy crime, they’ve all taken me to places I wouldn’t otherwise have visited. And Zoom and other video links have been invaluable.

What is next for Natalie?

Exciting times for me. You will know that Sapere recently published The Reluctant Bride. Well, after The Girl With Flaming Hair there are three more in the pipeline so I guess I’ll be pretty busy for the foreseeable future.

The Reluctant Bride Cover

Thank you so much for having me on the blog today, Val.

Natalie

You are very welcome!

About The Girl With Flaming Hair:

While driving his curricle, Rufus Solgrave, Earl of Luxton comes across Sophie Clifford lying unconscious in the road, having fallen from her horse. Not too far from home, he takes her back to Ashby, his country seat, leaving her in the care of his mother, Elizabeth, Countess of Luxton, and his sister, Lydia. Under their kindly supervision, Sophie soon begins to recover.

Upon discovering that Sophie has never mixed with London society, Elizabeth invites her to accompany the family to town for Lydia’s come-out. Unhappy with her home life and eager to sample the delights of the season, Sophie accepts. However, her enjoyment is marred when talk of an old scandal surrounding her birth resurfaces. What’s more, her devious stepbrother, Francis Follet, has followed her to London, intent on making her his bride.

Sensing Sophie’s distress, Rufus steps in to protect her from Francis’s unwelcome advances. And although neither Rufus nor Sophie are yet thinking of marriage, both soon begin to wonder whether their comfortable friendship could blossom into something warmer…

About Natalie:

Natalie’s passion for reading became a compulsion to write when she attended a ten-week course in creative writing some sixteen or so years ago. She takes delight in creating short stories of which more than forty have been published, but it was her lifelong love of Regency romance that led her to turn from contemporary romantic fiction to try her hand at her favourite genre. Raised on a diet of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, she is never happier than when immersed in an age of etiquette and manners, fashion and intrigue, all combined into a romping good tale. She lives on the London/Kent border, close to the capital’s plethora of museums and galleries which she uses for research as well as pleasure. A perfect day though is when she heads out of town to enjoy lunch by a pub on the river, any river, in company with her husband and friends.

Natalie is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Society of Authors and the Society of Women Writers and Journalists.

Meet Clare Pooley – winner of the RNA’s 2021 Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award!

Congratulations and welcome to Clare, a worthy winner of the RNA’s 2021 Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award!

What was the inspiration behind The Authenticity Project?

The Authenticity Project was inspired by my own experience. 

Six years ago, my life from the outside, or on social media, looked fairly perfect – happy, healthy, organised and photogenic. The truth was very different. 

I was struggling with a terrible addiction to alcohol that was badly affecting my mental and physical health. I decided to tell the grubby truth in a blog which I called Mummy was a Secret Drinker. 

That blog saved my life, and transformed the lives of thousands of other people who read it. So then I started thinking: what would happen if other people were really honest about their lives with the strangers around them? That thought was my starting point.

What do you hope that people will take away from reading it?

There’s a Leonard Cohen lyric at the beginning of the book: 

Ring the bells that still can ring, 

Forget your perfect offering, 

There is a crack in everything,

That’s how the light gets in.

That quote seemed like a perfect summary to me, as when I finished writing the book I realised that each of the characters have a central flaw, but it’s those flaws that make them human, loveable and unique. 

I hope that people reading the book will decide to embrace their own imperfections and, maybe, to be more open and honest about them. When we pretend to be perfect, all it does is help make the people around us feel worse about themselves. When you make yourself vulnerable by sharing the truth, magical things can happen.

The Sober Diaries has been a very well received book that deals with a serious subject in an accessible way. How has having a keen sense of humour helped in dealing with life’s challenges?

The Sober Diaries covers the year I got sober, and was diagnosed with breast cancer. I honestly don’t think I’d have made it through that year if I hadn’t had a black sense of humour about the whole thing. Luckily my husband and my kids never let me take myself too seriously!

 

What has winning this award meant to you?

For so long, the characters I created in The Authenticity Project just lived in my own head and on the pages of my manuscript. 

I am constantly blown away by the fact that they are now out in the world and that other people have embraced them and loved them like I do. This award is really the epitome of that. 

And I’m particularly happy to have won the award this year – the year of the pandemic, as I believe that we all need fiction more than ever right now. At a time when we can’t travel, when we’re isolated and missing ‘real’ life, stories provide such a valuable escape.

I was also thrilled that the award was sponsored by Katie Fforde, who I’ve admired for so long.

Are you a meticulous planner or do you like to write in a more organic way?

I’m somewhere in between! 

I have a rough plan – a beginning, middle and an end, and some sketchy characters, but I like to allow the characters to develop as I write, and then to help direct the action. I believe that the best writing happens when your characters surprise you! 

There’s a big twist towards the end of The Authenticity Project, and I think the reason no-one ever sees it coming is because I didn’t know it was coming as I was writing. I was as surprised as anyone else!

The house that inspired Julian’s

What key tips would you give an as yet unpublished writer?

My best tip is the same for unpublished writers and for people wanting to get sober: take it one day at a time. If you think about the whole task in front of you – writing 90,000 words – it can feel overwhelming. But the truth is, if you can write just one paragraph  you can write a page. If you write a page you can write a chapter. And if you can write a chapter, you can write a book…

Secondly, you need to show up. Writing is a muscle. You need to exercise it. Try to write every day, even if you end up deleting the whole thing once you’ve finished. It helps to have a regular routine. I’m a member of the 5am writer’s club. I find very early mornings, when the world is asleep and nothing has yet intruded on your day, the most creative and interesting time to write.

Thirdly, remember that all first drafts are AWFUL. Just get the story down on the page, then once you know what you’ve got, you can go back and edit it. It’s a bit like painting a landscape: you do a rough pencil sketch first, then you go back over and over again adding light, shade, depth and colour. If you worry about making it perfect as you’re writing, you’ll end up paralysed my fear and doubt – I’ve been there!

 

How have you coped/worked throughout lockdown?

I have a husband and three kids who’ve all been working or schooling from home, plus two terriers, so it’s been chaos! 

Trying to find the physical space and the headspace to work has been really hard. Sometimes I end up working from the bathroom! 

 

In early lockdown, I completely lost the ability to read or write, for the first time in my life. I spent my whole time doom-scrolling. Luckily, as the news improved, my reading and writing mojo returned. 

What have been the highlights of your career to date – other than winning this award? 🙂

The Authenticity Project was on the New York Times bestseller list for several weeks, which was a real dream come true. I’m also thrilled that the book has sold to thirty-one different territories. I love seeing all the wonderful covers popping up, with titles in various languages, all over the world. 

What are you working on now?

I’m up to my eyeballs in the structural edit of my second novel. It’s not a direct sequel, but there are a couple of cameo appearances from characters you might recognise!

What is next for Clare?

You know, I would write every day even if I weren’t being paid to do so, so the fact that I am able to earn a living making up stories is a dream come true. That’s why I’m so hugely grateful to the RNA, and everyone who has bought, read and recommended my books. Thank you!

 

Thank you for such honest and uplifting answers.

Meet Carole Matthews – winner of the RNA’s 2021 Romantic Comedy Novel Award.

Welcome, Carole!Matthews summer days sea breezes author

How long has your road to success been from that first publication breakthrough?

I had my first book published in 1997, Let’s Meet on Platform 8, and since then I’ve written another thirty-three novels. I didn’t realise when I started that I’d still be around twenty-five years later.

SDSB cover

What has being a member of the RNA meant to you over the years?

Friendship and support. It’s lovely being able to mix with a group of like-minded people who are willing to share your successes and struggles. It’s a great asset for authors.

What was your reaction to firstly receiving the RNA Outstanding Achievement Award and now this one?

The Outstanding Achievement Award was wonderful. I shared the honour with Jill Mansell and we were both presented with our awards by Barbara Taylor Bradford which was amazing – what a woman! It’s very nice to be recognised by your peers. I received three nominations – two for Sunny Days & Sea Breezes, plus one for Christmas for Beginners which was a lovely surprise. To receive the award for Romantic Comedy Novel of the Year was such a thrill. Sunny Days & Sea Breezes has already proved to be one of my most popular books with readers and this feels like the ultimate stamp of approval.

Happiness for Beginners was inspired by a real animal farm helping people – how do you balance the harsher realities and issues of life with a lighter touch to convey a heartfelt and serious theme?

That’s something that I’ve tried to do with all of my books and I think they reflect life in general. It’s not all ha-ha-hee-hee, but sometimes we’re able to see the funny side in difficulties. While my books are romantic comedies, I hope they reflect real life too. With Happiness for Beginners, the real farm helps people with behavioural and mental health issues, so that created the darker side of the book. They also rescued troubled and damaged animals and they definitely provided the comedy element!

Happiness (1)

Are you a detailed plotter or do you develop your work on the screen as you go and through revisions and edits?

A detailed plotter! As I’ve written two books a year for the last ten years, I don’t have the luxury of wondering what happens next – I need to know! I do, however, change and adapt as I go, but I start off with a definite beginning, middle and end. I spend about two weeks writing out character profiles and that helps me to get into their heads. Each morning, I start by editing what I’ve done the day before and then I have one final pass at the end. I do as little editing as humanly possible.

Your locations vary, keeping your work fresh and inspiring. Are there any that have been particularly memorable?

I have been fortunate to be able to base my books in some wonderful locations over the years. Part of With or Without You was set in Nepal and that was a very memorable trip. I loved every minute – the people and the culture are fantastic. I went to Swedish Lapland and stayed in the Ice Hotel as research for Calling Mrs Christmas and that was wonderful too. We had the most fabulous display of the Northern Lights – one of the highlights of my life. My latest, Sunny Days & Sea Breezes, is set on the Isle of Wight and I’ve fallen in love with the place and plan to visit time and time again. I must have described it nicely as many of my readers – and my editors – booked holidays there as a result!

You are a prolific author, but roughly how long does it take to do the research, writing, editing to final manuscript?

I’ve been doing a book every six months, so research, writing and editing all tends to roll into one. I’m usually researching the next book while writing the current one and editing the last one. I really wouldn’t like to see inside my brain!

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What is next for Carole?

Lots to look forwards to! The paperback of Sunny Days & Sea Breezes is out in May, so I’m looking forward to that. My publisher is re-jacketing and reissuing a lot of my backlist which is quite a job with thirty-odd books to do. The new-look Chocolate Lovers’ Club is out in eBook at the moment for 99p and the whole series will be reissued in paperback in August. This series of four books is among my most popular worldwide, so it’s nice to see them given a new lease of life. Later in the year – October – will see the paperback of Christmas for Beginners which was also nominated for an RNA award and sees another visit to Hope Farm.