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!

All 4 confetti instagram grid

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.

Meet Julie Houston – winner of the RNA’s 2021 Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award

Hi Julie

In your shortlist interview you wrote:

I was inspired to write SING ME A SECRET after taking part in a musical production of Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar in Leeds Town Hall several years ago. In the actual book, a family secret held between four sisters is played out, and eventually revealed, while rehearsing and performing in their village’s own production of this fabulous musical. I’d loved every minute of taking part in the show, especially as we all fell in love with Jesus. And what a Jesus…

You revealed the source of this novel was a musical – how did this come about?

I’ve sung in a choir for the past twenty-five years or so and, on one occasion, we were lucky enough to be given permission to perform JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR by Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Really Useful Group. This was performed in Leeds Town Hall and it was one of the best things I’ve ever been involved in. We all fell in love with Jesus, who was an extremely talented – as well as rather good looking – young man, and taking part in the production was really fantastic. Our choirmaster, Gary, who I’ve acknowledged in the book, Sing Me A Secret, surprised us all by donning a yellow suit and purple wig and taking on the part of Herod. This was my inspiration for Juno’s love object – Dr Scott Butler – when he took on the part of Herod in his own yellow suit and purple wig.

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Can you share some of your journey from unpublished to published author with us?

I’ve always read, as surely all authors must have done in order to write a novel themselves, and really wish – again as all authors probably wish – I’d started writing much earlier. However, I started writing Goodness Grace and Me when my children were small and I suppose it took me many years to not only write it but have the confidence to submit to agents. Then came the usual rejections. I joined the RNA and submitted this first book into their New Writers’ Scheme which was extremely helpful in pointing out where I was going wrong. (As well as going right, thank goodness). Eventually my lovely agent, Anne Williams at KHLA, took me on and we did the round of submissions. This was back in 2014 when publishing was still all about paperbacks and the Romantic Comedy genre seemed to be losing popularity As such, the main publishing houses rejected it. I decided to go independent and worked with Ebook Publishing to get Goodness Grace and Me up as an e-book with Amazon Kindle. The book did well, reaching 64 in the UK charts. I then wrote The One Saving Grace and Looking for Lucy and was taken on by White Glove which was an arm of Amazon publishing for agented writers. I don’t think it exists any more. They were brilliant at promoting and Looking for Lucy reached Number 1 in Australia. Anne submitted A Village Affair to a round of publishers and I was taken on by Sarah Ritherdon who was then with Aria. Aria took all my back numbers as well as offering a new three-book deal and then, with Hannah Smith as editorial director, was given another three-book deal. The team at HeadOfZeus/Aria have been fabulous to work with. Sing Me A Secret won the Sapere Books Popular Fiction prize in March this year. A Family Affair will be published in June and I’m just about to complete my tenth novel, A Better Life.

What advice would you give to your younger unpublished self?

Write that book now!! Don’t leave it until you think you have time. Read everything, even books outside the genre in which you want to write. Also, go with your gut instinct: if you really think people will enjoy reading what you’ve written, don’t listen to anyone who might try and put you off. Persevere, don’t give up. Plod on. You’ll get there if you really want to.

Are you a very organised plotter or do you write from a specific starting point and then let the characters evolve and take you on a journey?

By the time I was writing my fifth book and had been taken on by Aria, I knew this was a serious business and I had to see this as a job, rather than a hobby! I’ve never been asked to write a certain plot – sometimes I think it might be interesting to be given an idea – so it’s now a matter of sitting down with a brand-new exercise book and creating characters, time lines and family trees. I hate that first page of writing a new novel. In fact, I probably hate the first few chapters as I am homesick for my old characters and not yet in love with the new ones. Once I’m in love with them, I let them write themselves. I know this sound utterly daft, and I’ve certainly ridiculed the idea that characters can write the stories themselves, but give them their head and they will. I love writing dialogue – I’d love to do some script writing – so I suppose my books are very much character, as opposed to plot, driven.

How have you coped to keep yourself mentally and physically fit during lockdown?

I’ve just got on and written two books: A Family Affair which comes out in June and A Better Life (title might change.) I started the first last March as Lockdown started and am on the point of finishing the second. If anyone had suggested, when I first started this writing lark, I’d be writing two books a year, I’d have laughed out loud. Lockdown has given me the opportunity to do that. My children are in their early twenties and have basically left home, giving me all the time I need to write. Physically, I run most days as well as walking the dog. (Sometimes I combine the two, much to the dog’s dismay who doesn’t like being on a lead). I was swimming most days until the gym closed for Lockdown and we’ve now just been informed this one isn’t going to be reopening at all. Who needs yet another retail park which, I believe, is going to be there instead? I’m livid!!

What has the RNA and winning this award meant to you?

The RNA has been fabulous. I’ve met so many friendly and talented writers happy to share their time, advice and expertise. Winning the RNA Sapere Popular Fiction award this year can only be described as a dream come true.

What next for Julie?

As we speak, I’m just about finishing book 10: A Better Life. Brand new characters apart from Cassie, Fiona and Clare from A Village Affair who, although featuring only briefly, I enjoyed bringing to life once again. I certainly can’t imagine stopping writing very soon yet. Who knows – in another five years, I may have written another ten books?

I certainly hope that you do and wish you every success in the future.

Please leave a comment or a question in the comments below!

Meet Christina Courtenay – winner of the RNA’s 2021 Fantasy Romantic Novel Award

Courtenay (1)

The story was inspired by a Viking style ring I own, an exact replica of one displayed at the Historical Museum in Stockholm. When I went to the museum to compare the two, I was struck by the germ of an idea for this book. My agent just happens to be Swedish as well and she encouraged me to explore our mutual heritage, so it seemed like it was meant to be – serendipity!

I am intrigued by the connection between your replica ring and the original – how long did you need to research this fascinating tale?

I can’t say precisely – the ring was the catalyst, and after I’d been to see the original in the Stockholm Historical Museum, I had the story in the back of my mind for many years but never did anything about it. Then all these weird coincidences started to happen – there was a huge Viking exhibition at the British Museum in London, several TV series about Vikings (both fiction and non-fiction), a couple of new books about them and some exciting new archaeological finds. I also managed to go to the Jorvik Viking festival at last, which I’d wanted to do for ages, and then I found my Swedish agent. It was as if the universe was telling me to just go for it – so I did and ECHOES OF THE RUNES was the result. I did some basic background research at first, then continued more in-depth as I went along, continuously reading, visiting museums and travelling to Viking sites.

Vring

What appeals to you about the romantic fantasy genre in particular?

I’ve loved timeslip and time travel stories ever since I first read The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier and Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine. I think most history buffs (and I’m definitely one of those) imagine they’d love to travel back in time or somehow be able to experience the past. Within the romantic fantasy genre readers can do that – whether it’s by way of dreams, ghostly apparitions or proper time travel, the past comes to life. And we get to meet the people from the past, especially the heroes. It’s exciting and a great way to learn about history.

Christina in a Viking Longhouse

Will you stay within this or have you other projects in different sub-genres ongoing?

For the moment I’m staying with timeslip and time travel stories. I was writing YA a while back, but that’s on the backburner now. I think I’ve realised that I’m now writing exactly the sort of stories that appeal to me and that I enjoy most, so there is no reason to change that.

How have you coped/worked during lockdown life?

It’s been very up and down. To begin with, I was very enthusiastic and determined to get loads done. There are always so many things we put off doing, isn’t there? I did lots of writing at first and also tackled something I’d been meaning to do for ages – create a website for my genealogy project (on my maiden name). Once that was done, I sort of ran out of steam a bit, and the anxiety of the whole pandemic situation got to me. Now we seem to be heading for more normal times though, so I’m back to writing with a vengeance and actually working on two stories at once!

What advice would you give your younger unpublished self?

Join an organisation like the RNA straight away, go to as many workshops and events as possible and really listen to the advice, network, and find a writing buddy/critique partner. Before I found the RNA, I was floundering because I hadn’t come across any likeminded authors, but once I did, it felt like coming home.

The RNA obviously means a tremendous amount to you as a previous chairman but how much does winning this award mean to you?

It means so much, I can’t even begin to tell you! ECHOES OF THE RUNES was my first book with a new publisher, as well as being close to my heart because of the connection with my heritage. And after the horrible year we’ve all had, it really did feel wonderful to finally have something positive happening!

What is next for Christina?

I have two more books coming out this year with Headline Review in the Viking time travel series:  WHISPERS OF THE RUNES will be published at the end of June, and it follows a hero and heroine who get mixed up with the so-called Great Heathen Army that rampaged through Britain in the 870s AD. Then there is TEMPTED BY THE RUNES which will be out in December, and the couple in that story take the huge step of being among the first settlers in Iceland. Both these are time travel tales, where the heroines are from the present and have to adapt to living in the Viking age. Not an easy thing to do!

I wish you every continued success and look forward to reading your worthy winner.

You can follow Christina at:-

http://www.christinacourtenay.com

https://www.facebook.com/christinacourtenayauthor

Comments, likes and questions can be left below.

Meet Milly Johnson – winner of the RNA’s 2021 Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award

Johnson- one true north author

I never wanted to be anything else but a novelist. Even when the sensible part of me was saying, ‘Get a proper job. Girls like you don’t become them,’ I never stopped dreaming. But such dreams need hard work behind them to come true so I gave it my all. I wanted to write books that made readers feel the way I did when reading the best ones: a willing prisoner trapped in the pages. 

Can you share some of your career path enroute from unpublished to published author with us?

I wanted to be a novelist more than anything but I didn’t think I had a chance as a northern working class girl with no connections in the industry. I had a passion for writing, but I had a friend who was brilliant at English and I came up very short when compared to the literature she could produce. She didn’t want to be a writer (she became a dressmaker) I was desperate to be a novelist, and I reckon over the years I just got better with all the hard work and practice. I was split down the middle: half of me wanting to be a writer, half of me convincing myself I was dreaming too high and I should get a proper job. So, after university, I got a proper job and then followed many other proper jobs – all of them ill-fitting because I only ever wanted to write. As soon as I’d come home from the building society/office/mill, I got out my typewriter and worked on my novel, which was a paranormal romance. I sent it off to various agents and the period between it going off in the post to me getting it back with a rejection stamp on it was filled with wonderful anticipation. Those rejections came thick and fast (rightly so) but I was getting comments from agents saying that my work was of a publishable quality which kept my hope burning.

Back then, I didn’t think anyone would be interested in a book set in the north, and I couldn’t write about the south with any authenticity so my stories were set in some airy-fairy no man’s land.  Then I was sacked from a firm because my accent was too ‘common’ and it was part-therapy, part-bloody-mindedness that I starting setting my stories in the north so I could stuff them full of my common accent. I had all but given up on ever making it, when I fell pregnant at the same time as two of my friends and we travelled our nine months together. When the babies were born, we were sitting in my front room and it was as if a bolt of lightning came through the window with an attached message. ‘Why aren’t you writing about this – the stuff you know: Yorkshire, friendships, babies, the workplace, love.’ I started to pen a story about three friends who get pregnant at the same time, sent it off to the same agent I’d been chasing for fifteen years and they said, ‘This is the one we have been waiting for’. Me and my northern books have never looked back.

What advice would you give to your younger unpublished self?

I would say to her, ‘Your association with the north is what will give you the break, so don’t ignore it, use it. Use your life and your experience to fuel your writing, nothing is ever wasted. Don’t give up – you can write and you have a backbone of iron so you will make it’.

Are you a very organised plotter or do you write from a specific starting point and then let the characters evolve and take you through the plot?

I would love to plot but I can’t – and believe me I’ve tried. I start the book on page one and somehow I manage to get to the end of it. I enjoy that I’m surprised by what spills out onto the page. When people say to me ‘I’d love to write a book but I wouldn’t know where to start’ my stock answer is ‘Neither do I.’ I’ve written nineteen full length novels not having a clue what else is inside me when I type ‘Chapter One’.

Writing accessible ‘unputdownable’ fiction that balances heavier topics with humour takes great skill, is this used in facing life, especially in a time of pandemic?

Humour has a great power and can help us in the darkest times. I always liken it to a chocolate mousse my friend used to make at university (bear with me). ‘It’s too rich’ she’d say, ‘So you have to eat it with double cream’. That dark sweet mousse needed to be offset with its total opposite and together they were a perfect combo.  Stories that are all too light are insubstantial, too dark and they’re cloying – you need one to offset the other. Even a little humour can pop a balloon of swollen tension, even if it’s slightly inappropriate, but it is a badly needed valve to give one breathing space. I like to write about ups and downs, my life has been full of them and my writing reflects that. I want to take my readers on a roller-coaster not a baby ride. But ultimately I leave readers with hope and however gritty some of my story threads might be, readers take from my books that there is light at the end of nearly every tunnel. That has been very needed in the pandemic. We all need to know that however frightening things are, hope shines eternal.

How have you coped to keep yourself mentally and physically fit during lockdown?

Physically – could have done better. But I have now invested in a treadmill which is in my office and was a brilliant buy. I wish I’d done it at the beginning of the pandemic, I’d have been running marathons now.  Mentally – it was a struggle to be honest at the start of lockdown because I was very frightened. I ended up downing tools and letting my son persuade me into watching the whole of Game of Thrones which gave my head a total break. Then I eased myself back into my work, because we are used to cracking the whip over ourselves, and now I’m back up to full pelt.

What has the RNA and winning this award meant to you?

I was determined not to join the RNA until I was a published author and that was daft because I missed out on a lot of support and camaraderie (and Prosecco and kitchen parties) that would have helped me along the way. It has brought me friendship and support and a lot of knowledge because you never stop learning in this game. I love that you can cheer on rivals because we all have the common aim of promoting our genre and encouraging reading. I feel as if I am in a fragrant army of kick-ass soldiers and I’d encourage everyone who is eligible to join.

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As for winning the award. I wanted it very much for My One True North (so much so I felt sure I wouldn’t get it, hence the shock when I did). It is one of two books that I wrote when my dad was very ill and I pressed him into the pages. I felt as if it was the best thing I’d ever written, as if it was pulled out of my soul and so to be honoured for it was very special. I have a trophy shelf at home now and I have so many freeze-frame moments when I think ‘those trophies are for MY writing’. It makes me so glad I am a stubborn little sod who never gave up because it really does prove what you can do when you want something so much that you’ll give it your all to get it.

What is next for Milly?

I’ll write until I drop.  I’m having a crack at a crime novel as well as a romance because I’ve always wanted to stretch in that direction and I’ve been writing some poetry which I love to perform in theatres. I just want to get back to mingling and doing talks and meeting readers.

Thank you so much for sharing your personal writing story with us. I wish you every further success with your future projects and look forward to reading many more of your books.

Comments, likes and questions are always welcome…

Celebrating: The Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award shortlist!

Liberta shorter

The Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award

Libertà Books is a light-hearted website (libertabooks.com) where readers and authors share their experience, discoveries, favourites and occasional oddities. Run by four multi-published authors, it has evolved to cover advice on writing and, in the real world, well-received workshops for both experienced and aspiring writers. Limited to the virtual world in 2020, Libertà offered visitors a huge variety of blog posts, including a multi-part mystery serial set in today’s Covid world. Expect more interesting material in 2021.

Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist. Read on to find out the stories behind the talented authors shortlisted for the prestigious award, as they reveal them, and the inspiration behind their lovely novels.

A Will, A Wish and a Wedding  Kate Hardy  

Mills & Boon True Love  

I’ve been fascinated by butterflies since I was tiny and saw the Margaret Fountaine collection in Norwich Castle, so I wanted that as a background for my heroine. I also love glass buildings, so my heroine had to be an architect specialising in glass. Add an unusual will, a tragic past and an Iron Age hill fort (not far from me!) – and there was the inspiration for A Will, A Wish and a Wedding. 

The Warrior Knight and the Widow – Ella Matthews  

Mills & Boon Historical  

Oystermouth Castle, in the fishing village of Mumbles, sits on top of a hill over-looking a wide bay. Since childhood, I’ve made up stories about the people who lived there in times gone by. The castle appears in The Warrior Knight and the Widow as the home Lady Ellena wants to protect at all costs. Sir Braedan is the knight who could take it all away from her. I hope I’ve done it justice! 

The Day that Changed Everything – Catherine Miller  

Bookouture  

The main inspiration for The Day that Changed Everything came from a dream. In that dream, I moved into a bungalow and because it was to help care for foster children, I named it the Bunk-A-Low because it would be filled with bunk beds in the future. That was how Tabitha’s story began and the Bunk-A-Low came to exist in this story about all the loves we might experience in a lifetime.   

Second Chance for the Single Mom  Sophie Pembroke 

Mills & Boon True Love  

Second Chance for the Single Mum was actually inspired by my lovely editor, Megan Haslam. When we started working together we quickly bonded over a love of Welsh rugby, and I promised her that one day I’d write her a rugby romance. Several years later, she held me to it. We met up at the RWA conference in New York and brainstormed the characters and the conflict – one of the most fun working lunches ever!  

The Return of the Disappearing Duke – Lara Temple  

Mills & Boon True Love  

The Return of the Disappearing Duke started with a childhood fascination with Egyptian history that deepened when I spent several months travelling and studying there. It was a matter of time before Egypt infiltrated my historical romances and one day I found the perfect hero and heroine for the job — a scarred mercenary-duke on the run from his past and a Shakespeare-loving heroine on the run from her present. I added a couple of opinionated camels, temples, hammams, and a ton of sizzling romance. The result is The Return of the Disappearing Duke — I hope it gives readers as much joy as it gave me to write it. 

Cinderella and the Surgeon – Scarlet Wilson  

Mills & Boon Medical  

The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

Please feel free to leave a comment or like the post.

Celebrating: The Romantic Comedy Novel Award shortlist!

Romantic comedy

The Romantic Comedy Novel Award

Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist. Read on to find out the stories behind the talented authors shortlisted for the prestigious award, as they reveal them, and the inspiration behind their lovely novels.

The Garden of Forgotten Wishes – Trisha Ashley

Bantam Press

After several years of writing domestic satire to increasingly rave rejections, I had two short novels in a different genre published in the early eighties. But then I reverted to what I really wanted to write and, after several more years in the wilderness I met my wonderful agent, Judith Murdoch, who made me see that I was really writing romantic comedy…without enough romance.

Someday at Christmas – Lizzie Byron

Coronet, Hodder & Stoughton

I wrote this for all the fat people out there who are so often relegated to the funny best friend in stories. Or, worse, have to lose weight to get what they want. I hope Someday at Christmas shows them that they don’t have to have everything figured out yet and can still love and be loved without having to change a thing about themselves.

Christmas at the Island Hotel – Jenny Colgan

Sphere, Little, Brown

One Winter’s Night – Kiley Dunbar

Hera Books

The inspiration behind One Winter’s Night (and its prequel, One Summer’s Night) is my love for Shakespeare and beautiful Stratford-upon-Avon, my happy place. Like Kelsey Anderson, my main character, I moved to the town to work as a tour guide in my twenties, and like Kelsey I met my own leading man there. Stratford will forever be linked in my mind with adventure, romance and stunning scenery – the key ingredients in my stories.

Sunny Days and Sea Breezes – Carole Matthews

Sphere, Little, Brown

I won a short story competition in Writing Magazine and did the most sensible thing I’ve ever done. I spent the prize money on a writing course. The tutor told me that my work-in-progress was good enough to send to an agent. He took me on straight away and sold the book within a week which became Let’s Meet on Platform 8. I never imagined that it would launch a career that would last twenty-four years and see me write thirty-four books.

The Switch – Beth O’Leary

Quercus

My fierce, funny grandmother inspired me to write The Switch, which is about a grandmother and granddaughter swapping lives. But my inspiration to first start writing is harder to pin down… as it was so long ago! I have loved to write stories since I was old enough to hold a pen. I used to write stories about fairies on the back of printouts my mum needed for work (she was always very understanding!

The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

Please feel free to leave a comment or like the post.

Celebrating: The Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel shortlist!

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The Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel

Bestselling author Katie Fforde lives in the beautiful Cotswold countryside with her family and is a true country girl at heart. Each of her books explores a different profession or background and her research has helped her bring these to life. She’s been a porter in an auction house, tried her hand at pottery, refurbished furniture, delved behind the scenes of a dating website, and she’s even been on a Ray Mears survival course. She loves being a writer; to her there isn’t a more satisfying and pleasing thing to do. She particularly enjoys writing love stories. She believes falling in love is the best thing in the world, and she wants all her characters to experience it, and her readers to share their stories.

Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist. Read on to find out the stories behind the talented authors shortlisted for the prestigious award, as they reveal them, and the inspiration behind their lovely novels.

Cow Girl – Kirsty Eyre

HarperCollins UK

Cow Girl was inspired by my mum, my friend and a herd of cows. Billie’s voice came first (my friend), then the setting (the smells and sounds of a dairy farm in Yorkshire), then the battle (my mum, like Billie’s dad, had a brain tumour). Misogyny. Romance. Homophobia. Charity pantomime cow races. The story is as much about female friendship as it is about romance, the herd a silent, reassuring feminist ally.

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The Bookshop of Second Chances – Jackie Fraser

Simon & Schuster

I’m usually inspired by a place – sometimes a building – or the idea of a particular kind of character or relationship. I started writing The Bookshop of Second Chances while on holiday in Dumfries and Galloway in the Scottish Lowlands, inspired by the little towns strung out along the A75. This gave me my setting, and I knew I wanted to write about older people and the challenges and opportunities of starting again in your forties.

Fraser bookshop second chances coverFraser - bookshop second chances author

The Silent Treatment – Abbie Greaves

Century, Cornerstone

Like many authors, I’d always wanted to write a novel, but the problem was finding a story with the legs to walk 80,000+ words! When I read a newspaper article about a man who hadn’t spoken to his wife for twenty years, I became fascinated with the idea of a silence settling at the heart of a relationship and I knew there was enough there to sustain a whole book. THE SILENT TREATMENT was born.

Greaves silent treatment coverGreaves silent treatment author

This Is Not A Love Story – Mary Hargreaves

Trapeze

I have always found writing easy – that sounds pretentious, but I don’t mean it to; for me, putting the contents of my brain into written words is always easier than speaking them aloud. I spent my childhood and teenage years daydreaming and weaving new worlds in my imagination, and decided to finally bite the bullet and write This Is Not A Love Story when I was 23. It’s the best thing |’ve ever done!

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A New Life for Ariana Byrne – Liz Hurley

Hera Books

Why I write? Well, oddly enough because someone asked me to. Or rather they asked if I knew anyone that could write a lifestyle column for the local newspaper. I own a bookshop so presumably they thought I knew loads of authors. I did, but not anyone suitable. So, I volunteered. And I loved it. I have always written letters and diaries, this was just an extension. From there it was an inescapable slide into fiction! And I’m loving the ride.

Why I wrote Ari

The idea for a story came fully formed with a whole series of adventures for each sister. I wanted something that just pushed the boundaries of everyday life but still actually plausible. It had to be happy and uplifting and I felt that inheriting a great big old house, a title and loads of money would be just the start. And of course I had to set it in Norfolk, the happiest place in the world. But then I’m a Norfolk dumpling, so I would say that.

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The Authenticity Project – Clare Pooley

Bantam Press

My life, six years ago, appeared idyllic. In reality, I was grappling with a self-destructive addiction to alcohol.

I knew I had to quit drinking, and as therapy, started a blog into which I poured out the truth.

That act of authenticity transformed my life, and the lives of thousands of people who read it. Which made me wonder: what would happen if other people told their innermost truths to strangers?

And that was the inspiration for my novel: The Authenticity Project.”

Pooley authenticity project coverPooley authenticity project author

The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

Please feel free to leave a comment or like the post.

Celebrating: The Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Shortlist!

 

RNA Contemporary

 

The Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel 

Goldsboro Books is the UK’s leading independent bookshop, specialising since 1999 in first editions, signed, collectable and exclusive books. Situated in Cecil Court in London’s West End, and – as of December 2020 – Brighton’s famous Lanes, it has gained a reputation for championing debut authors, as well as creating the UK’s largest book collectors’ club, and is influential in selling large quantities of hard-back fiction. 

Every author has their own unique story to tell about how and why they came to be a novelist. Read on to find out the stories behind the talented authors shortlisted for the prestigious award, as they reveal them, and the inspiration behind their lovely novels.

Where We Belong – Anstey Harris  

Simon & Schuster  

It has been a goal of mine, for a long time, to write a novel featuring someone with a learning disability whose disability doesn’t define them and whose story arc isn’t connected to that disability. Wrapping that up in a love story made it even more valuable thing to write about – love is the thing that binds us, that makes the world go round, and something we all have a right to experience. 

Harris -where we belong coverHarris - where we belong author

My One True North  – Milly Johnson  

Simon & Schuster  

I never wanted to be anything else but a novelist. Even when the sensible part of me was saying, ‘Get a proper job. Girls like you don’t become them,’ I never stopped dreaming. But such dreams need hard work behind them to come true so I gave it my all. I wanted to write books that made readers feel the way I did when reading the best ones: a willing prisoner trapped in the pages. 

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One Day In Summer – Shari Low  

Boldwood Books  

One Day In Summer was inspired by every woman I’ve ever known who put their own dreams to one side to take care of their family. The main character, Agnetha, wakes on her 40th birthday, having spent the last twenty years caring for her parents, her daughters, and the husband who left her for her best friend. It’s her time now. And Agnetha, just like all those other women, deserves another shot at life and at love.  

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Eudora Honeysett is Quite Well, Thank You  – Annie Lyons  

One More Chapter, HarperCollins   

Eighty-five-year-old Eudora Honeysett is inspired in part by my mum. She also lived through the Second World War and they share that ‘dig for victory’ resilience. The irrepressible Rose, who befriends a reluctant Eudora, is inspired by every ten-year-old I’ve ever known bringing sparkle and relentless curiosity about life, death and everything in between! Their adventures with the recently-widowed Stanley help Eudora to reconsider this ‘noisy, moronic world’ and come to terms with her past. 

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Christmas For Beginners  – Carole Matthews  

Sphere, Little, Brown  

I won a short story competition in Writing magazine and did the most sensible thing I’ve ever done. I spent the prize money on a writing course. The tutor told me that my work-in-progress was good enough to send to an agent. He took me on straight away and sold the book within a week which became Let’s Meet on Platform 8. I never imagined that it would launch a career that would last twenty-four years and see me write thirty-four books.  

Matthews - christmas for beginners coverMatthews - christmas for beginners author

The Little Shop in Cornwall  – Helen Pollard  

Bookouture  

I always want my books to provide an escape from everyday life for my readers, transporting them to somewhere special. Since I love creating fictitious places set within a real region, what could be more fun than to dream up my very own pretty coastal Cornish village for The Little Shop in Cornwall? Beach, harbour, wooded cliffs, fishermen’s cottages… Perfect. As I was writing, I would sometimes forget that Porthsteren only exists in my imagination! 

 

Pollard- shop in cornwall coverPollard shop in cornwall - author

Mix Tape  – Jane Sanderson  

Bantam Press  

I’ve always listened to and loved music, but the idea for this novel actually arrived in a eureka moment; a waking thought one morning, that I should write a novel which harnessed and celebrated the power of song to speak to the heart. A girl and a boy lost to each other, then finding their way back, through music – that was the central premise, and it was pure joy for me as a writer to capture those heady, heart-hammering emotions inspired by the perfect song.  

Sanderson mix tape authorSanderson mix tape cover

The Spark  – Jules Wake  

One More Chapter, HarperCollins  

Normally my books are about couples who gradually fall in love over the course of a book. With this story I wanted to explore those lovely falling in love moments from the outset but of course if they fall in love straight away, there is no story. The Spark was born when I thought about what conflicts might spoil that early happiness and how the characters will overcome them.   

Wake the spark authorWake the spark cover  

The winner will be announced on the 8th March 2021.

Please feel free to leave a comment or like the post.

A warm winter welcome to romance writer, Suzanne Snow!

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Welcome, Suzanne, and congratulations on the upcoming release of The Cottage of New Beginnings! Before you tell me about the book let’s go back to when you began your writing career. Was writing books always something you wanted to do?  

Yes, I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was very young. I read all the time as a child and loved to make up stories about adventurous girls and their ponies. I always hoped to be an author one day.

Reading your website it is clear that you love romance set against a rural setting.  Are you definitely inspired by setting rather than a character initially?

A landscape is usually the first thing that draws me to create a story. It might be a village or a beautiful view, but there’s always a community at the heart of my writing. Once I have my setting, I begin to imagine the characters who might live there, and those who might be newly arrived and why. I hope to convey a real sense of place in my writing.

Does family and faith play a strong part in your plots as they do in your life?

Friendship and family are very much part of my writing and faith is something shared by a few of my characters but not all. Charlie and Sam Stewart, the young vicar of Thorndale and his wife, have proved popular with readers and they do return in later stories. Sam in particular is mischievous with a lovely heart, and great fun to write.

What character traits do you think are essential in a hero/heroine?

I write heroes who are sensitive without being overly sentimental; and honourable, even if that is not immediately apparent. Kindness, an ability to understand when they are wrong and passionate also go a long way.

I like heroines to be independent, have confidence and warmth. Both hero and heroine need to have some self-awareness, along with the opportunity and willingness to change and develop.

Do you always aim to deliver a feel-good story with a happy ending?

I do, yes. I read romantic fiction as well as write it, and I so enjoy characters falling in love, whether that’s a gradual realisation or something more immediate. As an author, I hope for my readers to feel uplifted, following characters working out their differences to consider a future together.

Since joining the RNA you have been taken on by an agent and signed a three-book deal (huge congratulations on that!). How important has being a member of the RNA been in finding your route to publication?

I don’t think I can overstate the importance of the RNA to unpublished romantic writers. I’ve made great friends and received lots of support since joining and benefitted from opportunities to learn, and Conference is just one of them. I believe it’s important to discover how publishing works, along with the roles of industry professionals such as editors and agents, whether you plan to follow a traditional or indie route to publication.

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What is your favourite part of the writing process?

I love to actually just write a draft, something I mostly do early in the mornings. When the story is flowing well and the characters are making themselves heard, then it’s a complete joy and difficult to stop. Editing is also something I find very satisfying, and I enjoy going back and finding ways to improve the manuscript.

What is your least?

I’d probably say the amount of time I manage to spend distracting myself researching something online when I should be writing!

How have you coped with life during a pandemic?

Life has changed, as for so many people, and my husband now works from home and my son is studying mostly online for his A levels. We are thankful to have close family nearby and have been able to support one another during the pandemic and very much appreciate the community we are a part of. The house is busier now and we are all adapting to a new way of working. I’ve also realised how many simple things we took for granted, like meeting up with family and friends for a meal, and I’m really looking forward to being able to hug my wider family again.

I think we are all waiting that day. Having come this far on the road to publication what advice would you give to anyone considering joining the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme?

Join, if you possibly can, the opportunities to develop your knowledge and make friends are so brilliant. And once you are a member, do try and get the best from your membership by taking part in the activities on offer, whether that’s social media, online learning, chapter meetings (currently all online) and attending events. The RNA is excellent at welcoming people, and Conference, once it is able to run again, is a real highlight and not to be missed if at all possible.

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What is next for Suzanne?

Right now I’m finishing my Christmas story, which is set in Thorndale, and I’m looking forward to the publication of my second novel, The Garden of Little Rose, in February 2021. After that I’ll be planning my fifth book and hopefully spending some time on a tiny Hebridean island for research, rules permitting.

That sounds lovely!

Thank you for the opportunity to be included on your website, Valerie, I’ve really enjoyed answering your questions.

Suzanne x

You are very welcome. If any readers have any other questions please leave them below.

Merry Christmas, Suzanne and good luck with the book!