Class prejudice is inbuilt within our culture going back centuries. In In Sickness and In Health Sophia and Isaac are meant to be together, but like so many people whose love was thwarted within the early nineteenth century, propriety, social divisions, war and need prevented this from happening.
Survival of the under classes depended upon their good health and equally good fortune as there was no health care, and knowledge of the human condition was limited, superstition and trial and error were rife. Therefore, being healthy to provide a living was essential. Isaac can provide for Sophia through his good fortune and hard work, but will not be a ‘cripple’ and a burden to her.
He and Sophia are a love match. However, he would not have dared approach Sophia if she had not been so open and honest with her desire for him. Naivety and youthful passion resulted in Isaac being sent away; his father dies in his absence. Yet, Joshua was forever proud of his son and would only wish Isaac happiness with Sophia.
Love finds a way, but at a high cost.
I have always been fascinated by the major changes that happened in the early nineteenth century. It was a period of great conflict and change: a time of war, pressgangs, and extreme social, agricultural, religious and political changes. All these impacted on the ordinary people who were left behind, whilst the wars with Napoleon dragged on.
The countryside was changing as mills were being built and cottage industries suffered, along with their communities. The population gravitated to these places of work and life in the countryside changed.
The government taxed its people harshly, whilst still fearing the possibility of a revolution as had happened in France. It was hardly surprising then that smuggling and opportunists abounded, yet in plying the trade they gave coin to an enemy. Some gangs were known for their violence, others were less so and merely supplied a ready market that crossed over social rank and was often funded by a moneyed man.
With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, Luddite activities and the growth of new money, lives were changing and the old money was feeling threatened.
In the cities ‘society’ had strict rules: influence and connections were so very important.
In my books the settings are more remote. These influences mean nothing when a character is dealing with survival, either their own or someone who they have met. So boundaries are crossed, rules of society are broken or are made irrelevant.
Most of my titles are set in an area of the country that I love: North Yorkshire, with its beautiful coast and moors.
My villages of Beckton and Gorebeck are based upon typical North Yorkshire market towns, such as: Guisborough, Yarm, Thirsk, Helmsley. By 1815 both have their own small mills situated just outside the towns.
Ebton is based on the well known Victorian town of Saltburn-by-Sea,only my version is as I imagine it to have been at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Love is a timeless essential of life. Throughout history, love in all its forms is a constant: be it passionate, caring, needy, manipulative, possessive or one that is strong enough to cross barriers of culture or faith. When two souls meet in a situation which takes them out of their normal social strata or into a shared danger, a relationship forms as the adventure unfolds.
If you have enjoyed reading any of my titles I would really appreciate it if you could take a moment to leave a review either on Amazon or Goodreads, or wherever you wish.
It is helpful to read feedback and I am always interested in what my readers think, or would like to read next.
Stay safe in these difficult times everyone wherever you are in the world!
If you are a new writer or need advice on a work-in-progress I also offer an independent manuscript appraisal service and/or mentoring, always aiming to give constructive and professional, honest feedback. I have worked as a creative writing tutor for over fifteen years. You can contact me here for information and fees.
You grew up with quite a varied and strong literary heritage in your family. Were you encouraged to write and develop your own ideas from childhood, surrounded by books and such talent?
Yes, I was always encouraged to read and to write. My father wrote some textbooks (he was an English teacher), my mother writes poetry, my grandfather Frank Brookesmith had a memoir I Remember the Tall Ships published in his 80s (Foyles put on a window display!). And his daughter, my aunt Shelagh Macdonald, won the Whitbread Prize (as it was then) for the Children’s Book of the Year back in 1977. Sadly, she now has severe dementia and her decline was the inspiration for the mother in my last novel, Mum in the Middle. Uncles various have also been published in different ways and a couple of cousins are journalists. So writing was always seen as A Good Thing.
When did your first break as a published writer happen? Was it non-fiction or fiction first?
Short stories for women’s magazines. I started writing these when I was at home with a toddler and my brain had all but atrophied. When that toddler locked me in a cupboard and I had to talk him through phoning 999* to get me out, I realised how many stories there are all around us. And ended up publishing about a hundred of them. (For the full dramatic saga see my first non-fiction book Wannabe a Writer?)
Of all the impeccable research you have completed, is there one project or person that has intrigued, touched or surprised you more than you expected?
I often seem to include a storyline about some form of mental illness. That is in my family too.
Many of the real issues such as dementia and cancer included are very serious and are given total understanding and respect for the impact they have on the character diagnosed and those supporting them. How do you balance this with the overall tone of your books which is humorous and optimistic?
It’s odd isn’t it, really? But humour has always been my way of getting through. There is a lot of black comedy in the worst things that happen to us, if you know where to look. And I think it is possible to still find humour and optimism in everyday life even when the chips are really down. So I suppose I don’t have any problem writing about bleak issues and amusing encounters side by side. I recently found some parodies I wrote for my sisters after our parents had split up in my late teens, and everyone was being even more bonkers than usual, and they made us all laugh hysterically all over again – even though it was all quite appallingly dysfunctional at the time.
You capture the essence and conflicts within strong female friendship groups well. Have you been strongly influenced by female friends/peers in your own life?
Friends are everything. Both the male and female variety. But I have some wonderful women friends who have been amazingly supportive to me. Both in the publishing world – lovely pals in the RNA for example – and in my personal life.
Over the course of your novels have you noticed the social trends affecting women changing dramatically such as: the boomerang effect, empty nesters, and the sandwich effect between younger and older generations?
Absolutely! I was very aware of this when writing both Mum in the Middle and The Big Five O. Women in their forties and fifties can no longer be pigeonholed. I wrote recently that my earliest memory of my grandmother was of a tiny, silver-haired old lady who wore a pinny, was keen on gardening and polished the teapot a lot. I calculate now that at the time, she was younger than I am! Her parents were long gone and all of her four children had their own homes. Today women of this age will still have ambitions for their careers, might have teenagers at home, or kids even younger, or be supporting adult offspring who can’t afford a place of their own. They’ll still expect to scrub up well for a hot night out, will probably go to the gym, or dance classes or be training for a marathon, and may well be online dating. Just at the time when their elderly parents start kicking off! We are the stretched generation – in more ways than one!
I’ve also had reason to revisit my third novel that was published in 2005 – One Glass is Never Enough. Re-reading the opening pages – which is a party scene – for the first time in a decade,I was struck by how some of the sexual banter I had included would be considered unacceptable in the current climate. The world has moved on a pace since I started writing – which rather dates me, doesn’t it? 🙂
What has being a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association meant to you over the years?
A great deal. Prominent members like Katie Fforde, Jill Mansell and Judy Astley have been exceptionally kind and supportive to me and when I first pitched up to a conference knowing nobody, Catherine Jones made me laugh till I cried. So many, many lovely RNA members have become good friends and are a constant source of inspiration and joy. I have especially loved acting as compere at the RNA awards for the last eight years. It is one of the annual highspots.
What was the most important piece of advice that you were given that you would like to pass on to as yet unpublished writers?
“Get the story down.”
But my own best piece of advice is: Marry someone rich!
Each author has their own favoured way of working. Do you have a strong work ethic: rise early, write late, or with such a hectic and varied schedule work as you move from event to event?
Oh it’s utter chaos. If I’m on a deadline, I get myself out of bed early and glue myself to the chair – out of sheer panic. But generally, on a day at home, I potter about, and tidy the airing cupboard, think I’ll make some bread, send emails and then suddenly – EEK – it’s 4pm and I’ve not even opened the manuscript. But I do do a lot of different things – so it is quite hard to stick to a rigid routine. I usually get there in the end.
How and when did you venture into interviewing and public speaking?
The speaking came about from being asked to talk to a local “Ladies’ Dining Club” when my first novel was published. I think they were a bit shocked – usually they had someone talking about flower-arranging or the history of the rubber stamp. But I had a really fun evening and then I got other bookings from word-of-mouth. The Rotary and Rotarians and such-like .
The interviewing started when I’d been on a panel at the Guildford Book Festival and the then director, the late Glenis Pycraft, invited me to chair a similar panel the following year. It grew from there and now I work at several different festivals each year and am a founder member of BroadstairsLit here where I live, which is huge fun. I really love interviewing on stage. And I’ve been lucky enough to chat to a lot of top authors.
Do you embrace technology and social media with enthusiasm?
I would like to! But I’m not the best at it. I enjoy twitter (@JaneWenhamJones) but I’m a bit sporadic about it – so I’ve never really built that up. And I’m hit and miss with facebook also – it’s all feast or famine. I don’t fully understand how to best utilise my author page either (yes I know I should find out but it’s too easy to lose your life in this stuff.) I’m envious of people who seem to just slide it in to their lives and have zillions hanging on their every word. For example, I love Instagram – which I came late to – but still haven’t properly grasped this “my story” business. I need a friendly seven-year old to instruct me…
What has been the highlight of your writing career to date?
I always think that the wonderful thing about this game is that every day there is the potential for something uplifting to happen. A foreign rights sale or a lovely review or a little surge in the amazon ratings. The are all highlights at the time. It was exciting when Prime Time was shortlisted for the RNA awards some years ago and when Perfect Alibis was optioned by the BBC. Tho unfortunately that came to nothing in the end. Playing the chat show host for Peter James at Brighton’s Theatre Royal to an audience of over 700 was pretty fab…
What are your inspirations or ambitions now?
Oh the screen rights, my own TV show – you know the usual modest stuff… 🙂
What project are you currently working on?
A 10th book and the 2020 programme for BroadstairsLit
I love your hairstyle and wondered if there was a point when you decided that you were going to redefine your image, or if it was something that has just developed over time?
It started with my very first novel Raising the Roof. I thought it would be a laugh to dye my hair the colour of the book jacket – which was turquoise and purple, as they all were then! You couldn’t get the fun colours you can now, so I had hair extensions put in, in the right shades and thus begun my love affair with multi-coloured locks. Everyone’s at it these days but I was a pioneer! People used to stop me in the street to comment on it.
What do you do to keep yourself fit away from the computer and to relax?
Yoga, walking, reading – of course. In the summer I play bad tennis if I can find anyone equally bad to join me. Two years ago I took custody of a tiny, flea-ridden, runt-of-the-litter black kitten and I have turned into a mad cat lady with bells on. Much time is spent admiring the now-huge-and-glossy creature that is Nugget (named by my son after a hop they make real ale with – spelled with two Ts – and not a deep-fried chicken snack) and attending to his every whim. He totally rules the roost and has brought me huge pleasure. I definitely feel calmer and happier since he’s been around. Even when he wakes me at 3.am with a mouse in his jaws…
What is next for Jane Wenham-Jones?
A nice glass of Macon blanc villages I think…. possibly with some crisps….
Many thanks for taking the time to answer all of my questions and sharing some insight into your amazingly varied world.
I wish you every success in 2020 – Merry Christmas, Jane!
A warm welcome back to Margaret James who is sharing a day in her busy life as an author, tutor, mentor and journalist.
My writing days are from Monday to Friday – I try to have weekends off to do family and friends stuff – and begin at about ten in the morning. I’ve tried starting earlier, but I’m an owl rather than a lark, and find I can’t write anything before I’ve had that second coffee.
So, from ten o’clock onwards I do some online housekeeping – answering emails, writing blog posts, spending a bit of time on social media, and making notes for future articles and author profiles in Writing Magazine, the UK’s bestselling title for authors of all kinds.
I’ll have a break about eleven-thirty and take a walk around my very tiny inner city garden, snipping anything that’s grown too big for its space and checking the bird baths and feeders are full.
The afternoons and evenings are my most creative times. So then I’ll be busy writing articles, working on a novel (there is always a novel in development) and maybe writing a few short stories, too. My local writing group sets homework (I know – it’s outrageous!), giving us a one or two word theme, and asking us to produce a piece of work up to about 300 words long. I’ve written lots of pieces of flash fiction that way.
I might also do some reading for competitions. I’m involved in several and I enjoy reading the entries. I never know when something amazing is going to pop up with the next click. Some competition entrants also ask for reports on their stories, and it’s good for me to have to think hard about what they’ve written. Oops, I sometimes think, as I point out that the author has spent the first few pages describing the set-up for the story, I’ve been guilty of that. I’m part of the team that runs Creative Writing Matters, and we organise several short story competitions every year, as well as the Exeter Novel Prize.
The late afternoons and early evenings are for winding down, perhaps meeting friends in town, maybe going to the cinema or having something to eat, and having the obligatory good natter, too. Then it’s home to open my laptop again, just to make a few notes on what I’ve done that day, and before I know it it’s two o’clock in the morning and I really, really, really need to go to bed!
My crime and mystery novel The Final Reckoning is published by Ruby Fiction and is available in ebook and audio format from all the usual platforms, including Amazon and Kobo.
Here’s the blurb.
What if you had to return to the place that made you fall apart?
When Lindsay Ellis was a teenager, she witnessed the aftermath of the violent murder of her lover’s father. The killer was never found.
Traumatised by what she saw, Lindsay had no choice but to leave her home village of Hartley Cross and its close-knit community behind.
Now, years later, she must face up to the terrible memories that haunt her still. But will confronting the past finally allow Lindsay to heal, or will her return to Hartley Cross unearth dangerous secrets and put the people she has come to care about most at risk?
I always love to hear from readers, so please feel very welcome to contact me!
Congratulations Lorna on winning the Joan Hessayon Award with your lovely novel The Forgotten Village. You must still be thrilled! When did you first decide to write fiction or have you always been a natural story-teller?
Thank you for the kind congratulations! I wrote my first (unpublished and never will be) novel in 2016. It was a pure historical romance and was very very bad. But I managed to learn so much from writing it and also from having it critiqued privately so I knew the silly mistakes I was making such as head-hopping, and knew not to transfer the same mistakes over to anything else I wrote. While I was writing the very bad novel, I had the idea for The Forgotten Village. I finished the very bad novel, just to prove to myself I could finish something, filed it away and prayed no one would ever find it and then after a bit of breathing space, in 2017 I began The Forgotten Village. I had just joined the RNA via the New Writers’ Scheme that January and so I was determined that I would have something to submit by the August deadline. I managed to finish it in time.
Were you fortunate to gain publication of your first novel or has it taken a while to achieve your goal?
I have been very lucky. The Forgotten Village went out on submission to a handful of agents in February 2018 and I met with a couple of lovely agents before meeting Becky Ritchie at A.M. Heath. We worked together on the manuscript with a few key changes. Three months later Becky and her team had found me homes with publishers in the UK, Germany and Netherlands.
How long ago did you decide to write about the village of Tyneham and what inspired you about its history?
The village is utterly intriguing. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t been entranced by the real story of Tyneham, the village requisitioned in entirety in WW2 and never given back. I stumbled across an article in a national newspaper about how the village looked now (decimated) compared to how it looked before it was requisitioned (thriving) and I fell down an internet research rabbit hole. Once I’d researched I just knew the story I had in mind – about a woman trying to leave her husband in the middle of the war and a modern-day heroine on a mission to discover what happened to the woman in the past – had to be set in Tyneham during the frenzy of requisition.
Will you be writing more books in this genre?
Yes, my second novel The Forbidden Promise is out in March 2020 and is set in the Scottish Highlands. (It’s available to pre-order now, she says shamelessly.) It moves between WW2 and present day as the modern day heroine, Kate arrives at Invermoray House to find that a woman who lived there eighty years ago has been all-but removed from the family history.
Did you find it difficult to keep the story predominantly as a romance as there is a very strong mystery element?
Yes and No. I found lots of things difficult when writing The Forgotten Village! The key challenges in writing a book like this are that I adore it when a romance springs as a by-product of something else, especially a mystery. It’s a challenge to develop characters a reader will root for, develop a romance a reader will enjoy, create enough intrigue to keep them reading two timelines and then to give them a conclusion to all of it they’ll feel satisfied with. I have to do that for two timelines! And so essentially, with each section, the reader gets half the book so it’s quite condensed. I learnt to write succinctly because at 100,000 per book, it’s only really 50,000 words in the past and 50,000 words in the present. It’s a bit exhausting my end! A big glass of wine gets drunk in this house at the end of a writing day.
Are you very disciplined in the way you organise your project from research through to finished manuscript?
Yes. I plan the past section out intricately because it’s the past section that informs the mystery element of the present sections. I tend to plan the past sections and ‘pants’ my way through the present sections while knowing exactly what twists and turns there will be. See above comment about wine 😉
You obviously love historical fiction and research your chosen topic thoroughly. What advice would you give to anyone who was considering writing an historical or dual time novel?
I would echo some great advice I read by historical fiction authors, which is don’t get too wrapped up in the research in the early stages. Just write the story and if there’s a fact you don’t know just shove ‘XXXX’ into the manuscript. Then when you’ve finished your first draft and need to give yourself some breathing space, that’s when you can go off and start looking up all the facts you don’t know the answer to such as, ‘when did petrol go on the ration?’ or ‘what was the tape that criss-crossed the windows for air raids called?’ Also, researching all the nitty gritty afterwards means you won’t be tempted to put huge swathes of (probably rather boring) research into your manuscript that just slow it down. I can now tell you everything you want to know about requisition orders in WW2 but purposefully put very little of it into The Forgotten Village because…yawn.
What does being a member of the RNA mean to you?
It means so much. First and foremost, it’s friendship. After I finish writing this I’m off to see my buddies at the RNA Chelmsford Chapter for our monthly lunch. I’ve not been since January because I’ve been knee deep in writing The Forbidden Promise and on a very intense deadline and I’ve really really missed catching up with everyone.
Secondly, it’s the events and talks which have really educated and informed me these past couple of years. The conferences are so well thought out. The RNA gave me such a boost to my career via the NWS critique and then winning the Joan Hessayon Award has been phenomenal. The association is so well thought of in the industry and I’m incredibly proud to be a member.
What do you do to switch off from writing/researching/deadlines?
Reality TV! Isn’t that embarrassing. Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex. Often back to back. For hours! I’ve also just discovered Real Housewives of Cheshire and I am HOOKED! Glamour and drama and some fantastic dialogue. I do find myself listening to some great lines and wondering if I can pinch them for future novels, especially when the blokes apologise for cheating or when they try and hit on a girl. Marvelous stuff.
On a more healthier note, I walk the dog and listen to podcasts or audio books and I love swimming because I can really switch off. Also there’s nothing like curling up in bed and reading a good book.
Do you embrace social media or control the time spent on it carefully?
I’m pretty good at switching off from social media. I post on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter a couple of times a week. I’m more of a social media voyeur though. I cruise in, look around at people’s posts, cruise back out and it was like I was never there.
What is next for Lorna?
Book 3! Oh the fear. This one is going to be a bit meatier, I think, than The Forgotten Village and the upcoming The Forbidden Promise. It’s set in a location quite close to a lot of people’s hearts and so I need to research to within an inch of my life beforehand, which is the very thing I recommended above that people don’t do! However, on this occasion, the timeline of events is something that I need to get absolutely right from the start and so I have covered the walls of my office with sheets of paper and am planning very intricately what happened on which dates as I prepare to weave a plot around it. I’m exhausted already but am determined that every book I write will be better than the last and so onwards we go!
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to complete the interview and best wishes for future success in your writing career, Lorna!
Your first writing successes with The Cheesemaker’s House were very impressive. How did this help you find your way as a successful author?
The Cheesemaker’s House doing so well in a national competition gave me the confidence that I could tell a story, but also that I had a significant amount to learn. One of the judges, Sophie Hannah, took me to one side and told me that although she loved my authorial voice there was a great deal of polishing to do. I didn’t have the knowledge to polish it – I was self-taught so barely knew what she meant – so I took myself off to Winchester Writers’ Festival and began my real writing journey.
What was the best advice you have been given by an experienced writer?
One of the tutors at Winchester that year was Margaret Graham and she has proved hugely influential. I knew nothing when I first attended her workshops – I’d never even heard of ‘show not tell’. She showed me (not told me!) what it meant and how to use it; she taught me about using all the senses, and so much more. She’s an incredible writer and a great tutor and I would urge anyone starting out to get hold of her wonderful little book, The Writer’s Springboard.
Please tell us about your exciting new release Another You.
Yes, the release of Another You has been exciting for me. With our wonderful mutual publisher, Sapere Books, it’s been given a great start in life so is selling well and getting some great reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
It’s set in Studland Bay in Dorset around the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day, and tells the story of Marie, who while struggling to escape her poisonous marriage meets a charming American soldier walking on the cliffs. But nothing is what it seems, and so begins a chain of events that will change her life forever.
How would you describe a Jane Cable novel?
Romance with a twist. My strapline is ‘the past is never dead’ and that’s a theme which runs through all my books.
How do you balance your research/writing/social media time?
Not always as well as I could! Whether I’m writing or researching depends on the stage I’m at with the manuscript, and I maybe spend too much time on social media, Twitter especially. I say maybe, because I do encourage interaction while I’m there and it’s now leading to some valuable contacts and activity, which is broadening the reach of my books.
Are you an owl or a lark?
Lark. Definitely. I get up early and start to write straight away. I’m good for nothing by late afternoon.
Do you plot your stories out first before writing the first draft?
The answer used to be ‘no’, but recently that has changed. I had an idea in my head for something slightly different, and when I approached Sapere they wanted a detailed outline and sample chapters. So I had to plan. Now I’m about to start writing the bulk of the manuscript and it’s useful to have the journey mapped out, but even when I was writing the sample chapters the characters began to do their own thing. And to be honest, I’m going to let them. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that they know best!
How influential have strong women been in your life and have they inspired your heroines?
My heroines do not always start out strong – Marie in Another You is battered and cowed by her marriage – and it’s her journey to find her strength that fascinated me. I guess I just like writing about wounded people. Life throws so many curve balls and people react to them in different ways, which is fascinating. But healing is possible – probable, even – and I like to show that in my books. It’s quite a recurring theme for me, now I come to think of it.
There are strong women in my family, and they have inspired me the most. Both my mother and my grandmother fought to make sure their children had better lives and although they were very loving women, they had rods of steel in their backs too. My mother taught me that above all I should be independent and it has proved a valuable gift.
How important has being a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association been to you?
It’s been hugely important. It’s a fantastic network and when you embrace it, it embraces you back. The support is well and truly mutual. I’ve also made some great friends by being a member, most importantly when I moved to Cornwall. We don’t have a chapter here but meet informally and it’s great fun.
Other than reading what do you do to relax away from the world of books?
I’m an outdoors person so I love to walk and of course live in a great part of the world to do it. I also love the sea, although this year I’ve had some shoulder problems so I haven’t been in it as much as I would like. I love to travel too and adore spending time planning our next trip. Or the one after. Or the one after that…
You are passionate about ‘Words for the Wounded? How did you become involved with this inspirational charity?
Margaret Graham is the moving force behind this charity and at first I wanted to pay her back for all the help and support she’d given me. When I lived in Chichester our local independent authors’ group, Chindi, organised a mini litfest over a weekend and raised almost £1,000 for them. We were so proud.
Words for the Wounded exists to raise funds to help injured service personnel, and because the founders underwrite the running costs themselves every penny raised goes for the intended purpose. I’ll be making a donation for every Amazon review of Another You.
What is next for Jane Cable?
I’ve just delivered my next manuscript to Sapere and the book should be out towards the end of the year. It’s called Winter Skies and, like Another You, it’s a contemporary romance looking back to World War Two. It’s set in the Lincolnshire heartland of Bomber Command, and is about Rachel, who is trapped in a cycle of destructive relationships. But the past has a habit of repeating itself, so maybe it can provide the impetus she needs to set her free.
You grew up in Massachusetts, moved to the UK and now commute between London and Cornwall. Did you ever think that you would travel so broadly?
I grew up with an inbuilt wanderlust. My father had travelled a fair bit and I would spend hours looking at his slides and dreaming of a time when I too could venture forth. I hadn’t quite imagined that I would lead the travelling life I did for so long. I moved to the UK when I was 26 and that was when it truly began. I met the man who is now my husband of almost 28 years two weeks after I arrived in the UK. We married two years later and that was when moving about began in earnest. We’ve lived in Canada, Moscow, Houston, Indonesia and Dubai. While in those locations we explored as much as was feasible with three small children in tow. But of course there is still more travelling I want to do!
The variety of cross-cultural experience that this life-style has given you is amazing, but the love of Cornwall shines through each of the books you have set there. When did this love affair begin?
It began with my first trip there one hot weekend in June 1989. My boyfriend of just a few months took me to meet his parents…or so I thought. It was in fact the ‘Cornwall Test’. If I hadn’t fallen in love with Cornwall then we wouldn’t have married. I’m certain of it. But how could I not fall in love with bright blue skies punctuated with foxgloves, cliffs falling into the sea and hidden creeks caressed by low tree branches. Cornwall stole my heart and has never let go…even when the sky feels low and the mizzle is so dense I can’t see the bottom of my garden.
Could you explain how and when your first breakthrough as a published writer happened?
My first breakthrough was finding an agent. I had met Carole Blake on line first via Twitter then in person through a TweetUp. We hit it off on a social level and became friends over our love of wine, shoes and books. I was still in the process of finding my writer’s voice. Finally two years after we became friends I knew what my voice was and what I was aiming for. This coincided with me attending the first York Festival of Writing. There I was to pitch to someone else in her agency. I knew this person wasn’t the right agent for me but I also knew the book wasn’t ready…so it was more for the feedback. During our session he asked me why I hadn’t pitched to Carole…fear was the first thing in my mind. She was Carole Blake but in my heart I knew The Cornish House wasn’t what it could be. So I emailed her…knowing her colleague would feed info back to her, saying the book wasn’t ready but I was aiming for Daphne du Maurier meets Jodi Picoult or Cornwall with issues. She told me to send it to her when it was ready. That was April and in February I sent The Cornish House off to four agents, all who I had met through the Romantic Novelists’ Association. By lunch time I had my first request for a full…but I hadn’t heard from Carole. So I emailed her asking as a friend what should I do because her book From Pitch to Publication didn’t say. She emailed saying as a friend you inform the other agents. Three requested the full and by Saturday Carole had offered me representation. By St Patrick’s Day I had my first publishing deal with The Netherlands and in April I signed with Orion. That was the beginning.
Of all the impeccable research you have completed, is there one project that has intrigued or surprised you more than you expected?
I loved researching The Returning Tide. I was terrified as growing up in the States the knowledge that people in the UK have is different and I was terrified of getting it wrong…I lost sleep over it. But I love research and my favourite part of the research for this book was interviewing four people who served during WWII. One of them lent me her diary from 1945 and I was able to see first hand how little everyone knew. This was my biggest struggle in the end. Today if a bomb falls we know minutes later. Then they knew only their part and nothing more….
You are a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association – what does the organisation mean to you?
The RNA is my tribe. I learned so much there during my pre-published days, my apprenticeship. The published novelists were and are so generous with their knowledge. I know that this cut my time waiting for publication. I also know they have my back as I have theirs.
What was the most important piece of advice that you were given that you would like to pass on to as yet unpublished writers?
Don’t rush to publication. I wish I knew who gave me the advice but I am grateful. I would add to it take that time to learn about the industry…because once you are published it all becomes harder!
Each author has their own favoured way of working – would you share yours with us?
Ideally the idea for the story will have been in my head for a year or more. It will slowly build and then I will brain storm with my editor…I love this part. If research is required I will then do the minimum – just enough to write a fast and dirty first draft. This I learned the hard way. I love research and for A Cornish Stranger I thought the historical thread of the story would be about the SOE so I read extensively. I then wrote the story…it’s not about the SOE. So I wasted key time. Now I leave XXXX directly in the text to indicate that more is needed and fly on with the story. What I have discovered is in this more targeted research I have found things that enrich and twist the story…especially since by then I know my characters. Once I have the dirty first draft the real work begins. I write many drafts…not as many as I used to but by the time I send it to my editor this first time it will normally have been through four to six drafts. The final one of these edits will be having my computer read the story to me. Believe me you can’t hide from a clunky sentence, missed word or lack of transition when there is no emotion in the reading voice.
I used to dread the editing process but now I embrace it. With my editor’s input and my own (obtained from stepping back from the book for even as short as two weeks) I can see how to make the story better, stronger and more emotionally charged. So I will normally have two to three rounds of edits with editor then there is the copy edit (hate this bit…when I’m forced to look at the small stuff) and the final proof reading edit is always a bit lost on me…I can’t see a spelling mistake for love nor money. I’m dyslexic.
You are an inspiration to many as you have dyslexia. How much of a challenge has it been to write your lovely novels and overcome the difficulties that this may have presented?
Dyslexia has presented many challenges along the road to writing my novels. Not being able to spell has created two problems one of which has become a blessing. I cannot see a spelling mistake so I need to have someone proof read and a very understanding editor. This is a nightmare. My dyslexia can be so bad sometimes that I can’t look it up in a dictionary or spell it enough for spell check to even offer a possible spelling. This is so frustrating. It has made me many times select a different word, a simpler word. And this has been the bonus. My writing is simple which has brought me many readers who struggle with reading. Unless it is a necessary technical word or the character absolutely would say the simple word the vocabulary used in the books is basic. This means the story can be read by a larger audience. I never thought that my struggles with dyslexia would help others to access stories, but it has.
I was fortunate enough to interview the amazing Carole Blake shortly before her tragically early death. How much of an influence did Carole have on your career?
She was the ideal guide through my first years as a published author. Despite my time pre-published learning as much as I could there is so much to take on board and understand. She answered every question, went to battle for me, reprimanded me if I took a wrong step and laughed with me. She taught me to enjoy every step of the journey, toast every success no matter how small and not to sell myself or my work short. With each and every book she had to sell it back to me because I hated it by the time all the editing was done! She excelled at selling.
Do you embrace technology and social media with enthusiasm?
Yes! As I mentioned earlier it was through Twitter that Carole and I became friends. I also love interacting with readers through the various platforms. It is also where I interact with other writers…making the work process less lonely.
What has been the highlight of your writing career to date?
There are two…the first was when a reader stayed behind at a talk and told me how a story I’d written had helped her. I stood there in shock. I had never imagined reaching someone so deeply. And the second was when The Returning Tide made the short list for the Winston Graham Historical Novel Prize.
What project are you working on now?
I’m doing the preliminary research on a novel that is located on both sides of the Tamar (yes leaving Cornwall briefly) and is set in WWI and the current day. More sleepless nights hoping I don’t mess up the historical details!!
What is next for Liz Fenwick?
The Path to the Sea is out on 6 June 2019. It is a story of three generations of the Trewin women all with secrets. At Boskenna a large rambling house perched on a cliff above a Cornish beach on a hot August weekend in 2018 the past comes closer to the present. The youngest Trewin, Lottie, tries to keep her own secrets hidden as she searches for answers. But once she uncovers what happened in 1962 what is she going to do?
I am delighted to welcome prolific romance writer Virginia Heath as my guest today.
When and where did your passion for writing begin?
Hard to say, as I think it’s always been there. As a child I loved to read and devoured books like they were going out of fashion. At school I had a talent for writing and secretly fancied myself as an author one day but never dared say that out loud because I came from a very working class, blue-collar background. Girls like me dreamed of working in an office, they most certainly didn’t write books! But I made up stories in my head instead so I suppose it spiralled from there.
When did inspiration strike for your successful Wild Warriners Quartet?
The old Hollywood musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers! I love it, especially the premise – seven down on their luck farmers living in the middle of nowhere, all in desperate want of a wife. The Wild Warriners is my homage to that glorious film – but I thought having seven brothers was a bit much so I settled on four. Like the original brothers, the series starts with them working their land themselves because they cannot afford to hire anyone to help them. Unlike the originals, the Warriners descend from the aristocracy, with the eldest brother Jack being an earl and they tend part of his sprawling but dilapidated country estate in deepest, darkest, dankest Nottinghamshire.
Is Regency your favourite period of history or are there others you want to set your future work in?
I’m a proper history nerd – I used to be a history teacher – so I love most periods of history. However, thanks to Mr Darcy, I do have a particular soft spot for the Regency. I think it’s the tight breeches and boots.
Your historical research is impeccable. However, you keep the hero and heroine attractive and the dialogue accessible, whilst giving a flavour that is true to the period. How do you achieve this?
It’s a delicate balance writing a historical. Purists want you to keep everything strictly within the period. Modern readers want characters they can relate to. I figure, no matter what the historical backdrop, people are people so my characters think a lot like we do now. My heroes aren’t misogynists and my heroines aren’t subservient doormats. That said, if you are going to write history you have to get it right. The world my characters live in is completely accurate and although I don’t write hither and thither, I make sure my characters don’t say modern phrases which will pull readers out of the story.
You are a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association – what does the organisation mean to you?
When I first started writing, the only writer I knew was me. I had nobody to talk shop with. Nobody to guide me through the confusing world of publishing and all it entails. Joining the Romantic Novelists Association was a godsend! I’ve made so many friends and learned so many things. It truly is one of the most supportive and nurturing institutions which champions romantic fiction in all its forms and I cannot say enough good things about it.
What key advice would you share with aspiring writers?
Write the book! Forget manuals on how to write, don’t get bogged down in everything else to do with publishing; if you want to be a published writer it starts with a completed book. Join a writing group, allow other writers to critique your manuscript. Take their advice on board and be prepared to revise and revise those words until they are perfect. Oh yes – and develop a thick skin! If you are determined to be a writer, you’ll need it.
Each author has their own favoured way of working – would you share yours with us?
My books run between 80K and 90K words – that’s a pretty standard sized novel. If I want to publish four a year it means I have to be semi-disciplined. I don’t have the luxury of waiting for the elusive muse to show up. I’m not entirely sure I believe in the muse anyway because it’s my brain thinking stuff up, so I just need to make sure I get my brain in gear. I do that by having a routine. It starts with a cup of tea and a dog walk, I do about 30 minutes of social media or admin, then I take myself up to my office and read only the words I wrote the day before, editing as I go to get me back into the zone. Then I pick up where I left off. There is no magic to it really. I work every day, Monday to Friday from around 8am till 4ish with regular breaks and a long lunch. I stop when the alarm goes off on my computer regardless of where I am in a sentence. In fact, finishing mid-sentence really feeds the muse overnight and ensures I’m raring to go the next morning. I try not to work evenings or weekends unless I am up against a deadline. I also try not to write on holidays or breaks. It’s important to recharge the batteries.
What has been the highlight of your writing career to date?
My RONA (Romantic Novel of the Year) nomination in 2017. To be shortlisted was the most amazing feeling in the world. That said, seeing each book on the shelves in a bookshop never gets old either. I always go and visit a new book on publication day.
What project are you working on next?
I’ve just finished my second series – The King’s Elite. It’s a quartet featuring four Regency spies, which has been huge fun to write. It’s been fascinating researching all the smuggling and shenanigans which went on and then weaving some of that into stories which are best described as romantic suspense with a dash of comedy here and there. I can’t ever seem to write a book without a dash of funny. The final book, The Determined Lord Hadleigh, comes out in June. Then, just for a change, I have a Victorian romance coming out early next year involving my first older hero and heroine. It’s called Lilian and the Irresistible Duke and it’s set mostly in one of my favourite cities – Rome. But this has Renaissance art and the Vatican as a backdrop rather than all the high jinks of smuggling. Right now, I am working on a new standalone story about a nerdy heroine who likes to dig up ruins, and a reclusive earl who is all done with life. It’s a RomCom Beauty-and-the-Beast meets Indiana Jones story. Or at least I think it is. I can’t plot, so I have no idea how it is going to turn out yet! As per usual, I really won’t know what sort of story it truly is until I write the words ‘the end’.
Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to answer my questions.
Congratulations to Amy, Caoimhe and Richard on there first birthday as Sapere Books.
Amy has taken time out of her busy schedule to share some of the events that have happened in this amazing first year.
Since we last caught up in March 2018, a lot has happened at Sapere Books! We now have over 40 authors who have joined the Sapere family, and we have published lots of fabulous novels in our first year.
The genres we were looking for initially are thriving: crime fiction; historical fiction and romantic fiction are all very popular with our readers, and books in a series do particularly well for us. We are just about to publish in a genre we haven’t tried yet: military ‘action and adventure’ fiction, and we are preparing to launch titles in that genre by this time next year, including a Vietnam combat series and Tudor-era naval fiction.
The team with the winner of The Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award, Catherine Isaac
One of the most exciting announcements for us in our first year is our sponsorship of two excellent writing awards. In March we sponsored a new award for 2019 from the Romantic Novelists’ Association: The Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award. The shortlist was very strong and the winner was Catherine Isaac for her wonderful novel YOU ME EVERYTHING. We are also the new sponsors of the Crime Writers’ Association Historical Dagger Award. The shortlist will be announced at CrimeFest in May and I can’t wait to read them all! We are also currently interviewing for our first full-time staff member, which is very exciting, so we should have a new Editorial Assistant to introduce to our authors soon!
Many of the authors we signed up before our launch are working on new projects with us, as they are thrilled with reader feedback and the wonderful work Caoimhe has been doing marketing our books: we regularly feature on Amazon’s best-seller lists, and have been getting Kindle deals world-wide, from the US to Australia – and even India!
We don’t anticipate growing our list hugely in the next year, as we already have so many amazing books scheduled for release, but we will continue to support our Sapere family and we hope all of our authors will continue working with us for many years to come!
Linda, what is your vision for the CWA as the new Chair?
One of the greatest pleasures of being a member of the CWA has been the people I have met and the friends I have made. I joined in 2004 and have served as Membership Secretary, Dagger Liaison Officer and Vice Chair. Seeing the membership numbers grow, with new Chapters formed both at home and abroad has been a rewarding and exciting experience.
The benefits to our members as listed on our website, are substantial. We are doing so much more to interact with other organisations, supporting libraries, booksellers and publishers and have established National Crime Reading Month, and formed the Crime Readers Association, which is free to join, and provides a regular newsletter to over 10,000 subscribers and bi-monthly Case Files.
The CWA has never been in a more vibrant and healthy state than it is now. For that I must express my gratitude to all the former Chairs, whose contribution has made the Association what it is today. I must especially thank Martin Edwards, who in the last two years has striven to make us more businesslike and efficient. Martin has established a CWA archive at Gladstone’s Library, a beautiful location which holds regular events, notably the crime writing related Alibis in the Archive which has proved extremely popular.
I can assure everyone that I do not intend to be the new broom that sweeps away the past. Neither do I want to rush into new ventures before we are ready. The foundation we have now is a firm one, and I want to consolidate what we have before considering how we can move on in the ever-changing world of publishing. I do want to further develop the already formed links with the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of Authors as well as other crime, thriller and mystery writers associations worldwide.
Above all, I see the CWA as an organisation which should serve all its members at whatever stage they are in their writing career; whether debut, mid-career or long-established. We all have something both to contribute and to gain. The CWA is the flagship organisation for crime writers, and a brand of quality. The Dagger prizes we award annually are a recognition of the best in crime writing. My hope is that the future will further strengthen that position.
Linda Stratmann is the author of thirteen non-fiction books mainly about true crime, but her work also includes Chloroform, the Quest for Oblivion, a history of the use and misuse of chloroform, and three biographies, notably The Marquess of Queensberry: Wilde’s Nemesis.The Secret Poisoner chronicles the efforts of science and the law to tackle poison murder in the nineteenth century. She has recently edited a new volume in the Notable British Trials Series, The Trial of the Mannings.
Linda also writes two fiction series. The Frances Doughty Mysteries set in1880s Bayswater, feature a clever and determined lady detective, whose adventures explore aspects of Victorian life such as diet, education, medicine, women’s rights, fear of premature burial and the fashion for cycling.
The second series is set in 1870s Brighton. Mina Scarletti is a deceptively diminutive lady with a twisted spine, whose boldness and confidence enable her to overcome her apparent disadvantages. Mina writes horror and ghost stories and exposes the activities of fraudulent spirit mediums who prey on the vulnerable bereaved.
Hi, Martin, and welcome back. It was great to meet up again and congratulations on becoming the Chair of the CWA.
Thanks, Val. It was a pleasure to spend time in your company at the CWA’s enjoyable annual conference in Edinburgh recently. You know from your own experience that the CWA is a vigorous and highly collegiate organisation. For me, it’s a huge honour to be elected Chair.
The CWA keeps growing – it now has more members than ever before in its 64 year history. Although most are British writers, we have an increasing number of members based overseas, plus corporate and associate members involved in many different ways with the business of crime writing. We also prize non-fiction crime writing – a CWA Gold Dagger is awarded each year for the best factual book as well as for the best novel.
So the CWA is a very broad church. That makes it a vibrant organisation, but it also presents challenges. How can we make sure that we deliver value to all our members? That has to be our central aim. It’s not the committee’s organisation, far less my own. It belongs to the whole of the membership. And that’s something I keep at the forefront of my mind.
At present, for instance, self-published writers are not eligible for membership. The writing business is changing rapidly, and my personal view is that our eligibility criteria will change too. But this will only happen when there’s a clear consensus in favour on the part of the membership – it’s not a decision that can or should be imposed.
Already, we do a great deal for our members. If you take a look at the membership benefits on our website, you’ll find that there are very wide-ranging, and rarely matched by comparable groups. Our regional chapters offer an eclectic mix of social and professional activities; each chapter operates with a high level of autonomy, which is the way our members like it. As well as social media platforms, we run the Crime Readers’ Association, with its monthly newsletter going to over 10,000 subscribers. The bi-monthly Case Files has a similar readership. Our members have exclusive access, therefore, to a key target audience, an audience that is expanding all the time.
But I want us to keep growing, and to offer our members even more. My belief is that the CWA’s potential is almost limitless. Crime writing is, after all, enormously popular worldwide, and few “brands” within the genre can match the prestige of the CWA, and of our internationally renowned Dagger awards.
Let me mention just a few of the areas that I’d like us to explore in the coming years – not just while I’m Chair, but on a continuing basis. Our links with libraries are very important, and mutually beneficial. The CWA Dagger in the Library is a popular award, and our National Crime Reading Month links writers, readers, and libraries each June. I’ve just appointed our first Libraries Champion, Ruth Dudley Edwards, who will develop those links further, to everyone’s benefit.
And there’s much more – too much for one blog post! But I’d like to highlight the valuable work we do for the public benefit, not least encouraging the next generation of writers via the exceptionally successful CWA Debut Dagger, and also a flash fiction competition for students at the Edinburgh conference. This is another area of our activities that I’d love to expand.
I’m also proud that our archives are a central part of the British crime writing archives now held at Gladstone’s Library. Over time, I hope this will become an internationally recognised resource for researchers and crime fans. The archives are being opened officially at a week-end event in June, Alibis in the Archive, which quickly sold out – surely a sign we are doing something right. In fact, the tremendous level of interest means that we’ve already agreed to run another Alibis next year.
Of course, there are constraints. Our resources are limited, and so – crucially – is the time of committee members who are unpaid volunteers. We can’t do everything we’d like to do, and we will never be able to please everyone – no organisation can. We need to build up our management infrastructure, and operate as professionally as possible, so that our worthy aims can be implemented efficiently and over the long term. Making sure that all this happens in a sound way cannot be achieved overnight. But the portents are good. The future of the CWA promises to be even more exciting than its prestigious past.
Martin Edwards’ eighteen novels include the Lake District Mysteries and the Harry Devlin series, and The Golden Age of Murder won the Edgar, Agatha, H.R.F. Keating and Macavity awards. He has edited thirty crime anthologies, and won the CWA Short Story Dagger, CWA Margery Allingham Prize, and the Poirot Award. He is series consultant for the British Library’s Crime Classics, President of the Detection Club, and Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association. His The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books appears in July.
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