In previous blog posts I have looked at how to keep yourself fit for the task of writing thousands of words and then how to set realistic goals to achieve them. Before moving on to looking at the actual writing of the fiction, two factors play an important part in beginning and completing the process: inspiration and motivation.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
What motivates you to write fiction?
These two questions are asked to many authors and the answers may be as varied as the individuals who the questions are posed to.
I am constantly inspired by anything from a name, a newly learned and intriguing little known fact, a place that sparks an idea or a simple overheard statement. Inspiration is all around us, we just have to be open to it and use our imaginations to ask that simple question: “What if?”
Once inspired to write, then motivation kicks in to drive our effort so that the idea turns into a real manuscript. We can be both inspired and motivated at the same time by reading our favourite author’s work.
Here are a just a few common motivators:
To escape from reality into a world of our making that we may or may not share with others.
To earn money (realistically, this is not an easy industry to break into or make a liveble wage from.)
Whatever your inspiration, you need the motivation to keep going, learning and growing as a writer; going beyond rejection to reach that place of acceptance and becoming a published author.If you choose to write for your own enternment that is fine. Once published there are always those who will look upon your work negatively and leave reviews to say so. This should not stop you writing what you want to, but the choice and opportunity to become published does mean that you have to accept the positive and negative reviews alike. Ultimately we have to believe in what we do.
Learn from those who have done it and also from any of their early mistakes, so that you can avoid some of the common errors yourself. Accept that it is all part of undertsanding the business and put rejection and destructive criticism aside, which is why I share author interviews, whilst taking on board the constructive advice.
Once you are keen to begin your project, then set your realistic goals and be determined!
You can network at conferences, online and in local writing groups. Or invest in a reputable course, join in schemes such as The New Writers’ Scheme run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association and seek professional feedback.
Writing is a lonely business. I am often asked how can you teach a person to write a novel or short fiction. My answer is simple: imagination can be encouraged not taught. It has to spark from within the writer. However, there are common errors new writers make as they learn their craft that can be corrected. Every person, every student that I have had the pleasure of teaching over many years has been unique. Therefore, my feedback is always tailored to the individual. If you have a manuscript that you are working on at the moment, or have finished, and would like constructive, professional feedback on, then please contact me on email@example.com for a quote.
It is with great sadness and total shock that I have learnt that Carole died last night. She was an amazing lady and inspiration to many, myself included. My sincere condolences to her family, her many friends, colleagues and authors that she represented and respected so much. She will be greatly missed.
My guest this month is Carole Blake, a lady whose amazing career has taken her from working as a secretary in a packaging company to forming the incredibly successful London literary agency, Blake Friedmann. This journey involved becoming the first Rights Manager for Michael Joseph, then Marketing Director at Sphere, before starting up her own agency in 1977. Five years later she merged with Julian Friedmann’s Agency.
Throughout this time Carole has worked tirelessly to develop the careers of her authors and yet still found time to serve on many boards and institutions to contribute to the industry she loves so much. In 2013 Carole was the recipient of the Pandora Award for her ‘significant and sustained contribution to the publishing industry’.
Welcome, Carole! Did your childhood inspire and nurture your love of books?
My childhood home didn’t have many books, but I was always focussed on them & asked for them as presents. I can remember my first ever rag-books (made of a linen-like material) that I used to ‘read’ in the bath before I could actually read. I loved turning the pages and pretending. Once I could read, my early favourites were the Rupert books, which I still have, with my parents’ messages & dates written inside. When I was 8 I asked for a bookcase for my Christmas present. I got it (& only relinquished it when I moved house 8 years ago). I then set out to catalogue and categorise all the books I owned. I worked out a complicated system of letters and numbers and wrote them inside each book, then listed them all against their titles and authors. Very proud of it. Some years later when I discovered the Dewey System I was crushed. I had thought I was being entirely original!
Was it challenging for a woman in your early career to progress in the industry as you did?
I don’t remember it as difficult. I answered an advert in the Evening Standard, went for an interview & got the job. I commuted from Mitcham in Surrey to Marble Arch, & found myself – a working class girl, in a cotton dress and a white cardigan – working as a secretary to a team of university-educated art experts working on a multi-volume art encyclopedia. I kept a low profile, soaked up information like a sponge (including which pieces of cutlery to use when we went out to restaurants) and made friends there (50+ years ago) that I am still in touch with. It was literally a life-changing experience.
Who inspired you the most to keep moving forward? Are you naturally self-motivated to achieve?
The lovely people I worked with at Rainbirds, in my first job, were extremely encouraging. Working there for 8 years kick-started my life-long love of art. It introduced me to the classics (I compiled a company-wide order of Penguin paperbacks every few months. We could get a discount if we ordered 30 or more. Soon I stopped asking anyone else to mark up the Penguin stocklists, because I was ordering 30 at a time myself. I read my way through all the Russian and French novelists, and I remember crying on the no 16 bus as it went round Marble Arch because I finished Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot and found it unbearably sad. How nerdish is that for a teenager in the swinging 60s?
But later when I was marketing director of Sphere, Edmund Fisher fired me, quite rightly. I was running the marketing, publicity, rights and contracts departments and wasn’t juggling them very well. We were having a row – we had a very volatile relationship over the three companies and 12 years that I worked with him – and I was in the middle of resigning. When I realised he was firing me I withdrew my resignation and sued for wrongful dismissal. I knew he hadn’t followed all the right procedures (indeed he hadn’t followed any procedures at all!) and as I was a director, I was employed by Sphere’s then owners, Thomson Newspapers, so he didn’t actually have the right to fire me at all. I won, they settled out of court, and I discovered I had a list of authors who wanted to be represented by me if I started an agency. So I did. The fact that Edmund fired me was the best thing ever to happen to me. I would never have had the courage to ask someone to stop paying me if he hadn’t. No one in my family had ever started a company. If I hadn’t been out of work for 6 months, dealing with lawyers it would never have occurred to me to do so.
You are also encouraging new blood into the publishing industry through your associations with UCLA postgraduate publishing course. Is this something you feel passionate about as much as discovering new writing talent?
Given my start in the industry, remembering how kind people were, and aware that it’s a much more difficult area to get work in now I think the least I can do is to encourage and help others into a business that has given me such a wonderfully satisfying lifestyle. I’ve been associated with other postgraduate publishing courses as well, and am always happy to talk to people wanting to get into the book world.
I am the only person in my company who doesn’t have a degree; many of my staff have several. I didn’t have to go through the purgatory of unpaid internships, which I think are morally indefensible: we pay our interns properly.
Whenever I can I try to introduce people to others in the industry who can be of use to them. We have actually employed more than a dozen of our interns over the years – it’s so much more successful than a 40 minute interview. We also have an annual get-together of all our past staff, past interns. It’s officially known as networking but we all know it’s a great gossip-fest. So great to see where people have moved on to. You might have heard of the singer Dido? She was my assistant for 4 years and was an ace at selling serial rights!
Her parents were both publishers. I work with her mother at Rainbirds in the 60s, sold books to her father when he was running Sidgwick decades later. He and I used to lunch together and regarded ourselves as in-laws while she was working for me. When she resigned ‘to spend more time on her music’ I gave her a very motherly speech. ‘Can’t guarantee to keep your job open Dido.’ I don’t think she’s ever wanted to come back to publishing again …
I do quite a lot of public speaking – at literary festivals, conferences (I’m an honorary vice-president of the RNA, a member of the HNS) and I teach a course on how to sell rights. I’ve been a board member of The Book Trade Charity, and its Chairman, and President over many years and am now a Patron.
Your guide ‘From Pitch to Publication’ is widely used throughout the publishing industry. How much of a challenge has it been to update it?
An extreme challenge, as you can tell from the fact that I’ve not managed to deliver it yet. It took Boxtree (later to become an imprint of Macmillan) several years to persuade me to agree to write it in the first place. And then I renegotiated the delivery date several times, in order not to be in breach of contract (how embarrassing would that have been for a literary agent?). Same has happened with the contracted update/new edition. My agency is SO much bigger & busier than it was when I delivered the original manuscript – 20 years ago! – and so much has changed. I now know what I want to write, what I need to update, what I need to add … but time is the enemy. My editor at Macmillan (a friend) is understanding … up to a point. I now so want to have this new manuscript behind me. There are so very many more ways to promote a book now (social media?!) and I am now writing it but in such small spaces of time.
You represent many of my favourite authors, but two especially. Could you share with us what it was that you loved so much about ‘Lady of Hay’ and the amazing Barbara Erskine? Likewise, when Elizabeth Chadwick’s first manuscript arrived on your desk did you instantly realise that you had found gold?
Two authors very close to my heart: both are good friends.
Barbara Erskine: I was already representing her short stories. She wrote many, and magazine editors around the world would line up for them. We had talked about an unusual novel she was thinking about writing. Two time periods, linked. We talked about it for a long time: years. I remember saying at the outset that it would be vital that every time, at the end of each chapter, the reader was required to move from present to past, from past to present, it must be a wrench. Each time period must be equally compelling, and hard to leave or the novel would be broken backed. Oh my … did she deliver. But although publishers and editors always ask for something new, a fresh voice – they always actually want something that is recognisable. I submitted the partial manuscript for 4 years. ‘I don’t know if it’s a contemporary novel, or a historical?’ Me: it’s both. ‘I don’t know if it’s a love story or a mystery?’ Me: it’s both. Every editor who arrived in a new job found the manuscript on their desk. When Maggie Pringle arrived at Michael Joseph in 1983, she read it, loved it, & recognised it as something fresh and new and exciting, and she was allowed to buy it even though it had been rejected twice by other Michael Joseph editors over the years. They auctioned paperback rights back then and it set a record for the highest paperback advance for a British first novel. This summer it celebrated 30 years continuously in print – quite something for a commercial novel. And it’s in print in many other languages too. In 2017 it will be celebrated for its 30th anniversary in German.
Barbara and I are friends. We’ve worked together for so long: we have even been on holiday together. That Nile cruise will never be forgotten. The only holiday that I’ve ever got a holiday-tie-in best-seller novel from – ‘Whispers in the Sand’! Barbara always stays with me at home when she’s in London overnight.
Elizabeth Chadwick: the early chapters of ‘The Wild Hunt’ arrived in the late 80s in a brown envelope – back in the days when submissions were made on paper, via snailmail. And back in the days when I opened my own mail every morning at my desk. I read it as soon as I opened the envelope and knew there was something very special in my hand. A few weeks later I had sold it, via auction, to hardback and paperback publishers (back in the days before publishers always published in both formats themselves.)
‘The Wild Hunt’ won a Betty Trask award, and Prince Charles was the person giving out the prizes for The Society of Authors that year. That was quite a memorable evening!
As with Barbara, this led to publishing success and a long and on-going friendship. Elizabeth stays with me when she’s in London too, and we often talk into the small hours.
I think it is unfair to ask you which are your favourite books or authors, but of all the novels you have read are there a few characters that really stayed with you? If so, why?
There’s no way I could choose between novels by my clients – I represent them all because they are so original, and so special. It would be like asking a mother to choose between her children! Not that I think of my best-selling authors are children for one moment. But the novels – apart from those written by my clients – that always stay with me are Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot (I finished it on a no 16 bus going round Marble Arch roundabout in the late 60s, crying my eyes out), and Alain Fournier’s Le Grand Meaulnes. A haunting work.
You have travelled extensively in your work, but where do you enjoy going to relax and explore?
Italy, always Italy. I go for art, music, food (and Negronis!), shopping. Venice, in particular if I had to pin it down more narrowly. I was lucky enough to take a sabbatical earlier this year and I spent 5 weeks in Italy: Florence, Siena, Padua, Mantua, Venice. Absolutely heaven.
Is it your love of detail that first led you to becoming a collector of dolls’ houses and miniatures (OOAK)? Where did this begin? How is the collection growing?
I’ve always loved houses, furniture, interior decoration. My home is full now so miniatures are the way I buy furniture. I dare not add up the number of miniatures I own … they are stored in many boxes, and I’ve had to forbid myself to buy more until I’ve finished building the 5 floor Regency house which will be taller than me. And I’m forbidden to do any more work on that until I’ve delivered my next book. In addition to that house, I have a Georgian hand made one that I bought already finished. That is fully furnished. I also own an antiquarian bookshop which I made from a kit. Every book is real; they can be opened and read (with a magnifying glass). Most of them are miniature copies of real antique illustrated books that I buy from a particular maker whose work I really admire. I have more than 1000. And I have two more kits to build – they are going to become a row of shops. And then there is the greenhouse, and a conservatory, both full of flowers. My favourite collection though is mouth-blown cranberry glass. Five (miniature) cabinets full so far. The most satisfying thing I achieved myself, was laying a floor of terracotta tiles. Real tiles, 1:12 scale. Laying the tiles was easy: the grouting was murder, the air blue!
What other interests do you enjoy away from the world of publishing?
Early music – I still buy cds because I enjoy the booklets. I’ve got about 5000, all stored on a hard drive and easy to find. But I also like Meat Loaf (that’s Elizabeth Chadwick’s fault!). Art – I always make time to go to exhibitions. I find cooking very therapeutic, and always have freezers-full of home cooked food. I enjoy a variety of crafts – I make greetings cards, keep scrapbooks, make jewellery (I have 1000s of beads, and like to buy them on my travels), and I love taking photographs (check out my 56 Pinterest boards, and my Instagram posts!). I took 8000 photographs during the 5 weeks in Italy. And of course reading. I read a lot of non-fiction for relaxation as a change from the fiction that I work with. I love history, memoir, African wildlife (I’ve been to Africa on safari many times). And I collect books about the publishing industry. I’ve recently taken up knitting and crochet again. But there’s not a lot of time to fit these in around work!
You have achieved a great deal in your career, but what is next for Carole Blake?
I’ve got to make time to finish the new book. Then I can get back to (miniature) house building …
Thank you for the fascinating insight into your career and for sharing some personal photographs of your lovely miniature worlds!
It is my pleasure to introduce Roger Sanderson as my guest author this month. Roger is a prolific romance author and assistant organiser of the fantastic RNA Conferences along with Jan Jones.
Welcome, Roger, and thank you for giving up your time to do this interview.
When and why did you break into the world of romantic fiction?
For many years I lectured in English at a Further Education College, and as everyone knows, all English teachers really want to write novels – so when I retired, I decided to give it a go. I was already writing Commando comic scripts. While waiting at the publishers one day, I picked up their matching romance line STAR, so started with that. I went on to write for Hale, then M&B and am now with Accent (as Gill Sanderson) and Desert Breeze (as Roger Sanderson).
The RNA is a very supportive organisation. When did you first discover and join it?
I was a member of a local writing circle run by the late Sheila Walsh. She was on the committee of the RNA at the time and suggested I join. I am very glad she did!
Did your previous experience of writing scripts for Commando Comics influence the way you plot and write your novels?
They both demand a tight plot and extra care dealing with characterisation because there isn’t the room to over-develop the storyline. You have to focus. Possibly the experience of writing Commando scrpits has left me with a liking for a ‘big finish’. Of course, in a Commando, the hero shoots the enemy. In a romance novel the hero kisses the heroine. An important difference.
You are a prolific writer. How many titles have you had printed by Mills & Boon?
I think I wrote 44 or 45, all of which have now been re-edited and republished by Accent Press. It’s great to know these new digital editions are reaching a second audience.
You must have researched so many medical books and procedures over the years for your medical romances that I wondered if part of you had a leaning towards actually being a doctor or physician. Or do you prefer to stay away from the actual blood?
The latter, definitely! However three of my children are in the medical profession (Mark is a consultant oncologist, Adam is a dispensing nurse and Helen was a midwife for many years) so I have a wealth of research at the end of the phone.
I know many people ask you about writing as ‘Gill Sanderson’, but as many women writers create male protagonists I find this natural and refreshing. Did you choose to adopt a female pseudonym or was it advised?
It was very strongly suggested to me that I write under a female name. At the time the perceived wisdom was that when reading romance, women preferred a female name on the cover.
You have a love of the outdoors and hiking. Do you use this time to switch off from writing or to ponder and plot?
Originally I mountineered at the weekends to counteract the pressures of the staff room. The habit of outdoor exercise never leaves you, even if these days it’s more of a long daily walk by the sea. I rarely switch off from writing. I use walking time to think about the current book and also mull over ideas for future ones.
What is the best piece of advice you could offer to an as yet unpublished writer?
One: read as much as you can. Two: aim to write at least 500 words a week. Some weeks, this might be all you manage, some weeks it might be 5000 words. The important thing is to write something.
What do you like to read to relax?
Anything! I have very wide reading tastes.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently writing a sequel to my light-hearted romance LIVERPOOL TO LAS VEGAS (Desert Breeze Publishing), which features an ex-PE teacher and a documentary film maker and is one of my US-published novels under my own name.
What is next for Roger?
I had a major heart operation last year which is taking me a lot longer than I hoped to recover from. My goal at the moment is to get back to full health and keep on writing!
I am delighted to welcome Jan Jones as my guest this month. Jan is not only an amazing writer of romantic fiction but the organiser of many successful Romantic Novelists’ Association Conferences.
Hi Jan – thank you for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to complete the interview. This year’s conference at Lancaster University was, amazing, as usual. The speakers were from all sections of the industry. How have you seen the event change and grow since you became the organiser?
Since 2005 when I took over as organiser, the conference has grown from just over a hundred residential delegates to over two hundred. We’ve also increased the number of choices, added extra Sunday afternoon sessions and offer a Thursday pre-conference arrival.
The Romantic Novelists’ Association is a very supportive organisation. When did you join it and make your first break into print?
I first joined during the 1980s when I was writing magazine stories, took a break, rejoined in 1994, then made the breakthrough from NWS to full in 2005.
Your career began in mathematics and computing, so when did you realise that you were a writer at heart?
Oh, I’ve always known that, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to live on it. Computer programming was a much more bankable skill.
Do you prefer to write long or short fiction, YA or adult, historical or contemporary?
All of them. I have a dreadfully low boredom threshold. I like the variety and challenge of writing different forms and genres. As to length, I think when you first get the germ of an idea, you know what sort of size the story will be. When writing serials I have to squash the story into a few compact episodes, so it is an immense relief to then expand it to the length it always should have been and self-publish it.
Do you have a strict writing regime and work ethic?
Erm, no. I’d like to, but life keeps getting in the way. I just write whenever I can. Late at night is good, because everything is quiet and I don’t have the sense of having left chores undone. I try to only have one project on the go at one time, but I generally have two or three in various stages. There are very few points during the day when I’m not thinking about whatever the current piece of work is. The worst time for me is during RNA Conference preparations. I can’t keep a book in my head as well as all the conference arrangements, so I have to completely stop writing at the end of April and not pick the book up again until July. The upside is that by then, I’ve forgotten how much I hated it!
That is a long time for preparation. No wonder the conferences are such a success. What was the best piece of advice you were given as a new writer?
That everyone has something useful to teach you and that you never stop learning. What I worked out for myself was to believe in my own voice, to dare to be different, and to never give up.
What inspired The Penny Plain Mysteries?
I came across a strange jigsaw when I was clearing my mother’s bungalow that gave rise to the first Penny Plain story, but as for where the characters came from, I have no idea. I think all writers have people lying dormant in their subconscious, just waiting for the right setting.
What are you working on now?
I have recently got the rights back for the three Regency novels published by Hale, so I am revising them ready to self-publish. I am enjoying it tremendously – it’s just like meeting old friends and falling in love with them all over again.
I love that description. So what is next for Jan?
Keep on keeping on! At the last count I had something like nineteen projects waiting for my attention, ranging from finished novels to be done-something-with to tantalising germs of ideas with half-a-dozen lines of notes to anchor the thoughts in place.
Good luck and I wish you every success with them. Thanks for sharing some of your writing experience and world.
I am delighted to welcome the chairman of The Historical Novel Society, Richard Lee, as this month’s guest. Richard founded the organisation in 1997 and it is now an international success.
When you decided to found an organisation devoted to historical fiction, did you ever envisage it growing into such an amazing international body?
No! I did not know how it would be possible to be international, so I only envisaged a UK membership – though always celebrating international authors. We actually had US members sign up from the very beginning, which caused headaches about currency transactions and postage costs. This made us ‘ready’ for when internet links began to take off – and now we are much more international than British.
What have been the major developments/changes that you have seen in historical fiction since the HNS was founded?
In commercial historical fiction many things have changed. The ‘discovery’ of the significance of women’s lives has transformed the way that, for example, royalty and celebrity is written about. The success of ‘Sharpe’ and ‘Gladiator’ created a genre of military and epic historical fiction. We have also been blessed by literary authors pushing the boundaries in various ways – Michel Faber reconceiving the Victorian authorial viewpoint, many authors revisiting Colonial and World War narratives, Hilary Mantel turning accepted views of Tudor power and honour on their head.
How has historical fiction been influenced by the major changes within publishing in the last decade?
I am no expert here. Traditional publishing still knows how to publish the big books. The Miniaturist and Elizabeth is Missing we both debuts that had multiple agents interested, sold well into many territories, won prizes and became bestsellers. The main change I perceive is that there is much more opportunity for niche historicals to go it alone, often to the author’s benefit.
The HNS conferences have been hugely successful and enjoyable to attend. Could you share a few of your personal favourite highlights?
The things I remember from conferences are usually surprises from authors I admire – Louis de Bernieres, for example, saying that he wrote each chapter of Captain Corelli as a short story, and didn’t decide the running order till the end. Or Conn Iggulden emphasising just how powerful true coincidences are in history. Highlights are more likely downtime with fellow organisers or friends – meeting members off-stage and finding out more about them. It is great when it is all ‘done’!
What period of history do you have a particular interest in and why?
Early 20th C, Late Victorian, High Victorian, Regency, Georgian, Early Medieval, Saxon/Viking, Roman, Ancient Greek… But really anything!
Do you prefer reading or writing historical fiction?
Reading. I haven’t written consistently for a long while, though it remains an ambition.
How would you like to see the HNS develop in the future?
I always see the society as being about what members want – any enthusiasms that members have are for me to try to facilitate and nurture. This for a long time focussed on our magazines and reviews, which actively involve around 100 of us. Conferences are another big active area – this year over 400 will gather in Denver, and we had an inaugural conference in Sydney, Australia. The big ‘new’ areas of involvement are chapters based in different regions (mostly entirely independent) and connections through social media. Our awards are also popular (230 entries for the latest new novel prize), and we are looking into ways that the society can offer help and training to authors. Whether mainstream published or indie, all authors need help with marketing and promotion these days, we can all help each other.
What is next for Richard?
My first child was born a couple of years after I founded the society, two others followed, and the oldest is now 15. They are the real project and joy, but I still have a wish to write. I think I finally have a good idea!
Margaret has been a shining light to me and many unpublished authors as she was the New Writers’ Scheme Organiser for the Romantic Novelists’ Association when I first became published. Cathie is a prolific writer, lecturer and founder of CreativeWritingMatters.
Hello, Valerie –thank you for inviting us to chat with you! It’s lovely to be here.
You are both successful writers so my first question must be where did your own writing journeys begin?
Margaret: I started writing short stories while my children were still babies and eventually I began selling them to women’s magazines.
Cathie: I was a hobby writer until about ten years ago, but after a foundation course with the Open College of Arts, I began having success in short story competitions. Since then I have taken my hobby much more seriously.
CreativeWritingMatters is the inspirational name of the business you founded along with Sophie Duffy. I love the logo. Could you tell us about CreativeWritingMatters and how it came into being?
Cathie: CreativeWritingMatters came into being when I left teaching in mainstream education. The flexibility of being freelance meant we could offer workshops and short courses on all aspects of writing. The competitions came later following the success of a flash competition that we ran for our students.
The name came about because of a conversation I had, during which I became rather too vehement about the importance of creative writing. ‘Creative writing matters,’ I heard myself shriek. Our logo features Sophie’s cat, Henry, the star of her story in our Cat Walks ebook. He’s perky and forward-looking, just like the three of us!
You have jointly written an excellent handbook and a workbook on aspects of creative writing so obviously have a great working relationship, but how do you set about working on a non-fiction joint project as opposed to your independent fiction?
Margaret: I first met Cathie when she joined my local writing group, Exeter Writers. I loved her short stories and she was kind enough to say she liked my own writing, too. We collaborated on producing an anthology of members’ work and found we got on very well. We both teach creative writing (Cathie teaches face-to-face while I teach online) and, after we’d finished editing and producing the anthology, we decided to write a guidebook for our students.
When we wrote The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook, we wrote alternate chapters and then we swapped files and edited these chapters. It all seemed to work well! But when we wrote The Short Story Writer’s Workbook, Cathie wrote the whole of the first draft and then I did a heavy edit, making the second draft twice as long as the first. This approach worked very well, too. We find our non-fiction writing styles are very similar. A few months down the line, we often can’t remember who wrote what.
Will there be more in this series?
We enjoy working together so we intend to produce a handbook for novelists and we have other projects in the pipeline, too. We hope to produce some more anthologies featuring either our own work or that of other people.
You are both very experienced tutors so I would like to ask:-
Margaret, what three tips would you give to an aspiring unpublished novel writer?
Plan your story and know roughly how you want it to end. But don’t be too rigid in your planning. Be prepared for the story to change and grow while you write.
Your reader should want to spend time with your characters. So don’t write about people you don’t actually like or don’t find very interesting yourself. Your characters ought to be your friends.
A novel is a big project. So whenever you get tired or disenchanted – which you almost certainly will – take some time out to reflect and to think about how and where you want this story to go.
Cathie, what three tips would you give to an aspiring unpublished writer of short stories?
Use vivid and specific details that tell a lot, rather than generalisations. If a character puts up an umbrella, we don’t need to be told it’s raining.
How much time you have to set up your story depends on the number of words that have been stipulated by the competition or magazine. Your story needs to develop and reach its resolution without a sudden rush at the end. Once finished, check the balance of set up, development and resolution, then be prepared to cut ruthlessly at the beginning.
Use dialogue and gesture to reveal character rather than word-hungry narrative.
The Exeter Novel Prize is going from strength to strength, what inspired this, and how do you see it evolving?
Will there be a CreativeWritingMatters short story competition in 2016? If so, what advice would you give to entrants?
CreativeWritingMatters runs lots of competitions for both short and longer fiction, so here is some general advice.
Read the rules.
Abide by the rules.
Start your story as something interesting happens.
Round off your story with a satisfying ending.
What is next for Cathie and Margaret, jointly or independently?
Margaret: I’m about to start the second draft of a novel and to plan a new non-fiction project that has nothing to do with writing.
Cathie: My debut novel, Secret of the Song will be out later this year and there will also be another collection of stories by the three of us at CreativeWritingMatters. Right now, the characters in my next novel are twitching for me to get on with it.
Thank you for taking the time to share your experience and advice with my readers.
Thank you for inviting us! It’s been great to talk to you.
I am delighted to welcome author Rosemary Kind, who is the founder of Alfie Dog, a publisher of short fiction based in the beautiful county of North Yorkshire.
What was the deciding factor that motivated you to switch from a successful business career to becoming a full time author?
My husband had the opportunity to move to work in Belgium and I said ‘Why not?’ Because we were going back and forth every fortnight to see my stepchildren an ordinary career wasn’t going to work, so as I’d proved everything to myself that I needed to in a traditional working environment it was the perfect time to follow my heart. I’ve always written, but in my spare time. I knew I’d regret it if I never found out if I could do more.
Please tell us about your published work and what inspires you?
I write in a number of genres. Inspiration can come from the strangest places. My first published book (leaving aside ‘Negotiation Skills for Lawyers’ which was commissioned), was a humorous guide to travelling on the London Underground ‘Lovers Take Up Less Space’. I wrote most of the ideas as therapy when I was working in London. ‘Alfie’s Diary’ started as a daily blog in January 2006 when our first dog moved in. I’d been in Belgium for a couple of months and was writing mainly non-fiction, business articles, company newsletters etc. I wanted to write fiction, but it felt like a big step. Writing Alfie’s view of the world was a way to make myself write something every day. I originally intended to write it for a year of two, but nine years on it’s still growing and has spun off into several other projects, not least because he set up his own political party The Pet Dogs Democratic Party.
Inspiration for my novels is more interesting. ‘The Appearance of Truth’ came out of a writing group project to write 300 words on ‘verisimilitude’. Once I’d looked it up in the dictionary I started mulling it over. I was researching my own family tree and had ordered a birth certificate. It occurred to me that it would be quite possible to pass a birth certificate off as belonging to someone that it really didn’t relate to and it all went from there. Lisa was given the birth certificate of a baby who died at 4 months old and the story is her search for who she really is and why it happened. ‘Alfie’s Woods’ came from our woodland walks. We’d just rescued a hedgehog, who was stuck in a fence, when a helicopter passed overhead. The rest of the walk was spent thinking ‘What if they were looking for the hedgehog? What if he had escaped from the woodland prison?’ ‘The Lifetracer’ was inspired by seeing an electronic countdown clock in a catalogue and finding myself thinking ‘What if it could be programmed with Time to Death and used to send a death threat?’ I have more ideas than I have time to write them.
What appeals to you most about Entelbucher Mountain Dogs and Alfie in particular?
I fell in love with the breed long before there were any in the UK. They are incredibly loyal affectionate dogs who are great with children and like nothing more than to be close to you. I also adored the way they look, not only their colouring but the fact they are such happy smiley dogs. Alfie is my pride and joy. He is a gentle giant who is everything I had ever dreamed of in a dog. We are incredibly close.
When did the inspiration for an online digital site for short fiction first occur to you?
Not only do I write short fiction as well as books, but I have many friends who are widely published in that field. The more I talked to other writers the more frustrated I felt that there were so few outlets for short stories and for earning an income from secondary rights. It was January 2012 when I wrote the business plan. I launched to authors in February and to readers in May. I was overwhelmed by the response and we had more than 100 stories by the launch and have rapidly built a library of 1700 stories. I also wanted to set up a site that gave as much back to authors as possible. The culture is very much to give support to the writing community where we can. I was amazed by how word of mouth spread the message across the globe and we very soon had writers from more than 25 countries, all writing in English.
We carry good quality stories in a wide range of genres. All submissions are reviewed and where necessary edited and only the best are accepted for publication. We want our readers to come away having had a really good read and be looking forward to coming back for more. We carry work by over 400 authors, so there really is something to suit everyone’s taste. Many of our authors are widely published, but we enjoy introducing high quality work from new writers too. Unlike most sites, we carry the stories in a range of formats to suit all types of ereader or to print. We also publish a range of books in both electronic and paper formats. They are mainly short story collections, but we do carry some novels as well.
Of course for writers, our International Short Story Competition may also be of interest. The closing date is the end of September so there is plenty of time to take part. First prize is £200 and book publication.
The site is already one of the biggest short story publishers in the world, but hopefully it will be the site on everyone’s list when they talk about short stories. I want it to be ‘THE’ place that people go to when they are looking for quality short fiction.
What is next for Rosemary?
I’m writing another novel at the moment. This one was inspired by a chance comment in a meeting. Someone made reference to the ‘Orphan Train’ movement in America in the late 1800s and I had to go and find out more. As soon as I did, I was hooked on a story idea and the lives of three Irish immigrant orphans, fighting for survival, was born. It is my first full historical fiction writing and the research has been fascinating. It even made me get on a plane for the first time in over seven years, but that’s another story!
I was intrigued to read that your first published story was achieved when you were six. You obviously have not looked back since. Could you share with us how this early success came about?
I have to confess, Valerie, that this comment on my home page is actually a bit tongue in cheek and an effort to pretend I am younger than I am. I wasn’t really six. Although I think my very first publication credit, which was a poem in Pony Magazine was actually published when I was about eight 🙂
Would you agree that you are a person who has a natural empathy with people, their problems and situations and that this is part of the appeal of your many successful character driven stories?
I do hope so. I do like people very much. And I think that all writers need empathy and sensitivity in order to step into the shoes of a character who may be quite different than themselves.
How would you describe your work ethic?
To achieve all that you do I can only imagine you are a fantastic organiser of your time. Roughly what percentage of time would you spend researching, writing and promoting a novel on social media?
I spend a little less time on social media that I did once – as it’s not easy to justify spending too much time there. I have a tendency to use it as a procrastination activity to avoid writing. But I would still say, writing a novel 60 per cent, researching 20 per cent, promotion 20 per cent.
I remember driving my son back from college and hearing you on Steve Wright in the Afternoon discussing one of your non-fiction books ‘Eat Loads and Stay Slim’. Then I saw a new title of yours called ‘Ten Weeks to Target’ and I wondered if the research and work on one project creates a ‘spin off’ of ideas for new stories as an ongoing process?
I am thrilled that you heard the Steve Wright Interview – my one claim to fame, that!
Actually, the two books were entirely separate. Ten Weeks to Target came first – it was originally published as a serial in Woman’s Weekly. However, there’s definitely a spin off process that goes on constantly. Both of these titles came from my own experiences of trying to stay slim – and eat loads!
Could you tell us about some of the lovely pets that share your life?
I adore dogs. Currently there is Maggie May, my ten year old white German Shepherd. And Seamus who is a wolfhound, fourteen stone, and five years old.
You are not only a lecturer, public speaker and a creative writing tutor, but you also still attend writing events yourself. How important is this two way interaction?
Writing is my passion as well as my work. So I guess it’s just how things pan out. I think I must be quite boring. So recently I’ve taken up singing lessons and am learning to play the guitar, in an attempt to be more balanced.
Could you give a short piece of advice to as yet unpublished writers who are trying to break into the limited short fiction market, especially in the UK?
Don’t assume that rejections mean you aren’t any good. I still get my fair share of rejections. Not every story is saleable at the time you send it out. That doesn’t mean it won’t be later.
Of all the things that you have achieved within your career what have been the top three most memorable highlights that you hold fondly?
This is tricky. There have been many. I will try and narrow it down.
I quite liked going on the Steve Wright Show.
Selling my first short story was awesome, as was selling my first novel.
And the third one, was when the editor of My Weekly phoned me and asked me if I fancied going on an all expenses paid trip to Malawi – I’m a journalist as well as a fiction writer. That experience and the going bit – I went twice – was fabulous.
The more I researched this interview the more convinced I was that your love of the world of writing is a driving force which means there are many more delights for us to look forward to. Could you share with us what is next for Della Galton?
At the moment I am writing a series for People’s Friend – I can’t tell you too much about this as they haven’t started publishing it yet. Watch this space. But I’m also keen to write a third novel in my Ice and a Slice series. The first novel is called Ice and a Slice. The second is The Morning After The Life Before. I don’t know what the title of the third one will be yet. If any of your readers have any suggestions I’d love to hear them though.
I am delighted to welcome my special guest this month, bestselling Historical Romance author, Cindy Nord.
Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview and share your experiences with us.
What inspired your love of books, or the desire to be a story-teller/writer yourself?
Coming from a family of educators, I’ve always been encouraged to read. I devoured books by the dozens. From classics to childhood favorites, books expanded my world. As I grew older, I also grew to love history, with a specific focus on the Victorian era. I read my first romance, and fell in love with the genre. I enjoyed the details of history sprinkled throughout the storyline, coupled with an unrestrained romantic entanglement. Because of this combination, I felt moved to put pen to paper and craft my own love story.
What characteristics do you think are essential in a hero or heroine?
I want my hero to be strong, involved and engaged. A man who transforms compassion into heroic action with a unique leadership ability that separates him from the rest of the pack. Of course, he’s not perfect, he does have his weaknesses, AND, ultimately, it will be the heroine who helps him overcome those internal conflicts and imperfections. Likewise, I want my heroine to have a resourceful and internal focus that becomes challenged when she meets her hero. She must have a resilient sense of purpose with an unfulfilled need that even she doesn’t know she has. And, in turn, the hero, at first overwhelming and unwanted, eventually fills this void inside her heart. Of course, the romance wrapped around these two individuals is the catalyst that spurs them onward to completing their tumultuous journey to happily-ever-after.
Reliable research is essential to historical authors, but when did you first become involved in Civil War re-enactments?
As a Victorian lecturer and historian, I appreciate the details that breathe a character to life upon the pages. Wonderful tidbits that immerse the reader fully into the time period. And my experience in re-enacting only helped solidify this knowledge. Many years ago, when I began writing my first novel, I read in the newspaper that they were having a Civil War living history weekend at our local university. Holy Toledo! I couldn’t believe that they actually did this sort of thing. Here was American history brought to life. The acrid aroma of campfires. The thundering gallop of cavalry horses. Women clad in Victorian gowns sashaying across a lawn. All the things that I was writing about at the time. Indeed, I was swept straight back into the nineteenth century, and fell head-over-heels in love with this whole new experience. Immediately, I threw myself into the hobby. I even ended up meeting my future husband on the battlefield. Although we no longer re-enact now, I’ll forevermore cherish those years spent living in the time period I love so well.
What can your readers expect from a Cindy Nord novel?
Passion. Emotion. Conflict. Indeed, an accurate, historical immersion. All those things plus an ardent romance filled with sensations that tug at a readers’ heartstrings. Getting my characters to ‘The End’ is a hard won journey, for sure. And the greatest test of success for any writer is when their readers make the trip through their novels and never want the love story to end.
In your fascinating career to date, what memorable moments stand out?
Oh my, such a great question. Let’s see… I’ll begin with being a Romance Writers of America National Golden heart finalist with No Greater Glory which started this whole incredible journey, signing with my fabulous literary agent, Louise Fury of the Jenny Bent Agency in New York City, the day my first box of books arrived from my publisher, being a USA Today Lifeblog ‘Recommended Read’ author, having my Civil War romance novel used as a supplemental read in a well-known university history class, receiving a stellar review by the Library Journal (buying bible for all libraries in the U.S., Canada & the U.K.), my first invitation to be a keynote speaker at an RWA affiliated chapter, and having my very first book signing at Barnes & Noble…these, and so many more, have truly brought me untold joy.
Do you have a very organized day, or do you write around ‘life’, but to set targets?
Balancing my time and attention between writing, social media, my family and my friends is always a difficult task. I try to set up a schedule with mornings spent on the internet and my social media sites, with my afternoons devoted to writing. In the evening, my husband listens as I read what I’ve written for the day. This is a routine that works well for me. I’m what they call a ‘pantser’ (writing without an outline), and must completely finish each chapter before moving on to the next. I wouldn’t advise anyone else to follow this writing style, so say the ‘plot-first’ experts, but it does seem to work for me.
Writing books involves long hours working at a computer. What do you do to keep healthy and active?
I thoroughly love to ‘water walk’ at the gym, plus I walk my two shelties daily around our neighbourhood. I also enjoy working in the garden, as well as bicycling with my husband. We are both passionate followers of an ‘organic’ lifestyle, along with nutraceutical supplementation.
Along with other writers, I understand that you contributed to an anthology for ‘Women in Need’. Could you tell us something about this work and the charity?
I was invited by writer-extraordinaire, Hope Tarr, to be part of her project entitled, “Scribbling Women and the Real-Life Romance Heroes Who Love Them” non-fiction anthology where I joined several New York Times & other romance fiction writers. Each real-life story in this body of work details how we writers met, wed and love—and are loved and supported by—our spouses and life partners. All proceeds from this literary compilation go directly to Women In Need, a New York City women’s shelter for abused females & their children. I am so honoured to have been asked to participate. Happily Ever After isn’t only the stuff of romance novels and fairy tales.
What single piece of advice would you give to any, as yet, unpublished author?
Never, ever, ever give up on your dream. And since we’re going to dream anyway…DREAM BIG!
What is next for Cindy?
I am putting the finishing touches on AN UNLIKELY HERO, the third book in my four-book The Cutteridge Series. I anticipate this love story debuting Spring, 2016. I’ve also been invited to host one of the ten coveted ‘opening night’ tables at the 2015 Romantic Times Booklovers Convention in Dallas in May. I’m also doing several book signings, as well as guest interviews for television stations. Plus, lecturing on Victorian fashions at several locations across the Midwest.
What better way to usher in the New Year than to share an inspiring interview with Ian Skillicorn who is a very talented and successful writer, publisher, speaker, director, voiceover artist, translator and producer.
Welcome to my blog, Ian! I hope I have not omitted any of the many hats that you wear within your fascinating career.
Thanks for having me! Well, those are all of the various hats I’ve worn over a twenty-five year career to date, but fortunately I haven’t had to wear all of them at the same time!
You obviously have a natural love of language: written and audio, both in English and translation. When and where did this love of words and story-telling begin?
From a very early age. My parents are (and grandparents were) great readers, and so there were always lots of books around the place. The weekly visit to the library was really important in introducing me to a variety of authors, and firing my imagination. At weekends my parents took us to museums, art galleries and historic sites around the country, which gave me a lasting appreciation of art and history, and all sorts of stories about people through the ages. I also had a couple of very supportive English teachers at secondary school who encouraged my own writing efforts. I recently discovered that one of them is a friend of one of my authors, and we have since been in touch, which was lovely.
Did your early career, working for a national magazine in Milan, give you the exposure to the industry that you needed to realise your own literary ambitions and projects?
Not directly, to be honest. I came back from Italy with six years’ solid work experience but at that time, in the 1990s, I think people were expected to follow a much more rigid career path than they are nowadays. I had never worked in the UK, and although I wanted to get into publishing, I found I was over-qualified for some jobs, but didn’t have the relevant experience in this country for others. I ended up taking what was for me the obvious easy route – becoming a freelance translator. It was something I had enjoyed doing in Italy, but literary translation work in the UK was hard to come by, so I went into translating for businesses. It wasn’t really what I wanted to do, but I suppose I was lucky I had it to fall back on. The upside was that being freelance meant I had the flexibility to work on developing my own projects as well. It took many years of working seven days a week, doing lots of projects for free, financing some myself, and numerous false starts before I was finally able to give up the day job. Now I do work in publishing again, with my own imprint, and in the end I was the one who gave me a job!
That has to be one of the main benefits of being self-employed.
In 2006 you founded www.shortstoryradio.com. How passionate are you about broadening the market for short story writers?
Very. Short Story Radio was one of those projects I developed in my own time, and initially at my own expense. I often read comments online and in print from creative people who say they refuse ever to work for free, but I don’t completely subscribe to that view. Even if you are passionate about your craft and believe in yourself, in the early days of your career sometimes the only way to get noticed is by creating your own opportunities. Through working on Short Story Radio I learned that there was an appetite for short stories in English not only in this country, but around the world. I met many talented writers and actors, some of whom are now good friends, and realised how difficult it was for short story writers to find paying outlets for their work. After a while I applied for a grant from Arts Council England. My application was successful and that support from ACE financed work for a lot of writers, actors and technicians, and raised the profile of Short Story Radio and its content. It was also a very important morale boost for me, and the start of building up an audio production business which led to many interesting commissions over a number of years. For most of the Short Story Radio writers it was their first experience of being broadcast, and a number have gone on to have successful writing careers.
Do you see a growing trend for shorter fiction evolving both through audio (The Story Player) and eBooks?
I do. However, I think enthusiasm for the short story among readers hasn’t yet caught up with the form’s popularity among writers. It’s often said that the short story is perfect for today’s busy, time-poor lives, but hearing that always makes me cringe. Good writing should be savoured no matter what the length, not because it is “convenient”. I don’t like the idea of a short story being considered the literary equivalent of “wash and go”. That said, I’m sure that new technologies will present all sorts of opportunities for creating, selling and experiencing short stories. We’re only just at the beginning.
Your connection with short fiction was further strengthened when you founded National Short Story Week in 2010, which has best-selling author Katie Fforde as its patron. What would you say is the essence of a good short story?
That’s a tough question! I suppose it depends on the opinion of the individual reader and their tastes. Personally, I enjoy stories which manage to say something about the human condition, and which I can relate to even if my life is nothing like those of the protagonists. I think that’s why the stories of authors such as Saki and Katherine Mansfield, mostly written more than 100 years ago, are still fresh and relevant today. Their themes are timeless and universal.
If I could just say something about National Short Story Week. One of the best outcomes, which wasn’t actually an original aim, has been the enthusiasm and involvement of schools and their pupils, librarians and teachers. The National Short Story Week Young Writer competition, for year 7 and 8 pupils, is now in its fourth year and going from strength to strength. I can highly recommend the anthology of last year’s winning stories – The Mistake. It reached Number 51 on Amazon’s book charts last November, and has raised funds for Teenage Cancer Trust. The children’s creativity, imagination and use of language are very impressive. If we are serious about championing the short story form, surely the best way to do this is to get people interested in writing and reading short stories from an early age.
That is excellent and inspiring for the future.
In 2012 you created your own publishing imprint Corazon Books (I love the tag line: Great stories with heart!). It was launched with a novel by bestselling author Sophie King. However, you have just published an out of print title The Property of a Gentleman by Catherine Gaskin who died in 2009. What inspired you about Catherine’s work and do you intend to publish more of her titles?
I was very lucky to launch my business with a title by Sophie King, who is a great writer (and whose work inspired the Corazon tag line!) and a lovely person. I have been familiar with Catherine Gaskin’s work since I was young, when my mother and grandmothers were reading her novels. Although I knew and loved the books, I didn’t know much about the author before I published The Property of a Gentleman. I have since done some research on her life, and was fascinated to discover she wrote her first book, which became a bestseller, while still at school! I have received many nice comments from readers since Corazon Books started reissuing her novels, and it has been very gratifying to see The Property of a Gentleman back in the bestsellers charts both in the UK and Australia. Corazon Books has also recently published Sara Dane, which is probably Catherine Gaskin’s best known work. The Lynmara Legacy is out in February 2015, and will be followed by Promises in the spring.
I heard you speak at three events last year: Society of Author’s day event in Bristol, R.N.A. conference and at the H.N.S workshop. You inspire, entertain and inform people especially about eBooks. How do you view the major changes happening within this very new industry today impacting upon what for decades has been a very set publishing industry in the future?
Thank you, that’s very nice of you to say so. I really enjoy talking at conferences and giving workshops. When so much of the average working day can be spent in front of a pc screen, it’s a good opportunity to get out there and meet like-minded people, and to share ideas and experiences. Obviously we are living through a period of huge technological change, in many aspects of our lives. The publishing industry is clearly going through a major transformation and as such there will be winners and losers. I think it’s too early to say who will be the winners and who the losers. You have to be able and willing to reappraise and adapt quickly.
What is next for Ian?
I’m very excited about the books lined up for publication by Corazon Books this year, which include a number of novels by new talents and other projects I can’t talk about just yet. Plans for National Short Story Week 2015 and the Young Writer competition are already under way. I’m looking forward to doing more ebook workshops for the Society of Authors in March, and at Sheffield Hallam University in April. I also have a long list of ideas I want to pursue, which are currently at different stages of development!
Thank you for taking the time to share your work and experience with us and every best wish for your continued success with all your projects in 2015.
Thank you very much for having me on your blog Valerie, I’ve enjoyed it. Best wishes to you, and for your writing, and to all of your readers too.