Catching up with Margaret James!

Margaret James 1

Welcome back, Margaret! I was amazed when I realised that you were my first guest in 2013!

I was amazed, too! My goodness, doesn’t time fly? Perhaps this is because writing a novel is such a long process and sometimes another year goes by without us really noticing? It’s very good to be back. I see that since we were last in contact you’ve had several of your books published by Endeavour Press.  Many congratulations!

Thank you! I love the cover of your new novel ‘Girl in Red Velvet’, which is book 6 in the Charton Minster Series. What inspired you to create this series?

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The inspiration for the Charton Minster stories was driving past a country house in Dorset at least a decade ago. I wondered who lived there and later that evening my imagination started to run riot, conjuring up a whole family and their descendents. The first novel in the series is The Silver Locket, which is Rose Courtenay’s story. The subsequent five novels are about Rose’s children and grandchildren and even her great grandchildren.

Who is the ‘Girl’ in Red Velvet?

The girl in Girl in Red Velvet is Rose Courtenay’s granddaughter Lily Denham, who goes to university in the 1960s and meets two men who become her friends, the three of them have some great fun together, but then Lily finds she is falling in love with both of them. She makes a choice which looks as if it will turn out to be a very bad choice indeed. Or will it? What do all three of these people want and how will they get it? I hope I’ve given them plenty of challenges but that I’ve also given all their stories satisfying endings.

Do you remember the 60s with fondness?

I do because I was young and at university myself and having a lovely time living away from home. It’s quite difficult for younger people alive today to realise what a huge place the world was then. I went from living in a small rural community where I never met anyone who wasn’t British and white to living in a big city where I met and made friends with people from all over the world.

What is next for Creative Writing Matters?

We’re expanding our range of writing-related services all the time. We run two major international competitions (The Exeter Novel Prize and the Exeter Story Prize which incorporates the Trisha Ashley Award for a humorous story) and we offer mentoring and various shorter courses and smaller competitions, too. We’ve found that offering feedback on competition entries has proved very popular so next year we will be doing more in that respect by offering feedback on some of our short story competitions as well as on entries for the Exeter Novel Prize.

What is next for Margaret?

It’s reading the entries for this year’s Exeter Story Prize, which closed on 30 April. We’re constantly astonished and impressed by the range and quality of entries, so although this is a pleasurable task it’s always quite demanding, too.

I wish you every success with all your amazing ventures. Reader’s can follow Margaret on: Facebook Twitter    or you can visit  Margaret’s blog

Catching up with Cathie Hartigan

Thank you for inviting me back on your blog, Valerie.

You are welcome, Cathie. So what has been happening in your world since I interviewed you and Margaret James in July 2015?

I can’t believe that it’s been a very busy eighteen months since Margaret and I were here last!

Our textbooks, The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook and The Short Story Writer’s Workbook have proved to be successes for us and we hope they had helped those who have read them. The feedback we’ve had has been fantastic. The handbook was one of our early projects, but more recently, the whole team at CreativeWritingMatters, that’s Margaret James, Sophie Duffy and myself, published A Christmas Celebration, an anthology of stories, quizzes and puzzles. A perfect Secret Santa!

It seems only yesterday that we set up CreativeWritingMatters, but recently, the ever-watchful Facebook reminded me the page is already five years old. It isn’t really surprising when I think of how our competitions; the Exeter Novel Prize, Exeter Story Prize – including the Trisha Ashley Award for the best humorous story, have become fixtures in the literary calendar. Trisha is a Sunday Times bestselling author of romantic comedies and knows a thing or two. We are delighted that so many of our winners and shortlisted entrants have achieved publication.

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Right up at the top of the achievement list for me personally in the last year and a half, is the publication of my debut novel, Secret of the Song. It’s a time-slip mystery set in renaissance Naples and contemporary Exeter (my home city). I knew little about wicked Prince Gesualdo whose music and madness lies at the heart of the story, but my research soon revealed that the Italians make our Tudors look like lightweights when it comes to bad behaviour. How awful, I thought, for those innocent servants who were caught up in the crimes of their masters and mistresses. When I read the witness statement of a young maidservant, I straight away heard the voice of my heroine.

Secret of the Song’s success has been really thrilling, especially after I decided to independently publish. This decision was made after considerable thought, and only because I was reasonably well established with the textbooks, short stories and competitions. Everyone who read Secret of the Song was enthusiastic, but when it came to agents and publishers the response was the same. Loved it – don’t know how to sell it. Music is too niche. Hmm, I thought, tell that to Gareth Malone.

A word of warning to anyone thinking of self-publishing – if it’s for your friends and relations, that’s fine, but if you want a wider readership, you’ll need a huge social media presence before you publish. Make sure you get a professional edit and proof as well.

One of the most exciting things about preparing your own book for publication is that you get to decide on the cover. I opted for Berni Stevens, a cover designer with considerable experience. I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.

One year later, having reached number thirty-five on Kindle and acquired over fifty rave reviews, I’m happy to say that’s not the case. Phew! Thank you, lovely readers.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and every continued success in 2017!

Happy, Healthy and Successful 2014!

2014 is already over a week old. New Year resolutions have been made. If starting a creative writing project is one you are considering. Enjoy your writing, whilst experimenting until you find your own voice within your chosen genre.

To get you started here are some top-tips given by a selection of my author guests of 2013.

Margaret James: Stick at it and believe you have something interesting to say. There will be times when the going gets hard and you’ll need to be able to convince yourself that it’s worth going on. Make friends with other writers face to face and online, via Twitter, Facebook and their blogs. Read other people’s novels because then you will absorb good practice and realise there are many different ways in which you can tell a story.

Freda Lightfoot: I put my heart and soul into my stories, which is absolutely essential. You must lose your inhibitions and be entirely sincere, but yes, it does take hard work and dedication. I’d say it demands the three p’s, which stand for practise, persistence, and passion for your craft.

Trisha Ashley: There’s too much temptation now to rush out your first novel yourself as an e-book, so if you take that route I’d advise you to have your novel independently edited, and consider the constructive criticism you receive very carefully.  You want your novel to be perfect and whole, not some poor, half-formed creature, and with a first novel you aren’t going to spot what’s wrong with it yourself.

Jean Fullerton: If it took me three years to become a nurse, another two to qualify as a district nurse and a further three to become a lecturer, why on earth would I think I could learn the craft of writing overnight?  Very few first books are of a publishable standard. Mine wasn’t. Learn your craft and persevere!

Gwen Kirkwood also stresses the need to persevere: Try to write a little every day, even if it is only a couple of sentences. Keep a notepad handy. Consider the strengths and weaknesses of your characters, or improve your plot, while you are travelling, ironing, peeling the vegetables. Thinking time is important too. Listen to the advice of agents and editors, not friends. If you do self-publish pay a reputable copy-editor to check your work first.

Whilst Gwen advocates writing a little every day, Christina Jones, points out it is not essential: Don’t feel you have to write every day. Write the way that suits you. Some people write 10,000 words a day, others write 500. Some (like me) know that if the words aren’t there then it’s best to forget writing until they are and go and scrub the kitchen floor or go for a walk or chat with friends or read or watch telly, whatever – be yourself and do what’s right for you. Just don’t feel pressurised to be like everyone else.

Linda Mitchelmore, the author of many short-stories and now novelist advises: The same premise of ‘person, problem and plot’, with a ‘beginning, middle and an end’, is the same for short stories and novels. The only difference is the time it takes to tell the story. Whilst Valerie-Anne Baglietto reminds us: You can never please everyone, so above all please yourself and write something you feel passionately about. It will show if you don’t.

More advice is offered within the interviews.

If you love creating fictional worlds, have a strong desire to commit them to paper and share them with others, then enjoy the whole process and good luck!

An interview with Trisha Ashley

267398_163150827092202_2914025_nI am excited to welcome the lovely Trisha Ashley, an award-winning and best-selling author of humorous romantic fiction. 

How much have your entertaining novels been influenced by your own studies, hobbies and work experience?

There are elements of my interests and experiences woven in all of them, of course, but like most novelists I tend to use turning points and situations in my own life as jumping off points to explore new directions my characters can take – because after all, they’re not me and they would do things very differently.  They constantly surprise me.

      There is, of course, rather a lot about food in my books and all the research has taken its toll on my figure – but then, you have to suffer for your art.   I also love animals and gardens – especially roses – and often, too, my novels reveal the enduring power of good friendships and the supporting love of families, however dysfunctional they may at first appear.

      I’ve had a series of part time jobs over the years to support my writing and I think probably the seasonal work for the National Trust was the most useful.  For a few years I spent six days a week either in the draughty front hall of a large gloomy mansion, or in a little wooden hut at the entrance to the lovely Bodnant Garden in North Wales.  Now, those gardens were really inspiring and I was lucky enough to be there when a new young (and handsome) head gardener, Troy Scott Smith, had just taken over and was slowly revitalising it.  I think you can date my passions for roses, mazes and knot gardens to this time…

      But all of life’s experiences, good or bad, can be composted down and used to grow something fresh and new: nothing need be wasted.

When did the Muse enter your life? I hope he gets on with Dog.

I don’t think I can do better than to quote the update I put at the top of my quarterly newsletters for new subscribers:

      The plot so far: Except when she is occasionally let out to enjoy a couple of days of frenetic partying in London, or to give a talk, Trisha lives in beautiful North Wales, together with the neurotic Border Collie foisted onto her by her student son and an equally neurotic but also vain, bad-tempered and chancy Muse.  Muse, whose first name is Lucifer, slipped into her head and took up residence while she was reading Paradise Lost at school and refuses to leave.  He is male, steely-blue, wears a lot of leather, is winged, has talons (so that’s where her blue nail varnish went, then) and is devilishly handsome, if you like that kind of thing.  He only eats words, but gets through a lot of Leather Food and Trisha is starting to suspect that he does more with it than just rub it into his wings…

     Lately, Muse has been writing a hiss-and-tell account of his life with Trisha, called The Muse Report, though due to the fact that he eats his words almost as fast as he writes them, it could be quite some time before this appears in print.

      Muse takes little notice of Dog, except to eye the name tag on his collar when hungry…

Meeting your agent, Judith Murdoch, was a major turning point in your career.  What key advice would you offer to, as yet, unpublished authors?

There’s too much temptation now to rush out your first novel yourself as an e-book, so if you take that route I’d advise you to have your novel independently edited, and consider the constructive criticism you receive very carefully.  You want your novel to be perfect and whole, not some poor, half-formed creature, and with a first novel you aren’t going to spot what’s wrong with it yourself.

      If you’re lucky enough to be taken on by an agent or publisher, of course, they will tell you what’s wrong with it and being able to accept and work with constructive criticism is something you need to embrace if you’re taking writing seriously.

Are you a very planned and disciplined writer, plotting an outline in advance or do you start with a scene, character or situation and go from there?

I am character driven and, since I write in first person, must get to understand my heroine and her background first. Then I put her into a situation and see where she goes, and the book unrolls before me as I write like a magic carpet.  I don’t know where we’re going until we get there.

You have achieved success as a writer despite having macular degeneration. For those unfamiliar with the condition, would you  please share with us how you have worked around this?

 I have had myopic macular degeneration and very poor eyesight (minus 20) for many years, but the MD has been getting increasingly worse recently.  Macular degeneration means that blind patches increasingly appear on your retina and although I automatically focus around them, when tired that gets harder to do and my vision generally blurs.

      I have little night sight either, so tend to fall off kerbs etc and have been known to try and flag down any dark and vaguely taxi-shaped vehicle in London at night…

      There’s currently no treatment for my kind of MD and I’m supposed to take regular breaks from the computer screen…

      I am exploring new ways of writing at the moment in case I ever get to the point where I can’t see the screen at all, but this isn’t easy since I’ve been touch typing my books since I was fifteen and made the transition to word processors and then computers as soon as they appeared.

      At the moment, I write on screen in large print, but still have lots of room to increase the font size if necessary, so it’s okay.  I print everything out to work on.  But then, I’ve always needed to see my words on paper before they become real.

Please tell us about your new novel?

Wish Upon a Star jacketWish Upon a Star will be released on November 7th and has a Sticklepond setting, the village in West Lancashire where some of my other books are set.  It’s very much about following your star, wherever it may lead you and however hard the going gets.

    Single mum Cally’s life revolves around her little girl, Stella, who has serious health problems and when her condition suddenly worsens, they move in with her mother in the remote village of Sticklepond, while she tries to raise enough money to take Stella to America for a potentially life-saving operation.

      Cally only realises quite how tough it’s been shouldering everything alone when all the villagers – and especially laid-back and charming baker Jago – rally round to help.  All Cally wants for Christmas is a miracle to save Stella and with Jago’s help she may yet discover that all the best presents aren’t always found under the Christmas tree…

What is next for Trisha Ashley?

      I’m very happy to say that next year Avon will be doing a new edition of one of my long out of print novels, Every Woman for Herself.  I know you shouldn’t have favourites among your children, but I have to admit that this book is the closest to my heart.  It’s set in Yorkshire, where the Rhymer family, Emily, Charlotte, Anne and Branwell (the result of a failed attempt by their father to recreate the Bronte family situation) slowly return home, one by one to the haven of Upvale – only to find that things are about to change, forever.

      Every Woman for Herself was voted one of the three best romantic novels of the last fifty years in a reader poll, which was a truly wonderful moment, and I’m constantly being asked by readers where they can buy a copy, so I’m delighted it will soon be out again in paperback and e-book formats.  I’m adding a couple of new recipes to the end, too and it will also, of course, have a lovely new cover.

Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Valerie, and I wish everyone lots of very happy reading!

Good husband material high resMore by Trisha:

Another warm, wise and witty offering from Sunday Times bestseller Trisha Ashley.

James is everything Tish has ever wanted in a husband – she’s married a man who even her mother approves of. He’s handsome, dependable, and will make an excellent father – unlike Tish’s first love, the disreputable Fergal. Her teenage sweetheart abandoned her for a music career and now lives a typical celebrity lifestyle. Fergal broke her heart – James helped mend it.

Now, they’ve bought a cottage in the country. The next step – kids and a lifetime of domestic bliss. Well, that’s the plan. And even if James has a slight tendency to view the village pub as a second home, their relationship is still in pretty good shape after seven years of marriage. So why is marriage to Mr Right making her long for Mr Wrong?

An interview with Valerie-Anne Baglietto

AuthorCentral

Thank you for being my guest this month.

When/how did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

I was four when I ‘wrote’ and illustrated my first book, and my granddad stapled it together for me. I think I knew back then it was something I wanted to do. I quickly got bored of the books school tried to foist on me, with barely any plots, and my parents introduced me to Enid Blyton and the Famous Five. When I realised the worlds that books could introduce me to, I was hooked! I instantly wanted to reproduce some of that magic for myself.

You were born in Gibraltar. Do you think this has influenced your work?

I am currently working on a short story for Belinda Jones’s ‘Sunlounger’ anthology, coming out this summer. My contribution is set in Gibraltar, but this is the first time I have used it in a story this way. My great-grandfather and grandfather were writers, though, so I suppose the writing gene is in my blood.

Your stories mix reality, romance and fantasy, such as ‘Once Upon A Winter’. ‘The Moon on a Stick’ is another eye-catching title. Where does your inspiration for the titles come from? Do you begin with the plot, character or title first?

This really varies from book to book. Each one has been different. My first four novels, published by Hodder, were rom-coms, including ‘The Moon on a Stick’. Now that I’ve added a magical, fairytale element to my work, I suppose my titles will need to reflect that. ‘Once Upon A Winter’ had an altogether different title while I was actually writing it, but when I finally tested it out everyone hated it! So I started playing around with ‘Once Upon…’ until I hit the right note. When it comes to ideas for the books themselves, sometimes it stems from a fragment of a plot, or a character. I have no set rules I work by. I usually let ideas ‘slow-cook’ before I start putting them down on paper, but with ‘Once Upon A Winter’ it was more of a quick blast in the microwave before I sat down to write the first chapter.

Could you tell me something about the Novelistas?

I could go on all day about the Novelistas! The group has evolved over time, but it was started by Trisha Ashley over ten years ago. I was one of the early members, along with best-selling saga author Anne Bennett. I hadn’t long moved to North Wales from Essex, so it was wonderful to find a group like this so quickly. We became the ‘Novelistas’ about two years ago. I was inspired by the term ‘fashionista’. And the Spanish for ‘novelist’ is ‘novelista’… you can see where I’m going with this. There are a dozen of us at the moment and we meet once a month near St Asaph, coming from as far as Anglesey in one direction and Manchester in the other. We’re also very varied in what we write, and all at different stages in our careers. We’re good friends as well as writing buddies and we inspire and support one another, and we always seem to have something to celebrate, so lots of champagne corks get popped at our lunches – and launches!

What key advice/tips would you give aspiring writers?

OK, my favourite pieces of advice are: firstly, you can never please everyone, so above all please yourself and write something you feel passionately about. It will show if you don’t. Criticism is hard to hear, but it is inevitable because any sort of creative work is subjective. If you can truly connect with just one person through your writing, though, everyone else who may also come to love it is a bonus.

Secondly, don’t rush it. Write with your heart, finish it, put it away for as long as you can. A month or more, if possible. Come back to it and use your head this time. This is the only way you can really discover your inner editor and see your work through fresh eyes. Sending it out too prematurely can be the difference between rejection and acceptance, so why risk it? Similarly, publishing it yourself before it’s ready can be the difference between the best-seller charts and obscurity. Don’t hit that ‘publish now’ button too soon!

What is next for Valerie-Anne?

As well as the short story for the ‘Sunlounger’ anthology, I am working on a novella which will be out spring/summer this year. Just like ‘Once Upon A Winter’ it has a contemporary fairytale theme and is set in North Wales. I’m constantly inspired by my surroundings, and feel very lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the world. There is also another full-length novel simmering away, but this won’t be out until 2014.

Thank you for taking the time to write such interesting and inspiring answers.

More by Valerie-Anne Baglietto:

Once Upon A Winter is currently at a Valentine’s special promotional price!

Once Upon A Winter