Catching up with Margaret James!

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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 Valerie-Anne Baglietto!

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Hi Val, welcome back!

Your first interview was back in 2013. So what exciting things have happened since then?

When you asked me, just before Christmas, if I’d like to do this update, I seem to remember silently screaming, No, go away, can’t cope with this, or something along those lines. Basically I was in festive meltdown – organising kids, grandparents, husband etc. – and didn’t want to have to think about work. After I calmed myself down and messaged you back, you kindly reassured me I could leave it until after January.

So here I am, revisiting my old self from a few years back, remembering what goals she set and what she was planning writing-wise. I’m satisfied that she appears to have achieved her aims, and of course, she’s set some new ones since then, too.

 (I’ll slide firmly into first person POV now, so I don’t sound any more pretentious than I have to.)

Firstly, ONCE UPON A WINTER, which had just come out before I was last here on Val’s blog, went on to top the Amazon UK Fairy Tale Chart in 2013 and at the last count had over sixty 5-star reviews. Understandably, I was thrilled about that, considering it was my first attempt at modern magical realism. The feedback from readers, both old and new, was encouraging.

Last time round, I also mentioned a short story I was contributing to the ‘Sunlounger’ anthology organised in 2013 by Belinda Jones. There was another one the following year, and I took part in that, too. My second tale, PANDORA  AND THE MUSIC BOX, has also been a featured read on Wattpad. I hadn’t attempted a short story in years, but I valued the discipline of keeping to a strict, low word count.

As for the novella I spoke about last time, I actually ended up writing two that year. A GIRL I KNEW (formerly known as The Trouble With Knights in Shining Armour) and my Christmas themed THE LITTLE BOOK OF LOST HEARTS. The latter set the scene for the next full length work, FOUR SIDES TO EVERY STORY, which I have to admit is the favourite of my contemporary fairy tales so far. It was shortlisted in the 2015 Love Stories Awards and was a 5-star read of 2015 on Chat About Books.

Last year was a bit of a departure, though, as I started working on something different from anything I’d attempted before. I even invented a pen-name – a whole other person to hide behind, which was liberating. But as the year drew to a close, I realised I wasn’t happy. I missed my fairy tales. For reasons rooted in insecurity, I’d begun to think they weren’t ‘proper’ books, not worthy somehow, and could never stand alongside the amazing, emotive fiction being published today.

Then it all changed. FOUR SIDES TO EVERY STORY was listed as a top read for 2016 on Portobello Book Blog, along with a dozen other titles, many of which I’m in awe of. Out of the 140 or so novels Joanne (@portybelle) had read that year, mine had been memorable enough to hover in her top 10(ish). I felt touched, and very grateful. Something clicked in my fragile writer’s brain. A realisation. Just because I choose to weave reality – or our concept of it – with traces of magic, doesn’t mean my work isn’t of value, or unable to hold its own in a crowded market. If this were true, then why is it  some of the most famous and enduring stories in our culture happen to be fairy tales, myths and parables? All through history, fiction has worked to make sense of the world around us, and often metaphors are the best way to do it.

So, when the kids went back to school at the start of this year, I dug out a notebook bursting with the plot for a sequel to FOUR SIDES TO EVERY STORY, and sat down as Valerie-Anne to begin this new project. And that’s what I’m working on right now. Oddly, it’s as liberating as having a pseudonym. I feel as if I’ve come home, having forgotten what a wonderful place it can be. I’m  energised by my writing again, rather than drained, and excited to find out what 2017 holds for me.

Thank you, Val, for inviting me to return to your blog, to share an update. I’ve enjoyed looking back as well as forward, and come to the conclusion that it’s quite a healthy thing to do at this time of year. Maybe everyone should give it a go!

 Exciting times for you, Val. I wish you every continued success in the future!

Meet Sophie Duffy!

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When did you discover your love of books?

I could read before I started school so as long as I can remember I’ve loved books. Mum or Dad read to me every night and once they’d tucked me up, I would hide under the bedclothes with a torch, up late (a notoriously bad sleeper all my life), with a heap of books, looking at the pictures and making up stories until I could make out the text. I loved Ladybird books (which I still have on my bookshelves), Enid Blyton, especially Mr Pink-Whistle and Amelia Jane, and ‘Twinkle’, the comic I got every week as we lived above the newsagent’s run by my parents in Torquay.

When did you decide that you wanted to write your own?

I wrote a lot of stories when I was a child but that fizzled out by the time I reached secondary school when I was more concerned with Wham! and boys. At university I studied English and wrote bad poetry. It wasn’t until my children were small that I went to a creative writing class at the adult education college. By the end of that first lesson I was hooked, and knew I wanted to be a writer. I was 33. It was another ten years before I had my debut novel published.

What can a reader expect from a Sophie Duffy novel? 

The reader can expect a nostalgia-fest with a few tears and laughs along the way. They will get a blended, dysfunctional family or group of friends, and a main character trying to negotiate their hazardous journey through the world with all its ups and downs.

Change and facing the difficulties that this presents is a strong theme in your novels. How much of an influence has change in your own life experience driven the empathy you create for your own protagonists?

 The one certainty in life is that we will face change. It’s how we adapt to change that marks us as individuals. Sometimes we resist change, sometimes we embrace it. We might make bad decisions. We probably will. And it’s the repercussions of these decisions that echo down the years that I am interested in as a writer.

 

The award winning The Generation Game (The Yeovil Literary Prize 2006 and Luke Bitmead Bursary 2010) confronts many issues including childhood abandonment and buried secrets. Where did the idea for this acclaimed novel come from?

The idea for ‘The Generation Game’ came from a short story wot I wrote. The idea for the story came from my early childhood when we lived above the newsagent’s (also a sweetshop/tobacconist’s) in the early 70s. Sadly, my father took his own life when I was ten which I suppose counts as abandonment of sorts, so maybe that is why I am drawn to this as a theme. Love and loss go hand in hand but I truly believe that love – often from unexpected places – conquers all. I have bitter sweet memories (if you’ll pardon the pun) from this era, as do most of Generation X who grew up in the golden years of Saturday night television. We have seen several of our childhood icons fall by the wayside in the wake of Operation Yewtree. Thank goodness for Sir Brucie is all I can say.

This Holey Life (runner up of The Harry Bowling Prize 2008) is another successful novel that looks at change and faith with humour, yet balanced reality. What was the greatest challenge this project posed?

I was worried that readers might be put off by a vicar’s wife as a main character but felt encouraged when I saw ‘Rev’ on the television, a sitcom which looks at life in the church and all the eccentric characters that make up a spiritual community. It’s not a ‘Christian’ book as such but a story that embraces life with all its flaws and imperfections.

 

You are part of the Creative Writing Matters team. How much do you enjoy sharing what you have learned with new writers?

It’s brilliant! I know how much I have learned and continue to learn from other writers. I know that being a writer is a life long process and that I receive more from my students than they get from me. Administering the Exeter Novel Prize and the Exeter Story Prize has also been a revelation. Having read hundreds of thousands of words over the years, I understand more about what makes good writing and good storytelling. I hope this feeds into my own work!

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What key piece of advice would you give to an, as yet, unpublished author?

If it’s what you really want, then keep trying. Don’t give up. Enter competitions where your writing will be both read and considered. Keep writing. Read a lot. Listen to feedback, sit on it, and when it rings true, rewrite, edit, submit.

 

What is next for Sophie?

I have just signed a contract for the next book. All I can say for now is the novel involves two ninety year old ladies, one of whom is the queen. Watch this space…

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!

Catching up with Sue Moorcroft!

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It has been exciting to catch up with Sue Moorcroft to see all that has happened in her career since I interviewed her back in September 2014.

Hi Sue and welcome back! I know that 2016 has proved to be an exciting year for you, so tell us how much has changed.

This is an interesting idea – to be asked to update an old interview! I’m genuinely surprised by how much has happened in a little over two years and really thrilled that so much of what I was just beginning to work towards in 2014 has come to pass.

I had to look at my life and make some decisions. I wasn’t getting where I wanted to be writing-wise and I felt under tremendous time-pressures. I examined everything I did under three headings:
– What makes me happy/unhappy
– What’s good for me/bad for me
– What earns me money

My first move was to drop a column I was writing for free. It was about one of my passions, Formula 1, but it was spoiling the races for me as instead of just enjoying them I was making notes and thinking about angles.

A far less easy decision was to step away from the chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. The RNA is another passion of mine but being vice-chair was not only gobbling up hundreds of hours a year but putting me under stress at a time when I had other stresses. The RNA is a big part of my life and I felt that I’d let everyone down but I can’t regret that decision.

Encouraged by the success of the above I realised that instead of waiting for a contract with a big publisher, which would enable me to drop a lot of teaching work and the less lucrative writing, I had to drop it first. With more time and free of rigid and frequent deadlines I could concentrate on that elusive contract.

Did it work?

I think so. The Christmas Promise was sold to Avon Books UK (HarperCollins) as their lead title and has climbed the Kindle UK charts. The paperback goes on sale in the UK on 1 December. Fischer in Germany made it their lead title, too, it will come out with Bazar in Denmark and there’s an Italian offer in the wind.

What teaching I do undertake is pretty much to my own schedule and in 2017 will involve Dubai and Italy.

Getting to this stage involved a big leap of faith along with good fortune and a good agent but, looking back, I wouldn’t change those decisions. As well as achieving more commercial success I’m happier and more relaxed and can enjoy my writing more.

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Award-winning author Sue Moorcroft writes contemporary women’s fiction with occasionally unexpected themes. A past vice chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and editor of its two anthologies, Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a creative writing tutor. She’s won a Readers’ Best Romantic Read Award and the Katie Fforde Bursary.
Sue’s latest book is The Christmas Promise. It’s about Christmas, hats, revenge porn, being skint, a WAG called Booby Ruby and a marketing plan that goes viral. Also Ava and Sam.
Website: www.suemoorcroft.com
Blog: https://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com/
Facebook: sue.moorcroft.3
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/SueMoorcroftAuthor
Twitter: @suemoorcroft
Instagram: suemoorcroftauthor
Google+: google.com/+Suemoorcroftauthor
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/suemoorcroft
Amazon author page: Author.to/SueMoorcroft

OAPSchat goes from strength to strength!

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Catching up with Janice Rosser founder of OAPSchat!

Jan’s motto is ‘ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!’ which seems to be the way her brainchild, OAPSchat the community site targeted at over 55’s, is going.

So here is Jan to tell us about it…

Since you interviewed me in 2014, OAPSChat has grown and grown! In June 2014 I was delighted to be one of the recipients of The Independent on Sunday Top 100 Happy List Award. I wrote a blog for the website describing the experience.

My mother passed away on September 1st 2014 and fortunately Margaret my sister and I were both at her side when she died peacefully in my house.

Suddenly I was no longer a carer. Mum’s words to me when she was dying are still with me. “Make an even bigger success of the website love and bring people together to try and end loneliness. You and Margaret have looked after me so well and I have been really lucky having you both.”

Congratulations on The Independent on Sunday Top 100 Happy List Award, but I am very sorry that you lost your mum. She must have been very proud and appreciative of both you and Margaret and the loving care you took of her.

So…… since then, so much has happened. I have been on local radio twice, interviewed my folk hero Ralph McTell, along with Dr Mark Porter, the owner of Laithwaites Wines, and many more celebrities. I appeared in Wetherspoons magazine in March 2015.

I evaluate many products for companies and send out a monthly newsletter to over 480 people.

I have 126 wonderful contributors now and over 1130 articles for people to read and comment on. Ranked at just over 12,000 in UK website rankings as at 11/11/2016, 2016 is drawing to a close better and busier than ever.

So what do you plan for 2017?

My aim is to hopefully be in the top 5,000 UK websites and to be the most popular online community magazine. The purpose for starting the website was to help combat loneliness and bring together people from all walks of life to forge new friendships and online companionship. This has certainly happened, but there is still a long way to go. My ‘baby’ born in November 2013 is now a toddler at three years old this month and true to toddler behaviour is more demanding and growing at a rate that I never thought possible!

I hope you hit the 5,000 ranking!

I love what I do and have met and am meeting new people all the time. One never stops learning and almost every day I receive a new article or write about a different topic myself.

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas Valerie and a Happy and Healthy New Year and thank you for inviting me back for an update.

It is inspiring to read about your progress with this extremely valuable site. I wish you, your family and OAPschat community a Merry Christmas and a very happy, prosperous and healthy 2017!

Click to read Jan’s original interview

Meet Sarah Quirke!

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Sarah Quirke, Publishing Manager of F A Thorpe Publishing

I am  delighted to welcome Sarah Quirke, Publishing Manager of FA Thorpe Publishing to my blog to talk about her work and interests.

 Firstly, Sarah, welcome! Could you tell us about FA Thorpe Publishing?

F.A. Thorpe Publishing is the publishing division of Ulverscroft Large Print Books Ltd, which distributes large print and audio books worldwide. It was established by Frederick Thorpe in 1964, with the intention of reproducing popular books in larger type for those who struggled to read standard print. Initially, there was scepticism on the part of publishers about this unknown format. However, a chance encounter with Agatha Christie allowed Dr. Thorpe to discuss this project with her, which resulted in her wholehearted support – she expressed a desire to see all of her titles produced in large print. This was a key factor in gaining the support of other publishers and authors. A Pocket Full of Rye was one of the first titles to be published in large print format, and we have, over the years, published all of Agatha Christie’s title in large print – along with a fair few others…

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The team working hard at F A Thorpe

Did you always want to have a career in publishing?

Although I had no doubts about what I wanted to study at university – English literature – I hadn’t a clue what I wanted to do once I finished my studies. I feel extremely fortunate to have landed my job. I’ve been with the company for nearly 14 years, so I feel rather fortunate about that, too!

Have you always been an avid reader?

Always! I vividly remember reading aloud to my dad when I was about six, and him telling me to read the words ‘as though you’re speaking’, and it suddenly clicked. And then there was no stopping me…

Which authors have, or do, inspire you?

I found A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash thoroughly inspirational in terms of the writing, which was exceptional; it just poured off the page and felt beautifully effortless. In terms of story-telling, and the moral dilemma presented, The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman was utterly compelling.

What is your favourite genre for your own leisure reading?

I do enjoy a well-written, ‘unreliable narrator’/twisty-turn-y tale. I think Paula Daly is fantastic, and I also like Tamar Cohen. I’m afraid I’ve yet to read The Girl on the Train, but I definitely want to do so before seeing the film.

Could you describe the imprints you represent and the word limitations on each?

Our Charnwood and Isis imprints contain mass market popular fiction and non-fiction titles, and our big name authors. The upper limit here is very much dependant on how well we can expect a particular author to sell. Our Ulverscroft imprint tends to house much shorter titles, and the upper limit here is currently around 60-65,000 words. For our Linford Romance imprint, we’d ideally want titles to be somewhere between 30-50,000 words, although we have taken shorter and longer titles than this; the same is true of our Linford Mystery and Linford Western imprints, give or take a few thousand either way.

What do you look for in a new submission?

For most titles, the first consideration is always a practical one – if it’s too long or too short, I won’t be able to consider it. The next consideration is whether or not it will be a good fit for our lists.

What should writers avoid sending you?

If you’re aiming for one of the Linford imprints, then try to make sure it’s a clear fit within the genre – so, a romance rather than a general fiction title, for example. We tend not to do sci-fi or fantasy titles, or self-published non-fiction.

You must see a vast number of submissions, so is there any advice you could give to a writer who is considering submitting a manuscript to you?

Please read and re-read what you’re submitting with as clear an eye as possible. The fewer mistakes, the easier it is for us to see the story you’re trying to tell.

What is the most satisfying aspect of your work?

It’s great when I win an auction for a title I desperately want in our lists, and it’s also very satisfying putting a list together and seeing what I know are some absolutely cracking reads in there. Being surrounded by books all day is also a definite bonus!

Would you consider writing a novella/novel yourself?

I would love to. I note down ideas a lot, although that’s about as far as I’ve ever got.

When not involved in the world of books what do you love doing to relax?

Yoga and singing – I do both with great enthusiasm and questionable results.

My thanks for your continued support for my work (39 titles to date) and for the insight into your world and that of F A Thorpe Publishing.