Not NWS but NWF for ‘New Writing Friends’

If you who follow the Write Romantics will know that we are a diverse and international bunch (international because Helen R lives in Australia).  What you may not know is that when we formed the blog the only two of us who had met were Julie and I (and that was only briefly at a RNA lunch in York organised by Lin Treadgold).  However, in the past month I’ve been lucky enough to meet Jo for the first time and meet Julie again. 

Jo lives in Kent and in May I spent a few days in Broadstairs with my family.  Jo and I arranged to meet in a charmingly retro ice cream parlour in the town.  It was raining cats and dogs and I felt a little worried that Jo wouldn’t recognise this rather drowned looking me.  In the photo on the blog I look decidedly less soggy.  But it was fine.  As soon as Jo walked in, similarly drenched (although she was definitely handling it better) I felt like I was meeting an old friend.  We talked for two hours and the time just flew by. 

Two weeks ago I met Julie again and Sharon Booth, another NWS member and fellow blogger. This time it was Bridlington and the sun was almost shining.  Again we instantly found masses to talk about.  In two hours we covered book length, editing, point of view, agents, self-publishing blogging and (after a minor diversion to discuss who might be the new Doctor Who) how much tragedy you can have in a romantic comedy.

For me these meetings are very special.  Over the three years I’ve spent trying to write my book, I’ve had varying amounts of support.  Some members of my family treat my writing as a slightly disreputable hobby that simply isn’t talked about.  And, while my friends and others in my family have been very supportive, none of them write.  When I talk about writing they do tend to glaze over.  I don’t blame them.  It’s my passion but (as I’m sure we all know!) other people’s passions can be a massive bore.  

So for me, meeting Jo, Julie and Sharon has been a joy.  It’s great to talk to other people who understand the highs and lows of trying to be a writer. And afterwards I feel positive, inspired and more determined to succeed.

In two weeks’ time I’m going to the RNA conference. I’m very much looking forward to meeting some more of the Write Romantics, Lorraine, Rachael and (hopefully) Helen P and catching up with Jo again.  While I’m rather terrified at the thought of my two pitch meetings with publishers I’m excited to be meeting up with my new writing friends. 

I joined the NWS for the review of my book.  I didn’t expect to meet such a lot of lovely people through it.   That has been an unexpected bonus and a real pleasure. 

Alex xxx

Check out Sharon’s blog, The Moongazing Hare at

BRAND NEW SLOT!!!! The Wednesday Wondering – Girls Night Out

The Write Romantics have come up with a new regular slot. It’s called “The Wednesday Wondering” and we’ll post it every … you’ve guessed it … Wednesday!

The idea is that one of us (or one of our wonderful followers) poses a question and as many of us as possible answer it in the posting. The question should ideally have some connection to writing, books or romance but I’m sure we’ll squeeze a few random questions in there from time to time. 

We’d absolutely love any of our followers to post a comment with their answer to The Wednesday Wondering and/or pose us a question for future use. We also hope to come up with a graphic for this. I found a fab one online but I’m concerned about copyright issues so apologies for no picture! 

This week’s question was posed by Write Romantic Julie:

If you could go on a girl’s night out with the female lead from any book, who would it be and why?


And here’s our responses, alphabetically by name:


I’d like to go on a night out with Rachel from ‘You Had Me at Hello’ by Mhairi McFarlane (which I’ve recently reviewed on the Recommended Reads Page). Rachel is a good Northern girl from Sheffield. She’s smart and she’s very funny.  As she was engaged to a musician I think she must like music which is great because all of my best nights out have involved seeing a band.  I’m also pretty sure she can hold her drink which will be good as I’m a total lightweight so she can prop me up at the end of the night!



I would choose to go out with Bernadette ‘Benny’ Hogan from Maeve Binchy’s ‘Circle of Friends’. I loved the book and the writer and I think there was probably quite a lot of Maeve herself in the character of Benny.  Benny is someone I can empathise with, her struggles with body image, the loss of her father and having one of the people closest to you betray you, are all experiences I have shared.  Benny is also incredibly warm-hearted and loyal and would be just great to have as a friend, I am sure.  In fact she reminds me of a friend from my earliest school days, but I won’t name names here to protect the innocent!  I would also like to study Benny’s character, as I think Maeve was a fantastic writer.  If a night out with Benny would help me weave even the tiniest trace of Maeve’s magic into my own writing, it would be one of the most well spent evenings out I’ve ever had – much like the RNA conference evenings, I am hoping!



It may be a bit predictable but my answer would be Bridget Jones providing she left the cigarettes at home (sorry – pet peeve) because I like that she’s a bit squidgy round the edges (like me, although I’m a lot squidgy!), not exactly a stunner, a bit neurotic and a damned good laugh. Seems like the sort of woman I wouldn’t feel in awe of or put down by and who can relate to the many male and cooking disasters that have haunted me for years



Miss Marple, because of her razor sharp mind. And we would have a cream tea, and discuss the latest murder in her village. Then maybe I could help her solve it. This obviously would take us into the evening, due to all the suspects.


What would your answer be? Please let us know xx

Monday Interview – Donna Douglas

Donna Douglas is the author of the bestselling Nightingales novels, set in an East End hospital in the 1930s. The first, The Nightingale Girls, was published in August 2012, and The Nightingale Sisters was published in April 2013. She was born and brought up in London, and started her career writing photo love stories for teenage magazines! She now lives in York with her husband.

donna 1

We know that, like us, you were once a member of the NWS but we wondered if you could tell us a bit about how you came to join, how long you have been a member, the genre you write in and what inspired you to start writing?

I first joined the RNA back in 1997, purely because of the New Writers Scheme. Before that I’d been floundering about, trying to write a novel for nearly 20 years (I’m a great starter, but not so keen on finishing anything!). I heard about the NWS and thought it would be good discipline to have that deadline of having to send in a full MS every year. Also, no one had ever really read my work before, so I had no idea if it was any good. I wanted an honest critique from someone who wasn’t afraid of hurting my feelings!

Please can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication and how ‘The Call’ came about?

I really had two publishing journeys, and I guess there’s a lesson in that. After joining the NWS, I was fortunate enough to get a second reading in the first year. That reader sent my novel to Orion, who bought it in a two book deal. I won what’s now called the Joan Hessayon Award for my first novel, Waiting In The Wings, under my real name, Donna Hay.

But the story didn’t end there. As any writer will tell you, staying published can be as tricky as getting published in the first place. After eight contemporary novels, I was a bit disenchanted and stopped writing for a couple of years. I just didn’t have it in me to write another romantic comedy. But I found I really missed telling stories. Shortly afterwards, I signed up with a new agent who suggested I should try a different genre. That made sense, because I’d always loved reading historical novels. I started researching the lives of nurses in the 1930s, and unearthed the most incredible fund of fascinating stories. I’d only been researching for a few days before I had my three main characters in my head, crying out for me to tell their story. And so The Nightingale Girls were born!


What’s next for you, Donna?

Well, I’ve just finished writing the third book in the Nightingales series. It’s called The Nightingale Nurses and it comes out in November. It’s a real emotional rollercoaster of a book, with lots of happiness and heartbreak. My daughter read it, and ended up crying on the bus! After that, there are two more Nightingales books, both due out next year.


Have you got any advice for others who might be hoping to emulate your success in securing a publisher and/or an agent?

Don’t give up. Being published is about talent, but it’s also about persistence and a lot of luck, too. I can’t believe how often something good has come about because I’ve been in the right place at the right time. But to be in the right place you need to put yourself out there. That’s where the RNA can really help. And don’t take rejection personally, either. It’s that one piece of work they’re saying no to, not you as a person or as a writer. The next piece might be just what they’re looking for. If someone offers you criticism, take it on board and learn from it.

What are your dreams and aspirations as a writer, in terms of your long-term career?

I would love to write more Nightingales novels, because I love the characters and I couldn’t imagine not having them in my life. Even if I didn’t have a contract, I’d probably go on writing Nightingales stories for fun! I also have a secret ambition to write a crime novel. I think it would be interesting to try, anyway.

What was the single biggest benefit of joining the NWS, do you think?

If I had to pick one, it would be the inside track it gives you on the publishing business. I learned lots from just talking to published writers and picking up their words of wisdom. That pool of expertise is immense!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us or any other advice you can offer?

Let me see…I would say never stop learning. No matter how good you think you are, you can always become a better writer. I still read how-to books and go to workshops and do everything I can to improve my skills. And revise, revise, revise. I write at least three drafts of every book, and often more. You can always make it better!

You can find out more about Donna and her writing on her website –
You can also follow her on Twitter – @donnahay1
Her books are available in supermarkets and bookshops, or from Amazon –

Ticking the boxes: a venture into self-publishing

Self-publishing wasn’t for me – or so I thought until there I was with what I arrogantly considered a passable novel on my hands that was obviously going nowhere.

‘Flying Leap’ had been through the NWS twice, once as a partial, and got good reports both times.  I couldn’t stop grinning as I read the final one.  This is it, I thought, I’m on the way.  Then came the rub: ‘…do remember the competition is fierce and having talent is sadly not enough to ensure success; a big dose of luck plays a huge part in such a competitive field,’ my reader warned.  Undeterred, I submitted, and submitted, and submitted, until after forty or so attempts I decided enough was enough, as, no doubt, did the lucky agents on the receiving end.

So now what?  I made a mental list of my writing ambitions:

  1. Write – and finish – a whole novel.  Box ticked.
  2. Give pleasure to others with my writing.  Unticked – the RNA reader doesn’t count as she may be lying to be kind.
  3. Make some money from my writing.  Unticked – the book tokens I won in a comp don’t count either.
  4. See someone reading my book on a bus or train.  (Is it just me?!) Unticked.

It took only a small leap from there to have me scouring the websites for a suitable cover for my soon-to-be published ebook.  After several days at this (yes, days!)  I chose a colourful, eye-catching image of a falling leaf but along with the image I had also bought myself a problem: a falling leaf didn’t really fit with my title, ‘Flying Leap’, so – and I don’t necessarily recommend what I did next – I took a long look at my novel, made a few minor tweaks and gave it a new title, ‘Falling to Earth’.  As I say, it probably isn’t the best plan to let the cover play such a leading role but it worked for me.  After all, this was an experiment so it didn’t matter that much.

Pinning down the genre caused a bit of angst because I genuinely didn’t know what I had written.   I examined all the evidence and realised, with some surprise, that it was a rom-com and duly wrote the blurb to go with it.  So now I had the whole package ready to go. I won’t go into detail here but suffice to say that Amazon’s instructions on how to publish your book through Kindle Direct are really clear and frighteningly quickly my book was out there for the world to take pot shots at.  One thing I would say, though.  Send your book to your Kindle and read it there before you publish because that’s the only way to test how it will look and there will be typos and funny spacing, no matter how many times you’ve checked it.

Tentatively I gave the good news to rellies, friends and everyone I vaguely knew but disappointingly few of them owned a Kindle.  I joined Twitter and begged a couple of well-known tweeters to retweet me, which they kindly did.  I’ve never joined Facebook because of the time factor and I don’t like the whole ethos of it anyway, but to be honest I don’t believe social media makes a jot of difference to book sales.  I could be wrong, of course…

Anyway, to cut to the chase, Amazon did a sterling job in promoting my book all by itself.  In the first two months I sold only 20.  Then I put it up for free for five days (a Kindle Direct facility) which might sound counter-productive but wasn’t because I gathered an astonishing 11,600 free downloads.  The effect of this was to send my book soaring close to the top in the ‘free Kindle’ chart and because it hung about in the chart for a while after the free promo ended (don’t ask me how, it just does) its ‘visibility’ was increased and the following month I raked in 1,500 actual sales, which again led to the book hitting the Amazon charts, this time in the ‘paid’ list.  At one dizzy point I was only five places behind Fifty Shades!  Sales continued at this rate for quite a few months and I can’t tell you how exciting it was to log on each day and check the figures.  I’m not telling you all this to blow my own trumpet, mind.  I just want to say how it worked for me, and it could work for you too.

I returned to my checklist and merrily ticked all four boxes.  I’d made a tidy sum from the sales, not a fortune but far more than I’d dared hope, and people had enjoyed my writing, at least according to the better reviews.  (Let’s ignore the others, shall we?  Some of them are quite funny though).  As for the bus and train thing, one reviewer said she read my book on the bus on her way to work and although obviously I didn’t see her (wouldn’t have anyway, since it was on a Kindle), she said it and that was enough for me.

A year on and ‘Falling to Earth’ has, well, fallen to earth, not with an almighty thump but more of a gentle drifting.  Cutting the price from £1.49 to 77p caused a little spike in sales – people do love a bargain – but it’s tailing off again now and that’s fine because it’s what you’d expect.

And what about the book itself?  Well, no, I wouldn’t write it again, not like that.  I’m still proud of it but it’s not my best work and if ever I succeed in getting something published ‘properly’ I would probably take it down.  But it’s been great fun, I’ve ticked those boxes, and yes, if I come to the end of the road with my latest and find no traditional publisher for it, I will do it again because there’s nothing to lose, is there?




All writers know the importance of accurate research

All writers know the importance of accurate research and it is even more vital if you are, for example, setting your novel on a Pirate ship or hanging in space heading for Planet Zob. Rarely can you find out such information from your fellow writers or friends (you really hang out with the cool gang, if you can.)

Luckily the Internet has arrived in time for us budding writers to save wasting our lives poring over documents like they did in The Olden Days or waiting for a book ordered from the library to arrive, by which time we’ve probably forgotten why we wanted it.

The Internet is a magical tool that has transformed the way we research at the flick of a wrist. Who knew that Eng Bunker, one of the first surviving Siamese twins, died from shock at seeing his co-joined twin dead beside him?  I didn’t, but I do now. Can I do anything with this information? Hmm, possibly store it for future reference, but probably not. Still, I enjoyed reading the article.

What about the household phrase ‘Jumbo sized’ derived from a circus elephant named ‘Jumbo.’ Incidentally Jumbo the Elephant was killed by a train, his torso was stuffed and he continued with the circus tour in absentia as it were? Don’t really know where I could go with that one, but I do know that another fifteen minutes of my writing time has passed me by, when all I really wanted to know was what the inside of a fairground caravan looked like.

I suppose research was ever thus, but the trouble with the Internet is

it’s sooo distracting. And I’m not talking about that summer dress you’re bidding on (don’t bother, it won’t fit you and you’ll end up putting it back on eBay) or the pinging of another email arriving that you just can’t resist peeking at, even though it’s likely to be an offer from a Nigerian Gent to part with all of your money in return for -well, nothing!

The world we live in is so interesting, and now it’s all on Google. You could spend he rest of your life just ‘Wikipedia-ing’ things, but it won’t get your book written.

So, turn off the Internet as you sit down to write and make a note of information you need to look up later. You can then do it on your mobile device, (of course you have one, you’re a writer) while stirring the gravy for dinner as you watch the tenth re-run of Come Dine with Me – the sort of multi-tasking anyone can do.

But always double-check your research, as the truth I out there, but the bit you read might not be it.  (What, you really believed all that stuff about Jumbo the Elephant?)

PS: Google also says there is no proof that little green men exist, so ‘Hah’ to that. I’ve been to planet Zob and seen ‘em with my own eyes. Truth, honest!


Monday Interview – Zanna Mackenzie

Zanna Mackenzie lives in the UK with her husband, 4 dogs, a vegetable patch that’s home to far too many weeds and an ever expanding library of books waiting to be read.

Being a freelance writer and editor of business publications is her ‘day job’ but, at every opportunity, she can be found scribbling down notes on scenes for whatever novel she’s working on. She loves it when the characters in her novels take on minds of their own and start deviating from the original plot!

Formerly a travel agent and therapist (she has qualifications in clinical aromatherapy, crystal healing, naturopathic nutrition and herbalism) she loves walking the dogs and gardening – that’s when she’s not writing or reading!


Zanna has written two novels, The Love Programme (Astraea Press) and How Do You Spell Love? (Crooked Cat Publishing) and both were published in early 2013.

  • We know that, like us, you were once a member of the NWS but we wondered if you could tell us a bit about how you came to join, how long you have been a member, the genre you write in and what inspired you to start writing?

When I wrote my first novel I found out about a government-supported regional writing and arts network who offered free manuscript appraisals from local published authors to people who lived in East Midlands and I sent my work to them. The feedback was hugely useful and the person who reviewed my work suggested I should join the NWS and submit my novel through the scheme. Places in the NWS are limited and each year you have to renew in January, fortunately this was in December so the timing was just right for me to get my application form in! I was in the NWS for three years and 2 of the 3 books I put through the NWS for appraisal have since gone on to publication. I write romance/chicklit. What inspired me to write? Well, I’ve always wanted to. As a child I made up stories and created my own books from folded paper stapled together. At school I wanted to be a journalist but ended up working in the travel industry. I started writing articles – travel, health and lifestyle stuff – and got them accepted in various publications. Then I felt like trying my hand at fiction and got a short story published in a national magazine and so I began to plot out my first novel and the writing grew from there.

  • Please can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication and how ‘The Call’ came about?

I’ve been writing for years, fiction and non-fiction, and had actually given up as I was disillusioned and thought I was wasting my time. Last year my husband encouraged me to try again and send some completed manuscripts out to publishers for consideration – something I’d never done before. I edited the two books, made them as good as I felt I could and sent them off, expecting nothing. Within six weeks both books had been accepted by publishers – I was stunned, amazed – and I sobbed with happiness! The Love Programme was published by Astraea Press in February 2013 (it was a much edited version of the second novel I put through the NWS) and How Do You Spell Love? was published by Crooked Cat in March 2013 ( a much edited version of the third novel I put through the NWS)


  • What’s next for you, Zanna?

I’m planning on doing major edits and a revamp on my first novel in the hope of getting it published. I’m editing my fourth novel and will be sending that for consideration to a publisher soon. I have 40,000 words of my fifth novel written so once I’ve edited book 4 and book 1I’ll go back to finishing writing book 5. I also have plot outlines in place for books 6 and 7. A novella prequel to The Love Programme will be putting in an appearance soon too.

  • Have you got any advice for others who might be hoping to emulate your success in securing a publisher or perhaps an agent?

Don’t give up! If writing is really what you want to do, feel compelled to do, then persevere. Join writing groups on line and in person, make time to write, take it seriously and just keep believing in yourself and your books.

TheLoveProgramme 200 x 300 (2)

  • What are your dreams and aspirations as a writer, in terms of your long-term career?

I want to just write, write and then write some more! I love the whole writing process, from letting your imagination run riot creating characters and plots, to editing and eventually seeing the book finished. I feel tremendously privileged to have had 2 books published and to be given this opportunity to try to carve out a long term career as an author.

  • What was the single biggest benefit of joining the NWS, do you think?

The feedback from published authors in the same genre – it was invaluable.

  • Is there anything else you’d like to share with us or any other advice you can offer?

As soon as my books were published and I became eligible I joined the Romantic Novelists Association (who run the NWS) as a full member – they’re a wonderfully supportive organisation.

Thank you Zanna, for taking part in our Monday interview and we wish you all the best for continued success.

Follow Links:

Find out more about Zanna at:

Twitter: @ZannaMacKenzie

Facebook: mackenzie

Goodreads –

Amazon Author Page –

I Can’t Get You Out of My Head!

La, la, la, la, la, la, la la, …. No, not the Kylie song. What I’m talking about is character invasion.

Many years ago, I started subscribing to Writing Magazine. I lapped it all up but what particularly interested me were the interviews with writers, particularly when they revealed the inspiration behind their plot and/or their characters. One thing I just couldn’t get my head around, though, was when writers described their characters talking to them, taking the plot in a direction they’d never planned and/or new or minor characters suddenly bigging up their parts. “Crazy people,” I’d mutter under my breath.

Then something strange happened … I became one of those “crazy people”.

If you’ve read my story on this blog, you’ll know I’ve been working on my novel for about a decade and, whilst the premise and the protagonist have always remained the same, the story has gone through many incarnations. In one of these incarnations, I had a character called Simon. The idea was that my protagonist, Sarah, would get together with Simon but he’d turn out to be still smitten with his ex. The reader would discover that he’d been attracted to Sarah because she looked like his ex. Simon was meant to be quite a nice bloke; just on the rebound and it would all work out fine because he wasn’t the one for Sarah anyway. Only Simon didn’t like his “nice bloke” image. He wanted to be mean. Really mean. The story took an unexpected turn with poor Sarah discovering his obsession with his ex by staying at his house one night and entering the spare bedroom instead of the bathroom only to find a wall plastered with photos of the ex (imagine a stalker’s wall in a thriller or crime drama). Other possessions of the ex – perfume, toothbrush, nightshirt, teddy – were all carefully arranged like a shrine. After fleeing the house, Simon bombarded her with phone messages and texts before turning up at her place of work with a knife and sinister intentions.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! Where on earth did that personality and plot line come from?! Yes, with a rub of his hands and an evil glint in his eye, Simon had completely taken over. It was as though he had a life of his own and wanted a completely different persona and direction to what I had planned. For that, I had to punish him. He got written out of the story. A stalker with a knife wasn’t quite the angle I was going for in a lighthearted romantic comedy!

I have to confess that Simon didn’t actually “talk” to me. Not sure I’m quite into “hearing voices” territory … yet! But I did now understand what those writers meant about their characters taking over because it had just happened to me.

I once read a writer interview that fascinated me but I’m afraid I can’t remember who it was on (sorry – I know that’s useless). All I can say is it was a he and he writes thrillers. He described a novel he was once writing which involved a jaded detective driving up to a house in the middle of nowhere. It seemed deserted. He parked his car. As he got out, he noticed there was a little girl sat on a nearby wall who asked him a question. He hadn’t planned for there to be a little girl but there she was. And suddenly he realised she was far more interesting than the jaded detective. So he scrapped the book. All was not lost, though; the girl became a key character in his next novel. This really struck a chord with me.

Characters are what make a book. You need to care about the protagonist(s) to want to follow them on their journey and keep page after page turning. If your secondary characters or even very minor ones are more interesting than your main ones, perhaps theirs are the stories to tell instead, especially if you simply can’t get them out of your head. Maybe it’s time to get them onto paper instead. Simon, I haven’t forgotten you. Your day in print will come. Just not in Sarah’s story. Or the other two in the trilogy. But don’t give up hope, you crazy person you!

Oh no! I started this post by saying that characters talking to a writer may seem a little crazy and have ended it talking to my characters. Is that a white van that’s pulled up outside with men in white coats getting out?

Have your characters ever talked to you? Has a new character suddenly appeared out of nowhere and taken over? I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks for reading

Julie xx