Mega Monday Announcement – The Write Romantics are One Year Old!

This month marks the first anniversary of the Write Romantics getting together and the blog, and resulting friendships, have gone from strength to strength in that time.  This week’s Wednesday Wondering will look at just what we have achieved in those 12 months, but for now we just want to invite all of our lovely readers, blog guests and friends to come along to our virtual birthday party tomorrow evening.  We will be holding this on our community Facebook page at the link below and everyone is welcome to join us.  In fact, please feel free to bring along a plus one, your mum, your best friend and your next door neighbour!  The link to the Facebook page can be found here:

https://www.facebook.com/writeromantics?fref=ts

In the meantime, the Write Romantics also wanted to share with you just what being part of this group has meant to them:

Helen P – Being a Write Romantic has been the best thing I ever did. I am so lucky to have met such a supportive group of fellow writers who are now friends 🙂 Thank you all for everything, my super supportive friends xxx

Alex – It was a very lucky day when I went to a writer’s lunch in York last March and met Julie. She and Jo had just set up the blog and I was delighted to get involved. I never expected to meet such a fantastic, warm, supportive and generally amazing group of ladies as the Write Romantics. I was in my first year of the NWS when I joined and was just finishing my first novel. I’ve learned so much from the other members of the group and they’re always willing to share their advice and experience which has been such a big help to me. Let’s hope that we have lots more anniversaries to celebrate!

Jackie – Have had the best year ever since I joined the Write Romantics. It’s been such a confidence boost to share the journey to publication with these fabulous ladies and feel it’s only a matter of time before we all become published writers.

EPSON MFP image

Julie – Being part of The Write Romantics has been one of my greatest writing achievements. We live all over, we’re different ages, we write different genres and like different things and yet we come together to provide such an incredible support group and inspiration for each other. I feel like something’s missing in my day if I haven’t communicated with the other WRs!

Lynne – The Write Romantics is a brilliant group. You can’t beat the support of a lovely group of wise members like these. Its brilliant that they know exactly what you mean about writerly things too. And when the need arises, there’s enough of us that there’s generally someone around online, but it’s not a big enough group that we don’t get to know each other well.

Deirdre – This year has been the absolute best in all the years I’ve been writing because I’ve been able to share it with my fellow Write Romantics. We celebrate with each other, we commiserate, we moan and groan, we cheer one another on, we laugh, and above all, just knowing there’s somebody there who truly ‘gets’ this writing business is priceless beyond belief. Long may it continue!

Rachael – Joining The Write Romantics has been a fun experience. To have had the support of such wonderful writers over the last year has been invaluable. You can’t beat sharing the highs and lows of writing.

The blog is brilliant and it’s great to have the deadline of coming up with answers to all the Wednesday Wonderings. On the Saturday Spotlight we have had some really great guests and interesting posts from The Write Romantics. I’m looking forward to the next year!

Helen R – Writing is a lonely occupation so when the opportunity came up to join a blog with other like-minded people, I jumped at the chance and to be honest, I haven’t looked back since. I feel especially privileged to be a part of The Write Romantics because I live overseas, in Sydney Australia, and so I wasn’t sure whether the blog group would rather have had UK residents only. Luckily for me, they didn’t!   We all have our good days and our bad. When we work in an office it’s often our colleagues who are there to lend an ear and to vent our frustrations, but as writers we only have ourselves for company the majority of the time. The great thing with The Write Romantics is that we all seem to have our down days at different times which means that the others are there to pick up the pieces, even from thousands of miles away, and the support isn’t necessarily writing related. I’ve met these friends online and never come face to face with any of them, yet our close knit group is going from strength to strength supporting each other with our writing woes, celebrating our triumphs, making each other laugh and lending an ear when its needed. Without the support of these wonderful ladies, I know that I would be struggling so much more in the journey towards publication.   And the next brilliant part for me is that in July of this year, I get to meet each and every one of The Write Romantics at the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference!

Jo – As everyone else has said the camaraderie is just the most fantastic thing and I know for a fact that I have made friends for life amongst this group.  I have rejoiced in the other WRs’ successes and been offered a virtual hug when I needed it most.  I have also been privileged to *meet* and interview lots of fantastic writers, who have been guests on the blog, and who have generously shared their time and expertise with us.

We really hope you will pop along to the party to say hello and thanks to all those of you have offered us so much support in our first year.

Lots oflove The Write Romantics xx

Rachael Thomas – going on a Stationery Crawl

March 31st sees the start of National Stationery Week and I love stationery. I mean what’s not to like? My desk is a shrine to it. Everything I might possibly need, neatly arranged. From post-it notes and pencils, to highlighters and notepads, they all have their place. Those that don’t fit on my desk have a lovely box in which to wait their turn. So there isn’t ever an excuse not to buy more stationery!

But the idea of National Stationery Week isn’t to adorn my desk further with items I just have to have. Shame! No, it’s to get people writing – by hand. This I already do. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction than writing by hand. I favour a pencil and find if I’m ever stuck with a story, some good old fashioned scribbling does the job.

If you check out the National Stationery Week website you’ll see there are some other suggestions. One that jumped out at me was to go on a stationery crawl. How can I resist that one? There are also loads of other great suggestions, but the important thing is to spread the word and get people writing by hand.

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From the picture of the contents of my stationery box, you’ll probably guess that notepads and post-it notes are my weakness. All stationery is really, but those two things have some sort of mystical power over me.

What about you? What is it that you just can’t resist buying when you are in a stationery shop and do you enjoy the feeling of actually putting pen or pencil to paper instead of fingers to keyboard?

The Wednesday Wondering: Making Love on a Bus at Lunchtime

Today, March 26th, marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of the American poet and writer, Robert Frost.  This was my inspiration for a Wondering ‘Poetry Corner’.  (My inspiration for the title came from much closer to home, as you’ll find out if you read on…)

I wasn’t very impressed with poetry at school.  I couldn’t see the point of all that in depth analysis, picking the bones out of every word and trying to second guess what the poet actually meant, then spewing it all out on paper for the examiner to take pot shots at.  It wasn’t until some years later that I discovered poetry for myself and began a collection of favourites which I typed out on an old manual typewriter.  One of these was ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ by Robert Frost.  I love the simplicity of the language and the down to earth quality of his poems.  It was Frost, of course, who famously said: ‘No tears in the writer; no tears in the reader’.  What better maxim do we need to remind us to raise the emotional stakes in our writing?

I asked the Write Romantics:  What is your favourite poem?  Perhaps it’s a Shakespeare sonnet, a nineteenth century romantic poem, a haiku, or a hilarious ode by Pam Ayres; the choice is endless, but if there isn’t a poem you love, perhaps because you were put off poetry at school, tell us about that instead, or even, dare I say it, give us one of your own.

The WRs came up with these answers:  (Jo’s given us a special treat – you’ll find it at the end)

JACKIE:

I went on a writing weekend once where poems were touched on and I mentioned that I liked John Cooper Clarke and Wendy Cope’s poems because they were humorous. I received such sneers from the two tutors there that I was really hurt, cos I thought they were good. So I wouldn’t dare to suggest that one of their poems was worth a look (oh, okay then: I Married a Monster from out of Space and Evidently Chicken Town, and Wendy Cope’s, Loss which is only four lines, berating not so much the disappearance of her man but that he took the corkscrew as well!)

But the two poems that stick in my mind is: At Lunchtime by Roger McGough. It’s about people making love on a bus at lunchtime because someone said it was ok as the world was going to end. The other one is: In Flanders Fields by John McCrae who was in the first world war (I’m guessing most people know this poem). Coincidently, as I googled it because I couldn’t remember the poets name, I came across another very good poem by Roger McGough called the Square Dance, which is a parody of John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields. Well I never!

ALEX:

My favourite poem is ‘He wishes for the clothes of Heaven’ by W.B. Yeats.  It is hugely romantic and beautiful and I can’t help but feel that only an Irishman (or woman) could have written it. I adore the last line ‘Tread softly because you tread on my dreams’.  Supposedly Yeats wrote the poem for Maud Gonne, a beautiful English woman who he was hopelessly in love with for many years.  She really didn’t tread softly on his dreams as she turned down his many proposals and eventually (and unhappily) married someone else.

JULIE:

Hmmm. Tricky. I don’t tend to read poetry. I like the amusing stuff a la Pam Ayres (very talented woman) and I don’t understand the other stuff. To me, poetry should rhyme! Other than the famous “I wish I’d looked after my teeth” I couldn’t specifically name anything Pam has written so I’ll instead say a poem from my childhood. In junior school, we looked at The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. The lesson was all about what words mean and how words can be made up but you can still understand what they mean by the sound or the context. I must have been about 8 or 9 and I still remember this lesson in detail. I was so enthralled that I went away and learned the poem. Thirty two years later, I can still recite it word for word and I still think it’s magical! A particular favourite word from it is “mimsy”. How wonderful is that?

HELEN R:

We did a module on poetry as part of my masters and it was heavy going. I don’t think my talents lie in poetry, put it that way! It’s so much harder to write poetry than we think, with so few words to capture a moment or tell a tale. During that module we listened to a couple of Pam Ayres poems and I admire her extraordinary talent. Her voice as a narrator works so well too and brings her poems to life by adding emotions behind them.

DEIRDRE:

Having posed the question, I found it difficult to answer as I’m liking poetry more and more these days so my list of favourites is growing.  John Betjeman has to be my top poet, for the stories he tells through his verses of ordinary people doing ordinary things, like a boy going to a Christmas party and feeling nervous about it, or a family taking their annual trip to the seaside in an old banger.  It’s hard to describe but to me his poetry feels so truthful and relevant.  These are the first lines of ‘A Subaltern’s Love-Song’:

Miss J Hunter Dunn, Miss J Hunter Dunn,
Furnish’d and burnish’d by Aldershot sun…

…which is just about all you need to know to be able to ‘see’ her.

If I have to go for one, it would be ‘Death in Leamington’.  It might be about death but it’s not sad.  Betjeman is writing about death as a normal, everyday part of life, and it’s just lovely.  This is one of the verses:

And Nurse came in with the tea-things
Breast high ‘mid the stands and chairs
But Nurse was alone with her own little soul
And the things were alone with theirs.

HELEN P:

I’m afraid I don’t like poetry, it’s not to say I don’t admire some poems and I do appreciate listening to poems that fellow writers have written. But it has always been one of my least favourite things and the thought of writing one fills me with fear. I have a friend who does write some very funny poems and these are excellent but it’s not something I would choose to write or read for pleasure myself.

LYNNE:

My favourite poems are those which make you go, ‘aaahhh,’ at the end, not those that we studied at school, the hard, serious ones though I love anything by Thomas Hardy. To me those by Pam Ayres, Jenny Joseph and even Roald Dahl are just much more fun. I could really never take to T. S. Elliott. My favourite is by a certain member of the Write Romantics, it cheerful, sweet, and just great fun!

JO:

My favourite poet, stemming from my childhood, is probably Spike Milligan.  He could be genuinely laugh out loud funny with one poem and then write a touching ode to love in the next.  There are lots of other poets that I admire and some of the World War 1 poets, like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, wrote such hauntingly sad poetry that I have never forgotten it.  I still love Spike best though and here are links to a couple of examples to illustrate my point:

I Must Go Down To The Sea Again
http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/i-must-go-down-to-the-sea-again/

If I Could Write Words
http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/if-i-could-write-words/

And here’s my attempt at an ode:

Ode To The Write Romantics

I sent a ROMNA email to find myself a friend,
another romance writer, just as round the bend.
We started up a blog and found ourselves a host,
convinced we’d soon be breakfasting on caviar and toast.

But a hundred million bloggers are looking for a deal,
so we had to find some other friends to widen our appeal.
Now we dream of a hunky assistant, to address our every whim,
good luck to the bloke who gets the job, they’ll be nine of us and him!

See what I mean about a treat?  Thanks, Jo, it’s brilliant!  Such a variety of replies here; I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I have, and please feel free to add your own contribution.  We’d love to read it.

March is nearly over, which means this is my last Wondering for a while.  Next week the hot seat will be occupied by the lovely Helen Phifer, author of The Ghost House.

Deirdre

Ride That White Swan by Jackie Ladbury

When I was young my Nan suggested that I should be a singer when I grew up. ‘You have a good voice,’ she said, ‘you could be one of those pop stars on the telly,’ as if it was as easy as sending a ten year old down the corner shop to buy ten Woodbine and a bottle of stout.

What a great idea, I thought. I could just picture it, little Jimmy Osmond and me duetting to Long Haired Lover from Liverpool as the crowd cheered and Tony Blackburn hailed me as the next Lena Zavaroni.

Shouldn’t really have taken her as literally as I did, I know; this was the Nan who wrote to the Evening Sentinel in Stoke-on-Trent suggesting that all the foreigners be housed on a boggy piece of unused land near Rugely bypass. But I took her advice to heart and somehow wangled a second-hand guitar and set about playing it, so I could sing along to a tune.

Cue me, hunched over the three bar electric fire in the kitchen strumming the first line of  ‘Ride a white Swan’ over and over, until everyone’s ears bled.

Mum bought me a book of ‘Easy Tunes for the Beginner’ (cheek!) as I got stuck after, ‘Swan,’(he knew some tricky chords, did that Marc Bolan) but ‘Greensleeves’ and ‘Flies in the Buttermilk’ were never going to get me on the stage in blue velvet flares and Gary Glitter sized platform shoes.

So even though my fingertips had toughened up so much I could carry plates straight from the oven on to the dinner table, and could change to B7 without looking, I just stopped playing.

I had realised how long it would take to become proficient and I didn’t want to give that much time to improve my meagre talent – I wanted it all immediately.

I wish I’d stuck at it. I’d be pretty good by now.

This has nothing much to do with being a writer, you might have noticed, but getting published is my new dream and don’t intend to give it up as easily.

This writing game is harder in a way as there are no rules to guarantee success. And it doesn’t just take a few hours out of your week; it eats up great swathes of your life, you swat your children out of the way of your computer screen, you develop writer’s arse, and wine becomes your best friend. (Okay, it was pretty close ally to start with) It’s a real uphill battle and it’s hard work, but I know I can’t stop until I’m done.

Never did get the blue velvet flares and I walked like a duck in the platforms, but my Nan was mighty proud of my guitar playing and I think if she’s still looking down on me, although I’m not yet published, she’ll be mightily proud now.

Jaxx

The Wednesday Wondering: You’re Fired!

If you share my (dubious) tastes in TV programmes you won’t be a stranger to the title of this week’s Wondering.  Yes, that’s right.  The famous phrase comes out of Alan Sugar’s mouth at the end of every episode of The Apprentice.  Whether you find it compulsive or repulsive viewing, you’ll be sure to know what it’s about.  Hard to avoid, isn’t it?

You may remember I was grabbing inspiration for this month’s Wonderings from March itself, in which case you may be thinking I’ve wandered off piste here.  Not so, because next Monday, March 24th, is Lord Sugar’s birthday. (He happens to share the same birth year as me but we won’t go into that if it’s all the same).  A bit obscure as a remarkable event, perhaps?  Well, yes, all right, but at least you’ve gathered a new bit of useless information…

But back to The Apprentice theme before I lose the plot entirely (and none of us wants to do that, do we?).  I asked my fellow Write Romantics this question:

If you could be apprenticed to a well-known writer, have access to their innermost thought processes while they write and have them mentor your own novel, who would you choose? (Time machines permitted)  And what would you hope to learn from them? 

The Write Romantics were spoiled for choice, as you’ll see.

LYNNE:

I’d love to be apprenticed, Write Romantics excluded, to Jojo Moyes. I loved ‘Me Before You,’ and am now totally loving ‘The Peacock Emporium,’ recommended by Deirdre. Her stories are so good, yet what I really love is her emotional descriptions. You really feel like you are there with the characters, learning first hand what they’re seeing and thinking. I love tales that are rich in emotion and these you just can’t beat!

HELEN P:

It would have to be my hero, the amazing Mr Stephen King. I would love to see how he plots his books, how he comes up with his ideas, where he stores them but most of all I would love to sit behind the desk that he writes at and just soak up the vibes. It would be even better to have his personal input and advice into a story I was writing. The only thing is I fear that if I ever did get to meet him I wouldn’t be able to speak because I’d be so in awe of him or I talk a load of absolute rubbish and bore him to death. I would hope to learn just how to keep on going and producing book after book which was a best seller around the world so that I too could have a writing room just like him.

JULIE:

Can I only pick one? It would be between five people (all women) – Enid Blyton, Virginia Andrews (the original one who passed away), Catherine Cookson, Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes, so a time machine would be needed for 3 out of 5! All of them have had a lasting impression on me for getting me engrossed in books at different ages with the latter two being about my discovery of romantic comedy. For all, I’d love to explore where their ideas came from, how they develop their characters and how they plot out their books because all of them, in my opinion, have written page-turner after page-turner. What an amazing talent to have!

HELEN R:

I’d like to be mentored by Alexandra Sokoloff. She’s an award winning author of thrillers – not my genre and even the book jacket blurbs scare me, but I think she has such a wealth of knowledge about techniques in both film and novels. I attended the online RWAus conference in 2013 where Alexandra Sokoloff hosted a workshop and since then I have read and re-read her book “Writing Love” many times as it helps to plot a new story, prevent it from having a “saggy middle” and give readers what they want. She also advocates watching films to help us master storytelling techniques, and this works really well for me, I’d definitely recommend it.

ALEX:

I’m really glad I can have a time machine for this one because I want to go back to the Thirties and apprentice myself to Dorothy L. Sayers.  For me she is the real queen of Golden Age detective fiction and I’ve loved Lord Peter Wimsey since I was about 17.  Sayers is an amazing crafter of stories.  I’d love to learn the techniques of mystery writing, her knack of producing realistic dialogue and how she makes her characters so real and so complex.  From what I read about her I think she wouldn’t suffer fools or mince her words and so being her apprentice could be a bit daunting.  However, it also seems she had a fine sense of humour as shown by this quote:

“Lord Peter’s large income… I deliberately gave him… After all it cost me nothing and at the time I was particularly hard up and it gave me pleasure to spend his fortune for him. When I was dissatisfied with my single unfurnished room I took a luxurious flat for him in Piccadilly. When my cheap rug got a hole in it, I ordered him an Aubusson carpet. When I had no money to pay my bus fare I presented him with a Daimler double-six, upholstered in a style of sober magnificence, and when I felt dull I let him drive it. I can heartily recommend this inexpensive way of furnishing to all who are discontented with their incomes. It relieves the mind and does no harm to anybody.”

DEIRDRE:

I’d choose to spend my apprenticeship with Ian Rankin because although I’m not a great lover of crime fiction, I do admire his writing.  It never feels forced or over-written; he never rambles but makes every word count.  That’s the kind of writing I’m aiming for and hopefully something of that would rub off.  I saw a documentary in which Ian agonised over his plot and confessed he had no idea what came next in the book he was writing.  Heartening to note that even the famous ones can be plagued with self-doubt!  It would be fascinating to be with him at those moments and see how he gets around them.  Also I’d get to see Edinburgh which I understand is a beautiful city, and, from what I’ve gathered of Ian’s lifestyle, spend a lot of time in the pub!

JO:

This is an easy one for me.  It would definitely have to be Charles Dickens.  I’d want to learn how he created such memorable characters and wrote such a range of stories that could transcend generations and give quite moral messages, yet avoid being cheesy or overly sentimental.  If an apprenticeship with Dickens could give me a cat in hell’s chance of writing something that leaves a legacy as embedded in our culture as say A Christmas Carol or Oliver Twist, then it would be well worth risking particle displacement on a trip in a time machine for!

JACKIE:

I would quite like Jilly Cooper to mentor me because I know I'll never write literary novels so would be happy with learning how to have a page turning quality. I also think she's be a good laugh as wouldn't like someone who took it all too seriously (although I would love to write like Anita Shreve and have deep understanding of emotions).  Hopefully it would be gin time at four in the afternoon and I would roll home sozzled and happy. 

RACHAEL:

If I could take any writer, go back to any time I would chose two. Greedy I know, but there you go. Firstly I’d love to be an apprentice to Maeve Binchy. Each time I’ve picked up a book of hers, I’ve been hooked and that is what I’d love to learn from her. How to hook the reader and keep them hooked. Not only that, but how to make your story have such an impact that the reader can still ‘see it’ in their minds many years later. I have two favourite books of hers, Circle of Friends and Tara Road.

Once that was done, I zip back in time to sit with Jane Austen. Now that would be something. I’d just love to be with her as she wrote Pride and Prejudice, I’d love to know what she thought of the characters she was creating and did she ever believe it would be such an everlastingly popular story.

Well, it’s a bit of fun, isn’t it?  Perhaps you’ll find a moment to tell us where your dream apprenticeship would take you.  We’d love to know.

Deirdre

Isabelle Goddard explains why she’s no longer afraid of (not being) Virginia Woolf

Our guest on the blog today is Isabelle Goddard, who writes for both HMB and the Wild Rose Press. Isabelle was born into an army family and most of her childhood was spent moving from place to place, school to school, including periods of living abroad in Egypt and Germany. Isabelle has had a varied career path, swiftly deciding that the role of secretary was not for her and moving on to work as a member of the cabin crew for an airline, which led to some encounters with interesting people and some great experiences – riding in the foothills of the Andes, walking by the shores of Lake Victoria, flying pilgrims from Kandahar to Mecca.

D1445 H small

The arrival of marriage and children and cats meant a more settled life in the south of England where she’s lived ever since. Isabelle returned to study, eventually gaining a PhD, and for many years taught English at a number of universities – loving every minute of it. Having always felt an affinity with the 19th century and growing up reading Georgette Heyer, when Isabelle finally plucked up the courage to begin writing herself, her novels had to be Regency romances.

Isabelle was delighted when her first book was accepted by Harlequin, Mills and Boon just before Christmas 2009 and even more delighted to publish five more Regency romances over the next few years. Recently she has moved away from pure romance and begun writing more mainstream women’s fiction under the new name of Merryn Allingham. Isabelle is currently two-thirds of the way through a trilogy set in India during the 1930s and 1940s and though these novels still include some romance, they also offer elements of mystery and suspense.

Welcome to the blog Isabelle and thanks for agreeing to an interview. We’d like to begin by asking what is was that made you start writing, how many books have you written and if you see yourself ever stopping?

While I was working full time, I ‘tinkered’ with writing. Short stories mainly, simply because they were short and I could fit them into a busy schedule. It was only when my workload decreased and I gradually slid into retirement, that I had the time to tackle something more substantial. I’ve written nine novels in the last five or six years. Six have been published, one is in the process of being published, and the other two are part of a trilogy I’m currently working on. At the moment I love writing so much that I can’t imagine ever wanting to stop.

Do you write full time or have another job?

Apart from teaching the occasional creative writing course or workshop, I don’t have a job. For many years I worked as a university lecturer teaching English Literature, so it’s wonderful to focus on creating rather than analysing.

What genre of romance would you say you write in and have you thought about trying any other genres, either of romance or something else?

I’ve been writing historical romance for the last few years, but am gradually moving towards romantic suspense/mystery romance – still historical – but more mainstream women’s fiction.

How did you get your first break into publishing, how long did it take and what did ‘getting the call’ feel like?

I sold the first novel I wrote to Harlequin, Mills and Boon but it took an age before I actually ‘got the call’ – something like two years between original submission and acceptance! When HMB finally rang, I remember I was sitting on the sofa feeling doleful with a bout of December flu. But despite the coughs and splutters, it felt pretty special hearing an editor say I was being offered a two book contract.

What has been your greatest writing challenge and how have you overcome it, if you have?

The main challenge has come from the job I did. I spent years teaching some of the greatest prose ever written and that’s pretty daunting when you’re considering putting pen to paper yourself. I had this mocking voice in my head which kept telling me not to bother. It took time to banish it. In the end, I managed to accept that I was never going to be Virginia Woolf! Instead I could be me and that could be fun. It was tremendously liberating when I broke through that barrier and allowed the words to come. Some of them were pure rubbish, of course, but in the middle there was the occasional nugget of gold which made me want to go on trying.

What would you consider your greatest writing accomplishment to be?

This question got me scratching my head, mainly because ‘great accomplishment’ doesn’t seem to fit where I am at the moment. With every book I write, I try to do better but I’m a long way off from feeling satisfied.

How do you plan your stories and develop your characters and do you ever worry about repeating patterns or themes in your writing?

The genesis of each novel is different. The trilogy I’m currently writing, for instance, sprang from my own family. My mother sailed to Bombay in 1937 to marry my father, not having seen him for six years. It’s a story that has always amazed me, plus the fact that I love India and all things Indian. So I used it as a jumping off point for my heroine, Daisy’s, story, which unfortunately doesn’t work out quite as well as my mother’s did!

I know my main characters before I begin to write. I sketch out as many details about them as I can and I know where I want them to start and where I want them to end. But what happens to them in the middle seems to grow as I get to know them better, and the secondary characters emerge in response to the story that is developing. As for patterns in writing, I think every author tends to repeat some of the same ideas and themes. When you write, whatever your story, you’re expressing part of yourself so it’s bound to happen. But setting novels in different historical periods – I’ve done Regency, Victorian and now the 1930s/1940s – has given me the chance to deal with different cultures and different societal expectations, and hopefully that’s prevented too much repetition.

Do you alter your writing in any way to appeal to international readers and do you have to change your writing style to meet the differing needs of your two publishers?

No, I don’t deliberately alter my style for different publishers or different audiences. HMB always use English spelling and punctuation and they also keep intact the particularly British aspects of the ms. I think they feel the English setting and language is what attracts readers in the first place.

The US publisher, Wild Rose Press, required North American spelling and punctuation and that meant a little more work on my part. It’s a strange fact that though US spelling simplifies, their punctuation is more complicated. It’s the punctuation I was taught at school but which in the UK is now seen as unnecessary. I had sometimes to modify phrases the American editor queried, phrases that might not be easily understood by an American readership, but at other times she was happy with my request that the phrase stayed. Working with an editor is always about compromise and it can be a great learning experience – on both sides!

Have you ever considered self-publishing?

I did try and self publish once, a novel which is now being published by Digital First. My efforts weren’t a great success! Apart from the fact that I’m technologically challenged, I hadn’t a clue about marketing and how much ‘push’ self published books need to get off the ground.

What do you think helps most in getting your books noticed in a crowded market place and how involved are you in the marketing process?

I’m still struggling with this one! I’m sure that luck comes into being noticed but equally sure that it’s also down to astute marketing and making the right contacts. I’ve gradually been dragged more into the marketing side – I have a website, a blog, a facebook author page and a twitter address. But I’m pretty hopeless at keeping any/all of them going and like many writers, I’m not a ‘Buy my Book’ type of person. I just enjoy writing.

What are your plans, hopes, dreams and aspirations for the next stage in your writing career?

I’ve enjoyed writing category historical romance enormously and I’ve learnt lot in doing so, but I’m ready now to broaden the scope of my writing. I’m hoping to move into mainstream women’s fiction but since most of the major publishing houses don’t take unsolicited manuscripts, it means finding an agent. I’m not holding my breath but occasionally miracles do happen!

You can find the links to Isabelle’s books on Amazon at: http://tiny.cc/cnz8bx

Find out more about Isabelle on her website and blog at: http://www.isabellegoddard.com/

Or follow Isabelle on Twitter @isabellegoddard

The Wednesday Wondering: Spring has sprung!

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It isn’t quite true, of course; strictly speaking, spring doesn’t begin until the vernal equinox on the 20th of the month.  But the days are growing longer, the daffodils are brightening our parks and gardens and spring is, after all, the season of romance, so I thought we’d jump ahead and celebrate with a spring-themed Wondering this week.  Also, it gives me a great excuse to give my cat Chester his moment, although as you can tell from the photo he wasn’t impressed!

The whole business of spring is steeped in ritual and tradition, and if folklore’s your thing, there’s certainly no shortage of that.  Did you know, for example, that the equinox is the only day when an egg can be stood on end?  No, neither did I…

One ritual we’re all familiar with is spring cleaning, which dates back centuries and has its place in every culture.  In ancient Persia they called it khooneh tekouni, which literally means ‘shaking the house’.  I like that.  But whatever its origins, spring cleaning is still a dot on the calendar in many homes today, especially for the older generation.

So, on to this week’s Wondering, a two-parter:

–          What does spring mean to you?

–          Kirstie Allsopp triggered a mini media furore when she declared her love of ironing.  Whether you spring-clean or not, what’s your favourite, and least favourite, household chore?

The Write Romantics scrubbed up these answers:

HELEN P:

Spring means to me, Mothers Day, daffodils, bluebells, hints of summer to come (wishful thinking), snowdrops, cherry blossom on the trees, walks through the woods, relief that the nights are getting lighter and a general sense of well being that winter is finally over.

My favourite household chore would be, erm let me think? Nope, sorry I can’t think of a single household chore that I enjoy doing. They are to me a chore and take up my precious writing time.

My least favourite chore is cleaning the windows. I don’t know why I picked a house that had four windows in the living room; it’s an absolute nightmare. Talking about cleaning windows I should probably make an attempt at cleaning them because everything outside is a blur at the moment and I don’t want to miss my gorgeous bluebells when they flower in my front garden.

ALEX:

There’s a lovely feeling of coming out of hibernation in spring.  With the first daffodils and crocuses I feel like I can look forward to longer days, warmer weather and putting my winter coat away.  As I live in Yorkshire there’s a good chance that it’ll be another month yet before the winter coat gets shoved to the back of the wardrobe but I always feel more hopeful in spring and that I’ll get me through any unpredictable days that March may throw at me.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I love ironing but it’s probably my favourite chore. I usually do it while catching up on the Radio 2 Folk Show on the iPlayer.   I’m pretty rubbish at all other forms of housework but I particularly hate window cleaning mainly because they always look worse after I’ve done them.

JACKIE:

I’m not a “cleaner upper” type person and in fact now have a cleaner after years of ‘almost’ arguments in our family that were mostly down to the state of the house. I was mortified once when a handy man asked where the hoover was so he could hoover bits of wood shavings up, and I didn’t even knows how it worked ( husband seemed to like hoovering so I was happy to let him do it, although “like” is probably not the word he would use!) The cleaner has never cleaned my ‘office’ cos it is too full of paper, computers, computer bags, cushions I no longer want and general debris of life. Spring makes no difference to this. It could be shaking all the newly opened buds on the planet in my face and I would still find something better to do than spring-clean the house.

The only housework chore I ever almost quite liked, (but not really) was ironing. That was in my singleton days when I would only iron what I was going to wear that night and more likely than not had a glass of wine on the go and U2 thrumming away in the background. I did quite like Fairground Attraction too- remember them? ‘It’s Got to Beeee… Perfect! Ahh, those were the days!

JULIE:

I like the cold weather but I like the sunshine so spring for me is a lovely season because the temperature increases but not to the extent that you’re all sticky and tired (which I hate about hot summer days). I love the colours that start appearing in gardens and I adore seeing the sides of roads become a sea of daffodils. So simple. So pretty. Hate it when they die and you’re left with this overgrown patch of mess, though!

As for the other part to your question, I love Kirstie but I think we’re going to have to disagree with each on this because ironing is the grimmest of tasks. I hate it. My poor daughter has often had to go to school in an un-ironed blouse or polo shirt (“just put a pinafore on; nobody will be able to tell!”) because I’ve failed abysmally to do it over the weekend. I can just about cope with it if I put a film on and focus on that instead. Oh, and don’t get me started on hoovering ….

LYNNE:

Ah spring! It blows all the cobwebs of winter away doesn’t it? I ride with riding for the disabled once a week and there is a point in spring where snowdrops and primroses replace the wonderful world of funghi and crisp, brittle branches. My favourite of all is the violets though. I love the scented varieties and the beautiful purple colour. I have a vision of an Edwardian lady selling bunches from a basket in Covent Garden. Maybe I’ll put her in a book one day.

I have to say I am not great at housework and very rarely iron. Clothes that deliberately have the crinkled look to my mind are the greatest thing since sliced bread! I get by with doing just a minimum. Well, I gotta find time to write somehow haven’t I?

JO:

Spring to me means bluebells.  The woodland that surrounds the countryside near my home becomes carpeted in top-heavy, nodding flowers which push aside the fallen leaves from autumn and winter and herald that warmer weather is on the way.  At least that’s the theory!

As for spring cleaning, I hate all housework.  That’s it. Full stop.  Spring to me, though, also means that no matter how much I hate it, the windows need cleaning!  I love the return (hopefully) of more regular sunshine, but it does show up every water mark, sticky finger or dog-nose print on the glass and you can see fine particles of dust dancing in the afternoon sun that streams through.  Perhaps I should just do more cleaning and less writing…

HELEN R:

Spring to me means light, uplifting days and beautiful weather that’s neither too hot nor too cold. Spring and Autumn are easily my favourite seasons in Australia for this reason.

I don’t spring clean necessarily but I do have regular “clear outs” where I throw lots away, give away items to charity and maybe put something on ebay. My least favourite household chore would have to be cleaning the bathrooms…they take forever! I do actually like vacuuming though…there’s something satisfying about seeing the dirt disappear before your very eyes 🙂

DEIRDRE:

It’s a cliché, I know, but spring gives me that lovely feeling of starting afresh, with the garden coming to life and the sun just warm enough to have my morning coffee outside.  I love to see the primroses and bluebells appearing too.  I have happy memories of plunging through woods gathering these flowers to take home, which of course was before we knew better and the woods were shut off, but enjoying them in their natural surroundings is just as special.

As for the chores, I’m kind of with Kirstie on the ironing.  I don’t do it unless I have to – nor anything else housework-related – but I have been known to enjoy a spot of ironing as it’s a warm, peaceful kind of thing and I usually have the radio on, something calming like Woman’s Hour.

What do I hate?  Plenty, really, but let’s say cleaning the bathroom because it only seems to look OK for about five minutes before it looks like it needs doing all over again – and there are only two of us in the house.  How does grouting get that awful brown colour anyway?  That’s one of life’s mysteries, if you ask me.

RACHAEL:

Spring. A time for clearing out the old and letting in the new and that is echoed in nature as the garden comes to life again after the long winter months. All winter, I long for the lengthening of the days, the warm sunshine and splash of colour as daffodils, primroses and other spring flowers push up from the cold earth.

It’s also a time for tidying up and when I get that urge nothing is safe. My usual quick whizz with the vacuum and flick of the duster goes out of the window. Items that have sat collecting dust, sometimes for a few years, are suddenly under the spotlight as I get into just about every corner I can. Thankfully, this sort of cleaning is only usually an annual occurrence; otherwise I’d never find the time to write!

So, that’s us.  The Write Romantics clearly love flowers and all things spring-like – not so sure about the chores!  Do join in with your comments – it’s great to hear from you.

Deirdre

Saturday Spotlight – Tradition or Habit? by Helen Rolfe

“What’s pancake day?” my youngest daughter asked me the other day. I guess somewhere along the line we have started talking about pancakes as opposed to referring to “Shrove Tuesday”.

“Do you get to eat pancakes all day?” asked her older sister.

Their conversation got me to thinking about traditions – how they came about for each of us and why we continue with them. The more I thought about it the more I realised that with many traditions we don’t continue them because of deep underlying beliefs, but because they have become habitual, comforting even.

Take hot cross buns as an example. Traditionally they should be eaten on Good Friday, but I spotted them in the supermarket on January 1st! Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love them – I try to resist until closer to Easter though, to make them special – but it’s sad almost that commercialism has taken over and they are no longer a novelty by the time Easter comes around.

As a child we used to get one Easter egg each. When I married my husband, his family being quite religious would have a big exchange of eggs whereby we would leave with literally carrier bags full of chocolate – enough to last till the following Easter really. But to his family, it was never about a “gift” in the form of chocolate like it was in mine. To his family it was about the deeper meaning of exchanging eggs which is to celebrate new life.

Christmas is a big event in our household. We have the traditional roast dinner with all the trimmings, we have crackers to be pulled and silly hats to wear on our heads, and we exchange gifts. But in recent years I have lost a few traditions: none of us like Christmas cake so over the last few years we’ve made gingerbread houses, chocolate logs, or even nothing at all. This year I made the girls choose between Christmas pudding and mince pies, because otherwise we’ll be eating it forever more and when it’s sunny and hot it’s not quite the same! We opted for mince pies and I enjoy our tradition now of making them with my daughters and of working out a menu for the evening buffet: seafood and cheeses.

So what Christmas traditions could I never do without? Firstly, I have to have a real tree. We have started the tradition now of taking the girls to a Christmas tree farm out in the country and we choose our own. It gets tagged and then chopped down nearer the time and delivered to us. Children grow up so fast that I know I’m going to look back on these memories and cherish them. I’m wondering if, in their teenage years, they’ll still want to help choose…I really hope so.

Another tradition that I intend to keep is the tradition that my nan started, my mum continued, and now we have. It is to have Santa’s presents in the morning, with stockings, but family presents remain under the tree until after lunch and all the clearing up has been done. When I first arrived in Australia and I had an English friend to stay at Christmas I asked if we could do this tradition on Christmas day. Her reply was sure, but only if we could do her family tradition which was to have a great big row! My husband hated the present giving tradition at first, but now he doesn’t seem to mind, and it means that the tree looks nicer for longer with presents at the bottom, and the girls get two lots of presents, which prolongs the excitement. My husband can’t wait for the day when we can execute part B of this tradition which is that the kids do all the clearing up! There’s a big incentive to do it quickly after all.

Since the girls started school we have started a bit of a family tradition on a Friday evening. They get to have sausages which they’re allowed to eat in front of the TV rather than at the table, we have a movie that we all sit and watch and they’re allowed a bowl of popcorn or chips (chips if you’re from the UK!) It’s a nice end to the week after school and lots of activities and it means we all sit down together too.

Over the years and as we meet partners, have children, evolve as our individual selves, some traditions are pushed aside. Some are shaped differently, some continue for generations. I would love to be able to see into the future and see what traditions we adhere to today are still around. Will my great, great, great, great grandchildren still be washing up before they get that second lot of presents? I’d like to think so.

I hope I’ve got you all thinking and I’d love to hear your favourite family traditions – the weirder and wackier the better! And what I’m interested in is whether you loved these or whether you detested them and vowed never to let them continue in your own family.  Are there any traditions that you do your utmost to get other people involved in because they’re so fabulous?

P.S – Sshhhhh…don’t tell my Mum but we also take our tree down on 31st December…it makes way for the summer holidays and more importantly my daughter’s birthday.

Helen R x

The Wednesday Wondering: World Book Day brings a touch of nostalgia

Hello everyone.  Having been handed the baton I thought I’d look to the month of March itself to inspire the next four weeks’ Wonderings – quite appropriate, I thought, since anyone venturing into the precarious world of writing must be as mad as a March hare…  Writers, of course, are readers too; a love of books and reading is something we all want to hand down to the next generation, which is why I decided that our first port of call should be World Book Day which falls tomorrow, March 6th.

World Book Day is a celebration of authors, illustrators and books, when children of all ages will come together to explore the pleasures of reading.  One of WBD’s aims is to give as many children as possible the opportunity to own a book, something that sadly not all can take for granted, and millions of book tokens will be distributed to schools and groups in the UK to make this happen.  Let’s hope lots of new readers are ‘born’ tomorrow – we wish World Book Day every success!

So, on to this week’s question.  Imagine you have in front of you all the books you read as a child and teenager.  Which one would you choose to pass on to a child or teenager today, and why?  Then, if you want to, tell us more about the books you loved the most.

The Write Romantics had this to say:

LYNNE:

My favourite book as a child was ‘Meet Stroller,’ by Marion Coakes as she then was before she married Mr Mould. I loved horses as a child, I still do. Goodness knows how I got to love them living on a densely populated council estate in south London. I used to dream I was out in the country riding horses in the fresh air. But it was a lot more than that. Stroller was small for a top class showjumper and Marion, his owner and rider, was a girl, and a young, small girl at that. That worked to their advantage, because they could take shortcuts in the course and save vital seconds pipping the others to the post. As soon as I was old enough I moved to Bristol to work as a nurse. You could see fields in Bristol and still be in the centre of town, so I could see how it felt living close to the country. It didn’t take me long to decide I loved it, and forty odd years on I still love it and never go to London if I can help it.

JULIE:

As a child, I was inspired by Enid Blyton. I particularly adored The Faraway Tree Series, Famous Five and MaloryTowers. When I started writing, I toyed with writing for children. My copies of these books had all been sold at jumble sales years previously so I bought a fat book that encompassed all the Enchanted Wood/Faraway Tree books in one as well as a MaloryTowers box set with the intention of re-immersing myself in my youth. I never quite got round to it. My daughter is now 7 and has started to dip into the MaloryTowers ones but the Faraway Tree is too fat for her to hold so I keep promising her I’ll read it to her. Really must do something about fulfilling that promise before she becomes a teenager and bypasses the Enid Blyton thing!

HELEN P:

I wish I did have all my childhood books in front of me, there were so many amazing stories I read that inspired me to write my own stories when I was a child. I started off reading the wonderful Enid Blyton – Naughty Amelia Jane, The Magic Faraway Tree, The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, MalloryTowers. I was hooked and would spend my £1 pocket money on a brand new book every week. The Famous Five were my favourite because of the adventures they managed to get caught up in and each one would have me intrigued and desperate to read more.

I then moved on to Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House on the Prairie series which I enjoyed immensely. My love of reading as a child and a teenager meant I could escape my not so exciting life and live in a whole different world for a time. Reading is the most effective way of living someone else’s life without leaving the comfort of your own home and I’m so glad that I was able to read so many wonderful books as a child.

JACKIE:

ImageI can’t remember any particular books that I read as a child apart from The Famous Five and Secret Seven books by Enid Blyton. They were hardbacks in Red and I think The Secret Seven were blue. I don’t think I was bought many books, although my dad was an English teacher, as there were five children and not a lot of spare money. I did use the library a lot but can’t remember any particular book standing out, just a fear that they would get lost in our rambling house and I would be in trouble for not returning them! I do still have a precious book that I was given for Christmas, The Swan Princes, illustrated by Raymond Briggs. It’s in fairly bad condition so I think I must have read it a lot. I remember being really pleased that it was JUST FOR ME and I was determined that it would stay mine and not be shared!  

JO:

Oh, even though I do love these sorts of questions, they do reveal me to be very low-end in my reading tastes. I wish I could name one of the classics or say that War and Peace changed my life as a teenager, but I’d be lying!  As a child, it would probably be the Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame.  My dad used to read it to me on Sunday mornings and do different voices for all the characters.  He died fourteen years ago, so it’s a memory I’ll always treasure. 

As a teenager, it would have to be The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend.  I have mentioned the Adrian Mole series of books on the blog before but, like Adrian, I was a wannabe writer even aged thirteen and three quarters and shared a lot of the same teenage angst that he went through.  I still love the books now and think Sue Townsend is a genius for creating him!  In fact, I think I’ll get my daughter started on the series soon, since she’s only six months off her own thirteenth birthday, and I hope she’ll love them as much as I do.

HELEN R:

I don’t have just one book in mind but I would pass on all the Judy Blume books that I read: Blubber, Superfudge, Are You There God? It’s me, Margaret and many others. I think that they’re really honest books and tap into young teens’ psyche in a way that not everyone can. Even though the books were around when I was a teen, they are still popular today – my daughter just read Superfudge at school as a class reader and the kids discussed the issues within the text which made for a good learning experience. 

DEIRDRE:

It’s so hard to choose – but I did set the question so here goes…  For a child I’ve picked ‘The Family from One End Street’, by Eve Garnett. She wrote it in 1937 and won an award for it.  It’s about the Ruggles family who live in a tiny terrace in the East End.  Father is a dustman, Mother a washerwoman and they have seven children – as an only child myself that was a big part of the appeal. Nothing particularly extraordinary or adventurous happens – it’s all about life’s little dramas like catching measles and setting fire to a petticoat – but I remember taking it out of the library time and time again and poring over the exquisite little pencil drawings.  There’s a sequel, too, with the family’s ‘further adventures’.  You can buy them today as Puffin Classics.  I might treat myself.

For a teenager, I’ve chosen ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodie Smith.  This was one of the first ‘grown up’ books I read, and I remember being entranced by the romantic setting and sharing the heartache of the heroine’s first love.  It came out as a film a few years ago and I enjoyed it, though not as much as the book.  But perhaps that’s just the nostalgia talking…

ALEX:

It would have to be Swallows and Amazons. I was a bit of a tom boy when I was growing up and I adored these stories of adventure and sailing.  Looking back I think I one of the reasons that I loved them was because the girls were really strong characters and didn’t sit quietly in camp waiting for the boys to come home.  I read the copies that my Dad had from the late forties and they’re just lovely with the original (somewhat tattered) dustcovers and the illustrations by Arthur Ransome.  I’m really hoping my nephew grows up to love reading because I’m looking forward to handing them on to him.

The other book that I have a real soft spot for is Anne of Green Gables.  Obviously I had no problem relating to a red headed heroine even though she was a lot more outspoken and got into a lot more trouble than I ever did!

RACHAEL:

I was given a copy of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty when I was about seven. I’ve read it and read it and it now lives safely tucked away in my bedroom. Although it’s one of my most treasured books, it is in a somewhat battered condition. It was this book which started my love affair with reading and subsequently, writing.

Obviously I would like to pass that book on to a younger child. The story evokes so much emotion as well as teaching that life can be tough. But first I’d love to be able to give a gift of books to a very young child, to allow them to sample the delights of turning the pages, looking at the pictures and very importantly having quiet time with adults.

Have we inspired you with our choices?  Do stay around and let us know your favourites too – we’d love to hear from you.

Deirdre

Saturday Spotlight – Helen Phifer’s Journey So Far

Good morning, it’s a cold, wet day down in not so sunny Barrow today. I hope it’s a bit brighter and warmer where you are.

It’s almost six months since The Ghost House was released and I have to say I’m ever so surprised and amazed at just how well it has been selling. I’ve always said that my writing hero is Stephen King and when I began to creep up the charts behind him it was such an honour I couldn’t quite believe it. If you have read any of my earlier posts then you will know how much of a nervous wreck I was the day of publication. I felt so sick at the thought of people I knew and readers that I didn’t, being able to buy my work and read it that I ended up in Tesco at three am wandering around like a zombie. I probably looked like one as well.

Thankfully the first reviews came in and were very kind to me; in fact I was lucky that readers were enjoying it so much they wanted to leave reviews. It was such a thrill to read that people I’d never met thought it was a page turner and couldn’t put it down. I had messages on Facebook telling me that they were late for college because they couldn’t stop reading or they couldn’t go to bed and stayed up most of the night for the same reason. This was something I never expected but it turns out is exactly what sums up the very essence of being a writer is for me. There is a sense of worth when readers tell you how much they loved the book that money can’t buy. As for the bad reviews, you can’t please all of the people all of the time and it’s hard to ignore them but once you look at your favourite writers bad reviews it makes you feel a whole lot better.

I have to admit that when I was first offered my deal with Carina I was a little bit worried because I had an image in my mind that I would one day hold my book in my hands and to be honest I’m a complete dinosaur when it comes to technology. But those doubts were soon put at rest, I have the most amazing editors and design team that a writer could ask for.  They really listen to me and have helped me so much that I am forever in their debt.  I would say to anyone who isn’t sure whether to submit to a digital imprint give it a go, you may be pleasantly surprised.

This past week has been very surreal, I was fortunate enough to get picked by Amazon for a week long promotion and it has been unbelievable. The price was reduced and soon I saw The Ghost House begin to climb the charts from being around number #20 to number #11 #9 #6 and then I checked it one morning and it was #1 in both the Contemporary Horror and Ghost Charts. I had managed to push the wonderful Mr King off the top spot and he was numbers #2 #3 and #4 behind me. A debut author from nowhere, who has dreamt about being a published writer for so long that it didn’t seem real. I am thrilled to say that The Ghost House is still number #1 in both those charts and this is day 9. I don’t expect to stay there much longer but what a thrill and an honour. I tweeted that I don’t think I’ll be able to top that so I may have to take up knitting 😉

This week I’ve also seen the cover for my second book The Secrets of The Shadows which is the sequel to The Ghost House and I’ve plotted out book three in the series. I’ve never been so busy and I’ve never felt so proud that I didn’t give up on my dreams of becoming a published writer. So today’s top tip for all my wonderful writing friends is to keep on going, because even though the rejections hurt they also make you stronger and more determined to prove everyone wrong.

Helen xx