Write Romantics Bookclub – The School Gate Survival Guide

IMG_2074Bringing humour and emotional buy-in to a story in equal measure takes a real gift, which Kerry Fisher has in bucket loads. We’ve been featuring her debut novel ‘The School Gate Survival Guide’on our Goodreads Book Club for the last month and have discussed everything from fellow parents who are at least 50% Botox, to going back to feeling like the new kid in the playground all over again.

The novel itself tells the story of Maia Etxeleku, a character whose down to earth intelligence and humour shines out from the first page. Maia works hard, in a cleaning job, to keep her family afloat, whilst her partner, Colin, could earn a part in Shameless and does very little at all – apart from blaming Maia for their problems.

Life starts to change in a way that Maia could never imagine when her favourite client, a professor, dies and leaves her a legacy that leads all the way to the school gates. Despite her surprise at the inheritance, and the stipulation that the money can only be spent on private education for her children, Maia carries out the old lady’s wishes.

School_Gate final jpegMaia soon discovers that appearances at the school gate, as everywhere in life, can be deceptive. Meanwhile, life at home becomes increasingly tense as she battles to fit in to a world where money spent on education is just the tip of the iceberg. Throw into the mix Zachary Peters, a teacher at the school who is everything that Colin isn’t, a very unhappy teenager and secrets that have been buried for a generation, and you have all the ingredients for a cracking good read.

Don’t just take my word for it though, here is what some of the contributors to our Goodreads thread had to say:

‘Loved this book…so much fun to read and very true to life!’

‘There is a real warmth in this book and lots of humour! Anyone considering reading it should go for it.’

‘Finished reading this brilliant book last night. The characters were amazing and I so wanted everything to come right in the end. You’ll have to read it to see if it does!!!’

If this has convinced you to read Kerry’s book, you can access it here. Kerry will also be a featured author in The Write Romantics’ anthology ‘Winter Tales’, due for release on 8th November.

Our next featured novel on the blog and for the Goodreads book club will be chosen by Lynne, who will be leading the discussions over there, as well as posting a review on the blog at the end of November.

Happy reading

Jo

The Writing World of Maggie Reid

Today the Write Romantics are delighted to welcome Maggie Reid, as our guest blogger. Maggie is the author of novels in a range of genres and across both self-published and traditionally published platforms. Take it away, Maggie!

Maggie ReidMy writing journey has been turbulent to say the least! I began by taking the traditional route in the sense I bought a “Writer’s and Artists” Yearbook and sent the first three chapters of my books out to literary agents. I got disheartened by those agents who, to this day, have never replied, or even sent a standard form rejection letter. I found rejection difficult to take at first. The books, after all, are an extension of the writer’s thoughts, feelings and ideals; so to be rejected when you feel the work is to a high standard was challenging and in the early days shattered my self- esteem.

However, I soon had faith in my own ability and decided that an agent was not necessary for me. What was important was getting the Maggie Reid name out there and having an audience to read my work. As a result, I decided to self-publish, which many well respected writers have done, in order to showcase my stories and it was the wisest decision I have ever made. The decision was momentous for me, as I was struggling through a divorce and losing my home, so in a sense I felt I had nothing to lose. I also felt that doors would open if the work could be read globally.

After I took this decision and was able to read reviews on amazon for ‘The Quiet Life of Marta G Ziegler’, I felt really heartened. I have wonderful readers from all over the world and I think it is so important to thank the audience who supported me when no literary agents believed in me.

I write in different styles and both the ‘Fearless Frangipan Circus Pie’ and ‘Michaelmas Angel’ are literaryMike angel fiction and challenging reads. They contain powerful characters and plot, and love endures through adversity. ‘The Quiet Life of Marta G Ziegler’ and ‘The Sinister World of Zac Spyro’ are for the children’s/adult crossover market. Marta Ziegler has a huge adult audience because, I believe, the novel is a timeless story about following your dreams whatever age you are. I try not to worry about my ‘market’, but rather focus on the strength of the story. I think it is good not to be categorised as a writer and be free to explore different styles. I like to produce exciting and individual stand-alone pieces of work, instead of following a pattern.

The traditional vs self publishing question is a big debate at the moment, when the financial market is so uncertain. Traditional publishers want ‘big names’ and return on their investment so as an emerging writer it is near impossible to break through into a traditional publishing house. As a result, many amazing manuscripts are turned down, because they are too inventive, imaginative or unique and publishers may see originality as a ‘risk’. This is heart-breaking for the struggling writer. Indeed I always dreamed of being published by Penguin, but without a powerful literary agent it is difficult. Maybe one day …

pieNonetheless, I felt it was important for me to showcase my work as an emerging writer through self-publishing and regaining control. If you have a great story to tell, self publish and build a readership. Indie writers are exciting and powerful voices in the industry at the moment and it is all about what is right for the individual writer. ‘The Quiet Life of Marta G Ziegler’ was rejected several times by traditional publishers for having a profoundly deaf heroine, which I think shows lack of insight and vision, and I believe Marta Ziegler has huge potential for screen.

For me, my biggest influences for my writing are my children, my family and the chance meetings with people who say a few words to you about their lives that can spark a story. I find inspiration in the smallest of things, a broken shell on a craggy Scottish beach, a solitary figure in a trilby hat, a mother with a distant look in her eyes. The biggest influence has to be real people, and human emotions that you can see if you really learn to watch and listen. A good writer is an observer and, at the moment, I am working on a new children’s’ book which adults can read too, which I hope will be a powerful, thought provoking read.

Thanks for joining us on the blog today, Maggie, and giving us an insight into your writing world. To find out more about Maggie and her books, please check out the links below:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Maggie-Reid-Scottish-Author/211711985625805?fref=ts

Twitter: @MaggiReid

Or at Amazon here.

Hallowe’en and all that Hocus Pocus!

It’s almost October 31st, and that means only one thing…Hallowe’en’s coming! Unless you’ve been on another planet for the last few months, you’ll know that The Write Romantics are publishing an anthology of short stories, all with winter or Christmas themes. It’s called Winter Tales and will be launched on November 8th. We found writing short stories very different to creating the novels we usually work on, and it’s made us look at other short story writers with even more respect and interest. The recent release of a short story anthology entitled Hocus Pocus ’14, really caught our eye. It’s a collection of thirteen tales, each with a spooky twist, ideal for this time of year. We decided to find out more about the anthology and who was behind it…

 

2014-10-19 19.40.23It seems that Hocus Pocus ’14 was the brainchild of writer and QVC presenter Debbie Flint. She got together a group of authors including Lynda Renham, Lizzie Lamb and Tina K Burton and asked them to visit their dark side. The result is this creepy collection of shorts. We risked life and limb to prise information from these surprisingly obliging ladies to find out all about the book. Believe me, when you’ve read it you’ll admire our bravery. These people have seriously warped imaginations…

Debbie Flint

Debbie Flint

So, Debbie, what gave you the idea to put together an anthology, and why for Hallowe’en in particular? 

Last year fellow authors Carolyn Mahony, Mary Jane Hallowell and I found ourselves suddenly challenged to run a Facebook online party by ourselves, with a guest visit from published Mills and Boon author Isabelle Goddard – also from our Tuscany writing group. We’d all just self-published our first titles and wanted to raise awareness of our books. The plan was to do it on Hallowe’en since that was the plan we’d inherited, having all agreed to participate but not run it. Then suddenly we were in charge and we had to make it up as we went along, but the feedback was amazing, the sales of our own books lifted slightly, and everyone taking part gave great feedback. It worked! We found it was the most fun, fulfilling day – especially because being Hallowe’en there was a whole host of different options for subjects to post about, making the day really diverse and compelling. We ran it on our specially created event page on Facebook. We had pics of ‘finger food,’ favourite spooky hunks, songs and films, plus real life supernatural experiences to name but a few. We found there weren’t that many others going on on the same day, nor was there much on Amazon if you searched the word ‘Hallowe’en.’ We know that self publishing nowadays is all about discoverability, so the idea for a new event this year was born.

How did you select the authors to take part?

Initially it was just our little group, and then having mentioned it to a few other authors on other writing groups/retreats, many others stepped up and submitted stories to us for approval. Most would have been a shue-in, as they are award winning or best selling established authors, but we still used the process I rely on to gauge a story’s potential – my beta readers group. Facebook is a magical thing, and two years ago, it put me in touch with around two dozen avid romance readers who regularly review and ‘mark’ the work we submit to them. They’ve been instrumental in helping me bypass those frustrating early stages with a SFD where you think you know what to do but you need validation from true readers. Now ‘Debbie’s Readers’ occasionally take other work to read too and all seem very keen to help and have their opinions counted! Funnily enough my publisher Choc Lit (still sounds funny to hear myself say ‘my publisher’ – I only signed with them in the summer, first book out next Spring!) also use a ‘tasting panel’ for exactly the same reasons. I highly recommend doing so to new authors – and established ones!

Anyway, with the help of co-editor Mary Jane Hallowell, one of my best pals and writing buddies, the ‘approved’ stories mounted up and soon we had nearly 13 which I figured would be perfect for this anthology, so I contacted a couple more authors to reach the magical number! By the end of August it was clear we could make it the magical 13, of varying lengths, which Adrienne Vaughan and Lizzie Lamb pointed out would form a meaty paperback, and could they have some copies. So we expanded our plans to include Createspace too, and I got my lovely cover designer in Canada, Angela Oltmann to polish up the design one of our beta reader’s sons had already submitted. The POD covers (print on demand- that’s how they do paperbacks on Amazon via Createspace) which she creates, takes a lot more work than eBook covers ever do, so it was an investment, of around £130 overall. I also used a formatting expert in San Diego, Yvonne Betancourt, to ensure the finished POD interior was right. But if we sell copies outside of the freebie promotion period it’ll hopefully eventually cover it. Plus I will do one next year too, Hocus Pocus ’15,  and possibly a Valentine’s anthology of romantic short stories, so ‘Hocus Pocus ’14’ will be part of a series! If anyone is interested in taking part in the next ones just email me debbie@debbieflint.com. I’m looking forward to reaching a whole new audience via the other authors and via the fab Hallowe’en party on 31st – I do hope you’ll join us!

Welcome Lizzie Lamb, Lynda Renham and Tina K Burton. How did you all get involved?

Lizzie:  One of the New Romantics Press, Adrienne Vaughan, was contacted by Debbie who was looking for contributors and Adrienne put my name forward. I was a bit worried about getting side-tracked from finishing book 3 but already had a spooky story on file so I said yes. I’d written it a few years back for a competition ‘Heaven Can Wait’ run by Writers’ Magazine and (I think) Cally Taylor. She had just published her novel Heaven Can Wait and was running the competition to promote it. I was glad I’d kept the story on file because it only needed a bit of tweaking, et voila.

Lizzie Lamb and Adrienne Vaughan

Lizzie Lamb and Adrienne Vaughan

Lynda: I got involved with the anthology when Debbie asked me if I was interested and did I know anyone else who would be. I was unsure at first as short stories aren’t my thing really. I always find my short stories end up as novels and I don’t think Debbie would have been too happy with that!

Tina: My friend, Lynda, put me in touch with Debbie, who was putting together the anthology. Debbie asked if I’d like to get involved and, as it happened, I had a story that I thought might be suitable.

How did you find writing short stories as opposed to novels?

Debbie: I  like writing short stories – my first ever was for my QVC blog (I work on the shopping channel as a presenter) and my blog gets around 13000 views a week, so having just returned from the Tuscany writing course – my first ever experience of romance writing – I thought I’d do a 5000 word story for Feb 14th – so The Valentine’s Surprise was born. Three years later, having been inspired into self-publishing by Emily Harvale, I played around with KDP and uploaded it for a three day freebie. Immediately several hundred people downloaded it, and my journey into being a novelist was born. I then finished my WIP, Hawaiian Affair, followed by books two and three in that trilogy of steamy romances, all around 80-90,000 words. I finished a Bridget Jones style tale set in shopping telly at Easter this year, also full length. But my second short story, When Dreams Return, was written with the intention of running a freebie promotion for Mothers’ Day, which I did. However, being set at Hallowe’en I’d always intended that it would be my contribution for the Anthology – we’d been planning it since last October you see.

Lizzie: I would rather write a novel than a short story. Why? Because all my short stories read like the start of a novel. It’s a genre I need to work on if I’m ever going to feel more relaxed about writing one. Sue Moorcroft gave me a tip once, which was to think of the short story as an ‘incident’ with a beginning, a middle and an end – rather than a chapter in a novel. After I’d taken that advice on board it was much easier, but I don’t think I’ll ever be a natural short story writer.

bb485b6d7f02dff8fbd367e0a2a19a61

Lynda Renham

Lynda: I disciplined myself and wrote my contribution which is titled ‘Clarissa’. I didn’t find writing a short story easy so I very much admire writers who can do it. I have written a few short stories in the past but find them difficult. If I have the choice, give me a novel to write any day.

Tina: I wrote and sold short stories before writing novels. I like the challenge of short stories – writing a whole plot and credible characters within a limited number of words. But I also like novels because you have more scope to develop your characters fully.

 

 

What is your story called and what’s it about?

Debbie: It’s called When Dreams Return. Chelle’s hubby Andy disappeared mysteriously and she stopped painting. Her talented artwork is her livelihood, inspired by her elaborate dreams. Finally she decides it’s time to accept his death and move on, by renovating a spooky Victorian House with a secret in the attic. Her pal Sara who lives nearby is married to Andy’s brother but she has secrets of her own. It’s a ghostly tale with humour and pathos, and ended up becoming a short novella, at 14,000 words. I was very pleased that the freebie helped it to get 4.6 avge stars on 29 reviews! Very chuffed! 

Lizzie: It’s called Jumping the Queue. As I said, I more or less wrote it to order for the competition Heaven Can Wait. That theme decided what I was going to write about. I’ve also written a  ‘true’ spooky story for the promo day when the Hocus Pocus event takes place on Facebook – 31st October. It’s called Knock, Knock, Who’s There? And concerns a real life spooky event which happened to me when I was a child. I’ll probably be posting it on my website, too, as part of the promo.

Lynda: Clarissa is a car that the main character, Frank, becomes obsessed with. However, the obsesion becomes quite creepy when the car begins to control Frank’s behaviour. I don’t know that anything inspired the story. It just seemed to jump onto the page and I very much enjoyed the process of writing it. I’m always fascinated when that happens.

Tina K Burton

Tina K Burton

Tina: My story is The Soul Stealer, about a doll who borrows souls. I used to work in the funeral business, and whilst I’m not religious, I do believe that our soul – the essence of what makes us, us – leaves the body and goes somewhere after death. It was thinking about that a while ago that gave me an idea for the story.

 

Our thanks to Debbie, Lizzie, Lynda and Tina for dropping by and telling us all about their venture into short story writing. Hocus Pocus ’14 is available to buy here and you can read Sharon’s review on Goodreads here

The short stories included in the anthology are:

Seed of Doubt by Adrienne Vaughan
Letter for Ray by Carolyn Mahony
Heaven Must be Missing an Angel by Jules Wake
The Last Leg by S A Edward
Lovespelled by Jane O’Reilly
Clarissa by Lynda Renham
Orange Blossom by Mary Jane Hallowell (short novella)
Jumping the Queue by Lizzie Lamb
Haunted House by Alison May
The Soul Stealer by Tina K. Burton
Green Man Rising by Litty Williams
Insubstantial Evidence by Tracy Burton
When Dreams Return by Debbie Flint (short novella)
Bonus Material -– true life spooky tales & poem

You can follow Lynda Renham’s blog here . Follow Lizzie Lamb’s blog here. Follow Tina K Burton’s blog here. Follow Debbie Flint here.

Join in the fun on Facebook on October 31st and prepare to be spooked!

Hocus Pocus '14

Hocus Pocus ’14

 

Choices, choices…by Helen Rolfe

Choices, choices…by Helen Rolfe

The way we read has changed a great deal over the years and unsurprisingly, the way we choose our books has had to evolve to keep up with the constant changes in the publishing industry.

When my daughters were tiny I would escape from the house as soon as my husband walked through the door. I’d walk down to the local shops and into Borders where I’d spend at least an hour perusing the shelves and more often than not I’d come away with a couple of purchases. I was always drawn to a bright cover, sometimes the author’s name in big bold letters, or perhaps reading a blurb enticed me to buy. I would stop in the coffee shop next door and enjoy my new read over a hot chocolate, completely lost in my ‘me’ time.

Like many other people, I am devastated every time a bookshop closes. They are special places that warm me the second I walk in with their endless possibilities for a good story. The ‘Books Are My Bag’ campaign operates across the UK and Ireland and is the biggest promotion of bookshops since its launch in 2013. According to the ‘Books Are My Bag’ website, 56% of all book buying decisions are still made by consumers in a bookshop, which is great to hear!

But what happens if I can’t choose my books by browsing at the local bookshop?

I often base my next book purchase on previous experience. I’ll go back to the same author time and time again if I like their voice and the stories they tell and I get really excited when their next book is released.

I personally don’t use reviews or ratings to choose a book but it works for some people. If there is great media hype surrounding a new book or I see it advertised often enough, I can be enticed to read it out of curiosity…perhaps to see if I agree with the comments that are being made about it. I am also influenced by my peers. Thanks to the Write Romantics and the contacts that we all bring to the group, I’ve been reading more widely and loving every minute of it. I’ve discovered new authors and voices that keep me constantly entertained.

Then there is what I like to call ‘accidental book selection’. This can happen via friends’ recommendations: JoJo Moyes’ ‘Me Before You’ was being passed around at the gym one day and I grabbed it. ‘Accidental book selection’ can happen when you least expect, too, perhaps enticing you into a new genre: at the RNA conference 2014 up in Shropshire I had the pleasure of sitting next to Hazel Gaynor and she was so lovely and friendly, answering many of my writing questions. Historical novels have never been my thing but I bought her book ‘The Girl Who Came Home’ anyway and I was hooked…it kept me engrossed during the flight between the UK and Australia 🙂 It can be uncomfortable to step outside your usual genre, but there’s also so many unique books out there that sometimes, as with Hazel’s book, it can be a lovely surprise.

bookshelves1

With a trip coming up from Sydney – Melbourne – Singapore – UK, these are my latest purchases and how I chose them:

Saving Grace by Jane Green – Jane Green is one of my all-time favourite authors so I jumped at the chance to buy her latest book when I saw it in Dymocks bookshop in Sydney.

Amy & Zach by Sarah Louise Smith – The eye-catching cover combined with the blurb on the Crooked Cat website.

Big Lies, Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – I read a newspaper article about Lianne Moriarty, who lives in Sydney. I’d also read her previous novel The Husband’s Secret and loved it.

I’d love to hear how others choose their books…do covers matter, or the publisher perhaps? Do you rely on friends’ opinion, reviews or ratings? Or do you look at book blogs or prize winners to make your choice?

Until then…Happy reading!

Helen R x

A peek beneath our cover…

Those of you who follow the blog will know that The Write Romantics decided way back at the beginning of this year that we would be publishing Printan anthology of winter and Christmas themed short stories. We were lucky enough to gain support from a veritable army of other writers and the anthology is now filled to the brim with twenty-four fabulous feel good stories for you to cosy-up with. We’ve got some best-selling authors among the contributors and we’re hoping to raise a small fortune for the two wonderful charities we’ve chosen to support – The Cystic Fibrosis Trust and The Teenage Cancer Trust.

Someone else who has been an invaluable support to The Write Romantics and has given his time incredibly generously, in designing the cover and typesetting the entire anthology, is Jessica Redland’s husband, Mark Heslington. So here it is, the moment we’ve been longing to show you, our cover reveal:

Anthology coverWinter Talesstories to warm your heart – will be available from Amazon in both e-book and paperback form from 8th November and will be released for pre-order by the end of October. All funds raised will be split equally between the two charities and we will be holding a launch party on our community Facebook page between 1pm and 3pm on the 8th. Sharon Booth, our chief party planner, will be sending out invitations soon and we’ll have a host of competitions and giveaways, so we hope to *see* lots of you there!

If karma is a genuine phenomenon, then The Write Romantics have seen good fortune returned seven-fold since we decided to launch a charity anthology – since that’s how many of us have secured publication deals during that time. So, whilst we can’t guarantee that buying a copy of the anthology will give you the same good fortune, and you won’t win the lottery as a result, you can certainly feel fantastic about contributing to two wonderful causes. You can read excerpts of four of the anthology stories below, which we hope will whet your appetite:

Meet Me at Midnight

Not Just Another Winter’s Tale

The Other Side of Christmas

In All The Wrong Places

We’ll be back soon to post the links to the pre-order facility for ‘Winter Tales’ and if you’d like to review the anthology or assist in any way to help us maximise our fundraising, we’d love to hear from you at thewriteromantics@hotmail.co.uk.

signature WRs

Mega Monday Announcement – Back To Being Me!

1069991_10151820110344073_1918962117_nRegular readers of this blog might be confused by my changing persona. When the Write Romantics started blogging – we were just Julie and Jo (I’m here, on the left). We’ve risen to the power of ten over the last year and a half and there have been some changes of identity, as pen names were adopted over time. When I got my book deal with So Vain Books for ‘Among A Thousand Stars’, I decided for personal reasons to change my name to Jay, but over the past few weeks it’s become evident that I wasn’t going to be the only Jay Barlett, author, out there… The other Jay Bartlett, and I’m sure he’s a lovely guy, is an expert in exorcism deliverance and he’s got books out on a range of subjects from Expelling Evil Spirits to Exploring The Supernatural – it’s not something I wanted to compete with!

So I’m reverting back to my real name and luckily So Vain Books were happy to support my kitty_brucknell_1decision. This week’s big announcement is that both Jessica Redland and I are now featured authors on their website (www.sovainbooks.co.uk) and we’ll be revealing our fabulous covers very soon. We’re delighted to be sharing a publishing house with some fantastic non-fiction authors. Anyone who’s a fan of The X Factor must remember Kitty Brucknell and her performances that would give Lady Gaga a run for her money. Kitty has teamed up with celebrity stylist and fashion editor, Lewis-Duncan Weedon, and TV presenter, Olivia Cox, to produce Are You On The List? – A guide to looking good and feeling great. I don’t know about Jessica, but with such glamourous company at our publishing house, it’s definitely on my Christmas list.

Jo Bartlett cover finalTalking of Christmas, I am delighted to reveal that my novella – ‘The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come’ – is now undergoing a final review with the editor and you can read more about it on the publisher’s website at fabrianbooks.com. It’s been an amazing few weeks for The Write Romantics with publishing deals and book releases coming thick and fast. I’m not going to spoil things, but check in next week for the sixth Mega Monday announcement in a row! And tomorrow they’ll be some big anthology news where we’ll be revealing our very special cover…

Jo x

Take a seat in Karen’s Reading Corner

karencocking faceOur guest on the blog today is Karen, from ‘My Reading Corner’. Karen loved reading from a very young age and over the years this passion has grown, now her idea of bliss is to curl up in a comfy chair with a good book.  Karen runs her book review blog alongside working full-time as a legal secretary and uses some of the commute from Essex to London to read up-to two books a week. In the picture below you can see Karen’s heaving ‘bookwall’, which she keeps in her spare room, but she admits she has overflowing bookcases elsewhere in the house too! So we’re really glad that Karen has been able to find some time to be our guest today and here she tells us all why books and blogging about them are so important to her.

Why is that you love reading so much
?

I’ve always loved reading, and can remember from a very early age reading the Ladybird books and then progressing to Enid Blyton and then as a teenager turning to Agatha Christie. Other favourite authors of the time were Jeffrey Archer, Rosamund Pilcher and Maeve Binchy. I love to escape into a book and to use my imagination which is why the film adaptations of books rarely work for me as it spoils the image I have in my head. Apart from the occasional biography, I rarely read non-fiction.

What made you decide to turn that passion into a regular book-review blog?

I’ve been adding short reviews to various online book sites for a number of years and although sites like Goodreads are very useful for keeping track of books that I own, the cover pictures change (I like to have a record of the correct book cover too) and there’s no control over the site content. I decided to start my own book blog so that I could keep my reviews in one place and keep my own note of which edition I had read. I also wanted to share books that I had enjoyed and if my review helps someone to choose their next read, then that’s wonderful.

What are the best and worst things about blogging?

It’s always a pleasure to be asked to review a book by a new author and finding a little gem that otherwise might have passed me by – and to be ableKaren cocking2 to tell others about it. Some of my most enjoyable reads this year have been found this way and there are some indie authors that are now on my favourites list. Another is being given the opportunity to read books before they are published. I feel privileged that publishers allow me to access ARCs of their ebooks from sites such as Netgalley and of course it’s always exciting to receive paper books in the post – whenever I receive a book shaped package, I feel like a kid at Christmas!

One of the worst things is feeling under pressure to read and review quickly. I have a huge library of my own of both paper and Kindle books which I am longing to read but struggle to get to because much of my free time is spent trying to keep up with review books. I need to find that balance of being able to read both my own and review books.

What is your favourite genre?

I don’t have a favourite genre. My first love was crime fiction but over the years my tastes have widened. I enjoy reading women’s contemporary fiction just as much as crime and suspense.   I also enjoy reading YA books and some historical fiction, especially dual time novels. The one genre that I am really picky about is ‘chick-lit’ and I tend to stick to the same trusted authors or authors that have been recommended by book friends.

Has there been a book that you’ve been put off reading, perhaps by the cover or blurb, and then have finally read and really loved?

No, although there have been many books which I haven’t enjoyed despite the hype surrounding them. One that immediately comes to mind is The Time Travellers Wife. So many people loved this but I disliked it so much I couldn’t finish it.

Where’s your favourite place to read?

I have to be comfortable. I have a reclining armchair in the corner of my lounge (this is why my blog was named ‘My Reading Corner’) which is my favourite place to read, although sitting on the bed propped up with pillows comes a close second!

Have you ever considered being a writer?

Only in my dreams! The reality is that I know my limitations and I would not be good enough. I greatly admire people who can turn their hand to writing but it’s not something that I would consider doing.

How do you promote your blog?

Mainly on Twitter and Facebook. A few months ago I set up a Facebook page for my blog where I post reviews, share competitions and all things bookish. https://www.facebook.com/myreadingcornerblog.

Karen cocking1How many requests for reviews do you get in typical week/month and what’s your criteria for deciding which to review?

It varies, some weeks I can get several – both from authors and publishers. I suppose on average I get about 2 – 3 requests a week.   I always look at the book description to see whether it’s something I would enjoy reading and if it appeals then I say yes. Otherwise I politely decline. It also depends on how I’m asked. If a request is polite and unassuming then I am more inclined to say yes. If I receive an obviously ‘copied & paste’ email request with the book attached on the presumption that I will want to read it then that is an immediate turn-off. My blog has a review policy listing the genres that I read and it is often quite clear that many authors/promoters haven’t even bothered to read it before requesting a review.

Do you give bad reviews or only review books you’ve liked?

I will only review on my blog books that achieve a minimum rating of 3 out of 5 stars – if I really don’t like a book then I won’t include it on the blog. I want my reviews to be an honest opinion but I don’t want to be unkind. It’s extremely rare for me to rate a book as 1* (- it has to be REALLY poor) however very occasionally a book achieves a review rating of 2* and this would only appear on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads.   I don’t review every single book I read – if I’m reading one of my own books then sometimes it’s nice to just read for pleasure and not feel obliged to always post a review.

Have you got a top three of your all-time favourite books?

My favourite books change all the time. There are however two that have remained firm favourites over the years – To Kill a Mockingbird and Rebecca.

What sort of interaction do you have with fellow reviewers, authors and readers?

I think Twitter is wonderful for interaction with fellow book lovers and authors – what did we do without it! I love to see authors interacting with readers and it’s still a thrill when an author retweets one of my reviews or replies to a tweet. The downside of sites like Twitter and reading other book blogs is seeing all the new book recommendations which add to my ever increasing wishlist and ‘To be Read’ pile.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

Just to say thank you for inviting me onto your blog. Having sent out my own questions for authors to answer, I can now see that it’s quite different being on the other side!

Thanks again for visiting us on the blog, Karen, we’ve loved having you stop by and it’s been great to hear what life is like as a book reviewer. If you want to find out more about Karen and her reviews at ‘My Reading Corner’ please following the links below:

https://www.facebook.com/myreadingcornerblog

http://myreading-corner.blogspot.co.uk/

Twitter @karendennise

Entitled to Change a Title

“We were thinking about the titles of your trilogy. The second book is absolutely fine, but are you sure about the third title…?”

Eek! The email from my editor stopped me in my tracks. (Well, it would have done if I hadn’t already been sat down at my desk but you get the picture.) I knew that many writers had their titles changed by their publishers but, as there’d been no indication of changing any of mine, I thought I was “safe”. Until the email.

The Moon on a Stick‘Searching for Steven’ – the title for book 1 – materialised at the same time as the idea and I’ve lived with it for eleven years. It absolutely works and, thankfully, my publishers agree. I’d have struggled so much if somebody had asked me to change it.

‘Getting Over Gary’ – the title for book 2 – came to me a couple of years later. I knew I wanted the title to include alliteration and a man’s name so that the trilogy felt connected and this title suddenly popped into my head. The character Gary was called something different at the time but I had no qualms about changing his name and it’s clearly been the right move because I can’t remember what I called him originally! Thankfully, my publishers like that title too.

Book 3 remained nameless for a while. The story was less developed and I wasn’t as sure about the characters but, as the plot progressed, ‘Discovering David’ came to mind. It still had a man’s name in. It still had alliteration. But it was missing the middle word. I hmmm’d and haaa’d about it for ages but ‘Discovering ABOUT David’ didn’t sound right and, by then, I absolutely loved the word “discovering”. I don’t want to give any spoilers away about the book but “discovering” absolutely fits with what the book is all about.

A Cottage by the SeaThere are options. I’m not massively precious about David being called David and there are other characters who could be the focus of the title instead but I keep coming back to the “discovering” part being right. No decisions need to be made just yet so we’ll see how that one goes.

I should actually rejoice in the fact that my publishers love the first two titles and not focus on the fact they don’t (yet) love the third because title changes are so commonplace. I was the fourth Write Romantic to be offered a publishing deal and the previous three have all had their titles changed. Helen Phifer had her debut novel changed from “Deadly Obsession” to “The Ghost House” but she admits that she absolutely loves the new title (and so do I). The next published WR, Rachael Thomas, entered the “So You Think You Can Write” competition using the title, “Behind the Scandalous Façade.” She got a publishing deal with Harlequin M&B on the back of this but the title was changed to “A Deal Before the Altar”. Jay Bartlett’s debut novel “Among a Thousand Stars” (out in June 2015) had two different titles before agreeing on the final version with her publisher. So I really shouldn’t be surprised that the subject of titles has arisen. I’m delighted to say that Helen, Rachael and Jay all love their new titles but all would admit it was hard to hear initially that the title they’d been living with for so long wasn’t going to be the final one. A lot of writers refer to their novel (particularly their debut one) as their “baby” so I suppose this could be likened to naming your child then having them start primary school only to be told that their child now needs to be known as a completely different name.

The Memory GardenI’m curious as to which path book 3’s title will take. One thing that I feel very fortunate about is that I have a wonderful publisher who sees this as a shared journey and will work towards finding a title that works for both of us; not one that they impose on me. I know many writers aren’t that lucky.

Which got me onto thinking about titles for books. How important are they? I did a quick survey amongst the Write Romantics to ask them three questions:

  1. Have you ever bought a book simply because you loved the title? (If so, what was it and why did the title speak to you?)
  2. Have you ever not read a book because of the title?
  3. What’s your favourite title for a book and why?

I’ll take each in turn …

Buying a book because of the title:

P1050743The general consensus was that they were more likely to be drawn to reading the blurb on the book because of a title rather than purchasing a book because of the title. Having said that, certain words drew the WRs. Helen R loves books with the word “secret” in the title because she loves to know things and curiosity gets the better of her. Harriet is drawn to titles with the homely feel of the words “cottage”, “house”, “street” or “road” in them or any reference to Cornwall as she adores Rosamund Pilcher’s books. Lynne is drawn towards ones that feature “sun” or “old houses.”

Helen P bought Stephen King’s “It” purely on the title and it’s turned into her all-time favourite. Sharon bought Carole Matthews’s “A Cottage by the Sea” based purely on title although she had enjoyed other books by her. She wasn’t familiar with Valerie-Anne Baglietto’s books but bought both “Once Upon a Winter” and “The Moon on a Stick” on titles alone and was very pleased that she did.

I personally bought “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” because the title massively intrigued me. I knew nothing about the book or the author at the time but I just loved that title!

Avoiding a book because of the title:

P1050742Jay admits that she was once recommended a book called “The Billionaire’s Virgin” on her newsfeed which was an absolute no-no for her. Any book titles including the words “desire” or “virgin” are inclined to put her off. Helen R avoids the words “sexy” in titles. I’m with both of them on this.

Lynne was put off reading “Hideous Kinky” for years, simply because of the title although she loved it when she finally settled down to read it.

On the whole, the WRs were of the feeling that certain titles fit with certain genres and, if that’s not the genre for them, they’d probably be avoiding that book anyway.

Favourite Book Titles:

There are some crackers out there but we’ve all agreed that our memories are like sieves and we’ve struggled to come up with them all. We’re bound to think of loads after this post comes out!

Some great examples are:

  • Harriet loves “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn as it’s a short, snappy title
  • Sharon loves “Honeycote” by Veronica Henry because it sounds so lovely and “The Memory Garden” by Rachel Hore
  • Jay is drawn towards our very own Helen R’s “The Friendship Tree” (out next year) and “The Divorce Domino” by friend of the blog Kerry Fisher (out soon)
  • Helen R loves Hazel Gayor’s new title: “Memory of Violets”. She says it’s “such a gorgeous title and sounds cosy”

P1050744Browsing along my bookshelves, some of my personal favourites are:

  • “The Truth About Melody Browne” by Lisa Jewell. I love her books anyway but I found this title particularly intriguing. I think I’m very similar to Helen R in that I’m also drawn to the word “secret” in a title
  • “A Quiet Belief in Angels” by R J Ellory. I was in a writing group once and one of the members was raving about this book. It stuck in my mind because of the title … although I confess that it’s been on my TBR pile for years so title adoration doesn’t always turn into the actual art of reading!
  • “The Book of Tomorrow” by Cecelia Ahern. Also on my TBR pile although I’ve read several of hers. It’s my favourite title of hers closely followed by “A Place Called Here” which I have read

There are two other fairly recent books whose titles intrigue me. I don’t own them but I keep meaning to download them – “We Need to Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver and “The Last Time We Saw Marion” by Tracey Scott-Townsend. Even though I love romantic comedies and that’s the genre I write, I do have a penchant for mystery and intrigue and the titles of both of these draw me in. We’re back to that secrets thing again.

What about you? What titles do you love? Have you ever bought a book purely on the title? I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks to The Write Romantics for their contributions to this post 🙂 x

Jessica xx

Another Mega Monday announcement: Lynne Pardoe ‘pockets’ a deal!

Who could have believed the speed with which the Write Romantics have been landing book deals recently. First there was Jessica Redland’s 467141_105087346295108_93731370_oexcellent (I know cos I’ve read it) ‘Searching for Steven’ and her three book contract with So Vain books. Then Harriet James ‘Remarkable Things’ to be published by Crooked Cat, then Helen J Rolfe’s ‘The Friendship Tree’ also to be published by Crooked Cat.

I thought the good luck was bound to run out there. I’d sent a partial of a pocket novel I’d been working on to D. C. Thomson in Dundee around that time. I’d been working on it for months and lacked confidence to send it to them. Then I had an email conversation with one of their staff on their editor’s fiction blog which was really helpful. The next day I saw a blog post by another of their fiction staff, Tracey Steele talking about how to write pocket novels and I thought ‘fate is trying to tell me something, send it off fast!’ So I popped three chapters and a synopsis off one morning and got a request for a full later that day. I was delighted and sent the rest straight away.

I thought it would be months until I heard and prepared myself for a long wait. I knew how many submissions they must have and tried my best to be patient. You see, to me it wasn’t just an ordinary book because my mum helped me write it. Mum has been very poorly lately. She contracted flu many years ago and the virus got into her heart muscle and infected it. That caused the muscular layer of the heart to stretch, get thinner and to work more slowly. Bolstered by tablets you’d hardly have noticed any difference in her for over thirty years, but she’s now 85 and time is catching up with her. She was very, very, poorly for a while recently. Going out was a thing of the past and it was a major effort for her to even walk across the room.

I?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? can only imagine how painful that was, and boredom soon set in too. But then I thought I’d talk to her about the plot for the novel I was then about to write, and her world lit up. She totally followed me into my imaginary world and we chatted for ages about the characters I’d described and why they were behaving as they were. Mum suggested a couple of scenes and the motive for one person’s actions that were crucial to the story. Spending time with mum in our world of make-believe was a tonic to us both.

Now I haven’t told you what happened to this story once I’d consigned it to paper. I’ve left you in the lurch a bit about the outcome of this tome. I thought with the rush of publishing contracts coming to the Write Romantic’s there would be no way I would get one, so I got ready to slog in with my trilogy of social work books. Then about a week later, I saw an email from Tracey from D. C. Thomson. I opened it fully expecting to see a ‘..thanks but no thanks,’ sort of comment.

The first sentence yielded nothing of the sort. Nor the second. Then the third seemed to say she liked it and would like to buy it! I could hardly believe my eyes but when I saw the word ‘Congratulations!’ later on I knew what I read was true! It was all confirmed the following day when a paper contract arrived in the post. I quickly signed it and sent it back before they could change their minds!

D.C. Thomson is a bit special to me. My dad was Scottish and always spoke very highly of them. He was a printer at The Daily Telegraph and cameauthor 2 home with ‘The People’s Friend’ and ‘Beano’ every week. I loved them and read every word. As I grew older I read ‘The Friend’ in the nursing homes I worked in, often with the patients. I kept reading it when I left nursing, so getting published by them is very special.

Now I won’t keep you much longer, you must have plenty to do. But do check back soon because I’m hoping this lucky spell will continue. I’ve read some of my fellow WR’s work and know how good it is and how close to publication they must be!

Lynne x

Kerry Fisher on coming out from under the stairs!

IMG_2074Hi Kerry, welcome back to the Write Romantics blog and thank you for agreeing to be our guest this week, for a second time. Last time you stopped by to see us, you’d just self-published The Class Ceiling and we know a lot has happened since then… We’d love to start by asking you a little bit about what’s happened since your last visit.

What’s the best thing about being a traditionally published writer and have there been any unexpected elements?

I’m finding it very relaxing to be able to say ‘I’m published by HarperCollins’ and for everyone to nod because they recognise the name. When I was self-published, I always felt that I needed to explain my reasons for that. However, self-publishing was such a valuable experience so I’m really glad that has been part of my route to publication – I use everything I learned from that to make the most of my traditional publishing opportunity now. The most positive unexpected element is how supportive and generous-spirited the online community – Twitter and Facebook – has been. Disappointingly though, I thought I’d be absolutely sure of my place in the writing world and breeze along thinking, ‘I have a book deal therefore I am a capable author’ but I still sit at the laptop wondering how the hell I ever wrote a novel before, with self-doubt ready to screech in and fill any available space. I think that’s my personality though (damn it!).

What did you do to mark your publication days and do you still get a thrill every time you spot your book in a store or supermarket?Tesco

Even though the big focus for publicity was the paperback launch of The School Gate Survival Guide, the ebook coming out back in July felt like a huge milestone, so I made a little video of how it felt to be published.

I do still get a thrill when I see the book in a supermarket. I asked a woman to take a picture of me in Tesco on paperback publication day and blushed so horrendously when she asked if I was the author that the poor woman was practically backing away from the heat.

The School Gate Survival Guide is, amongst other things, a fascinating insight into the impact that school life can have on the parents, as well as the children. What are your top tips for surviving playground politics and have you ever experienced anything like that in real life?

Oddly enough, my own school gate experiences have been largely positive and I’ve made some very close friends at my children’s schools. We all know a parent who’s taken ‘giving their child every advantage in life’ to the extreme but fundamentally, I think most parents only want the best for their children, it’s just that some are quite pushy about it! My top tip for surviving playground politics is not to get dragged into them in the first place: be friendly, smile and give genuine compliments about other people’s children when the opportunity arises.

What are you working on now and what would you say your biggest writing ambitions is?

I’m just on the downhill slope to the end of the first draft of my third novel, which is about how small secrets get bigger and more toxic as they pass down the generations. My biggest writing ambition is to take time to enjoy the moment, the small successes along the way, rather than immediately finding a new goal to strive for. I do have an ambition to write a sit-com – the cheek and backchat from my teens are too priceless not to earn their keep somehow!

How do you keep creating new and entirely different characters as you write more books and do you ever worry about similarities, such as recurring themes, between your novels?

I don’t find it too hard to write entirely different characters. I ask myself with each one what it is that the character wants most in the world and the answer to that defines everything they do. So, in The School Gate Survival Guide, Maia wants her children to have a better life than hers. In my next book, The Divorce Domino, the middle-aged protagonist, Octavia, wants to feel young and as though life is full of possibilities again. That’s the easier bit. I do worry about similarities as my novels are about real people with real problems – and usually, people tend to have the same sorts of problems – marital, financial and child-related!

WaterstonesHave you had any strange encounters or messages from readers and, if so, how have you dealt with them?

I get lots of lovely messages from readers and I can’t begin to explain how uplifting they are, especially when I first self-published and people I didn’t know bothered to find me on Facebook to tell me how much they’d enjoyed my novel. So far, I haven’t had any really weird encounters although a man came to my book signing recently and asked me to sign his autograph book as well as the novel in case I became really famous…hope he makes thousands out of my signature!

 

Who is your favourite character from any of the books that you have written so far and was (s)he based on anyone in particular?

My favourite character is Clover from The School Gate Survival Guide – she’s warm, generous-spirited and doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. She’s the person I’d like to be if I wasn’t afraid of embarrassing my children. I got the idea for her at a party years ago. The six-year-old birthday girl was giving the entertainer a heart attack by ripping the paper off all her presents willy-nilly. The entertainer ran to her mother to say that no one was writing down what she’d received from whom (at a time when the norm was to spend a miserable Sunday pinning a six-year-old to a chair to write fifteen laborious thankyou letters). The mother replied, ‘Oh I couldn’t give a *bleep*, I never bother with thank you letters’. It was so un-PC I had to admire her!

Where did you get the idea for The Divorce Domino and what do you think of the advice that you should “write about what you know”?

Unfortunately, I got the idea for The Divorce Domino from witnessing the impact on friendship groups when one couple gets divorced. I realised that for a period of time, the trauma is so great for the person getting divorced that the usual to and fro of friendship trivia gets suspended – it seems entirely inappropriate to talk about the fact that you can’t get your child to practise the piano/you can’t find a reliable electrician when your poor friend is worrying about whether or not she’ll have to sell the house. Later on, when everything settles down, the person in the stable marriage can often feel left out of their friend’s new life because they are dating again, socialising more, making new single friends and having exciting child-free weekends.

I do tend to write what I know because all my books are driven by my fascination with relationships so I get my ideas from daily life. Exotic locations sometimes feature in my books because I used to be a travel journalist. The Divorce Domino is partly set in Corsica and my next one has some scenes in Florence as I lived in both of those places. I suppose my advice is, if you’re not going to write about what you know, then be prepared to spend a lot more time checking your facts – there will always be someone out there who knows and is prepared to put you right publicly.

What piece of advice would you give yourself about writing if you could go back to your pre-publication days?

Take a creative writing course as soon as possible. Don’t spend your twenties and most of your thirties procrastinating by telling yourself that you’ve got no literary connections and ordinary people from Peterborough don’t get published. Build a network of writers and authors you like, so that you have someone to bounce ideas around with. Find people to talk to who don’t nose-dive into their scrambled eggs as soon as you get to the second sentence about your plot problem. Don’t tell everyone you’re writing a novel so you don’t have to keep saying, ‘No, not published yet. No, not the next JK Rowling yet.’ And probably the most important piece of advice – you’re going to have to believe in yourself for a long time before someone else does.

Would you recommend self-publishing as a starting point for authors wanting to get their foot in the door and do you think self-School_Gate final jpegpublishing authors should invest in professional proof-reading and editing services?

For me, it was a tremendously uplifting and motivating experience because it proved there was a demand for a book that had been widely rejected by agents. However, I was utterly naïve about how much effort I would need to make with marketing my novel. I quickly realised that 400 Facebook friends equals about three and a half sales. If you can’t or don’t want to dedicate the time to marketing both online and in the ‘real world’ (i.e. speaking to writing/reading groups, going to networking events, meeting with local ‘target’ groups – in my case, mums with children) then it’s going to be exceptionally difficult to get your book to stand out. I read as much as I could on the subject and launched myself into marketing wholeheartedly, but it does take up valuable writing time.

I cannot stress enough the importance of investing in professional proofreading and editing – plus a professionally designed cover. If you don’t take yourself seriously, why should anyone else?

Who are your biggest influences in writing?

In terms of writing, I’ve been so lucky to meet some fabulous authors who’ve been generous with their time and help. I met my writing buddy, Jenny Ashcroft, at the York Festival of Writing a few years ago and I utterly trust her judgment. When I’m throwing myself on the sofa in despair, I send her my manky old pages of jumbled up first draft drivel and she helps me make sense of them. Another author, Adrienne Dines, whom I met at Winchester Writers’ Conference, is brilliant at taking my lazy, hazy ideas of a storyline and shaking them about until there’s some grain of coherence in the plot. Networking and conferences are never wasted! My agent, Clare Wallace, is also a great sense check – I feel utterly comfortable about asking her advice about anything.

It sounds horribly arrogant to say I’m not influenced by other writers – of course, I read widely and it would be astonishing if some techniques and ideas didn’t soak in – but I don’t deliberately set out to write like another author, or at least, not consciously. I did sit down and dissect Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret to see how she intertwined all the different strands of the story because I thought she handled a large cast of characters with complete aplomb. And I admire Caitlin Moran’s unique expressions – she makes me laugh out loud. I’d love to be more outrageous but I’m still a bit constrained by what people think. (Cringes and hides under kitchen table at the thought that my ageing relatives will be reading about actual, rather than hinted at, sex in the next novel).

What do your children and family think of your writing success?

WP_20141002_11_49_02_ProMy son has just about stopped telling his teachers I’m ‘an unsuccessful author’ when they ask if I work. I think my daughter is quite proud – she gave me a lovely postcard for my birthday that said ‘I can. I will. Watch me.’ I was delighted that she’d seen my perseverance pay off…I hope it will make her feel she can do anything, even when people are doubting her. My mother chases after women with children (target audience!) at car boot sales to give them a promotional bookmark and my husband is a shameless salesman. Taking my dad to see the books coming off the presses was probably one of the most joyful days of my life. That was a true WOW moment.

Anything else you’d like to share with us or advice you can give would be gratefully received!

I’d like to reiterate the advice my husband gave me: you can’t sell a book hiding in the cupboard under the stairs. Write the best book you can, then understand as much as you can about the industry, be generous-spirited – share information and introduce people, network like mad, be brave and pursue every avenue.

Good luck and thanks for having me.

Find out more about Kerry Fisher

Kerry’s fabulous ‘The School Gate Survival Guide’ is The Write Romantics’ Book-Club book of the month on Goodreads this month. You can join in the reviews and discussions here.

The ‘The School Gate Survival Guide’ is available to buy here.

Kerry’s website is: http://www.kerryfisherauthor.com/

Follower Kerry on Twitter: @KerryFSwayne

Like Kerry on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kerryfisherauthor?fref=ts