A Long Way From 1992 by Alys West

img-150928160934-0001 (2)Twenty three years after I graduated I am officially a student again.  I have my student card, I’ve ordered my NUS card and have a brand spanking new pencil case. I’ve also got a bad set of nerves as I return to education.

You see, I’ve enrolled to do an MA in Creative Writing at York St John University.  This seemed like an excellent idea when I filled in the application form.  It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for about ten years but health problems and work pressures have always got in the way.  Then when I was in Cornwall in June I decided that this was the year I was actually going to do it.

course booksI went to meet the course tutor who reassured me that genre writing was fine and they wouldn’t try to turn me into a literary writer.  So I applied and a few weeks later I got offered a place.  Then the reading list arrived and the nerves kicked in.  You see, there are some serious books on that list. I don’t even understand the title of the top one!

Okay, so I’ve written two novels now.  But I’ve not studied writing apart from the odd evening class (and some of them were very odd, let me tell you!). I’ve got an A level in English Literature but that’s back from the time of big hair and serious shoulder pads.  Could I resurrect the part of my brain that had once been able to talk about the organic timescales in Wuthering Heights?

YSJUWell, only time will tell.  And in the meantime I’ve a whole lot of other things to get used to.  Apparently they don’t have a library anymore.  It’s a Learning Centre and has more computers than books.  Not only can you talk on the lower two floors but you can take food and drink in too.  (Do I sound like a grumpy old woman if I say that my first thought was ‘what is this? A holiday camp?!) There’s electronic submissions, a virtual learning environment (sorry, what?) and an online library.  It makes me feel very old to find that a library is no longer a building but a collection of electronic resources.

The good news, when I went to the induction, was that I wasn’t the oldest person on the course and that most other people are also doing it part-time over two years.  Quite how I’m going to fit in working, writing and the MA I’m not sure.  If anyone’s got Doctor Who’s number I could really do with borrowing the Tardis for a day or two!

Back to UniUntil that happens you’ll find me in the Learning Centre, nervously clutching a cup of tea, and trying to remember that I’m allowed to talk.  Or maybe popping off to Top Shop to enjoy my NUS discount.  Now, at least that’s something which hasn’t changed!

If you’ve returned to education after a break or if you were a mature student I’d love to hear how you got on.  All words of advice on navigating this brave new world will be very much appreciated.

Alys xx

Mega Monday Announcement: An Eventful Year

Mega Monday Announcement: An Eventful Year

Happy anniversary to me! Happy anniversary to me! A year of being a Write Romantic. Happy anniversary to me!

I bet you sang that in your mind to the tune of Happy Birthday, didn’t you? You can admit it, you know, especially now that the copyright claim has been rejected and we can all breathe easilybirthday-cake-152008_1280 again.

Yes— it’s been a whole year since I was invited to become a Write Romantic. Actually, it was a whole year on the twenty-first of September, but Happy Belated Anniversary doesn’t scan as well, and, anyway, what’s a week between friends?

I can’t believe a whole three hundred and sixty-five days have passed since that moment. On the other hand, it feels as if I’ve been part of the Write Romantic family forever. They really do feel like my family, and I’m quite certain that without their help and support, I’d never have achieved what I’ve managed to achieve in the last twelve months.

So what have I achieved since joining our merry little band of writers?

Well, in November, roughly eight weeks after I was taken into the WR fold, we released Winter Tales, an anthology of short stories, published in aid of two charities—The Cystic Fibrosis Trust and the Teenage Cancer Trust. Winter Tales is still available to buy as a paperback, and we will be relaunching it for Kindle very soon. I loved writing my story, The Other Side of Christmas, which was the first short story I’d written in years, and it meant that, finally, I was a published author! Far more importantly, it meant that I – alongside some extremely talented and very generous authors – had helped to raise funds for two really worthy causes.

In March, I published There Must Be An Angel. Despite my worst fears, it didn’t sink to the bottom of the very deep, murky pond that is the Amazon Kindle pool. In fact, it’s done quite well, if I say so myself, and has been getting some very good reviews.

In June, I was delighted to have a story I’d written accepted by D C Thomson. It will be published in October as a People’s Friend Pocket Novel. This means it will be available in actual bookshops, supermarkets and newsagents, and my mother will finally be able to walk into a physical shop and purchase a copy of her daughter’s work for herself. (She doesn’t do Amazon. Or the internet. She’s only just started texting, and you can depend on the fact that her messages will contain no more than two words, and one of them will be “Mum”.)

Then, just two days ago, I published A Kiss from a Rose, my second full-length novel. This was more nerve-wracking than I’d expected. I’d had a lot of positive comments about Angel. What if people were disappointed in Rose?

Luckily for me, I was talked through that fear. Several of the Write Romantics had read A Kiss from a Rose in its early stages, and they were able to reassure me that they’d enjoyed it, and that I shouldn’t worry. This is when being part of our fabulous writing family really helps. There’s always someone to prop you up when you’re feeling nervous, down, or just plain terrified. (It happens a lot more than you’d think—well, we ARE writers!)

anniversary-157248_1280On Saturday the twenty-sixth of September, A Kiss from a Rose was launched into the world. I waved her goodbye and then shut the door on my baby. I’d been preparing her for that moment for eighteen months, after all! Rose wasn’t remotely fazed. She strode out there as if the world was lucky to have her, but then, that’s Rose for you.

I, meanwhile, turned to Facebook, and had a fantastic launch party to celebrate. I’d been worried it would just be me and a few pictures of balloons, but lots of people came and there was a distinctly celebratory atmosphere. Songs were played, celebrities partied, food and drink were consumed, prizes were won, and at the end a very disgruntled and rather familiar cleaner turned up to sweep away the mess.

I’m now busy working on my third book. Unlike Angel and Rose, it’s not set in Kearton Bay, and will probably be a standalone. I had plans for it to be the first in a new series, but then the other books I had planned out took a distinctly unusual route, and it’s now become clear that they will form a separate series of their own.

I’ve also written a couple of short stories, and have an idea for a novella, plus a Christmas collection for next year. And, of course, I have the final two Kearton Bay novels to write. So you see, my year has been a very busy one, and it doesn’t look as if the next one is going to be any quieter.

And I, for one, am very happy about that!

Sharon xx

 

A Kiss from a Rose:

In spite of managing to get a black eye at her best friend’s wedding, Rose MacLean knows she’s never had it so good. 

As a partner in a thriving business, her financial problems are easing, and her eldest daughter has finally found employment, while her youngest is doing well at school.

But Rose’s life never seems to run smoothly for long, and, sure enough, her eldest daughter has soon walked out of her job, while her youngest appears to have had a personality transplant. To make matters worse, her mother is back on the scene, and she seems to be reliving her misspent youth with her oily-haired, horse-faced ex, Alec Thoroughgood.

With her best friend preoccupied with the arduous task of baby-making, Rose finds herself relying more and more on the quiet Flynn Pennington-Rhys, who seems to be everyone’s hero.

But Flynn has his own problems, and as events take an unexpected turn, Rose realises that she may not always be able to rely on him.

Will the quiet man come through for her? Will her daughters ever sort themselves out? And will Rose ever get her bedroom back from her mother, or is she destined for a life on the sofa?     

You can buy A Kiss from a Rose here.rose-cover-ebook

Saturday Spotlight: Interview with Julie Stock

It’s a great pleasure to welcome indie author, Julie Stock to the blog today.  Her first novel From Here to Nashville was published earlier this year and she’s here to tell us all about her debut success and her forthcoming second novel (several of the Write Romantics are particularly interested in that one as its set on a vineyard!) I’ll hand over to Julie to tell us more…

JSAuthorPhotoThanks so much for inviting me to be on The Write Romantics blog. It really has been a pleasure to answer these questions for you and your readers.

The settings of your books are obviously important to you. How do you go about choosing them?

With my first book From Here to Nashville, I had a clear idea of the story already formed when I started writing and I knew that if Rachel, my main character, really wanted to make it as a country music singer, Nashville was the only place for her to go.  That was an easy decision for me although at the time of writing my début, I’d never been to Nashville myself! Writing it made me really want to go there though and it was definitely worth it when I visited earlier this year.

Julie Stock 1For my second novel, Where My Heart Belongs, I knew I wanted to set it in France from the outset but it took me a long while to settle on where exactly. Originally, the story was about a British girl going to France to find her family but it is now quite different. I studied French for my degree many moons ago and I also have French family living in the Bordeaux area so this seemed the natural place but I have travelled to so many parts of France and in the end, I chose Alsace in the east of France mainly because it is a region that is a bit less well-known to British travellers and I felt that would make it more appealing.

Are you a fan of country music?  Did any particular songs inspire you while you were writing?

It was definitely my love of country music that inspired me to write From Here to Nashville. I had also been watching the TV series Nashville at the time and it gave me the idea for my story. While I was writing, many favourite songs inspired me, so much so that I created a playlist on Spotify for readers to listen to if they wanted. You can find it here. I love all these songs but my real favourites are Need You Now by Lady Antebellum, Here You Come Again by the great Dolly Parton and I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack.

How would you describe the hero and heroine of ‘From Here to Nashville’?

dfw-js-fhtn-cover-ebookRachel lost both her parents prematurely and she has decided that now is the time for her to pursue her dream of a musical career at last. She is very determined about giving it her all. She’s also been let down in love so although she’d love to meet someone again, she won’t settle for the easy option.

Jackson is also a strong-minded character and has worked hard to rise to the top of his profession but after being cheated on by his fiancée, he has a weakness for alcohol and he fears the hold it has over him. He’s looking for someone he can trust completely before he gives his heart again.

We’re really impressed with your website, did you make it all yourself or did you have help with it?

Thank you! I have done it all myself amazingly, although I have asked my husband a million techie questions along the way. I love WordPress though and although I flirted with a paid WordPress.org site briefly, I have come back to the free version because it’s more than enough for my needs and my understanding! There are things I’d like to do to develop it further but I’m happy with it for now.

Have you published to all of the e-publishing platforms?  How did you go about doing that?

Yes, I have. Once From Here to Nashville had been out for three months, I decided to expand to all the other platforms to see how that would go. I wrote about it on my blog here. After a bit of research, I decided to use an aggregator called Draft2Digital, which is a bit easier because they do all the hard work for you. I uploaded an ePub file to them and then they uploaded it everywhere else, including the other main platforms like Apple, Nook and Kobo. I also uploaded to Smashwords, which you have to do yourself but again, all they needed was an ePub file. I have had particular success with iBooks on Apple so I’m glad I did this and it was relatively easy.

Why did you decide to self publish ‘From Here to Nashville’?

I think the main reason was that I didn’t want to wait around for agents and publishers to get back to me with inevitable rejections. I was impatient to get on with publishing, especially as I’m not getting any younger! When I realised how easy it would be to self-publish and that I could do it myself, I thought, why not? I made sure to have my manuscript edited professionally and I rewrote it at least a thousand times (!). I then organised a professional cover to be designed and finished with a professional proofread. I don’t regret self-publishing for a minute but there is no doubt that it is very hard to get and then keep the momentum going as an indie author.

Would you be interested in a publishing deal if one came along?

Now that I have self-published and I have had more experience in the whole publishing world, I can see more clearly what a good publisher does to help its authors so I would be interested if the right deal came along.

What comes first for you, setting or story?

The story definitely but the setting follows on very closely. I’m not sure if it’s only my mind that works that way but settings are very important to me and I find that the two things go hand-in-hand when I’m coming up with story ideas.

We know your second novel is set in a vineyard in France.  How much research has been involved and how did you go about doing it?

Well, in a former life, I worked for a mail-order wine merchant and as part of my job in their marketing department, I studied for all the Wine and Spirit Education Trust’s exams right up to diploma level. Although I left that job some time ago, I have always had an interest in wine (especially drinking it!) so for me, a lot of the research was already done. I have still done a lot in connection with the Alsace region and its particular wines because my male character owns a vineyard and I wanted to write in a bit of detail about growing the vines and harvesting the grapes so it was important to get that detail right.

Julie Stock 2We also decided to go back to Alsace on holiday this summer to refresh our memories about all the little things we have forgotten since we were last there. I couldn’t believe that it has been nearly eighteen years since we last went! It is still a beautiful region with lots to see and do, and the people are very special. I particularly wanted to visit the village of Hunawihr, which features heavily in my novel. It has a medieval fortified church and it was wonderful to see it in real life and to go inside.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given and what’s the worst?

Ooh, this is a hard one. I like the advice to just write your first draft until it’s done and not to get too hung up with trying to make it perfect. Finishing that first draft is the important thing and once you have that, you can get started on the lovely job of rewriting!

The worst piece of writing advice I think I’ve heard is that writers are born and can’t be taught. As a teacher, I find that quite crushing. Everyone can write, maybe not all to a publishable standard but we’re all capable of writing something. I see many children blossom to become good writers with some practical advice along the way and I’d like to think that that applies to everyone.

What are your future writing plans?

I am waiting to get on with rewriting my second book once it comes back from the RNA and while I’m waiting, I’m busy writing a novella about one of the characters in From Here to Nashville. I hope to publish my second novel early next year and the novella shortly afterwards if I can.

Blurb for From Here to Nashville

 Two worlds, 4,000 miles apart. Can music unite them?

Rachel Hardy dreams of being a successful country music singer in Nashville’s Music City, four thousand miles away from her lonely life in Dorset.

When Jackson Phillips, an independent record label owner, encourages her band to audition for a nationwide competition, she decides they have nothing to lose.

But the stakes get higher when Rachel starts to fall in love with Jackson, who has demons of his own. Now she has a dilemma on her hands – to abandon her dream and take the easy way out or gamble on Jackson and leave the life she has always known behind.

Follow Rachel and Jackson as they learn to trust in love again and to see whether music really can bring them together.

From Here to Nashville is available here:

Amazon

Smashwords

Kobo

Nook

iBooks

Julie’s Bio

Julie Stock is an author of contemporary romance from around the world: novels, novellas and short stories. She is a proud member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme and of The Alliance of Independent Authors.

Ten things not to say to a writer in possession of a bus pass

busTell someone you’re a writer and the first question you’ll probably encounter, once the bemused stare is out of the way, is, ‘Have I heard of you?’  Unless you’re a household name, the answer that springs to mind – and stays there – is ‘I don’t know. Have you?’  What you actually say is, ‘Probably not’, which may or may not be accompanied by an inspection of the ground, depending on your state of mind at the time. Writers are fair game, it seems, for the quaint remark and the dubious comment – the recent Twitter trend, ‘Ten things not to say to a writer’, is proof of that.  But once you reach, shall we say, a certain stage in life, there’s a whole new dimension to this phenomenon.  Believe me, I know…

The young woman with a survey on a clipboard:

‘Occupation?’

‘Writer.’

She looks me up and down. ‘Put retired, then, shall we?’

The new acquaintance, on hearing you have self-published one book, got publishing contracts for two, and another about to leave the stable:

‘It is only a hobby, though, isn’t it?’

The ex-colleague, female:

‘You must miss work, but how nice you’ve found something to occupy you.  My mother knits woolly hats for sailors.’

The ex-colleague, male:

‘Ah yes, I’m going to write a book when I retire, once I’ve finished all those little jobs around the house.’

The slightly younger person:

‘That’s right,’ – smiles brightly – ‘Do these things while you’ve still got all your faculties.’

The quite-a-bit-younger person:

‘At your age you must have plenty to write about.’

The friend-who-should-know-better:

‘Did you see how much that cracked vase went for on Bargain Hunt yesterday?’

(Actually, I did, but I’m not going to tell you that.)

The window cleaner:

‘My wife spends all day on the internet, too.’

The helpful-and-encouraging person:

‘Mary Wesley didn’t get published until she was 70, you know.’ Pats me on the arm.

(Well, I beat her then, didn’t I?)

… and The Husband (dangerous territory, this):

‘Has the cat been home?’

‘No idea.’

‘But why don’t you know?  You’re not doing anything else.’

Deirdre 😉

Ches

A Kentish Accent – aka the Mega Monday Announcement

© Mamz

© Mamz

I’ve never thought of myself as having an accent. Maybe no-one does but, coming from Kent, I certainly don’t have the instantly recognisable nuances in dialect that some of my fellow WRs who hail from Yorkshire do. Similarly, if you hear a Geordie speak, someone from the Valleys or a soft Irish brogue you can immediately hazard a guess as to where the speaker’s roots are. I love accents, although my attempts at impersonating them are worse than the  accent of the policeman in ‘Allo, ‘Allo – Good Moaning! If you come from Kent, depending on how posh you are, your accent is probably going to be almost indistinguishable from your Essex, Sussex, Surrey or London neighbours.

© Michel Paller

© Michel Paller

Nonetheless Kent does have its own distinctions – from our vineyards to our oyster beds, to the best weather that the UK has to offer – it’s a county that’s just as unique as any other. We also like to claim Charles Dickens as our own. Although he was born in Portsea Island (Hampshire) he moved to Kent at the age of four, and towns from Rochester to Broadstairs proudly display plaques which state that “Chas was ‘ere”. Well not quite but, like I say, us Kentish maids and maids of Kent (it matters which side of the River Medway you were born on, by the way), can be mistaken for cockneys in the right light.

© Julie Heslington

© Julie Heslington

But what have a long dead, but brilliant, writer and my lack of a discernible accent got to do with my big announcement? Well Dickens, and Broadstairs itself, were the inspirations for my Christmas novella last year. I self published ‘The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come’, to help raise my writing profile above the white noise, prior to release of my first novel with So Vain Books. The novella is set in a fictional town, St Nicholas Bay, loosely based on Broadstairs, where rumour has it that Dickens penned A Christmas Carol. I’ve had a fantastic experience with So Vain Books, but I knew my next novel wouldn’t fit their glam brief, and so I started to think about which publishers I might try for the next step in my writing career. Since I still had the rights to the novella, there was nothing stopping me from submitting that, as well as the next novel I’d finished in draft and, being too impatient to try for an agent, there was one publisher I really hoped would accept my submission…

I’m delighted to say I’ve now got my longed for accent, a four book deal with Accent Press that is. I’ll be releasing four related stories (two novels and two novellas), all set in St Nicholas Bay – a place I can’t wait to revisit – and all with the theme of motherhood that comes about in an unexpected way. The first book will be released in the summer of 2016 and then at six-monthly intervals. I signed the contract on Friday morning and that’s got to be a good enough end to anyone’s week, hasn’t it?

© Alamar

© Alamar

Only it didn’t quite stop there. Just before three o’clock on Friday, I got a completely unexpected email. I’d entered a writing contest from my holiday balcony back in July, whilst the rest of the family slept in late every morning, but I didn’t think I stood a chance and, since the shortlist was originally due to be announced in August, I pushed my disappointment at not hearing anything to one side; especially since the offer from Accent had arrived in between. I never win anything, so what did I expect? My usual prize winning standard is an out-of-date tin of Smart Price carrots in a Harvest Festival raffle and I kid you not!

I looked at the email, though, and wondered why an editor from one of the ‘big four’ publishing houses, who I’d pitched my first book to at an RNA conference two years earlier, was emailing me. Maybe she wanted to be interviewed on the blog and, thinking what a great idea that would be, I eagerly opened her email. Except she wasn’t writing to ask for a guest spot, she was writing to tell me that I’d made the top ten shortlist of that writing competition, which I’d entered under a new pen name.  Unfortunately, I can’t say anymore than that yet, as the shortlist was due to appear on social media today but, at the time of publishing this post, Couple enjoying Sunsetit hasn’t yet been released.  What I would say is that if you’ve entered competitions before and started to wonder if it’s worthwhile, then keep going.  The old adage is certainly true for me – the more I practice, the luckier I seem to get!

So how does a girl from Kent celebrate such good news? Well I’d like to say that I enjoyed Whitstable oysters and a good vintage from the Chapel Down Winery in Tenterden, but in truth it was a pizza with the kids, and a bottle of champagne, that had been languishing in the back of the cupboard since New Year, with my husband. Not Kentish maybe, and definitely not posh, but it’ll do for me!

Jo xx

Saturday Spotlight: Interview with Heidi-Jo Swain

It’s a great pleasure to welcome Heidi-Jo Swain back to the blog today.  Heidi-Jo first joined us last year and a huge amount has happened to her since then.  I’ll hand over to Heidi-Jo to tell you all about it…

image1 (1)Hello everyone! Thank you so much for inviting me back. It seems an awfully long time since I was last here!

A lot has happened to you since you joined us on the blog last year. Can you tell us about it and how it all happened?

To be honest, I can’t believe just how much has happened myself. Looking back through the archives I can see that when I first visited I had just submitted The Cherry Tree Café to Books and The City as my #oneday submission and had everything crossed that the Team would enjoy reading it as much as I had enjoyed writing it!

Fortunately they did and after a couple of visits to Simon and Schuster I was offered an e-book deal for two books just in time for Christmas. Quite literally the best present ever! The novel was published in July this year, almost a year to the day that I sent off my submission.

How are you feeling about your second novel? Is it linked to your first book? Can you tell us a little about it?

InstagramCapture_1e326093-f9dd-4633-9084-1b67fdff9e03I’m absolutely thrilled with the second novel. My editor has described it as WONDERFUL and yes, she did write in caps so I was jump up and down excited that day. I can’t tell you too much about it just yet, however I can confirm that Wynbridge and The Cherry Tree Café still feature and a couple of familiar faces can be found gracing a few of the pages. That said it isn’t a sequel so you don’t have to have read the first to enjoy the second. Not that I’m objecting if you did of course!

What’s the best thing that’s happened since The Cherry Tree Cafe was published?

Cherry tree cafe green coverThat’s a tough question to answer because so many fabulous things have happened. The spring blogger evening with Milly Johnson et al, the launch party in Arts Desire, (a local crafting café), the newspaper article and the radio interview, not forgetting the forthcoming reading and Q and A event in Norwich…

Of course all that glamour and excitement has been fabulous and I can’t wait to plan it all again for the second novel, but thinking about it, the cherry on the cupcake has been reading reviews and receiving messages from readers who have chosen my little book for their holiday or weekend read and then told the world just how much they enjoyed it. I don’t think I’ll even get over the thrill of that.

Have you ever owned a cafe? Would you like to?

No I haven’t and to be honest I think I’m far better at consuming tea and cake than baking and serving it. Bunting construction a la Lizzie Dixon is more my style! Although saying that, my Vicky sponge always goes down a storm.

We know that you put The Cherry Tree Cafe on Wattpad before it was published. Why did you do that and do you feel it was a benefit?

Uploading the first few chapters of the novel on to Wattpad was a huge moment for me. It was the first step along the path to sharing my work with the world and feeling brave enough to hear what readers really thought about it.

Although the numbers of reads weren’t through the roof I made some great author chums who are still friends today and I also gained the confidence to push ahead and seek out a publisher. So yes, it was beneficial.DSCF0411

You have a strong social media presence. How important do you think that is and how would you recommend new writers go about building theirs?

I think it is hugely important to have a strong media presence. Fortunately I’m a natural chatterbox so getting involved with readers, authors, in fact anyone online, is an absolute joy. I’ve discovered that people want to know a bit about the person behind the book jacket and I love that.

With regards to building media presence I would say don’t be ‘all about the books’. Chat, interact, share stupid cat photos and above all else, remember your manners. If someone bothers to comment, share or re-tweet then say thank you and return the favour.

We know you enjoy crafts and baking as well as your day job. How do you find time to fit writing in?

DSCF0512Well, since my last visit I’ve had to adapt my writing routine to fit in with the added demands of being a published author. I now write longhand before work, during my lunch hour and occasionally (although not as often as I would like), in the evenings. I type up what I have written on my specific ‘writing days’ and sometimes at the weekends depending on what else I have to do. Particularly when I’m writing a first draft putting pen to paper has to become a priority and writing every day helps keep the words flowing.

Thank you so much for inviting me back. I hope you have our little catch up as much as I have! H x

Read the blurb for The Cherry Tree Cafe:

Cupcakes, crafting and love at The Cherry Tree Cafe…

DSCF0399Lizzie Dixon’s life feels as though it’s fallen apart. Instead of the marriage proposal she was hoping for from her boyfriend, she is unceremoniously dumped, and her job is about to go the same way. So, there’s only one option: to go back home to the village she grew up in and to try to start again.

Her best friend Jemma is delighted Lizzie has come back home. She has just bought a little cafe and needs help in getting it ready for the grand opening. And Lizzie’s sewing skills are just what she needs.

With a new venture and a new home, things are looking much brighter for Lizzie. But can she get over her broken heart, and will an old flame reignite a love from long ago…?

For everyone who loves settling down to watch Great British Bake-Off, the Great British Sewing Bee, or curling up to read Milly Johnson or Jenny Colgan, The Cherry Tree Cafe is a coffee-break treat.

Heidi Swain’s Bio

Although passionate about writing from an early age, Heidi Swain gained a degree in Literature, flirted briefly with a newspaper career, married and had two children before she plucked up the courage to join a creative writing class and take her literary ambitions seriously.

A lover of Galaxy bars, vintage paraphernalia and the off bottle of fizz, she now writes contemporary fiction and enjoys the company of a whole host of feisty female characters.

She joined the RNA New Writers’ Scheme in 2014 and is now a full member. The manuscript she submitted for critique, The Chery Tree Café, is her debut novel published by Simon and Schuster in July 2015.

She lives in Norfolk with her wonderful husband, son and daughter and a mischievous cat called Storm.

You can find out more about Heidi-Jo and The Cherry Tree Cafe by checking out the following links:

Blog:        http://www.h-writersblog.blogspot.co.uk/

FB:           https://www.facebook.com/WriterHeidiJoSwain?ref=hl

Twitter:    https://twitter.com/HeidiJoSwain

Cherry Tree Café Links:

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cherry-Tree-Cafe-Heidi-Swain-ebook/dp/B00RM4V02E/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1430324049&sr=8-1&keywords=cherry+tree+cafe

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/the-cherry-tree-cafe/id955075784?mt=11

Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/the-cherry-tree-cafe

A Patchwork Village

Regular followers of the blog may notice a difference in our Wednesday posts from now on. After a long – and very successful – run, we’ve decided to drop our regular “Wednesday Wondering” and instead post each week on a whole variety of topics, writing and reading related (well, mostly!). Book reviews – always popular – will still feature from time to time. We do hope you enjoy our “new look” Wednesdays, and please continue to comment. We do love to hear from you!

Write Romantic Sharon starts us off with today’s post: The Patchwork Village

I’m at quite an exciting stage in my writing life at the moment. Having spent the last four years immersed in the fictional village of Kearton Bay—the North Yorkshire coastal location based on real-life Robin Hood’s Bay—I’m currently working on a new series set in an entirely new place.

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Scenic Whitby

This has been quite an adventure for me. Don’t get me wrong—I love Kearton Bay and can’t wait to return to it to write the last two books in the series. However, there’s something irresistible about starting anew. A fresh page. A clean slate. And, ooh, a whole host of new characters and settings to think about.

What’s different about my new series is that, whereas Kearton Bay was strongly based on a real village and I could picture all the buildings and streets quite clearly in my mind, the new settings are entirely fictional. They are located in a real area—the Yorkshire Dales—but the actual towns and villages don’t exist at all, and neither does the dale they nestle in. I’m having to build the whole thing up entirely in my mind’s eye. And that’s why, for the last few weeks, I’ve been creating my patchwork villages.

With the Kearton Bay novels, I took photos of Robin Hood’s Bay and explored the village many times. I gave it a relatively close neighbour—the fictional market town of Helmston, which was based on Helmsley. I simply moved Helmston much closer to Kearton Bay than Helmsley is to Robin Hood’s Bay. I then added its adjacent village, Farthingdale, and another village close by called Moreton Cross (which is never actually visited, only mentioned), and anchored the whole lot a few miles south of Whitby to ensure everyone knew exactly where Kearton Bay was supposed to be. Simple. Of course, I changed all the businesses and street names, but in my mind, I could see the whole area very clearly, because I’d actually been there.

Although I’ve been to the Dales, I have no point of reference for my new villages. Instead, I’ve been patching together buildings and landmarks that I’ve seen in various places, and stitching them into a wonderful fictional landscape for my characters to live in.

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Masham church, Yorkshire Dales

It’s fun to do. Holidays have provided me with lots of lovely inspiration—not just for the Yorkshire Dales series, but for later books, too. The grand church spire in Louth; the peaceful churchyard in Masham; a picturesque thatched cottage in Thornton-le Dale; a village duck pond in Bishop Burton; an ancient pub; a shop with a fun name that would make a great name for a village café; a grand house in my home town of Hessle; a ruined abbey; a ramshackle farm in Swaledale—the possibilities are endless. Of course, you do have to be aware of the architectural style of the area. Not many twee cottages with straw roofs in the rugged and wind-blown upper Dales!

My family have got used to me stopping to take photographs of interesting buildings, even though they can’t see the appeal. I like to gaze out of the window as we’re driving around, looking at the houses we pass and wondering what sort of people live there. I’ve always been the same. I remember when I was a little girl, taking the bus from our town to visit my grandparents in Hull, gazing at a bungalow that we passed and weaving a story about the inhabitants. It stood out from the other houses in the road, being a bungalow, and also because it had white walls, unlike all the red brick houses that surrounded it. It also appeared to have a paddock at the back, which, for someone as pony-mad as me, was enough to spark my imagination and dream up all sorts of adventures for the fictional family who lived there.

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Thatched cottage, Thornton-le-Dale

Even now, I love it when I find buildings that don’t seem to fit in with the rest of the houses that surround them. An ordinary street that contains an oddity—perhaps a really old house that must have been standing there a long time before the rest of the houses were built, or a passageway that leads to a row of old cottages, or a wall that you can’t see over which could be hiding a real gem—can delight and intrigue me, and really set my mind working overtime.

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Thwaite, Swaledale

For the Yorkshire Dales series, I’m dreaming up an outlying farmhouse, a village, a hamlet, and a market town with a very unusual history and some rather quirky inhabitants. I even had to research place names, as a lot of names in the Dales are of Old Norse origin, and I wanted to give the area an authentic sounding name.  I’m busily pinning pictures to my secret Pinterest board for inspiration, and when the books are ready to go I’ll be sharing them publicly, so anyone who wants to know what the various components of the locations look like will be able to see for themselves. It’s a real collection of tiny little pieces of many places. A real patchwork, in fact. Now I just have to finish the stories!

Sharon xx

Author Interview – Elaine Everest

ElaineESeptember2013 Hi, Elaine. Welcome to the blog!

Please give a brief bio to introduce yourself.

Thank you for inviting me to your lovely blog. I’m a big fan! I live in Swanley, NW Kent with my husband Michael and Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Henry. I’m fortunate to be a full time writer as well as running my writing school, The Write Place at the Mick Jagger Centre in nearby Dartford. My writing life started properly in 1997 when I gave myself a stern talking to. At that point I was selling the odd short story and article but decided that if I wanted to work from home and not have to worry about grumpy bosses any longer I had to be more professional about my writing – and cash flow.

Could you tell us a bit about the sort of books you write?

As a journalist I swayed toward the life I know well – dogs – preferring to write about the canine world whenever possible. My work was spotted by a publisher and after a few chats I was commissioned to write three books, Showing Your Dog, A Beginners Guide. Canine Cuisine and A Puppy in the Family followed afterwards. However, my novels were calling and gradually I was moving from short fiction to much longer fiction. After another stern talk to myself I focused on novel and turned down offers to write more non-fiction books.

ElaineEGracieYou do a great deal of work with the RNA. Could you tell us a bit about your role?

I started out as a member of The New Writers’ Scheme. After graduating to full member and being short-listed for the Joan Hessayon Award I thought life would mean I could ‘just’ write all day. However, I was invited to join the committee (what a fab bunch of ladies!) two years ago and took over the RNA blog ably assisted by Natalie Kleinman. The blog is available for all full members so I’m contacted often for a blog spot. We have at least two blog posts each week but at busy times it can be more. Earlier this year I blogged five days each week for four weeks so we could feature this year’s Joan Hessayon Contenders. It was a great experience. I oversee most of the RNA Social Media so you will often find me getting involved in #TuesNews and posting as @RNATweets. Our latest project is the RNA Facebook group that is open to all levels of membership and is both helpful and fun. Apart from my regular RNA work I’ve volunteered for the past two conferences to help out organising the one2one’s. It is very enjoyable to link members to the right appointments with industry professionals. Hearing news after conference about book deals, positive feedback and agents signing up members is heart-warming.

Do you belong to any writing organisations outside of the RNA?

As a journalist I was a member of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) but left as my writing work changed. I now belong to the Society of Authors (SOA) and have found their advice invaluable. I also attend my local RNA Chapter in London whenever I can. Running my writing school which is attended by many novelists also keeps me in touch with.

How important a role do you think these organisations / groups play for writers?

We often hear it said that writing can be a lonely profession so any chance to speak and socialise with fellow writers is most welcome. However, support, advice and guidance is also welcome. The NUJ was not really for me as I’m not really a banner carrying protester but it did mean I was able to meet other journalists and many are still friends today. The SOA is like a friend I can turn to when I have a problem – and very helpful they are too. I’ve yet to attend any of their talks but I will soon – I promise! Where would I be without the RNA? We joke about wine and shoes but I owe so much to so many members who have welcomed, encouraged and befriended me. I wouldn’t be where am today without the RNA.

Tell us a bit about your forthcoming novel, The Woolworths Girls.

I’m still pinching myself! I met my agent, Caroline Sheldon through the RNA and she had enough faith in me (and a few lines of a plot) to sign me up to write sagas. With a synopsis and three chapters she sold not only The Woolworths Girls but one other book to Pan Macmillan. I’m fortunate to have a wonderful editor, Natasha Harding, who has held my hand and led me towards publication explaining the process along the way. TWG starts in 1938 when three young women meet as they start work at Woolies and become good friends. The story follows them through the first few years of WW2. There’s love, heartbreak, crime, weddings and death all experienced in real time. The story is set in Erith, Kent and encompasses all that the town had thrown at it during those years. It was a joy to write. Hardback is published March 3rd 2016 followed by ebook and mass market in April.

And what are you working on right now?

The Butlins Girls. Hi Di Hi! The story starts in 1946 when Billy Butlin reopened his holiday camps after the war. I’m enjoying getting to know my new ‘girls’ and also reintroducing one of my Woolies girls. Deadline is looming and I break out in a cold sweat each time I think of it. I never realised how insecure I was until I became a writer.

Writers are expected to wear promotion and marketing hats as well as weave stories. How do you deal with that side of things? Do you have any personal favourites for promoting yourself?

I’m getting used to it but like many writers I’d rather be writing. I love radio. I have done quite a bit over the years from chatting to Jenni Murray on Womans Hour about redundancy and having a husband under my feet to arguing with the RSPCA about pedigree dogs. I’ve also chatted about my books. I’d rather chat than have to tweet and post ‘buy my book!’

What is your favourite genre to read? And do you have a preference for setting?

I love to read sagas – if I didn’t how could I write them? I’m also a fan of romcoms and devour Carole Matthews books as they are published and also those written by the lovely Milly Johnson. I have a romcom collecting dust on my hard drive that I wrote many years ago – haven’t we all? I’m also a closet criminal. I’d love to write crime and you will always find some form of crime in my sagas. My favourite crime author is Dick Francis. I was once told by a well known agent that I had the potential to be ‘the Dick Francis of the dog world’. I think it was a compliment. Looking back at my choices I can see that setting is really important to me. Not only does it help paint a picture for me to step into but draws me to the story in the first place. Mention an interesting setting in the blub and I will buy the book! As writers if we have a good setting most stories will work.

And finally, if you had to give one piece of advice to a writer who was in the early stages of their career, what would it be?

My advice would be to try writing different genre and see not only what works for you but what you enjoy writing. We all make mistakes on the road to publication. It’s part of the learning process. Did I mention that novel on my hard drive…?

If you’d like to find out more about Elaine, her writing life and her books, visit her on Twitter and Facebook and by using the links below.

Thanks again, Elaine. It’s been lovely having you as a guest.

Helen J Rolfe.

Twitter @ElaineEverest

Facebook: Elaine Everest

The Write Place: www.thewriteplace.org.uk

Amazon Author Page

 

Wednesday Wondering – The Ex Factor

Well, that’s it, summer is over and the darker nights are creeping in. We hope you’ve had a good summer and, if you’ve been away, that you’ve had lots of opportunity for reading. As the days turn colder and the nights turn darker, it’s the perfect opportunity to do even more reading, snuggled up on the sofa with the fire on, or hidden under the duvet.

I’ve recently started a new job which sees me doing a short commute by bus. The brief time on the bus and the wait at the bus stop have given me an opportunity to read far more regularly than I’ve been able to recently and it’s been lovely. I’m getting through roughly two books every three weeks so will hopefully start to conquer my TBR pile soon!

Of course, reading a lot means I meet more characters and, as my preferred genre is romance, I encounter more relationships. Sometimes the hero and heroine are strangers, sometimes they are friends, and sometimes they are blasts from the past, which is what prompted this month’s Wednesday Wondering:

It’s impossible to stay friends with your ex boyfriend. Discuss

I don’t think I’ve inspired the Write Romantics with my question this month. Either that or post-holiday season and back-to-school/work craziness has got on top of us all as I’ve only got one taker this month. Thanks, Jo, because it might have been a lonely WW this month!

Jo says …

Sam horse pic 1I think it’s definitely possible to stay friends with your ex, but there has to be enough beyond a romantic relationship to keep you together in a friendship after that last kiss.  My sister went out with a guy when she was between the ages of about 20 and 25 and she absolutely adored him. I’m going to call him Greg, to protect the innocent.  My sister’s now married to Greg’s childhood (and current) best friend, and Greg’s wife is now one of my sister’s best friends… are you still following?!  They all share a passion for show- jumping and my sister, her husband and the ex-boyfriend have a huge shared history too, having been friends for over thirty years now.  As for me, I’ve only had two really serious boyfriends and I married them both! Whilst I wouldn’t say I’d stayed ‘friends’ with my ex-husband, we’ve been able to sit together at our daughter’s school productions and sports days and she won’t have to worry about us not being able to sit on the top table together at her wedding. I’m don’t know how I’d feel about my current husband being friends with an ex, though.  I like to think I’d be cool about it, but I’m not so sure!

As for me, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to stay friends, but I’d suggest it’s difficult. But it depends on the circumstances of how the relationship started and also how it ended. When I started university, I had a boyfriend who I’ll call Steve. Steve and I met at uni and were friends who became something more partway through the first term of our first year. For a multitude of reasons that seem very trivial now, we split up in our second year but we remained friends. Well, we tried to remain friends. It was a bit tempestuous because I knew he still wanted more so there was always an undercurrent when we were together which made things a bit awkward. Then he met someone else. She didn’t like me (because I was the ex) and made it clear that she didn’t want me hanging around him which made it hard to continue our friendship. He continued to do his final year but I did a year out and we stayed in touch. In fact, we stayed in touch for many years afterwards and visited each other from time to time, but it became too difficult any time one of us met someone else. Eventually we lost touch completely.

In my final year at university, I made another friend who we’ll call Richard. Richard and I were great friends for a year, then got together in the summer after I graduated. It was a distance relationship and it suited us both because he could concentrate on his studies and going out with his mates while I settled into my new job and established my friendships too. There was only a 75 minute drive between us so we could still see each other fairly easily. I liked him a heck of a lot, but it wasn’t love. He claimed he felt the same way and that I should just enjoy the here and now. When he graduated and secured a job in Birmingham where I was based, I had to keep getting his assurance that he really wanted that job; not that he was taking it to be near me. He assured me it was just the job, but it wasn’t. Now that we were living in the same place at the same time, it was obvious that the relationship needed to step up a level … or fall apart. I ended it and we said we’d stay friends. I met someone else. It didn’t lead anywhere but he didn’t like it. He met someone else and didn’t tell me. I’d made it very clear when we agreed to stay friends that honesty was essential and that, if he met someone, he had to tell me because it would be awkward finding out by mistake. I found out by mistake. He’d repeatedly cancelled arrangements to go out (as friends) and I’d asked him outright on many occasions if he’d met someone else, but he was adamant he hadn’t. Then a friend of his accidentally dropped him in it. I wanted to stay friends but it was hard to trust him. Then he admitted that the new girlfriend didn’t like him spending time with me and, sadly, it became me or her. He chose her and they’re married now with two kids (we still have some mutual friends) so it was absolutely the right decision, but I lost a good friend.

Other relationships I’ve had haven’t ended well so there’s never been an option to stay friends. From my two experiences of staying friends, it hasn’t worked out. In both cases, new girlfriends didn’t like having the ex on the scene and I think this is one of the main sticking points. Putting myself in their shoes, I don’t think I’d like an ex hanging around all the time so I’m not surprised at how these women have reacted towards me. I was never a threat in that I was never going to get back with Steve or Richard, but perhaps the shared history was the threat and they wanted to create their own without me.

What do you think? Is it possible to remain friends with your ex boyfriend or ex husband? Do you have personal experiences of this? We’d love to hear from you. There’s a ‘comments’ tab at the end of the words below. Click on that and you can join in the conversation.

Jessica xxx

Saturday Spotlight: Meet Rachel Brimble

Me & Nora 3 (1)

Today we’re delighted to welcome as our guest romantic fiction writer, Rachel Brimble (on the left in the photo, sharing a moment with her favourite author, Nora Roberts).

Rachel’s latest release, Her Hometown Redemption, the 5th book in her Templeton Cove series, was published on 1st September.  (Congratulations, Rachel!)  Find out more about Rachel’s books below.

Cover (1)Rachel lives near the city of Bath – an enviable place to live if ever there was one, although Rachel has her sights set on somewhere even more picturesque – Bourton-on-the-Water, in the Cotswolds.  Her writing career began with short stories.  Once her children were at school, she embarked on her first novel which was published in 2007. Since then, she’s had several books published with small presses as well as recently signing two book contracts with both Harlequin Superromance and Kensington. Represented by US agent, Dawn Dowdle, Rachel is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Romance Writers of America.

Wanting to know more, I asked Rachel some searching questions:

What’s your best time of the day for writing?

I am much more of a morning person for creativity, but I am lucky enough to write full time so I treat my writing as a job and work from 8.30am to 5.30pm (with an hour for lunch) five days a week.

Do you have a target number of words for the day?

My ideal target is 2,000 words but more often than not, I am writing one book, editing another and promoting another. Some days I’m lucky if I write 500 new words!

Do you need to know the end of the book you’re writing before you begin?

I have a rough idea – I tend to write a three to four page synopsis before I start writing so I have something to keep me on track. Having said that, my stories do tend to change and develop throughout the writing that means the final synopsis sometimes resembles nothing like the first.

Do you ever suffer from ‘writer’s block’ and, if so, how do you get over it?

For me, there’s only way to get over writer’s block and that is to write through it. I usually stumble and fall when I start a book and then again at the halfway point around 40,000 words. I’ve found if I just keep writing, eventually something gives and I know what I need to change or delete in the next draft for things to be stronger.

I notice that you live near the beautiful city of Bath.  Do you draw inspiration for your books from there?

All of my Victorian romances are set in and around Bath – how could I not take advantage of being so close to such a bourton-on-the-waterfascinating place? The buildings, the stories, the many famous people who’ve lived there all offer a great starting place for romance.

Your book covers are eye-catching.  How important do you think covers are, and how much input do you have with yours?

I have been very lucky with my covers so far! I have very little input and only get the opportunity to push forward a few ideas when completing the publishers’ art sheet. I often wonder where the end result came from, but generally, I’m always happy.

Writers are asked all the time where they get their ideas from.  How do you answer that question?

Anywhere and everywhere – a lot of my ideas come from news stories or a real event from history…even my own life. People tend to think writers sit around eavesdropping on their conversations, lift them and write about them. I definitely have never done that!

What’s your favourite kind of holiday?

Poolside somewhere hot where I can lay in the sun all day and read…

What’s your happiest childhood memory?

I have many but some of my best are going to work with my dad – he used to take me everywhere with him when I was young.

Who would you most like to have a cup of tea with?

Nora Roberts – my all-time favourite author.

What book do you wish you’d written?

I love ‘Gone with the Wind’ and would love to write a great, sweeping epic of a story one day. To juggle a huge timeline as well as a great cast of characters is something to be admired and I think Margaret Mitchell deserves a massive cheer from writers everywhere.

Tell us about your latest book and where we can find it.

My latest release is book 5 in my ongoing Templeton Cove series with Harlequin Superromance. All the stories can be read as stand-alone and are a mix of mainstream romance and/or romantic suspense.  Her Hometown Redemption is a reunion story between Templeton Cove residents Tanya Todd and Liam Browne – they are thrown back together as they search for the man who hurt Tanya’s sister years before…

She’s back to right her wrongs.

When Tanya Todd returns to Templeton Cove, she knows better than to expect a warm welcome. She burned a few bridges on her way out of town, and making amends won’t be easy. First on her list is the man whose heart she carelessly shattered, Liam Browne. Seeing the successful criminal lawyer after all these years, Tanya is interested in more than just Liam’s forgiveness. As they work together to bring the man who hurt her sister to justice, the attraction between them sizzles. Suddenly Tanya’s second chance could include a future with Liam…if she can prove she’s changed.

You can buy the book here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00Z71DPD6

https://amzn.com/B00SVP8AEO

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/her-hometown-redemption-rachel-brimble/1121122576?ean=9781460385876

And finally, what’s next for you, Rachel?

My next release will be my fourth Victorian romance with eKensington/Lyrical Press. Her One True Love is released March 2016 and is set in Bath and the nearby village of Biddestone.

Thanks Rachel, and once again, congratulations on your new book.  Best of luck for all those books to come, and I hope that one day you fulfil your Cotswold dream.

Deirdre