Who do you want to be?

December already! How did that happen?

Never mind about Christmas, here am I, staring straight down the barrel at one of ‘those’ birthdays, the sort with a ruddy great 0 on the end. I’m not going to tell you the actual number. I’ll leave you to work that one out. If my social media mug-shot isn’t enough of a picture clue, here’s another:
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Are you with me? Good. To continue…

Given that nothing has yet been invented to halt the passing of time, I decided I might as well celebrate this birthday instead of trying to hide it. I’m lucky; my mother didn’t make it this far. I won’t be marking the occasion with anything drastic, like wing-walking, or bungee-jumping into a gorge full of crocodiles (yes, I’ve been watching I’m A Celebrity again!) I’ll just be spending time with my family (small though it is) because it’s what I love best. There will be a holiday at some point, next year when my husband catches up with me on the numbers, he being the ‘younger man’, you see.  I’ll also be having a weekend away with my three fab best friends from school, as we always do when the ‘big’ birthdays come round, and we’ll be giggling away just as we did in the first form of grammar school.

While I’m quietly congratulating myself on getting to this stage in one piece – well, as near as dammit – I’ll also be celebrating something very important, which is that I am now who I want to be; have wanted to be practically my whole life – a writer. And not only that, a published one, too. I’m not saying this in any boastful way, although I am proud of it, of course, and I’ve worked extremely hard to make it happen. What I’m saying is that it’s never too late to be who you want to be.

True, there might be the odd physical restriction if, say, you’ve always harboured an ambition to make the Olympic rowing team or train to be an astronaut. This is one of the marvellous things about writing; you can begin at any age and it doesn’t have to stop, not as long as you can put one brain cell in front of another and grope your way across a keyboard. (Long may that perfect state continue!)

There’s a flip-side to this. I came to writing late for reasons I won’t bore you with, but if you want to write, don’t wait for the ideal conditions or the perfect stage in your life. Find a way, and start now. As I said before, it’s never too late to be who you want to be. But it’s never too soon either.

Have a great Christmas, everyone! And on that subject, you might like to know about my latest book,  Christmas at Spindlewood which is 99p to download from Amazon, or free with Kindle Unlimited. It’s written under my pen-name, Zara Thorne.

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I must say it was fun writing this one.  What is it about Christmas books? Readers seem to have an unquenchable thirst for them, and very nice too.  Big thanks to everyone who has bought the book so far. I hope you enjoy it.

Deirdre x

PS. If you’d like to know more about me and my writing, check out my website.

Secrets of Structure by Alys West

When I first started thinking seriously about writing a novel, I asked the successful local writer whose evening class I was attending how to structure a novel.  She said to me, “I always struggle with structure. I’ve got a friend who helps me with it.”  It wasn’t the most helpful of responses but because she didn’t give me the answer I needed, I had to look elsewhere.  For a long time it felt like there was a conspiracy of silence about structure and novel writing as if novelists are just supposed to know.  When I started doing my MA in creative writing I discovered that if I wanted to know about structure then I needed books written for screen writers.

The reason for that is that every Holywood blockbuster you’ve ever seen conforms to the same basic plan.  You can dress this up in different ways and call it a three act structure or a five act or Freytag’s pyramid but when you look closely you’ll see that all stories have some key building blocks.

First of all there has to be an inciting incident which is the thing that happens to kickstart the story.  In crime fiction, it’s the murder.  In a James Bond movie, it’s the discovery that someone evil (either with or without a white cat) is threatening world peace.  In romance novels it tends to be something a little less dramatic.  In Pride & Prejudice it would be Darcy saying “She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me” at the Mereton assembly. In Sleepless in Seattle it’d be Annie saying ‘magic’ at the same time as Sam.  It’s the inciting incident which introduces the protagonist to a new world (for Lizzie, the world of wealth and privilege Darcy inhabits) and starts them on a journey.

The midpoint isn’t just what happens in the middle of the story, it’s the point where the protagonist changes.  It’s where they realise that there’s no way back to the old life they used to live.  But at this point, the protagonist is pretty confused by their new knowledge and doesn’t know how to handle it correctly. In Skyfall its when Bond has Bardem in his custody and realises the strength of his enemy before Bardem escapes and the tube train crashes through the roof of the M15 hideout (I love that bit!) In Pride & Prejudice the midpoint is when Lizzie gets Darcy’s letter and realises she’s had him wrong all along.  But not only does she not know what to do with this new knowledge, she doesn’t realise that she’s falling in love with him.

The crisis is where things go really badly wrong.  It’s when all hope passes away. It’s the moment when you’re yelling at the screen ‘Oh no!’ It may be a death (often of someone close to the protagonist) or in a romance the point where it seems the couple can never get together.  For Lizzie, it’s when she realises that Darcy is the perfect man for her but through Lydia’s marriage to Wickham, they are forever separated.  The function of the crisis is to prompt the protagonist to ask themselves what kind of person they are. It’s a test of character. In Casablanca, it’s when Rick realises he has to change his essentially selfish ways and let Ilsa go.  

The climax, as you’d expect, is the final showdown with the antagonist.  It’s what the story has been building up to.  It’s the moment when the protagonist faces the antagonist and everyone comes out fighting.  In Skyfall it’s the battle at Skyfall House with Bardem.  In an Agatha Christie it’s when all the suspects are gathered together and Poirot talks them through the investigation and then reveals the identity of the murderer. In Pride & Prejudice it’s the moment Lizzie stands up to Lady Catherine De Burgh and, without realising it, gives Darcy hope that she does actually care for him.

After the climax is the resolution which is the final judgement after the battle (physical or metaphorical) of the climax. James Bond saves the world and gets the girl. In Sleepless in Seattle it’s the moment Annie and Sam finally meet.  In romance fiction it’s the happy ever after and Pride & Prejudice gives us a good example of that as we have Darcy’s second proposal and acceptance by Lizzie and also her saying (because she’s learned some things as all good protagonists have to) “She remembered that he had yet to learn to be laughed at, and it was rather too early to begin”.

This is a very quick overview, of course but I’ve found it really helpful to break structure down to these building blocks.  If you’d like to know more I strongly recommend Into the Woods by John Yorke which is a brilliantly clear book on structure and how stories work. If you’re in Yorkshire then I’m doing a workshop on stories and how to tell them on Sunday 17th September at Owl & Monkey in York and you can find out more about it by clicking here.

My novels Beltane and The Dirigible King’s Daughter are available from Amazon as ebook and paperback.  You can find out more about me on my website or can follow me on Twitter at @alyswestyork.

Images reproduced courtesy of the BBC, Tristar Pictures, MGM and Warner Bros.

5 things that have surprised me about being a published writer by Jessica Redland

jessica-close-up-stripesWhen I started submitting my manuscript to publishers and agents back in 2013/2014, I have to admit that my only focus was on getting “the call” (or email) to say that someone loved my book and wanted to represent me. What I didn’t think about at any point during that process – or even at any point after I did receive “the email” – was what would happen next. Obviously I thought about my book being edited, a cover coming to life, and my ‘baby’ making his way into the world, but I didn’t really think beyond that. Therefore, there were some things took me by surprise and I thought I’d share them with you.

 

Surprise 1: Reviews

The surprise wasn’t that I would get reviews; the surprise was the content of the reviews. Before I became published, I confess that I never, ever read a review of a book as part of _MG_9715my purchasing decision. Quite simply, if I liked the sound of the blurb or the book was recommended by someone I knew with similar reading tastes to me, I’d buy it. Therefore, I had no idea that there are readers out there who will take the time and trouble to write an essay about a book they’ve loved. They’ll explain the plot in their own words, they’ll talk about the things they loved, they’ll share their emotional journey (laughter/tears) and there are even some who give their favourite quotes. Wow! That’s serious dedication. Book bloggers do this as part of their more detailed review process but it’s non-bloggers I’m talking about here. How amazing and incredibly flattering. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

The downside is negative reviews, but let’s not dwell on those 😉

 

Surprise 2: Reactions of friends & family

My mum and a small core of friends have been absolutely amazing. They’ve provided Printbeta-reading services, have promoted the book to other friends and family, and regularly ask how the writing is going, desperate to get their hands on my next release. This is lovely. And some friends who I didn’t expect to be enthusiastic have been. I’m a Brown Owl and some of my leadership team aren’t big readers but they bought my first novel and sent me texts raving about it, begging for the subsequent books. Another wow moment!

 

Surprise 3: The valuable support from other writers

When the Write Romantics was established 4.5 years ago, only one of the ten of us had a publishing deal. Now we are all either traditionally or indie published which is conf 2014 10incredible. As we’re based all over the country, we have a closed Facebook group where we chat to each other about the ups and downs of writing. I have to say, I had no idea that this group would be so valuable. Advice is shared, encouragement is given, and there are lots of virtual hugs when things aren’t going so well. I’m not sure where I’d be without my writing friends.

 

Surprise 4: How the goalposts have changed

When I first started writing, my goal was simply to write a book. Then it became to write a trilogy because my story lent itself to that. Then it became to get a publishing deal. I achieved all of these things but the goalposts kept shifting which I suppose is inevitable; you achieve your dreams so you create new ones.

P1070015I wanted to break the Top 10,000 on Amazon and, when I did that, I wanted to crack the top 1,000, then the Top 100 … Actually, that one still remains a goal for me and, if I’m really honest (which I always am), breaking the top 10,000 is still a goal most days for my books.

For a while, I became quite obsessed with sales figures and chart positions and it started to really get me down so I’ve stopped looking. Okay, you’ve got me, I haven’t stopped looking but I don’t look very often and I don’t obsess about it because I’ve accepted that there’s not a lot I can do about it. I’ve changed my covers, I’ve changed my categories, I’ve run promotions (free and 99p), and I’ve gone all out on social media yet nothing seems to make any lasting impact. Yes, a 99p deal and particularly a free deal will get a flurry of downloads, but it drops back to ‘normal’ after that and, as ‘normal’ is nothing to write home about, the only way I’m going to shift more copies is to permanently make my work free. Hmmm. And this nicely brings me onto the final surprise…

 

Surprise 5: I still have absolutely no idea what makes a book sell

I’ve had a successful career and have always prided myself at being really good at my day job. I’ve managed large budgets, sizeable teams, and huge workloads successfully. I therefore thought that I’d be able to emulate the same success as a writer. *Pauses to roll eyes and shake head at extreme naivety.* It hasn’t quite worked like that.

Ad3 (2017)The more I read and the more I chat to other writers, the more it becomes apparent that most writers can’t pinpoint why their books sell when other equally good books don’t. Is it the covers? The blurb? The title? The setting? The categories on Amazon? The length of the book? The number of reviews? Social media presence? Promotions? Who knows! Nobody can seem to put their finger on what specifically has led to success.

This is linked to the previous surprise and, therefore, you won’t be surprised to hear that I became quite down to the point where I thought about giving up. This thought circulated my mind for probably about five minutes because, let’s face it, I couldn’t not write. It’s who I am and I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I didn’t spend hours with my fictional friends, creating problems for them and then making it all better by giving them their happy ever after. However, I do think that I’m one of those writers for whom it’s not going to happen. Those who read my books and take the time to leave a review seem to love them so I’m obviously doing something right as far as the stories go. It’s just obviously everything else that I’m doing wrong! I’ll keep trying, though, and maybe one day I will be one of those who does achieve that chart-topping success and can’t pinpoint how or why I achieved it. Is it too early to ask Santa for this?

 

What about you? If you’re a writer, do you agree with my five surprises? What else has surprised you about becoming published? Even better, do you know the secret to why books sell? Please tell me. I promise I won’t tell anyone else! 😉

If you’re a reader, what makes you buy a book because I’d welcome any tips?

Thanks for reading my ramblings. Hope you enjoy the rest of your summer.

Jessica xx

You can access Jessica’s books on Kindle here.

The Romantic Novelists’ Conference 2017

Three years ago, most of the Write Romantics met for the first time at the Harper Adams Agricultural University in Shropshire to spend the weekend at the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference. It was held again at the same venue this year and I admit that, having been to numerous RNA conferences throughout England, I was having trouble placing this one. That is, until the outrageous, err…aroma, hit me! Ah, I thought, I remember you now, Mr Harper Adams!

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Harper the pig!

The very ripe smell of pig poo hit the back of my throat and didn’t remind me, for one second, of summer fields and gambolling lambs, or anything vaguely bucolic. (I love that word!)

 

But the food was lovely, as was the company. The booze flowed like a river, although I didn’t imbibe as much as previous years – can’t decide whether that means I’m finally growing up or just growing old. Think it might be growing old as I had raging indigestion on the first night and achy hips from the thin mattress on the second.

Met the lovey Carol Cooper who writes for the Sun Newspaper ‘agony’ doctor’s column and had a good old chat with the rather willowy and beautiful literary agent Tanera Simons of the Darley Anderson agency. She said she liked the sound of my second book, which has had so many different titles I’ve forgotten what it’s currently called. Hang on – I’ll be back in a mo! So, my second book is called ‘The Magic of Stars’ (It was latterly called Sapphire, Skies and Champagne Highs – please don’t say you prefer that title!) and Tanera has asked to see the whole novel! Well excited – would love to have an agent convince everyone that my books are wonderful! Watch this space and I promise not to sob all over the Internet if she turns me down –well maybe just a little bit of a blub, but that’s only fair, I think 😦

Am cursing myself for not getting a photo of me and Sarah Morgan together as she is one of my favourite authors of the moment, being a recent find. (Okay, I’ll admit it, I found her ‘cos someone told me they thought my writing was like hers. I wish!) She’s fabulously energetic and effervescent and I want to be her in my next life.

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Great advice from Sarah Morgan

Visited Shropshire Lavender farm while I was up there, as Robin who runs it, is a Facebook friend. Robin’s farm is about ten miles away from the Conference – so how could I not? Thought the wonderful smell of lavender would hit me as I drew near, but sadly it just smelled very earthy and ‘farmy.’ Robin was lovely though, as was his lavender and his cute dog!

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Shropshire Lavender owned by Robin Spenc

 

Called in to see my dear old mum and dad who live in Stone in the Midlands, on the way home. Gave my dad a copy of Air Guitar and Caviar – a proper book, no less – and he asked me to sign it. (Bless my lovely dad) I told him that he had to skim read the cheeky bits and he said that Sister Mary Joanna from my old convent school had said she’d downloaded it on to her Kindle.

How times change!

Definitely heading for Hell, now!

All in all, I had a great time –I loved the Harper Adams gang and I still love the RNA and all who sail in her!

Till we meet again – to all the people I threw my arms around and promised that we’d catch up soon, to the lovely ladies of the RNA who make it all possible (looking at you, Jan Jones) and to the Harper Adams University and your wonderful hospitality – and eye- wateringly, pongy poo. Wouldn’t change a thing and love you all!

Jackie xx

New release: Bear With Me by Jessica Redland

Searching for Steven (New Cover Design 3)I’m really excited to be releasing my 5th book, Bear With Me. I particularly wanted to launch it today on 1st May because it’s my birthday; perfect birthday gift to myself!

Working on Bear was a little bit scary because I’d lived with my Whitsborough Bay Trilogy and the cast of characters I’d created for about fifteen years! Bear With Me is still set in Whitsborough Bay but with a new cast of characters, although a few of the characters from the Trilogy do put in cameo appearances which I really enjoyed being able to do.

As well as new characters, I’ve written from two points of view for the first time. And one of them is male. So it’s all change for me.

The title, Bear With Me, works on a couple of levels. Firstly, it’s the name of the teddy bear shop that the protagonist’s mum, Julie, owns which is the setting for part of the book. Secondly, it’s about needing to ask someone to “bear with me” because you’re not ready for a relationship.

I used to have a teddy bear shop so it was perhaps inevitable that I’d set one of my stories in one. My teddy bear shop was called Bear’s Pad and I’ve given a nod to that in Bear With Me by calling Julie’s cottage Bear’s Pad. Jessica is my pen name. My real name is Julie so there’s a little nod to me in there too.

P1050693Whilst I had the shop, I attended a workshop where I learned how to make proper jointed mohair teddy bears. These are known as artist bears. I kept my very first one, sold my next two and then the next two I made were presented to my mum and my mother-in-law on my wedding day. My brand for these was Ju-Sea Bears because of my name and my home by the sea. So, of course, I decided that the bears that Julie makes would be called Ju-Sea Bears. I like to put little touches like that into my writing.

Bear With Me is available for Kindle download now. I absolutely love the cover which is courtesy of my very talented husband, Mark.

Here’s the blurb:

Sometimes love finds us when we least expect it. But sometimes love leaves us, just as unexpectedly.

Everything changes for Jemma on the weekend of her 28th birthday. An unexpected proposal from boyfriend, Scott, is overshadowed by her mum’s diagnosis with a life-changing condition. After the weekend, she needs Scott’s support more than ever. So why isn’t he returning her calls?

Everything was meant to be changing for Sam that same weekend. He should have been walking down the aisle with Nikki. But she’s not around anymore and Sam’s struggling to face the future. Did he do the right thing by moving to London to escape the memories of their life together?

When they’ve loved and lost, can they bear to let love in again?

Bear With Me, and all will be revealed …

The tricky business of writing a sequel

two books new

After Dirty Weekend was published (August 2015, Crooked Cat), ideas for a sequel began to arrive.  I loved those characters, and knew I wanted to spend more time with them.  Dirty Weekend was set in the autumn of 1966, and Moonshine (April 2017, Crooked Cat) moves the story on to the summer of 1969.

It was my first attempt at a sequel, and I knew I had to get the balance right.  I had to write the new book so that it could be enjoyed by readers who hadn’t read Dirty Weekend, while at the same time giving a sense of continuity from one story to the other.  Naturally, the second book gives away a little of the story of the first.  For example, Terry and Carol-Anne now have a two year-old, Donna.  I had to get to know her, and she turns out to be a carbon copy of Carol-Anne, with charm in shedloads and a wilful personality.

Three of the main characters in Dirty Weekend return in Moonshine – Carol-Anne, Terry, and Mark.  I sent Jeanette, the focus of the drama in Dirty Weekend, to Canada, and in her place we have Mark’s new girlfriend, Vicki.  This time, the group head off on holiday not to Brighton, but to Torbay.  Carol-Anne’s teenage sister, Beverly, plays a big part in Moonshine.  She causes havoc on the night of the Apollo 11 space mission, while the others are watching the moon-walk on television in the holiday camp clubhouse.

Knowing most of characters so well definitely helped me write them into the sequel.  They’re now 21, and have learned a lot about life since the first book, but not so much that they can avoid trouble altogether!  The year 1969 also signified much change in Britain, and I hope I’ve given a flavour of that whilst showing how my characters have changed and developed.

Dirty Weekend and Moonshine are different in style from my other two books, Remarkable Things and Never Coming Back.  The sixties backdrop and the scrapes my young characters get into lend themselves to comedy and fast-paced writing.  This lot don’t spend a lot of time on introspection – they’re out in the world, getting on with life.  I hope you love them as much as I do.

Deirdre

Amazon links to both books:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Moonshine-Sequel-Weekend-Deirdre-Palmer-ebook/dp/B06XXQNV39/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1491727927&sr=1-1&keywords=deirdre+palmer

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dirty-Weekend-Deirdre-Palmer-ebook/dp/B012TODCZO/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1479315120&sr=1-3

 

 

 

Paperchains and Nelson’s Eye: Christmas Days at Nan’s remembered

2-vintage-christmas-wrapping-paperMy earliest Christmas Days were spent at Nan and Grandad’s.  Until I was six, my parents and I lived upstairs in my grandparents’ three-storey house (a railway house – Grandad was a train driver).  After we moved out, we made the trip across Brighton, but that was no problem because the buses ran on Christmas Day.

There was always a crowd of us for Christmas Day, including my aunt, uncle and cousins from London, whom I couldn’t wait to see. The same decorations came out year after year; paperchains strung across the ceilings (licked by me in the preceding weeks – I must have been high on glue by the time Christmas came!), shiny paper stars, crumpled with age, and a small fake tree from Woolworths with red berries on the ends of the branches.  The tree took pride of place in the front room window upstairs while we were downstairs in the basement, making full use of the small living room – called the kitchen – the dining room at the front, and the scullery at the back.  This arrangement was old-fashioned even then.  Looking back, it seems incredible that Nan cooked Christmas dinner for us all on the ancient gas stove in the scullery, with none of gadgets we seem to need now to make the simplest meal.

It wasn’t just the turkey dinner with all the trimmings, either.  The Christmas cake andwalnuts-558488_960_720
pudding were made weeks before, mince pies and sausage rolls baked on Christmas Eve.  Christmas Day tea was almost as big a meal as dinner.  With tangerines, nuts and sweets in plentiful supply, I remember the day as being one big feast.  I disgraced myself one Christmas tea-time.  Nan asked me if I liked her Christmas cake.  ‘It’s a bit puddeny,’ I announced.   I’d heard my mother say that of course.

A point to note here:  my mother did not like Christmas, a fact she made all too plain.  She didn’t like her father much either.  Also, at some point in the proceedings, at least one of the London contingent would have misbehaved.  One year, the oil painting in the attic of Moses in the Bulrushes was used as a dartboard after a go at the cherry brandy. Our Christmases may have looked idyllic on the surface, but underneath, tension ran like wires through cheese.

As a treat, I was allowed a small glass of port and lemon.  I don’t suppose there was much port in it but I thought it was marvellous.  This early introduction to alcohol had me in disgrace again when, being taken to visit another aunt around Christmas time, I was asked what I would like to drink.  I didn’t hesitate. ‘Port and lemon.’  My mother was mortified and tried to cover up my faux pas.  I think I only got the lemon that time.

chineseAt Nan’s, when we weren’t stuffing ourselves silly, we played games. Dominos, draughts, snakes and ladders, all emerged from years-old boxes.  There was a game called Chinese Checkers.  I never did understand how to play it – I don’t think any of us did, and there were pieces missing anyway.  There were other sorts of games, too, and these, miserable child that I was, I found no fun at all, but it was Christmas and I had to endure them or be labelled a spoilsport.  One of these involved being blindfolded and sat on a chair.  Then you were lifted up, everyone calling out how high you were going, until bang, your head hit the ceiling and you screamed.  At least, I did.  It wasn’t the ceiling, it was a plank held above your head when you were only a foot off the ground.  Then there was Nelson’s eye.  Blindfolded again, your finger was guided into the soft squidgy eye, to much hilarity all round.  I never found it the least bit funny to be shown half an orange when the blindfold came off.

No Christmas would have been complete without Grandad enticing me and my cousins to crawl into the cupboard under the stairs to find what ‘treasures’ we could in this glory hole.  Once we were in, he would hold the door shut, trapping us in the airless pitch dark, until we became hysterical.  This trick wasn’t confined to Christmas, but we fell for it, every time.  Well, we didn’t want to spoil Grandad’s fun, did we?  What with the blindfolds and the entrapment, is it any wonder I’m a fully paid-up member of Claustrophobics Anonymous?

Grandad did have one party trick I loved, and would ask him to do, over and over.  It was simply this: he would cut a brazil nut in half and set light to the cut side, turning it into a magical, miniature candle.

Our day ended with the adults playing cards and my cousins and I lolling around, half asleep, clutching our favourite present from Father Christmas.   Mine one year was a black doll.  To my mother’s puzzlement, I’d longed for a ‘black dolly’ and was overjoyed when I got one – I must have been a very PC child, that’s all I can say.  This plastic beauty was dressed in orange knitted clothes, which, funnily enough, were the same as those I’d seen my other grandmother (Dad’s mum) knitting for the babies in Africa. Pure coincidence, of course  😉

Merry Christmas, all!

Deirdre

Deirdre’s latest novel, Never Coming Back, will be published by Crooked Cat Publishing on 8th December.  Order from Amazon UK here:   http://amzn.to/2fG0FrJ   or from Amazon.com http://amzn.to/2fbMJBe

 

 

 

 

 

Ursula Blooms Again

 

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Ursula Bloom was one of the most popular romance and historical fiction authors of the twentieth century. She wrote over 560 books, a feat which earned her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for many years, as the world’s most prolific female writer. She also wrote under a series of pen names, including Sheila Burns and Lozania Prole. As well as novels and non-fiction, Ursula wrote short stories, radio and stage plays, and worked as a Fleet Street journalist. Her work is now being reissued, in ebook and paperback, by Corazon Books.  The first of these, “Wonder Cruise: one woman’s romantic adventure of a lifetime”, is published today.

www.amazon.co.uk/Wonder-Cruise-romantic-adventure-lifetime-ebook/dp/B01CWCD5UA

Wonder Cruise Ursula Bloom

The Write Romantics thank Ian Skillicorn of Corazon Books for letting us share this lovely piece of Ursula’s writing with our followers.  We hope you enjoy it.

 How to enjoy someone else’s party by Ursula Bloom

Today too many people go to a party with the feeling that they are going to be bored; the result is that they are bored, and can you be surprised?

The success of the party you are asked to, as far as you are concerned, depends very largely on the mood in which you approach it. If you don’t want it, then don’t go to it. Don’t feel that it is the hostess’s job to amuse you and arrive with that amuse-me-or-get-out expression. A few more like you will spoil any party. Don’t leave dressing for it so late that you have to rush it, get into a flap, which stays with you, and find yourself like that for the rest of the evening.

I am polite enough to foster the idea ‒ by no means general ‒ that it is very kind of people to ask me to their parties and that I am grateful for their efforts on my behalf. I try to make myself as pleasant a guest as I can. Unlike the famous publisher at my house, who having upset the whole of a very large drink over my best table cloth and polished table stared at me in misery. I said ‒ I hope pleasantly ‒ ‘Don’t worry in the least, the table can easily be re-polished, it doesn’t matter,’ whereupon he replied, ‘Your table doesn’t worry me in the least, it is my trousers!’ He has never been asked again!

There is a very great deal in arriving at a party in the right mood. If you go to it on the principle I-hate-the-Smiths-anyway-and-know-it’ll-be-awful-but-there-you-are, and if on the journey to the party your husband keeps up a running commentary of ‘Why-did-we-ever-start? You-know-what-I-think-of-the-Smiths. How-soon-can-we-leave-with-decency?’ none of you are going to enjoy it very much, you know. Say to yourself, ‘This is going to be a lovely party. I shall enjoy myself most enormously. This is my idea of fun,’ and after that you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll get out of it. If it is one of those dull parties where you just sit or stand around with nothing to do, then find yourself a task. It is always a great deal more fun if you are helping to hand things round; see what’s wanted, take upon yourself to be friendly, and have pity on the lonelies in the room.

Never wait for introductions because like that you may find that you’ve got yourself stuck for the whole afternoon or evening. Speak to the lonely person who happens to be sitting dully there with no one to talk to, not knowing what to do. You’d be surprised how pleased people are to have someone to talk to, and many a highly satisfactory friendship is started this way. The point of the average party is to get people together, get them to know one another and waive introductions, and if you are a good guest, you will connive with your hostess on this and do your best for her.

‘I wouldn’t know what to say’, people tell me. Now this is silly because it can so easily be got over. If the worst comes to the worst, arm yourself with a few stock remarks and let them break the ice for you. ‘Do you live near here?’ ‘Do you go to many parties? I don’t, and always feel a fish out of water.’ ‘What is that you’re drinking?’ ‘Have you known our hostess long?’ Or, as one (very pleasant) fellow I met at a party approached me with (I think) the most masterly latchkey to conversation, ‘I hope you don’t mind my saying so, but I do so like your hat, where did you get it?’

That of course is finesse!

And if you are one of those unfortunate people who nurses a hunch that you hate parties and loathe the very thought of being included in them, then don’t waste your time repining, and cursing that you are ever asked to them. Give up the idea. Find your right niche. Stay at home in the realisation that the party spirit isn’t yours and therefore it is no good trying to catapult yourself out on the principle of I’ve-come-here-to-enjoy-myself-and-enjoy-myself-I-will! At the same time if this is the attitude that you are going to adopt, don’t do it with the idea of making a martyr of yourself, deploring the fact that you never get asked out and about any more, and inferring that you are a lonely little soul, somewhat neglected by your friends.

As long as you will think only of yourself, you are going to limit your fun very sadly. Give it up. Cast an eye on the people around you, and get a little real fun out of them.

You can find out more about Ursula here:

www.ursulabloom.com

 

Listening to a story

My fifth book, New Year at the Boss’s Bidding, is out now and for the first time one of my books is availableNew Year at the Boss's Bidding as an audio book. I was really excited when I was told this, but it got me thinking about the whole concept of audio books.

Have you ever listened to a book? My first answer to that question was yes. A long time ago I bought a CD (before the days of download!) but then the question transported me back to my childhood, to sitting on the floor of the classroom, in the reading corner, listening to a story being read by the teacher. From there, my trip down memory lane went to a television series  I loved watching. Jackanory was BBC’s story telling series which ran for over thirty years. So I guess listening to a story is something I do enjoy. I’d just forgotten all about it.

audio libro

I’m now quite full of enthusiasm to just sit and listen to a book. Imagine curling up on the sofa with a nice cup of tea and a story being read to you. What about listening while doing jobs around the home? When I’m in the kitchen I often have the television on for company, so wouldn’t an audio book be better? And then there’s travelling. I can just imagine being on a train, watching the landscape pass by whilst listening to a story.

I’m going to give them a try, but what do you think? Is listening really reading?

Happy reading – or listening!

Rachael

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Photo-fotolia

Grab yourself a diy website with wordpress

Ever wondered what WordPress can do other than blogging? Remember when websites were only for those who could afford them and having a website of your own wasn’t really feasible for ordinary folk?

And then came WordPress. What happened was a clever techie chap decided he’d create some software, which could build a website for people without specialist skills or loads of money. So he made a site and some pages that people could use, so they could change the photos and text of his original to make it their own, and thus create their own free website. The design he created was called a template, and the whole programme he named WordPress. The scheme really took off. Now there are well over 2,700 free templates, and many more available at a variety of costs if you want to splash out.Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 20.04.50

What’s more, he made it open source, so there is no copyright, no-one owns it and its free to use and always will be. Open source also means anyone can add bits of code to personalise their own version, though capable people update the whole thing. Many people do make it their own, because talented developers add bits of programme that we can choose to use or not, like mailing lists and special effects. It looks good on their developer’s CV, so its a win win situation. WordPress is a big hit; anyone can now have a website that they can make exactly their way, for a minimal price. Now its reckoned that around 25% of websites are powered by WordPress – its not just people on a budget, even the Rolling Stones use WordPress.Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 20.08.12

So what are the options if you’re thinking of setting up a site? There are now two different sorts of WordPress – wordpress.com and wordpress.org – and there is a difference in how they are managed, and the costs involved.

Firstly, you need somewhere to keep your website so people can see it. Your own computer isn’t set up to do it, so you need a space on someone else’s specialist computer. This is known as hosting. WordPress.com does this and is free for a few pages, but there are drawbacks. Only a few pages are free, you might have to have adverts on your site, you have to choose one of their themes, and if they don’t like your site they just take it down. There are restrictions on all sorts of things and if you want to change things you have to pay. I suppose they’ve got to make their money somehow. Its around £80 a year as at 2015, more for your own name.

There is, to my mind a much better deal. WordPress.org runs in a very different way. The software is totally free but again you must have somewhere to put it that isn’t your own computer, hosting. A Google search will give you any number of companies. In my experience those that come at the top of the list are expensive. I wanted a cheap price, lots of space, UK helpline, short waiting times to be answered, and knowledgeable service. I didn’t want much, eh? I got all that, plus room for loads of pages bulging with photos, videos, a shop and all sorts. I got that from TSO host. I knew nothing when I went to them and they talked me through the whole lot and downloaded WordPress to my own site. I bought my domain name through them (easier than trying to match up a site name with the pages elsewhere. That was around £10, the hosting is £2.99 a month (in 2015), and that was all I needed to get started.

At first I had to watch a lot of videos to see how it worked, and they’re all free too. But now I’m pretty good at zipping around it, and if I fancy changing the colour or something, I can do that with the press of a few buttons. There are extra bits of software you can use to tag on features; they’re called widgets and plugins. You look for what you want via the management pages of your website. Say you want an emailing list, find a plugin that does what you want, read the reviews just to check if it’s okay or not, click a few boxes and, hey presto, its added a bit of code for you and job done. I love the freedom its given me.

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Of course there is a drawback. As WordPress is developed by so many people, there isn’t one central person you can go to for support, though lots of people will know a lot. Each plugin or widget will have a developer you can approach for help, but mostly you go to one of the dedicated message boards and ask on there. Its not as scary as it sounds, and pretty soon you’ll be answering questions yourself.

And you know what else I like? The language. There are all sorts of zany terms for humdrum items. For example there is one button which you click and then a whole load of other menus come up and you’ll never guess what its called. Because it contains so many useful functions its called the kitchen sink! Isn’t that sweet? Its the only kitchen sink I can happily use without getting an attack of the heebie jeebies!

I’ve dotted a few screenshots of websites built with WordPress, hope you like them. There even a new plug-in called moo berry dreams, especially for authors, which lists your books and uses the information to prepare press releases and other things leaving more time for writing. See mooberrydreams.com

Lynne Pardoe.