In a Manhattan Minute

In a Manhattan Minute is out today! October 20th sees the publication of my fifth novel.

A winter story set in the snow and excitement of the big city, In a Manhattan Minute is the perfect romance to curl up with. And for only 1.99 it’s a bargain price for a trip to New York City…

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Here’s the blurb…

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… but when the temperature dips, can Manhattan work its magic?

Jack exists in a world that has seen its fair share of tragedy, but also success and the wealth that comes with it. One snowy night, he crosses paths with Evie, a homeless girl, and it changes everything.

Three years on, Evie’s life is very different. She’s the assistant to a prestigious wedding gown designer, she’s settled in Manhattan, has her own apartment and friendships she holds dear. But the past is lurking in the background, threatening to spoil everything, and it’s catching up with her.

Kent has kept a family secret for two decades, a secret he never wanted to share with his son, Jack. And even though she doesn’t realise it yet, his life is inextricably tangled with Nicole’s, the woman who was his housekeeper for thirteen years and the woman who helped Evie turn her life around.

It’s Christmas and a time for forgiveness, love and Happy Ever Afters. And when the snow starts to fall, the truth could finally bring everyone the gift of happiness they’re looking for.

Grab a hot chocolate, turn on the twinkly lights and snuggle up with this unputdownable heart-warming novel. 
In a Manhattan Minute 

Helen J Rolfe x

 

A Bright New Start for Beltane by Alys West

downloadFor as long as I’ve wanted to write I’d hoped to one day sign with a literary agent.  And then I did and it was nothing like I’d imagined.  Possibly as a result of reading too many books set in the 1930s, I had this idea of literary agents as fatherly figures or blue-stockinged, strong minded ladies who maybe smoked too many cigarettes or took too many long lunches but knew the publishing industry inside and out.  I thought they’d pick up my book and guide it, with a firm hand, out into the world.  Perhaps that’d involve wining and dining the right editor, or shaking the right hand at a book fair, but sooner or later I’d have a book deal on the table.

Only it didn’t work out like that.  I got a series of very polite rejections for the most baffling variety of reasons.  One editor loved this about it but not that, the next turned it down because they enjoyed the rest of it, but hated what the first editor had loved.  At the end of that my confidence, which is never high, had taken a total battering and whatever belief I’d had in Beltane had pretty much disappeared.  And my faith in my agent was being shaken at the same time.  They made promises they didn’t fulfill, often didn’t reply to emails until they’d been chased and, hardest to forgive, turned down two offers from publishers in the US without discussing them with me first.

Then last autumn my agent suggested that I publish Beltane through Amazon’s White Glove programme.  White Glove is only available to people who have an agent and, I was told, is like an enhanced form of KDP and would allow access to Kindle Monthly Deals.  Once I got started with it there was little evidence of the additional marketing support that I’d been promised.  It turned out that Amazon had changed their rules, since we’d originally talked about it in the autumn, and books could only be nominated for Kindle Monthly Deals quarterly and I’d have to wait until the end of March to be nominated for spring promotions.  But before that the price had to remain above £1.99 and it wasn’t possible to run any other promotions.  Anyone who has self-published will be aware of how hard it is to generate interest in a debut. Being unable to drop the price below £1.99 it felt next to impossible, no matter how great my reviews were or how much time I spent on Twitter.

It took something else to happen for me to leave but the end result of all of this is that my agent and I have now parted company and I’ve been trying to re-orientate myself in a new world.  I’m now with Fabrian Books. It’s lovely to be part of a small team but retain control of the way my book is sold and marketed.

Beltane new ebook coverNow I’ve arrived here, I’m wondering if it’s where I should have been all along.  I’ve tried to play by the rules, doing things the traditional, approved way and it’s not worked.  Perhaps I’m not cut out for dealing with the world of traditional publishing.  What I’ve seen of it so far has not exactly impressed me. Coming from the certainties of the world of law it’s pretty hard for me to understand that everyone in publishing seems to be desperately searching for the holy grail of the next big thing, but can’t actually tell you what it is they’re looking for.

Watching someone mismanage your book is a very painful process.  I never want to go through that again, so does that mean I’m now indie for life?  I don’t know.  I guess I need to try it and see.  I felt really fed up earlier this week about it not working out with my agent, about the time wasted and the opportunities I could have taken if I’d not been locked into this route that was supposed to be the best one for publication.  Thanks to the support of the other Write Romantics and an exercise at my yoga class about being upside down and looking at things that way (try it sometime, it really helps!) I’ve now been able to see that maybe I needed to try the agent route to find out that it wasn’t right for me.

Because of all of this, I’ve read Beltane again for the first time in about 2 years.  What really hit me this time is that it’s a book about outsiders.  Maybe it’s right that it’s now truly independently published.

Has your route to publication not worked out at all as you’d expected?  If you’re happy to share them, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Beltane is now published by Fabrian Books and is available here and is only 99p until the Summer Solstice on 20th June.

Measuring success as an author

IMG_0544How do you do it? The concept of what success means is constantly shifting, not just for writers as a collective, but for each of us as individuals. Even when we achieve what we thought we wanted to achieve, there’s no guarantee it will actually make us *feel* successful. There are always others who seem to be doing better or perhaps doing things differently to us, who will make us question whether we’ve made the right decisions or whether we should be on a different path altogether.

 

So what’s writing success? Perhaps it’s…

  • Getting a publisher?
  • Getting an agent?
  • Owning your writing journey as an indie author?
  • Seeing your novel in a book shop?
  • Appearing in an Amazon top one hundred chart?
  • Receiving lots of 5 star reviews from people you’ve never met?
  • Making a decent amount of money from writing?
  • Getting an email from a reader to tell you how much they loved your book?
  • Making your mum, dad, children or next door neighbour proud?
  • Creating a social media presence with followers in their thousands?

Maybe it’s lots of these things or something else entirely. In the last couple of years, between us, the WRs have achieved more of these measures of success than I think we ever really thought possible. But, lately, I’ve been questioning what it is that would make me feel I’ve been successful as a writer and I happened upon a quote that really resonated with me:

‘Success should be measured by how much joy it gives you.’

For my writing life, this is so true. Whilst I’ve ticked a lot of things off the list above, there are several still to achieve.Chart position AATS However, I’ve discovered if I approach writing chasing too many of those measures of success, I can rob myself of that joy. I started writing just because I loved it and that’s how I want to measure my success. If my writing gives me joy, then I can’t really ask for more. The rest is all just garnish.

As for my social media presence, that’s probably strongest here, on this blog, with the rest of the WRs. There might be lots of blog awards we could have won with a different approach and there are writing collectives with a higher profile than ours. However, if success really is measured by the amount of joy something brings you, then being part of this blog and, more importantly, this group has also been a resounding success for me.

I’d love to know how other writers measure their success and, whatever form that takes for you, I wish you lots of it.

Jo

How to research a novel

Author photo - Helen J RolfeI’ve always been what I’d call an ‘over-researcher’ if there’s such a term. Back in the days when I wrote articles for health and fitness magazines I’d read up on a subject using literature and the internet, I’d interview a couple of experts in the field and even for a short article I’d have far more information than I ever needed.

So what about when it comes to writing a novel?

With The Friendship Tree I really took the age old advice of ‘write what you know’. I knew the Sydney location well enough to send my characters, Jake and Tamara, into the city. I’d worked with a PR team, Brewer Creek was a fictitious town and I had enough knowledge to place it in the right area. To make Jake’s job as the local veterinarian realistic I chatted to Write Romantic, Rachael Thomas, who owns and runs a dairy farm.

I’m finding that as I write more novels, I need to do more research. My ideas and my characters are taking on dimensions that I’m not familiar with and I owe it to the stories to get all my facts.

So how do I know when I’ve done enough research?

At a certain point I find that the information I’m uncovering is repeating what I’ve already found, what experts in the field have confirmed, and it’s at that point I know I have enough information to go on. Sometimes questions crop up during the writing process and I’ll do a little more research at that stage, but by then it’s minimal.

So what am I researching now?

Well, for book four, which is in the editing stages, I took myself in to see professionals in the field because I knew it would allow me to make my characters jump off the page. This book focuses on a character who owns and runs a chocolaterie and apart from eating chocolate, I know nothing about what they do each day. Luckily, Creighton’s Chocolaterie in Leighton Buzzard invited me in for a couple of hours to watch them work and to ask as many questions as I liked. By the time I got home I knew I had plenty of information to start writing and as I got the words down on the page I knew it wouldn’t have been so easy without seeing the work environment for myself.

Of course, part of my research was to taste a few varieties too and bring home some samples. I couldn’t resist!

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I think research for a novel is easy to begin on the internet. There is a plethora of information out there and as long as you’re using reliable sites it’s a good foundation. I think talking / interviewing experts in the field is also really key to good research. For Handle Me with Care I interviewed a specialist who knew so much about testicular cancer. I was able to tell him the situation I’d put Evan, my character in, and ask him if this would happen. I asked him physical symptoms, the emotional trauma patients face. And most of all, it helped keep my story believable, realistic and accurate.

For my novel, What Rosie Found Next, I interviewed a firefighter from Australia and again asked about certain scenarios and technicalities for my characters and situations I’d be putting them in. This was crucial and the firefighter who helped me passed some of my writing around the rest of the team so I could get feedback from more than one source. It helped me make the writing accurate and I was so happy when a few of them said they were desperate to know what was going to happen in the book!

Another way to research is in person. It’s not always possible but I feel it really enhances the way you write if you are able to experience something yourself whether it’s doing a parachute jump (not me!), visiting a foreign country where you want to set your new book, or work shadowing to see how a job is performed and ask questions on the spot.

My first draft of book five is underway now and with it being in a totally different settting, a place I’ve never been to myself, the research is heavy but fun! All I need to do is persuade my husband to let me book a flight over to New York! It’s work-related after all!

Helen J Rolfe.

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If you want to find out more about me or my books, please visit my website: http://www.helenjrolfe.com/

Or you can find me on Amazon:  http://hyperurl.co/pxu978

 

Ode to a Writer

Conf 2014 3I had one of those conversations the other day, where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. My head was wedged into the porcelain torture device more commonly known as a hairdresser’s sink and the young girl washing my hair was talking about her sister who’s studying English at uni.   I asked, as you do in these situations, what her sister wanted to do when she finishes. “She quite likes the idea of writing books, so I think she’s going to do that.” Did I tell her how difficult that was? Or ask her to pass on to her sister that she should have a back-up plan, a postgraduate certificate in teaching perhaps? Of course I didn’t, I just nodded and laughed inwardly. Drawing here on a melting pot of WR experiences, this is what I should have said!

 

Ode to a Writer

You want to be a writer and your mum’s your biggest fan,

Poems penned at eight-years-old convince her that you can.

Your dreams you keep them quiet, until you’re Brahms and Liszt,

You tell your friends who laugh-out-loud and soon you get the gist.

“A living as a writer? I suppose there’s always hope,

You stand about as good-a-chance to get elected Pope.”

 

You read a lot of ‘how to’ books, but not quite ready yet,

You spend enough on stationery to beat the national debt.

After learning twelve new swear words and an awful lot of graft,

Your book’s more holes than Swiss-cheese, but at least you’ve got a draft.

A hundred versions later, to submit it you’re all set,

And stop hiding from friends’ demands if it’s been published yet.

 

Out to publishers and agents, sure the slush pile it will ride,

But what if they all want it? How on earth will you decide?

You start to stalk the postman, your relationship you taint,

He’s forced by your obsession to an order of restraint.

He just brings pizza flyers, not a flaming other thing,

Your email’s also empty and your phone it doesn’t ring.

 

Then a meeting with an editor! To pitch it in one line,

It takes deep consideration and a bucket-load of wine,

A teenager in hot pants rejects the book as “out of style”,

You’d like to run her over, but you force yourself to smile.

“Your target market’s disappeared, your genre in the past”,

Another pitcher full of wine? You swear this is your last.

 

Who needs a publisher anyway? Self-publishing’s the key,

To notice it amongst the rest, you start the book for free.

You don’t let stats stand in your way, you know you’ll be the one,

To earn enough, once you charge, for mansions in the sun.

Your statement comes from Amazon, the sales they do amaze,

Enough to buy a whole doughnut, but only without glaze.

 

A fab five-star reviewer puts the smile back on your face,

But then there is the one-star for that comma out of place.

Mad to be a writer? We’re afraid that much is true,

Take comfort that you’re not alone, as we’re all crazy too.

And if we weren’t still writing, how would we spend the time?

Now pass us back that laptop and another glass of wine.

 

I probably could have written another twenty verses, but despite all this the WRs wouldn’t – or more accurately couldn’t – swap writing for anything else. Happy writing all you crazy fools! Jo x

Aspiring writers step away from the scorpions! The WRs are here to tell you why…

Hello and happy bank holiday weekend!

If you’re a regular follower of our blog, you’ll know that a Saturday normally means The Saturday Spotlight in which we interview writers at all stages in their career – aspiring to chart-topping, indie or traditional – as well as the occasional interview with an editor, publisher or agent. Today, though, we’re doing something a little bit different. We want a little exploration of the past, present, and future of the Write Romantics…

conf 2014 10In the beginning, there were just a pair of Write Romantics. Jo and I ‘met’ when I was in my first year of the RNA’s NWS and Jo was in her second year. I’d finally got around to joining Romna, the RNA’s online community, where newbies are invited to introduce themselves so I tapped in a “hi, this is me” kind of email. Jo immediately contacted me as we shared a writing genre and other interests. A friendship was instantly formed and we exchanged incredibly long and detailed emails over the next few months. In early 2013, the idea developed to set up a blog. We found our name, we found a format, and away we went. But it soon became apparent that finding enough writing-related things to say to regularly contribute to a blog when there were just two of us, neither of whom were ready to seek a publishing deal, was going to be a massive problem. But a problem shared is a problem halved. Or tenth-ed in our case because we put an offer out on Romna to extend the group and were quite overwhelmed to find eight other writers who wanted to join us. Phew. Because it could have been a bit embarrassing if we’d had no response!

Conf 2014 3We don’t mind admitting that we hadn’t a clue what we were doing! None of us were expert bloggers. In fact, we weren’t bloggers at all! I’d set up a blog a couple of months previously following my journey to get fit and lose half my body weight through a beach-based bootcamp (which I still run although I’m slightly ashamed to say that I’m still, 2.5 years on, trying to lose half my body weight – oops!) so I had a little bit of experience of regularly posting, and Rachael had some experience of being part of a writing group who blogged, but that was it. So we had to pretty much start from scratch.

It’s been great working together as a team to develop the format for the blog into the regular bi-weekly slots we have now. We all contribute posts and we all bring interview guests to the party. Two years ago, after about 4-5 months of blogging together, we asked the WRs if they’d like to re-affirm their commitment. Were they happy with what we were doing? Was it what they expected? Did they have the enthusiasm and willingness to really move the blog forward and start posting more regularly? At that point, one of the WRs decided to dip out because her commitments outside writing meant she was going to struggle to contribute and, for a year, we were nine. Then last September, we asked Sharon to join us. I’d met Sharon the year before, as had WR Alys, and she’d become a great supporter of the group. She already felt like one of us so it was a natural step to officially invite her into the fold, restoring the power of 10.

Although we live all over the country – Cumbria, North & East Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Wales, East Sussex, Hertfordshire, Somerset, Kent (hope I haven’t missed anywhere!) – and have never all been in the same place at the same time, we’ve become really close through the power of social media. We’ve celebrated the highs, sympathised during the lows, built each other up during down moments, and learned from the various paths the group’s writing journeys have gone down. It’s often said that writing can be a lonely business but the WRs are never really alone and we’d massively recommend all writers find themselves a support network, whether that’s a writing partner or a large group like ours. We’re all convinced that some of the amazing things that have happened to the group over the last couple of years have been thanks in part to the support and encouragement of the group. So what are those amazing things? I’ll hand over to Jo to let you know more …

Reproduced by kind permission of © Ra\'id Khalil via Dreamstime Stock Photos

Reproduced by kind permission of © Ra\’id Khalil via Dreamstime Stock Photos

‘What a difference a day makes, twenty four little hours…’ or so Dinah Washington’s song goes. It might have taken more like twenty four months since deciding we wanted to stay Write Romantics, as Jessica says above, for our fortunes to really change, but the sentiment’s exactly the same. Even on our down days, when we do consider giving up to take up scorpion petting instead, as one of the Facebook jokes about writing goes, it’s been a pretty incredible two years.

If you’d told us back then what we might have achieved by now, we’d probably have given you a bitter little laugh – how little you knew. Most of us were wearing the battle scars of rejection already and some had been pursuing the publishing dream for ten years or more. Did we give up? No, but boy did we talk about giving up! That’s the beauty of the group though, just when you are about to put a down payment on a pair of breeding scorpions, someone is there to talk you off that particular ledge.

I’m about to give you a round-up of what those two years has seen for us. Not because the WRs like to big themselves up, as my kids would say; in fact, the other eight don’t even know Jessica and I are doing this and they’ll probably cringe when we sing their praises. The reason we are writing this blog is the opposite. It’s because we remember exactly what it’s like to be an aspiring writer – not one who used to write for Tatler or produce radio plays for the BBC and has the sort of connections you don’t get when the height of your networking involves spotting Bob Geldof buying carrots in your local branch of Tesco – but ordinary people who just love to write.

Is it really possible to get published if that’s your starting point or will it only ever be your mum who downloads a self-published tome from Amazon, as you languish at chart position number three million and thirty two? We want to tell you, if you are an NWS member reading this, or an aspiring writer of any sort, that it’s not only possible but there are lots of ways to get your work out there and, whether indie, traditionally published or some hybrid of the two, there are also lots of ways to measure success. Not everyone is lucky enough to be part of a group like this, who will tell you to step away from the scorpions, but we hope reading a round-up of our journeys so far will reassure you that if you keep going, it can happen for you too.

So what is it we’ve done? Well, being of a certain age – I think Helen R was just clinging to her thirties when we first joined together, but we are now all in our forties or beyond – I think IMG_0076most of us dreamed of having a paperback with our name on and maybe even seeing that on the shelves of WHSmiths or Waterstones. Okay, so we know that all the statistics reveal that books in the commercial genres we write in sell better as ebooks than in print, but we’ve had this dream since before Kindle was even a twinkle in Amazon’s eye. So are we living the dream? Well, of the ten of us, eight of us now have paperbacks out there or are in the process of going in to print and four of us have had books in WHsmiths and/or Waterstones and supermarkets, with Jessica’s about to appear in some of the Yorkshire Waterstones really soon and Sharon’s pocket novel hitting the shelves in October. Nothing beats seeing your book on the shelf, despite how times have moved on… although being caught taking a selfie with it is a bit embarrassing, hence me using my son as bait in Smiths! Our books are also starting to hit the shelves of libraries too, with Jessica leading that particular charge.

Helen P, Rachael, Jessica and Sharon all have multi-book deals with the same publisher and I’m awaiting finalisation of my contract before revealing some news of my own on that front.  We’ve also seen the launch of The Write Romantic Press for our anthology and a number of us have dipped our toes into the world of indie publishing, with Lynne riding consistently high in the charts with her first indie published title. Fabrian Books, which started off as a small indie publisher, is now handing over the ownership to its authors, giving them the benefits of having more of a say in their publishing journeys and hoping to follow in the footsteps of other publishing cooperatives like The Notting Hill press, with two of the Write Romantics breaking new ground in this exciting venture of what’s termed publishing’s ‘third way’.

We’ve had almost twenty five books published (or about to be) between the ten of us, through publishers including Carina, Crooked Cat, DC Thomson, Fabrian Books, Mills and Boon and So Vain Books, with more news pending and work under consideration by a number of places that are the stuff of dreams, including the BBC no less!

Chart position wise, Deirdre, Helen R, Jessica, Sharon, Lynne and myself have all appeared in the top hundred or higher of our genre charts at one stage or another, with a number in the top ten. Helen P and Rachael have hit even dizzier heights than that though, with Helen P regularly knocking her own hero, Stephen King, off the top spot and Rachael hitting number two across the hugely competitive Mills and Boons chart, although the rest of us know that the number one spot is hers for the taking.

author 2Alys secured something else we’ve all dreamt of at one stage on another, with agent representation, and her debut novel will be out in time for Christmas. Jackie made the top ten shortlist of a hotly fought Mills and Boons contest and is about to make a round of submissions which we are sure will see all ten WRs published by 2016.

So for all you NWS members who’ve recently submitted your manuscripts – or, if you are like I used to be, who’ve just run down to the post office to send it last minute, days before the deadline, with your hair stuck to your forehead and a hopeful surge in your heart as you send it off – or if you’re an aspiring writer of any sort, it can happen. There’s a hackneyed phrase that says the difference between a published writer and an unpublished writer, is that the former never gave up. It’s the sort of advice that used to make me want to French-kiss a scorpion after yet another rejection, but believe me it’s true. So step away from the poisonous arthropod and keep going, it really is worth it in the end.

Jo and Jessica xx

Behind the scenes… with Sophie Childs

Me croppedHappy Valentine’s Day! Our guest on the blog today is Sophie Childs, who shares a publisher with both Write Romantic Julie and Jo.  Sophie is a home educating mother of five. She spent five years living in New Zealand, but home kept calling to her, so she now lives in the lush Welsh Valleys, along with her husband, children and their copious amounts of animals. She’s the author of Behind the Scenes, which is due for release on 26 February 2015 from So Vain Books and would love to hear from anyone who reads it to know what you think.

Welcome to the blog, Sophie, we’d love to start by asking you a little bit about your writing journey so far and how your publication deal came about?

It sounds like a total cliché, but I’ve always been a writer. I used to make books when I was a child, sewing together the pages then creating elaborate covers before filling in the pages. I wrote my first full length novel when I was 18 during the summer holiday before starting university, just to see if I could sustain a story for 50,000 words. I could, but not well enough to attract the attention of a publisher or agent.

Fast forward many years of office work followed by marriage and full time motherhood, and I set up my own publishing company because I knew too many talented people who deserved to be in print but weren’t. Eventually I sold the company as a going concern to focus on my own writing and started working as a freelancer, which brings us to today.

So Vain knew me through my freelancing work and they approached me to see if I had a novel I wanted to pitch to them. Luckily for me, I did, so I finally got the coveted book deal I’d always wanted.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer and how did writing a novel under your own name differ from the ghost writing you’ve done in the past?

I don’t know that there are any downsides to being a writer, although my family would probably tell you that I’m a workaholic! Writing’s both my job and my hobby, so it makes me happy to be able to do what I love and get paid for it.

The biggest difference between ghost writing and my own work is that with ghost writing I’m writing for a client, so I need to produce something that fits their vision, whether it’s what I would personally usually write or not. I always go out of my way to exceed their expectations, but you are restricted by the brief and their target market. If I’m writing for myself, I have the freedom to do whatever I like, so if I don’t like a concept, or I realise that it’s a bad premise, I can ditch it and move on to something new.

We know you love to write horror and that ‘Behind the Scenes’ is more of a romantic comedy, but do you Behind the Sceneshave a favourite genre – either to write or to read?

That’s like asking me to choose my favourite child! I do love reading and writing horror. I enjoy taking outlandish ideas and really twisting them to see just how strange things can get, but there’s also a lot of fun to be had in creating characters that are more true to life and watching them deal with the stress and strain of everyday living. The one common theme with all my work, though, is that there’s a distinct quirkiness to it, which comes out in characters like Bethan.

What inspires you most in your writing and what gave you the idea for ‘Behind the Scenes’?

I take inspiration from all around me. Sometimes someone will just say something and I’ll use it as the opening line of a story or something happens and I know that if I just tweak a few of the details, it would be perfect in a book. There’s a lot in ‘Behind the Scenes’ that’s based on my own personal experiences. There isn’t anybody directly copied from real life, but elements of lots of people I’ve met over the years have found their way into the story.

As far as where I got the idea from, I was writing articles for a movie website and read about how Keanu Reeves is known for travelling around on the subway in New York. It got me thinking about what would happen if I’d met a Hollywood A-lister on the train. The closest I ever got to one was when Ewan McGregor came to an open mic night I used to host, but sadly, I didn’t even spot him in the audience (which is probably a good thing, because, unlike Bethan, I probably would have dissolved into a gibbering wreck!). However, I did get talking to Darren Boyd, who was also there and is one of my favourite actors, and that encounter formed the basis of ‘Behind the Scenes.’

What are the best and worst things about being traditionally published? Would you ever consider self-publishing?

I must admit that I can’t think of any bad thing to say about being traditionally published. My publisher and agent have been absolute dreams to work with. We have a fantastic working relationship and it’s thanks to them that the book turned out the way it did. They’ve been really supportive of my work, so it was really easy to sign a second contract with them for another book.

However, I’d never say never to self-publishing. I set up my own publishing company a few years ago and ran it for five years before selling it, so I understand the hard work that goes into getting a book on the market. If I had a manuscript I felt really passionate about but didn’t think I’d have any success with getting it picked up, there’s a good chance I’d put it out myself.

How have you approached the marketing of your novel?

I’ve had a lot of support from my publishers in helping to get the word out. Obviously, I’ve been tweeting up a storm and the book’s listed on my website, www.sophiechilds.com, and I’ve also got a number of guest blog posts coming out over the next few weeks to help spread the word. There’s even going to be a book launch event, but the details haven’t yet been made public, so I can’t talk too much about it.

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Who is your writing hero/heroine and do you have an all-time favourite novel?

My favourite book of all time is “Tigana” by Guy Gavriel Kay. It’s a truly beautiful book and if I had half the talent he does, I’d be happy. He manages to make all his characters so well rounded, even the most minor, and he pulls you through every emotion imaginable. I can’t recommend it enough.

As far as chicklit authors are concerned, I’d have to say that I have huge amounts of respect for Marian Keyes. She manages to deal with some really deep issues in her book, yet keeps her tone light and readable. Mike Gayle’s another favourite, too – I’ve never read a book of his I didn’t like.

What are you working on at the moment and what are your writing aspirations for the next few years?

I’m working on my next project with So Vain, which is due out in February 2016. This one’s based around an internet dating site and it has some larger than life characters in it that I’m really loving writing about.

My ambition is to take over the world! In all seriousness, though, I would like to get a few more books out over the next couple of years, hopefully some horror as well, although that will be under one of my other pen names. I’d like to build on my freelance career as well. I write part time around my children and I’d like to see how far I can push that side of things.

Who is your favourite character from ‘Behind the Scenes’ and was (s)he based on anyone in particular?

Obviously, I adore Bethan. She’s the kind of girl you can’t help but like because she’s such a sweetheart and tries so hard to make everyone around her happy. But I also have a soft spot for Livvy, Bethan’s predecessor in the office. She doesn’t actually appear in the novel, but some of the stories Bethan hears about her are outrageous and I’m working on a short story based around her, just so that my readers can get to know a little more about what makes her tick.

If one of your children told you (s)he wanted to be a writer, what would you say?

Two of my daughters already have expressed an interest, which I think is great. Writing’s such a versatile career and you can do it from anywhere in the world, so it would give them a lot of freedom to do whatever they wanted.

There’s two things I think they need to know. One is that if you want to be a writer, you have to write. It sounds obvious, but you only get better by doing, so you need to keep creating stories until you find your voice and then create some more. The stories I wrote as a child were horrendously derivative, but they taught me a lot about structure and gradually I’ve managed to hone my style over the years until I have a distinct style of my own.

The other is that if you want to make a living as a writer, you need to change your preconception of what writing actually means. I write both fiction and non-fiction for my clients and the non-fiction pays significantly more money. If you want to pay the bills, a few business clients who come to you for regular work is a really good way of funding yourself while you write on something of your own that you truly love.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given as a writer and would you add anything further for author 2aspiring writers reading this interview?

When I was at college, I went on a writing course run by Joseph Heller. He could barely understand my generic London accent and I struggled to cope with his thick Bronx dialect, but somehow we met in the middle. He told me that it was important to stay true, not just to yourself, but to your story. Your story has a point and a message – it’s up to you to make it sing.

Is there anything else you want to tell us or any other advice you can share?

Just that I’m really excited about the release of my book at the end of this month – it’s been a long time coming, and I’m so glad it’s finally happening. I’d also say to any other wannabe writers out there, don’t give up. It might take you years to get you where you want to be, but if you keep working hard and don’t lose focus, you’ll get there in the end.

Thanks so much for joining us on the blog, Sophie, and we can’t wait to read ‘Behind The Scenes’.

You can tweet Sophie @sophiewritealot or visit her website http://www.sophiechilds.com

You can order an ebook or paperback of ‘Behind The Scenes’ via Amazon or the So Vain website.

Steve Dunn… a life of fantasy, mystery and close encounters of the zombie kind

Beacon Church Elder PortraitsOur guest on the blog today is Steve Dunn, author of three novels and the forthcoming ‘true’ story behind the Goldilocks fairy-tale, which will be available to download via Amazon soon. Steve is married to Jennie and they have a ten-year old daughter. He has worked for the ambulance service for over twenty years, and has been part-time paramedic and part-time church pastor for the past four, but from this November will be leading the church in a fulltime role. He is also a film lover and fig-roll connoisseur.

Welcome to the Blog, Steve, we’d love to start by asking you a little bit about your writing journey so far?

I’ve always enjoyed stories of all kinds (be they novels, comics or films) from a young age and so writing my own came naturally very quickly. I’m fascinated by the thought of other worlds or versions of our own, and the opportunity to live others’ lives within them, and so to create them myself is a wonderful thing. One English teacher in particular, Mr.Swan, encouraged me in creative writing more than most, and since then I’ve never been able to resist. I began writing a short story here and there, then came a novella, and subsequently a first novel I wrote in the 1990s which will remain forever hidden from public perusal but at least I’d written one! Once I’d finished a complete manuscript I’d somehow proved to myself it was possible whilst juggling family and jobs, and so other ideas bloomed into full-sized projects which I developed over the years.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer and what do your family and friends think about you having published three novels?

The fact that my brain won’t turn off – it’s both a blessing and a curse! Be it people-watching (“What’s his job? Her secret? Where did they grow up? Why do they look like that?”), appreciating life’s synchronicities and even enjoying “what-ifs”, which are the things that inevitably spin off into project ideas for me. My wife loves where my brain goes at times, and we have a lot of laughter and banter in the house, but it does also mean she’d like my attention a little more when I’m currently consumed by 999AD or Homefront Britain, for example… My family are immensely proud and I’m so grateful for their and my friends’ support.

You write across a range of genres, but do you have a favourite – either to write or to read?

As far as genres are concerned, I’m usually drawn most to the likes of fantasy or mysteries more than others, but then I’ll enjoy anything as long as it’s well written. Rather than specific chunks of the market, I’m more drawn to anything that’s different – I love characters and settings with quirks, the weird and the wonderful, the heightened atmospheres and realities than can elevate you to somewhere so decisively different to your own world. So I love to read from Bram Stoker to David Mitchell, from Iain Banks to Yann Martel – it’s when there’s something that sets them apart from others, be it a unique voice or vision, that my interest piques. And I trust that overflows into my own work.

What inspires you most in your writing and what gave you the idea for Viking Resurrection? VR

As I’ve mentioned, it tends to be a “what-if” that spirals into something eventually resembling a novel. The idea snowballs and evolves, and eventually becomes nothing like the original thought in the first place! Viking Resurrection was inspired a long time back from when Pirates Of The Caribbean first came out, for example. I wondered about a young girl who discovered she was heir to a line of pirate royals, and as the idea blossomed, I transferred it to Anglo-Saxon times and young Amy became someone who no longer discovered a long-lost inheritance, but instead something far grander and purer – the opportunity to change the world for the better and still remain somebody just like the rest of us.

We happen to know that you’re a huge film buff! Do you think this influences your writing style and would you ever try your hand at screenwriting?

I guess my writing is often fairly grand in terms of visuals and I enjoy using words to paint pictures. That must surely be influenced by the films I watch, and the crossover between words and images is a wondrous thing. Viking Resurrection is a fairly obvious one in terms of epic action and mystical beasts, but when it comes to School Of Thought some of the scenarios are somewhat left-field and abstract, while Raine Fall is very much a noir tale and so bears many tropes like a shadowy underworld, a femme fatale, sexual tension and romance. That one’s a juicy tale for both the boys and the girls! I have a couple of ideas for screenplays, and may even develop Viking Resurrection as such, so watch this space…

What are the best and worst things about being selfr-published? Would you ever consider a traditional publishing deal?

For both School Of Thought and Raine Fall I tried many, many different agents and each time received the letter explaining they didn’t even have the time to look at my submission, quoting the vast statistics of how many they receive each year versus how many they can take on. It’s hugely disappointing but then you realise quite what you’re up against in terms of “white noise”. So I published both of those on Kindle and then later on Kobo, mostly because I felt I had something others would enjoy, and it would be a shame if the books just sat in a dusty hard drive. I only expected to sell half a dozen to friends. Next thing I know, I’d sold triple figures across both titles over a few months, one week outselling Michael Crichton and James Herbert, and four-figure sums downloaded on promotional weekends. Still nothing to live off, but quite special for a guy whose only fan until then was his wife. If it had stayed that way, she’s my ideal reader so that’s brilliant, but this is now icing on the cake. So for Viking Resurrection, I naturally went straight for it and am now planning promotional events to help boost it once some more initial reviews have appeared on Amazon to validate people spending their well-earned money on it a little more. I’d still consider a traditional deal, who knows what the future may hold…

How do you handle the marketing, cover design, editing, typesetting and proof-reading aspects of being SP’ed and would you advise other aspiring authors to pay for professional services in relation to this?

Marketing is very much a gradual build of my platform via social media and making contacts. It seems for self-publishing (if not all publishing for Raine Fallmost of us) it’s about playing the long game – like a long-distance runner. One step at a time, but don’t stop. The more titles I can get out there – whilst continuing to be tough on myself for quality – then I trust the more it might all snowball.

With regards to covers, I do it all myself. I don’t have much in the line of spare capital so rely on my art college days to develop the images in-house. The cover for Raine Fall is actually personal family memorabilia – all those photos and papers you see are my grandparents’ from WW2, which not only authenticates the image but is also somewhat of a personal homage, with the book itself being dedicated to my Grandpa. As for editing etc, again I do it myself at the moment until royalties (hopefully) release spare funds for such services in future. I’ve always been a bit of a grammar pedant, and rely on certain folk who will read my books prior to publishing with an objective eye. It’s always nice to get positive feedback, but I’d much rather hear where a book can improve than just have my ears tickled. So certainly, professional services will be investigated in the future as things progress. I’d certainly recommend professional help with regard to proofreading if you don’t have a keen enough eye for it, and of course for the cover designs if it’s something you’re not strong at. When it comes to chart listings and website surfing, people do still judge a book by its cover in that immediate fraction of a second…

Who is your writing hero/heroine and do you have an all-time favourite novel?

I think David Mitchell is a master of language. Cloud Atlas took my breath away. Each of those stories not only has a different thread, but is also distinguishable by individual use of prose too. Brilliant stuff. As for my all-time favourite, I keep returning over the years to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It’s such a wonderful blend of mystery, romance, horror, narrative devices, and the characters alone are a delight.

What are you working on at the moment and what are your writing aspirations for the next few years?

I’m currently writing a short story/novella (the next few weeks will decide!) called “Gold a’Locks And The Three Weres” – detailing the ‘true’ events that inspired Goldilocks – ready for release at Christmas. After that it’s straight into another short called “Suffragette Sensei”, which will be the first in a series. She’s going to be a fun heroine to keep returning to. Following those, there are two novels brewing: “night/SHIFT”, based on my twenty years as a paramedic but with added zombies (although I have met one or two*), and then an untitled sci-fi which I’m very much looking forward to writing in a couple of years. I’m just keen to continue building a fan-base outside of my own personal circles, which is already happening now, and seeing where it takes me. If I sold no books at all, I’d still be writing. I love words! (*No, really. Ask me if we ever meet.)

Who is your favourite character from your books and was (s)he based on anyone in particular?

My favourite is probably Amelia from Raine Fall. She strides into Timothy Raine’s life and blows him away. She’s magnetic, carries the qualities we see in sirens of yesteryear, even resembling one or two, and Timothy can’t get her out of his head. Where their story together leads is for you to find out, but I’m looking forward to meeting her again in a sequel one day. I’m quite entranced by her myself. Don’t tell my wife. If your daughter told you she wanted to be a writer, what would you say? I’d be delighted. She already has a propensity for coming up with wonderful ”what-ifs” (I wonder why that is?!) and I love those conversations. She’s got great insight for subtext in stories, both written and filmed, and has already penned some little tales that demonstrate her own voice. We’ll see!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given as a writer and would you add anything further for aspiring writers reading this interview? SoT

The best I’ve come across recently is from Chuck Palahniuk on avoiding ‘thought’ words (“He felt/believed/knew…”): instead, aim to provide the evidence for your readers to feel or think the same. I’ll let him explain at length – it’s widely available on the wonderful interweb – and it’s helped my writing no end. Stephen King’s “On Writing” is a fantastic resource too. Besides that, I’d simply add, “KEEP WRITING”. There’s too many people who talk about writing, what their ideas are and even what their book’s called, and not actually doing it! Write, write, write… In that process, you learn and you grow.

Is there anything else you want to tell us or any other advice you can share? Read lots, and read widely!

Watch what other published authors do and learn from them. And train yourself for the long distance run. Most “overnight sensations”, in writing and music alike, have actually been plugging away at it for years. In the meantime, enjoy the journey.

Thanks for joining us on the blog, Steve, and giving us such an interesting insight into your writing world. I’ll definitely be asking you about those Zombie encounters next time we meet!

Find out more about Steve and his books at the links below:

All Steve’s books are available on Amazon and Kobo.

facebook.com/SteveDunnAuthor

twitter.com/SteveDunnAuthor

Serious About Series, a guest post from Zanna Mackenzie

ZannaM scale

Our guest today is the wonderful Zanna Mackenzie who has been a good friend to the blog since we started out over a year ago and is one of the contributors to our charity anthology. Zanna’s current release ‘If You Only Knew’ is available from Crooked Cat here. In her guest post, Zanna has stopped by to tell us all about a new found love of her own…


Series – Don’t you just love them?

I’m not talking TV series here (though I love many of those too!) – no, I’m talking about novels which come in series.

Other than Sophie Kinsella’s widely loved Shopaholic series and Kate Johnson’s wonderful Sophie Green Mysteries I hadn’t had much experience of book series until a few months ago, when I finally purchased a basic Kindle.

I wasn’t sure if I would take to the ereader or the concept of ebooks but so many great new releases seemed to be ebook only?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? versions that I thought I’d reached the point of having to give an ereader a try. At the time I was convinced I’d just use it for those ‘want to read a book but it’s only available as an ebook’ times and still get my usual paperback fix for everything else.

But two unexpected things happened….

First, I took to my Kindle straight away and it became my ‘must have’ accessory, always by my side.

Secondly, I discovered a whole new and exciting world of books and found my reading habits changed completely. Pre ereader I was a huge chicklit fan. After I discovered ebooks I found myself also drawn to reading a few new genres I’d only briefly dipped a toe into before. The genres…? Romantic suspense and cozy mystery romance.

I became a big fan of books where there was a crime or mystery to solve alongside a burgeoning romance between the male and female lead characters. I discovered books with characters who were female amateur sleuths, and books with spies, FBI and CIA agents. I tried lots of new authors; enjoyed books set in exciting adventurous locations such as Alaska and Canada and fell in love with a whole new and very different reading experience.

dreamstimefree_84378What delighted me even more was that many of these books were part of a series! If I like the writing style of an author then I’m keen to explore more books they have written. With a series where I’ve taken to the characters and their adventures continue in the next book, well, it’s a definite I’ll want to read them! Reading the next book in a series is like the chance to catch up with old friends, it’s wonderful. No worries about whether you’ll like the book or take to the characters or having to spend time getting up to speed with who is who, lives where or does what. You can immerse yourself straight away in the book and start enjoying it.

Many people in the publishing industry believe that writing a series of books is the way to go these days, whether each story is a novella or a full length novel. Though, as it’s thought the ‘ideal’ is to create your series by publishing a story every 3-4 months that would mean you’d need to be a very fast writer to put that number of full length novels out each year rather than novellas!

What do you think? Have you written a series? Are you thinking of doing so? What series have you read and loved?

Zanna Mackenzie is a former member of the Romantic Novelist’s Association’s New Writers Scheme (NWS). She has three traditionally published books available in paperback and ebook versions. Find out more about Zanna on her blog: www.zannamackenzie.blogspot.co.uk

Anyone for tea?

Anyone for tea?

Today I’d like to welcome Josephine Moon to the blog. She is the author of ‘The Tea Chest’, published by Allen & Unwin, and she’s a self-confessed tea lover!

Josephine, tell me a bit about yourself and how you came to be a novelist?

I was born in Brisbane and now live on the Sunshine Coast with my husband, toddler and an unreasonably large collection of animals. I write fiction and non-fiction, with a different publisher for each. I love good food, aromatic wonders, nature and animals, and am a self-diagnosed spa junkie. My aim in life is to do all my work from the spa.

I took the long route to novel writing, and wrote ten manuscripts in twelve years on the way. I studied journalism at Uni, taught English and Film and TV in schools, worked as a technical writer and then five years as a professional editor, all the while writing and hoping to one day be published. Finally, in 2012, I got a literary agent and three book contracts soon after.

The title of your debut novel, “The Tea Chest” makes me want to open up the book and delve inside…what’s the book about and how did you come up with the idea?

I am a mad tea woman. I just love tea, teapots, tea rituals, high teas, doilies, silver spoons and teeny tiny cakes. One day, I was wandering through a T2 tea shop (around 2007), inhaling aromas and shaking bowls of tea, and I thought, ‘What an awesome job! Who gets to design all these teas?’ And with that, the character of Kate Fullerton, lead tea designer at The Tea Chest, arrived.

In the book, Kate Fullerton has just inherited fifty per cent of the company from her mentor and must decide what she will risk, both for herself and her young family, in order to take a chance to follow her dreams. Along the way, she’s joined by Elizabeth and Leila, two women at crossroads in their own lives, who join Kate’s venture to help realise The Tea Chest’s success. Set across Brisbane and London, with a backdrop of delectable teas and tastes, lavender fields and vintage clothes, The Tea Chest is a gourmet delight you won’t want to finish.

What are your plans for your next book?

My next book is currently sitting with my publisher and I’m anxiously awaiting her feedback! It is due to be published next year. It’s called The Chocolate Apothecary, and is set across Tasmania and France, is a family drama with a strong, classical romance structure, and continues my fascination with artisan food, lavender fields, sensory delights and chocolate, which wasn’t so good for my waistline and I’m now carrying the kilos of two years of hard research.

Which writers have had the greatest influence on you both as a reader and as a writer?

James Herriot, Monica McInerney, Liane Moriarty, Nick Earls, Kimberley Freeman (Kim Wilkins).

As a reader, what do you expect from a novel that you pick up?

I want to escape to another place, meet new characters that I love, and be taken on a journey. I avoid anything that is stressful, dark, involves violence or misery — I think there’s too much of that around us in real life and I’m not interested in spending my leisure time living it through books. So I want something nurturing and entertaining.

What are your most favourite and least favourite parts of the writing process?

Good question! I truly think I have the best job in the world and I would be doing it (and indeed I did do it for twelve years prior to a publishing deal) even if I wasn’t being paid. So I’m blessed to be excited to ‘go to work’ each day and I feel stressed when life gets in the way and I can’t work. I never feel happier than when I’ve had a great writing day.

There are of course moments of pain, too. I explain it like that moment when you’re running, or swimming or on the exercise bike etc. and you hit that pain barrier where you think, oh man, I’m not enjoying this and I want to stop now. But if you keep going, you reach another level and if you’re really lucky you’ll hit that zone where you’re just flying and scoring goals and nothing can stop you. I used to get that playing netball and it was a magic place. Some people call it a ‘runner’s high’. I now call it a ‘writer’s high’ 🙂 I’ve learned that when I hit that moment of pain in writing, when I really want to stop there, that’s the moment to just wait it out.  And so often (so often!), I’ll get a second wind and some really great words.

So, in summary, that moment of pain where I feel like I’m pathetic and this is hopeless and I’m never going to be able to finish this scene let alone this book… that’s unpleasant. But getting into ‘the zone’… that’s magic!

What did you learn from writing “The Tea Chest”?

Before writing The Tea Chest, I’d written ten manuscripts across a huge range of genres and styles. It took me a long time to really find my voice and know what I wanted to put out into the world. So the biggest thing I learned from The Tea Chest was to write the book I wanted to read.

Do you see social media as key to reaching your readers?

These days, I think you have to embrace social media as a keystone in relationship building and connection with everyone from all walks of life. For me, social media is a double-edged sword. It can be wonderful for that instant communication and feedback, entertainment and promotion and socialising… but it also takes up a LOT of time and, more concerning for me, headspace. I recently discovered ‘Freedom’ a computer program that blocks the internet for you. Whenever I find myself ‘looping’ on social media (you know, you check stuff, post something, move on, but then someone comments and you feel you have to reply, then you have to check if they replied and on and on) I switch on Freedom, go through a few moments of panic that I might actually NEED the internet for the next two-and-a-half hours (!!) and then get over it and write some great words.

Have you had reader feedback about “The Tea Chest”? Are there any responses that you have particularly treasured?

I have had so many lovely readers contact me to tell me how much they love The Tea Chest. And I really treasure each one. I mean, at the end of the day, you write so someone will read it, don’t you? So that kind of validation is really meaningful to me. I do remember one woman wrote to me and said she hadn’t read anything since leaving high school and The Tea Chest was the first book she’d bought since then and I’d turned her back into being a reader. I mean, wow.

Do you find some scenes harder to write than others? Are there any types of scene that you do your utmost to avoid writing?

Yes! I’ve definitely found racy scenes difficult to write in the past, but just in the past two years I think I’ve worked out what my style is and how I should approach them and so they intimidate me less now. A huge re-write happened in The Tea Chest in the first couple of drafts and during the structural edit I took out a lot of racy scenes. They just weren’t me and weren’t working. Liane Moriarty writes brilliant sex scenes, I think, and I’ve learned a lot from her writing.

The other thing I try to avoid are emotionally painful scenes (such as when someone has died). But that’s because I don’t want to feel all that pain. I do get back to them eventually; it just takes me a while to face them.

And finally…Do you have any strange writing habits? (That you’re willing to share of course!)

I don’t think so (other needing my ‘writing pants’ to work in… which are generally pyjama bottoms). But I do seem to need chocolate to edit. I don’t know what that’s about but it just seems to be as necessary as the red pen.

Thank you so much for having me along. I’ve really enjoyed these questions! Jo x

Thank you Josephine for talking about yourself and your book. I’m just over halfway through ‘The Tea Chest’ at the moment and it’s a great read…I don’t like tea but you never know, you may have converted me!

Helen R 🙂