There are four thousand love stories in Central Park

Central Park has over nine thousand benches. You might wonder why I’m telling you this, but I promise it will all become clear. Most people who head to New York, can’t wait to hit the shops, take in a Broadway show, visit the Statue of Liberty, and look out from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. I was no different, but what I didn’t expect, is that all of those things would pale into insignificance for me, when I fell in love. With Central Park.

At heart, I’m a country girl, so maybe it’s no surprise that I loved the oasis of tranquillity that Central Park provides in such a vibrant city. But it fired my imagination in a way that I’d never thought possible. And it was all down to those benches.

Over four thousand of them have been ‘adopted’, which means they’ve had plaques assigned – each one a mini love story in its own right. There were hundreds of them that touched my heart, and, if I’d had the time, I could have spent the entire ten days I was in New York, just wandering around Central Park, reading those plaques. There were proposals, dedications of love, and the marking of every momentous occasion you can imagine. But this was my favourite:

Isn’t that the most beautiful love story you’ve ever read, in so few words? I’d really like to know more about Meg and Wes, but what I do know is that they inspired the idea behind my latest novel The Christmas Shop at Central Park’. When Libby moves to New York to recover from the death of her parents, and takes a job working in a Christmas shop on Seventh Avenue, she reads a message on a bench – from Charlie to Grace – that changes her life.

The benches in Central Park weren’t the only things to influence the story, though. There’s a scene in the novel where the heroine can’t find the Empire State Building, even though she’s standing right in front of it. It happened to me, and I’ve never seen a police officer laugh so hard! But shrouded in mist, it didn’t look anything like I’d expected. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it… Just look how different it looked in these two pictures, taken on the same trip, I think it was a case of being too close to see what was right in front of me, first time around!

Leeds trip – Paula’s in the centre and I’m back left.

 

Four of the characters in the book are named after some friends I met up with on a trip to Leeds, and a throw away comment from someone when we were at that stage of the evening where rash promises are made! I’d gone on the trip with one of my best friends, Paula, and she was probably an even bigger influence on the story than those beautiful benches in Central Park. She’s an absolute inspiration, dealing with health issues which would stop most people, but somehow she keeps grabbing life by the scruff of the neck. One of the main characters in the story represents everything I love about her – intelligence, wit and the absolute refusal to do anything but live life to the full. I’d give Paula her own plaque in Central Park if I could, but for now she’ll just have to settle for having the novel dedicated to her instead.

If you get the chance to spend an hour or ten wandering around Central Park, reading those plaques, you won’t regret it. After all, you can go shopping in any city, but where else will you get the chance to read thousands of mini love stories, all in one place?

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

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside … but perhaps when it’s a bit warmer!

Seastrand

Over the past couple of years, I’ve undertaken a few library talks and even visited a local writers’ group to speak, but I had an opportunity to participate in something a little different yesterday …

Agenda BlackboardA friend tagged me in a post on Facebook. A café in Scarborough was going to be hosting a Writers’ Day where they were looking for local writers and poets to talk about their work, their journey, and/or read from their work. And this wasn’t just an “ordinary” café. The Seastrand is based on a corner on the seafront with amazing views. But it’s not just the views that are amazing. The café itself is pretty amazing because it’s actually built at the base of a disused cliff lift! The cliff lifts can still be seen further up the cliff and the tracks run into the café, as do the metal steps. The kiosk is what I’m assuming was the ticket station. Very quirky!

Empty RoomThere were once five cliff lifts in Scarborough connecting the town or cliff top to the sea front but there are only two in use now. The Seastrand is based at the foot of the St Nicholas Cliff Lift. It opened in 1929 but sadly ceased trading in February 2007 when the council couldn’t afford to spend the amount needed to bring it up to new health and safety standards. Their loss was The Seastrand’s gain. Tess and Stuart have been running the café for 2 years and have expanded the space to include a roof terrace with stunning views. Sadly, the very, very cold wind meant we couldn’t use the terrace yesterday but the writers had a cosy setting inside.

Table Set Up CloseMy worst fear for any talk is whether anyone will turn up. I knew I was guaranteed an audience when I spoke at Scarborough Writers’ Circle because having guest speakers is part of their session plan, but I’ve always had a modicum of nerves when a library talk has approached in case of no takers. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with an audience each time. Phew!

Jessica with Steven BearFor my event at The Seastrand yesterday, Write Romantic, Sharon, kindly came along to support me. So did another Scarborough-based writing friend, Sarah, and her partner. Which is just as well because nobody else did! Poor Tess did her best to coax in some passing trade, only there really wasn’t much passing trade. I think the grey day and the bitter winds had put paid to that. Eventually she talked two women into popping in. They said they only had ten minutes to spare, sensibly buying themselves an escape route. I was therefore extremely flattered when they stayed right until the end and said that they’d found it very interesting. Who knows? Maybe one or both of them may download one of my books, borrow one from the library, or spread the word to their friends.

View to CastleIt’s disappointing that there weren’t more and I have to confess that, for a brief moment, I nearly cried. Then I pulled myself together and reminded myself that it’s just one of those things and it was nothing personal. It helped when Sarah said that J K Rowling had nobody turn up for her first few book signings. I also managed to convince myself that the slot I’d gone for wasn’t the best. I’d picked 1pm because my daughter goes to drama between 12-2pm so this meant I could do the drop off, do my talk, and be finished to pick her up. This also meant that I was speaking bang on lunchtime. I suspect that part of the reason there was no passing trade is that people were on the seafront munching their fish and chips!

Jessica Outside LandscapeDespite the limited audience, I still really enjoyed myself. Tess couldn’t have done more to make me feel welcome and it was a really lovely and unusual setting. I know this is the start of what they hope will be more involvement in creative activities, and perhaps I might speak at a future one to a crowded room instead. I’ll definitely go back on a warmer day, though, to have a drink and a cake on that roof terrace, soaking up the sun and enjoying the views.

My next talk is in a couple of weeks’ time at my local library. Here’s hoping for a slightly bigger audience!

Hope you’re all having a fabulous bank holiday weekend.

Jessica xx

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Winter is definitely here and in Hertfordshire we’ve enjoyed some wonderful frosty mornings. The sun has been shining and Christmas is definitely in the air!

During 2016 I knew I wanted to release a Christmas novel and I became so addicted to writing about winter and the festive season that I thought, why not write two books.

My first winter / festive read came out in October and so far readers have loved In a Manhattan Minute so I’m really happy. My latest novel is called Christmas at The Little Knitting Box and it’s out now!

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Christmas at The Little Knitting Box is available from Amazon as an ebook and the paperback should be ready in the next couple of weeks. I set this one in New York City too and it follows the story of Cleo who moved to the big city from the Cotswolds to run the family’s knitting store. Here’s the blurb and if you feel like taking a trip to New York with me, here’s the link to Amazon… Christmas at The Little Knitting Box

Have a wonderful December and a very Merry Christmas to you all.

Helen J Rolfe x

Christmas at The Little Knitting Box

Christmas is coming and New York is in full swing for the snowy season. But at The Little Knitting Box in the West Village, things are about to change …

The Little Knitting Box has been in Cleo’s family for nearly four decades, and since she arrived fresh off the plane from the Cotswolds four years ago, Cleo has been doing a stellar job of running the store. But instead of an early Christmas card in the mail this year, she gets a letter that tips her world on its axis.

Dylan has had a tumultuous few years. His marriage broke down, his mother passed away and he’s been trying to pick up the pieces as a stay-at-home dad. All he wants this Christmas is to give his kids the home and stability they need. But when he meets Cleo at a party one night, he begins to see it’s not always so easy to move on and pick up the pieces, especially when his ex seems determined to win him back.

When the snow starts to fall in New York City, both Cleo and Dylan realise life is rarely so black and white and both of them have choices to make. Will Dylan follow his heart or his head? And will Cleo ever allow herself to be a part of another family when her own fell apart at the seams?

Full of snow, love and the true meaning of Christmas, this novel will have you hooked until the final page.

The story behind my paranormal romance – An Extraordinary Life

Our guest on the blog today is the lovely Jo Hollywood. Jo is a columnist and has written two non-fiction books about her youngest son who has Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) under her real name, and has now written her first romantic novel under the pen name of Hollywood. So without further ado, we’ll hand over to Jo to tell us a bit about her inspiration and why she simply has to write come what may.

hollywood2I love to write; I write every day. For the past five years or so I had devoted time to writing on the subject of autism. However, a few years ago I decided that I needed to take a break from writing daily on the subject. This was for a number of reasons. My books on autism are about my youngest son who was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at the age of three, and when he turned 7, I knew that I had set out to do what I had originally planned, that of helping parents during the very early years of diagnosis. So I stopped blogging and writing books, although I do still write a weekly column about autism.

However, I felt twitchy, as I still needed to write. In a former life I had had studied English literature at University, and as a voracious reader and lover of all things books, I decided to write a novel. This was when I decided to join Wattpad. I felt that it would give me focus and a reading and writing community that would support me on my journey. When it came to choosing my genre, it just had to be romance. I love to read romantic stories and I suppose that I am a hopeless romantic at heart. The paranormal element was simply a pleasant surprise as I began to form the character of the rather lovely and handsome ghost, Jack. Originally, he had not been a ghost, but while writing my first draft I decided to add a paranormal element to the story and Jack became the ghost that he is today.

Readers have told me that An Unextraordinary Life is a very different kind of paranormal romance and that it is slightlyhollywood1 quirky, and I suppose that this is true. At its heart is a story of love and loss and ultimately, one that is of new beginnings. It just so happens that one of the protagonists is a ghost. I wanted to write a romantic novel, with real emotions and which conveyed the message that love never truly dies. This is explored via the love triangle of Tess, Rob and Jack; all of whom have suffered loss at some time in their lives.

I really did enjoy writing the paranormal element of this story, as I could let my imagination run wild and play around with the narrative. However, for my second novel I am sticking firmly to the restraints of reality. Picking up the Pieces, is a romantic story that is based around Kate, a mother caring for an autistic son. When Matt, a handsome neighbour moves in next door, she is forced into facing up to her past in a way that may very well threaten her future. Matt too has some issues from his past that he needs to deal with. It is through their exchanges with Kate’s son, Sam, that their friendship grows.

I find writing romantic fiction to be incredibly cathartic and cheaper than therapy. It is what I do as part of my ‘me time’, an activity that is just for me. I just hope that those who read my books enjoy them as much I enjoy writing them.

Jo Hollywood

Thanks Jo, we love hearing about other author’s writing lives, so thank you for giving us a peak into your world. The Write Romantics’ own Jo – Jo Bartlett – has read and really enjoyed your book, so we thought we’d add Jo’s review below, so that our readers can find out a bit more about the story:

dreamstime_s_28682146An Unextraordinary Life by Jo Hollywood

So many romances are predictable from the first page, you know who the heroine is going to end up strolling into the sunset with, but ‘An Unextraordinary Life’ is not like most other romances. Paranormal romance is not my usual reading genre, but the book was recommended to me as a really different read to the norm and Jo Hollywood’s novel did not disappoint. It had me reading until late into the night and I felt like I knew Tess almost as a friend from the start, which might have been because the first person point of view was handled so well. I could really empathise with her desire to re-invent herself to try and escape the ghosts of the past and make new friendships where she wouldn’t just be the girl who’d lost her husband. Only the ghosts of the past aren’t so keen to be escaped and when her late husband makes a reappearance in her life, no-one is more shocked than Tess. Although the resulting triangle, with new love interest Rob, isn’t the sort you’d normally expect, the author handles it with both believability and sensitivity. I didn’t know right up to the end who Tess would choose and both heroes certainly had the ability to make the reader fall for them. I really recommend this novel and if, like me, you haven’t read much paranormal romance, you really should take a chance on this one. Original, poignant and well-written, I’d say this is pretty extraordinary after all!

You can purchase Jo Hollywood’s book here and follow her on Twitter on @mummyworgan

 

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

 

Summer, chocolates & plenty of secrets …

Summer, chocolates & plenty of secrets … it’s almost time to return to Magnolia Creek!

The Chocolatier's Secret- KDP version

 

The Chocolatier’s Secret is book two in the Magnolia Creek series, and I’m delighted to say that it’s now available for pre-order on Amazon. With The Chocolatier’s Secret we return to the sun-drenched small town of Magnolia Creek, and this is a standalone story focusing on different lives. But … keep an eye out for a few of your favourite book characters from What Rosie Found Next!

I had a lot of fun writing this book. I enjoy the research side and had already completed a major research project on adoption as part of a Masters in Writing so I’ve been able to use my contacts and the information I had at my fingertips to shape this story. I also have my own personal experience of adoption which helped keep the emotions realistic.

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Of course my favourite part of the research was finding out all about chocolate! I spent the day with Lucy and Andrea at Creighton’s Chocolaterie in Leighton Buzzard and discovered what goes on behind the scenes. I was really excited after my visit because I was able to weave in so many details to my story to make it authentic.

Publication day is Tuesday 28th June so only 8 days away!

If you would like to pre-order The Chocolatier’s Secret, you can do so here.

I hope you like the story … best enjoyed with your favourite chocolate of course! Here’s the blurb…

Will one mistake ruin everything?

Andrew Bennett has an idyllic life in Magnolia Creek, Australia. He runs a chocolate business he adores, is married to Gemma, the love of his life, and has a close relationship with his father, Louis. But when Andrew receives a message from his high school sweetheart, it sends his world into a spiral, and the relationships he holds dear will never be the same again.

Molly Ramsey is looking for answers. After her last attempt, she believes the only way to get them this time is to face her past head-on. But to do this, she has to fly to the other side of the world – and she’s afraid of flying. Her search for answers lands her in an emotional tangle, not only with her past but also with a man very much in her present.

Family is everything to Gemma Bennett and she longs to have a house full of kids, but it just isn’t happening. And when Andrew’s past makes an explosive impact on the family, Gemma must decide whether she can accept the truth and open her heart in a way she never thought possible.

In this story of love, family ties and forgiveness, will past mistakes be the obstacle to a Happy Ever After?

Finding an Agent – Discovery Day 2016

Author photo - Helen J RolfeOn Saturday 27th February I took the train to London to attend Discovery Day 2016, an event held at Foyles bookshop where attendees had the opportunity to pitch their work to Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh Literary Agents.

For any writer, the chance to meet agents face to face is an invaluable opportunity and as I walked to Charing Cross Road I was excited, if a little nervous.

We had been given allocated time slots for pitching but it was still an hour queueing on the stairs to get to the top of Foyles and the gallery where agents were waiting for us. This was a nice time, however, to meet other writers and talk about our work. It helped to calm the nerves!

Foyles

 

Once I reached the gallery and an agent was free I was lucky enough to pitch to the lovely Jess Whitlum-Cooper who works at Curtis Brown with Felicity Blunt. Jess read my first page and then I was given thirty seconds to pitch my novel before we discussed my work.

Following the pitch appointment we were also able to ask general questions about agents, writing and publishing, with another literary agent in a Surgery Session, and here were the top tips for writing a cover letter to go with your submission:

  • Provide a very concise description of what your book is about
  • Identify who potential readers are
  • Name similar authors
  • Talk about your own writing experience
  • Let the agent know what inspired you to write this particular book

I found the experience of Discovery Day extremely positive and a lot of fun. Jess showed a lot of enthusiasm for my novel which was a real boost and whether or not I end up securing an agent this time round, Discovery Day did a lot for my confidence and belief in my writing. It also really showed me that not only do I want to find an agent to represent me, but I want to find the right agent. I think the right fit is so important because an agent/author relationship is a long-term commitment from both sides.

So for now, it’s on with the submissions and the next book!

Helen J Rolfe

Amazon author page

What Rosie Found Next - bookcover - KDP versiontft front cover with quoteHandle Me with Care final front cover - for KDP

 

 

 

 

 

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Through the Instagram App and What Sharon Found There

Through the Instagram App and What Sharon Found There

Recently, I joined a marketing group on Facebook, formed to help writers and small business owners (the businesses are small, not the owners—although, they may be small, too, who knows?) improve their public profile.

It’s a tough world out there, you know. I may be famous in my own back yard—as in, a new book brings a flurry of excitement from my mother, my mother’s neighbour, my sister and my aunt—but if I’m to make any impact on the world, or even my little corner of it, I have to get my name, and my work, “out there”, wherever the heck “there” may be.

We’ve been discussing social media. Are you on Twitter? Tick. Facebook? Tick. Do you have a Facebook author page? Tick. A blog? Tick. Pinterest? Tick. Instagram? Er, what, now?  “Ah, Instagram. The new, trendy app that simply anyone who is anyone is using.”  “Okay, well I’m not sixteen and I have no idea about Instagram. Help, please?”

In the event, it turned out that most of the other people in the group had no idea about Instagram either, so I decided to march forth and try out this brave new world for myself.

Does anyone have a clue?

Does anyone have a clue?

First step—as always—was to Google it for information. First question. What is Instagram? Google was most helpful. “You’re kidding, right? I mean, how old are you? A hundred and six?” (I jest, of course. Google would never be so flippant, or so rude.) Having determined that Instagram was an app that basically lets you share photos online (you know, kind of like Pinterest, or Facebook, or Twitter…), I decided that I HAD to be part of this amazing feat of technology.

First lesson. You can’t join Instagram online. You have to download an app to your phone. Having just figured out how to turn my brand new Windows phone on, I was in the marvellous position of being able to do just that. So I duly downloaded the app. Now what?

Second lesson. You have to have a username and password. Okay, fine. I’ll just use my name. Except, my name wasn’t available. My own name! Harsh. Okay, let’s go for my own name and date of birth. Not available. Well, that was just rude. How could my own name and date of birth not be available? Who pinched them? I tried various combinations of words and numbers and not one of them was available. In desperation, I used my nickname and birthday. Aha! Allowed. So I was finally signed up for Instagram.

Third lesson. Your username is available for everyone to see. Oh drat. I don’t want to be known as that. I thought it was private. Okay, how do I change my username? Back to my beloved Google, which scratched its head, rolled its eyes, tutted in despair and said, “You do know what edit profile means?” Oh. I hadn’t noticed that. So back I went and clicked on “edit profile”. Delete username. Add new username. Done. Well, that was easy. Just add a short bio now…

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Not the actual book I didn’t win because I DIDN’T win it.

Fourth lesson. Your bio has to be very, very short. Shorter than a tweet. After rambling on, explaining how I once played the queen in a school play, and how I never got over not having my name picked out of a hat to win a signed copy of a Bobby Brewster book after the author visited our primary school, in spite of the fact that I was the only child in the class who actually read for pleasure, I was informed, quite sternly, that my bio was far too long and I’d better cut it. I deleted a sentence, then a paragraph, then a chapter. Eventually, I was down to the permitted length. Success. My bio was complete. My profile was done. Except…

Fifth lesson. For some reason I cannot fathom, Instagram had taken my Facebook profile picture and used it as my Instagram profile picture. Since the picture wasn’t even of me, this didn’t seem at all useful. Back I went to Facebook and searched, in increasing desperation, for a photograph of me that looked reasonably human and didn’t feature me posing with Benedict Cumberbatch. What do you mean, camera trickery? It was all perfectly genuine, I’ll have you know. Anyway, I finally found one where, not only am I alone, not only am I not staring in horror with my hand half over my face, pleading with someone not to take my picture, but I am actually smiling. Crikey! So I changed that to my profile picture. (When I got home from work that night, the picture had loads of likes

100% genuine *cough*

100% genuine *cough*

and nice comments. I think my Facebook friends were stunned that I’d actually posted a photo of myself. I’m not the most photogenic of people, let’s face it.) So there I was, fully signed up and all profiled up for Instagram. Except…

Sixth lesson. I had no idea what I was supposed to actually do on there. I posted on my Facebook writer’s page, announcing that I had joined, and asking, quite genuinely, “What do I do now?” Back came several replies. “We have no idea, but when you find out can you let us know, please?” I really do have to get some younger, trendier friends. So, I decided to trawl through other people’s Instagram accounts and get some idea of what I was supposed to be posting. Hmm.

Seventh lesson. There is one huge snag with Instagram. You’re supposed to do things, see things, go places that are interesting. Since I’m usually either at home, writing, or at work, er, working, this doesn’t really apply to me. I tried my Write Romantic pal, Rachael Thomas, for help first. Her account featured lots of beautiful pictures of the countryside. Well, you see, Rachael isn’t just a fantastically talented romance writer. Oh, no. She’s also a dairy farmer. So when she skips merrily out of her house in the morning, she can raise her camera phone and sing happy little Disney songs and balance little blue birds on her hand as she takes gorgeous pictures of the Welsh countryside, pretty animals and—you know—stuff like that.  I, on the other hand, live in a city. I don’t much fancy taking pictures of the dustcart blocking our way out of the road yet again, or the latest takeaway that’s opened nearby because, after all, we’ve only got thirty takeaways in our area already, or the roadworks at the end of the street that have been there for weeks, even though whoever put them there seems to have forgotten all about them. So what to do?

Here's one I made earlier- honest!

Here’s one I made earlier- honest!

Eighth lesson. Everyone has photographs of cake. I mean, everyone! People bake and then they take pictures of their culinary creations so the rest of us can a) feel suddenly in desperate need of cake and b) hang our heads in shame because we haven’t baked since nineteen ninety-eight. (That may actually be true, in my case.) Even Rachael had posted a photograph of a cake she’d made! How does she find time for that, for heaven’s sake? I turned to my other Write Romantic chum, Helen Phifer. Helen is really busy, just like Rachael. But Helen writes ghostly crime stories. She collects photos of haunted houses and—you know—creepy stuff. I can rely on Helen. Oh, Helen! Cupcakes! Seriously? But yes, there they were. Cupcakes. Okay, they were in among some creepy stuff (and some lovely stuff, too!) but they were there. I had to take photos of cake. It was obviously the way to go. A quick scout around our kitchen revealed two stale Jacob’s cream crackers and a broken custard cream. I suppose I could have photographed them as some sort of artistic statement. But no…Things were getting critical.

Ninth lesson. Instagram makes you desperate to photograph anything. I mean, anything. I spent the entire day wandering around looking at “things” and wondering if they would make a good subject for a picture on Instagram. I even trawled through old Facebook photos, trying to convince myself that I could post some of them and pretend they were new. Then I realised that I didn’t like any of them anyway, so that was pointless. I decided I would have to buy cake and start—you know—actually going out. Desperate times.

Tessa to the rescue

Tessa to the rescue

Tenth lesson. When in doubt, remember man’s best friend. Okay, so I don’t bake, and I didn’t have cake in the house, and I don’t go anywhere. But what I do have, which seems to be very acceptable, is a pet. My lovely German Shepherd, Tessa (who features in my Kearton Bay books, albeit aged by some years and with a personality that’s the opposite of the real version, but is still lovely—not that I’m plugging my books, you understand. Ahem) was most obliging. As I scoured the house, looking for something that I could take a picture of, she gave a sudden sneeze, drawing my attention to her. She was lying by the sofa and as I leaned forward to get a better look at her, she gave me a worried look as if to say, “Why are you pointing that phone at me? Get away from me, you mad creature!” Too late, Tessa! A click and I had it! Feverishly, I looked at my photograph. Ah, my beautiful dog. You are the perfect subject for my first Instagram photograph!

Eleventh lesson. Uploading, or downloading, or whatever it is you do with the wretched things, isn’t as easy as you’d think. For a start, I couldn’t figure out how to crop the picture, and Instagram likes your photos to be square. Back I went to Google. “Oh, God. It’s you again. What now?” it sighed. Still, it was very obliging, and I managed to find an app that ensured all my photos were suitable for Instagram, and I didn’t have to worry about cropping or any of that technical stuff. Problem solved. So my picture of Tessa was duly up/downloaded. Then I up/downloaded pictures of my People’s Friend pocket novel. Then pictures of my two books. Then a picture of Winter Tales (which is back on sale, by the way). Then a picture of my notebooks to show that I was about to start plotting and drafting a new book, because, after all, I’m a writer, and that was the point of joining Instagram in the first place – to remind people that I write books and they’re worth reading, even if I do say so myself (and my mum’s neighbour agrees with me, so there). The point was not to prove that I bake cakes or go places or socialise or anything like that. Right?

Hmm. I still have to work out how, why, or if I should share my Instagram photos to Facebook. I also have to fathom the mysterious world of the hashtag, so my adventures in Instagramland are not over yet. I have a feeling that I’m going to be looking at life through a lens from now on. Everything is a photo opportunity.

Look out, world. Sharon’s got a camera – and she’s not afraid to use it. In fact, she’s quite desperate…

Sharon xxx

Saturday Spotlight: Ellie Gray

Ellie Gray Profile PicToday on the blog, we’re delighted to welcome Ellie Gray. Sit down, Ellie, and make yourself comfortable, while we turn the spotlight on you. Don’t worry, this won’t hurt a bit…

First things first. When did you start writing?

I think I first started writing not long after I had my first child, when I was working part time. It suddenly occurred to me that, all those stories I had written in my head, the ones that kept me awake at night, carefully planning and constructing, should actually be put down on paper!  I’ve been ‘writing’ ever since I can remember but, up until that point, it never really occurred to me that I should physically write them down.

Yep, always useful to put the words on the paper! What genre do you write in, and why?

I write contemporary romance, erring on the sweet side, with strong male and female characters who have the same flaws we all have – no-one is perfect! I love writing about their hopes, fears and struggles and, best of all, helping them get to that happy ending; something that is not always guaranteed in real life. I also enjoy writing young adult novels with a fantasy-type edge.

Like Sharon, Alys, and Jessica, you’re a Yorkshire lass. Is setting important in your novels?

I think setting is really important and I love setting my novels in Yorkshire. I think readers like to ground the characters they are reading about, to know about where they live and how that affects them. I try to give enough description to enable the reader to really picture the surroundings, without being too prescriptive and degenerating into sounding like a travelogue! Although my debut novel is set in Yorkshire, my current work in progress is set in the exotic surroundings of Egypt and the Nile.

Exotic, indeed! When do you write? Tell us about your writing day.

That’s a tough one. Like many writers, I also have a full-time job and a family to work around. I am also studying for a Masters degree, just about to start my dissertation (gulp!) so it feels like a real juggling act. I try to write on a weekend and, if the writing itch gets too itchy to ignore, I’ll do a couple of hours on an evening, but I really do try to limit my evening writing during the week and spend some time with my family, and to drag myself out of the writing cave after an afternoon’s writing on a weekend.

Yes, we can all relate to juggling writing time with family time. As authors, we also have to get to grips with social media. How do you feel about that?

I know that social media is an important way of raising an author’s profile and I am building up a profile, using Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Pinterest etc. I’m also trying to learn as much as I can about how best to build up a following without shoving the ‘buy my book’ message down everyone’s throat. I do worry about how best to utilise social media, particularly when there are so many authors out there promoting their work. How do you get heard over the crowd? I don’t know the answer but it is something that I’m willing to work at and to learn from others.

Do you read much? What books do you like to read? Who is your favourite author?

I love reading. With reading comes the guilt complex, though – when I’m reading, there’s a little voice in the back of my head telling me that I should be writing. However, I know that to become a better writer, I also need to read as much as I can – so that’s what I tell that little voice when it whispers in my ear. I like to read a range of genres – contemporary romance, of course, but I also like to read the classics, Austen and Du Maurier, horror such as King, Herbert and Koontz, and I love the Harry Potter and Tolkein books. Oh, there’s the Sharpe series, I love those, and Elizabeth Peters with her Amelia Peabody adventures.

All of the Write Romantics were, at one time, members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. Indeed, that’s how we met, so we’re very grateful we were accepted onto it. You were a member of this scheme. Do you feel it helped you? Would you recommend it to other aspiring authors?

Joining the RNA NWS is the best thing that I could have done to kick-start my writing career. I’d toyed with joining for several years but never seriously looked into it until late in 2014. Then, last year I decided that this was the year I was going to take my writing seriously. I knew the NWS is always oversubscribed so I stayed up on New Year’s Day to email my application just after midnight and kept my fingers crossed. Fortunately, I was successful and, since then, I have been overwhelmed by the support offered by RNA members. Even though I can’t always make the planned events down in London, there are lots of other ways to keep in touch and offer support and encouragement, not least via the email and Facebook forums. This year also saw the first RNA Afternoon Tea event in York which I attended and it was lovely to meet up with the people that I’d been connecting with online. Add to this the fantastic manuscript critique that is part of the NWS – I can only say that I would definitely recommend the RNA NWS to any aspiring author.

You recently signed a publishing deal with Tirgearr Publishing. Tell us about your path to publication.

It came out of the blue, which sounds ridiculous because, of course, I had sent the manuscript off for consideration. Beauty and the Recluse is a novel I wrote several years ago and which has been revised several times. Harlequin M&B requested to see the full manuscript about two years ago and, although they passed on it, they did give me an excellent and detailed critique.  As I was already well on with my next novel, I took it on the chin, put it in the proverbial drawer and kept on working on my new novel. Once I had drafted that, I took a break from it and pulled out Beauty and the Recluse and decided to re-work it, taking on board the M&B advice.  Once I had done that, I left it for a while and went back to editing my next novel. It was only when, during one of the email forums, one of the other RNA members mentioned that they had a new novel out for release with Tirgearr Publishing that, out of interest, I had a look at their website, liked the look of their titles and their approach and, on the off-chance, decided to send them Beauty and the Recluse – not holding out much hope. However, less than two weeks later, I had a response from them telling me that they loved the book and the characters and offering me a contract on the spot. I was at work at the time and thought that it must be a hoax!

Loving the title of your first novel! Can you tell us a bit about it? When is it due for release?

As you might guess from the title, it has elements of Beauty and the Beast and, while it isn’t a true, modern day re-telling of the tale, it does have certain similarities to the fairy tale.

Following the recent death of her father, and in need of both a job and somewhere to live, Kiya takes a housekeeping job on the spur of the moment.  She soon finds herself living in a beautiful but neglected mansion, working for a strange and reclusive man.

St. John is a man scarred by the past, both physically and emotionally, and is determined to live out his life alone.  They are two very different people, drawn to each other almost against their will, but can Kiya convince St. John that he is not the monster he believes himself to be? 

It is due for release in February 2016 and I am so excited, although nervous about how it will be received.  I can’t wait to get the first sight of my cover which should be fairly soon.

Very exciting times ahead! What are you planning next? Is there another book in the pipeline?

Yes, I am currently editing my next novel which is set in Egypt and follows the themes of love, loss and letting go of the past.

Thank you for being such a lovely guest, Ellie. Hope the spotlight didn’t shine too brightly in your eyes! Good luck with Beauty and the Recluse. We look forward to reading it. 

You can find out more about Ellie at:

https://elliegrayauthor.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elliegrayauthor

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/elliegray58

Pinterest:  https://uk.pinterest.com/elliegray71/