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.

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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

Never Mind the Quality – Feel the Width! says Deirdre Palmer

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I had better begin by explaining the title of this post, in case, ahem, you are too young to remember.

Never Mind… was a TV sitcom broadcast from 1967 – 71.  It was about two tailors, one Catholic and the other Jewish, and featured some great actors who would go on to become well-known faces of comedy and drama.  It would never get made today – far too un-PC – but it was a huge success at the time.  The title worked its way into the culture of the day as a saying referring to all kinds of things, some, as you might imagine, more polite than others…  I’m borrowing it now to talk not about cloth but about books.

Something odd has happened to my reading habits, a change that crept up on me while I wasn’t paying attention.  Now, as I’m scanning the shelves in a bookshop or library for my next fix, I’m not only waiting for an author’s name, an intriguing title or a fetching cover to jump out at me, I’m also considering, a bit shame-facedly, the physical properties of the book itself.

How much space does it take up on the shelf?  Has the publisher had the luxury of fitting several lines of large-font text on the binding?  How heavy does it feel in my hand?

In other words, how long is it?

Because therein lies the rub.  If the book still appeals I’ll flick to the end to check that appearances are not deceptive and it does indeed run past the 400 page mark or thereabouts, and if it does, then back it goes.

It’s a nuisance really because I may be missing out on some cracking reads but even if the story’s truly gripping and the writing pacy, by the time I get beyond 350 pages or so I’m just wishing it would be over.  If it’s an actual book, I’m constantly checking the depth of the remaining pages for signs of serious thinning out.  If it’s an ebook, I become weirdly obsessed with the little slider at the bottom of the screen and am stupidly relieved when it gets to 80% and I know I’m on the homeward straight.

 Actually there’s some literary merit to be drawn from this because all too often I come across books which are woefully over-written and make me want to shout ‘You’ve told the story, now stop!’ to the author, but that’s another topic entirely.

So why is this happening?  Is it pure physical stamina I’m lacking due to the short, dark days of winter, or a sharp dip in concentration brought about by my ageing brain cells?  Could it be that there are so many other distractions my attention span has shrunk faster than a woolly jumper on a boil wash?

Or am I, subconsciously, simply following a trend?

To name-drop shamelessly here, I was lucky enough to meet the eminent novelist Fay Weldon recently, and the first thing she said was that readers today want short books with short chapters; quick, satisfying bites they can devour along with their Pret sandwich and take-out Americano.  She was generalising, of course, but it’s easy to understand the logic.

As an aspiring author I see this as a gift; I can at last set aside my worry that 80,000 words do not a novel make because, after all, it is all about the quality and not the width.

As a reader, I don’t have to feel guilty that there are lovely books on my own shelves that remain unread purely because of their length.  There’s The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton which has no less than 645 pages, and the print’s not that large either.  Yet it’s not so long ago I sailed through The House at Riverton by the same author which has 599 pages with no trouble at all.  My collection of Catherine Alliott’s novels (such pretty covers!) all stretch almost to the 500 page mark but I suspect if I re-read them now I’d find them about a hundred pages too long – no disrespect to CA intended.  I’m dying to have a go at Jeffrey Archer, as it were, as I’ve never read any of his and people tell me he writes great stories but the one I have is near enough 600 pages, so dear Jeffrey will have to wait a while longer for my verdict.

By now you might be thinking, why doesn’t she just read short stories and be done with it?  Strange as it may seem, my tastes aren’t working their way towards those, and yes, I may read the odd one that draws me in for some reason, but generally speaking I’m not a great fan of the short story, which is probably why I don’t find them easy to write either.

Novellas, then?  Call me prejudiced but there’s something about the word ‘novella’ that I find distinctly off-putting, although in reality I’m sure there are some excellent reads in this format by some brilliant writers.  The novel’s little sister may be sweet but she’s not what I need right now either.

Luckily there are plenty of books of just the right width to keep me happy and if all else fails I can re-read some old favourites.  Joanna Trollope tends to nudge the 400 page mark but the large print keeps them turning fast. Deborah Moggach hovers gracefully around the upper 300s and some of hers, like the hugely enjoyable In the Dark, are even shorter.  When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman has 335 pages – now there’s an example of the perfect novel if ever there was one.  And then there are absolute gems like Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn and Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal, each less than 250 pages.   

 ‘She’s going through a phase,’ as my mother used to say, all mothers, in fact.  Well, phase or trend, it looks like I’m stuck with it for the time being.  But that’s fine because I’ve never fancied War and Peace anyway.

The Wednesday Wondering – What We’re Reading Right Now

When a writer is asked what advice they’d give to other writers, one of the most commonly cited gems is to read. A lot! As you’d probably expect, The Write Romantics are all avid readers although how we all find time to fit it in between family life, writing, running a farm, working, volunteering and the million and one other responsibilities we have between us is an absolute mystery!

Today’s Wednesday Wondering was posed by nosey me and is quite simply:
What are you reading at the moment? What drew you do that book?

Let’s find out what The Write Romantics have to say…

HELEN P:

I’m currently reading about ten different books but the one I’m trying to concentrate on and read is ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens. I’ve never read it and my writing group’s homework is to bring in a piece of seasonal writing and introduce it, so I thought it would be very apt. Plus I thought I’d best take a look at how one of the great master’s writes a ghost story 😉

DEIRDRE:

I’m reading The Hidden Cottage by Erica James. I didn’t set out to buy it but, armed with a load of lovely book tokens I won in a writing competition, I decided to break into them with a little mooch around Smith’s. First I picked up a book I’d had on my list for a while and as it was part of a buy-one-get-one-half price deal I began the search for another. The Hidden Cottage spoke to me straight away. I’m a sucker for a book title with the word ‘cottage’ in it, the cover is delightfully colourful and I’ve read many of Erica James’ books before so I kind of knew what I was getting. I’ve read about two thirds of it, and it does live up to its promise in that it’s a cosy read about family relationships, which is what the author excels in. I wouldn’t say I’m loving it as much as her previous one, The Real Katie Lavender, but the characters feel genuine and all have traits you can easily identify with. There is a tragedy in it, which I won’t give away here, but mainly it’s an easy, warm-hearted read and it’s perfect for reading by the fire when the rain’s hammering down outside.

RACHAEL:
At the moment I’m back in the reign of Henry VIII with a new release by Judith Arnopp. The Kiss of the Concubine is all about Anne Boleyn and is a time in history that has always fascinated me.

The reason I’m reading this book, is not just because it is written by a friend and neighbour but because, despite knowing Judith, I would have to read each and every book she writes. They are just so different. It’s not history through rose tinted glasses. It’s real and makes me wonder just what it would have really been like to live then.
The opening chapter is brilliant and drags you in straight away and is so different from anything else. It’s a must read!

http://www.juditharnopp.com/kissoftheconcubine.htm

ALEX:
I’m currently reading ‘Rumours’ by Freya North. I picked it up because I’ve read and enjoyed many of her previous books and while I’m recuperating I wanted something that’s not too taxing. I am enjoying it although it has some ‘interesting’ switches of POV which I find a bit annoying. Just as an aside, years ago when I worked in a bookshop in York I met Freya North. She came into the shop with the publisher’s rep. Her first book had not long been out and I had no idea who she was. I do remember that she was very polite and unassuming so I was a bit surprised when I later read her book and found out how many sex scenes were in it. Just shows that you really shouldn’t judge an author by what she looks like!”

LYNNE:
I’m one of those people who can’t just read one book at a time. I have to have a book with me all the time so there’s generally one wherever I happen to be. In the car I’ve got ‘The Children of Green Knowe.’ I know my childhood’s long gone, but I do enjoy children’s books now and again and this one is especially good. I visited the manor house in which it’s set, Hemingford Grey, the author Lucy Boston’s home. It was magical and one of the loveliest homes I’ve visited. I’m also reading ‘The Last Runaway,’ by Tracy Chevalier. This is excellent. I saw it as a recommended read from Richard and Judy and I liked the fact that it is set in America in a Quaker community. It has a lovely sense of atmosphere and a gripping storyline!

On my To Be Read pile isSusan Lewis’s ‘One Day At A Time.’ I love her work, she chooses some very emotional issues and I like that. On a completely different note I have Diana Holman-Hunt’s memoir, ‘My Grandmother’s and I.’ She was granddaughter to the great Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman-Hunt. He painted my favourite painting of all time, ‘The Light of the World,’ which is beautiful and exactly what I think Jesus looks like!

That’s my favourite thing about books, there are so many and they’re all so different!

HELEN R:
I’m reading “Too Charming” by Kathryn Freeman. It’s utterly brilliant with one very sexy hero. I downloaded this onto my Kindle in response to an advert by her publisher, Choc Lit. I highly recommend it.

JAXX:
I’m reading Henriette Gyland’s book The Elephant Girl, which is a roller coaster of a book with mystery, interest and a lovely hero and heroine that you feel you know by the end of the book- a very satisfying read.

JO:
I am reading David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny. The reason is because I have had an idea for a Middle Grade book I’d like to write after I finish the current NaNo project and get it off to the NWS. I’ve read and loved a lot of Roald Dahl and I think Walliams is seen as a modern-day equivalent. I’m reading it to look at techniques, the language and vocab levels and the pitch of humour versus plot. I want to get an idea of whether my story idea has enough legs before I take it further and I’m loving reading something so different and being a kid again for a bit!

JULIE:
I’m reading “Beneath an Irish Sky” by Isabella Connor on my Kindle. I was drawn to his book because it’s a collaboration between two writers, Liv and Val, who we interviewed over the summer on our blog. The idea of a “joint” book sounded interesting, as well as the story itself. I’m really enjoying and find it refreshing to read from predominantly male POVs. Sadly, progress is very slow – not because the book isn’t a page-turner but simply because I have absolutely no time to read at the moment. I like to get really engrossed in a book and read large chunks in one sitting as I enjoy it more that way. I think therefore that I may just put the Kindle away until November is through and I’ve therefore finished NaNoWriMo which will hopefully give me a little more reading time. I have a Christmas book I want to delve into in December so I would like to finish Beneath an Irish Sky within the first week.

So, quite a mix of books and genres, old and new. Have you read any of the books we’re currently reading? Do you have any recommendations for us? What are you reading at the moment? Please join in and let us know.

Julie