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 🙂

The Sunday Spotlight – Guest Blogger, Alison May, on ‘Getting the Call’

Our regular readers will know that The Write Romantics normally favour a Saturday Spotlight and, this week, we are delighted to welcome back our writing buddy, and flat-mate from the RNA conference, Alison May as a guest blogger.  We’d like to say that we specially changed the Saturday Spotlight to a Sunday in honour of all Alison’s exciting news since her last visit, just to make it stand out that little bit more, but the sad (and far less exciting) reality was a major broad band meltdown issue!  So, apologies, but we are sure you will agree that Alison’s guest blog was definitely worth the extra wait.

About Alison

Alison May last visited the WriteRomantics, back when she was still Alison Maynard, before she abandoned the last syllable of her name in a writerly pennamey sort of a way. Since then she’s signed her first publishing deal with Choc Lit, and has managed not to kill a single goldfish.

Her first novel, Sweet Nothing, will be published by Choc Lit, under their Choc Lit Lite digital first imprint, in November 2013. Sweet Nothing is a romantic comedy based on William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, because if you’re going to pilfer someone else’s plot, you might as well go for someone really good.

You can find out more about Alison at www.alison-may.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @MsAlisonMay

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Getting the Call

It’s the moment budding writers dream of  – that first call, the first time you pick up the phone and the voice at the other end says, “We love your writing. We’re going to make you a star. Take this six figure advance, and quit your day job this very second.” At least, that’s what I always imagined the voice saying.

Obviously real-life doesn’t work quite like that. In my case, it wasn’t a call at all; it was an email, followed by several more emails over several weeks as myself and Lyn from romantic fiction publisher, Choc Lit, tried repeatedly to make her very busy work schedule and my less busy but quite erratic work schedule coincide, so that we could meet up.

We eventually got together in central London. It was a discussion where Lyn did 90% of the talking and I grinned and nodded like a buffoon who’d temporarily lost the power of coherent speech. Fortunately, Lyn is an understanding soul, used to dealing with nervy first-time authors, and she offered me a contract for my debut novel, Sweet Nothing, despite my apparent dippiness. That meeting was three days before the RNA Conference. I signed the contract the very next day, and announced the deal, still in a bit of a daze, at the opening ‘Celebrations’ session at the conference.extension actually about myself, now I have a publishing contract in place. When people ask me what I do, I now tell them that I’m a writer, rather than fudging a bit and saying that I do various different things. I still giggle nervously when I say it, but I am starting to see myself as a writer first.

In another sense though, nothing changes. There are no six-figure advance fairies in most of our lives. No magic movie deals riding over the horizon just in time to pay the gas bill. Normal life has to go on, but now it goes on with an additional external pressure. I’m not just writing because I want to. I’m writing because someone out there has given me a contract and is prepared to invest time and money and effort into me and my writing, which is brilliant, and terrifying, and brilliant, and terrifying, and mostly brilliant.

Since signing that initial contract with Choc Lit to publish Sweet Nothing under their Choc Lit Lite imprint, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. Sweet Nothing is due out in November – my editor (squeee!) is doing her review of the draft at the moment. I’ve written a short story, Devils and Heroes, and, weirdly, a chocolate cake recipe, for the Choc Lit Love Match anthology (http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00AMQ1EG6). I’ve had a short story, Feel the Fear, accepted in the RNA’s upcoming anthology for early 2014, which I’m super-excited about. I’ve also written and submitted a novella to Choc Lit, which, with luck and a following wind, might also make it out into the world before the end of the year. It does feel like I’m on a very tiny little bit of a roll, which is amazing, and if I can get on a little roll, then anyone can. Just keep writing the best stuff you can, and keep sending that stuff out there into the world.

And now, I get to go right back to the start. Novel 2, page 1, the blank sheet of paper. It’s brilliant, and did I mention, a tiny bit terrifying?

 

 

Monday Interview – Zanna Mackenzie

Zanna Mackenzie lives in the UK with her husband, 4 dogs, a vegetable patch that’s home to far too many weeds and an ever expanding library of books waiting to be read.

Being a freelance writer and editor of business publications is her ‘day job’ but, at every opportunity, she can be found scribbling down notes on scenes for whatever novel she’s working on. She loves it when the characters in her novels take on minds of their own and start deviating from the original plot!

Formerly a travel agent and therapist (she has qualifications in clinical aromatherapy, crystal healing, naturopathic nutrition and herbalism) she loves walking the dogs and gardening – that’s when she’s not writing or reading!

ZannaM

Zanna has written two novels, The Love Programme (Astraea Press) and How Do You Spell Love? (Crooked Cat Publishing) and both were published in early 2013.

  • We know that, like us, you were once a member of the NWS but we wondered if you could tell us a bit about how you came to join, how long you have been a member, the genre you write in and what inspired you to start writing?

When I wrote my first novel I found out about a government-supported regional writing and arts network who offered free manuscript appraisals from local published authors to people who lived in East Midlands and I sent my work to them. The feedback was hugely useful and the person who reviewed my work suggested I should join the NWS and submit my novel through the scheme. Places in the NWS are limited and each year you have to renew in January, fortunately this was in December so the timing was just right for me to get my application form in! I was in the NWS for three years and 2 of the 3 books I put through the NWS for appraisal have since gone on to publication. I write romance/chicklit. What inspired me to write? Well, I’ve always wanted to. As a child I made up stories and created my own books from folded paper stapled together. At school I wanted to be a journalist but ended up working in the travel industry. I started writing articles – travel, health and lifestyle stuff – and got them accepted in various publications. Then I felt like trying my hand at fiction and got a short story published in a national magazine and so I began to plot out my first novel and the writing grew from there.

  • Please can you tell us a bit about your journey to publication and how ‘The Call’ came about?

I’ve been writing for years, fiction and non-fiction, and had actually given up as I was disillusioned and thought I was wasting my time. Last year my husband encouraged me to try again and send some completed manuscripts out to publishers for consideration – something I’d never done before. I edited the two books, made them as good as I felt I could and sent them off, expecting nothing. Within six weeks both books had been accepted by publishers – I was stunned, amazed – and I sobbed with happiness! The Love Programme was published by Astraea Press in February 2013 (it was a much edited version of the second novel I put through the NWS) and How Do You Spell Love? was published by Crooked Cat in March 2013 ( a much edited version of the third novel I put through the NWS)

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  • What’s next for you, Zanna?

I’m planning on doing major edits and a revamp on my first novel in the hope of getting it published. I’m editing my fourth novel and will be sending that for consideration to a publisher soon. I have 40,000 words of my fifth novel written so once I’ve edited book 4 and book 1I’ll go back to finishing writing book 5. I also have plot outlines in place for books 6 and 7. A novella prequel to The Love Programme will be putting in an appearance soon too.

  • Have you got any advice for others who might be hoping to emulate your success in securing a publisher or perhaps an agent?

Don’t give up! If writing is really what you want to do, feel compelled to do, then persevere. Join writing groups on line and in person, make time to write, take it seriously and just keep believing in yourself and your books.

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  • What are your dreams and aspirations as a writer, in terms of your long-term career?

I want to just write, write and then write some more! I love the whole writing process, from letting your imagination run riot creating characters and plots, to editing and eventually seeing the book finished. I feel tremendously privileged to have had 2 books published and to be given this opportunity to try to carve out a long term career as an author.

  • What was the single biggest benefit of joining the NWS, do you think?

The feedback from published authors in the same genre – it was invaluable.

  • Is there anything else you’d like to share with us or any other advice you can offer?

As soon as my books were published and I became eligible I joined the Romantic Novelists Association (who run the NWS) as a full member – they’re a wonderfully supportive organisation.

Thank you Zanna, for taking part in our Monday interview and we wish you all the best for continued success.

Follow Links:

Find out more about Zanna at:

http://www.zannamackenzie.blogspot.co.uk

http://www.zannamackenzie.co.uk

Twitter: @ZannaMacKenzie

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/zanna. mackenzie

Goodreads – http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/10703273-zanna-mackenzie

Amazon Author Page – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Zanna-Mackenzie/e/B00BKY1A18/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Monday Interviews – Kerry Fisher

The Write Romantics will be starting a weekly Monday interview with a series of writers from those still at the ‘new writer’ phase, to recent graduates into the world of publishing (both traditional and self-published) and alumni of the New Writer’s Scheme now firmly established as readers’ favourites.

Our very first interviewee, Kerry Fisher, is a member of the New Writers Scheme who has self-published her first novel, The Class Ceiling, and has recently been signed by a literary agent to represent her second novel.  Kerry is a journalist and women’s fiction writer, living in the South East of England with her husband, two children and the family’s naughty black dog.

Hi Kerry, welcome to the Write Romantics Blog and thanks so much for taking the time to be our very first interviewee!

 Kerry Fisher

 

We know that, like us, you are a member of the NWS but we wondered if you could tell us a bit about how you came to join, how long you have been a member, the genre you write in and what inspired you to start writing?

Hello there. Thank you so much for having me. I have been a member of the NWS on and off for about six years – forgot to renew on the first available day one year and the places were snaffled up immediately! I write women’s commercial fiction. My aim is to create honest, funny stories about ordinary women. I try not to shy away from emotions that most of us don’t want to admit exist – envy of other people’s wealth, being jealous of your best friend, disliking your child. Pre-novel writing days, I was a journalist and part of my job was to review books. The more I read, the more I felt inspired to have a go myself, though I was utterly deluded about how easy it would be. Fellow RNA member, Sophie King, told me about the NWS and it’s been invaluable.

We know that we are in danger of sounding a bit like reality show contestants, but we Write Romantics see the road to publication, by whatever route, as a journey.  Please can you tell us a bit about your journey so far and what is next for you?

If I go right back to the beginning, my journey involved about a decade of procrastination thinking about writing a novel, a few more years talking about writing it, plus a good chunk of time being defensive about not having achieved it. Then finally, to a collective hurrah from all who know me, a year to write the first book, followed by a hideously long time mumbling, ‘No, not published yet’ into my wine glass.

In a nutshell, I took lots of online courses with the University of California – they have a great writers’ programme – before I produced anything that wouldn’t have had agents dispatching me to their ‘spam’ folders. My first novel won’t ever see the light of day owing to the general style of ‘And then she cleaned her teeth and then she walked to the door and then she did many other things in a very boring manner, even if she did live in Italy’ – but I self-published my second, The Class Ceiling, just before Christmas. I think my husband mentioning Einstein’s theory that ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’ finally clinched it.

Immediately after that, I got an agent for my third novel, (awaiting awesome, flying-off-the-shelves title). The two weren’t related, which, in my mind, just goes to prove that if you give the universe a shove, it sometimes shifts in your favour.

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Congratulations on being signed by an agent!  That really is the holy-grail for us aspiring writers and seems to be even more difficult that getting a publisher.  Have you got any advice for others who might be hoping to emulate your success in securing an agent?

I feel embarrassed about giving advice to anyone as I blundered about so much myself but one thing I would say – and I find this very hard – is network as much as you can. Apart from the obvious benefits that you never know who you might bump into, getting to know agents and authors takes away ‘the fear’. The first time I had to do a formal pitch to an agent at a writing festival I shook, gabbled, fell apart and that was before he’d told me that no one was interested in reading about class and why on earth was I still banging on about something that everyone lost interest in last century?

If you do meet lots of authors and agents – at the RNA parties, writing festivals, workshops, even on Twitter – then when you are put on that hideous ‘What are you writing?’ spot, you might still sweat and stutter, but at least it’ll be a rehearsed stutter that might have enough coherence to elicit a ‘send me the first three chapters’. I met my agent at the RNA winter party last year and did just that.

On my goodness, that first agent you pitched too sounds scary and exactly why networking is as hard as it is, but we do know we’ve got to try…  What’s next for you now that you have an agent, Kerry?  

I’ve got everything crossed that my agent manages to sell the latest novel but one of the knock-on effects of self-publishing is that you simply have to get yourself out there and market, so I envisage a huge learning curve in marketing, social media know-how and squirming in the corner when anyone tells me that they are actually reading the damn thing.

What are your dreams and aspirations as a writer, in terms of your long-term career? 

As I sit down to plot my next novel, I am genuinely astonished that I’ve ever managed to write a book. My immediate dream is of not sitting here like a constipated cow, paralysed by the thought that if I do get traditionally published, I’ll be writing to a deadline when all those ‘Have you finished your book yet?’ comments will suddenly take on a new meaning.

Along with ten million other writers, my long-term dream is that The Class Ceiling is made it to a film. It’s about a cleaner who receives an inheritance to pay for a private education for her children and the shocking school gate snobbery she faces. All the time I was writing it, I was imagining Penelope Cruz (my Basque cleaner) and Gerard Butler (the cleaner’s love interest) in my head.

We love that!  After all, J K Rowling based many of her characters from Harry Potter on the people she wanted to play them if it ever got made into a film, or so we’ve read.  What has been the single biggest benefit of joining the NWS, do you think?

I’m going to choose two benefits of joining the NWS. The first one was that the manuscript feedback helped so much. I had a fantastic reader for The Class Ceiling – I received such an encouraging, detailed report that it made me believe that I could – with a lot of hard graft – get published. Secondly, I’ve met so many generous-spirited people through the RNA who have all done their bit to help me on my way – Adrienne Dines, Allie Spencer, Claire Dyer, Giselle Green

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us or any other advice you can offer?

Let’s call this section ‘Things I wish I’d known before faffing about for twenty years…’

  • Learn how to write. Take classes, go to workshops, attend writing festivals, read books on writing, read novels.
  • Get a manuscript review and be prepared to ‘hear’ your feedback. Don’t assume that anyone who reads your masterpiece and doesn’t shout ‘Brilliant! Why haven’t you found an agent?’ is an utter donkey. Throw yourself on the sofa, shout on the hills but go back to the critique and see if there are some valid points.
  • Stop hiding behind pillars at networking events. You don’t have to rush up to agents with a book pitch (in fact, don’t do that…) but you can tell them that you enjoyed a book by someone they represent.
  • Be generous with your contacts and praise. Put people in touch with other people. Authors with helpful agents you’ve met, agents with people who run writing festivals, book reviewers with great writers, let Twitter know about brilliant blogs, novels, authors. I can’t say specifically that it’s led anywhere but I do believe that good writing karma goes around.

Thank you so much for having me. Click here to read some sample pages of The Class Ceiling, or here to join me on my blog, which is a mix of writing news and embarrassing my husband and children family observations. If you have any more questions, please hop over to my Facebook page or find me on Twitter. Best of writing luck to you.

Thank you Kerry, what an inspirational interview.  We do hope you will come back and see us again soon and give us an update when your agent has sold your current WIP for a ludicrously high bid!

Castles in the sky… to believe, to dream, to try and try and try!

castle in the sky

Following on from Helen’s post about wishes coming true, I thought I’d post about those times when disappointment or self doubt can wrap us in a cloak of hopelessness.  I’m sure most writers know exactly what I mean.  It might creep up on you whilst you are reading back through something that you initially thought was insightful, ground-breaking writing and which now makes you doubt you should even be let loose writing a shopping list!  Or perhaps it arises from the spine chilling sound of the rejection envelope hitting the doormat or the ping into your inbox of yet another “thanks, but no thanks” email.

However it comes, I think it does come to all writers at some time or another.  I know I have been there and, just this week, a writer friend of mine emailed to say that she felt like she’d had enough.  I hope she hasn’t, but I can understand why she might.  It certainly isn’t an occupation for those with a fragile ego and rejection comes with the territory.

So, when is it time to give up on your dreams?  I posted about this on a writer’s forum once and was told that, as long as it remains your dream, you should never give up.  When you stop loving the act of writing, or writing because you simple have to in order to truly live, and when your dreams no longer bring you pleasure in the imagining of their coming true – that’s the time to stop.

Until then, believe, dream and try, try, try – drawing some inspiration from those who did and found those castles in the sky:

  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach was only picked up by Macmillan publishing, in 1970, after eighteen other publishers had rejected it. Within five years it had sold over seven million copies.
  • Who can forget that all time classic Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell?  If the twenty five publishers who rejected it before it was finally accepted had got their way, none of us would ever have heard of it.
  • Remember MASH the movie and spin off TV series about the Korean war?  The author of the original blockbuster novel, Richard Hooker, spent seven years tirelessly working on it, only to see it rejected by twenty one publishers.  Morrow eventually decided to publish it and the rest, as they say, is history.
  • The original Chicken Soup for the Soul book from the now hugely successful series was turned down by a total of one hundred and twenty three publishers across the US, including thirty three in New York alone, for being ‘too nice’.  Health Communications Inc, who finally made ‘The Call’ to publish it must be laughing all the way to the bank.  The first book alone sold eight million copies and spawned a series which now has thirty two titles and has chalked up fifty three million sales in thirty one languages.
  • Who doesn’t love that anti-hero The Grinch?  If Dr. Seuss had listened to the twenty seven publishers who rejected his first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, before it was eventually published by Vanguard press, selling six million copies, that green harbinger of Christmas gloom would have forever dwelled in Seuss’ imagination, along with the Cat in the Hat, Horton and hundreds of his other characters.
  • The first Harry Potter book was rejected by 12 publishers for, among other reasons, being far too long for a children’s book and the series has gone on to make an estimated 25 billion in book sales, movies and merchandising.  JK Rowling can now literally afford a castle in the sky
  • Fifty Shades of Grey became the fastest selling paperback of all time, but only after EL James had her dreams and pride battered by rejection from literary agents.  She took her dreams into her own hands, however, and word spread about the book via the Writer’s Coffee Shop, a virtual publisher in Australia. The phenomenon it became must have surpassed even EL James’ wildest dreams.

The message is simple – don’t give up!  After all, the world would be nothing without dreamers.

Jo x

The above examples of dreamers who never give up was compiled by excerpts from various sources including Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Hansen, www.weboflove.org, http://sellyourstoryuk.com.