A Bright New Start for Beltane by Alys West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday Wondering – You’re My Inspiration

On this day, 11th February, twenty-five years ago, Nelson Mandela was released after twenty-seven years of imprisonment. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was a source of inspiration to millions around the world. So the theme for today’s Wednesday Wondering is around inspiration. I asked The Write Romantics:

Who or what inspires you?

I told them that it was up to them how they interpreted this question. Inspiration could come from a person, a place, an event or something else. It could be something/someone who inspires them to write through to how they live your life or want to live their life.

I love it when I ask a question that can be open for interpretation because the responses are so varied. Today’s question didn’t let me down.

Jessica xx

Deirdre says …

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was walking around a National Trust estate the summer before last and a friend I was with asked me if I could imagine writing a story set there.  I could see what he meant – the ancient trees, the secret valleys filled with exotic plants – but I had to tell him, no, I wasn’t inspired.  I could see he was surprised, disappointed even, but on that particular day at that particular time I’d have found more inspiration in a grimy back street suggesting dubious goings-on after dark.  And I don’t write thrillers.

So, what I think is that inspiration, whether for something creative like writing or simply how to live your life, depends on mood and circumstance; a fluid thing, not easy to pin down or explain.  Which is probably why I took so long to come up with an answer to this question…

There are things, and people, who are more likely to inspire me than others.  For instance, I don’t look at super-achievers and think ‘I could do that’.  I mean the kind of person who home-schools three children, runs a successful business, jogs three times round the park before breakfast and writes best-sellers under cover of darkness, and all without breaking a nail.  That kind of thing leaves me cold.  But when I hear somebody talking, a woman around my age, say, and discover she has same problems, insecurities and crazy thoughts as I do, that will throw a switch inside me and I know I’m doing fine just as I am.  I suppose that’s validation rather inspiration but the two go hand in hand.  If you accept who you are now I think you’re more likely to be receptive to new ideas and have the vision to carry them forward.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat’s the complicated answer, so now I’ll try to give the simple one.  I have a lovely friend who is very successful at writing stories for women’s magazines.  In fact she’s just sold her hundredth story!  I’m not saying I could reach that dizzy height but she’s definitely inspired me to have a go.  Brilliant writing of any kind will always inspire me, particularly with the novels.  My art teacher inspires me to keep on trying with the drawing and painting.  It’s her job, I know, but not all teachers have the knack.  Friends who have faced great challenges with strength and bravery are always inspiring.

On a lower level, watching property and gardening programmes makes me want to improve my own little patch, and magazines have great ideas that I can’t wait to follow – if only I had the time and the energy.  On the other hand I might just persuade somebody else to do it for me.

Helen R says …

My love of reading is what initially inspired me to become a writer. It took many years of loving books to be brave enough to tackle writing my own, and there were failed attempts as I continued to learn and wrote something that was together enough to submit to agents and publishers.

My other inspiration has always been my family and friends, including The Write Romantics. From the encouragement to get started and put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, to the much needed persuasion not to give up, I think that the people in my life have inspired me to follow this career path, which, let’s face it, can be pretty lonely sometimes.

Rachael says …

Anthology coverInspiration is everywhere for everything, if you just look for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a story idea or the motivation to do something. People, places, or events – past or present, are inspirational.

On a small scale, I find inspiration for my writing all over the place, watching TV, listening to the lyrics of a song, an overheard snippet of conversation. It’s all there for the taking if you open your mind to it.

But there is much bigger inspiration around us. It’s there in people who have risen to the challenge of life and achieved their ambitions, sometimes never letting go of their hopes and dreams for many years. These are the people I look to for inspiration, which in turn gives me motivation. People like the local unsung heroes of our communities, people who have faced illness and bravely shared their story, often raising huge sums of money for charity.

A perfect example of this is Stephen Sutton who inspired The Write Romantics to produce our first anthology, raising funds for charity. Winter Tales – Stories to Warm Your Heart is available in paperback and eBook formats via Amazon.

Jo says …

PaulaThe most inspirational person I know in real life is a friend of mine, called Paula. She has a wicked sense of humour, has the sharpest put-downs of anyone I’ve ever met and could probably drink the England rugby union squad under the table.  Our birthdays are one day – and, as she wouldn’t fail to let you know, four years – apart, so maybe that’s why we’re on the same wave length in so many ways.

When we worked together, they called us Trinny and Susannah and we weren’t afraid to tell the world how we saw things.  We were younger then, of course, with that feeling of indestructibility that comes with youth… and, of course, Paula’s muscular dystrophy was less evident than it is now.  She’s always been as tenacious as hell, refusing to have any special allowance made for her condition and working her proverbial off to climb the career ladder, attain a degree whilst working full time and achieve awards for her outstanding commitment to teaching.

Paula and Jo NYE2014Paula has never allowed her condition to define her and whilst many, with far less to contend with, proclaim themselves too ill to work, she’s been out there grabbing life by both hands. After a horrific fall and a six month stint in hospital, she’s finally decided it’s time to ease off the full-time workload, but she’s still willing to volunteer to support her fellow teachers and is thinking about setting up an advice service for others who find themselves in a similar position to hers. Paula also indirectly introduced me to my husband – although that’s another story altogether – hence my son having Paul as his middle name – she beta reads for me, being the first person to ever set eyes upon ‘Among A Thousand Stars’ and was the main inspiration for my Winter Tales’ story.

She never whinges about the hand that life has dealt her – and she’s had more than just being born with MD to contend with – she gets on with things, living independently and wringing as much out of life as it’s possible to do.  I wish I had an ounce of her courage and that I could truly appreciate what I’ve got when I look at what she has to deal with on a day-to-day basis.  I know I don’t, but, still, she’s the definition of inspirational.  We usually like to insult each other – it’s a sign of affection, don’t you know – but, let me say, here and now, Paula, you’re a star and an inspiration and I’m lucky to call you a friend. I know all this will make her uncomfortable, so, as Andrew Lincoln put it in Love Actually, and before Paula has to reach for the sick bucket or a bitingly sarcastic response, “Enough now, enough”.

Alys says …

DSC01339My key inspiration seems to come from places. Beltane was inspired by Glastonbury and my current work in progress, Lughnasa, is inspired by Orkney. I seem to need a strong sense of place in my writing and I find that visiting the location sparks ideas for the plot.  I had so many ideas from visiting Orkney that I couldn’t fit them all into the one book.  So maybe that will keep me going back there and writing about it again.

Sharon says …

When I was in my forties, I decided to do an Open University degree. This took me six years, and it was a long and difficult process. There were many times, when life was particularly tricky, that I felt like quitting, convinced I would fail.

In my spare time (ha!) I was researching my family tree. I’d sent for the marriage certificate of my great-great-grandparents. As I perused the details on the document, one thing leapt out at me immediately. The two witnesses to the marriage, and my great-great-grandfather, George, had all made their mark with a cross. Emma had written her own name.

When I was a little girl, my grandad had given me the memorial plaque awarded in memory of his father, who had been killed in the First World War. I’ve kept it with me ever since. I call it “The Big Penny”, because that’s what it resembles. Emma was that fallen soldier’s mother, which I hadn’t realised before starting my research.

Over thirty years ago, a clairvoyant told me that I had a guardian angel, an ancestor of mine, who watched over me and protected me, and that her name began with the letter E. After discovering my great-grandad’s mum was Emma, and finding that amazing signature on the marriage certificate, I’m absolutely convinced that she meant Emma. The thought of that young woman signing the register fills me with pride to this day. It was the hope that she’d be proud of me that inspired me to finish my degree, and spurred me on to finish my novel, in spite of my self-doubt. Emma is my angel and my inspiration, and I have a lot to thank her for.

And finally …

_MG_0003As for me, my response is similar to Rachael’s. My inspiration comes from all around me. I’m lucky enough to live on the beautiful North Yorkshire Coast. Three mornings a week, I rise at 5.20am and venture down to the seafront to take part in a bootcamp. I completed my very first bootcamp in February 2013, continued for about a year, then took eight months off before getting back into it but with a different company. Sadly, eight months was enough time to put all the weight back on that I’d lost and completely lose my fitness levels again so I had to start from scratch. It’s hard work, particularly when you’re in your forties and very overweight, but the setting is so inspiring. The mornings are starting to get a little lighter and we’ll soon hit the point where the sun rises while we’re working out. Who can fail to be inspired as the sun rises over the sea, casting its first rays on Scarborough Castle. Absolutely stunning.

bootcamps-headerI started to blog about my bootcamp experiences from Day 1 and the really strange thing for me is that friends, family and even strangers have cited me as their inspiration. I personally don’t think I’m very inspiring at all, especially as I’ve been doing this for two years and still have nearly all the weight to lose that I wanted to lose back at the start. But I still do it and I’ve massively increased my fitness. I guess it’s my determination to crack this thing – even if it takes a heck of a long time – that people find inspiring. And it’s those people who do crack it that I find inspiring. My second cousin, Lisa, decided enough was enough the same year I started Bootcamp and joined Slimming World. She lost about seven stone in that year. I lost three and put it back on again. I’m so inspired by her determination so I keep chipping away at it.

For my writing, settings inspire me, like Alys. So do songs. I will often hear a line in a song and think that it’s a great title for a book and, suddenly, I have an idea for a premise for a book.

What do you think? What inspires you? We’d love to hear from you. Please click on the comments tag at the end of all the words below.

Thank you

Jessica xx

Our round-up of 2014 and there’s so much to say that we have to do it in 2 parts … Part II

Welcome back! We hope you enjoyed reading about what 2014 has meant for Helen R, Deirdre, Rachael, Jo and Jackie. It’s time to hear from the remaining five …

cropped-sharon-booth-writerSharon Booth:

I can’t pinpoint my greatest writing achievement this year – I have four. I finally – after three years – finished There Must Be An Angel and sent it out into the world. Secondly, I found a publisher! Fabrian Books will publish Angel in March 2015.

angel coverI achieved a long-held ambition and became a published author when my short story, The Other Side of Christmas, appeared in the Winter Tales anthology. That was a very proud moment, especially when my copy of the paperback arrived in the post and I saw my name on those pages. What a thrill! And finally, I wrote my second novel. Which leads me onto…

My greatest writing challenge was probably writing that second novel. After spending three years working on Angel, I was very daunted about starting all over again. Could I do it? What if I only had one book in me? I was nervous, and even though I thought I had a great leading character and a germ of an idea for a story I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. To start with, it was pretty difficult and I was in a bit of a state for a while thinking that I simply couldn’t manage to write another novel. I was a bit gloomy about it for far too long. Then I just started writing and suddenly the words were flowing. I finished A Kiss from a Rose surprisingly quickly (it will be published in September 2015), and I’m very proud of it. I really love my hero and heroine and I hope readers will, too. Now I just have to tackle my doubts about book three!

photo 3 (2)Becoming a Write Romantic this year has meant everything to me. I’ve been writing on my own for so long and having a support network of nine other writers who understand what you’re going through – all your doubts and insecurities – is amazing. They’re a fun group too, and we have lots of laughs together. If someone needs advice or information there’s always at least one of us who knows how to help. I’ve loved working with them on Winter Tales and I think being part of the group has helped to raise my profile, and introduce me to a wider circle of friends.

2015 is going to be a busy year, because I’m having two books published so there will be a lot of work to do. I’m really looking forward to it, although I’m a bit nervous. Actually, I’m a LOT nervous, but I expect most writers are when their work is finally about to be read by other people. I’m also going to be slogging away at book three, and I think that will be my major challenge for the coming year. What if I can’t do it again? What if I only have two books in me? Hmm, talk about déjà vu! Happy New Year! 🙂

LynneLynne Pardoe:

My greatest writing achievement this year has undoubtedly been the acceptance of my pocket novel by D.C.Thomson. It started as a story that I began and developed by chatting to my mum when she was poorly. At first I thought it would simply entertain us through the many dark days at mum’s bedside, but over time I thought maybe it would make a good story. So I wrote it up. Then a blog post landed in my inbox, ‘D.C.Thomson are looking for pocket novels,’ it said, ‘post them to this address.’

So I did. And within ten days I got an acceptance! I’m yet to see the published thing; that’s out next month. It will bear both my mother’s name and mine and I already have plans to get the cover printed and framed to give mum for her 86th birthday in February. She says she never expected to have her name on a book at her age, which is so sweet, she is thrilled.

Seeing my own story with my own and mother’s name on the cover is the perfect start to my writing year. I only hope for more of the same whilst continuing to work on my social work novels. None of that would have been possible, or at least a lot more difficult, if it hadn’t been for the wonderful help of my fellow Write Romantics. Writing is a lonely business and the path to publication fraught with highs and lows and many times i’d have given up but for the support of my fellow Romantics.

Thanks girls and bring on 2015!

Alys WestAlys West:

1. My greatest writing achievement this year has to be signing with A for Authors. Getting an agent was like a dream come true and made me believe I might actually be half-way competent at this writing business. This is me signing the contract. Although what I failed to appreciate in the excitement of signing was that after that there’d be an awful lot more waiting to hear about submissions and more rejections but from bigger publishers this time. I’m not moaning here (in case that sounds like a whinge) it just took me a while to get my head around what it actually means to be represented.

A close second has to be publication of Winter Tales. There’s been some amazing moments like when my order of paperbacks arrived, when we got the first reviews on Amazon and were high in the Amazon rankings. But the best bit has been how proud my parents have been. My Mum gets quite emotional about it which, as we’re a fairly undemonstrative family, means an awful lot.

photo2. Lughnasa, my second novel, has definitely been my biggest writing challenge this year. I wanted it to be different from Beltane but within the same world of magic that I’d created. A sensible person would have learned from the challenges of writing about Glastonbury (where Beltane is set) and chosen somewhere closer to home for my second book. But not me! Lughnasa is set in Orkney which is twice as far from Yorkshire than Glastonbury and far more difficult to get to. The plot is quite complex and I always knew that’d be a challenge. What I’d not anticipated is that my characters would take control and leave me wondering what’s going to happen next. Have I overcome the challenges of this book? I’m not sure yet. I’m about two thirds of the way through so I’ll let you know when I get to the end and my beta-readers have had a look at it.

3. The Write Romantics have meant more to me this year than I can possibly say! From fashion advice when I was worried about what to wear for my first meeting with my agent to finding the positives in rejections to moral support when life in general is hard they’re the best group of people you could ever hope to meet. It’s fabulous to be part of such an amazing team and I know I couldn’t do this writing lark without them.

4. For 2015 I need to learn greater amounts of patience. Writers need a Zen type ability to accept endless amounts of waiting and as I’ve never been a patient person this is hard for me. Obviously I hope that my agents will find a publisher for Beltane, I want to finish Lughnasa in the first half of next year and go back to Orkney on a research trip. After that, I guess I’ll be thinking about book 3 which is a trifle terrifying at this point as I still don’t really know how the trilogy will end!

1185224_10200753042177469_1584659865_nHelen Phifer:

My greatest writing achievement this year is a tough one for me because I have managed to fill so many of my writing dreams in such a short space of time that it’s hard to choose. I don’t actually know how it happened but I’m so grateful that it did. I managed to knock my all time hero Stephen King off the Contemporary Horror Charts not just once but several times and for weeks at a time with my debut novel The Ghost House. That was a surreal moment for me, to see my book cover nestled in-between Dr. Sleep and The Shining, it was what my publishers aptly named a Stephen King sandwich and what I had been dreaming about the past eight years.

My greatest writing challenge was actually writing another two books and a short story in the space of twelve months. The books were on tight deadlines for my publishers and I was terrified that I wouldn’t make them. I’m pleased to say that I did somehow, I think the most important thing was to make myself sit down and write the first draft of the story without thinking about it too much. The biggest challenge out of them all was the short story; I’m not very good at writing them and it was a real test to see if I could come up with something that was good enough to be published.

ghosthouseBeing a Write Romantic was the key thing for me. The support I get off my amazing friends is one in a million. They have stopped me from losing the plot on more than one occasion, it’s been wonderful to be able to have such a wealth of talented writers to help me should I need some advice at the end of my fingertips. I am truly blessed to know such amazing ladies and I’m forever in their debt. Being a part of this group has kept me sane, I’ve laughed, cried and being overjoyed at their ups and downs and I wouldn’t change them for the world.

My writing hope for 2015 is to see The Ghost House released in paperback at the end of January and to actually hold a copy in my hands. I think that until I actually get to sniff the pages of my own book I still won’t believe that I wrote it. That is the biggest dream of all for me. I plan to have book 4 finished by the middle of January, then I want to concentrate on a stand alone scary novel I’ve been rewriting and self publish it. Then by August I have to hand book 5 over to my amazing editor Lucy at Carina. That will be the end of my current contract with them so it will be interesting to see if they want any more Annie Graham novels.

10527383_331005803724929_5378621437399779308_nJessica Redland:

My greatest writing achievement has definitely been securing a three-book deal with So Vain Books for my Whitsborough Bay Trilogy. I’d been planning to go indie because I found the waiting for news far too difficult. I could cope with rejections as it was news; I couldn’t cope with waiting for 9-10 months, constantly wondering. Searching for Steven was in with a final few publishers and I wasn’t expecting positive news so a publishing deal quickly followed by another were unexpected and extremely gratifying.

This two-deal situation was actually one of my greatest writing challenges. It’s a happy dilemma to have but a dilemma nonetheless because the offers were very different – established US-based company, eBook only, better royalties v new UK-based company, eBook and paperback, lower royalties – so I wasn’t comparing like for like. In the end, I went with my heart which was telling me that So Vain Books were right for me. It helped that Jo had already accepted a contract with them a few months earlier and I’d seen how well they’d been treating her.

P1050693Like so many of my other WRs, I’ve suffered the grips of self-doubt too. I submitted novel 2, Getting Over Gary, to the NWS and had a very luke-warm review. My reader kept saying there were loads of positives about it … yet somehow failed to include them in the report. The doubts crept in that maybe I was a one-book wonder. The euphoria of a publishing deal pushed these aside but then they returned a month or so ago. I’ve signed a deal on the basis of them only reading one book but what if they hated the other two and agreed that I only had it in me to write one book?

This is where the value of being part of a writing group like The Write Romantics pays absolute dividends. I’m fortunate enough to live reasonably close to Sharon and Alys and we meet up every few months for tea and cake. They were able to reassure me that I did have what it takes and that part of a publishing deal is a good editor who will direct me towards any flaws and help me polish it to the standard of Steven. Good point; well made. The other WRs have been a great support on this too.

As for next year, I need to slap myself about a bit with a piece of wet haddock and stop being so doubtful of my ability to spin a good yarn. I need to stop procrastinating and just write. I have about a third of book 3, Discovering David, to finish in first draft and I’d like to have that done by end of February. Then I need to edit Gary again and David. I’d like to do that before Steven comes out in June. Not sure if that’s realistic but you have to aim high!

The Write Romantics would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. Thank you for reading our blog this year, whether you’re a regular reader, dip in and out occasionally, or have just discovered this site for the first time today.

Anthology coverThank you to everyone who has contributed to, bought, and/or promoted Winter Tales: Stories to Warm Your Heart. It’s still available in eBook and paperback format via Amazon (just click on the title for a direct link) and all proceeds are split between Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust. Don’t be too concerned that it’s full of Christmas stories and Christmas has passed. It’s a mix of Christmas, New Year and winter so there’s still plenty of winter months left to cosy up and enjoy it. Or buy it ready for next Christmas!

“See” you next year!

Jessica and The Write Romantics xx

conf 2014 10

Fab Friday announcement – Meet the tenth Write Romantic

When the Write Romantics formed in early 2013, there were just two of us. As unpublished writers, we realised quite quickly that we may struggle to post regularly so we placed a thread on the RNA’s online support group to see if anyone would like to join us. Within a couple of weeks, two had become ten! A few months later, we dropped down to nine when one of the group found she really didn’t have the time to contribute due to personal circumstances.

The nine of us have had an amazing eighteen months. We’ve gone from one publishing deal to five deals and an agent (see Monday’s post for more details), we’ve developed an incredible support network, and we’ve nearly all met either before or during this year’s conference. This is quite an achievement for nine women who had never met before but share the same passion and dreams.

As time has passed, we’ve realised that the nine Write Romantics aren’t really nine. There’s been a tenth writer who has shared the highs and lows of our journeys and shared her own experiences with us. Two of us have had the pleasure of meeting her on several occasions, she’s been amazing in promoting our work and our news, and she comments on all our blog posts, frequently giving her own Wednesday Wondering response. To all intents and purposes, she’s been a Write Romantic in everything but name. Which was just ridiculous. So we decided to rectify that.
The Write Romantics are therefore delighted to announce that we’re back to The Power of Ten. We’re absolutely thrilled to welcome fellow-RNA member, talented writer, and all-round lovely person, Sharon Booth, to our group. Time for me to stop wittering and to hand over to Sharon who’ll tell you a bit more about herself and her writing journey so far.

Jessica on behalf of The Write Romantics

xx

The new Write Romantic - Sharon Booth

The new Write Romantic – Sharon Booth

Thanks, Jessica.

Well, what can I say to that? If you’re surprised by this announcement you’re not the only one. It never occurred to me that I could become a Write Romantic. I mean, they were already formed when I heard about them – and perfectly formed at that, in my opinion. I had no idea what was in store when I picked up my phone one day to find a message that they were waiting to talk to me – urgently. Thinking it may be about the forthcoming anthology (plug, plug) I went online to see what was so urgent, and there they were, issuing me with this amazing invitation. Do you want to be a Write Romantic? Er, let me think about that…

Of course I flipping well do!

It’s been lovely for me getting to know these ladies over the last fifteen months. I met Alys through Romna, the online chapter of the RNA, when she introduced herself and mentioned she was writing a novel set in Glastonbury. That caught my attention! I replied, and within weeks we’d arranged to meet up, along with Alys’s friend Jessica. That’s when I learned about the Write Romantics and it occurred to me what a good idea it was to form such a group. Writing can be a very lonely business and there’s much to be said for being part of a community of like-minded people, sharing the ups and downs of this strange creative life, having someone to talk to, ask advice of, share information with, rejoice at good news and commiserate when the news isn’t that great.

I really got to like the whole group. Because of Jessica and Alys I met the other members online and followed this blog and delighted in their virtual company. So yes, when they asked me to join them I was stunned but absolutely delighted.

They’ve all made me very welcome and I’m looking forward to sharing the next part of my writing journey with them, as well as with you. It promises to be a very exciting few months and, seeing the fantastic news that’s winged its way to several of the Write Romantics lately, I’m really hoping some of their good fortune rubs off on me! 🙂

Maybe I’ll never be a perfect ten – no “maybe” about it to be honest – but I feel I’m part of the perfect ten now. I’m a very happy lady!

Sharon xx

The Wednesday Wondering – We all love a bit of cake!

Welcome to our final Wednesday Wondering … Don’t panic if you love this slot. It’s not the final ever one. It’s just the final one in the weekly format. We love The Wednesday Wondering and, with a background in recruitment, I could quite happily make up questions for a long, long time to come. However, there are lots of other things we’d like to do on the blog so we’ve decided to launch a new format for Wednesdays. From now on, there’ll be a Wednesday Wondering on the second Wednesday of the month, a book review on the last one and posts from The Write Romantics on the remaining Wednesdays.

We hadn’t discussed these changes when I set today’s Wondering so it feels quite apt that I’ve picked a question that’s about something we associate with celebrations. This is definitely a celebration of the end of our first phase and the launch of our next. So, what is it?

_MG_2084Cake. We like cake. A lot. And, would you believe, today is National Cheesecake day!!! I found that on Google although I suspect it may be in the US rather than UK but who cares; we have an international reach! So my question to The Write Romantics is:

What is your pudding of choice and why? Where have you tasted the best ever pudding? Do you call it pudding or dessert (or perhaps something else). Let’s talk all things cakey and salivate a bit!!! (ok, a lot in my case!!!)

The worst thing is that I started a very, very, VERY strict diet yesterday so I’m munching on a dish of fruit and trying not to drool at the wonderful pictures!

Over to the Write Romantics …

Rachael says …

Wow, National Cheesecake Day. I didn’t know it existed, but you can be sure I will be celebrating it with a huge slice of strawberry cheesecake! But my most favourite desert is one I had whilst in Italy. It was so light, so delicious and sooooo…. Oh I could go on. I’ve never tasted anything like it before – or since. It is Zabaglione and was served in an elegant glass. Simply divine!

 

_MG_9130Lynne says …

National Cheesecake day? What a good idea! My sanity was once saved when I moved into a gorgeous old cottage in January and the central heating packed up straight away. Golden Syrup Sponge & Custard came to the rescue. I had to wait three days till the repair person could get to us so I went out and bought syrup sponge & custard & heated it in the microwave. It was like internal central heating and kept my daughter and I sane. It’s still my favourite winter pud, followed by lemon sorbet & fruit in summer.

 

Jay says …

Back at the start of the month we were talking about all things American and what we like best about our friends across the pond, well, let me tell you, they do puddings pretty well too.  The first time we went to Vegas, my brother actually ate six desserts at one sitting and almost earned citizenship as a result!  I think the best desert I ever tasted was a key lime pie from a little deli in Florida, but then there are Krispy Kremes and they are also responsible for inventing the hot, chocolate brownie.  So many desserts, so little time.  Time to book another trip I think!

 

P1030217Helen P says …

National Cheesecake day, well it would be rude not to. My all time favourite cake is cheesecake, especially the ones at Chandler’s Country Café which is based in Colony Candles, Lindal-in-Furness. The staff there have amazing taste in books as well because the last time I was there they told me how much they loved The Ghost House which was brilliant and it made the cake taste even better. You have never tasted cheesecake like it and the raspberry and white chocolate one is to die for. In fact now that I’m sitting thinking about it I’m going to have to take my mum there now for a coffee and a slice of cheesecake to take away the craving.

 

Helen R says …

I think I would tend to call it “dessert” but give me a week in England and I’ll be calling it “pudding”…my family would definitely use that word!

There are so many desserts to choose from, but a top for me is syrup sponge, nice and hot and perhaps with a side of vanilla ice-cream 🙂

 

Jackie says …

Cake. Ooh, we like cake- and puddings and anything sweet and unctuous.  Suet pudding and custard with syrup was an all time favourite when I was a child followed by jam Roly Poly and custard. Love Banoffi Pie, sticky toffee pudding, strawberry tarts with confectioners custard. Trifle that my sister Heather makes is gorgeous, pecan pie is delish- I could go on! The only thing I’m not that keen on is a pudding or cake made with coffee-Tirimasu or coffee and Walnut cake always disappoints, but it wouldn’t stop me eating it. I’m a lost cause!

 

_MG_9132Harriet says …

Ah, now here’s an easy question because I love puds. All of them. My mother-in-law made the best ever. After Sunday lunch (full roast plus at least six vegetables) she would produce three or four choices of pudding, all home-made, and what we couldn’t eat we took home. My favourite was summer pudding, packed full of any fruit she could lay her hands on, including raspberries and rhubarb from her own garden, and served with plenty of cream. Scrumptious! I’ve attempted to make them myself but somehow they aren’t the same. They do a pretty good version at ‘Cook’, though. I’m also a sucker for old-fashioned puds like treacle sponge and spotted dick and custard. I tend to call it pudding rather than dessert, which is as much frowned upon in ‘polite’ English circles as saying serviette instead of napkin, but I don’t really care what it’s called as long as I get one!

 

Alys says …

Ooh, this is a fabulous question!  All time favourite cake is Santiago Cake which I had in the fabulous Hundred Monkeys Cafe in Glastonbury. That place is utterly brilliant. I drink a lot of green tea and usually when I ask for it they have to go and look to see if they’ve got any teabags hidden behind the till. At the Hundred Monkeys they have a choice of five different loose green teas. It’s green tea heaven for me! Anyway, back to the cake. Santiago Cake is made from almonds, caster sugar, lemons and eggs and then you pour a lemon syrup over the top of it when it’s cooling. This cake was sublime. I was still talking about how fabulous it was over six months later. But if you want to talk about puddings then it’s got to be the sticky toffee pudding that they serve in the New Malton Inn in Malton, North Yorkshire. That’s where Jessica and I get together as she lives in Scarborough and I live in York and Malton is about half-way. It is pudding to die for. If you’re ever in Malton pop in and ask for some. In fact, it’s so good just go anyway. You won’t regret it!

 

P1040958And as for me …

I absolutely adore cake, puddings, and anything sweet. Unfortunately they don’t adore me, hence the very strict diet at the moment (or perhaps that should be they adore me too much and like to stick around!)

Alys has already mentioned the amazing sticky toffee pudding smothered in butterscotch sauce *pauses to wipe drool* which might give you an indication that I’m with Harriet in that I love old school puds like chocolate sponge, syrup sponge, jam roly-poly etc. Nom nom nom! I call them puddings or pud-puds. We were never “dessert” people in our house.

I love cheesecake too, especially American-style cheesecake. There’s an episode of Friends where Rachel gets a cheesecake delivered to her apartment by mistake and, as they don’t know where it should have gone, she and Chandler eat it. Then another one arrives and they manage to drop it on the hall floor so lie down and dig out their cutlery. That would be me. Heaven.

Cake-wise, I have a fondness for simple slab cakes like Angel Layer Cake or Iced Madeira Cake. I draw the line at things that are nutty or fruity; my cakes have to be full-on, hard-core, serious sponge situations!

 

We hope you’ve enjoyed our weekly Wonderings and that you’ll comment on your favourite cake(s) and/or pudding(s). Please continue to visit every Wednesday as we’ve not gone away; we’ve just changed our format a little.

Thanks for reading.

Jessica xx

 

 

 

 

The Write Romantics and the sweet smell of… togetherness

Okay, so maybe the cowsheds at the Harper Adams agricultural campus didn’t exactly smell sweet at this year’s RNA conference, near Telford, but one thing that was sweet  conf 2014 10was the chance to meet all of the Write Romantics. Some of us were lucky enough to catch up with the whole group for the first time ever, at various points, although other commitments meant that all nine were never quite in the same place at the same time. Whether we’ll get the chance to put that right, anytime soon, depends largely on our Australian contingent. Although we’re sure Helen R won’t mind the other eight of us turning up for a holiday in Oz at some point… In the meantime, we thought we’d share our other conference highlights with you, including some dubious poetry porn and a photo of Alys getting far too excited at the thought of owning her own tractor! conf 2014 14Helen R Just being a part of a “workplace” was the high for me. Writing can be a lonely profession and it improved for me when I joined The Write Romantics, and actually being around so many writers at the weekend left me buzzing. conf 2014 15I met so many approachable, friendly writers, in particular Lizzie Lamb who chatted to us outside the coffee shop; Hazel Gaynor whose novel “The Girl Who Came Home” I can’t put down right now; Talli Roland who kept me amused at the gala dinner; and Amy Gaffney who couldn’t believe I had never heard of Michael Fassbender! But most of all I came away from the conference feeling even more motivated. Now I just need to get back to Sydney, move house and get back to my desk 🙂 conf dee 2Deirdre As a conference first-timer I was made to feel welcome from the moment I picked up my special pink-jewelled name-badge and lovely goodie bag.  I was lucky enough to have friends at the conference, including the Write Romantics, of course, but the whole atmosphere was one of inclusivity with plenty of opportunity to chat and make new friends, too.  I attended on the Saturday only as a day visitor but didn’t feel I’d missed out as the schedule was impressively full, and I take my hat off to the organisers for that. conf deeIndie-publishing and marketing were definitely the hot topics and featured in one guise or another several times over the day.  I’ve self-published in the past and may do so again so it was good to see this important shift in the industry being addressed at the conference and so much practical information coming our way. My favourite session was Sally Quilford’s which was all about writing romantic intrigue.  Sally’s inspiring and amusing talk was the perfect ending to the day and I came away already planning to go to next year’s conference. Julie conf 2014 132013 had been my first conference experience and I’ll admit I found the whole thing pretty daunting. I think most unpublished writers will find the idea of going to an event where they don’t really know anyone and are surrounded by people who’ve already achieved the dream to be a pretty scary thing. This year, I felt much more relaxed because I knew I’d be amongst friends. The Write Romantics have been blogging together since April 2013 but I’d only physically met four of the group. This year we were all going to be there. Not quite all at the same time but, nonetheless, I had the privilege to meet the remaining four across the course of the weekend. It’s been amazing meeting everyone in the flesh. I just wish I hadn’t been so wiped out after a pretty challenging six months at work so I didn’t quite have the energy to stay up and chat till the early hours. conf 2014 8Conference-wise, the stand-out sessions for me were a couple that were relevant to those going indie, in particular hearing about how much happier and satisfied those who’ve gone down that route appear to be. It was also encouraging to hear the story of Hazel Gaynor who was picked up by an agent then a publisher after going indie with her debut novel ‘The Girl Who Came Home’. Indie definitely does seem to be the new slush pile. Jackie conf 2014 12It was fabulous to meet the writeromantics at the conference and I enjoyed some but not all of the talks. Sometimes there was a good message to impart but the delivery wasn’t quite right and others had me hanging off every word.  Jean Fullerton and Janet Gover are excellent at giving talks and Hazel Gaynor’s talk about the Titanic was very interesting. It was great to catch up with old acquaintances and I have made some new Twitter friends (if only I knew what to do with them!) The general feeling about the publishing conf 2014 16industry was much more upbeat than the last conference I went to, mostly I suspect, thanks to Amazon and the ease of self-publishing. It is very heartening to know that someone apart from your sister and best friend will be able to read your novel and we don’t have to wait to get a publishing deal. Probably the most promising bit of the conference for me, was meeting Tessa Shapcott who is a freelance editor of many years standing. She is going to knock my latest offering into shape and after that I can finally put it out there – somewhere, who knows where, yet! Helen P Conf HelenI had a fantastic weekend catching up with The Write Romantics at Harper Adams University, which is a beautiful campus, and skiving off sessions to hold our very own out in the sunshine! It was great to spend time with my editors from the fabulous Carina UK off campus, in a pub. Amazing, too, to see the lovely ODwyer (Author), although not for as long as I would have liked, as well as all the other fabulous writers I know. Alys Conf 2014 6Obviously the best thing about the conference was spending time with all of the other Write Romantics. I’d not met Helen R, Jackie and Deirdre before and it was like meeting people I’d known for years rather than someone new.  I also enjoyed catching up with friends I’d met last year like Alison May and meeting some lovely new people like Alison Morton, Ian Skillicorn and Lizzie Lamb. For me the stand out session was Nikki Logan’s talk on the Chemistry of Reading.  It made an awful lot of sense to me and made me realise that there are good biological reasons why I get so attached to certain books or characters.  I can now blame the Oxytocin in my brain for making me believe that Borchester is a real county somewhere between Gloucestershire and Herefordshire and that if you know where to look in London you will find Diagon Alley. Nikki’s talk made me see how as a writer I can use those reactions to really engage readers. I’m going to check out some of the novels that she recommended and get a copy of her book so I can learn more about the techniques you can use to do this. IMG_0369Getting all of the Write Romantics together was always going to result in a lot of laughing and the attempts to write sex scenes with Jo’s magnetic nature poetry probably created the most hilarity.  There’s clearly a good reason why none of us write erotica!  Most of our attempts are too X rated for a Saturday Spotlight (we may need a new post-watershed slot for them) but this one isn’t too inappropriate. Rachael conf 2014 11Naturally the best moment from the conference was being able to catch up in person with fellow Write Romantics. I didn’t make the Friday lunch, which most of the group enjoyed, due to being lost in transit. Myself and my friend managed to get completely lost, as whilst driving we were happily talking about writing and suddenly realised we were not where we wanted to be. All the talks at the conference were interesting, but I my favourites were Nikki Logan, Janet Gover and Clare Mackintosh and catching up with friends as well as making new ones was another highlight. I also enjoyed the fact that Harper Adams is an agriculture campus and slipped away from writing – only briefly, to get my farm fix each day. It was the cows and calves I was interested in, not the pig unit. This emitted the kind of smell even I wasn’t used to! Lynne Conf 2014 3‘I, or I should say we, had a really unusual ‘mini’ conference when my little puppy Rosie and I travelled to Newport to meet some of the group for lunch on the first day. At that point I had only met Deidre and her husband when they stayed near Oxford, and Alex when she visited me on her travels to Glastonbury, the rest of the group were new to me. But first I met Jo, then Jackie and Deidre and later Julie and Alex again. I can honestly say it was one of the nicest lunchtime meetings I’ve ever had, I couldn’t have asked to meet a nicer group of people and its so nice to be able to ‘talk shop’ with others that understand. So it might have taken me two hours driving each way for a two-hour lunch, but it was well worth it. And Rosie had a wonderful time too! As for me? photo (1)My highlight has already been spoken about. It was really all about seeing the WRs. Meeting Lizzie Lamb for an impromptu chat outside the coffee shop, whilst some of the WRs were playing hooky from a session, was also a bit of a light-bulb moment conference-wise, though. Lizzie was incredibly generous in sharing her hints and tips for going indie, and marketing more generally, and she said something like ‘this business isn’t for shrinking violets’. Apologies if I haven’t got that quite right, Lizzie, but you get the gist!  Networking isn’t my favourite thing in the world, so does that mean this game isn’t for me? I guess only time will tell, but I do think it means that the conference probably isn’t. Across the two years I have attended there have conf 2014 4been some good sessions, but the stand out one for me was one led by Julie Cohen last year and I felt like a different writer with new insight after just an hour. So I think next year’s conference fee has already been ear-marked to attend one of Julie’s training courses instead. It will still give me the opportunity to meet other writers and promote myself from shrinking violet to something else – perhaps a tree hugger… I’ve already made a start. If not, then I guess I can always take up crochet! We’d love to hear about the experience of others who attended the conference. What were the highs and inspirational moments for your? And, perhaps even more importantly, have you got that smell out of your nostrils yet? Jay xx

A Sense of Place

Deirdre’s post last week got me thinking about places and I realised that for me it works the other way round. I don’t choose a setting for a story. The setting comes first and the story comes out of it.
DSC01337
Beltane which I’ve just finished (and is off being NWS reviewed as we speak) is set in Glastonbury. The original spark of an idea came from a rather odd bed and breakfast near Glastonbury Tor that I stayed in with a friend almost ten years ago. It was very alternative. People had conversations about angels over the breakfast table. Daily group meditation was pretty much compulsory. The woman who ran it was a very strong character and to be honest, my friend and I found her a little bit scary. Years later I started wondering what if someone who ran a New Age retreat didn’t have good intentions towards their guests. And from that I had my antagonist, Maeve.
Because of that there was never any question as to where I should set the book and the practical considerations of writing a book set 250 miles from home didn’t really cross my mind at the beginning. About a year in I realised that even with the help of Google Streetview I had too many unanswered questions so I planned a holiday/research trip. It was fantastic to spend a week in the place that I spent so much time writing about and huge number of new ideas came out of being there.
One of the amazing things about Glastonbury is that you never know who you’ll meet. At the Chalice Well I started a conversation about the weather and within minutes the guy I was talking to told me he was a druid and that after buying his house he’d grown a tall hedge around it because he practised druidic rituals in the garden. My imagination was obviously working over-time as to what exactly these rituals involved but the conversation sparked another idea and I knew this was all going to have to go in the book.
Once I’d decided I wanted to write a series with the same characters, I had to figure out where I would set the next one. I felt like I’d done Glastonbury. I needed somewhere else with a connection to history and myth. There are plenty of lovely locations I could have chosen but three years ago I went to Orkney and fell head over heels for the place.
As it takes me a long time to write a book (three years for Beltane) I want to write about somewhere I’m really interested in. So Orkney it is.
Orkney Aug 2010 009 (2)
However, there’s a problem and it’s not just geographical. For this book I want one of my characters to have been born and brought up on the islands, another to have grandparents from Orkney. They’re both embedded in the community with a history and a knowledge of it that I, a person who’s visited once and who lives 500 miles away, don’t have.
This week I wrote a first draft of chapter 1. There’s already a dozen things that I don’t know and some of them I don’t even know how to find out. I like doing research but getting to grips with this will involve a lot more than the internet can provide.
Over recent months I’ve been reading the Shetland books by Ann Cleeves and at the beginning of Raven Black, the first in the series, she says that it was overambitious to try to write a book set in Shetland while living in Yorkshire. She’s a highly experienced novelist. If she struggled then what on earth do I, a total newcomer, think I’m doing?
I’m going to Orkney for a week at the beginning of September. After that I’ll make a decision as to whether this is absolute insanity or if I can maybe, somehow, make it work.
So I’m wondering if any of you have experienced something similar. And if you have, can you give me any advice? I’d love to hear about the places that inspire your stories and the ways you bring them to life.
Alex
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