Bright lights, tiny city!

rochester-1This weekend I took a little trip up to Rochester, a historic city in Kent. Visit Kent describe Rochester as the area where Dickens’ life started and ended. As soon as you arrive, you can’t fail to notice some of the places mentioned in his books lining the characterful streets, which are made up of quirky shops and ancient buildings.

You can take a tour of Rochester which covers a range of sights familiar to Dickens’ fans, including the Six Poor Travellers House, Restoration House and Dicken’s own home – Gad’s Hill Place. Many of the exhibits in the Guildhall Museum are dedicated to Dickens and Rochester also boasts Baggins Book Bazaar, one of the largest second hand rochester-2bookshops in England.

At Christmas, Rochester really comes into its own and, on the first weekend of December each year, its streets are lined with stalls and carol singers to celebrate a Dickensian Christmas, culminating in a lamp-lit parade.

Although we decided not to brave the crowds for the Dickensian Christmas itself this year, we thought we’d visit the rochester-3Christmas markets in the grounds of Rochester Castle instead, the following weekend. This festive market boasts a beautiful setting, where the stalls are sheltered in the shadow of one of England’s tallest castles, overlooking the stunning cathedral, the second oldest in the country no less.

It was an undeniably atmospheric setting, and the mulled cider – along with our obligatory Christmas jumpers – added to the warmth, despite the organisers arranging a ‘snow storm’ as you walked through the wrought iron rochester-4gateway of the castle grounds.

The visit reminded me of two things, the first was why I was so inspired by the places Dickens called home in Kent – Rochester and Broadstairs – that I used them to create the fictional St Nicholas Bay. The second thing, though, was perhaps at the heart of what Christmas is all about. Whilst pretty settings and atmospheric Christmas markets are appealing, it’s the people you’re with who really count.  I shared the day with my daughter and one of my best friends rochester-ap-2and we spent a lot more time talking and laughing than we did browsing the stalls, which is something money just can’t buy.

Happy Christmas and all best wishes to everyone who follows the Write Romantics’ blog.

Jo x

Where the Dickens is it? Finding your writing ‘happy place’.

Dickens Bleak HouseTomorrow marks Charles Dickens’ 204th birthday. He’s a definite hero of mine, his stories are timeless and I have to admit to finding the current series of Dickensian a little bit addictive. All those fabulous characters in one story, what’s not to love?

Dickens would often seek a writing retreat and his holiday home in Broadstairs, Bleak House (although it was called Fort House during Dickens’ tenure), proved the perfect place to write. He finished the Pickwick Papers there and also wrote parts of dickens_studyNicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield and Barnaby Rudge during his stays at the house. It was christened Bleak House in later years, as it also provided the inspiration for the home of John Jarndyce in the novel of the same name.

Dickens clearly needed a picturesque view and some degree of tranquillity to find his writing mojo. In an article published in 1851, entitled ‘Our English Watering-Place’, he wrote about the need to escape the noise, dust and crowds of the ‘great metropolis’, which he deemed disturbing and distracting in all respects. Broadstairs, as he put it, provided ‘a quiet sea beach’, which became a ‘blessed spot’. And the result of finding his writing happy place was this:

‘Half awake and half asleep this idle morning in our sunny window on the edge of chalk-cliff in the old fashioned watering-place to which we are a faithful resorter, we feel a lazy inclination to sketch its picture’.

Dickens writing retreat LimsaThe ‘lazy inclination’ Dickens describes was perhaps his inspiration to sit in that study, by the sunny window, and write those classics that still resonate today. In later years, however, Dickens found the street musicians in Broadstairs bothered him too much, so he moved on to holiday in Dover and then Folkestone, where the sea remained on his doorstep, but perhaps there were less of the distractions and disturbances which clearly impacted so negatively on his creativity.

I’d love to hear if you have a writing retreat of your own, which takes you away from the distractions and disturbances of everyday life, or even one you dream of heading to, when you get that massive advance we all wish for and money becomes no object! Maybe it’s a mountain view or resting with your laptop on a Dickens WildAcres writing retreathammock overlooking the Med. Or perhaps like my writing place, it’s a garden room with a view of the countryside in Kent, which Dickens himself might have recognised. In truth I can write with a laptop perched on my knee and the TV blaring in the background, whilst my husband and four children do their very best to distract and disturb, if I have to. But, sometimes, I just need to escape to my garden room to restore my writing mojo, and that lazy inclination, too.

Wherever it is, I hope you all find your ideal retreat somewhere – happy writing!

Jo Bartlett

(Published by Accent Press, So Vain Books, DC Thomson and Ulverscroft)

 

You can find out more about Bleak House at the link below, as well as links to the other writing retreats pictured above:

http://www.bleakhousebroadstairs.co.uk/index.html

http://www.wildacreswriters.com/writers-retreat.html

http://www.limnisa.com/#!programme-2016/c1re9

A Kentish Accent – aka the Mega Monday Announcement

© Mamz

© Mamz

I’ve never thought of myself as having an accent. Maybe no-one does but, coming from Kent, I certainly don’t have the instantly recognisable nuances in dialect that some of my fellow WRs who hail from Yorkshire do. Similarly, if you hear a Geordie speak, someone from the Valleys or a soft Irish brogue you can immediately hazard a guess as to where the speaker’s roots are. I love accents, although my attempts at impersonating them are worse than the  accent of the policeman in ‘Allo, ‘Allo – Good Moaning! If you come from Kent, depending on how posh you are, your accent is probably going to be almost indistinguishable from your Essex, Sussex, Surrey or London neighbours.

© Michel Paller

© Michel Paller

Nonetheless Kent does have its own distinctions – from our vineyards to our oyster beds, to the best weather that the UK has to offer – it’s a county that’s just as unique as any other. We also like to claim Charles Dickens as our own. Although he was born in Portsea Island (Hampshire) he moved to Kent at the age of four, and towns from Rochester to Broadstairs proudly display plaques which state that “Chas was ‘ere”. Well not quite but, like I say, us Kentish maids and maids of Kent (it matters which side of the River Medway you were born on, by the way), can be mistaken for cockneys in the right light.

© Julie Heslington

© Julie Heslington

But what have a long dead, but brilliant, writer and my lack of a discernible accent got to do with my big announcement? Well Dickens, and Broadstairs itself, were the inspirations for my Christmas novella last year. I self published ‘The Gift of Christmas Yet to Come’, to help raise my writing profile above the white noise, prior to release of my first novel with So Vain Books. The novella is set in a fictional town, St Nicholas Bay, loosely based on Broadstairs, where rumour has it that Dickens penned A Christmas Carol. I’ve had a fantastic experience with So Vain Books, but I knew my next novel wouldn’t fit their glam brief, and so I started to think about which publishers I might try for the next step in my writing career. Since I still had the rights to the novella, there was nothing stopping me from submitting that, as well as the next novel I’d finished in draft and, being too impatient to try for an agent, there was one publisher I really hoped would accept my submission…

I’m delighted to say I’ve now got my longed for accent, a four book deal with Accent Press that is. I’ll be releasing four related stories (two novels and two novellas), all set in St Nicholas Bay – a place I can’t wait to revisit – and all with the theme of motherhood that comes about in an unexpected way. The first book will be released in the summer of 2016 and then at six-monthly intervals. I signed the contract on Friday morning and that’s got to be a good enough end to anyone’s week, hasn’t it?

© Alamar

© Alamar

Only it didn’t quite stop there. Just before three o’clock on Friday, I got a completely unexpected email. I’d entered a writing contest from my holiday balcony back in July, whilst the rest of the family slept in late every morning, but I didn’t think I stood a chance and, since the shortlist was originally due to be announced in August, I pushed my disappointment at not hearing anything to one side; especially since the offer from Accent had arrived in between. I never win anything, so what did I expect? My usual prize winning standard is an out-of-date tin of Smart Price carrots in a Harvest Festival raffle and I kid you not!

I looked at the email, though, and wondered why an editor from one of the ‘big four’ publishing houses, who I’d pitched my first book to at an RNA conference two years earlier, was emailing me. Maybe she wanted to be interviewed on the blog and, thinking what a great idea that would be, I eagerly opened her email. Except she wasn’t writing to ask for a guest spot, she was writing to tell me that I’d made the top ten shortlist of that writing competition, which I’d entered under a new pen name.  Unfortunately, I can’t say anymore than that yet, as the shortlist was due to appear on social media today but, at the time of publishing this post, Couple enjoying Sunsetit hasn’t yet been released.  What I would say is that if you’ve entered competitions before and started to wonder if it’s worthwhile, then keep going.  The old adage is certainly true for me – the more I practice, the luckier I seem to get!

So how does a girl from Kent celebrate such good news? Well I’d like to say that I enjoyed Whitstable oysters and a good vintage from the Chapel Down Winery in Tenterden, but in truth it was a pizza with the kids, and a bottle of champagne, that had been languishing in the back of the cupboard since New Year, with my husband. Not Kentish maybe, and definitely not posh, but it’ll do for me!

Jo xx

Wednesday Wondering – Meet our main characters!

Today on the blog, we have been Wednesday Wondering about some of the characters in our forthcoming anthology. Prompted by the lovely Liv Thomas, who passed us the ‘Meet My Main Character’ baton, four of the Write Romantics are going to tell you a bit about the characters just waiting to slip between the covers of our winter collection, which will be raising funds for the Cystic Fibrosis and Teenage Cancer Trusts. You can meet Liv’s main character in the fabulous novel she co-wrote, as Isabella Connor, Beneath an Irish Sky, available from Amazon at this link or read more about Luke on Liv’s own blog posting, here.

First up is…

Alex’s Anthology Character

What is the name of your character and the title of the story?

Harriet Hardy who is the main character in ‘A Pistol for Propriety’.

2013-08-18 14.35.25When and where is the story set?

The story is set in 1898 in Whitby in North Yorkshire. However the story is steampunk so it’s not quite the same Whitby. It was enormous fun figuring out where dirigibles (or airships) could land and how steam powered cars might work.  There’s still a steam bus running in Whitby during the tourist season and that sparked some ideas.

What should the readers know about Harriet?

The wonderful thing about steampunk is that you can have really strong heroines who wear fabulous clothes and hats. I spent far too much time looking at pictures of 1890s hats. They were as wide as tea trays.  Heaven knows how anyone actually walked about in them!

What is the conflict in Harriet’s life?

At the beginning of the story, Harriet has done something which can best be described as imprudent. (The other thing I loved about steampunk is that you can use words like ‘imprudent’ and they sound absolutely right.  As a big fan of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, I absolutely adored writing the dialogue).  I don’t want to say too much about what this imprudent action was but let’s just say that there’s a clue in the title of the story!

What are Harriet’s goals?

Harriet’s life hasn’t always been easy and it’s made her into a very capable woman.  She’s someone who thinks that marriage isn’t for her because of the choices that she’s made.  However, as this is a romance, someone turns up who challenges that assumption!

 Next we have…

Rachael’s Anthology Character

What is the name of your character and the title of the story?

My character is Sally Phillips and her story in the anthology is ‘Meet Me at Midnight’.

When and where is the story set?

It’s a contemporary story, set in Wales during the last few days of the year.

What should the readers know about Sally?

Sally is a writer, who has left London not only to try and escape her failed relationship, but to try and beat writer’s block.

What is the conflict in Sally’s life?

Her inability to write due to leaving Jake, her partner, but as soon as she arrives in Wales the words begin to flow, until she meets a handsome farmer one morning.

What are Sally’s goals?

To be successful in her work and happy in her life, something she’d always envisaged taking place in London, but events over the New Year change all that.

Our penultimate introduction is…

Julie’s Anthology Character

What is the name of your character and the title of the story?

The story I haven’t quite finished for our anthology is called ‘Not Just Another Winter’s Tale’ and features twenty-nine-year-old Emily Chambers

winter4When and where is the story set?

It’s set in the present day in the winter (hey, it is a Christmas/winter anthology) in the Derbyshire countryside although part of the story is set in the US of A

What should the readers know about Emily?

She can’t bear her new work colleague, Troy Zimmerman, after meeting him when working in the States over the summer. Unfortunately, she’s stranded at a conference centre and her only way home is to spend three hours in a car with him. Hideous thought

What is the conflict in Emily’s life?

Troy! Simple as that. Oh, and the fact that it’s started snowing. Very heavily. Which probably means the journey will be longer than three hours. Eek!

What are Emily’s goals?

To get home safely as quickly as possible with minimal communication with Troy. Only we know that’s not going to be possible, is it?

Lastly, me… the ‘artist’ (and I use the term loosely) formerly known as Jo, but now Write Romantic, Jay.  Hopefully more of that in a Mega Monday announcement coming your way soon…

Jay’s Anthology Character

What is the name of your character and the title of the story?

Jamie Chandler takes the lead in my anthology story, which is entitled ‘In All The Wrong Places’.

When and where is the story set?

The story is set in the current era and tracks the course of one December, which proves long enough to alter Jamie’s life forever.IMG_0671  Jamie lives in a sleepy Kent village, where finding love is difficult at the best of times.

What should the readers know about Jamie?

He’s gorgeous, funny, kind and the sort of Colin Firth-esque beta hero that every nice girl should fall for… Oh, and his legs don’t always work.

What is the conflict in Jamie’s life?

He’s convinced that no-one can love him after his diagnosis with MS but, as the title suggests, he’s been looking for love in all the wrong places.

What are Jamie’s goals?

He’s desperate not to spend another Christmas alone.  What he really wants is to settle down with someone and have the life he dreamt of before his diagnosis, but first he has to learn that love doesn’t always wear a name-tag.

Enter our competition

I hope you have enjoyed meeting our characters and don’t forget your chance to win a £20 Amazon voucher by entering our ‘Name That Anthology’ competition. All you have to do is to send in your entry to thewriteromantics@hotmail.co.uk to be in with a chance. Entries close on 31st August. You can also register for updates at the same email address, so that you will know as soon as the anthology is available to order. We have a wealth of other writers contributing to the anthology, many of whom are bestsellers, and you can find out more about them here.

Next week, two of the Write Romantics, Rachael Thomas and Helen Phifer, will be taking the baton on their own blogs to talk about the characters in their novels and, if you are really lucky, Rachael might even share her fabulous cover reveal with you!

You can read Rachael’s blog here.

Helen’s blog can be accessed at this link.