Ode to a Writer

Conf 2014 3I had one of those conversations the other day, where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. My head was wedged into the porcelain torture device more commonly known as a hairdresser’s sink and the young girl washing my hair was talking about her sister who’s studying English at uni.   I asked, as you do in these situations, what her sister wanted to do when she finishes. “She quite likes the idea of writing books, so I think she’s going to do that.” Did I tell her how difficult that was? Or ask her to pass on to her sister that she should have a back-up plan, a postgraduate certificate in teaching perhaps? Of course I didn’t, I just nodded and laughed inwardly. Drawing here on a melting pot of WR experiences, this is what I should have said!


Ode to a Writer

You want to be a writer and your mum’s your biggest fan,

Poems penned at eight-years-old convince her that you can.

Your dreams you keep them quiet, until you’re Brahms and Liszt,

You tell your friends who laugh-out-loud and soon you get the gist.

“A living as a writer? I suppose there’s always hope,

You stand about as good-a-chance to get elected Pope.”


You read a lot of ‘how to’ books, but not quite ready yet,

You spend enough on stationery to beat the national debt.

After learning twelve new swear words and an awful lot of graft,

Your book’s more holes than Swiss-cheese, but at least you’ve got a draft.

A hundred versions later, to submit it you’re all set,

And stop hiding from friends’ demands if it’s been published yet.


Out to publishers and agents, sure the slush pile it will ride,

But what if they all want it? How on earth will you decide?

You start to stalk the postman, your relationship you taint,

He’s forced by your obsession to an order of restraint.

He just brings pizza flyers, not a flaming other thing,

Your email’s also empty and your phone it doesn’t ring.


Then a meeting with an editor! To pitch it in one line,

It takes deep consideration and a bucket-load of wine,

A teenager in hot pants rejects the book as “out of style”,

You’d like to run her over, but you force yourself to smile.

“Your target market’s disappeared, your genre in the past”,

Another pitcher full of wine? You swear this is your last.


Who needs a publisher anyway? Self-publishing’s the key,

To notice it amongst the rest, you start the book for free.

You don’t let stats stand in your way, you know you’ll be the one,

To earn enough, once you charge, for mansions in the sun.

Your statement comes from Amazon, the sales they do amaze,

Enough to buy a whole doughnut, but only without glaze.


A fab five-star reviewer puts the smile back on your face,

But then there is the one-star for that comma out of place.

Mad to be a writer? We’re afraid that much is true,

Take comfort that you’re not alone, as we’re all crazy too.

And if we weren’t still writing, how would we spend the time?

Now pass us back that laptop and another glass of wine.


I probably could have written another twenty verses, but despite all this the WRs wouldn’t – or more accurately couldn’t – swap writing for anything else. Happy writing all you crazy fools! Jo x

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

Six get Steamy in Sheffield (or The Write Romantics do the RNA Conference)

This year’s conference was held at the University of Sheffield. What do you associate with Sheffield? Steel? The Full Monty? Probably not Mediterranean temperatures but that’s what we got. Which would have been lovely if the air-con in the conference centre hadn’t packed up the day before we arrived. So it was pretty steamy and not just in the session about sexing up sagas!
Rachael, Helen P and Lorraine have all attended the conference at least once before whereas Julie, Jo and I were newbies. Unfortunately Lynne, Deirdre, Jackie and Helen R couldn’t make it this year.
I’ve asked the others to let us have their highlights from the conference and what they brought home from it. I banned them from saying that their highlight was meeting the other Write Romantics as I thought we could end up sounding like a broken record. However, as I’m writing this post I’m allowed as many highlights as I want so here they are:
Goody Bags: I’d heard some chat about goody bags on Twitter before I set off. People had said don’t bring a book because you’ll be given some. I hadn’t expected to be given NINE! (Okay, two of them I’d only read if all other books on earth had turned to dust and not realising that I could swap them I ended up carting them home only to give them to my Mum for a charity book sale). The bag also contained a lot of chocolate, numerous flyers and courtesy of Jane Lovering, some bubble bath. Julie was far more organised than me and took a picture of the contents of her goody bag.1001874_10151820110669073_1015527228_n
Sessions: Julie Cohen’s session on Using Theme was the stand out for me. I’d always thought only literary novels had a theme. I was absurdly delighted and felt like a proper writer when I discovered that not only did my novel have a theme but it’s a pretty meaty one. Julie Cohen is an excellent tutor and I’m sure I’ll use the exercises that she showed us in my writing in the future. For my next book I’m going to actually plan the theme. And who knows, maybe that’ll make writing it a little less chaotic!
I also enjoyed the session by Anna Boatman from Piatkus Entice but I’ll let Jo tell you more about that.
Pitch meetings: All of us (with the exception of Helen P who is already on the road to publication) had editor appointments over the weekend and there were definitely a few nerves on Saturday morning. My appointments went pretty well. One of the editors asked to see the full manuscript. The other suggested a number of changes to my first chapter, all of which make perfect sense, and said she’d be willing to have another look at it after I’d made those changes. She also said that I’m a good writer. To be honest, I could have hugged her at the point but that would have been weird. But as self-belief is not high on my list of personality traits those few words meant an awful lot.
Meeting the other Write Romantics: It was a joy to see Julie and Jo again and to meet Lorraine, Rachael and Helen P. We had so much to talk about that really a weekend wasn’t long enough!
I had a good time at the conference but I’d be surprised if I decided to go to another one. That’s simply because the conference made me realise that I don’t see myself as a writer of romance. Yes, there’s some romance in the book I’ve just finished and I plan to put some in the books that I want to write in the future but it’s only a small part of what I’m trying to do. I briefly spoke to Liesel Schwarz (author of A Conspiracy of Alchemists and winner of this years’ Joan Hessayon Prize) and she suggested that I join the British Fantasy Society as well. Thanks for the advice, Liesel – I’m going to give that a go.
I’ll hand over now to my fellow Write Romantics to share their conference experiences.
I had three and a half highlights from the conference. The first two arose in what were, for me, the two most useful sessions I attended. Julie Cohen’s session on deepening themes made me realise that I need to do more of this in my first novel and, following a useful pitching session, I can see a way forward for that now. My other favourite session was with Anna Boatman from Piatkus, of all the editors she impressed me by far and away the most. Anna had lots of useful information and advice for aspiring writers, but the real highlight of the session was her specifically mentioning the book Alex had pitched to her the day before. It gave me a real buzz, as I am sure it means that one of the Write Romantics is going to make it big soon and I can say I knew her when! The third highlight came as a result of the entire conference and a bit of reflection after the event. The whole experience was a reality check and an opportunity to consolidate why and what I really want to write, which I don’t think I would have come to realise without attending. And the final half a highlight? Since we’re not allowed to mention meeting the other Write Romantics… can I just say “drinking wine and eating Pringles with them in the kitchen” instead?
What are my conference highlights? Well that’s a hard one. The whole weekend was a whirl of fantastic people and inspiring talks, everything from characters to procrastination. There seemed to be quite a few talks on dealing with time management and the dreaded self-doubt. Most of which I attended.
But the highlight I think was seeing just how much the publishing world has changed, just since I went to my first conference six years ago. There are brilliant opportunities out there, whatever kind of romantic fiction you write. The eBook has certainly revolutionised the world of publishing.
Editor appointments are another highlight. They are a precious chance to pitch your latest story to an editor, which is invaluable and worth attending the conference for that alone.
My editor meetings. I was lucky enough to secure meetings with MIRA and Harper Impulse and found these most enlightening. First learning – editors are human! They’re actually friendly approachable people and not these scary beings who’ll stamp “reject” on my forehead in indelible ink. Second learning – I can write! I was told by both that I have a great concept and a very strong and lovely voice which was a huge boost. An even bigger boost was that they both would like to see my full MS. But the greatest learning for me was a light bulb moment triggered by a question that Charlotte from Harper Impulse asked. We were discussing my protagonist and her motivation for finding love and she asked me something to which the answer was, “no”. But then I thought, “What if the answer was yes? What if that did actually happen?” And suddenly I’d found the missing piece of the puzzle; the part of chapter 1 that I’d always felt was missing. So now I have a new chapter 1 and I absolutely love it (she says very modestly).
Julie’s also written about her conference experiences for the RNA Blog which you can read here: http://romanticnovelistsassociationblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/newbie-review-of-rna-conference-by.html
And I’ll leave you with some photos of Julie, Jo, Lorraine and I on our way to the gala dinner.