Saturday Spotlight: Ellie Gray

Ellie Gray Profile PicToday on the blog, we’re delighted to welcome Ellie Gray. Sit down, Ellie, and make yourself comfortable, while we turn the spotlight on you. Don’t worry, this won’t hurt a bit…

First things first. When did you start writing?

I think I first started writing not long after I had my first child, when I was working part time. It suddenly occurred to me that, all those stories I had written in my head, the ones that kept me awake at night, carefully planning and constructing, should actually be put down on paper!  I’ve been ‘writing’ ever since I can remember but, up until that point, it never really occurred to me that I should physically write them down.

Yep, always useful to put the words on the paper! What genre do you write in, and why?

I write contemporary romance, erring on the sweet side, with strong male and female characters who have the same flaws we all have – no-one is perfect! I love writing about their hopes, fears and struggles and, best of all, helping them get to that happy ending; something that is not always guaranteed in real life. I also enjoy writing young adult novels with a fantasy-type edge.

Like Sharon, Alys, and Jessica, you’re a Yorkshire lass. Is setting important in your novels?

I think setting is really important and I love setting my novels in Yorkshire. I think readers like to ground the characters they are reading about, to know about where they live and how that affects them. I try to give enough description to enable the reader to really picture the surroundings, without being too prescriptive and degenerating into sounding like a travelogue! Although my debut novel is set in Yorkshire, my current work in progress is set in the exotic surroundings of Egypt and the Nile.

Exotic, indeed! When do you write? Tell us about your writing day.

That’s a tough one. Like many writers, I also have a full-time job and a family to work around. I am also studying for a Masters degree, just about to start my dissertation (gulp!) so it feels like a real juggling act. I try to write on a weekend and, if the writing itch gets too itchy to ignore, I’ll do a couple of hours on an evening, but I really do try to limit my evening writing during the week and spend some time with my family, and to drag myself out of the writing cave after an afternoon’s writing on a weekend.

Yes, we can all relate to juggling writing time with family time. As authors, we also have to get to grips with social media. How do you feel about that?

I know that social media is an important way of raising an author’s profile and I am building up a profile, using Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Pinterest etc. I’m also trying to learn as much as I can about how best to build up a following without shoving the ‘buy my book’ message down everyone’s throat. I do worry about how best to utilise social media, particularly when there are so many authors out there promoting their work. How do you get heard over the crowd? I don’t know the answer but it is something that I’m willing to work at and to learn from others.

Do you read much? What books do you like to read? Who is your favourite author?

I love reading. With reading comes the guilt complex, though – when I’m reading, there’s a little voice in the back of my head telling me that I should be writing. However, I know that to become a better writer, I also need to read as much as I can – so that’s what I tell that little voice when it whispers in my ear. I like to read a range of genres – contemporary romance, of course, but I also like to read the classics, Austen and Du Maurier, horror such as King, Herbert and Koontz, and I love the Harry Potter and Tolkein books. Oh, there’s the Sharpe series, I love those, and Elizabeth Peters with her Amelia Peabody adventures.

All of the Write Romantics were, at one time, members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. Indeed, that’s how we met, so we’re very grateful we were accepted onto it. You were a member of this scheme. Do you feel it helped you? Would you recommend it to other aspiring authors?

Joining the RNA NWS is the best thing that I could have done to kick-start my writing career. I’d toyed with joining for several years but never seriously looked into it until late in 2014. Then, last year I decided that this was the year I was going to take my writing seriously. I knew the NWS is always oversubscribed so I stayed up on New Year’s Day to email my application just after midnight and kept my fingers crossed. Fortunately, I was successful and, since then, I have been overwhelmed by the support offered by RNA members. Even though I can’t always make the planned events down in London, there are lots of other ways to keep in touch and offer support and encouragement, not least via the email and Facebook forums. This year also saw the first RNA Afternoon Tea event in York which I attended and it was lovely to meet up with the people that I’d been connecting with online. Add to this the fantastic manuscript critique that is part of the NWS – I can only say that I would definitely recommend the RNA NWS to any aspiring author.

You recently signed a publishing deal with Tirgearr Publishing. Tell us about your path to publication.

It came out of the blue, which sounds ridiculous because, of course, I had sent the manuscript off for consideration. Beauty and the Recluse is a novel I wrote several years ago and which has been revised several times. Harlequin M&B requested to see the full manuscript about two years ago and, although they passed on it, they did give me an excellent and detailed critique.  As I was already well on with my next novel, I took it on the chin, put it in the proverbial drawer and kept on working on my new novel. Once I had drafted that, I took a break from it and pulled out Beauty and the Recluse and decided to re-work it, taking on board the M&B advice.  Once I had done that, I left it for a while and went back to editing my next novel. It was only when, during one of the email forums, one of the other RNA members mentioned that they had a new novel out for release with Tirgearr Publishing that, out of interest, I had a look at their website, liked the look of their titles and their approach and, on the off-chance, decided to send them Beauty and the Recluse – not holding out much hope. However, less than two weeks later, I had a response from them telling me that they loved the book and the characters and offering me a contract on the spot. I was at work at the time and thought that it must be a hoax!

Loving the title of your first novel! Can you tell us a bit about it? When is it due for release?

As you might guess from the title, it has elements of Beauty and the Beast and, while it isn’t a true, modern day re-telling of the tale, it does have certain similarities to the fairy tale.

Following the recent death of her father, and in need of both a job and somewhere to live, Kiya takes a housekeeping job on the spur of the moment.  She soon finds herself living in a beautiful but neglected mansion, working for a strange and reclusive man.

St. John is a man scarred by the past, both physically and emotionally, and is determined to live out his life alone.  They are two very different people, drawn to each other almost against their will, but can Kiya convince St. John that he is not the monster he believes himself to be? 

It is due for release in February 2016 and I am so excited, although nervous about how it will be received.  I can’t wait to get the first sight of my cover which should be fairly soon.

Very exciting times ahead! What are you planning next? Is there another book in the pipeline?

Yes, I am currently editing my next novel which is set in Egypt and follows the themes of love, loss and letting go of the past.

Thank you for being such a lovely guest, Ellie. Hope the spotlight didn’t shine too brightly in your eyes! Good luck with Beauty and the Recluse. We look forward to reading it. 

You can find out more about Ellie at:

https://elliegrayauthor.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elliegrayauthor

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/elliegray58

Pinterest:  https://uk.pinterest.com/elliegray71/

 

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

Early Influences

Happy Bonfire Night, if you’re celebrating I hope you have a lovely, safe evening. We have the customary Phifer family fireworks to illuminate our patch of sky tonight.

This past week I’ve been thinking about all the things that influenced my childhood and I suppose what has made me what I am today. As a child I loved bonfire night because in our house it meant that my mum would make the best treacle toffee I’ve ever tasted. She would make toffee apples and I would be in childhood heaven. Oh to not have to worry about pulling your fillings out and expensive trips to the dentists, those were the days.

I loved Halloween even more, in fact I still do but the last eight years I’ve had to work it. I’m hoping next year I can be off so I can have a big fancy dress party. I don’t know if you’ve noticed the sort of books I write but I adore anything that goes bump in the night, especially if it makes my hair stand on end and I get the chills. Of course I much prefer reading about or watching scary stuff on the television than actually experiencing it but it’s something that I’ve thrived off since I was a kid. I kind of blame my mum (hope she isn’t reading this) because she was the one who introduced me to Hammer House of Horror Films when I was quite young. I loved Dracula, Countess Dracula, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Mummy and Frankenstein to name a few. I would watch them curled up on the sofa hiding behind a cushion. Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Vincent Price were the actors that I grew up with.

My favourite television programmes were The Munster’s – Lily and Herman Munster are still my favourite television couple of all time. I also loved The Adam’s Family and Rent a Ghost. As I got older I progressed to even scarier films once I realised that the Hammer House of Horror’s no longer made me afraid to go to bed. I’ll never forget watching a Nightmare on Elm Street for the first time. Seeing Johnny Depp bleeding all over the ceiling and that face coming through the wall was enough to scare me so much that I was petrified to go to sleep for days in case Freddy decided he was coming for me. Halloween was another film that scared me witless when I was a teenager, Michael Myers still scares me to this day. When I couldn’t get enough of the films I turned to reading horror and Stephen King became my hero, the man I could guarantee would scare the socks off me whilst hiding under the duvet with my torch.

Fast forward thirty years and now I write scary stories myself which is sometimes not that easy, you see I’ll be in the garden writing in my office and so engrossed that I won’t notice it’s gone dark outside. It’s not a huge garden but it’s a good distance from the house and when you’ve just written about some demonic shadow that’s lurking around the thought of walking through the dark sometimes scares me stupid. I can guarantee that the kitchen light will have been turned off for the first time that week and the back of the house will be in complete darkness as I walk or normally slip slide along the grass. I have such an over-active imagination which is a blessing most of the time, just ask Annie Graham it gets her in some seriously sticky patches. I write these stories because these are the stories I long to read. For years I would scour bookshops for a book just like my debut novel The Ghost House but it never appeared. Which was why I had to write it and I loved writing it. I also love books two and three  The Forgotten Cottage which was published on Halloween, but for me there will always be something special about book one because I wrote that for myself, the fact that readers worldwide are enjoying reading about Annie’s Adventures make all the sleepless nights as a teenager because of those horror films well worthwhile, so thank you mum for letting me stop up late and watch them 😉

Helen xx

Entitled to Change a Title

“We were thinking about the titles of your trilogy. The second book is absolutely fine, but are you sure about the third title…?”

Eek! The email from my editor stopped me in my tracks. (Well, it would have done if I hadn’t already been sat down at my desk but you get the picture.) I knew that many writers had their titles changed by their publishers but, as there’d been no indication of changing any of mine, I thought I was “safe”. Until the email.

The Moon on a Stick‘Searching for Steven’ – the title for book 1 – materialised at the same time as the idea and I’ve lived with it for eleven years. It absolutely works and, thankfully, my publishers agree. I’d have struggled so much if somebody had asked me to change it.

‘Getting Over Gary’ – the title for book 2 – came to me a couple of years later. I knew I wanted the title to include alliteration and a man’s name so that the trilogy felt connected and this title suddenly popped into my head. The character Gary was called something different at the time but I had no qualms about changing his name and it’s clearly been the right move because I can’t remember what I called him originally! Thankfully, my publishers like that title too.

Book 3 remained nameless for a while. The story was less developed and I wasn’t as sure about the characters but, as the plot progressed, ‘Discovering David’ came to mind. It still had a man’s name in. It still had alliteration. But it was missing the middle word. I hmmm’d and haaa’d about it for ages but ‘Discovering ABOUT David’ didn’t sound right and, by then, I absolutely loved the word “discovering”. I don’t want to give any spoilers away about the book but “discovering” absolutely fits with what the book is all about.

A Cottage by the SeaThere are options. I’m not massively precious about David being called David and there are other characters who could be the focus of the title instead but I keep coming back to the “discovering” part being right. No decisions need to be made just yet so we’ll see how that one goes.

I should actually rejoice in the fact that my publishers love the first two titles and not focus on the fact they don’t (yet) love the third because title changes are so commonplace. I was the fourth Write Romantic to be offered a publishing deal and the previous three have all had their titles changed. Helen Phifer had her debut novel changed from “Deadly Obsession” to “The Ghost House” but she admits that she absolutely loves the new title (and so do I). The next published WR, Rachael Thomas, entered the “So You Think You Can Write” competition using the title, “Behind the Scandalous Façade.” She got a publishing deal with Harlequin M&B on the back of this but the title was changed to “A Deal Before the Altar”. Jay Bartlett’s debut novel “Among a Thousand Stars” (out in June 2015) had two different titles before agreeing on the final version with her publisher. So I really shouldn’t be surprised that the subject of titles has arisen. I’m delighted to say that Helen, Rachael and Jay all love their new titles but all would admit it was hard to hear initially that the title they’d been living with for so long wasn’t going to be the final one. A lot of writers refer to their novel (particularly their debut one) as their “baby” so I suppose this could be likened to naming your child then having them start primary school only to be told that their child now needs to be known as a completely different name.

The Memory GardenI’m curious as to which path book 3’s title will take. One thing that I feel very fortunate about is that I have a wonderful publisher who sees this as a shared journey and will work towards finding a title that works for both of us; not one that they impose on me. I know many writers aren’t that lucky.

Which got me onto thinking about titles for books. How important are they? I did a quick survey amongst the Write Romantics to ask them three questions:

  1. Have you ever bought a book simply because you loved the title? (If so, what was it and why did the title speak to you?)
  2. Have you ever not read a book because of the title?
  3. What’s your favourite title for a book and why?

I’ll take each in turn …

Buying a book because of the title:

P1050743The general consensus was that they were more likely to be drawn to reading the blurb on the book because of a title rather than purchasing a book because of the title. Having said that, certain words drew the WRs. Helen R loves books with the word “secret” in the title because she loves to know things and curiosity gets the better of her. Harriet is drawn to titles with the homely feel of the words “cottage”, “house”, “street” or “road” in them or any reference to Cornwall as she adores Rosamund Pilcher’s books. Lynne is drawn towards ones that feature “sun” or “old houses.”

Helen P bought Stephen King’s “It” purely on the title and it’s turned into her all-time favourite. Sharon bought Carole Matthews’s “A Cottage by the Sea” based purely on title although she had enjoyed other books by her. She wasn’t familiar with Valerie-Anne Baglietto’s books but bought both “Once Upon a Winter” and “The Moon on a Stick” on titles alone and was very pleased that she did.

I personally bought “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” because the title massively intrigued me. I knew nothing about the book or the author at the time but I just loved that title!

Avoiding a book because of the title:

P1050742Jay admits that she was once recommended a book called “The Billionaire’s Virgin” on her newsfeed which was an absolute no-no for her. Any book titles including the words “desire” or “virgin” are inclined to put her off. Helen R avoids the words “sexy” in titles. I’m with both of them on this.

Lynne was put off reading “Hideous Kinky” for years, simply because of the title although she loved it when she finally settled down to read it.

On the whole, the WRs were of the feeling that certain titles fit with certain genres and, if that’s not the genre for them, they’d probably be avoiding that book anyway.

Favourite Book Titles:

There are some crackers out there but we’ve all agreed that our memories are like sieves and we’ve struggled to come up with them all. We’re bound to think of loads after this post comes out!

Some great examples are:

  • Harriet loves “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn as it’s a short, snappy title
  • Sharon loves “Honeycote” by Veronica Henry because it sounds so lovely and “The Memory Garden” by Rachel Hore
  • Jay is drawn towards our very own Helen R’s “The Friendship Tree” (out next year) and “The Divorce Domino” by friend of the blog Kerry Fisher (out soon)
  • Helen R loves Hazel Gayor’s new title: “Memory of Violets”. She says it’s “such a gorgeous title and sounds cosy”

P1050744Browsing along my bookshelves, some of my personal favourites are:

  • “The Truth About Melody Browne” by Lisa Jewell. I love her books anyway but I found this title particularly intriguing. I think I’m very similar to Helen R in that I’m also drawn to the word “secret” in a title
  • “A Quiet Belief in Angels” by R J Ellory. I was in a writing group once and one of the members was raving about this book. It stuck in my mind because of the title … although I confess that it’s been on my TBR pile for years so title adoration doesn’t always turn into the actual art of reading!
  • “The Book of Tomorrow” by Cecelia Ahern. Also on my TBR pile although I’ve read several of hers. It’s my favourite title of hers closely followed by “A Place Called Here” which I have read

There are two other fairly recent books whose titles intrigue me. I don’t own them but I keep meaning to download them – “We Need to Talk About Kevin” by Lionel Shriver and “The Last Time We Saw Marion” by Tracey Scott-Townsend. Even though I love romantic comedies and that’s the genre I write, I do have a penchant for mystery and intrigue and the titles of both of these draw me in. We’re back to that secrets thing again.

What about you? What titles do you love? Have you ever bought a book purely on the title? I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks to The Write Romantics for their contributions to this post 🙂 x

Jessica xx

All About America – Wednesday Wondering

The Wednesday Wondering baton has passed back to me and I have to say I’m very excited to be the Question Master again! It’s been really lovely taking a step back and seeing what my fellow-Write Romantics have come up with but it’s also lovely to be coming up with a new set of questions myself, especially after a break of several months.

statue of liberty3On Saturday, Rhoda Baxter joined us and launched a week of US-themed posts. Lynne Connolly also shared her knowledge and experience about the US market on Monday and we’ll be hearing more from Lynne tomorrow. As you’d expect, the Wednesday Wondering also has an American-theme.

I thought I’d start this post with a little bit of trivia and the first thing that popped into my head was, “I wonder how many towns or cities in America are named after towns in the UK?” This seemed a very apt pondering because USA week is timed in celebration of 4th of July and 4th of July is the celebration of independence from the UK. Which means that there are a lot of English settlers in America who will have taken English town names with them. I Googled it (of course) and the best source seemed to be Wiki. I know Wiki isn’t always 100% accurate and the site itself claims to be incomplete but it was certainly a good starting point. The site listed each state then the number of UK-town-namesakes in that State. Hmm. Count entries against all 52 states? Maybe. After all, Alabama only has 4 and California has 7 listed. Then I scrolled down a bit further and found Massachusetts with approx. 110. I couldn’t bring myself to undertake that count. If anyone is really desperate to know, here’s the link and good luck to you! Please let us know how you get on 🙂

Back to the Wondering. I asked a very simple question this week:

What do you love about the USA?

 

Jaxx says …

I guess us Brits are ruled by the weather and it makes us inclined to be gloomy and pessimistic and I love the way the Americans will put a positive spin on anything, even against the glaring evidence suggesting the opposite:

“The world’s gonna end in five!”

“Yay, that means I won’t have to spend the last of my wages on filling the Chevvy with gas.”

I suppose if we lived in wall-to-wall sunshine we might all be the same.

 

Helen R says …

I must admit that I haven’t been to many places in the USA. I’ve been to Florida – which was wonderful – in my early twenties, not a care in the world, and to top it off we got to see the Space Shuttle Atlantis take off in May of 1997. We visited the Kennedy Space Centre the week before so we saw the shuttle on its launch pad, and we had VIP passes to watch the launch at 4am one morning in May. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. So I guess what I love about America is how big, how vast, how amazing so many things are over there. They certainly don’t do things by halves!

 

Picture 201Jay says …

What do I love about the USA – everything! I have been six times and I could happily go a hundred more and never get bored of the place.  In fact, when I am a best-selling millionaire (probably in Vietnamese Dong, which are approximately 33,000 to the £pound), I will go every year.  I love the fact that they have everything from the super tacky adult’s playground that is Vegas, where you can travel the world in themed hotels on the strip, to the most fantastic national parks and natural wonders, like the Grand Canyon. Being greedy, I think the food is fab too and my current favourite book/film is ‘The Fault in Our Stars’.  I dream of writing something that fabulous.  What I most admire though is American comedy.  Right now, there are probably less decent British comedy shows than you can count on one hand.  America is busting with them, though, and my favourite at the moment is Modern Family. I want my family to grow up like that and, of course, I want to look like Sofia Vergara. Sadly, I have about as much chance of that as writing like John Green, but a girl can dream!

 

Rachael says …

I love how the Americans celebrate. Be it Independence Day or Thanksgiving, they really know how to do it. Family are the focal point of such celebrations. Of course this is what the films make me think and I especially like the Christmas ones. Maybe one day I’ll experience first-hand, one of America’s celebration days.

 

Grand canyonDeirdre says …

There are so many possibilities here, I shall keep this short and sweet and mention just three things I love that have come our way from the US. Firstly, Amazon. Where else can you buy books in seconds, manage your Kindle library, publish your own books, build a career as writer, set up a wish list and buy all kinds of useful things into the bargain? Amazon doesn’t always get a good press, I know, but I can’t imagine being without it. Secondly, Yankee candles, for the beautiful scents and lovely colours. Thirdly, Krispy Kreme donuts!

 

Alys says …

My favourite US author is Jennifer Crusie who writes the funniest romantic comedies with a dash of suspense.  The first book of hers I read was ‘Welcome to Temptation’ which kept me entertained during a ten hour flight to Vancouver. Even when there was terrible turbulence when the plane stopped in Calgary, I had my eyes fixed on this book and I was (by my standards) not all that fazed.  When I got home I read her other books. ‘Fast Women’ and ‘Crazy for You’ are my other two favourites.  So what makes them so good?  Well, the plots are a fabulous mix of romance and suspense. There’s enough edge to the suspense to make you believe there’s some real danger. The heroines are feisty and smart. And Jennifer’s writing is downright funny. I love her books so much that I won’t lend them to people in case they don’t give them back.  That’s probably the highest praise I can give an author!

As to other things that I love from the US at the moment that list includes ‘The Good Wife’ and ‘Castle’ on TV, the folk singer Aoife O’Donovan and my Timberland sandals.

 

Chinese theatreHelen P says …

What I love about the USA, wow there’s too much to write about but I’ll give it a go. I love New York and one day I will go there, I just have no idea when but it’s on my bucket list. I’ve only ever been to Hawaii, years ago but it was beautiful. I love the crime novels set in America there is something so glamorous about being an FBI agent. Stephen King’s stories, Lucky Charms, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Hollywood, Bare Foot White Zinfandel, I love that there are such great opportunities over there for everyone, Oprah Winfrey – I would really like to meet Oprah one day. Did I mention Kevin Bacon? Love that man at the moment, he can do no wrong. I want to go to the Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building, I want to see Central Park and Macy’s. I want to live the American Dream if only for a week.

 

Lynne says …

I love maple syrup!!! I love it in cakes made with spelt flour, on pancakes, ice-cream, anything really. It tastes great and reminds me of romantic pictures of New England with log cabins, patchwork and cosy open fires. One day I’d love to go there and see if it’s really as I imagine or have I got it wrong completely.

 

Island of AdventureAnd, finally, my response …

I can do this in one word. Disney. But of course, I’m far too much of a jabber-pot to leave it just at that! I love Disney films, Disney princesses and Disneyland. For a long time, The Little Mermaid and Beauty & The Beast were my favourites (I was brought up on the classics but I prefer the later ones for the songs!) but then I saw Tangled and was astounded. And then I saw Frozen! Wow! Do I want to be Ariel, Belle, Rapunzel, Anna or Elsa? It’s a tough one! I’d always dreamed of going to Disneyland and, when I was about 28, I took redundancy from work and spent some of my pay-off on a December trip to Florida. Everything about it was amazing except the company but we all learn from our mistakes! I loved the parades and there was something quite magical about wearing shorts and a vest while Mickey and Pooh Bear wore scarves and hats to get into the winter-theme. We visited the Disney-built town of Celebration where it snowed in the high street and everything was just movie-magic-perfect. For a few brief moments, I really felt like I was living the dream … then I looked at my boyfriend and knew I wasn’t, hee hee hee!

We’d love to hear from you. What do you love about America? The movies, books, people, values? What are the places you’ve visited or would love to visit?

Julie xx

The Wednesday Wondering: You’re Fired!

If you share my (dubious) tastes in TV programmes you won’t be a stranger to the title of this week’s Wondering.  Yes, that’s right.  The famous phrase comes out of Alan Sugar’s mouth at the end of every episode of The Apprentice.  Whether you find it compulsive or repulsive viewing, you’ll be sure to know what it’s about.  Hard to avoid, isn’t it?

You may remember I was grabbing inspiration for this month’s Wonderings from March itself, in which case you may be thinking I’ve wandered off piste here.  Not so, because next Monday, March 24th, is Lord Sugar’s birthday. (He happens to share the same birth year as me but we won’t go into that if it’s all the same).  A bit obscure as a remarkable event, perhaps?  Well, yes, all right, but at least you’ve gathered a new bit of useless information…

But back to The Apprentice theme before I lose the plot entirely (and none of us wants to do that, do we?).  I asked my fellow Write Romantics this question:

If you could be apprenticed to a well-known writer, have access to their innermost thought processes while they write and have them mentor your own novel, who would you choose? (Time machines permitted)  And what would you hope to learn from them? 

The Write Romantics were spoiled for choice, as you’ll see.

LYNNE:

I’d love to be apprenticed, Write Romantics excluded, to Jojo Moyes. I loved ‘Me Before You,’ and am now totally loving ‘The Peacock Emporium,’ recommended by Deirdre. Her stories are so good, yet what I really love is her emotional descriptions. You really feel like you are there with the characters, learning first hand what they’re seeing and thinking. I love tales that are rich in emotion and these you just can’t beat!

HELEN P:

It would have to be my hero, the amazing Mr Stephen King. I would love to see how he plots his books, how he comes up with his ideas, where he stores them but most of all I would love to sit behind the desk that he writes at and just soak up the vibes. It would be even better to have his personal input and advice into a story I was writing. The only thing is I fear that if I ever did get to meet him I wouldn’t be able to speak because I’d be so in awe of him or I talk a load of absolute rubbish and bore him to death. I would hope to learn just how to keep on going and producing book after book which was a best seller around the world so that I too could have a writing room just like him.

JULIE:

Can I only pick one? It would be between five people (all women) – Enid Blyton, Virginia Andrews (the original one who passed away), Catherine Cookson, Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes, so a time machine would be needed for 3 out of 5! All of them have had a lasting impression on me for getting me engrossed in books at different ages with the latter two being about my discovery of romantic comedy. For all, I’d love to explore where their ideas came from, how they develop their characters and how they plot out their books because all of them, in my opinion, have written page-turner after page-turner. What an amazing talent to have!

HELEN R:

I’d like to be mentored by Alexandra Sokoloff. She’s an award winning author of thrillers – not my genre and even the book jacket blurbs scare me, but I think she has such a wealth of knowledge about techniques in both film and novels. I attended the online RWAus conference in 2013 where Alexandra Sokoloff hosted a workshop and since then I have read and re-read her book “Writing Love” many times as it helps to plot a new story, prevent it from having a “saggy middle” and give readers what they want. She also advocates watching films to help us master storytelling techniques, and this works really well for me, I’d definitely recommend it.

ALEX:

I’m really glad I can have a time machine for this one because I want to go back to the Thirties and apprentice myself to Dorothy L. Sayers.  For me she is the real queen of Golden Age detective fiction and I’ve loved Lord Peter Wimsey since I was about 17.  Sayers is an amazing crafter of stories.  I’d love to learn the techniques of mystery writing, her knack of producing realistic dialogue and how she makes her characters so real and so complex.  From what I read about her I think she wouldn’t suffer fools or mince her words and so being her apprentice could be a bit daunting.  However, it also seems she had a fine sense of humour as shown by this quote:

“Lord Peter’s large income… I deliberately gave him… After all it cost me nothing and at the time I was particularly hard up and it gave me pleasure to spend his fortune for him. When I was dissatisfied with my single unfurnished room I took a luxurious flat for him in Piccadilly. When my cheap rug got a hole in it, I ordered him an Aubusson carpet. When I had no money to pay my bus fare I presented him with a Daimler double-six, upholstered in a style of sober magnificence, and when I felt dull I let him drive it. I can heartily recommend this inexpensive way of furnishing to all who are discontented with their incomes. It relieves the mind and does no harm to anybody.”

DEIRDRE:

I’d choose to spend my apprenticeship with Ian Rankin because although I’m not a great lover of crime fiction, I do admire his writing.  It never feels forced or over-written; he never rambles but makes every word count.  That’s the kind of writing I’m aiming for and hopefully something of that would rub off.  I saw a documentary in which Ian agonised over his plot and confessed he had no idea what came next in the book he was writing.  Heartening to note that even the famous ones can be plagued with self-doubt!  It would be fascinating to be with him at those moments and see how he gets around them.  Also I’d get to see Edinburgh which I understand is a beautiful city, and, from what I’ve gathered of Ian’s lifestyle, spend a lot of time in the pub!

JO:

This is an easy one for me.  It would definitely have to be Charles Dickens.  I’d want to learn how he created such memorable characters and wrote such a range of stories that could transcend generations and give quite moral messages, yet avoid being cheesy or overly sentimental.  If an apprenticeship with Dickens could give me a cat in hell’s chance of writing something that leaves a legacy as embedded in our culture as say A Christmas Carol or Oliver Twist, then it would be well worth risking particle displacement on a trip in a time machine for!

JACKIE:

I would quite like Jilly Cooper to mentor me because I know I'll never write literary novels so would be happy with learning how to have a page turning quality. I also think she's be a good laugh as wouldn't like someone who took it all too seriously (although I would love to write like Anita Shreve and have deep understanding of emotions).  Hopefully it would be gin time at four in the afternoon and I would roll home sozzled and happy. 

RACHAEL:

If I could take any writer, go back to any time I would chose two. Greedy I know, but there you go. Firstly I’d love to be an apprentice to Maeve Binchy. Each time I’ve picked up a book of hers, I’ve been hooked and that is what I’d love to learn from her. How to hook the reader and keep them hooked. Not only that, but how to make your story have such an impact that the reader can still ‘see it’ in their minds many years later. I have two favourite books of hers, Circle of Friends and Tara Road.

Once that was done, I zip back in time to sit with Jane Austen. Now that would be something. I’d just love to be with her as she wrote Pride and Prejudice, I’d love to know what she thought of the characters she was creating and did she ever believe it would be such an everlastingly popular story.

Well, it’s a bit of fun, isn’t it?  Perhaps you’ll find a moment to tell us where your dream apprenticeship would take you.  We’d love to know.

Deirdre

The Saturday Spotlight – Post Publication Progress!

If anyone read my last post they will know that I had turned into a nervous wreck in the run up to my debut novel ‘The Ghost House’ being published. I had arranged a small launch party because everyone told me I should and I also thought that this was an occasion in my life that should be marked. So I arranged it for the night before the release and I’m so glad I did, it went by in a bit of a blur. Everyone turned up who I’d asked and we filled the lovely, quaint café in the middle of the Abbey to bursting. I felt very humbled when my friends turned up with cards, flowers and gifts. I was the one thanking them but it touched me deeply. It was a lovely experience having so many people I care about in the same room. I didn’t do a reading; I had no need to because I know almost everyone had already ordered my book. I did take some large postcards with the book cover and blurb on the back. And it made me smile when they all wanted one signing, my first and probably last autographs that I’ll ever have to sign.

I was shattered and in bed that night by eleven. I woke up at three in the morning to get a drink of water and made the mistake of checking my Kindle to see if my book had arrived. I wish I hadn’t, I felt my stomach lurch when I saw it on there. This was it. Everyone who had bought it was going to be able to read it. I couldn’t get back to sleep so I ended up in Asda half an hour later, shopping. The good thing was I didn’t have to queue up, at that time in the morning there was only the staff and me. I finally went home and back to bed only to get up at seven, I had to be at work for nine.

I got a Facebook message from a friend to tell me she had been up all night reading my book and couldn’t put it down. She loved it, Phew. I know she probably wouldn’t have said she hated it either but still. I got another message from a friend who was on holiday in Dubai; she was half way through it, couldn’t put it down and loved it. I messaged her to ask, ‘Really?’ She messaged back, ‘Really!’ Work was so busy I barely had time to think about it the rest of the day but I went home and looked to see I had my first five star review on Amazon, oh how I smiled.

The next few days more and more people told me they were reading and loving it, it’s a good job my head didn’t swell up, but I’m not that kind of person. I was just grateful that people who were reading the story I had worked so hard on were enjoying it. My lovely writeromantics have been reading it and they have enjoyed it, I’ve even managed to scare a few people which is what I hoped for, only in the nicest possible way of course but I wanted my book to send chills down peoples spines and it seems to be doing the job.

On twitter I read a tweet by the lovely Donna Trinder who is a book blogger and she tweeted she was reading The Ghost House and didn’t want to put it down, it was AMAZING. That was the pivotal moment for me, it made me realise that actually my book must be pretty good. Today I got a tweet from my publishers The Ghost House had reached #9 in the Amazon Contemporary Horror Chart. I whooped, rushed home to check the computer and saw that the only books in front of mine were by Stephen King, James Herbert and Susan Hill. I have never been so honoured or thrilled in my life. So would I do it all again? YES, YES, YES 🙂

Helen P

The Wednesday Wondering – Walking in Whose Shoes?

Another great Wednesday Wondering from our lovely Write Romantic in Australia, Helen R:

 If you could walk in the shoes of one author for the day, who would it be and why?

Ooh, how exciting! Would our Write Romantics go for someone with a wad of earnings, living a celebrity lifestyle? Would they select the person who first inspired them to read? Perhaps someone who develops brilliant characters or is the master of the twist in the tail to explore how they do this (and hope some of the magic rubs off!) Let’s see, shall we …

JULIE:

I would want to turn back time a bit and step into the shoes of someone I’ve not mentioned on this blog before but who was a prolific writer whose books I have loved … the wonderful Catherine Cookson. My mum used to read her novels and was a great fan and I borrowed most of them. I would love to understand how she wrote so many, how she kept them all different and how many ideas she still had ready to be formed into books. I’d also be fascinated to see her research. I’m no historian but I believe her books are historically accurate and she didn’t just write from within her own lifetime so she must have been quite a research demon … in the days before you could Google it! RIP Catherine J

 

HELEN R:

I would love to walk in the shoes of Judy Blume. Looking back I realise just how much her books helped me in my teenage years. They helped me to realise that I wasn’t alone in the everyday challenges that I faced, from adolescence and discovering boys to friendships and family relationships. 

I would love to witness Judy Blume’s research journey from developing a strong idea and themes for a book, to the development of characters, and how she got the dialogue of those characters just right. She is an amazing, strong writer and I am also curious about how she coped and how she defended her writing when she faced hate mail and arguments that her books should be banned from school and library shelves.

Judy Blume is an incredible, strong writer who has stood up for what she believed was right. I will always admire her honesty in her books and her willingness to discuss real issues faced by so many of us growing up.

Secretly I hope that if I was walking in Judy Blume’s shoes, then it was during the time she rented an office above a bakery…

 

DEIRDRE:

Good question…  I would turn back the clock, bring Barbara Cartland down from the great blue yonder and be her for a day. Why? Because she gets to lounge about wearing a lot of pink whilst dictating her books to some other poor soul who then has to hit the keys on her behalf and make it all into something presentable. AND – a big ‘and’ – it looks very much to me as if she also gets to eat a lot of cake 😉

 

ALEX:

When I first read this week’s Wondering I couldn’t think of any authors that I admired who had the kind of interesting lifestyle that I’d like to experience for a day. Then I thought there is someone and he’s a screenwriter so does he qualify? So I did some Googling and discovered that he’s written comic books so he is actually an author as well. 

The person whose shoes I’d like to walk in for a day is Joss Whedon. I think he’s a genius. I loved Buffy and more recently Firefly. I don’t know anyone who can write dialogue that’s as fresh and quirky and yet realistic. He’s also good at the big concepts too. Some of them don’t work too well and he admits that and moves on and I admire that about him. I’d love the chance to experience his working life and I’m sure I’d learn a huge amount about character development and how to tell stories.

 

HELEN P:

Another great question. I think it would be Stephen King, I would love to walk in his writing shoes for a day and if he didn’t want to share then I’d love to have spent the day as Jane Austen to see where her inspiration came from and to meet the original Mr Darcy although he’d have a tough time beating Colin Firth.

 

So, that’s what some of the Write Romantics have to say? What do you think? Is there anyone who you’d like to stalk be around for a day or swap lives with for a day? We’d love to hear about it. Please post a comment. If you’re new to the blog and don’t know how to do this, click on the heart to the right of the title and that will bring up a comments section at the end of the posting. Thanks in advance for joining in.

Julie

xx

The Wednesday Wondering – Who Won’t be Top of Your Xmas Card List?

Welcome to another edition of The Wednesday Wondering and today’s fabulous question has been posed by Write Romantic Alex. In our first Wondering, we asked which heroine you’d love to go on a girly night with and now the tables are turned to the people you probably wouldn’t be rushing to have drinks with…

Which fictional character do you most dislike and why?

I think this is a brilliant question (thanks Alex) but also a really hard one. As the collator of responses, I kept getting answers through and thinking, “Yes, of course, I hate that character; great response. But I really need to think of one myself!” Anyway, I have finally come up with one and here are the responses of the Write Romantics in reverse alphabetical order today.

Please do join in and let us know what you think. Next week’s question has already been posed but we continue to invite other suggestions so shout up if there’s anything you’d like us to ask (and don’t forget to give your answer too!)

 

Julie

I struggled with this because most of the really memorable evil/nasty/vicious characters that instantly spring to mind are from films. I know the books came first but I find it hard to separate them from the amazing portrayal in the film (see Jo’s, Alex’s and Helen’s answers or think Imelda Staunton’s brilliant Professor Delores Jane Umbridge in Harry Potter). Or I think of a character (again from film or TV) and realise I haven’t actually read the book (e.g. in the case of Alex’s response!) I’m therefore  going to go for something really random and say Lady Macbeth. Not because she’s a villain but simply because she raises very bad memories for me personally. In the play (which we studied for GCSE English Literature), she has a lot of very long monologues and they take some getting your mouth around. I’m slightly short-tongued and our teacher picked me to read out Lady Macbeth to the class. I tripped and slobbered my way through it. At the end, the teacher said to the class, ‘So, what have we learned about Lady Macbeth today?’ One bright spark piped up, ‘That she has a lisp!’ Twenty five years on, I still remember it clearly, it still hurts and I’ll never forgive Lady Macbeth for putting me through it!!!

 

Jo

Percy Wetmore, from Stephen King’s ‘The Green Mile’. If you have seen the film you will know what an odious character the young prison officer is, but this comes across even more skilfully in the book. Oh to have a modicum of King’s talent!

 

Helen P

The fictional character I most dislike would have to be Pennywise the clown from Stephen King’s ‘It’. I have never really like clowns since I watched Poltergeist as a kid, then when I read about that clown who could transform into your worst nightmare to kill you it totally freaked me out.

 

Alex

Mrs Elton from ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen. She’s the original ‘smug married’. A woman who’s always boasting about how much better her life is than yours. She’s patronising, a social climber and particularly mean to Emma because Mr Elton once fancied himself in love with her. I know this may seem like a strange choice when fiction has so many really evil characters but, with any luck, we won’t meet anyone like that in real life. I think most of us will know a Mrs Elton.

 

So, who sets your teeth on edge or raises your hackles and why? Can’t wait to hear from you.

Julie

xx