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Author Spotlight – Kate Field

After a long break for the summer holidays, it is with the greatest pleasure that I return with my guest Author in the Spotlight this month. My very good writing friend, Kate Field’s debut novel, The Magic of Ramblings was published last Thursday and today she’s here to tell us all about it. Welcome, Kate!

The Magic ofimage1 Ramblings – Kate Field

Running away can be the answer if you run to the right place…

When Cassie accepts a job as companion to an old lady in a remote Lancashire village, she hopes for a quiet life where she can forget herself, her past and most especially men. The last thing she wants is to be drawn into saving a community that seems determined to take her to its heart – and to resuscitate hers…
Frances has lived a reclusive life at Ramblings, a Victorian Gothic mansion, for over thirty years and now Barney is hiding away there, forging a new life after his medical career ended in scandal. He doesn’t trust the mysterious woman who comes to live with his rich aunt, especially when she starts to steal Frances’ affection – and maybe his own too…
Amazon

*****

Excerpt

As soon as she saw the advert, in one of the magazines she was paid to dust, not read, Cassie knew it had been written for her.

‘WANTED: Female live-in companion for independent lady in isolated Lancashire village. Own room provided. Must not chatter. References required.’

Isolation and silence – underlined silence. It was perfect. Carrying the magazine to the study, careful not to crease any pages, Cassie found a scrap of paper and copied out the advert.

Her pen hovered over the final two words. References? How was she going to manage that? Then her gaze landed on the computer, and the letter-headed notepaper lying beside it. No one would notice one missing sheet. The password for the computer was taped on the inside of the desk drawer: she hadn’t cleaned here three times a week for the last three months without finding that out. It would take barely five minutes to conjure something suitable. And surely her boss at the cleaning company, who had employed her without references and without questioning why she had no ID in the name she’d given him, wouldn’t scruple to give her a reference in any name she wanted?

Her conscience protested, but conscience was one of the many luxuries that Cassie could no longer afford. Her fingers trembling, she switched on the laptop and typed out a letter, recommending herself as an employee in terms she hoped were too good to refuse. She had to get this job. It was time to move on.

*****

And now for my interview with Kate.

Can you tell us more about what inspired you to choose the setting for your current book?

This could be a short answer! It wasn’t a deliberate choice. The Magic of Ramblings is set in Lancashire, and that’s where I live.

I love Lancashire, especially the beauty and the wildness of the moors, the extremes of weather, and the way the landscape and the climate shape the character of the people who live here. I’ve grown up listening to the rhythm and pattern of Lancashire dialect. I’m still at an early point in my writing career, and with so much else to learn, it felt natural to use a setting I was familiar with.

I’m sure I’ll be brave enough to explore beyond Lancashire one day, but for now I think the stories I’m writing belong here.

Do you find it hard to come up with ideas for stories? How do you go about it?

I can’t sit down in front of a clean sheet of paper and conjure up an idea from nowhere. I’ve attended workshops where that was expected, and my mind goes blank – even more so when I see that everyone else is scribbling away with enthusiasm! I have a notebook of ideas, often no more than a sentence, and usually the idea has been sparked by something I’ve read, overheard, or seen on television.

The book I completed last year came from a piece of gossip we were discussing at work. I immediately thought, ‘how would his wife feel?’ And then I had to abandon the story I’d been mulling over, and write that one instead.

How long does it take you to write your first draft? How many more drafts will there be after that?

I’m a slow writer, and easily distracted, usually by reading other people’s books! The first draft ofThe Magic of Ramblings took around eight months to write, which is fairly typical for me, as I have to fit writing around work and family. It was written to submit to the RNA New Writers’ Scheme, and it helped that I had that deadline to work towards.

I write the first draft in longhand, and type it up when it’s finished, which is laborious but I carry out the first set of edits as I type, tweaking words and abandoning sentences that are too horrific to survive. I try to have a break, then carry out the major edit. I’m ruthless at this point: I don’t have a problem with ‘killing my darlings’ and cutting out sentences or scenes that don’t work. I cut about 20,000 words from Ramblings, including a whole chapter that I loved, but that on reflection added nothing to the story.

After the major edit, I go through it again, fine-tuning and polishing each paragraph. Those are the main steps, but after that, every time I open the document I can’t resist tinkering, even if it’s only changing one word.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

This answer could fill pages of your blog! There are times when I think a chimp with a pencil crayon could do a better job. I find it hard to silence my inner critic, and can spend far too long even at the first draft stage mulling over one sentence, wondering what I can do to make it sound better. On the bright side, I suppose that’s why I can cut huge chunks without hesitation!

What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

I love reaching the stage – usually about a third to half way through for me – where it all falls into place, and the characters truly come alive; when they saunter into your head at all times of day or night, holding a conversation, or explaining how they expect their story to develop.

Is there a recurring theme in your novels or is each one completely different?

Although Ramblings is my first published book, I’ve written several others. I didn’t deliberately set out to have a recurring theme, but families and secrets do crop up quite often!

Have you started work on your next novel yet? If so, can you tell us anything about it?

I’ve started and finished the next novel, but only to first draft stage – the gossip inspired one I mentioned earlier! At the moment I’m about half way through another book set around Ramblings. It’s been on hold for a while as this summer has been fairly hectic, so I’m looking forward to some quiet time to pick it up again.

AbouKateFieldauthorphotot Kate

Kate writes contemporary women’s fiction, mainly set in her favourite county of Lancashire, where she lives with her husband, daughter and hyperactive kitten.
She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.The Magic of Ramblings is her first published novel.

Find out more about Kate here:

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Author Spotlight – Mary Grand

This month’s author in the spotlight is women’s/literary fiction writer, Mary Grand. Her debut novel is out now and is called Free to Be Tegan.

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Free to Be Tegan – Mary Grand

Tegan, aged twenty-seven, is cast out of the cult, rejected by her family and from the only life she has known. She is vulnerable and naïve but she also has courage and the will to survive. She travels to Wales, to previously unknown relations in the wild Cambrian Mountains.

This is the uplifting story of her journey from life in a cult to find herself and flourish in a world she has been taught to fear and abhor.
Guilt and shadows from her past haunt her in flashbacks, panic attacks and a fear of the dark. However she also finds a world full of colour, love and happiness she has never known before. The wild beauty of the hills, the people she meets and the secrets slowly revealed by the cottage all provide an intriguing backdrop to Tegan’s drama.

The novel is set in spring, a story of hope, new growth, of the discovery of self and the joy of living.
Amazon

*****

Excerpt

She walked down the stairs and glanced at the clock that hung over the front door. 07:50. Next to this was a huge white board. Every day Daniel wrote the date and a verse for them to meditate on, and the date. Today it read March 1st 2006 and underneath that the verse for the day:

“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Beast and all those in his domain.” She guessed Daniel had chosen that for her. She could hear familiar quiet droning prayers of vigil being said in the meeting room. ‘Come Quickly Oh High One’. The whole Community including the children would repeat it over and over again for an hour. Every day had started like that for her for twenty-two years, but not today. For the first time in her life she was an outsider.

Tegan opened the front door out into the cold drizzly rain and descended the flight of concrete steps. She was hit by a wall of noise: the early morning rush hour. Alone she walked across the concrete forecourt and opened the iron gates. She saw a taxi driver swearing at another driver, a parent shouting to their children to hurry up. The rain added to the sense of urgency as the world rushed about its business. She glanced down at the bins on the pavement and, blinking hard, realised she had been put out with the rubbish.

*****

And now for my interview with Mary:

Can you tell us more about what inspired you to choose the setting for your current book?

Free to Be Tegan is set in the stunning Cambrian Mountains in Ceredigion, Wales. It is a vast wilderness found between the much better known areas of Brecon and Snowdonia. It is an incredible place rich in wild life, of red kites and endless hills and where Tegan finds herself after her expulsion from the cult where she was raised. She is initially overwhelmed by the untamed beauty of the place but it is central to her healing and recovery.

Do you find it hard to come up with ideas for stories? How do you go about it?

I tend to write about subjects close to my heart. The story of “Free to Be Tegan” is partly inspired by my own experience of being brought up in a strict religious sect. I used this in combination with a lot of research into cults and cult leaders to create the character of Tegan and the fictitious cult, ‘The Last Week Community’.

How long does it take you to write your first draft? How many more drafts will there be after that?

The first draft of Free to Be Tegan took me about three years to write. I wrote a number of re-drafts after that. I redraft a lot! The novel I am working on at present has taken about a year to get to first draft and I am now redrafting… again!

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

I think planning has been the thing I have had to work on the hardest. There are people who say they are planners and others who say that the story forms as they are writing. I have found I use both methods. My stories tend to be plot driven so there is a lot of planning but I also find that characters suddenly seem to take on a life of their own and all my planning then has to be re-shaped as I am writing. I say this is hard but it is also what makes writing fun and creative.

What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

I enjoy creating interesting characters and developing their stories. I also love to have inspiring settings. As a writer you spend a lot of time in the place you are writing about and so it is wonderful to spend my days somewhere like the beautiful Cambrian Mountains or the incredible Gower Peninsula

Is there a recurring theme in your novels or is each one completely different?

To date there is a very definite thread both in the short stories in Catching the Light , and in the novel Free to Be Tegan. The central characters tend to be women at a turning point in their lives; it is a time of self discovery and of making important life-changing choices.

Have you started work on your next novel yet? If so, can you tell us anything about it?

I have completed the first draft of my next novel. It is set on the Gower peninsula and is about two women who have to own their past to move forward in their lives. The setting is actually Rhossili Bay, which is the most wonderful place, full of stories and history, so a perfect setting for my theme.

Mary GrandAbout Mary

I was born in Cardiff and have retained a deep love for my Welsh roots. I worked as a nursery teacher in London and later taught deaf children in Croydon and Hastings.

I now live on the beautiful Isle of Wight with my husband, where I walk my cocker spaniel Pepper and write. I have two grown up children.

‘Free to Be Tegan’ is my debut novel. It is to be the first of a series of novels set in Wales. The second will be set on the spectacular Gower Peninsula. I have also published a short book of short stories ‘Catching the Light’, which contains the first three chapters of “Free to Be Tegan.” This is free to download on Kindle, Smashwords and Nook here.

Find out more about Mary here:

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Author Spotlight – Zeba Clarke

My author in the spotlight this month is fantasy and romance author, Zeba Clarke. Her latest fantasy release is Dream Guy,  the first book in the Battalions of Oblivion series.

dreamguy_800

Dream Guy – Zeba Clarke

Every teen has dreams, but only Joe Knightley can make his dreams reality. Even the nightmares…

Joe has been falling asleep everywhere, and he has enough on his plate with wrangling his wayward best mate, suppressing the urge to murder his little sister and facing off with Charlie Meek, the knife-wielding bully who makes school a misery for so many.

Joe does not need the discovery that he can make his dreams come true. At first, turning a classroom into an aquarium and conjuring up a Lamborghini are amusing ways to use this new power. But Joe soon realizes he’s roused an enemy far deadlier than Charlie Meek.

Drawn into a duel with a being who has had centuries of experience, Joe must fight for everything he cares for. But deciding exactly what he holds dear is perhaps the biggest battle of all.

Finch Books

Amazon

*****

And now for my interview with Zeba:

Can you tell us more about what inspired you to choose the setting for your current book?

Dream Guy starts off in a new town in south-east England, somewhere between Brighton and London…it was based on my years teaching in Sussex, and what really inspired me was the combination of a very ordinary every day student in a really down to earth environment discovering that he has the power to change the world around him quite radically. A whole mix of things led to my writing it – I needed a break from romance after writing four Regency-set books very fast over the space of two years, and my eldest son was also rolling his eyes because he wanted me to write something he was interested in reading…not some cheesy girly stuff with loads of kissing. So fantasy it was, probably strongly influenced by Doctor Who, which has been a family favourite since the rebrand by Russell T. Davies first began.

Do you find it hard to come up with ideas for stories? How do you go about it?

Stories come to me really easily – it’s finding the time to sit down and write that really stretches me, as I have a pretty demanding full time job as well. Currently on the go in my brain are a series of stories about a female artist in the early 17th century, an idea for a radio/tv series about the experience of women in internment camps on the Isle of Man during World War 2, another Regency story and the second and third books about Joe, the hero of Dream Guy…it’s story soup in there. I pick up ideas everywhere, from paintings, books, music. I keep folders on the computer and iPad and a notebook and just jot stuff down and try to keep it all ready for when I can actually focus on a particular book.

How long does it take you to write your first draft? How many more drafts will there be after that?

First drafts take me between two and three months. I have big cards with all sorts of random thought-maps, quotations, names, plus I collage using Pinterest and Scapple, so I collect images of characters, places, animals, art, anything that might just spark off an idea. My Pinterest page has boards for two of my series – the Oblivion series starting with Dream Guy, and Savage Mirror which is the series I’ve been writing about a young female artist who dresses up as a boy and then becomes a spy.

After I’ve collected all the images together and have a rough (very rough) idea of where the plot is going, I’ll start writing. I usually know what my final scene is going to be, but how I’m going to get there is often a surprise.

Redrafting depends. Once I’ve finished draft 1, I show it to my husband who is a mean and ruthless editor, and then I go back and rewrite. I’m still not convinced about the first part of the Savage Mirror series, and I’ve been through about four drafts of that, but Dream Guy only took three drafts before I felt confident it was ready to go to publishers. The whole process from the moment of starting the first draft to final submission is usually six to seven months. But that’s probably because the ideas have been stewing gently in my mind for some time before that.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

Sometimes the discipline. I know that to get my best writing done, I have to focus on writing every evening for two hours. I’m most productive between 9 and 11. That’s become my writing time, and there are evenings when it just doesn’t happen, when I noodle on the internet instead of getting the words under my belt, often because I am not fully committed to how the story is working out. Then there is revising and redrafting. Getting rid of chunks I’ve written which I really liked but which I know are superfluous to the story I’m telling. But it has to be done.

What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

Losing myself in the world of my character, hanging out with the characters. That seems to get more and more intriguing and absorbing with every book I write. Although I’ve only had six books published, I’ve actually written ten, and with every book, I find that although there are moments when I get stuck, mostly, the chance to spend time with the characters in their world is the best part of the process. When I’m in the middle of draft 1 and revisions, I can be found staring into space or walking almost without knowing where I’m going because I’m running a scene or a series of actions in my head and trying to work out how it will get onto the page.

Is there a recurring theme in your novels or is each one completely different?

Probably the most interesting theme for me is how we grow into ourselves. I’m a teacher, so I watch teenagers day in, day out, developing, growing, becoming themselves. Some of my favourite books are those stories about growing up, working out an identity and a place in the world, from Daddy Long Legs to Great Expectations and Mill on the Floss. I’m also fascinated by how people can seem to be one thing but actually be another, and I suppose in Dream Guy and its subsequent books, I’m really playing with the idea of exploring strengths and weaknesses through dreams, shape-shifting and messing with reality. I also really love a good romance. I love reading happy ever afters, but I’ve noticed that in my own writing, I tend to make things a little more bittersweet and messy.

Have you started work on your next novel yet? If so, can you tell us anything about it?

I am currently redrafting Heirs of Hypnos, the next part of Joe’s adventures. I wrote a first draft, but the publishers think it may be a little too dark so I’m revisiting and trying to take a look at how it might be reworked. I know where I want the trilogy to end, but I have to review and revisit how I get there! It’s really fun messing with characters. We’ll see!

Zeba ClarkeAbout Zeba

Zeba Clarke is a teacher and writer who has lived in China, Belgium and the UK. She currently lives on the Isle of Man and enjoys watching Game of Thrones with her teenage sons, walking by the sea and spotting seals.

Find out more about Zeba here:

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I Found My Love in Portofino…

DSCN1558Well, it’s been a while since I last posted but I’m back with some lovely pictures of my holiday so I hope you’ll forgive me fairly quickly 🙂 As you may have seen from my Facebook page, I recently went on a short break with my husband to Portofino in Italy, which is a fishing village on the Italian Riviera coastline just south-east of Genoa. It is famous for its picturesque harbour and the wonderful seafood available in its restaurants, and perhaps a little infamous for its celebrity visitors who arrive in their luxury yachts.

DSCN1471As it is a pedestrian village, we decided to forego the hire car and to travel by public transport from Genoa airport instead. This involved a bus, a train and finally, another bus into the village itself. This sounds much simpler than it actually was! We had to negotiate the machines at Genoa train station for our journey to Santa Margherita Ligure by way of Rapallo first of all. Once we’d done that, we made our way to Rapallo, experiencing a short delay on the journey but arriving safely at the other end. Unfortunately, the short delay meant that we missed our connection and we finally worked out that the next train wouldn’t be for another hour because it was Sunday.

In true British form, we huffed and puffed, and analysed every aspect of what had happened and then suddenly, one of us said, ‘It really doesn’t matter, does it? We’re not in a hurry. We’ll get there when we do.’ And with that profound declaration, our shoulders relaxed and we went with the flow as everyone else on the train platform was doing. We were amazed to hear such a variety of accents in the train station: Americans, other British travellers, local Italians and everything in between. When we reached Santa Margherita, we had just missed the ferry we were planning to take (this is Italy!)  but there was a bus waiting to take us on the coastal ride of our lives and we hopped on and went with it arriving only a few minutes later than we had first planned.

DSCN1446Having checked into our lovely hotel, we were then overwhelmed by beautiful views and fantastic restaurants at every turn for the next few days to our complete and utter delight. It was magical and we fell in love with it – just like the song. You can listen to and watch Andrea Bocelli singing his version of the famous song here. What? You didn’t know there was a song?! 😉 And then on our way back on the boat from Santa Margherita on our last day, we were treated to another unexpected musical delight.

As we were waiting to board the ferry for our return trip to Portofino, we had heard someone playing an accordion but we couldn’t see where they were and then again, we wondered if we had imagined it! Then, in the middle of our trip back, sat on the upper deck, a man stood up…with an accordion. He started to play and everyone around started to sing but not in Italian, or in English but in Polish! We had no idea that was the language at first but the man next to us pointed to one of his group who had the words to the song on a sheet in her hands and when we looked over her shoulder, we could see it was an eastern European language and our neighbour proudly told us how he and his group had learnt the words in Polish to the famous song, ‘I Found My Love in Portofino.’ Well, to say we were gobsmacked is an understatement. It was so lovely to see such happy people, enjoying themselves by singing their hearts out and they didn’t just sing the one number, they carried on singing traditional Polish songs as well. We could only imagine how wonderful it must have been to hear the singing from the harbour in Portofino.

They say that travel is good for the soul and I firmly believe that. This trip was inspirational in many ways and I’m pretty sure that Portofino, or somewhere like it, will make an appearance in one of my books one day 😉

Thanks for reading as always. Do leave me a message in the comments about the places you have been, at home or abroad, that you have found inspirational.

How Music Inspires Me

DSCN0296This week, I’m taking part in a blogging event about music organised by my RNA writing friend, Elaina James as part of a series she has been writing for the Mslexia blog about chasing your writing dreams, told from the perspective of a lyricist with stage fright. Her final blog focuses on the unexpected chance to turn her words into an actual song with music. You can find Elaina’s Mslexia page here.

Elaina and I ‘met’ on Twitter only fairly recently but we’ve also had the good fortune to meet in real life when we both braved the Curtis Brown Discovery Day and pitched our books to agents. So we’ve already been through a lot together! I am honoured to be one of a number of writing friends joining in with Elaina’s blogging event so do pop over to her blog to read some of the other brilliant posts on this theme.

So how has music inspired me? Well, music has always played a very important part in my life. The radio was always playing in my house when I was growing up and I came to love many of the LPs that my mum and dad had collected and regularly played on their record player. This is how I came to love everything from The Beatles to Glenn Campbell to Marvin Gaye and Barbra Streisand and eventually, it’s what led me to start have singing lessons when I was in my early teens. I performed in all kinds of festivals when I was young and although I learnt to play the violin and the piano as well along the way, nothing came close to singing for making me happy. As I got older, my musical tastes widened and I remember playing Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall’ album until I knew every word of every song and had a dance move to go with them as well so I could strut my stuff at the local disco on ‘Ladies Night’ every Thursday. Ah, those were the days 🙂

When I was around 17, I joined a semi-professional choir in London at my singing teacher’s suggestion and I had all kinds of wonderful experiences with them, including trips to France, Spain and Italy to take part in some fantastic concert performances. It was on the plane to one such trip in Rome that I met my husband and we bonded over our shared love of music. We still do now nearly thirty-one years later.

Both my children are musical and love music as much as we do. It is wonderful to find that we often like the same kinds of music as well, despite the age difference and that’s the thing. Great music is simply that. It doesn’t matter how old or young you are, you can appreciate it all and it is that shared appreciation that brings people of different ages together. When we finally went to Nashville last year as a family, my two teenage daughters loved it just as much as we did. They both discovered Johnny Cash and Elvis on that trip, as well as soaking up the live performances by new musicians that we had never heard of.

It was really no surprise then that my debut novel From Here to Nashville was about a UK-based singer/songwriter called Rachel who longs to travel to Nashville in Tennessee and become a country music star. As a singer, occasional songwriter and, most recently, music teacher, I based Rachel very loosely on myself but her dream was entirely her own! However, it was my love for country music and specifically, the start of the TV series Nashville on our screens over here that gave me the idea for my first novel. As I began writing, I found it easy to write lyrics for Rachel’s own songs as well as to create a playlist of my favourite songs for her to sing. You can find that playlist here if you’d like to hear it.

Although I don’t listen to music as I write, the words of a song will frequently spark an idea for me that I will then use in my writing. For example, there is a particular Brad Paisley song that I love called ‘We Danced.’ This gave me an idea for my next book and I can’t wait to start getting it down on paper. I don’t think a day goes by without music being in the air in our house and although some of the songs might have changed, the feeling of contentment gained from listening to good music still remains.

coverYou can find my debut novel on Amazon, still priced at just 99p!
Thanks for reading. I’d love to know how music inspires you. Do leave a comment below if you’d like to share your inspiration 🙂

Author Spotlight – David J Robertson

This month’s author in the spotlight is children’s author, David Robertson, whose latest release is Dognapped!, an adventure book aimed at middle grade children (7-10) involving four canine friends. Welcome to the blog, David.
Dognapped

Dognapped! – David J Robertson

The quartet investigate strange sounds coming from the chimney of a canal boat which turns out to be feisty puppy, Ashley stuck inside the narrow tube. They manage to release him but accidentally cast themselves adrift.

On the boat’s radio they hear, ‘…news is coming in of a dognapping. Ashley has been taken along with a narrow boat. In a statement his people said, “whoever has taken our poor puppy is very naughty indeed!”’ 

The situation rapidly deteriorates until they eventually find themselves lost at sea. Will they make it back to shore? Can any of them swim? How silly does Rascal look in welly boots?

Buy Dognapped! here

***** 

Excerpt

One-Eyed Rose peered once more into the chimney. ‘Wow! It’s gone – whatever it was!’ she exclaimed, standing back. Now her one good eye had a black sooty ring around it.

I leant my paws against the window and put my nose to the glass. Inside were two black lumps. One was vaguely Bertie shaped.The other was a lot smaller.

The largest lump shook violently. Soot billowed through the air. It was Bertie! He blinked at me through the glass and pointed toward the back of the boat as he shouted, ‘The door was open all the time.’

I scurried along the bank and sprang onto the tiny deck. Clouds of black dust hung around the open door. Carefully, I made my way down three narrow steps and peered into the gloomy cabin. Bertie stroked his long black whiskers which were slowly becoming grey again. In front of him the small black lump trembled.Two vivid white circles appeared.

The lump had eyes!

I took a step back.This was getting scarier. Even Bertie, who knows a lot of things about a lot of things looked worried.

Looking round I spotted a carving knife lying on a table. I picked it up in my jaws – just in case! ‘Ahh…!’ went the tiny black lump.

It trembled harder than before.
…AAh!’

And even harder.

‘Is everything all right?’ One-Eyed Rose yelled down the chimney.
‘…Tishoooo!’ sneezed the tiny black lump, showering more soot into the air.

‘Wow! What was that?’ boomed from the chimney.‘Hold on I’m coming down.’

The tiny lump puffed out its cheeks. ‘Tshoo,’ it sniffed. It was now mostly white with brown patches and a brown tipped stubby tail.

Scamper!
Clatter!
Bang!
Thump!

One-Eyed Rose fell down the steps, ‘Wow! A puppy dog!’

The pup looked at Bertie with his bone-patterned scarf. He stared at me armed with a knife. Finally he gaped at One-Eyed Rose with the black ring around her one good eye like an eye-patch.‘Arggh! Pirates!’

‘Wow! Where?’ shouted One-Eyed Rose, looking around anxiously.

I dropped the knife.‘He means us, Rose,’ I told her, ‘we’ve frightened him.’

The pup bounced up and down on all four paws.‘I’m not frightened! Come on! I’ll fight you all. Yippity yap!’ he barked in a squeaky voice.

Bertie sighed.With a sharp clip of his paw he tapped the puppy across the tail making him somersault backwards.

‘Ow! I surrender!’
‘What sort of dog is that?’ One-Eyed Rose sniffed at the defeated baby.
‘I won’t tell you anything! We Jack Russells are very brave!’

I looked at the brown marks on his fur,‘I bet his name is Patch.’

The little dog grinned at me defiantly, ‘You’ll get nothing out of me, you nasty pirate. From now on Ashley says nothing! Yappity yip!’

‘So, Ashley, what was a Jack Russell puppy doing up the chimney?’ Bertie asked.
Ashley pouted,‘I was exploring.’
‘It’s a good job I poked you out with that brush. If someone had lit the fire you might have singed your tail,’ One-Eyed Rose said helpfully.

*****

Hi, I’m David J Robertson a … year old, (sorry the number lock seems to be broken!), bloke from the Black Country. There’s a children’s book – DOGNAPPED! completed and published (about my dog, Misty and her adventures) The second ‘IN THE DOGHOUSE!’ is written with a third already in the pipeline.

You may be wondering, ‘Why on earth is a children’s writer appearing on the blog pages of a romance author?’ Well, good people of this genre, it is my belief that you – being discerning readers – would like nothing better than to pass on your love of literature to your sons and daughters, to your grandchildren, to your nephews and nieces, indeed to any child who shows the slightest interest in taking their nose out of a mobile phone for even a second.

Also, I have a book to promote and although slightly biased I do happen to believe that it is quite good. In fact the illustrations by Ian R Ward are wonderful and I am very grateful for his input. Most people on picking it up do comment, ‘Oh this looks lovely!’ Sadly they’re all looking at the pictures and no one has read the story. I urge you to do so – you might like it!

So what are my writing credentials? I began writing seriously following a heart attack. Being cracked open like a lobster for a quadruple bypass seriously focuses the mind. Heed my advice – this is not the way to get into writing!

I’ve done quite a bit flash fiction and short stories. One day I’ll try to put them all together. You can see samples of these along with a blog on my website which is updated around once a week depending upon my inspiration, chagrin or whatever has plain got my goat during the past seven days.

And of course there’s the novel. Haven’t we all got one somewhere? It unfortunately needs attacking drastically with the red editing pen! A humorous (allegedly) science fiction/ fantasy adventure. I only started it in 2006 so it must be nearly finished by now.

Thursday mornings are taken up with Castle Writers in Dudley, in fact I’m now the Chairman, come along if you’re local – a bit of creative writing never hurt anyone.

Below are a few links to my website and blog, Facebook page and my Twitter account. Please feel free to pop over and say, ‘Hi,’ it would be nice to see you. Just a word of warning however – my dog, Misty does administer the website, take whatever she tells you with a pinch of salt! There’s also a link above to my publisher, Troubadour, it would be great if you fancied a copy of, ‘DOGNAPPED!’ You can read it yourself first before you donate it to your little darlings – I won’t tell, honest!

David RobertsonFind out more about David and his books here:

Website                                                       
Facebook                           
Twitter
 

The Authors’ Compass

WP_20160423_004Last Saturday, I attended a conference organised by The Society of Authors in Manchester, the first event I have been to for a while. It was just the pick-me-up I needed and a chance to get out and about to network with old friends and new. The day focussed on the changing face of publishing and as a self-published author myself, I was really interested to see if I could pick up new information to take forward.

The keynote address was given by Kate Harrison, who I’ve heard speak before at one of the RNA conferences and who is both a romance author and a non-fiction writer. Some of you may know her, as I do, as the author of the 5:2 Diet books. Kate’s talk was called ‘Navigation for Authors’ and she took us through what she sees as the benefits of the three different models of publishing existing today: traditional, self and hybrid.
Traditional Publishing – she described this as a sort of employee model.

  • If you’re lucky, you might get an advance under this model but you will definitely get royalties on your book sales.
  • You have access to your publisher’s wider distribution network but your royalties will be quite a low percentage compared to some other models.
  • You have no control over the price of your work, your rights to it or the marketing of it.

Self-Publishing  – this is the entrepreneur model, according to Kate.

  • You have to invest your cash upfront.
  • You build your own team.
  • You will encounter distribution barriers but you will get a higher percentage of the royalties potentially for all your book sales.
  • You control the price, your rights and your marketing.

Hybrid Publishing – this model allows you to maximise your value.

  • You make a decision as to how you’re going to publish on a project-by-project basis. In Kate’s case, she already had an agent and a publishing contract for her romance novels when she decided to write her first 5:2 Diet Book. Her publisher rejected it and so she worked with her agent to produce an ebook of her non-fiction work. It did so well that the publisher then offered her a contract for the paperback version.
  • Your brand strategy is under your control.
  • You have the flexibility to respond to the market and your own instincts.
  • You build a team on your own terms.

Kate’s review came at a very important time for me as I have been sending my second book out to agents and publishers but with very little success so far. I know that’s to be expected but it’s still hard to take, as I’m sure many of you will know from your own experience. I can see though that the hybrid model could have benefits and I know of a lot of authors who are going down this route. There was a lot of food for thought from Kate’s talk and if you get the chance to hear Kate speak, I would urge you to do so. You can find Kate on Twitter @Katewritesbooks.

WP_20160423_006The next session was called ‘The Publishing Landscape’ and presented by Kate Pool and Sarah Baxter who both advise members of The Society of Authors on publishing contracts. As I have never seen a publishing contract (!), I found this a very interesting session indeed. They made a few general points before they started talking about rights.

Firstly, self-published ebooks now account for about 20% of Amazon’s sales. The most popular genres in fiction are romance and crime, as you might expect. In non-fiction, the most popular subjects are health, diet, wholefood cookery and travel writing. However, they did say that it is very much about timing in terms of what readers want. They also mentioned that their revised guide to self-publishing will be available on their website in the next week or so. It costs £10 for non-members.

Moving on to rights, they said that the rights and terms a publisher will usually want are:

  • Territory and language.
  • Formats and media.
  • Use it or lose it. This means that if rights are unexploited after a certain length of time, the rights could then revert to you.

In the discussion that followed, they advised authors to be careful not to give away their non-print rights, which would include things like dramatisation, TV, plays etc. This is not a standard clause so The Society looks out for this one particularly. They advised that in terms of money, authors should think about two things: What is the publisher doing for you, how are they adding value and are you, as the author, getting a fair deal? Their final point was very interesting. They said that it almost doesn’t matter what rights you give away as long as there is a mechanism in your contract for you to escape from it. Food for thought indeed.

The next session was a panel chaired by RNA member, Rhoda Baxter, discussing ‘The Publishing Process.’ We heard from Kevin McCann, a poet and author of a book called Teach Yourself: Self-Publishing; from Richard Sheehan, a freelance proofreader and copy editor, who explained about the different types of editing available to authors; from Kate Roden of Fixabook.com, a company that analyses book design and gives creative guidance on jackets, blurbs and spines; and finally, from Helen Lewis, director of Literally PR.

The main things I learnt from this session were to do with cover design and PR. Kate advised that you think long and hard about your design strategy and what you want your design to achieve before you even contact your designer. Her tips to make your design better were to:

  • Consider what your customers like and what they want. She advised that you find this out by going on reader platforms on Facebook for example.
  • Play to the strengths of digital design, for example by having no words apart from the title on the cover. She highlighted one particular cover of recent times that she thought was especially good.
  • Use your fans to help generate excitement about your cover design. Involve them in your process if you can.
  • Mirror the design of the cover inside your book, as chapter titles for example (I loved this idea and wished I’d done that with the Nashville skyline!)

Helen Lewis had a great many tips to offer about PR but could only squeeze a few of them into the time available. I would really like to hear her full talk some time, which usually takes an hour! Anyway, in the mean time, here’s a few pieces of advice she gave.

  • Concentrate on only one social media platform and your website (Hallelujah!)
  • Build your author platform online by blogging and guest blogging. She also said that blogging shouldn’t have to be something you do all the time though. You should consider only blogging when a new book is coming out for example.
  • Build your platform offline by speaking at festivals, schools, businesses, parties, book clubs and signings at bookshops.
  • Invest time in building up interest in your book before publication. The Bookseller has a 6 month lead time for example.

She drew our attention to an article by Jane Friedman on Facebook for authors, which you can find here. She also mentioned that Literally PR has a Review Club on Facebook which authors can join for free by emailing Helen to join. That page is here. It doesn’t have many members at the moment but the idea looks interesting. Helen can also be found on Twitter @LiterallyPR.

The final session of the day, chaired by Kate Pool from The Society of Authors, was about ‘Publishing Routes‘ and featured Dan Kieran from Unbound, a funding platform and publishing company bringing authors and readers together; Kristen Harrison of The Curved House publishing company; and Michael Schmidt of independent literary publisher, Carcanet Press.

It was another very interesting panel with some innovative ideas about what publishing means in the modern world. I found Dan Kieran very captivating as a speaker and his own experience as an author is an amazing story. However, I can’t ever see myself buying into the idea of crowdfunding a novel to be honest, although it may suit other authors. In the case of Unbound, you have to raise a minimum of £3,000 once you’ve been accepted on to their scheme and then if you make that, they will publish your book for you in the traditional way, taking a split of the royalties. I couldn’t help noticing that many of the authors featured on their website are well-known names who wouldn’t find it as difficult as an unknown to crowd fund to that level perhaps. Still, an interesting concept and worth reading more about if you think crowd funding could be for you.

My favourite tip in this session came from Kristen Harrison when she told us about another project she is involved in called Visual Verse. This is an anthology of art and words, as this about page explains, where they supply an image and you have to respond to it with anywhere between 50 and 500 words. The twist is that you must write your piece within one hour and submit it. It is open to published and unpublished authors and some of the pieces already written are very powerful. I thought this was a fascinating idea and was a very different way, as Kristen said, of giving yourself an online footprint without having a website of your own. She was really into the idea of blogging projects with a start and finish, giving authors a much narrower remit than the standard idea of writing a blog post every week. If you’ve every wondered what the heck you were going to write about on your blog this week and felt overwhelmed by the very thought of it, you might like to consider this idea 😉

Well, as you can see, it was a very interesting conference and I learnt a great deal. You don’t have to be a member of The Society of Authors to attend their events by the way. I found out about this one via the RNA but all you have to do is to email them at this address info@societyofauthors.org and they will let you know what they have coming up.

WP_20160423_005

Author Spotlight – Julia Wild

This week’s author in the spotlight is romantic suspense novelist, Julia Wild, whose latest release is Moon Shadow.
moonshadow (1)Moon Shadow – Julia Wild

‘You’ll destroy me if I let you…’

Ellie Morrison is the star of a British, daily soap. So what’s she doing on a ranch in Montana posing as a housekeeper and investigating the murky past of its good-looking owner, Declan Kelloway?

And why does she find herself attracted to her new boss? After all, she has a perfectly satisfactory man in her life. And Declan is just part of her job, isn’t he?

Amazon

*****

And now for my interview with Julia:

Can you tell us more about what inspired you to choose the setting for your current book?

Hi Julie, thanks for inviting me to be on your blog, it’s lovely to join you here. To answer what inspired me to choose the setting for Moon Shadow, I wanted somewhere remote, somewhere isolated, and to be centred on a ranch. The result is Kelloway’s Ranch in Montana, America. I needed to put the heroine, Ellie Morrison into a situation right outside her comfort zone, where she would take some huge risks for big financial rewards, so that when we join Ellie, her promise of a lucrative TV series in America has fallen through, but she still has massive debts… She is already working for a Go Anywhere, Do Anything agency. The story and the love affair build from there, there is also a mystery woven through the story, asking the question: What, if anything, did Declan Kelloway have to do with his wife’s death? It is that answer Ellie is sent to his ranch to find, under cover in the role of Declan’s temporary housekeeper.

Do you find it hard to come up with ideas for stories? How do you go about it?

All my ideas stem from the wonderful question: What if? Just as an example, Illusions, my 5th novel, sprang completely from the question: What would happen if you met the man of your dreams – on your hen night? I based the hen night on one I had attended, threaded through an art mystery, the location moving between London and the Lake District.

How long does it take you to write your first draft? How many more drafts will there be after that?

The first draft would take between 6-8 months, but to be honest, I lose track of how many drafts, a lot would cover it! Maybe I need to learn to plan my stories more, but I do love the organic process of just leaping into a story and seeing what happens. I think the downside is the many drafts involved.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

The hardest part of writing is stopping to eat, or having to stop because my neck, fingers, everything aches! Like most fellow writers, I love being in the worlds I create.

What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

What I enjoy most is that moment when you know that your current idea is really working! Also, when you give a friend a rough outline, and their eyes light up and they say they can’t wait to read it.

Is there a recurring theme in your novels or is each one completely different?

The only recurring theme is the romance element, and I love unexpected twists and turns; I intend each one to be different, and hope in the not too distant future to re-visit the historicals I wrote a long time ago to see whether they are worth spending time putting onto computer (I typed all three very, very long manuscripts!)

Have you started work on your next novel yet? If so, can you tell us anything about it?

I have started work on my next novel. The next brand new book I am working on is based in London; the heroine is Melissa, a dancer in West End shows. Unexpectedly she meets up again with a past love, Oliver, who now runs his own nightclub in the West End. Incidentally, I would love to dance but have little rhythm; but I have worked in the West end as a nightclub waitress!

Thank you again, Julie for inviting me to be a guest on your blog, and I wish you all the best!

CJ 10About Julia

A member of the Romantic Novelists Association since 1993, Julia came through the New Writers’ Scheme to win the New Writers’ Award (now known as the Joan Hessayon award) with Dark Canvas.

She is married and lives in Bedfordshire and has three fantastic children – all grown up now – but all still very much part of her life.

Julia worked in the local mobile house-bound library for nine wonderful years, and then was re-deployed to a local library until 2014. When the huge cutbacks came, she took redundancy and is taking some time to be self-employed; doing what she loves best – escaping into the writing world. Before she begins working on new stories that are bubbling away, she is bringing out her back list as Print on Demand and ebooks.

Find Julia and her books here:
Amazon Author Page
Twitter
Facebook
Website

 

Author Spotlight – Jenny Harper

My first author spotlight of the year is on contemporary women’s fiction author, Jenny Harper. Jenny’s latest book is Between Friends.

Between Friends webBetween Friends – Jenny Harper

They thought he belonged safely in the past. His return threatens everything.

Marta, Carrie and Jane have been friends since they were at school. Now one is bringing up her family, another is desperately trying for children of her own, and the third is focused on her career – and each takes the support of the others as a given.

But when generous Marta offers out-of-luck actor Tom temporary shelter, her act of kindness sets in motion a tsunami of destruction. Marta’s marriage comes under threat. Timid Jane is haunted by the secret she has been hiding since she last saw Tom. And ambitious Carrie finds herself at the mercy of a man who can ruin her career.

Only by pulling together can the friends rid themselves of this menace. But is Tom too clever at sowing mistrust?

Excerpt from Between Friends (the beginning):

Sometimes Marta wondered how different her days might be if they were a family rather than a couple. If, instead of putting on a business suit at the sound of the alarm, she were to wake to the snuffling cries of a baby and pad across the carpet in the bedroom she shared with Jake to a cot in the corner. She imagined the feeling of picking it up, this squalling infant, of holding it to her breast and hushing it with love and milk.

She picked up her coffee from the counter of the small café, filled with a disappointment so profound that for a moment she thought it might set her weeping. This morning, again, her hopes had been dashed.

Still – she placed the cup on the table in the window and dropped her briefcase on the floor – it was a day of rare promise. She could see it in the slant of the morning light hitting the chiselled stone of the Georgian tenements across the road, and feel it in the warmth of the sun already beating through the window. It was going to be hot, a day for walking the beaches from Silverknowes to Cramond Island or strolling up the Pentland Hills with a flask of tea and a pack of sandwiches. A day not to be wasted.

By nature cheerful, she allowed her spirits to lift.

Across the road, sun hit glass as a door opened, reflecting low rays of light sharply into her eyes. A man emerged and stood, undecided, as the door swung to behind him. Was he a celebrity? It was August, and Edinburgh was teeming with personalities and stars, real and wannabe. Authors were here for the Book Festival, jazz musicians were opening their souls for the world’s inspection, dancers, actors, comedians and television personalities were vying with each other for attention and audiences.

She watched as the lights changed and the man crossed the road. He was tall and slim, stylishly dressed with well-cut jeans, brown loafers, a crisp white shirt and a grey sweater tied loosely round his neck. A battered brown fedora sat jauntily on his head and he carried a brown leather holdall over one shoulder. He was heading straight towards her.

Surely she knew him? …

Amazon UK

*****

And now for my interview with Jenny:

Can you tell us more about what inspired you to choose the setting for your current book?

My first four novels with Accent Press were set in a fictional town in East Lothian called Hailesbank. They are grouped together as the Heartlands series. I loved dreaming up a world entirely of my own – though set in a recognisable context – but Edinburgh is where I live and work. It’s a stunning city and I know it well – so I could not think of anywhere better to set a novel. I’m not the first author to think of this, of course!

Do you find it hard to come up with ideas for stories? How do you go about it?

When I’ve cleared my mind ready for a new venture, I turn first to my cuttings file. I tend to cut out and keep stories I see in newspapers and magazines that catch my imagination. They may be about interesting people or about weird things that have happened. They might be quirky, or funny or sad. Sometimes I try placing two or three very different scenarios/people/settings together and see if any magic happens. Occasionally I spot something that immediately sparks an idea. That’s what happened with the novel I’m writing at the moment – but sorry, I don’t want to talk about it yet!

How long does it take you to write your first draft? How many more drafts will there be after that?

I’m really slow at getting started. I can think the idea through and get a one or two page synopsis down quite quickly, but as I get deeper into it and get to know my characters, I have to adjust my notes all the time. I also like layers and depth in my stories (even though I like them to be page-turners!). Adding this should look seamless, but planning how it will work can do my head in sometimes! Once I get over half way, I can write very, very quickly. I once wrote 34,000 words in five days! I was mentally and physically a wreck by the end of it, but I didn’t have to rewrite much of it. If I were working just on the writing, it would probably take three or four months. However, I enjoy so many other things (walking, swimming, golfing, travel, seeing friends, playing bridge) everything takes much longer. I can comfortably write a full-length novel a year. I tend to rewrite and rewrite the early parts, but the work becomes more and more fluid and needs less and less editing as I progress.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you?

Getting the first half of the book written. I sometimes think I must be very stupid!

What do you enjoy most about the writing process?

I’m an editor by training (I worked for Collins and Cassells as a non fiction editor) and I really love this part of the process. I revel in cutting and polishing and buffing everything up so that it shines and sparkles.

Is there a recurring theme in your novels or is each one completely different?

I say that I write about ‘strong women under pressure’ and I guess that just about sums it up. My heroines have challenging jobs (which they tend to be good at), and we meet them when both work and home life (or their relationships) are showing signs of cracks. Other than that, they are all completely different! I have written about a wind farm engineer, a newspaper photographer, a politician and an artist. My last book, People We Love, was about an artist whose promising career has been put on hold after the tragic death of her brother. There’s a mystery at the heart of it, and a love triangle, and some pretty dotty characters. The next one, Mistakes We Make, is the first of the Heartlands series that carries on with some of the same characters.

However, Accent decided to release Between Friends in February as a kind of anti Valentine novel. It features three friends who all live in Edinburgh and a superficially charming but deeply malevolent man from their past whose return to their lives threatens everything…

Have you started work on your next novel yet? If so, can you tell us anything about it?

I mentioned Mistakes We Make, scheduled for release later this year. The novel I am currently writing is still very much under wraps, though I can tell you it is another standalone set in Edinburgh. I’m just beginning to emerge from the head-banging phase and I’m getting really excited about it!
Thank you so much for hosting me today.

About JeJenny CC 3 web croppednny:

Jenny Harper lives in Edinburgh, Scotland, though she was born in India and grew up in England. She has been a non-fiction editor, a journalist and a businesswoman and has written a children’s novel and several books about Scotland, as well as four full length novels and a novella in The Heartlands series (set in Hailesbank), and two short stories that have appeared in anthologies. Between Friends is her fifth full length novel.

Find Jenny at:
Website
Twitter
Facebook
Goodreads

Time to Celebrate!

photoYesterday was the first day in a week of celebrations for me as my debut contemporary romance, From Here to Nashville, reaches the first anniversary of its publication day.

I began by spending the day in London with the RNA (The Romantic Novelists’ Association) yesterday for a special workshop entitled ‘How to Make an Impact in Romantic Fiction.’ First of all we heard from Matt Bates, the WH Smith Travel Book Buyer and Lyn Vernham, Managing Director of Independent Publisher, Choc Lit about what the industry might want from us as romantic fiction writers based on latest trends.

Amongst other things, Matt explained that E. L. James’ book ‘Grey’ had 23% of market sales last year leaving everyone else a bit stranded in the romance market! If you take that book out of the equation, the first book in the top 100 sellers from last year, with only 4.93%, was ‘The Woman who Stole my Life’ by Marian Keyes. Interesting, eh? He also said that £7.99 was the average paperback publication price and that ‘nature’ seems to be a trend in the titles of current bestsellers e.g. Beekeeper, Dandelion, Sunflower, Nightingales, Sea.

Lyn said that romance remains a hard market to get noticed in. She said that series are very popular at the moment and that Apple were really pushing them at one point. On the day that the shortlist for Choc Lit’s latest ‘Search for a Star’ competition came out, she revealed that the one after this competition would probably be the last one. She told us that £1.99 seems to be the best price for an ebook and that contemporary romances still sell the most.

In the afternoon, Julie Cohen took over with an interactive workshop called ‘How can we deliver the right impact with the opening to our romantic fiction novel?’ We had all been encouraged to bring in our own work for discussion. So Julie collected these from us at the start of the day and after we’d analysed the first 100 words of her current novel ‘Where Love Lies’ and picked up some tips on what to include and what to leave out, she set off reading out each of our individual pieces of work. It was a bit daunting at first because she read each one out and then commented on it and invited us to comment too. She mostly kept the entries anonymous though and her comments were very constructive and thoughtful. Although mine broke one of the ‘rules’ by starting with someone waking up in bed, the feedback was really useful and I asked Julie for some more advice afterwards as well. So I came away feeling positive. It was great to go on another writing day and it gave me back my motivation to get going with my writing again.

Saturday, 13th February, 2016

When I got home, I found that my first guest post for this coming week had gone live on my friend, Susanna Bavin’s blog. Sue has been so supportive of me and my writing over this past year and so it was lovely to be asked to return to her blog to celebrate From Here to Nashville’s first birthday.

I’m also appearing on Elaina James’ blog this weekend, talking about the forthcoming Curtis Brown Discovery Day during which I will get the opportunity to pitch to an agent, something I have never done before! You can read all about how I’m feeling and how I’m preparing for it here.

Monday, 15th February, 2016

Tomorrow, I will be appearing on my Canadian friend, Tracey Weller’s blog, Never Too Late to Write but this is an interview with a twist because Tracey and I did the interview over Skype! We actually talked for three hours in total and the original interview was thirty minutes or so. Obviously, we didn’t want you dropping off in the middle so Tracey has edited it down to ten minutes. Once I got over my initial shock of seeing myself on video (!), I actually found I enjoyed it and I hope you will too.

Thursday, 18th Feburary, 2016

I will also be guesting on Zeba Clarke’s blog, That Reading Writing Thing on Thursday, answering some very interesting questions that Zeba sent me. I’ve not appeared on Zeba’s blog before and it is so wonderful to be meeting new writers all the time and to be able to take them up on their generosity of spirit.

On Tuesday which is the actual anniversary of From Here to Nashville’s publication day, I will definitely raise a toast to my debut book which has done me proud in its first year. I will also thank goodness for all my lovely writing friends and supporters who have kept me going throughout the past year and who continue to inspire me for the future. Thank you!