Friday, October 21, 2016

LIZZIE LANE: War Orphans – A good idea!

It is always interesting to hear how author’s come up with ideas for their books. Was it something that had simmered for years? Perhaps a story based on an old family story? Today, author Lizzie Lane tells us about the idea behind her latest story and shows how many people are involved in that idea. Welcome, Jean!

We were having lunch at a very nice little restaurant in Covent Garden, my editor, my agent and me.
Food and wine flowed as they do when the final manuscript of a contract has been delivered and approved and another contract is in the offing.
That’s when the ideas get thrown about. ‘What do you think about writing about an orphanage?’ To which my answer was, ‘Not a lot. There’s loads out there already.’ ‘A Munitions Factory?’ ‘Ditto.’
Actually those were the kind of subject matter I had been expecting to hear but they didn’t happen.
Wearing one of her cajoling, sweet as honey smiles, she asked, ‘I think it would be quite wonderful if you wrote about a puppy.’
I nearly choked on my Pinot Grigio. A puppy? In a wartime saga? What brought that on?
Editors don’t make suggestions about the content of your next book without good reason. Before coming up with this I knew my editor had checked what was selling in non-fiction or with competing publishers, plus, most importantly of all, she had no doubt had a word with the Sales Department. It wouldn’t have stopped there. She would have sounded out anyone whose opinion she respected. In my case this might include her mother who is an avid fan of mine.
It’s all very logical. Rivals sales, non-fiction sales, her own Sales Department, Marketing, publicity and last, but by no means least, someone who regularly reads my books.  All are very relevant.
It turned out that on seeing the success of non-fiction titles, i.e. War Dog, No Better Friend, Judy: A Dog in a Million.
Besides all that, the old adage about writing about what you know comes into play. She hadn’t known it but she was dining with somebody who knew a great deal about dogs.
In another life I used to show, breed, train and judge dogs. It had never occurred to me to write a story about dogs and certainly not during World War Two.
To say it was something of a challenge was putting it mildly. The moment the lunch and the travelling were behind me, I trawled the internet for wartime incidents involving dogs. I only expected small things, dogs in military service mostly. I had not expected to come across one of the most unknown atrocities of the first week of the war.
A government pamphlet advised that once the war began in earnest, food would be in short supply and reserved for human consumption. There was also the likelihood of mustard gas poisoning or dogs going mad when the bombing started. As a consequence of these dire warnings, people panicked and pets were euthanized in their thousands, a conservative estimate is 350,000 in the first week alone. By the end of the war it was over a million.
My editor and my agent were both impressed. Neither had heard of this shameful piece of history. BTW the dog on the cover belongs to one of my editor’s colleagues at Ebury. His real name’s Louie.
Everything was agreed. Lovely! Now all I had to do was build a story around it.

Joanna is an orphan when she finds the puppy she names Harry. Her schoolteacher Sally Hadley is a joy but has no life outside of school and her father still grieves over the death of his wife. When Harry enters their lives, Joanna no longer feels like an orphan, Sally allows herself to fall in love and her father ceases to grieve for the loss of his wife. All down to a puppy named Harry.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Chatting with Publishers: Dominic Wakeford

We welcome Natalie Kleinman with the second in our new series for the RNA blog, 'Chatting With Publishers'. This month Natalie chats with Dominic Wakeford, Commissioning Editor, Piatkus Fiction.

Welcome to the blog, Dominic, and thank you for agreeing to answer my questions.

Can you tell us something about your journey to your present job?
My first job in publishing was in the ebooks team at Random House, which just so happened to coincide with their publication of the  Fifty Shades trilogy – a baptism of fire! This was the first time I came into contact with the romance genre, and having recently completed an English Lit degree and studying the canon for three years, it came as a relief to work on engaging and addictive commercial fiction. After a couple of years at PRH I became an editorial assistant at an independent publisher, Constable & Robinson, who were later acquired by Little, Brown. From there I joined the Piatkus Fiction imprint in January 2015 as a Junior Editor and have recently been promoted to Commissioning Editor.

What is a typical day like as a busy editor – if there is such a thing as a typical day?
Most people think that editors sit around reading and marking up manuscripts in red pen – if only! Like most of my colleagues I’m glued to my emails for much of the day, but will try and fit in some submission reading too around meetings, speaking to authors and agents and tweeting about our forthcoming publications. When I’m working on a manuscript I prefer to lock myself away in our quiet room as we work open plan and so it can be quite hard to concentrate out on the floor. I also handle the desk editing for our imprint, which involves collating proofs and liaising with freelancers. If it’s a really good day, I’ll have a lunch meeting – my favourite perk of the job!

Have you ever wanted to write a book?
I’ve started a couple of things (in my iPhone notes!) but no, I don’t really think I’m cut out for it – which makes me respect what my authors do so much more. I’m a big film fan though so would quite like to try writing a screenplay.

When not surrounded by books in your job what do you like to read for leisure?
I have catholic tastes and don’t like to confine myself to a particular genre, but I’d say my preferred fiction sits at the commercial end of literary. I try to mix old and new, though of course there’s never enough time to read everything I want to. I’m a keen cook so will happily curl up with a cookbook as well.

What are you looking for at present?
I’m on the lookout for romance fiction of all kinds, as well as commercial women’s fiction with a strong voice, memorable characters and sparkling writing – books that allow me to escape daily life and be transported to extraordinary places. A particular focus of my acquiring has been bringing previously self-published authors onto the list, including bestsellers Tillie Cole and Kelly Elliott.

If you receive a submission that is not a genre you handle, do you pass it to another editor in your company?
Absolutely – one of the nicest things about working at Little, Brown is the collegiate atmosphere and so we all have a pretty good idea of what our fellow editors are looking for.

Does your company accept un-agented submissions?
We don’t, but part of my acquisition brief is to seek out previously self-published authors whom I will approach directly if there’s potential to work with them.

Do you have a crystal ball? What do you feel will be then next ‘big thing’?
I wish I did! The most interesting thing about the book publishing industry is how cyclical it is – certain genres which had been going down (paranormal, for example) are coming right back up again, which is great as we’re able to mine our enormous backlist and hopefully introduce old titles to new readers. The recent trend in sports-themed romance doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, and it’s been refreshing to see the return of good romantic suspense as well.

If you have one piece of advice to give to anyone submitting a manuscript, what would it be?
Try to make your submission as targeted as possible, and if you see yourself in the same vein as an existing author on a publisher’s list, say so – it’s often one of the main things we consider when taking on new work. As I said before we don’t take unagented submissions, but if you need help getting an agent an invaluable resource I always direct people to is the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, which is updated annually and provides a list of agents and their preferred genres etc. It’s also worth carefully reading the submission guidelines that agents and publishers include on our websites – it’s a waste of everyone’s time if you submit a romance novel to someone who exclusively handles non-fiction!

What a lot of very useful information you have provided us with, Dom. Thank you so much for joining us today – and if you ever want any guinea pigs to sample your culinary skills just put out a call to RNA members. I’m sure you’d have a lot of takers.

About Natalie:

Natalie Kleinman writes contemporary and historical romance novels and has thrown a bit of a mystery into the mix in her current wip. She is accumulating a nice collection of Regency works to help with her research. You can follow her blog at

Thank you Natalie! 
If you would like to write for the RNA blog please contact us on

Friday, October 14, 2016

Clare Harvey: The English Agent

Elaine Everest interviews Clare Harvey about her latest book.

I was delighted to be able to interview Clare Harvey for the RNA blog. Being present earlier this year when Clare won the Joan Hessayon Award for New Writers, and having enjoyed her book The Gunner Girl, I was delighted to be able to read The English Agent. I can honestly say it is an excellent read that had me hooked from the first page.

 I asked Clare a few questions about her writing life.

Welcome Clare. Can you tell us something about your life and how you came to be a writer?
Hi, thank you for having me on the blog! I have three school-aged children - my son is 14 and the
girls (twins) are 11. One of the girls has cerebral palsy – brain damage that affects her balance and muscle control – but we’re fortunate in that it’s quite mild, so she’s able to go to the same school as the other two. We live in Nottingham, but we also have a houseboat in Buckinghamshire, which is my husband’s crash pad – he works in North London four days a week. My father-in-law has just moved into the annexe in the back garden, and we also have a German Shepherd dog, so it’s busy at home, but luckily there’s time to work during school hours (and sometimes at night, if deadlines are pressing…).
I came quite late to writing. Of course I loved reading and creative writing at school, but being an author always seemed terribly glamorous and out-of-reach, something that other people do, a bit like being a film star or a polar explorer. Then, after I’d been post-university travelling in the 90s, I picked up a job as a nanny to the author Betsy Tobin. She became a bit of a role model, because she was a mum, and she wrote, and she was a REAL (and also very nice) person. So I suppose my contact with her planted the seed that I could perhaps become an author one day myself.
I began writing my first novel when I was on maternity leave with my son in 2002. In between starting writing and getting published (in 2015), I had three children, moved house five times (two different towns in the UK, two different towns in Germany and also Kathmandu in Nepal – my husband was in the army so we were constantly being relocated with his job) and wrote four full-length novels, as well as starting a handful of others. I also took an MA in creative writing. Learning the craft of writing was a very long apprenticeship for me!

Your wonderful novel won the RNA’s Joan Hessayon Award earlier this year.  What gave you the idea for the story?
 The inspiration for The Gunner Girl was my mother-in-law, who served with the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in WW2. I never met her, because sadly she passed away before I got together with my husband. My father-in-law also served in the army, and one day my husband said, “Of course the joke was, growing up, that Mum had seen more enemy action than Dad.” When I asked what he meant, he said his mother had been on the anti-aircraft guns in London during the war, but his father, who was a couple of years younger, hadn’t joined up until after the hostilities were over. I had no idea that women were on active service in wartime, and I wanted to find out more. However, my husband said there was nobody from his mother’s side of the family to ask. He said there were no grandparents, aunties, uncles or cousins from his mother’s side – or at least, he’d never met any.
So, I had this fascination with the idea of women soldiers in WW2, combined with the mystery of how someone could ‘lose’ their background like that. I wondered why a teenage girl would begin an entirely new life when she joined the army? Had she lost her family or chosen to leave them behind? What part had the war played in her circumstances and her choices? Those questions catalysed the creation of the main character in The Gunner Girl, and the rest of the book grew organically from that starting point .

Will you always write historical novels or do you yearn to write another genre?
I wouldn’t say I yearn to write another genre, but I’m certainly open to it. The Gunner Girl was actually the first historical novel I’d written (the other three unpublished books are contemporary stories about women soldiers). Although The English Agent (out now in hardback) and my third – as yet untitled – book are also based in WW2, I certainly wouldn’t rule out returning to something contemporary, or perhaps a time-slip story. I also quite fancy doing something like historical crime – but there are so many excellent crime writers out there, that I’m not quite sure I’m brave enough to give it a go until I’m a little more experienced.

Do you enjoy the research for your novels?
I love the research. I trawl Amazon for obscure wartime memoirs and biographies, and YouTube for old Pathe news clips. The Imperial War Museum has some great online sound archives, and there are wonderful WW2 images to be found just a Google-click away. Hurrah for the Internet! I’m also a big fan of ‘optical research’. The English Agent is set in Paris and London, so I had a few days wandering round Paris, scouting locations, and a very long day-trip to London, again just walking around, seeing where things were. Going to the places you’re writing about makes you realise the story in practical terms (how long would it take a character to walk across Hyde Park, for example, or whether your character would be able to see the horizon from her apartment window) – but also going to an actual place engages all five senses, and knowing how somewhere smells, or the sound your feet make on the floor there, can really help make a location feel real when you’re writing about it.

Do you have a few tips for our newer members?
I bet everyone says this, but DON’T GIVE UP. I went through the RNA’s New Writer’s Scheme three times before I wrote anything good enough to be published, and it took me thirteen years…I hang on to that Samuel Beckett quote: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."

Please tell us more about your latest book.
The English Agent (Simon & Schuster) is out now in hardback. I felt that one of the characters in The Gunner Girl had a story that wasn’t quite finished. I decided to send her off to wartime France with the Secret Operations Executive (SOE) because I was fascinated by the real life stories of the very brave young women who took on such dangerous work behind enemy lines.
I wrote The English Agent in a wild combination of panic and excitement, because I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to write a book in less than a year, but also thrilled to be able to throw myself into an enthralling new storyline. In retrospect my panic-excitement was probably the perfect state of mind for a novel about undercover agents in Occupied Paris!

What comes next for author, Clare Harvey?
I’m extremely fortunate that Simon & Schuster has signed me up for another two-book deal, so I’m working on my third novel at the moment. I do realise how lucky I am to get paid for doing a job I love, so I don’t have any grand plans, I just want to be able to keep on writing books for as long as I can.

Facebook: clareharvey13
Twitter: @ClareHarveyauth

                                                        The English Agent
How far will two women go to survive a war?
Having suffered a traumatic experience in the Blitz, Edie feels utterly disillusioned with life in wartime London. The chance to work with the Secret Operations Executive (SOE) helping the resistance in Paris offers a fresh start. Codenamed ‘Yvette’, she’s parachuted into France and met by the two other members of her SOE cell. Who can she trust?
Back in London, Vera desperately needs to be made a UK citizen to erase the secrets of her past. Working at the foreign office in charge of agents presents an opportunity for blackmail. But when she loses contact with one agent in the field, codenamed Yvette, her loyalties are torn.

Thank you Clare. We look forward to your next book.

If you would like to be interviewed for the RNA blog please contact us on

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Competition Monthly with Francesca Burgess

A new month and many more competition details from Francesca!

Is it worth paying for a critique for your short story or novel when entering a competition? Some competitions offer them, but they can vary enormously in price. Some critique writers will give you more for your money than others, and often you won't know if it's worth the fee until it pops onto

your mat or up on your email. Cheaper critiques are often only a tick list, which in itself may not provide you with enough useful information.

Critiques can be invaluable in pinpointing areas to work on and can help you improve your writing. It's up to you to decide whether you're willing to take that advice. If you're going to take offence at any suggestion that what you wrote is anything but perfect, a critique may not be for you. You might wonder why anyone would pay for one only to be praised, but it happens.

If you receive a critique but disagree with some, or all, of what it says, please don't go onto social media and around all your friends to tell them what a rubbish person the critique writer is. (Yes, this once happened to me as a judge in a short story comp, and unfortunately I knew the person in real life.) Often it's better after a first read to put the critique to one side and come back to it later with a fresh perspective. If it really does fall short of what was expected, in terms of length or detail of content (or really is offensive), then take it up with the people running the competition.

Good luck, everybody.

***Closing Soon***
2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize
Theme: Open. 2,000-5,000 words. Entrants must be citizens of a Commonwealth country
Prize: Regional winners £2,500. Overall winner £5,000.
Competition deadline: 1 November 2016
Entry: Free Details

Writing Magazine 500 Word Flash Fiction Competition
Theme: Any theme, 500 words max.
Prize: £200 / £50. Publication in Writing Magazine.
Competition deadline: 14 November 2016
Entry: £5 (£3 for subscribers) Details

Ink Tears Short Story Contest 
Theme: Open. 1,000-3,500 words. Can be previously published
Prize: £1,000 / £100 / 4 x £25
Competition deadline: 30 November 2016
Entry: £7.50 Details

The Betty Trask Prize
Theme: Romantic or traditional novel, published or unpublished. Writer must be under 35 on 31 December 2016.
Prize: Total prize money of £20,000, to be used for foreign travel.
Competition deadline: 30 November 2016
Entry: Free Details

Write Stars The Final Word Competition
Theme: Write the final 100 words of a story
Prize: £100 plus critique for of up to 1,000 words of your work
Competition deadline: 30 November 2016
Entry: £3.50 Details

The Writers Bureau Flash Fiction Competition
Theme: Open. Max 500 words
Prize: £300 / £200 / £100 plus WB course for all winners.
Competition deadline: 30 November 2016
Entry: £5 (3 for £10) Details

Retreat West Themed Flash Fiction Competition
Theme: 'Success'. Max 500 words
Prize: £50 / £25
Competition deadline: 30 November 2016 (Different themes each month)
Entry: £5 Details

UK International Novel Writing Competition
Theme: Open. Unpublished or self published novels. Judged by the public.
Prize: £5,000 / £2,500 / £1,000
Competition deadline: 30 November 2016
Entry: £12 (additional entries £6) Details

1000 Word Challenge
Theme: 'Very'. Max 1,000 words
Prize: £100 / £50 / £25
Competition deadline: 30 November 2016 (There's a new comp every 3 months)
Entry: £5 (£10 with feedback) Details 

Retreat West First Chapter Competition 
Theme: All genres except children's, first chapter (up to 3,500 words) of a novel.
Prize: Review of first 3 chapters, cover letter and synopsis by literary agent Sam Copeland of Rogers, Coleridge & White
Competition deadline: 10 December 2016
Entry: £15 Details 

Thanks, Francesca! And good luck to everyone who enters.

Francesca Capaldi Burgess has been placed or shortlisted in a number of competitions including Twyford Writers, Winchester Writers' Conference, Chorley and District Writers' Circle, Flash a Famous Phrase, Meridian Writing, Wells Festival and Writing Magazine. Her shortlisted entry for The People's Friend serial competition will be published soon. She's had stories published in magazines worldwide and in three anthologies, including Diamonds and Pearls and 100 Stories for Haiti. She is a member of the RNA New Writers' Scheme.

If you would like to write for the RNA blog, then please contact us at

This blog was prepared by blog team member, Louisa Heaton.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Interview: Phillipa Ashley

Today on the RNA blog we are thrilled to have Karen King interview prolific multi-genre novelist Phillipa Ashley about her upcoming release 'Christmas at the Cornish Cafe' and the highs and lows of a decade of being a published author.

Congratulations, it’s been ten years since your first novel, Decent Exposure, was published.  Decent Exposure, was published with the help of the NWS, then went on to win the Joan Hessayon prize and was made into a movie. What a success story! What inspired you to write this book?

Thank you! I took my first writing steps in November 2004 with a modern ‘fanfic’ of the North & South TV drama starring Richard Armitage. I was instantly hooked, and decided to try my hand at an original romantic novel. We’d recently bought a flat in the Lake District by a mountain rescue base and that’s where I got the idea for an MRT who make a naked calendar.
What was the highlight of your book being made into a movie? How involved were you in the process?
Definitely walking onto the set of the movie in Canada with my husband and daughter and spending the day with the actors and crew. I left the adaptation process to the producer/writer as I knew making a film would be completely different to writing a novel.

What are the highs and lows of your decade in publishing?

I’ve had two periods when my confidence took a real nosedive after finishing contracts. The first time, I had a complete break for many months but during the second ‘low’ I just carried on writing even though I questioned ‘why’ most mornings! Eventually, I’d completed two books and had several publishers competing to buy one (the other is still being fine tuned and no one has seen it except my agent.) Happily, 2016 has turned out to be my best year ever, working with the fantastic Avon Maze team to make Summer at the Cornish Café an Amazon Top 20 bestseller.

I understand that the only creative writing you did before this novel was FanFic. Would you recommend writing FanFic to new writers?

If a TV series or movie inspires you to start writing, go for it! It’s a fun way to learn the craft and often encourages writers to try their own original projects.

How much planning do you do before you start to write?

Not much. When an idea grabs me, I write furiously until I run out of steam. I brainstorm ways that the characters might reach their resolution as I go along, sometimes with two close RNA friends.  I prefer to let the story emerge organically aka not having a plan! I always show my first drafts to my agent, Broo Doherty, and highly value her feedback.

Do you work in long-hand first or write straight onto the computer?

Straight onto my laptop.

You’ve had sixteen novels under three different names published over this past decade. Can you tell us a little about them and why you chose so many pseudonyms?

My contemporary romances are written as Phillipa Ashley. We chose a fresh name for my Penguin Oxford Blue novels because they’re a different genre – New Adult. I also wrote two erotic romances and thought I’d better have a minxy brand for those – so Natasha Bond was born.

Facebook or Twitter? Which is your preferred promotion tool?

I do some ‘soft’ promotion via Twitter but since the Cornish Café series has taken off, I’ve found readers also like to interact with my Facebook author pages where I share news and competitions. I have two pages – one for Phillipa Ashley and one for Pippa Croft. The Pippa Croft page attracts a lot of Italian fans because the Italian translations have topped on the iTunes Italia charts this summer.

How do relax when not writing?

I get out of the house as much as possible. I love walking, jogging, cycling and swimming and adore the Lakes and Cornwall where my number one activity is body boarding or watching the Poldark filming.

What’s next for author, Phillipa Ashley?

The second book in the Penwith series – Christmas at the Cornish Café – is out on October 13th.  I’m currently writing the third book, Confetti at the Cornish Café and I also have a couple of other projects bubbling under. I love writing as much as I ever did but I’m glad I’m savvier about the business of publishing.


Christmas will be slightly less turbulent than summer, won’t it? Demi certainly hopes so. She and Cal are keeping their fledgling relationship under wraps for now. But then Kit Bannen, a hunky, blond – and mysterious – writer arrives at Kilhallon Resort, and not everyone is charmed. Cal is sure that Kit is hiding something. But is he the only one guarding a secret?
Demi is busy baking festive treats for the newly opened Demelza’s cafe, but when Cal’s ex Isla arrives to shoot scenes for her new drama, Demi can’t help but worry that things aren’t quite over between them. Kit flirts with both women, fuelling Cal’s suspicions that Kit has hidden motives for staying on at Kilhallon. Then Cal has to go to London, leaving Demi and Kit to decorate the cafe for Christmas . . . all by themselves.
A storm is brewing in more ways than one. As surprises unfold and truths are uncovered, can Demi and Cal finally open up to each other about their feelings?

About Phillipa Ashley:

Phillipa Ashley studied English at Oxford before working as a copywriter and journalist. Her books have won several awards, been translated into seven languages and made into a Lifetime movie. As Pippa Croft, she also writes as the Oxford Blue series from Penguin Books.

Summer at the Cornish Café, published by Avon Maze was an Amazon Top 20 best seller in 2016. The sequel, Christmas at the Cornish Café is out on October 13th 2016.



Thanks for taking the time to chat to us here on the RNA blog Phillipa. We are looking forward to the latest instalments in the Penrith series and wish you every success with Christmas at the Cornish Café.

About our interviewer Karen King:

Karen writes sassy, contemporary romance just right for reading on the beach. She also writes YA and children’s books and is a writing tutor.
When she isn’t writing, Karen likes travelling, watching the ‘soaps’ and reading. Give her a good book and a box of chocolates and she thinks she’s in Heaven.

If you would like to be interviewed for the RNA blog please contact us
This post was set up by Virginia Heath