Friday, November 27, 2015

FOCUS ON: Southern Chapter

We are delighted to feature another of our Chapters on the blog today. Liv Thomas undertook to answer our questions and fill us in on this group whose members are pretty widespread so it’s wonderful that they make so much effort to meet on a regular basis.

How long has your chapter been running?
We’ve been around since 1999 when chapters were started by the then chairman, Angela Arney. The idea took hold fairly rapidly with volunteers from all over the UK. I believe the first was the Flying Ducks, northern writers who couldn’t often get down to London.

Do you have a schedule or are your meetings ad hoc?
We meet quarterly, mostly on a Monday as this seems to be the most convenient day, though we’re obviously flexible. It’s virtually impossible to accommodate everyone, but it would be nice to get a full house one day.

The Vestry
Where do you meet?
Our meetings are usually in Southampton at the Vestry Restaurant near the central station. areas, This has been settled upon because a lot of our members come from other areas, e.g. Sussex, Dorset, Wiltshire, so is convenient for those who come by train. The Vestry is a converted church, complete with stained glass windows – quite disconcerting to see them alongside a huge wine rack.

It looks absolutely fabulous. How many members attend?
Between ten and twenty. We have one male member who is a regular attender, and who handles all the enquiries. And who is also our regular Santa at the Christmas lunch!

Speaking of lunch, and harking back to the above-mentioned huge wine rack, do your meetings include a meal?
Oh yes! Most of us go with the two course option and there’s quite an extensive range so we are well catered for. We always have a raffle to raise funds for the group.

This all sounds very much in the ‘spirit’ of the RNA. Is your chapter open to non-members?
Yes, all are welcome. Our meetings last for about two hours and we have been lucky during the past year to have Della Galton, Jean Fullerton and Janet Gover as our guests.

Inside The Vestry
It’s fast approaching the end of the year. Do you have anything else planned for 2015?
Our final meeting of the year will be our Christmas lunch. We don’t invite a speaker to this event but we do have a Secret Santa.

What would you say makes your chapter so special?
As I’ve already said, it’s open to everyone. Some are wannabe writers who later join, other write different genres. Plus we have a wide age range and a mix of experience. This all provides fertile ground for discussion.

Does your chapter have a website, Facebook page or Twitter Account?
No, but this is probably worth considering. I try to issue a newsletter every quarter with members’ news and promos.

Who is the contact for new members?
Steve Mogg –

After looking at the images of your wonderful venue, you may find that several of us descend on you in the future to join you for lunch. Thank you, Liv, for giving us an insight into the Southern Chapter.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year...

It takes a special RNA member to not only enjoy our party but to go home and write about it for our blog. Thank you, Nikki Moore for your words and images.

If there is one thing I look forward to attending every year just before Christmas, it’s the RNA Winter Party - and this one didn’t disappoint. There may have been gusts of wind shaking the trees outside, but inside the Royal Overseas League it was warm, lively and fun. The wine flowed and everyone chatted, laughed and caught up with friends old and new while staff circulated with delightful tasty mini-canap├ęs.

What made this Winter Party even better were the first Industry Awards superbly presented by Adrienne Vaughan, accompanied by glasses of champagne generously paid for by our lovely RNA President Katie Fforde (we thank you Katie!)

The runner-up for Bookseller of the Year was Michael Cole, who sadly couldn’t attend but whose bookshop always has a corner dedicated to romantic fiction. The winner was the marvellous Matt Bates of WH Smith Travel. What a great day Wednesday was for him! Giving a very touching speech about his long love affair with romantic fiction, he praised the RNA for their dedication, solidarity and passion and gave special thanks to Jenny Haddon and his mum.

Best Adaptation of a Novel runner-up Jamie Patterson (who directed Cally Taylor’s Home for Christmas) gave a witty, sincere speech and explained how he fell in love with his leading lady. The winner of the award was Debbie Horsfield for her adaptation of the Poldark series. Sadly she couldn’t be there due to ill health but her vibrant dialogue and feisty heroines received praise as well as rousing applause (and cheers for the gorgeous Aidan, star of the series).

The Romaniacs
Radio Gorgeous, champions of the romantic fiction genre and a station who regularly feature the RNA and its authors, were runners up for the Media Star award. However, it was a very special moment when the wonderful, hard working ladies of The Romaniacs were presented with the winning trophy. Described as a ‘Tour de Force’ they looked delighted with their win – and well deserved too.

Katie Fforde made the exciting announcement that next year the Romance Novel of The Year award in the RoNAs will be
New sponsor
sponsored by bookshop Goldsboro Books.  So thank you to them for getting on board and providing sponsorship.

Tracy & Elaine
A massive thank you and recognition has to go to Sally Quilford/Tracy Hartshorn who organised the party so brilliantly and tirelessly (truly something to be proud of) who was assisted by Elaine Everest on the door.

There wasn’t a single person I spoke to on Wednesday – be it author, agent or editor – who wasn’t having a great time. As I walked to the tube with aching feet from standing for hours on end and a sore throat from too much chatter, the only thought in my head was I can’t wait for the next RNA party...

I hope you can join us!

Thank you, Nikki, for your wonderful words. We too can't wait until the next RNA event. 

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015


That time of the month has arrived again and we welcome Francesca Burgess back to the blog to give us details of more writing competitions.

The nights are drawing in, National Novel Writing Month is in full swing for many, and it's time to get one's head down before the Christmas season robs us of precious writing time.

Included this month is a flash fiction competition. They're good if you've only got a bit of time to write something different, but don't be fooled into thinking they're easier because they're shorter: it takes skill to encapsulate a whole story into so few words. I always start off with something too long, editing over and over, cutting away those extraneous words until the story is finally under the word count. It's amazing how much it hurts, but invariably the end result is better.


Flash 500
Short fiction up to 500 words.
Prizes: £300, £200, £100.
Competition deadline:  31 December 2015 (and at the end of every quarter).
Entry £5/£8 for 2.

Spotlight First Novel Competition
One page synopsis and the first page of an unpublished novel.
Prize: Stage One Mentoring package for novel of up to 550 pages/170,000 - full manuscript appraisal, development strategy, two consultations. C
Competition deadline:14 February 2016.
Entry £16.

Writers' and Artists' Yearbook 2016 Short Story Competition
Theme of 'Aging', up to 2,000 words.
Prize: £500 plus a place on an Arvon writing course of your choice.
Competition deadline: 15 February 2016.
Entry: Free.

Nottingham Writers' Club National Short Story Competition
Theme of 'Fire', up to 2,000 words.
Prize: £200, £100, £50.
Competition deadline: entries to be submitted between 1 and 29 February 2016.
Entry: £5 (post) £6 (online).
Competition link

Flash 500 Short Story Competition: Open Theme, 1,000 to 3,000 words. Prizes: £500, £200, £100. C/D 29th Feb 2016. Entry £7/£12 for 2.
Competition link

Thank you, Francesca, and good luck to everyone entering the above competitions.
Do you know of any competitions being announced in 2016? Please let us know so we can share details.

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Gilli Allan - Cutting out the Boring Bits

We’re delighted to welcome Gilli Allan to the blog today explaining how the bits you leave out are as important as the bits you keep in…and make for a better story!

Just a few pages long, my first book, begun and abandoned when I was ten, was set in the olden days. Three women, one a young teenager, went by boat to visit a lighthouse - you know the kind I mean, one set on a rocky crag, surrounded by sea. I no longer recall the relationships between the women, but I suspect mother and daughter, and possibly aunt. No sooner had the party arrived (there was presumably a boatman as well) than the weather deteriorated, trapping them there. The whole enterprise was patently a plot device to isolate the women, but I don’t remember what reason, if any, I came up with to explain their original desire for visiting the lighthouse, other than that it was the kind of jaunt well-brought up ladies of the period engaged in to fill their time.  

The lighthouse was manned by two men and a teenage boy. (At the time my ideal age for a romantic lead was sixteen). Braving the storm, my hero went outside to secure the wave-tossed boat which had brought the women. He fell on the wet rocks, injuring himself. From then on he was forced by his unspecified, and not very serious, injuries, to recline on a sofa, while my young heroine tended to him.

After setting the scene, my imagination stuttered to a halt. I had a sense of the romance of the situation but, at this point in my life, had no idea how to convey the journey from attraction to actual cuddling. But even more than the difficulty for ten year old me to visualise a budding romance, I found myself put off by the sheer amount of domestic detail I felt I needed to get through, before I could even arrive at my romantic interludes. There was just too much connecting stuff, like the preparation and consumption of meals, walking from one room to another, going to bed, getting up, combing hair and brushing teeth. It was all just too boring!
I continued to write ‘novels’ throughout my secondary school days. Many were started, none finished. They all foundered on the same obstacle. By this time I thoroughly enjoyed writing the juicy bits - the smouldering glances, the smoochy dances, the kisses and embraces - but I soon ran out of steam when it came to writing the rest of the story. And yet I felt guilty, as if it was cheating not to detail the passing of time by giving every dot and comma of my heroine’s life - her journeys back and forth on the bus, her visits to her mother, her shopping trips, her excursions to the launderette. I believed a ‘real’ writer was somehow duty-bound not only to describe his character’s adventures, but to describe the minutiae of everyday life as well.

It was only much later that it really came home to me that these descriptions of the mundane are rarely needed, unless you are making a point. If you find it tedious to write a particular passage, it’s a fair guess that it will bore your reader.  Of course you need to set the scene. You need to convey the passing of time. You need to evoke smell, taste, touch, and to create a believable world in which to set your story. But unless a minor domestic detail is crucial to the plot - in which case it is cheating not to let the reader know it - then it’s unnecessary to follow your characters’ every move from waking in the morning to pulling the duvets up to their chins at night. You can trust your reader to fill in the blanks.
Life Class is written in third person throughout, but each of the four main protagonists has his or her own, interleaved viewpoints. As I began each passage, I realised that seeing the developing plot through different eyes gave me gave me far more flexibility. It reduced the temptation to follow a character’s every last movement, and it cut out the need for a lot of “And then....” type exposition. More importantly, it treats the reader as a grown-up. I realised more than ever before that I don’t need to hold her hand. She is able to fill in the spaces between the dots for herself.

About art, life, love and learning lessons, Life Class follows four members of an art class, who meet once a week to draw the human figure. All have failed to achieve what they thought they wanted in life. They each come to realise that it’s not just the naked model they need to study and understand. Their stories are very different, but they all have secrets they hide from the world and from themselves. By uncovering and coming to terms with the past, maybe they can move on to an unimagined future.


Gilli’s childhood hobbies were art and writing. She went to Croydon Art College. Before being employed as an illustrator in advertising, she did a variety of increasingly desperate fill-in jobs. Serious writing was only considered when Gilli was at home with her toddler son. Her first two novels were published, but after her publisher’s demise, she went independent. 

Gilli designs Christmas cards and has begun book illustration. Life Class is the third to be published in a three book deal with Accent Press.


Thank you, Gilli, for illustrating so well how sometimes less is more, and good luck with Life Class.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Rosemary & Victoria Gemmell: Keeping it in the family!

It's not often that we have two authors feature on the same day. What makes this a special occasion is that we are able to present mother and daughter, Rosemary and Victoria Gemmell, to the RNA blog to talk about their writing life.

Victoria and Rosemary
Welcome to you both. Does it help to have another member of your family working as an author?

Rosemary: It is hugely helpful to have a daughter who writes very well, and we share a passion for books. Although Victoria is an independent adult with her own flat and full time career, we still talk about writing every time we meet or phone. I have lots of writing friends and have belonged to a local writing group for many years but there is something unique in discussing creativity with a daughter who knows exactly what it’s like trying to produce something publishable. It’s possibly one of the most honest relationships as we both appreciate the encouragement, support and suggestions. And Victoria has always been the greatest supporter of my work.

Victoria: Without a doubt. For me, having a Mum who was, (and still is), passionate about reading and writing, was a big inspiration. Growing up in a house filled with books created the perfect environment for an aspiring author. My Mum has always been so encouraging and supportive of my writing – she let me use her old typewriter to type up a novel when I was very young and was always so patient; reading and giving me feedback on every story I wrote! (And I am sure there were a lot of right howlers in there). She introduced me to Erskine Writers, (and the Scottish Association of Writers), when I was in my late teens which gave me the confidence to start sharing my writing with a wider audience and taught me a lot about how to structure stories. It opened me up to a world where I was led to believe that it could be possible to become a published writer, which always kept me going through numerous rejections! Seeing my Mum win competitions and become widely published was exciting. She’s always the first person I want to tell if I’ve had some writing success as I know she understands how it feels. This year, during the release of my first novel, I’ve really appreciated being able to talk to my Mum during every step of the process, as parts of it can be quite daunting! My Mum has also helped to promote my novel on social media. My Dad and brother have always been very supportive too.

Do you share ideas or work together at the planning stage?

Rosemary: We’ve never worked together at the planning stage. I don’t think I could share that stage with anyone as I don’t do much planning in advance, preferring to let my characters develop and grow as I write which then feeds the story. We do ask each other’s advice now and then, especially with short stories which we both write. I was delighted to read Victoria’s debut novel in chapters during the first draft and knew it was a winner when I couldn’t wait to read the next part. However, she eventually changed the ending and I only knew about that when she asked me to check that it made sense before submitting – I really had no input into that!
Victoria was the only person to read through the first novella I put onto kindle (after I was a published author) as I knew I could trust her judgment and she would probably catch any typos, although a writing friend then read it before it was in print. She read the first few chapters of The Highland Lass ages ago. Since there’s an age difference between us, I was aware we were writing for a different market but some of her comments made me think and I did eventually change the whole beginning of it before its final (successful) submission to Crooked Cat Publishing. I’d certainly seek her advice if I tried to write a YA novel as she is in touch with teenagers every working day.

Victoria: When I start a new big project I like to tell my Mum about it, and talk over parts of the plot, and will send her parts to read. I like having reassurance from her that I’m not writing complete drivel, and I know I will always get honest and constructive feedback which is so helpful. I appreciate being able to talk to someone I trust if I’m stuck at parts of a project.

Have you ever had a disagreement over writing projects?

Rosemary: I can’t ever remember any actual disagreements, as we respect each other’s opinions and different styles too much. But not all advice is agreed with or taken in the end and that’s quite right as we’re creative individuals. That might change if we ever decided to work on a project together! On another level, we sometimes ignore each other’s advice about what to work on next. Victoria has earlier books I’d like to see out there one day, but she is quite rightly focusing on her next YA after her successful debut launch of Follow Me at Waterstones a couple of weeks ago. She is always advising me to work on one project at a time and would like me to now concentrate on a different genre that I started a while ago and never completed.  I doubt there is much chance of me changing the way I work at this age and I’ll probably continue to flit between shorts stories, articles, poetry, tween fiction and novels. I greatly admire Victoria’s focus, especially when she has a full time job as well. Maybe that’s what makes her focused, since she doesn’t have a lot of time!

Victoria: Disagreement is a strong word – sometimes because our styles and genres are quite different I might suggest a change which my Mum won’t always agree on, or vice versa. I share work with other writers too, and I think that’s what you begin to learn – that you can take feedback and then it’s up to you to decide ultimately what you take on board.

Are any other members of your family planning to write a book?

Rosemary: My husband sometimes jokes about writing something one day, and it would probably be non-fiction travel-related (as he works in travel) but I don’t think it will happen. My three and a half year old granddaughter is already showing great imagination and loves her books. She started scribbling in a pretty little notebook I gave her recently, saying she was writing, quite without any prompting, so watch this space. Since Victoria started writing from about five or six years old, I’ll encourage my granddaughter and I’m sure she’ll get support from her English teacher Mum and Art teacher Dad.

Victoria: My Dad jokes from time to time about writing a book (but he is joking – I think). I wouldn’t be surprised if my niece was an author one day, as she has a brilliant imagination.

Have you thought about joining forces on a project?

Rosemary: Not seriously so far! Victoria has three early projects, which I think she should resurrect. One was a story for children that she wrote in primary school which convinced me she’d be a published writer one day. The next was a more grown-up novel which I definitely would like to see published and the third is a YA fantasy which I’m very keen for her to finish – that’s the one I’d be interested in working on with her (if allowed). Unlike me, she regards her first two novels as practice projects whereas I send mine out. Perhaps our approach to writing would be too different. I suspect I’d be more impatient to finish and submit something, whereas Victoria takes time over crafting meaningful writing.

Victoria: I know how my Mum is going to answer this…I started to write a fantasy type book years ago which I didn’t quite complete and she still nags me to this day to finish it, as she loved the idea. So perhaps we should try to write it together!

What are you both working on at present?

Rosemary: I’ve just had the third novella in my Aphrodite and Adonis series (romance and mythological fantasy set on Cyprus) accepted by Tirgearr Publishing for a spring 2016 release and I recently published a second, darker, collection of my short stories. Now it’s on with one of the three novels that I started but have never finished so far – two women’s fiction and one Victorian crime!

Victoria: I’m currently working on another Young Adult mystery – that’s all I’m saying about it for now!

About Rosemary:

Rosemary Gemmell lives in the west coast of Scotland and is a published historical and contemporary 
novelist. She also writes under Romy, and tween books as Ros. Her short stories, articles and poems have been published in UK magazines, in the US, and online. She has a Post-graduate Masters in literature and history from the OU and is a member of the Society of Authors, the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and the Scottish Association of Writers. She loves to dance!


About Victoria:
Victoria Gemmell lives in Renfrewshire, Scotland, and her debut Young Adult novel Follow Me is out now, published by Strident Publishing Ltd. Whilst studying an undergraduate degree in Communication and Mass Media, Victoria developed a fascination with pop culture and Andy Warhol, which has influenced a lot of the ideas in Follow Me. Victoria works with teenagers on a daily basis as a careers adviser.
Victoria has had shorter works published in numerous journals, writing under the name Vikki. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Society of Authors and the Scottish Association of Writers.

Twitter: @VikkiGemmell

Thank you both so much for finding time to answer our questions and good luck with your writing projects. Who knows, perhaps it won't be too long before another family members becomes a published author?

I wonder if any blog followers also have family members who are authors? Please add a comment below and tell us all about it.

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