Monday, June 28, 2010

A Trip To London by Sandra Mackness/Toni Sands

Sandra Mackness/Toni Sands shares her enjoyment of a few days in London...

Earlier this month I spent some time in London with my niece. We stayed at the New Cavendish Club. After schlepping down Oxford Street we sipped early evening cocktails and ate dreamy desserts in Gordon’s Bar (Selfridges). I enjoy writing food descriptions and this pit stop was a very decadent treat. Usually I have a quick glug of wine while aiming to get supper on the table for 6.30pm to fit my (diabetic) partner’s routine. He’s very supportive of my writing and he works at home too so I try not to get so immersed in a story that I eventually drift downstairs to find him opening a can of baked beans.

On the Saturday, while walking to the Tube we encountered the Household Cavalry, boots (and hooves) well-polished for Trooping the Colour later. This great start to the day continued with a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum where we saw all those amazing quilts – each one a story with much love and fortitude sewn in. We oohed and aahed at the Grace Kelly exhibition too. It was back to Leicester Square for early dinner then to the Garrick Theatre to meet up with my partner, whose son, Chris Holland was performing the role of lean, mean Harvey (usually played by Christopher Timothy) in the musical, All the Fun of the Fair. It was great to see Chris on stage alongside David Essex. Lots of David fans outside stage door afterwards. A man walking past called out ‘Ooh, David’ and we all cracked up. Songs are still playing in my head.

Sunday we visited Kew Gardens where we met up with more family. I loved the big Palm house and the butterfly houses - very restful. There were lots of inspirational sights and sounds and after walking for miles it was back to the New Cav for a large G and T and so to bed.

Monday morning we rode the London Eye. I heard John McEnroe being asked on TV this week if he’d experienced it yet. He commented that being at the top would be very scary. Well, I can honestly say that we felt very secure in our ‘pod’ and the cars move so slowly that there’s a seamless transition from ‘down here’ to ‘up there.’ Unmissable. Afterwards, we took a stroll in St James’ Park and almost got mugged by a squirrel. Why are English squirrels so much more aggressive than Welsh ones?

We escaped and took refuge in the Churchill War Cabinet exhibition which included a great audio commentary by Robert Shaw - who else? A staff member passed us, looking flirty with her crimped hair and crimson lips and fingernails contrasting with her utility skirt and blouse. We felt we really had dropped into another era.

At Leicester Square we had a cool drink at a pavement café and watched passers-by happily raindrop dodging. A few minutes’ queuing at the ticket office produced two stalls seats for the evening performance of We Will Rock You. Tottenham Court Road’s only one stop away so there was time for a bite to eat and a glass of wine before the show. Some clever writing has gone into this show. Easy trip home afterwards and so to bed.

Sandra Mackness

Out this month from Sandra/Toni

Accent Xcite

Lizzie's Icelandic holiday reveals dark, glacial landscapes and lots simmering beneath the surface of the Blue Lagoon which she visits with her best friend and Arni the talented Viking.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Rosy Thornton Talks About Being The Law Don Who Writes Chick Lit

Novelist Rosy Thornton tells a bit about the varied life she lives...

Like many beginner and midlist authors, I have a full-time day job alongside the writing, which pays the mortgage and keeps the children in Coco Pops. Some jobs seem to fit quite well with writing romantic fiction, others, not so much – and I’d say mine definitely falls into the ‘not so much’ category. I lecture in Law at Cambridge University.

It means that if you looked me up on Amazon you’d find I have the strangest backlist of any author I know. There are my novels, with their pastel covers in pink and baby blue, complete with hearts and, in one case, butterflies. And then there is the rather less obviously sexy Property Disrepair and Dilapidations: A Guide to the Law.

My life, as a result, divides into two bizarrely contrasting halves – or three, if you count being a mum. (Good thing it’s Law I teach, not maths!)

Take this week, for instance. The university exams are over, and I have been buried for eight hours a day in the office, and one more at home each evening when the kids are in bed, under piles of examination scripts, marking essays on the minutiae of estoppel-based easements and other incorporeal hereditaments. (Don’t ask!). Today I spent five hours in a moderating meeting, debating how much to penalise a student who had approached a question on the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 as though it were on the Housing Act 1988.

But on Wednesday I bunked off to spend two hours with the Cambridge Chapter of the RNA, gossiping over a pub lunch. And for an hour and a half each morning, before getting the children up and making the packed lunches, I have sat at the kitchen table and imagined my way back into the world of my current novel in progress – a retro rom com set in 1980.

You know how it is when you’re writing a novel. That world, those characters, inhabit a space in your subconscious, and for me, I find that they are there with me all day at work, whatever I’m doing. I might be in the middle of a lecture, or reading recent cases in the library, or at my desk supposedly writing my latest academic article, and snatches of dialogue suddenly intrude, or little twists of plot open themselves up, to be jotted down and saved for tomorrow morning’s fiction-writing time.

Actually, the schizophrenia is at its most extreme during university vacations when my day job consists of writing rather than teaching. Then there are the two files on my hard drive: one technical, turgid, thick with footnotes, and the other pure romantic escapism. It can sometimes be hard, believe me, to force myself to stick to my resolution of working only on the former during office hours, and never succumbing to temptation and flicking to the latter instead.

What do people in Cambridge think of my secret existence as a romantic novelist? Well, Cambridge is a fiercely intellectual place, and likes to take itself horribly seriously. There are plenty of colleagues who look down their noses at what I do. The Barbara Cartland jokes do wear rather thin at times, I must admit.

But my salvation is the undergraduates. Unlike my colleagues, they don’t believe that the only books worth reading – and therefore, by definition, writing – are those on the Man Booker shortlist. They think it’s great that I write novels at all, even if they’re not exactly High Art. The Law don who writes chick lit – it’s funny, it’s different. As one student said to me recently, ‘It’s actually quite cool. To be honest, it’s amazing to find a lecturer who has a life.’

I just wish that sometimes I didn’t feel as if I had two!

Rosy's next book - THE TAPESTRY OF LOVE is out on the 8th of July.

A rural idyll: that's what Catherine is seeking when she sells her house in England and moves to a tiny hamlet in the Cévennes mountains. Her divorce in the past and her children grown, she is free to make a new start, and set up in business as a seamstress. But this is a harsh and lonely place when you're no longer just on holiday. There is French bureaucracy to contend with, and the mountain weather, and the reserve of her neighbours - including the intriguing Patrick Castagnol. And that's before the arrival of Catherine's forthright sister, Bryony?

THE TAPESTRY OF LOVE is the story of how a woman falls in love with a place and its people: the portrait of a landscape, a community and a fragile way of life.

For more about Rosy and her books visit

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Jeevani Mantotta-Maxted Reports on A Reading Library Event - Writing Romantic Novels

New Writers' Scheme member, Jeevani Mantotta-Maxted reports...

I’m in the NWS scheme for the second year now and I’ve finally stopped lurking the background, too shy to say hello to the fabulous published writers. When I finally did break cover, I realised that they were a lovely bunch of people and not scary in the least.

As part of my attempts to get more involved, I went to the Writing Romantic Novels talk given by five RNA members are Reading central library. I was early, but the place was already busy. Clearly there are a lot of romance readers and writers out there. We were offered a free drink and each member of the audience was given a collection of goodies including bookmarks, a funky pink pencil (from Little Black Dress) and a free book!

The panel consisted of Janet Gover, Beth Elliot, Julie Cohen, Ray-Anne Lutener (Nina Harrington) and Tania Crosse. Between them, they covered modern romantic comedy, several lines of Mills and Boon, historical romance and sagas. After the initial introductions, the panel answered questions, some of which they had prepared themselves, some of which came from the audience.

They were asked now many books they wrote before they got published. The answers varied from 2 to 10! The most common number seemed to be four. I found this heartening as, for some reason, I had this idea that most people had their first or second book published.

Also discussed were their journeys to publications. Four out of the five came through the NWS scheme (Hurrah for the RNA!). There was some discussion about the importance of having an agent, as there are so few publishers that accept unsolicited manuscripts nowadays. The importance of networking at conferences (and RNA events, of course) was stressed.

There was an audience question, from one of the few men in the audience, about how similar or different heroes in romance novels were to real men. There followed some descriptions of some rather delectable heroes. I think the gist of the replies was that the heroes are realistic, but better than real life. Readers want heroes that are believable fantasies who can sweep us off our feet, without us having to pick up their dirty socks. The important thing is that you should be able to imagine fancying your hero. If you don’t fancy them, how will you persuade your reader to?

The last part of the discussion was devoted to writing sex. Everyone agreed that sex had to tie in with the development of the characters and that the emotional involvement was more important than the description of the mechanics involved. Julie briefly mentioned how much fun it was to write explicit sex for the erotic market, whilst Ray-Anne described a scene that had me thinking about chocolate tiramisu for the rest of the night. Tania mentioned writing a bad sex scene (as in a scene where the sex isn’t pleasurable, not a badly written one!) and how difficult this is to do. It all came down to the sensations felt by the protagonist, so no matter whether the sex scene describes glorious sex or something less than comfortable, so long as the reader can be there with your character, then it’s doing its job.

At the end of the night there was a raffle for more free books and the authors stayed around to sign books, chat and generously share their free chocolates.

All in all, it was an informative and fun evening and a bargain at £3 a ticket. I shall certainly be looking out for more such events and I’m certainly going to find that book with the chocolate tiramisu in it!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Louise Allen Shares Her To Be Read Pile

Louise Allen’s To Be Read pile…

...which probably should be called the Dipping Into All at Once pile because I keep picking them up and having a nibble, especially the research books.

Cold Comfort Farm is a re-read, and this is a lovely Folio Society edition with illustrations by Quentin Blake. I read another chapter whenever the wind howls and the central heating goes on - yet again - and laugh out loud.

Dan Cruickshank’s The Secret History of Georgian London is a sinfully rich read examining the way the 18thc sex trade influenced every aspect of life in London, even including the architecture. I’ve already been finding locations he highlights in Covent Garden including Constantia Phillip’s condom shop, Lovejoy’s Bagnio and the rather less temptingly named Haddock’s Bagnio.

I haven’t dipped into Maureen Waller’s The English Marriage yet beyond the opening sentence. “Foreign visitors to England were impressed by the status and freedom enjoyed by English wives and the courtesy shown them by their husbands.” Sounds promising!

For the work-in-progress I’m loving William Hickey: Memoirs of a Georgian Rake, in another handsome Folio Society binding. Hickey is a rollicking good read although I’m pretending I’m studying it for his recollections of life in Calcutta at the turn of the 18th/19th centuries and not for his revelations of a misspent youth. Edge of Empire: Conquest and Collecting in the East 1750-1850 by Maya Jasanoff promises to give me plenty of inspiration for the book after the book after next, which is beginning to bubble away at the back of my mind.

For reading in bed I’m catching up on the Elizabeth Peters Amelia Peabody novels which I unaccountably lost track of over the past few years and was prompted to start reading again by a holiday in Egypt. The Serpent on the Crown promises to be an exciting mix of Egyptology and crime. Another crime novel is Ruso and the Root of All Evils by R.S. Downie. I discovered this Roman detective last summer in my holiday reading pile and I’m looking forward to another unusual mystery.

But all other fiction is on hold while I read the eight volumes of Regency Silk & Scandal, the new historical continuity from HMB. I wrote 1 (The Lord & the Wayward Lady) and 7 (The Officer and the Proper Lady) of this eight-part series, but because we were all writing simultaneously I haven’t read the other titles by Christine Merrill, Julia Justiss, Gayle Wilson, Annie Burrows and Margaret McPhee yet. Although we planned the series closely together it will be fascinating to see how six voices carry the overarching story through the eight individual novels. They are out June 2010-January 2011 and the UK edition has additional research articles as well.

Louise Allen
The Lord & The Proper Lady. Vol. 1 of Regency Silk & Scandal (Harlequin Mills & Boon June 2010)
From Practical Widow to Passionate Mistress. Vol 1 of The Transformation of the Shelley Sisters (Harlequin Mills & Boon June 2010)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Christine Stovell Talks Of Turning Points and Chocolate

Debut novelist Christine Stovell talks about the moment when she stopped letting others things get in the way of her writing and the importance of chocolate in her life...

Holding a copy of my debut novel, Turning the Tide, for the first time was a thrilling moment. The result of lots of hard work, not just from me, but from everyone who helped to make my dream a reality. My book’s release was also tinged with a little sadness as it coincided with the fifth anniversary of my dad’s death. Maybe, if I’d taken myself seriously as a writer sooner, he might have seen a copy. As it was, it took the loss of someone who was so full of life to make me realise that time does run out.

I’d always written, but somehow The Novel never quite made it to the top of the list. Oh, I’d tried and failed to write a Mills & Boon, joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association and even got as far as attracting an agent in some early chapters of a novel I was working on, but I kept letting other things get in the way. Dad’s death made me reassess my priorities. I completed a novel that I’d thoroughly enjoyed writing then sent it to Hilary Johnson’s Authors’ Advisory Service for a professional appraisal and was delighted when Hilary liked it too.

After two very near misses, I had a Mystic Meg moment when I read in the book press about Sue Moorcroft being signed to Choc Lit. You see, it was winning a tin of chocolate at primary school in a national essay that started it all for me! It wasn’t just Choc Lit’s name that attracted me; I also really enjoy writing from my hero’s point of view so I felt that my novel would be a good fit for a publisher ‘where heroes are like chocolate – irresistible!’ Luckily Lyn Vernham, Choc Lit’s Marketing Director and the team at Choc Lit agreed.

Turning the Tide is based in a sleepy seaside town on the east coast. It’s the story of one woman’s quest to keep her father’s boatyard afloat and the town she loves unchanged. When a handsome property developer arrives with ambitious plans for the area and quickly gains local support, it looks as if thing can only go one way, but there are plenty of surprises ahead.

Choc Lit have wrapped my story up in the most gorgeous cover, but there’s one person who will never see it... if you’re reading this because you want to write a novel, take my advice – just do it!

Friday, June 4, 2010


Linda Gillard talks about being short listed for awards...

In conjunction with the RNA, Woman’s Weekly has just published their list of thirty of the best romantic novels published in the last 50 years, inviting readers to vote for their favourite. My third novel, STAR GAZING is on that list and I’m rubbing shoulders with my literary idols – Mary Stewart, Georgette Heyer and Dorothy Dunnett. Gosh.
I’m thrilled to bits, of course, but if I’m honest, my excitement is tempered with a sense of déja vu. You see, two of my three novels (EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY and STAR GAZING) have already been short-listed for five awards, none of which I won.

But surely just being long- or short-listed is wonderful? Well, as my friend Adèle Geras said, “Being on a shortlist is a thousand times better than not being on a shortlist”, but it can be something of a mixed blessing.

Book awards present wonderful PR opportunities that won’t necessarily be grasped by your publisher, so if you exploit its potential, a short-listing can make drastic inroads into your writing time. If you’re lucky enough to be short-listed alongside a famous author (in my case Cecelia Ahern for Romantic Novel of the Year in 2009) you’ll find publicity generates itself. It’s tougher if the short-list includes no big names. STAR GAZING was short-listed for the UK’s first environmental book award, presented at the Edinburgh Book Festival, but as the short-list was a celeb-free zone, there was no press coverage at all.

Being short-listed for awards may not boost your sales significantly. There’s usually only a few weeks between the short-listing and the announcement of the winner and it’s difficult to organise author events at such short notice. To maximise the benefits of being short-listed you need to be internet-savvy and publicise your book using Facebook, Twitter and blogs.

Personally, I wish the whole process stopped (with a huge party) at the short-list stage. Award ceremonies are stressful and if you lose, your “failure” is very public. It doesn’t matter how many people say it was a wonderful achievement to be short-listed, when they read out someone else’s name, you feel like a loser.

Paradoxically, I found the accolade of STAR GAZING being short-listed twice in 2009 led to a big loss of self-confidence and in the tired and disappointed aftermath of the award circus, I got very little writing done. I lost focus. When you’re trying to immerse yourself in the fragile world of a new book, it’s distracting to have to promote another, one that you maybe finished writing two years ago.

But the upside of being short-listed is making contact with a lot of people who are passionate about books, especially yours. You meet other authors, librarians, booksellers, readers and the indefatigable volunteers who organise the award. In cyberspace you befriend book bloggers who will follow your career and keep your books in the public eye long after a winner is announced.
Being short-listed for an award can be a time-consuming and emotional business, but ultimately I’ve found it rewarding – not in terms of sales, or my standing in the book world, but because it was exhilarating to have my work celebrated and acknowledged publicly as outstanding. And that’s what a short-listing means: your book stood out from the crowd. It still means that, even if you don’t win.

I’ll try to remember that the next time I lose.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Publications Coming out in June

Here' June's offerings from the members of the RNA...

10th June
Sophie Apperly's family has never taken her seriously. Fiercely academic, they see her more practical skills as frivolous whilst constantly taking advantage of her. So when her best friend Milly invites her over to New York, she jumps at the chance. It'll do her ungrateful family good to do without her for a while. What s more, she's on a quest America holds the key to solving her family's financial woes, even if they don't deserve her help.

From the moment Sophie hits the bright lights of Manhattan she's determined to enjoy every minute of her big adventure. So when an evening at an art gallery throws her into the path of Matilda, a spirited old lady who invites her to Connecticut for Thanksgiving, Sophie willingly accepts, much to the dismay of Matilda's grandson Luke. Undeniably attractive but infuriatingly arrogant, he is very protective of his grandmother and seems to doubt Sophie's motives for befriending her. No match for the formidable Matilda, he eventually admits defeat, but first he has a proposal to make. He'll help Sophie in her quest to save her family from financial ruin if she repays the favour. But just what does she have to do in return...?

Choc Lit
1 June
Revenge and love: it's a thin line... The writing's on the wall for Cleo and Gav. The bedroom wall, to be precise. And it says 'This marriage is over.' Wounded and furious, Cleo embarks on a night out with the girls, which turns into a glorious one night stand with... Justin, centrefold material and irrepressibly irresponsible. He loves a little wildness in a woman and he's in the right place at the right time to enjoy Cleo's. But it s Cleo who has to pick up the pieces of a marriage based on a lie and the lasting repercussions of that night. Torn between laid-back Justin and control freak Gav, she s a free spirit that life is trying to tie down. But the rewards are worth it!

Mills & Boon
4th June 2010
Disgraced, stripped of his title and lands, all Hugh Duclair has left is his pride. Will the beautiful Lady Aude, once a childhood playmate, win his heart as she risks everything to help clear his name?

Louise Allen PRACTICAL WIDOW TO PASSIONATE MISTRESS (First in The Transformation of the Shelley Sisters trilogy)
Mills & Boon
June 2010
Widowed and betrayed, Meg Shelley is stranded in France at the conclusion of the Peninsula War, her only hope of rescue the brooding and wounded Major Ross Brandon. Can they heal each other or is Meg on the road to further ruin?

Louise Allen THE LORD & THE WAYWARD LADY (Regency Silk & Scandal continuity no.1)
Mills & Boon, North America: Harlequin
June 2010
Murder, scandal, treachery - a vengeful spirit brings a 20-year old scandal to life. Marcus Carlow must chose between honour and passion to save both his family and the woman he loves. (First of 8 books by 6 authors)

Christine Stovell TURNING THE TIDE
Choc Lit
30 June 2010
Harry Watling has fought to keep her father's boat yard afloat, but now she has to fend off property developer Matthew Corrigan.

Harlequin Spice Briefs
Ist June 2010
Mrs Prudence Enderby gets more than she bargained for when her fantasy of being kidnapped and ravished by a masked brigand comes true!

Amanda Grange The Mammoth Book of Regency Romance
Constable and Robinson
June 24
Collection of Regency stories including Amanda Grange's story The Dashing Miss Langley. Miss Annabelle Langley is a dashing aunt, but has love really passed her by?

8 part serial in The People's Friend.
Two very different women arrive in town for the Cannes Film Festival.
Anna, with a past that is about to implode on her present life and Daisy, a young journalist at a crossroads in her life. By the end of the festival both women's lives will have changed irrevocably.

Charlie Cochrane LESSONS IN LOVE
Samhain Publishing
1st June 2010
He didn’t think he had a heart. Until he lost it.

Jo Beverley THE STOLEN BRIDE (Reissue.)
Penguin NAL
When Beth Hawley journeys to Lord Wraybourne's castle to help young Lady Sophie Kyle prepare for her wedding, she has to share her carriage with two unexpected travelers, the rakish Sir Marius Fletcher, who is stranded after his curricle overturns, and an unidentified elderly woman, found unconscious in a wrecked carriage.
As the date of Sophie's wedding draws near, Beth realizes some mysterious shadow from the past seems to haunt the bride and groom. The elderly woman, suffering from memory loss, may hold the key. Beth turns to Sir Marius for help, but her efforts are thwarted at every turn as she encounters a most unlikely villain-while her only ally seems to have his mind set more on romance than the danger at hand...

The Wild Rose Press26th May 2010
She has a shield...he has one too...and they’re both hiding secrets.
My Weekly Pocket Novel
Impoverished at the death of her parents, Emily is too proud to let the man she loves know of her change of circumstances. Flung upon the mercies of her malicious aunt, she is forced to work as a servant...but her dreams linger on. Will she ever regain her position in Society and her lost love?

Accent Xcite
1st June 2010
Lizzie's Icelandic holiday reveals dark, glacial landscapes and lots simmering beneath the surface of the Blue Lagoon which she visits with her best friend and Arni the talented Viking.

Linford Large Print Romance
A case of mistaken identity leads to love at first sight, but don't they say "marry in haste..."?