Sunday, July 31, 2011

August New Releases

Lynne Connolly
Ellora’s Cave
17th August 2011
$8.90 or $4.45, depending where you buy it. Ebook

Andros is a powerful shape-shifting dragon. Meeting Faye when they’re sharing the same air space is a bit of a shock they quickly overcome in a convenient hotel room. Together they must hunt down a mutual enemy, but to defeat him they have to come to terms with what they are.

Lindsay Townsend
August 9th 2011
Ebook $4.49

Answering a plea for help, Caro leaves a draining relationship and returns to Spain to be reunited with her half-sister Sancha. There, designing a garden for Don Silvino’s palace, she meets the charismatic Joe Spenser. He courts Caro and she is wildly attracted to him, but can she trust him?

Gillian Stewart writing as Gillian Villiers
D C Thomso
11 August 2011
£1.99, People’s Friend Pocket Novel

Choosing between life on a croft in northern Scotland or a sensible job in the city isn’t easy for Lally – or others.

Gillian Stewart writing as Gillian Villiers
ISBN – 978-1-4448-0771-4
F A Thorpe (Linford Romance Library)
August 2011

When Hope has to close her beloved shop, she reluctantly accepts her godmother's suggestion and returns to her family's roots in southern Scotland. Could this be the beginning of a new life?

Elizabeth Chadwick
ISBN 978 0 7515 4133 5
August 18th
£6.99 or less paperback.
Also available on Kindle and e-book formats
Winner of the RNA Historical Novel Prize 2011

A 13th century tale of passion, power and politics on the road to Magna Carta, featuring Mahelt, the vibrant eldest daughter of the great William Marshal, and her relationship with Hugh Bigod, heir to the earldom of Norfolk.

Jan Jones
AN ORDINARY GIFT: (four part serial)
Woman's Weekly (magazine)
Weekly instalments in shops from last week in July
Each issue 87p

Scholar Clare Somerset moves to the ancient cathedral town of Ely and immediately starts seeing - and hearing - things that don't exist.

Benita Brown writing as Clare Benedict
ISBN 0750534354
Magna Large Print

Love can be a dangerous game!
Before Bethany Lyall can follow her heart, she must conquer the demons from her past and face the dangers in the present. Of the three men in her life, only she can decide who is her friend, who her enemy and who would be her lover!

Shirley Wells
Carina Press
August 22, 2011
£4.29 ebook (audio also available)

Ten months ago, Samantha Hunt set off for work…and was never seen again.
Dylan Scott wants to believe the young woman's alive, but not everything is as it seems in sleepy Dawson's Clough. Who wanted to silence Sam, and why? The truth turns out to be worse than anyone expected…

Louise Allen
Mills & Boon
August 2011
Paperback £3.99. Kindle £2.65

Danger & desire trilogy 1. A merchantman sails from India with passengers whose lives will be shattered on the reefs of the Scillies. Lady Perdita Brooke makes light of scandal; her sharp wit finds a worthy opponent in Lord Alistair Lyndon until one night of terror reveals a devastating secret.
Read extract:

Louise Allen
Publisher Harlequin Mills & Boon
August 2011
Kindle (novella) £1.59

A companion to The Transformation of the Shelley Sisters trilogy. Just what was respectable enquiry agent Patrick Jago doing in one of London’s most notorious brothels? And what – aside from the obvious motive – makes him bid for the virtue of Laurel Vernon?
Read extract:

Louise Allen
978-0373296521 (North American edition. UK edition published 2010)
August 2011
$6.25; Kindle £2.65

The Transformation of the Shelley Sisters trilogy 1. Ruined and adrift in France at the end of the Peninsula war Meg’s only hope was to cast herself on the protection of scarred, bitter Ross Brandon. Can two wounded souls ever find peace – or even, love? “Addictive read.” Romantic Times
Read extract:

Freda Lightfoot
Severn House
£10.79 paperback
Kindle edition: £5.74

The story of Marguerite de Valois begun in Hostage Queen continues with devastating results. Gabrielle d’Estrées longs for a happy marriage, but is the love of a king enough to secure her the happiness and respectability she craves, and a crown for her son as the next dauphin of France?

Anna Jacobs
CHERRY TREE LANE (#1 in The Wiltshire Girls)
ISBN 978-0749009076
Allison & Busby
15 August, 2011
£7.99 Paperback

With her stepfather threatening her with a forced marriage, Mattie Willitt flees home in search of a better life. Her life is saved by Jacob, a widower who takes her in and nurses her back to health. The pair soon grow close but when Mattie's stepfather discovers her whereabouts, danger once again threatens.
Read an extract:

Anna Jacobs
ELM TREE ROAD (#2 of The Wiltshire Girls)
ISBN 978-0749009977
Allison and Busby
29 August, 2011
£19.99 Hardback

Nell and her two sisters flee from their bullying stepfather. Nell is pregnant to the man she loves, who has agreed to marry her. But losing his good job sours Cliff and the marriage is unhappy. Then tragedy strikes. Will Nell find true happiness or will danger from the past cast a dark shadow?
Read an extract:

Catherine Jones writing as Kate Lace
Arrow Books
4 August 2011
£5.99 Paperback

Vicky is seventeen and it's high time to be thinking of getting married and settling down. The trouble is, getting wed, isn't her only ambition.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Author Interview with Sheila Norton

I’m delighted to welcome Sheila Norton to the author interview hot seat today. Sheila lives near Chelmsford in Essex with her husband and elderly Burmese cat. She writes contemporary women’s fiction under her own name and her pen name, Olivia Ryan.

How did you get started?

Writing was always my hobby, but I got started as a ‘proper’ writer by entering a short story competition in the ‘Writer’s News’ magazine, back in 1993, and to my complete amazement won first prize! I thought it was a fluke but two years later, I won another one and went on to be their ‘Winner of Winners’ for that year. It didn’t go to my head but it did give me the confidence I’d been lacking, to submit a story to ‘Woman’s Weekly’. Again it must have been beginner’s luck because that very first one was accepted and I went on to have over a hundred short stories accepted by the various magazines, along with the inevitable hundreds of rejections, of course! I wasn’t that lucky!
The novels came later. Having a novel published was my ultimate dream but I still didn’t think I’d ever be able to achieve it, what with working full-time and having three teenagers at home. I made several attempts – some were rubbish and others just didn’t get finished. But when I had the idea for ‘The Trouble With Ally’ – a story about a woman who was just turning 50, who had loads of problems in her life but was funny and feisty and down to earth, the book almost wrote itself and I had a feeling it could be ‘the one’. It took 18 months of submissions and rejections before Piatkus accepted it in 2002 – whereupon I sat and cried!

Where is your favourite place to work?

I’ve always dreamed of working at a desk placed in the bay window of a house that sits high on a cliff overlooking the sea. No: it’s still just a dream! But when we moved to our present home, a small 1930s bungalow with two bay windows at the front, we made the second bedroom our study and yes, the desk does sit in the bay window although it overlooks nothing more exciting than the street outside! I share this desk, and computer, with my husband though – so if I want a long stretch of peaceful writing my favourite place is the little conservatory we had built on to the lounge at the back, where I sit in comfort working on my laptop, with the cat snoozing quietly beside me and a mug of tea (or glass of wine) close to hand. We have a lovely un-overlooked, south-west facing garden (all work done by hubby, thank God!) so the conservatory is a great little suntrap. In fact in midsummer it can get too hot – so there are times when I retreat even further, out onto the patio where I work under the shade of a big sun umbrella. Lovely!

Do you write every day? What is your work schedule?

The short answer is No. Although writing is, and always has been, my favourite thing, I also have other things in my life, and I want to retain a ‘rounded’ life where I can devote time to my family (we look after our little grandson one day every week, and as we’re expecting three more grand-babies this year, that could well be increased!), to my friends, and just to going out and doing other things when the mood takes me. I’m fortunate that I’m now retired from my day-job so there are some days when I write (or work on writing-related things) all day, other days when I do none at all, and probably the majority are those when I write for part of the day, fitting in other things too.
When I was at work, my writing had to be squeezed into evenings and weekends as well as all the other things life demanded. When I retired, I was sick of working to someone else’s schedule, having to start and finish when I was told, do certain tasks on Mondays and others on Tuesdays and so on. So I have no desire whatsoever to work to any self-imposed schedule. I write when I want to – which is pretty much whenever I’m not doing anything else!
Of course, I realise this might all change if I get a new contract and it demands more of my time. But as I wrote the first six of my novels while I was still at work, I don’t believe it could ever be harder than that!

Do you find time to have interests other than writing?

Yes. I like swimming, and try to go to the pool twice a week. Other days I make sure I have a walk. They’re the only two concessions I make to keeping fit, as I’m not interested in sport in the slightest and not at all competitive, so I exercise on my own.
I play the piano – in fact I used to teach it at one time, although nowadays I’m quite rusty and when I do play, it’s usually something very easy, as I want it to be relaxing rather than a challenge. I can manage a pretty mean nursery rhyme for the grandson, but it’s the most fun when he joins in (with fists and sometimes feet!).
I also like photography – I’m no good at it, I just use the ‘aim and fire’ technique, but I enjoy fiddling around with the pictures on the computer afterwards, and my latest interest is digital photo-books. I make one of every holiday or weekend away we have, and I’ve got a feeling there will be a few baby photo-books coming up soon!
And as far as finances allow, I do of course enjoy travel. With the husband on our own, or with friends – we love seeing different places while we’re still reasonably capable of movement!

What advice would you give a new writer?

I give this advice whenever I give a talk about writing: Write first and foremost because you enjoy it. There’s no point doing it for any other reason. You may or may not get published. You may or may not earn anything much from it. You may, but probably won’t, become ‘a celebrity’! Be yourself, write what comes naturally, don’t try too hard to be clever, and for God’s sake cultivate patience and never be rude or up-yourself when dealing with editors.

What draws you to your particular genre?

My overriding interest is people – how they think, why they do the things they do, how they cope when things go wrong. I like writing about flawed characters – my heroine Maddy in ‘The Travel Bug’ for instance, is a self-confessed ‘bad girl’ whose lifestyle might provoke disapproval until the layers of her personality are unfolded as the story progresses. Best of all, I love people’s conversations, and enjoy writing snappy and realistic dialogue between my characters. So – light contemporary fiction was my natural choice; and as I’ve personally never liked reading stories about impossibly beautiful heroines with high-flying careers spending all their time shopping in exclusive shops and bonking millionaires on film sets in extravagant locations, my books are about the kind of people I know, doing the kind of jobs I did and my friends do, with the kind of families and the kind of love lives most of us really have!

How do you promote your books?

I have websites for my own name and for my pseudonym (Olivia Ryan), I write a blog and I post any updates about my books or short stories on Facebook. For instance, my latest venture has been self-publishing my Sheila Norton novels on Amazon for Kindle so I’ve started letting everyone know that four of them are now available there. Each time I’ve had a new book published, I’ve contacted all the local papers, local radio stations, libraries and local bookshops (sadly there’s only one option remaining of those, now) and try to get a bit of publicity in the Essex area. I’ve found this usually works well; I’ve featured in local papers quite a bit and have been interviewed on local radio several times. When the last book was published I also sent out an e-mail newsletter to everyone who had ever contacted me to say they’d enjoyed any of the previous books, and I also sent that to all my friends, family, ex-colleagues and writing contacts (whether they wanted it or not!). I included a competition to win a copy of the new book by answering a question on the contact page of my website – that was very successful. Finally, I give talks at local libraries, to groups like U3A and WI and writing groups. Some of these pay fees, but the PR aspect of it is equally important and I’ve been surprised to find I quite enjoy doing it anyway!

Are you a specialist of one genre or do you have another identity?

Well, my novels are all contemporary women’s fiction, and all involve a heroine who’s sometimes middle-aged, sometimes young, but in every case facing the stuff life chucks at her – and with a bit of romance thrown in somewhere, usually at the end after the other bastards in her life have got their come-uppance! And they’re all written in the first person too. So I guess thus far I’ve been a specialist of one genre – although I do have two identities, Sheila Norton and Olivia Ryan. The pseudonym was suggested by my editor, to market the ‘Tales from’ series of books as a completely separate venture as she felt they were different from the previous books. Although they’re all quite light and humorous, most of my books do touch on some serious issues too, and this is particularly true in the ‘Tales from’ series.
I do wear another ‘hat’ for my short stories – which I still write as Sheila Norton – because that is in effect a different genre. Subject matter for ‘The People’s Friend’ stories, for instance, has to be completely different from the sort of things that happen in my books!

Tell us about your latest book, and how you got the idea for it.

My latest published book is ‘Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel’. It’s the final book of a series of three, so the idea was really conceived much earlier, at the time when the first book of the series, ‘Tales from a Hen Weekend’ was accepted for publication. The plan was for three books that are completely different stories, about completely different characters, but linked by the subject matter and the ‘confession’ element of the stories. They’re set around the themes of hen weekend, wedding, and honeymoon – three events that are fairly important in the liveswho of most women one way or another, whether it’s their own weddings, or those of their children, siblings, friends, etc.
For ‘Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel’, I decided to focus on three very different couples meet while honeymooning at the same hotel. I wanted a romantic setting where everything should have been perfect but needless to say, in the case of our three couples, for various reasons it turned out not to be! I hit on the island of Korcula in Croatia, where we’d had a holiday ourselves a couple of years earlier, so my own memories of the place made it easy to write about, leaving me free to concentrate most on what I enjoy best – the characters, their problems and interaction with each other. There are some difficulties and some sad past issues to be overcome by the newly-weds, which all come out in the course of their honeymoons. I find it really satisfying to work out how my characters will resolve the problems I give them!

Can you tell us something of your work in progress?

My work in progress is actually finished; that probably sounds a bit mad but it’s only finished up to the point where I’ve submitted it, and until or unless I’m lucky enough to be offered a contract for it, I’ll still be thinking of it as ‘in progress’. I’ve taken a huge gamble and stepped away from my usual genre, having had the last book I wrote rejected at every turn for much the same reason (overcrowded women’s fiction market). I’d had a suggestion from someone in publishing who I really respect, that I should try writing a historical saga – but I am absolutely not a historian (I have great admiration for those who are, but it’s horses for courses). And then I noticed all the current interest in the post-war years and 1950s, and thought – well, if the 1950s are now considered ‘history’, perhaps the 1960s are, too! After all, there’s ‘Mad Men’ on TV, and the ‘Made in Dagenham’ film, and lots of interest in the Beatles recently. I was a teenager in the mods & rockers and Beatlemania years of the 1960s so my own memories have made it reasonably easy for me to write a ‘sixties’ book – although it’s certainly taken more research than any of my contemporary novels did! I’m cautiously pleased with the result, which is a historical drama with an element of a mystery to it. But the jury’s still out, of course, as to whether it pleases an editor … Keep your fingers crossed for me!

Thank you Sheila for taking the time to talk to us. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for your 1960s book.

To find our more about Sheila and her writing go to her websites at and

Follow her blog at .

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Author Interview with Janet Woods

Award winning author, Janet Woods, was born in Dorset but now lives near Fremantle in Western Australia. She often returns to her Dorset roots as a setting for her historical novels. Janet won the Australian Romantic Book of the Year Award, for her novel, Daughter of Darkness.

Tell us how you sold your first book, and if you had any rejections before getting that exciting call?

Rejections? Yes, quite a few . . . and now I look back, well-deserved ones! I didn’t feel entirely rejected though, because short story publications kept me going. My first book was sold in 1991 through the RNA New Writers Scheme (then called the Netta Muskett Award) to Robert Hale’s Rainbow Romance line. Thread of Destiny was written under the pen name of Bryanna Fox. The novel was published in 1992. Shortly afterwards the line folded.

Where is your favourite place to work?

We have a house with open plan living areas. The only internal doors are on the four bedrooms. I turned one into my office and hideaway. I have a big desk I bought from a charity shop for £25 over twenty years ago, as well as a smaller desk, two bookcases, three cupboards and a filing cabinet. I’ve recently had one of the walls fitted out with shelves and a bench top, so have plenty of room for research books. However, I’m not very tidy and every empty space soon gets covered in books or papers. Now and again I file them. Usually it’s a case of out-of-sight-out-of-mind, because I can rarely find them again. My window looks over the patio and back garden, and the birds visit often, along with the occasional mouse. The shrikes enjoy them for dinner if they can catch them, and the smaller lizards. We also have a stumpy tailed lizard in the summer, about 18 inches long. We only see him now and again, when he comes out to sunbake or shed his skin, and he hibernates in the winter.

Do you have to juggle writing with the day job? What is your work schedule?

Outside of writing, I don’t have a day job. My husband is retired, and he does most of the cooking, shopping and housework. I usually start work early, about 4.30am. Including trips to the kitchen to make lashings of tea, by 7.30 I’ve read all my emails, answered reader mail, finished any group critiquing that needs doing, and have done a bit of research, or writing. I then get in half an hour on the treadmill, shower, have breakfast, and go back to work. Usually I have a snooze in front of the TV after lunch, and then back to the desk until 5pm. I don’t work in the evenings, because by that time my eyes and brain are too fatigued.

To plot or not to plot? Are you a planner or do you just dive in?

To stick to a preconceived plot is alien to me, but I don’t just dive in either. I hate it when I’m asked to provide a full story synopsis, because I know my characters will ignore it, and take the story where they want it to go. I like them to have the freedom to do that without restriction, though sometimes I’ll do a mini-plot or story progression of one or two chapters if I get stuck. Usually I’ll have a general story idea at the beginning, one that’s entirely fluid and depends on the characters, or a scene. If I come up with a good idea for a scene I’ll jot it down. But it won’t go in the book unless it’s meaningful to it, and feels just right. Something I learned from doing a course in script writing is to visualize a scene and expand on it.
For instance, last year I was flicking through a book about railway stations when a photograph caught my eye. It was a country station in early morning, with a train waiting to depart from a platform fashioned from wooden sleepers. Shrouded in mist, the rails disappeared into the near distance.
The scene appeared symbolic, like a train waiting to pick up passenger going to nowhere. It wasn’t long before I thought I heard the whistle blow. Next came the sound of running feet . . . a soldier trying to catch the train, which had just begun to leave the station. It could be taking him to his death. The carriage door opens. The soldier throws his kitbag in then scrambles after it. Inside, is the heroine. She’s flat on her back with the kitbag on top of her . . . oops!
And that was the only planning I needed for my now completed manuscript, Tall Poppies.

What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?

Keeping the timelines accurate. I have absolutely no sense of dates, times or direction, and I often get numbers back to front, and get into a real pickle with them.

How do you develop your characters? In historicals, how do you keep them in period yet sympathetic to readers?

This is very hard question to answer. I think there’s an element of intuition and instinct attached to the interplay between author and characters. Often I can see the characters in my mind, and I just know them, right from the beginning, as I did with the train scene. It’s as though I live inside their heads, think their thoughts and feel their emotions. Other times I’ll try and get to know them before I start, and they uncover themselves gradually. I like the interaction between them to be as authentic as I can make it.
Outside of the intuitive connection I’ll research slang words to give characters flavor of the era, but I don’t overdo it. I keep in mind that readers are of this time and books are often read on the run, now. Without being an expert, I do think the English language is supple enough for the sentence structure to be fashioned into several different and beautiful shapes with the same meaning.
There are many things that go towards sympathetic characterization, and that should start right at the beginning of the book and develop as you go. If the hero kicks a dog out of his path, the reader will immediately give him a black mark. Ditto to the heroine if she throws the cat out on a freezing night. Motivation should be firmly in place, and fully understood. Characters don’t have to be syrupy and nice all the time but they do need a reason for kicking the dog and throwing the cat out – one the readers can relate to.
Thoughts, deeds and body language are better off being kept consistent and positive. Emotions should be shown instead of told. Avoid self-pity, petulance and sarcasm. I don’t think people are all that different now to what they were last century. We just know more about ourselves, and should be able to use that to advantage in our writing.

What do you think an editor is looking for in a good novel?

I’ve never been an editor, but publishers are a business. I imagine editors would look for a great story with interesting characters, preferably presented in a professional manner – and one that would attract good sales and make a profit.

What advice would you give a new writer?

Only the old chestnut of persistence! Persistence! Persistence! Writing is hard work. Nobody can prepare you for the crushed dreams when you open a rejection. You really do have to grow a tough hide and roll with the punches, remain optimistic against all odds, and work to improve.

Do you enjoy research, and how do you set about it?

Yes, I do enjoy research, though it sometimes has a habit of taking me away from where I want to go. I try and observe the customs of setting and introduce the historical detail.
First I read a quick overview of the period and look up the timelines. I’ll read an autobiography if it relates to my book theme, and I can get hold of one. I especially like books written by local historians about their towns.
I also find postcards to be useful. I found one of roller-skaters on Bournemouth pier in 1900. It was a small, authentic detail of the time and place that I’d never have thought to use by myself.
I’ve emailed churches to find out the names of clerics who performed weddings in the period I’m writing. Some churches have historical societies and all have been helpful. First hand accounts on anything are excellent for research. Were there any wars or epidemics – domestic turmoil? All three can affect the mood of the book, or change the family structure.
I send off for maps of the period, and they often contain a wealth of information on businesses, position of public building. If there is a plague, epidemic, or surgery to be done, I research it, as related to its time, and try and keep it authentic. Generally, I don’t assume anything, since I have a bad memory. I have made the occasional mistake, like adding Big Ben’s clock face eleven years before it existed!

Tell us about your latest book, and how you got the idea for it.

I got the idea for LADY LIGHTFINGERS from an illustration in a book called London’s Pleasures, which was written by David Kerr Cameron. It was the scene of a rat fight. I dramatized it with my own text for the opening scene in the book. From there I expanded it, adding the heroine, a young pickpocket called Celia Laws. I also added a victim, a man who goes on to become the hero.
Later in the chapter, I introduce an old man, a reverend and reformer, who became Celia’s mentor. He features throughout the book. That’s his watch on the cover.
Those three are my principle characters. Most of my books are character layered in this manner, mostly because I use many characters, and it’s hard for readers to attach when they’re thrown into the story all at once.
Until I saw that illustration I had no idea what this book was going to be about. Once I’d written the first chapter it all clicked into place. Usually, before I start to write I like to have a title. I could find one that sat comfortably with this book. Towards the end, one of my critique group suggested Lady Lightfingers, which suited it perfectly.

Thank you, Janet, for sharing with us how you work. We wish you every luck with ‘Lady Lightfingers’.

To find out more about Janet and her work visit her website at or her blog at

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Interview with Jen Black

Recently retired from library management, Jen lives in Northumberland. She writes almost every day – sometimes contemporary ghost stories, but more often historical adventures. So tell us how you sold your first book, and if you had any rejections before getting that exciting call?

I had more rejections than I wanted from agents in this country, so I thought I’d follow Dorothy Dunnett’s example and try America. Because I baulked at paying postage on a paper ms across the Atlantic, I tried epublishers, and the first one accepted me. Perhaps this should have told me something, but I was so pleased I just went along for the ride. I learned a lot about editing, promotion and networking with Novelbooks, Inc and “met” my first authors there, including Lynne Connolly. My work was duly published and the same day, the publisher announced bankruptcy. Except that she didn’t exactly call it that, and she didn’t follow the rules about doing it. I learned a lot about how Americans handle themselves in tight spots over the next few months. I got my rights back for Banners of Alba, sold it again, and soon had another version of it available as both Print and ebook. It is still available today, along with the sequel: Dark Pool.

Where is your favourite place to work?
My study-bedroom, all my own! Peace and silence and the click of computer keys. Heaven.

To plot or not to plot? Are you a planner or do you just dive in?
A bit of both, I think. There needs to be some general idea that catches my interest, usually an interesting character, either with a problem or about to acquire a problem. My first book began because I was fascinated by Shakespeare’s mauling of MacBeth when history says Scotland enjoyed seventeen years of benign rule under him. It wasn’t long before I had a fantasy running through my head of a young man who saw his right to the throne disappearing unless he chose to fight for it. So then I threw him every complication I could and let him fight his way through it all, sometimes literally.

I like watching my characters interact with danger and with each other, so the theme was simple enough in Dark Pool and Far After Gold – girl in danger in Viking times, must be rescued against all difficulties, preferably by luscious hero. With Til the Day Go Down, I moved forward a few hundred years into the sixteenth century, and settled in the Tyne valley in 1543. I visited Aydon Castle, near Corbridge, and heard about Jock’s Leap – a wily Scot who evaded death by leaping over the gorge before he was pushed. It wasn’t hard to fit that story into the turbulent times of the area, but I didn’t realise when I began Harry’s story that when the book was finished it would be his friend Matho who would become the protagonist of the next three books.

Which authors have most influenced your work? And which do you choose to read for pleasure?
Dorothy Dunnett influenced me and I still read her books for pleasure along with C J Sansom, Sarah Dunant, Jude Morgan and Nora Roberts.

What is the hardest part of the writing process for you?
Knowing when to stop fiddling and tweaking, when something is done!

How do you develop your characters? In historicals, how do you keep them in period yet sympathetic to readers?
In Till the Day Go Down, I wanted a foil for Harry’s cheerful charm, and came up with Matho. By using deep third point of view, I can filter the events of the day through him, and let readers know how he feels about maybe having to kill someone, if he misses the ritual of mass, or how the Borderers feel about armies tramping through their crops and thieving their cattle and sheep as provisions. Matho’s real adventures begin in a book as yet unpublished, Treason, and there I’ve used several point of view characters in order to give a wider perspective on what is a complex political time.

What do you think an editor is looking for in a good novel?
First of all, a story they can sell that will make back what they spend on producing it, and hopefully a little more, possibly a lot more! I expect they want something new and different, something that will capture the imagination of the reading public, but find it hard to define exactly what that might be. They definitely don’t want the same old historical novel, unless it is written by a mega-star of the writing world and guaranteed successful sales to a faithful band of readers.

How do you relax? What interests do you have other than writing?
Gardening, for one. Walking in the glorious Northumberland countryside, taking photographs and putting them on my blog. Reading, when I can find something that interests me. Meeting like-minded friends for chats and meals. Skiing once or twice a year, spending part of the summer in France, and at the moment, acting as general apprentice-cum-dogsbody to all the DIY work going on chez Black.

What draws you to your particular genre? Are you a specialist or do you have another identity?
I love writing historical novels, but I have made one venture into contemporary with my book Shadows. For this story, it was a place that gave me the initial spark of an idea. We go to France in the summer, and stay in an old water mill belonging to friends. It is in a valley, in the middle of green fields and trees with not another house in view, and it is wonderfully relaxing. There’s nothing about the mill that is the least bit threatening, but I found myself writing a story about a young couple who stay there and discover ghosts. I’m too lazy to invent a whole world of shapeshifters and innocent vampires, but I love poking into old buildings, and the odd ghostly happening intrigues me, so I may do more of that kind in the future. Science fiction involves too much other world invention to draw me, though I adored the original Dragons of Pern series and used to be a Star Trek fan.

Do you enjoy writing sequels or series? If so, what is the special appeal for you?
Mostly it’s the idea of not letting go of characters I like. And it means their story can be told in far greater depth than would be possible with a single book. I’ve never been a great fan of the historical that covers an entire life in one volume. I’d much rather cover a few years in six volumes and then leave the characters to a hopefully happy ever after as Dorothy Dunnett did with her Lymond series.

How do you promote your books, and what tips can you offer other writers?
I’m still working this one out by trial and error as I go along. I’ve never been lucky enough to have a publisher willing and able to promote me, so it’s all about using blogs, yahoo groups, Facebook and Twitter and actually telling people that you have a book available. Recently I’ve discovered I can make trailers and readers might like to check this one out:

Is there a particular period of history that you enjoy writing about? Why is that?
The eleventh and sixteenth centuries are favourites of mine and I have set stories in both of them. They share a similar energy, the sense that a man of strength and integrity could go far. There is little written documentation for the far north of Scotland of the eleventh century and the appeal lies in the Viking connection, the poetic sagas, Beowulf, a court of harps and swords and stirring tales. Paganism was giving way to Christianity, and nationhood was but a dream in the minds of a few men. Scot and Angle, Pict and Viking had to learn to live together, and it took time.

The sixteenth century, on the other hand, has Scotland staring south at her enemy England, so much larger and stronger. Women stand strong, both as rulers and consorts, and offer a different look at life, and a different sort of story. Documentation is abundant for the England of Henry VIII, though dates are tricky, and one writer’s view often collides or contradicts with that of another. Religion is changing, and a man’s beliefs can kill him. So much room for drama!

Thank you for sharing your writing life with us Jen. To find out more about Jen Black visit her blog:
or join her on Facebook and Twitter.

Interviews on the RNA Blog are conducted by Freda Lightfoot and Kate Jackson. If you would like an interview, please contact me at:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

RNA Conference 2011: Talli Roland Summarises... In Shoes

After a frantic week editing, I couldn't wait to head to the wilds of Wales for a weekend full of food, wine and fun. Oh yes, and fantastic writing advice. My first conference last year in Greenwich was a blast, and I was super keen to get out of the house and drink. (Did I mention I'd been editing?) And if you're looking for drink, there's really no better place than a romantic novelists' convention. Compared to others there (you know who you are!), I'm a lightweight. I can only aspire to such imbibing greatness.

Many have already written fantastic conference posts and since, at heart, I'm basically a very shallow and materialistic individual, I thought I would summarise my conference experience in shoes.

Friday morning, I braved the rain and boarded a train from Paddington to Newport wearing the shoes above. Practical for training, and ideal for puddle-jumping. Although the sky cleared around Bristol, as I zipped under the Severn and emerged in Wales, the heavens opened yet again. No matter -- a nice lunch at a golf course with a friend (who twisted my arm to indulge in a large Pinot) and several failed attempts to convince the waiter to purchase a Kindle, and the weekend was off to a flying start.

Conference shoes must be high-heeled and ultimately quite uncomfortable, and these high heels certainly filled that role. After checking in and getting settled in my dorm, I scurried over to register, slightly anxious I wouldn't see anyone I knew.

I needn't have worried. Instantly I spotted people I recognised from Twitter, Facebook, the last conference... I'd forgotten how lovely and friendly everyone is. It was amazing to see so many friends again and meet people for the first time. I didn't even feel the pain in my feet! Copious amount of wine were downed that night at the bar and the chatter and laughing continued.

With my feet smarting from the night before, I was only too happy to don this pair of relatively low-heeled shoes for Saturday and Sunday. Despite my slight hangover and zombie-like appearance, Saturday passed in a blur of fantastic sessions and speakers. One of the things I love about the RNA is that no matter how successful and experienced authors are, they always take the time to interact with aspiring writers and those just starting out in their publishing career, like me.

Party time! Yes, the time had come to don my lovingly purchased turquoise frock, slide my feet into these killer shoes (in more ways than one) and drink as much wine as I could. It's safe to say a good time was had by all, except my liver, which is still in recovery. The Gala was fabulous and everyone scrubbed up very nicely. I was particularly chuffed to have a lovely late-night conversation with the fabulous and talented Miranda Dickinson and Ruth Saberton, despite the fact that I was practically swaying on my feet and almost slobbered all over them in my delight.

Sunday afternoon rolled around far too quickly and I hopped (well, stumbled) on board the train back to reality. A big shout-out to Jan Jones and Roger Sanderson for being organisers extraordinaire, and to all the ladies of the RNA for being so wonderful!

Talli Roland blogs here and tweets here. She is already training her liver for Penrith.

Monday, July 18, 2011

RNA Conference 2011- Peneolpe Overton Talks About The Fear Of It All


To tell you the truth, I was dreading the RNA Conference.  I know the reasons for this say a lot more about me than about it, but here goes anyway. 

1.      Everyone would know everyone else.  There would be loads of hugging, loads of kissing, laughing, gossiping, and I was going to be shifting around on the edge, trying to get a look in, feeling like a lemon.

2.      There would talk about shoes.  I’m not very good with shoes.  I mostly wear Birkenstocks.

3.      There would be a lot of successful writers there.  I like successful writers as a rule, but am also fed up with being the bridesmaid, never the blushing bride.

4.      I don’t really write Romantic Fiction.  I don’t even read it very often.  I’ve confessed this before and have been told that’s no problem, so long as human relationships are central.  I’m not sure I really believed this.  I thought they would favour their own.

5.      It was a whole weekend, and the Friday too.

6.      I was dreading it in a general, globilized, all-my-phobias-rising-up-to-meet-me-all-my-inhibitions-squashing-me-down kind of way.

This is what happened:

1.      I met several people whom I can genuinely now call friends; many others, whom I think will become friends by the next conference. There is an extraordinary lack of cliquishness to this group, an easy friendliness unique in my conference going experience.

2.      No one showed the slightest bit of interest in my shoes, thank goodness.

3.      There were a lot of successful writers, some of them exceedingly so, but another extraordinary thing.  As a professional group, they demonstrate a singular generosity, lack of ego, refusal to judge; only support, encouragement, sharing of ideas and advice, and an acknowledgement that it’s a hard nut to crack, but persistence pays.

4.      The only thing the delegates have in common is that they are writers, are serious about the job and are female (it just seems to work out that way).  Commercial, literary, chicklit, straight romance, comedy, family drama, historical, crime, historical crime comedy, bookgroup books, Mills & Boon, thriller, mystery, historical mystery, fantasy, fantasy comedy, young adult, historical fantasy young adult, you get the picture.  The first class workshops were applicable to all.

5.      It could have done with being spread over six days.  That way we wouldn’t have had to chose one of excellent workshops each session, but could have gone to them all.

6.      Phobias shlobias.  

Sunday, July 17, 2011

RNA Conference 2011 - Ruth Long Talks About Refilling The Cup

Alison Maynard, Talli Roland, Ruth Long
Yesterday I confessed to my Weight Watcher’s leader that this week wouldn’t be a very good one.
I hung my head and said “I was away at a writers’ conference in Wales” and she smiled, added the extra pounds to my record and asked “Are you a writer?”
A question which always makes me beam with joy.
“Yes. I was at the Romantic Novelists' Association Annual Conference.”
“Good,” she said. “You were refilling the cup.”
The long weekend away (starting with a fairly panicky discovery that the bus stop for the airport coach was no longer the bus stop for the airport coach, running up the road to suspected location of new bus stop, to have the bus driver say calmly “I would have stopped for you”, kindly without adding “mad panicking lady”... ahem...) was a chance to get away without being the person with the full time job who writes in the evening, and away from being wife and mother (much as I adore my family). It was time to be me without being responsible for anyone else at all. For many of us, I think, to have a few days where you can just be a writer, and spend that time in the company of other writers is beyond value.

On Friday morning, following the goodie-bag stuffing circuit, we visited the Roman Legion museum and if there are a large number of Roman Britain set novels next year, it’s not entirely my fault for instigating the trip – the ladies from Mira mentioned Romans too. We had a lovely lunch in the Priory during which the waiters told us (thanks to Kate Johnson’s fantastic t-shirt) that they were delighted to see what a Romantic Novelists looks like. We pointed out there were seven of us. They ran away. It rained and rained but we didn’t care.
There were so many lightbulb moments for me over the weekend I couldn’t hope to account for them all here.

The description workshop, the regency prints, the pitch/angle talk... But above all one of the great things about this conference is the social aspect. No, not just the wine. (Although there was wine). There was also the opportunity to support friends going into pitches, to chat about the voices-in-head phenomenon without people’s eyes glazing over while they reach for the phone to dial 999, and the opportunity to generally hang out and have fun.

There was as mentioned above more than one opportunity to drink wine, laugh a lot, and keep my sci-fi spurs by knowing about the Orgasmatron in Barbarella in the quiz. And to enjoy the bewildered and slightly terrified expression of every one of the male cyclists also staying at Caerleon campus as they walked into the bar and saw us all there. Bless them, they even tried turning up the volume on the TVs so they could hear. Aww...
Lisa Bodenham and Kate Johnson

A few people have mentioned the bar being closed before the gala dinner, but no one has touched on the sheer Night-of-the-Living-Dead-ness of it all when the security staff were back there, trying to turn on the TVs rather than open the bar and we all surged forwards en mass. One of my flatmates (she knows who she is) said “These heels are pretty sharp. I reckon I could batter my way through the metal shutters if necessary”
Ah, romance novelists. The newspapers really have no idea. J
So after a few “Oh my God, it’s 4am”‘s in the naughty kitchen, a hangover to rival any I’ve had before, and a four hour wait at an airport, what do I take away from the Conference this year?
The sure and certain knowledge that my cup of inspiration, friendship, celebration and the sheer joy of spending time with other writers is not only refilled, it’s positively brimming over.

R.F. Long always had a thing for fantasy, romance and ancient mysteries. The combination was bound to cause trouble. In university she studied English Literature, History of Religions and Celtic Civilisation, which just compounded the problem. She writes fantasy (The Scroll ThiefSongs of the Wolf) and paranormal romance (Soul Fire) or whatever else the voices tell her to.
Her dark contemporary YA fantasy The Treachery of Beautiful Things will be available from Dial Books for Young Readers in August 2012.
Her website is and she can be found on Twitter as @RFLong.
She works in a library of rare and unusual books. But they don’t talk to her that often. Or she’s learning to ignore them.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

RNA Conference 2011 - Lisa Bodenham - Was Suddenly Star-Struck


Meeting Jill at the book signing
Preparation for RNA Conference 2011

1.    Identify key outfits to dress-to-impress NB: special attention to shoes!
2.     Print out copies of ms for any *sends up a prayer* chance meetings with agents or publishers
3     Practise nonchalant reaction for chance meetings with idolised authors...
... Well, I guess two out of three wasn’t bad.

As a New Writers’ Scheme Member attending my first conference, I suppose I should be reporting back on all the interesting tips I gathered throughout the weekend and my understanding on where the publishing industry is heading in the next five years.  And don’t get me wrong; the sessions were invaluable.  But the highlight for me, as an unpublished yet determined writer, has to be the opportunity such an event offers for fledgling writers to interact and learn from successful, inspirational authors.  And believe me, there were lots of them!

When I was eight I wrote (see I was subconsciously learning my craft even then) to Jim’ll Fix It and asked him if he would fix it for me to take afternoon tea with Princess Diana.  Funnily enough I never heard back and as my aspirations to become a Princess waned I developed new role-models, mainly in the form of authors.  By eighteen I’d discovered Jill Mansell.  Her novels started off as a distraction from A-level revision and by the time I had my eldest son, five years later, I found myself reading her entire back catalogue to keep me awake on the breastfeeding nightshift.  In fact, Jill is really the main reason that I put pen to paper in the first place.  Well, that and an interfering mother-in-law culminating in a search to find a channel to vent my frustrations...

So you can imagine my utter delight and inner-child-fright when, on arrival at conference, I turned around in reception having collected my keys – and I’m sorry if you’ve already heard this; I did tend to dine out on this story ALL weekend – to come face to face with my writing inspiration only to find she’s recognising me (praise be for Twitter) and introducing herself. Gah!!!  And yes, I did flap my hands, raise my voice by an octave and get excited as my thirteen year old self would have been at meeting Mark Owen.  Nonchalance? *makes note to look up in dictionary*

At this point I should say a big thank you to Jill, who remained effortlessly calm – like this sort of thing happens to her all the time – and didn’t ask the security guard, stood to my left, to take me away. 

So my message to you, if you didn’t make it to conference this year and are looking for some writing inspiration, would be to definitely come next year.  Where else are you likely to see Katie Fforde two places in front of you in the dinner queue?  Ask Julie Cohen (my writing guru) tactical plot questions at the bar?  Spot Judy Astley in the row in front of you in a conference session?  And the best thing -  and I don’t care if this sounds clichéd – is that every single one of them was lovely and down-to-earth, and you never know, just the sort of supportive, published writer you might be yourself one day.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Interview with Sylvia Broady

Sylvia Broady says she has lived in the Beverley area of Yorkshire for the past 20 years, although she hails originally from Hull. She has family in Australia, and travelling is often on her agenda, which, together with her grandchildren, help to keep her young at heart. So tell us Sylvia, how did you get started?
I love writing. I joined a creative writing class and had short stories and a three-part serial broadcast on Radio Humberside, and short stories in anthologies and magazines. I attempted to write for M&B and at that time I didn’t realise the importance of a hand written rejection letter. Next were the near misses with family sagas. Then life got in the way: a demanding full-time job, children, pets, husband, and my parents. When I resurfaced again, I wrote and had published two novellas for D C Thomson’s My Weekly Story Collection. Then from my bottom drawer I resurrected one of my old sagas. After many drafts and rewrites it was accepted for publication. It all sounds very neat, but believe me it wasn’t. I have a fridge magnet on the side of my hard drive which reads: The road to success is always under construction. Along the way, I have had invaluable support from the RNA, from been short-listed for The Romance Prize 2006 and sponsored, by an anonymous member, to attend the 2006 Conference. Both these lovely events gave my self-confidence a much needed lift, coming at a very low and sad time in my life.

To plot or not to plot? How much of a planner are you?
I have to know the theme/s of my WIP before I start writing. I don’t know why, but writing my current novel I am already planning my next novel. So I usually start off with some notes, often just jottings on scraps of paper and in no particular order. I may just have the bare skeleton of a plot, with research, to begin. Then as I write, I make more detailed notes on what is happening in each chapter. I find this useful when revising and it helps to keep me focused.

Where is your favourite place to work?
When the family was at home, I wrote to the blare of the TV and just lost myself in my writing. My son was the first to leave home and I turned his room into a study, but I hated the silence, so back to the blare of the TV. Moving house, I now have a downstairs study and I am surrounded by books. I love it. I am a sky person and I often glance up from my computer to watch the clouds drift by and the changing moods, or if I crane my neck above my monitor, I can see my garden.

Which authors have most influenced your work?
The Bronte Sisters. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall in their life time. Howard Spring, the first book of his I read was “I Met a Lady”. I loved his detailed style of writing. But I also enjoy modern authors, many RNA authors. I belong to a reading circle and we read and discuss a book each month. So my reading and authors are quite diverse. Last month’s author was Jodi Piccoult and next month Kate Mosse. From most, I collect a sprinkling of knowledge, I hope.

How do you promote your books?
This I find is the most difficult part of the writing ethos. I just want to write. But in today’s publishing world, promoting ones writing is most important. For my first hard back book, I organised a book signing at my local WH Smith and contacted my publisher for promotion cards/leaflets. Then, with my daughter’s help, sent out invitations to everyone who I thought would be remotely interested in buying my book. The response was great, more than I dared hope for. At the eleventh hour, I rang the local newspaper. They sent a photography who had hot-footed it from a cold football pitch. Later I rang the press reporter and she interviewed me. The coverage was good, because people, who I hadn’t thought of approaching, had seen my photo and article and wanted to buy my book. I am on facebook and I have a blogsite, both of which, I know, need more attention.
(Picture from Beverley Guardian.)

Do you have interests other than writing?
I enjoy aqua-aerobics, pottering in my garden, reading, and I also listen to audio tapes. When not writing, I am a social person. I belong to various groups, go to the theatre, and enjoy classical music, pop concerts with my daughter, swimming with grandchildren. I travel often to see family in Australia. I am a volunteer member of Beverley Minster Welcome Team where I am privileged to meet some very interesting people from all walks of life and from many countries.

What advice would you give to a new writer?
If you love writing, you will succeed. So always remember that especially when the going gets tough. Joining the RNA gives invaluable support; the meetings and conferences are the chance to come together with other writers and also the opportunity to network, to meet agents and publishers. Local RNA Chapters are incredibly supportive. I belong to the Northern Chapter, a fantastic group of writers, which I believe was the first chapter north of London.

How do you set about your research?
I have shelves of books that I can refer to, and there is the internet. However, if possible, I like to interview people because it touches on the more personal aspect of research, and can add more depth to a character or scene. I am fortunate to be in easy distance of two excellent History/Treasure centres and I often spend whole days researching. This can be “dangerous” so I have to limit myself. I also have an interest in family history and local history. If I can, I walk the area which I am writing about and soak in the atmosphere, even though I am writing of a time long gone. This is where my imagination comes in. I see pictures in my mind of whole scenes. I wish I had a photographic mind set to record my imagines on to my computer.

Tell us about your latest book, and how you got the idea for it?
The idea evolved over a period of time. I have always been fascinated by twins. I am a Gemini so that might account for it. The Yearning Heart is set in 1940s/50s; it is the story of a young girl raped by her brother-in-law, and gives birth to twins. The sin is hers, so she is told. The twins are so cruelly wrenched from her, by her mother, and separated. Her road ahead is pitted and twisted. Finally, after years of yearning and determination, she is reunited with her twins. But not in the way she could have ever imagined.

Can you tell us something of your work in progress?
The idea for this novel came from an unpublished short story I wrote years ago, and a bombing incident in WW2, which my late husband told me about. He was an eye witness. Plus, in the course of researching my family history I discovered German ancestors. Put the three together and hopefully I have an explosion of minds and conflict, enough to sustain a full length novel? Already, the main characters are developing their own lives, though I am not too sure of the ending of the novel yet. That is one of the joys of creating, leaping into the unknown and surprising yourself, and readers.

You can catch up with Sylvia on FaceBook and her blogsite is:

Interviews on the RNA Blog are conducted by Freda Lightfoot and Kate Jackson. If you would like an interview, please contact me at:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

RNA Conference 2011 - Rachel Brimble Shares First Ever Pitch

My First Pitch

I arrived at Caerleon full of nerves and trepidation because I was scheduled for my first ever pitch or “chat” just half an hour after everything was due to kick off. As the time ticked by, I became more and more of a mess anticipating what Mira Books would ask me, whether they would like the sample chapter I had emailed beforehand or whether the editor, Anna Baggaley would have trouble hiding her amusement at my delusional hope that I could ever be under their consideration.

Just as I was planning my escape to my room with the intention of hiding away until my allocated time had passed, I was hunted down by the wonderful Janet Gover who promised via email a few days before she would sit with me for a little pep talk.

Janet was fantastic! She went over the tagline and pitch with me, told me to relax and enjoy it (I hid my complete disdain for this ever happening!) and most of all, just go for it.

Walking on shaking legs into the RNA reception area twenty minutes before my schedule time – I never like to be late for anything – I was apprehended by Jan Jones who full of organisational good intentions ushered me straight into to the pitch room as they were running ahead of schedule. Lord in heaven, I didn’t have time to think much breathe!

I walked in behind Anna Baggaley, jabbering on about my nerves and sweating palms and she was patience personified. With her welcoming smile and compliments about my writing, I soon relaxed and the next ten minutes passed in a blur of questions regarding plot, where I envisioned my book on the shelf and the possibility of a series.

The ‘time up’ bell rang and still I had no idea what was happening until Anna passed me her business card with her scribbled email address and said, “Send me the full whenever you’re ready.” Just like that!

Needless to say, more jabbering ensued as she escorted me out of the room (maybe she even considered escorting out of the entire building lest I track her down to thank her one more time) and before I knew it friends from all directions approached me asking how I got on.

If nothing else, the RNA conference is an amazing place to be when you have good news to share and the congratulations and ‘I told you so’s’ came in earnest and even now, five days on, I am yet to stop smiling.

So my advice? Go for it, go for it, go for it! I am so happy I didn’t run and hide in my room but took a deep breath and told someone about my story….

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Jude Roust Gives Us A First Timer's View of the RNA Conference 2011

I finally plucked up enough courage to attend my first RNA Annual Conference. Not knowing quite what to expect I was a bit nervous at first. Would anyone talk to me? Would I end up wandering around on my own like Jilly-No-Mates? But I needn't have worried; Anna did a great job looking after her newbies and everyone was so friendly.

The en-suite bedrooms were basic, but that didn't matter as most of our free time was spent in the kitchen, chatting over a glass (or two) of wine. In our flat we had no hot water, so the cold shower when I was expecting a hot one was a bit of a shock. However, a quick word to Jan Jones in the morning and that problem was soon fixed.

There was another far more serious problem that nearly caused a riot. RNA members 'all glammed up and ready to party' turned up at the bar for pre-Gala Dinner drinks only to find it closed. At first I don't think I fully understood the severity of the situation, but having seen how much wine RNA people are capable of consuming, I now realise just how serious this was. Thankfully, yet again Jan came to the rescue - the bar was opened and order was restored. Phew!

The Gala Dinner was fabulous and it was lovely to have the opportunity to dress up. The food all weekend was so good I've probably put on half a stone!

I came away from my first conference with my head buzzing and a notebook full of useful information from all the brilliant talks that took place over the weekend. I made lots of new friends and caught up with some old ones. For anyone else unsure of whether to brave their first RNA conference, I say seize the opportunity and go. You won't regret it.