Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from Mary Nichols

One Christmas, when my children were still living at home which was some time ago now, I couldn't find the fairy to put on the top of the tree. Instead I fixed a card to it which read: Situation vacant: Christmas tree fairy. Duties: to guard the tree and the presents under it and to grant wishes wherever possible. Hours of work; 24 hours a day for fourteen days a year. Remuneration: Smiles.
It did produce smiles and was a talking point for everyone who came to our home that Christmas. The following year I received, through the post from my sister, a rather smart fairy, dressed all in gold, with a note to the effect that she would like to apply for the vacant post. She topped our tree every subsequent year until the children left home and we no longer had a big tree. But I still bring her out at Christmas and sit her on the bookcase to remind me of Christmas past. 

Mary's latest book…
Summer, 1939. The de Lacey family of Nayton Manor believe they are ready for the changes the war will bring. Elizabeth, the eldest daughter, is due to return home from her grandparents' farm in France and is expected to marry the dashing Captain Max Coburn. But when Grandpere suffers a stroke while driving Elizabeth to the station, her future is changed. Instead of returning home to Norfolk, Elizabeth chooses to stay and help her grandparents. Max is also stationed in France - but will this help their courtship, or will the war threaten to separate them for ever? Meanwhile, in the village of Nayton, Lucy Storey dutifully cares for her father the stationmaster, running their home in the little cottage by the railway. Her long hard days are brightened by meetings with the handsome Jack de Lacey, who brings a brief escape from her daily routine. As their friendship grows, can they overcome the class prejudices set in their way, or will the jealous signalman Frank Lambert succeed in destroying their romance? For all at Nayton, war becomes a time of risk and danger, of secrets and betrayal, and of finding love in the most unexpected places.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Year of Living Dangerously

Margaret K Johnson was born in Hertfordshire, England. She was first published by Women’s Weekly and Robert Hale before going on to write many readers for people learning to speak English. These are in various genres, including romance. Earlier this year she self-published what she describes as a roller-coaster women’s fiction romance novel – The Goddess Workshop – about 4 very different women in search of sexual fulfilment. Last month this was followed by The Dare Club. As well as fiction, Margaret has written plays and screen plays. Her comedy Goddess was performed at Cambridge Drama Centre to rave reviews. Margaret has an MA in Creative Writing (Scriptwriting) from the University of East Anglia.

2013 has been a year of living dangerously for me. Well, if not living dangerously exactly, then a year of challenging myself.

It all started last November, when I began writing my novel The Dare Club, which I’ve just published. The Dare Club is about a group of four very different people who meet on a course for the newly divorced and separated. At first they don’t all get on, but as the group begins to gel, they decide to challenge each other to do scary things as part of their recovery process. But things don’t turn out as they expect them to as life – and love – get in the way.

It was easy for me to use my imagination to write about some of the activities of the dare club – gate-crashing a stranger’s party, for example. But other things needed to be researched – and not just by using Google. They had to feel authentic, and for that, I needed to experience them myself.

First off was the Tree Top Challenge at Go Ape in Thetford Forest. For those of you who don’t know, this is a kind of assault course undertaken several metres off the ground. It’s absolutely the type of thing I wouldn’t normally dream of doing. Why would I? I was a wimp at PE at school, I’m not in the habit of going to the gym, and what’s more, I’m very happy on the ground, thank you very much! However, my characters had decided this would be an excellent challenge for them, and I knew it would be an effective way to show not only their individual characters, but also the relationships between them all. So, Go Ape it was.

My highlights of the day included: walking from one moving piece of wood to another piece of moving wood, twenty times over high up in the sky. Dragging inelegantly along on my behind through wood chippings, at the end of the longest zip wire in the history of zip wires. Leaping from a platform towards a Tarzan net and plummeting towards what felt like my certain death. Oh, and then discovering that it actually took a great deal of upper body strength to climb up the net to the next platform – strength I wasn’t 100% sure I had… All ridiculous activities for non-sporty, skinny me. But after I’d finished the course, and hadn’t chickened out at anything, I felt AMAZING. So, thank you, The Dare Club characters – I would never have tried it without you.

Another thing I probably would never have tried without them was stand-up comedy. Colette, one of my characters, was determined to give it a go, so I had to as well. Like her, I did a weekend stand-up comedy course in London, and like her, I returned later to give a three-minute performance at the Up The Creek Comedy Club in Greenwich. It was very scary, but fantastic! People actually laughed, and in the right way too. Did it go as well for Colette? Ah, that would be telling…

By now I had developed a taste for doing scary things, so recently I volunteered to be a model in a charity fashion show. The event was a sell-out, with hundreds of women eager for a taste of the clothes they might want to buy. With our hair and make-up done and our outfits chosen for us by Sarah Morgan, the image consultant organiser, we took it in turns to launch ourselves out into the crowd. Walk, smile, count to seven; don’t forget the people in the gallery. More smiles; walk again, repeat three times. I didn’t fall over, my smile wasn’t too wobbly, and I was introduced as Margaret K Johnson, a famous writer. OK, that was a bit of an exaggeration, but I could hardly cry out, “Sarah, you’re exaggerating!” could I? I was busy modelling.

So, what’s next? Well, later this month, a friend and I are going to give Norwich Speaker’s Club a try… Oooh, help!

The Dare Club is out now on Amazon.

Margaret’s previous novel, The Goddess Workshop is available from Amazon

Link to see me performing at Up the Creek Comedy Club in Greenwich (but better put a warning that the clip includes some swearing so might not be to everyone’s taste): 

Facebook Page: Margaret K Johnson Author 
Twitter: @margaretkaj 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Five Tips for Writing a Sequel - by Victoria Lamb

Today, we welcome Victoria Lamb to the blog.

Victoria  has written two historical trilogies for Penguin Random House, one for adults and one for Young Adults. Here she talks about writing a sequel and shares some ponderings on the process.

1. Where To Start
Choosing the point at which you need to pick up your story again in a sequel is a delicate process. It’s best to end each book in a series in a well-rounded way, not on a cliffhanger – though some authors would disagree – so picking up exactly where you left off may not be an option. Consider these questions: does this opening work for someone who did not read the previous book, and does it contain the seeds of the story ahead?

2. Back-story
If your first few pages are a summary of the plot so far, you will bore everyone, including yourself. Drip-feed information only when required, preferably through dialogue, but especially whenever a new character enters the scene. Never assume the reader has read or remembers your previous books. But keep references to back-story very light, more stage asides than whole paragraphs, and introduce them into the narrative as organically as possible. Don’t let them clunk about, knocking the furniture over. Don’t use flashbacks to reveal back-story. Ever.

3. Character Development and Continuity
If your main characters have not changed since the start of the series, you need to ask why. Since character development is best revealed through action, have them do something they did in a previous book, but show them experimenting and learning. Keep developments logical and consistent. Early on, briefly touch base with characteristics/plot points familiar from the last book. This allows readers to relax and remember how much they enjoyed your previous story.

4. Plot development and continuity
There are two story arcs in a series. First, your overall arc, which may contain several threads. For my Lucy Morgan trilogy, one of these is: ‘Will Queen Elizabeth I survive all these assassination attempts and keep her throne?’ (Spoiler: yes.) The other is each book’s individual story arc. This should reach a satisfactory conclusion in each book. It can carry on to the next, especially if it’s a major sub-plot providing continuity, but it should be seen in a new light in your sequel. Same romance, new circumstances. 

5. Middle and End Books
Middle books suffer from not really having a beginning or an end. But this can make them great! There’s no rush to draw story threads together, so concentrate instead on character development and narrative voice. Conclude your story arc, but leave the ending tantalisingly open to seduce the reader into returning. For end books, hit the ground running and beware of having too many endings as each sub-plot concludes. There never feels like enough time in the book of a series. So make the most of each chapter.

 Victoria Lamb with Book One, The Queen's Secret

His Dark Lady is out in paperback now, the middle book of the Lucy Morgan, Shakespeare’s Mistress trilogy, a novel of romance and intrigue set at the court of Queen Elizabeth I. (Book One was The Queen’s Secret.)

Book Two, his Dark Lady, out now

Follow Victoria on Twitter:       @VictoriaLamb1

Thank you such an informative, interesting article, Victoria. We wish you every success with His Dark Lady, and with all your books.

Interviews on the RNA Blog are carried out by Elaine, Henri and Livvie. They are for RNA members only. If you are interested in an interview, please contact:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

From self-publication to finding a publisher - with Anna Bell

Anna lives in the French Pyrennees with her husband, new baby boy and lively labrador.

It’s hard as an author to know what book to write. We’re always looking to write something that we believe in, that we think is the best we can write, but we often have to be mindful about writing a commercially viable novel too. Before I got my publishing deal with ‘Don’t Tell the Groom’ I self-published two novels and it’s been interesting doing as Alan Sugar says ‘smell what sells.’

My first novel I published, Millie and the American Wedding, sold itself. I did very little marketing, and it ended up in getting high up the Kindle charts (just shy of the top 100) and I sold over 25,000 copies in its first year. I thought naively that was how ebooks worked, but after publishing my second novel, Universally Challenged, I realised when it didn’t sell as well that that wasn’t always the case.

I had subbed my now agent that novel, and when we spoke about it a year later she told me she’d not been interested in it as it was a mixture of genres and it contained elements of fantasy that made it a hard sell. I also was talking to a reader about my two self-published books and she reminded me that everyone loves a good wedding. When you think about it, it’s true, people do love weddings. From the two titles, you know instantly what you are going to get with the Millie book.

Which meant that when I was trying to work out what the next book I self-published would be - I chose Don’t Tell the Groom. Not only was it about weddings, but it had an interesting hook to it containing a darker side of internet gambling addiction and it is based on the idea of planning the wedding ‘Don’t Tell the Bride’ style. It has, what I think is clear elevator pitch: It’s a story about a bride-to-be that gambles away her wedding fund playing internet bingo who then has to plan the wedding on a shoestring wedding without telling the groom. In short, it’s easy to translate what the book is about and makes it more marketable.

I absolutely loved writing Don’t Tell the Groom and I’m sure I’d have written it if it wasn’t marketable and commercially viable - but that helped to secure me an agent and a publishing deal for a series of books based around the same characters. Whilst it perhaps shouldn’t be an author’s main consideration when starting a new book, it can’t hurt to have it in the back of their mind.

‘Don’t Tell the Groom’ is the first in the ‘Don’t Tell’ series of novels published by Quercus, and is out now.
twitter: @annabell_writes

Thank you for sparing time to talk to us today, Anna. We wish you continuing success with your books.
Best wishes, Henri

Interviews on the RNA Blog are carried out by Elaine, Henri and Livvie. They are for RNA members only. If you are interested in an interview, please contact:

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Joys Of Research

Zanna Mackenzie lives in the UK with her husband, four dogs, a vegetable patch that’s home to far too many weeds and an ever expanding library of books waiting to be read. Being a freelance writer and editor of business publications is her ‘day job’ but, at every opportunity, she can be found scribbling down notes on scenes for whatever novel she’s working on. She loves it when the characters in her novels take on minds of their own and start deviating from the original plot!

As an author, one of the many things I love about creating a new book is doing the research. Plus it gives me an excuse to buy a pretty new notebook or folder in which to keep all my research scribbles and ideas.

One of the first things I get excited about investigating for a book is a potential location and setting. So far my novels have all been based in areas I have visited and fallen in love with – the Lake District, North Yorkshire, Peak District and the Scottish Highlands. Though the areas are real, the actual towns and villages mentioned in the books are fictitious but based on actual places so, with the help of photos from my visits, the internet, tourist guide books and TV programmes, I have great fun creating and naming my locations.

Next up are the characters. I have on my shelf two brilliant research books about zodiac signs which were written specifically as guides for writers to use when it comes to character development. I adore these books. I always have some ideas in mind for the type of person a character will be and what their main issues are but then I use the books to see what star signs fit the bill and to flesh out their personalities, strengths and weakness, motivations, mannerisms and much more.

The next thing to be investigated is the theme of the book. One of my novels, The Love Programme, was set on a private country estate in Scotland so I dug out photos from when I visited just such an estate a few years back; I watched lots of episodes of the wonderful BBC TV programme Monarch of the Glen and learnt all about Lairds and the Gaelic language. How Do You Spell Love? - one of my other books - had a magical element to it with the character Summer being a modern white witch, practising her craft to help others.

In the book Summer uses herbs, crystals, essential oils and folklore to create her spells in a shed on her allotments. As I’m a qualified (but no longer practicing) therapist in crystal healing, herbalism and clinical aromatherapy I had a knowledge of these disciplines in wellbeing terms but not when it came to magic, so I hit the internet and books again and had a thoroughly enjoyable time inventing combinations of stones, oils and plants for, amongst other things, lunar love spells!

Since that book I have plotted and written others with themes as varied as hotel management in Norfolk to extreme sports activities in the Peak District - before you ask, no I wasn’t tempted to try climbing or abseiling, I don’t have a good head for heights… well, that’s my excuse anyway.

For another work in progress a character had to investigate her family history to try to solve a mystery about some letters she was sent – the perfect excuse I thought to investigate my own family history. I’d long fancied the idea of doing a spot of family history research and I found it fascinating and hugely enjoyable. I had to somewhat reluctantly admit defeat though on one aspect of my husband’s family tree, when even sending off for a full and original birth certificate for his great grandfather didn’t reveal who the man in questions father was, as those particular details had been left blank– that one will forever remain a mystery!

At this point I feel it is my duty to issue a warning – if you’re tempted to give researching your family history a go then beware because it is seriously addictive! I found myself saying ‘just ten more minutes’ on the family history website on many an occasion, sometimes when it was close to midnight, and my husband ended up having to turn the computer off otherwise I might have been there all night…

Special Offer:
If you fancy learning about lunar love spells and why Summer needed to use one for herself, then my book How Do You Spell Love? will be on ebook sale between Dec 7th and Dec 14th and you can grab a copy for just 77p on Amazon:  

Zanna has written two published novels, The Love Programme (Astraea Press) and How Do You Spell Love? (Crooked Cat Publishing) and both were published in early 2013. 
Her next book If You Only Knew is being released on Feb 7th 2014. 

Find out more: 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Interview with Ann Lethbridge

Today we welcome Ann Lethbridge to the Blog. Ann calls herself a British army brat. She is also an award winning author who likes to be footloose and fancy free. She lives in Canada with her husband and daughters, but still returns regularly to the Britain she travelled from end to end growing up. 

Do tell us Ann, what made you want to write and how you got your first break? 

Involved in negotiations off-site during a labour dispute and the guys I worked with were into sports and politics. Boring! I could have read a book, but for some reason unknown to me, the idea that it might be more interesting to write one popped in to my head. So I did. Once I had a few manuscripts finished I entered one in the Romantic Times/ Dorchester American Title in 2006. Talk about jumping into the deep end. I learned a lot about promotion, and reviews and being out there in a big hurry. I didn’t win but the book, No Regrets, was bought by Sourcebooks and won an award for Foreward Magazine. I then sold to Harlequin Historicals and have almost twenty books out with them.

Which author has most influenced your work?

I would have to say Georgette Heyer. My Dad introduced me to her books when I was a teen. We used to fight over who would read them first. I love her world building and her language. While I have my own voice and write a much more sensual book, I still like to read her books on a regular basis.

Which particular period of history do you most like to write about and why?

All my books have been set in the Georgian era so far, mostly the long Regency. It is what I like to read. Though I do like to read other periods of history as well as contemporaries and paranormals. I think it is the glitz and the glamour that draws me to the long Regency. It is also accessible to the modern reader, being on the very cusp of the modern age in terms of art, architecture and science.

What was your worst subject at school?

Math. Numbers and me don’t have a smoochy relationship.

If you could have the best seats to any concert, what would you choose?

I would love to go to the last night of the proms. I think it looks like fun. And all that singing!

Which temptation do you find the hardest to resist?

Chocolate. We definitely do have a smoochy relationship.

Disgraced lady Charity West lives in the dark world of the city's seedy underbelly. While yearning for freedom, her distrust of men runs deep... until she meets Highland rogue Logan Gilvry. A whisky runner, Logan lives outside the law. Charity may just prove to be his most dangerous challenge yet. Her beauty is unrivaled, but it's her fire that lures Logan. He'll do anything to save Charity and even face her inevitable betrayal... 

Find out more: 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Interview with Alison May

Today, we welcome Alison May to the blog.

Alison grew up in North Yorkshire, and now lives in  Worcester. She worked as a waitress, a shop assistant, a learning adviser, an Advice Centre manager, a freelance trainer, and now a maker-upper of stories.  She won the RNA's Elizabeth Goudge trophy in 2012, and her winning story will be published in the RNA/Harlequin anthology Truly, Madly, Deeply in 2014.
She writes contemporary romantic comedies.  

Alison's debut novel Much Ado About Sweet Nothing is published by Chocl Lit Lite

What (or who :) ) would you most like to find in your Christmas stocking?
 What I really want for Christmas is a new computer. The one I’m writing on now is antique. It has a little man who has to shovel coal into its boiler to make the steam to make it go And the little man is tired, so very very tired. It’s probably time he retired to the countryside and concentrated on growing the perfect begonia. So, for the sake of the little man, a shiny new laptop please!

Who is your favourite hero? Your own, or another - or maybe both.
 This is tricky. I’ve never really been a fan of the traditional tall, dark, handsome brooding hero with an air of arrogance and a certain cruelty in his gaze. That doesn’t mean I’m rejecting all the classic romantic heroes. I retain a sneaking fondness for Captain Wentworth, but generally I prefer a clever, possibly slightly nerdy, man. David Tennant or Matt Smith as The Doctor or, of course, Ben Messina, the mathematician hero in Much Ado About Sweet Nothing, would all do very nicely indeed.

What did you love most about your childhood?
 I actually had a very nice and uneventful childhood with much to love about it. The thing I miss most, as an adult, is living by the sea. I grew up in Scarborough on the North Yorkshire coast, a town right on the edge of the cliff. Indeed some bits that were on top of the cliff when I was a child, have now fallen off the edge. I miss the unending open space of the sea being right on my doorstep, especially on slightly grey days when the sea and the sky would merge together into a massive great expanse of vastness.

Fictional characters have flaws. Do you have a flaw you'd like to be rid of?
No! I’m completely perfect in all my thoughts and deeds. So maybe, arrogance?

Do you have any phobias or superstitions?
I’m not superstitious. In fact I walk under ladders, invite black cats across my path, put shoes on tables etc. specifically to wind up superstitious friends. I do have on phobia though, and it’s a really awkward one that interferes with life. I’m terrified of driving. I passed my driving test about five years ago, but even now the idea of getting in a car on my own and driving, properly freaks me out. It’s something I very firmly intend to get over, and that is going to be my main New Year’s Resolution for 2014, just like is was in 2013, and 2012…

If aliens landed, which book would you recommend they read first. (Again, one of yours, and maybe one of your own).
 Well, Much Ado About Sweet Nothing, obviously. And then after that, The House at Pooh Corner, which includes the story in which pooh-sticks is invented. I feel that any alien wishing to assimilate into human society should first learn how to play pooh-sticks.

Is something always better than nothing?

Ben Messina is a maths genius and romance sceptic.  He met Trix at university and they have been quarrelling and quibbling ever since, not least because of Ben’s decision to abandon their relationship in favour of … more maths. Can Trix forget past hurt, or is their long history in danger of ending in nothing?

This is a fresh, funny, modern-day retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Twitter: @MsAlisonMay

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Alison.  We wish you every success with Much Ado about Sweet Nothing, and with all your future books.

Interviews on the RNA Blog are currently carried out by Freda, Henri, and Liv. They are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Interview with Katherine Garbera

USA Today bestselling author Katherine Garbera is a two-time Maggie winner who has written more than 60 books. A Florida native who grew up to travel the globe, Katherine now makes her home in the Midlands of the UK with her husband, two children and a very spoiled miniature dachshund. 

1. Describe your journey as a writer. How did it begin?
I started writing when I was 23 right after the birth of my daughter. I had started a lot of things prior to her birth and decided that from her birth forward I would finish everything I started. I wrote my first manuscript in less than six months and found the Romance Writers of America. I joined them and started learning more about the craft of writing. Three years later I sold my first book to Silhouette Desire.

2. Which craft tip has helped you the most?
Storytelling isn’t every thing that happens, it’s every IMPORTANT thing that happens.

3. What do you enjoy most about being a writer, and the least?
I love writing every day just sitting down at my keyboard and getting into the meat of my story with my characters. I also love meeting readers and other writers and talking about books. The thing I like the least is promotion. :)

4. What do you look for in a hero?
In a fictional hero I’m looking for someone who is confident, sexy and just a little bit stubborn. He needs to be able to admit he’s wrong when he knows it but still has to always appear like a hero.

5. If you could reincarnate yourself as some other author, who would it be?
No one. I mean there are other careers that admire and writers who’s style I adore, but I haven’t walked their path and I love my life so I’m happy where I am. :)

6. Apart from writing, which of your accomplishments are you most proud of?
My kids. I’m also proud of the fact I have followed my dreams of leaving my small town and seeing what the world had to offer. It’s been scary at times both parenting and leaving home, but I have found a strength in myself that I didn’t know I had.

Annie Prudhomme never expected to be back in Marietta, MT and her family is fond of reminding her that she left them and the town behind in search of better things. A humiliating divorce that cost her everything she’d gained has driven her back home and her family isn’t about to welcome her back into the fold. She’s in town to rebuild the old home that she inherited and to move on once again.
Carson Scott never forgot Annie or the way she left. Now that she’s back in town he’s realizing that the old flame still burns hot but he can’t risk his heart the way he did last time now that he has his son to think about it. Being trapped together during a December snowstorm gives them a chance to rekindle their romance but is Annie back for good or is she just looking for a cowboy for Christmas?

Find out more:
Twitter: @katheringarbera

Thank you for sparing time to talk to us today, Katherine. We wish you continuing success with your books.
Best wishes, Henri

Interviews on the RNA Blog are carried out by Freda, Henri and Livvie. They are for RNA members only. If you are interested in an interview, please contact:

Friday, November 22, 2013

Interview with Gill Sanderson

Today we welcome Roger Sanderson (a.k.a. Gill Sanderson) to the RNA Blog. Roger studied English at Hull University in order to spend three years reading books. He then spent thirty years as a college lecturer persuading students that reading books was a good thing. Weekends were spent mountaineering and rock climbing. Roger has written the scripts of over eighty Commando Comics. He followed these with forty four medical romances for Mills and Boon. He also writes short stories for the women’s magazine market. 

Accent Press is now publishing new editions of his medical romances as e-books. The first three are a trilogy about three sisters – a doctor, a nurse and a midwife – coping with life, love, medicine and families. A Family Again, A Family to Share and A Family Friend.

What was the first thing you ever got published and did it help to launch your career? 

I sold a short story to the Guardian, about TV executives discussing commissioning a sit-com about sewer workers (yes, really). After that, life got in the way and I didn’t sell another thing for ten years.

Can you work anywhere or do you have a favourite place to hideaway and write?

If need be I can write anywhere. I spend winters at my home in Liverpool and in summer as much time as I can in my caravan in the Lake District. Favourite place? If the weather is fine, after a day’s walking I like to shower and change, go down to the local pub garden and sit outside with a pen and notebook. My best ideas come here. Two (sometimes three) pints of bitter help. If it is raining (we are talking about the Lake District) I sit in the caravan, enjoying the sound of rain rattling on the roof and feeling sorry for the campers in tents at the other end of the site. And I get a lot of writing done.

A great deal of medical research must be involved in your books, how do you set about that and keep up to date? 

I research on the internet and have a shelf full of medical tomes. I now have the (theoretical but not practical) knowledge to deliver a baby, take out an appendix and other exciting medical procedures. It’s a pity I don’t like blood. Other than that, my daughter is a midwife, my oldest son is a consultant oncologist, my third son is a Prescribing Nurse. I phone them and conversations go on for hours.

Apart from writing, of which accomplishment are you most proud? 

Running four marathons. (Though I didn’t actually win any of them.)

Which piece of music is most likely to make you happy?

Sorry to be a bit conventional. I write to music, it helps a lot. Especially Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, Beethoven’s ninth symphony, Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor. If the work’s dragging and I’m in need of romantic stimulus, then Sinatra’s Songs for Swinging Lovers.

What is your favourite way of relaxing? 

If I’m not careful I tend to relax too much and persuade myself that I’m researching. I read a lot - first of all books by contemporaries in the RNA – I’m particularly fond of Jill Mansell and Judy Astley. Then there’s poetry – at the moment the poets of choice are Philip Larkin and John Donne. And I have to read the Sunday Times so I’ll know what to think during the following week. If I’m not in the Lake District then I walk rapidly for an hour along the sea front. In the Lake District I walk more. I have eight grandchildren and visit them whenever I can. This, though favourite, cannot by any means be called relaxing. The relaxing comes when I get home!

Sister Lisa Grey loved her work on the Infectious Diseases Unit, but she knew there was something missing in her life. She had been the linchpin of her family after her mother’s death, but when she met Dr Alex Scott and his two small children, Holly and Jack, she realised she badly wanted to share in his family too. The children were willing, so was their grandmother who cared for them, and so was Lisa –but what about Alex? 

Three caring sisters ~in need of a loving family~

Accent Press

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Nightingale Nurses

Donna Douglas is the author of the bestselling Nightingale novels, a series of stories set in an East End hospital in the 1930s. Her latest, The Nightingale Nurses, has just been published. London born and bred, Donna now lives in York with her husband. They have a grown up daughter. Donna started her career writing photo stories and serials for teenage magazines, which taught her everything she needed to know about creating plot twists and cliff-hangers, not to mention writing tight dialogue (it had to be tight, or the speech bubbles covered the characters’ faces – not usually a problem in novels, but a good lesson anyway). 

Who’d be a nurse in the 1930s?

I must admit, when my agent first suggested the idea of a series of novels set in an East End hospital before the War, I was a bit doubtful. Up until that point, I’d never written anything remotely historical. I loved reading history, but the idea of all that research was just too daunting.

But I gave it a try and started to read up about nursing in that period. By the time I finally emerged from the Royal College of Nursing archives, bag bulging with notebooks full of scribble, I realised I had enough material for a dozen books – and I couldn’t wait to start writing them.

A nurse’s lot in those days was harsh, to say the least. They trained for three years, during which time they ‘lived in’ under the watchful eye of a Home Sister. They were forbidden visitors, had to be in bed for lights out at ten, and were rarely allowed a day off. They would spend three months in Preliminary Training, or PTS, where they would learn the basics of nursing, including bandaging, administering medication, anatomy, nutrition – and cleaning. Lots of cleaning. Can you imagine a modern student nurse spending three hours a day learning how to sweep a floor or scrub a bedpan?

After PTS, students would be sent to the wards. For the next three years they would spend three months at a time on each ward, learning under the watchful eye of the sister in charge. And that generally meant more cleaning. The First Years, or probationers, bore the brunt of the hard work, which was why they were often nicknamed ‘dirty pros’.

It may all sound a bit grim, but all the nurses I’ve met speak fondly of their time on the wards, the fun they had (mainly behind the Home Sister’s back), and the lifelong friends they made.

It’s that friendship that is at the heart of my Nightingale novels. My three student nurses, Dora, Millie and Helen, are all from different backgrounds. Dora is a working class girl, Millie is a wealthy heiress, while Helen is a shy vicar’s daughter. Yet they’re drawn together by their experience of working at the hospital, and it’s this bond that helps pull them through as they each face their own personal battle. And they face quite a few battles in this latest episode, The Nightingale Nurses. Helen is in the last six months of her training, and finds herself torn between her overbearing mother and her working class boyfriend Charlie. But then life takes a devastating twist…Meanwhile, Dora has to watch the man she loves marrying her pregnant best friend, Ruby. She’s heartbroken, but little does she know Ruby has a dark secret of her own. And Millie is happily planning her wedding to Seb, until a fortune teller’s dire prediction casts her future into doubt.

I absolutely love losing myself in the world of the Nightingale Hospital, and luckily readers seem to feel the same. I especially love it when a former nurse takes the time to contact me and tells me, ‘That’s exactly how it was in my day.’ That’s when I know all that research has been worthwhile!

Published by Arrow, and available from supermarkets, all good bookshops and Amazon

Find out more:
Website –
Twitter – @donnahay1. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Alison Morton's Ten Tips for a Book Launch

A launch doesn’t have to be a Foyles Literary Lunch, nor in a bookshop, nor need hundreds of attendees. A writer friend of mine booked a double table at his local pub, invited a few friends and ended up speaking to the whole pub and selling over a hundred books. If your book relates to a place, you could launch from the tourist bookshop, a hotel, club venue, museum, or a friend’s garden, art gallery, or community centre – in short, anywhere where potential buyers might gather.

Some are like standard parties – milling, lurking, laughing, but centred around the author and the book. A five to ten minute pause will allow the author to thank everybody, read a short extract and invite the publisher and agent (if present) to say a few words. Then attendees can buy copies and queue for the author to sign them.

A more structured launch, sometimes called ‘An evening with [insert name of author]’ is ticketed – usually at a modest amount redeemable against the cost of the book. Attendees are offered a glass of wine, fizz or soft drink on arrival. After five or ten minutes’ mingling, they sit down to listen to the author give a talk for 25-30 minutes and read an excerpt from their book. A question and answer session follows, then buying and signing, and more mingling.

Here are my top tips… 

1. Don’t wait to start planning. Although a beautiful book is a pre-requisite, you must think about where, how and when as soon as you’ve sent your manuscript in.

2. Network in real life at conferences, courses and events, and virtually on Twitter and Facebook. Try to meet as wide a circle of people as possible. Apart from the pleasure of talking with new people and learning new things, you may come across published authors in your genre or known specialists in your field. Ask them for their thoughts, their advice, but in a polite way. Who knows, they may come to your launch and add some magic dust.

3. If you’re thinking of a bookshop launch, go and buy some books there and become known to the staff. Make an appointment to go and see the owner or events manager. Be business-like. Find who is responsible for your genre, tell them a bit about the book and give them a free copy.

4. Before making an approach, ensure you or your publisher has already loaded your book on to Nielsen Bookdata so that the shop staff can check you are a pukka author. Have your Bookseller Information Sheet in your hand and a good quality business card with your contact details. Prepare your ideas for getting the audience in - your friends and more importantly, the general public - and how you’re going to publicise the event. Invite the mayor and consort – the local press usually follows them. And if you have secured a 'name’ to come along to your launch, mention this as part of your pitch. The writer and broadcaster, Sue Cook, came along to my first launch to introduce me.

5. The key to a successful evening is, rather predictably, preparation. Write your talk, speak it aloud, condense it on to cards, but practise it. Make sure the launch venue has glasses/plates/bowls or take your own. Do offer a drink, both alcoholic and soft. You don’t need fancy canap├ęs; good supermarket nibbles are fine. Take plenty of postcards (you can put one on each chair beforehand), bookmarks, pens, etc. and a guestbook.

6. If your sales aren’t going through the venue’s tills, e.g. at a library, then designate a friend to take the cash. You won’t have time – you’ll be busy talking to people and signing books.

7. And smile. The audience has come to see you. They want to hear what you have to say. And they can be incredibly lovely when they queue with their book for you to sign.

8. Always sign the title page, never the cover or a blank leaf. Check how names are spelled. Be very careful of Nicky/Nickie/Nikki/Nic and don’t let’s talk about all the Kate/Catherine/Kathryn permutations!

9. Arrange for somebody else to take plenty of photographs especially of you holding your book. You can then use these photos to publicise your book further!

10. Post photos on your blog, Facebook pages, send a brief write-up to the local paper and monthlies’ social pages.

And don’t forget - once everything’s ready on the night and it’s five minutes to go, take a deep breath, smile and prepare to enjoy it.

Alison Morton

Read more about Alison, Romans, alternate history and her writing on her blog
Twitter: @alison_morton 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Better Late Than Never

Gilli Allan
When the first flicker of the story which became ‘Fly or Fall’ sparked in my imagination, I was living in a nice house in Surrey, close to friends and family. My son attended a super primary school, my husband was in a good job and, to cap it all, I was a novelist.  My first book - Just Before Dawn - had recently been published, and my second - Desires and Dreams - was in the system. I’m a ‘panster’ style of writer. I’d begun to reflect on the opening of a new story that as yet had no title.  All I knew was that Nell married young because she’d become pregnant with twins.  Her husband, Trevor, is a teacher. They live with Nell’s invalid mother, in London. When the story opens, her mother has just died. Nell and her husband are faced with an unexpected change in their fortunes.  Trevor wants to move away, but Nell is haunted by a presentiment of disaster.

Then, in real life, my own mother died and my husband was head-hunted. Suddenly I was faced with exactly the same prospect that I’d envisaged for my heroine.  The new job was in Gloucestershire, a county neither my husband nor I had ever set foot in, let alone had connections to, but it was a good opportunity and I had a portable career. I put the book aside, planning to continue after we were settled. 

Even though  I’d  supported our relocation I found myself wading through all the emotions I’d only previously imagined for my heroine - loss, loneliness, disconnection and bereavement. Then, out of the blue, the demise of my publisher was added to the list. 

Over the years I’ve tinkered with this ‘book’ but it’s always gone back on the shelf.  I continued to write other stories, but everything I sent out, in my quest to find a new publisher, came winging back. But with the E-revolution I was at last able to add to my canon. I self-published TORN, and then LIFE CLASS, in 2011 and 2012. 

It was early in 2013, when I was wrestling with ideas for a new story, that I retrieved my abandoned book from its metaphorical shelf. As soon as I started to read it, not only did the title - FLY or FALL - leap out at me, but the rest of the story fell into place. It was great fun re-writing it, bringing it up-to-date and plaiting the threads into a satisfying conclusion.

Currently available in e-format only, FLY or FALL - soon available in paperback.

My short story, Holiday Romance, which Katie Fforde badgered me into attempting  and is the first ss I’ve written since I was sixteen , is being published in February, 2014, in the e-edition of the RNA Anthology - Truly, Madly, Deeply.

I’ve recently produced the illustrations for the children’s book (provisionally titled The Tale of King Harald -The Last Viking Adventure) due to be published in the Spring of 2014 by The British Museum Press, to coincide with the Vikings exhibition.


She's not 'that kind of woman', but....

Now living in an unfamiliar landscape, Nell feels cast adrift.  Her husband is no longer the man she married; their young teenage twins are grumpy and difficult. The women she meets seem shallow and promiscuous. The new house is unwelcoming and needs modernisation.  Thrust into a continuing chaos of rubble, renovation and burly builders, she’s at first grateful and then resentful that one of these men, infamous as a local Lothario, doesn’t make a pass at her.
When Nell takes a bar job at the local sports club she begins to blossom and to become enthusiastic about her life. When she’s pursued by a beautiful and enigmatic young man, she’s tempted into behaviour she would never have previously imagined herself capable of. The foreshadowed upheaval, which began back in London as a tremor beneath her feet, rumbles into an earthquake.
FLY or FALL follows the dismantling of all of Nell’s certainties, her preconceptions and her moral code. Unwelcome truths about her friends, her husband, her teenage children and herself, are exposed.  Relationships are not what they appear. The hostility between brothers is finally explained. But by the autumn of 2013, the landscape of Nell’s life is transformed. She’s rebuilt herself as a different person, a braver person, and she’s embarked with optimism on a totally new life - a life that opens the door to love.

Gilli Allan

Thank you for sparing time to talk to us today, Gilli. We wish you continuing success with your books.
Best wishes, Henri

Interviews on the RNA Blog are carried out by Freda, Henri and Livvie. They are for RNA members only. If you are interested in an interview, please contact:

Friday, November 8, 2013

Love in America’s Lost Colony

Could a girl born here, in the manor house at Fifield in Oxfordshire have journeyed across the ocean in Elizabethan times and found love here, on the Island of Roanoke, in the region then known as Virginia? I speculate that this might have happened in my novel ‘The Lost Duchess’ on the basis of one intriguing fact in the records concerning the first attempt to establish a permanent English colony in America.

Island of Roanoke

There is an ‘Emme Merrymoth’ listed among the 17 women (two of them pregnant), and 11 children, who formed part of the expedition of at least 113 colonists in total which left England for the New World in 1587. That name intrigued me.

Merrymouth Inn

According to the historians nothing is known about her. But I discovered a ‘Merrymouth Inn’ in Fifield near Burford in Oxfordshire, a thirteenth century hostelry with a name deriving, via ‘Merymowthe’, from the Murimuth family who acquired the village of Fifield six centuries ago. There is little difference phonetically between ‘Merymowthe’ and ‘Merrymoth’ (and the Elizabethans didn’t care about spelling). Suppose Emme Merrymoth, one of the Lost Colonists, was descended from the Murimuth family…

I had a great deal of fun building a character from this possibility. She developed into Emme Fifield, daughter of a minor baron, who becomes a ‘maid of honour’, or lady-in-waiting, to Queen Elizabeth I. Suppose Emme Fifield used her old family name to join the venture and travel incognito.

Why would she want to leave a position of privilege in the court of the Queen? Well, life for the Queen’s ladies was actually pretty harsh. They were at Her Majesty’s beck and call all hours of day and night, with no freedom of action, and little hope of release. Ladies could not marry without consent, which was rarely granted because the Queen expected her ladies to remain virgins just as she was. Any lady who defied the Queen risked being subjected to the full force of her wrath which could include physical violence and imprisonment in the Tower.

The galleon Elizabeth at Roanoke Island

This might be considered motive enough to wish to escape, but suppose Emme Fifield, maid of honour, were to be the victim of the predatory attentions of one of the noblemen at court, someone like the Earl of Hertford, son of the usurped Duke of Somerset, who was notorious for ‘seducing a virgin of the blood royal’, after secretly marrying the sister of Lady Jane Grey and getting her pregnant, who then went on to marry twice more in secret. What if Emme Fifield was defiled by this man, and then met a handsome mariner, fresh from Sir Francis Drake’s campaigning in the Caribbean, who had beguiling tales of a New World of plenty inhabited by friendly Indians, such as the Croatan, Manteo, who accompanied Drake to Richmond Palace in 1586. Wouldn’t a woman like Emme be inspired to want to risk everything for a chance to begin again in the new found Virginia in such circumstances?

I think this kind of detective work in building character is one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing a novel. The handsome mariner, Kit Doonan, has an even more fascinating story behind him, but that’s for another place… I owe quite a bit to the Merrymouth Inn!

Jenny Barden

Available from Amazon 
and all good bookstores 
‘The Lost Duchess’ has been shortlisted for the Readers’ Best Historical Read Award 

Find out more: 
twitter: @jennywilldoit 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Interview with Catherine King

Catherine King comes from Yorkshire and was originally a university lecturer. She now writes Victorian and Edwardian novels, often described as ‘gritty’, inspired by her family history and the area of Yorkshire where she grew up. 

What do you think is the most essential element of a good saga? 

The essential element of a good saga is a rattling good story that keeps the reader turning the pages. Good stories are usually about determined people in challenging situations. I’ve written six sagas set in the mid 19th century and am currently writing books set in the early 20th century. This was a turbulent time for women and saw the emergence of a militant suffragette movement, the setting for my latest book.

Have you ever based one of your characters on a real person? 

I never base my characters on real people, but a real person might inspire me with an idea for a fictional character.

Which is your all time favourite book? 

This is easy. My all time favourite book is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I read it at an impressionable age when I was at school and it has stayed with me ever since. It has all the elements of a good story

What was your worst subject at school?

Without doubt my worst subject at school was Domestic Science. I was hopeless at it then and not much better now, although I have acquired a few more skills over the years. See my pic of a Paella I cooked recently for friends.

Actually it looks delicious, so what is the craziest ambition you ever fulfilled?

Well it wasn’t exactly an ambition but it was something I wanted to do. I used to scuba dive and was excited by an opportunity to dive at Bishop’s Rock Lighthouse, off the Isles of Scilly. It was quite a tough dive and I didn’t realize at the time how potentially dangerous it was. Even in calm weather there is always a sea swell over the rocks and strong currents in the underwater gullies. Many ships have foundered there over the centuries. I must have been crazy!

And what is your favourite guilty pleasure? 

Must I confess to this? My favourite guilty pleasure is watching Emmerdale on TV. I’m addicted to it and if no-one else is about I’ll watch the repeats as well. My excuse is that it’s research because it’s full of rattling good stories.

A SISTER’S COURAGE is about the sacrifices, struggles and ultimate strengths of three women. 

When her mother passed away, Meg Parker was forced to sacrifice her chance at love for the sake of her brothers. She hopes she will be able to live a full life once again after her father remarries – until tragedy strikes a second time. Suddenly, Meg is facing a darker future altogether. 

Lady Alice Langton is travelling the Yorkshire Dales, spreading the suffragette message. Florence Brookes, the daughter of a prosperous grocer, accompanies her, impassioned by the cause but seeking distraction fro her own troubles. Appalled by their lack of domestic skills, Meg decides to flee her old life and joins the two women as their maidservant as they make their way to London. 

When Meg is reunited with her old flame, she is hesitant about her feelings for him – not least because of the rift this causes between her and Lady Alice. It’s not until Florence’s actions land them in jeopardy that Meg realizes she must find the courage to make a heartbreaking choice. 

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