Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Interview with Jennifer Bohnet

After ten years in the South of France, Jennifer now lives with her husband Richard, Philly a rescued collie/alsatian dog, Littl'un a very fat cat, who likes to commandeer her desk, and about 20 hens and guinea fowl, in a small cottage in deepest rural Brittany. Getting to an RNA party is on her bucket list – in the meantime she makes the most of Romna.

1. Tell us something about your book SHADOWS OF CONFLICT, coming soon in hardback from Hale.

This book is set in Dartmouth where I lived and where my children were born. I love the town and the history of the surrounding area. Anybody who knows the town and the area will be able to recognise familiar places – some are named and some are hinted at. During World War II, the area around Dartmouth, Slapton Sands and Torcross was evacuated and the beaches used to train the troops for the D Day landings. It is the far-reaching events of 1943 that are the cause of shadows in the 21st century.

2. Your stories are about relationships, what is the particular appeal of this genre for you?

I write the kind of book I enjoy reading, and I find contemporary woman's fiction that deals with relationships of all sorts, family, couples, siblings, mixed marriages etc., the most interesting to read. I prefer emotional conflict in a story as opposed to crime or gung ho conflict.
Littl'un knows how to get comfy

3. Which author has most influenced your work?

Difficult to answer. I am in awe of writers like Erica James, Marcia Willett and Jill Mansell. They produce the kind of books I love to read, and aspire to write, time after time – particularly Erica James.

4. In what way does living in France influence your writing?

Before we came to France fourteen years ago, I'd written mainly non-fiction features and had my own column in the South Hams Group of Newspapers in Devon. But I'd always wanted to write fiction and finally had time. Living in France, particularly down south, gave me first hand knowledge of locations like Antibes, Cannes, and Monaco. People are always intrigued by what is perceived to be the glamour and luxury of such places, and here I was, living a very ordinary life but with the opportunity to eavesdrop and observe how the other half lived and spent their vast wealth. There is also another, poorer, side to these places too.

5. Do you edit and revise as you write, or after you have completed the first draft? What method works best for you?

I tend to edit and revise as I go so that the first 'dirty' draft isn't too horrendously dirty before I fine-tune edit at least twice. I have to say a big thank you to Nell Dixon for sharing her method of editing – going backwards page by page! I now do this as my final edit and also on the copy edit as it really helps in picking up typos, missing words etc.

6. What do you think makes for a really strong romance novel?

I think with any book, romance or mainstream, it's all down to caring about the characters and their lives and wanting a good outcome for them.

7. With the increasing popularity of e-books, how do you think digitisation has helped or changed your own career as a writer? Have you self-published anything?

So far digitisation hasn't really helped or changed my writing life. I have self-published on Kindle my first two books that were published in Large Print by Ulverscroft and FRENCH LEGACY is slowly selling. Hale have also started to e-book publish titles but it's early days for them. For a little known author I've found it very difficult to get the necessary reviews and publicity to market a book successfully. Marketing my books is still a very steep learning curve but hopefully I'll master it!

8. If SHADOWS OF CONFLICT were ever filmed, who would you choose to play the hero and heroine, and why?

Because of the storyline there would have to be two heroines and two heros. I'd love Brenda Blethyn as the older heroine Mattie – I think she's a brilliant and under-rated as an actor. Her hero Henri would have to be the French actor Fran├žois Cluzet (“The Untouchables”). Carey Mulligan as Katie, and Rupert Grint as Leo her hero. I think he'd play a Devonshire farmer brilliantly.

9. How do you relax? What interests do you have other than writing?

I love the theatre but rarely get to go these days. In Brittany the only theatre available is in French, and despite living here for so long my language skills are sadly not good enough. I buy a lot of romantic comedies on DVD - “Midnight in Paris” is a current favourite! I love cooking and having friends around for a meal – usually a lunch which runs into supper time! France is a fun place like that.

10. Do you have an itch to write a completely different sort of book?

Not really an itch but I'd quite like to write a trilogy based around the jazz age of the 1920s and set in the South of France. There were so many different, eccentric characters living down there in those days.

Thank you, Jennifer, for taking the time to talk to us today. We wish you every success for the future, and happy writing!

SHADOWS OF CONFLICT tells the stories of Katie and her god-mother Mattie. When Katie, redundant from her media job, accepts Mattie's offer to take over her shop, A Good Yarn, in Dartmouth, she expects her life to be busy and unexciting. But with an American film crew in town intent on uncovering buried secrets from World War II, a disgruntled relative, and Mattie herself still refusing to face up to the lingering shadows of an unhappy childhood, life is neither simple nor quiet. When Patrick, her ex-boss, offers the chance of her dream media job Katie has to decide whether accepting it is worth turning her back on everything and everyone in Dartmouth - including Leo, a friend from the past who plans to be a part of her future. Will Katie make the right decision? And as the Americans uncover a secret from her past, will Mattie shake off a lifetime of regrets and shadows from the past to finally find happiness with Henri, her new ami?

Find out more:


Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Interview with Amanda James

Today we welcome Amanda James to the RNA Blog. Mandy was born in Sheffield and now lives in Bristol with her husband and two cats. Amanda recently left her teaching role to follow her ambition to live her life doing what she most enjoys—writing. 

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

I have always written short stories and poems as far back as I can remember. When I was eight, I pestered my parents to buy me a Petite typewriter for Christmas. I loved it and felt very grown up as I typed away writing the new bestsellers! I was very good at English and History at school, but apart from that I frittered my time away in other classes. A long and very winding road took me to college and then university. After that I went into teaching. But all through my life I never stopped writing

In 2002 I wrote my first novel and the next soon after. It was hard fitting it all in around lesson prep, marking etc, but I felt I just needed to write. I had my first short story published in 2010. I then went on to have eight short stories published in various other anthologies. My novel RIGHTEOUS EXPOSURE was published (e-book only) by Crooked Cat Publishing in February last year. And I am soon to have my first paperback A STITCH IN TIME published by Choc Lit in April.

You must be so excited. Tell us about this new title, and what inspired you to write it. 

A STITCH IN TIME is essentially about Sarah Yates, a time-travelling history teacher. (Yes, really!) It has more than a touch of romantic comedy, but serious issues are addressed also. I hadn't thought of it before the day I decided on a title! I was thinking of catchy phrases or sayings that would grab a person’s attention while browsing book shelves. Then once I had plumped for A Stitch in Time, the story just came into my head. I

Do you plan the story before you start or let it emerge as you write?

I just have the bare bones of an idea and the characters and jot them down in a few paragraphs. So yes, my ideas evolve as I go along. My characters have a mind of their own and don’t listen to a word I say. They just do their own thing and can be quite rude when I try to force them to do something. I love to be entertained and I can't wait to see what will happen next.

What do you do when the going gets tough?

If I get stuck I often step away for a while and try not to think about it. I find that if I am doing something like gardening or the housework (god forbid) an idea might come to me about how to solve a problem in my ms. I have on occasion left a novel for a few months, perhaps longer and then come back to them with fresh eyes. Normally though I am quite lucky and don't often get stuck.

How did you devise the hero? Did you base them upon a favourite of yours?

Mandy by the Bristol suspension bridge

That is a tricky one. I have lots of heroes but not particularly gorgeous ones like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and a guy called Korczac Ziolkowski who started the carving of Crazy Horse Mountain in South Dakota. All really strong, inspirational men who never gave up on their dreams. But if I had to pick a dishy one it would have to be Johnny Depp or Aidan Turner. My John from A Stitch in Time is somewhere between the two.

What next? Tell us something of your latest work in progress. 

My latest WiP is a sequel to A Stitch in Time as the people who have read the ebook have asked for one. I had already started it, luckily! I also have another coming out next year with my fantastic publisher, Choc Lit. Thank you so much for having me on the RNA Blog. It's been great fun.

We’re delighted you could spare the time to talk to us Mandy, and wish you every success for the future. 
Best wishes, Freda 

Find out more: 

Sarah Yates is disillusioned with her job and recently divorced. Her husband left her for her best friend and as a consequence she is very wary of committing to anyone else as she was broken apart by their betrayal. However, when mysterious and very lovely John Needler arrives on the scene and asks her to travel through time to save the lives of others, she is more than a little attracted to him. Sarah finds new purpose in trying to help people in the past find their happy endings. The big question is – will she ever be able to find hers? 

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me: freda@fredalightfoot.co.uk

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Interview with bestselling author, Lyn Andrews

I’m delighted to welcome bestselling saga writer Lyn Andrews to the blog today. Liverpool born Lyn, an only child whose father was tragically killed on D-Day, is the mother of triplets. She is the author of 33 Sagas set in Liverpool, Ireland and the Isle of Man where she now lives. As an author of Liverpool Sagas, tell us what made you decide to write an historical?

I have always loved History, particularly the Tudor period and enjoyed reading the Historical novels of Phillipa Gregory, Elizabeth Chadwick, Anne O’Brien and decided to ‘have a go’ myself and I have to say I really did enjoy both the research and the writing.

How much did story-telling play a part in writing this more factual type of novel?

Because I have included purely fictional characters as well as Historical characters in the novel, mainly to show the lifestyle of the poor in Tudor England, I had more licence than if had stuck completely to figures from History. Having said that, I did feel that story-telling played a considerable part in hopefully bringing both Anne and Henry Percy to life.

At first glance this is a story about Anne Boleyn, but now that I’ve read it, and enjoyed it, I find it as much about Henry Percy. Tell us how you set about your research of this famous Northumberland family?

I was looking for a different angle to Anne’s story which has been written about in depth in both fact and fiction, and after the young lovers are parted I began to wonder what happened to Henry, he seems to disappear completely. There is also actually very little factual documentation of his life but the present Duke of Northumberland kindly gave permission for me to use the family’s papers which are held at the British Library. His Archivist at Alnwick, Christopher Hunwick was also extremely helpful and there are numerous books on the history of Northumberland. I also did visit Alnwick, Warkworth, Norham and Prudhoe Castles -all Percy castles- a number of times to get some ‘atmosphere’.

Anne Boleyn is not an easy woman to understand. Did you find her a challenge to write about?

I don’t think that anyone really knows the ‘true’ Anne, she’s rather an enigma, and I did find it a challenge to make her both a sympathetic character and yet keep to the documented facts.

I know you work hard with your writing but what hobbies give you a break and help you relax?

I enjoy painting, water-colours mainly, although I wouldn’t say I’m very good even though my father was an artist. I only have three of his works and have stopped trying to compare my meagre talent to his – it’s depressing! I also enjoy walking, mainly on the many lovely beaches here in the Isle of Man and making sandcastles with my four grandchildren – weather permitting!

Which authors do you choose to read for pleasure?

I really enjoy the books of Barbara Erskine, Victoria Hislop, Robyn Young, Elizabeth Chadwick, Bernard Cornwell and of course the late, wonderful Maeve Binchey. Quite a broad spectrum.

So what next, can we hope for more Tudor novels? 

I’ve actually moved on and am about to start a novel on the life of Anne of Denmark, the wife of King James VI of Scotland and I of England, so it’s the early Stuart period. She was the first Queen of Great Britain and was a very feisty lady with a lot to put up with. I’ve two years to complete it as I find the Historicals take longer, not only because of the research but it’s a very different style of writing than the Sagas and of course I will keep writing my Sagas. In fact I’m just completing my next LIVERPOOL ANGELS which will be published in December.

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

The Queen’s Promise 
 Pub. Feb 2013 
Even as a young child Anne Boleyn knows she is required to use her charm and accomplishments to advance and secure the status of her family at the Tudor court. Arriving from France as a young girl she easily captivates the young noblemen of the court, notably Henry Percy future Earl of Northumberland and, hopeful of her father’s approval Anne agrees to a secret betrothal. 

The alliance will not be countenanced by Cardinal Wolsey or the 5th Earl of Northumberland Henry’s father and Henry is forced to return north, into a marriage of duty to a woman he despises and a life of keeping the peace on the wild and dangerous Border Country but he never forgets Anne or his love for her but for them both long-kept secrets could prove disastrous. 

Sunlight on the Mersey 
Pub. Feb.2013. 1921. 
Three years have passed since the end of the Great War but life in Liverpool remains uncertain for shopkeeper’s wife Kate Mundy and her family. Rose is recovering from a recent heartbreak and is sent to work in rural Wales, she is enchanted by the nearby ‘big house’ and by David, the tragic young war hero who owns it. Iris can’t escape so easily especially when a horrifying accident changes the family’s circumstances for the worst. Ex-soldier Charlie wants to put the past behind him and concentrate on a brighter future, even if it means putting ambition before personal happiness. As they all embark on new ventures, for each romance is around the corner, but still so much to contend with in the wake of the war. 


Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact: freda@fredalightfoot.co.uk 

Friday, April 19, 2013

We Got By With a Little Help From Our (RNA) Friends

The RNA is famous for its New Writers Scheme through which many successes have been achieved. But these are changing times and there is more than one way to get published. Today, I'm delighted to introduce Four members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme who have set out on a self-publishing adventure together. 

This method is not for everyone. It has its pros and cons and you still need to be published by a recognised traditional or epublisher before qualifying as a full RNA member, so do tell us ladies what decided you to take this road.

Four of us: Lizzie Lamb, Adrienne Vaughan, Mags Cullingford and June Kearns decided to take destiny into their own hands, form The New Romantics 4 and publish our novels on Amazon in 2012. While our novels are nothing like E L James’ 50 Shades of Grey, the fact that the author initially published the story herself was a great boost to our decision to work collaboratively.

The catalyst was an inspiring lunch with Amanda Grange in June 2012 where we eached the conclusion we had nothing to fear other than fear itself - the blue touch paper was lit and we were off on the road to self publication.

Lizzie’s Story:

If it hadn’t been for the RNA, I would never have gained an overview of publishing and how it’s changing. Through Chapter Meetings, Parties and Awards ceremonies, I have learned from experienced, published authors what works in a novel and what agents/ publishers are looking for. This knowledge, combined with the critiques I have received as part of the NWS scheme and insights gleaned from seminars and workshops at RNA Conferences, has shown me how to improve my writing. Knowing a published author in my genre has reviewed my manuscript has given me confidence to self publish. The fifty reviews on amazon.co.uk and similar number on amazon.com for my debut novel TALL, DARK AND KILTED shows that my instincts to self publish were correct.

Adrienne’s Story - My Love Affair with RNA

Like all love affairs, I know precisely when it began. Autumn 2011, when these talented, and as yet, unpublished writers welcomed me with open arms into the Leicester Chapter of RNA. I immediately tattooed the NWS deadline on my heart, sending my manuscript with a note, ‘Hope it’s worth it?” Melanie’s note back, ‘So do I!” gave me an appreciation of RNA – you’re the good guys! My report was brilliant and worth its weight in gold.

Taking three more rejections on the chin, I plunged into the unknown and decided to self publish with Lizzie, June and Mags. Self publishing provides me with freedom, freedom to learn more about my craft, this ever-changing business and to write without looking back. So far there have been sales, reviews, and so much good will, if I could bottle it and send it to every member of the NWS I would! The RNA has given me so much there is no doubt this will be a life-long love affair!

Mags’ Story:

The confidence to self-publish my debut novel Last Bite of the Cherry grew from a local Writers’ Workshop where I was encouraged to join the RNA New Writers’ Scheme by novelist Margaret Kaine. Having followed through the amendments suggested by my anonymous appraiser to achieve “a novel to be proud of”, I had no hesitation in joining my inspirational co-writers, Lizzie Lamb, June Kearns and Adrienne Vaughan to form New Romantics 4. LAST BITE OF THE CHERRY is more Contemporary Women’s Fiction than Romance. Even so, according to one of my Amazon reviewers, “The three interwoven love stories keep up a fast pace which made it very hard to put down”.

June’s Story:

Without the RNA, its contacts and professional network, I wouldn’t have met Amanda Grange! In my second year on The New Writers’ Scheme, ENGLISHWOMAN’S GUIDE TO THE COWBOY went through for a second read, and although it failed to find a publisher, she’s been both champion and supporter.

Last year, weary of near-misses with publishers and agents, Lizzie, Adrienne, Mags and I started to feel there must be a better way forward. Although Mandy is published both here and in the US, by Penguin and Sourcebooks, she’d already started to self-publish her back catalogue with Amazon and encouraged us to do the same. We asked: “When would be the best time to self publish?” Mandy’s reply, “Do it now!” set us on our path to publication. So, a big thanks to Amanda and to the RNA and the NWS for their wealth of experience, constant support and friendship.

We got there with a little help from our friends.

The New Romantics 4 at Bedford

Thank you for sparing your experiences with us today. I'm sure it will inspire others to follow your example. We wish you every success with your new venture. 
Best wishes, Freda 
Find out More:

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, or wish to contribute a post, please contact me: freda@fredalightfoot.co.uk 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Interview with Mary Nichols

I’m delighted to welcome long-standing member Mary Nichols to the RNA Blog today. Mary began her writing career with articles and short stories before turning to novels. After writing ten for Robert Hale, she went on to write historical romance for Mills & Boon (38 to date) and family sagas, first for Orion and more recently for Allison and Busby.

I congratulate you Mary on your book THE KIRILOV STAR being short-listed in the RoNas. Do tell us the secret of your success, and who you would like to thank.

I do not know that there is any particular secret apart from determination and hard work. A friend, referring to the numerous rejections I had in the early years, once said to me,: ‘Mary, your trouble is, you don’t know when you’re beat.’ I took that as a compliment. I am grateful to Allison and Busby for their faith in me and to the RNA. I like to think all its members are my friends but there are a very special few (they know who they are) who have supported me and listened to my woes with infinite patience and good fellowship. I owe them a lot.

I believe you joined the RNA back in the 1960s, so do you think the media is less dismissive of romance now than it was then, or is this a cross we will always have to bear? 

I suppose there will always be some people who look down their noses at our books. That is their loss, but I do think our image is improving. That is largely down to the hard work succeeding members of the RNA Committees have done over the years, not to mention the rank and file who were, and are, not afraid to stand up and be counted.

What do you enjoy most about your particular genre? 

I like to imagine life as it was once lived by ordinary people and enjoy bringing the past back to life. I like doing the research and fitting the real history into the lives of my characters or, more properly, the other way about; the story should fit the history.

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

It depends which books I am writing. I like the Georgian and Regency periods for Mills and Boon, because of the richness, the manners and costumes, and working out how people travelled. I wrote one book, The Last Gamble, that consisted entirely of hero and heroine travelling by stage from London to Glasgow which gave them plenty of time to fall in love. For the sagas I like to write about the second world war, because I was there and I remember so much about it. It amuses me that it is now considered history. I suppose I must consider myself a historical character now!

I know that you also write for Harlequin Mills & Boon which are not as easy to write as people imagine. In what way does your approach differ in writing these books?

The Mills and Boon books focus entirely on the developing relationship between the hero and heroine and that is what I bear in mind, although there has to be a good story behind it. The sagas can take place over a longer time and I can explore other aspects and side issues as the plot develops. I use different points of view which have a bearing on the story. You can tell from this that I think the story is the most important element and there are no hard and fast rules. If there are, I seem to break them.

How do you relax? What interests do you have other than writing?

Spending time with my family, reading, walking, playing golf, but I haven’t done the latter for a little while, owing to domestic circumstances which meant for a time I was tied to the house. Life is a little easier now, so maybe I’ll take it up again. I like doing crosswords and seeing how far I can get before I have to resort to the crossword solver.

Are you a lark or an owl? When is your best time to write? 

I write at any time during the day, but rarely after 6 o’clock in the evening and I try not to write at weekends, but sometimes I am so fired up I can’t leave it alone; my characters demand attention.

So what next? Can you tell us a little about your work in progress?

I am three quarters of the way through my next book for Allison and Busby. I won’t say much about it, except that it is set in World War Two in England and Poland and, as usual, I am putting my characters through the mill before the story’s resolution. I have also just finished the last edit of a new Mills and Boon book, In the Commodore’s Hands which is due out in September. And I’m putting some of my out-of-print books on Amazon for the Kindle with the help of my lovely daughter-in-law, Elaine. The Latest, TO WIN THE LADY, can be found at: 
Buy here at Amazon

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

ESCAPE BY MOONLIGHT, just out in hardback and on Kindle, is the story of Elizabeth de Lacey and Lucy Storey, both from a Norfolk village, the one wealthy and privileged, the other the daughter of the local stationmaster, poles apart but linked by war. Lucy stays at home to cope with an increasingly bad tempered father. Elizabeth, who is holidaying with her maternal grandparents when World War Two breaks out, stays there and becomes involved with the French Resistance. For both of them it is a time of risk and danger, for secrets and betrayal, and for finding love in the most unexpected places. 

Find out more: 

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me: freda@fredalightfoot.co.uk 

Monday, April 15, 2013

April Self-Published Releases



Kindle e book

17 March 2013



When Jenny Cavendish inherits a share in a Tuscany vineyard certain members of the Morelli family are not happy, forcing Jenny to turn to neighbour Gino Belpaese for help. Help that comes with conditions.



Margaret Mounsdon THE MIMOSA SUMMER


Kindle e book

17 March 2013



Pippa is not everyone's idea of a perfect nanny, but Lilly loves her, which is more than can be said for her father Marc.




Blue-Eyed Llama
24 March 2013

Chocolatier Magnus Elsinger has a reputation. Tall, blond and wealthy, he's exactly the kind of man the women of Angell's Arcade ought to steer clear of. Unfortunately for them, he's every bit as charming as he is gorgeous and some of them just can't resist.

So when someone starts leaving him bouquets of dead roses, there's no shortage of disgruntled suspects. As Easter approaches, the anonymous messages take a more sinister turn. Has Magnus finally played the wrong woman? And how far will she go for revenge?

April fills Angell’s Arcade with the delicious aroma of chocolate and a chilling tinge of fear.

Like your favourite soap, The Arcade brings you characters you love to hate – and to love. Each bite-sized episode is perfect for your journey to work, your lunch-break – or a quiet night of escapism. And it’ll leave you wanting more – with a teaser of next month’s storyline!

Noelene Jenkinson A GENTLEMAN'S BRIDE
1 April 2013
Anne Gray is forced to marry for the
chance of a better life. Until she learns the truth about her husband and her
life is in jeopardy. She escapes Devon for Australia.
James Barratt emigrated from Sussex to Australia to make his fortune. After his
fiance jilts him, he vows never to fall in love again.
In Australia, Anne changes her name and answers James' advertisement for a
wife. But her blossoming romance and future is threatened when her past returns
to haunt her and once again she is forced to flee. Homeless, Anne struggles
to resolve her future until the real truth is uncovered. 



ebook on Kindle and Smashwords

March 1st 2013

£1.74 / $2.99

Elizabeth Belmont grows up in Edwardian London dreaming of becoming a star on the music hall stage. But when disaster strikes, her widowed father has to send her to stay with her mother’s starchy family in Sheffield. Against all odds she finally realises her ambition, becoming a musical artiste. It is a time of change, when women are fighting for the vote, but are still bound by convention and strict class values. Even as she rises up the bill, she is torn between the world of middle-class respectability and the free life of the theatre. Spurned by the man she loves, she is drawn into the clutches of a man she detests. Can Elizabeth break free and find the happiness she longs for?


Friday, April 12, 2013

Winning the RoNa Rose

2013 was always going to be an exciting year – I have a "significant" birthday coming up in May and in March we celebrated our ruby wedding. As if that was not enough, just as I was getting back to work after the Christmas holidays, I had an email from the Awards Organiser to say my Sarah Mallory novel, BENEATH THE MAJOR'S SCARS, had been short-listed for the Rona Rose!

Having won the award last year, I knew how exciting the ceremony can be and I was thrilled to be on the shortlist again, especially when I saw the other contenders – all Mills & Boon authors and all excellent books

The day started with a sumptuous lunch at Le Meriden for all the RoNA Rose short-listed authors, courtesy of Mills & Boon. Even the bitingly cold wind couldn't dampen our spirits as we walked from the hotel to the RAF Club for the Awards Reception. We wished each other well, then went into the sumptuous ballroom to meet up with friends, well-wishers and the hopeful authors from the other RoNA categories. It was such a special occasion – the room looked fabulous with balloons and displays of the shortlisted books, waiters circulated, filling and re-filling our glasses and the noise levels rose steadily as the excitement mounted. I was very nervous beforehand, even though I really didn't think I would win again. Luckily we didn't have long to wait because the RoNA Rose was the first award to be presented.

The winners of each of the RoNA categories is given a beautiful glass star to keep but the RoNA Rose winner also has a beautiful silver rose bowl to hold for the year. When the Romance Prize was initiated, Harlequin Mills & Boon presented the RNA with this bowl in memory of Betty Neels, an RNA member and one of the readership's favourite authors, so you can imagine how special this is to me. When the winner was announced my knees just went weak! I felt like a real celebrity as I made my way through the crowd to collect my trophy and my glass star from Judy Finnigan and Richard Madeley, especially when photographers jumped out before me and the cameras started flashing!

Judy very kindly held my star and my trophy for me while I made my speech. I can hardly recall what I said at the time, but it was filmed and is now on You Tube, so I know I was there (and thankfully I kept it very short!).

Here's the link, just in case you want to see how nervous I was!

The winning book, Beneath the Major's Scars is one of a pair of novels I wrote using twins for the main characters. Having twin boys myself I have always wanted to use twins as heroes (of course my characters are both gorgeous and extremely handsome, but that's as far as the similarities go with my own lads!)

I wanted to show that twins might look identical but they can have very different personalities, so I worked hard to make the two books very different – Dominic in Beneath the Major's Scars is the younger brother and as was common in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century he was a soldier, fighting in the Peninsula until he was horrifically injured and sent home to England, where he locked himself away in a lonely house on Exmoor, shunning society.

His twin, Jasper, is very different, his good looks have not been disfigured and he loves society. Of course it helps that as the rich Viscount Markham he is a very eligible bachelor. So where Dominic needs a woman to prove to him that life really is still worth living, in Behind the Rake's Wicked Wager, Jasper definitely needs to be brought down a peg or two!

After the awards, we had a celebratory dinner with the lovely Carole Townend and her husband, then I floated back to the hotel on air – I don't think I was too inebriated, as I was booked to record an interview for the RNIB the following morning: they had contacted me some months earlier to say that Beneath the Major's Scars had been selected for their talking books series, which is another wonderful accolade for this novel.

So what is next? Well, I am finishing my latest Sarah Mallory novel for Mills & Boon and the ideas are constantly bubbling up for more historical romances. However, I am also re-visiting a longer historical novel that I started some years ago. Who knows, this might be the year I get it re-written and out in the market! Whatever happens, I am just so pleased to have won the RoNA Rose this year. I keep looking at the two stars and the rose bowl that I keep by my desk and it gives me added confidence to continue writing the books I love.

Thank you Linda, we wish you every success for the future, and many congratulations!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Interview with Valerie Wood

I’m delighted to welcome bestselling author Valerie Wood to the blog today. Val’s writing career began when she won the first Catherine Cookson Prize for Fiction in 1993. Seventeen more novels have followed. Do tell us something of your writer’s journey. 

I always had a fertile imagination and constantly jotted down pieces of prose, doggerel and pathetic attempts at poetry, but it wasn’t until much later that I began to take myself seriously and joined a writers’ workshop. It was during that ten year period that I became inspired by the crumbling cliffs of East Yorkshire and the history of the lost villages in the region, and began to pen my first novel THE HUNGRY TIDE, which won The Catherine Cookson Prize for Fiction.

It must have been so exciting to win such a prestigious Award. What advice would you give to aspiring writers who enter competitions in this way?

Actually I was persuaded to enter and did so without thinking that my book might win. When it did I was euphoric and on cloud nine for months, not totally realising how my life would change. I can only say to aspiring authors, if you are really committed, grab any opportunity with both hands and don’t ever be afraid that your work won’t be good enough.

You write wonderful family sagas, tell us something of your particular theme and favourite period. 

I am very comfortable in mid 19th century. I research thoroughly the subject I have chosen for a novel, be it poverty, the workhouse, the children working in dreadful conditions in local mills, and particularly on the rights of women. I have also written on lighter subjects such as the music hall and fairgrounds, which were so important to the community of the time. I feel that this period is almost touchable and although it is beyond memory, still has an influence on our lives through our own ancestry.

What inspires you most, people or places?

Ideas for a writer with an imaginative mind often pop up when least expected; and living as I do in East Yorkshire and close to Hull, Beverley and rural Holderness where there is an abundance of history and places in which to explore it, plus the wide skies and undulating countryside, the Humber estuary and the sea which call to me constantly, I might say that it is the places. But on the other hand, a novel would be pretty empty without strong and meaningful characters. I can see them, touch them, smell them, and so the honest answer is that I don’t know. Both in equal measure I think.

Do you edit and revise as you write, or after you have completed the first draft? 

My aim when starting a new novel is to get the first few chapters down whilst the story is fresh in my mind. I try to write a chapter a day and the following morning before starting the next one, I check and revise what I’ve written the day before. This is not to say that I won’t make changes later as the story progresses and something occurs to me, which I feel I must change immediately. I finish the first draft, print it out, read it and make amendments in free hand before going back to the computer and starting again at the beginning.

Of all the characters you’ve created, is there one that holds a special place in your heart?

I feel an empathy with all of my characters, particularly those who have pulled themselves up from extreme poverty or hardship and one such of these is Annie, who appeared in my first book, THE HUNGRY TIDE. and although not a main character there was something about Annie which moved me and I wanted to know more about her. I moved her out of the story with the threat of the gallows hanging over her, and when I finished The Hungry Tide I immediately began ANNIE, her very own story. But this is the oddest thing, I was well into her story when I heard the news that I’d won the Cookson Prize, and the character Annie changed from being a sorry miserable creature without any hope, to becoming positive, humorous and strong. I don’t know what this says about me as a writer, but she remains to this day one of my favourite characters.

What was your favourite book as a child?

Without a doubt, and I was an avid reader, miserable without a book in my hand, it was Little Women by Louisa M Alcott. I read it and re read it, often beginning it again as soon as I came to the end. And Jo was the favourite character.

If you met your fairy godmother, what would you wish for? 

Well, many authors would say the same - a film or TV series of my books! Many of my novels feature the sea and ships - whaling ships, a convict ship taking my character Emily to Australia, trawlers and fishing smacks in The Harbour Girl and the drama and tragedy and hope that is carried within them. I realise how much it would cost to produce such dreams - but dream on.

Bella has set her heart on becoming a teacher, but her dreams are shattered when she is told she must help her mother in the family business as her father is seriously ill. When her father dies, she not only takes on the responsibility of the inn, but also for her mother’s fifth child. Then her mother announces that she wants to move the family to her home town of Hull and take on the tenancy of a run down and disreputable public house. Is this the worse thing ever for Bella or will it be a challenge to prove herself – a blessing in disguise, and will she ever receive the love of the one man who appears to be out of her reach?

‘An intriguing tale of family relationships.’ Yorkshire Herald. ‘Cookson fans will adore this saga.’ Woman’s Own. 

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

Find out more:

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me: freda@fredalightfoot.co.uk 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Interview with Jean Fullerton

Jean Fullerton was born into a large, East End family and grew up in the overcrowded streets clustered around the Tower of London, so it is no surprise to learn that her very successful novels are set in London. Welcome to the blog Jean, delighted to have you here. Would you say you always wanted to be a writer, or did it happen by chance?

Pure chance. After attending a NHS management course where they advised taking up a hobby to relieve stress. I knew absolutely nothing about plot, structure, writing techniques or punctuation and just thought writing a story might be a fun thing to do to get my head out of the day-job. That was eleven years ago and the rest, as they say is history.

I know you have to juggle writing with the day job in nursing? What is your work schedule? 

Jean in her uniform

Sadly I’m not J K Rowling so I still work as a university lecturer teaching nursing so I have to have very good time management. I usually write in the evening for three hours on a week day then have a break to watch a bit of TV then back to edit for an hour while the Hero-at-Home reads in bed. At a weekend I work in the afternoon. I set myself the task of writing the minimum of 1000 words a day, although I often write twice that, and aim to write for at least five days’ out of seven. I also plot my books so I can set milestones of so many scenes per week/month.

Do you edit and revise as you write, or after you have completed the first draft? What method works best for you? 

When I started I used to write straight through the first draft but now I find if I know a plot line or character isn’t right I can’t just plough on. Although this slows my writing down it often saves me writing myself up a blind alley and having to scrap great chunks. It’s a sort of instinct I’ve developed and although I take longer to write a book I’ve found it saves me a great deal of time in the long run as there are a lot less edits returned from my publishers.

Have you ever suffered rejections, if so how did you deal with them? 

Have I? I’ve got a ring binder full of them. I know it’s hard to have your ‘baby’ mauled and rejected. But if you’re determined to be published I’m afraid it’s a process you most likely have to go through. It’s a general rule of thumb if an agent or editor doesn’t get your story then a reader won’t either. If you get any constructive feedback then I would strongly advise you to read it objectively and learn from what they say. That’s why the NWS is so brilliant because it gets you used to receiving and working with critical feedback.

You write wonderfully popular family sagas. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer wishing to break into this market? 

Thank you for your kind words. As with all genres there are certain things that a reader expects from a saga such as a strong heroine and an insight into a very different way of life and time. I’d advise any would-be saga writers to read widely in the genre, do their research and write a full-bodied story with a cast of interwoven characters.

Jean on her bike outside her home in Anthony Street

How do you set about breathing life into your own characters? 

I have to know everything about them even stuff that never gets into the story. Once I can hear their voice and know their inner thoughts I can bring them to life.

Have you ever been interviewed on TV? Did you find it a pleasant or a scary experience?

I was phoned at work by Catherine Jones one day and told the BBC needed a romantic novelist to appear on the 6 o’clock news to talk about the sale of the unfinished Jane Austen manuscript, The Watsons. As I was in London would I like to do it? I love Austin but wouldn’t describe myself as an expert on her work so I phoned the Hero-at- Home and asked him to get together a prep-sheet on the story.

I dashed home, changed and was back on the tube half an hour later heading for Broadcasting House in Shepherds Bush. I arrived at 5.30 and was taken into the studio to meet Gavin Esler. He asked me a few questions about the enduring appeal of Austen followed by a discussion about romantic fiction and then it was over. To be honest it was all so fast I didn’t have time to be scared and was thrilled they spelt my name right on the rolling credits.

So tell us about your latest book, and what inspired you to write it.

I wasn’t so much inspired as asked by Susan Lamb, the Head of Fiction at Orion Books to write it. Orion publishes Call the Midwife along with Jennifer Worth’s other three books.

Susan thought as I’m a District and Queen’s Nurse and an East Ender I would be the perfect person to write a fictitious account of a District Nurse and Midwife’s life and work in post-war East London.

I was apprehensive at first but my wonderful editorial team were so sure I could bring the duel strands of my background and profession together in Millie’s story I decided to give it a go. I’m so glad I did because I had a wonderful time researching my own profession and creating Millie’s family, friends and patients.

For 25-year-old Millie, a qualified nurse and midwife, the jubilation at the end of the war is short-lived as she tends to the needs of the East End community around her. But while Millie witnesses tragedy and brutality in her job, she also finds strength and kindness. And when misfortune befalls her own family, it is the enduring spirit of the community that shows Millie that even the toughest of circumstances can be overcome. 

Through Millie's eyes, we see the harsh realities and unexpected joys in the lives of the patients she treats, as well as the camaraderie that is forged with the fellow nurses that she lives with. Filled with unforgettable characters and moving personal stories, this vividly brings to life the colourful world of post-war East London. 

Find out more: 
You can also find Jean on Facebook as Jean Fullerton and on Twitter as @EastLondonGirly 

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

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me: freda@fredalightfoot.co.uk