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: