Friday, August 29, 2014

Why Write Young Adult?

Sixteen in my head, or Why I write YA?

Today Ruth Frances Long answers the question for us

Some years ago (not so many that I can excuse it all as a hazy memory, alas) my then-new boss asked my age. Obviously he shouldn’t have but the long pause that followed wasn’t from my shock at being asked this question. It was due to my actually having to stop, think and work out what age I was. Unfortunately for me, he realised what I was doing. “Don’t you know what age you are?” he asked in surprise. The answer to which, I blurted out without pause. “I’m sixteen in my head!” Because I am. I have been since I was sixteen in reality too.
I think everyone has an age they “are” in their head.  Most of my friends give an answer somewhere in the mid to late twenties, some in their thirties. One friend finds this idea seriously entertaining and has researched it thoroughly at this stage by asking just about everyone she meets what age they are in their head. She says she’s never met a man who will admit to being over twenty five (in his head). Draw your own conclusions on that! But me, I’m sixteen. The eternal teenager. 

On the outside I’m a (sometime) responsible adult, with a job and a family, a mortgage, a car etc. Inside however...
I think this is why I love to write for young adults. There’s something so interesting about that time of life. You’re always learning (even though you outwardly know everything already). You’re always looking forward to things. You’re the eternal optimist. Everything is about hope and growth.

When writing for adults there’s a certain expectation of seriousness, reality, of the grim consequences of time, its effect on life. Teens in adult books are often engaged in coming of age stories, the loss of innocence, the casting aside of childish things. Every theme connected with them seems to be about loss. If not, they are a flippant, annoying caricature, designed to display inexperience and silliness.

In YA fiction, it’s the opposite. Themes cover the discovery of self, of autonomy, becoming your own person, responsible for your own actions, making your own choices. Teens acquire knowledge and experience. They learn and grown in a way that often their adult counterparts don’t. It’s a vital part of their makeup.  A teen character is a changeable, evolving wonder, especially for the writer who is learning along with them.

As adults we desire to protect and nurture our children. But the teenager is all about breaking free of such constraints. They are “young adults” for a reason, the second word being the key one. They aren’t children anymore and it’s time for their independence to begin. Much is written about dark themes in teen books, about drink and drugs and sex, about death, illness and suicide, and whether books should deal with these things. Often writers are accused of glorifying or exploiting such themes.

But where better for the young teen to learn about them than safely between the pages of a book? Where better to have those adventures, to enter those conflicts, to feel that maelstrom of emotions, than a place where simply by putting it down and walking away, it can all stop in an instant. They might only do that for a moment, they might never pick that book up again—but, and this is key, it’s their decision. It is often a lot more difficult to have such control over events in the real world.

Writing for the young adult audience and reading books for the YA market is a rollercoaster. It’s an adventure. And it’s a joyous discovery.
 Ruth Frances Long writes young adult fantasy such as The Treachery of Beautiful Things (Dial, 2012) and the forthcoming A Crack in Everything (O'Brien Press, September 2014), the first in a trilogy set in the world of demons, angels and fairies that exists alongside our own in modern day Dublin. As R. F. Long she writes fantasy & paranormal romance such as The Scroll Thief (Samhain, 2009) and The Mirror of her Power (Taliesin, 2014). She lives in Ireland and works in a library of rare, unusual & occasionally crazy books.

Twitter: @RFLong 
Tumblr: RFLong 

A Crack in Everything by Ruth Frances Long

(O’Brien Press, 1st September 2014, ISBN: 9781847176356, available to pre-order now)
She was a mistake. A crack in the order of the world …
When Izzy Gregory takes a wrong turn down a Dublin alley she stumbles into a shadowy, frightening world where magical beings, angels and demons hold sway. In this place where everything is strange, Izzy finds herself surrounded by danger, chased and threatened. Her only chance of survival lies with Jinx, who’s been sent to capture her. Jinx has known nothing but duty and cruelty from his own kind; Izzy is something altogether new to him – and to his world …
Falling in love was never in the plan, but it might be the one thing that can save them.

Thank you, Ruth. A child, or at least a young adult, at heart like the rest of us.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Two special authors, two special anniversaries

Today we welcome Ian Skillicorn to the blog to tell us about two special anniversaries.

August 27th is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of the author Naomi Jacob. The following month, a new edition of Catherine Gaskin's novel Sara Dane marks the sixtieth anniversary of the book's first publication. These special dates are an opportunity to remember two very successful writers of romantic fiction.

Both authors were hugely popular bestsellers in their time, whose writing careers each spanned five decades. Both lived for eighty years, and their own lives were every bit as interesting as their fiction.

Before becoming an author, Naomi Jacob had been a teacher, an actress, a political activist and a suffragette.

She had a comfortable upbringing in Ripon, Yorkshire, where her grandfather had twice been mayor, and her father was headmaster of the local school. But her family suffered a reversal in fortunes after her parents separated. She left school at fourteen, and went to work as a student teacher in a deprived part of Middlesbrough. A few years later, she began visiting music halls in Leeds, where she met the actress and singer Marguerite Broadfoote. Jacob became her secretary (and lover) and this introduced her to the world of theatre. In time, she started acting too, and had success as a character actress in the West End (opposite John Geilgud) and in touring productions.
Naomi (who was known to her family and friends as "Mickie") was also involved in political causes, and was a member of the Women's Social and Political Union, campaigning for women's suffrage. She also stood as a Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate in East Ham, but was unsuccessful.

In 1925, Naomi published her first novel, Jacob Usher. It was a bestseller, and for the next almost forty years, she wrote one or two books every year.

Naomi had contracted TB as a young woman, and in 1930 doctors recommended she move to a milder climate. She found a villa in Sirmione on Lake Garda in Italy. Apart from a period during the Second World War, it remained Naomi's home for the rest of her life. But she frequently returned to England, and was a regular contributor to the BBC's Woman's Hour in the 1950s and 60s.

Many of Naomi's romantic novels are set in Yorkshire, and her love and respect for the people and landscape shine through in her writing. But she is perhaps best-remembered for her seven-novel series The Gollantz Saga, which follows a family over several generations. The saga begins with The Founder of the House, which introduces us to Emmanuel Gollantz, the son of a Jewish antique dealer. Set in nineteenth century Paris, Vienna and London, it's an engaging read about family ties and rivalries, and the cost of living by principles of loyalty and honour.

Naomi was a very disciplined writer; she wrote every morning, except Sundays. Afternoons and evenings were for socialising with friends. She continued writing up to her death, and her last novel, Flavia, was published posthumously the following year.

Catherine Gaskin was born in Ireland, the youngest of six children. When she was three months old her family emigrated to Australia. In contrast to Naomi Jacob, Catherine became an author at a very early age. She wrote her first novel while she was still at school, and got a publishing deal for it when she was just sixteen. This Other Eden sold 50,000 copies in its first two months of publication, and by the age of seventeen, Catherine was already a bestselling author.

After her second novel was published, Catherine moved to London with her mother and one of her sisters, partly to seek medical help for her sister's undiagnosed illness. During her time in London, two significant events in Catherine's life took place. Firstly, she met her future husband, Sol Cornberg, on a blind date. An American, he had come over from NBC to design television studios in England. During their married life, the couple lived in the USA, the Virgin Islands, the Isle of Man, and Ireland.

It was also in London that Catherine wrote her most popular and well-known novel, Sara Dane. Sara Dane is an eighteenth century young woman who is unjustly sent to the penal colony in Australia. Once there she has to fight against prejudice, natural disasters and the harsh conditions of early settler life to establish herself as a women of wealth and power. The book was a huge hit around the world, and was made into a successful television mini-series.

For over forty years, Catherine wrote a novel every one or two years. But she admitted that often writing did not come easy to her. When she was interviewed on Desert Island Discs in 1980, she told Roy Plomley that “I can be stuck with the first 10,000 words for a year” and that she would "invent every sort of excuse not to go to the typewriter".

Catherine would do a great deal of research for each book;  it took her two years to research the background to Sara Dane. She became known for novels which described, in rich detail, worlds unfamiliar to her readers, such as a grand London auction house, a Victorian whisky distillery and a small 1950s American town.

After publication of her twenty-first novel in 1988, Catherine chose to stop writing, so that she could enjoy retirement with her husband. They had eleven more years together before his death. The following year, she returned to Australia. She remained there until her death in 2009.

These two special anniversaries are an ideal time to celebrate the lives and works of two talented authors, whose stories continue to entertain readers around the world.

Find out more at and

The Founder of the House by Naomi Jacob is published on August 27th and Sara Dane by Catherine Gaskin on September 10th, both by Corazon Books.
Thank you, Ian.

The RNA blog is brought to you by Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman. If you would like to contribute to the blog please contact us on

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Good, The Bad and The Droopy

Today Amanda Ward tells us about her ‘older’ heroes and heroines.

I am an author of romance novels specifically with the hero and heroine in their 40s and above. I would like to point out I do not write ‘mum, chick, nan or granny’ lit. Mine are romance, pure and simple with a quirky sense of humour woven throughout, and I admit that I have great fun in writing them.

In my early teens, twenties and thirties I was an avid reader of romance novels. Travelling to work each day with a Temptation book in my handbag and immersing myself completely. During those years raising my family they were my one indulgence, a means of escaping from the nappy changes, whining and moaning (and not just from the kids) in the evenings. Now I’m in my early forties and a grandmother I am looking for something a little more ‘my age’. A couple of years ago, I couldn’t find anything, so I started writing and here I am now a fully-fledged member of the RNA as of January 1st 2014 and attended my first conference in July.

 I wrote my first novel Without Saying a Word during Nanowrimo and submitted it to Books to Go Now which they accepted within a few days. I am currently working on a Christmas novella for them. As for the MisAdventures of Pann Haggerty, well they started out as a series of short stories. I put them together and sent them to Secret Cravings Publishing, with whom I am contracted for the next two books in the Pann series.

Both Secret Cravings and Books to Go Now offer a wide range of romance novels, and I have been supported and encouraged by them to write more for them, and in this age range.

I have seen in the past five years especially a major shift in what categorizes a romance novel. From the mainstream tropes, we have Christian/inspiration/Amish romances and at the other end of the scale the erotica side. In between, the list is extensive. So if there are readers who are buying these, who is to say there isn’t a call for writing which raises the age of the hero and heroine.

It is a fact that women are living longer than men. I will happily put my hand up here and say that I have been married 3 times. In my 20s and twice in my 30s. My current (and last ever one) was himself in his 40s when we married, and how we met, well it’s a story in itself. So what fun can there be with the older couple? Well, let’s see. They’ve passed the turmoil of their youth. While the younger couple are setting out on the road to house buying, nappy changes, school runs and teenager hood, my couple have done it and better than that… survived. Ted and Shirley are either divorced/widowed/never married. Meet at the park or been set up by one of their kids on a dating website. They have a fair bit in common like remembering the 70s and the power cuts and telling each other about how their children/grandkids are doing.  I’m getting ideas for a future book here. This is a couple who can talk to each other and spend time together without rushing off here there and everywhere. As for the physical side of the relationship, a sense of humour is the way I usually write them. Let’s face it nothing is perky anymore, there are going to be a few awkward moments, but writing it with compassion and sensitivity (especially if there is a medical problem) is tantamount. What I really do love when I write about this couple is that they work out any issues together, because they truly love each other.
Older hero and heroine romance…BRING IT ON!

Thank you, Amanda, for showing us that romance is out there for everyone – no matter what their age.

The RNA blog is brought to you by Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman. Contact us on if you have something you'd like to share with RNA members.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Creative Writing Matters

Today we welcome RNA members Cathie Hartigan and Margaret James. Why did they decide to write The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook?

Margaret James

Margaret is a British writer of historical and contemporary fiction.  She is also a journalist working for the UK’s Writing Magazine and she teaches creative writing for the London School of Journalism. She was born in Hereford, but now lives in Devon at the seaside, which is great because it means when she is stuck for a plot she can always go for a walk along the beach and be inspired!

Her latest novel is a contemporary romantic comedy, The Wedding Diary.

Cathie Hartigan

Cathie teaches the piano and creative writing.  Although her professional training was in music, a decade ago she swapped one keyboard for another in order to take her life-long love of writing more seriously. Since then, she has won several prizes for her short stories, was a finalist in the annual Woman and Home short story competition three times and was thrilled to be included in the digital edition of Truly, Madly Deeply.

Cathie lectured in creative writing for nine years at Exeter College before leaving to found CreativeWritingMatters, which offers a range of writing services and administers The Exeter Novel Prize. Becoming a published novelist remains Cathie’s primary ambition.

When not writing, Cathie sings in a small vocal ensemble. The beautiful Devon coastline also provides plenty of distraction but on a rainy day if there’s an opera or theatre screening at the cinema, she’ll be there.

‘Collectively, Margaret and I have clocked up over three decades of teaching experience,’ says Cathie, who taught creative writing at Exeter College for many years and is now CEO of CreativeWritingMatters, an Exeter-based initiative which organises writing competitions, offers mentoring and provides a range of other services to writers. ‘We both realised long ago that the students who are likely to do well are good learners: who are willing to listen to their teachers but who don’t expect these teachers to lay down a set of infallible rules that will automatically lead to success. The students who succeed are those who think for themselves.’

‘So this new handbook is designed to show creative writing students how to learn,’ adds Margaret, who teaches creative writing for the London School of Journalism and contributes to every issue of Writing Magazine. ‘We hope our readers will engage with us – will think about what we say and will also do the exercises at the ends of the chapters. We’re always happy to hear from readers, who can contact us through the CreativeWritingMatters website:’

‘When we first started to plan the handbook, we did wonder if our writing styles would mesh well enough to offer a smooth read,’ says Cathie. ‘The last thing we wanted was for readers to be able to say: this is by Cathie, but that’s by Margaret. As it turned out, however, the way we worked meant this wasn’t a problem.

‘After an initial meeting during which we decided what the overall content of the book should be, we agreed to write alternate chapters. Once these were written, we sent them backwards and forwards several times, tweaking, adding examples, adding exercises, rewriting when we thought we sounded too bossy (Margaret) or too sloppy (me).

‘We leaned on our writer friends to read and proof the book, spent a day preparing then photographing the cover image, grappled with Kindle Publishing Direct, and then – hey presto – it was done!

‘We believe creative writing students can benefit hugely from this book. Perhaps it will help teachers of creative writing too, for during the writing process both Margaret and I have learned a lot from each other. This brings me very neatly to our:

Ten Top Tips for the Creative Writing Student

1 – Don’t go on your writing journey alone. You can go it alone, but a fresh pair of eyes will always see things you won’t, even if you look at your work a hundred times. Join a group.
2 – Face the fear. You will have setbacks: getting nowhere in a competition, receiving ‘not suitable for our list’ emails from agents and publishers, or getting no response at all. Later in your career, you might have to deal with falling sales figures and/or not getting a contract renewed. Cry, beat a pillow or two and then start planning and plotting again.
3 – Do your research. Most authors don’t stint on their research for the books or stories themselves. But, once a book or short story is written, what then? If you already have an agent or publisher, then of course you’ll ping the manuscript to them. If you don’t, it’s essential to research the best place to send it. Don’t set yourself up for failure by sending your darling to an inappropriate competition, agent or publisher.
4 – Keep reading widely, relentlessly and with an enquiring mind. When a story impresses you, ask yourself: how did the author do that?
5 – When times are bad, don’t listen to the saboteur in your head telling you that your writing is a load of rubbish. Go on writing anyway.
6 – Don’t forget to write the story. It’s not enough to write just the back-story and the set-up. Don’t laugh – we see this kind of thing in competition entries all the time. There’s back-story, there’s set-up, but the writing doesn’t go anywhere.
7 – What happens and what happens in the end are two different questions with two different answers.
8 – If you’re entering competitions or have deadlines, always leave enough time for the redraft. And the second redraft. And the third…
9 – Research publishing options carefully: commercial or self-publishing? Big publisher or smaller independent?

10 – Keep the faith and believe in yourself.

Our thanks to both Cathie and Margaret for joining us today

This blog is brought to you by Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman.
If you would like to write something for the RNA blog please contact us

Friday, August 15, 2014


Today we welcome Sue Barnard on Writing The Book You Want To Read

It’s over thirty years since I first saw Franco Zeffirelli’s wonderful 1968 film of Romeo & Juliet.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the end, and I came away thinking: This is the world’s greatest love story – so why does it have to end so badly? 

That question haunted me for many years.  Then, a few years ago, I chanced across one of those lists of Things You Must Do Before You Die.  I found most of the Things pretty underwhelming, but the one which leapt off the page and grabbed me by the throat was: Write The Book You Want To Read.  The book which I’ve always wanted to read is the alternative version of Romeo & Juliet – the version in which the star-cross’d lovers don’t fall victim to a maddeningly preventable double-suicide.

Why, I asked myself, should there not be such a book?  And the answer came straight back: Why not indeed?  And if it doesn’t exist, then go ahead and write it.

I mulled over the idea, but it took a while before anything definite happened.  I’d dabbled with Creative Writing in the past, and had taken a few courses on the subject, but had never attempted to write anything longer than poems, or short stories, or the occasional stroppy letter to The Times.  The thought of tackling a full-length novel, even one on a subject about which I felt so strongly, was a daunting prospect.  Then, in one of those serendipitous moments which really make one believe in Guardian Angels, whilst browsing in a bookshop in France I came across a novel which took the form of the lost diary of a woman who had been the secret lover of Count Dracula.  A voice in my mind whispered “A lost diary?  You could do something like this…”

I scribbled a few preliminary notes, then once I was back at home I powered up the laptop and started writing.  I was writing the book mainly for myself, because it was the outcome which I’d always wanted, but when I’d finished the first draft (which took about six months), I showed it to a couple of close friends, who both said “This is good.  You really ought to take it further.”

Even so, despite this vote of confidence, it was another year or two (during which time the manuscript underwent several revisions) before I plucked up the courage to submit it to Crooked Cat Publishing, an independent publisher whom I’d found on Facebook, and for whom I’d recently started doing editing work.  I wasn’t very hopeful, so when I received the email from them telling me they wanted to publish it, I had to print it out and re-read it four times before I was able to convince myself that I hadn’t imagined the whole thing.

The book’s title, The Ghostly Father, is based on a quotation from the play (it’s how Romeo addresses the character of Friar Lawrence), and the story (which is a sort of part-prequel, part-sequel to the original tale) is told from the Friar’s point of view.  I’ve often wondered why, in the play, he behaved as he did – and by giving him what I hope is an interesting and thought-provoking backstory, I’ve tried to offer some possible answers.  Plus, of course, I wanted to reduce the overall body-count, and give the lovers themselves a rather less tragic dénouement. 

The book was officially released on St Valentine’s Day 2014.  Since then, judging by the number of people who have bought it, read it, and have been kind enough to say they’ve enjoyed it, it seems as though I’m not the only person who prefers the alternative ending.

The Ghostly Father is available as a paperback or ebook from Amazon, or as an e-book from the Crooked Cat Bookstore.

Sue was born in North Wales but has lived for most of her life in and around Manchester.  After graduating from Durham University with a degree in French, she got married then had a variety of office jobs before becoming a full-time parent.  If she had her way, the phrase "non-working mother" would be banned from the English language.

As well as being an award-winning poet and the author of two novels, Sue is also a member of the editorial team of Crooked Cat Publishing.  She joined the RNA in 2014.

Sue also compiles questions for BBC Radio 4's fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz – which has caused one of her sons to describe her as "professionally weird."  She is also very interested in Family History.  Her own background is stranger than fiction; she'd write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.

Sue lives in Cheshire with her husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.

You can read her blog here.

Thank you, Sue

The RNA blog is brought to you by Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman.
If you would like to write for this blog please contact us on

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Zeba Clarke: A Writing Life?

Today we welcome Zeba Clarke who tells us about her varied life as a writer.

I wrote my first boook in 1983 because my poor little Mini had been written off in a crash with a hearse (yes, there was a coffin in it, no, it wasn’t my fault, the chauffeur was late for the funeral…) and I wanted to make enough money to buy myself another car. I can’t remember my heroine’s name, but the hero was a cellist called Ellis - what was I thinking? M&B sent me a kind letter pointing out that my heroine seemed a touch immature even for a 21-year old musical genius. Possibly that had something to do with her 19-year old non-genius author. I found a job in a bookshop and earned the money to buy myself a bicycle.

The first piece of fiction I actually sold was a short story. It is the only piece of writing that has ever come to me like a flash in the middle of the night, but really, inspiration did strike, and before I knew it, I had a 2000 word story, Box, which was published in an anthology of crime stories. I was paid £50 and given 3 copies of the book. I did subsequently try to write a thriller set in Kentish Town where I lived, and I did make it to the end of that manuscript, but at that stage, life interfered. I changed career, moving from economic journalism to teaching, then moved to China, married, had a baby…This will be a familiar enough litany of events to some of you. Basically, Life distracted me from the writing.

What brought me back were two wake-up calls. By this time, our expat life in China was over.  I was living in Brighton, working at a tough comprehensive, juggling toddler at nursery, expensive mortgage, commuting husband and a radical shrinkage of our income. Then I had a miscarriage. I started writing my way out of feeling miserable. It was a light-hearted regency-set romance and before I knew it, I’d finished it because writing was a refuge from the strains and stresses of everyday life. I sent it out into the world and about six months later, had the strangest call from the US. It was the wife of an agent, who said she had good news and bad news. The good news was my manuscript had been sold to Kensington Zebra, who at that stage had a sweet Regency romance line. The bad news was that her husband, who had sold my novel, had died.

Seducing Sybilla was published in 2003 and my editor then commissioned three more sweet regencies from me. They were fun to write, but by the time I’d finished Rosamond’s Revenge, Kensington had decided they wanted hotter, longer historicals. The thing I did discover in the course of writing the four books was that trying to write hot sex just makes me giggle. I did write a sort of sequel to Rosamond’s Revenge, entitled The Perfect Hero and published as an e-book. It underlined for me that while I love a romance, it’s the adventure and intrigue that really sustain me through 100,000 words.

After writing Hero, there was another pause while the teaching career took precedence and I completed a masters in education. Once that was out of the way, fellow-RNA member Lynne Connolly mentioned on one of the lists where we both hang out that Working Partners, the book packager behind BeastQuest, were looking to expand into the adult market. They were running a competition for writers, and the prize was a contract to write a book for them. They sent me an outline and asked for the first three chapters, and before I knew it, there was a (small) advance and a contract for In Decent Society. It was a really exciting moment. But…unfortunately, the editor who had commissioned the book left the company and the manuscript has vanished into limbo.

Since then, I’ve been working on a story that I’ve had in mind for nearly a decade. It’s taken me to Bologna, Prague and Fontainebleau, and I’m now in the throes of sending out the third draft to agents. I’ve drawn up a list of potential representatives, I’m sending my query letter, synopsis and first three chapters and crossing my fingers. In the meantime, I’ve changed jobs, moved countries and transplanted my family of Eurobrats to a small rock in the middle of the Irish Sea. I have two more books to write to complete the trilogy, then I’ve got a Belle Epoque saga to revise and a story that’s begun bubbling under about WW2 internment camps on the Isle of Man.

People often ask me how I find the time to write: there are practical answers, e.g. limit TV to one night a week, when I binge on all the programmes I’ve recorded; switch off the internet. But I think the underlying answer is that I have to find the time to write because the people and places in my brain are determined to reach the page. And that, I suspect, is the case for all of us writers, published or unpublished, with active agents or no agent on the horizon.

Zeba Clarke lives and works on the Isle of Man. Purloined Kisses/The Perfect Hero was published under her pseudonym, Madeleine Conway by New Concepts Publishing.

Thank you, Zeba.

The RNA blog is brought to you by Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman.
If you would like to write for this blog please contact us on

Friday, August 8, 2014

Christina Courtney asks: Who Is In Charge?

Today we welcome, Christina Courtney who writes about those characters who just wont leave us alone.

When my first novel, Trade Winds, was published in 2010 I thought I’d written a stand-alone historical romance.  The story felt complete to me and had a happy ending, so I could have left it there, but the characters had other ideas.  The couple in that tale had a son, Brice, who just wouldn’t leave me alone until I’d written his story (Highland Storms).  And then Brice quarrelled with his younger brother Jamie, who appeared to be the villain of the piece, but things aren’t always as they seem, which is why he insisted I had to let him tell his story too!  So this week sees the publication of Monsoon Mists, the third book in my Kinross trilogy.  It’s strange how these things just sort of happen!
I hear a lot of readers saying they love series of books (and this appears to be especially true in America), but I think many authors love writing them too.  Once you have come up with a cast of characters and their setting, it’s really difficult to let them go.  It’s as if someone told us we had to suddenly give up our friends and never find out what happens to them in their lives.  Impossible!
It’s happened to me several times now, and in fact, although I thought I had finished with the Kinross family after three books, some of the younger members are now clamouring inside my head, so it’s entirely possible I may have to continue.  It begs the question - are we as authors in charge of our stories or is it the characters who decide?  In this case, it is definitely the latter.
I have to confess I love series of books myself, my favourite being the Brother Cadfael stories (I know they’re not really romantic fiction as such, but they all contain an element of romance).  I have all twenty of them and remember eagerly awaiting each new instalment once a year.  Thank goodness Ellis Peters managed to write the last one before she so sadly passed away!  There are others I follow avidly and returning to characters I know and love adds to my enjoyment of the stories, like going back to a favourite holiday destination where you know your way around and can be sure you’re going to have fun.
It seems to be more common for thriller/crime writers to keep coming back to the same characters than it is for romantic fiction authors, but I also love it when novels that are not sequels are set in the same location as a previous novel by the same author and we get little glimpses of characters from earlier books.  Sue Moorcroft’s Middledip springs to mind!
So when my characters start to get bossy and demanding, I won’t be telling them to go away – just to form an orderly queue!  How about you – are you a slave to your characters or are you in charge?
Blurb for Monsoon Mists
Sometimes the most precious things cannot be bought …
It’s 1759 and Jamie Kinross has travelled far to escape his troubled existence – from the pine forests of Sweden to the bustling streets of India.
Jamie starts a new life as a gem trader, but when his mentor’s family are kidnapped as part of a criminal plot, he vows to save them and embarks on a dangerous mission to the city of Surat, carrying the stolen talisman of an Indian Rajah.
There he encounters Zarmina Miller. She is rich and beautiful, but her infamous haughtiness has earned her a nickname: “The Ice Widow”.  Jamie is instantly tempted by the challenge she presents.
When it becomes clear that Zarmina’s step-son is involved in the plot Jamie begins to see another side to her – a dark past to rival his own and a heart just waiting to be thawed. But is it too late?

 Thank you, Christina, that's another book to add to our 'to read' pile.

The RNA blog is brought to you by Elaine Everest and Nataline Kleinman. Contact us on if you have something you'd like to share with RNA members.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Romantic Fishguard

Elaine Everest tells us about Writers’ Holiday and its move to Fishguard.

The view from my bedroom window over Fishguard Bay
Members couldn’t fail to have seen the impressive advertisement on the back cover of so many issues of Romance Matters. The Fishguard Bay Hotel, looking out over a glistening sea, well  known as the home of actors from films such as Moby Dick and Under Milk Wood was for the first time the destination for the delegates of the summer’s week long Writers’ Holiday. Set in Pembrokeshire, so far west that if we’d taken many more steps we’d have been on the ferry to Ireland, some of us weren’t sure of what to expect.

Each year we’d travelled to Caerlon and lived as students at the South of Wales campus near Newport that to suddenly have our holiday moved could be the kiss of death.

Gerry and Ann Hobbs had assured us that we would love Writers’ Holiday, after all it had been the destination for their February writer events for many a year. We were still unsure. What about the kitchen parties, the student bar, the male voice choir? Gerry assured us nothing would change and we could still party in our rooms if we so wished. I have to confess that he’d sold it to me as soon as he announced that the Cwmbach Male Choir would be there to perform the last night concert. I sent off my deposit.

Fishguard Bay Hotel from across the bay
But how to travel to Fishguard? In the past I’d been part of a road trip with other friends from Kent and once we were in the car our holiday had started. Which reminds me, it’s very hard to convince one’s husband that we are away for the week to learn more about the craft of writing when Gerry called it a writers’ holiday! So, for the first time a group of travelled by train. We set off two days early, only so that we could avail ourselves of the cheap first class tickets. The plan was to write and do a little sightseeing. Little did we know that as we travelled from Kent we left the thunder and lightning behind and arrived with glorious sunshine that stayed for the whole week so we spent more time being tourists and visiting the beautiful Pembrokeshire countryside than we did pounding the keyboard.

Rooms were comfortable and the staff welcoming. We found no fault with the varied menu and as most of our time was spent on the verandah enjoying a drink whilst looking out over the bay with friend old and new we couldn’t fault the company.

Courses, after tea events, main speakers and other events were as good as ever, although due to the glorious weather many delegates chose to drop out of the informal events and head for the sunshine.

Kate Walker with some of her students
My favourite course of the week was with well-known RNA member, Kate Walker who took us through eight hours of writing romance that culminated with eating chocolate and talking about sex. Not bad eh? As usual Kate kept the pace up throughout the course and we left with a folder full of hand outs and our heads buzzing. The pink Mills and Boon pen was handy as well.  My own notebook had many notes on how to add romance to my current work in progress. I may not have managed to write many words of the novel but my planning really profited.

RNA stalwart, Marina Oliver was also there teaching a course on novel writing. Sorry, Marina, I really wanted to attend but you clashed with Kate. Perhaps I will be able to make it next year when you tutor a group on historical fiction.

The final night performance by the Cwmbach Choir was as great as ever with an additional performance by soprano and harpist, Joy Cornock, pure delight. 

Already many delegates have booked for next year. The courses are on the Writers’ Holiday website.

I hope to see you there!


This blog is brought to you by Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman. If you would like to contribute to the blog please contact us on

Friday, August 1, 2014

Nine Essential Elements of Romantic Fiction

Today we welcome, Catherine LaRoche who writes about her research into romantic fiction.

I spend a lot of time thinking about romance fiction.  My mom reads the books, and I picked up the love of the genre from her when I was a teenager.  She always had a tottering pile of novels beside her bed that I’d rummage through for something to borrow.  Now I write historical romances and, in my day job, I’m a college professor of gender studies and cultural studies.  For the past several years, I’ve included romance fiction in my teaching while I’ve been writing an academic book entitled Happily Ever After: The Romance Story in Popular Culture (forthcoming in mid-2015 from Indiana University Press).

My students choose romances from a big box that I bring into class and write responses on them.  We do cut-up exercises with the novels to create alternative storylines.  We write a collaborative online romance with scenes ranging from suspense to spicy erotica.  I’ve set up a romance lending library in my office; my eight-year old son decorated a poster for borrowers to write down comments about the novels they check out.  As I draft my academic book, I workshop chapters with the students in order to get feedback.

I’d like to invite similar feedback from readers here, on some of the book’s conclusions.  I propose that romance novels have nine essential elements.  (I’m playing off Dr. Pamela Regis’s work in her wonderful 2003 text A Natural History of the Romance Novel.)  What do you make of my list so far?  Do you agree or disagree?  Am I missing anything?  All comments welcome!

The nine central claims made by the romance narrative:

1.                  It is hard to be alone.  We are social animals.  Most people need and want love, of some kind.  Amid all the possibilities for love as philia (friendship) and agape (spiritual or selfless love), the culture often holds up eros or romantic partner love as an apex of all that love can be and do.
2.                  It is a man’s world.  Women generally have less power, fewer choices, and suffer from vulnerability and double standards.  They often get stuck looking after men or being overlooked by men.
3.                  Romance is a religion of love.  Romance entails belief in the power of love as a positive orienting force.  Love functions as religion, as that which has ultimate meaning in people’s lives.
4.                  Romance involves risk.  Love doesn’t always work out.  Desire can be a source of personal knowledge and power but also of deception and danger.  Romance fiction is the safe, imaginative play space to explore the meaning and shape of this landscape.
5.                  Romance requires hard work.  Baring the true self, making oneself vulnerable to another is hard.  Giving up individuality for coupledom requires sacrifice.
6.                  Romance facilitates healing.  Partner love leads to maturity.  Love heals all wounds.  Love conquers all.
7.                  Romance leads to great sex, especially for women.  Women in romance novels are always sexually satisfied.  Romance reading can connect women to their sexuality in positive ways.
8.                  Romance makes you happy.  The problematic version of this claim is that you need to be in a romantic relationship for full happiness.  Here, romance fiction can be oppressive if it mandates coupledom for everyone.
9.                  Romance levels the playing field for women.  The heroine always wins.  By the end, she is happy, secure, well loved, sexually satisfied, and set up for a fulfilling life.  The romance story is a woman-centred fantasy about how to make this man’s world work for her.
Catherine LaRoche is the romance pen name of Catherine Roach, who is a professor of cultural studies and gender studies at the University of Alabama.  Catherine won the Romance Writers of America Academic Research Grant in 2009.  This essay is from her forthcoming (2015) academic book HAPPILY EVER FTER: THE ROMANCE STORY IN POPULAR CULTURE.  A lifelong reader of romance novels, she combines fiction writing of historical romance with academic writing about the romance genre for the best of both worlds.  Her latest Victorian romance ebook KNIGHT OF LOVE was released in June 2014 by Simon & Schuster.  See more at:

Click here for a video interview of Catherine by the Popular Romance Project:

Thank you, Catherine.

The RNA blog is brought to you by Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman. If you would like to write about the craft of writing please contact us on