Thursday, March 31, 2016

Katie Fforde Bursary 2016: Marie Macneill

Each year we wait with bated breath to hear who will be the recipient of the Katie Fforde Bursary. Here Marie Macneill tells us of her excitement at being Katie’s choice for 2016.

When Katie Fforde warned me that the Bursary trophy was heavy I did not imagine that it would be that heavy. A bronze Celtic style sculpture with a hefty wooden base, it is wonderfully cumbersome and sits on my narrow mantelpiece like a lighthouse warning me to get on and write or risk being dashed on the rocks of procrastination.  2015 recipient, Catherine Miller ‘Waiting For You’ warned me to clutch it carefully as it was potentially an award of two halves and last year she nearly dropped it at the ceremony. Now armed with this larger than life good luck charm (I bought a rucksack in Church Street Market en route to Paddington for a very reasonable £15 to carry it back to Cornwall) all I have to do is enjoy Katie’s company, cherish, applaud and revel with the wonderful RNA members at a variety of conferences, meetings and parties and - ah yes - finish my novel. 

Coming from a theatre, television and film background my first foray into novel writing was a sliver of truth novel about a young girl finding inappropriate love to compensate for a violent father. It wasn’t the right time.  Events in the news cast a shadow on my Lolitaesque main character and her age confused the pigeon–hole placement system of selling books. Was it Young Adult or Fiction? Was this Misery-Lit or Romance?  I gave it to the then Chairman of the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain who loved it and my former agent waxed lyrically about it being his favourite Easter read, so, who knows, maybe sometime soon it will escape the bottom drawer and fly.

Being Velvet’ (w/t) is altogether a different take. This universal magical realism tale is a laugh out loud comedy about coming of age and mid life crisis; not judging books by their covers and two women who through mishaps, mistakes and misunderstanding learn to feel comfortable in their own skin and live without the one thing they both thought they needed the most.  The story is a visual feast and the screenplay version is running closely behind my manuscript.

I first met Katie Fforde at Chez Castillon, a wonderful writers’ retreat in Bordeaux’s wine region, on a particularly fine vintage retreat and workshop, the company included Jane Wenham-Jones, Judy Astley, Catherine Jones, Clare Mackintosh and Rosie Dene. These powerhouse women write 3,000 words before lunch and it was a privilege to make their acquaintance.  One evening we sat in the garden at a long convivial table overlooking the pool, rust-red and lush-green creepers climbing the yellow sandstone walls, a hint of rosemary riding the cooling breeze and read a passage from our daily pages. Katie was complimentary but I could not have imagined that a couple of years later she would want me to be her 2016 recipient. When she told me at the RNA conference last year I literally weakened at the knees.  I knew previous winners Jo Thomas, The Oyster Catcher, and Janie Millman, Life’s A Drag, and had read their fantastic debut novels. Am I really next in line? I was told by Sue Mackender that ‘Katie’s never wrong’.  So no pressure then. Thank you Katie – see you in a couple of thousand words!

About Marie:
Marie Macneill is a lecturer at SoFT – the School of Film and Television, Falmouth University and lives in Cornwall with her husband, actor John Macneill.

Thank you, Marie and good luck with your current work in progress.

The RNA blog is brought to you by

Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman

If you would like to write for the RNA blog please contact us on

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Meet Julie Vince aka author, Julia Wild

I’ve been nagging Julie to write for the RNA blog for quite some time. Always so busy in her writing life and also as the RNA's much-loved Hon. Secretary, Julie shows us something of her writing life so far. Over to you, Julie.

Thank you for having me on the RNA blog; it’s lovely to join you and fellow RNA members here.

Having recently read – and thoroughly enjoyed Kate Thompson’s Secrets of Sewing Bee blog, I thought I would share an episode from my early days as an aspiring writer.  As an avid fan of Poldark, books by Kathleen Woodiwiss, and anything vaguely 18th Century, and as a complete novice writer – and history-lover-in-training, the year was 1993 and the only way I knew how to find the answer to historical story plot questions was to find them in books. Back then, my burning question was:

‘When was the last time someone about to hang was ‘married off’ the gallows’?

I could not find the answer in any book. So I phoned Cambridge University to ask for help, and managed to speak to a gentleman called V. A. C. Gatrell. Yes, you guessed it, he was a history professor. And bizarrely, this lovely man was just finishing writing a book called: The Hanging Tree.
I explained that I wanted to marry a girl about to hang as a thief off the gallows, and the year was 1773. Straight away, the professor said the last time someone was married off the gallows instead of hanging was in 1648, a time in history I knew absolutely nothing about. Mr Gatrell suggested I join the British Library and order copies of the Newgate Calendars to look through covering the time I was interested in; they have copies of broadsheets published and distributed at the time of public hangings in the 18th Century onwards, with factual details. He said there were many stories of folk imprisoned say in the hulls of ships on the Thames and opportunities for love stories to grow out of folk living in close quarters. Thrilled by his suggestion, I promised to request his book out of the library, thanked him, and he said he had been happy to help.  As I wanted to write about a romance that grew out of an unexpected beginning, this seemed like a good place to begin again, leaving the option to learn about the social history of 1648 as a delicious task for the future.

As soon as I could, I joined the British Library. When I visited, the amazing, original copies of the Newgate Calendars were ready and waiting for me to sit and read through upstairs on a reading desk. I was in total awe, scribbling notes, and listing pages I would like to have photo copied. There were also journals in boxes on the bookshelves, and a quick look through one told of ‘such high winds that washing littered the bushes near the coast’!
My day at the British Library drew to a close; I bounded off to find someone to photocopy all the lovely research… Only to discover that not only had I left it too late in the day, but the cost – not of photocopies, but of microfiches, as the books were too old to photocopy, would amount to over £44.00. My budget was about £10.00!   I thanked the staff and said I would save up and come back and visit as soon as I could. But yes, I was terribly disappointed to be leaving with just a few scribbles…
Until something magical happened. I literally drifted into a bookshop; all I can remember is that it was close to the British Library and probably on the way to the underground station. Unsworth Rice & Co, and outside it said something along the lines of ‘History and Humanities’. I still do not know how or why I walked in there, but I went straight to a back shelf, and there was an original copy of a Newgate Calendar. It was £20.00, and still out of my price range, but I was practically squeaking with excitement! There – right next to the original was a paperback copy of the Newgate Calendar, the price – just £3.00. I grabbed it and hugged it – thinking that someone else would come along and take it off me at any minute. I squeaked again – right next to that was a book called Crime & Punishment in Eighteenth Century England… just £3.95, and George III and the Mad-Business. Another bargain at £4.50. I couldn’t believe it – and didn’t stop smiling and holding tight to those books all the way home on the train. And I was only £1.45 over budget!
Those three books still hold pride of place on my bookshelf – and despite a great deal of research, that particular story has remained in its first draft; I do still intend to write it one day. I just love the strange old laws of our country and the stories that spring to mind from them.

I joined the RNA’s NWS in 1993, run then by the fabulous Hilary Johnson and after historicals, tried my hand at writing Medical Romances for HM&B, without success.  In 1996, Hilary suggested that I try writing a contemporary story for Scarlet (Robinson) Hilary’s advice was spot on and in 1997; my first book Dark Canvas won the New Writers’ Scheme. (Now the Joan Hessayon Award)  Blue Silk Promise was my next book for Scarlet; but then they stopped that line in 1998.
A new publisher, Heartline, published three of my books, Soul Whispers, Secrets and Illusions. Illusions won what was the Romance Prize in 2003 (Now called the Rona Rose, the prize for shorter romances)

Back to the present, having been made redundant not too long ago from the local library, I’ve set myself the task of bringing out my backlist as eBooks and as print on demand books. As a result, I’m full of admiration for the self-published authors out there. There is so much to learn! I am getting there – a bit more slowly than I anticipated. But I will get there…eventually!

My writing goal, the dream I would love to achieve is to be able to make enough money to stay self-employed for longer than the next six months. So I am living my writing dream currently and enjoying every minute; and like us all, I would love my books to be a sparkling success!

About Julie:
I’m currently the RNA’s Honorary Secretary, which entails day-to-day administration and minute taking. Born in Royton, near Manchester and at twelve, we moved to the Fylde Coast and my parents had guesthouses, great fun to grow up in and a fab way to earn pocket money.
I lived in London for five years, worked in a bank, a nightclub, the Needlewoman shop on Regent Street and became a legal secretary. In 1979, I met my husband whilst waiting for my then boyfriend…  We have three youngsters who live nearby and love getting together with them.

Moon Shadow is my latest book became available in February 2016. This book has its own story, it was accepted by two publishers, both Scarlet and Heartline, but was never published, so to all intents, it’s brand new.
Moon Shadow is about a young woman, Ellie Morrison, who moved out to the States on the promise of a lucrative acting role; but it does not fully materialise. We join her when she has no choice but to take on a very different role for a do anything go anywhere agency – and she meets ranch owner, Declan Kelloway. The story explores what people are capable of in order to survive hard times, both monetarily, for Ellie and emotionally, for Declan. There is an element of suspense and mystery woven through the story.  Ellie is a flawed risk-taker, Declan a bitter widower of barely a year, with a secret that gnaws at his soul.

Many thanks again for inviting me to be on the RNA blog.

Amazon link: Moon Shadow - Julie writes as Julia Wild.

It was a delight to have you write for the blog, Julie. Having just finished reading Moon Shadow I can honestly say I’m still trembling at the thought of Declan Kelloway. Good luck with your six month plan – may it continue forever!

The RNA blog is brought to you by

Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman

If you would like to write for the blog please contact us on

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Greetings from Julia Roberts!

It’s always interesting to here from new members of the RNA - in fact any member of the RNA! Today we welcome author, Julia Roberts.

Like a lot of people, I always believed I had a novel in me but it was a case of finding the time to write it. I have worked full-time as a presenter at QVC, the shopping channel, since it went on air in October 1993 while also working as a freelance for a local cable television channel and for Sky Sports. I should perhaps mention that my children were five and six when I started at QVC so I was trying to be a hands-on Mum too… there was a lot of ball juggling going on! I have huge admiration for Mums with small children who can concentrate sufficiently to be creative.  It wasn’t until both of my children had left university that I stopped pontificating and started writing.

My first book was a memoir, called One Hundred Lengths of the Pool, which was published by Random House and was initially sold exclusively on QVC. Shortly after that was published, I went away on holiday to Mauritius with my ‘other half’ to totally relax after a very demanding year, which included a diagnosis of leukaemia, but things didn’t quite go to plan. On the first morning I sat on the beach, under the shade of a palm tree, listening to the sound of the waves crashing on the reef, and I had an idea for a novel. Over the course of the next ten days, I scribbled copious notes and talked non-stop about my characters and the plot to my long-suffering partner and by the time we were heading home on the plane, I had the Liberty Sands Trilogy mapped out.

The first book in the trilogy, Life’s a Beach and Then…, took me around fifteen months to write. I then spent another five months deciding whether I should go down the route of finding myself an agent and/or publisher.  I did submit to half a dozen agents but without success, although one or two commented that they liked my ‘voice’. I have left it quite late to embark on a new career as a writer so I didn’t really have the luxury of time to submit to more agents and wait for their response. A friend of mine had self-published and was generous in sharing her cover designer and formatter, and I tracked down and used the copy editor that Random House had assigned me, as we had a great working relationship. Three months later my first novel was available as an ebook and a month after that the paperback was in some independent bookshops and to order through Waterstones.

I think it is harder to be a self-published author, particularly from the publicity and marketing viewpoint, but it does allow the author to have more control over the finished work. It is also a much speedier process. I began writing the second book in the trilogy, If He Really Loved Me…, in March 2015 and published it in November. I’m currently in the final stages of writing the concluding part, It’s Never Too Late to Say…, and aiming for publication at the end of May.

I was really thrilled to be able to join the Romantic Novelists’ Association in January and look forward to meeting some of you at the Summer Party in May. 

Twitter: @JuliaRobertsQVC

Thank you, Julia and good luck with book three in your trilogy. We hope you have a fabulous time at the RNA Summer Party.

The RNA blog is brought to you by

Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman

If you’d like to write for the blog please contact us on

Friday, March 25, 2016

Kate Thompson: Secrets of the Sewing Bee

So many of us have memories of making our own clothes and being taught how to sew whilst still at school. But what about the ladies who worked in the rag trade when it was a thriving business during the war years? We are thrilled to welcome Kate Thompson to the blog to tell us about these ladies and how they became the focal point of her novels.

How long have you been writing novels and do you write anything other than novels?

I’ve been writing novels for Pan Macmillan for two years now and Secrets of the Sewing Bee is my
second book. I was thrilled to sign another two-book deal with them for titles to be released in 2017 and 2018. Prior to fiction I was ghostwriting memoirs for publishers like Penguin and Simon & Schuster. I combine writing with work as a freelance journalist for newspapers and magazines.

How important do you feel it is to have an agent? 

How important is it to have a solicitor when you move house, or a locksmith if your key snaps in the door? To me, it’s vital. Agents handle all the tricky, complex negotiating, with a view to getting you the best deal and importantly when it comes to brokering book deals, they act as a buffer between you and the publisher. If you’re someone like me, who is uncomfortable talking about money and couldn’t negotiate her way out of a paper bag, then having an agent whom you like, trust and respect, is well worth it. For me, it also goes beyond sheer financial value. I talk through plot lines, brain storm ideas, discuss covers and chat through all aspects of writing with my agent Kate, usually over tea and cake or wine!

As a writer of historical fiction how do you undertake your research? 

I like a three-pronged attack! First hand testimony archives and interviews with historians or experts in their field, to provide a complete overview. For example, I’m researching a book now set in 1936 in Whitechapel, in a photographic portrait studio. The narrative encompasses rent strikes and the Battle of Cable Street.
            In order to research this, I visited the Stepney Jewish Club where amazingly I found three incredible women, all in their late 90s, all very smart and sharp, who recalled with clarity their involvement in the Battle of Cable Street. It was a total revelation to me. I assumed, wrongly, that women would not have been out in force on the day fighting the fascists, but these women set me straight in no uncertain terms. Beattie, now 98, told me how as a young Jewish woman she was chased down her street by fascist Blackshirts, who whipped her with belts and screamed at her to go home. ‘I am home,’ she told them, before outrunning them. Politics was personal to Beattie. Soapbox orators were on every street corner and getting involved in marches and the huge fight to stop Oswald Mosley marching through the East End, was about a fight for freedom and a just society. 
Hearing a first hand testimony like that brought my novel to life and when I wrote the Battle of Cable street scenes in, I was seeing it through Beattie’s eyes, listening to the great roar of the crowds and feeling their jubilation when they forced Mosley and his Blackshirts to turn back. I left that interview on an absolute high because for me, history had just burst into life and I knew it would directly impact my writing. I am endlessly fascinated by the women of the 1930s and ’40s and how war shaped their lives. Whenever I am offered an interview with a woman, or man, who can recall those times I jump at the chance. They are voices that demand to be heard. First hand memories like that will not be around for very much longer so it's so important we listen.
I also visit archives extensively and if there are random questions I need answering, like what camera would a 1930s portrait photographer have used, I call up museums and historians to fill in the gaps. People are always so incredibly helpful and in the main friendly. I’ve had one or two people say they haven’t the time to help, but that’s a rarity. It’s a fine line though between doing too much research and then feeling the temptation to pile everything you’ve unearthed into your book. I always have to remind myself that it’s the characters and plot, which should drive the book forward. Dividing time between research and writing is a constant balancing act, and one I’m still figuring out.

Can you tell us more of how you came to decide on the theme of sewing?

When I started Secrets of the Singer Girls I decided to set it in the East End rag trade, more specifically a garment factory, which makes and repairs uniforms for the troops, as that seemed to me to be a largely untold story of the war.
When it came to writing the prequel it made sense to stick to the theme of sewing, especially when I found out the huge contribution that sewing circles made to the war effort.
The irony is I can't sew for toffee! When I wrote the books I had never so much as sewed on a button. My publisher recently arranged a visit to the Singer Sewing School in London where I was videoed making a tote bag! I found the hum of the sewing machine surprisingly therapeutic, not sure the finished article would have made it past a 1940s factory forelady mind you!

You have hit upon important historical events in your stories. How important do you think this is to your readers?

There is a fascination for little known events of the past and I think people really like it when you bring to light something they had never previously heard of. When I wrote about the Bethnal Green Tube Disaster, where 173 people, mainly women and children, were crushed to death hurrying to take shelter during an air raid, I had so many letters from people saying how stunned they were that they had never heard of this event and how moving they found it.
One woman even told me how she was reading my book as she travelled through Bethnal Green on a bus and she reached the scenes of the crush, just as the bus drew level with the entrance to the Tube. She says she was flabbergasted and it made her reassess the way she views the East End today. The way people pitched in to help, with boy scouts working alongside housewives in aprons to free the dead and injured, brings a human tragedy into sharp focus.
Knowing that an event you’re reading about in a novel actually happened, albeit to fictional characters, has the power to move us and make a novel memorable. It also helps to bring a fresh perspective to an event that may have become clich├ęd in the retelling. I absolutely loved Hazel Gaynor’s, the Girl Who Came Home, about a young Irish woman who survived Titanic. There were so many small details in there that made me see the tragedy in a new light. It was also so beautifully written and evocative, I had to watch Titanic the film again!

Facebook or Twitter? Which is your preferred promotion tool? 

I do use Twitter, but I don’t get the same enjoyment out of it as Facebook. The people that read my books don’t seem to go on Twitter as much either so if I want to connect with readers and potential readers I reach out through Facebook. For me it's a brilliant way of reaching into women's minds and seeing what fires their emotions.
To give you an example, whenever I post up a lovely black and white nostalgic photo of children playing football on the cobbles, (jumpers as goal posts) conkers, or knock down ginger, it always gets the most extraordinary response and more likes/shares than any other post. Strangers start interacting and sharing their childhood stories and you see how much people truly love recalling their childhoods and the lost communities they were raised in. I always try to keep that in mind now and instill that nostalgia into my writing.
 I also try to share photos and a few words about some of the amazing people I might have interviewed that week, which people seem to like and competitions are perennially popular. Having an on line community to reach out to for advice and to act as a sounding board, is really worth the time and effort it takes to manage it.

How do relax when not writing?

Relax, what’s that? I have two small boys and a dog to tire out daily. Relaxing for me comes when they are safely tucked up in bed, and I can sink onto the sofa with a glass of red and Call the Midwife, or get into my bed with a new book I’ve been looking forward to. I’m currently reading, and thoroughly enjoying, Elaine Everest’s brilliant new novel, The Woolworths Girls and after that I’ve got Iona Grey's, Letters to the Lost to look forward to. Maybe I’m old before my time, but a good book, a cup of chocolate Horlicks and a hot water bottle warming my toes and I’m happy. 

What’s next for author, Kate Thompson? 

I am about two thirds of the way through my third book for Pan Macmillan. This one is set in 1930s Whitechapel and focuses on women working in the wedding industry. Two of my characters work in a photographic portrait studio, photographing brides and the third makes wedding dresses.
The East End was grindingly poor back then in the Depression, but despite that, or many even because of it, every bride wanted to look like a Hollywood movie star. Having a beautiful wedding portrait was a badge of honour, as was having the very best day your family could afford.
It was a time of stark contrasts and the illusion of glamour. The streets were full of danger, with fascist Blackshirts marching and the threat of war looming on the horizon, so young women lived for glamour and romance. 1936 was a helter-skelter of a year with the Depression, hunger marches, the abdication of the King and the Battle of Cable Street, providing a suitably dramatic backdrop to my character’s lives.

About Kate:
Kate Thompson is an author, journalist and ghostwriter. Her debut novel, Secrets of the Singer Girls, became a Sunday Times bestseller and is followed by the recently released, Secrets of the Sewing Bee. Kate lives in Twickenham with her husband Ben, their two sons, Ronnie (8) and Stanley (4) and an elderly Jack Russell called Twinkle. She is currently working on a third novel for Pan Macmillan, due for release in spring 2017.

Twitter: @katethompson380

The RNA blog is brought to you by,

Elaine Everest & Natalie Kleinman

If you would like to write for us please get in touch: