Monday, October 31, 2016

Festivals and Workshops: Julie Cohen

This month Elaine Roberts interviews well known author, Julie Cohen about her writing retreats.

Can you tell us something about your workshops—how you decide the subject matter?

On my guided retreats, I let the participants’ own needs decide the subject of the workshops. The participants have to submit a sample of their work before the retreat—usually the first chapter and a
synopsis—and from that, I (and my teaching partner) identify several common areas to focus on, be that whole-text issues like plotting, voice, character, pacing, or sentence-level issues like showing and telling or creating convincing dialogue, or larger career issues like how to brand yourself as a writer or how to write the breakout novel.

Do you usually run them by yourself?

I sometimes run my own guided retreats (I’ll be running one at Chez Castillon, in France, in June), but I’m running my next retreat with bestselling author and Faber Academy writing tutor Rowan Coleman. Rowan and I have been teaching together for several years now, and have run courses for The Guardian and Literature Wales, as well as our own retreats.

In March we will also have a special guest: super agent Lizzy Kremer of David Higham Associates, who will deliver a Q&A on getting an agent, publishing, and building your career.

As our blog is for writers, can you tell me how your workshop would benefit RNA members?

Rowan and I are both highly experienced in writing across the spectrum of women’s fiction. Our books have both been selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club and we’ve both been shortlisted, or won, RoNAs and Love Stories Awards. I started my writing career as a member of the RNA New Writers’ Scheme. We’re both passionate about women’s fiction and romantic fiction, and knowledgeable about the markets and the challenges writers face when writing in these genres. Both
Folly Farm
of us have coached writers who have gone onto sign with agents, get publishing deals, and even become bestsellers.

Is there anything participants usually need to do in preparation before attending?

For our March workshop, we ask that the participants send us the first chapter and synopsis of their work in progress. It helps us, as tutors, if we know what a writer would like to get out of the course—then we can make sure we support them.

For my guided retreat at Chez Castillon in June, I’ll ask for a longer sample of the participants’ work and generally I spend extensive time with each writer talking about their manuscript.

Are your workshops usually for one day or longer?

Our guided retreat in March is over a weekend, 3-5 March 2017. There are workshops, time to write, and one-to-one time with Rowan or me to discuss your manuscript.

The guided retreat in June 2017 at Chez Castillon will be for an entire week.

When workshops are longer than one day where can people stay?

The March workshop will take place at Folly Farm, outside Bristol, and includes single en-suite accommodation at this environmentally friendly conference venue in the countryside. All food is provided, usually locally grown, and there are wonderful local walks.

In June, we stay at Chez Castillon in southwest France, in a beautiful 18th-century house (with swimming pool) in the heart of the town of Castillon la Bataille. Delicious food and local wine are provided and our hosts, Janie and Mickey Wilson, are fantastic.

What does it usually cost to attend your workshops?

The weekend retreat at Folly Farm in March with Rowan Coleman is £525.00 including accommodation and all food, but not travel.

The weeklong-guided retreat at Chez Castillion is likely to cost about £775 (tbc), including accommodation and most food, but not travel.

Do your workshops fill up quickly?

It depends on the workshop, but generally, quite quickly. We have many writers who come back again and again.

How much time does it take you to organise your workshops?

What takes the most time is all the admin stuff: booking forms, receipts, payments, etc. I am fairly organized but it’s an effort when my normal day-to-day career is being creative!

Dates for this year and possibly next:

3-5 March 2017, Folly Farm, outside Bristol, with Rowan Coleman and special guest Lizzy Kremer

June 2017 (exact dates tbc) Chez Castillon, France


Email for queries:

About Elaine Roberts:

Elaine is a member of the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme and is currently working on a family saga set in the 1800s. She has sold short stories worldwide and enjoys attending RNA events such as the London Chapter and the annual conference. Elaine is a great fan of writing retreats either week-long by the sea with friends or one-day retreats with fellow writers in her home town of Dartford, Kent.
Elaine runs a writing blog along with writer, Francesca Capaldi Burgess called 

Thank you Elaine and Julie for a most interesting interview.

Please contact the team on if you wish to be interviewed for the RNA blog.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Sue Shepherd: Could you repeat that please?

Thank you to Sue Shepherd for this delightful piece about the use of our favourite words.

During the final, final edits of my latest novel, ‘Love Them and Leave Them’, it became apparent to both myself and my editor that there were certain phrases that I really liked to use. Of course I’m not unique, every author has their preferred words that they constantly return to, we just can’t help it.

What I found interesting about mine was the fact that not only had I often used them in the narrative
, but my characters had also used them in their dialogue. I knew all my characters very well, I could picture their mannerisms, I could hear their voices and accents, and yet, occasionally, out of nowhere, one of them would utter a phrase that simply wasn’t them at all, in fact it was 100% me.

What was happening there? Why were these characters, who I knew as intimately as any of my real life friends, suddenly saying something that was so completely ‘Sue Shepherd’?

I could only conclude that somehow, subconsciously, my own voice was determined to be heard. This reminded me that even though these people are real to me, so much so that they wake me at night and demand to be heard, the truth is that they all came from inside my head. It makes no difference who they are, male, female, old, young, goodie or villain, they all have a little bit of me inside them. (Yes, I’m now rubbing my hands together in true Doctor Frankenstein fashion!)

In some ways I’m rather pleased they take after me, I’m extremely fond of some, and even the baddies have wormed their way into my affections. But I remain very grateful to my editor for pointing out my duplications and for making me aware when my characters spoke out of turn.

It does make me wonder what words other authors can’t help repeating? What did Agatha Christie find herself having to keep a check on? Did J K Rowling’s editor have to break the news to her that she’d gone overboard on a certain phrase? Once we, the writers, are made aware of our little foibles, we can do our best to minimise the usage in future. But words are a part of our upbringing, a part of our everyday lives, indeed, they’re a part of who we are. Our favourites are stubborn little buggers, and they will slip out!

Here are some comments from our members about their ‘favourite’ words:

“I ‘just’ ‘actually’ ‘obviously’ know what you mean. And also (hanging my head in shame) I will admit that my characters swear a lot in my first drafts, because I swear a lot. Oops!”
Alison May.

My characters ‘just’ do so many things ‘abruptly’ or ‘suddenly’ that I dread to think what they look like in the reader’s imagination.”
Sue Moorcroft.

One of my books had a character who ‘raised his eyebrows’ about 17 times. Though I have removed some of those eyebrows since then.”
Colin Garrow

“My headmistress sleuth, Harriet Quigley, not only raises her eyebrows, she shrugs a lot and bites her lip far too often! I have to do a check before I let her go.”
Nicola Slade

“My characters are constantly pulling things. I don't mean they're on the pull, but they pull doors, pull on coats, pull away. When I edit I have to remind them to tug, drag, grab and other more interesting words.”
Kath McGurl

“My word is ‘though’ at the end of sentences. It’s especially noticeable when I write in the first person. I have to go through at the editing stage and remove a lot.”
Jennie Bohnet.

About Sue:
Sue Shepherd writes contemporary romance and enjoys creating novels with heart, laughs and naughtiness. She doesn’t pull any punches when choosing her subjects, but manages to handle her characters’ challenging situations with sensitivity and humour.
Her debut novel 'Doesn't Everyone Have a Secret?' was published by Corazon Books in March 2015.  It reached the top 10 UK Kindle chart, and also topped the romantic comedy, contemporary romance and humour charts. It became available in paperback on Amazon.UK in November 2015.
Sue’s second novel ‘Love Them and Leave Them’ was published in September 2016.
Sue lives on the picturesque Isle of Wight with her husband, two sons and a standard poodle.  Her passions in life are: her family, writing, the seaside and all the beautiful purple things her sons have bought her over the years.  Ask Sue to plan too far in advance and you'll give her the heebie-jeebies and she'd prefer you not to mention Christmas until at least November!

Love Them and Leave Them:
Sometimes you have to leave the one you love … sometimes you’re the one who’s left behind. The new heartwarming and heartbreaking romantic comedy from the No.1 bestselling author of Doesn’t Everyone Have a Secret?
On his way home, Ed makes a split-second decision that changes the lives of all those who love him. Six years on, Ed’s daughter, Jessie, is stuck in a job with no prospects, her dreams never fulfilled. It will take more than her unreliable boyfriend, Chris, and temperamental best friend, Coco, to give her the confidence to get her life back on track.
But what if Ed had made another decision? It could all have been so different …
Six years on, Ed’s daughter, Jessica, has a successful career, loving boyfriend, Nick, and a keen eye on her dream home. But when new clients, a temperamental Coco, and her unreliable boyfriend, Chris, walk into her life, Jessica’s perfect world soon starts to unravel.
Love Them and Leave Them is a story of love, families, friendship and a world of possibilities. Whichever decision Ed makes, the same people are destined to come into his daughter’s life, sometimes in delightfully different ways. And before they can look forward to the future, they will all have to deal with the mistakes of the past.

Twitter - @thatsueshepherd

Thank you so much for your words, Sue. My husband has just pointed out my over use of the word ‘grimace’ – ho hum!

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2016


We welcome Jean Fullerton with this month’s edition of Focus on RNA Chapters.

It gives me great pleasure to feature one of our long-established Chapters of the RNA blog and I'm very grateful to Sheila Daglish for taking the time to tells us about the North Devon Group.

'Small and (almost) beautiful' possibly best describes our North Devon Chapter as we gather for coffee, cake, and a two-hour working session in the spacious and pleasant cafeteria at St. John's
Garden Centre, Barnstaple. We meet approximately every six weeks, although winter dates are flexible since our (currently seven) members must tackle ninety-minute drives across Exmoor, Dartmoor or sometimes-stormy coastal roads.

Our Chapter was formed about ten years ago and we welcome new members, whether or not RNA, because fresh ideas and experiences are always appreciated. We agree and are reassured by the fact that, for all of us, holiday weeks, home demands and crises are inevitable, sometimes rendering a daily writing routine impossible. Family life is so often at the core of what we write anyway and, importantly, we know that, whether actively writing or not, all our members make a valued contribution to discussions around the table.

The last few months have brought successes and new adventures. Patricia Fawcett attended the Writers' Summer School at Swanwick in August, brought us news of current short story writing requirements and has plenty of ideas for these - a temporary change from her regular novels. In the summer she gave a talk at Buckland Abbey, one-time home of Sir Francis Drake, where her audience particularly liked the supporting visual aids she used. Frances Evesham's first two Exham mysteries can now be obtained in paperback, and she reports that internet sales of her other books are doing well. At Ilminster Literary Festival she presented a talk on her other love -
Victorian fiction.

Amanda Robinson is writing regularly, an erotic romance which now needs to be finally pulled together. Anne Holman is working on a Regency tale, having had previous success in this genre, and was happy to see 'The Art of Love', her 24th pocket novel, published in July, hopefully also in Large Print. A further pocket novel is currently awaiting a result - preferably acceptance! Lucy Alexander, our newest recruit, attended the RNA Lancaster Conference and, after a one-to-one session with a M&B editor, was asked to submit the next two chapters of her medical romance. An autumn writing course with Kate Walker at Swanwick should help with the final polish. There's one last success for our Chapter to record and that's Sheila Daglish's 'Dangerous Waters' - a My Weekly pocket novel published in May, and accepted for Large Print.

Our North Devon location and cafeteria venue mean that we can't realistically invite guest speakers but, between meetings, through e-mails we always have someone ready to offer encouragement, sympathy, ideas or opinions. Our Chapter does not have a website, nor has it ventured onto Facebook or Twitter, although individual members often find these useful.

For 2017 we plan more of our well-tried recipe - friendly, supportive meetings, always receptive to new trends and movement in the publishing and self-publishing worlds. 'Small and (almost) beautiful', as you'll see from the above success stories, is a concept that seems to work!

Contact for North Devon Chapter is:
Sheila Daglish, 01271 850006.
E-mail: themalthouse94@

Thank you so much, Sheila, for that comprehensive overview of the North Devon Chapter.

Jean x

About Jean: 
Jean was born in East End of London and spent all her career as a district nurse in East London but is now a full-time writer. Wedding Bells for Nurse Connie, is her current release. Her next novel Pocketful of Dreams, set in the turbulent years of WW2, is due for release in June 2017 and is the first in next East London series. 
Her first series with Orion Fiction was set in the Victorian period after which she jumped forward to post-war East London.

She is a proud graduate from the NWS and passionate about the local chapters, which is why she has taken on the role of Chapters Liaison. 

Thank you to Jean and Sheila for this month’s blog contribution. 

If members would like to be featured on the RNA blog please contact the team on