Monday, February 27, 2017

Chatting with Publishers: Hazel Cushion

We're delighted to welcome Hazel Cushion back to the blog. It’s been a busy eighteen months for the Managing Director of Accent Press/Octavo Publishing/Octavo’s Book Café & Wine Bar

Accent Press seems to have grown by leaps and bounds. Did you always have an ultimate goal or has the company grown its own legs and run?

To be honest I had no idea that the company would grow to this size when I first started it. It all began in my front bedroom when my triplets were seven. They turn 21 next month and my business seems to have come of age too!

It says on your website “Always go to bed with a good book – or someone who’s read one”. Sounds like great advice. Do you have time to read for leisure or is it all work work work?

I tend to listen for leisure as I adore audio books. I listen while driving or travelling and love how a good narrator can really bring a book to life. As I’m dyslexic I also find it a very relaxing way to enjoy books and it has all the pleasure of being read to as a child too.

What is a typical day like – if there is such a thing as a typical day?

There isn’t! Now we have Octavo’s Book shop and Café too my day usually starts there as it’s five minutes from my flat. Then I drive 40 miles north of Cardiff to our Accent Press publishing offices. Here I will be in meetings with marketing or production planning events, campaigns and our publishing schedule. At the end of the day I drive back to the café where we may have an event or book club happening. I have learnt so much by having a book shop and really enjoy meeting customers there – it has helped to shape our own publishing programme.

What are you looking for at present?

At the moment we are looking for series especially historical ones.

Does your company accept un-agented submissions?

Yes – although we are currently closed for general submissions as we have such a backlog.

Your new venture sounds very exciting. Our readers will be interested to hear how that’s going. What writer doesn’t like a bookshop/café/wine bar? So, news about Octavo’s please.

Octavo’s is going really well – we’ve won Book Shop of the Month already and been shortlisted for a Cardiff Life award. It’s a really vibrant, fun and quirky place and makes great use of a beautiful old listed pub. As you say, books, coffee and wine – what’s not to like!

Do you have a crystal ball? What do you feel will be then next ‘big thing’?

I wish! Our big success is Jodi Taylor who has produced the Chronicles of St Mary’s series that seems to appeal to men and women, young and old. That is a very rare and joyous thing to have that sort of reach,

If you have one piece of advice to give to anyone submitting a manuscript, what would it be?

Make sure it’s a genre we publish. If people send us poetry or children’s books they are wasting our time and theirs. Nobody likes rejection so check that the company are really looking for that genre first. Also make sure it’s a publishable length – that’s another main reason for rejection.

Nowadays it isn’t just a case of writing a book. Authors have to be media aware and it’s something that doesn’t come easily to many. Does Accent have a role in this aspect during and after publication?

Very much so. We have grown authors by building their profiles on social media platforms with paid advertising. Our authors are also connected through a closed Facebook group where we share marketing ideas and organise blog tours etc.

Is there one question you would love to be asked but that never has been?

Do you love what you do? And the answer is YES! I feel like I’ve finally grown-up and found out what I want to be when I’m older! I feel incredibly privileged because I help authors bring their books to market. Publishing is an amazing industry and a very exciting one too. I adore being part of it because it is so varied and constantly evolving.

Thank you for joining us today, Hazel. There’s a saying ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person’. It seems you fulfil the criteria admirably.

Natalie Kleinman writes contemporary and historical romantic novels and has thrown a bit of a mystery into the mix in one of her current projects. She has just completed a Regency and is now working on a new contemporary novel.  You can follow her blog at

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Friday, February 24, 2017

RoNA Awards 2017: Romantic Comedy Shortlist

There’s a common thread among this year’s shortlisted Romantic Comedy novels, with the themes of family and close-knit communities being explored against a variety of delightful backdrops from the spires of Oxford through to seaside towns and country villages. 

Girl Having a Ball by Rhoda Baxter is the story of Stevie who, determined to prove her independence, takes an assignment organising a charity ball in Oxford. As if organising canapés with no budget isn’t hard enough, Stevie’s teenage crush, Tom, resurfaces to confuse things even further.
Stevie won’t let a man get in the way of her dreams – will she?
We asked Rhoda to tell us more about the setting and ideas behind the book:
I was a student in Oxford and I lived in a house in Norham Gardens, very much like the one described in the book. We once organised a party there, so writing the book allowed me to revisit my student days. There is a scene in the book where they put up the old wartime blackout blinds and turn a room into a disco. This is based on something that actually happened.
The charity that Stevie is raising funds for is a real one too. I wrote the book not long after Sri Lanka was devastated by a tsunami and it seemed fitting to include reference to some of the issues faced by the people rebuilding the towns and villages (including the one my mother grew up in) which were wiped out by the disaster. It meant that I got to make lots of Sri Lankan snacks as part of my ‘research’ – which was a win-win all round.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Joanna Bolouri tells the tale of Emily who has great friends and a wonderful life, far from her interfering family. She also has a wonderful boyfriend who she’s planning to take home for Christmas. So when they break up, Emily is gutted. Enlisting the help of her neighbour Evan, she’s determined to bring Robert home for Christmas – even if it isn’t the real one…
We asked Joanna where the idea for this for this story came from:
Inspiration for TMWTOTY came from being asked repeatedly by my mother if I’d ‘met anyone yet?’ I could have only been to Tesco but she’d still ask. I thought for a moment that lying through my teeth and saying yes might take the pressure off. Families seem to be far more concerned about your love life than you are. 

Cathy Bramley’s The Plumberry School of Comfort Food is the story of Verity Bloom who hasn’t been interested in cooking anything more complicated than the perfect fish finger sandwich, ever since she lost her best friend and baking companion two years ago.
But an opportunity to help a friend lands her right back in the heart of the kitchen. The Plumberry School of Comfort Food is due to open in a few weeks’ time and needs the kind of great ideas that only Verity could cook up. And with new friendships bubbling and a sprinkling of romance in the mix, Verity finally begins to feel like she’s home.
But when tragedy strikes at the very heart of the cookery school, can Verity find the magic ingredient for Plumberry while still writing her own recipe for happiness?
We asked Cathy what made her choose to write about a cookery school:
I was inspired by my friend Lucy, who runs a cookery school in the Lake District. She believes that everyone can learn to cook and that families who cook together stay together. I wanted to explore what constitutes family and also how love and food go hand in hand. The result is a love story about food, friendship, family and finding the key to our own hearts.

In Letters from Lighthouse Cottage by Ali McNamara, Grace has returned to the seaside resort where she grew up.  But why is Grace back in Sandybridge, the tiny town she’d long left behind, hanging out with the boy who became her best friend when they were teenagers?
And just who is Remy, and what is he to do with the letters of advice Grace has been receiving anonymously for over thirty years?

We loved the idea of the typewriter and its influence on Grace’s life. Where did the idea for this come from?
I collect vintage typewriters and one of these – a 1930s Remington model 1 – was the inspiration for the story.

In Penny Parkes’ Out of Practice by we meet married mum of two and successful GP Holly Graham as she relocates her family to join the team at The Practice at Larkford, hoping to find the peaceful life she craves, despite the chaos that comes with her two-year-old twins and the troublesome state of her marriage. It will certainly be a challenge to keep her private and professional lives separate in such a tight-knit community.

There’s a lot of detail about the day-to-day lives of doctors in Penny’s novel: we asked her why she chose a country practice as her setting:
I often joke that my family is a multigenerational drain on the NHS, but when it comes to seeing our wonderful doctors in action and the responsibility they carry every day, it was a natural step for me to write about what might go on behind the scenes in a country practice – to explore the light and the dark, and of course the humour that sustains our medical teams within our communities.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Festivals & Workshops: Aye Write!

Have you decided to attend a writing festival this year? Elaine Roberts brings us another in her series on Festivals and Workshops this month travelling north of the border to Glasgow to talk with event programmer Bob McDevitt about Aye Write!

Welcome Bob, can you tell us something about your festival, how it came about and how long it’s been running?

This is the twelfth year of Aye Write. It came about as an initiative from Glasgow Libraries who felt
Bob McDevitt
that a large cultural city like Glasgow should have its own book festival. We have over 250 authors attending and welcome close to 20,000 visitors each year. The festival features everything from debut authors to best-selling household names and has sessions on fiction and poetry as well as non-fiction areas such as politics, music, sport, science, history and memoir.

Who are your main speakers this year?

Peter Davison, Joanna Trollope, Alan Johnson, Vince Cable, AL Kennedy, Jackie Kay, John Byrne, Val McDermid, Jo Nesbo, Miranda Sawyer, The Rev Richard Coles, Richard Dannatt.

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

We run a series of creative writing events across the festival (about 20 session in all) covering a wide range of skills from writing dialogue and creating character to writing humorous and historical novels. These are delivered by tutors from Strathclyde and Caledonian Universities as well as published authors.

Is there anything to enter, if so could details be provided?

We don’t have any prizes or competitions I’m afraid, but we do close the festival with The Great Scottish Books Quiz.

How about staying over for the whole event. Where can people stay?

Glasgow is a big city with many Hotel, B&B and Airbnb options.

What does it cost to attend?

We have lots of free events and the ticketed sessions start at £6 (up to £12). The Creative Writing
sessions are £15 but last from 2-3hours.

Do workshops/talks fill up quickly?

Yes, the Creative Writing sessions are always among the first to sell out.

How much time does it take to organise the festival?

I start in September and deliver the programme in January.

What are the dates for this year:

This year we have Wee Write (for children and YA) 25th Feb – 4th March and Aye Write 9th – 19th

March. Dates for next year have not been confirmed yet.


Email for queries:

About Elaine:
Elaine is a member of the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme and is currently working on a family saga. She has sold short stories worldwide and enjoys attending RNA events such as the London chapter and our 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. Elaine runs a writing blog along with writer, Francesca Capaldi Burgess called WriteMindWritePlace.

Thank you, Elaine. What an interesting event and so many good speakers!

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Book Bloggers and Reviewers: Julie Boon of Boon's Bookcase

Thank you to Ellie Holmes for another great interview in the latest RNA blog series.

I am delighted to welcome Julie Boon to the RNA Blog’s new monthly series where we speak to book bloggers and get an insight into their world. Welcome Julie, tell us a little bit about yourself and Boon’s Bookcase.

My name is Julie Boon and I have been blogging as Boon’s Bookcase for 2 years now. Reading is
certainly a passion of mine and since starting Boon’s Bookcase in February 2015. I can honestly say, I have never looked back! I have met some wonderful authors, publishers and bloggers (a few of these have become good friends). I love going to book events, parties and of course getting lots of wonderful books to read. The only thing that makes me sad, is the fact that I don’t think I will live long enough to read all the books I want to! Roll on retirement.

I have a wonderful husband, who I have been married to for 28 years (but have been together for 34). My Son Adam is 22 and has just graduated from university with a first class honours degree in Scenic Art. He is off to Australia in October for a big adventure (lucky him!). My daughter Emily is 17 and studying A levels in Music, Media and Art & Design – I have no idea where my kids get their artistic side from, it certainly isn’t me!! Oh and I also have a Jack Russell called Lola who is 8 years old and doesn’t like Postmen very much.

I work full time in a GP surgery as a Medical Secretary and have worked within the NHS for the past 15 years. Before that I worked near London Bridge for 18 years, so did my fair share of commuting.
I have always been a reader since I can remember and was always called a “bookworm” at school. The main genres I like to read are Women’s Fiction, Psychological Thrillers, Family/Wartime Sagas with a bit of History thrown in. Asking who is my favourite author is like asking which of my children I like the best, but a few of my favourites are:- Carole Matthews, Carol Rivers, Jane Costello, Kate Rhodes, Victoria Hislop – to name a few.
I would love you to take a look at Boon’s Bookcase, so why don’t you pop over and take a peek, you’ll be more than welcome.

What made you start to review/blog?
I had been reviewing books that I had read on Amazon and Goodreads for a while and when I joined Twitter I began asking publishers for books to review. The first question they would ask me was if I had a blog. I mentioned this to my son (who is a whizz with technology) and he said “Well why don’t you start one?” and the rest is history.
 What does your son think of the blog now?
He’s proud of me as I don't ask him questions anymore and he’s impressed with the amount of people who have viewed the blog.
 How has your blog developed over time?
I still feel like a bit of a newbie, even though on 2nd February this year sees my 2 year blogaversary, but I have been overwhelmed by the number of people that have viewed my blog and the positive comments I have had. I am still experimenting with it and learning from it, but I think that is an on-going thing with bloggers in general to make their blog the best it can be.
 What are your review guidelines?
 I don’t have review guidelines as such, but going back to question 2, I am in the process of updating the blog with a review policy. I do answer all queries I get from authors/publishers and if I can’t review or don’t think a book is for me, I will tell them. I am having to be a bit more assertive nowadays and say no sometimes because I have a full time job, a family to look after and I’m also studying for a Business & Administration Level 3 Apprenticeship qualification through work.
What do you expect from a writer when they appear on your blog?
I have done a couple of Q&A’s with authors who have given some great answers and many blog tours (some with pieces from the author) and all in all, the authors have been very supportive and have re-tweeted my tweets and some have left lovely comments on the blog and on my Facebook page. It’s very helpful to get a good response from authors generally.
How important is social media to you and your blogging team?
Social media is crucial to my blog. I would never have had as many views without authors/publishers/bloggers re-tweeting my tweets and people visiting my Facebook page. I am hugely grateful to my friend Julie Williams, who guest reviews on my blog, especially now as I am studying, as she reads and reviews more than I do sometimes. I am so grateful when my tweets are re-tweeted, as this gets more people to look at the blog and that is so helpful in getting your name out there in the world of publishing.
What are your interests when not blogging?
When I am not blogging, my main interest is still reading. I am also passionate about music and musical theatre and when time and money allows, I love going to the theatre and concerts. I listen to anything from Barry Manilow to Take That. I also love nothing more than sitting at home with my family and Jack Russell Lola, watching rubbish TV with a glass or two of red wine.
We often ask agents and publishers what they consider to be the next “big thing” – what do you hope to see in 2017?
Personally, I would like to see more London/Family/Wartime sagas being published. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea but they really are my guilty pleasure. I come from South East London and now live on the outskirts of London in Kent and have a passion for reading books like this as I love a bit of London history as well.
Thank you so much to Ellie and everyone at the RNA for hosting me today. It’s been a pleasure to be a part of your blogger event and I hope you haven’t fallen asleep reading about me and Boon’s Bookcase.

Far from it, Julie! Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your world. I am impressed that you still find the time to review as much as you do, given the other commitments on your time. Congratulations on your two year blogaversary and good luck with the apprenticeship. Ellie x

Check out Julie’s blog and her social media links below.
Twitter: @JulieBoon

Ellie Holmes:
Ellie Holmes writes commercial women’s fiction with her heart in the town and her soul in the country. Ellie’s debut release was The Flower Seller. A member of the RNA and the Alliance of Independent Authors, Ellie’s latest book The Tregelian Hoard, set in Cornwall, is the first novella in her Jonquil Jones Mystery Series:


Thank you Julie and Ellie for a most informative blog interview.

If you are a book reviewer and would like to be interviewed for this popular series please contact the blog team on