Friday, March 31, 2017

Festivals and Workshops: Chipping Campden Literary Festival

This month Elaine Roberts takes us to the Chipping Campden Literary Festival to chat to organiser Vicky Bennett about the event and what goes on behind the scenes to prepare for the festival.

Welcome to the RNA blog, Vicky. Can you tell us something about your festival, how it came about and how long its been running?

The inspiration for running a literature festival in Chipping Campden came from the now

internationally acclaimed Chipping Campden Music Festival founded in 2002 by Charlie Bennett. In 2009 I decided to run a six-day literature festival immediately prior to the 2010 music festival. At that time there was a small bookshop in Chipping Campden. I approached Mary Gray, who ran it for the owner, and asked if she would help me run a festival. Mary sourced the initial sponsorship. We approached authors either directly or via their publishers. The initial intention was to concentrate on fiction. Key to attracting good writers was to secure one well-known author from the outset. In 2010 our first speaker was William Boyd, followed by Patrick Gale, Amanda Craig, Michael Arditti, Samantha Harvey and Adam Foulds. So, between us Mary and I had put together a programme of novelists, gathered a group of helpers to distribute programmes, and hired venues around the town. The bookshop closed two years later. The Festival bookshop is now Borzoi Bookshop Stow on the Wold, and the Literature and Music Festival now have a designated shared office, and tickets may be purchased on line. The Literature Festival offers a fee to all authors and interviewers, and for the big venue, capacity 300+, hires a sound production company. The Festival has no public funding and relies on ticket sales, local business sponsorship, and small private donations. It is therefore imperative that we engage speakers that have a wide appeal, and audiences return year on year.

Who are your main speakers this year?
Max Hastings event
As soon as one festival ends I begin to think about the next. I try to choose a writer who will set a theme for the festival. Sometimes, as this year, a festival-goer will suggest an author. Early 2016 it was suggested that I read East West Street by Philippe Sands for 2017. As I was thinking of Crime/Justice and Forgiveness as being themes for 2017 I read the book with interest, and asked Philippe Sands to be my first evening speaker, and he accepted. He has since won the Gifford Baillie prize for non-fiction.
  I soon realised at the 2010 festival that to attract big audiences, a speaker must either have written on a subject of interest to a wide audience such as world war, historic buildings, great politicians, Shakespeare, Dickens, Jane Austen or be a novelist who has become a household name through television and film. So for 2017 my other main speakers are
Non-fiction: Adrian Tinniswood The Long weekend, Lord David Owen Cabinet’s Finest Hour, Richard Holloway A Little History of Religion, Annie Gray The Greedy Queen, Kathryn Harkup A is for Arsnic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie
Fiction: Sophie Hannah Closed Casket, Mark Billingham Die of Shame, M C Beaton Pushing Up The Daisies: Agatha Raisin. At the two latter events BBC Crimewatch broadcaster Sue Cook will be in the chair.
We also have events on Dostoyevsky Crime and Punishment, Oscar Wilde, and Hamlet. At the two latter events we have well known Archers actor Timothy Watson (Rob Titchener) reading.

As our blog is for writers can you tell me how your festival would benefit our members?
Reading, meeting and listening to good authors speaking about their own work or hearing academics
talking about great writers is essential to being a good author. Additionally, Jane Corrie (whose first psychological thriller My Husband’s Wife was a 2016 Sunday Times best seller) is in 2017 running a day workshop: Expert practical advice on how to find the right idea, create characters, write realistic dialogue, get to grips with viewpoint, put the reader in the setting, and get published.
We also spread the word about other festivals and author events via twitter. Following us, and other festivals, is a good way of finding out what is happening at festivals, what is being published, and what is being reviewed. If an author emails me about appearing I always respond even if I can’t offer a space. It is essential for an author to approach me as soon as one festival is finished in order to be included in the next programme. But not to send a book until requested because it will only be read if the intention is to include it.

How about staying over for the whole event. Where can people stay? 
Chipping Campden, a bustling Cotswold market town in an area of Outstanding National Beauty, is geared up to visitors. 
There is an exceptional amount of accommodation from private B&B's to atmospheric pubs and a four-star hotel plus masses of self catering cottages. There is also a range of places to eat out, and high quality food and wine to take away for self-caterers.

What does it cost to attend?
The Printers Wayzgoose is free, film £5, poetry reading £4, main talks £7, Lunch event £29. All evening and weekend talks are free to full time students.

Do workshops/talks fill up quickly?
Some of our daytime venues are small so these talks can fill quickly. Also numbers at workshops limited. Friends of the Festival get priority booking:
Minimum donation of £25
Please make cheques payable to
‘Chipping Campden Literature Festival’ And post them to:
Vicky Bennett, Literature Festival, The Old Police Station, High Street, Chipping Campden, GL55 6HB

How much time does it take to organise the festival?
Full time for each year: as one festival ends so the next begins.

Dates for the next two years:
Tuesday 9th- Sunday14th May 2017 inclusive 
Dates for 2018 TBC

Link to the Chipping Campden Festival website

Email for queries: Vicky Bennett

Thank you, Elaine. This is certainly a literary festival worth visiting.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The winner is: Sophia Bennett!

As glasses were raised to the worthy winner of The Goldsboro Books Romantic Novel of the Year award Francesca Capaldi Burgess and Elaine Roberts started to plan their interview with Young Adult author, Sophia Bennett. Well done, ladies for a great interview.

Today we're thrilled to present an interview with Sophia Bennett, winner of The Goldsboro Books Romantic Novel of the Year award for 2017, and also of the Young Adult Novel of the Year, with Love Song.

Many congratulations, Sophia. How did you celebrate your two wins at the RoNAs?
The wins came as such a shock. I thought I would be having a quiet evening with some of my YA
writer friends and it turned into something totally different and unexpected. The night itself was lovely but I had a major edit due the next day for a book that’s out in July, so I went to bed early and got writing the next morning. However, I’ll celebrate with the family when we’re all together at Easter, and I’ve been planning a trip to Paris with my boys, who are 10 and 16, using some of the prize money. I studied and au paired there in my early 20s, living in a little garret overlooking the Eiffel Tower, seeing lots of French films and visiting every art gallery I could find. (And every patisserie.) I want the boys to see my Paris, and hopefully they’ll find new aspects of it for me to discover with them. They’d probably rather be gaming, but sometimes kids have to make sacrifices.

Your first novel, Threads, was the winner of the Chicken House competition in 2009. Can you tell us about your road to publication?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was about 7, and it was my serious ambition since I was 12. But I wasn’t brave enough to try writing fiction until about fifteen years after leaving university, when Harry Potter came out. I was one of its very early readers, before it was famous, and both the story and the buzz around it inspired me to give up my City job and write my first adult detective novel, called The Body of a Dancer. It took me five weeks and it wasn’t published. Nor was my next. Nor my next. Over ten years, I was serially rejected by a range of impressive agents and publishers. Then in 2008 I entered the Times/Chicken House competition with my first children’s book. Over six months I rewrote this one 17 times to get the voice and plot right before I submitted it, which was something I hadn’t done before. The prize was a £10,000 publishing contract - and in fact, Threads earned out in foreign sales before it was published and became one of those dream stories that you occasionally hear of. But what’s most lovely for me is that the girls who read it then are now in sixth form, and they still come up to me and talk about it. It kicked off my career, and it’s a special book to me.

Your novels tend to be set in the fashion or showbiz world. What kind of research do you undertake?
I’ve always been mad about design, so I’ve picked up a lot of fashion anecdotes over the years and it was a joy to adapt and use them for Threads. A lot of the characters were based on my family, but exaggerated to fashionable extremes. I also carried a (very heavy) guide to couture fashion techniques around with me while I was writing. For other stories I’ve interviewed all sorts of people from models to paediatric oncologists. I based a scene in Mumbai on a cricket match my brother had with some street children there. I’ve used YouTube videos and rock autobiographies to get a feel for the settings. John Taylor’s In The Pleasure Groove and Hunter Davies’s biography of The Beatles were brilliant for Love Song, as was the fact that I’ve attended the Glastonbury Festival for years. I enjoy the research side so much, whatever form it takes, that I have to limit myself. I tend to write the story first and fill in the detail as I go along, so I don’t get carried away and end up writing a textbook on the subject. For my latest book, Following Ophelia, which is set in Pre-Raphaelite London, I couldn’t have done it without Wives and Stunners by Henrietta Garnett, who clearly did her research using diaries and letters of the women of the time. It gives a real texture to their lives that I wouldn’t have discovered any other way. Finding it was luck, but then, so much of writing is.

Where do you like to write?
Where it’s light, and warm, and relatively (but not totally) quiet. This includes various spots around the house, my bed on really cold days, my fabulous writing shed, where my mood board, spare notebooks, iPod and other essential bits and pieces are … and also a couple of local libraries and coffee shops. I do find that the coffee shops tend to overdo the background music these days, which puts me off, but I like to get out of the house and write occasionally. It means I’m less distracted by all the jobs I could be doing at home.

You seem very busy on your website, blog, facebook and so on. How much time do you give to social media?
Less than you might think. However, it’s probably over an hour a day - and more when a new book is out, there’s a blog tour to do and the website needs updating. I only do what I enjoy. I think that’s the key to social media. The tone of voice comes through and if you’re struggling with it, it shows. My brain doesn't ramp up to full writing speed until lunchtime, so mornings are a good time to catch up on Twitter for me. I’m on Facebook occasionally, but I’ve taken it off my phone so I don’t get distracted. I try not to get too engrossed in other people’s conversations because, fascinating though they are, I’d never get anything done. I love Instagram, because it’s so quick and easy and the results can look so lovely. At the moment my website needs more work to reflect the teaching and school visits I’m doing, so that’s my priority.

What are your writing plans for the future?
Uncertain. I have a backlog of ideas for books, which is normal, and I’m not sure which one to
follow. I was talking to my agent about it this week. I’m in the lucky position that a couple of publishers are interested in seeing what I do next for children or YA and I do have a couple of relevant stories up my sleeve. But I also love the idea of writing for adults now. I’ve always adored crime fiction - which is what I first wrote in my unpublished years - and I’m tempted to go back to it. My latest two books after Love Song are historical and I’ve enjoyed writing them enormously, so I may try more of that too. I’m also going to be an RLF Fellow this year, based at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, so it’s looking like a busy year this year. You never know with writing, and it hasn’t always been easy to keep doing it full-time, so I shall be very grateful for 2017.

Link to Sophia's winning and latest books:

Sophia's online links:

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us, Sophia, and for giving us a wonderful interview. We shall look forward to seeing you at future Romantic Novelist Association events. Congratulations once again on winning The Romantic Novel of the Year Award.

Francesca Capaldi Burgess has been placed or shortlisted in many competitions. Her shortlisted entry for The People's Friend serial competition will be published in May. She's had stories published in magazines worldwide and in three anthologies, including Diamonds and Pearls and 100 Stories for Haiti. She is a member of the RNA New Writers' Scheme and the Society for Women Writers and Journalists. @FCapaldiBurgess

Elaine Roberts is a member of the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme and the Society for Women Writers and Journalists 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 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 hometown of Dartford, Kent. @RobertsElaine11

Francesca and Elaine run a blog together called Write Minds

Friday, March 24, 2017

Chatting with Publishers: Clare Hey

We are delighted to welcome Clare Hey to this month’s Chatting with Publishers series.

You join us less than three months into your new role as Publishing Director with Orion. With your feet now firmly under the desk, can you tell us something of your journey to your current position?
I started my career at HarperCollins about fifteen years ago, with a job as the secretary in the Art Department. I couldn’t afford to work for free as an intern and so this was the perfect entry position. I learned a lot about how covers are designed, and what makes a good brief. I then moved over to Editorial, starting as an assistant and working my way up. I left HC after eight years, had a stint working as a freelance editor and then went to Simon & Schuster where I stayed for five years.

You spent several years with publishers you’ve previously worked for. What motivated you to move to Orion?
I was very happy in my role at S&S and had a great list of brilliant authors so it wasn’t an easy decision to make. But the opportunity Orion was offering was too good to pass up. It’s an exciting time at Orion at the moment, with lots of great new people joining, and having the chance to run the women’s fiction and reading group fiction list at a publishing house with such an amazing list was the thing that tempted me.  

In the past you have worked with many outstanding writers. Have you inherited a new list of authors at Orion or will you be building your own? Or a combination of the two?
It’s a mix of the two. There are already some amazing authors on the Orion list and my role is to oversee the publishing of those authors, with their editors, to make sure they are reaching as wide an audience as they can. But I’m also tasked with bringing great new writers to the list – a mix of debuts and more established voices – to complement the authors already at Orion. Our aim at Orion Fiction is to be the home of the best fiction around, a place where readers will find something that will suit everyone, and it’s my job, along with the other editors at Orion Fiction, to make that happen. 

What advice can you give writers who are ambitious to work with you?
For me the story comes first so hone your text as best you can before you submit. I am looking for great storytelling, a strong hook and a brilliant voice. I want to reach a broad audience with the books I publish and am interested in stories that will resonate widely and will speak to people across the country. Also, when submitting, it goes without saying but be professional and polite – people always want to work with someone they can get on with.

We notice you have been particularly interested in women’s fiction and historical fiction. Will you continue working in these genres and are there others you would like to pursue?
Yes, I will indeed. I love these genres and love publishing in these areas. I’ll also be doing reading group fiction and commercial/literary crossover fiction. It gives me great pleasure publishing books that people can escape into – something that’s necessary in this day and age, I feel!

As readers we believe in magic and we would all like to own a crystal ball. Do you have any advice to us as writers as to where we might concentrate our efforts? What are you looking for at the moment?
I’d love to find a big sweeping love story – something with a big canvas and ambitious storytelling. A Chocolat for the twenty-first century would be amazing, or something that feels fresh and new in the way The Time Traveler’s Wife did. I can’t predict the future either and I love to be surprised. But my advice remains the same always: write the book you want to want, one you want to read. Don’t write just for the market.

We would love to know a little bit about the person behind the name, Clare. Do you have any particular hobbies and how do you find time to follow them?
Well, it won’t surprise you to know that I love reading…! But when I’m not reading I enjoy going to music festivals and gigs (I’ve been going to Glastonbury since I was sixteen and still go even though I am substantially older now…). I also love getting out in the fresh air – long walks and cycle rides in the country (via a pub, of course). All very predictable, I’m afraid.

If you hadn’t established a career in the publishing industry, what else if anything would you like to have done?
I have a couple of fall-back career options: I would probably be a kitchen-fitter (I’ve fitted several kitchens myself over the years) or (bear with me…) I would love to be an estate agent. I love nosing around people’s houses and I actually enjoy negotiating so it feels like the obvious fit!

Is there one single ambition you would love to fulfil?
I want to publish that book that everyone has either read or heard about. Often we editors are guilty of thinking that books that have been successful have entered the popular consciousness but when you ask the man (or woman) down the pub they have rarely heard of them. I want to publish a Girl on the Train or a Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – a book that everyone knows. That’s not such a big ask, is it…?!

May your wish come true! Thank you for joining us today, Clare.

Natalie Kleinman writes contemporary and historical romantic novels and has thrown a bit of a mystery into the mix in her recently completed Regency. She is now working on a new contemporary. Her next novel, with Harper Collins HQ Digital, is due for publication at the end of June. You can follow her blog at

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Book Bloggers and Reviewers: Anne Cater - Random Things Through My letterbox

We are delighted present another in our popular series Book Bloggers and Reviewers by Ellie Holmes where we speak to book bloggers and get an insight into their world.. This month we welcome Anne Cater to the blog.

Welcome Anne, tell us a little bit about yourself and your wonderfully named blog – Random Things Through My Letterbox.

I was brought up in Nottinghamshire, not far from Sherwood Forest and moved over the border to Lincolnshire over twenty years ago.
I’m 50 and I live in a small market town with my husband and our two cats; Costa and Nero. I’ve worked full time for charities and the voluntary sector for many years and took a short break over the summer of 2016. In October I started work as a Support Administrator at our local Hospice.
I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. I don’t remember not being able to read, and can’t even begin to think about not being able to read.

What made you start to review/blog?
I started to write a few words down about the books that I was enjoying around 10 years ago. In the
days before Facebook and Twitter, I was part of an online forum whose members talked about books.   I found that I enjoyed these online discussions very much, and started to write longer reviews that I posted on Amazon.
I also began to write reviews for New Books Magazine and the Waterstone’s magazine that was available instore and to subscribers.  Publishers and authors began to contact me and asked if I would review their books.
I’ve always loved receiving things through the post, and as more and more books arrived, I thought it would be a great idea for a Blog.  I was also inspired by a guy called Ian Carpenter who wrote a book and blog called Guardianwork – I loved that online diary idea, so I thought I’d give it a go, and Random Things Through My Letterbox was born.

Has you blog ever been nominated for any awards?
Until last year, I didn’t even realise that such things as Blog Awards existed!
Last year I was nominated for an Award at the Annual Blogger’s Bash.
This year I’m really excited and thrilled to be a finalist in the UK Blog Awards, I’m in the Arts and Culture category alongside some amazing bloggers.
The awards ceremony is being held at the end of April in London and I’m really excited about it.

Do you have a review policy?
I do, it’s clearly visible on my blog, it has its own page and a little tab at the top of the home page.
However, I have realised that many many people do not read it before contacting me! Review policy
What’s the best and worst thing about running a blog?
The best thing has to be the books!  Without the books, there would be no blog, plain and simple!
Books arriving on an almost daily basis is still a thrill, even after six years. The sense of community within the blogging world is amazing, and I’ve met some great people and made some friends who make me laugh and who let me cry!
Funnily enough, one of the worst things is also the books!  Not the writing, but the choice …. Trying to prioritise according to publication date, or blog tour schedule when really I want to rip open the packets and just read the book now!
Another thing I don’t like is the ever increasing ‘blogger bashing’ that seems to be happening. Some people make huge assumptions about bloggers, and rather than try to find out the facts, they’ll state totally untrue and unfair comments on Social Media – not views, or opinions … things that they think are fact.  How many times do we have to shout this?  BLOGGERS DO NOT GET PAID FOR REVIEWS! 
I also get really frustrated by the lack of Twitter etiquette from some people, but that’s a whole new blog post!

Do you meet up with other bloggers and reviewers?
I do, often!   There are some fellow bloggers who were my friends ‘before the blog’, including Anne Williams, Leah Moyse  and Karen Cocking – we’ve known each for around ten years, we met in an online book forum and have kept in touch.  Anne and I try to meet up every few months or so as we live just an hour apart and I catch up with the others at book events throughout the year.
There are regular meet ups, around the country, arranged by bloggers such as Kim Nash, but I’ve not managed to get to one of those yet.
Bloggers tend to be a friendly bunch, you’ll usually find a few of us at most book events.
I’m also really fortunate to know a few of the Books Editors for the glossy magazines too and see them.  One of my very dearest friends, Nina Pottell, recently took over as Book Editor for Prima Magazine, I also love catching up with Fanny Blake from Woman and Home and Isabelle Broome from Heat, although both of them are very successful authors as well as wonderful reviewers.

Tell us a little bit about Book Connectors on Facebook
Book Connectors is a closed group on Facebook and membership is open to bloggers and/or authors only, and currently has just over 1500 members.
I created Book Connectors in July 2015, primarily as a means of connecting authors and bloggers.  I’d been a member of various Facebook groups and became so frustrated with the long lists of rules that each group seemed to have, especially around self-promotion,
I wondered just how an author was supposed to find bloggers and reviewers, or how a blogger could shout about the books or let an author know that they were open for reviews or features without getting ticked off by Admin members or completely banned.
There’s only one real rule in Book Connectors and that is to ‘be nice to each other’. We do encourage new members to introduce themselves, but we don’t ban self-promotion at all, and there have been some amazing connections made. Authors have arranged blog tours, bloggers have created new features and friendships have been made.  We talk about everything in Book Connectors; new book fads, cover designs, self-publishing, plot ideas  …. there’s very little that we haven’t discussed at some point.
There are another three Admin members, but to be honest, administrating and moderating the group is not a big job at all. Members are polite and considerate, and I can only remember a couple of occasions when there has been differences of opinion that have led to unpleasantness.  On the whole, we are a respectful bunch, and although we may have differing views, we discuss them in a positive way.
The main job is deleting the requests to join from people who are not authors, or bloggers, or anything to do with the book world! Book Connectors

Freelance PR and Admin
For the past twenty years or so I have worked for various charities, I’m a Community Development Worker, trained Volunteer Manager and Funding Advisor and left the NHS to work on projects ranging from teaching Young Offenders basic literacy and numeracy skills to re-developing ex RAF camps into sustainable communities.
I’ve also been a part-time Parish Clerk for fourteen years.
Times have changed for the voluntary sector, funding cuts have been deep and damaging and it has become harder and harder to secure any monies to deliver the extra services that charities and community organisations do so well.
For many reasons, last May I gave up work and took a break over the summer. It was scary, and the first time that I hadn’t been in full-time employment since I left school in the 1980s.  I started a part time job at our local Hospice as an Administrator, in October, and I love it.
Whilst I was off work, I started to talk to a couple of smaller publishers; Orenda Books and No Exit Press. I’ve supported these two publishers for a long time, and they’ve always been great contributors to Random Things too.
Orenda Books took a chance on me, and I’ve been working for them on a freelance basis for a few months now.  I do lots of fiddly admin stuff with spreadsheets and databases, all to do with IPR rights. It’s complicated, but I’ve learned so much.  Orenda founder and book magician Karen Sullivan then asked me to help to organise some blog tours for her.  My first tour was Sealskin by Su Bristow and has been an outstanding success. I’ve enjoyed it so much.
On the back of that, I approached No Exit Press and met with them earlier in the year. I’m now working with them on Blog Tours too and the Desperation Road tour has just finished, and was another great success.
I’m so grateful that both Orenda and No Exit took a chance on me.  I enjoy this so much, and love working with bloggers, publishers and authors.

When I’m not reading or blogging, I like to spend time with my husband and best mate Martin.  We
enjoy music, cinema and theatre and seem to spend a lot of time eating out, be it afternoon tea or fine dining, or a good burger! I’m a very very good shopper too!  Boots, dresses, bags, candles, make up and stationery are my weaknesses.

J Clearly a woman after our own heart, Anne. Thank you so much for being such an interesting guest. We are in awe at all the various plates you are spinning and the best of luck with the UK Blog Awards next month.


Twitter @annecater