Monday, July 31, 2017

FOCUS ON: London and South-East Chapter

After a gap of more than three years the RNS blog is revisiting the London and South-East Chapter. Juliet Archer tells us how the chapter has evolved.

We last had the pleasure of talking to Jean Fullerton about the London and South-East Chapter way back in January 2014. Since then it has undergone many changes, including venue. Could you give us a pocket history?
Down in the Cellar
with Jenny Haddon
It’s lovely to have this opportunity to talk about our Chapter – thank you! Yes, we’ve seen plenty of changes since 2014 – new faces at our meetings (one of them even rashly volunteered to be our new organiser!), new speakers, and a new venue. We also have plenty of familiar faces, especially at our Christmas lunch, which provides a sense of continuity. The most obvious change is the venue. We used to meet in The Lamb in Lamb Conduit Street, but moved to the Sir John Balcombe for our 2015 Christmas lunch and have stayed there ever since. It’s a pub with historic cricketing connections – for anyone who’s interested! – near Marylebone Station, and we monopolise the Cellar Bar downstairs.

How many members attend your meetings and is your chapter open to non-members of the RNA?
We welcome all writers, published and non-published, RNA/NWS members and non-members, on a ‘pay as you go’ basis (£4 each meeting, to cover expenses). We cover a wide age range, represent several writing genres, offer lots of friendly support, and even see occasional males at our meetings! We attract attendees from all over South and East England because of London’s great transport links. Typically we get around 20 people at our meetings and nearer 40 at our annual Christmas lunch and bi-annual workshops. Our mailing list has over 200 contacts, and we’ve recently set up a Facebook group for sharing news in between meetings.

You’ve had many outstanding speakers and presenters but not all of your meetings follow this format. At your more informal get togethers how do you promote discussions and exchanges among those attending?
Anita Chapman & Juliet Archer
We meet every 4-6 weeks, which means 8-9 meetings per year. 3 of these don’t usually involve a speaker – July, December (the Christmas lunch) and January – but we still tend to have a theme where everyone can contribute. Our January meeting is usually an informal chat about our best reads from the previous year, and our July meeting often focuses on ideas for next year’s programme or the future direction of our Chapter – but we’re always open to other suggestions!

While we’re on the subject, can you give an outline of speakers/guests you've had in the past year?
Organising speakers is a time-consuming task and our Chapter has a great track record here – thanks to the dedication of people like Jean Fullerton, Linda Chamberlain and currently Lucinda Lee. Our speakers are often drawn from the RNA’s ranks, continuing its tradition of generosity and support. So far this year we’ve had Jenny Haddon on getting our manuscripts to sparkle, Anita Chapman on social media for writers, and a double act from Liam Livings and Sue Merritt on characterisation and conflict. In the last 4 years, we’ve also run a couple of workshops mixing industry views with interactive sessions, and both very well received.

Lynne Shelby & Fiona Harper
What do you have planned for the second half of 2017?
Our July meeting was an informal chat to share our best writing tips, September will feature R.J. Gould on ‘The man in roMANce’, in October Liz Harris will talk about plotting, and the year will end with our Christmas lunch on 9th December. We may even have a little baby in our midst – if Lucinda, who is due to give birth in November, can make it! 

What would you say makes your chapter of the RNA so special?
Sheer variety – of attendees, speakers, and topics for discussion. Whatever your question or problem, there’s bound to be someone in our Chapter who can help. And we are always keen to welcome new faces at our meetings!

Does your chapter have a website, Facebook page or Twitter account?
We have a Facebook group called ‘RNA London and South-East Chapter’, and send out regular emails to our mailing list.

Who is the contact for new members?
Please email, or phone 07814 173779.

It’s always a pleasure to hear about our Chapters, be they long-standing or recently set up. Thank you for joining us today, Juliet

About Natalie:
Natalie Kleinman writes contemporary and historical romantic novels. Her latest Escape to the Cotswoldsis set in the beautiful English countryside and was published by HarperCollins HQ Digital in July 2017. 

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

Friday, July 28, 2017

Nicola Pryce: My Writing Journey

Welcome to Nicola Pryce who tells us about her journey to publication. All writers like to hear how fellow authors reached publication. Our stories are never the same.

If I’m honest, I’m still black and blue from pinching myself. I left school telling my friends I wanted

to write a novel but like so many of us, my career and my three children took up all my time. I had barely time to write a shopping list and any thought of writing was pushed well to the back of my mind.
I trained as a nurse and loved it, but with three children under three, I opted to stay at home and trained as a library assistant, working in school libraries to be free for the holidays. I had always loved literature and took the chance to study for an Open University degree in Humanities. Once the kids were older, I went back to nursing and trained as a chemotherapy nurse which I absolutely loved.

It was only when the children left university and my school friends began pestering me that I began to think about writing again. Conversations were already taking place in my head -people were talking across my mind. They had their own agenda, they were falling in love and for the first time ever, I began to look forward to my ironing pile so I could eavesdrop on their conversations. The voices were forming characters and for the sake of my sanity, I thought I should get what they were saying down on paper.

We had a week’s holiday and a storm was forecast. My husband managed to persuade me we could sail to Fowey in time to ride out the storm. I had my head in a bucket the whole way there and for a week we tossed and heaved on our mooring, my silence not going unnoticed. I stared out of the hatch and saw only eighteenth century Cornwall; the boatyards, the tall masts, and heard the wind whistling through the rigging of the ships. I decided, there and then, to take early retirement and have a go at writing my book.

It took over two and a half years. I wrote it for my family because I thought they ought to know what sort of romantic nonsense filled their mother’s head. It was over 185,000 words long and when I finished, I very tentatively gave it to my husband, my sister, and two school friends to read. I had told virtually no one I was writing the book and when they came back with such encouragement, I wondered what to do. I had seen an article about the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook so I read it from cover to cover and realised I must try and find an agent.

I highlighted ten names and began sending off my letter of introduction and the first three chapters. I followed their instructions, looking up specific names, and only choosing agents who were taking on new writers and who wanted the kind of book I had written. I knew agents wanted to be approached in turn but I honestly lost count of how long I had given them, and whether I should wait any longer for their rejection letters. Some never replied, some offered me a place on their writing course, others said they were sorry but it was just not commercial enough.

I had reached the stage where I knew I would have to send out more letters when I got a phone call and my life changed. I answered the phone to Teresa Chris and my legs turned to jelly. I honestly couldn’t speak but muttered back incoherently. I had to sit immediately, and write down everything she was saying with shaking hands. 185,000 words was too long. I had to cut it down to 120,000 and then re-submit it to her. I thought it would be hard to lose those words but it proved remarkably easy. When I returned the manuscript I had another phone call. She must have wondered if I was still on the other end of the phone because I was honestly speechless. She wanted to sign me up and was going to send me a contract.

I was very, very lucky and I’m still pinching myself. My message to anyone wanting to find an agent is never say never. Never in a million years did I expect that to happen. Never in a million years did I think to get a two book deal with Corvus – let alone be offered a third and fourth. Teresa Chris and Sara O’Keeffe from Atlantic books have taken my books and turned them into what they are today, and I cannot thank them enough.

One year after the publication of Pengelly’s Daughter, I have finally embraced social media. Do visit my new website if you would like to read more about my books. The Captain’s Girl is published this July and my next novel, The Cornish Dressmaker has been accepted and is through the edits. Eyes down now for number four.

Thank you so much Elaine for inviting me onto the RNA blog, and thank you to everyone in the RNA for your very warm welcome. Over the years, despite being so busy with my family and grandsons, I recognise how much writers give up for their work, and how important it is to have such a remarkable association behind us.

With best wishes to you all, Niki

The Captain’s Girl
As the French Revolution threatens the stability of England, so too is discontent brewing in the heart of Celia Cavendish. Promised to the brutal Viscount Vallenforth, she must find a way to break free from the bounds of a life stifled by convention and cruelty.
Inspired by her cousin Arbella, who just a few months earlier followed her heart and eloped with the man she loved, she vows to escape her impending marriage and take her destiny back into her own hands. She enlists her neighbours, Sir James and Lady Polcarrow, who have themselves made a dangerous enemy of Celia’s father, in the hope of making a new life for herself.
But can the Polcarrows’ mysterious friend Arnaud, captain of the cutter L’Aigrette, protect Celia from a man who will let nothing stand in the way of his greed? And will Arnaud himself prove to be friend… or foe?


Thank you, Niki, what an exciting journey!

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

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Louise Rose-Innes: Writing Cross Genre

Welcome to Louise Rose-Innes who writes about a subject that will relate to many members.

They say you should write what you read, but what if you love two distinctly different genres? I fell
in love with romance from an early age, devouring Johanna Lindsay’s novels featuring strong, stubborn men and feisty damsels in distress, as well as an unhealthy number of Mills and Boon and racier novels like Lace and The Thorn Birds. I lived the heroines and daydreamed about finding such a man. It seemed obvious to me that one day I’d write my own romance novel.

Then as I matured, I moved on to crime. I read a Sydney Sheldon that my parents had in their bookcase and I was hooked. I sped through all of his books, then went on to Robert Ludlum, Michael Connolly, David Baldacci and the list continues…

Funnily enough, when I finally sat down to pen my own book, it was romance that I tried first. I signed up for a romance writing short course and loved it. I was addicted. After many false starts I finally finished a 50K word romance novel – and boy was I proud of it. I knew it wasn’t a work of art, but it was a fine starting point. It motivated me to write harder, learn more about the romance writing craft, delve into conflict, relationships and resolutions. I devoured every book I could find on the topic. I joined the RNA and went through the New Writer’s Scheme. Words cannot express how valuable that lesson was for me. Eventually I got a romantic suspense novel published and self-published some of my older works, that I’d reworked. I was a bona fide romance author. Woo-hoo!

Then the inkling began… If I could write romance, surely I could conquer crime thrillers too? My reading tastes became more crime oriented over the years and now I rarely read romance anymore. I’d been writing romantic suspense for a few years, so I was ready.

I outlined a suspense novel, tentatively, after reading in-depth about creating suspense, conflict in crime novels and analysing all the hundreds of crime novels I’d read in the last ten years. Then I outlined it a second time, and a third. I left the outline for a while and wrote another romance. Then went back to it and fleshed it out, worked on some of the more complicated plot points and ironed out some creases in the story. Now I was ready to put pen to paper.

It took me three months to finish the first draft. I wrote every day for about 3 hours. That was the only time I had available. Luckily, I’m a fast typist and if the story is flowing I can hit 6000 words per day with relative ease. I sent the draft to my mother, who is a big crime reader too. She made some valid points and I reworked the manuscript a second time, smoothing the rough edges and building in deeper conflicts, past traumas and adding tension.

I think the hardest part for me was the plotting. With romance, the story is more character driven. So while there is a plot, it’s the personalities of the characters that drive the story forward. While this is true to a certain extent in crime, a good, well thought out, intricate and clever plot is worth it’s weight in gold. The idea behind the story that hasn’t been done a thousand times before – that’s what really got to me. I laboured over the plot for ages in the outline, slept on it, researched certain angles and added more layers. This is an art in itself and is way more difficult that I expected.

When it came to writing the novel, layering on the suspense, foreshadowing and building tension required a great deal of thought. Often, I’d reach a point in the book, and go back and add in some foreshadowing earlier in the novel before continuing. Or I’d set something up and then it wouldn’t materialise… and I’d have to go back and rework that section.

On the flip side, the development of the characters came easily to me. Their past traumas, the psychology of the villain, the developing love interest between the main characters were all things I’d done before, practiced and got right. I felt this was a strength that I’d carried through from writing romance.

The danger, of course, is adding too much romance into a crime novel – and this is something I am aware I may have done. Old habits die hard. But since this is my first attempt, I’m not being too critical of myself. My second thriller, set in the United Kingdom, will be grittier as I get a handle on the tougher nature of crime novels and the lack of demand for romance. I’ve already outlined it and am waiting for the moment to sit down and let it take me on it’s journey.

What I’ve Learned:

1.     Writing romance will set you up nicely for developing characters in crime novels. Your additional insight into what makes people tick will give your characters depth and hidden layers that will be useful in other genres.
2.     Building suspense is a multi-layered process and (in my opinion) impossible to get right in one draft. As your story changes and develops, tension will escalate, but foreshadowing and plot points will need to be reworked.
3.     Plotting is crucial to a fast-moving story. There can’t be any holes, and to drive a 80K word story, it has to be complicated or intricate or else it won’t sustain the novel. Plot twists are hard to get right, as so many things have been done already and you don’t want your reader finding the book predictable.
4.     Reading thrillers and analysing what other successful writers do is a worthwhile pursuit. I’ve made notes on countless other books and learned from them. Be your own teacher, if you want to try out another genre.
5.     Give it a go. As a storyteller, there is no reason why you can’t tackle another genre, especially if you read it and enjoy it as well. I took ages to work up the confidence to write my first thriller, but I’m so glad I did.

UNDERCURRENT is the new suspense novel by Louise Rose-Innes, and is currently under review with various publishers. Sign up to Louise’s newsletter to be notified of it’s release date.

Blurb: Ex-special forces private investigator, Munro Crane, is forced to betray the man who saved his life in order to see justice served.


Thank you Louise and good luck placing your latest work.

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

jay Dixon: Write the best novel you can!

We welcome jay Dixon to the RNA blog today. jay is one of those wonderful people who help authors make their novels shine.

I love my job – most days. To help an author write the best book possible is a privilege – though sometimes I have to admit it is rather exasperating! What is plain to me – for instance, if a character is being addressed, there is always a comma before their name/title, e.g. ‘I love you, Mother’ ­– is obviously not to many authors! And it is so tedious, keep having to insert commas!

Even if you know nothing about editing rules, there is still a lot you can do to make an editor’s job easier. The first rule is ‘be consistent’. For instance, if you start with using single quote marks, keep to single, except when quoting something within the single quotes, when you use double (and vice versa) – e.g.:

‘It’s as Dorothy L. Sayers said, “I love you – I am at rest with you – I have come home.” That’s how I have felt since you came into my life.’

These days you don’t have two spaces after a full stop (or question mark or exclamation mark). Oh, yes, and if a character asks a question, please use a question mark!

Some writers have a problem with timelines. Personally, I’ve never understood this, but all authors I’ve spoken to assure me it is difficult. I once edited a book where the heroine had an 11-month pregnancy! And the reason I knew this was because I had written down in each set of chapter notes how many days/weeks/months had passed since the events in the previous chapter. So my timelines look something like this:

Chapter 1
Eve and Adam in garden

p.10 Ch 2 + 2 days
Eve meets Kaa

p.20 Ch 3 + 1 week
Eve has garden party (with apples!)

p.30 + 1 day
Leave garden – after 10 days [ms has 2 weeks]

Of course, if you are using flashbacks, or a story with multiple viewpoints, or set in multiple periods, it is not quite that simple, and you may need another timeline for each POV/period. But the principle remains the same.

And please ensure that characters keep the same name! One M&B I read had the heroine’s name in the title – unfortunately the then editor hadn’t spotted that her name changed halfway through! And don’t duplicate names. Indeed, if it can be avoided (which is not always possible, especially in historical fiction) don’t use names beginning with the same letter for major characters – readers will get them muddled up.

Make sure you follow through on things – if you mention that something is going to happen, even if the character only thinks it, ensure that it does, or give a reason why it doesn’t. This can also be noted on the timeline by writing a number in red by a future event and the time when it is going to take place, and then the same number in blue when it happens – this way you can immediately see if you have missed anything out in the writing.

I am not suggesting that you keep stopping when you are in full flow to check the presentation is correct. But when you go through the ms once you have finished it, do bear the editing rules in mind.

These are examples of what has to be done. There are other things an editor does which are only suggestions. To my mind no editor should rewrite the author’s prose – unless it is grammatically incorrect. Make a suggestion and the reason for the change – clarity, for instance – yes, but not rewrite. And any rewriting should be done using track changes so the author can see what has been done.

I have said I love my job, and I do, but some mss make my heart sink. There have been mss which have been so boring I could only manage to concentrate on them for an hour at a time – and the particular ms I am thinking of was not written by an RNA member, so don’t think it was by you! I find RNA members generally have a good idea of how to structure an ms, to give it tension, and write believable characters. This one didn’t. The author had told me that it didn’t need a line edit because all the research had been done. The author was wrong. If you possibly can pay for both a line edit and a copy edit do so – friends may have read it, even other authors, but an editor is reading with a different cap on, and it is amazing what she will discover no one else has picked up. Oh, and a hard and fast rule is that you can’t edit your own work. You know what you have written and that is what you see on the page. When I was working for a legal firm, I once asked a solicitor what he had written, because it didn’t make sense. He read out to me what he had intended to write!

There are lots of other editing rules but, in the end, it is the editor who has to know them, not the author. Just write the best novel you can, and let the editor worry about the rest!


I have been an editor for 40 years. I started in academic publishing, moved to general and eventually become head of editorial at Mills & Boon. Since leaving M&B to write a feminist analysis of M&B romances, which was published in 1999, I have freelanced for private clients and publishers, most recently, M&B, Choc Lit and Accent Press.

I'd love to talk to you about your manuscript and any problems you may have, so do come and say hello!
Contact me at:

“Thorough, excellent, in tune with her clients needs, jay is a highly recommended and experienced editor.”
Carol McGrath, bestselling author of The Handfasted Wife

‘I feel very fortunate that I discovered jay, who has edited several of my manuscripts. The fact that I returned to jay on more than one occasion testifies to her perceptiveness and to the thoroughness of her editing, both substantive and copy-editing, and I’m very grateful to her for helping my novels along the road to publication.”
Liz Harris, bestselling author of The Road Back 

Thank you for your interesting words, jay. 

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