Friday, December 22, 2017

Rachael Thomas: Trekking along The Great Wall of China

The support of members of the RNA has always been unwavering and when I took on the challenge of trekking along parts of the Great Wall of China to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation, that support from fellow members was the same.
I completed my challenge in October and myself and my fellow twenty-seven trekkers raised over £52,000 for the cause, so thanks to everyone for your support, be that through sponsorship or sharing my endeavours to raise awareness.
The five days' trekking had its unique challenges for me. I was not too happy with heights, but ‘infinity steps’ were something else! Talking of steps, I encountered thousands of them along the wall, from never ending steps I had to clamber up to tiny little ones, which made my legs ache.
Most days we were off the beaten track on what we quickly named the ‘wild wall’ and hardly ever saw anyone else. We all agreed this was much nicer than the tourist parts which are easily accessible from Beijing and thronging with people – even in the rain!

The group also had a day in Beijing where we went on a jam-packed tour starting at The Temple of Heaven, with its peaceful park where all the locals go each day to do everything from exercise to hold knitting and chess clubs. Then onto the Pearl Market for a bit of bartering for souvenirs before going to Tiananmen Square and finally The Forbidden City.

Well done, Rachael for this fantastic achievement!


Genealogist Lydia Carter-Wilson is horrified by the debts her father has run up in her name. Then magnate Raul Valdez approaches her with an outrageous proposition. If she helps him claim his inheritance, he’ll pay off her debts and save her tarnished reputation. But there’s a catch. If she fails, she will marry Raul on Christmas Eve!
No matter their instant and electrifying attraction, Lydia knows Raul’s proposal amounts to blackmail. Yet faced with an impossible choice – risking ruin or becoming Raul’s bartered bride – Lydia finds she cannot resist her desire to make a deal with the dark-hearted billionaire…!

About Rachael:

I love to contrast my daily life working on the farm with writing romances, which are set in locations all around the world and take my characters on an emotional and passionate journey.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Heidi Swain: The Christmas Market

Today we add a little bit of tinsel to the blog as we welcome Heidi Swain to talk about her experience of writing for the festive market.

Although passionate about writing from an early age, Heidi Swain gained a degree in Literature, flirted briefly with a newspaper career, married and had two children before she plucked up the courage to join a creative writing class and take her literary ambitions seriously.
A lover of Galaxy bars, vintage paraphernalia and the odd bottle of fizz, she now writes feel good fiction with heart for Simon and Schuster.
Her debut novel, The Chery Tree Café was published in July 2015 (paperback June 2017) and Summer at Skylark Farm hit the shelves the following June. Mince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas Market was a hugely successful Christmas 2016 release and her fourth book, Coming Home to Cuckoo Cottage was published in July 2017. She is currently celebrating her October 2017 Christmas release, Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at The Christmas Fair.
Heidi lives in Norfolk with her wonderful family and a mischievous cat called Storm.

Over to you Heidi…

When I set out to pursue my dream of becoming a published author there were a few goals I hoped to achieve. Seeing my books in a library, on the supermarket shelves, in the Bookseller and with an Amazon bestseller flag were a few, but the epitome for me was the opportunity to write a book specifically for the Christmas market.
With two books under my belt I was delighted when the chance came along and I grabbed the opportunity to start planning with both hands, but not before I had chatted at length to fellow authors, friends and a lot of readers.
The first thing I realised was that writing a Christmas book came with a heavy weight of what I call Reader Responsibility. That same responsibility is present at any time of year. For example, if an author has a book out during the summer and there’s a chance that it will be given the much coveted Holiday Read spot and packed along with the sarong and sunblock, that itself produces a pressure to tick certain boxes.
However, I soon became aware that throwing the word ‘Christmas’ into the mix was enough to crank that level of responsibility up tenfold. Not only because the book is being published at ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, but also because there’s the possibility, if the price is right (and let’s face it, with supermarket promos it more often than not is), that it will be deemed special enough to be given away as a present.
I hadn’t undertaken many pre-planning conversations before a common theme started to emerge. Lots of people objected to books which had ‘Christmas’ in the title, when they realised, just a few pages in, that the festive flourishes were going to be lacking and the big day itself barely mentioned, let alone made a feature of. If the cover was shiny, sparkly, glossy and glittery, the readers expected, desired, hoped for snow, sleigh rides and Santa himself and if they didn’t get it they felt let down. Many said they felt cheated and that the book which had disappointed them had only included ‘Christmas’ in the title as a way to increase sales.
And so, with this in mind, I made it my mission to not only write an interesting and plot driven book, but one which also centred around the snowy season and held celebrating Christmas as its heart. Mince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas Market was crammed full of festive makes, bakes, markets, workshops and gifts, but did my plan work? If the reviews and sales were anything to go by, yes it did and the fact that my editor called early on in the New Year to ask if I felt that Wynbridge had more winter cheer to offer was proof enough for me.

Second time around and I’ve written a book I think I love more than any of the others, but that could be simply because it is the current book on the shelves and I have developed a tendency to say that every publication day. However, Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at The Christmas Fair delivers everything the title promises, along with a Solstice celebration, romantic encounters under the stars and more than the average number of trees.
The book has a new setting, Wynthorpe Hall, and a brand new set of characters to get to know, but one thing they have in common with their neighbours in town is that they love Christmas and know how to celebrate it in style. And, as if that wasn’t enough to cheer about, there’s the added excitement that my readers have also taken it to their hearts and turned me into a Sunday Times Best-selling Author!
I’m immensely proud to have reached another of my goals and I hope that if you have a festive book out this year then you’ve enjoyed the experience of writing it as much as I have.
Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a productive New Year!
Heidi x

Thank you for that Heidi and a very merry Christmas to you too!

When Anna takes on the role of companion to the owner of Wynthorpe Hall, on the outskirts of Wynbridge, she has no idea that her life is set to change beyond all recognition.
A confirmed ‘bah humbug’ when it comes to Christmas, Anna is amazed to find herself quickly immersed in the eccentric household, and when youngest son Jamie unexpectedly arrives home it soon becomes obvious that her personal feelings are going all out to compromise her professional persona.
Jamie, struggling to come to terms with life back in the Fens, makes a pact with Anna – she has to teach him to fall back in love with Wynthorpe Hall, while he helps her fall back in love with Christmas. But will it all prove too much for Anna, or can the family of Wynthorpe Hall warm her heart once and for all...?
Join Anna for a festive journey that is festooned with sleigh rides and silver bells and help her discover her happy ever after.

Silver Bells and Sleigh Rides is available now.

You can find out more about Heidi and her writing on her website, facebook, or by following her on twitter

Monday, December 18, 2017

Adele Blair – Kraftireader

Thank you to Ellie Holmes for this lovely interview with book blogger, Adele Blair, this month.

I am delighted to welcome Adele Blair to the RNA Blog’s monthly series where we speak to book bloggers and get an insight into their world. Welcome Adele.
I love the name of your blog – Kraftireader – and your motto “A book and tea puts a smile on me”. Can you tell us how long you have been running your blog and share your review policy with us?
I started my blog back in the summer of 2014.  My preferred book genres are contemporary fiction, romcoms, chicklit, historical romance, and family sagas. I love this quote about a “book and tea”. There is nothing more comforting than sitting down and finding yourself a nice quiet corner to read a book and pair it with your favourite cuppa.
What’s the best and worst thing about running a blog?
The best thing about running a blog is discovering new authors, especially indie authors.  I feel that bloggers are indie authors’ best friends as we can help bring their work to the limelight.  As a consumer when we are searching for our next read we do tend to look for the authors we know and have heard about.  However, there are some wonderful gems out there in the indie author world and I love championing this.  The worst thing about having a blog is time, I don't have enough time to read all that I'd love to read.
Do you ever read just for fun or do you review every book you read?
I would say especially this year that my reading has been 95% for reviews.  I'm thinking of blocking a week off each month to read a book for fun.
What was your standout book of 2017?
My standout book of 2017 is always such a difficult question to ask any book lover.  However, I do have a book series that I've completely fallen in love with and that is the Wild Warriners by Virginia Heath.  It is a Regency Romance series published by Mills & Boon Historical about four brothers trying to break away from their father's bad reputation, trying to build their family farm back to what it was in its prime and trying to find how they fit in the world.  Virginia Heath has created a wonderful series with each book concentrating on one of the brothers (we've met two already).  There is heartache, family saga, romance, comedy; the Warriners are like a 19th century rural middle England 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers'.
I see from your blog that you are very active on NetGalley. Can you tell us a little about that?
NetGalley is a portal for authors, publishers and professional readers: a place where authors and publishers can offer their books out for early review to professional readers.  Professional readers do have to prove themselves with links to their previous reviews on various websites.
I know you are a keen crafter. What are you working on at the moment and do you get torn between your crafting and reading? 
When I first started my blog it was to share what I love: reading, crafting, food etc. However, once my blog became established and I found I was really enjoying learning about new authors, the reading has ultimately taken over but my other interests are still there waiting for me.  One of the last projects I crafted was découpaging a pre-bought paper mâché owl.  I'd never done découpaging before and it was quite easy to pick up. The end result was such a treat, my owl has pride of place in my home...I must do some more découpage and it would be an ideal project to do to make as a gift.
I love the fact you describe yourself as a “recipe hoarder” (me, too!).   If you were able to host a fantasy dinner party for your favourite authors (alive or dead), who would you choose as your guests and what would you prepare for them?
Oh my goodness that's a difficult question...I would love the following authors at my table:  Jojo Moyes (I'm in awe of her stories); Lesley Downer (I read and was completely captivated by her historical romance The Shogun's Queen, I had the pleasure of meeting her recently and she has so much knowledge and experience of Japan, fascinating insight); Beatrix Potter (her illustrations and imagination around the animals she clearly adored); Milly Johnson (she's a Yorkshire lass whose warmth radiates in her books and I've had the pleasure of meeting her a few times) and Jacqueline Susann (I read Valley of the Dolls last year and was transfixed).  I would cook a big pot of chilli that would be warming and comforting and it's one dish I can do a pretty decent job of!
We often ask agents and publishers what they consider to be the next “big thing” - what do you hope to see in 2018?
I would love indie authors to become the spotlight.  I'd love it if a big glossy mag would do a series of bringing the spotlight to these unsung heroes in the book world.
Thank you, Adele for being such a wonderful guest.
Find out more about Adele via these links:
About Ellie
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 Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Alliance of Independent Authors, Ellie’s latest book, White Lies is out now.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Rosie Hendry: On Not Giving Up

The acknowledgements at the back of East End Angels begin with “A huge and heartfelt thank you to the Romantic Novelists’ Association, without whom this book would never have been written.” And it’s true.

The first steps towards writing it started when I applied for one of the coveted 1:1 appointments with an agent at the 2015 RNA conference at Queen Mary’s in London. I was lucky enough to get an appointment with agent, Felicity Trew, (thank you Elaine Everest), to whom I sent the first few chapters and synopsis of a WW2 saga which I’d had published as a two part People’s Friend pocket novel in 2013. I’d had plans to write something else to show an agent but life had taken a downward turn at the beginning of the year when a close family member became ill and died, pushing novel writing very much on the back burner. I almost didn’t apply for a 1:1 but decided to try anyway and perhaps get some feedback on my writing I’d done so far.

To my astonishment Felicity liked my writing, and this led on to a meeting a couple of weeks later at the Caroline Sheldon agency where she works, for a brainstorming session with the aim of me writing something new to approach publishers with. By the autumn Felicity had signed me up, in early 2016 she sent off three chapters and a synopsis, plus ideas for another two books in the potential series and two publishers put in offers for a three book deal, bidding against each other. It was unbelievable, thrilling and nerve wracking. After meetings with each publisher I had to choose who to go with, which was a really tough decision but in the end chose the wonderful Little, Brown, Sphere.

I’ve been a member of the RNA since 2007 when I joined the New Writers’ Scheme and tried to write a Mills & Boon, which I soon discovered are a very difficult craft to master and not suited to my writing. Eventually I graduated from the NWS in 2011 with a People’s Friend contemporary pocket novel. Since then it’s taken quite a few years to find my voice and discover what genre suited me best, in the meantime writing lots of short stories for women’s magazines, both contemporary and historical, and a WW2 serial for People’s Friend. It was after the 2015 conference that I finally found my writing home.

There have been times over the years when I have thought of giving up writing but the RNA’s brilliant support has kept me going, especially the generosity and kindness of members who have shared advice and their experience - this is one of the amazing strengths of the RNA. Way back when I was unsuccessfully trying to write a Mills & Boon, Kate Walker (a fabulous Mills & Boon author herself) advised me to find out what I should be writing and she was right. I remember Jean Fullerton giving excellent advice at the Chichester conference saying that the writers who get published are the ones that keep trying and trying, and those who give up, don’t. Since I joined the RNA, I’ve seen many members who kept on trying and not giving up, eventually succeeding which is fantastic, well deserved and utterly joyful. Anyone in the NWS who is doubting themselves or feeling like giving up, don’t, keep going, keep trying and you will get there, it might take time but none of that is wasted because you are learning and improving and the RNA and its members are there to support you every step of the way.

Rosie's début novel, East End Angels, is available now on Amazon.

Strong-willed Winnie loves being part of the crew at Station Seventy-Five but her parents are less than happy. She has managed to avoid their pleas to join the WRENS so far but when a tragedy hits too close to home she finds herself wondering if she's cut out for this life after all.

Former housemaid Bella was forced to leave the place she loved when she lost it all and it's taken her a while to find somewhere else to call home. She's finally starting to build a new life but when the air raids begin, it seems she may have to start over once again.

East-Ender Frankie's sense of loyalty keeps her tied to home so it's not easy for her to stay focused at work. With her head and heart pulling in different directions, will she find the strength to come through for her friends when they need her the most?

Brought together at LAAS Station Seventy-Five in London's East End during 1940, these three very different women soon realise that they'll need each other if they're to get through the days ahead. But can the ties of friendship, love and family all remain unbroken?

About Rosie:
Rosie Hendry lives by the sea in Norfolk with her husband, two children, chickens and a snake.

Listening to her father’s tales of life during the Second World War sparked her interest in this period and she’s especially intrigued by how women’s lives changed during the war years. She loves researching further, searching out gems of real life events which inspire her writing.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

December's Competition Monthly!

Francesca takes a look at how to stand out from the crowd in a themed contest and has a diverse batch of competitions to enter this month.

Depending on what competition you've entered, you could be pitted against thirty other people, or thousands. If the competition has a theme, this makes coming up with an original idea, one that the judges aren't going to groan at because they've already read fifty other entries with the same idea, quite difficult. Ideas are all around us, and if you're like me, you're forever jotting them down and storing them for future pieces of work. But when having to think of something for a specific subject, the mind can often go blank.

When faced with an empty page, I like to mind map with a spider diagram. I'm sure some of you will already do this. For other, newer writers, hopefully this will help the creative juices flow. The first ideas I have will be obvious, but as the tendrils of the diagram get longer, more obscure thoughts come to the surface, ones that may seem outside the box, but have a better chance of grabbing the judge's attention. Even if the idea seems ridiculous, don't dismiss it out of hand. I find the more connections I make, the more an idea starts to materialise and grow. Sometimes several of the ideas can be used together.

It's too late for Christmas stories now, but it's a good theme to use as an example:

These are just off the top of my head and would normally be more extensive. Coloured pens are optional! Different things work for different people, but it might be worth giving it a go if you're stuck.

Hope you're all inspired by the festive season. Best of luck with the competitions you enter now and in the new year.

Buon Natale / Nadolig Llawen / Happy Christmas!

Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize
Theme: Open, including children's and YA, by women over 21. First 40-50 pages and synopsis 5-10 pages long.
Prize: All shortlisted receive one to one consultations with a literary agent and opportunity to meet other agents.
Closing date: 12 noon, 9 February 2018
Entry: £12

Writing Magazine Dialogue Only Short Story
Theme: No description, only dialogue. 1,500 – 1,700 words
Prize: £200 and publication in magazine / £50 and publication online
Closing date: 15 February 2018
Entry: £5 / £3 subscriber

Flash 500 Short Story Competition
Theme: Open. 1,000 to 3,000 words
Prize: £500 / £200 / £100
Closing date: 28 February 2018
Entry: £7

The Hate and Coat Award
Theme: Darker side of human nature. Three items mentioned must be included. 999 words max
Prize: Winner 50% of entry fees. Shortlisted remaining 50% shared.
Closing date: 28 February 2018
Entry: $15AUS

Dream Quest One Writing Contest (also poetry)
Theme: Open, five pages max
Prize: $250US / $125 / $50
Closing date: 28 February 2018
Entry: $10US

The SciFan Fire and Ice Competition
Theme: Fire and Ice – dystopian / dark. 2,000 words max
Prize: £100 / £50 / £25. Shortlist offered opportunity to be in anthology.
Closing date: 28 February 2018
Entry: £5

The Debut Dagger Award
Theme: Crime. For unpublished writers. First 3,000 words, 500 – 1,000 word synopsis
Prize: £500 / shortlisted get brief professional assessment and are submitted to agents
Closing date: 28 February 2018
Entry: £36

Crime Writers' Association Margery Allingham Short Story Award
Theme: Must satisfy Margaret's definition of a mystery (see site). Up to 3,500 words.
Prize: £500
Closing date: 28 February 2018
Entry: £12

Exeter Writers' Short Story Competition
Theme: Open (excluding children's). 3,000 words max
Prize: £500 / £250 / £100 / Devon prize £100
Closing date: 28 February 2018
Entry: £6

Nottingham Writers' Club Short Story Competition
Theme: Any genre in a chosen season. 2,000 words max
Prize: £200 / £150 / £50
Closing date: After February 1st (see page for details)
Entry: Possibly £5 – To be confirmed

Francesca Capaldi Burgess has been placed or shortlisted in a number of competitions including Winchester Writers' Conference, Retreat West, Meridian Writing, Wells Festival and Writing Magazine. She's had stories and a serial 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.
Write Minds Blog

Many thank, Francesca!

This blog was prepared by blog team member, Louisa Heaton.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Ask the Industry Expert: Literary Agent Kate Nash

Literary agent Kate Nash needs no introduction to many members of the RNA. Kate has attended several RNA events, including the RNA conference 2017, where she accepted pitches from members.
It's a great pleasure to welcome Kate to the blog today. Thanks for accepting our invitation, Kate!

Please tell us a little about the Kate Nash Agency, how long it’s been established, and how you came to set it up.
I set up the Agency in 2009. As a publisher I worked with a wide variety of literary agents and
Kate Nash literary agency, helena fairfax
came to the conclusion that it was the best job in the business. This is because agents have the amazingly privileged position of being able to work closely with an author and drive the direction and success of the author’s overall career. Publishers are of course critical to an author’s success but there remains a potential tension between their interests as a business and the interests of the author. A literary agent’s interests are the author’s interests so we can be there champion as well as having those difficult conversations.
I set up my own business as I felt I was a little too old and opinionated to garner a job making the tea at an established literary agency and wanted to start building my client list right away.

What genres do you represent?
I represent commercial fiction across most genres, namely romantic fiction, women’s fiction, family sagas, historical fiction, crime and thrillers. I also represent some narrative non-fiction.

What services do you provide for your authors?
The Kate Nash Literary Agency is a full service literary agency, by which I mean that we offer representation to book authors across all territories and formats. As primary agent I would handle an author’s work across the World in English language for all book formats. For translation and television / film we work in partnership with specialist agencies: RightsPeople on translation and Collective Talent for dramatisation.

What is it you are looking for when a manuscript lands on your desk? Are there any specific plots or themes you’d like to see?
I’m looking for a gripping, unputdownable read from the opening sentence onwards. When I request to see a full manuscript, it’s usually the best thing I’ve started reading all week, possibly all month, occasionally all year. We get a lot of submissions and I read a lot so I always say to writers that if any agent requests to see more material this is a brilliant sign, even if things don’t move forward with that particular agent.

Do you ever find authors outside the slush pile? If so, how?
I have found a number of my authors from literary events and competitions. I actively try to attend a variety of writing conferences and literary festivals every year, including the Romantic Novelists Association annual conference. I feel that by the time that aspiring writers have the confidence to start attending conferences they are some way down the road in taking their craft seriously. It is affirming for me to engage face to face on all sorts of levels, to be encouraging and be available as an industry professional.

What advice would you give someone submitting to you?
My client list is fairly full meaning that I can only take on a couple of new clients a year but it is really important not to be put off by statistics like that. Finding the right agent is in some ways similar to finding “the one”: you only need one good one and the rest are irrelevant! Few things are as satisfying or as thrilling as a debut book deal for a writer and therefore I will always continue to work with new writers and encourage submissions. This year I’ve had debut success from two RNA members: Lucie Wheeler (The First Time Mums’ Club, HarperImpulse) and Maggie Sullivan (Christmas on Coronation Street, HarperFiction).
It is tough out there for new writers trying to find an agent. There are possibly not enough agents to meet the demand. Don’t take it personally if an agent isn’t interested or fails to get back to you. Agents have clear guidelines and because of the volume of submissions it is really important that writers stick to these to make sure that their submissions are read and lost somewhere in a parallel universe. My guidelines are on the website:

What’s your favourite romance novel of all time?
Pride and Prejudice because of its many other layers of social commentary, character analysis and humour.

Apart from your own authors, which book have you enjoyed the most in the past twelve months, and why?
Clare Mackintosh’s I See You was terrifying and I literally stayed up late into night to finish it.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
My favourite going-out treat is the theatre and now my children are a bit older I’m trying to go to more than just children’s theatre (great though that is).  A good few weekends are taken up with literary events so when I am at home I love to organise family days out but also relax in my kitchen on a Saturday morning, cooking and listening to Frank Skinner on Absolute Radio. I also donate a day or two a month as a trustee  to a publishing charity, the Catholic Truth Society, who publish resources for Catholics in the UK.

If you could describe your working day in just three words, what would they be?
Coffee. Work. Repeat.

Thanks so much for dropping in today, Kate, and for your thoughtful and encouraging answers. Wishing you much continued success with your authors, and we look forward to seeing you at the next conference!

If you've enjoyed Kate's interview, or have any questions or comments at all, please let us know. We'd love to hear from you!

Helena Fairfax is a freelance editor who writes feel good contemporary romances and romantic suspense. Her novel A Year of Light and Shadows tells the story of how plain Lizzie Smith is plunged into a year of mystery involving a missing princess, a false diamond, a doppelgänger and a hot bodyguard.
You can find out more about Helena's books and her editing services on her website