Thursday, 17 December 2015

The Write Place at The Right Place

Earlier this week I joined several other writers on our annual Christmas outing. We went out for a meal. Well, of course we did. It’s what people do at this time of year. Without hesitation we entered our chosen venue. After all, though we weren’t specifically categorised on the plaque in the entrance, neither were we excluded.

While our weekly sessions at The Write Place (Creative Writing School, Dartford) are not always formal they are definitely structured. There was no formality on Monday evening, just a unanimous will to have a good meal with a beverage or two. There was some slight apprehension when we felt our reputation had preceded us and it gave a new meaning to the expression ‘drinks behind the bar’.

This is a particularly enjoyable event as it gives us all the opportunity of learning more about each
other away from our writing lives. It’s easy to assume that, because it’s what we see, that’s all there is but of course the reality is that people do have another existence. What an interesting group of people I see every week, all dedicated to their writing and how lovely to hear about family, (other) work, aims and aspirations.

Our venue was The Horse & Groom in Wilmington and you can see from this image that we all looked suitably well fed. A great choice by Elaine Everest. She certainly picked the right place for The Write Place.

This will be my last post in December so I’d like to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a great New Year. See you in 2016.


Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Company of Watermen & Lightermen of the River Thames

I had great pleasure  being part of a group privileged to enjoy a conducted tour of Watermen’s Hall by Carol Ratcliffe, Assistant Clerk, a lady who obviously lives and breathes her job and whose enthusiasm was infectious.

We began in the Silver Room on the ground floor where the walls were lined with reclaimed wood and engraved with the names of the elected Masters, from the first, Francis Theodore Hay, in 1827, to the present day. Prior to that the Company was governed by the Rulers.  The Watermen’s Company celebrated five hundred years last year, having received Royal Assent from King Henry VIII and created by an Act of Parliament in 1514. With this Act came the introduction of apprenticeships and to this day the company is a working guild, one of only two, I believe. Livery Companies were by contrast created by Royal Charter. The Watermen were joined by the Lightermen, carriers of cargo, in 1700.

There was much to see in this first room alone but outstanding for me was a model of a wherry, something of which I’d heard but didn’t know what it was, and the story behind it. Wherries were passenger boats in the style of a rowing boat and carried eight to ten people. They could be hailed from their position midstream by someone on the river bank, much in the same way one would hail a black cab in the street today. If they didn’t like the look of you they stayed where they were! It was no easy job and the skill and bravery of these men was outstanding.

Also on ground floor level was The Parlour Room with its beautiful stained glass window and display cases which house some of the Company’s artefacts.

We went up the rather beautiful staircase to The Court Room, the heart of the original Georgian building. It is the only original Georgian Hall left in the City of London. Those of you who are aware of my work in progress, a novel set in Regency times, will appreciate my interest in this particular room. It is thought that there might have been some influence by Josiah Wedgwood as the ceiling is in that style and he and designer, William Blackburn, were contemporaries, though there is no proof that they ever met. The walls and ceiling, at some time painted yellow, have been restored to their original blue, the ceiling picked out in pink and gold leaf. The marble fireplace is believed to be designed by John Sloane and above it hangs the Company coat of arms. Some of the contents of the room are the amazing Master’s Chair, a portrait of the first Master and, in one corner, a fabulous barometer which dates from 1693. To this day the apprentices stand before the Master and other members of the Court to receive their Freedom and become known as Journeymen Freemen.

Moving into the adjacent room we were told that this wasn’t part of the original building but that two adjoining buildings had been incorporated at a later date. These had suffered severely from war damage but the exteriors were intact. They have now been sympathetically renovated and decorated and are used as function rooms for commercial hire, as well as by the Company itself.

Carol gave us many more details. She told us about “The Doggett’s Coat and Badge Wager”,  a sculling race purported to be the oldest continuously run annual sporting event in the world. It is held in conjunction with the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers and has been going for 300 years. We heard of the part the Watermen played in the evacuation of Dunkirk and how their skills then, and on many other occasions, were effective in saving lives. We learned that there are fifty-one alms houses in Hastings used for the benefit of the Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames or their widows or widowers. 

I learned much about the river which I have lived close to all my life, some of which I hope will find its way into my book. Whether it does or not, this was a day to be treasured; one which highlighted the bravery and enterprise of man and the comradeship of the members of this historical society right through to the present day.

Guided tours take place on Mondays only. I highly recommend that you go.


Wednesday, 11 November 2015

As You Like It and, oh my word, did I like it!

I’ve just had the most amazing evening! It began with early dinner at a favourite restaurant, TAS in The Cut, the sort of meal you have at 5.30pm because you’re going to the theatre. It was wonderful but I’m not here to tell you what I had to eat – or drink! However, rather more full than was comfortable we walked from there to the National Theatre to see Shakespeare's 'As You Like It' at the Olivier. It was a first for me, the play not the theatre. Before we went in I couldn’t resist taking this photo from the balcony.

We had circle seats and a wonderful view onto the stage which was startlingly colourful in a way I can’t even begin to describe - but I’ll try. The floor was covered in large bright squares of red, yellow and green, and the semi-circular backdrop was lined with computer screens and desks, at which were sitting several of the cast wearing yellow jackets, almost like those in a holiday camp. Towards the front were chairs and tables like small trestles, laid out cafĂ© style.

At the end of the first scene the lights dimmed, the brightly coloured floor slid backwards and everything else, computers, desks, tables and chairs, slowly lifted to take the form of a dark forest. A bit of imagination was required here but it wasn’t an impossible shift to see these tall angled objects as trees. Anyway, see what you think. I was able to take this photo because there was a slight hitch and they had to interrupt the performance for about ten minutes.

The comedy was delicious, the skill of the writer unsurpassed, the story as fresh today as it must have been some four hundred and fifty years ago. What was also first class was the standard of the actors (there was only one I was a little disappointed with) and the superb production. Rosalie Craig's Rosalind and Joe Bannister's Orlando were excellent but for me the star of the show was Patsy Ferran playing Celia. What an amazing talent!

I know one isn’t supposed to take photos in the theatre and I wouldn’t dream of doing so during a performance but I just couldn’t resist taking this one at the end.

I couldn’t quite shake off my writerly head though it in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the evening. If anything it enhanced it as I watched the skill with which the master carried out his twists and turns, a thread here, a diversion there, and the whole coming together with such apparent ease. I probably won’t sleep tonight. I don’t mind.

The show runs until 5th March 2016. You won't be surprised to know that I thoroughly recommend it if you have the opportunity to go.


Friday, 16 October 2015

Popping in to say 'Hello'

It’s almost three weeks since I last posted here but I promise you I have a very good reason.

When I first began this blog I vowed that I wouldn’t litter it with inconsequentials. It started as, and has ever since been, devoted to writing. The problem is, I have a gremlin sitting on my shoulder, otherwise known as my conscience. I appreciate that those of you who follow me will not be looking at their calendars and deriding me for laziness. And it would be a gross injustice to say I have been idle all this time. However, a good deal of that time has been devoted to a project that is as far from writing as it possibly could be – hence my absence. As this situation is likely to continue for another two weeks I’m sort of reporting in.

Setting the scene with a picture of Fortnum & Mason - established 1707

Following my visit to St James’s Square a few weeks ago (see last post) I boarded the Jubilee Line to Green Park Station, this time to visit Berkeley Square. I have a fancy it is where my hero will live, though that might change. My heroine meantime is firmly ensconced across Piccadilly in St James’s. While the London plane trees looked magnificent, I didn’t have the same feeling of history as on my previous visit to its neighbour. This might possibly be due to the fact that there are several modern buildings which for me detracted from the atmosphere. I admit to a little frisson of excitement when I saw Bill Nighy sitting on a bench in the sunshine when I rose from my own a little way along. It would have been rude to disturb him and his companion so I’m afraid I have no photographic evidence and you will just have to take my word for it. 

Did my duke live here?
Or perhaps he lived in this
rather beautiful building
Charlotte, my heroine and working title, is coming along nicely. Those precious times not taken up with the project mentioned above have been as ever devoted to her and I have written 6,682 words in thirteen days. On the face of it not a great output but, other things taken into consideration, I am more than satisfied.

The inspiration I am getting from my ‘outings’, various very nicely timed TV documentaries and other research areas is filling me with a thrill I have never quite experienced before, though I have always enjoyed my writing. Back soon.

Friday, 25 September 2015

A Sense of Place

Sometimes the disappointment of ‘the best laid plans….’ can lead to something entirely unexpected and very exciting. This is what happened to me last weekend.

Last Sunday, on one of those rare lovely sunny days, and with my original arrangements cancelled, my husband drove me up to town. It was a difficult journey with far more traffic than we’d anticipated – possibly due to the thanksgiving service at Westminster Abbey in memory of the Battle of Britain. We took a different route into London from usual and because of several hold-ups (holds-up?) saw lots of things we might otherwise have missed; and the sun was shining; and we weren’t in a hurry.

Arriving in St James’s Square and finding a parking space – yes! – we walked across Jermyn Street into Piccadilly and found somewhere to have lunch, each having by this time built up a healthy appetite. It was lovely and it was leisurely. The thoroughfare was crowded and we watched the world go by. After a dessert which I shall not describe here for fear of salivating, we went back to the square, the object of the outing being to ‘get a feel’ for the place where my heroine lived back in the 1800s.

I had only the camera on my phone to rely on but it did sterling work. The first thing that surprised
me was how big the square is. Standing on one side I was amazed to see, on peering through the central gardens, just how far it stretched across. The square’s main feature is an equestrian statue of William III which was erected in 1808. Things were already going my way then. As we walked around the perimeter of the gardens it was easy to imagine pedestrians, horse-drawn carriages and riders inhabiting that space all those years ago.

There was an eclectic mixture of architecture and I managed some nice images but what amazed me most was the history of the square, not just in relation to ‘my’ period but incorporating several events over time. I don’t know why I was surprised but I will mention a few here, confirmed by the blue plaques that adorned some of the houses. I suppose the most obvious one to begin with is that of Henry Jermyn, Earl of St Albans, inspiration of much of the building in this area, who died in a house on the site of the one that carries this plate.

A house on another side of the square bears evidence that this was a place popular with previous
prime ministers. In a corner of the square (oxymoron?) stands this beautiful building, where lived Nancy Astor, the first woman to sit in Parliament.

Norfolk House carries a plaque carrying the name of Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in WWII. I’ve added it here in the hope that you can read the inscription.

Love this building
And this one
 Perhaps I have overloaded this post with photos but I was so excited! Not only does St James’s Square carry many historical aspects but it gave me the sense of place I was seeking for my work in progress. I had previously Googled and found many images to help with my research but, wonderful as Google is, there is nothing, NOTHING, like seeing something for yourself. 

I will finish with one more image. It is of the London Library where I understand Georgette Heyer, my inspiration for all of this, carried out much of her own research. How good is that!  
The London Library


Sunday, 13 September 2015

To Nit-pick or not to Nit-pick - That is the Question

Grammar and punctuation, the ability to put words together to form a sentence that informs, appeals or just make sense, are the tools of a writer’s trade. I was brought up in an age where there was a correctness that could not be transgressed. Heaven forbid, for example, that one should end a sentence with a preposition!

Westminster Abbey
It’s quite difficult to rid oneself of rules that have been instilled when one is at that sponge-like age
and the teacher was always, yes, always right. I have no complaints. I loved the intricacies of the English language. I still do. But I am older and, I hope, a little wiser. It took me a long time though to ‘give way’. It wasn’t until my stepson was studying English at university that it struck me with resounding clarity that language evolves. It is evolving all the time. A conclusion you might think I’d have come to years earlier but it wasn’t the case. I was pompous! (I’m allowed to say that; you are not)

I never studied mediaeval English at school and when I looked at some of those manuscripts I realised I couldn’t read them. Absolutely could not read them. They made perfect sense in the Middle Ages and some were very beautiful but could I decipher them? No way. And how many of us studied Shakespeare at school? I hope you’ve noticed I began that sentence with ‘And’. Begin with a conjunction! Huh!

A few days ago my husband and I went to see a superb production of Romeo and Juliet. There’s no way people would speak like that today but the language was expressive and its meaning absolutely clear…fortunately Shakespearean English is a lot easier than its predecessor.

I have just begun writing a new book. Those of you who follow this blog will know that I am moving from contemporary romantic fiction to a romance set in Regency times. You will have learned how fond I am of that particular period of history but what you may not appreciate is what a joy it is to write prose and dialogue in such a rich form. There is a romance not just about the period but about the language too. I am having so much fun.

So let’s come forward a few more years…to text speak and tweeting. It really did take me a long time to come to terms with these two methods of communication until I realised that the operative word was – communication. It may not be beautiful but in its own way it’s just as creative, as anyone who tweets will know when trying to convey their meaning in just 140 characters.

I have come to the conclusion that, aside from the niceties, the purpose of language is to get one’s message across. If we can succeed in doing that we open our own world and hopefully that of others. I still cringe though when I see commas in the wrong place and misplaced apostrophes.

How do you feel about this controversial subject? If when you read this you find I have been guilty of these and other errors, please be kind. I’m human too.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

From Stormy Seas to a Safe Harbour

As this is a holiday weekend in the UK I'm celebrating by offering Safe Harbour as a free download on Amazon here. I've had such fabulous feedback that I thought I'd share some of the questions I've been asked about the book:

What inspired the setting for your book?
I’ve been on several cruises, each different in its own way, to diverse destinations in various types of weather. Every one, though, had an almost mystical feel about it, an excitement and an awareness of things to come, as yet unseen. There is a romance about cruising that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the love between two people, though of course that isn’t the case in Safe Harbour. Nothing could be more to the fore than the feelings Beth and Ryan have for each other.

I heard you had a problem with naming your characters?
I didn’t actually have a problem at all. They, on the other, had strong objections to their original names and insisted I change them. As I did so their personalities asserted themselves and my characters became more real to me. I’ve learned over time that try as I may to write my protagonists they always have the last word.

Beth, shows a huge amount of courage in taking the action she did? Are all your heroines so strong?
I like to think so. I’ve never been able to write the type of woman who fawns on her man without having a mind of her own. I believe we’d all like to trust we would take what we saw as the right decision, rather than the easy option. There’s no doubt that Beth does that!

Beth faces a terrible dilemma. Was there no other action she could have taken than the one she did?
I suspect there might have been several. None, though, would have allowed her to remain true to herself and the principles that guide her. I prefer to believe that the heartbreak they go through in the end forges an even stronger bond between her and Ryan.

There is one chapter in the book that is quite sexually explicit. Did you find this difficult to write?
Strangely enough, no. Perhaps had I thought about it I might have done but once I started I didn’t think about it…just wrote to the end. Naturally it needed a bit of editing but I truly believe that if I’d stopped to consider it would have ended up being stilted. I don’t believe it is. In fact, I have received several compliments that it is very sensitively written.

I loved your characters in Safe Harbour. Can I look forward to seeing any of them in future books?
You aren’t the first person to have asked me this question. I felt a strong affinity with Ryan’s sister, Siobhan. I think it’s possible her own story is waiting to be written.

I have Safe Harbour downloaded onto my Kindle but would like a signed copy for my friend's birthday. Is this possible?
I’d be delighted to send you a signed copy. If you let me have your details by email at I’ll be happy to arrange this with you.  

Is Safe Harbour available to borrow from my library?
Not at the moment but I’m happy to say it will come on stream in March of next year.

What are you writing at the moment?
I’m very excited about this. Having written three contemporary romances – the second is published and my latest is at present with my agent, Lisa Eveleigh – I have decided to take a leap of faith and attempt a romance set in Regency times. I grew up with Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen and I love the elegance and etiquette of that period. This project will be longer in the writing – Safe Harbour took about six months – as there is a huge amount of research to do first. It’s important for my own sake and that of my readers that I get it right.

It’s been a delight to reproduce some of the questions here. Do you have a question you would like to ask about the book?

If you've already read Safe Harbour please tell your friends they can read it for free if they download before midnight on Sunday 30th August. If you haven't, I hope you enjoy it. I’d love to hear from you. 

Friday, 28 August 2015

Strolling in St James's

Pursuing my research into Regency London, I managed to find a day when it didn’t rain to take a stroll around St James’s. This was nothing short of a miracle considering the mixed batch the weather has thrown at us recently.

A lifetime resident of our amazing capital, I still never cease to be amazed at its beautiful and varied architecture. I think it’s easy sometimes to dismiss what’s on our own doorstep while eulogising over the treasures on offer in other cities of the world. Impossible though not to be affected by the sight of a wide ribbon of water with its many iconic buildings on either side as one drives across one of the bridges that span the Thames. Or to marvel at the history as one takes a boat trip with the added benefit of a running commentary.

On this day though I was on foot and heading for an area that was frequented in times past by characters, both real and imagined, who appear in the novels of my heroine, Georgette Heyer. Even the modern day traffic and the roadworks barely impinged as I turned into St James’s Street. Instead I imagined horses, imposing carriages, beautifully dressed men and women, people on foot - though I was pulled up short when I considered the surface of the streets. Were they cobbled? Made of mud? Covered with wooden slats? I realised I had (and still have) no idea and I would appreciate any input from those of you in the know.

Blue Bell Yard
Many delights assailed my senses as I trod my way down the now, thankfully for me, solid pavement, but there were hidden gems as well. I turned into Blue Ball Yard, a narrow way which led into a beautifully preserved mews dating from the 1740s. With its stables below and rooms above I could, even in its modern day presentation with outdoor seating and hanging flowers, imagine noble steeds as grooms brushed their coats to a shining finish, well-maintained tack, the pleasant smell of a horse yard. For a time I was lucky to be the owner of a skittish but lovable half-Arab horse so the things this experience evoked were real memories, not just my imaginings.

I returned again to St James’s Street to enjoy its delights before taking another diversion into Pickering Place. Through the passage to where it expanded at the end, I found myself standing where it was reputed the last ever duel in London took place in the 1840s. Was it swords or pistols? I must check. Pickering Place was also home a notorious gaming hell which Georgette Heyer mentions in several of her books.

At the end of St James’s Street at the junction with Pall Mall stands St James’s Palace. It is historically and to this day a very important royal residence and though its doors are not open to the public it is much used for official functions. On the day of my walk, though, I could only imagine the royal princes in residence in times gone by. I have no doubt there was much that was sordid in Regency times, as indeed there has been in most periods of history, but to me it evokes elegance, etiquette and beautiful buildings. I’m looking forward to continuing my research as I plan my next novel, an innovation for me. I am moving from contemporary romance to an inspiring bygone age. I hope my heroine enjoys her time there.

I am indebted to Louise Allen for her wonderful guidebook, Walks Through Regency London

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Journeys Back in Time

If you follow me on Facebook and Twitter you will know that I visited the Imperial War Museum earlier this week in the company of Elaine Everest, Viv Brown and Sarah Craven. While the historical period I am hoping to write about wasn’t represented, I had a wonderful time at the ‘Fashion on the Ration’ exhibition. Here is Elaine to tell us more about it.

Elaine's book and some she purchased at the IWM
When my students mentioned ‘school trips’ during the summer break from The Write Place I suggested  the Imperial War Museum as I had an ulterior motive – the ‘Fashion on the Ration’ exhibition. My sagas are set in the 1930s and 1940s so to be able to see garments up close from the era was a chance I couldn’t miss. I wasn’t disappointed. I felt as though I’d stepped back in time and could see many of my ‘girls’ wearing the frocks and underwear on display. Peggy from Gracie’s War was the perfect example of the women who were advised to ‘make do and mend.’ As rationing was introduced women had to be inventive in order to look smart and keep up their morale.

In my forthcoming book, The Woolworths’ Girls (Pan Macmillan, March 2016) Maisie, one of my Woolies girls, is a keen dressmaker and could be relied upon to turn any second hand item of clothing into something chic for herself and her friends. ‘Keep up the morale of the Home Front by preserving a neat appearance.’ (The Board of Trade 1940) could have been written for Maisie!

My one worry as I walked through the exhibition was that I’d made a mistake. Was I right to have my young bride, Sarah, wear a nightdress made from a whisper of satin on her husband’s return from fighting the enemy? As I turned a corner and faced a display of undergarments and nightwear I knew my research was spot on. In front of me was a mannequin wearing the very garment that Maisie made for her best friend.

Even if you don’t write historical fiction I recommend a visit to the IWM for a dose of nostalgia before the exhibition ends at the end of August.

Thank you, Elaine. And now for a trip even further back in time. 

On my journey to the Imperial War Museum I immersed myself in quite another period of history. What amazing facilities are available to those of us who wish to write about an age other than the one in which we live. Here is what I did.

The postman doesn’t deliver very early these days but he came up trumps on Tuesday morning and my excitement mounted as I opened the envelope because I knew what it contained. I had ordered a copy of Louise Allen’s Walks Through Regency London. There’s a big hint in the title! I (along with many others) am a huge fan of Georgette Heyer and my ambition is to write a romantic novel set in the capital in Regency times.

While I acknowledge that the Kindle and its equivalents are a great boon to the reader on the move I decided to order not the ebook but the slim volume I now have in my possession. I wanted to be able to flick the pages; to look at the images; to jump from one place to another with ease. There are ten walks, each of approximately two miles. Such is the detail that I only had time to study the first walk. So engrossed was I that I nearly missed changing trains at Waterloo. A nice touch that, Waterloo, since it fits so well into the time frame. The detail is quite extraordinary. Because it is essentially a guide book I had expected it to be quite dry. Here is where I apologise to Louise Allen because it’s no such thing! It’s interesting, evocative of its time and it drew me straight into places I know so well from between the covers of my heroine’s books.

Even as I type this I am becoming more excited because the first walk is named St James’s and it starts at Green Park Station in Piccadilly. It just so happens, and this really is a coincidence, that I am meeting my sister this coming Friday afternoon in that very area. I will travel up to London in the morning with the book in my handbag and sample the first of what I know are going to be huge treats. I expect it won’t be long before my copy is covered with notes, highlighted in yellow and curling at the edges. I make no apology for this. It’s a book that's meant to be used. In the meantime, huge thanks to Louise for all the footwork (sorry!) she put in. I have already gained a great deal of pleasure and I haven’t even started yet!

Guess what my next blog’s going to be about.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Writing Away From Home - Holiday/Retreat/Conference

The writing calendar is full of wonderful events. With financial resources at a premium how does one choose what to attend and what to just hanker after (apologies for the split infinitive)?


It’s late July, ostensibly the middle of summer here in England though you wouldn’t know it looking out of the window. It’s been raining persistently with more to come. Several of my writing friends are even now travelling to Fishguard in Wales to attend the annual Writers’ Holiday. While I’ve always thought ‘holiday’ was a bit of a misnomer, Ann and Gerry Hobbs have consistently maintained that delegates are there to enjoy themselves. This much is true as I can testify, having joined them on three consecutive years (the first two at the Caerleon Campus near Newport). In blazing sunshine last year we did indeed manage a couple of outings and a walk on the beach. One of us actually paddled – it wasn’t me! That said, we attended courses and talks, learned a huge amount and left with a strong desire to learn more…there’s always more to learn, isn’t there? A holiday? Not entirely; maybe more a combination of work and play. A wonderful week and one I can thoroughly recommend to anyone who hasn’t been before, and indeed to those who have.


In the spring of this year I went with three writerly friends on a retreat to Whitstable – I wrote about it on this blog here (you may want to refresh your memory) and the benefits of this type of ‘holiday’ are huge. Disciplined enough to set aside time for our writing, the ‘time out’ we took was essential as, in my opinion, it is impossible to maintain such a high level of concentration and output without taking any breaks. In any case, there were some little gems we were able to gather in the name of research.

It may be argued that one could work just as easily from home but that isn’t in fact the case. No matter how dedicated, there are always distractions…coffee breaks, phone calls, emails. Internet access at our retreat was almost non-existent and while this was frustrating at the time it did have the benefit of precluding displacement therapy. I know I can speak for my companions when I say that more output is achieved under these circumstances than is possible under normal circumstances.

Romantic Novelists’ Association Annual Conference

My favourite event of the year. There is little time (read that as no time) to do any actual writing. I have recently returned from this year’s Conference which took place at Queen Mary University in Mile End Road, London. It’s a wonderful campus on the Regent’s canal and I was astonished to find an old Jewish cemetery situated within the grounds. I’m sure many of you reading this will also have been there. Much has been said already on various forums so I will not expand here other than to say that I came away with my usual regret of not being able to attend two sessions at the same time. There is such a wide choice and so many opportunities to extend one’s knowledge. Ah well; it would seem the only solution is to go again next year and play catch up, while at the same time missing others – so obviously I’ll have to go again the year after, and so on.

RNA members know how to work hard but they also know how to play hard. The Gala Dinner on Saturday evening was no exception, a wonderful glittering event. Then there are the flat parties (most definitely not in the sense of dull) but no, I promised I wouldn’t expand. Suffice it to say there was much merrymaking. I’m never quite sure how it’s possible to cram so much work and play into three days but it’s a hell of a lot of fun trying.


It takes time to learn what best suits one’s needs and indeed what is most enjoyable. There are many other events in the writing calendar that I haven’t talked about here and many I have never attended, nor will I be able to. I can’t do everything but I think I have found what suits me best. Sadly Fishguard is probably off my radar for the foreseeable future. The RNA Conference and the writing retreat, be it in Whitstable or elsewhere, would always be my first choices. Anything else would be a bonus. What stands out as special in your writing year?


Friday, 17 July 2015

It's Just a Matter of Time

Just when I thought it was safe…

In my fifteen years as a writer, and with the exception of a few short stories, my work has always taken place in the 21st century. I have recently completed my fourth novel with all the advantages and disadvantages of modern technology. Mobile phones, for instance, with their instant access when really it would be much easier on the plot if contact couldn’t be immediate. How often can one pull the ‘no signal’ card? On the other hand, emails and instant messaging can and have proved a real asset at times.

But with no new plot thrusting itself to the front of my mind I wondered about changing my time setting. I looked at some of my short stories for inspiration. I thought of those authors I most like to read. Not all were contemporary. Georgette Heyer was almost my first love and most of my copies of her books have disintegrated over time. Frederica fell to pieces when I dropped her in the bath! Sadly I don’t think she’s still available with the old green cover. A seed was planted and I ordered six books. More will follow.

Then there’s Jane Austen. I never got on with Emma but Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion are long-standing favourites.

Could I write a Regency novel? 

What about the future? One of my stories, Beyond the Fringe, a sci-fi, appears in the anthology Fusion. I had a lot of fun with that one and it still makes me smile but a whole book? I think not.

Continuing to rifle through my short stories I found another that appeals and which I feel sure I could convert into a time-slip. The thought both attracts and terrifies me but what is writing without a challenge?

So…am I procrastinating? Absolutely not! I will continue to ‘play’ for a while longer until one of the now several ideas buzzing in my head shouts ME! Then the work will truly begin. After all, with contemporary romance I have had the luxury of minimal and accessible research. This new venture, if indeed I move out of my comfort zone, will take time and a huge amount of hard work and planning. For someone who is normally a pantster the thought is terrifying – but at the same time incredibly appealing. Regency/Time-Slip. Time-Slip/Regency. I’m hoping one of them will call loudly and strongly in the next few days.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

RNA Conference 2015: Are YOU Going?

As this year’s conference approaches I remember my first – Sheffield 2013. Who could forget the breakdown of the air conditioning in the midst of an amazing heatwave, much like the one we’re experiencing at the moment. Even the discomfort didn’t detract from my pleasure, and the extra knowledge and advice I took away with me were immeasurable. So when I made my booking last year for Telford it was with the expectation of (a) having a wonderful time and (b) experiencing another steep learning curve. Two years down the line I’ve come to appreciate that a huge amount of work goes into preparing and ‘staging’ this event so I asked a few questions and some advice…from some who know and from one who, as yet, doesn’t.

Eileen Ramsay – RNA Chair: How many conferences have you attended in the past and in what way, as incoming RNA Chair, has your approach to this one been different
I have attended several RNA conferences and enjoyed each one. Most are marked, not by the sessions I attended - although I still benefit from much that I learned – but by the friends made and still treasured. One or two conferences were marked by events. 2005 when there were the London bombings and I missed almost two days and the one when, with feelings of disbelief and delight, I won the Elizabeth Goudge trophy.
I must be honest and say that I’m looking forward to attending the 2015 RNA conference with a feeling akin to pure, unadulterated terror. This year I am Chairman of this wonderful organisation and my head and heart are full of the ‘hard acts’ I have to follow.
Having judged all sixty-three entries, I do, however, look forward to presenting the Elizabeth Goudge trophy to this year’s winner. Whoever you are, WELL DONE!

Jenny Barden – Conference Co-ordinator: Having received my information pack for the Conference, I’m wondering how you manage to find so many interesting speakers and panellists, and how long before the event does your work begin?
Finding speakers is part seeking out, part being receptive. It’s a complex process that I’ve done for so many years now for various literary organisations that it’s become almost second nature. Enjoying parties and networking is a help! At every literary function I go to I’ll be making new contacts and putting out feelers. Once I come across someone, whether an author, editor, agent or other professional with something interesting to offer, then I’ll make a mental note and try and obtain contact details unless the means of contact is obvious. The details are then banked and followed up as appropriate, often several months down the line. The important thing, I find, is to jot down particulars quickly but unobtrusively, so for me at parties there’s quite a lot of scribbling on the back of business cards in the ladies! In my experience, people, particularly publishing industry people, are generally much more inclined to be amenable to approaches if they’re made informally and convivially in an unpressurised way over a drink. A lot of my first introductions are made with a glass of wine in hand (or my favourite, a G&T!). I confess to enjoying it – I like finding out what people do, what makes them tick, who they know and how they relate to one another – and generally I find authors and those in the publishing industry to be very good company.

The result of all this is that I now have an extensive list of first rate people I know whom I can call on to appear at literary functions. For this year’s RNA conference the job was made much easier by the past success of RNA events and the magnificent work of conference supremo, Jan Jones. Pretty well every author and publishing professional with a serious interest in romantic fiction is familiar with the RNA and their conferences, and that awareness is now extending globally. For example, this year we have Jim Azevedo, marketing director of Smashwords, one of the largest world-wide distributors of self-published ebooks, talking via Skype from the US about ‘How to Top the Charts with ebook Preorders’. Jim was one of those speakers who came to us rather than being sought out, and I would say that a significant proportion of authors on the cast list are there for the same reason – because they have made an excellent pitch for a programme place. This is what I mean about ‘being receptive’. You have to be prepared for the unexpected! – ready to make room, jiggle and balance for those who come forward with good ideas, as well as seek out those with special expertise who are new to RNA events so that delegates always have fresh faces on the agenda. Sometimes you have to jump very quickly. The process becomes much more intense in the closing stages of finalising the programme, and inevitably there are those who come forward late with great suggestions who then have to go on the list for next year. A sure sign of a tip-top conference is a strong waiting list!

The work begins before the last conference even starts! To give you an instance of this, in May, at the RNA’s summer party, I met the lovely Helen Bryant, founder director of Cornerstones, and invited her to the next conference in 2016. It was too late to ask her to this year’s conference, but she’ll be coming to Lancaster. The work never stops. I’ve now stepped down from conference co-ordination, though I’ll still be advising and helping behind the scenes, and I expect I’ll always be keeping an eye open for interesting speakers, glass in hand!

Jan Jones – Conference Organiser: Is there any particular advice or are there any tips you could offer conference first-timers?
Enjoy. Take the golden opportunity of the conference weekend to be yourself. Soak up the
empowerment that comes from being surrounded by writers and writerly talk - and then remember that feeling when you go home and are enmeshed by ordinary life again.

I'd also say go to as many sessions as you can, because you will always learn something, even if it's not what you expected.

Above all, don't stress, don't worry, talk to people and they will talk back to you.

And yes, enjoy.

Elaine Everest – Pitch Session Manager: Many of the delegates will have been hoping to gain one2ones with industry professionals. Can you give us an insight how you organise this aspect of the conference?
I love RNA conferences and have learned so much over the years. This is my second year as Pitch Session Manager as part of the Conference Team. Jenny Barden and Jan Jones keep me in the loop with news of industry professionals and as soon as the schedule of Industry Appointments is created I make my charts and lists. The week leading up to Conference pack going out I will try to prepare myself. This will mean making sure I have no outstanding articles to file for my journo work, class notes are up to date for my teaching work and the dog is groomed if there is a dog show in June – I failed this year and Henry is happy he escaped the bath tub!

The day packs hit doormats my inbox goes mad. I answer each request in the order they arrive and reply with times and dates by return. I also request that the first chapter and synopsis is returned to me as soon as possible. As submissions arrive I complete my lists and send those magical chapters to publishers, editors and agents. Towards the end of June I have to chase those who have not been so quick off the mark with submissions.

I love to meet delegates at the conference with updates of how they got on in their interviews. News of successes later is fabulous as I feel as though in a small way I’ve helped them gain publication.

In the middle of June edits arrived from my editor at Pan Macmillan for The Woolworths’ Girls. My husband came home to find me hiding in the corner hyperventilating. He pointed out that I love my job and all it entails. I realised he was right and carried on…!
PS did I mention we also have to keep the RNA blog afloat as well?

Wendy Clarke – Delegate Conference First-Timer: How do you feel being a member of the New Writers’ Scheme at her first Conference?
Less than two weeks to go, and already I am thinking about it… with a mixture of trepidation and
excitement. Questions go round and round in my head… What shall I take? Which workshops should I do? Will anyone talk to me? I am sure that I am not alone in feeling a bit unsure – I am, after all, a newbie and it’s beginning to feel a bit like my first day at school! So what made me decide to go to the conference? Well, many things – most importantly that Natalie, among others, told me I had to!

Seriously though, as I passed the halfway mark of my first novel, I realised that the chance to hear great speakers, pick people’s brains and generally share experiences would be far too good an opportunity to pass up. I am very excited to hear what the agents and editors I am seeing think of the chapter and synopsis I’ve sent them. Will they like it? Will they give me tips to improve it? Will they notice that I am petrified? There’s only one way to find out.

The conference will be a chance to dress up in the evening, meet people I’ve only ever spoken to online and make new friends… oh, and I’ve also been told there’s wine and chocolate! What’s not to like?

I can’t stress enough how grateful I am to all those above who contributed to this post. I gave each of them very little notice and every one has come up trumps – giving truth to the saying ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person’. I look forward to seeing them and (hopefully) you at what to me has become the main event of the year.


Sunday, 14 June 2015

Diary of a Writer's Week

It’s been a week of many parts. At times it felt like having all the ingredients to make a cake but not being sure what the outcome would be.

Saturday: Strictly speaking this was the previous week but as we went out to celebrate my daughter’s birthday I couldn’t resist an excuse for posting this photo.

Sunday: I wrote 800 ish words of my work in progress and then went to Dulwich College (magnificent place) to a concert celebrating music as experienced by different faiths. The Old Library was filled to capacity. I believe it only holds approximately a hundred people but there wasn’t a spare seat to be had. I mention this here because (a) it was an amazing experience and (b) my husband wrote a piece for a local publication which we edited together – my writing input. 

Monday: I have a writer friend who has a publisher interested in her manuscript. It’s her first book and to date social networking hasn’t been her priority – she’s been writing a book, dammit! However, as writers no longer live in ivory towers and self-promotion has become a part of the whole ‘deal’, it was imperative that my friend got herself onto Twitter and Facebook, where she had a page but not a presence. We spent four solid hours with just one cup of coffee each. So intent were we on what we were doing, I didn’t even think to offer her another (we were at my house, not hers). I apologise for my bad manners here and now, I don’t think I did at the time, but we were both exhausted by the time we stopped. That said, she embraced it fully and is now actively using social media.

Tuesday: This was the day I went to Rye Harbour where a member of my Tuesday writing group has a static caravan. There are three of us and we spent a lovely day on the nature reserve (saw an avocet – a real treat) and did no writing whatsoever, but sometimes one uses these things at a later date so guilt was not involved here. Well, maybe just a little.

Wednesday: Had my hair done which took up much of the morning. A very interesting evening though at The Write Place Creative Writing School where, in the light of my Monday friend’s experience, tutor Elaine Everest chose social media and how to use it as her topic for the evening. Several of us are quite active in this respect but others have little or no history and while some of us are published others are not. When their time comes it will be much easier if they are already established on Facebook and Twitter. Otherwise it can be a very steep learning curve at a time when all they might want to concentrate on is getting their book published.

With Lisa Eveleigh last month
at the RNA Summer Party
Thursday: A splendid day. The weather was glorious, the best day so far this year, and I met my
agent, Lisa Eveleigh, at the Royal Academy for lunch. I’ve lived in London all my life and never cease to marvel at its beauty. In the past I’ve travelled abroad and admired architecture, ancient and modern, with gaping jaw and a hot camera. It’s so easy though to take one’s home town for granted. Thankfully I’m not guilty of this. As I walked along Piccadilly, watching tourists and indigenous population alike, where the pavements were crowded but not uncomfortably so and there was a smile on every face, or so it seemed, I felt real joy. Resisting the temptation to walk into Burlington Arcade – I didn’t want to be late – I met Lisa and we had what I can only describe as a lovely chinwag. We did talk about writing, which was the only writerly thing I did that day, and when I went home I sat in the garden with a book. Hey, that’s writerly too isn’t it? Good. Exonerated.

Friday: I am writing this piece. It is my intention to take the weekend off.

Initially I was going to entitle this ‘My Non-Writing Week’ but as it turns out there’s no such thing for me, nor I imagine for most writers. It’s been an interesting exercise though. I don’t usually keep a diary and this has made me realise that even on those weeks when I think I haven’t written there’s a lot that goes on that doesn’t get noticed. Of course I’ve spent some time on Twitter and Facebook, ‘meeting up’ with friends, oh, and playing a few online games of Scrabble. But even that involved words.