Write Behind You – Sarah Manning of The Agency Group

I’m delighted to welcome the very lovely Sarah Manning onto the blog today. Sarah is a Literary Agent’s Assistant to Juliet Mushens at The Agency Group and is here to give us insight into her role and some insider info on life in a literary agency. Pull up a chair, Sarah and help yourself to cake!

Sarah pic

Can you tell us a bit about your background prior to working at The Agency Group?

I read History at Durham University. With no real idea what career I wanted to pursue, but aware that I loved books, I luckily landed myself a job at Orion working for their Paperbacks Department. I also interned in script development at Amber Entertainment and worked as a reader for Island Pictures before happily arriving at The Agency Group.

How long have you been working with Juliet at The Agency Group, Sarah, and how did you come to apply for the job?

I joined The Agency Group back in October 2013 and the time has absolutely flown by. I first stumbled across Juliet’s name during our many editorial meetings while working at Orion. I was beginning to realise that there were many exciting careers within the publishing industry that I hadn’t been aware of straight out of university, and so I closely followed Juliet’s career – she was in her twenties, vibrant and her success was snowballing. I found her easy to identify with and I knew I could learn a lot from her. At the time I was on a temporary contract at Orion and so I took the initiative to contact Juliet and ask her advice on how to move my career forward in publishing. Six months down the line Juliet was looking for an assistant and it felt like everything was falling into place. During that time I’d built up my experience and I knew for certain the direction I wanted my career to take.

What’s the best part of the working day for you?

The best part of my working day is reading the full manuscripts that have been called in from the slush pile. I love the creative, editorial side of reading submissions and it is especially exciting when you stumble across something special. But even when a submission still needs more work I enjoy sharing my thoughts with Juliet. I learn a lot from this process and it is always interesting to see how our comments compare.

What are you reading for pleasure at the moment?

I have just finished reading Apple Tree Yard and opened The Little Stranger by Sarah Walters on the train this morning. Apple Tree Yard was suggested to me by Juliet and, unsurprisingly, it didn’t disappoint. With a complex female narrator, and tackling interesting issues about sexual assault, it is an incredibly compelling read. I’ll let you know how I get on with The Little Stranger – here’s to hoping it’s as dark and chilling as I expect.

Could you please tell us about a typical day at The Agency Group and describe your workspace?

My days are pretty varied but there are some things which need to be done regularly. Every day we will have contracts coming in and out of the office, and it’s my job to keep a track of them all. Juliet does her own foreign rights and so we have contracts issued from all over the world, and with no separate contracts department this is quite a big job! I also complete the tax forms for our authors and am the one chasing all the money. Unlike in other jobs I have previously had, I don’t see these tasks as tiresome administration because they are so closely tied to direct contact with our clients, and I’m learning so much about the ins and outs of the industry. Hopefully this will just make me an efficient agent sometime in the future! And then, after all the general office jobs, I will help Juliet with the slush pile.

Our office is lovely, especially now we are slowly filling the white walls with framed book covers. And of course there is an enormous tube poster for James Oswald’s Mclean series.

office

Do you find you have a typical day or is each day different?

Each day is different working for Juliet and this is something I really appreciate about being her assistant. I am very lucky that I am welcome to sit in on all of Juliet’s meetings and so I find myself part of meetings with potential clients; existing authors; scouts and the list goes on!

Has anything surprised you about the job?

I was pleasantly surprised by just how fast-paced the working environment is here. There is always something going on and new deals being struck. It makes it very exciting to be a part of.

What was your dream job as a child?

I’m not entirely sure it would count as a job, but for most of my childhood I wanted to compete in the Olympics in synchronised swimming. Unfortunately, you can’t read books while upside down in the pool.

What’s your dream job in the future? Do you hope to become a full-time agent and build your own list?

When Juliet asked me where I’d like to be in five years’ time I replied, “your desk”. Well, perhaps not her actual desk, but one next door as a full-time agent would be lovely. My dream is to build a client list of my own with authors as varied and as exciting as those I get to work with now. My favourite aspect of the job is following authors from their slush pile submission through to their first deal, and championing debut authors is something I hope to take forward when establishing my own list.

Do you read the submissions that come in to Juliet’s slush pile – is this a job you share or do you both read promising submissions?

Juliet will read everything that comes into her slush pile and will decide which submissions to call in the full for. I will then read these full manuscripts alongside Juliet and we share our editorial comments. I absolutely love this process and, although the pile is often very large and somewhat daunting, it is always exciting when you begin reading a manuscript and realise you can’t put it down.

If you do read submissions, what would you love to find in the slush pile?

I have a weak spot for flawed, independent female characters that aren’t defined by the men around them. I would love to find an ‘Amy from Gone Girl’ type character placed in a historical setting: something that turns the male discourse of history on its head in a very modern way.

Who’s your favourite author / favourite book of all time?

Favourite author is a tricky one as, even if there is an author who I generally like the style of, it is always the story itself that I am most passionate about. A Thousand Splendid Suns is my go-to book and got me through my finals at university. There is something so magical about the strength of the characters despite the sadness that surrounds them, that no matter where I am it always manages to transport me. Plus, I’m a bit of a sucker for something that makes me cry!

Thank you so much, Sarah!

 

 

The WoMentoring Project

WoMen3

 

Today is the launch day of an incredibly exciting new initiative set up by Kerry Hudson, offering free mentoring from authors, editors and agents to up and coming female writers. The buzz about it on twitter has been building and today it’s officially launched and here at Romaniac HQ, we’re tucking into cake and already checking out the website. All the information about the initiative is below and the all-important website address is:

http://www.womentoringproject.co.uk

You can follow WoMentoring on twitter – @WoMentoringP

About the WoMentoring Project
The WoMentoring Project exists to offer free mentoring by professional literary women to up and coming female writers who would otherwise find it difficult to access similar opportunities.

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bespoke illustration by Sally Jane Thompson

The mission of The WoMentoring Project is simply to introduce successful literary women to other women writers at the beginning of their careers who would benefit from some insight, knowledge and support. The hope is that we’ll see new, talented and diverse female voices emerging as a result of time and guidance received from our mentors. 

Each mentor selects their own mentee and it is at their discretion how little or much time they donate. We have no budget, it’s a completely free initiative and every aspect of the project – from the project management to the website design to the PR support – is being volunteered by a collective of female literary professionals. Quite simply this is about exceptional women supporting exceptional women. Welcome to The WoMentoring Project. 



Why do we need it?
Like many great (and not so great) ideas The WoMentoring Project came about via a conversation on Twitter. While discussing the current lack of peer mentoring and the prohibitive expense for many of professional mentoring we asked our followers – largely writers, editors and agents – who would be willing to donate a few hours of their time to another woman just starting out. The response was overwhelming – within two hours we had over sixty volunteer mentors.

The WoMentoring Project is managed by novelist Kerry Hudson and all of our mentors are all professional writers, editors or literary agents. Many of us received unofficial or official mentoring ourselves which helped us get ahead and the emphasis is on ‘paying forward’ some of the support we’ve been given. 

In an industry where male writers are still reviewed and paid more than their female counterparts in the UK, we wanted to balance the playing field. Likewise, we want to give female voices that would otherwise find it hard to be heard, a greater opportunity of reaching their true potential.

Applications
In an ideal world we would offer a mentor to every writer who needed and wanted one. Of course this isn’t possible so instead we’ve tried to ensure the application process is accessible while also ensuring that out mentors have enough information with which to make their selection.

Applicant mentees will submit a 1000 word writing sample and a 500 word statement about why they would benefit from free mentoring. All applications will be in application to a specific mentor and mentees can only apply for one mentor at a time. 

Why our mentors are getting involved

The reason I’m doing this is simple: mentoring can mean the difference between getting published and getting lost in the crowd. It can help a good writer become a brilliant one. But till now, opportunities for low-income writers to be mentored were few and far between. This initiative redresses the balance; I’m utterly delighted to be part of the project.
Shelley Harris, author of Jubilee

I have only achieved the success I have with the help of others, and now I am keen to pass on that help. I particularly want to reach out to those who don’t have the privileges of wealth, status or existing contacts, but who have so much to gain and to give.
Marie Phillips, author Gods Behaving Badly

I’m so pleased to be involved in the WoMentoring Project, and I can’t wait to meet my mentee. I know from my own authors how isolating an experience writing can often be, especially when you’re just starting out, and so I really wanted to be involved. I hope that knowing that there is someone on your side in those early days will give writers courage and confidence in their work.
Alison Hennessy, Senior Editor at Harvill Secker

The WoMentoring project is the kind of opportunity I would have relished when writing my first novel. It’s founded in the spirit of paying it forward, and I’ll take real pride in sharing whatever experience I’ve gained with a mentee. I’ve benefited from the advice and encouragement of some truly inspirational writers, the right voice cheering you on can make all the difference when you’re in your solitary writing bubble. The formality of the mentoring arrangement also gives a sense of responsibility and focus – something that’s invaluable when you’re lost in the sprawl of a work-in-progress – and it’s beneficial to mentors too.
Emylia Hall, author of The Book of Summers 

My career as an editor has been immeasurably enriched by working with inspiring women writers, yet the world of publishing would have been inaccessible to me without the time and support I was given when first starting out.  The WoMentoring Project is a wonderful, necessary thing and I’m very proud to be taking part in it.
Francesca Main, Editorial Director, Picador
 
I wanted to get involved with this project because I’d like to help authors feel that whoever they are, and wherever they come from, they have a right to be heard.
Jo Unwin of the Jo Unwin Literary Agency 

Why female writers feel they need this opportunity

I’m interested in being mentored because although I think you have to make mistakes to learn, having someone who’s been there help you work out the ones with no value can be really useful. Most of all I’d like to have someone to push and challenge me on what makes me and my writing tick.

The idea of women sharing their skills and experience in a dynamic, nurturing way is a really important one given the lower profile given to female writers. Even though the mentoring is one to one a collective voice and resilience is still being built up – I think it’s a great idea that, for writers like me, will help get rid of some of the layers of doubt and creative loneliness that come with being a beginner.
Clare Archibald 

 
I’m on my third novel; I’ve had good notices from Faber, HoZ etc. but still not quite there. What I need is that final push. I especially need guidance on pacing, keeping the action pulsing along. I feel a mentor could be hugely beneficial in this process.
Suzy Norman 

Size DOES Matter…

We’ve been talking a lot about size at Romaniac HQ recently (I’m talking about word count, OF COURSE!) with some of us having had recent successes on the short story and flash fiction front as well as the exciting book deals.

Vanessa's flash fiction in print: Winter's Kiss

Vanessa’s prize-winning flash fiction in print: Winter’s Kiss

I’m currently between edits of a book, which is about 95,000 words long. I began writing it just under a year ago and it’s gone through many drafts, but I’m hoping it’s nearly at the point where I can say it’s finished.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I tend to feel a bit lost when a book is resting between drafts – when I’m forcing myself to leave it alone for a week or two. To go from such intense immersion in a fictional world for nearly a year back to real life is always a shock, and I’m always keen to dive back into another fictional land as soon as possible. Real life is all about contemplating the chores I haven’t done for a year because I’ve been too busy writing, or it’s about filling in tax returns and doing accounts… No thanks.

But another book straight away is too much, so I turn to short fiction between drafts, the shorter the better. Flash fiction is my thing – 500 words and under, every sentence edited down to the bare bones to get a complete story across in just a few short paragraphs… after a seemingly endless and meandering journey from 0 – 95,000 words with a novel, having only 500 words to tell a whole story is a refreshing change, an icy-cold gin and tonic in the sun after a year of rich red wine in a dark room, a slice of key lime pie after a year of gooey chocolate cake… you get my drift.

It’s a tonic, it’s a change, it’s a chance to re-charge batteries and best of all – I can finish a whole project in less than a day! Flash fiction is also brilliant for editing practice – I wrote a story the other week I wanted to enter in a competition and it came in at just under 700 words, but the word limit for the competition was 500 words. It can’t be done, I muttered to myself, every word is VITAL TO THE STORY. But when I went back through it, I found there were actually quite a few words – whole sentences even – I could delete without ruining the story. And I ended up with a much stronger piece of writing. And all the time I’m writing my flash fiction pieces, new ideas for the next book are brewing nicely…

The size of story I struggle with is the short story – anything between 2 and 5,000 words. I like my fiction very short or very long. What I find happens with this length of fiction is it gets away from me – I can’t stop and before I know it, I’ve got six chapters of something never intended to be a novel. The first book I wrote started out as a short story idea that never really stopped, which I guess makes me a bit of an accidental novelist – Vanessa Savage: The girl who could not type The End…

I’d love to know what word count works for you…

Vanessa x

An Earthless Melting Pot, an anthology of prize-winning flash fiction and short stories, can be bought here.

Roving Romaniacs – An Earthless Melting Pot anthology launch

I was very happy to spend a lovely, sunny, writerly couple of days in London at the end of May, traveling up on the Friday for author drinks arranged by super-agent Juliet Mushens. In a busy bar in Soho, around twenty of Juliet’s authors gathered to drink and chat. It was lovely to spend time with an eclectic group of writers at all different stages of the journey to publication: Those, like myself, at the nail-biting editing/submitting stage, those who have the longed for book deal who are now awaiting publication, and the published ones – the writers on the Richard & Judy list, the bestsellers, the debut writers and the ones sweating over their second. All lovely, all inspiring – I’m already looking forward to the next Team Mushens outing!

bookDay 2 saw me back in Soho, this time in The Gallery at Foyles bookshop, for a private party to celebrate the launch of the Words with JAM short story anthology. My partner in crime for this do was fellow Romaniac Sue Fortin. The anthology is a collection of the prize-winning stories from the annual Words with JAM short story competition and I was thrilled to have one of my flash fiction pieces, Winter’s Kiss, included – my first story to appear in book form!

June Kearns, Sue Fortin and Lizzie Lamb

June Kearns, Sue Fortin and Lizzie Lamb

We weren’t expecting to see any familiar faces, so Sue and I were very happy to spot fellow RNAers Cathie Hartigan, Margaret James, Lizzie Lamb, June Kearns and Rosemary Gemmell amongst the guests. Cathie was another prize winner with her gorgeous story Scent of Lemons.

Me and Cathie Hartigan

Me and Cathie Hartigan

The anthology itself, An Earthless Melting Pot, was beautifully designed and produced and I still haven’t got over the thrill of seeing my name in a book…

photo[2]As well as the anthology launch, the event was to toast Triskele Books first birthday and the launch of four books by Catriona Troth, JD Smith, Gillian Hamer and JJ Marsh. Each of the authors spent a few minutes talking about their books and we were also treated to readings of the prize-winning stories by Ruby Cowling and Ken Elkes.

Add to this an amazing buffet and lots and lots of sparkly drinks and the evening was just about perfect…

Vanessa x

Introducing Miranda Dickinson’s Future Stars… Part Two!

futurestars

This was too much of a marvelous post to cover in one day, so here’s part two of Miranda Dickinson’s interview with her Future Stars!

Q4: Tell us about what you are currently working on?

Neal: My first novel, Dan Taylor Is Giving Up On Women – the story of a guy who thinks he’ll never find the right woman, and then falls for the wrong one – is currently scaling the north face of England’s slush-piles. My work in progress is called Occupied. It’s the story of Rebecca and James, a couple expecting their first baby against the backdrop of a gay sex scandal involving Rebecca’s dad, which draws both sides of the family into controversy. It’s about coming to terms with the fact that parents are people too.

 Emily: The story that I will be working on during Future Stars centres on a young girl named Belle and a young man named Kip. It’s set in 1999 so there has been a fair bit of research, as I was only eleven at the time this is set! The research itself has been so much fun; looking up popular TV shows, music, fashion trends, clubs and so on has been educational as well as nostalgic – I think at one point I refer to the HBO show Sex and the City as “a new American TV show”, which considering it finished in 2004 made me chuckle. Belle and Kip meet by chance over the phone in one of those old red telephone boxes (a case of crossed wires perhaps…?) one night in London’s West End and strike up a friendship that neither one of them will ever forget. There are lots of twists and turns and I’m hoping the centre of the story will touch people. I would love to go a bit more in to detail but fear that might give the game away and I would like the reveal to stay a secret in the book for as long as is possible.

Dominique: The main story I’m writing sounds a bit crazy when I’m trying to explain it, but it’s actually a really simple plot. I’m going to try and not reveal too much. It’s about a regular young woman living in London and her life gets turned upside down. What follows is a medieval fairy-tale of sorts, with a heavy dose of alternative universe, a splash of arrogant prince and a lot of the main character asking what the hell is going on. I’m also working on two other projects. One is a story featuring the Greek God Hermes, set in modern times now that the world has kind of forgotten about the Immortals. And I’ve recently gone back to a short story I started last summer. This one’s about a sea merchant/pirate’s journey to find a legendary treasure. Romance is the main theme in 90% of what I write, but I tend to include a heavy bit of drama, a fight or two, the odd death, lots of cliff hangers, something supernatural or just downright weird, and maybe some deep-rooted family issue just for good measure.

 Millie: Simply, it’s a young adult fiction following a group of teenagers as they try to survive the Zombie Apocalypse. It’s written in first person from the perspective of a teenage girl. She becomes somewhat of the understated leader in her gang and makes the difficult decisions that arise on their journey. I’m trying to make it action-packed but also realistic, too.

 Emma: I have three main novels that I’m working on. Each is quite different from the other. One is about Rosaline, who can communicate with ghosts, sometimes at the most inopportune moments, and there’s a possibility I might like to make this into a series, but I’ll see when I’ve finished this one. Another is about a woman who has moved to L.A., running away from her problems at home, and on possibly one of the worst days of her life, a movie star spills hot coffee all over her and won’t leave well enough alone, especially when she has a past that she’d like to keep there. The third is about Gods and Goddesses of the Greek variety, only not the ones of myths and legends. This is the truth about them and how the vampire legend stemmed from them, too. The story centres on two of them to be precise and them helping someone who is more woven in their past, present and future than they realised or even knew.

 

Q5: What is your writing dream?

 Neal: I’d love to spend as much of my day as I can writing about all kinds of relationships, in a way that’s hopefully funny (and by that I mean it’s funny, and hopeful…). And it’d be even better if lots of people got to read it. I live in a world of my own half the time, it would be nice to have more people around to visit.

 Emily: I would be lying if I said my writing dream wasn’t to get published and get paid to do what I love to do all the time (although I am aware it is not always as glam as people think!). I cannot wait for the day when I see a book with my name on it in the Waterstones in Ealing, where I hail from. To have people read my stories and tell me they like them and / or could relate to the characters that I have created would be the most magical, rewarding thing and I hope with all my heart whether it is a product of Future Stars or something else, that this happens, and not just for me, but for all of us aspiring writers.

 Dominique: It’s a two-stage process. The first step is just completing a story to the best of my ability and knowing I’ve put everything I had to give in to it. Next is publishing. Which I realize is a massive goal to achieve, but I may as well aim high, right? I’m not going to lie and say I wouldn’t want my work to do well, but the overall dream would be to be able to pick up my book, my very own novel that I’ve put so much in to. That’s when the dream becomes a reality. If people respond well to it, then that’s fantastic. I would love for my written words to get under the skin of someone. Even just one person, and have them actually care about the journey of my characters and know that my little book is sitting proudly on their bookshelf.

 Millie: Ever since I was about ten years old I’ve always wanted to walk into a bookshop and see my name on one of the spines of the books there – to know that the words inside are my own, and the story written has stemmed from my own imagination.

Emma: The same as most writers really – to be published, to see my books on the shelf of a shop, to have people read and love what I’m writing and to have people be excited to see what I write next, like I do with my favourite writers. But what would completely make my writing dream is to have written a sentence that resonates with someone so much that they use it as a favourite quote.

 

Thank you Future Stars and Miranda!

Find out more about everything the Future Stars get up to, plus news about Miranda’s books and other courses and prizes here:

http://www.miranda-dickinson.com and http://www.coffeeandroses.blogspot.com

Introducing Miranda Dickinson’s Future Stars… Part One!

futurestars

Miranda Dickinson is already a star – writer of four bestselling novels, this year she’s launching a mentoring scheme, an online writing course and a short story competition (the New Rose Prize) … oh, and she’s also writing book 5. There was much excitement in Romaniac HQ when Miranda launched the Future Stars initiative – an amazing opportunity for aspiring authors to be mentored by Miranda for a whole year!

You can find out more about all of these on Miranda’s blog and website: 

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http://www.miranda-dickinson.com 

http://www.coffeeandroses.blogspot.com

I know I wasn’t the only person eager to find out more about the chosen Future Stars, and how their year with Miranda was going, so I was delighted when Miranda agreed to bring her stars for a visit to the Romaniac blog (although it got VERY crowded and they completely cleared us out of cakes), so without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Miranda Dickinson and her Future Stars…

Vanessa x

Thank you Romaniacs for hosting my magnificent seven! I’m delighted to introduce you to my Future Stars:

Neal Doran

Emily Glenister

Dominique Hall

Millie McGarrick

Emma Warburton

together with Kate Rhead and Ritzi Cortez

Q1: How did you feel when you discovered you were one of the Future stars?

 Neal: The news came at the end of what had been a pretty lousy week, and I’d been so busy with my proper job I hadn’t had a chance to do any writing in ages. It was such a boost. I was with my two boys at an indoor play centre when the announcement was made. They had to restrain me from overdoing it on the bouncy castle…

Emily:  I remember exactly where I was (not surprising given it was about three months ago). My boyfriend Harry and I had just woken up and I knew that this was the Saturday we would find out who had made it on to the Future Stars list. I’d prepared myself the night before that there was a high possibility it wasn’t going to be me so as not to be disappointed. On that Saturday morning, I picked up my phone saying to Harry, “I know I haven’t got it, but that’s ok because at least I’ve had the chance to be part of it,” etc. There was nothing at that point mentioned in Twitter so I checked my email, where there was an email waiting from Miranda sent in the wee hours of the morning saying I had won a place! I remember screaming, rugby tackling Harry to the ground and crying (all very dramatic, I know!). 2012 was definitely not “my year”, so to have something finally go my way so early on in 2013 was such a wonderful feeling and a huge weight off my shoulders. My tummy was in excited knots for the whole day as I bounced around Covent Garden and Soho drinking my body weight in celebratory champagne cocktails (any excuse)!

Dominique: I’m not even sure there’s a word to best describe my feelings. Especially since I didn’t even consider my winning a place to be a possibility when I entered. I think I may still be in some state of shock, it takes me a long time to process major life events. Maybe I could follow Peter Andre’s example and makeup a ridiculous word by cutting and pasting two together. “Overatic” (overwhelmed and ecstatic?) No, that’s terrible. I now feel the need to apologise for my appalling use of the English language!

Millie: Surprised, because I figured that there would be lots of entrants and the chance of me being accepted was really slim. I also felt proud though because I knew that I had to be doing something right to get this amazing opportunity.

Emma: It took a week for it to really sink in. It gave me a massive confidence boost that maybe one day my writing will be good enough to be on the shelves of a bookshop. In fact I imagine the feeling was probably the same as being offered a publishing deal!

 

Q2: What made you decide to enter the competition?

 Neal: Everything Future Stars offers seemed to be what I needed when I saw it – help with writing and advice on managing all the social media stuff that’s so important to writers these days. And Miranda seems so enthusiastic and positive, it sounded fun! Add to that she’s had, what, 78 best sellers in the past three years? The woman knows her stuff.

Emily: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember so anything on the internet which has the words “writing” and “competition” always catches my eye! Though admittedly, I’ve never entered one before and I think this has something to do with never quite following through with one story before – so many ideas come in to my head and I find myself moving on to another one before completing the other! What made me enter Future Stars with this particular story was that it was the first story I had stuck to without getting – for want of a better word – bored with it. I went through the whole storyline in my head and knew exactly what I wanted to happen. That’s never happened before so I thought it must be a pretty special one and I ought to do something with it!

Dominique: It was one of those ‘what have you got to lose?’ moments.

I heard about the contest a few days after it was first announced and downloaded the application form straight away. I then stared at said application form for a few days wondering how to answer the questions, until I finally decided to just be true to myself with my answers. I didn’t have anything to lose after all. I didn’t even tell anyone that I was entering, but that also had something to do with the fact that nobody knew how passionate I am about writing. Although I’ve been scribbling short stories since high school, before this contest I had never confessed to another soul how much writing means to me. Acknowledging this out loud was the very first thing Future Stars did for me.

 Millie: I had nothing to lose, so I thought “Why not?” Also, my mum played a big part in convincing me to send in the application. I knew it would be amazing if I got accepted despite the slim chance but I decided to take my own advice and go for it: because if you don’t even try you will never get anywhere.

 Emma: Being mentored by Miranda. My writing still needs a lot of work, so to have the chance to pick the brain of a published author I have read and admired is completely invaluable to me. Especially when you hit that dreaded wall in the middle of writing a novel and need that little shove to keep at it so that you get your first draft down.

 

Q3: What do you hope this year working with Miranda will bring?

 Neal: In my Future Stars application I made all sorts of bold claims about using the year to finish my second novel, and either getting an agent for my first or going down the road of self-publishing. The scary thing now is that I’ve got to do it. And with seven of us in Future Stars, I think it’s going to be pretty cool being part of a gang, albeit a gang that chats about overcoming plot obstacles rather than one that shares shivs and gets into turf wars. At first, at least…

 Emily: I hope I actually finish my story! My main objective for this year and the Future Stars experience is to have a finished manuscript in my hand by the end of it. Even if nothing comes of it by way of being published, I will have finished a story right to the end for the first time and that will be really special for me. Also, I would like to build my confidence and persevere even when I’m not sure about something rather than just chucking it in at the first writer’s block hurdle – something that happens all too often!

Dominique: I know that I need to have more self-belief in my work and I’ve already started working on that. In my application form I said I needed help with structure, as it’s one of my weak areas. I’m an OCD planner so I have overall plot notes, character notes, individual chapter notes. I even have a map and fictional royal line drawn up for the main story I’m working on. I need to learn to maintain a solid structure throughout the plot. I also have a tendency to waffle (which I’m doing right now, I know) and include stuff that doesn’t need to be in the chapter. Miranda has also given me loads of helpful information about the industry too, which is brilliant because the whole professional writing world is really daunting and it helps to know I have a successful ‘insider’ to help with my queries.

Overall, I believe working with the ever positive Miranda will give me the drive I need to actually finish a manuscript and know that I put everything I had into it.

Millie: I hope to discover more about me and my writing, in terms of my strengths and bits I can improve on. I’m only young so I’m hoping that I can learn a lot from Miranda’s experience of publishing and writing.

Emma: I’m a serial starter. Or at least that’s what my husband keeps calling me, because I start something, get distracted easily (especially when a shiny new idea strolls into my head and I’m struggling on the current project my mind is on) and then take months to go back to finish it. So I’m hoping that working with Miranda will help me to focus (and that she’ll harass me) when I’m tempted to be distracted.

 Come back tomorrow to find out what the Future Stars are writing at the moment and what their writing dreams are… See you there!

Tuesday Chit Chat with Serena Clarke

We’re delighted to have the lovely Serena Clarke on the blog with us today, celebrating the publication of her debut novel All Over The Place.

Serena Clarke colourSerena grew up in a family of itchy-footed readers and dreamers – not concentrating, reading the atlas and Narnia books, and planning to escape somewhere magical as soon as she could. When she was 16, she went from New Zealand to live in Sweden for a year. It was the beginning of many travels and adventures – and quite a few disasters! She didn’t know it at the time, but eventually she’d be grateful for all the downs as well as the ups. As writers say in the face of adversity: “I can use that.” She’s now living back in New Zealand, where she writes stories reflecting her determined belief in magic, possibility and second chances – and happy endings!

Hi Serena, welcome to the Romaniac blog – take a seat, put your feet up and help yourself to cake :-)

Ooh thank you! I’m always making banana cake, so it’s lovely to have someone give me cake instead! Thanks for having me today. *gets comfy*

Shall we start with you telling us about your journey to publication?

I’ve been a bookish, dreamy kind of person all my life. I always thought it would be amazing to write a book – but that seemed the kind of thing other people did, not ordinary old me. Then I started looking at all those books in the library, thinking, well, someone has written all of those. Maybe I could have a go. I was coming to an age when ‘one day’ starts to feel a bit more pressing! And after writing, and rewriting, and rewriting again, All Over the Place – actually a very English book – was accepted by a digital-first publisher in the USA.

Can you give us some detail about All Over The Place?

All Over the Place coverIt’s a story of finding the place you’re meant to be, and the person you’re meant to be there with. It has a chick lit feel – and a happy ending, of course! Here’s the blurb:

Livi Callaway has fled back to London after a reality TV disaster in New Zealand. Safely anonymous in the big city, she’s determined to stay under the radar from now on. But her attempts to build a new life are complicated by unexpected visitors from her old one, and new dangers and temptations lie in wait.

Late one night, she meets a mysteriously sexy American on the Underground – and the events that follow take her from Pooh Bear to the golden lights of Paris, via a trail of rock stars dead and alive. A family in disarray, a determined Swede, a crazed Australian and a childhood friend (who might yet be more than that) have her all over the place as she tries to discover the American’s secret – while keeping her own.

With help – and occasional hindrance – from her friends, what she eventually finds is something unexpected…sometimes, running away can lead you to exactly what you didn’t know you needed.

Sharing other people’s praise of your book feels a bit like boasting about your children on Facebook – not really the done thing. But one lovely person said it was “a thoroughly engaging, globe-hopping confection of a novel…an enchanting journey of both distance and heart.” Which I thought was very nice indeed. But I didn’t tell you that.

How did you celebrate publication day?

Well, because of the time difference, I was tucked up asleep for half of publication day! I stayed up to watch the book go on sale on Amazon, then I had to go to bed! But the next day I had a lot of fun catching up with everything that had happened overnight. And that night we took the kids out for giant New York style pizzas. We’re a family of bookworms, so they thought it was pretty cool.

How important do you think the RNA NWS was in helping you achieve your publication dream?

Oh, it was crucial. When I first started writing in earnest I didn’t show anyone, or even tell more than a couple of people. So I really wasn’t sure if I was going about it the right way at all! My NWS report was really encouraging, and it had incredibly helpful suggestions for how to improve the book. If I ever find out who my reader was, I want to give her a big hug! (In a very non-stalkerish way, of course!)

What means home to you? Is it a place, a person or a case of ‘Wherever I lay my hat’?

That’s a central question in All Over the Place, so I’ve thought a lot about it. We live out in the world so much more now, with the internet, and live TV from everywhere, and people live-tweeting everything. In the book, Livi strikes out into the world after a disaster, and everything’s up for grabs – she could actually go anywhere, just like I could once upon a time. But of course, it’s people who make a place special. Now I’m the grown-up person responsible for making a home for other people. (Although I still don’t feel like a grown-up!) Anyone who has children would probably say home is where they are – I feel that way now.

You’ve lived in a lot of cities and a lot of countries ­ which is your favourite? What are some of the snapshot moments, the memories that will stay with you forever?

Hm, snapshots… Hiking in summer snow in Swedish Lapland – despite the million-gazillion mosquitos! Riding a camel up the sand dunes as the sun rose in the Moroccan Sahara. Peering through the fence outside the White House, trying to imagine what momentous decisions were being made inside. Meeting my rock star crush before a gig at an underground club in London. Pretty much everything about Paris! And favourites…apart from beautiful New Zealand, I’d say Sweden, because it really is my second home, with my second mum and dad. I can’t wait to see them when I come over again.

You’re back in London for the RNA summer party for the first time in a long time ­ what are the first places you’ll be visiting?

Serena Trafalgar SquareTrafalgar Square! That’s my happy place, and in All Over the Place it’s the centre of Livi’s London. I’m looking forward to spending a day wandering around the National Gallery. There’s a painting there of Saint Cecilia that features in the book, so I’m excited to see it for real. Also, I have a great friend who lives in London, and we have a special ‘tourist’ walk, winding our way from Oxford Circus down to Trafalgar Square and ending at Big Ben. I’m kind of a soppy traveller – I can’t help getting teary at significant places – but luckily he puts up with me! (Blame the artistic temperament!)

What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Joan Hessayon award? Has it been a dream of yours?

The whole thing has been a dream, yes! There are so many amazing books in the running, I don’t expect to win. But can you imagine – getting on the plane to return to London, with my book published and the prospect of being in a room with so many wonderful authors and publishing people? What’s more, I touch down on my birthday. Best. present. ever.

What about your next book? Is it another international book? Or set closer to home?

Yes, it’s another international kind of book, with the same sort of chick lit vibe. It’s set between England and California, and follows the ups and downs of twin sisters after they discover the secret their mother kept. Think matchmaking, flash mobs, people power in a hyper-connected world, true love, and the trials and joys of sisterhood. (That’s something I feel qualified to write about, coming from a family of 4 girls and one boy!)

The one after that will probably be in set in New Zealand – but I can never resist an international cast of characters! And they’ll probably need a trip to Australia, now that I think about it… *eyes passport*

Where do you write? Do you prefer a room with a view?

I write at the dining room table, on the sofa, or on my bed, depending on what’s happening in the house! I’m addicted to the ‘My Writing Room’ feature on Novelicious.com, where writers share pictures of their office. I dream of having a little space of my own. Yes please to the view. There is quite a nice view from my bed!

Quick Fire Questions:

Home or away?

Away for adventure, home to snuggle.

Snow bunny or sun worshipper?

At the moment we’re in the middle of a drought, so I’m a bit over the sun. But I’m not a snow bunny either, unless you count tobogganing!

Right place or right time?

Don’t wait for either – just go ahead and do it!

Thanks so much for having me to visit with you today, and plying me with cake! What a treat.

Thank you, Serena – it’s been lovely chatting with you!

Find Serena here – she’d love to hear from you!

http://www.serenaclarke.com

https://www.facebook.com/SerenaClarkeAuthor

https://twitter.com/Serena_Clarke

All Over the Place is available from all major e-book retailers, including:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Over-Place-Crimson-Romance-ebook/dp/B00B2B0X9E/

http://www.amazon.com/Over-Place-Crimson-Romance-ebook/dp/B00B2B0X9E/

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/all-over-the-place/id594641901?mt=11

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/all-over-the-place-serena-clarke/1114286511

The Perils of Paranormal – Evonne Wareham

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Out of Sight Out of Mind

Everyone has secrets. Some are stranger than others.

Madison Albi is a scientist with a very special talent – for reading minds. When she stumbles across a homeless man with whom she feels an inexplicable connection, she can’t resist the dangerous impulse to use her skills to help him.

J is a non-person – a vagrant who can’t even remember his own name. He’s got no hope, until he meets Madison. Is she the one woman who can restore his past?

Madison agrees to help J recover his memory, but as she delves deeper into his mind, it soon becomes clear that some secrets are better off staying hidden.

Is J really the man Madison believes him to be?

In celebration of the launch day of her second novel Out of Sight Out of Mind we’re thrilled to have award-winning Evonne Wareham back on the blog with us, sharing some cake and a celebratory glass of something fizzy, talking about the perils of paranormal and the dreaded second book…

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The Dreaded Second Book

Out of Sight Out of Mind is a well-known phenomenon in writing circles — the dreaded second book. It is legendary that second books are notoriously difficult to write. An author may have been working on their first book for years, and it hits the publisher’s desk and then the book- stand as a highly polished article. The second book, possibly written to a deadline for the first time, involves a whole new discipline on the part of the writer. There are no expectations of a first-time writer — no one knows what will be between the covers — but a second book has something to live up to. In the case of Out of Sight Out of Mind, it was actually written before Never Coming Home. When I had the chance to pitch to Choc Lit, I went with my most recent book, but they were interested in both the books that had been competition finalists in the States, and asked to see Out of Sight Out of Mind as well, so they were both submitted at more or less the same time, but in reverse order. Which of course doesn’t mean that readers won’t be expecting the same style of read — romantic suspense — with similar thrills and emotional upheavals, from Out of Sight Out of Mind, as they got from Never Coming Home – they are entitled to! I hope I will not disappoint them.

The Perils of Paranormal

If that isn’t enough of a challenge, there is an added complication in that Out of Sight Out of Mind is a paranormal romantic thriller. Paranormal can be a bit like Marmite.  I know that some people don’t like it. My Mum, for one. I’ve got used to her sorting through a pile of books, just brought from the library, and asking suspiciously. ‘Are there vampires in this?’ Those books, most definitely go on my reading pile.  Mum does not do vampires.  But I can assure everyone that Out of Sight Out of Mind is a vampire-free zone. (Are you listening, Mum?) The paranormal feature of the book is mind reading, the protagonists are human, and the thriller element comes in their efforts to stay out of the clutches of an organisation — called The Organisation — which wants to control what they have.  I think it is as much a thriller as Never Coming Home, and that it may be a little more romantic — but I also think that I may be a bit biased. Introducing an extra ingredient like the paranormal is still perilous.  The readers will judge.

Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on at the moment?

I have a novella that I am trying to complete. As far a ‘Book three’ goes – there was A Plan – a book written a while ago that I want to revisit. But you know what happens to plans … At Christmas I got an idea for a new story involving a robbery, and that seems to have taken over my imagination to the extent that it looks like it will be written. I’m at the very important stage of staring vacantly into space and claiming to be working out the plot at the moment, which is, of course, a vital prelude to actually doing any work.

Out of Sight Out of Mind is a paranormal thriller, what are your thoughts on paranormal activity?

I think there is a vast amount about the universe and the human brain that we don’t yet know, so I am open to ideas. Like all writers, I’m curious.

Who would you most like to be haunted by?

I don’t think I’d want to be haunted at all, even by a friendly ghost. One of the things that I wanted to explore in Out of Sight Out of Mind was the impact that having a paranormal talent might have on your life. It hasn’t brought Madison happiness – she classes herself as a freak. As a writer it’s bad enough coping with your characters having conversations inside your head, without having a ghost dropping in for a chat. And most disconcerting, never to know if you were really alone …

Do you have any strange secrets like Madison and J that you’d like to
share??

No definitely not. If I have learned anything from my heroes it’s never volunteer classified information.

Your debut novel won the RNA Joan Hessayon Award last year – and I believe it’s now won another! Can you tell us about your latest award?

2012rca_stThat was a very unexpected Valentine surprise – a Reviewers’ Choice award for 2012 from the Single Titles review site. I’m thrilled to have been picked. It was completely out of the blue – I’m still floating slightly above the ground. (And no – that does not have anything to do with ghostly activity.)

 


Notebook Confessional

This is a confession of infidelity.

notebooksI have two shelves full of notebooks – and none of them are full. Some of them are completely empty. Yet I can’t walk past a stationery shop without looking for more … always seeking the elusive perfect notebook; The One that will end up containing the perfect stories, as if the notebook itself can produce words.

Each time I buy one, I think this is The One, the one I’ll love forever, the one I’ll keep writing in until the bitter end… but something always goes wrong. We fall out of love and before I know it, I’m back in Paperchase, flirting with a shiny new one.

It’s always been a problem – in school, I’d start every term in love with my beautiful exercise books, all covered in wrapping paper, or carefully decorated with cuttings from magazines … then someone would sit next to me with their books covered in something prettier, sparklier and mine would look dull in comparison, and I’d spend the rest of the term coveting the books next to me.

This year, I’m trying to stay faithful to one notebook at a time – well, maybe two; one small one for small bags and a bigger one for big bags. And maybe one for my desk at work and one for my desk at home. I wouldn’t want to get caught short when THE idea strikes, would I?

Now it’s time for my other Romaniacs to ‘fess up – are you one notebook women, faithful to the end? Or are you spending half your income each week on lovely notebooks and pens and paper and folders and more notebooks and… mmmm….

Vanessa x

NotebooksLaura: I have a secret stash. I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours. Need a quick fix? Whatever colour, whatever size you want, I’ve got it. Clean, fresh, virginal pages, lying between exotic covers, waiting to be inked on. I have several on the go at once, but all for different reasons. I fill them to my satisfaction, home them, and then delight in the thrill of starting something new.

Celia: I was going to say that I’m not much of a one for notebooks but then I looked in my desk drawers! The one I use most is the fabulous big gold and dark green one that lives on a shelf right next to the desk. It was a present from my daughters, and last May I started writing down competition entries or anything writing-related that I was doing or had achieved. It’s such a pleasure writing in this book  with my Christmas pen – thick cream pages, decorated edges and clasps to keep it shut. The smaller green and gold one is my diet diary and it doesn’t have much in it. Sadly, this is not because I don’t eat much but because I’m  usually too busy eating and drinking to write in it. 

Catherine: I’ve never really had to buy notebooks because since I was young my family and friends have brought them for me. My problem lies with not being able to get rid of any of them. When you’ve spent your life jotting in notepads, when you look through them you think there’s gold in that there notepad. And that one. And that one. Shame I’ve never found time to go through them all. 

notebook[Stands up and takes deep breath] Hello, my name is Sue and I’m a notebook junky – [smiles at the nods, hellos and encouraging clapping from others in the group] I’ve been addicted to notebooks for many, many years. I can’t get enough of them. Any shape, size, colour, I love them all. Sometimes, I go into stationery shops to admire them, to stroke them, to hold them in my hands, to flick through the untouched virgin paper, to breathe in the smell of newness. The urge to claim it as mine and hand over the last pennies in my purse can be overwhelming. Oh God, just talking about it and words like Paperchase, WH Smith, Waterstones race through my mind. [rushes out of meeting to stroke current favourite]

 Jan: I confess I’d be sitting right beside Sue at that ‘notebook junky’ group. Mr B often tuts and rolls his eyes when I veer off to purr at the stationery when out shopping. I dread to think how many notebooks share our flat with us; big ones, tiny ones, bright ones, patterned ones, you name it… If we Romaniacs lined them all up side by side, I reckon we could fill the floor here at HQ.  Our very own notebook carpet. There’s a thought…

Debbie: I give up with notepads. Like the others, I have piles of them but interestingly the only ones I use are of the ‘value’ or ‘homebrand’ variety. Following an Arvon writing course I did invest in a couple of moleskin ones which come out if I’m attending a writing course or any RNA events but otherwise, the trouble I seem to have with notebooks is that most of them are gifted ones and far too beautiful to write in!

About five years ago, a friend gave me a beautiful silk notebook. The cover is a rich, reddish-brown, almost the colour of polished copper, with a ‘framed’ panel of sinuous, vertical meandering flowers and acanthus leaves embossed in the middle of the front outer cover. And for the five years since acquiring it, it has lived on top of my piano alongside my metronome. It stays there, gathering dust, each parchment page as virginal and empty as when it was hand bound.  It wasn’t until a conversation with a friend, that I realised why…

Apparently, her sister has a gift for writing poetry and in an attempt to encourage and inspire ‘F’ bought her a luxurious notebook for her ideas and notes. After a few weeks, she discovered her sister hadn’t used it and when asked, her sister told her it was because it was “too lovely to write in…” Following lengthy discussions with her sibling and others, F concluded that her sister didn’t feel she was ‘worthy’ of the notebook. It was as if somehow, it was ‘too good’ and too beautiful for her to write in; that her writing did not measure up to the paper.

I smiled at my friends conclusion. It struck a chord. Perhaps it’s a trait of the ‘wannabe’ writer who hasn’t quite made it that I feel ‘unworthy?’ but I could see some truth in her words. And I still struggle to ruin a perfect blank page or beautiful silk cover with my scribbled musings. So for now my collection of notebooks sit forlornly in my study and look beautiful, gathering dust, until one day…

Lucie: I think it comes with the job! I don’t think any writer would be without at least one trusty notebook – or several hundred in Sue’s case :-) – to jot down their musings. I have a few notebooks. Mainly I have a purple one that goes in my bag for when I am out and about, one on my desk which isn’t as pretty and a few stored in my desk that are all half written in. I don’t think I’ve ever filled a notebook. I’ve always been teased away by another before getting quite to the end. I do find it hard to go into places like WHSmith, Paperchase and Staples and not be drawn straight to the stationery section. 

Come to think of it, I think I’m due a new one…..

Birthday Celebrations – The Romaniacs are one year old!

Happy birthday to us, Happy birthday to us, Happy birthday Dear Romaniacs, Happy birthday to us!

Ok, Ok, so I’m two days early. But who says we can’t start the celebrations a little early. Here at Romaniac HQ, we’ve been celebrating all weekend and we plan for it to continue all week, too. So why not come and join us for a celebratory glass of champers and a slice of cake and let’s get this party started!

A year ago, on February 13th 2012, we launched our blog to the writing world. When we decided to do this, we had no idea how we would be perceived. Would people like us? Would people bother to read what we have to say?

Would people think we’re nuts?

But the response has been truly amazing. People did like us. People were logging in and reading and sharing our posts. And most importantly people do realise that yes, we are a bit nuts! But that’s OK, because we never claimed to be anything but.

The sheer amount of support and encouragement we have received, both as a group and individuals, over the last year has surpassed anything we ever could have imagined. We always knew that the writing industry was a supportive, positive community, but I don’t think anything could have prepared us for what lay ahead.

So in the spirit of birthday celebrations, we got talking about some of our favourite – and worst – celebrations growing up. They weren’t all necessarily birthday celebrations and some needed censoring so much, we felt best to keep those in the archive folders!

However, I’ll start the ball rolling. My worst birthday party memory wasn’t actually for mine, but for my older sisters. There is five years between us and I was but a nipper at the time and she had all her friends over for a party. In our garden we had a huge shed – we lived in a flat and it was the communal shed so you can imagine how big it was – and she and her friends were playing chase. I wanted to play. I ventured into the garden and saw them all running rings around said shed. Stupidly, to catch up, I ran around the shed but in the OPPOSITE direction to around 15 children. You can see how this story ends, can’t you? Yep, I spent the rest of the party upstairs, on the sofa with a bruised and battered face. It wasn’t a good party for me.

On the flip side, my best party – so far I hasten to add, I’m planning on having many more! – was for my 21st. It wasn’t a big ‘do’ but I had only just had my daughter and I had been dieting and training for months and months in preparation for my 21st and I lost 2 stone and got into the size 8 dress I had bought. I felt great. Some of mine and my husband’s friends came back to our house after the club shut (mine and my husband’s birthdays are 3 days apart so we always have joint celebrations) and we carried on partying until the morning. It was a brilliant night.

We would love to hear your best and worst party experiences. I’ll leave you with some messages from the girls about theirs. Here’s to another fantastic year. Cheers!

Lucie x

Celia: Crikey, Lucie; you’ve said it all! Huge thanks to everyone who has visited our blog over the last year and given us your witty, supportive comments. Now, parties…

My worst one has got to be a Halloween do when I was about nine. I was a Brownie at the time, and we were all invited to our Sixer’s birthday. I only had a hazy idea about Halloween up to that point – I knew witches came into it somewhere, but as the world’s wimpiest child, I had never got up to speed on how people celebrated it. The mum in charge of the party had some great ideas. She had blacked out an entire room and hung it with fake cobwebs, rattling bones etc, there was an atmospheric ghostly soundtrack and we were blindfolded and led through one at a time, touching and listening to various things which got scarier and scarier. The finale was having our hand plunged into a bowl of sheep’s eyeballs. I’ve never felt the same about a peeled grape since that day.

The best wasn’t a birthday, it was my second wedding in 2008 (I’ve only had the two, in case that makes me sound like a female Bluebeard.). We decided to just have the best bits of a wedding, i.e.massive amounts of home-made cake, no speeches, no official photo session where the guests are starving and everyone loses the will to live, a small, warm venue so it would be cosy (it was a frosty night on December 29th) the most delicious food we could order and a late afternoon wedding so we could go straight into the serious eating and champagne quaffing. It was magical. I think I might have been quite, quite drunk.

Vanessa: Well, my best is easy – on my 29h birthday, Tim, my boyfriend at the time, took me to Cornwall for the weekend. We tried to stay in a beautiful old pub in Mousehole, right on the quay, with beams and a roaring fire … but it was full, so we ended up in an odd B&B that smelled of kippers. We tried to have dinner at one of the quay front pubs or restaurants but they were all full, so we ended up eating fish in a strange bright blue sauce at a cold restaurant where we were the only customers. Then, as we walked along the seafront, Tim proposed and it became the best birthday ever – kippers, blue sauce and all.

The worst is more difficult… because I love birthdays, always have. I always take the day off work and have a totally indulgent day. I think my worst birthday was my saddest – the last I got to celebrate with my best friend Suzanne. She’d been ill for a long time, but I’d been in denial, waiting for a miracle cure. That night was the night I finally accepted the truth and the last time we got to go out before she died.

Sue : I’ve never in my life had a birthday party … cue violins and sad music :-( Never had a party as a child and never as an adult but that’s okay, as to be honest, I wouldn’t find being the centre of attention any fun at all. I much prefer going to other people’s parties, so much more relaxing and enjoyable. I’ve had quite a few family birthdays this year and they all have been great fun.

dancingOn the flip side, I have been to a few which haven’t been quite so successful. My friend’s 21st springs immediately to mind. All had been going well until late into the evening, after much drinking and merriment, my brother (Nick) and I hit the dance floor – that was our first mistake. The second came quite quickly after the first, Nick and I decided we could jive and were doing reasonably well, holding hands we were swinging each other backwards and forwards across in a kind of jive/barn dance sort of way. Mistake number 3 was the speed at which we attempted this with rather sweaty hands. I guess I must have been stronger than I thought. Sensing Nick was waning, I gave a particularly sudden and fast yank on his hand which, together with increased momentum, sent him whizzing past me in a blur of legs and arms, Frank Spencer style. I could only watch in horror as he went crashing into the disco lights; the scene reminiscent of a Jean Michel Jarre light and laser display.  It was certainly a party to remember, probably for all the wrong reasons.

Jan: I’ve been to many great parties over the years but one that evokes such fond memories for me is the surprise party my sisters and I organised (along with several much appreciated volunteers) as part of Mum and Dad’s 30th wedding anniversary celebrations. My younger sister and I were still living at home which, of course, made things a lot easier to manage. On the big night, my older sister and her husband, acting as decoys, took them out for a meal. As soon as their car rounded the corner of our road, me, sis and various friends & neighbours swung into action, fetching and carrying all the booze which had been stashed in a neighbour’s garage, blowing up balloons, wheeling in the cake and making sandwiches. Our aunty Heather was on bread buttering duty whilst the rest of us washed, sliced and diced all the fillers. We had to make sure the steady stream of guests arriving had parked out of sight so Mum’s eagle eye didn’t spot any familiar cars on their return. It really was like the proverbial military operation and a great success. It still makes us laugh remembering Mum’s utter disbelief at not cottoning on to our scheming. :)

As for the worst party, well a front-runner would have to be one I attended with a friend in my late teens. The phrase ‘One man and his Dog’ sprung to mind as we walked into the venue, there were so few guests. Add to that, strip lighting, warm wine, a Tarzan -o-gram for the host and the DJ’s decks blowing up halfway through the evening, and you get the picture. Cue stampede (or should I say, trickle) to the pub round the corner!

Laura: My tale is simple and short. My most and least favourite celebration was my last birthday, March 2012. Everything at home was perfect. I received surprise gifts, which were truly wonderful, cardsIMG_1043 and messages from many friends, and short-list notification of the first Choc Lit short story competition. Ahead was the prospect of a great summer, out and about with my family, including my mother who, the day before, had endured a difficult, but at that point, successful operation.
Why the mixed feelings? It was the last birthday I shared with my lovely mum.

Catherine: Worst? Well, you did ask. It was the winter of 2002. I was 21 and about to enjoy my first Physiotherapy Department Christmas Party. The day before I’d completed a junior rotation in care of the elderly and I was ready to let my hair down. Dinner started with a lovely Minestrone Soup. Only it didn’t seem so lovely. In fact, I was feeling decidedly queasy. It didn’t take me long to realise why I was feeling so ill. No, it wasn’t the soup. It was the dreaded norovirus. A nice leaving gift from my rotation. I was chucking up before the main course arrived and managed to get safely home before performing the party trick that involves a toilet and a bowl. So not the evening I’d had in mind.

The best? I’m going to be greedy and pick 3! My Nan and Grandad’s Ruby, Golden and Diamond anniversary parties. I was 8 at the first party. It was in a church hall with lots of family and friends and I got roped in waitressing duties with my cousins. I remember talking about the next party when I’d be 18 and being very excited about it. And before you know it, you’re 18 and at the next party!