How to ‘find yourself’ on-line dating

The last time I dated, I was a fickle fifteen year old, snogging a different boy at youth club every week.

It’s tough being a middle aged, mother of two, starting out on the dating scene again. For starters, where am I supposed to meet a new man when the highlight of my week is a trip to the supermarket or the local Parish Council meeting? And another thing; do I really want to subject myself to all the treading on eggshells, getting to know each other business that goes with the whole dating malarkey?

A few good friends and my brother found their partners on-line and encouraged me to have a try, saying the worst that might happen is I won’t find ‘the one,’ but I might have some nice coffees, or meals, and some decent male company, and it might make me feel alive again!

Put like that it didn’t seem a bad idea. I knew what I wanted and definitely what I didn’t want! I felt ready for the next stage of my journey and hadn’t given up on the possibility of finding love again altogether. And so I decided it might be good to see if I could find some ‘virtual’ company to while away the long, lonely evenings when the boys had gone to bed.

A few months down the line and it’s been interesting to say the least. On-line dating doesn’t have the stigma it used to these days. It’s safe, private, you simply punch in your pre-requisites, how far you’re prepared to travel and ‘search’ to find your ideal matches. The computer does the rest for you.

It’s been a bit of a roller coaster if I’m honest. It’s certainly not for the faint-hearted. Self-promotion goes with the territory for a writer but it’s a different story altogether selling yourself to a man, highlighting your good points and trying to make yourself sound vibrant, funny and stand out from the crowd.

When I first started, there were times when it felt quite gloomy, scrolling down the laptop at endless profiles of Hagrid look-alikes or topless men, half-blinded by the flash as they pointed their mobiles phones in the bathroom mirror. And you’ve never seen so many men who want to straddle their motorbikes or proudly show off their polishing prowess on their Ford Capri’s.

It can be daunting, mustering the bravery to send your photo to some gorgeous guy who you never hear from again or chatting to someone on-line several times only to find they disappear as quickly as they showed up. However, other times, I’ve found the whole psychology of it fascinating. On-line dating is like doing the lottery. It has to be fate or serendipity that makes your cursor hover over a particular profile that on first appearance has no photo and no written profile other than the basics. And how does it happen that a guy who lives a few hundred miles away finds you when he was looking for someone in a twenty mile radius of his home and ten years younger? One of my friends found her husband on-line and discovered he only lived a few streets away!

It’s hard to know what makes us connect with a particular person. I confess. When I first started, I admit I probably viewed most men as a prospective husband. However, I’ve had messages from men I’d probably never have contacted myself yet they somehow found me and turned out to be lovely and within no time we’re messaging each other most days. Now, I simply enjoy the company and since I’ve made some friends along the way, my pre-conceptions and ‘ideal’ criteria have fallen by the way-side.  Lots of men share the same values as me and can make me laugh and if nothing more, it proves that genuine and lovely men do still exist.

In the same way each of my friends give me different things, I’ve found different qualities appeal. It’s not necessarily a physical attraction that makes me connect with someone. I’m not shallow, so looks-wise as long as they’re somewhere between Shrek and Brad Pitt, I’m happy. Sometimes I find the lure of an open, sensitive face irresistible , or soulful eyes draw me over the laptop screen. Then there’s the clown who makes me laugh out loud with a funny quip, or someone has something in his profile that strikes a chord. I’ve even had a couple who have written me poetry!

It’s funny how you find people. People come into our lives for a reason. Some stick around. Some flit out again; butterfly friends. They all teach us something, if we’re open enough to learn from them… because one thing’s for sure, you can’t find your soul-mate if you haven’t found yourself…

Ahh, I can hear you all asking – have I found any soul-mate prospects?

It struck me in a very short space of time that about ninety percent of men on the site mentioned the ‘S’ word. Finding a soul-mate to spend the next twenty-three years with may prove harder. It’s what most of us on the site are probably searching for, and yes, I’ll let you in on a secret. There is one potential but we’ve only been on one (nine and a half hour!) date so far.

The trouble is, it’s not just about finding ‘the one.’ The timing has to be right too. For both parties. It’s important to be about the same distance along your journey. And then there’s the distance in miles, and all the practical stuff, like kids, and homes, and lives. Hey, I told you this dating malarkey is a lottery.

On-line dating is somehow symbolic. It’s as if by registering, you’re declaring to yourself, ‘It’s time to move on. I’m ready.’ Of course some of us are, and some of us aren’t ready. Yet. It’s progress. Baby steps. Giant leaps. It’s as much about finding yourself as it is finding a new relationship. Time will tell and I promise to keep you all posted!

In the meantime, I’d love to hear how you met your ‘soul-mate’ and especially if you have experiences (or tips) for on-line dating!

Come on then, spill the beans. This is the stuff of books, you know! I’m certainly enjoying the research and storing up some of the material…



Tuesday Chit Chat with Charlotte Betts

I’m happy to welcome award-winning historical novelist Charlotte Betts onto the blog today. Charlotte’s first book, The Apothecary’s Daughter, was published by Piatkus in August 2011 and won the YouWriteOn Adult Book of the Year Award 2010, the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Joan Hessayon Award 2011 and was shortlisted for Choc Lit’s Best Historical Read. The sequel, The Painter’s Apprentice will be published in August 2012 in large format paperback and in paperback in February 2013.

Q: Charlotte, would you like to tell us about your books and your journey to publication?
I started to write about 12 years ago when I couldn’t find anything I wanted to read. I enjoyed the mental challenge of fitting together all the pieces of a mystery story and finished it in three months. Writing was addictive and each novel took longer than the one before while I read everything I could find on how to plot and develop characters. I didn’t allow rejections to put me off and joined a writers’ circle.  My first novels were all contemporary but number six was set in WWII. Of course, some people would say that is historical fiction but it doesn’t feel like that to me as it was written about the time when my parents were young. Researching that novel was absorbing and so I decided to try a ‘proper’ historical and chose Restoration London for the setting. I read Pepys diaries and then Nicholas Culpeper’s Herbal and The Apothecary’s Daughter was born. When I finished writing it I was sad to leave the characters behind so began The Painter’s Apprentice, which is about the next generation of the same family.

The Apothecary’s Daughter
Susannah Leyton has grown up in her father’s apothecary shop on bustling, malodorous Fleet Street and she impresses even dour Dr William Ambrose with her medical knowledge. Embroiled in a battle of wills with her new stepmother, Susannah receives a proposal of marriage from William’s handsome and charming cousin. As the plague sweeps through London, tragedy strikes, and, for Susannah, nothing can ever be the same again.


The Painter’s Apprentice
Beth, a gifted botanical artist, declares she will never marry since she intends to dedicate herself to her art. But then Noah arrives from Virginia and sparks off a chain of events that change her life forever. She makes friends in high places and, against a background of rising political unrest, she plays a small but crucial part in the Glorious Revolution and so alters the course of history. 

Q: The Apothecary’s Daughter is your first published novel but you wrote 6 previous unpublished contemporary ones before that. Would you consider putting any of these forward for publication now or do you think you’ve found your genre?
I have a soft spot for the WWII novel and perhaps I’ll pull it out of the drawer at some time in the future but for now I’m enjoying the C17th. I do still make the occasional foray into contemporary fiction with short stories.

I’m very happy writing historical fiction. I particularly love the research, visiting historical sites and listening out for echoes of past lives and their stories. My plots always have a strong love interest. Since I’m a new author I believe that I need to consolidate by writing more historical fiction for a while. Perhaps I’ll write something more contemporary in the future under a pen name.

Q: Has being published lived up to all you expected it to?
Yes and no. I still have a shiver of pleasure down my back every time I see a copy of The Apothecary’s Daughter on the bookshelves or receive a compliment from a reader. I’m beginning to believe that I am a real writer and that They won’t find me out after all! What did catch me out was believing that when you sign a two book deal you may think you have a whole year to write the second book. Not true. You spend a lot of time editing Book 1 and, in my case, setting up a website, blogging, signing books and networking whilst working full time and trying not to neglect the family. Oh, and writing Book 2.

Q: When did being published first seem possible and not just a dream?
When I found an agent. I knew that nothing was certain but you are taken more seriously if you have an agent.

Q: Who was your favourite author as a child, as a teenager and now?
As a child I loved CS Lewis’s Narnia books, as a teenager I read all of Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels and now I enjoy Philippa Gregory’s historical novels.

Q: Is there any genre, completely out of your comfort zone, you’d really like to try?
Science Fiction. I used to read a lot of SF as a teenager and have written a short story or two in that genre. In some ways it’s not that different from historical fiction as you are still creating a believable world that is unfamiliar to your readers. And I’d love to write crime novels.

Q: If you weren’t a writer, would you have any other ideal job in view of your interests?
If I had money to invest I’d like to renovate and develop old properties.

Q: Which three attributes would your ideal hero possess?
He must have a sense of humour and be kind. It would be good if he was tall, too.

Q: You won the YouWriteOn Adult Book of the Year Award in 2010. ­ How influential was YouWriteOn in helping you find an agent and get The Deal?
The members of YouWriteOn helped me to be objective and to learn to accept criticism. It wasn’t all kind but neither are all readers. YWO was instrumental in finding an agent and without my agent I probably wouldn’t have been signed up by Piatkus. The YWO Adult Book of the Year award came after I’d signed the publishing deal.

Q: Do you thinks forums like YouWriteOn and Authonomy are the future for writers to get noticed by agents and editors? Are they the new slush pile?
Forums like these are only one of the ways to be noticed by agents and editors. But it worked for me and for my friend Katherine Webb, who was in my writers’ group, too. Inevitably these forums show the work of both experienced and new writers, who may still have a great deal to learn. An agent or publisher will quickly sift out the jewels in the mud.

Q: What do you think about Authonomy publishing its own books now? Would that have been a route you’d have considered taking if it was offered by YouWriteOn?
You can publish your novel through YWO but I had set myself the goal of being traditionally published. At that time self-publishing had a way to go and I didn’t have the funds or the confidence to go it alone to market my books. The experience I have gained by having a brilliant editor at Piatkus (Lucy Icke) has been extremely valuable. Authors who self-publish sometimes launch into publishing their work before it’s ready.

You know you’re a writer when…

In celebration of all sorts of Romaniac milestones, big and small, we thought we’d have a bit of a session on feeling like a real live writing person.
Seeing ourselves in Writers’ Forum in an article about online writers’ groups has gone completely to our heads, and now we’re starting to feel a bit more like the real deal. The hard part is actually saying the words out loud though. When asked what you do, the words ‘Oh, well…I’m a writer’ don’t trip off the tongue as easily as they might.

So to help us to stand up and be counted (and yourselves, if you have the same problem) here are some foolproof Romaniac ways of sorting out the men from the boys. And when you’ve finished reading them, please add your own to our list!

You know you’re a writer when:

Sue : Your children don’t bother asking what’s for tea anymore, they just help themselves to whatever is in the fridge.

Sue : You start having conversations with your characters.

Sue : Your children think the laptop is their new sibling.

Jan : You start proofreading a pizza delivery leaflet.

Jan : 2:00 a.m. becomes the new 10:00 p.m.

Jan: You overhear a juicy conversation and instantly think “there’s a book in that!”

Vanessa: You drool over new pens and notebooks in shops the way you used to drool over new shoes and handbags.

Vanessa: When you wake up excited in the middle of the night, it’s your notebook you reach for, not your husband, because you’ve had a BRILLIANT new story idea…

Vanessa: You make notes in the margins of your five year old’s reading books because there’s too much TELLING and not enough SHOWING.

Laura: I’m laughing so much at the moment because I do ALL of the above. You know you’re a writer when you watch your own operation because one day you might use the experience in a book.

Laura: The only word you can focus on in a very long text from your daughter is ‘definately’, then intent on correcting her spelling, you fail to answer her question, replying instead with, ‘BTW, it’s definitely. Mum x’

Celia: Your desk is your favourite place in the world, even when it’s a tip.

Celia: You look forward to the cat waking you up by vomiting copiously at silly o’clock because it gives you so much more writing time. 

Celia: Your husband has to prize ‘Writers’ Forum’ magazine out of your hands before he switches off the light at night.

Catherine: Talking to yourself becomes the norm, because who else are you going to hold a board meeting with?

Catherine: You laugh out loud in public when you solve a plot problem. I tend to be on the bus when this happens.

Catherine: The most common question you get asked is: ‘Have you finished your book yet?’

Lucie: When a funny/embarrassing situation arises and your friends and family say, ‘that’ll be in Lucie’s next book!’

Lucie: When you no longer write in a text, ‘Ill cu l8r’ and it becomes, ‘I shall see you later on.’

Debbie: When you read a book from a writer’s perspective and not a reader’s.

Debbie: When you start reading up on Dylan Thomas and compare yourself!

Debbie: When the children only recognise the back of you (My eleven year old just saw this and thinks it’s funny!) 

 Over to you…

Fight or Flight – It was a close run thing!

Conscious of the fact that, at the time of writing, in less than two weeks I will have to speak in front of an audience at Love A Happy Ending’s Summer Audience about my progress as a writer and getting published, I decided to write this post in two parts. The Before and The After.

The Before – 3rd June

I know that writing a novel is only the half of it.  There’s far more to writing than, well, just writing.

If I were to make a list it would include things like, sales, promotion, people skills, business management, time management, IT skills and marketing, to name but a few.  On the whole I think I could do most of those things from the safety of my laptop – hidden behind the keyboard – by way of emails, blog posts, Facebook and Twitter messages.  However, I am fully aware that talking to an audience isn’t one of those laptop deals.

In all honesty, the thought terrifies me. Me, on my own, stood up in front of group of people, talking about my novel and answering questions – Blimey, I feel sick at the thought. Last time I did this sort of thing, I forgot to breathe and sounded like Norman Collier doing his broken microphone routine.  On a bad day I’m not sure if I can do it, on a good day I think, well I’ve stood up and spoken to a class full of secondary school children, surely I can chat to adults.

I have practiced reading to my dog – she walked off.  At this point it is not looking good and I’m off to invest heavily in ‘Rescue Remedy’.

The After – 19th June

So the day arrived and I still wasn’t convinced I would be able to do it – the ‘Rescue Remedy’ wasn’t really living up to its name.

Lou Graham book reviewer

Before my solo stint, I was scheduled in to do a joint presentation with Lou Graham about book reviewing.  We had deciced that Lou would lead this and gently ease me into the conversation by asking me a few questions.  That, I felt I could cope with.  We were very lucky that on the day Kim Nash came along and, as she is also a book reviewer for Love A Happy Ending, it seemed only natural to get Kim to come up on stage too. I was going for the safety in numbers approach.

I got the nod from Lou and the three of us approached the stage. As I put my foot on the first step, I felt physically sick but knew there was no going back. I wasn’t quite sure how my  Usane Bolt like exit from the hall would be explained.

All I can say is, thank goodness for Lou. She was great ‘chairing’ the presentation and for the most part it was just like having a chat with friends.  I even forgot that Jill Mansell and Catrin Collier were there. At one point I thought my nerves might get the better of me, but I managed to get through it all without hyperventilating and needing to breathe into a paper bag.

So what of my solo stint? The workshops and talks had been such a success, by mid-afternoon it was clear we would run over time. A quick survey of the authors planning to read was carried out – did anyone want to volunteer not to do their presentation.  I’m good at volunteering!   In hindsight, am I glad I didn’t do my five minute reading? If I’m honest, yes.  I’m not 100% convinced I would have been able to do it.  However, I do feel I took a small step forward by doing a joint presentation with Lou and Kim.

I think my dog may have to put up with me a little longer as I practice for next time.

Has anyone else been in that sort of situation? Were you nervous? How did you get over your nerves?

Love A Happy Ending Authors and Reviewers

Tuesday Chit Chat with Allie Spencer

Today, we’re delighted to welcome Allie Spencer to the blog. We’re getting very excited about her next novel, Summer Nights and we wanted to find out more about Allie and the book…

Q: What are your favourite genres to read and would you ever consider writing something radically different?

My favourite genre is probably the comic novel, so I suppose I’m already writing the sort of book that I like to read! I would like to write a carefully plotted, intricate farce – a sort of novel version of an episode of Fawlty Towers (not necessarily set in a hotel, though) but I don’t know if I would have the patience to plan it all out in detail. I would also, at some point, like to try an historical novel – but I’m not sure if I could write a serious book and I don’t know if there is much of a market for comic historicals.

Q: Roughly how long does it take you to write the first draft of a novel?

In theory, it should take me two and a half months. Two thousand words a day, five days a week for ten weeks. However, at the time of answering this, my current WIP is currently languishing at 114,000 words and I’ve got at least another ten to go before I can begin pruning back the dead wood and getting stuck into full-on editing. I think the actual answer is ‘too long’!

Q: How do you find time to fit in writing with young children?

I don’t know! I write during school hours plus weekends plus any extra time I can get my husband to take care of the children. I thought it would get easier when they were both in full time school, but now they go to bed a bit later, I don’t seem to have any peace and quiet in the evenings – so it’s swings and roundabouts. I think the most important thing is that I’m available for them and we do things as a family – the last thing I want is for them to grow up and say to me ‘you were never there when we were small’.
Q: If you were not an author, what would you do?

I’d probably be back at the law. I can’t afford not to work!
Q: What makes you laugh?

Original, intelligent comedy. Preferably jokes I would never have thought of myself.

Q: What is your favourite comedy TV show?

Soooooooo hard. Probably my top three are Fawlty Towers, Blackadder and the first few series of Frasier. But that leaves out Father Ted and The Young Ones and – no, sorry, impossible question!

Q: In Summer Nights, Flora’s cousin Bella is the lead singer in an Abba tribute band so… Please list your top three favourite Abba songs and why you like them? (And have you been up singing them on the karaoke?)

Ooooh – another hard one. Probably The Winner Takes it All (very powerful), Super Trouper (remember seeing it on Swap Shop when I was little!) and ‘Thank You for the Music’. No, I haven’t done any karaoke but I do sometimes belt them out in the kitchen when there’s no one else in the house.  So far the neighbours haven’t complained…

Q: As a writer, do you take note of song lyrics above hearing the song?

Strange, but no. I take note of the overall ‘feel’ of the song. I remember when I was writing ‘Tug of Love’ David Gray’s ‘This Year’s Love’ exactly mirrored the mood I wanted to create in the book so I listened to it incessantly.  Summer Nights is a bit different because it features an Abba tribute band called Abbadabbatastic and there are an awful lot of songs mentioned in the text – including a completely made-up soul/Motown/bluesy number called ‘Respect Me’ which is written by one of the characters. Actually, there are so many brilliant songs in it that I wish I could release a soundtrack, it would be awesome…
Q: Which song do you wish you’d written?

Goodness, another impossible question! I don’t really have a favourite song. Perhaps, though, if I absolutely had to choose one, I’d go for ‘Bridge of Troubled Water’ by Paul Simon. It’s a perfect blend of mood and music and it sends shivers down my spine. Maybe one day I’ll write all the lyrics for ‘Respect Me’ from Summer Nights and have some clever person put music to it. That would be brilliant!

Thank you for answering our questions, Allie. We have one copy of Allie’s Summer Nights to giveaway to one lucky winner. We want to hear about your dream holiday destination and who your perfect companion would be…

And that’s not all! We also have a copy of Summer Loving to giveaway and we thought, for a bit of fun, we could help Allie out with her ‘Respect Me’ lyrics. So add a line or a verse of your Abba-like lyrics…

To find out more about Allie check out her website here and to order Summer Nights, due out this week click here.

The Benefits of Venturing Beyond my Boundaries…

Stepping out of my comfort zone – a phrase I’d usually associated with some dare-devilish feat such as hurling myself backwards out of a plane or scaling Mount Everest. I’d certainly never linked it to my writing. Well, not during the plotting, researching and first drafting stages, anyway. All that bubbling enthusiasm, coffee on tap, whilst I sat, hunched over my PC, squeezing out another chapter…

But then, oddly, instead of completing the draft, I started editing as I went along, revisiting scenes over and over again, tweaking and re-tweaking, picking and pulling apart every sentence until my poor old novel almost waved the white flag at me.   

It was like I was trying to delay the process, as if all of a sudden it had become too real.

People began asking me: “When can we read it, Jan?” or “When will it be finished?” quoting words like synopsis and self-promotion.


I mean, give me a drum to clatter on someone else’s behalf, and I’m there, but bang my own? Were they serious?

I could feel the pressure mounting as fast as my zest and bounce dwindled. My self-belief had been well and truly walloped by The Fear Factor.                                                                                                        


But then a little voice in my head piped up: “What about all the hard work you’ve put in? The passion, the research trips back and forth to York, and the unwavering support you’ve received from Mr B, your family & friends?”

And so began my voyage across the border.

I can do this, I thought, tentatively joining Facebook and Twitter. After all, I was a friendly enough soul, wasn’t I?

And sure enough, I was soon interacting with both published and unpublished writers, relishing their advice, kindness, support and complete understanding of how I’d felt, quickly realizing that it was actually all quite normal. Friendships I’d begun to establish were strengthening week by week and I could feel myself starting to believe again.

A huge personal breakthrough for me was hearing about the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) and their New Writers’ Scheme. I’d attended an inspiring talk given by four incredibly friendly and approachable authors (Juliet Archer, Victoria Connelly, Jean Fullerton and Janet Gover) who suggested I go along to one of their local RNA chapter meetings, as they’re referred to, in London.

I remember, upon arrival, how daunted I felt. Rainlashed and windswept, hoping that someone would recognize me and praying that I wouldn’t fall flat on my face, Calamity Jan style, as I walked through the door.

Instead, it was like being welcomed into a giant group hug. Lots of laughter, writerly chat and encouragement.

Thrilled to be accepted for The New Writers’ Scheme the following year, it finally dawned on me how beneficial being able to submit my manuscript (or in my case, partial manuscript) and obtain feedback from my elected RNA reader would be.

I’d confronted my fears and although terrified at the prospect of somebody reading and critiquing my work, I knew inside that it represented my best hope of progressing.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried like a baby when I opened my NWS report. Yes, there were negatives, but constructively composed and professionally advised negatives, suggesting how and where to strengthen and far outweighed by the positives which, in turn, far exceeded my expectations.                                                                                                            

The huge sense of relief and freedom it gave me renewed my confidence, hence my subsequent participation in The Romaniacs group blog which has been an absolute honour and joy to be part of (thank you, Laura, Sue, Celia, Liz, Vanessa, Lucie, Catherine & Debbie). I can’t believe now that I almost chickened out!

Whilst it’s still nice to occasionally wrap myself up in my old familiarity blanket and plant myself firmly back in the zone, the rewards of travelling beyond it, I’ve discovered, are priceless.

I’d love to know your thoughts and stories on the subject. Can you identify with me?

Jan x

Tuesday Chit Chat with Phillipa Ashley

A Quick Q & A Session with Phillipa Ashley.

Hi Phillipa. The Romaniacs have a few questions for you.

Q: Which three main qualities do you think a writer needs to succeed?

Persistence, a willingness to learn (and not necessarily from writing courses or workshops – ducks down behind the sofa) and  unshakeable belief that there’s something unique about your writing.

Q: If you could choose any setting/place (money no object and all stationery/equipment provided) in which to write your next novel, where would you jet/walk/ride/ off to?

I’d write the novel in my office and save the jetting for inspiration and recreation. I also very much want to go to Vancouver Island to see a grizzly bear.

Q: If you could be any of your heroines, which one and why?

Oh, that’s a hard one. I’d like to be all of them but on a dream day, I’d be Emma from Decent Exposure in the morning so I could go walking with Will, Lucy from Just Say Yes in the afternoon so I could go sailing with Josh. In the evening, I’d be Miranda from Miranda’s Mount and watch the sun set from the battlements of my castle with a certain Lord St Merryn.

Q: Do you have any phobias and if so have you ever worked them into your novels?

I hate heights and my palms sweat just seeing people on TV on cliff edges and I can’t stand my daughter or husband standing near the edges of buildings etc. I tried abseiling as research for Decent Exposure, and whinged for half an hour at the top before I stepped off the edge –- it’s really easy once you’ve stepped off but I wouldn’t do it again.

Q: What is the strangest research question you have asked on Facebook or Twitter?

I can’t remember, I’ve made so many weird requests…

Q: Did you get the response you were expecting?

Um. Probably not but I’ve been very entertained!

Q: Would you consider writing in any other genre, if so, which?

I have an urge to write something very wicked but have been advised not to. Shame.

Q: If you could be presented with a literary award by any celebrity, who would you choose and why?

I have actually asked the RNA if Richard Armitage, Dan Stevens or Michael Fassbender could present the RONAs – but getting those guys to do it would be the easy part. The hard part would be getting shortlisted and winning the award!

Q: As a member of the RNA, are you a NWS reader?

I did one script a few years ago: it took me weeks and I had the most awful sense of treading on someone’s dreams. I’ve always felt I didn’t know enough myself to tell other people what to do and this business is so subjective, you have to be careful who you listen to. But I’ve got a bit more experience now so feel more confident about giving talks and I’d love to be of some use. In fact, I’d be interested to know what the Romaniacs find most helpful from author talks and workshops – and what they’d like to hear from me, if anything!

Q: What makes you laugh?

Almost everything. Would I Lie to You? Withnail & I, 10 Things I Hate About You and any modern stand-up comedy that’s not cruel/offensive in a Frankie Boyle way. I love Doc Martin and Miranda (named the new heroine partly after her) and Nell Dixon’s one-liners and Christina Jones’ novels. The opening to Bill Bryson’s Notes from a Small Island once had me stretched out on a sofa, crying with laughter for several minutes and I also wept at a recent Dara O Briain gig.

Q: Paramedics or Mountain Rescue?

Mountain Rescue of course.

Q: VW Camper van or 5 star hotel?

Um.. er… the hotel but only if it has a view of the sea and could move.

Q: Surfing or dancing?

Surfing. I can’t dance. But then again, I can’t surf yet either!

Q: Cake or chocolate?

Cake by a whisper.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our quickie questions. Please now tell us about your new books.

Thank you for having me – setting up a NWS group was a brilliant idea, if you don’t mind me saying so.

I’ve recently signed a deal with the new Piatkus Entice imprint and my contemporary romance, Miranda’s Mount, is out in October but first I have two books out at the start of June.

Available worldwide is a new print edition of my hot and steamy Samhain romance, Fever Cure – this is an emotional and intense love story which you can also get as an e-book.

In the US, Sourcebooks are releasing Just Say Yes which is a contemporary rom com that also takes a dig at reality show culture. Book Depository also has the gorgeousUS edition with free delivery anywhere in the world, if readers don’t have it yet.

You can find out more at or follow me on Twitter @PhillipaAshley or Like my Facebook page.

Getting to Know You

Being nosy, sorry, make that inquisitive, is all part of being a writer – we like to know things, lots of things. Some are burning questions, others are just little bits of knowledge that we need to satisfy our curiosity.  As a group we have all got to know each other pretty well, but there’s always room for improvement and, as Celia has been shortlisted for the Novelicious Undiscovered competition, we thought we should find out a bit more about our girl by asking her a question each.  Before we did, however, we all wrote a sentence about Celia.

One sentence about Celia

Sue : Celia is wonderfully witty and caring, she is also a lot taller than me, especially when she’s in heels and I’m in flats – I look up to her in more ways than one.

Jan:  Celia is a truly lovely lady with a big smile and a fabulous sense of humour that quite often has me laughing out loud.

Laura : I admire and respect Celia J. Anderson and am honoured we are friends. Celia’s capacity for love and humour is something to which I aspire.

Liz : Celia’s smile beams as brightly as her superb personality – she is one of life’s treasures and I’m very lucky to have her as a friend!

Vanessa: Celia is gorgeously warm and fabulously funny and has a great ability to put people at their ease – within minutes of meeting her, it was as though I’d known her my whole life.

Catherine: Celia is a great friend and a wonderful talent: witty, pithy and sure to go far with her writing.

Debbie:  ‘I still can’t believe Celia is that old, and I’m so glad to have found her at the Festival of Romance Weekend.

What we want to know about Celia

Sue : If you could be anyone for one day, who would it be and why?

Celia: That’s a good one, Sue. Hmmm. I’d really like to be a man for a day for all sorts of reasons – mainly to see what makes them tick and what makes everything work, if you know what I mean! Maybe some sort of bigwig politician with responsibilities for Education so I could ban OFSTED for ever and give schools a massive yearly budget for books, or a really fast Olympic runner so I can see what it’s like to run properly without bits wobbling…or should that be wobbling bits?

Jan:  Who or what makes you belly-laugh?

Celia: This is going to be a long list – on an everyday basis, my daughters and husband are very funny, and online (and in the flesh) you Romaniacs make me laugh loads. On TV I love Victoria Wood, French & Saunders, Peter Kay, Bill Bailey, the entire cast of Father Ted and Green Wing and Eric Morecambe (because he reminds me of my dad.) My favourite sitcom moment of all time is the episode of Father Ted when Mrs Doyle teeters for ages and then topples off the windowsill. And Monty Python. And Blackadder. And The Young Ones. I’ll stop now.

Laura : What gives you your resolve and amazing ability to carry on through thick and thin?

Celia: My family and friends are the main reason for this. When times have been pretty grim, they’ve rallied round with cake, wine, hugs and lots of love and laughs. Also I was lucky  to have had a Mum and Dad who were constantly loving and supportive, and now there are the wonderful Romaniacs too! My pet hate is people who say ‘Why me?’  Stuff happens, it’s how you deal with it that counts. Oh, and chocolate is vital, that goes without saying.

Vanessa : If you could have written any book in the world, what would it be?

Celia: That’s really hard, Vanessa. I’m always finding new ones to wish I’d written but if only one had to be chosen, I think it might be the last of Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy, The Amber Spyglass. It combines everything I love to read about in one book – fantasy with real people, other similar worlds that are really believable, love, tension…and the title is perfect. I love the word ‘amber’. And it answers all the questions I wanted to ask and still makes me want a fourth one in the series.

Liz :  What is the best bit of advice you have had about writing?

Celia: Not to be offended by rejection letters. I practice that one regularly! All the best bits of advice seem to have been about not giving in – until I went to the Festival of Romance and met the Romaniacs I only had a couple of writing friends, and comparing notes is so valuable when you think things are going nowhere. I wouldn’t have known about the Novelicious competition if one of you hadn’t mentioned it, and having a support network makes you much braver about putting your work out there in the big scary world.

Catherine: If you could have dinner with anyone (dead or alive) who would you share a candlelit supper with?

Celia: Can it be a whole dinner party, Catherine? If so, I would invite Victoria Wood, Princess Diana, Michael Palin, George Harrison, Bill Bailey, and My-Grandma-Millie-Who-Died-Before-I-Was-Born. I have been told that we share the same sense of humour and would like to see if they make her larf. (Not George – he would be singing and strumming his guitar gently in the background.) Also, I’d like to know what Diana was really like and more importantly, why she wore those pop socks in the press photo of when she came out of the hospital clutching Baby William. I’ve always wondered.

Debbie: What do you consider to be your strengths of character, and your weaknesses?

Celia: I asked my youngest daughter to help me with this and she came straight out with a weakness – impatience! I don’t know what she means at all. I only said I wanted the answer immediately. She also mentioned the word stroppy, although she did say that she has met worse. On the good side,I think I’m quite upbeat and positive, which can probably get a bit sickening after a while. And I like to larf.

In case, you’re wondering what’s happened to our ninth Romaniac, Lucie – unfortunately, she hasn’t got internet access at the moment but I’m sure she would say some equally lovely things about ‘our Celia’ .

Thank you Celia for your great answers and good luck with the Novelicious Undiscovered competition!

Voting for the Novelicious Undiscovered 2012 contest is now open

Click here to register your vote

NWS Member Talks About Publishing Her Book

As members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, New Writers’ Scheme, we love to hear how other members are getting on with their writing and quest for publication, be this through the traditional route of agent and publisher or under the Indie banner of self-publishing.

Today, we have NWS member Lauren Milner-Howells with us, or fluffypen as she is known on Twitter, to talk about how she came to publish her novel Permanently Temping.

Hi Lauren, thanks so much for coming on the blog, it’s great to have another member of the NWS here with us. Can you start by telling us how being a member has impacted on your writing?

I think being a member of the RNA NWS has been really beneficial for me as it has made me feel a part of something. Writing can be quite a lonely business at times and if you’re feeling like you’re useless and need some encouragement it’s always nice to be part of a group you can turn to for advice.
We couldn’t agree more, that’s one of the things we all love about being involved with the Romantic Novelists’ Association.
So, your novel, Permanently Temping, where did you get the idea from?
After graduating from university I spent alot of time temping in various companies in London and found it very funny how each place had its own strange quirks. Obviously the stories I tell are fictional but I think everyone can relate to the craziness that goes on in offices! Every day I would come home with different tales and one day my husband said – “You know, this would make a really funny book!”. And so here we are!
What a clever husband!  Did it take you long to write? It must have been hard to fit in with your day job.
I was working at the same time as writing so it took me about two and a half years overall. Although I think at least one year of that was spent rewriting and editing once I’d ‘finished’. It was so important to me that the quality of the book (both grammar and spelling) would be of a high standard and there wouldn’t be any (hopefully!) silly mistakes.
I’m sure you’ve done a great job.   Now, you’ve self-published your book, what made you decide to go down this route, rather than seek an agent and/or traditional publisher?
When I first started writing my book a couple of years ago, self publishing was nowhere near as big as it is now so I didn’t even really consider it as an option. I bought the writers and artist’s yearbook and sat writing lists of agents I’d send the book to. After sending the first few chapters to a few agents, I got some positive responses written as notes on the bottom of the template letter they send out – basically they loved my writing and found the scenes very funny but they said they thought there wasn’t much of a market for chick-lit anymore. That’s when I decided that I was wasting my time going down the traditional route and decided to go it alone!
Well, it seems it was the right decision, you’ve already received a 5 star review on Amazon.  We love the cover – did you design this yourself?
No, unfortunately I am not that talented in graphic design! I was very lucky as my sister is very experienced and talented at this so she did it for me (in return for dinner and a lot of cocktails!).
What has been the most useful thing you’ve learnt in getting your novel to the stage it is now?
I think the most useful thing I’ve learnt is self discipline – how to make myself sit down and write. What works best for me is to have a word count that I have to achieve each day, not a specific time I have to write for. Then if I finish in two hours I can have the rest of the day doing something else! If I had to sit there for a specific time I know I wouldn’t start writing until the last ten minutes – I definitely work better under pressure. Another thing I’ve learnt (especially with regards to self publishing) is that you need to know how to use Microsoft Word properly, for example paragraph formatting and page breaks. It will save you a lot of time in the long run if you take the time to learn before you start writing. I would recommend taking a look at the Smashwords guidelines as this runs you through what a good word doc should look like and how to format correctly.

That’s really great advice and you’ve kindly supplied a checklist for anyone thinking of self-publishing – thank you.

 Self publishing checklist:

1) Set Microsoft Word paragraph formatting correctly (see below for more info in interview). This can be done at the end if you have already started but it’s definitely easier to get this sorted before you start.
2) Write the book
3) Edit the book
4) Edit the book again
5) and again
6) and again (you get the idea)
7) Make sure your book is ready to go and there are no more alterations (I would recommend printing it and reading through it at least once as you will spot more errors this way! Another tip is to change the page margins and make your book look totally different on screen- you will be surprised what a difference this makes when spotting errors)
8) Think about your cover design, colours etc. (hopefully you already have a title – if not, think of one now)
9) Write your blurb (see amazon books of similar genre for word count etc.)
10) If you have no/little experience in cover design I would definitely recommend getting a professional to do it
11) You are now ready to go! You can upload a Word doc to Amazon via KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) but there are sometimes strange quirks in this so you may want to pay someone to do this part. There is free software which converts word docs to epubs etc. called Calibre and you can view your epub on free software called Adobe – Digital Editions. You don’t need an ISBN to sell on Amazon – Amazon will give you their own version, an ASIN.
12) Upload your book to Smashwords to cover all other e-readers – make sure to follow the Smashwords guidelines (avaliable to download for free) or you may not be put on the premium listing that means your book can go out to retailers such as Kobo. Also, your book needs an ISBN to be sold via Kobo and ibooks – Smashwords will give you a free one if you let them list themselves as publisher. Smashwords say this does not effect any of your rights. NB I don’t believe you can sell via Kindle through Smashwords yet – but why would you want to when you can do through KDP (see point 11) and not pay a comission to Smashwords? However, don’t use the ISBN Smashwords gave you for free on Amazon (again, see point 11). There are lots of complicated tax rules involved in selling through Smashwords, which would be a whole post in itself! So try to read through and make sense of them or you could end up paying more tax than you need to.
13) Phew. After all that you’ll probably be exhausted – I certainly was! Now you need to market, market, market. My top tip is to try and get book review bloggers of your genre to review your book – to make yourself stand out and look professional make sure to send them a document with your cover, blurb, previous reviews etc.
14) Keep marketing – forever. Don’t just think it’s for the first few weeks/months. You need to keep at this for a long while to make your book successful.
15) Have a large glass of wine and/or a box of chocolates.
16) Start all over again at step 1….!

You can follow Laurent on Twitter and at her blog Fluffypen

Permanently Temping is available on Amazon Kindle

Tuesday Chit Chat with Lesley Cookman

Lesley Cookman has been described as the Queen of Cosy Crime and this year sees the release of her tenth Libby Sarjeant book. We welcome Lesley to our blog in celebration of her Jubilee year, which also sees her entire backlist reprinted in B format with new covers.

Good morning, Lesley, and many congratulations on the release of Murder By Magic.

We’d like to celebrate in style, so what can we get you? Champagne, Gordons or English Breakfast tea? A chocolate HobNob?

Champagne, please, and forget the Hobnob!

It didn’t escape our notice that your new book is called Murder By Magic and your recent community theatre play was David Copperfield. 

Don’t remember any magic in David Copperfield. Or did I miss something? Oh – ah. You mean that rather annoying conjuror. How dare he trade on the name of Dickens’s favourite novel?           

When did you start treading the boards?

In primary school, then grammar school, from where I was sent to private drama lessons. I first appeared on the professional stage in London as Laura in The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams at the age of fifteen and made the front page of the Evening Standard!

What has been your favourite role and why?

Oh, Shirley Valentine, without a doubt. The best showing off role in the business. I’m reprising a little bit of it for a show celebrating the 30th anniversary of our local theatre in July.

Would you consider writing a script for your theatre group and what would it take to encourage you to?

All my scripts were tried out at the theatre before publication. They now earn me my holiday money every year, bless them.

Inside every writer is an actor. What are your thoughts on this?

No, not always. I know some of us who are both, and I think it helps in a lot of cases, but I also know many more writers who are scared stiff of performance of any kind, regarding it as little less than water torture.

Now, onto your books.

At what point did you realise you were going to write a series?

When the publishers contracted the first book before it was finished and asked me if it could be the start of a series!

How has your heroine developed over the ten books? How has she changed? Were these changes planned, or did she take on a life of her own?

She hasn’t changed much, she’s still nosy and opinionated, and the changes in her life have happened by accident, as they do for most of us.

What is the trick to keeping the recurring characters fresh?

If you find out, will you tell me?

How do you develop the plot, including the twists, turns and red herrings?

By blundering on and remembering Raymond Chandler’s advice: “When in doubt, have a man come in with a gun.” I frequently don’t know who’s going to be murdered, or by whom. It just sort of happens – tortuously.

What is the strangest research question you have asked on Facebook or Twitter? Did you get the response you were expecting?

I ask very few research questions on either, and they’re usually quite mundane, like “What’s the name of those iron things you see on old walls?’ (It was wall ties, actually.)

What are your favourite genres to read and would you ever consider writing something radically different?

I tried, believe me, I tried. It actually raised my blood pressure so much I had to back out of the contract. My preferred reading is in my own genre, but I read a lot of my mates’ books, too, how could I not? Seeing that I still belong to the RNA and most of them are members!

What makes you laugh?

Pretty much everything. On the stage, both pro and community, I’ve specialised in comedy, Music Hall and pantomime, on which I’m considered an expert. (Laughs quietly up sleeve.)

Finally, what thing would you do if you had more time?

It’s not the time that’s the problem – it’s the money! If I’d been sensible and had a private pension, I could now stop work and spend a lot more time in my favourite village inTurkey. But, having been a self employed writer for thirty years – no pension. So, I keep on working.

Lesley, it’s been a pleasure meeting you and thank you for sharing your Jubilee year with us.

Thank you for asking me. I wish you all the very best of luck in your careers.

Thank you, Lesley.

Now, does everyone have their glass ready? To Lesley and Murder By Magic.

You can catch up with Lesley on her blog: or at

or follow on Twitter @LesleyCookman.

Free until Thursday only, is the Kindle version of Murder by Magic, here. The paperback edition is out on June 7th. Enjoy, and cheers!