Goodbye is the hardest word…

Haven’t I been here before? At the finishing line? In fact – I recall blogging some months ago and beginning with the words I’VE FINISHED! But of course, that was just the first draft, the first lap around the track. But this time, I really, really, really have finished.

Well, sort of. For now, at least…

Just need to press send…

In a minute. Maybe I’ll just read it through one more time…

From about the third draft onwards, as I read through the final chapter, I’m always convinced that this is it – my book is finished, as perfect as it can be, ready to send out to the world. And then I leave it a while, and come back to it, and realize it’s not finished at all, there are still things I can do to improve and polish, words to be tweaked, sentences made shinier.

But at least three times now, I’ve celebrated reaching The End on twitter, and each time I can’t imagine making any more changes, so I send it out there – first to my fabulous agent and to the lovely readers at the RNA, and it comes back with detailed notes about areas that need developing, expanding, cutting, and so I go back and polish and tweak and make it shinier.

But this time, I’m 99% sure I really have finished.

But I really wish I hadn’t. Not because I love editing that much (although I DO love editing) – but because I hate saying goodbye. We’ve all read books we don’t want to end – because we love the characters, because we’ve spent so much time in that fictional world it’s become almost real. We’ve raced through, transfixed by every word and then slow down towards the end, stretching it out, unable to face the last page. And this is even more true in the books we write – we have lived with these characters for a year or more, spending as much time with them as our real-life families and friends; we have guided them through highs and lows and we have loved them. It’s very hard to close the door on them and send them on their way – however hard editing can get, no one really wants the end to be the end.

We want reaching the end to be the beginning.

But anyway – enough prevaricating.

It really is time to press send.

It really is time to say goodbye…

Tuesday Chit-Chat with Berni Stevens

Today we have the very talented author and graphic designer Berni Stevens with us to chat more about her writing and fab book covers she designs.

Hi Berni

It’s great to have you here, thanks for taking time out of your busy day as graphic designer and author, and no doubt a whole lot else!

Hallo, it’s lovely to be here  – and yes don’t forget the four Zumba classes I do every week J

You are, of course, a published author with Wild Rose Press, can you first of all, tell us a bit about your writing career to date.

I’ve always loved writing, and as a child I used to write and ‘illustrate’ very bad pony stories, which became ghost stories as I got older. I won a National story competition at fifteen, but art was always my first love, which is why I opted for Art College.

My first published short story as an adult, was a vampire story – no surprise there – called The Reluctant Vampire, and published by The Dracula Society in 2003. That short story eventually grew into Fledgling.

I went on to have three more short stories published: Eternal Night, which was included in an anthology called Bloody Vampires published by Glasshouse Books, (2010),  then two short stories for teens, Balour’s Seal, published in an anthology called Dragontales, (2009), and Lure of the Murich, published in an anthology called Mertales, (2010) both published by Wyvern Publications. Then last year I tried my hand at editing a vampire anthology for Wyvern, called Fangtales – and that was very difficult! Even though we had said, ‘Please no Twilight copies, traditional vamps only’ – the first story I read was set in a high school and had a family of vampires called the Cullens! But I’m thrilled with the end result. I think the stories are wonderful.

So my writing career is very new – and short – to date, which, for me, makes it all the more exciting.

Your debut novel ‘Fledgling’ is about Vampires and I see that you are on the Committee of the Dracula Society.  I take it you have a bit of a thing about vampires – please tell more…

I first read Bram  Stoker’s Dracula when I was fourteen, and found myself totally captivated by the Gothic creepiness of it. After that, I read everything I could find  which had a vampire in. From Sheridan Le Fanu to Anne Rice and, more recently, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Laurell K. Hamilton, and even (under protest!) Stephenie Meyer!

I’m not really sure how the interest built up, but I think perhaps it’s the ultimate ‘bad boy’ attraction, added to the thought of eternal life, incredible strength and sexual magnetism! What’s not to like?!

Sadly, I have yet to see a good adaptation of Dracula either on stage or film, which does Stoker’s  novel justice. (And I’ve seen a few!) The best so far for me, is the BBC’s 1978 version with Louis Jourdan as the Count. The worst in my humble opinion is Coppola’s frightful adaptation. Sadie Frost’s depiction of Lucy made me want to stake her myself! 

The Dracula Society is a literary society for fans of Gothic novels, films, and plays.

Before anyone asks, no, we don’t dress up in cloaks and fangs – perish the thought. We have London-based talks, screenings and meetings, and an annual Dinner around the time of Bram Stoker’s birthday (8th November.) Eerily close to my own birthday. Funny that!

Our members include academics such as, Sir Christopher Frayling, Leslie Klinger, and Dr Elizabeth Miller, plus Dacre Stoker, Bram’s great grand nephew. I always thought I knew a lot about vampires until I met these people!

The Society go on many trips both here and abroad, all of them Gothic-related. Next year is the Society’s 40th Birthday (and no – I haven’t been a member from the start!!) There will be a weekend celebration in – where else – but Whitby!

You can check us out on, Facebook: or follow us on Twitter @DracSoc.

So, when can we expect to see some more of your work published?  No pressure, of course!

Renegades, the sequel to Fledgling is finished – at least the first draft is finished, but it needs some tweaks. It continues Will and Ellie’s story, and includes lots more bad guys (and women), evil child vampires intertwined with, of course, an enduring love story. The body count is higher than in Fledgling, and it’s a bit darker too. I’m not sure yet when it will be published, because it does need more work, but I’m hoping it will be available maybe in a year or eighteen months’ time.

The third book in the London Vampire Chronicles, is called Alpha, and features one of the secondary characters from the first two books: Stevie, the werewolf manager of Will’s nightclub. Will and Ellie do feature in this book, but the main character is Stevie and the beautiful rock singer, Kat, with whom he falls in love. The story is told both from Kat’s and Stevie’s POVs. I’m only ten chapters in with Alpha, although it is all plotted out, but I’ve been a bit too busy to write recently.

So, putting your other hat on, of graphic designer, is this something you’ve done for a long time?

Yes, a very long time – over twenty-five years actually! My first job was with a small publisher called W. H. Allen, whose offices were in Mayfair. (They were subsequently bought out by Virgin Books and are now part of Random House.) They published mass-market fiction,  a lot of autobiographies and a huge selection of  Dr Who books, so you can imagine the press office got a lot of  strange phone calls. And I did manage to get inside a dalek at one sales conference!

I went from there to Fontana, which was part of the William Collins group – now Harper Collins of course. My job there was to design the point-of-sale material for the books, which included a lot of children’s titles. I remember once trying to hail a cab with a giant cut-out lion under my arm (for The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.)

My next stop was Penguin, and from there I moved to Macdonald (publishers – not the burger place) who were bought out by Little, Brown (US) when Maxwell fell off his boat. I stayed with Little, Brown for twelve years, at first designing POS and covers and then changing to solely design covers. I left in 2003 to become freelance. There is only so far you can go in-house, and generally the people at the top don’t change for decades, so most designers opt for the freelance route after a while. 

Do you specialise in one particular area of graphic design or are your clients wide and varied?

Since becoming freelance, most of my work has been in publishing, although I have done the occasional CD cover and brochure when asked. But my area of expertise is

publishing, and predominantly cover design. I still do brochures and ads for the books when needed. I rarely design the insides of books, although one of my first freelance commissions from Simon and Schuster, was to design the inside pages for The Quotable Slayer  – wonder how I got that job huh? It was a job made in heaven and I loved every minute.

My clients range from well-established institutions like Harlequin, Mills and Boon and relatively new publishers like Choc Lit, to first time authors who are self-publishing, which means the design briefs are always pretty varied.

Do you read the books before designing the covers? Or do you just work from a description or tight design brief?

With the larger houses, there’s never the time to read the books, the deadlines are always tight, and usually they want to see visuals within ten days or two weeks. When working in-house, we always seemed to have plenty of time, but freelancers never do. So generally I am supplied with a synopsis and a design brief. Sometimes the brief is so tight, there’s no room for manoeuvre either, which can make it difficult to be very creative. (I blame large cover meetings with too many people who can’t agree!)

Smaller houses tend to publish less titles, so they have more flexibility time-wise. If I can read the book first, I always prefer to. It makes so much difference to coming up with ideas, especially within the thriller genre for some reason.

How many design options do you come up with?

Again, this depends on the publisher. One large house (who shall remain nameless within this interview) had me chopping and changing visuals for one title, until I’d done twenty visuals – before they went back to the first design I’d supplied! Again, proof that too many people get involved in the cover meetings. For me, these jobs are never cost effective, and the amount of work isn’t compensated within my fee, because I am still paid per cover, and not for the time spent.

But usually I will supply three or four ideas for a title. Of course if W H Smith don’t like any of them, then I have to start again.

Did you have any input on the design for your own book?

Oh don’t get me started on the Fledgling cover J . Fledgling had been on the Authonomy website for eighteen months before TWRP contracted it. So I had designed a low res cover, which I’d got used to, and quite liked. A couple of years ago I designed a lot of covers for Christine Feehan and Sherrilyn Kenyon and had become jaded with seeing large male faces dominating paranormal covers, so I really didn’t want a man on the cover. Also a lot of the US paranormal covers have these bare-chested Chippendale types pouting out from the covers, and they couldn’t be further away from my elegant aristocratic, British Will.

TWRP always send out a cover briefing form to the author which we, in turn, fill in with our preferences for colour, design etc. As you can imagine, I wrote a fairly detailed cover brief, where I implored them not to put a man on the cover. They put a man on the cover! Thankfully not bare-chested, but absolutely nothing like the character I’d described. They also added a gigantic raven (why?) and (in my opinion) horrible plonky typography on the back cover, which really made my teeth hurt. But to be fair, designing for a designer is possibly the worst commission ever.

Which do you prefer designing or writing?

That’s a difficult question. I love both, and I feel really privileged to do both.

Sometimes I can be designing a cover when a writing idea pops up in my head, or a conversation I think might work, then I have to write it down before I forget. Alternatively I might think of a design when I’m writing, so I’ll stop writing and design instead. But generally, I try to design all day, and then start writing after 6pm.

Thanks so much for dropping by Berni, it’s been lovely having you here.  Good luck with the writing and designing.

Thank you for inviting me, it’s been a pleasure! 

Follow Berni on Twitter @circleoflebanon

And Facebook:






To Swear or Not To Swear? [This post contains strong language]

Warning: This post contains strong language which may not be suitable for younger readers and which some people may find offensive.

Swear … use profane or indecent language esp. as an expletive or from anger

source : The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1991

Is it okay to swear in books?

It has been rattling around at the back of my mind for some time and raised its head recently when I was reading through my manuscript. Just how many times did I need to or, indeed, should use the F word?

When I was younger just saying ‘bloody’ was enough to get into trouble. However, ‘bloody’ and other words such as ‘shit’ and ‘piss’ have slipped into everyday usage. I am reliably informed by my teenagers these aren’t even considered as swearing.

This theory seems backed up when we regularly hear these words used in TV dramas, BBC, ITV, C4 or otherwise. They are so common that we probably don’t notice them – they certainly don’t have the same impact as they might once have done.

So what of the F word?  Once this was considered particularly offensive and some might say, still is.  I can only think of one word that would top it. However, the effectiveness of the F word seems to have been diluted too. For example, take a RomCom film like ‘Four Weddings & A Funeral’ – in the opening scene ‘fuck’ is said eleven times, along with a ‘fuckity-fuck’ and a ‘bugger’. Where it may have shocked at one point, here, it is intended to make for a comical scene. (Transcript

Is it any worse writing it down or reading it? Does being in black and white make it more shocking? I personally don’t think so, as long as it’s in context and not just there for the sake of being there. I use swear words when I write, although I will admit to editing a good deal out of my final manuscript. I think originally I had about fourteen variations of the F word and whittled it down to six or seven. I tended to let my bad guy do most of the swearing, although I did let my good guy swear occasionally where I felt it added to the scene.  In each instance, I felt it was justified as it was in character and appropriate to the situation.

What do you feel about swearing in books?

Are you comfortable reading and/or writing it? Or do you find it offensive?

Would it put you off reading a book?


Tuesday Chit Chat with Gillian Green

Today, we are delighted to have Gillian Green, Ebury’s Commercial Fiction Editorial Director joining us. Gillian has been very busy developing Ebury’s Fiction lists so we’re very honoured that she has managed to pop by for a Tuesday Chit Chat. (Now, where did our best biscuits get to?)

Q: What attracted you to a life in publishing?

Unsurprisingly I’ve always loved books but as a working class girl from Devon I don’t think it ever occurred to me before I started my first degree that a) someone edited all the books I devoured and b) that someone could be me…. I also did a creative writing course in my final year in which we had to edit each others’ work which also got me started thinking about it as a career.

Q: Do you manage to keep your job ‘9-5’ and if not what aspects do you take home with you?

Most fiction editors read outside of office hours and at weekends. I actually relish my commute as reading time. If I lived closer to the office I’d get a lot less done!

Q: What’s the most rewarding/challenging aspect of being an editor?

I love working with authors and seeing a book you’ve worked on hit the shelves and get the readership it deserves. The most challenging aspect is probably getting the right package for a book – jacket, blurb etc – so you can give a book its best shot in an ever competitive market.

Q: Do you have any guilty reading pleasures?

I love the True Blood series by Charlaine Harris – I’m not sure I feel guilty about that though. And I have always loved the late Maeve Binchy books – they’re my go-to comfort read. I was very sad to learn of her passing.

Having worked on Nora Roberts’ books for so long at Piatkus,  I’ve also been known to dip back into my mum’s collection when I’m visiting. She also has a lot of the romances I published at Piatkus and I will happily re-read Julia Quinn or Susan Elizabeth Phillips.  (My Mum would say the most rewarding thing  about having a daughter who is an editor is that she never has to buy books!)

Q: Away from work, what do you do to wind down?

I read! Or I catch up with friends. I like old movies and musicals. I’m trying to get fit –  not so much the gym but I do classes and I love Zumba.

Q: Have you ever wanted to be on the other side of the table and write a novel?

Well, way back when I did my creative writing course, perhaps but now I’m very happy being the midwife rather than the one in labour, having a baby once a year  so to speak!

Q: How important is the synopsis?

It is a punishment that we editors like to inflict on authors! (Cue evil laugh!) I know authors hate them – in fact I’ve only ever had one author in my entire publishing career who loved writing them. However,  for new partial submissions we do need an idea that you know where your story is going and that it’s a good one. Also, that your sweeping historical romance doesn’t suddenly have aliens arrive etc…

With commissioned writers we need to know what future books are about so we can plan and brief jackets and write advance information sheets.  I think authors panic because they think I’m going to hold them to every word.

Q: What makes a good book title?

For commercial fiction they have to be short and snappy. I like intriguing titles that tell me something about the hook of a book. I’d also say though that new writers shouldn’t get too hung up on titles as we publishers often suggest changes. (Did I mention we’re evil?)

Q: What are the most common mistakes you see in manuscripts?

Info-dumping – whether it’s authors dumping all the research they’ve done into scenes or delivering too much back story in one hit. Starting a story in the wrong place happens quite a lot. A lot of the women’s fiction I read on submission rushes the ending when I think readers, having spent a whole book getting there, like to bathe in the happy ending a little more. As my authors will attest, I’m a big fan of epilogues in women’s fiction too.  On a more practical note:  spell check – you’d be surprised how many people don’t even do the basics.

Q: What are the deciding factors that take a novel from e-pub only to paperback?

With Ebury Press and Black Lace I’m commissioning titles that will go to print and simultaneous epub. Rouge, our digital first romance list, we are now publishing two titles a month in print as well as two titles a month digitally. We’re cherry-picking titles at the moment as we have a wealth of romance titles on the list. What informs my ‘cherry-picking’ – well, all the Rouge titles are great romances and all of them would work as print titles. However, I can only do two a month so it usually comes down to what genre/theme/title I think will work the best – and personal taste.

Q: Have you ever had ‘one that got away’?

Every publisher has – whether it’s books you miss out on at auction stage or can’t get enough support for in house. Or books you love that just don’t fit your list.  Or sometimes you do miss something. Some go on to be huge successes and you have a mutter to yourself – or at colleagues –  and move on. Or sometimes a book goes for a  huge sum of money and then sinks without a trace. And then you give an evil laugh and move on…

A big thank you to Gillian for taking the time to come and chat to us.

Romantic Songs – Romaniac Style

There’s nothing like a song to ignite a memory – especially of the romantic kind. Some of those memories can make us smile and go, ‘Ahhh’, some can make us grin and go, ‘Oohh’ and some can make us grimace and go, ‘Eeek!’

So here are the Romaniacs’ Ahhh, Oohh, Eeek songs and the stories behind them.

Would love to know what yours are …

Debbie – My first love was when I was 15 – Madness ‘It Must Be Love’. As an adult it has to be Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ for me … It was an ex and mine’s main tune and even now, I know it’s the case for both of us. However, on a lighter note, one of my more recent men – I’ll keep him anonymous but Celia knows about him 😉 dedicated One Direction’s ‘That’s What Makes You Beautiful’ and said it reminds him of me …

Madness :

Celia – I had the longest and probably the most spectacular kiss of my life to Andy Kim’s ‘Rock Me Gently’ at a school disco in the seventies – it still makes my knees go weak! My sad one is the one we had at my husband David’s funeral – he bought it for me for the message in it, and he wasn’t one for the romantic gesture usually – Nickel Creek, ‘When You Come Back Down’, and my upbeat one for now that’s for me and Ray is Mamas & Papas ‘It’s Getting Better’. 

Andy Kim

Vanessa – 1990. A small indie nightclub resembling a cave, with damp walls and flooded toilets. Me, an art student – hennaed hair, pierced nose, DM’s.  My boyfriend had just confessed to having a long-term girlfriend back home before passing out in a corner.  My favourite song at the time – the ever romantic Sheriff Fatman by Carter USM – came on and a boy from my art college wandered over and shouted over the music in my ear,

‘You shouldn’t be with that idiot – you should be with me.’

I looked at the idiot passed out in the corner with the girlfriend back home and back at the boy from the college with bright blue eyes  and gorgeous smile. He was right.  When he leaned in for a kiss, I kissed him back and we walked away together.  Ten years later I married him.

Carter USM

Catherine – My song is ‘Save The Last Dance’ by The Drifters. We chose it as our first dance when we got married! It’s all because of the phrase ‘I love you oh so much.’ In my accent (Thanet/East London/Southampton) my OH thought I said, ‘I love you all so much!’  So now we always say this and in the song, it sounds like they’re singing my version!

The Drifters

Jan – My song would be ‘You’re The Best Thing’ by The Style Council, for three reasons. 1) It happened to be the song Mr B and I danced to at a mutual friend’s birthday party, having not seen each other since we were teenagers. 2) Unbeknown to me at the time, Mr B was, and still is, a HUGE fan of all things Paul Weller, as am I, having now been converted. 3) We danced to this song at our wedding – an immense relief to me, given that a cheeky Mr B, complete with deadpan expression, had been winding me up that he had secretly requested Chas n Dave’s ‘Gertcha’.

The Style Council

Lucie – My song is Adele ‘Make You Feel My Love’ – that was the first dance for me and my husband on our wedding day.  Another song I love is Luther Vandross, ‘Never too Much’ – again this makes me think of my lovely husband.


Laura – Mine and Gajitman’s is ‘Love Is All Around’, Wet, Wet, Wet – it’s strange because I’m not the biggest fan of the song and it had already had its time in the charts when we latched onto it, but there was something about it that appealed to us. Partly, it was down to Garry’s humour – in the song, (at 3:03) Marty sings ‘Hey!’, but Garry, not known for his natural singing voice, replaced this with what I can only describe as a grunt. It was one of those ‘you had to be there moments’, but it made me laugh and that will be how I forever hear the song.  We had it as our first dance at our wedding bash, grunt et al. Now, if that’s not romantic …

Wet, Wet, Wet

I’ve just watched it and confess, I had a little smile and a tiny tear of happiness.

When I was 21, I went to a fancy-dress party with my then boyfriend. The theme was The London Underground. I went as Russell Square (I had lots of rustling sweet wrappers stuck to a large square piece of card) and my chap went as Cockfosters, in costume, carrying a can of that Australian amber nectar. When Simply Red’s ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ came on, he couldn’t get out of his chicken suit fast enough. He hopped around for a while, one leg in and one leg out of his chicken suit. I think we managed to dance to the last half of the song.

Simply Red

Sue – I’m going back to my teens and discos, dancing with a lad named Leslie who looked like Midge Ure from Ultravox and although I don’t think it was Vienna we danced to, it is this song that reminds me of him, his long green parker, sta press trousers and scooter.


Feel the Fear! Rose McClelland guests today.

Today we welcome the lovely Rose McClelland, sharing tactics for dealing with a writer’s fears.

“I just don’t have the time to write” …. and other excuses masking FEAR
“I don’t have the time to write”
“I should’ve started writing in my twenties, there’s no point now”
“It would take me too long to write a novel so I should just concentrate on my day job instead”
“People like me don’t become published authors – that dream only happens to other people”

These were all the excuses I gave myself. The notion “I want to write” hammered away at me for years but I successfully batted off the desire with these nifty excuses. Clever, huh?
It wasn’t until a friend shoved a copy of “The Artists Way” by Julia Cameron into my hands and told me “we are going to study this 12 week course” that things began to change.

What’s the point?
I discovered, through a series of tasks and tools, that my excuses were just that – excuses – and the real problem was fear.
“What’s the point?” is a clever mask for fear or resentment.
• What would my father think of me?
• What if he read the sexy scenes and was appalled?
• What would the blokes at work think?
• Would I have to write under a pen name?
• I’m not very outgoing or confident – how would I promote my book via Facebook or twitter or god forbid, newspapers and the wider media circle?
• What if I got bad reviews?

The first thing I learned was that those fears show a pretty active imagination. Projecting that far into the future and visualising such strong negative images shows that, in-fact, there’s a good healthy writer’s mind ticking away in there. Now how do I turn those negative visualisations into positive ones?

Play time
I learned that as a blocked artist, I was not lazy – I was blocked. In fact, I was using a lot of energy worrying, feeling guilty, feeling jealous and doubting myself. I learned that it would be easier to just do the writing than waste the time worrying that I wasn’t doing the writing. It was easier to get on with it.
I took small steps. And I made those steps enjoyable. I found a coffee shop I liked – one which had an upstairs section which was quiet and tucked away from the hustle bustle. It overlooked a water fountain and had comfy sofas. I settled myself down with an Americano and a sparkling water and I began to play with ideas. A scene here, a scene there. One scene at a time. Pretending I was in the audience watching the characters. Having fun. Enjoying myself.
It wasn’t a chore, or a hurdle, or a massive mountain to climb, it was fun. On a Saturday and a Sunday morning, it was my writing fun time.

List the fears and resentments
I was honest with myself. I listed my fears and resentments about doing this project. I asked myself “why is there no point?” I put it down in black and white. This is not an easy task to do. No-one wants to admit those negative thoughts that are swilling around in your sub-conscious. But on the plus side, once those negative thoughts are down on paper, you can look at them for what they really are – just thoughts. They are not facts.

Jealousy is a map
One thing I have learned is that jealousy is a map. If you are looking at someone who has just got published and you find a stirring of jealousy within your gut and a tightening in your head; that is a sign. A sign that you want that thing. And there is nothing stopping you from going after it. Who do you know who has had a book published? How can you learn from what they have done? Read their blog; find out how they went about it. Once I started to admit I needed help, the help landed in my lap.

Now you know what you want, start to visualise having it. Write in the present tense as if you already have it. Find images surrounding your dream and pin them on a board. I wrote “published author” in bubbly colourful writing.

Did you have any negative affirmations about your dream? Perhaps you secretly saw creative people as disorganised or chaotic. Start to realise that it’s possible that you as a creative soul can be organised, helpful, kind and giving.

Set yourself goals – for this year, this month, this week.
“By this time next year I would like to __________”
“By this time next month I would like to _________”
“By this time next week I would like to _________”
“What small action could I take today?_____________________”
Now do that thing.

By the way, my dad did read my book – he skimmed over the first chapter, lowered his glasses, looked at my mum and said, “I don’t really think this would be my kind of book, love”. And that was that, nothing more was said. The blokes at work have never commented on my book, except for one who asked, “What chapter can I skip to for the sex scenes?” And my agent encouraged me to write under my real name, not a pen name. “Shout it from the roof-tops!” she said. And that’s exactly what I’ve done.


Huge thanks to Rose for these words of wisdom – now, over to the rest of you; how do you combat your own writing fears?

Tuesday Chit Chat with Rhoda Baxter

Welcome, Rhoda, to the Romaniacs blog and thank you for spending time with us.  We’re pretty informal here, so please, kick your heels off and relax.

Now then, tell us about the scientist within. Are you a naturally analytical person? Do you approach writing in a structured fashion?

I used to think I was a creative person trapped in an analytical person’s body, but now I’m realising it’s probably the other way round. With each book, I’m planning things more and more. Once I get into my groove for the book I can deviate from the outline a little bit, but it’s usually pretty true to the plan.

Oh, and I love stationery, so anything that give me an excuse to buy ‘plotting supplies’ is a good thing.

Does the creative side conflict with the scientific part of you or do the two areas work in harmony?

A bit of both. Sometimes it’s a real pain because I’ll write something beautiful and then my analytical brain will pull the sentence apart and I end up rewriting it for the sake of accuracy. It also means that often I have to act things out to see if you really can pull your coat on while holding a mobile phone to your ear and eating a White chocolate Magnum (you can. But it’s messy).

On the other hand, the analytical side of me is very useful when doing research into topics. My WIP is set in a microbiology lab. That’s fun to write. The difficulty is in making sure the book is jargon free. We scientist types love our jargon and forget that other people haven’t a clue what we’re talking about. I have to get my critique partner to check and point out any jokes that are too nerdy.

You say you write ‘smart romantic comedy’. Can you explain what that means?

I write about ‘smart’ women. They’re educated, hardworking and good at what they do. My heroines tend to have a streak of cynicism in them. Think Miss Congeniality or Two Weeks Notice or (frantically looking for something without Sandra Bullock in it…ah yes) Intolerable Cruelty.

At what point did you decide to write a novel and did you choose your genre, or did it choose you?

My first novel was a fairly serious cross cultural romance about heartbreak and making the wrong choices in life. I sent it in to the NWS for a critique. The feedback said ‘you’re writing the wrong sort of book. You have a naturally funny and irreverent voice that’s struggling to get out. Take a break and write something fun.’ So,  just for fun, I wrote Patently in Love – about a girl who ran away from celebrity to become a lawyer. I had a blast doing it. I made myself laugh. Now I’m hooked on the genre.

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

I’d like to write a romance with Sri Lankan characters one day. I grew up in Sri Lanka and when I write about it, my style changes completely. It’s fun to inhabit such a colourful place and the nostalgia adds something to the writing.

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

Imagination, Perseverance and a good sense of humour.

I read somewhere that the writer’s mantra should be – write, write, write. Edit, edit, edit. I’d add to that and say ‘submit, submit, submit’. I’m good with the writing. Not so keen on editing and really lazy at submitting. I’m working on it though.

What are your favourite genres to read?

Romantic comedy (naturally). Fantasy. Crime… just about anything really, so long as it’s not boring.

And do you like to review books? Is this an important part of being a writer?

It’s important to READ a lot of books if you’re a writer. The reviewing is optional. The main reason I review books is that I’m very opinionated when it comes to fiction. Also, it’s a great way to support the writers that I like. We writers love hearing that people like our work.

The books I like are easy to review. If I don’t notice the writing, then I know it’s a good book and can concentrate on the story. If I hate a book, I usually don’t bother finishing it, but it bothers me intensely until I work out exactly why I disliked it. If I hate a book, I don’t review it. I know how much hard work goes into writing a book and I wouldn’t want to rubbish someone’s effort. Besides, reviews are subjective things. I wouldn’t want to put a potential reader off.

What makes you laugh?

Lots of stuff. Silly names, sitcoms, the Viz book of crap jokes, my husband (it’s one of the things I love about him).

Right, time to sit up straight, Rhoda, as we have some quick-fire questions, Romaniac style:

Melon or lemon?


Twenty-one again or age every year?

Age every year. Although I wouldn’t mind having the energy and waist line that I had when I was 21.

Chocolates or flowers?


Bunsen burner or log fire?

Depends on what you’re cooking. You really want me to choose? Yes. Okay, Bunsen burner. There’s nothing more romantic than a searing blue flame.

Sunday roast or whatever you fancy?

Whatever you fancy.

Big Bang or Evolution?

Big Bang.

Many congratulations on your nomination for this year’s Joan Hessayon award. Please tell us all about it.

I was an NWS member for three years. It’s a fantastic scheme. I learned a lot about the business side of writing and publishing through the RNA and I’ve made a lot of friends through it. I would recommend it to writers, be they published or not.

My manuscript for Patently in Love went through the NWS scheme before Uncial Press accepted it. Even though I didn’t win the Joan Hessayon award, it was an honour to be on the list and the award ceremony was lots of fun. I got to take a big pink balloon home on the Underground, which was a fun experience.

Finally, what are you working on now?

I’m currently doing the edits on my second book, Having a Ball, which is coming out in March. It’s about Stevie, who is has to organize a charity ball for a bunch of slightly bonkers retired academics. She falls for Tom, who is helping his mum out with the ball whilst on an enforced break from work. Stevie has a fear of being abandoned. Tom is about to take a job in the Middle East. What hope have they got?

I’m also half way through my next book, provisionally called ‘Doctor January’. It’s about Beth, a PhD student who has a self-esteem problem. She’s bullied by her boss and by her adored boyfriend, Gordon. The hero is Hibs (Dr. James Hibbotson) who works in her lab. He wants to help Beth, but doesn’t know how to make her see what Gordon is doing to her. When things with Gordon take a more sinister turn, the only person Beth can turn to is Hibs.

I wanted to write about the problems faced by women in science. The dropout rate of women in science is massive. Some of this is due to having kids etc, but mostly, it’s down to the confrontational interactions in the scientific community. You need to have a lot of confidence in your work and yourself to succeed. Beth is an extreme example in that she has neither.

I’m having lots of fun revisiting my memories of life in the lab. Also, I think I’m a bit in love with Hibs. Shh.

Many thanks for coming to chat with us Rhoda, and good luck with your books.

It was lovely to chat with you too. Thank you for having me!

You can follow Rhoda on Twitter at: @rhodabaxter


And keep up to date with her on her blog:

Rhoda’s book Patently in Love is published by Uncial Press and is available for Kindle

And other eReaders.

NWS Deadline – The Final Push

Say the word ‘August’ to anyone on the New Writers’ Scheme and you tend to get one of three reactions, for which I’ve translated into plain English.

(a)  The small smile, hanging somewhere between pride and satisfaction, together with an acknowledging nod of the head.

Translation : ‘Oh yes! I’ve already sent mine off. Go Me!’

(b)  The grimace and rolling of eyes.

Translation : ‘Thank God, I’m nearly there, just got to tweak and then send it.’

(c)  The death look, all colour drains from face and a small eek escapes their tremulous mouth.

Translation : ‘ *#$* why did you go and bring that up? I am having murderous thoughts about you now. I’m never going to get it finished.’

If you’re reading this sitting back, smiling at the monitor, then well done, give yourself a pat on the back. Although I do fall in this category, I have to admit, mine was a rewrite of last year’s submission which I had been working on since September. After a particularly long wait and a second read, I got both reports back last month.

If you are grimacing and rolling your eyes as you read this (if eye rolling and reading are possible at the same time – how many of you just tried it?) then keep tapping away at the keyboard, the end is in sight, you’re nearly there.

Equally if you now want to punch the monitor and are cursing me for mentioning that blasted deadline whilst wondering why the hell you signed up for this in the first place, then I am sorry. However, as self-appointed cheerleader, I’m with you to the bitter sweet end. Come on, you can do it!

Sue x

Tuesday Chit-Chat with Russ King

We’re welcoming Russ King onto the blog today. Russ writes romantic comedy and his current novel, Working from home: Mixing business with pleasure? is about escaping the corporate world and relying on your ingenuity to pay your bills.

As well as being a laugh-out-loud romantic comedy, your book gives lots of useful information about running your own business and selling yourself – was that intentional? Or did it arise naturally through plot development?
Strangely enough it was the other way round! I have already written two ‘business novels’ that use the antics of the characters to educate the reader about a specific topic. The main aim of this book was to entertain people but the character’s key challenges come from their business ventures so I made it very true to life.

Given that romantic comedy is usually seen as fiction read primarily by women, how challenging has it been to promote a Romcom for both sexes? And how successful has it been?
It has been a challenge to market the book. However, the feedback and reviews show that it’s genuinely funny and this is a big attraction for both sexes. There is also the intriguing difference in behaviour shown by the two sexes who are really after the same goal – love. Sales have been slower than I’d like but I’ve had sales in four countries as well as my main targets – the UK and US – so the word is spreading.

What’s been the most difficult part of adjusting to being a stay-at-home dad?
Deciding what to feed everyone each day and the fact that there is rarely anything tangible at the end of the day to show you’ve achieved anything. Oh yes, and my three year old daughter’s habit of talking continuously all day. I’m more tired after a full day one-on-one with her than any job I’ve had and I’ve done both physical and stressful jobs before!

And the best?
Being able to break the rules and escaping reality when most other people are working. This could be turning an armchair into a car or slipping away to the beach for an ice cream. The imagination of small children is astounding and as I’m rarely in the real world myself we have some incredible adventures!

You worked on social networks pre Facebook & Myspace and created some of your own, can you tell us about this? And how was the experience?
I was the UK Editor for an interactive psychology test web site called that provided serious tests like IQ or Ink Blot tests or fun quizzes that matched your personality to breeds of dogs, film stars, etc. It was mad. We had millions of members and I had a free rein to create new UK quizzes or promote them in creative ways. I wrote a test that matched people to various sexual fantasies and that went from nothing to over 60,000 people taking it in one day.

Tickle was bought by who decided to focus on their core area – careers. I created the content for two social networks: one for the British armed forces and one for British nurses and they launched on the same day. More recently with another company I was the UK manager for a social network aimed at middle-aged people (between 40 and 65) but I left just before I was old enough to join it!

Creating and promoting social networks is exciting and challenging but it is very hard to get them expanding quickly enough within budget. You never know which aspects are going to be popular until people start using it.

What is your favourite/least favourite aspect of social networking?
My favourite has to be the randomness of social networking. I have very good friends from networking (some of whom I have never met) who have enriched my life, inspired me and cheered me up when necessary. You never know who is going to become part of your life and this is why I wanted to mix romance with business networking in Working from Home. In both situations you wear your heart on your sleeve and hope other people like you or your product/service.

My least favourite aspect of social networking is the bombardment of information that we have to filter out. I am forever in quest of in-box zero!

You also have a degree in zoology and a PhD in animal learning – how did this lead to writing romantic fiction? And has all that animal learning helped in any way?!
I started writing science-based articles for magazines after getting frustrated by the boring writing style needed for my thesis. I soon got the writing bug and I have three early novels that I might be brave enough to look back through one day. The animal learning was very significant as so much of wild animal behaviour is honed by natural selection – creating the fittest individuals who are the most effective at finding food and a high quality mate. Humans in the developed world are less affected by natural selection but there are lots of interesting behavioural hangovers to watch for and write about.

Will you continue to write romantic comedy and do you have any burning ambitions to write in other genres?
The book I am currently working on is a passionate thriller that builds to a nail-biting climax but it’s still all about love and has lots of humour. My work will always revolve around love because that’s what makes the world go round, but also because the behaviour of attraction is so compelling.

How easy or hard did you find writing from female POV for Cat’s character?
I’m used to walking around in female’s heads now after working for a few women’s magazines and being a notorious people watcher (otherwise known as a nosy git). Once I had created Cat’s character and back story I knew how she would react to whatever I threw at her. I loved the interaction between Cat and her headstrong sister and had to edit a lot of it out as they threatened to take over.

Did you like writing from a female POV?
I love it. I relish the differences in the way men and women think and the challenge of getting the thought processes correct.

Having written a romcom, what’s your favourite romcom movie/book?
I like the foreign movies that approach the romcom genre from a different angle. Amélie is a favourite for heart-warming quirkiness while Y tu Mamá también (And your mother too) takes the youthful exuberance of the American Pie movies and gives a surprisingly deep insight into life and death. A more mainstream favourite is Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

In books High Fidelity inspired me to write a novel as Nick Hornby wrote a book I could identify with and laugh at. I also like many books that are aimed more at women such as the novels by Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Reese and Getting away with it by Julie Cohen. I like the heroines to have balls if that is not a contradiction!

What’s the whackiest piece of research you’ve had to do?
I had brief notoriety during my Zoology degree when I looked at how heart rate increases when faced with a selection of ‘scary’ animals. I led a succession of nervous female students into a room where they often squealed, before leaving ten minutes later, looking flushed and tucking themselves in – the heart rate monitor was worn on a strap just below their bra. They might have squealed more if I told them that the same monitor was used on pigs a few hours before!

Quick fire questions:

Football or rugby?
Rugby but I prefer cricket

BMW or Mercedes?

Lager or bitter?
I drink more lager but also drink real ale

Sprint or marathon?
Marathon – it’s all about the enjoying the experience

Blonde or brunette?
Brunette or any brightly-coloured hair

Pirate or Batman?
Pirate every time. We had a pirate wedding!

Running for Gold or Running for the Hills?

Here in Romaniac World we’re unusually divided. Some of us are loving the rippling muscles and hair-free, oiled torsos currently on display in this summer’s sporting frenzy. One or two of us would rather grab a hero of our choice and run for the hills until the dust settles, London empties itself and it’s all over.

So, given the choice, with which Olympian would you wrestle for gold? For which cyclists would you shave your legs and ride like the wind? For which swimmers are you prepared to dive in and get wet? With which sailor would you love to be marooned?

Alternatively, if none of this floats your boat, who would you escape with, and where would your paradise be?

We’ll start you off with our Romaniac opinions –

Celia – I’m about as sporty as Peter Kay, so I’m opting for option two. I’ll drag Suggs away from Madness and carry him off to a tiny island in the middle of Lake Garda where I’ll feed him on ciabatta, olives and chianti, and make him sing ‘It must be love’ until he loses his voice.

Laura – I’m not very sporty either, but I have enjoyed the first week of the Olympics. It seems I’m a fan of anything to do with the water – rowers, sailors, windsurfers and swimmers. I am a Ryan Lochte convert. Very pleasing to watch, although I have yet to see his breast stroke. Great physique…Clearly, I mean technique. And as an admirer of tall men who serve well and dig deep, with an occasional sprawl at my feet, the beach volleyball is fun to watch. Can you tell I live by the coast?

If we’re talking green, open spaces, I would love to take a ride with one of the smartly dressed Equestrian men. I’m drawn by their fitted jacket, long boots and hard hat. Oh, and they way they control that beast between their legs. Masterful.

Jan  – I love the Olympics and have been watching as many of the events as possible (or rather, snippets of events, when Mr B has the TV remote and is surfing the various individual Olympic channels every five seconds!) Like Laura, I particularly enjoy watching the swimming and would happily volunteer to be chief pool attendant – purely to tighten any loose male goggles, of course… I also love the track and field events, the buzz of the 100m & 200m finals and unashamedly shout the place down if any favourites are in contention. Ooh, I’ve a big soft spot for the gymnastics too. Anyone who can triple somersault and double backflip into a cartwheel without ending up in row Z gets my vote any day of the week…

Lucie – I am not a huge Olympics fan. I catch the odd event on TV but I am not planning my diary around it. One particular event that I have really enjoyed was the gymnastics. I love to watch gymnastics anyway. And I have watched a little of the swimming too (a swimmers body – oh my!) All that aside, I think I shall have to opt for option two and settle with being whisked away by Bradley Cooper or Gerard Butler. Either will do, I’m not fussy! And as for where? If either of those lovely men were to actually whisk me away, I really wouldn’t care where….. but somewhere hot so he would have to be in just a little pair of shorts would be preferable!

Catherine – Well, as an ex-physio I love to study the rippling muscles. Purely a professional interest, of course. What do you mean I can’t use that as an excuse any more? OK, I may be studying them for more than the merits of understanding anatomy. I lurve watching the Olympics so much so that my latest hero is an Olympian! Watching the gymnastics as I type. gnitcartsid yrev ti gindniF.

Debbie – As a huge sport fan and connoisseur of the Olympics, I have a big smile on my face, answering this post, Laura. However, the trouble is, with so many sports and potential contenders, where to start on my Olympic top totty?

I’ve therefore decided to focus on three key areas – Bums, Legs and Tums! You might like this, ladies 😉

BUMS – No quibbles on the bum front… and thighs for that matter… (and lovely smile…ahhh…) For me, Sir Chris Hoy wins Gold every time.

LEGS – Who could forget Lynford Christies ‘lunchbox?’ I can’t wait to see the lean, lithesome athletes start their events, especially Usain Bolt who reminds me of a thoroughbred horse. His six foot five inch, one hundred and ninety pounds physique defies logic for how tall and lean a sprinter should supposedly be. Just watch as he thunders down the track to defend his position as the fastest man on earth. It’s hard to ignore his incredibly well-developed legs which actually more resemble the animatronic figure in the War Horse Movie! I reckon in biomechanical terms, his body is about as perfect as you could get.

TUMS – Like Jan, I’m rather partial to male swimmers, despite the speedos. (The only man I’ve ever seen look good in Speedos is David Beckham. Seriously. It’s not a good look.) I do love the long lean bones, toned biceps and rippling torsos of most swimmers. Especially Michael Phelps. And look out for a thirty-seven year old Canadian Diver called Alexandre Despatie. Desperate to secure the gold that’s eluded him for the past twelve years, he’s been training to get in the best shape of his life for the 2012 Olympics. Sticking to a brutal, core-intensive workout programme which involves six days a week cranking out one thousand crunches, he follows that up with an hour of strength training, an hour of cycling, twenty minutes of trampoline work, and finally fifty sets of pike-ups. Irrespective of how he fares medal wise, Despatie’s physique is sure to make a splash!

So there you have my shortlist of bums, legs and tums, but there is, in my opinion, one group who have it all…

Average height – six foot four. Crush strength arms. Washboard stomachs. Legs made of iron. Pert, perfectly formed buttocks. Tanned faces and perma-white smiles. Ladies (and gents if there are any reading this…)

I present the male rower!! Any of them – I’m not fussy – although a particular frisson of excitement comes over me at the mention of James Cracknell. Yes, I know he’s not team GB any longer but at least I still get to see him doing the commentary!

Sue – The Olympics gets the thumbs up from me. I was very sporty when I was younger, Games Captain of my ‘House’ at school and represented the county in the 1500m and cross country.  (Action shot of me when I was about 14 years old.) So, it is probably no surprise that track is one of my favourite events – Steve Ovett, Seb Coe and Steve Cram, my heroes of the time, Ovett in particular. However, through cheering on the likes of Redgrave, Pinsent and Boardman, I also became a big fan of rowing and cycling, the velodrome being such an exciting place.  So, back to the question of who I would wrestle for Gold with, well, it would have to be Bradley Wiggins.  Not because of his ‘nod’ to Paul Weller, not because he seems a decent down to earth sort of guy and not even because he’s just won the Tour de France and an Olympic Gold, no, I mean,  have you heard the man speak French?! Oh-la-la Monsieur Wiggins!  Having said that, I am slightly concerned that if I did anything remotely like wrestle him, he would snap in two, maybe I should stick to the lovely Steve Redgrave.

 Vanessa – I was going to go for option 2 as I couldn’t name any of our Olympians. Then I was dragged into watching the gymnastics by my seven year old daughter and found myself rather taken with some of the male gymnasts… I also heartily approved of the costumes worn by the divers. And then there are the equestrian events… Actually, my brain has come to a halt on the show jumping – can I choose Rupert Campbell-Black?

Celia : Am feeling seriously embarrassed here as since I wrote the first bit of the blog I have been gripped with the most unexpected Olympic frenzy! This has never, ever happened to me before. Proud to be British and loving every sporty one of them. So, what’s your view? Escape or Frenzy? We can’t wait to hear…

Vladimir: Croatian Sailing Team.