Tuesday Chit-Chat with Christina Jones…

Hi, Christina, a huge Romaniac welcome to you. It’s so lovely to see you here at HQ today. A little light refreshment before we start? Tea? Coffee? Slice of one of Celia’s mouth-wateringly fantastic cakes?

Ooh, Jan, it’s lovely to be here, thank you so much for asking me – and yes, please, coffee would be lovely… Ooh, and cake too! Fabulous! I’ll never say no to cake…



We know you’re busy working on your next novel ‘That Red Hot Rock ‘n’ Roll Summer’ (FAB title, by the way!)  Any chance of a cheeky little preview?

Thank you for liking the title – one of my own this time, not one of my editor’s umpteenth suggestions! –  and a cheeky sneaky preview? Of course.  Well, this is the current blurb with a bit added on…

“The Berkshire village of Daisybank has held a traditional summer fete for as long as anyone can remember and twenty-eight year old American Diner waitress Tiggy Dunmore can’t think of anything worse. Having been dumped by her boyfriend on Valentine’s Day, Tiggy needs something to take her mind off her heartbreak, and as she and her friends, Scarlett and Cordelia, discuss the ‘fete worse than death’ over coffee and doughnuts in the diner, they come up with an alternative idea. Instead of the fete with the same old tombola, bric-a-brac stalls and raffle to win a hamper of almost-on-sell-by tinned food, why not have a music festival? Just a little one, of course. Nothing like Glastonbury. Oh, of course, nothing like Glastonbury… Surely it can’t be that difficult to set up a stage and find a few bands, can it? As the months roll on towards the last weekend in July, and despite furious opposition from Daisybanks’ movers and shakers (i.e. the original fete committee), the Daisybank Music Festival begins to take shape, and things really start to look up when the gorgeous Liam Maxwell, ex-boyband member and now the guitarist in The Red Hot Rockers, agrees to get his band to play. Tiggy begins to discover that a broken heart can mend quite quickly when a black-haired, blue-eyed rock guitarist is involved. OK, so he’s engaged to the pneumatic and mainly plastic reality telly star, Lolly Latimer, but that’s only a minor hiccough, surely? As the hot and sunny festival weekend dawns, life for Tiggy and Daisybank, will never be the same again.”

What inspired the idea for this novel and how much research has been involved?

I came up with the idea because it had to be another summer book, and summer is festival time and I was a big festival-goer in my youth – you know, back in the days when it wasn’t all glamping and a million quid for a ticket? You just went and sat in front of the one and only stage and amazingly famous (and infamous) bands turned up and played all day and night and you got muddy or scorched or both, and ate nothing but brown rice for three days and didn’t sleep and stank to high heaven and it was utterly blissful.  We’re also into high village fete season too, and these are fiercely organised by the same-old committees doing the same-old things – and I just thought what if one of these very traditional village fetes suddenly morphed into a mini-Glasto…? Think of the conflicts! And the romance! And the research? Well, loads of happy memories of  what my husband refers to as my “groupie period” (I did have a bit of a thing for bass guitarists in my youth), plus the time I spent as a sort of music journalist for the teenage mags, and the bliss of being at the early Glastonburys, Isle of Wights, and Reading festivals… aaah, now I’m off in a purple haze of nostalgia… 

CJones Book Image 3

Clearly you love being a writer, but as your website bio states, you’ve had a wonderful array of previous jobs, blood-donor attendant and waitress being just two of them – some great (and not so great!) characters encountered there, no doubt? Have you worked a few of their traits into your novels and does creating the actual characters themselves, come easy to you?

I’ve had 27 Proper Jobs and been sacked from 19 of them (I think I’ve always been virtually unemployable, really. I’m not that good with authority…), and yes, I’ve met lots of “interesting” people in my chequered career and bits of the ones I’ve disliked most have somehow found their way into my books. All the officious, charmless, rather cruel ones (a certain office manager who had me crying in the Ladies EVERY day springs to mind here!) have merged to become the characters you love to hate. It’s great therapy! But most of my characters are totally fictitious – well, all the main ones anyway. Except, to me, they’re not. They seem to live inside my head, scampering around for ages, and are sometimes more real to me than real people… Sorry, I think that sounds as if I might be a little bit mad. Once they’re inside my head, they somehow emerge fully-formed on to the page, so, yes, creating characters does come easily to me – again, it’s a sort of happy insanity, isn’t it really, this writing business.

How exciting is the build-up to launch day? Talk us through the routine and how you plan to celebrate publication?

Oh! How I long to say it’s all rainbows and lollipops and cascades of fireworks! How I long to say I have book tours and back-to-back interviews and the entire media circus camped outside my front door.  Sadly, I can’t say any of that. These days my publication days go by without even a congratulatory  email from my publishing contacts – but I do have my own little hoolies. The local bookshop always does a lovely window display, and I usually have a signing session on the nearest Saturday morning with bunting and balloons (I’m very fond of bunting and  balloons) and all my friends come and don’t buy a book because I’ve already given them a copy but we all have a good gossip and sometimes total strangers wander in to see what the fuss is about and sometimes I even sell them a book! And my lovely husband always buys me an ornament of some kind that ties in with the book – I had a lot of little Hindu gods last time – I’m hoping for a small Fender Telecaster for this one! But honestly, I think the days of huge publisher launches have gone and are reserved only for the mega-famous authors. Sob!  

You did one of the Writers Bureau home-study courses ten years ago and subsequently became the face of their advert (I can remember your success and your lovely beaming smile being my inspiration to finish my own WB course!) Put into words its value and also the value of attending author events/workshops.

Oh – wow! Thank you! I don’t think I’ve ever been anyone’s inspiration before. That’s lovely – I might show-off a bit about that… Yes, I did the WB course 10 years ago because I wanted to learn how to write proper non-fiction.  I’ve made  no secret of the fact that I was already published (in fiction) when I signed up, but I was complete pants at non-fiction. I tended to drift off into the realms of “let’s pretend”. So, the WB course put me firmly on the right track, and I started selling my coursework to quite serious magazines and it was a revelation. I signed up for the comprehensive course, which included fiction, and I found new markets there, too. So the course was invaluable to me – it opened up many, many doors – which is why I was so happy to endorse the entire WB set-up – and became their cover girl – lol! (Well, I’m never going to be a cover girl any other way!). I also think that anyone and everyone, whatever stage of writing you’re at, can benefit from author events and workshops – mainly because writing is such an isolated business and  it’s so nice to hear what other writers do and know you’re not alone…   http://www.writersbureau.com/

As well as penning award-winning novels, you also write short stories and articles. How easy/hard do you find it switching between the three?

Short stories were and are my first love. I love writing them – I’ve written them and had them published since I was 14 – I can hear a snippet of conversation or read a newspaper headline or watch someone in the street and “ping” – there’s an idea for a short story.  I find them fun to write and quite easy really, and as I’m very, very lazy, to think I can finish a piece of work in possibly less than 2,000 words is a delight to my idle soul! And thanks to the WB I know how to get to the nub of a non-fiction story so can write articles quite quickly, too. I’m not showing off – honestly – I just find writing short pieces easier than long. I try not to write short stories when I’m writing a novel – but sometimes, if I’m asked by a magazine to provide a short story or article for a particular edition, then I just do it.  I don’t find it very difficult, I just have to get my head into a different place really – oh, sorry – does that sound precious? I’m not precious, honest! I’ve just been doing this for so long it all comes as second nature.

CJ Book Cover

And Chris, no visit to HQ would be complete without our famous Romaniac quick-fire round, so here goes:

Favourite fictional Cat? (we know you ADORE them!)  Orlando 

Dream dinner date? Jim Parsons

First celebrity crush? Keith Richards

Three things that make you belly-laugh? Peter Kay, my husband, The Big Bang Theory

Theme Park or Ice-Skating? Theme Park

Footie or Tennis? Footie

Rock concert or West End musical? Rock concert

The sentence which best sums up Christina Jones?  I’m an old-fashioned, optimistic, gentle Pollyanna wearing huge rose-tinted glasses.

Thanks so much for visiting us here at HQ, Chris, it’s been an absolute pleasure chatting to you. Best of luck with ‘That Red Hot Rock ‘n’ Roll Summer’ 🙂


Bucolic Frolics @ http://christinajones-writing.blogspot.com/


Connect with Chris on FaceBook:  https://www.facebook.com/ChristinaJonesAuthor?fref=ts.

Also follow Chris on Twitter @bucolicfrolics

Introducing Roma and Nia – The Romaniac Twins!

They arrived in style on 4th July. The first (Amber) via forceps delivery and the second (Eden) via emergency C section after some complications. After a short while on neonates Eden is doing really well and after 11 days in hospital we’re now getting used to family life at home! The twins will always be known as Roma and Nia on here after the Romaniacs decided they were good names. I do think that takes branding to a somewhat extreme level. Here’s the Romaniac twins and the reason I haven’t/won’t be about as much in coming weeks…


How it should be …


How it is …


Roving Romaniacs: Arte Umbria, Italy

This has to be one of the best things I have done this year, alongside taking the family to Florida at Easter.

If you’re considering going abroad to take a creative course, be it painting or in my case, writing, where the sunshine is pretty much guaranteed and the wine flow is…well, pretty much guaranteed, then consider no more. Arte Umbria is the place to go.

I spent a glorious week in the company of other writers, including our Ce, on a course led by Choc Lit author, and respected tutor, Sue Moorcroft.

The setting was beautiful, the weather wonderful, the workshops fun and informative, and the hosts welcoming.

I think it’s fair to say the course participants each took something different away from the course. Sue’s workshops and guidance helped me find a way forward with my work-in-progress, Follow Me.

Private writing time provided the opportunity to finish a draft, edit, or take time to out to simply be inspired.

Why don’t I show you…

The Terrace
The Terrace
Spectacular views from our 'office'
Spectacular views from our ‘office’
The mist soon burned off
The mist soon burned off
Celia, Sadie & Sue. Orvieto
Celia, Sadie & Sue. Orvieto
Orvieto Cathedral or 'Duomo'
Orvieto Cathedral or ‘Duomo’
La Scarzuola. Worth a Google
La Scarzuola. Worth a Google
Industrious Celia. I was working - see my keyboard? I broke off to take the photo. Honest.
Industrious Celia. I was working – see my keyboard to the left? I broke off to take the photo. Honest.
We met a Marquesi and we sampled his wine, all in the name of research
We met a Marquesi and we sampled his wine, all in the name of research
Great company
Great company
Two Roving Romaniacs
Two Roving Romaniacs…
And Umberto.
And Umberto. We all loved Umberto.

What a fantastic experience.

Laura x

Tuesday Chit Chat with Freda Lightfoot


Hello Freda, and welcome to the Romaniac sofa. Put your feet up and relax, I’ve made coffee and walnut cake today. We hope you’ve recovered from the fun and frolics of the RNA conference now?

Here are our questions for you – I’ve kept them short so that you’ve time for several cups of tea.

On your website you talk about several breakthrough moments in your writing life, when it all suddenly seemed possible. Which ones were the most significant and why?

The first thing I ever published was a short article called An Elizabethan Toothache. I think that proved to myself that I could write for publication. And then the first acceptance by Mills & Boon, as it then was, was so exciting. I was riding high for weeks afterwards.

Do you enjoy researching the background for a novel as much as the actual writing?

I love the research, and do have to take care not to get carried away by it. Fortunately as I love writing more, I try to school myself to mainly research as I go along.

If you could go out for dinner with a romantic heroes from one of your books, who would it be and why?

Barthram Stobbs in Ruby McBride. He was handsome, of course, and such a strong character, a man with high principles and yet with a kind and caring heart. What more could a woman ask for?

What has been/is your favourite place to write?

Oh, always the peace and quiet of my office. It is like a womb to me.

What would be your ideal timetable for a day of writing?

I am at my desk around nine each morning and work till one or one-thirty. I generally take a couple of hours off in the afternoon to walk, read or garden, then back at my desk from around four until seven.

Which three well-known books do you really wish you had written?

Wuthering Heights, Katherine, and Rebecca. I wish!

What impact had the RNA had on your life?

I joined the RNA after I was published so was never involved in the NWS, but I have made so many life-long friends through it. It is a wonderful support network.

Quick-fire questions:

Camping or 5 star hotel?

Camping in my younger days, now I do tend to go for the 5 star.

Summer sunshine or winter frost?

Always prefer sunshine so I spend my winters in Spain.

Wine or beer?

Wine, preferably of the pink and bubbly variety.

DVD at home or cinema trip?

DVD, feet up on the sofa and a glass of chilled something in hand.

Ballroom dancing or Irish jig?

Prefer a disco myself.

Dawn or dusk?

Dawn does not feature on my clock. I’m a night owl.

Deluxe fountain pen or new pack of felt tips?

Felt tips if I must write by hand, which is rare these days.

Ice cream or sorbet?

I’ll have a choc ice please.

Thanks so much for dropping in, Freda – please call again. Safe journey home, and good luck with your latest release, pictured below.


Letting the Pictures do the Talking RNA Conference 13

The RNA Conference in Sheffield last weekend was a most excellent occasion. Five of The Romaniacs attended and we all had such a great time.  It was lovely meeting up with old friends and making new ones. The talks and workshops were so informative, we all came away feeling very focussed and itching to get on with our writing. A BIG thank you to everyone who helped make the conference such a success, as always.

Here is the weekend in pictures …

Sheffield The Edge

Hello, Sheffield University!

Sheffield Romaniacs

All ready for the Gala Dinner

Sheffield goody bag

Great goody bags with lots of lovely gifts


Debbie and Jules Wake

photo_3 (1)

Alison Maynard, Mandy Baggot and Linn B Halton, join the usual suspects line-up

Sheffield Nikki Goodman

Nikki Goodman (she did really want her photo taken – honest)

Sheffield Laura RhodaLaura and Rhoda Baxter

photo_3No idea what was so funny!

Sheffield Julie Cohen

Excellent talk on ‘Theme’ by Julie Cohen

Sheffield Sue M

Another great talk from Sue Moorcroft on sex scenes

Sheffield Piaktus


Anna Boatman from Piatkus, just one of the several industry talks

photo_4 (1)Relaxing in the evening sun shine


We found a lovely spot on the grass for evening drinks

Sheffield celia bottles

And we left it to Celia to carry all the refreshments 😉

photo_2 (1)Another one of  those ‘what was so funny?’ moments

Sheffield Sue Celia Kitchen

Sometimes you just can’t beat a natter and a cup of tea!

Sheffield Celia tree

Sitting in the shade with a fab book – bliss!

Sheffield Edge buildingThank  you Sheffield and the RNA 🙂

Tuesday Chit-Chat with Lisa Jewell

Today, we proudly welcome to Romaniac HQ, best-selling author, Lisa Jewell…

LJ image

Hi Lisa, thanks so much for joining us. It’s a huge week on the excitement front, with your eleventh novel, The House We Grew Up In, launching on Thursday. What sparked the idea for this story and can you give us a little teaser about what to expect?

I had been trying to write a psychological thriller for three months and had just come to the terrible realisation that I couldn’t make it work. I gave myself two weeks to come up with another idea and I spent most of those two weeks just walking around aimlessly waiting for inspiration to strike. On the last day of the two weeks I was walking past a mansion block on Finchley Road and noticed one of the windows was completely filled up with junk. I’d been watching TV shows about hoarders and knew that there was always some deep psychological trigger for the hoarding compulsion to strike and it made me wonder about who lived in that flat and why they had started hoarding and as I thought that, I suddenly pictured Lorelei and her big family and her scruffy cottage and I started writing it the next day.


In the book,  Lorelei likes to, how shall we say, “collect” things.  Are you a hoarder or can you de-clutter at will?

I am a disgusting hoarder. My problem is that because I live in a very big house it hasn’t quite hit me yet just how much ridiculous, pointless crap I have accumulated. If I had to downsize and fit it all in a smaller house I think I would be horrified. Unlike Lorelei, however, I don’t have an emotional attachment  to my crap. I would love someone to come along and get rid of it all for me. (Apart from my books – nobody touches my books!)

Just how busy has your pre-publication agenda for this novel been, and how will you be celebrating, come Thursday?

So far I haven’t had any pre-publication duties to attend to at all. But these things can sometimes be a bit last minute so we’ll see. As for celebrations, I have nothing official planned but have been invited out for – unconnected – drinks with some local mums. I shall use it as an excuse to drink champagne with impunity. It’s also my birthday the day after so I will be drinking champagne yet again. And then it’s the weekend, so, you know. More champagne.

You’ve held some fantastic author events and signings over the years, with some equally fab competitions. Any upcoming dates/features we should know about for our diaries?

Could I direct your readers to my blog in answer to that question? For some reason after years of being NFI I am suddenly very in demand for events and panels and I have a comprehensive list of everywhere I’m going to be for the rest of the year here: http://www.lisa-jewell.co.uk/blog

Your characters truly come to life on the page, Lisa, which is what makes them so memorable and, in turn, drives such great stories.  Are you a people-watcher? If so, where are your favourite places to pick up those ideas and snippets of gossip?

The book I’m writing at the moment was inspired in part by a feature I saw on the Jeremy Kyle Show. It was about two sisters who’d shared a childhood trauma so haunting I couldn’t shake it from my consciousness. Another strand of the story was inspired by old neighbours of ours. It was the husband’s third family and I was fascinated by the idea of how some people can go from family to family, children to children, and make it look so unremarkable. I wanted to look at all the painful moments that lay behind those decisions. 31 Dream Street was inspired by a crazy house I saw near my sister’s place and Toby was inspired by a man outside my local tube station holding a placard for a comedy night. Arlette’s story in Before I Met You came from an article I read on the net about a real-life jazz orchestra. Betty’s story was inspired in part by Meg Mathew’s arc from Guernsey girl to Queen of the Primrose Hill scene. So, I guess what I’m saying is that there is no ‘favourite place’. I don’t even have to leave the house sometimes to find inspiration! You just need finely-tuned antenna that can pick up on the gems within all the white noise and wallpaper.

If you could read an excerpt from The House We Grew Up In to an audience at any venue, worldwide, which venue would you choose and why?

For greatest effect I would actually like to read a passage from it whilst in a hoarded house, the audience maybe sitting on tops of piled up boxes and squashed between bin-bags. But if I were to be truly indulgent, probably on the beach at the Eden Rock Hotel in St Barths. Who’s coming?! (Room for nine, Lisa?!) LJ blog pic 3

The fabulous Eden Rock…


And finally, a few for fun …

Perfect day out in London?

I think I may have had this yesterday actually. I spent the morning on the South Bank with my youngest daughter, then had lunch at home in the garden with my husband and brother-in-law and our children, then I met my sister and a friend at Barbican and we sat in the afternoon sun in Postman’s Park. There’s an art nouveau tiled memorial there, each plaque telling the story of an ordinary person who sacrificed their life to save somebody else’s. It includes  lots of children rescuing younger siblings. There’s a whole novel contained on each plaque and every one is heartbreaking and fascinating. LJ blog pic 2

We then wandered up through to Farringdon and got the tube to Kings Cross to a cool canal-side bar called Shrimpys where we drank beer out of plastic cups and laughed till we cried.

Biggest writing myth?

I think the greatest misconception people have is that easy to read books are easy to write.  They are not.

Author  you’d love to interview?

JK Rowling.

Most unusual place you’ve ever seen or heard about anyone reading one of your books?

Someone once wrote to tell me they’d picked up a rather ragged copy of Ralph’s Party at a remote trekkers’ hostel in Mongolia.

Glastonbury or Notting Hill Carnival?

Neither, thank you!

Three words that sum up Lisa Jewell?

Lazy, happy Londoner.

Thanks so much, Lisa. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. Best of luck with The House We Grew Up In ahead of its launch on Thursday, and Happy Birthday for Friday!

Available to pre-order : http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-House-We-Grew-Up/dp/1846059240?ie=UTF8&tag=randomhouse&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=6738&creativeASIN=1846059232

Connect with Lisa on Facebook via:  http://www.facebook.com/LisaJewellofficial

Follow Lisa on Twitter @lisajewelluk

Sophie Duffy and the Exeter Novel prize

Sophie Duffy
Sophie Duffy

My journey to becoming a published novelist was a long one. In fact I have yet to meet a novelist who became an overnight success. I have yet to meet a published novelist without at least two novels secreted away like old love letters. Those first two novels are the practice ground where we learn about the craft of writing, a craft we writers continue to learn for the rest of our lives.

Sophie Duffy 3

But there may well be some novels out there that deserve to see the light of day. Do you have one of those? Or do you have the beginnings of one? If the answer is yes, I do, then dust it down, rework the opening with the helpfulness of hindsight and fresh eyes and enter it into the Exeter Novel Prize.

Sophie Duffy 2
Sophie, Cathie and Margaret

What is the Exeter Novel Prize? It’s a new prize for novelists, set up and launched this week by the trio that make up CreativeWritingMatters: Cathie Hartigan, Margaret James and myself.

Sophie Duffy GenerationWhy did we decide to do this? Because we believe in the importance of writing competitions. Cathie has won short story competitions,  Margaret has administered and judged writing competitions and my novel The Generation Game won both the Yeovil Literary Prize and the Luke Bitmead Bursary. There are many short story and poetry competitions but only a few novel prizes. And the Exeter Novel Prize is, to our knowledge, the only novel competition open to both unpublished and published writers. As long as you are unagented and not currently under contract, you can enter the ENP with your first 10,000 words and a synopsis by October 31st.

Go to http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk for details.

We launched the prize on Thursday. It was a soggy evening so we were pleased to fill the room with writers who asked great questions. The atmosphere was positive and encouraging and we are looking forward to finding a shining star. The winner will be chosen from a shortlist by agent Broo Doherty. And who knows what will follow. You’ll never know unless you enter. Nothing ventured…

Sophie Duffy ENP Audience

Sophie  Duffy lives in Teignmouth with her family and other animals. She has two novels published by Legend Press. The Generation Game and This Holey Life.

Thank you, Sophie, for taking the time to write this post. This is a great competition and I wish you, Cathie, Margaret and all the entrants the very best of luck.
Laura x

Essential Packing for RNA Conference

Yay – it’s that time of year again! RNA Conference!!!!!

In the mad scramble to pack our suitcases and head off to Sheffield by road or rail, we thought we had better have a quick con flab on essential items needed for the weekend.

Just to clarify, the items on our list are in no particular order of importance … honest.

RNA Conference 2013 Essential Items List








Washing up liquid

Tea Towels

More Cake



Bottle Opener


Even More Cake





Posh Frock

Fancy Footwear


Ear Plugs if you happen to be near our kitchen rather than in it!

Please feel free to add anything we may have missed 🙂

Looking forward to meeting up with those attending and will miss those who can’t make it. xx

Author Joff Gainey from The Bookstop Cafe is with us today

Hi Joff, welcome to Romaniac HQ for a Tuesday Chit-Chat. Yes, you and I both know it’s Monday but this week we’re just messing things up a bit and having our Tuesday chat on a day early. Okay, that’s that cleared up.

Joff Gainey Bookstop cafe

Before we get down to business, must just say, I’m loving the waistcoat – do you always wear one?

I always wear my waistcoat when on school visits or special events…..it’s mine!

Now, where we were? Oh yes, questions…

Your novel ‘Sleeping on A Cloud’ was published last year – in one sentence, please sum up what it is about?

Twins with special powers, struggling to protect our Earth from a Dark evil adversary, who revels in our destruction.

joff gainey book cover 1

What or who do you consider to be your biggest influence where your writing is concerned?

The child that still lives strongly inside me. Mischief and adventure was always high on my list as a child. Now as an adult I use my writing to delve down and rekindle my childhood imaginings.

More recently, whilst still working closely with the written word, you’ve been turning your talents elsewhere – The Bookstop Café. How’s it all going? Are you hoping to expand it in any way?

The response from authors and customers to the venture has been fantastic. We receive new authors books everyday, more shelving required, and our customers do not want to leave. Many are doing exactly what we envisaged which is curl up on the sofas and read.

Joff Gainey bookstop cafe 3

Ideas we are aiming to develop are:

1. An hour at the end of the day, called Story Time, where parents can bring their children along and while the drink tea/coffee we will read/perform stories to their children.

2. Themed story nights. Ghost stories – around Halloween. Christmas stories. Crime/thriller  stories. Poetry.

3. Book signings.

4. Writing events/courses from visiting experts.

If you could have four dream authors in your café, who would you love to see walk through the door for tea and cake?

Gerald Durrell – I loved his adventures as he travelled around the world collecting animals for zoological parks.

Terry Goodkind – I have only recently locked in to his books. I like the strength and complexity of his characters, just when you feel you know them you learn something new.

Dan Brown – I enjoy the detail of the places and the fast pace of his books.

Enid Blyton – Because I thoroughly enjoyed the mischief and adventure that the children got up to. When I read her books as a child I would be engrossed for hours.

Joff Gainey Bookstop cafe 1

Quick Fire

Left or right handed?


Conformist or Maverick?

Maverick – but I look nothing like James Garner.

UK or abroad?

Uk – but use to be abroad a lot.

Car or motorbike?

Car – I’m not very good on two wheels.

Football, cricket or rugby?

Formula 1

Night in or night out?

Both – depends on my mood.

Kindle or paperback?

Paperback – the texture, the smell…and they are cuddly.

Thanks Joff, it’s been fun chatting with you.

Thank you for asking me. 🙂

Find Out Friday: YA with Victoria Lamb

Photo by Anna Rybacka
Photo by Anna Rybacka

We are delighted to welcome RoNA award winning Victoria Lamb to our Find Out Friday feature. Victoria kindly explains YA. Take it away, Victoria.

Q. What is YA?

A. YA is writing aimed at Young Adults, which bizarrely enough is a label that extends from age 12 through to whenever. It’s also known as teen fiction. But many consider the chief consumers of YA to be people in their 20s and 30s, and certainly these books are generally bought and paid for by adults.

Q. What kind of YA do you write?

A. Currently I’m writing the “Tudor Witch” series published by Corgi in the UK and Harlequin Teen in the States. My series is YA paranormal romance. Book One, WITCHSTRUCK, won the RoNA award for YA Romantic Novel of the Year 2013.

Set in Bloody Mary’s reign, WITCHSTRUCK introduces Meg Lytton, a country witch who is also maid to the Lady Elizabeth, the disgraced Queen’s sister imprisoned in the ruins of Woodstock Palace. When Alejandro, a young Spanish priest-in-training, arrives at Woodstock, Meg knows she is in mortal danger from him – and from the terrifying witchfinder who insists he wants to marry her!

The second book WITCHFALL continues the story. Meg conjures up a spirit whose dark powers she is unable to control – soon all of England is at risk, and even the Queen’s conjuror John Dee cannot help. Can Meg find the spell to lay this spirit to rest before it destroys her world?

WITCHFALL came out in paperback yesterday (July 4th  2013).

Out now
Out now

Q. Is there a different way to write for teens than for adults?

A. When I started writing WITCHSTRUCK, I had no prior experience of writing for teens. So I just concentrated on telling a story I wanted to read myself – as an adult – rather than gearing it towards a particular age group. My plotting and language were not modified particularly, though I kept the story fairly linear and straightforward. (However, that’s my narrative preference as a writer for adults too.) Since my decisions about sexual activity were based on what was likely in the Tudor era between teenagers, nothing much happens beyond a stolen kiss here and there. Yet I’ve been told the book drips with sexual tension. So it’s all in the writing.

Obviously sex is the trickiest part of writing a YA romance or similar. Your youngest readers may be very innocent, and that should be borne in mind when describing romantic and sexual activity. But at the same time, the bulk of your readers will have some experience and understanding of being in love, so don’t feel you should hold back if sex is absolutely essential to the story. Kids tend to skip what they don’t understand, in my experience as a mother of five voracious readers. And more explicit stories can be educational or reassuring for older teens. But be sensitive, be circumspect, and remember that parents and librarians are your primary gatekeepers. If you write graphic sex in your YA novel, even if it gets past an editor it will almost certainly not get past that conservative guard. And you need parents and librarians onside.

If your story is sex-centric, and heavily romantic in feel, you might want to consider the new genre of New Adult. This is for late teens/twenty-something readers, and is becoming popular, especially in the States. It nearly always contains graphic sexual content. This is not erotica, however, so beware of over-sexing your characters. Romance is still the touchstone here.

Q. Any writing tips for YA hopefuls?

A. Clearly you need to read widely in your chosen area, assuming it exists. I found that hard, as my story is multi-genre and quite unusual in that respect. But make sure you read the newest books in particular, as this will give you an idea what editors are looking for. And resist bandwagon-jumping. By the time you’ve jumped, that wagon will probably have left town.

Write what excites and inspires you, and try not to ‘gear it’ towards teens by simplifying dialogue or characters. They will notice and be offended. The usual writing rules apply, but perhaps more so. Start quickly with a strong hook, don’t make them wait pages before something interesting happens, and end chapters on cliffhangers wherever possible – even if it’s just an intriguing line of dialogue. Avoid filler, avoid info-dumps, avoid pages of empty dialogue that does not move the action on, avoid slang and technology wherever possible (or in a few years, your book will sound old-fashioned), and my own preference is to avoid swear words. These also date a book, offend YA gatekeepers, and are in general the recourse of lazy, unimaginative writers. ‘He swore under his breath’ is a perfect get-out if you need a strong reaction. I’m not saying never. Just use your writer sense.

Narrative-wise, assume intelligence and wide reading, assume sophistication and fair general knowledge. Kids these days grow up watching complex films and analysing narrative structure in primary school; you don’t have to dumb down stories for them. But again, be sensitive and think about what you might like to see your kids (imagine them if you don’t have any) reading as teens. What excites you as an adult may not always appeal to a teen. But romance, adventure, intrigue … these are perennial favourites across all genres, so you can’t go far wrong with them in YA.

Q. What are you working on at the moment?

A. I’m currently finishing book three in the “Tudor Witch” series. But I’m also working on a joint writing project with my husband Steve Haynes, who works at Salt Publishing and is editor of the Best British Fantasy Anthology series. We’re writing the first book in an epic fantasy series together. It’s very exciting! And so far, hardly any disagreements … ahem.

Thank you for inviting me to the Romaniacs blog!

It’s our pleasure, and thank you so much for explaining YA. Please visit again – we’d love to find out about your joint project with your husband. xx