Roving Romaniacs Meet Kirstie Allsopp & Go To A Party

Celia, Laura, Vanessa, Kirstie, Catherine & Debbie

Celia, Laura, Vanessa, Kirstie, Catherine & Debbie

Thursday 19th May 2016 was a big day for The Romaniacs, but particularly for Catherine Miller. Catherine’s debut novel, Waiting For You, was nominated for the prestigious Joan Hessayon Award, the winner of which was to be announced that evening in London at the Romantic novelists’ Association’s Summer Party.

The day began with five Romaniacs and Mr Miller departing from various parts of the country, all heading for our favourite London hotel. After a quick catch-up and a change into our multipurpose daywear/eveningwear frocks, we took a taxi to our second port of call that day – Kirstie Allsopp’s house. For afternoon tea. As one does.

Our Catherine is masterful when it comes to winning competitions and tea with Kirstie Allsopp was first prize in a competition run by Home Start, ‘a national family support charity that helps parents to build better lives for their children.’

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The second port of call was the RNA’s Summer Party, where we met up with our writing friends and colleagues and celebrated our debut novelists whose books had been through the RNA New Writers’ Scheme and achieved publication. Our congratulations to everyone nominated and to the over-all winner, Clare Harvey.

Here are our memories of that busy, fun day.

Laura: What an incredible day. First of all, I’d like to thank Catherine for inviting me to share her prize – meeting Kirstie Allsopp was a wonderful experience. And what a lovely family and house she has. I found Kirstie to be warm, charming, funny and very down-to-earth. The evening was wonderful, too, catching up with writing friends, cheering on our debut novelists and meeting a few of our street team Sparklers. I got to bed at 02:00, but what an amazing day.

Vanessa: It was SUCH a fabulous day. It always is catching up with my lovely fellow Romaniacs, but this time with the added bonus of meeting Kirstie and getting to drink lots of prosecco in her beautiful home – and see her shoes! So many beautiful shoes… The evening was amazing, as always: I always love the RNA parties because they give me the chance to meet up with fellow writers in the most glamorous and friendly of environments. The prosecco headache the next day was totally worth it! Shoes

Debbie: I’ll confess; Kirstie is my ‘girl crush!’ I’ve long admired her so was very excited when Catherine invited me along.FullSizeRender (4) Bubbly, cake and laughter all afternoon – what could be better? Kirstie was so welcoming and every bit as warm and lovely as she appears on TV. The evening was great fun too and super, as always, to catch up with my RNA writer friends. My jaws ached more than usual the following day having spent the whole day and evening grinning from ear to ear, laughing and chatting! IMG_0437

 

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Celia: This was a very special day for us all, and for me it marked the start of a new chapter. Retiring from work will give me time to meet more writing people and catch up with the Romaniacs more often, so the party and the fabulous Kirstie visit  were a great way to celebrate the next stage. My husband worked as a brewers’ scientist for years and the Allsopp family of brewers are a big part of Burton-on-Trent’s heritage so spotting all the memorabilia on her walls was interesting. Seeing our lovely Catherine in the JH line up was even more heart-warming – as the oldest Romaniac, that was definitely a  proud mummy moment, and her wonderful Dan put up with a hoard of over-excited women very bravely all day too and was chief photographer to boot!

Beer plaque

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Roving Romaniacs, Wimborne, Lisa Jewell and Lucy Clarke

Lisa Jewell & Lucy Clarke

Lisa Jewell & Lucy Clarke

Roving Romaniacs, Sue and Laura, headed out to Wimborne Literary Festival last week to attend a talk given by Lisa Jewell and Lucy Clarke. Here’s a few words and pictures.

Sue : Despite the awful rain, it didn’t take me too long to get down to Wimborne and after an Anneka Rice moment, managed to find the library.  Both Lisa and Lucy were lovely to listen to, very natural and engaging. It was interesting hearing how different their approaches to writing were and how they carried out research.

booksI’m a big fan of Lucy Clarke’s books and having already stocked up on her books, took one with me for her to sign. I haven’t read any of Lisa’s at this point, but her latest novel ‘The Girls’ had been on my wish list for some time. I was delighted to be able to purchased a copy and get that signed too.

After the talk, Laura and I dodged more rain and headed for The Kings Head for lunch. I encountered more rain driving home, but it didn’t matter as I had a really good day out.

Laura: Wasn’t it a great day? Wimborne is a forty-five minute drive for me, which I consider local, so I wasn’t going to miss this opportunity to meet and listen to Lisa Jewell and Lucy Clarke, both very lovely people. I met up in the first instance with another writing friend, Kathy Morgan, we found a quaint café in which we sheltered from the rain and chatted horses, cats and books. We then went onto to the library, where we met with Sue.

This was the first author talk I’ve attended where the two authors interview each other, and I loved it – what a great idea. It’s a format I would consider using the next time The Romaniacs go on tour. It worked so well; it was relaxed, humorous, interesting and warm, and Lisa and Lucy shared information about their books, writing processes and how they initially got into writing.

I had a lightbulb moment, courtesy of Lisa Jewell, who explained she takes herself away from distractions and writes a thousand words a day, no matter how long those words take to write. Due to recent health problems, I’ve returned to writing longhand, and I sit in my conservatory, away from technology, and it’s then when I am most productive. It dawned on me it’s probably because I am more than a click away from social media or Words For Friends. It’s not that I didn’t realise technology, housework or making coffee are distractions, but I think I was in denial and hearing an established, successful and very down to earth author telling it as it is, helped the message get through.

And I will sit in my conservatory until I write a thousand words, or in the case of the next fortnight, with a deadline looming, two thousand words.

Lunch with Sue was excellent. It’s amazing how many topics of conversation we can get through in an hour.

A wonderful day, well spent.

Laura, Lucy, Lisa & Sue

Laura, Lucy, Lisa & Sue

 

Life Cycle of a Writer ~ Jan Brigden ~ Interviewing your Characters

In the early stages of drafting As Weekends Go, I gobbled up every nugget of writerly advice going – I still do – you never stop learning and any guidance is invaluable.

I’d already created detailed profiles for each of my main characters, some secondary characters too, i.e. ages, physical descriptions, family backgrounds, schooling, jobs, habits, likes/dislikes, friendships, relationships, star signs. A further suggested exercise that proved brilliant for me was “literally” interviewing them. Instead of writing a structured Q&A for each, I let them chat away on the page (so to speak) to see how they viewed themselves, to hear their voices and obtain an insight into specific personality traits, hopes, values, etc.

Here’s a brief glimpse at two of the main cast members – random facts in no particular order –  to further illustrate what I mean :

Hello, could you please tell me a little bit about yourself...

“Hi, I’m Rebecca Stafford, married to Greg for four years, no children as yet, but having now moved into our new home, we plan to start a family, which I’m so excited about. I just hope Greg’s workload reduces. He’s been so stressed lately – a bit snappy too, (between you and me) – and could really do with relaxing a bit more. I do worry about him.

I’d say I’m a good listener, diplomatically honest, as I hate to hurt people’s feelings. I’m quite a home bod, and I love the company of my friends and family, especially my best friend Abi who I’ve known for years. I dress in what suits me. I’m not a dedicated follower of fashion as they say, but I do take pride in my appearance.”

Next please ... (1)

“Hello, I’m Alex Heath. Describe myself physically? Well, I’m very fit  – in the sporty sense (I wasn’t being vain!) as my profession demands it. I’ve always been active, trained hard and appreciated all the challenges and rewards it brings. I’m not really into the celebrity thing and shy away from publicity even though I know it’s all part of the job. I think it’s important to stay grounded, have good friends and family around me and never forget what a privilege it is to be doing what I love.

I’m a good judge of character. Some people say I can be stubborn, (my mum, usually!) which maybe I am, but it helps me to focus on what’s important. Nobody likes being taken for a fool, do they? Do I like being rich? Well, it certainly has its advantages. I’d be a liar if I said otherwise, but I’m level-headed with money; prefer spending it on other people than myself.”

***

Now I know these exercises won’t necessarily be for everyone. Admittedly, a lot of the pre-interview detailed character profile information I didn’t actually use in the book, i.e. Rebecca’s favourite film or her opinion of her first boss, but it did give me an insight into how she might react in certain scenes, or to the various people she met, whatever the situation. Same with Alex. So too, with my other main characters.

I did the same thing for my second book which I’m currently writing. If you think interviewing your characters is something that might help you develop your own stories, then give it a try. I can definitely recommend it.

 

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Love Jan x

Life Cycle of a Writer: Debbie

It’s been a while since I last blogged. (Ooer, that sounds a bit like a confession.) Unlike most of my fellow Romaniacs, I’ve had little to shout about. In fact, NOTHING to shout about.

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A bad case of the January blues ran into February, then March and before I knew it Easter had been and gone and I was no further on with progressing, ‘Living in the Past,’ the novel I (finally) finished last summer. Why?

Well, once again I have any number of reasons, although a critical NWS review comes high up the list. After I’d digested the five page report which, in a nutshell suggested I might be better off to put what I’d learned so far down to experience and move on to the next novel, I lost all motivation to respond to the 5.30am alarm clock set on dark, damp mornings to get up and write. The pain of my arthritis and news that I need to have two lots of major surgery to replace my existing prosthetic jaw joints consumed me. Morphine patches meant I spent up to four hours asleep in the daytime. Deranged blood results, yet more building work, the garden, domestic chores, not enough hours in the day; these things individually may not seem much but all together they threatened to overwhelm me. 3

For months, I returned to deriding myself. ‘You’ll never be a writer … You’ll never get that book published … What if the reader is right and the agent who was waiting to see it (three years ago!) also thinks it’s a pile of poo? And what if, after reading it, they won’t entertain the idea of ever receiving anything from me again?’

‘Man up, mom!’ said my eldest son. ‘So the reader didn’t like it? It’s one person’s opinion. Not everyone will like it. But the question is; do you like it? You’ve been working on it long enough. Or if not, do as they say and stop talking about it!’

He was right. It has taken four years to write this novel so far and all I’ve ever really done is talk about it, except when the opening chapter got runner up in the inaugural Festival of Romance in 2011. However every time I’ve almost condemned it to the waste paper bin ‘something’ has stopped me. I still believe. I still believe it has legs.

So, I HAVE A PLAN and writing it down here will make me do it. I’ve made a start, re-read the whole thing and also re-read (several times) the NWS critique. Interestingly, because I’ve let the MS rest a while, I’ve returned to it with fresh eyes and concede the reader raised several points that are fair comment. I don’t feel anywhere near so gloomy about it. Using two different coloured highlighter pens I’ve gone through and highlighted, a) the areas I need to change and, b) all other points I’m still unsure about which I must ponder on. With any luck if I work through systematically, I’ll find the holes, make my heroine more appealing, nail the research, expand the characters, dig deeper for more conflict etc because one thing’s for sure; I’ll never be a writer or get a book published if I give in.

You know, this writing malarkey really is a battle of wills. Is it a pile of poo? It may be. It may not. The only way for me to find out is to try. I haven’t spent four years on this to give up now. Don’t get me wrong; if the agent agrees I may need to re-think the plan but until then I have to give it my best shot.

You heard it here first; by the time I next post, it will be done. Polished. Finished. No more twiddling. And by then I’ll have contacted the agent to see if they are still interested!

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Wish me luck. I’ll be in the summerhouse.

Until another day

Debbie xx

Elaine Everest talks about The Woolworth Girls, Book Jackets and Models

 

Hello, Elaine and a very warm welcome to The Romaniacs’ blog and congratulations on the publication of your novel THE WOOLWORTH GIRLS.

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Thank you, Romaniacs, it’s an honour to be your guest.

Could you begin by telling us a little about yourself and your publishing journey?

This is where I realize how old I am! I’ve always written and like fellow writers love a new blank notebook and possibly a fountain pen in my Christmas stocking. Pip the pixie was my first novel on a Petit Typewriter. I have no idea what happened to that masterpiece! In my fifth year at secondary school I had a teacher who realised I could write and made me feel special and not the shy girl at the back of the class. But, being a writer was not an option at my school so I trained and worked in accountancy for many years moving onto office management. I also had a Saturday job as a Woolies Girl that has come in handy recently.

My lovely dad died in 1997 and it made me think about my future. I knew I wanted to concentrate on my writing. I’d also walked away from a horrid job with bullying bosses so decided to attend adult education classes and just go for it. I started selling short stories and moved to articles and features, always learning along the way. My specialism was the world of dogs, as that is another part of my life, and I was commissioned to write three non-fiction books for dog owners. All that time I was dabbling with writing novels but it wasn’t until I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme that I knuckled down and concentrated on my novels. My second year submission was a saga and was picked up by a publisher – I was now a full member of the RNA! It also led to a fortuitous meeting with Literary Agent, Caroline Sheldon who signed me up on the strength of a one-page outline of a story called Sixpenny Sarah. I had written three chapters when Caroline secured a two-book contract with Pan Macmillan and the hard work began.

The Woolworths Girls is a great title and I’m sure will bring back fond memories for many readers. Did the title come first or the setting? What inspired the story?

The setting came first. I set my sagas in North West Kent where I was born and grew up. The town of Erith, before it was razed to the ground and replaced with a concrete jungle in 1966, was a lovely place to live. On the bank of the River Thames with a thriving shipping and retail area we had everything required to shop locally. I’d lived in a Victorian terraced house close to the town and knew it had survived two world wars. I’ve often thought what stories that house could tell. It became the home of my main character, Sarah, when she lived with her nan, Ruby. Sarah was starting work and would meet her two new friends, Maisie and Freda. Where better than the Woolies I’d known and loved and a store known by many people with fondness. It was a joy to write.

Have you always wanted to write in the era The Woolworths Girls is set in? What attracted you to it and what sort of research have you had to do?

I love the thirties and forties. In many ways it was a time of innocence for women and so much happened on the home front while the men went away to war. It was the women who interested me most. How they lived and loved and carried on despite the horrendous situations they found themselves living in at times. Just imagine sending children away not knowing where they were while worrying about a husband fighting on foreign shores or high in the sky. I’m lucky that Woolworths had a fabulous museum and the curator came up with all kinds of information for me about the Erith store. The London Borough of Bexley (Erith has now slipped into the London Boroughs) has so much information about the era I’m interested in and on Facebook I belong to local groups where members are only too pleased to tell me stories of their family during the war.

I’m never really sure if a book set in and around the 1940’s is classed as a historical or not. Is there a rule for this?

1940 is definitely classed as historical. In fact I’ve been informed that the sixties, and even the seventies, can be historical. That does make me feel old! (Sue : I think it makes a lot of us feel old! The seventies … historical!)

I think I read that you were able to pick the models for the cover of The Woolworths Girls, could you tell us about the process?

Yes, my editor and the production team were extremely generous sharing the cover plans with me. I was sent a large file of images of professional models and was able to point out who I thought looked like Sarah and Maisie. It was hard to look past the modern hair-styles and make up to see my girls from 1938. Fortunately the models I chose were in the shortlist. As the photo shoot day approached Pan Macmillan had to source uniforms of the period and again the curator of the Woolworths Museum came up trumps with the right style although the colour was not correct. After the shoot was complete I was sent many images and told to ignore the grey uniform as the colour would change. It was hard to find a short list of images as they were so good, but again my choices were considered and then the sales and marketing people took over, they are the experts on the right image for the book shelf but by then I was convinced they had done a super job.

Rom blog Elaine EverestThank you, Elaine for taking the time to answer our questions. Wishing you every success with your novel.

Thank you so much for sending such interesting questions.

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Twitter: @ElaineEverest