Mark West on Writing Horror


Today, Friday 13th, we are delighted to welcome Mark West to Romaniac HQ. Now, dim the lights, settle back, and listen to his story …

My name is Mark West and I’m a horror writer. I’m only mildly superstitious, I have mixed feelings about ghosts (though I’ve seen two) and whilst I write about things that go bump in the night, I think I’m quite an amusing bloke. I’ve been a horror fan since I was a kid (the old Universal horrors that would often turn up on BBC2 got me started), I still love the thrill of having a ‘safe scare’ and my love for the genre has never diminished, though I don’t read it exclusively. I didn’t used to write it exclusively either and during the 90s submitted three novels – they were ‘contemporary drama’, since ‘Lad-Lit’ hadn’t been invented then – they never did anything. All the time though there was this nagging feeling to go back to the horror field. I started again, in earnest, with short stories in 1998 when I discovered the small press which, at that time, was very vibrant and – since the Internet wasn’t widely available – meant that all of my early publishing successes were in zines, rather than websites.

Genre fiction, whichever branch, is maligned, but horror seems to come in for more than it’s fair share of stick. Whilst I can sort of understand it sometimes (I will defend my field against all comers, but I can’t stand the torture-porn films like “Hostel” and “Saw”), what a lot of people seem to forget is that it’s a rich vein of creativity and some of the greatest literary minds in history have dipped their toe in.

It’s a broad field, with sub-genres that range from quiet supernatural tales to all-out gore epics, but each of them carries its own expectations, often a little faster-and-looser than – say – the Romance field would deal with them.

As an example, earlier this year, to mark his passing, I read “Stir Of Echoes” by the great Richard Matheson (he also wrote the Steven Spielberg film “Duel” and the 1975 novel “Bid Time Return”, which became “Somewhere In Time”, my wife’s favourite film – and she’s no horror fan). It’s an engrossing novel, written in 1958 and yet still modern, that tells of an office-worker who is apparently ‘touched’ by psychic ability and finds himself haunted by the ghost of an unknown woman. It’s creepy and told in a sparse, dry style (it’s almost noir-writing) with no gore but plenty of wit.

Mark West The Mill

In contrast, between 1984 and 1985, a young Liverpudlian called Clive Barker published six volumes of “The Books Of Blood” and for me – as a sixteen-year-old horror fan who’d grown up on The Three Investigators (spooky mysteries) and Stephen King (everything else) – they were a revelation. Barker is a very intelligent man, his work speaks of the human condition in often sobering terms but he revelled in the gore back then, with lots of sex and violence, which I loved and which he carried through to his directorial debut “Hellraiser” (1987). His work was creepy but more often than not, it was trying to find out what made us tick by peeling back the layers of flesh to see what was underneath.

Last year, my friend Gary McMahon published the final part of his “Concrete Grove” trilogy, through Solaris Books. I loved all three volumes but they’re tough reads – bleak as hell, examining the human condition when it’s really been put through the wringer – filled with damaged souls and lost lives and no hope, whilst dealing with violence in a brutal, abrupt way when it’s required. Some of the writing is very elegant, the monsters are generally real people and the novels are plotted and told with an enviable precision.

All three are horror novels (though Matheson argued that his wasn’t), all three are completely different, all three are equally good.

Horror is difficult to categorise but I think the following is true. It needs recognisable and believable characters, who might not be like me but who will react to the supernatural the way I think I might. It needs to have a purpose – the ghost or monster needs to be there for a reason. It needs to have strong writing, to pull the reader along and make them empathise with the characters, even through set pieces that might be ghastly, ghostly, gory or gruesome. Especially if that strong writing can hide some red herrings that wrong-foot the reader. The book needs to have an internal logic, which might sound odd, but if it doesn’t – for the monster, at the very least – you’re going to lose the reader. There needs to be cause and effect because we need to believe that this threat can be vanquished, even if we can’t quite see how. If a monster can adapt itself to whatever the hero or heroine does and can’t be beaten, I can stop reading at page 10 rather than struggle past page 500. Finally it needs a suitable ending, which can be bleak or hopeful or sometimes a terrible mixture of the two (in that the hope for one means bleakness for another). A common misconception is that horror must end with no hope at all that’s not often the case.

At its best, a horror is simply a mainstream tale looking at people (you, me, our neighbours) and the world (especially the bad stuff that happens to decent, everyday people) through a slightly cracked glass, dressing up in metaphor and subterfuge what so many of us have to deal with in real terms.

When we, as readers, hear a sound in the dead of night as we’re just about to drift off to sleep, we might be worried but we know, deep down, that it’s the wind against the windows or a pile of Lego falling down in our sons room. The horror story takes that concept, grins widely and does a little dance, taking it a step over the line of reality – what if it wasn’t a pile of Lego, what if it was something creeping into your house? What if this thing was going to climb the stairs slowly, letting you hear every riser creak, every hiss as claws caught on the carpet and every *skrit* as long, sharp nails dragged on the bannister? What if this thing was going to come into your life and take it over, ruining you and making the future bleak for everyone who loved you? In other words, what if this horror novel – about ghouls and real people dealing with them – was actually about disease, or loss and showing us another way to deal with the blights that litter the human life?

My website is West Conjure

The link to my Amazon page is

My latest novel is “Conjure” which can be found at Amazon here –

Can Women Write Sex Scenes from Male POV?

Can a woman write a sex scene from a man’s point of view?

This is a question I asked myself recently when writing a hot sex scene between my heroine and hero.  I initially thought I would write it from the male point of view but after a couple of paragraphs I began to question my wisdom.

man thinkingDo I really know what a man thinks and feels emotionally when having sex? Does a man feel differently when having sex as opposed to making love? Is there actually a difference for men? Do men just have sex, regardless? Does my reader want to know what really goes through a man’s mind or does she want to imagine what she’d like him to be thinking?

I suppose the obvious answer would be to ask a man, or several, but I wouldn’t be sure if he was telling me what he really thought or what he thought I wanted to hear. I’m of the opinion, these are two different things and not only that, I could get myself into a bit of bother canvassing men to share their inner most thoughts on sex. Unless, of course, it was Richard Armitage … now there’s an idea [goes off to stalk him on Twitter.] What? That’s inappropriate? Okay delete that Tweet. Back to writing from a female point of view it is.

What are your thoughts on writing sex scenes from a male POV?

Should women attempt it or should they steer clear?

Sue Fortin profile



Tuesday Chit Chat with Cara Cooper

Cara Cooper

Hello, Cara, and a warm welcome to Romaniac HQ. The weather’s been so nice, we’ve had the windows open and we’ve aired the joint. It’s so much more pleasant. Iced tea? Cheesecake? It’s got flaky chocolate on top and a Hobnob base.

Thank you, any kind of cake is my downfall but as this is a special occasion I’ll have two slices please.

In recent months, you’ve been posting advice on your blog about writing a magazine serial. Please tell us about your pocket novel and serial writing.

I guess I’m an object lesson in slow and steady wins the race!

I researched many magazines and publishers and decided as The People’s Friend is dedicated to fiction I’d try and write for them. I studied the magazine from cover to cover – they know what their readers like. They produce sweet, feel-good stories with a clear narrative. After a number of attempts, I managed to have around five short stories accepted. I always feel you should try and go up a notch so then read a number of the PF pocket novels which at the time were around 50,000 words. I had half a dozen pocket novels published by The People’s Friend and My Weekly: Safe Harbour, Healing Love, Tango at Midnight, Leaving Home, The Sanctuary and Take a Chance on Love. I was then approached by PF who said, ‘you can write short and you can write long, so would you like to try a serial?’ I believe in always grasping opportunities even if they scare you to death so I’ll never say no. The result was an 8-part serial called The Lemon Grove set in sunny Sorrento.

Serial writing is tough in that you have to wait for each episode to be approved by the editors before going on to the next. Maybe for more experienced serial writers they get it right first time but I had revisions requested for each instalment. The most important elements are to have enough characters to carry that many episodes. PF is a family magazine so I included all ages from teenagers to a beloved granny. You also need a cliffhanger every week. This can be dramatic – one of my characters gets lost at sea – or more low key but it does need to contain enough intrigue to make the reader want to buy next week’s mag. Whilst I was writing each episode I always had at the back of my mind the ending scene. I’ve put some tips on writing serials on

How did The Sanctuary come about? How much of an animal lover are you?

It was prompted by many idyllic visits to the Isle of Wight and is set in a beautiful cove by the sea. I also set Safe Harbour by the sea, being a city girl I have fantasies about living next to the tranquillity of water. I love animals and am besotted by our beautiful black cat, she came from Battersea dogs and cats home and gives us endless joy.

I love both the sea and cats, Cara.

Some authors write whilst listening to music. Although I love music, I need silence in which to write – I tend to get carried away if music’s playing. Is music important in your life?

I’m married to a musician! However, like you I need total silence to write or else I can’t concentrate on the story.

The first time we met, you were giving a demonstration of the Argentine tango. It was very cool. This is the dance I love watching on Strictly. Please tell me about your dancing. And the glitter. There is glitter, right?

Oh my, there’s glitter with salsa and loads of shimmy and shake. Argentine tango is far more reserved but there are split skirts and fishnet stockings….

What’s next for Cara Cooper?

Safe Harbour and Healing Love are being released by Accent Amour, a new romance imprint. I’m also working on a full length crime novel with a smouldering romance.

Cara Cooper Safe Harbour

Now for our Romaniac Quick Fire Questions:

Salsa or Tango? Salsa.

Classical or rock? Hmmm, tough but on balance classical please.

Beach or countryside? Beach every time.

Ice cream or ice lolly? Ice cream from my favourite ice cream and coffee shop in Soho or from Italy (but Soho’s nearer!)

Hot and spicy or sweet and sour? Either please.

Alhambra or Cavatina? I’ve heard my husband play both a million times and never tire of Recuerdos de la Alhambra.

Cara, thank you so much for dropping by Romaniac HQ. It’s been wonderful getting to know a little more about you and your books.

Thank you a million for asking me, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

You can follow Cara at and find her books at these links:

Safe Harbour here

Healing Love here

The Sanctuary here

Take a Chance here

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

Writing a Novella – is it any different to writing a novel?

Author Louise Rose-Innes is with us today, talking about writing novellas and her latest release, The New Year Resolution.


Take it away Louise …

The New Year ResolutionMy latest release, THE NEW YEAR RESOLUTION is about 35,000 words and is classified as a novella. Novellas are usually about 20,000 to 40,000 words. Anything shorter than that is termed a short story.

They’re punchier than category romances, often only in one POV, and usually with a single plotline (as the length doesn’t support multiple subplots).

Despite the shorter format, they still feature the normal goals, motivations and conflicts of a full length romantic novel.

This makes them fairly difficult to write, especially for authors who are used to a longer format. The trick to writing a fast-paced novella is planning. You have limited space so you can’t ramble or waste words. You need to be absolutely clear on your characters central conflicts, what drives them and how they react in different circumstances. This way you can outline your plot points and build your character arcs convincingly.

Novella writing is a good exercise for any author, as it forces you to focus on what’s important. It also forces you to up the tension of each chapter. A novella is usually faster paced than a full length romance, so you can play with sentence structure and length to keep it interesting all the way through. You can stick to one POV, or try writing in the first person.

Lee Child likes to experiment in his short stories. Stephen King thinks that all young writers should hone their skills on novellas.  He calls the novel a “quagmire that young authors stumble into before they’re ready.”

Personally, I struggle with traditional short stories (under 20,000 words). For me, the novella is a better format to work with. I like delving deeper into core conflicts and motivations and building a relationship between the reader and the heroine from the first paragraph. The novel itself, is a more complex beast, but it does give you more room to move and can be a little more forgiving.

As writers, we should experiment with all formats as we develop our skill, as this will make us more versatile overall.

The New Year ResolutionTHE NEW YEAR RESOLUTION is out now at and


Last year, divorcee Nicole had only one New Year’s Resolution – to have a date for this New Years Eve – but with no strings attached.  One thing she knows for sure is that she isn’t ready for anything more complicated than a casual date.

So when eco-tycoon and international jetsetter, Ryan Jackson begs her to accompany him to a tropical island for a week, in order to impress his benefactor, Nicole categorically refuses. He’s way too hot and she’s way too vulnerable. Not a good idea.

Yet Ryan won’t take no for an answer.  It’s for a good cause. She would only have to pretend to be his lover. It’s a luxury island resort with all expenses paid. How can she refuse?

Under the tropical sun, things heat up and their pretence goes out the window. Nicole gets cold feet. She’s not ready for this kind of affair. It’s doubtful she ever will be.

But have they come too far? Distancing herself from Ryan will cause him to lose the funding he so desperately needs for his eco-project, but staying with him means she’ll lose something far more valuable… her heart.  And that’s a risk Nicole is simply not willing to take.

Liam Livings and The Value of Attending Writing Events

Liam LivingsWe thank and welcome today’s guest, gay fiction author, Liam Livings to Romaniac HQ. Liam discusses the value of attending writing events. We’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

Take it away, Liam…

6 reasons why attending writing events is so useful for a new writer (and all writers)

I attended my first writing event in September 2012, the UK Meet in Brighton. It was the suggestion of my friend Clare London and I think, one of the most useful things I’ve done on my journey to becoming a published author. And these are the reasons why…

1. You don’t know what you don’t know.

I learned a great deal of things about writing, promotion, the publishing industry, which I had absolutely no idea about before. Yes, you could get some information on the internet, but when you’re starting out, it’s like the new thing you’re grappling with has no edges, no shape, no names, no words for you to google even (shock horror!). When you’re entering a new ‘industry’ as I was, taking your first tentative steps, there’s a whole new language, set of abbreviations, tools and techniques you need to learn. And there’s something very human and satisfying about learning new things with like-minded people, being able to ask in the breaks or over lunch, ‘What’s a trope?’ or ‘What does HEA stand for?’ And because you’re in like, friendly company your answer is met with a friendly helpful response. I didn’t even know what a blog tour was, never mind being able to think, that would be a useful way to promote my book. I’d never heard of Nanowrimo, and over dinner Anna Martin explained it to me. I didn’t do it in November, but ended up doing Janowrimo instead. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and there’s a whole new world of new ideas and concepts to know. Once you start to know what you didn’t know, that leads onto more knowledge, and then you can begin to have opinions about these new concepts: is a HEA always good; should I do Nano this year? As I drove through Brighton on my way home, that Saturday night, my head was buzzing with ideas and new phrases, like these, and I doubt very much if I’d have got that buzz from a few hours diligently googling.

2. It can lead to lots of other things, which wouldn’t happen (probably) if you’d not met the people face to face.

Meeting people at writing events can lead to many other opportunities, which may have happened, had you met them online, but are much more likely having met the real people and really ‘connected’ with them in physical real time. There’s something about having a meal with a group of new people, chatting over tea (I don’t drink coffee) between sessions, asking them how they’ve got on, that cements relationships in a way online can’t. After the UK Meet I was asked by Charlie Cochrane to guest on her blog, which I loved. I was asked by Clare London to take part in the next big thing blog tour, and because I’d met some other authors, I actually had people to tag. I’ve been on Becky Black’s blog. And somehow, using my marketing skills from my day job, I’ve ended up being part of the planning group for the 2013 UK Meet: I said yes to all of them. All things which I doubt would have happened, had I not met these people at the UK Meet 2012.

3. Writing can be quite a lonely experience and these events brings us together.

Although my friends have taken an interest in my writing to varying degrees, ranging from begging me to read the manuscript and commenting profusely, to not knowing what to say, I’ve found the actual process of writing can be quite lonely: it’s me, my laptop, a cup of tea, and sometimes one of my cats on my lap. I tend to write when I’m alone in the house, finding it helps my productivity. This is contrary to my extrovert personality (I’ve done Myers Briggs, and reading the summary was like they’d got inside my head had a poke around and written the report, rather than me ticking some boxes on a form) where I love interactions with people, hearing their stories, meeting my friends and family. But with the exception of one friend, I had no one I could talk proper geeky writing with – technique, planning, word count, you know the nitty gritty. Not one. I have ‘car friends’ with whom I can indulge my geeky car interests. So going to the UK Meet allowed my inner writing geek loose: to plan or not to plan; how many words can you write in a day; where do you get your ideas from; grammar errors which should result in capital punishment…All topics you can talk about until your little writing heart’s content at writing events. At UK Meet 2012 I realised I’d finally found my people, I’d found my ‘writing friends’ which is so healthy and normal as a person, to share interests with others. Yes, you can have these discussions online, and I think that’s great (and do still do that). However, in a world when online seems to be the way all things are going, there’s something very comfortingly old-fashioned about meeting people face to face, having a ‘I do that too’ moment, or a ‘are you mad, you’re wrong’ moment, face to face. These moments are the seeds of friendships and before you know it you have a range of ‘writing friends’ all around you. That’s something writing events can deliver in spades if you roll your sleeves up and get involved.

4. Knowing who to contact for different questions and to ask for help.

Yes, you can do this online. Yes, I have done this online (I contacted Laura online, having never met her to ask if I could be on this blog). However, I wouldn’t have known anything about the Romaniacs blog, as I wouldn’t have known what to google, or what a guest blog post was (see point 1) if I’d not been to the UK Meet. Also it was Charlie Cochrane, who I met at UK Meet (thanks v much) who introduced me to Laura. Now, I’m sure Laura’s very kind and generous and would have welcomed me on the blog with virtual open arms, but I felt a had a better chance, a better hope of a warm welcome, having been introduced from Charlie. It’s a bit like in the mafia where they introduce new members as ‘a friend of mine’ which means they’re safe and not the police. (I have the full box set of The Sopranos and Donnie Brasco for that reference btw!)

5. Talking to others who’ve been through the same thing you’re going through.

When you’re an unpublished author, as I am at the moment, getting published can seem like a mythical world, far far away. A bit like Narnia maybe… mmm James McAvoy playing a fawn, concentrate Liam… So talking to other authors who’ve been through that process, and come out the other side, a published author was one of the most valuable things I took from the UK Meet. The session on getting published, where Becky Black explained there was no magic handshake, no special codes, it was about making the work the best you can, targeting the right publishers, and persevering, was like a halleluiah moment in my head. Talking to other authors during the weekend in Brighton showed me many other similar stories about other authors, juggling writing with family/work/pets/life, and still getting published. Hearing these stories from the mouths of other writers was so much more powerful than reading about it on the internet, and it has really spurred me onto getting published.

6. Practical tips for things you’d never have believed you could do.

Me, making a website! Never. When I went to UK Meet, all I had was a domain name (which against the better belief of The Boyfriend, and all my friends who know I have no web skills whatsoever, I’d somehow managed to organise). Having spoken to other writers, who’d all made their own websites/blogs/whatevers who were all about the writing and not so much about the HTML, I had the confidence to make my website and blog. I left the UK Meet 2012, with a list of build your own website (for dummies) sites. One afternoon, two weeks after the UK Meet, I made it happen. Whatever your particular sticking point as a writer, I’m sure a chat with someone who’s been there before who could show you how easy it is, would free your sticking point. I would not have had this confidence, to just go ahead and do it, had I not spoken to so many others who’d done the same.

So, the next time you’re umming and ahhing about whether to stump up the air/rail/fuel and hotel to attend a writing event, just remember how valuable it is to really connect (old fashioned face to face connect) with like minded people, and how many more wonderful opportunities can come from a conversation with another writer.

Find Out Friday with Helena Fairfax

Helena Fairfax photo
Helena Fairfax: Stumbling along the road to publication.

Hello, lovely Romaniacs, and thanks so much for having me on your blog. First things first, I’ve brought my trusty Tupperware container with me, and inside is a cake just crying to get out. Mmm…the heady aroma of a fresh chocolate and orange sponge…
Oh, you mean you’d like me to talk as well? I thought I’d just come to eat and drink tea. No? Oh, in that case I’d love to talk to you, let me just wipe this chocolate from my mouth…
Yes, I’m even happy to put down cake in order to tell you all about my first novel, The Silk Romance, which will be published next week – on the 24th May, to be exact, and I’m counting down the days!

As a former member of the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, The Romaniacs have asked me along to talk about my road to publication.

I remember once years ago coming home from yet another terrible day at the office, and moaning for the millionth time: grr, I hate my job! My long-suffering husband asked a simple question: what would you actually like to be doing with your life? My answer: writing romance novels. Next question: well, what do you need to do to get there?
I knew what I needed to do. ‘All’ I needed to do was to write a novel and get it published. Oh, the simplicity of those words! The path to making my wish come true has been long and tortuous, but never dull. And the final result is thrilling beyond everything!

It’s hard to say where the path first started, as I’ve been scribbling away for what seems to be forever. Maybe the first time I seriously thought I could make a go of it was when I sent off a first chapter to a writing competition. Sadly I didn’t win, but I received a very encouraging letter from the organisers. The editor who wrote to me talked about my characters as though they were real people.
Entering that competition finally gave me some confidence in myself – something I was sadly lacking – and having confidence in your ability to write is an essential first step.

RNA Logo

My next step: joining the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. There was a story in my head, but I had a lot to learn about how to get it down on paper in a way that readers would really enjoy.
I passed through the New Writers’ Scheme twice. The first year, I sent off just the first three chapters and a synopsis of the novel. I wasn’t entirely sure if I was on the right lines, and my reservations were right. I received a four page, highly detailed letter explaining exactly why the story still wasn’t quite right, and some suggestions on what to do to polish it up.
(If you’re interested in the nitty gritty of my reader’s observations on my particular book, I’ve written a post on my blog outlining exactly what her advice was.)
I took my reader’s brilliant and extensive comments to heart, and rejoined the NWS for another year. I was really excited about finishing my novel, and took both great pains and great pleasure in manipulating the characters and the emotional conflict, to make sure all my reader’s advice was followed.
By the end of the year, I finally had a finished novel. I sent it off to the RNA again, waited with bitten fingernails for a response – and finally, hooray! My reader loved it! Just a couple of tweaks required, and not even any need for a second reading. Hooray again! This should be the part where I jacked in my job and made millions. Oh, if only life were so simple…

I sent off my novel to a publisher and waited. And waited. And waited. And began writing another.
Then I finally heard from the publisher…and it wasn’t good news. They enjoyed my story, but it wasn’t right for their line. So… back to the drawing-board, and back to continuing with novel two. I had confidence in myself now, I had some encouraging words from editors and professional writers, and I had the determination to succeed. What could go possibly go wrong?

One thing I have learnt from my experience in life, above all else, is that we have these neat little plans and we follow them, thinking we are going somewhere, but fate almost always has other ideas. I suffered a terrible tragedy that stopped me writing for a very, very long time. I put away my novel, moved out of the house I’d lived in for twenty five years, bought a smaller place in need of renovation, and spent an entire year doing it up. Painting and digging the garden were the sort of occupations I could engage in that didn’t require any concentration. My mind was shot. By the time I felt able to open my lap-top again, the world of publishing had changed in a dramatic way. Writers such as Amanda Hocking and E.L. James were making massive success stories for themselves with e-books.
I revisited the first novel I’d written and thought, hey – a professional romance author at the RNA really liked this story. Just because it wasn’t accepted at one publisher doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try another. And what about e-books? E-book romances have taken off in an incredible way. So, I started looking around on the internet for other publishers who might be interested. After a lot of research, one publisher seemed to draw me more than all the others. Since starting in 2010, MuseItUp Publishing has made a name for itself as a growing e-publisher, with a supportive and friendly ethos. I submitted The Silk Romance to them. After all, I had nothing to lose…
…and everything to gain. They absolutely loved it, and offered me a contract. Since then, they’ve also offered me a contract on my second novel, The Antique Love. I’m now writing my third.

I wish I could give proper professional advice on how to get published, but I feel I’ve just been stumbling along the road trying my best. One thing I do know is, joining the NWS was invaluable. It gave me confidence in myself and determination to continue writing. I also ended up with a story I really loved. I had great faith in my characters to leap off the page and to be engaging.

Helena Fairfax The Silk Romance 333x500
Here’s the blurb to The Silk Romance:
Jean-Luc Olivier is a devastatingly handsome racing-driver with the world before him. Sophie Challoner is a penniless student, whose face is unknown beyond her own rundown estate in London. The night they spend together in Paris seems to Sophie like a fairytale—a Cinderella story without the happy ending. She knows she has no part in Jean-Luc’s future. She made her dying mother a promise to take care of her father and brother in London. One night of happiness is all Sophie allows herself. She runs away from Jean-Luc and returns to England to keep her promise.
Safely back home with her father and brother, and immersed in her college work, Sophie tries her best to forget their encounter, but she reckons without Jean-Luc. He is determined to find out why she left him, and intrigued to discover the real Sophie. He engineers a student placement Sophie can’t refuse, and so, unwillingly, she finds herself back in France, working for Jean-Luc in the silk mill he now owns.
Thrown together for a few short weeks in Lyon, the romantic city of silk, their mutual love begins to grow. But it seems the fates are conspiring against Sophie’s happiness. Jean-Luc has secrets of his own. Then, when disaster strikes at home in London, Sophie is faced with a choice—stay in this glamorous world with the man she loves, or return to her family to keep the sacred promise she made her mother.
The Silk Romance is available on pre-order here in the Muse bookstore, and from 24th May will also be available from Amazon and all major e-tailers.
If you’ve enjoyed my post, please call in on my blog:, or on my Facebook page. You can also email me at Helena(dot)Fairfax(at)gmail(dot)com. I love meeting people 
If you’d like to know a little more about me, here’s my author bio:
Helena Fairfax was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now and that’s just as well, because nowadays she lives in an old Victorian mill town in Yorkshire, right next door to windswept Brontë country. She has an affectionate, if half-crazed, rescue dog and together they tramp the moors every day—one of them wishing she were Emily Brontë, the other vainly chasing pheasants. When she’s not out on the moors you’ll find Helena either creating romantic heroes and heroines of her own or else with her nose firmly buried in a book, enjoying someone else’s stories. Her patient husband and her brilliant children support her in her daydreams and are the loves of her life.
Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Romaniacs! I love reading your posts, and really look forward to your weekly chat, especially the cake. Although I see there isn’t a great deal left of the one I brought! Hmm…how did that happen?

Many thanks, Helena, and it was our pleasure hosting you. Congratulations on your publishing contract and best wishes for the future.
I have no idea what happened to that delicious cake…

Introducing Miranda Dickinson’s Future Stars… Part Two!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Q5: What is your writing dream?

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

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

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

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

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


Thank you Future Stars and Miranda!

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

Introducing Miranda Dickinson’s Future Stars… Part One!


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

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


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

Vanessa x

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

Neal Doran

Emily Glenister

Dominique Hall

Millie McGarrick

Emma Warburton

together with Kate Rhead and Ritzi Cortez

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

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

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

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

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

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


Q2: What made you decide to enter the competition?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notebook Confessional

This is a confession of infidelity.

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

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

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

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

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

Vanessa x

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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