Roving Romaniacs in Umbria (The Italian Job, Part 2)

Terr

Sue Moorcroft’s fabulous course at Arte Umbria a few years back was something that fellow Romaniac Laura James and I will never forget. When I got the chance to go again to kick start my retirement from teaching, this time with my Romaniac buddy Debbie Fuller-White and a whole gang of other wonderful people, it wasn’t too hard to jump at the chance.

Orv3

 

Group

This time, Debbie was taking part in the full course, I was doing the writing retreat thing and the terrace above was the place where inspiration struck most often (possibly because that’s where wine kept appearing.)

Sue did lots of one-to-ones, ran sessions on building characters, short stories, plotting and all sorts of other useful angles on getting a book to take shape and then beating it into submission. We didn’t write hot sex by the pool this time. It was just too…hot.

We even found a hero at the castle – a gorgeous man who also is heavily into wine production – what’s not to like about Lorenzo? Even the name is music to my ears. I finished the edits on a whole book, gave my character some much needed depth and put on half a stone. Two of those things make me happier than the other. Deb got her mojo back and we refrained from having a girlie cat fight over who should stand next to Lorenzo while he told us about…erm…I think it was grapes and stuff, but actually, who cares?

Lor - Copy

And on the way home we did some revision on my all-time favourite of Sue’s books – the story that sparked off a memorable singing event in a Romaniac kitchen at the RNA conference. I can’t remember where we were…maybe Sheffield. But Dream a Little Dream has never been sung like that before.

Booky

Huge thanks to Sue, to our lovely hosts David and Sara Moody and to all the rest of the gang for making Arte Umbria a place where writing is as natural as eating, sleeping, breathing…and drinking. Hic.

Pool

Deb - Copy

The Romaniacs Sparkle Spotlight 2016.

The Romaniacs Sparkle Spotlights 2016.

Filmed at the RNA conference, Lancaster University.

We asked three questions:

  1. What are you working on?
  2. What inspired your story/you to become a writer?
  3. What is your top writing tip?

Thank you to everyone who took part in this year’s Sparkle Spotlights – your advice is invaluable.

All Work & No Play …

All Work & No Play …

Penrith 2012

Penrith 2012

 

This coming weekend, 8th – 10th July is the annual Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Conference.

It’s a weekend of workshops, panels, interviews and one-to-ones with industry professionals.

And socialising.

Lots of socialising, catching up with writerly friends from all over the country, sometimes from other continents.

If Jack was attending, he’d need not worry about being a dull boy.

Gretna Green

This will be my fifth conference, my first being held in Penrith, not far from the Scottish border. On that occasion, Celia and I took the opportunity to visit Gretna Green. At the conference, I had one-to-ones with an editor from Samhain and an editor from Mira, both requesting to see the full manuscript of Follow Me, now titled, Follow Me Follow You. I recall returning home on the Monday and talking to Gajitman about the amazing experience that was the 2012 RNA Conference, and casually mentioning two editors had requested the full manuscript, which wasn’t complete as it was the year I lost my lovely mum and I was struggling to concentrate on work. I explained this to the editors, who were very kind and understanding. It was later that week, on the Thursday, when I was sitting at my desk in the kitchen and Gajitman was over by the kettle, making hot drinks, when it hit me: This is serious. Two publishers want to see my work.

I had been taking writing seriously for a number of years, but the 2012 Conference, which included a fabulous talk given by Miranda Dickinson, who said if you write, you are a writer, gave me the confidence to say exactly that: ‘I am a writer.’

Before I’d completed Follow Me, I submitted Truth or Dare? to Choc Lit, which became my debut novel, published in October 2013, with Follow Me Follow You making its way into paperback in 2014.

Photo courtesy of the RNA.

Photo courtesy of the RNA.

I’m attending Conference this year with three books under my belt, the third, What Doesn’t Kill You, racking up the most reviews soIMG_1620 far. I also have a number of short stories appearing in anthologies for the RNA and Choc Lit.

I can’t believe how much has happened since Penrith, and not only for me, but for all The Romaniacs. Between us we’ve had five debuts (and subsequent books) published, a healthy number of competition shortlists and wins, lovely reviews, for which we are always grateful, and agent success. And last year, we won the RNA Industry Media Stars Award, which actually left us speechless. We hope you enjoyed the quiet while it lasted.

This year at Conference, we are hosting a panel entitled, Pals, Pens and Pompoms. Or: How to feel empowered and finding people to cheer you along the way. It promises to be lively, fun, informative, and as ever, open and honest. It’s an event to which we are very much looking forward, and we shall report back once we are refreshed and clear from the Prosecco haze which often accompanies such wonderful gatherings.

Right, I’m off to check my list: Pals: Check. Pens. Check, check. Pompoms: Check, check, check.😀

Laura x

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choc Lit Celebrations!

Here at HQ we do love a celebration, so without further ado …

3

 

Laura: I’ve been writing for Choc Lit for three glorious years now – where has that time gone? Happy 7th birthday to all at Choc Lit. Who’s receiving the bumps?

Jan : I can’t believe it is six months since my debut novel with Choc Lit was published. Proud to be part of the family. Happy 7th birthday! May there be cake, fizz and choccies galore!

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.’

IMG_3334

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

 

IMG_0446

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

3 stooges

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.

 

20151107_140430

 

Love Jan x

Roving Romaniacs and Erica James

An Evening with Erica James.

Skylark

Sue: With three of us Romaniacs located within an hour or so travelling distance of each other, it’s always lovely to be able to get together in between RNA events. So when Laura mentioned that author, Erica James, was giving a talk at Southampton Library, it was the perfect opportunity to catch up. We met beforehand and had supper at an Italian restaurant before heading over to the library. Erica gave a great talk, she came across as warm and funny, as well as very modest. I have to confess to not having read any of her books but after listening to her talk about several of them, I have The Dandelion Years in my sights.

It was also great that we got to meet up with Laura from Lozza’s Book Corner and Shaz  from Shaz’s Book Blog, both lovely ladies and super book reviewers.

Erica James

Catherine :  My first NWS report told me to read Erica James novels to help me learn my craft. I was already a fan and enjoyed doing as they advised. So it was quite special to discover my debut novel was being published on the same day as Erica’s 20th. The chance to meet Erica was great and she had some brilliant advice and insights for everyone at the talk. Here’s to 20 more!

IMG_3024

Laura: It was a fabulous evening, spent with wonderful friends, and I have to thank Laura (Lozza’s Book Corner) for the heads up, as I would not have wanted to miss the opportunity of meeting one of my all-time favourite authors. The first Erica James novel I read was Love and Devotion. It made me cry. It has stayed with me for years. It is a superb example of how to pack an emotional punch and write a beautiful story. Erica was warm, engaging and delightful, and it was an absolute pleasure meeting her. She will continue to be a major influence and inspiration in my writing. I am one very lucky and very happy writer.

IMG_3044