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!

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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

Roving Romaniacs and Erica James

An Evening with Erica James.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Guest Post ~ Welcome, Gabrielle Mullarkey

Gabrielle Mullarkey is a novelist, short story writer and journalist, who has worked on women’s magazines for over 20 years. Since gaining her MSc in creative writing for therapeutic purposes in 2014, she works with writing groups for mental health charity Mind, and writes with and for patients at local hospices.

 

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A Tale of Two Sisters, her second novel, takes the reader to the heart of a simmering sibling rivalry that explodes into all-out war!

Having pondered sisterhood while writing the book, she has more question than answers on the bond that can seem like a bind…

Can your sister be your best friend, too?

The art of being a good sister is, to coin a friend’s term, ‘a slippery rabbit’. Anyone who’s tried to cuddle a bunny will know just how mercurial and evasive the fluffy critter is. But even if you do consider yourself close to your sister, is she also your best friend? And if so, is that friendship fostered by shared interests – or is sibling rivalry intensified when sisters follow the same career path or share a passion? Serena and Venus Williams seem to get on OK, despite an intense professional rivalry – but actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, A-lister sisters from Hollywood’s golden age, reputedly fell out over who won the race for an Oscar (Joan beat big sis Olivia in the Best Actress category at the 1942 awards, Olivia bagging the statuette five years later). Joan is even supposed to have said, ‘I married first, won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she’ll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it.’

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Blimey, when you get competitive with your sister about who’ll die first, that takes sibling rivalry to a whole new level!

I’m not sure how I’d feel if either of my sisters wanted to be writers. As they’re both teachers, they may be keeping a competitive eye on each other’s league tables, but I’m happy to let them get on with it, never having felt the urge to scale the north face of OFSTED paperwork. And growing up, I didn’t turn to either of them for advice on school, boys, accessories or anything else – I had my best friend for that.

In fact, one of my BFF’s key roles was to let me moan about my sisters, since we all went to the same school – and this is probably why Nikki in a A Tale of Two Sisters gets some of the best lines in the book as the ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ best bud to Katie, disgruntled sister-at-large. Keeping it real, Nikki listens, commiserates and – while she doesn’t hesitate to point out Katie’s contributory culpability for her all-out war with sister Flick – makes helpful suggestions on resolving the schism, such as offering to go halves on a hitman to take out Flick. To Katie, this confirms the blind loyalty you expect (possibly demand) of a best friend precisely because siblings withhold it.

I don’t know about your family, but in my mine, you could only rally followers to your righteous cause (convincing Mum or Dad the other sister did it and ran away) by excelling at the sort of ‘what’s it worth to side with you?’ horse trading that characterises every episode of House of Cards. In fact, if Kevin Spacey ever gets tired of delivering thousand yard stares and gnomic utterances straight to camera, some of my siblings would welcome an audition…

I’m pretty good at that game myself. But what about my own BFF credentials? Well, I may flatter myself, but I was pretty good at that game as well, because my BFF at school had more brother than sister trouble – and I’ve got four of those blighters!

A Tale of Two Sisters by Gabrielle Mullarkey cover

 

Find A Tale of Two Sisters at:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Tale-Two-Sisters-sisters-boyfriend-ebook/dp/B01CBUPHR2

www.gabriellemullarkey.co.uk

Connect with Gabrielle on Twitter ~ @authorgabrielle

 

Life Cycle of a Writer: When Life gets In the Way

IMG_6365For over two years I’ve struggled with symptoms of ill health which I’d put down to being a woman in her late forties and my rheumatoid arthritis. I’ve experienced headaches that floor me, limbs that can’t support me because they’ve turned to jelly or they’re weighed down with concrete blocks, interrupted sleep, dizziness, nausea, the usual sore and painful joints, and starting each day convinced someone has concertinaed my feet into my shoulders overnight. Every morning I would say to my husband that my pillow was made of rocks.

My focus was shot to pieces and my memory was full of holes. There were times when I struggled to recall people’s names, which I found highly embarrassing as I’ve always been good with people and places. I was fatigued – more so than my usual fatigue that comes with RA – there were days when I couldn’t be bothered to change the channel on the TV because it took too much energy. Thank goodness for my friends and family, who never questioned my actions, or inactions, and who never pushed me to be or do more than that which I felt able.

The symptoms increased – the pain was worse, the headaches lasted longer, the waking up feeling like I’d been in a car crash happened every single day, and I was exhausted. The thing is, I’ve lived with pain for over thirty years. My mind set is that some days are better than others, the bad times will pass, and tomorrow is another day. I’ve always tried to focus on the positive. I never put much emphasis on not being able to run around with the children, choosing instead to enjoy the wonderful times I spent reading to them or listening to them read, watching Barbie or Thomas the Tank Engine videos with them, or simply chatting.

My children are older now, extremely capable and have strong independent streaks. Thank goodness, as this recent bout of poor health knocked me so flat, I couldn’t go out, I couldn’t concentrate for any length of time, and I couldn’t think straight.

And I couldn’t write.

I had book four planned. I knew the characters, the plots and subplots, the issues, the romance, the first twenty thousand words – I had it all, ready to go, but I couldn’t muster the energy to do anything. If I managed to get myself to the computer, headaches would kick in within fifteen minutes and that was me neutralised for the next few hours. I resorted to sitting in a comfy chair in the living room, intending to write longhand, but even that was beyond me, partly down to the lack of focus and headaches, and partly due to my dodgy hands and fingers. I tinkered about a bit on my laptop and it seemed the change of position and the distance of the screen helped for a brief time, but still I wasn’t writing. I was putting together promo pieces for my existing books – creating ads and images to use as pinned tweets. I felt I was doing something positive. Something other than nothing.WDKY Twitter Evie Quote

But I should have been writing.

It became my mantra. I should be writing. I should be writing.

I should be writing.

I’ve always managed to write through the bad times. Always. Why was this so different?

I think I’ve just worked it out; quite literally this minute, as I write this post with hindsight: I didn’t fully understand what had changed and it was hard to see an end to the constant cycle of lack of sleep, fatigue, pain and brain fogginess. At that point there was no promise of a better day, the bad time appeared to have no intention of passing, and tomorrow was another day of much the same. Or worse.

In October 2015, in a regular, scheduled RA appointment, when I explained to my rheumatologist that I lived each day feeling as if I’d walked into a brick wall, that my knees and hips hurt more than normal, that I suspected my jaw was the culprit of the severe headaches, he checked my medical records, gently pressed on a few pressure points around my body, which had me hitting the ceiling, and asked if I experienced other symptoms such as dizziness, lack of sleep and confusion, all to which I said yes. His conclusion surprised me but at the same time, I felt validated.

‘Mrs James,’ he said, ‘it’s fibromyalgia.’

I recall returning home with a sheet of paper which contained addresses of FM websites, in my hand, walking into the living room and my husband asking me if I was all right.

‘Yes’, I replied. ‘But this explains the last few years.’ I handed him the paper, his brow went up, and he nodded.

I hadn’t gone to that appointment seeking answers. I’d gone for my regular RA consultation, but thank goodness for my marvellous doctor and his team. I’ve been again since and between the rheumatology department and my wonderful GP, we are finding a way to move forward with the FM.

The best bit? I’ve managed some serious blocks of sleep and within the last week, I’ve got back the writing bug.

Before finishing, I wanted to thank my publisher for their patience and understanding, and say thank you to all my friends and family for the support, care and space they’ve provided.

I realise this has the potential to be a long and winding road, but today, the sun is shining, my pillow is soft, and I’m excited at the prospect of an empty page.

And tomorrow could be even better.

Take care.

Laura x


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Giselle Green – Dear Dad

img_3901Today, we are honoured to have wonderful writer, and dear friend, Giselle Green on our blog. I caught up with her recently to have a chat about her new novel – here’s what she had to say:

Good morning Giselle, thank you so much for coming onto our blog to share the news of your fantastic new novel, Dear Dad.

  • I was very lucky to have been one of the people you selected to read Dear Dad a while ago, but for those yet to read it, can you tell us a little about it?

 

Thank you for reading it, Lucie! And thank you for inviting me back onto the Romaniacs blog – it’s my pleasure to be here.

What it’s about …

A young war reporter suffering from PTSD who’s lost everything that’s dear to him is faced with a difficult dilemma when multiple letters start arriving mysteriously at his flat. Mistakenly addressed to ‘Dear Dad,’ they’re from a young, bullied kid called Adam who’s desperate for someone to help him out of his misery. Only Nate’s not his dad – and he can’t be anyone’s advocate. He can’t even bring himself to leave his flat. Acquiescing to Adam’s plea, he agrees to visit the boy’s school pretending to be ‘Dad’ just so he can explain to Adam’s teacher what’s going on. As Nate and Adam’s pretty young teacher Jenna fall for each other, Nate soon discovers that some lies, once told, are not so easy to recover from…

  • Where did the idea come from? Do you choose themes to craft your books from or do you let inspiration lead?

 

It’s true I’ve had large themes very much in the forefront of my mind in the past (e.g. Hope, faith and Charity, Justice). For this book, the theme was there all along but it was only after I finished it that I finally recognised what it was – kindness.

On a more mundane level, I wanted to talk about ‘Dads’ – I’ve spoken about the role of Mums so often in the past. I wanted to talk about people who take on the fatherly role even when they weren’t the biological dad.

I also wanted to say something about the social isolation so many people seem to suffer from. Even though we’re living on a planet that’s more densely populated than it’s ever been, loneliness and a sense of isolation are endemic. Those are things that can affect anyone – even previously popular, outgoing, successful people like Nate. He falls from a great height. When we first meet him, he’s got this sense of shame, of having somehow ‘failed’, but it’s only when he reaches out in compassion to someone who’s even worse off than he is, that he can start to find healing.

  • Dear Dad deals with some very real and very heartfelt issues, was it difficult to write?

 

Some of the issues in Dear Dad are a little heart-wrenching – the issue of child carers who go unnoticed in the system, for one. Not because there aren’t the mechanisms in government to help them, but because half the time they simply aren’t picked up. It’s a catch-22 situation for some children – they have no advocate, and because they have no advocate, they don’t get ‘seen’.

Any situation where children are the victims is always hard for me – my heart bleeds for them. But because I used a lighter tone for this book, it wasn’t as hard to write as it might have been. And Adam’s ever-optimistic character that shone through all his troubles so stoically made it easier, too

  • How did you get into the mind-set of a 9 year old? Did you have help from any children?

 

That’s a great question Lucie – I really have no idea where Adam’s mindset came from. It was just … there, automatically. Of all the characters in the book, this vulnerable, savvy 9-year-old arrived the most fully-formed and I loved him from the word go. He was so easy to write that when I finished, I didn’t want to leave him behind. I have had six boys myself, as you know, so maybe I unconsciously drew on some of them, when it came to what it ‘felt’ like to be him. I also had some friends with children of about the right age read through to make sure the ‘Adam’ scenes were true to the age group – you are one of the people I must thank for your input in that department!

You are very welcome!:-)

  • Without giving anything away, was there any part of the book in particular that you found difficult/fun to write?

 

I had so much fun writing the Nate-Adam scenes! They were my favourite ones to write. In those scenes, despite the pathos, I was able to bring a little humour and lightness into my story – something I have been wanting to do for a while.

The scenes which show Nate’s agoraphobic tendencies were tougher. There was the question of actually ‘getting into his head-space’ while I wrote his point of view. For about a week I will confess I felt a bit breathless and reluctant leaving the house – which I put down to being in Nate’s mindset at the outset when he’s really stuck. It wasn’t very comfortable.

  • How long did it take you to write Dear Dad, from concept to finished novel? Do your writing journeys differ from book to book?

 

I had the concept two years ago. I just wasn’t ready to write it then. My initial attempts to get into it threw me back on the realisation that I still had a lot of decisions to make. For instance – was it a father-son story, or a love story, at its heart? I really only got going with it properly this year, so I would say it took a year to write, but maybe six-eight months to get my internal bearings with it.

Yes, every book takes me a different route. I never really feel I know what I’m doing till about half-way to three quarters of the way in, then it all gathers pace. I like to challenge myself with each new book. This book leads with the male perspective – another difficult decision (the first incarnation of this story started with the heroine), but given the subject matter I simply couldn’t do otherwise. I also have three main characters instead of the usual two. While the plot is deceptively simple, writing three people who are closely involved each with the other was a new challenge. My earlier books had a lot more back-story whereas in this one I’ve cut it down to a minimum. The story flows faster and in a more straightforward trajectory as a result. So, there are a lot of departure in this novel, new directions, but I also wanted to maintain what I feel is my stock-in-trade; tempting readers to challenge their perceptions and feelings about certain topics – about what’s right and what’s wrong. I like it when readers feel they’ve been given food for thought

 For anyone who is yet to read your books, how would you describe your writing style? Do you think this has differed at all from your first releases?

  • While my writing style is evolving (see last answer), my voice remains essentially mine with every new book. That means that – although I may reach out to pastures new stylistically – the ‘person’ and the sentiments behind all my stories remains recognisable from one novel to the next. An author can play around with style and genre but they can’t alter who they essentially are. That said, I write first person present tense, and up to now it’s always been from two different characters’ points of view. It can be a pretty intense and ‘close-up’ way of getting into the character’s heads. The reader gets to know them pretty well. However, I made a deliberate choice to use less introspection in this novel, and concentrate more on what the characters were saying and doing.

DEAR DAD has a different timbre to my previous novels, it’s true. It’s lighter and – while it does deal with some dark subjects – they’re not dwelt upon. That was part of the charm of writing about a child. There is something so compelling and magical about the way that children think.

  • Have you began to think about the next project to work on or do you give yourself a well-earned break in between each piece of fiction?

I do like to give myself a break. It’s easy to let yourself become exhausted, otherwise. I’m on the look-out for people and places, tales of people’s lives, and pieces of music that move me and so on, though.

  • What is your favourite way to celebrate finishing a book?

 

I like to give a launch party. Proper party-style, with flowers and fizz and balloons and friends. I haven’t done one in a while, so when the paperback of DEAR DAD comes out in the summer (around June) I plan to do one this year.

Sounds like fun!

For those of you wanting to know more and/or purchase Dear Dad, here it is!

Please click on the book for more details:

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Thank you so much, Giselle. On behalf of the Romaniacs and me, we would like to wish you every success with Dear Dad – I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I did.

Giselle has the following online platforms:

Website – http://www.gisellegreen.com

Facebook Page- https://www.facebook.com/gisellegreenauthor/?fref=ts

Twitter – https://twitter.com/gisellegreenuk?lang=en-gb

Motivation Monday – 14th March

Happy Monday everybody! Time for some of us to share our targets for the week ahead – writing and non-writing related!

Vanessa:
My work-in-progress is with my agent so to stop me obsessively checking my email in-box, I’ve bought a new notebook and am starting to think about the next book so my targets this week are all related to the new idea…

  1. Put together some character notes for the main characters
  2. Develop initial plot ideas – put them into a beat-sheet (from Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat)
  3. Brainstorm ideas for a killer title!

What are everyone else’s plans for the week? I’ll let you know how I got on on Friday!

Vanessa x

Laura: I’m throwing myself into the deep end of novella writing, and aiming for 7000 words by Friday, and attending school-related events in support of my DD & DS.

Catherine: Now that launch week for Waiting for You is over, my only goal is to: FINISH BOOK TWO AND SEND TO EDITOR. It’s currently a rough first draft that needs beating into shape, but I enjoy that bit. I have a couple of weeks to get it done so nose to the grindstone moment! 

 

How about you? Now the spring weather appears to be breaking through how are you staying motivated? What are your goals for this week?

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