My First Book Deal, and the Authors who Inspired Me to Write … Katie Fforde …

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It’s high time I reacquainted myself with my sadly neglected blog. A lot has happened since I was last here! Following last summer’s exciting RNA conference at Queen Mary University in Mile End, East London, I signed a 3 book deal with the amazing Accent Press. That more than merited its own blog post, but I was so overwhelmed as I dived into the world of deadlines, and having to actually finish the books instead of just talking about them, that time slipped away from me – I’ve soundly slapped myself on the wrist for that and I promise to do better!April blogpicwithpencil final copy!

And now I have a publication date for my début romantic comedy, Sitting Pretty, which is due out on 7th July and which I’m still jumping around with excitement about. So, I decided that in the run up to July, I’d write a monthly blog about my favourite authors, who inspired me to start writing. This is my ever-so-slightly-late post for January, and is inspired by the wonderful, Sunday Times Best-selling author, Katie Fforde.

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The very first Katie Fforde book I bought was Thyme Out. I was working long hours as a chef at the time, and had been dragged along to somebody’s “yard sale”. The only thing that interested me was the table of books, and I left with most of its contents. Of them all, it was Thyme out, the story of Perdita Dylan, a vegetable gardener with an unpredictable ex-husband being groomed as the latest celebrity chef, which cried out for me to read it first. I read the whole book on my day off, then took myself to every bookshop in Dubai to see which other titles I could get hold of. Those I couldn’t find here were soon winging their way from either Amazon or The Book Depository.

Katie’s characters were so real, her heroines so warm and engaging that I couldn’t get enough of them. And there was quite a lot of food in her stories which was, of course, right up my street. The only problem, when the first parcel arrived, was which to read first!

I wondered which of all her novels was Katie’s favourite. Living Dangerously, she told me, because it was her first.  Living Dangerously blog picAnd she said that Living Dangerously‘s Polly Cameron was her favourite heroine, as she had Katie’s own job at that time – cue more food – yay! She also had Katie’s cat and her keep fit class. In fact, she said, Polly was a very much more gorgeous version of herself – very modest, our lovely Katie!

I asked her which novel was the most fun to research and her reply was Summer of Love, where Sian Bishop moves to the country and finds more there than she bargained for.

Katie’s research for the hero, Gus Beresford, took her on a Ray Mears course where, Summer of Love blog picfortunately they didn’t have to kill their food, but they did have to make the fires to cook it with and their own shelters to sleep under. Katie said she just loved it!

Just as Katie was my biggest inspiration to start writing, Georgette Heyer, she told me was hers, with her brilliant characterisation and dialogue. Patrick O’Brian was another author who had Heyer’s knack for bringing characters to life and another of Katie’s inspirations.

Over the coming 5 months, I’ll be blogging about 5 of my other favourite authors who have inspired me to write. I’d love it if you could join me …

 

Authors For Nepal Charity Auction – Still Lots of Bookish Things to Bid on …

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It seems like no time at all since Authors For The Philippines raised funds in their charity auction to help the hurricane-stricken nation. This past week, author Julia Williams, supported by many other generous people from the world of books, put together a new one, called Authors For Nepal. Authors For Nepal is being run through eBay, and there are still plenty of bookish lots to bid on and get that total higher.

Today’s goodies include signed books by Y A author, Eve Ainsworth, and writers’ critiques from Tamsyn Murray and kids’ fantasy author, Stephanie Burgis.

Thursday’s lots include a signed book by sci-fi author, Matt Hughes. There are also signed books from the “Frog” series, a limited edition t-shirt and a school visit from “Frog” author, Joffre White.

Rook by Jane RusbridgeFriday’s offers include two signed books by Jane Rusbridge – “Rook” (pictured), and “The Devil’s Music. She is also offering a writing critique.

Also on Friday there are signed copies of Jenny Harper’s “Face the Wind and Fly” and “Maximum Exposure”, both set in Scotland. And, for those Mills & Boon fans out there, they’ve got a goody bag including ten brand new books.

On Saturday you could bid for an original illustration by Ella Okstad, signed books by Dorothy Koomson, or you could get your hands on twenty modern adult sci-fi books from Angry Robot publishers!

On Sunday, best-selling authors, Julie Cohen and Rowan Coleman are both offering two lots – a signed book each, and a critique of a chapter, synopsis and covering letter, which would be fabulous for any new writer about to start submitting to agents.

Monday is the final day of the auction, and your last chance to bid on a bookish treat whilst helping this very worthy cause.

The Second Exeter Novel Prize …

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The Exeter Novel Prize – A Year On …

Exeter Novel Awards 2015 collecting prize from the mayor!Well, I’m going to have to get the hang of this blogging lark again – I can’t believe it’s been over a year since I last posted something on this page!

But I have been spending my time with my fingertips at the keyboard while multiple casts of characters have continued to run riot inside my head, each wanting their own story to be told.

At the end of the summer I finished writing Kind Hearts & Coriander, the first in a series of romantic comedies inspired by the writing of Trisha Ashley, and did two things with it – I sent it off to an agent who’d already expressed an interest in it, and I entered it into the second Exeter Novel Prize. In both cases I kept my fingers crossed for some nice feedback, but I must admit that I was so shocked when the agent got in touch, offering to represent me, that I forgot all about the ENP! Until the short-list came out at the beginning of February!

So 28th March saw me on a train to Exeter to meet up with my five fellow short-listees -Helena Fairfax, Derryl Flynn, Claire Harvey, Beverly Stark and Bert Tyler-Moore. Helena was the only name I knew, as we are both members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, as are the organisers – Cathie Hartigan, Margaret James, and Sophie Duffy (who unfortunately was poorly and couldn’t be there).

It was a fresh but sunny day, as we gathered at St Stephen’s church hall, a lovely old building, steeped in wartime history. Of course, we all knew the name of literary agent Broo Doherty – the head judge. It was very exciting to hear her comments on our novels – between us we’d written 2 wartime historicals, a contemporary military, a YA time-slip, a contemporary romance, and a rom-com. One by one, and in alphabetical order, the Lord Mayor of Exeter handed out our engraved, finalists’ paperweights, until there was only one finalist left on the little stage …

ENP Finalists

The overall winner was Claire Harvey, congratulations Claire! Her world war 2 novel is due to be published later this year, under the title The Gunner Girl. And I’m looking forward to reading it, as I am all of them!

The ceremony was followed by a  delicious buffet of tempting treats – I certainly didn’t leave hungry!

A big thank you to Cathie, Margaret and Sophie, and all at Creative Writing Matters.

Photograph courtesy ofhttp://www.jaynegordonphotography.co.uk

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Writing in the Sand about the Long & the Short of it … Well, the Long anyway … The Exeter Novel Prize Long-list …

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Well, I’m back after my Christmas and New Year travels – a fab family Christmas back home, New Year fireworks in Dubai, paddling in the Dead Sea, then much walking round the ancient city of Petra, from which my poor tootsies have just about recovered – as I hope, has the poor horse who had to carry me back!

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Here’s hoping you’ve all enjoyed a good start to 2014.
The fifteen writers below certainly have, as they’re the long-listees of the Exeter Novel Prize which was the subject of my first blog post some months back.
So I’d like to say a belated ‘Well done and congratulations!’ to

Sonya Weiss   – 67 Ways to Kill Your Sister,

Heather Reed – A Puff of Madness,

Cathryn & Linsey Davies – Bleeding Empire,

Anne Summerfield – Brighton Revels,

Sarah Palmer – I Wish, I Wish,

Elizabeth Ballagher – Line of Memory,

Jonathan Taylor  – Mellissa,

Daniel Knibb  – New Faces,

Gillian Barr – Pier Terrace,

Su Bristow – Sealskin,

Jean Burnett – Servant of Darkness,

Joan Brennan – The Bean Farm,

Susan Luddem – The Bearded Ladybird,

Barbara Hudson – Timed Out,

Catherine Hamblen –  Trusted,

The shortlist will be announced next month. Good luck to you all …

Writing in the Sand about Favourite Christmas Novels 4 …

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This week I’ve been re-reading Milly Johnson’s 2012 Christmas themed novel, A Winter Flame.

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Published by Simon & Schuster, it’s the story of Eve Douglas, who’s never been fond of Christmas, but who has hated it, since her fiancé was killed in action in Afghanistan on Christmas Day.

Imagine Eve’s surprise and dismay, when her beloved aunt leaves her half of Winterworld, a Christmas theme park she was in the process of creating, in her will. Her dismay deepens, when she  meets the man who’s inherited the other half, the mysterious, annoying, too charming, Jacques Glace.

Although she hates Christmas, Eve has never been one to back away from a challenge. The last thing she wants, however, is to have to work alongside this stranger she believes has wormed his way into her aunt’s will. Her suspicions grow about who he really is and she determines to show him up for the con-man he must be. Then she can take over and finish the plans for the park on her own and run it the way she thinks it should be run – more winter than Christmas.

But Eve didn’t bank on falling ill with a debilitating attack of shingles. While she is incapacitated, Jacques gets on with organising a much more Christmassy park than Eve wants and some hilarious arguments take place. Even more determined to get rid of him, she finds herself with the unexpected opportunity to have a snoop around his home, where she believes she might have finally found evidence of his criminal ways …

There’s a supporting cast of wonderfully vibrant characters – Loved-up Violet and Pav  featured in the earlier novel, White Wedding. Phoebe May Tinker is Eve’s delightfully entertaining little niece. Effin Williams is the rough and ready foreman with a heart of gold, who swears his head off in Welsh at the band of Welsh and Polish workmen.

And then there’s the flame itself – a candle which her fiancé had bought her before leaving for Afghanistan, telling her that as long as it burned, she was his and he was hers. Eve has kept the flame of that candle and its replacements burning continuously for five years.

But five years is a long time. Is it now time for Eve’s frozen heart to melt? And could Jacques be the man to melt it ?

I’m posting this a few days early, this week, as I might not be anywhere near a computer on Sunday. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed re-reading some of my favourite Christmas novels, in the run up to the big day. Now let’s see what books Santa brings …

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful, healthy and Happy New Year!

Writing in the Sand about Favourite Christmas Novels 3 …

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When Carole Matthews chose John Grisham‘s novella Skipping Christmas for this blog, she inadvertently opened up a new experience for me … using an e-reader!

I hesitate to call myself a Luddite, I don’t actually have anything against hi-tech progress – I just take a while to catch up with it! Anyone who’s met me will know I’d be perfectly happy with a quill, some parchment and a stubby candle to read and write by. Oh, and some sealing wax and maybe a delivery page-boy or a carrier pigeon or two …

Anyway, I couldn’t find a copy of Skipping Christmas in any of Dubai‘s few remaining bookshops (I won’t get started on that particular gripe of mine, or I’ll never get to the subject in hand!) So my husband kindly downloaded it onto his iPad for me.

Am I the only person who get’s bleary-eyed using an e-reader? It wasn’t a pleasant sensation and although I know I’ll have to cave in and get one sooner or later, I’m in no hurry. Anyway, somebody’s got to keep the bookshops here in business …

What can I say about Skipping Christmas? It’s the story of tax accountant, Luther Krank, and his bright idea of opting out of Christmas, because his daughter won’t be there for the first time and he’s sick of all the money Christmas is costing him. Personally, I’d call that grounds for divorce, but he manages to talk his reluctant wife into his daft scheme to go on a cruise, for half the amount they spent on Christmas the year before.

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The Kranks live in in a claustrophobic (to my mind anyway) community, where everybody knows everybody else’s business. Instead of letting the Kranks just get on with it, the neighbours conspire to make things as awkward as possible for them. There’s plenty to go wrong in the run up to their cruise departure on Christmas day itself.

It all gets a bit slapstick and a bit predictable, to be honest, as apparently does the film which was made of it, Christmas with the Kranks. But I did quite like the little twist at the end.

John Grisham didn’t reply to any of my requests to find out his favourite Christmas read, so my next post will feature another favourite of mine, Milly Johnson’s A Winter Flame. I’m reading it for the second time and enjoying it as much as I did the first …

Writing in the Sand about Favourite Christmas Novels 2 …

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When I asked Trisha Ashley her favourite Christmas novel, she chose Wrapped up in You, by Carole Matthews. She said she particularly liked it because was so different, and I have to agree – after all, how many Christmas novels take you to the plains of the Maasai Mara?

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Published by Sphere in 2011, Wrapped up in You is the story of 30-something hairdresser, Janie Johnson, whose single status is a constant source of gossip for friends and clients.

Janie’s only half listening, when one of her regular clients enthuses about her recent fabulous holiday in Kenya, although she’s captivated by the amazing photographs.

After a disastrous blind date, and hearing that her ex is not only getting married Christmas week, but is also about to become a father, Janie tells him she’s off to Africa. She doesn’t know why she said it. She had no intention of going away at all. However, with an unwanted suitor stalking her and two weeks’ holiday left, it suddenly seems a great idea.

Leaving her cat, Archibald the Aggressive, in the care of neighbour Mike, who is also single and clearly (although not to Janie) more than a little in love with her, Janie  arrives, with four other travellers, in the baking African heat.

The spectacular scenery and the beauty and nearness of the wildlife aren’t  the only things to take her breath away. Their guide for the trip is Dominic, a tall, handsome Maasai warrior.  By day he shows her the wonders of his homeland. By night he stays outside her tent, to protect her and calm her fears of becoming a hungry lion’s midnight snack.

The week races by and all too soon, Janie’s back in the cold and the rain. She misses Dominic terribly and while her friends think she’s just enjoyed a holiday romance and should forget Dominic, Janie believes there’s more to their relationship. She’s hurt by their attitude towards Dominic and plans to go back and see him again, selling her only good jewellery to pay for the ticket.

When she returns this time, she brings a very special souvenir back with her. But just when her friends should be supporting her happiness, they seem to be doing everything to spoil it … And if you want to know what happens next, you’ll have to read the book!

Carole’s novel for this Christmas is Calling Mrs Christmas, which is calling me loudly from my bookcase and I can’t wait to get started on it. I asked Carole about her favourite Christmas novel and she said Skipping Christmas, by John Grisham. So my next post will be about that and if I can get hold of Mr Grisham, I’ll find out what his favourite is …