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When Writers Get Together.

Posted on 20th July, 2018

Last weekend, along with 200+ other writers, I was at the RNA (Romantic Novelists' Association) Conference in Leeds. Times were when writing was a completely solitary activity for me; and when I say 'times were,' what I mean is: for years; as in, decades. Before you start thinking this makes me extremely old, I hasten to add that I was a child writer, so these decades started when I was in primary school.


Why do some writers keep their writing to themselves? In my case, it was partly through being a private person by nature. It wasn't that I made a conscious decision not to talk about my writing - I just didn't do it. And when I finally did do it, I didn't shout it from the rooftops but chose carefully whom to tell. (Annette and Jacquie, are you reading this?)


Then, a few years ago, I signed up for a writing holiday in Cornwall, during which I discovered the delight of being in the company of other writers. We were all interested in one another's work and experiences and felt confident sharing what we had written, knowing it would be received in an atmosphere of support.


Since then I have been to various conferences, events and workshops and I love them. You never stop learning. You never stop improving your craft. Best of all, being with other writers is a joy. Even if you have lucky enough to have dozens of non-writing friends (and I wouldn't be without mine) who are concerned and interested and sympathetic, the fact is that they don't understand in the same way that other writers do.


Writers will always share what they know and provide encouragement and support. It is a wonderful profession in that respect. Meeting other writers both online and in the real world creates friendships and support networks and can lead to new opportunities.


I am happy to be on my own with my writing most of the time, but I enjoy getting together with writing friends and feel hugely lucky to have made new friends in recent years through my writing. With writer friends around you, success is more exciting and you are buoyed up in times of disappointment.


Best of all, being with fellow writers is fun!



Despatches from the Querying Trenches




Each month, the idea for what I am going to write about on Sue’s lovely blog starts bubbling a few days before I need to put pen to paper. By the time, I settle down to write it, the most of the words are usually fully formed and almost write themselves. This month, that hasn’t happened at all. No bubbling ideas. No fully formed paragraphs. Zip. Zero. Nada. I didn’t even remember the post was due.


That’s because … I haven’t been writing! I’ve sent my edits back to my agent, Felicity and I’m waiting for her to work her magic. It’s the calm after the storm. The eye of the storm …


And it’s been lovely.


Well, except for the exams. My son has been doing A levels and my daughter GCSEs and the process has not been entirely stress-free (understatement of the century!). But, now that that’s over, I have been having a magnificent time on the dig.


We’re excavating a Roman ‘something’ at the top of a wooded hill about three miles from where we live. It might be a temple, it’s more likely to be a farmstead … who knows. That’s part of the fun.


We are (mostly!) competent amateurs under the direction of the South Oxfordshire Archaeological Group (who are very competent). Whilst we hope to find something earth-shattering, if it’s too exciting, the dig may well be given to the professionals - so we’re careful what we wish for!

Anyway, I love it there - the digging (much better than the gym!) the surveying, the camaraderie, the introspection, the FUN! And it’s so beautiful!


This was the view from the Portaloo in the spring!


Many of you will know that an archaeological dig is the setting for Book Two - affectionately nicknamed Muddy Milly. All that trowelling and sifting and daydreaming and people-watching is also research. I don’t think a writer ever really switches off. This one doesn’t anyway – I often stop to write a phrase, an idea or a plot twist into my phone. There’s just so much inspiration!


So, that’s been much June.


Not much writing.


Lots of fun!


Whatever you are doing this summer, I hope you have found your happy place too and have a lovely July.






What a week! As well as hardback and e-book publication of A Respectable Woman, this week also marks the first book-birthday of The Deserter's Daughter. Publication day, June 22nd 2017, passed in a haze of excitement. I had wanted to be a published author ever since I was a child, though for many years as an adult I never actually submitted any of my work to agents or publishers.


On publication day, we celebrated with an afternoon tea for friends in the Imperial Hotel on the sea-front here in Llandudno. Some of my friends presented me with a fabulous flower arrangement - complete with an S in pink roses; cotton-wool flowers created by the florist (cotton = Manchester, the setting for The Deserter's Daughter); and all housed in a genuine 1920s mixing bowl, for my 1920s story.



There have been lots of wonderful moments since last year's publication day....


... such as the first time I saw my book in the library catalogue in Llyfrgell Llandudno Library....
...and my first shelfie... 
...though in a year of special moments, possibly the best was hearing The Deserter's Daughter being read as a talking book by Julia Franklin, who for years has been one of my two favourite audiobook readers. Having my book read by Julia is pure cherry-on-the-cake stuff!


Special moments, wonderful as they are, are just that: moments. I can honestly say that the best thing of all about the past year has been the friendship and support of all the people, both writers and non-writers, who have been part of my writing life; and in that group I include all the readers whom I have never met but who have tried out the book by this new author.


Thank you to everyone who has connected with me in the real world or the virtual world. I am grateful to you all.



It's the beginning of June and that means it's time for Kirsten to look back and tell us what went on last month.


And maybe it's time to change the series title from The Querying Trenches, Kirsten...?


* * * *


So now I have an agent, it’s all going to be a smooth-sailing, dream come true, happy ever after stuff …


Sort of ...

My agent, Felicity, is totally brilliant and lovely. Her editorial suggestions all make perfect, intuitive sense. All I need do is:

  • Streamline the first chapters so we get into the action more quickly.

  • Include a happy ‘before’ scene so we can see how far the protagonists fall.

  • Feed in one of the sub-plots gradually - rather than an info-dump at the beginning.

Then a final polish and off to the publishers.


This, of course, is what I should have done:

1. Read through my notes

2. First draft of changes

3. Edit and polish changes

4. Celebrate

This is what actually happened:

1. Brilliant! All makes perfect sense. And there’s actually very little to do

*goes shopping*

2. It’s all so blindingly obvious I should have thought of it myself. What sort of writer am I? Felicity must think I’m crap. I think I’m crap

*jet washes patio*

3. *Opens laptop. Closes laptop. Colour-co-ordinates wardrobe*

4. So, this is what they mean by ‘The Fear’. I can’t do this. I don’t know where to start. Oh God. And now Felicity’s going to be sorry she’s signed me up. It will be the shortest agent/ writer relationship in history. Everyone will laugh at me. I’ll have to move continents …

5. *Binge-attempts African countries quiz. Now know exactly where Burkino Faso is. V useful for future WIPs. Not that will have agent … *

6. * Eats body weight in chocolate*

7. *Chocolate hangover*

8. Maybe Felicity will make the changes for me if I ask really nicely. Maybe she could be co-author …

9. *Attempts quiz of 2013 USA baby names. Useful research for future projects. What kind of name is Genesis anyway?*

10. This is a disaster. I really need to get started

11. *Opens document and cracks on*

12. All this slashing and burning and killing darlings is very therapeutic.

13. It’s reading much better

14. This is fun!

15. *Celebrates with a Curly Wurly*

16. This new chapter is tricky. The word count is going up …

17. So this is what they mean by The Fear …

18. *Repeats cycle again*

19. *And again*

20. *And again*

Somehow, though, I’ve culled 7,000 words, added the new chapter and am midway through feeding in the subplot. So, maybe it doesn’t matter how you do it, so long as you get on and do something.

Onwards and upwards!

I hope you’re all having a magnificent June.


So here's a question for you: who is reading this?


Recently I was involved in an online conversation, which started with the question: what constitutes a successful blog? The number of visits? The number of comments? In my case, those two numbers are wildly different. For example, in April my blog was visited by 840 people a total of 1,459 times. Yet my blogs receive very few comments by comparison.



So far this month, 96 people have visted my Welcome page a total of 140 times; and I'm thrilled about that, because since the start of the year, I have made a point of putting something new on the Welcome page every week. I like to think that readers appreciate that. When I look at other websites, I find it disheartening when some pages stay the same for months on end. I want my website to have something fresh every week, even if it only an update of the books I am reading/listening to and a link to a blog from the archives in the weeks when there isn't a new blog.


Similarly, by posting new photos of Llandudno on a semi-regular basis, I have encouraged more people to take a look and the 'Llandudno' page has substantially increased in popularity.


So: back to the original question. Who is reading this? Who are these lovely folk who take an interest in my website? I would love to think that some people are here because they enjoyed The Deserter's Daughter and they're looking forward to A Respectable Woman... but I have no way of knowing.


I know that plenty of people read blogs without ever leaving a comment, just as there are countless avid readers who have never posted a book review. If just one or two of you would take a deep breath and leave a comment to say, "Hi. I'm here because I read The Deserter's Daughter.... because I stumbled across your Llandudno page.... because I thought it was due to be one of Kirsten's guest blogs this week(!)...," I would be so chuffed. Go on: you know you want to....




This week, I am delighted to welcome Kate Field to my blog. Kate is the author of The Magic of Ramblings and  The Truth About You, Me and Us, both of which are contemporary romance novels about relationships and romance, and both of which I highly recommend. I enjoyed The Magic of Ramblings so much I named my cat Cassie after the heroine!


Kate is here to contribute to my occasional series, What I Learnt From....


* * * *



What I learnt from… taking part in an anthology


For the last couple of years, I’ve been a member of a writing group called Authors on the Edge, made up of romantic fiction authors from across Yorkshire and Lancashire. We meet several times each year in Hebden Bridge, a pretty Yorkshire town close to the border with Lancashire, to have lunch, catch up on writing news and to cheer and comfort each other as needed.


I couldn’t believe my luck when I was asked to join: the other members are a hugely talented bunch, and include Mary Jayne Baker, Sophie Claire, Jacqui Cooper, Helena Fairfax, Melinda Hammond, Marie Laval, Helen Pollard and Angela Wren.


Over lunch last summer, Helena asked whether we’d be interested in joining together to produce an anthology of stories. Everyone loved the idea and the theme was swiftly settled: we would write about a mysterious character called Miss Moonshine and her quirky shop, where people found what they needed rather than what they wanted.


That was the easy part – then we had to write the stories and put it all together in a book! I’m delighted to say that we’ve done it and as I’m writing this, we’re looking forward to publishing Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings on 18 May.


I’ve learnt a few things from the experience:


The book cover is crucial. It’s an obvious point, but I’ve never seen the effect of it before. We were incredibly lucky, as Mary Jayne Baker is a graphic designer and she produced our cover for us. It’s absolutely gorgeous! The anthology became a bestseller on Amazon within a week of going up for pre order, and I’m sure the cover paid a large part in that.


I can write outside my ‘comfort zone’. So far, I’ve only written full length novels set in Lancashire, so it felt quite a challenge to be asked to write a short story set in Yorkshire! I also found it difficult at first to write about a character that I hadn’t invented myself and spent time developing. Having said that, I came to love Miss Moonshine and now I’ve read all the stories, it’s remarkable how we have all written such a similar character!


Even in a joint project, I need to find my own ‘voice’. My novels tend to be character-driven rather than plot-driven, and I struggled for a long time with how to develop the characters as I wanted to, in roughly one tenth of my usual word count. There were a couple of times when I didn’t think I could do it and wondered whether to drop out, so I didn’t spoil the anthology with a rubbish story. Even when I made it to the end of the first draft, it didn’t feel right, but I couldn’t say why. Then, after putting the story aside for a while, I realised what I should have done with it from the start. I made some changes and I knew immediately that the story now sounded like ‘me’. It was a huge relief! One of the things I love most about the anthology is that I can hear each individual author’s ‘voice’ in their story, even though we were starting from the same idea.


I’m not good at sticking to word counts. We were supposed to aim for 8-10,000 words. Mine weighs in at over 11,000. I gratefully accepted Helena’s advice: a story is as long as it needs to be!


It’s much easier to promote an anthology. I hate doing ‘buy my book’ type posts on social media. ‘Buy our book’ posts don’t seem anywhere near as pushy, as I can convince myself I’m doing it for the other authors!


It’s always an anxious time waiting for reviews to arrive on a new book. I didn’t think it could be more nerve-wracking, but now I’ve found it can be! I live in dread of the reviewer who loved all the stories except mine. I would hate to let the team down.



Self-publishing isn’t as scary as I thought it would be. This is largely thanks to the members of Authors on the Edge who have self-published before and know what they are doing! But it’s been good to be in control of every detail: the blurb, the cover, the marketing strategy, the timing of publication… Everything has been done the way we wanted, when we wanted, so it really feels like ‘our’ project. A committed group of writers can knock the socks off many publishers when it comes to preparing for publication.


Probably the most important one – it’s so much more fun to publish a book with friends! Perhaps Miss Moonshine might consider opening a second branch in Lancashire one day and we can do it all over again…






Twitter: @katehaswords    





Miss Moonshine's Emporium of Happy Endings on Kindle   



Well, here it is, the one we have all waited for ever since Kirsten started writing her guest blogs at the beginning of last year.....



Despatches from the Querying Trenches – April







So, this was the month *it* happened.


The month I signed to an agent.




It’s been thrilling! Exhilarating, overwhelming and probably not an exaggeration to say one of the most exciting things ever to happen to me.


You may remember from my last post, three weeks ago, that I’d just sent my revised full manuscript to six agents. As with the previous round of submissions, I think I was expecting some nice comments about my writing together with the usual ‘didn’t quite love it enough,’ and ‘not quite right for our list’. You know the sort of thing! And that was fine, I decided … it was my debut novel, I’d revised it a couple of times, I could do so again. But there was always, always that little glimmer of hope. Maybe this time I’d be lucky …


And I was!


In fact, I was lucky enough to have a little flurry of interest from several agents. And two rejections - there are always rejections, aren’t there? Then Felicity Trew from the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency sent me a lovely email saying how much she had enjoyed the book and how she’d stayed in her dressing gown all Sunday to finish it and would I like to come up to London to discuss it with her? Wow!


I’d seen Felicity speak at the RNA Conference last year and really liked her energy and enthusiasm and obvious passion - and she was one the Bookseller’s Rising Stars of 2016 - and, running a boutique agency myself, I was keen to be represent by one …. Anyway, it was safe to say I was very, very excited. And funnily enough, when I saw where the agency is - three minutes’ walk from Notting Hill Gate - that was the icing on the cake. Not that I’d chose an agent based solely on location, obviously, but Notting Hill has a very special place in my heart. My uncle and late aunt used to have an antiques stall on the Portobello market and my sisters and I would visit the market on a Friday, buy some old tat and then spend the afternoon cleaning it up before trying to flog it on the stall the next day. Oh, the excitement! When I was about ten, I bought a silver spoon for 20p and sold it for £2.50 and then there was that little teak condiment set that made £3 profit and ….


Anyway, I digress! I met the same uncle - now 90 and still living the high-life - for lunch and then went to meet Felicity, Caroline and Georgia at the agency and then Felicity swept me down the street to Polpo for tea.


We got on like a house on fire and then she offered to represent me and said she’d like to take my book to The London Book Fair later that week. Honestly, it was brilliant! I was so excited that I couldn’t finish the gorgeous orange meringue I’d ordered. I finished the bubbly though.




So here am I with an agent and feeling a curious mixture of pride, relief, excitement and fear. To be honest, it feels a bit weird. When you decide to attempt the traditional publishing route, getting an agent becomes everything. It’s almost the goal in itself and you have shamefully little idea of what happens next. Or, at least, I don’t. It’s a bit like scrambling up a very steep hill with lots of slipping and sliding and once you haul yourself over the edge, yes, there’s the gorgeous vista you’d hoped for but there but there are also mountains in the distance and you realise you have no idea how to scale them. Luckily, I’m now part of a team and I love the feeling of moving from ‘me’ to ‘us’. It’s wonderful discussing possible editorial and title changes with someone who not only ‘gets’ my book but also loves it and is really excited to be representing it and me.


I’m very, very happy indeed!


And I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way and who has shared in my excitement over the last week or so. Thanks so much for the messages and the cards and the flowers.


You’re all fantastic!



In two months, on June 21st, my second saga for Allison & Busby, A Respectable Woman, will be published. Recently I blogged about how my heroine, Nell Hibbert, came by her name. This week, I thought I'd show you the possible blurbs I wrote for the book.


It may surprise you to know that the author doesn't write the blurb that appears on the book. That is the job of the publishing elves. But the elves like to have a bit of guidance and so I was asked to produce a blurb for them to take as their starting point.


So I wrote three blurbs. Why? Well, to provide as much information as possible for the elves to choose from. The first blurb was almost all about Nell, the heroine; the second introduced other characters and story elements; and the third concentrated on Nell and Jim, the hero.


(Incidentally, the other thing about being asked to produce a blurb is that you are given a word count. Mine was to write a blurb of approximately 200 words. All three of mine are exactly 200. Result!)


I have published them all here. What do you think of them?


* * * *


A Respectable Woman - blurb 1


After losing her beloved family in the Great War, Nell is grateful to marry Stan Hibbert, believing that with him, she can recapture the loving family feeling she has lost. Five years on, she is just another back-street housewife, making every penny do the work of tuppence and performing miracles with scrag-end. When she discovers that Stan is leading a double-life, she runs away to make a fresh start elsewhere.


Two years later, in 1924, Nell has carved out a fulfilling new life for herself and her young children in Manchester, where her neighbours believe she is a respectable widow, as do her fellow-workers in the garment factory where she is a talented machinist. Even her children believe their father is dead. Nell lives for her children and tries hard not to fall in love with Jim Franks, the handsome window cleaner who does so much to help her. After all, she is really a married woman.


When a figure from the past turns up, Nell has to face a court case. Will the respectable life she has fought for be enough to allow her to keep her children or will her lies mean she will lose them forever?



* * * *


A Respectable Woman - blurb 2


Manchester, 1924. Nell Hibbert has a secret. Her back-street neighbours and her fellow-workers in the garment factory admire her as a hard-working, respectable young widow, but really she is the runaway wife of a duplicitous husband. Over the past two years, she has carved out a fulfilling new life for herself and her young children and believes her shameful past is behind her.


Nell's dear friend, Leonie Brent, has a secret. Her overbearing son-in-law is making her life a misery, but she can't speak out because she can't bear to upset her daughter. Besides, what would the neighbours think?


Leonie's young granddaughter Posy also has a secret. Her charming father is really a cruel bully and her mother pretends not to know.


Jim Franks has no secrets. Everyone knows he is a former solicitor who has worked as a window cleaner since the War while coming to terms with deep-rooted feelings of loss. He is in love with Nell, but what can he do to make her notice him?


When a figure emerges from Nell's past, she and her friends face fresh challenges as hidden truths emerge, relationships are strained and Nell is threatened with losing her beloved children.



* * * *


A Respectable Woman - blurb 3


1924, Chorlton, Manchester. Life is looking up for young widow Nell Hibbert. She and her two small children live with a loving elderly couple and Nell's skill with the sewing machine enables her to get a desirable job as a sewing machine demonstrator in a department store. Discovering a flair for teaching inspires her to think of working for herself. Could a lass from the back-streets really do that? Nell devotes her life to her children and her work, while trying not to fall in love with Jim Franks. He may be the perfect man for her, but Nell Hibbert has a secret. She isn't a widow; she is a runaway wife.


Jim Franks has no secrets. Everyone knows he was a well-to-do solicitor before the War. Now he works as a window cleaner while coming to terms with deep-rooted feelings of loss. He loves Nell but can't get her to notice him. His former fiancee, the elegant Roberta, on the other hand, is eager to get back together.


When a figure emerges from Nell's past, she must face a court case. Can Jim help her keep her beloved children? And can Nell and Jim find the happiness they deserve?



* * * *


So there they are, my three attempts at writing a blurb for A Respectable Woman. Which do you think is best? Do leave a comment and tell me. And if you like the sound of Nell's story, I hope you'll put in a library request for it.



After a break for Easter, it's time for Kirsten's monthly round-up of what has been going on in her writing life. Here is her look back at March.




Despatches from the Querying Trenches




Well, that was March. Allegedly. I usually associate my birthday month with sap rising and woolly lambs and fat, oozing buds. I’m sure all that was going on behind the scenes as it should have been but, for us, March was all about rain and sticky mud every time we tried to go to the archaeological dig or out for a walk. At least we could make up for it with roaring fires and buttery hot cross buns at home …


But never mind all that. For me, March was mainly all about …




Yes, March was (finally) the culmination of the past six months’ editing. All that work, the hopes and dreams, the fun and excitement and creative endeavour. All that agonising, all those doubts, the slashing and burning, the venting over family and friends. And please don’t even get me started on the synopsis!!


At the end of the day, it really all comes down to a handful of emails, doesn’t it?


As the self-styled queen of procrastination, I set myself a deadline and decided that I would submit while I was on a retreat with the fantastic Place to Write. I’ve been on a couple of their retreats before, indeed I have become good friends with the wonderful Moira and Jane who run it, and as I mentioned last month, I knew there would be fantastic food and cake and tea and wine and support and encouragement.



I got all that in spades. It was set in fantastic half-timbered house in Weobley complete with secret Narnia cupboard and lots of lovely nooks and crannies in which to write. Not only that but there was the best yoga session ever, complete with chocolate buttons (I know!) and blankets. I didn’t drop off - honest. There were laughs galore devising covers for possible - but highly unlikely - future projects (and I’m looking at you very severely here Christine Manby!!) There was also this lovely birthday cake complete with fabulous candelabra candle! What more could an aspiring writer ask for?



I worked hard all retreat, polishing the manuscript and synopsis and getting rid of surplus that’s, justs and anyways. (There were lots of them. Nearly enough to fill a novella!) It all took longer than Id’ anticipated and I ended up working in bed until 4am on the last night and still not quite finishing but it was worth it ….




Two days later, I was ready to press ‘send’. Such a gentle, almost anticlimactic, culmination to all that work. And once my submission had gone, I noticed the typos ….


So, now the waiting starts, I am resisting the tempatation to press send/ receive all the time. OK, I am sending send/ receive all the time!! And also trying to get on with Book 2.


Wish me luck!


I’d like to say a big thank you to Jane Ayres, Julie Cordiner and Chris Manby who were kind enough to read the full and to give me their feedback and to all the LLs who helped so much with the synopsis.


I hope you all have a great April and may all your writing dreams come true.


A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about the book that made my best friend at school ignore me. This was the book – On the Night of the Seventh Moon, one of Victoria Holt's wonderful gothic novels. My friend was so engrossed in it that she spent all break-time reading it instead of talking to me; and once I started reading it, I understood why and I asked for all Victoria Holt's books for my birthday.


In that blog, I wrote: "Oh, how I loved those books. All those creepy mansions in Cornwall! All those governesses in peril! Thanks to Victoria Holt, to this day I have a feeling that the heroine's being in fear for her life is a basic requirement of the climax of a novel. And when I read a book in which this doesn't feature – which, let's face it, is nearly every book – I always feel a faint sense of surprise that a book can be perfectly enjoyable without this “essential” ingredient!"




.... which is why I wrote the chase-through-the-fog scene in The Deserter's Daughter.


There isn't a scene of mortal peril for the heroine in my new novel, A Respectable Woman, but I have paid homage to Victoria Holt in another way. You may know that the real name of Jean Plaidy / Victoria Holt / Philippa Carr was Eleanor Burford, who when she married became Eleanor Hibbert.



In honour of Eleanor Burford Hibbert and the effect she had on my writing life, I have named my new heroine Nell Hibbert. Let me tell you about her.


Nell had a wonderful childhood in a loud, laughing, loving family; but adult life, in the shape of the Great War, has been unkind to her. Her marriage, far from being a duplicate of her happy early life, has taught her to stand firmly on her own two feet and she is a determined, capable person; but beneath the feisty spirit, she is a real softy, who adores her children and likes nothing better than to spend her time playing with them. As Leonie, her dear friend and landlady, says of her, "Nell is the biggest kid of all."



When Nell discovers that her husband is leading a double-life, she runs away to make a fresh start for herself and her young children in Manchester, where her neighbours and fellow-workers believe she is a respectable widow. Nell realises various things about herself in the course of her story; that she is imaginative, talented and ambitious; that love can sneak up on you; and, hardest of all, that the past is difficult to run from.


When Nell was coming to life in my mind, I wanted her to be the sort of person I'd like to be friends with. I hope you'll want to be friends with her too.


A Respectable Woman will be published in June in hardback. I hope you'll put in a pre-publication request for it at your local library.