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Welcome to my new series called What I Learnt From..., in which writers share what they have learnt from a particular aspect of their work; maybe from a brilliant course they attended, maybe from working with an editor, maybe from receiving a useful critique or entering a competition.

 

I am delighted to welcome Heidi Swain here today to start off the series. As you can see, she is looking very sparkly - and deservedly so, after the success of a string of novels for Simon & Schuster.

 

Many thanks for agreeing to be the first writer to contribute to this series, Heidi. It is lovely to welcome you back here again.

 

 

What I learned from… writing 6 books

 

Heidi Swain

 

Hello everyone and welcome to my ‘what I learned from’ contribution to this fabulous feature which is the brainchild of lovely Sue. As always I would like to kick things off by thanking my host for inviting me to take part and giving me the opportunity to have a long hard think about what I have learned during my writing journey, even if it has made for some pretty awkward soul searching.

 

You see, I thought it would be fun to share with you what I have learned about my writing process during the last three years. In that time (or just over), I have produced 6 books, all of which will have been published by summer 2018 and may even be gracing the shelves and e-readers of a few of you. However, some of what I discovered when I sat down and really thought about the process of writing them, was difficult to accept. The dream versus reality was a bit of a shock to the system.

 

You could be forgiven for thinking that having gone through the routine 6 times already, 5 of those with a tight publishing schedule to stick to, that I would have got the nuts and bolts pretty much in place by now, but when it comes to writing summer books, ie those that will hit the shelves in time for the summer hols, there seems to be an unexpected pattern forming. I have found that writing a Christmas book is a totally different kettle of fish and from what I can work out it all comes down to timing.

 

 

Last year the pattern began to form as I was writing Coming Home to Cuckoo Cottage and this year it’s transpired again with the as yet untitled Novel Number 6. The story is set, the plot is planned (to the same degree as I always plan), words are written, (in this instance around 30,000 of them)… and then it all goes belly up.

 

What, in theory at least, back in June looked like a couple of clear months to nail the first draft are rudely interrupted by academic holidays, Christmas edits and all manner of other commitments which kick in and it is at this point that I abandon progress in favour of trawling over the first ten or so chapters. I edit, I fiddle, I readjust and rethink and all the while my head is telling me to just get on with it, but I don’t. For a while I cave, and I fiddle and I think and I readjust.

 

And then, just when I think I’ve reached crisis point, the switch if flicked and I’m off and running. This year I wrote 67,714 words in 20 days which, added to the 30,000 I already had, meant that I had a solid first draft by the beginning of September.

 

 

Having gone through the agony of it once with Cuckoo Cottage I had no idea why I didn’t rethink and put off writing Novel Number 6 until I had properly cleared the decks, but what I do know is that my readers love Cuckoo Cottage, so clearly there was no harm done and knowing me, I’ll do it all again next summer. Perhaps it’s like childbirth – the memory of the pain is diminished between labours to ensure the future of humankind!

 

I’m teaching a one day ‘writing a novel’ workshop later this year and I know I’ll be advocating the ‘don’t look back’ philosophy but coupled with that, now that I am aware that I don’t actually practice all that I preach, I’m going to be throwing in a healthy dose of ‘acceptance and adaptability’ as well.

Every author has a different way of doing things and we can read all about their methods and perhaps even give what works for them a go, but actually, when it comes to getting the words down, the most important thing that I have learned is that we need to find our own way and embrace it. Don’t apologise that it doesn’t conform, just accept it and write with it. Be confident in what works for you and yes, please do feel free to get in touch next summer and ask if I’m making a muddle of it all over again!

 

 *

 

Heidi Swain Author Bio

Although passionate about writing from an early age, Heidi Swain gained a degree in Literature, flirted briefly with a newspaper career, married and had two children before she plucked up the courage to join a creative writing class and take her literary ambitions seriously.

 

A lover of Galaxy bars, vintage paraphernalia and the odd bottle of fizz, she now writes feel good fiction with heart for Simon and Schuster.

 

Her debut novel, The Cherry Tree Café was published in July 2015 (paperback June 2017) and Summer at Skylark Farm hit the shelves the following June. Mince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas Market was a hugely successful Christmas 2016 release and her fourth book, Coming Home to Cuckoo Cottage was published in July 2017. She is currently preparing for her October 2017 Christmas release, Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at The Christmas Fair.

Heidi lives in Norfolk with her wonderful family and a mischievous cat called Storm.

 

Links

Heidi's website 

Her Twitter page

Chat with her on Facebook  

Heidi's author page on Amazon 

Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells:

Kindle edition

Paperback edition

That September Feeling

Posted on 1st September, 2017

To me, September has long felt like a time for new beginnings. It comes from having been a teacher, when September is a long month full of starting afresh with a new class of children (and aren't they tiny compared to the ones you said goodbye to in July!), learning their names and personalities, their strengths and needs, and helping them to settle in to their next year at school.

 

Even though I left teaching four years ago, I still get that "new beginnings" feeling at this time of year; and this year it is particularly apt as I am busy writing book proposals for my agent to put forward.

 

I'm also looking ahead to the release of The Deserter's Daughter in audiobook form, published by Isis Soundings. I'm especially delighted because I heard this week that it is going to be read by one of my favourite readers, Julia Franklin. I love audiobooks and have a couple of shelves of the ones I can't live without. A quick count revealed that no fewer than nine are read by Julia Franklin - and now she is going to read my book as well!

 

Looking ahead on the blog, I'll soon be launching a new series called What I Learnt From... in which authors will reveal where their good practice came from and share some top writing tips along the way.

 

The lovely Heidi Swain has already told me that hers will be called What I Learnt From... Writing Six Novels.

 

 

Other writers who will be joining in include indie romance writer Julie Stock, rom com author Maddie Please, contemporary romance writer Emma Davies and paranormal and historical romance author Jacqueline Farrell.

 

 

And Kirsten will be returning with her regular round-ups of her writing life.

So that's what lies ahead on the blog. I hope you'll join me here throughout the autumn.

 

 

Off On My Blog Travels... Week 2

Posted on 6th August, 2017

This week I am delighted to be the guest on my friend Jan Baynham's blog. Jan and I have been online friends for some time and we met in the real world for th first time last summer at the RNA Conference in Lancaster. This photo is of us at this summer's RNA Conference in Shropshire.

 

Jan's blog is always of interest to writers, being a mixture of interviews with writers and posts about her own experiences as a writer and a reader.

 

I hope you will join us on her blog this week. I loved answering her questions - including:

- which came first, the plot or the characters?

- how much editing did I have to do on The Deserter's Daughter?

- do I have a writing routine?

 

Oh yes, and I also share some sneak preview information about my next book.

 

Here's the link: Jan Baynham's blog  I hope to see you there!

 

 

Off On My Blog Travels...Week 1

Posted on 30th July, 2017

This week I am guesting on the Jaffa Reads Too blog, answering Jo's questions about my writing and my northern roots.

 

You can read the interview here.

 

 

For a long time, I was a solitary writer. I put this down to a mixture of two things. Firstly, I am an introvert by nature; and secondly, I was a child writer. A couple of school friends had a go at writing because of me, but they didn't stick with it for long, so I grew up thinking of writing as being something you did on your own.

 

But I have learned that writers need other writers, and here are three resons why:

 

 

Writers are interested in writers

 

For years, I was happy writing on my own. Then, at a very difficult time (let's just say I found myself unexpectedly single), I saw an ad for a writing holiday by the sea in Cornwall and I signed up for it. It was the first time I had ever had the chance to talk about writing with people who understood. The fact is that it doesn't matter how interested or sympathetic your non-writing friends are: they don't truly understand because they've never done it.

 

Writers are always interested in other writers - in their work, their careers and their experiences. Writers will always share what they know and provide encouragement and support. It is a wonderful profession in that respect.

 

 

Networking works

 

I used to be sceptical about this. To me, it was one of those annoying management-speak terms and therefore not to be taken seriously. But I am a convert.

 

Meeting other writers both online and in the real world creates friendships and support networks and can lead to new opportunities.

 

 

It's fun!

 

This time last week, I was at the RNA Conference in Shropshire, meeting up with existing friends (hi, Kirsten, Jan, Sue, Jackie and Kate; sorry you couldn't be there, Julie) and making new friends (hi, Jane, Cass, Kitty, Alison, Maggie and Christy). I also finally met in the real world two writers I have known for yonks online - Heidi Swain and Wendy Clarke.

 

The RNA kitchens are the place to be. There is laughter and gossip and maybe even the odd drink or two. Our kitchen was better than all the others because we had palm-reading. Yes, really. Thanks, everyone who made the Conference such fun, especially my lovely friend Kirsten, who always makes me laugh.

 

*

 

If you are a solitary writer, have I convinced you that it's time to come out of your cave and meet some like-minded people?

 

 

A Trip Around Wynbridge With Heidi Swain

Posted on 8th July, 2017

This week, to celebrate the forthcoming publication of Heidi Swain's latest novel, Coming Home to Cuckoo Cottage, she and I have got together to bring you an interview with a difference: a walk around Wynbridge, the delightful setting for Heidi's books.

 

Welcome to Wynbridge everyone! I’m delighted you have been able to join me on a little trip around the pretty town which has provided the backdrop for all of my novels so far.

 

Let's get a sense of the size of Wynbridge. Is it big enough to have its own secondary school or do the teenagers go elsewhere every morning?

 

The population of Wynbridge is hovering around the 18,000 mark now and the town not only boasts its own secondary school, but also a small college and attached horticultural unit. I’m delighted to say that the school places a high value on the importance of understanding the countryside it is set in and has both a well subscribed allotment and poultry club.

 

How about shopping? Boutiques and independents or high street chains? With a nod to my friend Jen Gilroy, I have to ask - does Wynbridge have a good shoe shop?

 

Wynbridge, like most market towns, has quite a mix of shops. As you may recall from Mince Pies and Mistletoe, there is a modern out of town retail-park but the little streets around the market square, where The Cherry Tree Café is located, has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years and has a number of small independent boutique style shops. What with the quiches and cakes on offer and the unique shops, the town centre is the perfect place to look for unusual gifts and pretty treats.

 

With regards to shoe shopping, I’m afraid, when it comes to footwear, the townsfolk are generally a practical bunch and the local stores sell far more wellington boots than kitten heels. However, I’m fairly certain there’s a budding design student at the college just waiting to spread their wings and establish their own brand of more stylish footwear!

 

Where do Wynbridge folk go for coffee and a natter? (I think we all know the answer to this one!)

 

For coffee and a catch-up it has to be The Cherry Tree Café of course. It doesn’t matter whether you turn up on your own or with a group of friends, a warm welcome is always on offer along with a variety of Jemma’s mouth-watering bakes.

 

What about eating out? Anywhere romantic? Good place for families? Decent pub food?

 

The Mermaid, run by Jim and Evelyn serves up great pub food and has its own restaurant area as well as a small garden which makes it popular with families. The menu is pretty much as you’d expect but Evelyn insists on using local, seasonal ingredients wherever possible and her cooking is top shelf. The pub also offers entertainment in the evenings and has even been known to host the occasional Christmas dinner!

 

If it’s a romantic evening out you’re planning then I would head to the little Italian in the arcade. It has been run by the same family since it opened its doors in the seventies and is hugely popular. It is always fully booked and families are as welcome as smooching couples.

 

Is Wynbridge a place the youngsters grow up wanting to get away from.... and if they do leave, is it somewhere they end up wanting to return to? Indeed, can they return? Do house prices permit it?

 

Lots of youngsters go off and spread their wings but there’s something special about the place that pulls many of them back. It’s something of a haven I guess, not too big to get lost in but not quite small enough to feel claustrophobic.

 

There’s a fine line between cosseting and gossiping and, as with anywhere where everyone knows everyone else, that line does become a little blurred sometimes, but by and large Wynbridge is a wonderful place to live… and love! Both Lizzie and Ruby headed home when times were hard and their hearts were soon mended.

 

In line with the rest of the country house prices are rising all the time but the council is very much in favour of providing affordable housing and the surrounding villages have even tougher regulations than the town when it comes to new build quotas. I would like to think that there was a home to suit everyone’s pocket in Wynbridge but in reality that may not be the case.

 

How old are the oldest houses? Is there new development? Was Wynbridge mentioned in the Domesday Book?!

 

Wynbridge did get a mention in the Domesday Book. In fact, it was already quite a large village by 1086 with both farmers and fishermen utilising what the area had to offer. I’m not sure how old the oldest houses are but there are some fine Georgian properties dotted throughout the town as well as some not quite so picturesque new developments. Meeting the needs of an ever increasing population has meant that building comes at a cost and Wynbridge has consequently lost some fine architecture down the years. Fortunately however planners are taking a more measured view of what can be bulldozed now and hopefully any future development will be more sympathetic.

 

Apologies for the following question, but I'm biased. Speaking as someone whose house is five minutes walk from the sea, I'd like to know where would a Wynbridge family go if they wanted to head to the seaside?

 

Now that would depend on the type of seaside you were looking for. If it’s a bucket and spade, ice cream and funfair extravaganza which takes your fancy then it would have to be Sunny Hunny. That’s Hunstanton to anyone not in the know. But if you were perhaps looking for something a little more sedate and dare I say it, genteel, then a little further east would perhaps be more to your liking – Blakeney or Wells-next-to-the-Sea. They’re all beautiful places in my opinion, but I do have a bit of a weakness where Wells is concerned.

 

And finally.... what is it about Wynbridge that has so captured the hearts of your readers?

 

Firstly, I am immensely flattered you think that Wynbridge has captured the hearts of my readers. I am totally in love with the place of course, but to think that the town I have created would be somewhere other people would want to live is wonderful.

With regards to its appeal, I think it is down to lots of things. There’s such an interesting array of town and country folk – old and young alike – and I also think the semi-rural location is a real selling point. Wynbridge is a place where town and country are truly intermingled, where dreams can become a reality and where people can fall in love.

 

That’s a pretty irresistible combination, isn’t it? I know I would move there in a heartbeat!

* * * *

 

About Heidi:

 

Although passionate about writing from an early age, Heidi Swain gained a degree in Literature, flirted briefly with a newspaper career, married and had two children before she plucked up the courage to join a creative writing class and take her literary ambitions seriously.

 

A lover of Galaxy bars, vintage paraphernalia and the odd bottle of fizz, she now writes feel good fiction with heart for Simon and Schuster.

 

Her debut novel, The Cherry Tree Café was published in July 2015 and Summer at Skylark Farm hit the shelves the following June. Mince Pies and Mistletoe at the Christmas Market was a hugely successful Christmas 2016 release and her fourth book, Coming Home to Cuckoo Cottage will be published on July 13th this year. She is currently working on her October 2017 release, Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells at The Christmas Fair.

 

Heidi lives in Norfolk with her wonderful family and a mischievous cat called Storm.

 

* * * *

 

Heidi's Links:

 

Follow her on Twitter

 

Her blog

 

Her Facebook page

 

Heidi's author page on Amazon

 

 

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that since the end of January, Kirsten  has been writing a regular post at the end of each month, giving us a sneaky look at her writer's life. Here is her final post, with a look back, not just at June, but at the whole six months.

 

* * * *

 

And suddenly June is over and here is my last guest slot on this wonderful blog.

It’s been an unsettling few months hasn’t it? And I hate good byes. Really hate them.

 

So, instead, here is a round-up of all the really wonderful writing-related things that have happened to me over the past six months.

 

  • Firstly, I’m really honoured to have shared this space with Susanna during the launch of her debut novel. I’ve spent the last couple of evenings curled up with The Deserter’s Daughter and am LOVING it. Well done Sue, you clever old thing. A huge achievement. A huge success.



  • Not strictly writing-related, but you may remember that, in February, my WIP ground to a halt because my lovely son was having some issues. Lots of you have been kind enough to ask after him and I’m really delighted to report that he’s much, much better. He’s just finished his A levels, is currently working at the Henley Regatta and is about to go to China for a few weeks! What a difference a few months can make. One happy mum!



  • Which leads me on to my WIP! Edits finished, I have duly sent The Space Between The Words off to the RNS NWS for a critique. I’ve also sent the full to two of the agents who requested it several months ago. Yes, I know, I know – I should wait for the critique to come back. I guess curbing my impulsive edge is something I still I need to work on ….



  • Writing this blog has confirmed that I need to change my name to protect the innocent! I want to keep the Kirsten because that’s me, but I need a new surname. So far the contenders are Dougal (part of my maiden name), Jones and Peters. Thoughts?



  • Writers really are the most lovely, generous and supportive bunch around. I knew that anyway, but the #authorsforgrenfell initiative really has been extraordinary. I’m sure you’ve all read about the joint bid of over £20K to name a character in the next Philip Pullman novel after a young girl who tragically lost her life in the fire. How heart-warming was that? I’ve been wanting to make a donation for a while so I bid for a novel critique by Alison May. I was pipped to the post at the last minute, but Alison has very kindly offered to critique my novel too. And how lovely is that?

So loads and loads of positives.

 

Thank you for following my ramblings over the past six months and particularly to those who have taken the trouble to leave kind, thoughtful or downright hilarious responses on the blog.

 

And thank you, again, Sue. It’s been a blast.

 

Onwards and upwards.

 

Over and out.

X

 

A Special Blog For Publication Week

Posted on 24th June, 2017

The Deserter's Daughter's publication day on June 22nd was just wonderful - such a happy and exciting day. I have shared some photos on the Welcome page if you would like to have a quick look, but mainly I'd like to direct you to a blog elsewhere:

 

To mark the publication of The Deserter's Daughter, I was asked to write a blog post for the Allison & Busby website about setting my story in a real place - Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester.

 

The link is here:  Setting the story in Chorlton  

 

I hope you'll take a look. I have included in it a couple of early 20th century photographs of local landmarks that feature in the book.

 

Many thanks to Catherine, Moira and Jen, who have already visited the blog and left a comment.

 

 

 

That Cherry-On-The-Cake Moment

Posted on 17th June, 2017

Well, there's less than a week to go now until The Deserter's Daughter is published. This time last year I didn't yet have a literary agent. In fact, it was during this week last year that Laura Longrigg finished reading my full MS and sent me the email that every unpublished writer hopes to receive, saying that she had enjoyed my book hugely and would it be possible to meet up..?

 

There have been so many high points since then:

 

...the book deal with Allison & Busby

 

...seeing my book in proof-form

 

...the beautiful, atmospheric cover illustration

 

...Isis Soundings doing the audiobook

 

...opening my box of author copies and actually holding The Real Thing in my hands...

 

Just when I thought that all the wonderful pre-publication moments had happened, along came another.

 

The first draft of The Deserter's Daughter was written some years ago and was submitted to the RNA's New Writers Scheme. If you're unfamiliar with that, it is a process through which unpublished writers can submit a novel for a critique by a published writer. The critiques are written anonymously, so generally speaking you never get to know who your reader was.

 

The reader of The Deserter's Daughter sent me a glowing and generous report. I was able to send her (I assumed it was a her) a thank you card via the organiser, but of course I've always wondered who she was.

 

Well, today I found out. And she told me (yes, it was a she) that The Deserter's Daughter was the best NWS submission she had ever read. Wow! Is that wonderful? And happening this week of all weeks, it feels like The Deserter's Daughter has come full circle.

 

 

My Proud Moment At The Library Catalogue

Posted on 10th June, 2017

Libraries are on my mind this week, ever since my sister-in-law posted on Facebook a photo The Deserter's Daughter that she had requested from her public library and which she had just been to collect. This was a couple of weeks before publication day, so it came as something of a surprise to me, as you can imagine!

 

Coming from a family of lifelong library-users, and speaking as a former librarian, I am delighted and proud to know that my book - my book! - is going to available on public library shelves; and I am enormously grateful to all those dear folks on Facebook who have told me they have put in library requests, not just in the UK but in other parts of the English-speaking world.

 

Oh, and that wonderful moment when I was in Llyfrgell Llandudno Library and I found The Deserter's Daughter in the catalogue! Bliss!

 

Was it big-headed to take a screenshot? I don't care: I'm so proud. And I know that my late mum and dad, who both joined the library as children and borrowed books all their lives, would have been chuffed to bits.