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This week I am delighted to welcome Heidi Swain back to my blog. The first time Heidi appeared here, it was before her debut novel, The Cherry Tree Cafe, was published; and now she is a Sunday Times bestselling author with a string of wonderful, heartwarming novels on the bookshelves.

 

Today Heidi is here to launch my new series,

Take Two Characters.

 

Firstly she is going to tell us a bit more about a favourite character from her own writing; then she'll share her love of a character created by another writer.

Take Two Characters

When Susanna kindly invited me to take part in this fabulous feature I knew instantly which of my own characters I wanted to talk about. There is one person who plays a part in every single one of my titles and yet she has never had a book of her own.

 

Lovely Jemma who owns The Cherry Tree Café and runs it with her best friend, the queen of crafts, Lizzie Dixon, has been with me right from the very beginning of my Wynbridge writing journey.

She’s an astute business woman, a wife, mother, daughter, sister-in-law and firm friend to many Wynbridge residents and she gets stronger with every title.


She might not have her own book, but she’s a force to be reckoned with nonetheless, always in the thick of things and poised in my next book, Snowflakes and Cinnamon Swirls, to announce another exciting string to her business bow. This latest development was completely her own idea. When I was writing one particular scene, the words flowed from my fingers as easily as if she was standing next to me and dictating what to write. Which actually, I’m certain was what happened.

 

Originally Jemma’s role was to support Lizzie but she has stretched far beyond the pages of that first title and I often find myself thinking ‘what would Jemma do?’ when faced with either a fictional or real-life problem.

And my readers love her too. She’s an integral part of the Wynbridge package, even making her presence felt in Nightingale Square, but I don’t think she needs a book of her own. Jemma’s voice sings loud and proud throughout the telling of everyone’s else’s tales and I think she rather likes it that way.

* * * *

Picking a second character for this feature was not so easy and I went back and forth for a few days before finally settling on… inimitable Mrs Weasley from Harry Potter and the mighty pen of JK Rowling.

There are many things I love about Molly Weasley – her fabulous home for a start. I would love to live in The Burrow, even if I didn’t have dishes which washed themselves – and perhaps it would be best not to get me started on her unique sense of style and dress – but of course there is a whole lot more to her character than that.

What really stands out in my mind when I think about Mrs W are the two very different sides of her personality. On the one hand she’s a home loving wife and mum, a domestic goddess with a knack for knitting (or bewitching her needles). She welcomes Harry into her family, treating him as one of her own without question, but on the other hand she’s an incredibly strong woman who is fiercely protective of her friends and family. When her daughter is threatened we hear the lioness roar and her power can’t be matched. She knows the value of her tribe and stands up for what is right, whatever the cost.

So many of the female characters in the Harry Potter series show strength and ambition, (not always positively), as well as tenderness and love but for me, Molly Weasley is the perfect amalgamation of all those traits which are best in both men and women. Or should that be wizards and witches?

Heidi's Links:  

 

Her Twitter page 

 

Her website     

 

Her author page on Amazon 

 

Her Facebook page    

 

Today I welcome Kirsten to my blog for her last appearance as a regular contributor. Since the start of last year, she has shared the ups and downs of her writer's life in what has become a very popular series. I think we have all enjoyed and appreciated her frank and humourous anecdotes.

 

Kirsten is now moving onto her own website and blog, so here is her last Despatch From the Querying Trenches.

 

Many thanks for all the guest posts, Kisrten. It's been huge fun, having you as a regular visitor. xxx

 

 

* * * *

 

 

Despatches from the Querying Trenches.

 

The Last Post

 

This will be my last post on Susanna’s wonderful blog for a while and the last in the Despatches from the Querying Trenches series. I’ve now set my own website and it’s time to move on.

 

But it’s still sad and I hate goodbyes so I will be short and sweet.

 

I’d like to thank Susanna for giving me a regular slot on her blog. It was such a generous gesture and I feel so fortunate, as an unpublished writer, to have been given the opportunity. And I’ve really enjoyed taking stock each month and sharing my highlights and lowlights. I hope it’s been interesting. Thank you so much, Sue.

 

And thank you to all of you, my lovely readers, especially those of you who have been kind enough to comment, both here and on social media. Writing can a pretty lonely business, full of uncertainty and setbacks, and I’ve been overwhelmed by your support, empathy, humour and encouragement.

 

I hope I will be able to come back and do the odd post here and there and I am very much looking forward to hosting Sue on my website in due course. And, of course, I’m looking forward to reading Sue - and her guests’ - posts going forward and continuing to champion her fabulous blog. I’m sure it will go from strength to strength.

 

But, for now, au revoir and thank you again.

 

It’s been a blast.

xx

 

When A Scent Takes You Back Through The Years

Posted on 14th September, 2018

I finished a bottle of bath oil this week. It's a bottle I have been hoarding and ekeing out for just short of 20 years. Why hang onto it for so long? Well, it was part of the last birthday present I received from my late husband. He didn't buy it himself - he was too ill by then. Instead he despatched the lady next door to find a suitable gift and birthday card. She bought one of everything in a range of smellies called Kuyusu that was being sold by Boots. Kuyusu has long since vanished from the shelves, making my little collection even more precious.

 

This is all I have left now from that birthday gift. The blue colour has faded over the years but the distinctive fragrance is still intact - an instantly recognisable aroma that immediately transports me back through the years.

 

Have you noticed how certain smells can do that? They evoke a place, a person, a particular incident, a certain time in your life, as nothing else can. 'Evoke' seems a weak word to use - as if what is conjoured up is a faint replica of the real thing. What these smells do is hurl you back in time in a flash of memory so intense it rocks you to your core.

 

Another smell that means a lot to me is that of homemade mincemeat being prepared in the oven. Ever made your own mincemeat? It takes ages to assemble everything in the bowl; then you leave it to rest in its own juices for 24 hours; then it goes in the oven on a low heat... and the smell starts to fill the house.

 

When I was little, my Gran lived with us and she made mincemeat every year, ready for Christmas. When the mincemeat went in the oven and the house started to smell of oranges and lemons, that was the first sign that Christmas was on the way.

 

The first time I made my own mincemeat, I had forgotten about Gran's. Then I put mine in the oven and went off to do something else... and the pungent smell of oranges and lemons began to filter through the house.

 

 

At once I was plunged into the past, into childhood and the house I grew up in and Christmas and Gran and Ginger, her old cat, who had his basket beside the fire in the living room.

 

Are there any smells that throw you into the past?

 

 

 

It's been a little while since we last heard from Kirsten, as she was busy holidaying at the end of last month; so here is her end-of-summer round-up of her writer's life.

 

* * * *

Despatches from the Querying Trenches

August

So that was summer.

 

And what a brilliant one it was. This year we’ve had an extra long break because both teens broke up early.

 

We’ve canoed in the Dordogne. (Yes, DH and I capsized even though it is allegedly virtually impossible to do so. No, I don’t have any photos.)

 

 

We’ve cycled through vineyards in Burgundy – and conducted a thorough investigation of its wines! We’ve even tried Segwaying in the New Forest (my - that was hard.) The kids have been to festivals. (DH and I skipped that one and went to the Lakes instead!) It’s been a blast. Of course, there have been the ups and downs of GCSE and A level results to contend with - but somehow everyone got roughly what they needed …

 

All good.

 

And suddenly it’s nearly September. My favourite time of the year. Back to school. Off to university. Sharp pencils, empty notepads. New starts, fresh chances, the slate wiped clean …

 

What’s not to love?

 

It feels like a new start for me too. My edits are complete and over the next few days, my lovely agent Felicity will be sending Another Us out to publishers. How exciting does that sound?! Of course, the process will most likely take months and months and there is every chance that the book won’t be picked up at all … but for now I am feeling excited and optimistic and the dream lives on. I must say it’s fantastic having an agent – the feeling of having someone totally on your side as an advocate, enabler, co-conspirator (and occasionally therapist!) is just wonderful. Much less lonely.

 

In the meantime, I have work to do! Firstly, I have to set up a website. For some reason I feel totally daunted by this, even though the lovely Julie Stock has been brilliant at helping me with the technical stuff. I just don’t know how to arrange it all and what to put! But I determined to feel the fear and do it anyway and September will be the months I get it up and running. You can all hold me to that!!

 

Secondly, I have to CRACK ON WITH BOOK TWO!! This is the book I wrote during NaNoWriMo last year. I’ve rejigged it a bit since but it’s essentially a SFD! You can really tell when it’s the end of each day and I’ve been under pressure to reach the word count. Once I’ve even written ‘very, very, very good’. What a cheat! Felicity has asked when she can see it the manuscript so I need to get on and tidy it up big time …

 

I hope you have all had fantastic summers and are poised and ready for the new season. What are your plans for September? Xx

 

The Lost Art of Letter-Writing

Posted on 16th August, 2018

The other day a young neighbour - let's call her Lucy - invited me to a dolls' tea-party. When it was time to leave, I asked her what she was going to do next, at which point her mum stepped in and said firmly that Lucy was going to have her bath. Lucy then politely asked me what I was going to do. I said I was going to write a letter to my pen friend.

 

"What's a pen friend?"

 

I explained. I made the mistake of saying that Jennifer and I had never actually met, thinking this made our pen-friendship all the more interesting, but instead it led to a brief diversion into the world of Stranger Danger. There's nothing quite like being lectured to by a 6-year-old. Meanwhile, Lucy's mum lurked in the background, grinning her head off.

 

Once the explanation was back on track, Lucy found the idea bizarre. "Why don't you email? Text? Skype one another?"

 

"Well, because we're pen friends and that means we put pen to paper and write letters to one another."

 

"What colour do you use?"

 

Another brief diversion, this time into the question of Lucy's favourite felt tips. She likes yellow, but how easy would that be to read on white paper? And what about writing with a Pritt stick and then sprinkling glitter on?

 

At some point, I said that Jennifer and I have been writing to one another for nearly 30 years.

 

"30 years?" She appeared suitably awed. "Do you write about what it used to be like in the First World War?"

 

Cue howls of laughter from Mum.

 

Am I alone in being a letter-writer? Does everyone else Skype these days? Or communicate purely by email? My late Auntie Amy used to love receiving letters even more than phone calls. A letter could always be taken out and re-read and enjoyed all over again; it could be shared with her friend, Elsie.

 

My mum and I wrote to one another every week for years after I left home; this was as well as phoning one another. Writing letters seems to have been pretty normal practice back then. It was a standard way of keeping in touch. I also corresponded for years with my gran, with a particular uncle and aunt, and with various friends who lived at a distance; and with my pen friends.

 

Do you write letters? Do you have, or have you ever had, a pen friend? And have you recently been lectured by a 6-year-old? Do tell!

 

 

 

This week I am delighted to welcome Deborah Smith to my blog.

 

Deborah is a keen reader who took her love of books to the next level by starting an online group for readers of sagas and other women's fiction. It is now a thriving and ever-growing community.

 

Debs is personally responsible for the tottering piles of to-be-read books in her members' homes all over the world!

Debs, welcome to my blog. It's the first time I have been joined here by a reader rather than a writer, so I hope you're going to enjoy answering my questions.

 
Fire away, Sue.

What are you reading at the moment. Why are you enjoying it?

 
I'm reading my first Lyn Andrews book, From Liverpool with Love. The story is set in the early 1900s where poverty is inescapable for this family. After trying very hard to manage after the death of the husband/father, who was the main breadwinner, they now have no choice but to enter the workhouse. This book follows their lives, loves and determination to free themselves from this godforsaken place called the workhouse.

 
I just love stories written around this era.

  

 
I know your TBR pile is about a hundred books high. Tell us about a couple of them that you're specially looking forward to reading.

h
L
OL, Sue, more like 500 high and growing almost daily 😂.

 
I'm very much looking forward to reading
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. I am fascinated with this historic subject and read both fiction and nonfiction regarding the lives of the Jews during WW11 and what horrific injustices they had to endure: certainly a piece of history we should never forget. Such an emotional subject, Sue.

 

I also can't wait to read Secrets of a Whitby Girl by Jessica Blair, as Whitby is close to my heart, having spent a great deal of time there throughout my life and know the place very well so hopefully I will be able to picture the places mentioned. My husband and I actually got engaged in the Abbey grounds - what a wonderful day that was.

 

I know that Anna Jacobs is a favourite author of yours. Is there one of her books or series that stands out in particular for you?

 

Oh yes, Anna is such a wonderful and talented writer. Her books imprison you from the first page to the last. I have to say that Anna's stand-alone book Freedom's Land and the 5 book series, The Gibson Family Saga, will be forever entwined in my heart, although I haven't read The Traders series yet 🤔 LOL.

 

You’ve got a treat in store with The Traders books. Once you start reading The Trader’s Wife, you’ll race through the whole series. Guaranteed!

 

 

Tell us about a book that made you cry.

 
A few books have brought a tear to my eye, but I'm guessing The Tattooist of Auschwitz will take me on an emotional rollercoaster ride.
 

 
What were your favourite books as a child?

 
I have to confess I didn't read much as a child, apart from the
Ladybird books, i probably wasn't interested in books back then, which is quite a while ago LOL, but I think I've certainly made up for it since. Children should read - you learn so so much from someone else's mind.
 

 
As an adult reader, do you have an all-time favourite book? Who are your favourite writers?

 

Good question Sue. I have quite a few favourite books and I guess Miss Applesby's Academy by Elizabeth Gill is up there with best. Such a wonderful read.

 
At the moment my all time favourite
authors are:
Anna Jacobs (obviously)
Dilly Court
Kitty Neale
Rosie Goodwin
Kathleen Morgan

And a few authors I found after starting up my wonderful book group:
Susanna Bavin (
LOL )
Emma Hornby
AnneMarie Brear
Lynda Stacey
Elaine Everest, to name but a few.
Oh, and did I mention Susanna Bavin! 😉

 

**blushes and tried to look modest**
 

 
Do you re-read books you enjoy? If so, what have you re-read recently?

 
Oh Sue, that's funny. I have a hard enough time reading the ones I haven't read, the TBR pile grows by the day, so my answer is, no, I don't re-read a book, I may however re-read a page, ha
ha.
 

 
Physical books or e-books?
Well, either to be honest, my kindle is great for taking on holiday etc. and there's some excellent bargains to be had too, but a physical book feels much more t
actile and personal and I love looking at all the wonderful colour cover photos which you don't get with an ebook.
 

 

Where do you like to read?

 

Well, actually I like to read anywhere, but my favourite places are in my rocking chair in the living room, the garden (only when the weather is nice though) and in bed where's it relaxing and peaceful.

 

Debs, it has been a real pleasure to have you here on my blog. Thanks for telling us about your reading.

 
Oh Sue, I've enjoyed my first blog and it's been a real pleasure talking to you today. I've loved every minute.
Thank you so much xx ❤️

 

Happy birthday for Monday, Debs. Enjoy all those books you will undoubtedly get as birthday presents!

 

 

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

June

Hello!

 

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.

h

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.

 

Kirsten

xx

 

 

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 …

Right?

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.

Easy-peasy.

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.