Reading and Writing Romantic Fiction: never too old to read it, write it, or to be the main character. Plus – Books of the Month for June 2021 #reading #writing #romanticfiction @1chriswebber @KileyDunbar @Isabelle_Broom @SnowProse

Age should be no barrier to living and loving – in real life and in fiction

Regular readers of this blog will know that when it comes to both reading and writing my genre of choice is romantic fiction. It’s a wide-ranging genre and includes various sub genres such as romantic suspense, historical romance and contemporary romance – to name only some.

But for too long there was one aspect that was anything but wide-ranging and that’s the age of the main characters. Indeed up until relatively recently you’d be hard pushed to find romance novels where the central couple were over thirty. Now while there’s nothing inherently wrong with a novel about a couple in their twenties and there are many excellent such books – lots of which I’ve read and enjoyed – I’m guessing I’m not alone in wanting to read and write about older protagonists too – especially as I myself am an older reader and writer.

And I’m talking here particularly about contemporary romance because by definition it should reflect contemporary times – times in which attitudes and expectations have broadened and changed. So authors and publishers are missing a trick if they don’t reflect that.  

Fortunately though there are signs of positive changes. Seasoned romance, second chance romance, mature romance, whatever you prefer to call it, is a genre that’s growing. Main characters can be anything from thirty years of age upwards. Characters in these stories have full and rounded lives which include falling/being in love and having sex – as well as negotiating often challenging career and life changes.

A Brilliant Example

One brilliant example of the above is one of my books of the month for June and it’s the latest novel from one of my favourite authors Christine Webber.

So Many Ways of Loving by Christine Webber

This is such a lovely hopeful read. It’s set in 2019 and the three main characters are all women either in or approaching their sixties and all are facing life-changing situations. There is also a fourth female character in her seventies who also features strongly later in the book. The story involves issues such as grief, body-image and ageing and yes, later life romance too. It’s a story of new friendships, new experiences, and new starts. It’s a story about possibilities regardless of age and stage in life. It’s touching, warm, humane and realistic. And its message is that life goes on in all its sometimes surprising, sometimes messy ways – but that as long as it does it is wonderful and it’s there to love, to be loved and to live. And that last sentence – caused a wry smile.

From the back cover:

So Many Ways of Loving is a novel in which, at first glance, nothing much happens – there’s no espionage, no high-speed car chases, murders, or haunted houses. But in a sense, everything happens – loss, death, grief, serious illness, but also birth, unexpected romance, fresh adventures and numerous possibilities. Three women in their 50s and 60s travel through the most momentous year of their lives, and as they do so, they are reminded of just how much we depend upon family, friends and pets.

You can buy So many Ways of Loving in bookshops and online here. It is available as a paperback and as an ebook.

You can connect online with Christine at the following places:

Website and podcast links: here

Twitter: @1chriswebber

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christinewebberauthor

Books of the Month

As well as the book above I have three other books of the month to recommend to you. All are contemporary romances and all have main characters who have all lived more than a little.

The Borrow a Bookshop Holiday by Kiley Dunbar

An unusual and heart-warming romance. I especially loved the ending and the fact that the grandmother character was no elderly cliché.

From the back cover:

 The Borrow-a-Bookshop Bookshop Café invites literature lovers to run their very own bookshop … for a fortnight.

Spend your days talking books with customers in your own charming bookshop and serving up delicious cream teas in the cosy café.

Bookworms, what are you waiting for? Your holiday is going to be LIT(erary).

Apply to: The Borrow-a-Bookshop Bookshop Café, Down-a-long, Clove Lore, Devon.

Jude Crawley should be on top of the world. She’s just graduated as a mature student, so can finally go public about her relationship with Philosophy professor, Mack.

Until she sees Mack kissing another girl, and her dreams crumble. And worse, their dream holiday – running a tiny bookshop in the harbour village of Clove Lore for two weeks – is non-refundable.

Throwing caution to the winds, Jude heads down to Devon, eager to immerse herself in literature and heal her broken heart.

But there’s one problem – six foot tall, brooding (but gorgeous) Elliot, who’s also reserved the bookshop holiday for two weeks…

As Jude and Elliot put their differences aside to run the bookshop, it seems that Jude might be falling in love with more than just words. Until she discovers what Elliot is running from – and why he’s hiding out in Clove Lore.

Can Jude find her own happy ending in a tiny, tumbledown bookshop? Or is she about to find out that her bookish holiday might have an unexpected twist in the tale…

The Getaway by Isabelle Broom

Set in Croatia which is beautifully described throughout the story – you really can imagine you’re there, this is a romantic, mysterious and moving tale of pain, hurt, loss and the power of love.

From the back cover:

Sometimes it takes losing everything to find the person you need . . .

Most people travel to Croatia for its endless sunshine, pebbly beaches and crystal clear sea.

Kate goes there to disappear.

She needs to escape from a life that has fallen apart in spectacular and public fashion, and no one on the beautiful island of Hvar knows who she is or what she’s running away from.

Until she meets another lonely soul.

Alex is different to any man Kate has ever known, yet the connection between them is undeniable. She soon begins to open up in ways she never has before – not even to herself. But Kate is not the only person in Hvar hiding secrets. And, as she is about to discover, it is always only a matter of time before the truth catches up with you . . .

A Summer of Second Chances by Suzanne Snow

Sparks do indeed fly between an, at first, unlikely couple in this thoroughly enjoyable romance.

From the back cover:

Sparks and tempers fly when Ben comes to stay in Daisy’s holiday cottage.

Daisylikes routine. She goes to work, makes dinner for her son, then loses herself for an hour or two in her sewing. She’s not looking for change, until Bencrashes – literally – into her life.

Ben is training for a triathlon, working himself to the limit in an attempt to forget a recent trauma. Daisy wants to help, but even as they draw closer with every week that passes, he pushes her away whenever things threaten to get serious.

Can Ben open himself up to love again? And with Daisy’s life in the Yorkshire Dales and Ben’s in New York, can they have a future together even if he does?

And that’s it for this month. If you’re a fan of romantic fiction, is character age something that attracts you to, or puts you off a book? Please feel free to share your thoughts on the topic and to recommend any examples you’ve enjoyed reading where the main characters are in, or beyond, their thirties.

Paying it Forward – writers helping writers. Plus Books of the Month for May 2021 #writing #reading #romanticfiction @SueMoorcroft @LeonieMAuthor @kateforster @IndieAuthorALLI

A Lonely Job

I first started taking my writing seriously twenty years ago and, as I was at that time a working parent with a demanding job, it took me several of those years to have a manuscript that was remotely ready for publication. And as for getting published, that was when then the really hard work began.

But eventually after a decade of putting in the hours and, after many steep learning curves had been ascended, my first novel, Change of Life was published.

However, sitting at a desk writing thousands of words can be a lonely job. However, aside from the creative part of getting my story written down, I didn’t do it all alone. Far from it. I received a lot of help along the way – and a lot of that help came from fellow writers.

Help from Fellow Writers

There were the encouraging members of the writing groups I belonged too, there were the competition judges who gave detailed feedback on my entries, there were the tutors on the residential course I took at Moniack Mhor, and my fellow learners on the (sadly now no longer in existence) youwriteon.com website where so much positive and constructive feedback was mutually shared.

And nowadays I still have support available to me. Not least from the magnificent Alliance of Independent Authors ( https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/ )  started by author, Orna Ross, and run by and for authors and giving access to an incredible amount of useful – if not vital information – for writers of every sort. But as well as being a member of the Alliance, I also connect with lots of other authors via social media and receive so much support – both practical and moral via that route.

Paying it Forward – Help For Fellow Writers

So, given that I didn’t get to this point, where I have now published five novels and am hard at work on my sixth, on my own, I like to be able to offer help and support to those writers just starting out on their journey to publication.

And recently I have had two opportunities to do just that. The first one came about when a friend asked me if her husband could contact me for some advice about how to go about getting his memoir ready for publication and then how to take the next steps after that. I was happy to try to help – as even although I don’t write non-fiction myself, the rudimentary principles of fiction and non-fiction are basically the same. And, after a couple of long tutorial type phone conversations between the two of us, he told me my advice and shared experience had been really helpful to him.

Then not long after that I was contacted by the friend of a friend via email. This was another apprentice writer – she’d written a historical novel and was unsure what to do next – and she wondered if I could maybe point her in the right direction. So I put together a document of what I hope were helpful pieces of information and reflections on my own experience and emailed her back. She, too, said that the information I shared was helpful.

Besides those personal one-to-one scenarios, I also like to support fellow authors in a wider sense. So naturally I buy and read books. But not only that – I mention the best of them here on the blog in my Books of the Month posts or on social media sites. I read and share reviews. And I do that vital thing of posting my own reviews of books I’ve enjoyed on online bookshop websites.

And the really lovely thing is that other writers offer similar support to me if and when they enjoy things that I have written.

A Writing Community

So yes, it’s good to be part of a community, to have colleagues to share the joys and tribulations of the job with, and it’s good to give and receive support. I do love my job!

Books of the Month

And speaking of sharing the best of my fellow workers labours – below are my best reads for the month of May. There are three of them this month and all are contemporary romances.

Finding Love At Mermaid Terrace by Kate Forster

From the back cover:

Love comes when you least expect it…

Tressa Buckland likes her quiet life in Port Lowdy, with its cobbled streets and colourful terraced houses overlooking the sea. Her job at the local paper allows her to pursue her art in her free time, with no one but her tabby cat Ginger Pickles to mind her in Mermaid Terrace. But then the owner of the paper is called away on an emergency, and it’s up to Tressa to run the paper for six months. Her first task: find a new part-time journalist.

Dan Byrne is the angriest man in Ireland – or so the readers of his very successful column, ‘Dan takes on the world’, think. But after a story goes south and he loses his job in Dublin, Dan has no choice but to start afresh. When an opportunity comes up in sleepy Cornwall, Dan and his Golden Retriever Ritchie set off for a new adventure.

For Tressa, Dan’s arrival to Port Lowdy changes everything. Tressa tries not to look too deeply at her own life, but Dan sees a story to uncover in absolutely everyone – even her. The two of them couldn’t be more different… yet, if they can find a way to work together, they may just breathe new life and joy into this sleepy seaside village.

‘Finding Love at Mermaid Terrace’ is a heartwarming new village romance about the power of love and kindness, from the bestselling author of ‘Starting Over at Acorn Cottage’.

Italy Ever After by Leonie Mack

From the back cover:

TV journalist Lou feels battered and bruised after her divorce from Phil, the father of her daughter Edie. Her confidence and sense of fun have steadily been drained away, and she isn’t sure who she is any more.

When the opportunity arises to accompany Edie on a music camp in Italy for a month in the summer, Lou jumps at the chance for new adventures, new horizons and new friends. The hazy warmth of the summer sun, shining brightly over the stunning Lake Garda, slowly brings Lou back to life.

Nick Romano, Edie’s music teacher, loves being home in Italy, but coaching his students for their concert in Milan, is bringing back difficult memories. His blossoming friendship with Lou is the perfect distraction, although a summer fling would be easier to conduct without the scrutiny of his mother Greta, not to mention the interference of his extended Italian family.

As the summer passes, full of sunshine and breath-taking scenery, gelato and delicious feasts, Lou and Nick get ever closer. But as the time for farewell creeps up on them, will they be able to say goodbye and leave their memories behind in the Italian sun, or can a summer romance last a lifetime?

Under the Italian Sun by Sue Moorcroft

From the back cover:

A sun-baked terrace. The rustle of vines. And the clink of wine glasses as the first cork of the evening is popped…

Welcome to Italy. A place that holds the answer to Zia-Lucia Costa Chalmers’ many questions. Not least, how she ended up with such a mouthful of a name.

When revelations close to home turn Zia’s world upside down, she realises the time has come to search out the Italian family she’s never known.

But as she looks for answers, she can’t help but notice Piero, the vineyard owner next door – a distraction who may prove difficult to ignore…

This summer, join Zia as she sets out to uncover her past. But can she find the future she’s always dreamed of along the way?

And that’s it for another month. As always feel free to share your thoughts and comments below – especially if your job – whether as a writer or something else –  gives you a sense of community and a way of giving and receiving support within that community.

From the Writing Desk – Mapping Out a Story: Nailing the Setting #writing #fiction Plus #reading #booksofthemonth @katehaswords @Donna_ashworth

Finding My Writing Way

As regular readers of the blog will know I’m currently writing a new novel – working title Happiness Cottage. I’m making progress but until recently it has been a bit slower than I would like.  

Writing a book is always a complex process. Writing down the words is at times the easiest part. There’s the getting to know the characters, their ages, gender, appearance and personalities. There’s the plot to wrestle with – whether that’s planning it in detail beforehand or flying blind with a vague destination in mind. And then there’s the setting. Cue for much sighing from me.

Getting Lost

I am a legend amongst my friends and family for getting lost in the real world. I have no sense of direction and I have to do many repeat journeys whether it’s round a building, a city, or in the countryside before I can visualise it in my memory. So I often find maps to be vital.

But, having said that, I’ve never had a problem with the setting of my previous novels. I knew from the start that my first novel Change of Life would be set in Edinburgh which is the city where I grew up, and in the East Lothian town of Gullane. The streets, the beach, and even the houses which feature in that book are real places, places I’ve lived in or visited often. They were places I knew well. Similarly, in my Skye series of three novels – although I changed some names, the places where my characters lived and worked were real. Again I’d lived in that township or in that cottage or I’d visited the actual place. No imagination was required. Even in my children’s fantasy novel, The Silver Locket, written by my alter-ego Anne McAlpine, the house in Edinburgh where young Caitlin lives is based on the real childhood house of a friend of mine. So, although I fictionalised certain aspects and I changed the name of certain places to ones I made up, keeping the background details in all these novels credible and consistent when describing surroundings, journeys from place to place and even the view from the kitchen window was pretty straightforward.

But this time around – not so much. For some crazy reason – don’t ask me why – I don’t know why – I decided early on that my new novel, a contemporary romance set in the Scottish Borders area of Scotland, would be set on a completely fictitious farm, near a made-up-by-me village, close to a town that only exists in my brain. Not only that, I wanted a fictional hill and a not-real river to be situated close by too. Yes, there would be some real places mentioned but they’d be in the minority.

Cue lots of scope for confusion, inconsistency and stress on the part of this author. On which side of the farm should the river flow? Where would the pretend river join up with the real world river Tweed? How long would it take to drive from town to farm? What route would the road take? Where on the farm were the buildings and where were the fields? And on and on …

Every time a character left their house – the house whose layout I wasn’t sure of – the story narrative was getting held up as I pondered how and where they’d move about. The setting seemed shrouded in fog. And the fog had to be forced to clear if me and the book were going to get anywhere.

An early attempt at the village layout

Mapping it Out

It was time to get mapping. So armed with photos I’d taken of approximate locations, an Ordnance Survey map of the area to help me with distance and scale, a ruler, a pencil and lots of paper, I began to draw. I drew a map of the village, the town, and the farm. I created landscapes which included my river and hill. And I drew floorplans for several houses and workplaces.

And you know what? It was actually quite a lot of fun as well as hard work. But more than that the process alone, never mind having the resulting charts to refer to, has meant that the setting fog has lifted. Now if I could just nail the plot and finalise the hair colour of that character …

From the Reading Chair:

I’ve read lots of good books this month – romances, thrillers and poetry. And my picks for the best reads for April 2021 are two poetry collections and a contemporary romance.

The poetry books are both by Donna Ashworth. One is called To The Women and is described as ‘words to live by’, and the other is History Will Remember When the World Stopped and contains poems about living through the pandemic. I was blown away by both books. The poems are moving, comforting and inspirational and well worth a read. Donna shares many of her poems on Facebook where they are accompanied by beautiful illustrations done by various artists.

From the back cover:

To the Women

Donna’s poems and essays for women are constantly flying around the internet bringing positivity and solidarity. This collection contains 48 favourite poems, plus beautiful quotes; truly something for everyone, to inspire, comfort and motivate. It makes the perfect gift from one woman to another. 

From the back cover:

History Will Remember When the World Stopped

A collection of beautiful poems and letters written throughout the lock-down by Donna Ashworth. Donna is followed daily by women all over the world, on her social media sites and blog. Her words are a source of comfort, inspiration and hope. Donna’s work has been published by Amnesty International and voiced by stars of stage and screen. This book is the perfect keepsake for an unprecedented time.

And the novel of the month is Finding Home, the latest book by Kate Field. It’s so good! I loved it and it was one of those stories that leaves you with a book hangover. I missed it and its characters so much when I finished it.

From the back cover:

She might not have much in this world, but it cost nothing to be kind…

Meet Miranda Brown: you can call her Mim. She’s jobless, homeless and living in her car… but with a history like hers she knows she has a huge amount to be grateful for.

Meet Beatrice and William Howard: Bill and Bea to you. The heads of the Howard family and owners of Venhallow Hall, a sprawling seaside Devonshire estate… stranded in a layby five hours from home the night before their niece’s wedding.

When fate brings the trio together, Mim doesn’t think twice before offering to drive the affable older couple home. It’s not like she has anywhere else to be. But as the car pulls into the picturesque village of Littlemead, Mim has no idea how her life is about to change…

An uplifting story of found family and true love perfect for fans of Fern Britton and Veronica Henry.

And that’s it for this month from me. As always, feel free to comment below. What have been your favourite April reads? And do you find maps useful whether in the real world or as a writer?