I love reading. I read both fiction and non-fiction and enjoy various genres. Romantic fiction is my favourite, with crime fiction a close second, but I also read the occasional historical novel too.
And when I write my own books I write the sort of book I would want to read. My novels are essentially romances with lots of other themes/issues woven into the mix as well. And one thing that struck me early on in my writing career was that in romance in particular the main characters in the popular novels I read were mainly young – i.e. in their 20s or 30s. But I wanted to write about characters who were a bit older than that.
So I was delighted to get the chance to explore this notion of age in fiction when I wrote a guest post for Linda’s Book Bag blog on this very topic.
You can read the post on Linda’s wonderful book blog here.
I can’t imagine not writing. I just love it so much. Even if nobody read my scribblings I reckon I’d still have to keep on doing it. But if even one person reads and enjoys what I produce then that’s a bonus. But of course I’m delighted when more than one person does.
I love getting positive feedback and reviews – even the less positive but constructive reactions are helpful.
I really appreciate when readers who have already done enough by buying and reading my books, also take the time and trouble to review them – whether that’s on one of the online retailer sites or on their book blogs. This all helps spread the word to other potential readers and it does my writer’s ego good as well…
And today I certainly got that ego boosted when I read book blogger Joanne’s wonderful review of Settlement. What I especially loved was that she totally got what I was trying to say in the novel and she appreciated the subtleties of the title. This was a thoughtful and, to me, very special review.
You can read her review on her Portobello Book Blog here.
I was delighted to be invited to be part of a community day at the Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre which took place on Sunday 25th November 2018. The event was aimed at local people for whom entry to the centre throughout the day was free – although non-locals were welcome too.
I was asked to do an author talk about my novel for children – The Silver Locket. It’s a timeslip novel aimed at 9 to 12 year-olds. And, as the main characters are three twenty-first century children who find themselves transported back in time to the aftermath of the battle of Culloden, (it has been described as an Outlander for children) the book was felt to be a good fit for the event.
It also helped that I got the idea for the novel when I visited the centre on a school trip from the Isle of Skye with my Primary 6 (10 & 11 year-olds) pupils.
Background to the book
The children were learning all about the background to the battle of Culloden – about the Jacobites led by Bonnie Prince Charlie and their struggles to remove King George II from the throne and to have the Prince crowned king of Britain. It was hoped the visit to Culloden would bring this period in history to life for the children. And it most certainly did. Not only is the visitor centre – with its information, displays, artefacts, immersion room, and battlefield tours – totally superb, the education staff are second-to-none.
But it wasn’t only the children who were affected by what we saw on the day of our visit. I was too. When the education staff took us out onto the battlefield and we recreated the ‘Highland Charge’ where the Jacobite army (made up mostly but not exclusively of Scottish Highlanders) charged at the British Redcoat army, an idea popped into my head. An idea about three modern-day children finding themselves back… You know the rest.
At the time as well as being a teacher I was also a writer. I was writing – still am – contemporary fiction for adults. But I had no intention of writing for children. Except the idea wouldn’t go away.
And, in the end, I wrote the book and I used the author name of my alter-ego Anne McAlpine in order to keep my two writing identities separate. And in 2015, The Silver Locket was published.
So, it was good to be back at the Culloden Visitor Centre and to be part of their well-attended community event. I never dreamt on the day of the school visit that one day in the future, I’d be back as the author of a children’s book, that the book would be set at Culloden, and that I’d be there doing an author event. And I must say I really enjoyed doing some readings from my novel and sharing the background to the book – back where it all started.
Thank you to the National Trust for Scotland and to Catriona and the staff at the centre for the invitation, the warm welcome, and the opportunity to be part of your event.
You can read more about The Silver Locket below and you can buy it here.
From the back cover of The Silver Locket
The Battle of Culloden, 1746, and Bonnie Prince Charlie is defeated. Can three young friends from the 21st century ensure he escapes and that history stays on track?
A time-travelling mission, a very big adventure. Three twenty-first century friends and an eighteenth-century prince have a date with destiny…
It’s the last week of the school holidays and twelve year old Caitlin Cameron is bored. But when her new childminder turns out to be the eccentric Bella Blawearie, otherwise known as Scary Lady, everything changes.
Scary Lady lives up to her name. She seems able to read Caitlin’s mind. She sees visions in a snow globe and tells the time from a patchwork clock.
And things get even weirder when Caitlin and her two best friends, Lynette and Edward, accidentally open a time portal in an old tree and are hurled back through time to the eighteenth century.
They find themselves caught up in the blood-soaked aftermath of the Jacobite defeat at the battle of Culloden, and discover they’re there for a reason. A reason Scary Lady knows all about.
But all the friends have is questions. What is the significance of the silver locket passed to Caitlin by her grandmother? Can the locket help them ensure Bonnie Prince Charlie makes the right decision about his future?
And if they fail, will Scotland’s history books rewrite themselves, meaning Caitlin and her friends will not even be born?
Join them in their 18th century adventure as they make new friends, encounter great danger and strive to carry out their mission.
My new novel Settlement is out and about online all this week. It’s off on a tour of some book-bloggers’ websites. The tour has been organised by the amazing Kelly from Love Books Group and so far it’s going really well.
So I thought I’d give my own readers a chance to hop on board the blog bus and see where the book has been so far. Just click on the blog titles to visit each stop.
On day one, it was on Els’s blog – b for book review – where Els shared an extract and some information about me and the book.
Day two saw Settlement arriving at Jill’s blog – On The Shelf Books – and Jill had written the most wonderful review.
Then today it showed up at MADE UP BOOKS where Cassandra almost made me cry with her appreciative review.
I’ve never done a blog tour before but this is proving to be great fun. And I must say a huge thank to all the bloggers who have given up their time for free to support it.
I’ll report back in a few days with how the rest of the week goes.
And a quick question as always to end: nowadays I find almost all my new reads via the book blogs that I follow. How do you find yours?
Yes, at last it’s here! My new novel Settlementis now available. It’s the book I never planned to write – the sequel to Displacement. I thought I’d told all of Rachel and Jack’s story but readers of Displacement told me no. They insisted there was more to tell. And they were right. So much so – I’m now planning the third and final – yes final – part of this unexpected trilogy.
And, although it’s a sequel, I’ve written it so it can be read as a standalone – but of course I’d love it if people read both.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed spending more time with Rachel and Jack and their families and friends. I hadn’t realised how much I missed them and I can’t wait to get cracking on the final instalment.
So what’s it about?
Falling in love is the easy bit. Happy ever after requires work, commitment and honesty.
She wants him to be her friend and lover. He wants her as his wife. Can a compromise be reached? Or are things truly over between them?
When former Edinburgh policeman Jack Baxter met crofter and author Rachel Campbell at her home on the Scottish island of Skye, they fell in love. It was a second chance at happiness for them both.
But after Jack proposes marriage, it becomes clear they want different things.
Then, as Rachel prepares to return to the Middle East to work on a peacemaking project that’s close to her heart, and as Jack’s past catches up with him, it seems their relationship is doomed.
Can Rachel compromise on her need to maintain her hard-won independence?
Can Jack survive the life-threatening situation in which he finds himself?
Will they get the chance to put things right between them?
If you like a complex, grown-up romance with lots of raw emotion, dramatic and exotic settings, all mixed in with some international politics and laced with elements of a crime thriller, then this is the book for you.
Settlementis available online as a paperback and as an ebook or, if you prefer, your local bookshop should be able to get it for you.
My neighbour came to the door last Sunday afternoon. Said she had a favour to ask. I thought she was going to ask me to look after her cat for a few days. But no, that wasn’t it. She is president of the local branch of the Scottish Women’s Institute (SWI) and the speaker lined up for Tuesday evening’s meeting had just cancelled. The speaker, a lecturer in catering and hospitality at the local college, had been going to give a cookery demonstration and my neighbour wondered if I could step in.
Thankfully for me and the prospective audience I wasn’t being invited to do anything cookery related. But if I could come and give an author talk that would be fantastic.
Without pausing to consider that I would have very little time to prepare, I agreed.
And I’m very glad that I did.
I found, as I often do, that I work better under pressure and by recycling and redrafting previous author talks that I’ve given, I’d soon tailored what I was going to say for my prospective audience. The short notice also meant I didn’t really have time to get nervous.
I was made very welcome by the SWI members and thoroughly enjoyed doing the talk which was warmly received. I spoke a bit about myself, about my journey to publication, and about the inspiration behind my various books. I was also able to do some publicity for my new novel – due out at the end of August. Then I finished by reading a couple of extracts from two of my books.
And the bonus was I completely sold out the box of books I’d taken with me – and took orders for more copies from those whom I couldn’t supply on the night.
It has been lovely too, since the talk, to receive cards and other correspondence from audience members saying how much they enjoyed the evening.
All-in-all, it was a very successful – if impromptu – author talk. Actually, quite invigorating. And a great chance to do some pre-publicity for Settlement whilst encouraging people to read Displacement, the first book in the series.
So thank you to the SWI – which you can read more about here if you’re interested – and here’s to seizing the day.
Do you enjoy speaking about your work – writing or other? Have you ever had to give a talk at short notice? Did it go well?
When I was looking for a literary agent and publisher for my first novel, Change of Life, nearly ten years ago, one of the rejection reasons I was given was the age of my main characters. I was told nobody wanted to read a romance where the prospective couple were in their late forties and especially where they had to deal with awkward teenage children and cope with one of them falling seriously ill. It seemed realism was out and hearts and flowers happy-ever-after romanticism was in.
Things have moved on a bit since then. There are romantic novels, where difficult issues are included in the story. However, romance does still seem to be dominated by the ‘Cafe in the Seaside Village’ type stories with their matchstick female figures on their pastel-coloured covers. But even although the covers are clichéd, and the stories follow a formula, they can be very enjoyable in a hearts-and- flowers, young love, happy-ever-after sort of way.
But it seems to me that romantic fiction with older lead characters is still in the minority – even although the biggest part of the population in the UK is over fifty. I don’t believe it’s because people don’t want to read such novels and I think maybe the big publishers are missing a trick here.
I should also say before going any further that what follows is merely my impression and my opinion. It isn’t based on any scientific research.
And my final disclosure is one of vested interest – I am 61 and three-quarters years-old.
Oh and PS – I should also say that I’m in no way anti romantic fiction with young main characters. I’ve recently read and thoroughly enjoyed three excellent romances with protagonists in their twenties and thirties. These were June Kearns two historical romances: The Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy and The 20s Girl, the Ghost and All That Jazz. And my most recent read is Kate Field’s The Magic of Ramblings which truly is magic – and poignant and beautiful.
But I also enjoy reading about older characters falling in love. I like romances where the protagonists are in their forties, fifties, sixties and beyond. And I like a bit of realism. I like to see the prospective couple facing up to the issues, complications and challenges that come with age. I like it when there are several generations of a family involved in the story. And I like to see there’s hope and fun and love to be had by us all – regardless of age.
Authors in other genres – crime for example – have created hugely successful older lead characters. There’s Detective Rebus in Ian Rankin’s Novels and there’s the wonderful Vera in the series by Ann Cleeves – to name just two.
And there are some fabulous romance writers who are nailing it in this regard. Books by Maggie Christensen, Christine Webber, Gilli Allan and Hilary Boyd spring to mind. Do check them out if you like more mature, romance-plus fiction. You’ll be in for a highly enjoyable read with any of their books.
Which brings me to the age of the readers of books – I don’t as an author aim for a particular age group. I have young and old readers. Indeed my children’s novel The Silver Locket seems to have been read by as many, if not more, adults as children.
I don’t get the impression that Crime or Sci-Fi or Fantasy are particularly appealing to one narrow age group – Harry Potter is not just read by children, and I’m guessing the Outlander books appeal across the adult age range to those who like the genre.
Why should romance be any different? Although I do get that someone in their twenties might not want to read about people the age of their parents/grandparents falling in love and you know… But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen and it doesn’t mean that older readers shouldn’t be able to read romances centred around people their age.
So I suppose what I’m saying is let’s have romantic fiction that’s a bit more relaxed about age, a bit more inclusive.
As a writer I enjoy writing about characters nearer my own age, facing up to life-changing challenges and dealing with all sorts of issues – as well as finding themselves falling in love. Other writers prefer writing about younger characters regardless of their own age.
As a reader I enjoy all sorts of romances and other genres too – and the characters ages are incidental – what matters to me is that it’s a good story, well told, and with a satisfying resolution.
And in conclusion – I’m no further forward with nailing this genre thing – but it’s been fun thinking and writing about it. I know my books aren’t chick-lit or ‘pure’ romance. But I don’t think ‘love-at-the-last-chance-cafe-for-the-chronologically-challenged-with-baggage’ classification is going to work.
As always please do leave your thoughts and comments below.
As I said in my last post I find the genre thing for novel classification rather tricky. As a writer, I don’t want to mislead prospective readers by getting the labelling wrong. But I also want to make sure my books appeal to and reach my target readership when they’re browsing the shelves in their local bookshop or scrolling through an online book selling site.
Of course, the book’s front cover and the summary of the story on the back are very important too. And, along with my editor and cover designer, I work hard to get those things right. But it will be the place the book is shelved – online or in the real world – that will get the browsing book buyer or library borrower to my book in the first place.
So what’s my genre and what are the keywords that best describe my previous and my about-to-be- published books?
And does the fact none of my books fit neatly into one category and that they have ‘serious’ themes woven through them mean they are literary novels?
Let’s get the literary thing out of the way first. I’m not sure I even know what literary means – this despite having studied English literature at university (back in the Stone Age). It seems to me to apply to fiction that doesn’t fit into any of the genres, e.g. crime, science fiction, thriller. But it also seems to imply clever content by a clever writer for an intelligent and educated readership. And I have a problem with that. There’s good and bad literary fiction just as there is with genre. And the term gives very little away as to the nature of the story.
So, I tend to favour John Updike’s view that all fictional works are literary because ‘they are written in words’. Therefore I’m not going to apply the literary tag. I take that as a given.
Contemporary Romance Plus?
At the heart of my books there is a romantic relationship set in the present day. The romance drives the story. So my genre is romance. But it would be more accurate to describe it as romance-plus.
My first novel Change of Life has romance + problems within a marriage, + bereavement due to suicide + facing up to a cancer diagnosis.
My second novel Displacement has romance + consequences of war + Middle Eastern politics + bereavement + infidelity + difficult family relationships.
And Settlement – my soon-to-be-published sequel to Displacement – has romance + crime thriller elements + more Middle Eastern politics where the personal and the political are seen as intertwined + the conflict between romance and realism in relationships.
So, to clarify – I hope: genres are wide concepts. Crime novels can be thrillers or police procedural, and they can be gritty or cosy, and they can feature relationships – romantic or otherwise. Science-fiction novels can deal with/predict scientific developments and their implications, they can include politics at an interplanetary level, and they can include mystery, war and even romance.
And the romantic genre is the same. It can be historical or contemporary, and it can include other issues relevant to the protagonists’ situation. Yes, it can be a straightforward tale of two people meeting, falling in love, overcoming some obstacles and then finding their happy-ever-after. But for me, I like to write and to read books with a bit more going on.
What can my readers expect?
I like reading romantic fiction that is entertaining, intriguing, and that maybe educates or makes me think along the way. I like being taken to new and interesting places, and I like the story to be both satisfying and unpredictable. And yes, I do like a happy, but also realistic, resolution.
So I write the sort of romantic fiction that I like to read, and I hope my novels are as described in the paragraph above. But I should also add that the term ‘plus’ could also apply to the ages of my novels’ main characters as they’re in their forties and fifties rather than their twenties and thirties.
And it’s the topic of genre and age group – of the author, the reader, and the main characters – that I’ll be looking at in the third and final part of this series of posts.
In the meantime, do let me know how you like your genres. Do you like pure genre fiction that sticks to the rules and formula, or do you like a bit of a mash-up? Please do leave comments below.
As the publication date for my next novel draws ever closer, my thoughts are now turning to how to ensure it catches the eye of prospective readers both online and in book shops.
An attractive cover and an engaging back-cover summary will of course be essential – and by working with my editor and cover designer I’m confident I’ll get both of these things right.
But nailing the precise genre and the single words and phrases that perfectly describe the book’s content are equally – some might say even more – important. And it’s here that I’m not so confident. And here’s why.
In the real world, bookshops and libraries shelve books according to genre. This makes it easier for readers to both seek out and browse the books that interest them. Similarly in an online book store, prospective book buyers will click on genre type or associated keywords in order to find what they might be looking for. It makes complete sense to organise things this way.
And if writers and publishers get it right, you won’t find cookbooks in amongst books on mountaineering and you won’t find detective novels in amongst science fiction. Simple.
Only sometimes it’s not that straightforward. What if the book you’ve written is cookery for mountaineers whilst they’re out on the mountain? Or, what if the seasoned, somewhat cynical detective with the disastrous personal life is part android/ part Martian and investigates crime throughout the solar-system? And no, I haven’t written a book like either of these examples.
But I do find myself in a similar quandary when it comes to classifying my new book, just as I was with the previous two.
All three books have a strong romantic element to them. But they don’t fit neatly into the romance genre. For one thing, the protagonists aren’t young, and besides coping with relationship issues, they are also facing up to other serious challenges.
In my first book, Change of Life, the main characters are a couple who have been married for more than twenty years and who are in their late forties. Their marriage is already under strain as the story begins with the female protagonist, Rosie, suspecting infidelity on the part of her husband, Tom. She is then faced with the even bigger shock of being diagnosed with breast cancer. The couple’s children and wider family too, all have significant parts to play in supporting Rosie and Tom as they confront the challenges ahead.
My second book, Displacement, also centres around two main characters, this time just setting out on a new relationship with each other. There is Jack, a retired policeman, and Rachel, a children’s book author and illustrator. They meet at the beginning of the novel on the Scottish island of Skye. They are both divorced and in their fifties. Rachel has recently lost her son, a soldier, who was killed while serving in Afghanistan. And Jack is recovering from the heart attack which brought about his early retirement. There is a strong political element to the story too, because as part of Rachel’s attempts to come to terms with the loss of her son, and to move on from it, she travels to the Middle East to visit her brother in Israel-Palestine. She wants to explore her Jewish heritage, but she also finds herself facing up to some very difficult questions about conflict, nationhood and humanity’s difficulties in finding ways to peacefully co-exist.
And the new book, Settlement, is a sequel to Displacement. Jack and Rachel’s romantic relationship has deepened, but is under threat. Rachel is returning to Israel to begin work on a book about how ordinary people can be instrumental in working for peace, and Jack is returning to work as a police consultant in the Historic Crimes unit in Edinburgh. This time as well as the social/cultural/ political strands, there is Jack’s experience of being the victim of violence and of suffering from PTSD.
All three books have the romantic love and relationship between two people at their heart, but this ripples out and links into wider families, communities and issues. All three books are romance+ – i.e. plus other issues. None are conventional romance/love stories. They are not centred around 20 or 30-somethings. The conclusions aren’t happy-ever-after – but are, rather, there-is-hope-for-the-future- as-long-as-they-work-at-it-and-accept-the-rough-with-the-smooth-and-give-each-other-space.
So wish me luck as I try to narrow down my latest novel’s genre and keywords from – Contemporary Romantic Literary (not sure about the literary) Fiction also featuring politics, crime and mental health in several very different settings – to something altogether more snappy. And don’t get me started on whether it should also be labelled Women’s Fiction. Short answer – I don’t know, probably…
As for where it should be shelved…
In Part 2 of this three part series of posts on classifying books, I will be looking at the romantic genre and asking what readers want and expect when reading romances.
In Part 3 I will be looking at the issue of age – the age of the main characters and of the target readership – in romantic fiction and in several other genres as well.
Please do add your comments below. For example: What genre(s) do you prefer? And what are your expectations when reading books in that/those genre(s)? Or for you, is it story first, genre second?
It’s some writing news of my own for this week’s post.
Bring on the rewrites
My next book is now with my editor and I’m braced and ready for the rewrites that will inevitably be required. I always think I’ve polished my writing until it cannot be improved before I send it off, but then I get the editor’s comments and realise it’s not perfect after all.
However, I do enjoy the editing process. I like the constructive criticism and I love to see how my writing is improved by rewriting. And even when I don’t at first agree with suggested changes I almost always see that the editor is right after I’ve slept on it.
I call my editor the Alchemist because he takes the base manuscript and gives me the means to turn it into writing gold (she says modestly).
Some of you already know that this new book entitled Settlement is the sequel to my most recent novel Displacement. I’ve never written a sequel before and it’s a slightly different process to writing a standalone book. Continuity and consistency in relation to the first book is vital and so is having the story make sense to people who haven’t read the first one without boring those who have. I think I’ve managed it, but I’m sure my editor will pick me up on any failures there.
Next job for Settlement will be cover design. I have a few ideas and will be discussing them with the cover designer very soon.
And while I await the editorial feedback, I intend to sketch out the third and final part of this series of books and to make some notes for my next children’s book. So, no, there will be no slacking at the writing desk.
However, I will get some time away from the desk this weekend as I’m heading off to the annual conference of the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW). I always enjoy this conference – a whole weekend of workshops, networking and meeting up with writer friends, as well as the announcement of the SAW writing awards for the current year. And the food’s always good too.
I’ll report back on how the conference goes in my next post. Until then I’ll leave you with a question: Do you like reading sequels and/or novel series or do you prefer standalones?