Best Reads of 2019: My top 25 – and the winner is … #reading #books

Photo by Alice Hampson on Unsplash

My Top 25 Reads of 2019

Yes, it’s that time of year again. In common with many newspapers, magazines and book bloggers I’ve been looking back over the books I’ve read this year and trying to decide on my top 10, five-star reads. It quickly became my top 20 and in the end I forced myself to stop at 25! Otherwise we’d still be here this time next year. And most of the ones which didn’t make it were 4 or 4.5 star rated as opposed to 5.

I’ve read over 50 books this year and the best ones have kept me up reading way too late – always a good sign as to the enjoyment level – if not so good for being wide awake the following day.

My list is a personal one – there are few of the big literary names beloved by the newspaper reviewers. While many of these are media favourites are commendable and a couple do make it onto my list, they don’t really need further publicity from me. It’s also true that I’ve found most of these favourite books/authors via book bloggers and Facebook groups made up of readers who like similar books to me.

Several of the authors whose books are on this list took part in the Virtual Book Festival that I hosted here in July and August which without doubt was my personal blogging highlight of this year.

Not surprisingly for a writer of romances, the first 21 out of the 25 are in the romantic fiction genre, but the final four aren’t – 22 does have a compelling romantic element but this alternative history novel has so much more going on too, 23 and 24 are crime fiction and the last one is domestic noir.

So here it is – my top 25 books (in no particular order) of 2019:

Winter Beneath the Stars by Jo Thomas*

Brahminy Sunrise by Maggie Christensen *

The Summer of Chasing Dreams by Holly Martin

Summer at the Art Café by Sue McDonagh*

Happiness for Beginners by Carole Matthews

Crikey a Bodyguard by Kathryn Freeman*

Edie Browne’s Cottage by the Sea by Jane Linfoot

Poppy’s Recipe for Life by Heidi Swain

The Things I Know by Amanda Prowse

One Summer in Little Penhaven by Angela Britnell

The Little Pink Taxi by Marie Laval*

A Summer to Remember by Sue Moorcroft

All Summer with You by Beth Good

The Man I Fell in Love With by Kate Field

A Cornish Affair by Jo Lambert

The Beekeepers Cottage by Emma Davies

The Day We Meet Again by Miranda Dickinson

Tropic Storm by Stella Quinn

Autumn at Blaxland Falls by Eliza Bennets*

The Bistro at Watersmeet Bridge by Julie Stock

Pieces of You and Me by Rachel Burton

Inceptio by Alison Morton*

Time for the Dead by Lin Anderson

Wildfire by Ann Cleeves

In the Absence of Miracles by Michael J Malone

*indicates I’ve read other standalone or subsequent books in a series by this author in 2019 and can recommend them too.

Availability  

The books are all available on Amazon where you can find out more about them. Most are paperbacks as well as ebooks and can therefore also be purchased from bookshops and borrowed from libraries.

Why These 25 – in short

The romances all have depth, emotion aplenty and are deeply satisfying reads. Inceptio is the first in a fabulous, highly original series and has romantic, thriller and historical elements.  The two crime novels live up to Ann Cleeves and Lin Anderson’s usual amazing high standards. And Michael J Malone’s is ‘shocking, chilling and heartbreakingly emotive’ to quote from the book’s back cover.

Number One

 

And if I absolutely had to pick just one as my single top read – Oh, so hard, but it would have to be Inceptio by Alison Morton for sheer originality and for it being the first in a stunning series. I reviewed it here  earlier this year if you want to know more.

Over to you

What have been some of your favourite reads this year and if you had to pick one – what would it be?

See You in 2020

This will be my final post for this year. I’ll be back in January with more news of my new novel Fulfilment due out early in 2020.

In the meantime thank you to everyone who has visited, read and commented on this year’s posts. I appreciate all your support of me as a writer here on the blog and as readers of my books. You rock! Happy festive season, to all of you who celebrate it. And a Good New Year when it comes. See you on the other side.

 

 

The Life She Deserves by Maggie Christensen @MaggieChriste33 #BookReview #amreading #romance

This latest book from Maggie Christensen is the first in the new Australian set, Granite Springs series. It’s a contemporary second-chance/ seasoned/ mature romance and it’s excellent.

Regular readers of this blog will know that this author is a favourite of mine. Her books are realistic but romantic. The main characters tend to have a fair bit of life experience behind them but they’re still looking to the future, not dwelling in the past, and they’re certainly not immune from falling in love. And the stories and their settings easily hook me in.

So I suspected I was going to enjoy The Life She Deserves – and I certainly did. Maybe even the best yet from this author.

It tells the story of divorcee Jo and widower Col. Being older or, ‘in their prime’ if you prefer, they both have baggage – and it’s baggage that gets in the way of their fledgling romance. Jo has to fight for the life she most definitely deserves.

All the characters are three-dimensional and believable – flaws and all. Change is hard for all of them and there is plenty internal and external emotional conflict driving the story on. And there are surprises along the way too.

Yes, this is another hit from this wonderful, talented and prolific author.

From the back of the book:

Growing up in the small Australian country town of Granite Springs, Jo and Col have been lifelong friends.

Following Jo’s divorce and the death of Col’s wife, the pair find comfort in their common grief. But as they tentatively explore their new relationship, they have little idea of the challenges that lie ahead.

What they haven’t bargained for is Jo’s interfering ex, along with their three children, all of whom have their own agendas.

Can Jo ride out the storm? Will she be granted the life she deserves?

If you enjoy heartwarming second chance romance in a rural setting, you’ll love this book.

 

The Life She Deserves is available in Paperback and ebook formats and you can get it here.

 

 

AND I can also reveal that the second book in the Granite Springs series The Life She Chooses is out on 9th December and you can pre-order it here.

Autumn Daze #writing #authortalk #reading

Home to autumn

I recently returned home to Scotland from a month away visiting family in Australia. I left behind Queensland’s hot and sunny springtime and came back to misty, mellow autumn days at home. So what with the jetlag and the dramatic change in the weather and daylight hours, it’s taken a wee while for me to get back into my writing rhythm.

But I do love the autumn. I take a childish delight in walking through fallen leaves and I love the quality of the light and the crisp fresh air. So I’ve been alternating spells at the desk with lots of nice long walks.

Back to work at the writing desk

And, as my writing schedule from now until the end of the year is pretty full-on, I intend to continue to find time for these mind-clearing, restorative and refreshing outdoor spells.

My first task on returning to work was to begin the redraft of the manuscript for my latest novel. I’ve made good progress with that and, after a bit more rewriting of certain sections, it will be ready to go off to the editor. The new book is called Fulfilment. It’s the third and final part of my Skye series of novels and it will be out early next year.

Author Talk

And speaking of Skye, where I lived when I write the first two books in the above-mentioned series, I’m heading back there this week on author business. I’ll be there as my alter-ego, children’s author Anne McAlpine, to talk about The Silver Locket, my Bonnie Prince Charlie/ timeslip novel for 9 to 12 year-olds. I’m going to be doing an author talk at one of the island’s primary schools and will also be doing writing workshops with some of the pupils. I am looking forward to it very much.

Book Sale

Then when I get back, I’ve got the pre-Christmas gathering and lunch of the Facebook group – Authors and Book Bloggers in Scotland – to go to in Edinburgh. And at the end of November I have a table at the local Craft & Gift Fair where I’ll be selling my books.

Lots of Reading

When I do find time to relax – and I will – then, of course, I’ll be reading. I read a lot of good books when I was away in Australia including, naturally lots of contemporary romance as well as a couple of cracking crime novels. Among the best were –

in crime: Lin Anderson’s Time for the Dead and Ann Cleeves’ Wildfire

in romance: The Day We Meet Again by Miranda Dickinson, Tropic Storm by Stella Quinn, Autumn at Blaxland Falls by Eliza Bennets and The Life She Deserves by Maggie Christensen.

And I’m currently reading and very much enjoying Kathryn Freeman’s latest contemporary second-chance romance – Reach For a Star

Questions for you

So, I reckon that’s us up to date. But before I go I’d like to ask if you have a favourite season and if so what is it that especially appeals to you about it? Also what books have you enjoyed reading recently and what are you currently reading?

As always please do leave comments below.

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 24 – interview with author Kate Field @katehaswords #VirtBoookFest #books #romanticfiction

Hello everyone and welcome to event number 24 in the Virtual book festival programme. Today we have an interview with author of contemporary romantic fiction, Kate Field.

And hello and welcome to you too, Kate. Let’s begin with why and how you became a writer?

 

The earliest memory I have of writing is from primary school, when I wrote a story about an octopus and his underwater friends. The teacher pinned it on the wall, even though it stretched for pages and pages. I was a shy girl, neither sporty nor musical, and for the first time it felt like there was something I might be good at.

 

I wrote terrible poetry in my teens and eventually started my first novel in my early twenties. I wrote on and off for almost twenty years as a hobby, and then had a ‘now or never’ moment when I turned forty. I plucked up the courage to start sending my writing out and entering competitions. I was a runner up in a competition organised by Woman magazine and Accent Press, and Accent published my first three books.

 

I didn’t ever dare call myself a writer during those early years. It wasn’t until I was shortlisted for the New Talent Award at the Festival of Romance and met other writers for the first time that I realised I was one of them. I had found my tribe!

Anne: Well done for going for it. Your courage in taking the leap certainly paid off.

 

What genre do you write in and why does that hold a particular appeal for you?

I write romantic fiction. It’s been my favourite genre ever since I read Pride and Prejudice as my GCSE set text and was swept up in the story in a way I’d never been before. It’s the genre where I can relate to the characters and situations and see parts of my own life reflected on the pages, and that adds extra appeal to the books. I also have more emotional connection to romantic fiction novels than any other, because I love a happy ending and I find it comforting to be able to pick up a book knowing that’s exactly what I’ll get.

I never actively thought about what sort of books to write. It was always going to be romance.

Anne: Yes, I like ‘the deal’ between romantic fiction authors and readers – as a reader you know you won’t be left hanging and that you’ll get a story you can relate to along the way.

 

 How many books have you written? Tell us a bit about them.

Four books have been published so far, with the fifth due out in February 2020.

The Magic of Ramblings was the first to be published. It’s about a desperate woman who runs away from her life and takes a job as a companion to an old lady who lives at Ramblings, a country house in Lancashire. It’s a story of friendship, of community spirit, and of starting again when all seems lost.

I went back to Ramblings in another book, The Winter That Made Us, as I couldn’t resist revisiting some favourite characters! It’s a standalone story about an unlikely couple who connect through music and the restoration of the Ramblings walled garden.

The Truth About You, Me and Us is also set in Lancashire. It’s about a community of craft people and tells the story of Helen, who made a controversial decision a few years ago and who faces a challenge when her past catches up with her.

My most recent book is The Man I Fell in Love With, and there’s more about that one below.

Anne: And all of them are such good stories.

 

 Tell us about a typical writing day?

I don’t have a typical writing day. I have a day job, so writing has to fit around that and family life. This means that I pick up my writing whenever I have chance, and write for as long as I can, without having a set plan for how many words I need to write. Some days even one paragraph is a good outcome!

Anne: Yes, I can see why you need to be flexible as regards your writing word count expectations. But every paragraph counts.

 

 Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?

I don’t plot in detail. My sensible side tells me that I should and that it would save a lot of time, especially on those days when I reach the end of a scene and have no idea what is going to happen next. But when I try to plot ahead, it doesn’t seem to work for me. I need to write into the story and to get to know the characters and what they might do as I go along.

Having said that, I do fill out character questionnaires before I start, and spend some time thinking about the opening scene and a few other scenes or wisps of conversation that could happen along the way.

Anne: So a bit of planning but an open mind too.

 

 What comes first for you characters or plot?

You can probably guess from my answer to the last question that characters come first! I think that’s partly because I write romantic stories, and it’s essential that readers can relate to the characters and want to follow their journey over several hundred pages, even when they know that the book will finish with a happy ending. I also enjoy reading character-driven stories so it’s inevitable that I’m drawn to writing them too.

Anne: That makes perfect sense for the sort of stories you write. The characters are indeed memorable and it’s a pleasure to go with them through their story.

 

 Where do you get your ideas?

The simple answer to this is that they come at any time and from anywhere! The Magic of Ramblings was inspired by my love of Georgette Heyer books, and in particular those stories where an unassuming companion wins the heart of a dashing hero! The Winter That Made Us was inspired by an advert I saw on television featuring floating Chinese lanterns. I thought of a scene where I could use floating lanterns and the whole book was built around it. It’s still one of my favourite parts of the book. Other stories have been inspired by magazine articles, items in the news or – in the case of The Man I Fell in Love With – a piece of gossip at work!

Anne: That’s the magic of writing ( and Ramblings), isn’t it? Ideas come from all sorts of places and situations.

 

Have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created? Tell us about them if you have – or is it too hard to pick just one?

It’s very hard to pick one, as I have favourites for different reasons. The book that’s coming out in February, A Dozen Second Chances, features a character called Phyllis, who is the heroine’s grandmother, and I loved writing her scenes. She’s funny and wise and thinks she can get away with saying and doing anything she likes because of her grand old age!

It’s tough to choose between my male leads, as I love them all, but I have a soft spot for Noah Thornton from The Winter That Made Us. He starts off as a prickly bear of a man, who rarely smiles or speaks after facing a tragic event in his past, and I loved watching him thaw as the story develops.

Anne: Ah, Noah. I’m still in love with him …

 

 Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers and/or any awards your books have received?

 The Magic of Ramblings won the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Award for new writers, which was a complete surprise and a huge honour!

Anne: Congratulations!

I’m grateful to anyone who takes a time to leave a review. Here are a few:

‘This was the first time that I’ve been so engrossed in a book, that I’ve forgotten where I was. It is totally consuming and the writing is enchanting and natural. Exceptional depth to the characters and a beautiful story. Loved loved loved it. Not my usual type of book but it was my favourite read of the year by a mile.’ Amazon review, The Magic of Ramblings

‘I thought this story was utterly delightful and a perfect example of truly romantic women’s fiction.’ Linda’s Book Bag, The Truth About You, Me and Us

‘The whole book is beautifully written, with real warmth, a strong sense of place and of the people who live there. I found it quite captivating, heart-warming and so uplifting – one of those rare and lovely reads that you put down at the end with a smile, and just want to say out loud “I really enjoyed that”.’ Being Anne, The Winter That Made Us

‘Kate Field has made me believe in love again, not the teenage meet-cute kind of love, but the real, enduring, self-sacrificing love. The love that really, as adults, we all hope is truly real.’  The Glass House Girls Online Magazine, The Man I Fell in Love With

Anne: Wow!

 

There is an extract from your novel The Man I Fell in Love With below.  Tell us a bit more about this particular book and why you chose it for the extract.

This is my most recently published book, and for a long time this was my secret writing project. I loved the characters so much, especially Mary Black, that I was too scared to submit it as I knew that rejection would hurt! Mary has proved a more controversial figure than I expected. She supports her husband when he reveals that he is gay, and her reaction has divided opinion, with some readers seeing her as weak and others acknowledging her strength. I think she’s wonderful!

This is the blurb from Amazon:

Sometimes we find happiness where we least expect it…

After twenty years of contented marriage, no one is more surprised than Mary Black when her husband announces he’s leaving her… for another man.

For the sake of the children, Mary has no choice but to pick herself up and start again. She hosts family meals that include Leo and his new partner. She copes with the kids wanting to spend less time with her and more time with their ‘fun’ dads. But one thing she can’t quite ignore is Leo’s gorgeous brother, who has just come back to town…

After living a life of sliding doors and missed opportunities, can Mary finally put herself first and take a chance that could change everything?

A wonderfully uplifting novel full of wisdom, spirit and charm. This is a love story with a difference, perfect for fans of Jill Mansell and Heidi Swain

In this extract, Mary has invited Leo and his new partner to the family home for Christmas, and Leo’s brother Ethan challenges her over her behaviour:

After dinner, Ava pulled out the box of Trivial Pursuit for the traditional game of everyone trying to beat Leo. I ducked out this year, letting Clark take my place, and went to tidy the kitchen, finding simple pleasure in restoring order in the one area I could. Noise and laughter floated down the hall.

‘What are you doing?’

Ethan followed me into the kitchen and pushed the door shut.

‘Tidying up.’

‘I don’t mean in here.’I knew exactly what he meant, knew what he was going to say, and it was one of the reasons why I had spent the whole of Christmas Eve out shopping, so that there was no danger of this conversation taking place. I grabbed a pile of cutlery, and fed it into the dishwasher with as much rattling as I could manage.

Ethan touched my arm.

‘Mary.’ I ignored him. He grabbed the cutlery from me, threw it in the basket and slammed the dishwasher door closed. ‘What’s the matter with you?’

‘With me?’ That riled me. How was any of this my fault? ‘Nothing.’

‘That’s my point. Leo’s about to leave you, and you look about as bothered as if you’d run out of milk.’

‘Of course I’m bothered! I don’t want him to go. Would you prefer it if I stayed in bed and cried into my pillow? Or if I shouted abuse at him and cut up all his suits? Do you think that would help Jonas and Ava?’

‘It might help you. It might show Leo that you do actually care, and that he has something to stay for.’

‘Me being me isn’t enough to make him stay, is that what you’re saying? That I’ve driven him away? Thanks for that vote of confidence.’

‘That’s not what I meant . . .’

‘And what makes you qualified to give me advice on relationships, with your two failed marriages and string of ex-girlfriends?’

Perhaps I had gone a bit far with that one – his second wife had been unfaithful, according to Audrey – but what right did he have to stand in my kitchen, berating my indifference? I knew some people would find my reaction odd, but I thought Ethan knew me better.

‘I know exactly what you’re doing. You block out things that are difficult, pretend they’re not happening. It’s what you’ve always done.’

‘That’s not true!’

‘What is it then? Some grand sacrifice for Leo? You love him, but you’re letting him go? Listen to me, Mary. It’s not heroic or noble to do that. It’s the wrong choice. If you want something enough you should carry on fighting for it, even if you get knocked down a thousand times, and no matter the collateral damage. Don’t condemn yourself to a life of loneliness and regret.’

He gazed at me then, and it was as if he’d ripped open that confident jacket, and shown me someone entirely different underneath. I didn’t know what to say, and was spared having to say anything when Leo walked in. He looked from Ethan to me, and back to Ethan.

‘What are you saying to her?’ I had never heard Leo’s tone so sharp.

‘The truth.’ Leo’s head jerked back as if Ethan had struck him on the chin. ‘I told Mary that she needs to fight to keep you.’

‘Do you have a problem with Leo being gay?’ I asked. There had always been tension between these two, but this level of animosity was new.

‘Not in the slightest. I only have a problem with him deciding he’s gay now, years after marrying you.’

‘I haven’t made the decision. I met Clark, and I can’t ignore what I feel for him.’ Leo stared at Ethan. ‘You can’t help who you fall in love with. You should understand that.’

And Ethan, whom I had never before seen lost for words, simply shook his head at Leo and walked out.

If you want to read more you can buy the book at the link below:

eBook and paperback available here:

 

Kate: Thanks for inviting me to take part in your Virtual Book Festival, Anne!

Anne : Thank you so much for taking part.

 

About Kate:

Kate writes contemporary women’s fiction, mainly set in her favourite county of Lancashire,

where she lives with her husband, daughter and mischievous cat.

She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Kate’s debut novel, The Magic of Ramblings, won the RNA’s Joan Hessayon Award for new writers.

 

You can connect with Kate online at the links below:

Twitter @katehaswords

Facebook

Amazon page

Virtual Book Festival: Event 23 – an interview with author Kathryn Freeman @KathrynFreeman1 #VirtBookFest #books #romanticfiction

Hello everyone, event number 23 in the Virtual Book festival is an interview with author of Kathryn Freeman. Kathryn writes wonderful, heart-warming contemporary romantic fiction and she’s going to tell us a bit about her books and her writing life. So, welcome to the festival, Kathryn and thank you so much for taking part.

 

Can we start with why and how you became a writer?

From my early teens I’ve been an avid reader, always with a book on the go, but it was only ten years ago that I wondered if I could actually write one. Cue a New Year resolution, and to my amazement I didn’t just write the book, I loved writing it. Of course the book I thought was fabulous, wasn’t, and it was four years and three books later before I got my first publishing contract. That first book though? I never let it go, and after a total re-write, Reach for a Star will be out in September (see question 10!).

Anne: Yes, writing and getting published can require a long apprenticeship. But how lovely that your first book hasn’t gone away and we’ll get a chance to read it.

 

What genre do you write in and why does that hold a particular appeal for you?

I write contemporary romance because that’s what I love to read most. Books that touch my heart. Bring a smile to my face yet also a lump to my throat. I enjoy other genres, but a thriller or a crime novel holds little appeal to me unless there is a love story winding its way through.

Anne: Yes, I must admit I’m a bit like that too.

 

How many books have you written? Tell us a bit about your latest.

I’m shocked to find I’ve had 11 books published now. How did that happen? Crikey A Bodyguard is my most recent, published in April. It features Dr Kelly Bridge, a brilliant scientist on the verge of finding a vaccine to counteract the latest bioterrorism threat, and Ben Jacobs, the bodyguard assigned to protect her. Ben flunked spectacularly out of school, so he knows his new client Dr Kelly Bridge spells trouble for him. What he doesn’t anticipate is quite how much.

Anne: Eleven books – that’s impressive! And it’s no secret I’ve enjoyed every one of them.

 

Tell us about a typical writing day?

Typically I exercise in the morning to get the blood flowing into my brain (!) and then sit at my desk, in my office at the top of our house, and write. I’m also a medical writer, so some days I wear my romance hat, and others my scientific one. Or as I say in my biography, some days a racing heart is a medical condition, others it’s the reaction to a hunky hero J

Anne: Haha! I agree about the exercise factor. It definitely gets the imagination fired up.

 

Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?

I plot the key turning points of the book out into a synopsis which runs over around 3-4 pages. Alongside that, I write biographies for the key characters. With that in mind, I crack on with the writing, which usually loosely follows the outline.

Anne: That’s very organised but also not too rigid either.

 

What comes first for you, characters or plot?

Usually for me it’s the characters who come first. That’s where I take my pleasure from. I don’t really mind where the book is set, what the characters do, it’s who they are and how they interact that, to me, provide the fun – and the challenge – of writing.

Anne: That way you can let the characters sort of tell their story to you.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

Ideas can come from anywhere – so beware if you ever talk to me! I’ve written about a formula one driver (Before You) because my husband bought me a life size Jenson Button cut out and he sits next to my desk! The idea for Oh Crumbs came from watching the Marvel TV series, the Green Arrow…no, my hero doesn’t wear green leather or wield a bow and arrow. It was the chemistry between the Green Arrow and his computer nerd side-kick that caught my imagination – he’s so quiet, she’s so chatty. He’s the face behind the operation but she’s the brains. I took the idea and ran with, but based it in a biscuit factory!

Anne: Oh, I love that cross-fertilisation from Green Arrow! And how cool to have Jensen by your side.

 

Have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created? Tell us about them if you have – or is it too hard to pick just one?

In my real world I fell in love with one man, but in my book world I’ve fallen in love with every one of the men I created. If I had to name a favourite, I think it would be my formula one driver, Aiden Foster, though I suspect that’s because of the Jenson Button connection! My favourite female is Abby from Oh Crumbs – she and her sisters made me giggle when I was writing them.

Anne: Both are fab characters.

 

Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers?

I’m so grateful when someone is kind enough to leave a review – even if it’s not always what I might have hoped for! I’ve had reviews that have been eloquent, funny, straight to the point or impressively detailed.

This, for Too Charming, my first published book, was an example of straight to the point, and thankfully in the minority:

Too Boring

This, for Crikey a Bodyguard, was one that put a big fat smile on my face:

Ooooh, this is so good!! I mean seriously this is way beyond just being good, this is in a league of its own for greatness. 

Anne: So, not just boring but too boring – you excelled yourself there! But I know you have many more great reviews like the one above that made you smile – all well deserved.

 

You have a new novel coming soon and we have an extract from it below. But first – what’s it called and please, tell us a bit about it.

My new book, Reach for a Star, comes out on 24th September though it can be pre-ordered now. It features Jessie, a divorced mum to two boys, who finds herself signed up to take part in a singing competition alongside her huge celebrity crush, professional singer Michael Tennant – he of the melting chocolate voice and film star good looks. Will he live up to her dreams? Well Michael isn’t quite the confident man he appears on stage. In fact the competition is so far out of his comfort zone he figures he might as well enter The X Factor, too, and totally blow his career.

Reach for a Star

From the back cover:

What if your dreams were so close you could reach out and touch them? 

How could anyone resist Michael Tennant, with his hypnotic blue eyes and voice like molten chocolate? Jessie Simmons certainly can’t. But Jessie’s a single mum who can’t sing to save her life – there’s no way she’ll ever cross paths with the star tenor.

At least that’s what she thinks until she’s unexpectedly invited to take part in a new reality TV show. The premise? Professional singers teach hopeless amateurs how to sing. The surprise? Jessie’s partner is none other than Michael Tennant!

As she becomes better acquainted with the man behind the voice, will Jessie find out the hard way that you should never meet your idols? Or will she get more than she bargained for?

 

Extract – from the first day they meet. Michael asks her to sing something to him…

She swallowed, twisting the cup around the saucer, glancing nervously at the camera crew. ‘Now? I mean you want me to sing to you right, umm, now?’

‘Sure. You’re going to have to sing sooner or later. This is a singing competition.’

‘I know.’

Her sharp reply told him he’d upset her again. Bloody hell, was he being obtuse or was she far too sensitive? ‘Okay then, give it a go. I promise not to run away screaming.’

Once again, his joke – if he could call the lame attempt that – failed to raise a smile. Instead she stood and carried her cup over to the table, clattering it down with hands he was shocked to see were trembling.

Then she swallowed, took in a breath and started to sing.

 ‘At first I was afraid, I was petrified.’

The more she sang, the more his eardrums complained bitterly at the onslaught. With every cell in his body wincing, Michael’s fears came crashing back to the surface. They were going to be a ruddy laughing stock.

Midway through the chorus, just as she was starting to screech out ‘I will survive’, he motioned for her to stop. ‘You might survive, though I’m not sure how long the audience will.’

She clearly didn’t appreciate his brand of humour at all, because now two splashes of red blotted her cheeks.

‘It’s my understanding the purpose of the competition is to see how much I improve, rather than how well I can sing right now. By rights you should be rubbing your hands with glee. There’s clearly lots for you to work on.’

Was she challenging him? Because he might know how to sing, but he had no bloody clue how to teach it. ‘You’re not wrong there,’ he murmured, feeling the beginnings of a cold sweat. The conversation was unravelling again. And this time in front of the sodding film crew.

‘We’re supposed to be on the same side, working together.’ She looked straight at him, her anger, her bitter disappointment, vividly clear in the glare of her hazel eyes. ‘For some crazy reason, I thought this would be exciting and fun. But if all you want to do is mock, I’m afraid you need to find yourself another partner.’

Michael looked on in horror as she reached for her bag and walked towards the door, head high, shoulders straight, her body rigid with anger. Ken following her all the way with his blasted camera.

Shit.

The conversation he’d had with Robert earlier came crashing back. Damn it, the man had been wrong. He wasn’t the right person to do this show. He didn’t do warm, natural or easy. He did gruff, blundering. Defensive. And that was on a good day. ‘Jessie.’ Thank Christ he’d finally got her name right. ‘Please, wait.’

If you want to read more the purchase links for Reach for a Star (ebook) are below:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

 

About Kathryn:

A former pharmacist, I’m now a medical writer who also writes romance. Some days a racing heart is a medical condition, others it’s the reaction to a hunky hero.

With two teenage boys and a husband who asks every Valentine’s Day whether he has to buy a card (yes, he does), any romance is all in my head. Then again, his unstinting support of my career change proves love isn’t always about hearts and flowers – and heroes come in many disguises.

 

You can connect with Kathryn online at the links below:

Website

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

Twitter  @KathrynFreeman1

 

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 22 – an interview with author Heidi Swain @Heidi_Swain #books #romanticfiction #MondayBlogs

Hello everyone and thank you for dropping in at the Virtual Book Festival. We’re now into the final week of the festival and, to round it off in style, there will be an event every day – from today until Friday.

Today it’s event number 22 and I’m happy to welcome author of contemporary romantic fiction, Heidi Swain.

Heidi: Thank you so much Anne, for inviting me to take part in your virtual book festival. It’s a pleasure to be here today.

Anne: And it’s a pleasure to have you here. Thank you for agreeing to take part. So let’s start with you telling us why and how you became a writer?

I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember and even though I have had other jobs, nothing gave the same satisfaction as writing. However, it wasn’t until I was almost forty that I plucked up the courage to take my ambitions seriously and go public. The speedy passing of time was a massive motivator for me and I realised that even though I still had the crippling fear of failure, if I didn’t make a start before the big 40, then I would never see my books on the supermarket shelves.

Having written The Cherry Tree Café I joined the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme and then, once the book had been critiqued, submitted it to The Books and The City #OneDay #DigitalOriginals call for unsolicited manuscripts. They offered me a two book deal a few months later and four years on, I’ve written and had published eight books under contract to Simon and Schuster – so far.

Anne: Well done for taking the leap and wow, haven’t you been successful!

What genre do you write in and why does that hold a particular appeal for you?

I write commercial fiction, although I personally prefer to call it Feel Good Fiction with Heart. I write the sort of books I enjoy reading. I love offering escapism and strong leading characters who grasp the nettle and have the strength, courage and determination to change their lives. I also enjoy whisking my readers away to wonderful settings, whether that be town or country, tiny cottages, café’s or grand country piles. When I pick up a book, I want to be transported to a life that’s different to my own and that’s why writing commercial fiction appeals to me.

Anne: Oh, I like that ‘Feel Good Fiction with Heart’ – it perfectly describes your lovely books.

You told us you’ve had eight books published so far so tell us a bit about them and any new ones on the horizon.

Yes, eight books published and I have recently signed a new contact to write another three. Six of the books have been set in and around the fictitious Fenland town of Wynbridge, (two in the town, two in the country and two at Wynthorpe Hall). The other two are set in Norwich and based around a community garden in Nightingale Square. Each of the books features a different main character, but they all pop up in each other’s stories. It’s a very friendly and sociable affair!

Anne: Yes, I love the settings of your books and the way characters lives overlap.

Tell us about a typical writing day?

If I’m writing a first draft, I have a very strict routine. Publishing two books a year – one in the Summer and one at Christmas – means there isn’t an awful lot of wriggle room. I’ll be in front of the keyboard by 6.30 am and stay there either until I’ve hit the word count (around the 2,500 mark) or have come to a natural halt. As long as I maintain that level of output, I can produce a first draft I’m happy with in around twelve weeks and I never end a writing session without knowing how I’ll carry on the next time I sit down.

The rest of the day is generally taken up with admin, updating my blog and of course, keeping up to date with social media friends and attending events, signings and the occasional glamourous publishing party. It’s always busy!

Anne: It sounds it! I admire that level of output.

Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?

Yes, I always plan before embarking on a new writing project. I write a synopsis for each title for my publisher and agent and I have more detailed planning to work from myself. This is mostly put together while waiting for copy edits or proof pages to come back. So even though I publish a book every six months, each book has lived with me for a much longer time than that. Plots take months, even years, to develop before I am ready to write them.

That said, I’m not so bound by my planning that I’m not prepared to make changes as I go along. When the characters begin to come to life and start making a few demands of their own and insisting they know better than I do, then I know I’m on the right track.

Anne: It sounds like you have a good balance there and yes, characters can get quite pushy, can’t they?

What comes first for you characters or plot?

More often than not it’s the setting for me. I’ll visualise somewhere in Wynbridge or Nightingale Square and then see who walks in and what they want to tell me about themselves. Three of my books have main characters who previously had a supporting role in someone else’s book and wouldn’t stop nagging until they’d had a chance to enter the spotlight! I’m afraid I can’t explain why my process works that way, it just does.

Where do you get your ideas?

It varies. Sometimes I might have an idea for another book while I’m already writing one, sometimes an overheard conversation or a news headline can create the spark. The Nightingale Square books are set around a community garden because I wanted to subtly draw my readers attention to the benefits of gardening for mental health and working together with their neighbours to create something wonderful.

I often find myself scribbling down a few words as an idea pops into my head or, if I only have my phone with me, I’ll email the idea to myself so I don’t forget it. I also have a habit of writing things down in the middle of the night!

Have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created or is it too hard to pick just one?

It really is an impossible task, but if there is one who stands out from all the others it’s Jemma who owns The Cherry Tree Café in Wynbridge. She is the baking queen while Lizzie Dixon (who the Cherry Tree Café was about), runs the crafting and sewing classes.

Jemma has never had a book of her own and I don’t think she ever will, however, she pops up in practically everyone else’s books. She’s an ambitious business woman, firm friend and confidante. An all-round Superwoman really and having worked with her for so long, she’s also incredibly easy to write. Writing dialogue and scenes with her in them seem to flow from my fingers far more easily than for some of the other characters.

Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers?

I’ve had so many wonderful reviews – The Cherry Tree Café has over 600 on Amazon now – and the vast majority have been glowing. Every week I receive messages from readers telling me they wish they could visit the places I have created or that they’ve taken up a new skill after becoming immersed in the books – or both. It’s a huge privilege.

One of the most touching messages I received was from a lady who had been widowed a few years ago, just before Christmas. She said that she hadn’t decorated since her loss, but having read Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells, her former love of the season had been re-ignited and she had put up a tree and dressed it. It was a very moving moment.

You have a new novel coming soon – what’s it called and please, tell us a bit about it.

The next book I have coming out will be my ninth. It is my fourth Christmas title and will be hitting the shelves on what will be the busiest publishing day of the year – October 3rd. It is set in my beloved Wynbridge and is called The Christmas Wish List.

Here’s the blurb from the back cover:

After being let go from her job in a swanky hotel just weeks before Christmas, Hattie is feeling lost. Even more so when her high-flying boyfriend announces he’s landed his dream job in Abu Dhabi and asks her to move with him. Luckily, Hattie’s long-time friend Dolly is on hand to help and invites Hattie to spend one last holiday in the small, festive town of Wynbridge, determined to give her a Christmas to remember . . .

Upon Hattie’s arrival, holiday preparations are in full swing. But for Hattie, whose Christmas cheer has long since run out, it’ll take more than mince pies and mistletoe to open her heart to the season once more. Relishing the task of reigniting Hattie’s Christmas spirit, Dolly suggests they create a wish list of all the things the season can offer, and with the helpful hands of Wynbridge’s resident handyman, Beamish, Hattie finds her frosty exterior is starting to thaw.

As Wynbridge prepares for its most spectacular Christmas yet, will Hattie leave snowy England behind for life in a sunnier clime, or will she in fact realise that her heart’s desire lies much closer to home?

Heidi: It’s a full-on festive treat and I hope everyone enjoys it!

The Christmas Wish List can be bought online here

 

More about Heidi Swain:

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

Her debut novel, The Chery Tree Café was published in July 2015 and since then she has had a further six books published, becoming a Sunday Times Bestseller in 2017. She is currently preparing to celebrate the release of her 2019 summer title, Poppy’s Recipe for Life while working on her next project.

Heidi is represented by Amanda Preston and lives in Norfolk with her wonderful family and a mischievous cat called Storm.

 

You can connect with Heidi online at the following links:

Website  

Twitter @Heidi_Swain:

Facebook:

Amazon page

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 13 – Age Matters in Romantic Fiction #VirtBookFest #amwriting #amreading #romanticfiction

Books for Older Readers

Today’s event is a joint one. It’s a Virtual Book Festival event and it’s also part of a Blog Blitz which has been organised by author  Claire Baldry who set up and runs the popular Books for Older Readers (BFOR)  website and Facebook group.

Claire set up the group and the website as places to highlight books which had older/mature main characters and which would therefore most likely appeal to older/mature readers. In doing so she was responding to the fact that older/mature readers often seemed to be finding it difficult to find such books – even although she – and lots of other authors she knew of – wrote them.

The initiative has proved popular and successful in matching books to readers who describe themselves as no longer young and the group and website have lots of members/followers from both the reading and writing communities – including myself.

So I thought in today’s event I’d like to explore and share with you what the concept of books for older readers – both writing and reading them – means to me.

Age appropriate reading

The Publisher Definition

Publishing is an industry and like any industry it needs to make a profit to survive and so it goes where the money is and it targets its customers. Therefore authors of commercial fiction have to follow the rules and conventions of their genre. Two genres in particular are mainly defined by the age of their intended readership – and these are: children’s fiction and its age specific sub-divisions, and Young Adult fiction. But for most of the other genres it’s not age but content that defines them. It’s taken as read (pun sort of intended) that readers will be adults.

And for the most part that works. But sometimes age, and attitudes to ageing, does seem to be an issue – especially when it comes to romantic fiction – and most especially when it comes to female characters

My Author Perspective

When I first sought publication for my debut novel – Change of Life – in 2009, I got lots of nice, but encouraging, rejections. I was told there was no doubt I could write, I could tell a good story, the characters were well drawn.

BUT, they said, the fact that my two main characters were in their forties meant it wouldn’t work as romantic fiction. I was told I could possibly get away with having the male character in his forties but definitely not the female one. She would need to be under thirty-five for readers to find it realistic.

I disagreed. And I’m now the proud author of three successful, independently published (including that first one) contemporary romantic novels with main protagonists who are in their forties or fifties. It turns out there is a market for what are now sometimes classed as second-chance romances. And I should also point out my readership spans the ages – from people in their twenties to their nineties.

Having said that, I don’t want to rule out the possibility that I might in future write novels that have younger main characters, but what I am advocating is an open mind when it comes to age and main characters in romantic fiction.

My Reader Perspective

Unsurprisingly, one of the genres I most enjoy reading is contemporary romance.

And, even although I’m more of an autumn chicken than a spring one, I’m still quite happy to read books where the protagonists are young. This year alone I’ve read several superb romantic novels where the lead characters have been in their twenties and thirties. And there will be more about them and their writers later in the festival.

However, I also like to read books where the main characters are in their forties, fifties and beyond who continue to live full lives – and who are definitely not too old to fall in love, enjoy sex, and begin new long term relationships. And these can be harder to find.

And just as a wee side note, I must say it brings out the grumpy old woman in me when women – and it does mainly seem to be women – over forty are portrayed as past it, frumpy and baffled by technology.

Things Are Changing

However, things are changing. And, as is often the way in publishing nowadays, it is the indie publishers who have made a significant contribution to satisfying demand. Authors such as Maggie Christensen, Christine Webber, and the aforementioned, BFOR founder, Claire Baldry, all write successful and first-class romantic fiction with older protagonists. And the big traditional publishers are at last catching up 🙂

But I think there is still a way to go in raising the profile of books with older protagonists or ageing-related issues at their heart. And that’s where groups like BFOR come in.

I don’t believe ‘older’ readers only want to read about ‘older’ characters, just as I don’t want to restrict myself to only writing about them, but I do believe life after thirty-five can be as challenging, surprising and rewarding as it was before – if not more so. So the lives of characters in the older age groups can provide fertile ground for all sorts of fiction. And surely having the full spectrum of adulthood – especially perhaps female adulthood – represented in fiction makes sense. After all the biggest group of book buyers is women over 45.

Age is just a number and is only one factor in our personalities and interests. It shouldn’t be a barrier to inclusion or enjoyment when it comes to our reading. And I’m hopeful things will continue to change for the better in that regard.

So, I’ll get down off my soapbox now and hand over to you.

What do you think about ageism in fiction? Is it something you’ve noticed or care about? And would you read/enjoy a novel where the romance happens between older characters? And, as I said, groups like the BFOR one are good for helping readers find books they’d like to read – so, where do you find your next good book?

Please do leave your comments below.

And please do come back to the festival tomorrow when, also as part of the BFOR Blog Blitz, I’ll be sharing an extract from one of my novels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 8 – an interview with book blogger Linda Hill @Lindahill50Hill #VirtBookFest #books#reading

Thank you for visiting and I hope you enjoy event number eight in the Put it in Writing Virtual Book Festival. Today it’s a pleasure to welcome Linda Hill who is taking part in an interview about her role as a book blogger. Book bloggers are amazing people who, motivated by their love of reading and their desire to share what they’ve been reading, post book reviews and reading recommendations on their book blogs. Linda is a prolific blogger and, like Joanne another book blogger who did event number six in this festival, she too is responsible for a large part of my reading list. So, welcome to you, Linda, and let’s get started.

Interview with Linda Hill:

Can you begin by telling us what got you into book blogging and how long have you been doing it?

I began blogging in February of 2015 as reading has been an integral part of my life. I was actually late reading as I couldn’t see properly and when I first got glasses aged 8 it was as if a whole new world had opened up. I read Enid Blyton as a child and that’s where my love of reading started.

I was an English teacher and later worked in education as an inspector and consultant so I really believe a love of reading is the gateway to all kinds of opportunities. One of the roles I used to have was to write resources for classroom readers for Hodder and as part of that I read and reviewed KS3 books. This gave me the bug to write reviews and eventually I became a  www.lovereading.co.uk panel member where I received books for review.

I belong to a U3A (university of the Third Age) reading group where we enjoy discussing books, so I thought I’d share my views in a blog too.

Anne: Yes, as a former teacher myself I definitely agree about the importance of reading in helping children to develop and learn. And I can see how one thing inevitably lead to another for you getting into book blogging.

How do you find/choose what to review?

These days books just turn up so I often find brilliant books to read have simply dropped through my letter box. I follow lots of publishers, authors and bloggers on social media and find out all about books that way. Many authors get in touch personally too and I get updates from various newsletters such as those from literary festivals, authors, publishers and book sellers.

Anne: I love that idea of ‘books just turning up’ 🙂

What’s the best thing about doing a book blog?

There are so many brilliant aspects to blogging. It’s an absolute privilege to read a wide range of glorious books. It’s a pleasure to have made some very good real life friends through blogging and I love being able to spread the word about books and reading.

Anne: Yes, there’s a real feeling of community there, isn’t there? And it’s lovely how it can lead to real world friendships too.

What is your favourite type of read and do you stick mainly to reviewing that type of book?

That’s a difficult question to answer. I don’t read a lot of science fiction, erotica or horror as they tend to appeal less to my reader taste, but having said that I usually find I’ve enjoyed them when I do read these genres. I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to visceral violence too.  I think I most enjoy literary fiction, historical fiction and women’s fiction but equally I have derived enormous pleasure from books that defy being placed into categories. I love psychological thrillers, crime, children’s books, sagas and chick-lit as well as gothic narratives and poetry too, so really I enjoy most genres and I certainly like to mix up my reading otherwise it feels like eating the same meal every day.

Anne: Wow, that’s a pretty eclectic mix! And yes, it’s good to have some variety in the book diet.

And, finally, apart from posting book reviews on your blog, what other types of post do you like to include?

I tend to stick to posts linked to books such as reviews, author interviews, features, extracts, book events I’ve attended and giveaways, although there are occasionally more tenuous posts such as one about a large garden bean bag (where I can sit and read books) and book related clothing. I’ve been mulling over beginning a travel blog as I love travel, but I’m not sure there really are enough hours in the day!

Anne: I think it’s a great idea to have variety in the type of posts – just as in the type of books reviewed. I’ve no idea how you’d fit in a travel blog too – but if anyone can … 🙂

Well, it just remains for me to thank you, Linda, for agreeing to take part. It’s been lovely to get an insight into what motivates you to blog about books. 

 

About Linda:

I live in South Lincolnshire on the border with Cambridgeshire. I’m rapidly approaching 60, have terrible sight and I’m a bookaholic. There are genuinely well over 900 around the house awaiting review aside from over 1000 on my kindle. As well as books,  I love cats, travel, Bryan Ferry, anything sweet like fudge, walking and my husband though not necessarily in that order. I’m also very fond of gardening and have an allotment but it is books that occupy most of my time. I am a member of a reading group and I lead a gardening group in my local U3A.

I’ve been really lucky with my blog and have had a couple of awards including Bloggers Blast Best Book Review Blog in 2016, The Romantic Novelists Association Media Star Award in 2017 and the Bloggers Blast Best Overall Blog in 2018.

Online Links:

Linda has a Facebook page for her reviews here

but she prefers Twitter where you can find her here (@Lindahill50Hill)

and her website is here

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 6 – An interview with book blogger Joanne Baird @portybelle #VirtBookFest #reading #writing

Hello, and welcome to event number six in the Virtual Book Festival. Today it’s a huge pleasure to welcome Joanne Baird to the festival. Joanne is a book blogger. She blogs about all things book related over at Portobello Book Blog which you can find here.

Book bloggers are the most amazing people. They give up their free time to write book reviews, to interview authors, to do cover reveals and book giveaways, and generally support writers and writing. And they do all this for love not money. Book bloggers rock! And Joanne is one of the best book bloggers out there. So I’m very excited to have her here today to do an festival event.

Hello, Joanne, I’d like to start by asking you, what got you into book blogging and how long have you been doing it?

I started blogging in April 2015. I have always read a lot and been a fast reader! Blogging was a way for me to chat about the books I’d been enjoying and to share recommendations with other book lovers. It was around that time that I really became aware of book blogs through some bookish Facebook groups I was in and I thought ‘I could do that!’. I didn’t really think that many people would read it and it started slowly with just a few views each time I posted. I was delighted! As I became more part of the blogging community and started reading and sharing other people’s posts, as well as making contacts within the publishing industry, more people started following the blog and visiting each day. I now have around 7500 followers over all the social media platforms and I find that just amazing!

Anne: Yes, amazing – but well deserved too.

How do you find/choose what to review?

As I am now lucky enough to be on lots of publishers’ mailing lists, I often get emails about forthcoming books asking if I’d be interested in reviewing them. Sometimes books arrive unexpectedly in the post which is always a delight. Sometimes an author will contact me directly to ask if I would like to read their book. I also get ideas from reading other bloggers’ reviews, from social media publishers’ posts, from newspaper book columns,  from whatever my book group is about to read and from friends. There’s never enough time in the day to read all the books I know that I would enjoy so I have to be strict with myself and sometimes say no. That’s not always easy when the books are so tempting! If I can’t manage to fit a book in but like the look of it, I can often offer the author or publisher a guest slot. So that might be an interview or an excerpt or a giveaway. It’s not a review, of course, but can help raise the profile of a book or author when the post is shared on social media.

Anne: There are only so many hours in the day. I don’t know how you don’t get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of books that come your way! I can see that sometimes you will have to say no – but I do like your alternative offer of posts that are interviews or extracts.

 What’s the best thing about doing a book blog?

Definitely the book community. I have met so many lovely people both online and in the real world (including yourself Anne) who I would never have met otherwise. I have found the bookish community to be so friendly and supportive. I’ve had the chance to meet up with bloggers and authors at book events in book shops, at festivals, at publishers’ events and at lunches, some of which I have organised. Some of these people I now consider good friends. Sometimes I have been a bit starstruck when meeting authors whose work I have loved but that quickly wears off when you get chatting and realise that authors are really just the same as everyone else!  And of course, getting the chance to read so many books ahead of publication is a huge privilege.

Anne: Haha! Yes, authors are just about human 🙂 And I totally agree the author/blogger community is awesome.

 What is your favourite type of read and do you stick mainly to reviewing that type of book?

I usually read mostly contemporary fiction, often with a romantic element or family based drama. I like books that make me smile and sometimes cry, with characters I feel I can understand or would like if I met in real life. I do enjoy some historical fiction too though it depends on the time periods. I also like some police procedural or thriller books but I don’t like my fiction too gritty or gory. The only kinds of books I don’t tend to read are fantasy, horror or sci-fi. Other than that, I’ll give most things a try.

Anne: Yes, I sort of knew what your answer would be to that one. I know we share the same taste – to my cost – or rather to my book-buying budget’s cost. I can never resist the book recommendations you make – I just know I’ll love them 🙂

 Apart from posting book reviews on your blog, what other types of post do you like to include?

My favourite type of guest post is probably my author in the spotlight feature. It’s basically a chance to be nosy and find out more about authors and their reading habits. My favourite question is the last one where I ask what fictional character an author would like to be and why. There’s been a huge variety of responses and reasons why!

Anne: Yes, the spotlight feature is great. I’ve enjoyed reading many of them. And I’ve enjoyed having you here at the festival too, Joanne. Thank you so much for agreeing to take part and for being in the spotlight yourself.

 

Joanne’s social media links

Blog address – here

Twitterhere

Instagramhere

Facebookhere

 

Joanne’s Bio: I can’t remember not being a reader and always have at least one book on the go. I started my blog, Portobello Book Blog, in April 2015 to share my love of the books I was reading and it’s been great fun. I’m a busy wife and mum to two lovely girls, an avid book reader of course, a nature watcher, a keen cook and baker, always on the go and I love living by the sea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 3- Writing Serials for Magazines with Kate Blackadder @k_blackadder #VirtBookFest #writing

Hello everyone and welcome to the third event in the Put it in Writing Virtual Book Festival. Today it’s a pleasure to welcome writer Kate Blackadder. Kate writes serial fiction for a woman’s magazine as well as being a novelist. And here in a fascinating feature she explains how she got into serial writing and how it has developed for her since. So over to Kate …

 

One serial writer – 400,000 readers

by Kate Blackadder

 

I’d had a few short stories published in The People’s Friend and elsewhere when I entered the First Instalment of a Serial competition that the magazine sponsored in 2008. As a member of Edinburgh Writers’ Club www.edinburghwritersclub.org.uk

I was automatically a member of the Scottish Association of Writers and this competition was part of their annual conference that year.

I’d never written ‘long’ before but nothing ventured … I remembered something I’d written when having a writing session with friends. We were handed paperbacks at random, asked to turn to a particular page and a particular line number and to start our own story from there.

The book assigned to me was in the horror genre and the line involved a stone which had some supernatural significance, seen through torrential rain. I wrote a page or so but knew I wouldn’t continue because I’d stuck with the genre and it’s not one I like.

But something of the atmosphere of the piece came back to me as I pondered the serial. Cathryn, recently dumped by her boyfriend, could be driving through the rain on her way north to spend the summer on an archaeological dig. Staying in the same lodgings is Magnus, a Canadian film-maker, investigating Viking history and sites – and also researching a mystery in his family tree.

I looked at current PF serials with a writer’s eye. I read the guidelines www.thepeoplesfriend.co.uk/guidelines/ to find out about instalments and chapters and word counts. I had fun bringing in more characters and placing them in a part of the world I used to live, the north-west coast of Sutherland (although I made up place names, and the local big house I transplanted from somewhere else entirely – the superpower of a writer!).

And of course I ended the instalment with a cliffhanger!

Then came the conference and the judging …

The adjudicator, one of The People’s Friend fiction team, began to describe the first-placed entry. My heart raced … Was that mine?

Competition entrants choose a pseudonym and mine was ‘Belle’, the name of a late great-aunt, in whose house I first encountered The People’s Friend although my interest then was only in the children’s pages.

I hope she was listening as her name was read out as the winner.

One of the points the adjudicator made was not about the story itself but the fact that apparently I was the only entrant who had adhered to all the rules, so my homework was worth it, the difference perhaps between winning and not winning.

The prize (of which more anon) was a year’s subscription to the magazine, and the chance to have the serial published – which was a problem. I’d never expected to win so after I’d posted my entry I forgot about it. Now, because I hadn’t written a serial before, they wanted a full synopsis before giving me the go-ahead. Full as in full … what would happen in each and every chapter?

Reader, I hadn’t a clue. Obviously the archaeologist and the film-maker were going to get together but that couldn’t happen until the last instalment. What was the puzzle in Magnus’ background? Why was Sara going to Inverness every week? What caused JD’s accident? I’d set up these and a dozen other questions in the first instalment and now I had to answer them.

It was agony! I had to give myself many a severe talking to when I felt like giving up. I asked a well-published novelist friend for advice and one thing in particular was really helpful – include scenes involving different permutations of your characters so that you don’t forget about any of them.

Eventually – eventually – I wrote a paragraph for each chapter, all thirty-seven of them, and submitted it. Green light! And then it was, almost, like joining the dots.

The serial was published as The Family at Farrshore and it was a real thrill to see it in print over seven weeks with a lovely illustration at the head of each instalment.

The People’s Friend celebrates its 150th birthday this year; a copy is sold somewhere in the world every 3.44 seconds. The readers are not all elderly ladies as is the perception … and, besides, the ‘elderly’ today are not like those of a generation ago as regards fitness and outlook. Sadly, The PF is almost the last (wo)man standing in terms of magazines that take stories. It seems strange in an era when we’re all supposed to be so short of time/concentration that magazines have dispensed with bite-sized fiction.

Back in the day The People’s Friend weekly sales headed for a million (220,000 sales today, 400,000 readers) and their payment to writers reflected that. In the 1880s they ran a serial competition with a first prize of £100, around £8500 in today’s money. Ah well …

Since The Family at Farrshore I’ve had two more serials published, The Ferryboat and A Time to Reap. I had to send long synopses for these but not with the detail required the first time. I’m halfway through a fourth.

The way it works is that you send an instalment and wait for feedback before continuing. You are paid as each instalment is accepted. As the main events in the synopsis have been approved you can’t veer from them and (unless you’ve discovered a glaring error) you can’t go back and change earlier instalments. Unlike those of Charles Dickens or Alexander McCall Smith, who produced instalments every day after the previous ones were already in print (now that would be scary!), PF serials are not published until they’re finished.

As copyright remains with me I’ve sold the serials to a large-print-for-libraries publisher plus I have put them on Kindle myself.

Knowing that I could plot and finish longer stories gave me the confidence to tackle a novel, Stella’s Christmas Wish available here (published by Black & White). So it’s true: something ventured, something gained.

Anne: Thank you, Kate, for this interesting insight into how writing magazine fiction works and it’s good that copyright remains with you and you’ve been able to produce your stories for Kindle and paperback. I’ve read them all on my Kindle and thoroughly enjoyed them. 

Kate Blackadder was born in the Scottish Highlands but now lives in Edinburgh. If you don’t count adolescent poetry (and best not to) she came late to writing but is trying to catch up. She’s had over sixty short stories published in magazines and has been successful in various competitions, winning the Muriel Spark Short Story Award (judged by Maggie O’Farrell) and being shortlisted for the Scotsman Orange Short Story Award and long-listed for the Jane Austen Short Story Award. She has also written three magazine serials and a novel, Stella’s Christmas Wish, published by Black & White.

 Kate can be found in various places online:

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Capital Writers website