Sunday, 25 September 2016

Ekphrastic Writing Challenge

As most of you know, I love taking my own photos, especially for illustrating the blog or on other social media - safer too as there's no copyright issue. My writing is often inspired by the art and photographs I view in galleries and it seems there is quite a long tradition of one inspiring the other.

Front of Kelvingrove
The best example in my own case was a challenge our writing group was set many years ago on a visit to the wonderful Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, which I've no doubt mentioned before. The lovely lady and member of our writing group who led the session passed away a few years ago but we've never forgotten this challenge.

We were all given a piece of paper on which was written a single sentence suggesting the kind of inspiration we should seek from any of the paintings. Mine was to find a villain. In the end, I chose a wonderful portrait of a woman who became my villainous female main character in a short story The Artist's Wife. While waiting for everyone to choose, I sat down on  nearby chair with my pen and notebook and the words started flowing. The story eventually went on to be the winner of a national competition.

It's not the only time art has inspired one of my stories, articles or poems and it won't be the last, but this was the most meaningful and I'll always be grateful for such an inspiring day.

So here is an online publisher, Rattle, that offers an Ekphrastic Challenge each month for poetry, if anyone wants to have a go - you even have the chance of winning a small monetary prize! Some photos and illustrations will be more inspiring than others but even if you don't write poetry, it might suggest the start of a story for your own use.

Good luck and let me know if art or photography inspires your own writing.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Bargain Books and Newsletter

My latest newsletter should be winging its way to lovely subscribers later today - I'm trying to keep them to every quarter or at least no more than every two months! As always, they contain links to a couple of writing opportunities and one to an excellent mindful creative tool I may have mentioned long ago.

For anyone looking to stock up on e-books for the autumn, one of my publishers, Crooked Cat, is having a 3-day sale on a great selection of their books from 21st to 23rd September inclusive. This includes my Scottish novel, The Highland Lass.

I'm also having an Amazon Countdown Sale on all three of my short story collections which are 99p (99c) each from 20th to 25th September! You can find them here.

If anyone is ever looking for other books to read, you'll find a huge selection by authors in the Romantic Novelists' Association (RNA) mentioned every Tuesday on twitter under #tuesnews @RNAtweets and occasionally one or two are free for a limited time.

Happy autumn reading!

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Autumn - Time to Get Organised

It's the time of year I most look forward to - the arrival of autumn. When lots of people (including husband) bemoan the darker mornings and evenings, I'm rejoicing! For some reason, summer leaves me lethargic and uninspired while the fresher days bring me more alive and energised again. I apologise to those who prefer summer but I was most disappointed to find the weather heating up again and thankfully there is a breeze today along with the sun so we had a lovely walk along by the shore this morning. I don't even mind the darker evenings, then I don't feel guilty about being inside.

It's also the time I start getting more organised - sorting out writing projects, clearing drawers and hopefully actually getting on with the current work instead of playing around at writing. This year, I'm going back to printing out interesting submission opportunities as I always forget to look at them when in a file on the computer. I'll leave them there too so they're handy to submit online, but I've discovered I prefer to have a folder containing printed details which I can keep on the desk or in a drawer or can take to any room while thinking up ideas.

I even love putting any summery clothes away and sorting out the autumn/winter weight items ready for use again. The boots are out of their storage boxes and handy for when needed and I've started identifying any gaps amongst my warmer clothes. This isn't as daft as it sounds since I've a terrible tendency to be tempted by sales and end up with things I don't need or that don't go with anything. I did say how much I enjoy organising at this time of year!

Next on the list is my newsletter which I hope to get written and sent out this week. I'm also starting to prepare for a talk I'm doing at a writing event in early October so you can see why I'm suddenly firing on all cylinders. Long may it continue!

Please tell me if you're an autumn person and why.


Thursday, 1 September 2016

Meeting Blogging Friends

The online writing community is generally very friendly on social media like blogs, Facebook and Twitter, with many of us interacting over several years. But there is something special about meeting up in real life, especially when you feel you already know the person to some degree through blog posts and such like.

Patsy with a copy of The Highland Lass!
Today, I was delighted to meet up with the lovely Patsy Collins for the first time (and her lovely husband Gary) who are touring around parts of Scotland, including my own area. We recognised each other right away from the photos on our blogs and were soon chatting over coffee like old friends, which in a way we are even if it's only been in cyberspace until now.

Patsy and me
It really emphasises how connected our world is these days and how valuable it is to have so many writing colleagues online who quickly become friends. Of course we all start off with something in common through our shared love of our craft, but I generally find that the people I like in the virtual world turn out to be the kind of friends I would happily meet up with in real life too.

The same happened at the RNA Conference in London last year when I met another blogging friend, Wendy Clarke, for the first time. We already 'knew' each other well enough from social media to make our first real meeting a pleasure.

So thanks for taking time to get together today, Patsy, and I look forward to your next visit to Scotland!


Saturday, 20 August 2016

Society of Authors

I've had a busy week again, including a lovely trip to Edinburgh to attend the Society of Authors in Scotland annual AGM and lunch. It's a great way to catch up with what is going on in the society and to chat to old and new writing friends. I was delighted to hear that there's going to be a weekend conference in Scotland next year and I'll be signing up for that!

If anyone is thinking of joining the SoA, I'd recommend that you check out the requirements as you don't have to be a novelist to be a member. I joined it a couple of years before my first book was published because I had a good enough number of published short stories and articles. I'll mention the annual membership fee here as it has now gone up to just over £100 (I think that's right) and I do often resent paying it! However, members have to earn their place in the society so I believe it does allow us to be a part of a huge professional body of writers.

For your fee, you get a quarterly magazine and access to all the society's guides and offers, as well as constant help about contracts and such matters if needed. Only the other day, I wanted to know how we safeguard royalties in a will and discovered there is a guide on this, and just about everything else! One email later, I downloaded the free (to members) guide. It's worth having a look at the Society of Authors site to see what they offer.


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

How Do You Write?

It's a while since I posted here but there seems to have been lots of different things going on, not least writing whenever I can. But life has also intruded, as it does, and I'm looking forward to a wedding on Friday but then have the sadness of the funeral of a long-time member of our writing group on Monday. On Tuesday, I'll be off to Edinburgh to the Society of Authors in Scotland AGM and lunch which is always a pleasure, not least because I'll be meeting up with some of my writing friends.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Anyway, the heading of this post is How Do You Write? I've no doubt mentioned this before (and was even interviewed on the Tiger Pen site about this topic) but it struck me again this morning how many words I get written when sitting in my favourite Costa writing with pen and paper while enjoying my coffee and cake. The photo below is when we were in Stockholm! When I mentioned it on Facebook a short while ago, a few people commented right away so I thought it would be interesting to know how my fellow bloggers and authors write. Do you hand write first and do the words flow better that way?

Last week, on the way to the mall, I had the sudden idea for a new short story, complete with title. By the time I'd finished my coffee, most of the story was written and the words just flowed. Granted, it might have been that particular idea but it has happened before. I've always written more on trains and in cafes but I think it's got to the stage when I might be better writing every first draft that way, then doing the first redraft while typing it up. It's the way I usually write poetry.

It will be interesting to experiment a bit more. Now that I have two short stories away and completed the redraft of the new novel, I have a middle grade book to finish then a couple of novellas waiting. Maybe it will even stop me procrastinating so much, if I can take my notebook and pen everywhere instead of sitting at the computer waiting for inspiration! I'll let you know how it works out. And please let me know what works best for you.


Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Ladies of LLangollen, North Wales

One of the other most interesting days we enjoyed on our recent holiday to North Wales was a visit to Llangollen. Here we spent the morning at the fascinating house, Plas Newydd, that used to belong to the infamous Ladies of Llangollen in the 18th and early 19th century. Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby met at school and eventually ran away together, fetching up in this part of Wales. You can imagine the scandal they caused at first!

Front of house
Back of house
Sarah was orphaned and destitute at the age of thirteen and was put into the care of her father’s cousin, Lady Betty Fownes and her husband. She was sent to Miss Parke’s boarding school in Kilkenny where she met Lady Eleanor, who was sixteen years her senior and the youngest of three sisters from Kilkenny Castle. Both girls were unhappy for different reasons: Eleanor because she was being pressured into entering a nunnery by her mother, and Sarah because of the unwelcome attentions of Lady Fownes’ husband, Sir William.

Ornate front door
Their first attempted escape in 1778 had all the romance and adventure of a Georgian-era novel! Dressed in men’s clothing, and Sarah armed with a pistol, they were eventually intercepted and brought back home. However, Eleanor was determined and escaped again to be with Sarah, who in turn swore ‘to live and die with Miss Butler’. Such determination won out and the women were allowed to leave Ireland in 1778, hoping to find a suitable home in England. During their travels in Wales, they fell in love with the village of Llangollen and being offered what was then Pen-y-Maes cottage for rent, they moved in and renamed the house Plas Newydd (New Hall). And there they remained until their death.

Wellington's lions
It’s a wonderful story and the house today, although slightly changed over the years, is a lovely testament to their devotion to one another. It is full of photographs of the rather masculine looking women through the subsequent years, as well as some of their interesting objects and unique décor. This includes the ‘gothicisation’ of the home with its cornucopia of oak carvings, wooden panels and stained glass windows from different eras and places. I immediately felt quite at home in this intriguing building. Even the bedchambers looked very comfortable!

Lady Eleanor's Bower
There is no doubt the women shared an unusually close relationship, attended only by their devoted maid, Mary Carryll. But they denied there was anything untoward between them, although there was plenty of speculation by locals and visitors. Reading their story, I was just very glad they had escaped their awful lives and found such happiness together in a stunning location, and they eventually became the model of a loving friendship between women that lasted over fifty years.

The ladies also created beautiful gardens and paths, much of which decayed or changed through the centuries. These have now been restored along the idea of the originals, including an interpretation of the Georgian shrubbery from the detail written in their diaries. One of their illustrious visitors was the Duke of Wellington in 1814 who presented the ladies with the two lions now standing at one of the entrances to the gardens. They don't allow photographs inside the house but I did my best to capture a flavour of it from outside, although it was a dull day.

River and station from bridge at Llangollen 
This is only a taster of the wealth of information and detail inside the house and it’s definitely worth a visit if you happen to be in that part of Wales. We ended our visit by having a walk through the pretty town and taking a short trip on the local steam train. Since Llangollen is the venue for an annual International Musical Eisteddfod (which we missed), I think we’ll be back another year!


Monday, 18 July 2016

North Wales (via the Lake District)

It seems ages now since I was away on our short holiday to Wales, via one night at the Lake District, especially since it’s more than a week since I came back from the RNA Conference! But the memories linger as always.

On the way down, we stopped over at an area of the Lake District new to us and were very happy to have found interesting accommodation for the night. The Whitewater Hotel, which is a converted mill, sits nestled at the edge of the river with great views from the bedroom window. Husband and I love steam trains so we made a point of taking the short trip along the nearby steam railway to Lakeside. Unfortunately, the rain lashed down on the one day we had in the Lakes so viewing was a bit restricted.
Whitewater Hotel 
View from window
Fortunately, the hotel has an excellent restaurant where all the diners were happy to watch the rain from our comfortable seats while enjoying scrumptious food. There is a very good leisure complex attached to the hotel by an enclosed walkway so swimming would have been on the menu had we stayed there longer. At least it gave us a good resting place between Scotland and Wales and we even managed a short visit to Ulverston in the morning.

We’ve been to North Wales many times over the years and have the perfect excuse to visit since my sister-in-law and her husband live there. They’ve now moved to a more coastal part near Colwyn Bay so we got the chance to explore a few different places. First, we revisited one of the picturesque little villages, Betws-y-Coed, and this time we all walked right round the beautiful river with its ups and downs over rocks and stones to the old miner’s bridge and the steps up to the town. Needless to say, lunch was our reward!


As well as other lovely walks and areas there are two particular visits that I really enjoyed for their fascinating stories. I’ll write a separate post for the second one next week. The first, Gwydir Castle, was a labour of love to the couple who now own this ancient building whose first owner died in the 14th century. After being rebuilt several times, it has seen illustrious visitors through its doors throughout the centuries including Charles I, and King George V and Queen Mary while still the Duke and Duchess of York in 1899.


Peter and Judy Welford acquired Gwydir in 1994 when it was more or less a ruin. Since then, they have made it their home, while gradually restoring the castle to some of its former glory – an incredible feat. The gardens, too, have undergone some renovation while maintaining the historic features and trees, some of which are hundreds of years old. Two of the original Cedars of Lebanon, brought back as saplings from Spain in the 17th century, still flourish along with oak trees from the late 19th century. Peacocks strut about all over the gardens and one even followed us to where we had our picnic lunch, hoping that its patience would be rewarded (it wasn’t as I don’t think feeding them would be encouraged!).

Although not allowed to take photos inside the house, visitors are allowed to wander around the interior for a small fee. This is no National Trust type venture - it is only open at certain times of the day and the caretaker lets visitors inside the huge wooden entrance at a ring of the bell. A handsome peacock came to welcome us on the stretch of road at the gate! It’s unbelievably atmospheric inside and so ancient that my imagination was working overtime. The few rooms open to us that had been renovated (some are private quarters) looked surprisingly welcoming and I could picture a warm fire burning in the enormous grate.

With a reputation for being one of the most haunted houses in Wales (not a modern phenomenon), I was keen to walk along the corridor between the Hall of Meredith and the Great Chamber. One 19th century room behind the panelling was called the ‘ghost Room’ and of course I peeked inside. Evidently at times people have reported a drop in temperature, a touch on the shoulder and a strange smell along there but I didn’t get to linger long enough to see, feel or smell anything untoward. I was probably the most imaginative amongst our small party of sceptic realists and the others talked their way along, whereas I would have stood and observed!

As part of their on-going restoration and a means of adding to the funds, two bedrooms at Gwydir are open for visitors requiring bed and breakfast. With names such as The King’s Room and the Duke of Beaufort’s Chamber, furnished with antiques but with modern en suite facilities and beautiful garden views, it’s a tempting idea. They also offer weddings and holiday lets in a cottage in the grounds.

Look out for another fascinating venue in North Wales next week!

*** If anyone is interested in my tween book, Summer of the Eagles, which is set on a Scottish island, it will be on Amazon countdown at 99p (99c) from Tuesday 19th to Sunday 24th July!***

Monday, 11 July 2016

RNA Conference 2016

Well, what a lovely RNA weekend conference at Lancaster University! I'm not only tired out after all the chatting, late nights, early mornings and concentrating on the excellent talks, but I've also developed a humdinger of a head cold since last night. Thankfully, it wasn't before the weekend and no doubt the changeable British weather played its part. Plenty of hot drinks and sleep now called for over the next couple of days.

I really enjoyed this conference, not least because once again I got to meet in person some of my long-time blogging friends or fellow authors attached to the same publisher as I am. And the good thing is, they were all recognisable from their photos! The campus itself has a lovely rural setting, although there was quite a walk between the accommodation and the main RNA hub. One plus was the fact we stayed at the hub for the whole working day once the sessions began. Breakfast and dinner were served in the Barker House Farm building which was only a hop, skip or jump from our comfortable student rooms.

On the Friday after our not so far train journey, my friend Joan and I had an hour to kill so we strolled through the campus to the very acceptable Costa for a much needed coffee and cake. The students are very lucky at this campus as it's quite self-sufficient, with Post Office, shops and a Health Centre - I think I even heard someone mention a Spa! The danger is they might not want to leave for the big wide world at the end. We passed this lovely lilypond with goldfish on the way and it's one of the few photos I managed this year as I was enjoying the talks too much to remember to take any.

These are the sessions I attended to give you a flavour of what was on offer:

Liz Fenwick and Brigid Coady
Author Marketing - brand, plan and goals: Liz Fenwick and Brigid Coady

I learned a few new things here, or at least a reminder of what is possible, including using key words around our writing, keeping the essential essence and values of the author across all platforms and social interaction, using consistent brand on book covers. Much of it was about this idea of brand and knowing how to describe our own type of writing. Much to read over and digest.

Building your Writing Career: a panel with Carole Blake, Iona Grey, Freda Lightfoot, Felicity Trew and Alison May

I didn't take many notes during this session as it was more a case of absorbing the discussion points, including the possibility of changing an author name for a new start, learning from failures and believing in ourselves.

Writing a Commercial Novel: Kate Bradley (Harper Fiction) and Aex Brown (one of their authors)

I really enjoyed this talk and came away quite inspired and encouraged when I heard that fiction with older heroines is now popular, as is vintage/cosy fiction at the moment. Kate mentioned that sagas were even beginning to come back but the location was important. Harper also have their digital first imprint, Harper Impulse, and they are actively seeking submissions.

The Business of self-Publishing: Tracy Bloom, Katy Haye and Ian Skillicorn

Another interesting discussion about the growth and respectability of self-publishing, including the importance of studying other books (covers in particular) promotion through book bloggers, Facebook Ads, proper keywords on Amazon. They also mentioned Public Liability Insurance and Indemnity Insurance (check the Society of Authors for their offers now and then).

Friends Joan and Gwen
RNA Open Discussion: Janet Gover and Nicola Cornick but open for all comments

Always good to hear about current or future plans and members' opinions.

Film: Love Between the Covers: Directed by Laurie Khan

I was looking forward to watching this documentary style film about mostly the American romance market, authors and readers and I really enjoyed it. In fact some of the authors' stories were so moving that I welled up a few times and it made me proud to be a romantic fiction author. Most of the women showed how empowered they became when their work started to be published and, as you would expect in the USA, the readers were incredibly supportive of authors, not to mention the number of books they consumed!

Reaching the Top in Commercial Fiction: Clio Cornish and Charlotte Mursell (HQ)

Another fascinating talk by two of the editors from the huge Harlequin stable - now part of Harper Collins with their vast number of sales people! They covered positioning your book by genre and audience, the one-line pitch sell, what makes it unique, the necessity of the main character's journey, connecting with readers on social media (use hashtags), the submission process and some of their preferences - includes Psychological suspense, a dash of speculative fiction, commercial literary fiction, older characters/wisdom, but it sounded as though they cover everything.

Murder Investigation - fact or fiction: Stuart Gibbon and Steve Wade

I was looking forward to this as it was a great change from purely romance and was delivered by an ex DI (who also works with authors) and a crime historian. In the event, it was excellent, with lots of details that could be incorporated into romantic and historical fiction as well as crime novels. They also provided links and book lists for further reading. One of my favourite sessions.

The Importance of Cover Design: Jane Dixon-Smith

Since I now self-publish a couple of books, I was most interested in hearing more about the importance of design. Very useful, although I already knew the theory of some of it and now need to learn how to actually do it a bit better! It covered typography, colours, communicating correct message and good quality images.

Me, Gwen and Joan at Gala Dinner
The final session I attended on Sunday was the panel discussion about the many faces of publishing and once again I just listened as it was really a mixture of things I'd heard before, although the very pleasant Dominic Wakeford added a bit of interest with being a commissioning editor for Piatkus - and I had a 1:1 with him before going home! He was very complimentary and gave me wise words of encouragement and advice about my submission.

One of the advantages of being further north this time was the quicker journey home by train and I'm so pleased I managed to attend. I also got to meet the new Publishing Manager at Magna Large print in a wonderful moment of serendipity and being willing to speak to strangers (in a welcoming way). So lots of ideas, things to do and encouragement to keep going in this uncertain but exciting writing world.


Monday, 4 July 2016

Letterbox Love Stories

I’m now back from a lovely holiday to North Wales, with an overnight at the Lake District on the way, but I’m not quite back to work yet. Looking forward to the RNA Conference in Lancaster this coming weekend, then I’ll need to get organised. More about the holiday later.

Meanwhile, I’m delighted to welcome talented fellow author Helena Fairfax to the blog. Helena is one of a group of international authors who have produced an interesting collection of short stories set around Europe which all feature a letter. Great idea and my copy is now downloaded!

Welcome, Helena and thanks for providing such a lovely post.

Letterbox Love Stories – an anthology of European romance

A few months ago I had an email from American author Gemma Juliana asking me if I’d be interested in taking part in a new, international group of authors, with the aim of putting together a series of anthologies. I’ve collaborated with Gemma before on a Christmas anthology (Exquisite Christmas came out last year) and it was great fun to do…so of course I said yes!

In total we are now nine authors who live in America, Austria, Spain and the UK, and our first ever anthology has now been released. It was very exciting working on this venture, right from thrashing out our first ideas for a theme, to the final release. First of all, we were all clear that the setting for all our stories should be Europe – but what else should unite them? We talked about and discarded several ideas for something to bind our first anthology together until finally we hit on a theme that excited all of us: what if you received a letter that changed your life forever?

With that one simple idea, we went away and worked on our own individual writing. The imagination is a great thing – and we each came up with a completely different story, each in our own genres, set in vastly different places and times in Europe, but all based on this one simple premise.

Here are the blurbs for Letterbox Love Stories:

MORE THAN WISHES by Rose Anderson
Raised on a sailor’s tales of adventure and eager for her own, Stella Cunningham answers an advertisement for a traveling companion to the Orient. There she purchases an ancient bronze lamp with a secret. In the land of flying carpets and genies, Stella is about to have the adventure of a lifetime.

ALL OR NOTHING by Denysé Bridger
Casino Coranthos is a playground for wealthy, bored people, but for some, it’s also a place where dreams and promises change lives forever. When a letter becomes part of an unexpected inheritance for Ryann Thomson, her aunt’s past brings her face to face with Ariston Katsaros, a man haunted by loss and driven by anger. As the attraction between them sizzles and grows, can Ryann convince him she isn’t looking to rob him or his father, or will she become a casualty of Ari’s vengeance? In this dangerous game of all or nothing, her heart and future happiness are at stake.

In 2084, time travelling detective, Tandi Reynolds, tipped off by a letter, needs to stop an assassin before he kills a newly elected leader. When she finds him in 1874, Vienna, it’s clear a cold blooded killer is only one of her problems. Time is fleeting, so falling in love with her contact, the charismatic Count Leopold Radetzky von Radetz, is a bad idea, but keeping her feelings in check is not easy when she relies on him for her every need.

COME DATE ME IN PARIS by Helena Fairfax
When a letter arrives telling Alice she's won a place on a TV blind date show, she should be excited - only trouble is, the show involves cooking for your date...and Alice can't cook. Forced to throw herself on the mercy of her chef neighbour, Edmond, Alice asks him for lessons. But will she be cooking up a romance...or cooking up disaster?

What do a reality TV star and a Sardinian billionaire have in common? Sophie Hayes buys and sells the contents of abandoned storage units. When an invitation arrives out of the blue to personally deliver an antique desk to an exotic island, she decides on a whim to spend what would have been her honeymoon with the famous Rico di Carlo. Can Rico convince Sophie in one short week to stay forever?

SONS OF THE WIND by Marie Laval
Provence 1826. Ten years after her brother disappeared in the marshes of the Camargue, Venetia Rigby receives a letter suggesting he is alive. Will Philippe Dantès, half-gypsy master of Terres Mortes, help her find him when he has his own demons to fight?
A letter inviting Chloe Decker to curate the art collection of the wealthy DiMarco family of Ravello, Italy, lets Chloe begin to picture a new beginning for herself after a tragic loss. But she hadn’t included her employer’s sexy grandson, Matteo DiMarco, in that portrait. Chloe’s not ready for a relationship, even with a fine Italian masterpiece of a man like Matteo, but can he convince her to paint a new life that includes him?

PLAIN HARRY by Lindsay Townsend
Recovering from a brutal marriage, Esther is living quietly as a widow when a letter from her brother Sir Stephen destroys her contented life by ordering her to marry Sir Henry—but who is this “Plain Harry” and how will he treat her? Set in medieval England when women had few rights, this story shows how love can flourish between the unlikeliest of people.

In 1936 a band of students went off to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Only one came home.

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As you can see from our blurbs, every story is different – and they all have an intriguing premise!

We’re very excited to say that Letterbox Love Stories is available now on Amazon and will be available from other ebook retailers soon.

Buy Links

And if you’d like to find out more about our World Romance Writers group, please visit our website, where you can find out about my own story here on our blog.

Helena Fairfax Links

If you’d like to get in touch, or find out more about my books, writing, and photos of my settings or the Yorkshire moors where I live, please follow my newsletter by subscribing here:

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Thanks so much for hosting me today, Rosemary!
It’s been a real pleasure, Helena!