Sunday, 19 October 2014

(Almost) a Cover Girl and Birthday Bargains

I mentioned this event in late July, but isn't this a lovely photo on the cover of the new issue of Romance Matters from the RNA! This was taken at the Friday morning event some of us took part in at Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire. Since we were historical novelists, many of us dressed up, to some degree or other. Must admit I had a surprise to see it on the cover - you can just pick me out about a third from the left at the back holding my parasol aloft! A lovely memento of the day.

At the end of this coming week, it's my milestone birthday (I'll let you guess which one) so I decided to put some of my books on special offer during the whole week, where possible, in celebration of the event. Here's the schedule, in case you're tempted - the short stories are under my full name, the others are as Romy:

Reshaping the Past: eight previously published short stories
FREE on Amazon UK and Amazon US on Monday 20th and Tuesday 21st October

Beneath the Treetops: eight published or commended short stories
FREE on Amazon UK and Amazon US on Wednesday 22nd and Thursday 23rd October

Mischief at Mulberry Manor: Victorian novella
Reduced to 77p on Amazon UK and 99c on Amazon US from 20th to 26th October

Dangerous Deceit: Regency novel
Amazon US countdown at 99c from 20th to 26th October
(Unfortunately a pricing problem prevented me doing it on Amazon UK at the moment)

Hopefully, my publisher Tirgearr, is going to put my two Aphrodite and Adonis novellas set on Cyprus at a special price of 77p on Amazon UK and 99c on Amazon US for the week:
The Aphrodite Touch and The Adonis Touch

This is only the beginning of my birthday celebrations which start next Saturday and Sunday and will evidently go on for a few weeks afterwards! It's at times like this that I greatly appreciate my lovely family and friends.


Monday, 13 October 2014

Social Media

Over the past few months, I've been wondering about the popularity of blogging and if it has decreased a little. I get the impression that fewer people follow blogs now and that many prefer to interact on Facebook these days. Have to confess to feeling that way myself sometimes. I still enjoy posting when I can think of something to say or have new information, and I still enjoy reading the blogs of those I follow. Yet I don't seek out new blogs now, unless someone has recommended a link. Maybe I just need a break from it every now and then!

I enjoy Facebook for the regular interaction with friends and writing colleagues, and Twitter for the short, concise messages and making new contacts. I haven't signed up for LinkedIn yet and still can't decide if it's necessary (let me know what you think!). Goodreads I visit infrequently but use it both as an author and reader. I do like Pinterest as it's a fun, visual media - great for creating boards for writing projects or anything else of interest.

This past week, however, I was at two real book launches (as opposed to online) and there's still nothing like social interaction in person. As well as hearing a few excerpts read by the authors from the books in question, it's good to get a signed copy of the paperback and then to mingle amongst other guests while enjoying a glass of something or other and a few nibbles. I'm glad such events still happen and I'm looking forward to another one in November.

But the world has certainly changed and I'm happy to embrace as much of the online technology and activity as is comfortable and useful. One advantage of a virtual book launch is that no one has to leave home and people from all over the world can interact on Facebook or wherever. I'm really glad to have a number of choices these days and I hope that long continues.

What does everyone think about social media and what do you find the most useful as a writer?


Thursday, 9 October 2014

Author Spotlight: Kathleen McGurl

I'm delighted to welcome author Kathleen McGurl to the Reading and Writing blog today. Her alter ego owns the famous Womagwriter blog which has been a great help and source of information to short story writers for many years. Now Kathleen has joined the ranks of novelists with a two book deal from Carina and her latest book, The Emerald Comb, is now available. First a little about the novel.

The Emerald Comb
One afternoon, Katie takes a drive to visit Kingsley House, the family home of her ancestors, the St Clairs. She falls in love the minute she sees it. It may be old and in desperate need of modernisation, but it is her link to the past and, having researched her family tree extensively, she feels a sense of belonging to the crumbling old estate.

When it suddenly comes up for sale, she cannot resist persuading her family to sell up and buy it, never telling them the truth of their connection with it. But soon the past collides with the present, as the house begins to reveal the secrets it has hidden for generations. Does Katie really want to discover what she has come from?

The Emerald Comb is available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

This story sounds fascinating, Kath, and it’s on my TBR list. Welcome to my blog and thanks for answering the questions!

You were a short story writer first – how did you make the transition to novels?

I began writing about 11 years ago and actually, the first thing I started was a novel! I tried and failed at a couple of novels before I got into writing short stories. But I always wanted to write something longer, just to prove I could if nothing else. My aim with the first one I wrote was simply to get to the end and edit it, for the experience. It wasn't wasted though – part of that practice novel became my novella, Mr Cavell’s Diamond.

Your plan obviously worked!

Do you find a big difference in the way you write now? Do you have a preference between the two forms of story?

I love the way with novels you can get totally immersed in the story, and really know and understand your characters. I love the depth you can add, and the space and freedom there is to properly develop plot, characters and theme. So these days, I definitely prefer novel-writing. Having said that, there’s a real joy to be had in crafting the perfect short story where not a word is wasted.

Did you have to do a lot of research for this novel and how did you go about it?

I already knew a lot about how to research your family tree, as I've done it myself. I read a lot of historical books – novels, non-fiction and Victorian authors – and I think you absorb a lot of general knowledge through wide reading. I did have to do bits of specific research, e.g did Brighton have a prom in 1840, when was the railway line to Winchester opened, etc. Google is brilliant for this sort of thing!

It certainly is a boon to writers!

What is the most difficult part about starting a new book?

I don’t think starting is particularly hard – it's finishing it that's the problem! However I do like to work to a plan, and that can take time to put together, which is difficult when you are itching to start writing chapter one.

I admire writers who can work to a plan and I imagine it must help with the plot process.

How do you feel about print versus e-books?

I think there's a place for both. I have a kindle and love it, and use it on holidays and long journeys. I love the way the ebook revolution has opened the doors to shorter novels and novellas which wouldn't be cost-effective as print books. But for certain books – e.g those written by friends, those I know I’ll want to keep forever or lend to others – I prefer having the print version.

Roughly the way I think about them too!

How do you promote your book and does it work?

I've been promoting The Emerald Comb like mad over the last few weeks! I contacted a number of book bloggers who kindly reviewed it and posted about it. I've tweeted several times a day, and my fellow Carina authors amongst others have been kind enough to re-tweet. I have a short blog tour coming up at the end of October. And then there are other blogging friends, like yourself, who've hosted me for guest posts or interviews. Does it work? Well, I'm getting some lovely reviews, which will certainly help sell the book!

Do you have a favourite writing place?

I sit on the sofa in what we still call the playroom, with my laptop on my lap and notebooks and papers strewn across the seat beside me, and a cat on the arm of the sofa. If I really need to concentrate away from all noise, I go up to the spare bedroom and curl up on the sofa in there, with a pink knitted blanket over my knees.

Do you find time for hobbies?

Until I got my two book deal from Carina I would have said writing was my main hobby. Now it has moved beyond being a hobby and I sometimes refer to it as my second job. One I love, I hasten to add. I try to keep fit, through running, swimming, zumba. And I have just (one hour ago as I type this) bought a new bike, so better add cycling to the list. Finding time to do everything you want to is always hard, but it’s a matter of priorities. What do you really want to achieve each day – what’s most important? Prioritise that, and make everything else fit around it!

Wise words and I'm awed at your fitness regime and the fact you work full time!

What are your current writing plans?

I am editing my second novel for Carina. It’s another timeslip, this one with a ghostly element. It should be published some time in 2015. I also have an idea for a non-fiction book which I’ll self-publish, part of the ‘womagwriter’ brand if you like, and am desperate to get started on it.

I love a ghostly element!

Any tips for new writers?

When you start, try lots of different genres until you find the one you're best at and most comfortable with. Write what you would like to read. Seek feedback from other writers. And write, write, write!

Thanks so much for taking time to join me here, Kath, and we wish you much success with your novels. And thank you for all the information you've provided on your womagwriter blog.

Kathleen McGurl lives near the sea in Bournemouth, with her husband, sons and cats. She began her writing career creating short stories, and sold dozens to women's magazines in the UK and Australia. Then she got side-tracked onto family history research – which led eventually to writing novels with genealogy themes. She has always been fascinated by the past, and the ways in which the past can influence the present, and she enjoys exploring these links in her novels.

When not writing or working at her full-time job in IT, she likes to go out running or sea-swimming, both of which she does rather slowly. She is definitely quicker at writing.

You can find out more about Kathleen at her website, Facebook, or follow her on Twitter @KathMcGurl

Friday, 3 October 2014

The Pleasure of Reading

I don't know about everyone else, but the popularity of e-books has given me far too many books to read and they've been piling up on my kindle while I slowly get through one at a time. And that's not to mention the shelves full of print books I'm working my way through. It gets slightly overwhelming sometimes and, if I'm honest, it began to spoil my pleasure of reading for its own sake. Of course, I want to read books by friends and colleagues (and I do enjoy them), and hope they might read mine one day, but the sheer number of writers I know means a wealth of books that accusingly call to me!

                                                                     My Victoria Holt Collection

At one time, I could hardly wait to reach the library for my stack of new books to read, by authors such as Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, or I longed for a visit to the book shop to choose a new title to grace my shelf at home. These days, as much as I enjoy reading, sometimes it feels like a chore to get through as many books as possible. I must emphasise here, however, that I love my kindle and its 100 plus books, as that's the only way I read in bed before sleeping, and I also like having unread print books on my shelves. But...

As the dark nights are drawing in, I've been less inclined to stay online as long as before, so I started a huge print book, The Host by Stephenie Meyer, that my daughter bought me a while ago. We went to see the film before I read the book so I knew the storyline. But I quite enjoy reading a book after the film as (strangely) I like to know the outcome and then enjoy reading all the details. As usual, I began reading it for the half hour or so before going to bed, when I then switch to the latest kindle book I'm reading.

Then, as I got really into the story, the old magic of reading for pure pleasure took over, that escape into another world, and I started thinking of the book at other times. Eventually, I had to finish it over a couple of afternoons as it was keeping me up too late at night! It doesn't really matter which book it happened to be, I was just delighted to feel that same urge to get on with the story that I used to experience all the time when younger. Perhaps it's partly a question of allowing more time to enjoy a book, rather than reading it in short bursts? Or maybe some books appeal to me more than others now? During autumn and winter, I'm looking forward to reading a little more than usual, rather than staying online too long, and hope to rediscover my old joy of reading as a pastime rather than a chore!


Thursday, 25 September 2014

Short Story Collection

Well, I've definitely got back into the writing zone this week and I'm sure it has something to do with autumn arriving - and holidays being over! I love this period when the nights draw in and my imagination begins to stir again.

So before I get completely into the next couple of projects, I thought I'd put together another small collection of my short stories on kindle: Beneath the Treetops and Other Stories. I chose eight about relationships or choices that have a bit more emotional depth. They are either previously published or have been mentioned in competitions.

I decided they might as well be out there rather than sitting on my computer. The first collection, Reshaping the Past, was my very first experiment on kindle a few years ago and it's still out there - it also has eight stories, mainly published, with a couple of prize winners. I might put all sixteen together in a print collection eventually as that's handy to have for talks, conferences and so on.

I've never forgotten the kind comments from the late Ian Sommerville, editor of My Weekly, when he bought my very first short story at the Scottish Association of Writers Conference many moons ago. He told me I should always write stories with such emotional depth as that first one. Although I write a great variety of story themes now, I think he was probably right as the novel coming out next year has more emotion than my other novels. But it's also good to experiment with writing!

If anyone wants to have a look, Beneath the Treetops is on Amazon UK at only .77 pence and on Amazon US at around $1.

Now I'm off to start putting together the next newsletter. If anyone wants a copy emailed to them, you can subscribe to it in the box on the side of the blog - I usually try to feature at least one publishing opportunity, market and competition as well as news.


Sunday, 21 September 2014

Back to Work

The Cobbler at Loch Long

After a wonderful holiday on the Riviera, then a new contract for my full length novel, we were brought back down to earth here in Scotland this week! My poor husband had his birthday on that historic day which many of us had never asked for in the first place, but we did manage to enjoy a lovely meal out with our daughter. I was going to say I'm glad it's all over but I suspect the repercussions of 'the vote' will go on into the future for the whole of the UK. And that's all I'm saying on that subject.

Anyway, I'm now trying to concentrate on getting back to work - more difficult than I expected - while waiting for the editing process to begin on my novel. I think we're going to move my desk and computer into what is the dining room at the moment as it's warmer there in the winter than the extension 'study' I'm in at the moment. I've often said how much I enjoy writing in a cafe once a week and on trains with pen and paper, so I'm pretty sure it might help to do more longhand writing when possible. Then I enjoy redrafting while transferring it to the computer. I'll let you know how I get on with that over the next few months.

Very pleased to see daughter, Vikki, had another great flash fiction story, Once Ours, published - this time in Word Bohemia. Coincidentally, we had a very good workshop on writing Flash Fiction from Myra Duffy at the writing group on on Tuesday - informative and fun. Do many of you write this form of fiction? There certainly seems to be quite a lot of markets for it these days, although it's a difficult (but satisfyingly creative) type of short story.

Better plan my writing priorities for tomorrow and the rest of the week, or I'll end up dithering without anything to show for it!


Saturday, 13 September 2014

New Contract!

It's been an exciting week since my return from holiday. I've now signed a contract with Crooked Cat Publishing for my full length Scottish novel, The Highland Lass! I had submitted it during their recent two-day submission window and was thrilled to be invited to send the full manuscript. Then came the nervous period we all experience when awaiting a verdict.

The Highland Lass is scheduled for a spring 2015 release and I'm so delighted this book will soon be published. It's really of the book of my heart and is a little different from my other lighter romances so it will be under my full name. It's mostly contemporary with family secrets, love, betrayal and forgiveness set around my own birth area of Inverclyde with a bit in Dunoon and Ayrshire. But alternate short chapters trace the story of Highland Mary and Robert Burns in Mary's own fictionalised voice in 1785/6.

I had an article about the legendary couple published in The Highlander Magazine in the US some years ago and their story has fascinated me for a long time. But the novel is very much about the contemporary story involving Eilidh and Lewis.

No doubt you'll be hearing more about it nearer to publication - or when the cover is designed by the publisher!


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Return to Reality

Well, I did indeed have a complete rest from social media for over a week - and from everything else in my normal everyday life! Husband, daughter and I just returned from a week's cruise of the Riviera yesterday and had a fabulous time visiting beautiful ports in Italy, France and Spain. It was a sort of pre-celebration for my special birthday coming up in October and I thoroughly enjoyed being spoiled onboard and enjoying an interesting city or town each day. It was full on, so I got plenty of exercise to counteract the fantastic food. Here's a quick impression of the ports.

Civitavecchia, Italy

We've been to this port of Rome a few times now and this time we stayed overnight as the ship sailed from there. It has a beautiful long promenade and a wide seafront and the view from the very basic hotel was a lovely start to the holiday, even though it turned cloudy on the morning we left. There's a brilliant statue on the prom, of a sailor greeting his girl, or saying goodbye (you decide).

Livorno, Italy

Again, this was one port we've visited before and many passengers go on the tours to Florence. We always do our own thing on cruises and couldn't face the long trip in the heat so stayed in the elegant town for the morning. There's a great outdoor and indoor market selling every kind of fresh vegetable and fruit, as well as clothes and gifts.

Portofino, Italy

Easily our favourite place as it's just so pretty, clean and interesting, with narrow cobbled (and hilly) streets leading up from the colourful harbour. I'd happily live here for a week, soaking up the creative atmosphere. There's a quirky sculpture park rising up from the port entrance and a very tiring, hilly walk up to the church and castle.

St Tropez, France

I was looking forward to seeing this legendary place, and enjoyed walking along the harbour front and exploring a few of the back streets, as well as the art gallery and a very good exhibition about the famous French actor who starred in the film, The Gendarmes of St Tropez. But I did think it all had an aura of shabby chic, or faded luxury, about it (though it was full of luxurious yachts and we saw a fashion shoot taking place) and it wasn't nearly as pretty as Portofino. Partly due to the nuisance traffic allowed along the front.

Monte Carlo, Monaco

The whole cruise was fairly luxurious, onboard and off, but this has to be the ultimate millionaire's paradise. We saw some huge yachts and boats in many of the ports but Monte Carlo is in a class of its own, not least for the Casino that sits up on the town square. In the morning, we took the train along to one of my favourite places, Villefranche, and enjoyed a stroll along its pretty promenade and narrow streets. In the afternoon, we walked miles to Monte Carlo's old town and caught the little tourist train which conveyed us around the famous sites.

Marseilles, France

We've never been here before and couldn't believe how beautiful it is, as it's the second biggest city in France, next to Paris. The harbour area is huge and truly lovely to walk round, with the impressive Cathedral visible on top of the hill. The old town is full of atmosphere and historical walls, fortress and Romanesque church as well as quirky little shops.

We took Le Petit Train and it turned out to be the best way to reach the Cathedral - taking us on a rickety journey round the coast and right up to the top of the hill. I managed to get a photo of the Chateau D'if lying just off the coast, which was the inspiration for The Count of Monte Cristo. We're definitely hoping to have a holiday in Marseilles another year.

Palma, Majorca

Our last port of call before sailing to Barcelona for debarkation. It's many years since we holidayed on Majorca when the children were young and it was great to be back. Palma's stunning cathedral sits right beside the beautiful long promenade. After a walk along the front, we wandered through the old part of the town as we only had an afternoon here.

We were grateful to have a morning on the ship at last and I stayed out of the heat in its wonderful library! It was a glorious holiday and we had some memorable meals onboard, not least in the Red Ginger Restaurant, one of the speciality choices where the whole evening became an experience in Asian dining.

No wonder it's taking me a while to get back to reality, but I only have to look at the mountain of washing and endless emails to bring me down to earth. I'm just grateful to have had the chance to make so many more great memories with my lovely husband and daughter.


Saturday, 30 August 2014

Short Break Before Autumn

I’m so pleased we’re coming into autumn, as my energy levels usually start to rise from now until the end of the year. As long as we have some fresh, sunny days and not the awful drizzly, muggy weather we often get up here – we call that dreich which sums it up very well.

First of all, we’re having a short break and I’m taking time off from all social media while we visit some interesting places. I also need to think about where my writing is going next and hope to get a bit more organised as I seem to waste too much time dithering between one project and another. I know I’m not the only person who enjoys taking stock during September – must be something to do with the new academic year for schools and colleges!

Meanwhile, if you’re quick, you can download Gwen Kirkwood’s book, Heart of the Home for FREE until Sunday 31st August.

Daughter Vikki has a flash fiction story, Ghosts, being published in Scottish journal The Grind – hopefully you should be able to find it here, once it’s online on Monday.

For any aspiring crime and thriller writers out there, you have the chance to submit your completed novel to Killer Reads, the new e-imprint from Harper Collins, between 29 August and 14 September.

See you in a week or two,


Sunday, 24 August 2014

Blog Award and Memorable Reads

Many thanks to Diane Mannion who kindly awarded me the One Lovely Blog Award. Since I've done a few of these before and have probably listed all the interesting things about myself that you'd want to read, I'm going to list seven books that have made an impression on me since I've been nominated to do something similar on Facebook (although it's ten on there!)

Obviously, I've read hundreds of books over the years and have lots of favourite authors, including Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt, but I think we all probably have a few books that are either perennial favourites or that made more of an impact than usual. These are some of my Memorable Reads.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
From the first sentence to the dénouement of the mystery, I was hooked on this author

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Mr Rochester was the first fictional hero with whom I fell in love and I loved Jane Eyre's Victorian character

Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh
A wonderful philosophical novel I read many years ago, questioning nature over nurture  - must read again

Possession by A.S. Byatt
A literary split-time novel that has continued to engross me - love the Victorian section (and the film version)

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Absorbing futuristic tale - yet it also incorporates ancient Biblical influences

Green Darkness by Anya Seton
A fabulous split-time story that explores the idea of reincarnation - love the medieval sections

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
One of my literature degree novels that made me look at African culture in a whole new light

Rather than nominate specific blogs, as I know many of you will have done this before and I don't want to single any out, please feel free to accept the award and give your own list of seven things about yourself , or any other kind of list you prefer!