RNA Southern Chapter Meeting

I had a really nice Romantic Novelists’ Association Southern Chapter meeting yesterday, Monday 24th September.  I got there a bit ahead of time to meet up with fellow Romaniacs Laura E James and Catherine Miller so we could have a quick coffee in Costas and catch up.  Although we ‘speak’ to each other practically every day, it’s nice to actually be able to meet in person from time to time.  I had also arranged to meet Mandy Baggot at Southampton station as this was the first time she had been.  Costas had the added advantage of being right opposite the station so when Mandy texted to say she had arrived, all I had to do was to stand up and wave through the window to her.

The Chapter meeting itself was well attended, I think there was about 17 of us and, as always, everyone was very friendly and welcoming.  We all  took our turn to talk about where we were with our writing and publishing. It was really interesting to listen to all the different approaches, not just by the authors but by their publishing houses and agents too.  Lots of food for thought, some really useful information and advice.

The day was rounded off by another Costa visit (can you have too many Costa visits?) before the drive home, in much nicer weather conditions than when I set off, thankfully.

Thanks everyone for a most enjoyable day.

Me, Mandy, Laura, Catherine

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Book Review of Jigsaw Pieces by Carol Hedges

‘He had been part of my everyday life. I hadn’t liked him much, nobody had liked him much, but he’d been there. Now, I’d never see him again.’

Annie Skjaerstad had been searching for her identity since being uprooted from her native country of Norway. With a spiky personality winning her no friends, and family members suddenly torn out of her life, she is left seeking comfort from a growing intrigue into the stories of fallen war heroes.

But one day, a boy from her school unexpectedly commits suicide, changing things forever. Confused by the tragic tale of someone she knew, Annie soon finds herself conducting her own investigation into his death.

What she uncovers will bring her to a dark and dangerous place, as suddenly – her own life is put at risk.

My Thoughts

Aimed at the YA market this book touches on some of the darker issues faced by society through the eyes of teenager Annie.

I thought that the teenage characters were believable and realistic. Annie coming from Norway gave it a different slant which was nice – I felt a lot of empathy for her, a teenager on the outside, not really fitting in with her peers, just rubbing alongside them.  She had a different outlook and perspective on the events throughout the book which was refreshing.

I also liked that there was a sub-plot to the story which again touched on social issues but in a caring and thoughtful way – I found Billy’s story very touching.

Jigsaw Pieces is a coming of age book, the events of the last year at school having a big impact on Annie’s life.  I really appreciated the ending to the novel, it felt the right thing for Annie to do in order to move on.

Links for Carol Hedges

Carol’s Blog http://carolhedges.blogspot.co.uk/

Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/carol.hedges.779

Twitter : @carolJhedges

An Audience with an Author … Nicky Wells

So pleased to be having my friend and writing buddy here today, Nicky Wells author of Sophie’s Turn.  We’ve had quite a year between us and I’m delighted that Nicky has got the publishing deal she very much deserves.

Wow, Sue! Thanks for having back here today on this, my official launch tour for Sophie’s Turn. When I first visited you last year, you were the second blogger ever to review my work, and hasn’t it been a journey since? I remember being timid and totally in awe by what you achieve and do. Then we became friends through Loveahappyending.com, and eventually started being writing buddies. And today, we’re celebrating together. Thank you for everything along the way, and thanks for showcasing Sophie’s Turn today. You rock.  [clears throat]

It’s been an absolute pleasure, I am thrilled for you, as you well know 🙂

Right, moving on swiftly before I get all emotional… let’s take a look at your questions.

Sophie’s Turn is your first published novel, did it take long to write?

That’s an interesting question.  It took me a few weeks to plan… I’d say, between two and four depending on how you interpret planning versus writing.  Then I wrote the entire first draft in about three months.  Birth of baby number one was a bit of an immovable deadline, and I definitely wanted it all done before then!  Then of course there were a few re-writes which took maybe a week here and there when I could snatch the time….  So all in all, I think writing Sophie’s Turn probably took the best part of six months.  That said, because of my family circumstances (and another baby coming along), the novel had a long time to ‘mature’ and I had the benefit of reading it ‘fresh’, almost as though I was a genuine reader, having not touched it for a few years at a time.  That helped:  but that’s also almost impossible to build into any writing plan, and now a thing of the past… my current novels are being fast-tracked by comparison!

Do you have a set place & time to write?

Sophie’s Turn was written in what later became the boys’ playroom.  The writing space for the sequel was a tiny little Ikea desk tucked into the corner of the dining room.  However, I also took to moving around the house with the laptop, so I quite often typed on the sofa in the lounge, at the dining room table proper (rather than the dinky desk) and, very occasionally, even in bed.  We’ve recently moved house, however, and I am now the proud owner of a dedicated desk in a study that I only partially share with my husbands’ music and the children’s computer.  I still roam the house though when I get bored of staring at the walls…

As for writing time, I write when the children are in school. I get home from the school run and put my head down, as it were. I have to allow a couple of hours each day for catching up with social networking sites, but when I write, the writing time is sacrosanct and I won’t even answer the phone!

You have a young family, where do you find the time and energy?

I mentioned the time constraints above… finding the energy, that’s an interesting one.  I think of myself as a one-trick-pony (i.e. can only ever do one thing well at any one time) and I also think of myself as perennially worn out.  Yet somehow it all gets done!  I’ve discovered that for me, the most important thing is not to dwell on how busy or tired I am, but to make a plan, portion my work, and stick to it.  As long as I keep going, I’m fine… And, of course, I do consume way too much chocolate!

Did you design your cover for Sophie’s Turn? Was it easy to come up with a design idea?

Now there’s an interesting question! The cover of Sophie’s Turn has been reborn twice now. The original cover was lovingly and artfully created by my husband. It featured a pink background and a sign post with a flower and a butterfly… it was beautiful and I will frame it and put it up on my ego wall at some point soon. However! After a while, I began to feel that it lacked a certain panache, a certain sophistication, a bit of a ‘wow’ factor. I hankered after something a little more glamorous and professional, and my wonderful husband was the first to suggest to move the cover on to the next level. I felt disloyal but he wouldn’t hear of it! So I asked a long-time friend and erstwhile colleague whether she would like to help with redesigning the cover. Jessie went through various iterations, working with the initial concept at first but it just wasn’t zinging. Eventually, I gave her carte blanche and she came back with a fantastic design, shades of purple featuring the merry-go-round and the Eiffel Tower that are on the cover today. I fell in love instantly, as did husband!  Sapphire Star Publishing also loved the cover and took it up yet another level of glamour and wow-factor by making a few subtle but highly effective changes. Et voilà!

Did Sophie’s Turn end up as you originally envisaged or did it change as your wrote?

A little bit of both!  Owing to several iterations of planning, I had the story line very much clear in my head before I started typing.  However, these pesky characters developed a habit of taking wrong turns, inventing new events, or creating problems or diversions that I had not anticipated.  That was actually a very interesting process because at times I felt like I was reading the book while I was writing it.  From previous experience, I know that those are also the incidents that can totally derail the writing process and plot, so it was very useful to have a plan to rein things in again before they spun out of control.

Sophie’s Turn could have had more than one ending, I know I was surprised at the end, was it difficult to decide which way to take the story?

Ah!  That’s a brilliant question.  Let me put it this way without giving too much away.  There were at least three possible, credible outcomes.  (I did make up a few more to start with but they were really too far-fetched).  I knew what I really wanted Sophie to do, and what I would have wanted to have happened to me, had I been in her position.  However, I just couldn’t take the novel there.  I tried, briefly, but it was all very unsatisfactory.  So in the end it was down to Sophie to decide.  There’s a scene when she sees herself at the crossroads… that was all real thought, that was me typing away furiously while Sophie was assessing her options.

Did you do any particular research for the rock group Tuscq in Sophie’s Turn?

I’m afraid to admit that I didn’t.  But then I didn’t need to, I had years of teenage star-struckness to draw on, a vast repository of knowledge about several rock bands, experience of going to concerts, knowledge (from teenage and music magazines) of the touring process… Films like ABBA: The Movie, This is Spinal Tap and Rock Star also offered some helpful insights.  And I just may or may not have met the odd band here or there, once or twice.

Is Dan based on a particular rock star?

Dan is the amalgamation of many lead-singers.  Plus he incorporates some of the best (and worst) traits of people I know, have heard of, or read about.  He is a true bona fide made-up-but-hopefully-still-credible rock idol.  J

Sophie has to make some difficult decisions – did you find it easy to make the choices for her?

Not always.  As I mentioned above, some of her choices were mine, and were choices I would make.  These were the easy ones.  Some other things she does and does not do gave me a real headache.  I don’t think I would have had the gumption to tell the man of I’m dreams I was a virgin (even though I wasn’t); I don’t think I would have had the courage to accompany Dan to the Royal (or his suite); and I think I would have been too blinded to make her choice.  But this was all nail-biting stuff for me…

Without giving too much away, what is your favourite scene in Sophie’s Turn?

I have a few, actually.  The prologue is one: the sense of absolute heady elation and disbelief, the out-of-body wonderment of ‘if this really happening?’  That makes me feel good every time.  Next, it makes me smile when Rachel and Sophie have their morning pow-wow in the coffee shop and Sophie shouts out about s.e.x rather too loudly.  And I’m still quite in love with the scene where Dan has to hide in a cupboard…

Is Sophie anything like you or are you more like Rachel?

Sophie probably reflects my dreamy side, the one that yearns for a fairy tale ending.  But I can also be sarcastic and cutting, like Rachel; not something I’m immensely proud of but that can be very necessary.  Yet it is Rachel who sets Sophie straight on matters of true love and thunderbolt-and-lightning… again, that would be me.  So perhaps it’s fair to say that they distil, each in their own way, aspects of my own character.  If that’s not too scary a notion!

Will we be hearing from Sophie in the future?

Oh definitely!  The second book in the Trilogy, Sophie’s Run is completely finished and currently undergoing a first round of editing by me; it will be coming your way from Sapphire Star Publishing on 7 February 2013!  And the final part in the Trilogy… well, let’s say I have started writing, and I know how it’s all ending!

Sue, thank you so much for this opportunity to take part once again in your ‘audience with an author.’  I am thrilled to get this space on your blog, and I enjoyed answering your questions!

Click here for my review of Sophie’s Turn

Excerpt from Sophie’s Turn by Nicky Wells

“What the hell is going on here?” I hissed, trying to prevent others from hearing our exchange.

“Oh, Sophie, Dan’s turned up. Isn’t it amazing?” she beamed at me.

“I can see that,” I kept hissing, “But what is he doing here?”

Rachel was quite drunk herself and looked at me with those bleary eyes that usually meant she was up to no good. “Sophie,” she declared solemnly and rather loudly, “you have broken the man’s heart. He has come to reclaim you.” She wobbled unsteadily and I gripped her arm. Usually one to hold her liquor, party-girl Rachel had clearly gone too far tonight.

Shh!” I admonished. “Will you keep your voice down? What are you talking about?”

“Dan is completely besotted with you, and he said he couldn’t bear the thought of you getting engaged to Tim so he had to…hic…come and check him out…hic!” Oh God, she had the hiccups. She would have to spend the night in the guest room. Once Rachel got the hiccups, she was beyond salvation. I gave her twenty minutes before she collapsed. I had to extract critical information fast.

“Why did you introduce him to Tim?” I continued my interrogation. “Couldn’t you have sent him away?”

Oh no, Sophie. I couldn’t turn this lovely, heartbroken man away.” She looked at me with big, innocent, and totally unfocused eyes. “In fact, we were just looking for you. You seemed to have… hic… hic… hic…disapp-hic-eared.”

“What did you say to Tim about who Dan was?” I needed to know.

“That he was Dan, of course. Your boy-hic-friend from Tuscq!” She dropped this bombshell completely nonchalantly.

“You what?” I squeaked. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

No, I’m s-hic-erious! Ti-hic-im thought it was very funny. Hic.”

I wrung my hands and barely prevented myself from tearing at my hair. If Tim had thought it was funny, he must have thought Rachel was being facetious or winding him up. He had seen her drunk before — the experience hadn’t done anything to endear her to him in any way —so it was likely that he hadn’t paid the slightest bit of heed to the truth she was spouting. But I had to move, and fast.

“You,” I said to Rachel, grabbing her by the shoulders and steering her toward the stairs. “You have had enough to drink. You are going to bed.”

“I hic-am?” Rachel asked, surprised.

“Indeed,” I confirmed grimly and marched her up the stairs. “Right, here you are. Guest room. Bed. Now.” I propelled her forward and she flopped on the bed like a rag doll.

“Very ti-hic-hic-red,” she mumbled before passing out.

I, on the other hand, had sobered up dramatically and had only one thought left: damage limitation. I blundered back downstairs, racing quite unladylike in my high heels, and skidded to a halt in the lounge. There they were, companionably sitting in front of the stereo, playing DJ.

I clattered across the floor, grabbing a bottle of champers and three glasses off a table as I went. Tim looked up, and then sprang to his feet.

“And here she is,” he announced to Dan with no small measure of proprietary pride. “Doesn’t she look gorgeous?”

Dan rose to his feet, somewhat unsteadily, and looked me up and down. A sad smile played on his face for just the briefest of moments.

“She looks stunning, indeed. Congratulations to you both.” He walked over to me and planted a chaste kiss on my cheek. “Well done,” he said softly, and Tim beamed gratefully, completely unaware that the comment was aimed solely at me. In fact, he seemed completely besotted by Dan’s manly, famous presence.

“Dan here and I were just discussing rock music,” he informed me as though Dan were his new best friend.

I shuddered for a moment. God forbid.

“Dan has some very interesting views about the movement, you know?”

I winced and smiled a secret apologetic smile at Dan, but he was too drunk to notice anything patronizing in Tim’s comment. I had to separate the two before things got out of hand. Luckily, one of our other guests absolved me of thinking up more ruses by descending on Tim and whisking him away to the kitchen.

Dan and I regarded each other in silence.

“You do look beautiful,” Dan repeated, suddenly sounding a whole lot more sober.

I wanted to cry. “What are you doing here?” I whispered, not trusting my voice.

“I don’t really know,” he acknowledged. “I just felt…lonely. At a loose end. I had to see you and convince myself that…well, that it really is too late. You know?”

I was simultaneously touched and petrified. “I thought we’d agreed…,” I started, but Dan interrupted immediately.

LINKS FOR SOPHIE’S TURN

Sophie’s Turn is available in Kindle edition from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and many other Amazon sites. The paperback edition is also available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. In addition, you can obtain Sophie’s Turn from Barnes & Noble.

 

The Road Back – Liz Harris

When Patricia accompanies her father, Major George Carstairs, on a trip to Ladakh, north of the Himalayas, in the early 1960s, she sees it as a chance to finally win his love. What she could never have foreseen is meeting Kalden – a local man destined by circumstances beyond his control to be a monk, but fated to be the love of her life.

Despite her father’s fury, the lovers are determined to be together, but can their forbidden love survive?

A wonderful story about a passion that crosses cultures, a love that endures for a lifetime, and the hope that can only come from revisiting the past.

My Thoughts

The Road Back is beautifully written, with great descriptions of the Himalayas and the culture of the Ladakh people.  It was done in such a way that it really took you there, made you feel like you were experiencing it all for yourself first hand.

The first half of the story gradually introduced the main characters, Kalden and Patricia, over a period of years. It showed how different their lives were, how their cultures were so diverse – literally words apart. Once they met, for me, it was here the story really took off. I enjoyed how the relationship between Kalden and Patricia developed – a warm and gentle love story.  My feelings towards the characters swung backwards and forwards as circumstances and pressures impacted on their lives,  forcing them to make decisions they didn’t necessarily want to if given the choice.  The story didn’t end how I originally thought it would which was a nice surprise – a very moving novel.

Links for Liz Harris

Website http://www.lizharrisauthor.com/?p=1061

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/liz.harris.52206

Twitter @lizharrisauthor

Published by Choc Lit who kindly send me a review copy

Amazon link to buy here

Vampire State of Mind – Jane Lovering

Description

Jessica Grant knows vampires only too well. She runs the York Council tracker programme making sure that Otherworlders are all where they should be, keeps the filing in order and drinks far too much coffee. 
To Jess, vampires are annoying and arrogant and far too sexy for their own good, particularly her ex-colleague Sil, who’s now in charge of Otherworld York. When a demon turns up and threatens not just Jess but the whole world order, she and Sil are forced to work together.

But then Jess turns out to be the key to saving the world, which puts a very different slant on their relationship. 

The stakes are high. They are also very, very pointy and Jess isn’t afraid to use them – even on the vampire she’s rather afraid she’s falling in love with …

My Thoughts

I must admit I don’t know a lot about vampires and Otherworlders but this being the second vampirey book I’ve read recently, I’m starting to get the hang of it all.

I really enjoyed Jane Lovering’s style of writing, it’s witty, direct and sometimes ‘smart-mouthed’. It is also fun and fast with lots going on right from the get-go.

The plot gradually unfolds with surprises along the way – I wasn’t ever sure what was going to happen next.

Sil was a great character and I loved the chemistry between him and Jess, the tension between them was portrayed really well and I looked forward to scenes with both of them in.

An exciting climax to the end of a fast paced novel laced with humour.

Vampire State of Mind is published by ChocLit who kindly sent me a review copy

Links for Jane Lovering

Blog http://www.janelovering.co.uk/

Twitter : @JaneLovering

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/jane.lovering