A birthday in Italy!

Having a birthday while teaching a course for Arte Umbria, in Italy, was a lovely experience.

2015-07-23 12.09.56It seemed odd to take my birthday cards with me and stand them around my room, where nobody would see them, but word had obviously gone around regarding the significance of the date – possibly aided by nearly 500 Birthday messages on Facebook! – and there were more cards, hugs and birthday wishes. And there are far worse ways to begin your birthday than sitting on a sunny terrace with your e-reader while you sip a cup of tea and wait for someone to make you a scrummy breakfast.

IMG_3490One of the course participants had even brought me a present, a patchwork table runner made by his clever wife.

2015-07-23 16.44.09The courses are held on an Umbrian estate amidst a rolling landscape of trees, the village on the next peak, stone houses and olive groves. I claim the huge terrace as my classroom, and we began work after breakfast, as usual. More important than some old birthday – it was the first day of the course.

As luck would have it, the guests went on a trip on my birthday afternoon, to La Scarzuola. I had visited this amazing restored monastery on a previous trip, so I felt justified in staying behind. I worked for an hour – honestly, I did! My work in progress was calling me – and then I took myself down through the gardens to the swimming pool to dangle my feet and soak up a few rays. As I found the chef just finishing her swim, I chatted to her about how she’d come to work in such a fantastic venue. It’s a good story. I’m not going to tell you because I want it for a future book. (Sorry.) As with many conversations with novelists, the chat may have taken the form of me interrogating her, but she didn’t seem to mind.

2015-07-23 20.21.11When the guests returned, a little gentle work rounded out the day, until it was time to get ready for another fabulous meal, including prosecco jelly as a birthday treat.

I ate two bowls full.

Don’t tell anyone.

Here are a few of my favourite pix from Arte Umbria 2015, include those from our day off, when we went to Perugia. If you fancy joining me on next year’s course it’s 13-20 July 2016. (It won’t be my birthday!) Go to www.arteumbria.com for more information.

Arte-Umbria-15-collage

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RNA Conference 2015 part 2 #RNAConf15

A few more pix from the RNA Conference last weekend:

Panel 21 The cemetery in the middle of the Queen Mary College campus. Never seen an on-campus cemetery before!

2 Participants in the ‘Show-and-tell versus show-don’t-tell’ workshop run by myself and Christina Courtenay.

3 and 6 The gala dinner on Saturday in the fab Rotunda library.

4 The ceiling in the library.

5 Gill Stewart and I have to refresh ourselves after filling goodie bags. (Those who know me well will not be surprised that I have the giant cuppa!)

7 Laura James and Christina Courtenay.

And my absolute favourite, courtesy of Janet Gover, the Choc Lit authors at the gala dinner.

CL at conf 2015

Back row, L-R: Jane Lovering, Sarah Waights, Kate Johnson, Sheryl Browne, Linda Mitchelmore, Margaret Kaine, Margaret James, Laura James, Evonne Wareham, Liz Harris.

Front row, L-R: Janet Gover, Alison May, Rhoda Baxter, self, Christina Courtenay, Henriette Gyland.

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RNA CONFERENCE 2015 #RNACONF15

The 2015 conference of the Romantic Novelists’ Association was fantastic. As it was at Queens College University, London, the city where many industry professionals are based, Friday was Industry Day.

Where else can you ask questions of agents such as Carole Blake (Blake Friedmann), Tim Bates (Pollinger), Lisa Eveleigh (Richard Beckley), Hanna Ferguson (Hardman Swainson) and Caroline Sheldon (Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency); and editors such as Kim Young, Helen Huthwaite, Martha Ashby, Kate Bradley, Anna Baggeley, Gillian Green, Jane Johnson, and many more? Also Matt Bates, fiction buyer for W H Smith Travel, Jim Azevedo of Smashwords, book bloggers, reviewers … the list went on.

Christina Courtenay and I ran a workshop titled ‘Show-and-tell versus show-don’t-tell’ on Saturday afternoon, and we were happy to get nearly 60 participants, some of whom allowed Christina to dress them in traditional Japanese costume and answer questions about how it felt to wear a kimono or geta (shoes). Thanks to everybody who took part, made it fun, wore the clothes and ate the biscuits and chocolate.

RNAConf15 panel

The workshops, talks and panels are only part of what goes on at a conference of course. One has to socialise a little.

Henriette Gyland, Christina Courtenay, Gill Stewart and Kate Thompson.

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Sign up!

sign-up-newslettersign-up-street-team

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‘How do you begin a book?’

Previous posts have concerned how I feel in the middle of a book, and at the end. Now seems a good time to cover how I begin, as I’m at that stage with ‘Just for the Holidays’.

Beginning a book is a little like falling in love. I think of it when I should be thinking about something else, I don’t hear everything that’s said to me, I feel a little uncertain, a little apprehensive, a lot excited. What will happen? What if …?

Every book’s different but here, loosely, is where and how a book begins:

Idea

Ideas come to me through reading or hearing something, thinking about my past, or just, apparently, out of the ether. If an idea sticks in my mind, my subconscious plays with it. Inconveniently, the ideas my subconscious likes often come halfway through another book, so I have to try and keep the new idea bubbling on the back burner.

‘Just for the Holidays’ originated from a story told to me over a meal. My friend’s holiday with her sister had gone from bad to worse as the sister dropped bombshell after bombshell on her. I asked if I could use the idea, suitably modified, explored it a bit more, decided what would suit me and what would need to be changed, and in which sort of direction I’d take things.

Characters

My characters come to me early in the process. I begin with hero and heroine. My subconscious plays with them, too, and I find myself making decisions that I’m not completely aware of making.

For ‘Just for the Holidays’ I decided that Leah is, like me, a bit of a petrolhead. This is going to allow me to have some fun with the research, as she does track days and goes to motor sport events so, naturally, so will I have to! One big element to her character was established by the initial idea: Leah has chosen not to get married or have children. She’s a free spirit and likes her life exactly as it is. I wanted her to have a cool job and found a suitable one, one most people wouldn’t count as a job. Importantly, Leah has an older sister, Michele, who’s quite different: a teacher, married with children. Between the different lifestyles of the two sisters lies a lot of emotion and conflict.

Ronan is a grounded helicopter pilot. I’ve tried to make him something else because I’ve written about helicopters once before but he came to me as a grounded helicopter pilot and my subconscious has turned obstinate about it. Again, research is a pleasure. And if anyone would like to take me up in a helicopter, please get in touch.

The work

Now comes the part where I take these few facts and develop something bigger. I create secondary characters to impact on the hero, the heroine and the plot. I give Ronan and Leah conflicts, I explore their lives, their histories, their goals. I mull over what’s drawing them together and what will keep them apart. I look at them from the points of view of other characters – what does her sister think of Leah? What does Ronan think of her? What does her employer think of her? What does Leah think of him? What does his son think of him? etc etc. I feel this technique gives me properly rounded characters.

For some reason, I almost always plan on paper, with a pen. Maybe I think better with a pen in my hand. It’s certainly not because I like handwriting, or that my handwriting is attractive. I’m now fortunate enough to have a second desk for when I’m writing by hand.

The second desk

The second desk

On the opposite wall is an area I can use to cover with sticky notes, if that’s what seems a good idea at the time.

My planning wall with The Wedding Proposal's plot just beginning

My planning wall with an earlier book, The Wedding Proposal, just emerging

Sometimes I simply write out my thoughts and ask myself questions. At other times I create plans. This usually happens when I have a central issue and I want to explore it. The next picture is of a successful plan. I began with my central issue and explored all the outcomes I could think of, with consequences.

A successful plan

A successful plan

Here’s a plan when things became a lot less straightforward.

Not going quite so well, this time ...

Not going quite so well, this time …

It began well. But I introduced a second issue that would impact on the first and found it wasn’t working with the same logic and ease. Everything I thought of seemed to give rise to more and more to think of – hence the additional bits of paper stapled together as my exploration got too big for the page. Stuck, I paused for thought. Should I buy a new stationary tidy, now I have this second desk? Ooh, look, I didn’t realise that my long-arm stapler could extend its reach just by moving something along a bit … I clicked my pen and stared at the plan. By the end of the day all I had decided was that the second  issue wasn’t working.

During the evening, my subconscious kept drawing my attention away from the TV, my dinner, and the book I was reading, worrying at the second issue. Just as I was going to bed – bingo! I realised what was wrong with my issue (too close to something I’d used in another book) and what I could do to change it.

The important thing, to me, is that the plan did its job. Knowing when something isn’t working is as important as knowing when it is.

So, back to my second desk, this afternoon, to work on secondary character bios, drawing all the many pieces of my jigsaw together. It will probably be a couple of weeks before I feel ready to type ‘Chapter 1′ into a new Word document on my Mac. Me and my subconscious have a lot to do before that.

NB My subconscious isn’t the only thing I listen to. Conscious thought does a lot of puzzling – and an agent and/or publisher might have some input, too. :-)

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#1 Bestseller in Contemporary Romance

Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 11.42.05

The Wedding Proposal was selected for a UK Kindle Daily Deal promotion on Wednesday – lucky me! The promotion worked so brilliantly that The Wedding Proposal actually topped the Contemporary Romance chart the following day, climbing to #10 in the Kindle Paid Chart. Joy! So far as I know, this is the best Kindle chart position that any of my books has achieved, so I was doing a happy dance all day.

I’d never even noticed before that Amazon awards your book a pretty little ribbon if it’s #1 in a chart but as soon as I was alerted I took the above screen shot to save the moment for posterity. (And to put on Facebook and Twitter and my blog.) The Wedding Proposal is a summer read, being the story of what happens when Lucas (who hates secrets) is stuck sharing a boat in Malta with Elle (who has a lot to hide) for the summer, and quite a few people told me they’d downloaded it ready for their holidays.

To add to the happiness of the day, the Summer Party of the Romantic Novelists’ Association took place at the Royal Over-Seas League in the evening. I’m tired and have a sore throat, so I know I had a good time! Congratulations to all those who were contenders for the Joan Hessayon Award, especially Brigid Coady, who was the talented winner.

Thanks to Catriona Robb for this photo of myself with Hessayon contender Nikki Moore.

Thanks to Catriona Robb for this photo of myself with Hessayon contender Nikki Moore.

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Sue’s Dos and Don’ts for professional submission of work

During my years as a competition judge for the Writers’ Forum Fiction Competition (now handed over to the fabulous Lorraine Mace), and as an editor of a couple of anthologies, I’ve encountered a some odd and off-putting ways of submitting work. Here are a few ‘don’ts’ compiled from that experience. Some of them might make you smile:

DON’T

  • Send with your submission extraneous additional material such as newspaper clippings, links to the newspaper stories that prompted your idea, photographs, drawings, or letters from other competitions proving that this story didn’t win or letters from editors saying they like your work.

  • Ask for the material to be returned unless its the last copy on Earth and you will never have access to a printer for the rest of your life – especially if you don’t include a stamped self-addressed envelope. Sorry if this sounds mean but it costs you postage and cost the judge or editor time in going to the postbox.

  • Send your story printed on the other side of old material, especially if you don’t cross out said old material.

  • Send two different versions of the same story at the same time.

  • Send  two identical versions of the same story, apart from the fact that they’re printed in two different fonts. (I’m mystified by this one.)

  • Say that you decided not to pay for a critique available as part of the competition, but please could the judge tell you what’s wrong with the story?

  • Send in original and irreplaceable material related to your story (such as a letter from a now-deceased famous person), which the competition judge or editor will feel morally obliged to ensure is returned to you safely.

  • Don’t use a fancy or jokey font, or print in purple, or use orange paper.

  • Write or email to tell the judge or editor that they’re wrong if they don’t count your story as a success.

  • Write or email the judge or editor to tell them how to judge/edit properly. Especially if the letter or email is long.

I wouldn’t categorise any of the above techniques as successful. Satisfactory submission is really simple:

DO

  • Follow the competition rules or submission guidelines. If you don’t, you’re wasting any entry fee or postage you may have paid, and your valuable time.

  • Learn about standard manuscript presentation and utilise it. There’s information on the Manuscript Preparation tab of this blog if you’re unsure. Poor presentation can detract from your work instead of allowing the judge or editor a pleasant reading experience.

Good luck!

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What’s a Street Team? And why has Sue got one?

Team Sue Moorcroft 2When a reader and Facebook friend, Louise St, posted on my Facebook author page that I should have a street team, and she’d like to be on it, I at first thought it was a joke. I saw street teams as the preserve of America, to be honest, and something that other writers had.

But my natural curiosity led me to research the subject on the internet. I discovered that:

  • The idea does seem more prevalent in the market-savvy States, but, hey, I like it. So why not adopt it?
  • A street team is made up of enthusiastic readers who want to talk about, and to, a favourite author.
  • They want to be the first to hear news, and talk about it, to help both author and publisher by spreading the word about special offers and awards shortlisting.
  • The big difference between a street team and the sort of reciprocal sharing of social media posts that authors perform in order to help and be helped, is that it simply harnesses the enthusiasm of readers.
  • Truthfully, a street team can be anything you want it to be.

There’s a lot more general information about street teams available, which you can search for easily on the internet. I felt really humbled when my mum said, ‘It sounds like a fan club!’ In a way, I suppose it is. I’m thrilled to say that a further 8 people (5 women, 3 men) joined Louise St on ‘Team Sue Moorcroft’. We began with a Yahoo group to share news and chat but that seemed a bit clunky, so, at the suggestion of team member John, we switched to a closed Facebook group, which works really well. It’s quick and easy for team members to share information from there.

I asked a few team members if they’d like to share with us what they like about being members of Team Sue Moorcroft. And here’s what they said:

Tracy: Being asked to be part of #teamsuemoorcroft is very exciting. It’s great I can interact with one of my favourite authors and like-minded people.

Louise St: Being able to Interact with an author who’s work you thoroughly enjoy is not only great fun but inspiring too!

Louise Sp: For me, it’s an honour to be part of the Street Team as I’ve been an avid reader of Sue’s books for a long while now. It goes without saying, I am also a huge fan and being able to interact with Sue and help to get more people reading her books is fantastic!

Anne Williams, ‘Being Anne’ (blog): I wanted to be part of your street team because there’s nothing I like better than spreading the word about authors and books I love – if they’ve given me such pleasure, I love being able to share it. And if I can also share “breaking news”, people who trust my judgement by now will appreciate that extra information. I’d also like to see you selling a lot more books and reaching loads of new readers!

The team gives me a lovely warm glow whenever I think about it. Thank you to each and every team member. It’s a joy to chat to you.If anyone reading this would like to talk to me about being a team member – sign up, ask questions, whatever – you can contact me by direct message on Twitter or Facebook, or simply email me via my website. It would be a pleasure to hear from you.

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Sue’s Lovely Blog Hop

I’ve been challenged by Shauna Bickley to join in the Lovely Blog Hop to talk about some of the things that have shaped my life and my writing.

At the end, you’ll find links to some blogs and writers I like. The writers have all agreed to participate in this Lovely Blog Hop.

First Memory
I think it was having measles when I was three or four years of age. I was very ill, apparently, and didn’t eat for a long time. I can still remember my bedroom (blue rug with a peacock on it) and the high bed (small birds on the cover) and how much I ached all over. My dad came home during the day for something and I could hear him downstairs but by the time my aching muscles would let me get out of bed, he’d gone back to work. I was upset but my mum was thrilled – I didn’t realise until much later that she’d been worried for my survival and my standing on the landing and crying was a big step up from lying in bed like a hot little slug.

My family lived in Cove, near Farnborough in Hampshire, England, at the time. Dad was in the army and stationed at Aldershot Barracks. There hadn’t been an army quarter available for us when we first got the posting and Mum found she liked living out of barracks for a while, so we stayed in the village instead of moving into the camp.

Books
I was slightly late to reading but once I’d conquered the skill I latched onto the world of fiction and it has remained one of my favourite places to be. Although I was a noisy kid with a big social group, I spent hours lying on my bed with a book. I read a lot of Enid Blyton but was reading adult novels by the time I was 9. The first was ‘A Town Like Alice’ by Nevil Shute. I’m still a huge devotee and think I have everything of his that was published – even stuff published posthumously and which I’m convinced he would never have wanted his readers to see. Dad used to vet what I borrowed from his bookcase to ensure it was ‘suitable for little girls’. (Not ‘Lolita’, apparently.) I used to give almost any book a go and made it a mission to finish anything I began. This has reversed itself as I find reading time harder to come by and therefore more precious – I tend to read mainly in the romantic and women’s fiction genres and if I’m not enjoying a book, I stop reading it.

Libraries
When we first left the army (I was nearly 10) I hated Civvy Street. The kids at my new school had received few ‘new kids’ into their classes. In army schools new kids were generally helped and welcomed because it happened to us all so regularly. But, in my new school, I answered the familiar question ‘Where did you used to live?’ in the way I was used to: Germany, Cyprus, Malta, and, in the UK, Hampshire and London. The response was ‘You’re a liar’ and nobody spoke to me. During that time, the local library was my saviour. I could get three books out a week – nowhere near enough! So I used to sit on the floor or in the window seat and read in situ.

*Footnote: I gained acceptance at my new school by winning a fight arranged for after school. The girl in question (with whom I’m still friends!) came at me with a couple of ineffective slaps. I’d been not only brought up in the barracks but had two big brothers. I punched her in the throat and, when she could breathe again, she ran home crying. The crowd who’d come to see me beaten up then accepted me as if the no-speaking period had never happened.

What’s Your Passion?
Formula 1 racing. I’m a complete F1 bore and watch every programme, report, practice session, qualifying session and race that I possibly can. I love it.

Learning
I hated my senior school and, when I was told I would have to stay there for two additional years plus do six years of university if I wanted to be a journalist, I said, ‘I’m not doing that, then.’ I found a secretarial course at the local college and set myself free. On the first day, I learned I could have applied to be a cub reporter at the local newspaper and done my qualifications on day-release. Instead of going home and writing to the paper to ask about positions for the following year, I took the view that the opportunity had gone. I did well on my course and went into a bank, where I also did reasonably well until I left, 9 years later. I have never taken an exam since my secretarial course.

However, I’ve educated myself about writing and publishing! I read writing magazines and books, attend conferences, take workshops, read newsletters, and at one time took a correspondence course that helped me launch my career in short stories for national newsstand magazines. Creating a CV around short stories was planned as a stepping stone to being a published novelist. I’ve sold over 150 short stories, 8 novels, a novella, 5 serials and dozens of columns and articles, so my plan worked – even if the route wasn’t as straightforward as I’d once hoped.

Writing
It’s a compulsion. What we call ‘writing’ would’ve been called ‘storytelling’ in the days before most people could actually write. I think that’s what I am first: a storyteller. This concept is something I try to use when teaching creative writing so that people who have a challenge such as dyslexia or interrupted education are not put off.

Here are the links to other blogs from some writers you might find interesting. Not all of my writing friends write in the same genre as I do but they have something in common – they’re lovely. Thanks to Shauna Bickley for nominating me.

Liz Harris

Sheryl Browne

Berni Stevens

Mark West

Kirsty Ferry

Nikki Moore

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Italy, the company of writers … what’s not to love?

Flip chart and table on the veranda

Flip chart and table on the veranda

Although I work on my own mostly, and like it that way, sometimes I get the opportunity to work with other writers. I love their company and the feeling of being with people like myself, who live partly in the worlds of their imaginations.

Sharing the world another writer is creating, as they create it, is really exciting. I’m able to dip in and out of these worlds-in-progress whenever I run a workshop or share an ideas storm with a writing friend – but, once a year, I’m able to share a special experience, a

The terrace

The terrace

writing ‘holiday’, in a special place. At Arte Umbria, halfway up an Italian mountain in beautiful Umbria, my classroom is a sunny/shady terrace with panoramic views. I’m able to tailor what I offer to the participants: workshops, one-to-one tutorials, mentoring, peer review, publishing insight and private writing time. Writers of all abilities and experiences from novices to second- or third-time novelists come on the holiday to progress their work, expand their knowledge, write, and leave the workaday world behind.

My room last year

My room last year

The Poggiolame Estate is wild and beautiful, full of places to walk. There’s a swimming pool, places to write, and the house itself is 300 years old, furnished in a way that’s somehow gracious and quirky. The food and wine is fabulous and the hosts, Sara and David, are welcoming. We only leave the estate to go on a couple of local excursions. As course leader I’m busy all day, but even I find time to write, without pesky domestic chores to bother me.

The pool

The pool

To find out more or to book, go to arteumbria.com.

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