Research in Strasbourg

2015-08-18 16.11.44If you ever get the opportunity to visit Strasbourg in Alsace, France … go!

I’ve just spent an incredible four days staying with my lovely friend, Julie, who lives in a village just outside  the city. In fact, she’s responsible for my deciding that my WIP, currently entitled ‘Just for the Holidays’, was set in Alsace, as, when looking for a suitable spot for my English characters to spend August in France, I remembered her saying ‘You must come and stay!’ To have a built-in tour guide makes research five times easier.2015-08-18 11.51.30

After strolling through the city and admiring the totally fantastic cathedral, we took a boat ride along the River Ile, which flows through Strasbourg and connects with the canal, to give me an overview of the city, the half-timbered buildings and steeply pitched roofs, the flowers, the ironworks, architecture and history. 2015-08-18 14.51.54

And I had to begin my exploration of local food and drink – Baeckeoffe, with Fischer beer. Baeckeoffe is a very hearty stew with three kinds of meat in it.Baeckeoffe

Wednesday saw us at ‘Urgences’, the A&E department of l’Hopital Civil, where my character, Alister, is taken after rearranging his leg in a cycling accident. Of course, I wouldn’t intrude on anybody’s privacy by taking photos of their dashes to the hospital, but I was able to check out the building, the department, the surroundings and, via Julie (now turned translator), quiz the receptionist in Urgences as to what would happen to Alister after admission. (Transport to l’Hopital Hautepierre for his operation and aftercare).

Flammkuchen, tarte flambeeThat day’s dejeuner was flammkucher and Meteor beer. (You see how seriously I take my research.) Later in the day we wandered for two hours around the village where Julie lives, taking pix of the gorgeous houses and the infrastructure of the place. I was particularly impressed by the pizza vending machine.DSCF0210

Thursday saw a return to Strasbourg to meet Julie’s friend, Corinne, an English teacher who had volunteered her local knowledge. After cake at Christian’s, near the cathedral, we hopped on the tram back to Corrinne’s place, where she gave us lunch on her terrace, much of it sourced from her lovely garden. Then we talked for hours about the locality, about the medical system, the insurance system and we drank tea made of roses. (Sorry that so much of this post is about food and drink but, when in Alsace, one must eat as the Alsatians do.)DSCF0259

I’m going to draw a veil over later standing outside Julie’s apartment with my case as I waited for taxi after taxi that ‘had a problem’, ‘seems to be lost’ and couldn’t find the apartments. Suffice to say, I got a bit anxious. But, eventually, I was on my way, arriving at the airport in time to kiss my hostess goodbye and join the tail of the line for airport security.

Today I’m back at my desk with over 200 photos, leaflets, notes and memories, to weave into my manuscript. So, bye then! I have work to do.

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Nikki Moore’s latest!

Picnics in Hyde ParkPicnics in Hyde Park is a book I’ve been waiting to read since the first chapter, under another title, was shortlisted for a Novelicious competition. I was completely intrigued but, though Nikki Moore is my niece (and I’m very proud of her), she has steadfastly and perniciously refused to tell me What Happened Next!

Now that the book has hit the shelves, I forgive her. Picnics in Hyde Park is safely on my Kindle and is my designated travel companion on my next trip, when I fly to Strasbourg on research for my WIP, currently titled Just for the Holidays. Happily for me, that’s only next week!

Here’s the Picnics in Hyde Park blurb:

Hot summer romance…or cold revenge?

Super nanny, Zoe Harper is mad! It was bad enough discovering her ex-fiancé Greg cheating on her just weeks before their wedding. But now she’s returned home to London to find her younger sister Melody has been left jobless, homeless, broke and dumped.

Zoe is determined to get revenge on the infamous Reilly brothers for her sister’s heartbreak. So when an unexpected opportunity gives Zoe a way in to uncaring—and dizzyingly gorgeous!—successful music producer Matt Reilly’s world, she jumps at the chance to make him pay.

But living with Matt as nanny to his two adorable, but complicated children, Zoe soon begins to suspect that not everything is as it seems… Matt insists on pushing everyone away including his children, but why? And if his delicious summer kisses are anything to go by, he can’t be that bad surely?

Can Zoe convince Matt to open up a little and help fix this family before she leaves…or worse, before Matt learns who she really is?

Here are the buy links:

Amazon UK

Kobo

Nook

I’ve read all of the novellas that led up to Picnics in Hyde Park, (the #LoveLondon Series). They have, deservedly, hit the Amazon UK charts.

Reviews:

LoveLondon - Facebook‘The writing style is impeccable. How I’ll fill the void left by this series is something I’ve not yet figured out an answer to.’ K.L Beeden, Books with Bunny.

Strawberries at Wimbledon

‘I eagerly read and absorbed every page. Such a good feel read earns an easy 5 stars from me.’ Sheerie Franks, Amazon UK.

Cocktails in Chelsea

‘I loved every single minute of this fun, flirty romance… the perfect read for your boring commute to work.’ Holly, Bookaholic Confessions

Valentine’s on Primrose Hill

‘Uplifting and at the same time thought provoking too. I guarantee you’ll be hitting that button on Amazon to order the fourth book in the #LoveLondon series as soon as you’ve finished this one.’ Dawn, Crooks on Books

New Year at The Ritz

A sweet and flirty short story, I really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to see what Nikki comes up with for the next book in the series.’ Simona Elena, Sky’s Book Corner.

Skating at Somerset House

‘Sexy, fun and everything you need in one neat, gorgeous package. This is a winner for me.’ Chicks That Read.

 Nikki MooreHappy publication day to Nikki Moore for Picnics in Hyde Park.

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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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