Tag Archives: Novels

Who reads Christmas books? #AmReading #AmWriting #RespectRomFic

Image showing book covers for Under the Mistletoe, The Christmas Promise, Christmas Wishes, The Little Village Christmas, A Christmas Gift and Let it Snow.

When I decided to write a post about Christmas books, I first solicited feedback from two large, active readers’ groups on Facebook. I asked: ‘If you read Christmas-themed books, whether they’re romance-at-Christmas or crime-at-Christmas, can you tell me why?’

Overwhelmingly, the most popular answer was:

  • ‘I love Christmas books!’

Almost as popular was:

  • to get in the Christmas mood and/or feel immersed in the season of goodwill.

Others included:

  • reading Christmas books is a part of the run-up to Christmas, a tradition
  • many Christmas books have happy endings, increasing the positive feelings (this possibly isn’t true of crime-at-Christmas)
  • to reflect on the spirit of Christmas
  • to ‘live’ the sort of Christmas the reader would like to have, but doesn’t, including having a vicarious Christmas if spending the season alone
  • escapism – Christmas books tend to focus on what’s important: family, charity, hope and community, rather than commercialism
  • Christmas books are frequently uplifting
  • they heighten the romance of the season.

Stanley Unwin said: “The first duty of any publisher to their authors is to remain solvent,” so it’s not hard to see why publishers publish Christmas books. Christmas stories sell in large numbers. Most of mine have charted in the Official UK Top 50, UK Kindle Top 100 (one went to #1) and some the Top 20 Mass-Market Fiction. Magazines, newspapers and websites include them in Christmas gift guides. The season is short but intense.

I write Christmas books, and not just because they sell. (Here comes the writing bit.) I think my ‘plotty head’ recognises the possibilities arising from the heightened stakes of a book set at Christmas time.

I view it like this: during the festive season, good things seem better and bad things seem worse.

Let’s take an example of ‘good’ – a couple getting engaged at Christmas. Their wonderful news only doubles the celebrations; they meet more friends and family at Christmas and each time make their announcement, show off the rings, talk about future plans. A Christmas engagement is memorable and romantic, bedecking Cloud Nine with glitter and fairy lights.

On the other hand, how bad does it feel to get a redundancy notice in the week before Christmas? The good time had by others highlights the plight of the character who’s lost their job and money woes leap into hard focus. How will the Christmas credit card bill be paid, the Christmas food bill, the tickets for the latest Christmas movie or fuelling the car for Christmas visits across country? The January pay packet may be the last for a while. Family members are about to be let down just when they were expecting to be flying high.

This heightening of stakes makes my plotting life easier. Contrasts between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ are greater (hence Charles Dickens writing A Christmas Carol to bring attention to the plight of the poor), conflicts are tougher, celebrations more joyous, goals more important. A bad Christmas experience can taint Christmas forevermore… unless a novelist comes along to weave into the story a reason to enjoy Christmas again and for scars to be healed.

For me, writing Christmas books has an unexpected benefit – I’m part of so many Christmases! People read my books to get in the festive spirit and gift them to each other (there are few things easier to wrap than a book). If someone messages me with a request to buy a signed copy they often ask, ‘Do you mind?’

No, I don’t mind – I’m delighted! It’s a privilege to be, in a small way, part of Christmas. 

Image of more Christmas books

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#UnderTheItalianSun is 99p in the Kindle Monthly Deal! @AvonBooksUK @BlakeFriedmann

Just to let you know that Under the Italian Sun is a Kindle book bargain, this month, and can be downloaded for 99p.

It’s already been to #28 in the paperback Official Top Fifty in the UK, which made me very happy. HUGE thanks to everybody who bought it and therefore put it there.

If you’d prefer to read Under the Italian Sun on your Kindle and grab a summery ‘escape through the pages’ to a sunny plateau above an Italian vineyard, then now’s the time to buy.

Download Under the Italian Sun for 99p here

Enjoy your journey to a place full of secrets and passions – happy reading!

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My ‘new contract’ gift to myself

When I was researching my ‘Ava’ book in Camden Town, London, I happened across an Irregular Choice shop – the first I’d encountered, although I’ve since found them in Carnaby Street, too. The name of the shop perfectly describes their products – zany – but they’re also gorgeous and imaginative. I like shoes and promised myself  I’d buy a pair if the contract for the book proved good enough.

And it did! ‘Ava’ (she’s going to have a better title than that, soon) is scheduled for October 2016 publication with Avon HarperCollins UK, with the second book in the contract due out in June 2017.

So I have bought some Irregular Choice shoes …

And I very much love them.

I went for those with tape measures on to reflect Ava’s creative career in couture millinery.

Slightly on the downside, lovely as they are, standing up in them for two hours yesterday afternoon at the Love Story Awards and 3 hours yesterday evening at the RNA Winter Party, with a walk along Piccadilly in between, was not an irregular choice, it was a slightly stupid one. 🙂

This isn’t the first time I’ve given myself a reward for a writing accomplishment. When I sold my first short story to a magazine, The People’s Friend, I bought myself a new computer chair to replace my dated and uncomfortable typist’s chair. Sadly, the chair had a tweedy sort of fabric cover and, even through jeans, it gave me a rash on my bum.

I’m not deterred and shall continue to buy myself the occasional gift when I achieve a happy point in my career. I shall continue to wear the shoes! But I gave the chair away.

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Sue’s seven useful things to know about writing for money

As I write novels, serials, short stories, articles, columns and writing ‘how to’, I’m sometimes asked for my tips. I’ve collected them together in this post:

1 You need to know about more than just writing.

2014-05-13 10.39.462 You need to know about publishing. Publishing is an industry and has to make money to survive. If you don’t learn something about how it works you’re making your life unnecessarily hard.

3 You may need/prefer to know about self-publishing. You get control and you get more of the cut each time your book is sold. And you get all of the work, or have to pay/persuade people to do some of it.

ios_homescreen_icon4 You need to know what ‘discoverable’ means. Promotion will almost certainly be part of your life. Website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, ELLO, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram … OK, you don’t need to know all of them but many publishers expect you to have a platform. Readers want to find you and tell you how cool you are. Journalists need to research you before interviews. If you’re self-publishing the need may be greater than if you’re traditionally published.

Group shot, Summer Party 125 Networking can be fun, if you enjoy parties, conferences, seminars, literary festivals, forums and classes. Or it can be a nightmare if you don’t enjoy parties, conferences etc. Either way, it’s almost always useful. You get your name in front of editors and agents and learn a lot from other writers. You hear about possible destinations for your work and a lot about what-not-to-do. Learning what-not-to-do is a lifelong process for me.

*You can network on social media, too.

Study6 You can’t be without self-motivation, if you want to be a writer, unless you’re already a staffer on a paper or magazine and motivation is provided for you in the form of ‘You’re fired!’ if you don’t write. In your study at home you can work in your dressing gown, you can drink tea all day, you can go on Facebook whenever you want. But a month’s work takes a month. If you want work done, you have to do it. Nobody will fill in for you when you’re sick or on holiday, either.

7 Rejection. (Cue scary music and a feeling like cold mud in your belly.) Almost every writer gets rejection. A lot of rejection. The trick is a) to learn from it b) not to let it stop you writing. Swear and throw something at the wall if you must (I must, personally) but then get back to writing.

Final tip: Become reasonably proficient with every piece of technology that will help you in points 1-7 or identify which skills you’ll pay for in others. Learn to type. Touch type. Yes, really! Your writing life will be so much easier.

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Shortlisted! Romance Reader Awards

TWP_RGBpackshotAbsolutely thrilled to hear this week that The Wedding Proposal has been shortlisted in the Romance Reader Awards for Best Romantic Read. This is the first year that the entry has been open to all so I’m beyond delighted to be in illustrious company. You can read the complete lists for all categories here but this is the line up for mine:

Best Romantic Read
(Sponsored by Headline Eternal)
Two Weddings and a Baby by Scarlett Bailey (Ebury)
The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman (Ebury)
The Cornish Stranger by Liz Fenwick (Orion)
After The Honeymoon by Janey Fraser (Arrow)
The Unpredictable Consequences of Love by Jill Mansell (Headline Review)
One Hundred Proposals by Holly Martin (Carina)
The Wedding Proposal by Sue Moorcroft (Choc Lit)
The Proposal by Tasmina Perry (Headline Review)
One Step Closer to You by Alice Peterson (Quercus)

Rowan Coleman is currently flying high as a Richard & Judy pick and Jill Mansell has long been a mega-bestseller so you can see what I mean by ‘illustrious company’.

The award ceremony is at the Festival of Romantic Fiction on the evening of Saturday 13th September 2014 at Leighton Buzzard Theatre. I’m attending the Festival all day on the Saturday, to be part of the book fair in Leighton Buzzard High Street from 10am to 3pm and the Traditional Afternoon Tea with the Authors at The Green House, Market Square, Leighton Buzzard. I’m glad I booked a hotel for Saturday night as drinking fizz at an awards ceremony is a basic human right … and I’m rather a fan of it.

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There are many ways to enjoy a wedding …

When we think of weddings we tend to think of all the traditional things – big venue, bride in gorgeous white dress, long black cars, bridesmaids, pageboys, guests in suits and hats. It’s an incredibly expensive undertaking.

For some, the price is just too much.

Recently, I discovered that the wedding plans of the son of friends had been badly affected by an unexpected redundancy notice. They had to look at the wedding expenses and see what they could cut. An obvious candidate was the wedding car at nearly £500. The dad said that he’d drive the happy couple, instead, but that would mean double journeys and fallback plans for others in the family.

2014-06-28 17.08.34It so happens that there’s a nice middle-aged sort of Jag in my family, so I volunteered to turn myself into a chauffeur for the day.

It was great! As soon as the ribbons were on the car I found that traffic stopped for me, even when I didn’t even have the bride and groom on board. (I’ve stored this information up for future use and may always keep a supply of white ribbons in the glove compartment.)

I ended up going to the wedding reception in the afternoon and then back to the extended family reception at the parents’ house in the evening. (By that time I was off duty and could indulge in a few glasses of Pimms.) I had time to chat with members of their family that I hadn’t seen for years, as well as meeting a few new ones.

TWP_HIGHRES 150dpiThe Wedding Proposal was at the printers, by this time, but this lovely wedding day did make me wonder what kind of wedding Elle and Lucas will have in the end. Will they do the traditional thing at a stunning venue? Run off to Vegas, as Elle once suggested? Or get married on a beach, somewhere exotic …

I wonder if they need a driver?

 

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It’s epublication day!

 TWP_HIGHRES 150dpiMy new novel, The Wedding Proposal, is out as an ebook today!

(The paperback comes out on 8 September.)

We lived in the top flat.

We lived in the top flat.

When I was little and used to look out over a Malta yacht marina from our balcony, I never dreamed that one day I’d set a novel there. At that time the marina was just part of the scenery. I was an army kid in army accommodation and never troubled my head over how it felt to live on a boat, even when I caught the school bus just opposite Gzira Gardens and gazed at the boats as the bus trundled along the seafront road.

When I decided to make Elle and Lucas meet up again after their break up four years earlier, I wanted to put them in a situation where they couldn’t easily escape each other and so had to face their past. Put them on a boat together, I thought. So I created the Shady Lady and moored her within sight of the bridge to Manoel Island. The boat belongs to Lucas’s Uncle Simon and it’s due to Simon’s meddling that Elle and Lucas end up in the same boat for the summer.

The twin of the 'Shady Lady'.

The twin of the ‘Shady Lady’.

I was lucky to be invited to the Southampton Boat Show by Fairline Boats to explore the twin of the Shady Lady. She’s 42′ long.

Oliver, the delightful man who took time out of a busy day to show me around, said, ‘This is a small boat for two people who aren’t ‘together’ to occupy together. There’s going to be friction.’

I just smiled. ‘He’s going to be annoyed when she turns up with four huge suitcases, isn’t he? They’re going to fall over one another at every turn.’ Yeah …

Sliema Creek and Ta' Xbiex marina in the distance.

Sliema Creek and Ta’ Xbiex marina in the distance.

The rock pools on the rocky foreshore.

The rock pools on the rocky foreshore.

And, of course, I went to Malta to take hundreds of photos of every area of Malta that I thought Lucas and Elle might need for their story to unfold. The seafront, the gardens, the nearby resort of Sliema and, across the harbour, Valletta, Manoel Island, the streets of Gzira, the rocky foreshore and the Mediterranean Sea. But everyone knows that I love Malta, so that was no hardship!

Here’s the blurb:

TWP_RGBpackshotThe Wedding Proposal – available today as an ebook.

Can a runaway bride stop running?

Elle Jamieson is an unusually private person, in relationships as well as at work – and for good reason. But when she’s made redundant, with no ties to hold her, Elle heads off to a new life in sunny Malta.

Lucas Rose hates secrets – he prides himself on his ability to lay his cards on the table and he expects nothing less from others. He’s furious when his summer working as a divemaster is interrupted by the arrival of Elle, his ex, all thanks to his Uncle Simon’s misguided attempts at matchmaking.

Forced to live in close proximity, it’s hard to ignore what they had shared before Lucas’s wedding proposal ended everything they had. But then an unexpected phone call from England allows Lucas a rare glimpse of the true Elle. Can he deal with Elle’s hidden past when it finally comes to light?

 

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Ooooh … gorgeous hats!

Samples  of the kind of thing Abigail makes

Samples of the kind of thing Abigail makes

Yesterday, in the pursuit of research, I had the enormous pleasure of visiting Abigail Crampton, a couture milliner, to learn a little about her art and her business, Abigail Crampton Millinery.

I began to understand the difference between picture hats and cartwheels, fascinators and cocktail hats, cloches and trilbies.

And the colours and decorations! Stunning.

Making a hat by hand is an enormous skill as well as a testament to creativity. Abigail makes bespoke creations so if, say, you want a hat for Ascot, you take along your outfit and Abigail designs a hat that completes your ensemble and is a visual joy.

I fell in love with a cocktail hat (probably because the height of the decoration made me look taller) and discovered that I have a totally average head size. I also learned a lot about blocking, steaming, stab stitch, sinemay and the uses of an egg iron.

The research is for a novella I’m planning – The Twelve Dates of Christmas. I came away content that I’ve chosen the correct career for Ava Bliss, my heroine. She’ll prosper amongst the sinemay, straw, felt, feathers and veiling.

I’ll let the rest of my photos speak for themselves. My thanks to Abigail for giving up her time and sharing some of her expertise.

A fascinator I fell for - you can't go wrong with purple. Abigail Crampton Millinery

A fascinator I fell for – you can’t go wrong with purple. Abigail Crampton Millinery

The thread rack. Every thread has to be such a close colour match as to become invisible.

The thread rack. Every thread has to be such a close colour match as to become invisible.

Blocks. Essential to the creation process.

Blocks. Essential to the creation process.

Wow!  Abigail Crampton Millinery

Wow!
Abigail Crampton Millinery

A block for a snazzy cocktail hat, covered in clingfilm so no dyes can be transferred from creation to creation via the wood.

A block for a snazzy cocktail hat, covered in clingfilm so no dyes can be transferred from creation to creation via the wood.

A pillbox hat in creation

A pillbox hat in creation

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What do I say on the radio?

HeadphonesI love ‘doing radio’.

When I first began to get published I felt that ‘doing radio’ was something other people did. It was a genuine shock when I received a request to be interviewed by BBC local radio. Until then, I had taken part in one radio interview, conducted over the phone, and I think the reason that it went so well was that I didn’t realise I was being interviewed. I thought the journalist was just chatting with me and would get on to the scary stuff later. So I learned early that if I treat radio interviews as a nice chat, they’ll generally go pretty well.

The technique has served me well and now I’m a regular guest on chat programmes on both BBC Radio Cambridgeshire and BBC Radio Northampton.

BBC Radio Cambridgeshire has an afternoon slot on The Sue Dougan Show called In the Chat Room, where Sue invites people in to talk about a couple of topical subjects. It can be anything from finding the money to send a child to university to what you think about while doing the ironing. There’s usually another ‘Chat Roomer’ in the studio and so I have someone to banter with.

Helen Blaby, of BBC Radio Northampton, does a twenty minute discussion of the Sunday morning papers, each week. When I’m invited to be the guest, I arrive about 9am and a lovely production assistant sits me down with all the papers and a cup of tea. I choose five news stories I have something to say about and then I’m shown in to Helen’s studio about 10.10am, tell her what the stories are, and we go on to chat about some of them live on air. To give you an example, yesterday we talked about happiness classes in the British army and social media, which was mentioned in several sections of every paper – business, commentary, social and news.

What’s in these programmes for me? They’re not actually interviews about me or my books.

Apart from the fun of chatting live on air, both presenters ask me about what’s happening to me at the moment, when the next book comes out, what workshops I’m running etc. So I reach their audience, which is about 300,000 in both cases; it’s just a touch less direct than being the subject of an interview.

I’m also often the spokesperson for the Romantic Novelists’ Association (I’m vice chair), which is usually fast and soon forgotten, but it means that I occasionally have my name mentioned on radio stations throughout the country.

Here are my top tips for ‘doing radio’:

  • Chat to the presenter as if the audience doesn’t exist
  • But remember not to swear or say anything you don’t want to be instantly broadcast
  • Keep close to the microphone (except if you laugh. Then pull back.)
  • If there are things you want to mention, jot them down on a piece of card. Try and avoid noisy paperwork.
  • Take/ask for water. You may not have coughed for ten years but the moment you go live on air, you’ll want to.
  • Turn off your phone or put it on silent or airplane mode. Or don’t take it into the studio.
  • Don’t worry that ten minutes after you thought you were going to be on air, you’re still sitting out in reception. The production team have to ensure a smooth flow and have probably built in a few minutes into the schedule so you’ll be there when they want you. Put yourself in their hands and relax. It’s their problem, not yours.
  • But build in time for travel. Better to be early and have to wait than to be late and miss your slot. I once sat outside BBC Radio Cambridgeshire in a traffic jam listening to Sue Dougan say I’d be on air in about five minutes … Not comfortable.
  • Enjoy. It’s fun.
  • NB I did have one slightly hostile interviewer at a radio station in Yorkshire. He obviously didn’t like fiction and particularly not romantic fiction. The trick, if you get a question you don’t like, is to make like a politician and instead of talking about something you don’t want to talk about, talk about something you do want to talk about. Don’t let yourself be drawn into confrontation. Don’t try and score points. See it as an opportunity to tell the listeners about your new book. The presenter isn’t the only one with control.

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Ebook publication day for Is This Love?

Today’s ebook publication day for Is This Love?

It’s kind of crept up on me as I’m busy with the next book (which has at least three possible titles …) and have been stopping to do the promo for Is This Love? whenever requested, without realising that Tamara and Jed would soon be let loose on the ereading public.

So, what can I tell you about the book? Well, it’s about the different types and qualities of love.

Tamara has never moved away from Middledip village out of love for her sister, Lyddie, who suffered a hit-and-run accident when she was a teen and needs more care than most adults. Jed, teenage sweetheart of Lyddie, left the village around the time of the accident and the story opens when adult Jed returns to explain who was driving the car that hit Lyddie. He’s a bit of a mystery, is Jed, having dropped out of society for a while at sixteen yet somehow managed to land a great job without a qualification to his name.

As a ten-year-old, Tamara had harboured a secret crush on Jed – and those feelings come rushing back. But now she can’t make up her mind about him. Is he one of the good guys?

Or not?

DSCF9095I had a lot of fun with this book. Tamara’s a yoga instructor and yoga is one of my passions, so the research there wasn’t difficult because my own yoga instructor, Gail, gave up her time to help me. But there’s an alpaca herd in the book, and millionaires, and a lot of money, all of which had to be investigated. I had to find out how much half a million pounds in £50 notes weighs and whether a woman with a bad leg could carry it, when alpacas have their babies and how to look after them (happily, I have other friends, Sue and Adrian, who keep alpacas), what a close protection officer does (Jed has a stepbrother, Manny, who heads up security for the millionaires) and other fascinating stuff … like what happens at a spa day. (I had to do a day and a weekend, just to make double sure I had it all covered …)

The less fun research was into acquired head injury. My thoughts are often with all those who have suffered.

ITL The paperback of Is This Love? will be released on 7th November 2013. I received my author copies just before I went on holiday in mid-September. Pretty! It’s a sight that always makes my heart sing.

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