Tag Archives: women’s fiction

I Love Dubai! #DubaiLitFest

I accepted an invitation to work at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai without any preconceptions about the country. My itinerary was clear enough – a panel on contemporary women’s fiction, a couple of receptions and outings and three days teaching. With flight times of around seven hours, it was a busy schedule.

But I still had time to fall in love with Dubai.

Dubai marina Sue 2 smallThe landmark style of architecture entranced me. The sunshine was welcome and 25-27c was perfect for me. During my 7-day trip, I don’t think a single person was rude to me, everyone was warm and friendly, I didn’t see a single piece of litter or graffiti. I felt very comfortable and safe.

Dubai’s considered a global crossroads and I can see how it earned that title. It seems that every culture and religion is represented in its populace and, from what I saw, coexisting peacefully. I so wish the rest of the world exhibited the same tolerance as I witnessed in Dubai.

My first evening saw a welcome reception, which included such luminaries as Alan Titchmarsh. Everybody who worked for the Festival was warm and welcoming. They gave me food and wine, so I was happy.

Festival City smallI spent the next morning walking in the sunshine and enjoying the shore of Festival City. There’s a lot of construction in this new area but still plenty to see and enjoy. I didn’t go into the massive mall next door. Honestly. Not then …

Contemp Fic panel, April, Nadya smallIn the afternoon I was part of the Contemporary Fiction panel with April Hardy, who was launching her new book, Kind Hearts and Coriander (very good – I can recommend it) and Nadiya Hussain. Most people know for Nadiya for her triumphant win of the Great British Bake Off but she also writes for children and adults. Her views on writing collaboratively were fascinating.

The hour shot by as our panel, beautifully chaired by journalist Brandy Scott, discussed our work and whether we felt we needed the word ‘women’ in Women’s Contemporary Fiction. The audience were engaged and supplied plenty of questions for the Q&A, laughing in all the right places. A well-organised book signing followed, which was huge fun. Everyone was so willing to chat and, you know, I’m not backward in that department myself.

Saturday was my day off and Diala, a friend I’d made on Facebook, took me out to Jumeira Beach and Dubai Mall.

Jumeira Beach skyscrapers small

Dubai marina Sue 2 small

Jumeira Beach camel small

Dubai Mall small

 

And then came the Start Up Writing course, three days with a group of ten enthusiastic participants. We covered … well, we covered everything, more even than I’d allowed for as the questions poured in during every session.

My teaching was interspersed with sessions from agents, editors and other industry professionals (during which I think I took as many notes as the students). My thanks to editor Charlie Scott of local publisher Motivate, as Charlie came into my room to talk for twenty minutes to my students about opportunities for writers in the Middle East.

Dinner at the Etihad MuseumWe rounded out my part of the Festival with an open-air dinner at the Etihad Museum, listening to honoured guests speaking about what Dubai meant to them. Moving and inspirational.

I’d like to end this post with extending thanks to Yvette Judge and her fantastic team at the Festival, along with the sponsors who make the event possible.

Thank you to my fantastic students.

And some to those who extended the hand of friendship to me during my stay, especially April and Andrew Hardy, Sharmila, Al, Ronita and Monita Mohan, Dial Atat and Ruba Naseraldeen.

Also to Magrudy’s bookshop, which did such a fantastic job all festival long.Sue Magrudy's books small

 

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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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I have a new two-book deal with Avon UK!

I’m really thrilled to be able to announce that my next two novels will be published by Avon UK, part of HarperCollins!

2015-08-12 11.12.06These things take a while for all the T’s to be crossed and I’s to be dotted, so I’ve been sitting on the news since mid-August, when I went down to The News Building, standing right next to London’s Shard and just as impressively glassy (though not quite as tall).

I met Eleanor Dryden and some of the energetic and enthusiastic Avon UK team. They’d decorated the room with hats, as the heroine of my novel, Ava, is a milliner, and made chocolate cake and bought biscuits. (They had me with that cake.)2015-08-14 07.38.23

My lovely agent, Juliet Pickering of Blake Friedmann, came to the meeting, of course, and asked all the questions I didn’t think of, but as Eleanor unrolled Avon’s plans for my books, and for me as an author, I found myself realising that I’d found my new home.

Avon wasn’t the only publisher in the frame but Eleanor and her team were the ones who said everything I wanted to hear so, in the end, after a whirlwind couple of weeks of trying to compare offers that seemed impossible to compare, the decision made itself.

Here’s a little about the books in the deal (titles to be decided):

Book 1

Set in London at Christmas time, the story’s about things being difficult for Ava’s millinery business, revenge porn, Sam having all the trappings of success but little defence against his mother’s illness, and whether it’s obligatory to like Christmas. Due out around September 2016.

Book 2

In contrast, a summer book, set in France, where Leah, who has remained determinedly single and child-free, finds herself looking after her sister’s family while her sister’s life detonates. I’m about halfway through the first draft and the finished article is due out in Summer 2017. (I would be further along with this book if my research hadn’t led me down a blind alley. Every book seems to go through this phase, when I have to do  relationship counselling between my plot and my research.)

2015-08-12 15.42.00On the way home from the meeting, I stopped for a private celebration. Yes, I drank them both!

I’m not even ashamed. 🙂

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Starting Over FREE in the iBooks store (+ the history of the book)

Itunes bannerStarting Over is part of the First in Series promo in the iBooks store. At the time I’m writing this blog it’s at number 15 in the Free Chart, which is fabulous!

This book has a history. Some time ago my then agent got this close to selling it but, ultimately, Starting Over and the following book, All That Mullarkey, emerged from acquisition meetings unacquired. My first novels published were Uphill All the Way (Transita) and Family Matters (Hale – which only came out as hardback and was later released as Want to Know a Secret? in paperback).

It was a few years before I pitched Starting Over to Choc Lit and they bought it in three weeks flat. And wanted All That Mullarkey, too! I count Ratty, the (slightly unlikely) hero of Starting Over, as my most popular hero because he’s the only one to have received his own fan mail and done his own interviews.

Starting Over is the first of my novels set in the fictitious village of Middledip on the edge of the Cambridgeshire fens. I have a whole drawer devoted to Middledip information, including maps, timelines for each novel and an overall timeline for the series but I wish that when I began I’d realised I was writing linked books because I would have kept more.

Between Starting Over and my most recent Choc Lit novel, The Wedding Proposal, came five other novels, including the others in the Middledip series, Dream a Little Dream and Is This Love?

That some readers like linked or series novels is no surprise to me as I like reading them myself. It’s satisfying to see various characters in the cast get the chance to tell their stories and to check if the characters I’ve already met are getting along (and haven’t messed everything up). I like the constant but secondary characters such as the lady in the village shop who is agog over every bit of gossip or the landlord of the pub who looks like a miseryguts but has a heart of gold. When I find a series I like I tend to read everything in it.

I hope that you find as much satisfaction in reading the Middledip books as I have found in writing them.

download Starting Over

Middledip series

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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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Sense and sensitivity

I hadn’t intended to blog today but I received an email from a writer friend that has made me think about writers and the responsibility they have to deal with difficult subjects sensitively and with good sense.

ITL?_new packshotMy friend has just read Is This Love? and said nice things about it. But she also said that she found it unsettling because her younger daughter is disabled. In this book the heroine, Tamara, has a sister, Lyddie, who needs more care than most adults after a hit-and-run incident in her teens. Is This Love? gave my friend a ‘flash forward’ look at how things might be for her family as her daughter grows older, especially for her other, able-bodied daughter.

I thanked my friend for sharing her thoughts – they really gave me pause. At the time, one of the things that worried me  about writing the book was whether readers would think Tamara was wrong for having the hots for Jed, when Lyddie had had such a teen crush on him! I ran a Facebook conversation about it and everyone said they thought it was OK because Lyddie/Jed had been so young, so I included all their feedback in Tamara’s thoughts. But this morning’s email showed me that it certainly wasn’t the only area where I could have jumped all over people’s feelings.

I’m sorry if I made my friend think of things that she’d rather not, I really am. Writing the book came out of guilt. When I was a teen we had a friend – we’ll call him Tom – who suffered head injury when hit by a car. It wasn’t hit-and-run, as it was for Lyddie in Is This Love? Tom just did something careless, but the effect was the same. He was reasonably OK for friends as long as we were all teens, but when we got a bit older I’m afraid we left him behind. We got married, got jobs, went to uni, etc etc. I know that he began to go to the pub and had no sense of when to stop drinking and other drunkards used to drag him home. He had a younger brother who used to do his best for him … but I recently discovered that the younger brother died in his early thirties, which made me feel worse. I don’t know if Tom’s still around, or his parents.

I channelled some of my feelings and thoughts about Tom into Lyddie and her family.

I also knew (and really disliked, but that’s a different story) a woman whose daughter had cerebral palsy after a difficult birth. However much I didn’t like the woman, she was ever-conscious of what was best for her daughter, and I admired her for that. I can even accept that some of her less endearing qualities related to the sacrifices that she’d made. I used to speak to her about the daughter going into respite care at weekends, how the younger (able-bodied) sister coped, and stuff like that, so I utilised some of that knowledge for Lyddie, also.

Research is fascinating but today has shown me how much a writer should think about readers in ways more than just book sales.

 

 

 

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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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Publication day!

ITL?_new packshotToday is publication day for ‘Is This Love?’

I was going to say that a publication day is like Christmas and my birthday all rolled into one – but, actually, it’s more fun.

The lovely publicists at Choc Lit have lined me up a lot of online interviews and blogposts to go live today, fantastic friends on Facebook and Twitter are sending me nice messages, and I’m on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire this afternoon, after recording a segment for Bookmark at Community 105. And I’m going out with friends this evening to celebrate. (I’ve even been able to arrange for somebody else to drive.)

Publication Day is Publication Day, even though the ebook came out a month ago and the online bookstores shipped the paperback copies last weekend. Mere details! Publication Day is the marker, the day I pause in my usual work to enjoy the moment. It’s also a good excuse for a bit of hoopla.

Happily for me, Publication Day more-or-less coincides with the Festival of Romance, which begins tomorrow, in Bedford, so I have an interview on the Nick Coffer show on BBC 3 Counties Radio at 12.30 and a booksigning at Waterstones 1.30pm till 3.00pm tomorrow (Friday 8th November). Then I can relax and watch other authors do their stuff at the ART AND ROMANCE EVENING, The Higgins Museum & Art Gallery.

Saturday is a chance to be in two places at one time as 10am to 3pm sees the ROMANCE FAIR at the Harpur Suite, Corn Exchange, but I’m appearing and reading 10.30am to 12noon at the COFFEE AND CAKE MORNING at The Lane … and 12.45pm to 3.45pm myself and Christina Courtenay are leading the IRRESISTIBLE HEROES WORKSHOP at the Central Library. Other Choc Lit authors Jane Lovering and Laura James are being so kind as to sell my books at the Romance Fair. Of course, they’re busy with their own events so Jane’s partner has kindly volunteered to take over. I’m not sure if he knows this yet.

Don’t anybody expect any real work from me until Monday! Because today is Publication Day and I’m managing to make it stretch over the weekend.

Even Amazon is celebrating with me – ‘Is This Love?’ is available at a special price for Kindle users because it’s part of the 100 Kindle Books promo.

A few of the first blogposts, interviews etc:

Bookgirl of Mur-y-Castell

Female First

ARRA (Australian Romance Readers Association)

Mark West’s Strange Tales

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Goodreads Giveaway

AllThatMullarkey_Cover:Layout 1If you want to win a copy of All That Mullarkey, you can enter the Goodreads Giveaway here.

Choc Lit are working with Goodreads – just follow the link and click ‘Enter to Win’.

 
All That Mullarkey is about Cleo, who discovers that the writing’s on the wall for her marriage – the bedroom wall – and hurtles off for a bit of an adventure …

The lovely Justin is happy to benefit from her moment of wildness and their encounter sets off a series of events that turns life upside down for both of them.

Tempted? Just enter.

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