As a romance writer, I belong to the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA), which is currently heavily involved in #RomanceReadingMonth, and in the #RespectRomFic campaign.
It’s a sad truth that the romance market never gets the respect that other fiction genres are given, such as crime, historical and literary. It’s almost certainly down to it being considered a ‘woman’s’ genre, even though a lot of men do read them too. Sad, isn’t it?
The fact is, it’s the second biggest selling genre in books! That’s just counting the ones that are placed in the romance category. If you take other books that have romance in them, but have been placed under other categories, then it would be the biggest selling genre. And of course, most ‘romance’ books aren’t only about love, they also come under other categories such as historical, saga, crime, mystery, comedy, YA, action, scifi, fantasy… etc!
If you’re on Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok or Facebook, you’re likely to see these two hashtags and the image at the top. Do feel free to like and share these tweet/posts, and let’s see if we can get romance books the respect they deserve.
The RNA had a FREE mini virtual lit fest on YouTube on Valentine’s Day, with panels of romance writers and also publishers talking about different aspects of romance and the publishing industry. Most of them are available for anyone to watch, so if you fancy a listen, here are the links:
I’m really delighted that A New Start at the Beach Hotel is being released in #RomanceReadingMonth, and I really hope that readers enjoy the romance between my main character, Edie, and the man she falls in love with. Of course, it’s never plain sailing, but then that would be a bit boring in a story, wouldn’t it? Apart from being a romance, it also comes under saga and historical. As much work went into the research of it as any other historical novel. And knowing a lot of saga/historical writers as I do, I know they’d all say the same!
Francesca reveals the inspiration behind her newsletter giveaway story, I’ll Be a Sunbeam
This month, if you sign up for my newsletter (details at the bottom of the post), there’s a special treat in the form of an exclusive story, set in the same area and era as the Valleys novels.
I wrote the story around the same time that I was writing Heartbreak in the Valleys, as a tribute to my great grandmother, Mary Jones.
Mary, the real one, was living in a mining village during the First World War (Abertysswg, the village my setting of Dorcalon is based on), as is Mary Jones in the story. Gran (as we called her) was married to Percy (or Pa, as we all called him) like Mary, but unlike my heroine, already had four children by that time, including my grandma, Charlotte, who was born in 1914. And she’d go on to have three
As those who’ve read War in the Valleys might know, I dedicated the book to Mary Jones, who also appears as a minor character in those books (she gets around!). I wonder what she would have thought of that. I do recall Gran having a book on her shelf called Mary Jones, which was a true story of a Welsh girl who wanted her own Bible. I guess it is a common name!
As the dedication reveals, times were hard for Gran, as they were for many people a hundred years ago. For a start, she lost three of her close female relations to tuberculosis (or consumption, as it was often referred to then). Her mother was only forty-two when she died of TB in 1891. Gran was two years old
In 1899, Gran lost her older sister, sixteen year old Charlotte Ann. In 1935, Gran’s oldest daughter, Clarice, also succumbed to TB, after giving birth to her second child, Maureen (who died a month later). Gran’s younger daughter, my grandma, also contracted TB in the early ‘fifties, but survived.
Child deaths were rife in the early part of the twentieth century. The 1911 census lists how many children were born to a family ‘alive’ and how many had since died. It reveals just how many didn’t make it past childhood. Mary, sadly, did not escape this fate and lost her 6th child, Davy, in 1922, when he was only two years old. My mother believed it was from pneumonia.
Then there was World War Two. The family moved to Lancing in the 1930s, in order to escape the mines and find a better life. There’s a sad irony here, as, had they remained in Abertysswg, her four surviving sons would probably have been in a reserved occupation and not conscripted. Only two of them came back. Cyril went down with HMS Fidelity in 1943, aged twenty-three. Tommy was also killed that year, in Sicily, aged thirty-four.
By the end of the war, at the age of only fifty-six, Gran had lost four of her seven children.
I came along twelve years later. Gran was only sixty-eight at that time, and, as she lived until the ripe old age of ninety-seven, I was privileged to know my great grandmother for twenty-nine years. My grandma (her daughter) emigrated to Australia in 1958, and my nonna passed away in 1960. My paternal grandfather was killed in 1915 and my maternal one died in 1945. After Pa passed in 1963, she was the only grandparent close by, so I’m grateful that she was in my life for such a long time.
As a child I’d regularly go with my parents to visit her in Lancing, eleven miles away. I loved sitting in her ‘kitchen’ (a sitting/room diner to us today). Her Victorian terraced house was set up as it would have been in the similar house she’d had in Wales. She referred to the kitchen as the ‘scullery’, even though it now had the cooker in it, which would have been a range in the ‘kitchen’ previously. The ‘front room’ was never used, and simply housed a chest of drawers and photographs. I think maybe, when they first moved, various members of the family slept there.
And what of the song, ‘I’ll Be a Sunbeam’ (also known as ‘Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam’)? Gran was a Baptist chapel regular, and had been all her life. ‘I’ll Be a Sunbeam’ was a song she taught me as a child. I suppose she must have sung it at chapel. (If you’ve never heard of it, you can listen to it here )
Whenever I hear it, I think of her with sadness and love, and remember how much of a bright spot she was in my life, despite the sadness that had dominated her
She was certainly a sunbeam for me.
To read the exclusive story, I’ll Be a Sunbeam, sign up during June for my newsletter, which will come out each month with my latest news, offers and much more.
Today is cover reveal day for the latest novel in Francesca’s Wartime in the Valleys series
Today I’m delighted to present the cover and blurb for the latest in the Valleys series, Trouble in the Valleys.
Can Polly finally escape her haunting past?
Spring 1919: WW1 might be over, but the inhabitants of Dorcalon in the Welsh Valleys still feel the pain of the war that took so many of their men.
Polly Smith is trying to survive her own battle at home. Since her abusive husband, Gus, was finally jailed, Polly has been raising her two-year-old son, Herby alone.
But being a single mother isn’t easy, and Polly finds it harder still as Gus’s criminal activities leave her with a bad reputation. Lonely and struggling for money, Polly retreats as she becomes the subject of cruel gossip.
A job offer throws her a lifeline, and as she grows closer to soldier, Henry Austin, it seems that Polly might finally be changing her life – until dark secrets from her past emerge, threatening her new happiness. Can Polly clear her name? Or will the mistakes of the past ruin her future?
Trouble in the Valleys is out on 5th May and ready to pre-order now:
Francesca’s latest Wartime in the Valleys novel, Hope in the Valleys, features Elizabeth Meredith who becomes a VAD nurse on the French war front in the Great War. But what did that entail?
Apparently one nickname for the VAD nurses, working voluntarily in hospitals during the First World War, was ‘Very Adorable Darlings’, obviously using the initials to convey how the soldiers considered them. Although it’s nice to know they were appreciated, I can’t help thinking this undervalues their contribution to the war effort.
So who were the VADs? For a start, it stands for Voluntary Aid Detachment, an organisation created in 1909 with the support of the Red Cross and St John’s Ambulance Brigade, due to a fear that there would be a shortage of nurses to aid the military should there be a war. During the Great War (and Second World War) they were used in both hospitals in the UK and abroad where the soldiers were fighting. These ‘nurses’ were not trained like official nurses, but had taken first aid courses.
It wasn’t uncommon for them to be resented by the qualified nurses who thought it unfair that they should be called ‘nurses’ when they hadn’t done the same training. It didn’t help that the VADs were usually middleclass women, compared to the mainly working-class nurses. Usually they were given the dirtiest and most tedious jobs, like scrubbing, dealing with soiled dressings, emptying bedpans and cleaning up bodily fluids. And also the disposal of limbs. Some did work with nurses who valued their contribution and who trusted them with more complicated jobs.
Some of the books I’ve used to research VADs in the Great War
Those who, like Elizabeth, ended up near the war front in France, must have felt like they’d entered hell. Everything about it would have been harder than working in a hospital back home, where conditions would have been cleaner, not mud encrusted and covered with the detritus of explosions. The hospitals in Britain would largely have been dealing with soldiers who’d already been patched up in some way. It’s hard to imagine what horrors the nurses and VADs abroad encountered when men, often great numbers of them, descended upon a hospital at the front. There are reports of limbs blown off or hanging loose, gaping, festering wounds and skin and bone blown apart by gunshot. And then there were the severe mental health problems labelled at that time as ‘shell shock’, that we now call post-traumatic stress disorder.
The percentage of deaths on the front would have been way higher than anything they’d have encountered at a hospital back in Blighty. Many of the men would have been very young, not even considered adults, some probably small for their age as the underfed working classes often were back then. The VADs would have been reminded of their own fighting brothers, cousins, maybe uncles and fathers and many of their own sweethearts, knowing they faced the possibility of the same fate.
And by the way, the VAD nurses were not paid. The clue is in the word ‘Voluntary’. That’s right, they did it for nothing. Yes, they were mainly middle class and could afford to, but that shouldn’t be a cause to belittle their efforts. Having read many accounts of what they experienced, I can only admire them for their sterling work and dedication under horrific conditions.
A VAD in a ward I’m guessing was back in Britain, as the hospitals on the front tended to be makeshift huts and tents.
Hope in the Valleys
It’s August 1917 and WW1 continues to take a toll. The villagers of Dorcalon, a mining village in the Rhymney Valley, try to keep hope alive; but every day brings fresh tragedy as more of their sons and fathers are killed on foreign battlefields.
Elizabeth Meredith, daughter of mine manager Herbert, enjoys a privileged position in the village, but she longs to break free of society’s expectations.
Falling in love with miner, Gwilym Owen, brings more joy to her life than she’s ever known… until she’s forced to choose between her love and her disapproving family. Seeking an escape, Elizabeth signs up as a VAD nurse and is swiftly sent to help the troops in France, even as her heart breaks at leaving Gwilym behind.
Separated by society and the Great War, can Elizabeth and Gwilym find their way back together again? Or will their love become another casualty of war?
Hope in the Valleys is published by Hera Books and is available here:
Francesca explains the Welsh expressions used in her Wartime in the Valleys books
Someone asked me a while ago about the Welsh phrases used in the Wartime in the Valleys series. Although it’s implied that my characters are speaking Welsh much of the time, as many would have in the Valleys a hundred odd years ago, I’ve been careful to use only a few expressions, to add a flavour of the area.
I think some people have struggled with these expressions so, as the third in the Valleys series is going to be published in a week, I thought I’d write a blog post including all the phrases used and their translations. I’ve been through all four books (as there’s another, Trouble in the Valleys, due out in the spring), so hopefully have found them all.
I’m not a Welsh speaker myself, as my Welsh mother wasn’t either, only speaking a few phrases, but I’ve been endeavouring to learn some on Duo Lingo. Whether I’ll ever feel proficient enough to talk to a native seems currently unlikely. Unless it’s to say ‘Bore da,’ to my Welsh speaking friend Angela Johnson (author of another novel set in Wales, Arianwen) as we meet for a coffee. It’s been an interesting experience, learning the language of my past ‘fathers’. I think my mum would have enjoyed the opportunity to have a go at Duo Lingo too, if such a thing had been around in her time.
My favourite Welsh phrase of my mother’s? Ych y fi! You have to hear it said to appreciate how much it evokes what it means, which is Ugh! But to give you an idea, it’s something like ‘uh-ch ah vee‘, where the ch is a guttural sound at the back of the throat.
As Truman Burbank (sort of) said in The Truman Show , ‘Bore da, and in case I don’t see ya, prynhawn da, noswaith dda a nos da!’
Diolch yn fawr
Thank you very much
Bach (m) / fach (f)
An endearment (literally ‘little’)
An endearment (meaning ‘love’ / ‘sweetheart’
Ych y fi!
Diolch i Dduw!
A singing festival
A competition including poetry and music
‘Y Delyn Aur’
‘The Golden Harp’
‘A Pure Heart’
‘Ar Hyd y Nos’
‘All Through the Night’
Hope in the Valleys is out on 20th January, currently available as an e-book and paperback, and can be pre-ordered from these outlets:
It’s the first anniversary of the publication of War in the Valleys, and Francesca explains how you can win a signed copy of it, along with Heartbreak in the Valleys.
I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since the publication of War in the Valleys, the second instalment of the Wartime in the Valleys saga series, set in Wales in the First World War.
To celebrate, I’m holding a competition to win signed copies of this novel, along with the first in the series, Heartbreak in the Valleys. Although all stand-alones as well as a series, this is a good opportunity to catch up with the stories before the third book, Hope in the Valleys, is released in January.
All you have to do is click on my Facebook author page and either like or follow it, then answer a simple question in the post pinned at the top of the page.
Francesca is pleased to announce the imminent arrival of a third book in the Wartime in the Valleys series, called Hope in the Valleys, which will be published on January 20th next year.
It’s been a year since the last Valleys’ book, War in the Valleys, was published, so it’s with great excitement that I can announce the publication of Hope in the Valleys in January, by Hera Books/Canelo. There’s also a fourth book in the pipeline, Trouble in the Valleys, but more on that in the coming months.
Hope in the Valleys opens in August 1917, and this time follows the fortunes of both the mine manager’s daughter, Elizabeth Meredith, and miner’s daughter, Gwen Austin. From seemingly opposite ends of the village’s social order, both suffer from the misfortunes of the continuing war. When disaster strikes Gwen, what will her future hold? And when Elizabeth is faced with a choice, will she choose love or duty?
The hub of the action takes place, as in the previous two books, in the fictional mining village of Dorcalon (based on Abertysswg in the Rhymney Valley), though the reader is also taken for a while into the action in France. And for those wondering what fate has befallen the characters from Heartbreak in the Valleys and War in the Valleys, there is also a glimpse at how their lives are progressing.
Hope in the Valleys is available to pre-order now, in either paperback or as an ebook (though there’s also talk of audio and large print at some point). And if you’re a book blogger or reviewer, you can request it from NetGalley.
Meanwhile, if you haven’t caught up with what’s been going on in Dorcalon so far, Heartbreak in the Valleys and War in the Valleys are available in paperback, ebook and audio. Or return tomorrow to see how you could be in with a chance of winning signed copies.
It’s been over a year now since we lost our dear friend Rosemary Goodacre, author of the Derwent Chronicles. In her honour, a group of us have organised an exciting new short story competition
It’s been over a year now since we lost our dear friend, Rosemary Goodacre, author of the Derwent Chronicles, just as her third novel, Until We Can Forgive, was about to be published. In her honour, a group of us have organised a short story competition.
All proceeds of this will go to Rosemary’s favourite charity, Spadework, a charity based in Kent that supports adults with learning and other difficulties.
Rosemary gathered many friends throughout her life, so a short story competition based on the theme ‘Friendship’ is the perfect way to pay tribute to her. Entries should be no longer than 1500 words and the competition closes at midnight on 31st March 2022.
Rosemary was a talented and widely published short story writer. An accomplished poet, she won various competitions and was an enthusiastic member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Write Place, where she honed her craft and made many friends along the way. The high spot of her writing career was the publication of ‘The Derwent Chronicles’, her wonderful WW1 novels, published by Hera Books.
The main judge for this competition will be Vivien Brown, another friend of Rosemary’s. She has enjoyed an accomplished career spanning short stories, articles and six women’s contemporary novels. Vivien is a fellow of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists and the Romantic Novelists’ Association.
Francesca has a look at all the different topics she might end up researching during one day’s writing, for her historical novels set in World War 1 Wales.
It occurred to me recently, as I was writing the fourth novel for my Valleys series, that it’s amazing what diverse topics you can find yourself researching in just one day.
For instance, if I want a character to go out on a trip outside of the village, there are a few things to find out. Although my village of Dorcalon is imaginary (albeit heavily based on Abertysswg, in the Rhymney Valley), all of the towns and villages around it that I mention, are real. My characters have visited Rhymney, Tredegar, Bargoed, Cardiff, Monmouth, Barry Island and even a couple of places in London.
Under normal circumstances, it would be easy enough to go onto Google maps and have a look around the streets to see what a town looks like, and what kind of shops it has. I could look up train journey times on Network Rail journey planner.
The times they are a-changing
But of course, none of these would give me an accurate picture of what was in the towns, or how to get to them, in, say, 1918. I’ve managed to find train line routes at this time on Wikipedia, so know, by comparing them to today’s rail maps, that many of the stations, and branch lines, no longer exist. Then it’s a case of making a rough estimation of how long the journey might have taken. Rhymney to Cardiff, for instance, had about ten fewer stations.
If I want my character to walk down Castle Street in Cardiff, there’s no point at looking at a photographic map of the street today. Luckily, with most of the towns I’ve mentioned, I’ve found lots of photographs of the time, in books and online. Cardiff, I discovered, had a tram system, and the shops had wonderful canopies, the likes of which we never see nowadays.
A bit of local colour
As for the shops themselves, not always obvious on photographs, there are the marvellous Kelly’s Directories, and also local papers of the time. I’m particularly blessed where Wales is concerned, as the Library of Wales has the most wonderful catalogue of newspapers online. In fact, the newspapers have furnished me with information on many subjects, including theatre and cinema programmes, court proceedings, café menus and jobs. There’s also the census which, apart from revealing people’s occupations, tells you what names were popular, and the size of families.
Less is More
While all the above is just touching the surface, I only ever end up using a fraction of what I learn while I’m researching. For instance, I mostly don’t need to mention how long a train journey took, but I need to know, so that I don’t have the character leaving early afternoon on what should be an hour’s journey, and arriving late evening! Much of the information used is ‘set dressing’, to give a flavour of the time and the people, not to overwhelm with it.
An example of some of the items I had to research for one scene in Cardiff:
I’ve visited the city many times (my mum was brought up there), and some things are the same, but I had to assume I knew nothing, so, among other queries, I needed to know:
What was the train route? (Direct from Rhymney, as it is today.)
Where was the station? (Queen Street station was where it is today.)
What were the major stores etc Gwen would likely visit? (Marments, David Morgan’s, and Howell’s department stores and the arcades.)
What fabrics were available to buy in 1918? (Linens, cottons, silks, organzas, chiffons, crepes and even the new artificial rayon.)
What did the market look like back then? (A lot like it does today!)
Was there a well-known café and what did it look like inside? (I could have made one up but finding The Dutch Café on Queen Street meant I could have something authentic.)
What you would have seen walking down Queen Street and Castle Street? (Old shops on Queen Street, not the modern ones of today, the castle, the tram.)
Could you visit the castle? (No. It wasn’t open to the public then.)
Francesca and Elaine are thrilled to welcome Mick Arnold for a chat about the things that interest him, as his latest novel, Wild Blue Yonder (Broken Wings Book 2), is out in theworld.
If you were stuck on a desert island with one person/record/book who or what would it be and why?
I’ve always wanted to be on Desert Island Discs!
Music plays a huge part in my life. I even have to have music on whilst I’m editing. Sorry, weird, but there’s nothing I can do about that, it’s too late for me. Ever since I first heard the songs of the Beach Boys back in 1978 whilst driving across France and Spain to Morocco – I hasten to add, I wasn’t driving as I was way too young – I’ve been in love with their music, but especially that of their main songwriter, Brian Wilson.
So the question is, would I prefer the company of Brian or his masterpiece, the album, Pet Sounds? It’s quite a difficult question as Brian is a genius songwriter, it’s often been said, he’s an amateur human. I’ve met him twice and would have to agree with that assessment. So, Pet Sounds it is.
Pet Sounds is full of fantastic songs. It first came out in 1966 and contains, for instance, God Only Knows, Sloop John B and Wouldn’t It Be Nice (you’ve all heard it on the adverts). Famous for their harmonies, The Beach Boys never sounded as good as on this album. The music and orchestrations are sumptuous and you only have to listen to it once and you’re hooked; or I believe you will be.
This is an album, which I never tire of hearing, and still sounds as fresh to me as when I first tracked it down in 1980. Yes, I remember the date I first obtained this record. At last count, I think I have it on four or five different versions of cd, dvd and blueray, plus an original 1966, which I bought for lp!
Paul McCartney, you may have heard of him, as he used to belong to some British rock group (I forget their name), once said that ‘God Only Knows’ is the greatest song ever written and that Pet Sounds inspired them to come up with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Pet Sounds stands up to anything, at any time and listening to it always puts me in a mellow mood. Simply put, I will never tire of listening to this album and so long as there’s a way for me to listen to it, I’ll be very happy having this with me on my desert island.
How do you select the names of your characters?
You’re going to love this! Usually by looking around where I happen to be writing and seeing if any books (there are usually some around everywhere in the house) have interesting names on their covers. Sometimes though, the names simply come to me as I’m writing. I do have the usual baby name and surname books, but they never seen to be around when I need them.
Do you have a favourite writing place?
Strange as it may seem, just sitting on the sofa, with my laptop on my…um, lap. I’ve tried sitting at a desk and/or table, but it doesn’t seem to work for me. I can’t seem to write if it’s totally quiet either so I’m quite happy with either a good movie on or some music in the background.
Other than writing what else do you love to do?
Listening to music and watching films are two of my favourite things to do, if I’m not writing. I also love just watching my two Romanian Werecats play. Mind you, I’m not quite sure if they aren’t actually just testing out plans for taking over the world!
Thank you so much for chatting to us, it’s clear that you not only have a love of writing but the Beach Boys as well.
About Wild Blue Yonder (Broken Wings Book 2)
Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Doris Winter is accused of stealing a valuable item from a famous Hollywood movie star, now a Captain in the US Army Air Corps, after a dance at the air base in England where he’s stationed. Gathering her close friends together, she’s determined to clear her name.
Ruth’s POW son suffers a life-changing injury just as her own cottage takes damage in an air raid and Penny’s estranged little sister unexpectedly turns up, having run away from school. Together with the ongoing thefts of items of clothing and surprise personal revelations, these all threaten to hamper their investigation.
In spite of the worsening war situation, they must band together to rise above their troubles and prove love and friendship is worth fighting for.
Mick is a hopeless romantic who was born in England and spent fifteen years roaming around the world in the pay of HM Queen Elizabeth II in the Royal Air Force before putting down roots and realizing how much he missed the travel. He’s replaced it somewhat with his writing, including reviewing books and supporting fellow saga and romance authors in promoting their novels.
He’s the proud keeper of two cats bent on world domination, is mad on the music of the Beach Boys, and enjoys the theatre and humoring his Manchester United-supporting wife. Finally, and most importantly, Mick is a full member of the Romantic Novelists Association. Wild Blue Yonder is the second novel in his Broken Wings series and he is very proud to be a part of the Vintage Rose Garden at The Wild Rose Press.