Graduating the New Writers’ Scheme – Jo Thomas

Elaine Roberts is proud to welcome this years winner of the Joan Hessayon Award, Jo Thomas, to WMWP.

Jo started her broadcasting career as a reporter and co-presenter with Rob Brydon on BBC Radio 5, reported for Jo ThomasBBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and went on to produce at BBC Radio 2 working on The Steve Wright Show. She now lives in the Vale of Glamorgan with her writer and producer husband, three children, three cats and a black lab, Murray. She writes lighthearted romances about food, family, friendships and love; and believes every story should have a happy ending. 

Why/when did you know you wanted to write?

I remember getting the bug when I read my first Christina Jones followed very quickly by my first Katie Fforde. In fact, a friend at work had read it on her holiday and passed it over the desk, saying ‘here we go Jo, I think you’ll like this’. Like it? I loved it! And it was then I thought I wish I could write those kind of stories. I wish I could be part of that world.  Nothing bad ever happens in those stories and I always knew there would happy ending.

How long did it take you to complete your manuscript?

Well, an oyster takes about three years to grow and that’s probably how long The Oyster Catcher took from first getting the idea to actually being published.

How did you find your publisher?

At an RNA party of course! I was introduced to Hazel from Accent Press and some time later she offered to publish my book as an ebook. It was time to get my story out there.

Can you tell us something about your ‘road’ to publication?

I was published in November 2013 by Accent Press as an e-book. In January 2014 it started rising up the Amazon Kindle charts. By February it rose to number 2, inbetween ’12 Years a Slave’ and ‘The Book Thief’. Whilst it was there I was approach by one of the big publishers and a number of other publishers showed an interest in me. I ended up going to auction and I was really lucky to finally sign a 4 book deal with Headline.

Now you have that first book ‘under your belt’ what’s next in your writing life?

Busy! The first book, The Oyster Catcher is coming out in paperback in November so I’ve been doing edits on that. My second book, The Olive Branch, is due out in February 2015 and I’m just about to do the next draft on that and, in October I have a novella coming out as an ebook, called The Chestnut Tree, which I put the final full stop on this morning! Oyster Catcher

Thank you, Jo, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today.

The Oyster Catcher by Jo Thomas

According to a champion shell shucker, in order to open an oyster, you first have to understand what’s keeping it closed. When runaway bride Fiona Clutterbuck crashes the honeymoon camper van, she doesn’t know what to do or where to go. Embarrassed and humiliated, Fiona knows one thing for sure, she can’t go home. Being thrown a lifeline, a job on an oyster farm seems to be the answer to her prayers. But nothing could prepare her for the choppy ride ahead or her new boss the wild and unpredictable, Sean Thornton. Will Fiona ever be able to come out of her shell? As the oyster season approaches, will there be love amongst the oyster beds of Galway Bay? Or will the circling sharks finally close in?

Links:

Amazon uk: The Oyster Catcher

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JoThomasAuthor

Twitter: @jo_thomas01

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Graduating the New Writers’ Scheme – Elaine Everest

This month we share the stories of five graduates of the wonderful Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme, beginning with an interview by Natalie Kleinman with our very own Elaine Everest 

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Elaine Everest is a freelance writer living in Swanley Kent with her husband Michael and dog, Henry. Apart from writing short stories for magazines and features for any publication that accepts her pitches she runs The Write Place creative writing school at the Mick Jagger Centre in Dartford, Kent. Elaine has written three non-fiction books, one novel and has her work in many prestigious charity anthologies. She was also BBC Radio short story writer of the year in 2003.

You recently graduated from the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme (NWS). Can you tell us about the process, from joining through to culmination as a candidate for the Joan Hessayan Award? 

I joined the New Writers’ Scheme in 2010. I’d tried twice before but didn’t manage to become one of the 250 due to so many writers wanting to be part of the RNA. The first year I put forward a Romcom called, Bride of the Year, for a critique. The feedback was good and although this has not yet been published (I live in hope) it was fun to write and lead to me being a finalist in the Harry Bowling Prize (2012) and shortlisted in the New Writers section of the Festival of Romance (2012). In 2011 my submission was, Gracie’s War which received a lovely report and made me decide that writing family sagas was what I wanted to write in future. However, I’d already joined the NWS in 2013 when Gracie’s War won the Pulse Romance ‘Write For Us’ competition which lead to publication in October of that year. Pulse is part of the well-known publisher, Myrmidon and I was chuffed to be published under their umbrella. As I’d joined for 2013 I was allowed to put in another book for critique for that year. I chose to put in a crime novel set in the dog showing world. I love crime and I love dog showing so it was a labour of love! A part of me does want to write crime so who knows what will happen in the future

When I contacted Melanie Hilton to notify her that I was ready to graduate the NWS she added me to the list of other graduates for that year who were also candidates for the Joan Hessayon Award. It was a magical time culminating in a fabulous awards ceremony. I’m proud to have stood side by side with so many good writers. It was a bumper year. There were seventeen of us!

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While Gracie’s War is your first published novel, I understand that you have written a series of ‘How To’ books relating to the dog world. How different was it when you moved to the fiction world of the Romantic Saga?

Before I even thought about writing a book I worked as a freelance writer. My fiction was short stories for the women’s magazine market. I wrote features for many publications and because of my life spent in the dog showing world I found myself writing more and more canine features both for mainstream magazines as well as specialist publications. I met the owners of How To Books Ltd who accepted a proposal for Showing Your Dog, A Beginners’ Guide which became my first non-fiction book. Two more followed. A cookery book for dog owners and another on buying a puppy. I could have written more but by then I really wanted to follow my dream of becoming a novelist. The crossover was simple as I’d always written short fiction and simply studied that and held back on the non-fiction.

 Gracie’s War is not set in the present day. How much research did you have to do and did you enjoy it?

Gracie’s War is set between 1939 and 1953 in the area of North Kent where I was born and brought up – and still live! It was a joy to look into the history of a time when my parents grew up. Some of the scenes within the book are based on family and local events. I was worried that I might get some of the details wrong but was pleased that locals, who knew that era, told me I’d got the setting just right. I kept researching until the day the book was written. I didn’t want to leave anything out. 

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Are you a planner or a panster?

I’m a planner. I have always worked to deadlines and need to know what I’m writing next. Saying that, I only have a short outline for each chapter with a ‘shopping list’ of what is required to happen so in a way I’m a pantster as well. 

How did you find your publisher and are you contracted to write for them again?

My publisher for Gracie’s War is Pulse and my prize was to be published by them. My contract covers all forms of publishing from ebook to large print so I hope that Gracie gets to be read by many people in many forms. It was a one book contract although I’m able to show the publisher other works that fit their remit. 

Being a writer can be a lonely occupation. What do you do to escape the house and meet other writers and how do you relax?

At the moment I wish I could escape. I seem to be surgically joined to my laptop! I’m looking forward to July as I get to attend the RNA Conference in Telford and a week after set off for Fishguard for the first summer Writers’ Holiday by the sea in Wales. I also love to attend the London Chapter of the RNA where we have great speakers and network over lunch in a good old fashioned London pub. Besides that you’ll find me at dog shows with Henry, our Polish Lowland Sheepdog. He’s already qualified for Crufts 2015 and is tipped to do well – if only he can keep four paws on the ground and not be so happy in the show ring! 

If there was a soundtrack to accompany your book what songs or pieces of music would you choose and why?

My head is firmly stuck in the war years as I’m working on another saga. So for me it is Vera Lynn, Glen Miller and a host of other bands and singers of that period playing in the background while I work. In my current work in progress I’ve also used lines from well-known songs of that time to enhance the passion and closeness of my main characters.

However, I’m gearing up for my trip to Wales so I’m playing my collection of CD’s from the Cwmbach Male Voice Choir – I’m a bit of a groupie where they are concerned. There could well be a Welsh man appearing in my book at this rate!

As well as your own writing you somehow find the time to run The Write Place Creative Writing School in Dartford. Following in your footsteps I understand some of your students have also achieved success. What advice do you give to new writers?

I’m immensely proud of all my students. We have so much talent at the MJC. 2013 was great with three books being traditionally published. 2014 looks to be even better with so many writers teetering on the verge of publication. My one piece of advice would be to stop talking about becoming a writer and just start writing. Network with other writers – ones that are writing what you enjoy writing – and absorb as much of the writing world as possible. 

Finally can you tell us what is next in your writing life?

I’m busy working on a full length novel set in NW Kent during the late 1930s. I now have a literary agent and with her guidance I’m preparing this book ready for her to submit to publishers. It’s all very exciting.

Thank you, Elaine,  for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today.

Links:

Website: The Write Place

Twitter: @elaineeverest

Facebook: Elaine Everest

Blog:  WriteMindsWritePlace

Gracie’s War: Amazon