Welcome to Vivien Brown With Her New Novel, Lily Alone

We welcome back Vivien Brown to talk about her psychological drama, Lily Alone.

Hello Viv, and welcome back to the blog. We’ve known you for years as a short story writer and then a romance novelist. Why the change to psychological drama?                        

I did self-publish a novel called Losing Lucy under the name of Vivien Hampshire some years back, which looked at the trauma and emotional impact on three women when a baby gets kidnapped, so harrowing tales involving young children have been lurking under the surface for a while! Lily Alone does have a couple of romance threads running through it but it’s more than that. Perhaps it’s me getting older, or having children and a grandchild of my own, but I felt it was time to explore the deeper aspects of family relationships and take on more serious issues. Lily Alone has also allowed me to explore a different and more complex structure for a novel, as alternate chapters are told through the eyes and memories of a confused woman in a coma.

Lily Alone covers some traumatic material. Was it difficult to write?

Surprisingly not! I have a grandchild coming up to Lily’s age, and it would be horrible to imagine her having to cope at home by herself, but the novel was always fiction to me. None of it ‘got to me’ or upset me, even though parts of the story brought tears to my editor’s eyes and might just unnerve a few readers. It’s that ‘This could so easily happen to me’ aspect, I think.

What kind of research did Lily Alone entail?

I had to do a lot more research than I would for a romance novel, looking at what a very young child can and might do if left alone for a lengthy period of time, what happens to a head trauma/coma patient in hospital, and how the Social Services system works when a child is found abandoned, but luckily I have friends and family with all the right expertise to guide me.

Viv’s romance novel

Tell us about your writing day. Are you a night owl, a morning lark, or neither?

For years, I had to fit writing around a day job and my family, so I would always head upstairs to write at around 9pm, after the children were asleep, and dinner/chores/my fix of TV soap operas were out of the way. Since giving up my job at the end of 2013, in theory I have all the time in the world, but often still find my natural writing instincts kick in during the evening, although it is really handy to have time in the day to get all the non-creative aspects of the writing life, like emails, social media and admin, sorted. When I am heavily into writing or editing a novel, I will write at any time, putting everything else aside, for hours at a time and often without a break, but that is at peak times, and it’s tiring. It is not the norm.

What do you find is the hardest aspect of being a writer? Or is it all good?

I am not very disciplined. When there is a deadline or I am caught up in a story, I will want to write above all else, but on other days I do sometimes have to force myself. Being at home full-time now does tend to throw distractions in my way, whether it’s a sunny garden, food, something on daytime TV or having my granddaughter over for the day. Mostly, I love being a writer – creating something complete and that I feel proud of from just an initial idea, meeting other writers, seeing my stories and articles in print, and receiving the occasional royalty cheque! I can’t wait to see Lily Alone in paperback later in the year, as my previous novels have only been published as ebooks, and I want a ‘real’ novel to hold.

Viv with her cryptic crossword book

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I have always loved cryptic crosswords. I rarely get through a day without tackling at least one, usually in a newspaper so I can try for a prize. I have had a book published helping others learn how to crack them, and I also compile personalised and themed crosswords on a commission basis which people can then give to their loved ones as unique gifts for birthdays, Christmas, etc. I read an awful lot (mainly women’s fiction), go to see boy bands in concert, follow horseracing, and have two adorable cats.

You’ve been in the writing game many years now. If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Yes, I have been writing women’s magazine fiction as Vivien Hampshire for twenty years, and professional articles for childcare and nursery magazines for around ten. It took me a long while to move into novels with any success, so I would have to just tell her ‘Don’t give up!’ Keep writing as much and as often as you can, experiment with all types of writing ( I have also had success writing poetry for children, wrote a monthly column for Writers Forum magazine for two years, and I’ve won a few competitions), join writing groups and meet others in the same boat, listen and learn. Perseverance is the one thing writers need above all else. You cannot just rely on luck.

What’s next for Vivien Brown?

Lily Alone is the first in a two-book contract with Harper Impulse, so I will now be talking to my editor about book two, which is more or less written but not yet accepted and a long way from being edited. Although limited time means that I have given up writing my nursery articles for now, I will still be writing short stories for the magazines whenever I can fit them in. It is what I am good at, and I still very much enjoy telling a story in just one or two thousand words, and the satisfying feeling of getting a sale and payment so soon after it is written! Novels, unfortunately, don’t work that way. I have recently been commissioned by two women’s magazines to write stories for their October issues to tie in with the paperback version of Lily Alone coming out, and those will run alongside short interviews, book reviews and giveaways, so my long association with magazine fiction is now paying off when it comes to promoting the novel. I have also tentatively started another romance novel, but I have a feeling it may stray into darker territory as I get further into the story. And, yes, there is a baby involved – again!

Vivien’s Twitter page


What sort of mother would leave her daughter alone?

Would you leave a very young child at home on their own – knowing that terrible things can happen in the blink of an eye? Lily, who is not yet three years old, wakes up alone with only her cuddly toy for company. She is hungry, afraid of the dark, can’t use the phone, and has been told never to open the door to strangers…

In the flat downstairs, a lonely and elderly woman keeps herself to herself but wonders at the cries coming from upstairs. Lily’s grandmother frets that she can no longer see her granddaughter since the child’s parents separated. Lily’s father hasn’t seen her for a while. He’s been abroad, absorbed in his new job and his new girlfriend…

A young woman lies in a coma in hospital – no one knows her name or who she is, but in her silent dreams, a little girl is crying for her mummy…

And for Lily, time is running out.

Published by Harper Impulse and available from Amazon


Food and Wine, Oh and Writing

Francesca Capaldi Burgess and Elaine Roberts invaded Ramsgate for a writing retreat last week with fellow writers Elaine Everest and Natalie Kleinman 

Views from balcony

View from the sitting room


Our writing retreat had been planned for quite some time: we had picked our house, packed our things and brought plenty of wine.



2016-05-17 17.17.31 cropped

And it was twice that size to begin with!

It was a week to celebrate. We had just entered an ice cream parlour when Elaine Everest discovered she’d made it to number 16 in The Sunday Times Bestseller List, so we had the biggest ice cream ever seen, followed by champagne, of course.

Views of the harbour





Views of the harbour

Views of the harbour


Some of us were writing: Francesca wrote the second part of her serial for People’s Friend and Elaine R started her second novel. Elaine E and Natalie were busy doing edits. We each picked a space in the house to work in, though some of us could be found from time to time on the balcony in the sun, and even across the road on the terrace of the snack bar. We worked hard, but we managed to enjoy the glorious weather, the view of the sea, eating and drinking. We spent a hilarious hour one afternoon sitting by the marina, coming up with book titles, eliciting some funny looks from people close by.


at Corby's Tearoom with Pat Corby, cousin of writer Deirdre Palmer (and well recommended by her.)

At Corby’s Tearoom with Pat Corby, cousin of writer Deirdre Palmer (and well recommended by her.)

You've got to have fish and chips when you're at the seaside.

You’ve got to have fish and chips when you’re at the seaside.








The bohemian Belgian Bar was on our doorstep.

The bohemian Belgian Bar was on our doorstep.

Reliving our childhoods in the arcade below us.

Reliving our childhoods in the arcade below us.

A brick three piece suite spotted in a courtyard.

A brick three piece suite spotted in a courtyard.






On Thursday, the four of us travelled up to London for the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) summer party, where the contenders for the Joan Hessayon Award gathered and the overall winner was announced. This year it was Clare Harvey, author of the Gunner Girls, and our congratulations go to her. This wonderful event gives you the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones. The established writers are always willing to give advice and share what they have gone through to get where they are. It makes you realise everyone experiences something similar so you’re not on your own. It was a good night, which obviously involved more food and wine.


Elaine Everest and Francesca.

Natalie Kleinman

Natalie Kleinman

Our own Elaine.

Our own Elaine.







It was soon time to pack up and return home. It was an enjoyable week, but as someone famous once said, “There’s no place like home”.

Have you ever been on a writing retreat? Does the scenery or area distract you, or are you prolific in your writing? Let us know your views.

@FCapaldiBurgess & RobertsElaine11

You can also read Francesca’s post on the advantages and fun of writing retreats here

Woolworths Lives On: Interview with Author Elaine Everest

Today we welcome back author and former Write Minds contributor, Elaine Everest, whose novel The Woolworths Girls, was published on 5th May

Elaine image blue topThank you for inviting me to your blog!

It’s lovely to have you back! Your novel is set in Erith, which you obviously know well as you grew up there. How did you find out what it looked like during the war years? Had the shops and street plan changed much?

My memories of the Erith from my childhood in the late fifties and sixties are very similar to the Erith of 1938 when The Woolworths Girls starts. Some buildings had been demolished but it was in 1966 that the local council started to knock down all the lovely old buildings in Pier Road and the High Street that formed the major shopping area of the town. Beautiful Victorian town houses that lined the railway line also disappeared as did a church and smaller homes. The street where I lived when first married is one of the only remaining complete streets from ‘the old days’ and is where Sarah and her Nan, Ruby, live.

It amused me at the time to see a sign declaring that the company ‘Sid Bishop’ was demolishing the church although much later we were sad to see the old town vanish and be replaced by a horrid concrete jungle. This has now been replaced and looks no different to shopping malls throughout the country.

We can tell you did a lot of other research for your novel. Were you in danger of getting caught up in it? Do you have any advice for others needing to do research?

I’m always in danger of getting caught up in what to me is local history. But, I went in with a list and tried to find only information that I needed for my story. If I can advise other writers I would stick to your research list. Then I started to browse local news reports and found stories that I knew my girls would have become involved in…
I was also fortunate to make contact with the curator of the Woolworths museum, Mr Paul Seaton, who delved into his archives and found some interesting information about the Erith branch of Woolies that again my girls could be part of. I loved the story of the branch taking part in the local cottage hospital fete and one of my girls was the carnival queen while another moaned about playing a part in the proceedings. I’ll leave you to guess who!

Some of your secondary characters clearly have their own stories to tell. Are there books in the pipeline for any of them?

I loved inventing my secondary characters as much as my main characters. In some ways they are able to be a little more naughty than the main cast. Ruby, Sarah’s nan, along with her friend, Vera from up the road, appear in a short story in the My Weekly magazine. This should be published in the next few weeks. It was fun to write about their antics early in 1938 before Sarah moved to Erith and The Woolworths Girls began. Freda pops up in my next novel, The Butlins Girls (Pan Macmillan ,2017) and she does mention her friends Sarah and Maisie. As this novel is set in 1946 we get to hear more about my girls from Woolies.

I would love to write another novel about Sarah, Maisie and Freda and how they lived through the rest of the war years. I’m sure I could get them into all kinds of trouble and add some romance at the same time.

Which of the characters in The Woolworths Girls was your favourite, and why?

I’ve been asked this question before and each time I’ve chosen a different character. The problem is I like so many of them. This time I will say Betty Billington who was the staff manager who hired Sarah and her chums. As the war progressed she takes over as temporary manager and her life becomes entwined with Sarah’s – in fact Betty is another Woolworths girl. Being older her life suffered during the Great War and I would really like to go back and investigate her life more. Hmm I seem to be thinking of even more books to write!

Were any of the characters based on real people?

Not really but… I have a cousin who confessed to me that he had always wanted to play a baddie. This surprised me as he is such an upright citizen. So, I gave him a small part in the story and changed his name slightly. I wonder he will recognize himself?

Also, Charlie, who was Betty’s lost love is based on my great uncle Charles who died at Ypres on 17th August 1917. Although he came from a large family and died at the age of 32 he had no children or spouse. In mentioning him in The Woolworths Girls I feel I’ve kept his memory alive.

Have you always wanted to write sagas?

Part of me always wanted to be a saga writer as I really like the genre. However, like many writers I have a few novels tucked away that will probably never see the light of day. Mine are a romcom that did place me as a finalist in The Harry Bowling prize and also crime novels set in my favourite dog showing world. However, sagas won and I’m more than delighted to be able to write them.

We know a lot of hard work goes into writing a novel. How do you organise yourself to achieve it?

Plan, Plan, Plan! I like to have timelines in place. For The Woolworths Girls this was not only my fictional timeline but also local history and world events. I also had a timeline of Woolworths events and how they progressed through the world while it was at war. During my research I got to know my main characters and fleshed them out. Story outline was turned into a basic chapter breakdown – then I started to write.

Thank you, Elaine. We’ve both read The Woolworths Girls and thoroughly enjoyed it. The very best of luck with it.

Woolies GirlsIt’s 1938 and as the threat of war hangs over the country, Sarah Caselton is preparing for her new job at Woolworths. Before long, she forms a tight bond with two of her colleagues: the glamorous Maisie and shy Freda. The trio couldn’t be more different, but they immediately form a close-knit friendship, sharing their hopes and dreams for the future.

Sarah soon falls into the rhythm of her new position, enjoying the social events hosted by Woolies and her blossoming romance with young assistant manager, Alan. But with the threat of war clouding the horizon, the young men and women of Woolworths realize that there are bigger battles ahead. It’s a dangerous time for the nation, and an even more perilous time to fall in love…

Elaine’s book, published by Pan Macmillan, is available on Amazon

About Elaine

Elaine Everest was born and brought up in North West Kent, where The Woolworths Girls is set, and was once a Woolworths girl herself.

Elaine has written widely for women’s magazines, with both short stories and features. When she isn’t writing, Elaine runs The Write Place creative writing school in Dartford, Kent, and the blog for the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Elaine lives with her husband, Michael, and their Polish Lowland Sheepdog, Henry, in Swanley, Kent.


Pan Macmillan page

Facebook Author page

 Twitter: @ElaineEverest

In Praise of the Beta Male.

Francesca confesses her preference for fictional Beta males over the Alpha variety.

A couple of years ago, during a one-to-one at the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference, an editor wrote on my synopsis, Perhaps more interesting if Nate were more successful? Nate, in my novel Ten Years Later, is a Beta male, and I make no apology for it. He’s an accountant in a successful practice but he’s not big time and has no hugely famous clients. He earns enough to be nicely comfortable, have good holidays and not worry too much. He is intelligent, sensitive, doesn’t feel threatened by smart women and is happy to be a hands-on dad. And that’s how I like him.

Are you more into the King of the Jungle type?..

Are you into the King of the Jungle type?..

Alpha males don’t interest me nearly as much as Beta males, who often have less obvious good qualities. Alpha characteristics include being ultra successful, getting the girls, having oodles of self esteem (some might say arrogance) and are often physically fit. They’re protective of women, but often chauvinistic. They’re inclined to have little emotional intelligence and don’t expect to do housework or childcare. This is, of course, a gross generalisation! In real life I guess you’d call people like Brad Pitt, David Beckham, Tom Jones, Daniel Craig, Donald Trump, David Cameron, John F Kennedy, Mike Tyson and John Terry Alpha males, even though they’re all very different.

...or does the cute, thoughtful Beta male float your boat?

…or does the cute, thoughtful Beta male float your boat?

Beta males are often seen as less ambitious, not as tough, and physically weaker. They have less confidence (so maybe more humility?) Women don’t flock round them. But they’re often less chauvinistic, don’t have the same issues with women in positions of importance, will look after the kids and don’t mind mucking in. They’re often more intellectual. They can be more sensitive and emotionally aware.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking Alpha heroes in novels. Plenty of readers love Alpha male protagonists, and there are writers more than happy to invent them: all power to their elbow. But I also think there are as many readers who prefer a Beta male, someone more realistic who they can relate to.  Not someone who is rich, impossibly handsome, too powerful and muscle bound, but someone they could come across in the street, is attractive enough as well as thoughtful and generous without wads of cash . He can still be successful in his own way.

My attraction to Beta males goes back to before there were any such labels. As a teenager, geeky boys were more likely to appeal to me. The obviously handsome tended to leave me cold. One boy I liked had a face full of very dark freckles, wasn’t tall and was very skinny. However, he had the most amazing dark eyes which made up for all. My friends and I used to refer to him as ‘Owl’. Sadly, I didn’t know him well enough to be a real judge of his personality, though he did nothing to persuade me he was anything but a half-decent guy.

Handsome devil!

Handsome devil!

I was also quite enamoured of two ginger haired young men, though red-headed heroes never seem to make any kind of appearance in fiction. In fact, an established writer once told me that publishers aren’t fond of them, or Titian heroines, come to that (though I’m not convinced about the latter). How utterly scandalous. In response, I made the male and female protagonists in my next novel auburn! Time will tell if a publisher approves. The ‘hero’ in my current Work in Progress is a moody Welsh blacksmith with a troubled past. 

Mmm. Moody Welsh blacksmith. Excuse me while I carry on with the WIP…

Do you prefer Alpha or Beta males?


There’s an interesting article on Alpha and Beta males you can read here

Images provided by http://all-free-download.com/

Why I Love Exotic Locations

Guest author Karen Aldous tells us what inspires her to use the locations she picks for her novels.

Karen at the RNA summer party as a Joan Hessayon award contender

Karen at the RNA summer party as a Joan Hessayon award contender

Reading is all about escaping. Whether to another era, planet, somebody else’s world or to another place other than our own four walls or routine, books have that amazing capacity to off-load us of our worries and enrich us with all sorts of possibilities we know we could physically never engage in. This is the reason why I adore being immersed, especially in a book which allows me to soak up warm, exotic locations where I can feel the heat of the sun on my skin whilst being drenched in its beautiful descriptions and of course, it’s gripping story.

Villefranche on the French Riviera

Villefranche on the French Riviera

I’ve wanted to write my own novels for eons and it wasn’t until I read the captivating story of The Island by Victoria Hislop, which was set close to and on the tiny Greek leper island of Spinalonga, that it actually dawned on me; this is it! This is what I want to write. My characters want to be drawn to and immersed in a place that has inspired them. They want to find out its secrets and live within its communities. I think I must have subconsciously known it all along because my first attempts at novel writing were set in exotic locations, at least, for me. My first was set in London but my character ran a PR company which took her to Sri-Lanka, where trouble brewed and she had to return. This was before the conflict spread with the Tamils. Then, I began a novel about a Russian girl whose quest was to escape communism and flee to London for her freedom. Yes pre-Gorbachev’s ‘glasnost’ and ‘perestroika’. How the world has changed since then and, of course, how easily we can now jump on a plane to such exciting destinations.

Cannes Harbour 2

Cannes Harbour

It was my first visit to Provence which triggered my exciting journey to publication with The Vineyard. With its stunning landscape and villages, it reignited my passion to write; well, apart from not having the kids in tow. As hubs and I explored this charming paradise, I was totally besotted and Lizzie and Cal just took over in my head. The area was ripe for Cal’s French vineyard but, Lizzie was single and too young to be living in a sleepy village. Although we stayed in the beautiful city of Aix-en-Provence, it was Cannes she needed to live. The town is both glamorous and vibrant for a young heart and the needs of a young mum. On our next visit, we chose an apartment in the centre of a thriving community in Cannes, close to a bustling market where Lizzie could be based. This was ideal for her beauty business and child amenities and, only a short walk to the railway station where she could easily access numerous resorts along the French Riviera and even to Italy.

vineyard 2Naturally, with readers expressing to know more about Lizzie and Cal’s story, the vineyards of Provence and Cannes return in my third novel, The Riviera, which is a stand-alone novel but continues with Lizzie and Cal’s journey a few months later. It also features Nantucket, an island close to Martha’s Vineyard in the US because Kelly, Cal’s ex, is a native Brit and found New York too intimidating, so craved to live somewhere with an English village flavour to raise her and Cal’s teenage son Jack, and her other two children. I only got to visit virtually but it’s an area I feel, like Kelly, a connection with and that’s what excites me, along with the connection between the characters and the themes that run through a story which creates conflict and drama.

Chateau picAnother example is the setting for The Chateau. The stunning mountain scenery surrounding Lake Geneva in Switzerland often beckoned me as I drove past or went through Montreux by train en-route to my favourite ski resort. So it was no surprise that when the character Agnes-Francesca, came to me in a dream, I immediately knew where she was; just beyond Montreux, nestled on the lakeside is the intriguing Chateau de Chillon. After some research on the chateau’s history, her story soon fell into place, with Gina and Ollie key players in helping her.

I’m a great believer in following one’s passion therefore, the more I enjoy and am interested in what I am writing, the easier I find the desire and determination and thus, the stamina to finish a project. I am currently working on my fourth novel and planning my fifth. I would love to divulge the beautiful locations to you here but, I also like to surprise.

Thank you for taking time out from your commitments to talk to us Karen. The very best of luck with your new book.

The Riviera book

The journey is only as good as its end…

It’s been a hard journey, but Lizzie Lambert’s life is a Provençal dream come true. Her business is wildly successful, and with her little boy and the love of her life, Cal, she is making a beautiful home on the vineyard for their blended family.

But when Cal goes to America to support his son through a teenage crisis, it becomes clear the kid’s not the only one with some growing up to do: Cal’s glamorous ex-wife wants to get her claws in him again. As Cal spends longer and longer away, Lizzie wonders, was it all too good to be true?

The Riviera will be published by Carina on July 10th and will be available on Amazon and all leading e-book portals.


Karen’s books on Amazon

Karen’s website



Come Dine With Us

Elaine and Francesca consider their dream guest list for the ultimate dinner party.

Elaine: When Francesca and I were discussing which four guests we would each invite to a dinner party, the names were endless.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAThe first thought that entered my head was that I’d be quite happy to sit opposite David Beckham all night. Then there’s the very talented graffiti artist, Banksy, but he would never come because of his anonymity. So I made a list. Once I had done that, I realized many of them were women fighting for what they want in a male dominated environment. Emily Pankhurst, Margaret Thatcher and Tina Turner to name just a few, but that probably says more about me than anything else.

My first guest will not surprise anybody that has read this blog before or knows anything about me, John Lennon. I grew up with the Beatles and it has to be said he was my favourite. I believe his talent for writing was ahead of its time and it shocked me when his life was cut short.

The second guest would by Dame Judy Dench, although it was tough deciding between her
and Helen Mirren. Both of these ladies have grown older gracefully; they have embraced their age and beauty, which must be tough when their careers are in a pressurized environment to have plastic surgery. I have great admiration for them both.

I recently saw Lionel Ritchie in concert and for that reason he will be my third guest. He IMG_1998surprised me by being very entertaining and it wasn’t just about his songs, he made the audience laugh.

My fourth will be the comedy actress, Victoria Wood. This lady has been making me laugh for years, and I can tell you that is not an easy task.

Please note there isn’t a writer amongst my guests. That’s not intentional, it was just a very tough choice and as a writer myself, I know they would rather be writing than sitting having dinner with fellow guests. 


Francesca: Oh dear, only four people?

Okay. I started off writing this thinking who on earth would I invite? Then, as I got warmed up the list got longer and longer and…

The kids would want  an invite to this dinner party (though won't thank me for this 10-year-old photo!).

The kids would want an invite to this dinner party (though won’t thank me for this 10-year-old photo!).

How about some eye candy, I thought, Aiden Turner, Ioan Gruffudd and Elijah Wood? I’m sure they’d all be interesting too. (I’ve actually met one of them, but that’s a story for another time.) Or I wouldn’t mind some clever/comedic banter with Jo Brand, Victoria Coren, Paul Merton, Ian Hislop and Dara O Briain.

Or Dara could bring Brian Cox and it could be an evening of intellectual discussion. Along with them I could have Lucy Worsley, Neil Oliver and Michael Wood, my favourite TV historians. I could add David Attenborough and Ray Mears for the natural touch. But with some of those in attendance I’d have to invite my children or they’d never forgive me. 

Table for five, madam?

Table for five, madam?

I wouldn’t mind a frank one-to-one with Richard III. What happened to those princes, Dick? Perhaps invite Henry VII (who I suspect was the culprit anyway), and the aforementioned historians, get a good discussion going. Or a punch up! Mother Teresa might be useful to dispense calm and words of wisdom.

Oh, so many interesting people, so little time! Ok, final decision on the four. Victoria Coren, Lucy Worsley, Dara O Briain and Ray Mears. Absolutely. Probably. Maybe. Then again, with the kitchen table added to the one in the dining room, I could actually fit ten to twelve people in…


 So tell us, who would you invite and why?

A Virtual Welcome To Wendy Clarke

Francesca and Elaine are proud to welcome Wendy Clarke to their blog. Wendy decided to make changes to her life three years ago and hasn’t looked back.

Wendy Clarke

Wendy, with over a hundred short stories published you are certainly a prolific short story writer, where do you find your ideas from? 

The word ‘prolificIMG_1083’ still sounds strange to me, as it seems like only yesterday I was dropping my first story in the post box and keeping my fingers crossed that the editors of the magazine might like it. In answer to the question ‘where do I get my ideas?’ there are many ways. The first is remembering small incidents in my life that might work as nuggets to write a story around – for example my story Out of the Dark in this month’s People’s Friend Special is written around my fear of the dark. I would say my next method is to listen carefully to others, especially my friends. One morning a good friend told me that her daughter sent texts to her signed by her new little grandson… what a gem of a story! That one ended up in Woman’s Weekly. Other than that, I read newspapers, keep my eyes and ears open and never, ever go out without a notebook!

How many short stories do you write a week and is there a pattern to how you write them?

Oh, yes. I am very strict with myself. I write one story a week unless I am on holiday (and even then I am scouting for ideas). As to when I write them, it depends on what I have on my calendar that week. I am not a slave to my writing; I write around other things that I do. It is nice to have a story written at the beginning of the week, though, so that I can move on to other writing tasks such as my blog, marketing my story collection and of course writing my novel!

What made you decide to publish Room in Your Heart?book cover-1

I wrote Room in Your Heart because I was frustrated that once my stories had been published in the magazines they would never be seen or read again. Also, a lot of people I know (like my family) aren’t readers of the magazines that contain fiction and I wanted to be able to show them what and how I write. As a lot (though by no means all) of my stories are romances, I decided to make Room in Your Heart a romance collection. Don’t be fooled by the title, there are a range of stories in the collection – all previously published in The People’s Friend – but they are by no means slushy.

Will you publish another book of short stories and how do you decide what to include?

The Last Rose - kindleFunny you should say that! My second collection, The Last Rose. is being published on Monday – it would be lovely to see everyone at the launch party on my blog Wendy’s Writing Now. I decided to put together the second collection after receiving fabulous reviews for Room in Your Heart and requests for another. The theme of The Last Rose is ‘family and friendship’. It will be published for kindle and in paperback and is available now to pre-order – perfect if you’re looking for a Mother’s Day gift. This time I have chosen stories that have been previously published in a variety of national women’s magazines and I am very excited about it!

I know this year you joined the Romantic Novelist Association New Writers Scheme (RNA NWS) so does that mean you are taking the giant leap into writing a novel?

Gulp… yes it is! I never seem to be satisfied with doing just one thing. Although I love writing short stories, I have also written articles and serials and a novel seems the next logical step. I had been thinking about the possibility of writing a novel for a while but it was only when a particular story of mine was published a year ago that I thought, now that could be taken a lot further. I joined the RNA NWS to give me the push I needed to make a start. I know I won’t have it finished by the time I have to submit for a critique in August, but I hope that I will have something decent to show. It’s certainly a learning curve.

Thank you very much for having me on your lovely blog and for being such a great host.

Blog http://wendyswritingnow.blogspot.co.uk/

Link to Amazon: Room in Your Heart http://www.amazon.co.uk/Room-Your-Heart-collection-romantic-ebook/dp/B00OW466WG

Link to Amazon: The Last Rose http://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Rose-Stories-family-friendship-ebook/dp/B00U1WBAC4/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1425064370&sr=1-1

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/wendy.sargent.376

“Can I, Can’t I?”

Elaine Roberts discusses her new venture.

So February’s here and my daffodils are rising high in my garden.Where did January go?
Sinceimages_2 Christmas, my nose has been buried in my new project, and I do mean buried, hours upon hours of research, taking copious amounts of notes and bookmarking. Thankfully, we have it easier these days than the writers of yesteryear. What I can find in an hour on the Internet would have taken days and several reference books, I’m sure. I’m beginning to think there’s nothing you can’t find on there, why didn’t we have that when I was at school? Homework would have been so much easier.

ThinkerHaving said that, my decision-making lets me down, my problem is I keep changing my mind about where my characters are going to live and what they are going to be called.

I’ve been looking at old maps to see what roads existed at the time I’m writing about images(have you noticed I’m not saying the time it’s set in, it’s a secret, even to me!) How long will it take them to get from A to B. Then there are character names. A name can tell you a lot about a character and their family history. For example, if a lady is called Fleur, then she is likely to be French or, at least have a French connection. I’ve read lists and lists of names, not just trying to find some that I like, but also trying to find ones that my readers won’t say “What!” to. At this point, more out of frustration than reality, I think maybe I have too many characters. Perhaps I could drop some, but no, I’ve planned eleven of my twenty chapters and all my characters are accounted for. So they stay and that’s final. Back to the name searching then.

I have given myself a deadline of getting ten chapters completed by the end of August, so the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme can critique it. I’ve never handed in an incomplete novel before but I’m wandering into uncharted waters. Well, they are uncharted for me anyway. The big question is can I write it, the answer is I don’t know, but I’m definitely going to try. There was a time over last weekend when I did get myself in a tizz over my abilities to write it, so against all my own rules, I started writing the opening scene. Only five hundred and ninety words but psychologically they were probably the most important words I have ever written, mainly because I was chuffed with the result. It’s only the first draft but my confidence has been lifted. I’m actually beginning to think I can do it and, when I do, you’ll all hear my screaming from the rooftops.

PlanningYou know, when I used to just read books, I never realised how much work and planning went into them.

Let us know what your scariest ‘can I, can’t I’ moment was, whether it’s applying for a job or trying something new.

Share it so I know I’m not on my own, please…

Twitter: RobertsElaine11

Graduating the New Writers’ Scheme – Jules Wake

In the third interview in our series, Vivien Hampshire talks to author Jules Wake about her path to publication

Jules Wake book cover

Author Jules Wake

Jules Wake writes fun contemporary romance. She lives in Tring with two teenagers and a husband, along with a fine collection of dust bunnies. Writing is her displacement activity when she needs to resist the urge to do housework.  She is an avid reader and would really rather read a book than anything else – except perhaps watch Strictly Come Dancing, come Saturday nights in September. Unfortunately she also has a day job as a School Business Manager, which she is quite passionate about, but luckily the holidays leave her plenty of time to read (ahem … write).

Jules had put five different novels through the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme process before she found success. Her first published novel, Talk to Me, is described by The Bookseller as ‘a warm-hearted debut’ and is receiving plenty of enthusiastic 5-star reviews on Amazon.

Jules, when did you first realise that you wanted to write?

I always enjoyed writing as a child and studied English at university. I went to UEA, one of the first homes of creative writing degree courses, and I think the concept of writing was so important on the campus that the idea that I might one day try it became embedded in my sub-conscious. I then went into PR which involved a lot of copy writing, newsletters, press releases and features, so writing itself was second nature, although writing a book is very different. Before the days of the kindle, I used to get frustrated that I couldn’t find anything new to read, so I decided to write the sort of things I like reading.

What is your New Writers’ Scheme story? 

I strapped on my walking boots when I joined the NWS! Talk to Me was the first manuscript I submitted, way back in 2008, and I was thrilled to get good feedback. In fact, that was in the days of the second read, so I received two really fabulous reports. I thought I was made. Little did I know! I started submitting to agents immediately, and the rejections flooded in.

Having had such a positive response for the first book, I re-joined the NWS and duly sent off my second book. That too got a good report and I submitted to agents and got another ton of rejections, so I wrote a third. More rejections, so I wrote a fourth. The fourth one got great feedback from the NWS and this time, when I submitted it to agents, two actually asked for the full manuscript. That was so exciting. Unfortunately, in the end, both said it wasn’t for them.

I then got on and wrote book five, but at around the same time I had decided to submit the first book, Talk to Me, to Choc Lit. I was invited to meet with the publisher in January 2013 – just after I’d signed up for the NWS for the sixth year.

So, how did you find your publisher?

As an RNA NWS member, I made the most of going to events and networking. I was a bit shy about it at first but Twitter really helped. I met lots of RNA people online before I met them in the flesh, but that made it much easier to go to events. As a result, I met Sue Moorcroft a couple of times and read her books, which I loved. She was published by Choc Lit, who were quite new then. I heard that they were accepting un-agented submissions but was disappointed to find that they only accepted work which included the male point of view. At that time I wrote in the first person and didn’t think I could write from the male POV. However, I decided to give it a try and rewrote the first three chapters specifically for Choc Lit, and they came back and asked to see the whole manuscript! 

Jules Wake’s books line up ready for action at the launch of Talk to Me

I quickly had to rewrite the whole 87000 words, but I managed to encompass everything I had learned and probably submitted a better book than the original. Talk to Me was accepted and subsequently published by Choc Lit as an ebook in May 2014, and in paperback a month later. The first draft had taken me a year to write and I remember the sense of achievement when I typed The End, but actually that was only about a quarter of the work involved. It took me nearly six years from starting the first draft to holding the paperback in my hand.

Do you have an agent? 

Although I now had a contract with Choc Lit, my NWS reader suggested I try to get an agent for book five, so I sent it out to three agents in August 2013. One came back and asked to read the full ms but then declined it, and the other two I didn’t hear from at all. I was about to give up on it when a fellow writing buddy from the NWS insisted I give agents one more crack, so I picked five more and sent the ms off to them on a Thursday. On the Monday I received a call from an agent at a big London literary agency asking if I’d received her email on Friday? Would you believe it, one of the most important emails of my writing career had gone into my spam folder! She loved the first three chapters and wanted to read the full ms on an exclusive basis. No sooner had I agreed to that, one of the three original agents came back and asked for the full too. That left me in a dilemma as I didn’t want to tell her it was already with someone else on an exclusive basis. Being a coward, I decided that as Agent B had taken so long to get back to me, it would be all right to conveniently overlook her email for a few days, while I waited for Agent A’s response.

Fortuitously, it was the RNA summer party that week and both agents were there. I introduced myself to Agent A and we had a great chat. Then I spotted Agent B and felt I really ought to go over and talk to her and explain the situation. She was really cool with it and to my surprise was happy to wait. We got on famously and I knew then that I could work with her.

Agent A came back and asked for lots of changes before she would make a decision. I agreed with the changes, but still sent off the ms to Agent B. I’ll never forget I got a call the following Friday lunchtime from Agent B. She was only halfway through the book but loving it, and offered me representation. We’d got on so well at the party, and I really felt she ‘got’ me, so I accepted.

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

There are still no guarantees. I had to forego future contracts with my current publisher because they prefer to option all future romantic novels, in favour of taking on the agent. She may not be able to sell this novel, but it was a risk I was prepared to take. I’m now writing book number six.

If you could give just one tip to aspiring romantic novelists, what would it be?

When finishing the first draft of a book, too many writers make the mistake of thinking ‘there you go, that’s the work done’, and start submitting. My favourite analogy to reflect the route to publication is to ask: Would you enter the Olympics having run just one marathon? So, my best advice to anyone who is serious about getting published is to just keep writing, keep learning and keep improving your craft.

Jules Wake signing books at the launch party


Thank you, Jules, for talking to us on the blog today, and we wish you every success in the future.  

About the book:

Olivia has been in love with Daniel forever but, despite her best efforts, they’ve never been able to get it together. Their relationship has always been a series of mixed messages and misunderstandings and the final straw comes when Daniel mysteriously starts dating her flatmate, Emily. Hurt and confused, Olivia resolves to forget her heartache with a spot of speed dating. After all, what could possibly go wrong? One crazy stalker later and Olivia’s life is becoming increasingly strange and scary. Can she rely on Daniel to step in when events take a terrifying turn or will their communication breakdown ultimately result in tragedy?Jules Wake front cover

Talk to Me is available in book shops, and on Amazon where it is currently priced at £6.19 paperback / £2.48 kindle ebook edition

To find out more about Jules and her books, you can visit her website and blog:







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 


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!


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. 


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.


Website: The Write Place

Twitter: @elaineeverest

Facebook: Elaine Everest

Blog:  WriteMindsWritePlace

Gracie’s War: Amazon