To Dream The Impossible Dream…

Elaine Roberts talks about her time on the music trail in America.

I have never been on a coach-touring holiday before, so this was very much a first for me. Twelve days spent with the same thirty or so people, who were very friendly, but for someone who spends her days sitting at her laptop typing away, this was thrusting me into people’s company, whether I wanted it or not. Despite being ill for the whole of my holiday, at times only being kept upright by medication, I was armed with a notepad and pen so I could write any ideas or things people said, for either my current or future novels. Taking lots of photographs and memorising body language also helped. The culture your characters grew up in forms their views on life. As a writer you never stop working or learning.

Chicago Skyline

The holiday started in Chicago, with a skyline not dissimilar to New York. I had my first experience of going to a blues club, Buddy Guy’s Legends. Apparently, the man himself usually only performs there in January, but I had the honour of hearing him sing there in May.

Buddy Guy at The Legends Blues Club, Chicago

He maybe in his eighties, but what a great voice and personality he has. I’ll be honest, I did have to Google him. He is a big name on the blues and jazz scene, having won six Grammy Awards, along with a lifetime achievement Grammy Award. The Rolling Stone magazine ranked him 23rd in its list of one hundred greatest guitarists of all time. Eric Clapton has been quoted as saying “Buddy Guy is to me as Elvis is to others”. Having listened to Buddy Guy, I can see why he has achieved so much, despite leaving school at fourteen with nothing. He is an inspiration to challenge yourself and work towards your goals, even if the odds are stacked against you.


Abraham Lincoln’s Statue

After Chicago, we moved onto Springfield, and no we weren’t there to see anything to do with the Simpsons cartoon series. We were there to see the burial site, home and museum of Abraham Lincoln. I found this day to be quite emotional as information about the American President unfolded. He started from nothing and taught himself to read and believed in himself. If ever there was an inspiration to reach for the stars, to achieve your dream, here he is. As a writer, there is always a lot of doubt and even the most famous authors have suffered from many rejections. The people rejected Abraham Lincoln when he tried to be elected as a politician and yet he became president. Why? He believed in himself, his wife believed in him, he picked himself up and kept going and he gained a place in American history. As a writer, my aspirations are not nearly so grand, but the belief has to be the same.

Gateway Arch, St. Louis

Our next stop was St. Louis. We visited the Gateway Arch there and watched a film on how it was built. As a writer of historical novels, it was good, if not scary, to be reminded there was not much health and safety around in 1963 when it was built. It is the world’s tallest arch at 630 feet high and 630 feet wide and to see the builders gripping tightly on to steel ropes, with the wind attempting to blow them off and no sign of any hard hats, safety harnesses or special boots, took my breath away. The film told how they expected to lose thirteen lives in the building of it, but miraculously none were lost.


Elvis’ Sitting Room at Gracelands

Memphis was the next stop. This obviously involved a tour of Graceland, Elvis’s home and a couple of evening visits to Beale Street, where music-wise it all happens. The police had set up a cordon to enter the street; they checked ID’s and tagged us. They didn’t check my ID, but I don’t know if that was because I was British, or clearly over twenty-one, which is their legal drinking age. The street was full of restaurants and bars, each having live singers/bands. There was a party atmosphere along the whole of the street. Having been there, I can understand how Elvis was influenced by the music of his hometown. Of course, no visit to Memphis would be complete without a tour of Sun Studios, where Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash all started, to name just a few. What a fabulous tour it was. Our guide was humorous and gave the group so much information. It was also good to know that modern groups still record there; Maroon 5 and U2 have recorded there in recent times.

Paddle Steamer

The trip ended in New Orleans, which bore the brunt of Hurricane Katrina twelve years ago. So many sad stories came from the tour of that city, but also stories of how people have picked themselves up. It has to be said that it’s not the case everywhere, but they are getting there. The French Quarter occupied the daytime and the two evenings there were spent in Bourbon Street, popular for its live music, which could be heard from every club and bar on the road. We had lunch on a paddle steamer and a jazz band played as we cruised up the Mississippi river.

However you spend your time, or wherever you go on trips, there is always inspiration and ideas to be taken away. My trip was based mainly on music and historical events, information and ideas I’m sure will be used in the future. Music obviously played a big part in our tour and it was a reminder that, whatever you are writing, you should add it into your work where possible.

If you don’t wish to be a writer, work out what you do want and start putting your building blocks in place to achieve it. There are an awful lot of people out there that started with nothing, but have achieved greatness in their chosen field.


Interview with Pia Fenton (novelist Christina Courtenay), the outgoing chair of the Romantic Novelists’ Association

As Pia Fenton, who writes as Christina Courtenay, steps down as Romantic Novelists’ Association chair, we find out about her last two years and what she’s got planned for the future.

ChristinaCourtenayMarch2013Welcome to the blog, Pia. As a prolific writer with many interests, along with your role as chair, how have you managed such a hectic schedule? Are you very organised?

I try to be but don’t always succeed!  Mainly I make lists, lots of them – I couldn’t survive without lists and often wake up in the middle of the night to add things to them.  It helps that I don’t have a fixed writing schedule, I just write as/when I have the time so I’ve been able to fit in RNA work around the writing (or vice versa).

What’s been the highlight of your time as chair?

I don’t think I can pinpoint just one thing, but for me the highlights have been when everything is running smoothly.  The parties, conferences and awards events, for example – there’s an awful lot of work that goes into organising those and it’s wonderful when it all comes together and people come up to you and say how much they’ve enjoyed it.  That makes it all worthwhile.  I have also really enjoyed meeting and getting to know a huge range of people – that’s one lovely aspect of being chair!

What changes have you seen in the RNA during your tenure?

The RNA is changing all the time and we’ve been trying to move with the times.  The main changes have been to the awards, which are evolving and becoming more well-known and appreciated.  And of course we will be admitting self-published/independently published authors from September onwards – it took a long time to figure out the best way to do that, but we got there in the end!

How do you feel about stepping down and is there anything you’ll miss about not being chair?

It will be a huge relief in one way as the responsibility of being chair was quite scary at times – as they say, the buck stopped with me.  And if things went wrong, ultimately it would have been considered my fault.  But I’ve loved being at the heart of the organisation, helping it to move forward and hopefully steering it in the right direction.  And I’ve worked with the most amazing group of people – my committee and all the other volunteers – without whom I would have been totally lost.  I will miss working with them very much!

What are your plans for the future?

To have a break, then get on with some writing which has had to take a back-seat for the last couple of months.  I’ll be at the RNA conference and plan to enjoy being just one of the crowd.  As I sometimes write YA, I’m taking part in YALC (Young Adult Literature Convention) in July, where I’ll have a book table together with three fellow YA authors, collectively known as Paisley Piranha.  And then I will concentrate on my family for a bit too, as I’m sure they’ll be feeling rather neglected 🙂  I’ll still be part of the RNA though and look forward to seeing it evolve further as Eileen Ramsay takes over from me – she’ll be a fabulous chair, I’m sure!

Thank you for taking the time out to talk to us, Pia. Good luck with the new book, The Jade Lioness and with all your future ventures.

TJL medium frontThe Jade Lioness is available as an ebook now and due out in paperback in October.  An historical romance, it’s the third in Christina Courtenay’s Japanese series.

Can an impossible love become possible?

Nagasaki, 1648

Temperance Marston longs to escape war-torn England and explore the exotic empire of Japan. When offered the chance to accompany her cousin and Captain Noordholt on a trading expedition to Nagasaki, she jumps at the opportunity. However, she soon finds the country’s strict laws for foreigners curtail her freedom.

On a dangerous and foolhardy venture she meets Kazuo, a ronin. Kazuo is fascinated by her blonde hair and blue eyes, but he has a mission to complete and he cannot be distracted. Long ago, his father was accused of a crime he didn’t commit – stealing a valuable jade lioness ornament from the Shogun – and Kazuo must restore his family’s honour.

But when Temperance is kidnapped and sold as a concubine, he has to make a decision – can he save her and keep the promise he made to his father?

Buy it on Amazon UK: The Jade Lioness





Paisley Piranha Group


Be professional from day one!

Elaine Everest reflects on the publishing world and the writers who one day hope to be part of this wonderful profession.

For the past ten years part of my week has been taken up teaching creative writing classes. I was employed by Kent Adult Education Services before setting up The Write Place creative writing school in 2009. From beginners through to novel writers most students have the dream of becoming published – many wishing to make it their occupation. I’ve been privileged to see quite a few students sell short stories, articles as well as non-fiction books and recently novels. Something I’ve noticed without fail is that those who succeed have been professional from day one. They’ve treated their writing as a job, studying the markets and reading about agents and publishers so they know about the movers and shakers in our world and who is looking for new talent long before they are ready to submit.

Amongst a sector of wannabe writers there seems to be a certain arrogance. The moment these people swagger into my classroom (yes, women can swagger as well as men) my radar picks them up. Here we go, Elaine, you are in for an interesting evening. These days I find their antics funny. Hey, if they want to waste their time by disbelieving advice on how to become published who am I to complain. They’ve paid me a fee! However, it saddens me that arrogance stops a good writer from succeeding – sometimes they even influence a good student and they too give up on their writing. One such chap demanded to be in my novel class even though he had never really put pen to paper. Each week he had some grand idea for an earth shattering plot along with an excuse as to why he’d not written a word. Come read back night and he would spew forth his advice to fellow students on where they were going wrong. Fortunately no one listened, he was not allowed to hog the limelight and he soon faded away.


Every writer’s dream is to see their book at the London Book Fair.

Another lovely man (can you see a pattern here?) would not listen to me and insisted on heading to London to reclaim his tome when an agent had held onto it for one month. However much I explained about waiting a while longer –especially as the agent had requested sight of the full novel – he was adamant that one month was long enough. The agent later told me that she had tried her utmost to speak to him and explain she was already reading the book and loved what she’d seen but this man took his heap of paper and headed for home. To my knowledge he was never published.

Being professional is also about presenting work in a reasonable way, regardless of whether it is sent by email or post. A polite letter, clean paper and a front sheet set out neatly will mean the work is a pleasure to read. I’ve worked at administrating writing competitions and believe me, many well published writers cannot layout a front sheet. It’s no different to writing a letter – perhaps they haven’t written many of those either?

Moving on to the publishers themselves. The least I expect from them is an acknowledgement of my work and within a decent length of time. I know of short story magazines where the editor continually allows submissions to be held for over one year and only then rejecting in vast numbers. Another publication, overseas this time, does not reject but simply lets submissions fall off the cliff at the end of six months and suggests we resubmit. I’m not a lemming and I will not be following other writers over that steep cliff. Magazine publishers need to realise that writers submit because it is their job, they need to pay the mortgage or eat sometimes!

My final word is for the unprofessional ebook publisher who is incapable of responding to a submission after raving how my book was perfect for the new ebook section of the mega company she works for. The woman gushed and raved and insisted that I send the book to her. One year on (and counting) since that industry one2one she has yet to reply – even with a rejection. She also ignored my polite enquiries, as did her assistant when she was made aware that I, and many fellow authors, had been ignored. Perhaps if I was unprofessional I would name and shame. Catch me on a bad day and you may just know the name of this publisher…



Francesca Burgess explores the value and pitfalls of research

Write what you know. That’s good advice for someone just setting out as a writer and something most writers do, to some extent, their whole writing life. I’ve certainly rummaged through the events of my life for plots. For instance, one of the first short stories I ever had published called New Beginnings (which consequently ended up in the charity anthology Diamonds and Pearls) had a plot based on my experience of the family Easter.

I’m sure I’ll go on using things I’m familiar with in my fiction, but as endlessly fascinating as my life is (cough cough), there comes a time as a writer when you need to break out, delve into something a little different, something you don’t have experience of.

The first two novels I wrote were Young Adult, which brought its own problems. Yes, I was a teenager once and I remember it quite vividly. However, if I had one of my characters dressed in loons exclaiming, “Groovy!” I might find myself accused of being a tad out of date. Some of the research for this was first hand, watching and listening to my own teen children and their friends. Then there was ‘Yoof’ TV and other YA novels.

I know some writers find research tedious but I am both lucky, and unfortunate, in that I love it. I discovered my penchant for research thirty-six years ago during a module for my history degree. It involved studying an area of Kingston-upon-Thames. Wading through microfiche files full of census data and tithe maps turned out to be really quite thrilling as the history of the streets I’d walked emerged.

Microfiche files! Those were the days. Thank goodness for computers. Much of what I write now is contemporary, but it’s amazing how much research I still have to do. The time of a train journey somewhere, the geography of a town I can’t get to visit (I so love walking the streets on Google View!), it’s all there on the internet for the viewing public.

For my novels I’ve had to research things like tide tables, the effects of cannabis, prison sentences for GBH, the laws for divorce and tenancy agreements. When adapting short stories for abroad, among the areas I’ve checked are Christmas traditions, the climate at certain times of year and the school system. Three of my four novels have required research into hospital procedure for certain conditions (I seem to enjoy heaping medical emergencies on my characters!).

As I hinted earlier, loving the research is also a problem. It’s very, very easy to get carried away and forget to do the writing. And that’s the danger of it: you’ve got to know when to stop, not to research beyond what you need. Maybe the answer is to set the timer, give myself only so long to do it? I’ll have to try it and see if it works.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going for a walk around Whitstable on Street View…

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