Friday, May 31, 2013

Interview with Theresa Le Flem

Theresa Le Flem inherited the creative gene. Studying Art at college, her CV includes studio-potter, hairdresser, factory-worker, sales-assistant, and veterinary receptionist. With children grown-up, and five granddaughters in New York, she lives in the Midlands with her husband Graham, a greyhound, a Persian cat and two budgies. She now writes full-time.

I believe you come from an artistic family; do tell us something of your journey as a writer. How did it begin? 

My father moved our family to St.Ives in Cornwall when I was 16, to join the artists’ colony. I took a job in a café; this perhaps formed the setting for THE FORGIVING SAND. I was writing a children’s book in verse, at that time, by candlelight. I illustrated it too. I had been sending poems to publishers from the age of thirteen but without success. After hairdressing and factory work, I had my own Studio Pottery business. I wrote short-stories, but money was always tight. I didn’t have the opportunity to pursue writing seriously. Now retired, I have the luxury of time and a husband who encourages me. Having my first novel published by Robert Hale was amazing – now, with my second due out on 31st May – well, I’m still pinching myself!

Have you met any particular difficulties or rejections along the way? 

I sent my first novel: THE SEA INSIDE HIS HEAD, to seventeen literary agents, one at a time, revising it each time it was rejected. I was running out of agents to try. Then an article in The Writing Magazine spurred me into sending the first three chapters to Hale directly. After two days I received an email requesting the full MSS. I was using the public library’s computers, not having internet connection at home. After sending off the complete manuscript in hard-copy, I remember driving the four miles into town every single day just to check my emails…only to be disappointed. One day I returned home, again with no news, to find a small letter on the mat. It was from Robert Hale - they wanted to publish!

Your books explore strong themes, what made you decide to write romance?

I enjoy exploring conflicting emotions in my writing; relationships are often tested by circumstances beyond our control. Work, marriage, money. Life’s very hard. Love is never enough; there is so much pressure to earn a living, to raise children, and to retain one’s self-esteem and pride. Whether it’s bullying or bankruptcy, as in The Forgiving Sand, or the threat of unemployment The Sea inside His Head, you can tell I’m passionate about expressing feelings. I’m a romantic novelist but not one who wears rose-tinted spectacles!

Which author would you say has most influenced your work?

D.H.Lawrence I think, because he portrays passion so well. I don’t mean simply sexual, his characters are so real. Charles Dickens is brilliant and Thomas Hardy, with all that rustic angst! I also like H.E.Bates for his love of nature. I’ve learned a lot from John Braine’s book: How to Write a Novel.

Do you plan much of the book before you start or let it emerge as you write? 

I don’t plan until well into the book. The idea emerges out of a single phrase, like poetry. I deliberately gave Christina a physical disability, in The Forgiving Sand, as a sort of vulnerability. The characters usually dictate what’s going to happen to them, I hear their voices, but they often surprise me.

Considerable research must be involved in your books, how do you set about it and keep good records? 

I like old books, the internet, and I use libraries a lot. Apart from keeping a few box-files, I’m not very organised; there are books all over our house. I don’t research before I start but later on, to check dates. Because I often include social history as the background, I use a reference book of 20th Century British History to weave in news events. I bounce hard facts against the softness of romantic love and ordinary home life.

How long have you been a member of the RNA, and in what way do you think it has helped your career? 

Rosie enjoying home comforts.
I’ve only been member for a year and a half. Joining gave me a tremendous morale boost. I find the RNA helpful and friendly, and enjoy their company by email. Such a vast pool of writers as a resource is a huge asset. Their ‘non-writerly’ advice gave me my lovely rescued greyhound Rosie. I wouldn’t be without “my Romna girls” as I call them. (Apologies to any Romna boys!) Having a platform on which to publicise events is invaluable. Thank you RNA for inviting me to give this interview and actually, just for being there!

So what next? Can you tell us a little about your work in progress?

That feels a bit delicate at the moment. I’m nearing the end of the first draft of my third novel and it’s like giving birth to a baby. The surprise element is still with me until I type ‘The End’.

The Forgiving Sand  - Published in hardback on 31st May 2013 by Robert Hale Ltd.

Christina’s life in Cornwall is thrown into turmoil when ruthless brother-in-law René threatens to close down her quiet beach café which is losing money. Disabled since childhood, Christina is determined to keep the struggling family business going but neither her mother, nor her sister, seem to care. If only she could contact her father again! 

It’s 1994. The Cornish fishing industry is in crisis and lonely skipper, John Madison, widowed when his wife drowned, desperately pleads for Christina’s help with his little daughter. His passionate intensity disturbs her and yet she’s drawn to him. While René is putting the pressure on with his scheming ideas, an old school-friend, big loveable Peter, returns to Cornwall and jumps in to defend Christina - but with untold repercussions. 

Who can save her beloved Sea Café? And when John compels her to make a choice, will her heart be torn in two?

Thank you Theresa for sparing the time to talk to us today. We wish you every success with your books. 
Best wishes, Freda 

Find out more:

Interviews on the RNA Blog are carried out by Freda, Henri and Livvie. They are for RNA members only, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Interview with Joss Alexander

Today, we welcome debut author, Joss Alexander, to the blog.

Joss won a poetry competition in a national newspaper when she was seven. She says, ‘It sounds impressive, but I was living in Southern Yemen and the Crater Times didn’t exactly have a mass market circulation.’ Joss has been writing ever since, at the same time as pursuing careers as a teacher, editor, and ‘jet-setting professional beggar’. She’s had six non-fiction books and many short stories published, and won several competitions, including First Prize in the International Daphne du Maurier Short Story competition. Tainted Innocence, a romantic mystery set in Tudor England, is her first novel.

Tainted Innocence is available from Amazon,; Carina Press website, and all major e-book sites.

England, 1524. In Cambridge, the College of the Young Princes brings together all manner of people—with all manner of secrets. Among them is Bryony, an illiterate laundress and a stranger to the town, who lives in constant fear that her unusual upbringing and lack of friends will leave her vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft.

When Matthew Hobson, a scholar at the college, is found murdered and wrapped in linen that Bryony lost, she immediately becomes a suspect. But she is not the only one. Luke Hobson, a taciturn local tradesman who has sacrificed much for his charismatic but selfish brother, also has motive for the murder.

With the university authorities eager to solve the crime, outsiders Bryony and Luke are forced into a wary alliance, knowing they have to track down the killer if they are to escape hanging. But can they trust in each other’s innocence—and the growing attraction between them—in order to uncover the truth?

Joss, tell us about the novel that has put you on the short list for the Hessayon Award, and how you got the idea for it?

I adore books, and to be prevented from reading them, either through blindness, as was the case with my mother, or through a lack of education, which is still happens in many places today, is terrible. Can you imagine desperately wanting to be able to read, but being denied the opportunity to learn, simply because you are poor and female? That frustration was the starting point for my romantic mystery novel, Tainted Innocence, set in the very heart of learning, the ancient University of Cambridge.

You write historical romance, so what is it about the Tudor period that particularly inspires you?

I love the Tudor period of history in Britain; it’s such a rich, dangerous and voluptuous time, with so much happening in literature, architecture, food and politics. What really intrigues me, though, is exploring what life would have been life for those people who were not ‘the great and the good’. That’s why I chose to make my heroine an illiterate laundry maid and my hero a hard-working carter, struggling to keep his business afloat.

Do you have a critique partner, or share your work with anyone before you submit to an editor?

Cambridge Writers and the RNA New Writers’ Scheme have been brilliant in encouraging my writing and giving me very useful feedback. Without the RNA NWS I may not have achieved publication and it was wonderful to be shortlisted for the Joan Hessayon New Writers’ Scheme Award. However, the first person to read my completed draft is always my daughter. Whether it’s an opinion on your clothes, the food you have cooked or the novels you have written—daughters have a knack of giving you the unvarnished truth, whether you want it or not!

How did you devise the hero and heroine? Do you plan bios before you start or let them evolve as you write?

I live in Cambridge, and wandering through the narrow streets and by the willow-fringed river Cam, I seem to encounter those who lived here in years gone by, and they bombard me with their stories. Walking my dog one day over the fen, I came across an ancient, deserted orchard and I had the strongest feeling that a girl had lived there in a cottage, centuries ago. That's how I met Bryony, my heroine. Another day I followed the stream near my terraced cottage to its source - the quiet magical wood where the Nine Wells bubble up from the earth. I discovered Luke Hobson was walking by my side, dark and troubled, a man who has learned from bitter experience to trust no one, and is angry to find himself attracted to a gypsy girl who is prepared to steal and lie in order to survive. What else, he wonders, is she prepared to do? Luke Hobson was inspired by Thomas Hobson - of 'Hobson's Choice' fame - who lived in Cambridge some decades later than my tale, and the stream that I followed is now known as Hobson's Conduit. Luke and Bryony feel so real to me, I often wonder if they really existed in the past.

Do you have to juggle writing with the day job? What is your work schedule?

My day job is also writing—anything and everything! Articles on health and on travel, websites on subjects as varied as medical instruments, fertilisers and the ash dieback disease, restaurant and film reviews, and brochures for universities, museums and charities. Oh, I’m rather good at eulogies too… 

Which craft tip has helped you the most?

Read it out loud. Ow! You really wince as you hear the words and phrases that jar. I’ve just been redecorating a bedroom, and whilst doing so, I listened to the Audible version of Tainted Innocence before going back to edit the first draft of the sequel. That was brilliant, because to hear somebody else read your work gives you a completely fresh insight into it, and you learn about what works for them and what doesn’t.

If you could slip into a time machine and meet a famous historical figure from the past, who would you choose and why?

It would have to be Shakespeare! Maybe some of his genius would rub off on me. Second choice would be John Donne — sexy and good with words.

Which is your all time favourite book?

What a tough question! Perhaps The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis. I loved the Narnia series as a child, and enjoyed reading them to my children when they were little. I’ve still got my original versions with the pages falling apart. For me, those novels represent the wonderful escapism that reading can provide; that feeling of participating in another world is one that I strive to achieve in my own writing; I would love to give my readers the gift that other writers have given me. Another favourite book, also much read and also falling apart, is Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer. 

Where would you most like to escape to and write?

‘Escape to and write’ is an oxymoron for me. I write best in my miniscule study at home. I need somewhere without a wonderful view. If I am looking out at a lovely landscape, I want to be outside, not inside. So a sky full of dreary rain is best; that way, imprisoned inside, I retreat to the world that I create. 

So what next? Can you tell us a little about your work in progress?

I have just finished writing the sequel to Tainted Innocence, which is also set in Tudor Cambridge, and which continues the stories of several of the characters. They just refuse to be quiet—they all have such fascinating tales to tell, they aren’t done with me yet!

Find out more:
Random Jossings,
Twitter @joss1524

Thank you for sparing time to talk to us, Joss. We wish you every success with your books.

Interviews on the RNA Blog are carried out by Freda, Henri and Liv. They are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact: 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Interview with Kate Lord Brown

Today we welcome Kate Lord Brown to the blog. Kate grew up in a wild and beautiful part of Devon, and was first published while at school. After reading Philosophy at Durham and Art History at the Courtauld Institute, she worked as an art consultant, curating collections for palaces and embassies in Europe and the Middle East. She was a finalist in the ITV’s The People’s Author competition 2009. She lives in the Middle East with her family, and is working on her next novel. Tell us about your first book and the excitement of getting that call.

I had ‘the call’ from my agent that all new writers dream of the night before I flew out to the Middle East with my children to start a new life. It was a fairytale ending - or beginning, depending on how you look at it! THE BEAUTY CHORUS was published in 2011 - after a lifetime of writing (and reading), it was really a dream come true. I don’t think much can beat the feeling of holding your book for the first time.

Which author has most influenced your work?

Maybe like a lot of RNA members, there are always too many books and not enough book shelves in our house! I read very widely, but the fiction authors I keep returning to are Anne Tyler, Barbara Trapido, Carol Shields and James Salter. The author who has most influenced me is William Boyd - I saw him interviewed once and he said to write what interests you, not what you know.

How would you describe your own books, and what would you say is the plus factor that makes them appealing to your readers? 

THE BEAUTY CHORUS and THE PERFUME GARDEN are historical romantic fiction. I think the plus factor is that they explore forgotten history - women who flew fighter planes during WW2, or women war photographers and soldiers during the Spanish Civil War. I always hope that readers will be carried away by a romantic, adventurous story, and also come away saying ‘wow, I didn’t know that ...’

Do you plan bios before you start writing, or allow your characters to emerge as you write? 

I do a sheet for each character - to avoid pitfalls like eye colour suddenly changing from blue to green in chapter two! But one of the marvellous things with writing is the alchemy that takes place when the story and characters start taking on a life of their own. I think with bios and plots, it’s always good to leave yourself some room to be surprised.

Which do you find the most painful, writing the first draft, or editing, and how do you cope? 

Editing, definitely. All those old maxims like: ‘writing is rewriting’ are absolutely true. The first draft is a free-wheeling zip through the story with all that enthusiasm and energy - but editing is absolutely vital. I’ve been lucky to work with some very good editors and copy-editors (all that red ink ...), and I just keep telling myself that all that matters is making the book the very best it can be.

Do you have any rejections lurking among your files, or do you recycle them? 


Actually, I burnt them! When we lived in Valencia, in Spain (which is the setting for THE PERFUME GARDEN, I used all my early rejection letters for kindling to light the wood burning stove each night! There were a lot of fires, put it that way. I did keep a note of anything positive - shows promise, etc, and of any constructive criticism. Rejection is all par for the course and you just simply have to learn from it and persevere.

If your book were ever filmed who would you choose for the hero and why? 

Writing THE PERFUME GARDEN, I had a picture of Javier Bardem pinned to the storyboard for Luca (I know, it’s tough work but someone has to do it). I think he combines Luca’s strength and vulnerability - he plays damaged characters so well.

The RNA is famous for its New Writer Scheme. Were you ever a part of it, and what advice would you give to an aspiring writer? 

No, I wasn’t but I’d advise any aspiring writer to try and join the NWS. Failing that, join a writer’s group locally if you can. I belonged to a women’s writers group in London for years - we’d meet each week in a bookshop in Fulham, and it’s a great grounding in writing, and reading.

Are you ever driven to write by hand?

Absolutely - first drafts are always by hand. Then, when they are being transcribed it’s almost like a first edit getting it on to the computer. In fact, I still write with a fountain pen (my daughter thinks I’m a dinosaur!).

If you could know the future, what would you wish for?

There’s a great saying I saw at a temple in Japan: I learn only to be contented. After a rollercoaster few years, I’d wish for that - contentment. I hope that we’ll be able to come home to the UK, that my office assistants (Milo, the rescue Siamese X, who tends to sit on a notebook the moment it’s opened for work as if to say ‘why write, when you can look at ME’, and Oscar the pug, who has a fetish for eating pencils), will still be helping me write a book a year, and that everyone will be happy and healthy. Obviously, a bestseller or two would be lovely, too! 

The Perfume Garden combines the gripping storytelling of Kate Morton with the evocative settings of Victoria Hislop to tell this sumptuous story of lost love and family secrets set between modern day Valencia and the Spanish Civil War. 

High in the hills of Valencia, a forgotten house guards its secrets. Untouched since Franco’s forces tore through Spain in 1936, the whitewashed walls have crumbled, the garden, laden with orange blossom, grown wild. Emma Temple is the first to unlock its doors in seventy years. Guided by a series of letters and a key bequeathed in her mother’s will, she has left her job as London’s leading perfumier to restore this dilapidated villa to its former glory. It is the perfect retreat: a wilderness redolent with strange and exotic scents, heavy with the colours and sounds of a foreign time. 

But for her grandmother, Freya, a British nurse who stayed here during Spain’s devastating civil war, Emma’s new home evokes terrible memories. As the house begins to give up its secrets, Emma is drawn deeper into Freya’s story: one of crushed idealism, lost love, and families ripped apart by war. She soon realises it is one thing letting go of the past, but another when it won’t let go of you.


Find out more:
Thank you for sparing time to talk to us today, Kate. 

We wish you every success with your books. 
Best wishes, Freda 

Interviews on the RNA Blog are carried out by Freda, Henri and Livvie. They are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact: 

Friday, May 17, 2013

RNA Summer Party - Joan Hessayon AWard and The Romantic Novel of the Year

As always the RNA Summer Party was a dazzling affair.....

Jenny Colgan, Rowan Coleman, Victoria Lamb and Charlotte Betts 

The Joan Hessayon Contenders

And the winner of the Joan Hessayon Award  is Liesel Swartz

Lindsay Davis

And the winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year goes to Jenny Colgan

Evonne Warham

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May Self-Published Releases


Blue Eyed Llama
24th April 2013

Everyone has secrets, right?

On the surface, Rosa Rossi and Luca Guerra seem like a typical Italian couple, who make-up as passionately as they argue. But each has something to hide, a secret so explosive that it would mean the end of their relationship if the other found out. And someone in the arcade can’t keep their mouth shut...

May sees dreams, desire and deceit rock the foundations of Angell’s Arcade.

Like your favourite soap, The Arcade brings you characters you love to hate – and to love. Each bite-sized episode is perfect for your journey to work, your lunch-break – or a quiet night of escapism. And it’ll leave you wanting more – with a teaser of next month’s storyline!

1st May 2013


Winner of the Sapphire Award for Best Romantic Science Fiction, short form.

The people of Gaia think themselves blessed to be living on the most perfect
colony world ever discovered, even if there is a strange energy force that
occasionally destroys people. Now, the entire population is threatened and all
the obvious heroes are dead. Which leaves an unlikely hero and the woman he
loves to save the world, but at what cost?

"...a moving exploration of the consequences of war and power on those who
fight as well as those left behind."
Romantic Times
" imaginative and moving allegory about war: those we've fought in the
past and those we may fight in the future and on far-off worlds."

Kindle Ebook
May 1st, 2013

Online parties are a fabulous and fun way to launch your book or introduce your product and to engage with your target audience. Social media applications are perfect forums for parties - the venue capacity is infinite, the guest list is global, and the fun and games can lead to bestselling success. So here it is - by popular demand - my step by step guide to online partying!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Interview with Anne Stenhouse

Today we welcome Anne Stenhouse to the RNA Blog. Anne has been a shop assistant, factory worker, civil servant and addictions’ worker. She lives in Scotland, enjoys dancing and has tried Highland, Scottish, English, Ceildh and ballroom with varying levels of success. She joined NWS in 2007 in order to discover why her earlier novels were unsalable. Do tell us what made you want to write and how you got your first break?

Having left work on maternity leave, I decided my daughter was too delightful to give up to someone else to look after and so needed to replace the intellectual stimulation (small babies mostly sleep a lot). My first break was from DC Thomson who published a short story. What would you say are the major influences on your work? In subject matter, I return to women’s lack of equality at various times and like a good spat between two strong central characters. I enjoy Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Susan Ferrier and our own Louise Allen.

Some writers need silence, others prefer the bustle of a coffee shop. What is your favourite mode of working?

My absolute favourite is in my room with my lap-top at the right level and the lights in the right places. I can write anywhere when necessary – effect of rehearsal changes probably.

Do you plan the story out in detail before you start or let it emerge as your write? 

There’s usually an opening scene in my head which will be strongly connected to a place, a vague idea of where that might go and the end I’d like to happen, although all of that sometimes changes. The story generally emerges as I hear the characters talking.

Have you ever suffered from writers’ block, and how do you deal with it?

I think not the real, crippling I can’t think of a word ever again, type of writers’ block. That must be a devastation when it happens. When I cannot find the next scene, I wait because I’ve learned that’s when my brain hasn’t sorted out stuff subliminally and it will come. When I cannot think of something to write about, I might pick up a pen and paper and start writing whatever comes – a sort of pump priming exercise.

Were you in the NWS before getting published, and did you find it helpful? 

YES and YES. It has been my biggest help in moving from drama to prose with dialogue. I had five reviews – more than some people and fewer than others. They were each a mine of assistance and clarity. May I offer a big thank you to my readers. MARIAH'S MARRIAGE was one of the bumper crop of 2011 going onto publication, and is on the list of Joan Hessayon Award contenders for 2013.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I read so much from the family bookcases. I know I didn’t like Fairy Tales all that much because even as a youngster, I sensed the underlying cruelty in many of them. The Snow Queen terrified me. By S1 it crystallises into things like Anne of Green Gables (red-haired chatty child) and The Wind in the Willows (such a wonderful flight of imagination with superb drawings as well). I also always read a lot of non-fiction, even from the P7 library boxes.

Which authors do you choose to read for pleasure now? 

Jane Gardam, Georgette Heyer, Louise Allen, Michelle Styles, Malcolm Cant (non fiction about Edinburgh), Maggie O’Farrell, Maggie Craig (she’s a novelist, but I’m also very fond of her non-fiction). So what next?

Can you tell us a little about your work in progress?

There’s one novel out for consideration. It’s set in Edinburgh around 1826 and follows the fortunes of an architect hero and an earl’s daughter. Its theme is the devastating effect of gossip and it began life in the New Voices competition. Just starting is a novella about two of the characters from Mariah’s Marriage.

Leaving the chapel in London’s 19th century Thames’ side where she teaches the alphabet to a raggle-taggle of urchins, Mariah Fox is charged by a stray pig. The quick intervention of Tobias Longreach saves her from certain injury. Mariah has always believed her destiny to be teaching. After the early death of her mother, she was brought up by her papa, Jerome, to believe she could learn anything a boy could. She shares his vision of a future in which everyone, rich or poor, boy or girl, will be taught at least the rudiments of reading, writing, and counting. 

Tobias was brought up a second son, but following his elder brother’s premature death, inherits an Earldom and the need to provide it with an heir. He comes to believe that Mariah will make a perfect countess and enrols her papa’s help in securing her hand. However, Sir Lucas Wellwood, whose debts have made him urge his sister to attempt to trap Tobias into marriage, has sinister intentions. Mariah suspects Wellwood has been mistreating his sister and she heads off impetuously to rescue her. Will Tobias and his friends reach Wellwood’s home before he can exact revenge on Mariah? 

Muse it Up Publishing

Find out more on Anne’s Blog 

Thank you for sparing time to talk to us today, Anne. We wish you every success with your books. Best wishes, Freda 

Interviews on the RNA Blog are carried out by Freda, Henri and Livvie. They are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact: