Monday, January 15, 2018

Hints and Tips for New Writers #1

When I joined the RNA as a new writer, (after ‘practising’ on and off for donkey’s years), I knew nobody. The famous names were daunting. I had no clue about how to format a ms – not knowing it meant manuscript. People talked of genres, (((shrugs))) and a dénouement was foreign to me (sorry!) Then I joined ROMNA – we didn’t have the RNA Facebook page back then, or these weird things called blogs – or vlogs – or authors talking about their work on YouTube (as far as I recall). Nor did I want to look a fool and ask daft questions EVERYBODY knew the answer to – or so I thought.

I then joined ROMNA and became a serial lurker. Gleaning information and gaining invaluable awareness of the writing world. Sometimes I even knew the answer to a query and posted it – and was taken seriously. I know, who’d have thought it?

Then one day, I was in my writing room staring out of the window, daydreaming – a lifelong habit, I cannot lie, and wondered at the knowledge I had gained over the years regarding this business we call writing. I realised I could not have been the only new writer who did not know it all, and decided others might feel the same. So as this New Year begins, and new writers join us, here are some hints and tips that might be of help or interest… 

1) Write some pages in longhand from the book of your favourite author. This helps get you started.
2) Writers are readers first.
3) Welcome criticism. Seek it out at every opportunity.
4) Try not to get upset if you think the criticism is harsh, don’t be offended – even if you think it’s wrong. And always thank those who take the time to offer it. You never know when you might need to ask their advice again.
5) Right click on a word to use the thesaurus. Do it again on the new word, and make the best use of your vocabulary.
6) After editing the work on screen or in print, read the text aloud; awkward sentences or errors that sneak through earlier edits show up readily when reading out loud. Or use Word’s Speech feature and have the computer read it back. This allows you to catch errors you have missed – especially missing words or words that ’sort of sound the same’ but are spelled differently (e.g. Front me instead of ‘From me’).
7) Write as if you’re on deadline and have 500 words to make your point. Then do it again. And again.
8) Download a memo app or voice recorder on your phone – invaluable for when you have that great idea and can’t find a pen or paper.
9) After starting her fourth book last year, bestselling saga writer, Mary Wood, keeps right on to the end of the road to get the first draft done in 5-6 weeks (and breathe). So, reading and editing what she did the day before is not for her. However, something that she is unsure of could send her off track as she tries to find the details she needs. A killer when she aims for 5000 words a day. So, she came up with this little trick.  “I write with tracker on, so when I am not sure of anything, I write what I think it is – then create a comment. In the box I write what is concerning me and I need to check, and then go forward, knowing that I can easily track something in my polishing up and check it out. Before I used this method, I would probably have cut my wordage to around 2000 words a day as I stopped writing to trawl the Internet looking for facts.”  
Thank you, Mary! I am sure your tip will be of immense help to some of our new writers.

                                              And last, but by no means least:

10) If there is something you don’t know, or you’re not sure of – ASK SOMEONE WHO DOES! The RNA usually know something or someone who can help you. And remember, no question is ever wasted!

N.B. If you have a favourite hint or tip, don’t keep it to yourself, send it to me at and I will share it with reference to you on next month’s blog.

Happy writing, lovelies.

Sheila Riley

Sheila joined the RNA in 2004 as a new writer. Since then she has written best-selling sagas as Annie Groves. She's a member of the North West Chapter of the RNA and loves to catch up with writer friends at the regular Southport lunches.


Mary Wood's latest book, Brighter Days Ahead, is available now.

Brighter Days Ahead is a moving story set against the backdrop of the Second World War, from Mary Wood, author of In Their Mother’s Footsteps.

War pulled them apart, but can it bring them back together?

Molly lives with her repugnant father, who has betrayed her many times.

From a young age, living on the streets of London’s East End, she has seen the harsh realities of life...
When she’s kidnapped by a gang and forced into their underworld, her future seems bleak.

Flo spent her early years in an orphanage and is about to turn her hand to teacher training. 

When a kindly teacher at her school approaches her about a job at Bletchley Park, it could be everything she never knew she wanted.

Will the girls' friendship be enough to weather the hard times ahead?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Ask the Industry Expert: Literary Agent Kate Burke

It's a pleasure to welcome literary agent Kate Burke to the RNA blog today for an interview with Helena Fairfax. Kate is with Diane Banks Associates and worked previously at Headline, Penguin, HarperCollins, and as Editorial Director at Century (Random House). Thanks so much for joining us, Kate!

Please tell us a little about Diane Banks Associates, how long the agency has been established, and how you came to join. 
helena fairfax, literary agent, kate burke, diane banks
Diane set up the agency in 2006 after a career in publishing on the rights side. I head up the fiction side of things for the agency and we also have a non-fiction agent, a children’s/YA agent and a broadcast agent, so we are a full-service agency, handling all rights (translation, film & TV, audio, speaking engagements, etc) in house.

I joined five years ago and also came from the publishing side – I had been an editor for ten years, publishing all types of commercial fiction and editing lots of bestselling authors (Marian Keyes, Fern Britton, Lisa Jewell, Jane Fallon, Jane Green, Cecelia Ahern, Penny Vincenzi to name but a few!) I loved my time as an editor but what I really wanted to do was seek out new writers, so switching sides and becoming an agent was the perfect solution. From my experience at four major publishers, I know what editors are looking to acquire, what they want to see in a submission letter, how they want a book to be pitched to them and, above all, I know that a manuscript needs to be up to scratch before an editor can consider it and share it with their team, so I offer my clients extensive editorial feedback before submitting their manuscripts to publishers.

What genres do you represent personally?
My main areas of fiction are women’s/contemporary romance, historical, psychological/domestic suspense, crime, thrillers and sagas. I’m always looking for new writers in these areas.

You've had extensive experience in commissioning and publishing commercial fiction. What is it about a book that makes you decide it will sell well? (Difficult question, I know…!)
This probably sounds a bit basic but I need to be gripped by the writing and want to read on! It’s all about engaging the reader – I can work with a writer to fix a plot, timeline or structure of a novel – but that writing quality – the flow of words, the telling of the story, characters that feel real – needs to be there from the outset. What’s also needed (for me to see its selling potential) is an original storyline/hook, one that I can pitch to editors in just a couple of sentences.

Have you noticed any particular trends in romance recently, and if so, what do you think is going to be big this year?
I wish I had a crystal ball to predict what will be big this year! Sadly, I don’t, but dark women’s fiction (often labelled domestic or psychological suspense) continues to sell well and I think that trend of exploring the darker side of relationships and romance isn’t going away. That said, I think there has been so much dark and thrillerish romance published over the past few years that readers are now ready for something more uplifting! I think we will see more romantic comedies coming out over the next year or so – warm, romantic, life-affirming reads that will provide a nice balance to all the darker, creepier novels out there.

Do you ever find authors outside the slush pile? If so, how?
Rarely but it does happen. Sometimes I’ll meet authors at literary festivals or conferences and they’ll pitch their novel to me or sometimes a friend or contact of one of my authors will send their manuscript in. The slush pile is usually where I find most of my clients though.

What advice would you give someone submitting to you?
Know your audience and read widely in the area in which you’re writing. It really helps to know who you’re writing for and which genre your novel would fit into. I like it when writers can position their novel in terms of genre and comparable authors, and they know who they are writing for.

I would also advise that writers check out our submission guidelines on our website before submitting and that they send over clean chapters (ie, not ones riddled with mistakes!) Also, it helps if they get my name right on their submission email (if I had a dollar for every time I received an email saying ‘Dear Katie’…!)

What’s your favourite romance novel of all time?
Oh, so hard to choose! Not strictly romances, I know, but it’s a tie between The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro and The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. Oh, and I love Jane Eyre. Sorry – this question is impossible to answer!

What do you like to do in your spare time?
I have two small children so very little spare time these days but reading is my favourite past-time and I love the cinema and theatre too. 

If you could describe your working day in just three words, what would they be?
Emails, edits and negotiations. (Sadly, there’s no time for reading at my desk so that gets done outside of the office!)

Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions, Kate. It's been a great pleasure getting to know you. Wishing you and Diane Banks Associates all the best for 2018!

If you've enjoyed Kate's interview, or have any questions or comments at all, please let us know. We'd love to hear from you!


About Helena

Helena Fairfax is a romance author and freelance editor. Her latest novel – a feel good contemporary romance called Felicity at the Cross Hotel – is just the type of warm, romantic, life-affirming read Kate mentions in her interview. You can find out more about Helena's books and her editing services on her website

Monday, January 8, 2018

Juliet Bell: Two authors for the price of one

Today we welcome Juliet Bell to the blog to celebrate the publication of her first novel, The Heights.

Juliet Bell is the collaborative pen name of RNA members Janet Gover and Alison May.
Juliet was born at an RNA conference, with a chance remark about heroes who are far from heroic. She was raised on pizza and wine during many long working lunches, and finished her first novel over cloud storage and skype in 2017. 
Juliet shares Janet and Alison’s preoccupation with misunderstood classic fiction, and stories that explore the darker side of relationships.
You can follow Juliet on Twitter @JulietBellBooks or find out more on her website

Two hundred years since Emily Brontë’s birth comes The Heights: a modern re-telling of Wuthering Heights set in 1980s Yorkshire.

A grim discovery brings DCI Lockwood to Gimmerton’s Heights Estate – a bleak patch of Yorkshire he thought he’d left behind for good. There, he must do the unthinkable, and ask questions about the notorious Earnshaw family.

Decades may have passed since Maggie closed the pits and the Earnshaws ran riot – but old wounds remain raw. And, against his better judgement, DCI Lockwood is soon drawn into a story. 

A story of an untameable boy, terrible rage, and two families ripped apart. A story of passion, obsession, and dark acts of revenge. And of beautiful Cathy Earnshaw – who now lies buried under cold white marble in the shadow of the moors.

So we have two guests for the price of one today. With that in mind, we suggested that Janet and Alison ask each other some questions about their writing. Over to you Janet…

Photo credit: Julie Cohen
JANET: Writing a collaboration meant we had to plan what we were doing in some detail. We became plotters which is not the way you normally write. What was the hardest part about that and what was easier than you expected?

ALISON: I am definitely not normally a planner. Generally, as a writer, I’m the queen of ‘getting a vague idea and then just writing until it’s book length and hoping for the best.’ For a collaboration, that doesn’t work, because it means you’re forever accidentally killing people off that your writing partner might have been intending to feature in the next chapter.

And I do find writing to a set plan much more difficult. For me that sense of possibility and the unknown is a big part of what motivates me to keep writing – if I know exactly what’s coming next all the way to the end, why would I need to write the book? But I guess what made up for that was the fact that there was half a book out there somewhere being written without me. Sure – I knew the story and what events would take place in those chapters, but I didn’t know exactly how Janet would put them down on the page. I think that kept the sense of mystery alive.

JANET: After we decided to adapt Wuthering Heights, we both reread the original. Was there anything when you reread it that you had forgotten or that surprised you?

ALISON: So much! I’ve never thought of Wuthering Heights as a romantic novel, and I’ve certainly never seen Heathcliff as a romantic hero – although I know some readers do. But even beyond that I was stunned by how bleak a lot of the story is, and how self-involved even the ‘nicer’ characters are.

I spent much of the reread wanting to shake pretty much everyone on the page, which sounds like it should probably mean that I didn’t like the book. That’s not the case at all. I love Wuthering Heights – it’s big and ambitious and all-consuming, but it’s also unrelenting, and I think I’d forgotten that unrelenting darkness.

JANET: We use Skype and online storage when we write together, because we live in different parts of the country and are both a bit geeky. What piece of technology do you love most – and hate most?

I’m not sure if it really counts as a ‘piece of technology’ but it’s the same answer for love and hate – social media! Twitter, facebook, Instagram – I have a love-hate relationship with them all. I love being connected to friends and family so easily. Being a writer involves a lot – A LOT – of time spent on your own inside your own imagination. It’s really easy to get very isolated, very quickly, and chatting on Twitter and Facebook is a massive help with that.

But it’s also a huge timesuck, and it pushes crises from around the world into your eyeballs in real-time in a way that I really don’t think the human psyche is evolved to deal with, and it invites you to compare yourself with everyone else’s (carefully edited) social media perfect lives.

And every now and then I think I ought to go social media cold turkey, but then I get a message from a mate I’ve not seen for months, or read a really interesting Twitter thread about Harry Potter, or feel in desperate need of a picture of an otter, and thoughts of stepping away are instantly forgotten again.

Photo credit: Julie Cohen

ALISON: So now, it’s my turn to ask the questions! So Janet, how did you get started writing fiction? I know you were a journalist - what led you into making up, rather than reporting, stories?

JANET: It was actually the other way around. I always wanted to make up stories. I think I wrote my first ‘book’ when I was about 9 years old. I typed it on my parent’s typewriter, and made a cover for it with a drawing of a pony and the title in fancy font. My parents were practical people and realized that making a living as an author isn’t guaranteed or easy. They encouraged me to find another way of fulfilling my need to write while paying my bills. Journalism did that.
After some years, I moved out of being an on-the-road reporter into management, so I wasn’t actually writing any more. That was when I seriously started writing fiction. It’s much harder and much more fun that writing facts, but in its own way, much more rewarding.

ALISON: Why Wuthering Heights? It was you that very first suggested the adaptation - what is it about that book that captured your imagination?

JANET: I grew up in a fairly isolated part of Australia. The snow storms and rain and mists of the Yorkshire moors were very different from my hot dry world, but had much of the same feeling of wildness. I love wild places, wild animals and I guess by extension the wild souls of Cathy and Heathcliff.
Wuthering Heights touches on so many themes, love and hate, isolation and prejudice, dysfunctional families and abuse and… well the list goes on. Any one of these themes is thought provoking, but finding so much in one book is amazing. Every time I read it, something different captures my imagination. There are scenes and phrases from the book that have never left me.

ALISON: The setting in The Heights is as much a part of the story as the characters – they’re all deeply associated to the place where they live. I think of you as a bit of a citizen of the world - you've lived in Australia, the UK and New York and worked all over the world. Where do you think of as home?

JANET: I’ve called a lot of places home. We moved every few years when I was small, and Australia certainly has a lot of space to move around in. I’ve spent so much time in hotels in about 50 different countries in my day job, I even say I’m going home when I head back to the hotel at the end of the day. I guess home isn’t really a physical place in my head. Home is where I can relax and be myself, be with people I care about and there is often a cat involved.
At the moment, home is west London. I love living in London. It is an amazing city. A few weeks every year I go home to Australia where I wake to the sound of kookaburras laughing in the gum trees and often find a kangaroo near the house (yes – seriously).  It probably sounds corny, but I guess “home” is all the places that have made me the person I am.

Photo credit: Julie Cohen

Thank you Janet and Alison. The Heights is available now in ebook from Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, and Google Play.

Janet Gover grew up in a small Queensland country town, surrounded by books. After studying at Queensland University she became a television journalist, first in Australia, then in Asia and Europe. During her career Janet saw and did a lot of unusual things. She has met one Pope, a few movie stars and is on first name terms with a dolphin. She now works with television technology and travels extensively with her job, including some unusual destinations such as Iraq, Kazakhstan and the Kingdom of Lesotho. While living in Hong Kong, she met an Englishman, whom she subsequently married and she now lives in West London.
Her first fiction was published in 2002 – a short story inspired by a holiday in Wales. Her first novel was published in 2009. She now has ten published novels, one of which won the RNA RoNA Award for an epic romantic novel in 2017.  
You can find out more about Janet on her website, or on facebook or by following @janet_gover on Twitter.

Alison May is a novelist and short story writer. She lives in Worcestershire with her husband, no kids and no pets. There were goldfish once. That ended badly.
Alison writes romantic comedies and commercial women’s fiction, and has been shortlisted in the Love Stories and RoNA Awards. Her next solo novel, All That Was Lost, will be released this autumn by Legend Press.
She is also qualified teacher with a degree in Creative Writing and runs novel writing workshops and courses. Alison is currently Vice-Chair of the RNA. 
You can find out more about Alison on her website, or on facebook or by following @MsAlisonMay on Twitter.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Introducing the RNA Blog team

As many regular blog readers will know, we have a great team of members who organise the fantastic content you read on the blog every week. As we go into the New Year, we thought it was time to give them a chance to introduce themselves properly so you can see who to contact if you'd like to contribute to the blog or to be featured on it during the coming year. So, without further ado...

Sheila Riley - New Releases and Hints and Tips for Newer Writers

Sheila joined the RNA in 2004 as a new writer. Since then she has written best-selling sagas as Annie Groves. She's a member of the North West Chapter of the RNA and loves to catch up with writer friends at the regular Southport lunches.

Sheila is also starting a new feature this year called Hints and Tips for Newer Writers. 

The new email address for monthly publications is: 

Ellie Holmes - Interviews with Book Bloggers, Reviewers, Editors

Ellie Holmes writes commercial women’s fiction with her heart in the town and her soul in the country. Ellie’s debut release was The Flower Seller. A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Alliance of Independent Authors, Ellie’s latest book, White Lies is out now.

Francesca Capaldi Burgess - Competition Monthly

Francesca Capaldi Burgess has been placed or shortlisted in a number of competitions including Winchester Writers' Conference, Retreat West, Meridian Writing, Wells Festival and Writing Magazine. She's had stories and a serial published in magazines worldwide and in three anthologies, including Diamonds and Pearls and 100 Stories for Haiti. She is a member of the RNA New Writers' Scheme and the Society for Women Writers and Journalists.

Lisa Hill - Author Interviews and Guest Posts

Lisa writes contemporary romance with a light-hearted tone.  What interests her most is people, their interactions, emotions and relationships.  It’s probably why her career to date has been based in property; she confesses herself that she is ‘naturally curious’. Her first encounter with a romance author was chats over the garden wall between her father, Godfrey, and Mrs Cooper from the neighbouring village of Bisley.  It came as quite a surprise in later life to find that Mrs Cooper was in fact Jilly Cooper!  Lisa’s writing inspiration now comes from other Cotswolds' authors including Jill Mansell and Katie Fforde. 

Lisa is a graduate of the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme and attributes this supportive and informative scheme to her winning the Choc Lit Search for a Star competition 2016 with her debut novel Meet Me at Number Five.

Julie Stock - News items and everything else!

Julie writes and indie publishes contemporary romance novels, novellas and short stories from around the world. To date, she has published two novels, and has two novellas and another novel planned for this year.

She is now a full member of the RNA, The Society of Authors, and The Alliance of Independent Authors. Julie recently took over as RNA Social Media Co-ordinator and is looking forward to working with the team to keep the blog sparkling in the months to come.

Thanks for all your support for the blog. We look forward to working with many of you once again in 2018!