A Look Behind The Book With Heidi Swain.

20170104_091654Since her debut in 2015, Heidi Swain has quickly risen up the ranks to become a best-selling author with her hugely popular brand of “feel good fiction”.

The good news for her many fans is that earlier this year Heidi started writing full time – and that hopefully means we will get to enjoy even more of her wonderful books.

Speaking of which, the author’s eagerly awaited new novel, Sleigh Rides And Silver Bells At The Christmas Fair, comes out next month.

Before that Heidi, who is based in my adopted home county of Norfolk, agreed to talk to me for my latest Behind The Book post, which I am thrilled about.

Here’s what she had to say:

How did the idea for your debut, The Cherry Tree Cafe, take shape? How long did it take to write? Was it always your dream to write and publish a book?

The Cherry Tree Cafe was the second novel I wrote. The first, long since consigned to the memory stick, was an attempt to see if I had enough words in me to fill a book. I enjoyed the process so much that I thought I would do it again but this time with a plot that indulged my passion for cakes, crafts and friendship.

I can’t remember how long it took to write but it was considerably longer than my latest book and yes, it was always my dream to be published. At the Cherry Tree launch party a school friend told me that she could remember me scribbling away between lessons.

It was picked up by Books and The City (Simon & Schuster) following an open submission (and went on to be an Amazon best-seller). How did you find out they were interested and what was that like?

I had submitted the book to the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers Scheme and on the back of such positive feedback decided that this would be the novel which, one way or another, would be my debut. The Books and the City open submission came along at just the right time and I had an email a few weeks later telling me they loved it and wanted me to go to London for a meeting. I think I held my breath from then until I heard the magical words ‘we’d like to offer you a two book deal.’ It was amazing. Verification that I might just be able to spend the rest of my life doing the very thing I love most. I feel incredibly lucky.

Are you ever sad to see any of your stories come to an end? I imagine it’s almost like living with the characters, albeit in your head, after a while, do you miss them? If that’s not a daft question.

Not a daft question at all. You’d be amazed how often I’ll be out shopping and think ‘Lizzie Dixon would love that dress,’ only to then remember that she’s a fictional friend and not a real one…but I tell her anyway. Now that’s daft!

I can’t say I’ve ever felt sad to see a story end. If I’ve got the ending right it feels like completing a circle and of course with five books based in and around Wynbridge I know the characters will always have the chance to pop up again.

Can you talk about your heroes? Are they ever based, even in part, on real people, actors for example or someone you know? How do you make sure that they are appealing to the reader?

I’ve only ever written one character based on someone I know and that was because they were simply too irresistible not to include. I’m not telling you who it is though.

With regards to making heroes appealing, that isn’t something I consciously think about when I’m writing. I always make my main characters people I would like to be friends with, people who aren’t perfect but real and I think that comes across and strikes a chord.

What’s the most exciting thing to happen since your first book came out (besides publishing more)?

That is such a difficult question to answer. Hundreds of exciting things have happened but I’ll force myself to pin it down to two. The first was in May last year when I was asked to attend an event organized by my publisher, along with some of their other commercial fiction authors. The venue was incredibly swanky and overlooked the Thames and Tower Bridge. Lovely Jane Costello stepped out onto the balcony before the guests had arrived and said ‘today is a good day to be an author’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

My second standout moment was discovering that The Cherry Tree Cafe had been such an e-book sensation it was going to be published in paperback as well. Not only was this an exciting moment for me, but also the many, many readers who had been constantly asking if it was ever going to happen.

And I know I said I’d stick to two but Milly Johnson, who has been the most supportive author pal imaginable, supplied a quote for the front of Coming Home To Cuckoo Cottage this year and I just don’t think I can top that!

Do you write full time? Is it like a 9-5? Does it flow easier the more books you write? Do you ever get writers’ block? How do you combat it?

Yes, I do write full time now. In June this year, having secured an agent and written two books within 12 months for the second year running I took the decision to leave the day job.

If I’m working on a first draft I tend to write at all hours and all over the place. When the words are flowing it is paramount to capitalise on the moment. However, after the first draft frenzy a routine is re-established. I like to start as early in the day as family life allows with a view to finishing at lunchtime and then use afternoons for writing blog posts and catching up with social media. I try and keep weekends free. Apart from Twittering of course. I’m never off Twitter.

I don’t necessarily think it does get easier. If anything it’s harder because your expectations are higher. You are constantly striving to make the next book better than the last. That said, I’d written the first draft for Sleigh Rides in ten weeks whereas a previous one was a real battle. A lot of that was down to life throwing spanners in the works. You have to factors those in I’m afraid, but don’t let them stop you.

No, I haven’t experienced writers’ block. I’ve had tough times and I’ve struggled but I simply refuse to let those days get the better of me. I force myself through it.

There seems to be a strong community of lovely writers, particularly on social media, who all offer support. How important is that to your writing? Do you belong to a writing group or have help (aside from your editor?)

The online writing community is hugely supportive and that is incredibly important. I don’t currently belong to a writing group but I do have lots of author pals who are just a message away and I attend occasional local one-off creative writing day courses and RNA events to ensure I interact with real people rather than just stare at a screen or notepad all day. Being an author is essentially an isolating experience and for a chatterbox like me my author pals are a real sanity saver.

sleigh-ridesCan you talk about what you’re working on at the moment? 

At the moment I’m balancing a couple of things. My Christmas 17 read, Sleigh Rides And Silver Bells At the Christmas Fair, will be published in October so I’m doing lots of promo for that while at the same time working on my summer 18 release and of course planning what will come next. It’s always pretty frantic but I love it.

Your Twitter profile says you write “feel good fiction”. It’s not only my favourite type (to read and write) but, under the broad umbrella of romantic fiction, it is always near the top (if not the top) of the best-selling and most popular genres. And yet, critics still seem consistently underrate it? Does it make you cross and do you ever feel the need to defend what you write?

No, I can’t say I ever get cross or defensive about that because I listen to what the readers have to say. As you point out ‘feel good fiction’ hits those best-seller spots all the time and that adds up to a lot of very happy readers, reading stories that they love and I feel honoured to write them.

When someone tweets or messages to say they’ve saved my book for their holiday read or that they were delighted to find it in their Christmas stocking, that’s an absolute highlight for me.

heidiswainquote

Any top tips for struggling writers?

Never stop believing and never give up. If you really want to be a writer then make that commitment and give it everything you’ve got. Once you’ve made the decision to succeed nothing will hold you back – you’ll make time to write, you’ll find a way to be published and you’ll wonder why you didn’t get on it with it years ago.

~

I can’t thank Heidi enough for taking the time to answer my questions, especially when she’s got so much going on at the moment. I particularly love what she said about making the decision to succeed. What do you guys think?

You can pre-order her new book, which is out on October 5th, here, find out more about her via her website or have a chat on Twitter.

I will have two more Behind The Book posts for you next month.

 

 

Advertisements

Book Review: The Vineyard At Alsace.

The_Vineyard_in_Alsa_Cover_for_KindleI’ve never been to the Alsace region of France but, having read Julie Stock’s latest book, not only do I feel like I have visited but also that I really enjoyed my trip, too.

The Vineyard In Alsace is beautifully written, with a story that warms you, like sitting outside in the late evening sunshine.

It starts with a bang when Fran Schell walks in on the man she is supposed to marry in bed with another woman and quickly moves forward as she leaves London and heads home to France.

Now things really begin as she gets her dream job on a vineyard in Alsace, which just happens to be owned by her former love, Didier Le Roy.

There is obvious chemistry between these two but we are kept guessing about whether they will finally have their happy ending.

Here’s the blurb:

Is there really such a thing as a second chance at love?

Fran Schell has only just become engaged when she finds her fiancé in bed with another woman. She knows this is the push she needs to break free of him and to leave London. She applies for her dream job on a vineyard in Alsace, in France, not far from her family home, determined to concentrate on her work.

Didier Le Roy can hardly believe it when he sees that the only person to apply for the job on his vineyard is the same woman he once loved but let go because of his stupid pride. Now estranged from his wife, he longs for a second chance with Fran if only she will forgive him for not following her to London.

Working so closely together, Fran soon starts to fall in love with Didier all over again. Didier knows that it is now time for him to move on with his divorce if he and Fran are ever to have a future together. Can Fran and Didier make their second chance at love work despite all the obstacles in their way?

Julie makes the vineyard come alive to the point I could imagine myself walking in the dusty earth between the vines. The smattering of French throughout the book also adds to the immersion – even though I can’t speak the language (thankfully she explains what is being said).

Against this backdrop, it’s impossible not to like this very easy and enjoyable story with two likeable characters who go through their share of highs and lows.

Now, I’m off to research holidays in Alsace.

Format: Kindle.

Price: £1.99

My rating: Four stars.

Thank you to Julie for sending me a copy of the book to review in return for my honest opinion.

Julie featured in one of my recent Behind The Book posts so, if you’re interested, you can find out more about her writing life by clicking here.

A Look Behind The Book With Jacqueline Farrell.

author photoJacqueline Farrell is about to publish her latest novel, The Scrying Stone – and, as an added bonus, it will be free to read.

The author of historical and paranormal romances has written six books (some under the name Jacqueline Webb) but is trying a new strategy with her seventh in a bid to boost her readership.

Inspired by the Twilight series and cult television programmes such as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, she created a vibrant, mature witch, with plenty of adventures still to be had – whether she wants them or not. Her new book is the third to feature Sophronia Sheridan who has proved a hit, especially with more older readers (like me) – with the majority of her Amazon reviews five stars.

With so much experience I was delighted when she agreed to talk to me for my latest Behind The Book post.

Here’s what she had to say.

I know your first novel was published when you were 45 but has writing always been a dream? What about afterwards, was it easier from then on? Have you always self-published?

I have always loved writing and wanted to be a writer since I was a teenager, but I didn’t get published until after my children were born. I wrote a couple of historical romances, which were originally published by Robert Hale, but although I love this genre I enjoy writing others as well. I have just finished a paranormal romance, The Scrying Stone, Book Three in a trilogy about a character called Sophronia Sheridan, and I am now in the middle of editing an alternative history romance using the premise that the Roman Empire did not fall. I have also co-authored a Pride and Prejudice spinoff, Pride And Prejudice: Mr Darcy in Egypt with Amanda Grange, which is published by Source Books. Romance is always my default setting but I enjoy difference challenges. Getting each book published doesn’t get any easier, unfortunately.

You write historical and paranormal romances, how did you get into those genres? Do you have a preferred one to write?

I wrote the historical romances originally because that was the genre I loved reading as a girl and they were fun to write. I wrote the paranormal because I became interested in this genre as an older reader, having enjoyed the Sookie Stackhouse and Twilight novels and watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer on TV. However, I was coming up to my fiftieth birthday in 2011 and felt it was a bit undignified having to try to identify with teens and twenty-somethings all the time. I hit on the idea of writing about a crone – that is a woman in the third stage of life (Maid, Mother, Crone) – because I could identify with her and I wanted to read about a woman who wasn’t young any more but still had some life in her!.

Jacquelinefarre_The_Scrying_StoneWhat makes a good hero for you? How can you be sure other people will fall in love with him too?

My heroes have to have a sense of humour. That is a must. I often find myself irritated by heroes because they come across as being terribly po-faced. But I also don’t like it when they get all the good lines all the time and the heroine seems to act as the ‘straight man’. I hope I captured that in the relationship between Sophronia and Hagen. As to whether readers will fall in love with my heroes, I can only write them from my point of view and hope others agree. I don’t write with my heart on my sleeve, as it were, and I know that for some reviewers that has been a problem, but I am part of a generation that doesn’t feel comfortable telling everyone I love them all the time. Hagen and Sophronia are older (he’s a 2000 year old vampire) so they don’t spend every book constantly reiterating how much they love each other; Sophronia does say it once at the end of the book and I hope that makes it all the more powerful because of that. Hagen never says it to her at all, but he makes great sacrifices for her without a moment’s hesitation, and, for me, in stories, as in life, talk’s cheap, but actions speak louder than words.

Is writing your fulltime job? If not, how do you find the time?

I work part-time as a teacher, so I manage to juggle the two, although around exam season time, I find it hard not to be looking at my lesson plans and trying to figure out a new way of revising a topic that will help my pupils, which means I don’t have so much time for writing. I also marked exams this year for the first time and had to give up writing completely for the month of July.

How important is editing?

I think, like most writers, I find editing is the most fun part. The first draft for me is where you write down the basic plot; the editing is where you hone and polish the story so it flows smoothly. You also know your characters better too, so things you wrote originally you realise don’t sound right, or make sense or you just realise the character wouldn’t behave like that and so you have to change it and then you know the story is all the better for it.

From the reviews I’ve seen most people love your work. How does that feel? What about the odd occasion someone might not appreciate it for one reason or another? Do you just ignore it or take it to heart?

All the reviews I have had have been great. As I said, some reviewers have been a little confused by the fact that despite being billed as a romance, they have found the ‘romantic’ element in my writing muted, and I can understand that. As I’ve said, I’m not comfortable writing sweeping great passionate speeches; I can’t do it, although I sometimes wish I could and I admire writers who can do it well. But I think there’s room for all sorts of writing in the romantic genre.

Can you tell us about your latest novel?

The Scrying Stone is the last book in a paranormal romance trilogy, following the adventures of 50 year-old English crone, Sophronia Sheridan in America. She has become caught up in a feud between two vampires, whilst befriending young witch who has only recently become aware of her powers.

Do you have any tips to pass on that could help fellow writers?

I would say write because you love it. We all hope to be published and in today’s digital world that’s no longer a pipe-dream. However, most of us won’t get rich, unfortunately and sometimes, when you see the amount of work that is out for all the world to see, the feeling that what you’re writing is rubbish can be overwhelming.

jacquelinefarrellquote

Thank you very much to Jacqueline for sharing her knowledge. I am excited to see how The Scrying Stone, which should be out later this month, gets on. I also really love her last piece of advice. I think I get too caught up in the whole idea of publishing a book and sometimes forget that writing it is supposed to be fun.

You can find out more about Jacqueline by visiting her website or follow her on Twitter to learn when The Scrying Stone will be ready to download. You can also buy her previous novels here.

With thanks to the lovely Susanna Bavin for introducing us.

I’ll have another Behind The Book for you later this month. I hope you’re enjoying them as much as I am.