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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

A Look Behind The Book With Kate Field.

KateFieldauthorphotoEarlier this year Kate Field won the prestigious Joan Hessayon award for her debut, The Magic Of Ramblings – and having read it and been enthralled by her story, I can see why.

I am delighted that Kate agreed to let me quiz her about her novel – and what winning the award means to her – for the latest post in my Behind The Book series.

Her second book, The Truth About You, Me And Us, comes out on Friday so Kate has a busy and very exciting week ahead.

Just in case you haven’t read it, here’s the blurb for The Magic Of Ramblings.

Running away can be the answer if you run to the right place…

When Cassie accepts a job as companion to an old lady in a remote Lancashire village, she hopes for a quiet life where she can forget herself, her past and most especially men. The last thing she wants is to be drawn into saving a community that seems determined to take her to its heart – and to resuscitate hers…

Frances has lived a reclusive life at Ramblings, a Victorian Gothic mansion, for over thirty years and now Barney is hiding away there, forging a new life after his medical career ended in scandal. He doesn’t trust the mysterious woman who comes to live with his rich aunt, especially when she starts to steal Frances’ affection – and maybe his own too…

Let’s start with your happy news. You recently won The Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) prestigious Joan Hessayon Award for new writers against some really tough competition. What did that mean to you?

It was a genuine surprise, and I still look back at the photos in amazement that it actually happened. I always assume that award winners are tipped off in advance so they can prepare a brilliant speech, but it certainly wasn’t the case with this one, as anyone who heard me waffling on the night will testify. There aren’t many awards that celebrate romantic fiction or new writers, so I’m very proud to have won. It’s a great boost to have at the start of my writing career.

Having read The Magic Of Ramblings I think it’s a very worthy winner, can you talk about where the idea for the book initially came from and how you developed it?

This book was unusual for me, as it’s the only one I’ve written where the hero came first. I had a picture of Barney in my head, and I knew that his overriding characteristic would be his need to care for people, and that influenced the creation of the heroine, Cassie, and the other main character, Frances.

I love reading books set in stately homes, but quite often in stories those houses are in financial difficulties, and I wanted to do something different. I decided that Ramblings would be a special place with the power to save the people living there, rather than needing saving itself. I hope that comes across in the book!

Without giving too much away, your heroine, Cassie, has had a tough life, was that a difficult element to write? It feels like it might come with some pressure to get it exactly right (which I think you have). Did you do much research?

It was very difficult to write, especially trying to balance my wish to write an entertaining, uplifting book with the need not to trivialise what Cassie had experienced in the past.

I spent a lot of time researching it, reading some harrowing blogs and diaries from women who had lived through a similar situation. I was particularly struck by an article by the DJ Lauren Laverne, which made me appreciate that it’s a problem that can affect anyone, regardless of class, education or character. I knew then that it was the story I wanted to tell in the book.

Do you still think about Cassie and Barney now? Did you carry on the story after you’d finished writing in your head?

I clearly remember the moment that I finished writing The Magic Of Ramblings: instead of the relief I’d felt on reaching the end of previous books, there was an overwhelming sense of sadness that I had to let the characters go. I loved spending time in the world of Ramblings.

I did carry on the story in my head, and I think it was inevitable that I would eventually write about Ramblings again. I have a first draft of another book set there, which begins a year after the first one ends. I don’t know if it will ever be published, but I enjoyed writing it!

Is Ramblings purely fictional or is it based on somewhere I can visit? How important is having what seemed like a very real location to your writing?

Ramblings is fictional, but it was important to me that I described a house that might be found in Lancashire, where the book is set. As soon as I saw a picture of Scarisbrick Hall, I knew it was the right place. Unfortunately that house isn’t open to the public, as it’s now used as a school. I’m envious of the pupils who study there.

Once I’d found Scarisbrick Hall, I researched Victorian Gothic architecture and came across Tyntesfield in Somerset, which is a National Trust property and open to the public, and I borrowed some features of that house for Ramblings too. I haven’t been able to visit it yet, but I hope to soon.

Can you talk about getting it published? From sending it off to finding out it had been accepted?

I’m a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and in 2015 I attended their annual conference, where I was able to have a one to one appointment with an editor from the independent publisher, Accent Press. I’d sent her the first chapter of The Magic of Ramblings in advance, and was amazed when I walked into the meeting and she simply said to me: “More please!”

I emailed her the full manuscript a few days later, and then endured an anxious wait to hear from her over a few months. The acceptance came by email on a day when the internet service at home wasn’t working, and my husband was away – so I only saw it late at night, and then had no one to celebrate with. I remember driving my daughter to school the next day and I couldn’t stop smiling.

Aside from the award, are you pleased with the way the book has been received? How much work did you have to do personally to make sure the title was out there?

I organised a blog tour when the book was first published, and I’ve tried to promote it as much as I can on Twitter and Facebook, but marketing and pushing myself forward don’t come naturally to me. I’m much happier hiding away with my characters.

I had no idea how it would be received, because I’ve always written in secret, not even showing my family: the only people to read Ramblings before it was published were the reader from the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, and the Accent team. It was an incredible moment when the first review came in, and it was a positive one. It’s almost a year since the book was published, and I’m still grateful for every review. It makes a huge difference to know that someone has enjoyed reading it, and it encourages me to keep going with the next one!

Do you write full time? If so, do you have set times you work? If not, how do you fit it in?

I have a day job, so I can’t write full time. I wrote a book last year that was inspired by a piece of office gossip, so I’m not sure giving up work would be a good idea.

Writing fits in mainly at the weekend and in the evenings. It can be slow progress – some nights I’m too tired to manage more than a couple of lines – but I don’t set myself a daily word count, or worry if I go a few days without writing at all.

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TheTruthcoverWhen your last book has won such an amazing award does it heap on the pressure for the next one? Can you talk about what you’re working on?

My next book comes out in a few days’ time and is called The Truth About You, Me and Us.

I wrote The Truth before Ramblings, so there was no additional pressure when writing it, but I’m definitely more worried about how readers will receive it, and whether it will be a disappointment. Once again, no one I know has read it, so it will be an anxious wait for the first review.

Do you have any words of wisdom for other writers, especially ones who are perhaps struggling with self-belief?

I wish I knew the solution to overcoming struggles with self-belief! It’s something that still affects me, and I’m sure it always will. Now I try to focus on the positive side of it: because I doubt my own ability, it motivates me to try even harder to do the best I can.

I attended a workshop with the author Miranda Dickinson a few years ago, and she passed on a great piece of advice. She suggested that you find a sentence that you’ve written that you’re proud of, and print it out. Every time the doubt sets in, read that sentence and remember what you can achieve.

My own tip is something I’ve only discovered recently, after years of keeping my writing to myself. Find a group of fellow writers and share feedback and support. It’s wonderful to have writing friends to lift you when you’re feeling down, and to celebrate with when good things happen. I wish I’d known this years ago!

~

Thank you so much to Kate for answering my questions. I was fascinated to hear that no one outside of the RNA and her publisher had read her first novel (or the second) in advance. I also love the advice she shared from her workshop about printing out a sentence you’re proud of. What a great idea.

To find out more about Kate you can visit her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter and, of course, pre-order her new book here. I wish her every success for The Truth About You, Me and Us, I can’t wait to read it.