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.

A Look Behind The Book With Julie Stock.

Julie-StockWhile many writers chase often elusive publishing deals, going “indie” has its own rewards – as author, Julie Stock, proves.

The race to write and publish her first book, From Here To Nashville, before she hit the big 5 0 might have been what initially inspired her to go that route but with two successful contemporary romances under her belt – and another on the way – Julie’s hard work is paying off.

In my latest Behind The Book interview, she explains more about her journey into print – with some wonderful advice for all writers at the end.

When did you start writing?  Has it always been a passion?

Until about four years ago, I’d never written anything longer than a poem or lyrics for songs, and most of my writing as an adult has been for day jobs. I started writing my first novel in April 2013 because I had an idea that I thought could work for that length. That had never happened to me before! I knew it would be a romance because that’s the genre I read the most. Both my novels are contemporary romances and I’ve also written a novella and a number of short stories in the genre.

Do you plan your stories?

When I started writing, I was a ‘pantser,’ although at that point, I had no idea what that was. I wrote that first book with only the loosest idea of what was going to happen. It was an incredible experience for me but I had to do so many rewrites to even finish the first draft that I knew I would prefer to plot more next time round.

With my second book, The Vineyard In Alsace, which I started, again with no plan during NaNoWriMo one year, I got to 80,000 words and decided that the story wasn’t working. I then got rid of 40,000 words before going on to finish the first draft. It was really hard but I knew that the story just wasn’t the one I wanted to tell. Again, lots of rewriting followed but I knew I had the right story by then.

So before I started my third book, which I’m writing now, I really did try and do much more of an outline before starting. It has still evolved a lot as I’ve gone on but I feel this will be a much better first draft than I’ve written before.

How long did it take to write each book, including drafts? Were you writing full time? If not, how did you make time to write against all the other life stuff we have to do?

It takes me about six – nine months to write the first draft, and with rewrites and editing, it takes about another six – nine months to be ready for publication. I could possibly write faster if it was my full-time job but I do procrastinate a lot! When I wrote my first book, I was working full-time as a teacher but I so wanted to do it that I found the time, even if I was only writing 300 words a day.

Nowadays, I work for a charity in the mornings and I do occasional supply teaching as well as some freelance web design work so I can commit to writing 1,000 or more words a day if I’m working to a deadline, and if I write that many, I feel really pleased with myself! If I know what I want to write, that only takes me about an hour so I don’t really have any excuses not to get that done.

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Your first book is partly set in Nashville and your second in Alsace. How important is location to your work? Are they places you have enjoyed? Are you tempted to go to places purely for research?

The setting of my books is really what starts the story idea off for me. I have always been a singer myself and together with my love of country music, I had an idea for a story set both in the UK and in Nashville. My premise for From Here To Nashville, my first novel, was what if you had a singer/songwriter based in the UK who dreamed of becoming a country music star and going to Nashville. That’s the only place you would want to go as a country music singer so it fit the storyline. I only went to Nashville myself after writing the story but I had to go once the story was written.

Similarly, my love of France, especially Alsace and my knowledge of the winemaking industry from a former job, gave me the idea for my second book set on a vineyard in Alsace. I’ve been several times and so I was able to draw on my knowledge quite readily for my book.

I love to travel and when I do, I think about whether those places would make a good setting for the story I want to tell. So the place tends to inspire the story and I’ll often take lots of photos and make lots of notes for future reference, if I go somewhere on holiday and think it would work for a book.

You decided to go indie very early on and, as a result, didn’t submit to any publishers. Can you please talk about why you picked that route and the pros and cons?

I started writing my first book when I was 48 and it was reading how someone else had self-published that made me wonder about doing that myself when previously that just wouldn’t have been possible. My motivation with the first book was to publish it before my 50th birthday and so I didn’t have time to wait around for agents and publishers at that point.

It is hard to self-publish because you have to pay upfront for editing, proofreading and cover design before you’ve even sold any books. On top of that, the marketing is almost a full-time job in itself. However, what I enjoy is having control over every aspect of the process and when the results come in, they’re all down to me and that’s a good feeling. I did try to get an agent and publisher with my second book and came very close but not close enough. At that point, I realised that I could just do it myself again and my second book is doing so well that I don’t regret that decision at all.

Do you think the rise of social media has helped when it comes to self-publishing? How important is it to you? Is Twitter your favourite?

I suppose social media has helped indie authors to make themselves a bit more visible amongst the millions of authors out there, and I am active on Twitter and also on my Facebook page, as well as a couple of other sites to a lesser extent. However, I don’t know how much they influence sales as such – it’s very hard to tell but I enjoy being on it to the level that I am involved so I’ll continue with it as long as that remains the case.

It seems like when you self publish you have to be a jack of all trades – from cover design, type-setting, promotion etc. Which part was the easiest and which part was the hardest? Is there anything you know now that wish you had known for your first book?

The_Vineyard_in_Alsa_Cover_for_KindleFor me, the easiest part of self-publishing is uploading my book to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing because I can compile my manuscript straight from Scrivener which is the writing software package I use. It really couldn’t be any easier.

The hardest job is finding the time to try out all the new ways of promoting yourself as an author. Sometimes, it’s very easy to spend all your time on marketing and promotion, and then you find you have no time to write! You have to be quite disciplined to make time for your writing and if you’re a bit of a procastinator…

I’m not sure there’s anything I wish I’d known for my first book, apart from learning more about plotting! Still, I may have given up before I’d even got started if I’d spent all my time learning how to plot. Sometimes the best way of learning is to throw yourself in the deep end and give it a go!

Many of the authors I enjoy reading are members of the Romantic Novelists Association (RNA). Can you tell me why you joined and what you get from it?

Joining the RNA was quite simply the best decision I’ve ever made. I went to a Festival of Romance in November 2013 and there was a panel of RNA authors there that day who told me about the New Writers’ Scheme. I joined in January 2014 and I have made many good friends since then, at parties, events and conferences. The RNA is full of such generous writers all ready to give advice when asked, and the friendship is second to none. I’m about to graduate from the NWS now to be an independent author member of the RNA and I feel very proud to have reached that milestone. I couldn’t have done it without the support of so many lovely writing friends.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m trying to finish the first draft of my third book, set in a restaurant in Devon. This will be the last book I submit to the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme and the deadline is August 31st so I am up against it a bit. I will then be editing a novella I wrote some time ago, which is a sequel to my first novel, From Here to Nashville. I hope to publish it later this year, and the new novel next year.

Finally, do you have any tips for writers perhaps thinking of going the indie route?

If you’re a new writer of romance, join the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme to get early support with your writing. Make sure that when you’ve finished your draft and first round of edits that you seek the help of a professional editor. This should be followed up with a professional proofread. If you can afford to pay for a professional cover designer as well, so much the better but there are cheaper options that will still produce a good cover for you. For advice on all the practical aspects of self-publishing, join the Alliance of Independent Authors too.

The other piece of advice I would give is something I heard from another writer recently, which is that if you write, you’re a writer. So try not to let your fears get in your way. You can do it – you just need to make a start.

~

Thank you very much to Julie for answering my questions, despite not only being on deadline but also preparing for a literary festival. I found so much of what she said useful in a practical sense but I was also really inspired by her journey – especially trying to write and be published in your 40s. That last piece of shared advice is a keeper too.

You can find out more about Julie via her website follow her on Twitter and like her on Facebook. You can also buy both her books via Amazon here.

I’ll have another Behind The Book for you on August 21st.

 

Book Review: If You Could See Me Now.

cover117308-mediumSomething happens in this book, something completely out of the blue, which, even having read the blurb on NetGalley, I didn’t expect – and the shock of it almost made me give up.

All credit to the writing of Keris Stainton, who has a number of books, in a variety of genres, to her name, that I continued to the end because, while it wasn’t what I’d signed up for, I enjoyed this funny, heartwarming and actually rather beautiful story.

Here’s the blurb (and, just as a note, there is a different one on certain sites that gives away the surprise element so if you want to remain in the dark, stick to this one):

Izzy Harris should have it all – but her boyfriend has been ignoring her for months, she’s been overlooked for a promotion, and the owner of her local coffee shop pervs on her every time she has a craving for a salted caramel muffin.

Then her life is unexpectedly turned upside down.

Izzy dumps her oblivious boyfriend, and leaps on the chance to win a big pitch at work. Needing to work closely with gorgeous colleague Alex is an added perk…

But then her best friend has her heart broken, the pitch is way more complicated than expected, and Alex is keeping secrets. Does Izzy have what it takes to help her friend, save her career and get the guy?

There are some lovely moments in this story but while I liked the characters, I didn’t warm to them entirely. Some of the dialogue also felt a bit forced, especially the swearing. I don’t mind a bit of swearing in books – authors like Joanna Bolouri make it seem natural – but it just didn’t sit well in this one.

What I did like was the overall message. It’s not subtle by any means but it was very positive and empowering nonetheless.

If you’re looking for a quick and quirky read then this would be a great pick.

Format: Kindle.
Price: 99p.
My rating: Three and a half stars.

With thanks to Bookouture for the ARC in return for an honest review.