Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Exeter Story Prize 2015 & The Trisha Ashley Award by Juliet Greenwood

I recently had the privilege of being on the panel of writers speaking at the Exeter Story Prize and Trisha Ashley Award.

Since I live in North Wales, this first meant getting down to Exeter, nearly 300 miles, and the longest I’d ever driven in one day. And since Trisha lives just along the coast from me, it also meant being responsible for ensuring Trisha Ashley actually got there to deliver the Trisha Ashley Award (no pressure then)!

The Venue

We set off at 7am, when the roads were quiet. This meant we reached Gloucester Service Station (eco and not at all like a service station) for an early lunch in a painless manner, with just the last bit of motorway to Exeter to go. This was when the Satnav decided we urgently needed to return to Kidderminster, and when gently corrected went into a sulk and abandoned us to our fate among the scary motorway lanes around Bristol. However, between us we managed to get past and arrive safely for a warm welcome at Margaret James’ lovely home in Exmouth.

Trisha Ashley and Juliet Greenwood

The next morning we travelled into Exeter by taxi (hurrah!) for lunch, before heading off to the awards. I hadn’t been to Exeter before, but I shall be definitely going back. I loved it, with its mixture of very old and new, and the church where the awards were taking place was a hidden gem. It was great to see so many people there. It was also a chance to meet up with old friends and new, and friends I’d known via Facebook and Twitter for years, but had never met in person, which is always a buzz. The panel seemed to go well - I certainly enjoyed it! It’s always stimulating to hear other writers’ experiences and opinions, and to be made to think about your own writing process to answer the questions. 

Trisha presents the Trisha Ashley Award
to the winner, Simon Kettlewell

The awards were then presented with aplomb, with some very excited winners. I’d almost forgotten that being shortlisted for short story awards was the way I began my writing career, so it was great seeing it from the other side. Then in the evening, we celebrated by going out for a delicious meal in Exeter, a chance to unwind and catch up with fellow authors.

The only real drama came the next morning, when the taxi taking Trisha to the station to catch the train home didn’t arrive. Fortunately I’d waited to leave at the same time before setting off on a research trip round Cornwall, so I was able to take Trisha and Margaret into Exeter, braving the chaos of roads being blocked off for the Great West Run taking place that day. We went quite a few times round a very large and scary roundabout – but girl-power prevailed, and we finally found a way out and to the station.

The rest of my trip round Devon and Cornwall was easy–peasy after that – and the unplanned detour meant that the Satnav took me right past the door of Lanhydrock, which I’d decided I didn’t have time to visit, but when you arrive at a beautiful house and gardens just as the sun comes out – well, what can you do? 


The Gardens at Lanhydrock

I loved my trip down to Exeter. Trisha and I had fun going down (despite the rebellious Satnav), and everyone was wonderfully welcoming. Much as I love the peace and quiet up here, it can sometimes feel far away (despite London being less than four hours away by train). Suddenly Exeter, and all the friends, old and new, don’t seem quite so far away.

So congratulations to the winners and all those short-listed for the Exeter Story Prize and the Trisha Ashley Award – and see you next year!

Trisha Ashley

You can find out more about the Exeter Story Prize at Creative Writing Matters.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Let There Be Cake by Trisha Ashley

My latest book, A Christmas Cracker, is set in a small hamlet near Little Mumming. This was the scene of Twelve Days of Christmas, so you will be able to see what some of those characters are doing now – and one in particular plays quite a central role in the new book. But I’m not going to say any more than that – you will have to wait and read it to find out who it is!

As usual, there are some recipes at the back including one for my Igloo Cake – and here’s one I prepared earlier! A miniscule Father Christmas is landing on the roof, which takes some doing when your sleigh is drawn by a team of frisky reindeer, but the two Eskimos look quite happy about it. I used a fruit cake recipe, but sponge or a traditional Christmas cake one would work just as well.

My Christmas cake recipe is the same as the wedding cake one in the back of Wedding Tiers, only instead of soaking the fruit in dry sherry for three days, I use dark rum, like in this one I made for the Novelistas Christmas party last year. (As well as talking about writing, we engage in a lot of cake-related activities!)

The cake I made for the Wedding Tiers book launch was shaped like an Elizabethan pomander, my most complicated cake yet. I baked a round cake in a huge Christmas pudding tin, and then covered it in marzipan, followed by fondant icing. Then I put an icing ribbon round it to divide it into four with a bow at the top and studded it all over with rosebuds. For a couple of weeks beforehand, whenever I had a few minutes to spare, I’d make a few icing roses. By the time it was covered, I could make them in my sleep.

It was just as well I’d taken some pictures, because the Novelistas demolished it in minutes, and all that was left was a scattering of white rosebuds and a few crumbs!

I could write an autobiography of my life punctuated cakes: Diary of a Fruitcake, anyone?


This post originally appeared in the October issue of Trisha Ashley's newsletter, which you can subscribe to here.


You can win a signed copy of A Christmas Cracker, as well as a set of cat-shaped cookie cutters. The competition is open to all, just leave a comment below - it's that simple! (Closes midnight on Friday 30th October).

Things can’t possibly get worse for Tabitha. Framed for her boss’s dodgy dealings – passing sparkling wine off for vintage fizz – she’s got an eight month prison sentence! Her boyfriend's dumped her and given her cat away to a shelter.

But rescue comes when a kindly prison visitor puts her in touch with Mercy. A master of saving waifs and strays and impressed with Tabby’s creativity – paper-crafting is more Tabby’s thing than swindling! – Mercy wants her to breathe new flair into her ailing cracker business. Together with a staff of quirky ex-cons they’ll save Marwood’s Magical Christmas Crackers!

But someone’s not happy. Mercy’s nephew Randall wants to turn the mill into a shopping centre and he thinks Tabby’s a fraudster. So suddenly her future happiness depends upon winning the brooding nephew round. Tabby’s been through so much already, she’s not going without a bang!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

How to Get into Your Writing World FAST! by Sophie Claire

NaNoWriMo is fast approaching, or perhaps you’re just pushed for time and cramming writing into a busy life. If you're anything like me, you need your writing sessions to be efficient and productive. When I sit down to work, I want to get straight into ‘the zone’, where I lose track of time or forget that it’s raining outside because I'm transported into my fictional world and the heads and hearts of my characters: seeing what they see, hearing them speak and, most importantly, feeling what they feel. That, I’m sure you’ll agree, is when the story really takes off and the words flow, springing off the page, coming to life.
Well, here are some shortcuts for getting there:

1. The Write Time
Dorothea Brande and Julia Cameron both suggest that writing ‘morning pages’ as soon as you wake up helps to capture the creative mind before the critical editor in us has had time to wake up. I recommend that you try it – many writers start at 6am so there must be something special about this time of day. However, I'll confess that I find it very hard to do anything until I've showered and had breakfast, but then I immediately sit down to my work-in-progress, before I've looked at the internet* or let the outside world in.
(*with the exception of Pinterest! - see 2)

2. Painting Pictures
In the old days they had mood boards, now we have Pinterest and it’s so much easier! I’m a very visual person and I create a board for each book I write, collecting pictures of characters, settings, details (for example, Natasha's floristry and nail art in Her Forget-Me-Not Ex) or anything else I feel is relevant to the story. I keep the board secret while I’m writing and often refer to it at the start of a writing session or if I need to recapture my focus. A picture of my hero or a place or object can be enough to trigger a new scene or to remind me of the mood or emotions I hoped to capture.

3. The Sound of Music
Many writers create a soundtrack for their book and find that playing this is a shortcut into the story. Fellow Novelista, Louise Marley, blogged about this here
Personally, I prefer silence when I’m writing. But I often begin to link certain songs to each book and I play these when I’m driving or relaxing, and the lyrics can spark new ideas, taking my story in unexpected directions.

4. The Heart of It
Brainstorm what you love about your story. Go on, try it now! Write a page or a paragraph – for your eyes only – listing what sets you on fire about it.

I do this right at the inception of a book, when the idea is shiny and new, and in my imagination the novel is going to be the next bestseller! (sadly that feeling doesn't last!) It might be that I have a particularly colourful heroine or a beautiful setting, a captivating opening scene or a special relationship between two characters that makes my heart melt. Sometimes what I have in mind is more nebulous, like a mood (tense, dreamy, dramatic) or a theme (forgiveness, starting over, commitment). Whatever it is, I try to pin it down and summarise it, and then later on, I can refer back to it. I think of it as my story in a nutshell. And at the start of a writing session not only does it remind me why I started writing the book, but it also helps to keep my story focused.

5. Finish on a High

‘Always stop while you are going good’  - Ernest Hemingway

Finish in the middle of an exciting scene, they say, and then you'll be eager to return to your work-in-progress and you’ll know exactly what happens next. It’s good advice. 
I try to follow it myself though, in my experience, it’s not always possible, but what always works for me is to finish by making notes of what will come next. They’re usually hasty scribbles made before I have to dash out or as the kids get home from school, but the important thing is they were made when the story was fresh in my mind, and the next day they remind me where the story is heading and make it easy for me to pick up where I left off.

Of course, as your book begins to develop and your characters have grown real enough that they follow you round your everyday life, you might not need these shortcuts any more. But until then, it’s always good to have a few tricks up your sleeve to speed things up and get you where you want to be!

Do you have any tips or tricks that work for you? I'd love to hear them...


Sophie Claire's novel, Her Forget-Me-Not Ex is a heartwarming, contemporary romance set in sunny Provence (can you see why she wants to escape there fast?) and it's available from Amazon

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Inspiration Behind 'Another Man's Child' by Anne Bennett

In this post, Anne Bennett talks about how her family history inspired her latest novel.

Many times  I have been asked where I get my inspiration from to write. Some wonder if it is helpful to me that I live in such a beautiful place. While walking the beaches and hills near my home has helped me iron any knotty problem I have encountered in the manuscript, the inspiration to begin in the first place comes from other sources. Sometimes I don’t even know what these triggers are, but the book coming out on 19th November, called Another Man’s Child, was inspired by my mother’s tale and the house she was born and raised in.


This house is not just any old house. It is the family home of the Logues.  My mother was born in 1910, the eleventh child in a family of twelve.  But I never saw the house in its heyday, for it was in ruins when I eventually caught sight of it.  I had no idea anyone had a photograph of it, because photography was expensive and usually only used to mark significant events.  However, two cousins, Martin in Redditch and Michael in Dublin, began researching the family history and pooling resources on the Facebook Page 'Logues of Tawnagh'.

Tawnagh, Ireland

Martin unearthed the picture of this house and suddenly the story my mother told me about one of her sisters made sense.  My mother was born in rural Ireland and in that time most houses were small cottages, single-storied, and consisting of two or three rooms. The walls were mainly white washed sod, and the roofs were made from thatch. This house,  by comparison, was a large, two-storied, double-fronted, brick-built house with a slate roof.  The house showed the Logue status in the community, which would have been high, and the daughters of such a thriving farmer would be expected to marry well and so be kept in the manner they were used to.  That meant marrying a farmer, the eldest son of a farmer, or a man with a trade.  So when one of my mother’s sisters was attracted to a hired hand, looking at the house it is easier to understand her father’s rage and actions, which would be considered extreme by today’s standards.

In real life the sister was packed off to America, where the Logue family really did have a widowed Aunt Maria living in New York, but my fictional Celia Mulligan did something equally daring to escape from her father’s dominance and marry the man she loved.  However, the path of true love is never a smooth one and much was to befall the young couple and in the end Celia comes near to losing all she holds dear.

Another Man's Child
by Anne Bennett
A moving family drama of one young woman’s fight to survive, to find her long-lost relatives and to find a place to call home.

Celia Mulligan is in love with farmhand Andy McCadden, but when Andy asks her to marry him and she accepts, her father is furious – no daughter of his will marry a mere hireling. Celia elopes with Andy and they make their way by ship to England. While on board, Celia meets a demure young woman called Annabel who tells her in confidence that a friend of her father forced himself upon her and she has since fallen pregnant.

Annabel plans to throw herself on her brother’s mercy and asks Celia if she will accompany her to Birmingham as her ladies maid. Without a job and with nothing to offer her, Andy encourages Celia to accept – he can find employment for himself and save for their future. But neither of them can foresee the events that will follow, and soon Celia will be forced to choose between the man she loves, and the love of a vulnerable child…

Published by Harper Collins: 19th November 2015

Sunday, 4 October 2015

A Shady Terrace By The Rosencrantz Tower by Trisha Ashley

And yes, I know what popped into your head when you read the title of this post: ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.’ Am I right? But there really is a historic Rosencrantz tower in Bergen, Norway, and the week before last I was sitting in a shady courtyard right next to it on a hot summer’s day, drinking a deliciously tart berry juice and eating a big cake with chunks of apple in the middle, which seemed to be a square version of the famous Bergen bun I’d consumed only an hour before from a shop in the middle of the town. Life’s a moveable feast, isn’t it?

I was in Norway on my first real, non-work-related holiday in over fifteen years (though of course, like the rest of my life journey, it will eventually compost down and be reused in a novel). I had unplugged the umbilical cord of the internet and even the small laptop was abandoned, despite its desperate attempts to jump into the suitcase at the last moment.

Fred Olsen kindly wafted my cockleshell across the North Sea, in a reverse-Viking invasion. (My father says we’re all descended from the Vikings in my bit of Lancashire – town names like ‘Ormskirk’ are a bit of a giveaway).

I boarded with a map of the ship that would lead me to the two venues where I expected to spend most of my time: the dining room and the coffee shop. Other than this, I had a fully loaded kindle and knew how to use it. I’d also booked myself onto four daytrips to see as much of the country as I could, three of which involved much wondrous scenery viewed from almost vertical ascents and descents in a variety of conveyances interspersed with a lot of long dark tunnels.

Then, on a hot summer’s day, I absconded two hours into a three hour walking tour of Bergen and stumbled across this delightfully shady, cool terrace with a cafĂ© right by the Rosencrantz Tower – of course I did, it was inevitable.

And once refreshed, my hands automatically delved into the deep recesses of my enormous shoulder bag to find a good old-fashioned pen and notebook to jot down a few home thoughts from abroad. It turned out that there are a few essential things you need to know about both Norway and cruising. Or at least, things I needed to know.

(1) Everywhere you turn in Norway there is a turquoise fjord, a vertical waterfall, a huge mountain topped with snow, or a glacier, so that after only a couple of hours your vocabulary has been reduced to, ‘oh, wow!’

(2) Turf roofs on houses are very eco-friendly and also, you can graze your goats on them. This one had harebells growing on it.

(3) If you like moose, you’re going to love the souvenir shops

(4) Norwegian floppy waffles spread with jam and sour cream are the most wonderful thing in the world.

(5) If visiting an apple farm, eat a good breakfast because at ten thirty you are going to be facing a line of glasses containing apple brandy, two kinds of strong cider and a large apple juice to wash it down with.

(6) Every tour guide tells you how delicious the traditional delicacy of sheep’s head is, provided you can get past the eye looking at you and the teeth grinning away on your plate.

(7) Don’t sign up for an almost vertical coach ride down eighteen hairpin bends unless you have a good head for heights.

(8) Completely enclosed tender boats full of people give me acute claustrophobia.

(9) And for a cruise, next time don’t pack three pairs of black trousers and several almost identical t-shirts, because people will think you’ve been wearing the same clothes the whole trip.

(10) You are going to put on half a stone, because of the amazing food. Just accept it and go with the flow. Flow round the promenade deck a few times a day, too, that might help.

(11) If your vision is poor, don’t assume every man in a striped polo shirt is your brother. Their wives don’t like them being chatted up by strange women. I even poked one poor man in the back with my flag (that’s another story) with the words ‘Oh, there you are!’ He’s probably still explaining me away.

(12) By pure chance, do choose the one cruise when all four Fred Olsen ships are berthed in their home port of Bergen at the same time, so that the whole town is one giant party and you steam off next day in a line, full of strange celebratory cocktails and waving the aforementioned flag, while singing favourite traditional sea shanties like ‘We are sailing…’

(13) This is the unexpected aftermath. Although I’m a good sailor who felt fine aboard, I suffered a week of something called Mal de Disembarquement when I got home, with migraine headaches and everything going up and down in a very dizzying way. Apparently this is quite common.

But I’ll tell you what, it was worth it!

This post originally appeared in the August issue of Trisha Ashley's newsletter, which you can subscribe to

Trisha Ashley is a Sunday Times bestselling author of romantic comedy. Her latest book A Christmas Cracker is out on 22nd October 2015 and is now available to pre-order.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

R is for...romance (of course!)

On the first Friday of every month, Novelista Annie Burrows has been sharing a very personal view of what it is like to be a writer.  And is dealing with themes in alphabetical order.  This month, she's reached R...which stands for Romance!

When I was at the Romance Writers of America conference in New York this summer, one of the highlights, for me, was attending the Harlequin booksigning. 

In spite of what anyone may say, Harlequin romances are still incredibly popular, and if you don't believe me, just look at the queue to get in the door.
Sales may be down, but a lot of people were extremely keen to get their hands on the books that were being given away.

 I signed and gave away copies of my Waterloo book, A Mistress for Major Bartlett, almost continually for the two hours the event went on.
The only bit of the event I didn't enjoy was when a film crew came along to interview me.

(I'm not alone in that - the other authors ducked behind their stacks of books, then sighed in relief when the crew pounced on me, because I'd been too busy chatting to a fan to notice them sneaking up) 

Anyway, they cleared a space round my bit of the table, thrust a microphone at me, and said, in what I felt was a rather challenging manner, "Why do you love romance?"

My mind immediately went as blank as the first sheet of paper in a brand new notebook.  After umming and erring for a while, I came up with something inane along the lines of (I think) "What's not to like?  Doesn't everything in life mean more when you have someone to share it with?"

The reason I can't recall what I answered then, is because the crew went off into a huddle for a bit, then came back to me and said, "Could you say all that again, only this time look into the camera?"
Silly me, I'd answered the girl who asked the question, not the guy standing over to the side with half a ton of equipment strapped to his shoulder.

Anyway, by this time I was somewhat irritated.  Because I still couldn't come up with a clever, witty, answer off the top of my head.  And I felt a bit resentful that I had to defend my position as a writer of romance.  And as anyone who's ever tried to take a photo of me will confirm, I have an extremely expressive face.  So I don't think the second attempt to get a soundbite from me would have been any good either.  Not to judge by the tight smiles on their faces as they shuffled away, anyhow.

But now, three months later, I have finally decided what I should have said.  (Not that I've been lying awake at night going over and over how stupid I must have looked or anything)
As well as working out why I was annoyed at their slightly contemptuous attitude.  As if loving romance was somehow an odd thing for me to do.

All you have to do, I should have said, is to turn on the radio, to hear that love and romance is on just about everyone else's mind too.  There may be the occasional song that reaches a top slot in the charts about Medicinal Compound, or digging a hole in the ground, but the vast majority of popular songs are about love and romance.  Even the most cynical of news hounds would have to admit that finding a soul mate, that special someone who will understand you, support you, and share all life's trials with you, is extremely important to a lot of people.  And that without that special someone, life can feel bleak and pointless.

And nobody goes round asking pop stars why they love romance, and sing about it, do they?  It's just accepted.  Applauded even.  Programmes like the X factor or Pop Idol rely on the fact that huge numbers of young people want to get up on stage and sing about how much they long for the object of their affection to notice them, or to bewail the fact that their heart has been badly broken.

Has anyone gone up to Adele, or Sam Smith, and asked them why they sing about romance?  And made them defend their choice to do so?  And imply that they would somehow be more worthy if they sang about crime, or the human condition?  I don't think so.

So why is writing stories about romance regarded by the press, so often, as being somehow a bit silly, when singing about love and romance is not?

If I could write poetry, or hold a tune in a bucket, maybe I'd be up there singing about how wonderful it is to fall in love, or how badly it hurts when it all goes pear shaped.  (Or if I could stand being in front of a camera!)  Instead, I write about people going through the entire process of striving to find their happy ever after, in prose.

And what's wrong (to quote Sir Paul McCartney) with that?

If you enjoy reading romance, you can find a Annie's backlist on her website.

Her next book, The Captain's Christmas Bride, will be out in December, and can already be pre-ordered from Amazon