Friday, 5 August 2022

Hooray! Hooray! For the RNA!

Last month the annual Romantic Novelists’ Association conference was held at Harper Adams University in Shropshire. The pandemic meant the 2020 and 2021 conferences couldn’t take place, so for many of us, this gathering of romance writers was extra special and eagerly anticipated.

Notepad at the ready...


For four blissful days, I was surrounded by my tribe – people who were passionate about writing and, specifically, championing the romance genre. The conference has long been a highlight of my year: a chance to catch up with old friends, make new ones, and mingle with industry professionals. At Harper Adams, both the accommodation and the food are always top notch, and it was my privilege to share a flat with Clare Marchant, Rosie Hendry, Ian Wilfred, Nancy Peach, Kate Smith, Annette Hannah and Debbie Johnston. (What happens at the kitchen party, stays at the kitchen party – right guys!)


A kitchen gathering.

The long weekend is jam-packed full of lectures and panels, with barely a moment to catch your breath. Highlights for me were the talk by Elizabeth Chadwick, a panel on pitching your book to editors, TikTok and Instagram talks, the legend that is Charlotte Ledger, and various talks about diversity and inclusion. I also got to meet my amazing agent, Hannah Schofield of LBA Books, for the first time, as I had signed with her during the pandemic. She’s a real industry superstar, fantastically supportive of romantic fiction, and definitely one to watch.


Myself and the amazing Hannah Schofield

The RNA runs an amazing New Writers’ Scheme to support emerging romance writers. NWS members receive a critique of their manuscript and the opportunity to attend RNA events. Every year, graduates from this scheme are put forward for the Joan Hessayon Award, and this year the awards took place just before the Gala Dinner at the conference. The shortlist was overflowing with talent and the winner was Suzie Hull for her delightful debut “In This Foreign Land”. Congratulations, Suzie. I can highly recommend the book. Link below:

mybook.to/InThisForeignLand

But what I love most about the conference is the things you learn over snatched cups of coffee and late night kitchen parties. THIS is where close friendships are forged, some serious networking takes place, and snippets of publishing gossip are shared. I finally got to chat properly to the very lovely Jessica Redland (after taking her on a magical mystery tour of the campus at midnight… oh, okay, yes, I got us both lost). I had a long overdue hug with my dear friend Mick Arnold, and Morton Gray shared useful underwear tips! But with 240 attendees, I couldn’t possibly shout out to all the wonderful people I talked to in those surprisingly short four days, but suffice to say, I returned home absolutely bouncing and brimming with new ideas. It was a time for me to reflect how much joy our genre brings to people, and gave me the confidence to continue writing what I love.


My book in the bookshop!

A panel about the modern protagonist

Ian Wilfred - who grinned for 4 solid days!

I packed the essentials.

With Elizabeth Chadwick

Diane Saxon - you little beauty!

Roll on summer 2023.

Jenni x




Sunday, 3 July 2022

A Novel Point of View?

Schools in Argyll and Bute finished for the summer holidays yesterday, so at one o’clock I found myself singing my annual rendition of Alice Cooper’s Schools Out for Summer, although with a little less enthusiasm than I perhaps used to when I was a classroom teacher. At least I have six weeks ahead of me without an alarm going off at seven in the morning even if I do have to entertain my kids more often!

sunset on a loch. sky in shades of orange and yellow. woman in pink sea-kayak in middle ground on calm water.


As soon as the girls were home, they wanted to go to the beach and, as it was too choppy for the paddle boards, they went swimming while I took my kayak out. After a rather dodgy attempt to get into it, I finally managed without either capsizing or being washed up onto the beach. I did, however, discover that my plan to paddle leisurely up and down the shoreline was simply not going to happen. The waves were high enough that the safest option was to head directly into them at ninety degrees, then turn as quickly as possible and head back to shore the same way. (The photos were taken on better days!)

a sunny day looking onto the shore of Loch Long. The water is pale blue and a rolling hill is in the distance.
This meant that I found myself further out into the sea-loch than I usually go, giving me a different perspective of the peninsula I live on. This idea of looking at the place I am so familiar with from a different point of view (a novel point of view?) has always been intriguing to me. It was when I discovered that there had been a Viking fort on the site of a friend’s house, and human remains found in my parent’s garden (in Victorian times — thankfully I didn’t have to even consider the possibility of Mum having buried someone under the patio — maybe I'll save that idea for a future book…) that I thought about setting a Viking series here.

a sunny day looking onto the shore of Loch Long. The water is pale blue and a rolling hill is in the distance.

So little is known about the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde that it doesn
’t often feature in novels and it’s divided from modern Scotland by language — they most likely spoke Brythonic or Cumbric, a language closer to modern Welsh than modern Gaelic — but nevertheless, there are remnants throughout the area of links with the Norsemen if you know where to look. (Knockderry, Luss, Carrick Golf Course, Dumbarton Rock and Govan, to name but a few.) These remnants may not add up (yet) to a significant relationship between the two peoples, so I have kept these interactions minimal in my novels, but there are enough to suggest that there was definitely some level of significant contact.
A sunny day looking onto the shore of Loch Long. The water is pale blue and a rolling hill is in the distance.


It’s not until you are actually out there on the loch that you see the water as forming a connection, rather than it being a division. Places that are far distant by road suddenly become the closest town. People that you would be unlikely to meet on land suddenly become the very people you are most likely to bump into. The long fingers of the peninsulas that form the northern banks of the Firth of Clyde suddenly become accessible to one another, rather than separated by hundreds of miles of long, narrow, winding roads.
An expansse of calm blue water with a sliver of dark land just above the mid-point. A single white sailed yacht sits in the centre.

Perhaps this is something writers always do — distance themselves from places and people and perhaps even themselves — so that they can tell these other stories, but I think, for me, anyway, that it’s more pronounced when writing historical fiction. Looking back at the landscape in front of me from far out on the water, I imagined what it would have looked like then. There would, of course, have been the same basic bare bones of the landscape, but what areas would have been attractive to live on? Where had the best access to the sea-loch and streams? Where is the flattest land for building? What would those buildings look like? Sadly, my artistic skills don’t extend to me drawing an image, so I have to use words and hope that readers can picture it roughly the way I have — or maybe that doesn’t matter? Maybe it’s okay for them to picture it their own way?

a viking man embrcing a woman with long dark hair in a flowing white dress. the bottom of the cover shows a snow-covered landscape.

Our new schedule for the Novel Points of View blog has meant that, rather serendipitously, I have ended up being the one to blog the weekend prior to the release of book three of my series. The Viking’s Princess Bride will be released on Tuesday July 5th. Thanks to various delays, it’s not particularly seasonal as it’s set at Imbolc in early February and features the two main characters snowbound in a shieling high on the moors. Shielings were dwelling houses used primarily by women during the summer when they took the sheep up onto the moors to give them access to richer grasslands. This is Scotland, however, so I’m not going to jinx our summer weather by saying that the presence of snow indicates that the events couldn’t happen in July!

I hope everyone has a lovely summer and sees the sun at least once or twice!

Mairibeth

Sunday, 12 June 2022

TIME FOR CHANGE...


Hello reading friends!

Over the many years the Novel Points of View blog has been running, team members have loved sharing and connecting with readers. However, as the social media landscape has grown, placing added pressure to keep up on both readers and team members, the time for change has come and posts will be monthly (rather than weekly) from now on.

We are also saddened to share that team stalwart, Victoria Cornwall has decided to step back from the blog to concentrate on fiction projects. Throughout her time with the team, Victoria worked hard behind the scenes to ensure the blog ran smoothly and she will be very much missed, so we take this opportunity to thank her for all she has done and also to wish her well with her writing. 

Finally, we wish to thank readers for engaging, sharing and making blogging fun. Going forward, we invite you to come on our journey, as the Novel Points of View team sails towards a bright new adventure...




Best wishes from,

All at Novel Points of View x






Saturday, 4 June 2022

SIGNPOSTS TO CREATIVITY...

Hello! 

As summer arrives here in the United Kingdom and the sun finally decides to shine, team members have been out and about spotting interesting signs that have inspired them to write.



Victoria says... Bodmin Jail is a grade ll listed building which has survived many significant prison reforms - both good and bad. In recent years it has been developed into a boutique hotel and attraction yet still preserves the history and character of the infamous prison. The words that inspired two of my books, The Thief's Daughter and The Captain's Daughter, made up a list of prisoners who were hung at the jail. Atmospheric, thought provoking and providing a snapshot of the past, those words will evoke many feelings... for the victims if not for the criminals themselves. 


A chilling list...



Jenni says... As an author, I am constantly seeking out fresh names for characters. In my most recent novel, The Secrets of Hawthorn Place, Percy Gladwell, got his surname from a truck parked in my village that is owned by a local landscaping company – Gladwells. I used to pass it several times a day and thought it fitted my character perfectly. In a nearby village, the poignant street name above (see photo) haunts me, and I have stored the Flowerdew surname in my memory bank for future use. But the coolest (and possibly creepiest) street name of all is Deadman’s Lane, just around the corner from me. This delightful single-track lane with a pretty stream running through, is allegedly where they used to hang criminals many centuries ago, and I just know that somewhere there is a story waiting to be told… 






Clare says... Every day I like to take a break from writing to get out for a short walk, and around the corner from where I live are Ghost Hill Woods. The name originates from an Anglo-Saxon battle and the ghosts are believed to be soldiers who were discovered in a mass grave not far away at Bloods Dale Woods. As a history buff I love the images they provoke. 





I visit during daylight with my dog, when the ghosts are silent. At night though the woods are deserted and there are pockets of shadow that are the deepest black, a cold presence deterring all but the brave. And sometimes if you listen carefully, you can hear the echoes of fighting; the shouts of Vikings and the ringing of blade against blade carrying on the wind... 



Mairibeth says... A nearby street-name helped inspire my Brothers of Thunder romance series. The oddly named Tom a’ Mhoid in the village of Rosneath, is a Gaelic street name shared in English by the nearby Courthill. A small pathway leads to this early medieval site where cases were heard and justice decided — sentences were then carried out at Gallowhill, outside the village itself. The tiered mound was removed c.1820 to build nearby Rosneath Castle (now demolished). 



If I hadn’t been intrigued by the street name, and discovered its similarities to Norse Thing sites, I might never have realised how many local links there are with the Norse! 



Rae says... For a couple of years, I drove passed Kellie Pearl Way and wondered who Kellie Pearl was, and why the road was given her name. I assumed she was a woman accused of witchcraft, as, sadly, here in NE Scotland, witch trials were aplenty. Then in May 2020, I completed an Inspiration Through Folklore online series of workshops with tutor, Sandra Ireland, and one of the tasks set was to discover more about a local street sign. I knew exactly which one I would research. 





To my astonishment, Kellie Pearl wasn’t a person, but the largest fresh-water pearl ever discovered in the United Kingdom. It was found in a tributary of the nearby River Ythan and presented to King James VI, who had it mounted on the Scottish crown. Today, the crown can be viewed at Edinburgh Castle, part of the Scottish crown jewels, also known as the Honours of Scotland. 

For a writer, such an intriguing tale was a gift. Who found the Kellie Pearl buried deep in the mud? As they weighed the precious gem in their palm, were they tempted to keep it? And so, I wrote a short story imaginatively entitled, The Kellie Pearl! It’s yet to be published, but it feels good to share a little royal history here, on this, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee weekend. 


Crown of Scotland containing
the Kellie Pearl


What little known local history has inspired your creativity? Or what interesting signs have caught your attention? We would love to hear... 

Rae x





Saturday, 28 May 2022

Your Favourite Books?

 I was part of a panel at a recent signing event in Stoke. One of the questions posed by our excellent MC, Donna Morfett, was on "What real love story has influenced you and your writing." 

 

Donna Morfett Toya Richardson, Ros Rendle and Me!

We had no advance knowledge of the questions, but this was still an instantly easy one to answer.

The story of Major Harry Smith and the young girl he found and married in the aftermath of one of the bloodiest sieges of the Napoleonic Wars may be known to many readers, particularly fans of Georgette Heyer, Her novel, “The Spanish Bride” details their story in her inimitable prose. Even her name is pretty unforgettable; Juana María de los Dolores de León!

Bajados was the scene of terrible savagery by the British troops after taking the city. In Harry Smith’s own words: “The atrocities committed by our soldiers on the poor innocent and defenceless inhabitants of the city, no words suffice to depict. Too truly did our heretofore noble soldiers disgrace themselves”

IMHO The Spanish Bride is a superb book, combining as it does the story of the Peninsular war from Bajados in 1812 right up to Waterloo. It is full of domestic details of their life with Harry’s regiment.

 

I had this edition. It fell to pieces many years ago!

Juana Smith
Harry, as a General


The storming of the breach at Bajados

One of the reasons the book maintains its attraction for me are the parallels between Harry and my gt-gt-grandfather, Henry Dumaresq, who took part in most of the same battles as Harry (including Bajados). Indeed, they would almost certainly have known each other, if only in passing. Harry was the older of the two by five years. 

It was Harry who had the romantic story, though. Henry did marry, but not for another 5 years, to the daughter of another Irish peer, Sophie Butler-Danvers who was aged 25 rather than 14!!

 

Henry Dumaresq's Military Record!

A clerk's handwriting was pretty unreadable even then. Luckily, we now have Wikipedia!

Henry Dumaresq

 

After the Napoleonic Wars Harry and Juana spent much of their time on various overseas posting, especially in South Africa where the town of Ladysmith was renamed in honour of his wife.

Henry ended up as ADC to General John Byng at Waterloo, and played a large part in the defence of Hougemont – a key part of the battle. He was wounded delivering a dispatch from General Byng to Wellington. He had taken a ball in the lungs, and “fell from his horse, a dying man”. Thanks to the attention of Wellington’s surgeon, he survived, but they couldn’t remove the ball. It eventually caused his death twenty years later.

The famous Duchess of Richmond's Ball. Henry Dumaresq was there. 

Closing the gates at Hougemont. 



 


 




Also on the panel at the signing was friend, fellow-author and RNA member, Ros Rendle. It turns out that she and her husband, Scott, live in the town that Harry was from, Whittlesey near Ely in Cambridgeshire. Scott taught at the Sir Harry Smith Community College!

Since coming back from the Tales on Trent signing, I’ve been reading The Spanish Bride again. Well worth it!! That’s probably 12 times I have read it (so far)! I celebrated finishing it again, with a glass of one of my favourite beers, Waterloo! The Beer of Victory! 


So what’s YOUR favourite book? How many times have you read it? How many copies have you gone through? 



Saturday, 21 May 2022

RECLAIMING LOST WORDS

A couple of weeks ago I took the ferry to the Scottish Isle of Arran, a pleasant hour’s sail from the mainland, which docked in the pretty village of Brodick. Our first stop was Brodick Castle, an impressive strategic fortress atop a hill, with wide sweeping views of the Firth of Clyde. The ancient seat has a long, bloody history, as a Norse stronghold, as a prize of Robert the Bruce, as the target of eight galleons sent by King Henry VIII who ordered an attack.

I am sailing...!

 
Brodick Castle


Inside, the castle was beautifully furnished, complete with a well-equipped Victorian kitchen that shone with polished brassware – jam pans, pots, fish kettles for steaming. 


Gleaming Victorian kitchen...


But it was the assortment of quirky collectibles in the wine cellar that got my writer’s brain whirring — a set of drinking horns disguised as a family of owls, an elaborate wine jug fashioned as walrus, a glass decanter shaped like a dodo!

The owl family...



The last Dodo!

 

As much as I enjoyed discovering the gems the castle offered, it was a walk in the gardens that I loved. Rhododendrons are my favourite flower and I’d timed it just right. Towering glossy bushes sprouted thick along well-kept trails; their pom-pom heads nodded, pearly white, sunshine lemon, party red. They were an absolute joy!




As a symbol of optimism and cheer (and we all need more of that!), the rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal, the state flower of both Washington and West Virginia in the United States, as well as the provincial flower of Jiangxi in China. 




Which got me thinking, that the rhododendron is rarely mentioned in stories or novels. Perhaps it’s just too tricky to spell? (I admit to triple-checking my ‘o’s and ‘d’s were in the right place!) Which then reminded me of The Lost Words, written by Robert Macfarlane and brilliantly illustrated by Jackie Morris, a poetry book written for children, which quickly became a bestseller with adults too.


the lost words... beloved by both children and adults

 

Macfarlane focuses on the natural world and words that are quietly slipping from children’s vocabulary, names like acorn and adder, wren and weasel. His poetry is musical, surprising; 'spells' to be read over and over again.

I was born and brought up by the coast, and enjoyed freedom to roam and play with friends in the woods and fields that surrounded us. Perhaps then it isn’t surprising that I also like to incorporate language inspired by nature in my writing.

More rhododendrons... just because!

 

So, I’ve set myself a mini goal for the coming months, to place a different ‘lost’ word, from Macfarlane’s book of poems, in each of my stories. I’ve already used fern and heron. 

Which words do you miss from childhood? And if you were to write a book of lost words, what would it contain?

Until next time!

Rae x
The Walrus



Saturday, 14 May 2022

Reading Group, Anyone?


Online book clubs have prospered in recent years. Accessibility, enthusiastic celebrity endorsement and, more recently, lockdown have increased reading and the desire to find the next book within a cosy community of like-minded people.


Unfortunately, despite the best efforts or good intentions of celebrities and "influencers" there will always be a healthy dose of scepticism from the public regarding their book recommendations. Being a celebrity/influencer is a business in itself and the world is built on networking, deals, promotion, freebies and brand awareness perhaps more than ever in history. The celebrity/influencer who has a genuine love of books and want to share it with the world is caught between a rock and a hard place by virtue of their career clashing with their passion. Who will truly believe their book recommendation when there is a suspicion that they might have been paid to promote it? However, despite having these nagging doubts we, the public, are still happy to join their online book clubs to find our next read, both parties aware of the issues yet gleefully ignoring the elephant in the room.


Reading Groups, particularly local reading groups which are linked to libraries, takes a virtual flame thrower to many of the concerns above, but I am getting ahead of myself. For those who have little to do with reading groups in the community, a reading group is a group of people who meet regularly to discuss a book they have read.  Of course, a discussion is best if it is the same book, so they are often linked to libraries. The leader of the reading group borrows the books from the library on behalf of the group, distributes them and the group meet up again in a few weeks to discuss the book (hopefully with a glass of wine, nibbles and a bit a of laughter sprinkled in).


The benefits of a reading group are:-

1) The books are varied and pushes the boundaries of your usual reading preferences (I am currently reading The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell, something I would never have chosen myself but it has opened my eyes to the harsh living and working conditions experienced by the mining community in the 1930s).
2) They are library books so are not being promoted or endorsed for monitory gains.
3) It provides books free of charge.
4) It's a way of making new like-minded friends.
5) It provides a conduit for all those thoughts and feelings you had about the book, yet also opens your eyes, heart and mind to all the things you had previously missed as a healthy discussion always provides another perspective - in this case as seen through another reader's eyes.
6) The meet-ups/social gathering gets you out of the house. Some may see that as a disadvantage as it is quite an enjoyable experience to surf the net looking for your next read with a mug of coffee in your hand. However, neither is exclusive to the other and is only limited by the time you have to read.

The disadvantages of a reading group:-

1) Feeling pressured to read a book by a certain date. However, most members feel this and understand. It is not uncommon for someone to give up on a book due to time constraints or lack of enjoyment. At least the reader does not feel they have wasted their money.
2) Most reading group do not focus on one genre (i.e. romance). You have to be prepared to read outside your preferred genre for most of the time. If this is not for you, then reading groups may not be either unless it is genre specific.



So do you like the idea of a reading group? Are you interested in setting one up in your local area? Why not go along to your local library and find out what is in your area? Reading does not have to be a solitary hobby. Discussing the book afterwards with a varied group of people can confirm your opinions or open your mind to a different perspective.... it can also make you think more deeply about your own beliefs, character traits and morals too!

Happy reading everyone!