Friday 30 June 2023

Musings from a ghostwriter

About 18 months ago I was contacted by my publisher and asked if I would ghostwrite a novel for a celebrity. It was to be a Second World War story, set in the East End of London. Initially that’s all I was told, but I couldn’t agree to do the work without knowing who the celebrity was (it might have been some rabid right-wing politician! Argh!) Thankfully it was someone I admired so I agreed to write the book, as it’d be a new and interesting challenge for me. I was passed lots of research that had already been done, and we had a few WhatsApp conversations where more ideas were sent my way.

I spent last summer writing draft one, and the first few months of this year completing several rounds of edits until the book was finally accepted.

And now… now I’m waiting for publication date, waiting to see how it’s received by the reading public, by the celebrity’s many fans and followers, by the book press…

… and it’s a strange feeling. With my own books that are written under my own name, I get to approve the cover and blurb, I’m involved in the cover reveal, I’ll post excitedly about the book going up for preorder, I’ll arrange a blog tour around publication date, I’ll post frequently on my social media about the book in its first few weeks post-publication. I’m not an author who does a lot of promotion compared to others I know, but I do that much anyway.

This time – it’s not ‘my’ book. (My name will be on the title page inside, but not on the cover.) I get no royalties (it was a flat fee) so it makes no difference to me financially whether it does well or not. But I do care… because my name is associated with the book, and because I worked damned hard on it and I’m proud of the finished story, and I’d love the book to fly high!

I had a heads-up before the book was announced, I was sent a bound proof copy, and later I spotted the cover reveal by chance, and occasionally I see a snippet of news about it. Publication date is still a couple of months away so who knows how much hype there’ll be about it by then – it’ll be interesting to see.

My own books don’t make a huge splash. They sell to a core group of fans, to readers of dual timeline fiction, and they make me a decent income. But there’s never any real hype around publication, not like there will be with this book. I don’t know whether any of this book’s publicity will spill over into more sales for my own books or whether it’ll have no effect whatsoever. (Doesn’t really matter – I didn’t write it for that reason; I wrote it for the experience and the challenge.)

I don’t really know what to expect at all! And I’m not sure there’s a point to this blog post other than my musings out loud.

(PS it’s no secret who the celebrity is, but I didn’t want to include their name or the book’s title here so this post so it won’t turn up on searches. But if you’re really curious pop over to my website and have a rummage around to find out.)

Thursday 4 May 2023

ChatGPT and ME!

The growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has popped up in news stories for a while, but since the introduction of the latest version of language model, ChatGPT, its potential uses and dangers are being discussed on podcasts, phone-ins, and online forums, as we try to understand what it means for us.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


The implications of a computer system that analyses language and produces text in seconds, be it a factual or creative piece, has obvious worrying consequences for writers. Here's a personal example that might help explain.

Over Easter weekend my eldest went to visit his grandparents, while I worked on a suffragette story. On his return, he asked what I’d written, and I explained the premise, which included specific details relating to a daring attack on Winston Churchill that took place at Temple Meads Station in Bristol, in November 1909. The piece was written in the form of a letter. 

My son then input what I’d shared – the bare bones of the story – into ChatGPT which created a piece in seconds. The programme was mind-blowingly quick and frighteningly accurate. I then asked if the letter could be rewritten in a more formal, Victorian voice. Again, a new letter was produced in less than a minute. What had taken me a whole day – both research (checking characters, dates, settings, language, dress etc.) then writing – had taken ChatGPT seconds to reproduce. 

Computer Processor


But it wasn’t perfect. The voice was too stilted; something developers say will improve as users input more and more data. 


I read what ChatGPT produced, just as I would read other research material (reference books, blog posts, newspaper articles) then selected THREE words I felt would strengthen my story. But what did that mean? Was I cheating? Was it still my work? Does that mean MY story is now ChatGPT assisted? 
I don’t know. 


Most authors find ideas come easily. We have notebooks and files stuffed with magazine clippings, random snippets of conversation, details of interesting places visited. The real difficulty is finding time to fix our bums on seats and write. And the act of writing is hard. It requires research, concentration, grammatical skill, knowledge of the craft, determination to spend weeks and months rewriting draft after draft after draft. However, the introduction of ChatGPT, and other AI products like it (Amazon has just launched its version), mean there are already authors (some indie – independent of large publishers) saying they plan to write hundreds (yes, hundreds!) of books per year. 

 It would be easy to become despondent and say, what’s the point in continuing, assuming that whatever I write will become lost in the tsunami of books and writing that is bound to be coming our way. But the truth is, I still have ideas I want to explore and stories only I can write (with or without the assistance of ChatGPT). We live in interesting times, which will have implications for all industries, not just publishing. Artificial intelligence isn’t going to go away, and has implications for rights and author income, so all we can do is arm ourselves with knowledge. 


As a reader, do I wish to know if a news article, blog post, novel or piece of flash fiction has been written by a human or assisted by a bot – yes, I do. But until regulation catches up, it’s unlikely we can be certain exactly what’s going at desks and kitchen tables across the globe. 

How about you? Do you need to know if what you are reading was written or assisted by AI? Or, if the novel/article is a page-turner/ interesting, does it matter? 


A writer who is constantly ahead of what’s happening next, and brilliant at explaining futurist technology in an easy-to-understand, positive way, is author and podcaster, Joanna Penn. I recommend checking out her Creative Penn website and blog posts, as well as listening to her fantastic podcast.

Finally, for transparency, no AI was used when writing this blog post. 

As for my original (non-AI assisted) suffragette story, it will be included in my debut flash fiction collection. 

Rae x

Saturday 1 April 2023

I love book clubs!

 Do you belong to a book club? I've been a member of several over the years, and I have a very big soft spot for them.

Twenty five years ago I joined a book club in the village I was living in at the time. The members were made up entirely of mums from the local primary school and I'm not sure we could really call ourselves a book club. Certainly we did all read a book each month, but to be honest that was the extent of anything bookish that used to happen. We would meet at someone's house and enjoy a lovely meal, then we'd spend a maximum of ten minutes (no, I'm being generous, it was closer to five minutes) discussing the book, followed by several hours gossiping about the local schools, a decision about new curtains, how many bottles of wine was acceptable on a school night - you get the picture!

These days book clubs have evolved due to the wonders of the internet. We can join in with online book clubs and discuss our opinion of a book with people from all over the world, connecting through our love of reading. And there is also the concept of a 'readalong' where we can read a favourite book by a specific author at the same time as fellow fans, pausing every few chapters to discuss what we've just read. Similar to a book club, but in much smaller chunks and for a lot of people with a hectic modern lifestyle this is more manageable.

I am also once again in a physical meet-once-a-month book club. And shock horror, we spend the whole meeting discussing the book! Well, sometimes we may stray into a moan about the state of the pavements while super-fast broadband is installed in the village, but we all congregate from different walks of life with a wide age range, so it's nothing like the book club of decades ago. The best part of this book club - indeed all book clubs and readalongs - is hearing such different views about something we have all read. Often these differ from my own thoughts; our different backgrounds and life stories change the way a book speaks to us. 

One of the most wonderful things about this book club is that we have a special library department to organise our chosen books, so we're all able to have a copy of the same book at the same time without having to purchase each one. I need no encouragement to buy books, but even I can see the wisdom of borrowing a book that I may turn out to not enjoy. And of course, every time a book is borrowed from the library the author gets a small payment - but that is a subject for another blog!

And in case you're interested, this month's bookclub book is The Fish Ladder by Katharine Norbury. It's part travelogue, part memoir and is very different (in a good way!) from anything I've read before.

Wednesday 15 March 2023

Romantic Novel of the Year Awards 2023

Exhausted but happy, I returned from the annual Romantic Novel of the Year Awards (RONAs) last Monday night, 6th March. Held by the Romantic Novelists' Association, it is always a spectacular evening to be part of and, on this occasion, I was a finalist in the Romantic Historical Novel category, with my dual timeline THE LEGACY OF HALESHAM HALL. Not a winner this time (huge congratulations to Natasha Lester), I still had an enormous smile on my face and joy in my heart. That's what comes of spending an evening with your tribe - and romance authors are definitely that!

I travelled down to London with fellow Norfolk and Suffolk Chapter members Heidi Swain, Clare Marchant and Kate Smith, and the hour and a half journey whizzed by. My fabulous agent (Hannah Schofield of the LBA agency) met me beforehand for a drink, and then I was whisked off for photographs with the other finalists, before we all took our seats and the evening began.

The night started with a moving tribute to Eileen Ramsay, former chairman of the RNA, who sadly passed away recently. She was a lovely lady and I remember talking to her at a RNA conference several years ago. She will be missed.

The first award of the evening was the Popular Romantic Fiction Award, which went to the delightful Heidi Swain, but huge congratulations must go to all the winners; Emily Bell, Emily Kerr, Jane Lovering, Sara Downing, Dani Atkins, Natasha Lester, Vicki Beeby, Louise Allen and Julie Haworth. The trophies were handed over with aplomb by Peter Davison, and there were some fantastic (and quite emotional) acceptance speeches.

The winners, with the glorious
Katie Fforde at the front.
(Photo credit; Camilo Queipo Photography)

To end the awards, and the section that had the whole room emotional was, of course, the Lifetime Achievement Award which went to the long-standing President of the RNA, the enchanting Katie Fforde. As the tributes poured in, the one word on everyone's lips was "kind". Such a kind lady - so generous and encouraging to aspiring writers and published authors alike. There was not a dry eye in the house.

My favourite photo! Full of giggles, it looks as though
Heidi and are about to waltz around the room.
(Photo credit; Camilo Queipo Photography)

As always, the RNA continues to play a huge role in my life, and not just my writing life. These people are my friends and my mentors, and I must yet again thank this incredible organisation for the knowledge, opportunities and support it continues to give me. Being shortlisted at the RONAs made me feel like a winner regardless, and attending these awards was truly a highlight of my year.

Jenni x


Saturday 3 December 2022

Finding Books in Spain


We’re spending a few months touring Spain in a motorhome, my husband and I. This is the third time we’ve done this, and it’s such a wonderful way to escape England’s grey, drizzly winter days. He’s retired and I can write anywhere, so we’re lucky to be able to do it.

Away from home, away from the TV – of course we end up reading a lot. We both have Kindles but we also read paperbacks. One thing we’ve discovered is that it’s amazingly easy to find English-language books to read while away in Spain, particularly while on the Costas.

There are a lot of northern Europeans who, like us, seek out the warmth of southern Spain for winter. British and Irish, Germans, Scandinavians, Swiss and Dutch people in abundance. And all bring books with them and then need more to read later in their trips.

In the larger supermarkets, such as Carrefour’s hypermarkets, you can buy books in various languages. All the big name authors will be represented, but you’ll be paying a premium for these books – no discounts at all!

Alternatively some street markets will have stalls selling second hand books for about a euro each. I’ve spent plenty of time happily browsing what’s available there, and yes, I’ll admit, I always check if any of my own books have made it out to Spain! (Never spotted one yet.)

Another option is to use the various book-swap facilities around. Many campsites will have a few shelves of books in various languages, and I’ve also seen them in coffee shops or just in tiny huts in town squares. The deal is you leave one, and take another. Some volumes look as though they’ve been kicking around Spain for years, being passed on over and over again.

One campsite I know well closed down its bookshelves during the Covid crisis. Even so, long term campsite residents found ways to pass on books. When read, a book would be left by the communal washing up sinks. You could guarantee it’d be picked up by someone else within a day.

I’ve found that reading books from book-swaps has introduced me to new authors. There’s a limited choice, of course, which will force you out of your reading comfort zone and get you to try something new. Also, campsite friends of various nationalities have passed interesting books on to me – the quirky but compelling books of Carlos Ruiz Zafon for example, and The Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting was given to me by a Norwegian friend who’d read it both in Norwegian and English. (And oh wow, what a fabulous book that was!)

So now when we come to Spain for the winter, we bring a selection of paperbacks that we know we’ll be happy to pass on when read. And we’ll keep our minds open as to what we’ll pick up in exchange for them!

Sunday 6 November 2022


Space and time are luxuries most authors crave, but being around writing friends and other creatives can also be hugely inspiring. So, when I was invited to join eight women on a pilot creative coaching programme, of course I said ‘yes’, chuffed to be offered such an opportunity...  but then immediately wondered what exactly I had signed up for!


I can only share my experience and have no expertise in the field, but the main tool used in sessions was ACTIVE LISTENING. A handy skill for writers too! Tanya Paget of Ellipsis Coaching was warm and friendly, immediately putting me at my ease. The initial focus was on beliefs and goal setting, which helps creatives work through issues in their personal and/or professional lives. Tanya’s business strapline is Write your next chapter... How could I resist! 

Tanya’s fundamental belief is that individuals are creative, resourceful and whole – meaning we have the knowledge to make the changes needed to gain whatever we seek in our lives –balance, confidence, more sleep, the ability to say ‘no’... the list goes on! 

Tanya Paget of Ellipsis Coaching


Coaching isn’t therapy. It tends to be goal-focused, looking forward, helping clients identify and work towards next steps. 


As I mentioned, part of the pilot coaching project included group sessions with eight fantastically creative women, who were an absolute joy to get to know. Confidentiality is key to these sessions, but I can say that the diverse range of creative disciplines in the room really added to the fun.

We were also offered individual sessions, which either took place over Zoom, or as a walking consultation, when there was time to drill down into what I wished to achieve and what was holding me back. Through gentle, incisive questioning, Tanya explored how barriers could be removed, helping me take small steps that have made a big difference. (In amongst new business goals, I now make time for Yoda Nidra – check out Ally Boothroyd’s FREE meditation sessions on You Tube here

Balance Stones


I opted for Zoom sessions and was a little concerned that such personal conversations might be awkward on screen, but this wasn’t the case as I quickly forgot that Tanya was in a different location. We also enjoyed a group session at Greenbrae Steading, Hopeman, a co-working space with a log-burning stove and spectacular views over the Moray Firth – a real treat. (A brilliant space for writing workshops too).

Greenbrae Steading's fabulous workshop space


Would I recommend coaching for creatives? Absolutely! I now understand how coaching helps individuals make time to think about their life, career, business, and clarify what should happen next.

Is career coaching an approach that could be used by publishing houses to support their authors  – particularly during such uncertain times? It's an interesting thought.

I would like to thank M:ADE (Moray Arts, Development, Engagement) for funding such a useful initiative.

Finally, just as important as the personal growth I experienced, was spending time with such an interesting, supportive, creative circle of women who love to laugh and share. I wish them all happiness and an abundance of creative success as they begin their next exciting chapter. 

Friday 30 September 2022

Living and Writing in York


Or in Yorkshire.

We retired to York 9 years ago for many non-writing reasons, but basically because we loved the city. However, it wasn't until I got the writing bug and started exploring the area that I realized how remarkable the County was! I mean, ANY county that produces the Bronte sisters, James Herriot, JB. Priestley, WH Auden, Alan Bennett, Val Wood, Kate Atkinson, Laurence Sterne, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Frances Brody, Ava Manelo, Jane Lovering, K LShandwick and Leah Fleming has to have something special going for it.

Of course, in terms of novels actually SET in York, I give you the amazing Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, with its very Gothic presentation of the city. Going back in time, Bernard Cornwell had York – or Jorvik, feature in many of his Uhtred novels! York is such a compact city you can walk around the encircling walls in an hour – and many of the streets have changed little over the last thousand years.

No piece discussing Yorkshire and its writers could be complete without mentioning the fabulous Milly Johnson - who was presented with the Rishard Whiteley Award for giving outstanding inspiration to others within the County.

If you are in the mood for Historical fiction (or fact), a walk around the city can give you a host of plot ideas! As can the city pubs! Ghosts abound – as do real-life characters like Guy Fawkes, Dick Turpin and Anne Lister.

Come at the right time of year, and you could find the Romantic Novelists Associationtion hosting an event there too. Recently they have been holding them in the Merchant Taylors Hall. In addition, you may find a writers' conference being held at York University.

Of course, all the attractions bring a downside too. A local paper ran a piece recently entitled "Death by Hen-Party". York being a central transport hub, Friday about 3 pm., the arriving trains start to decant groups of jeunesse dorée all determined to have a good time. To be fair, they are mostly harmless, and there is usually room for everyone.

York's other claim to fame is, of course, chocolate! Terry's and Rountree's were the big players in the chocolate markets of the Victorian era.

Like many chocolate makers of the era, they were Quakers and had a very paternalistic attitude to their workforce. However, they are STILL significant players in the property market. Rowntrees even built a theatre for their workers, and the Joseph Rowntree Theatre is in vibrant and popular use today.

When writer's block strikes, take a stroll, think back and imagine these very stones being trodden by King Richard III. You can literally walk in their footsteps. Towton, Stamford Bridge, Marston Moor and Fulford, some of the most infamous and bloody battles fought in England, have been fought here!

Finally – a word about hedgehogs! Our local ones seem to have gone into hibernation already. This is early but not exceptional. We have at least three who regularly visit us and seem to come back every spring.

Hedgehogs from earlier this year.

We are STILL putting the food and camera out – just in case. As it happens, we live next door to an old orchard with a large area of the untended garden. Heaven for hedgies – and they have a hedgehog highway through to our garden. My expert advisor for hedgies, Toni Burrell, says they only take about 15% of their food from what we put out – they get the bulk of their diet from what they forage.

Winter is definatly approaching. It is noticably cold at night, and the nights aare drawing in. Hibernating sounds like a good idea (if only!) Take care over the winter, and curl up with several good books. Hopefully, by the time spring comes around they will be joined by one or more of your OWN books!