Interview with Author Morton S. Gray

Following the recent release of her new romantic novel, Sunny Days at The Beach, Morton S. Gray joins me to discuss all things books, including how she got into writing, where she finds inspiration for her characters and what we can look forward to seeing from her next.

Hi Morton, thanks so much for joining me. Tell us a bit about your new novel.

Sunny Days at the Beach is my fourth novel with publisher, Choc Lit. It’s a contemporary romance with more than its fair share of intrigue and mystery. The book features Mandy Vanes, who runs Owl Corner Crafts in my fictional seaside town of Borteen. Mandy arrives at work one morning to find teenager Nick Crossten sitting on the craft centre steps. He is distraught as he tells Mandy that his mother has left him home alone and gone off with her boyfriend to start a new life. As if that wasn’t enough, gin distiller, Graham Frankley arrives on the scene and tells the pair that Nick’s mum has written to him to say that he’s Nick’s dad!

Is this a stand-alone novel or part of a series?

Sunny Days at the Beach can be read as a stand-alone novel, but both Mandy Vanes and Nick Crossten have appeared as secondary characters in my previous novels for Choc Lit – The Girl on the Beach, my debut novel, which won Choc Lit’s Search for a Star competition in 2016; The Truth Lies Buried and Christmas at Borteen Bay.

How long did your new book take you to write?

Inspired by a magazine article I read in 2016, I wrote the first draft of this novel soon after that. I can write a first draft quite quickly, but then each book has to wait in line to be refined to publication standard. I like taking part in the annual writing challenge NaNoWriMo or National November Writing Month to write 50,000 words in November and I believe this novel was originally one of those manuscripts.

What’s your favourite part of the book?

Ooh, difficult to answer without giving away too much plot!

I guess I love the fact that my heroine, Mandy Vanes, declares the need for a change in her life, because her reputation in the seaside town of Borteen is terrible, but that change is brought about by something she would never have anticipated, when she takes in an abandoned teenager and has to grow up herself as a result.

When did you start out writing?

The first romance Morton wrote – when she was 14 years old

I have always read a lot and written stories. I can still remember the absolute delight when I learned to read and write. I devoured books from the library, which we visited every Saturday and I loved creative writing at school. When I was fourteen, I gave a school friend my first novel to read – it was a pirate romance, mainly inspired by the Errol Flynn swashbuckling films I used to watch on Sundays with my Nan. I still have this manuscript today.

Fast forward through O and A Levels, university, a divorce, two children, a marriage, two careers and then I started to write more seriously. I attended a weekly creative writing class and took an Open College of the Arts qualification, I began to shortlist in competitions for poems, short stories and first chapters of novels, eventually winning Choc Lit publishing’s Search for a Star competition in 2016.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

Being a writer is a very up and down profession emotionally. Worst – the hours of slaving away to perfect your manuscript, followed by gut-wrenching anxiety when you launch the finished book into the world. Best – when someone really gets your work and leaves you a nice review.

How do you get inspiration for your characters?

I get most of my inspiration in the shower! No, seriously, I seem to have characters and plot points come to me when I’m in the shower, or else walking the dog. I guess both of these activities take me away from my desk and allow my mind to freewheel.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout the writing/publishing process?

Stay true to yourself! It is very easy to listen to other people saying don’t try that publisher, don’t write about that it will never sell, etc. You need to believe in yourself and go with what your gut is telling you to do.

What are your top three reads of all time?

Only three!

Wintercombe – Pamela Belle – set in my favourite period of history, the English Civil War.

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen – I think this is the book that made me want to write.

Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert – I’ve chosen this one because I have read it many times and each time got a nugget of truth to help me with my life.

What are you reading at the moment?

At the moment I am reading a novel that has been on my to-be-read pile for a long time: The Best Boomerville Hotel – Caroline James.

What’s next for you?

Sunny Days at the Beach is the first book of a new three book contract with Choc Lit. All of my books to date are set in my fictional seaside town of Borteen – next up is a Christmas book about the Borteen solicitor and the one I’m working on right now is about Becky Finch, who has had a walk-in part in some of my other novels as a psychic barista working in a supermarket café.

Thank you, Morton, and the best of luck with the new book. It sounds very intriguing, as does the psychic barista in your work in progress. Can’t wait to read them!

More about Sunny Days at the Beach

From party nights at the pub to sunny days at the beach …

Craft shop owner Mandy Vanes has always enjoyed a commitment-free singleton lifestyle — in fact, she’s well-known for her wild ways in her small seaside town on the coast.

But when local teenager, Nick Crossten, turns to her for help, Mandy has the opportunity to prove she can be a responsible adult. Although things get tricky when gin distillery owner Graham Frankley comes to town with some unexpected news.

Could this mean that Mandy the party girl is finally ready to grow up?

Buy now at https://www.choc-lit.com/dd-product/sunny-days-at-the-beach/

About the author

Morton lives with her husband, two sons and Lily, the tiny white dog, in Worcestershire, U.K. She has been reading and writing fiction for as long as she can remember, penning her first attempt at a novel aged fourteen.

Morton previously worked in the electricity industry in committee services, staff development and training. She has a Business Studies degree and is a fully qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Reiki Master. She also has diplomas in Tuina acupressure massage and energy field therapy. She enjoys crafts, history and loves tracing family trees. Having a hunger for learning new things is a bonus for the research behind her books.

You can catch up with Morton here:

www.mortonsgray.com
Twitter @MortonSGray
Facebook facebook.com/mortonsgray
Instagram instagram.com/morton_s_gray

A quick piece of news

There are few things more exciting about being an author than when your book goes into the spoken word. My new release, Little Village of Second Chances, has now been made into an audiobook thanks to Isis Audio, and is available on Amazon Audible https://adbl.co/2CyfDfD.

Isis Audio interviewed me ahead of the release, and here is the Q and A.

Interview with author, Claire Sheldon

Claire Sheldon’s debut novel, Perfect Lie, is released on Choc Lit TODAY, and to help celebrate the launch of her book, here is a Q and A with Claire.

Congratulations on the release of your new novel, Claire! Can you give us a flavour please about the plot of Perfect Lie?

It’s about housewife Jen, who has built up what she thinks is the perfect life. She has everything; the hubby, the adorable kids but then starts to receive things through the post, such as a bunch of flowers and a card, with no idea who is sending these and why.

Meanwhile, a body turns up in the town of Long Eaton and DI Chris Jackson and his team are called to investigate, but they can’t ID her and no one knows who she is. When they eventually get a hit of who she is, Jen has to decide between promises she once made and her family

How long did it take you to write?

I guess four to five years. It’s been a long slog and I am looking forward to finally getting Perfect Lie over the line on the 16th June.

What’s your favourite part of the book?

Other than when I typed custardy suite instead of custody suite, there is a line in there when the DI says “What the actual fuck!” I think that is my best bit.  

When did you start out writing?

I wrote a lot of teenage angst stuff when I was younger, so if anyone wants some YA, it’s in my bottom drawer somewhere. But seriously, it was when I had to cut my hours at work due to my health and I suddenly found myself with free time and no idea how to fill it. I joined a creative writing class and, along with inspiration from some great authors whose books I was reading, I made a start and the rest, as they say, is history.

What are the best and worst things about being a writer?

The best bit for me was when the cover reveal happened and then Choc Lit were having their festival. I pretty much spent the day at the computer trying to keep up with it all.

The worst I have to say is the emotional rollercoaster of it all, from submission to publication, far too many up and downs for my liking.

How do you get inspiration for your characters?

A lot of daydreaming. Jen was at the height of her career and she did the one thing she never expected – she fell in love with James.

DI Chris Jackson is kind of me. He was brought up with all the police dramas I was, so as soon as he was old enough he joined the police and worked his way up the ranks because that at the time was all he ever wanted.

And James, he lives the corporate lifestyle, and has everything in his life mapped out in front of him, until it goes wrong. James is the extreme other end of some of the guys have worked with over the years.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout the writing/publishing process?

I don’t have patience at the best of times, so I’ve had to try to have more. Now I’m a published author, I’ve seen that it’s all worked out in the end, even though there might have been tears along the way.

What are your top three reads of all time?

This is so hard! I’m going to go with C L Taylor – The Lie; Mark Edwards – Because She Loves Me; and Rebecca Bradley – Shallow Waters.

These three authors have been a great inspiration to me, and these were the first books I read by each author.

What are you reading at the moment?

I have just finished Moscow Whisper by Mike Jenkins. I have no idea what I am going to read next – I’ll probably stare at my bookshelves and then maybe pick one or possibly go with The Beast by Matt Wesolowski.

What’s next for you?

I have one book which is with the publisher and I am currently attempting to write my third, slowly but surely…

If Perfect Lie sounds like your perfect read, you can grab your copy on your preferred platform now:

Amazon https://amzn.to/2XdiWyM.

Kobo: https://bit.ly/36T7mO0

Ibooks: https://apple.co/2TVYvpj

Google Play: https://bit.ly/3dj40WZ

Barnes Nobble: https://bit.ly/3gAeT8V

New release – now available for pre-order

When a book comes out it makes all the years of hard work – and yes, sometimes it can takes years! – worthwhile. In about a second of seeing the front cover (such a brilliant moment), all that fades away and you’re left with a beautiful thing that’s testament, certainly not just to your own work, but to everyone else’s too – the publishing team, editor, proofreader and, of course, friends who helped and supported you along the way.

Until I had a book published, I must confess to having no idea about the amount of time and knowledge that went into it from everyone involved. Now I know, it makes me so grateful to everyone who made it possible.

With Little Village of Second Chances – my new book, which is available now for pre order – I got an opportunity for the first time to write an acknowledgements page. I’ve dedicated each of my past books to someone special, which is great, but it can be difficult choosing one when so many deserve a mention. That’s why it was so nice to write the acknowledgements page this time – to say thank you to everyone. My palms are slightly sweaty now as I hope I didn’t forget anyone.

That’s the acknowledgements, but what about the book? Probably the best way to give you a flavour is to share the blurb. Here it is:

Surely everyone deserves a second chance?

Ex-fireman and edible flower farmer Shay McGillen has plenty of reasons not to give Sarah Pickering even one chance when she turns up in his small Yorkshire village. After all, she is only there to try and convince him and his fellow villagers to sell up so her company can build a bypass. If Sarah thinks she can make Shay give up his farmhouse and his business, she has another thing coming!

But when an unexpected blizzard leaves Sarah stranded in Shay’s home, he soon realises that they are far more alike than he could have ever imagined – and perhaps both of them deserve a second chance …

If you like the sound of Village of Second Chances and want to read the full story, you can pre-order through Amazon here: https://smarturl.it/9wvutt

Hmm, what does a writer do now?

Self-isolating or being on lockdown is probably less of an issue for writers than many other people. Let’s face it, a lot of us voluntarily isolate anyway!

However, the issue raises questions in another way. I’m just coming to the final stages of my work-in-progress and, due to the current circumstances, will need to change all the dates since the time spans from June 2020 and June 2021 – with obviously no mention of Coronavirus, as when I began it, ‘Corona’ was nothing more innocuous than a lager.

Oh dear. This week I’ve been thinking – do I move the time in the story on a year, not knowing of course if Coronavirus might come back and therefore be a major world issue still, or move it further back, thereby potentially running the risk of making it less relevant. Hmm, questions, questions…

No doubt I’m not the only writer with this or a similar dilemma. In my next book, which I’m planning to start in summer, do I mention Coronavirus as it either still will be or will have been such a huge part of life, or do I avoid the subject all together?

That’s it – answered my own question. Who wants to either write or read even more about something we’re surrounded by day-in, day-out? Not me! No siree. No thanks very much. All that isolation, death, illness and job losses – hideous. If I remind myself why I read and why a lot of other people read – it’s to get away from all of that – escape, relax and enjoy, even if it’s just for the length of time we’re immersed in those beautiful pages.

So, no, I think I’ll keep Coronavirus out of it. And then we can elect to stay home for a nice reason – to read a book that makes us happy.

First book birthday!

It’s two years since my first book, The Virgin’s Gamble, was published. It actually feels like a lot more, but that might be because so much has happened since then, with the launch of 3 erotic novellas plus a sweet romance novel, and a new book to be launched this year.

I’ll always have a big soft spot for Domino and Luca as they’re my first fictional couple to be published, and what fun they were to write – both had experienced rough times, but that made their meeting even more passion-fuelled!

I’m celebrating their second anniversary with the launch of this trailer. Even two years on, they’re still getting up to all sorts!

Our week in Puerto de Mogan

Up until yesterday we were in Puerto de Mogan in Gran Canaria on a week’s holiday. I read the British headlines with interest, all about the ‘apocalyptic sandstorm’ hitting the Canary Islands, where people had apparently been advised to stay indoors with the doors and windows firmly locked. Typical over-dramatised dross, of course, but experiencing the Saharan sandstorm was interesting nonetheless.

Apocalyptic it was not, but it did admittedly turn the world rather orange for a day (as you can see from the last picture here when we braved the beach) – it was a free exfoliation treatment but there was no way we were going to stay in on our final day of holiday – we’re British – no rain means bikini on the beach!

Aside from that last day, the weather was incredible – hot but not too hot, and that’s their winter (February to be precise). Puerto de Mogan is a perfect holiday destination for families and people who want a nice, quiet holiday. It’s a smallish place with a lovely marina and plenty of restaurants, but unlike most places in the Canaries, it’s pretty dead by 9.30pm.

The downside is if you like walking, there’s not really anywhere to go as it’s all fairly enclosed, but other than that it’s ideal – quite a few nice shops, pretty scenery and lots of choice when it comes to eateries and ‘drinkeries’. There’s a lovely square by the harbour (see pics) where you can eat al fresco and soak up the atmosphere.

If you do need an escape, then you get easily get a bus (bus station is central) to the nearby bigger resorts of Maspalomas or Puerto Rico. We didn’t, because we just fancied a peaceful holiday where we could spend the days on the beach and the evenings eating out.

We self-catered, staying at ‘Modern Apartment in Puerto de Mogan Artes II’ which was indeed very modern, clean, spacious and bang smack in the centre of the resort, about a minute’s walk from the beach – handy. I booked this and taxis to and from airport through booking.com which was splendidly easy peasy – I sound very Judith Charmers.

And of course – I did plenty of writing – all before 11am when the sun came out. Perfect! I’m not three quarters of the way into my new novel, so on the home straight. Speaking of which, despite some poor fellow travellers being delayed 48 hours, we had a mere 2 hour delay. Good ol’ Easy Jet!

5 must-haves for your romance novel

Thinking of writing a romance?

Publishers will often say there is no format when it comes to writing in this genre, which is often criticised for being formulaic. Is that the truth? Well, it depends what is meant by ‘format’. Certainly your book should not be a carbon copy of another, albeit it with the names and maybe location changed. There are however certain elements that are ESSENTIAL for a romance novel.

Publishers do state they want to see fresh voices and new ideas on traditional tropes, however, this does not mean they want something so unrecognisable from anything else ever published that it could barely be considered romance.

It’s important to remember that readers of this genre are loyal and big lovers of romance, and therefore they tend to know what they want. No, of course they don’t want to read the same rehashed story over and over, but they do expect certain things that romance writers should stay true to if they hope for success.

So, what are these ‘things’?

1. A happy ever after or at least happy for now (HEA/HFN)

A romance novel cannot end with death, destruction or sadness. Unlike the books of years gone by, a modern book can conclude with a happy for now, e.g. the start of a wonderful relationship as opposed to a marriage proposal.

Don’t be tempted to get cocky by changing these rules and thinking your writing is going to change the face of romance forever. It won’t. What’s that you’re saying? Nicholas Sparks does all right by bending the rules? Yes. Yes, he does, doesn’t it? What can I say – there’s always an exception. Chances are, however, if you’re just starting out, it won’t be you, so best go with the HEA/HFN.

2. The black moment

This is the moment in the book when, just as everything is looking rosy with the couple, the proverbial sh*t hits the proverbial fan. Perhaps an ex comes back on the scene, a secret is revealed, or the hero/heroine makes an unwelcome discovery about the other. Whatever it is, at this point their relationships looks doomed. The reader realises there are only a few pages left – precious little time for them to get back together – and is concerned it can never happen. Plus, if you’ve built your characters up so the reader really, really cares about them, this will be felt even more powerfully.

3. Conflict

Be under no illusion: no conflict = no story. Well no good story anyone wants to read, anyway. Have you ever read any decent romance where the characters meet, sail through the getting-to-know-you process, and live happily ever after? No, you haven’t, because that stuff doesn’t get published.

Conflict is at the core of every romance. It’s the reason your characters can’t / won’t get together immediately. In fact, the conflict should be so strong that the reader is hard-pressed to see how these two could ever make it.

So, what kind of conflict are we talking about? Clearly it’s not that she wants to paint the walls white but he prefers green. This is deep-rooted, internal conflict. By internal, I mean it’s nothing someone else is imposing on them, and nor is it some silly misunderstanding. Some examples are:

  • The characters are from feuding families
  • They’re fighting for opposing sides (political, environmental, capitalist v liberal, etc)
  • They share a turbulent past
  • His job conflicts with her moral beliefs (or vice versa)

There are many manifestations of these and other conflicts, which is why no two romances may ever be the same.

4. They learn from one another

Just like in a real-life relationship, two people in a fictional work need to get something out of the relationship and from each other. That ‘something’ is often a new way of thinking that makes them stronger in some way. Examples could be:

  • An up-tight character becomes more relaxed thanks to the other person
  • A commitment-phobe learns to love
  • A workaholic realises the importance of family time
  • A fat cat discovers the needs of a community

There are many others, so the world’s your oyster, but the important thing here is make sure that BOTH parties learn something from the other, and not make it all one-sided.

5. The couple finally reunites and finds a resolution

This goes back to point 1 – the HEA/HFN, but before the author realises all is good with the couple, it needs to be made clear how this has been achieved. Some examples are below:

  • An action triggers one of the characters to have a change of heart / see the world for what it really is – e.g. the boss they serve makes an unreasonable demand forcing the character to re-evaluate their values.
  • Self-reflection and perhaps some harsh but true words result in a shift in a character’s mentality.
  • One character discovers the other’s true feelings, even if they’re not said in a plain way, e.g. sees a painting they’ve created / hears a song they’ve written.
  • One character realises their eyes have been opened by the other, e.g. the fat cat who’s always been driven by profit sees the true sense of community in the village they’re trying to knock down.

Whether you call this a formula or not, hopefully you can see that such a wide spectrum of options means every romance can still be beautifully unique while being true to the must-have elements in the genre.

And…relax.

So, just a quick update blog. It’s another two weeks before this pesky cast comes off my arm and I can resume normal life. Not being able to drive is THE worst thing ever. How do people cope who can’t drive? I’m having to rely on lots of lovely, kind people to ship me around, and I feel like such a burden.

There are advantages, however. I’ve had to slow down my pace of life, which has been very beneficial and made me realise I try to squeeze far too much into my days. I’ve got a huge fear of being unproductive and useless, but actually, running yourself into the ground trying to get a million things done is, apparently, not healthy either.

Being forced to not do this anymore (husband having to do more school pick-ups and sports club runs, plus cooking and other joyous household chores) has been rather therapeutic. I’ve even had a massage and booked myself in for another which I never do! It’s wonderful to have that to look forward to on a Saturday, and it really helps as carrying a pot around on your arm all the time is HEAVY. I’m going to have one amazing bicep when this baby comes off.

I’ve heard that when a cast is removed, the limb underneath it is pale, skinny and hairy. God knows how that’s going to work out for me as my arms are already these things. What with my oversized bicep above a practically translucent, skinny and hirsute wrist, I’m going to be gorgeous.

Although I cannot wait to have the cast removed, I will miss these aspects of it. My friend has suggested I get a zip-up one when I fancy an excuse for putting my feet up. I definitely won’t be going back to quite such a fast pace of life. And I’m going to insist we share making the weekday dinners – who on earth wants that to look forward to after a full day at work – not me!

Luckily, I can still type fine, so the work in progress is coming along. Having not been able to ski over Christmas and therefore spending five days writing almost solidly, I’m a lot further forward that I thought I’d be by now.

My next session with my mentor is this Sunday. This is always nail-biting experience – not because she’s scary and critical, which couldn’t be further from the truth – but because I really don’t want to disappoint her after she had such nice things to say about the first 25k words. What if she thinks the newest section is a load of pap? What if she thinks I should re-write the whole thing? What if she laughs so hard at my efforts that it causes an earthquake and I fall and break my other wrist? Arrggghhh!

Pausing the drama for a second, I’ve just found out that my sweet romance novel ‘Saving Alice’, which came out as a My Weekly Pocket Novel last year, is being released as a large print by publisher Ulverscroft on 1st June this year. I really hope that I’ll walk into a library one day and see it there. That would be a dream come true. Like meeting Jason Momoa and him wondering where I’d been all his life; or being even more successful than J.K. Rowling; or Simon Cowell donating one of his mansions to me. Okay, maybe not quite that exciting, but not far off at all.

My aim this year is to complete this work in progress, and then write a second book. Not sure yet whether to write a chicklit or try something I’ve always had my sights on – a cosy mystery. Ooh, now that does sound exciting…

FOMO or JOMO? – An unexpected writing retreat

We were looking forward to few days skiing in Geilo, Norway, in between Christmas and New Year, but unfortunately, as I arrived with a broken wrist due to taking a tumble two days before Christmas, there was no skiing for me. So, while my husband and son were out perfecting their ‘carving’ (oh, how that makes me realise how far behind them in the skiing stakes I am), I’ve been stuck in the lodge.

Watching everyone excitedly pulling on their ski boots and heading for a day on the slopes gave me a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out) on the first couple of days. However, I bagged a spot in the bar – quiet table in the corner with good lighting – and worked on my new novel. I’ve managed to write every day so managed to get to the 50k word count goal I’d given myself till mid January to achieve. I’ve also discovered that I can type reasonably OK even with an arm weighed down with plaster.

I’d love to say I haven’t minded at all missing out on skiing – and swimming , which is another reason we picked this hotel – but that would be a lie. However, I have really enjoyed the peace and quiet and the rare opportunity to get stuck in and do a few hours of uninterrupted writing. What was meant to be an active family holiday has become a spontaneous writing retreat, for me at least.

I’ve even managed some reading – which is an even rarer treat. I’m currently three quarters of the way through Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party, which is bloody brilliant, and I can’t wait to find out ‘whodunnit’!

So, while my skiing progress might have stalled somewhat, at least I’ve managed to turn some of my FOMO into JOMO (the joy of missing out).

It’s also given me time to wander around – although largely inside since I don’t fancy taking my chances walking on the ice – and taking some snaps, which I’m sharing here – such a pretty place.

Happy New Year and may 2020 bring you more JOMO than FOMO!