Books I’m loving right now

Like most writers, I read – A LOT, sometimes to the point of it eating far too much into my writing time. My usual genres are romance, thrillers and the psychology of business, but every so often I delve into something a little different.

Here are four of my latest recommended reads, which you may like to give a go – depending on your mood! And don’t worry, no spoilers.

If you’re in the mood for: a meaty read with romance, drama, and packed with emotion, then try A Hundred Pieces of Me, by Lucy Dillon.

I’d normally go for something more lighthearted but my mum recommended this to me. It sat on my bookshelf for quite a while before I finally picked it up, but I’m delighted I did – I could hardly believe the similarities between the character’s life and my own. Her name is Gina (great name!), she has a lovely old school friend called Naomi (hi, Naomi!), she studied at Oxford (okay, getting a little spooked now…), and her mum’s name is Janet (erm, what the…?) who lives in Leominster (has Lucy Dillon been hiding in my wardrobe?!). There are other similarities too, which I won’t go into as I don’t want to give the story away.

Just when I started to think I was reading a biography, things took a turn in Gina’s life, which thankfully haven’t happened to me, and I got totally sucked in to this emotional page-turner. It was so lovely to read about Gina’s relationship with her best friend and her new pet at a time when her life was going totally awry.

I can’t explain the impact this book has – at a risk of sounding dramatic, it is rather life-affirming. If you like a book that makes you cry one minute and smile the next, then this one could well be for you. It has one of the best endings I’ve ever read.

http://lucydillon.co.uk/

If you’re in the mood for: a sweet romance with a unique, down to earth hero, then try Please Don’t Stop the Music by Jane Lovering.

I loved that this book was set near to where I grew up in York. Living far away, it’s easy to lose touch, so it’s always nice to step back in, even if it is through the pages of a novel. This is the second Jane Lovering book I’ve read, and I really like her style of light and shade, culminating in a happy end.

I listened to this one on Audible, and the narration, by Penelope Rawlins, flows well and is easy on the ear – always a bonus! The sub characters (I love a good sub character) add great colour to the story and offer pockets of emotion and humour throughout.

Definitely a good option for lovers of light romance packed with emotion and conflict.

https://www.janelovering.co.uk/

If you’re in the mood for: breaking free from the 9 to 5, then try Be a Free Range Human by Marianne Cantwell.

My top read of recent months, Be a Free Range Human is packed with advice, ideas and cool exercises for anyone who wants to explore the possibilities of going it career solo and needs some inspiration.

Marianne has a very unique approach, which is fascinating and refreshing. Far from being a run-of-the-mill ‘how to’ business book, she steers clear of the dull bits and focuses on the individual behind the business, ie you.

The book contains helpful tips and loads of real-life case studies, showing Marianne really knows what she’s talking about. I love this book. Love it.

mariannecantwell.com

If you’re in the mood for: a lighthearted and cosy romcom then try The Picture House by the Sea, by Holly Hepburn.

Sexy hero, picturesque location, likeable heroine and cute story line – what’s not to love?

This is the first Holly Hepburn I’ve read, but I liked it so much that I’m now halfway through another of her books, A Year at the Star and Sixpence (which is also very good – but that’s for another review another day).

Holly Hepburn has an interesting and quite unusual way of writing. Each of her novels is made up of four novellas. The novellas are released sequentially when she’s finished writing each one, and later are compiled into a full novel. In both cases, I’ve just read the whole caboodle in one. It makes for a fairly long read, but one which certainly captures your interest and keeps you wanting more.

I love a book with female friendships, and the relationship between Gina (I don’t just choose books where the main character has my name, honestly!) and Carrie, the owner of the vintage clothes shop is really nice to read. But the best bits are when the hero and heroine are together – burning tension, an undeniable attraction to one another, and a big reason why they can’t be together – make for a super dose of therapeutic romance.

Gina’s boyfriend (God, I hated him so much) pops up occasionally to throw a spanner in the works, and the local nasty girl (grrr) doesn’t help matters either.

So much fun – give it a go!

https://www.simonandschuster.co.uk/authors/Holly-Hepburn/576635648

How to find the enthusiasm to write after your squillienth rejection

Writing is a mug’s game. There. I’ve said it. At the risk of being labelled a pessimist, destroyer of all joy, fatalistic moron, or whatever else, I’m afraid I have to be truthful. If you’re a writer trying to get published, or just about to embark on your writing journey, I’m afraid the likelihood is you’ve either already collected enough rejections to decorate a bungalow, or are about to start your collection.

If I had a pound for everyone who said, “Well, J.K Rowling did it, and she had hundreds of rejections before…blah, blah, blah. BLAAAHHHHHH,” then I wouldn’t need to write a best-seller – I’d already be minted. J.K Rowling won the equivalent of the publishing lottery. There are some winners, yes. In fact, every week there’s usually one, but for every winner there are thousands upon thousands of losers. Unlike nipping down the newsagents to buy a lotto ticket, however, writing a book requires time – sometimes years of it – passion, and a huge investment in commitment, energy and hope.

Another thing people say when they’re being kind is: ‘as long as you enjoy writing, it doesn’t matter you get rejected, does it?’

Yes it does. It matters. It matters because when you write a book you pour your heart into it. Of course, the writing process is enjoyable (otherwise, why do it?), but it also takes a lot of time and means making a lot of sacrifices – especially if you have a family to think of. After all that, receiving a rejection is like a kick in the gut. Ten rejections is like getting a thorough beating from the biggest kid in school, and trying to pick yourself up to go back to lessons with a smile on your face.

When you get rejection letter one, you might be fairly philosophical about it – ‘ah well, didn’t expect to get picked up straight away, anyway.’ After rejection letter 10, you might start questioning your writing abilities. Imagine this many – and more rejections – for each novel you write. Then things start getting tougher.

In the last two years I’ve had three acceptances of novels, four of novellas and one for a short story. But in this same time and for five years before this, please understand, I’ve had tens of rejections. After a recent bout of rejections I was finding it particularly difficult to get started again with my next project.

I asked myself:

What’s the point if I’m so crap that no-one wants to publish me?

I’ve spent seven years of my life writing, and for what? – I could have spent the time doing a PhD and had something to show for it!

Just as I was really starting to question whether I was wasting my life doing something fruitless, an acceptance popped into my inbox. I’d almost forgotten even making the submission, and there it was – a real acceptance from a real publisher offering to pay me real money for a story I’d written that they really liked. Well, bloody hell.

This came at just the right time and spurred me on to re-work a manuscript I’d previously had rejected and submit it again.

This is the reality – agents and publishers receive thousands of submissions every year. They’re often reluctant to say how many, but on one agents website I was reading last week, it said the figure was in the region of 2,000 a year. The same agent said they took on around two new authors a year. The stakes ain’t high, folks.

Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking this article is designed to put you off writing. Far from it – it’s a reality check to manage expectations, but also me sharing my experiences to hopefully help you realise that if your work gets rejected over and over, you are very definitely not alone.

Rejections do not mean:

  • Your writing is crap.
  • You will never get published.
  • Your life is a big, jokey waste of time and you are deluded if you think your book will ever see the light of day.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to launch into some dross about how rejections make us more resilient and are part of the journey to success. Both those things are true, but they sound naff. What I will say however is that there is one way of guaranteeing you’ll never get published, and that’s if you stop writing.

A couple of years ago, before I got my first publishing deal, I just wanted someone to tell me whether I was wasting my time and should give up. Did my writing show any promise, whatsoever? I realise now that’s the wrong question. You know if you can write, right? You know if you have the desire and the gift to put sentences together and tell a ruddy good yarn. You know that.

Getting that publishing deal is a heady combination of luck, timing and you stopping feeling sorry for yourself after your squillienth rejection for long enough to get off your butt and write something amazing.

Every time you write a story, send a submission and get a rejection is one step closer to you getting that deal. If you can write, and you keep writing and submitting, you WILL get there. I read an interview with a very successful author recently who said that every book on a shelf represents years of hard work and dedication from someone who never gave up.

Who knows – you might be one of the very few who gets there first time, but if you’re not, take heart that you’re in excellent company. Many fabulous writers don’t get there first time, second, third, or even tenth, but they DO get there. And so will you.

Dos and Don’ts when submitting to agents and publishers

So, you’ve written the book and are ready to take the literary world by storm. All you need now is an agent and/or publisher to get the ball rolling. Simple.

Believe it or not, when you come to the query letter – the letter you address to the agent/publisher when you send them your work – writing the book will suddenly seem like the easy part. It’s a bit like giving birth then realising the hard work hasn’t even begun.

I’ve written my fair share of query letters (and still do!), so I’ve picked up a few tips over the years. Hopefully some of these might help you to write the letter that leads to publication…

DO – Keep it succinct. No-one likes a rambler. Any more than a single page and you’re rambling.

DO – Take the time to find out the name of the person you’re writing to. Dear Sir / Madam is lazy, and there’s no need for it now we have so much information at our fingertips. Even worse – Dear Sir – assuming everyone is male. Don’t do that unless you want your submission to go straight in the shredder.

DO – Include a short section on yourself: have you had any work published previously? If so, give details. Is your day job relevant? Even if you write business reports, it’s still writing, and if this is the extent of your CV, then mention it!

DO – I love this one. Always say WHY you’re writing to this particular agent/publisher. It’s good to mention other authors they represent whom you admire or who write for similar audiences to yours.

DO – And this is the biggie. Make sure you read CAREFULLY the requirements of the agent or publisher on the website before you write. In almost all cases they’ll tell you what they want you to include in your query letter. They don’t give these instructions so you can ignore them – they give you them to help you give yourself the best possible chance of it being read. Ignore at your peril!

DON’T – Send a submission to an agent or publisher who isn’t interested in your genre. You can work this out pretty easily – although it can be time consuming – by searching on the internet and reading the agents’ websites. They’ll always share this information as one thing they definitely don’t want is irrelevant submissions to add to an already huge reading pile. Thinking your work might be the one thing that changes their mind and gets them suddenly inspired in a genre in which they have no interest or experience, is pure delusion. So best not to do it.

DON’T – Be arrogant. Passages in your letter such as ‘This manuscript will change your life’ or ‘You’re sure never to have read anything of this quality before’ is a guaranteed fast track to that faceless rejection letter.

DON’T – Think this is the time for wacky creativity. Most agents and publishers these days request submissions are made by email rather than post. Even those who still accept post will not thank you for packages containing glitter bombs or any other quirky method of communication. Send what they ask, how they ask.

DON’T – Include irrelevant information. You don’t have the space. The recipient doesn’t care that your dream is to one day pen best-selling novels from the beach house you will buy when your debut book hits the big time, nor do they want to hear that you’ve read a load of rubbish books recently and reckon you could do better. Be proud, be confident, but be humble.

DON’T – Forget your contact details. Imagine the author or publisher loves your work but can’t get hold of you. Nightmare! Include an email address, postal address and phone number. And always make sure you mention any social media or blogging activity you do that’s relevant to your writing. Agents and publishers want to know you’re capable of self promotion.

Good luck!

Hooray – it’s publication day!

Very exciting day today as my latest book is out! The Curse of Camelot, published by The Wild Rose Press, is an erotic medieval novella. It was my favourite book to write as not only does it have a lot of ‘action’ in all senses of the word – I also hope it raises a few moral questions.

Here’s a short extract to give you a flavour.

Guinevere looked down at the man at her feet, the man she once loved. The only man she had ever loved. The man, who now looked pathetic in her presence. “Be standing, Sir Lancelot.”
He raised his broad body until he stood tall, towering a full head’s height above her. She took a step forward so they were as close as they could be without touching and looked up at his determined face shrouded with unruly blond hair that tumbled to muscular shoulders.
“You look weary, my knight.”
He avoided her gaze. He avoided looking at her altogether. Instead, his eyes focused firmly at the window of her chamber.
She smiled to herself. He knows what will happen when he catches sight of me. He knows resistance is futile, and yet he attempts it anyway. His stoicism almost made her feel sorry for him.
Almost, but not quite.

The Curse of Camelot is available as an e-book at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gina-Hollands/e/B07HWQXYFD/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

I’m often asked if you can read e-books if you don’t have a Kindle. The answer is yes, quite easily. Kindle has a free app you can download either from the play store or through Amazon. Just click on the book on Amazon and you’ll see the option to get the free Kindle app. Easy peasy!

Should I write in first or second person? Top ten tips to help you decide

This is a question I’ve been asking myself lately, as I’m about to embark upon a new book, which is different from anything I’ve written before. Normally, with commercial romantic fiction, third person is most common – although yes, there are plenty out there written in the first.

If you every find yourself with the same predicament, here are my top ten tips, which might help you decide:

  1. It could be argued that in the first person, you can really reach into the thoughts and feelings of the character, allowing the reader to empathise on a deeper level with them.
  2. If you stick with the first person, you can’t fall into the trap of head-hopping!
  3. Choosing the third person, however, means you can tell the story from more than one person’s point of view, which could be advantageous.
  4. If you opt for first person, there can’t be anything in the plot the main character doesn’t know – which could affect your story and how you tell it.
  5. Think about the genre you’re writing in and read, read, read! If you’re 50/50 whether to go for first or third person, you might like to go with the majority of authors writing in your genre – it could be an insight into what publishers prefer.
  6. If you’re writing commercial fiction and your aim is for your book to sell and be read, think about what’s fashionable at the moment. Literature trends go in waves, like any other type of fashion. If you’re unsure which way to go, thinking about what sells mean you shouldn’t go too far wrong.
  7. If you do opt for third person, remember you can still get into deep point of view by conveying the character’s thoughts and feelings. Italics tell the reader what is an unvoiced thought.
  8. Try writing a few paragraphs in the first person, then tell the same story in the third. What works best? What feels right to you as an author?
  9. Do you prefer reading books written in the first or the third person? It may well be that your reading preferences reflect your writing preferences too.
  10. Finally, like all dilemmas connected to writing, go with your heart! If your brain is telling you that you MUST write in the first person because that seems to be the trend, and everyone else is doing it, but your heart is screaming out at you to write in the third, go with your heart – it’s usually right!

Sooner or later, the rhythm is gonna get you

I had the best afternoon and night out in ages a couple of weeks ago as a few of us ventured into London for my lovely friend’s 40th birthday. Armed with tickets to see Gloria Estefan’s musical, ‘Get on your Feet’, and a restaurant reservation at The Port House on The Strand, we were like pigs in muck.

The Port House is a Spanishy/Portugesey tapas restaurant, which serves – wait for it – sangria cocktails! Mmm, delicioso! We ordered loads of different dishes, which we shared, all of which were scrumptious – especially the pork belly.

When it came to dessert we had something I’ve been wanting to try for ages – pastel de nata – or Portugese custard tarts. Oh my goodness – divine. I was so upset we’d decided to share. We also had churros with chocolate sauce, which my friend went completely ‘gooey’ for, and vanilla ice cream with sherry. Who’d have thought something so simple could be so utterly amazing!

We then waddled down the road to the Coliseum Theatre for the show. Never make the mistake of asking a stranger where ‘The Coliseum’ is. He’ll tell you it’s in Rome, which is exactly what happened to me when I enquired about the location of said establishment to a man outside a pub.

Luckily, we found it just in time, and took our seats for the performance. And what a performance it was – so much energy, great Latin tracks and some incredible salsa dancing.

We all absolutely loved it. Although it’s finished now in London, the show is touring the UK, so plenty of time to see it. If you’re looking for a super day out with friends, which is fun and frivolous, I can heartily recommend it.

@ Home Delivery

https://www.onyourfeetmusical.co.uk/

The Best Bit

The best bit of a new book coming out in my opinion is definitely seeing the front cover art for the first time. It can be a breath-holding moment if you’ve got a definite idea in your head about what it should look like. It could even be disappointing if the end product isn’t what you envisaged. I’ve been very lucky with all the books I’ve done so far in that they’ve all exceeded my expectations.

In my eyes, The Wild Rose Press has done another great job with my next book (to be released 23rd September). I had a really strong idea as to what I wanted to see on the cover of The Curse of Camelot – an erotic mediaeval novella – and it wasn’t exactly like the piccie above, which I think is a lot better than what was in my head.

With some publishers – The Wild Rose Press being one – you can submit notes as to what you’d like the cover to look like. Of course, unless you self publish, the publisher will always have the final say, although it’s important to remember that, in the vast majority of cases, the publisher does know best what sells!

For the Curse of Camelot I knew I wanted a close up of the main character, Guinevere, with a focus on her eyes. I imagined it would just be her, but the cover artist Diana Carlile added the knights in the background, which I think is a really nice touch.

Unless you’re with a publisher who photographs models for your book cover, your artist will normally work with stock imagery and will therefore be limited by the photos available. This means they can’t do things like show the characters from a different angle, or change their outfits.

When I see the email with the cover art attached pop into my email, it’s always with mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation that I open it. Thankfully, I’ve always loved the result, and this one’s no exception. I was very happy when my son said about Guinevere, “She looks like you, Mum.” I was all smug for a minute till he quickly added, “Just a hell of a lot younger”.

The Curse of Camelot – release date announced!

It seems like ages ago I put the final full stop on my latest erotic novella, which had at the time a working title of ‘Guinevere’. I loved writing the story, as it was my first historical/fantasy, and I didn’t hold back at all on the story line or the graphic descriptions.

I wasn’t sure whether a publisher would accept it as it is rather on the racy side to say the least, and is definitely not for readers who prefer a sweet romance, but the lovely folk at The Wild Rose Press took it (after confirming it fitted within guidelines), worked hard at getting everything tip-top and have today given me a release date of 23rd September.

My editor suggested a title change to ‘The Curse of Camelot’, which I thought was miles better, and patiently put up with all my changes, even the last minute ones where I realised I’d made some very stupid mistakes!

The artist is busy working on the front cover now, and I really can’t wait to see it. It’s nerve-wracking as for a change I have a particular idea how I’d like it to look, so I’m hoping she shares my vision. The same designer at The Wild Rose Press created the cover for The Virgin’s Gamble, Ice Hot and Secrets of the East Wing, and I love all of those, so I have every faith this one’s going to be great too!

The Curse of Camelot will be available to purchase on e-platforms (at 30,000 words it’s too short to print) from various websites including Amazon.

A Quick Good News Flash

It really perked me up last week when I received an email from the Ulverscroft Group saying they’d like to make one of my books into large print. As one of the leading worldwide publishers of large print, this was a great privilege, and it’s nice to know that one of my manuscripts will be available for a whole new audience.

The book in question is ‘Saving Alice’ which first came out in April this year as a My Weekly Pocket Novel. Pocket Novels are only on the shelf for two weeks (although I believe they can be back ordered online through the My Weekly website), so it’s great that the book will soon have a new life.

Who knows – one day it might even be available from the library. That would be a good day!

https://www.ulverscroft.com/

A Weekend in Belfast

My best friend and I like to meet up once a year in a different place. Given that she lives a couple of hundred miles from me, we rarely get to see each other, so a little treat away can be just the ticket. In the past, we’ve been to New York, London and a fancy hotel in the country. This year, it was destination: Belfast.

I’ve been to Belfast once before for 24 whole hours. It was for work and involved taking two professional strongmen on a ghost hunt around Crumlin Road Gaol – but that’s for another day.

This time, it was Belfast for a whole weekend and purely for leisure. How wonderful. And we weren’t disappointed. The best thing about Northern Ireland (in my humble opinion) is the people, who are so friendly and welcoming.

Belfast is a great choice when you only have a weekend at your disposal, as the city is small and easy to navigate around (even for someone challenged in that department, such as myself). We stayed at the Hampton by Hilton, which is centrally located and perfectly serviceable. It’s definitely ‘chainy’ so if you prefer a more independent lodging, probably not your best bet. Everything was clean and in working order and brekkie was good. The staff were all very nice.

If you fancy a trip to Belfast, I would suggest going in spring/summer when the weather is more likely to be good. When we went the weather in England was glorious and the weather in Belfast was fair, which I don’t think is particularly unusual. What was great, however, is that it was still really light at 11pm – much lighter than at home in South East England.

On the Saturday afternoon we went for afternoon tea at the Merchant Hotel, which was very pleasant – the building is spectacular. A champagne version is also available, but as we’re lightweights, we stick with the Darjeeling.

Later, we went to see Rock of Ages at The Grand Opera House. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting, but was a lot of fun. Afterwards, we went to Nu Delhi restaurant for a curry. To our surprise, it was buzzing, even at 10.30pm when we arrived. The food was good – very spicy! All was going as expected until a rather drunken bloke, who said he was the restaurant’s PR, turned up with free sambucas. It would be rude not to accept them, so we did, then we accepted the second round as well. There was then an almost-fight between PR man and one of the bar men, and we left, rather more under the influence than we’d planned. Anyway, all made for a fun evening.

During our stay, we also paid a visit to the highly recommended Titanic Museum. It’s definitely worth a visit, and there’s a cool little ride inside, which I hadn’t expected.

Transport to and from the airport (Belfast International) was really cheap and easy with the shuttle bus. It departs regularly, even on Sundays. My friend flew into George Best Airport and took a taxi. It’s only around 15 mins from the centre.

I flew with Easy Jet which was, on this occasion, beautifully punctual!

Where we went:

https://hamptoninn3.hilton.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/hampton-by-hilton-belfast-city-centre-BFSCCHX/index.html

https://www.themerchanthotel.com/

https://titanicbelfast.com/

http://www.nu-delhilounge.com/