Creative Writing workshop, Part Two, RNA, RWA, So You Want To Write A Book?, Writing

So You Want To Write A Book? Part Two…

1. Read as much as you can. Don’t restrict yourself to the genre in which you write. Try everything, from classics to pulp, new to old, fiction, faction or non-fiction. For instance, how many of these have you read? That’s this week’s homework! 😉

2. Join a class in creative writing, whether ‘real’ or online. It’s where I got my big break. Visit your local library (in this age of cuts to budgets, they need all the support they can get) to find out about local groups for readers and writers, and check out online sites such as

3. Join groups such as The Romantic Novelists’ Association ( in the UK or Romance Writers of America ( who provide lots of useful information and contacts. The Marcher chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association has been a great help to me. The support of other writers, and the constructive criticism provided by writing workshops is invaluable.

To make sure you don’t miss any of my top tips, follow my blog using the sign-up form on the right hand sidebar of this page. I send out a newsletter a couple of times a year with news about my writing, country life, competitions and offers—join my mailing list here.

Alison, Christina, Creative Writing workshop, Fay, Georgia, Her Royal Risk, His Majesty's Secret Passion, Joanna, Love On The Run. Princes Of Kharova, Marilyn, RNA

Creative Writing Workshop: Extract from my current WIP

Fay, Georgia, Christina Courtenay, Joanna & Ann
The Romantic Novelists’ Association does a lot for writers, and funding a creative writing workshop for its Marcher Ladies Chapter last year led to some invaluable spin-off sessions. I gave the opening pages of His Majesty’s Secret Passion, a test-run at our first workshop, and the completed book has now been published by The Wild Rose Press.  Ann Ankers arranged another day-long study session at Hereford’s Courtyard arts centre so I submitted the first ten pages of my current Work In Progress, Love On The Run.

You can read about a previous session here, but to recap, everyone submitted ten pages of fiction to Ann. She made sure all the samples were anonymous, before circulating them among the workshop members. We did a report on each, then presented our thoughts on everyone’s work during the day. 

Like His Majesty’s Secret Passion and Her Royal RiskLove On The Run is a contemporary romance set in the fictional Mediterranean country of Kharova. It’s the fourth book in my Princes Of Kharova series for The Wild Rose Press. The first two have already been published in both ebook and paperback (you can find out more about those here) and the third book, Heart Of A Hostage, will join them soon. 

Here’s the extract I presented to the workshop, with all the suggestions for improvement put in place. What do you think? To follow the progress of this, and my other writing projects, you can like my author page on Facebook, here.

Love On The Run

Uncrowned king, Leo—
Meg’s bad day was about to get a whole lot worse. The way her employer’s face twisted could predict  a skivvy’s fortune better than one of those cellophane fish from a Christmas cracker.  
“You took your time fetching that champagne. Went to France for it, did you? Huh. Staff these days.” 
Lucida Tipoli didn’t bother to get up from her recliner in front of the TV. She could poke Meg easily enough by sticking out her foot. “Thinks she’s something special, because she lives in the house with us. It never does to let girls get above themselves,” the blowsy, fifty-something woman told her husband.
”We only took you in out of the goodness of our own hearts, remember.” Arturo Tipoli added, without taking his eyes off the coronation coverage. This was the tiny country of Kharova’s 
second king in a year, and the first one to make it as far as the throne. Meg had a sneaking suspicion the Tipolis were only watching in the hope something would go wrong with this royal effort, too.  
You want me to remember your so-called generosity? You never let me forget it, Meg thought. She didn’t know which hurt most—fighting the urge to scowl, or biting her tongue to avoid telling her employers what she thought of them.
Another six months, and I’ll have saved enough to walk away from you forever, you rich, idle bitch. As long as you pay what you owe me…
“If she had more sense, she wouldn’t be living off other people’s charity.”
And…breathe! Meg told herself, I don’t have to take this for much longer. Another one hundred

Athan, The Man Who Made It—

and eighty four days, five hours, then I can tell you both where to stick your job. But until then, I need you as much as you need me.

“What would your poor mother say if she could see you now!”
If you treated me well and paid me better, Mum and Dad might even be proud of me again, Meg thought, but paying me more would mean I could escape from this place a lot faster…
“What are you smirking at?”
Meg’s face fell. Who am I kidding? I’m dreaming. I’ll never escape.
This was her reality. Blame and blows. The hardest of those was not hearing anything from Rob for months. 
He should have sent for me by now. Something must have happened. She worried about him all the time. He’d always wanted to fight with the rebels, to make a better life for ordinary people. He left, promising to send her money to tide her over until she got work. Instead, desperate to pay her bills. she’d been forced to settle for this horrible job. It was the only position which didn’t ask for references.  
“Hurry up and open that bottle! We need to toast the king’s first speech!” Lucida snapped.
Meg’s nimble fingers untwisted the wire cage over the bulbous cork, then released it exactly as the butler had taught her. Wasting no more than a sigh of carbon dioxide, she tilted a crystal champagne flute and poured in the golden liquid as words whispered from the television.
“Our live broadcast from King Athan’s coronation has been interrupted by circumstances beyond our control. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible, Until then, here’s some music…”
“Damned technology,” Arturo Tipoli grumbled, but the screen was already flickering back into life. His wife was more interested in the drinks.
“That’s no good! Where was the pop? You can’t have champagne without a pop. Go and fetch another bottle. Now!” she roared. Meg leapt aside, but instead of a blow from Mrs Tipoli, she suffered a direct hit to the heart. 
“Good God—what’s happening?”
A disaster was unfolding on the TV, right in front of them. For once in their lives, the Tipolis were silenced. They sat open mouthed, staring at the screen.
“We interrupt this broadcast with a newsflash. An incident during the coronation of King Athan has resulted in the arrest of six rebels. A seventh man, believed to be twenty-four-year-old Rob Steyner, escaped. The security services say he is extremely dangerous, and should not be approached. He’s believed to be heading back to the rebel stronghold in the north of the country.” 
A spasm of shock rocketed through Meg’s body, flipping the bottle from her hands. Mrs Tipoli screamed, but it bounced against the arm of the couch and quick-thinking Meg caught it on the rebound. 
‘You stupid girl! Have you any idea how much that costs? Keep your mind on your job!”
Meg wasn’t listening. A photo of Rob was on the TV. She’d taken it last summer, but it felt fresh as yesterday. Rob was laughing as a sea breeze tugged at his jacket. Her happiest day, reduced to a TV demand for information. So much had happened since that scorching summer. The awful, gut-wrenching row at Christmas with her parents. Rob’s determination to leave the city, and make a new life… 
Where is he now? The single familiar picture became half a dozen strangers. At least he‘s not in a police cell with them. Five of the photos were police mugshots of desperate-looking men. The sixth was an exception, in more ways than one. 
Meg recognised him. He was the new king’s valet. Both men had visited this house, before Athan inherited the throne.  Tirek Kalmend, the TV called him. The name meant nothing to Meg. The Tipolis knew Meg had form when it came to bringing shame down on a household, so they tried to keep her out of the way when they had guests.  They weren’t about to let her wreck their chances with the royal family and their supporters. 
The photo of this Tirek was from happier times, too. He was fooling about with friends at some charity fundraising event. He looked like what he was, a soldier letting off steam. 
“And him the new king’s closest friend,” Mr Tipoli grumbled. “Just goes to show, you can’t trust anyone.”
Thank goodness I can rely on Rob, Meg thought. I think…
Tirek watched a soldier snap the low-tech shackles onto his wrists, and wondered how he’d fallen into this nightmare. Arrested along with the five total strangers he’d helped round up and arrest, his loyalty was turning into a sick joke.
“I’m innocent. Why won’t you believe me?”
“Because that’s what they all say.” The guard shoved him down the cathedral steps toward a waiting police van. “If I listened to all the bs I’m fed, the country’s prisons would be empty, and my pockets would be full.”
“I wouldn’t count on it. Athan’s going to come down hard on corruption.” Tirek growled.
“…says the man who tried to wreck the king’s coronation, and masterminded a plot to overthrow  him.”
“That’s not true. Why will no one listen to me?”
“The daughter of the king’s private secretary stood up in the cathedral and told everyone you were at the heart of the latest plot. That’s why.” 
“I was working undercover. It was supposed to be a—” Tirek stopped. This might be the second worst disaster of his life, but knowledge was power. He’d keep quiet about his inside knowledge until he could tell the only person who really mattered.  
Why bother? No one’s listening. I saved Athan’s life, but he’s cut me dead. After everything I’ve done for him…now he’s king, he’s getting rid of all his trusted advisors and filling the palace with new faces, Tirek thought.  But there’s no time to be bitter. I’ve got to clear my name. That demands cool thinking—and  proof. 
His mind worked fast. Capturing rebel chief Mihail Dukagjini would be the perfect revenge on his accusers. Especially the woman who ruined his life…
Getting his own back on Bella Tipoli meant making a break for it. Tirek clasped his hands together. Swinging his shackled arms in a horizontal blow, he sent his guard tumbling in front of his comrade. As they stumbled, Tirek snatched his chance and dodged down the nearest alleyway. He was cuffed, but knew these back streets like a native. Working and clubbing with Prince Athan taught him the skills of survival long ago. The stakes were sky high. It was a shame this wasn’t a game of poker, but today, the deck was stacked against him.  
What innocent man goes on the run? One who knows he’s going to be stitched up by a show trial. Tirek’s mind raced almost as fast as his feet. He’d been ruined once before, yet clawed his way back to make a good life for himself. Faced with disaster again, this time he wasn’t going to go quietly—wherever he was headed.
The city was deserted. Everyone was indoors, watching what was left of the coronation coverage after all the excitement. In the distance, the deep baying of hounds started up. Tirek spotted a plastic trash bin, and used it to help him vault onto a recycling skip.  Once he was secure, he leaned down and hurled the rubber bin away down the lane, back the way he’d come. It made almost no sound, and would delay anyone chasing him. He used the skip to reach a high garden wall, bracing himself for a slow, dangerous shuffle, eight feet above ground where any tracker dogs couldn’t catch his scent. 
Tirek looked around, getting his bearings. The house was one of the Tipoli family’s more expensive properties, in the best part of town. Its garden wall was good and wide. He made a crouching run of almost a hundred yards before the boundary kinked left, and his way was blocked by the outstretched arms of an ancient yew tree, leaning out over a lane. 
The racket from his pursuers grew louder. They were hunting him like an animal. This is one lone wolf who’s not going to get cornered, he thought, burrowing into the greenery.
Meg was on autopilot. Her mind worked at a million miles an hour, while her body waded through  treacle. While Rob was on the run, there was still hope for him. For them both. She thought of the life she’d left behind at home.  Things were supposed to improve when she ran away to be with Rob. Now her life was all arguments and misery again. 
All I want is to be settled and happy. What’s so wrong with that?
“Are you asleep girl? Get those clean clothes out on the line while they’ve still got time to air! The king’s supposed to be speaking in ten minutes time. You’ll need to have that done and be back in here with more champagne before then!”
Meg carried the washing basket outside to the airer. Like some other things the Tipolis didn’t want to see, it was hidden from the house by a bank of spotted laurels. The sun was high and hot, but a shiver ran down her spine. She thought she felt eyes, watching her. She looked round, but the place was deserted. She was the only staff member allowed out here. The shed door hung open, but there was nothing but a scatter of tools abandoned inside after the last gardener got sacked for making too much noise. She stepped over the axe he’d dropped, when he stormed out after a shouting match with Mrs Tipoli.
They were lucky he only ran away, she thought. I wish I had the nerve to do that.
Tirek gazed down on the kind of life he’d left behind. Through the Tipoli’s kitchen window, he saw a heavy, dark bottle foiled in gold sitting on the sill. He loved champagne, and could still remember his first taste of the stuff. It was full bodied, enticing his spirits to dance, like the glittering lights in the bright blue eyes of that girl pegging out the washing.  
Raised voices inside the house were another barbed memory from his past. He wondered who his own family were threatening now. The yearning for all the luxuries of his past life shriveled again. As a child, he’d thought money could buy anything. As he grew, he found happiness missing from the shopping list. His own family could buy and sell this Tipoli tribe a dozen times out of petty cash. But for all his relative poverty, the patriarch of the Tipoli family sounded no happier than Tirek’s own father.
A small, stifled sound pulled his attention back down into the garden.
The girl was crying. 
That was too much for Tirek. Behind him, out in the city, the tracker dogs were getting closer. One of two things was going to happen. He could be caught up here, without trying to do anything for the crying girl. Or he could buy some time before his capture by dropping into this garden to do something about her tears before he either got caught, or she handed him over. It didn’t matter to Tirek either way. The way his luck was going, he’d end up a prisoner, sooner or later.
‘Psst!”  he hissed. 
Emerging from an earthquake of shivering sobs, she looked around the garden. 
‘Up here!”
She tipped her head back to face the cloudless blue sky.
The pursuit teams were so close now, Tirek could hear the noises the dogs made even when they weren’t barking. They were straining on their leashes, their handlers cursing as canine claws scrabbled against the cobblestones…
“In the tree!” Tirek whispered as loud as he could.
One of the hounds let out a bloodcurdling howl. The girl shrank, and instead of looking up at Tirek, turned in the direction of the sound. Tirek did the same, looking across to a solid wooden door, let into the outside wall. The great iron ring twisted, and it was shaken furiously.
“Who is it?” the girl shouted. 
“ Police. Looking for an escaped terrorist!”
“This is the Tipoli household. We’re all decent people here,” she said.
His sharp hearing attuned to the sounds of pursuit, Tirek laughed silently when he heard her mutter “those not part of the family, anyway,”
“Sorry to have troubled you, miss!” the policeman shouted, kicking his dog on down the lane. 
Tirek could have cheered. The girl picked up her basket, and was already heading toward the house
‘Psst—I’m up here. In the tree! Believe me, I’m not a rebel—but does that pack of hounds sound like they’d listen to reason?”
She stopped, and turned. “No…” 
Her hesitation was bad news. The sun was behind her, so her narrowed eyes had nothing to do with glare.
“…but why are they chasing you if you’re innocent?”
“I’m the new king’s best friend, whatever lies anyone might be spreading. Do you honestly think I’d take refuge within a hundred miles of a Tipoli residence if I wasn’t absolutely desperate?”
Her sudden smile gave all his clouds silver linings.
“Stay there, while I stall the family and think up a plan,” she said in a low voice.
‘Don’t bother. I’ve already got one.”
She stopped, hesitated, then swung round and headed for the wall where he stood. With a jolt, Tirek found himself looking down between the plump globes of her breasts. If he didn’t have the hounds of hell on his tail, he would have savoured the moment. 
“I like your style, and I need help to get these cuffs off. I never thought I’d thank God Kharovan security was still stuck in the Dark Ages. That cold chisel in the shed might do it,” he nodded toward the building. While she fetched it along with a heavy hammer, Tirek dropped down from the wall, heading for the wood-chopping block beside the shed.
“If you were one of the rebels, you’d know Rob?” She whispered, frowning as she lined the heavy metal blade across the emergency handcuffs issued to every member of the palace guard. 
Yes, if your help depends on it, Tirek thought— but she didn’t give him time to answer.
“He went off to get a job at Castle Dukagjini. That’s more help to the rebels than working in a city garage would be.”
Better and better, Tirek thought.  “Rob? Yeah. Everybody knows him. A good sort.” 
“Do you really think so?”

Tirek didn’t have time to notice the strange inflection in her voice. He was too busy wondering whether he was about to lose any fingers as she lined up the sharp metal chisel on the  short length of chain joining his wrists. There wasn’t much room for error.

To Be Continued…

So far, I’ve only written the first ten pages on Love On The Run. Bearing in mind this is the first draft, what do you think of the opening?
Creative Writing workshop, Dawn Chorus, signs of spring

This Writing Life…

I’m on holiday this week, lazing around the beautiful Costa del Back Garden. Although I might not be chained to my desk, the writing never stops. I’ve just sent out my spring newsletter, so if you’d like to read an extract from my current work in progress (working title, Love On The Run) get the recipe for Jamaica Orange Cake, or hear some great news about one of my street team, join my mailing list by signing in to the box on the right of this page.

This week I’ll be reading through the extracts submitted for the workshop being run by the local chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Each of the eight people taking part sent a piece of writing to the co-ordinator, who circulated anonymous versions of all the samples. We read and make comments on each one, which we then discuss when we meet up at the day-long workshop. It’s a really productive exercise. We’ve all picked up loads of ideas and improved our writing after holding previous events, and I’m really looking forward to this next one.

I write up a few nature notes nearly every day, and today it will be all about choruses: dawn and frog. Every morning I’m out before dawn, either running, or checking the greenhouses. This morning a dunnock fell out of bed to join me with an alarm call at about 6am, but the robins and other birds didn’t join him until about 6:15. The territories of five singing thrushes overlap in our garden, and I waste a lot of time standing and listening to them. You can get a taste of their song here. It’s hard to believe such lovely sounds are really war cries and warnings to rivals!

By Dick Daniels

Our wildlife pond has been alive with frogs, newts and toads for weeks. The water boils with amphibian action,  but spawn has only just started appearing in large amounts. The pond needs an overhaul. It’s the ambition of every small body of water to become dry land (or at least bog), so it’s an endless struggle stopping it silting up. That’s going to be a long, wet and muddy job for somebody. Maybe I’ll book a holiday away from home when that crops up on the “to do” list!

If you’re on holiday this week, I hope you can manage to get out and about in the fresh air. What’s your favourite sign of spring?

PS: If you fancy trying out my Jamaica Orange Cake at Easter, don’t forget to sign up to my mailing list, in the box on the right.

Creative Writing workshop, His Majesty's Secret Passion, NaNoWriMo, work in progress

Writing A Book In A Month, Part One

For thousands of writers all over the world, November means NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to start work on a novel on 1st November, with a goal of reaching a 50,000 word count by midnight on November 30th. 

If you’ve ever thought of writing a novel, NaNoWriMo is a great place to start. That unbreakable, unmistakeable deadline, coupled with a helpful website dedicated to this non-profit making enterprise, is a great way to turn ideas into words. In 2013, over 310,000 participants from all over the world made the leap from wishing to writing.  Sign up like they did, and you can get guidance, support, hints, and tips from professional writers and experienced participants via forums, email alerts and local groups. 

I’m coming in late to this game, and for a very special reason. My published novels (you can see them all here), whether historical or contemporary, come under the romantic fiction banner. I’ve always wanted to try something different, but I enjoy working in my familiar genres so I’ve never got around to branching out. My working life has always been very structured, but after attending a couple of RNA workshops (details here) I discovered the wonders of a free-form approach. Getting out of my writing comfort zone turned out to be less scary and more productive than I’d imagined.

November this year just happened to coincide with a gap in my work schedule, so last Monday I signed up for NaNoWriMo 2014. The process was easy. The prospect is chilling. All (!) you have to do is commit to writing a first draft of 50,000 words for your story, before the 30 November deadline. That works out at around 1,670 words per day. Every day. Once you’ve signed up, you start writing on November 1st. Each day, you log in to the NaNoWriMo site and update your word count on the header menu. It’s a stark measurement of your progress. I get stressed about reaching my usual10,000 word per week target as it is. Seeing my figures flagged up like that will really pile on the pressure. 

Everyone who reaches the 50,000 word target is a winner. From 20th November onwards, you can paste your completed novel into the NaNoWriMo site.  Once validated, you can apply for your winner’s badge (the NaNoWriMo site allows you to scramble your text, so you don’t need to worry about security).

NaNoWriMo helps writers in all sorts of ways. There are forums where you can get support and inspiration from other sufferers (sorry, writers). There’s even a section where you can pick up orphan plots, characters or settings suggested by other people, and generously offered to anyone who’s stuck. The whole site is a well of inspiration, and a hub for networking. 

I’ve had a particular Alpha male living inside my head for quite a while, but he felt too damaged to be the hero of a classic romance. I knew he’d be locked away for a life sentence unless I found some way to free him on parole. Then my local chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association held a workshop where we each had to submit the first ten pages of a novel. These would be reviewed by all the other workshop members.  It felt like the right place to give him an airing, so I let my mind freewheel around the idea for a few days. In that time, my damaged hero solidified into a guy called Josh with a “dangerous” dog and a bad attitude. He met an anti-heroine, Sophia, whose backstory is even darker than his own. Then I sat down at the computer and fooled around with the pair of them until I had a sample long enough to submit to the workshop. 

The other writers thought my new project had a future, but a series of tight deadlines meant Inever got a chance to do anything more with those first ten pages. 

Luckily, I finished my current Work In Progress, His Majesty’s Secret Passion, in time to sign up for NaNoWriMo 2014. It’s given me a concrete reason to devote one whole month to my new project. I’m raring to go, if a bit apprehensive. On the plus side, I’ve already got the first ten pages of my new novel, a folder full of character outlines and a general idea of what’s going to happen, to whom, and how.  On the minus side, typing “The End” seems a long way over the horizon, and it’ll be uphill all the way. 

I’ve cleared my diary, sharpened my pencils, and told the family I might be taking a holiday from the kitchen. If the words don’t come, we’ll be living out of the freezer until December 1st.

Keep tabs on my progress by subscribing to my newsletter—just click on the subscribe button top right, or drop me a line at christinahollis(at)

Are you going to join NaNoWriMo 2014?

Creative Writing workshop, Romantic Novelists' Association

Creative Writing: Self-Help And Suggestions…

View From The Barrow Wake by B.R.Marshall

If you want to write a best seller, self-help and sex are the subjects to get you the highest sales. Think of all the books on dieting that’ll hit the shelves to coincide with our New Year Resolutions in January 2015, or the sales figures of Fifty Shades Of Grey.

Whatever your book is about, how are you going to get it written? You’ll need imagination and determination, but it helps to have some encouragement along the way, too. This is where self-help and community action join forces.

I wrote here about how the Marcher Chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association held a creative writing workshop back in the spring. We each submitted ten pages of our work in advance. Then we all made notes on everyone else’s work, and presented them on the day.

I found the experience of having other writers assess my work really helpful. After all, they’re keen readers, too, and that’s exactly the audience I want to entertain.  After a day spent talking about nothing but the craft of writing, we all went home after that workshop with lots of inspiration.

Along with everyone else, I was encouraged to finish the work I’d showcased. You can read an extract from The Survivors’ Club here. Our workshop that day was the final push I needed to finish the whole book. After a final polish, it was packed off to the publisher. Everyone else arrived at our next meeting with similar stories. Nobody wanted to be the one to confess they hadn’t done anything more with their project!

The need for advice, and a spur to turn it into action, are prime reasons to join a local group. The online writing community is great, but sometimes it’s good to get out from behind your screen and meet other people face-to-face. If there isn’t a writing group in your area already, why not start one yourself? It’s got the potential to be much more productive that a simple book club, although there’s nothing to stop you combining the two. All writers are readers, and you might encourage other people to pick up their pens. That’s how fan fiction began, after all. You can cheer each other up when the going is tough, and cheer each other on when it’s going well. All it takes is somewhere to meet. Plenty of tea and cake always helps the creative process, but that’s optional!

If you want your meetings to be productive as well as sociable you need a good chairman (or chairwoman) to keep meetings on topic, and make sure everyone gets a chance to speak. Criticism should always be constructive, and try and keep to the ratio of three stars to every black hole–that is, highlight three times more good points than you give suggestions for improvement. It keeps meetings upbeat. That way, you all go home feeling your work has been praised more than it’s been criticised. It makes everyone feel more confident about tackling the suggested revisions.

Do you belong to a writers’ group or book club? What’s the most useful piece of information you’ve been given?