Blog, Romantic Novelists' Association

Romance, Cake and Tea…

Dancers—with world-famous Betty’s in the background!)

…what more could anyone want?

Last weekend DD and I went to the RNA’s York Tea. We got to the city on Friday, a day early. That gave us time to do some shopping and sightseeing. DD did a lot of her archaeological training with the York Archeological Trust, so we enjoy the sites as well as the sights!

On Saturday morning the city was extra busy, with teams of traditional dancers from all over the country parading and displaying in the rainy streets.

I managed to get some Christmas shopping done. It’s far too early to think about that, of course, but my excuse is that I live a  long way from the shops, so I grab any chance to pick up presents when I see them. DD did even better than I did. She found a dress she liked better than the one she’d brought with her to wear at the party!

A really warm welcome!

The RNA York tea was held at the Merchant Taylors’ Hall, a medieval guildhall. It’s very grand, filled with beams, stained glass and coats of arms. The building itself is so close to York’s ancient city walls, you can look up through the high side windows and see people walking along the ramparts.

I had a lovely time putting faces to online names, and catching up with friends I hadn’t seen since the RNA conference in July. I don’t need to worry about DD on these occasions as there are always plenty of historically-minded people around. Her speciality is Neanderthal culture, which is about as far removed from the Regency ton as you can get, although on Saturday afternoon everyone seemed to get on very well!

This was one of several beautiful cake stands on our table

We were served a traditional English afternoon tea in front of a wonderful and fragrant log fire. It was the  perfect antidote to the grey skies outside.  There were sandwiches in several varieties, scones with cream and jam, fresh strawberries, slices of cake and individual tartlets filed with fresh fruit and cream. An unexpected treat was the arrival of individual cones of pretend newspaper, each holding a small piece of fish in batter and a large chip! It was all delicious. A glass of prosecco each, with endless tea and coffee refills added the perfect touch.

Jean Fullerton’s great speech inspired us all to speak up for the cause of Romance writing. Our genre is usually rubbished in the media by people too lazy to find out the truth behind the art and craft.

I was so convinced by Jean’s argument, it almost made me wish my next book was going to be a romance, rather than a work of non-fiction!

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So You Want To Write A Book? Part Four…

1. Whatever you write, pour your heart and soul into it. If you believe in your work, then so will your readers, and you want to appeal to the widest possible audience. Read widely, join book clubs and talk to people. The more research you do into finding out what people like to read, the happier you can make them.

2. Find yourself a successful mentor, preferably by making personal contact through your membership of a good professional group, such as the Romantic Novelists’ Association, or the Romance Writers Of America. You need someone you respect, who knows what they’re talking about, who’ll be honest about your work, and suggest ways you can improve. If you can’t find any face-to-face guidance, go online and check out popular writers whose work you admire and see if they’ve produced any guides to writing that will help you.

3. Word of mouth recommendations drive the majority of book sales, so think creatively when it comes to getting your books into the hands of willing readers. If your book is good, your readers will spread the word far and wide, at no expense to you. Above all, enjoy your writing and remember—success isn’t only measured in financial terms. To have completed a book you’re proud to have written is a great achievement.

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.

RNA conference 2014, Romantic Novelists' Association

RNA Conference 2015—A Writing Holiday

Find out more at

I’m off to London today as the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference starts at the end of this week. I’m going to be incommunicado for a while, as I don’t have any designer gadgets, or even a smart phone, so I’m going to use the time away from my desk as a writing retreat—at least until the conference fun starts in earnest on Friday afternoon.

I’ll miss chatting online, but I hope to meet lots of you at the conference!

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?

Creative Writing workshop, Romantic Novelists' Association, The Barrow Wake, The Survivors' Club

Work In Progress – Creative Writing Workshop Update…
View from The Barrow Wake, By Brian Marshall

This week I went to a meeting of the Romantic Novelists’ Association Marcher Chapter, where we discussed the workshop we held in the spring. Everyone thought it was so useful, we’ve agreed to hold another one as soon as possible. You can read about our previous workshop hereThis is the extract from The Survivors’ Club I submitted to the workshop, now it’s been revised according to the advice I got on that day…

Eden’s determination died with the car’s engine. She knew she should jump straight out, and into her new life. Instead, she took a death-grip on the steering wheel and scowled at the Waterstones bag lying on her passenger seat.
What a waste of money.
Buying that book was supposed to change her life. It said so right there, on the cover. So why wasn’t it working?
You could at least make an effort.
Eden swore under her breath. Snatching up the bag, she wrestled her new book out and propped it up in front of her. This damned self-help manual was supposed to evict her mother’s nagging from her brain, not echo it. 
The glossy dust-jacket of Why Are People Mean To Me? summed up Eden’s life in primary colours. A tiny human form cowered beneath a mob of Henry Moore-style giants. Recognising herself in that image had drawn Eden straight across the precinct, and into the shop.  
She sighed, and slid her finger over the title.
I wish I knew.
The cover prompt on Why Are People Mean To Me? said it was because she hadn’t read the book yet.
Tom was always telling her it was paranoia.
Eden wondered who to believe. 
The only thing she knew for certain was that wandering round the shops on the third Tuesday in January had been a bad idea. Everywhere, from Twitter to the news headlines, said this was the most depressing day of the year. With ten people ahead of her in the queue for every job, Eden could believe it. That was why investing £14.99 in Arianne Forrester’s new self-help book had felt like such a brilliant idea. Right up until the moment she handed over her debit card. 
That was when she panicked. Paying for the book was the point of no return. Saying goodbye to fifteen pounds meant she’d have to act on its advice and instructions. If she didn’t, all that money would be wasted. She’d wanted to change her mind, drop the book and run. Pinned down by the shop assistant’s expression, she paid up. Feeling sick at the extravagance, she was pulled off course only once on the way home. She needed to stock up on one vital item. An overdose of chocolate always made things feel better… at least until the next time she got onto the scales.
She elbowed her way into the house, weighed down by bags. The front door slipped away from her, and slammed. The whole place shivered. She winced, waiting for Tom to start roaring.
Nothing happened.
With the central heating on full blast, the house was a tropical paradise. The effort of carrying the shopping while bundled up to face the arctic conditions outside made her breathless.
       ‘Tom! I’m home!’ 
She was already half-way to the kitchen. When he still didn’t answer, she stopped. 
‘There’s chocolate cake!’
Her heart thumped, and not only with the effort of carrying her bags. She put them down. If mention of food didn’t get him on the move, he must be ill. That might explain why he’d shoved a couple of ten pound notes at her earlier, and told her to make a day of it in town. 
Only the hum of the freezer disturbed the thick atmosphere. Tom was supposed to be working from home today. Whether he was sick or well, Eden knew the strain of checking his emails would have sent him back to bed with some snacks and the remote control. It would be her job to offer tea and sympathy. Gathering up her stuff again, she hauled it all through to the kitchen.
Then she stopped, staggered. The place was a complete mess. 
Every utensil in the place had been dirtied in the process of making breakfast. The frying pan was blackened and crusty. Discarded wrappers of bacon and sausage flapped in warm currents of air.  Blobs of ketchup and fruit sauce added splashes of colour to every horizontal surface. Trails of pancake batter linked everything together, like a work by Jackson Pollock.
Eden took a step, and felt the crunch of egg shell. Lifting her foot to prise off the debris, she found a bit of waffle lodged in the tread of her boots. Although that was grisly, the silence was wonderful. She let out a long, slow breath. Tom must have gone out. 
With the house to herself, she flung off her outdoor clothes and danced through to the lounge. While he was away she could use his printer and copy out some recipes.
What he doesn’t know won’t set him off, she thought. 
She was in for a shock. Tom’s computer and its associated junk usually took up half the dining table. Today, it wasn’t taking up any space at all. 
Eden clapped her hands over her mouth. They must have been burgled. A million horrors ran through her mind. She raced around the house, pushing open doors and calling his name. If he was injured or unconscious he would never forgive her for wasting so much time. 
On the other hand, if he was dead…
Her heart lurched, but she was unlucky. There was no sign of Tom’s body anywhere. The house was deserted.
Reaching their bedroom, she looked around. The wardrobe door was wide open and the place had been turned over, but it didn’t look like the work of vandals. Only Tom’s things had been targeted. All the drawers had been pulled out from his side of the dressing table.
Back downstairs, she checked the garage. His car was missing, too. 
This was mad. He’d done some frightening things in his time, but this vanishing act was out of character. Where was he? Maybe he’d had a brainstorm. It happened. The media was full of stories about people walking out and never coming back. 
If he’s done that, I might never see him again, she thought. Her pulse hammered.  I’ve got to be careful. No jumping to conclusions. I’ve been wrong about plenty of things in the past. 
Reaching the en-suite bathroom, she got another shock. There was an envelope stuck to the mirrored door of the medicine cabinet. She was all fingers and thumbs, and it was tricky to peel from the glass. Then it was difficult to tear open.  
Maybe it was a sign the message inside didn’t want to be read. That couldn’t be good news.
She was wrong again. She read his note twice. Then she read it a third time, and smiled. At last! This was her get-out-of-jail free card. All her life she’d been told she could run, but couldn’t hide. Tom’s message turned all that on its head. He was gone– but in fourteen days, he would be back.
Eden made a snap decision. By that time, she would have stripped out all her stuff and escaped to the only place she’d ever been happy. The only place Tom would never follow her. She picked up Why Are People Mean To Me? and hugged it like a lucky charm. 
Once she was back at Owl Farm, changing her life would be as easy as changing the locks.  

I’m currently polishing up the first few pages of my current work in progress for our next workshop session. Its working title is The Barrow Wake, which doesn’t tell anyone anything about my damaged hero, or the dangerous woman he meets at the place you can see in the photo above. So that’s no good! I’m considering the title Lone Wolf instead. What do you think?