New houses, old bookshelves …

My lovely mum, who turned eighty in May, is moving this week (to be closer to me) after Kathryn Freeman portraitliving the last 45 years in the same house. It’s been a week of hard work, tears and above all memories. It’s the house I grew up in; where I waited for Father Christmas, drank my first glass of wine, left to get married from. I even lived there with my own family for nine months (husband and two young sons aged 5 weeks and 2 years) when we were between houses. Our bedroom was the dining room. Umm, perhaps nostalgia has helped me forget a lot of the angst of that particular scenario, though I can remember battles about the central heating.

It’s been years since I took a proper look around my old bedroom, which still looks uncannily how it used to be when I lived there. I was struck by how many books there were on the shelves.  All books I’d eagerly devoured as a teenager: Mills and Boon, Winston Graham Poldark series, Jilly Cooper, Jackie Collins (who provided most of my sex education…), Catherine Cookson (my mum’s favourite). Also some less predictable books – like my Geoff Boycott autobiographies. For those of you who don’t know who he is, I’ll leave you to look him up and perhaps then wonder…why on earth?! He might not have had the good looks of a typical teenage heartthrob, but I admired him because he was such a strong character. I’ve always loved a man who speaks his own mind. A bit of a rebel who’s not ready to conform.

Maybe that’s why the hero of my first paperback (Do Opposites Attract?) has a dour, stubborn streak in him. Mitch McBride hasn’t had an easy life and this makes him wary of people who have (like my heroine, Brianna Worthington). Geoff Boycott was the son of a miner, playing much of his cricket with men who’d been through public school. He must have found that hard, too.

But there the comparisons end. Do Opposites Attract? is set in a refugee camp, not a cricket pitch. Mitch is a doctor, not a sportsman. And while he manages to bowl one maiden over, and she definitely hits him for six, there are no other cricketing analogies. Honest.

Who was your first fictional crush?

Kathryn’s novels include: Too Charming and Do Opposites Attract?

Website:  http://kathrynfreeman.co.uk

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/kathrynfreeman

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/KathrynFreeman1

And the nominees are …

With Kathryn Freeman, Laura James and Alison May all in contention for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Joan Hessayon Award for new writers, we caught up with our lucky Choc Lit Three in advance of the awards party to see how they’re feeling.

All three are ‘graduates’ of the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, through which unpublished authors receive feedback on their manuscript from an experienced writer.

So firstly how did the New Writers’ Scheme help you develop your debut novel?

Too CharmingKATHRYN: Too Charming was the second novel I’d submitted to the scheme. When I look back now, I believe that reading this second report was probably the turning point for me in terms of understanding the difference between writing a collection of words and writing a story. Specifically for Too Charming, the main feedback was to develop my heroine further – to show more of her internal struggle. I also had a habit of changing point of views at the drop of a hat, which confused the reader – oh and I used far too many cliches!

 

 

TOD_FRONT largeLAURA: ‘Truth or Dare?’ went through the scheme two years running, receiving two reads on the second pass. That provided me with three reports in total, and all raised pertinent points, some to do with the actual story, others of a more technical nature. I took the time to read and absorb the comments, and made the necessary changes. I had and still have great respect for the readers’ knowledge and experience, and I took their suggestions seriously. I confess, I didn’t agree with everything within the reports, but the fact the questions were raised meant I gave the manuscript further consideration. The reports were encouraging, positive and helpful, and I always felt supported.

 

SN_Kindle75dpiALISON: Like Laura, ‘Sweet Nothing’ went through the scheme twice. At the time I thought the first reader was evil and the second was completely lovely, but that essentially was down to the fact that the first reader found a lot of faults with the book, and the second really liked it. With hindsight, I realise that the first year I submitted Sweet Nothing it simply wasn’t ready. After a lot more revision and work I re-submitted it in year two. Much as it pains me to admit it, the first reader wasn’t evil; she was right. Damn her and her cleverheadedness.

 

 

2. What advice would you offer to anybody receiving their New Writers’ Scheme critique report at the moment?

Laura: The readers are experienced in their field, and they are willing us to succeed. The advice they offer is there to nurture us as writers. Read the report, set it aside for a week, and let the ideas percolate. You don’t have to agree with the reader’s suggestions, but why not give them a try? I did and ‘Truth or Dare?’ improved no end. It was published by Choc Lit under their Lite imprint, in October 2013.

Kathryn: First, take a deep breath before you open it. Once you’ve read it, allow feedback to settle in for a while before launching straight into revisions. My first instinct was to defend my manuscript – after all, I wouldn’t have submitted it if I hadn’t thought it was the bee’s knees (oops, cliches again – sorry). It is only when I re-read the manuscript months later, through fresh eyes and with the feedback next to me, that I started to see what the reviewer meant. I didn’t change everything – but they are scarily wise. Lastly, and most importantly – make a conscious effort to highlight the positives. There will be many, but they can be overlooked in the face of all the other suggestions. It is those positive comments that will inspire you to tackle your story again with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism.

Alison: Yes, absolutely, everything that Kate and Laura have already said! And simply remember that rejection and criticism and suggestions for change are part of the career you’re working towards. It’s too soon for me to tell you whether they get easy to deal with, but they do get easier. Try to think about everything your reader has said. Whether you act on their advice or not is absolutely up to you, but try to resist the urge to get defensive and reject ideas simply because you didn’t think of them (which is just the sort of daft immature thing I would do!)

3. And how are you preparing for the big night? Frock? Hair? Shoes? Acceptance speech? Practising the magnanimous loser face in the mirror?

Alison: I had my frock picked months ago. Then about six weeks ago I accepted I was never ever going to fit into it in time, and picked a different frock from the back of the wardrobe. Then last week I accepted that I’m really not going to fit into that one in time either, so I bought a new dress in the size I actually am, and it was only £9 in the sale so that’s totally fine, isn’t it? I shall head mirrorwards right now to practice my magnanimous loser face. For the full party effect I might just pour a glass of wine to hold while I’m doing it.

Kathryn: I have the ‘frock’ – I bought it last week for a wedding I’m attending in June, and think it might just do for this evening as well. Of course on the day I’ll try on many more outfits, discard them all, tell my husband I have absolutely nothing to wear. And then settle for the first outfit I tried on. I still need to buy some shoes that will not only provide some glamour, but will also take me across London on the tube. No speech, no mirrors – I’m just delighted to be amongst such amazing company.

Laura: I bought two dresses last time I went shopping, so my frock is sorted. It’s silver and black. I haven’t seen it since before Christmas, and all I can imagine is chain mail. It’s not chain mail, but if I found a dress I really liked in chain mail, I would wear it. Shoes are another matter. I struggle with footwear as my feet have been affected by Rheumatoid Arthritis. Sadly, my Go-Go boots don’t suit the dress. Finally, I shall be checking the integrity of my hold-ups, following a let-down at the 2013 Festival of Romantic Fiction. In fact, I’m tempted to not wear any, so as to avoid the Nora Batty look.

I’m now reconsidering the Go-Go boots …

Alison: And finally, Congratulations from all three of us to ALL the Joan Hessayon Award Contenders, and a huge thank-you to Melanie, the RNA and all the New Writers’ Scheme readers for their hard work supporting new writers. We salute you.

 

The Round Robin Round-Up

In recent months, the authors at Choc Lit have produced unique short stories to celebrate special events such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. What’s fascinating is that we’re not producing a story each, but a contribution to one entire story, which is then posted day-by-day on wonderfully supportive book blogs. It’s a fascinating process. We don’t know what will arrive in the inbox or how the next author will progress what we’ve set up. It’s like tag wrestling, but without the leotards or catapulting off the ropes to floor the opponent.Mothers Day Round Robin

I was interested in how we approached our particular sections and asked for my fellow ChocLiteers thoughts.

Valentine’s Round Robin

Kathryn Freeman

I found it harder than writing a story by myself as I was very conscious I shouldn’t give away too much, too soon, but I already had in mind how I wanted it to end!

– I also found it more rewarding in a way, as I was so intrigued by how those after me would pick up the reins.  I felt proud to be part of the final result – but in awe of the ability of my fellow writers who managed to kick it off so well and then keep the suspense and so neatly tie the ends up at the end. I was very glad I went early!

Evonne Wareham

I did the Valentine one. It was great fun and also scary! I was day 4 of 5. The 3 previous instalments had set up some lovely leads, it was a responsibility to live up to them and also leave the story in a good place for the final instalment. Making a villain out of the character who would normally have been my alpha hero was interesting.

 Mother’s Day Round Robin

Alison May

I actually found writing part 1 quite intimidating. Normally the beginning of a story would be one of the last bits that I’d still be tweaking with and revising. This time I didn’t have that option. I had to write an opening that set up enough possibilities for the six writers that followed to apply their imaginations but wasn’t so vague as to be completely irrelevant to what came later. I think I stared at the blank screen for longer than I ever have before, feeling the pressure of not letting the later writers down. I ummed and aahed particularly about whether to introduce a potential hero in part 1. I do have a discarded paragraph where a mysterious stranger appears, but in the end I decided to leave the hero for the writers who came later. I’m now really happy with Kelly and sort of in love with little Lucas. I just hope that the writers and readers who came after me ended up feeling the same.

 Laura E. James

Alison wrote a great introduction, and that allowed me to take the story in any direction. Conscious of the fact it was a Mother’s Day story, and we at Choc Lit write romance, my focus was on developing a love interest and a father for Kelly’s baby son. I left it for the latter writers to decide if this man was one and the same. It was liberating not having to make that decision, however, now the story is complete, I have to say, I found what followed, and the conclusion extremely satisfying. I loved this experience.

 Berni Stevens

I was so relieved not to be given the first slot, and I take my hat off to Alison for doing such an amazing job. I still remember my own first day back at work after maternity leave, so writing Kelly’s feelings came easily to me. I loved the way Laura and Henri set up new possibilities for the story, but I couldn’t resist throwing in my own curved ball! I truly couldn’t wait to see how it all panned out.

Beverley Eikli

I was caught between a rock and a hard place with such excellent instalments having gone before. Now, with the story having only two more instalments after mine, I knew that it was time to explore the motivations of some of the characters who may (or may not) have a larger role to play and begin the process of tying up the threads my predecessors had left me 🙂

Unexpected plot twists are what I love best, though of course that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. However since it seemed to be ‘at that point in the story’ I thought I’d just go for it. I wrote most of it while travelling through Norway but had to think long and hard to come up with the direction I was going to take it. There were so many!

 Amanda James

I found it really tricky coming in at the penultimate section. I couldn’t end it obviously, but I wasn’t sure where to go either because of what had come before. Of course I knew we should probably have a happy ending, so worked towards that. The problem was that a couple of the stories before mine had said that Damien had wanted nothing to do with Kelly and his son, another had said that Kelly had ignored all Damien’s attempts to contact her by phone and text. Gulp. I realised that this was to set up intrigue and conflict and I eventually got it sorted  … I hope! It was great fun to write and I would love to do it again.

 Margaret James

I enjoyed writing the ending.  It was fun to read everything which came before it, seeing how the previous writers had developed the story, set traps for the unwary reader, suggested various directions in which the story could go, and also suggested various resolutions. I decided early on who the bad guy in this story was going to be and I wrote my ending to reflect this decision.

***

From a personal point of view, what’s struck me reading these comments is that as writers we’ve used our knowledge, experience and instinct to know how to start the story, when to add a hint of romance or betrayal, where to introduce the twist and turns, and how and when to start wrapping it up to bring it to a satisfying conclusion.

Beyond my contribution at Part 2, I was reading and discovering along with all the other readers and was captivated by the unfolding story.

I’m already looking forward to the next Choc Lit round robin.

Laura.

Here are the links to our Mother’s Day story, which can now be read from start to finish:

Part One by Alison May on Chick Lit Reviews and News

Part Two by Laura E James on Jera’s Jamboree

Part Three by Henriette Gyland on Laura’s Little Book Blog

Part Four by Berni Stevens on Cosmochicklitan

Part Five by Beverley Eikli on Chick Lit Uncovered

Part Six by Amanda James on Love of a Good Book

Part Seven by Margaret James on One More Page

Scott’s melting heart pudding

Ingredients:

60g sugar – he’d hate you to tell him this, but Scott is sweet.  Of course he prefers hunky, but then he Too Charmingwould.  He’s a guy.

70g dark chocolate – chocolate because like Scott, it’s irresistible.  Once you’ve had a taste, you have to have another.  And another.  Dark chocolate because it has an edge, a bite that makes you sit up and take notice.  Just as Megan notices Scott, though she’s trying hard not to.

1 tablespoons of cocoa powder – because it’s what we use to make a night time drink.  And Scott is a man you’d want to take to bed.

60g butter (not margarine) – it’s smooth, like Scott, but has a rich, robust flavour.  A naughty indulgence.  We might not think it’s good for us, but it’s far more desirable than healthy, but insipid, margarine.

30g plain flour – he might be a flirt, but Scott isn’t full of puff or hot air.  When he tells Megan he finds her sexy, it’s not a line.  It’s the truth.

2 eggs + 1 yolk – eggs give the pudding substance.  An inner strength, which Scott has to rely on when his life is thrown into chaos.

A dash of vanilla essence – because it adds richness and depth.

Raspberries/blueberries/anything striking to serve – because Scott dazzles the eye.

Too Tempting?

Too Tempting?

Melt the butter and dark chocolate and mix to a paste.  Blend in the sugar.  Slowly add the beaten eggs until the mixture is uniform and smooth.  Fold in the flour and cocoa powder carefully and then pour/spoon evenly into greased muffin tins/ramekins.  It will make about 4-6.  Chill in the fridge if you don’t want to use straight away.

To cook:  200oC for 8 minutes or until the outside is firm but the middle soft.

When it’s cooked, the Scott pudding looks dark and smoothly attractive on the outside.  If, like Megan, you’ve burnt your hands on a similar good-looking dish, you might decide not to delve into it.  But imagine the pudding follows you around, tempting you with its delicious looks and decadent smell?  It might not be so hard to ignore, then.  Especially when, after one sneaky but delicious taste, you find there’s far more to the fancy dark pudding than you first imagined.

And voila! Scott's melting heart pudding.

And voila! Scott’s melting heart pudding.

Follow Kathryn on Twitter: @KathrynFreeman1

Too Charming is available on Kindle UK and Kindle US

First Fictional Crushes

Sue Moorcroft 

Who was your first fictional crush?

Who was your first fictional crush?

 

My first fictional crush was Superman.

My brother and I used to buy a lot of the shiny, brightly coloured Adventure Comics coming out of America when we were kids living in Malta, and Superman stole my heart, even when he was in the guise of Clark Kent. I used to think that Lois Lane was remarkably stupid not to notice it was just the same guy in a suit and glasses but, hey, if she didn’t want him …? I was ready and waiting. In tights or in a suit, Superman or Clark, he was hot, he was clever, he was kind. Bring him on.

I can remember crying over an episode where Superman lost all his powers and was wandering dejectedly around Gotham City with the citizens jeering at him. (I’m not sure why he didn’t just go back into Clark Kent mode so nobody knew he was Superman sans superpowers. Probably it didn’t suit the plot.) Happily, the source of the kryptonite that was disabling him was found and he was soon soaring across the page once more, fist raised in flight, just in time to smash the baddies’ plans to conquer the world and snatch Lois from the jaws of death (not that she deserved it).

I have retained a liking for a tall man with a strong, clean-shaven jaw and I even put Dominic Christy in tights in Dream a Little Dream, when he dressed up for halloween. First love is stronger than kryptonite.

Is This Love? is now available on all e-book platforms and is out in paperback 7th November.

Jane Lovering

As a young teenager, I was as impressionable as an undercooked sponge cake, and regularly fell in love with literary luminaries, but the first who really made a huge impression, growing up as I did in a town with Roman history so deep that we even had Roman sewers, was Marcus Aquila, hero of Rosemary Sutcliffe’s ‘Eagle of the Ninth’.

I had a full mental image of Marcus, although I cannot remember whether or not he is described in the book, although I have to admit that I probably overlaid him with all my real-life ‘crushes du jour’; he was tall, dark and handsome, and he could ride a horse really well too, which was important to me back then, in the days when I was still going to marry Tony Newbery.  He was courageous (Marcus, I mean, not Tony Newbery, although he was pretty brave, being a showjumper of some ability and very lovely horses. I think I was probably leaning more towards the ‘horses’ than the man, even at fifteen). Marcus was travelling in distant lands (well, Scotland), to find the secret that lay behind his father’s disappearance so he was not just brave, he was noble as well, and probably troubled too (I do like a troubled man). The BBC made a TV mini-series of the book and the actor they cast as Marcus definitely didn’t disappoint…Sigh. I wonder if it’s available on DVD…

Hubble Bubble is available on all e-book platforms and is also available in paperback.

Kathryn Freeman

Julian, of Famous Five fame, was everything a boy should be.  At least to a twelve year old girl.  He was brave, tall and strong.  Fearless, as he herded the younger members of the group through dark, secret tunnels.  Gutsy, as he stood up to the bad guys – men older and heavier than he.  Daring, as he led from the front in adventure after adventure.

But it wasn’t just his courage that had me reaching for the books time and time again, desperate to read more about him.  Julian was the responsible one.  The gallant hero who looked after all the others, especially his young sister Anne.  Who couldn’t fall in love with a boy who took such care of his sister?

And don’t forget Julian also had this clever and sensible side.  I suppose it could have made him stray into the nerdy category, but the swots I knew would never have dashed so boldly into danger to protect their friends.  Maybe there was a smidgen of bossiness about him, but Dick, George and Anne needed someone to tell them what to do or they’d never have escaped through those secret passageways.  Perhaps he also took himself a teeny bit seriously, but funny = sexy was a conclusion I came to a little later in life…

So there you have it.  My first fictional hero was Enid Blyton’s Julian.  I spent many years of my childhood wishing he’d ask me out for a ginger beer.  Until I dropped him for David Soul (from Starsky and Hutch).

Too Charming is available on Kindle UK and Kindle US.

Sarah Tranter

I’m going to have to own up and say that my first fictional crush was Lassie. Yep, the dog.

I’m afraid I can’t even say it was as a result of the books, because it was all down to the TV show. I don’t think I ever read about Lassie. At that time it was all Enid Blyton for me and there was zero crushing involved.

Lassie on the other hand was a different matter. It was a case of what you can’t have. I so wanted a dog as a kid but we were never allowed one. At different times we had fish, a hamster (that kept escaping into the loft and eating things) and a biting rabbit ― that had pink eyes and scared me stupid. But never a dog. And it was a dog I so desperately wanted. So I used to watch Lassie and dream of one day having a dog of my own. It didn’t even need to be a Collie. Just something with four legs (actually it didn’t even need to have those) and a wagging tail. You get the gist. Of course now with my own family I understand first hand the reasoning behind my parents’ decision. Hair, mud, walks, more hair. But it’s no good. I still couldn’t be without one. Or two ― should me and the boys get our way!

No Such Thing as Immortality is available on all e-book platforms and is also available in paperback.