Sunday, 13 November 2016

My agent wrote a novel

It's a bummer when your agent writes a novel. When Andrew Shephard told me he'd actually published Nellie and Tabs I knew I would have to read it. I was praying it would be terrible and I could say something patronising like 'Nice try, Andrew.' Unfortunately, crushingly, his book was better than any of mine. I asked him how he did it.

Your novel comes with such a powerful sense of the sights, sounds and smells of the 70’s alternative culture. Did you write this from your own experience or did you do a lot of research?

A lot of the details are dredged from my own experiences, and stories that I remember people telling me at the time. I didn’t do much research other than looking at old magazines and letters because I wanted to condense the main action into one year, and I didn’t want the facts to get in the way of a good story.

When you write a novel do you start with character or plot? Or was it the 70’s culture that inspired the story?

With this novel I started with the setting. The alternative society, as it was called at the time, is the type of enclosed world which makes good material for a novel. It takes the reader to a different world, though some aspects, especially youthful idealism, passions, and trying to find a role which suits, are familiar to most people.

Nellie covers a lot of ground in the book, moving from the commune in the north, to the Midlands to work on Peace Times, then London, Cambridge, Wales…. What made you choose these locations, and how important was Nellie’s travelling to the development of the story?

Well Nellie does not stick at anything for long so measures his life in months not years. Wherever he goes he does not quite fit in. He moves on to try and dig himself out of the latest hole he has dug. The locations I use are all places I have spent some time, so I sort of lived each scene as I was writing. I felt like I was really there, albeit as an observer.

The plot has many different strands as we follow the path of the different characters. It’s got everything – crime, politics, Nellie’s journey, and the ‘will they, won’t they’ romance of Nellie and Tabs themselves. Did you have all these strands fully planned out before you started writing?

No, I didn’t. The setting came first, then the main characters. As I wrote, the characters became sharper in my mind until they became almost as real as people I know today, and then I knew what they would do when they had difficult choices to make. 

Nellie is a really interesting character, with some quirky aspects to him, such as his interest in magic tricks, and his nickname! How did you come up with him?

The magic tricks were important from the beginning because a trickster knows about illusion. He thinks other people – like Tabs with her I Ching and the peaceniks with their revolution – are performing an act too. He’s not a believer. The nickname came when I was imagining his life before leaving home, and a brother who changed Neil to Nellie as an insult. But Neil likes it, because of the song ‘Nellie the Elephant’ (a children’s song popular in the 1960s) and he fancies he has a better memory than his friends. Elephants reputedly have a good memory.

Your other main character, Tabs, is a real enigma – full of contradictions. Did you like her, in the end?

Tabs alights on new ideas, whether spiritual or political, and gobbles them up. She does the same to people, too. She is very much a free spirit, a 1970s style feminist who does not want to be tied down by a conventional relationship. So although she and Nellie feel a strong attraction to each other, there are issues which keep them apart. Did I like her? I admire her as a pioneer. She is more of a radical than Nellie is.

The ending of the novel, the last couple of chapters, are a real surprise, - it’s quite a bitter-sweet ending. Did you always plan to end the story in this way or did you change direction as your characters developed?

I neither wanted to repeat the traditional romance, nor completely lose the sweetness of a significant relationship. But I really did not know how it would end between Nellie and Tabs. Endings are always difficult, but at about the third attempt, as I was cycling back from a meeting with Emma Harding, my editor, it came to me like a revelation. So there was work to do even after I’d ‘finished’ the novel. Some people say ‘writing is re-writing’ and I experienced that to the full with this novel. But having written some bad novels, I think I can tell that, this time, I have written a better one.

Nellie and Tabs is available as a paperback and ebook from Amazon. Just click on the cover graphic.

A version of this interview first appeared on the Yorkshire Writers' Lunch blog.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Author Interview with Dave Rigby

Caroline has gone off her Kindle, saying that it's not trendy anymore. She still uses it surreptitiously for the kind of books I used to write, but much prefers a good paperback to fall back on when delayed at an airport or waiting to see the beautician for a massage. Returning exhausted last week from an emergency meeting at her company's new offices in Frankfurt, she tipped the contents of her bag out on to the kitchen table. She was looking for strong painkillers for her hangover, but seeing the handsome paperback, Shoreline among the pile of stuff she said, "You must read this, Robert. I want to talk to you about it. It's a crime thriller."

I read it, enjoyed it, and contacted the author - I wanted to be well briefed before discussing the book with Caroline. I didn't want her telling me I had got it all wrong. I was also hoping I might learn something of use for my own efforts in the fiction department. Mr Rigby was sympathetic to my situation, and provided the following answers to my questions, for which I am very grateful.

click for details

Harry Vos, your amateur detective is a rounded character with lots of life experience. How did you get to know him?
His name was my starting point. I saw it in a newspaper and thought it was a good mixture of a very English sounding first name and a Flemish / Dutch sounding surname. Because I’ve holidayed in the Flemish area of Belgium quite a bit, I decided to base him there. I thought it would be good to have a man in his sixties as the central character, retired (like me) and not a professional crime investigator. That way I don’t have to learn about police procedural stuff. I can just allow Harry to make it up as he goes along (as I do!). I had a strong idea of his character from the start (unlike the plot which unrolled as things developed). Basically I envisaged a solid man but with a number of strong character traits. He’s dogged, stubborn, gets annoyed quite quickly and can defend himself if he needs to. But he knows when he needs help from others - such as Katerine and Ryck.

Shoreline has a distinctive sense of place and gives the reader something of a tour of Flanders. How did you create such convincing locations for the action? And why Belgium?
Having holidayed over a number of years in Brussels, Brugge, Gent, Antwerp and Leuven, I picked up a bit of a feel for Flanders and felt reasonably confident about basing the book there. Harry lives in a small town called Heist-op-den-Burg. A few years ago I visited the town with a friend (when we were staying in Antwerp) to watch the local football team playing Aalst. I thought it was an appropriate location for Harry. I think his heart is still in Antwerp where he lived until his mid-teens. But then there were particular reasons why the family moved away from the city to a rural area. Heist fitted the bill for their new location.
Flanders is small enough to be able to move round quite quickly from city to city so it allows for rapid changes of scene. Having written the book in draft, I visited a number of specific locations including the beach, near De Haan, (where the body of Moise, the migrant, is found) and Zeebrugge where the character Rodenbach is based, to get a better feel for these places. I made some changes to the draft as a result of these visits.  
I haven’t been to the Matonge area of Brussels, which features in the book, but I found some useful information via the internet on this part of the city.

The plot is contemporary and highly believable. How did you research the African end of the story?
When I started writing Shoreline, I didn’t know much about people smuggling – other than what I’d read in the papers. I did my research online for this aspect of the book, firstly to get a clearer idea of how smugglers operate and secondly to improve my knowledge of the Democratic Republic of Congo. I decided to focus on the DRC for this part of the story, because of the colonial link with Belgium and all its implications. I gathered quite a lot of information on geographical and historical aspects of the country, the languages and the mining. Then it was a question of what to use in the book in order to assist the story, without overloading the reader with too much detail.  

Do you have a regular writing regime or do you write when the mood takes you? Do you always write in the same place, or can you write anywhere?
It’s a regular routine. I write between two and six in the afternoon – not the whole four hours, I hasten to add, but probably two to two and a half hours. I write four or five afternoons each week. I always sit at the dining room table and write straight onto the laptop, with breaks for cups of tea and newspaper reading. My typing is fairly slow but it’s about the same speed as my thinking! I sometimes work with music on – but only instrumentals, nothing with words as that’s too distracting. I very occasionally write in the morning but never in the evening. (I’d never get to sleep if I wrote in the evening.)

Harry Vos has a fondness for Belgian beer and strong coffee. Which is the greater help to your own creative process, beer or coffee?
I have a great fondness for both! But I don’t drink either when I’m writing. The reward for finishing the afternoon’s writing will be a beer (Belgian or otherwise) – but only when it’s a drinking day. I have a coffee or sometimes two every day, but this is always in a cafĂ©. For some reason I never drink coffee at home. So basically it’s tea that keeps the writing going.

The story has a wide variety of characters, male and female. How do you come up with your characters’ names? Do you ever change a name as the character develops?
As I mentioned earlier – Harry’s name came from a newspaper article. The other names are the fruits of researching Flemish first names and surnames. I made a long list of possibles and then selected from that, trying to match the name to my idea of each character. I do sometimes change names part way through. (Thank goodness for the ‘find’ facility on the laptop.) The change is generally because I’ve come across a better name in my readings / viewings / travels.

Plot, character, setting, theme, and genre: which do you start with?
I usually start with a main character and a setting. With both Harry Vos in Shoreline and Ellis Landsman in Darkstone, I thought about their character traits and how they would react in specific situations. I knew what the setting for each book would be before I started writing. I always like reading books with a strong sense of place and try to create this in my writing.
For Shoreline, I knew it would start with the discovery of a body on the beach but I hadn’t planned what would happen after that! I decided fairly quickly to focus on people smuggling, partly because it’s such a high profile issue.
I don’t really think specifically about genre. But the murder mystery genre must appeal to me instinctively and it’s a good way of building a framework for the plot. Having said that, my third book, Disconnected, which I’ve just finished writing, is not a murder mystery.
I’ve left plot until last because I find it the most difficult. I learnt on my creative writing course that you should have a begin, middle and end clearly in mind before you start to write and that this helps to develop a plot outline.
As I don’t do this – I have to try and work out the plot as I go along and then go back and re-work it where necessary. I do quite a lot of walking and find these times very helpful for working out plots and solving plot difficulties.

Will we be able to read any more of Harry’s dangerous investigations? Any chance he might come to the UK?
I deliberately added the wording “A Harry Vos Investigation” to the front cover of Shoreline, because then I knew I’d have to write at least one more! I’ve got some ideas for book two in my head – but not quite a plot yet. As Harry’s daughter Kim lives in London, he may very well come to the UK, but the story won’t be set there.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Karin Bachmann discusses 'The Venetian Pearls'

Caroline said I was getting on her nerves and suggested I “do something useful for a change.”
“Like what?” I said.
“Anything. What about that blog thing you used to spend hours on?” I said I couldn’t think of anything to write.
“Oh for God’s sake, writing’s easy. Just ask someone you know a few questions and write the answers down.”
“But I don’t have any friends, not since that business in Brazil…”
So when Karin Bachmann suggested a reciprocal blog visit, I jumped at the chance. I told Caroline not to talk to me, I would be busy for a while, and she said, “Thank goodness for that.”

Some people are just good communicators, and Karin Bachmann is one such person. She blogs, she googles, and she tweets. She also finds the time to write fiction for the teen market. Her recent book The Venetian Pearls was commended in the Writing Magazine self-publishing awards. Karin is a winner of the valuable Swanwick Writing for Children prize. Karin was kind enough to send me answers to my daft questions, so I didn’t have to write very much myself.

I notice that The Venetian Pearls is set in Isles of Scilly. Why did you choose that location?
A few years ago, a friend and I decided to have a holiday in England. We wanted to visit some of my relatives and discover a new spot before going to see them. When the travel brochures arrived, I dropped one. It fell open and revealed the most beautiful seascape. The Isles of Scilly. We spent four days there. Every one of them better than the one before, and I told myself: one day, I'm going to set a story here. I've been to the Isles of Scilly twice more since then. You can't help but fall in love with the place.

Where did you get the idea for the plot?
Several incidents eventually mingled. I went to a talk about precious stones and pearls. Then I cleared out my schoolbooks and stumbled upon the story of Ulysses and the ogre again that plays a part in the solution of the mystery in the Pearls. And I had an encounter with a leg-amputated child when waiting for a train connection. Stuff everything into a hyperactive brain, give it a shake, let it fester for a few nights – hey presto!

Were you able to do any book promotion around the publication of The Venetian Pearls?
Not very much but I did my best contacting English bookshops in Switzerland and Cornwall. There's an amazing number of English-speaking organisations and schools in Switzerland, where I was able to give talks – well at some of them. When the German version came out, I sent brochures to schools, which again resulted in readings and sales.
But best of all, last summer, I returned to the Scillies. I contacted St. Mary's Library in Hugh Town (on Twitter: @StMarys_Library, incidentally the library with the most beautiful view in the world). The librarian was extremely helpful. She organised a workshop for the local writing group, a reading for children, and an interview on Radio Scilly. She also put me in contact with local bookshops who now stock the book.

Having been through the experience of publishing your own book, what advice would you give to someone who wanted to try it themselves?
You have to know that it's hard work. The production process is the smallest part – it's the PR that kills you. So make sure your book is really the best it can be. For example, it pays to have it professionally proofread and to have a striking, stunning cover. The hardest bit is not to get it out there but to get it noticed. Try to befriend locally situated librarians and booksellers – and teachers when writing for children. Such people are worth their weight in gold.

What do you enjoy most about writing for a younger audience?
To be able to feel like a child again, with all the wonder, mischief and enjoyment that involves. But also the fear and helplessness. Trying to see the world from a child's perspective can open up our grown-up-view-of-the-world.
And then, of course, meeting the audience at school readings. Children are very blunt. They'll let you know what they think about you and your stories.

Do you connect with your inner child when you are writing?
Sometimes I'm not sure if I've ever grown up at all. So my inner child is very close to the surface. On the other hand, I was a strange child; interested in history and science from an early age. I've been accused (by adults, mostly editors) to overestimate my readers. I'm not sure if that's true, and rather think adults tend to underestimate children. I remember that one of the most irksome aspects of being a child was being talked down to. That's the thing I try to avoid when writing for children.

Where and when do you do most of your writing?
I work as an optician in an 80% post, so do my writing on Sundays (social media and correspondence in the morning, fiction in the afternoon) and Wednesdays and Thursdays. I can write almost anywhere if necessary – except on trains. That is, I can write on trains but not decipher what I've written afterwards.

Do you enjoy social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and do you count that as writing too?
Being a digital dinosaur, it was very hard for me at first to start with social media. But all the tutors and speakers at the Swanwick Writers' Summer School seem to agree that you have to do that nowadays if you're a writer. I've grown rather fond of tweeting and quite like blogging. Having said that, I do count it as writing and reserve special slots in my writing days for social media.

Do you have a ‘work in progress’? If so, are you ready to tell me about it?
The working title is "The Grandmaster's Sword" but you could just as well name it "Never Ending Story Part 2" because I've been working on it for ages.
It's a sequel to the Pearls and set in Malta. Nicky, Chris and Daniel are on the scent of a precious historical sword. Everybody thinks, Napoleon acquired it on his way to the Battle of the Nile, and that it's exhibited in the Louvre museum in Paris. But Chris' father – a historian – has a hunch that the sword's never left Malta. A mysterious motorbike rider follows the friends and Chris's father in a scary way, as does the shady archaeologist Villard.  When Chris's father is accused of having stolen a priceless artefact, Nicky, Chris and Daniel have to start investigating…

If you could set a novel anywhere in the world, and had to travel to research it, where would you go?
That's a hard one! I'm a travel-addict. I'll go anywhere, as long as the place is interesting – preferably with a historical background. I wouldn't mind a bit of adventure as well such as having to get there on horseback or in a canoe (as long as there aren't too many creepy crawlies).

Are there any authors you return to again and again?
Yes, many. For adult stories, it's Terry Pratchett, Dick and now Felix Francis, Lyndon Stacey, Frank Tallis, Roz Southey and Simon Hall. For children's books it's Eoin Colfer, Roald Dahl, and recently Curtis Jobling and Derek Landy. I'm always thrilled to discover new, exciting books and series.

What is the book you think everyone should read (apart from your own)? Why?
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. It's a brilliant, heady concoction of a gripping mystery in a stunningly authentic historical setting. And the language is great, too. Although I wouldn't know for sure as I've only read the German translation. (And you probably won't believe me that I wrote this answer before his death. I'll miss that writer!)

What advice would you give to someone just setting out on writing a book?
Don’t try to be artistic. Write according to your mouth, as it were. Have fun making up and writing the story, because chances are that your readers will then have fun as well.

Goodbye for now Karin - thanks for dropping by. 

Visit Karin's blog here.

And find out more about Venetian Pearls here.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014


Caroline is, of course, jealous of the all the new people I meet at writers' conferences and events. I'm not allowed to question her extended business lunches or overnight stays in five star hotels, but I have to give detailed descriptions of everyone I've talked to and whether I fancy them or not. I particularly enjoyed telling Caroline about Liam Livings, who writes romantic fiction with gay themes for a wide audience, and who I met at the RNA bash this summer. I know Caroline would love Liam, not just because he's very handsome, but because he would listen quietly to her relationship problems and make a great story out of them. I'm delighted to welcome Liam to this blog, on the occasion of the publication of his new book, And Then That Happened .

I'm always interested to find out how other writers get the words down. Do you write every day?
No. And yes. Let me explain.

In 2014 I’ve written a first draft roughly every other month, and used the other months to edit, do promotion, plan other stories. When I’m writing a first draft I like to try and stay with the story as much as possible, not leaving it for more than 2 days without writing. I did Nanowrimo in 2014 and wrote 61,000 words over 13 days, spread over three weeks. So when that’s happening, I do try to write every day. But when I reach the end I often take a week or so off from this sort of writing, because it’s exhausting. Then I plan, plot, do other things.

When I’m not drafting I’m always doing other parts of *writing* making notes about ideas, planning character biogs, going to my local writers group of the Romantic Novelists’ Association London Chapter meetings to talk to other writers. So even when I’m not sat at my laptop writing, I’m still thinking about writing, reading about writing, so when I do get back to the laptop I’m usually raring to go.

Do you find writing fun while you're doing it?
I love writing; everything about it – plotting, working out characters, getting the ideas, first drafts, even getting edits back and working with an editor to improve the story. I love it all. I’m not creative in any other ways – I can’t sing, draw, paint, dance (ballroom dancing, I can certainly throw some shapes on the dance floor of a night club, but that’s not for now) so being able to express myself through writing is a wonderful gift. Even when I’ve gone through very dark times, writing has helped me through them, just putting a few sentences together on a screen or a piece of paper helped me through some difficult times earlier in 2014 and

Who is your favourites(s) of your characters in And Then That Happened?
Dominic was interesting to write. I wanted to have a character who had experienced mental health issues, particularly depression, just as I have. I wanted to include that in his story to show it’s all around us, it’s something people live with on a daily basis. I think it’s important to cover these sort of issues in what many people think are just lightweight fluffy romance stories, because they’re real issues. I aim to make my characters as real and three dimensional as possible, with the imperfections and problems real people have.

Gabe was such fun to write – his grab life by the balls attitude is wonderfully refreshing. He just dives in and thinks later. I’m not at all like that. It was such fun to see how Gabe’s impulsive nature gets him into certain situations, and write about how that affects him, behind all the bravado, and smiles.

And Then That Happened
Should you settle for a nearly perfect happiness or put your heart on the line for more?

It’s 1999 and 28-year-old Dominic’s carefully planned suburban life with his boyfriend Luke is perfect. His job as a nurse, his best friend Matt, his relationship with his parents, everything is just right. He and Luke have been together ten years, seen each other through friends’ deaths and their parents’ ups and downs, and even had a commitment ceremony.

Gabe isn’t happy with his boyfriend, but he stays with him, because, well it’s complicated.

Fate throws Gabe into Dominic’s life. And then that happened. Gabe’s open relationship, impulsive nature, enthusiasm for life and straight talking advice are fascinating to Dominic. They’re friends, they click over a shared love of Goldie Hawn and Gabe shows Dominic there can be more to life than planned and safe. So why can't he take his own advice?

And Then That Happened is about finding a new kind of happiness, even when what you have is already perfect. And how sometimes perfect isn’t quite what it seems.
It’s available on and

You can connect with Liam:
Twitter @LiamLivings

Monday, 8 September 2014

Just Romantic Suspense: What makes a good marriage?

Just Romantic Suspense: What makes a good marriage?: With: Robert Fanshaw Thanks, JRS, for having me back to the Blog that puts a slice of danger into the romance sandwich. My wife Carolin...

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Five Things to Love about the Swanwick Writers' Summer School

I'm just back from the Swanwick Writers' Summer School. Anything that survives 66 years entirely through voluntary effort must have magic ingredients. Magic, as you know, disappears quickly in a puff of smoke, so I resolved to write down what makes Swanwick unique while it was still fresh in my mind. In the event, I had to wait until the power of movement was restored to my body and a semblance of coherent thought returned to my brain. The last afternoon's 'Dregs Party'* on the Hayes Conference Centre lawn, and the unaccustomed exercise of the last night disco, has delayed this post slightly. But here goes:
  1. Dancing with a lion. I was relaxing with a small whisky (okay, a large one) after a hard day's workshopping, when the bar began to fill with characters from the Wizard of Oz. Dorothys, Tin Men, Straw Men, the Wizard himself. The people I was chatting with didn't bat an eyelid. I consulted the programme, and saw that 10.45pm was scheduled for the 'Fancy Dress Disco'. I am full of admiration for people who study their programme carefully enough to arrive prepared with a Wicked Witch of the West outfit, a Dorothy wig, or a full lion suit amongst their changes of clothes. Having initially made excuses about my need for an early night, midnight found me twirling the lion around the dance-floor. It was a new experience for me, but then I've led a sheltered life.
  2. Heritage puddings. The Hayes Conference Centre provides a marvelous venue, deriving charm from its history, ornamental gardens, and traditional dining facilities. Be careful not to sit at the end of a table, or you may end up trying to serve lunch from tureens and platters to people who are in the middle of a detailed description of the underlying themes of their work-in-progress. But oh, the crumble and custard! The food is a comforting, freshly-cooked reminder of a bygone age. Best not to weigh yourself when you get home.
  3. White Badgers. No, not more animal costumes, just a means of identifying guinea-pigs new to the school through the colour of their badge. Not in order to play tricks on them, but so that seasoned Swanickers can be friendly and rescue any lost souls in search of a workshop room. The Summer School also subsidises a number of young writers to attend the school for the first time. Like other first-timers, or White Badgers as they are known, they spend the first day or two wondering if they've made a terrible mistake and hiding away in dark corners. Later in the week, they are to be found improvising plays, sharing their creativity, joining in with the buskers, and providing fresh legs on the disco dance floor.
  4. Technology. The Centre has a number of modern workshop and conference rooms, equipped with the latest presentation aids. Xanthe Wells's carefully prepared slides for her first session describing a creative approach to novel writing failed to appear on the screen, despite the intervention of a series of clever people applying a rational approach to problem solving. Xanthe, undaunted, showed us the way to access the hidden, creative, two-thirds of our mind iceberg; the part, in other words, which needs no Powerpoint slides. Later in the week, Robin de Jongh gave a workshop on how to market ebooks. He got our attention by frightening us with some big numbers; the thousands of ebooks being published each week, and the billions of webpages out there trying to attract attention. He did provide reassurance in the form of a cunning formula which I will share with you. Sales = Audience / Competition. The secret is to write about something so unique and obscure that you won't be lost in the depths of page two hundred of a Google search.
  5. The age range. Nearly three hundred people attend the school, the youngest being nineteen, and the oldest being ninety or thereabouts. I strayed into the lively birthday party of a young eighty-eight year old called Ravey in a lobby. Imagine the comic potential of a group of around fifty such summer schoolers trying to understand Twitter. Enormous respect to children's writer Karin Backmann who boldly attempted to cross the technology age divide and get Swanickers tweeting each other. The trouble is, someone always asks, "What's it for?" And that's like asking, "What is the meaning of life?" A one hour workshop is insufficient to cover such philosophical questions. This was my second time at Swanwick and again I came away having learnt invaluable lessons from people who have been writing for at least a decade longer than I have. The secret to a long writing life? Keep getting the words down, then edit them carefully. David Hough shared his self-editing method in the most useful two hours of my writing education. I was sure he was speaking just to me, and I suspect everyone in the room felt the same. (Please feel free to point out the errors in this piece through the 'Comments' section below. They are all placed deliberately to test you. I wish.)
Did I say five things to love? There must be at least fifty. I haven't mentioned the opportunities for lakeside meditation; the entertaining evening speakers; the poetry, script writing, and storytelling; or crime writer Simon Hall on stage with only a guitar to preserve his modesty. Next year's Writers Summer School is between the 8th and 15th of August. If you are a writer, young, old, aspiring or experienced, put it in your diary now. A week spent in the company of other writers provides a rich diet of inspiration and a cloak of friendship which will last a whole year of being chained to your writing desk or table.

* The Dregs Party is a means for participants to avoid lugging home half-consumed bottles of wine, whisky, gin etc. Some come to Swanwick well prepared. I'm told the Wicked Witch of the West brought her fridge.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Ten new things I learned at the RNA 2014 Conference

I've returned from the Romantic Novelists Association annual conference, held this year at Harper Adams University in Shropshire, with severe jet lag. And I didn't even fly there. But romance is another country, and exposure to new cultures is stimulating and confusing in equal measure. It will take weeks to digest the rich diet of people, information, and Harper Adams farm-grown food, but here are my first ten observations;
  1. The number of men attending the conference (as writers) increased by a hundred per cent over last year, from approx three to approx six. Is there a mutual support group for men writing romance? Maybe the time to form one is now? Get in touch if you thinks so too. Anyway, thanks to the RNA and its female members for making a minority feel so welcome.
  2. Unlike the students, the cows, sheep and pigs do not go home for their holidays. The exotic perfumes worn to the fantastic gala dinner on Saturday night were mixed with the pungent aromas of the barn and silage tank. Thanks are due to the livestock, sadly now passed away, who contributed such excellent roast beef, bacon and sausages to the three good meals a day. The veggie food looked good too.
  3. It's always hot and sunny at the RNA conference. I base this on only two visits, but I am assured this is the case. 
  4. The Aussies have a great attitude. I knew this already from arguing cricket with Erica Hayes on Twitter, but Nikki Logan, President of the Romance Writers of Australia convinced us that the glass is well over half full when it comes to writing and selling great fiction, and was not in the slightest apologetic about a genre which some people feel does not get it's fair respect. Let people think what they want and focus on selling books, said Nikki. Did you think Chemistry was boring? If you want to understand what's going on in readers' brains, it's absolutely bloody fascinating. Sorry if you weren't there, but luckily you can buy her book on the Chemistry of Reading. 
  5. 'Writing is easy.' This quote from Jean Fullerton made at the start of her presentation on not losing the plot was said with irony. Jean illustrated (with rainbows) what a complex pattern a good novel should be. If that one hour could be distilled and sipped over the months it usually takes to write a novel, we would all be best-selling authors and no-one would bother to watch TV again because every evening would be spent reading.
  6. There will be more agents, publishers and industry types at the conference next year, when it is held in a London university conference centre and not in a farmyard. That is not to disparage Harper Adams University, which is a beautiful venue and has an outdoor swimming pool. Cool. Good old Harper Adams bequeathed his dosh to set it up in 1892, and its graduates have a ninety-six per cent employment rate. Lisa Eveleigh, the one agent who did venture north out of the smoke, was generous with her time and insights. 
  7. Kindle Direct Publishing are not the enemy. They can't be, because we drank all their wine, every drop. Self-publishing and ebooks are not a second class carriage on the publication express. This was explored in (at least) two fantastic sessions, the first by Dr Alison Baverstock (with Hazel Gaynor, she of The Girl Who Came Home fame) which was based on Alison's own research into the motivations and demographic of self-publishers; and the second by Ian Skillicorn of Corazon Books, who made it sound easy. The self-publishing, that is, not the self-selling. 
  8. Having said that, a good freelance editor and a striking, professional-looking cover are not options to be dispensed with lightly, however limited the budget available. It could be a good time to be a freelance editor like Eleanor Leese .
  9. Liz Harris was intelligent and engaging even at nine o'clock on Sunday morning when most people were reaching for the paracetamol. Her session entitled 'If only I'd known - The Path to Publication' came with a chocolate, laughter, and generous sharing of her experience of the year before first publication when she was also trying to research and write the second book in the deal. After the honeymoon excitement of publication, the relationship of the writer with their writing gets tougher.
  10. Writers are mostly introverts who are now forced onto the social media - Facebook, Twitter, Blogger - in order to (gulp) build a fan base and publicise their work. The new democracy in publishing means that thousands of titles appear every week. Visibility and sales are harder than ever to achieve. It's a good job the actual writing is so rewarding. Many more great talks and conversations happened at the conference, but I've run out of numbers.

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Who are these people?

The world is divided into voyeurs and exhibitionists... It takes one of each to make a good marriage.

Robert and Caroline Fanshaw are an ambitious young couple trying to make their way in a complex world.

What happens when their private affairs collide with world events and the big issues of our times? Drama, comedy and x-rated scenes.