It’s TV, but not as I knew it

Reporting the old fashioned way – I was so very young!

I started my writing career as a TV journalist at Channel 7 in Brisbane, Australia in 19… umm. Let’s not go there. Let’s just say I was a teenager and leave it at that. My first TV interview involved a big camera and a large hand-held microphone. There were lights and sometimes a person whose job it was just to check the sound. For those interviews, I was behind the microphone asking questions.

A few days ago, for my most recent interview, I was in front of the camera answering questions. As for the way it was done, it was so far from those early TV jobs that it was like being in another world.

We were in the offices of my publisher, Harper Collins in London talking about The Heights. I wrote this book (or rather half of it) with my friend and fellow writer Alison May. We set up for the interview with – a phone and a lap top. The phone was attached to a tiny tripod that sat on a coffee table. Our ‘studio crew’ of two manned the laptops to live stream the interview on the Harper Collins Facebook Page and feed back questions from the live audience.

I remember my first live broadcast back in my TV days – it involved half a day of setting up, a large truck with a satellite dish on the roof. There was at least one technician with me and my camera crew, and many more back at the TV station. How things have changed.

With editor Clio Cornish, Alison May and my new red hair just before the interview started.

I loved doing this Facebook live. We talked about how to write together, about books and the Bronte sisters. There was some discussion of actors who might play our characters, and pizza got several mentions. The star of the show was undoubtedly the point of view spreadsheet that guided the writing of The Heights.

The famous POV spreadsheet.

The Interview still available to view here. Pop over if you have a second. Alison and I are still answering questions left in the comments.

Regular readers know I am a bit of a geek – and I just love how much technology has changed over the years. It makes it so much easier to talk with readers and other writers and you gotta love that.

We laughed a lot during the interview – another thing that was new to the serious journalist in me.

 

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Cause for celebration

There’s been some very good news for the Take Five Authors team – Janet and Sue are both shortlisted for the Romantic Novel of the year awards, presented by the Romantic Novelists’ association here in the UK.

Both are very pleased to finally be able to talk about it here…

Janet says:

I’m not ashamed to say I got more than a little misty when I got the email saying that Wedding Bells By The Creek was shortlisted for the RoNA Rose Award. Keeping it under my hat all this time has been really tough. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. Last year, my novel Little Girl Lost won the Epic Romantic Novel of the Year award and to have this novella that follows it also shortlisted (in a different category) is just more than I could ever have hoped for.

There are some of my favourite authors on this year’s shortlists, and luckily Sue and I are in different categories. Please keep your fingers crossed for both of us please. But whoever takes home the award, I already feel like a winner.

Here is the full shortlist for the RoNA ROSE Award

RONA Rose for shorter romantic novels

  • The Convenient Felstone Marriage, Jenni Fletcher, Harlequin Mills & Boon Historical
  • Wedding Bells by the Creek, Janet Gover, independently published
  • Their Double Baby Gift, Louisa Heaton, Harlequin Mills & Boon Medical
  • Christmas at the Little Village School, Jane Lovering, Choc Lit
  • The Mysterious Italian Houseguest, Scarlet Wilson, Harlequin Mills & Boon

And Sue says:

I can’t tell you how pleased and proud I am to see Just for the Holidays shortlisted in the Contemporary category of the Romantic Novel of the Year Awards. I’ve known since November, under strict embargo, and I’ve wanted to explode with joy ever since. Now I’ve seen the formidable competition on the shortlist I’m thrilled to be included … but I’m also feeling realistic about my chances of winning and going through to the overall prize of £5000.

The award ceremony will take place on the 5th of March in London at the Gladstone Library so I have the perfect excuse for a new dress to go with the frivolous boots and handbag I bought late last year to celebrate becoming a Sunday Times best-selling author. You can see a theme developing here, can’t you? Good news equals pretty clothes or accessories! This is only the second time one of my books has been shortlisted for a ‘RoNA’, so I’m making the most of it.

Here is the full Contemporary shortlist:

  • Together, Julie Cohen, Orion
  • The Picture House by the Sea, Holly Hepburn, Simon & Schuster
  • The Keeper of Lost Things, Ruth Hogan, Two Roads, John Murray Press
  • The Dangers of Family Secrets, Debby Holt, Accent Press
  • The Queen of Wishful Thinking, Milly Johnson, Simon & Schuster
  • Just For The Holidays, Sue Moorcroft, Avon Books
  • My Summer of Magic Moments, Caroline Roberts, HarperImpulse
  • Coming Home to Cuckoo Cottage, Heidi-Jo Swain, Simon & Schuster

You can read more about the RoNA Awards on the Romantic Novelists’ Association website.

 

Publication Day!

The Heights – a beautiful cover from the team at HQDigital.

Today is the best day of a writer’s calendar… it’s publication day for a new book.

It’s also the birthday of a new writing identity… Juliet Bell.

The book is The Heights – a book I’ve been wanting to write for a very long time. It’s an adaptation of Wuthering Heights, which is one of my all-time favourite books.

Wuthering Heights is one of those books that people tend to either love or hate. It’s dark and disturbing and the characters tend to also be dark and not particularly likeable. Many, many people die in Wuthering Heights and it doesn’t exactly have a happy ending. While it’s often referred to as romantic novel, I don’t think it is. It’s a look at the darker side of relationships, and for me is totally compelling. I’ve read it many times, and no matter how familiar the story is, it always captivates me.

Wuthering Heights is also one of those books that everybody ‘knows’. Even people who have never read it know it’s about the relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy, and a lot of people have seen film and TV adaptations that focus on that relationship, quite often painting it as love, when I think it’s really a dark obsession that destroys everyone it touches. That’s what I always wanted to draw out – the tragedy in the novel. But I hesitated to try and that’s where Juliet Bell comes in.

I wanted to set this exploration of the story in the same place as the original and I wanted to set the story of isolation and alienation and obsession against the turmoil of the Thatcher years and the miners’ strike. Being Australian, I didn’t think any amount of research could give me the right voice for Yorkshire and that time of great social upheaval. But a casual conversation at a writer’s conference led to a more serious lunchtime conversation and a collaboration with Alison May. Alison is a friend, a fine writer and a northerner. She also loves Wuthering Heights and is interested in heroes who are not that heroic.

It took several months, a lot of lunches and some cloud storage but The Heights was born. We’re both very proud of the book and there is another Juliet Bell novel already underway.

We chose Bell for our collaborative name as a tribute to Emily Brontë, of course.

That’s Juliet’s story – and here’s The Heights…

The searchers took several hours to find the body, even though they knew roughly where to look. The whole hillside had collapsed, and there was water running off the moors and over the slick black rubble. The boy, they knew, was beyond their help. This was a recovery, not a rescue.

A grim discovery brings DCI Lockwood to Gimmerton’s Heights Estate – a bleak patch of Yorkshire he thought he’d left behind for good. There, he must do the unthinkable, and ask questions about the notorious Earnshaw family.

Decades may have passed since Maggie closed the pits and the Earnshaws ran riot – but old wounds remain raw. And, against his better judgement, DCI Lockwood is soon drawn into a story of an untameable boy, terrible rage, and two families ripped apart.

A story of passion, obsession, and dark acts of revenge. And of beautiful Cathy Earnshaw – who now lies buried under cold white marble in the shadow of the moors.

Today the book goes out into the world – and I’m sitting here hoping the world will think we’ve done the original justice.

Writers – are they born or made?

I have a confession – I’ve never taken a writing course. I didn’t go to university, was only too happy to leave the boring old classroom behind, and actually, thanks to a snide remark from a teacher (which I later realized was intended as a joke), I didn’t even take English my last two years of high school. As for Pam, she only wanted to be a farmer or work with horses.

So, although we were avid bookworms and lived most of our time in our imaginations, the idea of becoming novelists was as far-fetched as joining the space program. On the plus side, we had a mother who was a born storyteller and we constantly played creative games in which we acted out different characters and adventures. From the age of 5, I obsessively read every book in the library, plus cereal boxes, newspapers, billboards, soup can labels. By the time I moved to London, I was regularly writing ten page journal-type letters to the friends I’d left behind. Ah, remember the days of snail mail? Still I might never have dared to publish anything professionally if I hadn’t lucked into a job in a literary agency. Such is fate.

But then again, working in publishing, I met so many editors and agents for whom the reverse was true.  It was their life-long ambition to be a published author. They’d taken all the right steps – English Literature and Language ‘A’ levels, graduated with honors in English at Oxford or Cambridge, studied all the great masters and what was the result? Total inhibition. After years dissecting the works of Tolstoy, D H Lawrence, Dickens, Shakespeare, they were far too scared to pen an original piece of writing, too burdened by all that knowledge of sentence structure, plot devices, subtexts and character analysis to risk producing anything less worthy than the geniuses they admired. Instead their lives were dedicated to nurturing and guiding raw talent, helping literary novices and unabashed dreamers get their manuscripts on to the bestseller lists.

Which makes me wonder – are writers born or made? These days creative writing courses abound, something that barely existed when I was young. There are brilliant books on writing for those wanting advice.  I read those obsessively for a while: Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott, Stein On Writing… I could go on and on.  Mostly what they did was provide glorious encouragement while allowing me to pretend that I wasn’t just a hopeless procrastinator who’d rather do almost anything than take the disciplined, daunting action of putting words to paper.

Do I wish sometimes that I’d had more formal education? Often. Do I think it would have led me to penning incredible Pulitzer Prize-winners instead of commercial fiction?  I doubt it. I’d probably be like those editors I met, comparing myself to the greats and stultifying my own creativity for fear of producing second-rate work. The one-day local writers group I attended had me so terrified of reading aloud and being found lacking, I couldn’t scribble a single word. Which is probably why I’ve avoided writers workshops and novelist gatherings like the plague, while envying the brave souls like Sue Moorcroft who find in them inspiration, community and even lead retreats!

So what do you think? Is creativity something that can be taught? Can a brilliant teacher improve your craft? Or lead you from mediocrity to masterpiece? Or is writing a passion that will find a way to emerge despite the odds? And what about people like Jeffrey Archer who, with no previous literary ambitions, decide to sit down one day and pen a bestseller – indeed a long string of bestsellers – as a means to avoid bankruptcy? A born storyteller? Or just the type of bold lucky bastard we can all agree to hate?

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Summer in Winter, Christmas in August

I’m thrilled that, finally, the announcement has been made that I’ve signed a new three-book deal with Avon Books UK (HarperCollins). Because announcements are never made until all parties have signed the contract, and the contract takes a while to prepare, the agreement was actually reached back in March – and it has nearly killed me not jumping the gun and announcing it myself! But I’m thrilled to continue working with the fantastic Avon team.

The first of the three new books is The Little Village Christmas. The next will be a summer book and the last another set at Christmas. This makes my position as an author ‘seasonal’. Every book will have a seasonal title and cover. You can see that I began exactly this way in my original contract with Avon.

TCP-and-JFTH-for-web

So, what does it involve to write books with such an overt seasonal slant? Frequently, I’m working on a book set in the ‘opposite’ season to the one I’m experiencing. I’m proofing The Little Village Christmas now, reading about snow and ice while sunlight is streaming through my window (if I’m lucky!). I’m thinking about Christmas decorations, raffles and big coats. Avon has been hard at work writing a Christmassy blurb and creating a Christmas cover. Amazon has even sent out the first promotional email (thank you all those who have preordered 🙂 ).

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My paper proofs

On the plus side, the book I’m actually writing is my Summer 2018 book, working title The Summer of Finding Out. I had the huge pleasure of writing a good chunk of it while on my Arte Umbria writing retreat. (NB If you’re interested in joining me on the writing retreat next year you can find information here.) To write a book set in Italy while I was in Italy was a special experience. My hero, Levi, paints the scene I could see from the terrace and I took hundreds of research pix in Orvieto, to which ‘my’ Umbrian town of Monteliberatà will bear some resemblance. After running out my camera battery I sat down for lunch with a couple of lovely people from the course and remained after they’d gone, sipping Orvieto Classico and making notes about what I’d seen, heard and smelled as I’d walked the cobbled streets earlier.

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I have to be honest, I planned my writing schedule around writing about Italy while staying in Italy. I defended it against the necessity to edit The Little Village Christmas and even asked for a couple of days extension to my deadline in case I needed it when I returned to the UK.

When I’ve finished the first draft of The Summer of Finding Out I’ll be returning to The Little Village Christmas in order to perform a few more edits for the German publisher. Then I’ll write a two-part Christmas story for My Weekly, due in by the end of August, and return to The Summer of Finding Out to write the second draft.

All this time, of course, I’m promoting Just for the Holidays, which is my Summer 2017 book! And in the interests of such promotion you might like to know that Just for the Holidays is only 99p on Kindle and Kobo right now …

Whatever books you love and whenever you like them – Happy Reading!