Excited and honoured

The Book Buyers Best contest is held in California. I wonder if I can go out for the award announcement.

The Book Buyers Best contest is held in California. I wonder if I can go out for the award announcement.

Having just flown back from Australia and the RWA conference, I am slowly emerging form a fog of jetlag – but got an unexpected boost this morning to discover I have been shortlisted for an award in the US.

The Wild One is a finalist in the Book Buyers Best contest – sponsored by the Orange County chapter of the Romance Writers of America.

What a thrill it is to be on a shortlist with some pretty fabulous authors – some of whom I read myself on a regular basis.

You can see the shortlist on the Award website here…

The winners are announced in October – so I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for a while.

But win or lose, I have to say it is so wonderful to know that people are enjoying The Wild One – enough for it to earn this sort of accolade.

Thanks everyone.

The second book in the Coorah Creek Series. I am still a little in love with the hero.

The second book in the Coorah Creek Series. I am still a little in love with the hero.

 

A whole lot of romance

Take around 200 romantic novelists and what do you get? A conference, apparently! The Romantic Novelists’ Association conference at Lancaster University certainly didn’t disappoint, with an amazing buzz for the best part of three days.

The RNA is a diverse and incredibly supportive organisation. Writers of all ages, published, unpublished and self-published belong, and new writers are mentored through those painful early days towards publication. At the conference, there are talks and workshops on just about every aspect of writing a novel you can think of – but the best part of it is meeting new writers, making new friends and catching up with old friends.

Three Take Five Authors members were there enjoying the fun this year. Janet Gover and Jenny Harper and Sue Moorcroft.

A common pastime for me during the weekend. It's much better now.

A common pastime for Janet during the weekend. It’s much better now.

 

Janet says: I had a wonderful time and came back totally inspired. It wasn’t just the talks and workshops. They were full of useful information… but I learned something else this year. The night before conference, I hurt my foot, and at one stage thought I would be unable to go. I put out an SOS and so many of my RNA friends were there to help – with a lift to the venue, carrying my things, even dashing out to buy frozen peas to help my swollen foot. For me, that really sums up the friendship I find in the RNA.

 

Jenny says: The Conference is a great time for renewing old friendships and forging new ones – and I had a ball doing both. The only frustrating thing is that there are often two or more sessions running at the same time, so you simply can’t do everything. I’m delighted that I chose to attend the crime workshop. I don’t write crime, but I now know where to turn for accurate information if I ever need it – and it was fascinating. Roll on next year!

Janet and Jenny catching up at the conference.

Janet and Jenny catching up at the conference.

Sue says: I spent a lot of time catching up with my friends in the dining room, the bar and at kitchen parties (invaluable networking) but I also attended some great sessions. The two on commercial fiction were especially useful as I’m teaching a course on the subject in October and the ‘Together we stand panel’ of industry professionals was just fascinating. The conference always gives me a huge buzz!

Sue with RNA President Katie Fforde

Sue with RNA President Katie Fforde

Best loved children’s book

At my writers’ group, YA author Claire Watts recently ran a workshop on writing for different age groups of children from tiny tots to young adults. We were asked to think about a book which had made an impact on us in our own childhood.whatkatydid

I thought immediately of What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge. I loved that book. I remember once snapping it shut saying, “Thank goodness, I’ve finished it.”

My mother asked if I hadn’t enjoyed it. And when I assured her I had, asked, “So why are you pleased you’ve finished it?”

“So I can read it again,” I said. And I did, many times. The number 23 resonates but I couldn’t have read it 23 times, could I?

I did read many other books throughout my childhood – unlike my young sister who, having read a Hardy Boys novel declared it was the best book she’d ever read and refused to read another book for several years because, she insisted, “It won’t be as good as that one.”

Hearing others in the writing group talk about the book which had most made an impact on them, reminded me of the many other wonderful books I’d read. Like many of my fellow writers I enjoyed Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven series and The Famous Five. More and more memories of happy reading flooded back: Josephine Pullein-Thompson had allowed me to live in a world of ponies while the Malory Towers series by Enid Blyton (again) or The Chalet School series by Elinor Brent-Dyer let me enter a different world of boarding school, tuck boxes and midnight feasts in the dorm.

I longed to be sent to a boarding school (and/or own my own pony). The nearest I came to a midnight feast was when my friend who was visiting her grandparents next door agreed to meet in my garden shed at midnight. We climbed out of our respective windows – luckily we lived in bungalows – but she cut her finger trying to open a tin of corned beef and ran home, blood dripping down her granny’s nightdress. It was the kind of scrape Katy might have got into.jo chalet school

What was the allure of What Katy Did and, to a lesser extent, what she did at school and after? I decided to find out by re-reading. Rather than searching our freezing cold attic, where hundreds of boxes of books have been temporarily stashed, I took the easy way out and downloaded the trio of books from Amazon.

It’s been like bumping into an old, much-loved friend. As soon as I began reading I remembered the sequence of events and could almost recite parts of it. While there are some things with which my adult self takes issue – the message that disabled people should be good and kind and sweet-natured (a message found in other children’s books – think of Heidi for example) – I understand why as a child I loved Katy so much. She scribbled stories, she and her brothers and sisters played daft games -remember Kikeri? – and wreaked havoc. She was real. She tried to be good but, like most children, she usually failed. It’s full of humour, both in the things that happen and in the narrator’s voice.

And the narrator took Katy’s side most of the time, which I suspect was unusual. When Katy disobeyed Aunt Lizzie and used the swing in the barn the narrator points out that although she was wrong to ignore her aunt, it was also wrong of the aunt to expect unquestioning obedience. Had Aunt Lizzie explained the swing was not safe, Katy would not have swung on it with such disastrous results. As a young girl I must have relished a grown up person (as the narrator surely is) taking the side of the child.

I think I’m going off to join the girls at Malory Towers now. Which book made the most impact on you as a child?

Is the first sentence the charm?

We’ve all been told that we have only a couple of pages to hook a reader. I think that’s wrong. I think the hook comes in the first page. The first paragraph. The first sentence.

Last weekend, I was at a workshop devoted to the first 100 words of a novel. That’s right – 100 WORDS.

I think that first paragraph can hook a reader not just into one book – but into an author’s storytelling and writing style. One sentence can turn a first time reader into a lifelong fan. It has happened to this reader – more than once.

I remember my first encounter with the great Mary Stewart. I was about thirteen and dreaming of escaping small town Australia to have adventures in the big wide world.

How outdated the cover seems now - the writing dates too, but it's good enough to overcome that.

How outdated the cover seems now – the writing dates too, but it’s good enough to overcome that.

I opened a battered second hand copy of The Moonspinners.

It was the egret flying out of the lemon grove that started it.

Everything about that sentence is wrong – Any writing tutor (myself included) would tell you never start a book with a passive sentence. And certainly not with ‘It was..

But there was something about this opening line that spoke to me. I could see the bird flying low over the lemon grove. I could smell the fruit and feel the sun. My mind’s eye watched the bird fly past and wanted to go with it.

I could no more have put that book down that fly with the egret.

From that first line, I was an avid fan of Ms Stewart. I had read and re-read her books – and she has never let me down.

Of course, that’s important too. A really great opening line has to be the beginning of a great book. And I’ve usually found that it is.

In the first place I suppose it was my parents’ fault for giving me a silly name like Gianetta.Wildfire at Midnight – also by Mary Stewart. Another line that beaks rules but totally works.

Of course – she’s not alone in writing great first lines. So many books call to me from the bookshelf…

Last Night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.  Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Another of the world's best opening lines - and a book I have re-read a dozen times.

Another of the world’s best opening lines – and a book I have re-read a dozen times.

To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black.Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.1984 by George Orwell.

It was the day my grandmother exploded. The Crow Road by Iain M. Banks,

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit – I really don’t have to tell you who that was, do I?

OK – I’ll stop now, but my point is this…

These lines transport me instantly to that other time and place – and whether it’s a child’s mind or a dystopian nightmare, I am instantly caught up in the story. My mind and heart are opened to whatever the writer want to tell me next. And it doesn’t matter that I have read the book before, or read it ten times before – the magic never fades.

Writing styles, like fashion, change over time. But a good opening line never fades.

Have you even sat up all night just reading the first lines of all your favorite books? I tried. I really did – but who could possibly read…

I suppose that my mother could have been a witch if she had chosen to…

or

Not every King would care to start his reign with the wholesale massacre of children.

… and then close the book? (Yes – they are both Mary Stewart again.)

I just went back and looked at the opening line of my next Coorah Creek book (due for release in June).

The huge yellow machine inched forward on wheels that were twice the height of the watching men.

Hmmmm…. Not quite to Mary Stewart’s standard, but then she set the bar pretty high. I start edits on the book soon. You never know, by the time you see it, it may just keep you up all night reading, as Mary Stewart did to me so many times.

Why I love Readers

Obviously, I love my readers. They send me nice messages on Twitter and Facebook, they post fabulous reviews on Amazon and Goodreads – and they buy my books or borrow them from libraries. I think of my readers whenever I write. Is this right for them? Will they like that? One of my writing missions is to try and stop my readers putting out the light at the end of a chapter.

To be a writer in the age of communication is a privilege, because receiving a nice message from a reader makes my day, and I always reply. Sometimes readers message my characters so I reply on his or her behalf, too.

BookswebBut I have a hugeHeart affection for all readers of all genres/books/magazines/authors. Without them (or I should say ‘us’ as reading is one of my greatest and abiding pleasures) the publishing industry wouldn’t exist. That thought almost makes me need to lie down! Apart from being a vital part of the economy, the publishing industry is a massive part of my life. And all those parties, conferences, RNAconf15webconventions, meetings, talks, workshops, lunches and dinners that I love are attached to it. To be an author isn’t just a job to me, as working in a bank used to be. Being an author is a way of life. It’s a life I wouldn’t have without readers.

Another scary thought is that had I been born a couple of hundred years ago I probably wouldn’t have been able to read. Education wasn’t a right, few women were educated, and those who were often came from a moneyed family. Stories were told, acted out or sung, but for me that would never match up to the intimate world of being alone with the characters in a novel. Books can be read at my own speed and picked up and put down to suit my day; I never have to miss a bit or hurry to arrive on time.

Whether it’s in my armchair, over a meal, travelling, waiting for an appointment, in bed, on holiday, I love to fall into other worlds and see what’s happening there. Reading, and readers, rock!

TWP_Thumbnail copyCOMPETITION: To be in with the chance to win a signed copy of my latest book, The Wedding Proposal, post on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtags #readsuemoorcroft5 and #take5authors and tell me your favourite place to read. Closing date 16 January 2016 and I’ll choose a winner on the 17th. Good luck!