Rocks and Flowers in a Box by Cynthia Hilston #Spotlight #BlogBlitz (@cynthiahilston) @RaRaResources #RachelsRandomResources #RocksAndFlowersInABox

Rocks and Flowers in a Box

I’m joining in the one day blog blitz today for Rocks and Flowers in a Box by Cynthia Hilton with this spotlight post. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Rachel’s Random Resources for asking me to take part in the blitz.

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The wedding bells for Lorna and Tristan Blake toll doom right as the honeymoon begins with an unexpected turn in Tristan’s health. While World War II winds down, Lorna receives a letter from the War Department informing her that the brother she thought killed in action is still alive. She is overjoyed, but his return will dredge up a devastating secret about their parents’ tragic death –a secret that could destroy her new marriage and threaten her husband’s physical and mental well-being. What unfolds is balancing act of keeping the faith and shattering the pieces of the life she’s worked so hard to put back together.

Sounds like a good one for fans of World War II set romances.

Rocks and Flowers in a Box is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you check out the other blogs taking part in today’s blitz for more great content.

About the Author

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Cynthia Hilston is a thirty-something-year-old stay-at-home mom of three young kids, happily married. Writing has always been like another child to her. After twenty years of waltzing in the world of fan fiction, she finally stepped away to do her debut dance with original works of fiction.

In her spare time – what spare time? – she devours books, watches Doctor Who and Game of Thrones, pets her orange kitty, looks at the stars, and dreams of what other stories she wishes to tell.

Connect with Cynthia:

Website: https://cynthiahilston.com

Facebook: Cynthia Hilton Author

Twitter: @cynthiahilston

Instagram: @authorcynthiahilston

Cupidity by Lucinda Lamont #Extract #BlogTour (@lucindalamont7) @NextChapterPB @damppebbles #Cupidity #NextChapterPub #damppebblesblogtours

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Britain, World War Two. After newly widowed Martha is invited to live with her wealthy confidante, Mae, she finds herself attracted to her husband.

Meanwhile, an escaped convict is targeting women close to Martha’s new home. After several women are murdered, they realize the danger is closer than they could have ever thought.

As Martha’s passion threatens to unravel her friendships, paths cross with devastating consequences.

I am delighted to be taking part today in the blog tour for Cupidity by Lucinda Lamont. My thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for inviting me to take part.

I am thrilled to be able to bring you an extract from the book today to whet your appetite. Here we go:

Extract

“‘Come on, Willy, do your coat up. This is going to be the start of a new adventure for us. You’ll get to live with Charlie. I wish I could have lived with a friend when I was your age.’

Martha pulled his zip up as far as his big woolly scarf would allow and pulled his little hat over his ears to make sure as much of his young, delicate skin was covered as could be. She stood up and looked around her. Taking it all in one last time. One last breath in this house. One last smell. The last time she would smell the scent that they had created as a family. The faint scent of John’s boot polish. A whiff of Willy’s talcum powder, and whilst everyone else might not smell it, the sweat and tears of Martha with a slight pang of her royal jelly moisturiser. She could hardly bear to leave this house. Once she shuts the front door for the last time, she shuts out the life she had with John. She shuts out the memories. The plans. Willy’s first few years. The happy times. The struggles.

 Martha had accepted Johnny’s death. She had no other choice. All she had now were the memories.

Every day he was serving in the army she would worry. So many people had lost their lives. So much heartbreak and families torn apart, but he would always come back. Most times with no warning. He would bound in through the front door, dump his bags on the floor, and call out to his family. Firstly, he would pick up Willy in his arms and give him a tight squeeze and plant a big kiss on his little rosy cheek. Willy’s eyes would light up, and he would giggle with pure delight. His little laugh would fill the room with happiness, changing the normally nervous atmosphere instantly. Then Johnny would put Willy down next to his toys and look up at Martha who was watching them. Martha looked beautiful as always. She would be wearing her apron most of the times he came back, with her immaculate victory rolls set in her deep brown, bouncy hair. She had winter-like clear blue eyes and always had her signature slick of red lipstick on.

No matter what the occasion, she always looked glamorous and beautiful, and what made her most beautiful was that she had no idea quite how captivating she was. Johnny would forever be in awe. Everything that had happened, everything he had seen, all the trauma he had experienced, it would disappear when he saw her. She was his everything. She was what drove him when he felt weak. When he was scared, he would be brave for her and his son too. He would do everything in his power for those two. The apples of his eye, and boy, was it good to be home. He would take a step closer to Martha, and she would look at him.

Her stomach flipped every time she saw him. Twelve years together and he still made her weak at the knees; but every time he left, she felt sick to the stomach and would stay that way until he got back. She would finish drying her hands with the tea towel, a household item which had almost become like a comforter for her.

Like clockwork, the emotion would rise in her. She would try to fight it back; but the more she did, the stronger it would get. Her big blue eyes would start to fill quickly with salty tears, and then the first big tear would leak from her perfectly lined, doe-like eye and roll down her cheek; and then another and then another until she was crying uncontrollably. She would fling her arms around him and sob. He would pull her in, one arm around the top of her back and shoulders and the other at the bottom of her back, and gently rub his hand up and down her slight frame, soothe her and tell her it was ok. He was back now.

She hated doing this, and every time promised herself she wouldn’t the next time, but she knew that was a promise she couldn’t keep. She didn’t want him thinking she couldn’t cope, she didn’t want to make his job any harder for him than it was, but the relief to have him home every time was a feeling that would never grow old.

Those memories, for Martha, were to be just that. On April 22nd, 1943 life changed. It was one of those life events whereby people say you will never forget it, but it hadn’t been that way for her, she was already beginning to forget. It was one big blur, and that blur lasted for months.

Cupidity is available now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do make sure you visit the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour for more reviews and other great content:

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About the Author

Lucinda Lamont

Lucinda is 31 years old in lives in Hampshire. Born in Aberdeenshire, she spent the early years of her life in a small fishing town before relocating with her mother to the South Coast.

She is the middle child and only girl with four brothers.

Lucinda began her higher education in studying Performing Arts and then began a degree in Law (but dropped out). She is a qualified hairdresser but the arts always drew her back in and she took up an interest in writing which she now plans to continue to make a career out of.

Mother of one, a baby boy, she works part time for a Business publication and spends her spare time soaking up the Hampshire countryside and plotting her next stories.

Connect with Lucinda:

Facebook: Lucinda Lamont Author

Twitter: @lucindalamont7

Instagram: @lucinda_lamont-author

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The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson #BookReview #BlogTour (@JoannaHickson) @HarperFiction @annecater #RandomThingsTours #LadyOfTheRavens

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Two women, two very different destinies, drawn together in the shadow of the Tower of London:

Elizabeth of York, her life already tainted by dishonour and tragedy, now queen to the first Tudor king, Henry the VII.

Joan Vaux, servant of the court, straining against marriage and motherhood and privy to the deepest and darkest secrets of her queen. Like the ravens, Joan must use her eyes and her senses, as conspiracy whispers through the dark corridors of the Tower.

Through Joan’s eyes, The Lady of the Ravens inhabits the squalid streets of Tudor London, the imposing walls of its most fearsome fortress and the glamorous court of a kingdom in crisis.

I am delighted that it is my turn on the blog tour for The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson, set during my favourite historical period. Huge thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part, and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I was delighted to be invited to read this book because it covers my absolute favourite period of history, but during a window of time where my reading has been sorely lacking. The Wars of the Roses are my historical obsession, and I have read a myriad of books about the reign of Henry VIII, but period immediately following the Battle of Bosworth and the early reign of Henry VII is a time period which has largely slipped through my  historical fiction net, until now.

Despite the fact that the author clearly does not share my love of Richard III, I absolutely adored this novel. It ranks up there with the best historical fiction I have read by my favourite authors in the genre and I completely lost myself in the text, transported back to the fifteenth century and the Tower of London. The selection of the central character to tell the story, Joan Vaux, a commoner risen high in the fledgling Tudor court, is inspired, as it allows her a to look in on the court from slightly outside it and give us a more rounded view of what life was like in the country at that time, than would the use of someone who was confined entirely within the royal family at that time. Aside from which, she is a fascinating character in her own right, and quite extraordinary for a woman of that time. I loved reading of the intimate relationships between Joan and the young Queen Elizabeth, and Joan and her mother. A fascinating insight into the difficulties faced by women at the time who had little personal power and were largely treated as valuable chattels to be traded for power and favour, and their ingenuity in finding ways to influence events regardless.

This is a time of great turmoil in the country, as the newly founded Tudor dynasty tries to cement its hold on England through marriage between Henry Tudor and the Yorkist daughter of Edward IV, Elizabeth of York, whilst challenges to the throne continue to come from Yorkist rebels who are unwilling to admit defeat. The ongoing mystery surrounding what happened to the ‘Princes in the Tower’ gives additional credence to rumours that boys with a better claim to the throne than Henry may still be alive, and the importance of the children that Elizabeth bears for Henry and the alliances that can be made with the noble houses of Europe through marriage cannot be stressed enough. It was a time of great tension, which the author makes us relive throughout the pages and it makes for a riveting tale.

I find the minutiae of life, both in and out of court, at this time endlessly fascinating and the author peppers the book with the luscious details of how families were arranged, households run, children raised and the court operated. As well as an entertaining story, this novel is a great history lesson and this fact great enriches the reading experience; indeed it is my primary joy in reading historical novels. This one really brings it all to life and transports the reader right into the heart of the period, the sights, sounds, smells, textures, medicines, ailments, food, drink, farming, battle, building, property ownership, titles, protocol – it is all here in riveting detail, but in ways that enhance the story and do not in any way impede the pace of the writing. The author’s voice is modern and refreshing and easy to read, and carries an obvious passion for the period. I thoroughly enjoyed every page of the book and, on reaching the end, was already wanting to move to the next title.

All lovers of historical fiction, especially the Tudor period, should buy this book. As well as being rich in period detail, and a stonking good story, the book itself is beautiful. I loved it so much, I had to buy a hardback copy to grace my shelf, as I know I will read it again. It is hard to tell from my photo, but it has sumptuous gold detailing on cover. I am already planning on buying another copy to give my Tudor-mad mother for her birthday. Already on my favourites of the year list. I may even forgive the author for her disdain for my beloved Richard…

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The Lady of the Ravens is out now and you can buy a copy here.

There are lots more fabulous blogs taking part in the tour, so make sure you visit them too:

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About the Author

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Joanna Hickson spent twenty-five years presenting and producing News and Arts programmes for the BBC. Her first published book was a children’s historical novel Rebellion at Orford Castle, but more recently she has turned to adult fiction, concentrating on bringing fifteenth century English history and some of its fascinating principal characters to life. She is married with a large family and gets inspiration from her Wiltshire farmhouse home, which dates back to her chosen period. 

Connect with Joanna:

Facebook: Joanna Hickson

Twitter: @joannahickson

Dear Mrs Bird by A. J. Pearce, Narrated by Anna Popplewell #BookReview #Audiobook (@ajpearcewrites) @picadorbooks @MacmillanAudio @audibleuk @AnnaPopplewells

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London, 1940. Emmeline Lake and her best friend, Bunty, are trying to stay cheerful despite the Luftwaffe making life thoroughly annoying for everyone. Emmy dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent, and when she spots a job advertisement in the newspaper she seizes her chance – but after a rather unfortunate misunderstanding, she finds herself typing letters for the formidable Henrietta Bird, the renowned agony aunt of Woman’s Friend magazine. 

Mrs Bird is very clear: letters containing any form of Unpleasantness must go straight into the bin. Emmy finds herself dismissing problems from lovelorn, grief-stricken and morally conflicted readers in favour of those who fear their ankles are unsightly or have trouble untangling lengths of wool. But soon the thought of desperate women going unanswered becomes too much to bear, and Emmy decides the only thing for it is to secretly write back…. 

I know, I am SO late to the party with this book. I have had the hardback version sitting on my TBR forever, and I had never got round to reading it for some reason, mainly pressures of all the blog tours I took on last year. I finally gave in and bought the audiobook with one of my monthly credits and, it was obviously fate that had stopped me reading it because I absolutely adored the audio version.

I just have to say from the off that Anna Popplewell does the most amazing job of narrating this book. Any of you who have read it will know that the author captures the patterns and peculiarities of speech from the era perfectly and, hearing this spoken aloud rather than reading it, really brings it to life. I could picture Mrs. Bird so clearly in my mind’s eye through the narration, it gave the novel an extra dimension and I would highly recommend listening to this in audio format. Not every book lends itself equally well to audiobook, and so much of the success depends on the narrator, this one is just beautiful.

Moving on from the format, I fell completely in love with this book. The premise was what drew me to it in the first place, the magical idea of a repressed wartime agony aunt refusing to deal with any Unpleasantness from her readers and a sympathetic young woman who relates only too well to the messes that women found themselves in during wartime. It was a genius way of demonstrating the perils of war in a completely fresh manner with a unique approach and it worked like magic. I have to say, I am not personally a fan of wartime books, I often find them quite traumatic, so the fact I loved this one so much is testament to the skill of the author.

The book is a delightful blend of gentle comedy and pathos. The situation the girls find themselves in is dire, but their friendships and love for those around them bolster them and pull them through, so when that is threatened, it puts their whole world into more peril than the war itself, and this is the real core story of the book. Our personal relationships are the things that hold us solid through the direst of times and anything that threatens those are the things that are truly dangerous. I absolutely adored the approach that the author took to this whole topic, it spoke to me on a really fundamental level and was the main reason that this book got under my skin.

The main character of Emmy was totally relatable as a modern young woman dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Flawed but wonderful, any reader would fall in love with her and be riding the highs and lows of her experience through every page. My twelve-year-old daughter, who listened to portions of this book while we were in the car, was fascinated by the name Bunty (which is ‘not a real name, Mummy’), and kept asking me what had happened during the portions of the book she had missed. Anything which can capture the imagination of a modern tween like this must be something special.

And what to say about the titular Mrs. Bird? Only that the author has created a character so much larger than life that anyone who reads this will never forget her. A Lady Bracknell for a new age.

I loved this book so much that I have given a copy to every one of my friends who hasn’t yet read it, nominated it as my Secret Santa book in my book club swap and gifted the audiobook to my writer buddy. I know it wasn’t published this year, but it is my read of the year for 2019, and I know I will come back to it again and again. Pure joy on the page, as close to reading perfection as you are ever likely to find.

Dear Mrs Bird is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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AJ Pearce was born in Hampshire, UK. Her favourite subjects at school were English and History, which now (finally!) seems to be making some sense.

She majored in American History at the University of Sussex, spending her Junior Year at Northwestern University in Illinois, USA.

She began writing as a hobby in 2005. In 2012 she came across a 1939 copy of a weekly women’s magazine and had the idea of writing a novel set in wartime London.

In 2016, following a seven-publisher auction in the UK, Dear Mrs Bird was acquired by Picador, and in the USA by Scribner after a similarly competitive auction.  Dear Mrs Bird was published in hardback in the UK in April 2018, becoming a Sunday Times Top 10 Bestseller two weeks later. It has been sold for translation in thirteen other countries.

AJ was one of The Observer’s New Faces Of Fiction Debut Novelists 2018, and was shortlisted in the Breakthrough Author category in the UK’s 2018 Books Are My Bag Readers Awards. Dear Mrs Bird was chosen as one of NetGalley UK’s Top Ten Books of 2018, and shortlisted in the US LibraryReads Favorites of Favorites 2018.

In 2019, Dear Mrs Bird was a Richard and Judy Book Clubpick. It was shortlisted for the Debut of the Year at the 2019 British Book Awards as well as the Royal Society of Literature Sir Christopher Bland Prize, and long listed for the inaugural Comedy Women in Print award.

In July 2019 it was further longlisted for the Goldsborough Books Glass Bell Award, and the Historical Writers’ Association’s Debut Crown 2019 for the best historical debut.

AJ is currently writing her second novel, the sequel to Dear Mrs Bird.

Connect with A. J. Pearce:

Website: https://www.ajpearce.com

Facebook: A J Pearce Writes

Twitter: @ajpearcewrites

Instagram: @ajpearcewrites

Deadly Prospects by Clio Gray (The Scottish Mysteries Book One) #BookReview #BlogBlitz (@ClioGray) @urbanebooks @LoveBooksGroup #LoveBooksTours #DeadlyProspects #TheScottishMysteries

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1869, Sutherland, Scotland. For years the people of this remote area of the Highlands have lived a hard life. Now a local Gold Rush has attracted the Pan-European Mining Company to the area, and Solveig McCleery is determined to re-open the Brora mines and give the population the riches they deserve.

But when work starts on re-opening the mines, the body of a prospector is discovered, and odd inscriptions found on stones near the corpse. Before the meaning of these strange marks can be deciphered another body is discovered.

Are these attacks connected to the re-opening of the mines? Will Solveig’s plan succeed in bringing peace and prosperity back to the area? Or has she put in motion something far more sinister?  

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog blitz for Deadly Prospects by Clio Gray, first book in the Scottish Mysteries series. My thanks to Kelly Lacey at Love Books Group for offering me a place on the tour, and to the publisher for my ecopy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I found this book very different and refreshing, combining as it did very detailed, historical issues and a gripping mystery. I’m not sure I have read a book that felt quite so like a  fascinating history lesson and an intriguing crime puzzle at the same time.

The author chose a time period and location in which to set the book that I have never come across used in a fictional mystery before, the Highlands of Scotland around the time of the Clearances. I have always been fascinated by Scottish history and the plot really intrigued me, which is why I applied for the blog tour in the first place, but I got far more than I was expecting with this book. The level of historical detail was impressive, I learnt a huge amount about emigration between Scotland and Scandanavia that I had never known before, but it was woven into the book so cleverly that it did not feel like it was detracting from the plot in any way, but only enhancing it.

The book really captured the hardship and bleakness of the period and location, remote as it was, and barren, and the struggles that the people had to try and hang on to their homes and scratch out a living in the face of adversity, both natural and man-made. The characters were well drawn and compelling and I was completely pulled in to the story and held captive while it played out. I found it sinister and disturbing, and I did not see the twists it was going to take coming at all.

The author is clearly passionate about the topic she is writing about and has taken a great deal of time and care in researching this book before writing it. The depth and breadth of the research that has gone into it can only be a labour of love and I think this shines through in the writing. The book affected me more than I expected, and was one of those happy surprises that come along rarely, an un-hyped book that exceeds expectations and takes you places you never saw coming but swept you away. I highly recommend this for lovers of great historical fiction.

Deadly Prospects is available now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Clio was born in Yorkshire, spent her later childhood in Devon before returning to Yorkshire to go to university. For the last twenty five years she has lived in the Scottish Highlands where she intends to remain. She eschewed the usual route of marriage, mortgage, children, and instead spent her working life in libraries, filling her home with books and sharing that home with dogs. She began writing for personal amusement in the late nineties, then began entering short story competitions, getting short listed and then winning, which led directly to a publication deal with Headline. Her book, The Anatomist’s Dream, was nominated for the Man Booker 2015 and long listed for the Bailey’s Prize in 2016.

Connect with Clio:

Website: https://www.cliogray.com

Twitter: @ClioGray

Love Books Group Tours (1)

The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman #BookReview (@rowancoleman) @eburypublishing @penguinrandom @ecrisp1 @BleuViola #PublicationDay #TheGirlAtTheWindow

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Ponden Hall is a centuries-old house on the Yorkshire moors, a magical place full of stories. It’s also where Trudy Heaton grew up. And where she ran away from…

Now, after the devastating loss of her husband, she is returning home with her young son, Will, who refuses to believe his father is dead.

While Trudy tries to do her best for her son, she must also attempt to build bridges with her eccentric mother. And then there is the Hall itself: fallen into disrepair but generations of lives and loves still echo in its shadows, sometimes even reaching out to the present…

Today is publication day for The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book and am delighted to share my review today. My thanks to Penguin Random House and the author for my copy of the book which I have reviewed honestly and impartially and a happy publication day to Rowan!

What can I say, this book has absolutely everything an avid reader could wish for when they pick up a new tome. I knew this book was going to be something special because the author has set it in a place that means a great deal to her and she has obviously poured her heart and soul into it. The passion and emotion bursts off the page and straight into the heart of the reader and carries them along on an immersive emotional journey through the story. I was completely drawn in to the world of the characters and the setting of the book and held in such an iron grip by the narrative that I could barely bear (Kate Baker – take note!) to put it down and interact with my family. I raced through it in record time and felt bereft when it was done.

The story is set in the wilds of Yorkshire, in the house that is rumoured to have inspired parts of Wuthering Heights and it is uncanny how the author has managed to evoke the atmosphere of that great novel with her story. Rowan really does the beauty and atmosphere of my home county great justice in the setting and the reader is immediately transported to the isolated Yorkshire Moors that so inspired Emily Bronte and gave Wuthering Heights the dark and wild atmosphere that characterises it.

Anyone who follows Rowan on Twitter and knows anything about her will not be able to read the book and fail to feel that the main character of Trudy has, to a degree, been inspired by Rowan’s own famed obsession with the Brontes. Returning to her childhood home at Ponden Hall after a great personal tragedy, Trudy becomes embroiled in a treasure hunt involving lost Bronte artefacts and a story that she believes intrigued her heroine, Emily, centuries before. I absolutely loved the character of Trudy and was completely engrossed in her life and emotions from the very first page. Her relationships with her young son, husband and estranged mother were beautifully portrayed in the story and felt completely authentic. The emotional journey experienced by the characters was extremely affecting and I felt myself experiencing a vast range of emotions myself as I read – sorrow, terror, intrigue being just a few of them – it was very skilfully done. These are characters and stories of the best kind, the kind that make you feel like you have made new friends, that you care about them and feel sad when you have to let them go. The great thing about novels, of course, is that they will still be there when you want to return to them, and this is definitely a book that the reader will want to treasure and return to and experience again.

The plot of the novel covers so much. Personal tragedy, family relationships, mystery, history, literature and a thrilling ghost story, all at the same time. There is so much packed in to the book, I was hugely impressed that it all flows so naturally and blended seamlessly. As someone who is making attempts to write herself, I could not help being awed by the skill that this complex book has taken to produce and, aside from being a marvellous read, it is something I will be studying to see how Rowan managed to pull it off. In fact, I would love to hear from the horse’s mouth what process Rowan used to put this book together. There was so much fascinating information and detail about the Brontes woven in to the story, but it never felt that it was included in anything other than a natural way that enhanced the narrative. The ghostly aspects were suitably creepy and disturbing. The book actually managed to produce in me the same deeply troubling sensations I felt when I first read the opening chapters of Wuthering Heights where the narrator is being haunted by Cathy’s ghost. It gives me the shivers thinking about it to this day. Ghost stories are very hard to do well, but Rowan achieves this, and goes beyond.

This book is complex, emotional, fascinating, gripping, troubling, affecting, beautiful and moving, all at the same time. It is a masterpiece, and a masterclass in writing. I absolutely loved every word, every page and know I will return to it again and again. One of my favourite books of the eighty I have read so far this year. I have bought a copy to cherish, you should too.

The Girl at the Window is out today and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Rowan Coleman’s first novel Growing Up Twice was a WHS Fresh Talent Winner. Since then, Rowan has written fifteen novels, including The Memory Book which was a Sunday Times bestseller. It was selected for the Richard and Judy Bookclub and awarded Love Reading Novel of the Year, as voted for by readers.

Her latest novel, The Summer of Impossible Things, is a Zoe Ball TV Book Club selection.

Rowan lives with her husband and their five children in a very full house in Hertfordshire, juggling writing novels with raising her family. She really wishes someone would invent time travel.

Connect with Rowan:

Facebook: Rowan Coleman

Twitter: @rowancoleman

Instagram: @rowanmcoleman

Ten Things I Learned From The Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme by Helena Fairfax (@HelenaFairfax) #GuestPost #RNA #NewWritersScheme @RNATweets #amwriting #amwritingromance

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Tonight I have a slight departure from my usual Friday Night Drinks post. Instead, I am delighted to welcome fellow RNA author and New Writers’ Scheme alumni, Helena Fairfax, to the blog with a guest post on ten things she learned from participation in the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme.

So, let me hand over now to Helena:

Every year the Romantic Novelists’ Association offers an opportunity to 300 unpublished writers to have their work critiqued by an experienced romance author. I joined the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme ten years ago. I look back now on how much I’ve learned since posting off my first manuscript (yes, it was all done by post then!) and I continue to feel an enormous debt to my RNA reader for giving me a grounding in what makes a great romance novel.

I passed through the New Writers’ Scheme twice.  The first year I sent off just the first three chapters and a synopsis of my novel.  I knew the story was going astray, and I was right to have reservations.  I received a four-page, detailed report highlighting where the reader felt the manuscript wasn’t quite right, along with some constructive suggestions on how to improve it.

So, back to the keyboard I went, to do what all successful writers do – rewrite. And this was the first lesson I learned:

  1. Writing is rewriting. Writers need to be able to look at their work dispassionately and not take a critique personally.
  2. My fictional characters are real. I take this for granted now, but I found it exciting and strangely alarming to have someone else talk about them as though they were actually living beings and not just creatures in my head.
  3. Because the characters are living and breathing people, they MUST have a clear motivation for their behaviour. What is it in a character’s past that has made her this way? As my reader advised, ‘Keep asking yourself why/why not?’ If you give your characters a solid past, they become well-rounded people your readers can believe in.
  4. A romance story revolves around conflict. My reader said, ‘It’s about why the hero and heroine, so obviously attracted to each other, not only won’t admit they have fallen in love, but feel that they can’t…Your hero and heroine should have goals that are in direct opposition to each other.’ The greater the emotional tension, the more the reader will want to keep turning the pages, desperate to know how these two will ever get together.
  5. There must be a situation which FORCES the hero and heroine together. If not, then why not just part on page four, if they are in opposition to one another?
  6. Romance novels are all about character. ‘When you’re structuring a romance, you should be thinking about the plot not so much as moving your characters from A to B, but as a series of situations that test their fears and bring their goals into conflict.’ Take it from me, this focus on character rather than plot makes it very difficult to sustain the tension necessary for a page-turning read. Anyone who thinks writing a romance is easy should try it for themselves!
  7. Romance novels aren’t about the perfect heroine. Readers don’t take to the heroine who is beautiful, successful, has lots of friends, and always does the right thing. We can relate to someone who has flaws. Lizzie Bennett, one of the most famous romantic heroines of all time, spends almost the entire book being prejudiced, but we all love her. (On the other hand, don’t make the heroine too silly, or readers will put the book down. Again, romance writing is a tricky business.)
  8. The synopsis needs to encompass all the above points: the characterisation, motivation, goals, source of conflict, how the hero and heroine are forced together, and how they overcome the demons that are keeping them apart.
  9. Handling rejection. Of course I was disappointed the story needed more work, but the letter that accompanied my critique stated: ‘Always bear in mind that most published authors have experience of rejection. All writers, published and unpublished, need to be tenacious and determined…Have faith in yourself!
  10. And so back to the dreaded rewrite. I resubmitted the entire novel the next year. This taught me another valuable lesson – that if you want to write a book, the only way to get it done is to put your bum in the chair and type. I had a deadline, and I stuck to it.

Since receiving my first ever developmental edit, I’ve written a further four novels, contributed to and edited a best-selling anthology , and written a non-fiction history of women’s lives in Yorkshire. My first critique helped me to focus on the craft of writing. Two years ago I joined the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. I’m now an intermediate member of the SfEP and an associate editor at the Betterwrite Literary Agency.

Nowadays I work with both new and established authors, and I find it a great pleasure passing on the lessons I learned from my own first critique from the RNA.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the New Writers’ Scheme with us, Helena. Despite not yet being published, I have already found it invaluable to my writing and would urge any aspiring author whose novel has a touch of romance to consider applying to the Scheme. Details of how to do it can be found here.

Applications for the Scheme in 2020 will open on 2 January.

About the Author

Helena Fairfax photo

Helena Fairfax is a freelance editor and author. She was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors and the home of the Brontë sisters. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

Helena’s latest release is a non-fiction historical work called Struggle and Suffrage in Halifax: Women’s Lives and the Fight for Equality. Women’s voices are all too often missing from the history books. This book looks at some of the key events in the fascinating history of the mill town of Halifax, West Yorkshire, from the point of view of the women who shaped the town. It’s available on now from bookshops and retailers and from Pen & Sword Publishing and you can buy a copy here.

Connect with Helena:

Website: https://helenafairfax.com

Twitter: @HelenaFairfax

Facebook: Helena Fairfax