Friday, 26 July 2019

RNA Conference 2019

The weekend before last, I was at Lancaster University for the RNA's annual conference.  The venue, which I'd been to before, was lovely and as usual I was sharing a block with my wonderful writing friends, including HMB authors Kate Walker and Rachael Thomas .  And, as usual, the 'Naughty Kitchen' was well stocked with gin, prosecco and nibbles (thank you lovely Andrea for the delicious pink gin and vegan chocolate :)

The Heroine's Journey

The conference sessions, all in the University's George Fox Building, were particularly good this year and especially relevant for me. Among the highlights were 'The Heroine's Journey' with Fiona Harper, which was really useful for me and my current HMB heroine;  'Quiz the Agents,' since I'm aiming my timeslip wip at agents and mainstream publishers; and a very illuminating session entitled 'Slush Pile Slam,' that highlighted the whys and whynots that make agents and editors read on beyond the first page of a submission - or not!

The RNA Hub

There was a louder than usual buzz in the Hub too this year, and we had to spill over into the session rooms at lunchtimes.  I met some lovely new people, including independent editor  Donna Hillyer and caught up with some old acquaintances, including  Sophie Claire, whose new book The Christmas Holiday will be published by Hodder and Stoughton in October. I absolutely loved Sophie's debut novel, Her Forget-Me-Not Ex, so am really looking forward to reading her next. 

Sunday, 30 June 2019

A visit to Gregynog

This weekend, I went to Gregynog in rural Powys to an afternoon tea and a musical concert of a Bach programme of arias for tenor, flute, cello and harpsichord, performed by the Flemish tenor and French Baroque ensemble A Nocte Temporis. The concert was wonderful and very special as it was this group's first ever appearance in the UK. In the lovely setting of the Music Room, and the peaceful surroundings of the gardens, it was an evening to remember.

For those who don't know Gregynog, here's a quick bit of history. For hundreds of years, it was one of Montgomeryshire’s leading landed estates but in 1913 a huge estate sale saw Gregynog’s farms, cottages and woodlands sold off, many to their tenants. Gregynog Hall might have been demolished had not the wealthy Davies sisters acquired it in 1920 to become the headquarters of their enterprise to bring art, music and creative skills to the people of Wales in the aftermath of the First World War.

For twenty years the house was full of music, fine furniture and ceramics, hand-printed books from the Gregynog Press and, most extraordinary of all, the sisters’ collection of paintings by artists such as Monet, Cezanne and Van Gogh.  At the end of the 1950s, after wartime use as a Red Cross convalescent home, Gregynog was bequeathed to the University of Wales as a conference centre.  But the old Gregynog lives on – the music, the art, the printing press and the gardens.(

From 1932 to 1938, an Annual Festival of Music and Poetry was held here, conducted by such musical luminaries as Sir Henry Walford Davies and Sir Adrian Boult. The music festival lives on too, as each year in June, Gregynog plays host to an annual music festival, featuring performances by some of the world’s leading classical musicians (.

On the writing front, I'm back at the computer after the upheaval of a house move and juggling two day jobs. I entered the Harlequin Presents Blitz  earlier this month and received very encouraging feedback. As usual I've given myself a deadline - crucial for any writer committed to publication - for early September. I'm also going to the RNA's  annual conference in July, at Lancaster University this year, where I've got a couple of industry appointments with agents and publishers, but best of all, I'll be catching up with some very dear writing friends.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

A non-writing weekend away

Last weekend I spent a wonderful few days with some writing friends in Shropshire in an old Rectory near Burford House and Gardens. Even though most of us didn't actually do any writing, there was much discussion about current trends and sharing of experiences and, as always, just to be in the company of fellow writers was an infusion of much needed energy, creative and otherwise.

The location was lovely. Shropshire is one of my favourite counties and Burford a hitherto undiscovered area for me.  Although just off the busy A49, the house we were staying in and the surrounding area was unbelievably pretty and tranquil. Right opposite us was Burford House and Gardens, which I discovered was a real haven for lovers of history, plants and nature.  

The Georgian house itself serves a variety of purposes now - from gifts for the home to a beauty parlour to a wedding venue.  Attached is a nursery and cafe and the stunning gardens behind the house, which ask for a donation to visit, are really what a country house garden should be - eclectic yet very English, welcoming and relaxing, bursting with wildlife, and with some exotic surprises, like this vibrant Judas Tree.  

So even though I didn't do any writing, I had a very restful weekend, with good friends and conversations that at least got me thinking about writing, whether that was while exploring the gorgeous Rectory grounds or simply sitting with a coffee in the lovely conservatory and soaking up the sun and the blissful atmosphere of being in a place out of time for a while.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Spring in Ceredigion . . .

. . . or the calm before Storm Hannah hits!  It's been a while since I've posted, due mainly to the upheaval of a house move and getting settled into my new place.  It took a while!  Interestingly, setting up my study began the process, even though most of my stuff was still in boxes - some of it still is! - and I was sleeping on my futon in my living room while waiting for my bedroom curtains to arrive.

Needless to say, not much writing was getting done; in fact, I took the momentous decision last week to take the rest of the year 'off.'  I put 'off' in inverted commas because I'm still awaiting feedback on my partial submission to Harlequin Mills and Boon back in January, and I aim to submit my timeslip to the RNA's New Writers' Scheme and, of course, go to the annual conference in July.

So the actual writing may be on hold at the moment but my characters are milling around in the back of my mind nevertheless.

And never more so than when I'm walking the beautiful countryside around my new home in the Dyfi Valley. Today, after a bit of working-from-home in the morning, I took advantage of the almost sunny afternoon and went up the nature trail that lies in the hills behind my village, where the view across  the estuary to Aberdyfi is breathtaking whatever the weather.

Bluebells and wood anemones were everywhere and the greenery was so lush it was virtually dazzling. Birds were flitting among the canopies of the trees, lambs dozing in the fields, and a trio of young horses came over to say hello - after they'd hightailed it to the other end of the field on first sight of me coming down the lane!

So after an incredibly summery Easter, it looks like rain and winds are on the way.  Hopefully they won't last and the sunshine will soon be back!

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Old year, new home

Well, I'm on the move once more.  One of the beauties and the banes of renting instead of owning a  home is that moving is a regular occurrence, whether it be voluntary or forced. My current move is a bit of both, with my present flat going on the market early next year and my present job requiring me to live a little bit closer to my workplace.

Therefore, Christmas and New Year this year will be spent packing, cleaning,saying goodbyes and moving.  I've got three weeks off from work and so have been able to do things bit by bit instead of all in one go. Now, on the eve of Christmas Eve, my flat is looking rather bare, with boxes of all shapes and sizes lining the walls and the windows devoid of curtains.

That said, the Christmas tree is up in the corner and there are mince pies in the cupboard and some Prosecco to see in the New Year. And the weather may not be exactly festive, but I'm looking forward to getting out and doing some walking over the holidays.

I'm also using the time off work to revise my current WIP prior to resubmitting to Harlequin Mills and Boon in early January.  Once that's gone off, I'll be returning to my timeslip, which is simmering away quietly in the background of my mind.

So that's my Christmas! Whatever yours is, I hope it is filled with love, peace and joy and wish you all good things in 2019!

Melissa x

Monday, 19 November 2018

A different sort of writing

While I'm still aiming my work at Harlequin Mills and Boon, and have some revisions pending on my current WIP, I've also been working on a story in a new genre, a time-slip.  A romance is still at the core of this story but there is a bigger canvas to paint on, so there is also an historical mystery and an element of crime in my book.

 To get some guidance in how to write a crime scene, I went on a writing course this last weekend at Lilleshall Hall.  The course was entitled Getting away with Murder' and was run by multi-published author  Stephen Wade.   As it turned out,  none of the people booked onto this course was actually writing a crime novel, but books and short stories that had a crime or the potential for one.  But that didn't matter; Stephen adapted his programme accordingly and everyone, including me, got such a lot of information and inspiration, and a clearer idea of how to proceed. Focussing on character, plot, settings and scenes, Stephen helped me to reach my goal for the weekend, which was to write a draft crime scene, and also enabled me to view my criminal with much more insight.

The venue for the course - which also had programmes on romance, poetry and non-fiction - was in lovely Shropshire, one of my favourite counties. It was originally the demesne of Lilleshall Abbey, a 12th century Augustinian foundation, but after the dissolution of the monasteries, it was granted to the Levenson family, wealthy Wolverhampton wool merchants, in whose hands it remained until World War One.

Like many large country estates, Lilleshall suffered greatly as a result of the two world wars and during the interwar period. But unlike many, it re-emerged positively, being sold after WW2 and becoming a recreation centre. It's now a National Sports Centre (in 1966, the England football trained there prior to their World Cup success!), so as well as we writers, there were dozens of more sporty types there, who made my little foray into the gardens a bit of a stroll in the park!  

The grounds were huge, though much reduced from their original 30,000 acres, and very lovely, and there was a woodland walk with a nature trail.   I only managed to explore a very small part of it but I came across a pet cemetery, with little weathered headstones dating back to 1904 bearing grand sounding names like Czar (a wolfhound) to the more humble Sooty and Frisky.

Isn't it nice to know that animals were loved back then as much as they are now!

Monday, 1 October 2018

Wise words and old wives' tales

Going for a walk in the autumn sunshine today, I noticed that the holly trees were bright with berries and it got me thinking : Does this indicate that our lovely summer is going to be followed by a bad winter?  So, when I got home, I went online and looked up this old wives' tale.  Nowadays, it is thought that early and abundant holly berries are a result of a good spring and a mild September rather than an indicator of future weather, although there are a host of other superstitious associated with holly that are quite fascinating.

Christian symbolism connected the prickly leaves with Jesus' crown of thorns and the berries with the drops of blood shed for humanity's salvation. In Celtic mythology the Holly King ruled over half the year from the summer to the winter solstice, at which time the Oak King defeated the Holly King to rule until the summer solstice again. Holly was also believed to have protective properties, being commonly brought into the house to guard against malevolent faeries and was frequently left uncut in hedges to prevent witches running along them.

But whether holly in abundance in autumn is a forecaster of bad weather or not, berries of all sorts at this time of year undoubtedly brighten up our hedgerows as well as providing a good source of nutrition for birds like thrushes, blackbirds, redwings and fieldfares - and magpies too! You can read more about this colourful bounty for birds on the  RSPB website .

And the wise words in the title of this blog? Once more, these come from the wonderful Kate Walker.  I submitted a partial of my WIP to Mills and Boon last week, and this meant a revision of the one-page synopsis I'd sent in to the RNA's New Writers' Scheme back in July. The timing was perfect, as Kate had just posted a helpful guide to writing a synopsis on the RNA Facebook page and I had this next to my computer as I developed my synopsis. The main point of Kate's advice was to keep it simple and include the important things :

Tell the story from the emotional timeline, putting in the emotional turning points. The editor doesn't need huge descriptions/backstory/family connections but she does need your hero and heroine and their emotional journey, viz - 

  • Who are they?
  • Where do they meet ?
  • Why do they meet?
  • What keeps them apart?
  • Why?
  • What makes it worse?
  • Why?
  • Why do they fall in love?
  • What resolves it ?

Focusing on that vital question - why? - really helped me to produce a synopsis that, for once, I was happy with and felt worked - thank you yet again Kate :)