It is my pleasure to introduce Roger Sanderson as my guest author this month. Roger is a prolific romance author and assistant organiser of the fantastic RNA Conferences along with Jan Jones.
Welcome, Roger, and thank you for giving up your time to do this interview.
When and why did you break into the world of romantic fiction?
For many years I lectured in English at a Further Education College, and as everyone knows, all English teachers really want to write novels – so when I retired, I decided to give it a go. I was already writing Commando comic scripts. While waiting at the publishers one day, I picked up their matching romance line STAR, so started with that. I went on to write for Hale, then M&B and am now with Accent (as Gill Sanderson) and Desert Breeze (as Roger Sanderson).
The RNA is a very supportive organisation. When did you first discover and join it?
I was a member of a local writing circle run by the late Sheila Walsh. She was on the committee of the RNA at the time and suggested I join. I am very glad she did!
Did your previous experience of writing scripts for Commando Comics influence the way you plot and write your novels?
They both demand a tight plot and extra care dealing with characterisation because there isn’t the room to over-develop the storyline. You have to focus. Possibly the experience of writing Commando scrpits has left me with a liking for a ‘big finish’. Of course, in a Commando, the hero shoots the enemy. In a romance novel the hero kisses the heroine. An important difference.
You are a prolific writer. How many titles have you had printed by Mills & Boon?
I think I wrote 44 or 45, all of which have now been re-edited and republished by Accent Press. It’s great to know these new digital editions are reaching a second audience.
You must have researched so many medical books and procedures over the years for your medical romances that I wondered if part of you had a leaning towards actually being a doctor or physician. Or do you prefer to stay away from the actual blood?
The latter, definitely! However three of my children are in the medical profession (Mark is a consultant oncologist, Adam is a dispensing nurse and Helen was a midwife for many years) so I have a wealth of research at the end of the phone.
I know many people ask you about writing as ‘Gill Sanderson’, but as many women writers create male protagonists I find this natural and refreshing. Did you choose to adopt a female pseudonym or was it advised?
It was very strongly suggested to me that I write under a female name. At the time the perceived wisdom was that when reading romance, women preferred a female name on the cover.
You have a love of the outdoors and hiking. Do you use this time to switch off from writing or to ponder and plot?
Originally I mountineered at the weekends to counteract the pressures of the staff room. The habit of outdoor exercise never leaves you, even if these days it’s more of a long daily walk by the sea. I rarely switch off from writing. I use walking time to think about the current book and also mull over ideas for future ones.
What is the best piece of advice you could offer to an as yet unpublished writer?
One: read as much as you can. Two: aim to write at least 500 words a week. Some weeks, this might be all you manage, some weeks it might be 5000 words. The important thing is to write something.
What do you like to read to relax?
Anything! I have very wide reading tastes.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently writing a sequel to my light-hearted romance LIVERPOOL TO LAS VEGAS (Desert Breeze Publishing), which features an ex-PE teacher and a documentary film maker and is one of my US-published novels under my own name.
What is next for Roger?
I had a major heart operation last year which is taking me a lot longer than I hoped to recover from. My goal at the moment is to get back to full health and keep on writing!
In previous blog posts I have looked at how to keep yourself fit for the task of writing thousands of words and then how to set realistic goals to achieve them. Before moving on to looking at the actual writing of the fiction, two factors play an important part in beginning and completing the process – inspiration and motivation.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
What motivates you to write fiction?
These two questions are asked to many authors and the answers may be as varied as the individuals who the question is posed to.
I am constantly inspired by anything from a name, a newly learned an intriguing little known fact, a place that sparks an idea or a simple overheard statement. Inspiration is all around us, we just have to be open to it and use our imaginations to ask that simple question: ‘What if?’
Once inspired to write then motivation kicks in to drive our effort so that the idea turns into a real manuscript. We can be both inspired and motivated at the same time by reading our favourite author’s work.
Here are a just a few common motivators:
To escape from reality into a world of our making that we will hopefully share with others.
To earn money – realistically, this is not an easy industry to break into.
To become a published author.
Whatever your inspiration you need the motivation to keep going, learning and growing as a writer. Go beyond rejection to reach that place of acceptance and becoming a published author. Learn from those who have done it and also from any of their early mistakes, so that you can avoid some yourself.
Once you are keen to begin your project, go for it. Network at conferences and courses, such as The New Writers’ Scheme run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association and seek professional feedback. If you have a manuscript that you would like professional feedback on then please contact me on Vholmesauthor@gmail.com for a quote.
Margaret has been a shining light to me and many unpublished authors as she was the New Writers’ Scheme Organiser for the Romantic Novelists’ Association when I first became published. Cathie is a prolific writer, lecturer and founder of CreativeWritingMatters.
Hello, Valerie –thank you for inviting us to chat with you! It’s lovely to be here.
You are both successful writers so my first question must be where did your own writing journeys begin?
Margaret: I started writing short stories while my children were still babies and eventually I began selling them to women’s magazines.
Cathie: I was a hobby writer until about ten years ago, but after a foundation course with the Open College of Arts, I began having success in short story competitions. Since then I have taken my hobby much more seriously.
CreativeWritingMatters is the inspirational name of the business you founded along with Sophie Duffy. I love the logo. Could you tell us about CreativeWritingMatters and how it came into being?
Cathie: CreativeWritingMatters came into being when I left teaching in mainstream education. The flexibility of being freelance meant we could offer workshops and short courses on all aspects of writing. The competitions came later following the success of a flash competition that we ran for our students.
The name came about because of a conversation I had, during which I became rather too vehement about the importance of creative writing. ‘Creative writing matters,’ I heard myself shriek. Our logo features Sophie’s cat, Henry, the star of her story in our Cat Walks ebook. He’s perky and forward-looking, just like the three of us!
You have jointly written an excellent handbook and a workbook on aspects of creative writing so obviously have a great working relationship, but how do you set about working on a non-fiction joint project as opposed to your independent fiction?
Margaret: I first met Cathie when she joined my local writing group, Exeter Writers. I loved her short stories and she was kind enough to say she liked my own writing, too. We collaborated on producing an anthology of members’ work and found we got on very well. We both teach creative writing (Cathie teaches face-to-face while I teach online) and, after we’d finished editing and producing the anthology, we decided to write a guidebook for our students.
When we wrote The Creative Writing Student’s Handbook, we wrote alternate chapters and then we swapped files and edited these chapters. It all seemed to work well! But when we wrote The Short Story Writer’s Workbook, Cathie wrote the whole of the first draft and then I did a heavy edit, making the second draft twice as long as the first. This approach worked very well, too. We find our non-fiction writing styles are very similar. A few months down the line, we often can’t remember who wrote what.
Will there be more in this series?
We enjoy working together so we intend to produce a handbook for novelists and we have other projects in the pipeline, too. We hope to produce some more anthologies featuring either our own work or that of other people.
You are both very experienced tutors so I would like to ask:-
Margaret, what three tips would you give to an aspiring unpublished novel writer?
- Plan your story and know roughly how you want it to end. But don’t be too rigid in your planning. Be prepared for the story to change and grow while you write.
- Your reader should want to spend time with your characters. So don’t write about people you don’t actually like or don’t find very interesting yourself. Your characters ought to be your friends.
- A novel is a big project. So whenever you get tired or disenchanted – which you almost certainly will – take some time out to reflect and to think about how and where you want this story to go.
Cathie, what three tips would you give to an aspiring unpublished writer of short stories?
- Use vivid and specific details that tell a lot, rather than generalisations. If a character puts up an umbrella, we don’t need to be told it’s raining.
- How much time you have to set up your story depends on the number of words that have been stipulated by the competition or magazine. Your story needs to develop and reach its resolution without a sudden rush at the end. Once finished, check the balance of set up, development and resolution, then be prepared to cut ruthlessly at the beginning.
- Use dialogue and gesture to reveal character rather than word-hungry narrative.
The Exeter Novel Prize is going from strength to strength, what inspired this, and how do you see it evolving?
Margaret: The Exeter Novel Prize came into being because it filled a gap in the world of novel-writing competitions. It’s open to previously published and also self-published novelists. There is more information here: http://www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk/2015-exeter-novel-prize.html
Will there be a CreativeWritingMatters short story competition in 2016? If so, what advice would you give to entrants?
CreativeWritingMatters runs lots of competitions for both short and longer fiction, so here is some general advice.
- Read the rules.
- Abide by the rules.
- Start your story as something interesting happens.
- Round off your story with a satisfying ending.
What is next for Cathie and Margaret, jointly or independently?
Margaret: I’m about to start the second draft of a novel and to plan a new non-fiction project that has nothing to do with writing.
Cathie: My debut novel, Secret of the Song will be out later this year and there will also be another collection of stories by the three of us at CreativeWritingMatters. Right now, the characters in my next novel are twitching for me to get on with it.
Thank you for taking the time to share your experience and advice with my readers.
Thank you for inviting us! It’s been great to talk to you.
I am delighted to welcome author Rosemary Kind, who is the founder of Alfie Dog, a publisher of short fiction based in the beautiful county of North Yorkshire.
What was the deciding factor that motivated you to switch from a successful business career to becoming a full time author?
My husband had the opportunity to move to work in Belgium and I said ‘Why not?’ Because we were going back and forth every fortnight to see my stepchildren an ordinary career wasn’t going to work, so as I’d proved everything to myself that I needed to in a traditional working environment it was the perfect time to follow my heart. I’ve always written, but in my spare time. I knew I’d regret it if I never found out if I could do more.
Please tell us about your published work and what inspires you?
I write in a number of genres. Inspiration can come from the strangest places. My first published book (leaving aside ‘Negotiation Skills for Lawyers’ which was commissioned), was a humorous guide to travelling on the London Underground ‘Lovers Take Up Less Space’. I wrote most of the ideas as therapy when I was working in London. ‘Alfie’s Diary’ started as a daily blog in January 2006 when our first dog moved in. I’d been in Belgium for a couple of months and was writing mainly non-fiction, business articles, company newsletters etc. I wanted to write fiction, but it felt like a big step. Writing Alfie’s view of the world was a way to make myself write something every day. I originally intended to write it for a year of two, but nine years on it’s still growing and has spun off into several other projects, not least because he set up his own political party The Pet Dogs Democratic Party.
Inspiration for my novels is more interesting. ‘The Appearance of Truth’ came out of a writing group project to write 300 words on ‘verisimilitude’. Once I’d looked it up in the dictionary I started mulling it over. I was researching my own family tree and had ordered a birth certificate. It occurred to me that it would be quite possible to pass a birth certificate off as belonging to someone that it really didn’t relate to and it all went from there. Lisa was given the birth certificate of a baby who died at 4 months old and the story is her search for who she really is and why it happened. ‘Alfie’s Woods’ came from our woodland walks. We’d just rescued a hedgehog, who was stuck in a fence, when a helicopter passed overhead. The rest of the walk was spent thinking ‘What if they were looking for the hedgehog? What if he had escaped from the woodland prison?’ ‘The Lifetracer’ was inspired by seeing an electronic countdown clock in a catalogue and finding myself thinking ‘What if it could be programmed with Time to Death and used to send a death threat?’ I have more ideas than I have time to write them.
What appeals to you most about Entelbucher Mountain Dogs and Alfie in particular?
I fell in love with the breed long before there were any in the UK. They are incredibly loyal affectionate dogs who are great with children and like nothing more than to be close to you. I also adored the way they look, not only their colouring but the fact they are such happy smiley dogs. Alfie is my pride and joy. He is a gentle giant who is everything I had ever dreamed of in a dog. We are incredibly close.
When did the inspiration for an online digital site for short fiction first occur to you?
Not only do I write short fiction as well as books, but I have many friends who are widely published in that field. The more I talked to other writers the more frustrated I felt that there were so few outlets for short stories and for earning an income from secondary rights. It was January 2012 when I wrote the business plan. I launched to authors in February and to readers in May. I was overwhelmed by the response and we had more than 100 stories by the launch and have rapidly built a library of 1700 stories. I also wanted to set up a site that gave as much back to authors as possible. The culture is very much to give support to the writing community where we can. I was amazed by how word of mouth spread the message across the globe and we very soon had writers from more than 25 countries, all writing in English.
What can a reader expect to find on www.alfiedog.com?
We carry good quality stories in a wide range of genres. All submissions are reviewed and where necessary edited and only the best are accepted for publication. We want our readers to come away having had a really good read and be looking forward to coming back for more. We carry work by over 400 authors, so there really is something to suit everyone’s taste. Many of our authors are widely published, but we enjoy introducing high quality work from new writers too. Unlike most sites, we carry the stories in a range of formats to suit all types of ereader or to print. We also publish a range of books in both electronic and paper formats. They are mainly short story collections, but we do carry some novels as well.
Of course for writers, our International Short Story Competition may also be of interest. The closing date is the end of September so there is plenty of time to take part. First prize is £200 and book publication.
How do you see www.alfiedog.com developing in future?
The site is already one of the biggest short story publishers in the world, but hopefully it will be the site on everyone’s list when they talk about short stories. I want it to be ‘THE’ place that people go to when they are looking for quality short fiction.
What is next for Rosemary?
I’m writing another novel at the moment. This one was inspired by a chance comment in a meeting. Someone made reference to the ‘Orphan Train’ movement in America in the late 1800s and I had to go and find out more. As soon as I did, I was hooked on a story idea and the lives of three Irish immigrant orphans, fighting for survival, was born. It is my first full historical fiction writing and the research has been fascinating. It even made me get on a plane for the first time in over seven years, but that’s another story!
More from Rosemary
It is the last day of what has been an exciting and challenging year for me. I would like to thank all the lovely people who have followed my blog and watched it grow.
I would especially like to thank all the authors who have been my guests and shared their careers, experiences and writing tips with me month on month. They have been truly inspirational and I will be welcoming more professionals from the industry as 2015 opens up.
Wherever you are, whatever your interests, I wish you all a happy, healthy and successful 2015!
You have had a fantastic breadth of life experiences from teaching the children of international politicians and celebrities in the USA to working in Migrant Education. What lasting impressions did this contrast leave you with?
One fact that has remained with me through all my years of teaching is that, no matter the social position of the parents, the wealth or lack of it, education or lack of it, ALL good parents want the best for their children. Another is that poor parents – and I’m not talking finance here – come from every strata of society. I have had extremely wealthy parents leave seriously ill children in hospital while they jetted off to join some celebrity at a ski resort and I have had really poor Mexican parents turn up at my door begging for “Trabajo ahora?” whenever there was a school outing that cost a little money. They didn’t want a hand-out, they wanted to work to earn the money.
What is it about Mexico that appealed to you so much?
I visited Mexico often and studied Spanish language and Mexican music there. I love its fascinating and sometimes sad history. It is incredibly beautiful. The people are proud and they are generous and full of humour and you have just given me ideas for articles!
Would you agree with the observation that despite having lived with the lifestyle of the very privileged, you always seem to have kept your focus on what is important in life – family and reality?
You’re right, I did enjoy some incredible experiences and my upbringing was certainly not among the privileged but one wonderful woman in Washington DC reinforced all my early lessons. I had just met the man who was to become my husband and I wanted to impress him – shallow person that I am – with my ‘new’ family. I was taking him to lunch – to be introduced – and we walked into the house to see the lady of the house on her hands and knees washing a floor. It turned out that the resident ‘cleaning lady’ wasn’t feeling well and had been sent to bed.
‘But why are you washing the floor?’ I asked.
She looked up at me and laughed. ‘Dirt,’ she said, ‘is no respecter of persons.’
My husband, of course, fell in love with her on the spot.
Teaching and writing marched together for years. I wrote stories for Sunday School magazines and I wrote reading materials for primary schools. I was able to use knowledge of Native Americans I had gained while living in the US to write something a little different – Bud and the Hunkpapas was a favourite. For a few years I wrote from 4am to 6am but resigned when our younger son went to university.
Are you a very disciplined writer in the way you organise your day?
Organise? I can already hear the laughter of those who know me.
I am disciplined. If possible I write every day; some days I write all day and well into the evening – that’s research time too. I use a laptop that has no internet because I can’t resist an email pinging in. My husband is learning to cook – our sons and lovely daughters-in-law sent him on a course – and he does one meal a day and he helps with housework – does all the heavy things and brings me a cup of coffee in bed first thing – and so I have 30 mins of ‘fun’ reading.
How and when did your first breakthrough as a published writer occur?
I went to a writing conference at USC where the great Michael Shaara, Clive Cussler, and the editor Charles Block were speakers. A friend typed up part of a Scottish Regency novel I’d been writing – I had even fewer technical skills then – and Charles Block read it. He was waiting outside a lecture room for me on the last day, handed me the script and said, “I think this will go but have chapters one and two change places.”
I had introduced the heroine in chapter two and he advised that the heroine should always be right there in chapter one. We returned to live in Britain that summer; I managed to get an agent – long story and sent her the finished, rewritten manuscript. A few days later she called and said she’d attended a party the evening before and an American editor had asked her about the availability of Scottish Regencies. She showed her the typescript and it was bought! I looked at it a few years ago and it was rather dire – wouldn’t be published today. I rewrote it, correcting errors, and published it on Amazon!
You were established as a saga writer and then made the bold and successful move to writing romances based around the world of opera and music. What inspired this departure?
I had written children’s books, Regencies, Sagas and serials and I wanted to write contemporaries. I went to an artist chum’s exhibition and found myself thinking – What if all these paintings were of one person? The idea stayed and grew like Topsy and I wrote a book about an artist who loved a tenor – my favourite voice! It was read by several reputable editors and agents but no one wanted it but almost everyone made sensible points. (I occasionally bump into one or two at an RNA party and we chat perfectly happily!)
At a book launch I found myself standing beside a lovely woman who asked me if I wrote books like those of the superb writer onstage. I said “no” and told her my friend’s publisher had just, that very day, rejected me.
“I didn’t reject you,’ said the woman and gave me her card. “Send it to me and I’ll have a look.’
I dithered for days and eventually rang my friend, telling her I felt badly about, even inadvertently, using her launch to contact a very senior editor. She looked at me and said. “Don’t be stupid; if anyone holds out a hand to you in this business, grab it.”
I grabbed, sent it and received the manuscript back with a “NO” for which she gave her reason. She also told me I really needed a good agent and suggested three. Two had already rejected me but I had not heard of the third and so I had one more go.
The agent accepted me as a client, and, with her guidance, I rewrote a few scenes. The agent, the brilliant Theresa Chris, sent the manuscript to auction. It went for an amazing amount of money and was then bought by several foreign publishers.
Last year, ‘Wave me Goodbye’ was published under the name of Ruby Jackson, which I understand is the first of a series of novels ‘Churchill’s Angels’. Please tell us something about this new project?
I suppose, like many writers, after five best-selling books, I fell out of favour. Theresa stayed with me, encouraging me, advising me. A few years ago, she asked if I would like to revisit WW11 and after much thought, I said yes. I did not know, of course, that an editor at Harper Collins had conceived the idea of publishing a series of books about the courageous women who did everything from catching rats to ferrying Spitfires; the women she calls Churchill’s Angels. Using the pseudonym, Ruby Jackson, I have now written four books; two have been published so far. It’s been an enormous privilege. I’ve met land girls, pilots, nurses, etcetera and been awed by every one of them. Their stories need no exaggeration – they were quite simply – superb.
You obviously love historical fiction and research your chosen topic thoroughly. What advice would you give to anyone who was considering writing a historical novel?
Advice would depend on which era and which country but obviously I’d say, find out as much as you possibly can about the person the time and the place. Read everything, especially newspapers of the time, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Archivists and librarians are great sources and remember there are archivists in famous department stores, in grand hotels and in universities. They know what you don’t know you don’t know!
What is next for Eileen?
I have no idea; my head is spinning – that way, or that way but I did visit a conductor friend at the Royal Opera House earlier this year. He has been keeping me accurate about conducting and conductors for several years as I have an idea. He asked me about progress.
‘I’m afraid, for the past four years, the poor man has been standing on a rock looking out to sea.’
He shrugged. ‘Well, there are worse places for a conductor to stand.’
Now, wouldn’t you want to discover the worse places?!