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Pam Rhodes Writers Tip

Pam RhodesPam Rhodes is known around the world as the presenter of BBC Television’s Songs of Praise and her popular Hearts and Hymns programme on Premier Christian Radio. She describes herself as an ‘anorak’ in her fascination for hymns old and new, and her books on hymn-writers, like Love So Amazing, Then Sings My Soul and Hear My Song are essentials in many a church vestry! A natural storyteller with 25 varied books under her belt, Pam is perhaps best known for her novels packed with down-to-earth characters and situations that inspire and entertain. ‘Springtime At Hope Hall’ is the first book in her ‘Hope Hall’ series.

Today, Pam offers advice to budding writers.

I think they should concentrate on the sheer joy of writing. Go to a writing course, if you feel that would help – but don’t let some suggested technique stop you just starting to write down what you want to say first, and then just letting your own imagination fill the page for you. It doesn’t matter if no one but you ever reads it, or if it is eventually published and read by thousands. The main thing is to enjoy the act of writing, which is as compelling as reading – and, I think, much more fulfilling.

Read more about Pam and her writing journey in her interview here.

Claire Frost

Claire Frost“Claire Frost grew up in Manchester, the middle of three sisters. She always wanted to do a job that involved writing, so after studying Classics at Bristol University she found a job in magazines. For the last 10 years she’s worked at ‘The Sun on Sunday’s Fabulous’ magazine, where she is Assistant Editor and Books Editor. She can mostly be found at her desk buried beneath an ever-increasing pile of books or at home writing funny and heart-warming novels about love, life and social media.

  1. For readers of the blog who may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
    Hi Bronagh – and hi readers of the Handwritten Girl blog! I love writing fun, relatable, feelgood books about romantic relationships, female friendships and how we live our lives online and IRL. I am also a journalist and work as Assistant Editor at Fabulous magazine, where I edit copy plus review books and interview authors for the magazine’s books pages
  2. Can you tell us about your new book called ‘Married at First Swipe’?
    I would love to! Married At First Swipe is about Hannah, who is always looking for her next adventure but also wants to find someone she can settle down with, and her best friend Jess, who is married to her childhood sweetheart and they live with their lovely seven-year-old twins in a nice semi-detached house in a Manchester suburb. But when Jess reveals her dating business is on the verge of going under, Hannah comes up with a daring plan to generate much-needed publicity: she will let Jess set her up on the ultimate blind date – which will take place at the altar. What could possibly go wrong?!
  3. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    Ooh, I like this question! I am lucky enough to know lots of amazing authors, all of whom I’d love to start a book club with (in fact, a few of us are already in a book club together!), so I would invite all of them. And knowing I had them as my moral support, I would also invite some authors I’d love to fangirl embarrassingly at, such as Jilly Cooper, Kate Atkinson and David Nicholls.
  4. You also have the exciting job of being a magazine book reviewer, what’s it like now having people review your books?
    It’s, um, a bit weird, to be honest! But I also know just how many novels book reviewers get sent, so I am so grateful when people take the time to read and review my books. It means a huge amount when someone tells me they’ve enjoyed reading something I’ve written – whether that person is a book reviewer, blogger or any other kind of reader – and I don’t think that feeling will ever get old.
  5. What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
    I am not sure anyone will ever better the opening line of Dodie Smith’s ‘I Capture The Castle’: ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’
  6. What’s your favourite part of the writing process?
    The bit when I hold a finished copy of my book in my hands!
  7. Married At First Swipe

  8. What’s your favourite book of all time?
    Argh, this is SUCH a difficult one! But I will always love ‘The Secret Garden’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and more recently, ‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson is breath-takingly amazing.
  9. Is there anything that you would change about your writing journey?
    I really try not to have regrets, but if there was one thing I could tell past-me (and, in fact, present-me!) it’s to have more self-belief in my writing. I have spent – and definitely still spend – far too much time doubting whether I can really do this. But I now have two actual paperbacks with my name on the front, so I definitely CAN do it!
  10. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
    Hmm, if I was stranded for a very long time, I guess I’d want books I could re-read over and over again without getting bored. So I would choose the first three books of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazelet chronicles – every time I read the series (which I do every couple of years) I realise just how brilliant she was at creating characters who are both multi-layered, interesting and relatable.
  11. What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
    I know everyone says this, but actually putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard!) is the only real way to improve and develop your writing. You can read all the ‘how to write’ book you want, but unless you are actually filling a page with words, the theory behind it all doesn’t mean anything. I know that every day I write I learn so much – and I hope that every book I write is better than the last.
  12. When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
    A large cup of coffee (and my espresso martini scented candle!).
  13. And finally, do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website?
    I am working on my third novel right now – all I can say is that it is a little bit different but I am so excited about it!

    You can find Claire Frost on Twitter

    You can pre-order ‘Married At First Swipe’ from Amazon and will be available to buy from good bookshops from 4th February 2021.

Claire McGowan

Claire McGowanClaire McGowan is a Northern Ireland author who writes crime under new own name and female fiction as Eva Woods. Her latest thriller called ’The Push’ is out now.

  1. To readers of the blog who may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
    I grew up in Rostrevor Co Down in Northern Ireland and now live in London. I write mostly crime fiction and also women’s fiction, as well as radio drama and scripts.
  2. Tell us about your new book called ‘The Push’.
    ‘The Push’ is about a group of couples, all very different, who are all expecting babies and go to the same antenatal group. When someone dies in a suspicious fall at one of their gatherings, their secrets and lies begin to unravel.
  3. You write both female fiction and crime. Which genre do you find easier to write?
    Definitely crime! I tend to over-plot my women’s fiction as I’m so used to having to write lots of twists and turns.
  4. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    I’d invite Marian Keyes who seems brilliant fun and reads a lot!
  5. You come from a rural village in Northern Ireland, has that been a setting in any of your books?
    It features in some of my Paula Maguire books, though I rarely write about actual real places. I usually give them a different name and change them slightly.
  6. What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
    ‘The Secret History’ -The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation
  7. Why do you think Northern Ireland is so popular and successful for crime authors?
    I think we have an incredibly rich history of crime and loss here, which we are only now beginning to be able to write about.
  8. The Push

  9. Who’s your favourite villain or hero?
    It’s hard to think of a better or more interesting character than Hannibal Lecter – he’s sometimes a villain and sometimes an ally, at least in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’
  10. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
    Something very long – I still have to read the new Hilary Mantel, so probably that, then maybe the complete works of Shakespeare, and the artist’s way so I could work my way through it.
  11. What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
    I think there needs to be a balance between developing your skills, and almost more important,
  12. When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
    Giant cup of tea – I drink lots of tea all through the day
  13. And finally, do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website?
    I’ve just finished my next thriller, ‘I Know You’, and also have a true-crime audiobook coming, which will be announced soon.

    You can find Claire McGowan on Twitter and her website for updates.

You can buy ‘The Push’ from Amazon and is available to buy from good bookshops.

Ella Allbright

Ella Allbright A self-confessed reading addict, Ella Allbright writes commercial women’s fiction set in her beautiful home county of Dorset. Her first novel in this genre, ‘The Last Charm’, was published in August 2020 by One More Chapter, an imprint of HarperCollins and is released in paperback today. Ella also writes as Nikki Moore, the author of the popular #LoveLondon romance series. A number of the novellas featured in the Top 100 short story charts on Kobo and the Top 20 in the Amazon UK bestsellers Holiday chart, and in 2018 the collection was released in Italy. Her first published work was the short story A Night to Remember in the bestselling Mills & Boon / RNA anthology Truly, Madly, Deeply. Her debut romance Crazy, Undercover, Love was shortlisted for the RNA Joan Hessayon Award 2015.

  1. To readers of the blog who may not be familiar with you or your writing, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing.
    I’ve always been an avid reader. I love the chance to be entertained, to escape, to live in other worlds and experience other people’s lives. Growing up, reading naturally led to writing and I wrote fairly dark short stories when I was doing my English GCSE. Luckily, my English teacher told me I was talented and gave me encouragement to keep writing. A few years later, I wrote my first category romance aimed at Mills & Boon and that manuscript got as far as an acquisition meeting (I didn’t realise that was actually very good for a first book plucked off the slush pile!) Another romance imprint showed interest in my second book, but I ended up putting writing aside while I gained HR qualifications, built a HR career and had children.

    In 2010, following a serious illness, I decided to follow my dream of becoming a published author and started writing again, first entering short story competitions (and to my surprise being placed as a finalist several times) before writing a romance that later became my debut novel as Nikki Moore – ‘Crazy, Undercover, Love’. Joining the Romantic Novelists’ Association, I went through their New Writers Scheme – where your manuscript is reviewed as part of your membership – for four years, before being offered a four-work contract by HarperImpulse, a digital first romance imprint of HarperCollins. Six years later, I’ve had three short stories, five novellas and three novels published, and my next book is with my agent for feedback. I consider myself very lucky, but still have much bigger dreams, for instance to see ‘The Last Charm’ turned into a film.

  2. Tell us about your new book called ‘The Last Charm’.
    ‘The Last Charm’ is an epic love story set in beautiful Dorset, based around the charms on Leila’s very special bracelet. Jake and Leila meet as young teens, and over the following fifteen years move in and out of each other’s lives. At heart, this book is about love, loss and hope – themes I felt it important to write about, and could relate to. Reviews have been amazing, and it’s been compared to ‘Me Before You’, ‘Normal People’, ‘One Day in December’ and ‘The Notebook’; all books I’m very happy to be linked with.
  3. Why did you decide to write female fiction?
    This is an interesting one, because even though ‘The Last Charm’ is marketed as commercial women’s fiction, I think the themes are universal enough to relate to everyone, regardless of how they identify. I also have some male readers, as I had with my Nikki Moore books. While being savvy enough to write for the market, I’ve not made a conscious decision to aim my books at certain people – I simply write stories I’m passionate about, believe in, that I hope might touch others and whose characters are talking to me. I do have ideas for a couple of psychological thrillers, so we’ll see who my readers end up being if those get written and published!
  4. If you were to start your own book club, what authors would you ask to join?
    This is such a good question. I have so many favourite authors, and am lucky enough to know some of them or to have connected with them over social media. My book club would be composed of a mixture of authors writing psychological thrillers, police procedurals, romance and general fiction. As a starting point – Miranda Dickinson, Kim Nash, Lisa Jewell, Angie Marsons, Adele Parks, Catherine Isaac/Jane Costello, Jenny Colgan, Sue Moorcroft (who is also my aunt), Jules Wake, Catherine Miller… the list is endless – it would be a very large book club!
  5. If the story of Leila and Jake were brought to screen, who can imagine playing the characters?
    I find this easy to answer for Leila: Emilia Clarke. She has such an expressive face, is adorable and also looked amazing with long silvery blonde hair – which Leila has – when she was in ‘Game of Thrones’. I find it much harder to cast Jake because I think of him as so unique, and I’ve not been able to think of someone who would absolutely fit the bill. In different Facebook Lives etc Tom Burke, Tom Ellis and Jonathan Rhys Meyers have all been discussed. Noah Centineo from ‘To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’ might make a good teenage Jake, if he could do a British accent.
  6. The Last Charm

  7. Is there anything that you would change about your writing journey?
    Funnily enough no, even though there were times I was offered contracts and turned them down, meaning I could have ultimately been published much sooner. But I had to do what felt right at the time, and I stand by those decisions because I’m one of those people who puts little stock in having regrets. Every experience teaches us something, so I’m glad my writing journey has been what it was. Despite being published for the last seven years, I still feel that I have a lot to learn – luckily I’m a natural student (I read a lot and have lots of notebooks to take notes in!)
  8. What’s your favourite part of the writing process?
    I actually love every part of the writing process – from coming up with the initial ideas, characters and plot; to storyboarding a book out on a long piece of poster paper that goes up on my writing room wall; to carving out the first draft, and then on to all the endless rounds of edits – which I see as opportunities to polish stories until they shine. I must admit that with every novel I write, I get to a point about 40,000 words in where it feels like a real slog and I convince myself what I’ve written is a pile of rubbish, but I’ve found over the years that I just have to push through those feelings and keep going until the story is finished. A bit like running a marathon!
  9. What’s your favourite opening line from a book?
    This is so hard as I’ve read so many books and have lots of favourites. If I absolutely had to pick one, it would be from ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’ by the Brothers Grimm… ‘Once Upon a Time…’ It’s a magical line to start to any story, rich with endless possibilities.
  10. If you were stranded on a desert island, which three books would you bring with you to pass the time?
    Another really tough question! ‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig, ‘Remember Me’ by Christopher Pike (my favourite book as a teenager), and ‘Me Before You’ by JoJo Moyes.
  11. What area do you suggest a budding writer should concentrate on to further their abilities?
    There are so many things I can think of, but really I think it comes down to understanding the nuts and bolts of what makes a great story in the genre you’ve chosen to write in. For me a lot of this comes from reading widely in that genre, and understanding what makes each book good, spectacular or poor, and then choosing what learning to take from that.
  12. When sitting down to write, what is the one item you need beside you?
    Something visual for inspiration which relates to the story I’m writing. The storyboard I mentioned is covered in post-it notes setting out the plot and notes about characters, but will also include film and song titles along with pictures of the book’s settings. It’s quite usual to find me pacing up and down in front of the storyboard when I’m mid flow, checking on a plot point, looking at photos or jottings down new ideas that have come to me.
  13. And finally, do you have any projects or releases on the horizon which you would like to share with the readers of the website?
    The book I’ve just handed in to my agent for reading and feedback is a story about a woman who’s lost her way and the man who helps her find it on a road trip around Italy, while searching for her father. I wrote it as a broadly escapist read – although there are some important issues in it, such as self-discovery and self-identity – as an antidote to the world we’re currently living in. I hope that readers enjoy being transported to Italy in the same way that I enjoyed being there in my head while writing it. More details to follow next year!

    Thanks so much for having me on the blog, Bronagh!

    You can find Ella Allbright on Twitter and Instagram

    If you’d like to hear my thoughts on ‘The Last Charm’, then check out my review here.

My Top Ten Favourite Festive Activities By Heidi Swain

Christmas RoomToday on the book tour for her new book Christmas book called ‘The Winter Garden’, Heidi Swain is sharing her Top Ten Favourite Festive Activities because she is a HUGE fan of Christmas!

So, here we go…

“Heidi

Reading
I’m sure it’s no surprise that books bagged the number 1 spot! December 1st is always reserved for Mr Dickens. The month simply wouldn’t work if I hadn’t reacquainted myself with A Christmas Carol. I also read Trisha Ashley’s Twelve Days of Christmas too and treat myself to new festive fiction. Louise Marley, Sophie Claire and Victoria Walters are on the list this year and I’m starting earlier than usual because otherwise I won’t fit them all in.

Carols from King’s
My Christmas Eve revolves around this choral festive treat. My to-do list has to be completed so I can be ready to watch and listen with a cup of tea and a mince pie. As a person of Pagan persuasion, I find this much-loved tradition of mine something of a surprise, but the voices are so stirring as the light begins to fade. I love it!

Christmas shopping
I love Christmas shopping, as long as I have my trusty list. The chilly weather, bustling streets and frequent tea and cake top ups make it all the more pleasurable. I know it won’t be the same this year, but I can hang on to the memory of those wonderful excursions for now.

Finding the right gift
Nothing beats the pleasure of watching someone opening their gift and seeing their face light up. Finding the perfect present isn’t always easy, but it’s totally worth the effort.

Baking
I’m certainly no Jemma from The Cherry Tree Café, but I do love some festive baking. My repertoire is limited, but nothing says Christmas like a stint in the kitchen assembling my easy cheat mince pies and sausage rolls, with the festive tunes cranked up, a glass of mulled wine to hand and my Santa apron in place.

Scents of the season
Not strictly an activity you might argue, but it can be! Mulling your own wine with festive spices and studding oranges with cloves to release that seasonal smell feels like a pretty good way to spend an afternoon to me.

Decorating
Dressing the house is always a favourite festive activity and generally happens the second weekend in December. I know exactly what’s packed in the boxes in the loft but opening them is always a treat. The hearth is dressed with holly, ivy and mistletoe and the tree is topped with two angels, both created by my son and daughter in Year R. Given that they are 25 and 20 now, the loo rolls and pipe cleaners have certainly seen better days, but up they go!

Festive films
I love snuggling under a blanket to watch a festive film. Like everyone else, I have a teetering pile of DVD’s and it’s an annual treat working my way through them all. I also love the Hallmark channel and all the made for TV films. A totally festive indulgence! I don’t think I could pick a favourite, but ‘Love Actually’, ‘Elf’, ‘Muppets Christmas Carol’, ‘Nativity’… nope. I can’t do it! I’ll just end up listing the lot!

Winter walks
As you may already know, I’m always trying to get folk outdoors in the fresh air, whatever the weather. Although I draw the line at heading out in driving rain! I love getting wrapped up in warm layers and striding out for a bracing walk around my local patch. It’s a great mood soother and in the run up to Christmas, when it’s tempting to stay inside, a super way to recharge the batteries. Throw some snow in the mix and I’m even happier!

'The Winter Garden

Taking in the sights of the season
This is a separate trip to the shopping expedition and with a completely different purpose. Norwich always has beautiful light and window displays and I really enjoy going up to the city, towards the end of the day, to simply admire the decorations and soak up the atmosphere. We’d had the lovely of tunnel of light for the last few years and then there’s the animatronic tableau in the Forum and Jarrolds. All so superbly seasonal!

Crikey, that was the speediest Top Ten I’ve ever written and I could have easily added more favourite festive activities to the list. I know there’s nothing unusual or surprising written here, but these are all things I love to do in the run up to Christmas and beyond and this year more than ever, I’m going to take comfort in the familiarity of them all.

Wishing you all a safe and healthy festive season.

With love
Heidi x

You can buy ‘The Winter Garden’ from Amazon and is available from other good bookshops.