Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Can't choose a book by looking at the cover.... ?

Or can you?

Some of my re-published backlist books have been around for a while now, so I decided to give them a facelift, with new cover images. Perhaps sometimes a different image might make people notice a book for the first time - what do you think?  Do you choose a book by looking at the cover? (Or cover image in the case of an ebook?).

Here are the new images so far.  It's been fun choosing new ones anyway!

Friday, 5 September 2014

Child migrants - a sad background for my new book

It was reading a book called 'Empty Cradles' by Margaret Humphreys that first focused my mind on the plight of the child migrants. As a Sunday Times review of this shocking, haunting, real-life story quite simply stated: 'The secrets of the lost children of Britain may never have been revealed if it had not been for [the actions of] Margaret Humphreys'.  Margaret devoted many years of her life to uncovering the facts about these children, fighting the authorities who had tried to bury the truth, supporting the adults who had spent their lives in a kind of bewilderment about their origins, and eventually setting up the Child Migrants Trust and provoking an apology from both the Australian and the British governments.

Some of you might have seen the subsequent film of the book, 'Oranges and Sunshine', and like me, been moved to tears by the revelations of a scandal that somehow seemed to have bypassed the consciousness of an entire nation - in fact an entire world, as these children were transported to Australia, Canada, South Africa and other countries where at the time there was a requirement for 'good, white, British stock' to supplement their populations.

Most of the children involved were taken from children's homes, often without the permission of any family they may have had, sometimes told falsely that their parents were dead and given fictitious stories about being sent on a holiday, or being sent abroad for a better life as nobody wanted them in the UK.

Shocking as I found all of this, even more shocking was the fact that this transportation of innocent children had been going on from the mid 1800s and didn't stop until the 1960s. The 1960s! It only feels like yesterday! I was a teenager at that time, and the whole ethos of the decade was of the dawn of a new era, of youth and freedom and openness. What a terrible irony it was that during those years when we were dancing to the Beatles' first hits and cavorting as mods and rockers, little children were still being sent off on ships to a new and frightening life thousands of miles from everything they'd ever known. In some cases the migrants were lucky enough to be taken into new homes where they had a good life. But in all too many cases the opposite was true - they were used as child labour, housed in worse conditions than those they'd left behind, and many were physically or sexually abused.

My own experiences of Australia have been a far cry from these unhappy stories. My brother emigrated as one of the 'Ten Pound Poms' in 1968, married a girl who was travelling out on the same ship, and has had a great life there, raising a family, working hard and having lived in several different parts of the country. I've been lucky enough to visit twice, and on the second occasion just two years ago, I was already planning a new novel to be set partly in Australia. By then I'd read the Margaret Humphreys book and seen the film, and had decided the child migrants theme would be part of the background of my novel, but not its entirety. During my stay I was able to visit an exhibition about the child migrants in Melbourne, and also the docks at Fremantle where many of the children first set foot in Australia, and where this statue stands as a permanent reminder of that shameful part of the history of both our countries:


Because I wanted my new novel TICKET TO RIDE to consist of two separate stories which become linked during the narrative, the child migrant theme is only one thread. The other concerns a rock musician who mysteriously goes missing towards the end of the 1960s. If you'd like to find out how these two themes become linked and what happens to the two (fictitious) children featured in the prologue to TICKET TO RIDE, you can pre-order the Kindle edition right now on Amazon here , and it will be delivered to your Kindle or other e-reading device on the publication date of 3 October. Amazon won't charge your account until then.  Or you can watch for another announcement very soon when the paperback edition will be available, also from Amazon.
If my story helps to make more people aware, as I was that first time I read 'Empty Cradles', of the unbelievable cruelty imposed on thousands of innocent children by corrupt officials within our governments who thought nothing of using them as pawns - then I'll have achieved a little more, this time, than simply writing and publishing another novel.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

YESTERDAY is here!

Anyone would think it's my first book, not my twelfth!  But I'm making no apologies for the excitement I feel on the launch of YESTERDAY - my first book that's set in the 1960s.

It's available from today (17 April) on Amazon for Kindle or Kindle app – and you can purchase it here now, for the launch price of £1.99.

YESTERDAY is the story of Cathy, an ordinary teenager growing up in the Sixties, who finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time during those turbulent times. The events that follow will haunt her for the rest of her life, until – forty years later – she has to revisit her troubled teenage years, face her memories and try to work out what actually happened back in 1964.

But as well as being set against the backdrop of the Sixties, arguably one of the most socially interesting periods of recent history, YESTERDAY is also very much a story about growing up, about friendships and love affairs, relationships within families and the fall-out of bigotry, jealousy and revenge – all of which, of course, have affected every generation since time began. So I hope the story will appeal to all readers, not just those of us who remember seeing the Beatles live in concert and riding motorbikes or scooters in our leather gear or our Parkas!  

There’s already been a lot of interest in YESTERDAY in the media, with several magazines and newspapers publishing articles I’ve written for them about my memories of the 1960s, the Mods and Rockers, and how I used those memories in writing the book.
And I’ll be talking about the book on BBC Radio Essex on Tuesday 22 April at 3.30pm.

I’m also appearing on a blog tour where there will be interviews, pieces I’ve written about YESTERDAY and the 1960s, and some book reviews. Here are the details of the tour if you’d like to follow it:

17 April: : Review and interview

18 April: Feature about my best Sixties memory.

19 April: Review, and feature about growing up in the 1960s.

20 April: Review, and feature about the global influence of the Sixties decade.

21 April: Feature about why I wrote about the 1960s – a decade of changes.

22 April: : Interview

23 April:’s-blog : Interview

24 April: : Interview

25 April: : Interview

You might also like to catch up with all the latest news and gossip about YESTERDAY on the Facebook page

So please go and have a quick look at Amazon UK  here - or browse the Kindle store for YESTERDAY now while it's available at the launch price of £1.99!
And as this book is so different from all my others, I’d love to hear readers’ reactions. If you enjoy YESTERDAY, please give me some feedback by leaving a review on Amazon.
Thank you - and happy reading!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Writing from personal memories

I've been asked several times recently, during the lead-up to publication of my 1960s themed novel YESTERDAY (being published next week), whether I wrote the book using my own memories of the period. Of course, I'd like to pretend I'm not old enough to have any such memories, but I'm not vain enough or deluded enough to bother trying! 

The answer is yes - of course, a lot of the fun of writing about the era was the fact that I was a teenager myself back then. And yes, the heroine of my novel - Cathy - is a girl of about the same age I was then, growing up in the same area of Essex, even going to a school which was similar to mine in some ways. So it's natural for people to ask me (as a newspaper interviewer has in fact just asked me today) whether I based Cathy on myself.

In fact, I didn't. Not consciously. But as all writers of fiction will be aware, there's quite a fine line between writing a story based on our own memories and experiences, and writing something that's almost autobiographical. That's why we have to be so careful when writing fiction which has been inspired by real life stories concerning friends or acquaintances - they might recognise themselves, however much we try to disguise them, and they might not be happy about it!

Cathy's story is not my story. So although the background details of her life - the fact that she was a Mod, and a Beatles' fan - were the same as mine, this isn't particularly surprising as nearly all young girls in 1963-4 were Beatles' fans, and most teenagers were either Mods or Rockers, or at least sympathetic to one side or the other.

But the serious things that happen to Cathy and the other characters in YESTERDAY didn't happen to me - they are my invention. Cathy's family is nothing like my family and her friends are nothing like my friends. By placing her in my home town, and at my own age, it was easy for me to imagine myself walking in her shoes, experiencing the things she went through - and I hope this, as well as all my memories of 1960s events, music and fashion, has given the story an added dose of realism.

You can catch up with all the latest news and gossip about YESTERDAY on the Facebook page for the book.

I wonder how many other authors have written novels based on their own personal memories?

Saturday, 29 March 2014

How I started out as a writer

Like most authors, I'm often asked when I give talks 'How did you get started?'  Understandably, aspiring writers are always looking for help and advice, which I do try to give whenever I can. But I have to say, my path to publishing success wasn't a straightforward one!

I always wanted to write - from as far back as I can remember it was what I did for fun. (Some might say I was a strange child!). It remained my hobby all through school, through my teenage years when I scribbled endlessly in diaries and wrote experimental poetry, right to the time when I had my three daughters and wrote stories for them. But I never seriously considered becoming a published author at that time. It was certainly a dream - but I didn't think it was a realistic one. Even back then, I knew how hard it was and probably didn't think I was good enough.

It was a story for children that became my first publication - I'd seen the little stories in the 'Brownie' magazine that my girls enjoyed at the time, and for the first time, thought: 'I could write one just as good as that'. But I was still completely stunned when it was accepted!  I remember I was paid £28 - this was in the mid 1980s. I went on to sell them quite a few more short stories and serials, and when my daughters were a little older and took 'Today's Guide' magazine instead of the 'Brownie', I sold stories to them too.

At this stage, I started wondering whether I could try something more ambitious. I had no idea where to start - but then I saw an advert in the paper for 'Writing Magazine'. At this stage I still felt quite self-conscious about the whole thing, like I was being ridiculous even expecting to be taken seriously as a writer. I didn't tell many people what I was doing - it wasn't so common then to have these kind of aspirations. Nobody in my family had done anything like it, I hadn't got an relevant qualifications apart from an A-level in English, and I'd never been to a class, writing group, a talk of any kind or asked anyone's advice. 

But there was a short story competition every month in 'Writing Magazine' (there still is) - and something made me have a go. And to my amazement, I won first prize. A year or so later, I entered another one, won first prize again, and was then judged their 'Winner of Winners' for the year - which involved me attending a big posh 'do' in London where I received a shield, and a very nice cheque.
And it was there I met Dawn, another prize-winner, who's been a good friend and fantastic support ever since although we live at different ends of the country. Dawn was already having short stories published in women's magazines and talking to her, I decided I was ready to try going down the same route. I suppose the competition wins had given me the confidence I'd been lacking.

My first submission, to 'Woman's Weekly', was accepted - and then I was on a roll. I finally believed I could do it, and that other people might take my dream seriously. Over the course of the following ten years or so, I would have over 100 short stories published in the various women's magazines, but my best market was 'Woman's Realm'. I was earning a nice, fairly regular extra little income, and was chuffed with my success. But when 'the Realm' went out of circulation, I suddenly had a vision of the future. Fiction in magazines was becoming less popular. The other magazines weren't publishing so many short stories. I needed to investigate other possibilities.

I'd tried a few times before to write a novel - but it had somehow never worked. Looking back, I think I probably tried to be too serious, or too clever, or to produce something that I thought people ought to like. This time, I just wrote what I wanted to: a very light-hearted story about an ordinary working mum approaching her 50th birthday whose life was hectic and difficult but also very funny.

I approached agents, then I approached publishers direct (some of them still allowed direct submissions at that stage). For about 18 months it was a continual stream of rejections - but I was heartened by the positive tone of some of them. ('I loved it but it wasn't right for us', etc). So I kept going. And in February 2002 my first novel 'The Trouble With Ally' was accepted by Piatkus Books.

That was the start of my career as a novelist. I was working full-time in a busy job, so I'd still never done a writing course, joined a group, or read any how-to books and still didn't have an agent (I have now) - so I had absolutely no idea what I was doing at any stage of the process! Luckily my editors were very helpful, and so was the Society of Authors, who checked my contracts for me. And after the first few books had been published, I heard about the Romantic Novelists' Association. Joining the RNA introduced me to my best writing 'buddies' locally, and they've been a fantastic support through good times and bad.

Now on the verge of producing my twelfth book YESTERDAY - which is in a completely different genre - I've taken a couple of twists and turns along the road including the big change to self-publishing, which has worked out well. As you can tell from my 'career path', it's quite difficult to answer that question about how I got started ... it was a very gradual process!  I was obviously not young by the time my first novel was published! And although in some ways I wish I'd had the confidence to try to make my dream a reality when I was younger, in other ways it's been fantastic to have enjoyed this success later in life - doing what I've always enjoyed.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Changing direction

I've sometimes been asked, when I give talks about writing, which were the most exciting moments of my writing career. So far it's been quite easy to answer. There was the day in the early 1990s when I went to a posh event in London to receive an award and very nice cheque for being the 'Winner of Winners' in a national short story competition. Then, of course, the day in 2002 when I got the email from a publisher telling me that there was a contract in the post to me: my first novel had been accepted. That was the best moment of all!  It was exciting, too, when my editor suggested, on accepting my sixth novel, that she'd like me to take on a pseudonym (Olivia Ryan) for a series of three books. And it was also exciting (if a little nerve-racking) when I decided to start self-publishing.

Now I'm approaching another of those moments! In less than four weeks I'll be publishing another new book on Amazon (as a Kindle ebook) - and for the first time it's NOT contemporary fiction, NOT a RomCom - in fact it's something so different from all my previous books, it's almost like I'm starting a brand new career!

YESTERDAY is set in the 1960s - one of the most exciting and socially interesting periods of recent history, and the heroine of the story, Cathy Ferguson, is an ordinary teenager growing up during the years of the Beatles and the Mods and Rockers.

Cover image for YESTERDAY  - publication 17 April

The publication date will be 17 April - this Easter - to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the first violent clashes between the Mods and the Rockers at Clacton-on-Sea, which took place at Easter 1964 - and there will be more information about the book on this blog over the next few weeks.

But why did I choose to change genres - and why choose the 1960s?  Well, I was given a piece of advice a few years back my an ex-editor of mine - that I should try writing historical fiction. I laughed. I've got so much respect for my author friends who write historical novels - they love what they do, and the amount of research needed is unbelievable. But history has never been my 'thing' and I couldn't imagine doing it.

- 'Only if the 1960s ever became history!' I replied to the editor at the time.
- 'It is, already,' she said.
I was quite taken aback. I was a teenager during the Sixties and it doesn't feel like history to me!

Me during the 1960s

But the conversation kept coming back to me, and the idea of writing a novel set in the Sixties became more and more attractive until I couldn't resist it any longer!

I've been very lucky that my contemporary books have been popular and I have many loyal readers who might be surprised by my change of direction. So, at the same time as promoting the new book, I'm letting everyone know: it's going to be different! And I really, really hope my readers will enjoy the change as much as I have!

Watch this space for more info about YESTERDAY.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Made to last?

Does anyone else, like me, still live in the past in terms of how long we should expect things to last? By 'things' I mean gadgets, electric and electronic items, household appliances and so on. I hate sounding like I'm continually going on about the 'good old days' (which often weren't), but ... come on!  Kettles and irons etc now don't get repaired because it isn't worth it - we chuck them out and buy new ones. Washing machines, dishwashers and so on  - if they last more than five years you're told you've been lucky. (We've had our washer and dryer for about twelve years and I have no intention of getting rid of them). Some people seem to replace their TV sets or lounge furniture every time they redecorate the room! No wonder they say they haven't got any money!

When we got married in 1970 (here's the 'going on about the good old days' bit), we were given my parents' old fridge, black & white TV set, iron, and hoover - because they were then in a position to replace them with new ones. Mum and Dad had had them for God-knows how many years, but they still served us well for the first few years and we replaced them gradually as they conked out. They also gave us a couple of half-worn-out carpet squares for our first flat, and some old curtains which I altered to fit the windows. I still have the 'curtain' habit - our bedroom curtains in our current home came from our last house. We've been here ten years and they still look fine. A lot of our crockery, cutlery and so on were cast-offs too, and I still use a few things I had new as wedding presents, to say nothing of ancient items I've inherited from Mum and my auntie when they passed away.

We also have a range-style cooker in our kitchen which is over 30 years old. It came with the house - the previous owners had inherited it from the people before them - and it still looks fantastic and cooks like a dream. When we had our kitchen refurbished last year, the boss of the company doing the fitting said if we'd been getting rid of it, he'd have it himself! But we weren't, obviously - in fact we weren't changing any of our appliances. They're still working - why would we change them?

I don't think I'm particularly thrifty - it's just the way we always managed, for most of our lives, without credit cards or loans. I suppose the problem is that technology is moving on so fast, things we buy today will already be out of date next year. I don't really care if there are better versions of my Smart phone, for instance (although I'll change it when the contract's up), and I don't care about having the latest PC, laptop, tablet, Kindle ... as long as the ones I've got do the job I want them to do efficiently. But this situation was brought home to me again recently when I wondered about getting a new digital camera. My old one had a bit of a delay between pressing the button and taking the picture - annoying when trying to capture a baby's smile or getting a toddler to pose! - and everyone told me the latest cameras are much better. 'But I've only had this camera for seven years,' I told the guy at the shop, feeling guilty and extravagant for considering trading up already. 'Seven years?' he scoffed. 'That's a really long time to have a camera.'

I bought a new one. And yes, it is much better. But it still feels extravagant. It must be my age, or my upbringing during the hard-up days of the 1950s. Anyone else feel the same?

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Writing Retreat Day

Last week our local chapter of the RNA (Romantic Novelists' Association) held a one-off special event. We normally meet once a month at a pub/hotel in Chelmsford for lunch. They're very informal affairs where we just get together, catch up and discuss our writing.

This time, we hired a conference room and held an all-day event. Each RNA local chapter had been offered some special funding to organise a 'writing retreat day'. We spent quite a bit of time deciding how to plan our day, and agreed that we wanted it to be of benefit to all of us, whether were published or not. We have a mixture of writers in our group - some very successful multi-published authors, some self-published, others aspiring writers and members of the RNA's New Writers Scheme - but we felt sure there were areas where we could all learn from each other.

What we eventually agreed on for the large part of the day was a 'Q&A' session, where questions were collected from all of us in advance, about any problems or queries we had with any aspect of writing whatsoever. These were then directed to whoever in the group was most likely to be able to help - and then discussed at more length around the table. Even the more experienced or more successful writers among us, of course, often need help or advice and it was really interesting to consider the different responses and ideas being expressed in response to the various questions.

As you can imagine, this stimulated a lot of lively discussion, which carried on through the fantastic buffet lunch we'd ordered. After lunch, we spent a little while discussing books we'd recently read - and then went on to take part in a 'flash fiction' game which was designed as a bit of fun and really made us have to think fast, as well as giving everyone a good laugh when we read out the results!

I'd contacted our local paper, the Essex Chronicle, before the event and they published a short feature about our day, and gave some welcome publicity to the RNA, as well as printing a picture of some of us, taken outside the meeting place waving copies of our books!  You can see the feature on the Essex Chronicle On-line  here  .

The event took a bit of organisation, but I had a lot of help from a 'mini committee' of four of the other longstanding members of the group. The best bit about it was that everyone seemed to enjoy the day so much, and I think we all went home feeling that it was really worthwhile. In fact several of the members have said they'd love to do the same kind of thing again. Just one of the many benefits we get from belonging to the RNA!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Girls and boys ...

A rather belated Happy New Year to everyone!

I'm very pleased to say, 2014 has started off well for our family, with the arrival of Grandchild Number Six - Eloise Jessica, who was born a few days early on 6 January.  It's always exciting, and lovely, to have a new baby to cuddle and to watch them grow and develop their own little personalities. We've certainly had plenty of that over the last few years!  Our three daughters now have two children each, and all six have been born within four and a half years.  We feel very blessed and fortunate that we had three healthy and perfect children of our own, and now have six healthy and perfect grandchildren, close enough in age for the siblings and cousins to play together and (we hope!) grow up as close as our girls still are to each other.

Having had no sons ourselves, we are very used to little girls - which is just as well, as five of the six grandchildren are also girls! It goes without saying, none of us (parents or grandparents) minded one iota what sex any of the babies were - but it has been somewhat surprising that Noah, the first of the six, who was four in September, has turned out to be the only boy. (Perhaps I should add 'so far'???) If the genetic background of our own family was responsible, it would be more understandable, as my husband was also the only boy in his family, with three younger sisters. But I've always understood the baby's sex is determined by the father's genes and has nothing to do with the mum's family!

Well, Noah is really good with his two year old little sister Kitty, as well as with the other two year olds - his cousins Caitlin and Alice - and now the two babies - Eva, who's now six months old, and new baby Eloise.  I hope he'll always be as kind and protective to them all as he is now, and perhaps his reward will be - one day in about 10 or 12 years' time - getting to know all their friends! 

And as I grew up with a big brother myself (and two of his mates were among my first boyfriends when I was a teenager), I should add that the five girls might well, one day, be fighting each other over Noah's friends!  But ... let's not think about any of that, for a long time yet. I actually hope they'll stay children for as long as possible. Kids grow up far too fast, don't they!

Growing up together