In conversation with Elizabeth Ducie

I am delighted to welcome to my blog, author and lecturer, Elizabeth Ducie. Elizabeth is the author of the prize-winning novel, Elizabeth DuciGorgito’s Ice Rink, and several collections of short stories. She lectures and writes on business skills for authors and publishes The Business of Writing series. Her latest novel, Counterfeit!, is out this month. Set in Southern Africa, it is the first in a series of thrillers based in the sometimes murky world of international pharmaceuticals.

In your book Counterfeit! regulator, Suzanne Jones is on a mission to stop the production of counterfeit drugs in Africa before more people die. What part of the pharmaceutical industry inspired the novel?

CounterfietThank you for having me on your blog. For many people, the words ‘pharmaceutical industry’ conjure up a vision of greedy multinational research companies, developing life-style drugs for first world countries, and charging huge amounts of money for their products. That may, or may not, be a true assessment of the industry giants, but it’s not the issue I’m looking at here. There are thousands of small and medium sized companies around the world, struggling to produce generics (off-patent, older products).

Do you have a background in the pharmaceutical industry?

Before I became a full-time writer, I spent more than thirty years working in the international pharmaceutical industry, helping governments set the rules that ensured drugs were safe and worked; and helping companies interpret those rules effectively. On occasion, I worked for ‘both sides’ within the same country, at the same time and this could sometimes lead to interesting discussions.

What do you mean?

I vividly remember an email once from the production director of a company in Ukraine, complaining about a demand made by one of the new government inspectors—an inspector I had trained. The email finished with the question: “this is what he said; is he right?” And although I can’t remember the details of the complaint, I remember thinking at the time that the inspector was erring somewhat on the side of caution. But that’s what new inspectors do: they are so scared of getting it wrong, they are overly cautious. So I gave the only answer I could in the circumstances: “he’s your government inspector; he grants you your manufacturing license. Of course he’s right—even if he’s wrong!”

Tells us a bit about the countries where you worked?

africa-globe (1)Pharmaceutical manufacturing is an expensive process. And the areas I was working in—Russia and the former Soviet Union countries; Latin America; and sub-Saharan Africa—were ones where money was generally in short supply. The factories were often old and in poor condition. We were not pushing them to set up state of the art facilities, such as the ones in America and Western Europe. All we were looking for was Basic Minimum Standards, as defined by the WHO (World Health Organisation) but even that was a hard pill for some of the owners and financiers to swallow.

Were companies willing to embrace the recommendations to improve quality and meet international standards?

I spent a lot of time explaining that investment in manufacturing is just that—an investment—rather than an expense that brings no IMG_4855returns. And some companies, some industries, some countries got it; others didn’t. For example, when the Soviet Union broke up, the cluster of companies in Ukraine found their domestic market shrinking overnight from 291 million to 55 million. They desperately needed to develop export markets in order to keep their factories going and their people in work. Therefore, they embraced quite quickly the concept of quality and international standards. Russia, on the other hand, had a population of 148 million. While this was still a big fall in numbers, it was a sizable domestic market and for several years, the government and the companies concentrated on this, without worrying about needing to satisfy the requirements for international trade.

IMG_4829In sub-Saharan Africa, the situation and the problems were very different. Billions of dollars were being spent on importing drugs from America and Western Europe. There were factories in most of the countries in the region, but the standards were very low; the regulations differed from one country to another; no-one trusted anyone else; and inter-continental trade was minimal. For most people, in most of the countries, the government supplied what drugs there were—and there were never enough. So for the purchase houses, getting the finance, whether locally or from international aid, was critical and it needed to be spent on the greatest quantity of drugs possible.

And that’s why counterfeit drugs were, and still are, such a huge problem in Africa. I once had a conversation with a government Minister who told me he couldn’t afford to worry about the quality of the drugs he was sourcing. He had to get sufficient doses of medicines to satisfy the needs of his country and if a few people suffered as a result, that just had to be the case. Shocking, but in the end, an inevitable conclusion.

What is a counterfeit drug?

drugsA counterfeit drug may simply be a safe and efficacious copy by an unlicensed manufacturer. However, it is more likely to contain too much or too little of the active ingredient; it may contain a totally different active ingredient, which might be harmful or lethal. It may be wrongly labelled. It is almost certainly a dangerous drug to take.

I would imagine there was a lot of money to make by producing sub-standard drugs.

The global market in fake medicines is around two hundred billion dollars, and comparing that to the global prescription market, which is worth nine hundred billion dollars, we can see just how big the problem is. The WHO estimates that somewhere between 1% and 10% of all medicines are counterfeit, but that in some countries, the figure may be as high as 50%. And with the growth of the internet and online trade, this problem is no longer just a third world one. In 2014, an Interpol operation led to the seizure of 8.4 million doses of counterfeit drugs and the shutting down of more than ten thousand websites selling counterfeit medicines.

What is the single most important thing you would recommend us to do to protect ourselves from counterfeit medicine?

These days, many of us make a lot of our purchases online. I buy books, clothes, computers and accessories, theatre tickets and food. One thing I would never buy online is medicine.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for visiting my blog today and sharing your experience of the pharmaceutical industry which inspired your latest novel, Counterfeit!Counterfiet

You can find out more about Elizabeth Ducie’s work on her website, or follow her on Facebook and Twitter

I’ve done it!

Signing my first contract.

I’m delighted to share the news that I have signed with Choc Lit Publishing!

Choc Lit is an independent U.K. based publisher who specialises in romantic fiction with irresistible heroes. My third book, The Thief’s Daughter, will be released later this year under my new pseudonym, Victoria Cornwall.

I have a new website and a new twitter account to go with my new name. I hope you will visit them and I look forward to sharing updates on my book’s progress with you through the new sites.

I am thrilled to have a traditional publishing contract and a name that compliments the genre I love so much. I will endeavour to write (what I hope) is good quality romantic fiction as I believe readers of romance deserve great plot-lines and characters just like readers of other genres.

Thank you for taking the time to visit and reading my exciting news.

The things I’ve learnt about hosting a book signing event.

Signing my first book of the day

Signing my first book of the day

Every writer, at some point in their writing career, hosts a book signing event for their latest book. It can be a daunting prospect for both experienced and inexperienced writers, because there is always the fear that no one will turn up. Authors are divided on how much value a book signing event holds, some go on to do many, others the bare minimum. Some, I suspect, have never done one or ever will.

Last month, I held my first book signing event and I’m pleased to say I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. In this blog post I will share my experience in the hope that other writers will learn from it and readers will gain insight into the hidden side of a book signing event.

How many authors does it take..?

My book signing event was shared with seven other authors. This is a great way to learn the process, pick up tips, share its eventual success (or failure) whilst gaining additional access to readers who may attend the event to see your fellow authors. There are other benefits too. An event hosted by multiple authors will have a unique angle and be more newsworthy, which will improve your chances of securing radio airtime and newspaper editors’ attention to spread the word.
J.Jackson, K.Ryder, me, CLoveday, C.Vermaat, M.J.Logue, S.J.Haxton &A.MartinIt may also increase your chances of securing your preferred venue, particularly if the venue is connected to a café/gallery etc, which will benefit from the increased footfall attracted to your book signing event.

Tip No. 1:- Team up with other authors in your area and host an event together. I was lucky to be able to team up with Jane Jackson (Historical Romance), Kate Ryder (Romantic Fiction) Chrissie Loveday (Romance/Murder Mystery) Carla Vermaat (Crime Fiction) M.J.Logue (Historical Fiction) S.J.Haxton (Historical) & Adrian Martin (Horror).

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Why do you want to hold one?

A book signing event is about selling books. Wrong! Book signing events are much more than that. Success or failure should not be measured by the number of books you sell on the day. If Author A sells one book and Author B sells ten, it’s understandable to think that Author B has had the most successful day. However, Author A gave away 50 bookmarks, engaged with visitors to her table in a friendly, positive manner and had an enjoyable experience. The visitors went home later that day and downloaded her latest two ebooks (which were publicised on her bookmark). On the other hand, Author B, who sold ten books, barely looked up from his scribbling to speak to his customer. They went home feeling a little resentful at his arrogant manner and, frankly, who can blame them? Suddenly Author A appears to have had the most successful event, even though they sold only one book on the day.

Tip No. 2:- A Book Signing event is about meeting like minded people who love books. Enjoy it, have fun and don’t panic if you don’t sell very many.

Location, location, location

Finding the right venue is always a challenge. Consideration has to be given to the location. Is it accessible? Are there other services onsite which will entice visitors?  Does the theme fit with your books and if it doesn’t, does it matter? How much do they charge? Is it available for the date required? Where can signs be displayed to help show the way? Are the owners happy for you to give out freebies/business cards etc.? A visit to the venue will help alleviate any concerns or raise a few issues.

Tip No. 3:- Always visit the venue. Recommendations by fellow authors are always helpful. See the venue through the eyes of a shy reader. Would you visit an author at this venue? What would stop you? What would make it easier for you to step inside and browse?

The word on the street…

It’s no use booking the venue if no one knows it’s happening. Today’s author is used to the publicity machine and if they are not, they soon have to learn how it works. It may come as a surprise to most readers to discover that many writers are not “A list” writers who earn big bucks. Many are struggling to make a living and probably have a day job to support their writing career. For these authors, IMG_0205publicity events, radio interviews and newspaper articles are organised by the writer themselves and not by their publisher or agent. A book signing event is no different. Local radio, podcasts and social media networks are all great ways to spread the news. Flyers, posters, newspaper articles and parish magazines are more traditional methods and just as valuable for informing the public of your special event.

Tip No. 4:- Don’t be shy about spreading the word. Keep notes on who you approached and who were supportive, so you can use them again for future book releases and events.
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Informing the shy reader about your book…

The big day has arrived! You’ve booked the venue, done the publicity and now you want to encourage the reader to your table. The best way to do that is to display what you would want to see if you were a visitor. Again, I imagined I was a shy reader and asked myself the question, what would make it easier for me? I came to the conclusion I would want to know what the book was about, without feeling watched or badgered into buying it. This is what I kept in mind when I set up my table.

I write romances and therefore wanted romance readers to recognise my genre from afar and find my table interesting enough to take a closer look. In order to do that, I covered the table with a white table cloth and decorated it with heart shaped confetti. I filled heart shaped bowls with business cards, bookmarks and sweets with a note saying “Please take one”.  These things helped to set the genre and gave visitors “permission” to take any freebies they fancied without having to ask. While they munched, or considered which bookmark to take, I wanted to promote my book in what I hoped was not a “sales pitch” or hard sell. I displayed several copies of my book, an A4 poster detailing the book blurb and my credentials and a video of my book trailer which played on a continuous loop. If the customer had any questions, I was nearby to help. If my table became quiet, I walked around the room offering sweets and free bookmarks, but with no pressure to buy my book and no sales pitches. There is no bigger turn off than someone saying, “Buy my book! Buy my book!”

Tip No. 5:- Make/order bookmarks and business cards in plenty of time to allow for delivery. If you use sweets and chocolates to entice readers to your table, put a few out at a time and not the whole lot. I have heard of customers taking handfuls of sweets, even emptying a bowl into their handbag, before disappearing without a backward glance. If this happens, your sweets will not last long! However, I must confess, I would probably take far more than I should if I was a visitor, as I find it very hard to say no to free sweets and chocolate!
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The end is not the end…

I really enjoyed my first book signing event. My fellow authors were great fun and it was a privilege to share the experience with them. The visitors and owners of the venue appeared to enjoy the day too. However, the benefits of hosting a book signing event continues long after it is ended. Photographs taken on the day can be used for publicity purposes in the future, whether on twitter, Facebook, Pin Interest or a blog post. Within 24 hours of posting the photographs of our event on Facebook, one author saw her viewing stats soar to over 400!

Tip No. 6:- Take plenty of photographs so readers, family, bloggers and fellow authors can share and remember the experience with you. A book signing event is not the time to become camera shy!

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Kate Ryder and I (B.D.Hawkey)

C.Loveday-crop

Chrissie Loveday

Dear reader…

So if you hear of a book signing event near you, do come along and say hello. Authors don’t bite and we would love to see you – after-all we are holding the event to meet people just like you! Please don’t be afraid you will be pressured into buying something. We just want to engage with readers, share our love of books and let you know we have a book out at the moment.

Hannah Carla Adrian

M.J.Logue, Carla Vermaat & Adrian Martin

Take a look at the books on show, just as you would in any bookshop, but unlike an ordinary bookshop experience, you will have an opportunity to chat to the author about all things to do with writing.

Jane Jackson & S.J.Haxton

Jane Jackson & S.J.Haxton

If you like a book, you can buy a signed copy. It’s fun and a signed book makes a unique gift. If nothing interests you, we will understand. Authors understand that readers have their preferences and we would rather you buy a book you will love, than a book you will hate.

My final thoughts…

I have always been a reader, but more recently, as an author, I have experienced the other side of a book signing event. I’ve learnt that, in the majority of cases, authors are not rich celebrities with a queue of excited fans forming in the streets. They are just ordinary people with a passion for books, hoping to meet like minded people. They might also be a dash nervous, a little excited and a smidgen worried that no one will come, so they will be glad to see you should you choose to drop in.

 

Valentine’s Day…a day for love

It is February, the month of chilly winds, lashing rain and bouquets of red roses, for we mustn’t forget February has the day dedicated to love. Valentine’s Day is a day eagerly awaited by many and dreaded by some, yet within 24 hours it’s over and done with and nothing more than a memory. It should be nothing to get worked up about, but inevitably some of us will. How we, as individuals, celebrate Valentine’s Day  may evolve over the years, but come the 14th February, our thoughts will still turn to love – even if its just briefly.

 Yes, this is me.

Yes, this is me.

I was a child when I received my first Valentine’s card. It was from my mother, who placed it carefully in my cardigan pocket for me to find before I went to school. She put it there because she didn’t want me to feel the heartache of not receiving one. Even though I was young, I appreciated the thought.

GetAttachment

Me, dreaming of my latest crush.

As a teenager, Valentine’s Day began with high hopes which slowly dwindled as the day progressed. On the rare occasion I did receive one, the guessing game of who it might be from was far more exciting than the discovery of the sender. Needless to say, it was never the boy I had a crush on at the time.

Having a regular boyfriend finally guaranteed a token of love on Valentine’s Day.Blackpool C By then it was the 80’s and padded cards, with cute, fluffy animals, were the vogue. It was also the age when size really did matter. Shopkeepers rubbed their hands with glee as they watched a trail of young men carry large, unwieldy cards under their arms in the hope of impressing their girlfriends. If you received a card which had all three elements (size, padding and a cute animal), then you were well and truly loved and he was a keeper.

Wedding C-cropMarriage and children adds a new dimension to Valentine’s Day. Meals out have to be planned, babysitters booked in advance and chocolates and wine are added to the shopping trolley – along with a tin of  baked beans,  two loaves of bread and a GetAttachment (5)packet of nappies. When life is busy, Valentine’s Day becomes a touchstone and a reminder to show our appreciation to our partners. A wise person once said, “Before children, a couple holds hands together. When children come along they hold hands with the children. Sometimes we need to be reminded to hold hands again.” Valentine’s Day is that extra reminder to us all.

So how do I celebrate Valentine’s Day now? We will probably choose a box of chocolates and a nice bottle of wine together. We have long given up going out for a meal on one of the busiest nights of the year, so we will spend the evening at home. If the weather is fine we might go for a nice long walk and just appreciate life in general. Perhaps it will not be as exciting as a teenager’s experience – or as devastating, but it will be calmer and less planned than when we were young parents.

And did I marry the boy who gave me the biggest, most padded, Valentine’s card? Yes, I did and this year we will be celebrating our pearl wedding anniversary. Although, it might have been a whole different story if he had forgotten it was Valentine’s Day!

3d Old Sins Long Shadows

Why wait for a man to make Valentine’s Day special for you? Snuggle up with a dark, mysterious hero, like Daniel Kellow, from my debut novel Old Sins Long Shadows

3d The Gossamer Trail

or

curl up with Joss, the troubled hero in The Gossamer Trail , who’s dislike for Beth turns into a passion so strong that he is willing to give up his own identity to be with her.

book the gossamer trail

 

 

In conversation with Georgia Hill

At this time of year it is only natural to remember the year that has just ended and look forward to the months ahead. We find ourselves making plans and resolutions that may, ultimately, change our lives forever.

Georgia Hill

Georgia Hill

Author of contemporary romance, Georgia Hill, made such a change in 2015 by stepping outside her normal genre and publishing her first historical romance. I’m, therefore, delighted to welcome Georgia to my blog to find out how and why she made the change.

Georgia used to live in London, where she worked in the theatre. Later, she got the bizarre job of teaching road safety to the U.S. navy – in Marble Arch! She now lives in a tiny Herefordshire village, where, she tells me, she scandalises the neighbours by not keeping ‘country hours’ and being unable to make a decent pot of plum jam. Her home is a converted oast house, which she shares with her two beloved spaniels, husband and a ghost called Zoe.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today, Georgia, and not bringing Zoe with you!

I’m delighted to be with you, thank you so much for having me on! Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you too! The start of a new year is a time for making resolutions, plans or setting goals. Can you share with us your resolutions and plans for 2016?

 I didn’t make any resolutions for 2015 so am determined to make some for the forthcoming year. We’re hoping to move house, so relocating is the main goal for 2016. However, we still haven’t decided where we want to go! I need to finish the WIP (work in progress) and return to a book I’ve  abandoned. I’d also like to begin the search for an agent and I’m going to self-publish three books for which I’ve just received the rights back. There’s a visit to the Harper Collins headquarters arranged for February and I’m going to be brave and try getting my books into local shops. So, the first few months of 2016 are already mapped out.

It sounds like the coming year is going to be very busy with serious lifestyle and career changes. Just for fun, if you were able to do/achieve anything you like in 2016, no matter how outrageous, what would it be and why?

This question has me stumped! I can think of lots of things I’d like to learn – Italian, how to ballroom dance and I’d love to learn to sing. I really ought to learn how to use my new laptop as I keep putting that off but something outrageous? What I’d really love to do is be able to tell people exactly what I think – just for a day – with no repercussions. That would be fun! Or be able to talk dog language so I know what’s going on in the heads of my two spaniels. I’m pretty sure I know anyway – walkies, food, tummy rubs just about covers their needs. Mine too, come to think about it!

I think my dog, Alfie, would probably say the same things! You have been a successful author of contemporary romance for many years, but in 2015 you had your first historical romance, While I Was Waiting , published. Why did you decide to change subgenres and was it an easy or hard WIWW final coverdecision to make?

That’s very kind of you! I’ve always written and have been writing seriously for the last ten years but have only been published since 2009, so I still think of myself as a beginner! I wrote novellas while I was working as a teacher as they fitted into the time I had available. I love historical fiction, especially dual narrative – my all-time favourite book is Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine. I wanted to see if I could write in that genre. Although I enjoy writing and reading rom-coms, I knew I had something else to offer. While I Was Waiting evolved over a long time and I poured my heart and soul into it. It’s the book I’m proudest of. I have many other ideas for books in a similar genre, but another novella in the Sequins series is planned too. Writing is like reading; you work on different things at different times. Sometimes you’re in the mood for something short and sassy, sometimes you want a slow-burner or something more serious. I find each genre has its challenges. Nothing is easy to write!

Were there any surprises or difficulties about changing subgenre?

I think I relaxed more! I think historical, dual narrative is more me. I also had to plan more efficiently and develop a more organised way to work. I learned lots during the process of writing While I Was Waiting. Hopefully, that will feed into any future writing.

Were you nervous about how While I Was Waiting would be received by readers who enjoy your contemporary romances?

Very! I considered using another name, or a variation of my author name. However, my editor raised no concerns so While I Was Waiting is published under Georgia Hill. Thankfully, it seems my readers have accepted the change in direction. Thinking about it though, my novellas dealt with serious issues such as bullying, body image, agoraphobia and While I Was Waiting has a lot of humour in it. Maybe they’re not so different after all?

Your first historical romance has received great reviews. Do you have plans to write more or try another sub-genre?

Thank you! As it’s the book of my heart, I’m thrilled and humbled readers love it. The next book is in the same genre; it’s a dual narrative supernatural set on the Jurassic Coast. The one after that has numerous narrative strands, but with a strong supernatural element. The three books should stand together well, although they’re only linked by genre. As for other genres, never say never. I’d love to have a go at children’s fiction or an adult fairy tale.

When a new year starts, many of us think about making changes or trying new things over the coming months, but do not have the courage to do it. From your experience, what advice can you offer others about trying something different to what is expected of you?

I’m possibly the worst person to ask this – I don’t always respond to change easily. I suppose I’d say, have a go. You never know what you can achieve unless you try. And what have you got to lose?

Can you share with us what you are working on at the moment?

I’d love to! It’s the story of recently bereaved Charlie, who travels to Lyme Regis in Dorset to investigate a family scandal. She meets Matt and together they discover her family’s secret and why Charlie is being haunted by the ghost of a Victorian fossil collector – who means her and those she loves great harm.

It sounds intriguing. Thank you for your candid interview, Georgia. Your experience has certainly inspired me to explore other genres, both as a writer and as a reader, and I wish you all the best for your next book.

Thank you for having me on Brenda, I’ve loved talking to you. I hope 2016 brings you all you wish for!

You can visit Georgia’s blog and website page here and her Facebook page here . You can also follow her on twitter @georgiawrites .

Click on While I Was Waiting to buy the book.

A Cornish Maid in London

On Wednesday, 18th November, I was fortunate to attend The Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) 2015 Winter Party, which was held at The Royal Overseas League in London.

Tickets were a sell out, as it’s a great opportunity for writers, agents and publishers to meet, whilst sipping bubbly and eating canapés. The event was also a great opportunity for the RNA to present its inaugural Industry Awards to people who have contributed to the success and sales of romantic fiction.

I made the most of my whistle-stop tour to the capital by spending the morning sightseeing and the afternoon watching Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. This was quickly followed by the RNA Winter Party.

There was a real buzz of excitement and noise at the event, as new writers, established authors and experienced agents met with one another and new friends were made. Three awards were presented; Bookseller of the Year, Best Adaptation of a Novel and Media Star.

The award winners are announced.

The award winners are announced.

The Bookseller of the Year Award went to WHSmith Travel Book Buyer, Matthew Bates in recognition for supporting many RNA members’ books and turning them into bestsellers.

Runner up was Michael Korel, Waterstones, Camden, in recognition of his support for the romance genre, in particular indie romance writers.

The second award, Best Adaptation of a Novel, went to Debbie Horsfield for her adaptation of the Poldark series, written by my favourite author, Winston Graham. I was surprised to learn that in the early days he was a judge of the Romantic Novel of the Year Award and had links to the RNA for many years. This discovery made me feel even more privileged to be a member of the RNA, as I attempt to follow in his gifted footsteps.

Runner up was Jamie Patterson, an independent film director from Jump Start Productions, who adapted RNA member Cally Taylor’s novel, Home for Christmas.

The final award of the evening, Media Star, was awarded to The Romaniacs, a popular blogging and social media group.

Runner up for the Media Star Award was Radio Gorgeous, which broadcasts podcasts which are particularly supportive of women authors.

Photo by RNA

Matt Bates, The Romaniacs and Jamie Patterson

Katie Fforde and David Headley

Katie Fforde and David Headley

After the awards, Katie Fforde, president of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, was delighted to announce that Goldsboro Books were going to sponsor the Romantic Novel of the Year Award in 2016. This news was a wonderful way to end the award ceremony.

More wine and bubbly flowed, as everyone got back to the serious task of mingling before the evening came to a close.

Two train journeys later, I was able to kick off my high heels and put my feet up. My last visit to London was many years ago, but I found it as vibrant, busy and fascinating as I remembered. Now I am back in Cornwall (which is also vibrant, busy and fascinating, but in a completely different way), however, I am glad I made the journey to London and resolve not to leave it so long next time.

Photos of award winners courtesy of the RNA

North Cornwall Book Festival, Pasties & Cake.

IMG_0423I believe to be a great writer one has to read a lot and be willing to learn from others. Book festivals are a great way to meet fellow readers and writers. The North Cornwall Book Festival, which this year was held entirely in the small parish of St.Endellion, was no exception. Although it ran for three days at the end of October, I was only able to attend the final day. However, I couldn’t have picked a better day, the autumn sun was shining, the people (both authors and visitors) were friendly, and the pasties and cake for sale were delicious.

For those who have never been to a book festival before, it is open to all who have an interest in reading IMG_0427and/or writing. It usually involves a variety of presentations, workshops, interviews, readings and book signings by authors, with the aim of fostering a love of literature and writing, whilst providing an opportunity to meet your favourite author, or discover new ones.

I arrived too early, but was still welcomed by Festival Chairman and established author, Patrick Gale. I had just finished reading his latest book A Place Called Winter, so it was great to be able to tell him face to face how much I enjoyed it.

Next stop was my first workshop, “Handling Romance in Fiction” by Alison Mercer, author of After I Left You and Stop The Clock. At the risk of sounding like a rom com script, Alison had me at “Hello…” because she quickly followed Alison Mercerthe greeting with “…help yourself to the chocolates on the table and the cake on the side”. Needless to say, I liked her approach to the workshop immediately and was the first to reach for a sweet. As with most workshops, the attendees varied in experience, from those who aspire to write, to those who have published before but just want to polish up or expand their writing skills.

Alison fostered a workshop which was relaxed, informative and encouraged open discussion and input, yet at the same time skilfully kept us all on track and to time. She took us through the key events of a writing arc to help develop a storyline, and the main types of characters one might use that can add depth and subplots to a novel. We read extracts from books which depicted very differing romantic encounters and discussed why they work, why they may not work for every reader and the use of the senses to enhance the storytelling. The workshop ended with an opportunity for us to write a paragraph depicting a romantic encounter. Everyone was very supportive of each other’s efforts and we all came away feeling motivated to attend our next event.

In my case, it was to seek out the Cornish pasty tent. They were delicious, just as I knew they would be, and feeling energised and a bit cheeky, I accosted Patrick Gale and asked for a photo. Being the gentleman that he is, IMG_0426he said “Why have one author when you can have three,” and led me outside to where Neel Mukherjee, author of The Lives of Others  (which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and The Costa Novel Award in 2014, and won the Encore Award in 2015) and Alison Mercer were sitting. All three kindly posed, despite having their coffee break interrupted and being blinded by the sun.

Next stop was to have my bibliotherapy session with Ella Berthoud , author of A Novel Cure.  A bibliotherapist helps you to tackle life’s ups and downs, with the healing power of a good book. They find out about your reading history, likes and dislikes, passions and pet hates, and discover what is happening in your life. They then suggest the perfect collection of books to read over the next few months in order to reflect your life and overcome the problems you may currently be facing.

At the moment, my only problem is finding the right books to read which will enhance my own writing skills, butIMG_0428 will also be enjoyable. I love the “author voice” of Winston Graham and Francine Rivers, and would like to read more historical romances with a similar narrative. Ella was able to quickly assess my needs without her assessment feeling too intrusive, and I soon discovered her mind is like a literary encyclopedia, with a recall memory that was jaw dropping. She was able to provide me with a list of historical novels that would inspire me to become a better writer, but also be a pleasure to read. I can’t wait to start the first one and, just in case you are interested, these are the books she suggested for me.

The Various Flavours of Coffee by Anthony Capello
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
The Arthurian Saga Series by Mary Stewart

IMG_0429Sadly, it was time for me to leave, so I didn’t get the chance to catch up with friend and ex-work colleague, and now successful children’s author, Veronica Lamond or the other poets, illustrators and authors who held workshops that day. However, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and will certainly return next year to have my creative juices energised again and my book shelves filled with new, inspiring reads.