Welcoming Helen J Rolfe to my blog

Today I’m welcoming Helen J Rolfe to my blog to talk about her debut novel, The Friendship Tree, out on Tuesday 24 February. A big hello to Helen!

Tell us a bit about yourself

I write contemporary women’s fiction and The Friendship Tree will be my first published novel. I have the classic ‘bottom drawer’ novel, which was my first attempt, and I feel as though I’ve come a long way since that one was written!

I live in Bath, UK with my husband and two children where we live in utter chaos since moving back from Australia at the end of 2014. I’m a big fan of Pilates and yoga, I’ve signed up for badminton lessons, and of course I love to read. If I ignored the housework I’d get to enjoy books a whole lot more!Author photo - Helen J Rolfe

Can you tell us a bit about your novel, The Friendship Tree?

The Friendship Tree tells the story of Tamara, who leaves the UK and joins family in Australia in the hope of leaving behind bad-boy Bradley. Jake, the new vet in town, has a past he’d rather leave behind too, and the pair will soon learn that running away doesn’t solve anything.

Tamara is drawn in to a small community where she becomes the coordinator of an old-fashioned friendship tree, a chart organising the town’s residents in times of need. The Friendship Tree is rife with themes of romance, family secrets, friendships, business rivalry and an abduction which unites the entire town.

What do you love the most about the book?

I really enjoyed setting The Friendship Tree in a fictitious town in Australia. It allowed my imagination to freely create the place and its people … I even drew a map of the town and where houses were located so that I could stay on track as I was writing!

Some scenes were set in Sydney, others in the UK, and I really enjoyed varying where my characters found themselves. The changes in location mirrored changes in the characters’ lives which were important in the book.

What’s the most exciting part about being a published author?

I’m excited that other people will finally be able to read my story. Mind you, it’s daunting too … I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to family being able to see what I’ve been working so hard on!cover ebook

And finally, what are you working on at the moment?

I am making the final touches to my next novel which is set in Melbourne, Australia. I haven’t quite decided on the title yet, but it’s a story about learning to love again and living life to the full, even when life has dealt a cruel blow. More on that soon, I hope!

Thank you for hosting me on your blog.

My absolute pleasure…best of luck!

 

For more about Helen J Rolfe …

www.helenjrolfe.com

Facebook: http://facebook.com/helenjrolfe

Twitter: https://twitter.com/@hjrolfe

Blog: http://thewriteromantics.com

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/helenjrolfe

The Friendship Tree is available from Amazon:

  1. Amazon.com – http://amzn.to/1wd47Mz
  2. Amazon UK – http://amzn.to/1Lu57zf

 

The summer of letting go…

You're not going in anything faster than that...

You’re not going in anything faster than that…

For the parents whose children are starting school this week, there comes the swift realisation that during school time, at least, they are no longer in control. For me, after five years of banging on about eating cucumber, sharing the Playmobil ambulance nicely and not jabbing people in the eye with a pencil, it came as a bit of a shock that I couldn’t directly influence what happened between nine and three-thirty any more. In short, I had to ‘let go’.

Ten years later, I’m discovering that process all over again. In fact, it’s been a summer of letting go. Mainly out of necessity as this year I graduated from ‘unsuccessful author’ (as my son described me to his teachers) to ‘published author, still to prove herself’. So this summer I wasn’t quite as available to my children as I normally am. I was often flat out, working on publicity, blogs and the next novel. Previously my novel-writing (accorded the same status in the house as weeding, dusting and shoe-polishing – nice but not essential) managed to fit around their need to be ferried into town, their inability to find bread in the freezer and the necessity of topping up their phones now! Something had to give. We live on a big hill, with town a fifteen-minute drive away. The children are at a school with a wide catchment area and of course, have found friends that even the crow gets tired flying to.

At twelve and fourteen, I decided that bus, train and Shanks’s pony were the way to go. How young is too young to be gadding about Surrey without a parent in tow? Pre-mobile phone days, I got the train to school every day from the age of eight and walked a mile at the other end. Different times? Well, maybe. However, the need to cross the road on your own, work out a train timetable and ask a bus conductor where to get off by the time you leave home remains the same. So, with a little bit of fear and a lot of instructions, I let them loose.

The daughter, at twelve, turned into Dora The Explorer. ‘I’m just getting the train to Maddie’s.’ ‘I’m getting the bus to swimming.’ ‘We’re all meeting in Croydon.’ The son immediately decided that he didn’t need to go to the gym, after all.

But he did manage to wangle himself an invite to stay with some friends of ours in Spain. To my surprise, I discovered that at the age of fourteen, a child can fly unaccompanied with EasyJet. I gave him the choice of EasyJet on his own or BA accompanied. ‘That’ll be really embarrassing, they’ll just want to talk to me about school and stuff.’

So I found myself at the airport, waving off my precious first born, with a host of warnings about not getting burnt and not being ‘silly’, plus a couple of entreaties about not diving in anywhere shallow – or anywhere at all – or even thinking about drinking. He looked so young disappearing off into security. I snivelled all the way back to the car.

So far, both children have come back to me safely and I’m hugely grateful and relieved. It’s the start of another round of letting go, the necessary step of allowing them to become adults, of teaching them to manage risk, not avoid it completely. However, I have decided to stockpile an extra hour of sleep a night from now until my son learns to drive on the grounds that I can’t imagine how I’ll ever shut my eyes again once he does.

Kerry Fisher is the author of The School Gate Survival Guide, out now.

All Greek to Me

Highlights of Greece

  • Standing in the kitchen of a little taverna while the cook explained her recipe for tomato fritters. Not a word of English so I stood there sniffing her pots of herbs: ‘Oooh oregano! Mint! Coriander!’ It would have been like a MasterChef test if I hadn’t been trying not to breathe ouzo fumes on her. Then she hugged me with a warmth that made me think a little communal cooking should be able to solve wars before they start.
  • Having to go to the medical centre for the son’s earache. Surreally, the taxi driver took charge of all the interpreting and paperwork, then the nurse led us straight into the doctor’s consulting room, where we stood like two lemons as he examined an old lady. He didn’t acknowledge us at all, just puffed on a fag whilst we peered through the fog and tried not to laugh. I did have to whisper to the son to desist from shaking his head in horror as you don’t need English to understand that. Eventually, while the other patient shuffled out, he asked what was wrong. When I said the son had a bad ear, he shrugged and said, ‘And?’ I mumbled something about antibiotics, and he jammed an instrument in the son’s ear, whilst puffing smoke right up his nose. I had to think about dying a horrible death involving crocodiles to hold in my laughter.
  • Thinking I was *nearly* the bravest woman in the world for going on an off-road mountain biking expedition. I screamed every time the bike skidded a millimetre. When we got back, the guide told me he’d done a mountain biking competition down a glacier. I managed an unusual combination of emotions: feeling simultaneously pleased and foolish.
  • Watching my children do aqua aerobics to YMCA. Released in 1978, 20 years before my first child was born and they know all the words. The strangest things cross the generations.

Lowlights of Greece

  • I’m always telling my children that no one is watching them, that they should have a go, that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. I was so bad at serving in my tennis class that I nearly burst into tears and ran out. Less Maria Sharapova brandishing a killer racket and more a bag of King Edwards on the move waving a wooden spoon.

    Eye on the ball, eye on the ball, missed it!

    I know, if I don’t hit it this time, I’ll just sob noisily

  • Having to visit the young male physio with a groin injury. Accompanying panic about what to wear to visit with groin injury that wouldn’t have him wiggling his eyebrows in a ‘Get you!’ kind of way. Having to admit injury was caused not by boxercise, windsurfing, wakeboarding or anything else trendy and youthful, but by breaststroke. I felt obliged to tell him that I don’t try and keep my hair out of the water. I didn’t want him thinking I don’t know how to live.
  • Actually looking forward to the food on the plane and eating it even though it tasted of worn out flip-flops sprinkled with salt. Being airborne somehow damages my food-assessment ability.
  • Not quite managing to second-guess the exotic ailments the family will dream up, despite lugging with me everything from anti-chafing cream to sun factor protection 100 especially imported from the USA, thus requiring several little mimes at the pharmacy. I’m just hoping they never get tapeworm.

 

 

 

Want to get published? Get networking!

I don’t very often write about the nuts and bolts of writing and publishing but as I come up to the publication of The School Gate Survival Guide this Thursday, 3 July, it feels quite appropriate to talk about how I got from ‘there’ to ‘here’. Here’s a blog I wrote for the wonderful Writers’ Workshop – they run the Festival of Writing in York every year and it really is one I would recommend…

 

In 2010, the formidably efficient Susan Franklin rang the bell at the Festival of Writing and it was my turn to pitch my novel, The Class Ceiling, to an agent. An agent! A proper literary agent with the power to make my dreams come true. So the only reasonable thing to do was shake like a leaf and talk so fast that the poor man was probably wondering at what point passing me a paper bag would become an excellent idea. About five minutes into my precious ten minutes of pitch time, I managed to get my nerves under control and started to get a grip on the fact that the man in front of me wasn’t actually god – close, but not the man himself – and it was OK to have an intelligent debate with him, even ask a question.

I’d love to say at this point that he waved my pages and pronounced them a masterpiece. Sadly, not even close. However, the same day, I went through it all again with a different agent who asked to see the full manuscript. A small step towards realizing that it’s a subjective business, a giant leap in demystifying the whole ‘agents are alien beings’ process.

In my naivety, and desire to find representation, I probably forgot to listen to the actual feedback. As it turned out, I had the next three years plus the aide-memoire of an inbox full of rejections to help me grasp that particular lesson. It quickly became clear that sticking my fingers in my ears and singing every time an agent or book doctor offered a constructive comment wouldn’t improve my chances of publication.

In fact, the importance of ‘hearing’ feedback was highlighted to me after the Festival of Writing in 2011. After failing to get an agent for The Class Ceiling, I wrote The Divorce Domino, which won first prize at the festival for the opening line, ‘I was wearing the wrong bra for sitting in a police cell.’ Surely, surely, agents and publication were a mere phone call away? A manuscript critique was my prize and I waited for the ‘fit for publication’ verdict to come in. Which was, in fact, nine pages of ‘fixes’, followed by several days sitting huffily on the sofa and a suggestion from the husband that I give up this writing lark. However, in the end, I had to face the fact that most of the observations were spot on.school gate resized 130jpeg

Even revised until I could recite The Divorce Domino backwards, agents were not bursting forth out of the woodwork. But the one thing I continued to do was network. I went to hear other writers speak and introduced myself when I bought their books. I started to tell authors on Twitter how much I enjoyed their writing and followed agents I liked the look of – cyberly rather than in real life, obviously… I attended festivals and the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) parties. After several events hiding behind pillars, I occasionally plucked up courage to talk to agents and eventually realised that they quite liked to be asked, ‘How’s your day been?’ rather than flattened by a book pitch. I couldn’t concentrate on the answer in case they asked me what I was writing, but I still asked the question.

In the end, it was the networking that paid off. I met Helen Bolton, an editor at Avon, HarperCollins, at an RNA party and just chatted about one of her authors without discussing my work at all. Afterwards, I did a long shot to end all long shots and sent her the first five chapters of The Class Ceiling (which I had, by now, self-published reasonably successfully). She came back to me to ask for the rest, plus my next book. In the meantime, I approached agents I liked. Clare Wallace from Darley Anderson, whom I had also met at the RNA party, offered me representation one afternoon last August. When I got home, I had a two-book deal in my inbox from Helen. So…five years with nothing then an agent and a book deal on the same day. The Class Ceiling will be published as The School Gate Survival Guide this summer.

I leave you with this. However shy you are or however awkward you feel about putting your writing ‘out there’, my husband was absolutely right: you won’t sell your book sitting at the kitchen table. Buy yourself a ticket to the Festival of Writing now!

 

P.S I’ll be there with my lovely agent, Clare Wallace, for our Ask Us Anything panel – but if you see me floating about, do come and speak to me, I’d be delighted to meet you. Or come and find me on Twitter or Facebook.

 

 

Romantic, Moi?

Recently I had the privilege of taking part in HarperCollins’ Festival of Romance, where I’m slightly ashamed to say I was probably the least romantic author there…If you’re interested in reading my author questionnaire, here it is below. Do let me know whether or not you are romantic…

Tell us about yourself…IMG_2036
Most people who live near me will recognise me as the woman with mad hair racing after the naughty black dog with the picnic/model aeroplane/Zimmer frame/kite in her mouth. Otherwise when the dog’s asleep, I’m a relatively normal wife to an astonishingly tolerant man and mother to a teenage son and a 12-year-old daughter.

Tell us about your latest book
The School Gate Survival Guide, out in ebook on 3 July and paperback on 11 September (Avon, HarperCollins) is about school gate snobbery – a modern My Fair Lady story about how hard it can be to belong.

When did you start writing?
I started writing travel guidebooks when I worked as a holiday rep in Italy shortly after leaving university. Then I was a journalist for many years and finally found my niche in fiction writing about five years ago.

Tell us about your experience of getting a literary agent
How long have you got? Suffice to say, I know who the good guys are because of the lovely rejections they’ve written to me. I took heart from Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help – I saw her speak at Guildford Library and she said she had 67 rejections over five years. I vowed that I would use 67 as my magic number before giving up on a book. In the end, after many rejections over four years across three novels, I found an agent quite easily because I already had an editor at Avon interested in my work.

When did you get your first book deal?
Bizarrely, I got my first book deal on the same day I found my lovely agent, Clare Wallace (Darley Anderson). She offered me representation in the afternoon and when I got home that night there was a two-book deal from Avon in my inbox. That was August 2013.

What tips would you give to other aspiring romance authors?
Learn as much as you can about writing and be prepared to ‘hear’ your feedback rather than fall into the trap of thinking that people who don’t shout ‘Genius!’ don’t know what they are talking about. Network like mad. Go to writing festivals, learn as much as you can from other authors, make writing friends and don’t forget to give back.

Where do your write?
Because the dog thinks that I clearly don’t have anything to do if I’m sitting down, I have to hide in Starbucks, where I write 1000 words a day.

Where do you look for writing inspiration?
Because I write stories about ordinary women, I tend to get inspiration from what my friends are talking about. The brilliant thing about being a writer is that no occasion is ever wasted – you can always sit and watch how people interact, however boring the event.

Which other authors do you admire?
Rachael Lucas (Sealed with a Kiss) and Tina Seskis (A Step Too Far) for writing excellent books, self-publishing them with the sort of aplomb I could only dream of and having the nous to use their success to springboard into traditional publishing deals.

Are you on social media?
I am…it’s taken me a while to feel confident there but I really enjoy Twitter (@kerryfswayne). I love the fact that my readers can contact me directly – I’m always so delighted to hear from them. It’s also a great place to keep on top of what’s happening in the publishing world – or any world that interests you.

Personal

IMG_2028aWhere were you born?
Peterborough, Cambridgeshire

What is your earliest memory?
Running around the garden with my golden retriever puppy.

Where do you live now?
I live near Reigate, Surrey. My garden backs onto the M25, which is a huge selling point.

Dog or cat person?
I get enough disdain from the children so I don’t need a cat looking down on me when I’m sweating away on the Wii Fit. Definitely a dog person – when we first got our dog, I was very ‘It’s just a dog, she’ll have to eat dried food and go to the kennels’ but now she’s the one getting organic this and that, while the husband makes do with an omelette. She loves the dogsitter so much, she parks her bottom and won’t get into the car to come home when we’ve been on holiday.

When were you happiest?
Everyone expects you to say something momentous like the birth of my children (knackering and sore) but I didn’t really expect to ‘settle down’ – I was very free-spirited in my youth and loved travelling but of course, that can be lonely too. So I always feel a huge sense of joy when my husband and kids meet me off a plane and I’m going back to a home that’s filled with the chaos of family life.

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
The same advice I give to my daughter now: ‘It’s not what you’ve got, it’s who you are. Fill your life with people who are generous of spirit, can laugh at themselves and don’t keep count.’

What was your most embarrassing date?
My then boyfriend turning up dressed like Adam Ant complete with white nose stripe to go to the cinema. He missed his bus home and I made my mother chase after it in the car because I couldn’t bear to be seen with him one second longer.

What is your favourite romantic moment?
Despite writing about romance, I am utterly unromantic – I’m probably the only woman who loves getting saucepans and vacuum cleaners for Christmas. Top of my romance list is the husband putting the bins out without being asked.

What do you wish for when you blow out the candles?
In the current countdown to publication of The School Gate Survival Guide, my big wish is that I won’t have to go on Twitter and announce my novel is number 400,000 in the Kindle charts.

What is your favourite smell?
Norfolk sea air and sweet peas.

What book would you choose to take on a desert island?
The New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors – my wonderful editor, Helen Bolton, recommended it to me and it answers all those lovely questions about whether ‘powwow’ has a hyphen or ‘god’ has a capital…I love all that grammatical pedantry and I never have time to absorb it.

What music would you choose to take on a desert island?
Abba. You can’t be depressed if you’ve got Abba to sing to. Let’s hope there’s no rum there, otherwise I’ll be thinking I’m the Dancing Queen.

Three people you’d like to be stranded on a desert island with.
I should choose someone like Bear Grylls but I’d have to say my best friend from university days, Maria. We’ve travelled in all sorts of challenging circumstances and we’ve always seen the funny side, plus she’s very charming so if anyone could persuade a ship to stop for us, it would be her. I’m going to stick to one person, as I know she wouldn’t eat me if we ran out of food.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
I’d love to come up with something original here but I’m going to say my husband for just being a thoroughly decent human being and my kids – well – who’d have thought the woman who’d never picked up a baby before they were born would love them in such a ferocious fashion?

What is your favourite romantic song?
It’s a cliché – no clichés allowed – but I still love Wet, Wet, Wet’s Love is All Around. I had it at my wedding in the late nineties along with thirty million other couples. Though I can’t help picturing Bill Nighy now when I hear it.

What is your favourite romantic film? Love Actually and Dirty Dancing

Do you believe in love at first sight?
Come on, I’m the woman who prefers bins being taken out to flowers…I think that’s a no.

The School Gate Survival Guide is out as an ebook on 3 July…perfect holiday read: http://bit.ly/SchoolGate