Welcoming a true star…Jo Bartlett

I’m delighted to welcome Jo Bartlett onto my blog today to talk about the inspiration behind her new book, Among A Thousand Stars – AATS%20Coverout on 17 June 2015.

You know one of those hectic Monday mornings when you catch sight of yourself magnified in the rear view mirror of your car and realise your roots need doing but you’ve only got time to colour-in the grey with a mascara wand? Or maybe that’s just me… Either way, I suspect we’ve all had times when we wonder how our lives have turned out to be so ‘ordinary’?

As a ten year old I wanted to be a glamorous air hostess, jetting all over the world, but I grew up to have a hip circumference distinctly incompatible with such narrow aisles. Of course the reality of the job would have been totally different to my childlike imaginings and I doubt there’s anything very glamorous about trying to keep control of a stag-do on a budget airline bound for Benidorm. So I became a university lecturer instead, which is about as glamorous as it sounds.author%20pic

Looking around on one of those hectic Monday mornings I described, I couldn’t help wondering if other people’s lives really are less ordinary. After extensive research, a.k.a. people watching, I’ve come to realise that we all have facets of the ordinary that knit together the foundations of our lives – whoever we are. At my son’s primary school, one of his best friend was the son of celebrity and fashion photographer, Perou. Now there was someone whose life seemed distinctly less ordinary than mine. He’d be heading off to New York to photograph Dita Von Teese, at the same time as I was on my way to a university faculty meeting about student retention. Only by the next week, he’d be back in the thick of it, with the rest of us parents, trying to elbow his way to the front of the school hall to get a good seat for the nativity play. Actually he’s much cooler than that, but I’m sure you know what I mean.

In a roundabout way, that’s part of how the idea for Among A Thousand Stars came about and how freelance photographer, Ashleigh Hayes, found herself in a world of glamour but with plenty of the life more ordinary along for the ride – including a mother who’s only too happy to strip off in front of her friends and an alarming ability to put her foot in it. It’s a story about the insecurities we all carry, the ups and downs of a less than perfect family life and how the right person can suddenly help it all make sense. After all, that’s what makes any life less ordinary, isn’t it? Love. It certainly does for me.

 

http://jobartlettauthor.com/

@J_B_Writer

 

 

 

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.