Twitter for Authors, A Guest Post by Dane Cobain

social paran

I’m very pleased to welcome Dane Cobain back to Linda’s book Bag today. Dane previously wrote about the relevance of poetry and you can read that post here. So often I have authors contact me for a slot on the blog to promote their books but when I ask what their Twitter handle is so that I can tag them they tell me they don’t use social media! Today, Dane is sharing his tips for authors in making the most of Twitter.

You’ll find Dane’s fiction, poetry and non-fiction books here.

Lighthouses

Twitter for Authors: Ten Top Tips

A Guest Post by Dane Cobain

For authors, Twitter is one of the best social networks around for reaching out to readers, engaging with fans and making an impact in the industry. Unlike many other social networks, Twitter is public by default, and its username-based system – as opposed to Facebook and LinkedIn, which use profiles and pages to add a degree of separation – makes it easy for authors to talk to both individuals and organisations.

Today, we take a look at ten ways for authors to make the most out of the social network.

Scheduling

Tools like Twuffer allow users to schedule tweets to go out on a date and at a time to suit them. While it’s a bad idea to automate too much, it can be useful for scheduling countdowns to cover reveals and new releases or to schedule the same tweet at different times to reach international audiences.

Twitter Lists

Twitter’s inbuilt list tool allows you to group users together in a single timeline. It’s a good idea to do this for any publishers that you’re interested in, as well as for journalists, reviewers and other influencers, so you can keep an eye on what they’re talking about.

Dashboards

Dashboards like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite allow you to view Twitter data in real-time so that you can respond to people accordingly. By saving searches for terms like “need new book” or “new fantasy”, authors can reach out to readers directly and offer free samples.

Follower Management

One of Twitter’s strengths is that it allows third-party developers to create their own tools using the network’s API. Some of them, like ManageFlitter, allow users to manually follow or unfollow other users based on certain criteria. For example, you could follow new bloggers or unfollow users who haven’t posted for thirty days.

Hashtags #

Hashtags # are one of the unique benefits that Twitter has to offer, and they allow you to reach a much wider audience. Look up hashtags that are already in use, or try a tool like DisplayPurposes which will offer up suggested tags to help you to reach people.

Live Chats

Live chats are great because you can chat to people in real time, and all of the posts are usually grouped together with a single hashtag. Many chats take place on a regular basis, or you can create your own as a way for your readers to get to know you.

Trending Topics

Due to the way that Twitter works, it’s much easier to participate in the global conversation around trending topics than it is on Facebook, LinkedIn and other platforms. Because of this, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what people are talking about and to jump into the conversation when appropriate. You don’t need to relate it back to your work every time – just make your voice heard and you’ll be surprised at how many people start to interact with you.

Retweets

Never underestimate the power of a retweet. Go out of your way to retweet your most dedicated followers – it gives you extra content to share, and they’ll remember it when your next book goes on sale.

Vanity Searches

A vanity search is a search for your own name, and it’s particularly useful for authors because they can keep an eye out for people who are talking about their books but who haven’t necessarily tagged them by mentioning their username.

Real-Time Conversations

One of Twitter’s strengths is how easy it is to talk in real-time about current events. This ranges from events and conferences to the release days for books by other authors if you’re reading along with everyone else. Even tweeting throughout a day of writing can be entertaining. Be creative!

Your Turn

How do you use Twitter? Do you have any tips for how to make the most of it? Let us know what you think with a comment.

This post is written by Dane Cobain and sponsored by Publishing Addict, an organisation that specialises in building great author websites to help writers to establish a brand, connect with their readers and to sell more books.

About Dane Cobain

dane

Dane Cobain is an independent poet, musician and storyteller with a passion for language and learning. When he’s not in front of a screen writing stories and poetry, he can be found working on his book review blog or developing his website.

You can follow Dane on Twitter and find him on Facebook.

An Interview with Marilyn Bennett, Author of Granny With Benefits

Granny with benefits

Having spent a considerable amount of time looking at care homes in recent months, it gives me great pleasure to welcome Marilyn Bennett, author of Granny with Benefits, to Linda’s Book Bag today. Granny with Benefits features sheltered accommodation!

Published by Matador, Granny With Benefits is available for purchase here.

Granny With Benefits

Granny with benefits

Grace is thirty-nine and not remotely convinced that life begins at forty.

When her grandmother dies she volunteers to pick up her belongings from the sheltered accommodation. It is the last place she expects to have a chance encounter with the first man she has been instantly attracted to in a very long time, particularly as she is dressed almost head to toe in her grandmother’s clothing and accessories.

Grace’s granny alter ego elicits a conversation with the man about love, death and the universe, which she is convinced would not have happened otherwise. This inspires her to throw caution to the wind and turn what should have been a simple case of mistaken identity into a dating introduction opportunity for the real her. A decision which sets Grace on a rollercoaster adventure of lies, secrets and lust, making her thirty ninth year one she won’t forget, but might well regret…

An Interview with Marilyn Bennett

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Marilyn. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

Thank you very much for inviting me! I’ve worked in telly for the last 23 years and although it’s a very creative industry my role is very much about organising the logistics, so I wanted to do something that would explore my creative skills and it turned out to be writing.

Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Granny With Benefits?

Granny with Benefits is about a 39 year old single woman called Grace, who, when her grandmother dies, volunteers to clear out her belongings from Sheltered Accommodation. She has her eye on some coats and is playing adult dress up, wig and glasses included, when a very attractive man unexpectedly comes to the room to view it for his Dad.

Instead of this being a simple case of mistaken identity, Grace spontaneously uses the opportunity to try and engineer a date for the real her. The man has a similar idea, he thinks she might be a great date for his widowed Uncle, so things do not go remotely according to plan.

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

I find writing dialogue the easiest. I will come up with whole conversations in an instant and without the rest of the scene simply because it get’s to the heart of what I want to say.

I think plotting is the most difficult bit for me. I can’t start writing until I’ve plotted everything out. I need a structure. It tends to be quite skeletal, but it’s definitely how my brain works. It needs order.

How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?

For Granny with Benefits and the sequel I didn’t really have to do detailed research. These are very much slice of life stories. I suppose in some ways I have been doing the research most of my adult life, as the characters are a mash-up of lots of different people that I have encountered in my personal and professional life.

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

I’m not one of these people who writes everyday. Sometime I just don’t fancy it. The way I work is I set myself date deadlines. There’s the date to finish plotting and one to finish the draft. That way it doesn’t matter if I don’t write today or tomorrow, but I have to hit that date.

Generally once I finished plotting and start writing I tend to aim to complete a chapter every time I write.

I only write at home and I need silence. I have this clock with a loud tick in the room I write in. I thought it was so nice when I bought it, but now that I write it slightly gets on my nerves.

You’ve worked in television production for a long time. How did this impact on your writing style? I wondered if it meant you were more aware of pace, setting or dialogue for example?

Working in television had a impact on my writing style because script writing is my natural go to regarding understanding the basics of writing. My plan was originally to write a short film, I just didn’t have the ending, so I started plotting and it instantly lent itself to being a novel.

Scriptwriting really informed the dialogue and pacing of the book. I wanted the dialogue to feel real, so that readers could relate to and believe the characters.It was also important to me that the pacing retained the interest of the reader even when they might not particularly like the characters.

The basic scriptwriting principle of a story having a clear beginning, middle and end was a key factor in how I plotted and structured the novel. I thought there might be a sequel to it, but I wanted to write the book, so it could standalone, so I tried not to drag things out or be repetitive.

You say Granny With Benefits broke a lifelong tradition of never finishing anything! What drove you to write and complete Granny With Benefits?

I’ve had lots of ideas over the years, but most of them have either been abandoned or not even started. I think I finished the novel because I set myself the task of completing something. I also really enjoyed the process of writing. I had no idea it would be such fun, but I really loved creating the characters, scenarios and relationships. I got a real kick out of it and they pretty much took on a life of their own. I also believed in the story, so for once, it wasn’t a half-hearted attempt at something.

I know that launching Granny With Benefits has been a steep learning curve for you. What have you learnt since publication day that might be helpful to other debut authors?

Steep learning curve is an understatement! It’s been like trying to climb Everest in my flip flops! I did expect this because I’m completely new to the industry and self-publishing, but it’s been way harder and equally as exciting, than I expected.

I’ve learnt that perseverance and patience is key. I’m happily taking the independent route, but it most certainly is not for everyone. If the book you’ve written is your life’s work or wish then I would suggest you need an agent.

Writing the book is only the very beginning. It took me three years, with time off for good behaviour, to finish Granny with Benefits. I would’ve finished it sooner if I knew the amount of work that would be required to promote the book. It’s really difficult to get the traditional media to take interest in you or your book if you have no track record, so the more you can build an understanding and relationships outside of the traditional media the better. If you have a great agent or/and publicist they are key to helping you do this, as they will already have those crucial contacts and networks on both sides of the fence.

Prepare to go out into the world starkers! By that I mean, you are your campaign and not the book.  I’ve had slight panic attacks around promoting this book because so much of it has been about me personally and not the book. For example, on Friday I did my very first radio interview (yayyyy!). The reason I got the interview is because one of my hobbies is recycling old furniture and antiques. Yes, you read it right. The majority of the interview was spent talking about recycling doors! But I got to mention the book at the end and that’s the end game.

Think of it this way, when Walkers want us to buy a packet of crisps, they don’t have potatoes in the ads, they have Gary Lineker! Nothing sells itself and right now I am by far the best person to sell my book.

Your blog (here) shows you as someone with a real sense of humour. Have you used this in Granny With Benefits and has it ever got you into trouble?

My sense of humour is what keeps me sane. I don’t take myself too seriously and I can laugh through most things as a result. Life is just too short! I think my sense of humour has actually got me out of trouble, so it’s been a very handy tool.

My sense of humour is one of the key drivers in Granny with Benefits. I don’t think it’s laugh out loud humour, more bittersweet comedic moments and it is threaded throughout the entire novel.

Granny With Benefits seems to have a message about making the most of opportunities, even if they don’t always work out. Why did you choose to write about this theme?

I think a lot of people suffer from the fear of trying. It can stifle you and result in you not living your life to the full. Over the past few years I have seen people that are very close to me suffer with very grave illnesses, yet they have a life affirming positivity as a result, which is so inspirational. They are taking life by the go-nads and living.

I just wanted to say if you want something in life then go for it! Don’t wait for circumstances to take those choices away from you, make your own choices.

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

When I finished the book. I did a final read-through and I thought “Huh, not bad”. Then I thought I better check if anyone else agrees, so I got an Editor.

If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

I would be a songwriter or music producer.   have been writing songs since I was a kid, but in my typical DNF character, 95% are only first verse and chorus.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

I really like contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, romance and thrillers.

I like most types of genres, but the above are my favourites to read.

Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?

The next series of books is completely based on one of my other interests. I’m keeping it under wraps for the moment, but I’ve become obsessed with it over the passed 4 years. It informed everything about my writing. Not what I wrote in terms of the story arc, but the timing of it.It worked for me, so that has been my greenlight to pursue it as the subject for my next series of novels.

(Oh – sounds intriguing!)

If you could choose to be a character from Granny With Benefits, who would you be and why?

I would be Grace’s friend Cassie. She’s direct, brash and bold. She needs to keep her knickers on a bit more, but other than that I would be her. I would like to be more courageous and not give a monkeys, but its just part of my nature to care.

If Granny With Benefits became a film, who would you like to play Grace and why would you choose them?

Ooooooo, good question!  I’m going to have to come back to you on that one.  I’m going to compile a dream audition list and then from my imaginary casting chair make my decision.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Granny With Benefits should be their next read, what would you say?

GwB is a must read unromantic love story on how to hijack your forties.

Did you see how I cheated by abbreviating!

I did, but I’ll let you off! Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions, Marilyn.

About Marilyn Bennett

marilyn

Marilyn Bennett has worked in television production for over 20 years. When she decided to write and produce a short film about an elderly woman who ran a dating agency the concept of Granny with Benefits was born. This debut novel Granny with Benefits has broken Marilyn’s life-long tradition of never actually completing anything!

You can find Marilyn on Facebook, follow her on Twitter or visit her website.

An Interview with Emily Williams, author of Letters to Eloise

letters to eloise

I’ve heard from so many other bloggers about how good Letters to Eloise by Emily Williams is that I’m devastated I have well over 850 books ahead of it in the review pile! However, when you haven’t had time to read the book, you can always interview the author and luckily Emily agreed to take part.

Published by Lutino on 17th February 2017, Letters to Eloise is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

Letters to Eloise

letters to eloise

‘Receiving a hand written letter is something that always puts a smile on my face, no matter who the sender is.’ Flora Tierney.

When post-graduate student Flora falls unexpectedly pregnant during her final year studies she hits a huge predicament; continue a recent affair with her handsome but mysterious lecturer who dazzles her with love letters taken from the ancient tale of ‘Abelard and Heloise’, or chase after the past with her estranged first love?
But will either man be there to support her during the turmoil ahead?

‘Banish me, therefore, for ever from your heart’, Abelard to Heloise.

Letters to Eloise is the heart-wrenching debut epistolary novel by Emily Williams; a love story of misunderstandings, loss, and betrayal but ultimately the incredible bond between mother and child.

An Interview with Emily Williams

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Emily. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

Hi Linda, thank you so much for welcoming me so warmly to your blog. Okay, a little about myself! My name is Emily Williams and I am a thirty-something year old from a sunny seaside town in West Sussex. I started writing stories as a child, but these mostly consisted of pony related stories! I have always wanted to write a novel and have finally written my debut Letters to Eloise.

When I am not writing, I teach in a local primary school part-time and the rest of the time I look after my toddler, baby, and many, many pets!

Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Letters to Eloise?

Letters to Eloise is an epistolary love story. Flora, the protagonist, finds herself pregnant and alone whilst completing her final year studies at university. She is desperate to reconnect with her past love, River, but has become entangled in a relationship with her university lecturer. He tantalises her with quotes taken from the ancient love story Abelard and Heloise and Flora is swept off her feet.

Flora is torn in so many directions, and finds comfort by writing down her experiences and reliving her past in letters to her unborn child.

What made you choose an epistolary format for your debut novel?

I have always enjoyed receiving a hand written letter; I feel it is a more personal touch. I also wrote diaries as a child, but the diary format has been used quite a lot in novels so I chose letters. Flora, the protagonist, also had a purpose to her writing and someone to pour out her emotions too. I researched different novels with the same format to see what worked, and what didn’t, and how to weave the story through the letters.

You have a degree in psychology. How far has that impacted on your approach to writing Letters to Eloise?

Subtly, my degree probably did influence my writing approach and there are references to psychology throughout the novel. I have always been interested in human behaviour and character traits and this enables me to hopefully create rounded, real characters. My university experience impacted on Letters to Eloise as Flora is a university student at the time. Although Flora is now studying teaching, as I did, both her and her housemate Brooke talk about their experiences with undergraduate psychology and biology.

Mr Wickham, the university lecturer in the novel, teaches Educational psychology at the university. This is an area that I am greatly interested in and an area I hoped at one point to pursue as a career! I fulfilled my career aspirations through fictional characters!

You teach and have a young child of your own. How far has this influenced your themes in Letters to Eloise?

Before I wrote Letters to Eloise, I wanted a child. I had always wanted children, but I got to a point in my life when I really, really wanted a child. I was not, however, in the right circumstances to have children, and had been told from an early teenager that due to a medical problem, conceiving could be a problem or even impossible. I think I used the novel as an outlet for this and wrote as if I was expecting a baby (which I wanted more than anything).

Unexpectedly, and totally amazingly, I fell pregnant shortly after finishing the first draft. I put the novel aside for a couple of years, as I found that I couldn’t read the words whilst pregnant. You’ll understand why when you read the novel! I continued editing after the birth of my second child, a daughter, last July.

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I wove the teaching element through Flora’s character. Flora had just finished her undergraduate degree and was starting her PGCE at university when she fell pregnant. A few anecdotes and teaching references slipped into the novel!

So, with a young family, what are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

I do most of my writing in the dark, on my laptop, sitting in bed! The writing part was straightforward, but the initial ideas bit was different. I covered a wall of my room with reversed Christmas wrapping paper and then drew a huge timetable across it. Any ideas that came to me, I would post it note and put up. After a couple months of ideas, I scaled it all down into a neat timeline to follow letter by letter. This part was the most time consuming!

To what extent do you think we should eschew email and return to handwritten letters like those in Letters to Eloise?

Oh yes, give me a pen and paper any day! Formally, for business and work place, emails are fine. However, I will always send a handwritten letter on special occasions. The speed nowadays is so different and we expect instant communication from each other with social media and texting, but always a handwritten letter gives the impression that you care.

Several members of my family still write handwritten letters and receiving a letter from my late grandmother or my aunty was very special. I hope I will keep up the tradition! The price of stamps is another matter!

Letters to Eloise is an emotional book. Did it affect you as you wrote or were you able to detach yourself from the emotions presented?

At the time of writing, although I wanted a child myself and wrote as if I were Flora, I didn’t really ‘get’ how being pregnant and having children changes you and makes you feel. As soon as I fell pregnant, I couldn’t detach myself from the emotions at all and literally couldn’t read the book. It was put aside for a very long time! Reading it again was a very emotional experience and enabled me to give the book extra depth when I came to editing. Luckily, several beta readers and relatives had read the book and left copious notes whilst I detached myself from it, so it wasn’t a totally wasted couple of years!

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When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

As far back as primary school. It just took another thirty years to get there! I first started writing and keeping my stories from around 6-7 years old.

If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

I love photography. I submit my photographs to the stock photography website ‘Fotolia’. My border collie, Tia, is the subject that has sold me the most photographs. I took some lovely ones of her in the bluebells in the local Angmering park, Sussex. I also used the draw and wanted to illustrate my own children’s books, but I haven’t drawn for a while now so would probably be quite rusty! My parents, both teachers, were also both creative and my mother makes stain glass windows, and has a weaving loom. They are also both musicians, sadly a trait that didn’t pass to me. Actually, I did play the violin!

dog

(My husband submits his photography to Fotolia and says you should try Shutterstock and Alamy too!)

How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?

I had a couple of friends pregnant at the time of writing Letters to Eloise so I asked them to keep notes of the journey for me. After having children, and when I returned to the novel, I went through and changed many details I had wrong about being pregnant. There were several other people I contacted during the research (I won’t give plot spoilers!) but they provided valuable information and personal experiences. The historical references were thanks to the translations from ‘Sacred texts’, and the local history links thanks to the local Heritage Journal.

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

Once I had the idea of Letters to Eloise the story practically wrote itself. I find the ideas stage the most difficult. I currently have ‘ideas block’ at the moment, where I just can’t get past this stage onto the actual writing!

I enjoyed writing speech, I could just imagine in my head what the characters were saying to each other and picture them in that moment in time talking and chatting, or arguing!

When you’re not writing, do you have time to read and if so, what do you like?

At the moment I read hundreds of picture books to my son! But when he is safely tucked in bed, I do enjoy a romance novel or a contemporary story. I have a broad range of genres that I will try, depending on my mood. I enjoy a crime or psychological thriller on occasion. I am currently reading The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve, an ARC curtsey of Net Galley. My son Elliot is also lucky to get to be read a copy of Julia Donaldson’s new book for children Giant Jumperee, which I love too.

Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?

I have a large number of animals, at last count around forty! So many an animal does slip into my writing! I have a pony and a horse; I have always been a massive horse and pony lover from a very young age and I love writing about horses. At home, we also have two dogs, a collie and a Springer. They get me out and about into the countryside, which features in my stories too. Flora’s parents were based on a farm, so I could slot a few animals into Letters to Eloise!

Before I had children, I was an avid runner. Sadly at the moment I don’t have much time, but Flora was passionate about running too!

If you could choose to be a character from Letters to Eloise, who would you be and why?

Flora’s personality is probably the most similar to my own but I would probably like to be Brooke. Her sense of humour would make life very interesting!

If Letters to Eloise became a film, who would you like to play Flora and why would you choose them? 

In my mind, as Flora is small and petite with glossy black hair, I always imagined someone like Natalie Portman playing the role. She is independent and able to stand up for herself, but is emotional and thoughtful.

When I planned the novel, I went through a magazine and cut out characters that fitted the descriptions in my head. I know that readers might picture someone completely different in their heads, so I don’t want to spoil that for them! It’s always the way when a book is made into a film that it ruins the image in your head slightly. Then eventually the film makes that actor/actress become that character. Now you couldn’t imagine Bridget Jones as anyone else, for example!

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Letters to Eloise should be their next read, what would you say?

I am not very good at selling myself, so I will use some words taken from the lovely reviews that I have received, and rearrange them into one sentence!

‘Beautiful and highly emotional read. A complete emotional rollercoaster that will astonish and devastate you.’

(Which takes me back to my earlier comment about hearing great things about Letters to Eloise from other bloggers!)

Thank you so much, Emily, for your time in answering my questions.

Thank you so much Linda for having me on your blog today, I have very much enjoyed answering your questions!

About Emily Williams

emily williams

Emily Williams lives by the seaside in West Sussex with her family and a large menagerie of small pets. After graduating from Sussex University with a BA in Psychology, Emily trained as a primary school teacher and teaches in a local school. Letters to Eloise is her debut novel.

You can follow Emily on Twitter and visit her blog.

First Editions, A Guest Post by Jan Ellis, Author of The Bookshop Detective

bookshop detective

It’s a busy time for Jan Ellis at the moment with the first two books in The Bookshop by The Sea series published by Waverley Books today, 23 March 2017, and French Kisses and A London Affair out in paperback in May 2017. You can read my review of French Kisses here, and I’m thrilled to be quoted on the cover for its new release with A London Affair.

French kisses

The Bookshop Detective is published today, 23rd March 2017 and is available for purchase here.

As she’s so busy I’m delighted that Jan has found time to drop in to Linda’s Book Bag and tell me a bit about how a first edition book has influenced her own writing.

All of Jan’s books are availble for purchase or pre-order here.

The Bookshop Detective

bookshop detective

When a ghost ship is spotted on the horizon one spring evening, bookseller Eleanor Mace decides to investigate the myths and legends of Combemouth, the Devon seaside town where she runs The Reading Room. As Eleanor digs deeper into the town s history, she becomes intrigued by a Victorian crime report that seems to have unexpected links to the present day. A celebrity book launch, an exploding dress and some salsa-dancing pensioners make this a mystery with a difference.

French Kisses

French Kisses

E-book cover

To the outside world, Rachel Thompson has it made: a wealthy husband, a successful career as an artist, and a to-die-for house in the middle of rural France.

That is until her husband Michael hits 40, discovers his inner love-rat and runs off with the kids’ young, skinny dance teacher.

Determined to ignore her friends’ advice to up-sticks and move back to England with her children, Rachel decides to turn their crumbly stone farmhouse into a bijou hotel.

Although Rachel is getting plenty of attention from local admirers, her husband Michael is never far away…

Will Rachel and Michael rekindle their love affair?

Or will she be sharing French Kisses with someone else…?

French Kisses is a fun romance about starting again and learning what really matters.

A London Affair

A london Affair

E-book cover

Turning her back on university, Kate hopes to find an exciting opportunity that will take her away from wellies and wet sheep in the English countryside to the glitz and glamour of London.

However, after a year selling chutney on a chilly market stall, the prospects for a glittering career in the capital are looking increasingly unlikely.

All that changes when Ned, the intriguing buyer from a smart London deli, brings a welcome chance to follow her dream, and Kate finally embarks on a new chapter, leaving behind rural life and ex-boyfriend, Steve, in exchange for six months in the hectic café scene…

A funny and heart-warming contemporary romance, A London Affair will strike a chord with anyone who has ever daydreamed about choosing an unconventional career path, or who simply enjoys cheese and fine delis…

French kisses

First Editions

Thank you for inviting me onto your blog, Linda, to talk about the book that I would most like to own as a first edition. When I looked on my shelves, I discovered that I already had it: a much-loved 1965 edition of Brer Rabbit’s A Rascal.

Brer portrait

I loved Enid Blyton as a child and devoured her books, which were perfectly designed to fit a child’s hands. I must have read Blyton’s stories a hundred times and, like so many youngsters, dreamt of packing up a picnic and setting sail for a remote island with no adults to tell me it was bedtime. There is a romance to the sea and I always experience a thrill when I stand on a cliff top and look across to a hazy horizon. Those well-thumbed storybooks are certainly where my love of a tall tale began.

When I wrote my first novella – An Unexpected Affair – it seemed natural to have my heroine travel to France to find an old flame because of a book she came across. Eleanor runs a bookshop called The Reading Room and I wanted everything to be as realistic as possible so that readers would be caught up in Eleanor’s adventure and care which of the men who cross her path she ends up with. Because of this, her shop, the seaside town I call Combemouth and the French city Eleanor visits are all based on real places.

After heading to the capital in A London Affair and flirting with France again for French Kisses, I returned to the Devon bookshop for A Summer of Surprises and the brand new paperback. I’m very fond of Eleanor and her eccentric bunch of friends and family – especially mother Connie and her octogenarian squeeze, Harold – so I was delighted to revisit them in The Bookshop Detective, my first attempt at ‘cosy crime’.

In this story, Eleanor finds herself at Combemouth Manor, reluctantly sorting through the books of a grumpy old chap called Joshua who owns a nervous Yorkshire terrier he insists on dressing in pink fun fur. As Eleanor comes to know Joshua, she finds herself embroiled in his family history and a Victorian mystery that has intriguing links to the present day.

Alongside the detecting, there is a celebrity book launch to plan, a summer festival to attend and an ex-wife – the annoyingly chic Freya – to avoid.

And what have I learnt from Brer Rabbit? That however grown-up I may be, I still enjoy losing myself in tales of mischief and adventure. I hope that readers of The Bookshop Detective will join me on that journey.

About Jan Ellis

Jan-Ellis-in-Brittany

Jan’s background is in non-fiction publishing and An Unexpected Affair was the first fiction she had written since the age of about seven. Fortunately people enjoyed it, so Jan wrote A Summer of Surprises, which continues the adventures of her bookselling heroine, Eleanor Mace. Now these novellas are available to enjoy in one luscious, paperback volume! Jan is also thrilled to present a brand-new title – The Bookshop Detective – in which Eleanor ends up doing some sleuthing from her quiet corner of rural England.

You can find out more about Jan Ellis by following her on Twitter, and by finding her on Facebook or visiting her website.

An Interview with Wendy Holden, Author of Laura Lake and the Hipster Weddings

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Having been a wedding photographer’s assistant for five years, what could be better than to be helping celebrate the publication of Laura Lake and the Hipster Weddings by Wendy Holden? I’m delighted that Wendy has agreed to tell me about her writing and Laura Lake and the Hipster Weddings in particular.

Published by Head of Zeus, Laura Lake and the Hipster Weddings is available for purchase in e-book and hardback here.

Laura Lake and the Hipster Weddings

Laura Lake

She’ll need a triple-barrelled name for the castle one. She’ll need a gallon of glitter for the woodland one. She’ll need a lobster-shaped hat for the Shoreditch one.

Laura Lake longs to be a journalist. Instead she’s an unpaid intern at a glossy magazine – sleeping in the fashion cupboard and living on canapés. But she’s just got her first big break: infiltrate three society weddings and write a juicy exposé.

Security will be tighter than a bodycon dress, but how hard can it be? Cue disappearing brides, demanding socialites – and a jealous office enemy who will do anything to bring her down…

An Interview with Wendy Holden

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Wendy. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing . Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

Hello Linda, and thank you so much for asking me to do this. It’s a joy and a privilege to answer your questions. About me; I was born in Yorkshire, went to school there, then went to Cambridge and afterwards moved to London where I worked for many years on glossy magazines. The perfect preparation for writing comic novels about glossy magazines!

Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Laura Lake and the Hipster Weddings?

With great pleasure! At the beginning of the novel, Laura is desperate to break into journalism. She lands a prestigious glossy magazine job through her wits rather than any fancy connections. It’s only an unpaid internship, and as she is skint she has to sleep secretly in the fashion cupboard and live on canapés. Her big break is when she is commissioned to write an article about high society weddings. She isn’t invited to any of them but she has to infiltrate them somehow. One’s an arty bash held in a Shoreditch loo, another’s a mystic Celtic handfasting under an ancient oak and the third is all castles and carriages and tiaras. To keep her job, she must write a big article about them. But will she manage it, or will it all go horribly wrong?

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

When my first novel, Simply Divine, was accepted by my agent. I wrote it in instalments before work, mainly to see if I could actually do it. It was inspired by the job I had at the Sunday Times when I ghost-wrote a column for Tara Palmer-Tomkinson. She became very famous as a direct result, while I remained skint and obscure. I was cross about it until I had an epiphany and realised that here, at last, was the plot I had been looking for. Simply Divine was an instant hit and was about a downtrodden hack writing a column for a partygoing socialite.

As an ex-English teacher myself I’m interested that you were inspired by your own English teacher. Tell us a bit about that.

Until I reached the sixth form at school, my favourite subject was history. Then Mrs Symons burst into my life and from that point on it was all about the Romantic poets and Shakespeare. I could see for the first time how literature reflected and explained – in the most beautiful, memorable way – real life, and it was the only subject for me after that. I went on to read English at Cambridge, but I have to say that none of the teaching I received there was a patch on Mrs Symons’!

So, when you’re not writing, what do you like to read now?

I read a lot of books for review for the Daily Mail. This is interesting as I see what is coming through. And of course I read every mag and paper I can get my hands on. This leaves very little time for reading the whole of Shakespeare and Proust, my endlessly-deferred annual resolution!

How far do you think growing up near the home of the famous Brontes has affected your impression of what it means to be an author?

The Brontes are completely fascinating; their whole story is amazing. Perhaps the aspect I relate to most is their experience of being governesses; they came from a relatively poor background to work with rich people who did not respect them and this inspired aspects of their novels. I went from a working class family to Cambridge and the hilariously self-indulgent world of glossy magazines. I think that I share the Brontes’ satirical view of the doings and behaviour of the wealthy!

Your writing is unashamedly chick-lit (which I love) in style. What would you say to those who eschew chick-lit as less worthy a genre?

Plenty of people think that comic novels are somehow less worthy than those that make you cry or fill you with horror. My view is that making someone laugh is a lot harder to do than shocking or upsetting them. It’s also a much better thing to achieve. There are too few comic novelists in the world and entertainers like me are more necessary now than ever.  I am proud of what I do and I think humour is more than important, it is crucial. We all need to laugh.

Laura Lake and the Hipster Weddings is part of a series of Laura Lake books. How do you manage your plotting for a series?

Laura is a journalist and in each of her adventures she investigates an aspect of how we live now, paying particular attention to anything excessive, glamorous, upmarket and amusing. Hipster Weddings was a romp through the crazy overstyled world of contemporary weddings and the fact that these days anything goes. Her next adventure, Laura Lake And The Celebrity Meltdown, moves the action to a fashionable Suffolk village full of famous people. I haven’t decided what the next adventure will be, but there is no shortage of funny possibilities; Laura Lake And The Clean-Eating Retreat, Laura Lake And The Artisan Cheesemakers etc. There is a short story coming out in July called Laura Lake And The Luxury Press Trip, in which a glam magazine jolly to a palm-fringed island has unexpected consequences!

And how did you create the character of Laura Lake?

I wanted to create a new kind of heroine, one with guts, glam and a sense of humour. There didn’t seem to be anyone like this around. I wanted her to be someone readers can relate to whether they are eighteen or eighty. I wanted her to work in a glamorous world and report on glossy things, yet be able to see their ridiculous side too.  Laura is a sort of female Tintin; her journalistic adventures take her all over the world. She is funny, courageous and clever, but fiercely loyal and relatively uncomplicated. She isn’t in thrall to a man, she isn’t congenitally miserable and she doesn’t have demons. She’s a woman of action, self-reliant yet kind. She is also really cool and chic, thanks to all the style advice from her indomitable French grandmother, Mimi. It’s Mimi who tells her that smiling is the best facelift, and that sensuality beats sexuality every time. ‘Why corset and truss yourself up? You are not a chicken!’

You’ve worked in similar environments as Laura. What do you miss about that lifestyle now that you’re a full time writer?

Writing is a lonely business and I do miss working with other people. But there is absolutely no way of getting round it. If you want to be a writer, you have to ‘sit down on your arse and do it,’ as my fellow Yorkshirewoman, the great Barbara Taylor Bradford, puts it. A glossy magazine office is also an endless sequence of hilarious minidramas, most of which have to be seen to be believed, so I miss all that too.

If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

A cartoonist – I used to do them a lot and was published everywhere from Vogue to Private Eye. I also used to do caricatures, often as presents for my friends at their weddings. They were probably horrified but used to pretend to be thrilled. I met my husband when I was drawing caricatures of people at a university ball. I was there with my sketchpad and he was in a jazz band right behind me.

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

I write every day in my hut in the garden. It’s the most amazing place; started as a flatpack put up by the previous owner and used to store garden furniture.  I have added a whole new wing – a ‘hutstention’ – and also a deck in the front. Inside there are rugs, a chaise longue, a turntable, a red telephone, a phrenologist’s head, an electric organ and lots of fairy lights. Oh, and a set of framed Aubrey Beardsley prints that I bought at auction. It’s the best place to work in the world. So far as hours are concerned,  I try and do a normal working. But I m horribly easily interrupted. “Is that the postman?!” etc.

How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?

I observe people closely and I read a lot of magazines and newspapers. There is endless inspiration in them; the killer detail is always something so ridiculous you could never make it up.  Hello magazine in particular is a publication of amazing subtlety.  That sounds like a contradiction in terms, but there are some deeply subversive interviews in which hilarious facts are unearthed.

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

I find conversations and funny incidents are the easiest and descriptions the most difficult, because you have to pause instead of romping ahead with the action.  The trick is to make descriptions funny; Evelyn Waugh and P G Wodehouse were masters at this.

Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?

I am still passionately interested in history and always having ideas for historical novels. The past is full of stories. But I am also interested in how people interact with the past, and the characters at historical sites. In Stratford-upon-Avon recently we came across someone dressed as Shakespeare’s schoolmaster. He wouldn’t get out of character and said things like ‘yea, verily mistress’ to whatever you asked. That struck me as utterly hilarious. And there is a whole series of comic novels in National Trust properties.  My last book, Honeymoon Suite, was a comedy set on a historic estate and among the characters who lived there; the modern-day ‘servants’ in the farm shop and Visitor Welcome Centre.

Laura Lake and the Hipster Weddings has a Andy Warhol popart style cover to me. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

I am thrilled you think it’s Warholesque. We wanted it to stand out and be striking. The bright colours and bold design tell you that the story is uplifting, glamorous and fun. And about a strong woman, who will make an impression!

If you could choose to be a character from Laura Lake and the Hipster Weddings, who would you be and why?

Laura is my favourite. She is a version of me; I identify with her struggles to break into journalism because I went through something similar myself (though never had to sleep in the fashion cupboard!). But I also love her friend Lulu, the famous international socialite, and her self-obsessed actor friend Caspar. Those two are definitely going to appear in every book.

If Laura Lake and the Hipster Weddings became a film, who would you like to play Laura and why would you choose them? 

Someone chic, clever and a bit offbeat; Kirsten Stewart would be perfect.

And finally, if you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Laura Lake and the Hipster Weddings should be their next read, what would you say?

It’s really funny and glamorous and Laura Lake will be the next big thing.

I’m sure she will! Thank you so much for your time in answering my questions, Wendy.

You are welcome!!

About Wendy Holden

wendy holden

Number-one bestselling author Wendy Holden was a journalist on Tatler, The Sunday Times, and the Mail on Sunday before becoming an author. She has since written ten consecutive Sunday Times Top Ten bestsellers. She is married, has two children and lives in Derbyshire.

You can follow Wendy on Twitter, visit her website and find her on Facebook.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Laura Lake blog tour

Giveaway and Interview With Blue Authors Judith Blevins and Carroll Multz

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One of the reasons I began blogging was because I used to review fiction aimed at 11-14 year olds for a big UK publisher and feel reading is such an important part of life. So it gives me great pleasure to be supporting BHC Press in introducing Judith Belvins and Carroll Multz, authors of Blue, book three in the Childhood Legends Series, to Linda’s Book Bag readers today. Blue is aimed at middle grade readers.

Blue was published by BHC Press/Barking Frog on 13th February 2017 and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback from your local Amazon site.

As well as an interview with the authors I have an international giveaway to win a signed paperback copy of Blue at the bottom of this blog post.

Blue

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The Best Kept Secret…

Blue paint covered a five-year-old Cuban refugee seeking asylum in the United States. In his search for a safe-haven and, in an attempt to find food, he succeeded in causing a paint spill that would forever change his life and the lives of those who befriended him.

My name is Shacoo Bandaris, a twelve year old and a member of a club known as the Are You One Toos (R*U*1*2s). I, together with another club member, Rhymin’ Sally, was responsible for extricating from his predicament the boy we dubbed “Blue.”

Keeping Blue a secret from the authorities and our parents was no easy task. Discovery would have meant possible deportation for Blue and, of course, a punishment we chose not to think about. Follow our trail of intrigue as the R*U*1*2s attempt to keep Blue the best kept secret—at least until he is naturalized.

An Interview with Judith Belvins and Carroll Multz

Welcome to Linda’s Book Blog, Judith and Carroll. Thank you both so much for agreeing to answer some question on my blog about your writing. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourselves?

Carroll: I owe everything to my father, the first attorney I knew and admired, and my mother, whose love and inspiration will be with me always. My whole career, like Judy’s, was centered in and around the courtroom where I served as a prosecutor, defense attorney and later as a judge. I have been involved in a number of cases that have been reported in such publications as the New York Times, Redbook magazine and various police magazines. My last case was the Columbine Copycat case that occurred in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 2001 that was featured by Barbara Walters on ABC’s 20/20.           

One of my passions has been as an educator. I have taught courses in chemistry, biology, and business law at the college level. I am currently completing twenty-eight years as an adjunct professor at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado, teaching law-related courses at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Judy:  As with Carroll, my whole professional life has been centered in and around the courts and the criminal justice system. My experience in having been a court clerk and then serving under five consecutive district attorneys for thirty-six years with the Mesa County District Attorney’s Office in Grand Junction, Colorado, has provided the fodder for my novels. I have had a daily dose of mystery, intrigue and courtroom drama and my novels, according to my publishers, share all with my readers.

Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Blue?

As the back matter for Blue, the third in our series in The Childhood Legends Series™, indicates, it chronicles the exciting and challenging journey of a five-year-old Cuban refugee, seeking asylum in the United States. In his search for a safe-haven, and in an attempt to find food, he succeeds in causing a paint spill that would forever change his life and the lives of those who befriend him.

Two members of a club of middle grade youngsters known as the Are You One Toos (R*U*1*2s) stumble upon the boy covered in blue paint and extricate him from his predicament. Because of the blue paint and his inability to speak English, he is dubbed “Blue.”

Keeping Blue a secret from the authorities and the R*U*1*2s’ parents would prove to be no easy task. Discovery would have meant possible deportation for Blue, and of course, serious consequences for the R*U*1*2s. Until Blue is naturalized, the R*U*1*2s succeed in keeping him the best kept secret in town. The evolution of Blue culminates in him, upon reaching adulthood, becoming a United States Senator.

You both write independently as well as collaboratively. Would you tell blog readers a little bit about your independent writing please?

Our genre is mystery, intrigue and courtroom drama—for both our independent and collaborative adult novels. Our whole purpose, singly and collectively, is to inspire, inform and entertain (in that order). We draw upon our life experiences and particularly our past careers in our writings.

As with every writer, we have our strengths and weaknesses, our likes and dislikes, and our peculiarities and preferences. We consider ourselves creative and having a knack for storytelling. The fantasy world has been a refreshing diversion for both of us and a way of disassociating ourselves from the inevitable disappointments in life. We are absorbed in our craft to such an extent that we could make it our only diet and we only deviate reluctantly in order to find time for the other important things in life.

What skills do you each have that enable you to write collaboratively?

Carroll: Without question, Judy’s ability to create images, mood and atmosphere through dialogue and dialogue tags are her strong points. Her development of character patterns leaves a vivid impression on the reader. Also she has a better knack than I do for getting inside her characters and varying their speech patterns to fit their character.

Judy: Carroll’s writing is laced with a philosophical bent. His underlying messages, though subtle, are unmistakable. Whether it is developing a court scene or advancing an agenda, his underlying argument bleeds through and leaves a lasting impression. His forte is painting a vivid picture through the use of words and creating conflict and drama that pique the reader’s interest.

How do you manage the organization of writing collaboratively?

When we decided to write collaboratively, we were somewhat skeptical. Both of us had had trying experiences in that regard. It was not long before we discovered that two heads were better than one and a lot more enjoyable. One of us was always coming up with a plot that intrigued the other. In fact, we find that there is always a plot waiting in the wings.

We start by brainstorming the proposed-plot and allocating names, descriptions and traits to the protagonist, antagonist and normally the major characters. We plot the novel tightly together to begin with so that it flows quite well. We develop sub-plots along the way. Usually one of us will sketch a chapter or two before it is loaded onto the computer. The two of us will review the draft and make changes to what we call the initial version.

The initial version is reviewed by Judy as it’s typed; the printout by Carroll. Major modifications are discussed before and during the rewrite by the two of us usually sitting together at the computer. At times, we also work independently.

How do you manage any differences of opinion when you’re writing?

So far, that hasn’t been a problem. If it becomes one, we will seek the advice of fellow authors whose opinion we respect.

Blue is for middle grade readers. What made you decide to write for this age group?

 We both agreed that a person’s destiny is forged at an early age and that first impressions can be critical to one’s future. With our youth being exposed to so much violence, destruction and negativity, we felt compelled to propel them in a more promising direction. What better tool than one of our novels.

Blue touches on a complex theme of asylum seekers in America. What made you choose this as the basis for the book?

America was founded by immigrants. Those who seek asylum for noble reasons and honor a tradition that exacts obligations and expectations in exchange for privileges and immunities should not be denied citizenship. Our book has been awaiting release for several years, long before immigration became a political football.

Blue is the third in your Childhood Legends Series. What can we expect from the series?

The next novel is The Ghost of Bradbury Mansion, followed by White Out, A Flash of Red and Back in Time. The eighth novel in The Childhood Legends Series™, is nearing completion. In addition to providing entertainment, all are geared to inspire and inform.

When did you first realize you were going to be writers?

Carroll: I have been writing since grade school. I have authored or co-authored seven technical books and manuals, nine adult novels, and seven middle grade novels, and over fifty articles that have been published in various legal publications.

Judy: I started writing late in my career, first as Carroll’s assistant, typing and proofing his novels, and later in writing novels of my own and collaborating with Carroll on two adult novels and eight middle grade novels in a collection titled The Childhood Legends Series™.

If you hadn’t become authors, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

Carroll: I grew up in a musical family and learned to play the piano at an early age. I have recorded approximately twenty of my musical compositions and am in the midst of writing a musical. In the absence of writing, I would probably devote more time to music.

Judy: I would read and travel more. With my knowledge and love of music, I would probably volunteer to assist Carroll in writing his musical.

How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?

Depending on the information sought, much is obtainable online.  Research at the library is becoming less and less frequent. Other sources vary depending on the nature.

Which aspects of your writing do you fine easiest and most difficult?

For both of us the most difficult thing is to write the great American novel and sell the movie rights.

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

With travel, book signings, family affairs, sporting events, concerts, and teaching for Carroll, trying to find significant blocks of time to write is at a premium. Most of our writing is done on the computer.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

Carroll: I do a lot of reading and research in preparation for the four classes I teach each semester. When I’m not writing, composing or teaching, I like to read historical novels, inspirational books and mystery novels. During the presidential election, I enjoyed reading books by and about the candidates.

Judy: Like Carroll, I enjoy historical novels and inspirational books. However, I enjoy reading the latest bestselling novels. I like nothing better than curling up with a good book or watching an old movie.

Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?

Same answer for both of us: interest in court cases, legislative developments, U.S. Supreme Court decisions, current news, world events and historical accounts.         

If you could choose to be a character from Blue, who would you be and why?

Carroll: Easy answer—Blue! He overcame adversity to achieve prominence. He did so with daring, courage, grace and dignity.

Judy: Either Shacoo or Rhymin’ Sally. Shacoo because of her commitment to high ideals and Sally because “she’s just darn cute!”

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Blue should be their next read, what would you say?

If you like human interest stories and love stories with happy endings, read Blue!

About Judith Belvins

judith blevins

Judith Blevins’ entire professional life was spent experiencing the mystery, intrigue and drama that unfold daily within the criminal justice system. Her previous experience as a court clerk, and then serving five consecutive district attorneys, has provided the inspiration for her stories. Blevins, now retired, lives in Grand Junction, Colorado, and continues to write mystery/romance novels. She and fellow fiction writer, Carroll Multz, have coauthored a series of children/young adult novels featuring the R*U*1*2s, a band of preteens who collaborate to solve mysteries.

About Carroll Multz

carroll

Carroll Multz has been a trial lawyer for over forty years, a former two-term district attorney, assistant attorney general, and judge, has been involved in cases ranging from municipal courts to and including the United States Supreme Court. His high profile cases have been reported in the New York Times, Redbook Magazine and various police magazines. He was one of the attorneys in the Columbine Copycat Case that occurred in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 2001 that was featured by Barbara Walters on ABC’s 20/20. Now retired, he is an Adjunct Professor at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado, teaching law-related courses at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. He has authored over a dozen technical books and novels.

Giveaway

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For your chance to enter to win a signed paperback copy of Blue, click here. Giveaway ends UK midnight on Tuesday 28th March 2017. Open internationally.

The Importance of YA Fiction, A Guest Post by Christina Hoag, Author of Girl on the Brink

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One of the reasons I began blogging was because in the past I had reviewed teenage fiction for Hodder so that I could say whether I thought the books would be suitable for KS3 class readers. Since then I have found there to be some fantastic Young Adult (YA) fiction which is frequently overlooked.

Today I’m delighted to welcome Christina Hoag to Linda’s Book Bag. Christina’s Girl on the Brink is a YA novel and she’s telling us all about why YA fiction is important.

Girl on the Brink is available for purchase here.

Girl on the Brink

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Sometimes the one you love isn’t the one you’re meant to be with.

The summer before senior year, 17-year-old Chloe starts an internship as a reporter at a local newspaper. While on assignment, she meets Kieran, a quirky aspiring actor. Chloe becomes smitten with Kieran’s charisma and his ability to soothe her soul, torn over her parents’ impending divorce. But as their bond deepens, Kieran becomes smothering and flies into terrifying rages. He confides in Chloe that he suffered a traumatic childhood, and Chloe is moved to help him. If only he could be healed, she thinks, their relationship would be perfect. But her efforts backfire and Kieran becomes violent. Chloe breaks up with him, but Kieran pursues her relentlessly to make up. Chloe must make the heartrending choice between saving herself or saving Kieran, until Kieran’s mission of remorse turns into a quest for revenge.

The Importance of YA Fiction

A Guest Post by Christina Hoag

Think back to when you were a teenager. Did you like being told what to do? That you were making a mistake? Probably not, and frankly most of us don’t like that as adults, either. That’s why couching life lessons as stories is a valuable way to send messages or impart knowledge, especially to adolescents who tend to think they’ve got life sewn up by the age of sixteen.

I’m sure parents who are reading this will be well familiar with the eye-roll, the shrug, the responses of “whatever” or “are you done yet?” when they’ve tried to deliver sermons on life lessons to their teen kids, which we regard as an integral part of parenting. Somehow we get the feeling that our valuable advice simply rolls off teenagers like oily suntan lotion and because we want the best for our children, we fear for them.

Unfortunately, the best way to learn from our mistakes in life is by actually making them. We sure don’t forget those lessons quickly. But we can also learn life lessons through the power of story. Stories allow us to vicariously experience the mistakes of others and learn what happens to characters without actually having to go through the painful consequences ourselves.

That’s why I wrote Girl on the Brink, a novel that chronicles the tale of an abusive relationship that a 17-year-old protagonist falls into, and why I aimed the novel specifically at teenage girls instead of writing a book for adults. It was inspired by something that happened to me, and I felt strongly that if more girls were forewarned about the red flags of an abusive boyfriend at the start of their dating lives, they might be able to avoid such relationships not just in adolescence but also in womanhood, or at least get away from these men sooner, before the stakes intensify.

The challenge, of course, in writing a book with a strong social message is making it too heavy-handed and didactic. Readers, especially teens, aren’t going to pick up a book that’s going to preach at them. They have to be so absorbed in the plot and characters that they don’t really notice the message. The theme has to be woven into the story so it becomes secondary, subliminal, and it has to. People read fiction largely for entertainment, not for lectures.

As I was writing Girl on the Brink, I had to keep this uppermost in my mind, and it took a while. I had to keep revising and revising, sometimes drastically, until it finally twigged. I had to let go of the message and concentrate on unfolding the story, because the message was inherent in the plot points and character actions. My job was simply to make the story as suspenseful and “un-put-down-able” as I could.

When Girl on the Brink was finally published last August, I didn’t know how it would be received. It had been a hard sell, rejected by agents and editors all over the place. No one, it seemed, was much interested in a contemporary realistic tale of a bad romance. Much of YA fiction tends to land more on the frothy, unrealistic side (falling in love with a werewolf, anyone?). I at last found an editor at a small U.S. publisher (Fire & Ice YA) who was into the book—and its message. At her suggestion, we put a page of resources at the end of the book.

Luckily, Girl on the Brink was well received from the get-go. When Kirkus Reviews said the book imparted a lesson without seeming preachy, I knew I must’ve hit the right balance. That was underscored when Suspense Magazine named it on its Best of 2016 YA list. While compliments are always nice for an author to hear, ultimately it meant that I stood in good stead of getting my message about dating violence to readers. If Girl on the Brink helps just one girl avoid or get out of an abusive relationship, I will have fulfilled my goal.

About Christina Hoag

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Christina Hoag is a former journalist for the Miami Herald and Associated Press who’s been threatened by a murderer, had her laptop searched by Colombian guerrillas and phone tapped in Venezuela, hidden under a car to evade Guatemalan soldiers, posed as a nun to get inside a Caracas jail, interviewed gang members, bank robbers, thieves and thugs in prisons, shantytowns and slums, not to forget billionaires and presidents, some of whom fall into the previous categories. Kirkus Reviews praised Christina as a “talented writer” with a “well crafted debut” in Skin of Tattoos (Martin Brown Publishing, 2016), a gangland thriller. Her YA thriller Girl on the Brink (Fire and Ice, 2016) was named to Suspense Magazine’s Best of 2016 YA list. She also writes nonfiction, co-authoring Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence (Turner Publishing, 2014), a groundbreaking book on violence intervention used in several universities. Christina makes her home in California, USA.

You can find out more by visiting Christina’s website, finding her on Facebook and following her on Twitter. Christina is also on Instagram and Goodreads.