Ask the Author: Rachel Brimble

Fab interview by the gorgeous Lisa Hill of the wonderfully prolific (and all round lovely) Rachel Brimble :).

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Good morning Rachel and welcome to my blog. First of all congratulations on the release of your most recent novel, If I Want You. 

To kick off the interview can I ask you to tell us a little about yourself:

Of course! I live near the beautiful city of Bath with my husband of nineteen years, our two teenage daughters and my beloved chocolate Labrador, Tyler. I write mainstream romance, romantic suspense and historical romance, but would love to attempt a crime novel at some point in the future. When I’m not working (which isn’t often!), I like to read, knit, watch far too much TV and spend time with family and friends.

When did your writing journey begin and what was the trigger?

I’ve wanted to write since I discovered Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven series when I was eight or nine, but didn’t have my ‘now or never’…

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5 Things I Have Learned About Writing Second Books #MondayBlogs @bookish_yogi

Brilliant advice from the lovely Rachel Burton on that tricky second novel :).

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I have invited author Rachel Burton back to guest post on BlondeWriteMore for several reasons:

  1. Her last guest post, ‘5 Things I Wish I had Known Whilst Writing My First Novel, did well and it resulted in me smiling at my blog stats bar graph.
  2. I have just finished reading her debut novel, ‘The Many Colours of Us’ and it has taken me a few days to get over it. I believe this is a sign of a good book. If you haven’t read it check this out for an opening – young woman discovers she has inherited millions from her famous father, who she’d never met and whilst she is recovering from the shock of this, finds herself dumped by her boyfriend of ten years, who wants to go work in America. This start certainly made me sit up in my reading chair!
  3. I think the subject of writing…

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On the eve of NaNoWriMo…

nanowrimo_desktop_by_hermiejr157How many of us have sat back, possibly after a few glasses of our favourite beverage and thought; ‘yes, I could write a novel…if only I had the time!’ Well, now there’s no excuse not to grab your writing implement of choice, be that pen and notebook, typewriter or laptop and spend thirty days (and possibly nights) doing exactly that.

But what could possibly induce someone to write a novel in thirty days? One word (or rather, acronym) that either inspires, or inspires dread in any would be writer springs to mind: NaNoWriMo.

NaNoWriMo, or NaNo for short, is the National Novel Writing Month. Held during November, it has been going in some form since 1999. Created by freelance writer Chris Baty and sponsored by such luminaries as Amazon.com and Think Geek, the (somewhat crazy) notion involves writing fifty thousand, yes, that’s fifty thousand words of fiction during the month of November. There are no limits to what you write, quality isn’t an issue, it’s just, to quote the tagline from the NaNo website ‘thirty days and nights of literary abandon.’ In 1999, there were 21 participants in the challenge. In 2010 there are to date just over 178,000. At fifty thousand words a writer, that’s…a lot of words.

When I first started participating in NaNo back in 2006, very few people outside the United States had any notion of what it was. It was a relatively US-centric sub culture, and there was virtually no regional presence on the related message boards or forums for writers across the pond, or indeed any border.  It was a gruelling, if ultimately rewarding experience, and one that I did very much in isolation. If I’d mentioned Nano to anyone in real life, I’d have been met with a fair few blank looks and possibly a few concerned ones. You want to write a novel in a month? Really?

But this isn’t just something for adults with too much time (haha) on their hands. Skip forward two years to 2008 and, in an attempt to introduce more people to the madness and mayhem of writing a novella in a month, I roped in my then GCSE English class to complete the challenge for their imaginative writing coursework. Gratifyingly, several of them actually did, and more than one exceeded the word count. They were all over thirteen years old, but for younger writers there is the Young Writers’ Program, which is a more tailored package for children and teens who want to participate in the writing frenzy.

However, it’s not just age boundaries that Nano has crossed over the past few years. Take a look on the NaNo website these days and you’ll find links to not just national forums, but regional ones as well. Live in or near Bristol and want to talk novelling with other (mad) keen Wrimos? No problem, just rock up to the Watershed Café and you can meet up and chat, or just do a write in with others who have undertaken to write the 50k. Got writer’s block in Guam and need to thrash out plot ideas? Head on down to the Coffee Beanery at Fountain Plaza in Tumon and you’ll get your chance. Denmark, Bulgaria, the Caribbean and South Africa have their own regional NaNo forums, and on those forums you will find a variety of posts from people who are undertaking the 50k in a month challenge.

Take, for example, the threads on the Johannesburg section of the Nano forums. There are topics about Write ins, meet ups and Thank God It’s Over parties, as well as advice for those writers who have hit the wall. Skip continents to the Seoul forum and there’s an enlightening discussion raging about pirates versus archaeologists, and who would win in a battle between Brendan Fraser and Johnny Depp (Depp, of course!).

It would seem that the art, or merely the process of writing is capable of bringing people together who might otherwise pass one another in the street, totally unaware that below that mild mannered exterior beats the frantic heart of a would be novelist.

And it’s not merely a mad frenzy of sub-standard, panic induced writing, either. Check out the Published NaNo Authors page off the main site and you will see an impressive list of 55 novels that have made it to hard copy, including one New York Times Bestseller, Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. Not bad for an endeavour that promotes ‘a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing.’  And when you think that Sebastian Faulks wrote his James Bond novella Devil May Care in just six weeks, there may well be something in this time-constrained creativity. Over the past couple of years, NaNo and its principles have really crossed over into mainstream culture, allowing people the freedom to write what they want without the worry of having to justify it.

So what happens at the end of the month, when you’ve (just about) got your fifty thousand words, and you know it’s either the best, or the worst thing you’ve ever written? Well, nothing really. There are no cash prizes, no cuddly toys, there’s just the satisfaction of submitting your manuscript (scrambled and encrypted – you can never be too careful with the next Great British Novel, after all) to the NaNo word count and then getting, by email a virtual ‘badge’ to display on your blog or website. There’s no promise of a fat publishing contract, you don’t even have to show anyone your work if you don’t want to, but what you do get is that incredible sense of satisfaction that yes, you did it. You ate, drank, slept and dreamed your novel for thirty days, and at the end of the month you might look like a cross between the Bride of Dracula and a bloodhound, but it doesn’t matter; you’ve lived the dream.

In sum, NaNoWriMo might just be an excuse for dreamers to pretend they can actually his the dizzy heights of writing a novel, but it’s also an interesting exercise in making the unattainable seem reachable. Who cares if all you’ve got at the end of November is a pile of mostly incoherent rubbish, with a paper thin plot and characters that would blow over in a mild breeze, NaNo is a liberating, frustrating, unifying experience, and is a great opportunity to join an online community where there are nearly 400,000 other writers boldly going where you, too, are striving to go.

As for me? I’m going to try to put 50k onto Little Somerby Book 3 this November. A couple of years ago, I managed to crank out the same amount of words on the first draft of book 2, and I’ve just kissed goodbye to that one, now it’s been through the final proof reading stage and is going to be released by my lovely publisher in January. I won’t pretend that the original draft, much of which was written that November, didn’t take an awful lot of reworking to get it to publishable quality, but I have to admit, the act of feeling out the story, of trying different things unfettered by the prospect of an actual structure definitely helped me to get words on the page.

So, all in all, NaNo is worth a go. It’s a boundary crossing, crazy, emotional experience that will leave you bug eyed and sleep deprived, but it’s worth every second. Now where did I put my pen…

Useful  links:

www.nanowrimo.org  – the NaNoWrimo main site

http://twitter.com/NaNoWriMo NaNo’s Twitter page

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/in-just-30-days-you-too-can-write-a-masterpiece-2121214.html

One of those weeks…

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This week has been One Of Those. The kind of week where everything is just that little bit more complicated than it needs to be. Of course, it’s the last week of the school term, and it doesn’t help that not only are there two knackered children in the house, one who’s just completed her first ever term at school, but there are also two knackered teachers, too, who have been settling in new classes, planning, marking and administrating their socks off for seven weeks! Although I teach two days out of five, I’m also getting into the groove of working from home on the other days, and that’s taking some getting used to, as well. It’s been the kind of week where nothing’s gone horribly wrong, for which I’m thankful, but just enough little things have happened to ruin my groove.

During weeks like this, I often compare the feeling to having put on your pants the wrong way round. Things are annoying rather than intolerable, but those little annoyances all add up. If I’m being honest, it all started last Saturday night when I drank a bottle of Cava. Not a bad thing to do after six weeks off the booze, but it was enough to destroy my sleep, which became the bugbear for the next three nights after that, as the things I’d usually take in my stride (at least one child getting up for a wee in the night, my own rampant insomnia, the three in the morning worries that just WON’T GO AWAY…) became larger obstacles.

Then there was the fact that when I’m tired I immediately reach for comfort food. Out went the on-planness of Slimming World, and in came crisps, cheese, biscuits, chocolate, far too much coffee and all the things I should stay off. Although I know I’ll end up feeling worse when I eat the stuff, in the spirit of ‘sod it, I’m knackered,’ everything went in.

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Unfortunately, that also meant that my writing suffered. If I’m not writing, I tend to eat badly, and if I’m eating badly, I don’t tend to write. It’s an annoying Catch-22. I’ve done a few hundred words this week, but nowhere near where I wanted to be by this point. So, to summarise:

 

Wine – lack of sleep – too many bad food things  – not enough writing – STRESS!

These causes have had a lamentable effect on my body and mind. I feel knackered because of all the sugar. I can’t handle the broken nights in the same way I would if I’d slept properly in the first place. My body is exhausted because it’s having to process all of the extra food (especially the heavily sugar and fat laden food) that I’ve been munching, and I’ve not had as much exercise as I normally would.

In terms of my emotional wellbeing, I’ve been getting upset at silly things – snapping at Daughter #1 for stropping about a misplaced school cardigan, losing the plot with Daughter #2 for, well, being 4 years old, beating myself up for forgetting things and dwelling far too long on the things I did forget (Daughter #2’s Harvest Lunch, which I’d paid for, written in my diary and then completely forgotten about until I went to pick her up that day – that made me feel like the world’s lousiest parent, even though I’m pretty sure she never even realised I was supposed to be there anyway). The only person I haven’t snapped at is The Husband, but that’s probably because we’ve both been so shattered, neither of us can be bothered!

So, going forward, what’s the answer? Well, it’s half term next week, which does bring with it a new set of challenges, but also a lot of opportunities. I’m going to try not to crack open the Cava on Saturday night and see if that helps avoid the chain of events that happened this week. I’m going to shelve writing for a week or so, to build up that hunger for the story again (writing, like all other forms of gratification, works well when a certain amount of self-denial is exercised, in my experience so far!). I’m going to try to stay on SW plan as far as possible. I’m going to stay organised in terms of what absolutely needs to be done in the house. I’m going to approach each of the next nine days with a plan. And hopefully, that will help to get me out of this spiral that I found myself stuck in this week.

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Finding Giants’ Footprints on Wavering Down.

Of course, there have been lovely things, too – which I’m trying to remember in the mire of self doubt and self loathing that has consumed me this week. Two lovely chats with lovely friends over food, a fab dog walk up the hill where the girls found “‘giants’ footprints'” and ponies, having a laugh with The Husband over Daughter #1’s parents’ evening comments, hearing the audiobook of Tea Shop for the first time, which was released on Audible on Wednesday, getting some more lovely copies of the paperback through the post from my publisher, a really friendly and funny SW group meeting this week, and getting to pick up my scrumptious nephew from nursery and catch up with the nursery team for the first time since Daughter #2 left.

I guess what I have to try to remember is that one mis-step doesn’t have to lead to another, and that an escalation isn’t inevitable. That’s hard advice to follow, though, and I tend to be too quick to write things off when one aspect of my life goes tits up. I think my strategy needs to be to identify the catalysts and try to deal with them as individual issues, not as a continuum of negative events. That, as everyone knows, though, is often easier said than done! Ah well, tomorrow is a new day, and I’ve had a good day today – back on SW plan and already feeling like I’m more in control, writing this blog post and being more positive when the children came home. Let’s see if I can keep that going for the next week or so! Wish me luck.

The Second Chance Teashop by Fay Keenan

Thank you so much, Lisa, for this lovely review! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book 🙂 ❤ xxx

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An emotional rollercoaster wrapped up with cakes, cider and hunks – how much more could you want?!

Anna Hemmingway has returned to the village she grew up in, Little Somerby, with her three-year-old daughter, Ellie, to rebuild her life after husband, James, tragically lost his life in a car accident. Determined to focus on the future and finding happiness again for her and Ellie, Anna takes on running the local Tea Shop and if she falters along the way, she’s always got childhood friend, Charlotte, on hand for support. Finding love again is the farthest thing from Anna’s mind but she hasn’t bet on the village heartthrob, Matthew Carter, to still be around; running the his father’s cider farm, still smoulderingly handsome and, as luck would have it, divorced into the bargain too. Not only that, Matthew is also a single-parent to teenage daughter, Merry, who has aspirations for her…

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Cleggmania comes to Somerset

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Nick Clegg and Lois Rogers

When the event popped up on Facebook via the page of Wells councillor and former MP Tessa Munt that none other than former Deputy PM and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg was going to be speaking at a lunch in Mark village hall, I have to admit, I blinked. Mark is an utterly lovely village on the Somerset levels, a few miles from where I live, but it’s not exactly the kind of place you’d expect to find the former coalition government’s second in command.  Realising that this was too good a chance to miss, I booked a ticket immediately. He was appearing later at the Wells Literary Festival, and this was a good warm up gig.

Back in 2010, just after I’d given birth to the first of my daughters, I was on maternity leave, and the Westminster soap opera became required viewing/listening. I was full of hope that Nick and his MPs would help to mitigate the evil of the Tories, and that we were entering a new political dawn. The five years of coalition had its ups and downs, but I always had faith that it would stand the test of time, and it did. The decimation of the Liberal Democrat party in 2015 was unforgivable, and the first few months of government left me feeling nostalgic for the Cameron-Clegg headed alliance. Now, in this age of Brexit and its uncertainties, I find myself looking back even more.n5

Fast forward to today, and  I rocked up to the venue, feeling a little nervous since I was flying solo and wouldn’t know anyone at all. I got chatting to a guy called Steve, and then when we sat down we met two other lovely people, a mother and daughter, who both had a really strong interest in the area, and the impact of Brexit. It was a really nice introduction to the Somerset Liberal Democrats. When Tessa came over to say hello, that confirmed my opinion that Lib Dems are a very positive, happy group of people, despite the clattering they’d received in the polls again this summer, and the fears for Brexit.

After a bowl of soup and some rather lovely cake, Nick got up to speak. I’d already clocked a couple of things about him when he walked in – he’s VERY tall, looks about twenty years younger than he is, and he’s got the knack of putting people immediately at their ease, as evidenced by the way he was chatting so freely. I think a few of our local politicians could learn from him!

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Tessa Munt introducing Nick Clegg.

Nick was interviewed by Lois Rogers, formerly of The Sunday Times, who alternated her questioning between trips down memory lane (the time in coalition, what would you do differently) and more current issues; Brexit, of course, figured large. The two were very interesting, and kept the conversation entertaining but very informative. Nick always came across as a passionate politician in the media, and I can confirm that, in person, this passion is still very much in evidence. His conviction that Brexit is not a fait accompli, and his knowledge of the subject, and the broader issues around it, was fascinating.

The questions from the floor were erudite and allowed Nick to become more expansive on his themes, and varied from the situation in Ramala to where did he see the UK in twenty years. While admitting that his abilities to forecast were rather less than accurate, he spoke without hesitation on every topic that the audience raised. I was dithering over whether or not to ask my question, which was, by my own admission, rather fluffier than the ones that had gone before, but in the end, I took a deep breath and managed to catch Tessa’s eye. It was with a laugh that Nick then said he couldn’t answer it! (I’d asked him what his best/funniest memory from the coalition days was). After a moment’s thought, he did answer – Liam Fox. Whether that was a harkback to David Cameron’s joke about him in the Rose Garden, I don’t know, but since I work in Dr Fox’s constituency, it certainly tickled me!

After the questions closed, I managed to grab Tessa and ask if it would be OK to take a couple of snaps for this blog post, and she very kindly obliged. It was then really lovely to have a bit of a longer chat with Nick, who told me an anecdote about his time in Argentina. I have to admit to being a little bit starry eyed at this point, as that Clegg charisma is very infectious when you’re standing next to him (and my knees were shaking!). Tessa took lots of snaps, and then I headed off, still not quite able to believe that I’d had a natter with the former Deputy PM.

 

So, all in all, it was well worth the (very reasonable) entry fee, and it’s definitely reignited my interest in local as well as national politics. While I’m not sure I’ll actually be taking the plunge and joining the party, I will certainly be keeping an eye out for more events like these, which show that the grass roots are very much alive and growing (no pun intended, deep here in farming country!).

*The first three images were borrowed from Clive Bond’s Facebook post – hope this is OK!

 

Prose and Process…

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Since I finished looking over the copy edit of book 2, I’ve started to get really stuck in to writing book 3 of the Little Somerby series. As usual, this has led to much thought about what my ‘process’ is when I’m writing, so I thought I’d try to document some of that here, for those who might be wondering what it looks and feels like in my head!

  1. I’m a plantser. That means I plot a bit and I fly by the seat of my (massive, mummy) pants a bit. I generally know the beginning and end of a story when I start, and who the main characters are, but I don’t often know what’s going to happen in between until it happens! Sometimes my characters go off in directions that surprise me. For example, I didn’t know what was going to happen to Meredith in The Second Chance Tea Shop until it did! And as for the fallout from that, which caused a bit of controversy among some lovely readers, I didn’t know that was going to happen, either!! Tara made me do it…
  2. This kind of links to something I love in writing – repetition. Not the annoying kind, but the kind where there are patterns, history repeating itself, events that mirror other events etc. Often, when I write, there will be an ancient resonance in a modern setting. I like to think it’s because, living where I do and setting the books here, I’m surrounded by history, but it’s probably just because I like patterns!
  3. I always start writing every scene with dialogue. I think it’s because I see and hear everything so clearly in my head, and my characters are always in conversation. I write very dialogue heavy prose, anyway, but I find it helpful if I just skip the scene setting and jump straight into the conversations. Then, later on, I might add some description and detail before the talk, when I’m clearer about the purpose of the scene and its setting.
  4. I don’t start at the beginning – instead, I write scenes as they occur to me. This seems to work, and often one scene will trigger off another in my mind, or I’ll make a connection I hadn’t made before. I tend to write the scenes that are most interesting for me first.
  5. I don’t listen to music when I write, but I do listen to it in the car, and often ideas will occur to me when I’m driving if a particular song comes onto the stereo. I’ve had some of my best ideas that way! Occasionally I’ll make an exception and put music on when I’m writing, but only when I’ve got a clear idea of where a scene is going. Martine McCutcheon’s excellent song ‘Say I’m Not Alone’ is a good current example of this – I heard it on the local radio, thought of a scene and then had the song on constant repeat as I wrote the scene.

And for those of you who want to see what my workspace looks like, here it is! It’s right in the corner of the living room, by a set of double doors. Stephen King once wrote that he worked best with his desk in the hub of his home, and, while one day I hope to have my own little study where I can shut the door and retreat to listen to my imaginary friends, for now I’m following King’s advice and staying central!

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