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My Review of 2016 #2 July – December

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Castle Stalker, Argyll © Lizzie Lamb

July saw us taking a month long research trip to Scotland. We started at Edinburgh, visited Rosslyn Chapel and Britannia . We called in at Whitburn to visit my family and discovered that Uncle Archie is a great fan of caravaning, too – I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Here he is with Auntie Nellie; they are my dad’s last remaining siblings. When I was talking to them, I lapsed into an East Lothian patois I hadn’t spoken in many a year. Good to know I haven’t lost it, ye ken?

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In August we visited Bletchley Park and found a connection there to WHITBURN, Winkie the carrier pigeon  who saved the lives of a WWII Bomber crew. They even had Winkie’s ‘parachute on display.Here’s Dave sitting at Alan Turing’s desk . . . 

While we were at Edinburgh we visited Doune Castle where many scenes from OUTLANDER (Castle Leoch), and MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL were filmed.

I drew inspiration for the Samhain feast in GIRL IN THE CASTLE here.

We then camped at Culloden  and travelled as far north as Balnakeil, Cape Wrath, (research for romance #5). We popped into Balmoral but Herself wasn’t in, so I met up with fellow writer Rae Cowie at Banchory for a coffee and presented her with a copy of Scotch on the Rocks. (thanks for reviewing, Rae)

You can’t visit Inverness without going Nessie hunting, so we called in at Urquhart Castle, but Nessie was taking a coffee break. You can see why, inspired by the mist, romantic landscape and mysterious wakes on the loch, how the legend of the monster first arose.

We moved on to Ullapool and, although it rained (a lot!), at least we weren’t bothered by midges. It has long been an ambition of mine to visit the Craft Village at Balnakeil , and we did just that – calling in at the fabulous Cocoa Mountain Cafe for the BEST hot chocolate EVER. If you visit nearby Durness, you’ll see the John Lennon memorial garden; John, Yoko and the kids used to holiday there in the late sixties.

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The road from Ullapool to Durness was stunning as we passed through North-West Highlands Geo-Park on a twisting one track road with passing places. Castles, white sand beaches, mountains, mist and small lochs (lochans)  covered in water lilies. Can’t wait to return.bab13063-f055-4138-8324-23ee43bee1e72

During that month New Romantics Press  published a tapas selection of our novels for reading on Kindle. At the end of each extract a link takes the reader direct to Amazon to download the novel and ‘read on’. Take a Chance on Us. 

Once I returned home, it was straight to East Midlands Airport to pick up Isabella Tartaruga. Isabella and I met through Facebook and have become firm friends ever since. I named a character in Scotch on the Rocks after her. We took Isa to our local pub for a cider and I organised a tea party in her honour – with a little help from my friends.

Talking of friends . . . In August we travelled to Brighton and had a super lunch with writer  June Tate, and exchanged books. Later in the autumn, we met up with lovely Carole Matthews; I received her latest book later on in the year and am looking forward to reading and reviewing both. I learn so much talking to such brilliant writers – I hope some of the fairy dust rubbed off. 

To ring the changes, New Romantics Press attended the Historical Novel Society‘s annual conference. I like to include lots of history in my contemporary novels – if that makes sense. One sad footnote: the conference was the last time I spoke to agent Carole Blake, who died unexpectedly in October. A great loss to readers and writers alike.

October saw me giving a four hour talk How to Self Publish your novel, at Stamford Arts. Thanks to Rachel Henry of WriteStars for inviting me. Dave was my wing man and worked the pc while I blathered on.14642163_10154045011707843_1225004116375522132_n

 

The highlight of November has to be the author event which Adrienne Vaughan and I presented at Aspinall, St Pancras, London. We sold books, talked to customers about writing – and met Tom Parker Bowles (name dropper!) in Fortnum’s, across the way! We’re hoping to be invited back again this spring to give author readings and to talk about the art of writing – watch this space.

It was a great November for Adrienne as she launched Fur Coat and No Knickers, a collection of short stories and poems.

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December went by in a whirl, the highlight was meeting Book Blogger, Rosie Amber and her team of reviewers and writers at the Belmont Hotel with the Leicester Chapter.img_3271-collage1Thanks to Rosie, Scotch on the Rocks was read by her review team and short listed for the contemporary fiction award (silver). It was also one of Book Blogger Cathy Ryan‘s TOP READS OF 2016.

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And finally . . . deep breath. I finished my latest novel – GIRL IN THE CASTLE and it is currently with beta readers. I have booked my proofreader and formatter and, with good luck and a following wind, it should be ready for pre-order by the end of March.

Cover reveal and blurb, coming soon.

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Welcome – Gwen Kirkwood – author

Gwen and I both write Scottish-themed novels and I thought my readers/followers would like to know more about Gwen and her novels.And, how could I write a blog post in January without mentioning Robert Burns

Lizzie, thank you for inviting me to write a blog telling you why I set most of my books in Scotland.  Robert Burns’ birthday is on 25th January and this year it happens to be my granddaughter’s twenty first birthday. My grandfather was a great Burn’s fan. When he was in his nineties, even though he had lived most of his life in Yorkshire by then, his two favourite books were still Burns poetry and the bible. I do enjoy traditional poetry myself. When I first began writing fiction I included a poem at the beginning of each book. My first sagas were the four Fairlyden books and they all have a poem by Robert Burns in the front. 

Although I was born and went to school in Yorkshire, I had three Scottish grandparents and a yen to come to Scotland. When I finished college I came to Dumfriesshire to work, visiting the dairy farms. I loved the countryside from the beginning, and also the buildings of local red sandstone. Later I met and married my husband, a Scottish dairy farmer and breeder of Clydesdale horses. Consequently I have lived most of my adult life in Scotland and have no regrets. We have lush green fields, hills and glens, woods and rivers, and a few lochs too, although the south west of Scotland is often overlooked in favour of the Highlands.

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Authors are often advised to write about what they know but I’m still amazed when I hear of people wanting to read my books about everyday life with families and animals, the ordeals and triumphs, usually related to farm or country life.

I like modern history and often set my books around 1900 and move forward, although Dreams of Home began with a young soldier returning from the Second World War and desperate to farm. This is the only series in which I wrote five books and continue to present day with Darkest before the Dawn, and the introduction of milk robots.  I like to include the changes and developments in farming and wish I had listened more to the stories my grandparents could have told me.

Some of the letters I have received have been from readers reminiscing and sharing memories, or tales, of times past. Also one reader had been an evacuee to this area and lived in a rambling, bitterly cold, manse. It is now a hotel. I do mention some local towns by name but the villages and farms are all fictional, as are my characters.

Gwen, it has been fascinating learning more about your books and the background to your writing. What a fabulous collection of books for readers to get their teeth into. I’m going to start with Return to Bonnybrae, it wounds right up my street.  Here’s the blurb –

“It is the start of 1919 and Miss Rina Capel, granddaughter of the Laird of Stavondale has one ambition – to set aside her life of privilege and become a nurse. But when she is summoned back to the Bonnybrae to see her dying grandfather just before her eighteenth birthday, he reveals to her family secrets which turn her world upside down. In love with a man she can’t have, and facing marriage to a man she has never met, Rina must draw on all her reserves of strength and female guile to escape a fate to which her dissolute parents would condemn her. And what dark secret is it that her father harbours, and which threatens the estate itself? Set in the wilds of a Scotland looking to recover from the most terrible war in human history, this is a gripping tale of one woman’s attempt to give her life meaning, and to be a force for good against terrible odds. Can Rina chart a course in a world torn asunder, and can she protect the Estate from the awful consequences of her parents’ actions? And can she find love, and find a way for happiness to return to Bonnybrae?”

If you’d like to know more about Gwen and her books, follow these links

http://www.amazon.com/GwenKirkwood/e/B0034O410Y

http://www.gwenkirkwood.co.uk

http://www.twitter.com/GwenKnovels

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/790765.Gwen_Kirkwood

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(c) oscarmcwhite – 123rf.com/photo_9723089.html

If you write Scottish-themed romances would like to appear on my blog, get in touch via email – but, in the meantime … keep writing!

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My review of 2016 – January – June

January kicked off with a BANG. New Romantics Press put on their best bibs and tuckers and headed to Lunnon Tah-an for Jill Mansell’s Book launch. There we bumped into many fellow RNA members who’d wandered over from another book launch to join us. A great time was had by all and we went away inspired to finish our WIP in 2016.

Read on to see if we achieved our goal . . .

In February, our baby boy Jasper was 20 and he received lots of cards. One from a Facebook friend and reader Lotte Sutton in Australia, which was such a kind thought.  I just hope he appreciated it. He’s 21 on February 2nd 2017 – I predict that there might be a little celebration on that day involving the Bridget Jones DVD, cocktails, canapes, cake and coffee. All the things he likes (cough, cough).

Adrienne and I have both had parents who’ve died from cancer, so we decided to raise some money for HOPE AGAINST CANCER, in their memories. In February we organised a literary lunch at swish Kilworth House Hotel, gave a hilarious (if I say so myself) talk about writing romance – and raised over £500 for the charity.

I also gave a talk on self-publishing to the Birmingham Chapter of the RNA, and to students at De Montfort University during February. March was a busy month, too. Apart from it being my birthday, I made the final of the Exeter Novel Prize with Scotch on the Rocks so we took the caravan down to Exeter and fitted in a spring-break holiday after the ceremony. I took good care of my precious trophy, but a certain person thought the award belonged to him!

April was rather more family orientated as it was my father-in-law Geoffrey’s 90th birthday which we celebrated in style. A moment to cherish. A friend of long-standing, Maggie, who regularly buys several paperback copies of my novels and POSTS them to Australia (at great expense) joined us for the celebrations.  img_17582

I got stuck in with the WIP and vowed to finish it before Christmas.

May was a busy month with the fabulous Romance in the Court which Adrienne and I attended. Passing through St Pancras I bought something in Aspinall’s and, after talking to the manager, we were invited back to hold an author event there in November.More of which in part #2. I’m looking forward to attending the same event in May of 2017, thanks to Goldsboro Books and David Hedley.

Next, I gave a talk in Chippenham, to aspiring authors to prove to them that self publishing was within their grasp and took along novels which New Romantics Press have published to make my point. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.photofunia-1484222424

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What we didn’t plan on last year, was trading in our caravan for a slightly bigger one with a FIXED BED. But that’s what we did, two days before we set off on our month’s stay in Bonnie Scotland . . . No more setting up/dismantling the bed every morning so we can have breakfast. I’ve also gained more writing space, so #winwin. Just writing about it makes me long to go on the road again. 2016-06-26 12.47.27

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the first half of 2106.

Do join me for #2 when I’ll mention:

  • a character from Scotch on the Rocks who came to stay
  • the historical novel society conference in Oxford
  • NRP book launch and another author presentation
  • our gig at Aspinall and meeting Tom Parker-Bowles
  • the RNA winter party
  • Chatsworth all decked out for Christmas
  • the last chapter meeting of the season and some surprise guests
  • a cover reveal for #4

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Bloggy McBlogface #3 – Culloden

This summer I spent a month touring Scotland, getting the vibe for my fourth novel which I am currently 87% of the way through.  It was a fabulous holiday and I was able to touch base with friends, en route. The weather behaved itself while we were in Inverness and so, feeling ‘gallus’, we erected the awning and put out our sunloungers.

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sunloungers getting an airing at  Banchory, Royal Deeside.

On this stretch of our road trip we planned to visit Culloden, Loch Ness and Castle Urquhart. I’m a great fan of Outlander and DK Broster’s Jacobite Trilogy. And, IMO the Broster novels give a more balanced view of the conflict and there’s less of the #highlandersgood/ #Englishbad subtext found in the Outlander novels. After all, many clans fought on the side of the English at Culloden and had no wish to see the Stuarts back on the throne. For them, the battle provided an opportunity to settle old scores. The downside of the Highland Trilogy is, no Jamie Fraser!

(click over each image to read the caption/copyright details)

If you’ve never visited Culloden, here’s a video to give you a sense of the place. The battle site has a haunting and mournful quality and it’s sad to reflect that, after Culloden, the clan system disintegrated and wearing tartan was punishable by seven years hard labour in the colonies. George IV) visited Edinburgh in 1822,  and everything “Scottish” became acceptable once more, a tradition continued by Victoria and Albert who bought Balmoral as their highland retreat.

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Balmoral Castle 2016 (c) Lizzie Lamb

2016-10-11Sadly, by then many of the tartans had been forgotten and those which we see today are a recent reinvention.

(Above- a fragment of Thomas Fraser of Struy’s plaid said to have been worn at Culloden in 1746) image –

http://www.scottishtartans.co.uk

Next, we visited the Prisoner’s Stone where seventeen highlanders were taken out and shot, after the battle. Legend has it that one survived and lived to tell the tale. If you do not feel the weight of history pressing down on you when you visit the site, you have no soul. It’s hard not to stand there and weep for those on both sides who lost their lives.

I found it very poignant that clans from the same highland region  fought side by side at Culloden – the Stewarts of Appin and the Camerons of Lochiel, for example. In my mind, this was an  echo of  WWI when adjoining villages joined the Pals’ Regiments and marched off to war together. (click over each image for further details)

Of course, Outlander – the books and the TV series have helped  to reignite visitors’ passion for this beautiful part of Scotland. While we were there, many Americans were visiting the site, anxious to find the cairn erected to Clan Fraser and to lay flowers there. I still don’t understand why the Outlander series hasn’t been shown on UK television and why so few of my (UK) friends have heard about it. Here’s a link to my OUTLANDER pinterest board . . .

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Prince Charles Edward Stuart – Battle of Prestonpans memorial

It’s interesting to reflect how differently things could have turned out had Bonnie Prince Charlie pressed on to London instead of turning round and heading back up north after reaching Derby – just miles from where I live in Leicester.

On a more personal note, one highlight of our trip was finding ourselves camped right next door to Facebook friend Sharyn Farnaby. Here she is with a copy of Tall, Dark 2016-07-02-09-25-09-2 which I gave to her to thank her for reading and reviewing my novels.

I  have been inspired by the Battle of Glenshiel (1719) to write my next #contemporary Scottish romance which I hope to publish in March 2017. It contains history, a lost treasure, a gorgeous hero (Keir) and a heroine fighting to regain her reputation after an unfortunate incident at university, (Henriette).

In the meantime, here is my current selection of novels. Something to help you cope with the long, dreary winter days, perhaps? See you soon when I’ll be writing about visiting Balmoral and Royal Deeside and meeting up with another friend. 21-author-page

The Best Vacation I Took With the Man I Love – September 2014

Emma Bridgewater loving cup

Emma Bridgewater loving cup

My husband (aka Bongo Man) and I have been married a long time. Here’s an Emma Bridgewater loving cup I commissioned to celebrate the fact – I’ll leave you to do the maths.

In 2014 we bought a vintage caravan off EBay and went on a tour of Scotland to research my third novel – SCOTCH ON THE ROCKS (published this spring). In particular I wanted to visit Holy Loch where the USS Proteus had been anchored, servicing nuclear subs in the early sixties. Vital details in my novel, and I wanted to get it right.

We started out at 5am on September 6th, Bongo Man’s birthday. The 350 mile drive to Scotland is a long one, especially if you’re towing a caravan. We finally reached the shores of Loch Lomond later that same day and set up camp. The setting was idyllic and my heart swelled because I was with the man I love and my feet were on Scottish soil, my own country. One I had left when I was eleven years old but which forever remains in my heart.

In fact, it was so inspiring that I got ideas for my next Scottish-themed novel – HEART OF THE HIGHLANDS – while exploring Castle Stalker, Appin and surrounding area. Making the most of the weather we travelled as far north as Oban and Fort William and then headed back down to the west coast. We couldn’t  believe our luck when we rolled up the blinds each morning to find it was still glorious weather.

Castle Stalker, inspiration for my fourth novel - HEART OF THE HIGHLANDS

Castle Stalker, inspiration for my fourth novel – HEART OF THE HIGHLANDS

Next stop Gourock and the ferry over to Dunoon. Or, going DOON THE WATER, as they say in Scotland. We drove along the coast of Holy Loch and visited Hunter’s Quay where some of the most voluble anti-nuclear protests took place in 1961, and the scene in my novel where the heroine’s aunt is hosed off the anchor chain of the Proteus, setting a chain of events in motion. It was there, on the side of Holy Loch that I found my perfect writers’ retreat. in an ideal world, I’d buy the house and spend most of my summers there – just as well we have our caravan as back up.

Romantic evenings, days spent exploring and afternoons writing – the perfect combination when spent with the man I love, my anchor man – Dave. I hate to spoil this idyll but we weren’t alone. Our Hahn’s Macaw, Jasper, came too and seemed to enjoy every minute of his road trip.

It’s simpler to take him along with us as trying to organise a parrot sitter is a nightmare. This summer we plan to spend another couple of weeks touring the west coast of Scotland in June and have our fingers crossed that the weather holds.

Maybe I should have called this post – travels with a parrot. There is a naughty parrot called PERSHING featured in SCOTCH ON THE ROCKS. He’s based on Jasper our Macaw, although infinitely worse behaved !!

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I’ve written in conjunction with the first birthday celebration of Isabella Anderson’s debut novel – THE RIGHT DESIGN

THE RIGHT DESIGN is on sale for $0.99, during the month of March – – – – – – – Purchase links

BlueHappyBirthdayAmazon US (Kindle)

Amazon US (Paperback)

Amazon – Canada

Amazon – UK

Barnes & Noble (Paperback and Nook)

Social Networking – Does it really sell books?

 

IMG_0952Any teacher will tell you that some children get a new concept first time. But for most children a new concept has to be presented in a number of different ways before they gain full understanding. This is referred to as ‘the spiral of learning’ (i.e presenting the same piece of information in as many visual and kinetic forms as possible. This is just as true when we are attempting to bring our novels to the attention of agents, publishers and readers.

Consciously or unconsciously we are applying a method known as The Reticular Activating System.

Pay attention (!) Here’s the science part – The Reticular Activating System acts as a filter for all of the sensory inputs we receive. It decides what is and is not important and what we need to pay attention to. Otherwise, we would suffer from information overload. The ‘filter’ sits between the subconscious and conscious minds, and is programmed by the conscious mind. It is this ability to filter information which makes the Reticular Activating System so important in achieving our goals.

Boot Camp Bride bus shelterThe short version: to make YOUR novel stand out from the ‘crowd’ you need to get your name and book title across in as many different forms as possible so that it ‘sticks’ in people’s conscious minds. I know this works because when I attend conferences, book fairs and writing events (wearing a name badge) I am often approached by other writers who ask: ‘how do I know your name!?’

How do we achieve an on-line presence?

I believe through some of the following . . .

Blogs

  • updating your own blog and/or guesting on other blogs
  • following favourite blogs, ticking ‘like’, ‘sharing’ blog posts on Twitter, Facebook, Google + and Linked In
  • by sharing through these media your profile, avatar and/or your novel thumbnail will, hopefully, appear in different versions of internet ‘paper.li(s)’ out there – for example The Famous Five Plus, thus widening your appeal
  • through activation of SEO (search engine optimisation); every well-aimed click and share will have an impact on your place on the social network rankings

Twitter

  • ensure that your avatar and your profile on Twitter publicise your novels
  • don’t forget to include links to your books on amazon etc (using viewbook/bytly/tinyurl shortened links
  • ensure that your tweets are a mixture of things about yourself, your writing, use trending hashtags; don’t forget to promote other writers generously
  • promote your novel by quoting a review/ or dialogue from your novel in your tweets
  • make the potential reader want to download your work by utilising hashtags such as #Fridayreads. #amwriting, #Mondayblogs and genre specific hashtags to bring more traffic (and potential readers) to your door
  • widen your net of social contacts – don’t just befriend writers, befriend readers, too. I’ve made lots of friends on twitter and they have loyally downloaded my novels and left reviews
  • don’t forget to thank people for promoting you and ALWAYS return the favour

IMG_0220Facebook

  • have your own page where you engage with potential readers, many of whom will go on to become your friends. I try to include a photo in my status updates as this draws friends to my page.
  • minimise your ‘writer news’ on this page otherwise people switch off and unfriend you
  • join some of the many sub groups and dip into them once a week or whenever to talk about your writing and establish a friendly Facebook presence
  • build up an author page(s) and LIKE others’ pages when asked. Don’t be shy about asking for LIKES to be reciprocated. It takes a long time to build up these kinds of relationships
  • I try to post something every day on my author page, not only about me and my writing but about other authors, too. @sharing’ other author’s posts works well in this case, too.
  • I find that Facebook friends like to read about your pets. When it was my parrot’s birthday in February he got over seventy ‘happy birthday’ messages (!)
  • join in with Facebook ‘events’ you’re invited to, even if it’s only to leave a passing comment. SEO comes into play with every click.

Consider joining Watt Pad, Instagram, Goodreads and Tumbler etc to get the message about you and your books ‘out there’. Build up your social networking presence gradually, mix it up, be creative. You’re in charge, so make it work for you – – – and remember the Reticular Activating System and utilise it. It’s a scientific fact.

I’ll leave you with the million dollar question:

Does social networking help to sell books?

The jury’s still out – but I believe that (as an indie author) having a social networking presence has helped me to bring my novels to readers’ attention. Finally, I would just say to any unpublished authors out there that, while your time is your ‘own’, get your social networking ducks in a row. When publication day arrives, you won’t have time to establish contacts, develop friendships and ask potential readers to buy your book – you’ll be too busy using social networking to get word out about the marvellous book you have just written.

 

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