Friday, 22 February 2013

Zanna Mackenzie: "How I got published"

I'm hosting Zanna Mackenzie, whose romantic novel "The Love Programme" (Astraea Press), is out today, and here she tells us all about her journey to publication.

Thanks to an embarrassing incident involving a wedding and her ex-boyfriend Marcus, Lucy has to leave her home town in a hurry and needs a place to escape to for a while. 

Best friend Fiona is convinced now would be a good time for Lucy to get herself a new life with some potential for romance thrown in. Fate seems to agree when Lucy is given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to star in a TV show and be a contestant on The Love Programme - two weeks of luxury living on a grand Highland estate coupled with, she hopes, fun and romance in wildest Scotland. 

When Lucy meets Paul - the young, handsome owner of the Highland estate - she thinks she may have found the love of her life but who is the mysterious Hannah and what part does she play in his life? When she discovers that Marcus is planning to follow her to Scotland to win her back Lucy has some serious soul searching to do. Does she have a future with Paul, with Marcus or is she yet to find the man of her dreams?


I’d always been drawn to writing, starting with short stories and progressing to full novels.  The first book I wrote got some great feedback from a professional manuscript appraisal scheme but I was told it didn’t quite have that special something to make it stand out. 
In my second book I tried to ‘tick all the boxes’ I’d be told I needed to, and correct the errors in style, characterisation etc. that I had been told I’d made in my first novel. My feedback on this book (from a different person) said I had ‘lost my voice as a writer, probably from trying too hard’ – confused? Yes, I was. 

My third book  was eventually sent off for professional appraisal via the same initiative and got completely slated – at which point, I’m ashamed to say, I packed away my ‘writing brain’ for over a year because I was disillusioned, lost all confidence in my writing and confused as to how people wanted me to write. 

After a while I could feel writing ‘calling me back’ and I started to peruse my ‘how to write’ books again, and I read, read and read, trying to figure out what I liked about different plots, why I liked some characters more than others, what made them work and I learnt loads. I started to revamp the novels I had written previously and began to see where I could make them better.  My husband encouraged me to stop editing, editing and editing again and start sending my novels out to publishers for consideration; reluctantly I agreed to do so. I know everyone says that as a writer you have to develop a tough skin and learn to bounce back from rejection but, no matter what mental preparation you do rejection hurts (well, it does with me!) and I wasn’t looking forward to getting the ‘thanks but no’ emails back.

Then something miraculous happened. Astraea Press got in touch to say they liked my book. I was stunned; in tears in fact! This was truly brilliant.  Three days later, still on a high from my news about my novel "The Love Programme" being accepted by Astraea , another email landed in my inbox.

At the same time as sending "The Love Programme" to Astraea I had sent the opening chapters and synopsis of one of my other books, "How Do You Spell Love" to a UK publisher called Crooked Cat. The email said they liked what they had read so far and asked to see the whole manuscript, I sent it off, fingers firmly crossed but thinking I couldn’t be lucky enough to get a yes from them too. A few weeks later they came back and said they loved the book and offered me a contract for it. I was totally stunned. The first times I had sent either book out to a publisher and they had both come back and said yes – a miracle! Now, six months later, "The Love Programme" has just been published and "How Do You Spell Love" is launched on March 1st, and I am truly, truly grateful to both publishers for giving me the chance to become a published author.  

"The Love Programme" is available on Amazon and Amazon USA

Follow Zanna on her blog

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

A Chat with Sarah Louise Smith

I have invited fellow Crooked Cat author Sarah Louise Smith to chat with me today. Sarah has recently published her first novel, the lovely chic-lit tale "Amy & Zach". 

Meet Amy & Zach
Amy has moved to the US in order to find her real father, but she hasn’t quite worked up the courage to do so yet.
Then she met Zach, who swept her off her feet. They fell in love, fast. But Zach has a secret with the potential to ruin everything.
As Amy prepares to return to England for her sister Libby’s wedding, Zach drops a bombshell. Amy is furious, so she hides his passport and flies alone. But Zach’s secret isn’t her only worry. She will see Tim again – her sister’s fiancĂ©.
After he finds his passport, Zach heads to the UK to surprise Amy. 

He wants to apologise and finally meet her family. He knows he has a lot of explaining to do. But just what will he face?
Amy & Zach take it in turns to share their tale with you. They will reveal all, and may surprise you, in the end... 

Hello, Sarah, and thank you for talking to me today. 
Thank you for having me.
Tell us a little about your writing journey, when you started and how you got to publish your first novel, “Amy & Zach”.
I have been writing stories since I was a child, and it was always a dream to just complete a novel, let alone have it published. Once I’d finished, I started approaching agents and publishers and lucky for me, Crooked Cat liked it and took me on.
“Amy & Zach”, published by Crooked Cat, follows two people as they meet, fall in love and get to know each other and their respective worlds. What inspired you to write the story? What is your personal experience with two different cultures coming together? 
I read a lot of different genres but my favourite has always been romantic comedy/chick-lit. I like a fun read and always prefer the first person narrative, so I decided to write something I knew I’d enjoy reading myself.
I used to work for a company whose HQ was in Boston, MA, and half of my teammates were based there, so I visited a couple of times and dealt with Bostonians regularly. This helped me to set the scene and have a good idea about the different cultures, etc. 

You chose to write the novel in the first person, alternating between the two main characters’ point of view. How did you find writing from two different perspectives?
I really wanted to let the reader know what the hero was thinking and feeling, as well as the heroine. It was difficult writing Zach’s point of view; partly because he’s American and I’m British, but also because he’s male! But I think it gives the story a bit more insight and allows the reader to get to know him as well as they do Amy. So it was difficult, but fun. 

What do you think makes a great chick-lit novel?
My favourite chick-lit author is Paige Toon and she ticks all the boxes for me; her novels are always in the first person, which, for me, means I really identify with the main character. Her novels are also fast-paced with serious issues and humour at the same time. I think chick-lit needs to be realistic, not too ‘fluffy’ and easy-going to read, with a happy, satisfying ending for that feel-good factor.

Like Amy, you are obviously an avid reader. What do you enjoy reading mostly? Which authors would you say influenced you as a writer?  
I read quite a variety of genres, but mostly chick-lit. As mentioned above, Paige Toon is my favourite, although I only started reading her recently so she didn’t influence my writing of "Amy & Zach". I also love Lisa Jewell and Marian Keyes.

Apart from writing and reading, what else do you enjoy doing?
Walking, I have a golden retriever so we go out most days. Travelling; I’m always counting down to my next holiday, and cooking – I’m an experimental cook, always looking for new recipes.

And finally, what’s cooking in your writing pot?
I’m currently working on my second novel, untitled as yet, which is a completely new story. A few people have asked me about an Amy & Zach sequel. I’d never planned one but after being asked, I’ve started to consider how that might this space!

Thanks for coming along. All the best with “Amy & Zach” and your future projects.
Thank you Michela! :)
"Amy & Zach" is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle editions.

You can find Sarah on her  website

And on Twitter

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

"Painter of Silence" by Georgina Harding

 Iasi, Romania, the early 1950s. A nameless man is found on the steps of a hospital. Deaf and mute, he is unable to communicate until a young nurse called Safta brings paper and pencils with which he can draw. Slowly, painstakingly, memories appear on the page. 

The memories are Safta's also. For the man is Augustin, son of the cook at the manor house which was Safta's family home. Born six months apart, they grew up with a connection that bypassed words. But while Augustin's world remained the same size Safta's expanded to embrace languages, society - and a fleeting love, one long, hot summer.

But then came war, and in its wake a brutal Stalinist regime, and nothing would remain the same. 

I was initially drawn to this book because of the protagonist's deafness, a topic that, as a mother of a deaf child, interests me on a personal level.

Augustin is a deaf mute and his only way of communicating with the world are his drawings, which he can detail down to perfection. We get to wander into his mind and see the world through his eyes and thoughts, and I came to really love this sensitive, childlike soul trying to make sense of a world he can't really fit in, as he watches big historical and social changes unfolding and turning his reality upside down.

The only person that ever was able to reach him, was his childhood friend, Safta. They live at opposite ends of the social spectrum, but somehow find a connection that life and history cannot break. Her strong, defying nature is complementary to Augustin's fragility.

The novel has a challenging structure, jumping as it does from present to past, switching tenses and points of view, but somehow it flows and the narrative is sewn together with great skill.

The historical and social settings serves as an interesting background in which to weave the story, as they mirror and shape the lives of the protagonists and the many other characters they meet on their way. 

If you like fast-paced stories, then this is not for you. If on the other hand you want to dive into a narrative you can slowly savour and absorb, this book will not disappoint you. There are beautiful passages and turns of phrase that stay with you and paint beautiful images, much like the title suggests.