Monday 25 May 2020

Dad... (and that exasperated tone)

In June 2014 (you can see it here), I posted a Calvin & Hobbes strip where his Dad has an amusing way of explaining certain things and revisited the situation in May 2016 (you can see it here).

Dude's 15 tomorrow and doesn't ask me many 'big' questions any more - most of his queries revolve around why I listen to the kind of music I do (he calls The Killers "your favourite emo-Goth band" so I sing him Mr Brightside acapella and give him a lovely ear-worm for the rest of the day) or if I can get him a FIFA/PS4 topup voucher from Amazon.
2020 - he's sprouting up!
I understand this, I really do but it doesn't mean I have to particularly enjoy it - I miss those days of giving him the right answer and seeing the revelation in his eyes as much as I miss giving him a weird answer and seeing his little frown that said "really?  Are you sure Dad?"

So in honour of that little boy who's now a strapping mid-teen (seriously, where the hell did that time go?), here are some musings from Calvin's Dad, which I wish I'd thought of...
and then, sometimes, he gets his own back...

Rude Dude, 2011
Happy birthday Dude, love you oodles...

Monday 18 May 2020

Summer on a Sunny Island, by Sue Moorcroft

Regular blog readers will know I've been friends with Sue Moorcroft for a while, having met at the Kettering Writers Group in 1999 (the group leader was of a more literary bent, so we genre writers were consigned to the back of the room, where we had great fun).  Since then she's gone from strength to strength, hitting number one in the Kindle Bestseller charts (with The Christmas Promise), becoming a Sunday Times Best Seller and her novel from last year, A Summer To Remember (which I wrote about here) won the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award 2020.  As well as featuring her a lot on blog (to see more, click this link), I'm also pleased to be one of her beta-readers and enjoyed her latest novel, Summer On A Sunny Island, so much it was in my Top 3 favourite reads of last year.
This summer, sparks are flying on the island of Malta…

When Rosa Hammond splits up from her partner Marcus, her Mum Dory suggests a summer in Malta. Not one to sit back and watch her daughter be unhappy, Dory introduces Rosa to Zach, in the hope that romance will bloom under the summer sun. But Rosa’s determined not to be swayed by a handsome man – she’s in Malta to work, after all.

Zach, meanwhile, is a magnet for trouble and is dealing with a fair few problems of his own. Neither Rosa or Zach are ready for love – but does fate have other ideas? And after a summer in paradise, will Rosa ever want to leave?

As mentioned, I read it last year to critique and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Another winner, it takes place completely in Malta (an island Sue knows well) and she captures a sense and feel of the place so well you can almost see the vistas and architecture surrounding the hero and heroine.  In fact, along with the weather and how that affects everyone, it's almost like the island becomes another character.

The leads, Rosa and Zach, are as complicated, fresh and feisty as we’ve come to expect and although the backstory is a bit more tightly packed than usual (involving Army brats and local gangs and difficult histories for our leads ), it all flows together really well.  One of the things I love about Sue's work is that the words roll past you, wrapping you effortlessly in the story and it's only when you glance up at the clock that you realise a) how long you've  been reading and b) how much the book has transported you.  With a pace that doesn't flag (at all), always believable characters and - perhaps due to the sun, sea and sand - a slightly raunchier tone than usual, this is wonderful.  A terrific novel from a writer at the top of her game, I highly recommend this.

Before we were locked down, I managed to meet up with Sue in our regular venue, The Trading Post and ask her some questions.

* * *
5 Questions With Sue Moorcroft:

MW:   An obvious question, perhaps, but why send your characters to Malta for the summer?

One of Sue's research photos, of Spinola in Malta
SM:   Malta’s my favourite country. I lived there as an army kid and it still feels like home. I love to send my characters to the island and this book justified four visits last year: with a friend, to scope out locations and take preliminary photos; alone, to write a chunk of the book in situ and do more detailed research; with my husband on our annual holiday; and with my brother, who helps with research, to tie up loose ends. In Summer on a Sunny Island Rosa, Zach, Dory and the rest are spending summer in Malta, which is something I’d love to do. In Dory, I’ve sent myself up a bit as she’s an army kid who adores Malta and can’t understand any other attitude. She was at school with Zach’s dad and his Maltese grandmother owns the apartment Dory rents, which is the unifying factor between the characters.

MW:   Zach sees himself as a ‘trouble magnet’, having been sucked into something when he young and suffering for it ever since.  What led you to this?

SM:   It’s amazing what my memory drags up and feeds to my plotty head. I was at school with a guy who got involved with vandalising an unoccupied building and was badly injured. I gave that situation to Stuart, the youngest of Zach’s friendship group and easily manipulated by self-appointed leader Fitzmo. As the rest of the group run away, Zach gets Stuart help before he bleeds out. This cast Zach as someone who fights for the underdog and his character developed from there. Both times he wanders onto the wrong side of the law he’s trying to protect Stuart from Fitzmo and later he risks everything protecting Luccio. I didn’t mean to get Zach into quite so much trouble … but he just kept trying to help people.

MW:   Rosa doesn’t get away with anything lightly either. What made you choose her character’s particular issues?

SM:   I gave Rosa a trough full of problems. Her relationship with Marcus ended, partly because he was gambling. She has trust issues around men and money as her dad was feckless. Marcus then said something on a radio interview that made her look bad and a frenemy gave it traction on social media. Because her job involved young people she felt it made things difficult at work … in short, I made it appealing for her to spend a while as her mum’s personal assistant/kitchen porter in Malta. Most of Rosa’s problems come back to money - Marcus’s gambling threatens her security and, later, the value of the home they’d shared falls through the floor, which threatens her future with Zach. I used to work in a bank and that background keeps me aware of the financial implications of my characters’ conflicts. Much of our real lives revolve around our economic situations and I notice when other authors gloss over these realities.

MW:   The backstory around Army Brats is very well handled.

SM:   Thank you but that didn’t take much research! I had a lot of fun with it, especially with Dory’s Maltese vocabulary. (People will have to read the book to understand that.) One of the sparks for the book was that in October 2018 my brothers, my sister-in-law and I attended a service kids’ reunion in Malta. We managed to convert a reunion lunch into a ten-day holiday so it wasn’t too big a stretch to convert a reunion lunch into a novel.

MW:   And finally, can you put into words exactly how it felt when you heard your name announced as the winner of the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award?

SM:   That was AWESOME. I’ve long coveted one of those awards and now A Summer to Remember has won one! I’ve been shortlisted twice before, but that was as far as I got. The Contemporary category was one of the largest and had a shortlist of eight rather than five. Shortlisted authors arrive at the award ceremony early for photos and a champagne reception, which makes you feel loved and important. But I’ve always gone into awards thinking I won’t win and I’m usually right (although I won the Readers Best Romantic Read Award with Love & Freedom). It was a super-strong shortlist that included two topsellers, Sophie Kinsella and Carole Matthews, but my hunch was that Jules Wake would win with Notting Hill in the Snow because it’s a charming book. The awards were hosted by Jane Wenham-Jones and presented by performer and author Jenny Eclair at a posh London hotel. Its impressive function room was crammed with circular tables covered by white cloths. As each category was announced, a huge screen behind the stage showed slides of the shortlisted books and authors, then Jenny Eclair opened the envelope and announced the winner. When she said, ‘And the winner of the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award 2020 is the lovely S …’ I actually had time to think, ‘Oh, it’s Sophie Kinsella,’ before I realised she was saying, ‘Sue Moorcroft!’ My jaw nearly hit the table. I wound my way to the stage in a daze, thinking to myself, ‘Don’t trip up the steps, don’t trip up the steps!’ I didn’t. I was quite composed as I bumped elbows with Jenny Eclair but when I went to the mic to say a few words I did choke up. A huge roomful of people all went, ‘Ahhhhhh …’ I was absolutely exultant as I carried my crystal star back to my table, and people said nice things as I floated past somewhere between Cloud Nine and Over the Moon. Then it was photos again - but this time clutching my award! I feel very, very lucky that this all happened just before Coronavirus social distancing was introduced. In comparison to the glitzy, euphoric reality, getting the news by email and the star in the post would have been a damp squib.

MW:   As always, thanks for being a great sport and answering these questions.  Already looking forward to our next meet-up at The Trading Post.

SM:   Thanks very much for inviting me back onto your blog, Mark. As always, it’s been a pleasure.

Sue Moorcroft is a Sunday Times and international bestselling author and has reached the coveted #1 spot on Amazon Kindle. She’s won the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award, Readers’ Best Romantic Novel award and the Katie Fforde Bursary. Sue’s uplifting novels of love and life are currently released by publishing giant HarperCollins in the UK, US and Canada and by an array of publishers in other countries.

Her short stories, serials, columns, writing ‘how to’ and courses have appeared around the world.

Born into an army family in Germany, Sue spent much of her childhood in Cyprus and Malta but settled in Northamptonshire at the age of ten. An avid reader, she also loves Formula 1, travel, family and friends, dance exercise and yoga.

Other buying links:

Facebook: sue.moorcroft.3
Facebook author page:
Twitter: @suemoorcroft
Instagram: suemoorcroftauthor
Amazon author page:

Monday 11 May 2020

Author Self-Coaching (part 2): What Happened Next, by Sue Moorcroft

Following up from her guest post a fortnight ago (which you can read here), I'm more than happy to hand the blog over to Sue Moorcroft once again.
Sue & I at her evening event hosted by Rothwell Library in November 2019 - I wrote about it here
A couple of people have asked what happened after I struggled past the crossroads in my writing career (as I wrote about before) where I felt I was spending too much time on things that didn’t make me happy or earn money. To catch you up: I sent what I thought was a hopelessly optimistic email to Carole Blake of Blake Friedmann Literary, TV and Screen Agency, who introduced me to the fab Juliet Pickering of the same agency. Juliet had an eye out for an author of commercial fiction. I won’t pretend that you don’t need these strokes of good fortune.

I met Juliet in London for lunch and we got on well. I was transparent about what I wanted, which was a publisher who would get behind me and get my books into supermarkets. She was equally transparent that that was her job but she couldn’t issue any guarantees. She asked about ideas for future books and I gave her three. She told me which she’d feel most confident in presenting to publishers and I had that happy feeling you get when something clicks into place. It was the one I most wanted to write. It was an idea that I’d already received a green light on from my old publisher, but they’d wanted a novella. I thought the idea had enough meat for a novel.

Disappointingly, Juliet didn’t agree to represent me. She asked me to write the book first. The snag with that was by the time I’d spent a year on the book my old publisher would be expecting it. It would be … awkward. I asked if I could send Juliet the traditional three-chapters and outline instead. Would she make a decision at that point? She agreed. She told me later she’d already made up her mind to offer to represent me but wanted to go through the process in the right way.

Takeaways from this meeting: honesty and transparency on both sides. Accepting the commercial realities of publishing. Listening to what was on offer. Putting forward alternatives. Taking disappointment on the chin because, let’s face it, a writer’s life is full of it.
Sue's Avon Books output
Telling my old publishers that I was working with an agent effectively changed our relationship because they didn’t work with agents. They would continue to publish my backlist; inevitably, they’d concentrate on their front list authors.

I wrote the first few chapters of what became The Christmas Promise. I roughed out a few other things I thought would happen - more of a vision than an outline. Juliet offered to represent me and formalities were quickly concluded. Delighted, all I had to do was write the rest of the book, continuing to write short stories and run workshops for income to add to royalties from backlist titles. A note here: relaunching my career eventuated in a distinct dip in income for about two years. To have a spouse with a steady income and supportive attitude helped a lot. I also got the opportunity to convert my writing guide, Love Writing, into an online course. That helped too.

After I sent the novel to Juliet, the editing process began. And it was rigorous. I think I did three structural edits, influenced by comments from other people in the agency who read the book too. For anyone who thinks of editing as someone interfering or instructing, I should point out that a process like this is something likely to happen to any book in any publishing house. I think of this as writing the best book I can. I listen. I negotiate. I talk through.

Takeaways from this process: this is not for wimps. It feels like a lot of structural work yet, in the end, the changes are fairly subtle. The book is a lot better. I probably didn’t known as much as I thought I did. My agent is on my side.

When the book went out to editors we got a lot of interest, only one flat ‘no’ and some meetings to go to. As an aside, just to let you know how character building the process was, some major interest led nowhere because the editor was going on maternity leave and guess who was coming from another publishing house to cover? The one person who’d given the flat ‘no’. But I wouldn’t want an editor who wasn’t wowed by my writing, so I was philosophical.

The exciting day dawned and I turned up in London for meetings. The first was with Avon Books UK, HarperCollins. Once again, everything clicked. We got on well, we shared similar visions. Another stroke of good fortune: a slot for an author who would write a winter book and a summer book had opened up on their list, just as my agent rocked up with a winter book and a summer book! The winter book was ready and the summer book not so that played into there being a longer dip in income than might otherwise have been the case but still, outside I said to my agent, ‘I think it’s going to be Avon.’ I never wavered from that and Juliet got down to terms with them for a two-book contract.

The Christmas Promise went into production. I finished writing Just for the Holidays.  The Christmas Promise came out. Supermarkets took the paperback, although Tesco was a little late to the party and only took it for the last couple of weeks before Christmas because of the performance of the ebook.

The ebook was going crazy. It went to number one on Kindle UK for five days in the run-up to Christmas 2016. I’d sold my first short story to a national newsstand magazine in 1996 so it had taken me twenty years to be an overnight success! It’s hard to describe the joy and euphoria, the sense of disbelief. I laughed and cried. Twitter went mad with big-hearted compliments from other authors, from my agent and editor jumping in with their own cries of joy. My book had outsold every other ebook on sale in the UK. I had to pinch myself.

I won’t take you through every other rung on the ladder because I have edits to do but the milestones continue. Just for the Holidays was nominated for a Romantic Novel Award. A new contract was offered and my editor stated her next goal as to make me a Sunday Times bestseller. I laughed out loud and said, ‘Well, good luck with that!’ The very next book, The Little Village Christmas, was a Sunday Times bestseller. The Christmas Promise was a bestseller in Germany. The rights team at Blake Friedmann sold my books into translation. Each book charted in the Top Fifty, if not the Top Twenty. Avon extended the scope of my contract to include Canada and the US. A Summer to Remember won the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award 2020 and One Summer in Italy scored me my first Top 100 position in the Amazon Kindle US chart. Research has taken me to France, Italy, Malta, Sweden and Switzerland.

It’s A LOT of hard work, not just from me but from everyone at Blake Friedmann and Avon, but it’s wonderful. I set out to earn my living from writing novels and I do. Summer on a Sunny Island is my eighth book with Avon and A Christmas Wish will come out later this year. A further two books are contracted.

Takeaways: work hard … and work with the right people.

Sue Moorcroft is a Sunday Times and international bestselling author and has reached the coveted #1 spot on Amazon Kindle. She’s won the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award, Readers’ Best Romantic Novel award and the Katie Fforde Bursary. Sue’s novels of love and life are currently released by publishing giant HarperCollins under the Avon imprint in the UK, US and Canada and by an array of publishers in other countries.

Her short stories, serials, columns, writing ‘how to’ and courses have appeared around the world.

Born into an army family in Germany, Sue spent much of her childhood in Cyprus and Malta. An avid reader, she also loves Formula 1, travel, time spent with friends, dance exercise and yoga.

Buying links for Summer on a Sunny Island

Facebook: sue.moorcroft.3
Facebook author page:
Twitter: @suemoorcroft
Instagram: suemoorcroftauthor
Amazon author page:

Monday 4 May 2020

Happy Star Wars Day!

Regular readers of the blog will know that I'm a massive Star Wars fan and, as such, how could I resist celebrating this when it coincides with posting day?

I've written about the films (generally the original trilogy) a lot over the past eleven years or so and you can find the entries on this link, though the specific run of posts I did as part of the 40th anniversary in 2017 can be found here.

Writing these posts has been great fun, the research has often been enlightening but perhaps my favourite post is from when we went to an exhibit in London 2013 and Dude & I got to fight with lightsabers on the Tantive IV.  You can read about it here.
Dude gets me in a Force choke-hold at the London Film Museum, when it was in the old County Hall building, August 2013.  He's now almost as tall as I am.

And to further celebrate, here are some of my favourite trading cards that never fail to bring back wonderful memories of warm summer days during 1978 (as I wrote about here).

One of my favourite images (it also appeared in the photo-insert of the novel), I was slightly disappointed when I realised we only get to see this Stormtrooper and his Dewback from a distance.
Another of my favourite images
I do like Stormtroopers

Happy Star Wars Day!