I haven’t been to a beach since, oooh now let me think about this … at least a year, and with my desire to stay Covid-free, I shall not be joining the ranks of those presently flooding to the coast now restrictions have been lifted. We also haven’t been to visit our relatives in the Cairngorms in Scotland, having scrapped plans to spend a February weekend with them.
However, I can take a virtual tour to both Scotland and a beach simultaneously, via a new novel by KileyDunbar … Summer at the Highland Coral Beach. And having been away from blogging for a few weeks, what better way to resurface than with a Q&A with the author of this enticing first book in the Port Willow Bay series?
I am so excited that Kiley, a fellow Romantic Novelist Association member, and a Joan Hessayon Award finalist in 2019 (for her debut novel One Summer’s Night) agreed to pause in her writing to speak to me.
1. What was the first piece of fiction you ever wrote?
At primary school we did ‘composition’. It was my favourite time of the week – we’d just free write for a while. I remember writing a (possibly nicked) story about a girl who lived with a dinosaur that wouldn’t stop growing! I always loved writing stories but as I got older I felt embarrassed about them and stopped, that’s when I became an obsessive reader instead. I only seriously started writing again in my late thirties.
I can relate to the embarrassment thing. I was always being told ‘You have an overactive imagination!’ as if it was something negative. Thank goodness you got over that and started to write again.
2. How long does it take you to complete a rough first draft?
To get a really rough draft down on paper (about 77-80 thousand words) takes four months usually and I really have to push myself to write that quickly. Good planning at the beginning helps me a lot.
I’m relieved to hear I’m not alone in that planning helps the first draft come together for you. My first, unplanned, unplotted title took eighteen months to get to 70k!
3. If you could have dinner with three guests, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
OK, I want this to be a fancy dinner party after months in lockdown so I’m going all out: Champagne, choccy truffles, a gold lamé dress and heels – the lot! I’ll invite a young Rudolph Nureyev (because hot, tortured genius, guaranteed good over-dinner anecdotes); Kate Bush (because goddess); and my lovely friend, the writer Michael McGill (because I miss him so much and he’s the best company I could ever wish for).
Wow. I’m so bagging a place at that table; or perhaps I can pour the champagne and simply listen in… I heard a Kate Bush on Radio 2 last week and had forgotten how atmospheric her songs are.
4. How do you like to relax when you’re not writing?
I like to read hot off the press romances. I walk with Amos, my little Bedlington Terrier, I watch a lot of drama (Netflix’s Itaewon Class is a favourite of 2020), and I’m on season three of Schitt’s Creek and it’s making me happier than I can say.
Oooh, I need to see Amos – did you bring him? No? He’s back home, guarding your next project? Oh, bless…
5. Where did the inspiration come from for your latest title?
Summer at the Highland Coral Beach came from wanting to write a book in my favourite genre that realistically dealt with miscarriage and showed that happiness and recovery, love and romance can come after grief and loss (other romances have done this in the past, I’m not saying I’m the first by any means). Plus I wanted to set a book in a place I fell in love with – the little coral beach near Plockton in the Scottish highlands – it is a little piece of heaven on earth, so I created my own version and called it Highland Coral Beach.
I’m so happy you’ve planned a series here, so we can revisit!
6. What are your top three reasons for being an RNA member?
Making new friends in the writing business; getting great advice and support; the annual conference is nothing but fun and informative from start to finish.
I couldn’t agree more!
7. What have you missed most during lockdown?
I miss going to cafes to write. What a simple pleasure that was, and I could be so productive sitting there with my decaf and my red-velvet cake. I’ll never take that freedom to work outside the house or to move freely for granted again. I will, however, still get annoyed by loud-opinionated men who always seem to sit at the table right beside mine!
8. What piece of advice would you give to a new writer (I’m all ears!)
Believe in your own writing. Take it and yourself seriously (even while having a total blast writing adorable romances) and don’t let setbacks dishearten you. You’ve got this!
I’d get up and hug you for saying this, if we were sat together in my garden today!
Thanks, Kiley, for popping over and chatting. You’ve given me a fabulous reason to dust off my much-neglected blog and I’ve loved chatting books and writing with you.
Escape to the Highland Coral Beach – where broken hearts can be healed
Beatrice Halliday needs a break from life. Booking a trip to the Highlands on a whim, Beatrice hopes learning Gaelic in a beautiful Scottish village might help her heal her grief after losing her baby, her husband and her much loved job in a space of months.
But Port Willow Bay isn’t exactly as the website promised. Instead of learning a new language, she’s booked in to learn the ancient skill of willow weaving, her hotel room is Princess and the Peathemed (with a stack of mattresses for her bed!) and worse still, her tutor is Atholl Fergusson, grumpy landlord of the hotel where Beatrice is staying – and she’s the only one doing the course.
But as Beatrice finds herself falling in love with Port Willow Bay and its people, and as she discovers the kind heart beneath Atholl’s stony exterior, can she really leave?
Escape to the beautiful Scottish Highlands with this utterly romantic, feelgood book; one visit to Port Willow Bay and you’ll want to come back! Fans of Sarah Morgan, Carole Matthews and Holly Martin will be captivated.
If you’d like to snatch a copy of Book 1 in this series, you’ll find it on Amazon and Kobo 🥂🏖
I shall attempt to type a suitable first sentence, having been absent from blogging since late September.
That wasn’t it, but for now, I’ll simply let thoughts travel down my bare arms and out through my fingertips – much like I did last month as I attempted the National Novel Writing Month. In 2018 I used the NaNo month to add words to the manuscript which I shall refer to in this post as Book 1 (Secrets Under A Tuscan Sun), but was unable to officially partake in the fun of unlocking badges along the way. In 2017 I laid the foundations of Book 1 during NaNo and achieved 17,000. It took a further eighteen months to create that first draft, while I pondered over what the weather may have been doing during Chapter seven, or what colour car a character was driving in Chapter sixteen.
I am delighted to inform you that during these past few months, it was been instilled in me that the first draft can be a very basic me-telling-me-the-story manuscript and hence last month I achieved the 50,000 word goal and now have the bare bones of a first draft for book 2.
I couldn’t be happier!
The reason for my success was, I believe, the correct alignment of each of a handful of criteria:
I was physically well and suffered no colds or migraines (an awful affliction).
I had planned this novel during October, based on the 15 beats suggested by Jessica Brody in her adaptation of Blake Synder’s screenplay bible, Save The Cat Writes A Novel. (While this worked very well for me, and highly recommend buying a copy, I’m aware there are a whole host of How-To books on the market.)
My husband, children and immediate family and friends were all aware I was attempting this challenge, and kindly left me alone to do so (eliminating guilt previously felt when sat at a keyboard during the day).
My sole trader business was put ‘on hold’ for the month, and I’m fortunate that November is a light month for work in any event, so it couldn’t have fallen better for me (going semi ‘public’ with a goal meant I had even more drive to achieve it).
This was me pouring over the chapters in this clever little number back in June, in Cornwall. I was then plotting a novel about an inter-generational friendship and what can happen when two characters who have been otherwise outcast, befriend each other, even when eighty years in age separate them. That novel is not the one I wrote for NaNo because I was advised I should probably consider writing a second romance-based story in case an agent comes back, interested in Book 1 and asks ‘What else do you have?’. (This possibility is one which still drives me, yet since my submissions during the last week of September, all I’ve received is two rejections.)
Save The Cat ensured I had no ‘soggy middle’ and each day I typed another scene as I saw it playing out. I knew where I was heading and kept in mind Stephen King’s tip that his first drafts are like unearthing the bones for what will one day be a whole skeleton. So I created scenes, including dialogue, so I could engage with my characters. I had no worries at all about adding bracketed instructions to myself for following up in subsequent edits, such as: (check egg boxes were available in 1911 New York) !!
I’ve given myself a fortnight ‘off’ from MADE OF STEEL since I finished the 50K, on purpose to let the story percolate before attempting first edit. And at least this time, I have a plan for those edits, having done the Curtis Brown Creative ‘Edit & Submit Your Novel’ six-week course. I shall go back through all the notes I printed and stuck into a ring binder and work my way through each section, ensuring it adds to the plot and drives the story forward. I shall also be creating more padding to each scene, hoping to bring the two main characters to life with further dialogue and expressive behaviours. Looking forward to getting stuck in to some deeper prose with carefully thought out metaphors or similes, all of which should help take this 50K towards the required length of a novel; somewhere between 75 and 90 for a commercial womens fiction paperback.
Having called it womens’ fiction, I would hope that some men would enjoy the story too, as it’s based on real events. Shall I have a brief go at pitching it to you now? (Sounds dangerous to me, without any planning)
Following a fire in 1911 Manhattan, factory worker Emma is recovering from physical scars but cannot escape the guilt that she was the only survivor. Her parents send her to Southern Ireland, away from the growing Suffragette movement in the city, worried she is too fragile, vulnerable and angry to become part of it. In Queenstown, Emma discovers how her grandparents lived, and how they escaped the famine sixty years earlier. She befriends Thomas, the owner of a hotel in the harbour; a quiet man who prefers life when his famous and overbearing wife is touring Europe on the stage. Their friendship threatens to turn into something greater, but morals and faith prevail. In the spring of 1912, Emma knows she needs to return to New York and a life without Thomas in it.
It’s a novel about love, about progress. A little politics here and there (which, spookily, mirror events this year) and some Royal mentions too.
(Queen – Courtesy of the wall art in John Lewis, Oxford Street, yesterday)
Where the hell was I when this Netflix series first aired?? It’s been my binge-viewing all autumn and I’m all caught up. Incredible storylines, and heart-breaking relationship issues throughout the monarchy over the decades. Riveting script and stunning performances. Whether you’re a royalist or a complete anti-monarchist, this series is worthy of your time from a drama point of view!
I mentioned bare arms because I’m sat here wrapped in a duvet, sitting at the desk at the bottom of the stairs, my only light a green glass desk lamp with brass base and small pull chain, which has always fascinated me. I couldn’t sleep and kept turning over to find a few seconds of calm before the insomniac vibes won over. Numerous times I’d move towards Man of the Woods and spoon against his back, my thighs following his and felt snuggly, but sleep refused to arrive. Then I’d turn the other way and hug the pillow, waiting again to drift. But alas, a cup of tea and a bowl of coco-pops won. That was 90 minutes ago.
I checked my WordPress statistics and learnt something rather interesting. In 2019, my total word count across blog posts has been a mere 18,518 compared to 2018 which totalled 132,641. The significance of this is not lost on me. While I’ve missed the interaction with you guys (and even now, I’m wondering if the algorithms will mean all my old regulars won’t even see this post until I start reading yours again) I have evidently been concentrating my creative words into novels.
I’ve lots more to chat about, but for now, I’ll leave you in peace and drag my duvet train back upstairs to see if the sleep Gods may grant me a couple of hours. I’ll schedule this to publish at 8am and look forward to touching base with some of you later.
The one line eye-catching piece of prose at the top of your synopsis, before the thing starts, in the hope it catches an agent’s attention. We were taught about them on my recent CBC course. Some even make it all the way through the process and appear on the front cover of a book!
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s book, ‘After I Do’ had a great shout line, look..
It’s at the top; FALLING IN LOVE IS THE EASY PART. When I read that, I hear an enormous BUT THEN ….
I finished reading it two days ago, with tears steaming down from behind my sunnies. I was sat on a bench (dedicated to somebody who enjoyed years of holidays in this area) as the two main characters re-built their crumbling marriage. An intense, emotional and gritty read about the realism of taking your partner for granted and about what that can lead to. I actually sent Man of the Woods a text immediately I’d finished it. It’s the little thoughts that can go a long way when you’re apart…
There is no photo of the Cornish pastie as we had to eat them sharpish before the seagulls succeededin their efforts to swoop in and win a mouthful.
By ‘we’ I mean myself, my young adult offspring and their respective partners. Gone are the days when holidays with children mean holding their hand, watching them jump and down at the sight of blue ice cream, and dealing with over tired whiny pleas of ‘when can we go in the sea, mummy?’.
Now, it’s a delicate balance of suggesting loose plans, being flexible when those fall apart, watching your daughter decide whether she wants to be a fisherman’s wife as her eternally patient BF prepared his various hooks and baits them with now-disgusting pieces of fish from the not-so-cool box he has under his landrover 🤣🤣🤣🐟🐟🐟.
Then you’ve got the clown of the family – the happy-go-lucky son who still eats babybel cheeses and pretends to cry for our entertainment when he can’t find his whatever it is he’s looking for. He’s 6’4″, and I think gained an inch since New Zealand!
On the phone yesterday, MoW told me it rained more than 9mm yesterday in East Anglia and hence he and his father are stopping irritating (that’s not a typo; it’s how farmers refer to irrigating!). So we are holding our breath today for their arrival later. In my experience, the chance that something else can happen on the farm to prevent them making the 7-hr drive is quite high. I won’t believe he’s coming until I see his dad’s car pull up. (All the other cars in the family are here already 😂).
Anyway, back to books. We like a book don’t we. And we like a book shop, especially those cute independent ones, yes? Here’s a cutie – Padstow Bookseller.
This cover caught my eye, as did Julie Cohen’s words upon the front. oooh, I thought. I know and respect this author and if she says it’s great, I might just buy this. Then I opened the dust jacket and saw Susan Elliot Wright is a fellow RNA member, so the connections got even better and I opened and read the first page.
Yup, that was hooky enough for me to get my purse out!!
On our return from Padstow, being sure to leave the ‘kids’ some space, I retreated to my room with my laptop. After choosing how will spend my sessions at the conference next month, I went on to type up those penned-words I created last Friday towards a synopsis for Book 2. It’s the first draft obviously, but it’s a mini map of the whole idea. On paper/screen it now exists and is not simply only a notion inside my head. I’m excited by it. I even re-watched the Hidden History episode of Michael Portillo’s series which inspired this story!
Then we went in the sea ….
I finished the day studying the list of agents and publishers who are attending the two days of conference … just for us New Writers Scheme members! I mean, just how amazing is that? A chance for us to sit in a one to one meeting, the profressional having read the first 5000 words and a synopsis of our novels, yet knowing we are newbies and don’t really have a clue. It’s their opportunity to find a new voice, a nugget amongst the mountains of debut manuscripts!
I shall enjoy the weekend, the meeting of fellow authors, the standing in line for lunch with famous writers like Katie Ford, Jill Mansell, Julie Cohen, Rowan Coleman .. so many, too many to mention 🌸🥂
If anyone likes my work, it shall be icing on the cake ….
… and so I find myself here without Man of the Woods. He is back in East Anglia, irrigating the potato crops which become ‘Charlottes’.
The science behind the ‘new’ potato’s nurture is surprisingly exacting. It is not a question of the agronomist instructing the farmer to: “give this an inch of water any time in the next three weeks.” whereupon he could hurl it on and then leave for his holiday.
No. It is more along the lines of: “These will be sprayed Monday morning, and will need 20mm of water within a 3-day window of that application.
I used to stamp my feet and look surly that I was married to someone who put his job before his time away with the family. Many friends used to raise their eyebrows – while eating potato-based products – and insinuate he was being awkward and boring. What’s more, I’d often agree 🙈.
Now I’m just proud. Speaking to him for half hour a few minutes ago, sat on the floor nursing my now 3/10 migraine (in what is a stunning holiday apartment that he would love) I can hear in his voice the acceptance that this time he cannot join us.
And although his 72 year old father tried to persuade him to drive down and that he would cope with the irrigation alone, MoW will not leave his father with that worry. Machinery has a habit of breaking down, pipes become blocked, the irrigator can sink into the mud just before you’re due to move it twenty yards along the field for the next ‘pull’. It’s hard physical work and while MoW’s father is relatively strong and fit, I know it would worry my husband to leave him to it.
So there it is. The reality of a farming way of life when you don’t have farm-workers; no-one to do the work when you’re not there.
Enjoy your crisps today and give a thought as you crunch that real people produced those for all of our pleasure 🤣
Meanwhile, in other news, I brought with me a journal for notes to develop my Book 2 idea.
‘Save the Cat’ was also packed because I wish to plan this novel with more care than Book 1! I’ve studied for over a year now this art called fiction writing and while I shall never know all there is to know, my goodness, I have a greater understanding of what makes an okay book into a really good book. (Whether I’ll be able to transfer that knowledge onto the paper remains to be seen but I am excited for the process of Book 2).
Yesterday, as the sun burned away an early haze, I set to work on a synopsis and a tag line.
I had always believed you could never write a synopsis until you’d written an entire novel, because how would you possibly know what to include? The chapters will jostle for position, as we know they always do as we write, and therefore a synopsis surely should not be contemplated until after the book is written to at least a first draft?
For those of you who have been reading my posts for a while, you’ll remember I attended a course in Devon at RetreatsForYou to study alongside the talented Julie Cohen who has written over twenty books; here are just a few:
Many of her tips have stayed with me, but one particularly.
She asked us all to pause and think about the theme of our novel; the thread of aim or goal for the protagonist through the pages. Without one, even with quality writing, we simply end up with prose about things happening. Julie went even further and encouraged us to think about narrowing it down to a one-word pitch!
It was a hard exercise as we all grappled for words that narrowed our story down but the lesson has stuck. As I contemplate Book 2 (even while Book 1 is in the ‘system’ and being critiqued right now) I find my approach is completely different this time.
I know roughly my story outline but before I type a word, or even map out the chapters I wish to narrow it down to a synopsis, an elevator pitch, a tag line and even one-word. Without telling you yet about Book 2 in detail, let’s look at what I mean in regard to this exercise. Below is a potential 3 star piece of mini fiction;
She walked to the beach and dipped her toes in the Atlantic water. The icy chill took her breath away.
However with a theme, we have heart and soul. For example, let’s give the previous sentence a one-word theme and re-write it slightly;
The knowledge she would be alone when she had least expected it cut through her plans like a sword. The laughter she’d known they would share was silent before it had chance to exist and as the icy waters stole the warmth from her feet, so too did the wind her hopes. She pulled the jumper closer to her skin in a desperate attempt to protect the shred of courage her journey there had given her ….
We have a real vision of someone now, and how she might be feeling. We have a question – why is she alone yet wasn’t expecting to be so? That’s the hook.
Do excuse me while I pause for a coffee. My migraine is receding and usually around now I can eat without feeling nauseous.
Found this Christmas card in the cupboard when I was tidying at 3am this morning, five months too late to send. It depicts Il Duomo in Milan and when I spotted it, it took me back to my weekend with my travel buddy Hannah last March. I knew she’d appreciate the card – so perhaps you’ll remind me to send it this coming December 🙄
Italy Italy is everywhere it seems .. and a very popular location for romance novels. I give you this link … 💒 … in which you should find the wonderful blog by Angela Petch. A fellow-RNA member, writer and all round kindness-filled lady whom I met and clicked with at last year’s Conference near Leeds.
In this post Angela chats to Daisy James, author of the Paradise Cookery School series and now the Limoncello series, published by Canelo Escape Publishing.
I enjoyed reading about Daisy’s writing day, seeing her summer house where she writes when it’s warm enough. The archery link is something I’ll bring up when I see her next time at an RNA event. (We sat next to each other last autumn at the York tea ☕️)
Perhaps now is the time to submit my Tuscan novel to these guys at Canelo to see if they fancy a little romance/mafia 🖤😅
No. For now, we wait. The manuscript is with the New Writer’s Scheme for its read-through by one of the multi-published authors of romance. Receiving the feedback report will be a double-edged sword; petrifying and exciting! To see what the reader thinks works or not. eeeeek!
Once upon a time there was a blogger who suggested a book. The book was called ‘The Samurai’s Garden’ by Gail Tsukiyama.
I fell in love with the story and it’s characters, especially Matsu and I bought a bonsai in his honour and even wrote a post about it which for those of you who have not been following me since I started here can read about that here!
The blogger is someone a long way from me but someone I consider one of a handful of loyal wordpress buddies I am fortunate enough to have shared bits of writing life with. You will find him over at Flowers in Bloom.
If I stopped blogging tomorrow (and for the record I plan to do the opposite as I’ve had approximately seven and a half people visit my site this spring due to my inactivity) this book is one I shall never forget, nor shall I forget where I first heard about it.