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 🥂🏖
For a chance to win this brand new copy of Save The Cat Writes A Novel, pop over to my Instagram (katefranceswrites) and follow the instructions 🥂
UK entrants: prize includes 360g bar of Galaxy and two Christmas decorations 🌟🎄
For non UK entrants: I am happy to receive entries outside the UK, but probably wouldn’t send the chocolate! So, as long as you are happy to receive the book and the decorations without the Galaxy, please feel free to enter!
In Oct 2017 I opened my WordPress account, chose a theme and guessed my way around my new site, promising myself I would one day work out how to set up the menus properly. Then I started the serious business of writing. Except I had no idea what to write. I debated about whether I wanted a space in which to experiment with poetry, perhaps some romance fiction or even pyschological thriller pieces. The trouble is, I love reading them all.
I see that now I have over 500 posts; a mish mash of fiction, book reviews and idle meanderings through my nine brain cells. I never did find out how to set up the menus properly and even now find my site’s theme much harder to navigate and less pleasing on the eye than some of the other writers’ territory I enjoy visiting. (That’s one New Year’s resolution pinned to the post then!)
Moving forward into 2020, I would like to refine my site into perhaps four sections: Home, Book Reviews, My Fiction, Writing Life. These sound more concise and should cover everything I do here.
So where am I after two years of blogging?
I have engaged with some incredible writers and people all over the world. (That’s a huge positive.)
Building a potential audience for my fiction is going to involve rather more than a daily photo or paragraph of waffle. Readers enjoy posts which highlight the reality and journey of a writer’s life. At the start of 2019, when I needed to knuckle down to finishing Book 1 – which resulted in me being unable to maintain a daily posting routine on WordPress – I learned a lot about time-management. Hence, I can see that my early posts, in 2017/2018 were not thought out at all; just random musings. However, I do believe they’ve helped to develop me as a writer, each and every one of them. (I thought that was going to be a negative, but actually it’s another positive.)
I have one romantic suspense novel out on submission to agents, and a second novel wearing first-draft clothing, having been created during NaNoWriMo last month. It took me over eighteen months to type the first draft of Book 1, so I’ve learned a lot about the approach to writing.
I once tried to the do The Body Coach’s 90-day workout plan, remember that? Well, I fell off the bandwagon around day 41. I now attempt yoga. Occasionally.
Last week I tried to make my first ever Christmas cake, ignoring the gut feeling that it’s not yet ‘my turn’ to do so as that role appears to have always been carried out by the most senior female in the family. Well, at this rate, I’ll be over 60 before I’ve had an opportunity, so I said ‘Sod it!’. I did burn the cake, and found myself picking currants from the top – they looked like blackened blueberries and popped with delightful puffs of charcoal over the draining board. (I think I saved the majority of the fruit cake though, and if you promise to keep this kitchen fail a secret, no-one will ever know bar you and I, okay?).
So, whether it’s creating a book, following a fitness regime or becoming a domestic goddess, everything takes time to practice. But practice does make a damned sight better!
I hope you enjoy being here xxx
(As my computer is refusing to allow me to ‘edit’ my original ‘ABOUT’ post, I am sliding this in today with it linked to the category as I thought an update was most definitely overdue!)
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.
I’m not joking here. I’ve submitted my Italian/Edinburgh novel to five real London-based literary agents. Did you ever think I’d get this far? Well I didn’t.
You watched me type the thing, procrastinate and fiddle for months last year. You followed me when I attended the online Curtis Brown Creative courses during 2018 (from which a few scenes in the finished manuscript actually started life as pieces of homework during those courses!).
For months and months, I created and edited this novel. I thought about it when I was doing other things, debated about plot twists and small details like whether I’d added enough details to a scene. As many of my followers know, my membership of the wonderful RNA cemented my love of writing fiction and the encouragement I’ve received over the months from fellow members and newbie writers is the sole reason I’m now able to announce I’ve submitted.
I spent last week back in Devon, at Retreats For You and how fitting that while I was there, under the watchful eye of my mentor Alison May, I completed a final proof-read on paper, transferred the horrendous number of error corrections onto the laptop before finalising the content of five agent letters. (The first five on my very long list, because once the rejections come, I can then send it to the next one on the list until I have exhausted the entire listings in the author’s bible … 😃).
Being on the retreat, where I was fed three times a day and had nothing else to think about except my book, meant the opportunity to complete it was within my grasp. And I grabbed it with both hands.
I do type at home. I do plot, and read, and think about outlines and characters. But. I juggle the guilt too when I’m there and Man of the Woods is around wanting to talk about failing crops and flea beetle and rainfall. All marriages have their dynamics but I truly believe that spending most of every day with your spouse brings about some interesting discussions, especially when, in our case, MoW despises social media and all that it represents.
This was my bedroom at the retreat. I could have happily stayed longer and written the second book but that would be selfish 🤣
Back to the point.
One of the useful sessions during our week was when Alison confirmed that finishing a draft of a whole novel is a huge achievement. We hear this often from positive and supportive writing folk on social media – and let’s just take a moment to accept the accolade once again. That goal reached is HUGE 🎉
Assuming at this point we are thinking about traditional publishing, we start the long and arduous journey of seeking agent representation. It is incredibly rare that a debut novel catches the eye of an agent who will be bombarded with quality manuscripts every week. Hence the need to have a long list and a large dose of patience.
(Yes, I could be an Indie author but I just don’t have the confidence to put it out there! If agents don’t think it’s good, then I’m not sure I’d want that version available for public consumption. Trust me on this – it’s my self esteem we are dealing with, not yours 🤣🙈)
Let’s pretend then, at some point in the future, one of those agents is blown away by my prose and is so desperate to represent me, they call me to the capital for lunch and champagne. Ok, maybe not. A cup of tea at a table in their office, a custard cream and some home truths is more likely!
That agent will then have the very difficult task of ‘selling’ my novel to editors at a publishing house. They do this in all sorts of ways; casual chats at events, pitching meetings, personal knowledge of each other and possibly over expensive lunches!
Let’s also now pretend an editor agrees the novel is stunning. They, in turn, will attend an acquisition meeting, sat with the big Boss and the accounts dept (who decide how many books they can publish that month/quarter) and persuade the powers that be that they have the next ‘big thing’ and it’s worthy of their time over and above the other books being pitched around the table.
It’s not sounding too promising now is it 😂 but you know what I’ve decided?
Book 1 is/was my learning book. It always will have the honour of that label and I still love the characters, especially Antonio 🖤
There’s a long way to go; I’ve only just started. Yet what I’m proud of is completing the process to this point. I know now what it feels like, what shape the process takes.
And while I pause to enjoy a fabulous book by Rosie Walsh, I’m plotting Book 2 and doing lots of research this time before I type a word of it 🖌
Hello my gorgeous lovelies … I’m on a train, with my earphones in and was inspired to write you a little cuddly poem. It’s been far too long that I’ve ignored you all. Forgive me…
I read a poem recently by our great blogging friend Patti at Lovenlosses and I do hope she stayed safe during the recent hurricane.
I’ve also said hi to Mike, over at ReadafterBurnout who continues to entertain daily and I’ve downloaded his book which he released 9 August this year, so many congratulations on achieving this 🎉
A dystopian world awaits the reader and what little time I’ve had to read it so far has given me no less pleasure than I expected from this very talented author. A teacher on the surface, a storyteller in ‘real life’ … I shall be review and starring it once I’ve finished 🙏🏼
Another supporter of mine is the wonderful Joseph at FlowersinBloom who appears to have had a blogging break of a similar length to mine. Totally unplanned, that, but I think of him from time to time as it was his recommendation of a Gail Tsukiyama novel which started my love affair with all things zen and bonsai trees (don’t ask to see mine 😫 I’ve yet to discover the art of keeping them alive).
I continue to chat also to my fellow writer, the beautiful Italian living in Ireland, Sabina at Ortensia72, whose posts always have me laughing out loud at family life, and nodding with recognition… her Book 1 is also on my kindle and it’s appalling I’ve not yet come to it.
I do have good reason.
In the time it’s taken to ignore you for the best part of the summer, I’ve somehow managed to edit my novel. On a structural level I’m talking now. I think I finally have something I can send out!
I’ve simplified the plot in some areas, because guess what? I wasn’t actually required to write the next instalment of Luther after all!
I sent my manuscript off to be critiqued by a Reader for the New Writer’s Scheme; part of the Romantic Novelists Association, and boy, did it need it! My Reader was kind. But honest. I don’t know who it was (their identity is kept on a need-to-know basis, and we don’t need to know).
However, I’d love to hug and assure them I was not in the slightest offended by any suggested change. I utilised about 97.8% of them in fact because the new words and grammar and alterations changed not the plot, but the tone. The maturity of the prose. It’s still my story but it’s got High School clothing now, rather than the rather shabby primary wear it had been used to.
I like it. And so did two agents at the annual conference. We must not get too excited because agents love ideas – it’s their job to find new authors’ books enticing. Once they read the whole thing, as opposed to those first three chapters we all work so hard to perfect, their enthusiasm could easily wane.
I decided I needed some serious help at this point. My first book. My first time digging up the roots of my literary baby. So I employed a mentor!
For six weeks (and we are four weeks in) I have an expert at my beck and call, someone to bounce ideas off, someone to moan to, someone to share excited moments with. She is paid to respond to me, which is great.
My mentor is also very honest. Calls a spade a spade and wouldn’t choose between two sentences I emailed one day when I was stuck. I had to choose myself, can you believe it 🤣
It was the best thing. My mentor asked me to dig deep and think about which of the two would have a greater emotional impact on the character at that point. Genius. I knew the answer, and went ahead and implemented the correct choice.
I’ve re-written my synopsis with her guidance and now am in the process of researching agents with a view to start submitting from the end of the month. I’m a big girl and am aware initial interest does not always lead to offers of representation, but wow, I’m having fun! I’m also going to find a spike to stick the rejection slips on – Stephen King did that. I read his writing journey in ON WRITING and fell a little bit in love with him to be honest. That book in itself is a masterpiece, let alone his novels, of which I know own six.
If we were to look back to this time last year (which we won’t bother doing) I suspect my blog posts were all about …. well, I can’t even remember. What I do remember from that time is only having 24,000 words!
I’m on my second high speed train of the day, en route to York. Attending another annual event run by the RNA means a chance to catch up with published authors and other hopeful authors-to-be 🖌🥂
Enough about me. What are you all up to?
In the meantime, excuse me while I start this book.