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!
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.
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.