Thursday, 22 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

Sorry I haven't blogged recently - it's been all go recently with baby wrangling, book promoting and Christmas present buying (for 15 people and a dog this year!) and I still have to write a synopsis & 3 chapters of a new chicklit book by the New Year! That said I'm officially on holiday now - from writing not child wrangling! - and I'm going to enjoy it. Bring on the mulled wine and mince pies!

Happy Christmas to you all!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The curious case of the lesser spotted novel

Actually 'Home for Christmas' has been spotted loads! In ASDA, Sainsbury and WHSmiths everywhere from Brighton to Rochdale, Exmouth to Manchester, Cambridge to Northumberland, Poole to Bristol - pretty much everywhere it seems! I went in search of it with Spudling the other day and was delighted to find it at #18 in the local (Bristol) Sainsbury's branch and out of the 10 copies that should have been on the shelf only 3 were left. Result! (Am assuming the other 7 weren't shoplifted!).

I even heard it was sold out in the Brighton Marina branch of ASDA and that a campaign was set up to email the branch to demand more copies! Well, it IS set in Brighton...

I absolutely LOVE it when people send me photos of their spottings, particularly when there are other people in them! Here's a selection. If you spot it anywhere do snap a pic, I'd love to see it (email to

Monday, 14 November 2011

And the winners are...

The Kindle comp winner is....

Catherine Miller

The runner up is....

MamaJ Hearts

The Swarovski crystal necklace winner is...


The runner up is..


Congratulations to you all!

Could you please email me your postal addresses & I will arrange for your prizes to be sent to you (if you would like the dedication in your copy of Home For Christmas to be dedicated to someone other than yourself do let me know).

Thanks to everyone who entered.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Second novel syndrome and sensible shoes...

Want to find out more? Check out my interview with Mel over on High Heels and Book Deals...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Is bringing out a book like bringing up baby?

People often refer to their novels as their 'babies' and compare writing a book with pregnancy and publication day with giving birth. Having done both recently I thought I'd write a post for Strictly Writing, comparing the two...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 11 November 2011

The transition from short stories to novels...

Featured on the fabulous womagwriter's blog today - an updated version of an article Helen M Hunt wrote for Writers Forum when 'Heaven Can Wait' came out. It's about my experience of writing short stories then turning my hand to novels, and what I learned.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Win a Kindle for Christmas! (or a Swarovski necklace!)

To celebrate the launch of 'Home for Christmas' I am giving away not one but two fab prizes - a Kindle and a Swarovski star necklace!

Competition 1 - Kindle competition

PRIZE: A 3G Kindle, an ebook version of 'Home for Christmas', a signed paperback of 'Home for Christmas' and a limited edition tote bag of the Duke of York cinema (by Brighton designer Nat Gowing). The runner up will receive a signed paperback of 'Home for Christmas' and a tote bag,

This is a competition for people who are fans of my official Facebook page. All you have to do is change your profile picture to the 'Home for Christmas' book cover & then write 'Pick me!' under the wall posting that links to this blog entry (it'll say 'Win a Kindle for Christmas...'). Anyone whose profile pic still shows the book cover at midnight on Sunday 13th November will be entered into the prize draw.

The earlier you write 'pick me' with the Home for Christmas cover as your profile pic the more entries you get into the draw i.e....

Enter today (Thursday 10th November) you get 4 entries into the draw
Enter on Friday 11th - 3 entries into the draw
Enter on Saturday 12th - 2 entries into the draw
Enter on Sunday 13th November - 1 entry into the draw

NB:Your profile pic must remain as the Home for Christmas book cover for each day for you to qualify for multiple entries

Competition 2 - Swarovski star necklace

PRIZE: A Swarovski star necklace, a signed paperback of 'Home for Christmas' and a limited edition tote bag of the Duke of York cinema (by Brighton designer Nat Gowing). The runner up will receive a signed paperback of 'Home for Christmas' and a tote bag.

To win this gorgeous Swarovski star necklace (RRP £50) all you need to do is tweet about competition 1! You can word your tweet as you like but you must link to this page & you must use the hash tags #homeforchristmas and #callytaylor in your tweet. The more tweets you send out the more entries you get into the draw to win the necklace. Only tweets sent after this blog post has been published and before 23.59 on Sunday 13th November are eligible for entry.

More (boring) Rules!

1. The competitions are open to UK residents only (sorry)
2. The competitions are not open to members of my family, employees of Orion publishers or members of their families
3. In order to ensure a fair draw each entry will be given a number. The total number of entries will be fed into an online random number generator and the number generated will be matched against the entry and judged the winner. This process will be carried out twice - one for the Kindle competition and once for the Swarovski necklace competition.
4. Failure to correctly follow the rules of the competition will result in disqualification and the competition organiser's verdict is final.
5. The competition organiser is Cally Taylor, in conjunction with Orion publishers.
6. The winners names will be posted on this blog on Monday 14th November 2011

Good luck!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

3 fab publication day posts...

Because I'm so badly organised at the moment (let's blame it on sleep deprivation!) I've accidentally scheduled THREE guest blog posts/interviews to appear today, publication day for 'Home for Christmas'. Doh!

Huge thanks to Caroline, the Romantic Novelists Association and Kelly for allowing me on their blogs. I'd love it if you paid them a visit too - oooh, and you've got two chances to win a signed copy!

An Interview with Caroline Smailes (author of 'Black Boxes', 'In Search of Adam' and 'Like Bees to Honey')

An Interview with Kelly
(A Place of my Own), mum and craftswoman extraordinaire

My top 15 writing tips over on the RNA blog (I originally wrote this for Woman's Own when 'Heaven Can Wait' was published but the feature was bumped in favour of an X Factor story!)

All I want for Christmas... to decorate the tree and see the Spudling's face when we turn on the lights for the first time!

On the left is my Christmas tree from last year. Wow. Last year I was part of a couple and now I have a family. It really does blow my mind the more I think about it.

One of the things Mr Metal and I talked a lot about when I was pregnant was how Christmas takes on new meaning when you have a child because you get to experience the magic all over again, through their eyes. The Spudling will only be 3 months old this Christmas and will spend most of his time just looking I imagine but, by next year, we'll probably have to keep an eye out to stop him toddling up to the tree and pulling it down!

I popped into House of Fraser in Bristol a couple of weeks ago and couldn't resist a new tree decoration in the shape of a teddy bear. I nearly bought a whole basketful of new decorations but decided, instead, to buy a new decoration each year to signify another Christmas spent with the Spudling. To say I'm hugely excited about Christmas this year would be an understatement. we are - launch day of my second novel 'Home for Christmas'. Welcome to my online party! I obviously can't sign any books but if you fancy a free signed bookplate to stick in your book just drop me a line at with your name (I'll dedicate it to you and/or a relative/friend) and address and I'll stick one (or more) in the post in time for Christmas!

A great big lovely box of books arrived the other day. I was super excited to receive them but the baby was asleep in my arms so I had to satisfy myself with staring at the box until the Spudling roused himself and I could pop him in the pram long enough to rip open the box. And ooooh pretty, pretty books - they really are much lovelier and sparklier than they look in the photo.

I also took the chance to flick through the copies of RED and GLAMOUR magazine I'd bought the day before (will I ever have the time to read a magazine from cover to cover again?!) and check out their mentions of Home for Christmas. RED called it a 'Cinderella tale' and GLAMOUR called it a 'sparkling story' - how lovely.

I heard the other day that ASDA will be stocking the book for the next two weeks, then Sainsbury will have it for two weeks and finally WHSmith Travel will stock it from 24th November until the end(ish) of December. Apparently Waitrose are going to stock it too but I'm not sure when. If you spot it anywhere please do let me know. When 'Heaven Can Wait' came out lots of people took photos of the book in various shops and I loved seeing them. I know I'll be stalking the local supermarkets for the next couple of months...

The online reviews are starting to roll in now and I can't begin to express how nervewracking it is, waiting for them to be posted. When 'Heaven Can Wait' came out two years ago the first review I read online absolutely slated the book. I promptly burst into tears because I thought it meant everyone was going to hate my book (thankfully that wasn't the case!). These days I've got a much thicker skin and as long as most of the people who buy 'Home for Christmas' enjoy it then I've done my job. If you read it and want to give me some feedback I'd really appreciate a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

What else?

I'm going to be running what I think is a very exciting competition to celebrate the launch of 'Home for Christmas'. I'll post the details in another blog post later today. you know what I want for Christmas what about everyone else who's so kindly turned up to help me celebrate? Do check out their blog posts - they're all lovely! (NB: Some might not be posted until later in the day)

Tom Conoboy
Mama J
Liz Fenwick
Beth Kemp
Womag Writer
Dizzy C
Ananda (Books to Remember)
Rea Book Review
Amanda (One More Page)
Sarah Broadhurst Reviews
Jenny (tea stains)
Shaz's book boudoir
Little Me's Pint Sized Rants
Ellen Brickley's Pink Tea and Paper
The Writing Pad
Captain Black
Suzy Doodling
Suz Korb
Sarah G

Thank you all for taking part, I really appreciate it!

Right, on with my day - which will mostly involve changing nappies, walking round cemetries and playing 'shake the rattle from left to right'! It may be publication day but I'm still a mum! :)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Where do I write my novels?

Hint - it's not a glamorous location!

I love Novelicious's 'My Writing Room' feature and I'm chuffed that they wanted to know about mine.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The 'All I Want for Christmas' blog launch of 'Home for Christmas'

Back in this post I mentioned that I'm not having a launch party for my second novel because of the small squally person that appeared in my life 4 weeks and 5 days ago and I barely have time to get dressed these days never mind pull off a swanky do! Instead I've asked if bloggers would like to join me in posting an 'All I want for Christmas' blog post on publication day (10th November). So far the following very lovely people have said they'll join in:

Tom Conoboy
Mama J
Liz Fenwick
Beth Kemp
Womag Writer

And, with massive thanks to Shaz (Shazjera) who featured me on the 'Secret Squirrel' feature on her blog the following have said they'll join in too:

Dizzy C
Ananda (Books to Remember)
Rea Book Review
Amanda (One More Page)
Sarah Broadhurst Reviews

Update (5th November). The following lovely people have offered to join in too. Thank you all!

Jenny (tea stains)
Shaz's book boudoir
Little Me's Pint Sized Rants
Ellen Brickley's Pink Tea and Paper
The Writing Pad
Captain Black
Suzy Doodling
Suz Korb
Sarah G

If you'd like to get involved just leave me a comment here or an email and, on 10th November, I'll link to all the blogs involved. To join in just blog on 10th November with the title 'All I want for Christmas' and blog about what you want this year or you could blog about the best (or worst!) present you've ever received or any other Christmas tale you want to share. I can't wait to read them all! If you could insert the cover, blurb and Amazon link for 'Home for Christmas' at the end that would be wonderful.

Here's the blurb, cover etc:

Beth Prince has always loved fairytales and now, aged twenty-four, she feels like she's finally on the verge of her own happily ever after. She lives by the seaside, works in the Picturebox - a charming but rundown independent cinema - and has a boyfriend who's so debonair and charming she can't believe her luck! There's just one problem - none of her boyfriends have ever told her they love her and it doesn't look like Aiden's going to say it any time soon. Desperate to hear 'I love you' for the first time Beth takes matters into her own hands - and instantly wishes she hadn't. Just when it seems like her luck can't get any worse, bad news arrives in the devilishly handsome shape of Matt Jones. Matt is the regional director of a multiplex cinema and he's determined to get his hands on the Picturebox by Christmas. Can Beth keep her job, her man and her home or is her romantic-comedy life about to turn into a disaster movie?

In other news, @Keris and @HelenRedders told me on Twitter that 'Home for Christmas' is featured in RED magazine's pick of festive reads. They call it a 'Cinderella tale' which I love!

Here's the scan Helen took:


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Sleep is for the weak*...

Not long now until 'Home for Christmas' is published (10th November) and I'm counting the days - partly because I'm excited (of course) and partly because I'd really like to have a go at the whole 'sleep when the baby sleeps' thing. Instead I'm going for the 'answer interviews, arrange online promotion and send out review copies while the baby sleeps' alternative which is a damned sight more exhausting (god I'm tired!). If I can cross one thing off my 'to do' list each day I see it as a real accomplishment and if I manage two I'm over the moon!

I'm particularly pleased with myself today as I got all Mel's questions answered (for an interview that'll appear on the High Heels and Book Deals blog later this month) AND I confirmed the details of a competition being run in collaboration with the Duke of Yorks cinema in Brighton (the inspiration behind the 'PictureBox' cinema in 'Home for Christmas'). Oh, and I made dinner too! ;)

Thank you to everyone who's stuck their hand in the air & said they'll blog 'All I want for Christmas' (see one of my previous posts) on 10th November to help promote HfC - I really appreciate it!

Now excuse me while I pass out (baby allowing...)

* I am weak, I admit it! I miss sleep...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 28 October 2011

Do you remember the first time?

Thanks for all the great comments on the 'Home for Christmas' book trailer. I co-wrote it with a friend (and Orion filmed it) and I was curious how it would be received. I know book trailers aren't for everyone but, after seeing a talk about online marketing and trailers at the RNA conference this summer, I thought I'd give it a go. It made me laugh anyway!

I'm curious, what do you guys think of book trailers? Do you think they are effective marketing? Spoil a book? A waste of time? Would you want one for your book?

Back to the tried and tested promotional route today - I'm guest blogging over on Talli Roland's fabulous blog about the first time I (rather than Beth) heard those '3 little words' for the first time. I had to wait longer than you might think...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

My boyfriend won't say 'I love you'...


Sorry to barge in on Cally's blog but I'm having a bit of a crisis and I need to share it with you. Maybe you can help?

I should probably introduce myself. My name's Beth Prince. I'm twenty-four, I live in Brighton, date Aiden - journalist extraordinaire - and I work in the Picturebox, the only independent cinema in town.

I haven't got the most exciting life in the world but it makes me happy. There's just one thing that's worrying me - my boyfriend hasn't said I love you yet. It wouldn't bother me (well, maybe a little bit - it has been over ten months since we got together) but it's not like this is the first time someone I've gone out with has stumbled over saying those three little words.

In fact... no, how about I tell you myself instead of waffling about it here....

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After

Do you like short stories? Thinking of writing for the women's magazine market? Want to read a fabulous collection of funny, moving, thought provoking stories by 13 successful women's fiction writers? (including me!)

You don't have to wait much longer...

‘Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After’ is a vibrant and varied collection of stories from writers who between them have had hundreds of short stories published in women’s magazines in the UK and around the world! Contributors have also won or been placed in dozens of competitions, published novels and written non-fiction for many UK magazines.

The twenty-six stories encompass the dizzying heights of happiness, the heartbreaking depths of sadness and every emotion in between. Within the pages of this book you’ll meet a housewife with a surprising secret, a beekeeper with a problem and an undertaker with something unusual on his mind. You’ll also encounter angels, ghosts, aliens and many other intriguing characters. And, in the end, you may just find the path to happy ever after.

The idea for this book came from the successful ‘A Story A Fortnight’ writing group which brought the writers involved together in a project that has inspired and supported them in their short story writing.

Who’s been up to ‘Monkey Business'?

What's happening in 'The House At Summer's End’?

Who is 'The Girl In The Yellow Dress'?

If you want to know, you'll have to read ‘Tears and Laughter and Happy Ever After’.

You can follow us on Twitter @tears_laughter
You can join our Facebook page

We are aiming to release the book in Kindle format next month and in paperback by the end of the year. We'll be launching a website soon, but meanwhile keep an eye on Twitter and Facebook for news.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 17 October 2011

Win a signed Advanced Review copy of 'Home for Christmas'

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Home for Christmas by Cally Taylor

Home for Christmas

by Cally Taylor

Giveaway ends October 20, 2011.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Me, Mr Metal, the Spudling & our little bubble

First off I'd like to thank everyone for their congrats, emails, messages, cards, flowers & presents. Mr Metal* and I have been overwhelmed by the excited, delighted response to our news and we can't thank you enough for adding to the magic of the Spudling's** birth.

Becoming a little family really is the most wonderful thing in the world and, nearly two weeks after he was born, we're still marvelling over every sound and facial expression our tiny son makes. And don't get me started on his farts, they make us howl with laughter every time. How can something so tiny make such a loud noise?!

For the last two weeks Mr Metal, the Spudling and I have lived in the most amazing bubble and we'd be tempted to stay here forever if it weren't for real life knocking at the door. Mr Metal has to go back to work in 2 weeks time (yes, we're uber lucky that he gets to spend a whole month with us) and my second novel, Home for Christmas, is out on 10th November.

When Heaven Can Wait came out in 2009 I pulled out all the stops to promote it but this time around my injured thumb (which is nearly fully recovered thank goodness) and my new status as 'mum' (aka the milk machine!) means that my ability to get involved in lots of PR and marketing has been limited. I have been involved in a few marketing ideas - including something chicklitreviews will be exclusively debuting at the end of this month, a writers space feature for Novelicious, some competitions I'll be running from my Facebook page and a tiny blog tour - but that's it. I haven't had time to write articles or stories for the press and there won't be a launch party or any signings. The thing is I really need this book to be a success if I'm to stand a chance of getting a second two book deal, especially in this worrying 'are chicklit sales on the downturn?' time and I'm running out if time and feasible ideas.


I was wondering if you could help?

The tagline of the book is 'all she wants for Christmas is three little words' and I thought it would be wonderful if, on 10th November, as many bloggers as possible could blog 'All I want for Christmas is...' and then something you want this year, or when you were a child, or a great (or terrible!) Christmas memory. And if you could end your post with an image of Home for Christmas, the blurb and a link to Amazon that would be amazing!

If you'd like to get involved please comment on this post or email/tweet me and I'll post the image/blurb/link nearer the time.

But for now there's a beautiful little boy who's wailing for a feed so time for me to take off my author hat and put my mummy one back one. I like the way it looks! :)

* my boyfriend used to be the lead singer in a signed heavy metal band but now has a much more sensible job!
** My nickname for baby on this blog because I thought my pregnant bump looked more like a potato than a beach ball!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

My TopSecretProject finally revealed...

Born on 1st October by emergency C Section (he was breech) at 7.57am, my first child - a son - weighing 9lb 1.5oz.

He is perfect in every single way and his dad & I couldn't be more in love with him.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Six Sentence Sunday

I saw this on Liz Fielding's blog this morning and thought it might be fun to join in. I left it too late to officially sign up with Six Sentence Sunday for this week but thought I'd post six sentences from 'Home for Christmas' anyway. Feel free to play along in the comments - post 6 sentences from whatever you're working on at the moment.

What happened in the cinema that day we first met became a bit of a running joke between me and Aiden. Whenever one of us was down or grumpy, the other just had to say, ‘It could be worse, you could be stuck in a toilet!’ and then we’d both laugh. Well, I always laughed. Aiden didn’t seem to find it quite so amusing after the hundredth time I said it.

In a way, it was weird that we’d ended up together. Our taste in films was about as diverse as it could be.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 22 September 2011

A bit of this and that...

Not much to report but I thought I should do a quick catch-up blog post as today was the day I was planning on typing 'THE END' on Project B after a 10,000 words a week x 7 weeks mad first draft dash (a challenge I set myself back in August).

The truth is that slicing my thumb open, getting PR/marketing in place for 'Home for Christmas' and tending to TopSecretProject have prevented me from achieving my goal. No 'The End' for this author but I am about 29% of the way through the first draft (roughly 21,000 / 70,000 words) and I'm not going to beat myself up about it.

Having said that I do feel a bit of (internal) pressure to get it finished asap but think that's more to do with the fear/worry that someone else will write, and publish, a similar novel before I can get this one 'out there'. I had a similar fear with 'Heaven Can Wait' and several heart stopping moments as I was writing the first draft when someone would mention that a TV show or novel was 'similar'. The worry was unfounded. The fact is that no one is going to write EXACTLY the same novel as you and, even if their novel DOES propel the author straight into the bestseller charts, it doesn't mean that your novel won't get picked up too (publishers do like a bandwagon!).

A couple of blog posts have attracted my attention this week. There's this one by Cassandra, a literary agent intern, about word counts and how they differ between different genres etc:

And this one by Adele Ward about how an advance can ruin an author:

Thought provoking stuff I thought.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

If I could be anyone I'd be...

...Michael Palin!

Not only has he travelled to places I could only imagine visiting AND had adventures that money can't buy but he's been in films and is part of Monty Python, one of the greatest comedy partnerships ever.

I've spied on seen him at the Orion parties (he's an author too don'tchaknow!) and he seems like a genuinely lovely guy.

Who would you be?

In case you're wondering... this post is brought to you by a blog splash for the launch of Talli Roland's new book 'Watching Willow Watts' ...

About Watching Willow Watts

For Willow Watts, life has settled into a predictably dull routine: days behind the counter at her father's antique shop and nights watching TV, as the pension-aged residents of Britain's Ugliest Village bed down for yet another early night. But everything changes when a YouTube video of Willow's epically embarrassing Marilyn Monroe impersonation gets millions of hits after a viewer spots Marilyn's ghostly image in a frame.

Instantly, Willow's town is overrun with fans flocking to see the 'new Marilyn'. Egged on by the villagers -- whose shops and businesses are cashing in -- Willow embraces her new identity, dying her hair platinum and ramming herself full of cakes to achieve Marilyn's legendary curves.

But when a former flame returns seeking the old Willow, Willow must decide: can she risk her stardom and her village's newfound fortune on love, or is being Marilyn her ticket to happiness?

Buy the book:

Amazon UK:

Monday, 12 September 2011

Bookmarks, business cards and blogs...

Sorry about the lack of updates recently, I'm not sure where time has gone but it seems to have developed a magical 'speeding up' quality which means there just don't seem to be enough hours in the day at the moment.

The stitches in my thumb came out a couple of weeks ago - and I now have an impressive zig zag scar that I have to massage several times a day - but I still have the thumb splint on. It'll remain on for a few more weeks until my physio starts but I'm kind of getting used to it. I've even taught myself how to crossstitch with my right hand (it's slow going though!)

Talking of the 'thumb incident' it's definitely impeded my progress with Project B. Instead of being about 60-70% of the way through as planned, I've only written 25% of the first draft (17,661 words / 70,000). That said, considering I'm typing up the 12,000 or so words I wrote by hand before my accident as well as writing new words AND I have to keep taking breaks when my thumb swells up, I'm not doing too badly.

I've also been ploughing on with my Home for Christmas promo work, including making some bookmarks and business cards online and organising a very small blog tour to celebrate publication day (10th November). The business cards are from and I love them, despite the fact I didn't quite get the left and right margins to match! The bookmarks are from and they're great but not really weighty enough to be long lasting bookmarks, they're more like slim flyers! If anyone knows a good, cheap online place for decent bookmarks do please let me know!

What else? Well...Top Secret Project is due to launch very, very soon and all work on ProjectB and Home for Christmas will temporarily stop when that kicks off. Sorry to be so cloak and dagger about it but I'm the superstitious sort and it's all very exciting and nerve wracking at the same time. Watch this space - I'll reveal all in the next few weeks...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 5 September 2011

Want to write a pocket novel?

Aka a 50,000 word romantic novella for My Weekly or People's Friend?

Then sign up for multi-published pocket novelist Sally Quilford's workshop in Chesterfield on 22 October. Only £35!

More details here: Sally's blog

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Thumbelina: The tale of the one-handed writer...

Just a quick update to say that the cast/clubhand came off on Monday and I'm now the proud owner of a thumb splint! I feel so much lighter and unencumbered it's unbelievable - and generally much chirpier in myself!

I can even type - though I'm not supposed to b/c I'm supposed to keep my left hand elevated - so am keeping two-handed typing to a minimum.

The Dragon App turned out to be a bit of a disappointment when I used it this morning. It kept failing to transcribe the chapter I was reading (though it DID transcribe my test - 'Hello my name is Cally, I live in this house' - each and every time I said it which was weird!) so I might hang onto the expensive PC version after all as the thumb splint is likely to be around for another 6 weeks or so.

As well as working on Project B - I wrote over 1,000 one-handed words yesterday taking me to 13,470 / 70,000 (19.0%) - I've been working on some of the marketing/PR ideas for 'Home for Christmas' that Louisa and Sophie and I talked through over lunch the other week.

One idea in particular sent me into spasms of delight (and guffaws of laughter) when a friend very kindly took a look at what I'd produced, tweaked it and made it 100% better. I'm crossing everything that it comes to fruition. If it does hopefully I'll get to debut it around October time so watch this space.

There are still several things on my 'Home for Christmas' PR 'to do' list and I'm working through them slowly but surely.

I'm still enjoying Project B but have found writing it comes in fits and starts. Last night, for example, the words seemed to spill out but, at other times, it's like pulling teeth. Even though I've done more plotting than normal with this novel I'm definitely writing my way into it and only discovered the true voices of two of the characters yesterday (5 chapters in). That's why I keep banging on about the importance of fast & dirty (shit) first drafts. There's absolutely no point editing and polishing your chapters as you go along because you'll only end up rewriting them once you reach the end anyway! Well, I will...

It's weird though - I do find myself re-reading bits and thinking, "that's not very good. Call yourself a writer? How clumsily did you word that?!" and then I have to remind myself to take my own advice - just get the story down and make it publishable later.

Right - I've now suitably motivated myself to log off the internet and write a bit more. Ta taaaa!

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Thumb Chop Writer HEARTS her iPad

First off thanks LOADS for all the well wishes and concerned tweets and messages about my recent thumb amputation (KIDDING!) laceration. The local anaesthetic wore off about six hours after my op but, touch wood, I've had very little pain and have coped with any discomfort since by taking a couple of paracetamol.

After taking Friday and Saturday off to sulk (I mean recuperate) I got back on the Project B 'write 70k in 70 days' bandwagon today and it was all down to my trusty new iPad (I'm not being paid to pimp iPads, honest!).

First off I did a bit more plotting using a mind map app called 'Idea Sketch'. It's a great app, cheap too, but I discovered today that it's a bit memory intensive so I might have to split the novel into a couple of different projects rather than one big mind map.

Next I downloaded a writing app called 'My Writing Spot' which, at £2.99, is pretty reasonable for what is basically a notepad app that syncs what you write with an online website (good for backing up your work!) and, finally, I downloaded the Dragon voice recognition app which was FREE!

I haven't done a great deal of work with it yet but the test I did do worked brilliantly (it even recognised some fairly unusual first names) and I was able to edit the transcription and then cut and paste it into the 'My Writing' app. You can also use Dragon to post to Twitter and Facebook but I haven't tried that yet. To be honest I'm seriously thinking about cancelling my order for the £75 PC version of the Dragon software and sticking with the free iPad app!

All in all I only wrote 325 new words today but I'm happy with that as a) they were typed with one finger of my right hand and b) most of today was spend working out which apps would actually help me and speed up the 'writing' process rather than distract me (plants verses zombies I'm talking to you!).

Now to turn my attention to some proofreading comments that have come in for Home for Christmas.

Is there an app for that? ;)

12,417 / 70,000 words

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 19 August 2011

Best excuse ever for not writing...

I sliced open a tendon in my left thumb whilst trying to remove a food processor blade from the dishwasher!

Yesterday I was on an operating table, wide awake, as the tendon was sewn back together (huge kudos to the Plastics team at Frenchay hospital, Bristol who saw me so quickly and made the whole experience stress free).

Considering how small the initial cut was (about 1cm) it's amazing I managed to do so much damage. The gignormous cast on my arm is to stop me from moving my thumb in the wrong direction and breaking the tendon sutures (eek!) and it's held in place above my heart by a collar and cuff sling! hopefully it'll come off in the next couple of weeks and I'll get a splint instead. In 5 weeks time I'm allowed to hold something the weight of a cup of tea and in 7 weeks something the weight of a filled kettle.

So yeah, this little mishap (my first visit to hospital in 22 years - the last time was to have teeth out!) has pretty much put paid to my 70k in 7 weeks plan for Project B. I was doing so well too, 12,000/70,000 words written longhand in less than a week and a half! Hmmm...pride comes before a fall and all that.

My new plan (as I am left handed and can't write with my right hand) is to explore voice recognition software and transcribe what I've written so far and then add to it if I can. I've ordered 'Dragon' software from Amazon which should hopefully arrive soon. This blog entry, btw, is being typed with one finger of my right hand. I'm a touch typist normally so this is pretty slow going for me! Not much I can do about the cross stitch I was working on before the accident and I guess knitting is out too!

While I spend the next 5 weeks recuperating if anyone can suggest how on EARTH you can do up a bra one handed (or butter toast, or slice an egg or any of the other myriad of things you don't realise you need 2 hands for until you only have one!) do please let me know!

One bit of news to cheer me up this morning - my agent emailed to tell me that Heaven Can Wait is a bestseller in China. Yay!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Well that was knackering...

...but I did it!

10,189 words this week (2,000+ words a day for 5 days).

I had to work hard to get 2,000 words down after I met Sophie and Louisa from Orion for lunch on Thursday (SO fancied slumping on the sofa with a film) but I did it. We talked about promotion for Home for Christmas (there's going to be a great Facebook competition to celebrate publication week in November so make sure you 'like' me there if you want to be kept in the loop - and they were really enthusiastic about the marketing ideas I'd come up with. So really it's my own fault that I've got a bunch of other stuff to write/organise as well as 60,000 words of Project B to draft in the next six weeks!

Anyway Project B is definitely a dirty first draft at the moment and it'll need a hell of a lot of editing before I'll be happy showing it to anyone, but it's great watching the story unfold under my hand and I've already been surprised by one cliffhanger I didn't see coming.

Now to relax until Monday when I start the next 10,000 words!

10,189 / 70,000 (14%)

How's your writing week been?

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Why writing is like exercise...

So, until Tuesday, the only thing I'd written in approximately 18 months was my entry to the RNA Elizabeth Goudge competition and that was a couple of months ago. My lack of words wasn't because I was competing in the world procrastination championships but because I was hard at work editing and rewriting Home for Christmas whilst holding down a full time job and cramming in a busy social life.

I've got a bit of time on my hands at the moment but it's limited and in approximately six weeks time Project Top Secret (what is it with me and all these stupid projects I won't reveal? Annoying i know but I'm incredibly superstitious) begins and I won't have time to dedicate to Project B for quite a while.

So...I need to make the most of the time I do have available to me - hence the 10,000 word a week targets.

'I can do 2000 words a day, no problem' I told myself as I was typing up my last blog post. Sure, it took me 7 months to write the first draft of 'Home for Christmas' but I wrote 'Heaven Can Wait' in 3 months and 3 weeks - that's 2000 words a day isn't it (actually its more like 1,600)'

But you know something? Writing really is like exercise and if you don't do it regularly not only will you dread (and make excuses for) doing it again but your first attempt will be tough, you'll feel like it's taking forever and afterwards you'll be exhausted! And the next day you won't want to write again because you mentally ache, but you have to if you want to achieve whatever goal it is that you set yourself.

Meg Rosoff recently posted a blog post about how coming up with an idea for a novel is the fun bit and writing it is hard work. I totally agree. There's nothing I love more than lounging around, daydreaming about a novel idea and occasionally scribbling a few ideas into a notebook but that's just the writer warming up (the exercise equivalent to driving to the gym whilst telling your passenger how you're going to go on the treadmill for half an hour followed by an hour of weights and a 20 min bike cool down). You're wearing the right gear and you're talking like someone who exercises but you're not actually sweating!

Writing, like exercise, IS hard work and, over the last 3 days I've had to use all my mental reserves to keep writing until I hit 2000 words and not give into the gremlins in my brain that tell me I'm tired and deserve a rest and who really cares if I hit my self-imposed deadline or not. It's the same sort of thing when I'm on the treadmill 'one more mile and then you can stop' then, when I hit that mile, 'just to the end of this song and then you can stop'. I trick myself into continuing.

And you know what? When I complete that 3 mile run or hit 2000 words it's a similar kind of buzz. Because I've achieved something I worked hard for.

Today I wrote 2234 words, yesterday it was 2054 and the day before that 2058. That's TWENTY-SIX and a half pages of my moleskin notebook (I thought I'd give writing longhand a go for this project) and every one of those pages would be blank if I hadn't been my own writing personal trainer mentally shouting 'you can't stop yet!'. (That's not to say a big part of me isn't secretly dreading another punishing writing regime tomorrow and would much rather lie on the sofa and watch DVDs!)

My aim was to write 10,000 words this week. I just need to write another 3,654 in the next two days and then I can give myself Sunday off! Now there's another way to motivate myself...

How do you motivate yourself?

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

If a new front cover makes a writer's heart sing...

...mine is burbling along to Stevie Wonder's 'Isn't she lovely'!

I know I'm biased but what a lovely cover for my second novel!

'Home for Christmas' is set in Brighton and Hove and this could SO be one of the lovely squares in Hove. AND my name in sparkles in the sky looks a lot like the Flash animation I created for my website ( Clever Orion designers :)

Roll on 10th November (publication day), I can't wait to see it in the shops!

What do you think?

P.s. Thanks for all the comments on my plotting becoming procrastination post yesterday. I hit my target for the day & wrote 2,058 words. Haven't written a single word today - better get on with it!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

When Plotting Becomes Procrastinating: just get on with your novel!

I've been planning 'Project B' for a while now - and thinking about it even longer. It's been important to me not to rush headlong into into this new novel, partly because it's a departure from my published (or soon to be published) rom-com novels, but also because the experience of having to rewrite Home for Christmas a couple of times has made me realise how important it is that you get the 'thinking' about a novel right before you sit down and start writing.

I know some writers (my favourite chick lit writer Lisa Jewell included) sit down with the sketchiest of ideas and just start typing but that doesn't work for me. I need to know WHY I'm writing the novel I'm writing - what is it that is going to force me to give up large chunks of my social life for months on end? What is it that's going to get me out of bed in the middle of the night to write down an idea for a new scene? Who are these characters that chatter in my head as I walk to the shops and what do they want? Am I excited enough about this idea to see it through from beginning to end (including that awful sticky bit at 30,000 words in where you just want to chuck it in the bin)?

So yes, I've been thinking about Project B for a while and started plotting it (not entirely, I like the characters to surprise me) while I was on the writing retreat a few months back. Plotting was somewhat successful and spelled out the first couple of chapters but there were still things I needed clarifying - who were the characters, what did they look like, what did they want, what were their emotional arcs? - so I did a bit of paper-based brainstorming/mind mapping, did some fact-based research on the Internet/twitter, went on Flickr and printed out 'photos' of my characters, drew a map of the main location in the book and downloaded mind map, index card and storyboarding apps for my new IPad and bought an 'ugly toy' to represent my internal editor so I could throw it across the room if it dared tell me that my idea/writing/story was rubbish.

Hang on! 'Bought an ugly toy'?

Because that's, you know, vital preparation for novel writing isn't it?!

You can see what happened can't you? Instead of getting on with writing my novel I was making excuses why I wasn't ready yet. I still had to research x, plot y or buy z. If I didn't actually start WRITING project B I wouldn't have to face my very real fear that the final book wouldn't live up to its potential in my imagination. And if that happened I'd have failed. And no one wants to be a failure, even if just in their own head.

So you know what I did? I gave myself a start writing date - non negotiable.


And, like I did with Heaven Can Wait, I've given myself a tight deadline. 10,000 words a week, for 7 weeks, to produce a first draft of 70,000 words.

And it's allowed (supposed) to be shit.

This novel isn't under contract, it hasn't been promised to any publishers and the only people who know any of the plot details are my agent and my boyfriend. This is a novel I'm writing for me. It's a story I have to write. And yes, it might be the worst thing I've ever written but it might also be the best and I won't know unless I face my fears and write it. Starting today.

How about you? What are your fears stopping you from doing?

*(500 / 70,000 words written before breakfast. 1,500 left to write today.)

Friday, 5 August 2011

iPad test

Just a quick test to see if I can successfully blog and upload photos from my new toy (yes, another one!). Nothing to see here, move along please... ;)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, 22 July 2011

The secret to falling in love with your novel again... holding the bound proof/Advanced Review Copy in your hands for the first time.

It arrived today and I actually gasped when I opened the package.

I've seen a pencil sketch of the actual cover - it's completely different to this one - and I know this cover is just temporary (a bound proof is for marketing/PR purposes and isn't for sale) and the 'real' book isn't out until 10th November but it's just so damned pretty!

And pink!

And the tag line - 'All she wants for Christmas are three little words' - is just perfect!

Not only that but, all of a sudden, the 90,000 or so words I've rewritten and edited fifteen million times over the last two years (okay so I'm exaggerating slightly but I did put a hell of a lot of work into this novel) are suddenly real.

They're not just part of my laptop they an actual, proper, you-can-turn-the-pages-and-everything BOOK!

There have been times over the last few years where I would quite happily have thrown this novel (if it existed outside of my laptop) against the nearest wall but now I just want to stroke it and stare at it (I'll draw the line at coo-ing!) and carry it around with me.

I know people compare books to babies and even the mother of the ugliest baby in the world thinks it's beautiful, so excuse the gushing. I'm ever-so-slightly in love.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Cally joins the 21st century reading revolution!

I finally did it. I finally caved and bought myself a Kindle.

I ordered one:

- partly b/c I was ashamed that I was in the minority with my hand not in the air when Simon Petherick asked, in his RNA talk on the future of publishing, who had a Kindle

- partly because I'm getting sick of weighing down my handbag (and shoulder) with a heavy book during my once-weekly Bristol to London commute*

- and partly because I think it might be a good way to proofread the novels I write without causing the destruction of several small forests.

But mostly because I'm a bit of a geek and this looks like one gadget that is going to be around for a bit.

It is, I have to say, quite lovely. Much lighter than I thought and the text on screen really is easy on the eye with no glare whatsoever. But now I'm faced with a dilemma...which book to buy first?

If you're a Kindle owner what did you buy? Any hints/tips you'd like to pass on to a newbie?

*Please note, I haven't gone over to the dark side and will continue to buy lovely, strokeable 'proper' books as well as the 'e' kind. I'll just stick to reading them at home!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

On being a virgin (RNA conference virgin, that is)

I can't remember why I didn't go to the Romantic Novelist's Association conference last year - possibly because I was knee deep in Home for Christmas edits - but there was no way I was going to miss this years', particularly as Newport is only half an hour from Bristol by train!

My weekend got off to a great start when I ran into Kate Harrison at the train station at about 2.30pm on Friday afternoon. We shared a taxi to the Caerleon Campus where the conference was being held and navigated the stairs and corridors to find our way to the main RNA registration room (we were actually looking for reception and the keys to our rooms but it didn't matter in the greater scheme of things). We were greeted by a very cheerful Jan Jones and given our name badges (it's surprising how quickly you can get used to other people immediately peering at your chest the moment they meet you!) and a goody bag containing 4 free books (woo hoo!), various promotional postcard, bookmarks & pens and a 100g bar of Green & Blacks chocolate (yum).

We left our suitcases there and went off in search of the first session - the 3pm session by literary agent Lizzy Kremer.

Here's a quick summary of what she said:

- in order for her to take on a novel she has to know that she can sell it. She also has to love it. Mostly she needs to love it.
- the characters in the novel need to feel real and she has to like spending time with them.
- pacing and plot need to work, she has to be eager to find out what happens next.
- and the voice needs to ring out
- she takes women's fiction by, and about, women.
- she likes books about love - romantic love, mothers, female friendship, grief and journeys of self-discovery (self love)

The rest of her talk was about what makes for a good contract and I learnt loads.

After Lizzie's talk I sped round to reception with my case and picked up the keys to my room. It was a fairly Spartan student room with a single bed and a noisy warm fridge but it came with complimentary toiletries and an en-suite. Result! (I'm easily pleased!). I made it back to the main building in time for Anne Ashurst's (RNA Chairman) welcome, swiftly followed by the RNA Award Winners Panel. It featured Louise Allen (love story of the year), Elizabeth Chadwick (historical novel of the year), Jill Mansell (romantic comedy of the year) and was chaired by the effervescent Jane Wenham-Jones.

I didn't write notes on this session but it made for fascinating listening, finding out how long other authors took to write their books, whether they plotted or not and how many drafts they completed. The biggest surprise of the discussion, for me, was finding out that Jill Mansell writes all her novels long hand. She splits the page in half down the middle, writes the first draft on the right hand side and edits on the left. When she's finished someone (I think she said her daughter) types it up for her. It's not that she's a technophobe, she said, she just can't type very fast!

Friday ended with drinks in the bar and self-service dinner in the refectory. There were so many people I recognised, and so many friendly faces that were up for a chat, I was never without someone to talk to.

Saturday started at 9am with a terrifically useful workshop on descriptive writing, lead by Linda Gillard. I took extensive notes and - with Linda's generous permission - I'll be writing a full blog post on what I learnt later this week or next.

After the morning break it was time for Jane Wenham-Jones's session on finding the hook/angle for your book.

(Jane Wenham-Jones: Where's the hook? What's my angle?)

It was a really fun, interactive session where the audience got to shout out their 6 second elevator pitches to gauge Jane's reaction.

What's an elevator pitch? Well, imagine you are in a lift with the agent/publisher of your dreams and you've got 6 seconds to tell them what your book is about before the doors open. You can't waffle, you need to be specific and paint a picture with your description.

I really struggled with mine for 'Home for Christmas' (and didn't shout it out) but think it's something along the lines of 'One Day meets When Harry Met Sally, set in a Brighton cinema' (see, told you it was rubbish!)

The next session I attended was run by Flo Nicholl & Anna Boatman (assistant editors at Mills and Boon) about 'the unpredictable journey to happy-ever-after'.

(Flo Nicholl & Anna Boatman: the unpredictable journey to happy-ever-after)

I was hoping the session would be generic to all novels with happy-ever-after novels but it was quite specific to Mills and Boon. If you'd like to know what they said please leave a comment and I'll type up my notes if there's a lot of interest.

After a lovely lunch of jacket potato with ham and salad, followed by cheesecake (oops!) it was time for Liz Fielding's session on blending humour with emotion.

(Liz Fielding: Blending Humour with Emotion)

It was another fantastically useful session and highlights included:

- Liz pointing out that the big draw in romantic comedies is when the humour stops being funny and becomes poignant
- humour during low moments (eg. In Pretty Woman when Richard Gere asks Julia Roberts several times how she is and she relies 'fine'. Frustrated he asks her for another word to which she answers 'Asshole!)
- stick with wry smile moments rather than pratfalls. The smile of recognition from the reader heightens the emotional impact
- think about using all 5 senses in the humorous bits of your novel

At 3.15pm it was time for 'Creating characters we believe in' with Rachel Summerson (who writes as Elizabeth Hawksley).

(Rachel Summerson: Creating characters we believe in)

This was another session where I took extensive notes and Rachel was kind enough to grant me permission to feature them on this blog. More about that session later this/next week but basically we looked at what makes for a believable hero, heroine and supporting cast.

Next up was Lorelei Mathias's talk on 'Book marketing for small pockets' during which she showed us examples of marketing campaigns/websites/book trailers, including ones for her own books, that had either been successful/well received or gone viral. More on that in another blog post I think!

(Lorelei Mathias: Book marketing for small pockets)

And that was that for Saturday...apart from the wonderful Gala dinner and my wonderful
surprise (see previous post).

Sunday began with a full English breakfast (well why not, in for a penny in for a pound!) followed at 9am by Fiona Harper's hugely useful talk on 'getting emotion on the page and keeping it there'.

(Fiona Harper: Getting Emotion on the Page and Keeping it There)

It was such a gem of a session I don't think I stopped writing once in the hour I was there. Highlights included:

- the importance of universal emotion. Your setting can be unfamiliar to the reader but they must be able to identify with the emotion
- BUT, to increase emotion in your book you need to be specific about how your character reacts to a situation rather than them reacting how everyone would
- build your characters from the inside out, starting with their core truths. What are their beliefs? Their values? Their goals? Their past wounds? Their fears?
- grow your characters, it's all about the character arc of their emotional journey - particularly their inner conflict

Next up was Simon Petherick's talk on 'the future of fiction publishing'.

Simon started his talk by telling us that publishing power has moved from the publishers to the retailers but now the retailers are struggling because of rent costs etc and the key change for the future is technological. are now selling more e-books than physical books. Simon thinks that, because it's relatively easy for an individual to publish their own ebooks, in the future writers will become stronger and weaknesses will be with the publishers. This is because writers will always be needed to create stories but the role of publishers will change. They will need to convince writers to have their ebooks published by them on the strength of the marketing might they can offer. Simon stressed that the most important element when it comes to selling an ebook is to get the jacket right (see the recent Catherine Cookson books on Kindle for an example of getting it wrong!)

The day ended for me with a round table discussion on marketing with fellow authors before Anne Ashurst summed up her first conference as Chairman.

I had lunch then spent half an hour lapping up the early afternoon sunshine with Tamsyn Murray before our taxi to the station arrived. I left, utterly exhausted, but with a notebook bulging with notes, a head throbbing with ideas (I actually woke up the other night with a marketing idea for Home for Christmas and couldn't get back to sleep until I'd written it down!) and a renewed enthusiasm for writing romantic comedies. And let's not forget all the friends I caught up with, the new ones I made and all the laughs, moans and chats that made the weekend.

Will I be going to next year's conference? You try and stop me!

(all photos by me!)

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Rough drafts and thick skins

This time it's my turn to do a guest post on someone else's blog!

Back in April writer and Writers' Forum competition compiler Sally Quilford challenged the writing world to try and write 80,000 words in 80 days, starting on 1st May 2011. Over 100 writers signed up and she's been encouraging and writing alongside them ever since on the blog she set up especially for the challenge -

When she asked if any writers wanted to contribute a guest blog I stuck my hand in the air. While I haven't written 80k in 80 days, or even a NaNoWriMo 50k in 30 days, I did write the first draft of Heaven Can Wait as fast as I could (roughly 99k in 105 days) and know how hard it is to keep your motivation up.

So here's my post on 'Rough Drafts and Thick Skins'. It's about the importance of writing a fast, dirty first draft and saving the polishing for your edits. In other words, as I wrote in the guest post, "if you read your first draft back and think ‘this is shit’, that’s absolutely the RIGHT thing to think."

Monday, 11 July 2011

A wonderful surprise at the RNA Conference 2011 Where do I start?

I had planned to blog about attending the Romantic Novelist's conference for the first time - my initial impressions, the talks, who I met, the food etc - and I took lots of photos, wrote lots of notes and then Saturday threw me a total curve ball.

A wonderful, totally unexpected curve ball.

So I think I'll start there and work backwards...

After a day full of brilliant talks (I'll be blogging the descriptive writing and creating credible characters ones in more detail later this week) it was finally time for the Gala dinner. The main hall had been completed transformed by the wonderful staff at Caerleon Campus, Newport...

...and I took a seat at a table with Tamsyn Murray, Ruth Saberton, Miranda Dickinson, Joanna Cannon, Kate Harrison and Julie Cohen (I know - talk about esteemed company!).

(from l to r: Joanna Cannon, Miranda Dickinson, Ruth Saberton, Tamsyn Murray)

We swapped news, made each other laugh and had a good old gossip over dinner (avocado and tomato starter, chicken tarragon main and some kind of pannacotta dessert) and then it was time for the winner of the Elizabeth Goudge Trophy to be announced.

I nearly didn't enter the Elizabeth Goudge competition (to write a 1,000 word novel opening on the theme of 'keeping a secret') because the info arrived bang in the middle of my move from Brighton to Bristol and the closing date was about 2 weeks later. I was also a bit nervous. I'd been editing my second novel, 'Home for Christmas', for what felt like forever and I was worried I'd lost 'it', the ability to write something fresh. But, never one to walk away from a challenge, I decided that I'd bloody well write an entry - no matter how rusty or rubbish - and I'd finish it and get it the post. It would give me a sense of satisfaction that I'd written something new and different, if nothing else.

Annie Ashcroft, the new Chair of the RNA, took to the microphone and announced that, like the Oscars, she'd be talking about each of the six shortlisted entries in turn before revealing the top 3. The names of the authors of each story were in sealed envelopes so the judges, and the listening audience (of approximately 160 writers!) had no idea who'd written each story - they just knew the title.

Annie announced the title of the first shortlisted story and Kate Harrison turned to look at me to ask if it was mine (I'd, somewhat stupidly, announced to the table that I'd sent an entry in).

I shook my head. No, not mine.

We repeated this routine for the next three shortlisted stories and my heart began to sink - what an idiot for getting my hopes up that I stood a chance of making into onto the shortlist when I was in the company of so many talented writers. But THEN...

"Story number 5 'The Somnambulist's Daughter'"

I sat up with a a jolt. That was mine!

Oh my god. I'd made the top six. How wonderful! Not only that but I was on the shortlist with fellow blogger and Orion writer Liz Fenwick who was sitting at the next table with Anna Louise Lucia (who'd kindly sent all conference newbies a series of emails to calm our frayed nerves before it began) who was also shortlisted.

I listened, bursting with pleasure, as Annie described my novel opening and the audience gasped in response (it's one of the darkest things I've written in a while!).

Then it was time for the top three, in reverse order. I listened, my heart in my chest, as Annie announced third place, then second place - Liz Fenwick! Cue loads of whoops and excited clapping from the next table.

I held my

"And in first place, the girl in the coma story..."

My heart sunk. My story was called 'The Somnambulist's Daughter' not the 'The Girl in the...' Hang on! Why was Tamsyn Murray bouncing up and down next to me? Why was my table beaming at me and clapping wildly?

"And the writer," Annie said as she opened the sealed envelope, "is Cally Taylor."

Oh my novel opening was about a girl in a story had won! I stood up, as the other finalists had been asked to, and clasped my hands to my mouth. I was so shocked it was all I could do not to burst into tears.

Annie and Jan Jones beckoned me over the the microphone and I accepted my award in a complete daze. One second Jan was explaining to me about how I should get my name engraved on it and the next every woman in the room was raising her glass to me.

*okay, the memory of that moment just overwhelmed me. Slight pause while I have a bit of a cry*

Right..*coughs*...sorry about that... where was I? Yep, somehow I got back to my table and composed myself enough for some photos. Call me cheesy but I couldn't resist doing 'a Wimbledon' pose with my cup (I've never been any good at sport!). So many people came over to congratulate me and say wonderful things about my novel opening I couldn't even begin to name them all and the rest of the evening passed in a glorious, delirious blur.

It was quite honestly one of the best nights of my life and HUGE THANKS to everyone on my table for making it so special, the judges, Annie Ashurst, Jan Jones, Catherine Jones/Kate Lace and everyone else involved. I should also thank my fabulous boyfriend for spotting an error in the first paragraph when I asked him to give it a quick read before I sent it off (it was swiftly corrected before it went in the post!).

Big, big congrats to Liz Fenwick (who has also blogged about the award) and Anna Louise Lucia.

So here we go - possibly the happiest woman at the RNA Conference 2011:

And here's my winning novel opening (for those who asked if they could read it):

The Somnambulist’s Daughter

Cally Taylor


Coma. There’s something innocuous about the word, soothing almost in the way it conjures up the image of a dreamless sleep. Only Charlotte doesn’t look as though she’s sleeping to me. There’s no soft heaviness to her closed eyelids. No curled fist pressed up against her temple. No warm breath escaping from her slightly parted lips. There is nothing peaceful at all about the way her body lies, prostrate, on the duvet-less bed, a clear plastic tube snaking its way out of her mouth, her chest polka-dotted with multicoloured electrodes.

The heart monitor in the corner of the room bleep-bleep-bleeps, marking the passage of time like a medical metronome and I close my eyes. If I concentrate hard enough I can transform the unnatural chirping into the reassuring tick-tick-tick of the grandfather clock in our living room. Fifteen years fall away in an instant and I am thirty-seven again, cradling baby Charlotte to my shoulder, her slumbering face pressed into the nook of my neck, her tiny heart out-beating mine, even in sleep. Back then it was so much easier to keep her safe.

“Sue?” There is a hand on my shoulder, heavy, dragging me back into the stark hospital room and my arms are empty again, save the sticker-covered diary I clutch to my chest. “Would you like a cup of tea?”

I shake my head then instantly change my mind. “Actually, yes.” I open my eyes. “Do you know what else would be nice?”

Brian shakes his head.

“One of those lovely teacakes from M&S.”

My husband looks confused. “I don’t think they sell them in the canteen.”

“Oh.” I look away, feigning disappointment and instantly hate myself. It isn’t in my nature to be manipulative. At least I don’t think it is. There’s a lot I don’t know any more.

“It’s okay.” There’s that hand again. This time it adds a reassuring squeeze to its repertoire. “I can pop into town.” He smiles at Charlotte. “You don’t mind if I leave you alone with your mum for a bit?”

If our daughter heard the question she doesn’t let on. I reply for her by forcing a smile. It is a traitor’s grimace. No...a police sergeant’s. My husband is a potential suspect and I don’t even know if he’s guilty.

“She’ll be fine,” I say.

Brian looks from me to Charlotte and back again. There’s no mistaking the look on his face -it’s the same wretched expression I’ve worn for the last six weeks whenever I’ve left Charlotte’s side – terror she might die the second we leave the room.

“She’ll be fine,” I repeat, more gently this time. “I’ll be here.”

Brian’s rigid posture relaxes, ever so slightly, and he nods. “Back soon.”

I watch as he crosses the room, gently shutting the door with a click as he leaves, then release the diary from my chest and rest it on my lap. I keep my eyes fixed on the door for what seems like an eternity. Brian has never been able to leave the house without rushing back in seconds later to retrieve his keys, his phone or his sunglasses or to ask a ‘quick question’ . When I am sure he has gone I turn back to Charlotte. I half expect to see her eyelids flutter or her fingers twitch, some sign that she realises what I am about to say but nothing has changed. She is still ‘asleep’.

“Darling,” I fumble the diary open and turn to the page I’ve already memorised. “Please don’t be angry with me but...” I glance at my daughter to monitor her expression. “...I found your diary when I was tidying your room yesterday.”

Nothing. Not a sound, not a flicker, not a tic or a twinge. And the heart monitor continues its relentless bleep-bleep-bleeping. It is a lie of course, the confession about finding her diary. I found it years ago when I was changing her sheets. She’d hidden it under her mattress, exactly where I’d hidden my own teenaged journal so many years before. I didn’t read it though, back then, I had no reason to. Yesterday I did.

“In the last entry,” I say, pausing to lick my lips, my mouth suddenly dry, “you mention a secret.”

Charlotte says nothing.

“You said keeping it was killing you.”


“Is that why...”


“ stepped in front of the bus?”

Still nothing.

Brian calls what happened an accident and has invented several theories to support this belief:

- Charlotte was texting

- She saw a friend on the other side of the street and rushed across the road without looking

- She saw an injured animal that needed rescuing

- She stumbled and tripped

- She was in her own little world

Plausible, all of them. Apart from the fact the bus driver told the police she caught his eye then deliberately stepped into the road, straight into his path. Brian thinks he’s lying, covering his own back because he’ll lose his job if he gets convicted of dangerous driving. I don’t.

Yesterday, when Brian was at work and I was on bed watch, I asked the doctor if she had carried out a pregnancy test on Charlotte. She looked at me suspiciously and asked why, did I have any reason to think she might be? I replied that I didn’t know but I thought it might explain a thing or two. I waited as she checked the notes. No, she wasn’t.

“Charlotte,” I shuffle my chair forward so it’s pressed up against the bed and wrap my fingers around my daughter’s. “Nothing you say or do could ever stop me from loving you. You can tell me anything. Anything at all.”

Charlotte says nothing.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s about you, one of your friends, me or your dad.” I pause. “Is the secret something to do with your dad? Squeeze my fingers if it is.”

I hold my breath, praying she doesn’t.