Its the end of the year, thank God!

In this year of ALL years, God knows we need both reassurance and cheering up!!

An organisation I am proud to belong to – and when you belong to the RNA – you REALLY belong!!

“In honour of the RNAs 60th anniversary year, we put together a special series of blog posts on various aspects of writing romance. They featured advice and comments from some of our bestselling author members, who all have a wealth of experience and expertise. We hope you have enjoyed these posts, and that they have been informative and interesting to both new and seasoned writers. We would like to say a huge and very heartfelt THANK YOU TO ALL THE AUTHORS WHO TOOK PART! We couldn’t have done it without you and really appreciate you taking the time to share your views.

We asked the authors one final question – as we approach the end of our 60th year, please could you tell us what it means to you to be a member of an organisation like the RNA and how it has helped you?

Katie Fforde – “Being part of the RNA is vital to my well-being as a writer. They are supportive friends, they are writers I root for, and every success from a member is a joy for me. No one can have that fabulous ‘first time published’ feeling twice, but through the RNA you can share in the celebration and feel proud. And I do!”

Jill Mansell – “I love the RNA, it’s brilliant – supportive, inclusive and incredibly welcoming. We writers do a funny old job and it’s lovely to be part of an incredible group of people who understand the various trials and tribulations that go along with it. I’m so proud to be a member.”

Sophie Kinsella – “I’m delighted to be a member of the RNA, whose members bring so much pleasure to so many readers. Love is universal and timeless, and we should celebrate books that delve into its difficulties and delights.”

This book is dedicated to the Romantic Novelists' Association which celebrates its Diamond Jubilee in 2020. I'm proud to belong to such a welcoming, supportive and friendly organisation. Here's to all members past, present and future, and to the next sixty years of romantic fiction. Love is love!

This book is dedicated to the Romantic Novelists’ Association which celebrates its Diamond Jubilee in 2020. I’m proud to belong to such a welcoming, supportive and friendly organisation. Here’s to all members past, present and future, and to the next sixty years of romantic fiction. Love is love!

Dilly Court – “I joined the RNA New Writers’ Scheme when I was starting out writing, it must be nearly 20 years ago. I had to work very hard to study the craft and I wrote at least 12 novels while I was finding my “voice” as an author. I found their critiques invaluable and eventually I hit upon the right genre for me.”

Barbara Erskine – “I know most people adore it. I have to confess I’m not really a clubbable person – but, that being said, it is lovely to meet up from time to time with like minds and I really enjoy the chance to exchange views then.”

Elaine Everest – “I wouldn’t be a Sunday Times Bestselling author if it weren’t for the RNA. Even though I’d earned my living as a freelance writer since 1997 I had never been published as a novelist. I joined the New Writers’ Scheme and graduated in the same year as our current Chairperson. I joined the committee running the RNA blog, social media and set up the RNA Facebook group – and then met my agent. I couldn’t function without the friendship and all-embracing hug that is the RNA.”

The the Romantic Novelists' Association - without whom I would not be a published author. Happy 60th Anniversary!

The the Romantic Novelists’ Association – without whom I would not be a published author – Happy 60th Anniversary!

Liz Fielding – “I joined the RNA the year my first book was published. The support, the friendship, the shared information through nearly thirty years has been a real joy and my only regret is that I didn’t join the NWS. If I had I might have been published years earlier!”

Milly Johnson – “I didn’t want to join the RNA until I was a published writer and what a clot I was. I missed out on so much support that I could have had before, lots of advice and friendship.  But hey-ho – I became a member and found post-publication a wonderful group of mates, inspiration and acceptance – because writers are an odd breed and no one really ‘gets’ us like we do. It’s brought me a lot of fun (and probably rotted my liver) but also very useful connections and a whole host of people willing to support any book deals I have out there – as I support them, and that benefits the whole industry because we all sell more books and keep the industry alive. Writers need to connect because we are often on the other side of the fence to publishers and agents and we need to compare notes because it’s a lonely business, confusing at times, very short on information and so we learn from each other and help where we can. As others have helped me.”

Rosanna Ley – “It’s great to be a member of the RNA which is a vibrant and inclusive organisation extremely dedicated to helping new writers. Romance is a genre that can be rather looked down on and the RNA continues to work hard at changing this attitude and giving romance the status it deserves. We all need a bit of romance in our lives and as romance writers it’s our wonderful job to help provide it …”

For the Romantic Novelists' Association in its Diamond Anniversary year. I've been a member of this amazing organisation for two of its six decades, during which it has given me: a 'can do' attitude, massive support, industry knowledge, career opportunities, and an army of fantastic friends.

For the Romantic Novelists’ Association in its Diamond Anniversary year. I’ve been a member of this amazing organisation for two of its six decades, during which it has given me: a ‘can do’ attitude, massive support, industry knowledge, career opportunities, and an army of fantastic friends.

Sarah Morgan – “Life as a writer can sometimes feel isolated. A professional organisation like the RNA can be a source of information, support and friendship. I’m also grateful for the advocacy, and the opportunities created to connect with a wide range of industry professionals.”

Sheila O’Flanagan – “It’s important, particularly for women, to be part of an organisation that promotes and recognises the value of the work that they do, and the RNA is hugely supportive of its members.”

Kate Walker – “I’ve forgotten exactly when I joined the RNA but I’ve been a member for years. I have gained so much from being in the Association – learned so much about the world of publishing, met so many wonderful people and discovered so many fabulous books that I might never have read if they hadn’t come through the Romantic Novel of the Year awards. But most of all I have made so many fantastic friends, published or unpublished, all of whom love this form of fiction writing and publishing, who can talk books for hours and whose company has enriched my life. It’s true that a writer’s life can be very lonely and isolated. But RNA meetings and Conferences bring me together with people who understand what this writing life is all about – show me that I’m not on my own – that everyone comes up against rejection or writers block or difficult revisions. As I’ve so often heard  people say – and it’s definitely true for me too – when you  met up with your own ’tribe’ you feel  that you belong and you want to stay right there.”

Hear, hear!

It only remains for us to wish you a very happy and healthy new year and hope that 2021 will be kinder to us all so that we can meet up in person once again – we can’t wait!

Best wishes from the RNA 60th Blog Team

Pia, Karen and Christina”

Review – Pillars of Light, by Jane Johnson

Pillars of LightPillars of Light by Jane Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another superb read from the pen of a worthy successor to Dorothy Dunnett!
A disparate group making the trip from Cornwall via Somerset to the Cinque posts and thence to the Holy Land and the untrammelled savagery of the Seige of Acre. John Savage, a foundling, but with an eye and a talent for drawing, Ezra, a girl using a boys identity, the enigmatic Moor and a crew of mummers and rogues find themselves despatched to Palestine for Richard the Lionheart’s Crusade. A Palestine where Saladin has conquered Jerusalem, but who finds himself unable to relieve the Seige of Acre – an Acre where a young Jewish Doctor and a Muslim girl find themselves caught up in the terrible events of the siege.
Jane Johnson has a superb eye for detail and the gift of impeccable research. A wide-ranging tale packed with emotions and events, with love and with savagery. Highly recommended by me.
My own peripatetic existence has seen me spend a long time in the Levant. The author shows a wonderful feeling of “place” that I recognised instantly.

View all my reviews

A First Edition of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’ – signed by the author – is being auctioned in aid of BBC Children in Need

Sophie Neville

Sophie Neville author of 'The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)'

Bidding has begun for a hardback first edition copy of ‘The Secrets of Filming Swallows and Amazons (1974)’, signed for you by the author and brought to your door or PO Box by Royal Mail (UK p&p is paid for).

Bidding started at £5

All money from the winning bid will be sent as a donation direct to BBC Children in Need – under the auspices of ‘Children in Read’ using the Jumblebee auction site where this illustrated book is listed under the category, ‘Autobiography’.

If you wish to place a bid, please click here

To read a free sample of the first section of the current edition – click here – then click on ‘Look inside’.

To read reviews on the 2nd edition of this book, please click here

The bidding currently stands at £51

If it goes any higher, I will include a signed copy of the 2nd…

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Children in Read – Phase 2

The wave of authors coming forward for Children in Read has been fantastic! Well done to all of you, whether you are friends, fellow RNA members, PYA members or just Twitter or Facebook friends -a big thank you, and well done.

The Auction site goes live on September 1st, and Children in Need Day this year is November 13th. Books are accepted right up to the last few days before the 13th.

Apart from soliciting books and donating our own, what happens then? What else needs to e done?

In a word – Publicity!

When it comes to bidding to buy books, we have an advantage – as a lot donor it is very easy to check over all of the other lots and decide whose book we might like to bid on, but we aren’t the main target.

The main target is  “the reading public”.

As authors, we know how hard it is to make contact with readers. Other writers and book bloggers form the largest part of our social media circle of friends, or so it seems. Actually making contact with READERS – i.e. book buyers, is an impenetrable secret.

So a few ideas for publicising the auction.

Goodreads.  As authors I’m sure we’ve all found its just not possible to “monetize” Goodreads. However, I think I’ve found a way of making some decent contacts.

I’ve set up a Goodreads Event for the Auction, with the basic details in, and the start and finish for it. I did something similar for my book launch in Oct 2017. That event allowed me to invite 250 people. This time I was able to invite over 1800 people!

I expanded my Goodreads list of friends by inviting all my Twitter followers.  You can find friends from Twitter, Facebook and Gmail. They all add up!

I went through all my Goodreads friends and sent invites to the event to all those with a UK address. Goodreads shows your friends country-of-residence. Also, rather than just Clicking “Invite” I used the handy box to include a Message.

“Its the annual Children n Read book auction for Children on Need.

For writers, A great cause, and a GREAT chance of exposure in a premier event! All is costs you is 1 book and UK postage for it.

For readers, you are contributing to one of the best-loved charities in the UK., and you are bidding for a unique item – a book specially signed and dedicated to you by an author you have chosen.”

Goodreads is a VERY static site. Very few people check their Goodreads page (as a reader) more than once every few days. Authors may check it much more often, especially when they are expecting reviews. The Auction doesn’t start for 5 weeks, though and runs for 2.5 MONTHS – so there is lots of time for people to look at their pages, and Goodreads DOES HAVE READERS subscribed.


Radio. The best way of getting to people though it via airtime. The BBC has 40 local radio stations, and it should not be beyond the wit of man to talk to the stations and get an interview and mention the auction – after all, its for Children in Need, a BBC event!

I would suggest that any of us who have a radio interview on ANY station, for local book programmes, interviews for new releases, etc. should make a point of mentioning the Auction, ESPECIALLY if we have a book in it. Even if you haven’t put a book of your own in the auction, it would be great to mention it, and keep the momentum going by “spreading the word”.

Social Media.

Children in Read only operates on Twitter at the moment. That’s great, up to a point, but it misses out on the largest amount of Social Media users. Twitter has 400 million users; Facebook has 2400 million! Instagram has 1000 million!

I’m not for a moment suggesting that the campaign needs to go out and set up Facebook Pages or Instagram accounts immediately. That’s a subject for future years, BUT….

Many of US use the other Social Media platforms, including Pinterest, Linkedin, etc. There is nothing to stop ANY of us retweeting/ reposting / sharing onto our own Facebook pages, etc. In fact, the campaign NEEDS us to do just that!

No donating author wants to see their book “left on the shelf” either, so there’s another reason for publicising it.  The site doesn’t go live until September 1st, and we’ve then got 2.5 months until Children in Need Day.


Don’t forget to use hashtags for EVERYTHING! You might not search for them, but the public does, especially the younger public.

I came up with these. Feel free to copy and paste. The first two on almost EVERY type of message, the whole lot if you are posting on Instagram or Pinterest.

#childreninread #childreninneed 

#bbcchildreninneed #charityauction #bookstagram #bookauction #author #authorsofinstagram #writingcommunity #books #charity #bbc 

The other hashtag to use, if you have room, is the name of your book, i.e. #heartofstone


Pinterest has as many users as Twitter! Many of us use it as a picture repository. Good for sharing, though.

I’ve set up a Children in Read Board, and I’ll update it as necessary. All the pics have live links and hashtags.

Feel free to copy, use, share in any way you wish! Copy or share to your OWN Pinterest page.

As I write, we are up to 250 Authors, and they are STILL coming in!

Remember, too, that the site isn’t live until September 1st, so its only gentle publicity until then. We don’t want to have people wanting to bid before the site is open!

Your thoughts on publicity would be most welcome!

But – Fantastic so far!

Children in Read

Children in Read is a charity book auction which raises funds for the long-established British charity, Children in Need, itself an arm of the BBC. It was founded by Paddy Heron, who continues to organise and drive the event forward from year to year.

Now in its sixth year, it has raised increasingly larger amounts each year. In 2019, it managed to raise almost exactly £8,500, and received over 378 books as donations for the auction.

From Doctor Who to Mary Beard

The auction itself is fully automated using the Jumblebee platform, and, in past years, Children in Read receives sponsorship from Construction Impact Framework, an ethical, award-winning construction framework based in Liverpool, for the cost of running the auction.

How it works.

Paddy “opens the shop” to donations in early July. Authors will contact him, and Paddy himself will approach new and previous donors asking for them to donate a book. Most authors are only too happy to donate a book. Children in Need, and Children in Read are both excellent causes to be associated with and have the highest approval and acceptance of almost any charity in the UK.

You can see the different genres that are donated

For an author to donate a book, there’s nothing easier! Just email Paddy Heron at or Tweet to him (and Follow him) at @ChildrenInRead and tell him you would like to donate a book.

All genres are most welcome as are all age-group books.

There is obviously a big rush at the start, but once you have made contact, Paddy will message the authors when he needs the data for their auction lot. This is:

The Author’s name, with a “head shot” photo.

The book title and a “cover shot” photo

The authors bio, and the “book blurb”

And the Author’s web page and Twitter addresses.

My entry for Heart of Stone from last year.

After the Auction, on November 13th, Paddy and the team will contact the authors with the details of the winning bid.  The author then signs a copy of their book and sends it to the winner by post!

Could it be easier, or more worthwhile? I do not think so! 😉

I donated last year, and just got in before they closed the auction to new entries, so they can certainly take donations right up to the wire.

Charity is all very well but…

Yes, Children in Need is a charity, and arguably the best-known charity in the UK. However, as an author with one of the smaller publishing houses (Crooked Cat Books) I also see this as an outstanding promotion for all participating authors. To be there, on display, on an equal footing with the great and the good from ALL levels and genre of authors in the UK, is fantastic for “putting yourself out there”.  The auction website also comes with “share buttons” for Facebook and Twitter, making it very easy indeed to publicise your own generosity, and both the Charity and the Auction.

Sharing on Facebook

The costs for this are derisory – for me that works out at around £10 for the cost of a book, an envelope and UK postage.

You would be mad not to!!!

And for Readers?

Check out the Auction Site when it goes live on September 1st., and keep checking back right up to the auction for “late entries”. You will see the widest choice of books in ALL genres, waiting for YOUR bid!

Many of the books on offer are by the best-selling authors of today. Last year these ranged from Jeffrey Archer and Nigella Lawson to Carole Matthews and Milly Johnson. From Kate Mosse to Lucinda Riley and Tom Kerridge!

If your bid wins, you receive a signed and usually dedicated copy of the book – and ALL the money that you bid at auction goes straight to Children in Need!

‘Gras! (Asparagus)The Food of the Gods!

So the Asparagus Season has drawn to a close. Working it out, between St. Georges Day and now, P and I have eaten about 8 kg of it!

Our favourite ways of eating it?

  1. Steamed, with Hollandaise Sauce.
  2. Wrapped around with a slice of parma ham, and grilled.
  3. Asparagus Tart
  4. Asparagus Fritata
  5. Asparagus Soup
  6. Other uses

Never just “Cut the end off”. Just bend the stalk in two, and it will snap. The harder bit goes for soup, and the tender bit for eating as soon as possible.

Keep it in the fridge and use as soon as possible It WILL keep a few days.

We always get “Thin” stalks, or Sprue. It is sold by the weight, so you don’t lose out. The thin bits, we find tenderer and tastier.

Traditionally, the season starts on St George’s Day, April 18th, and finishes on Midsummer’s Day, 21st. June. If you cut after midsummer, you are “cutting next year’s crop”


Steamed, with Hollandaise Sauce.

Note: I HAVE made Hollandaise Sauce from scratch, but at my time of life it is easier, and pretty well just as good to buy it in jars. Either way, it’s lovely.

  • We use a bamboo steamer, and work on about 25 thin stems a person.
  • Any steamer will do, or even a sieve over a pan of gently boiling water.
  • Steam for between 5 – 8 minutes. Serve and smother the ends with Hollandaise. If no Hollandaise, butter is pretty good too.

Asparagus and Parma Ham / Prosciutto.

  • Wrap 2 or 3 stalks in a slice of ham.
  • When all your stalks are wrapped, place in a grill pan and grill for about 8 minutes, turning frequently. Don’t let them burn.
  • You can also place on a baking tray, and in a hot oven for 8 – 10 minutes.
  • Hollandaise sauce is also wonderful with these.

Asparagus Tart

  • Half a pack of Puff Pastry
  • 4 Portions of Asparagus
  • 3 oz / 70 gm Grated Parmezan
  • 2 Cups Plain Yoghurt
  • 1 Cup Crème Fraiche
  • 3 Eggs
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Set your oven to 180 deg.

Asparagus Frittata

Allow the frozen pastry to soften – about 2 hours at room temperature.

Roll out to fit a small baking tin or flan dish.

Prick the base with a fork.

Sprinkle over two thirds of the parmesan.

Blanch your asparagus for 1 minute in boiling water, or steam for 2-3 minutes.

Arrange your asparagus in your flan dish / tin

Beat the yoghurt, Crème Fraiche and 3 eggs together. Season.

Pour over the asparagus.

Sprinkle top with remaining parmesan.

  • 2 or 3 portions of asparagus
  • 4 or 5 new potatoes (Asparagus season is pretty well the same as Jersey Royal season – a match made in heaven!) Cut into half or quarters if wished.
  • 1 large onion, chopped.
  • 50 gm of grated parmesan or cheddar. (both work well)
  • 4 – 6 eggs.
  • Proportions and quantities are variable depending on what you have available and how hungry you are.

Gently fry the onion in olive oil until transparent. Do not allow to brown.

Boil the new potatoes for about 5 minutes.

Steam or blanch your asparagus over the potatoes for the last minute or so,

Add the potatoes and stir.

Arrange the asparagus over the top.

Season well.

Beat the eggs with half the cheese.

Pour over the asparagus and shake gently to distribute the beaten eggs.

Cook gently on top of the stove until the eggs start to set, then place under a hot grill for 5 minutes to brown the top.

Great with a salad!

Asparagus Soup

We use our collected trimmings of asparagus, plus – sometimes, a few tips to finish.

  • About 1 lb / 450 gm asparagus.(trimmings or whole)
  • 1.5 litres chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 large onion.
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon double cream
  • Salt & pepper

Chop the onion and fly slowly in a small amount of olive oil until transparent. Do not allow to brown.

Cut the asparagus trimmings into short lengths (1 cm).

Add stock to the onion and asparagus trimmings

Cook gently for an hour.

Season as required.

At this point, we use a “Magic Wand” to blend the soup, and then pass it through a sieve.

Return to a gentle heat.

Add a tablespoon of double cream to finish!

And, also..

Blanch any odd spears, and add to a Salad Niçoise, to Scrambled Eggs or an Omelette! All delicious.

And finally, a big thank-you to Rich and Ronnie Morritt, of Sand Hutton Asparagus for growing the stuff to such a great standard!! #sandhuttonasparagus #yorkshireasparagus #britishasparagus #ifcarlsberggrewasparagus

My Latest Book – Launch Date Reveal!

Excellent guidance from Esther!


I’m excited to announce that Publication Guaranteed (well, almost!) will be launched on the 27th June. It’s available for pre-order now:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

It’ll only be available as an ebook to begin with; a paperback will follow soon.

Here’s a reminder of the blurb:

Fed up with rejection after rejection? Not sure how to target the right market, or what to write about?

Writers Bureau tutor, editor and freelance writer, Esther Chilton takes you through the necessary steps to gain publication whether you’re just starting out or have been writing for a while.

Topics include writing:

  • Readers’ letters

  • Fillers

  • Articles

  • Short stories

  • For competitions

You’ll find information on market research, how to set your work out and send it, as well as lots of useful tips, examples and writing exercises to give you ideas and build on your writing skills with the aim of publishing your work.

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John’s Page of Links, for Writing Friends

Some Twitter Lists

John’s Twitter List of RNA Members

NOT an Official RNA List – just my gleanings over the last few years. If you feel you should be on it, let me know or add yourselves. All levels of RNA members welcome.


A Twitter List of Book Bloggers (UK Based (mainly))

Collected from various sources. Book Bloggers and Vloggers are a VITAL part of the industry – we NEED them! (and the ones I know are delightful people!)

If you want adding to the list, just let me know!


John’s Friday #ff Twitter List

This is a list of Writers, reviewers, bloggers, editors, cover designers, etc. In short, its people who are part of this mad world of writing and publishing.

There is NO distinction between conventional or indie authors. Everyone on this list is worth following, and everyone here also follows me.

It is MAINLY limited to UK based writers, etc. An #ff tweet with the new additions to the list goes out every Friday.

Direct Links to the Authors Profiles on the RNA Website

Author’s Profiles on the RNA Website: The latest batch.

Some important organisations. You should DEFINITLY belong to at least one!

The Romantic Novelists Association


The Society of Authors


The Alliance of Independent Authors


The Crime Writers Association


The Historical Novel Society