It’s Christmas novella time!


It’s nearly December, so it must be time to break out a Christmas novella or two.

I have two Christmas novellas out this year. Girl At Christmas, which is set in the same world as the other ‘Smart Girls’ series books, and Snowed In, which is set in a fictional town in West Yorkshire. Here they are:


As you can see Milly Johnson and Jane Lovering have nice things to say about them, so you might like them too!

Both novellas have slightly geeky characters and at least one South Asian main character.

You can buy them separately or together in this handy ‘box set’. (Technically,  it’s an omnibus edition because it’s not actually in a box … but there aren’t any wheels, so I’m going with box set as a description). You save a quid on the box set compared to getting them separately. Aha, you say. But they’ll be dropping down to 99p soon… except they won’t, because the book promotion sites tend not to take novellas, so it’s not worth the hassle.

AChristmasDuet Box.jpg

Buy Snowed In

Buy Girl At Christmas

Buy the super duper box set

Happy holiday reading!


Book Review: The Importance of Book Cover Design by J. D. Smith

The Importance of Book Cover Design and FormattingThe Importance of Book Cover Design and Formatting by J.D. Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked up this book because I wanted to know what to look for in a book cover – what was good practice, what info did a cover designer need. Also, since I was thinking of putting together some covers for short stories myself.
It is interesting and informative and gives me an idea of what goes into the design of a cover. With book covers the actual making of the cover (the messing around with image manipulation software) is the easy bit. The difficult bit is getting the design part right. This book covers things like font pairing, font placement, contrast etc.
If you’re working with a designer, it also gives you a good handle on what your cover designer is talking about.

It won’t tell you HOW to do it, but will tell you what needs doing. I now have fewer unknown unknowns about book cover design.
A useful book all round.

View all my reviews

Diversity in genre fiction. Why I would like to see more.

As part of the promo for Girl In Trouble (which came out yesterday – you can still grab it for 99p if you act fast), I was given the chance to do a guest post on Rachel’s Random Reads. Rachel asked me why representation in fiction mattered to me. You can read my very personal reasons for wanting to see more non-white characters in genre fiction here:

And here’s a picture of Girl In Trouble, in case you’re not seeing enough of this week 😉

Girl in Trouble cover 3 w quote

Book review: How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis

How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step System for Enticing New Readers, Selling More Fiction, and Making Your Books Sound GoodHow to Write a Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step System for Enticing New Readers, Selling More Fiction, and Making Your Books Sound Good by Bryan Cohen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I should point out that this is a book about writing blurbs to go on the back of the book, not the synopsis that you send to a publisher/ agent.

I’d heard of Bryan Cohen and his ninja copywriting skills, so I thought I’d buy his book and see what I could learn. This book is clearly and concisely written (as you’d expect) and gives you a nice step by step guide to the art and craft of writing a book blurb.
I’ve tried to put these techniques into practice. It’s hard to do, but having some guidance helps, especially when you get to the ‘Okay, I’ve done a decent draft, now how do I make it better’ stage.

I’d recommend this book to self publishers who have to write their own back cover copy.

View all my reviews 

Buy link Amazon US:How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step System for Enticing New Readers, Selling More Fiction, and Making Your Books Sound Good

Buy link Amazon UK: How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step System for Enticing New Readers, Selling More Fiction, and Making Your Books Sound Good

I’m delighted to tell you…

After five years of being a published writer, I’ve written four books, been published by two publishers andI now have an agent! I’ve signed to be represented by the fabulous Federica Leonardis. The book I sent to Federica is a slight change of direction from my usual rom coms and she’s already helped me tweak it to make it better.

I’m looking forward to achieving great things together.

In the meantime, there’s cake to be had! Cheers all!


Romantic Novelists Association Conference 2017 – a talk on writing about disability

Slide from @DisRomProject 'Writing Disability in Romance: Potentials and Pitfalls

A couple of weekends ago, I went to RNAConf17 in Telford. This was my 6th conference and, as always, it was fantastic. I was in a flat with the rest of the Naughty Kitchen and sat up until waaaay past my usual bed time, eating chocolate and drinking (tea in my case, because I’m sad like that) and chatting about all manner of things. My favourite moment was when a first time conference attendee suddenly said “It’s so nice to be in the company of so many women who UNDERSTAND what it’s like to have people living in your head.” Yep. We get that.

Oh, and I had a lovely fan girl moment when I ran into Sarah Morgan. I love her books. I babbled. She was very gracious and let me take a photo with her.

I attended talks on how to manipulate images, how to ‘do’ social media, the future of the industry etc. The most eye opening talk by far was by Dr Ria Cheyne who talked to us about her research project into the representation of disability in romantic fiction. Her talk about about things to be aware of when writing disabled characters in romance. This is something I’m interested in. I’ve written depressed characters before, which I’m comfortable doing because I’ve been there. I have an idea in embryo about a mobility impaired character, and, since I don’t have first hand experience of it, I know I need to do research to make her life realistic.

Anyway, here are my notes from the session. If you have time, please visit the DisRom Project and take their survey. Pass it onto friends who read romance.

Slide from @DisRomProject 'Writing Disability in Romance: Potentials and Pitfalls
Main slide

Dis Rom Project discussion with Dr Ria Cheyne 

They’ve only had 500 or so reponses to their survey so far, so not enough to draw conclusions from. But responses to the question ‘Would a disabled character on the cover or in the blurb make you LESS likely to buy the book’ were 1%! Most people said it made no difference. A few people (around 19% said ‘it depends’).
The advice for writing about disability was:
  • Do your research – look at forums, speak to people with similar conditions. Don’t assume anything. Eg. Wheelchair users aren’t ALWAYS in their wheelchairs. A person using a white cane isn’t necessarily a 100% sightless.
  • Don’t use disabled secondary characters as a way of showing how good a main character is.
  • Don’t make disabled characters mysteriously wise (make them real people).
  • Be wary of recovery narratives where the disability is suddenly cured by a bonk on the head or a new miracle treatment. 
  • Be mindful of language. Eg ‘She was a wheelchair user’ is different to ‘she was confined to a wheelchair’.
  • Remember hidden disability – not all disability is obvious or visible.
The questions at the end were also illuminating.
Covers from Scope's Romance Classics (2016)
Click on the image to go to the page on the Scope blog

We discussed why representation was important (everyone deserves a happy ending!) and talked a little bit about how people reclaim derogatory language and how someone in wheelchair calling themselves a ‘crip’ is potentially realistic and non-offensive, an able-bodied person calling them that would be offensive, just as it would be in real life. 

We also discussed how it was a good idea to have people familiar with the condition beta read the book before it goes out. This is a sort of ‘sensitivity beta read’ to check for mistakes or misconceptions rather than to check if anyone is offended by anything (people are offended by all sorts of things, you’d never write a book that doesn’t offend someone, somewhere).
It was a really interesting talk. It made me think about a lot of things.

Here’s the link to the survey again. Please do fill it in (and share).

The Disability and Romance Project

An Evening Out at the RoNA Awards 2017

This post is a bit late, but hey, better late than never. As I may have mentioned before, my book Girl Having A Ball was shortlisted for Romantic Comedy of the Year in the 2017 RoNA awards. I was delighted with this. The RoNAs are run by the UK Romantic Novelists Association and are a pretty big deal. They’re the UK equivalent of the RITAs. Also on the shortlist were some well known authors – Cathy Bramley, Penny Parkes, Ali McNamara and Joanna Bolouri. Here we are (minus Joanna, who was poorly) looking all glamorous.


I rocked up at the fancy venue unfashionably early, so I got to take a picture of it before it was jam packed with glamour2017-03-13 16.06.47. Once people started arriving, I was too busy chatting take many more photos.

I’m always surprised at RNA events how many people there are to say hello to and how genuinely warm and friendly everyone is. Even people who are in competition with each other are friends – I chatted to my fellow shortlistees and liked them. It always takes the sting out of losing, if you like the person who won!

2017-03-13 18.40.34
I wish I was sitting at this table – three of the people there won awards!

A number of my friends were also shortlisted, in different categories, so the excitement factor was running high.

I didn’t win my category (Penny Parkes won, with her excellenet, Out of Practice). But my mates Janet Gover (Epic Romance Category, with Little Girl Lost) and Kate Johnson (Paranormal and Speculative Fiction Category, with Max Seventeen) both won awards. After the official event finished, there was a mass trip out for pizza to celebrate.

I had a totally amazing time at the RoNAs. I might even go again next year.

Girl Having A Ball nominated for a RoNA award

Girl Having A Ball is on the shortlist for RoNA awards for best romantic comedy. Look, they sent a fancy graphic of the category nominees:

The results will be announced on the 13th of March, so there’s over a month to wait to find out what happens. The other people on the shortlist are Cathy Bramley, Joanna Bolouri, Ali McNamara and Penny Parkes – all of whom write fantastic books. It’s an honour to be in their company.

If you haven’t read Girl Having A Ball yet,  it’s on special offer for 99p on Kobo,  iBooks (UK) and Amazon until Valentine’s day. If you want a sample, you can get the first 3 chapters for free on Instafreebie

If you have read Girl Having A Ball, I’d be super grateful if you could leave a review. The number of reviews a book has really makes a difference to how well it sells. I know I read reviews before I buy anything, I guess everyone else does the same.

Have a lovely day!


After the draft -time to edit your book

Did you do NaNoWriMo? Did you hit your target? Brilliant! Well done.

I’ve never done NaNoWriMo. My kids are still small and disappearing into my room to write for hours on end seems a terribly indulgent thing to do right now. I take the slow and steady plod approach because it fits well with my life. Either way seems to work. The important thing is getting the writing done. 

Anyway, the point is, you’ve written a whole novel. Take some time out to celebrate – not many people make it this far.  Go out. Watch telly. Remind your friends you exist. Woo hoo! 

The next thing to do… is ignore it for a few weeks. This gives you a bit of distance. You can combine that with more celebrating, if you like (I would). Once you’ve got past THAT, then you need to edit.

Your first draft might be a little rough. Don’t panic. It’s allowed to be. The purpose of the first draft was to get words down on a page. Once you have words, you can edit them. You can’t edit a blank page.2016-04-24-15-46-06

First fix structure. If you didn’t do any plotting at the start (some don’t), now is the time to deal with it. Go through the novel and make a list of scenes. Put them on Post-It notes or index cards, if you like. I make a list on a couple of sheets of A4. Do what works for you.

Look at it from a story arc point of view. Are the scenes in the right order? Do things happen logically? Does the tension rise throughout Act 2? Can you increase the tension by moving a scene from here to there? Do two characters sound exactly the same – can you combine them? Move stuff around and see if it works.

Now do the same for the character arc. Make sure the way your character changes as the story progresses is also logical. Hopefully, it will be.

Cut out the deadwood. A long time ago, an editor told me that a scene has to do at least three things in order to justify keeping it. One of those was ‘tickle the senses’. Working on the assumption that ALL scenes should be doing that to some extent, let’s see what else a scene can do to earn its keep.

  • Introduce a new character
  • Introduce a new setting
  • Change setting (transitions of time or place)
  • Set a mood
  • Show a new facet or a change in a character
  • Reveal something key to plot
  • Establish motivation for something that comes later
  • Heighten mood or build suspense
  • Provide comic relief or humour
  • Move the action forward  (internal or external arc)

Basically, if it isn’t relevant to your plot, the scene has to go.

What if your scenes don’t do three things? See if you have combine a couple of scenes or tweak it a bit until it does. You need to be fairly brutal with this. If you can take the scene out and not leave a hole in the overall story, then it has no place in your book. Around half of the books that I critique are well written, but suffer from a surfeit of irrelevant scenes. Often, once these books have been ‘tightened up’ they go on to find publishing contracts.

Keep a folder for these scenes that you’ve cut. You will probably find a lovely turn of phrase or a snippet of description that you can use elsewhere.

Once you’ve done the ‘big picture’ editing, you should end up with only relevant scenes. Have another look at it and check if anything else needs to be moved around or added.

Edit for consistency. Read through the story as it is now. It might be very different to your original draft (or it might not). Catch typing errors as you go. Note down when you need to add or change things so that the story makes sense. Go through your notes and make changes. If your character has suddenly changed their name, go through and fix it. If there’s a huge hole in the plot, work out how to fill it in. If you need to plant a clue in chapter three in order to make something less like a coincidence in chapter seventeen, go do it. Often all that is required is a sentence or two.

By the end of this stage, your book should read coherently, with no extra flabby bits.

Edit for language. Is your writing as good at the sentence level as it can be? It is worth bearing in mind what you are trying to achieve. I write genre fiction, where the hand of the author has to be invisible, so that there is nothing in between the page and the images in the reader’s mind. An easy read can be very difficult to write. On the other hand, if you’re writing literary fiction, your writing needs to transcend the mundane. People are looking for brilliance. The perfect description, the right word. No killing your darlings here. A difficult read can also be difficult to write.

A really good way to make sure your writing flows the way you want it to, is to read it out loud. You might feel like an idiot doing this, but it works wonders for catching clunky sentences.

Use beta readers. Once all this is done, it’s time to send the book to a beta reader. This is a reader whom you trust to give you honest feedback. You’re looking for things like ‘this bit doesn’t make sense’ or ‘where did X character disappear to?’ or even ‘this bit is really boring’. It will feel harsh, because you thought your book was done to perfection. Stick with it. Let the feedback sink in for a few days, then go sort it out. You’ll know when they’re right.

A word of caution with beta readers. When you and your beta readers are all just starting out, it’s better to have two or three people read your draft. If more than one person identifies a problem with a section (even if they highlight different problems), then that section needs to be changed. Some people will tell you exactly what to change – take advice, but remember that ultimately it’s your book and only make changes that feel right to you.

If you get feedback from a professional editor/book doctor/ published novelist, pay extra attention to their comments. They will have seen a lot of books and will be able to spot the mistakes all beginners make.

Now, you’re nearly done. Read it through one more time to check for typos and syntax errors. Better still, bribe someone else to do it. By now you’ll be sick to death of this book. The idea of reading it again will make you feel ill. It’s not the book you started out with. It’s a terrible mangled wreck of your beautiful idea. But… your beta readers like it and you know in your heart that it’s the best it can be. It’s probably ready to send out to agents or publishers.

While you’re waiting to hear back, you can start work on your next book.