Sunday, 30 June 2013

Collaboration: fiction without friction

This is nothing to do with spying. This article’s all about how to collaborate on a book without coming to blows.

In my case, I worked with my husband Robert Deeth on a ‘film noir’-inspired mystery called Half Life set in Norway before the Nazi invasion. A group of scientists at a nordic research institute is set on cracking the ultimate mystery of nuclear fission, but darker forces are afoot …

Now, with a background is in journalism and languages, what on earth was I doing setting a story in Norway, during the 1930s and based on physics?

Rob’s a professor in inorganic chemistry. He had the chance to get involved the intricate proceedings of a Norwegian PhD thesis – at Tromsø. I’d always wanted to go north, not least because my Great Uncle Eddy, of the Paton clan on my mother’s side, was one of the many brave chaps who volunteered to do the Murmansk run. He survived to a ripe old age, although I never heard him tell of those days. I simply had to go.

From the moment I arrived, I was hooked. It was such an atmospheric place, with its brooding mountains, Northern Lights, fascinating history of Polar exploration … Suddenly, I was plotting. It was only when we returned to England that I came up with the science institute plot scenario. Why not use in-house expertise?

Collaboration is quite the thing these days. I’m seeing more and more joint books by siblings, old school pals, husbands and wives … When I started writing seriously a few years, it was to avoid the ‘empty nest’ syndrome, but suddenly, it’s become very important to both of us.

At first, though, Rob was a casual consultant. I looked up some history and then ran it past him. However, as the story became more complex and the book grew, we realised we were actually collaborating on a joint project.

Our backgrounds and interests couldn’t be more different, but there are overlaps. Film noir, 1930s-40s drama, and spy stories are right at the top of the list, so that was fine. More importantly, perhaps, we do talk to each other a lot, about everything. We always have, from the first day we met. Not for us the scenario of the married couple in a pub staring morosely at a half pint, wondering what to say. We never stop talking. Communication is the key to a good collaboration.

It was time for a plan. I’m a stickler for deadlines. Rob, well, isn’t. I blast away, avoiding details about east/west, cigar or cigarette, time of day … and then I fill them in later. Rob likes to get the continuity straight from the off.

As I’d already written a few manuscripts, it seemed a good idea for me to be the time manager. I set the schedule, based on both our work commitments. At times, I had to be indulgent, for an academic’s life can get stupidly busy.

First, we worked on the outline plot. Lots and lots of science. Rob would spout while I keyed in his thoughts, to make sure the science was sound. Later, I’d go back to my scenario and twiddle.

One aspect was especially tricky. Thorium, to be precise. Just don’t mention that element in my daughter’s presence, unless you want the primordial adolescent GROAN. Lord, did we both read up about thorium. Rob even got down to doing some serious calculations to make sure our story was plausible. They were eerily accurate …

So, once we had the broad outline, I went on to develop a massively detailed chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the story which I like to do before I get going. Although I put this together, I needed Rob’s constant input to make sure the action flowed, and that I didn’t have the same person in two places at once! This we achieved piecemeal, chatting as we drove to the cinema, or off on our holidays.

As lead writer, I could spend time when I liked, but I wanted the experience to be fun, not a chore, so I always chose my discussion times with care.

As the manuscript grew, I realised I need more than just particle physics. Anyone who knows Rob also knows his obsession with flying. In the 1930s seaplanes were big. Oh, boy. Did I pick his brains about seaplanes! This from one who will only fly when required and starts to sweat in panic if stuck in the window seat.

So, it seemed apt to work another of his interests into the story – and I believe it’s stronger and more authentic because of it. My original plan was to produce a book that would appeal to men and women – so why not mix it up a little? My favourite movie is Casablanca. That says it all.

Back to the collaboration. I started writing. Now, chemistry professors are busy. We did a deal. I’d do some words and whenever I got stuck over, say, a gun, a lorry (truck for US readers), a seaplane, a cyclotron, German dialogue, how you get out of fist fight … well, I’d chat to Rob.

Forget annotated manuscripts – and we avoided track changes like the plague, partly because Rob’s writing style is so different from mine. (Next time, he’s going to write and I’ll make helpful suggestions!) We kept it simple. We’d just chat over What We Laughingly Refer To As The Breakfast Bar. That’s its name. We’d sit, over a nice G&T, maybe some nuts on a good day, and thrash over Thorium until our daughter complained.

Even when the manuscript was done, there were tweaks. So, the next step was more frenetic note-taking. I’d set Rob off. How do you start up a Junkers-style seaplane? Well, he’d say. Stop, I’d say. Head for laptop. Flex knuckles. Type furiously until he stopped. Or until the beeper announced dinner was ready. Daughter having left room in disgust.

So, the book got written. By me. Then came the editing. My goodness, I didn’t know my husband was such a perfectionist. I nearly said pedant, but that’s unfair. Maybe it’s something to do with chemistry, or the fact that he’s a bloke, but I wasn’t allowed to get away with A THING.

‘He came in on the left, so when he left by the other door, surely that should be on the right?’

There’s a well-known technical term for being caught out.

My favourite continuity blooper was when a villain started a scene smoking a cigar and finished it by stubbing out a cigarette. Professor Continuity sorted me out on that one.

Some final touch-ups followed. German dialogue. Molecular quibbles (I kid you not). Endless (and I mean that in the deepest respect), endless chances to watch Youtube videos of seaplanes landing, taking off, landing, taking off … Yup. I did it all.

So, when MuseItUp accepted our manuscript, we discovered that a joint celebration is much more fun. By the time the editing began, we were in our groove. I’d go first, then ping the manuscript back to Rob. He’d put in his pennyworth, then it was back to me to tidy up, and then back to our lovely editors. 

The collaboration also worked brilliantly when it came to the cover. It must be tough for designers when working with two writers, but, in fact, we both had a similar design in mind. When we saw the version you see now, we both knew it was just right. Whenever we see it, we both get such a buzz.

So, finally, here are our Ten Golden Rules for a successful collaboration:

  • Choose a lead writer.
  • Set the deadlines jointly.
  • Allow each person to play to his or her strengths.
  • If things get bogged down, go out or do something! Movies, TV documentaries, museums, galleries, a different dog walk. Anything to break the pattern usually works.
  • If you can’t agree on a fine point, ask your editors – a third-person POV is invaluable.
  • If you ask for advice, be prepared to take it.
  • Never stop talking but keep technical discussions away from other parties. They won’t care until the book’s published.
  • Have fun. Try to make sure it’s never a chore, but a shared pleasure.
  • Split up the research and do it between you.
  • When the book gets published, celebrate by going on holiday together ­­– to plan the sequel.

By Pamela Kelt

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Dark Interlude - out now

by Pamela Kelt

Winter 1918.
A strange death ... a deadly mission ... a city on the brink.
Who says the war is over?

DARK INTERLUDE is a post World-War-One romantic adventure inspired by the little-known revolution known as ‘Black Friday’ in Scotland in 1919. 

Winter 1918. In a sweeping story of social and emotional conflict, Alexandra Milton is a female academic who is ousted from her post at a tranquil university library, ending up in a small, post-war Scottish town which is struggling to cope in the aftermath of World War One. Her job is to archive a valuable bequest of 17th-century Spanish documents. 

Meanwhile, demobbed soldiers pour back in their thousands only to find there is no work. 

In Glasgow, many join a dockworkers’ protest in a turbulent Clydeside conflict that suddenly teeters on full-blown revolution causing the establishment to panic in a week of tension that became to be known as ‘Black Friday’. 

When it transpires the death of the benefactress was indeed suspicious, Alexandra digs deeper and uncovers a sinister plot which could bring the nation to its knees …

Buy the book

 Dark Interlude is published by MuseItUp. Buy it here:

If you have a Kindle, choose the prc file. Download the file to your computer in a safe location, and then plug in your Kindle USB. Next, simply drag that file into the Kindle folder. You can also purchase the epub, pdf or html version from MuseItUp by selecting the format you require.

Alternatively, you can purchase the Kobo version here.

Nook readers can purchase it from Barnes and Noble here.

And finally, it's available on, and

By Pamela Kelt

Friday, 21 June 2013

Ailsa Abraham shares a new YA story for the summer Solstice

In a first for the blog, sit down and enjoy some gripping new YA fiction from fellow Crooked Cat author, Ailsa Abraham.

by Ailsa Abraham

Kez hurled his mobile phone across the garden in frustration. The broadband wasn't working in the house, he couldn't get a signal out here and he felt like walking over to where it lay and stamping on it. He took a slug of his half-cold instant coffee. He would have liked real coffee but he couldn't be arsed to use the machine. Like a spoilt kid he tipped the remains of his cup onto the ground and glared at it.

Nothing had gone right for the boy since they moved out of Plymouth.  He'd had friends there and     things to do in the evenings, cinemas, even clubs if he could lie about his age. This place was a dump. 

It was all very well for his parents to bang on about the “blessing” of being surrounded by Nature but he didn't see it that way. Kez kicked a stone along the path in sheer frustration. Now he was not only lost for something to do, he was terminally lonely.

His mother and father had arranged invitations to Glastonbury from the local Druid circle in which they were leading lights. Kez felt himself blushing scarlet just thinking about it.

His mum's name was Dolores, for crying out loud, not “Dove”, no matter how often she said it! And he would cut his tongue out before he'd call his Dad “Fox”. Dad was just Dad or Derek. Why did he have to be lumbered with the most embarrassing family in the whole world? Even his sister, Hazel, went along with it all, although Kez sometimes wondered if that was pure self-interest rather than a fascination with paganism.

Hazel had jumped at the chance of going with them to the Solstice celebration at Glastonbury, positively squealed about it... little creep! She'd drifted around wittering on about that moment, the precise second when everything held still, the stasis before change... moron!

He mispronounced his own name in the hope people would think it was “Kev” instead of “Kez, short for kestrel”.

So all three of them had piled into the old minibus on Wednesday and left him, perfectly able to fend for himself at 16 but bored shitless and miserable.

He'd thought Stella might have come and kept him company. That would have made the three days' absence of “Fox” and “Dove” more than bearable! But she was grounded. Her grandfather's birthday was that Friday and her father refused to drive her over. He wanted to be sure she was around and knew that if Stella shot off to meet Kez she wouldn't come back. He was right, of course.

Kez mooched down the garden, hands deep in his pockets, scuffing his feet and picked up the discarded mobile phone.  An ugly crack had appeared across the screen where it had landed on a stone but the display still showed him the time... 07.32. Despite himself Kez couldn't help noting it was eight minutes to go to the moment of Solstice.

Why am I thinking that? I don't believe in this crap! I've been brainwashed by my candle-making mum and my wood-whittling dad!

Kez looked up at the sky, a ball of rage in his stomach that rose to his throat and nearly choked him.

“Go on then! If this is so bloody special... come on and show me!”

There was a mocking giggle from the gate and he turned to find a scruffy-looking girl watching him, a sardonic grin on her face. Her clothes were old and tatty, her hair long and in braids but her green eyes were alive with laughter.

“Don't wanna be doin' that, boy!” she teased. “You go tempting the old ones, they come 'n getcha, you'll see!”  Her accent was weird, not Devon, not from anywhere he'd ever heard.

Kez dropped his arms, which he now realised he'd raised, his fists menacing the early light in a futile gesture. He stared at the girl. Theirs was the only house around, nobody came here unless they had booked into one of his parent's consciousness-raising weekends or a retreat … she didn't look like the usual visitors.

“Tasha,” she said, blowing him a kiss, curtseying, over-dramatic and still mocking. “Come in las' night we did. Stayin' by the brook. Good for the horses, see?”

“Kez,” he found himself saying, as if she were drawing the words out of him on a thread, unwillingly. “You're on our land then.” Even to his own ears it sounded unfriendly and pompous.

“S'lright, boy, don't fret none. We gone by tomorrow, you'll see.” She turned to go, took a few paces away from the gate, her thin plaits swinging down her back, then whirled around again, her eyes a challenge. “You comin' then?”

Kez's feet moved without him realising it. He glanced at his watch. 07.42 … the moment of stasis had passed, the Solstice was over, the time of change had started. Silently he followed the traveller girl down the hill to her van. He would never go back.

Ailsa Abraham has published four novels in different genres and countless short stories, some of them YA. She is a Hell's Granny (a rather aged motorbike nut) and lives in France with a grumpy old man and some quite nice dogs. Her novel Shaman's Drum, a love story with a pagan and demon-fighting background has been nominated for the People's Choice Book Award and is available from Crooked Cat Books.  And yes, she does understand that it would be hell to be her offspring!

Her web page is

You can vote for her book here
Note from Pam: Thanks for this brilliant tale, Ailsa. More, more more!

Monday, 17 June 2013

All hail, Kathy Sharp

A view of Portland, seen from the harbour,
 a few minutes’ boat ride from where Kathy lives…

Welcome to new author Kathy Sharp, author of Isle of Larus, out soon through Crooked Cat.
Thank you Pam. I’m very delighted to be here!

Hi, Kathy. Can you describe Isle of Larus in a few words?

The Spirit of the Sea sends a series of alarming events to test the inhabitants of the Isle of Larus – a fleet of impossible ships, a con-man in a jewelled turban, and the threat of foreign invasion in the guise of a pub landlady. The Spirit chuckles as he settles down to watch the show…

It’s such an intriguing idea. Wherever did it come from?

The idea came from an exercise we did at my writers’ group, Weymouth Writing Matters. We were writing a piece from the point of view of a plant or inanimate object. I loved it, and decided to take it further. I chose four buildings on the Isle of Portland, where I used to live – two castles, a church and a lighthouse – and imagined what characters they might have if they were people. It was a short step from there to wonder how these characters would interact if they needed to work together, and so, in the best traditions of how-to-write-a-story, I gave them a problem to cope with. After that the story more or less wrote itself. I borrowed some of the geography, traditions and the odd place name from Portland, as well as some of its strange beauty and atmosphere, but beyond that it’s pure fantasy.

How long did it take you to write?

When I began it, I actually thought I was writing a short story. But it just seemed to expand into something bigger. Overall, it took seven months to complete and I enjoyed every minute.

Fleet Lagoon, a few minutes’ walk 
from Kathy's home
Are you an avid fantasy reader? If so, can you name your favourite author and book/series?

I’m not much of a reader of fantasy at all, strangely enough, unless you count Harry Potter. I’m much more intrigued by historical novel series such as the Jack Aubrey novels of Patrick O’Brian or the Poldark novels of Winston Graham. I think the influence of both is clearly there in Isle of Larus, and I don’t at all mind admitting it!

I’ve asked this before and I will again, because the answers are always so much fun. What did you do when Crooked Cat accepted your novel?

Stared at the screen in blank disbelief; burbled nonsense at my husband; wandered about the house in a stunned state. I checked the email to make sure I hadn’t misunderstood it. Three times. Then came to my senses and opened a bottle of bubbly.

I see you’re a poet, too! Tell us more?

I enjoy experimenting with poetry and trying out new verse forms. I think it’s very useful for a writer to try telling a story or expressing an idea within the constraints of a fixed rhythm or rhyming plan. Concentrates the mind wonderfully, I find, and makes you think very carefully about word-forms and meanings. There are verses (they’re not supposed to be proper poetry!) within Isle of Larus, and I had lots of fun writing them.

Do you have any further plans to di-versify? (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

One of my other side-lines is writing song lyrics. I belong to the wonderful Island Voices Community Choir on Portland. We write most of our songs ourselves, and over the past eight years or so I’ve written more sets of lyrics than I can count. Many of them have been set to music by my musician friends, and I regularly get to stand up in front of an audience and sing them with the choir. I’m not a particularly good singer myself, but fortunately I have lots of friends who are!

Where do you like to work? In a darkened room or at the dining table amid the chaos?

I’m lucky enough to have a spare room I can use as a study, so I usually work in there at my desk. The window looks out onto a tall hedge, so if I’m struggling to find the right words I can stare at a wall of green. Nature is both soothing and inspiring, and it always helps me to organise my ideas.

When does inspiration strike? Do you have scribbled notes on the bedside table or do you have catalogued notebooks on a shelf? (Guess which I am!)

I’m not quite the catalogued notebooks type, I’m afraid. Inspiration tends to strike, inconveniently, in the middle of the night. Or I wake up in the morning with dialogue pouring out of my head and have to rush off and scribble it down before I forget it. I always have a notepad handy, wherever I am, and sometimes actually use it, but the best ideas always seem to arrive just as I’m waking up.

So, what’s the next project?

I’m already making good progress with a sequel to Isle of Larus. I so enjoy writing about my characters and seeing what they do next. I only hope that the readers enjoy them as much as I do!

Thanks, Kathy. And good luck with your debut novel.

Thank you, Pam. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Growing up by the sea in Kent, back in the 1960s, it was Kathy’s ambition to become a writer. Time passed. She married, moved to west London, and had a daughter. She continued to write, and had a small book or two on countryside and nature subjects published.  She worked for many years as a desktop publisher for Surrey County Council, and as a tutor in adult education.

And then, one day, she visited a friend who had just moved to the Isle of Portland, Dorset, and fell in love with the place. She has now lived in the Weymouth and Portland area for eight years, and still loves it. The wonderful Jurassic Coast, and Portland in particular, were the inspiration for her first novel, Isle of Larus.

Kathy also sings with, and writes lyrics for, the Island Voices Choir on Portland, and is a keen member of local writing groups, as well as enjoying studying the local flora.

Isle of Larus will be published by Crooked Cat Publishing on 26 July, 2013.

Interview by Pamela Kelt

Monday, 10 June 2013

Introducing Sarah Louise Smith ...

A big welcome to Crooked Cat writer Sarah Louise Smith, author of the delightful Amy & Zach. I caught up with her recently:

Can you describe Amy and Zach in a few words?

Amy & Zach is told in the first person, alternating between the two central characters, so you get to hear the story from both of their points of view. Amy is British, Zach American, and they both have secrets... it’s chick-lit: a love story with a little humour thrown in now and then.

It’s charming – and the reviews are great! Where did the idea spring from?

Thank you! I get inspiration from lots of different places; a film, a book, a daydream that runs away with itself; dreams... I read a lot of chick-lit myself so I was always going to write in the same genre that I know and love.

How long did it take you to write?

I had parts of the story in various forms over a number of years but I put them together to form one story. Once I’d committed to do that, it took me about six months to complete.

I can see from your website that you’re an avid reader. What are your top three books of all time? (Tough, I know.)

Ooh that is tough! It changes all the time but right now: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Chasing Daisy by Paige Toon and High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.

What did you do when Crooked Cat accepted your novel?

I told my husband, and then told him to “sshh” while I read the rest of the email, I was very excited!

What made you approach Crooked Cat?

I did a lot of research about various publishers, and Crooked Cat came up in my search. I’m a cat lover so as silly a reason as that is, I was interested in them straight away. They seemed professional and that’s proven to be the case; they’re a pleasure to work with.

Where do you like to work? In a darkened room or at the dining table amid the chaos? I gather you have quite a full household.

Mostly, amongst the chaos at the dining table, I don’t really have enough space to set up my own desk (maybe one day!) I prefer it to be quiet, though – which I don’t always get! Usually, one of my pets keeps me company.

Your website is lovely and colourful – packed with information. How much time do you devote to it? How important do you think “fan” sites are?

Thank you... I don’t give it a lot of time to be honest, I’m not a regular blogger, but I’d like to give it more. I think these sites are important to share information, but I also think the most important thing for a writer to spend their time doing is writing!

Do you ever cast your characters with famous movie stars? (I know I’m a sucker for this fantasy pastime.) If so, who do you “like” for Amy & Zach, the Hollywood blockbuster? And why?

For Zach, I’d pick Zach Braff. He’s an American actor and a few readers have suggested this; and I can see why. Amy... someone British and gorgeous!

Emily Blunt, perhaps? Anyway, the next book, Izzy’s Cold Feet, sounds delightful. Tell us more … and how’s it going?

It’s going well, thank you. It’s about Izzy, who’s about to get married but isn’t quite sure she wants to...

I’m looking forward to seeing that come out. And I agree. I love Crooked Cat, too. It’ll be fun to see the new cover. All the best, and thanks, Sarah.

Thank you for having me.

About Sarah Louise Smith
Sarah Louise Smith lives in Milton Keynes with her husband, two cute cats and a loopy golden retriever. She also has an extremely lovely step-daughter and a large extended family. She loves music, reading, cooking, travelling and taking long walks.
Sarah has been writing stories ever since she can remember. One day, her husband bought her a laptop out of the blue, telling her she could accept it only on the condition that she used it to write a novel, something she’d been saying she wanted to do since she left high school. Amy & Zach is her debut novel, published by Crooked Cat Publishing. Her second, Izzy’s Cold Feet, is out on 13 July 2013. Find out more:

About Amy & Zach
“mysterious, intriguing and romantic...hard to put down”
“I love the way it was written, flitting between Amy's story and then Zach's.”

Meet Amy & Zach...
Told from alternating view points, Amy & Zach is a tale about a couple who meet and fall in love, fast. But the trouble is, Zach has a secret with the potential to ruin everything...

Amy has moved to the US in order to find her real father, but she hasn’t quite worked up the courage to do so yet. Then she met Zach, who swept her off her feet. They fell in love, fast. But Zach has a secret with the potential to ruin everything. As Amy prepares to return to England for her sister Libby’s wedding, Zach drops a bombshell. Amy is furious, so she hides his passport and flies alone. But Zach’s secret isn’t her only worry. She will see Tim again – her sister’s fiancé.

After he finds his passport, Zach heads to the UK to surprise Amy. He wants to apologise and finally meet her family. He knows he has a lot of explaining to do. But just what will he face? Amy & Zach take it in turns to share their tale with you. They will reveal all, and may surprise you, in the end...

“...some great little surprises and twists. I couldn't help but smile, laugh and gasp...”

“I couldn't put this book down.”

Where to find Amy & Zach
Amazon UK:

Amazon US:

Interview by Pamela Kelt

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Pam on the radio ...

If you have a couple of minutes, here’s a recording of my interview with Mark Smith on Alive radio, focusing on Dark Interlude and its Scottish connections.

It was great fun. Thanks, Mark!

Monday, 3 June 2013

A big welcome to writer Nancy Jardine

I've been swapping emails with Nancy for a while. It seems we are definitely kindred spirits when it comes to certain types of literature.She's managed to find some time in her busy schedule to answer a few questions and share her many enthusiasms. Welcome, Nancy. We'll try and keep up.

I can see from your website and blog that you’re a busy woman. When on earth do you find the time to write?
I write when I’m not child-minding, or gardening, or blogging, or writing interviews etc for other blogs, or doing social media/ marketing, or reading. It’s much the same story as every other writer, I guess. I’m pretty boring in that I’ve no time for other hobbies – except, of course, ancestry researching which is also spasmodic. I rarely watch TV and now watching a film is a novelty.

And the research! When does that take place?
I did a lot prior to beginning my current writing, a sequel to my historical The Beltane Choice. Sadly, I’ve a rubbish memory so if I don’t bookmark, or make thorough notes, I’m never sure I’m using the right information at a later time, so I’m constantly rechecking.  As a novelist, I know some people would say I don’t have to be historically accurate, but since I’m a lover of history I hate reading inaccuracies in the work of other authors. That means I want to be as accurate as possible. Anachronisms are anathema could be my motto!

Do you need to use libraries or is more info now available on the web?
My local library used the inter-library system to arrange for the loan of a particular document on Eboracum/ York from The British Library, a work that fellow Crooked Cat author, Mark Patton, recommended for me. Also using Mark’s recommendations, I bought some ‘used’ books from Amazon on Roman Britain which have been fantastic. Otherwise I use the internet, or my own stock of books bought while I was still teaching.

We crossed paths doing the marathon A to Z blog in April, and I was stunned you sustained it all on Celtic/Roman themes, from Agricola to Zosimus. How much effort did that take? And was it worth it?
It was definitely worth it from a personal point of view. I actually changed a number of things in my novel during the A to Z researching. Some information I’d already used in my writing was re-checked more to my satisfaction. The A to Z challenge drew more traffic to my blog, averaging between 70 -120 hits a day, but was generally more like 110 so that was worth it- though I had very few comments. I did ‘meet’ a German historian that I now connect with on facebook, and she’s a mine of information, especially on continental Roman aspects.  The effort to maintain the A to Z theme was quite considerable, so I’m largely taking May off from blogging! The huge downside was not spending that research and writing time on my current WIP.

I can see you loved the greats – H. Rider Haggard and so on. Why don’t people read them so much now?
I don’t know that answer- except to say they’re maybe not being ‘encouraged’ to read them. While growing up I was a copious, very fast reader and I was influenced by my father who loved the great adventure writers. From the age of 7 we had ‘Daddy and child’ bonding time when he walked me down to the local library about two miles away (we didn’t have a car). Of course, in a peripheral housing estate in Glasgow the concept of ‘quality time’ was ludicrous in the 50s and 60s but we talked about books all the time, there and back. I still occasionally went with him as an early teenager and we would sometimes ‘swap’ our books when we were finished (I got an adult ticket at 14). At school the English Lit curriculum was very traditional till I got to 5th year and was doing work for my ‘Higher English’ exam. Then the ‘classics’ were replaced by some more modern literature which included Hemingway and American writers. By then I was very eclectic and read everything I could get my hands on.

You write in several genres. Do you have a weakness for any particular one?
Not really. I feel that as a writer I’m still deciding which niche I like best, since I’ve only been a ‘serious’ writer since 2008. I really like the variety I’ve done so far. Before starting my current historical work in progress I’d have said that historical is my favourite, but now that I’m eight months into it I’m not so sure! 

Which of your books did you enjoy writing the most? (Am I allowed to ask that?!)
On a more intellectual level I’ve really enjoyed writing my historical work, since history is a passion. I loved the intricacies of creating the family tree for Topaz Eyes and really enjoyed working out the complex plot for the mystery within a mystery. But, writing about my almost ‘tongue in cheek’ handsome highland hero in my sensual romance Take Me Now was great fun to do. I set myself to writing a quick read, although it’s not short at 85 thousand words. It’s designed to be an entertaining contemporary romance but I need something more to hang a plot together so it’s also a corporate sabotage mystery. To get it published by The Wild Rose Press, which is a romance publisher, I had to make it very sensual!

I especially love the striking covers for your two Crooked Cat titles, The Beltane Choice and Topaz Eyes. How did they come about? What about your favourite cover – and why?
The two publishers I work with have very different covers. My Wild Rose Press novels are highly graphic, produced by their graphic artists, but are expensive to produce because of that. Take Me Now has already won a cover competition so I’m pretty fond of it!  I was involved much more in the concepts of my Crooked Cat covers. For The Beltane Choice we wanted something that set a typically Celtic mood. There are few Celtic/ Roman images ‘out there’ in the pool of available images to use to get something that was tasteful and suitable. I loved the idea of a ‘fiery’ Celtic knot so we went for that. For Topaz Eyes my publishers had dabbled with using images of Amsterdam, Vienna and Heidelberg on the cover but that made it look too much like a travel brochure. I had found the image of two imperial topaz stones on my favourite images site and was already using it in my book trailer video. That same image was used for my cover and I love the ‘aged tattered paper’ background they found for it.   

What did you do when Crooked Cat accepted your novels?
I was even more excited than when my first romance novel was accepted. Historically speaking The Beltane Choice was my second written novel, the first being a time-travel historical for kids. I had tried a number of places to get them published, had failed and decided to try my hand at a contemporary romance. Monogamy Twist, an ancestral mystery romance, was accepted on first submission in 2011, as was Take Me Now in 2012. While going through the publishers’ editing processes for those two romances I had revised The Beltane Choice - again - and had submitted it to Crooked Cat. When they accepted it in 2012 I was over the moon, dancing and crying (not really me) as it was the book I really, really, wanted published. When Topaz Eyes was accepted in the summer of 2012 I was totally ecstatic, since it was different from my other work. As a family we don’t need much of an excuse to get out the bubbly!

When you write, are you systematic – so many words a day, for example – or do you blitz when in the mood?
I wish I was systematic, but I’m not. Tuesdays and Thursdays I can’t write when officially child-minding my energetic granddaughter. That tends to mean Wednesday is a non-productive day as well since I can’t summon the discipline to block out everything and just write. On the days which are meant to be writing days (Fri - Mon) I’m still tending to spend too much time on marketing tasks. When I have real ideas I can make good headway but I need to be properly ‘back into’ the story. That often means a re-read of a recently done section to ‘pick up’ the flow after a break of some days. I’m also trying a new ‘style’ with this book so that’s taking more time than with my previous stories since I keep ‘slotting’ in more bits when more ideas occur to me. I’m definitely a ‘pantser’ in that respect. And the writing is sometimes slowed down by research details.

On your website, you wax nostalgic about comics. And yes! I remember Sandra and the Secret Ballet in the Bunty; I adored the Judy magazine. How much do you think they influenced your taste in reading – and writing, come to that?
I’ve no idea if anything is residual but I do know I avidly waited for them every week. My mother stopped the delivery of them so that I could go and pick them up from the local newsagent as soon as they arrived at the shop. That way I could pick them up on my way to school (I was around 8-10 years) and didn’t have to wait for the paper boy to deliver after school. My school was about a mile and a half walk from home and by the time I reached school I had scanned the 4 comics and knew which stories I’d read at break and lunch time in the playground! I also loved the fact that my older sister got the ‘boy’ comics (Topper/ Beezer/ Dandy and Beano) and I read them when she was finished. I was also reading everything written by Enid Blyton, The Chalet School stories… and loads of other series writers that I could get from the library. I got Biggles and things like that from my older male cousin and read them too. To me reading anything and everything was important and that lasted into my teaching career. As a teacher of P7 (ages 11-12 years) I was sometimes frowned upon for encouraging my reluctant readers to read comics, though that wasn’t during class time- only during inside break times if the weather was awful. I felt that reading comics was better than reading nothing at all.

I see you love to travel for inspiration. Where’s the most exotic place you’ve ever been?
If by most exotic you mean sort of tropical and expensive then a trip to Oman was very memorable. It was around 1995, I think, and I stayed in the Al Bustan Palace in Muscat. It was originally built as a sheik’s palace but was taken over by Intercontinental Hotels. It was a hotel all year round except when closed to the public for major Oil/ Middle East conferences. The interior has been redesigned since then but when I was there it was stunning, the interior atrium huge and lush. Middle Eastern art influence was everywhere. It’s the only hotel I remember having afternoon tea in beautiful surroundings with a world class harpist playing in the background – fantastic and so memorable. The private beach had very tasteful tiki bars, one of which served cocktails specially to order for me pre-dinner. Yum! The backdrop of awesome purplish mountains behind the startling white octagonal hotel building was really something to view. The wadi driving and dune trekking was unlike any other middle-east experience I’ve had. Once over those mountains which were close to the sea, the landscape was otherworldly- like a crater plopped red earthed moonscape. The fierce lightning storms and heavy rain which happened during my visit was incredibly dramatic, even a little bit scary, and was blamed on me since I was Scottish. Oman hardly ever has rain like that out of season!     

Nancy's mini Stone Henge, constructed from original stones in her garden, from the area where 10,000 Roman soldiers might have tramped back in AD 84. Inspiration for her current novel? Definitely.
I’m also Scottish, although I’m not lucky enough to live there. Where’s the most romantic place north of the border? How much does your homeland inspire you?
I’m not sure I could pick just one place. Since overseas travel was dependent on where my husband’s business needs took him we tended to take our family holidays in Great Britain covering as much ground as possible, though not all of those places are romantic. I could say that camping on the Mar Lodge Estate, not far from Braemar in the Cairngorms, is romantic since that’s where I first got to know my husband. But camping on open ground back in 1973- no facilities- would not be everyone’s idea of romance! I’ve tended to sneak Scotland into a lot of my writing to date. Only Monogamy Twist, set in Yorkshire, doesn’t have any Scottish references. All the other work does. Take Me Now, my fun romance, is set on a fictitious Scottish island off Oban, and I sneaked Scotland into Topaz Eyes by making Keira Drummond be from Edinburgh.

Finally, can you give us a hint about the current project?
I’ve been saying I’m almost finished my second historical, the sequel to The Beltane Choice, for ages - but every writing day I’m getting closer to that. The Beltane Choice, though a romance, was quoted as having ‘serious historical content’. This one at the moment is more ‘historical’ and less of the romance and could be loosely said to follow the Agricolan campaigns in northern Britain AD 70s and 80s – though Agricola is no more than a very minor character. Since the final form is likely to be different from today’s I’ll say no more!

That’s it, Nancy. Looking forward to the next book!

An ex-primary teacher, Nancy Jardine, lives in the castle country of Aberdeenshire – Scotland. Ancestry research is an intermittent hobby: neglecting her large garden in favour of writing is becoming the norm. Activity weekends with her extended family are prized since they give her great fodder for new writing.

A lover of history, it sneaks into most of her writing along with many of the fantastic world locations she has been fortunate to visit. Her published work to date has been two non fiction history related projects; two contemporary ancestral mysteries; one light-hearted contemporary romance mystery and a historical novel. She has been published by The Wild Rose Press and Crooked Cat Publishing

Amazon UK author page author page 

Interview by Pamela Kelt