On April 1st, it will be five years since The Write Romantics were formed by Jo Bartlett and Julie Heslington. At the time, only one member of the group – Helen Phifer – had a publishing deal. Now, all ten of us are published and our writing careers have taken unexpected twists and turns. Most importantly, though, we’re all still great friends. To celebrate five years as a group, here’s a special blog post featuring The Write Romantics.
So who are The Write Romantics? In alphabetical order, Jo Bartlett, Sharon Booth, Julie Heslington (Jessica Redland), Jackie Ladbury, Deirdre Palmer (Zara Thorne), Lynne Pardoe, Helen Phifer, Helen J Rolfe, Rachael Thomas, Alex Weston (Alys West).
I sat down with the other nine members of the group and shone a light in their eyes until they answered my probing questions. Here are their answers (oh, and mine, too!)
How did you become part of the Write Romantics?
JO: I set it up with Julie/Jessica, and I came up with the name The Write Romantics as a tribute to Julie’s Yorkshire home. As in ‘You’re reet romantic.’
JULIE: I was in the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme and, towards the end of my first year, finally got around to introducing myself on the email group, Romna. Jo Bartlett replied as it sounded like I wrote in a similar genre to her and we struck up a friendship by email. We were both toying with the idea of blogging but worried we didn’t have enough to write about so we combined forces and created The Write Romantics. After a few posts, we realised there was no way that two unpublished writers could find enough to say to regularly post so we opened it up in the RNA for new members, thinking we’d maybe become 4-5. We were slightly overwhelmed with the interest but, hey, ten’s a nice round number, isn’t it?
HELEN P: I joined the RNA NWS and was fortunate enough to see an email from Jo and Julie on Romna, asking if anyone wanted to join. I’m so grateful I read and replied to that email. Because of that I was very lucky to become a part of the most amazing, supportive, writing family I could ask for.
RACHAEL: I responded to a suggestion to be part of a new online group being set up and made some great friends.
JACKIE: I snuck in to the Write Romantics at the 11th hour. They didn’t need any more people but I sent an email and told them that I was an embarrassment to myself for being unpublished for so long, but couldn’t seem to stop trying to write that elusive best-seller. I think they felt sorry for me, even though I made them laugh. Best thing that ever happened to me and my writing and I don’t actually think I would have carried on without their unfailing support and enthusiasm for my writing.
DEIRDRE: I saw a post on Romna from Jo asking if anyone wanted to join her and Julie. Didn’t have to think twice.
SHARON: I “met” Alex through Romna, and after exchanging a few emails, she asked me to meet up with her and her friend, Julie. We had a lovely get-together and really clicked. They told me they were part of the Write Romantics, so I started following the group and sharing their posts etc to support Julie and Alex. A short while later, Jo, Julie and Alex messaged me, inviting me to join the group. Of course, I took a LOT of persuading … 😉
HELEN R: I saw a post on Romna and it sounded like a great way to get to know some other writers.
ALEX: I met Julie/Jessica at a RNA lunch in York, we got chatting and discovered we were both in the NWS and working on our first novels. Julie and Jo started the Write Romantics blog together but when they asked for more willing volunteers I put my (virtual) hand up and became part of the team.
What does the group mean to you?
JO: Support, friendship, a sounding board, and a life raft
JULIE: The WRs are a constant source of encouragement and inspiration. There’s always someone there to give feedback on ideas for titles, book covers, blurbs etc. or to sympathise and encourage when things aren’t going well either in relation to writing or life in general. It’s also inspiring to see how well some of the members of the group have done and know that success can be achieved
HELEN P: Oh gosh, how long can I write for? The group to me is my lifeline, I would have gone insane if I didn’t have the support of my writing best friends. They are always there anytime of day or night no matter what the crisis and it’s not always writing related. It’s more than just a group it’s as if we were meant to be together and I thank my lucky stars every day that I have my soul sisters I can turn to no matter what.
RACHAEL: Support and friendship. We share highs and lows of writing and life in general.
DEIRDRE: The feeling of belonging, cheering each other on, commiserating when necessary, sharing information – and having a good old gossip!
SHARON: The Write Romantics are my writing family, and I honestly don’t think I’d have got this far without the support and encouragement of my virtual “sisters”.
HELEN R: It’s a valuable source of support. Writers work alone but the group makes me feel like I’m in a work environment. We chat online in our facebook group most days – sometimes about writing, other times about something completely unrelated.
LYNNE: The group to me is like the colleagues I used to have at work, a source of knowledge, support & fun!
What do you think is the group’s greatest achievement?
JO: Not giving up and every one of us striving until we made our writing dream come true, by having a published novel.
JULIE: When the group formed, only Helen Phifer had a publishing deal although her debut was yet to be released. Now every WR is published either traditionally, independently or through a hybrid approach. Every WR has written and had at least two books published and, together, we’ve contributed to a successful anthology raising money for two amazing charities. Five years ago, I’d never have anticipated how much we’d have achieved as a group. A-may-zing!
HELEN P: I think coming together in the early days and producing Winter Tales is pretty amazing. Not only did it feature short stories by each of us, but some amazing guest authors too. Plus every penny goes to two very worthwhile charities which makes it even more amazing. I can’t believe how we’ve gone from being a united group of unpublished writers to every one of us being published and best sellers. I have never known a group of women work so hard to follow their dreams. We believed we could and we did.
RACHAEL: When it was started we were all NWS members and now, we have all published books to our names.
DEIRDRE: Sheer output – as a group we’re pretty impressive!
SHARON: We’re all very proud of Winter Tales, our charity anthology which raised money for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust. I think that, together with maintaining our friendship, is our greatest achievement.
HELEN R: That we’re all still together and still supporting each other!
ALEX: Publishing Winter Tales and raising money for two incredibly important charities through it. We did a really good thing producing a book of stories that people enjoy reading which also help people living with cystic fibrosis and cancer.
If you had to pick a favourite of your novels, which would it be?
JO: Somebody Else’s Boy, although (surprisingly for me) I quite like my current WIP…
JULIE: Oh my goodness, that’s so hard because I love different ones for different reasons. Searching for Steven will always be special because it was my first and was an idea that brewed and developed for over a decade. Dreaming about Daran, which is the final instalment of my debut trilogy, is a superb story full of very unexpected twists and turns and I’m very proud of the way that story pulled together. I love my two Christmas books because they’ve got such amazing reviews and are so feel-good. And I love Bear With Me. Of all my books, it’s had the least sales but it’s a beautiful story that really tugs on the heart-strings so, if I had to pick, I’d probably say Bear With Me. But now I feel guilty for the two I haven’t mentioned. They’re good too. Honest! 😉
HELEN P: Tough question because I’ll always love Annie Graham, she changed my life. I really enjoyed writing The Good Sisters and the Lucy Harwin series. I’m going to go with my next novel The House on West 10th Street because it’s set in my all time favourite place New York and I love my tough NYPD Homicide Detective Maria Miller.
RACHAEL: For me, I loved writing my third book, Craving Her Enemy’s Touch
JACKIE: Air Guitar and Caviar will always be close to my heart as I loved my busker hero, Dylan, from day one. I’d quite like to marry him, actually!
DEIRDRE: It has to be two, Dirty Weekend, and its sequel Moonshine, because they still make me laugh even though I wrote them! I truly believe their moment is still to come.
SHARON: Aarrgghh! That’s so hard! I love my Kearton Bay books and couldn’t pick a favourite of those. If pushed, I’d probably say This Other Eden, because it was the trickiest to write, so I’m quite proud of it, and because I totally fell in love with my sheep farmer hero, Eliot.
HELEN R: Handle Me with Care, because it’s set in Melbourne, my favourite city in the world.
LYNNE: I couldn’t pick my favourite of my own novels – that would be like picking a favourite child.
ALEX: Beltane because it’s my first book and the one which starts the series. Because I poured my heart into that book and amazingly other people have read it and loved it and want to know what happens next.
What do you think the group’s motto should be?
JO: If at first you don’t succeed, write, write again.
JULIE: The saying that Helen Phifer introduced to us all: She believed she could, so she did. Love that saying as it’s so true.
HELEN P: They Believed They Could and They Did.
JACKIE: Eat, drink and be merry- for tomorrow we write!
SHARON: We sort of have an unofficial motto, which is Helen Phifer’s saying, “She believed she could, so she did.” Last year, Jo sent me a sign with the words “If you can imagine it, you can create it. If you dream it, you can become it.” I love that! Julie recently went on a writing retreat in the Haworth area, and came back with another motto: “Be More Bronte.” As a huge Bronte fan, I’ve really taken that one to heart! Any of those would suit.
HELEN R: Never give up on your dream.
ALEX: “If you can dream it, you can do it”.
What are you currently working on?
JO: Final edits to The Scottish Doctor’s Daughter – a crime/medical drama/romance hybrid.
JULIE: A ridiculous amount of books. I have 6 x WIPS (works in progress) and several ideas brewing. The next to be published will probably be a follow-up to my novella, Raving About Rhys, and it’s not too far off being finished. Well, sort of. I hope to release another full-length novel in the summer but don’t want to give too much away about that just yet. However, I also have an idea for a YA fantasy series which is itching to be written. I wish I didn’t have a day job and could spend all day writing. Not enough hours in the day!
HELEN P: Book three in the Lucy Harwin Series.
JACKIE: I have two novels currently vying for attention, and a 30,00 word Christmas novella that I didn’t finish in time for last Christmas. The two novels are both contemporary romances and both have been in the making for far too long.
DEIRDRE: Coming Home, the sequel to Christmas at Spindlewood, under my other writing name, Zara Thorne. I have ideas and the beginnings written for two more books, but not sure which of them will come next.
SHARON: The sequel to This Other Eden. It’s the second in my Skimmerdale series, set in the Yorkshire Dales, and I’m loving being back there with Eliot, Eden, Beth, Cain, plus a few new characters! It should be out this summer.
HELEN R: My 3rd novella for Orion Publishing, Autumn at the Café at the End of the Pier.
LYNNE: I’m currently working on a first-person account of a girls battle to stop sexual abuse in her family.
ALEX: Storm Witch, the follow up to Beltane which is the second in the Spellworker Chronicles series. It’s set in Orkney and is a magical murder mystery with a strong romance thread. Expect spells, stone circles, storms and serious amounts of whisky.
What is your “comfort read”?
JO: Any of Adrian Mole’s diaries. I’m so sad that there will never be another.
JULIE: I don’t have a book I regularly go back to but I do like a well-written romcom. I read for escapism and like to have that warm and fuzzy moment when I finish a book.
HELEN P: Anything that will scare the pants off me.
RACHAEL: A real feel good read!
JACKIE: The label on a bottle of wine!
DEIRDRE: Miss Read’s gentle tales of village life. I got rid of mine years ago but have started collecting them again. I’ve just picked up a second-hand copy of ‘At Home in Thrush Green’.
SHARON: Adrian Mole. I absolutely love those books. They are guaranteed to make me laugh, even though there are some really poignant parts to them, too. Genius.
HELEN R: Anything with a happy ending
ALEX: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers.
Dog or cat?
JULIE: Eek! I have both. Would be impossible to choose!
HELEN P: Dog.
DEIRDRE: I love both but cats have the edge. They’re amazing animals.
SHARON: That’s tricky. I love dogs because they’re so affectionate and loving, but I love cats because they’re so independent and clever. Can I say horses?
HELEN R: Dog, I’m allergic to cats!
LYNNE: I’m a dog person – they are so warm and cuddly!!
Tea or coffee?
JULIE: Tea – weak and black.
HELEN P: Coffee, always.
RACHAEL: Coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon.
DEIRDRE: Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.
SHARON: Tea. Strong Yorkshire tea.
HELEN R: Green tea or herbal tea…or hot chocolate!
ALEX: Tea (preferably green or Earl Grey).
Starter or dessert?
JULIE: Pudding every time
HELEN P: Pudding
RACHAEL: Always dessert!
SHARON: I was always a pudding girl, but recently I did the unthinkable and ordered a starter instead! I don’t know what came over me.
HELEN R: Depends what the options are!
Lark or night owl?
JO: Both, sadly. I definitely don’t sleep enough.
JULIE: Neither. I love my bed!
HELEN P: Lark
JACKIE: I’m normally awake in the middle of the night at some stage and I often see the dawn rising. I’ve just got used to it being part of my life- so that makes me an owl and a lark, I think.
DEIRDRE: Lark, but then I waste time faffing about.
SHARON: Neither really. Unless I’m watching old Dr Whos on Netflix, in which case I can be up until the early hours of the morning. Sad but true.
HELEN R: Lark
Strictly Come Dancing or Dancing on Ice?
JO: Neither, give me The Walking Dead any day. Now if they did Zombies on Ice…
JULIE: Argh! I love both! If pushed, Dancing on Ice as that is an amazing skill to master
HELEN P: Probably Strictly, although I never get the chance to watch either!
RACHAEL T: Strictly
DEIRDRE P: Dancing on Ice.
SHARON: Strictly Come Dancing. Ice skating makes me too nervous!
HELEN R: I’ve not seen either but probably Dancing on Ice
ALEX: I’m a huge Strictly fan. Absolutely love it. One of the joys of autumn is the return of all that glitter and sparkle.
Holiday UK or holiday abroad?
JO: I love both but, if I had to choose one, I guess I’d say UK
JULIE: Both. Please don’t make me pick!
HELEN P: I love Centreparcs for family holidays and we go every year, but my favourite is New York.
RACHAEL: Anywhere will do thanks!
JACKIE: Love Cornwall and Southwold, but also love the easy life of strolling down to breakfast to a taverna when the sun is already burning the top of your head, and there is just a long, lazy day ahead!
SHARON: UK. So many beautiful places still to see!
HELEN R: Abroad for some heat!
LYNNE: I love uk holidays, preferably somewhere historic and with a fellow WR I can meet up with!!
ALEX: UK. Ideally a remote windswept Scottish beach
Christmas pudding – delicious or evil?
JULIE: Evil. Very evil. And so are sprouts
HELEN P: Evil
DEIRDRE: Delicious to eat but evil on the waistline. I’m in trouble with the family if I don’t save one for Easter!
SHARON: Evil – as are mince pies, Christmas cake, wedding cake, or anything with dried fruit or marzipan.
HELEN R: Nice in small quantities, with cream, once a year!
Jaffa Cake – Biscuit or Cake?
JULIE: Ha ha ha. Love it! Cake
HELEN P: Vile biscuit.
DEIRDRE: Biscuit. Probably.
HELEN R: Biscuit
Cream tea – Jam first or cream first?
JULIE: Jam first or cream first? Jam first although I’m not too precious about this one
HELEN P: Jam
RACHAEL: Cream first.
DEIRDRE: Jam. I like to be greedy with the cream and that doesn’t work t’other way round.
SHARON: Jam first, so I can spoon on more cream.
HELEN R: Jam
LYNNE: Well, obviously both! In the interests of anti-discrimination, it is necessary to have at least two scones and eat them both ways!
Facebook or Twitter?
HELEN P: Facebook
DEIRDRE: Excuse me while I yawn.
SHARON: Facebook. I can’t keep up with Twitter.
HELEN R: Twitter
ALEX: Twitter. Having started as a reluctant tweeter I now love it
Sc-own or sc-onn?
JO: Sc-own. It’s cone with an S on the front. Obvs!
JULIE: Is this one especially for me? Hee hee. Sc-onn
HELEN P: Sconn
DEIRDRE: The second. The first is never used in polite circles 😉
SHARON: Sc-own. I fight to the death with anyone who says sc-onn. Except Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, when he says “Texting and Sc-onns”. He’s forgiven anything. And, can I just add, I take exception to Alex’s comment! (See below).
HELEN R: Sc-onn. Because we all know that’s the right way to say it.
ALEX: I’m from Yorkshire so sc-onn.
Star Trek or Star Wars?
JO: Neither, I hate anything SciFi or space related. Except The Clangers and Button Moon.
JULIE: Star Wars
HELEN P: Star Wars
SHARON: Doctor Who!
HELEN R: Neither!
JO: Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
JULIE: Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews. It was the first “big” book I read and it had a massive impact on me
HELEN P: It, by Stephen King
JACKIE: The one I’m reading at the time! I’ve read so many books that I think are the best ever – until the next one comes along. I have recently discovered Kate Furnivall and Dinah Jeffries though, and am working my way through the pile!
DEIRDRE: Usually the last one I read! But over time, I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith.
SHARON: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
HELEN R: Anything that keeps me hooked beginning to end.
ALEX: The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay.
Where do you see the Write Romantics in five years’ time?
JO: We’ve come so far in five years, it’s hard to imagine. Hopefully holed up in a lovely writing retreat in the Maldives, celebrating our ten year anniversary.
JULIE: I don’t think we’ll be running the website or blog at all because we individually have so much to do, and most have our own websites/blogs so it’s hard to populate both. I would like to think we’ll still have the support group. My hope is that at least two members will have secured a deal with one of the big publishers, and everyone else will have a large back-catalogue. Nobody will have to do a day job as earnings from writing will be enough to sustain us all. And we’ll all live happily ever after! Fingers crossed!
HELEN P: Amazon domination, judging by how hard we all work, the time and effort we put into our writing careers and the absolute passion we have even on the bad days. I think it’s safe to say we’ll continue going from strength to strength and all be fulfilling our dreams of being full time writers.
RACHAEL: Producing more fabulous books and supporting one another.
DEIRDRE: We’ll all be famous and in great demand, of course! 😉
SHARON: World domination! Haha, seriously, I’m sure we’ll still be writing, and hopefully we’ll be selling lots of books. Most importantly, though, I hope we’ll still be friends. I can’t imagine being without them.
HELEN R: Still supporting each other but with so many books between us that we might want to look at opening our own bookshop!
LYNNE: I’m not going to predict where the WR’s will be in five years time cos it puts too much expectation on those who are slower. But one thing’s for sure, however much they’re written or sold, they will be first class books that people will love and will stand the test of time.