Monday 30 November 2020

 Where next for Sue McDonagh- Author?

Today I'm delighted to welcome back to the blog my good friend and writing buddy, Sue McDonagh. I first met Sue six years ago at a time when I was starting to write my first novel. Since then she has been my constant supporter and motivator, a fellow companion for numerous writing workshops and Conferences.

Welcome back, Sue! 

2020 saw the publication of your third novel in your Art Cafe trilogy for Choc Lit., Escape from the Art Cafe. What's next for author Sue McDonagh?

The Art Café was never intended to be a series. Writing just one book felt like a milestone. Deciding at that point to write a series would have terrified me. And yet, Meet Me at the Art Café, novel two, grew from my curiosity about two minor characters in that first novel. Jo, competent and sensible single mum, and Ed, handsome and charming and yet incapable of sustaining any of his many and legendary romances. 

The perennial author’s question, ‘What if?’ lurked in my mind and demanded attention. Unlike many of my writer friends, I don’t have hundreds of ideas whizzing around my head. My books grow out of one idea that won’t let go.

After writing two heroines who grew in confidence, I wondered about the emotional journey of a feisty heroine, who already had more confidence than she knew what to do with. I worried that readers wouldn’t like her, and I wondered how her character arc would end in the story. What would she have learned about herself? How would she have changed?  I didn’t want her to lose that confidence and become a quiet, constrained version of herself. Intrigued already, I started writing her story, wondering just where she was going to end up. She turned out to be one of the funniest characters I’ve written, and her presence coincided with some huge changes for the Art Café. Without her, it wouldn’t have happened.

I’d always referred to the series as a trilogy, and although I was sad to see an end to the Art Café and its cast, I felt it was time to write a stand-alone novel. I had an idea that, like all the others, had gone from scratching about inside my head to full-on bouncing about trying to escape. And it wasn’t connected to the Art Café!

I began to write it. And then started it again. Got to fifteen thousand words and started again. My two trusted beta readers said they loved it, and it was funny. So why couldn’t I push it along?I downed tools and read instead. I hate to be without a book, but since I’ve started writing, I’ve found that reading doesn’t always represent the escapism that it used to. I can’t read in my own genre when I’m writing, as I find myself somehow morphing into the author I’m reading, and my author voice changes. So I turn to crime and thriller for my kicks – and fell with relief, on the 12th in series from Elly Griffiths, The Lantern Men. I devoured it, as I have all the others, and closed the book with sadness that I had to wait for the next one to be released.

I adore those books. Reading them takes me into a familiar world, where I know the characters. Even as I’m writing these words, I can see them yelling at me, and I bet you can too. It was days before I made the connection. I’ve said often enough that writing the Art Café stories was like going to a great party where I knew everyone. My reviews tell me how much people love the characters in my books as if they’re real people (they are, of course). It dawned on me eventually, that I missed the Art Café!

I had a great new character with this terrible thing happening to her, and I just knew that someone at the Art Café would be around to set her right, make her a cuppa, tell her to get a grip and sort her hair out. And apart from the characters, I missed the sea and that big beach. It was actually visceral.

Our world at the moment is uncertain, and strange, and I’m escaping as much into the world that I create, as into the worlds I read in the pages of other books. I miss having a spontaneous coffee with my friends, and oh, those hugs that were so much a part of our lives. Without realising it, I’d cut my character off from everyone. I set her in the wilderness of the Brecon Beacons, amongst dark hills and rain and I hated it. She was living in the metaphorical darkness of my lockdown life and I hadn’t even noticed.

I opened a new document, and I began again, this time in the Art Café. And the words flowed, and in my head the sun is shining, the sea is sparkling and there’s a little family of grandparents, parents and kids digging holes in the beach and paddling in those warm shallows. I feel happy. I might not be able to zoom around on my motorbike, but I bet Lucy and Flora are out on theirs.

The new story is unfolding. My new character still has her woes, and it’s going to take a while to unravel, and just when she thinks she’s got it right – well, that would be a spoiler – but this time the supporting cast of the Art Café are around to help. Or hinder, you never quite know…

Book 4 of the Art Café series will be out Spring 2021, hopefully. I’ve got everything crossed!

Thank you, Sue. I'm sure I'm not the only one who's thrilled to know that we'll be able to visit the Art Cafe again next Spring. I was fascinated to read how you were compelled to extend the trilogy into a series. The fact that your characters are so real to you is probably why I, for one, think the characterisation in your novels is a real strength.

Author Bio: 

My career as a policewoman in the Essex Police was interrupted when I was twenty-four by ovarian cancer. A year of surgery and chemotherapy meant a successful recovery, which led to a convalescent year in the Essex Police Press Office. This suited me as I’d always fancied being a journalist, and meant that I could play with joined-up writing and stationery.

When I moved to Wales to marry a man widowed by cancer and became an instant mum to his two little boys, I used my Press Office skills and wrote press releases and eventually, blog posts for the various clubs and organisations I was involved with.

 Art evolved into a full-time occupation and I made a living teaching and sketching portraits on the spot at agricultural and seaside shows, moving into more considered work as time went on and appearing on Sky TV in 2014 in the regional finals of the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year.

I now work almost exclusively to commission, but also give demonstrations and talks to art societies and other groups, which I enjoy.

 In 1982, following chemotherapy, I cycled from John O’Groats to Land’s End in ten days, fundraising over £8000 towards a cancer scanner for St Bartholomew’s Hospital, where I was treated.

After my first hip replacement sixteen years ago, I and three friends took part in the Four Inns Challenge and walked 45 miles across the Peak District in 16 hours, raising £10,000 for MacMillan Cancer Support.

When my second hip needed replacing, I thought about commemorating it with a further bonkers fundraising idea, but to everyones relief, found my excitement in writing.

Ten years ago I learned to ride a motorbike, and now help to run Curvy Riders, a national, women only, motorbike club.

I live in Wales, a mile from the sea. My Border terrier, Scribble, comes to work in my open-to-the-public studio/gallery with me, and thinks the customers only come in to see him. Sometimes, I think that too.

When I’m not writing, I’m painting or on my eBike or motorbike.

I belong to a local writing group and the Romantic Novelist’s Association. My novels, Summer at the Art Café and Meet Me at the Art Café have been published as digital, audio and paperbacks, and also published in The Netherlands. My third novel, Escape to the Art Café, was released on 30 June, 2020. 


Thank you for reading. Writers, have you felt sad when writing the last book in a trilogy and, like Sue, felt compelled to write more in a series?

Readers, how do you feel when a series comes to an end?

You may also follow me on @JanBaynham and my Jan Baynham Writer page.

Monday 23 November 2020

 NaNoWriMo 2020

I first participated in NaNoWriMo in 2014 when I'd just started thinking that maybe I could write a novel. Every November since then, apart from last year, I have taken part with varying degrees of success. That first year, I was determined to do what until then I'd thought of as impossible. 50,000 words in a month - no way!  But I did it and have the certificate to prove it. On my blog - also started in 2014 - I reflected on whether it had been a worthwhile experience as far as my first novel was concerned. Was NaNo a No-No? The post is second from the top of the page. The conclusion was that in spite of not re-reading what I'd written previously as I went along as I would normally do, not having done enough research and having a mammoth editing task at the end, I still thought it was worthwhile. I went on to attempt it every year apart from 2019 since. 

This year was different. I now have two books published in a three-book contract with Ruby Fiction. Because of editing and promoting  Her Mother's Secret and Her Sister's Secrettime was taken away from finishing writing novel number three. Both were published during lockdown so writing and appearing on blogs and social media played a very important part in the success of both. Thank you to so many of you in the writing community for your support.

I've managed to keep a fairly regular output.
At the moment, there are eight days to go and my word count is at 40,022. I'm on target to get to 50,000 and may even get there before the end of November if all continues to go well. So what have I done differently this year? Lockdown has made it easier for me to write every day. In fact, I've missed just one day. Even on days when I have not written the recommended 1667 words, I've been able to make up for it on other days. Yesterday, for example, I rearranged and sorted some previously written scenes and was well short of the average. One of my characters, Odile, now has a complete section written from her point of view and I can't wait to 'walk in her footsteps' post-COVID in Normandy and the area around Avranches that I love. I returned to my manuscript this morning with renewed excitement and wrote 1,274 words in an hour and a half sprint. A big thank you to writer friend, Kirsten, for inviting me to be part of her group. 
Just one badge to get now!

Fingers crossed! 

I can imagine that this way of writing will be, for many, completely alien to you. What it has meant for me is that in spite of a lot of work on the novel ahead I will have the bones of a complete story down in print. Having discussed the premise of the idea and the synopsis with an independent editor during a 1-1 at the RNA Virtual Conference in July, I've now immersed myself back into the story and reacquainted myself with my characters and their problems. With everything else being virtual at the moment, I'm enjoying travelling back in time to the 1940s and early sixties, to stunning rural mid-Wales and hearing the beautiful sounds of the French language in my head

Good luck to all of you doing NaNo this year. How have you found it? I'd love to know your thoughts.

You may also follow me on @JanBaynham and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Monday 16 November 2020

 Guest Interview With Morton Gray

This week I am very pleased to welcome Choc Lit author, Morton Gray, onto the blog. I first met Morton at my very first RNA Conference at Lancaster in 2016 where she and her friends made me feel very welcome. With her novel, Christmas at the Little Beach Cafe, (Borteen Secrets Book 5) coming out tomorrow, 17th November, I was delighted that she found time to answer some questions about her writing and the new book.

Welcome, Morton! Please tell us a little about yourself and your writing. 

I’m Morton Gray and I write romance with a mystery to solve for Choc Lit. I started writing seriously following the birth of my second child. I went to a writing class, where I tried lots of different types of writing, I discovered that I wanted to write novels. After that, I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s wonderful New Writer’s Scheme. The scheme gives you a critique of a novel for each year you are a member and this helped me to develop my writing to the point where I began to shortlist in writing competitions, eventually winning Choc Lit Publishing’s Search for a Star competition in 2016.

Christmas at the Little Beach Café is your fifth novel to be published by Choc Lit and your second Christmas book. Where do you get your inspiration?

Very interesting question, because most of the time I have no clue where my ideas come from! I seem to start with a character and a setting and take off from there. I’m not a planner, so part of the pleasure for me is to see how the story develops from my starting point. 

For Christmas at the Little Beach Café, I had a clear picture in my head of my hero, Justin Sadler and a backstory which resulted in him hating Christmas. From there, I had a ‘vision’ of him catching a red hat on the beach, which had blown from the head of an unknown woman. Then, I was off … who was the woman and what had led her to be at that place at that particular time?

Borteen Bay is a location you return to in your books. How important is the setting? Is it based on a real place?

I like to base my books in the same fictional seaside town of Borteen. This allows me to have characters from my other books making guest appearances in my current story and readers seem to like that too. Borteen is not actually a real place, but its imaginary streets are very clear in my head. I have even drawn a map of the location. I guess it is an amalgamation of my favourite seaside places.

Can you summarise your new novel in just a few sentences?

The back of Christmas at the Little Beach Café says:

Run away to the little beach café this Christmas ...

Five years ago at Christmas, solicitor Justin Sadler made the decision to leave his comfortable existence behind and move to the coast. Since then, he’s tried his best to ignore the festive season and, as he sits in the little beach café and reflects on that fateful night when his life was turned upside down, he expects his fifth Christmas alone to be no different to any of the others since he made his escape.

But when he encounters a mystery woman on the beach, he soon realises he may have found a fellow runaway and kindred spirit. Could Justin finally be ready to move on and let Christmas into his life again?

Oh and watch out for guest appearances of Ryan the seagull, who appears on the cover.


Do any of your family’s Christmas traditions appear in your novel? 

Again a good question. We have a very traditional Christmas I suppose. I send Christmas cards to loads of people at the beginning of December and put up my trees. In this house, we usually have three! I love Christmas decorations and the stories of past Christmases they remind me of.

We usually have my mother over for Christmas lunch. My husband thankfully cooks, as I tend to get very flustered preparing that sort of meal. My sons were both living at home last year, but one has recently bought a house with his girlfriend, so I’m not sure if they will come to us for lunch or want to cook in their own home. My sister and her family normally join us in the afternoon for present giving.

One family fun thing (which isn’t in the book) is the tradition of getting Bubléd and Boyled. Let me explain – my eldest son was once given a full-size cardboard cut-out of Michael Bublé as a secret Santa present at work. At Christmastime Michael appears in the most unexpected places – in your shower, in dark rooms, just behind the front door and it doesn’t matter if you know he will be there it scares you! We now also have a full-size cardboard Susan Boyle too and she is equally as good for making you jump out of your skin! 

So, to answer the original question, maybe only my love of decorating for Christmas is included in the book.

Where do you write best? When do you write best – a lark or an owl?

I have trained myself to write almost anywhere. I am happy to write longhand into notebooks or straight onto the computer. I’ve written on buses, trains, as a passenger in a car, on carparks, waiting for appointments, once while waiting to be sent to the operating theatre for an operation, even in the bath! I can write at any time, sometimes typing onto my phone in the middle of the night if I can’t sleep, but I suppose I’m more productive in the mornings as a general rule.

What are you working on at present? 

I’m actually working on my Christmas 2021 book, again set in Borteen. This one is a bit different, as there is an older couple and a younger couple in the book. The story starts when Buzz, who runs the Borteen crystal shop, believes that he sees his wife, who disappeared twenty years before, on the beach. He quickly realises that the girl he has seen wearing his wife’s wedding dress is much too young to be his lost wife, but who is she?

What would a reader expect when they pick up a Morton Gray novel? 

I like to say that I write romance with a mystery to solve. I write hard won happy ever afters with a lot of twists and turns along the way.

Thank you, Morton, for an interesting insight into your writing and the ideas behind your new novel. Good luck with the sales of Christmas at the Little Beach Cafe.

Author Bio:

Morton lives with her husband, two sons and Lily, the tiny white dog, in Worcestershire, U.K. She has been reading and writing fiction for as long as she can remember, penning her first attempt at a novel aged fourteen. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.Morton previously worked in the electricity industry in committee services, staff development and training. She has a Business Studies degree and is a fully qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Reiki Master. She also has diplomas in Tuina acupressure massage and energy field therapy. She enjoys crafts, history and loves tracing family trees. Having a hunger for learning new things is a bonus for the research behind her books.

Morton’s latest release is Christmas at the Little Beach Café published as an e-book and audio download on 17 November 2020.

Her debut novel The Girl on the Beach was published after she won the Choc Lit Publishing Search for a Star competition. This story follows a woman with a troubled past as she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her son’s new headteacher, Harry Dixon. The book is available as a paperback and e-book.

Morton’s second book for Choc Lit The Truth Lies Buried is another romantic suspense novel, The book tells the story of Jenny Simpson and Carver Rodgers as they uncover secrets from their past. This book is available as an e-book, paperback and audiobook.

Christmas at Borteen Bay was Morton’s first Christmas novella. It is set in her fictional seaside town of Borteen and follows the story of Pippa Freeman, who runs the Rose Court Guesthouse with her mother, and local policeman Ethan Gibson, as they unravel a family secret as Christmas approaches.

Bestselling Sunny Days on the Beach, is her fourth novel for Choc Lit. Again set in Borteen, this book is the story of what happens when craft shop owner, Mandy Vanes takes in an abandoned teenager, Nick Crossten and the repercussions when Graham Frankley, a gin distiller, arrives in town to say he has received a letter telling him he is Nick’s father.

You can catch up with Morton on her website, on

Twitter - @MortonSGray, her Facebook page – Morton S. Gray Author - and

Instagram - 

Purchasing links for The Girl on the Beach at e-book and paperback

Purchasing links for The Truth Lies Buried at e-book, audio and paperback.

Purchasing links for Christmas in Borteen Bay at e-book and audio

Purchasing links for Sunny Days on the Beach at e-book, audio and paperback

Purchasing links for Christmas at the Little Beach Café at e-book and audio.

Thank you for reading. What do you like best about returning to a familiar setting in a book? 

You may also follow me on @JanBaynham and on my Jan Baynham Writer Facebook page.

Monday 2 November 2020

Writing a Series

Today I'm very pleased to welcome Arrow saga writer, Maisie Thomas, onto the blog. I first came across Maisie's name when her novel, The Railway Girls, was recommended to me by a friend who knows how much I enjoy books set in WW2. I loved the novel and was delighted to find it was the first in a series; I would get to know more about those remarkable women and the role they played during the war. Series of stories have always interested me from a writing point of view. How do you ensure they are novels in their own right and stand-alones without having to start reading at book one, for instance? I contacted Maisie to see if she would like to write a blog post about it. Delighted that she accepted the offer, I'll hand you over to Maisie.

Maisie, welcome!
Many thanks, Jan, for inviting me onto your blog to talk about my experience of writing a series. Cassandra Di Bello, who at that time was an editor for Arrow, came up with the concept of a saga series about the women and girls who worked on Britain’s railways during the Second World War. I was asked to put together a proposal for the series, including details about characters and plots, and after that came the offer of a contract. The whole process happened very quickly – in less than two weeks.

Cass wanted me to create a group of girls and women and choose three of them to
concentrate on. These are Joan and Mabel, who are both in their early 20s, and Dot, who is in her 40s with two sons serving in the army and two young grandchildren. Cass also wanted me to create strong and enduring friendships between my characters and I had to decide how to achieve this. I could, for example, have given them all the same job, so that they spent their days working alongside one another; but I didn’t want to do that, because I wanted readers to get a sense of the vast number of jobs that women were required to do. Instead I have my group meeting regularly for a cuppa in the station buffet and that’s how they get to know one another.

To me, the most important aspect of writing a series is the planning. I started with a detailed synopsis, which was broken down first into books and then into scenes.

Since I have three viewpoint characters, it’s important to divide up each book in such a way that each POV character is represented evenly throughout; and although there are continuing threads from one story to the next, each book also has to be a stand-alone novel with a sense of completion at the end.

Something that is very important is keeping track of what each character does and doesn’t know about what has happened to the others. Although I have three POV characters, my cast is larger than that and I can’t afford to trip up over who knows what and when!

The Railway Girls series is written around real events, such as Dunkirk, the Christmas Blitz and other Manchester air raids, so all my fictional events have to fit in with and around these. I don’t mean this in a general way – I mean that I worked out the dates of all my fictional events.

If you are thinking of tackling a series, the best advice I can offer is: plan, plan, plan!  
The more planning you do in advance, the better and stronger your series will be and you won’t end up painting yourself into a corner!

Thank you, Maisie. That's a fascinating insight into how you went about writing your series and I'm sure it will be of great interest to writers and readers alike. I was full of admiration that the whole process, from proposal to contract, took less than two weeks. Wow! You have shown clearly why and how planning is at the heart of writing a series. Thank you for that advice. I wish you huge success with the series. Book 2 is nearing the top of my TBR pile - I can't wait to reconnect with Joan, Mabel and Dot and see what life holds for them next.

Thank you for reading. I'd love to know your thoughts about writing and/or reading series of novels. Writers, do you plan thoroughly as Maisie does? Readers, do you always start with book one?
You may also follow me on @JanBaynham and on my Jan Baynham Writer page.