Monday 28 August 2023

 Guest Post with Sue McDonagh

Today I'm delighted to welcome my very good friend and writing buddy, Sue McDonagh, back to the blog. Sue and I go back a long way and met in a writing group before either of us was published. And here we are now with Sue's fantastic fifth novel, The Sea Sisters Swimming Club, coming out tomorrow two days before my fourth. We are both published by JOFFE BOOKS under their Choc Lit imprint.

Sue, welcome back. I'm very excited about your new book on your behalf. Not only does it look fabulous with another of your own cover designs, but I've had the privilege of reading an ARC and can tell readers they're in for another Sue McDonagh treat. I'm going to let you tell readers about the story behind the novel. Over to you!

Thanks, Jan. They say you should write what you know. When I first started planning this novel, my heroine, Fran was going to be stabbed while on duty. Fate has a way of taking a hand though, and gifted me a six-week research period that changed the book, and my life. In November 2021, I woke in the middle of the night with a heavy, weighted feeling in my chest. Indigestion, I decided. I’d had a busy day, eaten badly and rushed what I had eaten in front of a Zoom meeting. Totally my own fault. I propped myself up on pillows and dozed off eventually. 

The next morning, I jumped into a minibus with half a dozen swimming mates, to head off to
near Aberystwyth to film a Visit Wales advert, in the sea. I felt ropey all day, rubbing my chest constantly. Looking back, I don’t quite know how I forced myself to walk around the shops, have a meal with everyone, walk back to our guest house – very, very slowly – and then get up for a long day's filming in the North Sea, 
in my swimsuit.

When I got home, pain engulfed me after a cuppa and a slice of toast. Still not alerted by an erratic heart-rate that went from 45 to 145, I didn’t even go to hospital until the following day, after a retired nurse friend forced the issue. So convinced was I by my self-diagnosed indigestion, I didn’t even take a phone charger, let alone pack a bag. I didn’t see my own bed for six weeks.

When the lovely cardiac consultant asked me what I’d been doing during my not one, but two heart attacks, which had damaged my heart and would need extensive open heart surgery, I watched his eyes roll ever so slightly as I told him I’d been swimming. In the sea. For six and a half hours. In my bathers.

‘It’s a good thing you’re fit,’ he said, at last. ‘You’ll be here for at least a fortnight. Get someone to bring a bag in for you.’

‘So – definitely not indigestion, then?’ I remember asking, weakly. I don’t think he bothered to reply.

It was a scary prospect. Two of my heart valves had simply blown apart. I’d had no warning beforehand, no genetic heart issues, although I’d had advanced ovarian cancer in my twenties. The staff in my cardiac ward were absolutely lovely. I was fitted with a heart monitor, the size of half a brick, and I had nowhere to put it.

‘Stick it down your pants,’ one of the other patients told me. Brilliant idea. Until I went to the loo and forgot all about it. I saved it just as it almost disappeared down the pan. The staff rushed to shout at me through the bathroom door as I’d pulled all the leads off myself and sent the monitor at the nurse's station haywire.

They were out in force a few days later when, determined to have a shower, I collapsed, unconscious in the bathroom with a massive gastric bleed that I knew nothing about. I came round with my bed space rammed full of staff, and the doctor folding away those paddles that bring you back to life. I have no idea whether they actually used them.

I looked round at them all, and said, ‘Sorry everyone. But at least I smell nice.’ Ever the entertainer… 🙈 My nurse friend told me they’d rather have me smelly than dead 🤣

After four weeks, seven units of blood and veins that collapsed after a scant hour or two, I think they were pleased to see me off the premises to the hospital where I’d finally be having surgery. I like to think that I brightened their days, occasionally. Especially the evening they changed the battery in the heart monitor and water poured out of it.

‘Have you had another shower?’

‘Me? No,’ I lied, unconvincingly, while my fellow patients outed me loudly. What can I say? I hate being grubby! Perhaps this is why I swim…

I gave Fran, my heroine, all my hospital experiences - although I don’t mention them in any detail. It made sorting out my often chaotic timelines easier, as I simply used my own calendar.

The Sea Sisters Swimming Club became a sort of therapy for me – writing took me away from the house when I didn’t feel well enough to walk much, and allowed me to think through issues like the terrible, livid scar that ran so obviously from neck to navel. I have many scars, from my cancer, and two hip replacements, but nobody sees those. This one is clearly visible in every top I own – and it’s a reminder of what happened every time I look in the mirror. Now, eighteen months later, it’s barely noticeable, even in a swimsuit, and I see it as a survivor's mark. A blessing, and a tribute to the skill of my cardiac team. I dedicated the book to them. Thank you again.

The Sea Sisters Swimming Club is a comedy, which might seem strange for such a terrifying experience, but hopefully, you already see the opportunities for humour that arose during my stay in hospital. I laughed so much as I wrote it, and I hope you enjoy it too.

Available to Pre-Order in digital and paperback, it’s released on 29th August, 2023. I can’t wait to see it out there!

A huge thank you to Jan for hosting me on her blog 😘

It's a pleasure, Sue. I remember the message you sent cancelling our meet-up for coffee, cake and writing chat. 'I've had a heart attack... well, two actually!' To see your amazing recovery and to know this new novel is a result of your writing 'therapy' has been wonderful. I wish you good luck with The Sea Sisters Swimming Club. I'm sure its sales will soar!

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Fifty-year-old police officer Fran Doherty thought she had a good few years left in her. But if a heart attack while dancing the night away at a disco in a sequin dress isn't a sign to slow down, then she doesn't know what is . . . 

Fran's waved good-bye to the force and hello to her pension. but who is she without her job? She decides to get away from it all in Llanbryn, an idyllic seaside village in Wales. it beats feeling sorry for herself and watching Homes Under the Hammer all day.

Fran's soon taken under the wing of the Sea Sisters, a group of inspirational women of all ages and sizes who swim in the ocean. They challenge her to move on from the past and face her life-long fear of the sea.

And the strapping Wyn watches her eye. He appears to be the local troublemaker, but perhaps Fran's got the wrong end of the stick . . .

The closer she gets to Wyn, the more she's unable to deny the feelings he brings out in her. And Llanbryn feels more like home with every passing day.

Fran feels more alive than she has in years, but Wyn has his own emotional scars. maybe they can help each other?

Thank you for reading. If you are writer, has writing ever acted as therapy for you? I'd love it if you shared your experience in the comments below. Thanks.

You may follow me on :

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You will find more about me and my novels on my AMAZON page.


THE SECRET SISTER is available to pre-order for 99p. on Amazon and is currently available on NetGalley.

Publication day Thursday 31st August.


Tuesday 22 August 2023

 RNA Conference 2023

It's now a week since I returned from the RNA Conference 2023. It was the first I'd been to since the conference in Lancaster in 2019 and the first one I'd been to in London. And what a success it was! 

Five members of the Cariad Chapter left Cardiff Central Station early on Friday 11th August, only to find that the lovely Christina who writes as Ella Matthews had been sitting a few seats behind us, having got on the train in Swansea. In what seemed like no time we were all leaving Paddington by Tube and making our way to Imperial College in South Kensington where the Conference was going to be held. After dropping off our luggage (a largish case on my part!), we made our way to the Sir Alexander Fleming Building. From then on, it was all systems go with so much packed into the two days. 

I think what most people get from the Conference may be divided into three parts:

- the learning and finding out more about the craft and business of writing

- the opportunity to submit to industry professionals and have an appraisal of your writing. When things go really well, you may be invited to send your whole manuscript to the publisher or agent thereby avoiding being in the proverbial slush pile.

the socialising and reacquainting with other writers you've met at previous conferences or are familiar with online, and making new friends

The Conference was organised differently this year There had been a wealth of information beforehand so that as delegates we were well prepared for what to expect. Although you could choose any, to help us decide, the talks and workshops were divided into three streams. Stream 1 was designed to be most suitable for newbies and aspiring writers; Stream 2 was most suitable for those authors who are more experienced/on the publishing ladder and looking to improve themselves; Stream 3 choices were most suitable for 'old dogs wanting to learn new tricks'. The sessions were led by experienced published authors or industry professionals. I attended two excellent practical workshops, Scrivener for Beginners by Vicki Beeby and Introduction to Canva by Jeevani Charika, and although I'm not a techie, I'm so glad I did. I just need to keep practising now. Create a Connection: Newsletters by Katie Sadler was just what I needed, as next on my marketing list is to build a newsletter.

Out of the other seven sessions I attended, Writing Dual Timelines, a talk by Kath McGurl, will prove to be most useful for me, I think. It was informative as well as giving tips and advice about how to link and weave two stories together and the order in which you write both stories. The final talk I attended before the close on Sunday was Brainstorming Your Book, by Fiona Lucas. I'd heard her speak before and she was as inspiring as ever.

The social side of the Conference was more inclusive this year. The organisers had ensured that anyone who was attending for the first time or who didn't know anybody didn't feel isolated or left out. It was so good to catch up with other writers and chat with authors I had not met before.  After dinner on the Friday night, a Hopeless Romantics Quiz was organised. It was very enjoyable but it proved that I knew very little! The social highlight of the weekend was The Gala Party. Whereas in the past it was a formal dinner, at this Conference it took the form of a barbecue followed by a disco. The excellent DJ made sure the dance floor was never empty. And we danced until we dropped! 

Before the music started, there were presentations for The Elizabeth Goudge Trophy for the best opening chapter of a novel with the theme of 'absence makes the heart grow fonder'. We were delighted that the winner was our lovely fellow Joffe/Choc Lit author, Sally Jenkins. The Joan Hessayon Award, given to the best debut novelist whose manuscript had gone through the RNA's New Writers' Scheme, was won by another Joffe writer, Katy Turner. Huge congratulations, Katy. A clean sweep for Joffe on the night! Our RNA Cariad Chapter member, Angela Sims, was also a contender.

Cariad Members with Angela
Joffe/Choc Lit Authors outside Hotel 190

It was good to meet two editors from my new publisher, Joffe Books, in person. With my fourth novel imminent, I'd had a considerable amount of dealings with Emma and Jasmine online, email and Zoom, but nothing beats spending time with them face to face during Saturday. They invited those of us who are now Joffe/Choic Lit authors to join them at the smart Hotel 190 for pre-Conference drinks.

I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, learned loads and met lots of lovely writers. I can't wait to go again next year!

Thank you for reading. You may follow me on:

Twitter @JanBaynham

Facebook: Jan Baynham Writer

Instagram: janbaynham

You will find more about me on my AMAZON page.


THE SECRET SISTER is available to pre-order for 99p. on Amazon and is currently on NetGalley. 

Publication day Thursday 31st August