Sunday, 31 March 2013

Sneak Peek Sunday: Desperate Bid (Sarah)

For the next couple of weeks, I've decided to use my 'sneak peeks' to introduce you to some of my favourite characters from my first book, 'Desperate Bid', and who better to start with than my heroine Sarah and her sister Gillian?  (In case you're wondering, since this appears out of context, the subject of their conversation is the nightmare 'team-building event' which Sarah attended the previous day.  

        Sarah would sooner have been soaking in a hot bath than sitting in this dingy dive, staring at a wall papered inches thick with posters of unknown rock bands. But she’d promised Gillian ages ago that she’d come to hear this great new band, and she didn’t like to let her down. And for all its grubbiness, Campbell’s had a certain charm, a friendly, lively atmosphere that was hard to resist.
         “So you loved it, then. I’m sure.” Gillian matched Sarah’s sarcasm.
         “I ache like crazy.” Sarah rolled her shoulders to try and release the tension that had begun with the previous day’s exertion and been compounded by a day in the office. Her aches weren’t being helped by the fact that she was now perched on a tiny three-legged stool with no back support. “Oh, yes,” she added, “And Miles wants to buy the company.”
        At this, Gillian’s eyes widened.
        “What are you going to do?” Gillian asked, taking a sip of her vodka and lemonade as she waited for an answer.
        If Sarah ignored her sister’s exuberant curls, watching her across the table was almost like looking in a mirror, seeing the same emerald eyes and shoulder-length dark chestnut hair. But while Sarah ironed out the hint of wave in her tresses, Gillian encouraged hers into a tumbling mass of corkscrews.

There.  Just six paragraphs, as required in the rules of Sneak Peek Sunday.  Hop along there now if you'd like to read more tasty Sunday teasers.
If you liked this excerpt, you can read Sarah's story in 'Desperate Bid' - and you might also be interested to know that I'm currently working on a sequel featuring the mysterious Miles!  

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Wednesday Writer Interview - Sheila North

This is exciting!  I'm starting a series of occasional (and hopefully, eventually, regular) Wednesday writer interviews - a chance for me and my blog readers to meet some interesting people and hopefully discover some great books that we wouldn't otherwise have found.  The series kicks off today with my friend, author and radio presenter Sheila North.  

Welcome, Sheila.  Tell us a bit about your writing.  What have you had published?

‘The Woodcutter’s Son’ is my first published novel, and was published for the e-reader market late last year. Around the same time, my short story ‘Perfect for Her’ was selected for ‘Tales from the Circle’, a short story collection published by as a fund raiser. A poetry pamphlet, ‘An American in South Yorkshire’, was published by Smith Doorstop in the 1980s. I’ve had poetry published in both the US and UK.

I worked for two years as a stringer, reporter, assistant editor and editor for a small weekly newspaper in the States. Much later, in the UK, I spent 10 years in internal communications, but I suspect neither are the sort of thing you mean.

Does ‘Doctor Who’ or ‘Buffy’ fan fiction count?

Absolutely.  And talking of the media, you’ve also done some radio presenting.  Tell us about that. 

I present ‘Book It!’, a monthly programme about books and writing, for Sine FM,  Doncaster’s local radio station: I’ve been presenting the show with the help of my producer, and husband, David, for over three years. I’ve met some great writers, and had some fascinating chats.  I'm giving a talk about the programme on Thursday 9 May at 10 am, at Sine FM (Netherhall Road). The talk is part of "Turn the Page", the Doncaster Literary Festival, which runs from 7 to 17 May this year.

What is the main genre you write in?

Mainly paranormal, though the one I tried to complete for the 2012 NaNoWriMo was an attempt at a straight romantic novel. It’s called ‘The Vicar’s Wife’, and is a sequel to my first ever paranormal romance. I plan to return to ‘Vicar’s’ at some point.  All my novels have some humour, to a greater or lesser degree.

What inspired you to write ‘The Woodcutter’s Son’?

I don’t remember! Some of the setting and atmosphere is based on a private wood which some friends own and which David and I visited, many years ago. I took photos, made notes, and rambled about.  I also needed to interview a tree surgeon. Fortunately, some other friends own a small woodland, and had recently had a few trees trimmed, so they were able to introduce me to one.

‘Woodcutter’s’ is a love story, a modern day myth, and a novel about loss. At the beginning of the book, my main character, Robin, is attending the funeral of the person closest to him.

How long did it take you to write The Woodcutter’s Son’?

Years! This is because of my tendency to rewrite the same book, over and over again. I think I was onto my fifth rewrite of ‘Woodcutter’s’ when David managed to prise it away from me.

What is the working title of your next book (or books)?

One is a partially written novel with the working title ‘The Boy in the Corner’. As well as some characters of my own creation, it brings together several, mainly minor, characters from Celtic myth into the modern world. It’s partly set in Danefield, an imaginary Yorkshire town which is the initial setting for  ‘Woodcutter’s’.

I’m also working on the latest rewrite of  ‘Pointy Demons’, which one friend describes as a ‘paranormal relationship novel’. I’ve got a soft spot for ‘Pointy’, and would like to place it with a trad publisher.

If anyone reading this can help place a paranormal relationship novel which is set in Yorkshire, and has a fair slice of humour, please get in touch!

Why did you decide to self-publish ‘The Woodcutter’s Son’, and how have you found the experience?

Technically speaking, I’m not self-publishing, as my husband is my publisher! I’ve nicknamed it ‘Upstairs Publishing’ as I usually write downstairs, whilst he generally works upstairs. 

What advice would you give to a writer starting out with self-publishing or a small press?

That’s a tough one! As far as self-publishing is concerned, my main suggestion would be ‘Don’t hang about.’ Rumour has it that it’s going to become increasingly difficult to self-publish, at least for the e-reader market, so the sooner you do so, the better. As for small presses, make the contacts, by all means, but also read – and follow! - the submission guidelines. If they say, ‘We only take flash fiction about shire horses in space’, don’t send them your 120,000 word novel about a young estate agent’s coming-of-age in Slough.

What part of writing books do you find the hardest?

Knowing when to say ‘Enough!,’ and stop writing yet another draft. My husband practically had to drag ‘Woodcutter’s Son’ away from me.

What do you do in your spare time?

‘Book It!’ takes up a lot of time. I like to read, and I sometimes attend the local folk club. I’m also involved with the Friends of Hyde Park Cemetery. Most days start with a cup of tea, followed by an offering of suet, meal worms and seeds,  and a few minutes by the kitchen window, watching and waiting to see who calls by.

Who is your favourite author?

My favourite living author is Joanne Harris, partly because I’ve followed her career from the very start; mainly because she’s extremely talented – and from Yorkshire! Favourite dead authors include James Thurber, an American with a deft touch for witty, sometimes biting, short stories; James Hilton, whose ‘Random Harvest’ should be required reading for all aspiring romance writers, and James Herriot, whose books are incredibly heart-warming – and have the added bonus of being set in Yorkshire.  

What’s your favourite genre to read?

I’ll read children’s books, classics, biographies, sci-fi, fantasy, romance, etc. If a book engages me, I’ll read it.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write - a lot.

And where can we find out more about your work?

Here’s a link for the latest podcast of ‘Book It!’:

And one for ‘The Woodcutter’s Son’ on Amazon:

And one for my husband David’s website, which includes some of my (very short) fiction:

And one for the ‘Book It!’ blog:

Thanks, Sheila, and all the best with your writing! 

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Today I'm visiting at Blurbs in Bloom

You might not guess it from the weather outside, but inside we're full of the joys of Spring, so what better day to combine sweet stories with springtime flowers?  Today 'Perfect Partners' is featuring at Mickie Sherwood's beautiful website 'Blurbs in Bloom'.  It's so pretty, and full of tasty teasers.  Click on the link below for a tiny taste of dancing romance - and while you're there, why not scroll down and see if any of the other snippets takes your fancy?

Sneak Peek Sunday: The Santa Next Door

In view of the weather, it seemed appropriate to post a sneak preview of a wintry scene from my just-revised Christmas holiday romance, with the working title of 'The Santa Next Door'.  Sue and her daughter Trudi are walking past the house of their reclusive neighbour when Trudi spots a pattern drawn in the snow that looks something like a face...

Before Sue could warn Trudi that not everyone appreciated company, she'd already poked her head through the bars of the gate and demanded, in a small but carrying voice, “What is it?”
The man jumped, making it clear Sue had guessed correctly.  He’d thought himself alone. 
He didn't look annoyed, though.  Although his face was expressionless, there was a hint of warmth in his voice as he answered, "It's a snow devil." 
"Don't most people make snow angels?"  
"I guess.  I didn't feel like getting cold by lying down in the snow.  This is easier, and I always think that snow brings out the devil in most of us, not the angel."
Suiting his action to his words, he bent down and caught up a handful of snow.  Before Sue could protest, he had fashioned it into a rough ball, and thrown it at the gate so that it exploded into a million shining scraps just inches from Trudi's nose.  

There.  Just six paragraphs, as required in the rules of Sneak Peek Sunday.  Hop along there now if you'd like to read more Sunday sneaks.  

If you liked this excerpt, sadly, you’ll have to wait until nearer Christmas for the whole story.  In the meantime, you could take a look at ‘Perfect Partners’ or ‘Desperate Bid’, or try some of the books I recommended in my 12 days of Kindle’ series. 

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Review: Desperate Bid

It's always nice when a new book leads readers back to an earlier one, and after reviewing 'Perfect Partners', Katie Thompson was kind enough to offer to take a look at 'Desperate Bid' as well.  Here's her short, but very sweet, review:

I'm not sure which is the highlight for me: '“Desperate Bid” contains everything that I think a good romance book needs' or 'Stephanie Cage’s talent has no end. I highly recommend this book.'  These two statements in combination have made my day... and it's only half past nine!  

Thanks, Katie! 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Discovery of the Day: WriteSpa

I'm a big fan of spas - peace and quiet, running water, clear air and above all, the gift of time to relax and enjoy life.  I am also, as you might have guessed, a big fan of writing websites, so when I discovered WriteSpa, I came to the immediate conclusion that the site must have been designed especially for me!  Combining practical writing tips with ideas about how to find a creative oasis in even the most hectic day, this book and website should, I think, be part of every busy writer's toolkit. 

For a limited time only, you can download Winslow Eliot's practical, lyrical companion to the writing life, 'Writing Through The Year' for free.  Click here for the special free download, or here to find out more about the paperback edition. 

If you'd rather cry off writing for a while and visit a real-life spa, or just soak up the atmosphere without leaving your PC, you can click here for a visit in pictures to my all-time favourite, the only naturally heated spa pool still open to the public in Britain.  It's located in the gorgeous Roman city of Bath, and combines the best of ancient and modern, with amenities like scented steam rooms, bubble jets and a Lazy River, topped off by a rooftop pool granting an impressive view of the city's Georgian beauty.  If I sound like an overenthusiastic brochure copywriter here, I should point out that I'm not paid by the tourist board.  I just love Bath.  And spas...

Including one rather more ordinary spa closer to home: if you're anywhere in the Doncaster area, I thoroughly recommend Elements medispa.  It's a great place to relax, but you probably won't get any writing done while you're being massaged, mud-wrapped and steamed to within an inch of your life.   So if you want a boost with your latest project, I recommend, instead, Winslow Eliot's WriteSpa... oh, wait, I said that already!  But seriously, this is a gem of a little book, a lot cheaper than a day at a spa and it'll probably change your life for longer too.  

Sunday, 10 March 2013

5 Heart Review for 'Perfect Partners'

I was so excited to receive another five star (or rather, five heart) review for Perfect Partners!  Harlequin Junkie says, 'Perfect Partners by Stephanie Cage is a fun sweet romance that will hook you from the very first page' and 'If you are a fan of romance and dancing this book is a must read.'  I'm so happy that reviewers are loving Redmond and Lisa's story as much as I do!   

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Dancing Inspirations: La Cage aux Folles

It's been an exciting few weeks.  'Perfect Partners' has launched on Amazon and I've had some great reviews.  I loved this one from The Book Lovers, and I very much enjoyed doing an interview with Katie Thompson, who's also kindly reviewed the book here. And apart from launching 'Perfect Partners', I also appear on this month's Book It (a literary show on local community radio) reviewing two books linked only by a Christian name: local author Craig Hallam's fantasy novel, 'Greaveburn', and Strictly judge Craig Revel Horwood's autobiography, 'All Balls and Glitter'. 

I enjoyed both books, but it's Craig Revel Horwood's I particularly want to mention here, only because it was what finally prodded me into booking tickets for a theatre production I'd been hearing about for some time: local group LS Productions version of 'La Cage aux Folles'.  Despite knowing several cast members, I'd been dragging my heels on booking simply because I knew nothing about the show itself.  But when Craig Revel Horwood mentioned 'La Cage aux Folles' in connection with sequins, ostrich feathers and six foot blokes in heels, I knew it was something I had to see.  And was it! 
Lee Semley, as drag artist Albin in the Barnsley version of La Cage Aux Folles.
The super-glamorous star of the show (right) set a high standard in both style and singing, but all the cast members thoroughly lived up to it.  I was particularly impressed that a few sticky moments with lines and lights, which could have easily spoiled the flow, simply became an opportunity for spectacularly funny ad-libs.  Not only that, but the frothy, fabulous atmosphere of the nightclub scenes was underpinned by a thoughtful and sensitive treatment of some of the issues faced by people who don't fit perfectly into the conventional categories of male/female or gay/straight. Imagine bringing your fiancee's ultra-traditional family to dinner to meet your 'parents' - both of whom are men, but one of whom makes a habit of appearing on stage as a woman!  The whole thing is deliciously farcical, and yet you really feel for the characters.  For the first time, I fully appreciated just how the centerpiece song, 'I Am What I Am' came to be such an anthem for the LGBT community. 

Prior to the show, a local newspaper had run a piece billing the show as, amongst other things, a celebration of gay marriage, and so it was, in a sense.  It certainly made me proud that the church where I got married, Upper Chapel in Sheffield, is, so far as we know, the first in the area to be licensed to marry gay couples.  And perhaps the extraordinary experience of watching a strapping bloke transform, on stage, into a singing diva, also made me a little more receptive to the fascinating talk I later came across on TED celebrating the full spectrum of LGBT life under the parodic title, 'Fifty shades of Gay'.  Although maybe I'd always have felt that way: after all, I didn't just give Lisa the obligatory 'gay best friend' in 'Perfect Partners' - I also gave gay best friend Jerry his very own love story!  People outside the ballroom dancing world often think that a lot of the men involved must be gay, just because of the Cuban heeled boots and sequins and fake tan.  So it was fun to be able to create one man who fitted the camp stereotype of the male dancer, and another who totally turned it on its head - tough, footballing ladies' man, Redmond.  They couldn't be more different, but they definitely both are what they are, and happy with what they are. 

I love to write, read, and watch stories about accepting people for what they are, and ultimately the take-away message of 'La Cage aux Folles' is less about celebrating any particular preferences, and more about celebrating life and love in all their glorious, ridiculous diversity.  'La Cage aux Folles' is, in the truest and best sense of the term, a love story.  Oh, and the costumes are to die for, with more sequins than you can shake a stiletto at!  See it if you possibly can.