Two books that influenced me.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. It contains the ultimate twist. I felt diddled in such an amazing way that I’ll never forget the smile on my face as I put the book down.

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh. It felt like reading a book that someone had just spewed out. He didn’t care what people thought, or anything of style or standards. This was his book and that’s how it was. The criminal antics were so realistic but told with black humour. The first publisher he sent it to picked it up, which must have been lovely for Mr Welsh. 😊.

 

Two songs that influenced me

I only really listen to music in the car. I need silence to write; someone eating an apple in the lounge two rooms away unsettles me. Eye of the Tiger by Survivor was one of the first songs I bought. I used to go jogging with it playing on one of those old personal stereos. I’m not built for jogging, so it was hugely motivational. When I hear it now, I still think of the batteries and me dying near the end of each run.

The other, oddly, is Barbie Girl by Aqua. At the time it came out, the girl from the video reminded me of my then girlfriend. She was a pretty, ditzy, unsuitable girl, and we used to joke it was our song. We sadly broke up (I was sad) and then I had to listen to the song every time I turned on the radio for the next 6 months. Excellent. That was 25 years ago. When I hear it now, I remember a young man living life and having fun.

 

Two films that influenced me

Shawshank is hardly original but I love it. There’s a flow and rhythm to it that I try and emulate in my writing. It’s a hard film about prison. If it’s done beautifully, I can watch and read anything.

Empire Strikes Back is the first film I remember seeing at the movies. I was 7. I can still remember my eyes bulging at the massive screen as the first AT AT’s came into view.

 

Two people who inspired me.

Nelson Mandela is influential to many people but it wasn’t until I visited Robben Island where they imprisoned him that I realised he was something incredible. He was kept for so long in such terrible conditions, literally breaking rocks with a small hammer in a sunburned courtyard, that it would have been understandable if he’d been bitter and vengeful. Instead, he was the reverse. His story is so inspiring.

The second person is my dad. Slightly cheesy, but it’s not for anything outstanding. It’s his approach to life. He’s 80 now, and looks to enjoy his days and get on with things, and always has. I remember buying a house which needed completely repainting. The first day, I stood in the lounge with a brush in my hand and thought, ‘Oh my God’. He bent down next to me, picked up a tin and a roller, climbed the ladder, and began to paint the ceiling. Admittedly, we ruined the carpet. But that sense of getting-on-with-things was stirring. Many years later, when I felt I had a story to tell, I remembered that day.

So, I sat at my desk, picked up my pen, and began to write.

I wasn’t an early embracer of the whole social media scene. I joined Twitter to see what it was about but didn’t really use it, barely going on it. Facebook had never had any appeal for me, but writing full time meant having a ‘business’ presence on there was kind of required.

Instagram, however, was a different matter for me. As a photography fan, this platform appealed as a place to share and view interesting pictures, and perhaps connect with others who shared similar interests. It still took me a while, joining four years after its launch. But it was really about the opportunity to practice photography skills and share them. I wasn’t bothered about the Like count. It was just fun. And I think this was true of a lot of users at this time. That was the point – just having fun.

But somewhere along the line, things seem to have become a bit skewed. And there are times when it’s not fun at all– in fact, it’s the very opposite. Some users are experiencing a lack of self worth, jealousy, violence, self harm and heartbreakingly, even suicide. It was actually this side of things that gave me the inspiration for the book that would become #NoFilter.

Bearing in mind I write romcoms, I can see that this isn’t exactly what people would call a perfect match. But this is what many people miss about the romance genre – especially the critics, the majority of whom have never even dipped a toe into the scene before dismissing it as unworthy of their, or anyone else’s attention. Many romcoms and romances tackle subjects which are quite serious, but they do it in a way that makes it accessible, and relatable. Yes, my books have a non negotiable happy ending but that doesn’t mean the characters have led  Pollyanna lifestyles. There’s more to these books than meet the eye, if people bother to look.

The spark for #NoFilter was reading a report about the increase in reports of self harm since the advent of social media, and how growth of the two correlated. This was both shocking and saddening. We’ve all heard of cyberbullying and trolling and how intrusive that can be, especially to school age children. Once our home was a sanctuary away from the school bullies. Now, unless you’re offline entirely – something that seems almost impossible, if not anathema to a generation who were practically born with a mobile phone in their hand –  it’s very hard to get away from.

But it’s not just others who bully. And you certainly don’t have to be of school age to be a victim. Sometimes the biggest bully is the one inside our head, and unfortunately social media, especially the image focused channels have only given these more power. These problems are not exclusively female either. Men are certainly not immune to doubting their self worth, but there has always been an added pressure on women when it comes to how they present themselves and how others perceive them.

Once it was the glossy magazines being berated for presenting aspirational images impossible to actually achieve. Not because there aren’t women just as stylish, intelligent and beautiful out there. But because the images laid in front of us weren’t genuine. The real person – a model, a woman already been singled out for her aesthetically pleasing appearance – has been made up, dressed and photographed in the most flattering way possible. And then begins hours of photo editing. In some cases, four or five different women are amalgamated to make one ‘perfect’ one. No wonder we feel like we’re not good enough – the image we’re aspiring to sometimes isn’t even one person! Even children aren’t immune from the photo editing suite – what sort of message that sends, I hate to contemplate.

So, battling against these perfect images on the newsstand was bad enough but in the back of our minds, many of us knew these were tweaked and toned and literally, perfected. But somehow, when it comes to social media, we seem to forget. All of a sudden there are these ‘normal’ women – not movie stars, or models – just regular women looking absolutely flawless. And that seems a lot more real than the glossy magazines. Which is a lot more dangerous.

The truth is a vast majority of the images on Instagram are not real. They’re just as fake as the magazines. The amount of photo editing apps available is staggering, with an enormous number dedicated specifically to selfies. It’s basically plastic surgery for your photograph and it can get addictive. When selfies are continuously filtered and edited, they are a representation of that person – but most certainly not that person. However, as we scroll through, seeing one perfect face and body after another, that logic doesn’t always make it through and instead our own self worth takes a mental pounding. That’s the danger and it’s only getting worse.

Social media is not a bad thing. It’s supposed to be fun, and it can be. It can also be supportive. Being a writer is a very solitary job, but social media has enabled me to be in contact with others in the same position and being able to gain and give support via these platforms is brilliant. The same goes for hobbies – you might not know anyone in your ‘real’ life that finds the same things as you interesting but social media enables you to find a community and I know people who have made long and strong friendships via it. It’s not evil. But it does need to be used with caution.

No one is perfect. But you are perfect as you are. If there’s anything that’s making you doubt that, then it may be time to do a bit of detoxing. Accounts that make you question your self worth need to go. Press that unfollow and feel the pressure lift. Find the next one and do the same, and the next.

Replace these accounts with others that don’t adhere to the editing obsession and instead bring you joy. They’re just as interesting and encourage a world and a belief that is far, far more social.

Food. Glorious food. Since the 1950s, a multitude of cooking shows have fed our appetites. Today, shows offer more than chefs going through the motions of measuring out ingredients and instead present a hotpot of entertainment, where recipes often come second to reality TV competitions and celebrity antics.

On The Great British Bake Off, amateurs prove their worth with pastries and cakes in a big-top tent while the hosts wax lyrically with British innuendo. Charming quips about ‘soggy bottoms’ are baked into the banter—and winners receive nothing but a cake stand and flowers. At the other end, there’s the explosive, profanity laden, blunt tour-de-force that is Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, where renowned Michelin starred chef Gordon ruthlessly guides struggling restaurants to improve on everything from chef to waiter services. And if you like your cooking shows with a dash of romance or ‘hostess with the mostest’ one-upmanship, over on Dinner Date and Come Dine With Me, contestants battle to win hearts or host the perfect dinner party—personal quirks and qualities ranking equally on the ultimate scorecards with the gastronomic offers.

But my favourite cookery show—and the first I tuned into— goes to Iron Chef, the original. Starting in Japan in 1993, the show opened with the quote by famed French food author Brillat-Savarin: ‘Tell me what you eat, and I’ll tell you what you are’. Hosted by flamboyant Takashi ‘Chairman’ Kaga, his dream was to invite chefs from around the world to challenge resident ‘Iron Chefs’ in a giant cooking arena inside his castle. Featuring a secret themed ingredient in each episode—anything from plain old cabbage or potatoes to such exotics as live river eel or Swallow’s Nest (a real swallow’s nest that when dissolved in water, has a gelatinous texture used for soup)—the show became a cult hit outside of Japan. Spin-offs in other markets followed, but there’s nothing to beat the fantastically dubbed original. Being serious about food can be seriously fun!

In my debut novel, Look At Me Now, Gracie Porter’s admittedly stale cookery show gets a revamp into a saucy new format called Eat Me. More about dating, and innuendos about stonking big vegetables, than mouth-watering recipes, Gracie struggles to cope with her increasing fame, as her boyfriend becomes increasingly disinterested in her. There’s some toxic relationships to flambé along the way, but with a loyal and sassy best friend, doting parents and unconditional support from colleagues, including her bubbly assistant and charming new agent, Gracie has all the ingredients she needs for a happy life. The cherry on top is finding her own inner sparkle.

Simone x

The best thing about writing novels is that the starting point for a story is invariably many miles away from where it ends up taking you.  In the case of ‘Good Girls’ my initial intention was to write about two sisters who had fallen out over a man. Kat and Eleanor popped into my head, the younger one – Kat – is all instinct and charisma, while the elder – Eleanor – is all brain and awkwardness.  They would be close as children, I decided, but find themselves worlds apart by the time they reached adulthood. The man in question would be at the core of the story, getting in touch after twenty years…

The moment I started to write however, a much deeper narrative began to flow.  Yes, there is a man, Nick, who separates – and then connects – the girls (by the end I was in love with him myself).  Yes, there are fallouts and competitiveness, as you would find in any family, but in the case of Kat and Eleanor much darker and more complex truths begin to emerge; truths so embedded in childhood experiences which they weren’t equipped to understand at the time, that it is little wonder they struggle to recognise and deal with them as adults.

The Big Question, asked by writers of themselves, and by readers of their books, is ‘Where do your ideas come from?’  In the case of ‘Good Girls’, I certainly knew about having sisters – I’ve got two! – and am therefore well acquainted with the sometimes choppy waters of sibling rivalries, as well as the power of family loyalty and love – those knots that continue to bind us even as the years and divergent experiences pull us apart.  Such knowledge was a massive help – a springboard – for getting started. But then, as always, the imagination took over, allowing the fun and mystery of creativity to begin. 

With Kat and Eleanor I really had no idea what I was letting myself in for – the depth and complexity of the closeness and distance between them, the unexpected and painful triggers that set them on their respective paths towards forgiveness and understanding.  It was the most difficult – and at times harrowing – book to write, as well as the most rewarding.

‘Good Girls’ is also uplifting – a love story!  As a die-hard Romantic, there is nothing I like better than for the ‘right’ people to find each other.  One of the many joys of being a novelist is the chance to show how such miracles really can happen. By the time I had finished writing however, I realised that the real love story, in the purest sense, is the relationship between the sisters themselves, Kat and Eleanor, surviving and reaching out to each other against impossible odds.  

‘Good Girls’ was a long time in the making, and I couldn’t be happier at how it has turned out.  At times it did my head in, living with Kat and Eleanor, constantly pushing at me with their heart-breaking, uplifting tale, telling me to do justice to it, to get it exactly right.  When your characters won’t let you alone, you know you are onto something.

I would love to know if you agree:   

Twitter: @ABrookfield1

Email: contact@amandabrookfield.co.uk

Website: www.amandabrookfield.co.uk

Facebook: facebook.com/AmandaBrookfield

I’ve always been fascinated by where authors get their ideas. I love understanding how something small like a snippet of conversation, a song lyric, a view, or a building can grow into a novel.

 

The Secret to Happiness came from the merging of two ideas around a concept and a setting. The concept came from a song lyric on Leona Lewis’s 2012 album, Glassheart. ‘Un Love Me’ is about a cheating partner. She knows she needs to let him go, but she can’t find the strength to say goodbye and needs him to un love her and end it with her instead. This triggered an idea about a group of women each needing to say goodbye to someone for different reasons. What if they couldn’t find the strength to say goodbye on their own, but found this strength through others?

 

The more I thought about this, the more excited I became. It wasn’t plausible to have a group of friends all facing a goodbye-scenario at the same time which meant I needed a setting where friendships would form quickly. Bootcamp.

 

Fed up of being overweight and unfit at age 40, I joined a bootcamp in February 2013. For a year, I rose at 5.20am three mornings a week (and slightly later on a Saturday) to complete a one-hour bootcamp in the great outdoors, whatever the weather.

 

I started a blog – www.mybigfatbeachbootcamp.wordpress.com – to document my fitness journey and it had a huge readership.

 

Bootcamp hurt a lot, particularly in those early weeks where my body groaned in pain after years of neglect. I suffered from injury and I suffered from doubts in my ability, hating being the one at the back: ‘I cried at bootcamp this morning. Proper tears; not just the wind making my eyes water. I’ve just hit a massive, massive low.’

 

But I kept going. The coaches were so motivational and made us laugh a lot. Sessions were full of friendship as a group of strangers got to know each other, cheering on those who, like me, struggled. My husband’s twin sisters joined too and the three of us loved it so much that we couldn’t imagine life without bootcamp. It truly was a special period in my life and I never expected it to end.

 

Sadly, things change. The company expanded rapidly, doubling in size, yet halving the number of coaches per session. The fun, family, supportive feel faded and my insecurities re-surfaced. As I wrote in my blog, ‘I [can be] quite shy. I feel very self-conscious about my weight, my age, my height and a million other insecurities. I got partnered with young, slim girls who looked at me in disgust. I wasn’t paranoid about what they were thinking (and judging); it was written all over their faces. I’ve been bullied enough in my life. I don’t need to surround myself in one of my hobbies by people who judge me for my size and age and make assumptions that fat equals unfit.’

 

Around the same time, losing my job put some serious financial pressures on me and I made the difficult decision to leave bootcamp. It actually broke my heart to stop, particularly as working out on the Yorkshire Coast had been so inspiring: ‘I miss the outdoors. I ache for the outdoors’. It had been incredible, but it was over.

 

After that, I joined a gym and then a competitor bootcamp for another 18 months. I worked hard at that bootcamp and I enjoyed the exercise, but it was a much more serious setting and I missed the banter and camaraderie. Then another change in job meant I couldn’t fit it in anymore. Fast forward a few years and I’ve regained all my weight and lost all my fitness but I do have some very fond memories, particularly of my first bootcamp experience.

 

And, of course, I’d found the setting for The Secret to Happiness. The bootcamp environment had been full of support and encouragement from strangers who quickly became friends. It was intense and emotional, which was perfect for my women needing to say goodbye. I realised that my own journey wasn’t going to make a novel, but the journeys of Alison, Danniella and Karen would.

 

Jessica xx

 

How this California Girl landed a spot in British Publishing

Meghan Markle did it, so did Cora in Downton Abbey, along with Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth.

Meghan is the first American to become officially engaged to a member of the British Royal Family, American-born Cora became mistress of Downton, and during World War 2, Grable and Hayworth starred in films that take place in England.

Now it’s my turn.

I’m the first American author signed by a new, innovative British publishing company called Boldwood Books. My debut book with them, Christmas Once Again, is a World War 2 time travel holiday romance back to 1943 on the home front and will be released on October 10, 2019.

I’ve traveled a long and winding road to get here.

Traditionally published by New York as well as self-published, I’ve endured through the ups and downs of publishing—lines cancelled, publishers going out of business. Big changes from the days when I waited by the mailbox for an answer from an editor. And rejections? I’ve got them, though I have a special place in my heart for the paper ones engraved with fancy letterheads and scrawled, handwritten notes at the top of the page saying, “Please try us again.”

Now publishing moves at such a fast pace, you can lose your breath trying to keep up. And at times, it’s lost the personal touch. Which is why I was so excited when Boldwood Books took me on as their first American author. The independent, global fiction publishing house is based in London and like Dorothy, I feel like I’ve landed in Oz. A whole new world opened up to me when I got the “London call.” I’ve been living on UK time fueled by cups of coffee (I’m learning the art of drinking tea), mastering British punctuation, and amazed at how smoothly the Boldwood publishing process works.

Team Boldwood is committed to building a community of writers who support each other with a professional team to guide us. Founded by a team with over 50 years success in fiction publishing and headed by Amanda Ridout, Boldwood Books recently debuted a launch list of twenty authors, including this Yank.

Boldwood Books is also a family. We work together to meet deadlines, share ideas, and I can’t tell you how excited I was to participate in the book cover process and choosing a narrator for the audio version of my book, Christmas Once Again.

When I was a little girl and penned my fairy tales about runaway princesses, lost ballerinas, and magic spells, I never had an inkling my wild imaginings would take me across the pond to find my dream publisher. I’d scribble stories in a black and white composition book while my Irish grandmother regaled me with tales about hard times when she was my age. But, she’d tell me with a twinkle in her eye, there’d always be a glimmer in her soul for Ireland and the British Isles.

As there is in mine.

London called, and I answered.

Jina Bacarr