Tag Archives: RNA

Story Inspiration – Where Do Stories Come From?

This week I have been asking myself: where do I find story inspiration? It’s never been a problem for me. Stories are always queueing up. But I don’t really know how they get into the line in the first place.

Where do Stories Come from RoNA trophyMaybe this is partly because I’m in final edit mode at the moment. I have to admit to a chronic state of excitement, terror and permanent why-on-earth-did-I-think-I-could-write-this-story?-itis.

But no, it isn’t just displacement activity. Honest. It’s That Time of Year. The Goldsboro Books Romantic Novel of the Year short list is out.

Rona 17 Sophia Bennett

Where do stories come from Love SongThere are seven categories. Last year the overall winner was Love Song, a young adult novel by Sophia Bennett. And last Saturday, the author came to the RNA meeting in London to talk about her work. And that was the question she set herself to answer – where did her stories come from?

It was a brilliant talk, full of fun and fantastic energy.  And it had spoilers, and no, I’m not going to reveal them. (If you get the chance to hear Sophia Bennett speak, grab it with both hands. You won’t regret it.)

Her conclusion, if I understood her correctly, is that her stories come from the place where secrets and dramas in her own family meet current issues that move her.

Well, what she actually said was make her angry. I must say I can relate that: a great big dollop of indignation at the unfairness of things is fabulous fuel, I find.

Story Inspiration from Contemporary Issues

Story inspiration ThreadsSophia Bennett told us that her very first book, Threads (2009), was inspired by the plight of young refugees and her own youthful desire to be a fashion designer.

So that’s two issues that wouldn’t have occurred to Jane Austen, Dickens or Dostoievsky.

It won The Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition. David Almond, author of the heart-wrenching and very contemporary Skellig, wrote that it “introduces us to a bunch of kids in a superficial-seeming world of fashion and celebrity. It draws us elegantly into the dramas and profundities beneath. It shows that Hell and Heaven co-exist. It’s fast and funny, literate and wide-ranging. It’s like a lot of today’s kids, in fact, and they’ll read it in their thousands.”

And I have already written in this blog about The Raj Quartet . Paul Scott had witnessed the beginning of the end of the British Raj in India as a wartime serviceman and that story – or multiple inter-locking stories – had clearly been knocking at the door for a while before he started.

Story Inspiration from Friends

Story inspiration Eaj QuartetScott apparently intended it to be one book, at least when he started. But then he visited India again, he made new friends and ended up with five books and an unforgettable cast of characters.

Looking at my own current work in progress I can see a couple of things that I have borrowed from friends – a painting which made me laugh, a chilly stone-floored wine cellar.

They caught my fancy and I re-worked them to make them my own.


Story inspiration - Sword of HonourEvelyn Waugh happily sketched in friends and foes alike in his fiction, even his masterpiece The Sword of Honour trilogy. Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time  is a straightforward roman à clef . When he holds up the mirror to the age, it is peopled by his personal acquaintance.

But I have never managed to base any major story element on real people or their true stories. To be honest, there isn’t enough room for me. The story is already inhabited and not by characters I have created.

Also, I have slightly squeamish feeling that it would be an abuse of friendship somehow. Didn’t worry Waugh, though.

Story Inspiration from Family

Sophia Bennett has some stonkingly good family stories to tell. I think I may have one too. But…

Story inspiration secretsI uncovered it when a friend who is into family history studies showed me how to use online resources. It was a shock. But it made sudden sense of a remark that I had been told about.

But if my hypothesis were true, it would have been a source of distress and probably shame to the people concerned. I closed the website and looked no further. It wasn’t my business. They were entitled to their secrets.

Narrow road to the Deep North - story inspirationBooker Prize Winner Richard Flanagan clearly considered that issue when he mined his father’s wartime experience as a prisoner of the Japanese in Borneo for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But he made it clear that it was not his father’s personal story.

“He trusted me,” he told The Guardian. I really relate to that, too.

Though I have, I now realise, borrowed someone else’s relationship with his ancestors. The idea intrigued me, I remember. It was like falling over an alien at an office Christmas party.

I hardly knew the chap. We only met the once, talked for maybe fifteen minutes, mostly about economics. But there was something about the way he spoke of a great, great uncle, dead long before the nephew was born, that set off that little authorial bell in my head.
Ding, ding, what if

So, yes, it started with someone else. But it was a throw-away remark from him. And I’ve reworked it for my own purposes. So now it’s now mine, I tell you, all mine.


Sophie Weston Author


Rose and the Panther — a Cautionary Tale of Workshops

As some of our readers will know, Sophie and I gave an editing workshop — complete with black  panther — at the RNA Conference in mid-July 2017. (Fantastic conference, by the way.)
About 70 people attended. That’s a lot — we normally limit our workshop numbers to 12!

sparklers in the hands of a loving couple

Our topic was editing to add Sparkle to our writing in order to hook and hold readers. Since we only had an hour, rather than our normal 2 full days, it was more of a twinkle.
But it was fun. And we hope that those who attended found it useful.

We certainly did. It taught us some salutary lessons which I’ll share in a moment.
First, let me introduce you to Rose… Continue reading

Lonely, struggling writer in garret? Not necessarily

frustrated writer alone in garret

Joanna struggling in her garret?

The poor, lonely writer in her dark and dingy garret, struggling with her words…
Olaf the troll, and garret companionMakes you want to weep in sympathy, doesn’t it?

Except that I have to admit that my garret…er…isn’t. Continue reading

Katie Fforde & Research: Guest Blog

katie-fforde-author-picKatie Fforde is a true country girl at heart, living in the Cotswold countryside with her family. And she’s a huge bestseller, as well as being President of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Katie believes falling in love is the best thing in the world, and she wants all her characters to experience it, and her readers to share their stories.

We readers love those stories for their warm-hearted characters, their gentle comedy and their guaranteed happy endings.

Katie sets her stories in the here and now. So she doesn’t need to do research, right?

Wrong. Katie Fforde does research too, some of it the hard way. Ray Mears survival training, anyone?

Read on for Katie Fforde’s very individual take on doing research.

Katie Fforde does Research? Yes, really

Many years ago a friend who wrote historical fiction heard me mention doing some research. She said, “But you write contemporary, you don’t need to do research.”

How wrong she was!

Starting with potting

Continue reading

THE Romantic Scene: Writing Rules? — Maybe

A few years ago, in company with a Very Distinguished Author Friend, I ran a session at
the Romantic Novelists’ Association Conference on The Romantic Scene.
It was a delight.
We had a ball.
Our participants were enthusiastic, completely engaged. They enjoyed it and talked about it for ages afterwards. Yet it had been one of the most thought-provoking tasks I’ve ever tackled.

Not as Planned

Agreeing on the romantic sceneConfession time. Continue reading

Romantic Comedy — Guest Post by Alison May

romantic comedy author Alison May


Today’s guest post on romantic comedy is from multi-published author Alison May whose bubbling sense of fun comes through brilliantly in her writing.

(Alison and Joanna are members of the same local chapter of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Needless to say, Alison always manages to inject some laughter into the meetings.)

Love and laughter go together, according to Alison …

Romantic Comedy — Love and Laughter

much-ado-posterRomance and comedy are natural bedfellows. Shakespeare knew it when he threw Benedick and Beatrice together in Much Ado About Nothing. Jane Austen knew it when she teamed Pride with Prejudice. And Hollywood has known it repeatedly from Doris Day and Rock Hudson, to Harry meeting Sally and beyond.

The two sit so perfectly together because love is such a rich source of comedy. It makes us throw caution to the winds and do stupid things. It makes us awkward. It makes us tongue-tied. It makes us, frankly, ridiculous, and where there are humans being ridiculous, there is comedy. Continue reading

Cover Design and the Self-published Author

cover design In the Arms of the Sheikh by Sophie Weston


Cover design is a whole new area for me. Before I self published, I sold my stories to big publishers. The cover was part of the deal. Sometimes a good part.

First Pitfall — Absent Author

Sometimes not so much. The Author’s input back then generally consisted of doing a précis of the story and describing the characters’ looks. The designer made of that what he/she would. It could be pretty weird. The cover design where the heroine’s only identifiable feature was a bad case of measles is burned into my soul.

Second Pitfall — Baboon Bomb

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The Reader Writer Connection: Guest Blog by Sue Moorcroft

reader writer connection with Sue Moorcroft

Today, our guest blogger is Sue Moorcroft, an award-winning author and writing tutor who sets the gold standard for the rest of us in the art of making the reader writer connection.

At Liberta’s request — we imagine we’re not the only ones who are looking for hints to improve our links with readers — Sue’s blogging about how she interacts with her readers.

Over to Sue…

Sue Moorcroft Connects with Readers

It’s always a good day when I receive a message from a reader.

Partly because I’m lucky enough to receive a lot of nice messages, which gives me a warm glow (you may prefer to call this ego-feeding!), but mostly because it proves my work’s being read and enjoyed.

reader writer connection


Continue reading

Janus, god of beginnings, middles, endings


Janus, god of beginnings, middles, endings, looking both ways

If the Libertà hive ever needs a household god, we may well plump for the Roman Janus, god of beginnings and transitions. Janus usually appears with two heads. That means he not only tells you where you are, he can tell you where you’ve been, too.

Janus opens doors to all directions

Janus is also the god of gates, doorways, passages and endings, the sort of god who is useful for showing you, and us, the way.

So here we have a god of beginnings, middles, endings. Readers like all of those, and they’re pretty useful for writers as well. At Libertà, we’ve come to think that Janus is probably our guy.  Continue reading