One of the most important pieces of advice I’d give to any aspiring writer is to find your tribe – other aspiring writers with whom you can go on this journey. It may be a cliché to talk about journeys but that’s exactly what becoming a writer is. It’s exciting, frustrating, confusing, liberating, scary, cathartic, rewarding, upsetting and full of highs and lows. Throughout all that, it’s such a gift to be part of a group who understand and are there for you to offer congratulations or commiserations as appropriate.
I found my tribe – a group of women called The Write Romantics. Today – 1st April 2023 – marks our ten-year anniversary as a group of ten so I wanted to share a celebratory post looking at our origins and how far we’ve all come in a decade.
In the beginning…
The Write Romantics were originally formed in late 2012 but there were just two of us at the time – Jo Bartlett and me. I’d joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) through their New Writer’s Scheme (NWS) and it had taken me the best part of a year lurking on a group email system called Romna, in awe of so many accomplished authors, before I stepped forward to introduce myself. I was warmly welcomed to the group but I had a private message from Jo. She was also on the NWS and keen to connect as it sounded like we might have a lot in common, including the type of books we wanted to write.
Jo lived in Kent and I lived in North Yorkshire so meeting up wasn’t an option but we exchanged stacks of emails and started blogging together under the name The Write Romantics. Neither of us had ever blogged before so we stumbled our way through it together, but soon realised that we were going to quickly run out of things to say. We weren’t published writers. We weren’t even ready to start the submissions rounds. So we made a decision to expand and Jo put a call-out on Romna. We thought we might get a couple of takers and were stunned to receive eight positive responses, officially expanding from two to ten on 1st April 2013.
We were spread all over the UK from North Yorkshire to Cumbria to Wales to Kent and even had a member in Australia at the time – Helen Rolfe – although she moved across to the UK several years ago making meeting up with her a possibility. With a twenty-six year age gap from oldest to youngest, we also came from a mix of backgrounds. Some wrote alongside full or part-time jobs, one wrote full-time and a couple wrote around retirement. What we all had in common was being members of the NWS hoping one day to have a novel published. At the point we formed, one of the group – Helen Phifer – had secured her first publishing deal, but her first novel wouldn’t be out until October that year so we had no publishing experience yet.
We had a small line-up change after roughly a year together when one of the original members stepped away from writing for a while and decided to dip out. NWS member Sharon Booth had been incredibly supportive of the group so we invited her to join us and that line-up has remained the same ever since. The photo above is presented in alphabetical order, as per the list below giving our genre:
- Jo Bartlett (women’s fiction/romance, cosy crime)
- Sharon Booth (contemporary romance, women’s fiction, paranormal romance)
- Jackie Ladbury (contemporary romance/rom-coms, historicals)
- Deirdre Palmer (also writing as Zara Thorne) (Psychological suspense, women’s fiction, contemporary romance)
- Lynne Pardoe (stories featuring social work)
- Helen Phifer (crime/thriller, supernatural thriller)
- Jessica Redland (women’s fiction/romantic fiction)
- Helen Rolfe (women’s fiction/romantic fiction)
- Rachel Thomas (romantic fiction)
- Alys West (fantasy and steampunk)
Our starting point was to blog together – ten of us having a lot more to talk about than just two of us – and to promote each other as and when we were published. What could be better than having nine other authors/aspiring authors championing your work? What I don’t think any of us fully appreciated at the time was that we’d actually found something even better – an invaluable support network.
We still have a joint Facebook page which you can find here but we closed down our blog several years ago when many of the group were struggling to find time to contribute to the WR’s blog alongside writing and their own individual marketing activities.
From virtual friendship to real friendship…
Being so spread around the country has made it difficult to meet up regularly face to face, but we’ve managed it several times. Everyone has met everyone, although the whole group has never been together at the same time. The most we’ve managed in the same place at the same time is six of us. We’ve met at conferences and other events run by the RNA and have organised get-togethers over the years in Derby, Stratford-Upon-Avon and most recently in York. Two members or small groups have met up when working or holidaying near others, which has been lovely.
I’m very fortunate because there are three of us in Yorkshire. Sharon, Alys and I all attend the same RNA Chapter Meeting in East Yorkshire which meets monthly on an evening. Sharon and I meet up for lunch first and an afternoon full of chat and we also meet the fortnight in between where we can.
We’ve come so far…
From one publishing deal and no books published, we’ve come a heck of a long way in ten years:
- 17 publishing deals accepted (with different publishers)
- 8 more publishing deals offered but not accepted
- 1 agent secured
- 162 novels published
- 74 audiobooks published
- 6 novellas, 9 short stories and a charity anthology called Winter Tales (you can find it here) to which we all contributed at least one short story
- 22 large print books contracted under separate publishing deals
- Umpteen foreign rights translations including Italian, Swedish, Serbian and Japanese Manga
- 2 x Masters in Creative Writing
- 10 lasting friendships made
- Oodles of celebrations, a gazillion virtual hugs (and lots of in-person ones too!)
Not bad eh?
We’re a mix of indie, hybrid and traditionally published authors but every single one of us has had at least one book out as an independent author. If anyone ever tells you indie is a lesser route, don’t listen to them!
And if anyone tells you you’re too old to start writing, don’t listen to them either. Deirdre is 75 (she said it was okay for me to say that!) and has recently secured a publishing deal with Storm Publishing. Never, ever too late!
I asked the group four questions about their writing experiences so far and their hopes for the future. Here are some of the responses..
The best bits…
Jo Bartlett: “I’ve had so many wonderful messages from readers and recently I had one from a lovely lady to say that reading my books helped her to cope after losing her daughter. I’m just sitting here, making things up, but to know those stories can make a difference to people, even for a little while, is something I never even dreamt was possible.”
Sharon Booth: “I came so close to giving up writing all together when, after releasing my first two books, I wasn’t making anywhere near enough to cover the cost of editing, never mind making a profit. I didn’t feel I could justify taking money from our household budget to indulge a stupid dream. My husband wouldn’t let me give up, and insisted it would all come right eventually. The very next month, after I’d released my third book, my royalties leapt to a completely new level, and it all started to take off from there. I’m not talking mega bucks, but it was almost as much as my monthly salary from the day job, and meant my husband’s faith in me had been justified. I’ll never forget that sense of relief, mingled with joy and disbelief!”
Jackie Ladbury: “An Arvon residential course with writers, Mike Gayle and Chrissie Manby. We all had such a lot of fun and learned loads, even if it wasn’t all writing related. We drank, and ate, and chatted the whole week away. Mike and Chrissie were terrific tutors and I’ll freely admit that I fell just a little bit in love with Mike (and his books, of course)”
Deirdre Palmer: “Coming 4th in two separate years in the Mail on Sunday novel competition and attending the prizewinners’ lunches with Fay Weldon, Deborah Moggach and other top authors. More recently: Being signed by Storm”
Helen Phifer: “Attending a Black and White Ball at the Waldorf Astoria in New York after my debut book The Ghost House was published that was hosted by Harlequin Books who originally published it but were bought out by Harper Collins. The most wonderful experience of my life and the memories will stay with me forever.”
Jessica Redland: “I have to cheat and say two although, without the first, the second wouldn’t have happened. My first was securing a publishing deal with Boldwood Books. They have been absolutely phenomenal and completely changed my life. The second is receiving messages from readers for whom a storyline has resonated and helped them or for whom the books have simply offered valuable escapism at a difficult time. This is so touching and it’s why I keep writing. I’d never have achieved this without Boldwood.”
Helen Rolfe: “Seeing one of my books in a shop for the first time. It was The Little Café at the End of the Pier and the wonderful Clare Hey who worked for Orion at the time had got the book into Sainsbury’s and Waterstones. I went into London and found my book on a table in Waterstones Piccadilly and I cried!”
Rachael Thomas: “Signing books in New York.”
Alys West: “Publication day for Storm Witch. I’d worked so hard on that book for so long and it was wonderful to see it finally launched into the world.”
The worst bits…
Jo Bartlett: “I’ve had a few broken promises and disappointments, but they’ve each led to the next thing, which has always been better than the last. Thinking back, most instances of disappointment seem to stem with me feeling like I should be achieving more than I am, which in turn often stems from me comparing myself to other writers. So my biggest disappointment is probably in myself!”
Sharon Booth: “Realising that the pandemic boom in sales wasn’t going to last!”
Jackie Ladbury: “I haven’t written much these last couple of years due to sad circumstances in my life, but I am raring to go again and looking forward to a productive future of writing. It’s a horrible feeling not being able to write, and for me, ‘writers block’ was not so much being unable to write on cue, (put your bum on the seat and write) as not being able to write down what was happening in my head, because the emotional wiring wasn’t working. It was the worst thing ever, believing that I had lost the ability to form a coherent sentence. Sad, but true that my writing defines me and if I’m not a writer, what am I? Well I’m happy to say that I am a writer, I am, I am I am!”
Deirdre Palmer: “Contracted to a publisher with no budget for promotion.”
Helen Phifer: “Being unable to secure an agent despite trying many over the years before I joined Bookouture.”
Jessica Redland: “The first five years were particularly tough for me. My first publisher ceased trading and, with my rights back, I self-published and it didn’t go well for me. Hardly anyone discovered by books and I had to seriously challenge myself about whether it was worth keeping going.”
Helen Rolfe: “The lack of transparency in the publishing world can be really disappointing and de-motivating. This is where other writers and their experiences are so important. Authors are great at sharing information and advice! And bad reviews that get personal or reviews that give the plot away!”
Rachael Thomas: “No longer being contracted to Mills & Boon, but that didn’t mean I was giving up on my dream job of being a writer.”
Alys West: “The initial sales of Beltane weren’t great which I found very disappointing. I wish I’d had a crystal ball to know that I had to be patient as in a few years time it would be selling far better than I’d ever hoped.”
Our writing-related hopes for the future…
Jo Bartlett: “Having given up teaching to write full time, my single biggest hope is to keep writing books that people want to read. I’d love to connect more with readers outside the UK and I really want to write a children’s book for my grandchildren, so I’m currently doing some research on working with illustrators to get that project off the ground.”
Sharon Booth: “Now that I’ve signed with Storm Publishing I’m really hoping that my books will gain more visibility. It’s hard, as an indie author, to get noticed. Fingers crossed more readers will find my stories and enjoy them.”
Jackie Ladbury: “I enjoy writing romance/rom com and am also drawn to historical writing, where I try not to go down the rabbit hole that is research, for too many hours a day. I am currently writing a series of airline romances but can’t resist tinkering with my ongoing Victorian novel set in the time of Jack The Ripper – it just calls to me!”
Deirdre Palmer: “To continue with Storm as long as I have ideas!”
Helen Phifer: “Seeing one of my books in The Sunday Times Bestseller list. It’s been a dream of mine for many years and I’m quietly working away on making it happen. It’s what keeps me striving to keep writing on the days it all seems too hard.”
Jessica Redland: “To keep writing books which resonate with readers and provide escapism, but a particular goal for me this year is a UK Kindle Top 10. I’ve had it in Canada and Australia but the UK has remained elusive so far. Here’s hoping!”
Helen Rolfe: “I want to keep getting books to my readers, I want to keep seeing writing friends, keep learning, keep sharing advice and above all keep writing what I love. “
Rachael Thomas: “To release more books.”
Alys West: “To keep writing, to tell the stories that excite me and to keep meeting lovely people through writing.”
Best bit of writing-related advice…
Jo Bartlett: “Just write the book already! Don’t overthink it and block yourself before you even start, or by editing the first chapter eight thousand times and never getting any further. And the advice I keep giving myself is not to let comparison be the thief of joy.”
Sharon Booth: “Find a writing tribe. Writing is so hard at the best of times, and it’s a very solitary profession. I can’t imagine that I’d have got as far as I have without the support and friendship of the Write Romantics, and other writing friends. By and large, the writing community is an extremely friendly one, so don’t be afraid to reach out for advice, or just to chat. If you write romance join the RNA and go to your local chapter meetings or join an online chapter. Find writing groups on Facebook. Follow authors on social media and if you find one who seems friendly and approachable reach out to them. That’s what I did, and I got a lovely reply which started a great friendship (thank you, Lizzie Lamb). Just don’t be alone.”
Deirdre Palmer: “Find your own voice, don’t emulate others.”
Helen Phifer: “I can’t remember where this came from but before I was published someone said that a published writer is only an unpublished writer who kept going. It might have been Stephen King actually, but it’s true you just have to keep on submitting until your novel lands on the desk of the right editor who will love it as much as you.”
Jessica Redland: “If you have stories that are burning inside you to be told, then write them. You may feel like you don’t have the time. Most authors didn’t have the time, but they made it happen. You’d be amazed at how much time you can find if you look for it!”
Helen Rolfe: “Best writing advice I heard was at the Romance Writers of Australia conference back in 2014. Cherry Adair was speaking and she was talking about ‘bums on seats’ or words to that effect. I still remind myself of this – in fact only yesterday I was procrastinating and said out loud to myself “for goodness sake Helen get your butt in the chair”! The only way to get the book done is to sit down and write – and it’s advice I’d give others starting out too. It doesn’t have to be for hours and hours, it doesn’t have to be at a desk in an office, but get those words down whenever you can. The words will soon add up!
Other advice in the same realm is on the mug I picked up at that same conference with quotes such as ‘you can’t edit a blank page’. I use that mug often – it helps!”
Rachael Thomas: “Believe in yourself and your dreams.”
Alys West: “There’s no one right way to write a novel. Everyone has a different process. You need to find the way that suits you. There’s masses of writing advice out there. Listen to the bits which are helpful and discard what doesn’t work for you. And if that doesn’t work then come on one of my courses!”
So on April Fool’s Day, we were anything but fools when we came together. Ten years of support, encouragement and friendship have helped us all achieve so many writing goals. I’m not sure if I’d still be writing if it hadn’t been for this inspiring, amazing, wonderful group of women keeping me going.
Early on in our formation, Helen Phifer shared her favourite saying: “She believed she could, so she did”. Most of us hadn’t heard of it at the time but now this phrase is everywhere. It’s true, though. We were ten unpublished authors who had a dream. We believed we could achieve it and we did.
Congratulations to us all! Looking forward to seeing where the next ten years takes us. Number ones? Movie and film deals? Why not? It happens to someone – why not to us?