My inspiring editor, John Hudspith

My interview with John Hudspith, my inspiring editor, for the Asian Books Blog.

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As well as editing manuscripts, John also offers advice on such topics as overcoming writer’s block, creating an epic, and the eBook eruption – he is a one-man, one-stop service for indie authors wherever they live.  Meanwhile, he too is an indie author. His first novel, Kimi’s Secret won a highly coveted YouWriteOn book of the year award in 2013. The second novel in his Kimi series, Kimi’s Fear, is out now.

How did you start out as an editor?

A love for great storytelling combined with an eager willingness to stick my nose into other people’s writing brought me an addiction I couldn’t shake. Writers seemed to like what I had to say and before I knew it I was editing full manuscripts. 

How many indie novels have you edited to date?

Over 180 novels / novellas edited to date. Oh, and hundreds of short stories.

Do you have a favourite genre for editing?

Favourite genres are many: supernatural, horror, suspense, humour, erotica, sci-fi, crime, and the just plain freaky or out there. And short stories; I do love helping to form the perfect short story.

Are there any common problems you see in work submitted to you?

The most common problem is fluff. That is, overwriting, straying from the story’s core conflict point and presenting the reader with fluff. This is the biggest fault. And I’m talking all writers, not just self-published ones. Story matters. Story is all. Set up great conflict from the off  – the hook, the what-if, the problem your main character seeks to resolve – get that great and let the story  / conflict unfold. Don’t go off on silly and boring tangents.

Do you think it’s important for an author to have a plot outline before they start writing a story?

Absolutely. I’ve been victim to losing the plot myself. Flying by the seat of your writerly pants rarely brings satisfactory results. The trick is simple: do some plotting. It doesn’t have to be a massive amount, but the minimum you should have, before you start any actual writing is:

A possible beginning / starting point

Some middle bits / pivotal plot points

One or more possible endings

The amount you add to this initial outline is up to you. We all work differently, and you should work the way that suits you best, but having those initial signposts in place will help keep the storytelling in good shape.

There are myriad unpolished indie publications on the internet, but also some fantastic writing. What are your thoughts on the prevalence of less skilful offerings?

Perception of the written word is largely subjective. One reader’s dross is another reader’s magic. But the real magic exists only for those in the know. As a smart young girl once told me: “You have to know the magic before you can see the magic.” 

If an indie author is in the unhappy situation of getting a string of bad reviews, what do you suggest they should do?

It takes a while to develop a thick skin, but if the writing is important to you then you must learn to take a step back and consider your readers’ views. And then do something about it, such as joining a peer review group to help you improve your craft – or hiring an editor. Or ideally, do both.

What advice do you give your writers when they tell you they’re suffering from the dreaded writers block?

Talk. Whether it be to a friend or a fellow writer, simply mentioning the block, the struggle, can bring ideas flowing. What might be days or weeks of procrastination, if kept to oneself, can become almost instantly fixable just from batting ideas back and forth.  A walk in the woods is another great fixer. Get in among the trees, suck in all that oxygen, and the muse will often wake up and throw gems at you.  (Editor’s note: In Asia, a walk in the jungle is perhaps not always such a great idea, unless you stick strictly to well-trodden paths and take sensible safety precautions against snakes, getting lost, and so on. But the general point stands: seek refreshment in communing with nature.)

What do you enjoy most about your job? Is there anything you dislike about it?

There’s lots to love about my job. I get to read stories in every genre, every day. I get to work with writers, teaching them better ways as well as helping to hone their work. As for the dislikes, that might be the excessive amount of sitting; I have to push myself to get up and walk around every hour or so.

Any advice you’d like to give to a writer about to take the first step in indie publishing?

Spend a few years learning the craft, writing, reading, interacting via peer review, and make your work the best it can be before you consider self-publishing.

How should an indie author go about choosing an editor?

Pick three editors with good testimonials to their name and ask for a free sample edit, then go with the one you feel connects best with you and your work. If they don’t offer a free sample edit go with someone who does.

Monday Interview with Jan Ruth

Today I’m so happy to welcome Jan Ruth to Douglas Bland Artists’s studio in Italy. Jan and I got to know each other online a couple of months ago when we found out we shared the same editor, John Hudspith. We have a passion for the Welsh countryside in common, too, as well as a love of horses (and a certain mad obsessiveness about our writing).

Jan RuthI couldn’t wait to read Jan’s work and, when I did, I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s the review I wrote for her novel Midnight Sky.

“When I read the blurb for “Midnight Sky” and saw that the hero is a horse-whisperer, I just had to read it. The first word that springs to mind now I’ve finished it is, “Wow!” I absolutely loved it. Fell in love with James Morgan-Jones and really wanted him and Laura to get together. Won’t give any spoilers, though. For me, the best thing about losing myself in a romance is the ‘Will he? Won’t she?’ element, which Jan Ruth exploits beautifully. There’s a whole host of realistic characters in this novel, all of them interesting, and the story line is so compelling I couldn’t stop reading. I used to live in Wales, and it was great to be transported back there. I’m delighted to have found this author and will definitely be reading more of her books.”

Midnight Sky Cover FULL WEBSo glad you can join me in an aperitivo, my lovely. What can I offer you?

I was wondering when you’d ask! I’m a plain Jane when it comes to drinkies so it’s a straight Sauvignon for me, or a cheeky Chardonnay. None of those watered-down spritzers! (I can force down gin and tonic too, although I always think of this as a long summer drink).

Ooh, let’s have some Chardonnay. (Pours two glasses). Cheers!

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You’ve recently published Home for Christmas, an emotive trio of stories with festive themes from the Welsh Mountains of Snowdonia.

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Please tell us all about what looks like a fab read!

It was great fun to write, despite me starting these in July with the sun beating down. The brief to myself was 3 very different stories. I think they turned out pretty well. Here’s a short description:

Rudolph the Brown-Nosed Reindeer

Rick isn’t looking forward to his lonely corporate Christmas, but it’s the season of goodwill and magic is in the air. An off-beat love story. It’s time Rick wore his heart on his sleeve, or is it too late? Lessons in love from an unlikely source.

Jim’s Christmas Carol

Santa and Satan pay a visit. One brings presents, the other an unwelcome presence. Paranormal reality. Jim’s played with fire it’s time he got his comeuppance, but from who?

Home for Christmas

Deck the halls with boughs of holly. Fa la-la la-la, la-la la-la. Tis the Season to be jolly… Romantic-comedy. Pip might accidentally find her true vocation, but the folly of her fibs are about to catch up with her.

I’m looking forward to snuggling up by the fire with your lovely stories, a glass of mulled wine, and some mince pies (which I’ll have to make myself as we can’t buy them in Italy). Jan, you must be one of the most prolific authors I’ve chatted with here.

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Please can you tell us about the inspiration behind your books, what keeps you writing, and something about your path to publication. Before you start, let me top up your glass and offer you a slice of pizza.

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Thanks! I think inspiration comes from having something to say, a need to share an experience; and then of course for me, the Welsh landscape plays a huge part in my musings. When we moved here some 17 years ago, it kick-started my writing. You could say it was dormant, in a musty box under the bed. Inside the box was a book I’d written called Summer in October. I even managed to ensnare an agent with it but she couldn’t get financial backing for her new business and it all fell apart. Next came Wild Water and I was lucky again to be agented, this time to Jane Judd, but to cut a long story short – it came to nothing, since my style was – and still is – very much between genre. Now of course, all of these restrictions have been blown wide open with the advent of self-publishing and over the last 17 years I’ve written 5 novels and 3 sets of short stories; not as prolific as some, but there was a long 10 year gap where I did none. Also, I only write when I’m inspired to do so. Summer in October was re-written and became Midnight Sky. I only started self-publishing my titles 4 years ago but I guess I’ve only really got to grips with my brand and who I am over the previous 2 years. It’s been a steep learning curve but I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every step of the way… in fact, I was on the point of stopping altogether when I met John Hudspith and Jane Dixon-Smith. Editing and cover design is so important and a totally different skill to writing, but the books finally got the professional boost they needed. This isn’t to say I’m entirely happy being self published, there is much I don’t like about the process and although I am grateful to have had the opportunity via kindle, I am also pleased to say that Silver Rain is now signed to Accent Press and will be re-published next spring.

Fascinating! And congratulations on your publishing contract! Briefly, can you describe your writing process? I mean, are you a plotter or do you write by the seat of your pants? Is there a daily word-count that you aim for when you are writing? Do you revise as you go along, or do you plough on with a first draft then go back and self-edit?

Oh, I never plan anything. I have a well formed idea in terms of plot, but after that I rely on character and circumstance. I think over-planning takes all the spontaneity out of the process and if its dull for the writer, its more often than not, dull for the reader. Having said that, I do cut and paste scenes here there and everywhere to make something work. Also, as one becomes more experienced I do think instinct kicks in. I’ve brought in characters and small scenes with no sense of purpose at the time, but then when it all clicks together towards chapter 15… I love that feeling! It’s like my muse is saying ‘I told you so. There was a reason the man with the wooden leg popped up in chapter 3.

Ha! That’s Interesting, and I think you’re spot-on about spontaneity. We can’t sit here chatting without mentioning our inspiring editor, John Hudspith. You’ve coined a new word, “Johnnyometer”. Love it! Please explain to my readers what that means.

For me, it means he reads the final manuscript and gives it a thorough proofread and a line edit. He’s also checking that I haven’t got the guy with the wooden leg running for a bus in chapter 4. When I first started writing novel-length books I endured dozens of re-writes; but the discipline of that was necessary to learn and understand the craft of how to structure a novel, build character, show not tell. I’ve got a good handle on the basics now but no matter how experienced you think you may be, another pair of experienced eyes is vital. This is where the Johnnyometer comes in.

Fab! We have a love of horses in common and I’m green with envy when I see the wonderful pics you post on Facebook of some of your rides.

10006080_744474255636887_7058848615728028062_oWales is such a beautiful part of the UK and you’ve said it has influenced your work hugely. Many of my followers won’t know much about Cymru and I hope they will pick up your novels to get a flavour of God’s own country. In a few sentences, can you tell us about Snowdonia and how it inspires your writing?

Snowdonia is rugged, mountainous and as beautiful as it is dangerous. I love the hills and the constant change of season here, it never fails to inspire. There’s a rich sense of history too, with castles, druids circles and standing stones; derelict farmsteads, slate mines and of course, the sea. I use the landscape almost as a character in its own right. I use it to set mood too. I never noticed this until an editor at Cornerstones Literary Agency told me I needed to expand on that. With regard to the horses, I’ve been around them all my life so its natural they should feature, plus I’m lucky to have the wild Carneddau ponies on my mountain doorstep. (Some stunning images of the ponies and a feature about them on my blog).

Great! I’ll provide a link to your blog at the end of our chat. What’s on the cards next in your writing career?

I’m thinking about a sequel for Midnight Sky, which is tentatively titled Palomino Sky.

Wonderful! I loved that story and will definitely read the sequel. Oh, I can see your glass is empty. Let me refill it. More pizza?

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Yes, and yes please. Thank you for having me!

I wish you every success in achieving your dreams, my lovely. It’s been great chatting with you and sharing an aperitivo. Thanks again for joining me. Before you go, please can you leave readers with three facts that might surprise them about you?

I’m not Welsh. I do my best writing in a pair of horrible pyjamas. I’m still a tomboy at age 57. (Actually, I doubt anyone is terribly surprised by that .)

(Laughs) Readers, if you would like to know more about Jan and her books, you can visit her website http://janruth.com/ follow her on Twitter @JanRuthAuthor and connect with her on Facebook.

Monday interview with John Hudspith

My guest this week for a pre-lunch aperitivo and chat is the talented author and editor, John Hudspith.

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In the northernmost spire of his black-brick château, Johnny edits novels by day and scrawls scary stories by night. His novels – Kimi’s Secret

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and – Kimi’s Fear

Kimi'sFearCover_EBOOKare available in paperback and e-book, and have received a wealth of rave reviews on Amazon. He’s a brilliant editor as well, and you can read the testimonials to his work here.

Welcome, Johnny, to my artist’s studio in Italy. What can I offer you? A glass of Prosecco? A spritzer? A Bellini? Or perhaps a Peroni?

Prosecco and a Peroni, please. I’m in a fizzy mood.

Ooh, I’ll join you in a Prosecco, and might have a second glass when you move onto your Peroni. Just a sec while I open the bottle.

proseccoOkay, make yourself comfortable. We’ve known each other for about six months now since we started working together, and I’d like to introduce you to the readers of my blog. You’re a lovely man with a wicked sense of humour. Thanks for agreeing to the interview. I’ll start by asking what made you decide to become a writer?

Compliments and alcohol – I like it here. Cheers! Does one decide to become a writer? I guess  like most writers I doodled from an early age, but encouragement from family impressed (or scared witless) by my tales of terror, pushed me on to making something of it.

You certainly have a wonderful way with words. Which authors inspired you when you were younger?

Enid Blyton’s wicked imagination is my earliest memory. Mr Pink-Whistle’s crazy adventures a particular favourite. Though I soon found my brother’s hidden ‘adult’ books and discovered they were even more fun. 😉

I too loved Enid Blyton. I can remember The Magic Faraway Tree was the first book I read on my own. What books do you enjoy reading today?

I like reading books that are crafted well, books that can take me to another place without me noticing I’m going anywhere, stories infused with the essence of place and unique voice. Sadly, such reads are hard to find.

Hmm. Tell us about the inspiration behind your first novel, Kimi’s Secret!

Kimi’s Secret was a personal mission. I wanted to take all those influences from my youth: aliens, UFO, time-travel, Hammer Horror films, Alfred Hitchcock, the works of Conan Doyle – as well as my love for birds – crows especially, and to create an original fantasy world as well as an entertaining story, using those influencers to best effect. Oh, and I also wanted the story to be loved by the young reader as well as the old.

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I’ve just finished reading Kimi’s Secret. Awesome! Here’s the review I posted on Amazon and Goodreads:

Alice fell down the rabbit hole and Kimi is whisked off to Heart, a cross between Narnia, Phillip Pullman’s alternative earth (Heart being an anagram of earth, of course) and Wonderland. Hudspith’s world is populated with the most astonishing characters – from terrifying crows, strange fairy-like creatures (famoose, whose favourite food is rotten teeth), Tulpas (protectors created from the humans’ essence), Balancers (special humans), and many, many others. There’s lots of gloop and goo and grossness not to mention dodo brains on the menu. Kimi develops as the novel progresses and she learns how to use her magic powers (mojo – love it!) She’s an engaging character and I was alongside her all the way, willing her on to success. I won’t give any spoilers, just say you’ve GOT to read this book if you like exciting, zany, crazy, mad stories that are scary and funny at the same time. It’s an absolute page-turner and I’ll definitely be reading the sequel to find out what happens to Kimi next.

How does your second novel, Kimi’s Fear differ from Kimi’s Secret?

Although Kimi’s Fear is a follow-on (what happens next), it’s markedly different from the first book where structure is concerned. The first book had a full-circle twist to it that required quite a bit of weaving, as well as introducing the reader to the workings of the fantasy world. That took some doing, and it ended up a hefty tome. Kimi’s Fear is a lot shorter simply by the nature of the story.

JVAdvertFebruary2013KIMIOoh, I’m looking forward to reading it. Which genre would you say you write in, and have you thought about trying any other genres? Can you give us some information about what you’re working on now?

There’s no genre for my doodling – I guess it’s a mishmash.Though maybe it errs on the side of horror. Right now I’m attempting literary – an allegorical tale based on the horrors of humanity and false love and devotion. I’ve set myself another mission: eight POV characters, and dual stories (real-time and allegorical) running at the same time. Can I keep it entertaining but true? Can I use so many POVs (as well as tense and voice changes) and not lose reader? We shall see…

Well, I’ve read the start of your WIP. Although I found the prologue slightly disturbing, not being a regular reader of horror, I was intrigued by it. Once I’d read on, I was hooked by the characters. It’s an interesting premise, and I’d love to read the rest of the novel. Oh, I can see your glass is empty. Here, let me pour you a Peroni and top up my Prosecco.

Peroni beer bottleNow tell me, Johnny, what’s been your greatest writing challenge and how have you overcome it?

Cheers! Kimi’s Secret and the structure within was a challenge – making the story and the otherworld work work at the same time as making the read suitable for all ages. Kimi now has fans from age 9 to 90 – so I’m pleased with the result.

As for how did I overcome it? Multiple storyboards, notepads, draft after draft after false start after false start after pulling all my hair out – and five years to do it in.

Same thing happened to me with The Orchid Tree, which I messed about with for ages until you came along and edited it so brilliantly. Tell us how you became an editor!

When I started learning the craft I became hooked on peer review. I could see the shortcomings in the work and had to learn how to articulate those shortcomings in writing. One happy recipient asked if I would apply my analysis to the whole novel and became my first client. Word of mouth quickly brought more work, and a year later I was freelancing full-time.

You have a knack for pinpointing what works and what doesn’t in a client’s manuscript. You’ve edited nearly 100 novels, over 100 shorts and several novellas, I believe. What do you think is the secret to your editing success?

The secret to success is a happy client. I go the extra mile.

You certainly do. When you suggested some rewrites of a few chapters of The Orchid Tree, I was bowled over by the attention you gave me to help improve my story. If you could give my readers one important tip when self-editing, what would it be?

Read your work out loud, with the passion and skill of a great orator, as if you were reading to your intended audience. Doing so will unearth the blips and jars.

Can you give an example of what you mean by blips and jars?

Contractions (or the lack of) are a constant offender. People speak in contractions. So should your narrative voice.

That’s an excellent tip. On a personal note, I know you have two delightful dogs. Would you tell us about them and let us have a couple of pictures?

Ollie is a Border Terrier/Jack Russell cross, he’s around six years old, a rescue dog, lovely temperament.

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And Barney is a recent addition – he ran out in front of the car one day; a wet mass of stinking muck. We believe he’s a Whippet/Terrier cross – another lovely temperament. To quote our vet: ‘His legs are too short and he’s got a neck like a giraffe, but he’s a handsome boy.’

newpupTwo gorgeous dogs who truly think they’re little humans.

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dogs3Aw, they’re absolutely adorable.

It’s been great chatting with you, Johnny. Thanks for dropping by. Before you go, please can you leave readers with three facts that might surprise them about you?

I could tell you about the thing in the cellar, or the time with the FBI, or the banana fetish, but I might get arrested…

Ha ha ha! Readers, I told you Johnny has a wicked sense of humour. But, on a more serious note, if you’d like to know more about John Hudspith, click on this link to his website http://www.johnhudspith.co.uk/ And there are some useful tips on editing and the craft of writing on Johnny’s blog.

JVAdvertFebruary2013EDITING

Writers’ Blog Tour

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This post is a departure from my usual posts about romance and adventure in Italy. I was delighted to be invited to take part in the Writers’ Blog Tour by the poet, short-story writer and blogger Steward Bartlam (http://stewartstanzas.wordpress.com/), who I met via Twitter. The Writers’ Blog Tour is a growing international community of writers working to introduce each others’ blogs to a wider audience. Each writer involved answers four questions about their work, and provides links to other writers who will follow on from them, in a continuous “chain”. Stewart had been invited onto the tour by the poet and blogger Marc Mordey (http://themarcistagenda.wordpress.com/). And Stewart, in turn, invited me, which is why it’s my turn to answer the four questions.

1. What am I working on?

I’m in the final stages of work on my debut novel, The Orchid Tree. It’s a coming of age story about two women. 15 year-old Kate lives a rarefied life of wealth and privilege in the Hong Kong expatriate community. When the Japanese take over the colony in December 1941, she’s interned in a squalid camp with her parents. Enduring cramped conditions, humiliation, disease, and starvation, she befriends 17 year-old Charles – who’s half Chinese – and they give their hearts to each other under the orchid tree. Forty miles away, in Macau, Sofia Rodrigues’ suspicions are aroused when her father invites a Japanese family to dinner, an event which leads to a breach between her and her controlling half-brother, Leo. At the end of the war, Kate and Charles are separated. She believes him to be dead when the ship he’s on is sunk. Sofia dreams of leaving Macau and starting a new life in Hong Kong, and she won’t let anyone, not even Leo, stop her. A young Englishman, James, arrives in the territory and becomes the link between Kate and Sofia. The communist-nationalist struggle in China spills over into the colony, catapulting the protagonists into the turmoil with disastrous consequences. A tale of loss and redemption, set against the background of conflict and changing values in colonial society, but also about never giving up on love.

While finalising The Orchid Tree, I’m developing a time-slip historical romance, Lady of Asolo, which unfolds in the renaissance Veneto town of Asolo, near where I live. Its’ about a young Englishwoman, Fern. On holiday in Italy, she’s haunted by visions of Cecilia – a woman who lived nearly five hundred years ago, while at the same time trying to recover from a terrible trauma. Will Luca, the man she meets, be able to help Fern escape the past?

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My editor said of The Orchid Tree, ‘I found the narrative voice had a unique sparseness to it, a knack for succinct imagery and storytelling, and indeed the read brought a fragrant feel, almost as if one was sitting with the book beneath an orchid tree.’ His words are hugely encouraging. I belong to the second generation of my family to have been born in Hong Kong, where I spent my childhood and early married life, and I hope my knowledge of the ex-colony lends an authenticity to my writing that readers will enjoy. My grandparents were interned by the Japanese from 1942-1945, and went through some of the experiences of my characters. My father’s life in the Chinese Maritime Customs inspired the start of part 2. In my Italian novel, I’m aiming to create an ambiguity of imagery through scent and colour, like the artists who are the protagonists of the story.

3. Why do I write what I do?

The tale at the heart of The Orchid Tree has been in my mind for years, demanding to be told. One of the reasons I wrote it was because many of the novels I’ve read set in post-war Hong Kong didn’t ring true to me. I wanted to capture a time and place that no longer exist, but one which I knew so well, and it’s my hope that I’ve managed to take my readers there. Likewise, with respect to Lady of Asolo, I’m privileged to live in another interesting part of the world and to have an insight into its culture.

4. How does my writing process work?

Difficult question. It was only after I’d joined the peer review site YouWriteOn and exchanged reviews with other writers that I learnt to write “properly” although, as Hemingway said, ‘We are all apprentices in a craft where no one becomes a master.’ One thing is certain, I’m happiest when I’m writing; it’s become as essential to me as breathing. When I was writing the first draft of my debut novel, I was definitely a “pantser writer”, writing by the seat of my pants, then polishing, cutting scenes, adding scenes, and fleshing out my characters. The writing buddies I made through YouWriteOn were a huge help. Finally, again through YWO, I found the right editor for me, John Hudspith, when a fellow member was singing his praises on the message board. Johnny not only edited The Orchid Tree in a highly professional way, but also gave feedback as a reader, which I think is vital. You can read my testimonial to him here. My writing process involves creating a rough outline before I start my first draft. I know how the story will end, as well as the major plot points, and I try to focus on my point of view character’s motivations and impediments to his/her goals. My aim is to keep the reader hooked by not revealing too much too soon and by engaging his/her emotions. You can read the early chapters of both my novels by clicking the links on the right of this page.

And now I’d like to introduce two wonderful writers.

Davey Northcott

“To read is to live a multitude of lives.”

That’s what I say. Ever since I was first shown a book as a baby (in 1982), or small child at least, I’ve gobbled them up one after a wordy-other. Reading: love it! Writing: love it!

So, who am I? I’m an author of novels, short stories and poetry, as well as the odd blog article here and there, and on top of that an English teacher in the la Rioja, Spain. I live with my partner, dog and two guinea pigs, the latter three who help with my writing to varying degrees of success and the former who gives endless support. BLOG: http://daveynorthcottauthorwriter.wordpress.com/

Julie Emovon

I am from Nottinghamshire, UK and lived most of my life in a village in the heart of Sherwood Forest. My dad was in the  RAF and a lot of my childhood was spent overseas.  I studied English & Psychology at university, and returned a few years ago to study business.
I have always written for pleasure, but life has got in the way of persuing it as a career.  My working life has been varried, from packing ‘lucky bags’ with sweets and novelties, to managing a charitable trust. BLOG: http://jemovon.moonfruit.com/#/blog/4573634448

Please visit their blogs to find out more. These talented writers will be answering the same 4 questions on Monday 9th June. Anything you can do to help us all share our words and ideas through your own networks would be much appreciated. Thank you.