My Path to Publication – Isabella May

My guest today is Isabella May, a fellow romcom author who also lives in Spain. Welcome, Isabella, can you tell us how you became a published author?





It’s often said that the author’s journey is full of twists and turns, deviations and hairpin bends. That’s definitely been the case for me! My career has always been about books. First I spent 15 years selling foreign rights for children’s books – an exciting career which took me all over the world, then I set up my own small foreign rights agency, after that I became a boutique literary agent (as you do), I even co-founded an online women’s magazine and helped set up its bookclub… and finally, I decided to stop hiding behind the (mostly brilliant!) words of others and start writing my own novel.

For many years I’d had a burning desire to dispel the myth that an abusive relationship is abusive all the time (sadly from experience); to write something dark, balancing it equally with something light, empowering and hopeful… also weaving in cake and travel, romance and comedy, all set against the backdrop of the publishing industry. I really don’t do straightforward plots!

The process from scribble to polished manuscript took way longer than I ever imagined. Never one to do things by halves, I decided to start brainstorming as I breastfed my new-born baby boy. Six years later, ‘Oh! What a Pavlova’, my book baby was also born. Fast forward to 2019 and I’ve had three romcoms published with Crooked Cat Books. I am also about to go indie with novel number 4.

But how did I get from pen to publisher?

Well, I joined two local writing groups, either side – quite literally- of my house here in Spain. I also signed up for a creative writing course run by local author and writing tutor/flash fiction judge/columnist, Lorraine Mace. This was a very smart move and proved to be the turning point. Lorraine taught me how to truly write a novel, and over the next 6 weeks, I realised just how much of my – then – 120,000 word manuscript would have to be cut.

Many darlings died!

After that I distanced myself from my manuscript for a while, polished and edited it endlessly, and then a year or so later, I began to sub. I don’t think anyone much enjoys the submission process. Then it felt daunting. Now, as an author with a loyal readership; an author who has proven herself and her craft, it’s something else entirely to receive those poison arrows of rejection. My writing isn’t the easiest to pigeonhole since it fuses many genres and bends many a writing rule. Happily, the small independent press, Crooked Cat snapped me up and have proven a wonderful platform for my first three books.

I still dream of a big publisher taking the same chance. This time around I’ve had a couple of full manuscript requests from the giants for my brand new gelato-infused novel; I also have an open door from one of the UK’s top literary agents… if I can write something a little darker next time. Needless to say, this has given my confidence a huge boost after months of doubting my talent because I’m not exactly ‘the marketing dream’.

But in my book the industry desperately needs more variety. Life isn’t simple, rather a fusion of everything. Multi-genre authors simply reflect that.

So, until then I’ll stay true to my muse, my voice, my stories and my characters. It’s been quite a Eureka decision this past week but it feels like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders and it’s wonderful to have the creative control of going on an indie adventure.


Here are some of Isabella’s books

23795601_10155733805585761_2671210338236614755_n (1)     29497068_1875692732470526_7055161069957808128_n

Buy links

Author bio:

Isabella May lives in (mostly) sunny Andalucia, Spain with her husband, daughter and son, creatively inspired by the sea and the mountains. Having grown up on Glastonbury’s ley lines however, she’s unable to completely shake off her spiritual inner child, and is a Law of Attraction fanatic.

Cake, cocktail, and travel obsessed, she also loves nothing more than to (quietly) break life’s ‘rules’.

Costa del Churros is her third novel.

You can contact Isabella here:

Twitter – @IsabellaMayBks
Instagram – @isabella_may_author

Check back in next Saturday to read Kate Mallinders ‘path to publication’ story.

My Path to Publication – Misha Herwin

This week author Misha Herwin is sharing her ‘path to publication’ story with us. Thank you for joining us, Misha. Can you tell us how you became a published author?


My path to publication has been a long and bumpy one. I started when I was fifteen with a book about a magic owl. On the advice of my German teacher, I sent it to a publisher-who specialised in Westerns. Needless to say this was not a success. Undaunted, I persevered and over the next few decades I gradually learned what, and what not, to do.

My first lesson was to target the right publishers, so I sent my next book, which featured a strong female lead, to The Women’s Press. The book promptly disappeared into a black hole to re-surface a couple of years later with an apology for having mislaid the ms, a rejection letter and a detailed review of what was wrong with the main character. At the time, this plunged me into a pit of misery; it was only later that I realised that this type of rejection letter is a step forward. If publishers comment on your work, it’s because they consider you can write and if your book is not right for their imprint, it’s worth submitting somewhere else.

And so it went on. Rejection after rejection followed the same pattern. “Liked the way you write, but it’s not for us.”

Getting used to being turned down was hard, but I kept going and eventually I had my first professional success with a play called “The Last Disco.” I was teaching drama and since there were very few plays where kids didn’t have to play the parts of adults, I wrote my own and sent it to Carel Press. The play was performed in schools and when I was invited to see a production, I had my first experience of being treated as an author, added to which my first royalty payment was enough to pay for a beautiful pair of Italian green leather boots.

By now, I was getting stories published in anthologies and decided that the next step was to find an agent. Like a lot of writers I thought this was a fail-safe route and that once I had an agent the big deal would follow. Unfortunately that wasn’t true for me. We almost made it with one of the big children’s publishers, but not quite. At which point I gave up on the traditional path and decided to go it alone.

And so to Penkhull Press: an Indie Press which is run as a writers’ collective, where “Excellence is the only genre” and which in its short life has already had one of its writers win the Arnold Bennett Prize. Penkhull Press has published my novels and also “City of Secrets” and “Bridge of Lies” the first two of my Middle Grade books in the “Adventures of Letty Parker” series.

It’s been a long haul to get this far. Some of it’s been fun. Some not. But in the end I have learned so much and met such great people and finally my stories are out there in the world.

Thank you for sharing this with us, Misha.  I hope your story inspires other writers to ‘never give up’.

Here are some of Misha’s books: 



Amazon Buy Links:

City of Secrets

Picking Up The Pieces

Shadows on the Grass 

“City of Secrets” and “Bridge of Lies” can be found on all other distributors.



Author Bio

Misha Herwin is a writer of books for adults and children. Her books cover a variety of genres from contemporary women’s fiction, “Picking up the Pieces”, to family saga, “Shadows on the Grass”, and middle grade fantasy adventure, “City of Secrets” and “Bridge of Lies” the first two in the Adventures of Letty Parker Series.

She also writes short stories which have been published in anthologies in the US and the UK and plays, for schools and Theatre in Education.

Misha runs workshops in schools, museums and libraries and is one of the founders of 6×6 a quarterly event in Hanley Library where writers come to strut their stuff.

In her free time she reads, attempts to keep her garden in order and bakes. Her speciality is muffins, though her scones are pretty good too.

Contact links:


Check back in next Saturday to read Isabella Mays ‘path to publication’ story.

Tips for writing a romance novel



Hi everyone, I’ve written for many different genres over the past thirty odd years: for magazines, children’s books, educational, plays, short stories and romance novels. This week, for the romance writers out there I’m going to share a blog post I recently wrote about the six things I have learnt about writing popular women’s fiction

 1.Characters are King and should be relatable

When you’re writing romantic fiction the heroine and hero are right up front. It’s these two that make the story, it’s their special circumstances, personality, journey that hooks the reader. So it’s important that they are relatable, and that even though they aren’t perfect (never, ever perfect!) that they are both someone the reader will be rooting for, wanting them to sort out their differences. A few strong background characters with their own sub-story also adds interest. I always flesh out the characters before I start to write, jotting down what they look like, their names, their occupation, where they live, etc. I like to have a rounded picture of them before I start writing the story down, then I know how they will react to the situations I put them in.

 2.Give the main characters an interesting back story.

Flaws make your character more interesting and it adds interest to give your character a back story to explain these flaws. Maybe your heroine doesn’t want to get serious with anyone because she had her heart broken by her first love/her dad walked out when she was little/ her sister’s husband cheated on her, etc. Your hero could be obsessed with making money because his mum/dad was an alcoholic and they were constantly broke so being financially secure is important to him. As the story progresses they can work through these issues, and if not completely resolve them, at least come to terms with them.

 3.Writing description isn’t easy but it’s necessary

Descriptive writing doesn’t come easy to me. I started my writing career writing scripts for teenage and children’s magazines, where we had a very tight wordcount and ‘the pictures did the talking’, so I’m all action and dialogue. However, I know that description is important, readers like to imagine themselves in the scene so once I’ve got the first draft down I start to add more description. In my first draft my heroine walks barefoot over the beach, in my second draft she walks barefoot over a white, sandy beach, in the third draft she pads barefoot over the soft white sand, dangling her sandals from her fingers, heading towards the shimmering, sun-kissed sea. If you struggle with writing description too, you might find this a useful tip.

 4.There must be chemistry between the heroine and hero

It’s absolutely vital that even if the heroine and hero don’t like each other to start off with there is definite chemistry between them, sizzling attraction that the reader can ‘feel’. It’s this chemistry that helps them work through whatever issues they have, that makes them want to get together despite what their ‘head’ is telling them. Chemistry makes the commitment-phobic heroine decide to take a chance on the hero, the workaholic hero loosen up and allow the heroine into his life. Chemistry is what makes a romance work.

 Love scenes don’t have to be explicit.

I know there’s a lot of people who enjoy reading and writing explicit love scenes, and that’s fine, but I don’t. I prefer to get the heroine and hero all heated up, tearing the clothes off each other in the heat of passion, then leave them to do the deed whether it’s in bed, on a rug in front of the fire, in the back of the car.  I think that getting the right atmosphere, setting off that sizzling chemistry, is enough then the reader’s mind can do the rest. Sexy scenes don’t have to describe the sex in minute detail. Unless you want them too, of course.

Everyone knows how the story will end but it’s the journey that matters

It’s the format of the romance novel that the story path should lead to a ‘happy ever after’ even if only temporary, but the path should have lots of twists and turns. It’s the characters’ journey that gives your romance the unique twist. Whilst the reader is pretty sure that the heroine and hero will get together, you need enough twists and turns to make them doubt it for a bit, to wonder if they will ever sort out their differences. And a ‘happy ever after’ doesn’t have to mean that they get married, they can just agree to give their love a chance and see where it leads them.

 (This blog post first appeared on Carol McGrath’s blog: ://

My Path to Publication – Tom Williams

The path to publication can be a varied one, and I love to discover the different routes authors take, so every Saturday I’m going to ask an author to share their ‘path to publication’ journey with us. Author Tom Williams is my first guest, so over to you. Tom, how did you become a published author?


It was in Borneo around 1980 that I came across James Brooke, the first White Rajah. I was fascinated by his story and decided to write a book about him. It was laboriously typed out on a manual typewriter and submitted to a leading agent who sent me to an editor to do more work on it.

Looking back, this was clearly the opportunity of a lifetime, but I was young and had no idea how lucky I was. The editor was helpful but I just wasn’t able to produce the sort of thing that he was looking for and in the end he said that I was clearly getting tired and should rest the book and come back to it later. So I rested it for something over a quarter of a century.

When I came back to it, I wrote a completely different book. It benefited from the research I had done for the first one and a few pages were actually directly lifted from my previous attempt, but the structure was now completely different. I had always believed that James Brooke was gay, but back in 1980 this wasn’t something that I would have mentioned. Now, though, it seemed okay to write a book with a gay hero, so I did.

The White Rajah was sent off to agents and, again, it was picked up. The agent (who really did seem to know his job and have the right contacts) offered it to four major publishers. It seems that I might have felt the world was ready for a mainstream novel with a gay hero, but publishers disagreed. It was “too difficult” for a first novel. I should go away and write something else first, so I produced Burke in the Land of Silver with a hero (also based on a real person) so heterosexual he goes through three lovers in the course of the book.

The White Rajah, meanwhile sat in a drawer until I saw a tiny American publisher advertising for historical novels that would appeal to a gay audience. By now I just wanted my book to see the light of day so I sent it to her and it was published.

One thing I learned was that a tiny publisher who knows her market and really cares about her books can sell more copies than a larger business with less focus on new authors, but as the James Burke books (which she had absolutely no interest in) took off I needed a less niche publisher, preferably in the UK. I moved to a company that ended up publishing six of my books (including a new edition of The White Rajah).

I’ve moved on since: the publishing world changes all the time. Editors come and go; publishers flourish and decline; fashions shift. The secret is to take the opportunities that are offered and stay open to new ideas. Self-publishing? Audio-books? Film adaptations (it does happen)? Find an opening; write the best book you can (and then re-write it) and grab that opportunity.

Good luck!

Thanks, Tom, what an inspiring publication story. 🙂

Here are the covers of Tom’s books:

Burke In The Land of Silver      white rajah

Kindle        Paperback               Kindle       Paperback  

Author Bio

Tom Williams used to write books for business. Now he writes novels set in the 19th century that are generally described as fiction but which are often more honest than the business books. The stories have given him the excuse to travel to Argentina, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Egypt and Borneo and call it research.

Tom lives in London. His main interest is avoiding doing any honest work and this leaves him with time to ski, skate and dance tango, all of which he does quite well. In between he reads old books and spends far too much time looking at ancient weaponry.

Tom’s blogs appear regularly on his website, where you can also find details of all his books. You can follow him on Twitter as @TomCW99 or Facebook (

Check back in next Saturday to read Misha Herwin’s ‘path to publication’ story.


Writing a children’s book? – Try this first page checklist

person holding blue ballpoint pen writing in notebook
Photo by on


If you’re writing a children’s book you might find this first page check list handy when you’re revising your work. Ask yourself the following five questions.

1) Have you started with something that will grab your reader’s interest?

Children usually glance at the opening paragraph of a book and if it doesn’t appeal to them they probably won’t read any further. So don’t waste words describing the sunset, start with action, dialogue, in the middle of a scene or just before a big life change. Grab their attention – and hold it. 

2) Have you introduced the protagonist?

It’s best to introduce the protagonist within the first couple of sentences. Let your reader know who the story is about,  their name, age and something about their personality that will instantly attract the reader’s interest and want them to read what happens to them.

3) Have you set the scene?

Where does your story take place? At home, at school, on a farm, in space? What time of year it is? Is it a weekday, a weekend, a school holiday? Let your readers know as soon as possible so they can place the character in a setting.

4) Have you introduced the problem?

If a character doesn’t have a problem to solve then you don’t have a story. Make sure that your readers know what your protagonist is trying to achieve or overcome,  so they can identify and sympathise with your character and be rooting for them. It’s also a good idea to give a hint of what’s stopping them from achieving this, of how high the stakes are if they fail.

5) Have you set the mood?

What sort of story is it? Funny, adventure, scary? This should be clear in the opening paragraph then your reader will know what to expect from your story and get in the right mood to read it.

I hope you find these tips helpful. Do share your own tips with us by commenting below.

For further writing tips you might like to read my book GET WRITING CHILDREN’S FICTION.



Available as an e-book and in print from Amazon and other bookstores.

Quick Plot Tips

person doing parkour exhibition
Photo by Lennart kcotsttiw on

Every story needs a plot, a conflict to resolve or obstacle to overcome. The longer your story the more conflict you need. Some new writers get confused what the plot of their story is, they write great description or dialogue but fail to see that their story hasn’t actually got a plot.

So let’s take a look at the definition of plot. To put it simply, the plot is what your story is about. It is a plan of action that is achieved through cause and effect. The cause is why your protagonist does what he/she does and the effect is what happens as a result of what he/she does. EM Forster gave us a classic example of this:

 The King died. And the Queen died. This is a fact.

The King died and the Queen died of grief. This is a plot.

So you need a conflict in your story, a problem for your protagonist to overcome. In a short story one major conflict will usually be enough, but for a novel you will need a major conflict and smaller conflicts throughout the story to add pace and tension. These smaller conflict will be resolved as the story progresses, with the main conflict being resolved at the end.

You might find it helpful to ask yourself these six things when plotting your story.

Who?  Who is the main character? And who, if there is one, is the villain of the piece? Who are the supporting characters? Supporting characters are great for adding back-story, humour and interest but don’t let them overshadow the main character.

What? What is the story about? What is the character’s problem? What is he/she struggling against? What does he want? What is the character’s motivation? Remember, the stronger the motive, the stronger the story.

Where? Where does your character live? Where is the setting for the action?  Where did it all happen? Let your reader know the location and setting.

When? When did it happen? Is it a contemporary, dystopian, historical story?  What time of the year is it? What year is it?

Why?   Why did it happen? Why did the character act that way? Why did the villain do what he did? Readers love to know the characters’ motives.

How?  How did it happen? How did the problem get resolved? How did the main character succeed? Make sure that your resolution is feasible. Readers get frustrated with loose ends or unrealistic endings.

I hope you find these tips helpful If you have any tips of your own do share them below.