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Writer Wednesday: Samantha Tonge

Samantha lives in Cheshire with her lovely family and a cat that thinks it’s a dog. Along with writing, her days are spent cycling, willing cakes to rise and avoiding housework. Formally trained as a linguist, Samantha now likes nothing more than holing herself up in the spare room, in front of the keyboard. Writing romantic comedy novels is her passion.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
It wasn’t a decision I consciously made – I’ve just always had a feeling that one day I would write. This probably stemmed from being a voracious reader as a child. I finally found time to commit myself to it when my youngest started school.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
 Avoiding the distraction of social media! I LOVE Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and spend a good amount of time telling myself it’s important to go on these platforms *for work*!

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
Above. No, joking! Writing a chapter that sings to you – that has completely translated the idea that was in your head onto the page. It doesn’t happen as often as I would like.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
Ooh, that’s a difficult one... The Fault In Our Stars, I think. The teenage voice is exquisite.

5. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character, who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
Ooh, it has to be Mr Darcy. I’d spend every second trying to ruffle his feathers and if I succeeded... well, I won’t overshare.

6. What can we expect next from you? 
I am just about to do the revisions for my festive book, My Big Fat Christmas Wedding, out on 10th November. It is a standalone sequel to my summer release, Game of Scones, set in Greece. I’ve loved spending time with those characters again, especially flirty fisherman Niko and suave executive Henrik!

7. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out? 
I wish someone had told me how long it might take to get published. I honestly thought, once I’d written my first novel, that it would be a matter of months! I had a lot to learn about writing and the publishing business - that writing a book doesn’t guarantee publication; that getting an agent doesn’t guarantee a book deal straight off; that getting that book deal doesn’t guarantee overnight success. I wish someone had put my dreams into perspective. It might have made the journey easier!

8. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
At my desk first thing in pyjamas. I catch up with social media and then might start a bit of writing before bath and breakfast. Then I write on and off all day, with breaks for social media (and domestic duties!) until my children get home from school. After a catch-up with them, I continue. I am very lucky to be able to write full-time.

9. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
The Morning After The Life Before by the wonderful Della Galton.

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A story of icing and flour…and how love doesn’t always go to plan!

Growing up, Pippa Pattinson’s summers were spent in the idyllic Greek island fishing village of Taxos. There she spent many long hazy days determinedly ignoring thoughts of the life her parents had mapped out for her (a dreary-but-secure accounting job and obligatory sensible husband!) Instead she daydreamed of running her own tea shop – serving the perfect scones –with mocha-eyed childhood friend Niko by her side…

Arriving back in Taxos for the first time in years, with suave boyfriend Henrik, Pippa barely recognises the tired little town – but is relieved to catch glimpses of the quaint, charming village she’s always loved. Together Niko and Pippa put together a proposal to save Taxos from tourist-tastic ruin, and at the heart of their plan is Pippa’s dream project - The Tastiest Little Teashop in Taxos. It’s time for Pippa to leave her London life behind and dust off her scone recipe that’s guaranteed to win over both locals and visitors. And amidst the rolling pins and raisins, it seems romance is blossoming where she’s least expecting it…

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DIY: The Very Hungry Caterpillar espadrilles

We've not had much of a summer in London, so I was in two minds whether to bother making some espadrilles. After all, give it another few weeks and I'll probably be buying my Autumn boots...* But, since I still have my summer holiday to go on, I decided I would. Here's how I got on making my very own pair of espadrilles:

Cost of materials:
£10.52 (plus £2.79 postage) for Prym espadrille soles, sand-coloured yarn, white lining fabric and pins from Knit and Sew (Amazon)
£1.54 (free postage) for darning needles from Lakeside Needlecraft (Amazon)
£2.55 (99p postage) for The Very Hungry Caterpillar (TVHC) fabric from eBay
£3.66 - see "Making the espadrilles" below for what this cost was and why!

= £22.05 (I already owned green and white cotton, and a tape measure.)

Yes, in all honesty it is a *lot* cheaper to buy a pair of espadrilles... but where's the fun in that? (And you can't get TVHC ones, I've already checked!)

I shopped around to make sure that I got the cheapest prices - the soles, for example, cost £10.95 in John Lewis, but I got my soles, yarn, lining fabric and pins for less than that! Do shop around or these will probably cost you more than they are worth.

Making the espadrilles:
I had two issues straight away. First up, the Prym espadrille soles were supposed to come with the pattern and whilst that's true for the toe piece, I was missing the back pattern. Thankfully I spotted a QR code on the pattern I did have - a quick scan of that and I had the other pattern, which I then printed off. Hurrah!

Secondly, I didn't realise that I would need to sew together my base fabric and my TVHC fabric to ensure that I had a sturdy enough material to actually be able to wear my espadrilles. As I don't have a sewing machine and didn't want to do this by hand, I  bought some iron-on adhesive. This bumped up my costs but it did save me a lot of time and effort and I've got quite a bit left over. Those issues resolved, I apprehensively sat down to make some espadrilles!

First up, I cut out the patterns, but added a 1cm border around each pattern (on the recommendation of a few blogs that I'd read). For the toe section this worked out quite easy as the pattern shows various shoe sizes and there was naturally a 1cm gap between size 5 (my shoe size) and size 8 - I could just use the pattern as it came! I then used the toe pattern to cut out x2 TVHC toes, x2 white lining pieces and x2 toe-sized iron-on adhesive pieces.

I'll admit something here, it took me 1 hour and 20 minutes just to cut out the toe pieces and get the two fabrics bonded together. At this point I wanted to give up. I'd had an issue cutting out the material as my scissors were ordinary scissors and the first toe section I cut out was very jagged. I debated whether to order some dressmaking scissors to continue (more expense!) but then decided to sharpen my scissors which, thankfully, made it much easier.

Now I knew what I was doing (and had sharpened scissors), it took me 35 minutes to cut out the back pieces, and then it was time to pin the pieces to the Prym espadrille soles. Only then did I realise that the material sat too high up on my foot, so I chopped off 1cm off around the top of the back piece - I didn't need that recommended 1cm border on that piece then - and I also trimmed the edges of my toe pieces to get a smoother finish. 

It took me 15 minutes to pin and sew a back piece on to its sole, which lured me into a false notion of timings... that's because it then took me an hour to pin and sew the toe piece on and to close up the sides (where the two pieces meet). Sounds like one espadrille down and on to the next one, right? Wrong!

The espadrille was really loose at the back when I tried it on, so I created a fold on the heel and sewed this up to make it tighter. I also sewed over where the two pieces met to strengthen those stitches. It would have taken me 15 minutes to do this... except I spent *another* 15 minutes trying to get the cotton through the tiny needle's eye. Gah!

I also reinforced where the fabric meets the sole in the heel section - those stitches had come a little loose when I was making the espadrille tighter and I didn't want them to fall apart on my first wear! Once I was happy with that, it was (finally) on to making the next espadrille - this one was a lot quicker and easier to do, plus I didn't need to to do any reinforcing stitches afterwards. You can definitely tell which shoe I made first - the second one looks much better, yet only took half the time!

All-in-all, it probably took me about 6 hours to make the espadrilles, on and off, and I definitely have a pair that are unique... how long they'll last remains to be seen! Whilst I won't be starting my own espadrille-making empire any time soon, it was fun to do something different, and I'll *probably* make a pair again next summer.

If I make another pair, I will:
- try and make sure that the material I bought is strong enough not to have to go through the hassle of strengthening it
- choose a material with a smaller pattern; I didn't really think about my fabric in relationship to it becoming a pair of espadrilles
- not add an extra 1cm border around the back pattern
- buy some fabric scissors for a smoother cut
- learn how to do a blanket stitch to get that classic espadrille look.

What do you think to my espadrilles? Are you tempted to make a pair? Good luck if you do!

* OK, not true, I actually bought my Autumn boots back in February in the sales. Ker-ching!

Writer Wednesday: Annie Lyons

After leaving university, Annie Lyons decided that she 'rather liked books' and got a job as a bookseller on Charing Cross Road, London. Two years later she left the retail world and continued rather liking books during an eleven-year career in publishing.

Following redundancy in 2009 she realised that she would rather like to write books and having undertaken a creative writing course, lots of reading and a bit of practice she produced Not Quite Perfect. She now realises that she loves writing as much as coffee, not as much as her children and a bit more than gardening. She has since written another two novels and is about to start work on her fourth.

She lives in a house in south-east London with her husband and two children. The garden is somewhat overgrown. One day she hopes to own a chocolate-brown Labrador named John and have tea with Mary Berry.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
I have spent most of my life surrounded by books – from the books read to me by my parents, to the ones I sold in my first job as a bookseller in London to the children’s books I helped produce when I worked in publishing. I took a creative writing course after the birth of my second child and when I was made redundant from my job, writing a novel seemed like the next step in my book-filled life. I also wanted to see if I could do it.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you?
Revisions – when I receive the notes from my editor I open then, skim-read, panic, close them and walk away (occasionally having a little weep). The next day I open them again, telling myself that my editor is an oracle and I will work through them to make the book better. I like to use highlighters and post-it notes at this stage – everything seems possible once it has been highlighted in orange.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing? 
A morning spent thundering out 2000 or more words and the feeling that you’re getting somewhere with your character/plot/story* *delete as appropriate

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
That’s a tough one but I’d have to say ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls – that was the book which really made me want to be a writer.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why? 
Christa from Not Quite Perfect – she’s Rachel’s Swiss friend with a colourful past and very direct but kind nature. She was a lot of fun to write and I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to her, even though I’m pretty sure she can handle herself!

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
Bertie Wooster – I would love to flit back to that era and spend the day dancing, drinking champagne and getting into amusing scrapes with P.G. Wodehouse’s brilliant characters.

7. What can we expect next from you? 
I am working on a new series, which I’m really excited about because it’s taking my writing in a different direction. It’s going to have a London setting and follow the lives of women from different generations. The first book tells the story of Natalie, a children’s book writer and mother to eight year old Woody, whose world starts to implode on the evening her husband of fifteen years announces that he doesn’t love her anymore. I can’t say anymore at the moment because it is still playing out in my head (with the occasional scribbled idea in my trusty notebook).

8. Is there any particular advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out? 
Celebrate your successes and remember to leave the house occasionally – writing can be a lonely pastime so you have to remind yourself what people look like when it gets a bit much.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you.
 I drop the children at school, come home, make a huge pot of coffee and write until lunchtime. After lunch, I dabble in a little social media, answer e-mails, sort the washing etc. before dashing out the door at three to collect the small people.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment?
Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood – a beautifully structured book telling the story of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives. The writing is sublime and the story-telling is wonderfully evocative of the different periods of history. I am admiring and jealous all at the same time.

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Step into someone else’s shoes for a day…

And it will change you for a lifetime.

Cat is very good at her job. She runs a PR company with best friend (and secret crush) Jesse, and is never happier than when her high-profile celebrities are glittering in the spotlight.

But after a footballer client hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons, Cat’s career takes a sudden nosedive. So when her brother Andrew unexpectedly needs her to look after his kids for a few weeks, she can hardly say no. She’s happily single, hasn’t exactly been the ‘World’s Best Auntie’ over the years, and what she knows about looking after children would fit on the back of a postage stamp. But it’s only temporary until she gets her real life back on track – isn’t it?

Follow Annie on Twitter | Buy Life or Something Like It on Amazon |
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Writer Wednesday: Erin Lawless

Erin Lawless lives a happy life full of wonderful friends, in love with a man who buys her books instead of flowers. To mix things up a little, she writes books where friends and lovers hit obstacles and (usually) overcome them. When she’s not doing that she reads absolutely everything she gets her hands on, spends an inordinate amount of time in pyjamas and runs a fun-but-informative blog on British history.  

1. Why did you want to become a writer?
I always loved stories, and when I'd finish reading a book series I could never let go. I'd write my own continuations of Enid Blyton sagas, spin off in all directions. Unsurprisingly, this matured into full-blown fanfiction writing when I was a teenager, hundreds of hours, tens of thousands of words! – but I was 26 before I made my first attempt at full-length, original fiction (The Best Thing I Never Had).  

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you?
 It's finding the time. I've got a full-time career in law, a household to run, a social life to live and a to-be-read list longer than I'll likely be around!

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing?
 I do enjoy that first read back – up until that point, you can never quite tell how the pacing works, or the story as a whole. The original read-through is your first time experiencing your new book as a reader, not a writer. I also love chatting with people who have read my books! My endings in particular seem to spark conversation!  

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why?
 I most often say this when I finish epic fantasy novels (I wish I had the time/skill/inspiration!) but I do always think this when I read The Time Traveller's Wife in particular. The way that story is structured – it would be so interesting to write.  

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?
I'm growing increasingly fond of the main character of my WIP – Lacey. It's the first time I've chosen to write a novel from first-person perspective, and I suppose it's natural that quite a lot of my own personality is leaking into her! If it has to be an extant character though, it would be a toss-up between Nicky from The Best Thing I Never Had (loveliest person ever) and early-Alex from Somewhere Only We Know (hapless and helpless).  

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do?
It might be a cliché, but who wouldn't want to spend the day with Mr Darcy, taking the air at Netherfield? Perusing the libraries at Pemberley?  

7. What can we expect next from you?
I'm currently working on another contemporary romcom (see re Lacey, above!) – it's set on the set of a Downton Abbey-esque television series, and is about a woman forced by her cheating fiancé to try and seduce a celebrity. It's early days yet, but I am enjoying the ride so far!  

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out?
Write the book you'd want to read. Don't get bogged down too much in "it's vampires/BDSM/Game of Thrones-esque/whatever this year, I must write that!". Trends come and go – truly excellent fiction stands the test of time.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you.
No such thing for me! With the "day job" getting more and more demanding a "writing day" will normally be whatever I can jot down on a Sunday afternoon while my husband watches the football. When we're on the home-straight with a book I will often make the effort to get to the office early, or stay late, and try to get some writing (or editing) done there. I do write straight, namely chronologically and cleanly, and I edit as I go (normally when I hit writer's block and I don't want to waste time or fall out of the world of my story). I am very jealous of all the authors who get to actually spend a whole "working day" with their manuscripts!

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment?
I'm currently in the middle of the Harper Impulse Readathon at the moment (check out the #HIReadathon hashtag on Twitter for more info) and I'm reading (and loving) the evocative While I Was Waiting by Georgia Hill.

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Boy meets girl… 

Alex Bradley can't help but feel that life is rather passing him by. And not just life – promotions, invitations, romance; the girl he loves only has eyes for his flatmate and his 9-5 job as the Immigration department skivvy is slowly numbing his soul. Until he meets Nadia.

Girl meets boy… 

Nadia Osipova is running out of time. With no money, no lawyer and a totally fictitious boyfriend, she’s got one last summer and one last appeal before the British government deport her back home.

Girl gets deported? 

It's going to be a bumpy ride, one she's dragging her new friend Alex along for. As Nadia races through a list of all her favourite London adventures, for what may be the last time, Alex can’t help but start to see the city, and his life, through Nadia’s eyes. From hazy summer days on the Common and heady nights in Soho’s basement bars, to twilight walks along the Southbank, will Alex realise what he’s got before it’s too late?

Funny, addictive and always honest, this is a love letter to London, friendship and the unexpected from the author of the bestselling The Best Thing I Never Had.

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Writer Wednesday: Heidi Swain

Although passionate about writing from an early age, Heidi Swain gained a degree in Literature, flirted briefly with a newspaper career, married and had two children before she plucked up the courage to join a creative writing class and take her literary ambitions seriously.

A lover of Galaxy bars, vintage paraphernalia and the off bottle of fizz, she now writes contemporary fiction and enjoys the company of a whole host of feisty female characters.

She joined the RNA New Writers’ Scheme in 2014 and is now a full member. The manuscript she submitted for critique, The Cherry Tree Café, is her début novel published by Simon and Schuster in July 2015.

She lives in Norfolk with her wonderful husband, son and daughter and a mischievous cat called Storm.

1. Why did you want to become a writer? 
Starting with the tricky questions I see! I know this will probably sound like the worst cliché imaginable (and we all know we aren’t allowed to use those, right?), but I’ve never experienced that ‘I want to be a writer’ moment. I’ve always been a writer. To be honest it feels as if the decision was made for me and I just chose to accept it so the answer is, I don’t know why. Sorry.

2. What's the toughest part of the writing process for you? 
Oh that’s much easier to answer and I bet it’s the same as practically every other author would give. Time, there simply isn’t enough of it! Family, work, running a home, wrangling a cat… they are all priorities and if you want to be a writer, you have to squeeze writing and all its associated baggage into that list as well. It is tough, but totally worth it.

3. What's the most enjoyable part of writing?
I love every part of the process but dreaming up settings such as The Cherry Tree Café is great fun and populating them with characters you’d love to be, or be friends with, is an added bonus. Writing a first draft is also thrilling…well, most of the time.

4. Out of all the amazing books out there, which book do you wish you had written and why? 
That would have to be Letters To The Lost by Iona Grey. Iona and I share the same publisher and when I received an early copy of Letters I knew within a few pages that I was reading something quite extraordinary. The story is exquisite, painful, triumphant and in parts terrifying. The entire book is a masterclass in storytelling and Iona is a lovely, lovely lady.

5. If you could only save one of your characters from fictional calamity, which would you pick and why?
It was horrible seeing Lizzie Dixon so heartbroken so I suppose I should say her, but then what would have happened to Jemma, Ben and The Cherry Tree Café? No pain, no gain I guess. Sorry Lizzie!

6. If you could spend the day with your favourite literary character (not from your books), who would you spend it with and what would you do? 
Gosh, that’s tricky. I’m going to go with the first name I thought of and that was Molly Weasley from Harry Potter. We’d spend the day together at The Burrow drinking tea, eating cake, talking about family and looking around the house (this is before the Death Eaters have blown it to bits of course). The Burrow is quite simply my dream home.

7. What can we expect next from you? 
I’m currently editing Novel Number 2 and am totally in love with the story. It is set on the outskirts of Wynbridge so readers can expect Lizzie and Jemma from the Cherry Tree to put in a couple of star appearances!

8. Is there any particular writing advice you wish you'd been given at the start of your writing career? If so, what is it? If not, what advice would you give to someone starting out? 
Authors are a wonderfully supportive bunch and I have received so much wonderful advice. My own writing career really took off when Mandy Baggot told me to follow my own path and make it happen, rather than wait for the say-so from someone else. I became much more proactive after that. If I was going to offer advice of my own I would say make the decision to be an author and stick to it. Don’t stress about having no time, just take a good look at your life and find some! If you really want to be a writer, if there’s a burning desire in your heart to tell a story, you’ll find a way.

9. Tell us what a typical writing day involves for you. 
I have two ‘typical’ writing days. One involves getting up an hour earlier than I’d like so I can write before going to work. Then I write in my car during my lunch break and again in the evening, quite often typing up what I’ve written longhand during the day. The second, my ‘day-job free’ days should, in theory, be easier because I can commit long stretches of time to upping the word count. The trick is (and I don’t always manage it), not to become distracted by social media, Pinterest and the housework.

10. Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 
I have a few summer reads on my kindle carousel – Coming up Roses by Rachael Lucas, Fairytale Beginnings by Holly Martin and Bride Without A Groom by Amy Lynch are all clamouring for attention so it could be any one of those!

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Cupcakes, crafting and love at The Cherry Tree Café...

Lizzie Dixon's life feels as though it's fallen apart. Instead of the marriage proposal she was hoping for from her boyfriend, she is unceremoniously dumped, and her job is about to go the same way. So, there's only one option: to go back home to the village she grew up in and to try to start again.

Her best friend Jemma is delighted Lizzie has come back home. She has just bought a little café and needs help in getting it ready for the grand opening. And Lizzie's sewing skills are just what she needs.

With a new venture and a new home, things are looking much brighter for Lizzie. But can she get over her broken heart, and will an old flame reignite a love from long ago...?

For everyone who loves settling down to watch Great British Bake-Off, the Great British Sewing Bee, or curling up to read Milly Johnson or Jenny Colgan, The Cherry Tree Café is a coffee-break treat.

Follow Heidi on Twitter | Buy The Cherry Tree Cafe on Amazon |
Visit her blog | Like her on Facebook

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