Merry Christmas!

Hi Everyone,

We would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a fabulous New Year.

Thank you so much for your visits and comments - keep 'em coming!

Here's to a festive, restive time and then a creative 2014!

Our best regards,

The Strictly Writing team.


Bring on the Sequel

Nowadays, especially with the digital-first imprints, it would seem writing sequels and series is a popular path to follow - which is odd, because when I started out years ago, I remember wanting to write one and the idea being pooh-poohed in literary circles. Apparently it was the typical thing any aspiring writer longed to do. Guilty as charged! Although over the years, I lost the urge and thought of my books just as one-offs. On 10th November 2013 Harlequin’s new digital-first imprint, CarinaUK, published Doubting Abbey, my debut novel. When I wrote this romantic comedy, I always thought of it as a standalone story which came to a firm end.

However, as I went through the revisions it became clear to me that the characters had more to say. Fortunately, my publisher is wholly behind sequels and series and I can see the commercial appeal – especially for the digital imprints, where there is more flexibility and less to lose if the series doesn’t work. Several times recently writers, either traditionally or self-published, have said that to increase sales, this is the way to go. When the second book comes out, sales of the first will increase. The original one could be offered at a slashed price, if bought with the follow-up. Plus, each book can be advertised at the back of the other and the first one will, of course, be mentioned every time you promote your new book.

So, now that I’ve begun that project, what are the challenges? Well, if like mine, the sequel is not closely related to the first, with an on-going detailed plot, then firstly, you must make sure that the sequel tells a fresh, new tale – which sounds obvious but I sent off a synopsis for my agent to take a look, and unwittingly I’d put the characters into a similar situation as in the book before, just under different circumstances.

One solution might be to choose lead characters who were minor in the original tale. If the protagonists are the same, you must make sure that the new theme or character development doesn’t simply go over old ground.

Another pitfall to avoid is including too much backstory about the first book (again, if the two books are not, plot-wise, intricately connected). I am trying to make my sequel a standalone as well, so that readers aren’t put off by thinking they have to read another book first, to understand everything that’s going on. However, a degree of information, about the plot of Doubting Abbey, will need to be covered. Someone who pulls this off very cleverly is Sophie Kinsella in her well-known Shopoholic series, the success of which is no doubt majorly due to a strong, appealing very lovable main character.

Another frustrating aspect is that you could suddenly have a brilliant idea of where to take your characters in book two, but can’t because it wouldn’t fit with what happened in book one. For example Gemma’s mother died when she was young – I might have come up with an amazing story for the sequel that, say, needed her to have a fortune-telling actress for a mother who lives in Hollywood! However, as I’m finding already, with artistic license a lot of these wrinkles can be smoothed out.

So, if you already have a publishing deal, writing a sequel might be worth discussing with your agent or publisher. If you are still to snag that contract, perhaps keep the idea at the back of your mind and if you feel your characters might eventually have more to say, be careful how you end book one. Don’t close all the gates!

It's a Blast!

Forgive me for I have not posted of late.  And by 'late' I mean for about 3 months, so I'm sorry. There - I've said it.

And yes, I'm back here today with a figurative cap in hand to ask for forgiveness.  Because after all, if you can't ask for forgiveness at Christmas-time then when can you? (I feel like I'm badly quoting something from Love, Actually but I can't be bothered to check.)  And before you mention, YES, I DO come bearing gifts but also YES they do come at a price - appalling attempt at making small print amusing.
I'll stop rambling shall I?

You will recall.... and I absolutely insist you will so here's the link: ...that I posted about something I had become involved with called 'Stories for Homes' which was a project conceived by the fabulous Debi Alper and her equally fabulous friend, Sally Swingewood.  And although I have no real proof that these ladies are in any way officially 'fabulous' as they are two of those most elusive of creatures - 'Facebook friends' - I can undeniably state that I have come to realise their proper fabulousness first-hand, once removed (that'd be Facebook again).

Debi and Sally had an idea, spurred on by their own personal experiences, of raising awareness and money for the Homeless charity, Shelter by compiling a book of short stories by published and emerging writers.  

Announcements were made, stories of up to 3,000 words were submitted and the girls set to work sifting through the well over 250 submissions they received, and writers who needed to edit their stories a tad were paired up to (is this called Beta-reading?) help each other with the polishing up of their story.

In three months - 3 months - they had not only come up with the idea, they also had 65 stories, proofreaders, editors, cover designers (*ahem*), e-book formatters and even a promotional video put out for the anthology.
 Friday 13 Dec 6pm at the Bookseller Crow on the Hill, London SE19 3AF.

The book went live on Amazon to rave reviews.  It soared up the charts during its first week and has continued to sell well with ALL money going directly to the charity Shelter.

In fact it's done so well, the paperback was published last week.  It's a thing of beauty, it's polished, professional and it's even gone DOWN in price since it's birth last week.  It's now a very lovely £12.44 (reduced from £14.99) which is an amazing price considering there are nearly 600 pages of solid gold stories.  I still haven't finished reading them and each one delivers a different emotion.

The paperback is available from Createspace here:, from Amazon here and here are the story/discussions and threads for Facebook and Twitter.

I know you can adopt llamas and penguins as gifts, or pay for an elderly chap you've never met to have his Christmas lunch brought to him by elves and reindeer, and they're all very commendable.   But whilst you're considering which one of these you'd like buy this Christmas, don't forget that the purchase of 'Stories for Homes' (mine took only 3 days from Amazon order to letterbox) means you are supporting and donating ALL proceeds to the homeless charity Shelter, you're getting a great read into the bargain AND you're making a fellow writer smile.

It's not often you can give so many gifts with one present.

After all 'tis the season :)

Not even a massacre could put out the spiritual fire....

In 1983 the Troubles in Northern Ireland reached a sickening low with a depraved and evil attack on Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church in the small village of Darkley, nestled in a predominantly republican area of South Armagh, Northern Ireland.

Armed with weapons, gunmen opened fire on three elders in the entrance hall during the church service, killing them. The gunmen then turned their weapons on the congregation of around seventy which had gathered for their weekly service. Nine members were injured in the attack. The three men who died were David Wilson, Harold Browne and Victor Cunningham. Nobody was ever arrested or charged with the attack, responsibility for which was later claimed by the Catholic Reaction Force, a cover for the INLA, in supposed retaliation for loyalist murders.

A gripping new book wonderfully titled ‘Fire On The Mountain’ by Pastor David Bell, written to celebrate 60 years of the church, revisits that night in November 1983. It's a moving tale of Christian community spirit told sensitively as the people struggled to rebuild their lives. It gives a fascinating insight into the life of the church over the decades, highlighting the many miracles of healing that went on following the tragedy, some of which defied even medics.
Readers are drawn in right from the outset and they are taken on a journey, meeting the many people involved in the church, some instrumental in making the church the success story it is today. And it's difficult to see how the people managed to keep the faith in the face of adversity, but it's all here in black and white. Their steely determination, but above all, their trust in God kept them spiritually alive, the book outlines.

In 'Fire On the Mountain', that horrific moment of the shooting is recalled in vivid detail:
“For a moment, we all thought someone was throwing pebbles against the outside of the window panes, on that wintry November 1983 evening. It sounded just like the rattle of small stones on a tin roof. After all, very few of us had ever heard the sound of gunfire before. Falling to the floor for cover, we realised all too quickly what was taking place – somehow our church had become the latest target in the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’. After what seemed an eternity, the sound of the gun fire ceased. Several of the congregation were injured. Three were dead...”

The book also includes the original article written by the then young journalist Austin Hunter who was first on the scene - it appeared in the News Letter the following morning. Terrorism was rife in Northern Ireland and part of everyday life (there was barely a day that passed without a tragedy) but this particular incident united communities as distressing images of the aftermath were beamed around the world. In the days that followed, Darkley mourned its dead, and people struggled to come to terms with the tragedy.

The book shows that, despite one massacre and two fires in the church which failed to uproot or even shake the people, that their spirit was never wounded, but instead, the congregation continues to remain faithful and praise God for His mercies and goodness.

Fire On The Mountain by Pastor David Bell is published by Ambassador International and is available from Amazon and all good book stores.

Doubting Abbey

Swapping downstairs for upstairs… How hard can it be!?

Look up the phrase ordinary girl and you’ll see a picture of me, Gemma Goodwin – I only look half-decent after applying the entire contents of my make-up bag, and my dating track-record includes a man who treated me to dinner…at a kebab shop. No joke! 

The only extraordinary thing about me is that I look EXACTLY like my BFF, Abbey Croxley. Oh, and that for reasons I can’t explain, I’ve agreed to swap identities and pretend be her to star in the TV show about her aristocratic family’s country estate, Million Dollar Mansion. 

So now it’s not just my tan I’m faking – it’s Kate Middleton style demure hemlines and lady-like manners too. And amongst the hundreds of fusty etiquette rules I’m trying to cram into my head, there are two I really must remember: 
1) No-one can ever find out that I’m just Gemma, who’d be more at home in the servants' quarters. 
2) There can be absolutely no flirting with Abbey’s dishy but buttoned-up cousin, Lord Edward.

Aaargh, this is going to be harder than I thought…

1. Thanks for stopping by, Sam. What is it about Downton Abbey that appeals to you so much?

Period dramas fascinate me since, socially, times have changed so much. I like seeing how characters cope with what life throws at them, within the emotional and social restraints of their day. The plots are also gripping (most recently the fall-out from the attack on Anna) and Fellowes has created characters that we care about, from out-of-place Branson and kind-hearted Mrs Hughes, to the sharp-tongued Dowager Countess and butler Carson. Plus there have been some real villains, vile valet Green being the latest.

I read an article recently which suggested Americans loved Downton because the series was rather like glamorous Dynasty – a show I also loved! – and certainly the sumptuous costumes and grand setting are a great background to the dramatic storylines.

2. Do you think the public's attitude towards 'reality TV' has changed since the very first series of Big Brother?

Fly-on-the-wall reality series have always been around, for example Seven Up, but yes, I do think our attitude to reality shows has changed. To a degree, we have been given the power of some Caesar, with the ability to turn our thumbs up or down.

However, I am a big fan and the vast array of these shows now available. Perhaps they appeal to me as a writer, as I enjoy the peek into the human psyche. Plus, on a practical level, some enable contestants to learn a new skill or – in the case of Million Dollar Mansion featured in Doubting Abbey – offer people the potential to win enough money to make a real difference to their lives.

The reality genre will always be one of my favourites, so long as it doesn’t detract from the money and time given to making dramas and comedy shows with real actors. 

3. How did Doubting Abbey come about, and did you start with the plot or the characters?

I asked myself how a modern gal would cope, being thrust into a stuffy, old-fashioned aristocratic home – so I came up with the idea of pizza waitress Gemma having to pass herself off as her posh friend Abbey, for two weeks. So really, the plot came first – closely followed by the title. Before beginning I needed to do a lot of research into stately homes and visited the lovely Lyme Park near me in Cheshire. This building isn’t from exactly the same era, but the interior gave me ideas for how to furnish my fictional Applebridge Hall. I also needed to check my facts on aristocratic titles and find out how one would address an earl, his wife and their son.

4. Do you have a different approach to writing dramatic scenes and comedic scenes?

Adding in emotion is very important for the dramatic scenes and something I have really worked hard on. An editor from the short story world told me this was one of my weaknesses, so during the last year or so I have really tried to up my game – after all, it is getting the reader emotionally involved which is going to make them care for your characters, like in Downton Abbey where, for example, we really feel Daisy’s pain at her unrequited love.

As for comedic scenes, I really let myself go. In Doubting Abbey there is farce which has to be carefully written so that it doesn’t come over as unrealistic – Gemma is an impulsive, wacky character and I found it difficult to reign in my sense of humour! Fellowes does it so beautifully with the Dowager Countess’ and Carson’s one-liners and po faces!

5. Would you consider yourself a genre author?

I consider myself a romance writer, albeit of romantic comedies. But I also write short stories and having sold over 80 now to women’s magazines, was recently thrilled that Alfie Dog Fiction brought out a collection of my feel-good stories called Sweet Talk.

I love everything paranormal, though, and might one day shift into that sector of the romance genre!

6. How did you find your agent / publisher?

My journey to finding an agent and publisher has been a rocky one – I started writing in 2005 and finally bagged an agent in 2011, with several manuscripts, by then, under the bed. However, I feel this is a rite of passage for many authors, and if you can survive those years it stands you in good stead for dealing with the challenges of published life. Writing and selling short stories during the last couple of years has really helped boost my (what had become a rather weather-beaten) writerly ego and I wish I’d started writing and sending those out years ago.

But yes, it has been very sweet fulfilling my ambitions of first getting an agent and then a novel deal. If I can do it anyone can – determination is important. I have Samuel Beckett’s quote stuck up on my wall:

“Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

7. What's your next writing project?

I am contemplating a sequel to Doubting Abbey which is very exciting for me! Watch this space!   

8. Where can we purchase your book and where can we find more about your writing? 


The Gripes of Wrath

Going with the flow can be a bumpy ride. And a soggy one.

Hello there,

I thought it was time for a new post. And this time, the post is mainly made up of gripes I have heard in conversation with other writers.

Are you sitting uncomfortably?

Here we go then, in no particular order (well, other than the one I've arranged them in), and with my helpful commentary in blue.

1. Hardly anyone ever visits my website / blog / poetry shrine, or if they do they never leave a comment. (Whereas...)

2. They (insert famous person here) never Liked me back or followed me on Twitter. (Because that could make all the difference.)

3. I really thought this agent / editor was the one. (The previous ones were just trial runs.)

4. Writing is so damned hard sometimes. (Yeah, why isn't it easy like all the other creative arts - sculpture, painting, textiles, drama, ceramics and music?)

5. I'm skint. I really expected to be making proper money from this by now. (And your accountant and creditors did too.)

6. It's all right for 'x' because they have 'y'. (Ah, that wondrous equation known as 'if only'.)

7. Of course, if I lived in London, this would all be different. (Yes, you'd have an underground rail network at your disposal, for one thing.)

8. A full edit? Really? Again? (You mean the 'three draft rule' doesn't still apply?

9. No, I don't want to attend a bloody masterclass where desperation hangs in the air like days' old cabbage. (That's not desperation, that's ambition with a hint of bitterness.)

10. Hey, if we all promote one another, we can all be hugely successful - it worked for Tracey Emin. (Well, maybe with a little help from Charles Saatchi.)

11. Talent will out. (Tell that to Vincent Van Gogh - if you have a time machine handy.)

12. I just don't know what publishers are looking for. (Probably books that will sell in sufficient quantities to make the project financially viable.)

13. How many bloody books does it take? (Answer: as many as it takes to get the contract.)

If there is a lesson to be had here, other than sarcasm being a lifestyle choice, it is this:

That's right, contrary to popular belief (hope), it's a blank page and all the better for it. 

You may get lucky with your very first novel - I'm fortunate to know people who have achieved contracts and published books with theirs. You might make oodles of money - that too is possible. However, I can tell you empirically and emphatically that if you don't put pen to paper, all you'll have to show for it is a blank page. And believe me, that is a hard sell.

Now, in the interests of promotion, can I interest you in my own blog and in a nifty online writing project themed around the 12 signs of the zodiac.


Ask yourself this

I was reading The Guardian recently and wondering why the Review section doesn't have a column for aspiring writers. Actually, that's a bit of a fib. I know why because I proposed such a piece and they politely declined, saying they prefer to commission in-house or to work with people they already have a relationship with.

However, my point still stands. Where - blogs aside - are the advice columns from aspiring writers? The ones who don't say 'this is what worked for me and here's the proof', but do say 'this never worked for me at all' or even 'this seems to be working for me although you won't find my books on the shelves yet'?

Despite the well-worn advice to be original, I suspect most writers are looking for a route into publication that has been at least tiptoed through by somebody else. And yet, ironically, each of us is nothing like anybody else. Which is why I thought I'd use this post to do the kind of interview I'd like to see in a writing magazine.

These are the rules:
a) No links.
b) No plugs.
c) Ask yourself and answer the questions you think other people (especially other writers) might want to know about you.
d) Be honest.

Here we go then...

1. What sort of writer are you?
I ask myself that everyday. My standard response is that I write fiction, non-fiction and comedy. But the truth is that I don't know what sort of writer I am. I write for fun / personal fulfilment, I write for cash and I wrote for ambition. Strangely - or luckily - for me, these competing masters rarely conflict. It's as if the respective muses have organised a timetable. So, short answer: I haven't figured that one out yet.

2. Will you ever self-publish a novel again?
Previously, I'd have said no, as it was a labour of love and relied on some expert help from friends. However, lately I've been thinking about why I started writing in the first place and that was for two reasons: to work through the story myself and to have my work read. It's only time, money and my expectations of what conventional publication will do for my work that keep me rooting for the traditional model. Plus I'd love to do a book signing.

3. You're working on your fifth novel - does it get easier?
Yes, because I think you recognise the process and you learn to trust yourself and the muse more. The story evolves and sometimes it goes places you hadn't envisaged. That can be scary and frustrating, but I think it's preferable to having a contrived tale that only meets your requirements. I can't speak for other writers but I definitely do not write only for myself. 

4. What does success look like to you?
Five novels, five ISBNs and a five-figure sum. Also, the experience of collaboration on projects that take me into unfamiliar territory - plays, TV and more radio. I'm both fascinated and envious by the way some writers and performers end up in interesting places because they move in circles where those opportunities are possible. They get to extend their boundaries and develop more of their potential. Writing, as we know, is a solitary business much of the time, so having the right people around you can create unexpected adventures.

5. If money wasn't an issue, would you still write fiction, non-fiction and comedy?
Yes, with changes. I'd pick the freelance work carefully, I'd concentrate on the novels and I'd develop my own comedy projects (and complete others I started way back). I'd also love to do more gratis work to give other people a leg up.

6. How many book rejections have you had overall?
In excess of 100, spread across three novels and four humour books. And yes, that has stung a little over the course of the years. On the plus side, I saved on a roll or two of wallpaper in the downstairs loo. (And loo roll too.)

7. Social media - Holy Grail or crock of crap?
Holy crap. I think my mindset has changed around social media and for me it's more a means of connecting with writers and readers than a PR or sales portal. Apart from blogging and tweeting, I wouldn't miss the rest.

8. What advice would you give to your younger writer self?
Be courageous. Take chances. And, most importantly, live fully so that your writing has maturity and depth. Also, while I have his ear, learn quickly and move on. Don't get stuck in fixed ideas about writing, people or even yourself. Make life an adventure sooner and stop waiting for something interesting to happen. (Although, frankly, that did result in an interesting book.)

9. Any regrets as a writer?
Well, apart from whatever you can pick from the bones of my previous answers, there's the toll it takes on the other areas of your life.

Plus, I'd heard of golf widows before, but I didn't know about writing widows.
Writing is part of living, and not the other way around.

Genuinely, I regret not being able to help other writers more and vice versa. I think we either gravitate to other writers at our level or those are just the people we encounter. Sometimes it can seem like a wonderfully supportive club of fellow creatives; sometimes it feels like a buzzy competitive space; and some days it just feels like we're rats trapped in a bucket, trying to bite the hands of passing agents and editors as they waft overhead, out of reach.

Mostly I regret not getting more of an education - and by that I don't just mean qualifications. I'm talking about a greater awareness of culture and having greater creative aspirations and ambitions from a younger age. Fundamentally, I think, it's a class thing.

10.  Do you actually enjoy being a writer because it doesn't always sound like it?
Absolutely. I enjoy all of it in a way - even the despondency of rejection, the agonies of editing (and then re-editing) and the confrontational challenge of the blank page. We are fortunate to live in a place and a time when we can express our ideas so freely and quickly, and reach some kind of audience within minutes. We take that for granted, but it's a privilege many others don’t have.

Okay, I'm done. So, I have two gauntlets to cast down for you:

Firstly, to my fellow Strictly Writers, to interview themselves in a similar fashion.

Secondly, to our readers. I'll answer any writing-related question about my writing practice, my experience of the world of publishing (mostly from the outside!), or about the wonderful world of freelancing.

Don't be shy now.

Howdy Amigos!

Howdy amigos! Happens that you’ve caught me in a dreadful happy mood. You see, those good folks at Alfie Dog Fiction published my first short story collection, ‘Sweet Talk’ on 24th September. Finally, after years of grafting, little old me will have a real book signing – ain’t that just as exciting as any old rodeo? ‘Sweet Talk’ is a collection of 21 feel-good stories, guaranteed to leave you feeling as happy as a mustang off its reins. There’s young and mature romance, sibling rivalry, humour and plenty of tales starring pesky animals like cats, stick insects and birds.  That’s why I love writing short stories – I can experiment with any subject matter or genre.

Hence the Old West American tone of this piece. Recently, I woke up with the voice of – now whadda us modern folks call it? – a cowboy in my head. So, goddamn it, I created two characters, Connie and Elijah Boswell. Dreadful in love they were, during the gold rush of 1849. That lady was as fine as cream gravy. Their wicked neighbour Nathaniel was one to watch – a regular wolf, after gambling and whiskey. But good old Elijah, in his broad-rimmed hat, kept that particular outlaw in check. In fact, Nathaniel could have easily ended up in the bone orchard, thanks to Elijah’s rifle.

Hell, yeah, more fun than a hog in mud, I had, writing that story, set near Sacramento River. And fair dumbfounded I was, when The People’s Friend bought it.

So, listen up, y’all - what I’m saying is: go for it. Have fun. Let yourself loose. One story from ‘Sweet Talk’ is set just after the Second World War. Hell, I ain’t never written nothing earlier than the eighties, prior to that. But thanks to some fancy information I found about soldiers and rationing coupons, it all fell into place – same with two stories all about Irish luck and a Scottish poet. I just slapped on my research hat.

I’ve wrote stories about kids, men and women, sexy santas, divorced parents and awkward bosses… Don’t limit yourself. Vary settings, eras, characters and themes. Draw on your own life and that of others.

Most importantly, write from that there heart. Makes me sound as sweet as my ma’s plum pudding to say that, don’t it? But I speak the truth.

So, get a wiggle on and have a go. Best of luck folks! And if you know someone who’d just love a collection of warm, heartfelt stories to dip into, why not order them a copy of ‘Sweet Talk’?

Samantha Tonge has sold almost 80 stories to women’s magazines and her work appears regularly in The People’s Friend. She also writes romantic comedies and her agent is currently subbing her latest novel, ‘Doubting Abbey’, to publishers.

         For more information about Samantha why not visit:

‘Sweet Talk’ is available here.

Good news alert!

”Samantha has just agreed a 3 book deal with CarinaUK, Harlequin’s digital-first imprint. Her debut novel, “Doubting Abbey” will be published late autumn 2013.”