Happy new year!
I hope that the year ahead is a memorable one and full of love and laughter.
Fulfillment. I know that’s a big word to coin my new year’s resolutions, but it is ultimately what I desire. I’m not afraid of BIG goals anymore – and neither should you be.
Dream BIGGER. Love HARDER. Let the moments linger.
Lots of big news this year, so stay tuned!
I chatted to South Africa’s first RITA nominee, Romy Summer about her short listed book, Not a Fairytale. She also indulged me, and answered some other questions about being a writer.
1. When did you realise that you are romance writer?
I wrote my first ‘practice’ novel many years ago after doing a writing cousre, and showed it to my
first critique partner, Mandy Verbaan. She was a loud and proud romance reader who told me I “had
a voice for Romance”. So I went off to the second hand book store and bought a pile of romance
novels to find out what she meant – and I promptly fell in love with the genre!
2. Do you recall the first story you ever wrote?
The same story I mentioned above, that ‘practice novel’, was more women’s fiction than romance. It
featured the interwoven stories of two very different women whose lives only crossed at the very
end. My writing at that stage was awful. I had no concept of character development or rising action
or conflict – but there’s still a gem of an idea in that story which I might one day explore!
The biggest achievement of that first story though was actually seeing it through to the end. Until
that moment I’d been a serial starter. I’d learned to play piano and guitar (can’t play a note of
either!), done tap dancing, ballet, figure skating, calligraphy, and a host of other hobbies I no longer
even remember – but writing was the first thing that I saw through to the end. And ten years later
I’m still obsessed with it!
3. Who was your favourite romance author while growing up?
I didn’t really read romances growing up (at least I didn’t think I did!) but I loved Georgette Heyer,
Mary Stewart – and of course the Sweet Valley High series!
4. You chair the Romance Writers Organisation of SA, how did that come about?
Mandy and I first tossed the idea of a romance writers group around over a Mugg & Bean breakfast.
When we started writing, it felt like we were the only two people in the whole country writing
Romance. Slowly we began to reach out to other writers, and along the way we experienced a fair
amount of disdain from writers in other genres. Having experienced first hand the generous support
of romance writers online and in other countries, we decided that South African romance writers
needed a safe place to hang out together, and so ROSA was born.
We started as an online Yahoo group with only a handful of members, then slowly more and more
romance writers came forward and joined, and now we’re a registered non-profit organisation
which the literary community is starting to take seriously. Because of course, Romance writers rock!
5. Describe the moment you heard you were nominated for the RITA.
The announcements were due to be made on a Friday, so I assumed shortlisted authors would be
notified on the Thursday. My kids were on school holidays and I’d taken the week off work to spend
time with them, so I spent that Thursday busy fetching and carrying kids. It stopped me from
obsessing over my inbox, and by the time I remembered what day it was I figured the silence meant I
hadn’t shortlisted. I shrugged it off and life carried on.
They next day we were all enjoying a lazy day at home, binge-watching Miss Fisher’s Murder
Mysteries, when I realised I hadn’t even looked at my cell phone in several hours. What if someone
from work had tried to contact me?
I had one missed call. From the States. I don’t know anyone in the States, at least no one who would
call me early on a Friday morning US time. I listened to the voice message already guessing what it
might be. It was Damon Suede, one of the RWA board members, calling me with the good news. I
was able to dance around the room, take it all in, then tell the kids to keep quiet so I could return
I remember pacing the front garden with the cell phone glued to my ear, managing to hold a very
rational, calm conversation with Damon while inside I was still screaming and dancing.
It was quite possibly one of the best days of my life so far!
6. Where did you get the idea of creating a character like Nina? And what do you love most
Nina was a very minor secondary character in my previous book To Catch a Star. Her hero, Dominic,
was also in the same book, but unlike Nina he wasn’t shy and retiring. He kept trying to write himself
a bigger part. So I realised of course he needed to get his own book.
But who would be a fitting heroine for a man who had every woman fall at his feet?
Then I realised that Nina, the voluptuous actress who hadn’t fallen for either Dom or his best friend
Christian (the hero of To Catch a Star) might be the one woman who would make him really work
for her heart.
What I love most about Nina is that she’s still just a normal girl behind the celebrity facade. She still
worries about what her Gran will think, finds high heels uncomfortable, and isn’t overly fond of
exercise. It’s this down-to- earth quality that makes Dom sit up and notice her. While he may have
been attracted to her looks at the beginning, it’s her willingness to get dirty and sweaty in order to
complete the challenge he sets her, which impresses him most.
7. What’s your favourite line / lines in the book?
I have quite a few moments in Not a Fairy Tale that make me smile, but perhaps my favourite is this
8. Do you dream of fame?
Who doesn’t?! Actually, as much as I enjoy recognition for my writing, I’m in this for the money! If I
had to choose between fame and fortune, I’d definitely choose fortune.
9. Just tell me, did you have Alec Baldwin in mind when you wrote the character of Paul?
Not at all. In fact, the actor I had in mind is probably Hollywood’s most confirmed bachelor:
Leonardo di Caprio. He even has Paul’s house in the Hollywood Hills and his hybrid car! (Though I’m
sure Mr di Caprio is much nicer in person than Paul)
10. The setting of the book is LA. As a South African writer, why did you choose a setting that
It just seemed the right place to set this. She’s a Hollywood actress, he’s a Hollywood stuntman.
Where else would they live between movies? I could have changed the setting, but then it wouldn’t
have been the same story.
I feel bad that I haven’t yet set any of my books in South Africa, but I don’t seem to have any say in
the matter. The stories tell me where they’re set, rather than the other way around.
11. Much of the story circles around both Nina and Dom feeling unworthy of each other,
which is highly relatable to a reader (I think), did you purposefully choose this as a theme?
If so, Why?
I don’t think I purposefully chose that theme, though since it seems to recur in all my stories maybe
that says more about me than about my characters?
The one thing I wanted to get across in Not a Fairy Tale is that beauty is an illusion. Nina is a
successful, beautiful actress (I modeled her on Mila Kunis) yet she still battles with weight issues,
still feels inferior to others around her. It is 100% true that even the gorgeous models and actresses
we see in magazines and on TV can’t live up to the images that are presented of them!
I want women, especially younger women, to know that they are just as beautiful as the celebrities
they idolise. We’d all look gorgeous if we had a team of stylists and airbrushers turning us into
unrealistic versions of ourselves!
12. Nina and Dom get their happily ever after and they come full circle, what does HEA mean
to you? (Is it marriage? Is it a baby?)
For me, the HEA is finding a partner who will support you, and who will help you be the truest and
best version of yourself. That doesn’t always involve an exchange of rings, and for many people that
doesn’t include babies. It’s having a partner who loves you with all your flaws, and who has your
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Not a Fairytale, it was the prefect lazy weekend love story.
It was lovely getting to know you better, Romy!
For the first time in my life I attended a conference exclusively for Romance Writers. I joined the Romance Writers of South Africa’s Organisation (ROSA) earlier this year. To be honest, I didn’t really know what to expect from the organisation itself or from the conference, but now that I’ve been a member for about 6 months and I’ve attended their annual conference I’m happy to report that I definitely feel like I’ve grown as a writer and a member of the writing community as a result.
Is it worth the money?
The spend. It’s always a question for writers just starting out. You aren’t really making money from your books yet, so can you really justify the spend at this point. I know that a lot of writers would think twice about forking out R3 -5K for a weekend conference, and then decide it’s just not worth it. Let’s not beat around the bush here, it’s a ton of money, but if you stop seeing it as an expense but rather an investment, well then it becomes about the value of event to you and your writing career. Before I get reamed from all sides about it simply not being affordable, I’d like to say that there were many conference options to choose from, from single day attendance to two days, with or without accommodation etc. Not to mention a pre-con event and a gala dinner, if you are keen on the socialising aspect. In rands and cents, a single day attendance came in at approximately R600, without flights or accommodation. Not nothing, but do-able.
7 Conference Highlights
- Meeting like-minded people. Writing is a pretty lonesome activity and suddenly, being surrounded by people who write (just like you) in the same genre as you do was energizing. We all had something to talk about before we even met in person. No ice-breakers required.
- Learning from others. During the sessions we could participate in talks and learn from fellow writers. Everything from crafting characters, to overcoming The Fear that holds us back to practical marketing tips and advice was on offer.
- Making friends. Yes, that happens organically and it’s a terrific return on investment.
- Mingling with famous authors. This year international bestselling author Mary Jo Putney gave the keynote address – which was awesome. But since many of the attendees are already published authors, it was great to meet the person behind the stories.
- Hearing from publishers. A few well-known local publishers attended and made themselves available for answering questions and coaching. This year Lapa books and Fire Quill Publishing hosted talks.
- Writing competition opportunities: ROSA awarded its first Imbali Award this year to Suzanne Jefferies for her romance novel The Joy of Comfort Eating, there was also a fun scene writing competition which attendees could participate in.
- The opportunity to pitch to New York agents and editors. Yes, this happened via skype. What a learning curve and awesome chance to meet face to face with agents who don’t usually accept unsolicited manuscripts. To get feedback in real time, and to hear straight from the source what they looking for is GOLD. The experience alone, whether or not your book gets picked up is a major step closer to being ready for the next pitch or query you send.
I should also mention that we got a fabulous goodie bag – filled to the brim with books!! How awesome is that?
All in all, my take on conference attendance as a writer is: if you can, do it! It’s worth it. It’s worth it just to know there are others just like you. It’s worth it just to get a feel for what other people are doing and how they are doing it so that you can figure out your own path. In fact, I loved the experience so much, I’m hatching all sorts of plans to attend the Romance Writers of America’s conference in Orlando next year 🙂
Who’s coming with me?
Hello, my name is Cindi and I’m a romance writer…
It look me the longest time to own the fact that I really want to write love stories. I guess I always thought that if I ever did write, it had to be something more (substantial?) than a love story / chicklit. I’m over that kind of thinking now. I just want to write what makes me happy, and for now that’s romance. Oh, and I reserve the right to change my mind about genres without prior notice 🙂
I’ve always loved reading and very soon after devouring all the Danielle Steel books in the local library I moved onto the classics. Reading has never been a chore for me, so I dedicated myself to reading widely, although it was only in adulthood that I really embraced fantasy.
Here’s a list of the love stories, for varying reasons that have touched me and linger with me still (in no particular order):
Message from Nam – Danielle Steele, Like Water for Chocolate – Laura Esquivel, Possession – A.S. Byatt, The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger, The Promise of Stardust –Priscille Sibley, Me Before You– Jojo Moyes, Outlander (the book series) – Diana Gabaldon, Twilight – Stephenie Meyer, Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen, Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë’, The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton, Love Story – Erich Segal, The Fault in Our Stars – John Green, Love, in English – Karina Halle, Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy, Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami.
At university in the late nineties I was totally in my element studying English, and that exposed me to even more genres and styles than before. I guess it also taught me how to think about stories, plots and interpretation and I definitely grew as a reader.
I lacked the self-confidence to write because I believed that if I ever did it, actually wrote something, I had to write something amazing and award winning and something “literary”. I was Michiel Heyns’ student, damnit, and if there’s ever pressure to be a late bloomer in writing and a phenomenon, well, he is it! Being a writer was nothing more than an elusive dream… until one day. I woke up and realised: holy cow, I’m 32 years old and I’ve never written anything! I no longer felt like I had the “rest of my life” to do thing I’ve always wanted to do. So, one Saturday morning in 2013 I started writing “A Piece of My Heart” – back then the title I had in mind was “The Kilim Collector”. It was the first time I’d ever attempted to write anything more than a short piece of poetry and it was an odd start – as in: I remember writing a whole chapter: the final chapter, essentially the ending of a story, to a book I hadn’t even started plotting.
My trip to Istanbul in 2002 had made such an impression me, and even though I met a Turkish hunk, I certainly did not embark on a romantic relationship with him. Perhaps if there was a real romance then I would not have battled coming up with a plot for my story initially! I really started writing the story blind. There was no plan, no plot, no nothing; just a whisper of a story in the back of my mind about a South African girl falling madly in love with a Turkish hunk who was too old for her.
My original ending for A Piece of My Heart, which I ditched
Perhaps it would tickle the people who have read it now to know that in my initial start, the book ended with Alkan arriving at Victoria’s door with an engagement ring. Ha! But every time I went back to that ending I was dissatisfied. It just wasn’t right, because let’s face it, your Turkish heartthrob isn’t just going to pitch up at your door with the family heirloom to put on your finger because you are pregnant. No, happily ever after had to be something else (more) for me. I wanted something more for Victoria than: then comes love, then comes marriage, and then comes a baby in a bay carriage! So although my book is a romance novel and although the ending isn’t tied up with a red ribbon and roses, it is a satisfactory ending where future happiness is still on the cards.
Being a writer was a romantic notion in itself. What a wake-up call.
I saw myself as a Carey Bradshaw in Sex in the City, sitting behind my laptop and the words just flowing. I saw myself writing with long stem goblets of wine perched on my desk, but always just writing. Hollywood is a dirty little liar. I never once saw Carey being distracted by toddler boys who were either hungry or needed the toilet that minute (or both!). I never saw her leave her perfect minimalist desk to go and wee or boil a kettle. And she never ever sat down to write in a styling combination of pajamas and tracksuits without a perfectly made up face and hair pinned up with whatever was lying on the bathroom sink…
And the biggest secret of all is that writing is hard work and hardly no-one wants to pay for you it. Most people, even those in the profession, do not tell you that. So it takes an enormous amount of sheer pigheadedness to actually write despite all of this. To write when you don’t feel like it. To write when you have no time. To keep going even though you believe more and more that what you are writing is the biggest load of sh*t. And to steak time to do it: on the train on your way to work, during lunch breaks, when your kids are watching Barney… Write, write write.
I hope that if you are writer that some of this will ring true for you too, and make you feel like you are not crazy or alone. Okay, maybe a little crazy, but certainly not alone.[If you are keen to read my debut novel A Piece of My Heart click right here to start reading the first chapters.]
A Piece of My Heart may very well be the love story of Victoria, a South African born farm girl and Alkan, a Turkish businessman, but to me, the places and settings of the story are as much part of the romance as the relationship between these two seemingly mis-matched characters.
The story starts in Chiba, Japan…
In 2002 I spent 4 weeks doing sight seeing in Japan and in 2003 I packed my suitcase for an even longer adventure: teaching English as a foreign language. Where my first trip was like a no strings attached fling, perfect because I wasn’t there long enough to experience anything bad, my second stint felt a lot like marriage. The honeymoon was over just few weeks in and I soon found myself battling the icy Japanese winter and living an apartment smaller than my father’s garage. A life severely different to the one I was used to back home, in South Africa. But I’d be lying if I said that I did not fall in love with Japan, despite how hard it was to be there alone, not speaking the language and knowing no-one. I made friends. I loved my job and culture and I learned to read menus – that saved me!
A three day layover in Istanbul in 2002 turned into a 7 day holiday in one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been in. I loved how ancient it was. Call me crazy, but walking along those cobbled roads, visiting Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia, it’s almost like you can feel history. All the energy that’s been expended there, the then and the now, feels meshed into one. It’s an Old world with New people. During my visit I went to numerous kilim shops, tasted more flavours of Turkish Delight that I knew existed and drank apple tea at least six times a day.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
I spent five years studying at the University in Stellenbosch, but it was only after my return to SA after a year in Japan, that I really starting exploring the winelands. In 2010 I joined a wine club and soon I was not just drinking wine for leisure, but spending many happy hours developing my palate for wine, researching and learning. I’ve had countless tutored tastings since then and been fortunate enough to meet and interview various winemakers for my tourism blog. My keen interest in wine has developed into a kind of work-hobby which has been an amazing career journey too.
Tafelsig, the farm Victoria is from in A Piece of My Heart is a fictional place, but Chateau Beau Belle, as well as Boschkloof, which are mentioned by name, are very real. (And if you ever find yourself in the Stellenbosch wine region, I highly recommend that you visit these places for their extraordinary wines). I chose to mention these specific wineries for one reason only: I love their Shiraz, and that’s saying a lot because Shiraz is not my favourite wine varietal. At Beau Belle, my favourite wine is their Reserve Shiraz (and more recently I’ve taken a liking to their easy drinking chenin blanc called the Cooper), while at Boschkloof the Epilogue is one of those award winning reds which are always sold out. In which case, the Conclusion is another great choice from their premium range. I mention all of this very much by the way as no-one has paid me to mention these places, they are simply places I like and wines I have REALLY liked.
I hope that has given you some insights into the inspiration for the setting for A Piece of My Heart.
I love that Janis Joplin’s Piece of My Heart could have been Victoria’s own words…Music often manages to marry our emotions to words, don’t you agree?
Place your pre-order for the exclusive paperback edition here before 10 April and take advantage of the opportunity to nominate TWO special people in your life to receive FREE DIGITAL copies of A Piece of My Heart <3
Say hello to the final cover of A Piece of My Heart!
Thank you for all your input, I’m absolutely thrilled at how the final product has evolved – and all thanks to you!
A Piece of My Heart paperback is now available for pre-order for a limited time: 1-10 April 2016 exclusively in South Africa. Click here to get added to the pre-order list.