We are delighted to welcome Laura E. James, the RNA’s Library Liaison Officer (LLO) and Industry Awards Organiser (IAO), to the blog. Laura, first of all, congratulations on your appointment to the committee! What attracted you to the Library Liaison Officer role?

Thank you, Victoria, and many thanks for inviting me onto the blog.

It was the adrenalin rush of an awards evening. I attended my first Industry Awards as the organiser, drank chilled, sparkling wine, and shared a hotel room with my good friend, Celia Anderson, who, at the time, was the main organiser of the Novel of the Year Awards. My work as IAO fell under Celia’s scope, and we worked together on both awards. One of my tasks was to poll libraries for their nominations for the Popular Romantic Fiction novel for the Novel of the Year Awards. I was aware the LLO role was vacant, and as I was already reaching out to libraries through the awards work, it struck me it would be a good fit.

I’ve been a member of the Association for over ten years, and I like to at least try to give back some of what I’ve gained from the membership. I had been a reader for the NWS, but LLO and IAO are more suited to my abilities.

I’ve been in the Library Liaison role since January 2020, and this is my third year as Industry Awards Organiser.

As a graduate of the New Writers’ Scheme, can you tell us a little about the RNA’s role in your journey to publication?

I discovered the RNA and the NWS via Jill Mansell’s book Good At Games. I loved the story so much, I devoured every page, including the acknowledgements. It seems strange to think I never used to do this as a matter of course; however, at the back of the book, Jill made reference to the RNA, which intrigued me. I went online and checked it out and saw there were a number of my favourite authors in the Association, including Jill. I then discovered the NWS. I have always written – poems, stories, comics, lyrics – and I used to say to my mum, who was responsible for my love of reading, and in particular, reading Good At Games, that I would one day write a novel. Finding the RNA and the NWS inspired me to finally sit down and start. That, and spending six weeks of the school summer holiday with my left arm in plaster following wrist surgery – it seemed the perfect time.

Truth or Dare? was the result. It went through the scheme twice, even getting a second read, a process that no longer exists, and with the support and advice from fellow members of the RNA, I submitted the manuscript. I received ‘the call’ in person at an RNA summer party. It was brilliant and frustrating at the same time, because all my writing buddies were in the room and I couldn’t tell a soul …

What inspired you to write your Chesil Beach series? (I’m so amazed that you spearheaded an entirely new imprint with Choc Lit!)

I live in Weymouth, Dorset, and love the coast with a passion. I have spent many, many happy hours in Weymouth and Portland and have such fond memories of family times. Although I grew up in Watford, family members have lived in Weymouth since way before I was a twinkle in my mum’s eye. It’s in my veins. The Jurassic Coast is so beautiful, no matter the weather, the beach scenery changes every day, and the sea always provides drama. The area is a character in its own right and it lends itself so well to emotional stories of family relationships, love and sometimes, dark, deep, seabed-level issues.

What does your writing day look like? Do you write early in the morning or late at night? Do you go out to a coffee shop or do you have a writing space in your house? Do you have to juggle writing with other obligations, and if so, how do you make it work?

I don’t have a regular writing day. I have autoimmune conditions which can dictate how and when I write. At eighteen, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and have had many wrist and hand operations over the years, all of which have kept me writing – I haven’t cracked dictation software – it changed the genre I write when on one occasion, the software transposed, ‘a hot mug in her hand’, to ‘a hot monk in her hand.’ Nothing against the hot monk, it just didn’t sit quite right with the overall tone of the story. I manage fatigue on a daily basis, and flare ups as and when.

My desk is in our kitchen diner, which is handy for access to the kettle and fridge, but not so handy when my constantly hungry family requires the same access. Perhaps if I fed them once in a while …

I enjoy meeting with my writing friends, who always inspire me, especially my Romaniac chums and the RNA Dorset Chapter.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

Ah. The never-ending novel. Currently titled Make Your Own Kind of Music, it’s an emotional, uplifting story of choices, second chances and the power of self-belief. And I believe I will finish writing it this year, which will be to the great relief of many who know this story as well and as in depth as I. It’s been four years in the making. Health, age, children at uni and GCSE ages, and a pandemic are my reasons (read as ‘excuses’) for not finishing it sooner. The thing is, I love the characters and what they will achieve. Katerina and Hannah are why I’ve remained faithful to the story.

Do you have a favourite library? What makes that library special? (Any cosy little reading nooks we should know about?)

I have two. The first is the library local to the area in which I live. It’s a small, but vital library, which we fought to keep some years ago, and it is still open. I met with the local writing group, Off The Cuff, every week, where we would be given a prompt, and write for twenty minutes. Brilliant people in that group. We’ve held author events there, too, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. The other library is Weymouth Library – a large building in town, with an active ‘Friends of the Library’ group, organising bookish events. I have a soft spot for the children’s section. It’s where I used to take my children when they were younger. My daughter, in particular, loved it there as much as I. Despite having a dad who is an IT Engineer and hence, home PCs, she enjoyed playing games on the library computer, specifically a Maisie Mouse game, but she showed visible joy at all the books at her disposal. She loves reading, and recently obtained her degree in Writing for Broadcasting, Media & Performance.

How does the Library Liaison Officer go about building relationships with libraries and helping to get more incredible romance novels on their shelves?

I was very fortunate that a husband of a member of the Dorset Chapter works for Wiltshire Libraries. This gentleman was instrumental in helping me make contact with various bodies who work with and support libraries. These bodies then sent out my details to libraries, and once they made contact with me, I was able to introduce myself as the LLO and explain my role. I asked the libraries what they needed from the New Release info I send out each month. I took on board their suggestions, and with Sheila Riley’s help, who initially collates the new releases information, I was able to produce a document I rather ostentatiously call a brochure. I send this out at the beginning of each month, along with news, such as the RNA Learning Opportunities, and a reminder I’m happy to connect the libraries with RNA members for interviews and panels.

The pandemic saw some great online events, and I understand the audience came from far and wide. I’m hoping libraries will continue to host virtual talks as well as return to in-person events.

You also work on the RNA Industry Awards. What’s the most exciting part of awards season for you?

I am in the thick of it as I write. The work starts in June, when the nomination form is open for submissions, and goes on until I climb into bed on the night of the Winter Party & Industry Awards celebration. There are so many aspects I enjoy – working with the Awards team, reading the nominations and the supporting statements, organising the trophies, feeling the positive buzz from those shortlisted, and meeting, greeting and chatting with RNA friends and industry professionals on the night. I adore the awards. I have new boots for the occasion.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Get involved as much as your health and time allow. Build relationships, join social media groups and chat with like-minded people; join a writing group, but make sure it’s the right group for you – what are you looking for? A group that will offer critiques or a group that loves to flex its writing muscle? Maybe a bit of both. If the group is supportive, then I’d say it’s worth giving it a go. There’s nothing quite like a group of writer friends to keep that energy high and the passion real. And keep going. Persevere.

What advice do you have for more established authors who want to build relationships with their local libraries?

Pop in to the library, say hello, introduce yourself and ask if they are open to hosting events with local authors. I’ve introduced myself at my local libraries (pre-pandemic), taken a copy of one of my books to leave with them, and offered to hold talks. Personally, I do not charge a fee if I’m involved in an event at a library, other than expenses if I’ve travelled far, but that is the choice of the individual. Some librarians dealt with me directly, others referred me to their ‘Friends’ group. (As in Friends of the Library … not just a random selection of mates. Although, to be fair, I’d hold a talk for them, too.)

If the thought of being alone in the spotlight unnerves you (I will stand on stage and sing to the house cat, so I’m not a great barometer here), ask your author friends if they’d join you, and suggest an author panel to the library.

If it’s too soon for in-person events, email your introduction to the library and ask if they are running virtual interviews and panels. Perhaps suggest a theme for your talk, such as Christmas, if you have a Christmas book due out.

And if you’d like your library to get in touch with me as the RNA Library Liaison Officer, to send them the monthly New Releases and be a point of contact for joint RNA & library events, please send them my email address: laurajames@romanticnovelistsassociation.org.

About Laura

Laura E James is married with two children and enjoys living in the inspirational county of Dorset, having spent her formative years in Watford.

A graduate of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme, Laura is the RNA’s Libraries Liaison Officer, and the Industry Awards Organiser. She is also a member of the online writing group, The Romaniacs (www.theromaniacs.co.uk), winners of the 2015 RNA Industry Media Stars Award.

Truth or Dare?, Laura’s debut novel, was shortlisted for the 2014 Joan Hessayon New Writers’ Award and the Festival of Romance Best Ebook award. Her first paperback, Follow Me Follow You, was a Lovereading editorial choice, and What Doesn’t Kill You, the third in her Chesil Series, spearheaded the publisher’s Dark imprint.

Laura’s short story “Bitter Sweet” appears in the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s anthology, Truly, Madly, Deeply.

Website: lauraejames.co.uk

Laura was talking to Victoria Chatfield.

Victoria Chatfield originally hails from New York where she worked as a social media manager in the fashion industry. While she started out as a ghostwriter for magazine editors, she’s now a member of the NWS, writing romantic suspense and psychological thrillers. (She loves the really bad boys.) Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @vavazquezwrites.

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