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Proud, passionate and wilful, Hettie and Alexander are alike in so many ways. That has to be a good thing, doesn’t it? Or it could be a disaster…both carry scars, and old wounds have a habit of causing new hurt.
Physical attraction draws them together but hearts and minds can be thorny. One thing is certain, together or apart their lives will move on. Alexander and Hettie’s clashes of spirit will only be part of the story.
Second chances. New beginnings. The opportunity to make things right. Or to make the same mistakes all over again.

Unless fate takes the future out of your hands…

Farmer by Day, Author by Night

Farmer by Day, Author by Night

My family farms 735 acres of arable land in North Essex. This isn’t the TOWIE incarnation of Essex that you see on the telly. It must be an hour’s journey to the nearest chic nightclub (farther if you measure in cultural miles). The pub is a goodly hike and you couldn’t throw a stone to strike the nearest retail outlet, not even if you had olympian capabilities and hurled in the direction the crow flies. This is rural Essex, agricultural Essex. It’s picturesque, and it’s home. In my part of the county, there are country lanes and ancient hamlets, Tudor farmhouses, feather-edged barns and land which unfurls with a lack of drama that is soft on the eye.North EssexI’m romanticising, of course, because that’s what I do when I’m not on a tractor or up to my elbows in nutrient-rich soil (read mud). I write rustic romance. I’m a rural authoress.

I’d like to call it a farm diversification but that wouldn’t be honest. A diversion from farming would be closer to the truth and I fear the husband and son might often have cause to wish I was less, er, diverted. But the writing has grown out of the land that raised me and a childhood which taught me to love the outdoors through the turning seasons and petulant weather. It’s inspired by friendships forged in drafty sheds; by harvest, family dogs, autumn bonfires and cider-fuelled, amorous escapades.bonfireI’m no longer youthful, but when my cheeks are wind-stung and the feet are numb, I’ve still got a romantic world to escape to. It might be winter in Draymere too, there may be mud or even snow, but the characters warm the story (and me) with a wealth of diverting antics. My mind can romp alongside them for hours. Be it out in the fields, on a dog walk or while I’m cooking the dinner, you’ll probably find me at Draymere. I’m seldom present in everyday life.

That’s escapism for you.

I blame Jilly Cooper. She introduced me to the possibilities of jodhpur-clad heroines’ who kicked off their wellies instead of slipping out of stilettoes. And that, my friends, was something of a hallelujah moment, back in the day when I lived in jodhpurs and rarely stepped out in anything other than waterproof boots.WelliesBe it town, village or farm, we all fall in love, and we’ve all experienced passion, heartbreak and unwise attraction. The emotions play out no matter where in the world you live.  But I write it rural, earthy and rustic.

The books are raunchy; I should warn you of that. But, hey, it’s nothing that nature isn’t doing outside my window as I type and, trust me, the countryside is as sexy as hell.

Not convinced? Just spend a weekend at Draymere…

draymerehall (1)  A Bed of Barley Straw Cover RADIANT MEDIUM WEB  A Bed of Brambles Cover MEDIUM WEB

Rustic Guest Julie Stock -Vines, Wine and Romance

Rustic Guest Julie Stock -Vines, Wine and Romance

dscn8886I’m chatting to Julie Stock in the farmhouse kitchen today and, given the theme of Julie’s post (and of her new novel The Vineyard in Alsace) we thought it only proper to forgo tea and biscuits in favour of a nice glass of vino.

Julie and I met through the Alliance of Independent Authors and we’ve been in touch throughout our self-publishing journey, with our paths following uncannily similar routes. I’m chuffed to have Julie with me today.

Can I tempt you to a glass…?


Vines, Wine and Romance

I have lived with my husband and family in Bedfordshire for nearly thirty years now, having moved out here from London shortly after finishing university. I grew up in a big new town (Slough, for my sins!) so I’d never really experienced rural life much before then. I remember finding it so difficult to get to sleep when we first moved because it was so quiet and I was used to lots of noise. Now, the peace and quiet (most of the time) is one of the things I love most about the countryside.

Once I was made redundant from my London job, I started work at The Wine Society in Stevenage and I started learning about wine and winemaking (There might have been a bit of wine tasting involved too!) I was also lucky enough to go on a trip around France with one of our wine buyers to see how he went about choosing wines to sell in the UK. I found the whole process of growing grapes magical and in my dreams, I wondered if I might one day buy my own vineyard and grow grapes too. Now I am older and a bit wiser, I know just how hard a job this is – a year-round job, in fact, like any agricultural industry, and something I’m not sure I’m cut out for.

Interestingly, Bedfordshire has its own vineyard near Old Warden. Warden Abbey has planted vines on its site since medieval times when Cistercian monks tended the fields. Today, the vineyard operates as a not-for-profit venture, offering a unique community and educational resource – and the tradition of making medal winning wines continues. Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity works with other local charities, organisations and local schools to offer social and therapeutic horticulture, learning and skills development, help for people into employment or voluntary work, a range of volunteering opportunities for local people and community groups, and a great chance to be involved from vine to wine, as well as wildlife and heritage projects. We have visited the vineyard on a number of occasions and it never ceases to amaze me just how tirelessly they work, against the elements most of the time, to produce wines in our very fickle climate.

My latest romance novel is set on a vineyard in Alsace in France and takes place against the backdrop of the harvest. I did lots of research of course to add to the knowledge I already have of what really happens during a harvest, and it convinced me that no matter how romantic it all sounds, it really is hard work. Most of us have no idea of the amount of back-breaking work that goes into making our delicious glass of wine, or any other product of course.

When we moved out here all those years ago, I had no idea of course that I would work in the wine industry, nor that one day, I would write a romance novel set on a vineyard, let alone have a vineyard on my doorstep. I now work part-time for a local charity myself and my daily drive through the countryside, passing those vineyards is one of my greatest pleasures.


Julie Stock is an independent author of romance novels, novellas and short stories. She has just published her second novel, ‘The Vineyard in Alsace’ which is available on Amazon.

She is a proud member of The Romantic Novelists’ Association. She blogs regularly about her self-publishing journey on her website, ‘My Writing Life.’ You can also connect with her on Twitter and via her Facebook Author page.

The Vinyard in AlsaceIs there really such a thing as a second chance at love?

Fran Schell has only just become engaged when she finds her fiancé in bed with another woman. She knows this is the push she needs to break free of him and to leave London. She applies for her dream job on a vineyard in Alsace, in France, not far from her family home, determined to concentrate on her work.

Didier Le Roy can hardly believe it when he sees that the only person to apply for the job on his vineyard is the same woman he once loved but let go because of his stupid pride. Now estranged from his wife, he longs for a second chance with Fran if only she will forgive him for not following her to London.

Working so closely together, Fran soon starts to fall in love with Didier all over again. Didier knows that it is now time for him to move on with his divorce if he and Fran are ever to have a future together. Can Fran and Didier make their second chance at love work despite all the obstacles in their way?

The Vineyard in Alsace is a contemporary romance set against the enticing backdrop of the vineyard harvest in Alsace in France.

I’m no cover designer, but I might give it a shot…

I’m no cover designer, but I might give it a shot…

With Volume II of my Draymere Hall Series published, and the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) *Select enrollment period on Volume I about to end, I’ve decided to experiment with a two-book box-set (this is despite the preconceived wisdom on blogs I follow that box-sets should consist of three or more books!)

The box-set will consist of both ebooks. It was pain-free and straightforward combining the two volumes (which have already been edited, proofread and formatted, of course) into one great big document (200,200 words! I impressed myself with the weight of my saga).

Selling them as a pair feels like a no-brainer, giving readers the chance to buy both books for slightly less than the cost of buying them separately (if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about marketing, it’s that everyone loves a bargain) and at no additional cost to me.

Ah, but I will need a cover for my box-set.

The beautiful covers for my books were created by Jane Dixon-Smith of JD Smith Designs. She did a wonderful job and I love them (plus, I got some of those zany  3D images to show off.)

But this stops being an experiment if it costs me more money. I’d like to know that a box set will sell first. Which means I’m going it alone, and I’m no cover designer.

My first port of call was KDP, Amazon’s self-publishing platform, which has its own ‘Cover Creator’ (with guidelines to assist). It’s simple to navigate. You can upload your own images or use one of their backgrounds, and there are options to change colours, layout and font. But the choices are limited and mine were limited further by the amount of text I needed on the front cover to make it clear that this was a box-set and to name the separate titles (my titles are quite long!) I didn’t love any of their fonts or backgrounds and I couldn’t control the alignment of wording (or vary the font colour) within their layout parameters.

I’m trying to convey rural setting, romance and passion, and catch the eye of readers. This was my best effort on KDP’s Cover Creator. (The background image was downloaded from Pixabay for the voluntary price of a cup of coffee.)

box set DIGITAL_BOOK_THUMBNAIL

I don’t like it. It doesn’t catch the eye, it doesn’t shout ROMANCE and you can’t read the white font on the pink sky background. But the biggest snag is that this cover would only function on Kindle, so alternative platforms would have a different cover, which I’d still have to make.

So I hopped over to Canva (tagline: Amazingly simple graphic design software!) and their ebook cover template. You could play forever on Canva, adding your own images and superimposing other pictures on top of the background, but I’m not clever enough. I made a right dog’s dinner of my efforts.

Luckily there are multiple, pre-designed ‘Canva Layouts’, so I selected them, because I’m not a designer, and I’d worked out by now that real designers are better than me at pairing up fonts with layouts and backgrounds. Snag number two is that whilst some of the layouts are free, all the ones that caught my eye cost money. Not much money, true, but then none of them were perfect either. So I changed my remit to something simple which just tells you what’s in the box(set).

draymere HallVolumes I & II

Yuk, right? And remember that when you’re looking at these on Amazon or other sales platforms the image might be even smaller. Ask yourself, would you bother buying that?

I may go back to Canva, when I’ve come to terms with the fact that spending a little money could be essential and, with that thought in mind, I headed over to The Book Cover Designer to find out what premade covers are going for.

There are benefits to buying a premade cover. Obviously, it’s cheaper than using your own designer, there are options for paperbacks as well as ebooks, the designs are one-offs (so there won’t be another book appearing with the same cover, which is a risk with KDP and Canva) and some of the designers include extras like 3D images or a choice of alternative fonts. You can search for covers by genre. Those I looked at under the romance tag ranged in price from $29 (£25) to $200 (£165). Needless to say, the one I liked was $200. I jumped off there quick-smart before I could be tempted.

I haven’t designed my cover yet, but I have worked out that I’m both fussy and tight-fisted.  For a little more effort (and possibly investment) in Canva, or more specific images I might find the solution I’m looking for. Pixabay couldn’t help with my search for red-headed heroines or English manor houses. Shutterstock had some images which piqued my interest…

… but they wanted £32, for five downloads, and I only need one picture (and the skills to turn in into a cover would be handy).

This is why cover designers are worth their money, but I haven’t given up. Back to the drawing board for me. All suggestions welcomed!

*enrollment in KDP Select grants Kindle exclusive sales of the enrolled ebook. I would therefore be unable to sell the box-set on other platforms whilst volume I was enrolled in the Select programme, and unable to enrol the box-set in the Select programme whilst Volume II is available on other platforms. Yes, it is confusing!