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PrintWe are super-excited to reveal the cover for Snowdrops at the Star and Sixpence – the very first novella in a series from a new writer to our Digital Originals list, Holly Hepburn.

Set in a dilapidated pub which nestles on the edges of an idyllic village green, the novel follows the story of Nessie and Sam, sisters who have unexpectedly inherited the pub on their father’s death.  But village life is not all it’s cracked up to be – the postmistress and village gossip has set against the girls and is determined to take the rest of the villagers her way.  And the sisters have a job on their hands getting the pub back up and running in time for Christmas, and the traditional village New Year’s Eve shebang. Luckily there is some distraction on hand in the form of sexy village blacksmith, Owen, so maybe things aren’t so bad after all…

This is the first of a series, with more stories set at The Star and Sixpence to follow, so pull up a chair by the fire, grab a drink, and get ready to fall in love with village life…

‘A fresh new voice, brings wit and warmth to this charming tale of two sisters’ Rowan Coleman

‘You’ll fall in love with this fantastic new series from a new star of women’s fiction, Holly Hepburn. Filled to the brim with captivating characters and fantastic storylines in a gorgeous setting, Snowdrops at The Star and Sixpence is simply wonderful. I want to read more!’ Miranda Dickinson

‘The Star and Sixpence sparkles with fun, romance, mystery, and a hunky blacksmith. It’s a real delight’ Julie Cohen

‘Warm, witty and laced with intriguing secrets! I want to pull up a bar stool, order a large G&T and soak up all the gossip at the Star and Sixpence!’ Cathy Bramley

‘A super sparkling star of a story and I can’t wait for part two’ Alexandra Brown

‘Like the dream pub landlady who always knows exactly what you want, Holly Hepburn has created the most delightful welcome to what promises to be a brilliant series, in the first Star and Sixpence. The sisters who inherit a tired local and must bring it back to life are warm and intriguing, the neighbours are (mostly!) friendly and the gossip is utterly addictive. I was very sad when it was time for last orders, and am already looking forward to the next round. Especially if a certain blacksmith happens to be at the bar…’ Kate Harrison


Santangelo cover photocroppedIt is with huge sadness that we share the news of the death of Jackie Collins, adored author and friend. We are incredibly proud to be Jackie’s publisher in the UK and Australia.

Jackie was, by any measurement, truly one of a kind. Her personality, her pioneering spirit and over thirty novels have given endless joy to readers worldwide. She will be sorely missed, and our thoughts are very much with her family.

Ian Chapman - CEO and Publisher, Simon & Schuster UK

A world without Jackie – and a world without Lucky Santangelo – is somehow unimaginable. Jackie’s characters may have been larger than life but they were always true to life. Jackie was a wonderful author to work with, so professional, astute, kind, loving, and passionate about her writing and her readers. She set the bar high in every way.

Suzanne Baboneau - Jackie’s editor

Thank you to our friends at Grosvenor House Hotel who kindly audio recorded the Jackie Collins Literati event on 8th September 2015 – Jackie’s last public appearance.  Do have a listen.  As you would imagine, she was warm, wise and witty.  Everyone here at Books and the City is devastated by her loss. We will miss her every day.


Jo Dickinson (Publishing Director, Fiction) has a BIG announcement.  Big… huge!

Jo-DickinsonI love a list. In our quick-fire, non-stop world, having a ‘to do’ list on the go at all times makes me feel just a little more in control. And near the top of my list for a while has been: commission a book for the fab BATC #DigitalOriginals list. We all know that BookMinx and the rest of her team are the best in the business, I want to be in their gang. And whaddya know, thanks to the brilliant Penny Parkes and her debut novel Out of Practice, I’ve only gone and done it! High fives all round.

Out of Practice is for all readers who like funny, heartfelt, warm novels with a brilliant cast of characters – that’s most of us then! Meet married mum of two and successful GP Holly Graham as she relocates her family to join the team at The Practice at Beckerford, hoping to find the peaceful life she craves, despite the chaos that comes with her two year old twins and the troublesome state of her marriage.  It will certainly be a challenge to keep her private and professional lives separate in such a tight-knit community.

Her colleagues have their own issues to contend with. The gorgeous Dr Dan Carter is struggling to focus on work and the last thing he needs is any more stress; having his ambitious ex-girlfriend Dr Julia Channing working alongside him isn’t really helping. Thankfully, the rather delectable Dr Taffy Jones is on hand to distract Holly from the escalating situation at home. Meanwhile feisty octogenarian and resident celebrity, Elsie Townsend, is Holly’s favourite patient and saving grace.  Elsie’s inspirational ‘Life Lessons’ come at the perfect moment, as The Practice is suddenly under threat of imminent closure and Holly rediscovers her voice and her priorities just in time …

Penny will be out and about to promote, revealing the cover (soon!) and generally making people laugh – follow her on twitter @CotswoldPenny to find out what she’s up to. We are very excited indeed to publish this book and can’t wait to tell you more about our plans as we head towards publication in summer 2016.

And I can put a satisfying tick in one box of my ‘to-do’ list. Next challenge: climb Everest or learn to fly a plane ….

DigitalOriginals #oneday OPEN SUBMISSION DAY!

Digital Originals Font (4)

Well, there you go.  Our ‘for #oneday only’ chance to submit the first fifty pages/first three chapters of your Commercial Women’s Fiction manuscript as part of our #digitaloriginals publishing programme has now closed for another year!

Thank you so much to everyone who took the time to send us their WIP.  We are aiming to respond to everyone who submitted within 60 days, and will provide feedback where we can.

If we are interested in seeing more – we will get back to you within the next 6 weeks, at which time we will be asking you to send us your complete novel (around 80,000 – 100,000 words, as a word document (or equivalent) double spaced) – so now is the time to get out that red pen, and make any last minute changes you think the manuscript needs…

Right.  I’m off.  These chapters won’t read themselves now, will they!  If you want me, I’ll be face down in half a forest….

How DID I get here? – PART THREE – Sara-Jade Virtue

You know those highlights that stick in your mind, long after the moment has passed?  The Big Deal things?  A marriage perhaps?  A birth?  Finding the perfect pair of shoes, in the sale… in your size.  Laughing about NOTHING, with your mates, till you pee your pants.

11230906_837172589690832_2308859905906851423_nI have a whole library of these types of things from my days at Waterstones.  Up there in the mind bank.  Amazing, incredibly, fantastic moments like meeting President Bill Clinton… and his team of Secret Service men.  Working the midnight opening party at Oxford Street for the launch of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and being in charge of the actual sorting hat!  Breakfast with Gillian McKeith. Lunch with Jenny Colgan.  Dinner with Janet Street Porter.  Cocktails with Big Brother 6.  Going to the Nibbies (British Book Awards).  Special events with heroines like Marian Keyes.  And Lisa Jewell.  And Bernie Strachan.  And Cecelia Ahern.  And Louise Candlish.  And Jackie Collins. And Sophie Kinsella.  All up there… all on a replaying loop of gloriousness.10917429_837163236358434_5565178574587475187_n

And then there are the other things.  The littler, but just as marvellous things.  Boxes and boxes of Galaxy chocolate turning up – and I have absolutely no idea why.  Incredible restaurants and bars.  Boat trips.  Theatre trips.  Parties galore.  Learning about books.  How they are written.  How they are published.  How they are sold.  Meeting readers and customers.  Meeting authors and celebrities.  Scoffing ‘family’ packs of chocolate éclairs under the desk to avoid sharing.  And the book themselves.  Don’t let’s forget the books…  four fabulously happy, happy years immersed in the world of books.

Next time: I’ve been head shrunk… by Vogue!

How DID I get here? – PART TWO – Sara-Jade Virtue

So.  I was IN.  In Product.  And I didn’t have a scooby doo what I was doing!  Luckily a team of cracking chaps (Rodney, Peter, Gabrielle, SuzieJenny and Scott  – I’m looking right at YOU) explained, patiently, over and over again how Product Buying at the head office of the UK’s largest book chain worked – all the in’s and the vast amount of out’s.  Visual planograms.  The infamous Front of Store Checklist.  Core Range grading.  Promotional Marketing Agreements.  The Weekly Product Bulletin.  The weekly sales reports for our Publishing chums… the list of tasks I was responsible for went on.  And on and on.  The particular needs of our Academic stores.  The specialist teams that looked after children’s books.  And the different genres within non-fiction.  And Fiction.  Ah, fiction… of course cookery books and kids picture books and everything else in between are fabulous, FABULOUS I tell you, but with fiction I knew I had found my spiritual home….

So whilst beavering away at the Day Job, I set about ingratiating myself with the Publishing Houses behind the authors I loved the very most – Jackie Collins, Lisa Jewell,  Chris Manby, Adele Parks, Bernadette Strachan,  Josie Lloyd & Emlyn Rees, Marian Keyes, Catherine Alliott, Freya North, Jennifer Weiner, Cecelia Ahern,  Harriet Evans, Jenny Colgan, Jane Green, Katie Fforde,  Louise Bagshawe, Mike Gayle,  Penny Vincenzi, Sophie Kinsella, Veronica Henry… the list was many and magnificent!

And internally, I worked hard to push the wonder, the importance, the fabulousness of my favourite genre (commercial, mass market, women’s fiction, chick lit – call it what you will) higher up the To Do Lists of the key decision makers in the business – those who could Let Me Make Stuff Happen.

And slowly, slowly catchy monkey, I was given the green light to kick off my Big Fat Strategy Plan that included increasing our core stock range of a Hit List of over 300 titles, launching a Reading Group made up of other fans of women’s fiction who worked within the business, building a community on Waterstones.com (we even had a logo!), asking Marian Keyes to select HER favourite women’s fiction and then rolling out the entire list as a price promoted Shelf Offer across the entire estate, asking publishers for exclusive competitions and content and samplers and previews and interviews…..

And then, my hold-your-breath moment in the sun.  My first ever estate wide Offer of the Week.  We were going to go hard (or go home) on the film-tie in edition of The Devil Wears Prada.  A HUGE order.  Advertising in Heat, Hello and Closer.  In store POS.  All the bells and even more of the whistles.  And I crossed my fingers and toes… and you know what?  It was our best selling Offer of the Week.  EVER.

Next time:  Chocolate Éclairs and the Nibbies.



How DID I get here? - PART ONE – Sara-Jade Virtue

Welcome to a brand new feature from @TeamBATC!  If you’ve ever wondered exactly what we do, other than drink cocktails, eat cupcakes and read, READ, READ, and how we came to be where we are – read on!  First up, me…..


This year marks my 30th as a member of the full-time 9-5 treadmill, and my 13th in a profession that, if I’m honest, I didn’t really even know existed till I rocked up with my brand new squeaky shoes and Woolworths pencil case at Waterstones Head Office in 2002 to begin my brand new job as Office Services Manager.

Looking after the envelopes, managing reception, ordering the loo roll etc wasn’t, if I’m honest, my dream job, but as an ex Waitress, ex Cocktail Bar Manager, ex Client Servicing Manager, ex Editor, ex PA, ex Customer Relations Officer, ex  Human Resources Exec, and ex Estate Agent, if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that with a modicum of street smarts, adaptability, and downright blagging, most people can turn their hand to most jobs and get away with it…

So, there I was, with my new pencils, squeaky shoes, and three floors of bright, clever, terrifyingly well-educated literary types all beavering away with just one thing on their minds – BOOKS.  Teams of people planning and designing and maintaining shops.  Hordes of creative types sketching out the images for POS (point of sale) material – the posters and headers and shelf talkers – and adverts and marketing campaigns.  A whole floor of bean counters working out how much everything costs.  PR teams.  HR teams.  IT teams.  The Board. And then a floor of chaps called Product, surrounded by (and swimming in) shelf upon shelf, row upon row, pile upon pile, of books.  And I was hooked.  Led by a notorious fellow called Scott Pack – Product Buying was where the magic happened.  

20 incredible people who chose the books that were put on the shelves of the Waterstones stores up and down the country.  The books in the window, on the tables at the front, the books ‘spine out’ at the back, and everything in between.   And these people were called Buyers.   And that’s exactly what they did.  They bought all the books that ended up on the shelves from the hundreds of publishers that would come into Head Office, with their little wheelie cases, and huge AI (advance information) kits and SOLD the books to Waterstones.  And I had no idea that this was a thing.  No idea at all.

So through a combination of badgering, tea making, harassing, lemon drizzle cake making, hassling, begging and pestering, I managed to wangle my way into the team as starting-from-the-bottom Buying Administrator and embarked on two of the most fulfilling, fascinating, hilarious years  of my life….

Next time:  Publishing Schmoozing, Hello magazine and the Chick Lit Forum…


020February 12th 2015 was the eBook publication day of our first ever #digitaloriginals novel – the brilliant The Two of Us by Andy Jones!  Obviously we had to celebrate, so in typical @TeamBATC style we headed down to our friends Bea’s of Bloomsbury with 100 red balloons (if you’ve read the book already, you’ll know why!), 100 FREE eBook download codes from the lovely chaps over at Kobo, and a tray of 100 special Valentine cupcakes….


Thank you to everyone who came down to celebrate with us, and if you haven’t already bought a copy of this wonderful, heartbreaking and emotional story about Fisher & Ivy – love, life and everything in between, you really, really should


masterclassOn Saturday 15th November 2015 we held our very first (but hopefully not our last!) Creative Writing Masterclass here at Books and the City HQ, aimed specifically at writers of commercial women’s fiction.  The day was split into two, with morning one-to-one sessions with editors Jo Dickinson and Clare Hey and afternoon panels for a wider audience with uber literary agent Lizzy Kremer, bestselling author Milly JohnsonPeter Saxton (Publisher Liaison Manager at Waterstones Head Office), Isabelle Broom (Book Reviewer at Heat Magazine) and Lindsey Mooney (Content Lead UK & Ireland  from Kobo).

We all had a fabulous time, our Panel Sessions were brilliant – with some cracking hints, tips and advice from the very best in the business, all topped off with fizz and cake at the end of the day.  Perfect.  Here are just a few of my favourite snaps from the day…





As a very special treat, our VIP Guest Milly Johnson has kindly jotted down her Top 20 Tips for aspiring authors…

  1. Don’t procrastinate.  Dive into that book and make a start on it.  Feel the fear and do it. The first 2000 words of a book are easy, the next 98,000 are harder but every word you write is one nearer to that 100,000 target.
  2. It doesn’t matter what routine you have writing a book; just make sure you have one. Find a system that works for you.  There is no right or wrong way.
  3. Every chapter should progress a plot.  There should be no ‘treading water’ just to make up the word count.
  4. Never start your book with a description – your reader will be comatose before line 10.
  5. Regional dialect can be really annoying.  If you need to use it, sprinkle odd words through the dialogue as if you are seasoning a soup with sage.  You don’t need much of it to know it’s there.
  6. Beware of sloppy research.  If you don’t know something find it out and don’t guess it – you will alienate readers.
  7. If you don’t respect your writing time, no one else will.  If you are working, your friends and family should treat you as if you are in an external office. Get them used to thinking like that.
  8. Make sure that when you are writing dialogue, your characters listen to each other and react to what is being said as they would in real life.
  9. Always carry a notepad to record interesting words or plots or thoughts or observations.  Memories are unreliable and distort.
  10. Writer’s block?  Don’t do a crossword or listen to your iPad or anything that engages your brain.  Do some ironing, go for a walk – something that frees up your brain and lets it roam, not occupies it.
  11. Read.  Always have time to read.  Read for pleasure and sometimes read analytically.  You’ll pick up so much vocabulary and style without even noticing.
  12. Beware that sometimes characters develop a mind of their own and however much you try to write them doing something, they rebel and say ‘I wouldn’t do this.’  It sounds bonkers but it happens.  Listen to the monsters you have created.
  13. Sometimes big chunks of your work has to be cut out because it doesn’t fit anymore. Better that than have to force it to fit because it won’t read right.  Nothing is ever wasted when you’re a writer – it will come in elsewhere.  The phrase is called ‘Killing your darlings.’
  14. Write what you want to write and not what you think will sell.  Chances are if a new craze comes along, by the time your book is done, the hype will have died down about it.  And don’t pander to foreign markets either by doing things like forcing a transatlantic romance when your heart isn’t really in it.  If you’re bored writing, it reads that way. If your home market sales are strong, that is the best way for the foreign markets to show interest. They like success stories.
  15. If you are writing to an agent – keep your introductory letter relevant.  If you won a regional prize for writing – that’s relevant.  Telling an agent that you are a middle-aged housewife who loves doing jigsaws is not.  Don’t even bother saying that you want a book deal more than you want to breathe – that’s always taken as standard.
  16. And if you read that an agent should be initially approached with an introductory letter, don’t send them a full manuscript.  They won’t think you are an admirable maverick, they’ll think you’re an arrogant idiot who can’t follow a simple instruction!
  17. Try to make your book fit nicely into a genre box for marketing purposes.  A woman who travels through time and has an Edwardian vampire lover whom she accidentally murders with a poisonous mushroom stroganoff… well is that sci-fi, romance, crime, historical or romcom?  That will cause everyone a headache, from the booksellers trying to place it on a shelf to the people trying to find it in shops.
  18. If you get a publishing deal, network network network.  Join the RNA, meet other authors, tweet, facebook – get your name out there.  Write articles for the local newspaper for free (you have to do everything for free in the beginning).  Get in touch with local WI people – they are always looking for speakers.  They pay you, feed you scones and buy your books – and spread the word to other WIs.
  19. If you are published, register as soon as you know what your ISBN number is for PLR, Irish PLR and ALCS (authors licensing and collecting service).  It can be a nice chunk of bonus money arriving in your bank account every year.
  20. Do not go into this job expecting to be an overnight success.  It is very hard work, mad, underpaid for years and you are always under pressure to be better than your last book.  And if you thrive on that kind of challenge – you’ll never want to do anything else because this is the best job in the world.
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Notes from the Cotswolds Part II – Gluten-Free Writing!
2015/09/25  |  Features  |  Comments are off

Anyone who follows me on Twitter (@CotswoldPenny) will know that I have something of an obsession for finding tasty meals that also happen to be Gluten Free.  It’s a time-consuming way to live, reading every label and planning meals in advance.  It also means that I spend far more time …