Liz Harris

Author of contemporary and historical fiction

…by your readers you’ll be taught.

In my blog last Wednesday, I asked readers what sort of things they like to hear when they go to a talk given by an author.

Two things stand out very clearly – both readers and writers are interested in the source of a writer’s inspiration, and in the process whereby the story and writer come together.

That would be an easy thing for me to talk about. My inspiration for The Road Back came from the album that my uncle compiled when he visited Ladkah in the mid 1940s, during the time that he was stationed with the army in North India. In my first blog for Choc Lit’s Author’s Corner, I told how two years ago the album came to be in my possession for a couple of weeks, and I read the album from cover to cover. This gave me the inspiration for my novel. If you’d like to read about this, click here.

A page from the album compiled by my uncle after his visit to Ladakh

But they are also interested in the author as a person, and in the author’s background, and in what makes them tick. Anita added: ‘I also find it interesting to know what a writer did before writing – and whether their career has influenced the way they write or what they write about.’

That made me sit up and think. I used to teach in a secondary school. Had this part of my background, or any other part of it, influenced my writing, I wondered.

I’m sure it has in ways that I haven’t yet realised – this is something I shall be thinking about in the future – but there are some immediately obvious ways in which my background has influenced my work.

It’s comforting/safe to root a novel in a world that you know about, so there’s an attraction in setting at least part of the book in a familiar location. I’ve set a mainstream novel – yet to be published – in a secondary school. In The Road Back, Patricia, the central character, was born and brought up near Belsize Park. So was I. My People’s Friend Pocket Novel, A Dangerous Heart, is set on the outskirts of Montefalco, in Umbria. I regularly go to Umbria. A light rom com that I’ve written, Evie on the Job, is also set in Umbria.

The cobbled street leading up to the central piazza in Montefalco

My novels reflect my interests. I taught French, studied Anglo-Saxon at university as part of my English degree, taught myself German and I’m now learning Italian. In other words, I’m interested in language, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning Ladakhi words and phrases for The Road Back, and using Italian words and phrases in both A Dangerous Heart and Evie on the Job. The meaning of any foreign words is made very clear in the body of the text, I hasten to add. You won’t need a language dictionary at your side!

Carved stone tablets, each with the inscription "Om Mani Padme Hum" along the paths of Zangskar. Courtesy of Wikipedia

In a way, my background and interests are also reflected in the themes I seem to be drawn to. For example, manipulation through words. I love words – I love the Daily Telegraph cryptic crosswords and Scrabble, and I love the theatre, where words are seen in dramatic action.

A few of the recent plays I've seen

I have to thank my mother for this interest. She used to be an actress, and she started reading Shakespeare with me when I was eight. She and I, enthusiastic participants, took the key parts; my father and sister, participating under duress, were allowed to read third gardener, fourth steward.

When I looked back at the novels and novellas I’d written, I was quite surprised to discover that verbal manipulation occurred to some degree in them all. It is most definitely there in my novel set in a school – it pervades the story. It’s also there in both Evie on the Job and in A Dangerous Heart, and to a lesser extent in The Road Back.

So, yes; my background has influenced my novels because, as with other authors, I’ve tended to start from the world that I know.

Belsize Park is one of eight London Underground stations which have deep-level air-raid shelters underneath them. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

But that doesn’t mean that I’ve stayed there. I haven’t stopped at the known – I’ve moved from it into the unknown. For example, I took Patricia from Belsize Park to Ladakh in The Road Back. Moving into the unknown, however, is a different topic, and it must wait for another day.

Bye for now!




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Dear Readers, what do you want …

… to be told when you go to a talk given by an author?

I can hear you!! And I agree – this sounds a fairly silly question. But let me explain why I’m asking.

Last week, I went to an extremely interesting talk held in Abingdon Library. It had been arranged by Abingdon Writers with the help of Mostly Books. The author, Ali Shaw, was speaking about his two books, The Girl with Glass Feet and The Man who Rained, to an audience that included a large number of readers, as opposed to an audience of solely writers.

The entrance to Abingdon Library, courtesy of Abingdon Library

I realised the significance of the strong reader element when Ali, a literary writer, stated that there was no such thing as genre. As soon as he’d said that, I’d expected hands to fly up and his remark to be challenged by those keen to assert that genre certainly existed in commercial fiction. But not a hand was raised. All around me, people continued to listen with interest.

It hit me at that moment that readers didn’t care about the ins and outs of the publishing industry, about genre and literary definitions – they cared about the finished book, and that was what they wanted to hear about.

Over the past seven years, I’ve been to so many workshops, author talks, writing groups, that I’d rather lost sight of the fact that there were people who wanted to be transported into the world of the fiction, and left there in peace.

My novel, The Road Back, falls into the category of commercial historical fiction. It is, therefore, a very different sort of book from Ali’s, whose works are lyrical, modern-day fables, and any talk I give will ineviably be different from Ali’s so I can’t look to his structure for guidance.

I’ve just seen the programme for the Historical Novel Society Conference 2012, which is to be held at the end of September at the University of Westminster, London, and it looks as though I shall be giving a talk/workshop there. It is important to me that I get it right, and this reminder about remembering the composition of your audience when preparing a talk couldn’t have come at a better time.

So, Dear Readers ( and Dear Writers, too), perhaps you would help me. When you go to hear a talk given by an author, what sort of things do you like to be told?

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A Dangerous Heart. Yes, what else?

It’s impossible to describe the feeling when you see for the first time your name on the cover of a published book. It’s a FANTASTIC moment! I wish such a moment on everyone who’s working on what they hope will be their first publication – it’s something well worth waiting for.

Here’s the first glimpse I had of my People’s Friend Pocket Novel, A Dangerous Heart, in a shop in Oxford last week.

My first glimpse of my book - a moment of (qualified) excitement

You’re spot on – there’s something missing. Two things to be precise – the title and my name.

It called for an instant tweak or three.

Aha! Unqualified excitement!

Can you spot the differences? You’re right, that’s much better.

Seeing the book on the shelf, with the title and my name visible, was amazing, but the very best moment of them all – well, that was seeing my book in a reader’s hand, which is where a book should be. It just so happened that when I joined my friend, Heather, for coffee, she was reading A Dangerous Heart. Would you believe it?? And it just so happened that I had a camera in my hand…

Heather, engrossed in my Pocket Novel, totally unaware of the camera

My first Publication Day was a wonderful experience, and it was made that way because I was able to share it with my friends – my friends in real time, on twitter and on Facebook. Thank you, all of you.

Bye for now!

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Advice, please!

This is a plea for advice about vocabulary to use when writing novels set in the past.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been pulled up three times about words I’ve used in my current work in progress, A Bargain Struck. Two of the criticisms are correct, I’m sure, but one I’m not so certain about – and that’s where I need your help.

The first of the three criticisms came from the Oxford Writers’ Group. When I read to the group the opening page of A Bargain Struck, which is set in 1891, in Wyoming, I had written that Ellen was wearing a ‘poke bonnet‘. They said that ‘poke bonnet‘ was unfamiliar to readers today and would pull the reader out of the story, and they advised me to say just ‘bonnet’, especially as my mention of ribbons immediately afterwards made it very clear what a poke bonnet was. I took their advice and deleted ‘poke‘.

A poke bonnet

The second criticism came from my Friend in the North, who reads every word that I write. She’s a brilliant reader to have because she always tells me the truth. I had written that the homestead was surrounded by a ‘buck fence‘. This is a triangular style of fencing that is still found throughout Wyoming. She criticised the use of ‘buck‘ for the same reason that the OWG had queried ‘poke‘. So again I took the advice I’d been given and deleted ‘buck‘.

a buck fence, a style of fence that is common in Wyoming

A few chapters later, my FITN questioned the fact that I’d written that Ellen made ‘bean porridge‘ for lunch. She felt that the use of  ‘porridge‘ conjured up images of Quaker Oats, and that I’d be better substituting ‘porridge‘ with ‘stew’. Now, I’m not sure about this.

Bean porridge isn’t a stew – it’s more like a porridge in consistency than a stew and it cooks in less time.  It’s very similar to something eaten widely today in the Midwestern US – cornmeal mush, a kind of corn pudding, or porridge, which is often eaten with maple syrup.

cornmeal mush, popular today in the Midwest

Poke‘ and ‘buck‘ both described something, so could be deleted without any change in meaning, but ‘porridge‘ is the thing itself, and given the circumstances in which my characters found themselves, they are more likely to have had a porridge than a stew.

However, it doesn’t matter at all in terms of the story which they had – it’s just a period detail.

This is a dilemma  that I’m likely to encounter frequently as I write the novel so I’d be very grateful for your advice. Should I stick with ‘bean porridge‘ or should I change it to ‘stew‘?

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The Ox Lunch

Multi published author and mentor to aspiring writers, Anita Burgh is a stalwart of the Ox Lunch.

It’s early days in the life of this blog, and in a way I’m still introducing myself.

In my first blog, in which I linked to three posts I’d written before, I introduced me, the author. In last week’s blog, which focused on the presentation of the RoNAs, I introduced me, the RNA member. This week, I’m zeroing in on the aspect of my RNA life for which I’m most visible on our group website; namely, as the organiser of the Ox Lunch.

The Ox Lunch is the Oxford Chapter’s monthly lunch, which is held on the first Tuesday of every month in The Victoria Arms, Old Marston, from 12.30. The Vicky Arms is on the bank of the River Cherwell.


In addition to being the chosen haunt of the Ox Lunchers, The Vicky Arms also welcomed Inspector Morse and Lewis on numerous occasions when they stopped by for a drink – a drink usually paid for by Lewis!

The Oxford Chapter's venue for their monthly lunch

'Our' room in The Vicky Arms, with the tables moved together to accommodate us.



The view from within the pub on a rain-hazed day

The staff at The Victoria Arms always sets aside an area for us, and we push the tables together into a square so that we can all see, and talk to, each other, and move around quite easily.

We rarely have formal meetings or a set topic for discussion. What we do is eat, drink and have a thoroughly good time, laughing and talking with other writers.  Conversation invariably ranges over many topics, but always permeating them is the warmth and support that authors give to each other.

Carol McGrath; Lizzy Edmondson; Catherine Jones; Jane Gordon-Cumming

Nikki Fine; Jean Harker; Carol McGrath;

Mary Nuttall; Sarah Watkinson; me; Heather Rosser


Writing is a solitary activity, and one that is taking place in an increasingly difficult world for published and unpublished alike.  The value of a strong, friendly support group cannot be over estimated – and that is exactly what the Ox Lunch is.

One of last year's Ox lunches. Jeev Mantotta with baby Indy; me; Gilli Allan; Annie Burgh; Jane Holland; Katie Fforde; Rebecca Leith; Jane Gordon-Cumming; Carol McGrath; Jean Harker; Heather Rosser. (Back row) Katie Carr; Catherine Jones; Jude Roust; Jules Wake. Plus sundry coats and bags that I should have thought of moving aside

And at the end of the lunch, all that is left is …

… along with some very happy memories.

Next week, I’m going to ask you for some advice about an aspect of writing a novel set in the past. But for the moment, it’s goodbye!

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At the presentation of the 2012 RoNA Awards

As the title of my blog suggests, I’m going to be writing about my world, or, to put it another way,  I shall be jotting down bits & pieces about my life – and about writing – from week to week.

I’m a writer so it’s not surprising that much of my life centres around the writing world to which I belong. At the heart of this world lies the Romantic Novelists’ Association (the RNA), and since we’ve just had one of the RNA’s annual events, I thought I’d tell you about it today.

My focus is the people there, rather than what was said in the speeches. Shallow? Moi??

First of all, for those who haven’t heard of the RoNAs, they’re the annual awards given by the RNA for the very best in romantic fiction. Six RoNAs (Romantic Novel Awards) were announced at the ceremony yesterday.

Five of the RoNA categories are open only to books that are already out in paperback – these are the awards for Best Contemporary/Epic/Romantic Comedy/Historical/Young Adult Romantic Novels.

Each of the five winning books goes to a panel of judges, and the panel selects the Best of the Best. The winning book – The Romantic Novel of the Year – will be announced at the RNA‘s Summer Party in May.

The sixth RoNA Rose Award celebrates shorter/category romantic fiction, either in hardback or paperback.

The venue for the event was the Gladstone Library in One Whitehall Place, on the Embankment, virtually opposite the London Eye. To get to the Library, we had to climb the magnificant circular staircase.

I was early – I usually am – but I was far from the first person there. The shortlisted authors were already there, and were having their photos taken. Whilst this was going on, I wandered over to the window and couldn’t resist taking a photo of the lovely view. Alas, I fear that I haven’t done justice to it.

The view from One Whitehall Place

In addition to writers and photographers, there were also tables of shortlisted books. And pretty soon, there was pink champagne, too.

In the Reception area

Books & other necessities of life



The line-up of the RoNA Rose shortlistees.

Large numbers of people started arriving, and I wandered around, saying hello to friends, and taking photos whenever I remembered. Annoyingly, I didn’t photograph my friend, Alison, who did sterling work for me, holding my glass of champagne every time I angled the camera. Without Alison, I would have had pink fizz down the front of my top.

Barbara Alderton

Jenny Barden & Jean Fullerton

Fellow Choc Lit authors Margaret James & Linda Mitchelmore

Choc Lit's Christina Courtenay & Myra Kersner

The room got fuller and fuller as everyone crowded in, eagerly taking one of the glasses of champagne or juice proffered by the waiters who were everywhere. Thanks to Jenny Barden, I have a picture of several of us taken before too much champagne had been consumed.

Choc Lit authors Christina Courtenay & Sue Moorcroft, with Choc Lit MD Lyn Vernham

Choc Lit author Kate Johnson & her mother

Richard Fenton, Christina Courtenay, Myra Kersner, Me, Carol McGrath. Photo taken by Jenny Barden


We then went into the main room where we had canapés and more fizz during a ceremony slickly hosted by author and columnist Jane Wenham Jones. The presentations were made by Sunday Times number one bestselling crime writer Peter James, who made a lively, entertaining speech.

A slightly fuzzy Julie Cohen, Liz Fenwick & Jane Wenham Jones, plus books

My table – one of the Choc Lit tables – was overjoyed that two Choc Lit authors, Christina Courtenay and Jane Lovering, won the Historical Romantic Novel Award and the Romantic Comedy Award, respectively. Katie Fforde won the Best Contemporary Romantic Novel; Caroline Green, the Young Adult Romantic Novel Award, and Rosie Thomas won the Best Epic Romantic Novel.

The RONA Rose Award was won by Sarah Mallory.

Hearty congratulations to all the winners!

We now have an agonising wait until the RNA Summer Party on 17th May to find out who has won the Romantic Novel of the Year 2012 Award.

When the ceremony was over, a number of people went to the restaurant downstairs, but a large group of us – me included – ended what had been a fabulous evening at the nearby Pizza Express. The perfect conclusion to a brilliant day!

Night has fallen, and the lights from within the room are reflecting against the window panes

At the Pizza Express


Saying hello to Kate Johnson's mum & Kate while we wait for the pizza to arrive. Photo taken by Barbara Alderton


Next Tuesday, the Oxford Chapter of the RNA meets for its monthly lunch. Since I’ve run the Ox Lunch for over six years now, it’s very much a part of my life, and I think that next week I’ll introduce you to the lunch venue and to some of the Ox lunchers.

Bye for now!

<-- 8 Jan 2020: Moved "'date,author,edit', " from before to after on Liz's request' -->

Welcome to my world

It’s time that I started a blog, I thought, and so that’s just what I’ve done.

Liz Harris by Rob WhealHaving made the decision to begin blogging, I had to decide what to say on this my first blog.

But it isn’t my first blog, I suddenly realised. My first blog was a few weeks ago on the Choc Lit Author’s Corner, when I wrote about the inspiration behind my debut novel The Road Back.

What’s more, a few days ago I wrote a second blog for the Choc Lit Author’s Corner. This time it was about the fabulous cover Choc Lit has given to my book.

And that’s not all. A few weeks ago, I sent a blog posting to DizzyC’s little Book Blog. In it, I talked about my current work in progress, A Bargain Struck.

You’ll see that I’ve followed the ‘Why Re-invent the Wheel?’ train of thought, and I’ve linked you to those three blogs, rather than repeat what I’ve already said. After all, writers know that they should avoid repetition, and readers hate to be told the same thing more than once.

Thank you very much for stopping by. I hope to see you again next Wednesday. I shall have been to the presentation of the RoNAs by then, and will have photos.


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