I am thrilled to welcome this bunch of talented authors onto the blog today
Beach Hut Surprise: Six Authors Beyond the Comfort Horizon
Sophie Weston tells us how it all started 😊
As I remember, it started in winter. A group of romantic novelists got together round my dinner table. Wine flowed. Conversation drifted. We found ourselves talking summer memories—warm days, short hot nights. Laughter. Travel. Magical gardens in the twilight….
And what we read on our holidays.
I think I said that I often took along a collection of short stories. For those afternoons when I wanted to sit under a tree and let the mind wander. For when my companions were surfing, or rock climbing or sitting up a tree waiting for an olivaceous warbler to pop out and say hello. I didn't want a full-length book. Nothing to keep me still turning the pages when the time came for sangria, guitar music and stars. I wanted a story that gave me the full roller-coaster ride in one brief hour or so.
"Oh, I'd love to write a story like that," said someone.
"Beach Hut story time," said someone else.
"A Tale of Two Beach Huts…"
"Beach Hut Encounter…"
"Let's talk about this."
"Better open another bottle first…"
The die was cast.
Someone started to take notes. Ideas flew. Some were frankly surreal. Beach Hut on Broadway conjured up a determined little shed shouldering its way down the Great White Way. The Bridegroom in the Beach Hut had definite story possibilities, though. Biggles in the Beach Hut less so, maybe. By the end of the evening we had a list of twenty-odd story ideas that weren't completely impossible. And all our ribs ached with laughing.
We decided three things:
1. That the perfect afternoon delight would be 15,000–20,000 words.
2. Which author got which idea from the list. (None of those above made it.)
3. That these stories would all be out of our comfort zone. This would be a holiday adventure for us as writers as well as for our readers.
We had a Project.
Beach Hut Surprise
I'll let this talented bunch of authors introduce their stories to you
Having agreed on The Project, we then had to go away and write our short story. "Easy," I hear you cry. "You are all experienced novelists, the stories write themselves." True, up to a point - this collaboration was a chance to try something different, to spread our creative wings a little. BUT we had decided we would set all our stories around the fictional town of Little Piddling. With beach huts. Do you know how many different types of beach huts there are? We discussed foundations (boardwalk, stilts?) decoration, electricity, furniture…. Then there was the town itself. Did it have sandy or pebble beach? A pier, theatre, promenade…. Much discussion following via emails and, later, zoom, to sort out the details.
As a writer of historical novels my comfort zone is Georgian and Regency. I have made forays into the medieval world and contemporary settings but never the Edwardian Era, which was what came to mind for my light-hearted tale beside the seaside: a stroll along the prom, prom, prom and the brass band playing tiddly-om pom, pom….. And the Prisoner of Zenda, something that crept in from that very first dinner party. I blame the wine.
Sarah's Edwardian Entertainment, Grand Designs for Little Piddling, opens the anthology
I'm mostly known for short contemporary romance. I did dip my toe in alternative history—went down the other trouser leg of time, as the Blessed Terry Pratchett would say, and wrote about a contemporary British Royal Family, just not this one. That was fun. I also have drafts of mystery, family sagas, wartime adventure and sub-Wodehouse comedy that have never been offered to the general reader. So finding a genre that was completely out of my theoretical comfort zone was a challenge. In the end, Selsis Brown, my leading character, took me by the hand and said, "This is who I am. I'm alone and sad and a bit scared. And mostly it's my own fault. Over to you."
And, oh boy, was I in deep water! Not a comfort zone in sight.
Sophie's story Going Home? is #2 in the anthology
I've written short stories but 15,000-20,000 words was rather outside my comfort zone. I write what is commonly called “cosy” crime, but I prefer to call “mystery”. I have a long running series about a middle aged amateur sleuth and her friend, whom I decided to use when I was invited to join the anthology.
I tried to write romance years ago, in the mistaken belief that it would be easy. I was soon put right. The ladies who write in this genre are very, very clever, and I was very flattered to be asked to join them in this venture.
I have also written a series about a concert party, set at the seaside in the Edwardian era. There’s a thought for a future visit to Little Piddling.
Lesley's mystery The Body at Satis House is #3 in the anthology
I started my writing career with the much loved children's picture paper, Twinkle (Rosie Posie Piglet, Five Little Kittens, Nurse Nancy) and Listen With Mother. It was enormous fun, but no way to make a living.
Having read an article about Mills and Boon authors, Charlotte Lamb and Anne Hampson, I set my sights on joining them in tax exile and wrote my first romance. It was, along with efforts two and three, rejected. But kindly. Then I won a Writers News short story competition, which gave me some confidence and very soon after that I finally made it with Mills and Boon. That was in 1992 and I've been writing contemporary romance ever since, although I've never made it as a tax exile.
That night, when the idea for an anthology of novellas set around the beach huts of Little Piddling had us all crying with laughter, I saw the opportunity to write something a little different. Did I mention that the short story that gave my confidence a boost was a ghost story?
Liz's ghost story, Past Echoes, is #4 in the anthology
I wrote Regency historicals for Mills & Boon for over ten years. More recently, I've published Regency and Victorian timeslip and (under a pseudonym) thrillers. For some reason—possibly to do with laughter and Sophie's flowing wine—the vampire theme called to me.
Can't imagine why. I knew almost nothing about vampires. I'd read Terry Pratchett and watched the odd episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with half an eye, but that was it. Luckily, a very good friend who reads loads of fantasy was visiting over Christmas. In return for food and wine, he answered all my questions about what vampires could and could not do. I have reams of notes. And the upshot? There aren't many rules at all. My subconscious had a pretty free rein.
Then a cheeky little urchin called William [aka Just William] appeared from nowhere and bearded my vampire in his beach hut. That was when realised I was out of my comfort zone twice over: I was writing a vampire comedy. The "romance with bite" came along later.
Joanna's story I, Vampire: Romance with Bite is #5 in the anthology
My comfort zone is the period 1780-1820—the ‘long’ Regency—where I write both romance and non-fiction. Recently I’ve been working on a series of time travel romance/mysteries between the Regency and the present day, so I was interested to explore writing about more modern times in a different way. Twentieth century or the 2020s—where to set my story? I waited until the characters came along and politely informed me that it was contemporary, but with a twist and rather a lot of alcohol. (I cannot imagine where that came from…) The Edwardian background was already becoming clear when I began, filled by Sarah with some marvellous characters I rather wanted to borrow. I wasn’t quite sure which though, until he arrived, rather wetly, and so my beach hut—and Jac, my heroine—acquired their surprise
Louise's story, Grapes and Ale, concludes the anthology
You will find out more about the authors by clicking on the individual links to their websites
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Huge thanks to Sarah, Sophie, Lesley, Liz, Joanna and Louise for being such fabulous guests today and for telling us all about their Beach Hut Surprise..