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Guest blogger: Anne Gracie

20 November 2016

anne-gracieWriting a linked anthology aka herding cats

I’ve written a couple of Christmas stories, and been in a couple of Christmas anthologies but The Last Chance Christmas Ball was the first one where the stories were linked. I blog with the Word Wenches (Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley (who died earlier this year), Pat Rice, Cara Elliot, Joanna Bourne and Susan King). We’re all historical writers, and as well as the blog we have a private email group where we chat constantly.

Mary Jo came up with the idea of the Last Chance Christmas Ball—a ball held annually by Lady Holly, an elderly dowager who loved to match-make. All the stories would be linked to this event, and for a character in each story, it would be their last chance to fall in love.

It seemed so simple, such a fun idea. Yes—we were all in, enthusiastically. Kensington (the publisher) liked the idea and we were contracted to write it.

pinkdresscreamlaceoverlaytrainWe often joke that organising any bunch of writers is a bit like herding cats—we’re all quite independent and have a tendency to go our own way. And even though the stories weren’t all linked in an exact sequential manner, it was still pretty tricky. We shared our story ideas, of course, so we could weave in relevant details where possible—and that’s where the trouble started.

There were long discussions and diagrams and hundreds of photos of the location—which was a combination of several real locations. There was a plan of the (imaginary) castle.

There were detailed plots and counter plots, and a couple of story events that had to be timed exactly—to the minute. Emails flew back and forth and we used a wiki-site to store the info.

And when we’d finished our drafts, we shared them.

And there were conversations like this:

“Please don’t have your character notice that detail about my character. It adds nothing to your story and it will wreck the suspense in mine.”
“But my character is very observant and would be bound to notice.”
“Then can she notice, but not say anything to anyone in the story, because if she does, it will give away the whole surprise in my story.”
“Hmm, I’m not sure. It doesn’t seem likely that she wouldn’t notice.”
“What if she just frowns and then gets distracted? And doesn’t even think it on the page.”

last-chance-xmas-ballIt was all very friendly—and from a distance, quite funny—but it did get intense at times. Not long after we’d finished the project, someone asked us if we’d do another linked anthology, and I think we all said instantly, ‘No!’ LOL. But now, with the pain of childbirth long behind us, we’re remembering the experience fondly, and even tossing around the possibility of doing another one. Maybe.

You can read a snippet of my story here.

You can find Anne here: Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter

Do you enjoy reading Christmas stories? What’s your favourite part of Christmas? I’ll send a copy of The Last Chance Christmas Ball to someone who leaves a comment. (The giveaway is now closed. The winner was Yvonne.)


  1. 28 November 2016 5:55 pm

    I’ve never really been into Christmas stories, but this one seems quite intriguing. Going on my TBR pile.

    • AnneGracie permalink
      29 November 2016 10:06 pm

      Thanks, Juliet. I confess I love Christmas stories.

      • AnneGracie permalink
        29 November 2016 10:06 pm

        Sorry — that should read Juliette. My bad.

  2. 24 November 2016 12:18 pm

    My favourite part of Christmas is good food, wine, being with friends and getting my Christmas wishes for a good internet speed so I can Skype my family in the UK, Germany and France. I also love decorating our Christmas tree on Christmas eve. I collect Hallmark decorations and treat myself to a new one each year. But my favourite decoration is a moth eaten, once silver, now a dull pewter colour, dove that belonged to my mum. It has pride of place at the top of the tree, instead of a star.

    • 24 November 2016 10:28 pm

      Thanks, Pamela. I think it’s a sign of the times that so many families are not simply scattered over the country, but scattered over the world. I’m not familiar with the Hallmark decorations — I’ll have to google them once I finish this. I love the thought of a peace dove on the top of the tree, and a beloved family heirloom only makes it more special.

  3. AnneGracie permalink
    21 November 2016 4:57 pm

    Here’s another comment from someone who left a comment on FB: Susanne Bellamy.
    Hi Anne. I tried to leave a comment on you blog post but WordPress wouldn’t let me. This is what I wanted to say: Christmas is family time and the one chance to all come together from wherever we are now living. I love reading how the magic of the festive season leads to new offshoots and new families begin. Can’t wait to share my granddaughter’s first Christmas!

    • AnneGracie permalink
      21 November 2016 4:58 pm

      Thanks Susanne — I’m sure your Christmas with a new littlie will be wonderful. Christmas is just not the same without little ones and the wonder they bring.

  4. AnneGracie permalink
    21 November 2016 7:19 am

    MARY JO PUTNEY put this comment on FB:
    Nice blog, Anne! I tried to leave this comment on the ARRA blog, but WordPress hates me, so here it is instead: ++ Such memories, Anne! Coordinating our stories was SO much work, but I do love the results. I think Cara Elliott and I had the hardest time since we were writing the two sons of the house and their stories were intertwined. It was a lot more challenging than we thought when we gaily took up the idea, but I’ve been listening to the audiobook version in my car, and the stories really are lovely. My Mayhem Consultant particularly loves your story, and thought it was the perfect way to end the anthology. (BTW, when listing the Wenches, you missed Nicola Cornick. I always have trouble listing all of us!) ++

    • AnneGracie permalink
      21 November 2016 7:21 am

      I’m soooo sorry for leaving Nicola off the list of WordWenches involved with this anthology.

  5. 20 November 2016 11:43 pm

    I love Christmas stories and I really enjoyed this anthology. Every story in it. Even though it created a challenge for you Word Wenches it was wonderful as a reader to have all the stories linked. Lady Holly was consistent through all of them too. Please do another one.

    • AnneGracie permalink
      21 November 2016 7:17 am

      Thank you, Louisa — as I said, just after delivery we were all “never again” but now we actually have been tossing ideas around, so you never know . . . And having done it once, we’re more aware of the pitfalls now.

  6. 20 November 2016 8:41 pm

    Anne I adored your excerpt. Talk about herding cats! I’m in the process of rounding up snails. Our writing group of 6 has been committed to passing along a secret story – 1000 words each, to see where it takes us. 😐 not very far. Since July there have been two sections done. I’m fairly champing at the bit, but it may be a while yet – I have the honour of tying up the loose ends – last on the list. Sigh. Could be a Christmas or two before I see it. Somebody please make me a dress and invite me to a Christmas ball – I’ll need a distraction. Happy release day to you all and your angel. Jay.

    • AnneGracie permalink
      20 November 2016 9:47 pm

      Thank you, Jay — I do enjoy a Cinderella story. As for your group project, my sympathies on your own cat herding. We at least had a publisher’s deadline, which you can’t really argue with. And to be honest, I think often the longer you leave a story to get done, the harder it is, because you keep wanting to fiddle and fiddle. Best of luck with it.

  7. Yvonne bartlett permalink
    20 November 2016 7:56 pm

    I enjoy the anthologies and how different authors bring their own take to the central story line. I just said to my sister “what is your favourite part of Christmas” and her response was that time after the food and drinks where she gets to sit down with her family on Christmas day and they all watch a DVD together. My initial response was Christmas lunch then down to the beach for an afternoon swim. However, the real answer for me, is to be with family and in particular watching children having fun first thing in the morning.

    • AnneGracie permalink
      20 November 2016 8:24 pm

      Thanks, Yvonne. My family always split — some retiring for a nap, the young ones gathering around for a board game or DVD, while my mother and godmother would head for the garden on a hunt for weeds. Or maybe we;d all head out for backyard cricket, or go down for a swim. And then at the end of the afternoon, we’d all reconvene, adding in uncles and aunts and cousins.

  8. chrisemg permalink
    20 November 2016 1:17 pm

    Hi Anne,
    I do love Christmas stories, and the best part of Christmas is catching up with family and all talking at once! Sharing our stories is the best and nobody is forgotten.

    • AnneGracie permalink
      20 November 2016 2:41 pm

      Chris, that does sound lovely — and yes, all the old family stories — and some new— that invariably come out at Christmas. Priceless. And precious.

  9. Helen permalink
    20 November 2016 12:25 pm

    Hello Anne

    Oh I did love this story and yes I do love Christmas stories whats not to love the scenery maybe snow the food the ball gowns they make me smile 🙂

    Have Fun

    • AnneGracie permalink
      20 November 2016 12:40 pm

      Thanks, Helen — I’m a sucker for Christmas stories, too. The snow — don’t we Aussies romanticize it so much, while my friends in snowbound places curse and shovel the snow.

  10. 20 November 2016 11:42 am

    I like Christmas stories! Especially when they portray families coming together.

    • AnneGracie permalink
      20 November 2016 12:12 pm

      Thanks, Julie — yes, that reunion/reconciliation theme is perfect for Christmas, isn’t it?

  11. lynette williams permalink
    20 November 2016 11:00 am

    I already have this book so please don’t put me in the draw—–I enjoyed this book & will most likely read it again next month with my other Christmas books——-Lyn W

    • AnneGracie permalink
      20 November 2016 11:37 am

      Hi Lynn — if you win the draw (or anyone else does who already has this book) I’d be happy to give you a different book of mine — and a small Christmas trinket.

  12. shelleyrussellnolan permalink
    20 November 2016 10:39 am

    Sounds like a fun and rewarding experience and something I would like to be a part of one day. Maybe.

    • AnneGracie permalink
      20 November 2016 11:01 am

      Thanks, Shelley. It was fun, and the end result was worth all the difficulty in coordinating eight very independent writers — and none of us was the boss! But it turned out well, and we’re very happyt.

  13. Shelagh permalink
    20 November 2016 9:54 am

    That sounds like such fun! I actually enjoy linked anthologies because you get to know minor characters in one story really well in another, and I like the freshness that comes with having different authors write different stories within the anthology. I know it is fraught with danger though. I remember reading one recently which I enjoyed enormously. There was a prince who featured in each story and in the story in which he starred, he had rented out a guest house in the town. In another he was staying with his grandparents and in a third he’d rented the top floor of a hotel.

    • AnneGracie permalink
      20 November 2016 11:04 am

      Thanks, Shelagh — those princes get around, don’t they? They’re almost as hard to herd as authors. 😉 Yes this is the trouble with trying to coordinate a bunch of different people. We all had other deadlines, and not all of us (she says blushing) got their stories finished before the deadline so the others could read the finished version. But our wonderful Kensington editor coordinated us pretty well.

  14. 20 November 2016 9:38 am

    I don’t read Christmas stories unless it brings family, heroes/heroines from the series together giving me a wee look into their future. Decorating the trees.

    • AnneGracie permalink
      20 November 2016 11:08 am

      Thanks, Jane — we couldn’t have any decorating of the tree because this was set in Christmas 1815 (just after Waterloo) and the Christmas tree wasn’t really around in English homes then. It came in later quite a few years later, when Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert introduced it from his native Germany, and the royal Christmas tree was featured in magazines everywhere. After that it became madly fashionable.
      But I do have my heroine setting up her own family Christmas diorama and gathering greenery and eating the traditional Christmas food.

      • 25 November 2016 10:28 am

        WOW, that’s a lot of research. I never realised Christmas trees weren’t really a thing back then. Prince Albert was definitely a trend-setter.
        Decorating the tree is my favourite part of Christmas too. The whole family gets together, and we pull out all the old decorations that my sister and I made back when we were at preschool. It always brings back great memories.

  15. Mary Preston permalink
    20 November 2016 9:20 am

    I always enjoy Christmas stories. I love it when all of the family gathers around to decorate the Christmas tree. This is how memories are made.

    • AnneGracie permalink
      20 November 2016 11:09 am

      Thanks, Mary. Decorating the Christmas tree is such a favorite activity of mine, that it was tough not to be able to include it in our stories. We squeezed in a fair bit of decoration, but not a tree. To see why read my response to Jane, above.

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