Posted On January 24, 2011 by Print This Post

Mills & Boon New Voices – What’s Next?

Help me welcome today’s posters – Leah Ashton, winner of the MB New Voices contest and Heidi Hormel, Top Four Winner!

Carrie Spencer – First of all Leah, congrats on your win! You must be on cloud nine!
Leah Ashton – Thank you! Winning the competition was an incredible experience, and I certainly spent a few days not quite believing it.

It seems surreal that out of so many entries – and some of them were incredible! – the judges and voting public chose mine as the best new voice. Crazy! πŸ™‚

Carrie – Tell us what has happened to you and your story since you were announced.
Leah – After the competition ended I received a phone call from my editor mentor, Meg Lewis. We discussed my story, and also the Mills & Boon line she felt the book was best suited for (how exciting!). She talked to me about the strengths and weaknesses of my entry, and we set a deadline for the finished manuscript.

The thing was, when I entered New Voices all I had was an opening chapter. That was it – no plot, no internal conflict for my hero – nothing! Over the course of New Voices I worked with my mentors to come up with a plot and conflict, and that worked brilliantly for the competition. I carried on with this plot for the first few weeks, sending through chunks of my manuscript to Meg for review. That’s when I got my next phone call from Meg – the story that worked great for New Voices was just not working as a full manuscript. I completely agreed – it was a struggle to write and just didn’t feel “right”.

So I started revising, and I am really excited about the story now! Eagle eyed readers of my New Voices entry may have noticed that my hero, Dan, goes from a bit of a player in Chapter One to a family-focused man in the later chapters. Well, he’s back to my original player, which I love! The most important thing for me is that the story I really wanted to tell – which explores infertility and what makes a happy ever after – is still the core of my book.

Carrie – Tell us about your mentor.
Leah – As mentioned above, I’m still working with Meg. She has been amazing – her feedback and encouragement has made the book infinitely stronger. She is also just a lovely person, and very tolerant of all the mistakes I feel like I’m making πŸ™‚ She’s been with me every step of the way, both via email and through phone calls.

During the competition I also had Jessica Hart helping me, and she was wonderful – and a remarkable brainstormer!

The finished entries for Chapter Two and my Pivotal Moment were both significantly different to the original versions I subbed to Jessica and Meg. My mentors really made me question why my characters were behaving in a certain way, and challenged me to strengthen each scene. For example, in the Pivotal Moment originally my heroine was forced to reveal her infertility, but Meg said it would be stronger if she chose to do so. Of course, that meant I had to dig deep – because why would she do that? A total rewrite of the second half of the scene resulted, but it was certainly worth it!

Carrie – Thanks so much for posting with us today, Leah. We’re looking forward to seeing your book on the shelf!
Leah – Thanks Carrie! I don’t think it will feel truly real until my final revised manuscript is accepted, but assuming it is (crossing my fingers and toes!) my book will be out late this year.

I’ll also be in New York in June for the RWA National Conference, I’m hoping I might meet some of the other New Voices entrants while I’m there!


Carrie Spencer – Heidi, tell us what’s been happening with you and your book since the competition?

Heidi Hormel Mills and Boon New Voices

Heidi Hormel – I have continued to work on the story of Jessie and Payson with the help and encouragement of my Mills & Boon mentors. I handed in additional material at the beginning of December — working away while I vacationed in sunny Florida for the Thanksgiving holiday — oh, the life of a writer! I received helpful feedback from Megan at M&B, and she said that she would look at the story again as I had more. I figured I’d write another four chapters, a doable task, except I broke my arm in a car accident (thank goodness that mine was the worst injury — other than the poor SUV). I have been working one-handed, which has really slowed down the process. Oh, and I celebrated Christmas and New Year, too.

Carrie – Tell us what you’ve learned from the competition and the mentoring process.
Heidi – I was reminded to stay true to my voice as a writer. My mentors, even as they gave me suggestions on reworking the story, told me that I had to maintain my voice. The challenge was taking the comments on character and plot and figuring out how to make it happen while writing my own story in my own voice. What I learned is that delete button is a writer’s friend, really.

Carrie – What’s next for Heidi Hormel?
Heidi – Next, for me? Getting off my cast and getting my typing back to normal! Then on to Web domination by getting a blog/Web site up and running. On the writing front, I hope to be working further with Mills & Boon on The Surgeon and the Cowgirl. I am also starting a new story in February. There won’t be horses, but there will be roller skates, body checks, and tattoos.


RU Readers, do you have any questions for Leah and Heidi about their mentoring experience with the New Voices contest?

Join us on Wednesday when we talk with Laurie Schnebly Campbell about that all important Character Motivation!


Bio: Leah Ashton is an IT Project Manager living in Perth, Western Australia with her fiancΓ©, two dogs and a very clever Devon Rex cat. She has a life long love of romance novels that a few years ago morphed into a love of romance writing. She is a member of Romance Writers of Australia and Romance Writers of New Zealand and can be visited at her blog:

Bio: In addition to being a 2010 Final Four in Mills & Boon’s New Voices contest, Heidi Hormel has had a short romance published in Woman’s World magazine and was a finalist in the 2009 Suzannah Contest. She is a full-time writer and has monthly reviews in Romantic Times Book Reviews. You can find her on Twitter as @SpamPrincess

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28 Responses to “Mills & Boon New Voices – What’s Next?”

  1. Leah and Heidi, thank you for sharing your “after the contest” experiences. What a wonderful investment M&B are making in new writers.

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | January 24, 2011, 5:32 am
  2. Welcome to RU, Leah and Heidi. Congratulations on your success with the contest. I’d imagine it’s a terrific learning experience.

    Was there one thing that became an “aha” moment for you throughout the process?

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | January 24, 2011, 7:14 am
    • Hmm … an aha moment … I could really see my name on the front of the book. And that humor transcends oceans — I felt almost as excited about making my mentor laugh as getting those emails that said I had made it to the next level.

      Posted by Heidi | January 24, 2011, 6:30 pm
  3. Thank you for the welcome Tracey and Adrienne!

    Adrienne, I think my “aha” moment was when I said to my dad (after making the final four), “now I need to write a really awesome pivotal moment” and he said “no, you just need to keep on doing what you’ve been doing”. It was the reminder I needed to trust my voice and to write the story I wanted to write.

    Posted by Leah Ashton | January 24, 2011, 7:24 am
  4. Hi ladies! I don’t have any questions but I just wanted to stop by and let you know how awesome I think you are (you too Carrie!). I loved every minute of the New Voices competition and really enjoyed meeting all of you. Your talent and perseverence will take you far and I can’t wait to see your names on the shelf.

    Sorry about your car wreck Heidi – I hope you’re okay now. πŸ™‚

    Posted by Kat Cantrell | January 24, 2011, 8:07 am
  5. Great to see how Heidi and Leah are doing a few months on. Good luck to you both. And Leah… your dad sounds like a really wise guy πŸ™‚

    Posted by Rachael Johns | January 24, 2011, 8:35 am
  6. Congratulations, Leah! I was nodding my head like a bobble-head doll as I read about your difficulties with the story and the saga of rewrites. Oh, can I ever relate to that! It sounds like you have excellent mentors at Mills & Boon, and I look forward to reading your novel before long!

    Congratulations to you, too, Heidi – but how awful about your arm! I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to write with a cast hindering you. It sounds as if you are persevering and making real progress on your story. I hope we’ll get to read it soon!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | January 24, 2011, 10:28 am
  7. morning all!

    Great to have you both here, and Kat Cantrell too! =) It’s great to see everyone progressing so nicely with their stories, even after all the trauma. Leah, I’m so happy you got your plot to where you’re happy with it, and Heidi – only a few more weeks until you’re out of the cast – yeah! Looking forward to seeing those books on the shelves. =)


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | January 24, 2011, 11:08 am
  8. Hi, Leah and Heidi –

    Thanks so much for joining us at RU today! Would you share with us something you feel you learned through this process that wouldn’t have otherwise been available to you?

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that is a life-changing experience for each of the final four!


    Posted by Kelsey Browning | January 24, 2011, 11:40 am
    • Hi,

      That’s a good question — As Leah said writing for the contest is different than writing the actual book. I’m not certain I can say something specific I wouldn’t have learned but I was reminded that each chapter really needs to end on a cliffhanger πŸ™‚

      Posted by Heidi | January 24, 2011, 6:20 pm
    • Ooh, that’s a tough one Kelsey! I think for me it’s more confirmed (highlighted/underlined!) some of what I already “knew” – in particular the importance of sympathetic, likeable characters that behave in a realistic way. The other thing has been the realisation that while the internal conflict is THE most important thing, you still need an interesting external plot to hang it all off πŸ™‚

      Posted by Leah Ashton | January 25, 2011, 10:08 pm
  9. Hello Leah and Heidi!

    Thanks for joining us on RU today! I read a lot of the entries in the M&B contest and the stats still amaze me. Over 800 entries and you ladies (and Carrie Cae) landed in the top four. While I realize your writing talents landed you in the top spots, it’s still kind of like winning the romance contest lottery.

    I’m shy about having anyone read my stuff. Last year was the first time I began entering my work in contests. How did you feel about having your work read and commented by so many people?

    Congrats to all of you!

    Posted by jennifer tanner | January 24, 2011, 2:12 pm
    • Hi,

      Thanks for your comments. Everyone’s comments were so thoughtful — I really enjoyed reading them. I learned, too. For example, I received info on what horses are really like. I also was a reporter for years so I’ve gotten used to others reading/commenting on my writing. It does get easier with time:)

      Posted by Heidi | January 24, 2011, 6:25 pm
  10. Leah and Heidi: Congrats on your hard work paying off! I look forward to reading both of your books one day.

    Posted by Robin Covington | January 24, 2011, 4:39 pm
  11. Leah and Heidi, I am so pleased you are featured on RU! I too entered the M&B New Voices competition and had fun rooting for you after the first round.

    Leah- Meg Lewis sounds like a sweetheart. The M&B editors were so encouraging to all the contestants.

    Can’t wait to see both of your books on the shelf!

    Posted by Laura Russell | January 24, 2011, 8:24 pm
  12. Thanks for the well wishes, Leah. I guess the broken arm was the universe’s way of trying to teach me patience. I’m hoping it worked because I don’t think I can take another lesson!

    Posted by Heidi | January 26, 2011, 6:04 am
  13. Hi ladies! It is great to hear what you’ve been up to since the competition. It was a wonderful experience.

    @Leah Good luck with your manuscript and have a great time in NYC!

    @Hiedi I’m so glad that a broken arm was the worst of your accident. Feel better soon!

    Posted by Julia Broadbooks | January 30, 2011, 9:35 am

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