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I’d Rather Be Writing…

Inspired by my holiday reading, my WIP is now romping ahead at full-speed. The muse has returned and I can’t type quickly enough.  I know I’m back in the zone because I’ve finally removed the detritus of my old dead PC from my desk to make a proper work space for my laptop. My characters are nudging me awake at night to relay their latest conversations, and new plot twists and unexpected developments are cropping up quicker than I can say I didn’t see that one coming…

Following advice from my new bible, Save The Cat Writes a Novel, the initial plan was to meticulously plot but I’m far too impatient for that. I just want to get on with the writing. I did do a plan, a sketchy outline of the main action, but already things are deviating from the track. A previous favourite scene is now totally irrelevant. A red herring uttered by character A might now be better cast into the story by character B, or maybe it’s not needed at all…

I’ve changed a few names, I’ve bought in a few new guys and deleted some of the old ones. Note to self – and any new writer – never change a character’s name using the simple search and replace tool in a Word document. I had previously thought Ted far too old fashioned for my tennis coach – a very minor character only mentioned in passing, so several chapters in I changed his name to Ryan. An awful lot of words in the English language end in the letters TED, especially when your novel is written in past tense. Far from being a minor character, RYAN became a major player. For future reference there is a way to get round this, which I have now learned thanks to the wonders of social media and helpful advice from the writing community (for all its faults Twitter does occasionally have its uses).

However, Ted has now popped up again, completely by surprise, parked on a rattan sofa at a garden party. This time he’s going to remain because this ‘Ted’ is an elderly gent far better suited to the name and now an integral part of the story – although he’s forgotten to mention a vital piece of information to my heroine so I’ll have to go back and add that in. Scribble another note to self.

My baby is growing and taking on a life of its own, and after several months in the writing wilderness it does feel like coming home. I’m excited. This is how it felt when I was writing The Theatre of Dreams and Your Secret’s Safe With Me.  Neither of these novels came effortlessly, they had a few false starts but once they got going, engines revved, they took off at a very fast rate of knots. And it was fun.

If I’m honest, my struggles with marketing these two wonderful novels (if you’ve not read them yet you really should) had a negative impact on my enthusiasm to write. My confidence took a serious knock, and there were times when I seriously questioned whether I should even bother to continue.  The enjoyment had gone – and as that life-style guru Marie Kondo dictates – if things don’t bring you joy, they have to go. I became very good at procrastination.  2019 has been an exceedingly busy year and I’ve found plenty of excuses to stay away from my desk.  We moved house – twice, helped both daughters settle into new homes, and have had some family health issues to contend with.  Of course I could have got up at six every morning and stayed up to midnight to snatch a few quiet moments on my laptop, but no…my creative juices were channelled instead into re-landscaping my new front garden, designing my fantasy kitchen, ordering new furniture and stitching soft furnishings.

So when Mr T suggested we did a spot of decorating this weekend, the first since we moved into our new house in June,  the old, uninspired me would have I’d have said yippee, bring it on, I’ve had enough of this yellow (the whole of our new house is decorated in various shades of custard cream). Instead I sat there thinking okay, but not until Ted has told Eliza about the fling with the air hostess, and what about this fabulous final scene that came to me in a flash at 3 o’clock this morning…

I’ve no guarantees my WIP will ever become a published novel, but in moments like this, writing becomes a compulsion. Words tumble around n my head uninvited and have to be consigned to paper. I am writing again, and I’m writing because it brings me joy.

To be fair, painting the front room also brought a certain amount of joy. The walls are no longer ‘Buttermilk’ but ‘Just Walnut’ – a colour which bears little resemblance to any walnut I’ve ever seen. Those people at the paint factory have very vivid imaginations. If the writing career doesn’t work out, I might well apply for a job with Dulux.

Holiday Reading

Holidays provide the perfect opportunity to indulge in a good book. My current reading habits amount to little more than a snatched five or ten minutes every night, so the thought of a week, on a beach, on a small island, seemed like the perfect opportunity to indulge.

My Kindle was already fully loaded with some 99p reads, but then as I did that last minute supermarket shop a book cover caught my eye and I thought, why not? Obviously a Kindle is much lighter for travel, I can take hundreds of books as opposed to two or three…but on the other hand there’s nothing quite like the smell of a paperback, the feel of those pages flicking through my fingers as the sand trickles between my toes…

One paperback wasn’t going to be enough for seven days, but a friend had recently passed on a novel she’d enjoyed on her own holidays, and I’d also ordered a book on writing tips with the hope of solving the issues with my current WIP which has basically come to standstill (not so much a standstill as a directionless ramble. It wasn’t keeping me enthralled, let alone the likelihood of any reader.) I decided to forego the Kindle completely. With Mr T travelling light, there was plenty of room in his suitcase for all three paperbacks.

We’d chosen our destination – Lanzarote – purely because of its climate – basically 25oc all year round – and the fact that we could fly there in less than four hours from our local airport. Our hotel was located in a resort which was sort of Frankfurt-meets-Dublin-by-the-sea, directly opposite a vast soft dark sandy beach.  As we sunbathed alongside elderly Germans, Westlife lookalikes and their young families, the pages on those paperbacks began to fly.

The first book was The Familiars by Stacey Halls – a historical novel about the witch hunts of the 1600s, not my normal cup of tea at all. I was seduced by the intriguing cover. I remain convinced that if either of my books were ever to make it onto the supermarket shelves they would sell pretty well based on their beautiful covers alone….  Anyway, back to reality. I enjoyed this book immensely. A plucky young wife fights the injustices of her social position and the wrong-doings going on around her. Obviously very well researched, the story was interwoven with vivid descriptions of the characters, period, and the Lancashire locations.

My second book of the week was Forget My Name by J S Monroe – a psychological thriller. I’m generally not a fan of psychological thrillers. I’m a sensible, level-headed person and psychological thrillers are populated by characters – predominantly women – who seem to make a series of very bad choices in the most implausible or coincidental of situations.  I know ‘fiction’ is just that – it doesn’t have to reflect real life to be wonderful – plenty of people could point their fingers at my books at say – hey, (SPOILER ALERT) individuals don’t normally save historic buildings by stealth, or wrestle with drug smugglers in small coastal villages…BUT generally I like to read books with characters I can relate to and empathise with. Forget My Name kept me turning the pages, so it wasn’t all bad, but I did donate it to the hotel’s library where as The Familiars came home with me.

Moving hastily on to my third book of the week – Save the Cat Writes a Novel. Save the Cat is a very well respected guide to screenwriting that has been around for some time. Now there is a new version for writing the perfect novel. Did I find it helpful? Well yes I did. I now need a vast wall-planner and a whole stack of post-it notes. My WIP is going to amble aimlessly no more – it’s journey will be plotted with precision.

I have come back from my week away feeling invigorated – and it’s not just to do with a good dose of vitamin D and the wonderful Canarian cuisine. I’m very good at procrastination and very bad at time-management, but within 48 hours of being home, I’ve written my first blog-post in a month, started a new notebook to breakdown the plot of my WIP and set writing goals for the next six months. The holiday washing can wait – after all, sadly, I don’t think be needing my bikini again anytime soon…

Friends in the North

After my last post celebrating the highs and lows of my first year as published author, I promised myself I would tackle self-promotion with new gusto. I’d get on and finish my WIP. I’d spend more time being jolly on social media. Have I done that? No, once again that old spoilsport ‘life’ has got in the way.

I only have room for so many worries and domestic/family niggles take precedence. All things ‘writerly’ have currently taken a backseat. There’s more important things in life than stressing about word counts and Facebook likes. However, last week we packed up our troubles and set off on a long promised trip to the north of England – which was to culminate in York, where I had been invited to attend the Romantic Novelists’ Association Afternoon Tea to celebrate ‘graduation’ from the New Writers Scheme.

The New Writers’ Scheme is a wonderful thing – aspiring writers can join the RNA and take advantage of all the benefits of the association. More importantly, they can have their potential book manuscripts assessed and critiqued by experienced authors. When I joined back in 2016, I already had one manuscript complete and a second under way. During my time in the NWS I was lucky enough to submit three different manuscripts for critique, two of which have now been published. Authors who become published during their time in the NWS are nominated for the Joan Hessayon Award, sponsored by Dr Hessayon of the gardening books fame. His wife Joan was a romantic novelist.

So our trip north already had a literary connection, but more by luck than design it turned into a literary feast! We arrived at our first stop Warwick Castle in record time; after a quick whizz around the ramparts (Mr T and I are seasoned speed-tourists) we realised the day was still young enough to pop over to Stratford on Avon for a peep at Anne Hathaway’s cottage and then on to William Shakespeare’s birth place.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Shakespeare’s birthplace

It was all very inspiring – as was dinner at the Spanish restaurant I’d booked that evening in Warwick purely on the basis of its Trip Advisor reviews. I’ve bought books on Amazon purely because of their wonderful 5 star reviews and have seriously questioned whether I’m reading the same novel. Not in this case – the food at Tasca Dali was outstanding, as was the service – and the best bit, it was a set menu. Takes all the stress away from the what shall we eat tonight dilemma. If you’re ever in Warwick, check it out https://www.tascadali.com/

From Warwick we headed north west to Blackpool mainly because we’d never been and we thought it would be fun.  It lived up to all our expectations so we quickly moved on. Having taken the slight detour I realised we were now close to Morcambe – home to the Midland Hotel. I’d come across the Midland Hotel during my research into art deco restoration projects for The Theatre of Dreams – so it was quite exciting to see the building in the flesh.  A lot bigger than my fictional pavilion but it does have a prime spot on the seafront and is a very impressive tribute to 1930s architecture.

From Morcambe we headed to Bowness-on-Windermere, our base for the next four days. I’m a hardened southerner and love living on the sunny south coast, but I could see myself becoming a northern convert. The scenery is stunning. There’s drama around every corner – glass lakes, craggy fells shrouded in clouds, and lush green fields dotted with sheep. We visited Beatrix Potter’s home at Hill Top. We viewed the gloomy rooms where she wrote her books (no kitchen – Beatrix was too posh to cook and had her meals delivered to her by the farmer’s wife next door – every writer’s dream!) and strolled through the vegetable patch in search of Peter Rabbit.

Beatrix Potter’s Garden

We visited Grasmere, where the poet Wordsworth famously wandered as lonely as a cloud amongst the daffodils. It was a wrong time of year for daffodils and the clouds – and crowds – were out in force so not quite the tranquil spot of Wordsworth’s time, but easy to see why he felt so poetic.

With the Lake District sort of ticked off we headed across the Pennines into Yorkshire and Whitby. If you are a fan of vampires, you’ll know that this is where Bram Stoker’s Dracula first came ashore. From Whitby we headed down to the beautiful Robin Hood’s Bay and Scarborough before finally arriving in York – and the RNA Tea.

The York Tea was my first RNA event and I sincerely hope it won’t be my last. It was a pleasure to meet so many ‘friends’ I’d so far only encountered on Facebook, fellow new writer scheme graduates and also to catch up with Crooked Cat authors John Jackson (the event organiser), Sue Barnard and Lynn Forth.  

I didn’t win the ultimate prize of the Joan Hessayon Award, but as Alison May, the chairman of the RNA, pointed out, to become published in today’s fiction market is no mean feat and an achievement worth celebrating in itself.   It was the perfect end to our fabulous trip north.

We will be back!

One Year On

It’s been a whole year since the official launch of The Theatre of Dreams – and if I thought the path to publication was a rocky road, then the journey since has been the equivalent of hiking up a mountain.

Launch day 1 August 2018 was filled with excited anticipation – I threw a party to celebrate with family & friends; I organised an on-line facebook launch, I thought all the hardwork was done – I’d secured a publisher and my book was out there on Amazon ready to be snapped by zillions of eager readers.

Ouch, winces at the memory. I was very naïve.   Yes I ticked the box saying I was prepared to take on my share of marketing; I’m intelligent and happy to learn, I was on Facebook and already had a blog. In truth I had no idea what modern day book marketing entailed – and why would I? I had no experience of the publishing world. I’d tossed aside a local government career to follow my other half on work assignments to exotic locations overseas. I hadn’t lived in the UK full-time since 2009 and my literary loop was a small group of friends I’d made in a part-time creative writing class. I didn’t know there was a whole network of people I should have been cultivating long before my book launch to get my name out there. The words “author platform” meant very little to me, as did “branding” – that was something for cattle.

So twelve months on I am a lot wiser. I know that having a book on Amazon guarantees nothing – my book is just one of many millions.  I know that as an author with a small independent publisher getting my book noticed and maintaining a profile in today’s flooded market requires a great deal of energy, tenacity and a lot of of time spent on social media.

I’ve learned I have to interact with strangers (something shy reserved me has always dreaded) and I know I have to blow my own trumpet (very hard when you are brought up to be modest). I know that having a WIP on the go (the potential next novel ) is vital to keep up interest and I’ve learned that book royalties alone will never be enough to live on (but I do it for love – don’t I? Well yes I do, but my publisher doesn’t and there is an obligation…)

Six months after the release of The Theatre of Dreams my second book, Your Secret’s Safe With Me, was published. I thought I had it all sewn up – I thought yes, my Facebook friends have increased by x-amount, my Twitter following is up into 4 figures, I have colour co-ordinated my Instagram account to make it more appealing…

But it’s still not enough. I need paid promotions, blog tours, mailing lists, newsletters, my own Facebook group. I need to ‘engage’ at every opportunity, continually post comments, be controversial, sympathetic, witty, clever, inane. And these activities can’t be left to simmer, they have to be attacked at a rolling boil.

I need to attend events, to network in both the real and virtual worlds. Mr T already complains I spend too much time on social media; I tell him I don’t spend enough!

And I have to find time to read too. A writer has to be a prolific reader to maintain a presence, comment and review on every Facebook book club and bookish website. That’s without attending tangible book clubs, organising author talks and composing multiple blog posts…

Oh and did I mention Pinterest? I need boards. And lots of pins.

And as for any hope of finishing the WIP, I don’t just have to have one work in progress but a whole series of them. That’s where the “branding” comes in.

Actually, what I really need to do is lay down in a darkened room.

Some people are very good at balancing all these balls, but I’m not one of them. I’ve never had a head for heights and there are times when I seriously question if I will ever conquer the marketing mountain. Yes I would love to sell more books and reach a wider audience, but there is a limit to my time, capabilities and resources.

On the plus side, the writing community is hugely supportive and I have made many new friends who have encouraged and cheered me on during the last twelve months. I’ve gained new skills, and although I’ve never had bags of self-confidence, I’ve definitely been forced out of my shell – although probably not far enough! I love writing and I can’t imagine not doing it. My enthusiasm may have been dampened, but ideas for plots and characters continue to arrive uninvited. I have the notebooks. I will fill them.

The Theatre of Dreams is currently a contender in the Joan Hessayon Award for debut novelists who have come through the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. I’m going to attend my first RNA event in September, the York Tea, where the award is announced. I’m looking forward to meeting a lot of my new writer friends for the first time. I didn’t think I’d be doing that this time last year.

I’ve had some amazing reviews for both my books – and not just from my family. Comments such as ‘an unexpected gem‘ and ‘a treasure trove of a novel’ are personal favourites, and have done a lot to boost my sagging ego in the darkest times. This last year really has been a huge learning curve. In hindsight would I have done things differently? Undoubtedly. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

You can find out more about either book – and buy your own copy – via the links below!

https://www.rosietravers.com/the-theatre-of-dreams/

https://www.rosietravers.com/your-secrets-safe-with-me/

And by the way, in case you’re wondering – no the cat didn’t love the dog. (See previous post!!)

My House Move and Other Horror Stories

Bookish things have taken a back seat over the last month or so. Sometimes life just gets in the way. Basically I’ve had a lot of “stuff” going on. If I was a master of self-publicity I would use these episodes – a house-move, car trouble, elderly mother’s deteriorating health, preparations for imminent arrival of daughter, boyfriend and her dog (how is he going to get on with the cat?) from Budapest, to my advantage and continued to Tweet, FB and Instagram about my personal life to raise my social media profile.  People do but when I was knee deep in corrugated cardboard and bubble-wrap the last thing I thought about was dropping a picture onto Instagram – ooh look, another box to unpack. Anyone else have Tupperware that breeds? Some people might find that interesting – personally I don’t and I always judge my social media posts by what I consider something I’d want to read – and this, I realise is where I’ve been going wrong.

This is when I wish I’d used a pen name when writing my books because with a pen-name I could have created a whole new persona who’d be one step removed and could twitter on about anything. Suzi Smith (yes, I name I really did consider adopting) would be ever present on social media with witty comments, and even non-witty comments on every day life. She would be continually posting to keep her presence afloat (this is a tough business and if you don’t float, you sink without trace). Suzi Smith would be putting herself out there and using every situation to her advantage – even in her darkest hour.

Don’t you just love the NHS – mum’s hip operation cancelled due to chronic iron deficiency. Never mind at least we got a free cup of tea and a cheese sandwich after three hours waiting in pre-surgery. LOL!

Now I know why estate agent insisted on using the back entrance when he showed us around the house. Loving our genuine Arts & Craft front door but wish I could get it open…

New house teething problem number 2 – who doesn’t love a soft-close toilet seat. Just wish it would wait until I’d finished doing my business before it starts closing. OUCH!

By the way, have you ordered a copy of my latest book? Just £1.99 on Amazon…

Suzi Smith would not only be the master of self-publicity she’d also  write very commercial women’s fiction; her novels would be highly marketable – and here’s my next dilemma. My faithful old desktop crashed just before our house move. Had I backed up my latest WIP? Well yes, but not since about the 25K word-mark and I last left it at 40K. But now that my precious data has been recovered (at considerable cost, I might add – that’ll teach me to ignore those messages reminding me to back up my PC) I’ve taken another look at Book 3 and decided my efforts to write something a little more commercially orientated a la Suzi Smith are not winning me over, in fact I don’t actually like the hunky all-American boy-gone-bad-but-he-will-redeem-himself hero I purposefully created to attract a wider audience.

Stressing over things we cannot change is wasted energy. Today, I feel like I have emerged from a long dark tunnel. Over the last few weeks it seemed impossible to imagine I’d ever have the time, let alone the inclination, to return to the keyboard.   But now, as watery sunshine filters through the canopy of the enormous Caucasian Wingnut tree at the end of my new garden (it’s a very rare specimen – we viewed the house in winter when it was half the size)  I feel a welcome sense of calm.  

My mum has accepted she’ll never get a new hip unless she eats more greens (slipping into Suzi mode here) just as I’ve accepted she needs a little more looking after than she currently receives – but other carers are available. As always it’s a question of attitude. I’ve decided the dent in my car gives it far more character, as does the crack in the windscreen, the Hungarian Dachshund-cross compatible dog food has been ordered on-line (the cat will love him), and as much as I appreciate the historic merits of my rustic front door, a new one I can open, shut and lock is already on its way.

It’s time to pick up the pieces and crack on. I do want to complete another novel and the answer I believe lies in a good murder. In fact, I’ve decided all-American boy is going to be my first victim. His girlfriend – un-named as yet but I have one in mind – may well be my second.

Poor Suzi, what a horrid way to go...

Comfort Reading with Alice Castle

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks – I’ve been on holiday, which was great fun, and moved house, not such great fun. The perfect tonic to the upheaval would be to immerse myself in a good book, so while I seek out my much cherished paperbacks amongst the packing debris, I’m delighted to welcome author Alice Castle as my guest to talk about her favourite comfort reads.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog today, Rosie. I’ve always been a voracious reader, disappearing into written worlds whenever I get the chance, so narrowing down my list of comfort reads to just five has been hard. Some have leapt onto the list, some have jostled elbows a bit with others in my subconscious before making it to the light of day. In the end, I’ve chosen a handful which I’ve not only truly loved but which also show my own writing passions and enthusiasms. I hope they’ll strike a chord with others, maybe because they’re so familiar – or maybe because they’re new and tempting.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. There are some books that you wish you’d never opened, just so you could have the sheer pleasure of reading them for the first time all over again. Mr Darcy and I have been an item since I picked this book up as a teenager, but I can still remember the excitement when our eyes met across that crowded ballroom and he was so withering about Lizzie. Strange he ends up with her every time.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Every time I re-read Jane Eyre, a differentaspect of the book resonates with me. As a teenager, Jane’s awful school experiences made mine seem a tad less grim. In my twenties, Jane’s struggle to be independent and to be taken seriously were inspiring. In my thirties, her verbal jousting with Mr Rochester started to fascinate me. And at all ages, it is hard not to be awe-struck by Charlotte Bronte’s crie de coeur: ‘Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!’

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. A book which, despite the obstacle of a dull-as-ditchwater mouse as protagonist, manages to drip with toxic glamour. From the wonderfully sinister Mrs Danvers to the lingering ghost of Rebecca herself, like a whiff of stale Je Reviens in the corridors of Mandalay, we are caught in the writer’s web as she doles out information precisely when it suits her. This could not be called a relaxing read, but it is a masterclass in writing. Amongst other mysteries, we never do find out the second Mrs de Winter’s first name.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers. There are lots of things one probably shouldn’t enjoy about DL Sayers – the snobbery, the curiously dated attitude to the sexes, the self-conscious erudition – but in Gaudy Night everything comes together in one irresistible bundle, with a romance on top like a big red ribbon. And a heroine who writes whodunits and gets to marry into the aristocracy? Say no more.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. People always try and knock Agatha Christie, possibly because she makes it all look so easy. But she came up with amazing plots, time and time again. Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None and this book, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, are particularly brilliant examples of misdirection which are still fooling rapt readers every day. I love all her books but Roger Ackroyd has to be my favourite.

Alice Castle biography:

Before turning to crime, Alice Castle was a UK newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Her first book, Hot Chocolate, set in Brussels and London, was a European hit and sold out in two weeks.

Death in Dulwich was published in September 2017 and has been a number one best-seller in the UK, US, France, Spain and Germany. A sequel, The Girl in the Gallery was published in December 2017 to critical acclaim and also hit the number one spot. Calamity in Camberwell, the third book in the London Murder Mystery series, was published in August 2018, with Homicide in Herne Hill following in October 2018. Revenge on the Rye came out in December 2018. The Body in Belair Park will be published on 25th June 2019. Alice is currently working on the seventh London Murder Mystery adventure, The Slayings in Sydenham. Once again, it will feature Beth Haldane and DI Harry York.

Alice is also a blogger and book reviewer via her website: https://www.alicecastleauthor.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alicecastleauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DDsDiary?lang=en

Links to buy books: http://www.myBook.to/1DeathinDulwich

http://www.MyBook.to/GirlintheGallery,

http://myBook.to/CiC

http://myBook.to/homicideinhernehill

http://myBook.to/revengeontherye

http://myBook.to/BodyinBelair

Death in Dulwich is now also available as an audiobook: https://www.audible.com/pd/B07N1VNMLT/?source_code=AUDFPWS0223189MWT-BK-ACX0-140657&ref=acx_bty_BK_ACX0_140657_rh_us

Alice lives in south London and is married with two children, two step-children and two cats.

The Body in Belair Park by Alice Castle – Blurb

Beth Haldane is on the verge of having everything she’s ever wanted. Her son is starting secondary school, her personal life seems to have settled down – even her pets are getting on. But then the phone rings.

It’s Beth’s high maintenance mother, Wendy, with terrible news. Her bridge partner, Alfie Pole, has died suddenly. While Beth, and most of Dulwich, is convinced that Alfie has pegged out from exhaustion, thanks to playing with Wendy for years, Beth’s mother is certain that there is foul play afoot.

Before she knows it, Beth is plunged into her most complicated mystery yet, involving the Dulwich Bridge Club, allotment holders, the Dulwich Open Garden set and, of course, her long-suffering boyfriend, Metropolitan Police Detective Inspector Harry York. The case stirs up old wounds which are much closer to home than Beth would like. Can she come up trumps in time to stop the culprit striking again – or does the murderer hold the winning hand this time?

A couple of my all time favourite books in this list. Thanks so much to Alice to taking part. I’m a huge fan of the London Murder Mysteries and look forward to catching up with Beth’s next adventure!

Comfort Reading with Jo Fenton

This week I’m joined by psychological thriller writer Jo Fenton to talk about the books she considers her ‘treasured friends’. Jo’s debut novel, The Brotherhood, was released last year and her second book, The Refuge, is out later this month.

Rosie has kindly invited me to share my 5 favourite comfort reads today. To be honest, narrowing it down to 5 was the hardest bit!

My first is Persuasion by Jane Austen. I’ve always loved Anne Elliot as a character. She’s gentle, and yet holds firmly to her beliefs, even in the face of severe opposition, and even to the detriment of her own heart. This book has strong themes of friendship, loyalty and kindness – an ideal port in any storm.

From just a little later in time is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. My copy of this has fallen apart, so I now read it on kindle! Jane’s strength and vulnerability are the key characteristics that bring me to read this over and over again. Like Anne Elliot, Jane does what she think is right, despite it nearly killing her.

Moving forward to the early(ish) 20th Century – I believe around the 1930’s, I come to another book that’s fallen apart from overuse: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers. Harriet Vane was saved from hanging by Lord Peter Wimsey five years earlier. An incapacitating gratitude and inferiority complex has kept her from accepting his marriage proposal, but when he helps her tackle a dangerous poison pen writer at her old Oxford college, they are able to meet as equals. Dorothy L Sayers introduced me to the idea of combining a powerful love story with a crime thriller, and I return to this book at least once a year.

For my next choice, I return to my youth, and a book I was recommended by a sympathetic primary school teacher, who allowed me access to her ‘special shelves’. The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner, was my first introduction to magic, and the links with mythology. Like JK Rowling, Alan Garner’s books dwell close to the origins of our local and not so local legends. This book is based on the legend of Alderley, and is incidentally set in the same county as The Brotherhood and The Refuge.

Finally, I’m returning to a novel covering the period 1860-1901 with Victoria Holt’s On The Night of The Seventh Moon. This is probably classed as gothic romance, and has all the required elements of a fantastic love story: a mysterious hero, hints of Northern legends, Princes and Dukes from the little principalities that made up Germany at that time, and a vulnerable, but strong and determined heroine. Match these with a charming but evil villain, and death threats – how could I resist?

About Jo

Jo Fenton grew up in Hertfordshire. She devoured books from an early age, particularly enjoying adventure books, school stories and fantasy. She wanted to be a scientist from aged six after being given a wonderful book titled “Science Can Be Fun”. At eleven, she discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer, and now has an eclectic and much loved book collection cluttering her home office.

Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers.

When not working, she runs (very slowly), and chats to lots of people. She lives in Manchester with her husband, two sons, a Corgi and a tankful of tropical fish. She is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and a reading group.

Her first novel, The Brotherhood, is available from Amazon: https://t.co/YXdn8AM506

The sequel, The Refuge, will be released on 28th May by Crooked Books. It’s available for pre-order:  http://mybook.to/therefuge

Website www.jofenton137.com                

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jofentonauthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jl_fenton

The Refuge by Jo Fenton

Following the death of The Brotherhood’s charismatic but sinister leader, Dominic, Melissa and her husband Mark resolve to turn the Abbey into a refuge for victims of domestic abuse. But when Melissa’s long-lost sister, Jess, turns up at the Abbey, new complications arise.

The Abbey residents welcome the new arrival but find it hard to cope with the after-effects of her past. As Jess struggles to come to terms with what she’s been through, her sudden freedom brings unforeseen difficulties. The appearance of a stalker – who bears a striking resemblance to the man who kept her prisoner for nine years – leads to serious problems for Jess.

Meanwhile, Mark also finds that his past is coming back to haunt him. When a mother and daughter venture from the Abbey into the local town for a shopping trip, there are dreadful consequences.

A build-up of tension, a poorly baby and a well-planned trap lead Mel, Jess and their family into a terrifying situation.

Can Jess overcome the traumas of her past to rescue her sister?

Thank you Jo, for taking part. There are only a handful of books which have made a regular appearance in this feature and Jane Eyre is one of them – a testament to the lasting influence of a feisty female heroine!

Why I Write

After my last post about my jumbled approach to writing, I thought it might be a good idea to answer the question of why I write in the first place. This is a question authors often get asked – not just coming up with the ideas, but taking the time to write them down and fine tune them into full-length novels.  For me the answer is quite simple, I write the books I want to read.

I’ve a very fertile imagination and I enjoy making things up. Writing novels channels that talent to lie and fabricate into something legal.

I’ve always been an avid reader and because I enjoyed reading, even at a very early age I realised it made sense to write my own books – my own versions of the stories I liked to read. One of my very early influences was the wonderful Joan Lingard. As a teenager growing up in the south of England in the 1970s I had little experience of the troubles in Northern Ireland, but I was soon scribbling down my own cheap imitations of the Kevin and Sadie series which continued into several notebooks.

Who remembers the wonderful Jackie magazine, and its contemporaries My Guy? I made up my own versions of these too – everything from imaginary interviews with the pop stars of the day, to cover design and my own comic strip style illustrated stories. And everything of course suited my style and tastes – I had complete control over what the reader (ie me) saw.

I soon moved onto a typewriter and even dared to submit a story to a teenage magazine.  After receiving my first rejection (it wasn’t even a rejection it was sorry not for us but why don’t you try this magazine instead…) I ripped my story to shreds and vowed never to show my work to anyone else again. Who knows what might have been if I had followed that advice instead of resorting to typical teenage petulance?!

It  was over a quarter of century later before I plucked up the courage to send my writing out into the wider world again in the form of my first blog about the exploits of a fairly sane (or at least I was at the beginning) British woman’s adventures in Los Angeles. And it’s still out there gathering dust in cyberspace!

https://lifeinthelabubble.blogspot.com

Encouraged by the pretty good response to my writing style I started submitting short stories to women’s magazines.  By that time I’d hardened up – those early rejections were simply spurs to make my work better, not consign it to the bin.

I have come to realise that ‘writing the stories I want to read’ doesn’t necessarily mean commercial marketability. My favourite review of The Theatre of Dreams is the one that begins Wonderful plot and refreshingly different”.  A writer should have a unique voice and I want to give my readers something that surprises them – something that doesn’t necessarily go with the flow of expectations.  The trouble is the publishing world does encourage readers to have ‘expectations’! I’ve realised my writing crosses several genres – mystery, romance, intrigue, humour – making it hard to pigeon hole and I fully appreciate it’s a concoction that won’t please everyone, (but I do wish more people would give it a try!)  But one thing that has come out of reviews for both my books is the ability to tell a good story.

And that is why I write.

Failure to Plan

My other half, who has worked for a mega multi-national organisation for more years than is good for him, is fluent in corporate speak. One of his favourites is failure to plan is planning to fail – a little gem about time-management, something which has never been my forte.

My WIP (work in progress) is currently zooming along at high speed but in a very haphazard fashion. This is because I’m a “pantser” – when it comes to writing I fly by the seat of my pants and I make my stories up as I go along – as opposed to a plotter who researches and constructs their novel – chapter by chapter in some cases – before starting.  

A first draft is allowed to be messy, it’s where you write down all your ideas and don’t worry too much about the finer details. However, a plotter will have a plan, while a pantser is constantly going back to join the dots to make their story work.

I can totally understand the need for some prior research if you’re writing a historical novel. I write contemporary fiction and look up my ‘facts’ as I go along. However, not having a cohesive plan does have its drawbacks when it comes to consistency or when a fact no longer fits the plotline. For example, at the very start of my WIP my heroine is attending an event which could only take place in the summer.  Several chapters in I mention something that implies we are in winter – so now I either have to find an alternative event or put her in the southern hemisphere to solve the problem of what she is doing, but there again she has to nip back to the UK pretty swiftly to deal with the initial point of change – the dilemma which sets the story off – so I have to delete the wintery weather, which then has other implications as the story progresses….

Of course a plotter would have little details like this sorted – they’d have a calendar, a timeline and full character profiles and CVs. They’d know exactly what their character was up to and where and when she was doing it.

However, I like watching my characters develop. My current hero has mesmerised my heroine but to be honest he hasn’t mesmerised me yet, therefore he needs more bulk to his personality; he has do something that will have the reader rooting for him. Looking good is not enough; my hero need more than finely chiselled features and few rippling muscles (although that does help). Therefore a fact he has kept hidden about himself until a later chapter will now need to come out sooner to evoke a little sympathy. So back I go again…

At the moment I am going back more than I am going forward, but that’s ok.  I’m more than a third of the way through the book now and I think my idea has legs so it’s worth perserving to see how far it’ll run.

Both hero and heroine have changed names, as have several minor characters. You can’t have too many names that begin with the same letter; sometimes a name that seems to fit at the start, no longer seems appropriate. Nationalities and occupations have changed. The sub-plot which kicked the book off has fallen a little by the wayside and will have to be brought back to the forefront  before the reader forgets all about it, and the secondary plot is  vital, not just to keep the reader engaged during a lull in the main action, but because I want the two separate storylines to come together at the end.  See I have done a bit of planning – even if it’s just in my head. I do know how this book will end – or at least I think I do…

So being a pantser keeps the story fluid and organic. My characters drive the story forward and although leap-frogging backwards and forwards to drop in clues as the story progresses might seem like a less constructive use of time, not having a set plan makes writing fun and unpredictable! I’m just as much in the dark as to what my characters are going to get up to next as I hope my readers will be. A heart attack? I didn’t see that one coming but it so works…

Comfort Reading with Angela Wren

In France, 1 April is known as Poisson d’Avril and according to the internet (so it may not be true at all) the idea of playing jokes on friends and family evolved from the tradition of giving the gift of fish at the end of Lent. So in keeping with the French theme, albeit very tenuously, I’m delighted to welcome self-confessed Francophile Angela Wren to my blog this week to discuss her favourite comfort reads.

Hi Rosie and thanks for inviting me to your blog today.  I know it’s April Fool’s Day today, but my book choices are genuine despite the title of the first one!

Peacock Pie by Walter de la Mare – This book, published in 1946, wasn’t bought for, or by, me.  But it has been in the family home ever since I can remember.  I love it because some of my earliest experiences on stage are wrapped up in it.  As I flicked through the pages when I picked it off my shelf, I had to stop at ‘Silver’.  Before I’d even looked at the page properly I found myself reciting the first stanza :

Slowly, silently, now the moon

Walks the night in her silver shoon;

This way, and that, she peers, and sees

Silver fruit upon silver trees…

I was surprised that I could still remember the lines.  I was 6 when I first recited it for a poetry speaking competition and took 3rd prize.  Later I had to learn ‘The Bees’ Song’ and a couple of years after that, ‘The Listeners’.  It reminds me of the unencumbered bliss of being a child

Island-Nights’ Entertainments by Robert Louis Stevenson – I discovered this little gem, published in 1907 and leather bound, in a box of books in a junk shop whilst on holiday with my parents.  It cost very little from my holiday money and, once I’d started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.  This and some of the poems I had to learn for Mrs Burns – my speech and drama teacher – probably turned me into the RLS groupie that I am today.   Stevenson has been with me all my life and I have just about everything he wrote, some stories in more than one edition!  I know that, at times of great stress or difficulty, I can pick one of his books from my shelves and become lost for a while in the magic.

The Lost Girl by DH Lawrence– I came across my first copy of this book (the one in the pic is the first edition I bought later) as a twenty-year old.  I can recall reading it on the bus to work, and as I got to the most crucial point in the book, the Inspector demanded to see my ticket.  I just fished out a handful of tickets from my jacket pocket, slapped them in his open hand and went on with my reading.  The tears that had already formed began to cascade down my face but I kept on reading.  Eventually, I realised I was being spoken to, and it dawned on me that the ticket he wanted was the one in my book being used as a bookmark.  I thrust it at him and continued reading.  I did manage to get to the end before I had to get off the bus.  Each time I re-read this story, I see something new in it, but I always cry at that same page.  Have often wondered what the bus Inspector thought, though!

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorn – I studied this book for my English exams at school and was not especially impressed.  I came across this copy in a bookshop in my thirties and decided to read it again.  Realising I had missed so much of the essence of the writing, and the skill of the writer, I started to build a collection of Hawthorn’s books.  I have copies of his adult and children’s books – some of them very fine editions.  It was Hawthorn, I think, that turned me into the true book collector that I am now.  It was also Hawthorn that taught me that a book is for the words and that there will never be enough of them.

The Golden Reign by Clare Sydney Smith – Published in 1949 this little volume charts the life of T. E Lawrence following his return from Arabia until his death in May 1935 whilst serving in the RAF under the pseudonym of T. E. Shaw.  Written by the wife of his commanding officer it charts the friendship that developed between Mrs Clare Sydney-Smith and Lawrence through their letters, her remembered conversations, and some diary entries.  As a memoir it is one of the most fascinating I have ever read and I came across it by accident.  The foreword, written by Lawrence’s mother, states that the title was ‘his own name for the happy time’ he spent with the Sydney-Smiths.  Considering his vilification following his return to the UK, this book presents a picture of a very different man.

Bio

Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre.  I’ve been writing, in a serious way, since 2010.  My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.

I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work.  My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical.  I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio.  The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.

Blurb for Montbel (Jacques Forêt Mystery #3)

A clear-cut case? 

A re-examination of a closed police case brings investigator, Jacques Forêt, up against an old adversary. After the murder of a key witness, Jacques finds himself, and his team, being pursued.

When a vital piece of evidence throws a completely different light on Jacques’ case, his adversary becomes more aggressive, and Investigating Magistrate Pelletier threatens to sequester all of Jacques papers and shut down the investigation.

Can Jacques find all the answers before Pelletier steps in?

Links

Amazon : AngelaWren

Website : www.angelawren.co.uk

Blog : www.jamesetmoi.blogspot.com

Facebook : Angela Wren

Twitter : Angela Wren

Goodreads : Angela Wren

Contact an author : Angela Wren

Thank you very much Angela for taking part and sharing her love of some very classical and historical books.