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The Irish Rover

This week I’d thought I’d write my own travelogue about our two week tour of the Irish countryside. Like a lot of people we’ve had to look closer to home for our holiday ideas over the last couple of years.  In 2020 we ticked off North Wales and Scotland, this year we decided head to the island of Ireland, as it now seems to be referred to in the tourist board adverts.

As a child growing up in the 1970s, the idea of taking a break in Northern Ireland was off the radar, but thankfully, times are very different now. After a short overnight stay in Belfast and the afternoon exploring the city’s amazing Titanic Museum – we headed out into the countryside following the stunning Causeway Coast route north.

It may come as a surprise to a lot of people, but I’m a huge fan of Game of Thrones. Blood, gore, death, destruction, it’s not my normally my cup of tea at all, but after we’d been on a trip to Dubrovnik a few years ago and encountered hoards of tourists on GoT walking tours and shops selling plastic figurines of Sean Bean and Charles Dance,  we bought the DVD of the first series to see what all the fuss was about and became completely hooked (I blame Kit Harrington and that bewildered expression he perfected as Jon Snow).  

I forced Mr T to take a pitstop at a couple of locations which were used in the filming, firstly Ballintoy Harbour and then Dark Hedges, before we headed to the infamous Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, which much to my relief, was closed. No need to face the dilemma of whether I’d be brave enough to cross.

Ballintoy Bay (the Iron islands in GoT)
Carrick-a-rede

The following day we set out on a six mile coastal walk to take in the Giant’s Causeway and that’s when it all started to go a bit wrong. Somewhere along the route (which really is breathtakingly stunning with numerous photo opportunities), I damaged my foot, or my shin or my calf and quite possibly all three, and I developed a bit of a limp.

Giants Causeway

I know, rest, ice, compression, elevation, but I was on holiday. I had the whole of Ireland to see, a trip Mr T had painstakingly planned, that took us to Donegal, Westport, Galway, Dingle, Killarney and the Wild Atlantic Way…so I dosed up with pain relief and carried on.

At the lovely town of Westport we took a boat trip around Clew Bay, home to 365 islands and a large colony of grey seals. When you’ve visited the Titanic museum only days before, and you’re on a rather antiquated boat which the minute you step on board you think have they got a licence for this, listening to a commentary cataloguing local shipwrecks, the last thing you want to do is hit a rock, but we did. There was a horrible crunch, and the sound of breaking glass…

‘Nothing to worry about,’ the cheery commentator remarked as if it happened all the time. Looking at the state of the boat it probably did.

Much to my horror the following day Mr T suggested another boat trip, this time around Dingle Bay. Dingle Bay has been home to the Fungie the friendly dolphin for several years, and the town has milked poor Fungie for all he’s worth. Sadly he appears to be no longer with us but as this boat looked a lot more seaworthy than the last and Dingle Bay is a very pretty spot, we headed out to sea. To be honest, by this point in the trip anything that didn’t involve walking seemed like a good idea.

From Dingle we headed down to Killarney and the ring of Kerry. According to our Best Roadtrips in Europe Guidebook, if you don’t do anything else Ireland you do this.  It was truly spectacular but by then I’d already fallen in love.

Ring of Kerry

We’d planned our holiday to avoid spending a Saturday night in the cities of Dublin or Belfast, but Killarney should have been on the banned list too. We spent a lovely Friday evening enjoying “the craic” in a local bar, tapping our feet to some traditional music but the following day everyone else turned up. I’m not by nature vindictive but if I actually lived next door to any of the people who were running up and down our hotel corridor all night, I’d have been very tempted to get my lawnmower out first thing on Sunday morning – and possibly my hedge trimmer and jet washer too.

The Cliffs of Moher

After Killarney the scenery mellowed. From the craggy cliffs, barren moorland and mountains of the north, we were in the land of cows and Kerry gold. I have to say I’ve never seen grass as green as I did in Ireland, or as many rainbows.   

At Blarney Castle only Mr T was brave enough to kiss the stone but by then I knew if I got lay down to lean backwards over a parapet, I’d probably never get back up again.

It felt a privilege to visit Ireland without the hoards of usual tourists and it’s easy to see why they come. History is all around you, it’s impossible to avoid the stories of famine and mass emigration and the struggle for independence. There’s a lot of people all over the world who can claim some sort of Irish ancestry (me included!)

My lasting memories of Ireland will be the brave – or foolhardy – surfers riding the untamed Atlantic waves, ruined castles and ancient hillforts, and the remote rural cottages and homesteads with donkeys on the porch and a handful of sheep in the yard. The food was delicious, we were welcomed wherever we went and landscape has to be some of the most impressive and dramatic I’ve ever seen. I knew I’d like the south, because over the years I’ve read lots about it and seen the pictures, but Northern Ireland was revelation, a real hidden gem.

On Location with Isabella May

From Sydney to Scotland, I hope everyone is enjoying our series of armchair travel adventures. I’m delighted to welcome author Isabella May as my guest this week, and although Isabella lives in Spain, we’re actually staying quite close to home to explore her favourite location!

When you have spent toddlerhood through to your late twenties living in (arguably) England’s most mystical town – and you’re an author – it’s impossible not to feature said location in your books.

Glastonbury.

It’s a word that’s become rather iconic for mud, wellies, and Kate Moss et al posing for Hello! Magazine whilst glamping it up watching the biggest indie musicians in the world. But there’s so much more to my hometown than June’s annual music festival. In fact, the Glastonbury that most outsiders *think* they know, is actually Pilton; a village almost 7 miles away from the real town!

It’s fair to say that the ley lines and the quirkiness of the true Glastonbury have shaped every aspect of my creativity. Yet, for all its fame, Glastonbury rarely features in mainstream fiction. I may not be published with one of the Top Five, and I may not write formulaic commercial romcoms, but I am passionate about shining a spotlight on my former home, whenever a storyline permits. Glastonbury’s push and pull, its magnetism for lost souls and reinvention, and its hedonistic vibe make it impossible not to.

But there are layers to Glastonbury.

Beneath all of the cloaks, wands, crystals and mandalas, generations of farming folk and townspeople are rooted here to the town’s clay-rich earth. All of which makes for the ultimate story: a community steeped in the tradition of the land mingling with those in search of deeper meaning, fused with the generations of partygoers and the plain old eccentric. Glastonbury is a hotspot for plotting and character development. How can a storyline not take shape here?

My first novel, ‘Oh! What a Pavlova’, looks at Glastonbury from an unconventional point of view; that of a successful professional young woman called Kate, who feels trapped there in the confines of comfort zone life – and an abusive relationship – when she is not traveling the world with her career. All she wants to do is escape the place and the limitations it has unwittingly put on her. It’s been fascinating to contrast that writing experience with my second novel, ‘The Cocktail Bar’, where we see rockstar, River Jackson, pine for his hometown so much that he returns there from his South American music tour (much to the disdain of the cider drinking locals and the hash-loving hippies) to open a cocktail bar!

In other novels in my backlist, I’ve simply made mention of Glastonbury here and there, until I wrote ‘The Cake Fairies’; a timeslip romcom that sees professional bakers, Polly and Annabelle, visiting the town’s local Tor fair, where they meet a fortune teller who transports them from 1969 to 2019… an act which feels totally ‘Normal for Glastonbury’, to quote the name of the town’s infamous blog, penned by the wonderful Vicki Steward.

Side note: Vicki has written a fantastically witty book about the town and I simply have to include a link to it here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Normal-Glastonbury-Life-Englands-Magical/dp/B091F8PKVJ/

Moving on to the second of my 2020 novels, ‘The Chocolate Box’, we see an unlikely workplace reunion of former private school pupils from the town’s fancy school; a fate sealed with a Jumanji-style box of chocolates…

And in 2021, Glastonbury has provided me with just as much inspiration as ever! ‘Bubblegum and Blazers’ was published in June, and is a romcom set on a reality TV show (which I may have based in my former secondary school, wink, wink). That book was a delight to write and really helped me escape during the toughest months of the pandemic. Then in September this year, B&B was joined by ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bar’ where we witness the return of River Jackson from ‘The Cocktail Bar’… and this time he’s back to run a retro VW camper van selling decadent hot chocolate and gingerbread biscuits in Glastonbury and the surrounding villages – as you do.

Whilst my current manuscript focuses on Weston-super-Mare and the Algarve (and copious amounts of gourmet custard tarts), and book 10 will be set in sunny Spain, where I currently live, there’s no doubt the carrot dangle of Glastonbury will prove impossible to resist for long…

In the meantime, I’d love to see it represented more accurately in bestselling fiction. As I have hinted above, it’s not just the beauty of the Tor, the Abbey, the Chalice Well, the Holy Thorn, and Gog and Magog that deserve our attention, but the real people of Glastonbury. These everyday characters do more than flit in and out for a weekend of mud, music, and magic mushrooms, they are the town’s beating heart, and they are brimming with stories to share with bookworms far and wide.

You can buy Isabella’s latest release, ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bar’ here:

mybook.to/twinkletwinklelittleb

About Isabella

Isabella May lives in (mostly) sunny Andalusia, Spain with her husband, daughter and son, creatively inspired by the mountains and the sea. Having grown up on Glastonbury’s ley lines however, she’s unable to completely shake off her spiritual inner child, and is a Law of Attraction fanatic, as well as a Pranic Healer.

After a degree in Modern Languages and European Studies at UWE, Bristol (and a year working abroad in Bordeaux and Stuttgart), Isabella bagged an extremely jammy and fascinating job in children’s publishing… selling foreign rights for novelty, board, pop-up and non-fiction books all over the world; in every language from Icelandic to Korean, Bahasa Indonesian to Papiamento!

All of which has fuelled her curiosity and love of international food and travel – both feature extensively in her cross-genre novels, fused with a dollop of romcom, and a sprinkle of magical realism.

You can follow her Foodie Romance Journey series at the following hang-outs:

www.isabellamayauthor.com

Twitter – https://www.twitter.com/@IsabellaMayBks

Instagram – @isabella_may_author

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/IsabellaMayAuthor/

Many thanks to Isabella for taking part – aren’t her book covers just mouth-wateringly gorgeous? Me and Mr T spent our brief honeymoon staying in Wookey, just a few miles outside Glastonbury, and we’ve visited the town many times since. It holds a very special place in our hearts too.

On Location with Sandy Barker

I’m delighted to welcome author Sandy Barker onto my blog this week for another Locations feature. Sandy has used her love of travel to set her books in exotic locations all over the globe, but she’s chosen to tell us about one particular place which is very close to her heart.

I have lived in many cities around the world – LA, London, Seattle, Perth (the Australian one) and now I live in Melbourne, but for natural beauty my favourite city of all those I’ve lived in has to be Sydney.

I moved to Sydney in late 2000, only months after I’d volunteered at the Sydney Olympics. I’d visited before the Olympics, but during those weeks of beautiful Sydney weather and being out and about in the city, which was abuzz with Olympic fever, I fell in love. I returned to Perth, resigned from my job, packed up my belongings and moved east.

I lived there for eight years, always close to the coast, as for me that is one of Sydney’s biggest drawcards. I was a runner back then – running most days along the rugged paths that skirt the coast and hug those sandy white coves. I’d breathe in the briny air, take in the glorious views, including those stunning sea pools, and fall a little more in love with Sydney.

I’ve now set two books in Sydney – obviously part of A Sunset in Sydney takes place there, and it is also the main setting of my 5th book, The Dating Game. Set in the world of reality television, on a competition dating show called The Stag, ‘Stag Manor’ where the Does are housed is a mansion right on the shores of Sydney Harbour. During filming the contestants get to see some of Sydney’s most sights, such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.

Even though I lived in Sydney for almost a decade, I never tired of seeing the sails of the Opera House or that iconic bridge – and from the Botanic Gardens and Circular Quay, you can see both together.

As well as the natural beauty of Sydney and surrounds, those structural icons literally take my beath away every time I see them.

Speaking of Sydney’s surrounds … one of the destinations that the cast members visit is the Hunter Valley, a wine region a couple of hours north-west of Sydney. It’s where the bush meets vineyards, and I’ve had several mini-breaks in the Hunter over the years – the wine is delicious.

Hunter Valley – credit Kevin Rheese

The Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney, are also a spectacular place to visit, even though they are not really mountains – more like hills – and they aren’t particularly blue either. But the hiking through the forest is fantastic fun and the Three Sisters, natural monoliths, are definitely a sight to see.

So, with the mix of incredible architecture and natural beauty, Sydney is certainly an inspirational city and the perfect setting for falling in love. I can’t wait to get back.

About Sandy Barker

Sandy is a writer, traveller and hopeful romantic with a lengthy bucket list, and many of her travel adventures have found homes in her novels. She’s also an avid reader, a film buff, a wine lover and a coffee snob.

Sandy lives in Melbourne Australia with her partner, Ben, who she met while travelling in Greece. Their real-life love story inspired Sandy’s debut novel One Summer in Santorini, the first in the Holiday Romance series with One More Chapter, an imprint of HarperCollins.

The series continues in That Night in Paris and A Sunset in Sydney and there are two more to come in 2022. Her standalone novel The Christmas Swap celebrates her favourite time of the year, and next up is The Dating Game, a laugh-out-loud romcom set in the world of Reality TV.

https://www.facebook.com/sandybarkerauthor

https://sandybarker.com/

https://www.instagram.com/sandybarkerauthor/

Tags for social media

Twitter: @sandybarker @0nemorechapter_

Instagram: @sandybarkerauthor @onemorechapterHC

Facebook: @sandybarker – author @One More Chapter Books

The Dating Game Blurb

‘Hilarious and highly original’

Julie Houston, bestselling author of A Village Affair

Once upon a time, twelve women joined the hottest reality TV show looking for love. Except one had a secret identity . . .

Abby Jones is a serious writer. Or at least she will be, one day. Right now, she spends her time writing recaps of reality television under a secret identity.

When a recap for The Stag – the must-watch dating show – goes viral, her editor thinks she should be on set, writing the drama as it happens. The good news: the next season will be filmed in Sydney. Sun, sea and a glamorous trip abroad, this could be Abby’s big break.

The bad news: the producers don’t just want Abby to write the recaps, they want her to be on the show. Abby can’t think of anything worse than being undercover and followed around by cameras. But her career depends on it, and when she meets gorgeous producer Jack, Abby begins to wonder if this job might not be so bad after all . . .

Buy Links:

Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/37qqxQe

Amazon AU: https://amzn.to/3Al1hXW

Kobo: https://bit.ly/3ALnM9o

Google Play: https://bit.ly/3horQou

iBooks: https://apple.co/3xrDPra

Nook: https://bit.ly/3rX1VYE

Waterstones: https://bit.ly/3AIvuS0

Foyles: https://bit.ly/3ALnwqW

Many thanks to Sandy for taking part and sharing her wonderful pictures of Sydney. I was lucky enough to visit Sydney in 2018 and reading this post brought back some very happy memories. (Also very lovely to see the Three Sisters in full colour – they were surrounded in mist on our trip to the Blue Mountains!)

Onwards & Upwards

My self-publishing journey continues to be one big learning curve. Having successfully launched A Crisis at Clifftops in ebook form and proving, mainly to myself, that I am an intelligent and capable person who can master new tricks, the education continues. I’m now embarking on the production of a paperback. I’d love to say its due to popular demand – yes I have had few enquiries, but mainly its because I’ve realised what wonderful Christmas presents a signed copy will make to friends and family, especially with all the shortages predicted over the festive season this year. What no turkey? Never mind, devour a good book instead.

Seriously, I just love the feel and smell of a paperback, so I just thought, why not. I’m doing it for me, and that was also very much the theme of my first Facebook Live event which took place last week. I know these things are second nature to the younger generation, but not for me, although to be fair, it wasn’t actually meant to be live. I had recorded a well-rehearsed word-perfect video presentation to upload to my post, but at the last minute, technology let me down.

Fortunately, the event, the Chick Lit & Prosecco Facebook Chat Group Late Summer Festival, was a wonderfully relaxed affair.  My contribution was supposed to be a short, humorous piece entitled The Joy of Writing, an account of how I got my writing mojo back after a serious slump, with the aim of helping others in the same position.  The main emphasis of my talk about going back to basics, reminding myself why I started writing in the first place, which wasn’t to get a book deal or to top the Sunday Times bestseller list, but to simply tell a story. (It’s a theme I talked about on this blog back in November 2020 The Joy of Writing)

Despite the technical glitch my talk went down well, possibly because of the comparisons I made between writing and sex (I know my audience!). Fortunately I was neatly coiffured, made-up and fully-dressed when I had to jump in last minute when my video failed to upload. The show must go on, after all!

I’m very attached to my comfort zone and doing things like this quite frankly, scares me. I know it’s all about character building and challenging yourself, but twice in one week….

The Facebook event was followed a few days later by taking part in a podcast. Yes me, a podcast. I know, the kids couldn’t believe it either. After the release of A Crisis of Clifftops I was contacted by Charlie Place, a local book blogger. I originally met Charlie three years ago when I was just about to launch my debut novel The Theatre of Dreams.  Charlie told me how much she’d enjoyed the book and how the story and its characters had stayed with her, after all this time – which is music to any author’s ears!

The podcast will be broadcast at the end of October via Charlie’s website: http://wormhole.carnelianvalley.com/. At least there were no visuals to worry about this time and Charlie promised the piece would be edited! I wouldn’t say I was a media natural, but I’ve realised, just like writing, when you’re passionate about something, the words tend to flow quite easily.

And talking of The Theatre of Dreams, I’ve always felt this story deserved another chance out there in the big wide world, so I’ve given the book a make-over. When I’m back from my hols in October this lovely little book is going to have a relaunch. After receiving my rights back from its original publishers, Crooked Cat, the book has sat on the back-burner, buried in the dark vaults of Amazon obscurity. When designer, Berni Stevens, came up with her wonderful cover for A Crisis at Clifftops, I asked her to work her magic on The Theatre of Dreams too and here’s a teaser of the new cover…

After the relaunch, and the paperback, I’ll be hunkering down to do some serious writing again. The Puzzle of Pine Bay, the second Eliza Kane mystery, needs some revision if I want to publish in Spring 2022, which I do, and there’s also a sequel to The Theatre of Dreams which has been brewing away for some time and is singing to me again. I’m marching on!

After The Theatre of Dreams’ original release I thought I had to conquer the publishing equivalent of Mount Everest to consider myself a “successful” author. I beat myself up for feeling I’d made it no further than base camp. But it’s all about mindset. As I said in my Chick Lit presentation, find your G spot, work out what makes you happy and take it from there. I don’t have a head for heights. I don’t like climbing mountains. This time round I’m sticking to the hills!

On Location with Margaret Amatt

With its dramatic and diverse landscape, Scotland has always been a popular location when it comes to art and literature. We’re in for another travel treat this week as author Margaret Amatt tells us about the Scottish island which captured her imagination and provided the inspiration for her writing.

My book series, Scottish Island Escapes, is set on the glorious Hebridean Isle of Mull off the west coast of Scotland. This has been one of my favourite holiday destinations over the years and I’ve visited it in every season. Each visit has provided me with happy memories, gorgeous views and lots of inspiration!

It was twenty years ago, in 2001, I first travelled to the island, just for a weekend as I was gate-crashing my sister’s island-hopping trip. The two of us were young and carefree and booked a B&B for the night in a place called Fionnphort. As children we’d spent many a summer on another Scottish island, the Isle of Bute. Now, Bute is a fairly small island. You can drive around the whole thing in less than an hour. Mull is not! Mull is the fourth largest island in Britain and the roads are almost all single-track. It takes a looong time to get around. Neither my sister or I realised this and hadn’t bothered to read a map! It took us over an hour to reach the B&B from the ferry, more than double the time we’d imagined.

The shock of discovering just how big a place it was however vanished in the utterly jaw-dropping scenery. Around every twist on the road (and there are plenty of them!), was another view: a splendid mountain, a sparkling loch, a pretty woodland or the sea. And what a sea. All around Mull and its neighbouring Isle of Iona, the ocean is a glorious turquoise colour, sometimes resembling the Mediterranean more than Britain!

That was my first trip and I only touched on a small part of the island. I made a note to return and explore more. Since then, I’ve been back to the island almost every year and often more than once. I’ve travelled there in all weathers, including a memorable new year spent in the Island’s main town of Tobermory. Mull is a photographers’ paradise. There’s barely a place on the island that isn’t a beauty spot. Some trips, I’ve stopped the car every few seconds to snap pictures from the road of passing scenery I can’t bear to miss!

For many years, I was a closet writer and wrote only for myself. All my early work falls into that category and I wouldn’t want it to be anything else. What it meant however was that when I came to publishing my books, I had already written several works. During 2019 was when the dream started coming together for real. I had a story in my head that had been with me ever since my first trip to Mull. I’d only been a gate-crasher on that trip, and when my sister carried on her tour of the islands, I took public transport back home. That trip alone included a somewhat eventful bus trip, but that’s another story. Since then however, I’d wondered how someone from a totally different place would react to living on an island. I’m Scottish born and bred, so single-track roads and crazy weather don’t faze me too much. But what if someone from London, say, had to go to Mull, and even worse had to use public transport? What if they, like me, hadn’t investigated the size of the place, or didn’t realise buses could only get you so far. The more I visited mull the more potential for stories built in my imagination.

The original book I set on the island used the storyline I mentioned above, but as I wrote it, it evolved in my mind and I realised there was so much more than just one story here. I shook things up and decided to make a series of five books. The series called Scottish Island Escapes was born. There’s a book for every season plus a Christmas one due out this October. The original book became book four, An Autumn Hideaway. The lead character comes to Mull seeking her estranged mother but instead she meets a grumpy and enigmatic local who isn’t impressed with her lack of basic planning skills. As the story evolves, they form an unlikely bond, making it all the more difficult for her to leave when her time on the island is up. Let’s hope she finds her happy ending on the gorgeous Isle of Mull with rainbows around every corner.

I’m planning to continue the series next year and with so much inspiration to draw from, I’ll be spoiled for choice. Because it’s a place so special to me, I’ve written in a lot of real villages, beaches and features, but invented the names of houses, hotels, farms etc. This has made a lot of my readers want to visit Mull themselves! Even my editor thinks I should be on commission from the local tourist board – an interesting idea! If you’re inspired to read the series or are curious to find out more please follow this link:

www.margaretamatt.com/linktree

About Margaret Amatt

Margaret Amatt is a Scottish author based in Highland Perthshire. She lives with her husband and young son in a beautiful glen surrounded by woods, hills and wildlife, and close to the River Tay.

Margaret has four published books and more in the pipeline. She has also won a short story writing competition at Pitlochry Festival Theatre and had her winning piece performed live in the auditorium.

For more information please visit.

www.margaretamatt.com

or sign up for Margaret’s newsletter at:

https://www.margaretamatt.com/subscribe

Blurb for An Autumn Hideaway

She went looking for someone, but it wasn’t him.

After a string of disappointments for chirpy city girl Autumn Elworthy, discovering her notoriously unstable mother has run off again is the last straw. When Autumn learns her mother’s last known whereabouts was a remote Scottish Island, she makes the rash decision to go searching for her.

Taciturn islander Richard Linden has his reasons for choosing the remote Isle of Mull as home. He’s on a deadline and doesn’t need any complications or company. But everything changes after a chance encounter with Autumn.

Autumn chips away at Richard’s reserve until his carefully constructed walls start to crumble. But Autumn’s just a passing visitor and Richard has no plans to leave. Will they realise, before it’s too late, that what they’ve been searching for isn’t necessarily what’s missing?

Buying link https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B095289PRN/

Many thanks to Margaret for taking part and sharing her gorgeous pictures. Margaret definitely should be working for the island tourist board – although I’d just like to point out that Mr T and me still have nightmares about driving around those roads in Mull after our road trip to Scotland last year!

On Location with Fiona Leitch

We’re taking another excursion on the theme of literary inspiration this week. Author Fiona Leitch takes us behind the scenes in Paris for a guided tour of her latest novel.

As a reader, I love books with a strong sense of location. If I can imagine the scene – smell the coffee, or the roses blooming, feel the breeze, hear the thrum of traffic or the waves lapping against a white sand beach – then I’m much more likely to invest in the characters and their journey; it feels like I’m there with them. As a writer, my books’ locations mean I can have fun! What better excuse for a holiday than ‘research’?

 My latest book, Falling in Louvre, is set (obviously) in Paris. It’s the setting for many romance novels, of course, but I’ve tried to include a few of the less obvious parts of the city, including places I’ve visited myself.

The Louvre museum plays a major role, as my protagonists Sylvie and Philippe both work there. Its most famous inhabitant is the Mona Lisa, who’s actually far smaller in real life than you’d probably imagine. Less well known is the Carousel du Louvre, the underground shopping mall directly underneath the museum, where Philippe goes to buy something for Sylvie. The mall also offers another entrance into the museum, which is a good way to skip the ever-present massive queue of visitors outside by the famous pyramid. 

One of the places that Sylvie and Philippe end up on their adventures is the Manoir de Paris, a haunted house tourist attraction set in a magnificent former ceramics workshop built in the 1880s. It originally stood cheek-by-jowl with the Saint-Lazare leper colony and prison, so the area has a colourful if rather macabre history – just right for a haunted house…

This in turn leads Sylvie and Philippe to a location that is even more spooky – the Paris catacombs. There is a 1.5km loop of underground tunnels, the last resting place of several thousand Parisians from the 18th century (and earlier), which is open to tourists and is an undeniably fascinating (if rather claustrophobic and eerie) place to visit. But then there’s the REAL catacombs, an estimated 320km network of ossuaries, abandoned quarries, sewers and tunnels that runs the entire length and breadth of the city, including the ‘lake’ (actually a water tank designed by the opera house’s architect in 1862, to contain groundwater rather than try to pump it away) under the Palais Garnier, which influenced the Phantom of the Opera story. It’s been illegal since 1955 to go down there, but it doesn’t stop everyone – there’s a whole gang of ‘cataphiles’, urban explorers who spend their time seeking out hidden tunnels, not to mention the underground dining clubs, illegal raves and others with purposes nefarious or otherwise… I really enjoyed visiting the ‘official’ catacombs, but I would give anything to go to a party down there. What an atmosphere!

A more romantic atmosphere can be found on the famous Pont des Artes bridge, which crosses the Seine near the Louvre, where scores of lovers have shown their devotion by writing their names on padlocks and securing them to the bridge as a symbol of their undying adoration; their names together, for ever more. Or at least until the city council come along and cut them off, which they do every few years. The last time this happened almost 40 tonnes of padlocks were removed!

Sylvie lives in some style in the 6th arrondisement, a very expensive part of the city, while Philippe lives with his mum in a tiny top floor apartment in Montmartre. One of his favourite places nearby (where they have a rendezvous in the rain) is the Sacre Coeur. The cathedral sits above the city on its hilltop, and the view from there is probably the best in Paris – better, even, than the one from the Eiffel Tower, as it actually has the tower in it! Who can blame Philippe for spending sunny afternoons there, reading his book on the grass, before wandering down into the streets below for a coffee?

I adore Paris. It’s a beautiful city, and it definitely puts you in the mood for love. I hope Falling in Louvre will make you fall in love with it too!

Buy link: mybook.to/Louvre (available exclusively on Amazon)

About Fiona Leitch

Fiona Leitch is a writer with a chequered past. She’s written for football and motoring magazines, DJ’ed at illegal raves and was a stalwart of the low budget TV commercial, even appearing as the Australasian face of a cleaning product called ‘Sod Off’. Her romantic cosy mystery series, The Nosey Parker Mysteries, is published by One More Chapter/HarperCollins, while her debut novel, ‘Dead in Venice’, was published by Audible as one of their Crime Grant finalists. After living in London, Hastings and Cornwall she’s finally settled in sunny New Zealand, where she enjoys scaring her cats by trying out dialogue on them. She spends her days dreaming of retiring to a crumbling Venetian palazzo, walking on the volcanic sand beaches of West Auckland, and writing funny, flawed but awesome female characters.

Social Media Links:

https://www.twitter.com/@fkleitch

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/@leitchfiona

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fiona.leitch.1

Website: https://www.fionaleitch.com/

Amazon author page:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fiona-Leitch/e/B07HYZLQ57/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Many thanks to Fiona for taking part. Fiona’s books are great fun and I’m looking forward to reading about Sophie and Phillipes adventures in one of my favourite cities. I have very happy memories of Me and Mr T taking romantic walks along the banks of the Seine…

One Month On

After a few weeks with my feet up, I thought I ought to pen my own blog post this week. A Crisis at Clifftops has now been out in the big wide world for a whole month, and it seems a good time for an analysis/appraisal of how things have gone.

Success, no matter how small, should always be celebrated. I’m a complete technophobe but I managed to upload my book onto Amazon – woohoo! I’m shy and reserved, yet I’ve managed to convince people they’ll enjoy this book enough to want to download their own copy – go me! Seriously, I am totally chuffed at the response.

My book launch was low-key. I’m working on a very tight self-publishing budget, prioritising editing and cover design, to ensure I had a professional quality product. I knew I would have to publicise this book organically with no paid promotions, not even a blog tour. I knew sales would be limited, but if I’m honest they’ve exceeded my expectations.

A Crisis at Clifftops was never going to become an overnight Kindle bestseller, but we made it to the dizzy heights of being a HOT NEW RELEASE, and at one point it was sitting at NUMBER 3 in its golfing category, which gave me something to sing and dance about.  I apologise now to anyone who follows me on Facebook –  every time I post something I can hear a chorus of “there she goes again, banging on about her b****y book.” The thing about being self-published is that if I don’t bang on about my book, no-one else will.  I have to keep it visible.

We all know about Facebook algorithms which limit who sees what, and anything I post on Twitter always disappears into a void. I’m grateful for every re-tweet and share by friends who understand how hard it is for independent authors like me to reach a wider audience.

Goodness knows how many books have been published in the last month. A Crisis at Clifftops will soon disappear off the radar. It will settle somewhere low down in the Amazon charts.  I do get a little flutter of excitement every time I see it move up in its Amazon category. I know those BIG bestselling authors never have to check these things – Richard Osman would be in a constant flap, but for me, each flutter is special, even more so because I made it happen all by myself.

There was a time after the publication of my second book back in 2019 when I felt totally disenchanted and deflated with the whole publishing/writing thing. Seriously I could have happily never written another word again.  

However, this time round I knew exactly what I was capable of. I set myself different targets. In the last four weeks I’ve received some amazing reviews from readers and from within the writing community, together with messages and comments which have totally restored my confidence and made my heart sing! And yes, even more exciting, readers can cope with a heroine who plays sport for a living!

I know not everyone who buys the book is able, or will be willing, to leave a review. There’s a minimum spend requirement on Amazon, and to be honest I don’t review every Amazon purchase I make. It’s a crochet hook – it crochets. It’s already got 1000+ reviews it doesn’t need another one…

I dream of 1000+ reviews, but us writers are needy, fragile creatures.  I genuinely want to know if you’ve enjoyed what I’ve written. So if A Crisis at Clifftops has made you smile, provided a few hours of escape, let me know. (And don’t forget to tell your friends if you think they might like it too – there are loads of people out there who would benefit from having this book in their lives, if only they knew it existed…)

Meanwhile, The Puzzle of Pine Bay, Eliza Kane Investigates Book 2, is on its way. I originally intended to have everything ship-shape and ready to set sail later this year, but that’s not going to happen. Apart from the fact that the Christmas novel marketing deluge is already underway (yes I know, ridiculous right? I don’t even feel I’ve had my summer yet), my plot was far too complicated. I’d basically tied poor Eliza up in knots. It’s not exactly back to the drawing board, more an extensive unpicking (why do you think I bought that crochet hook?!) Seriously, Pine Bay will be out early in 2022.

Making the decision to self-publish was very much about taking control, not just of what I write, but about publishing under my own terms. I’m really pleased (and relieved) with how these first steps have gone. To everyone who has downloaded a copy of A Crisis at Clifftops, you’ve made me very happy. Thank you. And if you haven’t downloaded a copy yet, what’s your excuse?

On Location with Melanie Robertson-King

The miles are stacking up as we travel cross-country on our virtual travels, seeking out those inspirational book locations. This week Canadian author Melanie Robertson-King explains her unique and very personal reason for choosing Scotland as the setting for her debut novel.

I’ve noticed you’ve had some people choose Scotland as their location. Of course, that was my go-to as well, but I’m willing to wager my reason and connection to Scotland hasn’t been featured on your blog.

My father was born in the heart of Aberdeenshire between the towns of Insch (a Royal Borough no less) and Huntly in the parish of Kennethmont. He came to Canada as a British Home Child through the auspices of The Orphan Homes of Scotland after being raised there since his admission in 1917. I first visited both locations in 1993 and stayed at a farmhouse B&B in the Kennethmont area.

It was during this first visit that the seeds were sown, and ideas began to percolate. I changed the names of some of the towns/villages and the stately home to “protect the guilty.” LOL. Seriously, I knew the area well but giving people their privacy was the prudent thing to do. Insch became Duninsch – fitting since Dunnideer, and its hillfort overlooks the town. Kennethmont became Kendonald. Culsalmond became Williamsmuir, although it didn’t come into its own until the second book in the series. The farm’s name where my family lived in my novel and worked (actual name shall remain nameless) became Gordonsfield. And Wardhouse became Weetshill. The reason behind that is my father was born at Weets in Kennethmont parish, and some gazetteers referred to it as Weets, Wardhouse by Insch.

I deemed that other locations were far enough from the heart of the story that they could retain their identities (Huntly, Aberdeen City and Ladysbridge Asylum).

I’m not sure if it was the spooky ruins of Wardhouse mansion that started things, or maybe even the ghostly-looking trees on the road to the Picardy Stone. It was one of the two. There is a stone circle atop the hill at the farmhouse B&B, but I didn’t visit it on that first trip. But I did at least once before I started writing my debut novel and many times since.

I took this photo of Wardhouse mansion from the main road between Insch and Kennethmont in 2013. By this time, work on restoration had begun. At least removing the trees that were growing up inside this roofless hulk. I didn’t find out until years later that we could drive up there and wander around. You’ve got to love the Right to Roam. It wasn’t until September 2015, I got up close and personal with Wardhouse mansion, and I’m thrilled I did.

Isn’t it gorgeous? This photo graces the cover of the second book in the series. Not, only that but my grandfather was a tenant farmer for the Laird of Wardhouse. Pretty cool, eh?

The ghostly trees. Imagine seeing these on a moonlit night, the wind rasping through the leafy canopy. Send a shiver down your spine?

And let’s not forget the stone circle and the views from it. You can see Wardhouse mansion, the Ardmore distillery and of course, the farmhouse, barns and other outbuildings from it.

As a side note, I see faces in these stones. Once you see them, you can’t unsee them. 🙂

 With all this going for it, plus my familial link to the area, is it any wonder I chose Scotland as the setting for my debut novel?

About Melanie Robertson-King

Melanie Robertson-King has always been a fan of the written word. Growing up as an only child, her face was almost always buried in a book from the time she could read. Her father was one of the thousands of Home Children sent to Canada through the auspices of The Orphan Homes of Scotland, and she has been fortunate to be able to visit her father’s homeland many times and even met the Princess Royal (Princess Anne) at the orphanage where he was raised.

Follow Melanie at these links:

Website:  https://melanierobertson-king.com

Celtic Connexions Blog:  https://melanierobertson-king.com/wp02/

Facebook Author Page:  https://www.facebook.com/MelanieRobertsonKingAuthor/

Twitter:  @RobertsoKing

A Shadow in the Past – Blurb

When a contemporary teen is transported back in time to the Victorian era, she becomes A Shadow in the Past…

Nineteen-year-old Sarah Shand finds herself in Victorian Era Aberdeenshire, Scotland and has no idea how she got there. Her last memory is of being at the stone circle on the family farm in the year 2010.

Despite having difficulty coming to terms with her situation, Sarah quickly learns she must keep her true identity a secret. Still, she feels stifled by the Victorians’ confining social practices, including arranged marriages between wealthy and influential families, and confronts them head only to suffer the consequences.

When Sarah realizes she has fallen in love with the handsome Laird of Weetshill, she faces an agonizing decision. Does she try to find her way back to 2010 or remain in the past with the man she loves?

https://books2read.com/shadowinpast

Many thanks to Melanie for taking part.

On Location with Lynne Shelby

Continuing our armchair travels, this week we’re heading off for some well-deserved sunshine with my special guest Lynne Shelby.

I never know what’s going to inspire me to write a book. Very often it’s an overheard conversation on a bus or train, or a photograph, but with my new novel, Love On Location, it was the location – a Greek island – that inspired me before I had any ideas about the characters or plot.

I was on holiday on the island of Kefalonia when I knew that I simply had to write a book set in beautiful Greece. The off-the-beaten-track place where I was staying consisted of just a few typically Greek sugar-cube-style villas, each with its own turquoise swimming pool. Right next to a small rocky beach, with nothing to see along the coast in either direction, and reached by a dirt road, it was like a picture postcard. There was even a wooden table at the top of the beach, under an awning of palm leaves, which became my writing room, and sitting there, looking out over the impossibly blue Aegean to the horizon where the sea merged into the sky in a haze of heat, the outline of the story that eventually became Love On Location, began to take shape. When my heroine, Laurel, a screenwriter, and my hero, Jason, join a film crew on location in Greece, they stay in a villa very much like the one I stayed in, and Laurel writes her film script at the same table shaded by palm leaves where I started jotting down ideas about her story. 

The other island that inspired the location of the book is Santorini, another incredibly beautiful place, famous for its views over a sea-filled caldera, the remnants of a volcano that erupted three thousand years ago and gave the island its crescent shape. The first time I visited was on a cruise, with just one day ashore, but I found the landscape of sheer cliffs plunging into the sea absolutely stunning. A few years later, on an island-hopping holiday, I visited Santorini again and had more time to explore. When I came to write Love On Location, I wanted Laurel and Jason to see the same picturesque villages of white houses with blue shutters at the windows and cobbled streets, and the views of the caldera that I’d found so breath-taking. The island is also famous for its gorgeous sunsets, and watching the huge orange globe of the sun sink into the sea from a cliff-top village, I couldn’t help but think how I might write this romantic scene into a book. Santorini also has some fascinating ancient ruins – the remains of the city of Akrotiri – and a visit there inspired me to make my hero, Jason, an archeologist who is just as passionate about his work as Laurel is about the movies.

When it came to writing the first draft and choosing the island that would be the setting for Love On Location, I couldn’t decide between Kefalonia and Santorini, as both had places that were ideal for certain scenes in the book, but neither had everything I needed. In the end, I merged the two islands into the fictional Kyros. Not that anyone needs the excuse of research to visit the Greece, but after I’d written the book, I took another trip to Santorini, to remind myself of small details about the Greek islands that I might have forgotten, and the sounds and scents that do so much to create a sense of place.

I hope that in Love On Location, although Kyros is fictional, I’ve managed to convey the real atmosphere of an idyllic Greek island.

About Love On Location

When Laurel Martin is hired to rewrite the script for a new timeslip movie, she expects the historical advisor hired by the studio to be an elderly academic who won’t interfere too much with her writing. But when she meets Professor Jason Harding, a young and unexpectedly handsome archaeologist who has his own ideas about the script, she realises the job isn’t going to be as simple as she first thought.

As their work takes them from arguing over historical details in a cramped London office to discovering the hidden beauties of a Greek island, Laurel and Jason’s relationship starts to echo the romance of their script.

Will movie magic lead to a real-life love story?

Buy Link

Amazon.co.uk: Lynne Shelby: Books, Biography, Blogs, Audiobooks, Kindle

Website: www.lynneshelby.com

Twitter: @LynneB1

Facebook: www.facebook.com/LynneShelbyWriter

Instagram: lynneshelbywriter

Author Biog

Lynne Shelby writes contemporary women’s fiction/romance. She was first published when her debut novel, ‘French Kissing’ won a national writing competition. She has done a variety of jobs from stable girl to child actor’s chaperone to legal administrator, but now writes full time. When not writing or reading, Lynne enjoys visiting the theatre or exploring a foreign city, writer’s notebook, camera and sketchbook in hand. She lives in London with her husband, and has three adult children who live nearby.

Many thanks to Lynne for taking part and for giving us a taste of Greece. I think it would be hard NOT to be inspired by those wonderful views, and I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing I was there right now!

On Location with Natalie Normann

After all the excitement of my book launch (which was very successful, thank you for asking), I’m very happy to put my feet up this week. Continuing my series of literary travelblogs, I’m delighted to welcome Scandanavian author Natalie Normann who takes us on a journey to her native Norway.

Where I go to be inspired

When my dream to write in English suddenly appeared (it did), I panicked. I had a wonderful editor, a contract for two books and the brief was to write contemporary romance from Norway.

Honestly, there was really only place that would do. My hometown. I love my memories of growing up there, and wanted to see if I could capture that in a story.  Most of my writing career I had avoided it, thinking it would be to small, to local, to far away from everything.

I grew up in Haugesund, a small, but historically important, town on the west-coast. It was called ‘the most isolated town’ in the country, because it’s stuck between two long fjords and a mountain plateau. The easiest way to travel anywhere was by boat.

When I was a teenager, the only interesting thing in town was the library. I knew there was history, but there was no drama, no romance, nothing that caugth my interest. And that was despite the Viking history of the area …

Growing up, I thought Haugesund was all about fish and ships, then oil and oil platforms, cannery factories, herring oil factories (and the horribly smell that came from them). None of it caught my imagination. I didn’t like herring (still don’t), I couldn’t go to sea because I was a girl, and working in the oil industry was for people who liked maths and had a lot more practical abilities than I ever had.

So, shortly before I turned 18, I was off to Uni in Oslo. I was going to study literature, become a proper writer, and never write about my hometown. I achieved the first two, and failed splendidly with the third. My first book was set in Hamburg, the next books were all set in Oslo.

And then I started writing historical romance series, and discovered how interesting and fascinating the history of a small shipping town can be – when you start digging through the local history, getting to know the people who lived there, how they lived – I also discovered how important this little strip of land had been way back when the Vikings roamed the shore.

I’ve asked myself why I find writing about my town so fascinating. I haven’t lived there for many years, but I do think the place a person grows up, imprints on you. It becomes a part of your voice when you write. If you let it.

When I write, I try to use everything that I love about the landscape, but also the history and the people. I don’t write about actual people, but there’s inspiration there too.  Norway used to be a place of hardship, with poverty and nothing much to show for your efforts. It’s changed now, of course, but the culture is still there. And when I do research, I find inspiration in the people I meet from the past. Maybe writers are ghosthunters who don’t kill ghosts, but write about them instead.

Which is why Summer Island and Christmas Island are both set on a small island just outside of my hometown. I loved exploring memories of trips to islands, of the weather, the stunning landscape and all the quirky characters I know are there. Even in real life.

Also, I had so much fun in making Nordic less Noir. Yes, the winters are bleak and cold, but they are so much more than that. And the summers are glorious, even if the water is can be so, so cold.

 About Natalie 

Natalie Normann grew up in a small shipping town on the west-coast in Norway. She wanted to be a writer as soon as she realised that books were written by real people. Her debut novel was published in Norwegian in 1995. Since 2007 she has written Historical Romance in Norwegian and recently published her 66th book. Summer Island and Christmas Island are her first books in English. 

Links to social media and buy links: https://linktr.ee/NatalieNormann

Many thanks to Natalie for taking part and providing an insight into her writing. Norway has always been on my wish list of places to visit, fingers crossed I’ll be able to make it in the not too distant future!