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A Little Blog Post by the Sea

I’m not usually one to court controversy but there were a few bits and bobs on Twitter this weekend about book titles, so I just thought I’d jot down my thoughts. Joanne Harris, one of my favourite authors, upset a few people with a list of book titles she no longer wished to see, anything featuring the word ‘little’ – eg café, bakery, coffee shop, titles with The + one other word, and titles referring to a feminine relative – daughter, mother, sister.

I didn’t enter into the argument other than to like a couple of replies, simply because I actually (shock horror)  agree with some of the points Joanne was trying to make.  Book titles follow trends and I think it would be fair to say there is trend in the women’s fiction market for pretty pastel coloured books featuring a variety of ‘little’ business opportunities.

There’s no doubt that the ‘little’ in the title is meant to convey a quaintness, the romantic idyll, something warm and comforting and a lot of readers like that – as the marketing departments of the big publishing houses well know.  Include a ‘little’ something in the title and a reader can immediately identify the genre.

Cosy ‘little’ coffee shops abound between the pages of novels, but rarely do such wonderful places exist in real life.  Who wouldn’t want to escape to Cornwall and run a ‘little’ B&B? Well not me actually because running a B&B is bloody hard work, but I’m more than happy to read a fictitious account of somebody else’s attempt to revitalise Granny’s ‘little’ old cliff-top hotel – and dream on.

Likewise tea rooms, which always seem to have a faceless background crew so that the heroine, or hero, has plenty of time to run around the village doing other wonderful things – when of course the reality is that like the small café in the village where I live, there’s never enough customers to make the place a viable financial proposition running it single-handedly, let alone make enough money to employ wonderful support staff.

Any business run along ‘little’ lines is doomed to failure in the real world so maybe it is time to come up with some alternative descriptions. A quick check through the thesaurus reveals some interesting possibilities – besides the size connotations – diminutive, miniature, there is also the unimportant – trivial and insignificant. Perhaps ‘little’ isn’t such a comforting word after all.

Books are subjective. As writers we have to acknowledge the paying public don’t all want to read the same thing and everyone has different tastes and preferences.  I don’t want to knock escapism – after all I write it – but ‘a little’ diversity in titles could go a long way in elevating commercial women’s fiction to a more prominent platform, and perhaps even a wider readership.

I heard Joanne Harris give a lecture a few years back at The Winchester Writers Conference and she is an eloquent, inspirational and passionate speaker.   The novel for which she is probably most well-known, Chocolat, was first published in 1999 and the publishing world was very different then. The irony is if the book was being marketed today, I’ve a sneaking suspicion the suggestion might be mooted for The Little Chocolate Shop in France…

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Guest Post – Lesley Cookman on Comfort Reading

As the nights draw in it’s the perfect time to return to some more comfort reads – the literary equivalent of putting on a pair of warm slippers.  Comfort reading is all about the books that evoke special memories or the books we return to time and time again. Today I am joined by best selling novelist and the ‘Queen of Cosy Crime’, Lesley Cookman who picks her top five.

 

My comfort reads all date from my childhood, as I’ve noticed so many others do.

The first is The Swish Of The Curtain by Pamela Brown. It concerns a group of children who set up their own theatrical company – The Blue Doors. There are follow up books, but it’s the first that tops the list. As a child with a desperate desire to be an actress, this spoke to me in spades, and I can’t remember how many times I read it.

 

The second is I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith, given to me at the age of twelve by friends of my parents who belonged to a book club. I got all their cast offs… The first line out-Rebeccas Rebecca in my opinion: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink…” A journal, written in three different exercise books by a seventeen year old girl. Thoroughly immersive, romantic and inspirational. How many girls started journals as a result of reading this book? I did. I even used Dodie Smith as the subject of a thesis at university.

 

The third is Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K Jerome. My father had a copy, which I inherited, and now have two more of my own.  My parents and I used to read passages out loud to one another and end up in paroxisms of laughter. I am delighted to say that my own adult children still do that – from choice! Amazing. Written in 1889, the language is surprisingly modern, and aficionados only have to say “The Cheese!” or “Uncle Podger!” to one another to be lost in helpless mirth.

 

The final two are both series, from which I can’t single out one book. Monica Edwards’ Romney Marsh series, better known as the Tamsin and Rissa books have a lot to do with my now writing a series about a group of friends. The first I was given was the Summer of the Great Secret, about the Kent Coast, smuggling and –Ponies! That was the other love of my life, although I wrote a lot as well, but that was just something you did, not a great ambition. When I managed to fracture my pelvis two years ago, I re-read the entire series – and, incidentally all the others mentioned here.

 

And last, the Ngaio Marsh Roderick Alleyn series. My parents had all her books currently published, and between us we bought each new one as it came out. It started off as a familiar theme – the aristocratic detective, a la Albert Campion and Peter Wimsey. But Alleyn soon developed his own distinct personalility, as did his wife, son and sidekicks. And he moved with the times. The rather grating treatment of “the lower classes” was dropped as attitudes changed. The other thing that particularly chimed with me was that Marsh received her “damery” as she called it, for her services to theatre in New Zealand, and several of her books have a theatrical setting, about which she  was incredibly knowledgeable. Marsh is the reason that I now write a mystery series, and I have just re-read her entire canon, beginning to end.

About Lesley

Lesley Cookman writes the Libby Sarjeant Mystery series, and Murder And The Pantomime Cat, a short, is coming out for Christmas 2018. She also writes the Alexandrian series, set in an Edwardian seaside town.

You can find out more about Lesley and her books at http://www.lesleycookman.co.uk

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Guest Post by Angela Wren – The Cévennes As A Setting

Location, location, location.  Despite having done a fair bit of travelling in my time, I set my novels in my native Hampshire.  Today  I am joined by fellow Crooked Cat author Angela Wren who talks about why she chose a French setting for the location of her novels.

Hi Rosie, and thanks very much for inviting me onto your blog.

I’ve been spending time in France since I was a teenager and I still find the country fascinating and I never seem to stop learning new things about the history and the culture.  But there’s also the geography too.

Today, I want to take you and your readers  to one of my favourite places, the Cévennes, an upland area in south central France.  Look at a modern map of France and you’ll see the Cévennes is now defined as a national park that covers parts of 4 départements – Ardèche, Gard, Hérault, and Lozère.  It spreads south and west below the route nationale RN88, a major thoroughfare that crosses this upland area from Lyon heading southwest.  It’s an area I’ve visited many times and there’s a wild ruggedness and a silence there I can’t seem to find anywhere else.

When I visit, I like to be in a tiny village that sits just north of the national park in col de la Pierre Plantée (planted rock).  So called because of that vast grey rocks strewn across the open pasture areas as though they are growing out of the landscape.  Apparently they warrant the technical term of ‘glacial erratics’, having been deposited millions of year ago as the ice sheets retreated.

At an altitude of 1263 metres (that’s 4,144 feet above sea-level), it’s a bit like living close to the summit of Ben Nevis (4,413 ft), but with better weather in summer.  Come here in June and the pastures are pear-green, the pines are inky-green in colour with the pale yellow pollen from the cones drifting on the gentle breeze.  The leaves of the chestnut trees are the same lush shade of green as shamrock, and, amidst the green expanse sit clumps of sunshine yellow genêt (botanical name Genista) almost competing for a right to grow amongst the planted rocks.

 

Having said that, the weather can be extreme and it can change in a moment.  When I was there a couple of years ago, it last snowed on May 31st.  In July and August the weather can be hot and dry and the grass turns a straw yellow under the baking sun.  In September the balmy breeze returns but so can the rain, bringing with it vast storms and floods.  I remember watching the sky in 1992 as a storm devastated the whole area and forced a national emergency to be declared.  That year it was rain, but sometimes it can be snow if the wind is coming from the right direction – as it was overnight on September 27th in 2007.  I woke up the next morning to a silent and white mountainous landscape and, after taking in the view, my thoughts turned to murder and how easy it would be to use snow in a place like the Cévennes to cover someone’s misdeeds.

From that single thought my stories for my hero, Jacques Forêt, were born and the location?  Well, that was a given.

Blurb

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?

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.

Links

Amazon : AngelaWren

Website : www.angelawren.co.uk

Blog : www.jamesetmoi.blogspot.com

Facebook : Angela Wren

Goodreads : Angela Wren

Contact an author : Angela Wren

Angela’s Books

MontbelJacques Forêt Mystery #03
MerleJacques Forêt Mystery #02
MessandrierreJacques Forêt Mystery #01
Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings An anthology of feel-good stories

Thank you Angela for giving us an insight into the corner of France that turned your mind to murder!

 

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The Importance of Creating Headspace

The last twelve months have passed in a bit of whirlwind with house moves, job changes, and of course, the book. Before acquiring my publishing contract for The Theatre of Dreams my forays into social media were limited to a personal Facebook page and a low-key blog about being an ex-pat.  Then I had to up my game and reach out into the whole new world of marketing. If writing a book is Dr Jekyll, then I’ve discovered  marketing it is my Mr Hyde. And unfortunately one doesn’t come without the other.

I’ve heard it said before that writers can feel consumed by their book. It’s true. It does take over your life. That baby you created, loved and cherished can easily become a monster.  The path from pitch to publication is a rollercoaster. There are the highs – the contract, the launch, and the lows – what comes after. It’s been a whole  witch’s brew of new skills. You don’t just have to be creative, you have to be tenacious,  relentless and/or extremely well organised.

Sometimes you have to step away from a situation to see it more clearly. When Mr T and I lived overseas we made the most of our weekends. We set out with our guide books to soak-up the history and culture of our adopted homeland. We promised ourselves that once we settled back in the UK, we would attack our local area with the same sense of  vigour. It’s very easy to overlook what’s on your own doorstep. In the Netherlands we explored towns – the Dutch countryside can be somewhat samey. But here in the UK even within a short distance of home the landscape changes. We’ve spent several recent weekends setting out on walks and hikes all within a thirty-minute drive of our home.  Up on the downs or down on the coast, the scenery and the exercise has proved quite liberating. Not only have we discovered some amazing new places, but more importantly these walks have provided the opportunity to gather thoughts and clear some headspace.

 

I’m a total novice into the world of book promotion but even I have quickly come to the conclusion that checking Twitter to see how many people have liked a tweet is not good for the soul.    I can be quite witty when I want to be, but that wit isn’t always spontaneous. Blink and a tweet is gone – and with it another missed opportunity!  I can’t be glued to my phone all day.  I’m not a teenager and I have to rise above it (and I’d just like to add in here I’d hate to be a teenager today, or even the parent of a teenager. Nobody needs that pressure!). Yes I am disappointed that my Amazon ranking is heading downhill with the speed of an Olympic skier – but my book is just one of many millions out there. It’s very hard to stand out from the crowd. I have to put it in perspective. It’s important to look at what you have achieved as opposed to dwelling on the perception of what you haven’t.

So okay, although not a bestseller (it always helps to lower your expectations) The Theatre of Dreams  has accumulated several 5* reviews on Amazon.  People have enjoyed it, and that’s why I write. My Instagram account is growing. Twitter – the necessary evil – has to be dealt with.  However, I do now have an author platform that didn’t exist twelve months ago and I’ll admit, I should have put more emphasis on building up that following before publication as opposed to after. I blame it on my upbringing – I was always told modesty is a virtue, but in today’s flooded book market, it really isn’t!

I’ve had my moments of serious self-doubt, but headspace cleared, and a deep breath of Hampshire air  I feel ready to continue the challenge.  Thanks to my publisher, Crooked Cat, my second book, Your Secret’s Safe With Me will be out next year.  More news about the book will follow soon – so watch this space, or even better subscribe to my blog so you don’t miss any updates!

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Guest Post – Comfort Reads by Morton S Gray

As the nights draw in it’s the perfect time for some more comfort reading. Today’s special guest is fellow romantic novelist, Morton S Gray. Morton is currently writing a series of stand-alone novels set in her fictional seaside town of Borteen. The Girl on the Beach and The Truth Lies Buried are joined by Christmas at Borteen Bay released on 13 November, all published by Choc Lit. Over to Morton.

 

Thank you for having me on your blog, Rosie. As I understand it, I have to choose five books which I turn to for comfort when I have that feeling of being overwhelmed by life.

 

Number One has to be Wintercombe by Pamela Belle. I have read this book countless times. My paperback of the novel is in pieces from overreading. This tale set in my favourite period of history, the English Civil War. The story captures my imagination and I can easily think myself into the role of Silence, the heroine of the book with her realistic maxim of “Make, do, mend.”

 

 

Number Two is Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Eat, Pray, Love. I’ve read this book at least five times and got something different from it each time. For those of you who have seen the admittedly delightful film of the same title starring Julia Roberts, the book is so much more. It is the tale of a woman, newly divorced, who sets out to rediscover herself in Italy, India and Indonesia. Having once been in this situation of feeling lost after a divorce, I can relate to the heroine and the text is also peppered with observations about life and spirituality.

 

Number Three I decided should be a classic and it was a close run thing whether to choose Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, or the one I have chosen, which is North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. Even though this book was originally published in 1855, after being serialised in 1854, it still reads wonderfully and I just adore the hero, John Thornton and the heroine, Margaret Hale. The book shows the industrial North of England and its conflicts in the mid-19th century as seen by the heroine, Margaret Hale, the daughter of a minister who moves to the fictional industrial town of Milton from the South.

 

Number Four is Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts by Lucy Dillon. I love this book because it is a true comfort read, a happy ever after gentle tale with dogs, where the people involved in a local dogs’ home discover loyalty, companionship and unconditional love.

 

 

 

Number Five I’ve chosen because it is the only book I can ever remember giving me so many laughs and I mean absolutely belly laughs! I laughed so much when reading it that my husband and my mother read it too and both laughed just as much. So, if you need more laughter in your life try The Ex-Boyfriend’s Handbook by Matt Dunn.

 

 

 

Thank you for inviting me over to your blog. I do hope your readers discover something new to enjoy in my choices.

 

About Morton by Morton

Morton lives with her husband, two sons and Lily, the tiny white dog, in Worcestershire, U.K. She has been reading and writing fiction for as long as she can remember, penning her first attempt at a novel aged fourteen. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.

Her debut novel The Girl on the Beach was published after she won Choc Lit Publishing Search for a Star competition. The story follows a woman with a troubled past as she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her son’s headteacher, Harry Dixon. This book is available as a paperback and e-book.

Morton’s second book for Choc Lit The Truth Lies Buried is another romantic suspense novel, the book tells the story of Jenny Simpson and Carver Rodgers as they uncover secrets from their past. This book is available as an e-book and will be issued as a paperback in 2019.

Christmas at Borteen Bay is published on 13 November 2018 and is Morton’s first Christmas novella. It is set in her fictional seaside town of Borteen and follows the story of Pippa Freeman who runs the Rose Court Guesthouse with her mother and local policeman Ethan Gibson as they unravel a family secret as Christmas approaches.

Morton previously worked in the electricity industry in committee services, staff development and training. She has a Business Studies degree and is a fully qualified clinical hypnotherapist and Reiki Master. She also has diplomas in Tuina acupressure massage and energy field therapy. She enjoys crafts, history and loves tracing family trees. Having a hunger for learning new things is a bonus for the research behind her books.

 

You can catch up with Morton on her website www.mortonsgray.com, on

Twitter – @MortonSGray, her

Facebook page – Morton S. Gray Author –  https://www.facebook.com/mortonsgray/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/morton_s_gray/

 

 

 

 

http://www.choc-lit.com/dd-product/the-girl-on-the-beach/

http://www.choc-lit.com/dd-product/the-truth-lies-buried/

https://www.choc-lit.com/dd-product/christmas-at-borteen-bay/

Thank you Morton for a very varied selection of novels. I’m really enjoying finding out what books other authors take comfort in, although I’m realising my to be read pile is growing!

 

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Meet Joan Livingstone

I think most writers are natural-born eavesdroppers, curious nosey-parkers with enquiring minds. Like squirrels hoarding nuts for the winter, we store snippets of overheard conversations or amusing anecdotes to transform and embellish into something far more intriguing.  So, imagine working as a small town journalist – the stories you could tell! This week I am joined by Joan Livingstone who talks about how her former job influences her writing.

How Journalism Shaped My Fiction

Isabel Long, the protagonist of my new mystery, Redneck’s Revenge, was a former long-time journalist before she became a private investigator. So was I although I didn’t become a P.I. I write about one.

Redneck’s Revenge is the second in my Isabel Long mystery series. The first was Chasing the Case, which was released last spring.

Both books are set in the small, rural hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, where I got my start in the newspaper biz. I was hired as a correspondent — paid by the inch — to cover the hilltown where I lived, Worthington, Massachusetts, population 1,200.

I had no previous experience, but that didn’t seem to matter to the editor who hired me. The experience grew into a 30-year career that ended after I was the managing editor of an award-winning newspaper in New Mexico, The Taos News.

But back to the start, I reported first on Worthington and eventually I covered several towns, plus did regional stories. I loved breaking a news story and getting to know what people did. I went to town meetings and covered what interested the community from truck pulls to school events to country fairs. I covered fires and what little crime there was. I did profiles. A few of my stories went national. I even went to the White House.

One of the greatest benefits was listening to the way people talked and writing it down. I believe it has paid off with realistic dialogue in my fiction.

It also gave me insight into how people behave, and certainly I had a total immersion into the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts, which I use as a setting for much of my fiction.

By the way, since Isabel snagged a bunch of cold case files from her newspaper, it was an opportunity for me to write news stories again — although for made-up subjects.

Here’s the start of one with the headline: Caulfield man dies in house fire.

CAULFIELD — A Caulfield man died when his house burned to the ground in an overnight fire discovered by his daughter Wednesday morning.

Officials are investigating the blaze that killed Chester “Chet” A. Waters IV, 69, who ran a junkyard and a vehicle repair shop on his Maple Ridge Road property located on one of the town’s back roads.

Caulfield Fire Chief Roger Dickerson said no one called in the blaze because of the home’s remote location and the time the fire apparently broke out. He said Annette Waters found her father’s body when she arrived to work in his garage.

Back to Isabel, who also covered the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts until, like me, she moved up to being an editor. She lost her job managing a newspaper when it went corporate. (To set the record straight, that didn’t happen to me.) In Chasing the Case, Isabel decided to revisit her first big story as a rookie reporter — when a woman went missing 28 years earlier from the fictional town of Conwell.

She relies on the skills she used as a journalist for that case and the one she has in Redneck’s Revenge, especially since it takes her to an unfamiliar town and group of people.

So what skills would Isabel find transferable? Certainly, breaking down the elements of a story and figuring out who to contact. Good interview skills are a must. Developing a network of sources for tips is another. And she’s got to be good kind of nosy.

Here I’ll let Isabel explain. She and her ‘Watson’ — her 92-year-old mother who lives with her — have just finished meeting with Annette Waters who wants to hire Isabel to find out how her father, Chet Waters, died. The cops say he was passed-out drunk when his house burned to the ground. Annette says he was murdered.

“What’s your gut feeling?” I ask my mother when we’re done.

“Gut feeling? There’s definitely something there. But I’m not sure what it is at this point.”

“I agree. But even though this happened only three years ago, it’s gonna be harder to crack this case. I don’t know anybody here.”

“What did you do when you had to report on a story in a place where you didn’t know anybody?”

“I followed the leads I had. One person led me to another. Yeah, yeah, I hear you. I should do the same for this one. Well, I have Annette to start me off.”

And there are times when a journalist has to be a bit brave. For Isabel, that means talking with somebody who has something to hide — like maybe murdering another person. By the way, she’s really good at that.

Joan Livingston Bio

Joan Livingston is the author of novels for adult and young readers. Redneck’s Revenge, published by Crooked Cat Books, is the second in the mystery series featuring Isabel Long, a longtime journalist who becomes an amateur P.I. The first is Chasing the Case.

An award-winning journalist, she started as a reporter covering the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. She was an editor, columnist, and most recently the managing editor of The Taos News, which won numerous state and national awards during her tenure.

After eleven years in Northern New Mexico, she returned to rural Western Massachusetts, which is the setting of much of her adult fiction, including the Isabel Long series.

Joan Livingston on social media:

Website: www.joanlivingston.net.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/JoanLivingstonAuthor/

Twitter: @joanlivingston

Instagram: www.Instagram.com/JoanLivingston_Author

Goodreads: www.Goodreads.com/Joan_Livingston

 

Book links to Chasing the Case and Redneck’s Revenge:

 

http://mybook.to/chasingthecase

http://mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

 

ISABEL LONG’S SECOND CRIME MYSTERY

REDNECK’S REVENGE

Her next case. She’s in it for good.

Isabel Long is in a funk months after solving her first case. Her relationship with the Rooster Bar’s owner is over. Then cops say she must work for a licensed P.I. before working solo.

Encouraged by her Watson — her 92-year-old mother — Isabel snaps out of it by hooking up with a P.I. and finding a new case.

The official ruling is Chet Waters, an ornery so-and-so, was passed out when his house caught fire. His daughter, who inherited the junkyard, believes he was murdered. Topping the list of suspects are dangerous drug-dealing brothers, a rival junkyard owner, and an ex-husband.

Could the man’s death simply be a case of redneck’s revenge? Isabel is about to find out.

 

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Guest Post Sophie Weston on Comfort Reading

Today I am joined by romantic novelist Sophie Weston to talk about the five books she considers her favourite ‘comfort reads.’  Sophie, in the guise of Jenny Haddon, was chairman of the Romantic Novelists’ Association from 2005-2007 and has sold over 12 million books in 27 languages across 100 countries. Over to Sophie.

Five Comfort Reads and Why

I survive because of comfort reads. Ever since I was a child books have dug me out of the dark places. They have soothed me in a turmoil of worry; reminded me of the good moments in times of sadness; sustained me over a long, wearying haul. When I travelled abroad for work a lot, I would choose a good fat book for company, so that I could walk around in a more rewarding world for at least an hour a day. At home, my bathroom has a collection of some of those special titles, which are never, under any circumstances, to be taken out of the house. Guests are welcome to read those books, but never to take them away, not even for an hour in the park.

I don’t really have favourites, but five special ones, in the order in which I first met them, are:

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Victorian children’s book about children with a side order of Gothic mansion and even a ghost. I loved it when I first read it because the ten-year-old heroine, Mary, is plain and very bad tempered, especially when she’s frightened, but resourceful and good at learning. Great on Yorkshire landscape and grumpy natives. Wonderful gardening lore, too. One for when my problem solving is running dry.

 

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

Another plain, resourceful girl. (Could there be a theme here?) This one’s a debut novelist. She is shy, blunt, awkward and a keen observer of the Regency beau monde and she’s produced a roman à clef which her clever publishers expect to take the ton by storm. But there’s a fly in the ointment. Her villain is modelled on a Duke – and now her family want her to marry him. He’s not so keen. Gloriously funny, emotionally truthful, great characters, every single one of who has at least one redeeming feature.  Great for restoring tolerance; and also reminding the writer that once your story is out there people may well run with it in directions you never intended – and IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.

The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson

Imminent war and refugees in London, 1938. Chilly British academics, a loving Austrian family, and a self-obsessed (possible) genius, plus a long-wounded and difficult aunt, and an open-hearted shoe-salesman. There’s even a refugee psychiatrist (“the soup-slayer of Belsize Park) and a tea shop that will live in your memory. This is a story about love and kindness in pretty much all their aspects. But at the heart of it is a classic love-story between an utterly straight-forward, emotionally honest young scientist and a corkscrew up-tight professor. A book to warm your hands at, when you feel the world is too cruel to endure.

Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett

I’m a huge fan of pretty much every book in Pratchett’s Discworld. This isn’t even my favourite but it’s the one about vampires. Now I hate vampires – all that phony glamour brainwashing people and turning them mindless! Here the bloody-minded fight back hard, led by the redoubtable Granny Weatherwax. And yes, there’s a plain heroine, Agnes who’s the youngest of Granny’s trio of witches and makes the tea. When a dashing vampire – he lounges on the air as if it’s a sofa ­– falls for overweight, unconfident Agnes, she loathes him and, to his astonishment, resists in her own unique way. A book to make you laugh and think; also a hugely, satisfying defeat of the hip, cool, modern and too damned pleased with themselves. My surrogate revenge book.

Tomorrow’s Ghost by Anthony Price

Price wrote mystery cum spy novels, set in the Cold War. His first protagonist was academic maverick David Audley, a military historian and, like our espionage industry Price continued to mine the academic establishment, along with the military, for his recruits. He twice won a Crime Writer dagger. But this book is different. The protagonist is neither a soldier nor an academic, not even a man! She is the widow of a marriage on the point of fracture, a square pen in a round hole, professional, intelligent, problem-solving but not quite comfortable with her colleagues. As a result the story about the hunt for an IRA/KGB assassin – exciting and full of twists that are a master class in plotting – takes second place to her own feelings and challenges. And the ending brings both elements together in the most astonishing yet perfect and satisfying way! Victorious in the deepest possible way. And heart breaking. My book to restore perspective.

About Sophie by Sophie

Sophie couldn’t wait to go to school to learn “to write properly” – she already had so many stories in her head. But stories come when the will and she wasn’t published until a bout of illness had her penning a short romance aimed at Mills & Boon. She recovered and went back to the day job but what Emma Darwin calls that itch of writing kept urging her back to the keyboard, resulting in 50-ish romances, including To Marry a Prince (but that one’s by Sophie Page) and, coming soon, a romantic comedy, Vertical Sex. That title came to her in a dream, by the way, and it’s total marmite among her friends, though booksellers say they like it. She says the book insisted.

myBook.to/PrincesBride

Thank you so much for joining me Sophie. I love the title of the new book, but then I also like Marmite! Another great list of books.

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Support Your Local Writer

I was recently asked what was the best piece of advice I could give to anyone thinking of writing a novel. Obviously, the answer was ‘get on and write it’- but I quickly followed that up with ‘join a writing group’.

I took up writing when I moved abroad. Blogging about my experiences as we forged a new life in an alien land was cathartic and a lot cheaper than therapy.  When I returned to the UK I joined a creative writing class with the aim of turning my blog into some sort of book – either a self-help guide for other ex-pats or a work of fiction – an idea still on the back burner.

I’ve always been one of those people who’ve sort of meandered through life, as opposed to trail-blazing.  I’ve never been particularly good at sport, and I’m definitely not musical, or particularly artistic.  But when I first joined my creative writing class it was like – wow, I’ve found my forte.  It really was a revelation; to fit in and find something I was actually quite good at. Six years on from that first class and another two house moves later, I still regularly meet up with a small group of my fellow students – not in a classroom situation but socially. Occasionally we convince ourselves we’re having some sort of creative workshop, but most of the time we just chat and eat.

And it’s because writing is such an isolating occupation – yes you can sit in a cafe sipping coffee while you write, but you certainly don’t want to interact with the other customers –  a  support network of like-minded souls is vital.  When I’m in full-on writing mode I want an empty house with no interruptions.  But every now and then I have to come out of my cave. I still need people to bounce ideas off, to pick me up and push me on when I feel like giving up. People who understand the foibles of the creative process, who know how writing becomes a compulsion, a habit which has you leaping out of bed at midnight to scribble down a plot twist. People who know you don’t just put words into your book, you put your heart and soul.

So I just want to give a little shout out to my group of like-minded souls, affectionately known as the Harem – one guy, several women.  We don’t all write in the same genre, in fact Tania and Julia no longer write much at all, but Sally, Avril and Linda like their poetry, Anne and Ant write children’s books and Gill forges ahead into science fiction.  The important point is that we’ve all been there for each other, through the trials and tribulations, the agonies of rejections to the joys of publication.

Anne Wan and Gill who writes as B Random  have self-published, while Ant has a local publisher for his children’s stories about a magical wheelchair.

This is Ant at the book launch of his second ‘Whizzy’ book. And if you think the gentleman reading an extract from Ant’s  book bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain Belgium detective – you’re right! Some people have friends in very high places.  Check out how Anthony writes his amazing books here.

Writers really do support each other; there doesn’t seem to be a competition to do ‘better’ than anyone else – even though of course we all want our books to be bestsellers.  It’s a bit like the Great British Bake-Off when the icing hasn’t set or the biscuits fall on the floor.  Everyone rallies round and helps out.

The fellow authors I have met through the Romantic Novelists Association and my publisher Crooked Cat  have provided no end of useful advice and information. I feel I’ve made new friends, even though I’ve only ever met a handful of them in person. When I was an ex-pat I clung to other ex-pats because we had a common bond. I’ve discovered the same is true for writers. It doesn’t take one to know one – but it does take one to understand.

 

 

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To Brazil & Back – Capturing The Imagination

I think it’s pretty much taken as read that if you want to be a successful fiction writer, you need to have a vivid, fertile imagination.

You can take inspiration from real-life events, or people, but when it comes to joining the dots – you make it up. The idea for The Theatre of Dreams was born during a walk on a blustery seafront and the discovery of a lost local landmark. Yes, the theatre in my novel was inspired by a real building, but the story itself is purely a figment of my imagination.  Sometimes it doesn’t take much to trigger a burst of creativity.

Last autumn my youngest daughter broke her foot and was incapacitated for a few weeks, so to fend off the boredom we undertook an exercise in triple-generation bonding – sorting out my mum’s photograph collection.    My parents took many cruises – but my dad, especially in his later years, didn’t like getting off the ship although he did like taking photographs. Therefore my mum has been left with several albums full of pictures of docksides. Great if you like a container port, but she and I were both of the opinion that if you’ve seen one container port you’ve seen them all.

The albums were sorted – twenty years of cruise holidays condensed into one ‘highlights’ album and not an industrial crane in sight. But, whilst going through Mum’s photograph collection, I discovered a selection she had inherited from her own parents stuffed into one of those sticky plastic albums that were very popular back in the 1980s.

A couple of weeks ago  I finally got round to retrieving the inherited photos from their sticky plastic grave with the intention of re-posting them into a scrapbook. My mum is  92 years old and prone to bouts of forgetfulness but she had no problem recalling the names of long-lost relatives she hadn’t seen since the 1950s.

Some of these pictures went further back – to the 1920s and beyond, the era of the austere Edwardian matriarch resplendent in her full-length frock. Wonderful names rolled off my mum’s tongue as she called relatives from her own childhood – who knew I had a great aunts Tizzy and Ahinoam -understandably always known as Inny.

There were pictures of my grandparents as young people– my grandfather added a year onto his age so that he could join up to fight in the First World War and only remembered to take it off again in the 1930s. He looked dashingly handsome in his uniform. How did he meet my grandmother?  It began with a book.  Grandma (Mary) had been fond of another young man of German extraction who had been waltzed off from his Lancashire village into a camp during the First World War never to be seen again. Apparently Mary had lent him a book and he made his friend Bert promise to return the book to Mary, and so Mary and Bert’s romance began, but meanwhile Bert’s step-mother was also trying to hook Bert up with her own daughter – an actress.

If these pictures could talk they might tell a different story – events might not have happened quite like that, or necessarily in that order, but it doesn’t take much to ignite a spark.  These sepia people might well have kept my mum  occupied for a happy afternoon of reminiscing, but they could provide me with a whole plethora of novel ideas.

Here are my great-grandparents who met and married in Brazil having both gone out there to work in a cotton mill in the 1870s. How brave were they? And we think our youngsters are pretty adventurous when they set off overseas with their i-phone, travel apps, and return air tickets.

I’ve never felt inspired to write a historical saga before, put off by the mountains of research involved, but I feel there could well be one brewing. Brazil here I come…

 

And if you want to read about the inspiration behind The Theatre of Dreams, it’s here –  Setting The Scene

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Guest Post – Comfort Reads by Val Penny

It’s time for some more comfort reading – and today’s special guest is  Scottish  writer Val Penny. Val has recently launched the second book in her Edinburgh Crime Mysteries series, Hunter’s Revenge.  Over to you Val.

 

I am delighted to be visiting the blog run by my friend and fellow author, Rosie Travers today. She has set me a very difficult task, to choose only five books that I would consider my comfort reads. Only five! I have always enjoyed hearing stories and reading books. I find it a great way to escape from reality. However, as I am lucky enough to have a good memory, I rarely read a book more than once, but there are a few old favourites which break that rule and to which I return time and again.

The first of these is a classic: ‘The Prophet’ by the Lebanese author and poet Kahlil Gibran. The wisdom and melody of this little book never fails to bring me peace when I am in low spirits and comfort in times of distress. If I could save only one book in my house, this would be it.

 

 

Next, and very close to the top of the list is a very different piece of writing: ‘The Lost Continent’ by the American author Bill Bryson. Bryson lived and taught in the UK for many years, but hails from Des Moines Iowa. After his father’s death, he decided to take a road trip through the USA. This would allow him to visit the places he remembered visiting with his parents. All was not as he remembered it. He remembered the America into which I was born in the 1950s and 60s. Things have moved on and he describes things that were and those that now are with a wit and lightness of touch that no matter how often I read this book, it makes me laugh out loud.

 

Third on my list must come a book of poetry that I discovered quite by accident. I gave it to my mother-in-law for her sixtieth birthday, simply because of the title ‘Now We Are Sixty’. It is a compilation of poems by the English poet Christopher Matthews and illustrated by David Eccles. The poems are after those by A.A.Milne in his children’s book of poetry, ‘Now We Are Six’ but with a twist to reflect the thoughts and issues faced by older readers. I have been enjoying these poems since my early thirties, but even now, as I get ever closer to being part of the target audience, the book and its illustrations make me smile.

As my list gets closer to its end, the choices, inevitably get harder, and my fourth choice is not an obvious one. The reason I feel obliged to include it is because it was the first adult book that my daughters recommended to me. It is ‘No Time for Goodbye’ the best-selling novel by Canadian author Linwood Barclay. I enjoy this book very much and return to it for inspiration now, because it is the first thriller I ever read where I was aware of humour in the writing. It is also a very clever story. Although my fondest memory of this novel is no doubt caused by the literary ‘coming of age’ of my daughters, since reading ‘No Time for Goodbye’ for the first time, I have met Linwood on a couple of occasions. He, like his novels, is intelligent, interesting and amusing. I have enjoyed all his books that I have read, but this one is my favourite.

Last on my list, is another book by an American author, Mitch Albom. I have read several books by Mitch Albom and his best known is probably the non-fiction work, ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’, which is fascinating. However, my favourite work by this author is a fictional piece, ‘The Five People you meet in Heaven’. It re-affirms my belief that all of us have a part to play in this crazy world, it just may not be obvious what that part is to be. I always read this book within a day and I always end up in floods of tears, but feeling peaceful. I find it an inspirational work because it promotes so much thought.

 

So I reach the end of my choices. Thank you for inviting me to your blog today, Rosie and for giving me a chance to share a variety of much loved books with your readers.

About Val by Val

Val Penny is an American author living in SW Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and two cats. She has a Law degree from Edinburgh University and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, lawyer, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer. However she has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store. Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories and novels. Her crime novels, ‘Hunter’s Chase’ and Hunter’s Revenge are set in Edinburgh, Scotland, published by Crooked Cat Books. The third book in the series, Hunter’s Force, follows shortly.

Author contact details

www.authorvalpenny.com

www.facebook.com/valerie.penny.739

www.facebook.com/groups/296295777444303

https://twitter.com/valeriepenny

myBook.to/HuntersChase

myBook.to/HuntersRevenge

 

Thanks Val – some very interesting choices. I was expecting a menagerie of murder, mystery and mayhem!

 

 

 

 

 

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