Blog

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.

Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter

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.

 

 

Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter

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

Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter

All At Sea

I’ve learned over the last few months that writing a book is the easy bit.  Launching, marketing, that’s the hard, stressful stuff and I’ll admit I am feeling slightly out of my depth.  When I first started ‘writing’, I wrote travel blogs. So in an attempt to get my mojo back, here’s a little piece about our recent Baltic cruise.

Although travel is my thing, cruising isn’t. I like to think I’m a feisty, independent explorer, but sometimes a bargain is too good to miss and cruising is a good way to see a lot of places in a short space of time. Our first port of call was Copenhagen, a beautiful city we’d always intended to visit while we were living nearby in the Netherlands but never quite got round to.

After Denmark, it was onwards to Finland – fulfilling a childhood dream to see the home of the Moomins. I learned to read on the Tove Jansson books so discovering the existence of Moomin Cafés was a bit of a personal treat. It was very bleak in Helsinki the day we visited and very easy to see why Moomintroll and his family hibernated every winter.

After Helsinki the weather picked up again and we travelled on to the highlight of the cruise – St Petersburg. St Petersburg in Russia has long been on my list of must-see destinations.  Home of the Russian royals, my imagination was captured as a teenager by the story of the Romanovs and their tragic demise. And now that I’ve visited just one of their many palaces, it’s really not that hard to see why the last Tzar and his family lost their lives. I’ve read a little bit about the Russian revolution, but nothing prepared me for the complete OTT opulence of The Winter Palace in St Petersburg. If you like your gold bling, and over 22 km of corridors to keep all your knick-knacks in, then this is the palace for you. No wonder the starving peasants were a bit upset by the extravagance.  The Russian Tzars like to collect things, from ancient Egyptian artefacts to Rembrandt paintings.  It’s all a bit much to take in, to be honest, and someone has now worked out that if you spent just sixty seconds looking at every exhibit in the Hermitage museum, you’d need eight years to complete your tour. We had just over two hours on our whistle stop expedition and it was exhausting.

From Russia to Estonia and Tallin – a charming medieval town of cobbled streets, castles and gabled houses.  

And after Tallin, Riga in Latvia, an unexpected gem. Riga was a revelation with its art nouveau architecture and massive indoor food market housed in former Zeppelin sheds.

After Riga it was onwards to Kiel in Germany, a stopping off point for shore excursions to Hamburg. Kiel itself was wet and uninspiring and as we didn’t want to go to Hamburg we took a local bus to view the workings of the Kiel canal – the world’s first man-made waterway which connects to the Baltic to the North Sea. If you’re into industrial-sized lock gates you’d be in industrial-sized-lock gate heaven in Kiel. If you’re not, enough said.

Our final stop was tiny port of Skagen at the very northern tip of Denmark. It’s the Danish equivalent of  John O’Groats and the country’s top tourist attraction. Here you can stand with one foot in the chilly North sea and the other in the equally freezing waters of the Baltic; the tides collide with some ferocity and its quite spectacular to see. Skagen was an attractive little town with arty boutiques and shops selling puffer-jacket style onesies.  Like the Moomins, the population of Skagen hibernate in winter – or at least move south.

And so the cruise came to an end and we returned to Southampton – and the scales. There’s nothing like a cruise to provide inspiration for a huge menagerie of new characters, or to make you appreciate your relative youth, and your good health. Just because the food is available 24/7 you don’t have to eat it – but plenty of people do. The diet begins tomorrow.

 

Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter

Guest Post – Comfort Reads by Kate Braithwaite

Opening up my comfort reads spot to guest authors has revealed a whole new world of reading material. Today I’m handing over the reins to historical writer Kate Braithwaite.

Gosh Rosie! Figuring out my favourite comfort reads has been great fun, but also a challenge. So many possibilities sprang to mind that in the end I had to give myself five categories of book that I would love to curl up with for a cosy afternoon’s escapism, and then pick one novel to represent that type of book. Here’s what I came up with:

A comic novel – The Girl in Blue by P.G. Wodehouse.

For total escapism, there is no one better than P.G. Wodehouse. Successful comic novels are thin on the ground but Wodehouse’s novels and his portrayal of a gentle world of mishaps, stolen pigs, strange aunts and broken engagements never fails to amuse me. I’m more a fan of his Blanding Castle books (of which Pigs Have Wings is a fine example) but Jeeves and Wooster are classic characters and there are many other stand-alone novels I’d encourage everyone to read. These are often love stories and many are set in the States and in the theatre. One of the things I love best about Wodehouse though, is that my Dad was also a great fan of his. When I randomly picked up The Girl in Blue in a bookshop when I was 16, my Dad was thrilled! Sharing a love of particular books with someone close to you is a real pleasure.

An historical novel – Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle by Georgette Heyer

Funnily enough my Dad bought me the first Georgette Heyer book I ever read (I’d forgotten that until this very moment!) It was Cousin Kate and although it’s not my favourite, I’d happily pick up any of them and re-read them. Heyer’s novels combine Regency romance, adventure and humour, often with a hero or heroine with a sparkling pair of clear grey eyes. My favourite, perhaps unsurprisingly, is Sylvester, about a young woman, Phoebe, who writes and publishes an anonymous novel. She takes as her villain Sylvester, Duke of Salford, a man she has met briefly but knows little about – only to find out after the novel takes London by storm – that her family think he is the perfect man for her. As her fiction proves to be closer to real life than Phoebe could have dreamed of, and her feelings for Sylvester undergo a sea-change, it seems her writing career may ruin everything.

A crime novel – The Poet by Michael Connelly

For time out from real life, there is nothing like a real page-turning crime novel. I love a book that I can’t put down: the kind you try and hold in front of your face in one hand, when you have a spoon in the other because you’re supposed to be busy cooking the tea. My favourites include Ian Rankin, Minette Walters, Peter May, Elizabeth George, Jeffrey Deaver and John Connelly. I’ve read so many P.D. James and Agatha Christie novels that I have way too many options here, but I’m choosing The Poet as I can remember my husband handing me a copy of it. He had just finished it and pretty much insisted that I start reading it immediately so that we could talk about it. The Poet is a very nasty serial killer who leaves quotes from Edgar Allan Poe at each crime scene. I read it in great big gulps. It’s classic crime for me.

A classic – Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

This has been a tough decision! Jane Eyre nearly grabbed the nomination, but given that the choice here is all about comfort reads, Anne just pips Jane. Although not as ‘great’ a book, Anne of Green Gables is in more fun. I read both as a teenager and have read Jane Eyre several times since. I didn’t re-read Anne though, until I was in my thirties. We were living in Canada and took a family holiday with our 3 kids to Prince Edward Island where the Anne series of novels is set. Returning to the book as an adult I was so struck by what an excellent and enjoyable novel Anne of Green Gables really is. I love the relationships between Anne, Marilla and Matthew and it’s a very funny and genuinely touching story. My kids still laugh at me for dragging them around the Green Gables house on that holiday but I don’t care. I loved every minute of it.

A series – The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett

For complete reading comfort, I think there is nothing as wonderful as a series of big fat books. There are six of these in the Lymond Chronicles, each one a dramatic adventure in their own right, but all telling the story of my literary crush, Francis Lymond, and his incredible life in the sixteenth century. Lymond is Scottish (like me), handsome (naturally), incredibly clever (obviously), but also very complex and secretive. The novels have everything – family secrets, adventure, politics, kindness and cruelty, love and tragedy. Dunnett’s writing is vivid, her world building is brilliant and her characters are fascinating. I might just have to go and get started on the whole series again, starting with The Game of Kings right now. If you haven’t read them – do!

About Kate

Kate Braithwaite was born and grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland. Her first novel, Charlatan, was longlisted for the Mslexia New Novel Award and the Historical Novel Society Award. Kate lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and three children.

Kate’s first novel, Charlatan, revealed the underworld of fortune-tellers and poisoners that scandalised the court of Louis XIV and threatened to bring down his most famous mistress, Athénaïs, Madame de Montespan.

In The Road to Newgate (Crooked Cat, 2018)  attention turns to a very different drama, playing out at exact the same period, just across the channel in London.

 THE ROAD TO NEWGATE

What price justice? London 1678. Titus Oates, an unknown preacher, creates panic with wild stories of a Catholic uprising against Charles II. The murder of a prominent Protestant magistrate appears to confirm that the Popish Plot is real. Only Nathaniel Thompson, writer and Licenser of the Presses, instinctively doubts Oates’s revelations. Even his young wife, Anne, is not so sure. And neither know that their friend William Smith has personal history with Titus Oates.

When Nathaniel takes a public stand, questioning the plot and Oates’s integrity, the consequences threaten them all.

REVIEWS

“Moved me greatly and brought tears to my eyes. Gripping, moving and brilliantly captures this tense and sometimes brutal episode in late seventeenth-century English history.” Andrea Zuvich, author & historian.

“A real pleasure to read,” Denis Bock, author of The Ash Garden & The Communist’s Daughter.

“Meticulously researched, vividly imagined, and deftly plotted. Rich, resonating and relevant.” Catherine Hokin, author of Blood & Roses, the story of Margaret of Anjou.

 Website

Facebook

Twitter

Buy the book: mybook.to/theroadtonewgate

 

Thanks to Kate for taking part.

Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter

GUEST POST – ISABELLA MAY

Today, I am joined by fellow Crooked Cat Author Isabella May.  I thoroughly enjoyed Isabella’s first two books, Oh! What a Pavlova and The Cocktail Bar and I am very much looking forward to hearing all about her next novel. Who wouldn’t be tempted by this gorgeous cover?

COSTA DEL CHURROS

Muchas gracias for hosting me on your blog today to talk about my brand new novel with Crooked Cat Books! COSTA DEL CHURROS will launch on September 19th and is another romantic comedy which fuses all things foodie, travel and spirituality. I’m keeping my fingers (and paws!) crossed that it’ll have as good a reception as its predecessors…

Why write about Spain?
My first two books, Oh! What a Pavlova and The Cocktail Bar centred much of their activity around the quirky and mystical town of Glastonbury, UK.  But in actual fact I live in Spain nowadays and much as I relished the opportunity to write about the place where I spent my childhood through to late twenties, it was high time for a change of scene – as well as to prove to myself that I am not a One Trick Pony. Or should that be Cat?

Is Costa del Churros based on a fictional or real part of Spain?
Yes, Costa del Churros refers to the Costa del Sol, here in the gigantic province of Andalusia, where I live. I have traveled all over the country, but nowhere seems to make, eat or embrace churros (fried donut strips, often eaten dipped in a thick, velvety chocolate sauce and/or sprinkled liberally with sugar) with the aplomb of the people in this region. The churros play a central role throughout the book, used as a code word that brings four – very different – women together for flamenco lessons with their highly exuberant teacher, Carmen.

Here’s the blurb:

The rain in Spain doesn’t mainly fall on the plain…

Brits abroad Belinda, Julia, Laura and Georgina need more than the sweetness of churros with chocolate dipping sauce to save them from their unsavoury states of affairs.

Cue Carmen Maria Abril de la Fuente Ferrera, the town’s flamboyant flamenco teacher! But can she really be the answer to their prayers?

One thing’s for sure: the Costa del Sol will never be the same again.

Are these four women based on people you know?
Not per se!
But Belinda, Julia, Laura and Georgina are definitely a beautiful fusion of some of the kaleidoscopically colourful characters I have met here over the past seven years. I wanted to paint a truthful picture of expat life in Spain (and quite possibly this will extend to other areas of The Mediterranean too). It’s all too easy to assume that a life in the sun is all soaking up its rays, sand, sea and sangria, but in actual fact, we take ourselves wherever we go! There’s absolutely no running away from your problems when you are home from home, be they romantic, financial, self-esteem based, or all of the above. Often, as soon as the novelty of the new lifestyle wears off, those issues are only exacerbated…
I thought it would make for an interesting (and comical) read to throw four women from four completely different backgrounds together, to add a little magic (a la Carmen) and to watch the fireworks – from a very safe distance.

Tell us a bit about Carmen Maria Abril de la Fuente Ferrera…
Well, she was a joy to write.
And I think all of us could do with a Carmen in our lives. Not only is she a talented flamenco teacher, but she has watched the way Franco’s repression of the female has gnawed away at her mother, and at the lives of countless women around her. So Carmen’s mission is one of empowerment. And she’s particularly passionate about encouraging women to have their cake and eat it. Truly, I’d love for nothing more than to click my fingers and magic her up every time I witness a female friend or family member declare in a café/restaurant/gelateria ‘Oh! I really shouldn’t indulge… I’ll start the diet again next week!’
For Carmen is the antidote to any and all of that prescribed female behaviour, an advocate for positive body image on beaches and sun-loungers the length of the coast. She’s a breath of fresh air injecting a much-needed confidence boost to all four of the main characters in the story.

If your tummy has started to rumble… here’s that all important Universal Amazon buying link:

mybook.to/costadelchurros

You can find out about Isabella May’s other books, and follow her quirky cake and cocktail posts at these places:

www.isabellamayauthor.com

Twitter – @IsabellaMayBks

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

Instagram – @isabella_may_author

Isabella May lives in (mostly) sunny Andalucia, Spain with her husband, daughter and son, creatively inspired by the sea and the mountains. 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.

Cake, cocktail, and travel obsessed, she also loves nothing more than to (quietly) break life’s ‘rules’.

Costa del Churros is her third novel.

 

 

Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter

Comfort Reads – Guest Author Sue Barnard

Today I am joined by fellow Crooked Cat Author Sue Barnard to talk about her favourite ‘comfort reads’ – and it’s an eclectic selection!  If like me you are a bit of a Wuthering Heights fan ( confession time – I prefer the Kate Bush song to the novel), you might be interested in Sue’s latest book Heathcliff, a Wuthering Heights spin-off,  published on 30 July 2018 – Emily Brontë’s 200th birthday (and Kate’s 60th). Take it away Sue!

 

That Devil Called Love, by Lynda Chater

I first read this book when I was in my mid-forties and was starting to feel depressed about getting old – and I can truthfully say that it changed my entire outlook on life. It’s a modern re-working of the Faust legend, told with great perception and humour, in which the heroine finds out the hard way that youth, beauty, wealth and fame don’t necessarily hold the key to lasting happiness. It’s a valuable lesson to everyone, and such an ingenious concept that I’ve often wished I’d thought of the idea myself.

 

The Little Prince (Le Petit Prince), by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This is an unusual choice, as one does not normally fall in love with one’s A-Level set books. But I studied this for A-Level French and have adored it ever since.  Although ostensibly a children’s book, it can be read on any number of levels, and contains a very powerful message: “On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.” (It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.) I love this book so much that I have multiple copies in different languages. That’s how crazy I am…

 

The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey

This fictional detective story considers a real-life cold case: Who might have killed the Princes in the Tower? A thorough and well-constructed investigation which comes to a surprising but very plausible conclusion, and it certainly changed my original perception of King Richard III.

 

 

The Richard Stilgoe Letters, by Richard Stilgoe

Whenever I need a fix of surreal humour, I reach for this book: a collection of short pieces written about characters who are all anagrams of the author’s own name, and all the names are astonishingly appropriate for the people concerned.  For example, there is a charismatic weatherman called OSRIC THIRDGALE, a fantasy writer called ERIC D GHOSTLAIR (whose epic trilogy GHIRIDOR CASTLE is a cult classic), and the sometime president of France, Germany and Ireland: GISCARD O’HITLER. The writing is pure genius, and the book definitely deserves a wider audience.

 

The Blue Door Theatre Series, by Pamela Brown

I was first introduced to these lovely stories when I was in my final year at primary school. They tell of a group of young people who form their own theatre company, and they first kindled my longstanding love of the theatre. There are five books in the series: The Swish of the Curtain (1941), Maddy Alone (1945), Golden Pavements (1947), Blue Door Venture (1949) and Maddy Again (1956), all set in a fictional town in southern England. They seem a little dated now, but that is part of their charm.  It’s sometimes good to escape from twenty-first-century traumas and revisit an era when things were a little more innocent and a lot less complicated.

 

About Sue by Sue

Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet whose family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her. Sue was born in North Wales but has spent most of her life in and around Manchester. She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad.

Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show, and she has also compiled questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.

Sue joined the editorial team of Crooked Cat Publishing in 2013. Her first novel, The Ghostly Father (a new take on the traditional story of Romeo & Juliet) was officially released on St Valentine’s Day 2014.  Since then she has produced four more novels: Nice Girls Don’t (2014), The Unkindest Cut of All (2015), Never on Saturday (2017) and Heathcliff (a Wuthering Heights spin-off story about Heathcliff’s missing years, published on 30 July 2018, to coincide with the bicentenary of the birth of Emily Brontë).

Sue now lives in Cheshire with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.  You can find her on Facebook, Twitter (@AuthorSusanB), Amazon, or follow her blog here.

Author and Editor at Crooked Cat Books and Ocelot Press
Blog   Facebook   G+   Twitter   Instagram   Amazon  Goodreads  RNA

 

Thanks to Sue for taking part – anyone else have fond memories of school text books?

 

Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter

The Book Launch

The day finally arrived – The Theatre of Dreams was officially launched and it’s like sending a baby out into the big wide world. You hope everyone is going to like it, you hope you’ve created something endearing and captivating, but of course, books are subjective and not everyone is going to be enthralled by your style or even interested in your genre.

It seems to have been an awful long time coming – eight months in total since I signed that publishing contract and it has been hard keeping the momentum of  ‘I’ve got a book coming out’ going. I have tried to build an ‘author platform’ during that period – it’s a been a learning curve that has taken me right out of my comfort zone and I’ve still got a long way to go.

I’ve extolled the virtues of my book, I’ve described it as warm-hearted, as funny, entertaining, now at least it’s out there in the public domain people can read it for themselves, make up their own minds and hopefully agree.  The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. I think I’ve baked something quite delicious but now it’s time for the taste test!

The Theatre of Dreams is out there taking its first steps, and the online launch  – interacting on social media with four different devices all pinging away at the same time – went without a hitch,  and the physical launch, more of a celebration with friends and family and an open invitation to everyone I’ve ever met in Southampton to come along, went better than I could have hoped, and in fact provided a wonderful opportunity to catch up with a few people I hadn’t seen for years! (Oh yeh, and I did sell a few books too…)

As much as I’d now like to sit back and take a break from social media I can’t. The launch is just the beginning – a book is for life, but I no longer feel quite so much like a one-man band. I’ve had good reviews, I know I’ve written a well-rounded story and I will keep on plugging away.   Hopefully I will have more confidence to go out there and promote myself.  I read somewhere that the best marketing tool is to write another book. That’s taken a bit of a backseat over the last couple of months  but I feel ready now to pick up the WIP and attack it with new vigour.  And more importantly, breathe…..

Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter

The Garden of Dreams

A family day out is real rarity in our household. We are currently all living on the same continent, which is a bonus, but that hasn’t always been the case.  They always say you should feel proud as a parent that you’ve given your fledglings the confidence to flap their wings and fly away – but I do sometimes wish they hadn’t flown quite so far  (although to be fair to our children we  have done our own fair share of flying in the past). With our elder daughter on sabbatical from her job in Budapest and working in London for three weeks, we took the opportunity to meet up for some quality time together, plans which  included a visit Hampton Court Flower Show on one of the hottest days of the year.

My house in the UK has a fairly compact garden, but after spending a large part of the last nine years or so living in rented apartments overseas, I value my own personal outdoor space. I’d like more, but  that’s because I look back through my rose tinted spectacles to the days when we had a third of an acre plot, complete with our own bluebell wood and children who needed trampolines, pop-up pools and wendy houses. Those days are gone – and so has the industrial-sized lawnmower. It’s not a question of quantity, but quality.

I still watch Gardeners World, I grow my own herbs and salad veg, albeit in high-rise containers to defy the slugs. I have a choice of seating areas, where I can chill out with a book in dappled shade or full-sun;  we even have a pint-sized pond. I’ve crammed my borders full of plants to attract butterflies and ungrateful bees (I was recently stung), and we have visiting hedgehogs. It’s a little oasis.

Hampton Court was packed, and parched, and all around us elderly ladies were collapsing from the heat, but we viewed the show gardens and marvelled not just at the seemingly effortless planting, but at sunken seating areas and outdoor entertaining spaces, wondering if we too could find room in our postage stamp plot for that leather-look hot tub complete with wooden surround (surely we could?) as well as a circular shed to house a fully stocked cocktail bar…

While our young ladies revived themselves with Pimms, Mr T and I wandered around looking for further inspiration. I’ve now found the perfect solution to keeping occupied during long winter evenings when the great outdoors is out of bounds.  We don’t need a bigger garden – we can create horticultural masterpieces from the comfort of our own settee. A knitting project for me, and a lego one for him.

But of course the best part of the day was being together – so that the kids could squabble just like they did when we all lived under one roof. To be fair my girls get on a lot better when they live apart, there is some truth in that old adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

A day out anywhere provides inspiration for a writer, characters, settings, planting schemes, I soaked it all up. Even if I can’t recreate those show gardens in my own backyard, I can certainly transplant the ideas into my next book – The Garden of (My) Dreams….watch this space!

Share on Facebook | Share on Twitter