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Comfort Reading – Guest Paula Martin

De-cluttering guru Marie Kondo has caused quite a stir amongst the reading and writing community by stating we only need keep 30 books on our shelves. I’m a harder taskmaster than Marie, because I only let my guests choose 5 “keepers”! Today I’m handing over the challenge to romantic novelist, Paula Martin.

Thanks for inviting me to share my ‘comfort reads’ with you and your readers, Rosie. I must have read thousands of books in my life, so it wasn’t easy to pick only 5 books. In the end, I’ve chosen 5 which are ‘special’ to me for different reasons.

The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown

I first read this when I was ten or eleven, and then read it over and over again! It’s a story of seven children, each with different talents, who form their own theatrical group and write, produce, and act in their own plays. I’ve heard that this book (first published in the 1940s) inspired many future actresses, including Maggie Smith, Victoria Wood, and Eileen Atkins. In my case, it led to a lifelong love of the theatre, and also inspired me, when I was about twelve, to write my first full-length novel of over 60,000 words, which I called ‘We Wanted a Theatre.’ I still have it somewhere, written in long-hand in pencil on whatever paper I could find!

 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I ‘met’ Jane when I was twelve and my mother took me to our local repertory theatre to see a play based on the book. The next day I rushed to the library to borrow the book, and then asked for my own copy for my next birthday. I always loved Jane whose inner strength enabled her to cope with so many traumatic events in her life. She spoke her mind, and considered herself to be Mr. Rochester’s equal, even at a time when women were considered ‘inferior’ to men. In later times, I’m sure she would have been a suffragette or an ardent supporter of women’s rights! An interesting footnote to my love for this book is that a few years ago, I discovered Charlotte Bronte started writing the story when she was staying with a friend in Hathersage in Derbyshire, and based her heroine on a medieval brass on the tomb of Joan Eyre (hence the surname, of course) – and Joan Eyre was actually one of my ancestors.

 

Katherine by Anya Seton

In my teens I was hooked on Tudor novels, especially those by Jean Plaidy, but this book changed all that. Based on the factual story of Katherine Swynford, and set in the 14th century in the reigns of Edward III and Richard II, it brought the later medieval period to life for me. Historical people who had just been names became real people, especially John of Gaunt – and I must admit I fell in love with him! I was full of admiration for Katherine, too, who became governess to John’s two daughters (echoes of Jane Eyre here?). After his wife’s death, he and Katherine began their love affair, which continued until his second ‘political’ marriage to a Spanish princess. After Constanza’s death, John returned to Katherine and married her. This was at a time when royal Dukes simply did not marry their mistresses, so it is an indication of John’s lasting love for her. This book led to my fascination with later medieval history which I later studied at university, and in turn, led to my next book:

 

The Sunne in Spendour by Sharon Kay Penman

Many novels have been written about Richard III, but in my opinion this is by far the best. Sharon’s research is second to none and, like Anya Seton with the 14th century, she brings the events and historical characters of the 15th century to life. The story begins in 1459 with Richard as a young boy, covers the period of the Wars of the Roses, includes family and political intrigues, and ends in 1485 with Richard’s defeat and death at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Like many others, Sharon rejects the Shakespearean portrait of Richard as an evil monster, and shows him as a man with loyalty, courage and strong principles. It’s a novel I return to again and again, but as it is such a thick tome (over 1200 pages), I now have it on my Kindle!

 

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Not a novel this time, but a play, which I first saw on stage when I was eleven, and then bought the full script (a hardback book at that time) with my Christmas money. I love Wilde’s clever wit and brilliant one-liners, and also his satirical comments on the so-called ‘rules’ of Victorian society and morality. Every time I read the script, I seem to discover something new.

 

 

 

 

Bio

Paula Martin lives near Manchester in North West England and has two daughters and two grandsons.

She had some early publishing success with four romance novels and several short stories, but then had a break from writing while she brought up a young family and also pursued her career as a history teacher for twenty-five years. She has recently returned to writing fiction, after retiring from teaching, and is thrilled to have found publishing success again with her contemporary romances.

Apart from writing, she enjoys visiting new places. She has travelled extensively in Britain and Ireland, mainland Europe, the Middle East, America and Canada. Her other interests include musical theatre and tracing her family history.

Her most recent book is Irish Shadows, the fifth book in the ‘Mist Na Mara’ series, published by Tirgearr Publishing. All five books are stand-alone stories, set in beautiful Connemara in the west of Ireland, and combining romance with suspense and intrigue. They are available from various distributors (Amazon, Kobo, Nook, Smashwords) via http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/Martin_Paula/

Other Links:

Website: http://paulamartinromances.webs.com

Blog: http://paulamartinpotpourri.blogspot.com

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

Thanks to Paula for taking part – and for telling us about her intriguing personal connection to Jane Eyre. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to inspire a story, even if it is just in name only!

Story Time Part 1

At the end of 2017, before I had my publishing contract and when I had a bit of time on my hands, I submitted a couple of stories to competitions in Writing Magazine.  Writing competitions are a good exercise in disciplined writing, a tight word count does wonders for eliminating waffle. They can also provide inspiration during periods of writers’ block and the opportunity to diversify into different genres.  I’d entered Writing Magazine competitions before without success, but persistence pays off because to my great surprise this time, in both cases, I was shortlisted. Shortlisted stories don’t get published, or featured on the magazine’s website, they just fade into obscurity. So I thought why not give them the light of day.

This first entry had to include the words ‘without that it all falls apart‘ mid-story, and the second, which I’ll post up in a few weeks’ time is a science fiction piece (yes really!)

Today of All Days

The boy was back again.

Simon’s heart fell as he stepped through the front door and heard the soft murmur of voices from the kitchen. Not today. Not today, of all days.

Julia looked up. He’d got used to seeing the shadow of sadness in her eyes but her mouth smiled, as welcoming as always. She rose from the table, kissed his cheek, slipped across the room to refill the kettle.

‘I’ll make us all another tea,’ she said. ‘Isn’t it good of Zak to come today, today of all days.’

The boy turned. Simon was glad to see the flush of embarrassment on his face. The boy had wormed his way into Julia’s heart but Simon was not fooled by that mask of civility.

‘Hello, Mr Crouch.’

They’d never been on first name terms and they never would be. Some acts were unforgiveable, despite Julia’s insistence to the contrary. The counselling had given Julia a sense of stoic resignation Simon totally failed to comprehend. Thinking about what might have been doesn’t help, Julia had told him. Negativity solved nothing. We can’t spend the rest of our lives thinking about what ifs.

Simon could.

What if they hadn’t given in to Hayley’s demands to transfer to the local sixth form college? What if he’d had his own way and Hayley had stayed at private school to take her A levels?  Because then Hayley would have never met the boy. She’d never have started dating.

What if they’d said no when she’d asked about the trip to the festival? At least she asked, Julia had pointed out. Some kids would just go. How could they have said no?

What if she’d never got into the boy’s car?

She’d still be here. That’s what if.

‘Biscuit?’ Julia said, breaking open a packet of shortbread. They were Simon’s favourites, a deliberate ploy to force him to be sociable.

The boy’s once handsome face was pitted with scars. Simon was glad the boy would bear permanent evidence of his crime. Simon and Julia’s scars went unseen. Souls destroyed by grief. No visible signs. You just carried on, you had to.

Come to counselling with me, Julia had said. But he couldn’t because he didn’t want to sit in a circle with other bereaved parents and confess to a psychologist that he didn’t know how to come to terms with the death of his only child; how to re-assess, re-build, move-on. He didn’t want to talk about the hurt, and the hate, that consumed him. He found solace in work. Accounts, investments and taxation schemes still made sense when nothing else did. His clients needed him. He couldn’t just close up shop.

Everybody coped differently, Julia soothed, as if she understood, as if she didn’t mind his absence from the sessions. He immersed himself in his job while Julia poured out her heart and made friends with the enemy.

It was the ultimate betrayal. He couldn’t think of it in any other terms. The boy had killed their daughter and Julia had invited him into their house.

‘I could hardly leave him on the doorstep, could I?’ she said, the first time Simon came home to find the boy in their kitchen. ‘That’s not what Hayley would have wanted. I couldn’t turn him away.’

‘Yes you could,’ Simon argued. ‘He had no business to come here, upsetting you.’

‘He was far more upset than me,’ Julia insisted. ‘He was distraught. I didn’t know what else to do. He’s lost someone too, remember.’

The boy’s loss would never be as great as theirs. He’d barely known Hayley. What was a year, eighteen months, compared to a lifetime?

‘Don’t you see how important it is for him to maintain contact with people who knew her?’ Julia was on a crusade, almost as if she’d found solace in the boy’s visit. ‘We’re that link, however tenuous. We represent some part of Hayley, something tangible. Without that, it all falls apart.’

Let it all fall apart, Simon thought, let the boy suffer and shatter into fragments as they had done. Why should Julia become the boy’s conscience saver?

‘Hayley had lots of friends,’ Simon pointed out. ‘Why can’t he go and have cosy chats with them instead?’

Julia had an answer for everything. ‘You of all people should understand how difficult it is to find someone you can open up to, someone you can trust.’

He didn’t like the inference that he and the boy shared anything in common. Simon had chosen not to open up. He didn’t want to delve into the chasm, because once he started, he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop. One of them had to stay strong.

‘He thinks he’s to blame,’ Julia said. ‘He holds himself responsible.’

‘But he is responsible,’ Simon replied. Back to all those what ifs again.

‘No,’ Julia said. ‘The van driver was entirely at fault. Zak did everything he could to avoid the crash. Didn’t you listen to a word at the inquest?’

Julia was too generous, too kind. Too forgiving.

‘I don’t want him here again,’ he’d said.

Yet here he was. Again.

Simon noticed the flowers in the sink, the type of cheap bouquet picked up at a service station or corner shop. Now he felt guilty. Guilty he hadn’t thought to buy flowers on the way home from work. Guilty that he’d dismissed his doubts that really he should have taken the day off.

She’d said she didn’t want to do anything that made the date significant. She’d insisted it would make matters worse, not better.  Sometimes Julia spoke in unfathomable riddles. How was he supposed to know what was the right thing to do?

The house phone rang. It had probably been ringing all day; Julia’s mother; his mother, friends, the bereavement group, that closed-circle who gave Julia her strength and from whom Simon felt so alienated. Whoever was ringing now would be offering sympathy and platitudes, talking of time being a great healer, the old clichés about the first anniversaries always being the worse, and how everything would get better from now on.

‘I’ll get it,’ Julia said.

The boy shuffled on his seat.

‘You’re not to come here again,’ Simon said as soon as Julia was out of the room. ‘It upsets my wife.’

‘I only came to bring the flowers,’ the boy muttered. ‘I couldn’t not do anything, not today.’

‘My wife is very gullible. This has gone on long enough. You coming here just makes everything ten times worse.’

‘I’m sorry.’ The boy kept his eyes downcast. ‘I never meant any harm. She should have said if she didn’t want to see me.’

‘Well, I’m saying it now.’

He thought the boy would get up, make a swift exit while Julia was still on the phone, but instead of making a move to leave the boy slumped further into his chair. He hung his head, ran his fingers through his shaggy hair, revealing more scar tissue. Simon recoiled at the intensity of the criss-cross of lines, seeing them close-up for the first time. He reminded himself the boy had walked away from the wreckage of his car, walked away, while Hayley had to be cut free. His attempt to stem the flow of blood from Hayley’s wounds had been admirable but amateurish, the coroner had said. If the ambulance had arrived five minutes earlier, if the van driver hadn’t stopped for a second drink, hadn’t been on medication…

What ifs.

‘I think about her all the time,’ the boy said. ‘Hayley was the best thing that ever happened me. I’d never met anyone like her. She was full of fun, so beautiful, generous, and I find it so hard to remember that, because all I see now when I think about Hayley are the headlights of the van coming towards us. I slam my foot on the brake but it’s all too late.  I hear her screams.  It’s a nightmare that won’t go away, that recurs day after day, and sometimes I wake up, and I think that’s all it is, just a nightmare, I’ll see Hayley at college today, and then I look in the mirror, and I can’t escape. I’ll never escape. It’s all my fault. I killed her.’

The boy sobbed as if his heart was breaking, sobs that came from somewhere deep within the pit of his thin, lanky frame, sobs that reverberated around the kitchen. The boy sobbed as Simon had wanted to sob when Hayley’s life-support was switched off.

‘Julia, your wife, Mrs Crouch, she understands,’ the boy mumbled on through his tears. ‘She listens to me. That’s why I come. Nobody else wants to know. They tell me it’s a year now, and I should be moving on, go back to college. Julia says I should go back to college too, it’s what Hayley would have wanted, but she doesn’t say it like they say it. She understands.’

Envy was an irrational reaction, yet it stabbed at Simon like a knife, gauging into his shame.  He wanted to tell the boy to get a grip, to pull himself together, because that was the advice he gave himself, but that advice hadn’t worked. This boy provided Julia with the comfort and the empathy he could not. They had consoled each other and he had remained deliberately aloof.

He wasn’t aware of Julia coming to stand in the doorway, phone in her hand. He was just aware of the boy at the table who had been injured in the car crash that had taken his daughter’s life, a boy who shared his nightmares, his fears, his grief, his loss.

He tried to think of something he could say that would make it better, something Julia might say when the boy came here, seeking refuge. Really, there was nothing.

He reached out and put his hand on the boy’s shaking shoulder.

‘We don’t blame you. It wasn’t your fault.’

Perhaps it was the right thing, the only thing to say, today of all days.

 

The End

© Rosie Travers

 

You can check out some of my flash fiction here

Guest Post – Helena Fairfax on Comfort Reading

How many of us are making new year resolutions to take more care of our personal well-being? I’ve always believed in the magic of books and the comfort they bring, and I’m delighted to hand over my first guest spot of 2019 to romantic novelist Helena Fairfax, who shares her thoughts on the subject.

I’ve loved reading ever since I was a toddler and first opened a picture book. It doesn’t matter which author I’m reading, I nearly always find comfort immersing myself in the world of stories. I was really interested to find out recently that the Reading Agency once did some research and discovered that regular reading is beneficial to people’s mental health. [Link: https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/reading-improves-relationships-and-reduces-depression-symptoms-says-new-study-10446850.html ] I’m not alone in finding reading a great reliever of stress and it really does help my mood when I’m low.

Because I love reading so much, trying to choose just five books that bring me comfort has been a virtually impossible task. But here we go – in no particular order, here are five authors I regularly turn to for a joyful read!

 

The Grand Sophy, by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer is absolutely my go-to comfort-read author. My favourite novel of hers changes often, but they are all delightful. I chose The Grand Sophy today because Sophy is the perfect strong, charming, bright, witty heroine. Sophy is the only daughter of international diplomat Sir Horace. She has been used to travelling round the world with her father, but when he goes to South America, he decides it would be much better if Sophy went to stay with his sister’s family. Horace’s sister is expecting a quiet, biddable girl. I love the scene in which Sophy arrives at the house – all five foot nine of her, carrying a pet monkey. Sophy soon takes charge of the family in an affectionate and charming but resolute way. Heyer’s style is funny and her books are beautifully researched. And there is nothing more comforting than knowing that a whole cast of characters is heading for their own happy endings.

 

Nicholas Nickleby, by Charles Dickens

I completely love the melodrama of Charles Dickens’ novels, and this one has melodrama in every page. There are so many scenes and characters that stay in my mind long after I put the book down. Poor Smike, the orphan from Dotheboys Hall; the depraved Sir Mulberry Hawk, who has his wicked heart set on capturing the heroine; the villainous Sir Ralph Nickleby; Whackford Squeers, the bullying master of Dotheboys Hall. Even the characters’ names have a melodramatic ring to them. Dickens is a master storyteller and even though you suspect that he is shamelessly manipulating your response, there is one particular scene in the book that never fails to bring tears to my eyes. I even get upset thinking about it – which doesn’t sound very comforting, but Smike, the character involved, is one of my favourite characters of all time. The only reservation I have is that the female characters are quite wishy-washy, but I still love the story and the brilliant, page-turning ride towards a happy ending.

 

Madam, Will You Talk?, by Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart is another of my go-to authors for comfort reading. This book seems a little dated now. There is a lot of smoking, and the characters speak in a fairly plummy way. This doesn’t detract at all from the romance of the Greek setting and the developing love story, along with the thrilling suspense. One of the things I love about Mary Stewart is her portrayal of ordinary women who are caught up in a dangerous situation by chance, and who act in a heroic way. Madam Will You Talk? is set just after WWII, and the heroine, Charity, is grieving the man she loved. I love her dashing car chase scene as she escapes the hero, the bad guys are suitably villainous, and there are lots of twists and surprises. It’s the perfect comfort read, especially for this time of year, with its glorious Mediterranean setting.

 

Persuasion, by Jane Austen

I was given a complete set of Jane Austen for my fifteenth birthday and completely fell in love with her books from the first. My favourites change from year to year. At one time it was Pride and Prejudice. I vividly remember first reading P&P in the playground at school, completely engrossed and oblivious to everything. When Darcy first proposes to Lizzie, I didn’t see it coming at all. My jaw dropped open. O.M.G! He’s in love with her!! I was so completely wrapped up in their story, I missed the bell, was late for class and got a detention. I’ve just re-read Persuasion, and it’s my favourite at the moment. I love the way Captain Wentworth and Anne start off with so much history between them and a seemingly unbridgeable gulf, and the brilliant way Jane Austen brings them gradually together. The scene where they finally understand one another is really moving.

 

Red Rackham’s Treasure, by Hergé

A boy and a dog are in a submarine shaped like a shark. What child wouldn’t want to read a book with a cover like this? I’ve been reading and re-reading all the Tintin books since I was at primary school, and my love for them has grown more and more. At first I read them for the gripping story. Hergé was a genius, and every page in the books ends with a cliff-hanger. Now I also look far more closely at his brilliant illustrations. His books have excellent characters who grow and develop as the series progresses, the settings are unusual and exotic, and the dialogue and pictures are absolutely hilarious. I still think of some of the jokes and laugh out loud. I only recently discovered that Hergé wrote these strips for a Belgian newspaper that was commandeered by the Nazis in WWII. How horrific and frightening it must have been for him to be obliged to work for them. His Tintin adventures must have brought comfort to many at the time, and they are still very firmly in my top five of comfort reads.

 

Author bio

Helena Fairfax is a freelance editor and author. She is addicted to reading and will read the cornflakes packet if there is nothing else to hand. Helena was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She’s grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors and the home of the Brontë sisters. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

 

Social links

Find out more about Helena on her website www.helenafairfax.com, on Twitter @helenafairfax, or by subscribing to her newsletter to news and occasional free stuff http://eepurl.com/dtIDEH

 

Helena’s latest release is a non-fiction historical work called Struggle and Suffrage in Halifax: Women’s Lives and the Fight for Equality. Women’s voices are all too often missing from the history books. This book looks at some of the key events in the fascinating history of the mill town of Halifax, West Yorkshire, from the point of view of the women who shaped the town. It’s available on pre-order now from bookshops and retailers and from Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Struggle-Suffrage-Halifax-Womens-Equality/dp/1526717778/

 

Thank you so much for having me, Rosie. I’ve really enjoyed revisiting some comfort reads. I want to read them all over again!

Thank you Helena for taking part. The Independent survey makes very interesting (and comforting) reading for us bookworms!

 

 

A Postcard from 2018

Everybody is doing a big fat quiz of the year, but here’s my personal postcard from 2018 – edited highlights of what has been a rollercoaster ride.

January – The excitement of starting a year knowing I had just signed my first publishing contract is offset by panicking about packing for a six week trip to Australia and New Zealand. How many pairs of pants…

February – Visit Australia and New Zealand. Too many wow moments to mention and definitely too many pants in my suitcase, but fulfilling a childhood ambition of cuddling a koala pretty much tops the highlights list. I know it’s not ‘PC’ but the opportunity was there…

March – Coming home from Australia and discovering we had missed the Beast from the East and all the fuss about the snow. First steps into the magical world of publishing as I begin working with a professional editor on The Theatre of Dreams.

April – Discovering two short stories I’d submitted to Writing Magazine competitions had been shortlisted in the same month.  Another successful competition entry at Hampshire Writers Society for the first 300 words of a commercial women’s fiction novel, is actually mushrooming into a commercial women’s fiction novel. Could this be Book Number Two? Yes it could. Change name of book from competition title of Marrying Mother to Your Secret’s Safe With Me after all sorts of plots twists infiltrate the original idea.

May –The rush is on to finish Your Secret’s Safe With Me so it’s out of the way before the launch of The Theatre of Dreams.

June – Choosing my book cover, writing blurb and dedications and then coming home from a week’s holiday in Spain and finding a paperback copy of The Theatre of Dreams waiting for me on the doorstep.

July – How do I launch a book? Surely if I just throw a few tweets out there, chat about it on Facebook, add a few Instagrams, tell a few friends…that’ll work, won’t it? The first Amazon reviews are in and they’re very good – but they are all written by people who know me.  Fulfil another personal ambition and visit Hampton Court Flower Show on the hottest day of the year.  We all wilt and have to be revived by large doses of Pimms. I do, however, gather ideas for a winter knitting project if the writing career plummets.

AugustThe Theatre of Dreams is officially launched into the world and the euphoria soon ends with a look at my sales figures.  How do you make one book stand out against so many millions of others? Maybe I should have done a bit more tweeting and making friends on social media. Maybe I should have just paid out big bucks for a professional book promotion service.  Maybe I need a much bigger family. It’s a steep learning curve but on the plus side more reviews are in and they are not written by people who know me…

September –  We set sail on a two-week cruise to the Baltics.  After traipsing through a mere smidgeon of the 22km of corridors at the Winter Palace in St Petersburg it’s easy to see why the Russians had a revolution.  It’s jaw-dropping opulence in the extreme. Publisher accepts Book Two.

October – Do what we we’ve been meaning to do since we returned from the Netherlands twelve months previously – put house on the market and plan an escape to the country. Yes we are that couple of empty-nesters looking to downsize to a house with sweeping views in rural isolation but close to all local amenities and obviously we still need something big enough for all our stuff, and our children’s stuff that didn’t leave the nest with them…

November – Onwards and upwards to conquer the Everest sized mountain of book marketing and self-promotion.  Meanwhile, start edits on Your Secret’s Safe With Me.

December – First author talk, nobody fell asleep which I take to be a good sign.  Continue to try and make self more alluring and interesting on social media. House sold – first challenge of 2019 will be to find a new one that ticks all our 101 boxes. Edits complete on Your Secret’s Safe With Me and launch date set for 18 February 2019.  Who’d have thought, this time last year…

Book Links:

The Theatre of Dreams

Your Secret’s Safe With Me

 

Many thanks to everyone who has supported my writing journey and also to my fellow authors who have guested on this blog during the year, either talking about their favourite comfort reads or their own magical books.

Wishing you all a very happy and prosperous 2019.

 

 

 

Guest Post – Comfort Reads with Jane Lacey-Crane

In the final comfort reading spot of the year, my guest is a fellow graduate of the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme, Jane Lacey-Crane. Jane is just celebrating the publication of her second novel, The City of Second Chances.

There are so many books I could have chosen for this list but, in the end, I’ve settled on the five that are not only my go-to comfort reads but the five that found me at just the moment in my life that I needed them.

The Colour Of Magic by Terry Pratchett.

Picture the scene – It’s 1989, I’m 18 and I’ve turned down a place at university with the intention of travelling the world and finding myself. Instead I end up working full-time in a Ladies fashion boutique on an East London high street. A very depressing picture. Days full of great people but mind-numbing work. During my lunch hour one day, I wandered to the nearby branch of WHSmith and picked this book at random. I’d never read any fantasy novels before and I’d never heard of Terry Pratchett either. I read it in one day and I was hooked. The book was so magical, so full of creativity and imagination, that when I read it – and all the other subsequent Discworld books – I was transported to somewhere far away from my normal life. It saved me from the drudgery of my day to day life and I will always be grateful that I found it when I did.

My Ride With Gus by Charles Carillo

This book came to into my life when I was working in a bookshop in Central London – still trying to ‘find myself’. Can you see a pattern forming? I worked in the Fiction department and managed to get a hold of a proof copy of this book. Set in Brooklyn, it centres around the misadventures of yuppy architect Jimmy Gambar and his estranged brother, Gus. When Jimmy finds himself with a dead body in the trunk of his car, the only person he knows he can rely to help him is his brother. It’s a fantastic road trip of a book that deals with love and survival and finding your way back to family. I was in awe of the writing and the way the author was able to craft a story that was touching and heartfelt at the same time as being hugely funny. I knew that was the kind of writer I wanted to be, and this book showed me how it could be done.

Anything written by Nora Roberts!

This one might be a bit of a cheat because it isn’t one book – it’s many books written by the same author – and I love them because they also taught me so much about the art of storytelling. Nora Roberts – in my humble opinion – is nothing short of the most talented writer in the world. I found her initially when I started reading Mills and Boon books. Mills and Boon introduced me to the art of romantic fiction and I devoured as many as I could get my hands on when I was a young girl, dreaming of becoming a published author. I would buy stacks and stacks of them at boot sales and jumble sales and then lock myself away, lost in a world of female heroines and the men that adore them. Nora Roberts was the author I always looked out for and I still do. The arrival of a new title by her is guaranteed to make me smile. I always know I’m in safe hands with Nora!

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

A classic, and one that I know has appeared on this blog a few times. But it’s just the most amazing story – a bold heroine, a brooding hero and more sexual tension than you can shake a stick at! When I first read it, back in school, I identified with the young Jane hugely. I wasn’t an abandoned orphan or anything, but I related to her feelings of not belonging, of being just out of place. I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling like that and her sense of loneliness really resonated with me. As I got older, and re read the book again and again, I grew to love the grown-up Jane, relating to her struggle to be herself and to be respected and loved for who she was.

Dickens at Christmas

This is a book I return to time and time again, especially at this time of year. It’s a collection of all Charles Dickens festive writings, not just A Christmas Carol, but pieces he wrote for periodicals of the time, and a festive tale from The Pickwick Papers, which is a real treat. I snuggle down in my armchair by the Christmas Tree, cup of tea and mince pie in hand, and let the gloriously beautiful writing take me away to a place where the Christmases are always gloriously snowy, and the pudding is always flaming and adorned with a sprig of holly!

 

About Jane 

I’ve been writing for as long as I could string a sentence together and I always dreamed of becoming a published author, but it felt like an unachievable dream until I joined the RNA’s New Writer’s Scheme in January 2017. That was the thing that really made me think I could really do it. I’d written the beginning of the story that would grow into ‘Secrets and Tea at Rosie Lee’s’ as an entry for a competition on Good Morning Britain. It never got anywhere but I really thought the story had legs and could go somewhere so I carried on with it. After rewriting it based on my manuscript report from the RNA, I started submitting to publishers who didn’t require you to have an agent. I was over the moon when Aria Fiction offered me a 3- book contract in October 2017!! The first book, Secrets and Tea at Rosie Lee’s, was set in East London, where I grew up, and featured characters that were inspired by some of the people I knew back then. My new book, The City of Second Chances, was released 11th December and very excited to be able to share it with people. It’s a completely new story, set in London and New York, and it follows the fortunes of Evie Grant, a woman in search of a new life and new adventures.

Book Blurb for The City of Second Chances

Has she already met The One? What if Mr Right had come along at the wrong time…?

Evie Grant is forty-five years old, a widow, and single mum of two children about to leave the nest. Suddenly alone in the family home, Evie realizes she hates her job, hardly goes out and hasn’t had a date since who knows when…

So it feels like fate when the opportunity arises for a girls trip to New York City. Staying with her sister on the Upper East Side, Evie is enchanted by a snow-covered city consumed by preparing for Christmas.

Bobble hat firmly on, Evie is walking through the city one day when she bumps into Daniel Roberts, Hollywood heartthrob and one-time boyfriend of hers.

It’s now or never for Evie – but can she open her heart to the possibility of a new beginning and true happiness once again…?

Funny, real and wonderfully romantic, this is the perfect feel-good read to keep you warm this winter!

Buy Link

https://www.amazon.co.uk/City-Second-Chances-heartwarming-perfect-ebook/dp/B07G3GKH3Y/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1544529429&sr=8-1&keywords=jane+lacey+crane

My Contact Info

I love to hear from readers so if they want to get in touch with me they can!

Facebook – Jane Lacey Crane – Author

Instagram – @janelaceycrane

Twitter – @JaneLaceyCrane

 

Thanks to Jane for taking part – good to see a Dickens on the list for Christmas. I can almost hear the fire crackling and smell the chestnuts roasting…

 

News About Book Two

This time last year I didn’t have a publishing contract. Scroll forward twelve months and not only have I launched one novel, I have just finished editing book two. Your Secret’s Safe With Me will be published by Crooked Cat on 18 February 2019.

So, what is the new book all about?

Like the Theatre of Dreams, Your Secret’s Safe With Me is set on the south coast of England, but this time, instead of an old-fashioned seaside resort, the action centres of the fictitious picturesque riverside village of Kerridge and a house called Rivermede.

The whole thought process for this new book is very different from the first. I’d tried out the characters who appear in The Theatre of Dreams in various disguises and in several other plots before stumbling onto the idea of a campaign to save an old seaside theatre.   Your Secret’s Safe With Me was written over a much shorter time span with fresh characters, who hadn’t been hanging around in my head for ages waiting for the right outlet.

The novel focuses on the intricacies of family relationships and the consequences of keeping secrets – and it began life earlier this year as a competition entry for the first 300 words of a commercial women’s fiction novel.

Hampshire Writers Society meet at the University of Winchester once a month and hold regular competitions. I don’t always enter, but I felt I had to partake in this particular competition as commercial women’s fiction is my specialiality.  My entry was entitled ‘Marrying Mother’ and featured Pearl, a romantic novelist about to return to the UK from an eight week cruise, delivering some life-changing news to her daughter,  Becca. My entry was awarded highly commended and I felt spurred on by the family dynamic I’d created to continue Pearl and Becca’s story.

As with The Theatre of Dreams the setting is local – why look any further when inspiration sits on your doorstep? It’s just a 300 metre walk from my front door to the banks of the River Hamble, which is one of the south’s leading sailing centres.  I regularly run/walk/jog along the river and being in such close proximity to some very sleek and extremely expensive looking yachts I began to speculate about the people who owned these vessels and what they got up to on the water.  With an over-fertile imagination it’s very easy to envisage some dubious and illicit activities might be taking place, and it seems perfectly reasonable that a pair of unsuspecting newcomers to the area, such as Pearl and Becca, could become unwittingly caught up in these shenanigans. Throw into the mix a familiar but unwelcome face from Becca’s past – and a story started to emerge.

Becca’s organised world quickly transcends into chaos, and although primarily a romantic suspense, Your Secret’s Safe With Me, contains a fair dose of humour.

Official Blurb

Career girl Becca Gates’ organised life is thrown into chaos when her mother, romantic novelist Pearl, announces her surprise engagement to Jack, a man she has only just met. 

Worse news follows when Pearl tells Becca she intends to leave London, quit writing, and retire to her new fiancé’s idyllic waterside home on the south coast. Becca is determined to prevent Pearl from making a disastrous mistake, but when she at arrives at Rivermede, more shocks await when she stumbles upon a familiar yet unwelcome face from her past.

As Pearl embraces her new life amongst the local sailing fraternity, Becca receives a grim warning that all is not as calm as it seems at picturesque Rivermede, and if she wants to keep her family safe, she should keep them away. 

But why should Becca trust the man who has betrayed her before, the man who broke her heart, the man who thinks he knows all her secrets?

The book is now available to pre-order on Amazon Kindle here

 

I’ve also set up a Pinterest board for the novel:

https://www.pinterest.co.uk/rosie9257/ 

 

 

Guest Post Sharon Booth on Comfort Reading

Continuing the series, this week romantic novelist and “Yorkshire Rose” Sharon Booth chooses her five comfort reads.

The books I’ve chosen for my comfort reads are all books I’ve read many times, and will no doubt read again. I’ve deliberately left out my childhood favourites because, truthfully, I could easily fill this entire blog with them and there’s no way I could narrow it down to five. Childhood books are the ultimate comfort read for me, and I suspect I’m far from the only person who feels that way.

So, after a lot of debate and with huge apologies to the many, many books that I’ve had to leave off this list, here are the five comfort reads I’ve selected.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend.

Honestly, I could pick five Adrian Mole books and that would be fine by me. I return to this series over and over again because no one makes me laugh like Adrian. His teenage longing for the glamorous Pandora, his hilarious relationship with beetroot-loving Bert Baxter, the endless battles with spots, his angst-ridden poetry, his dysfunctional family – it’s all just priceless. Picking up this book is like being hugged. I just know that, however bad I’m feeling, this will cheer me up. And what makes it even more special is that Adrian isn’t just funny. There are moments of real poignancy and perception. Adrian holds up a mirror to the society he lives in, and it’s a commentary on the times that isn’t always comfortable to read but is never less than truthful. I just love it.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

This is my favourite novel and I can’t imagine ever tiring of it. Jane is just magnificent. She’s insignificant as a poor, orphaned woman in Victorian Britain, yet she has a fire burning within her. Jane knows her own worth. She has principles, and she holds fast to them. She understands that, while others may look down on her, she is worthy and deserving of respect. She rages against injustice in all its forms; even as a small child at the mercy of her awful aunt and cousins she knows that their treatment of her is wrong and protests loudly and at great cost to her welfare. The love story between her and Mr Rochester is beautiful, but there’s much more to the novel than that. Jane speaks for all those other women of her time, or of any time, without a voice. I adore her.

Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach.

I was given a copy of this book many years ago by a friend, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from it, but I loved it. It really made me think about things from another angle and, all these years later, I still find comfort in it.

I do love books like this. I’ve read The Tao of Pooh, Conversations with God, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, The Prophet and many more, and I find them fascinating. My copy of Illusions is a bit tattered now but I’ll never part with it.

 

The Queen and I by Sue Townsend.

Yes, I know it’s another Sue Townsend book, but I couldn’t resist it. I’ve read this several times and it never fails to make me laugh. The thought of our Royal Family slumming it on an inner-city housing estate, after republicans win the general election, is too funny. It always makes me giggle to picture Prince Charles with a ponytail and wearing a shell suit. Of course, it was written a long time ago and nowadays it’s quite poignant to read about Diana’s adventures on Hell Close.

What I admire about this book is that, even though it’s incredibly funny, the author never humiliates the family. In fact, the Queen, particularly, is shown in a very positive light: strong, stoic, courageous and compassionate. And poor Prince Phillip’s despair as he takes to his bed is quite moving. It’s thought-provoking to see society through the Queen’s disbelieving eyes.

Sue Townsend was such an amazingly talented writer. It’s desperately sad that there’ll never be another book from her.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

It may be a Christmas book, but I find A Christmas Carol especially comforting and a real pleasure to read. I could happily read it at any time of year, but I always try to save it for Christmas week. I just adore the story and, although it makes me sad and angry in parts, it invariably leaves me feeling positive and uplifted. When I look at the books I’ve chosen, I realise that they’re all about people who are challenged by the times and circumstances they live in, but somehow rise above those challenges by finding their own inner strength. Or, as Richard Bach would have it, the Messiah within. It’s a theme I find fascinating and positive, and so it’s no wonder I selected them as my comfort reads.

 

About Sharon

Sharon writes contemporary love stories set in beautiful Yorkshire. Her books are romantic but fun, and a happy ending for her main characters is guaranteed – though she makes them work for it!
As well as full-length novels she has written pocket novels for DC Thomson, and several of her “Fabrian Books’ Feel-Good Novels” have also been published in large-print format by Ulverscroft, as part of their Linford Romance Library.
Her short story, The Other Side of Christmas, was included in the Winter Tales anthology – a collection of seasonal stories by popular writers, in aid of The Cystic Fibrosis Trust and The Teenage Cancer Trust. Her 2017 novel, Resisting Mr Rochester, was awarded a Chill with a Book Readers’ Award.
Sharon lives in East Yorkshire with her husband and their dog. She is half of the Yorkshire Rose Writers, one tenth of The Write Romantics and a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Alliance of Independent Authors.
She has a love/hate relationship with chocolate, is a devoted Whovian, adores Cary Grant movies, and admits to being prone to all-consuming crushes on fictional heroes.
When she’s not writing, she spends as much time as possible getting her money’s worth from her membership of English Heritage.

Find out more about Sharon at www.sharonboothwriter.com

Follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sharonboothwriter

Sharon’s latest book, Belle, Book and Christmas Candle was published on 1st December and is available at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Belle-Christmas-Candle-Witches-Castle-ebook/dp/B07KCGY7CF

Thanks to Sharon for taking part. I’m pleased to see a couple of my all-time favourites included in this list – Adrian Mole and Jane Eyre.

Guest Post Lizzie Lamb on Comfort Reading

I am delighted to welcome Lizzie Lamb onto my blog today. Lizzie a best-selling novelist, an active public speaker and a prolific supporter of her fellow writers. Over to Lizzie for a timeline of her favourite reads.

We all have books we simply can’t bear to part with because, like the old friends they are, they’ve stuck with us through thick and thin. The oldest book in my collection is Clarendon’s History of the Great Rebellion (1858) followed by The Wild Bird – Margaret Stuart Lane (1933) The Scarlet Pimpernel (1927), The Prisoner of Zenda and its sequel, Rupert of Henzua (1930).

My other ‘keepers’ are books which saw me through from girlhood to womanhood: Greengage Summer, I Capture The Castle, Bonjour Tristesse and The Dud Avocado.

With the fickleness of youth I abandoned these when I discovered Jilly Cooper’s novels (1976). My love of rom com developing within their pages before coming full circle with Bridgit Jones in 1996. I can’t let go of my penguin classics or historical romances by the likes of Georgette Heyer, Daphne Du Maurier, Jean Plaidy, Margaret Irwin and Anya Seaton. My particular favourite is Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine.

When I want to remind myself how to write humorously, I revisit Wodehouse, Terry Pratchet, Tom Sharpe and the anarchic Catch 22.

I also treasure my poetry books…John Donne, WB Yeats, The War Poets, TS Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin.

And in particular, The Mersey Sound – Adrien Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten which reminds me of when I was recovering after an appendectomy in Grantham General (1970). I was reading poems to the other patients in my ward and causing such hilarity that it was confiscated by the ward sister until I was discharged. Honestly…

I have two comfort reads Tristan and Isuelt by Rosemary Sutcliffe (so beautifully written) and Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford which is great fun. I want to spend the afternoon with the Mitford gels in the Hons Cupboard discussing topics considered unfit for young ladies. Want to come with me?

 

About Lizzie

After teaching her 1000th pupil and working as a deputy head teacher in a large primary school, Lizzie decided to pursue her first love: writing. She joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme, wrote Tall, Dark and Kilted (2012), quickly followed by Boot Camp Bride. She went on to publish Scotch on the Rocks, which achieved Best Seller status within two weeks of appearing on Amazon and her next novel, Girl in the Castle, reached #3 in the Amazon charts. Lizzie is a founder member of indie publishing group – New Romantics Press, and has co-hosted author events at Aspinall, St Pancras and Waterstones, Kensington, talking about the research which underpins her novels. Lizzie latest romance Take Me, I’m Yours is set in Wisconsin, a part of the USA which she adores. This novel also achieved BEST SELLER status >travel>USA. She has further Scottish-themed romances planned and has just returned from a tour of the Scottish Highlands researching men in kilts. What’s not to like? As for the years she spent as a teacher, they haven’t quite gone to waste. She is building a reputation as a go-to speaker on indie publishing, and how to plan, write, and publish a debut novel. Lizzie lives in Leicestershire (UK) with her husband, David.

She loves to hear from readers, so do get in touch . . .

Lizzie’s Links

https://www.amazon.com/author/lizzielamb

www.facebook.com/LizzieLambwriter 

lizzielambwriter@gmail.com

website: www.lizzielamb.co.uk

Newsletter – http://tinyurl.com/ELNL-2016

Linked in: uk.linkedin.com/pub/lizzie-lamb/18/194/202/

Goodreads http://tinyurl.com/cbla48d

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/lizzielamb/

https://twitter.com/lizzie_lamb

 

Many thanks to Lizzie for taking part.

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…

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