My other half, who has worked for a mega multi-national organisation for more years than is good for him, is fluent in corporate speak. One of his favourites is failure to plan is planning to fail – a little gem about time-management, something which has never been my forte.
My WIP (work in progress) is currently zooming along at high speed but in a very haphazard fashion. This is because I’m a “pantser” – when it comes to writing I fly by the seat of my pants and I make my stories up as I go along – as opposed to a plotter who researches and constructs their novel – chapter by chapter in some cases – before starting.
A first draft is allowed to be messy, it’s where you write down all your ideas and don’t worry too much about the finer details. However, a plotter will have a plan, while a pantser is constantly going back to join the dots to make their story work.
I can totally understand the need for some prior research if you’re writing a historical novel. I write contemporary fiction and look up my ‘facts’ as I go along. However, not having a cohesive plan does have its drawbacks when it comes to consistency or when a fact no longer fits the plotline. For example, at the very start of my WIP my heroine is attending an event which could only take place in the summer. Several chapters in I mention something that implies we are in winter – so now I either have to find an alternative event or put her in the southern hemisphere to solve the problem of what she is doing, but there again she has to nip back to the UK pretty swiftly to deal with the initial point of change – the dilemma which sets the story off – so I have to delete the wintery weather, which then has other implications as the story progresses….
Of course a plotter would have little details like this sorted – they’d have a calendar, a timeline and full character profiles and CVs. They’d know exactly what their character was up to and where and when she was doing it.
However, I like watching my characters develop. My current hero has mesmerised my heroine but to be honest he hasn’t mesmerised me yet, therefore he needs more bulk to his personality; he has do something that will have the reader rooting for him. Looking good is not enough; my hero need more than finely chiselled features and few rippling muscles (although that does help). Therefore a fact he has kept hidden about himself until a later chapter will now need to come out sooner to evoke a little sympathy. So back I go again…
At the moment I am going back more than I am going forward, but that’s ok. I’m more than a third of the way through the book now and I think my idea has legs so it’s worth perserving to see how far it’ll run.
Both hero and heroine have changed names, as have several minor characters. You can’t have too many names that begin with the same letter; sometimes a name that seems to fit at the start, no longer seems appropriate. Nationalities and occupations have changed. The sub-plot which kicked the book off has fallen a little by the wayside and will have to be brought back to the forefront before the reader forgets all about it, and the secondary plot is vital, not just to keep the reader engaged during a lull in the main action, but because I want the two separate storylines to come together at the end. See I have done a bit of planning – even if it’s just in my head. I do know how this book will end – or at least I think I do…
So being a pantser keeps the story fluid and organic. My characters drive the story forward and although leap-frogging backwards and forwards to drop in clues as the story progresses might seem like a less constructive use of time, not having a set plan makes writing fun and unpredictable! I’m just as much in the dark as to what my characters are going to get up to next as I hope my readers will be. A heart attack? I didn’t see that one coming but it so works…
This week I’m heading across the Atlantic to meet Canadian author Tom Halford. Tom lives in Newfoundland where I suspect the chilly winters provide ample opportunity for comfort reading!
for having me on your blog, Rosie. I really appreciate it.
I think of my favourite comfort reads, I always think of the bildungsroman. The
bildungsroman is roughly defined as the novel of development, and these types
of books usually focus on a younger person coming of age.
are my top five comfort reads.
Of Human Bondage W Somerset Maugham
When I started reading this book, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I can remember sitting in my parents’ basement over the Christmas holidays. There was this dusty, smelly red-orange chair that I had stuffed into my bedroom. This was where I befriended Philip Carey, Maugham’s protagonist, who has to come to terms with the fact that he will never become a professional artist. He chooses a more practical path and becomes a doctor. This book had a strange effect on me. Even though the conclusion was ultimately about choosing to be practical, Maugham’s style and character development led me to be even more obsessed with writing novels. I come from a family where almost everyone is a dentist (this sounds like a joke, but it’s true). After reading this book, I knew that had to at least try to be a writer. If I became dentist, I worried that I’d never really be happy.
David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
Where was I when I read this book? I believe I was staying at my parents’ camp while I worked at a nearby campground on Lake George, New Brunswick. This was one book that I didn’t want to end. There are a number of parallels between Philip Carey and David Copperfield. Both of them lose their mother at a young age. Both meet a host of characters both good and bad. I’m not sure why I was so drawn to these two books. I don’t have much in common with either hero, but they’re both great company, and they were my very good friends for a little while.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, JK Rowling
By the time I read the Harry Potter series, I was finally out of my parents’ house. My wife and I even own our own house now!
Currently, I end up driving everyone to where they need to be and am in our van for roughly an hour and a half each day. In the fall, I listened to Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in the van on a loaned copy from the library. Harry Potter is an incredible main character, and each one of the supporting characters are entertaining in their own way. Hagrid has to be one of the most likeable characters in any novel that I’ve read. I’m a big fan of Rowling as an author for a bunch of different reasons, but I’m stunned as to her ability to write so well in multiple genres. The Cormorant Strike series is another one of my favourite comfort reads, but I’m not including it in this list because it would be difficult to argue that it is a bildungsroman.
The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Samuel Pepys
On that note, I’m going to argue that The Diary of Samuel Pepys can be considered a bildungsroman. It’s not a novel but a series of diary entries spanning from 1660 to 1669, so I’ll lose the battle in relation to the “roman” of bildungsroman. However, it is a book where the reader gets to see a clear development in Pepys. These developments are not always better for Pepys on a personal level. His relationship with his wife becomes increasingly strained, but he advances considerably in his professional life. So, even in relation to “bildungs”, I’m on shaky ground as well.
I don’t care though. I love Pepys. Of any literary figure, Pepys is the most alive to me. I feel as though I have gone back in time between 1660-1669 and hung out with him. This was at a lonely time for me, before I’d met my wife (yes, I also read The Diary of Samuel Pepys in my parents’ basement), and reading about Pepys’s life was one of my most comforting reads.
Mean Boy, Lynn Coady
Lynn Coady’s Mean Boy is more of a kunstlerroman (artist novel) than a bildungsroman, but I’m being loose with my definitions here so leave me alone. Of any book in this list, Mean Boy was one where I could closely relate to the narrator. Coady’s novel is set at a small university in Atlantic Canada, and it’s about an English major who is learning that his literary heroes are also fallible human beings. When I discovered Mean Boy, I had finally moved out of my parents’ house to a city about an hour away. I was reaching a point in my life where many bildungsroman end. I was the young, main character leaving the nest. Finding Mean Boy and spending time with the narrator Lawrence Campbell was important to me at the time. I don’t know if I’ve learned as much from any other book.
comfort that I find in the bildungsroman genre is that the main character
usually becomes a friend. I learn about his or her life from a young age, the
struggles and the successes. In a way, I feel like Philip Carey, David
Copperfield, Harry Potter, Samuel Pepys, and Lawrence Campbell are more than
characters; they are good friends who I knew very well for a short period of
Tom Halford lives with his family in Newfoundland, Canada. His novels are are set in New York State, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada. He writes comedy and crime fiction.
Thanks to Tom for sharing his choices and an education. The theme of finding friendship amongst characters will resonate with many readers and writers, and ‘Bildungsroman’ is definitely the word of the day!
Anyone who knows me well will know that I am a bit of a serial house mover. Stay in one place too long and I get itchy feet. This was actually our 11th house move in ten years and yes that does mean that in some years we’ve moved more than once (in 2012 we moved three times). In theory I should be getting good at it. I pack boxes like a professional – but I don’t think we’ve made one house move yet where something hasn’t been mislaid along the way. In this house move – it was most definitely my writing mojo that got lost. The stress of securing a buyer, then the stress of not losing our buyer, and finally the stress of not finding a property we wanted to buy, seemed to cancel out every ounce of creativity. A new novel just wasn’t happening.
We made the decision to go into short term rented, which isn’t without its own inherent problems, and the date of our actual move, dictated by our buyers, couldn’t have been worse – just a week after the launch date for Your Secret’s Safe With Me. Just before the launch date I hit on this brilliant new idea for a potential third book. In fact it was so brilliant, I abandoned the stilted 10K words I’d eeked out over the last few months, and wrote a totally new 10K words in a matter of days.
Do you ever have that feeling where an idea is just beyond your grasp? It’s as if you have a glimpse of something but it’s not fully formed, something on the periphery of your vision, and then all of sudden it’s a solid mass, within reach. That was what this rush of creativity felt like. It was also a relief. The muse was back, I wasn’t going to be permanently muted – but then the curse of the house move struck again because boxes needed to be packed; practicalities took over and the tap so recently switched on was turned off again. The flow of words halted.
We’ve been in our new temporary home for a week, but when I sat down at my desk this morning it was an ‘and breathe’ moment. We haven’t done a great deal of unpacking – no point when we’re not planning on staying put. Half the furniture sits in the garage and some has been sacrificed to fend for itself in the garden (although this has created a very useful outdoor writing space). But the one saving grace is that the next move is not yet on the cards, and I can’t wait to pick up where I left off on the WIP. New characters have already appeared in my head, a new plot twist. My fingers are itching to get tapping away on that broken keyboard (yes something inevitably also gets broken in every house move – this time a foot broke off the keyboard and a leg fell of an IKEA wardrobe. The IKEA wardrobe is now propped up on a brick, the keyboard on a wad of paper.) When we finally get to the dream house it’ll all get repaired – or replaced. The good thing is work on my next novel doesn’t need a dream home before it gets restored. I can start now.
Today I am joined by historical fiction writer Jennifer Wilson, and there is a definite theme amongst her choices for her top five go-to reads!
Hi Rosie, and thanks for the
chance to visit your blog today; it’s been lovely thinking about my five
comfort reads, bringing back some great memories too!
The Animals of Mulberry Common, by Hilary Cannock
I know this isn’t the first
book I ever read (Puddle Lane or fairy tales probably count somewhere for
that), but this book has come with me everywhere I’ve ever lived for some
reason. I just cannot let it go. It’s a tiny, pocket-sized book, about, unsurprisingly,
the animals which live on the fictional Mulberry Common, and has plenty of
action and adventure, as well as a hint of danger in some of the stories. But
then, books for children often do have underlying danger, just look at what
could happen to Peter Rabbit if Mr McGregor ever did catch him, not to mention
the death and destruction throughout the Harry Potter series. I haven’t re-read
this for a while, but just knowing it still sits happily on my shelf keeps me
Bloody Scotland, by Terry Deary
As a child, I adored
history, and found the Terry Deary books a brilliant way in to learning about
periods of history which simply weren’t covered at school. Being obsessed with
Scottish History meant that this was an immediate favourite, and I was thrilled
to bits when the author came to my school, and I was able to get my copy
signed. It’s since been reissued as just a Horrible Histories Special on
Scotland, but frankly, I think this title is more fun!
Despite having read this
dozens of times, there are still cartoons and lines which make me laugh out
loud, and I did refer to it when I was researching Kindred
Spirits: Royal Mile, so there’s definitely some solid facts in there, as
well as the humour.
The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory
I love this book. The
writing is brilliant, and I think the fact that Philippa Gregory is able to
make you believe (spoiler alert) that Anne Boleyn might just be about to be
saved, and sent to a distant convent, and not executed after all. I was given a
copy to read by a colleague, despite not being interested in the Tudors at all,
because she was convinced I would enjoy it. She was right. I devoured it in a
matter of days, and that was it; I was hooked on the Tudors. As a result, I
began reading as much fiction and non-fiction as I could (see below), and
became absolutely obsessed with the era. Once I’d read a lot about the Tudors,
I decided I didn’t want to move ‘forward’ in time, to the Stuarts, and decided
to go ‘backwards’ instead, and that’s when I discovered the Plantagenets, and
in particular, Richard III.
Whenever I’m sick, or
stressed, this is the book I go back to. It doesn’t matter that I know the plot
inside out; for some reason, on every re-read, I seem to find something I
hadn’t noticed, and still enjoy it as much as the first time. It’s the perfect
‘ill read’, as I can open it at any point, read as much or as little as I like,
and put it aside without even worrying about a bookmark for next time.
The Six Wives of Henry VIII, by Antonia Fraser
This is one of the books I
bought as a result of having read The Other Boleyn Girl, and again, however
many times I read it, I find different nuances, or facts, that I go and
research further in other places. It was also where I found ‘my’ Anne Boleyn
and Katherine Howard, for Kindred
Spirits: Tower of London, due to the stories, quotes and reported words. It’s
another ‘ill read’ for me, like The Other Boleyn Girl, and I always enjoy going
back to it.
The Story of Scotland, by Nigel Tranter
This is one of those perfect history books, which makes facts read as addictively as fiction, just like The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Scottish history always makes fascinating reading, but it can at times be a little complex, especially when you go back so far that the history itself isn’t 100% certain. The book writes every period as though it was a chapter of a novel, and makes it nice and accessible. I’ve never used this as a resource specifically, but I do enjoy my Scottish history, and have often used it as a ‘jumping off’ point, to then go and read more about a particular person, or part of history.
Jennifer C. Wilson is a
marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history and
historical fiction whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots on childhood holidays
(she has since moved on to Richard III). Enrolling on an adult education
workshop on her return to the north-east of England for work reignited her
pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since.
She lives in North Tyneside, and is very proud of her approximately 2-inch view of the North Sea.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘comfort’ as a state of physical well-being; in plural – things that make life easy or pleasant. To me that term is synonymous with reading, and I think today’s special guest, cosy crime writer Paula Williams would heartily agree!
Rosie, for inviting me to talk about my comfort reads. It was incredibly difficult to pick just five
to talk about because, to me, reading is the ultimate comfort activity. Curled up, reading on a cold, rainy day when
the wind is howling outside and I’m snug and warm – that’s my idea of bliss!
So, as I can’t
include the entire contents of my bookcases/Kindle I’ve checked them out and
found the following precious (to me)
1. The Discontented Pony. Noel Barr
This tops the
list because this book was the reason I was such an early reader. It belonged to my older sister and I loved it
so much and used to beg people to read it to me. But my mum didn’t have time (I have 5
siblings!) and my sister didn’t have the inclination. So I learnt to read. I don’t remember how, I only know I would
spend hours bent over this book, trying to make sense of the words. The copy in
the picture is not my sister’s. That disappeared years ago. (She doesn’t share
my need to hoard books) I found it in a
charity shop many years ago and leapt on it with cries of joy. It has pride of
place on my Treasured Books shelf ever since.
2. When We Were Very Young. By A A Milne.
said that nobody in my family would read to me, my maternal grandmother used to
read this to me when she was visiting or we went to stay with her. I loved it and knew many of the poems off by
heart. (Still do, in fact!)
It is the
reason my eldest son is called Christopher.
There was never any doubt in my mind what my first son was going to be
called, even before I became pregnant!
And, I’m happy to say, that he loves the book as much as I do – although
I can’t help wondering if part of the appeal came from the fact that if I started
reading the poems as a bedtime story, I would find it very hard to stop at just
one. It was a brilliant way of extending bedtime.
Years later, I
read the poems to my grandchildren, although they didn’t like them quite so
much, with the possible exception of The King’s Breakfast, which I do with all
the different voices. How come I forget
where I put the car keys yet remember in perfect detail every single line of
that silly poem?
3. The Footsteps of Angels. H.W. Longfellow
Hope it’s all
right to include a single poem as my comfort read. Now this really was a comfort read – at least
it was when I was nine years old.
I’ve already mentioned my maternal grandmother
and how she died when I was young. I was
devastated by her death as she was a gentle, bookish lady and we really enjoyed
each other’s company. She lived with us
for the last year of her life and I missed her so much when she died. Our household was a noisy, very boy dominated
one, (I have four brothers and my sister was away at school for a lot of the
time) and I treasured the precious quiet time my grandmother and I spent
died, I inherited many of her books, one of which was a book of poems by H.W. Longfellow
which she’d been awarded back in 1907/08 for ‘Regularity, Progress and
Conduct.” It amuses me to see that
Longfellow is described in the Preface as one of the ‘modern’ poets!
like the other two, lives on the shelf allocated very precious books. The pages are all brown and crumbling and the
whole thing is falling apart but I still treasure it.
I learnt The
Footsteps of Angels just after her death.
All ten verses of it! I had the
idea that I was learning it for her.
Reading it through now, I can see it’s very sentimental but at the time,
it was a real comfort to grieving little nine year old me and brought me a
little closer to my sorely missed ‘Nan’.
4. The Big Four. Agatha Christie.
introduced me to Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy Sayers when I was about
12 and I have loved crime fiction ever since, both as a reader and a writer.
I hadn’t read
any Agatha Christie for years although I really enjoyed most of the television
productions, especially the ones with David Suchet as Poirot and Joan Hickson
as Miss Marple. But a couple of years
ago, we were staying near Dartmouth in Devon and were waiting to take the steam
train up the Dart Valley. Of course,
being as we were in the heart of ‘Agatha Christie’ country, there was a whole
selection of her books on sale in the station shop. I chose The Big Four as I didn’t remember the
story – and I was totally drawn in. I’d
completely forgotten what a great story teller she was and couldn’t put it down.
particular book brings back many memories, of my mother and, more recently, of
a lovely holiday in a beautiful part of the world.
5. On Writing. Stephen King.
I bought this
book ages ago and resisted reading it for year, mostly because I’ve never read
any of Stephen King’s fiction (nor seen any of the films), as I don’t enjoy
But I’m so
glad I put my prejudice aside. Because here is a man in love with writing and
every time I get a bit down and think I’m not cut out to be a writer and that
maybe I should give it up and take up crochet or something, I dip in to this
and my world is restored.
And isn’t that
the point of a comfort read?
is living her dream. She’s written all her life – her earliest efforts involved
blackmailing her unfortunate younger brothers into appearing in her plays and
pageants. But it’s only in recent years that she discovered to her surprise
that people with better judgement than her brothers actually liked what she
wrote and were prepared to pay her for it.
writes every day in a lovely, book-lined study in her home in Somerset, where
she lives with her husband and a handsome but not always obedient rescue
Dalmatian called Duke.
She began her
writing career writing fiction for women’s magazines (and still does) but has
recently branched out into longer fiction. She also writes a monthly column,
Ideas Store, for the writers’ magazine, Writers’ Forum.
But, as with
the best of dreams, she worries that one day she’s going to wake up and find
she still has to bully her brothers into reading ‘the play what she wrote’.
crime novel, Murder Served Cold, is
a murder mystery set in a small Somerset village which bears a striking
resemblance to the one she lives in. (Although, as far as she knows, none of
her neighbours are cold-blooded murderers!)
It was published by Crooked Cat Books in October 2018, and is the first
in the Much Winchmoor Mysteries series, the second of which, Rough and Deadly,
will be published soon!
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
August – The 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…
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.
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!
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!
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.
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