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

Guest Post – Comfort Reads by Morton S Gray

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

About Morton by Morton

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Twitter – @MortonSGray, her

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

Meet Joan Livingstone

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

How Journalism Shaped My Fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joan Livingston Bio

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

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

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

Joan Livingston on social media:

Website: www.joanlivingston.net.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/JoanLivingstonAuthor/

Twitter: @joanlivingston

Instagram: www.Instagram.com/JoanLivingston_Author

Goodreads: www.Goodreads.com/Joan_Livingston

 

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

 

http://mybook.to/chasingthecase

http://mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

 

ISABEL LONG’S SECOND CRIME MYSTERY

REDNECK’S REVENGE

Her next case. She’s in it for good.

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

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

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

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

 

Guest Post Sophie Weston on Comfort Reading

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

Five Comfort Reads and Why

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

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

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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

 

Sylvester by Georgette Heyer

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

The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson

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

Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett

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

Tomorrow’s Ghost by Anthony Price

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

About Sophie by Sophie

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

myBook.to/PrincesBride

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

Support Your Local Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Guest Post – Comfort Reads by Val Penny

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

About Val by Val

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

Author contact details

www.authorvalpenny.com

www.facebook.com/valerie.penny.739

www.facebook.com/groups/296295777444303

https://twitter.com/valeriepenny

myBook.to/HuntersChase

myBook.to/HuntersRevenge

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post – Comfort Reads by Kate Braithwaite

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

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

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

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

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

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

A crime novel – The Poet by Michael Connelly

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

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

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

A series – The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett

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

About Kate

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

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

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

 THE ROAD TO NEWGATE

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

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

REVIEWS

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

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

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

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Buy the book: mybook.to/theroadtonewgate

 

Thanks to Kate for taking part.

Setting The Scene

Sometimes inspiration strikes in the most unlikeliest of places.  If you’ve read the blurb for The Theatre of Dreams you’ll know the story focuses on an unlikely alliance formed between Tara, an out of work actress, and a rather devious old lady, Kitty, who recruits Tara to run her former dance academy in the fictional south coast resort of Hookes Bay.

Characters pop into my head very easily, what I sometimes lack is a cohesive plot. Once I had come up with a vision of Kitty, I knew I had to give her a purpose. And for this, I have to give credit to the small coastal town of Lee-on-Solent in my native Hampshire. Lee isn’t actually a town – according to Wikipedia it’s a sub-district in the Borough of Gosport, 8 km west of Portsmouth.  This part of the south coast is synonymous with dockyards, submarine stations, armouries, and air bases. It’s not a holiday destination.  I’d been living away from the UK for some time, and on a visit home, for nostalgia’s sake,  we’d gone for a walk along the seafront at Lee.

Lee is one of those places that unless you live nearby, you wouldn’t think to go there – a few cafes, a fairly nondescript high street and a pebbly beach.

At least that’s what I thought, until a notice-board depicting Lee’s historic past caught my eye….

Who knew that back in the 1930’s Lee used to be a bustling resort with a 37 m observational tower and a multi-purpose entertainment complex? I could recall visiting Lee as a child, to swim in the freezing cold water of the local lido, but by then all remnants of the Lee Tower with its ballroom, restaurant and cinema had long gone. How could they have let this happen? I thought. Where once there was something quite unique there is now just a promenade and a car-park. Why wasn’t it preserved?

My imagination had been well and truly captured. I came home and conducted some quick research, uncovering a countrywide trail of art deco seaside pavilions, lost from the landscape. I read about the De La Warr pavilion further along the coast at Bexhill-on-Sea in Sussex – restored into a contemporary arts centre after a public campaign. Why hadn’t that happened at Lee-on-Solent, I wondered.  Where was the vision, imagination, determination, ingenuity, oh, and the money of course, to conserve their slice of history?

They always tell you to write about what you know. My daughter trained as a dancer. My late grandmother was a would-be musical hall star. Two characters from different generations with a shared love of performing.  And so the idea for The Theatre of Dreams was born. My leading ladies didn’t need an observational tower and a huge entertainment complex to bring them together, just something small and meaningful – a run-down seaside pavilion that was once a flourishing family theatre.

The resort of Hookes Bay is a figment of my imagination. It overlooks the Isle of Wight, has a scruffy shingle beach and was once home to a former military base – it could be anywhere along the south coast.

I hope the residents of Lee-on-Solent don’t think I have done their little town an injustice by taking inspiration from the long-forgotten glory days of their seafront. It’s a great place to go for a stroll, with a wonderful car-park.

 

And postcard of the orignal Lee Tower Complex….

 

The Theatre of Dreams will be published on 1 August 2018 and is available to pre-order on Amazon now.

The Theatre of Dreams

 

 

My Fab Five Comfort Reads

The mythical ‘they’ always say to be a great writer you have to be a great reader. I devoured books from a very early age. Books provide an escape route – I used to immerse myself in Kirrin Island and Narnia, just like children today escape to Hogwarts. Returning to a familiar place is a source of great comfort, and like food, I have my favourite ‘comfort reads’, novels I can escape to in times of need.

It was very hard narrowing my choices down to five, but to me the following books represent the literary equivalent of peanut butter on toast or a mug hot chocolate with whipped cream – comfort reading. This doesn’t mean that they feature happy ever afters with cosy characters (far from it), it just means that when I pick up these books I know I’m in for a treat.

 
Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon –  the perfect combination of history, romance, mystery and magic, set in a great city, Barcelona. I discover something new amongst the pages everytime I read it. Probably my all time favourite novel.
 
Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald. As much as I love The Great Gatsby, I prefer Tender is the Night, perhaps because it’s just that little bit ‘meatier’, (or maybe because I share the same name as one of the central characters??). The themes of vulnerability and co-dependency are explored in an opulent and seemingly perfect setting. A book that epitomises a flawed romance in a decadent bygone era.
 
A Town Like Alice Neville Shute’s classic might be considered a little old-fashioned in today’s market but it’s an inspiring mix of historical fact and fiction with a strong, gutsy heroine at its core. 
 
The Go-Between by LP Hartley.  A great lesson in how to build up tension alongside evocative imagery. The perfect portrait of a lost innocence and the 1971 film version is pretty good too.
 
Chocolat by Joanne Harris. Basically, I love anything by Joanne Harris, but Chocolat was the first novel of hers I read so for sentimental reasons it would have to be my favourite. I listened to a speech by Joanne Harris at the Winchester Writer’s Festival a few years back and she was inspirational. She was told Chocolat would never sell, but she had faith in her story and stuck to her guns. 
 
I’ve made multiple house-moves in recent years and books have had to be sacrificed and taken to the charity shop, but these five treasured friends have stood the test of time. I wouldn’t be without them.
 

Flying By The Seat of My Pants

I’ve just typed The End on a first draft of a new novel.

When it comes to writing, I’m  a ‘panster’. I fly by the seat of my pants. I don’t start with a plan – or at least not a rigid, set in stone plan, or even set in a notebook or on a whiteboard plan. I don’t even have post-it notes, although they do come into play later on.

A panster starts off with an idea with in their head, and inevitably finishes up with something completely different on paper.

It could be characters, or just one scene, that ignites the spark.  Once I’ve got my characters, or at least the main protagonist and antagonist, I always know how the story is going to end – it’s just how the characters get there that needs working out.  It’s not until I’m several chapters in that I stop to take stock (or run out of steam).  Then I have to think – is this going anywhere? I might go back at this point, have a bit of a tidy up before deciding whether it’s worth continuing.  The best part of being a panster is when I hit the point where the characters I’ve created start talking to me, telling their own stories. That’s when I know it’s going somewhere – although not necessarily where I would like it go.

The trouble with being a panster is that it involves a lot of  jumping backwards and forwards. As a character takes shape, or a new sub-plot forms, I have to flit back to an earlier part of the manuscript and drop in a few clues. If I were a plotter I’d have dropped the clues in as I was going along in a orderly, organised fashion.  That’s when the post-its come in, by the side of my keyboard. I jot down new ideas as the story evolves, or scribble reminders to go back and insert a reference to a now vital scene.  Add to the chapter-hopping chaos, several mugs of tea, and the occasional glass of wine (I work in the evenings when home alone) and I end a with very cluttered work-space.  That wonderful quote ‘Creative minds are rarely tidy’ could be the family motto.

If I wrote novels that required detailed research, basically I’d come unstuck. I research as a go along. Setting stories in a contemporary time frame in locations I’m familiar with may seem like a cop-out, but the mythical ‘they’ always advise you to write what you know and it does make sense.

I’d like to be able to write every day but inspiration is not always forthcoming and sometimes life just gets in the way.

Having typed those magical words ‘The End’ writers are advised to sit on a first draft for at least a couple of weeks before picking it up again.  A second draft always requires detailed refining, and then there’s the third and the fourth…

First thing this morning I woke up with a brand new scene in my head, yesterday I decided another would work so much better if character A did this, instead of character B. Of course, if I were a plotter I would have known all this right from the start.

Hey ho, back to the keyboard.