Desert Island Children’s Books: Flambards by K. M. Peyton

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I guess this month’s book is more of a teen/YA read, than a children’s book and it is the first book in a literary quartet that was probably my first introduction into the idea of romance. It is Flambards by K. M. Peyton.

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Christina is sent to live with her uncle in his country house, Flambards, and knows from the moment she arrives that she’ll never fit in.

Her uncle is fierce and domineering and her cousin, Mark, is selfish-but despite all this, Christina discovers a passion for horse-riding and finds a true friend in Will. What Christina has yet to realize, though, is the important part she has to play in the future of this strange household . . .

What a fabulous series of books the Flambards quartet was as a bridge for teen girls between the childhood world of innocence and ponies and the adult world of war, duty, class,  money and romance. I absolutely loved this book because I found it when I was at the same juncture in my life as Christina is during the story and through her eyes I explored the more adult world she is thrust in to when she arrives at Flambards.

Flambards is a great book for pony-mad girls because of the life at the house revolving around horses, and I think this is why I first picked it up, but there is so much more going on in the story, some of which I don’t think I ever really understood properly until I came back to it as an adult. The issues of class with which Christina is confronted in her relationship with Dick, the stablehand, and the treatment by the Russells of his entire family, is certainly not something I think I really understood when I read it the first few times in my early teens.

The book is set in the early years of the twentieth century, at a time of great change on many fronts. The world is on the brink of war, mechanical inventions such as cars and aeroplanes are starting to encroach on a way of life that has existed for centuries and is resistant to the threat. And attitudes are changing, with people becoming more aware of social injustice. This ripple of change is what informs the story, and impacts Christina’s life as she is torn between her love for Dick and the impossibility of that relationship, her joy in the horses and life at Flambards but her horror of the brutality and callousness of her uncle Russell, and her attraction to Will, who represents a dream of the future. It perfectly mirrors the turmoil that girls feel in that period of immense physical and emotional change.

The writing in the novel is beautiful, and the author really captures the contrast between the decaying and dying life at Flambards, and the shiny, bright future envisaged by Will and his machines. It is a snapshot of a period in time that none of us have experienced firsthand but can live through the pages of this book and it reminds my sharply and fondly of my own teenage years. I was drawn back in to the romances of Christina’s life, and how much the author makes us care for her, and for Flambards itself. Have re-read it, I now want to go on to read the rest of the series again. Book two, The Edge of the Cloudis even better from what I remember.

Flambards is available to buy here.

About the Author

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Kathleen Peyton grew up in the London suburbs and always longed to live in the country and have a horse. Although she enjoyed writing stories she wanted to be a painter, and when she left school she went on to study art. At Manchester Art School she met her husband, Michael, and they now live in Essex and have two daughters. Following the success of Flambards, Kathleen went on to write three more books in the sequence, the second of which, The Edge of the Cloud, was the winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal. And since she has made some money from publishing her books, Kathleen has always had a horse, or several!

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Jacquelyn Middleton

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Today’s romance-loving guest, joining me to chat all things love and literature is author, Jacquelyn Middleton.

Tell me a bit about the type of books you write and where you are in your publishing journey.

Thank you for asking! My books are character- and relationship-driven stories about people dealing with the triumphs and disasters we all experience. They’re also love stories for hopeful romantics—I say hopeful because my novels are always optimistic and ‘happily ever afters’ are more important now than ever before. But life is messy, relationships are messy, and my books aren’t afraid to go there too. 

I’m also an own voices author—I’ve had anxiety, panic attacks, and depression all my life, and I include mental health in my books. I’ve always felt that there should be more representation of mental health in novels. And by more representation, I mean realistically and empathetically portrayed mental health. I’ve seen many novels where mental health issues are treated like a character trait and nothing appears on the page to show its reality. Anxiety and depression aren’t disorders you can try on like a trendy pair of jeans. My goal is to entertain AND bust the stigma—one book at a time. If one person with anxiety or depression comes away after reading my books and feels understood and not alone, I’ve done my job. 

I’ve written and self-published five books to date, and several have won awards including the Best Canadian Author award from the then-Canadian chapter of RWA in 2019 for my third book, Until the Last Star Fades. My most recent book, The Certainty of Chance, is a Christmas love story set in London and it releases on October 14.

Why romance?

To quote Madeleine in my book, The Certainty of Chance, “I love love.” There’s nothing better than an amazing love story with a happy ending. Love IS everything. Can you imagine a world without it? With all the awfulness out in the world, we need stories that celebrate love and hope more than ever before, and romance does that and more.

There are some folks in the book world who think romance novels aren’t as difficult to write as other genres and they couldn’t be so wrong. Writing emotional and heartbreaking scenes (not to mention realistic and heartfelt sex scenes) takes talent and lots of practice. Love is one of the most complex emotions we have. Many of us aren’t great at communicating love or other associated emotions, so it makes sense that it’s also very difficult to write. I think since most romance authors are female, there is a tendency to pass the genre off as fluffy, socially unimportant, and easy to write. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It’s also worth pointing out that the romance genre was one of the first to showcase diverse characters and provide a platform for own voices authors to explore different races, religions, abilities, health challenges, and more. Consent and birth control are regularly featured. Today’s romance is very progressive, and has moved on considerably from the novels with Fabio on the cover that our parents and grandparents read years ago. And for the most part, women have lead this charge towards change.

What inspires your stories?

So many things! Basically, I write what I want to read, so my ideas usually come from what interests me: travel, songs, magazine articles, even real life experiences. I enjoy writing stories set in places I love and have visited. London, New York, Dublin, Manchester, the Orkney Islands—they’ve all shown up in my books. 

Who are your favourite romance authors, past and/or present?

I have so many! Emily Henry, Abby Jimenez, Zoë Folbigg, Mhairi McFarlane, Sally Thorne, Mia Sheridan, Christina Lauren, Karen Swan, and Renée Carlino. 

If you had to pick one romance novel for me to read, which one would you recommend?

This is such a tough question! I think I’ll go with my all-time favourites, which I keep coming back to: Christmas at Tiffany’s by Karen Swan, You Had Me at Hello by Mhairi McFarlane, and if I can sneak in another, I’d say Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren. It’s more of a women’s fiction/romance hybrid, but it’s SO GOOD! I own multiple copies from multiple countries. It’s beautiful. Okay, I know I cheated here, but picking one was impossible.

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Cassie settled down too young, marrying her first serious boyfriend. Now, ten years later, she is betrayed and broken. With her marriage in tatters and no career or home of her own, she needs to work out where she belongs in the world and who she really is.

So begins a year-long trial as Cassie leaves her sheltered life in rural Scotland to stay with each of her best friends in the most glamorous cities in the world: New York, Paris and London. Exchanging grouse moor and mousy hair for low-carb diets and high-end highlights, Cassie tries on each city for size as she attempts to track down the life she was supposed to have been leading, and with it, the man who was supposed to love her all along.

Which romantic hero or heroine would you choose to spend your perfect romantic weekend with? Where would you go and what would you do?

Oh my goodness, there are SO many! Ahh, I’d love to have a weekend with Henry from Christmas at Tiffany’s, but he’s quite adventurous which isn’t really my thing at all! I like my comforts, so I’d probably prefer to hang with out with Ben from You Had Me at Hello. This story takes place in Manchester, so I think Ben and I would indulge in the best of the city. We’d go for a meal at San Carlo and then to see a play at the Royal Exchange. If we scored tickets, perhaps we’d go see Man United play at Old Trafford. I’d love a weekend full of theatre, food, and football! 

What is your favourite thing about being a member of the RNA? What do you think you have gained from membership?

I’m an overseas member living in Toronto, so I haven’t been able to take part in any in-person events, but I enjoy the emails and discussions online. It’s wonderful just to associate with fellow romance authors. Many literary folk don’t ‘get’ romance, so to have that shorthand with my colleagues is invaluable. Pre-pandemic, I travelled to the UK at least twice a year, so I’m hoping down the road I might be able to engage more in-person.

What one piece of advice or tip would you give to new writers starting out in the romance genre?

Write! I know everyone says that, but for a good reason—it’s true! It’s also important to read a lot. It’s the best way to learn. There are also some great books for writers that get into structure, plot points, character goals. 

Tell us about your most recent novel.

My most recent novel, The Certainty of Chance, releases October 14 in ebook and paperback. It’s a beautiful, poignant Christmas love story about Madeleine Joy, an American woman, who becomes stranded in London when an Icelandic volcano erupts and its hazardous ash closes European airspace indefinitely (this really happened back in 2010!). She gets picked up by a London cab driver named Julian Halliwell and fate throws them together the week before Christmas. Madeleine is dealing with the upcoming one-year anniversary of her best friend’s death and isn’t feeling very Christmassy, while Julian is all about the holly and lights much to Madeleine’s dismay. It’s a heartwarming story of love, loss, serendipity, and the belief that what’s meant for you won’t pass you by. You can pre-order it here.

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT DECEMBER…

Madeleine Joy is feeling more meh than merry. When an Icelandic volcano erupts six days before Christmas, hazardous ash congests European airspace, canceling flights indefinitely—including the thirtysomething’s connection to Paris. Stranded alone in London, separated from her sister, and with the devastating one-year anniversary of her best friend’s tragic death just days away, Madeleine has never felt less festive. And as if things couldn’t get worse, the cute guy driving the cab to her hotel won’t shut up about carolers and tinsel…

Julian Halliwell is one of life’s sunny optimists. A former music journalist, he’s embraced his love for London by starting his own black cab business, enthusiastically ferrying passengers from one historic landmark to another. But life hasn’t always been easy for Julian. Having navigated several life-changing setbacks including a cruel betrayal by his former fiancée, Julian remains hopeful that he’ll meet somebody kind, who shares his love of music, his corgi named Winnie, and of course, the magic of Christmas time in London.

Despite being an unlikely match, fate seems determined to throw them together. But can the grieving American find joy again in a world where the lights have all but dimmed?

About the Author

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Jacquelyn Middleton is a multi-award-winning author of love stories for hopeful romantics–‘hopeful’ because her novels are always optimistic and she believes ‘happily ever afters’ are more important now than ever before. But life is messy, relationships are messy, and her books aren’t afraid to go there, too. If you enjoy character and relationship-driven stories about people dealing with the triumphs and disasters we all face, Jacquelyn’s books are for you.

In 2019, she was named BEST CANADIAN AUTHOR at the RWA’s Toronto Romance Writers ‘Northern Hearts’ Awards for UNTIL THE LAST STAR FADES. She is also the author of LONDON BELONGS TO ME, LONDON, CAN YOU WAIT? and SAY HELLO, KISS GOODBYE.

An own voices author, Jacquelyn has dealt with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression all her life, and is dedicated to depicting mental health challenges realistically and empathetically in her novels.

Jacquelyn’s books have been featured by The Hollywood Reporter, NBC News, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Daily News, USA Today, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Hypable, and the Huffington Post.

A life-long Maple Leafs fan and Anglophile, Jacquelyn previously worked in television broadcasting and as an award-winning freelance writer. She loves comic cons, London, and theatre, and lives in Toronto with her British husband and Japanese Spitz.

Connect with Jacquelyn:

Website: https://www.jacquelynmiddleton.com/

Facebook: Jacquelyn Middleton

Twitter: @JaxMiddleton

Instagram: @jaxmiddleton_author

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Friday Night Drinks with… Meg Pokrass

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This week, I am delighted to be chatting over Friday Night Drinks to flash fiction author… Meg Pokrass.

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Meg, thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Steel Rig Porter from Twice Brewed, a sweet local brewery up near Hadrian’s Wall here in Northumberland.

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If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out? 

Let’s do white wine in Paris and a huge steaming pot of mussels.

Wouldn’t that be fabulous, I can’t wait to get on a plane again! If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with? 

Anais Nin and Henry Miller, since we’re already in Paris eating too many mussels. 

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go? 

I’m working on two completely different collaborative hybrid prose manuscripts. My writing partners are Jeff Friedman (in the US) and Rosie Garland here in the U.K. I can’t tell you how much I’m loving this. 

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

Co-writing humor flashes with my literary hero Bobbie Ann Mason, and reading our pieces aloud in a private performance at AWP (with Richard Bausch in attendance!!). Bobbie and I wearing matching pussy hats. It was too incredible. This was back in 2014. 

Okay, one more… can I have 2? Having my work included in 2 Norton anthologies of flash fiction: Flash Fiction International (WW Norton 2015) and New Micro (WW Norton, 2018). 

Biggest challenge: Isolation. And battling with it. 

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I’d like to curate a radio show focused on flash fiction. Yes I would!

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Meeting up with my writing partner Rosie Garland in September, in Manchester, and planning great things for the not locked-down future!

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list? 

Paris. I was only there once and I want to be there again, but 100 years ago. 

And I’d also like to visit Alaska with a warm lover before it melts and becomes as hot as LA. 

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself. 

I’m annoyingly shy. 

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

The Last Orgasm by Nin Andrews.

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The Last Orgasm continues the journey of Nin Andrew’s first collection, The Book of Orgasms, which became a cult classic that has been translated into Turkish, performed in Prague and has readers around the globe. In both books the orgasm is an ethereal presence, puzzled by humanity in general and Nin in particular.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Drink all day, in tiny bird sips. Hungover, listen to the Magnetic Fields.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend? 

With a friend, let’s say a new friend, in a place without sheep. 

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Thanks for joining me, Meg, it has been a fun evening, even if it wasn’t quite Paris.

Meg’s latest book, Spinning To Mars, is a collection of 70 linked micro stories about relationships and the difficulties of love. Winner of San Francisco’s Blue Light Book Award, 2021, it became a #1 Amazon Bestseller in Women’s Poetry on the first week of its release. You can buy a copy here.

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Meg Pokrass’s flash fiction has been widely published and anthologized, most recently in 2 Norton Anthologies of flash fiction, The Best Small Fictions (2018, 2019), Best British & Irish Flash Fiction (2019, 2020), Wigleaf Top 50, Flash Nonfiction Funny (edited by Dinty Moore), Flash Fiction Funny, Short Circuits: Aphorisms, Fragments, and Literary Anomalies, Nothing Short of 100, and many hundreds of literary journals and international anthologies of flash. Her seventh collection of flash fiction, Spinning to Mars won the Blue Light Book Award in 2020. Recent writing has appeared in Washington Square Review, Electric Literature, Tupelo Quarterly, Waxwing, Five Points, American Journal of Poetry, Plume Poetry, Jellyfish Review, Wigleaf and Monkeybicycle. Meg serves as Co-Founder of San Francisco’s Flash Fiction Collective Reading Series, Festival Curator for Flash Fiction Festival, U.K, Founding Editor of New Flash Fiction Review, and Founding Co-Editor of the Best Microfiction anthology series. She resides in Northern England.

You can connect further with Meg via her website, Facebook and Twitter.

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Blog Tour: Before Pittsburgh by Kasie Whitener #BookReview

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Tony is dead and Brian’s world has unraveled. Still grappling with the harsh reality that his best friend’s suicide was not a nightmare that he just hasn’t awakened from, Brian plummets into a dark period of drinking and desperate actions.

Seeking healing and redemption for his ingrained belief that it should have been him, not Tony, that’s dead, Brian travels across the U.S. and Spain for answers. He starts counting the days in Barcelona: bar fights and threesomes. The months in San Francisco: short stories and a new romance. The seasons in Tucson, Nashville, Manila, and Seattle: The Crew growing up and apart. Three years unfold between before-Tony-died and after. Brian thinks he has finally left Virginia and its ghosts behind.

A near miss on September 11th brings time to a standstill and Brian faces a new devastation.

With so much work to be done Before Pittsburgh, Brian’s world expands in unexpected ways but contracts in the same old patterns of loss, redemption, and mourning. Can he earn his place in the lives of the people he loves? Or will he remain disconnected, unforgiven, and alone?

I’m delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for Before Pittsburgh by Kasie Whitener. My thanks to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group Tours for inviting me to take part, and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This book is very different to my normal reading choices for a number of reasons. One of the reasons I love blogging is that it pushes my reading out of its comfort zone and makes me pick up books I would not normally come across. You never know when you are going to discover a gem, or a new genre that you might normally have overlooked. of course, you are never going to love everything you read, but you won’t know unless you try!

This is the second book in a series. However, I didn’t know this going in and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book at all, it works perfectly well as a standalone. The main protagonist is Brian, a man in his early twenties who is struggling in the aftermath of his best friend’s suicide. This is the first thing that is very different to the books I normally read, most emotional fiction I read is written from a female perspective, so this was an interesting departure. The author, despite being female, has done an amazing job of getting under the skin of the protagonist and I was totally immersed in Brian’s pain and struggle. The writing of his distress and self-destructive behaviour is very visceral, which makes for a powerful but difficult read at times.

The book is written mainly in first person from Brian’s perspective, but there are also a series of emails between Brian and various other characters in the story, which breaks up the narrative and provides a clever and insightful glimpse into their personalities. The book takes place across a number of years and disparate locations and, whilst these are detailed at the beginning of each chapter, I did find it tricky to keep up with where in time and space we were at times which broke my concentration a little.

This book is powerful and truthful insight into dealing with the death of a person you love so deeply that you don’t know who you are without them in your life and I really believed in Brian’s reaction to the events in the book. However, the problem I had with it was that I didn’t really like him enough to make enough allowance for his behaviour in response to his pain. Maybe if I had read the previous book, I would be more invested and have more empathy for Brian and be able to cut him more slack in relation to his behaviour. As it was, from the beginning Brian behaves badly and I couldn’t find my sympathy for him. However, I do realise that this is probably largely down to my age. At approaching 50 with teenage daughters, I think my sympathy for the callous attitudes of twenty-something ‘boys’ has long since waned, I’ve become less tolerant of it over the years as I’ve gained maturity and understanding. I don’t think I am particularly the target audience for this novel and someone closer to the age and experiences of the protagonist will be more forgiving, so don’t let the my jaded perspective put you off.

The book was a little slow for me in parts, but again I think it may be because the developing (or not) love lives of young adults hold less appeal to me as I get older and other people will react differently. What I can say is that this is a brave and bold book with important things to say and it says them in a confident voice, coupled with exquisite writing. Despite my lack of empathy with them, there is no doubt the characters are well written and alive on the page and feel like honest portrayals of real people. The story is very moving, the author is skilled at drawing genuine emotion from the reader. It feels like a great accomplishment of a book, if not one that pushed my particular buttons. I would not hesitate to recommend it to the audience it was written for, which I don’t think is 49-year-old mothers from rural Yorkshire.

Before Pittsburgh is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour as detailed below:

Before Pittsburgh

About the Author

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Connect with Kasie:

Website: https://kasiewhitener.com/

Facebook: Kasie Whitener

Twitter: @KasieWhitener

Instagram: @kasiewhitener

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews… with Catherine Tinley

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This week I am chatting to the winner of the Goldsboro Books Historical Romantic Novel Award in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 for her novel Rags-to-Riches Wife, Catherine Tinley.

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Catherine, thank you very much for agreeing to appear on my blog today to celebrate the Romantic Novel Awards. You were obviously thrilled to win this award. What does it mean to you for your work to be recognised in this way and what benefits do you think it will bring to your career? Have they already started to manifest?

I was definitely thrilled! I honestly hadn’t expected it. I still think of myself as a newbie to the world of publishing – my next novel will be my seventh – so I have no idea what it might do for my career. It’s still a lovely experience though.

It was clear from your acceptance speech that the support of the RNA and other writers around you mean a lot to you. How does the support of other authors help you in your writing and what would your advice be to new writers starting out who are looking for a similar support network?

I get so much support through my networks of supportive writers. I wrote my first book solo, without any of those supports, so I know what it’s like. The RNA Irish Chapter is so positive, inclusive and supportive. I’m also part of the Unlaced historical romance group on facebook, and a community of women writers based in N Ireland called Women Aloud NI. All of these women support me and nudge me and inspire me. They generously share their knowledge and I try to do the same. There are similar groups everywhere if you look for them. . I’d say to any writer, look for your tribe.

Your publisher, Mills and Boon, must be thrilled to have two winners in this year’s awards and credit must go to them for spotting and nurturing such talent. What is the best thing about writing for Mills and Boon?

A few things come to mind. The sense of community among the Mills & Boon historical writers (again, mutual support). But there’s also the sense of Mills & Boon’s wonderful history and tradition. I read their books as a teenager and young adult, and many readers report that their mothers and grandmothers enjoyed Mills & Boons. Plus I love working with my editor, Julia Williams, who also edited Kate Hardy’s winning book.

What do you think awards like this do for the image of books in your genre, and the image of romance novels as whole, which sometimes are unfairly dismissed? What are readers who would not normally pick up a romance novel missing out on?

There is a certain snobbery about Mills & Boon, about romance, about women’s fiction generally. Yet many readers who wouldn’t normally consider choosing romance will happily watch a romantic comedy or ‘light’ film when they’re in the mood. There’s nothing wrong with happy endings – especially in today’s world. I think we all need to keep saying that.

Regency romance is becoming increasingly popular to readers as a genre, due in no small way I am sure to the Bridgerton effect. Have you always been a fan of Regency novels? What do you particularly love about them?

I think what’s so lovely about Regencies is that readers come to know and understand the ‘rules’ and expectations of the Regency fiction world. It’s like a fantasy world that you know really, really well. We often talk about ‘Planet Regency’ which has its own conventions, tropes, and rules – some of which are more historically accurate than others. As a writer, it’s fun to explore what is possible within the preset tramlines. I’m currently working on a romance set in the Outer Hebrides in 1810 – it basically mixes Regency and Highlander tropes. And there’s so much scope to play with using the regency setting. I’ve explored #MeToo themes, and general themes of women’s choices and women’s freedom throughout my books.

Themes of class distinction are recurrent in Regency novels and this is something you explore in Rags-to-Riches Wife. Is this something that particularly interests you? How do you think you may have fared in the Regency period?

Even though Planet Regency is a fantasy world where we can be whomever we want to be, I can’t forget that my own ancestors would have been farmers, tradespeople, or servants. So I do enjoy writing books that explore the role of women, and the expectations and pressures on women, during that period in history. I actually think women often had more choices, and more autonomy, if they were middle class rather than aristocrats, although women in general had few legal rights. Despite this, I like to think women often would have found ways to influence their own lives – including their choice of a husband. Jane is an unusual heroine I suppose – a Cinderella who isn’t sure she wants to leave her life as a servant, and I loved exploring the class issues through her eyes.

Mills and Boon authors generally seem to be prolific writers, a skill I am in awe of as I struggle on to finish my first novel. What is next in the pipeline for you? How do you manage your workload and do you have any tips for me and other new romance writers?

I hear you! It’s so hard to get into the writing groove and write consistently over time. I work full-time in the NHS so can only write at weekends or during holidays. I do try to write 2k words each writing day, and try not to stop till I’ve reached that target. I also find that when I’m stuck or in a block, it’s usually best to write through it. Having said that I find there are periods when I just get out of the routine of writing and it is so hard to get the regular habit going again. Good luck with your own book, and thank you for having me today!

It’s been my huge pleasure.

Catherine’s award-winning novel, Rags-to-Riches Wife is available here.

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Lady’s maid…

To wedded Lady?

Lady’s maid Jane Bailey’s life is turned upside down by the arrival of wealthy gentleman Robert Kendal. He’s come to take Jane to visit her long-lost, aristocratic grandfather. Travelling together, they succumb to a mutual attraction. Yet Jane knows a maid should not hope to love a gentleman, even if she’s suddenly wearing silk dresses and dining with the Family. Society decrees they cannot marry, but how long can Jane deny her heart?

About the Author

Catherine Tinley is an award winning author of historical romance. She writes witty, heartwarming Regency love stories for Harlequin Mills & Boon. She has loved reading and writing since childhood, and has a particular fondness for love, romance, and happy endings. After a career encompassing speech & language therapy, Sure Start, maternity campaigning and being President of a charity, she now manages a maternity hospital. She lives in Ireland with her husband, children, cats, and dog.

Connect with Catherine:

Website: https://catherinetinley.com/

Facebook: Catherine Tinley 

Twitter: @CatherineTinley

Instagram: @catherinetinleywriter

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Friday Night Drinks with… Lauren Emily Whalen

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Tonight’s guest comes from one of my favourite cities in the USA and, since I am currently missing my annual trips to the States, I am very much looking forward to our chat and imagining I am there with her. Please welcome to the blog for Friday Night Drinks, author… Lauren Emily Whalen.

Lauren Emily Whalen author shot by Greg Inda

Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

It’s August in Chicago, so I’m having a frosé!

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I have never heard of those, or had one but it looks delicious! If the US ever decide to let us back in again and I can return to Chicago, I will have to try one. If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

Definitely to my favorite neighborhood dive bar for karaoke. I pick “Mr. Jones” by the Counting Crows. Get enough drinks in me and we’ll also do some Joan Jett and probably Taylor Swift (I’m a new-ish fan).

If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

Definitely Chris O’Dowd (of Bridesmaids and The IT Crowd fame) as I have a major crush on him, plus he’s Irish like me and we’re all fun to drink with!

Also, Margaret Cho – I recently interviewed her and she had me laughing the whole time, even when we were talking about serious topics!

As my partner is Irish, I can personally attest to them as fun drinking companions! So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I’m the author of four books for teens and young adults—the third, Two Winters, will be available September 14, wherever books are sold. It’s a contemporary queer YA reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, and I think adult readers will dig it too. The first half is set in 1997 at a small-town Catholic high school, and the second half is set in Chicago in 2014. It’s about birth, death, improv comedy, making clocks and finding your truth while letting time heal you and those around you. There’s also a lot of alternative rock—every one of my books has its own soundtrack, and you can find Two Winters’s here.

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

My proudest moment and biggest challenge are the same, and actually center around Two Winters! The book was acquired by a publisher in December 2019, shortly after it went on sub, and was scheduled to be published last February. In August 2020 (also the day of my first-ever COVID test, and the day a tornado touched down in Chicago—you can’t make this stuff up!), I got a call that the publisher was shutting down, effective pretty much immediately. Did I mention it was also the day before the book was supposed to go on preorder?

After testing negative for COVID, weathering the literal storm and ordering a lot of pizza, I started shopping the manuscript around again—by this time, it was fully edited and ready to go to the printers. And like the first time it was on sub, I got my share of rejections, which are never fun. Four offers later, I signed with Bold Strokes Books, a publisher that focuses on LGBTQ+ stories, which was really important to me considering both protagonists in Two Winters are bi, and there are several other queer and trans characters and storylines in the book. 

Basically, finding out your book—where you’ve poured your blood, sweat and tears for months, sometimes years—won’t be published after all sucks. When there’s a global pandemic happening, it sucks all the worse. I’m proud that I was able to dust myself off and try again—and find success!

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I would love for one of my novels to be adapted into a TV series. I think any and all of them would be perfect for the small-screen treatment and provide solid, juicy roles for young actors, as well as addictive viewing for anyone who loves a good story. (Netflix, are you reading this? Call me!)

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Two Winters is what I call “the book that almost wasn’t,” so I’m over the moon that it will be in readers’ hands very, very soon! I’ll be part of a digital promotion with Bold Strokes Books on August 28, so keep an eye on their social media for more information!

I’m also excited for my fourth book, Take Her Down, which will be released March 15 (the Ides of March), 2022. I started writing it shortly after quarantine kicked off in April 2020, and the upside of having one book delayed is that you sometimes get two books coming out in less than a year!

Take Her Down is a contemporary queer YA reimagining of another Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar. Instead of Rome, the setting is a cutthroat magnet school where two ex-best friends are fighting for power—and student body president—in the wake of a devastating U.S. Presidential election. (I’ll let you guess where that idea came from!) You can see the cover and find preorder links here.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

Stateside, I’d have to say Hilton Head, South Carolina. My family and I just got back from our seventh trip there—we’ve been going since I was 14! It’s a very relaxed beach town and just beautiful in the summers. Basically, all we do is swim and go out to eat. I also read a book or more a day when I’m in Hilton Head!

Bucket list is definitely Iceland, which is so Disney-gorgeous in pictures it almost doesn’t look real. Also Vienna, thanks in large part to an episode of Richard Ayoade’s show Travel Man that guest-starred…my man Chris O’Dowd!

Two from my own bucket list there, and one of my favourite European cities. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

The one hobby I have is circus/aerial arts! My fave apparatuses are sling (basically a big loop of fabric suspended in the air) and lyra (metal hoop—you do NOT want to hit your head on that thing!). I’m not very good, but it’s an awesome workout, a great fit for my dance background, and the perfect way to get out of my head. I’ve even come up with new ideas while in the air!

Lauren Emily Whalen - aerial with book - shot by Chicago Aerial Arts

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

I recently devoured Joyce Maynard’s latest Count the Ways, a beautiful family story set in New England. She’s one of my main inspirations as a writer. If you haven’t read any of her work, I would start with At Home in the World, her memoir that also chronicles her year-long relationship with J.D. Salinger when she was 19 and he was in his fifties. It’s a stunning book that I reread at least once a year.

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In 1972, Joyce Maynard, an undergraduate at Yale, wrote an article for the New York Times Magazine called ‘An Eighteen Year Old Looks Back on Life’. Among the hundreds of letters she received as a result, one expressed deep affection for her writing, and concern at the exploitation that she might be subjected to. The writer was J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye and famous recluse.

Their correspondence led first to friendship, and then to love, and after a few months she dropped out of college to live with him. In spite of the thirty-five year difference in their ages, she believed they would be together always – but after a year, he sent her away.

Courageous, beautifully written and affecting, this book is destined to become a classic memoir of a modern woman’s life.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Two Advil/Tylenol/whatever you have for pain, basically, and a glass of water before bed. 

When the hangover does hit, protein! I like egg sandwiches. Also coffee, and lots of water.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

I can’t party like I used to (oh, who am I kidding? I could never party that well!), so I would lie around with my cat Versace, reading and watching Dateline. Keith Morrison and I share a birth date and I have nicknamed him “Bae.” He just doesn’t know yet.

I love the name of your cat! Thank you so much for joining me, I have had a great evening and wish you great success with the new book.

Lauren Emily Whalen’s latest book Two Winters will be published on 14 September and can be pre-ordered here. 

Lauren Emily Whalen is the author of three books for young adults, including TWO WINTERS, a queer YA reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, available everywhere September 14. Lauren is a freelance writer, professional performer, and very amateur aerialist who is an unabashed devotee of the Bard. She lives in Chicago with her cat, Versace, and an apartment full of books.

You can connect further with Lauren Emily via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews… with Milly Johnson

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This week’s interviewee in the Romantic Novel Award Winners series is the winner of the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award for her novel My One True North and one of my favourite authors… Milly Johnson.

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Milly, you are no stranger to awards and this is your second year in a row as a recipient, having been given the Outstanding Achievement Award in 2020, yet you still looked so surprised to be announced as the winner. Were you really shocked to win, and was does winning this award with this book mean to you?

The shock was genuine. Despite an Honours Drama Degree! Your mind plays tricks with you when you’re short-listed ‘Oh they’re bound to give it to X because of this/that reason’, you imagine politics might play a part, or it’s a strategic choice. I’ve been caught out with it every time. Maybe it’s just that us writers are strange creatures – full of ego that we have the confidence to write something we are sure will appeal to the masses, and yet we’re riddled with self-doubt that we’re not as good as anyone else and couldn’t possibly be picked because the judges simply liked our book best.

I think in my case it was that I wanted it SO much for this book. I felt it was special as I was writing it and I though we always put our hearts into our stories, this one had all of me in it, my barrel was totally scooped out. One of the major themes was grief and my dad was really poorly as I was writing it. Rather oddly I ended up treading in the footsteps of my own characters when he died. I looked at the short-listed books and what a bunch they were, I really didn’t think I had a chance. SoI was totally gobsmacked. But my goodness – delighted too. My One True North was dedicated to dad so it was ‘our’ book, and that’s why I was so emotional.

I loved the phrase you used in your speech about turning your knock backs on their head and using them as springboards. You are such a great public speaker, and your words resonate with everyone who hears them. Do you prepare what you might say in advance, or is it always off the cuff? Does this come from being a natural storyteller?

I prepare if there are points I want to make sure I get in as I am very good at going off on tangents. And that is kind of you to say, I love an audience. I prefer public speaking to acting, I have to admit (line-learning – ugh). Basically I just treat an audience to all the cock-ups I’ve made in life which has provided a very hefty scrapbook of ideas for me to draw on. Every crap thing that happens to a writer is harvested and recycled and I think people are quite fascinated by stories of others reaching rock bottom and using it to project themselves upwards. I also think I resonate because I’m very ordinary and that makes people really believe that if I can do it, so can they.  And they can.

Your books are phenomenally popular and I think part of the reason for that is that reading your novels feels like being told a story firsthand by a close, chatty and witty friend. Are you a natural raconteur in everyday life?

I love to talk and I love a good yarn – both to tell and to listen to. I write as I speak which is why I always warn people who listen to me at events, if you’ve hated hearing me, don’t buy my books because they’re just me on a flat page. I was a greetings card copywriter for many years and honed the skills of observational humour, keying into those subjects common to so many of us. People love it when I touch on scenarios many of them have been in so they can explore and view them objectively this time around. I consider it a great honour when people tell me that they feel as if I’ve been hanging over their shoulders and have written about their own personal circumstances.

Your novels always feature a perfect balance of joy and anguish, which people respond to because it reflects real life. Is that something you deliberately strive for or does it just come naturally for you to write that way? How much do you plan your books or are you a pantser?

I just write about some extraordinary things that happen within the parameters of ordinary life. Our lives are littered with coincidences, good luck and bad luck, sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction but weirdly in fiction you have to throttle back so that our storylines are believable. My own life has been very big-dipper and that’s obviously translated into how I write because I take my readers through the wringer. But if I’m going to take my reader low, then I also want to rocket them high and leave them with hope. I’m in the business of uplifting not depressing and if that means I have to temper a bit of realism by manipulating a happy ending, then so be it. 

I want my readers to climb into the skins of my characters and walk in them, I want them to cheer on the good guys and boo the bad ones. In life we’d all like to see people get what they deserve but it doesn’t happen, but it does in my books. As for planning – ha! I’ve never planned a book and trust me I’ve tried. It must be magic to be able to see the whole book as a construct from the off – I can only see as far as the next sentence. I might start off with two characters and a house and I am constantly amazed at how much I can pull out of myself and build a whole book from it. When anyone says to me ‘I’d love to write a book but I don’t know where to start’ my stock answer is ‘neither do I!’ Which is why I encourage people to put pen to paper and see where it takes them because I know they’ll be surprised at what is in them waiting to come out.

Being from Yorkshire myself, just up the road from you, I always feel that your characters are people I recognise. Do you steal them from real life?

Some of my characters are from my imagination, but then again that imagination has been fuelled by people I’ve met or heard about. Quite a few might start off based on people I’ve encountered but by the end of the book the reality has been chased away because they’ve grown into their own skins (this is handy as it means I’m unlikely to be sued by someone for libel) Sounds odd, but they are every bit as real to me as those who live and breathe. 

What do you think are the most important ingredients of a successful romance novel and what advice would you give to those of us just starting out in this genre?

I know there is a trend for ‘unlikeable’ characters, but I always find I get into a book much better when I am really rooting for the leads. I have to like their values (Heathcliff hanged a dog – wasn’t interested in him after I read that bit), I don’t want my lovers to be too perfect – a reader has to think the hero is attainable and the heroine would make a nice friend. Any faults have to be redeemable. I also like to tease my reader, make them think that this time I just might not deliver the happy ending (though I always do). I want them to be champing at the bit for the lovers to get together, but I never make it easy for them to do that. We all love a bit of sexual tension, that frustration when they are just about to couple up and then you wrench them apart. I think you have to just write the story in your heart without copying a trend, get that first draft out on paper with all the mistakes and clumsy grammar because that’s the one that captures all the emotion and will give you your direction on what sort of love story you want to write. Getting the emotional feels is harder to do than any editing. It may be a very gentle rolling hills kind of love story or it may be a up Everest in a blizzard sort – and there are audiences for both.

I know your dedicated readers, of which there are many, are always desperate for your next novel, so can you give us any details of what is on the horizon and when we can look forward to seeing it?

It’s called ‘The Woman in the Middle’ and it’s out in hardback on October 14th. And it’s very much based on my experiences as someone in that sandwich generation, having to look after elderly parents and deal with kids who might be adult in age but your apron strings have no intention of untying from them yet. 

It’s about Shay who has spent most of her adult life looking after her in-laws, her parents, bringing up children, being the chief cook and bottle-washer for her electrician husband Bruce. Now her children have left home and it’s time for Shay and Bruce to finally have some ‘us’ time. But the delivery of an orange skip on her mother’s neighbours’ drive sets in motion a series of life-changing events as long-buried secrets are forced to the surface and turn Shay’s world on its head. And, life being as unfair as it is, sometimes it doesn’t stop kicking you when you’re down but continues to batter you long past your point of coping.

The only way Shay can truly recover is to go back to the place she was brought up and try and right a great wrong that was done to her when she was only sixteen, which put her on a path to a life she should never have had. 

It’s the story of family and friendship, community, first-cuts being the deepest, of there being no guidebook to parenting. I think us parents often wish we had a rewind button when we’ve made wrong decisions with the best intentions, believed our intuitions. In the sandwich generation, we have to watch our parents become the children and our idea of world order becomes upset – at the same time as we have to stand back when our children flap their wings and try to fly their own way. It’s a very hard place to be in which I wanted to explore. It’s a massive book with so much going on in it, but at its heart it’s the tale of a woman who deserves better than she got and she finds the strength to rise up from rock bottom and fight for herself and those she loves. I had the best fun writing it, it’ll be a hard read in places but there’s a lot of lightness too. Some of my favourite characters ever in this one – and some scenes I never wanted to stop writing.

Milly, thank you so much for answering my questions, it is always a delight to hear from you. The entry period for the 2022 Romantic Novel Awards is now open and will close on 30 September.

Milly’s award-winning novel, My One True North, is out now and you can buy a copy here.

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Laurie and Pete should never have met.
But fate has pushed them together for a reason.

Six months ago, on the same night, Laurie and Pete both lost their partners.
Struggling to manage the grief, they join the same counselling group – and meet each other.

From their sadness, Pete and Laurie find happiness growing and they sense a fresh new beginning. 
Except, the more they talk, the more they begin to spot the strange parallels in their stories.
Then Pete discovers a truth that changes everything.
 
But, as surely as a compass points north, some people cannot be kept apart.

About the Author

MILLY JOHNSON was born, raised and still lives in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. A Sunday Times bestseller, she is one of the Top 10 Female Fiction authors in the UK with millions of copies of her books sold across the world. In 2020, she was honoured with the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Outstanding Achievement Award and was a featured author in the Reading Agency’s Quick Reads and World Book Night campaigns.

A writer who champions women and highlights the importance of friendship and community, Milly’s characters are celebrations of the strength of the human spirit. Her nineteenth novel, The Woman in the Middle, is published 14th October 2021 in hardback by Simon & Schuster.

Connect with Milly:

Website: www.millyjohnson.co.uk

Facebook: @millyjohnsonauthor

Twitter: @millyjohnson

Instagram: @themillyjohnson 

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Julia Ibbotson

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Today I am delighted to be joined by author Julia Ibbotson to talk about romance writing and what it means to her.

Tell me a bit about the type of books you write and where you are in your publishing journey.

I’ve always written since childhood, but while I was starting to find my feet as a published author, I wrote a variety of books: a children’s novel (S.C.A.R.S, a fantasy medieval time-slip with knights and dragons!), a recipe/history of food/memoir book (The Old Rectory: escape to a country kitchen) and a trilogy set partly in Ghana spanning from the 1960s to the 1990s (The Drumbeats trilogy). 

I then found my direction as I went back to my roots of Anglo-Saxon (medieval) language, literature and history, which was the mainstay of my first degree, and I wrote A Shape on the Air, an Anglo-Saxon time-slip with mystery and romance. All my books so far (apart from S.C.A.R.S which I self-published on Amazon) are published by Lume, who gave me a deal after just two months on the RNA’s fabulous New Writers’ Scheme. They’re all available on Amazon.

I loved going back to my research and seeing the more recent archaeological discoveries that have altered our perceptions of the so-called ‘dark ages’, the early Anglo-Saxon period. There’s a bit about this in my website blog. I devoured the research and even now I have to pull myself away from it to actually write the books! So, I’ve got two sequels to A Shape on the Air (in the Dr Dulac series) sitting on my computer ready for action (The Dragon Tree and The Rune Stone). At the moment, I’m writing a new series of time-slip mysteries (the Lady Mildryth series) and the working title of the first is Daughter of Mercia. All with lovely hints of romance, of course.

Why romance?

To be honest, I think most novels have romance somewhere in them! But personally, I really think that close personal relationships are the food of life, and I like to write about real life and emotional truth. I guess that’s really the thread that weaves through all my books. I don’t write genre romance or ‘happy ever after’, although maybe ‘happy for now’ endings, and there is a certain amount of gritty realism in my novels. I want my readers to feel they can identify with the main characters and their search for happiness – it’s not always an easy journey but I want readers to feel that there is hope, so they are ‘feel-good’ stories in a wider sense.

What inspires your stories?

Time and place, and the strength of women to rise above adversity. My Drumbeats trilogy spans 30+ years, starting in the 1960s, a fascinating period to write about, allowing me to do lots of wonderful research! And the ‘place’ is Ghana, West Africa, which I know quite well as I lived there for a while. It’s an intriguing, fantastic country and culture, exotic and so interesting. I wanted my readers to feel that they were really there at that time. 

My Dr DuLac series and also my new Lady Mildryth series are time-slips partially set in the early Anglo-Saxon period, the 5th and 6th centuries in the midlands of England. That period inspires me so much, as it was a time of great change and new beginnings for this country, and I try to make the books as authentic as possible, with lots of details of Anglo-Saxon life at that time, with all its conflicts and confusions, but also with its mundane daily life as a backdrop. I don’t write kings and battles; I write more about everyday people and their lives.

Who are your favourite romance authors, past and/or present?

Well, I love time-slips, of course, and read a lot of Nicola Cornick, Barbara Erskine, Pamela Hartshorne, Susanna Kearsley and Christina Courtenay. But I also love straight-forward historical novels like those by Dinah Jefferies and Philippa Gregory, with all their vivid recreations of time and place. They really allow you to escape and transport you to another world.

If you had to pick one romance novel for me to read, which one would you recommend?

Only one?! So hard. I love Jane Austen but I’ve resisted the urge to say ‘Pride and Prejudice’! I would recommend ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris: delicious, gorgeous, magical, and romance in its widest sense. Who could forget the wonderfully drawn characters with all their strengths and weaknesses: Vianne and Anouk, Joséphine and Armande, Fr Reynaud, and of course the mysterious and intriguing Roux. And I love books set in rural France; this one is very evocative and makes me feel as though I’m really there, even smelling the chocolate pralines. I can’t believe it first came out over 20 years ago!

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In the small French village of Lansquenet, nothing much has changed in a hundred years. Then an exotic stranger, Vianne Rocher, blows in on the changing wind with her young daughter, and opens a chocolate boutique directly opposite the church. Soon the villagers cannot keep away, for Vianne can divine their most hidden desires.

But it’s the beginning of Lent, the season of abstinence, and Father Reynaud denounces her as a serious moral danger to his flock. Perhaps even a witch. If Vianne’s chocolaterie is to survive, it will take kindness, courage and a little bit of magic…

Which romantic hero or heroine would you choose to spend your perfect romantic weekend with? Where would you go and what would you do?

I’m going to be very cheeky (is this allowed?) and say my own hero, Rev Rory, the hot vicar from A Shape on the Air!  He’s strong, yet sensitive, understanding yet at times confused, clever yet sometimes a little ‘dense’ in terms of Viv’s feelings – well, I guess they both are, really, otherwise there wouldn’t be a ‘will they, won’t they?’ thread. He’s the sort of man you could trust and rely on, yet he would also be exciting and fun to be with. I think he would be very interesting to spend a weekend with. Where would we go? It has to be a romantic winter walk through the cobbled streets of York, then a candle-lit dinner at a top, but cosy, restaurant. We’d stay at a beautiful historic hotel with open fires, heavy beams and inglenooks. 

What is your favourite thing about being a member of the RNA? What do you think you have gained from membership?

The NWS is a fantastic opportunity and gave me the confidence to pitch for publication. But the support and friendship is amazing; you feel as though other members understand exactly what you are feeling about being a writer, the highs and lows, whether they are debut writers or successful established authors. You can always ask for advice and folks are happy to help. I’ve learned a lot about social media and book promotion which I wasn’t great on before! There are great learning opportunities too to help you refine your writing skills, through the conference sessions and now our online Learning Hub courses, which started during the lockdown. And the RNA is a very ‘broad church’: many of us write other than ‘genre romance’, romcoms or what used to be called ‘chick-lit’ – we also write historicals, alternative history, thrillers, psychologicals, crime, and of course time-slips/dual time – Anglo-Saxon, Viking, medieval, Tudor … 

What one piece of advice or tip would you give to new writers starting out in the romance genre?

Not one, but those here are linked! In any genre, persevere, have faith in yourself but listen to advice. In the romance genre, even loosely (!) join the RNA – there’s a wealth of advice and support there. And go with your gut instinct: at times there will be conflicting advice, even amongst industry professionals. Listen to what they say but make up your own mind. Don’t get too distressed about rejections. Many highly successful authors have had loads of rejections from agents and publishers, so keep going even when you feel like deleting your whole manuscript! I nearly deleted A Shape on the Air after a depressingly negative critique, but before I could do so, I received an amazingly enthusiastic one – and ended up with a publisher for it! Even industry professionals differ and remember they’re looking for what’s selling at that moment – and they’re still subjective individuals with their own taste and preferences. Finally, join the Society of Authors who also give brilliant support and advice on contracts and other legal issues.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

My latest, The Rune Stone, is the third in the Dr DuLac series and it awaits publication (hopefully out soon!), so in the meantime you could start with A Shape on the Air! The latter is about Dr Viv DuLac, an academic and medievalist, whose story is woven through her connection to the 5th century Lady Vivianne who is betrothed to the loathsome Sir Pelleas. Both are fighting traumatic relationships and a desperation to save their own secure world. Can they help each other across the centuries? There’s a mystery for them to solve before they can find love and stability. There’s a strong supportive warrior and a hot vicar in the mix too!

The Rune Stone continues the story of both women and their new lives, but there’s a twist of misfortune to battle against that comes to light through the discovery of a rune stone in the churchyard and Dr Viv and Lady Vivianne’s lives again become intertwined as the mystery of the ‘rune curse’ evolves. It gives me shivers even as I think about it!

I hope you read A Shape on the Air and enjoy it (and the rest of the series when they come out) and I’d love to hear your reviews on any of my books, however brief, on the Amazon page – they mean so much to us authors! Many thanks. A Shape on the Air is available here.

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Dr Viv DuLac, a medievalist, is devastated when her partner Pete walks out (and with her best friend too) and it seems that she is about to lose everything. Drunk and desperate, her world quite literally turns upside down when she finds herself in the body of the fifth century Lady Vivianne.

Lady V has her own traumas; she is struggling with the shifting values of the Dark Ages and her forced betrothal to the brutish Sir Pelleas, who is implicated in the death of her parents.  Little does Viv realise that both their lives across the centuries will become so completely intertwined.

Haunted by both Lady Vivianne in 499 AD and by Viv’s own parents’ death and legacy, can Viv unlock the mystery that surrounds and connects their two lives, 1500 years apart, and bring peace to them both?

About the Author

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Julia Ibbotson is fascinated by the medieval world and the concept of time. She sees her author brand as a historical fiction writer of books that are evocative of time and place, well-researched and uplifting page-turners. Her current series focuses on early medieval time-slip/dual-time mysteries. Julia read English at Keele University, England, specialising in medieval language, literature and history, and has a PhD in socio-linguistics. After a turbulent time in Ghana, West Africa, she became a school teacher, then a university academic and researcher. Her break as an author came soon after she joined the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme in 2015, with a three-book deal from Lume Books (Endeavour) for a trilogy (Drumbeats) set in Ghana in the 1960s. She has published three other books, including A Shape on the Air, an Anglo-Saxon timeslip mystery, with two more sequels written. Her work in progress is the first of a new series of Anglo-Saxon mysteries (Daughter of Mercia) where echoes of the past resonate across the centuries. Her books will appeal to fans of Barbara Erskine, Pamela Hartshorne, Susanna Kearsley, and Christina Courtenay. Her readers say: ‘Julia’s books captured my imagination’, ‘beautiful story-telling’, ‘evocative and well-paced storylines’, ‘brilliant and fascinating’ and ‘I just couldn’t put it down’.

Connect with Julia:

Website: https://juliaibbotsonauthor.com/

Facebook: Julia Ibbotson

Twitter: @JuliaIbbotson

Instagram: @julia.ibbotson

Pinterest: Julia Ibbotson

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Friday Night Drinks with… Elisabeth Horan

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Welcome to another Friday Night Drinks and I am delighted to welcome to the blog for this week’s chat, poet and publisher… Elisabeth Horan.

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Welcome to the blog and thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Let’s see, usually I drink prosecco mixed with sauvignon blanc on ice. There was no prosecco at the market so I am having vinho verde instead… lol. I like some bubbles in the drink but no so many as champagne… 🙂

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If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

I’d like to meet you in NYC at Miti Miti, an insanely cool Mexican joint with lots of Frida art and day of the dead decor… they play all the best songs from my time in Mexico (circa 1999-2006).

Otherwise, I’d vote for Nottingham UK at Cafe Sobar for their open mic night… was the most favorite place I have ever performed and been a part of. 

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Oh, I vote for New York. It was the last place I visited before the world shut down, and I can’t wait to go back. If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

Oh this is a tough one indeed… ok, let’s go with Selena and Winston Churchill. Amazing convo/dance party. 

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

Well I am in my bedroom sitting on the floor using my bed as my desk… my cat Sheldon is here; he has been my co-editor since I’ve started. I’ve written and am trying to perfect a second Frida Kahlo book. It’s been accepted for publication, I don’t think I can reveal where yet, but it is a UK press, which makes me thrilled – my first Kahlo book (ekphrastic work on her paintings), was like the achievement of my life, yet it didn’t get the exposure I hoped for… so I said you know what? I can write poems for Frida all day… and so this one came to be… The Mask, La Mascara. I am really proud of it and I hope to come tour with it in UK next spring, covid be damned. 

What has been your proudest moment since you started writing/blogging and what has been your biggest challenge?

My proudest moment I think was publishing my first book with Isabelle Kenyon at Fly on the Wall Press back in May of 2019. It was such an unbelievable experience to have my own book, and to imagine that people were actually buying and identified with it. It made all of the pain and struggle worth it. For sure. My biggest challenge, was publishing Alcoholic Betty, at the same press in February of 2020. I went so far and so deep into my fucked up mind, that when it came out, I wasn’t sure I should have written it. But you know, it’s my experience… and why should I hide it – yet the stigma of alcoholism tells me I should not have shared. Also my book, Was it Rape, was incredibly hard and scary to put into the world. I thought my abuser and others in this town would come after me, blame me, hurt me, shame me. Instead, the world felt very quiet when it came out. Which I suppose left me feeling alone, as sexual abuse can do. But I don’t regret either one now… 

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I would like to be the next Plath. Except not commit suicide. I would also like to be the Poet Laureate of Vermont. I know, big ego goals. But those are my honest goals…. ❤

You should always dream big! What are have planned that you are really excited about?

It’s a bit hard at the moment with stupid-ass covid to plan, but I am excited about my press Animal Heart, the amazing lineup we have of contemporary feminist poets, as well our print and online poetry/art mag Feral. My co-editors and I have worked really hard to bring Animal Heart to where it is and we like to imagine female world domination… so… I guess that – feminist world domination. 

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

I love Mexico so very much. I studied in a little town named Cholula, near Puebla a few hours south of Mexico City. I felt so at home there – this was the late nineties, and I wish it was still as safe there as it felt then. I would like to invite you to meet me at the Casa Azul, the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Coyoacan, Mexico City. My dream, above many dreams is to read the poems I have written for here there… in that space where she lived and created the art which has so inspired me. 

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

There are literally three fruit flies in my vino at this point… not sure how to handle that. I once rode my bike 1100 miles with my dad from Vermont to Indiana to visit my grandparents when I was 17. I am fluent in Spanish. I cry about roadkill, and sometimes can’t leave the house, out of fear of seeing what has died overnight. I remember vividly every road kill animal I have seen, and it haunts me terribly. 

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

I would have you read Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. I think it is the master example of creative brilliance and profound scholarship. Toni blows my mind… inspired me to write not just creatively… but be bloody smart about it. Intellectual in your creativity. 

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Macon ‘Milkman’ Dead was born shortly after a neighbourhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life he, too, will be trying to fly.

In 1930s America Macon learns about the tyranny of white society from his friend Guitar, though he is more concerned with escaping the familial tyranny of his own father. So while Guitar joins a terrorist group Macon goes home to the South, lured by tales of buried family treasure. But his odyssey back home and a deadly confrontation with Guitar leads to the discovery of something infinitely more valuable than gold: his past and the origins of his true self.

So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Ah, well a good tall glass of milk and some tylenol before bed… otherwise, if things end badly, a day of bingewatching the Tiger King of Cheer on Netflix with a pizza and a gallon of ginger ale in bed with Sheldon. 

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

I would love to ride on the train around the UK again, walk around London, go out for a brunch. Get a massage, sit on a bench, people watch. End up in a cozy hotel with clean sheets. Write a poem on my phone, face time my kids… feel alive and in the present – not let the demons sneak up on me… feel proud… knowing I have survived another day, alive, as Eli. 

Thank you so much for joining me, I’ve loved the time we’ve spent together this evening.

Elisabeth is the author of a number of poetry collections, including Just to the Right of the Stove, which was published earlier this year. You can buy a copy here, along with Elisabeth’s other books.

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“Sylvia Plath – an iconic female figure in literary lore – endured a tragic existence, which sadly ended at the age of just thirty, in 1963. Clinically depressed for most of her adult life, she suffered from insomnia, domestic abuse, and several suicidal episodes. Plath was a mother in turmoil, a tortured soul battling her beast of burden. She ended her days by putting her head in the oven and turning up the gas. A bright star snuffed out when it there was so much more left to shine. The fact that she achieved all she did in her short life is remarkable.

That said, her experiences, sadly, are not unique. Elisabeth Horan, somewhat kindred in spirit, is a survivor. Her new collection, Just to the Right of the Stove – a deep, sometimes dark, always sincere imaginary dialogue with her much lauded peer, is proof that one’s suffering can be anesthetised with art. It is a collection that could only be written from a survivor’s perspective; deeply introspective and brutally honest, Horan leaves no layers left unpeeled. It is a tribute to her fallen hero, a means to rationlise her own guilt and failings as a mother and human being without the sanctimonious bullshit that often permeates such confessions, and an example of a very powerful and commanding voice in the poetry world today. It is Horan’s best work to date, and a piece that Plath would surely esteem.” – Paul Robert Mullen

Elisabeth Horan is a poet, mother, and small press publisher living in the wilds of Vermont. She is the author of numerous poetry chapbooks and collections, and Editor-In-Chief of Animal Heart Press. Elisabeth is passionate about discovering new voices and mentoring emerging poets. She is also a fierce advocate for those impacted by mental illness.

She has an MA in English from SNHU and her MFA in Poetry from Lindenwood University. She also teaches English and Writing at her local community college. 

You can connect with Elisabeth further via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews with…. Julie Houston

Awards

Today I am delighted to be interviewing the winner of the Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 with her novel Sing Me A Secret. Please welcome to the blog, author… Julie Houston.

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Julie, congratulations on your win and thank you very much for agreeing to appear on my blog during the entry period for the 2022 awards.

This award was voted for by book bloggers, librarians and book sellers. That is a hard crowd to impress. What does it mean to you to win this particular award and what it is about this book that you think spoke to them out of the hundreds they read each year?

I am totally in awe of the people who voted for me for this award, but particularly the book bloggers. They are an amazing set of readers, giving their time and expertise to reading countless books and yet always positive and with something lovely to say. I have to mention, particularly, the wonderful Anne Williams and Grace Reviewerlady who are both unstinting in the job that they do so brilliantly, as well as writing such encouraging and positive things. If I ever hit the imposter brick wall, I reread their reviews! So, to win this particular award, voted for by these lovely people, is just a dream come true. What is it about the book? I honestly don’t know. My aim always is to produce a jolly good read – isn’t that what we all want? – with a bit of a twist and flavoured with some down to earth, good old Yorkshire humour.

Sing Me A Secret is your seventh novel. Do you think winning this award will change things for you going forward in your career?

I suppose winning this has made me realise that people do actually want to read my books. Since Sing Me A Secret I’ve published – with Aria/HeadofZeus – A Village Vacancy, and A Family Affair and my new one out in 2022, Exit North. I’m now gazing at a blank screen once again which, I know excites some writers, but has me in a state of panic. This is the worst bit about writing – the blank screen. 

How long after you started writing did it take you to get published? Have you had any formal training in creative writing and do you think this is helpful for an author on the path to publication? Do you have any tips for those of us still toiling up the publication hill?

Like every writer I meet, I wish I’d started earlier. But work, family commitments, kids get in the way. So, I wrote Goodness, Grace and Me as an experiment I suppose to see if I could actually write a book. It went through the RNA New writers’ Scheme and, although there were encouraging sounds made, it didn’t go where I wanted it to go ie with an agent. So, I found one myself.  It took a lot of rejections, but then along came the lovely Anne Williams (yes, there are two Anne Williams in my life) at KHLA Literary agency. Being a Yorkshire girl herself and with kids the same age as mine, she said something just struck a note and she took me on. Anne is brilliant because, as a former commissioning editor for Headline and working with fabulous writers such as Lyn Andrews and Sheila Flanagan, she was ready with her red pen, making sure the book was as good as it could be before sending it to publishers. Ten books on, Anne’s red pen is still in action before a manuscript goes to my editor. We were taken on by Amazon’s White Glove which was great because Amazon promoted the books and gave me Deal of the Day a couple of times, sending Looking For Lucy to Number 1 in Australia and the others into the top 50 here in the UK. Then, in 2018, Sarah Ritherdon at Aria gave me a 3-book deal as well as taking on and rebranding the earlier books. A Village Affair, the first with Aria, did so well, selling to date around 300,000 copies in ebook and paperback. The lovely Hannah Smith was then my editor before she left for Bonnier, and now I’m excited to be working with Thorne Ryan.

No, I have no formal creative writing training. And, when I’m teaching, I’d rather teach maths and science than teach creative writing – which makes me ponder whether it can ever be taught or is the creativity innate? 

You live in Yorkshire and your books are all set there. What is it about our beautiful county (there is a slight possibility I may be exhibiting some bias here) that inspires your writing? Do Yorkshire folk lend themselves particularly well to being characters in humorous romance novels?

I think so. I think Yorkshire folk have the ability to not take themselves too seriously. They’re down to earth, but friendly and call a spade…. That’s probably totally stereotyping. I think my dad always had a sense of humour. He and his three sisters could all make me laugh when telling one of their stories. Whether that’s his Yorkshire heritage or the Italian ancestry I couldn’t say.

I noticed from your author bio that we have some odd ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ connections. As well as having the same first name and both being from Yorkshire, you are a magistrate and I am a qualified solicitor, and Helen Fielding and Joanne Harris are both fellow alumni of my secondary school. Do you think it is part of human nature for us to seek out tenuous connections and things in common with our fellow man and do you use this tendency to connect with readers in your writing?

Oh, how interesting! I didn’t know that. My daughter must have gone to the same school as you then. I honestly don’t know, is the answer to your last question, but it’s certainly a good one. I’m sure we become friendly with people who are like ourselves and enjoy things in common. I’m big into ancestry and spend far too much time trying to work out connections between myself and those with the same DNA. I should have been a detective. Or maybe I’m just plain nosy. 

Aside from the fact that they have given you this lovely award, what other benefits have you gleaned from your membership of the RNA and what is your favourite thing about being a member?

Obviously, this absolutely wonderful award has been the icing on the cake as it were. But I have become friendly – real mates – with other writers who are always generous enough to share contacts, knowledge and are up for an early read of a new MS. Big friends with Tracy Bloom and Jo Courtney (Anna Stuart) who I met at my very first RNA conference in Chichester. We have regular writerly rants and celebratory picnics along the bank of Ladybower in Derbyshire, a central meeting point. Through RNA contacts I have met up with my fellow Apricot Plotters, a small group set up to chat, celebrate and commiserate with any writing issues we might have. I would wholeheartedly recommend the RNA to anyone. Can’t wait for the next conference when we can get together again.

Your latest novel, A Family Affair, was published vey recently, so I am sure you are enjoying a well-earned break, but what can we expect next from Julie Houston and can you ever see yourself giving up teaching completely to become a full-time author?

I’ve really already given up teaching full time. I just teach now when the phone rings to cover an absent member of staff. And I still love it. But I certainly couldn’t both teach full time and write. It’s taken me ten years to actually answer “I’m a writer” instead of “I’m a teacher”. To be honest, I usually say, “I’m a teacher by trade, but spend my days writing now.” So, Exit North has gone off to my editor, Thorne, at Aria and I’m at the ‘staring at the blank screen and thinking how the hell did I ever write one book, let alone ten!’ stage which attacks me once I’ve sent off my latest beloved characters into the world. There are, signs of little seeds a-sprouting and soon I’ll have pages covered with characters, their family trees and their personalities. They’ll then take over and, if I’m lucky, these characters will just take over and write the story themselves…

Won’t it be fantastic to get to that stage! Thank you for so much for taking the time to talk to me, it’s been great fun.

Julie’s award-winning novel, Sing Me A Secret, is available here.

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The four Sutherland sisters have all had very different paths in life, but one secret and a slightly tense production of Jesus Christ Superstar are about to bring them all back together again…

When the news that pop-superstar Lexia Sutherland is returning to Westenbury, not everyone is thrilled by the news – including Lexia. There are too many memories she doesn’t need to face – or need re-surfacing.

Meanwhile, Juno Sutherland just wants a little peace and quiet. As the local village doctor, she’s got her priorities in order; kids, job, husband, tenacious pony, a role in the village musical… So when the sexy new locum turns up – and steals her office – the last thing she needed was to be hit with rising temperatures and an over-active imagination.

Will these sisters be able to uncover the past, deal with the future and put on the performance of a lifetime?

About the Author

Julie Houston’s first three novels GOODNESS, GRACE AND ME, THE ONE SAVING GRACE and LOOKING FOR LUCY were all Amazon Humour #1 best sellers both here in the UK and Australia. LOOKING FOR LUCY hit the #1 best seller overall in Australia. Her A VILLAGE AFFAIR was the seventh most downloaded book of 2019 and has sold over 300 000 copies in ebook and paperback. She is published by Aria/Headof Zeus and has just completed her tenth novel, EXIT NORTH. Her seventh novel, SING ME A SECRET won the Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award in 2021.

Julie lives in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire where her novels are set, and her only claims to fame are that she teaches part-time at ‘Bridget Jones’ author Helen Fielding’s old junior school and her neighbour is ‘Chocolat’ author, Joanne Harris. After University, where she studied Education and English Literature, she taught for many years as a junior school teacher. As a newly qualified teacher, broke and paying off her first mortgage, she would spend every long summer holiday working on different Kibbutzim in Israel. After teaching for a few years, she decided to go to New Zealand to work and taught in Auckland for a year before coming back to this country. She now just teaches when the phone rings to cover an absent colleague, and still loves the buzz of teaching junior-aged children. She has been a magistrate for the past twenty years. Julie is married, has a twenty-seven-year-old son and twenty-four-year-old daughter and a ridiculous Cockerpoo called Lincoln. She runs and swims because she’s been told it’s good for her, but would really prefer a glass of wine, a sun lounger and a jolly good book. 

She hates skiing, gets sick on boats and wouldn’t go pot-holing or paddy diving if her life depended on it.

She is published by HeadOfZeus/Aria and represented by Anne Williams at KHLA Literary agency.

Connect with Julie:

Website: www.juliehouston.co.uk

Facebook: Julie Houston Author

Twitter: @JulieHouston2

Instagram: @juliehoustonauthor

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