Guest Post: A Tuscan Memory by Angela Petch

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In a tiny hamlet nestled in the Tuscan mountains, farmers gather after a hard day in the meadows, and children’s laughter rings across the square: but one little boy does not join in their play. Behind his deep brown eyes, hides a heartbreaking secret…

Ninety years later. When elderly Giselda Chiozzi discovers a lost little boy, curled up asleep in the beech forest outside her grand but empty home, she can’t help but take pity on him. It’s been a long time since she had a visitor. Waking up to her kind smile and the warming smell of Italian hot chocolate, Davide soon blurts out what drove him into the cold Tuscan night: he’s different from everyone else, he’s never belonged anywhere, and now his beloved mother is ill.

With her heart full of sadness for this lost child, Giselda promises to help Davide trace his family history – she knows better than anyone that connecting with your roots can ground you in the present, and hopes it will make Davide realise that home is where he truly belongs.

Together the unlikely pair discover the story of Davide’s great-grandfather, Giuseppe Starnucci, a young boy who spent his days milking cows, helping with the harvest, and hammering horseshoes in the forge. But after a terrible incident that changed his life forever, Giuseppe also ran away. Forced to become a man before his time, Giuseppe joined the treacherous pilgrimage all Tuscan farmers must make from the mountains to the plains, sacrificing everything to ensure the survival of their families.

Engrossed in the story, Davide is slowly starting to heal when he and Giselda discover a shocking secret which Giuseppe took to his grave – and which now threatens to tear apart Davide’s family for good. Will Davide let the pain of the past determine his future, or can he find the courage, love and loyalty within him to return home… and even if Davide himself finds peace, will it be too late for Giselda?

This week marks the publication of the latest novel by Angela Petch. A Tuscan Memory was published in digital format by Bookouture on 7 September and, to celebrate, Angela has kindly agreed to visit the blog and tell us a bit about the inspiration behind her writing.

Italian Inspiration by Angela Petch

They say truth is boring and that fiction makes truth more exciting. But, having lived in several countries, I have never found my life boring.  Maurice and I met in Sicily where we both worked for a Dutch construction Company. I had escaped to Italy after a disastrous relationship and had given up on men. (My husband always feels uncomfortable when I say that. “Am I not a man, then?” he asks.) When you are least expecting it, something brilliant happens. Escaping from one man, I fell in love with another and Maurice and I married in Italy less than one year later. Then we moved to Tanzania where we worked and explored this fascinating country for three years. We have been together for forty-three years. Maurice has an Italian mother and I spent my early years in Rome, so this beautiful country has always had a hold on both of us.

Wind back twenty years from today. Three children growing up and the decision to downsize and buy a ruin in Italy with what was left over (after a parents’ evening that didn’t go so well and made us run for consolation to the pub). It was one of the best things we ever did.

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Ten years further on, and a health warning led to early retirement. By now, our children were more or less independent and we packed up to start a dream life: six months in Tuscany each year, running our small holiday rental business.

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At the age of sixty, I finally had time to write. I think that in the interim I had been gathering ideas and stories, like a seamstress collecting patches of material to sew into a quilt. Before then, I wasn’t ready.

It hasn’t been difficult to find more stories where we live in our remote river valley hidden in the eastern Tuscan Apennines.

When I walk along the ancient mule paths, I feel that I am breathing in history. Our area was occupied during the Second World War and this is the period that fascinates me. I combined local accounts from elderly friends with the experiences of my Italian mother-in-law who met and married her handsome English army Captain when he was stationed nearby. My husband describes himself as a son of the Gothic Line – a defensive barrier constructed by the German army which extended from east to west coast and practically past our door. I have uncovered plenty of facts about local partisan activity and escaped POWs and they feature heavily in the three books that I have written so far. Having been indie, I am now published by Bookouture and am under contract to write two more Second World War novels.

a climb up to where the partisans fought

I write most afternoons in a study on a mezzanine at the top of our converted stable.

As we live in a remote area in Italy, there are no local writing groups to join, so I’m so pleased that we now have access to the internet and I can engage with the writing community.   I started off as an indie author, but as a result of involving myself with groups online and joining the RNA, I am now published by Bookouture and haven’t looked back. In the early days, the only way to access the internet was to use a dongle and drive up the mountain to a layby where I could get reception. I won’t expand on some of the dodgy propositions I received, sitting there in my car…

Our life in England where we live in the winter is much busier. I manage to write more in Italy. The country inspires me; it is so beautiful and intriguing.

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Thank you for sharing that with us, Angela, you obviously live in the midst of an inspiring landscape.

A Tuscan Memory by Angela Petch is out now and you can buy a copy here along with Angela’s other two Tuscan-set historical novels, The Tuscan Secret and The Tuscan Girl.

About the Author

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Angela Petch shares her year between the Tuscan Apennines and West Sussex. 

Her love affair with Italy was born at the age of seven when she moved with her family to Rome. Her father worked for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and he made sure his children learned Italian and soaked up the culture. She studied Italian at the University of Kent at Canterbury and afterwards worked in Sicily where she met her husband. His Italian mother and British father met in Urbino in 1944 and married after a wartime romance.

Her first book, Tuscan Roots was written in 2012, for her Italian mother-in-law, Giuseppina, and also to make readers aware of the courage shown by families of her Italian neighbours during WW2. Signed by Bookouture in 2018, this book was republished as The Tuscan Secret in June 2019. The Tuscan Girl followed in February 2020.

Now and Then in Tuscany, was self-published in April 2017 and features the same family. The background is the transhumance, a practice that started in Etruscan times and continued until the 1950s. Bookouture has since acquired the rights, and under a new title, A Tuscan Memory will be released on September 7th 2020. Research for her Tuscan novels is greatly helped by her knowledge of Italian and conversations with locals.

Although Italy is a passion, her stories are not always set in this country. Mavis and Dot, published at the end of 2018 and sold in aid of research into a cure for cancer, tells the story of two fun-loving ladies who retire to the Sussex seaside. They forge an unlikely friendship and fall into a variety of adventures. Ingenu/e Magazine describes it as: “Absolutely Fabulous meets Last of the Summer Wine… a gently hilarious feel-good book that will enchant and delight…”. 

A prize-winning author and member of the RNA, she also loves to travel and recently returned to Tanzania, where she lived at the start of her marriage. A keen tennis player and walker, she enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren and inventing stories for their entertainment. 

Her short stories are published by PRIMA and the People’s Friend. 

Connect with Angela:

Blog: https://angelapetchsblogsite.wordpress.com

Facebook: Angela Petch Author

Twitter: @Angela_Petch

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Desert Island Books… with Clare Marchant

Desert Island Books

This is the feature where I ask a member of the bookish community – be it fellow blogger, author, publisher, blog tour organiser, bookseller or anyone else remotely interested in books – to choose the five books they would like to have with them were they to be stranded alone on a desert island, forced to read them in perpetuity (or until they get rescued at least).

This week the choices belong to author, Clare Marchant.

Book OneLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott

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Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth – four “little women” enduring hardships and enjoying adventures in Civil War New England The charming story of the March sisters, Little Women has been adored by generations. Readers have rooted for Laurie in his pursuit of Jo’s hand, cried over little Beth’s death, and dreamed of traveling through Europe with old Aunt March and Amy. Future writers have found inspiration in Jo’s devotion to her writing. In this simple, enthralling tale, both parts of which are included here, Louisa May Alcott has created four of American literature’s most beloved women.

This book is such a classic, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere and not be able to read it. When I was a teenager, I read it so often I could recite whole tracts of it verbatim (I was probably very annoying!). There is just nothing not to love about it, each of the characters is so finely drawn and the journey that the whole family takes is wonderful as the reader watches their lives unfold. Every time I read it, I find something else to love about it; the cast and their family dynamics, their strengths and flaws which are still as relevant today as it was when it was written.

Book TwoThe Kings General by Daphne du Maurier

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Inspired by a grisly discovery in the nineteenth century, The King’s General was the first of du Maurier’s novels to be written at Menabilly, the model for Manderley in Rebecca.

Set in the seventeenth century, it tells the story of a country and a family riven by civil war, and features one of fiction’s most original heroines. Honor Harris is only eighteen when she first meets Richard Grenvile, proud, reckless – and utterly captivating. But following a riding accident, Honor must reconcile herself to a life alone.

As Richard rises through the ranks of the army, marries and makes enemies, Honor remains true to him, and finally discovers the secret of Menabilly…

I went through a phase in my late teens of reading everything that Du Maurier had written and, although I loved the classics, Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and Frenchman’s Creek, this was the book that I just adored. In my opinion this is Du Maurier at her finest. It’s set against the background of the English civil war (no surprise that it’s a historical romance, this genre has always featured very highly in my reading choices!) and although the love story is unconventional, it is no less captivating and poignant.  

The story opens with eighteen-year-old Honor Harris falling in love with the handsome Richard Grenville, but within the first couple of pages she has a riding accident which results in her being unable to walk. The reader is left wondering how these two people can have any sort of relationship, but the love between them never dies. On the one hand their story is heart-breaking, and yet it is enthralling at the same time. And yes, if anyone is wondering, it is no coincidence that Richard Grenville’s name is very similar to Greville in The Secrets of Saffron Hall!

Book ThreeAll Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

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A world of witches, daemons and vampires.
A manuscript which holds the secrets of their past and the key to their future.
Diana and Matthew – the forbidden love at the heart of it.

A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES. SHADOW OF NIGHT. THE BOOK OF LIFE.

As this is a trilogy and possibly a little bit of a cheat, (hmmm, definitely a cheat, but I’ll let you off!) I have double checked that the book can be purchased in one volume (!). I’m not a huge fan of vampire and witch books but I’d heard such great things about this that I decided to give it a go and I’m so pleased that I did. 

At the heart of the book is a forbidden romance (and it’s never a good idea to cross a vampire or a witch as Diana and Matthew soon discover) but it’s so much more as the book travels across Europe, from modern day Oxford and rural France, to Renaissance London and Prague. The litany of real characters from the sixteenth century anchors the story and prevents it from becoming excessively fantastical and even though I know the outcome I always read it holding my breath, completely engrossed. It’s exciting and addictive, if I were stuck on a desert island for any length of time, I would really want this book to be with me to transport me to other places.

Book FourRiders by Jilly Cooper

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Set against the glorious Cotswold countryside, Riders offers an intoxicating blend of swooning romance, adventure and hilarious high jinks.

Brooding hero Jake Lovell, under whose magic hands even the most difficult horse or woman is charmed, is driven by his loathing of the dashing darling of the show ring, Rupert Campbell-Black. Having pinched each other’s horses and drunk their way around the capitals of Europe, the feud between the two men finally erupts with devastating consequences at the Los Angeles Olympics . . .

A classic bestseller, Riders takes the lid off international show jumping, a sport where the brave horses are almost human, but the humans behave like animals.

Who doesn’t love a bit of Jilly Cooper?! In between my love for historical fiction when I was a bookworm teenager, I also became addicted to these brilliant, mad, glorious ‘bonkbuster’ romances. It was really difficult to choose just one to take to a desert island so I decided to go with the one where it all started, the book that introduces the reader to Rutshire where everyone spends their time riding, hunting and jumping – both on horses as well as in and out of bed with each other. The book takes the reader on a chaotic journey from rural Cotswolds to the Los Angeles Olympic games as Rupert Campbell Black feuds with his adversary Jake Lovell, an underdog that refuses to pander to Rupert’s huge ego.  Like almost every other female in the 1980’s I fell in love with Rupert (a rake if ever there was one!) and even though the book has dated  – these days people having to use a landline and send real letters makes me stop for a moment – it is still a delightful read.

Book FiveThe Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

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Can you go a little faster? Can you run?

Long ago, at a time in history that never happened, England was overrun with wolves. But as Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia discover, real danger often lies closer to home. Their new governess, Miss Slighcarp, doesn’t seem at all nice. She shuts Bonnie in a cupboard, fires the faithful servants and sends the cousins far away from Willoughby Chase to a place they will never be found. Can Bonnie and Sylvia outwit the wicked Miss Slighcarp and her network of criminals, forgers and snitches?

Yes, another book from my past. If I was stuck on an island on my own, I would want books that are a comfort to me and for the most part these are books that I have read over many years, time and time again.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase has everything that I could want in a book and although it was written for children, it’s just as good to read as an adult. There are the classic elements of good prevailing over evil, the poor, quiet mousy Sylvia who moves from town to live with her feisty, rich and kind hearted cousin Bonnie, where they battle against a mean governess and her dubious accomplices. The action is all set against a backdrop of danger as their country estate is becoming overrun with wolves and the two girls have to depend on the kindness of a young man, Simon, to help them escape. Pure unadulterated excitement, my original paperback eventually fell apart I read it so often.

My luxury item:

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I do love listening to music, and I don’t think I would fare well being somewhere as quiet as a desert island on my own. So, I would like to have my saxophone with me. I would also need all of my music books, mostly because it has been quite a long time since I’ve found time to play it and I’m now very rusty. But having no one close by to object to the awful sounds I make whilst practising, would be the perfect opportunity to resume my love of playing. And I’m thinking, it could also double up as a distress signal if I were to see a boat on the horizon – although if they hear me, they may just choose to continue their journey rather than get any closer to the racket! 

About Clare Marchant:

My debut novel, The Secrets of Saffron Hall was published on 6 August. I don’t think it will come as a surprise that having spent my life reading a lot of historical fiction, I wanted to write something set in an era that I love, Tudor England. Interweaved with Eleanor’s story is that of Amber’s in present day Norfolk, my home county and somewhere that I love. It wasn’t difficult to set a story amongst the history and ruined monasteries of this flat landscape beneath the wide, open skies. You can purchase The Secrets of Saffron Hall here. (I reviewed the book on the blog last month and you can find my review here.)

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New bride Eleanor impresses her husband by growing saffron, a spice more valuable than gold. His reputation in Henry VIII’s court soars – but fame and fortune come at a price, for the king’s favour will not last forever…

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When Amber discovers an ancient book in her grandfather’s home at Saffron Hall, the contents reveal a dark secret from the past. As she investigates, so unravels a forgotten tragic story and a truth that lies much closer to home than she could have imagined…

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Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller.

Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast.

Connect with Clare:

Facebook: Clare Marchant Author

Twitter: @ClareMarchant1

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Blog Tour: Love at the Little Wedding Shop by the Sea by Jane Linfoot #BookReview

Love at the Little Wedding Shop by the Sea

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for the latest novel in one of my favourite series, Love at the Little Wedding Shop by the Sea by Jane Linfoot. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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St Aidan: a cosy Cornish village where friendships are made for life and it’s always cocktail hour somewhere…

‘A pure delight’ Debbie Johnson

Return to your favourite little wedding shop by the sea for love, laughter and a romance to sweep you off your feet!

It’s the most romantic day of the year but the girls aren’t just gearing up for Valentine’s Day and a busy wedding season ahead, it’s also the 10 year anniversary of their beloved shop!

Jess is planning the party of the decade and with the champagne and cocktails flowing, sparks are going to fly…and not just from the fireworks display!

I’ve been a fan of this series of books since the very first one, so I was thrilled to be taking a trip back to St. Aidan to catch up with the girls from Brides By The Sea, and to find out more about new girl, Milla.

I have to say, the opening of this book is a little bit of a whirlwind, with a lot of action and information thrown at the reader from the very beginning, which might seem a little confusing to readers who are new to St. Aidan and the Little Wedding Shop set up. I was on a slightly firmer footing, having read the previous books, but even to me it seemed a little frenetic. However, this feeling didn’t last beyond the first chapter and then the narrative settled down into an easier, clearer rhythm, making the book accessible to readers who haven’t read the previous books. Although this is a series, each one works perfectly as a standalone, and not knowing the back stories of some of the characters does not detract from the current plot, although I guarantee you will want to go back and find out more about the other girls from the previous books once you have read this one.

Out main protagonist here, Milla, is a bit of a disaster area to say the least. Clumsy and disorganised, with a sad back story, she is a character whose future doesn’t look too promising when we first meet her. However, she is full of verve and heart and enthusiasm which makes her very endearing, and the series of mishaps she encounters through the first half of the book make us root for her to turn things around even more. The fact that the worst of her mishaps happen in front of a very hot man who is causing flutters in interesting areas of her anatomy just makes things worse and, of course, more fun for the reader!

This is a story about new beginnings, confidence and pulling yourself up by the bootstraps. I really wanted Milla to succeed and believe in herself (and to get one over on one character who was loathsome to my mind from the beginning!). I also wanted her to get her man, although there were times at the beginning when I did wonder why she would want him after some of his behaviour (although his pecs and six-pack probably had a lot to do with it!) Milla’s story is full of laughter – Jane’s writing is absolutely hilarious – but there are also moments of real pathos and I defy anyone not to be moved by parts of this book amidst the hilarity.

Throw in the beautiful Cornish setting of St. Aidan with its gorgeous harbour, and all the fun, imagination and celebration of the wedding business, and this is a great escapist read. It is also a fabulous book about friendship, good and bad, as Milla’s friends rally around to help her establish a new life after a terrible betrayal. If you are a fan of chicklit and romcoms, and you are looking for a book to transport you to the seaside, give you some giggles and some feels, this is the perfect book for you, and I know you are going to want to look at Jane Linfoot’s back catalogue once you have read this. Loved, loved, loved it.

Love at the Little Wedding Shop by the Sea is out now as an ebook and will be released in paperback in November, and you can buy your copy here.

Make sure you check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour:

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About the Author

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Jane writes fun, flirty fiction, with feisty heroines, and lots of heart. Writing is fab, because she gets to wear pretty shoes instead of wellies. She lives in a cottage up a mountain road in Derbyshire, where her family and pets are kind enough to ignore the domestic chaos. Happily, they’re in walking distance of a supermarket. She loves hearts, flowers, happy endings, all things vintage, most things French. When she’s not on Facebook, and can’t find an excuse for shopping, she’ll be walking, or gardening. On days when she wants to be really scared, she rides a tandem.

Connect with Jane:

Facebook: Jane Linfoot Author

Twitter: @janelinfoot

Instagram: @janelinfoot

Pinterest: Jane Linfoot

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Romancing The Romance Authors… with Suzanne Snow

Romancing The Romance Authors

Very excited to have my next guest on my new feature where I quiz romance authors on what inspires them. This week I am joined by author Suzanne Snow.

Welcome to the blog, Suzanne. Tell me a bit about the type of books you write and where you are in your publishing journey.

I write contemporary romance and my books are set in rural and/or village locations. After joining the RNA two years ago, I was offered representation by Susan Yearwood Agency following the 2019 Conference and signed a 3 book deal with Canelo this year.

Why romance?

I love the expectation of following a developing relationship to an uplifting ending and a romantic or inspirational setting is a big part of the story for me. 

What inspires your stories?

Very often it’s a landscape; perhaps a walk I’ve done in a beautiful area or an old house and garden with a story to tell. Sometimes it can be character driven, when a person pops into my mind and I begin to think of their life and where that might be taking them.

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

I loved Jilly Cooper and Danielle Steel in the early days; now I read everything by Karen Swan for her ability to bring a setting to life and craft a love story from unexpected circumstances. Audrey Harrison for Regency and Ella Hayes for Mills and Boon are two new favourites and I’ve discovered many wonderful authors through the RNA, Kate Field and Christina Courtney being just two examples.

So many of my favourite authors mentioned there, and the odd RNA friend! If you had to pick one romance novel for me to read, which one would you recommend?

The Perfect Present by Karen Swan, it was the first of her books I read. I loved it for the world unfamiliar to me that she depicted and the developing love story between characters with no obvious place to go. 

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Haunted by a past she can’t escape, Laura Cunningham desires nothing more than to keep her world small and precise – her quiet relationship and growing jewellery business are all she needs to get by. Until the day when Rob Blake walks into her studio and commissions a necklace that will tell his enigmatic wife Cat’s life in charms.

As Laura interviews Cat’s family, friends and former lovers, she steps out of her world and into theirs – a charmed world where weekends are spent in Verbier and the air is lavender-scented, where friends are wild, extravagant and jealous, and a big love has to compete with grand passions.

Hearts are opened, secrets revealed and as the necklace begins to fill up with trinkets, Cat’s intoxicating life envelops Laura’s own. By the time she has to identify the final charm, Laura’s metamorphosis is almost complete. But the last story left to tell has the power to change all of their lives forever, and Laura is forced to choose between who she really is and who it is she wants to be.

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

It would be with Frederick Wentworth from Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I like a hero who is sensitive, and I think he would view marriage as a partnership as far as he was able in those days. The perfect weekend would be spent in walking in the countryside with time to relax somewhere scenic or a city break exploring galleries and museums. I’d probably include dinner at The Old Stamp House in Ambleside as it’s one of my favourite restaurants

Oh, I love him. Writer of possibly the most romantic love letter that exists in literature! What is your favourite thing about being a member of the RNA? What do you think you have gained from membership?

The community of friendship and support I’ve found in the RNA and the brilliance of Conference for learning and making friends. I’ve definitely learned a lot since joining, and the 1-2-1’s at Conference gave me both confidence in my writing and the opportunity of agency representation.

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

If they’re not in the RNA, then join as soon as possible! And if they are, then do get involved via social media and absolutely go to Conference if they possibly can. The RNA offers so much in the way of teaching, community and being amongst people who love and understand what we do.

Tell us about your latest book.

The Cottage of New Beginnings is a heart-warming village love story for fans of Julie Houston, Victoria Walters and Trisha Ashley. It is out now as an ebook and you can buy it here.

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One crumbling cottage. One broken heart. A chance to start over?

When Annie returns to Thorndale, the village where she spent much of her childhood, she’s looking for a new start. All she wants to do is fix up the cottage her godmother left her and fix up her broken heart.

When she clashes with local hero, Jon, Annie can’t help but wonder if coming back to Thorndale was a mistake. The village has clearly changed and the last thing she needs is more drama. But avoiding the distractingly handsome Jon is proving impossible, especially when Thorndale seems to be conspiring to throw them together…

Annie is looking for a fresh start with zero romance – but what if the only way to learn to trust again is to take a risk on love?

About the Author

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Suzanne Snow writes contemporary, romantic and uplifting fiction with a strong sense of setting and community connecting the lives of her characters. When she’s not writing or spending time with her family, she can usually be found in a garden or looking to the landscape around her for inspiration.

Connect with Suzanne:

Website: https://www.suzannesnowauthor.com

Facebook: Suzanne Snow Author

Twitter: @SnowProse

If you are a romance author and think you would enjoy answering this random assortment of questions about writing romance, please do get in touch and you can take part in a future instalment of Romancing The Romance Authors.

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Tempted By… Bookshine and Readbows: The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart

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Emmeline Widget has never left Widget Manor – and that’s the way she likes it. But when her scientist parents mysteriously disappear, she finds herself being packed off on a ship to France, heading for a safe house in Paris. Onboard she is befriended by an urchin stowaway called Thing. But before she can reach her destination she is kidnapped by the sinister Dr Siegfried Bauer.

Dr Bauer is bound for the ice fields of Greenland to summon a legendary monster from the deep. And he isn’t the only one determined to unleash the creature. The Northwitch has laid claim to the beast, too.

Can Emmeline and Thing stop their fiendish plans and save the world?

Today’s Tempted By is long overdue, but better late than never I believe and it has been worth waiting for. I don’t often get enticed into buying middle grade books, unless it is for my daughters, but I really loved the sound of The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart.

The book was brought to my attention by this review, written by the lovely Steph over at Bookshine and Readbows blog. I didn’t really need to read further than the line ‘This the book I wanted Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials series to be’ to know that I wanted to read it, but then she goes on to describe the book as ‘steampunk-ish’ in style which sealed the deal. I really love her descriptions of the writing as having a bit of snark (I am all about the snark) and then references some of my all time favourite authors as comparators – Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams? How could I not want to pick up this book?

Steph waxed lyrical about this book, and when Steph waxes lyrical, I am always listening. I love Steph’s cheery blog – that name alone let’s you know that this a cup-half-full person doesn’t it – she has been one of my longest and most avidly-followed blogs since I first discovered this community and she is a generous and supportive blogger too. People like her are the reason I love this community so much. Make sure to pay her blog a visit at https://bookshineandreadbows.wordpress.com.

If you would like to get a copy of The Eye of the North by Sinead O’Hart for yourself, or anyone else, you can buy it here.

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Blog Tour: The Dentist by Tim Sullivan #BookReview

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A homeless man. Violently strangled. No leads. Except his past.

An outsider himself, DS George Cross is drawn to this case. The discovery of the dead man’s connection to an old cold case then pulls Cross in further. Convinced this is where the answer to the murder lies, he sets about solving another that someone has spent the past fifteen years thinking they’ve got away with.

Cross’ relentless obsession with logic, detail and patterns is what makes him so irritatingly brilliant. It doesn’t exactly make him popular with colleagues or his superiors, though. He has numerous enemies in the force wanting to see him fail.

Red flags are soon raised as suspicious inconsistencies and errors in the original detective’s investigation come to light. Now retired, this ex-cop has powerful friends in the force and a long-standing dislike of Cross.

Set in picturesque Bristol in the Southwest of England, it’s not long before the city reveals its dark underbelly, in a case of intriguing twists and turns whose result astonishes even those involved.

Difficult and awkward, maybe. But Cross has the best conviction rate in Avon & Somerset Police. By far. Will this case put an end to that?

Delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for The Dentist by Tim Sullivan, the first book in the DI Cross series. My thanks to Emma Welton at damp pebbles blog 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.

The title of the book doesn’t give much away, does it? Nor the blurb. I think I was imagining some gruesome murders involving horrible things being done to people’s teeth and jaws. Thankfully, the book wasn’t as traumatic as I was expecting, suitable even for the squeamish, but none the less engrossing for that.

This is the first in a projected series featuring DS George Cross, and I have to say that he is an absolutely brilliant creation and one who puts a really novel and fascinating spin on the detective character. He is a neurodivergent individual, with traits and behaviours that give him a different way of looking at a case which can give him an edge over his colleagues in his clearance rates, but his atypical behaviour can also make him difficult to work with. The exploration of how his character makes him a great detective, but also awkward in his social interactions, makes for a really riveting plot line, but is dealt with very thoughtfully. The author also gives him some other great characters to interact with – his partner who is learning to work with his processes, his father who truly understands him, his boss who has to manage him, and the new recruit who has to get to know his foibles. The latter, in particular, has great scope for development in future books I think.

The case itself was gripping, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader engaged and reading on. There were a few red herrings in the plot line, although I did feel one in particular was allowed to peter out rather than being pursued to its conclusion, but this was a minor complaint. This is an author who is an experienced screenwriter, feeling his feet in the world of novel writing. He does a good job but I am very confident that he will get better as he progresses and I look forward to seeing what he can do in the future if this is his debut effort.

I thoroughly enjoyed this new voice in crime fiction. The book was an easy but engaging read, with original and interesting characters and a lively and twisting plot with a satisfying conclusion. I would definitely pick up the next book by this author and look forward to getting to know DS Cross a lot better.

The Dentist is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do make sure to visit the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour for alternative reviews and other content:

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About the Author

Tim Sullivan

Tim Sullivan made his first short film before graduating from Cambridge University. His ambition to become a screenwriter was formed not so much by this experience but as an attempt to foil his father’s determination to turn him into a lawyer.

Within weeks of leaving university armed with a law degree he had met the film maker Derek Jarman and persuaded him to commission an original screenplay from him entitled BOB UPADOWN and so a career was born.

A few months later he joined Granada Television as a researcher. Here he was commissioned to write the first of many television scripts for the company. Two sitcoms entitled THE TRAIN NOW LEAVING and THE GREASY SPOON followed by the crime dramas MYSTERIOUS WAYS and MAIGRET.

While at Granada he was selected for the prestigious Directors’ Training scheme when only 26. Previous encumbents had included Mike Newell, Roland Joffe, and Michael Apted, more recently Julian Farino. Among other credits he directed CORONATION STREET, MADE IN HEAVEN, THATCHER THE FINAL DAYS and THE CASEBOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES with Jeremy Brett.

During this time he also co wrote the screenplays for the movies A HANDFUL OF DUST starring Kristen Scott Thomas, Judi Dench and Alec Guinness and WHERE ANGELS FEAR TO TREAD starring Helen Mirren and Helena Bonham Carter, both with producer the legendary TV producer Derek Granger (BRIDESHEAD REVISITED).

Upon leaving the bosom of Granada and venturing into the wild wide world of the freelance film maker he wrote and directed the movie JACK AND SARAH starring Richard E Grant, Samantha Mathis, Ian Mckellen, Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins. This led to a commission from New Line Pictures to write the screenplay WALKING PAPERS based on the Jay Cronley novel of the same name.

This screenplay came to the attention of execs at Universal and Imagine who then asked Tim to do a page one rewrite of a western for Ron Howard entitled THE PRETENDERS. Tim enjoyed working with Ron for over a year on this.

He then wrote an original screenplay, PERSONAL SHOPPING, which was promptly snapped up by Paramount for producer Scott Rudin.

He spent four months working for and with Jeffrey Katzenberg at Dreamworks animation as a production writer on the movie FLUSHED AWAY. Impressed by his work Katzenberg commissioned him to write a script for SHREK 4 which wasn’t used as a different storyline was decided upon as a director came on board.

During this time he was actively involved in British television directing the last ever ninety minute episode of the BAFTA award winning series COLD FEET. As well as a TV movie for ITV called CATWALK DOGS written by Simon Nye.

He was commissioned by the BBC to write a pilot for a TV series he invented called BACKSTORY as well as another pilot for the ITV network entitled OFFSPRING.

He also wrote HIS MASTER’S VOICE for the BBC as a radio play starring Rob Brydon which was broadcast in 2015.

He recently wrote the screenplay for LETTERS TO JULIET starring Amanda Seyfried and Vanessa Redgrave.

Oscar winning producers of The King’s Speech, Iain Canning and Emile Sherman then commissioned an original screenplay from him entitled THE WEDDING DRESS.

Tim is writing and co-producing and co-writing an animated feature screenplay for Hasbro and Paramount which is in production and scheduled for release in 2021.

He has now embarked on a series of crime novels featuring the eccentric and socially-awkward, but brilliantly persistent DS George Cross. Set in Bristol in the south west of England, Cross’ methods often infuriate his colleagues and superiors “not so much a thorn in my side as a pain in my arse,” according to his boss DCI Carson. But his conviction rate, thanks to his dogged persistence and attention to detail, is the best in the force. The DENTIST is in the first of a series.

Tim lives in North London with his wife Rachel, the Emmy award-winning producer of THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA and PIONEER WOMAN.

He is currently the UK chair of the Writers’ Guild of America (West).

Connect with Tim:

Website: https://timsullivan.uk

Facebook: Tim Sullivan

Twitter: @TimJRSullivan

Instagram: @timsullivannovelist

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Book Review: Mordew by Alex Pheby

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GOD IS DEAD, his corpse hidden in the catacombs beneath Mordew.

In the slums of the sea-battered city a young boy called Nathan Treeves lives with his parents, eking out a meagre existence by picking treasures from the Living Mud and the half-formed, short-lived creatures it spawns. Until one day his desperate mother sells him to the mysterious Master of Mordew. 

The Master derives his magical power from feeding on the corpse of God. But Nathan, despite his fear and lowly station, has his own strength and it is greater than the Master has ever known. Great enough to destroy everything the Master has built. If only Nathan can discover how to use it. 

So it is that the Master begins to scheme against him and Nathan has to fight his way through the betrayals, secrets, and vendettas of the city where God was murdered, and darkness reigns… 

…WELCOME TO MORDEW THE FIRST IN A MONUMENTAL NEW TRILOGY

I can tell you exactly when I fell in love with this book. It was on page 13, before I even got to the start of the story and I was reading the Dramatis Personae. I came across a reference to ‘a family of elephants, unfamiliarly labelled,’ and that was it. I knew then that this was an author in whose imagination I was really going to enjoy getting lost. (Although, I’m not happy at how the unfamiliarly labelled elephants’ story turns out, Mr Pheby!)

Mordew is an amazing feat of a novel. Dense, rich, complex, perplexing and rewarding, it requires a commitment of reading and is not going to be for everyone. However, if you are a fan of gothic fantasy, dedicated and imaginative world-building, challenging characters and ideas that ask questions of you, a book that demands participation from the reader, rather than sitting as an idle bystander to the story, you will love this. It reminded me so much of my first experience of reading Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake, and left me with the same desperate anticipation to read more that I felt at the start of that trilogy.

The book describes a complicated world that is an entirely new creation and takes some time to ease yourself into. There are so many new ideas and new terms to get your head around (the glossary for this books runs to a massive 84 pages), and it is all so alien at first that the less-than-intrepid reader may be tempted to give up, feeling the going too hard. Don’t do that. Once you get over the first hurdles and suss out the terrain, the writing has such cadence you will ease into its rhythm, it will sweep you along and the sights to be found up ahead are more than worth any early effort. I promise you, this book will reward you one hundredfold for perseverance and you will be desperate for more, even once you reach the end of the 500+ pages.

The book isn’t always easy, there are some shocking developments that will rock the reader to the core. Sacrifices are made. Disturbing imagery abounds. Unfamiliarly labelled elephants! It is hard at times to know who to trust, who to pity, who to love. Good characters do bad things. Bad characters do good things, no one is entirely virtuous or entirely contemptible. In this way, if no other, Mordew is as our world and this is how we go on an emotional journey with Nathan through the pages and the streets of Mordew.

The ending may not be as you would expect or wish, but the author has set it up brilliantly for the second part of the projected trilogy and, I am hoping that it is well underway and we are not going to have to wait Game-of-Thrones-esque lengths of time for part two. This can’t be the end, it just can’t. There has to be more, an alternative, a salvation. I need to know what it is, I’m fully invested in this world, this journey now.

I had high hopes for this novel and it delivered on them in every respect, and then some. I’ve not read anything like this for a long time and it deserves wide attention and respect. Pick up a copy today and you’ll be thanking me tomorrow.

Mordew is out now in hardback and as an ebook, and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Alex was born in Essex, but moved to Worcester in his early childhood. He has masters degrees in critical theory (Manchester Metropolitan University) and creative writing (Goldsmiths) and a doctorate in critical and creative writing from the UEA. He currently lives with his wife and two children in Greenwich.

Alex’s work deals with madness and social exclusion, loss, and the middle ground between reality and fantasy. Critics have described his writing style as strange, poignant, and luminous.

Connect with Alex:

Twitter: @alexpheby

Instagram: @alexpheby

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Friday Night Drinks with… Claire Sheldon

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

I am delighted to be sharing tonight’s Friday Night Drinks with a guest who has been waiting to come on for quite a while, and now we have something to celebrate so she has finally made it. Welcome to the blog, author… Claire Sheldon.

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

Malibu and Coke is my go to drink.

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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 be dragging you along to the Wetherspoons so you can be my cocktail partner.

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?

I think I would probably go with Eliza Dushku who I have always been a massive fan of and maybe one of The Bill alumni’s Alex Walkinsaw or Simon Rouse 

Loved Eliza Dushku as Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I am currently trying to write Book 3, Book 2 is with my publisher so I am impatiently waiting to work with my editor. My current aim is to get one published, one handed in and one being written. Though I am a nightmare as I am coming up with ideas for Book 4 instead of thinking about 3. 

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

My proudest moment has most certainly been the publication of my first novel Perfect Lie in June and the audio which has recently followed. 

My biggest challenge has been getting to this point, after a false start originally. When I finally signed with a publisher in December 2019 it was the end of a very long and challenging journey.  

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 think every author dreams of our work making it to the big or small screen and seeing my work being acted out in front of me. But right now I think I’ll settle with getting to hear it on audio, because that was just amazing!

What are you currently working on that you are really excited about?

Book 4, but I’m a pain like this I have this idea, but then I forget I already have book 3 to write that I was as excited about when I was writing book 2… 

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?

As a young child I always wanted to go to DISNEY! So after a challenging 2017, which saw my husband train to be a fire fighter, we finally made it in 2018 and I wasn’t disappointed.

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There are so many places, Australia, Canada… I think we are likely to make it to Canada before Oz, but we shall see. 

Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself that people might not know about you.

I was knocked off my bike when I was 15, and suffered a major head injury which pretty much laid the path to where I am today. 

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’?

Having made it to the end of Matt Wesolowski’s Six Stories series, I am pretty much cheerleading for his books. 

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Six stories
Which one is true?
1997.
Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who embarked on that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby.

2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. And who’s to blame

As every interview unveils a new revelation, you’ll be forced to work out for yourself how Tom Jeffries died, and who is telling the truth.

Oh, I love those books, I reviewed them all on the blog earlier this year (you can read those reviews here and here.) 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?

My husband always says drink a pint of water when you get in, but with having MS I always suffer after a night’s drinking so probably shouldn’t but still do. 

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

Lots of sleep probably but I miss spending time just me and the hubby so having a weekend away from the kids. Whether it’s at home or somewhere nice. 

Sounds wonderful. Claire, thank you so much for joining me on the blog at last, it’s been wonderful.

Claire’s debut novel, Perfect Lie, is out now and you can buy a copy here.

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What is ‘perfect’ trying to hide?
Jen Garner tries her best to be ‘wife and mother of the year’. She helps organise school plays and accompanies her husband to company dinners, all with a big smile on her face.
But Jen has started to receive strange gifts in the post … first flowers, then a sympathy card.
It could just be a joke; that’s what she tells herself. But then the final ‘gift’ arrives, and Jen has to question why somebody is so intent on shattering her life into pieces …

Claire Sheldon lives in Nottingham with her family, a cat called Whiskers and a dog called Podrick.

She suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and as a result of the disease had to reduce her hours working in insurance for an Insolvency Insurer. This spare time enabled her to study a creative writing course which inspired her to write her debut, Perfect Lie.

When Claire isn’t working she enjoys reading crime novels and listening to music – the band Jimmy Eat World is her biggest muse! Claire is also an avid reader and book blogger. The inspiration for her novels comes from the hours spent watching The Bill with her grandparents and auntie; then later, Spooks and other detective programmes like Morse, A Touch of Frost and Midsomer Murders. 

You can connect further with Claire and her writing via her blog, Facebook and Twitter.

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Desert Island Books… with Katie Wells

Desert Island Books

Over the past eight months I have really enjoyed sharing with my readers the shortlist of books that I would want with me if I were to be stranded indefinitely on a desert island, all alone and forced to reread them in perpetuity (and there are still four more books to come on my list.)

Because I’d had such fun with this, and my choices have been getting a great response and inspiring debate, I decided to open the question up to my friends in the bookish community – authors, bloggers and anyone else who fancies having a go.

I’ve been a lot meaner to my guests though, I’ve only allowed them to choose five books to take with them instead of twelve, plus one other non-book item to give them some comfort (which can’t be a person, pet or escape aid!) They also have to tell me why they have chosen the books they’ve picked.

My very first victim is Katie Wells, my good friend, writing buddy and fellow blogger, and she has come up with some really surprising choices, so let’s have a look what she has picked, shall we?

Book One: The Ghosts by Antonia Barber

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When Lucy sat in the attic, she thought she heard the sound of voices calling…

That’s when she started to believe the rumors in the village that the old house was haunted. But no ghosts appeared – until the day Lucy and her brother Jamie stood in the garden and watched two pale figures, a girl and a boy, coming toward them.

That was the beginning of a strange and dangerous friendship between Lucy and Jamie and two children who had died a century before.

The ghost children desperately needed their help. But would Lucy and Jamie have the courage to venture into the past – and change the terrible events that had led to murder?

As a kid I watched The Amazing Mr. Blunden on repeat and was excited to discover they based it on a book when I was eleven. My local library had a copy, but I did not have room on my ticket to take it out. It was the days when there was a three-book limit, cardboard slips in the books and librarians that were not swayed by a child’s pleas for just one more book. When I returned the next day, it was missing. Every week I would search the shelves for it, but it never reappeared. A few years ago on eBay, I tracked down a second-hand copy and it was everything I wanted it to be. The film is great, but the book is better. It is how a ghost story should be – full of mystery, tension, and a drama in a spooky house.

Book Two: The Illustrated Herbiary by Maia Toll

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Rosemary is for remembrance; sage is for wisdom. The symbolism of plants – whether in the ancient Greek doctrine of signatures or the Victorian secret language of flowers – has fascinated us for centuries. Contemporary herbalist Maia Toll adds her distinctive spin to this tradition with profiles of the mysterious personalities of 36 herbs, fruits, and flowers. Combining a passion for plants with imagery reminiscent of tarot, enticing text offers reflections and rituals to tap into each plant’s power for healing, self-reflection, and everyday guidance. Smaller versions of the illustrations are featured on 36 cards to help guide your thoughts and meditations.

I have always had an interest in tarot and oracle cards, so when I saw this book on NetGalley to review I jumped at the chance to read it. I fell in love with the words, the flowers I had never heard of and the beautiful illustrations, so I bought a physical copy which included the cards. I discovered Maia Toll’s blog and listened to a talk on the origins of her book ; this inspired elements of the novel I have written, helped solidify the main characters history and encouraged me to grow some plants. Some are still surviving which is a miracle because I do not have green fingers. The cards are lovely to hold and the book gives ideas for meditation and guidance to see things clearly. Both would be useful on the island and it may also help identify some native plants I may find, which would always be handy.

Book Three: We Other by Sue Bentley

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Family secrets, changelings, and fairies you never want to meet on a dark night.

Jess Morgan’s life has always been chaotic. But when a startling new reality cannot be denied, her single mum’s alcoholism and violent boyfriend become the least of her worries. She is linked to a world where humans – ‘hot-bloods’ – are treated as disposable entertainment. Everything she believed about herself is a lie. Everything is about to change.

This was one of my favourite books in 2018 and remains in my top books 10 ever. The extensive world building is absorbing and disturbing, and the startling imagery brought the depiction of the fairy kingdom alive. It is no Disney inspired fairy tale as the fae are cruel and disturbing. It deals with parental alcoholism and obsession sensitively, but it is gritty and doesn’t shy away from its horrors. At 560 pages it is an epic, making it an ideal book to reread over and over. 

Book Four: The Woman in the Photograph by Stephanie Butland

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1968. Veronica Moon, a junior photographer for a local newspaper, is frustrated by her (male) colleagues’ failure to take her seriously. And then she meets Leonie on the picket line of the Ford factory at Dagenham. So begins a tumultuous, passionate and intoxicating friendship. Leonie is ahead of her time and fighting for women’s equality with everything she has. She offers Veronica an exciting, free life at the dawn of a great change.

Fifty years later, Leonie is gone, and Veronica leads a reclusive life. Her groundbreaking career was cut short by one of the most famous photographs of the twentieth century.

Now, that controversial picture hangs as the centrepiece of a new feminist exhibition curated by Leonie’s niece. Long-repressed memories of Veronica’s extraordinary life begin to stir. It’s time to break her silence, and step back into the light.

Like the series I watched recently, Mrs America, this novel opened my eyes to how little I knew about the history of feminism and the battles it took to get it to where it is today. It changed my outlook on many things. The character Leonie is abrasive and complex so it isn’t a cosy read but she is balanced by Veronica who is finding her way; it shows the power and determination of women and how things that seem set in stone can be changed with co-operation and vision. I also had the pleasure of going to a stunning writing retreat at Garsdale with the lovely author and it was a week of writing, learning the craft and pure culinary heaven. It was a magical experience full of inspiration and gave me a confidence boost in my writing I needed. The book will always remind me of those times. 

Book Five: The Xmas Factor by Annie Sanders

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Meet two women with two totally different approaches to the festive season.

Beth: it’s only September, and already she has performance anxiety. Not surprising when she has agreed to lay on the annual Christmas Eve village bash – the piece de resistance of her husband’s former wife – not to mention having to host Christmas for his difficult offspring. New to this frenzied build-up to the festivities, Beth begins to lose sight of what it all means. To her the Christmas lights are looking more like the headlamps of an oncoming train.

Carol: glamorous magazine editor, who put her aspirational Christmas issue to bed sometime in July and is so involved in finding a scoop to save her ailing magazine that she fails to notice the impending festive rush. Panicked and wracked with guilt, she is determined to make it a picture-perfect time for her little boy and, opting for convenience, books a lovely-sounding cottage in a quaint village.

Even the best-laid plans have a habit of unravelling – and no plan at all is a recipe for disaster. So when these two Christmases collide, it looks like it’s going to be anything but goodwill towards men…

This one was the most difficult books to choose. I knew I wanted a Christmas novel; it is my favourite time of year and I have a tradition to binge read new festive releases and old ones on my shelf. Even on a desert island in the blistering heat, I would not want to let the tradition go. I’d decorate my camp with foraged foliage and fruit stringed up around the trees so I can indulge in some Christmas cheer and celebrate the season. Reluctantly I put my illustrated copy of Christmas Carol to one side and opted for my battered copy of The Xmas Factor by Annie Sanders which I read every Advent even though I know it word for word. It has everything you need in a Christmas romance – drama, family feuds, chemistry between the protagonists leading to will they won’t they moments, the tantalising descriptions of festive food and the reminder of the true meaning of what Christmas really means–friendship, love and warmth. 

My extra item:

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Since I am not allowed to take my dog with me for company, I would take a pack of playing cards. I have happy memories of playing cribbage with my dad when he was practising for his competitions at the working men’s club and as a kid, we would always play cards when camping. My Nan loved cards and she taught me numerous ways to play patience/solitaire and I would spend hours playing them when I stayed with her. There is something meditative about shuffling cards and solving a puzzle. This will be handy when in solitude and if I am ever rescued, playing cards is a good way to break the ice with strangers. 

About Katie Wells:

Kate lives not far from the coast in East Yorkshire with her family, three Jack Russells and a dopey ferret. She is an avid reader, book hoarder, blogger and tea addict. She is on the RNA New Writer’s Scheme and currently searching for a home for her first complete novel, A Blend of Magic. To raise awareness of a neurological condition, dystonia she is taking part in the #DystoniaAroundThe World challenge and sharing the flash fiction she writes on her blog. 

Find out more about Katie:

Website: https://katekenzie.com

Blog: https://fromundertheduvet.co.uk

Twitter: @DuvetDwellers@kakenzie101

Facebook: K A Kenzie Writer / From Under The Duvet

Instagram: @kakenzie101 / @duvetdwellerbooks

Dystonia Around The World Fundraising page: https://www.dystoniaaroundtheworld.org/fundraiser/katekenzie

I’ve got a feeling this feature may prove very bad for my bank balance! If anyone fancying having a go at picking their own Desert Island Books, please get in touch.

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Romancing The Romance Authors… with Claire Huston

Romancing The Romance Authors

Today is the day! The first instalment in my new feature, Romancing The Romance Authors, where I interview an author of romantic fiction about what makes their love-filled heart tick, what influences their writing, and ask them to give me and other budding romance authors some tips on the genre.

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I am delighted to welcome as my first guineapig guest, lovely romance author and friend of the blog, Claire Huston. Claire won my #underwatervampireerotica competition (it’s a long story) at this year’s RNA virtual conference to be awarded this dubious honour, so let’s hope it was worth it.

Now for those searing questions we all want the answers to!

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

I self-published my debut contemporary romance in April this year. I’ve finished my second book since, another contemporary romance, but I don’t know yet whether that one will be traditionally published or whether I’ll self-publish again. Watch this space!

Why romance?

I enjoy reading a range of different genres. But when it comes to writing, I think I’ve gravitated towards romance because if I’m going to spend months inhabiting a story I want it to have a happy resolution in which things turn out well for the deserving characters. Writing a romance is making a little island of happiness and fairness for readers who live in a world in which those things often struggle to prevail. It’s like spinning a joyful dream you can share with others. 

What inspires your stories?

All sorts of things. Books, movies, conversations with friends, random things overhead when out and about… It all marinates in the back of my mind and eventually ideas emerge out of the soup!

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

Sorry for the unoriginal answer, but I have to say Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. We read Jane Eyre at school when I was twelve, and I think it’s probably influenced me more than I’ll ever realise. 

In the present there are just too many brilliant romance authors to mention so I won’t start in case anyone feels I’ve left them out ☺

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

Persuasion by Jane Austen. It’s my favourite Austen and is often overlooked, partly because it hasn’t had as many lavish screen adaptations as her other works. It’s wonderful and particularly impressive when you consider she was already ill when she wrote it. It hints at how terrific her future books would have been had she not died so young.

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At twenty-seven, Anne Elliot is no longer young and has few romantic prospects. Eight years earlier, she had been persuaded by her friend Lady Russell to break off her engagement to Frederick Wentworth, a handsome naval captain with neither fortune or rank. What happens when they encounter each other again is movingly told in Jane Austen’s last completed novel. Set in the fashionable societies of Lyme Regis and Bath, Persuasion is a brilliant satire of vanity and pretension, but, above all, it is a love story tinged with the heartache of missed opportunities.

Persuasion is my favourite Austen novel too and it may be making an appearance on the blog soon in some guise! Which romantic hero would you choose to spend your perfect romantic weekend with? Where would you go and what would you do?

This answer will make me sound weird, but… I think the best romances are so effective because readers don’t just fall for the hero, but rather come to love the idea of him and his other half as a couple. It’s the combination of two characters we root for. And so I don’t think I could go off for a romantic weekend with any of the heroes in my favourite books because I’d spend the whole time counselling them about their relationship with their fictional other half and telling them to get back to them! The meddling romance novelist in me couldn’t let it go!

In that sense, I’d probably have a better weekend at a spa with a romantic heroine. I could have a good gossip with Lizzy Bennett and find out how she’s managing Darcy and his ten thousand a year.

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

Getting to talk to other romance writers who are in the same boat as you. Writing can be a lonely and frustrating business. The RNA are a warm, helpful, friendly community and the advice and support of your fellow members when you’re struggling can stop you from wanting to chuck it all in and never pick up a pen again.

I must give a special mention to the Birmingham Chapter members who are the only ones I’ve ever been able to meet regularly in person. They’re a lovely, incredibly talented group and hopefully we’ll be able to see each other soon as I’ve missed our meet ups!

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

There’s no right way to write a book. You may hear prescriptive advice telling you what you must and mustn’t do, such as “You must write every day”. But when I hear definitive statements like that I always think, “What utter rubbish!” 

If you’re starting out it’s likely that you’re squeezing writing in around all the other pressing commitments in your life. So write however suits you and whenever you can. If it works for you and gets you to “the end”, go for it.

Tell us about your latest book.

My debut novel, Art and Soul, came out in April 2020. It’s available in ebook and paperback and free to download with Kindle Unlimited. You can buy it here.

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An expert at solving other people’s problems, single mum Becky is hired to help artist Charlie get out of his creative slump. But when she starts falling for her client, will she be able to fix her own love life?

A heart-warming, uplifting romance served with a generous slice of cake.

About the author

Claire Huston author photo 2020

Claire Huston lives in Warwickshire with her husband and two children. Art and Soul is her first novel.

A keen amateur baker, she enjoys making cakes, biscuits and brownies almost as much as eating them. You can find recipes for all the cakes mentioned in Art and Soul at clairehuston.co.uk along with over 100 other recipes. This is also where she talks about and reviews books.

Connect with Claire:

Website: https://clairehuston.co.uk

Facebook: Claire Huston Author

Twitter: @ClaraVal

Instagram: @clairehuston_author

If you are a romance author and think you would enjoy answering this random assortment of questions about writing romance, please do get in touch and you can take part in a future instalment of Romancing The Romance Authors.

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