The 2022 Romantic Novel Award Winners’ Interviews with…. Sheila Norton

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Today I am delighted to be chatting to one of this year’s RONA Award Winners about her win and her writing. Winner of the Christmas / Festive Holiday Romantic Novel Award for her book, Winter at Cliff’s End Cottage. It’s author… Sheila Norton.

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Sheila, congratulations on your win and thank you very much for agreeing to appear on my blog. The Christmas/Festive Holiday Romantic Novel Award was a new category for the awards in 2022. How does it feel to be the winner of the inaugural award?

To be honest, it still feels slightly unreal! I had noticed, during last year, that there was a new award category, and wondered whether my book would be a fit. It’s set in the winter but not specifically at Christmas (although Christmas does happen during the story), so I thought probably not, and anyway I wouldn’t have had the nerve to suggest that my book could be a contender! So it was my editor who entered it, and I didn’t find this out until I got the email saying it had been shortlisted. I was so thrilled about being shortlisted, I honestly hadn’t allowed myself to think any further. So when my name was called out as the category winner, I was stunned! It’s such a massive honour. I keep looking at the award and smiling to myself! The fact that the winners are chosen by volunteer readers makes it all the more special, as it’s readers, of course, that we all want to please with our stories.

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?

I was writing little stories for my friends almost as soon as I was old enough to write, and I had poems published in the school magazine when I was a bit older. So it was always ‘my thing’ – I was lucky enough that it came naturally to me, and no, I never had any training or lessons in creative writing. I’m sure they would be helpful for people who want to start from scratch as adults, but when I was younger, there was nothing of the kind on offer anyway! In my case, I always wanted to be an author but didn’t know how to go about getting published, so I would have found that kind of advice useful, if only there had been anywhere to get it!  As it happens, I went down the route of writing short stories before ever attempting a novel, and I do think this was a good ‘apprenticeship’. For over a decade, I was quite successful with my short stories and that gave me more confidence. After finally writing my first novel when I was in my early fifties, it took me eighteen months of submitting to agents and publishers before it was accepted. So I’d advise anyone to be patient, don’t expect overnight success! – and definitely don’t give up. And – this might sound obvious – only write if it’s what you love doing more than anything else. It’s very rarely the route to fame or riches, but if you love it, do it for its own sake, and keep the day job until you’re sure you don’t need it!

You have had a career spanning an amazing twenty years so far and this is your twenty-fourth novel, with hopefully many more to come. What is the secret to keeping a successful writing career going for so long? How do you keep your ideas and your writing fresh?

First of all, it’s important to say that success isn’t always ongoing! I’ve had some serious ups and downs in my career, disappointments as well as successes. Getting a publishing contract doesn’t mean you’re set for life, and having learnt this lesson, I now resolve to just enjoy the highs while they last! I think being adaptable is very important. For instance, I took up self-publishing when I was ‘between publishers’, and enjoyed the experience. Then I got the offer of a new publication deal, by writing something completely different from before, so I grabbed the chance. Over the years I’ve written in a few different sub-genres, so that in itself has stopped me getting stale. And it’s true, it’s not always easy to come up with fresh ideas. I often use the ‘what if . . .?’ way of thinking; imagine a couple of characters, what their relationship is, and then think: ‘What if this, or that, happened to them?’ It’s a starting point, anyway.

I know that the publication schedule often requires authors to be writing Christmas books in the height of summer. Was this the case with this book? What do to channel the festive spirit into your writing?

Strangely enough I didn’t set out to write a Winter/Christmas story in this case, but once I got started on it, I decided a winter background would work well with the scenario of the old house sitting bleakly on the edge of the cliff. And I actually finished writing this book quite a long time before it was published, because I knew that, once again, my agent and I needed to find a new publisher for it. This was because my previous publisher wasn’t going to be producing fiction anymore (yes, another setback!). Also, I then had lots of extra writing time, due to the lockdowns. So I’m not even sure, now, whether I was writing it during winter, spring or summer! Probably all of them! But yes, of course, we do have to try not to be influenced by the weather outside . . . or by anything else going on outside our stories, really! I think, while I’m writing, I’m so caught up in the story and the lives of my characters that I forget about the real world – which is sometimes a blessing!

You have said that this has been your favourite book to write so far. What is it about this book that you enjoyed creating so much? What inspired this particular story?

I loved creating the characters in this story; I always enjoy my characters, of course, but in this case, Stella – the older woman – seemed to take on a persona of her own. I wanted her to be a spiky, independent lady who’d led a really interesting life, overcome lots of difficulties and was determined not to complain or ask for help. The younger character, Holly, is a hard-working single mum who has her own problems and I loved describing how they became friends. I also put a little bit of World War 2 history in this story; I don’t write historical fiction and it’s only a few of Stella’s memories from her wartime childhood, but it was something different for me and added to the challenge. And there were poignant moments in the story; I love making my readers shed a tear as well as having a smile!

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?

I joined the RNA in 2003 when my first book was published. My editor told me about it; I hadn’t heard of it before then, so I didn’t have the benefit of joining their New Writers’ Scheme but would strongly recommend it for any new romantic fiction writers. But I’ve had other benefits: for instance, I’ve made some lovely author friends. My favourite thing about being a member is definitely my local ‘chapter’. We meet up once a month for lunch and a good chat (it was on Zoom during the pandemic of course), and the exchange of views, news, advice and support among us has been wonderful. I’ve also benefited from advice and encouragement from other RNA authors all over the country on social media, and met up with some of them at various events over the years. Everyone who takes on voluntary ‘jobs’ with the RNA gives up their time and help for us all, and I have so much gratitude and respect for them, from the Chair to those who help with the events, the magazine, the website, helping to secure PR opportunities like this for us! – and so much more. So thank you, RNA – I’m so glad I found you!

What can we expect from you next in your writing?

Like all my recent novels, the next one will be set in a fictitious location in Devon, and this time the central characters will be two neighbours, both of whom are at turning points in their lives and trying to come to terms with their new circumstances. This book – I won’t mention the title, as they are so often changed at this point! – is due for release later in the year, but I don’t yet have a definite publication date as it’s currently going through the editing process. While this is happening, I’m already working on the next novel to follow this one – and that will be a story about two sisters. We always need to be a couple of steps ahead! Beyond that . . . well, I intend to keep writing as long as I’m physically and mentally capable. So I hope to keep coming up with more ideas for heartwarming, character-led stories. 

Meanwhile, thanks so much for this interview and congratulations on your great blog!

That’s very kind of you to say, but it would be nothing without you great authors and your books, which give me so much to write about, so thank you!

Sheila’s winning novel Winter at Cliff’s End Cottage is available now in all formats and you can buy your copy here.

Winter at Cliff's End Cottage

Cliff’s End Cottage is a local landmark. Perched on the South Devon coast, its garden has begun slowly toppling into the sea, yet the elderly and infamously stubborn owner Stella refuses to leave her home. When Holly, a young journalist and single mum struggling to make ends meet, decides to interview Stella about her life, at first she’s given short shrift. However, helped by a slice or two of cake and a couple of friendly cats, a tentative friendship begins to develop between the two lonely women.

Stella and Holly may live different lives, but over the cold winter nights, as Stella shares her story, the two women discover more and more in common. Time is running out for the house on the edge, but perhaps, together, Stella and Holly can find a new way forward.

Sheila Norton lives with her husband near Chelmsford in Essex, and part-time near Torquay in Devon. She spent most of her working life as a medical secretary, before retiring in 2008 to concentrate on her writing. During the years she spent bringing up her three daughters, she took various jobs including teaching the piano and recorder, doing home typing, and working in a playgroup, but always wanted to be an author. She had over 100 short stories published before the acceptance of her first novel, published in 2003. She now has six grandchildren, and also has two cats – the latest in a succession of dogs and cats who have inspired some of her recent stories! When not working on her writing, Sheila most enjoys spending time with her family and friends, as well as reading, walking, playing the piano, and photography, and loves exploring the contrasting countrysides of Essex and Devon.

Connect with Sheila:

Website: www.sheilanorton.com
Facebook: Sheila Norton Author
Twitter: @NortonSheilaann
Instagram: @Sheilaann.norton

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RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Jenny Bayliss

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Today has felt very spring-like here in Yorkshire, so it seems an odd time to be a talking about Christmas/ Festive Holiday Romantic novels, but that is the category in which my next guest was short-listed in this years Romantic Novel Awards, with her book, The Winter of Second Chances. Welcome to the blog… Jenny Bayliss.

Jenny Bayliss, Christmas : Festive Holiday Romantic Novel, Romantic Novel Awards 2022

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

Thank you for inviting me! I am drinking a hot chocolate with a generous shot of brandy in it. It’s my Friday night treat through the winter months.  

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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?

Oh, definitely out for dinner. I’m not much of a drinker – my Friday night tipple is the sum total of my alcohol consumption each week – so, for me a meal out always wins over drinks. But equally, some of the best foodie places in my area are pubs, so I would probably take you to The Radnor Arms or The Pullman in Folkestone. Both of them are really old, crooked buildings with open fires and dark corners for cosy evenings. And in the summer they have gorgeous outside spaces to enjoy the balmy evenings.

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?

Gosh, that’s a hard one! I would love to chat with Nora Ephron. She wrote two of my favourite films; When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail. There was a magic to her writing. Her dialogue was so witty, the back and forth between her characters was fast paced and energetic. And I think my male guest would have to be Richard Ayoade. He’s so deadpan I think he would be a brilliant dinner companion. He seems to have a way of finding the ludicrous in everyday things. I guess I’ve chosen two natural wits. I’m quite shy so I find myself drawn to people who can hold a room. I like people who make me laugh, I think being able to do that is a gift. 

I think those are two great choices, that would make for a fun evening. 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 am currently working on re-writes and edits for two books. The third in my Malice in Underland middle-grade and my next festive romance novel, Meet Me Under the Mistletoe, which will be published this November. 

In this book, as well as finding new love, I really wanted to explore the shared history of friendships and how they change over the years. I have three friends that I went to school with, we don’t all live near each other, one of our number spent a decade living abroad. But we have seen each other through births, deaths, heartbreaks and celebrations. We are in many ways quite different to how we were as girls and yet on the rare occasions we are all together, those years just fall away. So, I wanted to write about those bonds and perceptions and how new understandings and love can be born out of old allegiances. Also, it’s set in a castle – I love a castle – which meant I could convince my husband that our holiday last year had to be a tour of British castles for inspiration hee-hee!  

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

My proudest moment was definitely holding my first novel, The Twelve Dates of Christmas. I had been writing for so many years and never had anything published, so to hold that book in my hand at forty-six years young was literally my dream come true. I still can’t quite believe it! 

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On the first day of Christmas, a dating app offered me
Twelve tailored chances for perfect harmony . . .

Kate Turner is happily single – a bit too happily, in fact. Since returning to her hometown, the sleepy village of Blexford, love hasn’t really had a look in.

But Kate does love Christmas. So when her best friend insists she signs up to the Twelve Dates of Christmas, a brand new dating app service, she doesn’t need too much persuading. Twelve perfect festive dates with the area’s most eligible men – who could say no?

Amongst the twinkling lights and falling snow, over hot chocolates and glasses of red wine, romance is easy to find. But with each date, Kate learns more about the men, and even more about herself.

As the big day approaches, Kate’s left wondering – is it really the season for true love, or will this Christmas be the coldest yet?

My biggest challenge was writing my second novel, The Winter of Second Chances. I had the worst imposter syndrome. My first novel was like a dream and then my second was pressure! What if everyone hated it? What if my agent and publisher decided that I couldn’t write at all, and that Twelve Dates had just been a lucky fluke? As I pressed send on the final draft, I had my eyes closed tight, I was so nervous. I think after so many years of trying and hoping that I’d one day be an author, I felt like I wasn’t worthy; like I was doing doggy-paddle in the deep end of the pool while all the real authors were doing an effortless front crawl. Feeling like I’m allowed to call myself a writer is something I’m still working on; I think there’s probably a lot of writers who feel like that.   

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 be a New York Times Bestseller! I would like to have that Bestseller sticker on my books, imagine that! That’s the dream! 

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

I am always excited when I get to have both my sons’ home at the same time. It doesn’t happen very often, they both have jobs and lives and live away from home, so when I get have to have all my ducks in a row, that feels like the world is as it should be. My eldest son is bringing his girlfriend home this weekend, so that is very exciting! And at Easter, I have booked both boys and their partners to come home, which just makes me blissfully happy.  

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 have two favourite places that stand out in my mind, both of which I would love to visit again. The first is New York. One of my friends from school that I mentioned earlier, lived in Manhattan and so for our fortieth birthdays we saved up to go visit her. It was wonderful, I fell in love with the vibe of the city. 

The other place is the Lake District. We went there on a family holiday a few years ago in October, when the colours were at their autumnal best. I have never seen anything more beautiful. I could have stayed forever. 

At the very very top of my bucket list is visiting Scotland. I am slightly obsessed with it. In my perfect dream, we travel up on the sleeper train – thus feeding into all my Agatha Christie fantasies – then hire a car and tour around Scotland. I want to absorb it all from Edinburgh to the wild highlands and the lochs. I have this idea that I’d like to move there and live by a loch and have a massive walk-in larder that would see us through the harshest winter, hee-hee. 

I hope your Agatha Christie fantasy doesn’t include the murder part! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

Cripes! That’s another tricky one, I’m quite boring! Many moons ago when my sister was at Art College, she needed naked life models to draw and paint, and in the absence of anyone else willing to take their kit off, it fell to me. She painted a rather lovely picture of my naked back and bottom – which incidentally was four whole sizes smaller back then – and it went on show in an Art Gallery. During the opening night, the local paper covered the show. The journalist took a picture of the painting with my sister and I standing next to it. So, my naked bottom depicted in acrylic has been in a newspaper! I have the original canvas on my bedroom wall so that I can look back remember that once upon a time I had a bottom that didn’t resemble two basket balls in a sack. 

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’?

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty was one of my favourite books last year. The whole story was understated genius. Liane Moriarty has this way of making the mundane minutia of daily life absolutely critical. I cannot say enough good things about it.  

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The Delaney family love one another dearly – it’s just that sometimes they want to murder each other . . .

Joy Delaney and husband Stan have done well. Four wonderful grown-up children. A family business to envy. The golden years of retirement ahead of them.

So when Joy Delaney vanishes – no note, no calls, her bike missing – it’s natural that tongues will wag.

How did Stan scratch his face? And who was the stranger who entered and suddenly left their lives? What are they all hiding?

But for the Delaney children there is a much more terrifying question: did they ever know their parents at all?

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?

Aha, well, I’m not so much of a drinker these days. But when I was younger, back in the days when I would drink till 3am and then get up at 7am for work, I would drink a pint of water right before bed. Drinking that whole pint of water meant that I didn’t get the dehydration which is mostly what a hangover is. If I did that, most times I could avoid a hangover. But if it didn’t work, then I’d eat carbs all the following day, a no holds barred carb-fest. So, I guess my hangover prevention and cure is to feed and water it liberally! Which now I think about it, is pretty much my solution to any problem!  

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

My perfect weekends are not terribly exciting, my favourite kinds are those that are slow and meandering. I would meet family at the beach for a coffee and a catch up. I live really near the beach and there are two brilliant coffee huts to choose from along the long promenade. Later, weather permitting I would do some gardening, it’s not a big garden but I grow as much as I can in it; some might call it overcrowded! If the weather is bad, then I’ll be snuggling down with a couple of episodes of Poirot or an old Columbo and reading my foodie magazines, tearing out recipes I’d like to try as I go. Nothing relaxes me like a spot of cosy crime on the telly and some food inspiration. On top of that, a couple of hours of uninterrupted reading is a glorious weekend treat. I usually read for an hour before bed each night, but to have the time to read during the day on a weekend feels wonderfully decadent. And then I’ll either cook, or we’ll get a takeaway for dinner and watch a movie. Like I said, not terribly exciting but Oh so relaxing!

Sounds pretty perfect to me! Thanks for chatting to me tonight, Jenny, i have enjoyed it immensely.

Jenny’s RONA short-listed novel, The Winter of Second Chances, is available now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Jenny Bayliss, Christmas : Festive Holiday Romantic Novel, Romantic Novel Awards 2022, The Winter of Second Chances BOOK COVER

Annie Sharpe has it all – an acclaimed restaurant she owns with her handsome husband Max, and two gorgeous grown-up sons. But after one indiscretion too many, she leaves behind the only life she’s ever known.

In search of a fresh start, Annie takes up a position as a caretaker of Saltwater Nook, a creaky but charming beach house on Kent’s beautiful, wild coastline. The village community is an eccentric but tightknit bunch, and Annie is swept up in a whirlwind of their traditional festive celebrations, from pumpkin carving to bonfires on the beach. It soon feels like home – she even reopens the long-dormant seafront café.

The only thorns in her side are John, the owner’s rugged but totally unreasonable nephew who has his own agenda for the house, and a persistent Max, intent on winning her back.

Salwater Nook has been the perfect escape, but Annie can’t run from her problems forever. Will she give her first love a second chance? Or step into the promise of a new life?

Jenny Bayliss lives with her husband in a small Kent town near the sea, their children having grown and flown the nest. She attended Canterbury Christ Church University as a mature student and graduated with a BA in Creative and Professional Writing. Throughout her various jobs over the years – waitress, pub cook, cruise consultant, auxiliary nurse, baker, antique jewellers assistant – writing has remained her passion and she is now finally able to live her dream of writing books for a living. Jenny writes romantic novels, middle-grade books and YA fiction. She enjoys coffee, beach walks, reading, chocolate, and wearing flouncy dresses, though not necessarily in that order or all at the same time.

Connect with Jenny:

Twitter: @BaylissJenni

Instagram: @jennibayliss

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RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Sheila Norton

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Tonight is the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Novel Awards 2022 ceremony so I’m not sure if anyone will actually be reading this, you’ll all probably be glued to Twitter as I will be to see who the winners are. However, I am still delighted to be welcoming to the blog another of the shortlisted authors for a drink and a chat. Tonight, my guest has been shortlisted in the category of Christmas / Festive Holiday Romantic Novel for her book, Winter at Cliff’s End Cottage. It’s author… Sheila Norton.

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

A large glass of red wine for me, please! Merlot or Malbec are my favourites. Red wine is good for you, obviously! 

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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?

There’s a nice country-type pub near my home in Galleywood, on the outskirts of Chelmsford. It’s called the Horse and Groom, and it sits on Galleywood Common. It used to be in the middle of a horse-racing track years ago. Sitting outside this pub on a fine evening, we could imagine ourselves to be in the depths of the countryside instead of in suburban Essex.

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?

My famous male would definitely be William Shakespeare. I fell in love with his work while I was studying for my English A-level, and still love to see a Shakespeare play. For my famous female, I’d choose our Queen Elizabeth. I never used to be particularly interested in royalty, but recently, I’ve come to realise she could well be the last of a breed of British royalty we’ll never see again: all those years of putting duty above everything else, unlike some of her family we could mention! She might not be a barrel of laughs on our evening out but Will Shakespeare will make up for that with some of his bawdy lines!

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?

OK, I’m working on my twenty-fifth novel right now, although I’m aware that I’ll soon have to return to the twenty-fourth, which is due for release later this year, because I’ll soon be getting the editing work on that one to do for my publisher. Number twenty-five is in the very early stages; I started it after Christmas, it’s about two sisters who have never really got along together but end up on a shared holiday and start to find out some truths about their relationship. Like all my recent novels, it’s set in South Devon. Where do I want it to go? Well, I always hope to be able to get to the end without wanting to completely delete it all and start again!!  I’d like to finish it, be pleased with it, get a contract for its publication and, hopefully, sell some copies to people who enjoy it! Which is my constant prayer!

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

It’s a tough one to choose, for my proudest moment, between the day I received the email accepting my first novel for publication, back in 2002, and the day a few weeks ago when I received another email, telling me my book Winter at Cliff’s End Cottage had been shortlisted for this award!

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!

Ha! Well, of course I’d love to have a bestselling novel – wouldn’t we all! Even if I had one that was ‘moderately’ best-selling, that would be wonderful. I don’t want to be rich or famous but I’d just like the recognition. And in a way, that’s what’s so marvellous about this short-listing: without even being a bestseller I feel that this is a kind of recognition.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Can I list more than one?!  Firstly, the Awards Ceremony that I’ve been shortlisted for! Then, a lovely trip to London to see a show and have a meal, with my three daughters and two sisters-in-law. This has been planned since before the pandemic and (fingers crossed) is finally going to happen next month. And third, a holiday to the Greek island of Santorini in May with my husband and two friends. Again, this was supposed to happen in 2020 and has been deferred twice, so it feels all the more exciting that it’s finally, we hope, going to happen this year.

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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’ve been fortunate enough to do quite a lot of travelling since I retired from the day job. But of all the countries we’ve visited, I loved New Zealand the best. I’m a sucker for beautiful scenery, and NZ has it all: lakes, mountains, fjords, beaches – it’s so beautiful and uncrowded, but small enough to travel over the whole of it in one trip (unlike Canada, which is also really beautiful, but so big!). My bucket list these days is more modest as at my age now, I’m finding long haul travel quite difficult. But there are still places in Europe I’d like to see. I think the southern tip of Italy would be top of my list now: Puglia. 

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

Not really a secret, but I have a couple of peculiarities! I’ve been a vegetarian since childhood. I know it’s very common now and even seen as virtuous, but it was unheard-of back then in the 1950s, it worried my parents to death and made them cross. But I quite simply never liked meat and absolutely hate fish. Even the smell of fish makes me feel sick, so I can’t handle it or cook it although I do cook meat for my other half, and even ate a little of it while my kids were young so that I didn’t influence them with my ‘strange habits’. But I’d never be able to eat fish, and worse still, I can’t even look at it without feeling sick. So I have to avert my gaze if someone is eating it opposite me in a restaurant, and if I’m in a fishing port, seeing fish in a net turns my stomach, never mind the smell! But weirdly, I love snorkelling when I’ve been on holidays, and am happy for LIVE fish to swim around me.

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’?

One that really took my breath away was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

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Marie-Laure has been blind since the age of six. Her father builds a perfect miniature of their Paris neighbourhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. But when the Nazis invade, father and daughter flee with a dangerous secret.

Werner is a German orphan, destined to labour in the same mine that claimed his father’s life, until he discovers a knack for engineering. His talent wins him a place at a brutal military academy, but his way out of obscurity is built on suffering.

At the same time, far away in a walled city by the sea, an old man discovers new worlds without ever setting foot outside his home. But all around him, impending danger closes in.

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?

Ha ha! I don’t drink enough, these days, to get a hangover. Unfortunately at my age I don’t have the constitution for it anymore! But I have had plenty of experience in the past, and plenty of regrets. Having worked in hospitals, after difficult days my colleagues and I often used to have impromptu parties and I’m afraid I never did find any way to prevent a hangover (apart from not drinking much!), or a cure that worked! I just suffered, as I probably deserved!

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

I’d like a lie-in, if my cats would let me, reading a good book. Then a leisurely breakfast, a nice walk out in the fresh air with my other half, and then we’d get together with our favourite people: our three lovely daughters, their husbands and the total of six grandchildren – perhaps we’d all go out for lunch together. Bliss!

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That does sound like bliss! Thank you for joining me virtually this evening, Sheila, I hope you enjoy the actual ceremony in real life and I wish you luck.

Sheila’s shortlisted novel Winter at Cliff’s End Cottage is available now in all formats and you can buy your copy here.

Winter at Cliff's End Cottage

Cliff’s End Cottage is a local landmark. Perched on the South Devon coast, its garden has begun slowly toppling into the sea, yet the elderly and infamously stubborn owner Stella refuses to leave her home. When Holly, a young journalist and single mum struggling to make ends meet, decides to interview Stella about her life, at first she’s given short shrift. However, helped by a slice or two of cake and a couple of friendly cats, a tentative friendship begins to develop between the two lonely women.

Stella and Holly may live different lives, but over the cold winter nights, as Stella shares her story, the two women discover more and more in common. Time is running out for the house on the edge, but perhaps, together, Stella and Holly can find a new way forward.

Sheila Norton lives with her husband near Chelmsford in Essex, and part-time near Torquay in Devon. She spent most of her working life as a medical secretary, before retiring in 2008 to concentrate on her writing. During the years she spent bringing up her three daughters, she took various jobs including teaching the piano and recorder, doing home typing, and working in a playgroup, but always wanted to be an author. She had over 100 short stories published before the acceptance of her first novel, published in 2003. She now has six grandchildren, and also has two cats – the latest in a succession of dogs and cats who have inspired some of her recent stories! When not working on her writing, Sheila most enjoys spending time with her family and friends, as well as reading, walking, playing the piano, and photography, and loves exploring the contrasting countrysides of Essex and Devon.

Connect with Sheila:

Website: www.sheilanorton.com
Facebook: Sheila Norton Author
Twitter: @NortonSheilaann
Instagram: @Sheilaann.norton

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Blog Tour: Christmas Carols and a Cornish Cream Tea by Cressida McLaughlin

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All Meredith Verren has ever wanted is to escape the holiday season without having to wear a Christmas jumper. Her new job at the cosy gift shop in a picturesque Cornish tourist spot is making it impossible for her to maintain her scrooge-like manner.

With their seasonal hampers on everyone’s wish list, Meredith must paste on a smile and fake some holiday cheer. Then she meets handsome new arrival, Finn, who wishes it could be Christmas every day and wants her to feel the same way too.

Can she embrace the holly and the ivy before the decorations are packed away for another year?

What could be more perfect for my first Christmas book of the season than the lastest book in one of my favourite series by one of my favourite authors? Nothing is the answer, which is why I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Christmas Carols and a Cornish Cream Tea by Cressida McLaughlin, which was published yesterday. Huge thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publicity team at HarperCollins for providing me with a copy of the book for purposes of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially as always.

This is the latest book in the Cornish Cream Tea series but the action moves in this book from Porthgolow to the nearby town of Port Karadow, where we meet a new character, Meredith, who is not a big fan of Christmas. This is a bit of a disadvantage when she works in a gift shop and is in charge of pushing and promoting products for the Christmas season. When her neighbour has her house decorated like the outside of the Rockefeller Centre and her best friend is planning the Christmas light display for the town. Christmas is everywhere, and there is no avoiding it, however much she might try.

There is nothing more delightful than a Christmas book set in Cornwall, and Cressida has milked the opportunities presented by this premise to the max. This book is bedecked with as much glitter, cosiness and festive cheer as you could possibly hope for, it is the knobbliest, fullest Christmas stocking of a book that you could possibly pick up and will get you perfectly in the mood for the Christmas season. There are lights, parades, carolling, parties and celebrations galore and you’ll wish you were spending Christmas at Port Karadow by the end of it.

On top of this, Meredith meets a man who charms, thrills and infuriates her all at the same time. Finn has come into Meredith’s life to teach her the real meaning of Christmas and show her that she can enjoy this time of year if she just starts to look at it differently. But Finn has issues of his own, can Meredith help him in return? I absolutely loved the way the relationship developed between Finn and Meredith. I was completely in love with both of them by the end of the book, to the point where I had a real lump in my throat and a tear in my eye at the denouement of the book.

This was only very loosely connected to the Cornish Cream Tea series, and for me this book had a different feel from the previous ones, but this isn’t a negative thing, it is nice to see Cressida taking the books in a fresh direction and I really enjoyed the new characters and setting introduced here. I am really looking forward to seeing what comes next since, in a recent interview, Cressida has confirmed that there are more stories to come in this series. Who wouldn’t want to pay more visits to the beautiful Cornish coast for more romantic encounters?

Christmas Carols and a Cornish Cream Tea is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Please do check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour for alternative reviews and other great content:

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About the Author

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Cressy was born in South East London surrounded by books and with a cat named after Lawrence of Arabia. She studied English at the University of East Anglia and now lives in Norwich with her husband David. When she isn’t writing, Cressy spends her spare time reading, returning to London or exploring the beautiful Norfolk coastline.

Connect with Cressida:

Website: https://www.cressidamclaughlin.com/

Facebook: Cressida McLaughlin Author

Twitter: @CressMcLaughlin

Instagram: @cressmclaughlin

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Friday Night Drinks with… Annette Hannah

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Tonight’s guest on Friday Night Drinks is someone I have been lucky enough to actually drink with in person, an event which has ever embedded me in her mind as ‘the woman who fell off an office chair.. twice.’ Tonight, with my seat firmly positioned beneath my derriere, I am delighted to welcome to the blog, author… Annette Hannah.

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

Thank you so much for having me on your lovely blog. As it’s Friday night I think it has to be my favourite cocktail, a cosmopolitan, gloriously pink with a swirl of orange peel in it. Clink cheers.

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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?

Ooh I think one of the best nights in London I had was a Christmas cocktail night in Drake and Morgan. It was hosted by Sara-Jade Virtue and the Books and the City team over at Simon and Schuster. They had custom made cocktails and I remember a gin fizz one which was delicious So I think we would go there. Its handy for St Pancras station too.

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?

It would have to be Jackie Collins as she was my all-time favourite author. I met her a couple of weeks before she passed and what struck me was that she was so genuinely interested in her readers. She wished me luck with my writing too as I’d confided in her that I’d been dabbling. I think for the man it would be Adam Levine from Maroon 5 because I just love their songs and we could ask him to sing for us.

I’m very jealous of you meeting Jackie! Did you see the documentary about her recently, it was fascinating. 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 Poppy’s Christmas Wishes is my third published book but it was actually the first book I ever wrote. I’d been wanting to write forever and after a brief stint when my three children were tiny I realized I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. About six years ago I became part of a promotional team for my favourite author Milly Johnson, just by answering a call out on facebook. I was then invited to a blogger evening by Simon and Schuster and from then on I became a blogger. This helped me to find my voice and when authors started using my quotes in their books I actually couldn’t believe it. I made lots of blogging and writing friends and the lovely Vicki Bowles told me about the Romantic Novelists’ Association which I joined on their New Writers’ Scheme. Simon and Schuster hold a one-day submission event for non-agented writers every year, so I plucked up the courage to write the first three chapters of Poppy’s Christmas Wishes and submitted it. Then I panicked, what if they asked for the rest? This prompted me to finish the book in a month, and that was it my dream of writing a book had come true. It was rejected by S&S and I sent it out to a couple of other places but I realise now how naive I was then as it was a first draft and I hadn’t edited it at all. After writing my other books I decided to edit it and send it to through the New Writers’ Scheme for a second time and then my editor at Orion Dash offered me another two-book deal.

The idea for the book came about ten years ago when I was on a Christmas night out and my friends and I met a man who was playing a genie in his local pantomime. I thought it would be a perfect theme for a book and so along came Poppy’s Christmas Wishes. I would love to see it on telly as a cosy Christmas movie, snuggled up on the couch with my daughter with a hot chocolate in hand and snow falling outside the window.

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

My proudest moment has to be when the lovely and amazing Milly Johnson said she would provide a quote for my debut novel Wedding Bells at the Signal Box Café

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I think the biggest challenge so far has to be trying to get your book published as I’d tried for a few years but I didn’t hang around waiting I just kept writing more books as after the first one it felt as though a tap had been turned on and my head is constantly filled with story ideas.

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 to have a film or a telly deal, because I see my writing in my head as though it’s a film playing before me so I think it would be fascinating to actually sit and watch it with my family and friends.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

I’m currently working on a book at the moment which is really exciting and quite different to the others. The whole story has formed in my head so I just need to get it down, I also have a dual timeline book that I wrote a few years ago which I think is my favourite out of all the books I’ve written. I’m hoping to edit that again soon and get it out there.

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 also love to travel, just before the dreaded lockdown my husband and I recreated a holiday we had years ago but this time with our children. We went to Australia and Singapore and I think Singapore has to be one of my favourite places ever, the Zoo is just wonderful. We all loved it. I also loved Venice and Monte Carlo and San Francisco. So many places. Santorini is a place I’d like to visit one day.

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

As well as being a blogger and an author I’m also Press Officer for the RNA and on the committee

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’?

Oooh that’s a hard one as I’ve read so many fantastic books in my life but there are two that have stayed with me from my teenage days, Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews and Chances by Jackie Collins. I don’t know if it’s because they featured young people like I was at the time but I think for Flowers in the Attic, the wickedness was so shocking in it and I fell in love with Christopher, I also fell in love with Gino actually from Chances so maybe that’s why they meant so much to me, they were my first book boyfriend crushes.

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The book that made Jackie Collins one of Britain’s favourite authors sweeps you from the sophisticated playgrounds of Europe to the glittering gambling palaces of Las Vegas. It plunges you into the reckless, dangerous world of the Santangelo crime family. It introduces you to Gino Santangelo, the street kid who makes it all the way to the top. And then it brings you Lucky – his sensual, stunningly beautiful, and passionate daughter; a woman who dares to win her father’s empire for herself; a woman unafraid of taking … CHANCES.

Flowers in the Attic is one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read, although not as creepy as My Sweet Audrina by the same author! 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?

I like to try and drink water between sips of alcoholic drinks and recently started drinking J20 apple and raspberry which is quite cocktail like. If I do have one which is very rare thankfully, then I like a glass of fresh orange with my daughter’s specialty of bacon done in the air fryer on a toasted bagel with avocado in it. It is so delicious and perfect for non-hangover days too.

I had bacon on a toasted bagel for lunch today, although I like mine with roasted cherry tomatoes. It’s even nicer if you spread the bagel with Boursin instead of butter! After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

A little bit of shopping and a gorgeous afternoon tea in a posh hotel.

Sounds perfect! Annette, thanks for chatting to me this evening, I’ve had a blast and managed to stay on the chair! Good luck with the new book.

Annette’s new book, Poppy’s Christmas Wishes, is out as an ebook on 2 December and you can pre-order it here.

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What would you wish for if you were granted three wishes?

For the first time she can remember, Poppy is dreading Christmas. Unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend after moving across the country for him, there’s nothing cheery about the festive season this year.

Dragged to a Christmas ball by best friend Layla, Poppy meets gorgeous actor Gabe, who stars as a genie in a play. When he asks her what three wishes she would make, she realises it’s quite simple: love, a job she’s happy in and, just once in her life, to do something extraordinary.

Gabe and Poppy make a pact to help each other make their dreams come true. As they tick off their wishes, their friendship blossoms… But, as they discover, sometimes, what you want for Christmas isn’t necessarily what you need…

Annette Hannah is a Liver Bird who relocated to leafy Hertfordshire in the 80’s and now lives near a river with her husband, two of their three grown up children and a crazy black cocker spaniel. She writes Romantic comedies in settings inspired by the beautiful countryside around her and always with a nod to her hometown.

She worked in Marketing for many years as a qualified Marketeer which she loved as it tapped into her creative side.

As an avid reader, she began to review the books she read, became a book blogger and eventually plucked up the courage to fulfil her life long dream of writing a book.

For four years she was a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s new writers’ scheme, during which time she wrote a book a year

After signing a two book deal with Orion Dash in 2020 she graduated to full member of the organisation and is also their Press Officer.

She loves long walks along the river, travelling to far flung places and spending time with her friends and family.

Connect further with Annette via her website, blog, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. 

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Blog Tour: A Match Made in Venice by Leonie Mack

A Match Made In Venice

My turn on the blog tour today for A Match Made in Venice by Leonie Mack. I cannot tell you how much I have been looking forward to reading this book. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the publisher and author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Escape to the breath-taking beauty of Venice – The City of Love.

When pragmatic, sensible and resolutely single Deirdre York (Didi to her friends) is sent to Venice for work she is determined not to be taken in by the romantic clichés. Winter in the floating city may be breathtakingly beautiful, but she’s here with a clear purpose and will not let the magic of Venice distract her.

Piero Zanetti is the epitome of the handsome yet tortured artist. Heart-broken by the end of his love affair with a glamorous opera singer, he has lost his ability to work, and his inspiration has drained away, along with his zest for life.

But Didi needs Piero working – she has been tasked with commissioning him to do a glass centrepiece for a luxury department store Christmas display – some how Didi has to cheer Piero up or at least find him a new muse…

As Didi and Piero slowly become friends, and as Venice starts to melt Didi’s heart and gently nudge Piero out of the blues, something special begins to happen. Can Venice – the City of Love – work a Christmas miracle and help Didi and Piero to find their happiness at last…

My first festive read of the year!

Or so I thought, but the cover of the book and the blurb are a little bit deceptive in this regard, because this isn’t really a Christmas book in the traditional sense of being set at, or revolving entirely around, Christmas. It begins shortly before the festive season and briefly touches on Christmas, and the design of Christmas window display is the hook that unites the male and female protagonists, but Christmas is not the main theme. This didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book, but don’t go into this book thinking you are settling down for a Christmas read.

The book is set in Venice mainly in the winter months either side of Christmas and, for me, exploring Venice at this time of year was one of the big positives of the book. Venice is a place I have only visited and read about and seen in movies in the summer time, so to read the descriptions of how it is in winter, when the streets are not rammed with tourists and the city takes on a completely different mantle, was fascinating. Also, we are guided around the city by Piero, a native Venetian, and we get to see the city as Didi does, through the eyes of an English girl exploring with a local guide. Leonie really brings the city to life, and the book is filled with evocative detail that immediately transports you to Italy, Venice and all the romance it promises. This is a place I am hoping myself to revisit soon (I have been dropping more than enough hints to The Irishman about where I’d like to go for my 50th birthday this year) so having this sneak, better-be-a-preview-or-someone-will-be-in-trouble was a real pleasure.

The characters in this book were easy to warm to immediately. Piero does sterling work as the handsome-but-tortured Italian artist that you would be disappointed not to have as the romantic interest. However, I found Didi, unconventional and down-to-earth, a refreshing protagonist. She did not come across as the typical heroine and I found her all the more charming for it. Both of them have troubled family dynamics that are played out in the book and which draw them together, and I found their relationship completely believable and utterly charming. I was carried along by their growing closeness from beginning to end and was left with a warm glow by the end of the novel, as much as I could possibly wish for in such a novel.

A Match Made in Venice is the perfect book to snuggle up with in these autumn months when the nights are drawing in and the temperature is dropping. You will be transported to Venice, with all its romance and beauty, and be warmed by the developing romance between Didi and Piero amongst its shimmering lights. Totally delightful in every respect, just not a Christmas book.

A Match Made in Venice is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Please make sure you check out the rest of the blogs taking part in the tour for more great reviews and features:

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About the Author

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Leonie Mack is an author of romantic comedies with great international locations. Having lived in London for many years her home is now in Germany with her husband and three children. Leonie loves train travel, medieval towns, hiking and happy endings!

Connect with Leonie:

Website: https://leoniemack.com/

Facebook: Leonie Mack

Twitter: @LeonieMAuthor

Instagram: @leoniejmack

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Blog Tour: I’ll Be Home For Christmas by M W Arnold

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I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for the release of book three in The Air Transport Auxiliary Mystery Club series by M W Arnold, I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Thanks to Mick and Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be part of the tour and to Mick for providing me with this great character interview for me to share with you today.

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A mysterious key left by her murdered sister, leads Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Betty Palmer on a journey of discovery and danger. Given up to an orphanage upon birth, the parents she’s long thought had no part in her life force themselves back in, purely out of greed and self-preservation.

Penny’s life is unexpectedly turned upside down by a potentially life-changing situation, which causes her wounded husband to question their marriage. No-one seems safe in this year of turmoil in the middle years of the war, as some relationships face breaking point whilst others become stronger.

Kidnap, crashes and dogfights, the girls of the Air Transport Auxiliary Mystery have never faced such dangers. To survive may not be enough as they must find the strength to rise above the most trying times yet of their lives.

Let’s go over now to one of the main characters in the novel, Betty Palmer, and have a chat to her, shall we?

So Betty, a little bird tells me you’re a colourful character. Would you care to comment?

That depends. Will everything I tell you in this interview be kept confidential? Specifically, from the police? Well, if that’s the best you can promise, I’ll just have to trust you. Yes, I suppose you could say I’ve dallied with my fair share of lively enterprises, but I’m really not sure how much I should tell you. I had an unusual childhood, something more akin to Oliver Twist, though a little more structured.

Now you really have my attention. You’ve got to elaborate.

Must I? Oh, very well. My twin sister and I were put into an orphanage because our parents only wanted a boy. You tend to grow up tough and quickly in those places and we quickly learned the only people we could totally trust and depend upon, were each other. Remember I mentioned Oliver Twist? We learned certain, skills as we grew older, which influenced what we did for a living once we were able to escape. That probably doesn’t sound as if were were…honest. Very true, but we did have our own code and only ever dealt with those who could afford to lose things or, who were evil. I know that sounds like some kind of thing you’d read in the legends of Robin Hood, but that’s where the similarities end; we didn’t give to the poor.

That’s quite a story. You mentioned a twin sister.

Yes, Eleanor. I’m very sad to tell you she was…murdered in January of 1942, so you’ll never be able to meet her. I know I didn’t go into details about what we did to make ends meet – sorry, but no promises are worth going to jail for – so I shall only say, she was a girl of undoubted skill in her chosen profession. Indeed, in certain circles, she was quite famous. You could even say that the corridors of power were lined with her pictures.

Perhaps we should move on. Are there any of your colleagues to which you are particularly drawn?

Really? You wish to put me on the spot. To be honest, after I lost my sister, I never expected to become close to anyone again. Certainly, I never intended to allow myself to. Then fate foisted three girls upon me to which I’ve grown inordinately fond, even though one is a Yank! They are all capable of causing me equal amounts of grief and joy so no, I don’t believe there is a single one of which I am fond over any other. I know that isn’t the answer you wanted but would it help if I also told you, I now believe I have the family I never believed I would ever get.

Do you remember where you were when this terrible war broke out? And what you were doing?

You really are determined to get me to say what I was doing, aren’t you? Well, sorry, I’m still going to keep that to myself, though I’m certain you have already made your own assumptions, those will have to do. Let me just say, I was busy valuing certain items my sister may have acquired in the course of her business. However, the very next day, I began to look into what I could do for my country. I didn’t think I was patriotic until I heard the wireless and then saw the headlines in the newspapers. I eventually joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Unfortunately, this was not a very good experience for me and I was very happy and also relieved when I found out about the formation of the Air Transport Auxiliary. I’ve found my freedom and true happiness amongst its members.

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I am sure this has whetted your appetite to find out more about Betty and her past and her experiences in the Air Transport Auxiliary. Well, I guess you had better buy a copy of I’ll Be Home For Christmas! You can find it here.

Make sure you follow the rest of the tour for reviews of the book and other great content:

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About the Author

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Mick spent fifteen-odd years roaming around the world, courtesy of HM Queen Elizabeth II – gawd bless her – before becoming a civilian and realizing what working for a living really was.

He loves traveling, and the music of the Beach Boys, Queen, Muse, and Bon Jovi. Books play a large part in his life, not only writing, but also reading and reviewing, as well as supporting his many author friends.

He’s the proud keeper of two Romanian Were-Cats bent on world domination, and enjoys the theatre and humoring his Manchester United-supporting wife. Finally, and most importantly, Mick is a full member of the Romantic Novelists Association. I’ll be Home for Christmas will be his third novel with The Wild Rose Press.

Connect with Mick:

Facebook: M W Arnold Author

Twitter: @mick859

Instagram: @mick859

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5BTjvD9Jp–rLfjB9hcd9g

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Natalie Normann

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Today’s interviewee is a previous guest of the blog and lovely author and I am really looking forward to hearing more about her journey in romance writing. It is the fabulous… Natalie Normann.

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

I have been a published author since 1995. Most of my books in Norwegian have been historical romance series, but I’ve also written thrillers and children’s horror stories. Last year I published two contemporary romance books with One More Chapter, A Very Hygge Holidays series. Right now I’m working on a new story, and I’m having a blast with it. Never thought I’d be writing in English, so that’s a major change in my journey. 

Why romance? 

I love romance! I’ve always written what I love to read myself, and romance is my favourite genre. Nothing beats a well written romance with a happy ending. 

What inspires your stories? 

Food for one thing, I love writing about food. Not much of a cook myself, but I do like to eat. And I’m really thrilled to be writing stories set in Norway. Everybody knows about Nordic Noir, where the landscape is always dark and gloomy, and then someone horribly gets killed. I’m happy to write Nordic Romance that shows the beauty of Norway. 

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

I have a long, long list of favourites. I love Jane Eyre, have done since the first time I read it. I love the blockbusters from when I grew up; writers like Colleen McCullough and Barbara Bradford Taylor. After joining the RNA, I have discovered so many new and amazing writers. Jan Baynham writes wonderful sagas, Christina Courtney’s viking stories are just wow, Sue McDonagh’s contemporary romances set in Wales are a true delight, and I’m always looking forward to a new book by Fiona Leitch – to name a few. 

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

Actually I’d recommend another Scandi. Pernille Hughes wrote the delightful Probably the Best Kiss in the World, set in Copenhagen, one of my favourite cities. I’m really looking forward to her next book. 

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Jen Attison likes her life Just So. But being fished out of a canal in Copenhagen by her knickers is definitely NOT on her to do list.

From cinnamon swirls to a spontaneous night of laughter and fireworks, Jen’s city break with the girls takes a turn for the unexpected because of her gorgeous, mystery rescuer.

Back home, Jen faces a choice. A surprise proposal from her boyfriend, ‘boring’ Robert has offered Jen the safety net she always thought she wanted. But with the memories of her Danish adventure proving hard to forget, maybe it’s time for Jen to stop listening to her head and start following her heart…

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, that’s a tough one. I’m honestly the least romantic person you can imagine. But a man who can cook and handle a boat, would do me just fine. I haven’t decided on his name yet …

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

The RNA is  such a special place. When I came to my first chapter meeting, I was living in Cardiff, and the brilliant writers in Cariad Chapter couldn’t have been more welcoming. And during the pandemic, I’ve been able to Zoom with them from Oslo, so I still feel I belong to the chapter. I miss the conference something awful, I’ve only been to two, so fingers crossed there will be one next year. I love the support I have experienced from so many lovely people. I’m impressed at what the RNA has done, and I hope it will continue like that. 

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

Read a lot of different books so you find what you like. There’s a lot of subgenres and one is not like the other. Then, when you start writing, don’t take the three first chapters too serious. They will change. Also, the good thing about writing, is that you always learn more. It’s never boring. 

Tell us about your most recent novel.

A Very Hygge Holiday has two books, Summer Island and Christmas Island. The paperback for Christmas Island is out on October 14th. They are both set on a small, windy island on the Norwegian west coast. Summer Island tells the story of London Chef Jack who inherits a smallholding on the island, and has to find what what that means to him. In Christmas Island, Holly, Jack’s sister, needs to get away from her life, and decides that the island would do fine. She does not expect to be roped into celebrating Christmas the Norwegian way. 

We tend to take Christmas a tad too serious, I’m afraid. 

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In the bleak midwinter…
A really frosty wind is making Holly’s life absolutely miserable

After all the years of hard work it took Londoner Holly Greene to become a doctor, now it could all be taken away and she only has herself to blame. She’s retreating to her brother’s rustic home on an island off the coast of Norway to lick her wounds. Only, it’s the middle of winter and icy slush plus endless darkness isn’t exactly the cheery, festive getaway she had imagined.

Nearly stumbling off the edge of a cliff in the dark, Holly is saved by Frøy, a yellow-eyed cat of fearsome but fluffy proportions, and his owner – grouchy, bearded recluse, Tor. Tor has his own problems to face but the inexplicable desire to leave a bag of freshly baked gingerbread men on Holly’s doorstep is seriously getting in the way of his hermit routine.

Call it kindness, call it Christmas, but Holly’s arrival means midwinter has never looked less bleak.

You can buy copies of the books here and here.

About the Author

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Natalie Normann grew up in a small shipping town on the west-coast in Norway. She wanted to be a writer as soon as she realised that books were written by real people. Her debut novel was published in Norwegian in 1995. Since 2007 she has written Historical Romance in Norwegian and recently published her 66th book. Summer Island and Christmas Island are her first books in English.

Connect with Natalie:

Facebook: Natalie Normann

Twitter: @NatalieNormann1

Instagram: @natalienormann

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Blog Tour: The Cornish Cream Tea Christmas by Cressida McLaughlin #BookReview

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Hannah Swan is looking forward to Christmas for the first time in years. Her new job as an eco-consultant is taking her – and her geeky colleague, Noah – to the beautiful Cornish village of Porthgolow for the first time.

They are helping the Crystal Waters Hotel to ramp up its green credentials, though after a bumpy journey, Hannah can’t shake off the feeling that Porthgolow is strangely familiar. Never able to resist a mystery, her interest is piqued when the hotel’s staff and customers report odd noises and sightings, believing the hotel to be haunted.

When bad weather cuts off Porthgolow, Hannah and Noah are looking at a Cornish Christmas. It gives them plenty of time to work out what is really going on, but will their yuletide escape send shivers up their spines? Or will it be as warm and toasty as a glass of mulled wine?

I’m delighted to to taking part today in the blog tour for the latest book by one of my favourite authors, The Cornish Cream Tea Christmas by Cressida McLaughlin. My thanks to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part and to the publisher, HarperCollins, for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

As a massive fan of Cressida’s books, and the Cornish Cream Tea series in particular, I was really excited to return to Porthgolow at Christmas and see what all my favourite characters were up to, and meet some new ones. The life of coastal towns in the winter when tourists are thin on the ground and the town is handed back to the locals is an entirely different proposition to the previous books which have been set during the busy months of the year, and I was fascinated to get a peep at what might, or might not, be going on.

The book is set largely in the spa hotel, where new character Hannah has come down from Edinburgh to stay for a week and help owner Daniel improve the hotel’s eco credentials. She is assisted by local freelancer, Noah, whom she has never met before, so both we and Hannah are getting to know him at the same time. Hannah was a character that I warmed to from the very beginning, which meant I felt invested in the book from the first page and I fairly flew through the story. This is the overriding genius of Cressida’s writing, she always manages to create believable characters that you care about and draw you into the story until you are fully involved and desperate to know what happens to them. I loved the way she managed to integrate them so seamlessly into the tight knit community she has already built in my head.

The Cornish setting is equally as beautiful and tempting in the winter – perhaps even more so – with empty beaches, cosy pubs and Christmas sparkle dangling from every spare twig. You can practically smell the pine coming off the page as she brings the setting to life. And the food, oh the food. The main character, Hannah, is a foodie, so there is ample opportunity to shoehorn in descriptions of delicious dishes and delicacies – in the hotel, the pub, the weekly food market and, of course, on the Cornish Cream Tea Bus itself. You will come away from the book either starving or feeling like you have eaten a twelve course meal, it’s a toss up.

There is plenty of action to keep the plot moving along with violent storms, a dramatic coastal rescue and a ghostly mystery running alongside the romance, so there are no slow patches in the story. Despite being 370 pages, the book raced past in no time and I was sad to get to the end, but satisfied with the conclusion. As with all Cress’s books, I was left with a warm, contented glow, underscored with a wistful longing for her next book. Not much more that a fan of romantic Christmas stories could wish for. Just remind me never to visit Portgolow in real life, it is the Cornish equivalent of the Hotel California. ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!’

The Cornish Cream Tea Christmas is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Please do follow the rest of the tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Cressy was born in South East London surrounded by books and with a cat named after Lawrence of Arabia. She studied English at the University of East Anglia and now lives in Norwich with her husband David. When she isn’t writing, Cressy spends her spare time reading, returning to London or exploring the beautiful Norfolk coastline.

Connect with Cressy:

Website: https://cressidamclaughlin.com/

Facebook: Cressida McLaughlin Author

Twitter: @CressMcLaughlin

Instagram: @cressmclaughlin

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Book Review: The Christmas Swap by Sandy Barker

This review was featured on Twinkl as part of their Christmas campaign.

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Will all three women have their Christmas wishes come true?

Christmas is coming and best friends ChloeJules, and Lucy are needing change… so swapping homes for the holidays could be the perfect present for all of them!

Australian Chloe spends her Christmas in a sleepy village in Oxfordshire, England. She is totally star-struck when she discovers who lives across the road.

Lucy, who has jetted off to snowy Colorado for her dream-come-true white Christmas, is taken into the fold of Jules’s loud and brash family, discovering more about herself in a few short days than she has in years.

And Jules leaves the cold climes of Colorado to spend her Christmas on a beach with Chloe’s friends in Melbourne, finding that time away is just what she needed.

The only thing better than one Christmas romance is three.

This week I am taking part in the One More Chapter Readalong for The Christmas Swap by Sandy Barker and I’m delighted to be sharing my review with you today.. My thanks to the publisher for my copy of the book, received via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I was just in the mood for an uplifting, festive read when I picked up this book, the news is quite depressing at the moment isn’t it, and what a perfect choice this is for anyone looking for something to warm their cockles and bring a sprinkling of Christmas cheer into their lives. It also addresses one of the burning questions of the age – is Die Hard a Christmas movie?

The book follows three friends who meet on holiday aged eleven and forge a bond that survives over the years, despite the fact they all live on different continents. Fast forward a couple of decades and all of the girls are at some kind of cusp in their lives with issues that need a shake up. Will swapping homes and Christmases for one year provide the catalysts they need to move to the next stage of their lives?

The premise of the book is charming and it works perfectly. Cue the opportunity for the author to transport us to three very different countries for three very different Christmases. In Oxford, Melbourne and Colorado, the three girls are taken in by their friend’s families and find out how the other half does Christmas. Warm beaches, snowy mountains and the English countryside provide the perfect backdrops against which the girls can explore unique Christmas traditions, and maybe make new friends, even of a romantic variety! The author does an absolutely fabulous job of drawing the different environments and transporting the reader there. This book is armchair travel at its most enticing and I felt like I had been transported to the locations in the novel. I defy anyone to come away from reading this book and not wish they could be snow-shoeing through a quiet, Colorado forest or doing a horseback tour of Australian wineries. My passport is itching just thinking about it, especially given my lack of travel this year.

For me, the most compelling thing about this book is the portrayal of the friendship between the three girls. Each of the characters was perfectly drawn and absolutely believable, and the dynamic between them realistic and charming to read. I have two very close groups of female friends who mean the world to me and are the first people I would turn to, in times of trouble and turmoil, but also in times of joy and success. I recognised immediately the workings of the friendship between these women, even went it was sent slightly off track, and it was such a joy to read. I so wanted everything to work out for them, shared their happiness and disappointment throughout and, by the end, I didn’t want to leave their company. I felt like they had become my friends, and I really want to know how things end up for them.

This is a really cheering read with the perfect flavour of Christmas to get you in the mood for the upcoming holiday. I would highly recommend it to all fans of romance looking for a bit of Yuletide cheer. And, as for that burning question at the beginning – is Die Hard a Christmas movie? Of course it is, and that is a hill I am prepared to die on.

The Christmas Swap is out now in ebook and paperback and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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I’m a writer, traveller and hopeful romantic with a lengthy bucket list. I love exploring new places, outdoor adventures, and eating and drinking like a local when I travel, and many of my travel adventures have found homes in my novels. I’m also an avid reader, a film buff, a wine lover and a coffee snob.

My first novel, a romantic comedy set in Greece and inspired by my real-life love story, was published in June 2019 by One More Chapter (HarperCollins). In 2020, two follow-ups in the Holiday Romance series hit the shelves: That Night in Paris and A Sunset in Sydney. My novel, The Christmas Swap, is a stand-alone inspired by some of my own Christmas adventures, and I am currently writing my 5th book (the 4th in the Holiday Romance series) and 6th book (a stand-alone), with plans for 7 and 8!

Connect with Sandy:

Website: https://sandybarker.com/

Facebook: Sandy Barker Author

Twitter: @sandybarker

Instagram: @sandybarkerauthor

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