Blog Blitz: The Secrets of Hawthorn Place by Jenni Keer #Extract

The Secrets of Hawthorn Place

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog blitz for the delightful new book by author, Jenni Keer, The Secrets of Hawthorn Place. I haven’t yet managed to read the book, but I will be reviewing it in a few weeks time. For now, I have an appetite-whetting extract to share with you. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to the author for allowing me to share this extract with you today.

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Two houses, hundreds of miles apart…yet connected always.

When life throws Molly Butterfield a curveball, she decides to spend some time with her recently widowed granddad, Wally, at Hawthorn Place, his quirky Victorian house on the Dorset coast.

But cosseted Molly struggles to look after herself, never mind her grieving granddad, until the accidental discovery of an identical Art and Crafts house on the Norfolk coast offers her an unexpected purpose, as well as revealing a bewildering mystery.

Discovering that both Hawthorn Place and Acacia House were designed by architect Percy Gladwell, Molly uncovers the secret of a love which linked them, so powerful it defied reason.

What follows is a summer which will change Molly for ever…

Now, over to Jenni to introduce her extract.

Thank you so much for visiting Julie’s blog today. Here is an extract from The Secrets of Hawthorn Place. In the contemporary story, Molly has just arrived in Dorset to stay with her grieving grandfather, and we get a feel for his unusual house through her eyes. Walter isn’t coping with the death of his wife and spoilt Molly is in for a shock as she struggles to take care of him. Little does she know, this is the start of a summer that will change everything, especially when she stumbles across an unbelievable secret in the very heart of the house.

I stood at the top of the steep stone steps and looked down into a dip of tree-shielded land. From the road you’d never guess there was a house nestled at the bottom. It reminded me of childish efforts to stop someone copying my work at school by covering the page – as if the trees were huge hands shielding it from prying eyes. In fact, the closest you could get a car was the main road above, where Brian’s ostentatious Audi was now parked ahead of Granddad’s ancient Fiat. 

We clambered down the steps and my breath caught in my throat as I looked over to Hawthorn Place. With one foot on the bottom step, and the other on the ancient herringbone brick path that curled around the house, I felt as if I was standing over the meridian line in Greenwich. It was a point where I was in two places at once – two different worlds. I could never understand why flint and brick had been used for the house, when the surrounding landscape was awash with scars of pale stone, exposed through the green of the fields and hills. Portland was only a few miles away, famous for its quarries, and the obvious choice of building material. The property was odd not only in its construction, but also its location. It simply didn’t belong here, even though I wasn’t sure where it did belong.

‘I could murder a cup of tea,’ I announced, as I tumbled into the hallway and threw my arms about my dear old Granddad. He looked slightly startled by my exuberance but I’m embarrassingly tactile. Probably the Italian in me.

I abandoned my shoes and hooked my rucksack over the quirky crenellated post at the bottom of the main oak staircase. Identical posts were dotted up the stairs, and always reminded me of tiny wooden castles in the air – all part of the charm and mystery of the house.

‘I’ll put the kettle on, love,’ Granddad said.

‘Molly is capable of doing that. You’re not to run around after her, Dad.’

It wasn’t said unkindly, but I still glared at him. 

‘I’ll make it, Granddad. Sorry. You don’t have to wait on me.’

‘Nonsense, I bet you two are gasping.’ He toddled off to the kitchen, as Brian parked my suitcase at the foot of the stairs and, neither of us commenting on the muddy trail over the cluttered floor, we followed behind… 

I hope readers are curious about the quirky house, and are also pulled to the historical thread, where we follow the Arts and Crafts architect, Percy Gladwell, and discover why Hawthorn Place is so special to him. Thanks so much for letting me share this extract.

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I’m sure, like me, you now can’t wait to read this book and, if so, you can buy a copy here.

Make sure to check out some of the other blogs participating in the blitz, as detailed on the poster below:

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About the Author

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Jenni Keer is a history graduate who embarked on a career in contract flooring before settling in the middle of the Suffolk countryside with her antique furniture restorer husband. She has valiantly attempted to master the ancient art of housework but with four teenage boys in the house it remains a mystery. Instead, she spends her time at the keyboard writing commercial women’s fiction to combat the testosterone-fuelled atmosphere, with her number one fan #Blindcat by her side. Much younger in her head than she is on paper, she adores any excuse for fancy-dress and is part of a disco formation dance team.

Jenni is also the author of The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker and The Unexpected Life of Maisie Meadows.

Connect with Jenni:

Facebook: Jenni Keer

Twitter: @JenniKeer

Instagram: @JenniKeer

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Extract: Everyday Magic by Charlie Laidlaw #Extract

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Carole Gunn leads an unfulfilled life and knows it.  She’s married to someone who may, or may not, be in New York on business and, to make things worse, the family’s deaf cat has been run over by an electric car.

But something has been changing in Carole’s mind.  She’s decided to revisit places that hold special significance for her.  She wants to better understand herself, and whether the person she is now is simply an older version of the person she once was.

Instead, she’s taken on an unlikely journey to confront her past, present and future.

Today is publication day for Everyday Magic, the fifth book by author Charlie Laidlaw and, to celebrate publication, I am delighted to be able to share an extract from Chapter One with you to whet your appetite.

One

When Carole was little, she found a magic clearing in the woods near her home.She had been exploring, surrounded by oak, birch, and hazel trees, picking her way carefully between bramble and nettle.There was birdsong, squirrels darting across branches, and patterns of sunlight on the woodland floor.She had been looking for bilberries, and her hands were full of the small black fruit.She stopped to sit on an outcrop of rock by a wide stream that, in winter, could quickly become a torrent of brown water.In summer, it was comforting; in winter, treacherous.She ate her bilberries, the stream cascading over a small waterfall; the sound of water in her ears.It was summer and the stream bubbled crystal clear.The woodland rose in folds from the stream, and she climbed steadily upwards.Here, the trees crammed in on her; it was darker.When she looked up, she could only see sunlight trapped on leaves far above.It was a part of the old woodland that she’d never been to before, but she pushed on; she had a feeling that she was on an adventure and might suddenly come across a gingerbread house or wizard’s cottage.

At the top of the hill she found herself in a small clearing.It was only a few yards across, framed with oak trees, and perfectly round.Sunlight from directly above made the clearing warm, and she stood at its centre, wondering if she was the first person to have ever discovered it.Each of the oak trees around the clearing seemed precisely set, each one a perfect distance from the next, and she walked around them, touching each one, wondering if someone had planted the oak trees, or if the clearing really was a magic place.She still believed in magic.Then she stood again at its centre, wondering at its symmetry and why a long-dead sorcerer might have planted the oak trees.Then, realising that the sorcerer might not be dead and that she had walked uninvited into his private domain, she hurried away, not sure whether to be frightened or excited.But it was a place she often went back to that summer, and on following summers, sometimes alone and sometimes with her little brother.They would sit in the centre of the woodland circle, eating bilberries, hoping to meet the sorcerer who had built the clearing.She wasn’t frightened of him anymore; the clearing was too peaceful to have been made by a bad wizard.It was their secret place, but mainly Carole’s, because she had found it.It was a comforting place: it was somewhere she would go if she was sad or angry about something, because the woodland circle and its shifting half-shadows offered calm and new perspectives.She could almost hear the trees speak to her, the wind in their branches making the leaves whisper, but so softly that she couldn’t understand.She would listen, eyes closed, the leaves rustling, but she never understood what they were saying.The circle of trees stood solid and immovable, dark and stoic, old and wise, each one the colour of stone.

If you found this short extract enticing and you would like to get your hands on a copy of the book, you can buy it direct from Ringwood Publishing’s website here.

About the Author

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Author Charlie Laidlaw lives in East Lothian, one of the main settings for Everyday Magic. He has four other published novels: Being Alert!, The Space Between Time, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead and Love Potions and Other Calamities. Previously a journalist and defence intelligence analyst, Charlie now teaches Creative Writing in addition to his writing career.

Connect with Charlie:

Website: https://www.charlielaidlawauthor.com/

Facebook: Charlie Laidlaw

Twitter: @claidlawauthor

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Guest Post: Forget Russia by L. Bordetsky-Williams #GuestPost #Extract

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“Your problem is you have a Russian soul,” Anna’s mother tells her.

In 1980, Anna is a naïve UConn senior studying abroad in Moscow at the height of the Cold War—and a second-generation Russian Jew raised on a calamitous family history of abandonment, Czarist-era pogroms, and Soviet-style terror. As Anna dodges date rapists, KGB agents, and smooth-talking black marketeers while navigating an alien culture for the first time, she must come to terms with the aspects of the past that haunt her own life.

With its intricate insight into the everyday rhythms of an almost forgotten way of life in Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, Forget Russia is a disquieting multi-generational epic about coming of age, forgotten history, and the loss of innocence in all of its forms.  

Today I am delighted to be sharing on the blog, not only a guest post by L. Bordetsky-Williams on the story behind her book, Forget Russia, but also an excerpt from the book as well. Without further ado, I will hand over to Lisa.

A Story of Love, Murder, Betrayal, and Revolution by L. Bordetsky-Williams

Forget Russia tells the story of three generations of Russian Jews, journeying back and forth from America to Russia, during the course of the twentieth century. From before the 1917 Revolution to Brezhnev’s Soviet Union, this is a tale of unlikely heroes and the loss of innocence.  A significant portion of the novel focuses on an American Russian-Jewish family that returns to Leningrad in 1931, in a type of reverse migration, to build the Bolshevik Revolution. Forget Russia is a story of revolution, betrayal, murder, and love.

In 1980, at the height of the cold war, and the Iran hostage crisis, I had the opportunity to study Russian language for a semester at the Pushkin Institute in Moscow. This experience not only changed my life but it influenced the course of my life. I met many of the religious and dissident-type Jews of the Soviet Union.  Some of them were Refuseniks, people whose exit visas had been denied, and others said they could never leave because one of their parents had a “secret job,” which would prevent them from ever getting an exit visa.  Those Refuseniks had lost their jobs and were having a very difficult time just surviving.  Many of those young Soviet Jews were the grandchildren of the Bolsheviks.  Their ancestors had believed in the ideals of the 1917 Revolution and had flourished until Stalin had them put to death or exiled to labor camps during the height of the purges of 1936-1938. They had inherited a legacy of terror and fear. I have never forgotten them and the time we spent together.

About a year before I went to the Soviet Union, I was having lunch at my grandmother’s apartment, and she told me her mother died on a boat in Russia.  She was a woman who did not speak much, but when she did speak her words always contained great meaning. I probed more into her story with my family and discovered from my uncle that my great-grandmother had been raped and murdered. This information simply stunned me. I didn’t understand why no one had ever told me this. My grandmother had suffered from depression, and I then knew why.  As an old woman, when she was ill, I once heard her cry for her mother and that absolutely broke my heart.

When I studied Russian language, she began to sing me songs of her girlhood—songs of unrequited love that made me feel she must be trying to tell me something about her own life experiences. I wanted to grasp how such a horrific act of violence would affect the subsequent lives of women in a family.  This is a very large question, but it was one of the questions that prompted me to write Forget Russia.

I also was aware that my grandparents, both Russian Jewish immigrants, had returned to the Soviet Union in 1931, during the height of the Depression.  My grandfather was a carpenter, who longed to return and build the revolution.  He sold everything and borrowed money for the ship so his two small children, my mother and aunt, ages five and three, and my grandmother, could take an arduous journey back to Leningrad. They only stayed nine months.  If they had stayed any longer, they would have lost their American citizenship and never could have gotten out. 

On some level, my book looks at the nature of destiny—as I met these young Soviet Jews, I saw what my own life might have been if my ancestors had made other decisions.  I began to see how interdependent our lives were despite our apparent differences. I also wanted to understand how this initial trauma affected the subsequent generations of women in the family.

I did a tremendous amount of research for the novel over a number of years. I read accounts of American Russian Jews, who, just like my grandparents, went to the Soviet Union in the 1930’s. They were heartbreaking accounts of Americans who couldn’t leave the Soviet Union once the purges reached a peak in 1936-38. Many were imprisoned and exiled to labor camps. Many did not survive. I had the opportunity to interview a few American Jews from Russia who went to the Soviet Union with their parents in the 1930’s and managed to return to this country. I also read accounts of other Americans who went to the Soviet Union in hopes of getting work since there was very little work in America at the height of the Depression. I also researched a great deal about the Ukraine during the Civil War following the Russian Revolution.

I was surprised to find out that the Americans were originally very welcome in the Soviet Union.  Ford Motor Company even had a plant in Nizhni Novgorod, which encouraged many unemployed Americans to settle in the Soviet Union.  In the beginning, it sounded like it could have been quite exciting for a young person to be there. There was even a baseball team set up!  However, that all changed drastically when Stalin’s purges swept the country in 1936-38. The dream turned into a nightmare. These stranded Americans got no support from the American government as well. They were truly alone.

I also discovered that the Ukraine was very unstable during the Civil War that occurred after the Revolution.  Anti-Semitic Ukrainian nationalists controlled the Ukraine, and at other times the White army retained controlled, but once the Red army re-established rule, the retreating and defeated armies went into Jewish shtetls and massacred many Jews.  My poor grandmother was just a teenager when her mother was raped and murdered in one of these pogroms. 

In Forget Russia, when Anna, the granddaughter, comes back to the Soviet Union in 1980, she falls in love with a young Soviet Jew, who helps her make sense of her grandparents’ return to the country fifty years earlier.  Both characters must contend with the violence and enduring loss passed down to them from their ancestors. 

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Extract from Forget Russia by L. Bordetsky-Williams

A week later, on a day in late October when most leaves had fallen to the ground, Iosif took me to the zagorod. The land rested in brown, golden and yellow colors, and the homes were the way I imagined them to be, with white paint embroidering the outside of delicately carved windows. A short distance from the train station, we found a cement path leading us into a darkening forest.

“These are real Russian woods,” Iosif said and placed his arm through mine as we stepped through thickets of light layered trees; shadows receded and cobwebbed mists opened onto the path leading us to his grandfather’s old apartment.

“Anichka, I have to say your Russian has gotten much better.”

“It’s still pretty bad.” Dried mud clung to my brown leather boots. I gazed up at him, at his thin and lanky body, at his face that seemed young and old simultaneously.

“No, it’s better.” His praise meant more to me than I could say. Iosif was definitely the smartest person I had ever met.

“In Russian class, we’re learning when to raise our voices higher, like at the end of a question. But when else do you do it?”

I didn’t expect Iosif to start laughing. “I don’t know. I never thought about any of this.”

“Depending on what you want to say, you’re supposed to raise your voice a little or a lot.”

“Really?” He stopped for just a moment, wrapped his arm around me. I leaned my head onto his shoulder.

“Now you tell me something. What do Americans talk about when they get together? Is it only about business?”

“No.” I was the one laughing this time.

“Well, then, what is it?”

“I don’t know. Movies, music, TV, maybe a book. The usual stuff, the election, the world.”

“Do you ever tell any jokes?”

“Of course, we do.”

“I see.” We walked in silence for a while. As we got deeper into the forest, Iosif’s mood changed.

“In the countryside, there’s hardly any food. Only bread and grains. Some sausage maybe and cabbage,” he whispered. Iosif pushed away the strands of wind-blown hair from his face. “Tell me, do you know what a propiska is?”

I didn’t have a clue.

“You must understand this if you’re going to know anything about our country,” he said, slightly impatient or impassioned. I wasn’t sure. “Propiska is a pass. We’re actually supposed to carry it around with us at all times, but most don’t. But if I want to go any great distance outside of Moscow, I must report where I’m going and get permission. Понимаешь?

“Yes,” I said, though I didn’t. I only knew there was a humming in my arm linked through his.

“Can you imagine? If I want to go to Leningrad, I can’t just pick up and go. Do you see what I’m saying?”

“I understand,” I said in my limited Russian, then switched to English.

“Well, now I have a question for you.” The rows of trees obscured my view of the sky, the afternoon light slipping away.

“Okay, then. Go ahead.”

“When your parents separated, did they fight a lot about money?”

“Money?” Iosif paused. “Why money? They didn’t have any to fight about. Why do you ask?”

“Because money was all my parents fought about.”

“What can I say. America is a sick place,” he said as he stepped into the moist dirt covered with yellow leaves. The soil smelled of rain from yesterday—the thin boughs of trees opened into a path of green and brown for us to follow. All of my life I had been waiting to be here. I leaned once more into Iosif’s arm, felt his cotton jacket against my face.

He led us out of the woods, away from the scent of pine and nettle everywhere. We found another cement path taking us to a brown brick apartment building that stood all by itself, surrounded only by grass.

“Years ago, my grandfather used to come here a lot—to think, to work. But that was all before he lost his memory.”

“When did that happen?”

“The last ten years, I would say. It was gradual. But it’s probably better he forgets the past as far as I’m concerned.” I remembered the soft and feathery feel of his grandfather’s hand when I saw him at Iosif’s apartment, his thick furry eyebrows, that dreamy, faraway look to his face.

We walked up several flights of dingy stairs until we came out into a dark corridor. I followed alongside Iosif, seeking the evening light. Inside the apartment, volumes and volumes of Tolstoy’s books filled up most of the shelves lining the walls.

“How did your grandfather get all these books? I’ve never seen anything like this”

“I can’t tell you that. But this is everything Tolstoy ever wrote.”

More secrets. I was growing used to it, little by little. So much could not be said or shared.I wanted to know but would not ask again.

Thank you, Lisa, for preparing the guest post for us and allowing me to share the extract. If the above has whetted your appetite for the book, Forget Russia is out now and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

L Bordetsky-Williams

L. BORDETSKY-WILLIAMS is the author of Forget Russia, published by Tailwinds Press, December 2020. She has also published the memoir, Letters to Virginia Woolf (Hamilton Books, 2005, http://www.letterstovirginiawoolf.com); The Artist as Outsider in the Novels of Toni Morrison and Virginia Woolf (Greenwood Press, 2000); and three poetry chapbooks (The Eighth Phrase (Porkbelly Press 2014), Sky Studies (Finishing Line Press 2014), and In the Early Morning Calling (Finishing Line Press, 2018)). She was a student in Moscow at the Pushkin Institute in 1980. Presently, she is a Professor of Literature at Ramapo College of New Jersey and lives in New York City.

Connect with Lisa:

Website: https://www.forgetrussia.com/

Facebook: Forget Russia, A Novel

Twitter: @BordetskyL

Instagram: @forgetrussia

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Blog Tour: Don’t Turn Around by Jessica Barry #Extract

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I am absolutely thrilled to be kicking off the Don’t Turn Around blog road trip for Jessica Barry’s new book, which will be published on 15 April. Over the next ten days, bloggers will be hosting extracts from the book, as well as other author features, leading up to publication of the book. I am delighted to be able to share Chapter 1 of the book with you today. Thanks to Graeme Williams for inviting me to be part of the tour and to the publisher for allowing me to share the extract with you today.

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Two strangers, Cait and Rebecca, are driving across America.

Cait’s job is to transport women to safety. Out of respect, she never asks any questions. Like most of the women, Rebecca is trying to escape something.

But what if Rebecca’s secrets put them both in danger? There’s a reason Cait chooses to keep on the road, helping strangers. She has a past of her own, and knows what it’s like to be followed.

And there is someone right behind them, watching their every move…

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Now for the extract from Chapter 1 of Don’t Turn Around:

 

PROLOGUE

The smell hits her first: burnt rubber and gasoline. Then the pain

comes. The roar of blood in her ears, the gurgled strangle of her breath.

She squints out of the splintered windshield. For a split second, she

can’t remember where she is. When she does, fear rushes over her, a

black, suffocating wave.

And then she hears it: a long, shivering scrape of metal against

metal.

She sees a face at the window.

It’s him.

He’s outside, and he’s trying to get in.

 

LUBBOCK, TEXAS—

322 MILES TO ALBUQUERQUE

Cait kept the engine running.

She’d had the Jeep since college, bought it used the summer before her freshman year with the proceeds of hundreds of hours working retail at Richland Mall, and sometimes it acted up. Normally, she didn’t mind. She relished popping the hood and peering underneath, knowing more times than not that she would be able to fix the problem. Her father had her out in the garage from the time she was six. But at this particular moment, there was no way in hell she would risk the engine stalling.

Outside, there was a glitter of frost on the lawn. The house wasn’t what she was used to, though by now she knew that she should expect anything. Usually, the places were cramped and run- down, cinder block apartment buildings or chipped- stucco bungalows, in neighborhoods where she wouldn’t want to linger after dark.

There was one place about a month ago, on the outskirts of Abilene, that was tucked behind the railroad tracks on Route 20. She drove straight past it the first time, despite the number 22 painted clearly on the side of the mailbox. No way someone lived there, she figured— it wasn’t much more than a shack, and it looked abandoned, the windows boarded up, a rusted- out pickup truck squatting outside, tires long gone. She followed the road another quarter mile, watching for the house, but there was nothing but empty farmland. She double- checked the address: it was right, though she’d known that already. They didn’t make mistakes

about things like that back at the office. So she turned around and parked outside the shack, and sure enough, a girl who didn’t look a day over eighteen ran out from behind the house and climbed silently into the Jeep. Cait could still picture the girl’s nervous smile, the long shining braid that fell down her back, the halfmoons of dirt nestled beneath her fingernails.

But this place was different: a McMansion in a modern development, complete with a two- car garage and a light- up reindeer on the lawn. One of the tasteful ones made of wire and tiny white lights, not the inflatable kind her parents used to stick on top of their house back in Waco, two sagging reindeer pulling a bloated Santa across the roof. The house itself was built of red brick and topped with a series of peaked roofs, and there was a small paved path curving up to the imposing front door. Property was cheaper here than in Austin— most places were cheap compared to Austin— but this was definitely the house of someone who wasn’t shy with a few bucks.

It threw her off a little, this house.

Cait scanned the street for any sign of movement. The windows on the houses were squeezed shut, and the only light came from the pretty streetlamps that lined the sidewalk. A child’s red tricycle lay in a driveway, forgotten until tomorrow. She pictured a plump- cheeked toddler riding up and down the sidewalk, legs pumping, little fingers clutching the handlebars, wind rushing past as she sped up, shrieking with joy or terror, or maybe both.

The road had emptied out pretty quickly once she was out of Austin’s sprawl, and soon it was just her and a few fellow travellers driving along the long, flat, endless road. The view didn’t change much, just empty plains stretching out as far as she could see, briefly interrupted by the green of watered lawns and neatly plotted houses that signaled a town.

Eight hours later, and here she was, waiting. She shifted in her seat, scratched an itch, stifled a yawn. She’d need to get coffee once they were on the road. She didn’t want to stop until they were clear of the city.

She checked the clock on the dashboard: 12:10. Pickup had been at midnight, but she’d gotten there a few minutes early, just in case. She’d been waiting for a while now. It happened sometimes. People got nervous, had second thoughts. If they changed their minds, they were meant to give her a signal: flick the lights three times quick, and she’d know they weren’t coming. Two flicks meant there was trouble and she should call the police.

So far that night, there’d been nothing.

She wasn’t worried, at least not yet. She scanned the road again. All quiet in Pleasantville. Every car tucked up in its garage, every person tucked up in bed.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught something. One hand gripped the wheel, the other the gearshift. This could be it. Her heart pounded in her chest.

She watched a possum slinking under a thick hedge and shuddered. She’d grown up with possums, but that didn’t mean she didn’t hate them. They were cute enough as babies, but when they were full- grown, they were mean little suckers. Still, a possum wasn’t going to give her any trouble.

Eyes back on the house. Still dark, still nothing. The clock read 12:15. She’d give it another five. They weren’t meant to linger. Lingering attracted attention. If one of the neighbors happened to get up to use the bathroom and see a beat- up old Jeep parked out front, they’d call the cops quicker than a lightning bug in July. And nobody wanted the cops involved in something like this. You never knew which way they’d swing.

One of the curtains in the house twitched, and a moment later, a light came on downstairs. This was it: now or never. She straightened up in her seat and wiped the mascara smudges from under her eyes.

Get ready. As soon as she gets in the car, you’ve got to go.

A few seconds later, a blond woman wearing a pressed white shirt and khakis emerged. She had a bag slung over her shoulder that looked expensive. Actually, her whole person looked expensive— slick and golden and whistle- clean. Cait watched the woman lock the door behind her, hesitate, check again that it was locked.

Sweat pricked at the small of Cait’s back. Comeoncomeoncomeon.

The woman stole glances at the neighboring houses and hurried down the path.

Cait reached over and swung the passenger door open from the inside. The woman’s face appeared.

“Hi, Rebecca?” Cait made sure to smile when she said the woman’s name. It was important to put them at ease as quickly as possible. The woman nodded and climbed in. Her smell filled the Jeep, cotton and vanilla and sandalwood. “I’m Caitlyn,” she said, though the woman would have known that already. “But you can call me Cait.” The woman nodded again and pulled her bag tight to her lap. “The seat belt comes from the back,” Cait said, and the woman frowned before reaching behind and snapping the belt into the clasp. She stared straight ahead, through the windshield, at the deserted suburban street.

Cait shifted into drive and pulled away from the curb. “Do you have a phone?”

The woman blinked.

“A cell phone,” Cait prompted. Sometimes they got nervous and froze. She had learned to coax them. “If you do, you need to turn it off.”

The woman’s eyes widened. “Why?”

“GPS.”

The woman’s frown deepened. “Is that really— ”

“Yeah, it is. Sorry, I know it seems a little extreme, but— ” She left the rest of the sentence hanging in the air. Both of them knew that these were extreme circumstances.

The woman fumbled around in her bag and pulled out her phone. Cait kept one eye on the road and watched until she’d switched it off.

“How long will the drive take?”

“About six hours. Maybe a little less. There’s bottled water in the back if you want it. Help yourself.”

Rebecca hugged her bag tighter to her chest. “I’m fine, thank you.”

In the rearview mirror, Cait saw a light snap on in a neighboring house and a face appear at the window.

Take it easy. Just drive normally; don’t read anything into it.

“Are you close with your neighbors?” She kept her voice casual.

Rebecca looked at her, surprised. “Not really.”

Cait’s eyes were locked on the rearview. The curtain fell back across the window, the light flicked off. She let out a sigh. “It looks like the kind of place where you’d all be friendly. Block parties, that kind of thing. Is there a neighborhood watch?”

Rebecca shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

“Good.” She’d run into trouble with neighborhood watches in the past. Give a guy a fake badge and a pinch of authority and things could go sideways fast. The rest of the houses stayed dark. No cars on the road, either. They were almost out of the development. It would be easier once they got on the major roads. “Do you mind if I put the radio on? It helps keep me awake.”

The woman shook her head. Cait reached over and clicked on the dial. The drone of a talk radio host filled the Jeep— the great scourge of Texas. She flicked through the stations until she landed on the local Magic station. The crooning voice of Billy Joel came through the speakers, singing about drinking alone. She left it on. She figured she couldn’t go wrong with Billy Joel.

The house was on the southeast side of Lubbock, so they had to pass straight through downtown to get to Highway 60. She turned onto Broadway and drove past a banner hanging in the window of a local law firm: WELCOME TO BEAUTIFUL DOWNTOWN! NO WIN, NO FEE! There were stoplights every other block, and all of them seemed to turn red as soon as they got close, plotting together to keep them within the city limits.

“C’mon, c’mon,” Cait muttered, hand tapping the wheel. She didn’t like how quiet it was. That was the hardest part about these night drives: the quiet. It was easier to blend in if there were other signs of life.

A man dressed in a Santa hat walked past holding a filthy cloth in one hand and a sign in the other: HUNGRY, PLEASE HELP. He knocked on the window as they waited for the light to change. Cait tried to wave him away, but he mimed the action of cleaning and started wiping the cloth across the windshield, leaving streaks of grease on the glass. She glanced over at Rebecca, who was cowering in the passenger seat, knuckles white on the straps of her bag.

Cait rolled down the window and shoved a couple of dollar bills at him. “Thanks for the sterling work.” He took them with a tip of an imaginary hat and shuffled off just as the light switched to green. “You okay?” she asked Rebecca.

Rebecca nodded, but her jaw was set tight and she was staring straight ahead, her eyes glassy and unseeing. She hadn’t so much as blinked since leaving the house. “Almost out of Lubbock now,” Cait said.

The wide double lanes were lined with the cash- and- carries and the megachurches and the little Mexican restaurants advertising Taco Tuesday, just like every other town in Texas. Occasionally, a neon- lit billboard would flood a sickly light down on them, conjuring up strange, flickering shadows. The Christmas lights were out— multicolored stars and pale blue snowflakes, an angel strung high above the avenue, her wings sparkling gold— and the signs in the shopwindows advertised half- price champagne and cheap diamond bracelets.

Cait hated Christmas. It was amateur hour for drinking, full of awkward office parties and old guys looking to cop a feel after one too many whiskeys. Her old manager had insisted on hanging a sprig of mistletoe at the edge of the bar, and every time she’d go to open the champagne fridge, there’d be some guy lurking, hoping to try his luck. There was a new manager now, a woman, so maybe it would be different, though given that the staff uniform involved mandatory crop tops and Stetsons, she wasn’t holding her breath. At least the tips would be decent.

She stretched, winced. Her back was killing her already. She’d been driving for hours, pushing through rush hour traffic out of Austin and on to 183. She’d lived in the city for eight years and every year it seemed to get worse, the roads thick with pickup trucks and beaters and shiny new sports cars, clogging up the city’s arteries, strangling its heart.

Friends talked about leaving the city. They said they couldn’t take the traffic anymore, or the ever rising rents for ever shittier apartments, or the Tesla charging stations that had sprung up like dandelions and were perpetually full. It was all talk, though. No one ever left. Where would they go? Someplace like this?

They passed Church’s Chicken and the Eleganté Hotel. The city was starting to lose its grip a little, pockets of land stretching wider between buildings and the buildings themselves growing longer and wider. Cait saw Rebecca’s shoulders inch away from her ears and the grip on her handbag start to loosen.

Finally, they saw the sign for the Lubbock city limit. “We’re out,” Cait said. “The hardest part is over now.” Rebecca cracked a smile.

They drove through Littlefield, past a John Deere dealership and a sign advertising vacancy at the Plains Motel. She’d done this stretch a couple times before— once with a sweet- faced college kid who spent the whole time cramming for her biology exam, and another with a woman from Odessa who wept for most of the journey.

That had been a tough one. But there had been worse.

Some of her clients— those who had jobs flexible enough to allow them a few days off, or partners who weren’t breathing down their necks— stayed within state lines, and she ferried them to Austin or Dallas or Fort Worth. Most went to New Mexico, where the rules weren’t so strict. It was a longer drive but quicker in the long run. Lubbock was in a dead zone: a five- hour drive no matter what direction she drove. It was the client’s choice. Tonight she was heading west.

She glanced in the rearview. There was a tractor trailer behind them. She stepped on the gas, and its headlights receded. No tail that she could detect. She allowed herself to relax a little. It was always most dangerous nearest the home. The more miles they had under their belts, the safer they would be. Until they got to where they were going, of course, but that was a headache she wouldn’t worry about until morning.

Cait had left in a hurry— late, as always— and hadn’t managed to get dinner. Hunger was mixed in with exhaustion, gritting her eyes and making her bones heavy. A cup of coffee and maybe a slice of pie would be enough to keep her going. “Do you mind if we stop once we’re over the border?”

Rebecca’s head snapped toward her. “Why?”

“I need a cup of coffee. I’ve been on the road since six o’clock.”

The corners of her pretty mouth turned down. “I guess. If you need to.”

“Thanks. It’ll be quick, I promise. I know you’re nervous, but we’re out of the danger zone now.”

“How do you know?”

“Ninety percent of all incidents occur within the first ten minutes of the journey. Most of the trouble I’ve seen has happened right outside the front door. Now that we’re out of Lubbock, it should be smooth sailing.”

Rebecca nodded but didn’t look convinced. She had the kind of profile that belonged on a Roman coin, all straight nose and firm jaw. Patrician. Cait smiled at her own description: it was good, she should write it down. Maybe she could use it.

In the meantime, she needed to work out that piece she’d been writing about labor conditions at the organic farm outside of Austin. The editor had been requesting the copy for weeks, but she hadn’t been able to land it. Not that he had much of a right to complain considering how much he was paying her, which was nothing. Still, she couldn’t risk pissing him off. It was rare that someone gave her a chance, especially these days.

A sign announced that they were leaving Littlefield. They were edging toward the desert now. Pretty soon there’d be nothing but scrub and sky. Her stomach rumbled. She couldn’t get to Clovis fast enough. It would be her last chance to get a decent cup of coffee that night.

She glanced over at the woman sitting next to her. “You comfortable? You want me to put the heat on or anything?”

Rebecca shook her head. “I’m fine, thanks.”

“Just let me know. It’s supposed to get down to the twenties tonight. They’re saying it might even snow.” She reached out and patted the dashboard. “Don’t worry, she’s good in the snow.”

Rebecca gave her a weak smile. “That’s good to know,” she said, before turning her face back toward the window.

So she wasn’t a talker. That was fine. There was plenty of time for that.

*******************

If this has whetted your appetite for the book, you can pre-order a copy here. 

Make sure you now head over to Susan Hampson’s blog, Books From Dusk Till Dawn for Chapter 2! The rest of the chapters and other content will be shared over the course of the week as detailed on the tour poster at the top of the post.

About the Author

Jessica Barry is a pseudonym for an American author who grew up in a small town in Massachusetts and was raised on a steady diet of library books and PBS.

She attended Boston University, where she majored in English and Art History, before moving to London in 2004 to pursue an MA from University College London.

She lives with her husband, Simon, and their two cats, Roger Livesey and BoJack Horseman.

Connect with Jessica:

Facebook: Jessica Barry

Twitter: @jessbarryauthor

Instagram: @jessicabarry9

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Extract: A Comfortable Alliance by Catherine Kullmann

A Comfortable Alliance eBook

Can they open their hearts to something much deeper and passionate? Will their marriage only ever be a comfortable alliance?

Six years ago, Helena Swift’s fiancé was fatally wounded at Waterloo. Locking away all dreams of the heart, she retreated to a safe family haven. On the shelf and happy to be there, Helena has perfected the art of deterring would-be suitors.

Will, Earl of Rastleigh, is the only son of an only son: marriage is his duty. One of the great prizes of the marriage market, he shies away from a cold, society union. While he doesn’t expect love, he seeks something more comfortable. But how to find the woman who will welcome him into her life and her bed, and be a good mother to their children?

When Will meets Helena, he is intrigued by her composure, her kindness and her intelligence. As their friendship develops, he realises he has found his ideal wife, if only he can overcome her well-known aversion to matrimony

Will succeeds in slipping past Helena’s guard. Tempted by the thought of children of her own, and encouraged by her mother to leave the shallows where she has lingered so long, she accepts his offer of a marriage based not on dangerous love but affectionate companionship and mutual respect.

But is this enough? As Will gets to know his wife better, and the secrets of her past unfold, he realises that they have settled for second-best. Can he change the basis of their marriage? Will Helena risk her heart and dare to love again?

Congratulations to Catherine Kullmann on the publication of her new Regency novel, A Comfortable Alliance.  In it, her hero and heroine agree on a pragmatic marriage with benefits, only to find their comfortable alliance complicated by love.

In celebration, I’m delighted to be able to share with you this extract from A Comfortable Alliance.

Chapter One

London, 19 July 1821

“A hit!”

The Earl of Rastleigh stepped back, raised his foil to salute his opponent and then went forward to shake his hand. “A good bout, Stephen.”

“Have you been taking extra lessons from Angelo, Will?” his lordship’s oldest friend, Stephen Graham MP enquired. “That last was a neat trick.”

“Not directly. A visiting French master called here last week. He demonstrated some new moves.”

“Which you are going to share with me, I trust?”

Will laughed. “Only one at a time. I’ll not sacrifice my advantage so easily.”

“But you can at least demonstrate that last one.”

His lordship obliged, slowly going through the movement and then engaging with his friend as he tried it out. He stretched. “I needed that after so much sitting yesterday. Now for a beefsteak and a tankard of ale.”

Settled at a quiet table in The Blue Posts in Cork Street, Mr Graham raised his tankard of Burton Ale to his friend. “My parents desire me to convey their compliments to you. I went home briefly after Parliament was prorogued and they—and my sisters—were eager to hear how you went on. Do you plan to be at the Castle this summer?”

“I don’t know. I must stay in town until next week’s levée at Carlton House, but then I’m committed to my aunt Walton in Wiltshire. Perhaps I can spend some days at Rastleigh before I go to Ireland. My visit to my mother is late anyway this year; another week or two should not matter.”

“You have a summer of dissipation ahead of you, I see,” Mr Graham said solemnly. He grinned at Rastleigh’s raised eyebrow. “It might be better for you if you did, Will. You know what they say about all work and no play. If you ask me, you need to shake off the old Earl. He still seems to whisper in your ear. You have been Rastleigh for almost five years. It is time you set your own mark on the Earldom.”

“And set up as a rakehell, you mean? How unfortunate that Byron has never returned. He would be an entertaining guide to the various circles of hell.”

“No need to go that far!” Mr Graham protested, laughing. “Why, you might be refused entrance to Almack’s.”

“You have convinced me, Stephen. Dissipation it shall be, if it spares me that evil nest of husband-hunting minxes and their even more predatory Mammas.”

“Not so fast. For every young miss who is warned to avoid you, you’ll have a Caro Lamb seeking your attentions in the most importunate way.”

“Ah, the sirens of the ton! I shall continue to cling to the mast of duty.”

“Not too tightly, I trust,” his friend replied knowingly. “Is pretty Mrs Blake still in town?”

“No, alas. But let’s be honest, Stephen. You know that these little affairs run their course and in the end are not very satisfying.”

“I agree. I never thought to hear myself say this, Will, but maybe ’tis time we considered matrimony.”

“Perhaps you’re right. But I confess that that is where my grandfather’s voice rings loudest in my ear. He was never tired of preaching that, as the only son of an only son, it was my duty to marry and sire heirs.”

“Whatever about the second, you would have no problem in achieving the first. I cannot imagine any house refusing to entertain an offer from Rastleigh.”

“And that is why I have held off so long. I have no wish for a grand alliance with a dutiful bride who will go her own way once she has presented me with a son or two. I want something more comfortable.”

“Comfortable! You don’t choose a wife the way you engage a mistress.”

Will grinned. “Perhaps there would be fewer unhappy marriages if you did. I would want to be sure I was welcome in my wife’s bed and in her life. But enough of that. What news of your family and of Rastleigh?”

“All is well with the family. My father thinks of retiring in favour of Paul, if you are agreeable. The living is in your gift, is it not?”

“Yes, and I should be happy to have your brother returned to us. Your parents would remain with us, I hope?”

“I think they would like to if a suitable house may be found. They cannot remain at the Rectory if Paul is to establish his authority.”

“I agree. I shall consult with your father when I am next at the Castle.”

“Better talk to my mother too, if ’tis about where she will live,” Mr Graham recommended. “She’s by far the more practical of the two. And that reminds me—she feels all is not well at the Castle. Couldn’t put her finger on it—just a feeling you know, but time you went down again, she says.”

Will sighed. “It has never really felt right to me, either, Stephen. It is my principal seat, I know, but not my home. However, I shall try and spend some weeks there once I return from Ireland. I rarely last longer than a fortnight except over the Christmas period, and even then, I leave as soon as I am able.”

©Catherine Kullmann 2021

If you would like to read more, you can buy a copy of A Comfortable Alliance here. 

About the Author

Catherine Kullmann 4 MB (2)

Catherine Kullmann was born and educated in Dublin. Following a three-year courtship conducted mostly by letter, she moved to Germany where she lived for twenty-five years before returning to Ireland. She has worked in the Irish and New Zealand public services and in the private sector.

Catherine has always been interested in the extended Regency period, a time when the foundations of our modern world were laid. Her books are set against a background of the offstage, Napoleonic wars and consider in particular the situation of women trapped in a patriarchal society. She also blogs about historical facts and trivia related to this era.

Connect with Catherine:

Website: https://www.catherinekullmann.com/

Facebook: Catherine Kullmann Author

Twitter: @CKullmannAuthor

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Extract and Q&A: Not In My Name by Michael Coolwood

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In an alternate 2003 where the UK voted to go to war with Iraq in a split referendum, an anti-war activist is murdered. Her friend and another activist, Phoebe, fixates on finding the truth as the only way to cope with her grief and anxiety.

Phoebe and her ex-boyfriend Sefu aren’t able to investigate for long before another of their activist friends is murdered. They find evidence that the murderer might be one of their own. Phoebe’s anxiety nearly cripples her ability to cope, and her attraction to her ex isn’t helping any.​

Firebrand Xia is determined to shut the investigation down. Matriarch Paula had no alibi, but also no motive. Young punk Liam is lying to protect someone. Ex-soldier Gus struggles with his PTSD.

Phoebe needs to deal constructively with her anxiety, and quickly, before the police find out what has happened, and every one of their friends winds up in prison. Or dead.

Today is publication day for Not In My Name by Michael Coolwood, a cosy mystery about the murder of an activist in an alternate 2003 where the UK held a referendum to go to war with Iraq that was split 52% to 48%.

In order to celebrate the release of this interesting-sounding book, I am delighted to be able to share with you a Q&A with the author, and an extract from Chapter 1 of the book. If you are interested in buying a copy of the book, having had your appetite whetted by these goodies, it is available here.

Question and Answers on Not In My Name by Michael Coolwood

Here’s the most obvious question Michael. You’ve chosen to set your book in an alternate reality where the Labour government asked the people in a referendum if we should go to war against Iraq because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Like, wow! That’s a lot of explaining. What prompted that? Why not just write the story as is.

Because the story isn’t about Iraq, it’s using Iraq to talk about Brexit.

Brexit is a monolith. It is eternal. It is both means and ends. Brexit means Brexit. This means that trying to convince someone who passionately believes in Brexit, you’re not going to make much headway if you approach the topic head on.

My solution to this problem was to take something near everyone agrees was a disaster – the Iraq War – and apply the logic that has been applied to Brexit to that. If you take all the key statements by those leading the ‘leave’ side of the referendum, and transpose them onto another subject, it’s suddenly dreadfully clear just how empty and meaningless they are.

It also helps that Iraq happened under Labour’s watch, so right-wing voters are less likely to be immediately put off by the analogy. They might enjoy the chance to put the boot into the Labour Party a little more, which might lead to them opening up to the ideas explored in the book a little more. 

You call yourself a male feminist writer and certainly your lead character of Phoebe is pretty amazing. Is that all that a male writer has to do to be considered a feminist writer, make his main character a young woman?

I think feminism is a journey. I started off on this journey a long time ago when I noticed that a good half of the books I was reading featured precisely one named female character, and they were usually… not treated well.

Since then I’ve read a lot and learned a lot. I’m still learning. That’s what I mean by feminism being a journey. I don’t think I’ll ever be done learning. This is why I’m dancing around the question a little. I don’t think there’s a true way to be a male feminist writer, all I can do is educate myself, try my best and then listen when I inevitably mess up.

So, to try to actually answer the question: No, if your aim is to write feminist fiction, you can’t just write a female protag and call it a day. The more subtle things to consider include, but are not limited to: Are the male characters active whilst the female characters are passive? Are the men strong and stoic whilst the women are soft and emotional? Is the attractiveness of the women commented on repeatedly whilst the men’s attractiveness is ignored? Are there a decent number of interesting female characters or is there just one, whilst the rest are all male?

Ultimately, my goal was to create a collection of interesting, rounded characters that reflect life as I see it, which is full of awesome women, and awesome men.

You deal with some serious issues in this book and I don’t want to give anything away but since it’s in the first chapter I can say that Phoebe is highly anxious. She has, what she calls, a terror python that paralyzes her. Is mental health an important issue to you?

I’ve struggled with mental health for all my adult life. I’ve had panic attacks since my early teens and have only recently been cured of my anxiety disorder thanks to a medical trial at King’s College Hospital. Depression, Anxiety and Chronic Fatigue have seeped into every area of my life. Some things they only affect subtly, but they do affect literally everything I do. That being said, I also deal with some mental health issues in this book which I don’t have direct experience of, and for those I was privileged to work with an excellent sensitivity reader, who pointed out areas where I’d gone wrong.

This is book is overtly political without endorsing any political party. It almost seems to want to be outside Westminster politics while deepening democracy to include everyone. Aren’t you out of step with your contemporaries because young people don’t usually get involved in politics.

My generation, millennials, are the first generation since records began to not be better off than their parents [citation: https://www.ft.com/content/81343d9e-187b-11e8-9e9c-25c814761640]. It’s likely to be even worse for the Zoomers coming up behind us. Wealth is pooling into fewer and fewer hands. Countless people feel left behind by politics, but I don’t think it follows that young people don’t get involved in politics. My MP is a truly wonderful human being, and she’s a millennial too. Over the last decade my friends have gone from trying to ignore politics entirely to making jokes about eating the rich.

There’s a growing sense in the UK that our current political system doesn’t work. If you look at the results of the 2019 general election, the Conservative party won 14 million votes, whilst the UK had an adult population of 50 million. So roughly 28% of the UK population actually voted for the current government, and it was considered a huge landslide.

There are many things we could do to fix this, one of which is moving to a proper voting system like Single Transferable Vote or Mixed Member Representation (explanations here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8XOZJkozfI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QT0I-sdoSXU&) but it’s best to stop there because I could go on about this all day.

Not In My Name doesn’t endorse a political party because democracy in the UK is completely broken and has been for a long time. The Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems have no plans to fix it, they just want to keep a lid on things and enact small changes. We’ve had decades of small, incremental changes, and they haven’t helped enough. We need wholesale change of our political system.

You set this book in a commune outside Birmingham. It seems like you know the place well?

I actually only lived in Birmingham for about fifteen months, but one thing I knew when I set out to write this book is I didn’t want to set it in London. I’ve lived in London for most of my life and it’s obvious to anyone with a pulse that the way the UK is run is London first whilst everyone else follows behind.

I didn’t think it would be right to write a book about trying to change politics from the outside whilst living in London. A lot of big political demonstrations happen in London – 200,000 people marched against the Iraq War and there have been multiple marches against Brexit boasting over a hundred thousand people.

The thing is, we still went to war with Iraq, despite that massive march. In my opinion, the five people who broke into RAF Fairford to damage the bombers who were due to fly to Iraq that day did more tangible good than the massive London march.

Regional politics might not have the cache of Westminster, but its far easier to creative measurable change when not trying to engage with the House of Commons.

There’s a lot of humour in this book. Like, it’s laugh aloud funny. Are you worried that you will mixing too many things together: a murder mystery and a political satire? That’s kind of a weird mix.

Life is funny and life is deeply sad. If there is a contradiction there, it’s one we all live with every day.

What’s that? You want a less philosophical answer? Oh, go on then:

Murder Mysteries as a genre are a bit weird. There are many, many different types but I, personally, can’t stand the ones where everything is grim and ugly, where every character is a monster and if anything good happens to the protagonist, you know it’s only so that it can be used to twist the knife later.

I like cosy mysteries, where the characters are nuanced and evil is rare.  It’s a fundamentally optimistic genre. It’s also frequently a funny genre. There is tension between optimism, humour and politics, because we live in a hellscape of a political system that serves to enrich the friends of those in power whilst it starves everyone on the periphery – but, you can’t avoid politics. To misquote Skunk Anansie: ‘Yes it’s forking political, everything’s political’.

You can’t escape politics. Politics affects everything we do – the lack of a Universal Basic Income means you can’t quit the job you hate and pursue your passion. Cuts to the NHS meant people you know have had vital treatment delayed, or rendered inaccessible completely. This is compounded beyond measure if you’re disabled, not Caucasian, not heterosexual or not obviously male. 

There is a strong movement that demands we keep politics out of media. People were furious when Rufus Hound, on Dancing on Ice, dared to remind people that our government are choosing to let poor children starve. These people don’t want to be reminded that people are suffering, but their ignorance doesn’t lessen the suffering. Increasingly, people are saying: Enough. We will not repeat the crises of previous decades. You may want to pretend everything is fine, but things haven’t been fine for a long time.

So, to answer your question, every book is political. Every book makes choices about the world it presents. Those choices are political. My book is just a little more obviously political than most.

What’s your favourite murder mystery writer? Who inspired this and why?

My favourite murder mystery writer is Agatha Christie, because she’s still the queen of the Cosy Mystery. That being said, my favourite murder mystery book is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – it’s a wonderful mystery that twists the mind and asks all sorts of interesting questions about prisoner rehabilitation.

The inspirations for Not in My Name are a weird mish-mash of cosy mysteries from Christie, the political stand up of Mark Thomas, Rob Newman and Jeremy Hardy, the music of Rage Against the Machine, Brass Against, Phat Bollard and Ed Jollyboat, and the political videos of Iain Danskin, Philosiphy Tube, SeanSkull and Three Arrows.

*******************

Now for our extract from Chapter One of Not In My Name:

Terror coiled around me as I lay next to my friends on the steps of Birmingham’s Victoria Square. It was crushing my chest, making my breathing swift and shallow. The angry white men on the other side of the line of police had been yelling at us for well over an hour, and had just started spitting.

The youngest member of our little group, Cassie, lay next to me. She was eighteen, and habitually wore swirls of black makeup under her eyes. I could only see half of her – she was splayed out, her limbs appearing broken and twisted. An A4 sheet of paper was taped to her chest. On the paper was a printed picture of a casualty of war. A similar picture was attached to my chest.

On my other side was Sefu, a tall man with a kind face and short, clipped hair. If my memory served, his Marilyn Manson t-shirt was currently being masked by a picture of an Iraqi hospital that one of our bombs had flattened.

Just beyond Sefu were Liam and Gus, who were the closest to the police line separating us from the angry white men. My friends’ proximity to a mob of people who hated us was only amplifying my terror.

In a die-in, protestors lie down in a public place and pretend to be dead. The idea is the general public don’t really understand how devastating wars are so we show them. Extra points are awarded if a die-in takes place in a major intersection so we cause traffic to grind to a halt. But we weren’t doing that today. We’d chosen Victoria Square because Birmingham’s town hall and council house looked out over it.

“Traitors!” cried the angry white men. “Saboteurs!”

The cops were playing games with us, hoping we’d give up and go home. Every once in a while, they would come up to one of us and carry us away from the square. They’d say they were arresting us, move us past the line of police separating us from the general public and then release us back into the wild. They called this ‘de-arresting’, which I hadn’t known was a thing the police could do. They kept dragging us away from our protest and we kept finding ways to break back through the cop line, back to the steps of Victoria Square.

“Saboteurs!” the angry men yelled again, before someone in their midst with a megaphone managed to organise them into a more complex chant.

“You lost! Get over it!” they screamed. “You lost! Get over it!”

This seemed to energise the zealots at the front of the line who increased their efforts to get at us. The cops were pushed back a few metres, nearly treading on Gus in the process. This seemed to give a couple of men an idea, and they concentrated on spitting on my friends. The spittle rained down on Gus, and some splashed onto Liam. Gus opened his eyes and locked his gaze on to Liam.

I didn’t see exactly what happened. All I saw was a furious man in a St George’s flag shirt spit at Liam. With a roar, Gus leaped to his feet and swung a punch at the flag-wearer. The flag-wearer went down, but two identical men took his place. Gus dropped another, but his mate struck back. Gus took the blow and didn’t seem to notice. The angry men surged forward, furious at Gus’s audacity. The cops suddenly didn’t know what to do. They were supposed to arrest Gus, but if they broke their line, the mob would attack the rest of us.

Liam scrambled to his feet and tried to pull Gus back, but his scrawny tattooed arms couldn’t do the job. Gus swung and swung at the line of identical furious men. He swung until Vince appeared from nowhere. Vince was smaller than Gus, but he placed himself in between Gus and the mob. I couldn’t hear anything over the shouts but I saw Vince’s mouth move in quick, precise movements.

I knew I should be up on my feet supporting Vince, talking Gus down, but the terror had wrapped itself around my legs and arms. I couldn’t move. I heard charging feet from the direction I wasn’t looking, and suddenly cops had launched themselves on Gus, Vince and Liam. Gus was seething, Liam was shouting “No blood for oil!” and Vince was holding his head high. He had just stopped a terrible situation from getting even worse.

“Do we make a last stand?” Sefu asked. “Or do we stay put?” “What kind of question is that?” demanded Xia from just past where Cassie was lying. Xia was a tall woman with greying hair who had been arranging actions like this since the ‘70s. “The longer we stay here, the more people have to look at us and the more they have to think about what our country is doing. If we get ourselves arrested trying to free our friends, the authorities win and we lose.”

I’d been waiting for Xia to say that, all the while hoping she wouldn’t. My hands clenched and unclenched as I saw the cops dragging my three friends off with them. I wish actions like this were as effortless for me as they were for Xia.

“Phoebe!” My sister Mel called down to me. She was just up the steps from where I was lying, her voice calm and warm. The muscles in my jaw loosened. “Think about what they’d want. They’d want us to carry on.”

Mel was right, as always. Our parents had always insisted I defer to Melissa, but it was when she’d discovered her softer side and started calling herself ‘Mel’ that I found someone actually worth listening to.

I relaxed my hands. The stone beneath my back felt less cold. “Cassie,” I said, trying not to move my lips. “How are you doing?”

“I’m alright,” Cassie said, “but the last cop who arrested me told me that he was going to nick me properly if I tried this again.”

They’d told me the same thing. “You okay with that?”

Cassie rolled her eyes to look at me, although her face still stared serenely towards the sky. “Duh. Can anyone see Paula?”

“I made her promise she’d go home after the third time she got hauled out,” Sefu said, “so she climbed onto the statue of the Floozie in the Jacuzzi and started hanging a banner. You didn’t see that?”

A battle-hardened grin flashed onto Cassie’s face. “I think I was trying to break back through the cop line then.”

“You didn’t see it, Phoebe?” Sefu asked me.

I grunted a sort of ‘no’ noise. I was trying not to think about the cops or the mob of men who’d beat us to within an inch of our lives if they could get at us. As part of not thinking, I had been steadily working through an Evian bottle I’d filled with vodka and lemonade. I’d initially been using it to settle my nerves, and since it seemed to be working, I’d carried on.

“So there’s five of us left?” Sefu asked.

Xia grunted. “Five of us, along with three from Justice for Iraq, two from Stop the War, seventeen from Campaign Against the Arms Trade – well done them – and one unaligned.”

Cassie laughed. “That’s the nice lady from Games Workshop who I talked into coming yesterday when I went to pick up my orks.”

I saw Sefu blink. “You did what?”

“I know, I was surprised as well. But I put the action in her terms, right? I said, imagine the Space Marines wanted to go to war, but instead of going up against Chaos or someone, they decided to just bomb a load of Gretchin villages and destroy their squig farms.”

“And that persuaded her?” Sefu sounded confused.

“Hey, that’s the power of orks.”

Red Bus

******************

About the Author

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Michael Coolwood writes feminist cosy mysteries. His work is deeply political and his characters are driven by a desire to make the world a better place. This is partly due to a respect for passionate, caring people, and partly because cuts to the health service in the UK have ensured he can barely leave the house due to his swamp of health problems. His cosy mystery series is called Democracy and Dissent and grapples with issues of the day.

Connect with Michael:

Website: https://coolwoodbooks.com/

Facebook: Michael Coolwood

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Guest Post: Adele and Tom:The Portrait of A Marriage by Chella Courington

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Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage is a stunning, lyrical tour de force that evokes Virginia Woolf’s best novels, fluidly tracing—in form and content—the complex, labyrinthine, back-and-forth between a married couple, both of whom are writers.

It is a glorious work of art.” Robin Lippincott, author of Blue Territory: a meditation on the life and art of Joan Mitchell

Today I am delighted to be hosting a guest post by Chella Courington, author of Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage, about freewriting, and Chella has also kindly allowed me to reproduce an extract from the book. Let me hand over to Chella now.

A Freewrite on Freewriting by Chella Courington

Writing can be fun. Writing can be treacherous. A writing teacher for almost thirty years, I’ve seen writing from all sides. From the frightened student wary of putting pencil to paper to the student who wants to drop the class before sinking into an abyss of words. Much of this pain and fear comes from school years of being told what’s the correct way and what’s the incorrect. Take it from me, someone who’s not only taught writing and facilitated workshops but relied on writing to help me navigate through rough waters like the breakup of my first marriage, the death of my mom, and these trying times of Covid—there is no right or wrong way to write. Just write.

The best approach is to take pen to whatever paper’s available, an envelope or napkin, or forget the pen and use your iPhone. Now, talk about whatever’s on your mind. The squabble with a friend or your sister’s forgetting your birthday, maybe the white moth orchid you saw in Gelsen’s window on your way to work. Whatever the situation, write about it. Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation or word choice, all those rules that kept writing at arm’s length, that made writing impossible because barbed with all the grammatical points. Forget the past warnings and write for five minutes, longer if you feel like it. Let your thoughts go wherever they want, twisting and turning. There’s no correct destination, just the meandering of you.

If this approach sounds too easy and uncontrolled, it is. That’s what personal writing gives us—the freeing of what we think and feel, the no-edited approach to what stirs within. In the 1970’s Peter Elbow (Writing Without Teachers, Oxford UP, 1973) popularized what he called freewriting—writing without teachers, no editing during the process, no stopping to check for right or wrong. Just following the words.

We’re always looking for ways to comprehend and cope with issues in our life as well as ways to unearth buried feelings and thoughts—not for any reason other than our own wellbeing. Our own sense of trying to understand where we are at any given moment. That very activity that little girls with pastel pink and blue diaries hid under key because Jane Austen hid under a desk pad. But in the twenty-first century writing is available to all human beings who’ve had the advantage of learning letters. They’re ours to use as we please for the celebrating and healing of us, to uncover and take care of our innermost selves hidden in hope and becoming.

Six Tips for Freewriting

  1. Write for five minutes without stopping.
  2. Follow your words wherever they go.
  3. If using a word processing program, turn off autocorrect and spell check.
  4. If you can’t think of anything to say, keep repeating “I can’t think of anything to say” until a breakthrough.
  5. Don’t worry about what you write or how. Just write.
  6. When the five minutes are over, you can read what you’ve written or leave it for later.

Your freewrites may lead to something (like this piece) or may lead nowhere. But every day you write is a better day. Every day you write makes you a better writer.

*********************

Thank you for sharing that, Chella. As an amateur writer myself, I found that very interesting. Now, here is an extract from Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage

Tom sat at the round kitchen table reading Blood Meridian for the third time. Adele placed slices of orange in front of him.

“Have you finished Mrs. Dalloway?” she asked.

There was a pause, always a felt presence between her questions and his responses, longer now that he wasn’t teaching. Finally, he looked up, the novel still open.

“Almost.” And looked down again, turning the page.

How could he say so little, almost, and that was it, that was all. He had lived with her fifteen years, he knew she adored Woolf, especially Clarissa, and all he could say was almost, one word as if it were enough.

Wanting to scream, Adele stood nearly twenty seconds, her hands squeezing the rail of the chair before she sat across from him. He mumbled or she thought he mumbled and his carriage hardened because he sensed what was coming

“What do you think?” she asked.

He breathed in this deliberate manner that bordered on a groan.

“It’s a bit slow. The writing is lovely but Woolf doesn’t pull me in,” he said, his finger holding his place in McCarthy.

Lovely. She wanted to hit him. She wanted to talk about how the novel slips from the present to the past and back again, how everyone has a point of view even the girl selling petticoats, how the miracle of existence culminates in Clarissa at the top of the stairs.

He could see her lips tightening, her presence receding. Closing his novel, he said,

“Sorry. That was a bit glib. The language is pure as one image unfolds into another. But she reads like a performance, a spectacle.” He pushed his chair back so he could cross his legs.

“Spectacle?” she asked. “What the hell do you mean? You read about massacre and bloodshed and then call Woolf spectacle because Woolf’s not killing for her audience’s attention.”

“Woolf killed Septimus,” he said.

“Asshole.”

He knew enough not to smile. Adele walked to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of water; maybe she’d throw it at him or shatter the glass and stab him. On the walnut coffee table they bought at a garage sale in Ventura was the most recent Harper’s, which reports that a team of forensic engineers at The University of Leicester measured the amount of force used in bottle stabbings and called it effectively phenomenal. She twisted the cap off the bottle and sat down across from Tom.

“God. I want to hit you,” she said.

Closing the novel again, he looked up at her and scratched his cheek, waiting.

“Ever hit a woman?” she asked.

“Does my sister count?”

“No.”

She drank some water. The fridge started up and she turned and watched it before looking back at him. Why does he always have to be a smartass? He’s so good at so much. But his silence hurts, leaves me feeling stranded. (Long before they met, her then boyfriend and she started drinking Bloody Marys at Myrtle Beach in the early afternoon. She woke with a splitting headache, nose swollen and raccoon eyes. X-rays showed no skull fracture. Adele told everyone she fell on the pier. The boyfriend bought her roses.) 

Tom pushed the novel away, still staring at her.

“I’ve never slapped a woman,” he said, “though sometimes I’ve wanted to. But I feel guilty enough.”

If that has made you want to read Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage for yourself, you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

chella in bistro

Chella Courington (she/they) is a writer and teacher whose poetry and fiction appear in numerous anthologies and journals including SmokeLong Quarterly, New World Writing, and X-R-A-Y Magazine. With three chapbooks of flash fiction, she recently published a novella-in-flash, Adele and Tom: The Portrait of a Marriage (Breaking Rules Publishing), much of which was written as freewrites.

Inspired by Evan Connell’s Mrs. Bridge (1959), it tells of a writing couple in Santa Barbara, California, struggling to keep their relationship together. While their love for each other is apparent, so are their difficulties.

Told from both points of view, the novella examines the increasing distance between two artists attempting to occupy the same space: one writer’s success is the other’s failure. But finally, the story is Adele’s as she struggles with relationship, self and ageing. A woman born and raised in the Appalachian South yet living in California, she explores who she is through the past and the present.

Connect with Chella:

Website: http://chellacourington.net/

Facebook: Chella Courington Author

Twitter: @chellacouringto

Instagram: @chellacourington

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Extract: Born of Wind (Of The Elements Book 1) by J. B. Lesel

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When the elements collide, the truth ignites

Meleena never quite fitted in among her fellow aquatic Meruyans, always skipping school to hide out and marvel at the natural world around her. So when she wins a place on the coveted Council Apprenticeship team, no one is more surprised than her.

As she embarks on a tour of the nations, Meleena’s curiosity catches the attention of the Warix, a race born with the power to control wind. But she is unprepared for the secrets she uncovers as she explores this new land. The Warix are locked in a deadly civil war, and her own people are being oppressed and exploited with no way out.

Desperate to resolve this tangled conflict, Meleena sets out to locate an ancient weapon sought by both sides. Can she unite these warring peoples in time to save her own?

The debut novel from J.B. Lesel throws you headlong into a diverse world where the elements take physical form to shape the lives of all. Perfect for fans of James Cameron’s Avatar, and The Last Airbender.

Born of Wind is the first in Lesel’s Of the Elements series which follows Meleena as she journeys out of her home village and into a world she has long been sheltered from. But the outside world is more complicated than she could ever have imagined, with a civil war looming and a mysterious missing pendant. It’s a fun, coming-of-age adventure with a fantasy twist that is sure to capture the imagination of all ages. The book was published yesterday and, to celebrate its release, I am delighted to be able to share an extract with you today. My thanks to Sarah Hembrow at Vulpine Press for providing me with the extract for reproduction here.

********************

As they walked to school, Meleena recounted to her brother the lively dinner discussion of last night. They passed the wood- and onion-shaped cottages of the town, enclosed by sapling trees forming fence posts, entangled with strings of kitten’s ear ivy. She made a mental note to draw that later, when she’d gotten her journal back.

“Well, it sounds like you really should go visit Kelrick in Dlawn’Edo. I know he can be… difficult, but there’s more to the Council than just him.”

She made a face. “Why didn’t you follow Dad and Kelrick’s footsteps and join the Meruyan government?”

“I’ve seen their world, but I’m happy right here. Plus, I have a wife and daughter of my own whose future I must protect, but if adventure interests you, I wouldn’t write off the Council so quickly.” He adjusted his glasses.

They passed the main square, where the day’s bustle had already begun, with Meruyan holding baskets to collect fresh foods from the marketplace; sea-beast drawn wooden carts traversed the streets, led by farmers bringing fruit from farm to shops.

They rounded a corner leading down the lane to the old schoolhouse, built like a conjoined ring of wooden onions—an onion-cake, frosted with moss from years of exposure to the moist coastal air. Other teens were visible from all directions down the stony lanes.

They approached the doors and Tomiyan opened them to let her in. “Just ask Dad for a tour of his study tonight,” he said and left it at that.

School went as expected. Talla, the only overachiever of the class, shot her hand up and answered every question with ease, while Meleena and the rest of the students sighed, groaned, threw paper birds, sometimes at Talla’s head, and did everything else bored students do. Everyone except Joru, Talla’s twin brother. He sat beside Meleena, always looking at her.

A gill breather. What a hokey place this was. Meleena tried to ignore him, leaning on her elbow and facing away from his batting eyes.

He was shy, but his intentions were clear. She had already told him it would never happen. For this, Talla especially despised Meleena. “You broke his heart, you flirt!” she would howl at any occasion.

But Meleena couldn’t make herself love the guy, or blame herself for existing. And that was that. Whatever. Just one more year putting up with this and she’d be free, but free to do what? Her family was right, there were no options anyway.

 

After school, she slunk home, hands in pockets with nothing to draw and no ideas for an apprenticeship. In her room, she dropped her backpack on the floor, flopped onto the bed, heart sinking. No journal to scribble her thoughts, or her way through problems.

A knock startled her and she uttered a noise muffled by a face-full of bedsheets.

Her father spoke through the door, “Meleena, I wanted to show you something. I spoke to Tomiyan, he said you seemed down.”

She sat up. “I’m fine.”

“Well, he suggested I show you my study.”

“I’ve seen it.”

“I just thought…” His voice trailed off. “I could help you pick an apprenticeship.”

The wooden floor creaked as he stood outside the door. Her heart sank further at the thought of his judgment.

“—Maybe I can convince your mother to give your journal back sooner…”

Meleena opened the door. Shadows danced on his face from the luminous worm-shell candles that lit the hallway at night.

“Sounds like a deal.”

She followed her father to the room she scarcely visited. Books lined the walls from floor to ceiling, and glass cases pillared the middle. He lit the worm-shell candles and led her to one particularly large case to the left of his desk.

“This is where I keep the most precious artifacts.”

Meleena lifted her glasses and inspected rolls of parchment, metal-plated shells, dusty leather-bound books, broken copper gadgetry, and inscribed parcels.

Her father opened a dusty book titled Gifts of the Warix: The End of the Wet Ages. “This book contains everything the Meruyan have learned from the Warix about how to live on land. Everything wooden, from homes to paper, land-farming, fire for heating and cooking. Wouldn’t you like to meet a Warix someday?”

Meleena ignored him. He was trying to get her to apprentice for the Council, but it wasn’t going to work. But she was running out of time and ideas.

“There’s more to the council than you think…” Her father handed her a scroll to read:

Legend of Peoples.

1–Meruyan: Aquatic people of the Water Spirit. Government: Meruyan Nation, Run by the Council. Capital: Dlawn’Edo

2–Warix: Forest people of the Earth Spirit. Government: Two Enemy Nations.

Sen’Drorn Warix: Name meaning “loyal to the state.” Centuries old, run by Emperor Ryogrim and advisors. Capital: Sen’Drorn City.

Sen’Prin Warix: Name meaning “loyal to the people.” Small, split-off nation, run by Governess Arenay. Capital: Sen’Prin City.

3–Hyish: Reptilian people of the Fire Spirit. Government: many clans, trading-based hierarchy, Mayfee clan most prominent. Capital: none, nomadic.

“What is this?” Meleena ran her fingers over the waxy scroll. It appeared there was more going on outside her village than she realized. “A Hyish?” She’d never even heard of that.

“Yes—reptilian people who live in tribes all over the world—be it forest, grasslands, or desert. They invented glass, you know, like those in your glasses.”

The thought of sketching and documenting their culture piqued Meleena’s interest. She’d love to meet a reptilian person one day. Outwardly, she merely shrugged and returned the scroll.

Maybe the council idea wasn’t so bad, after all. Not like she had any better ideas.

“What else is here?”

Her father handed her a horn. Turning it over, she ran her finger over the etched markings running along its surface. “I’ve never seen a horn like this… it’s like the farmers brand on pon-urchin spines, but this seems… daintier?”

“A Warix horn. Far away in the Arctic City, where both Warix and Meruyans live, it has become trendy to brandish Meruyan symbols. You could visit if you joined the council’s apprenticeship. There is a reason your mother and I raised you here, it’s safe. But there is more to the Meruyan nation than fishing villages. I promise it.”

As Meleena took the horn into her hands, a tangible part of a creature from a distant land, the world outside the village felt real for the first time. She wasn’t excited about the idea of working for the council, but it was starting to look like the best option at least as an apprenticeship. A chance to leave the town, at least she could sketch wildlife, and quit later, maybe run away to live in the forest… yes, great ideas were forming.

“Fine, I’ll sign up the council apprenticeship.”

She helped herself to an object. A small box with a golden frame caught her eye. She held it flat in her palm, opening it to find… a wooden bauble, shaped like a droplet.

“Well, you can’t simply join. The council is the hardest apprenticeship. You will need recommendations and diligence in your final year of school.”

He almost had her there.

“Maybe it’s not worth it then; I’ll just clean out pon-urchin carcasses. Why was this junk in here?” Meleena turned over the trinket. It was crudely whittled into the shape of a ram’s head, with gleaming white eye holes. The light seemed to be emanating, curiously, from within.

Before her father could answer, a deep rumbling began. Rolling thunder. They looked up, startled. A baby cried somewhere in the distance.

Hurried footsteps pounded, getting louder—Vivia and Tomiyan appeared in the doorway. Vivia gripped the doorposts, panting. “A flash storm has broken out!”

“There’s an evacuation to the underwater community already underway,” said Tomiyan through bated breath from the hall. “My family is waiting in the kitchen. We have to go, now!”

The rumbling continued.

Loroh furrowed his brow. “That’s strange, it seemed so clear earlier this evening.”

“Does that matter?” Tomiyan said. “A tornado has sprung up and has already smashed some cottages at the edge of town!”

Meleena’s heart pounded as she ran behind her parents and Tomiyan down the hall. She had forgotten to return the carving and had absent-mindedly shoved it into her pocket. I guess I’ll return this when the storm passes. Can’t exactly go back now.

Tomiyan’s wife held a restless infant and stood as they entered the kitchen. Something crashed on the roof.

Meleena and her family ran through the village towards the beach, their straw shoes slapping the stone pavement. The wind pushed them, though there weren’t any storm clouds above. Stars winked at her against the boundless darkness.

As they reached the beach, they saw other Meruyans wading into the ocean. As the waves lapped at their bodies, fins sprouted on forearms and calves. Some plunged in headfirst, arms extended. Meleena had experience with this: a steep drop not far offshore.

Still, there hadn’t been a night evacuation in years. She barely remembered the last time. Storms this bad didn’t come along every season. Meleena spotted their village elders who ran the community. She spotted Talla and Joru. Joru blushed, then faced away from her, and Talla scowled in her direction.

Meleena shivered in the cold night air. More Meruyans dove straight into the crashing waves and out of sight. Meleena, like most, stashed her glasses in a pocket: she wouldn’t need them again until life on land resumed.

Trembling under the weight of her world falling apart, Meleena stole a blurry glance toward her village being torn asunder. At least this bought her some time to decide on apprenticeships. Then she, alongside her family, dove into the dark waves.

If that small segment has whetted your appetite for the book, Born of Wind is out now in paperback and ebook formats, and is currently free to read if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. You can buy a copy here.

About the Author

J.B. Lesel is a fantasy writer living in California and sometimes in the forests of Germany. When she’s not writing or lounging like a cat, she has an unusual hobby of volunteering abroad with strange wildlife. She has a Master of Science in Psychology, working in content writing and data analytics. BORN OF WIND is her debut novel.

Connect with J. B:

Website: https://jblesel.com/

Facebook: J. B. Lesel

Twitter: @JB_Lesel

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Guest Post: A Wing and a Prayer by M W Arnold

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When Betty Palmer’s sister dies under suspicious circumstances whilst landing her Tiger Moth, Betty and three other women pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary in WWII England unite to discover who killed her and why.

Estranged from her family, Penny Blake wants simply to belong. American Doris Winter, running from a personal tragedy, yearns for a new start. Naturally shy Mary Whitworth-Baines struggles to fit in. Together though, they are a force to be reckoned with as they face the mystery that confronts them.

Against the backdrop of war, when ties of friendship are exceptionally strong, they strive to unravel the puzzle’s complex threads, risking their lives as they seek justice for Betty’s sister.

Today I am delighted to be showcasing the new novel by one of the small percentage of male authors in the Romantic Novelists’ Association. A Wing and a Prayer by M. W. Arnold will be published by Wild Rose Press on 9 November and the author, known as Mick to his friends, has kindly written me a post about what it is like to be a man in the RNA, and also given me an extract from the book to share with you.

It’s a (wo)man’s world by M. W. Arnold

I am a very lucky chap, in that I have a very understanding and trusting lady wife. Why? Well, I am very fortunate to be a member of the Romantic Novelist’s Association. Still no clearer? I’ll elaborate.

Back in 2013, I’d made the decision to turn my writing hobby into something a little more serious. A little research turned up the website of the RNA and subsequently, their New Writer’s Scheme. At slightly past midnight on the correct date, I sent off my email, applying to join and got lucky. Someone had to drop out and I was emailed asking if I’d like to join. Dashed silly question.

What I didn’t realise (and this is very silly in hindsight) was that this was very much a group dominated by women. Can you see what I meant yet? Now the purpose of the New Writer’s Scheme is to help, well, new writers. Once a year you may send in a completed (or partial) draft of what you’re writing. This will then be critueqed by a published writer. If you’re reading this as a ‘would be’ writer, then you know exactly how much of a boon this is. It certainly helped me get published.

One of the highlights of the year is the annual conference and this is where I found our exactly how much the women outnumbered the men. I think it’s about 98% women and 2% men, at last count. So, you can see what I mean about having a trusting lady wife, those are better odds than any dating agency you’ll get! To say I was nervous on my first conference was to state the obvious.

I needn’t have been though. They really are the biggest bunch of friendly, helpful loving folk. I went through a rather difficult time a while back and in the last conference held prior to all this 2020 mess, I discovered just how many friends I had. I don’t think it would be an understatement to say that I may not have made it through that conference without them.

**********

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, Mick, I’m glad the RNA is welcoming – maybe we can persuade more men to join and even up the numbers a little!

Now for an extract from Mick’s new book, A Wing and a Prayer:

“Mind the duck!”

Mary’s warning was a smidgeon too late. Betty turned her head toward the shout just when she needed to do the exact opposite and keep her eyes on the path.

“Aargh!” cried Betty as she was sent sprawling to the ground.

A loud, angry, “Quack! Quack!” was followed by a flurry of wings and feathers as the slightly stunned duck half flew and half staggered to the sanctuary provided by the river.

“I did tell her to watch out for the duck,” Mary muttered in her own defense as they rushed to help Betty to her feet.

Penny and Doris took an arm each as Mary reached to retrieve Betty’s handbag. It had landed precariously close to the edge of the river, and the dastardly duck was snuffling at it before Mary seized it and handed it back to Betty.

“Mary!” cried Betty. “Grab that envelope!”

Swiveling, Mary saw a large brown envelope and stooped for it before it could fall into the water. “Got it!” she yelled, waving it in the air. Unfortunately, the envelope being upside down, the contents spilled onto the ground around her, luckily missing going into the river. She bent down to pick them up and was surprised to discover they were all newspaper cuttings.

If you appetite has been whetted for Mick’s latest book, A Wing and a Prayer is out this coming Monday and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Mick is a hopeless romantic who was born in England and spent fifteen years roaming around the world in the pay of HM Queen Elisabeth II in the Royal Air Force before putting down roots and realizing how much he missed the travel. This he’s replaced somewhat with his writing, including reviewing books and supporting fellow saga and romance authors in promoting their novels. 

He’s the proud keeper of two Romanian Were-Cats, is mad on the music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, and enjoys the theatre and loving his Manchester-United-supporting wife. 

Finally, Mick is a full member of the Romantic Novelists Association. A Wing and a Prayer will be his second published novel, and he is very proud to be welcomed into The Rose Garden.

Connect with Mick:

Facebook: M W Arnold Author

Twitter: @mick859

Instagram: @mick859

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Blog Tour: Love & Pollination by Mari Jane Law #Extract

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I’m very happy to be taking part in the blog tour today for Love & Pollination by Mari Jane Law and I’m thrilled that I can share an extract from the book with you. My thanks to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Tours for offering me a place on the tour.

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Perdita Riley is facing the greatest dilemma of her life. Why had she taken Violet Freestone’s advice on how to make herself look more alluring? It led her into the arms of a womaniser. And now Perdita has to deal with a huge setback. Actually, Setback Number One isn’t huge yet, but it won’t be long before it is.

To cheer herself up, Perdita goes shopping, where an extraordinary encounter deposits her, literally, into the lap of Saul Hadley. She would like to stay there, but Setback Number One is going to get in the way.

Will she find a way to deal with what has happened? Can she manage the complications of her growing attraction to Saul?

Extract from Love & Pollination

“Perdita glimpsed her reflection in the bathroom mirror.

If she’d been attacked by an over-ripe tomato, she wouldn’t have appeared much different. But peering at her blotchy skin and swollen eyes was not going to help with either Setback Number One or Setback Number Two. She splashed her face with water, smoothed down her brown bob and went back to the sofa to bury herself under her duvet and think.

The doorbell rang. It was too early for the post.

Squeezing her eyes tightly shut, she buried herself deeper under the bedding. But the doorbell pealed again.

‘Perdita?’ A male voice sounded through the letterbox. And she recognised it. ‘Perdita, we know you’re in there. We heard you moving about.’

Damn. What had happened to privacy? Although Luke and Gavin were the closest thing to family she had, taking her under their wing from the day she’d moved into the flat in Clifton, she didn’t want them to see her like this. Nevertheless, she donned her dressing gown, padded to the front door and opened it a crack.

‘Hi,’ Luke and Gavin said in unison, smiling brightly at her. They were dressed ready for work: Luke in fitness instructor gear, and Gavin, an undertaker, wearing a smart dark suit.

‘We’re worried about you,’ Luke said. He was bigger than Gavin, taller and broader.

‘We heard you crying last night,’ Gavin explained.

‘And, if it’s a matter of life or death, you have both of us calling so you can take your pick.’

Opening her mouth to comment on the lack of sound-proofing between the floors of the flats, and to say she was okay and that she didn’t need any assistance, she suddenly blurted, ‘Can you find me a job?’”

***********

If this extract has whetted your appetite for the book, you can buy a copy of Love & Pollination here.

Make sure you look out for reviews and other content for this book as it takes a tour around the blogosphere this week.

About the Author

Mari Jane Law lives in the UK. She loves books, TV series and films that make her laugh and, through her writing, discovered she could make other people laugh as well. She hopes those who buy or borrow her work have as much fun reading it as she had in writing it! 

Love & Pollination is the first in a series of whacky romantic comedy novels she is working on. Her characters appeal so strongly to her that she is unable to let them go – hence the series. She enjoys their humorous behaviour, quirky personalities and sharp, witty dialogue.

She was very pleased to have been shortlisted for Choc Lit’s 2019 Search for a Star competition.

Member of Cambridge Writers.  

Connect with Mari Jane:

Website: https://marijanelaw.com

Facebook: Mari Jane Law

Twitter: @MariJaneLaw1

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