Promo Post: Kiss & Tell – An Amaryllis Media Anthology

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I’m happy to be bringing you news today of a new limited edition anthology of new adult college romance stories which is coming September 2022 and is currently  available to pre-order for the bargain price of only 99p!

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ᴡʜᴀᴛ ᴄᴏᴜʟᴅ ɢᴏ ᴡʀᴏɴɢ ᴡʜᴇɴ ᴛʜᴇ ɢᴏᴏᴅ ɢɪʀʟ ɢᴇᴛꜱ ꜱᴛᴜᴄᴋ ᴡɪᴛʜ ᴛʜᴇ ʙᴀᴅ ʙᴏʏ? ᴀꜰᴛᴇʀ ᴀʟʟ, ɪᴛ’ꜱ ᴊᴜꜱᴛ ᴄʜᴇᴍɪꜱᴛʀʏ…
 
This limited edition collection takes readers on a whirlwind through new adult college romances where the good girl is stuck with the bad boy and she’s not happy about it, until their chemistry together makes her question everything she thought she knew about him.
 
This collection will include stories by the authors listed below:
☆ Mandy Melanson & Colleen Key ☆ H.M Shander ☆ C.A King ☆ Sofia Aves ☆ Lizzi Stone ☆ Kari Shuey ☆ Kira Cunningham ☆ Amy Stephens ☆ Sienna Grant ☆ Ainsley Jaymes ☆ Corinne M Knight ☆ Lynn Stevens ☆ Sarah Peis ☆ Sunny Abernathy ☆ TB Mann ☆ Rachel A. Smith ☆ Krista Ames ☆ Danielle Jacks ☆ C.N. Marie & Lizzie James ☆ Samantha Baca ☆ Zepphora ☆ Maci Dillon ☆ Lissa Lynn Thomas ☆ Adina D. Grey ☆ Jennifer Sucevic ☆ LJC Fynn & Hope Sherrill ☆ Leanne Davis ☆ Kaye Kennedy ☆ Lexi Noir ☆ Rhylie Matthews ☆ Helena Novak ☆ Kevin Berry ☆ Kira Cunningham
 
If this sounds like your cup of tea, make sure you pre-order it now. You can do so by following this link.
 
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Rachel Gilbey is shortlisted for RNA Media Star of the Year Award 2021.

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As some of you may know, last year I was named the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Media Star of the Year, which is by far and away the biggest accolade I have received since I started blogging. Now it is time for the 2021 RNA Industry Awards, and I am waiting eagerly to see who is going to take the award this year.

One of the people shortlisted is my good friend, blogging superstar and a blog tour organiser I work with regularly, Rachel Gilbey. Rachel’s blog is called Rachel’s Random Readsand she organises blog tours under the banner of Rachel’s Random Resources. She is well known in the romance writing community as an enthusiastic lover and promoter of the genre. 

I am really excited that Rachel has been nominated this year, not for the first time, and look forward to seeing who is crowned at the ceremony on 28 October in London which I will be attending to cheer on Rachel and the other fabulous nominees in this and all the other categories. Whoever wins, the evening will be a great celebration of romance writing.

Here is the full press release announcing Rachel’s nomination.

Rachel Gilbey, Media Star, RNA IA21

London media star, Rachel Gilbey, has been shortlisted in the Media Star of the Year category for the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s annual Industry Awards for 2021. The awards, which include four exciting new categories for this year, celebrate the hard work and talent of any person, group or organisation who has championed the broad genre of romantic fiction in a positive way.

Since starting her popular blog, Rachel’s Random Reads, over six years ago, Rachel has discovered just how much the book community means to her, and has even created her own ideal job of organising blog tours. She loves reading a wide range of genres, but particularly enjoys contemporary romantic fiction. She lives in London, which she says is useful for attending book events and indulging in her passion for West End musical theatre.

Rachel commented, “I am over the moon and completely shocked to be shortlisted for the fourth year in a row for this fabulous award. I never thought I’d be nominated for an award once, let alone four times, and maybe, just maybe this will be my year! Either way, my love of romance will never wane, and it truly is an honour to be nominated by the RNA which features so many authors that I love reading.”

Laura James, the RNA Industry Awards organiser, commented, “Despite the lockdowns, the isolations and difficult times we’ve endured over the last eighteen months, romantic fiction has continued to entertain, bring comfort, and provide an escape for our readers, and a substantial part of that is due to the dedication and calibre of the nominees in the Industry Awards categories.”

The awards have been held for the past seven years and are highly respected in the UK publishing industry. The shortlistees are nominated by the full and associate membership of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

The new award categories recognise the best Narrator, Named Cover Designer, Indie Editor, and Indie Champion of the Year. Along with the best Bookseller, Media Star, Agent, Publisher or Editor, Library or Librarian, and the Inclusion Award for championing inclusivity in romantic authorship and publishing, they spotlight the many professionals who promote and support romantic fiction.

The winners of the ten awards will be announced during the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Winter Party and Industry Awards ceremony, which is being held at the Leonardo Royal Hotel London City, 8-14 Cooper’s Row, London EC3N 2BQ, on Thursday 28th October 2021 at 6.30pm.

ABOUT THE ROMANTIC NOVELISTS’ ASSOCIATION:

The Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) is a professional body primarily for writers of romantic fiction. Founded in 1960 to provide a voice for romance authors and to be a network for writers, it continues to raise the prestige of romantic fiction and encourage romantic authorship. Their 1000+ membership includes writers across the spectrum of commercial and women’s fiction, along with publishing industry professionals, booksellers, and book reviewers. In addition to organising annual publishing awards, they also host a range of workshops, talks, networking events, a three-day annual conference, and provide support to unpublished authors through their New Writers’ Scheme.

For more information about the Romantic Novelists’ Association, please visit their website: https://romanticnovelistsassociation.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flambards is available to buy here.

About the Author

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

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Blog Tour: Before Pittsburgh by Kasie Whitener #BookReview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before Pittsburgh

About the Author

[Insert photo here]

[insert bio here]

Connect with Kasie:

Website: https://kasiewhitener.com/

Facebook: Kasie Whitener

Twitter: @KasieWhitener

Instagram: @kasiewhitener

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews… with Catherine Tinley

Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been my huge pleasure.

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

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Lady’s maid…

To wedded Lady?

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

About the Author

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

Connect with Catherine:

Website: https://catherinetinley.com/

Facebook: Catherine Tinley 

Twitter: @CatherineTinley

Instagram: @catherinetinleywriter

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

Awards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

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

Connect with Julie:

Website: www.juliehouston.co.uk

Facebook: Julie Houston Author

Twitter: @JulieHouston2

Instagram: @juliehoustonauthor

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Desert Island Children’s Books… A Dog So Small by Philippa Pearce

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This month’s pick for the children’s book I would take to my island is probably going to be a surprising one because it is not the best-loved book by this author. Philippa Pearce is most well-known as the author of Tom’s Midnight Garden but the book of hers which I have chosen is A Dog So Small.

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Young Ben Blewitt is desperate for a dog. He’s picked out the biggest and best dogs from the books in the library – and he just knows he’s going to get one for his birthday. Ben is excited when the big day arrives, but he receives a picture of a dog instead of a real one! But the imagination can be a powerful thing, and when Ben puts his to work, his adventures really begin!

This is the story of a young boy who longs for a dog to be his friend. Ben is the middle child in his family of five. With two older sisters and two younger brothers, Ben doesn’t really fit in with either group and would love a dog to alleviate his loneliness. But, living in a small house in south London with six other people, it just isn’t possible. His only contact with dogs is when he visits his grandparents in the country. However, Ben’s hopes are raised when his grandfather hints that they may give him a dog for his birthday.

On the day, he is disappointed when only a picture of a tiny dog is delivered. However, after his initial disappointment, Ben becomes intrigued by the image of the tiny dog that his great-uncle brought back from Mexico. As he learns more and more about the chihuahua embroidered in the picture, his imagination begins to imbue the dog with life until it becomes more real to him than what surrounds him in real life. As Ben is consumed by his imaginary life, things in the real world take a terrible turn, but then finds sometimes dreams come true in unexpected ways.

The story really captures the power of a child’s dreams, and the disappointment that needs to be faced when the reality which manifests doesn’t match the fantasy. This author really understands the emotions of a child and is adept at expressing them on the page. When I was young and read this book. I could relate to what Ben was feeling and all the range of emotions he went through, and the book is still powerful even now when I went back to it. The way he feels loneliness and isolation in the midst of a big family, and the comfort and love animals can bring is a universal experience that many people share. The thing children want most is to be understood, and this book can make a child feel that way, which is a real skill in an author.

A very unique story that I can still see why I loved as a child.

You can buy a copy of A Dog So Small here.

About the Author

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Philippa Pearce spent her childhood in Cambridgeshire and was the youngest of four children of a flour-miller. The village, the river, and the countryside in which she lived appear more or less plainly in Minnow on the Say and Tom’s Midnight Garden.

She later went on to study English and History at Cambridge University. She worked for the BBC as a scriptwriter and producer, and then in publishing as an editor. She wrote many books including the Modern Classic, Tom’s Midnight Garden, for which she won the Carnegie Medal. She was also awarded an OBE for services to Children’s Literature.

Sadly, Philippa died in 2006, at the age of 86.

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews… with Louise Douglas

Awards

In this week’s instalment of my interviews with the winners of the 2021 Romantic Novel Awards, I am chatting with the winner of the Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award, author Louise Douglas.

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Louise, congratulations on winning the Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 with your novel The House By The Sea and thank you very much for agreeing to talk to me for the blog.

Thank you so much. I’m thrilled to be here.

The Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award was a new category for the awards in 2020. I remember hearing the new category announced at the 2019 awards and it caused much excitement. How does it feel to be one of the first winners of the award, and to be following in the footsteps of such a titan of the industry?

It feels amazing, something that I shall treasure for the rest of my life. I’m still buzzing! It’s fantastic that the RNA is helping bring the work of wonderful Jackie Collins to new generations of readers and I couldn’t be more proud. #BeMoreJackie

How did you feel on the night when you heard your name announced? You seemed to be stunned that you had won. 

I was stunned! Before the announcement, I was in a virtual ‘green room’ with the other shortlisted authors and it was such a strong line-up; wonderful authors and fabulous books. I still can’t quite believe what happened.

I loved the fact that you thanked bloggers in your acceptance speech, and name-checked a few who obviously had an impact on you. What do you feel that bloggers can bring to the table for authors?

I’m so grateful to the blogging community and have made some treasured friends. Social media is a major part of most people’s lives now and the work bloggers do to champion books, and reading, is so important for us. It’s brilliant for an author when a blogger writes a fantastic review, or, like you’re doing here, makes a bridge between writers and readers. And, as a voracious reader, bloggers often help me decide which book to pick up next. 

Your winning novel, The House By The Sea, is set in an abandoned villa in Sicily. what inspired you to set a book in that particular location? What research did you do to make the setting so authentic?

We went to the south-eastern region of Sicily to explore the World Heritage baroque towns and cities of the Val di Noto made famous in the TV adaptations of the Montalbano novels. I fell head over heels in love with the region; it is one of my top three favourite places on earth and I would recommend it to everyone. It was during this holiday that we found the villa that was the inspiration for the house in the book.

The success of the novel clearly lies in the strong relationship between setting, characters and plot. Which came first for you when you first conceived this novel? Is that the way is usually works in your writing, that one aspect of the novel draws the rest of it together or is it different every time?

That’s an interesting question. I usually start with a location. If a plot idea comes first, I never use it until I find the right location. With the House by the Sea, I’d wanted to write about people who had been badly hurt by life, and Sicily, a beautiful, deeply interesting island that has itself endured much trauma and that has its dark side, was the perfect setting. 

Your award was in the category for a ‘romantic novel with thriller, mystery, crime or suspense elements.’ Which aspect of this are you drawn to most, the romance or the thriller, or do they always have to work together for you? Can you see yourself ever being pulled in the direction of purely one or the other?

I love writing romance but all my books have a Gothic element to them so I can’t imagine writing a love story without suspense or mystery of some kind. I have written mystery/suspense stories with no traditional romance – although there is always love in some guise. 

Much as we all like to celebrate past successes, our focus soon has to turn forwards and on to the next project. What do you have in the pipeline and what influence do you see winning this award having on your writing and future career?

The biggest boost that winning this award has given me, is to my confidence. It’s made a massive difference and because I wasn’t plagued with as many of the usual insecurities, I finished my next novel in record time. It’s being published in October, is called The Room in the Attic and is set in an old Victorian asylum now used as a boarding school. The main characters are an ageing nurse, the child in her care, and two 13-year-old school pupils. I don’t want to jinx the book but these characters are probably my favourites of all those I’ve ever written. Fingers crossed that other people like them too. 

Thank you so much for the interview and for inviting me onto your blog Julie, it’s lovely to be here and I really enjoyed answering the questions. 

Good luck to all the RNA 2022 entrants!

Louise, thank you so much for answering my questions today, I have loved hearing about your experiences.

The 2022 Romantic Novel Awards are now open for entry until 30 September 2021.

Louise’s award-winning book, The House By The Sea, can be purchased here in all formats. Watch out for my review of the book coming soon.

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The new chilling and captivating novel from the bestselling author of Richard & Judy pick The Secrets Between Us.

When Edie’s mother-in-law, Anna DeLuca, dies, she is relieved. Edie blames Anna for the accident that destroyed her family. So, when her will lures Edie to Sicily and the long-abandoned Villa della Madonna del Mare, she sees through Anna’s games.

Suspecting Anna is meddling from beyond the grave to try to reunite her and her ex-husband Joe, Edie is determined to leave Italy as soon as possible. But before she can, the villa starts to shed its mysterious secrets.

Who are the girls beside Anna in her childhood photos, and why has the face of one of them been scratched out? Why does someone, or something, want them to leave the past untouched? The villa is a place where old ghosts feel at home, but does their legacy need to be laid to rest before Edie and Joe can move on…

Bestselling author Louise Douglas returns with a captivating, chilling and unforgettable tale of betrayal, jealousy and the mysteries hidden in every family history.

About the Author

Louise Douglas is the bestselling and brilliantly reviewed author of 6 novels including The Love of my Life and Missing You – a RNA award winner. The Secrets Between Us was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. She lives in the West Country.

Connect with Louise:

Facebook: Louise Douglas Author

Twitter: @LouiseDouglas3

Instagram: @louisedouglas3

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Blog Tour: Grown Ups by Marie Aubert; Translated by Rosie Hedger #BookReview

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Ida is a forty-year-old architect, single and starting to panic. She’s navigating Tinder and contemplating freezing her eggs, but forces these worries to the back of her mind as she sets off to the family cabin for her mother’s sixty-fifth birthday.

But family ties old and new begin to wear thin, out in the idyllic Norwegian countryside. Ida is fighting with her sister Marthe, flirting with Marthe’s husband and winning the favour of Marthe’s stepdaughter. Some supposedly wonderful news from her sister sets tensions simmering even further, building to an almighty clash between Ida and her sister, her mother, her whole family.

Exhilarating, funny and unexpectedly devastating, Grown Ups asks what kind of adult you are without a family of your own.

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour for Grown Ups by Marie Aubert. My thanks to Tara McEvoy of Pushkin Press for inviting me to take part and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, provided via NetGalley, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This was such a melancholic book to read, I wasn’t expecting it at all. We are following the story of Ida, as she goes out to her family’s holiday cabin on the edge of a fjord to celebrate her mother’s birthday, along with her stepfather, her sister and her sister’s family. Ida’s life isn’t going to plan at all. She is forty, alone and contemplating freezing her eggs before time runs out.

Ida is quite a hard character to like, to be honest. She seems pathologically jealous of her sister, to the point where she is actively destructive. I understand where she is coming from. Her sister is hugely annoying – demanding and self-centred – and everyone seems to pander to her. At least this is how it looks to Ida, and she feels side-lined by the rest of the family. I have three sisters, and sometimes they can wind me up because we are all very different people, but I would never behave to them the way Ida does. She seems quite sly, which is hard to warm to.

In fact, most of the people in this story, and it is a small cast, are quite dysfunctional. The one person who isn’t, probably because he is so peripheral, Ida hates, probably because he observations on her behaviour are so acute and she doesn’t like having her faults mirrored back at her. In fact, I am sure the author meant Stein to act a little as Ida’s conscience, not that she takes much notice of him.

This is an excoriating treatise on family relationships, and how some people’s are so transactional. If you don’t behave a certain way, affection can be withheld. It is a diatribe against the expectations society has, with the family acting as a microcosm of society here, on women and how women feel when they can’t meet those expectations. How it undermines their own opinion of themselves. I didn’t get the impression that Ida liked herself very much, she certainly isn’t happy, but I also wasn’t convinced she wanted the things she was pursuing particularly for herself, but because that is what society expects her to do.

The book is beautifully written, with very detailed and well-developed characters who were very realistic on the page. Perhaps too realistic. I fully believed in the relationships that were playing out on the page, and they made me deeply sad. It is astounding to me that this book was written by someone young, as it has such a world-weary air. It is a sorry reflection of modern society that this is how it still makes women feel when they do not conform to an outdated stereotype.

This is a fantastically crafted novel, with some beautiful imagery, impressive characterisation and thought-provoking themes. It reminded me of how I felt after reading Sarah Moss’s exceptional Summerwater last year. Moved but profoundly sad. If you are looking for something meaningful to read, look no further.

Grown Ups is out now in paperback and ebook formats, and you can buy a copy here.

Please make sure to visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour for this book as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Marie Aubert made her debut in 2016 with the short story collection Can I Come Home With You, which sold more than 10,000 copies in Norway. Grown Ups is her first novel, and won the Young People’s Critics’ Prize (Norway’s equivalent to the Goncourt des lyceens) and was nominated for the Booksellers’ Prize. Rights have already been sold in ten other countries.

Connect with Marie:

Twitter: @marieau

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews with…. Shirley Mann

Awards

Today, my series of interviews with the winners of the Romantic Novel Awards 2021 continues with Shirley Mann, winner of the Romantic Saga Award with her novel, Bobby’s War.

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Shirley, congratulations on winning the Romantic Saga Award in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 with your novel Bobby’s War. You appeared totally shocked to have won this award on the night. Were you really as surprised as you seemed? Has it sunk in yet?

It’s so lovely of you to ask me to appear on your blog, Julie, thank you. 

Oh dear, it showed did it? I was completely stunned. After all, this is only my second novel and I had been prepared to dine out forever on being nominated but once I checked the rest of the terrifyingly successful authors on the shortlist, I thought, oh well, I’ll just pour myself a G and T and enjoy the evening. In fact, it was only five minutes beforehand that someone suggested we should all have a list of thank yous ready, just in case, so I’d scribbled some on the edge of the newspaper next to me. I could hardly get a coherent word out, so those notes saved the day. And as far as it sinking in, nah!

Bobby’s War is only your second novel. What does it mean to you to have won this award so early on in your career? What affect do you think it will have on your future career? What reaction have you had to your win so far?

Future career? Oh help, I have no idea. I’m so new to all this that I’m sort of muddling along but believe me, I’m loving being able to add ‘award-winning author’ to every possible communication I send out! It’s huge kudos and I had no idea how much it would propel me into the spotlight. I’d love to be able to say that I have a plan for my future career, but that might be a complete exaggeration. I wrote one book just to see whether I could and somehow, I now have a contract for four. If I think too far ahead, it leads to panic, so I try to stick with the present and leave the future to sort itself out. I was taught by my parents that to succeed, you have to learn to fail so I’ve probably gone through life not being scared to fail and that has helped because, frankly, what can possibly go wrong?

You mentioned in your acceptance speech that you didn’t start writing until you were 60 years old, which gives me hope as a still-aspiring writer at the age of 49 that I haven’t left it too late. What made you start on the road to publication at that age?

Oh, you’re a mere youngster! This is my third career and I certainly didn’t think it through but I know I couldn’t have written a novel while I was working so I don’t know you authors like you do it. I worked firstly as a journalist, mainly for the BBC and between that and bringing up a family, there was hardly enough time to read a novel, let alone write one. Then, at 46, I set up my own media company doing PR and making films for environmental organisations like Natural England and the National Heritage Lottery Fund. That was fun but then I was beginning to feel a little too old to be climbing over fences in fields lugging huge camera equipment with me so I thought, OK, let’s try that novel, but I really didn’t think it would lead to a third career. However, I think it’s really important never to feel it’s too late and certainly, the wonderful women I interview for my books make me feel like a spry youngster!

I know your parents’ love story inspired your writing. Can you expand on that a little for me and tell us how the idea for Bobby’s War came about?

The last three years of my mum’s life were a little difficult and we struggled to remember the slightly Irish woman who used to dance around the kitchen so just before she died, I asked her more and more about her time in the WAAFs and watched her eyes light up as she remembered the seismic change in the life of an ordinary 19-year-old from Manchester. These girls were expected to just take over from their mums and suddenly, they were thrust into a world where there was terror, yes, but also excitement and new experiences and they found they were more capable than they- or anyone else- expected. Unable to ask my mum any more questions, I raced around the country to talk to servicewomen already in their late 80s and 90s. They inspired me so much, I then felt a huge responsibility to tell their stories. Once I’d heard about the Air Transport Auxiliary pilots, there was no going back. I was so in awe of what they had achieved- they flew everything from Spitfires to huge bombers on their own, without radios, radar or navigation equipment. They used a ruler and a compass, for heavens sake! I couldn’t believe it when Mary Ellis invited me to her home on the Isle of Wight to interview her. It was an amazing experience and gave me the confidence to tackle ‘Bobby’s War’ but believe me, she was so competent and in control, I knew I was going to have to make my heroine have just a few more frailties than she had. I felt I was in the presence of the head girl! She died at the age of 101 just a few weeks later and I am so grateful I met her, she really was an inspiration. 

Shirley Mann with ATA pilot, Mary Ellis

Your books are all about strong, independent women stepping out of their comfort zones when it counts. What is it about these women that ignites your desire to tell their stories?

I am a product of the 70s when we ditched our bras and thought we could change the world but once I started to meet these self-effacing women from the war era, I realised we were too late; it had already been done, it was just that none of these 90-year-olds thought to mention it. We hear so much about the heroic exploits of men, but these WAAFs, ATA pilots and Land Army girls (and-plot spoiler-maybe a female police officer for book 4) didn’t just break glass ceilings, they smashed them. But they didn’t all start off strong and I particularly wanted to depict real women, so Lily is strong but a bit dizzy, Bobby is terrifyingly capable with planes but rubbish with people and Hannah is shy and has to find her own strengths while hunting rats, being knee deep in mud and coming across men who see her as an easy target. Having been privileged enough to meet so many real servicewomen from the war, I now feel a moral duty to take readers into their worlds and talk about everything from how they managed with Eau de Cologne instead of shampoo, made skirts without pleats to save material and lived on a diet of reconstituted eggs-even periods were a challenge. At a time when we’ve been complaining that we can’t go out for a meal or travel abroad on holiday, their stories have been timely reminders of how lucky our generation has been.

We spoke briefly about our mutual love of the Isle of Man and your upcoming research trip there. How much research goes in to your books, what is your research process and how long does the research for one book take?

Oh the beloved research! A source of love and hate in my life. My background as a journalist means I panic if I haven’t got a safety blanket of facts, so I go to ridiculous lengths to check things. I once spent two days trying to find out whether ginger was available to make biscuits in 1942 before I realised I could make them garibaldi biscuits! I start off by getting a feel for where I am setting the book, preferably by travelling there and just walking around or even taking a trip on Google Earth. Then I immerse myself in any personal memories, either in books or in person, that will take me into that world, then I start to write, making endless notes in the side column for things I need to check later. But the part I love the best is real people’s stories- the ones that aren’t in the history books, like the fact that they all carried round an old penny piece to use as a plug for basins because all the rubber had gone to the war effort. As soon as Lockdown eased, I raced to Salhouse in Norfolk and accosted every local I came across. From that  trip, I found out about the buses on a Sunday in 1943 to Norwich from a lovely 95 year old called Joyce then I went into the station in Norwich and asked about trains from Norwich to Manchester. The girl behind the counter told me it depended on the time. You should have seen her face when I told her – 1943.  I love the research, to be honest, sometimes, I’m in danger of forgetting to write, but it is nice when you’re not feeling very inspired to have something you can do that makes you feel you are ‘doing the book’ and research is never wasted, in fact, the problem is you need to do so much research for one single throwaway line. But I live in fear of people finding something anachronistic or just plain wrong in my books so I do everything I can to get it right. 

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I’m sure mention of your trip to the Isle of Man will have piqued your readers’ curiosity about what they can expect in your next book? Any sneaky clues as to what you have coming up?

The next book to be published will actually be ‘Hannah’s War’ about a Land Army girl and that’s out as an ebook in October with the paperback following in March next year but for Book 4, I’ve been on tenterhooks waiting to see whether the Isle of Man government would let travellers in and as I’m double-jabbed, I have just discovered I can travel, so I’m off there this week. I love writing books about areas of the war people don’t know about and as soon as I discovered the Isle of Man had internment camps where they put everyone they didn’t know what to do with, I was intrigued. The island became a melting pot of Nazis, Jews, Conscientious Objectors, Fascist Mosley supporters and prostitutes all having to learn to live together. Yep, you’re right, I couldn’t wait to write that one. The trouble was, I wanted to write about a Queen Alexandra nurse but then, after several months of working out my plot, I found out there weren’t any on the island so I went into a blind panic until I discovered there were women police officers- really unusual at the time. Phew!  

My parents spent time in the IOM when my dad retired and they are both buried there so I have a huge affection for it and having started with their wartime romance, I feel I’ve come full circle by placing my next book there. I just hope the next book and all my books to justice to my parents’ legacy and that of all those wonderful women who were kind enough to share their stories with me.

Shirley, thank you for being so generous with your time, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this interview and hearing your stories.

Shirley’s award-winning novel, Bobby’s War is available now and you can buy a copy here.

Bobby's War cover

On the ground, the crowd of men stood with their mouths agape, watching the wings soar into the air, the tail kept impressively steady and the small plane with a woman at the controls disappearing into the May sunshine

It’s 1942 and Bobby Hollis has joined the Air Transport Auxiliary in a team known as the ‘glamour girls’ – amazing women who pilot aircraft all around the country.

Bobby always wanted to escape life on the family farm and the ATA seemed like the perfect opportunity for her. But there’s always something standing in her way. Like a demanding father, who wants to marry her off to a rich man. And the family secrets that threaten to engulf everything.

As Bobby navigates her way through life, and love, she has to learn that controlling a huge, four-engined bomber might just be easier than controlling her own life . . .

About the Author

Shirley is a journalist who has spent her life juggling various careers in writing, broadcasting and lecturing, none of which had a regular contract, salary or pension. She started working as a reporter for a local newspaper in Chester, then went through a panoply of equally unknown publications until she started work for the BBC, where she moved through radio to television as a reporter, presenter and producer. She then set up her own media company with lecturing as a sideline, producing short films for environmental organisations. 

The fact that she is now, apparently, an author, has taken her by complete surprise, particularly as the first book, ‘Lily’s War’, took six years to write and would have been consigned to a drawer if it had not been for a foot operation that forced her to sit and be bored for weeks, reaching back into that drawer for something to do. Her compulsive need to talk to strangers led to a random chat with an agent at a writers’ conference and somehow, as a result of that, she got a four-book deal with Zaffre at Bonnier Books. Her first two books, ‘Lily’s War’ about a WAAF in Bomber Command and ‘Bobby’s War’ about an ATA pilot have now been published. Her third book, ‘Hannah’s War’ is about a Land Army girl is out in October as an e book and in paperback early next year and the fourth is based around the internment camp for women in the Isle of Man and will be published the year after. 

She lives with her husband in a gorgeous market town on the edge of the Derbyshire Peak District, heading off regularly with her camper van and her bike. She has two grown up daughters, one of whom failed to listen to her mother and works in television and the other works in the environmental sector. 

Connect with Shirley:

Website/Blog: https://shirleymannauthor.home.blog/

Facebook: Shirley Mann Author

Twitter: @shirleymann07

Instagram: @shirleymann2600

 

Don’t forget, entries for the 2022 Romantic Novel Awards are now open and you can find details of how to enter on the Romantic Novelists’ Association website.

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