Introducing ‘Romancing The Romance Authors’

Romancing The Romance Authors

I just wanted to put up a quick post to trail a new feature that is starting on the blog next week which I am really excited about, and I hope you, my dear readers, will be too.

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It is called Romancing The Romance Authors and it’s an interview feature where I will be chatting with current members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association about the hows, whys and wherefores of their writing, and hopefully getting some tips on how to write romance from the professionals. I hope it will be fun and be enlightening for any other lovers of romantic fiction and budding romance writers out there too.

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The RNA is an organisation that is important to me, as an aspiring romance writer and lover of romantic fiction. It fosters and promotes the writing of romance, particularly through the mentoring of the New Writers’ Scheme, so I am excited to be able to give something back to the people who have been so encouraging and supportive of me in my writing efforts by shining a spotlight on their work, and maybe learning a little something along the way.

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To begin with, this feature will appear every other Tuesday, beginning on 1st September with author of Art and Soul, Claire Huston. Who knows, if it goes well and proves popular, I may extend to other genres. Cross-examining The Crime Authors, maybe? Studying The Historical Authors? (That one needs a catchier title.)

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There are unlimited possibilities and I am excited to see how it goes.

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Join me here next week for the first instalment.

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Book Review: Realityland – True-Life Adventures of Walt Disney World by David Koenig #freereading

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The first-ever in-depth, unauthorized look at the creation and operation of the world’s most popular vacation destination.

Step backstage and witness: Walt’s original plans for Disney World and how his dreams completely changed in the hands of his successors… His undercover agents who secretly bought 44 square miles of swamps… The chaotic construction and frantic first years of the Magic Kingdom… The underground caverns that wind beneath the theme park… Disney’s unconventional, initially disastrous foray into operating its own hotels… The behind-the-scenes machinations that led to EPCOT Center… How safety and security are maintained on property at all costs… The tumultuous change of leadership that turned the cherished Ways of Walt upside down.

Anyone who knows me knows I have a bit of an obsession with Disney, and with the Disney theme parks in particular. I first went to Walt Disney World in 1998, when I was 26 (we never travelled abroad when I was child, my mother hates to fly, my first foreign escapade was aged 15 on a school trip to France) and I fell in love with the place immediately. But, as well as being magical, I was fascinated by how the whole place had been created and was run, how they had managed to make it so self-contained, so separate from the outside world, so that the illusion could be maintained throughout. A few years later, when we visited Disneyland in California, I became even more fascinated by the difference between what Disney had achieved in Orlando compared to Anaheim.

I have been back to Florida countless times in the past 22 years, and it is even more fantastic when you see it through your children’s eyes. My two girls have grown up with it and they, along with my three step-daughters who first visited seven years ago, and even my big, beefy, cynical Irishman are also enchanted with the place. That takes somewhere special. But none of them are as obsessed with the machinery behind the Mouse the way I am.

Here is my shelf of non-fiction books about the Disney company and Walt Disney World (I’ve got a couple more that are too tall for this shelf and are elsewhere, plus a couple of digital ones as well.) They cover everything from theme park design to how Disney train their staff in customer service, boardroom battles for control of the Disney empire, to stories from ex-cast members and maps of the parks, and they are all fascinating. I’m always on the look out for more too, so if any of you have any recommendations, let me know.

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Since we weren’t going to get a holiday abroad this year due to Covid, and my planning for our next Florida trip is also on hold while the uncertainty around  the pandemic lingers, I decided to take a virtual trip there through one of my favourite books about the creation of the Florida theme park, Realityland by David Koenig. This book is a really comprehensive guide to how the idea for the second park in Florida was conceived, how Walt and his team went about acquiring the land and building the park, to how it has developed over the years (although it only goes up to the mid-90s. Any chance of an updated and extended version covering to the present day, David? I would buy it!)

For any of you who don’t know much about Walt Disney World, but are interested in how something as huge as the Florida park came about, this book is a fascinating read. It tells you how Walt wanted to make sure his park was not eventually surrounded by uncontrolled building of cheap motels, restaurants and gift shops as in Anaheim which spoiled the Disney illusion. How they bought the land in secret, and negotiated with the local government for unprecedented control over everything, including drainage, fire and policing. How they turned 40+ square miles of Florida swamp into what is there today, even after the tragic death of Walt before it was completed, and how they tried to be true to Walt’s vision for EPCOT and whether they succeeded.

It would be hard to see how any book on the subject could be more comprehensive than this one, and yet it is still very easy to read and approachable, if you are interested in the topic. And the story of how this amazing and impressive place was built, is maintained and continues to grow and delight people the world over is quite remarkable when you take a step back and look at it. Regardless of whether you love Disney or loathe it, you have to give them credit for what they have created, from Walt’s original and extraordinary vision to what stands there today, which even he probably could not have foreseen. And it all started with a Mouse.

Realityland is out now and you can buy a copy here (although, being an old book it’s quite expensive!)

About the Author

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David Koenig is chief editor for Costa Mesa, Ca.-based 526 Media Group. He received his degree in journalism from California State University, Fullerton, and has become arguably the theme park industry’s best-known “outsider,” after penning such best-sellers as Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears Look at Disneyland, Mouse Under Glass: Secrets of Disney Animation & Theme Parks, and Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World. He is also an original contributor to MousePlanet.com.He lives with his wife Laura and children Zachary and Rebecca in Aliso Viejo, Ca.

Connect with David:

Twitter: @davidkoenig

Instagram: @davidgkoenig

Spotlight: 200 Foot Game by Kathy Obuszewski

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Fate threw them together, the world is trying its best to tear them apart.

A car accident isn’t a great place to meet a woman, right?
Right. I knew that. Besides, she’s older than me.
But when we met again at my star player’s party, who am I to say no to destiny?
She’s the fire to my ice and I want to hold onto her forever.
Cancer is trying to tell me I can’t.

I’m shining the spotlight today on the latest release in the Cleveland Sound series by Kathy Obuszewski, 200 Foot Game. Perfect for any fans of a sports-centred romance, it is a book that you might need a box of tissues at hand for as you read!

The book is available to read for free on Kindle Unlimited, along with the first book in the series, Deking The PuckKathy is also the author of The Sound of Christmas, also available on Kindle Unlimited, and will be releasing another book in early October.

If you would like to get hold of a copy of 200 Foot Game, you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Kathy is a passionate hockey fan. She plays, she watches and dreams of it, so she decided to start writing hockey romances.

You can find out more about Kathy by following her social media:

Website: https://kathyobuszewski.com

Facebook: Kathy Obuszewski

Instagram: @kathyobuszewski

Guest Post: 10:59 by N.R. Baker

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A deadly virus. An over-populated world. An impossible decision.

If you held the lives of those around you in your hands, who would you save? And could you live, knowing you had sentenced others to certain death?

Louis Crawford is a boy with a unique ability: to see through the noise to the problems and solutions that others are blind to. When asked to come up with an idea that will change the world, his answer is both shocking and simple. And it is a solution that will change everything, forever.

Louis finds himself thrust into the middle of an organisation that has the power to save the world. But are its motives pure? And can he live with the price that humanity must pay?

The clock is ticking to the end of the world; and we’re already at 10:59.

I am delighted to be featuring 10:59 by N.R. Baker on the blog today to celebrate its publication. Described as “the most important book you’ll read this year. An apocalyptic thriller with a difference, it will have you questioning everything – and everyone – you thought you knew,” it is a book I am really excited about reading. In the meantime, I have a fascinating Q&A that the author did for her publisher to share with you.

Q&A with Niki Baker for Burning Chair Publishing

Tell us a bit about yourself – how did you start writing and why?

I can’t remember starting to write. When my parents moved house and cleared their loft, they discovered some of my early works, written when I was five or six years old. The stories were brief and terrible, but they prove that I’ve always been fascinated with the art of using words to paint pictures.

With no spoilers, tell us a bit about 10:59 and what prompted you to write it.

10:59 is the story of Louis (‘with a wiss, not a wee’): a teenager who has a seemingly unique ability to see things that are invisible to others. When he’s asked to come up with an idea that will change the world, his answer is both shocking and simple. Louis finds himself thrust into the heart of an organisation that has the power to save a planet on the brink of destruction. With time running out, Louis must decide whether his employer’s motives are pure. And he will face an impossible dilemma about the devastating price that humanity must pay for its own salvation.

I was prompted to write 10:59 by what I see happening in the world. I wanted to explore a deliberately controversial scenario based on the facts of our increasingly dystopian existence. I’ve never seen myself as an eco-warrior, nor do I own a soapbox or have a habit of wearing socks with sandals, but I started with the conviction that Louis’s story needed to be told – and told in a way that would be entertaining and accessible for young adults as well as adult readers. In the course of all my research for the book, that conviction has turned into a passionate desire to get people thinking and talking about the greatest taboo of our time.

How did you come up with the inspiration for the story?

Readers will make assumptions about my inspiration for the novel because it features a deadly virus, when in fact I wrote the book two years before the coronavirus pandemic. I had no idea how topical and scary that aspect would turn out to be.

Is Louis-with-a-wiss – the main character in 10:59 – based on anyone you know?

Not directly. Louis wandered into my imagination and introduced himself, and then we got to know each other as I wrote the story. I recognise some of myself in him, and there were a number of scenes where I thought about how my son Connor would react in the same situation, which helped me make sure that Louis’s responses and actions felt real. I think Louis and Connor would get along with each other pretty well.

Tell us about your writing routine and where you tend to write.

What routine? I’m happy to say that my life is a little… unconventional. I’m lucky enough to be able to step outside what most people regard as normal routines, and that means I generally eat when I’m hungry, sleep when I’m tired, and write when I’m inspired. I write at my desk, which was situated in Oxfordshire while I wrote the first draft of 10:59. The desk and I have now relocated to France.

How did you find the editing and publication process? (Don’t worry about hurting our feelings – we’ve got thick skins…!)

Very slow, very challenging, and thoroughly rewarding. Writing a full-length novel in the first place is hard, but it’s just the start. Seeing a book all the way through to publication is definitely not for the faint-hearted or the impatient! But at this end of the process I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed it, and I’m proud to be a Burning Chair author. I’m confident that my book is the one I wanted to write and it’s ready to be unleashed on the world. Whether the world is ready for 10:59 remains to be seen, but the feedback from advance readers has been brilliant, so that’s incredibly exciting.

10:59 is a hard-hitting story which includes a number of characters who will stop at nothing to save a world on the brink of irreversible and cataclysmic change. And we’ll be honest it often hits painfully close to home! If you had a magic wand, what one action would you get everyone to take to save the world?

I can’t put it more eloquently than David Attenborough did when he said, “Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, it’s time we controlled the population to allow the survival of the environment.”

What’s next in the pipeline for you?

My pipeline is positively bulging with ideas and half-written stories, which may sound uncomfortable but of course it’s a great affliction for a writer to have. The story I’ve been developing recently starts with the main character falling through the floor of a cave and then… well, you’ll have to wait and see.

QUICK FIRE ROUND (One word answer):

Plotter or pantser?

Pantser.

Pen or keyboard?

Keyboard.

Character or plot?

Plot.

Early bird or night owl?

Owl.

Crossword or Sudoko?

Crossword.

Asking questions or answering questions?

Asking.

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Happy publication day, Niki, I look forward to reading the book for myself soon.

If you would like to get a copy of 10:59 for yourself, it is out today as an ebook and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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N R Baker loves exploring the world and also the power of words. She spent much of her childhood up a tree in Somerset with her head in a book, either lost in the worlds created by authors like C.S. Lewis, or writing truly awful tales of her own. Since then she has earned recognition for her travel writing, poetry, lyrics, flash fiction and short stories. 10:59 is her first full-length novel. She lives in rural France.

Connect with Niki:

Website: http://nrbakerwriter.com

Facebook: N R Baker Writer

Twitter: @NRBakerWriter

Guest Post: Legend of the Lost Ass by Karen Winters Schwartz

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I think we should take it through Guatemala.

A random text from a stranger inspires agoraphobic Colin to leave New York. His first stop is Brownsville, Texas, where he meets the sender, half-Mayan Luci Bolon, her ancient but feisty great-uncle Ernesto, and Miss Mango, a bright-orange Kubota tractor. Ernesto’s dream is that Miss Mango be driven to Belize and given to the family he left behind nearly seventy years ago. Colin agrees to join Luci on the long journey through Central America.

In 1949, seventeen-year-old Belizean Ernesto falls painfully in love with Michaela, an American redhead nearly twice his age. Their brief but intense affair changes everything Ernesto has ever known. When she leaves, Ernesto is devastated. Determined to find her, he “borrows” a donkey from his uncle and starts off for Texas. He meets a flamboyant fellow traveler, and the three of them—two young men and the donkey they name Bee—make their way to America.

The past and present unfold through two journeys that traverse beautiful landscapes. Painful histories are soothed by new friendships and payments of old debts.

I am delighted today to be featuring on the blog this fascinating sounding book, Legend of the Lost Ass by Karen Winters Schwartz. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to read the book yet, although I will have a review of it coming for you a little later in the year. In the meantime, Karen has kindly written a guest post for me to share with you about her love for Belize, the setting of a large part of the novel.

Something About Belize by Karen Winters Schwartz

In all my travels there was something about Belize, Central America that touched me like no other county. The place, its people, its history, and culture went on to inspire much of my writing including my just released, newest novel Legend of the Lost Ass. From my first breath of Belizean air, I was in love with the place. My husband and I bought property and built a house on the shores of the Caribbean Sea in Hopkins, Belize nearly 15 years ago.

There are so many reasons to love Belize. It’s not just the beauty of the land or the sea, but the magic of the culturally diverse people who call this place home. Belize is a melting pot consisting of mainly Mestizos, Mayans, Garinagu, Chinese, Mennonites, Kriols, and expats from Europe, US, and Canada. The pot is small, but it’s rich and deep with welcoming people.

Years ago, my then teenaged daughter, Sarah, and I were walking along the beautiful, debris-covered beach of the village of Hopkins. The day was awesome—the air still, with no humidity—the sea, a shimmering blue. Small terns strutted ahead anxiously, never taking flight, as they were not quite sure of our intentions. The gentle waters lapped at our feet as we studied the fresh array of unmatched shoes, coconuts, plastic bottles, brown clusters of seaweed, copious amounts of green sea grass, shattered unidentifiable pieces of plastic, neatly sliced halves of oranges with their gut sucked clean, the severed head of a pineapple… All of which had found their way onto the shoreline of Belize.

Sarah declared, “I want a coconut!” 

“Take one. They’re everywhere.”

She found a beautiful large green monster of a coconut which she lugged along before coming to a rare, but hard, rock thrusting out from the edge of the surf. Nearby five small Garifuna children played and splashed in the shimmering blue water. Sarah began throwing the coconut against the rock in an attempt to break its thick green covering. I began to help her. We took turns thrusting it against the rock. It wasn’t long before the children waded out of the water and grabbed this massive nut.

We stepped back in surprise (had we taken a coconut that we had no right to?) and then in amusement, as they took their own turns throwing the coconut against the rock. They got down on their knees in the surf, the Caribbean waters glistening and slipping off their dark bodies, and took turns banging it repeatedly. They stood up and threw only to sit back down and continue the assault. Sarah and I smiled and watched. I threw in a “Wow” here and there, but the children weren’t talking; they were strictly concentrating on the task at hand. Finally, after a good ten minutes, the green nut began to give up and split apart. The children dropped to the wet sand and used hands, feet, and fingers. Banging and tugging at the white pulpy fibers that covered the inner stone, they threw the strands of fibers above their heads and flung it into the sea. Another ten minutes later and a perfect light tan globe about the size of a small cantaloupe was revealed.

The oldest, and most hard-working of the boys, stood up, dripping from the sea, and proudly handed the coconut to Sarah. She bowed slightly, smiled, and said, “Thank you! Let me shake your hand.” She shook all the children’s hands. Then they splashed, without a word, back into the sea. 

I don’t remember how that particular coconut tasted or even if we ever ate it. What I remember was the magic of the moment when that little boy offered up the nut as if he were welcoming us to his world. It’s this magic and the character of Central America that I strive to capture in my novels. 

In Legend of the Lost Ass, my characters are part of the beauty of Central America. The missent text I think we should take it through Guatemala inspires agoraphobic adventure novelist, Colin, to leave the safety of his NY apartment. First stop is Brownsville, Texas, where he meets the sender of the text, a half-Mayan woman named Luci, who, at thirty, has yet to confront her role in the death of her father when she was six. They instantly find each other annoying. He also meets a bright orange Kubota tractor named Miss Mango and Luci’s ancient but feisty Great Uncle Ernesto. It’s Ernesto’s dream that Miss Mango be driven to Belize as an atonement to his family, which he abandoned nearly seventy years prior. 

In 1949, British Honduras (now Belize), seventeen-year-old Ernesto falls painfully in love with Michaela, an American redhead nearly twice his age. Their brief but intense affair changes everything Ernesto has ever known. When she leaves, Ernesto is devastated. Determined to find her, he “borrows” a donkey from his uncle and starts off for Texas. He meets a flamboyant fellow traveler, and the three of them—two young men and the donkey they name Bee—make their way to the States.

What I enjoyed most about writing Legend of the Lost Ass was merging my personal Belizean experiences with massive amounts of research, creating a story where past and present unfold in two parallel journeys with slightly crazy characters put in even crazier circumstances. Through their eyes, I’m pretty darn sure, I succeeded in capturing the place, its people, its history, and its culture.

 

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Karen, thank you so much for sharing that experience with us, it is a beautiful story and Belize sounds like a place I need to be adding to my bucket list.

Legend of the Lost Ass is out now and, if you have been enticed to buy a copy by the glimpse into the country which inspired the book, you can buy a copy here. Watch out for my own review of the book coming in the autumn.

About the Author

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Karen Winters Schwartz wrote her first truly good story at age seven. Her second-grade teacher publicly and falsely accused her of plagiarism. She did not write again for forty years.

Her widely praised novels include WHERE ARE THE COCOA PUFFS?; REIS’S PIECES; and THE CHOCOLATE DEBACLE (Goodman Beck Publishing). Her new novel, LEGEND OF THE LOST ASS, was released by Red Adept Publishing on July 21, 2020. 

Educated at The Ohio State University, Karen and her husband moved to the Central New York Finger Lakes region where they raised two daughters and shared a career in optometry. She now splits her time between Arizona, a small village in Belize, and traveling the earth in search of the many creatures with whom she has the honor of sharing this world. This is her second year as a Rising Star judge. 

Connect with Karen:

Website: http://www.karenwintersschwartz.com

Facebook: Author Karen Winters Schwartz

Twitter: @authorKWS

Instagram: @_kaws_

 

Book Review: Older and Wider by Jenny Eclair

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‘If you’re after an in-depth medical or psychological insight into the menopause, I’m afraid you’ve opened the wrong book – I’m not a doctor . . . However, I am a woman and I do know how it feels to be menopausal, so this book is written from experience and the heart and I hope it makes you laugh and feel better.’ JE

Older and Wider is Jenny Eclair’s hilarious, irreverent and refreshingly honest compendium of the menopause. From C for Carb-loading and G for Getting Your Shit Together to I for Invisibility and V for Vaginas, Jenny’s whistle-stop tour of the menopause in all its glory will make you realise that it really isn’t just you. Jenny will share the surprising lessons she has learnt along the way as well as her hard-won tips on the joy of cardigans, dealing with the empty nest (get a lodger) and keeping the lid on the pressure cooker of your temper (count to twenty, ten is never enough).

As Jenny says, ‘I can’t say that I’ve emerged like a beautiful butterfly from some hideous old menopausal chrysalis and it would be a lie to say that I’ve found the ‘old me’ again. But what I have found is the ‘new me’ – and you know what? I’m completely cool with that.’

Today is publication day for Older and Wider, the hilarious new non-fiction book by Jenny Eclair, designed to help you get through the menopause with a smile on your face. Happy Publication Day, Jenny! Huge thanks to Hannah Robinson at Quercus Books for sending me a proof copy of the book. The review below represents my  honest and impartial thoughts about it. (Overly so, please, any man who knows me, don’t read any further, I beg of you. Mum, you too. And my kids. Seriously, you really don’t want to read any further right now. Come back when you hit 40, okay?)

This book arrived on my doorstep yesterday and, I was so looking forward to reading it that I dived straight in and had finished it by this morning. I probably don’t need to say any more than that to indicate that I loved it but, since two short paragraphs don’t make for a scintillating review, I’ll expand a bit.

I am a woman of a certain age (48), and I am the exact market that this book is aimed at, the woman who is just starting out on the menopause journey, feeling confused and alone and scared of what to expect. My mother has always been fairly tight-lipped on intimate personal matters and, when I approached her a couple years ago, seemed to think I was ‘too young’ to be embarking on the menopause and recalls hers lasted only a couple of years in her early 50’s. From my own recollection of events in my mid-teens, I don’t think this is correct and I knew I was going to have to look elsewhere for truthful advice about it (to be fair, my mum did cut out a bit of advice from the Daily Mail when I told her I was struggling with peri-menopausal symptoms and it proved very useful, but more on that later). Well, in this book, Jenny sets herself up as the menopause guru we all wish we had, and tells it like it is, no holds barred.

I love Jenny Eclair, always have, always will. You know when fans of those women (insert name of your least favourite, reactionary social commentator/Twitter agitator here) who tweet ghastly, inflammatory opinions designed as click bait tell you, ‘She is only saying what we are all thinking?’ I am NEVER thinking the things that they are saying but, when Jenny Eclair tweets stuff, it is nearly always exactly what I am thinking. In short, she is someone I trust and, as such, is ideally placed as common sense advice giver on matters menopausal. This book is her A-Z of personal experiences of the menopause and sensible advice on what to expect and how to deal with it, and I thought it was fabulous.

It was January 2017, at the age of not-quite-45, when I realised that I was probably entering my peri-menopausal phase. I’d had a couple of mild symptoms – itchy calves, slight vagueness of memory, the odd night sweat (horrible, let me tell you, to wake up suddenly in the night soaking wet from head to foot, as if someone has thrown a bucket of water over you in your sleep) but I hadn’t thought much of it. It was only when I started to feel like an alien in my own body, as if someone had come and removed my own personality and replaced it with that of a total stranger, that I really became worried. The final straw came one weekend when my partner and I were enjoying a lovely, family walk on a beautiful Welsh beach with our five girls and perfectly photogenic dog, looking like something (hopefully) from a Boden catalogue, I found myself uncontrollably sobbing for absolutely no reason and, when the Irishman asked me what was wrong wailing, “I don’t knooooooooow!” At that point, I thought I had better go and see a doctor.

I went the next week, got a twelve- year -old-ish male locum who couldn’t care less, told me I was too young to be menopausal and, basically, to pull myself together, and that was that for medical help at that point. I expect this experience is not unusual. I decided he was an idiot and I was quite clearly going to have to sort myself out. I took to the internet, read a load of websites that convinced me I was not going mad, was obviously peri-menopausal and that made me feel better. At this point my mother gave me a cutting from the newspaper about a supplement that might help, I gave it a try, it did indeed seem to alleviate some of the worst symptoms (mood swings, crippling period pains and aching muscles) and I plodded on for two-and-a-half years. When the horrific anxiety returned with a vengeance last autumn, I went back to the doctor, got a fabulous, understanding lady of a similar age to myself who finally did a blood test, confirmed my suspicions, offered me a prescription for Vitamin D and lots of options of how to deal with it (I plumped for CBT, which I had tried with great success to deal with anxiety in my early twenties, leaving HRT and anti-depressants as fall back options) and left me feeling vindicated and much happier and less alone. This is what we all need, and what this book offers. A tome of comforting tales of actual experience, no-nonsense advice and reassurance that you are not alone, or going mad.

Plus it is very, very funny. From the dedication page, I was laughing, and I laughed all the way to the end, even at bits which are not at all funny when you are going through them yourself, alone and confused and probably a bit scared that there might be something more seriously wrong with you than a few haywire hormones.

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And this is what this book offers. A normalisation of the whole process. Reassurance that, whilst unpleasant, this is entirely natural, transitory, survivable and a universal female experience. That, whilst we don’t all suffer exactly the same way, there is someone, somewhere out there who is going through exactly the same thing and, thanks to the wonders of the internet and social media, you can probably find her. In fact, she’s probably me, or Jenny Eclair, or the other women who take part in her podcast, or in a Twitter menopause group, or on daytime TV, or your mum, or one of your friends. Go out there, look, talk to each other! None of us has to suffer alone and in silence any more, and sod you, pubescent boy doctor without a clue or any sympathy! But, if you feel a bit shy, or embarrassed, or don’t know any women of the relevant age, this book is a really good place to start.

Not everything you experience will be in here, and you won’t experience everything she does. I haven’t had ‘temper static’ or ‘pop-sock leg’ or ‘desiccation.’ Maybe some of this will come, as I know I am only in the toddlerdom of my menopause life span. I have had the aforementioned itchy calves. I have experienced one armpit (the right) being much, much sweatier than the other at certain times of the month (and no, this is not peculiar to me, my cousin has had the same thing!). I’ve discovered the excess chin hairs she talks about, but also the appearance of a nose hair that must have been growing since birth to have got so long and rope-like before it emerged sudden and unannounced when I was far from a pair of tweezers. Did you know it is not only your head hair that goes grey? No, eyebrow hairs, and those further south too! And why are grey hairs so much thicker and more tenacious? Far from desiccation, my skin and hair have reverted back to a teenage greasiness that I thought I had put far behind me. I’ve much more inclined to pins and needles in my hands and feet than before. I’ve developed an unfortunate sensitivity to cheese (a fact which will horrify Jenny. See, Jenny, you were lucky with the red berries!). I’m sure there are other odd symptoms that other people experience as well. The point is, being abnormal is normal, but you should not be afraid to talk about these things, ask medical professionals for help, and don’t be fobbed off with impatient, embryo, male GPs who never imagined that talking to weeping, middle-aged women about problems with their down-belows was how they would spend their days after cutting up cadavers for seven long years at uni.

Some of the stuff you will recognise, it is scary but normal. When she talks about how your periods change, I could completely relate. When I was a teenager, I had such heavy periods and bad cramps that I would lie sobbing on my bed clutching a hot water bottle to my stomach. I seemed to grow out of them, but they returned a couple of years ago. I now no longer cry and lay in bed, I’ve got much more stoic as I’ve aged, but it’s not fun. Plus they are erratic. Plus, the consistency is definitely different. In fact, it has made me wonder what it must be like in there for the babies of women who have children very late in life. Something akin to hatching a tadpole in a stagnant, algae-choked pond rather that a crystal-clear pool fed by a babbling spring. Alas. My daughters will read this and tell me I am sharing TMI, but this is the point of this book. We need to talk about this stuff honestly, no more hiding away in shame, it only makes us feel lonely and sad and worried.

And it isn’t all doom and gloom. The book highlights all the positives about getting older, and I see these too. More sense of self, and knowing who we are (once you get past the aliens-taking-over-your-brain phase), more time, less angst about where life is taking you. She gives you lots of ideas of things to do to help and take control, from diet and exercise and remedies, to taking up hobbies. I already have mine lined up. I have stashed away enough books to last me a decade (Waterstones is my Lakeland). I’ve started writing my novel. I’m going to learn to read the tarot (playing into the old lady = witch stereotype, I know, I don’t care), practise origami (the Japanese have the best hobbies, although my daughters were a bit disgusted when, after learning about Hikaru Dorodango from Jenny’s book, I wondered aloud what delights we could produce from the waste products of our ponies) and finish the tapestry of The Haywain that I know is lurking half-done on a frame in the loft (I was middle-aged as a teenager, you see). And I don’t think it is a coincidence that I began this very blog at the exact time the peri-menopause symptoms kicked in. Listen to your bodies, ladies, they know what they need.

We need more books like this, that talk openly about the things that affect women, and have been taboo far too long. I don’t write reviews this long often, and only for books that really spark something in me. Last year it was Period by Emma Barnett, and Jenny’s book has affected me even more, because it is so relevant to the current phase of my life. I wish I had had access to it four years ago, before I started feel panicky and lost and a bit scared. When I’d heard a bit about some of the physical symptoms but nothing about the uncontrollable psychological side effects that were terrifying me on that Welsh beach. We need more people we admire and trust to talk about this, loudly and publicly, to take away the stigma. I will be recommending this to all my friends, if I  have any left after this over-share. I’ll be keeping this close as part of my menopause survival kit, alongside my vitamins and big pants, as I navigate the next few years of my, definitely-not-over-yet, life.

Older and Wider is out today in hardback, ebook and audiobook formats and you can buy a copy here and from all good independent booksellers.

About the Author

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Jenny Eclair is the Sunday Times top ten bestselling author of the critically acclaimed novels Camberwell Beauty, Having a Lovely Time and Life, Death and Vanilla Slices, as well as the Richard and Judy bestseller, Moving, the short story collection, Listening In and her latest novel Inheritance. One of the UK’s most popular writer/performers, she was the first woman to win the prestigious Perrier Award and has many TV and radio credits to her name and co-hosts the Older and Wider podcast with Grumpy Old Women producer Judith Holder. She lives in south-east London.

Connect with Jenny:

Website: http://www.jennyeclair.com

Facebook: Jenny Eclair

Twitter: @jennyeclair

Instagram: @jennyeclair1960

Tempted by…The Book Review Cafe: The Home by Sarah Stovell

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One more little secret … one more little lie…

When the body of a pregnant fifteen-year-old is discovered in a churchyard on Christmas morning, the community is shocked, but unsurprised. For Hope lived in The Home, the residence of three young girls, whose violent and disturbing pasts have seen them cloistered away…

As a police investigation gets underway, the lives of Hope, Lara and Annie are examined, and the staff who work at the home are interviewed, leading to shocking and distressing revelations … and clear evidence that someone is seeking revenge.

A gritty, dark and devastating psychological thriller, The Home is also an emotive drama and a piercing look at the underbelly of society, where children learn what they live … if they are allowed to live at all.

Normally on Tempted by…, I highlight books I have bought as a direct result of seeing a post by another blogger on their blog, but today’s book came to me via a more circuitous route. Some of you may be aware of a weekly feature I run on my blog called Friday Night Drinks, where I chat with authors, bloggers and other bookish folks, trying to winkle out their deepest, darkest secrets. I always ask for a book recommendation during these sessions and, when Lorraine from The Book Review Cafe appeared on Friday Night Drinks on 9 February, the book she recommended as a ‘must read’ was The Home by Sarah Stovell.

Of course, having read Lorraine’s gushing praise of the book, I immediately headed over to her blog to read the full review (which you can see here.) Once I had read Lorraine’s impressions of the book in more detail, I knew I just had to get a copy. It sounds like everything you could possible hope for in a book and then some. Any book which manages to stand out so completely to someone who reads as voraciously as Lorraine, and so widely, must be something special and something that I need to read for myself. Lorraine awarded it her first ‘Book Hangover Award’ of 2020, and that is sufficient endorsement from me.

I absolutely love Lorraine and her blog. Her site is beautiful, , easy to navigate and absolutely packed full of delights for the book addict. Her reviews are always thoughtful, detailed and enticing and I usually agree absolutely with what she has said about books we have both read. As well as all this, she is a friendly, kind and extremely generous blogger and I feel very fortunate to have her as a member of my bookish circle. Make sure you pay her fabulous blog a visit soon. In fact, no time like the present, here is the link: https://thebookreviewcafe.com

If you would like to grab a copy of The Home for yourself, it is available in all formats here.

Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel Of The Year 2020: International Shortlist Revealed For Crime Writing’s Premiere Prize

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The shortlist for the 16th Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year has been announced, taking the reader on an international crime spree from New York to Calcutta, London to Lagos via Glasgow and the Australian outback.

Chosen by a public vote and the prize Academy, the titles in contention for this most prestigious of prize’s – which feature five Theakston award alumni and one debut novelist – showcase exceptional variety and originality, including spy espionage, historical crime, gallows humour, outback noir and serial killing siblings.

The news coincides with updated lockdown reading research from Nielsen Book showing that the genre is continuing to soar in popularity, a trend led by younger readers and men. Alongside an increase in the overall number of crime and thriller novels in the bestseller charts, even more people are turning to the genre in lockdown, particularly younger readers (18-44). Of the three quarters saying that their fiction interests have changed, 26% say that crime and thriller has become their genre of choice.

Marking a meteoric rise since being selected by Val McDermid as a spotlight author in the 2019 Festival’s highly respected ‘New Blood’ panel, Oyinkan Braithwaite remains in pursuit of the coveted trophy with the Booker nominated My Sister, the Serial Killer. Based in Nigeria, Braithwaite is the only debut author remaining, and one of the youngest ever to be shortlisted. Inspired by the black widow spider, Braithwaite turns the crime genre on its head with a darkly comic exploration of sibling rivalry, exploring society’s feelings towards beauty and perfection.

The remaining five authors on the shortlist are all previous contenders hoping 2020 is their year to claim the trophy. The legendary Mick Herron, likened to John Le Carré, has picked up a fifth nomination with Joe Country, the latest in his espionage masterclass Slough House. A former legal editor, Herron’s commute from Oxford to London led to the creation of this much-lauded series, which is currently being adapted for television with Gary Oldman taking on the iconic role of Jackson Lamb.

Scottish-Bengali author Abir Mukherjee is vying for the title with Smoke & Ashes, described by The Times as one of the best crime novels since 1945. Accountant turned bestseller, Mukherjee was shortlisted in 2018 for the first book in the Wyndham & Banerjee series set in Raj-era India, The Rising Man. Smoke & Ashes – the third  instalment – is set in 1921 in Calcutta, where Mukherjee’s parents grew up and where he spent six weeks each year during his childhood.

Authors making it through to the shortlist for the first time include Glasgow’s Helen Fitzgerald for Worst Case Scenario, which marks her first appearance on the Theakston list since The Cry, adapted into a major BBC drama starting Jenna Colman, was longlisted in 2013. Packed with gallows humour, Worst Case Scenario takes inspiration from Fitzgerald’s time as a criminal justice social worker in Glasgow’s Barlinnie Prison, alongside her experiences with depression and going through the menopause.

Despite receiving international recognition, before Belfast’s Adrian McKinty started writing The Chain – for which he picks up his second Theakston nod – he had been evicted from his home and was working as an Uber driver to make ends meet. Persuaded to give writing one last go, McKinty started on what would become the terrifying thriller that sees parents forced to kidnap children to save their own, and for which Paramount Pictures has acquired the screen rights in a seven-figure film deal.

The final title on the shortlist is The Lost Man by former journalist Jane Harper, who was previously longlisted for her debut The Dry in 2018, for which the film adaption starring Eric Bana is due to be released this year. Inspired by the beautifully brutal Australian environment, The Lost Man explores how people live – and die – in the unforgiving outback and is a moving – particularly topical – study in the psychological and physical impact of isolation.

The full shortlist for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2020 is:

 

–                 My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic Books)

–                 Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald (Orenda Books)

–                 The Lost Man by Jane Harper (Little, Brown Book Group, Little, Brown)

–                 Joe Country by Mick Herron (John Murray Press)

–                 The Chain by Adrian McKinty (Orion Publishing Group, Orion Fiction)

–                 Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee (VINTAGE, Harvill Secker)

Executive director of T&R Theakston, Simon Theakston, said: “Seeing the huge variety and originality within this shortlist, it comes as no surprise to hear that crime fiction is dominating our lockdown reading habits. Offering both escapism and resolution, these exceptional titles transport readers around the world and I can’t wait to see where we settle on 23 July when one of these extraordinary authors takes home the 2020 Theakston Old Peculier cask.”

The award is run by Harrogate International Festivals and supported by T&R Theakston Ltd, WHSmith and the Express, and is open to full length crime novels published in paperback from 1 May 2018 to 30 April 2019 by UK and Irish authors.

The shortlist was selected by an academy of crime writing authors, agents, editors, reviewers, members of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Programming Committee, representatives from T&R Theakston Ltd, the Express, and WHSmith, alongside a public vote.

The shortlist will be promoted in a dedicated online campaign from WHSmith, digital promotional materials will be made available for independent bookstores, and the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival’s online community – You’re Booked – features exclusive interviews and interactive content. This forms part of the Harrogate International Festival virtual season of events, HIF at Home, which presents a raft of live music, specially commissioned performances, literary events and interviews to bring a free festival experience to your own digital doorstep.

The public vote for the winner is now open on www.harrogatetheakstoncrimeaward.com, with the champion set to be revealed in a virtual awards ceremony on Thursday 23 July marking what would have been the opening evening of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. The legendary gathering – which formed part of Harrogate International Festival Summer Season – was cancelled, with much sadness, due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The winner will receive £3,000 and an engraved oak beer cask, hand-carved by one of Britain’s last coopers from Theakstons Brewery.

 

Blog Tour: Surviving Me by Jo Johnson #GuestPost

Surviving Me

I’m happy to be taking my turn today on the blog tour today for Surviving Me by Jo Johnson. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the author for her guest post. Make sure you scroll down to the bottom of the post for a great giveaway.

Surviving Me Cover

Deceit has a certain allure when your life doesn’t match up to the ideal of what it means to be a modern man.

Tom’s lost his job and now he’s been labelled ‘spermless’. He doesn’t exactly feel like a modern man, although his double life helps. Yet when his secret identity threatens to unravel, he starts to lose the plot and comes perilously close to the edge.

All the while Adam has his own duplicity, albeit for very different reasons, reasons which will blow the family’s future out of the water.

If they can’t be honest with themselves, and everyone else, then things are going to get a whole lot more complicated.

This book tackles hard issues such as male depression, dysfunctional families and degenerative diseases in an honest, life-affirming and often humorous way. It focuses particularly on the challenges of being male in today’s world and explores how our silence on these big issues can help push men to the brink.

An unusual path to publishing a novel by Jo Johnson

Were you educated in this country?’ This was one of the first questions a tutor asked me at university. My punctuation and grammar were terrible. I hated English at school. 

Later, in my work as a clinical psychologist, I was good at relating to people but my reports continued to be a source of amusement. My written work was my weakness. 

As I progressed in my career, I discovered a gift for public speaking. I found telling stories was a great way to entice people to listen. In 2009 I was invited to speak at a national event for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) and designed a unique workshop called ‘Shrinking the Smirch’. It encouraged my listeners to see their MS as something outside themselves, an external creature. It went down so well that the organisers asked me to turn the session into a workbook.

‘But I can’t write,’ I insisted.

‘If you can speak to people, you can write for them,’ the conference organiser batted back. To my utter amazement, ‘Shrinking the Smirch: the workbook’ won a Plain English Award. This spurred me on to write further workbooks about managing emotional distress and neurology-themed books for young people.

I didn’t plan to write a novel. I left the NHS in 2008 which gave me more time but being self-employed was lonely. So, each day, I interspersed client appointments with visits to the café across the road from my office.

One day, I noticed an unremarkable middle- aged man staring out of the window. I wondered what his story might be. 

On my iPad I wrote:

‘At this point in time, I can accurately be described as unemployed, impotent, and a liar.’

This became the first sentence of my debut novel, “Surviving Me”.

Over the next seven years I added to my story, at times it was an addiction that distracted me from work and family commitments. Tom, my main character was my secret friend for many years. Eventually, I allowed a friend to read it. She loved it and bullied me into finishing it. 

Since then, I have fielded my manuscript to countless friends and colleagues, out of paranoia and lack of confidence. I was always genuinely surprised – and encouraged – by people’s feedback. 

When unbound publishers accepted my manuscript I was delighted. The first editor asked me where I’d done my creative writing course as I didn’t have a clue what he meant by backstory, pace or point of view within the context of fiction writing. 

Fortunately, that amazing structural editor reassured me I had a lot of raw talent and helped me learn the rest. It was a steep learning curve especially as I was working full time as a clinical psychologist whilst preparing my book for publish. My poor teenagers completed their most important exams with very little parental support.

Writing helps me clear my mind of other people’s troubles. And humour is a great way to defuse some of the day’s tensions. My line of work can make you laugh and cry almost simultaneously – and I hope my characters do the same for my readers.

I still can’t believe I’m the author of a novel that is being described in reviews as refreshingly different and beautifully written.

Thank you for sharing your fascinating journey with us, Jo.

If you would like to get your hands on a copy of Surviving Me, you can buy a copy here.

Giveaway

Jo is running a giveaway with two first prizes of a signed copy of Surviving Me and a Surviving Me fridge magnet and five runner-up prizes of a Surviving Me fridge magnet. To enter, please click on the Rafflecopter link below:

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*Terms and Conditions –Worldwide entries welcome.  Please enter using the Rafflecopter box above.  The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over.  Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data.  I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.

To find out more about the book and read some reviews, please check out the rest of the stops on the tour:

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About the Author

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I’m very excited that my debut novel ‘Surviving Me’ is due to be published on the 14 November. The novel is about male minds and what pushes a regular man to the edge. The novel combines all the themes I can write about with authenticity.

I qualified as a clinical psychologist in 1992 and initially worked with people with learning disabilities before moving into the field of neurology in 1996. I worked in the NHS until 2008 when i left to write and explore new projects.

I now work as an independent clinical psychologist in West Sussex.

Jo speaks and writes for several national neurology charities including Headway and the MS Trust. Client and family related publications include, “Talking to your kids about MS”, “My mum makes the best cakes” and “Shrinking the Smirch”.

In the last few years Jo has been offering psychological intervention using the acceptance and commitment therapeutic model (ACT) which is the most up to date version of CBT. She is now using THE ACT model in a range of organisations such as the police to help employees protect their minds in order to avoid symptoms of stress and work related burnout. 

Social media links:

Facebook: Shrinking the Smirsch

Distorted Days by Louise Worthington #BlogTour #GuestPost (@louiseworthing9) @RaRaResources #RachelsRandomResources #DistortedDays

Distorted Days

I’m happy to be taking part in the blog tour today for Distorted Days by Louise Worthington. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity to read and review this book for you, but instead I have a guest post from the author. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for my place on the tour and to the author for providing the guest post for me to share with you.

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If she could speak to them, she would say they have exploded her heart, released firecrackers through her senses. She wishes she could call the police, the ambulance, the fire brigade, to arrest and anaesthetise and waterboard the bastards.

So what happens when your husband runs off with your best friend? When you discover the dead body of an old man halfway through your delivery round? When your house is burgled and you get beaten up? Doris, Andy and Colleen are about to find out. They’re also about to discover that you can find friendship and support in the oddest of places…

Heart-rending, humorous and above all authentic, Distorted Days is an exquisitely written account of the ways in which life can knock you off our feet – and how you can pick yourself up again. If you’ve experienced the fickleness of fortune, this is a book that you’ll never forget.

Now over to the author..

Be Kind by Louise Worthington

Thank you for inviting me onto you blog!

Kindness and the consequences of vicious social media posts are a theme running through Distorted Days. On social media, thousands have used the hashtag #BeKind in a plea for change, encouraging both media organisations and individuals to think more carefully about the impact of their words online.

‘If you want people to #bekind it has to be universal. Two wrongs will never make a right. So start being kind about everyone, even those you disagree with, then I’ll believe you’re genuine.’ @KirstieMAllsopp

The kindness of Colleen, Tina and Andy change Doris’ life. Dr Timpson has a role to play too in offering support to deal with depression. Despite ups and downs, the ending is a positive one – thanks to acts of kindness.

At the same time though, in Distorted Days Andy loses his job due to the vicious posts the daughter of Winston shares which highlights how upsetting and destructive social media can be. Andy had in fact helped her father at a time of need.

 ‘Dad, I don’t know whether to show you this or not but – I think you need to see it.’

She reads the messages on Twitter and Facebook. The author is Katie Howarth, and the subject is: #AndyLoveisaPredator

Andy Love is named and shamed as solely interested in verbally attacking a single, grief-stricken woman and meeting her under false pretences. Katie Howarth must have got a look at his van, so Stan’s Supermarket is berated for employing the vicious, foul-mouthed man. The verbal abuse goes as far as saying that estate agents should vet people before allowing them into the homes of vulnerable relatives to stop people like Andy preying on the bereft and the fragile, especially women on their own. In capital letters: ANDY LOVE CANNOT BE TRUSTED. She has galvanised support in the shape of likes, followers and comments, including one from Stan which hints at Andy’s contract ending abruptly because of his customer-facing role.

‘There goes my job,’ he says with sad resignation, thinking of his customers who will either think badly of him or miss his friendship. Before Jade and Bosh leave, he explains the truth behind the allegations. They stay longer than planned, thinking they are staying to help him through the shock. 

Once they’ve gone, Andy sits back on the recliner feeling winded. The slandering of his name makes him feel like he’s been quarantined in his own home. He walks around the lounge and the kitchen, not quite sure what to do with himself but unable to settle. All those lies and all those people believing them, wanting to stick their beady eyes at a peep-hole into this woman’s nasty, made-up world that she’s dragged him into. The comments she and others made sound so angry, a feverish kind of frenzy of bad-mouthing, shaming him for being a bully, a predator. 

Andy eats half a carrot cake and then finds the shoe polish in the cupboard under the sink because he needs something to do with his hands. He methodically shines the black shoes he usually wears for best occasions like interviews or funerals. 

His mobile rings. It’s Stan. ‘Sorry, mate. I’ve had cancellations. It’s just, once word gets out it spreads like the plague.’

Stifling a carrot-cake burp, Andy says, ‘It’s all lies, Stan, but I understand your point of view.’

He feels sick for his customers, his friends – especially Margaret, Dave and Gilly. He knows details about their lives that some of their own family members don’t. 

Forgive Stan for thinking he just knows which brands they like, which special offers appeal. Forgive.’ 

Doris leaves objects in her front window to share her loss which is a twist on social media posts, illustrating how one rarely knows the full story behind closed doors. Andy’s daughter Jade reads a post from a stranger who informs her she has just had a miscarriage.

‘Amy’s had a miscarriage.’

‘Never met her.’

‘Nor have I. She’s uploaded a photo of a tiny coffin.’

‘God, streuth. She should write something like that in a diary.’

‘She’ll feel empowered now she’s shared it.’

‘With potentially millions of weirdos who don’t give a damn?’

‘I’m not a weirdo. I care.’

As a parent to an eight year old, protecting children from the virtual world has never been more important. It offers enjoyment and freedom, and threats too. I had a diary which I kept under my bed, but that’s old-school now – posts on twitter or Instagram have replaced that. Who knows what the future holds, but I do know the value of being kind is both timeless and universal. #bekind 

Louise XX

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, Louise.

Distorted Days is out now and you can buy a copy here.

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

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About the Author

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Louise is the author of ‘Distorted Days’ and ‘Rachel’s Garden of Rooms.’ ‘The Entrepreneur’ will be available later in 2020. ‘The Thief’, a short story published by Park Publications, is available to download Louise Worthington’s website.

​Before writing full time, Louise worked mainly as an English teacher after getting a degree in Literature and later, studying business and psychology at Masters level.

​Louise grew up in Cheshire and now resides in Shropshire.

Connect with Louise:

Website: https://louiseworthington.co.uk

Twitter: @louiseworthing9