Desert Island Books with… Michelle Kidd

Desert Island Books

This week’s Desert Island Books have been chosen by author Michelle Kidd. Let’s see what she has picked to take to keep her company in her isolation, shall we?

Book One – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling

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Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The magic starts here!

It’s almost impossible to choose just one Harry Potter book!  I love each and every one, but I guess the sensible thing is to choose the very first, as that is where it all started! When they first came out, I always believed that the Harry Potter books were for children – but how wrong could I be! They may start out as children’s books, but with each and every new book I think they mature and grow into something completely different, something that manages to transcend all ages. JK Rowling’s ability to set a scene and create characters is impeccable. Characters, for me, make or break a book, and she creates such vivid characters that you cannot help but feel as though you transported into each scene and see it first-hand. Every so often I have a Harry Potter binge and read them all from start to finish.

Book Two – The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

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Bilbo Baggins enjoys a quiet and contented life, with no desire to travel far from the comforts of home; then one day the wizard Gandalf and a band of dwarves arrive unexpectedly and enlist his services – as a burglar – on a dangerous expedition to raid the treasure-hoard of Smaug the dragon. Bilbo’s life is never to be the same again.

I was probably about twelve when I first read The Hobbit. It remains one of my favourite all-time ‘go to’ books – I have lost count of the number of times I have read it, but each time always feels like the first time. I remember that, as a child, I bought myself a set of limited edition hardbacks of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with my pocket money, and they still take pride of place on my bookshelf today. Although I love the whole set, The Hobbit remains my favourite as this is where I was first introduced to the notion of a Hobbit. And second breakfasts. The descriptions Tolkien manages to convey into The Hobbit, and the magical and mythical creatures he creates, for me mark this book out as a masterpiece.

Book Three – BIKO by Donald Woods

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‘You are either alive and proud or you are dead … and your method of death can be a politicizing thing’ Steve Biko Founder of the Black Consciousness Movement

Steve Biko was a natural target for the South African authorities. On 13 August 1977, Steve Biko was arrested, interrogated and beaten. On 12 September he was dead. Editor of a leading anti-apartheid paper, Donald Woods was a friend of Steve Biko and went into exile in order to write his testimony about the life and work of a remarkable man.

As a teenager I read a lot about the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and became totally obsessed with books and films on the subject. I even bought myself an ANC badge and wore it with pride! I was lucky enough to see Nelson Mandela in the flesh when he attended the concert in his name at Wembley after being released from prison in 1990.  For many reasons, BIKO is a book that has always remained with me from the minute I read it. It formed the basis for the Oscar nominated film ‘Cry Freedom’ starring Denzil Washington (one of my all-time favourite films!) and tells the true story of Steve Biko, founder of the Black Consciousness Movement. It is a highly emotive book; as thought-provoking now as it was when I first read it in the 1980s. The research and detail that went into this book is astounding. The content is, at times, upsetting – and pulls no punches in detailing how cruel human beings can be towards each other.

Book Four – The Shining by Stephen King

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Danny is only five years old, but in the words of old Mr Hallorann he is a ‘shiner’, aglow with psychic voltage. When his father becomes caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, Danny’s visions grow out of control.

As winter closes in and blizzards cut them off, the hotel seems to develop a life of its own. It is meant to be empty. So who is the lady in Room 217 and who are the masked guests going up and down in the elevator? And why do the hedges shaped like animals seem so alive?

Somewhere, somehow, there is an evil force in the hotel – and that, too, is beginning to shine . . .

I was a voracious reader from a very early age, and I basically grew up reading Stephen King’s books. The man is such a phenomenal author and classic storyteller, it is hard to choose just the one book – but I think The Shining has to be one of his very best. The book is chilling to read and still gets my heart pumping even after all this time. I read it as a teenager, long before I watched the film, and I still feel that it is the pinnacle of a classic horror book. You don’t get much more frightening than the goings on at the Overlook Hotel!

Book Five – Murder at the Farm by Paul Foot

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A revised edition of an investigation into the murder of schoolboy Carl Bridgewater in 1978, updated to include coverage of the release in February of the three men accused of his murder (a fourth one also wrongly convicted died in prison). Foot questions why the men remained in prison for so long, and asks who did kill Carl Bridgewater.

Another one of my obsessions is true crime and miscarriage of justice books. As a former defence lawyer, I find them fascinating and upsetting in equal measures. This book tells the story of the wrongful conviction of four men for the killing of Carl Bridgewater. It took seventeen years to clear their names. This book is incredibly detailed, analysing all the facts and evidence, enabling the reader to see where the grave mistakes were made. This book is a favourite of mine because of the way Paul Foot shows how the mistakes and inadequacies in the way crimes were investigated back in the 1970s led to such a devastating miscarriage of justice, and then just how hard it is to turn the scales of justice back in your favour. A thought-provoking read.

My luxury item:

It would have to be my tabby cat, Livi! (Assuming animals are allowed!) Livi came to live with us in November 2015 from our local stray cat rescue centre. She was only seven months old at the time. After a cautious and anxious start, she has now firmly stamped her authority on the house as her territory, and sleeps on my bed nestled up against my legs. I’m not sure I would be able to sleep on the desert island if I couldn’t feel her pressed up against me! She may well decide that the sandy beach is just one large litter tray, but she might make up for it by being an expert hunter!

About Michelle Kidd

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Michelle Kidd is a self-published author known for the Detective Inspector Jack MacIntosh series of novels.

Michelle qualified as a lawyer in the early 1990s and spent the best part of ten years practising civil and criminal litigation.

But the dream to write books was never far from her mind and in 2008 she began writing the manuscript that would become the first DI Jack MacIntosh novel – The Phoenix Project. The book took eighteen months to write, but spent the next eight years gathering dust underneath the bed.

In 2018 Michelle self-published The Phoenix Project and has not looked back since. There are currently three DI Jack MacIntosh novels, with a fourth in progress.

Michelle works full time for the NHS and lives in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. She enjoys reading, wine and cats – not necessarily in that order 

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Michelle’s latest book is The Fifteen, the third book in the DI Jack MacIntosh series and you can buy a copy here.

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When the past finally catches up with you, is it murder? Or justice?

When a bedbound, defenceless man is found dead in his London nursing home, nobody saw his killer. But the killer left their mark.

Detective Inspector Jack Macintosh soon discovers that this was no random killing; this one was personal.

And it was just the beginning.

As the case unfolds, Jack is forced to think the unthinkable as the evidence begins to point disturbingly close to home.

Revenge – how long would you wait?

Connect with Michelle:

Website: https://www.michellekiddauthor.com

Facebook: Michelle Kidd Author

Twitter: @authorkidd

Instagram: @michellekiddauthor

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Romancing the Romance Authors… with Colette Kebell

Romancing The Romance Authors

Today I am thrilled to be quizzing author Colette Kebell on all facets of romance writing.

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

Hello Julie, thanks so much for having me on your blog.  

I write mostly Contemporary Female which would fall under the umbrella of chicklit or romcom They are light-hearted, fun and quirky.  The aim is to bring a few smiles and laughter to the reader to brighten their day.  That’s not the only genre I write in though.  I also have a financial crime thriller out there in the world, which does have an element of both romance and suspense and the one I don’t talk about, an erotic historical western set in pre-Civil War America.

As to my journey I knew little or nothing about being an indie author when I set out, or any kind of author for that matter.  I’d read plenty of books and had quite a good grasp of the English language, thanks to my days as a legal secretary, but had to jump through quite a few hoops and navigate a steep learning curve to get to where I am.  I had some help though, from an American indie author called Donna Jane McDonald, which was invaluable and thus was mentored by her for a time.  Once in a while I have a go at approaching traditional publishers, out of curiosity more than anything else, but nothing has come from those approaches to date.  I guess I like the control and freedom of being an indie author and might find it quite strange to have to work to deadlines as this point in my writing career, though, having said that, if the right deal came along, I’m sure I would manage.

Why romance?

For the feel-good factor.  There are many categories that fall under that umbrella, but I read light-hearted books, on the whole and so it felt natural to me to write books under that sub-category

What inspires your stories?

Any number of things have inspired my stories.  My first two I drew partially, at least, on my past experience as a legal secretary.  There are elements of each of those books which are true to my own past, though I’m not about to let on which those are, I like to keep the readers guessing…  Other than that, it depends on the book.  My financial crime thriller was partly inspired by my Dad, who was a stock broker, and my raunchy was inspired by Roots and The Colour Purple, as well as good old fashioned westerns such as Calamity Jane.

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

I’m a fan of Jill Mansell’s books, then there are the likes of Jackie Collins, whose books I grew up reading.  I came across Donna McDonald by having loved her books and so I have a varied taste you could say.

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

Do I honestly have to pick one?  If that’s the case, I would say it would have to be Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.  Is that truly classed as a romance novel… I think so, though there is a whole plethora of emotions to experience from reading that book.

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Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun teashop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

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

Hugh Jackman when he played the character of Leopold in the film Kate and Leopold would be my ideal date.He is a perfect gentleman, but is also an intellectual with a very good grasp on life despite having been thrown out of his own time zone. Due to the nature of his character I’d like to take him to a museum where there were plenty of Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions on display as although I would also find it fascinating I know he would. A private viewing would be even better as that’s one character I’d quite like to … erm… well I won’t go there… with perhaps a candle lit meal at the end of it where we could discuss the day and get to know each other better.  

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

The RNA to me is all about camaraderie and support.  I have met some fabulous fellow members despite not having attended one of the major events yet.  Don’t worry though, all things being well, I shall attend one next year, given the chance.   

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

Read, read and read, write, write and write.  Exercise your writing every day, whether it be answering interview questions, writing a blog, a review or entering a competition, as well as writing that first all-important novel.

Tell me about your latest book.

My latest book is called I Don’t Do Mondays! and the tagline is ‘Anything can happen on a Monday… even love…’ You can buy a copy of the book here.

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How can Mia find happiness?

Lawyer Mia’s picture-perfect dream life in New York is imploding. Her job has become too stressful, she’s exhausted from carrying her friends and what’s up with her striking, wealthy fiancé?

But when life-changing decisions force her to move to Maine, where she’ll face her often critical father and hard truths about what truly matters in life, she re-discovers a passion of her youth.

What begins as a low moment in her life quickly pushes her to consider what she genuinely wants and leads her down a new path where she must embrace the future and let go of the past.

Will this move help Mia to fix her life, once and for all, and will she finally find true love?

About the Author

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Colette Kebell is an eclectic author, though a relatively new one and thus far has self-published her books. Her books are light-hearted, fun and quirky and even considered by some to be inspirational. She publishes mostly for the English speaking market and the Italian one. Colette Kebell does not stick to just one genre when writing though, as you shall discover from her latest book which launched on 5th April 2019.

As a career, Colette spent her later years as a legal secretary. After a first attempt at writing many years ago (a book that still remains in her drawer) she resumed this passion a few years back, after being made redundant. After few book signing events and a book talk, which almost caused her to collapse with nerves, Colette now spends her time between her home in the UK and her home in France.

Colette has two adorable dogs and, when not writing and marketing her books, she likes cooking for herself and her husband, gardening or designing various items for their home. Amongst her other hobbies, she has also experimented with furniture upholstery, and she might, from time to time, have a paintbrush in her hand.

Connect with Colette:

Website: http://colettekebell.com/

Facebook: Colette Kebell Author

Twitter: @ColetteKebell

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Friday Night Drinks with… D. Ellis Overttun

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

Tonight I am delighted to be joined for my weekly Friday Night Drinks by author… D. Ellis Overttun.

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I’m not really a drinker. So, it would probably be cranberry and seven. However, if I had to pick an alcoholic beverage, it would be a Kir Royale.

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If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

Well, given I’m not much of a drinker, I don’t really have a spot that comes to mind. One place is basically as good as any other. However, if I had to pick a place that could be any place, it would be Rick’s Café in Casablanca. Believe it or not, it’s a real place, inspired by Rick’s Café Américan.

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I’ll be wearing a double-breasted, ivory dinner jacket ensemble a la Bogie, minus the cigarette. How about you?

Instead of Sam singing “As Time Goes By”, I think I would like to hear Carly Simon’s version backed up, of course, by the incredible harmonics of Stevie Wonder (http://dld.bz/jhag9). What would follow would be a set a la the one from her Live at Grand Central Station performance.

That is very specific imagery, you must be a writer! If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

The first person has to be Alice Roberts. I first bumped into her when I came across a BBC documentary series called Origins of Us. It traces the evolution of our bodies from the trees to the plains of ancient Africa. Using her training as an anatomist, she shows how the changing environment shaped our bodies. Several of the chapters throughout my Terra Nova series have been inspired by this BBC series. Apart from getting her take on those parts, I would like to get her opinion on a speculative scifi concept on which my novels hinge: What would happen if sexual relations for pleasure and procreation separated? My take on it is the backdrop to my first novel, Universe: Awakening.

The next person I would like as part of our merry band would be physicist, Brian Cox. I’ve probably seen most of his documentaries, but my favourite is Human Universe. I would like to get his take on the physics in the Terra Nova series, particularly my concept of subspace. It is another speculative scifi concept that postulates that most of the mass/energy of the universe is inaccessible to us under normal circumstances. Also, it would be great fun to hear some of his stories when he was the keyboard player in his Dare days.

So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I am in the process of finishing up my 4th book, Mirror in Time. As the title suggests, it’s about time travel. It is a standalone novel with (I think) very accessible science that is faster paced than my other novels. I’ve included the as yet unpublished prologue. Any sci-fi bloggers who want to review an ARC of the soon-to-be-finished book can DM my wife, Natasha (@neoverttun).

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

I suppose the proudest moment has been having guest posts hosted on various sites. The biggest challenge has been to generate content for those posts. I have found it quite daunting. It has given me a lot of respect for bloggers like yourself who constantly have to deal with writing reviews on what I only imagine are tight schedules.

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!

I would like to be a panelist at MCM London Comic Con discussing the Terra Nova series.

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

My favorite place has to be the south of France, mainly because of the food and the ambiance.

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I don’t have a bucket list. For me, it has always been more about the journey than the destination. Also, I suppose it’s because I think it means you can see the end somewhere on the horizon. I think I would find it a little depressing. Having said that, I live each day as if they are in short supply and approach everything with a sense of urgency.

The closest thing I would have to an item on a bucket list would be to be able to play the piano totally by ear (because fingers are so boring.) I’m almost there, but to be able to free myself from having to read music would be so liberating.

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

When I was young, I used to take French at a convent in the neighbourhood where I grew up. There was a story that I had to translate in one of the lessons. I remember it was prefaced by a picture of a wolf who had experienced lean times and a well-fed dog. They met at the edge of a forest on opposite sides of a fence surrounding a farm and had an exchange about their current circumstances. The wolf complained about how hard his life was, constantly searching for food and braving the elements. The dog, on the other hand, was quite content. He led a comfortable life with plenty of food and shelter. Now, I’m paraphrasing…

“Gee, it would be great if I could live like that,” the wolf said.

“Well, let me speak to the farmer. Maybe, you can come live with me,” the dog replied.

“Would you?” Then, the wolf noticed the dog’s neck. “Why is your fur matted?”

“That’s from my collar when the farmer ties me up.”

The wolf smiled and returned to the forest.

Where safety and security are concerned, I am like the dog. However, there is one place where I am like the wolf, and that is my writing. I write the way I write, take it or leave it. It is probably the only place where I have true freedom.

I think Cyrano de Bergerac sums it up best: “To sing, to laugh, to dream, to walk in my own way, free with an eye to see things as they are, a voice that means manhood. To cock my hat where I choose. At a word, a yes, a no, to fight or write. But never to make a line I have not heard in my own heart. To travel any road under the sun, under the stars, nor care if fame or fortune lie beyond the bourne. Yet, with all modesty to say: ‘My soul, be satisfied with flowers, with weeds, with thorns even; but gather them in the one garden you may call your own.’ “

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

Well, to tell you the truth, I don’t think you’d find the things I read very interesting since I rarely read fiction. However, I did recently depart from that when I did a one-off review of The One That Got Away by Leigh Himes. My three favourite books are: The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli, The Art of War by Sun Tzu and Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Taleb. Which one would be my must-read probably changes depending on where I am at the time. Right now, with all that is going on with COVID19, I am in an antifragile mood, so I would go with Taleb.

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Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.

In The Black Swan, Taleb showed us that highly improbable and unpredictable events underlie almost everything about our world. Here Taleb stands uncer­tainty on its head, making it desirable, even necessary. The antifragile is beyond the resilient or robust. The resil­ient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better and better.

Just as human bones get stronger when subjected to stress and tension, many things in life benefit from stress, disorder, volatility, and turmoil. What Taleb has identified and calls antifragile are things that not only gain from chaos but need it in order to survive and flourish.

Antifragile is a blueprint for living in a Black Swan world. Erudite, witty, and iconoclastic, Taleb’s message is revolutionary: the antifragile, and only the antifragile, will make it.

I love to read non-fiction, as well as fiction. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Being a non-drinker is my first line of defence. (I can nurse a drink an entire evening.) I also hear that staying hydrated is the best go to cure for a hangover.

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

The question reminds me of the Big Bang Theory episode “The Intimacy Acceleration” where Sheldon and Penny participate in an experiment designed to see if two people could fall in love. It involves a series of questions they ask each other that are designed to promote intimacy. One of the questions was: Describe your perfect day. It gave me pause, and I turned to Natasha, and said, (and I’m paraphrasing), “Almost everyday is a perfect day. The only thing that would make it absolutely perfect is money.” She understood that what I meant by “money” was Bill Gates, George Soros or Andrew Lloyd Webber kind of money: MONEY!

She and I are sort of a recluse couple. To quote Elton John, “Looking for an island in our boat upon the sea.” We spend most days side by side either pursuing our literary endeavour with the Terra Nova series or our non-literary endeavour.

Being Saturday, I would probably spend the morning writing then reading to Natasha. Then, I would make lunch. (Yes, I do all the cooking.) A catnap après le déjeuner then on to some serious movie watching. Around 5:00 or 6:00, we would work out for about an hour or so followed by a light supper while watching Real Time with Bill Maher, closing with some CNN. Then, to bed to bed my sleepy head.

Pretty boring, no?

Well, it’s something I promised Natasha long ago, (and I mean years not decades). It probably is best incapsulated by a line from Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd: “And at home by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be — and whenever I look up, there will be you.”

Not boring at all, pretty romantic! I’m a huge fan of Real Time… myself. Thank you so much for joining me on the blog and being so open and detailed in your responses, I have enjoyed it very much.

D. E. Overttun is the author of the Terra Nova series of novels which are Universe:Awakening, Genesis: Vision of the New World and Prophecy: Vision of Darkness and you can buy them by following the links.

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You can find out more about D. E. Overttun’s writing via his wife, Natasha’s Twitter account.

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Guest Post: Plague by Julie Anderson

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There are many ways to die. Plague is just one.

Work on a London tube line is halted by the discovery of an ancient plague pit and in it, a very recent corpse. A day later another body is found, also in a plague pit. This victim is linked to the Palace of Westminster, where rumours swirl around the Prime Minister and his rivals.

As the number of deaths climbs, the media stokes fear. Government assurances are disbelieved. Everyone feels threatened. This has to be resolved and fast.

A disgraced civil servant and a policeman must find the answer before Westminster closes for recess. Power, money and love curdle into a deadly brew that could bring down the Mother of Parliaments.

Time is running out. And it’s not clear what – or who – will survive. 

Plague by Julie Anderson is a new title out this week, and I am delighted to be sharing a guest post by Julie on the blog today in celebration of the book’s publication. Given what is currently going on in the world, Julie has written about how it feels when the dystopian fiction you have created collides with real world happenings.

When life and fiction collide… by Julie Anderson

Back in 2018 I began writing a novel, a Westminster murder mystery/thriller entitled ‘Plague‘. I was about to undergo surgery and knew that I’d have a long period of convalescence and recovery in which to plan out and begin writing my book. Without giving away too much of the plot (my publishers would shoot me if I did) the story is about a potential outbreak of a strain of plague in London in 2020. The atmosphere is tense and fearful and there is a general reluctance to accept what the authorities are saying, including medical experts and the police. People believe the real facts are being withheld. Entrenched and aggressive positions don’t help and a predilection for opinions, whatever their source, which reinforce existing prejudices, heightens anxiety. Sound familiar?

None of this was particularly new or controversial when I began writing it.

Populist politicians choosing to deny facts are now commonplace. The current President of the United States springs to mind, but there are European heads of state who do the same, including our own. This is amplified in the echo chamber of social media.  In medicine, Anti-Vaxxer groups illustrate how people make potentially life-changing decisions based on belief rather than on scientific evidence. My villain in the novel chooses to exploit circumstances to increase his own fortune and power, despite knowing the views he encourages are false. He uses social media to help do this. This too has happened in real life, when an individual exploited people’s genuine concerns for their own benefit. Former doctor Andrew Wakefield, now barred from practising in the UK and described as fraudulent, made the spurious link between the MMR vaccine and child autism. This resulted in a reduction in vaccination rates and subsequent suffering and death.

I wanted my book to highlight, in so far as I could within the confines of a commercial thriller, how dangerous disregarding fact and science is and how easily it can be exploited by people for their own ends. And it is, of course, a Westminster based thriller, so politics and democracy are involved. As are the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor, who regularly give press conferences, just as they did during the first months of the COVID-19 lockdown.

It’s genuinely unsettling to find events, so similar to those in my tale, unfolding in real life and seeing the reactions of media, institutions and individuals to the COVID-19 virus.  Some is horribly familiar – and irresponsible. Celebrities or TV ‘personalities’ asked for views on something they are not qualified to comment upon and the media rabble-rousing and setting people against each other.  In the novel the media is used to manipulate opinion to better serve the interests of wealthy owners and investors. As a character in my novel says, ‘It’s dishonest and dangerous!’ something with which I agree.

There have been demonstrators outside Downing Street, to protest the ‘lack of action’ by government, something which occurs in ‘Plague’. My heroine is caught up in just such a demonstration in Chapter 42. Pharmacies have been hiring body guards because of attacks from members of the public attempting to access medicines or other items which were out of stock.  This happens on Page 106 of the novel! 

Now we have multiple real life procurement scandals, all those non-advertised ’emergency’ government contracts worth many millions being given to companies owned by donors or associates of the governing party, while companies which are experts in their field and offering their services are ignored.  At least one of these has already spawned a law suit. In my novel there are contracts worth billions which are given to associates of the villain without going through the correct, legal procedures. It’s part of the corruption of democracy which my villain seeks.  I have to tell you that there’s even a shadowy but powerful Russian character, an international ally of my villain, who encourages his crimes and makes financial investments!

The plague in my book isn’t COVID-19, it’s power and the desire for and love of it. My book isn’t even about a pandemic, but the ‘plague scare’ in it has mirrored real life to an eerie degree. That doesn’t stop the book being a really good read, about a series of macabre murders, with my heroes working against the clock to prevent more deaths and a love story and quite a lot of history thrown in.  Pre-publication reviews describe it as ‘gripping’, ‘page turning’ and ‘gorgeously written’ though another word which keeps cropping up is ‘prescient’.

The number of usually well informed folk who simply don’t believe current government plans are based on science and the over-riding priority to save lives alarms me. Are they right? Is the government putting money before human life? I don’t know.  It’s a new disease strain.  There is much we don’t know.  Like in the book, it’s frightening. I spent eighteen months writing a novel but in life I can’t write the ending. That’s what’s really scary.

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Thank you so much for sharing that with us, Julie, it must have been very odd to see so much of what you envisaged in your work of fiction manifesting in the real world! I look forward to reading the book soon.

Plague is out now in both ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Julie Anderson was a Senior Civil Servant in Westminster and Whitehall for many years, including at the Office for the Deputy Prime Minister, the Inland Revenue and Treasury Solicitors. Earlier publications include historical adventure novels and short stories. She is Chair of Trustees of Clapham Writers, organisers of the Clapham Book Festival, and curates events across London. 

Connect with Julie:

Website: https://julieandersonwriter.com/

Facebook: Julie Anderson Author

Twitter: @jjulieanderson

Instagram: @julieandersonwriter

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Romancing The Romance Authors… with Stefania Hartley

Romancing The Romance Authors

Today I am welcoming to the blog, author Stefania Hartley, to be forensically grilled on being a writer of romance.

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

I write contemporary romance/romantic comedy and short stories for women’s magazines. Sun, Stars and Limoncello is my first full-length novel.

Why romance?

I love reading romance and I love writing it. There’s nothing like the thrill of falling in love!

What inspires your stories?

Most of my characters are inspired by people I’ve known or met and found interesting. Once I’ve decided on my hero or heroine, I imagine who would be the last person they’d want to fall in love with, and I put them in a situation where they just can’t help it.  

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

I love Helen Fielding for her amazing humour, I fell in love with Beth O’Leary’s incredibly sweet hero in The Flatshare, I enjoyed Helen Hoang’s steamy The Kiss Quotient, and I’ve just discovered Talia Hibbert with the Brown sisters series. I was swept by Elizabeth Enfield’s Ivy and Abe, and I like Sarah Morgan’s style. There are many other romance authors that I like, but I’m leaving out all the ones that I know personally, just to make sure I’m being objective.

I adored The Flatshare! (Cute fact: Helen Fielding and I went to the same school, although not at the same time. Joanne Harris also went there!) If you had to pick one romance novel for me to read, which one would you recommend?

This is another difficult question, because I would probably recommend Bridget Jones’s Diary, but I guess that you have already read it.  

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A dazzlingly urban satire on modern relationships?
An ironic, tragic insight into the demise of the nuclear family?
Or the confused ramblings of a pissed thirty-something?

As Bridget documents her struggles through the social minefield of her thirties and tries to weigh up the eternal question (Daniel Cleaver or Mark Darcy?), she turns for support to four indispensable friends: Shazzer, Jude, Tom and a bottle of chardonnay.

Welcome to Bridget’s first diary: mercilessly funny, endlessly touching and utterly addictive.

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

I would spend my perfect romantic weekend with Mr Darcy at his ‘place’, possibly frolicking in the pond while he wears the famous white shirt. 

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

The RNA is a wonderful family. I have never felt so understood as in the RNA. I don’t think that family and friends can ‘get’ a writer like another writer can, because we are all a little obsessed. And nobody can understand a romance writer quite like another romance writer or a romance reader, and in the RNA we are all both things. 

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

Read a lot of romance books because there is an enormous variety within the genre, and readers have specific expectations from each subcategory of romance. A tip to writers in general: develop a thick skin against rejections and arm yourself with shiploads of perseverance. 

Tell us about your latest book.

Sun, Stars and Limoncello is my first full-length novel and it is set in Sicily. You can buy a copy here.

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Sonia believes that men equal heartache and disaster. Brad has sworn never to love a woman again. It’s a pity they’re so irresistibly attracted to one another.

After her traumatic teenage years, Sonia’s teaching job would be the best thing that has happened to her if it weren’t for Brad Wilson. Her arrogant, standoffish colleague never fails to rub her the wrong way. But when she’s faced with the choice between canceling the school trip to Sicily or accepting his ungraceful help, she swallows her pride and resigns herself to spending an entire week in close quarters with him. Little does she know just how close.

A tragedy from his past still haunts Brad, and he’s sworn never to let his heart be shredded by grief again. Loving another woman is not in the cards. That’s why his petite olive-skinned colleague is so very dangerous.

What could possibly go wrong when their mutual destination is one of the most romantic places in the world?

About the Author

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Stefania Hartley, also known as The Sicilian Mama, was born in Sicily and immediately started growing, but not very much. She left her sunny island after falling head over heels in love with an Englishman, and she’s lived all over the world with him and their three children. Having finally learnt English, she enjoyed it so much that she started writing stories and nobody has been able to stop her since. She loves to write about hot and sunny places like her native Sicily, and she especially likes it when people fall in love. Her short stories have been longlisted, commended and won prizes. Sun, Stars and Limoncello is her first novel and is a contender in the Joan Hessayon Award.

Connect with Stefania:

Website: https://www.stefaniahartley.com/

Facebook: Stefania Hartley Author

Twitter: @TheSicilianMama

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Guest Post: A Tuscan Memory by Angela Petch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Italian Inspiration by Angela Petch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Angela:

Blog: https://angelapetchsblogsite.wordpress.com

Facebook: Angela Petch Author

Twitter: @Angela_Petch

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Desert Island Books… with Clare Marchant

Desert Island Books

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

This week the choices belong to author, Clare Marchant.

Book OneLittle Women by Louisa May Alcott

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

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

Book TwoThe Kings General by Daphne du Maurier

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

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

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

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

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

Book ThreeAll Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

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

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

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

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

Book FourRiders by Jilly Cooper

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

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

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

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

Book FiveThe Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

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Can you go a little faster? Can you run?

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

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

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

My luxury item:

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

About Clare Marchant:

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Clare:

Facebook: Clare Marchant Author

Twitter: @ClareMarchant1

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Romancing The Romance Authors… with Suzanne Snow

Romancing The Romance Authors

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

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

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

Why romance?

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

What inspires your stories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your latest book.

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

Connect with Suzanne:

Website: https://www.suzannesnowauthor.com

Facebook: Suzanne Snow Author

Twitter: @SnowProse

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

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Friday Night Drinks with… Claire Sheldon

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

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

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

Malibu and Coke is my go to drink.

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If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

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

If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

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

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

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

I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

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

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

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

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

Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

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

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

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

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

Oh, I love those books, I reviewed them all on the blog earlier this year (you can read those reviews here and here.) So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

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

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

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

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

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

book cover

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

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

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

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

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

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Desert Island Books… with Katie Wells

Desert Island Books

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

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

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

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

Book One: The Ghosts by Antonia Barber

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

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

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

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

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

Book Two: The Illustrated Herbiary by Maia Toll

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

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

Book Three: We Other by Sue Bentley

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

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

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

Book Four: The Woman in the Photograph by Stephanie Butland

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

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

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

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

Book Five: The Xmas Factor by Annie Sanders

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

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

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

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

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

My extra item:

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

About Katie Wells:

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

Find out more about Katie:

Website: https://katekenzie.com

Blog: https://fromundertheduvet.co.uk

Twitter: @DuvetDwellers@kakenzie101

Facebook: K A Kenzie Writer / From Under The Duvet

Instagram: @kakenzie101 / @duvetdwellerbooks

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

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

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