The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews with…. Christina Courtenay

Awards

The next guest on the blog in my series of interviews of the winners of the 2021 Romantic Novel Awards is no stranger to my site and one of my favourite authors to interview. She is the winner of the Fantasy Romantic Novel Award for her book, Echoes of the Runes, author… Christina Courtenay.

Christina Courtenay medium size

Christina, congratulations on winning the Fantasy Romantic Novel Award in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 and thank you very much for agreeing to come back to the blog during this celebration of the awards.

You have now won a Romantic Novelists’ Association Award on multiple occasions. Does the thrill ever start to wane or is it just as special each time? What did it mean to you to win in particular this year?

No, I don’t think the thrill would ever wane – it definitely feels very special each time it happens! I was absolutely delighted and very honoured to win with this particular book as it is a story that’s very close to my heart in many ways. It was also my first one published by Headline Review so it was lovely that it did so well and their faith in me paid off! 

For people who have not read the book yet, can you tell us what we should expect when we come to it and how it falls into the ‘fantasy’ category?

It’s a timeslip/dual time story where Ceri, a Welsh noblewoman is taken hostage by a Viking in the 9th century, and in the present day Mia uncovers secrets at an archaeological dig. When the present begins to echo the past, and enemies threaten, they must fight to protect what has become most precious to them … The story alternates between the two timelines, and the fantasy part is the fact that Mia owns a very special ring which is magical in that it gives her dreams and visions from Ceri’s life.

You said in your speech that this book had taken you to places you never thought you would go? What did you mean by that exactly? What has been special for you about this particular book?

Although I’d been published before, this book was a first for me in many ways – it was the first time I’d had an agent representing me and fighting my corner, my first with Headline as I mentioned, and it has a Viking setting which is very special to me. I’m half Swedish so the Vikings are part of my heritage and an era I’ve always loved. ECHOES OF THE RUNES is also the first of my books to get more than 1,000 reviews on Amazon, something I had always dreamed about. Then it won the RNA’s Fantasy Award and now it has also been shortlisted for the RWA US Vivian award. I’m just blown away by how well it’s done!

All my fellow bloggers who read Echoes of the Runes have raved about it. Why do you think people have responded to it so positively? What has been some of your favourite feedback on the book? 

I honestly don’t know but I’m so grateful for all the wonderful support I’ve received from readers, bloggers and reviewers – it means so much! I know many readers love the Viking era as much as I do and timeslip novels also seem to be very popular at the moment. (I’m very pleased about that as it’s my favourite sub-genre.) I think the best feedback an author can get is when readers say the characters stay in their mind long after they’ve put the book down, and that they want to continue to spend time in that world and can’t wait for the next book. That makes me feel all warm inside!

Readers of this book have compared you to Barbara Erskine, who is one of my favourite authors and hugely successful. How does that feel?

I don’t think I could ever be as good as Ms Erskine – she is definitely the queen of timeslip novels – but it’s a huge honour to be compared to her as I love her books!

You have said that this book allowed you to explore your heritage. Could you expand on that a little and tell us where the idea for the book came from. Is it tied to your interest in genealogy?

No, it’s not connected with my interest in genealogy as sadly I haven’t been able to prove any descent from Vikings as yet (although I live in hope!). It was more that I went to school in Sweden up to the age of 16 so of course we studied the Vikings a lot and I was fascinated by them. I was a voracious reader and also read the Norse sagas at a young age and they made a huge impression on me. My story was initially inspired by a Viking style ring I own, which is an exact replica of one displayed at the Historical Museum in Stockholm. When I visited the museum, I found the original one in a display case there and I compared the two. It was so exciting to see them together and that’s when I was struck by the idea for this book. My agent, Lina Langlee of the North Literary Agency, just happens to be Swedish as well and she encouraged me so it seemed like it was meant to be.

Will your next novel be exploring similar themes or do you have something completely different planned?

I have continued with the Vikings in my Runes series and there are two more published now – THE RUNES OF DESTINY (which is about Linnea, the daughter of the couple in ECHOES OF THE RUNES) – and WHISPERS OF THE RUNES (following Linnea’s best friend Sara). I have just finished the edits on the fourth book in the series – TEMPTED BY THE RUNES – which will be out in December, and now I’m working on a standalone novel that will hopefully be out next year. They are all timeslip or time travel, but although they explore similar themes, the settings and characters are all different.

Thanks for chatting with me, Christina, it’s been fascinating ans I wish you luck with your upcoming plans.

You can get a copy of Christina’s award-winning novel, Echoes of the Runes, here and watch out for my review of the book coming up later in the summer.

51YNIGu3-HL

Their love was forbidden. But echoed in eternity.

When Mia inherits her beloved grandmother’s summer cottage, Birch Thorpe, in Sweden, she faces a dilemma. Her fiancé Charles urges her to sell and buy a swanky London home, but Mia cannot let it go easily. The request to carry out an archaeological dig for more Viking artefacts like the gold ring Mia’s grandmother also left her, offers her a reprieve from a decision – and from Charles.

As Mia becomes absorbed in the dig’s discoveries, she finds herself drawn to archaeologist Haakon Berger. Like her, he can sense the past inhabitants whose lives are becoming more vivid every day. Trying to resist the growing attraction between them, Mia and Haakon begin to piece together the story of a Welsh noblewoman, Ceri, and the mysterious Viking, known as the ‘White Hawk’, who stole her away from her people in 869 AD. 

As the present begins to echo the past, and enemies threaten Birch Thorpe’s inhabitants, they will all have to fight to protect what has become most precious to each of them …

About the Author

Christina Courtenay writes historical romance, time slip and time travel stories, and lives in Herefordshire (near the Welsh border) in the UK. Although born in England, she has a Swedish mother and was brought up in Sweden – hence her abiding interest in the Vikings. Christina is a former chairman of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association and has won several awards, including the RoNA for Best Historical Romantic Novel twice with Highland Storms (2012) and The Gilded Fan (2014).  The Runes of Destiny (time travel published by Headline 10th December 2020) is her latest novel. Christina is a keen amateur genealogist and loves history and archaeology (the armchair variety).

Connect with Christina:

Website: http://www.christinacourtenay.com

Facebook: Christina Courtenay Author

Twitter: @PiaCCourtenay

Instagram: @ChristinaCourtenayAuthor

A Little Book Problem banner

Romancing The Romance Authors with… Frances Mensah Williams

romancing-the-romance-authors-1

Delighted to welcome my latest guest to the blog to chat about writing romance and who is the perfect hero. This week’s guest is author… Frances Mensah Williams.

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

My books fall into the category of contemporary women’s commercial fiction and to date, I have three published novels and two novellas. I’m incredibly excited to share that my next book will be published in Summer 2022!. My novels are influenced by my African ancestry and the settings include both London and modern-day Ghana. 

Why romance?

Why not romance? I mean, who doesn’t love a happy ending? I think romantic fiction is an incredibly optimistic and positive genre of writing and one which suits my world view. I also find that romantic relationships are a fantastic and relatable vehicle for showing how women encounter challenges, face their personal demons, and grow as people. Typically with my heroines – both the main and often the secondary characters in the story – their romantic relationships become the tests that help them discover who they are, what they’re made of, and what – or who – they really want in life.

What inspires your stories?

Like so many writers, my ideas can appear quite randomly! The idea for one of my novellas came as I was coming out of the supermarket into the car park and saw a woman driving in, circling the parking bays, and then almost immediately driving out! I have had some brilliant plot ideas while I’m taking a walk or in the shower (which can be awkward when you’re desperate to write down the idea before you forget!). I’m also inspired by song lyrics or a bit of shameless eavesdropping. 

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

I have to say that for me romance comes in many flavours. For example, I love the African American author Terry McMillan for her insightful relationship-driven novels, Jilly Cooper and Penny Vincenzi for their huge casts and sweeping sagas, Lesley Lokko for her vivid international settings, Dorothy Koomson for her romance tinted thrillers, and Marian Keyes for her funny, family-driven love stories. Then there’s Jane Green, Jill Mansell, Milly Cooper… I could go on.

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

That’s a tough question but I would probably recommend Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan. Set in America, it follows the love lives of four single girlfriends and shines a painfully humorous spotlight on the challenges of having to kiss a lot of frogs before finding your prince. I also love that all four women at the centre of the story are women of colour. 

51SFikHWmTL._SX305_BO1,204,203,200_

When the men in their lives prove less than reliable, Savannah, Bernadine, Gloria, and Robin find new strength through a rare and enlightening friendship as they struggle to regain stability and an identity they don’t have to share with anyone. Because for the first time in a long time, their dreams are finally OFF hold….

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

Does the Duke of Hastings from the Bridgerton novels, as depicted on Netflix, count? Well, if I could transport him into the present day, visions of a dinner for two as the sun sets over a deserted beach come to mind…

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

What I love about the RNA is that it is first and foremost a community. As a writer of romantic fiction, you can feel a bit like the neglected stepchild in the hierarchy of publishing. Writing romantic fiction as a black woman can make you feel like the invisible neglected stepchild! But, in joining the RNA, I found a community that immediately felt welcoming and inclusive. I’m a member of a couple of the RNA groups and continue to learn so much from the other members who are incredibly generous with their advice and support. If you want to know more about independent publishing or tackling challenges with your plot, characterization – or any aspect of your craft as a writer – the RNA network is invaluable.

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

It’s probably a good idea to make sure you know the plot rules of the romance game and remember that while your hero/heroine will – and should – struggle, your goal as a writer is to help them reach their happy place. In doing so, be mindful to focus as much on your protagonist’s internal journey as on their external struggles. 

Tell us about your most recent novel.

It’s called Imperfect Arrangements and was published in March 2020. It’s the story of three couples who struggle with their less than perfect romantic arrangements. Best friends Lyla, Maku and Theresa have a rock-solid friendship – it’s the other relationships in their lives that are causing them heartache. When ambitious Theresa moves with her husband to Accra, the cosmopolitan capital of Ghana, not only does it show up the cracks in her seemingly perfect relationship, but it also forces her friends look more closely at their lives and choices. Set in contemporary Ghana, it’s a story full of twists and turns, drama and humour. The novel also shows the perspectives of the men in the relationships, which was an interesting challenge! If you enjoy female-centred dramas, I hope you’ll give this a try. 

You can buy a copy of Imperfect Arrangements here.

Imperfect Arrangements Front Cover 0620

There are two sides to every story…

In the sun-soaked capital of Ghana, best friends Theresa, Maku and Lyla struggle with the arrangements that define their relationships. Ambitious, single-minded Theresa has gambled everything to move with her loving husband Tyler from London to cosmopolitan Accra. Feisty Maku is desperate for professional recognition – and her dream white wedding.  Churchgoing Lyla married Kwesi in haste, but while she battles her growing attraction to the mysterious Reuben, her husband has bitten off more than he can chew with his latest mistress.

Facing lies, betrayal, and shattered illusions, each couple must confront the truth of who they have become and the arrangements they have enabled. Against the backdrop of a shifting culture, each woman must decide what – and who – she is willing to sacrifice for the perfect marriage.

About the Author

jac books-8

Frances is a British-Ghanaian author. Her debut novel, the romantic comedy From Pasta to Pigfoot which follows hapless PA Faye Bonsu in her search for love and identity, went straight to no. 23 of WH Smith Travel’s Top 100 Summer Reads.  It was followed by From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings. Frances is also the author of the novel Imperfect Arrangements and a novella series (Marula Heights Romances) which includes Sweet Mercy and River Wild. An entrepreneur, consultant and executive coach, Frances has led numerous international skills and business development projects, receiving a CBE from HM Queen Elizabeth II in the 2020 New Year Honours List for her services. Frances’s non-fiction books are Everyday Heroes: Learning from the Careers of Successful Black Professionals and I Want to Work in Africa: How to Move Your Career to the World’s Most Exciting Continent. 

Connect with Frances:

Website: www.francesmensahwilliams.com

Facebook: Frances Mensah Williams

Twitter: @FrancesMensahW

Instagram: @francesmensahw

A Little Book Problem banner

The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews… with Louise Douglas

Awards

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

Louise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck to all the RNA 2022 entrants!

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

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

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

House by the sea final final rough

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

Connect with Louise:

Facebook: Louise Douglas Author

Twitter: @LouiseDouglas3

Instagram: @louisedouglas3

A Little Book Problem banner

Desert Island Books with… Suzanne Snow

desert-island-books

Today’s castaway is fellow RNA member and romance author, Suzanne Snow. I’m intrigued to see which five books Suzanne has chosen to keep her from almost certain insanity on her desert island with only her own thoughts and one luxury item to aid her survival.

Book One – My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

51LhJkCLAqL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

Escaping the ills of the British climate, the Durrell family – acne-ridden Margo, gun-toting Leslie, bookworm Lawrence and budding naturalist Gerry, along with their long-suffering mother and Roger the dog – take off for the island of Corfu.

But the Durrells find that, reluctantly, they must share their various villas with a menagerie of local fauna – among them scorpions, geckos, toads, bats and butterflies.

This was a book given to me as an adult and I adored it. I found it full of pathos, endless humour and sharp observation. The sense of place, of being alongside Gerry as he went on his island escapades and made friends with the characters who share his passion for nature, is a joy. Such a different way of life in a very different world, and it’s a book I can return to time and again.

Book Two – Rivals by Jilly Cooper

41DS3CuHsQL._SX298_BO1,204,203,200_

Into the cutthroat world of Corinium television comes mega-star Declan O’Hara. Declan soon realises that the Managing Director, Lord Baddingham, has recruited him merely to help retain the franchise for Corinium. Baddingham has also enticed Cameron Cook, a gorgeous, domineering woman executive, to produce Declan’s programme. 

As a rival group emerges to pitch for the franchise, reputations ripen and decline, true love blossoms and burns, marriages are made and shattered and sex raises its head at almost every throw….

I enjoyed Riders, especially as a pony-mad girl who grew up with horses. Rivals is a book I’ve read several times and Jilly is brilliant at bringing the characters to life, often with just a line of dialogue or the barest of detail and making them leap off the page. I’m sure I’m not alone in appreciating Rupert Campbell Black meeting someone who sees the best in him and finally falling in love. It’s such a witty and clever book, and my favourite of Jilly’s novels.

Book Three –  Full Circle by Michael Palin

41NDM17TMJL._SX371_BO1,204,203,200_

In this account of the third of Michael Palin’s travel adventures for BBC Television, he journeys for almost a year, covering 50,000 miles and all of the 18 countries that border the Pacific Ocean, encompassing a wide diversity of landscape, culture and people. The Pacific Rim is one of the world’s most volatile areas, with economies that are expanding faster than anywhere else on earth – and here the earth itself is in a constant state of flux. Not for nothing is the Pacific coastline known as the “Ring of Fire” – volcanoes mark Palin’s journey like stepping stones, and he climbs one which has recently erupted and is still smoking.

He negotiates mountains and plunging gorges, crosses glaciers, dodges icebergs, follows great rivers such as the Yangtse and the Amazon, and confronts the notorious Cape Horn and the wild and windswept beaches of western Alaska. The people Palin meets include one of the few remaining survivors of a Siberian Gulag camp, head-hunters in Borneo, and Japanese monks. He eats maggots in Mexico, rustles camels in the Australian desert, lands a plane in Seattle, and sings with the Pacific Fleet choir in Vladivostock.

As someone who isn’t a natural traveller, I love watching programmes where others introduce me to locations I know I’ll never see. Michael visits so many countries on his Pacific exploration and I enjoy anything that takes me off the beaten track for a glimpse into a different world. From the wilds of Alaska to Japan, China, Vietnam (somewhere I would love to go), Australia, New Zealand, the Americas and all the characters and places in between, it’s a journey that precedes social media and all the better for it.

Book Four –  Persuasion by Jane Austen

41NabWSabDL._SX296_BO1,204,203,200_

What does persuasion mean – a firm belief, or the action of persuading someone to think something else? Anne Elliot is one of Austen’s quietest heroines, but also one of the strongest and the most open to change. She lives at the time of the Napoleonic wars, a time of accident, adventure, the making of new fortunes and alliances.

A woman of no importance, she manoeuvres in her restricted circumstances as her long-time love Captain Wentworth did in the wars. Even though she is nearly thirty, well past the sell-by bloom of youth, Austen makes her win out for herself and for others like herself, in a regenerated society.

My favourite of Jane Austen’s books, partly because of the opportunity of a second chance at love for Anne and Wentworth after their engagement had fallen foul of other influences. Several years have passed and their circumstances have changed when they meet again, and a sense of hopelessness and resolve feels apparent in these early meetings. But Anne has retained her faithfulness and her feelings for Wentworth, and Austen gave him, for me, the most beautiful line in all her novels by way of expressing himself to Anne.

Book Five – Dark Fire by C J Sansom

61bPv0yqEaL

England, 1540: Matthew Shardlake, believing himself out of favour with Thomas Cromwell, is busy trying to maintain his legal practice and keep a low profile. But his involvement with a murder case, defending a girl accused of brutally murdering her young cousin, brings him once again into contact with the king’s chief minister – and a new assignment . . .

The secret of Greek Fire, the legendary substance with which the Byzantines destroyed the Arab navies, has been lost for centuries. Now an official of the Court of Augmentations has discovered the formula in the library of a dissolved London monastery. When Shardlake is sent to recover it, he finds the official and his alchemist brother horribly murdered – the formula has disappeared.

Now Shardlake must follow the trail of Greek Fire across Tudor London, while trying at the same time to prove his young client’s innocence. But very soon he discovers nothing is as it seems . . .

I’ve read Sansom’s Shardlake series and absolute adore it, but this novel is the one I would read again and again. Sansom cleverly uses Cromwell off the page to present a sense of fear, and this, along with the stifling heat, brilliantly invokes an atmosphere of menace. London is such a wonderful setting for historical crime and the city is a character of its own, particularly for a lawyer trying to go about his own business and who finds himself caught up in the intrigues of the Inns of Court and at the mercy of Cromwell, and the King, by association. 

My luxury item

31tA6SHYLgS._AC_

 I’d like to say my friend Lisa as she’s one of the most resourceful people I know but as I’m not allowed, I’m going to say a solar powered booklight to make sure I can always see to read.

About the Author

Suzanne Snow Headshot High Res

Suzanne 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.  

Suzanne’s latest book, A Summer of Second Chances, is the third in the Thorndale series and is out now as an ebook and in paperback. You can buy a copy here.

A Summer of Second Chances Book Cover

Sparks and tempers fly when Ben comes to stay in Daisy’s holiday cottage.

Daisy likes routine. She goes to work, makes dinner for her son, then loses herself for an hour or two in her sewing. She’s not looking for change, until Ben crashes – literally – into her life.

Ben is training for a triathlon, working himself to the limit in an attempt to forget a recent trauma. Daisy wants to help, but even as they draw closer with every week that passes, he pushes her away whenever things threaten to get serious.

Can Ben open himself up to love again? And with Daisy’s life in the Yorkshire Dales and Ben’s in New York, can they have a future together even if he does?

Connect with Suzanne:

Website: https://www.suzannesnowauthor.com

Facebook: Suzanne Snow Author

Twitter: @SnowProse

A Little Book Problem banner

Friday Night Drinks with… Jeevani Charika

friday-night-drinks

Tonight I am very excited to be joined on the blog for Friday Night Drinks by fellow RNA Member and hugely inspirational author… Jeevani Charika, who also writes as Rhoda Baxter.

Jeevani Charika w books - Edited

Welcome to the blog, Jeevani. Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Can I have a hot chocolate? I don’t drink alcohol much (I know, shocking for a romance novelist!). I drink copious amounts of tea and would drink my own bodyweight in hot chocolate if I were allowed.

I drink more tea than anything else, to be honest. Yorkshire Tea for preference. 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?

Possibly an odd choice, but I’d take you to a place that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s downstairs in the Horse and Jockey pub in Oxford (which was turned into flats at the end of the 1990s). It’s a quirky space with lampshades made out of random objects (like cheesegraters!) and walls covered in posters and artwork from local artists. I used to go there for meetings and I loved discovering a new poster or a piece of art that I hadn’t spotted before. I think we’d have lots of fun there.

Back in time, that’s a first on this feature, I love it! 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 my brain just exploded at the possibilities. I think I’d like to chat to people who made me laugh. So maybe Holly Walsh (I’ve just watched The Other One and Motherland) and Bill Bailey. 

Great choices. I love Motherland. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I’m writing a book about two people who are put in a team together for an online game competition. They don’t know each other’s secret identities. He’s in love with her in real life. She’s in love with him online. It started because I started watching Miraculous Ladybug and Cat Noir with my daughter a few years ago and got completely hooked. I wanted to write something with a similar love … quadrangle? Parallelogram? … you know what I mean. Where do I want it to go? Well, to ‘the end’ as fast as possible, please. I still haven’t worked out how to make the books write themselves, so I guess I have to do it the old fashioned way and put words down on paper. 

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

My favourite moment was when I read a review of A Convenient Marriage which said ‘I feel seen’. It made me so happy that I had a little cry.  My biggest challenge is being consistent with my marketing. I know I have to wave my arms about a bit if I’m to sell any books, but I don’t particularly like doing it and I often forget.

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 want my books to be turned into a film or a series that’s huge on Netflix so that people will buy lots of copies of my books and make me rich! It’s a fairly common dream, I’m guessing. 

I’d like to have so much money that I could seriously consider paying to have a commercial jumbo jet painted to look like a blue whale. I have no reason for wanting this apart from the fact that I like the idea of a whale flying around the world. I might ask the artist to add a bowl of petunias, too.

That might be the best ambition anyone has come up with yet and, as a massive Douglas Adams fan, I am on board with it! What have you planned that you are really excited about?

I’m quite excited about the book I’m writing. I’m also drafting a course on Point of View for writers. I like teaching creative writing. Most creative writing advice is basically saying the same thing but the way you say it can resonate differently with different people. I’ve read so many writing books and I’ve learned different bits of things from each one. 

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

I don’t have a bucket list. I tried it once but I kept changing my mind. I have a sort of mini list of goals instead. As for travel – my dad is an engineer (not retired) and he took jobs all over the world, so I’ve lived in Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Yap (in Micronesia) as well as Yorkshire. I would really love to take my family to Yap. I’m sure it’s changed a lot now, but I have such happy memories from my time there, I’d love to go back and see it again.

download-2

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

I once banged my head on the top of a doorframe. This is not surprising for tall people, but I’m only four foot eight. We were on a tour of Canterbury Cathedral and had to go through a low door. The guide said ‘mind your head’ and, since I’ve never had to mind my head in my life, I ignored him. Someone said something and, distracted, I walked smack into the doorframe. I was knocked flat on my back and no one helped me up because they were all laughing so hard.

Ouch! 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’?

I’d give you Nation by Terry Pratchett. Partly because it ties in quite nicely with my nostalgia for Yap, but also because it’s a wonderful book. It’s not set in the Discworld, but on a tropical island. I have re-read it many, many times.

Nation by Terry Pratchett

Prepare for the world to be turned upside down . . .

For Mau, halfway between boy and man, it happens when a great wave destroys his entire village. For Daphne, it’s when the same wave crashes her ship into the island that was once Mau’s home. Everything they once had is now so far away, lost to distance and time.

But when Daphne stops trying to shoot Mau (she did apologise for it), and instead uses a salvaged invitation card to invite him to tea, they discover a new home can be theirs.

And then people start arriving on the island – some very good, some very bad. And it’s soon clear that Daphne and Mau must fight for their Nation.

Then a discovery is made that will change the entire world forever . . .

I love the Discworld books but I haven’t read this by Terry Pratchett, I will have to check it out. 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?

Does anyone have a failsafe plan to avoid a hangover apart from ‘drink less’? Thinking back to when I used to drink – I found spicy chicken wings were a brilliant hangover cure. Chilies and protein. Perfect.

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

At home, with a cup of tea, some dunkable biscuits and a good book! (I don’t often get this because the children are at home, but it would be the perfect way to spend the weekend).

Thanks for the fantastic chat, Jeevani, I have really enjoyed my evening.

Jeevani’s latest book is A Convenient Marriage, the story of a gay man and a straight woman who get married to escape pressure from their traditional Sri Lankan families. They have the perfect marriage, until they both fall in love with other people. A Convenient Marriage was shortlisted for the RNA Contemporary Romantic Novel award in 2020. You can buy a copy here.

51vhjRR2BPL

It was the perfect marriage… until they fell in love.

Chaya is a young woman torn between her duty to family and her life in the UK. While her traditional Sri Lankan parents want her to settle down into marriage, what they don’t know is that Chaya has turned away the one true love of her life, Noah, terrified of their disapproval.

Gimhana is hiding his sexuality from his family. It’s easy enough to pretend he’s straight when he lives half a world away in the UK. But it’s getting harder and harder to turn down the potential brides his parents keep finding
for him.

When Chaya and Gimhana meet, a marriage of convenience seems like the perfect solution to their problems. Together they have everything – friendship, stability and their parents’ approval. But when both Chaya and Gimhana find themselves falling in love outside of their marriage, they’re left with an impossible decision – risk everything they’ve built together, or finally follow
their heart?

Will they choose love, or carry on living a lie?

Jeevani Charika writes women’s fiction and contemporary romances with a hint of British cynicism.  (In case you were wondering, it’s pronounced Jeev-uh-nee.)

There’s a whole lot of other stuff she could tell you – but mainly: she’s a former scientist, an adult fan of Lego, an embarrassing mum, a part time geek (see ’embarrassing mum’) and a Very Short Person.

She also writes romantic comedy under the pen name Rhoda Baxter. So why the two names? Well… Jeevani writes about British-Sri Lankan main characters. Rhoda, not so much.

You can find out more about Jeevani, and Rhoda, via her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

A Little Book Problem banner

The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews with…. Carole Matthews

Awards

Next in my series of interview with the winners of the Romantic Novel Awards 2021, I am delighted to welcome to the blog the winner of the Romantic Comedy Novel Award, Carole Matthews.

CAROLE MATTHEWS PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHARLIE HOPKINSON © 2010
CAROLE MATTHEWS PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHARLIE HOPKINSON © 2010

Carole, congratulations on winning the Romantic Comedy Novel Award in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 with your novel Sunny Days and Sea Breezes and thank you very much for agreeing to appear on my blog during the entry period for the 2022 awards.

May I start by saying how much I loved the glimpse of the Queen behind you on the awards night, festooned with fairy lights! Is there a story behind her appearance on Zoom as you accepted the award? Does she live in your office permanently?

That’s so funny! We bought the cardboard cut-out of the Queen for a Diamond Jubilee picnic in 2012 and she’s been with us ever since. She does live in my office but comes to all my book events and has been borrowed to visit many schools in Costa Del Keynes! Sadly, she’s now held up with Selotape and good will. 

Having attended the awards in London previously, having to watch it via video was an odd experience, and it was clear that this was true for everyone involved, who all did a great job in difficult circumstances. What did winning the award in this very strange year mean to you?

The online experience was hilarious. We couldn’t hear a single word. I was on my main computer, my husband was on one iPad and my publishing team were propped up on another one on my desk. The delay was made a lot easier by the box of six pre-mixed cocktails that my publisher had sent, but the first I knew I had won was when Kev said ‘You’re on screen.’ Hence the slightly mad acceptance speech but all credit to the RNA for trying to put something on – it was just a shame the company organizing it let them down.  It’s a great award though and I’m really pleased to have finally won something after twenty-odd  years and countless nominations! 

I know I speak for many readers when I say that books are what have got us through these odd and lonely times, and I have read more over the last eighteen months than ever before. Light-hearted books, in particular, have been a haven of escapism at difficult times. How has it been for you during lockdown as a writer of romantic comedies? Has it been harder to find the humour, or have you found it has helped you through?

Thank you, that’s very kind. I haven’t written a thing for months. My concentration throughout lockdown was non-existent – both for reading and writing. Crochet and rubbish telly got me through! I realise how much I need to be out and about doing things to feed the soul and provide material for two books a year! I really admire people who have found their creative mojo during this time. It’s just not happened for me. 

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

Yes, I celebrate my twenty-fifth anniversary next May. I had no idea when I first had Let’s Meet on Platform 8 published that it would lead to such a career. I hit the ‘chicklit’ wave just as it was starting to happen which was very fortunate. I’ve written thirty-four books now and would love to say that it gets easier, but it really doesn’t. There are so many pressures on writers now and I’m old enough to remember the days when we just had to write books! I’m never short of ideas – in normal times, they are everywhere – only the time in which to write them. I think the secret to a long career is that readers know exactly what they’re going to get when they buy one of my books – something light-hearted, funny but with a bit of reality underpinning it. I’m blessed that so many of my readers have stayed with me since the start of my journey.

As an aspiring author myself, I am always fascinated by the careers and writing process of authors I admire. Did you set out deliberately to write romantic comedies or is that just how your voice appears on the page? Do you write what appeals to you as a reader or do you have a secret, darker side in your choice of reading matter?

I’ve tried a few other genres just for my own entertainment, but what I write now is my natural voice and what comes easiest. I do generally choose much darker material to read. If I read books similar to my own, I tend to analyse them as I go, but if I read a ghost story or thriller then I don’t really do that and simply enjoy the read. 

I am sure that winning this award will have drawn you a host of new readers, as well as delighting your existing fan base. What can your readers expect from you next?

I have a new paperback out in October, Christmas for Beginners. It’s a follow-on story from my book, Happiness for Beginners which was a real hit with my readers and has some fab characters and some very naughty alpacas. This was nominated for an RNA award last year. 

Also my Chocolate Lovers’ Club series will be re-launch in August with shiny, new jackets. They’re a firm favourite with my readers and have been my most popular books worldwide.

All 4 confetti instagram grid

Could you please tell us a little about your award-winning novel and what inspired the story?

I had a lot of fun writing Sunny Days & Sea Breezes. The idea came to me while we were staying on a houseboat in the Isle of Wight. It was such a beautiful setting that I felt inspired. We were staying on a very swanky boat and the one next door was rather more eclectic, shall we say – it was the perfect starting point for a story. 

It’s about Jodie Jackson who escapes her London life to spend some respite time at her brother’s houseboat. She falls in love with the island life and is also very taken with her neighbour, wood sculptor, Ned. But when her old life comes knocking, Jodie has to make the choice – does she stay or does she go?

Carole, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me, I have thoroughly enjoyed this interview and I am sure the readers will too.

Carole’s award-winning book, Sunny Days and Sea Breezes is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

SDSB cover

When does time out become the time of your life?

Jodie Jackson is all at sea, in every sense. On a ferry bound for the Isle of Wight, she’s leaving her London life, her career, and her husband behind. She’d like a chance to turn back the clocks, but she’ll settle for some peace and quiet on her brother Bill’s beautifully renovated houseboat, Sunny Days.

But from the moment Jodie steps aboard her new home, it’s clear she’ll struggle to keep herself to herself. If it isn’t Marilyn, who cleans for Bill and is under strict instructions to look after Jodie, then it’s Ned, the noisy sculptor on the next-door houseboat. Ned’s wood carving is hard on the ears, but it’s made up for by the fact that he’s rather easy on the eyes.

Bustled out of the boat by Marilyn and encouraged to explore with Ned, Jodie soon delights in her newfound freedom. But out of mind isn’t out of sight, and when her old life comes knocking Jodie is forced to face reality. Will she answer the call or choose a life filled with Sunny Days and Sea Breezes?

About the Author

Carole Matthews is an internationally bestselling author of 34 hugely successful romantic comedy novels. Her unique sense of humour has won her legions of fans and critical acclaim all over the world.

All of her novels have been Sunday Times bestsellers and Happiness for Beginners was number one on the Amazon chart. She has been given an award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association for her Outstanding Contribution to Romantic Fiction and her latest novel, Sunny Days & Sea Breezes won the RNA award for Romantic Comedy novel.

Previously very unlucky in love, she now lives happily ever after in Costa Del Keynes with her husband, Lovely Kev. She likes to drink champagne, eat chocolate and spends too much time on Facebook and Twitter.

Her next paperback, Christmas for Beginners, is out in October.

Connect with Carole:

Website: www.carolematthews.com

Facebook:  Carole Matthews Books

Twitter: @carolematthews

Instagram: Matthews.Carole

A Little Book Problem banner

Romancing The Romance Authors with… Catherine Kullmann

romancing-the-romance-authors-1

In the wake of the latest fantastic RNA Conference, it’s time to chat a bit more about romance writing with my latest love scribe, author… Catherine Kullmann.

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

My novels are set in the extended Regency period, between 1803 and 1830, but mainly during the Regency itself (1811-1820). They are set against a background of the offstage Napoleonic wars and focus on how these wars affected the women left behind and who frequently had to fend for themselves with a patriarchal system.

Why romance?

There are two aspects to romance, I think. One is the fairy-tale one that takes us out of ourselves, assures us that everything will get better and promises us a happy end and happy-ever-after with the love of our lives. This is the romance that we get to know first, as children. As adults we still return to it, to escape from our mundane lives or help us get through a bad patch.

The other aspect is the love story. What is it that makes us choose that person and no other? In getting to know them, we must also get to know ourselves. A love story is the process of creating one out of two, in forging a new union. It is something that happens every day, everywhere and yet each one is unique.

What inspires your stories?

Frequently just a simple “what if?’ or ‘what happened then?’ I like to take my stories further, explore what happened after the first ‘happy end’, as in Perception & Illusion. In The Murmur of Masks, I asked myself ‘what if a marriage of convenience does not turn into a love match?’ My novels are all set in the same world, and some characters take on a life of their own, like the Duchess of Gracechurch who has her own book in The Duke’s Regret. One sentence in Perception & Illusion had me write The Murmur of Masks. Lallie and Olivia are at a masquerade. Lallie goes home at midnight, Olivia stays. I wanted to know what happened then.

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

For regency, Georgette Heyer who created the genre and the late Jo Beverly who sadly left us far too soon. Nalini Singh writes excellent paranormal/urban fantasy romance. Shapeshifters, angels and vampires are a refreshing change after I have spent the day immersed in the Regency world.

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

Frederica by Georgette Heyer

41r6cSWP8gL

Vernon Alverstoke sees no reason to put himself out for anyone.

But when a distant connection asks for help, he is quickly plunged into one drama after another by the disorderly Merriville family.

Surprisingly, he finds himself far from bored – especially when he encounters their strong-minded daughter, Frederica.

However, she seems far more concerned with her family’s welfare than his romantic advances…

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

The Marquis of Alverstoke, the hero of Frederica. Assuming it is after 1816, we would drive in his curricle to his secluded shooting lodge where we would be undisturbed except for the discreet servants who would provide delicious meals whenever we wanted them. If we had longer, for we must allow for Regency travel times, we would take his yacht to France and on to Paris where we would have a beautiful first floor apartment on the île Saint-Louis.

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

My favourite thing is the camaraderie. Everyone is so friendly and helpful. I gained most from my membership in the NWS. My writing was all over the place, and my first reader gave me pages of most helpful advice but, most importantly, said ‘you have a voice’. That encouraged me to keep going.

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

See if you can get a place in the NWS.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

My latest novel is A Comfortable Alliance, set in 1821/22. You can buy a copy here.

A Comfortable Alliance eBook

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

Catherine Kullmann 4 MB (2)

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

Catherine has always been interested in the extended Regency period, a time when the foundations of our modern world were laid. She loves writing and is particularly interested in what happens after the first happy end—how life goes on for the protagonists and sometimes catches up with them. Her books are set against a background of the offstage, Napoleonic wars and consider in particular the situation of women trapped in a patriarchal society.

She is the author of The Murmur of Masks, Perception & Illusion, A Suggestion of Scandal, The Duke’s Regret, The Potential for Love  and A Comfortable Alliance

Banner March 2020 (2)

Catherine also blogs about historical facts and trivia related to this era.

Connect with Catherine:

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

Facebook: Catherine Kullmann Author

Twitter: @CKullmannAuthor

A Little Book Problem banner

Friday Night Drinks with… Sverrir Sigurdsson

friday-night-drinks

Tonight, my guest for Friday Night Drinks is currently on a trip to his home country of Iceland. However, as these drinks are virtual, and thanks to the wonders of technology, he is still able to join me for our chat. Welcome to the blog, author… Sverrir Sigurdsson.

authorsSverrir Sigurdsson and his wife and coauthor, Veronica Li, in front of an Icelandic volcano

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

I’m drinking red wine. It’s good for the heart. They say one glass of red wine is worth an hour at the gym. So now I’m having my hour at the gym.

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 live in the Washington, DC area, but right now, I’m visiting Iceland. By the way, there’s no “night” out in the land of the midnight sun.

I’ll take you to a place called Perlan, which is on a hilltop in the capital, Reykjavik. This is a restaurant inside a glass dome that gives visitors a panoramic view of the city. Aside from being a tourist attraction, the site also serves a practical purpose. The glass dome sits on top of six hot water tanks. The geothermal water in these tanks is piped into homes for heating.

PerlanA trip to Iceland is high on my bucket list. 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’d like to invite Winston Churchill, so I can ask him how he decided to invade Iceland back in 1941. What went on in his head?  Although Icelanders eventually welcomed the occupiers as their saviors from the Germans, it was a shock to the nation when British warships arrived in Reykjavik harbor without warning. British soldiers poured out of them and took over the country.

The second person is Hedy Lamar. Her gorgeous looks aside, I want to discuss her inventions with her. I, too, love to concoct new gadgets, though nothing as noteworthy as hers. During World War II, she and a coworker in the film industry invented a remote-control system for torpedoes. It’s still an important part of what we today call WiFi.

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

I’m now in Iceland to promote my book, Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir. The English edition was published in the U.S. in November 2020. The Icelandic edition, which I translated myself, will be out in the fall of this year. 

41W9gwghu0L

The book is my memoir and starts with my memories of growing up in Iceland. They say Iceland was discovered twice, the first time by Norwegian Vikings who settled on the island in 874 A.D., and the second time by the Allies during the Second World War. As German troops pushed west, Britain, Canada, and the U.S. realized the strategic importance of Iceland, located right in the middle of the North Atlantic. They invaded the country to pre-empt the Germans from using it as a stepping stone to North America.

As the Second World War raged on at my doorstep, I became very aware of a larger world out there. With my Viking heritage goading me on, my heart was set on traveling the world from a young age. At nineteen, I left Iceland to study architecture in Finland, and from thereon I set out to conquer the world. I pursued an international career that took me to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, North and South Americas, and Europe (including Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union).

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

My proudest moment was holding a copy of my book in my hands. Since there wasn’t much else to do during the pandemic lockdown, I dedicated myself to finishing the book with my co-author and wife, Veronica. Advance copies arrived at our home in June 2020, and the quality of the layout and graphics was everything we’d hoped for. We were very happy to receive a prize from the Wishing Shelf Book Awards in January, 2021. 

The biggest challenge has been the pandemic. Our plan was to carry the advance copies to Iceland. A few days before our trip in July, 2020, Iceland closed its door to Americans. I had to put back in the closet the box of books I’d packed for the trip. The local public library canceled the book launch event it had scheduled for me. Instead of book-signing in person, I met readers online. My book tour went virtual.

But a crisis also creates opportunities. My adventures on the internet have yielded a number of book blogger friends, such as yourself, Julie. I’ve made friends with readers in places as far away as India and Australia. The literary world is truly borderless. 

That’s the great thing about books! 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’d love to see my Viking Voyager rise to bestseller rank!  I believe it has appeal to both the old and the young. My story is a reminder of how far the human race has progressed in the twentieth century. From the ashes of the Second World War, the world’s nations went through a period of reconstruction and renaissance. The advancements we enjoy today are fruits of the hard work and resilience of that era. This should instil present and future generations with hope that they too can deal with their challenges. 

I also hope my book will inspire young people to travel, not just as a tourist, but to live and work for a spell in a foreign country. They’ll be surprised what kind of opportunities they’ll find. Most of all, they’ll be surprised to find out who they are and what they’re capable of. 

What have you planned that you are really excited about? 

I’ve traveled to 60 countries during my international career, but my favorite place is still Iceland. 

As I said, I’m there right now. Assuming the volcanic eruption is still ongoing and open to the public in the next weeks, I hope to hike over and watch molten lava spew out and flow down the valley. Eruptions are usually dangerous, but this kind is what Icelanders call a “tourist eruption.”  Instead of explosions, this flare-up is as safe as fireworks and as dramatic. Spectators have been able to walk up to the sizzling lava and cook hot dogs in it.

I’m also excited about my trip to south Iceland, where I spent summers working on a farm from age nine to fourteen. This is part of the volcano belt that gave Iceland its nickname, “land of fire and ice.”  Here, glaciers lie atop volcanoes gurgling and biding their time to erupt. My book cover shows the scenery of this area: a mountain that was once an island, a cliff with a doorway carved by the sea, and in the background the volcano that erupted in 2010 and shut down trans-Atlantic flights for a week. 

The Icelandic landscape is the wild and wonderful creations of violent volcanic activity. Each of the outcroppings mentioned above once sat on a fissure and was formed when fire met ice or seawater, causing the rapidly cooling lava to turn into a rock formation called “tuff” or palagonite. Iceland is full of such fantastic landscape, and despite the many times I toured the country, I haven’t seen them all.

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?

The place I rave about (aside from Iceland) is the Chesapeake Bay in the U.S., about 120 miles from Washington, DC. This is the largest estuary in North America, where more than a hundred rivers and streams meet the tide of the Atlantic Ocean. The bay branches into hundreds of creeks. They’re like fingers gouging into the land and turning them into long and narrow strips, like chicken necks. On one of these necks sits my cottage, which I designed and built with my own two hands. This was my retirement project, a culmination of a lifetime of experience as an architect, builder, and carpenter. It’s a humble cottage designed to give people a comfortable place to enjoy the spectacular view of sky, water, and birdlife. I enjoy it so much I go there every weekend. 

chesapeake house

House on the Chesapeake Bay designed and built by Sverrir

High on my bucket list of places to visit is the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Great Britain. I’ve read about them in the sagas. About 1000 years ago, a Viking chief tended to his farm in Iceland during the summer, and in the fall, when his farm work was done, he and his men sailed to the Shetlands and on to Ireland to rape and plunder. They returned home as heroes. I’d love to see the archeological sites on the islands that show Viking dwellings and longboats, and meet the people who are my relatives. Genetically, Shetlanders and Icelanders have much in common.

download-2

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

Readers would be surprised that I didn’t become fluent in English until well into my twenties. I was well-versed in several Scandinavian languages—Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, and Finnish—and my German was passable. But I’d always viewed English as a scrappy, undisciplined language that jumbled bits and pieces from the Romance and Germanic schools, with neither the ardor of one nor the structure of the other. I didn’t take English seriously until my last years in Finland, when I realized English was the lingua franca of the twentieth century. To prepare for my travels around the world, I gave myself a crash course by consuming every Agatha Christie mystery. It worked!

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’?  

Since I’m in Iceland and can’t take my mind off it, I’d recommend Independent People by Halldór Laxness, the Icelandic Nobel Laureate for literature. Veronica says she never understood why I was so strange until she read the book. The main character, an Icelandic farmer, is so stubbornly self-sufficient that it’s comical. He’d rather let himself and his family starve than ask a neighboring farm for help. When he’s out in the frigid wilderness looking for a lost sheep, he pushes a boulder around until he warms up and catches a few hours of sleep. When he’s freezing again, he goes back to pushing the boulder. That about sums up the Icelandic character.

Laxness’s writing is concise, sharp witted, sometimes outright funny, and his characters are so vivid they remind me of people I know. His books have been translated into many languages.

414AYFLGd0L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

Bjartus is a sheep farmer determined to eke a living from a blighted patch of land. Nothing, not merciless weather, nor the First World War, nor his family will come between him and his goal of financial independence. Only Asta Solillja, the child he brings up as his daughter, can pierce his stubborn heart. As she grows up, keen to make her own way in the world, Bjartus’ obstinacy threatens to estrange them forever.

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?

Drink lots and lots of water! Stay hydrated. It works for me.

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

My cousin Agnar has organized a family reunion for me. It would be like old times. We were six boys who terrorized the neighborhood: my brother and I and my uncle’s four sons. We lived in the same apartment building, played hide and seek in our neighbors’ yards, and held stone-throwing contests, sometimes with disastrous results. It’s most satisfying to see we’re all grandfathers now and comfortably retired. Except for me and one of my cousins who lives in Norway, they’ve all returned home after a stint studying and working overseas. That seems to be the Icelandic pattern since the old Viking days. 

six boys

Sverrir is second from right

Sverrir, thank you for joining me, this has been an entertaining and informative chat and has increased my desire to visit Iceland soon.

 Sverrir’s book, Viking Voyager won a prize at the Wishing Shelf Book Awards. You can buy a copy here.

41W9gwghu0L

This vivacious personal story captures the heart and soul of modern Iceland. Born in Reykjavik on the eve of the Second World War, Sverrir Sigurdsson watched Allied troops invade his country and turn it into a bulwark against Hitler’s advance toward North America. The country’s post-war transformation from an obscure, dirt-poor nation to a prosperous one became every Icelander’s success. Spurred by this favorable wind, Sverrir answered the call of his Viking forefathers, setting off on a voyage that took him around the world. Join him on his roaring adventures!

From Rosie Amber’s review site: “Until we are once again able to travel as freely as we did before the advent of Covid 19, we have the joy of books like Viking Voyager to entertain and inform us.”

Sverrir Sigurdsson grew up in Iceland and graduated as an architect from Finland in 1966. He pursued an international career that took him to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the U.S. His assignments focused on school construction and improving education in developing countries. He has worked for private companies, as well as UNESCO and the World Bank. He is now retired and lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and coauthor, Veronica.

You can connect with Sverrir via Facebook and Twitter.

A Little Book Problem banner

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

Awards

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

20210314_180308

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shirley Mann with ATA pilot, Mary Ellis

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

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

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

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

DSC_0829

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

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

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

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

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

Bobby's War cover

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

Connect with Shirley:

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

Facebook: Shirley Mann Author

Twitter: @shirleymann07

Instagram: @shirleymann2600

 

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

A Little Book Problem banner

Desert Island Books with… Eden Gruger

desert-island-books

It’s time to strand another willing victim on my literary tropical island with five books of their choosing to keep them company until rescue arrives, plus one luxury item (which cannot be any kind of human or animal companion, or a rescue or escape device). Today’s castaway is author… Eden Gruger

Book One – The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

51h+tH2DRpL

Sugar, an alluring, nineteen-year-old whore in the brothel of the terrifying Mrs Castaway, yearns for a better life and her ascent through the strata of 1870’s London society offers us intimacy with a host of loveable, maddening and superbly realised characters.

Gripping from the first page, this immense novel is an intoxicating and deeply satisfying read, not only a wonderful story but the creation of an entire, extraordinary world.

I am currently re-reading The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber, the story set in 1875 centres around William Rackham, his wife Agnes and the prostitute Sugar. The characters are so layered, and we get to see the thoughts and motivations behind what they show the world. New things reveal themselves every time I read it. The other thing it has in its favour is that it’s such a large book that it would double up as a step for me to reach higher than I would be able to, so that’s a win win.

Book Two – The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

515XGfspTgL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_

After the sudden death of her wealthy parents, spoilt Mary Lennox is sent from India to live with her uncle in the austere Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire Moors. Neglected and uncherished, she is horribly lonely, until one day she discovers a walled garden in the grounds that has been kept locked for years.

When Mary finds the key to the garden and shares it with two unlikely companions, she opens up a world of hope, and as the garden blooms, Mary and her friends begin to find a new joy in life.

Having first read The Secret Garden as a young child it’s been special to me for decades; I have a friendly robin who visits me in my garden (he is so friendly he flies into the house and sits on my laptop). When I talk to my Robin, I always think about Ben the gardener being visited by his Robin. And the idea of turning a derelict garden into a paradise is something that really inspires me. Whether my love of gardening came from this book, or vice versa I’m not sure. The themes of the book and they resonated with my own life, so that’s a whole other aspect to ponder on the desert island, I’m sure that it will inspire me to see what I can grow.

Book Three – Attention All Shipping by Charlie Connell 

51HTbbLxUuL

This solemn, rhythmic intonation of the shipping forecast on BBC radio is as familiar as the sound of Big Ben chiming the hour. Since its first broadcast in the 1920s it has inspired poems, songs and novels in addition to its intended objective of warning generations of seafarers of impending storms and gales.

Sitting at home listening to the shipping forecast can be a cosily reassuring experience. There’s no danger of a westerly gale eight, veering southwesterly increasing nine later (visibility poor) gusting through your average suburban living room, blowing the Sunday papers all over the place and startling the cat.

Yet familiar though the sea areas are by name, few people give much thought to where they are or what they contain. In ATTENTION ALL SHIPPING, Charlie Connelly wittily explores the places behind the voice, those mysterious regions whose names seem often to bear no relation to conventional geography. Armchair travel will never be the same again.

I used to listen to the Shipping Forecast on the radio while tucked up safe in bed, and always thought about being all cosy whilst the people the programme was aimed at were listening out at a sometimes very stormy sea. Then I heard about book were Charlie Connelly visits all the places on the forecast, I just love how Charlie brings these places to life for the reader, and I think reading this on the island would be like taking a holiday.

Book Four – Homesick: Why I Live in a Shed by Catrina Davis

51r2CydLnnL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

Aged thirty-one, Catrina Davies was renting a box-room in a house in Bristol, which she shared with four other adults and a child. Working several jobs and never knowing if she could make the rent, she felt like she was breaking apart.

Homesick for the landscape of her childhood, in the far west of Cornwall, Catrina decides to give up the box-room and face her demons. As a child, she saw her family and their security torn apart; now, she resolves to make a tiny, dilapidated shed a home of her own.

With the freedom to write, surf and make music, Catrina rebuilds the shed and, piece by piece, her own sense of self. On the border of civilisation and wilderness, between the woods and the sea, she discovers the true value of home, while trying to find her place in a fragile natural world.

This is the story of a personal housing crisis and a country-wide one, grappling with class, economics, mental health and nature. It shows how housing can trap us or set us free, and what it means to feel at home.

Homesick: Why I Live in a Shed would be a great choice for me to read while I was living on the island. Being the author’s story of being homeless, and the solution she found for it. I only read this book relatively recently, but I’ve been recommending it to everyone, and I feel sure that Catrina’s story would be inspiring me while I was on the island about making the best of it    

Book Five – Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

51e0AnwoUvL

“Do you have a list of your books, or do I just have to stare at them?”

Shaun Bythell is the owner of The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland. With more than a mile of shelving, real log fires in the shop and the sea lapping nearby, the shop should be an idyll for bookworms.

Unfortunately, Shaun also has to contend with bizarre requests from people who don’t understand what a shop is, home invasions during the Wigtown Book Festival and Granny, his neurotic Italian assistant who likes digging for river mud to make poultices.

The Diary of a Bookseller (soon to be a major TV series) introduced us to the joys and frustrations of life lived in books. Sardonic and sympathetic in equal measure, Confessions of a Bookseller will reunite readers with the characters they’ve come to know and love.

When I was at school and thought that I would never be able to become an author it was my hope to become a librarian or work in a bookshop. Having not done either of those things Shaun Bythell’s book Confessions of a Bookseller allows me to have the experience of being a second hand bookseller without all the hassles, and the risk of financial ruin! I love the characters who work in the shop, the customers and the background stories of the book collectors and collections that he buys just make me want to find a second hand bookshop and have a good old rummage. So that would bring back lots of happy memories of before I was on the island.  

My luxury item

images

As I’ve been told that I cannot take my dog or a radio with me this has been a tricky one, as I cannot imagine my life without either. So, I think I will have a massive roll of gaffer tape. I saw an episode of Naked and Afraid (a show I love) where a guy took in a roll of tape and used it to make a bowl to eat and drink from, clothing, and he even stuck his shelter together and wove a blanket from it. Although I know that my husband would say take a fire lighter.

About the Author

headshot 3

Eden Gruger lives with her second husband, one big dog, one small, and a part time cat who lives life on her own terms. Eden writes about the ups and downs in women’s lives in the humorous candid occasionally tragic way that women might speak to their closest girlfriends. Eden is one of those crumb magnet women, you know the sort who when they eat a pastry, they end up with more crumbs on them than in them, the person who accidentally says the wrong things, at the wrong time, to the wrong people, or trips over. Other than writing her passions are to highlight invisible disability, and to help other women share their voice through publishing and market their own books.

Eden’s second book Laughing at Myself is a collection of stories based on events in Eden’s own life, told in her own humorous, candid, and uniquely witty style. With stories such as wheel of (mis)fortune, Cataracts Toilet, and Death by Frisbee this book will make you laugh and give a sign of relief that you aren’t the clumsiest and scattiest person in the world after all. You can buy a copy here.

41Vi8bmYLgS._SX350_BO1,204,203,200_

Laughing at Myself is a collection of stories based on events in Eden’s own life, and given her humorous, candid, witty twist.

With stories such as Wheel of (Mis)fortune, Cataracts Toilet, Death by Frisbee and How to Take Your Driving Test, this book will make you laugh, and give a sigh of relief that you aren’t the clumsiest and scattiest person in the world after all.

 

Connect with Eden:

Website: https://edengrugerwriter.online/

Facebook: Eden Gruger The Author

Twitter: @edengrugerwrit1

Instagram: @eden_gruger_author

Pinterest: Eden Gruger

A Little Book Problem banner