Romancing The Romance Authors with… Leonie Mack

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This week on Romancing The Romance Authors, I am delighted to be quizzing author, Leonie Mack, on writing romance and what romantic fiction means to her.

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

I write romantic comedies with big feelings and international locations. My second book, Italy Ever After came out on 11 May. My debut, My Christmas Number One was picked up by Boldwood Books in 2020 and released for Christmas 2020.

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Why romance?

The simple answer is: romance is what I most like to read. I love a story that focuses on a character’s internal journey to a place where they can commit to someone they love.

What inspires your stories?

All sorts of different sparks of inspiration go into each story. For Italy Ever After, for instance, the character of Nick Romano was inspired by a time I walked past a primary school and heard a violin ensemble rehearsing. I imagined the teacher and there was Nick. I wanted to write a real getaway, an escape from daily life, so I chose a place that had made a real impression on me and then I had Lake Garda. The rest of the story fell into place, when you have a teacher and a lake – perfect for a music camp.

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

I used to read every Nora Roberts book I could get my hands on and her writing style greatly influenced mine. I also lapped up the Bridgerton books (back in the 2000s, when they were only books!) and others by Julia Quinn. I love that romantic comedies are so popular at the moment and some of my favourites have been by Mia Sosa and Sally Thorne and I love Lucy Keeling’s romcoms set in Manchester.

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

Ooh, that’s a really difficult question for an author. I deal in complexity! But I’d probably recommend The Hating Game. It’s a very popular book, but I think that’s because everyone can enjoy it!

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Nemesis (n.) 1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome. 2) A person’s undoing. 3) Joshua Templeman.

Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman sit across from each other every day . . . and they hate each other.

Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. HATE. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight approach to his job and refusal to smile. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and desire to be liked.

Now they’re up for the same promotion and Lucy, usually a determined people-pleaser, has had enough: it’s time to take him down. But as the tension between Lucy and Joshua reaches its boiling point, it’s clear that the real battle has only just begun . . .

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

Ha! I’m personally not all that romantic in the traditional way. I think that’s why I like romcoms. You can make the relationship progress in all sorts of funny ways that are often misadventures that show love can win in the end. But right now, after the year we’ve had, I’d love to have a weekend in the mountains with my husband to just hike. But if we’re talking a romance hero, I’d say snowed in with a bad-boy rockstar (LOL).

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

Accessing the network at the RNA is so important, even though I only became a member in 2020 and haven’t managed to attend a conference, yet. There’s always someone who has experience of whatever you’re going through and we will always support each other’s books because we all love love stories.

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

Stick with it! The publishing industry has changed so much over the past ten years that if you just keep writing and submitting your work, you’re fairly likely to find someone who loves it eventually. It’s definitely slow and may take years of writing books that never see the light of day, but celebrate those books as part of the learning experience and you’ll get there eventually.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

Divorced mum Lou accompanies her daughter Edie on a music camp by Lake Garda, determined to discover her own talents while Edie develops hers. In a series of misadventures, she finally gets to know Edie’s seriously hot but very reserved violin teacher, Nick Romano, and she learns she doesn’t need a special talent to be loved for who she is. Italy Ever After is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

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TV journalist Lou feels battered and bruised after her divorce from Phil, the father of her daughter Edie. Her confidence and sense of fun have steadily been drained away, and she isn’t sure who she is any more.

When the opportunity arises to accompany Edie on a music camp in Italy for a month in the summer, Lou jumps at the chance for new adventures, new horizons and new friends. The hazy warmth of the summer sun, shining brightly over the stunning Lake Garda, slowly brings Lou back to life.

Nick Romano, Edie’s music teacher, loves being home in Italy, but coaching his students for their concert in Milan, is bringing back difficult memories. His blossoming friendship with Lou is the perfect distraction, although a summer fling would be easier to conduct without the scrutiny of his mother Greta, not to mention the interference of his extended Italian family.

As the summer passes, full of sunshine and breath-taking scenery, gelato and delicious feasts, Lou and Nick get ever closer. But as the time for farewell creeps up on them, will they be able to say goodbye and leave their memories behind in the Italian sun, or can a summer romance last a lifetime?

About the Author

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Leonie Mack is an author of romantic comedies with great locations and big feelings. She loves a happy ending and shares that love in every book she writes! Leonie is a journalism graduate, a language nut and loves to travel, particularly on foot, by bike and by train. After growing up in Australia and living most of her adult life in London, she now lives in Germany, among the vineyards on the Main river.

Connect with Leonie:

Website: https://leoniemack.com/

Facebook: Leonie Mack

Twitter: @LeonieMAuthor

Instagram: @leoniejmack

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Friday Night Drinks with… Celia Micklefield

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My last virtual drinks before we can all go inside again in real life (fingers crossed!), so let’s throw on our coats for the final time, maybe grab a blanket for extra warmth, wrap our chilly fingers round a mulled cider and welcome to the blog for Friday Night Drinks… Celia Micklefield.

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

Friday night, start of the weekend? Wine. I’ve kept up my weekend ritual even though since I started shielding last year the days have all been running together so that they all feel exactly the same. But the weekend wine is sacrosanct. Clive likes his vodka/tonic and before dinner we take our drinks to the garage where one end is dedicated to darts. We play five games usually (sometimes I win a few) then we go indoors and cook together. Through the cold winter months, (including this April which has been colder than December) my favourite red is Australian Jam Shed Shiraz. It has legs like a Rugby Union player, sticks to the side of the glass and makes you smack your lips. I wait for the special offers in Tesco and stock up. My favourite white is Viognier which is fresh, green and a bit peppery – great with grills and salads.

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?

Dear girl, I’m an old lady now. I don’t do nights out -out. I start falling asleep around half-past ten. However, just for you, I’d make an extra effort and we’d do a pub crawl through my Norfolk villages. You’ll meet the kinds of characters that’ll make you want to rush home and start writing about them. There’s no airs and graces. What you see is what you get. We’ve some tasty local beers and the pubs serve good food. Or, you might end up in the garage with us playing darts!

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Sounds great, I have no airs and graces myself! 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’ve found this question really difficult to answer. There are so many people to choose from. I’ve opted for the artist Frida Kahlo and Freddie Mercury. I’d love to hear them bounce ideas off one another.

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?

Right now this minute? I’m nursing a headache from my second vaccination and looking forward to actually going somewhere sometime soon. My latest novel, A Measured Man was published in March for Kindle and the paperback is out in May. I’m 20,000 words into my next book, The God of Putting Things Right.

Why do we start anything? It’s a good question. I think there’s always a need involved in the answer. We start preparing a meal because we’re hungry and need food, for example. Creative types have a hunger to keep on creating new works and meet new challenges, whether that’s through writing, painting, music etc.  We need to do it.

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

My proudest moment was selling that first short story to a women’s magazine.Three months had passed since I submitted The Fire Dragon and I’d given up hope. I also gave myself a little pat on the back when I was writing on my website about the Languedoc vineyards surrounding my then home and picked up winegrowers in California who were following my Wednesday Vine Report to compare.

 My biggest challenge has been overcoming the fallout from a disastrous relationship which left me homeless for a time. All my money was tied up in the house we’d bought together and he was in no hurry to pay me what he owed. It took nearly three years. Eventually, after I’d researched personality disorders, I wrote my memoir People Who Hurt to help others living in a similar dysfunctional relationship.

 Living with CRPS, a chronic, neurological pain condition continues to be a daily challenge.

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’d like to be known as an author whose novels touch readers’ emotions whatever genre. My books don’t ‘fit’ strict genres. I write about ordinary people, sometimes in unusual circumstances, who have problems to overcome. Sometimes the story comes to me in the form of a mystery; at other times it may be more contemporary literary fiction or a historical saga. They are all different. I don’t write to a particular market. I write to answer that need I just mentioned. I’d love readers to say, “Oh, Celia Micklefield. You know you’re going to get deeply involved with her books!”

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What have you planned that you’re really excited about?

Hmm. That’s difficult. I haven’t anything planned. I’ve had my second Covid vaccination and should be able to venture out in a few more weeks. I have to be careful. I’d love to have a holiday but the situation isn’t good. Never mind, I have my work-in-progress to look forward to and I usually get a sense of excitement about my writing when it’s going well. On low pain days I work in the garden to help Clive. We grow fruit and vegetables and salads, tomatoes, peppers etc. in the greenhouse. Waiting for the first signs of growth is always exciting.

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 love the smaller Greek islands – nothing to do but swim, read, eat, drink and sleep. My last holiday was in Paxos, a tiny island off Corfu. It doesn’t have its own airport so you have to take a ferry. I also love Ithaca which is another island reached by ferry boat. I don’t have a bucket list any more.

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

I’ve stopped colouring my hair. The next time I post a selfie I’ll be silver! I’m not sure I like it yet as the ends still have some of the old colour in and it looks nicotine stained, the way pub ceilings used to look years ago. Not pleasant.

That’s very brave. 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’?

You must read The Collected Dorothy Parker. Her acidic wit and poignant humour slices right through her poetry and prose. Writing during the New York Jazz age she tackles the glitter and the darkness of the times. She was described as a writer who could ‘combine heartbreak with a wisecrack’.

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Dorothy Parker was the most talked-about woman of her day, notorious as the hard-drinking bad girl with a talent for stinging repartee and endlessly quotable one-liners.

The decadent 1920s and 1930s in New York were a time of great experiment and daring for women. For the rich, life seemed a continual party, but the excesses took their emotional toll. I

n the bitingly witty poems and stories collected here, along with her articles and reviews, she brilliantly captures the spirit of the decadent Jazz Age in New York, exposing both the dazzle and the darkness. But beneath the sharp perceptions and acidic humour, much of her work poignantly expresses the deep vulnerability of a troubled, self-destructive woman who, in the words of philosopher Irwin Edman, was ‘a Sappho who could combine a heartbreak with a wisecrack’.

I will add this to the wishlist and hope I get some book tokens for my upcoming birthday! 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?

You’re safe with me. I haven’t had a hangover for years. Don’t mix the grain with the grape, don’t drink on an empty stomach and DO listen to that little voice telling you that’s enough. Failing those warnings you have no other choice but to prop yourself up next day in a winged armchair or the corner of the sofa where you can rest your head and do not move till you’ve been able to drink tea and eat dry toast without seeing it again!

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

I love walking in the countryside around my home. I’m close to the Norfolk Broads, surrounded by nature and wildlife. The weather would be its superb best and we’d fire up the barbecue, have another game of darts, gin and tonic before we eat and cognac afterwards.

Perfect, I would very much forward to this weekend if we had it planned. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me this evening, I have had a wonderful evening.

Celia’s latest book is A Measured Man. She’s calling it a romantic uncertainty. It’s a poignant comedy. Most readers so far have been over 45 and right up to over 65. She think there’s a dearth of novels featuring older main characters so she’s happy with that. You can buy a copy here.

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In his fifties, Norfolk bachelor, Aubrey Tennant is looking forward to early retirement but he’s still hoping to find his ideal woman. The trouble is, he has exacting requirements and firmly set preferences. He relies on rehearsed questions to extract from potential candidates what he needs to know. When he meets Lisa Miller on his annual trip to Torquay he believes he’s found The One. She’s sensible with money; she isn’t loud; her children are off her hands and she doesn’t cook anything with garlic. He puts all his well-rehearsed stock phrases into play and sets out to win her. He doesn’t know she’s already buried two husbands.

Also in her fifties, twice widowed Lisa is living in reduced circumstances since her second husband’s untimely and inconvenient demise. She’s attracted by Aubrey’s old-fashioned ways even though she’s made up her mind there’ll be no more men in her life. She’s curious about the Tennant family story especially when her friends Madge and Wally Sparrow know the Tennant name from long ago. Madge says, “In his fifties and never been married? What’s wrong with him?”

Lisa is about to find out.

Celia Micklefield has worked in an accountant’s office, a high street retail store, a textile mill and a shoe factory as well as short stints in a fish and chip shop, behind the bar in a pub and running a slimming club. As a mature student she studied for a degree in education and went into teaching at high school, became a partner in an import and wholesale business and ran a craft outlet at a country shopping experience. She returned to teaching where her last position was at a sixth form college.

Celia was born in West Yorkshire and has lived in Aberdeenshire and the south of France. She currently lives in Norfolk.

You can find out more about Celia and her books on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Lizzie Chantree

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Time for another heart to heart about all things romance with an author in the genre, and this week I am delighted to welcome back to the blog… Lizzie Chantree.

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

Hello everyone. I write contemporary women’s fiction about love, romance and feisty entrepreneurs with some pretty unusual businesses. I have eight books published so far and have two more ready to publish. I have both French and American publishers, but I also self-publish in between, so that my readers don’t have to wait too long for another story. I really enjoy both elements of publishing and I now run seminars, where I talk about networking and how authors can broaden their readership and keep isolation at bay.

Why romance?

I love romance! I grew up reading Mills and Boon books from the local library and I adore a mischievous heroine and a swoon-worthy lead man. Romance books are full of laughter and real life issues and they are a wonderful way to connect with readers. I have met so many amazing book lovers since I began writing. Romance stories give us time to step away from any worries for a while and jump into some fun and excitement.

What inspires your stories?

I can be inspired from anything from the way someone holds another person’s hand, to a look that might pass between them. One of my books, the little ice cream shop by the sea, was inspired by seeing an elderly lady who was visibly upset in a café and a young waitress who tried to help her. After the first woman had stopped crying and left the café, I asked the waitress if her friend was ok. The waitress said she’d never met her before and from that grew a story about the kindness of strangers. 

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

I have so many! Jane Austen, Emily Bronte, Jackie Collins, Marian Keyes, Freya North, Lisa Jewell, Katie Fforde, Heidi Swain, Liz Fielding… I could think of so many more.

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

If I could only pick one, I’d always go back and read Pride and Prejudice, time and time again.

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Elizabeth Bennett has a keen mind, a sharp wit, and no desire to marry for convenience. When she meets Mr Darcy, her first impressions are far from favourable, and he shows little interest in her. Nor do their opinions improve with further acquaintance. There seems to be little hope of romance; indeed, it might be impossible unless they can confront the flaws in their own natures. Perhaps their first impressions were mistaken?

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

I’d choose Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, as he’s gorgeous, but also because he has principles and is adventurous at the same time. He’s a bit of a contradiction, which makes him mysterious. I’d love to explore his estate and find out more about his family history. It would be fun to see him being more relaxed and enjoying himself, like he is at the end of the book. I’d be quite happy sitting on his front lawn and writing for a few hours, with him beside me!

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

I wish I had found the RNA sooner! It’s such a welcoming group to be part of and the support for new writers is second to none. If you are starting out, the RNA offer so much guidance, from courses to mentoring. For a more experienced writer, the RNA gives encouragement, room to learn and a feeling of being part of a huge and fun-filled team. 

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

I’d steer them towards the RNA for advice and guidance, then I’d tell them about networking and how to build up a readership through mutual support and the love of books. Author branding is also very important for customers to be able to see at a glance which genre you write in.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

My most recent novel is called Shh… It’s Our Secret. Shh… It’s Our Secret, is about a shy woman called Violet, who is trying to silence her inner critic and step out of the shadows.  Her best friends and sister support her, but she feels like they don’t see the real her, or understand that she has ambitions of her own and skills that could help them all escape from poverty.

To them, she is reliable, slightly dull and not very talented, but she is hiding a secret that could blow this theory sky high. Violet will have to eliminate old demons, learn to stand up for herself and show the world who she really is. The book is out now and you can buy it here in your preferred format.

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Violet has a secret that could change the lives of everyone she knows and loves, especially the regulars at the run-down café bar where she works. After losing her parents at a young age, they are the closest thing she has to a family and she feels responsible for them.

Kai is a jaded music producer who has just moved outside of town. Seeking solitude from the stress of his job, he’s looking for seclusion. The only problem is he can’t seem to escape the band members and songwriters who keep showing up at his house.

When Kai wanders into the bar and Violet’s life, he accidentally discovers her closely guarded secret. Can Kai help her rediscover her self-confidence or should some secrets remain undiscovered?

About the Author

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International bestselling author and award-winning inventor, Lizzie Chantree, started her own business at the age of 18 and became one of Fair Play London and The Patent Office’s British Female Inventors of the Year in 2000. She discovered her love of writing fiction when her children were little and now works as a business mentor and runs a popular networking hour on social media, where creatives can support to each other. She writes books full of friendship and laughter, that are about women with unusual and adventurous businesses, who are far stronger than they realise. She lives with her family on the coast in Essex.

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Connect with Lizzie:

Website: https://lizziechantree.com/

Facebook: Lizzie Chantree Author

Twitter: @Lizzie_Chantree

Instagram: @lizzie_chantree

Pinterest: Lizzie Chantree

Goodreads: Lizzie Chantree

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Friday Night Drinks with… R. V. Biggs

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Doesn’t Friday come around quickly these days? I almost forgot my drinks date with my guest this week. Never mind, I made it to Friday Night Drinks with author… R. V. Biggs.

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Rob, welcome to the blog and thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Thank you too. It is a real pleasure to be here. As the year is moving on towards, hopefully, summer temperatures, I think a large glass of white wine. Preferably a Pinot Grigio. I seem to have developed a taste for it over the last couple of years. I’m no wine buff but it’s refreshing, zesty and suits the evening sun, especially when combined with a meze.

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?

Thought a long time over this and finally settled north of the border in the seaside town of Ayr.

Along the sea front, a short distance from the beach lies the most unimpressive 1960’s style of construction—a rectangular, unimaginative building sitting on a carpark. But upstairs there is an award winning Indian restaurant serving the most delicious of meals. This of course would be reason enough to while away an evening, but the real icing on the cake is that it faces west towards the Isle of Arran and beyond, and the most spectacular of sunsets. If you’re lucky there’ll be no cloud, but if there is and the sun escapes just before it dips into the sea, the spectator is in for a real treat.

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?

My mom and dad. Notice I said mom not mum? West Midlands lad you see.

Yes, my mom and dad, because they’ve been gone so long, I don’t recall much about them anymore. But I would love to find out more about what life was like for them, from before the war and during the meagre years afterwards during the decade I was born. And of course, what their parents were like. I have no memory of my paternal grandparents at all. I think they’d both died before I was born. And though I was around ten by the time my mom’s parents left us, I never had a close relationship with them. I guess this is why, subconsciously I felt drawn toward writing novels with family as a central theme.

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?

Writing novels became a passion thirteen years ago, though a slow burn passion because it has taken me that long to publish three books. It all began with a dream. Sounds like a cliché but it was literally an out of the blue moment as I was on the edge of sleep one night and involving one line from a song. That was the ‘how’. The ‘why’ is harder to define because once that thought was in my head it was impossible to let it go. I never planned or had the inclination to write so I had no grand plan or ambition. It was simply for my own enjoyment and mostly that’s what it still is. However, I’m planning on retiring this year which means I’ll have more time to spend on many things not least my writing and maybe set my sights on an end game.

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

I think my proudest moment was reading reviews of my first two novels during a blog tour. As well as other reviewers, both books were read and reviewed at https://rathertoofondofbooks.com/ and were included in that reviewers top twenty books of 2019. Clearly both books reached inside the reviewer and moved them deeply and for me achieving this kind of response is icing on the cake – touching their heart.

As for challenge I doubt if I’m any different from any other Indie author. Marketing is a nightmare. It’s like trying to find a destination when you have little knowledge of how to get there.

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 this is a bit of a dream but TV dramatisation.  There are many tales that are scripted for the Silver Screen, but due to demands of the sponsors, funding or other constraints, are shortened or changed and not always for the better. Other stories on the other hand would work better as a TV series where over four, six or eight episodes the characters and plot can develop along with the subtleties that appear in written work but often don’t translate to the big screen.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

I have to confess, a partially stolen idea.

Way back in 1979, Tony Banks, the keyboard player from Genesis, released a solo album titled A Curious Feeling. I only found out recently but apparently it was loosely based on a short story by American writer Daniel Keyes called Flowers for Algernon. Many of Tony Banks musical creations always had an air of mystery about them, which I love, and I’ve never stopped listening to this album because to me it conveys so much emotion – helped along by a stunning vocalist. I have my own interpretation of A Curious Feeling which for a long time I’ve wondered about turning into a novel, novella or short story. It depends how much of a plot I can make out of it. But the concept would fit nicely into my chosen genre which is psychological mystery with a touch of paranormal.

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 was never much of a traveller and didn’t venture out of the country until our children were older. My wife and I loved the film Shirley Valentine which meant of course our first foreign escape had to be Greece. As for favourite places it would be a toss-up between Corfu and Scotland. Wildly different destinations but each has something unique to offer.

Bucket list? Something involving the natural world. I think the northern lights would be wonderful to behold.

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

I met my wife via a lonely hearts column (way before social media) and went on to marry her taking on a ready-made family of four children and a crazy dog. For eight years before that I lived alone with my cat Smudge.

That’s a fantastic fact! 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 read slowly because I read in bed, and before my kindle hits me on the nose each night I’ve never advanced much from the previous night. This means I only get through a handful of books a year, but my most favourite recent read has to be Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. It drew me in from page one and would not let me go. For a tale that touches every emotion it would be my number one.

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For years, rumours of the ‘Marsh Girl’ have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl.

But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved.

When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life – until the unthinkable happens.

I loved this book, it was one of my top ten books of 2020. 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?

Well, a large glass of water before bed but failing that a very English fry up the morning after with added caffeine. Hard to imagine but boy does it work.

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

Well, that depends on where I am. At home it would be up early each day to walk the dog in the fresh, crisp, early sunshine when most people are still abed. Then quiet, undemanding days preferably eating each meal outside. The evenings would then involve a glass or two of wine maybe retreating indoors later with some escapist entertainment on TV.

If I were closer to the sea, beachcombing would factor heavily in the above.

Thanks you for joining me, Rob, it has been really good fun.

Rob’s latest book is Broken, book 3 in the Sara Macintyre series. You can buy a copy of the book here. Books One and Two are Song of the Robin and Reunion are available as part of the three book series here.

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Scarred by a tragic past, eleven year old Jamie Walker chooses not to speak.
Consumed with jealous rage, Jimmy Gillespie is driven to violence.
And John Macintyre awakens from a vivid nightmare convinced he is going to kill.
Living high upon the Scottish hills, John and Sarah Macintyre enjoy a serene life until a televised news bulletin sends them on a desperate search for a missing child.
After finding the child and returning him safely to his parents, the Macintyres are approached by the local press, attracting both unexpected and unwanted attention.
But the aftermath of the media coverage changes the course of their lives forever, and events are set in motion that are joyful, heart breaking – and terrifying.

R V Biggs lives in a small ex-mining village near Wolverhampton, England, with his wife Julie and Mags the black lab. He has four grown up children and eight grandchildren.

Walking with the dog is a favourite pastime and much of the story line for his first novel was developed during these lengthy outings.

Robert worked for 35 years in telecommunications but changed career paths to a managerial supporting role within a local Mental Health National Health Service trust. It was during the period between these roles that the concept for his first novel was born.

Robert is a firm believer that destiny and co-incidence exist hand in hand and this conviction extends to his writing. He has a passion for holistic well-being and after first-hand experience of the potential healing powers of Reiki, a form of energy therapy, took a Reiki level 1 training course to heighten his spiritual awareness. Robert’s experiences in these areas helped conceive the ideas that led to Song of the Robin and its sequels Reunion and Broken, novels with central themes of fate, love and the strength of family. His writing is not fantasy but is set in modern times involving real people living real lives.

You can discover more about Rob and his books via his website and Facebook.

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Desert Island Books with… Fran McNicol

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Today I am transporting another fortunate/unfortunate soul to my desert island with nothing to keep them company except five books of their choice and one luxury item. This week I have stranded author… Fran McNicol.

Book One – Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels

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Jakob Beer is seven years old when he is rescued from the muddy ruins of a buried village in Nazi-occupied Poland. Of his family, he is the only one who has survived. Under the guidance of the Greek geologist Athos, Jakob must steel himself to excavate the horrors of his own history.

A novel of astounding beauty and wisdom, Fugitive Pieces is a profound meditation on the resilience of the human spirit and love’s ability to resurrect even the most damaged of hearts.

The first time I read Anne Michaels I was transfixed. She is a poet before a novelist and her use of language is precision and perfection itself. No word out of place, beautiful rhythm and intonation and a vocabulary that is rich and varied without ever being intimidating. It’s a Holocaust story, a story of loss and survival, that also takes a tour through archeology and ancient history. The beauty of the language and the depth of the sources somehow soothes the horror of the story, and the despair that the lost can never leave us, and yet never come with us.  Ever since I first read this book, it is THE book I recommend – every lover of words should read it.

Book Two –The Stonor Eagles  by William Horwood

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Cuillin – last of the great sea eagles of Skye. For her there will be many bitter years of exile, sustained only by a belief that one day her offspring will return to her abandoned homeland.

James MacAskill Stonor – a lonely, bewildered child growing up in a storm-racked English coastal town… but destined to be one of the greatest and best-loved artists of this century. ‘The Stonor Eagles’ – his beautiful and haunting sculptures, whose creation and final unveiling are recounted in this deeply moving saga of life, suffering, and the courage to love… of dreams that die, and dreams that can come true.

A tale of exile and redemption. Two stories intertwined, the story of the last sea eagle high in the jagged Cuillin Hills and the tortured artist toiling to bring a sculpture to life. It’s a book I never truly manage to pigeon hole or completely understand, but each reading brings another layer or a different emphasis. It’s written on an epic scale, and brings out the wildness of the Black Cuillins as well as the despair that seems to lie at the heart of much creativity. Mostly the description of the eagle battling the wind and learning to fly the true horizon, as befits her kind, is a brilliant, wild and savage metaphor for the quest to find our own true nature.

Book Three – A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

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Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth.

Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.

In fact the copy I have is the Earthsea Trilogy- to pick one story without knowing the ending now seems strange.

I love fantasy, and tales of the perennial battle between light and dark. This is the original brilliant story of a boy with wizardly powers who foolishly opens a rent into the dark underworld. The magic in Earthsea is dependant on knowing the true names of things- when you know the name of a creature, it must do your bidding. The art of magic therefore is the art of finding out the true name, of dragons and wraiths. It’s a beautifully written, dark and complex book that I first read as a teenager and yet still stands the test of time.

Book Four – This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann

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At the turn of the twentieth century, Nathan Walker comes to New York City to take the most dangerous job in the country: digging the tunnel far beneath the Hudson that will carry trains from Brooklyn to Manhattan. In the bowels of the riverbed, the workers – black, white, Irish and Italian – dig together, the darkness erasing all differences. But above ground, the men keep their distance until a dramatic accident on a bitter winter’s day welds a bond between Walker and his fellow workers that will both bless and curse three generations. Almost ninety years later, Treefrog stumbles on the same tunnels and sets about creating a home amongst the drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes and petty criminals that comprise the forgotten homeless community.

Calum McCann is another favourite author for his use of language. I find McCann’s style can be deceptively clean and simple, but with surprising layers, and in this, my favourite of his books, it’s as if the spaces in between the words let the light in. It’s the story of the tunnels of New York, the men that built them, and the others that have now re-purposed them. When I read this book, I can feel the light shining, and I always find hope and clarity.

Book Five – Thunderhead by Mary O’Hara

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Flicka’s colt Thunderhead is an ugly white throwback, but Ken believes he can turn the colt, wild as it is, into a champion racehorse. 

This book tells the story of every pony mad child’s dream. An ugly unwanted foal that turned into a quirky horse, dangerous, difficult and magnificent. It’s a story of belief and perseverance, of following your instincts, and listening to your inner voice. In the end it is a story and of working with the nature of the animal not against.  And there is no false reassurance or cliched promise of ease. There is no capitulation. It’s one of the seminal books that has shaped how I think about horses and our relationships with them. It’s another sweeping epic, set in the mountains of Wyoming, where love and loss and challenge and heartbreak are the backdrop to joy.

My luxury item

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A Book of Stars, to learn the secrets of the universe while i had nothing else to do.

About the Author

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Fran McNicol is an amateur equestrienne living in the UK. She is a full-time doctor, specialising in surgery. Her MD thesis was an examination of the inflammatory cascade in sepsis. As a surgeon, MBChB, MD, FRCS, she obviously knows a huge amount about the human animal. But the most useful product of medical training, from her horses’ point of view, is that she learned how to research, evaluate evidence and then apply theory to optimise the care of her horses. Her writing is, therefore, a mix of opinion and her current state of learning from 25 years of doctoring, time spent working around the world as a polo groom and many years of keeping her own horses. Fran loves training young horses and focuses on riding the sport horse both classically and holistically. She competes regularly for her local riding club, especially in One Day Eventing. Nelipot Cottage started life as an educational blog, to share learning and best practise, to promote the benefits of a barefoot and holistic herd lifestyle for whole horse health, and to reflect on life lessons learned along the way. Fran believes that horses exist to bring out the very best in humans. It is her hope that sharing these tales will bring new friends, kindred spirits, exchange of knowledge and lots of positive energy into the lives of the Nelipot herd.

Fran’s book is called Bare Hooves and Open Hearts: Tales from Nelipot Cottage and you can buy a copy of the book here.

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I am a consultant surgeon and a keen amateur equestrian. Paddy, my first event horse, was as cheap as chips and came with a fearsome reputation. Part of that reputation was that he hated the farrier. His feet were weak and crumbly, wouldn’t hold shoes, and he absolutely hated the whole process of being shod. When he kicked our “horse whispering” farmer across the yard, and we had to sedate him to get the shoes on, I wondered if there could be another way.

I did some reading and took the plunge, taking his steel horseshoes off for good, and he went from strength to strength, growing incredible rock crunching feet. We went on to qualify for several riding club championships, and he was still sound and eventing aged 20.

My second horse, Cal, had terrible feet when I bought him, and he broke his carpal bone tripping over his long toes out in the field. Once he was rehabbed back into full work, I was determined to avoid the concussive effects of metal horseshoes. I knew from my experiences with Paddy that barefoot eventing could work.But Cal is a sturdy Irish Sport horse with flat dinner plate feet, and getting him sound and comfortable on all surfaces was a challenge. All the learning, the emotional, psychological and intellectual investment, the changes in lifestyle and horse husbandry that I had to make to get Cal’s feet functional, became the subject of this book. I wanted to share the learning, to spare others the pain and the expense.

When I took Paddy’s shoes off, I chose to challenge accepted dogma and tradition. I chose to put my horse’s needs before my own aspirations. I listened to my horse and Irelinquished my agenda for the health of my horse. On that day, my relationship with all my future horses changed completely. There is no recognition in law, or indeed in Equine Science, that these magnificent animals might actually be sentient beings, capable of communicating with us if we could only listen. Once you start listening, once you offer the animal a voice, an opinion and a say in the relationship, the bond you forge is like no other.

Bare Hooves and Open Hearts tells the story of my chequered journey from traditional eventer towards a more thoughtful and holistic type of equestrianism. The book includes stories and guidance based on experience around barefoot performance, healthy diet, sustainable horse keeping, mindset and horse-human connection.

Connect with Fran:

Website: http://www.nelipotcottage.com/

Facebook: Fran McNicol / Nelipot Cottage

Twitter: @FranMcnicolUW

Instagram: @nelipotcottage

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Guest Post: Layers: A Collection of Short Stories by Zuzanne Belec

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Eight short stories on the power of the human spirit.

Layers is a debut collection of imaginative short stories celebrating life and the human spirit despite the ever-present spectre of melancholy in our lives today. With their distinctive blend of wit and humour, they light up any underlying darkness. From the Americas to India, from Africa to Europe, and through a range of genres, voices and styles, layers are unraveled, revealing the textures and contrasts of old and new in the environments and cultures of today’s fast-paced world. With vivid descriptions, we are drawn into enchanting worlds with characters that leap off the page, leaving the reader lingering long after the pages have been read.

  • In The Christmas Charge: Instead of enjoying their Christmas preparing eggnog cream pie and sipping sherry by the fireside, three batty grannies go on an African safari. At this stage of wisdom in their lives, nothing can go wrong. Right?
  • In Paths Taken: When her grandmother ‘kills’ a man on a busy town square, Hecate is forced to face her worst fears and use her own unsettling powers to help her. But where will these new paths take her?
  • In White Noise: All Earl needs to do is hand his work over to his successor. But is it that easy to let go? And where does one hide from one’s inner noise when things go wrong?
  • In The Old Man and the Donkey: Deep in northern Portugal, an old man and his donkey go about their lonely routine. When an unexpected visitor shows up, everyone is given a new chance of happiness. But have they all been stubbornly avoiding it for too long?
  • In The Arctic Haze: Since he was little, bad luck has stuck to George’s soles like clingy dog mess. Some of us are luckier. Or are we really?
  • In Penny’s Purple Robot: A loving father exceeds himself to make his daughter happy after her mother passes away. But can he force himself to face a brutal truth?
  • In Mothers: Deep in Africa, a desperate mother accepts her own fate, but refuses to face an even harsher reality. Mothers will do anything for their young. And things may not be as they seem.
  • In Yeehaw: Running from their regular lives, Sam and Patsy end up in an artificial town – Yeehaw Theme Park. Will they find their true selves in this synthetic world?

If you like a minimalist and dark, yet humorous look at the contrasts we face in the world today, you will enjoy this collection of mixed-genre stories. 

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog, Zuzanne Belec, who has very kindly written a guest post for me on the writing process behind her debut collection of short stories, Layers.

Now, over to Zuzanne for her guest post:

My writing process by Zuzanne Belec

How I began writing

To keep a very long story short: mine is not one of wanting to write ever since I was little. I’d always thought that writing was a gift allocated only to the gods. Also, times were busy, so there was no room for any creativity whatsoever (nor even for reading, besides the obligatory academic material).

And now suddenly I am a published author of Layers: A Collection of Short Stories. How could that happen when I hardly knew what creativity was? I haven’t a clue. All I can determine is that the creative energy must’ve been accumulating somewhere within me all those years, only to let off a major creative blast once the tornado that’s life had settled down. And what a mess this blast left behind – I had the urge to delve deep into creativity of all sorts and I didn’t know why, I didn’t know how. But I took it slowly, step by step and patiently learned the craft of writing over the years. And gradually that mess transformed into what is a published book today (which is not doing too shabbily in the reviews department either). See? Anything’s possible!

What inspires me

Among the creative splotches to clean up from the ceiling after that blast was the question of ‘what to write.’ I had no clue either. This is the point, perhaps, when my upbringing in the African bush came to the fore: I used that survival instinct and put to work all the senses to really ‘see’ the details of my surroundings, I began listening to the noise outside, the noise inside of me, and also to my creative urges. That’s when all the people and places I’d visited really began to ‘speak’ to me.  They showed me their hearts – both their joys and their tribulations. That is what inspires me the most, and which forms the basis for most of my stories: the contrasts and dynamics between nature, cultures and societies today. I especially enjoy taking a minimalist and, where possible, a humorous look at some of these dark realities.

We have a lot to learn from one another still, no matter whether we’re educated/uneducated, rich/poor, male/female/other, black/white, animal/human…  So here’s a big thank you to the people and places that have inspired me, and will still inspire me!

What I write

I admit that I began writing short stories because they said it’s the quickest way to learn the craft. Specifically contemporary mixed-genre stories – the best way to learn the genres! As difficult as writing short stories has turned out to be though, I really enjoy writing them. And the upside: I can get a lot more stories written in the time I have left.

Either way though, I like to keep my stories short. And I like to keep my stories simple.

Short because life is short. Because when it’s our time to go, we won’t go remembering the entire duration of our life. We will remember the short bits.  So, in this light, that’s what I try to capture in my short stories: small, memorable bits of life lived.

And simple because when it’s our time to go, we won’t be pondering all the detailed complexities of our lives – we will remember the simple things. And so, in this light too, my short stories attempt to reflect just that: simple, wonderful bits of life lived.   

All in all, it is just as Ali Smith says, “short stories consume you faster...” I like that brevity and impact.

I am trying my hand at the long form too, but I’m pretty hopeless at that still. I’m finding it very difficult to stay focused when I reach the more ‘long-winded’ filler, sections. Maybe I have a short attention span, I don’t know. Perhaps one day I’ll manage it though.  I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, I still have some writing to do before I reach those 10 000 hours anyway…!

My writing process:

First thing every morning, after having my cup of tea, I do my morning pages (which I started doing about a decade ago after reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way). I owe a lot to them because I know that all those morning pages written over the years are what allowed me to connect with my creative side. Full stop. This ritual still yields surprises, with valuable ideas and insights still popping up every now and then. This is my favourite part of the day.

Once I have a story idea, this is how I develop it into a story: I determine the ‘why’ of the story using Jennie Nash’s excellent Author Accelerator method. Once I have this deep and solid foundation to build my story on, my next step is doing my character profiles. I use the OneStop writing tool for this. Then, with characters brought to life as deep as I can, I plot my story out using the GetPlottr visualization tool to make sure all my timelines, ages, dates, sequences, etc. correspond. Then I finally get down and write the actual story using that fabulous Scrivener.  See? Tools! Maybe one day, when I have more books behind me, I won’t need those tools to help me along my newbie path, but for now they’re a life saver!

Who are my favourite authors?

I still have many to catch up on, but a few of my favourites so far are George Saunders (mainly his excellent non-fiction), Theodor Seuss Geisel, Roald Dahl, Marina Lewycka, Niklos Kazantzakis, Terry Pratchett …. Oh, and Czech author Evzen Bocek, who is author of the hilarious Aristokratka series (unfortunately not translated into English yet).

Thank you for having me on, Julie, and giving me the opportunity to connect with your audience. And thank you, dear reader, for taking the time to check out this post. 

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On 3-5 May, 2021, Zuzanne’s highly rated collection of short stories, Layers, will be available to download for FREE on Amazon.  To get your eight short stories on the power of the human spirit during this period, please click here: https://books2read.com/u/4A77zd

To subscribe to her newsletter, get access to her members-only Zuu Zone, and receive a FREE download of her short story The UnAdorned – a warm, modern tale of ancient good, set in modern India – you can click here: https://zuzannebelec.com/books-and-signup/

About the Author

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Zuzanne is a writer, poet and translator who survived growing up with large critters in Africa.  She has two beautiful daughters, and now lives in the heart of Europe with her very patient partner.

Connect with Zuzanne:

Website: https://zuzannebelec.com

Twitter: @ZuzanneBelec  

Instagram: @zuzannebelec 

Pinterest: Zuzanne Belec

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Friday Night Drinks with… Val Portelli

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The end of another month – this year is flying by so quickly – definitely reason for celebration as we edge ever closer to normality, and tonight I am delighted to be drinking with my next Friday Night Drinks guest, author… Val Portelli.

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

Whisky with diet lemonade, please. Does the lemonade count as one of my 5 a day? 😁

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Why not? I am a gin or prosecco girl myself, both of which I am fairly sure contain some kind of fruit or plant matter, so they definitely count, cheers! 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?

What’s your food preference? I’ll book a good restaurant, first bottle of wine is on me to repay your hospitality, then as it’s virtual we can go clubbing. The chauffeur is on standby, a fun night-out with some good music and dancing, then overnight in a grand hotel. After breakfast I’ve booked a boat trip so we can get some fresh air, then back to your place so I can have a quick browse of your library.

Fantastic. I’d probably choose Italian, so we can load up on carbs to give us energy for dancing and soak up some of the alcohol. 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?

Elvis Presley, but then I’d ignore everyone else, so perhaps David Bowie who I did actually know in my youth, and Tina Turner, who I think would be both a good laugh and fascinating company.

I need to hear more about your youth with David Bowie now, what an attractive, talented and fascinating man he was. 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’ve just released my latest book, Alderslay, a mystery/horror and quite a change from my usual romance/women’s fiction. My author career started about nine or ten years ago when a freak accident left me bed-bound and going stir crazy, but it gave me the opportunity to write and have my first book accepted for publication. Since then I’ve self-published seven books, had entries in three anthologies, learnt about editing, proof-reading, marketing, cover design, blogging and have set up my own YouTube site. It won’t make my fortune, but gives me enormous pleasure knowing my books are read and enjoyed all over the world.

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

The proudest moment is now, knowing that fellow authors, bloggers and readers who were previously names on a page, have become friends, both virtual and in real life.

The biggest challenge for me will always be marketing. How to get my books noticed so readers can decide if they actually like them.

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!

That after being a regular with the number 1 spot on Amazon/YouTube, the virus will have disappeared and I can throw the party to end all parties for everyone who was there for me along the way.
That I can master certain technology, and keep up when they make it ‘new and improved.’ Whoops, that’s two but you shouldn’t have kept plying me with drink.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Val’s Tales’ which is a collaboration of my stories being read by my actor/narrator sister with my theatrical niece doing the admin. After that it’s working on extending some of my first books into series. Something I haven’t done before but I love new challenges.

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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?

At the moment Narnia is top of the list, but Malta has always been my home from home so that would be first choice to catch up with friends there. Mobility is still a problem, but a magic transporter is on order to pick me up and put me down anywhere in the world. New Zealand would be a good start, then work my way round.

New Zealand is very close to the top of my bucket list. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I’m a night owl and do most of my best work in the early hours of the morning now I no longer have the 9-5 restrictions. If you disturb me before midday ‘Ugh’ means ‘Good Morning/afternoon. Where’s my coffee?’

I also breed unicorns. (That’s two but pretend not to notice.)

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Yes, that’s the big thing we need to ignore here! 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’?

Difficult one. It wouldn’t be fair to recommend one of my own books which incorporates romance and starting a new life on a Mediterranean island, and yes, I do have book envy from seeing your bookshelves, and yes, I did try to read the book titles.

Showing my age here, but a book which has stuck in my memory from my school days was Twentieth Century Short Stories. I love the variety of short story collections and even after ahem years, I can still remember many of the tales which have subconsciously influenced my own writing.

Most of my reading is books by Indie authors, and I see amongst your favourite genres are crime and historical, so I think you would enjoy The Wrong Sort to Die by Paula Harmon.

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June 1910.

Fighting her corner in a man’s world, Dr Margaret Demeray works as a pathologist in a London hospital for the poor. Suppressing her worry that she’s breaching confidentiality, Margaret gives a stranger called Fox information about a dead down-and-out, in the hope he’ll use it to raise awareness of bad working conditions.But when a second man appears to die the same way, Margaret starts to wonder why the enigmatic Fox keeps turning up to ask ever more complex questions.

She decides to work alone, uncertain of his motives and wary of her attraction to him. Once she starts investigating however, her home is burgled, she’s attacked in broad daylight and a close friend becomes distant. Fox offers the chance to forge an alliance, saying he knows why the men have died but needs her to find out what is killing them and who is behind it.

Yet how come the closer she gets to him the more danger she faces? And how can a memory she’d buried possibly be linked to the deaths? Margaret must discover the truth before someone – known or unknown – silences her for good.

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?

You’ve been a fabulous host and fortunately I rarely suffer from hangovers. Drinking water to counteract dehydration, and a few coffees thrown into the mix, usually keep me going when others end up under the table. The failsafe would be sleep until I’m ready for round two.

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

A private jet to whisk us off to the sun for a few hours relaxing on the beach, with some quiet reading time. Then a pampering spa, massage, make-up, hairdressers, the whole works accompanied by a few cocktails, of course. We’d finish the night off with a concert by your favourite artist onboard my luxurious yacht, and make plans for next weekend. We can but dream.

Thanks so much, Julie for revitalising me with your fabulous questions. You’re my kind of kind of girl.

Val, this has been the most wonderful fun, thank you so much for joining me, we must do this in person one day.

Val’s latest book is the horror/mystery Alderslay, which you can buy in paperback and ebook formats here, and is included if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.

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An old house. A new start. Ancient secrets.

When Gina stumbles across the remote, dilapidated mansion she’s convinced it will make the perfect home for when she and her fiancé Paul settle down together.

At first he supports the venture, but his frequent absences are a cause for concern, especially when the renovations reveal skeletons from the past.

Is local man Steve a prospective business partner or looking for something more?

Why are the normally reticent villagers prepared to accept her as one of their own?

As more uncanny coincidences link Gina to the gruesome history of the house, she must decide where her future lies, and if she is prepared to pay the final price.

Val Portelli received her first rejection letter aged nine, from a well-known women’s magazine. A supportive hand-written response from the editor encouraged her to continue writing intermittently until a freak accident left her housebound and going stir crazy.

To save her sanity, and with time on her hands, she completed her first full length novel which was accepted by a publisher. This was followed by a second traditionally published book before she decided to use the experience she had gained to venture into self-publishing.

Her novels and the weekly short stories she writes for her Facebook author page and website cover various genres, often including her trademark quirky twist. Nearly ten years later she has contributed to various published anthologies, and has seven published novels, with others champing at the bit for their stories to be told.

With constantly changing technology and reading tastes, every day presents a new challenge, but there is always something new to learn, and inspiration is everywhere.

She is always delighted to receive reviews as they encourage sales, and pay for the upkeep of the Unicorns she breeds in her spare time.

You can connect with the delightful Val further via her website, blog, YouTube channel, Facebook and Twitter.

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Helen Buckley

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Time to chat all things romance and the writing thereof with another RNA member, and this week I am delighted to be quizzing author… Helen Buckley.

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

I write thrilling, dramatic contemporary romances about people in the public eye. There are lots of twists and turns, shock revelations, slow-burn romance, and of course, happy ever afters! I currently have a three-book contract with ChocLit and my next novel is due out in July.

Why romance?

I daydream in romance, so I am simply writing down the stories that are in my head. I’m an old-fashioned romantic who loves nothing more than two characters who come together after lots of challenges.

What inspires your stories?

All sorts of things! Strictly on Ice, for example, was inspired by the TV show Dancing on Ice. As my current series involves people in the public eye, I get a lot of inspiration from popular culture and news stories.

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

I used to love reading Catherine Cookson when I was younger, but now I tend to read contemporary romances, by the likes of Lucy Keeling, Marie Laval, Jojo Moyes, Amanda Prowse, and Dani Atkins, for example.

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

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. That book broke me. It is one of the best books I have ever read.

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Will needed Lou as much as she needed him, but will her love be enough to save his life?

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

My husband is my real-life romantic hero and I’d choose him above anyone else. We’d go to Rome and eat mountains of gelato.

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

I’m a fairly new member but it’s a great way to meet fellow romance authors, find out what they are working on, and there are lots of learning opportunities too which I am looking forward to taking part in!

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

I would say read a lot of romance to help you understand the genre, and try to work on a series of books rather than just one – it’s more marketable.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

A former Olympic skating champion takes part in a new TV show to earn some cash, but she gets more than she bargained for when she’s partnered with a love-rat rugby player, and finds that her ex-boyfriend is on the judging panel! Strictly on Ice is a dramatic, romantic, thrilling read about the world of ice skating and reality TV. It’s available in ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

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When falling in love comes with the risk of falling flat on your face …

Former Olympic skating champion Katie Saunders is well known for her ‘ice queen’ persona in the press. On the face of it, perhaps Katie should have forgiven her former skating partner and ex-boyfriend, Alex Michaelson, for the accident that shattered both her ankle and their Olympic dreams – but she just can’t seem to let it go.

When Katie reluctantly agrees to take part in a new TV skating show, it’s only because she’s desperate for cash. What she didn’t count on is the drama – not only is she partnered up with infamous love rat rugby player Jamie Welsh, but one of the judges is none other than Alex Michaelson himself.

As the show progresses, will Katie be shown the hard way, once again, that romance on the ice should remain strictly off-limits?

About the Author

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Ever since Helen was little she wanted to be a writer, to turn daydreams into books. She’s fascinated by fame, in love with Happy Ever Afters, and enthralled by slow-burn romances. She squeezes in time to write around looking after her two sons.

Sign up to her newsletter to receive a FREE download of her novella, The Wrong One, a sweet contemporary romance about being true to yourself. https://BookHip.com/RZSDFSW

Connect with Helen:

Website: www.buckleybooks.org

Facebook: Helen Buckley author

Twitter: @HelenCBuckley

Instagram: @helencatherinebuckley

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Guest Post: Viking Voyager by Sverrir Sigurdsson with Veronica Li

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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 favourable 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!

Today I am delighted to be hosting a guest post by Sverrir Sigurdsson on the process of co-writing his book, Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir with his wife, Veronica Li. Over to Sverrir to share his piece.

Husband-Wife Collaboration by Sverrir Sigurdsson

When I told stories of my travel adventures to friends, their reaction was often, “Why don’t you write your memoir?”  I never thought I was important enough to do that.  At the same time, I did have many fond and exciting memories of growing up in Iceland and later traveling the world for both work and pleasure.  So, I started jotting down memorable recollections and saving them in a folder called Episodes on my hard drive. 

In my retirement, after I’d done everything I ever wanted to do, including designing and building a house with my own hands, I got more serious about writing down my memories.  I now live in the U.S. and am watching my all-American grandson grow up with little knowledge of his heritage.  The desire to leave him a cultural legacy became more urgent.

I showed a few of my “episodes” to my wife for feedback.  Veronica is a former journalist and published author who had taken a “Glad he has something to occupy him in his retirement” attitude toward my project.  But one day, she looked up from reading one of my episodes and said, “Sverrir, you’ve really had an interesting life.”  From then on, my project became hers too.

The first step was to decide on a focus.  This was easy as we both knew what I was about.  The theme would be my life as a modern-day Viking, traveling the world like my forefathers.  The memoir would hark back to my childhood in Iceland, which shaped my outward-looking worldview.

We hit an impasse in chapter one.  Veronica wanted to start with the present and from thereon traverse a flexible timeline between past and present.  I wanted chronological order, beginning from my grandparents and working my way linearly to the present.  After several rounds of verbal fistfights, I threw in my knockout punch.  “This is my life.  I’ll write it the way I want.”  She lay down and surrendered, or more like played dead.

Thus I started my story with the tragedy that befell my maternal grandfather.  I believed this was the root of who I was and felt compelled to get it out on the first page.  I dumped it all out, everything I knew about the incident and the life of Icelandic fishermen.  Veronica and I worked and reworked the chapter several times, and the final product was, to our surprise, everything we both wanted.  In the middle of the distant past, she sneaked in time-traveling to the present and made me introduce myself as an old man writing to leave a legacy to future generations.  This became the blueprint for the rest of the book.  The chapters are chronological in order, but within the chapter, the story flashes backward and forward to other time zones, offering a rather kaleidoscopic dimension.

No two people can be more different than Veronica and I.  She’s a people person and calls me a “thing” person.  Being a passionate carpenter and a professional architect, I’m in tune with wood, brick, and mortar but a moron with regard to human emotions and signals. She, on the other hand, can sniff out emotions like a dog but is blind as a bat to the world of machines and hardware.  Her nagging question, “So how did you feel?” annoyed me to no end.  But as she pushed me to probe into myself, I unearthed emotions I didn’t know I had.  Such as the Christmas my father traveled to a London hospital to undergo life-saving treatment for his kidney disease.  As a ten-year-old, I said goodbye to Dad one bleak, cold morning.  The family doctor had warned my mother to be “prepared.”  I don’t remember feeling anything at that moment, but I do remember the sadness that spilled out when Mother brought out the previous year’s Christmas tree from the attic.  Because of Dad’s illness, my parents pinched every penny, including money for a tree.  The poor tree looked like a mangy animal, with its needles brown and half gone.  Writing about it seventy years later made me realize I had feelings after all!

Veronica’s ignorance in mechanical matters also forced me to a new level—hers.  I’d assumed everyone knew the mechanics of a car engine, a block and tackle pulley system, or a carbon arc lamp.  When I realized she had no clue, I had to draw it out in diagrams for her.  Once she understood, she popularized my techno-jargon into a flowing narrative for every audience.  She was happy for the new knowledge and I was happy to be saved from my geeky self.

Our disparate talents also came in handy in describing scenery.  Veronica drew from her poetic instincts, comparing rock pillars rising from the sea to “spikes on a dragon back,” and well-fed glaciers to “paunches of sleeping giants.”  My contribution was my knowledge of geology, something all Icelanders learn as children.  In a country where glaciers sit like lids on volcanos, the dramatic reaction of fire meeting ice causes fast-cooling lava to turn into a rock formation called tuff or palagonite.  This is the stuff that forms much of the spectacular landscapes Iceland is famous for.

I’d thought the gap between our personalities would cause contention, but it turned out to be our strength.  And when friends ask, we answer yes, we’re still happily married.

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Thank you for sharing that with us Sverrir, it sounds like each of you brought your strengths to the writing of the book and I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir is a prize winner of The Wishing Shelf Book Awards organized by a group of UK authors.
“Not only a well written memoir, but an interesting take on Icelandic history from post-World War Two until present day. A RED RIBBON WINNER and highly recommended.” The Wishing Shelf Book Awards

About the Authors

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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.

Veronica Li emigrated to the U.S. from Hong Kong as a teenager. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and her masters degree in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins University. She has worked as a journalist and for the World Bank, and is currently a writer. Her three previously published titles are: Nightfall in Mogadishu, Journey across the Four Seas: A Chinese Woman’s Search for Home, and Confucius Says: A Novel.

Connect with the authors:

Facebook: Sverrir Sigurdsson

Twitter: @Sverrir_Sigurds

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Friday Night Drinks with… Susan Willis

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What a gorgeous sunny day it has been up here in Yorkshire today, what has it been like where you are? The weather is so lovely, I think tonight’s guest and I might take our Friday Night Drinks outside and enjoy the sunset while we chat. What do you think, author… Susan Willis?

Susan Willis Author

Welcome to the blog, Susan, thank you so much for joining me this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Coffee – I’m a coffee-total, not a tea-total. But I do like to see my friends enjoying their drinks.

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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?

Probably a nice cocktail bar or restaurant. Indian or Italian food is my favourite.

They are my favourites too! Can’t wait until we can go out for a nice meal with friends again. I like to cook, but I think I’ve done enough now for a while! 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?

Alive, it would be my favourite crime writer, Harlan Coben. I saw him on stage being interviewed by Ian Rankin at The Harrogate Crime Writers Festival in 2019 and he was a great guest. But, I’d love to talk with him in depth about his writing.

Dead, it would be Agatha Christie. I think I’ve read everything she ever wrote and love her stories.

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?

Originally, way back in 2013 I had my first novel published by a digital publisher in London. However, now their focus is on different genre’s and not romance which all my early novels and novellas were about. Therefore, I have parted company with the publisher and am re-editing and updating all eight stories to self-publish on amazon. They will have new covers and titles. Which, I’m laughing calling my, ‘Lockdown Project.’

Oh, exciting and a big challenge! What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

My proudest moments come from reading reviews from people. Sometimes I’m astounded that words I have written and characters I’ve created in my mind have such an effect on them.

My favourite sentence from 2020 is what a reader wrote in a review, ‘Well, to say I read this novel in one day speaks volumes!’ I was and still am, cock-a-hoop.

My biggest challenge is social media and improving my limited IT skills. Although, I have learnt from other authors who have been kind enough to lend a helping hand especially on Facebook. I can now make videos / trailers for my books and know how to make banners on Canva.

I’m really glad to hear that reader reviews can mean so much to authors. 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!

Although my stories are all on amazon as Ebooks and paperbacks, I’d love to be well-known enough to see my books on shelves in bookstores, supermarkets, and train stations. Could you imagine seeing someone picking up your book from Smiths or in Tesco? I’d be thrilled.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

For Christmas 2020, I published a novella set in York which received great reviews. I have a plot written for a follow-up novel with my same two characters for 2021. I’m hoping to start writing this in May after I complete my Lockdown Project. I’m excited to see where Clive and Barbara will end up as a couple.

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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?

If I’m going abroad then it’s Italy first followed closely by Germany. I’ve travelled throughout Europe by train and have loved every country I’ve visited. However, there are two places which are still on my bucket list, Turin and Budapest.

I loved Budapest when I was there, although it was many years ago now. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I didn’t start writing until I was fifty-two. Since then I have written romance, psychological suspense, and cosy-crime short reads. I love to write in different genres to test my writing skills.

It’s great to hear you have had success after starting writing late. It gives me hope at almost 49 that it’s not too late for me! 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’?

It depends what genre you like? If it’s crime and psychological stories then, Home by Harlan Coben. He is the master of the twist at the end of a story. I always close his books thinking, boy, I didn’t see that coming!

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For ten long years two boys have been missing.

Now you think you’ve seen one of them.

He’s a young man. And he’s in trouble.

Do you approach him?
Ask him to come home with you?
And how can you be sure it’s really him?

You thought your search for the truth was over.
It’s only just begun.

I’m ashamed to say I have never read any of his books, I will have to rectify that with this one. 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?

I don’t have one, but I know my friends drink plenty of water before they go to bed. I stopped drinking twenty years ago when the dreaded hot flushes reared their ugly heads!

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

In a nice English town in a lovely boutique hotel with maybe a visit to a stately home and gardens thrown in for good measure. We have many beautiful places in this country that people are just beginning to discover on staycations.    

I agree, the UK is a great place for holidays. Thank you for chatting to me this evening, I have had a really great time.  

Susan’s latest book, which is a republication is NO CHEF, I Won’t!, available both as a paperback and ebook format and you can buy a copy here.

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Can kneading bread be fun with your man? And, would you refuse an invite to your handsome neighbours’ greenhouse to see his wonderful courgettes? These are just two problems Katie must wrestle with in this food lovers romance. Katie’s partner, Tim lands a new job as head chef in a London restaurant. He changes from the sweet-natured, food loving guy she fell for and becomes unbearably arrogant. ‘Yes Chef!’ respond his browbeaten assistants as he barks orders at them across a steamy kitchen. But when he treats Katie this way, she rebels and after a huge row, she walks out. With the help of her two close friends, she rebuilds her single life and starts a successful catering business. Tim realises what he’s lost and wants her back, but Katie is not sure.

Will she say, ‘Yes, Chef.’ Or ‘No, Chef, I Won’t!’ 

Susan Willis is a published author of six novels and five novellas. She lives in Co-Durham surrounded by a big family and dear friends. Susan worked as a food technologist developing new recipes and weaved the different aspects of her job into stories.

Readers who have left reviews on amazon love the books because they are realistic with everyday people in situations that can happen. Her last two novels are psychological suspense.

She has a collection of Fun-Size Tales of Love & Family, and six Cosy Crime Short Reads, incorporating up to date issues of poor mental health in a kidnap scene, the perils of social media, and an intruder on Skype.

Susan is now updating her older novels and self-publishing on Amazon.    

You can discover more about Susan and her books on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

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