Desert Island Books with…. Sandra Forder

Desert Island Books

Today I am delighted to welcome to the blog my good friend and member of my writing tribe, Sandra Forder, who has agreed to be whisked off to my desert island (and let’s face it, this is becoming a more and more appealing proposition!) with only five books and one luxury item to keep her company. Let’s see what she is taking with her.

Book One – Famine by Graham Masterson

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What happens when the richest nation on God’s Earth is driven to the outer limits of starvation?

When the grain crop failed in Kansas it seemed like an isolated incident and no one took much notice. Except Ed Hardesty. Then the blight spread to California’s fruit harvest, and from there, like wildfire, throughout the nation.

Suddenly America woke up to the fact that her food supplies were almost wiped out. Her grain reserves lethally polluted. And Botulism was multiplying at a horrifying rate.

This was a book I read around 20 years ago and really wish I kept a copy. Based in the US, what happens when all the crops fail and food is in short supply how does society act.  At the time I thought it could never happen, but with the pandemic, the chaos shown is true to how people acted and reacted. The story follows Ed Hardesty when he realises the failing crops are not just a local thing. The climax of the book surprised me, but I won’t spoil it. Read it for yourselves to discover the truth.

Book Two – Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

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On a remote jungle island, genetic engineers have created a dinosaur game park.

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now one of mankind’s most thrilling fantasies has come true and the first dinosaurs that the Earth has seen in the time of man emerge.

But, as always, there is a dark side to the fantasy and after a catastrophe destroys the park’s defence systems, the scientists and tourists are left fighting for survival…

This book was so unexpected, as was its follow up, The Lost World.  The books came alive, and I devoured each page with relish.  As a child I had, as most children have, a fascination with dinosaurs. This was a leap into a world where they had been brought back from extinction and how they interacted with their human captors.  I loved the first film too, but the books offered so much more. As with most of Michael Crichton’s books, I felt I was there, experiencing things with the characters.

Book Three – A Boy And His Dog At The End Of The World by C. A. Fletcher  

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My name’s Griz.

I’ve never been to school, I’ve never had friends, in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football. My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, before all the people went away, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.

Then the thief came.

He told stories of the deserted towns and cities beyond our horizons. I liked him – until I woke to find he had stolen my dog. So I chased him out into the ruins of the world.

I just want to get my dog back, but I found more than I ever imagined was possible. More about how the world ended. More about what my family’s real story is. More about what really matters.

I saw you had reviewed this book and I was intrigued. I love dystopian and disaster novels amongst my romance and although we were heading into the current pandemic, I could resist grabbing this book. I actually read it on a train from Helsinki to Turku on my way to visit my son. It was such a good book I didn’t pay attention to the scenery changing as we travelled across Finland.

Book Four – The Charm Bracelet by Melissa Hill

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Every charm tells a story… And Holly O’Neill knows this better than most. Many years ago she was sent a bracelet with just a single charm attached. The charms have been appearing ever since, often at challenging times, as if her mysterious benefactor knows exactly when she needs a little magic in her life.

As a result, Holly’s bracelet is her most prized possession. So when she finds someone else’s charm bracelet, she feels she has to try to reunite it with its owner. Even if the only clues she has to follow are the charms themselves.

On a search that will take her all over New York City at Christmas, Holly becomes ever more determined to piece together the details of this other charmed life. But what she doesn’t know is that her quest may also lead her somewhere she never expected …

I found this on a book swap shelf while on holiday in Sharm El Sheikh. The cover lured me to pick it up but, as soon as I started reading it, I was hooked.  This is the story of Holly who finds a charm bracelet and sets out to discover its rightful owner. Enjoy her travels through New York at Christmas as she follows each charm to reveal the story of the bracelet. On doing so he not only finds its owner but also a whole lot more.

Book Five – The Maze Runner by James Dashner

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When the doors of the lift crank open, the only thing Thomas remembers is his first name. But he’s not alone. He’s surrounded by boys who welcome him to the Glade – a walled encampment at the centre of a bizarre and terrible stone maze.

Like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they came to be there – or what’s happened to the world outside. All they know is that every morning when the walls slide back, they will risk everything – even the Grievers, half-machine, half-animal horror that patrol its corridors, to try and find out.

Again my love of dystopian fiction led me to pick this book up. I like the way Thomas changed from being scared and unsure, to being the leader of the resistance. I loved the imagery in this book and have read the trilogy to see how the story was completed. I love the mixture of characters but also the compassion Thomas shows to those less able than himself.

My luxury item

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The other essential I would take with me was a bowie knife.  I could use it to cut branches to make shelter, cut palm fronts for a roof and bedding. Make holes in coconuts and also make tools to catch fish or other animals.

About Sandra Forder

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Growing up in Lowestoft, the most easterly point in the UK, Sandra always found pleasure in losing herself in books.  She used to read Mills & Boon by the hundreds, and at one point had a collection of over 4000. She still loves them to this day, especially those by Kate Hardy. This fuelled her love of writing. She even tried her hand at writing Mills & Boon and had some great feedback in the past.  She then took a break from writing due to ill health and then starting a family.

Sandra joined the RNA around 12 years ago and met some wonderful authors who she now call friends, but then work took over and she stopped writing for several years. She recently re-joined the RNA and met her tribe who are supporting her with her journey to publication.

She writes YA, often with a twist. She is yet to be published by a mainstream publisher, but she did write two children’s books as Sandra Joanne Forder, which are available on Amazon. They are Woolly Pig’s Woolly Jumper and How The Giraffe got his Spots.

Connect with Sandra:

Twitter: @sahndree

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Friday Night Drinks with… Jessica Redland

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

It’s the end of another week and time to catch up with someone from the publishing world over a drink. This week I am chatting with author… Jessica Redland.

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Welcome to my virtual bar, Jessica. First things first, what are you drinking?

Thank you so much for hosting me! Tonight, I’m indulging in a lovely chilled glass of White Zinfandel. I very rarely drink but, if I do partake, this is my drink of choice … or a Pino Grigio.

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?

In a non-Covid world, we’d be on a night out in Scarborough and I’d probably take you on the Whitsborough Bay pub crawl. I set most of my books in a fictional seaside town which is predominantly modelled on Scarborough and I mention quite a few pubs and bars across the nine books set there. I’d take you round the real-life pubs which have influenced my fictional ones. We might have to restrict it to a small wine or a half in each, though, as it could be quite a big crawl… although it’s downhill which is a good thing!

That would be great. My grandparents had a flat in Scarborough and I have many happy memories of holidays there, right up until I was in my early twenties. 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?

If you’d just said one male, it would have been Chris Hemsworth but I’m not letting another female get in there 😉 I would therefore draw from the past and invite A A Milne and Beatrix Potter because I’d love them both to know how beloved and enduring their words and images have been. That would be quite a gift to give someone.

Good choices, they would be fascinating to talk to. 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?

It’s all about the Hedgehog Hollow series at the moment which started with Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow released in July this year. Hedgehog Hollow is a hedgehog rescue centre in the Yorkshire Wolds.

I’ve recently finished the final proofread on the second book – New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollowwhich is available for pre-order and out on 7th January 2021. I’m currently doing my final read-through on book 3 – Life Begins at Hedgehog Hollow – as the deadline to submit to my editor is this week. It will be out on 4th May 2021.

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This was going to finish the series although it wasn’t going to be the end of Hedgehog Hollow as I have an idea for a prequel and a spin-off. However, as I got into the final quarter of writing book 3, a fourth one shouted at me and the as-yet-untitled book 4 in the Hedgehog Hollow series will probably be my January 2022 release.

I’ve also been editing the final couple of the books from my back catalogue. My publishers, Boldwood Books, have taken on all my books and, during 2020, six of them were re-released with a fresh edit, new title and new cover. The final two will be re-released in 2021.

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

Oh my goodness, so many proud moments. Although most people will understandably want to forget 2020 and will be relieved when it’s over, it has been the most incredible year for my writing career thanks to Boldwood Books and I’ll cherish that part of it forever. Some amazing achievements this year include:

  • #14 in the UK Kindle chart with New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms
  • #3 in the Australia Kindle chart with Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café
  • #32 in the USA Kindle chart with The Secret to Happiness
  • Bestseller tags on all ten of my books at the same time
  • Passing 1,000 reviews on Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes when my dream for this year was to hit 100 for one of my books
  • Having 3 x books in The Works
  • Being able to leave my day job to write full-time
  • Being offered a second 12-book publishing contract with Boldwood Books
  • Readers getting in touch thanking me for the heart-warming escapism that my books have given them during a busy year – so very humbling

This then links into my biggest challenge because it hasn’t always been like this. This time two years ago, I was so low about my writing that I seriously questioned whether to give it up. I’d originally secured a three-book publishing deal with my debut book but my publisher ceased trading and I got my rights back and became an indie author. With a demanding day job, I didn’t have the time for promotion and I struggled to make an impact on the charts. Those who discovered my books seemed to love them but not many people were discovering them and I was either going to need to continue to flounder and hope for a miracle or secure another publishing deal.

When I sought a publishing deal with my debut novel, rejections didn’t bother me too much but, eight books down the line when I tried again, they floored me. I seriously questioned my ability as a writer and whether I could continue pouring my heart and soul into creating novels nobody seemed to want. But someone did want them. Boldwood Books took me on and I found my writing home.

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

I would absolutely love to achieve a top 10 in the UK Kindle chart. If I’m completely honest, I’d love a #1 – who wouldn’t?! But, for now, a top 10 is my goal. I came so close with New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms getting to #14. Whether I’ll ever get there is debatable but it’s good to have an ambitious goal.

And – because I’m being greedy and picking two – my other biggie is I would love my books to be made into films or a TV series. So many readers comment on this in reviews and I completely agree. They’d be amazing on screen!

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

I’m really excited about the next books in the Hedgehog Hollow series coming out. Book 2 is on NetGalley at the moment and, although reviews are coming in quite slowly (I think lots of reviewers are reading Christmas books just now), most of the ones I’ve had are extremely positive. We won’t talk about the two that were a bit mean and made me cry!

I’ll be starting on my 2021 Christmas book after Christmas and I’m really looking forward to that because I actually started writing it 3.5 years ago to be my first ever Christmas novella released in 2017. When I’d written about 10k words, it became apparent to me that the story was bigger than a novella so I parked it. I can’t wait to return to it.

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?

Right now, I’d happily travel absolutely anywhere! Don’t care where; just let me out of the house!!!! I’m sure most of us feel like that. Like so many, we had holidays cancelled this year and one of those was to celebrate my husband’s 50th birthday.

I love travelling too and there are so many amazing places I’ve been and would love to re-visit, as well as places I’ve never been. We honeymooned in British Colombia in Canada and would love to go back and, twenty years ago, I went to New Zealand with a friend. I’d love to take my husband there and explore the parts my friend and I missed.

We went to Lapland last Christmas and it was one of the best holidays ever. It’s a dream to go back there again.

Top of my bucket list for places I’ve never been would be Iceland. It looks absolutely stunning.

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

Looking at me now, you’d never guess it, but I used to be pretty fit and liked to try out adventurous things in the great outdoors. By my late-twenties, I could tick off climbing, abseiling, gorge-walking, zorbing, sand-yachting, surfing, becoming a qualified scuba diver and doing a 43m bungy jump off a bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand.

The bungy jump was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. It was over a river and I was asked if I wanted to touch the water or avoid it. I said touch it but that basically gave them permission to dunk me. I had a baggy T-shirt on and when I got dunked, it got drenched and, hanging upside down, the weight of the water pulled it over my head. So I was basically bouncing up and down on a rope, flashing my bra to the world! Attractive!

You are much braver than me, I can’t jump off things! 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’?

Anything I’ve written!

Is that not allowed? I’m going to go really recent and select one book in the past month that I’ve loved. It’s a Christmas read called Christmas with Cary by Sharon Booth and it is so warm and lovely and simply gorgeous. It is the third in a series but they are absolutely all standalone with no connecting characters; the series is simply the connection of being home for Christmas.

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You never forget your first love.

Molly’s spent every Christmas she can remember surrounded by her family. But this year is different. This year, Molly’s all alone in a strange town. She’s left her family behind, and she’s not sure where she can call home any longer.

All Molly has with her are a few clothes in a suitcase, and a collection of her old friend’s Cary Grant films. Except, there’s one more thing she’s brought along – the whole reason for her Christmas visit.

In her possession is a small, crumpled piece of paper, and on it is written the address of the love of her life. 

Molly and Cary have had many chances over the years, but somehow life kept getting in the way and they always ended up apart once more. Yet Molly has never forgotten the first man she gave her heart to, and now she has one last chance to win him back.

But will Cary welcome her home, or will he tell her what she dreads to hear – that they’ve had their chance, and it’s all too late. That’s if she can even find him…

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 never used to get hangovers. At university, I was the envy of my friends as I might feel a little spaced the following day if we’d had a big drinking session but I was never hungover.

I got my first one in my late twenties and it was horrific, as though every hangover I’d never had had joined together to give me the biggest one a human could endure without their head actually exploding.

My answer to avoiding one now is I don’t really drink. I never drink at home and even pre-Covid would often go months without a drink as either we weren’t going out or I chose to be the driver. My only cure suggestion if it happens is fairly standard: paracetamol and lots of water. Or a strawberry McDonald’s Thickshake (do they even call them that anymore?) Mmmm

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

Right now, I’d say anything to get out of this house!!!! I work from home and did so for five years before becoming a full-time author in June so my home has been my workplace for a long time. I love it … but I miss venturing out soooo much.

Locally, I’d suggest a walk along the seafront in Scarborough. I like North Bay best where the brightly-coloured beach huts are. We could play crazy golf, have an ice cream (even in winter!) and walk along the promenade and through Peasholm Park. If we were venturing further afield, I’m a fan of castles and stately homes. This time last year, I visited the Christmas displays at nearby Castle Howard. They had a masquerade theme and it was incredible. I’d maybe take you there.

I love Peasholm Park, although I am very sad that the Tree Walk is no more, it used to be my favourite thing, especially the flea circus! Jessica, it has been so lovely chatting, let’s try and do it in person some time soon!

Jessica has two Christmas releases set in Castle Street in Whitsborough Bay – a cobbled street full of independent shops and cafés. Carly’s Cupcakes and The Chocolate Pot are both next door to each other and the owners, Carly and Tara, are good friends.

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Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes

It’s the most wonderful time of the year… It’s December on Castle Street; the fairy lights are twinkling, snow has settled and the festive season is in full swing.

For Carly, the owner of Carly’s Cupcakes, it’s the busiest time of year getting everyone’s Christmas treats ready on time. However with her clumsy sister, Bethany, as a co-worker, it’s proving a difficult task. They say you shouldn’t mix work with family. Maybe they have a point…

As Christmas approaches, Carly is also eagerly awaiting the return of her best friend to Whitsborough Bay. Liam has no idea he’s been the object of her affection since their schooldays. After years of pining after him, can Carly pluck up the courage to finally tell him how she really feels by 25th December?

Could a little festive magic make all of Carly’s wishes come true this Christmas…?

You can buy Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes here.

Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café

Everyone is getting into the festive spirit on Castle Street – snow is falling, fairy lights are glistening and Christmas shopping is underway.

But for Tara Porter, owner of thriving cafe, The Chocolate Pot, this is the most difficult time of the year. From the outside, Tara is a successful businesswoman and pillar of the community. Behind closed doors, she is lonely. 

With a lifetime of secrets weighing on her shoulders, she has retreated from all friends, family and romance, and shut her real self away from the world. Afterall, if you don’t let them in, they can’t hurt you. She’s learnt that the hard way.

But as the weight of her past becomes heavier and an unexpected new neighbour moves onto the street – threatening the future of her cafe – Tara begins to realise that maybe it’s time to finally let people back in and confront her history. It could just change her life forever…

You can buy a copy of Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe here.

Jessica Redland lives in Scarborough on the stunning North Yorkshire Coast – the inspiration behind the fictional seaside town of Whitsborough Bay – with her husband, teenage daughter and sprocker spaniel, Ella.

She’s a stationery addict with a notepad obsession who loves chocolate (although it doesn’t love her), hedgehogs, 80s music, collectible teddy bears and lighthouses.

Her career has mainly been in HR as a trainer and recruiter but, in June 2020, she became a full-time author. She’s so very grateful to anyone who has bought or borrowed her books in whatever format, helping her fulfil a long-held dream of writing full-time. She still can’t believe she gets to spend every day chatting to her fictional friends and making stuff up.

You can find out more about Jessica and her books on her website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Emma Jackson

Romancing The Romance Authors

Today, I am delighted to welcome to the blog to discuss all things romance writing, one of my very good friends and fabulous author, Emma Jackson.

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

I write romantic comedies with (I hope) a touch of honesty and the bittersweet mixed in along the way to my characters’ happy-ever-after. My fourth book, One Kiss Before Christmas, has just released and I’m coming up to the one year anniversary of my debut novel, A Mistletoe Miracle, being published with Orion Dash! I’m not quite sure what the future holds at the moment, as I’m out of contract now – and it’s been one hell of a year! – but I do know I have many more romances to write and stories I want to share with readers.

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Why romance?

I became an official romance fan when I was pregnant with my first daughter. I was tired and I didn’t want anything that might unexpectedly upset me after having a bad experience with a Karin Slaughter book I’d been recommended. Great book but it gave me nightmares! So, I sought out stories with lots of emotion and guaranteed happy endings; where I could enjoy the thrill of falling in love again and again. All the different sub-genres of romance from historical to fantasy to contemporary, also mean there’s always something to suit my mood. I’ve always written stories, so it made sense for me to write what I enjoyed reading.

What inspires your stories?

It’s usually from one little ‘what if’ thought that comes to me. It could be from a place I’ve been or listening to a song or visiting a shop or reading a newspaper story. It then grows as more ideas come to me or characters become a little more solid. I’ve just started planning out and tentatively drafting another Christmas story, which weirdly came to me because of a comment another author (Isabella May) made about my debut in a review.

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

I love Tessa Dare and Mhairi McFarlane. They are auto-buys for me. They both write laugh out loud books but also cover some heavy themes with such skill.

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

This is so hard, but I think one of my favourite reads this year, Beach Read by Emily Henry, was fantastic. The hero and heroine are both writers of very different genres who challenge each other to try and write the other’s way. It’s very funny – extremely meta for romance readers and writers – but even if you aren’t a fan of romance already, I think it would do an amazing job of helping you understand why people love romance so much, and why it isn’t something fluffy or frivolous to try to have a bit of hope. It’s also very sexy and heartfelt. It works on so many levels!

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He doesn’t believe in happy endings.
She’s lost her faith that they exist.
But could they find one together?

January is a hopeless romantic who narrates her life like she’s the lead in a blockbuster movie.
Gus is a serious literary type who thinks true love is a fairy-tale.

But January and Gus have more in common than you’d think:

They’re both broke.
They’ve got crippling writer’s block.
And they need to write bestsellers before summer ends.

The result? A bet to swap genres see who gets published first.
The risk? In telling each other’s stories, their worlds might be changed entirely…

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

Is it really terrible if I say one of my own heroes? I think I’d love to spend a weekend with Olivier from One Kiss Before Christmas because he’s so easy-going and fun, and also because he could take me to Paris to give me a tour around the museums and galleries, cook gorgeous food for me, and then we could snuggle up and watch old movies. Bliss.

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

The sense of community. I have found so many amazing friends since I joined and been given so much support. It’s transformed my knowledge of the industry because there is always someone willing to offer advice and it’s turned what can be a very lonely profession into one where I feel genuinely connected.

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

Keep going. Perseverance is as much one of the tools you need to keep in your arsenal as an ability to think up great hooks. From getting from ‘chapter one’ to ‘the end’, to sending out queries, it’s so important to find a way to keep yourself going that works for you.

Tell us about your latest book.

One Kiss Before Christmas is a gorgeously romantic festive read guaranteed to warm your heart this Christmas and you can buy it here! (I reviewed One Kiss Before Christmas on the blog a few weeks ago, and you can read my review here.)

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Could it be the start of her happy ever after?

Ashleigh could use a little Christmas magic. She’s still living in Brighton with her Nan – who could give the Grinch lessons in how to be miserable – her acting career has been reduced to playing one of Santa’s elves, and not even the prospect of a friend’s winter wedding can cheer her up…

That is until Olivier, the gorgeous French chef, reappears in her life. Or more accurately, next door.

When they were teenagers, Olivier would spend every Christmas with his mother, who just happens to be Ash’s neighbour and owner of the best chocolate shop in England.

If anyone can bring a little sparkle back to Ash’s life, it’s Olivier. All she needs is one kiss before Christmas…

About Emma Jackson

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Author of the Best Selling A MISTLETOE MIRACLE and contender for the Joan Hessayon Award 2020, Emma has been a devoted bookworm and secret-story-scribbler since she was 6 years old. When she’s not running around after her two daughters and trying to complete her current work-in-progress, Emma loves to read, bake, catch up on binge-watching TV programmes with her partner and plan lots of craft projects that will inevitably end up unfinished. SUMMER IN THE CITY, was released in June, and her latest festive romance, ONE KISS BEFORE CHRISTMAS is now available.

Emma also writes historical and fantasy fiction as Emma S Jackson. THE DEVIL’S BRIDE was published by DarkStroke in February 2020.

Connect with Emma:

Website: https://esjackson.co.uk

Facebook: Emma Jackson Author

Twitter: @ESJackson1

Instagram: @emma_s_jackson

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Friday Night Drinks with… Natalie Normann

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

So, another Friday has rolled around and I have has a helluva week so I am very much looking forward to sharing a Friday Night Drink with tonight’s guest, author….. Natalie Normann

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

I really don’t drink much alcohol, and my favourite drink is Ice Lattes, or if I’m celebrating, I’ll have an Ice Mocha.

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It being Friday is as good a reason for celebration as any! 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?

Since my latest book is set at Christmas, I think you have to taste some proper Norwegian Christmas food. I’m from the west part of Norway, and we usually eat ‘stick meat’, smoked mutton ribs, on Christmas Eve. In Oslo they traditionally serve pork ribs, with crackling and all the trimmings – not brussel sprouts, though. Most restaurants will serve both. This is rich food, so we’d have Christmas beer, a bit darker and sweeter than regular beer, and also ‘akkevitt’, or aquavit, if you want to taste. We are very traditional about our Christmas food, and most people would protest if the restaurant got fancy with the recipes. Me included.

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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 once interviewed Martina Cole, and I think she would be fun to talk to again. And then there’s Keanu Reeves. I have a suspicion he can be funny.

I love Keanu Reeves! 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 have been a historical writer for almost 12 years now, and now I’m also writing contemporary romance in English. I would like keep doing that and see what happens. I  have so much fun writing in English. I expected it to be so difficult, but mostly it has been interesting and challenging, and I like that. Writers need to challenge themselves, I think. It’s not a profession where you ever stop learning, and I love that. 

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

There’s been more than one proud moment, to be honest. The first book I published 25 years ago was a fantastic moment. Then again when I could finally be a full-time writer, writing a historical romance series in Norway – it was scary as hell. I signed a contract to write six books a year and I was completely overwhelmed, until I realised I had to take it one book at the time and just get on with it. And recently when I had the opportunity to write contemporary romance with One More Chapter. In English. I still have to pinch my arm about that. I recently found Summer Island in a bookshop in Oslo, and actually squealed.

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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!

My one big thing was to be published in English. Now that it has  happened, I would like to keep doing that. The next steps would be have one of my books made into a movie, have translations and a few bestseller flags wouldn’t be amiss. I’d enjoy that.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Well, I have several ideas that I’m working on, and that I’m thrilled with. I love the idea stage, when it’s all fresh and I keep getting scenes in my head. Right now, I have a deadline, and I can’t really write anything else, but I make notes and explore characters and settings, and have a great time doing that.

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 London. My dad was a sea captain, and he used to sail between London and Jamaica, and ever so often, we would go with him during the summer holidays. Back then, it would take two days to come from my hometown to London, and I loved every minute of it. London was vibrant and exciting, and I never wanted to go home. Still don’t.

On the top of my bucket list is New York. I have never been there, and I always wanted to go. Maybe next year, right?

I love New York. I’ve been four times now, it was the last place I managed to visit back in early February before the world changed. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I’m Norwegian and I can’t ski. I’m great at falling, but that’s about it. 

Wow! 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’?

The one book that really surprised me this year, was Dead in Venice by Fiona Leitch. It’s a serial killer story, set in Venice, and it’s well written, pretty dark and also hilarious. Not many writers can pull that off. 

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Award-winning crime novelist Bella Tyson has it all: a successful career, devoted fans – and a bad case of writer’s block. So when a fan sends her a book of Venetian ghost stories and offers her the use of an apartment near Piazza San Marco, Bella jumps at the chance to get her Eat Pray Love on, consume her bodyweight in gelato and explore the atmospheric canals of Venice.

She meets Will, a mild-mannered, middle class Interpol agent working in the city, and is swept away by him. And when a series of gruesome murders occur he’s on the case – with Bella in tow.

Her writer’s block is well and truly cured, her new novel is under way, and she’s madly in love. But Bella realises that not everything in Venice is as it seems…

I’ve not read this one, I will add it to the list. 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 of water and go to bed to sleep it off. 

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

I have written two books set on an island on the west-coast of Norway, so not surprisingly I love islands. I now live in Oslo, and if this weekend is in the summer, we’d take a trip on the Oslo fjord. I don’t have a boat, but there are places in the fjord that you can travel to without your own boat. There are some lovely islands with great beaches only a short ferry trip away. Buy some shrimps on the harbour, find someone who sells strawberries, and bring some coffee or white wine. And also pastry. They have some amazing pastry in this city. The water is usually really, really cold, so swimming is up to you.

In the winter, the best thing to do, is to take a drive up the mountains, to Frognerseteren, an old ski lodge, now a restaurant. If we take the underground, we have to walk down a forest path to get there. Usually there’s snow up there, and you get a feel of the fairy tales we have. Trolls are a plenty up there.

The restaurant have a huge fireplace where the fire will be roaring, making everything smell of smoke,  and warm an cosy, and they serve delicious Norwegian comfort food. Their speciality is hot chocolate with whipped cream, made with real chocolate, and their famous apple cake. If you’re adventurous I recommend trying the buns with brown cheese.

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Summer Island and Christmas Island are set on a fictitious island, but heavily inspired by the islands I have been on when I grew up. It’s filled with memories of summers swimming in cold water – it was always cold –  eating ice cream, drinking soda and eating hot dogs. The smell of the sea and the weather always changing. It’s wild out there, and that’s why I love it. I’d rather be outside in a storm or walking the beach when it rains, than most other places. Mostly I like to stay with my laptop, of course.

Natalie’s new book, Christmas Island, is out on 30 November and you can buy a copy here.

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In the bleak midwinter…
A really frosty wind is making Holly’s life absolutely miserable

After all the years of hard work it took Londoner Holly Greene to become a doctor, now it could all be taken away and she only has herself to blame. She’s retreating to her brother’s rustic home on an island off the coast of Norway to lick her wounds. Only, it’s the middle of winter and icy slush plus endless darkness isn’t exactly the cheery, festive getaway she had imagined.

Nearly stumbling off the edge of a cliff in the dark, Holly is saved by Frøy, a yellow-eyed cat of fearsome but fluffy proportions, and his owner – grouchy, bearded recluse, Tor. Tor has his own problems to face but the inexplicable desire to leave a bag of freshly baked gingerbread men on Holly’s doorstep is seriously getting in the way of his hermit routine.

Call it kindness, call it Christmas, but Holly’s arrival means midwinter has never looked less bleak.

Here is the fabulous trailer for the book

Natalie Normann grew up in a small shipping town on the west-coast town in Norway. She wanted to be a writer as soon as she realised that books were written by real people. Her debut novel was published in Norwegian in 1995. Summer Island and Christmas Island are her first books in English.

You can find out more about Natalie and her books via Facebook and Twitter.

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Desert Island Books with… Julie Stock

Desert Island Books

Today, on my remote islet, I have abandoned author Julie Stock, with only five excellent books and one luxury item to aid her survival. That’s all a person needs, right? Let’s see what she has with her shall we? Welcome to my island, Julie.

Thanks for inviting me to take part in your Desert Island Books feature, Julie. I think I would be useless on a desert island with no-one else to talk to, but having plenty of good books would certainly help to keep me sane! As I write romance myself, I have chosen some classic romances to take with me of course, but I’ve also chosen some other classics from different genres because I just love a great story.

Book One – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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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?

It doesn’t matter how many times I re-read this book, I always find a new detail every time. I just love the romance and the humour in the story, and all the characters so much. It’s the book I regularly read again, and I think that says it all. It’s also incredible that, for a book published at the beginning of the 19th century, it still resonates as much today.

Book Two – The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

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This is the extraordinary love story of Clare and Henry who met when Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock periodically resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future.

In the face of this force they can neither prevent nor control, Henry and Clare’s struggle to lead normal lives is both intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

I can still remember when I first read this book, and the moment when I understood what was coming. It is the only book I remember reading through buckets of tears, but despite that, I still pressed on. The love story in it is one of the most uplifting, yet also one of the saddest I’ve ever read. I do really like a good cry when I’m reading a book – I find it very cathartic – and this book achieved its aim so very well.

Book Three – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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‘Shoot all the Bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird.’

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl.

Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

I can still remember the sense of outrage I felt when I first read this book in my teens. I’d never read anything like it before that, and I felt so naïve as I read it, and began to understand that injustice like that does exist. I love Atticus of course, and above all, I love the sense of hope that threads through the story, even in the worst of times.

Book Four – Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

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Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert. It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty.

My daughter bought me this book a few years ago, and I struggled to read it for a while, but then gave up without finishing it, which is very unusual for me. So, if I’m going to be on a desert island, it would be good to have a very long book to read to pass the endless days while I wait to be rescued! I know the story of course, so I’m sure I would be able to finish it eventually…

Book Five – The Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine

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A story spanning centuries. A long awaited revenge.

In London, journalist Jo Clifford plans to debunk the belief in past-lives in a hard-hitting magazine piece. But her scepticism is shaken when a hypnotist forces her to relive the experiences of Matilda, Lady of Hay, a noblewoman during the reign of King John.

She learns of Matilda’s unhappy marriage, her love for the handsome Richard de Clare, and the brutal death threats handed out by King John, before it becomes clear that Jo’s past and present are inevitably entwined. She realises that eight hundred years on, Matilda’s story of secret passion and unspeakable treachery is about to repeat itself…

I had had this book on my Kindle for quite a while before I finally got round to reading it last year. I’d had a major operation and so I was devouring books even more than usual, and once I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. It combines my love of history with a great thriller, and would bear re-reading for sure.

My luxury item

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I don’t think I could manage without an endless supply of hand cream, especially if I was going to have to be in and out of water to catch my food every day! I’m hoping this is going to be allowed…

About Julie Stock

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Julie Stock writes contemporary feel-good romance from around the world: novels, novellas and short stories. She published her debut novel, From Here to Nashville, in 2015, after starting to write as an escape from the demands of her day job as a teacher. Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace is her latest book, and the second in the Domaine des Montagnes series set on a vineyard.

Julie is now a full-time author, and loves every minute of her writing life. When not writing, she can be found reading, her favourite past-time, running, a new hobby, or cooking up a storm in the kitchen, glass of wine in hand.

Julie is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.

She is married and lives with her family in Bedfordshire in the UK.

Julie’s latest book is Starting Over in the Vineyard in Alsace and you can buy a copy here.

Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace

She’s proud, independent and about to be a single mum. Since his wife died, he’s become fiercely protective. Can they take another chance on love?

After being abandoned by her partner when she falls pregnant, Lottie Schell goes home to live on The Vineyard in Alsace determined to raise her child and to provide for them both without having to depend on anyone else.

Thierry Bernard is still dealing with his grief and guilt following the death of his wife two years earlier. He needs to move on from the tragedy of his past and to accept the truth of what happened.

When circumstances force Lottie and Thierry closer together and their attraction deepens, they both find it hard to compromise – and they’re both wary about trusting someone new with their heart.

Can Lottie and Thierry move on from their pasts, find a new beginning together and start over?

Connect with Julie:

Website: https://julie-stock.co.uk/

Facebook: Julie Stock Author

Twitter: @wood_beez48

Instagram: @julie.stockauthor.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Tanya Bullock

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

I am in celebratory mood, so tonight’s guest has picked a great night to join me for Friday Night Drinks! Welcome to the blog author…. Tanya Bullock.

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Tanya, I am in party mood, so thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

It’s got to be a large glass of red. Rioja’s my favourite, but I’d settle for a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec. Mind you, once we get to the club (see below) I’d probably need a couple of cheeky shots before braving the dancefloor!

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?

Hmm, well we’ve only just met, so it would be nice to get to know you first. A quiet country pub with a roaring open fire where we could have a good old natter in the warm. After that, I’d whisk you off to a nightclub for a boogie. I was quite the ‘clubber’ in my youth, but I haven’t been on a dance floor since my 40th birthday in 2016, so a night of dancing is long overdue.

Sounds great, although I’m even older than you so we might have to take it slowly to begin with! 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?

Unhesitatingly Alan Rickman. I would love to spend an evening listening to that gorgeous, velvety voice. My favourite film of all time is Truly Madly Deeply – the emotion he was able to convey with just one soulful look! I was so sad when he died. The female would have to be Edith Piaf. Again, a voice that stirs my very soul. The only issue I’d foresee is my choice of venue – it would be an utter waste to take Alan and Edith to a nightclub and have them shouting over the music all night. We wouldn’t be able to hear their voices, which would kind of defeat the object of inviting them. So…would you mind if we spent the whole evening in the pub instead?

I adored Alan Rickman, I would spend an evening in a broom closet with him! Truly, Madly Deeply is an amazing film, but a real tear-jerker! 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?

At the moment, I’m balancing my writing career with being a specialist SEN teacher/college manager and mum to my two lovely kids. In terms of writing, I started my fourth novel earlier this year. I’m about eighty pages in but have paused to mull over a few important decisions about characters and plot. As with my other novels, this book will explore the themes of social isolation and mental health. I’m passionate about social issues and the lives and rights of people who are marginalised and excluded from our society, which has been the one mainstay of both my teaching and writing careers. My first book, Desperately Seeking Normal, is about a young woman with learning difficulties and her quest for happiness, my second novel, Homecoming, is the story of a couple finding love within the care system and my third novel The Lonely Hearts Crime Club, brings together a disparate group of crimefighters, living in social housing. So, in terms of where this next book is going, I aim to stay true to myself as a writer: this time, I want to explore the themes of domestic abuse and old age but, as with my other books, there will be an uplifting thread and an air of mystery woven throughout the narrative.

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

My proudest moment was most definitely the day that my wonderful publisher, Stephanie Zia at Blackbird Digital Books, said ‘yes’! My first book, That Special Someone (which was revised and retitled Desperately Seeking Normal earlier this year) was so important to me because I’d poured into it all my feelings about motherhood and about teaching young people with special educational needs. It broke my heart every time it was rejected, so getting that magical email from Stephanie was like winning the lottery! My biggest challenge has been writing, working full time and raising my children. When my kids were babies, I would run to my computer every time I put them down for a nap. They’re older now, but I still have to prioritise my family and job over my writing.

I can definitely relate to that juggling act. 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!

If I’m being ambitious, I’d have to aim for The Booker Prize for Fiction. As a filmmaker, I won a Royal Television Society Award for a disability awareness documentary, which was a very proud moment. As a writer, I’ve been nominated for The Guardian Not the Booker Prize, the People’s Book Prize and the Beryl Bainbridge First Novel Award, but I’ve not won anything…yet.

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What have you planned that you are really excited about?

I get excited about writing, so carrying on with my fourth novel is just about as thrilling as it gets for me at the moment. If it wasn’t for lockdown, I’d be planning a lovely family summer holiday and a Christmas show for my students, but neither of those are possible right now.

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’ve been very lucky in that I’ve travelled extensively and lived abroad too. I had a bucket list of places to visit all through my childhood and so, as soon as I finished university, I spent a few years travelling. I would go home to earn money and then I’d be off again: Australia, Asia, America, Europe, travelling, working, holidaying. It was a wonderful time and I’m so glad I was lucky enough to scratch that itch before settling down and becoming a ‘grown-up.’ I don’t have a bucket list now because I can honestly say I’ve done everything I’ve ever wanted to do: travel, make and maintain great friendships, write and publish books, direct films, get married, have kids. I’m so very lucky. I do have a list for my children because I want them to have all the experiences that I was fortunate enough to have. My husband and I had planned to take them to Venice last summer, but we were forced to cancel due to the pandemic. So, Venice is on my list for them, although they would rather to go to Disneyland. I’ll let you know who wins!

Going back to your question, I don’t have a favourite place from my travelling days, but I do have favourite iconic locations, where the reality of a place or monument surpassed my most vivid dreams and expectations. In no particular order: the Taj Mahal, scuba-diving the Great Barrier Reef, Ayers Rock/Uluru, the Statue of Liberty, the Hollywood sign, watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat in Cambodia. My favourite country is France, as I feel both at home and on holiday when I’m there. Wow, long answer, sorry! You and I would definitely bond over travel with Alan and Edith in that little country pub.

You’ve been to so many of the places on my list, I wish we were having that drink and chat IRL! i have an almost identical photo of myself at the Statue of Liberty! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I was once mistaken for a member of The Spice Girls on a train going to Cannes. I was in my twenties and living in France at the time. Four other English girls and I went on a day trip to the Cannes Film Festival and were mobbed by a group of teenage French boys on the train. We indulged them by posing for photos and signing autographs, each picking the Spice Girl we thought we most resembled. I picked Sporty!

That’s hilarious! 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’?

Love Story by Erich Segal. As a child, I spent my summers at my grandparents’ place in France. They were big readers and their house was full of bookshelves overflowing with Flaubert, Balzac and Stendhal. As a child, I loved reading, but, despite my mum’s best efforts, not in French. One summer, I’d finished all the books I’d brought with me and in desperation, started scouring their bookshelves for an English book. I found Mr Segal’s slim tome and devoured it in one sitting. I then spent the afternoon locked in my bedroom in tears, unable to cope with the beauty and sadness of what I’d just read. So, as the first and last book which has ever made me cry, I recommend Love Story as my one ‘must-read’.

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He is Oliver Barrett IV, a rich jock from a stuffy WASP family on his way to a Harvard degree and a career in law.

She is Jenny Cavilleri, a wisecracking working-class beauty studying music at Radcliffe.

Opposites in nearly every way. But they fell in love.

This is their story.

I have never come across this book, I’ll add it to the list. 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?

Ha ha! Well, my hangovers are actually legendary. My friend once plied me with shots on the dancefloor, assuring me that the cooked breakfast she was planning the next morning would see off any hangover. She was soooo very wrong and I was still being sick the following evening. My failsafe plan is…don’t get drunk (I’ve managed to stick to this since becoming a mum eleven years ago) and, as for a cure, I know of no remedy on earth capable of alleviating my monstrous hangovers!

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

Reading of course! How about a bit of writing thrown in for good measure? And a roast dinner. Oh, and a massage. There. Perfect.

That sounds absolutely perfect. Tanya, this has been a huge pleasure for me, thank you so much for coming on the blog and chatting to me.

In the summer of this year, Tanya’s first novel, That Special Someone, was revised and retitled as Desperately Seeking Normal, with a new cover by her artist husband, Darren Lewis. You can buy a copy here.

Desperately Seeking Normal Cover

Life as the single mum of a child with learning difficulties is tough… but it gets so much harder when puberty hits. To single mum Izzie’s alarm all her daughter Jaya, 18, wants from life is to get married and have babies. This creates a moral dilemma for Izzie: how can she continue to protect her daughter whilst at the same time letting her go?

In the small Midlands town where they live, there is little prospect of meaningful employment or continuing education for Jaya. So, Izzie wonders, would finding a ‘suitable husband’ via an arranged marriage for half-Indian Jaya be so crazy?

But when Jaya falls head over heels for a teaching assistant in her college’s Special Educational Needs department, a disastrous sequence of events is set in motion. Life for Jaya and Izzie is turned around in ways that nobody could ever have foreseen.

Tanya Bullock is a college lecturer, writer and award-winning filmmaker. She lives in the UK with her husband and two children. She has a passion for foreign culture and languages (inherited from her French mother) and, in her youth, travelled extensively throughout Australia, America, Asia and Europe. As a filmmaker, she gained local recognition, including funding and regional television broadcast, through ITV’s First Cut scheme, two nominations for a Royal Television Society Midlands Award, and, in 2010, a Royal Television Society Award in the category of best promotional film. On maternity leave in 2011 and in need of a creative outlet, Tanya began to write That Special Someone, the story of a young woman with learning difficulties and her quest to find love. It was a finalist for The People’s Book Prize and The Beryl Bainbridge First Time Author Award 2016. In 2020, it was republished and retitled Desperately Seeking Normal. Her second novel, Homecoming, a love story with an unexpected twist, was published in 2016. The Lonely Hearts Crime Club is Tanya’s third novel. A cozy mystery with a shocking finale, it was published in the spring of 2019 and longlisted for the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize in the same year. All Tanya’s novels are published by Blackbird Digital Books.

You can find out more about Tanya and her work via Facebook and Twitter.

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Guest Post: Pandemonium by Gail Aldwin; Illustrated by Fiona Zechmeister

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Peta doesn’t look like other pandas in the toy department because of her purple coat. This provides camouflage and enables her to get up to mischief. When an assistant spots Peta this puts an end to her tricks. Peta must learn more about herself … but does this stop Peta’s fun? Of course not!

I don’t usually feature children’s books on the blog, but Gail showed me this cute book about a panda and I was sold! Today Gail has kindly written a guest post for me to share with you on writing this lovely children’s book.

It’s Pandemonium: the high points of writing a children’s picture book

When I set out in 2009 to become a novelist, I never imagined I would also have a children’s picture book published. Writing for children was the last thing on my mind! But as my journey to become a published author progressed, I found that writing in different genres such as poetry and short fiction was good creative writing exercise and helped build stamina for longer projects including the completion of my coming-of-age debut novel The String Games. I first thought about writing Pandemonium in 2015 when I was working as a lecturer delivering input on children’s books to students at the University of South Wales. Over the years the idea for a cheeky panda causing havoc in a department store developed. The proposal for a full colour children’s picture book aimed at 2–7 year olds was accepted by Victorina Press and Fiona Zechmeister appointed as the illustrator. It was then the intensive work began and a publication date of 1 December 2020 agreed.

Working in collaboration

I’ve always enjoyed collaborative writing and have co-written comedy sketches for performance with 3-She over several years. Working with an illustrator is a different sort of partnership so I was pleased to have experience of Fiona’s work. She created the cover image for The String Games using some of my ideas. Through this process we built rapport and trust that enabled us to take on a new venture. Fiona had previously illustrated two children’s picture books for Victorina Press so she came to the project with ideas and knowledge.

Creating an open dialogue

Fiona and I worked hard to develop an open dialogue throughout the drafting and redrafting process. In a children’s picture book, the words tell one story while the illustrations tell a parallel but more nuanced version. In order to get the balance right, sometimes the words needed to be changed and at other times the illustrations required tweaking. We developed a good partnership where honest feedback could be shared and acted upon.

Celebrating the end product

It’s been really gratifying to the read early reviews for Pandemonium from parents, carers and their children. The illustrations are rightly admired and the comedy in the book noted. The story also works hard to convey an important message, that it’s okay to be yourself.

Thank you, Julie, for giving me the opportunity to share the practice Fiona and I have developed in collaborating Pandemonium.

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Thank you for sharing that experience with is, Gail. If you have been sold on Pandemonium, you can buy a copy via the Victorina Press shop.

Victorina Press Seasonal Promotion 

Order Pandemonium or any other Victorina Press titles including The String Games directly from the publisher, and you’ll receive 30% discount by entering the coupon code XMAS2020 (one use per customer). Please support this small independent press in their mission to discover unheard voices and promote diversity. 

Praise for Pandemonium

Pandemonium is absolutely delightful! Peta the panda is stuffed full of fun and young ones will adore her.

Wendy White, Tir na n-Og Award Winner

The beautiful illustrations are full of movement and excitement, and the joyous story will appeal to young children and their parents.

Liz Poulain, children’s author and illustrator

About the Author

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Novelist, poet and scriptwriter, Gail Aldwin’s coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and shortlisted in the Dorchester Literary Festival Writing Prize 2020. Gail lives with her family in a house that overlooks water meadows in Dorset.

Connect with Gail:

Website: https://gailaldwin.com/

Facebook: Gail Aldwin

Twitter: @gailaldwin

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About the Illustrator

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Fiona holds a degree in Visual Communication and a Masters in Publishing from the University of Derby. She works as an illustrator creating book covers and children’s books. Pandemonium is the third children’s picture book Fiona has illustrated. The others are I am Adila from Gaza and Songo.

Connect with Fiona:

Website: https://www.fionazeich.net/

Twitter: @fionazeichnet

Instagram: @fionazeichnet

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Kendra Smith

Romancing The Romance Authors

Today I am delighted to be quizzing author Kendra Smith on what being a romance author means for her.

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

I write commercial women’s fiction. I try to write the kind of books that I like to read. A bit funny, a bit sad, books with a dollop of hope and ones that I’d like to think reflect life – and always with one or two characters looking for love – maybe that’s to love themselves, or someone else, or exploring the love in and of their family. That’s an important theme for me. I’m published by Aria Fiction, and I have written four books (fourth due out next year, just gone to editor, so fingers crossed!)

Why romance?

I think some of the best stories are romantic. It doesn’t always have to be happy ever after, but aren’t we all looking for a bit of romance? It’s the glue that binds us all together as humans; who’s not looking for love in their life?

What inspires your stories?

Real life! And also there may be snippets I overhear, a soundbite from the radio, or something that piques my interest from a feature I’ve read in the Sunday papers (that’s when I get the chance to read them…) and I think, ‘I wonder,’ or ‘what if..?’ and then I start toying with ideas, car journeys or walks become thinking time, figuring out what my characters would do in various situations. And, of course, when I read other writers, that inspires me too.

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

I used to read Jilly Cooper’s novels as a girl, ones like Imogen or Harriet at home, then while at school it was Jane Austen’s Emma and Pride and Prejudice. On the other side of the spectrum, along came Helen Fielding who made 20-somethings laugh out loud as she charted Bridget Jones’s romantic escapades… and of course I love Marian Keyes who writes about life and love; and Jojo Moyes and Jill Mansell, Sarah Morgan, Sue Moorcroft, Lucy Diamond and I loved Beth O’Leary’s The Flatshare, oh and so many more!

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

One romance novel: That’s too hard, sorry! (see above!)

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

Now, the problem is that I have created romantic heroes in my books that I’d like to spend time with – and I feel I know them so well! Daniel, in A Year of Second Chances would be someone I’d like to get to know. He’s the Indiana Jones who comes home… I’d go white water rafting with him!

COVER; A YEAR OF SECOND CHANCES:KENDRA

Three Women. Three very different lives. One life-changing adventure.

Charlie is a single mum unlucky in life. Her multiple jobs make barely enough to feed the family cat, never mind being able to give her son the life he deserves. So when an opportunity to make a lot of cash comes along, she simply has to take it.

Suzie has always wanted to be a mother. But fate has been cruel and now time is running out. Soon her final frozen egg will be destroyed and her last chance of having a baby will go with it. With her husband resolved to their childless life Suzie takes matters into her own hands.

Dawn is about to turn fifty and seems to have misplaced her mojo along with the car keys. But with an interfering mother-in-law and a gaggle of judgemental mums at her children’s school, it’s proving harder to find than a decent fitting bra. Especially after a series of highly embarrassing incidents…

Over the course of a year three lives are about to collide and as they do be prepared to laugh, cry and fall in love with these women as they discover how life can give you a second chance.

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

I love being part of the community there – whether it’s the New Writers’ Scheme I was part of for a time, the parties , the Conferences, and of course the online support. It’s like a big, extended family! I have met lots of friends through the RNA, and received so much support from the whole organisation and of course it has led to useful talks and meetings with industry professionals to help my career. They also provide that boost when you least expect it. This year I was shortlisted for the Elizabeth Goudge Award for my fourth book. That was a real treat.

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

One piece of advice? Enjoy your writing!

Tell us about your latest book.

Take A Look At Me Now is an uplifting, romantic adventure and you can buy a copy here.

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Out with the old…

Maddie Brown has spent most of her life putting everyone else’s needs above her own. But with her marriage crumbling and her nest scarily empty, she realises it may be time to spread her own wings and fly.

In with the… ex?

At a university reunion, Maddie meets Greg. He was the love of her life – and the one that got away. Some things never change, and neither of them can deny the feelings that linger between them. But there are so many reasons they can’t be together… not least the massive secret she has been keeping from him all these years. 

Maddie is SO ready for a brand new start. But what do you do when the past just won’t stay in the past?

About the Author

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When she is not writing, Kendra spends her time looking for odd socks and other random duties associated with being the mother of three boys. She has lived and worked in Sydney and London and has been a writer and journalist for over 20 years. She currently lives in Surrey and moves from keyboard to cooker with ease. She can rustle up a 90,000 word novel, but finds it hard not to burn boiled eggs. 

Connect with Kendra:

Facebook: Kendra Smith Author

Twitter: @KendraAuthor

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Guest Post: One By One by Ruth Ware

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It’s Publication Week for the new novel by Ruth Ware! One By One is out this Thursday and, as a huge fan of Ruth’s books, I am thrilled to be part of the team celebrating publication of her new book. There is lots going on across social media this week, including my review coming on publication day, and coverage of Ruth’s launch party. But, for today, I am delighted to have some exclusive content to share with you.

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Snow is falling in the exclusive alpine ski resort of Saint Antoine, as the shareholders and directors of Snoop, the hottest new music app, gather for a make or break corporate retreat to decide the future of the company. At stake is a billion-dollar dot com buyout that could make them all millionaires, or leave some of them out in the cold.

The clock is ticking on the offer, and with the group irrevocably split, tensions are running high. When an avalanche cuts the chalet off from help, and one board member goes missing in the snow, the group is forced to ask – would someone resort to murder, to get what they want?

Doesn’t that sound amazing? Don’t you want to read it immediately? I can’t wait to share my review with you on Thursday. However, for today, I am just going to whet your appetite with an exclusive profile of one of the characters from the book, prepared by Ruth.

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So, now I know you want to read this book even more, don’t you? Well, there are only three days left to go before you can get your hands on your own copy of One By One by Ruth Ware. Pre-order your copy here now.

Please do keep watching the blog and social media for more news about Ruth’s latest book this week.

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Guest Post: A Wing and a Prayer by M W Arnold

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When Betty Palmer’s sister dies under suspicious circumstances whilst landing her Tiger Moth, Betty and three other women pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary in WWII England unite to discover who killed her and why.

Estranged from her family, Penny Blake wants simply to belong. American Doris Winter, running from a personal tragedy, yearns for a new start. Naturally shy Mary Whitworth-Baines struggles to fit in. Together though, they are a force to be reckoned with as they face the mystery that confronts them.

Against the backdrop of war, when ties of friendship are exceptionally strong, they strive to unravel the puzzle’s complex threads, risking their lives as they seek justice for Betty’s sister.

Today I am delighted to be showcasing the new novel by one of the small percentage of male authors in the Romantic Novelists’ Association. A Wing and a Prayer by M. W. Arnold will be published by Wild Rose Press on 9 November and the author, known as Mick to his friends, has kindly written me a post about what it is like to be a man in the RNA, and also given me an extract from the book to share with you.

It’s a (wo)man’s world by M. W. Arnold

I am a very lucky chap, in that I have a very understanding and trusting lady wife. Why? Well, I am very fortunate to be a member of the Romantic Novelist’s Association. Still no clearer? I’ll elaborate.

Back in 2013, I’d made the decision to turn my writing hobby into something a little more serious. A little research turned up the website of the RNA and subsequently, their New Writer’s Scheme. At slightly past midnight on the correct date, I sent off my email, applying to join and got lucky. Someone had to drop out and I was emailed asking if I’d like to join. Dashed silly question.

What I didn’t realise (and this is very silly in hindsight) was that this was very much a group dominated by women. Can you see what I meant yet? Now the purpose of the New Writer’s Scheme is to help, well, new writers. Once a year you may send in a completed (or partial) draft of what you’re writing. This will then be critueqed by a published writer. If you’re reading this as a ‘would be’ writer, then you know exactly how much of a boon this is. It certainly helped me get published.

One of the highlights of the year is the annual conference and this is where I found our exactly how much the women outnumbered the men. I think it’s about 98% women and 2% men, at last count. So, you can see what I mean about having a trusting lady wife, those are better odds than any dating agency you’ll get! To say I was nervous on my first conference was to state the obvious.

I needn’t have been though. They really are the biggest bunch of friendly, helpful loving folk. I went through a rather difficult time a while back and in the last conference held prior to all this 2020 mess, I discovered just how many friends I had. I don’t think it would be an understatement to say that I may not have made it through that conference without them.

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Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, Mick, I’m glad the RNA is welcoming – maybe we can persuade more men to join and even up the numbers a little!

Now for an extract from Mick’s new book, A Wing and a Prayer:

“Mind the duck!”

Mary’s warning was a smidgeon too late. Betty turned her head toward the shout just when she needed to do the exact opposite and keep her eyes on the path.

“Aargh!” cried Betty as she was sent sprawling to the ground.

A loud, angry, “Quack! Quack!” was followed by a flurry of wings and feathers as the slightly stunned duck half flew and half staggered to the sanctuary provided by the river.

“I did tell her to watch out for the duck,” Mary muttered in her own defense as they rushed to help Betty to her feet.

Penny and Doris took an arm each as Mary reached to retrieve Betty’s handbag. It had landed precariously close to the edge of the river, and the dastardly duck was snuffling at it before Mary seized it and handed it back to Betty.

“Mary!” cried Betty. “Grab that envelope!”

Swiveling, Mary saw a large brown envelope and stooped for it before it could fall into the water. “Got it!” she yelled, waving it in the air. Unfortunately, the envelope being upside down, the contents spilled onto the ground around her, luckily missing going into the river. She bent down to pick them up and was surprised to discover they were all newspaper cuttings.

If you appetite has been whetted for Mick’s latest book, A Wing and a Prayer is out this coming Monday and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Mick is a hopeless romantic who was born in England and spent fifteen years roaming around the world in the pay of HM Queen Elisabeth II in the Royal Air Force before putting down roots and realizing how much he missed the travel. This he’s replaced somewhat with his writing, including reviewing books and supporting fellow saga and romance authors in promoting their novels. 

He’s the proud keeper of two Romanian Were-Cats, is mad on the music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, and enjoys the theatre and loving his Manchester-United-supporting wife. 

Finally, Mick is a full member of the Romantic Novelists Association. A Wing and a Prayer will be his second published novel, and he is very proud to be welcomed into The Rose Garden.

Connect with Mick:

Facebook: M W Arnold Author

Twitter: @mick859

Instagram: @mick859

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