Book Review: Two Women in Rome by Elizabeth Buchan #BookReview

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In the Eternal City, no secret stays hidden forever…

Lottie Archer arrives in Rome excited to begin her new job as an archivist. When she discovers a valuable fifteenth-century painting, she is drawn to find out more about the woman who left it behind, Nina Lawrence.

Nina seems to have led a rewarding and useful life, restoring Italian gardens to their full glory following the destruction of World War Two. So why did no one attend her funeral in 1978?

In exploring Nina’s past, Lottie unravels a tragic love story beset by the political turmoil of post-war Italy. And as she edges closer to understanding Nina, she begins to confront the losses in her own life.

I am delighted to be posting my review of Two Women in Rome by Elizabeth Buchan today. I received an advance digital copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley for the purpose of review, and I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

I am all about novels set in Italy at the moment. For some reason, it is a place I am craving a visit to in these times where it is practically impossible to go anywhere at all. So since I can’t hop on a plane there at the moment, I am taking my tours via books, and Two Women in Rome is my latest foray.

A lot of my armchair travelling is done via romcoms, but this is a much more serious book, with a dual timeline that centres on Lottie in the present day and Nina, back in the 1970s when Italy was going through a period of immense political upheaval. Lottie, an archivist, discovers a lost painting, and a cache of papers that tell part of Nina’s story. Lottie becomes almost obsessed with uncovering what happened to Nina, largely because she can relate to her in some way, her struggle to fit in to Roman society as an English woman, and for authenticity when there are parts of your life which cannot be revealed for a variety of reasons.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although it was a rather slow burn. The switching between Lottie’s current life in Rome and Nina’s time there in 1970s was easy to follow, and the women have two distinct voices in the book which each spoke to me with equal strength. I found the historical exploration of Italy in these tumultuous years absolutely fascinating. It is not a period of Italian history I am familiar with at all, and it made me want to go and read more about it, always a sign that a book has caught my imagination. I found the things that Nina is forced to do to carry out her work quite shocking, again not something I have ever thought much about before but intrigued me a great deal. I am sure that the author has researched the topic thoroughly and that what she describes is authentic, which makes it even more unbelievable.

Lottie latches on to Nina’s story as a way to explore her insecurities as an alien in a foreign land, especially when she is married to a man who has lived there so long that he is part of the place, and has a long history with the people and the city, part of which makes Lottie feels threatened. She also has parts of her past missing, which she hasn’t really processed, and investigating Nina’s story is a way of working through all this, and finding something in Rome that is hers, anchoring her to the place and marking herself out as an individual, instead of an appendage to her husband. I could really understand where she was coming from, her story really resonated with me and I was invested throughout in her quest.

This is a thoughtful, considered and rich novel that explores a time and place that will be alien to most of us. It takes the reader beyond the superficial tourist experience of Rome and in to the darker, seedier underbelly of the city and part of its history. It gave me a view of the place from a new perspective, as well as pulling me in to an involved mystery that was fascinating. Speckle all that with complex romantic issues, and you have me thoroughly hooked.

An engaging and rewarding read that provides something for anyone looking for a book with a little more depth to take to their sun lounger this summer.

Two Women in Rome is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Authors

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Elizabeth Buchan was a fiction editor at Random House before leaving to write full time. Her novels include the prizewinning Consider the Lily, international bestseller Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman and The New Mrs Clifton. She reviews for the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail, and has chaired the Betty Trask and Desmond Elliot literary prizes. She was a judge for the Whitbread First Novel Award and for the 2014 Costa Novel Award.
Connect with Elizabeth:
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Book Review: The Queen’s Spy by Clare Marchant #BookReview

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1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.

There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…

2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.

Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?

I was provided with a copy of The Queen’s Spy by the publisher via NetGalley for the purposes of review, so my thanks to them. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I was a huge fan of Clare Marchant’s debut novel, The Secrets of Saffron Hall, so I was very keen to read her ‘difficult second novel’ which features a character from the first novel, but has moved forward slightly in time historically to the court of Queen Elizabeth I.

Well, Clare has made the ‘difficult second novel’ look as easy and breezy as the first with this book. Again we are dealing with a dual timeline, in modern day Norfolk, and sixteenth century London, following the lives of two nomadic souls. In the present day, rootless Mathilde has travelled to England to find out more about an unexpected inheritance and family she had no idea existed. However, she has no intention of staying in the ancient house with its hidden secrets any longer than she must. But the ghosts that haunt the place aren’t keen on letting her go until she has uncovered their stories.

Back in the 1500s, Tom also also travelled from France to make a new life. Both deaf and mute, he also finds it difficult to fit in and put down roots, until he finds how useful he can be to England’s powerful Queen in her war against the cousin who would usurp her throne. Tom and Mathilde’s stories run parallel in their quests for a home and a family they never knew they wanted or believed they could ever have.

What I really loved about this book, and what makes it stand out for me in the canon of dual timeline romances, is the featuring of a male protagonist as the vessel for the story in the past timeline. Clare slips as easily into the skin of sixteenth century male servant just as easily as she did the shoes of her female protagonist in the historical part of her previous novel. She has managed to capture life from his perspective – poor, foreign, physically disadvantaged – absolutely perfectly so that he feels fully authentic and really brings the period to life. The peril in which those without power lived day to day, subject to the whims of their capricious overlords and living in a court full of danger and intrigue. You can feel the fear emanating from the pages.

Equally, in the modern day, I loved the prickly character of Mathilde, thrust into an equally strange environment. Fiercely independent but secretly lonely and vulnerable, she has put up a barrier to everyone else that is going to be hard for anyone to break down. However, over the course of the novel we understand, along with the other characters, why she is as she is and how to get at the real person underneath. Despite her awkward character, you can’t help but sympathise with her, and long for her to see what she could have if she lets people in.

The author has woven the two timelines together perfectly again, the transition between past and present not at all jarring to the reader. Bothe timelines are alive with imagery – sights, sounds, scents bringing each setting fully to life. Exploring the flat, open landscape of Norfolk, and the dank, crowded streets of Elizabethan London with equal aplomb, this is a truly transportive novel. Particularly emotionally, I found, as both the plights of Mathilde and Tom moved me, especially the ending.

This is a great read for anyone fond of this historical period, fans of dual timelines, or those who just love a well-written, immersive novel exploring love and relationships and what humans really need to live fulfilling lives.

The Queen’s Spy is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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

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

Connect with Clare:

Facebook: Clare Marchant Author

Twitter: @ClareMarchant1

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Catherine Kullmann

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

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

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

Why romance?

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

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

What inspires your stories?

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

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

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

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

Frederica by Georgette Heyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See if you can get a place in the NWS.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

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

Connect with Catherine:

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

Facebook: Catherine Kullmann Author

Twitter: @CKullmannAuthor

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Friday Night Drinks with… Sverrir Sigurdsson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PerlanA trip to Iceland is high on my bucket list. If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have you planned that you are really excited about? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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House on the Chesapeake Bay designed and built by Sverrir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sverrir is second from right

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

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

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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 favorable wind, Sverrir answered the call of his Viking forefathers, setting off on a voyage that took him around the world. Join him on his roaring adventures!

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

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

You can connect with Sverrir via Facebook and Twitter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shirley Mann with ATA pilot, Mary Ellis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

Connect with Shirley:

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

Facebook: Shirley Mann Author

Twitter: @shirleymann07

Instagram: @shirleymann2600

 

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

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Friday Night Drinks with… Rebecca Stonehill

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I am delighted to welcome my latest guest to the blog for Friday Night Drinks and I’m really looking forward to relaxing and chatting about writing and books over drinks with author… Rebecca Stonehill.

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Rebecca. welcome to A Little Book Problem and thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

I’m drinking an IPA craft beer with a small bowl of Bombay mix to accompany it. This mix has such a Friday-night feeling for me, welcoming in the weekend!

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

I’m a huge fan of live events, whether it’s live music, theatre or slam poetry as nothing beats actually being in a room with performers. So I’d see what’s on in my local area, find a great event, grab a drink from the bar and settle in for the evening.

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?

Cerys Matthews, former singer of Catatonia and host of brilliant Sunday morning Radio 6 show. I’ve been listening to this show for so many years that Cerys feels like a friend. She has a brilliant sense of humour and a fabulously eclectic, wide-ranging taste in music, guests, poetry and recipes.

The Dalai Lama. I can quite safely say he wouldn’t be drinking! But that’s not a problem. Again, he has such a great sense of humour, it’s so playful and cheeky. Despite all the hardships he has endured during the course of his lifetime, I find his attitude, complete lack of judgement and joyfulness so inspiring.

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 finished writing my fourth historical fiction novel, The River Days of Rosie Crow, and it’s currently out on submission whilst I seek agent representation. Although I’ve had three novels published before, I didn’t need an agent for my original publisher. We amicably parted company after my second book as, although they helped me to get started as an author, I think it’s really important that the vision for books, design, distribution etc aligns. So I’m back to the beginning in some ways! But I really believe in this fourth book I’ve written and I’m very determined, so I know I’ll get there.

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

The publication of my first novel, The Poet’s Wife, has been my proudest moment. Between starting to write and the book’s publication was a whopping ten years! It took so long because I had three children during that time and there was a lot of stopping and starting. It also went through several drafts and, like every writer, I had to get to grips with the realities of rejection.

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My biggest challenge was the steep learning curve of self-publishing my third novel, The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale. It really was a full-time job, finding the right editors, formatters, designers, working out all the software and trying to get my head around marketing. I got there in the end, but it really was not a straight-forward journey. People sometimes say, oh it’s so easy to self-publish, you just upload it to KDP on Amazon. Fine, if you are prepared to go for minimum effort and take one of Amazon’s ready-made covers. But to make your book really professional, it needs way more input than that.

I think it is a brave thing to do, self-publish, and deserves more credit than it gets, especially when the authors take as much trouble with it as you clearly have. 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!

To have my books in a bookshop. I’m a simple soul really! I cannot think of anything I would find more gratifying to walk into my local bookshop and see one of my books sitting there. I think I actually might faint with excitement.

What have you planned that you are really excited about?

A two-week holiday to Wales with my family in August. As we’ve all been so cooped up for so long, this really does feel beyond exciting. We are staying in two different Air B n B’s, one in rural central Wales and the other on the south coast and I just can’t wait to have different views, different walks and different experiences. I think we all need that so much.

Oh, holidays, how we have missed you! 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?

One of my favourite places is Granada in the south of Spain. I lived there for two years in my early twenties and set my first novel there, The Poet’s Wife. I love the way the old part of the city spills down the hillside and how the ancient Moorish palace is framed by mountains. It really is very picturesque. On the other end of the city scale, I adore wild and remote places and have always been attracted by the vastness of the Canadian wilderness, though I’ve never been there. One day, I’d love to take a road trip around Canada, also going to Prince Edward Island where my favourite childhood book, Anne of Green Gables, is set.

That is one of my bucket list trips too. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I’ve had a significant issue with chronic insomnia for fifteen years, without fail the greatest challenge of my life. I’m currently writing a memoir about it.

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’?

That is such a hard question! I’m going to go for a book I read this year that I absolutely adored and think everybody should read – Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. It follows the lives of twelve mostly black and British women across time and space. Slowly, we come to see how their lives interconnect and I loved the boldness and energy of this fabulous, unique book.

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This is Britain as you’ve never read it.
This is Britain as it has never been told.

From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . .

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 have to be honest and say I’m really not a big drinker these days! When I was younger I used to pride myself on the fact that no matter how much I’d had to drink, I’d never get a hangover (?), but these days it doesn’t take much for me to feel completely hideous in the morning. That’s age for you! So, the failsafe plan is to stop when it’s sensible (or try) and drink plenty of water before I go to bed and a slice of lemon in hot water for the morning.

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

I love spending as much time as possible outside, whatever time of year it is. So a walk with my family would definitely be on the agenda. There are so many wonderful places to walk in Norfolk where I live, whether it’s at the coast, through woodland, heath, broads or marshes. I will probably spend some time on our allotment as well as taking time to prepare delicious food and – of course – lots of reading.

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Rebecca, thank you so much for chatting with me this evening, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Rebecca was inspired to write her third novel, The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale, as a result of her mother’s travels in the 1960’s. As a child, she used to adore looking at her photographs of her time spent abroad, particularly the period she spent living with a community of young travellers in some caves in Matala, Crete! Whilst not at all biographical, this story in inspired by Matala’s stunning setting. You can buy a copy of the book here.

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1967. Handsome but troubled, Jim is almost 18 and he lives and breathes girls, trad jazz, Eel Pie Island and his best friend, Charles. One night, he hears rumours of a community of young people living in caves in Matala, Crete. Determined to escape his odious, bully of a father and repressed mother, Jim hitchhikes through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father.

Rebecca Stonehill is the author of The Poet’s Wife, The Girl and the Sunbird and The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale.

She is from London but currently lives in Nairobi in an old wooden cottage with her husband and three children. She dreamed of being an author from a very young age when she used to spy on people Harriet-the-Spy-style from under beds and up trees, scribbling down notes about them for use in future stories.

She loves reading, travelling, yoga, photography and spending time with her family and has so many stories jumbling around in her head that sometimes she feels overwhelmed by not being able to get them all out in time!

You can find out more about Rebecca and her writing via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Introducing The Romantic Novel Awards Interview Series

Awards

For fans of romantic novels and industry insiders, The Romantic Novel Awards are the highlight of the year, where the best writing in the genre is celebrated and rewarded. The entry period for the 2022 awards is now open, closing on 30 September 2021.

To celebrate the awards, and in anticipation of next year’s ceremony, I am delighted to be bringing you a series of interviews with the winners of The Romantic Novel Awards 2021, where we will be discussing their writing, their careers, their views on what makes for an award-winning romance novel, and what winning this award meant to them.

The interviews will be running weekly every Thursday, beginning Thursday, 8 July and going right through until the beginning of September. The interviewees are:

The Katie Fforde Debut Romantic Novel Award Winner – Clare Pooley for The Authenticity ProjectBantam Press

The Libertà Books Shorter Romantic Novel Award – Kate Hardy for A Will, a Wish and a Wedding, Mills & Boon True Love

The Romantic Saga Award – Shirley Mann for Bobby’s War, Zaffre, Bonnier Books UK

The Romantic Comedy Novel Award – Carole Matthews for Sunny Days and Sea Breezes, Sphere, Little, Brown

The Jackie Collins Romantic Thriller Award – Louise Douglas forThe House by the Sea, Boldwood Books

The Fantasy Romantic Novel Award – Christina Courtenay for Echoes of the Runes, Headline Review

The Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award – Milly Johnson for My One True North, Simon & Schuster

The Goldsboro Books Historical Romantic Novel Award – Catherine Tinley for Rags-to-Riches Wife, Mills & Boon Historical

The Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award – Julie Houston for Sing Me a Secret, Aria, Head of Zeus

I’m really excited to share these interviews with you, I know you will enjoy reading them as much I have enjoyed doing them, so I hope you will join me and my guests over the coming weeks in this celebration of romantic fiction.

For more information about the awards, please visit the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards page.

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Book Review: Hepburn’s Necklace by Jan Moran #BookReview

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A vintage necklace. A long-hidden secret. A second chance for love.

When costume designer Ariana Ricci leaves her groom at the altar, she seeks solace at the Palm Springs home of her great-aunt, a Texas-born Hollywood legend who began her career as an extra on the film Roman Holiday. While opening yellowed, 1950s letters postmarked Italy, Ariana discovers relics from her great-aunt’s hidden past, including an intriguing necklace that Audrey Hepburn gave her during the filming of the movie.

Aching for a fresh start and the chance to resolve an unfinished story, the two embark on a journey to the sun-dappled shores of Lake Como, Italy that will illuminate secrets of a bygone era and offer second chances to each of them—if they are bold enough to seize them.

I was gifted an audiobook of Hepburn’s Necklace by the author for the purpose of review, for which she has my sincere thanks. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

I have to say, when I started listening to this book on audio, I found it quite slow going. My usual choice of audiobook  would be a thriller, as I find these quite pacy to listen to rather than read. Since I was actually enjoying the story, despite the pace being off for me on audio, I switched to the ebook version which I purchased for myself, and raced through it to the end in a couple of days.

This is a love story, told in a dual timeline and set in Italy, on the set of the film Roman Holiday and on the shores of Lake Como. For starters, I am an absolute sucker for a film set in Italy, so I was predisposed to love this book from the beginning. The author does an absolutely fantastic job of evoking all the sights, sounds, scents and flavours of Italy throughout this book. You will feel like you have had a holiday to the beautiful, fresh shores of Lake Como by the time you’ve finished, although you will be left with an unfulfillable wish to own your own historic villa on its wave-lapped shores, I warn you. If only Amal hadn’t already bagged George Clooney!

I thought the premise of setting a story around the shooting of such an iconic film was inspired, and I loved my glimpse into that world. Ruby, as the young ingenue on her first movie, away from home and falling in love for the first time, is the stuff that all great romances are made of and she is such a likeable and believable character. Jan’s exploration of the expectations placed on young girls in that period, and the pressures put on them from all sides, especially in Hollywood, makes for a really emotional and fascinating backdrop to the love story.

In the modern day, I enjoyed the visit to Italy, as I said. I found Ariana’s story, and her character, a little less inspiring than Ruby’s and, if I had a minor complaint, it would be that the book felt a tint bit unbalanced in that regard. Ruby was such a strong character though, it would be hard for anyone to emerge from her shadow. Also, the coincidences in the relationships between everyone by the end stretched credibility a step too far for me, you may feel differently.

Despite these minor niggles, I did thoroughly enjoy this book. The flavour of old Hollywood, the beauty of Italy, the strong and emotional storyline for Ruby and the complexities of family relationships, all come together to form an exciting and rewarding read. For me, it just worked better on the page than in the ear. Would make a great sun lounger read this summer, even if it is only in your back garden!

Hepburn’s Necklace is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Jan Moran is a USA Today bestselling author of women’s fiction. She writes stylish, uplifting, and emotionally rich contemporary and 20th-century historical women’s fiction. The Midwest Book Review and Kirkus have recommended her books, calling her heroines strong, complex, and resourceful.

Her books are also translated into German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Dutch, Polish, Turkish, Bulgarian, Lithuanian, and other languages. Jan studied writing at the UCLA Writers Program, sailed on Semester at Sea, and graduated from the University of Texas and Harvard Business School. She lives near the beach in southern California.

Connect with Jan:

Website: https://www.janmoran.com/

Facebook: Jan Moran

Twitter: @janmoran

Instagram: @janmoranbooks

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Desert Island Books with… Diana Jackson

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I am delighted to be hosting a special extra edition of Desert Island Books this week. I normally like to leave a week between guests, just so I can pop over and have a tidy around, change the palm leaves, plump up the sand dunes, air out the driftwood shack, replenish the coconut supply… the usual type of thing. However, I’m squeezing in an extra castaway this month, as she had to postpone her shipwreck earlier in the Spring. So let’s maroon author, Diana Jackson, on the island now and see what she has taken with her.

Book One – The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Sauron, the Dark Lord, has gathered to him all the Rings of Power – the means by which he intends to rule Middle-earth. All he lacks in his plans for dominion is the One Ring – the ring that rules them all – which has fallen into the hands of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins.

In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as the Ring is entrusted to his care. He must leave his home and make a perilous journey across the realms of Middle-earth to the Crack of Doom, deep inside the territories of the Dark Lord. There he must destroy the Ring forever and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.

I’ve only read this twice in my life. The first time was so memorable. My sister and I read it aloud to each other between Christmas and Easter one year, as teenagers three years apart. It was a time when we really bonded; a friendship which has lasted a lifetime.

Being a large tome; three books in one really, I don’t think I would tire of it.

Book Two – The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis

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C.S. Lewis’s dazzling allegory about heaven and hell – and the chasm fixed between them – is one of his most brilliantly imaginative tales, as he takes issue with the ideas in William Blake’s ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’.

In a dream, the narrator boards a bus on a drizzly afternoon and embarks on an incredible voyage through Heaven and Hell. He meets a host of supernatural beings far removed from his expectations, from the disgruntled, ghostly inhabitants of Hell to the angels and souls who dwell on the plains of Heaven.

This powerful, exquisitely written fantasy is one of C.S. Lewis’s most enduring works of fiction and a profound meditation on good and evil.

This is nothing to do with divorce but is an allegorical account of heaven and hell, along the lines of Pilgrim’s Progress, but easier to read. It is a meditation that challenges the way we look at life. I love books with messages in picture language, pilgrims or journeys. I know that this this would inspire me to write if I was set on a desert island, because each time I’ve read it a different ‘truth’ leaps out at me.

Book Three – Skallagrigg by William Horwood

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Skallagrigg unites Arthur, a little boy abandoned many years ago in a grim hospital in northern England, with Esther, a radiantly intelligent young girl who is suffering from cerebral palsy; and with Daniel, an American computer games genius.

Skallagrigg – whatever the name signifies, or whoever he is – will come to transform their lives. And William Horwood’s inspired, heart-rending story of rescue and redemptive love will undoubtedly touch his readers’ lives, based as it is on a real-life story.

For some reason this is my favourite book of all time. Why? It had such an impact on me, leading to understanding and embracing the truth that all people should be valued. I had always been a strong upholder of equality but, following reading Skallagrig, I looked at folks I met in a different way. It is the quest of a young girl with cerebral palsy who searches for the origins of Skallagrigg, tales which she heard in hospital as a child. Esther has an extremely supportive father who was in the IT business in the 1980’s and ensured that she had every opportunity to reach her potential and explore her dreams in spite of her disabilities. Her link with Arthur, a lad with cerebral palsy who resided in a grim hospital in the 1920’s contrasts with Esther’s life. It is not an easy book to explain in one paragraph. My copy is dog-eared but that doesn’t matter. It is precious nevertheless.

Book Four – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

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Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries.

The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.

Oh, this was a difficult one! So many of the classics, from Jane Austen to Thomas Hardy, have influenced both my love of reading but also my writing too. Set in the wilds of the windy Yorkshire moors, it is the vivid descriptions, the intensity of passion and feeling, the supernatural element that love transcends our time on this earth; all these elements bring this novel into sharp focus today, even though I have not read the book since I was a young adult. 

Book Five – The Bible

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The Bible is the most important book in the history of Western civilization, and also the most difficult to interpret. It has been the vehicle of continual conflict, with every interpretation reflecting passionately-held views that have affected not merely religion, but politics, art, and even science.

So many books in one. History, songs, prayers, stories, parables, messages, memoir, witness statements; familiar tales known throughout my life but opening The Bible still has the ability to surprise me and it would take me a long while to read it all, or I could just dip into it.

My luxury item

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A pencil. I reason that I would be resourceful and find dried leaves, bark or even rocks and stones to write on, but a pencil would be a life saver emotionally, enabling me to write letters to family, friends and others (even though I knew I couldn’t send them) and a diary. I could also disappear into another world in my own imagination and scribe novels, escaping from my own precarious situation for a while.

About the Author

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Diana Jackson now lives in Fife where she and her husband have become deeply committed to community life in Kinghorn. Before this pandemic curtailed some activities, Diana has enjoyed volunteering; working with the ‘Kinghorn in Bloom’ crowd, ever improving the beautiful areas of Kinghorn and Pettycur; a volunteer at Kirkcaldy Foodbank and also helping her husband at various Rotary events through the year. Her book The Healing Paths of Fife’ tells her story of relocating to Fife in the form of an allegory ~ a walk along the beautiful coastal path.

Diana released the second novel in her ‘Mystery Inspired by History Series’, MISSING, Past and Present just before the lock down overtook life in the UK, back in March 2020.

Until winter 2015 they lived in the heart of Bedfordshire, UK, where Diana was a teacher of English and Business Studies. Having been made redundant, (probably due to being too old at 55 years!) Diana decided to launch a writers’ collaborative publishing company and through this she is still in touch with many authors back in Bedfordshire. She took eighteen months off to settle into her new life in Scotland, but now she has taken up the mantle once more, both in writing and publishing.

Diana’s initial inspiration to write her first novel ‘Riduna’ was her great grandmother, an Alderney girl, leading to the conception of the ‘Riduna Series’. Having said this she stresses that her novels are purely fiction. She takes the reader from the mid Victorian era through to 1920 and plans a third in the series to the mid thirties.

Her other projects include compiling a memoir and writing a murder mystery, ‘Murder, Now and Then’ which was inspired by a true story ~ an unsolved murder in Bedfordshire in 1919. The first novel in Diana’s ‘Mystery Inspired by History’ series.

What links Diana Jackson’s projects? ~ Her fascination for social history, her love of research and using her imagination to create believable characters living in the periods she is studying.

You can buy a copy of Diana’s latest novel, MISSING, Past and Present here.

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Betrayed by her husband’s disappearance and almost destroyed when her foster son vanishes, Dorothy is left almost destitute. With little hope she trudges the countryside, reflecting on all she had left; her memories. Squatting in an empty farmhouse she is haunted by the ghost of an 18th Century aspirant nun, whose presence stirs her out of despair.

Will Dorothy’s resilience win through? Will she find peace and more importantly will she ever learn the truth?

MISSING Past and Present is a captivating, genealogical mystery with a ghostly presence. If you like compelling, emotionally charged British mysteries then you’ll love Diana Jackson’s ‘Mystery Inspired by History’ series.

She is also the author of Search for the Pearl Inside Yourself, a recently published book of encouragement for young adults, school and college leavers who have lost their way in life a bit. Especially pertinent following this pandemic. It was published in March 2021 and is available here.

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Do you know a young person or young adult who needs some encouragement to find their way in life?

It may be a pupil or student, your son or daughter, your nephew or niece, grandchild, neighbour or a friend.

The person you have in mind might lack self-belief, but all they need is a nudge to guide them to think more positively about themselves. 

Here is a book of encouragement with quotations and ideas to help them to let go of those things which are holding them back and

 to discover the pearl inside …

Connect further with Diana:

Website: www.dianamaryjackson.co.uk

Blog: dianamj.wordpress.com

Twitter: @Riduna

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Jean Fullerton

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I am very excited today to be discussing romance writing with RNA stalwart, doyenne of the East End saga and all-round fabulous lady, Jean Fullerton.

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

Well, firstly thank you for asking me to be a guest on your blog, Julie. I write family sagas and all seventeen of them are set in the overcrowded and impoverished streets surrounding the London Docks in the East End, where I come from.

Why romance?

I’ve devoured historical romance ever since I was a teenager so when I started writing there was no question that I would write anything other than historical romance. 

What inspires your stories?

All sorts of things but mainly the vibrant working-class area where I was born and raised and my large and boisterous East End family.  

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

Although Katherine by Anya Seton is as old as I am, it and she are still my favourite book and author. I also like her books the Winthrop Woman, Avalon and Green Darkness. I like historical romance which is accurate, so I also read Elizabeth Chadwick and Nicola Cornick but as long as it’s a good story I’m happy to read it.    

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

I’m afraid it would have to be Katherine by Anya Seton as it was the book that started me on this incredible journey. The prose is somewhat old-fashioned, but the story is cracking and so romantic. 

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Katherine comes to the court of Edward III at the age of fifteen. The naïve convent-educated orphan of a penniless knight is dazzled by the jousts and the entertainments of court.

Nevertheless, Katherine is beautiful, and she turns the head of the King’s favourite son, John of Gaunt. But he is married, and she is soon to be betrothed.

A few years later their paths cross again and this time their passion for each other cannot be denied or suppressed. Katherine becomes the prince’s mistress, and discovers an extraordinary world of power, pleasure and passion.

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

Well firstly as I am the heroine in all my books it’s only the hero we have to worry about. I’d take Patrick Nolan from my Nolan Family Victorian series, who looks remarkably like Aidan Turner.  We’d go to a castle somewhere, but I couldn’t possibly tell you what we’d do as my husband might read this blog.  

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

Oh, where do I start? Firstly, as an unpublished author it gave me access to the world of publishing, which I had no knowledge of. It helped me hone my craft via the wonderful New Writers’ Scheme. It’s given me a great deal of fun at the meetings and conferences but without a doubt the greatest thing it’s given me is wonderful writer friends.  

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

Set yourself a daily or weekly target and get the words down. Don’t worry if they aren’t quite right you can always go back and fix that. Learn your craft. Writing an 80000 + word book is not easy so stick at it.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

My latest novel A Ration Book Daughter is the fifth in my WW2 Ration Book series but can be read as a standalone novel. You can buy a copy here, along with the previous books in the series.

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In the darkest days of the Blitz, love is more important than ever.

Cathy Brogan was a happy, blushing bride when Britain went to war with Germany three years ago. But her youthful dreams were crushed by her violent husband Stanley’s involvement with the fascist black-shirts, and even when he’s conscripted to fight she knows it’s only a brief respite – divorce is not an option. Cathy, a true Brogan daughter, stays strong for her beloved little son Peter.

When a telegram arrives declaring that her husband is missing in action, Cathy can finally allow herself to hope – she only has to wait 6 months before she is legally a widow and can move on with her life. In the meantime, she has to keep Peter safe and fed. So she advertises for a lodger, and Sergeant Archie McIntosh of the Royal Engineers’ Bomb Disposal Squad turns up. He is kind, clever and thoughtful; their mutual attraction is instant. But with Stanley’s fate still unclear, and the Blitz raging on over London’s East End, will Cathy ever have the love she deserves? 

Where can readers find out more about you and your East End books.

On my website which has them all listed, and if readers subscribe to my monthly newsletter not only do they receive a free short story but also have a chance to win advance copies of my books and other prizes.

About the Author

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Born and bred in East London Jean was a District Nurse by trade, serving for five years as NHS manager with responsibility for six community clinics and 200+ staff and finished her twenty-five-year nursing career as a senior lecture in Health and Nursing Studies in a London University.

She joined the NWS 2003 and became a full member in 2006 after winning the Harry Bowling Prize. She had published seventeen sagas over three series, all set in East London and has books with both Orion and Atlantic.

An experiences public speaker with hundreds of WI and women’s club talks under her belt, Jean has been an enrichment speaker and writing workshop leader on cruise ships for the past fifteen years.

A Ration Book Daughter out now in supermarkets, bookshops, Kindle and audio.  

Connect with Jean:

Website: http://jeanfullerton.com/

Facebook: Jean Fullerton

Twitter:  @JeanFullerton_

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