Blog Tour: The Dating Game by Sandy Barker #BookReview

The Dating Game

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for The Dating Game by Sandy Barker. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to take part and to the author and publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Once upon a time, twelve women joined the hottest reality TV show looking for love. Except one had a secret identity . . .

Abby Jones is a serious writer. Or at least she will be, one day. Right now, she spends her time writing recaps of reality television under a secret identity.

When a recap for The Stag – the must-watch dating show – goes viral, her editor thinks she should be on set, writing the drama as it happens. The good news: the next season will be filmed in Sydney. Sun, sea and a glamorous trip abroad, this could be Abby’s big break.

The bad news: the producers don’t just want Abby to write the recaps, they want her to be on the show. Abby can’t think of anything worse than being undercover and followed around by cameras. But her career depends on it, and when she meets gorgeous producer Jack, Abby begins to wonder if this job might not be so bad after all . .

Even if I had never read a previous book by Sandy Barker and she hadn’t become one of my favourite romcom authors of recent years, I would have wanted to pick up a copy of The Dating Game, just based on the premise of the book alone. I’m not a devotee of reality TV shows as such, except the annual car crash that is Love Island, but the idea of a book set behind the scenes in that world was too delicious to pass on.

So, I was frothing with anticipation when I started this book, but I have to say this book exceeded even my extremely high expectations. This book is absolutely perfect in every single way and I can remember when I last enjoyed a romcom as much as this one. I devoured it in what was basically a single sitting, interrupted only when I physically could not stay awake a moment longer and I dropped my Kindle on the floor as I fell asleep, and revelled in every single moment.

Even if you have never seen a single episode of The Batchelor, (the reality show that The Stag of the book is clearly based on), you will immediately be drawn into the ridiculously fake world of so-called ‘reality tv’ which is about as far from reality as you can get and the whole scenario is scripted to play out for maximum drama and ratings. This book explores in great detail and with excoriating commentary the ludicrous notion of trying to make real people behave in a scripted way to make other people watching it believe that it is all true. When you step back and look at it, the absurdity is clear and the author plays this to the max in the book.

The main character, Abby, is very likeable and carried the story, and the reader, easily, but the person I really loved is her wicked alter ego, Anastasia Blabbergasted, an online commentator on reality TV. This woman is a total goddess with the wickedest wit and the fastest mouth in the west and her recaps on the episodes of The Stag were my favourite parts of the book and had me laughing out loud every time. In fact, Sandy could make an absolute fortune on any reality TV show doing the commentary, if Ian Bentley retires and TV companies weren’t overly worried about being sued. I’ve set myself a reminder to check out Sandy’s Twitter feed next time an reality TV show comes on. I wonder what she could come up with for the new series of Bake Off that starts on Tuesday.

There is a romance involved in the book, with the geeky but cute Jack, but for me this was a secondary plot concern compared with Abby’s dilemmas of pretending to be two things she isn’t, her struggles over her friendships in the programme with the part she is forced to play in the show, and the blurring of fiction and fact in reality TV-land. There is so much to unpack and enjoy in this book that the pages fairly flew by and it was obver well before I was ready for it to be, I was enjoying the story so much.

As I said early on, I am a massive fan of Sandy’s writing but these is by far and away my favourite of her novels yet. A big, fat five stars from me and I urge you all to go out and buy it immediately if you are looking to be amused and entertained.

The Dating Game is out now in ebook format (currently 99p!) and will be published in paperback on 9 December. You can get your copy here.

Please do check out some of the reviews of the book by the many other excellent bloggers taking part in the tour. You can find them listed below:

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About the Author

Author Photo Sandy Barker

Sandy is a writer, traveller and hopeful romantic with a lengthy bucket list, and many of her travel adventures have found homes in her novels. She’s also an avid reader, a film buff, a wine lover and a coffee snob. She lives in Melbourne Australia with her partner, Ben, who she met while travelling in Greece. Their real-life love story inspired Sandy’s debut novel One Summer in Santorini, the first in the Holiday Romance series with One More Chapter, an imprint of HarperCollins. 

Connect with Sandy:

Website: https://sandybarker.com/

Facebook: Sandy Barker Author

Twitter: @sandybarker

Instagram: @sandybarkerauthor

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Frances Mensah Williams

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

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

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

Why romance?

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

What inspires your stories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your most recent novel.

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

You can buy a copy of Imperfect Arrangements here.

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There are two sides to every story…

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

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

About the Author

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

Connect with Frances:

Website: www.francesmensahwilliams.com

Facebook: Frances Mensah Williams

Twitter: @FrancesMensahW

Instagram: @francesmensahw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When does time out become the time of your life?

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

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

Connect with Carole:

Website: www.carolematthews.com

Facebook:  Carole Matthews Books

Twitter: @carolematthews

Instagram: Matthews.Carole

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Desert Island Books with… Eden Gruger

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

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

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

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

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

Book Two – The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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

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

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

Book Three – Attention All Shipping by Charlie Connell 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Five – Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

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

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

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

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

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

My luxury item

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

About the Author

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

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

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

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

 

Connect with Eden:

Website: https://edengrugerwriter.online/

Facebook: Eden Gruger The Author

Twitter: @edengrugerwrit1

Instagram: @eden_gruger_author

Pinterest: Eden Gruger

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Blog Tour: Blooming Murder by Simon Whaley #BookReview

Blooming Murder

I am delighted to be taking my turn on the blog tour today for Blooming Murder by Simon Whaley. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the author for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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MURDER IS BLOSSOMING IN THE WELSH BORDERS.

Aldermaston’s having a bad day. A falling hanging-basket has killed the town’s mayor, and a second narrowly missed him. His wife wants him to build her new greenhouse in three days, and some nutter is sending him death threats.

This isn’t the quiet life he expected as the new Marquess of Mortiforde.

It’s the annual Borders in Blossom competition, and Mortiforde is battling with Portley Ridge in the final. But this is no parochial flower competition. The mayor’s mishap looks like murder, and there’s another body in the river. Someone desperately wants Portley Ridge to win for the fifteenth successive year.

So when a mysterious group of guerrilla gardeners suddenly carpet bomb Mortiforde with a series of stunning floral delights one night, a chain reaction of floral retaliation ensues.

Can Aldermaston survive long enough to uncover who is trying to kill him, and why? And can he get his wife’s greenhouse built in time?

This is the first book in a new cosy mystery series featuring, Aldermaston, the Marquess of Mortiforde. Mortiforde is a small market town on the Welsh borders and, at the start of the book they are taking part in the annual border towns flower competition, which they have lost the past fourteen years in a row. This year, they are desperate to break their duck, but someone in their rival town of Portley Bridge seems equally determined to stop them, even to the extent of murdering prominent citizens involved in the campaign. There is something very fishy going on, and Aldermaston is determined to get to the bottom of it.

This book is very, very funny. It is the literary equivalent of slapstick, where one ridiculous thing happens after another in the quest to win the accolade of most blooming market town. I mean, the whole premise if ludicrous, that people would be prepared to murder over a gardening competition, which makes it funny from the off. Of course, there is much more to the story than that, involving dark deeds and money, so the plot goes on convoluted twists and turns that make the story more and more ludicrous, which is all part of the fun. We do get to the bottom of who has been carrying out the murders and why at the end, but by this time we barely care, because we’ve had so much fun along the way. 

The best thing about the book are the characters. The author has created a cast of the most unusual and entertaining characters you can think of in this book. Aldermaston, newly made Marchioness of Mortiforde, is a reluctant inhabitor of the title and seems a little out of his depth through much of the book. His wife, Felicity, has been taken unexpectedly from her old life and thrust into society, where she is uncomfortable and unfulfilled. She makes a new friend in Letitia, who is my favourite character in the book and has set some old lady goals for my life for sure. Lisa and Mark are a great couple of supporting characters who I look forward to seeing more of, Lisa playing a kind of Watson to Aldermaston’s rural Sherlock. The villains are suitably ruthless, there are some other great cameos (‘Hortie’ being a particular highlight), and they all get up to some fabulous shenanigans.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it is a piece of ridiculous, riotous fun. If you are a fan of Midsomer Murders, with it pretty settings, eccentric characters and bizarre and convoluted murders, you will absolutely love this novel. I am really looking forward to the next in the series and can recommend this as a great few hours’ entertainment.

Blooming Murder is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please visit the other blogs taking part in the tour for this book for alternative opinions:

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About the Author

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Simon Whaley is an author, writer and photographer who lives in the hilly bit of Shropshire. Blooming Murder is the first in his Marquess of Mortiforde Mysteries, set in the idyllic Welsh Borders – a place many people struggle to locate on a map (including by some of those who live here). He’s written several non-fiction books, many if which contain his humorous take on the world, including the bestselling One Hundred Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human and two editions in the hugely popular Bluffer’s Guide series (The Bluffer’s Guide to Dogs and The Bluffer’s Guide to Hiking). His short stories have appeared in Take A Break, Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special, The Weekly News and The People’s Friend. Meanwhile his magazine articles have delighted readers in a variety of publications including BBC Countryfile, The People’s Friend, Coast, The Simple Things and Country Walking.

Simon lives in Shropshire (which just happens to be a Welsh Border county) and, when he gets stuck with his writing, he tramps the Shropshire hills looking for inspiration and something to photograph. Some of his photographs appear on the national and regional BBC weather broadcasts under his BBC WeatherWatcher nickname of Snapper Simon. (For those of you who don’t know, they get a lot of weather in Shropshire.)

Connect with Simon:

Website: https://www.simonwhaley.co.uk/

Facebook: Simon Whaley Author

Twitter: @simonwhaley

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Helga Jensen-Forde

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Today I am delighted to be chatting about books, writing, and romance writing in particular, with author… Helga Jensen-Forde.

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

I have just published my first romantic comedy called Twice in a Lifetime, with my second novel due out next year. I am also about to complete a Creative Writing MA at Bath Spa University. 

Why romance? 

The world can be a stressful place. I much prefer to live in a world of romance and happiness and dreams coming true, and through my stories, I try to make this happen. I like to take my reader to a place full of fun, romance and happiness. 

What inspires your stories?

My inspiration comes typically from something I have experienced or seen, and I will then elaborate on that teeny idea. I travelled the world as cabin crew, and seeing all these different places and things that happened gave me lots of inspiration. 

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

This is a hard one, as I love so many. Narrowing down a few authors is a tough task as there are just too many to mention! I adore Jill Mansell’s books, also Julie Caplin, Pernille Hughes and Natalie Normann.

(Some of my favourites in there too!) If you had to pick one romance novel for me to read, which one would you recommend?

This is a tricky question as so many are fantastic. However, I do love The Little Café in Copenhagen by Julie Caplin. All of Julie’s books are so sweet, and I love her writing style. 

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Welcome to the little cafe in Copenhagen where the smell of cinnamon fills the air, the hot chocolate is as smooth as silk and romance is just around the corner…

Publicist Kate Sinclair’s life in London is everything she thought she wanted: success, glamour and a charming boyfriend. Until that boyfriend goes behind her back and snatches a much sought-after promotion from her. Heartbroken and questioning everything, Kate needs to escape.

From candles and cosy nights in to romantic late-night walks through the beautiful cobbled streets of Copenhagen, Kate discovers how to live life ‘the Danish way’. Can the secrets of hygge and happiness lead her to her own happily-ever-after?

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

That would most definitely be Jamie in Twice in a Lifetime. He is a true gentleman who would pick you up from home and whisk you away somewhere for a nice meal. If it was a whole weekend away, we would stay in a beautiful country hotel and go on a picnic, with a bottle of champagne, some sausage rolls (of course) and perhaps some smoked salmon. The sun would hopefully be shining and we would chat on our picnic blanket while sipping (or even guzzling!) champagne. It really would be the perfect weekend.  

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

The RNA is one of the best organisations you could ever join. From joining the RNA New Writers’ Scheme and having feedback on my initial draft to the opportunities to meet agents and publishers is just fantastic. The members are also a lovely bunch, and I have made so many friends who are at different stages of their writing careers. Perhaps my one favourite things, though, is meeting like-minded people and industry specialists. 

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

Research the genre, read lots of similar books and don’t give up. Keep writing, and one day you will eventually succeed. 

Tell us about your most recent novel.

Twice in a Lifetime is a romantic comedy with a slightly older protagonist. I wanted to show that women in their 40s and 50s can have fun too. Amelia is sadly betrayed by her husband who runs off with ‘Tanja Tart’. She needs some magic back in her life. So, when she finds the phone number that was given to her twenty years ago by a handsome stranger in New York, Amelia wonders whether he might be The One That Got Away. You can buy it as an ebook here.

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Amelia might have met The One. But is she twenty years too late?

After her husband left her out of the blue, the only relationship 48-year-old Amelia Simpson has enjoyed recently is with Nutella and Pinot Grigio. While her 8-year-old twin boys, Jasper and Rupert, keep her busy, Amelia dreams of a life more than washing muddy rugby kits and weekly chats with best friends Sian and Jamie.

Amelia needs some magic back in her life – but magic seems in short supply in her small Welsh town. So when she finds the phone number that was given to her twenty years ago by a handsome stranger in New York, Amelia wonders whether he might be The One That Got Away.

But when Sian takes matters into her own hands, launching a worldwide hunt to find the handsome stranger Amelia met outside Tiffany’s two decades ago, Amelia finds herself on a flight to the Big Apple to reconnect with her ‘Perfect Patrick’.

But as the two explore the sights of NYC, has Amelia reconnected with The One? Or will she discover that the sparkle she was missing is actually closer to home?

About the Author

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Helga Jensen is an award-winning British/Danish author and journalist. Her debut novel was a winning entry in the 2017 Montegrappa First Fiction competition at Dubai’s Emirates Literary Festival. Helga is currently working on her second book and a Creative Writing MA, whilst continuing to work as a freelance journalist. Having lived in the Middle East for the past 25 years, the former airline stewardess is now in the UK to complete her MA before deciding where to move next. She lives with her wonderful family, which includes a crazy Labradoodle who never stops making her laugh. Helga loves chocolate, wine, nice people and everything dog related. When she isn’t writing she is probably eating.

Connect with Helga:

Facebook: Helga Jensen

Twitter: @HelgaJensenF

Instagram @helgajensenauthor

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Blog Tour: This Much Huxley Knows by Gail Aldwin #BookReview

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I’m seven years old and I’ve never had a best mate. Trouble is, no one gets my jokes. And Breaks-it isn’t helping. Ha! You get it, don’t you? Brexit means everyone’s falling out and breaking up.

Huxley is growing up in the suburbs of London at a time of community tensions. To make matters worse, a gang of youths is targeting isolated residents. When Leonard, an elderly newcomer chats with Huxley, his parents are suspicious. But Huxley is lonely and thinks Leonard is too. Can they become friends?

Funny and compassionate, this contemporary novel for adults explores issues of belonging, friendship and what it means to trust.

I’m delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for This Much Huxley Knows by Gail Aldwin. My thanks to Gail for asking me to take part in the tour and for providing me with a digital copy of the book for the purposes of review. As always, I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This Much Huxley Knows is a very unusual but brilliantly crafted novel of observation on life, society and relationships, as seen through the eyes of a seven-year-old boy, which lends it refreshing honesty on the subject. Huxley experiences things without filter and, whilst he can’t always interpret everything he sees or hears, his bluntness in describing his experiences gives a brutal candour to events that enlightens and delights the adult reader that this book is aimed at.

Huxley is an awkward child, slightly out of kilter with his peers and starting to understand that he is not quite in sync with everyone around him, leading to a sense of loneliness and isolation that is quite heart-breaking to read. He longs to have a best friend, and his keen understanding that his closest friend might only be friends with him because their mums are close, is painful to read of. Whilst being noisy, disruptive and sometimes disobedient, Huxley has a good heart, and recognises his own feelings of isolation reflected in others – his neighbour Mrs Vartan, classmate Samira and neighbourhood outcast, Leonard. This sense of comradeship leads Huxley to reach out in friendship in ways that the adults surrounding him don’t understand and thus, causes alarm, but we wonder in the end who is most accurate in their assessment of others, the cynical adults or the open-minded and open- hearted little boy.

The author has done a quite astounding job of placing herself firmly in the shoes of this small child. Written in the first person entirely from Huxley’s perspective, I completely believed in Huxley’s voice throughout, and it felt totally authentic. The way he hears things but can’t quite interpret them, his natural curiosity, his obsession with crafting his trademark brand of ‘joke’ in every sentence and with Thomas the Tank Engine, were all immediately recognisable as the way children behave. The adults’ lack of awareness of how much Huxley is taking in and processing to begin with, and how he gradually makes them see him and take him seriously I recognised from my own parenting experience – children are like tiny sponges made up of big ears and nosiness – and Gail just brought the real experience of childhood to the page and used it to shine a light on human behaviour in a way that is frighteningly illuminating.

Huxley is a totally lovable character that I defy anyone not to adore by the end and the story is both painful and uplifting at the same time. Full of the genuine confusion, pain, joy and wonder of growing up, and an excoriating insight into the mistakes and follies of adults, this book is really unlike anything you have read before and I absolutely loved it. It has left me with a really warm glow and a feeling of satisfaction and I can’t recommend it highly enough for something quite out of the norm but hugely rewarding.

This Much Huxley Knows will be published in ebook and paperback formats on 8 July and you can preorder a copy here.

Please make sure you check out the upcoming stops on the tour for alternative reviews:

THIS MUCH HUXLEY KNOW blog tour

About the Author

1. Gail Aldwin H&S

Novelist, poet and scriptwriter, Gail Aldwin’s debut coming-of-age novel The String Games was a finalist in The People’s Book Prize and the DLF Writing Prize 2020. Following a stint as a university lecturer, Gail’s children’s picture book Pandemonium was published. Gail loves to appear at national and international literary and fringe festivals. Prior to Covid-19, she volunteered at Bidibidi in Uganda, the second largest refugee settlement in the world. When she’s not gallivanting around, Gail writes at her home overlooking water meadows in Dorset.

Connect with Gail:

Website: https://gailaldwin.com/

Facebook: Gail Aldwin

Twitter: @gailaldwin

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Book Review: The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin #BookReview

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An extraordinary friendship. A lifetime of stories. Their last one begins here.

Life is short. No-one knows that better than seventeen-year-old Lenni living on the terminal ward. But as she is about to learn, it’s not only what you make of life that matters, but who you share it with.

Dodging doctor’s orders, she joins an art class where she bumps into fellow patient Margot, a rebel-hearted eight-three-year-old from the next ward. Their bond is instant as they realize that together they have lived an astonishing one hundred years.

To celebrate their shared century, they decide to paint their life stories: of growing old and staying young, of giving joy, of receiving kindness, of losing love, of finding the person who is everything.

As their extraordinary friendship deepens, it becomes vividly clear that life is not done with Lenni and Margot yet.

Every so often a book comes along that affects you so powerfully that you can’t stop thinking about it, and it lives on in your mind and your heart long after you have turned the last page. The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is one such book. It’s a really surprising thing to say about a book that deals with terminal illness in a young person, but this book is warm, uplifting, powerful and even joyous in places and it is definitely going to be one of my books of the year.

Lenni is an absolutely extraordinary character. Seventeen-years-old and living in hospital, in the end stages of a terminal disease, you would think she would be a person for whom your main emotion would be pity. However, Lenni is not someone who allows that. She doesn’t feel any for herself, and she is so fierce, forthright, determined, sparky, generous and full of life, that you simply can’t feel it either. I absolutely adored her right from the beginning of the book, until the end; fell so deeply in love with her that the book broke me apart as her story unfolded. But pity, no, that was not one of the things I was left feeling. She is probably now one of my favourite ever characters from a novel.

Add then to this scenario, Margot, a fellow hospital resident. Margot is 83 and has lived a full, rich, long and surprising life. Her friendship with Lenni may seem odd at first but, as the story develops, you realise these two have a lot in common and have come into each others’ lives at a time when it is just what the other person needs most. The relationship between them is so honest and genuine and absolutely beautiful that even thinking back on it now it makes my heart swell with love and joy. For these two people to have found each other at this moment… I completely believed it and revelled in the pure truthfulness of it.

As well as Lenni and Margot, there are a host of other wonderful characters in the book that aid the two of them, who are also full of life and personality and fantastic to read. Lenni’s relationship in particular with the hospital chaplain who is close to retirement is a highlight of the book and gorgeously developed. This author has a sharp eye for personality and a real skill in getting it on to the page and I have real admiration for her writing.

As well as Lenni and Margot’s relationship in the present, the book also revisits events from the pasts of both characters, so we really get to know them and understand why they have ended up where they are, needing to make friends in each other. Obviously Margot’s past is longer and more detailed that Lenni’s, and it is really wonderful thing to follow, exploring a genuinely believable life, and full of human emotion – all the pain, joy, grief, loss, excitement and confusion that pepper every life. I thought the concept of the paintings was a unique and clever way to explore these aspects of the book, the whole thing hung together perfectly.

If I had a small niggle about the book, it would be in the behaviour of Lenni’s parents. As a mother, I can honestly say that, of either if my children were in the same position, there is not a cat in hell’s chance that I would do as they do, and I don’t know anyone who would. I understand the motivations that the author gave them for behaving the way they do, but I just could not buy into it. Maybe there are people who would behave this way, but I think it is outside the norm and took a greater suspension of disbelief to accept than I am capable of. However, this did not detract in the slightest from my enjoyment of the book and no one should let it put them off because it is fairly insignificant to the course of the story.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is an absolute gem of a book that I think everyone should read. It delighted my soul, I’m sure it will do the same for you. Uplifting, moving and full of hope, I absolutely adored it.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats and you can buy a copy here.

About the Author

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Lenni and Margot took me seven years to write and I’m very excited that their story is now reaching readers here on Amazon.

Before I started working on writing fiction full-time, I spent my days in academia, writing things that nobody wanted to read (not even my mum!). I have a PhD in Applied Linguistics but I don’t use the title ‘Dr’ on official documents because I’m scared of being asked to help in a medical emergency and having only a thesis on linguistics to help.

I like to write at night and I like to be alone when I do. When I’m not writing, I can be found trying to be funny in various improv groups or watching my recently-adopted cat sleeping under my desk.

Connect with Marianne:

Twitter: @itsmcronin

Instagram: itsmariannecronin

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Blog Tour: The Dig Street Festival by Chris Walsh #BookReview

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It’s 2006 in the fictional East London borough of Leytonstow. The UK’s pub smoking ban is about to happen, and thirty-eight-and-a-half year old John Torrington, a mopper and trolley collector at his local DIY store, is secretly in love with the stylish, beautiful, and middle-class barmaid Lois. John and his hapless, strange, and down-on-their-luck friends, Gabby Longfeather and Glyn Hopkins, live in Clements Markham House – a semi-derelict Edwardian villa divided into unsanitary bedsits, and (mis)managed by the shrewd, Dickensian business man, Mr Kapoor.

When Mr Kapoor, in a bizarre and criminal fluke, makes him fabulously credit-worthy, John surprises his friends and colleagues alike by announcing he will organise an amazing ‘urban love revolution’, aka the Dig Street Festival. But when he discovers dark secrets at the DIY store, and Mr Kapoor’s ruthless gentrification scheme for Clements Markham House, John’s plans take several unexpected and worrisome turns…

Funny, original, philosophical, and unexpectedly moving, The Dig Street Festival takes a long, hard, satirical look at modern British life, and asks of us all, how can we be better people?

It is my turn on the blog tour today for The Dig Street Festival, the debut novel by Chris Walsh. My thanks to Emma Welton of damp pebbles blog tours for giving me a place on the tour and to the publisher for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

Let’s get this out in the open right from the off. This book is bonkers. Totally off the wall, a crazy ride, bizarre characters and a series of increasingly unlikely and out of control events might make you think this book is not the one for you. Do not be fooled. In the midst of all the mayhem and madness, at the very heart of this book, is a core of charm and delight that runs through it like words through a stick of Blackpool Rock and it makes this book one of the warmest, funniest and sweetest reads I have picked up this year so far.

At the centre of the book is John Torrington, a man who has found himself on the fringes of life, largely ignored by almost everyone and scratching away an existence on the margins of society. By day he collects trolleys and mops floors at his local DIY superstore, at night he lives in a rundown building full of sad bedsits, inhabited by other lonely, forgotten men, mooning after the bright, young barmaid in his local pub, reading secondhand stories about Scott of the Antarctic and scratching away at his poetry (mainly haikus) and his unfinished novel. A less prepossessing character to carry a book it would be hard to imagine, but John has hidden depths, or so he likes to believe. Almost everyone, except his equally strange friends, Gabby and Glyn, disagree.

I absolutely adored every single character in this book. This author had created some of the most memorable people you will every meet in a novel, and then placed them in equally memorable situations and watched what they do. (I say watched, because it is very clear to me from reading this that each of the people in this book have very individual minds of their own and have done their own, quite bizarre things on the page which I am sure the author had little if any control over in the end.) There are some really memorable scenes in the novel – the one involving the journey to the DIY store on Gabby’s first day at work is a particular standout (parts of which made my slightly gyp to be honest) – and many real laugh-out-loud moments. You can’t imagine a group of people who get into so many mad scrapes as this trio, but in the context of this novel you can completely believe they are happening, and it is quite a ride to take with them.

At the same time, there is so much tenderness within this book. The relationship between the three men is oddly touching. They all look out for each other and clearly care for one another in a way that most of us would be lucky to find in this life. This care extends from their small trio to the other hopeless residents of Clements Markham House, despite the fact they are largely unpleasant, ungrateful and undeserving. John Torrington has a big, soft heart, and lavishes his care around, even to his bullying, sadistic boss, OCD-impaired supervisor and any other waif and stray he comes across in life. But his own vulnerability is really thrown into sharp relief in his relationship with Lois, much younger than him and way out of his league both in terms of social status and intellect. Despite this fact, we long for her to see the qualities he has lurking beneath us outwardly awkward facade and give him a chance.

This book is a really different read, but all the more appealing for that. My favourite thing about blogging is coming across these hidden gems of books that are outside the mainstream and outside your reading comfort zone. It is within these novels that we find something new and exciting, that speaks to us of things we may never have considered before and takes us places we have never been. Loved it, loved it, loved it. Funny and moving.

The Dig Street Festival is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure you check out the rest of the tour:

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About the Author

Chris Walsh

Chris Walsh grew up in Middlesbrough and now lives in Kent. He writes both fiction and non-fiction, an example of which you can read here in May 2020’s Moxy Magazine.

​Chris’s debut novel The Dig Street Festival will be published by Louise Walters Books in April 2021.

​Chris’s favourite novel is Stoner by John Williams and his favourite novella is The Death of Ivan Illyich by Leo Tolstoy. His top poet is Philip Larkin. He is also a fan of Spike Milligan.

Connect with Chris:

Twitter: @WalshWrites

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Extract and Q&A: Not In My Name by Michael Coolwood

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In an alternate 2003 where the UK voted to go to war with Iraq in a split referendum, an anti-war activist is murdered. Her friend and another activist, Phoebe, fixates on finding the truth as the only way to cope with her grief and anxiety.

Phoebe and her ex-boyfriend Sefu aren’t able to investigate for long before another of their activist friends is murdered. They find evidence that the murderer might be one of their own. Phoebe’s anxiety nearly cripples her ability to cope, and her attraction to her ex isn’t helping any.​

Firebrand Xia is determined to shut the investigation down. Matriarch Paula had no alibi, but also no motive. Young punk Liam is lying to protect someone. Ex-soldier Gus struggles with his PTSD.

Phoebe needs to deal constructively with her anxiety, and quickly, before the police find out what has happened, and every one of their friends winds up in prison. Or dead.

Today is publication day for Not In My Name by Michael Coolwood, a cosy mystery about the murder of an activist in an alternate 2003 where the UK held a referendum to go to war with Iraq that was split 52% to 48%.

In order to celebrate the release of this interesting-sounding book, I am delighted to be able to share with you a Q&A with the author, and an extract from Chapter 1 of the book. If you are interested in buying a copy of the book, having had your appetite whetted by these goodies, it is available here.

Question and Answers on Not In My Name by Michael Coolwood

Here’s the most obvious question Michael. You’ve chosen to set your book in an alternate reality where the Labour government asked the people in a referendum if we should go to war against Iraq because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Like, wow! That’s a lot of explaining. What prompted that? Why not just write the story as is.

Because the story isn’t about Iraq, it’s using Iraq to talk about Brexit.

Brexit is a monolith. It is eternal. It is both means and ends. Brexit means Brexit. This means that trying to convince someone who passionately believes in Brexit, you’re not going to make much headway if you approach the topic head on.

My solution to this problem was to take something near everyone agrees was a disaster – the Iraq War – and apply the logic that has been applied to Brexit to that. If you take all the key statements by those leading the ‘leave’ side of the referendum, and transpose them onto another subject, it’s suddenly dreadfully clear just how empty and meaningless they are.

It also helps that Iraq happened under Labour’s watch, so right-wing voters are less likely to be immediately put off by the analogy. They might enjoy the chance to put the boot into the Labour Party a little more, which might lead to them opening up to the ideas explored in the book a little more. 

You call yourself a male feminist writer and certainly your lead character of Phoebe is pretty amazing. Is that all that a male writer has to do to be considered a feminist writer, make his main character a young woman?

I think feminism is a journey. I started off on this journey a long time ago when I noticed that a good half of the books I was reading featured precisely one named female character, and they were usually… not treated well.

Since then I’ve read a lot and learned a lot. I’m still learning. That’s what I mean by feminism being a journey. I don’t think I’ll ever be done learning. This is why I’m dancing around the question a little. I don’t think there’s a true way to be a male feminist writer, all I can do is educate myself, try my best and then listen when I inevitably mess up.

So, to try to actually answer the question: No, if your aim is to write feminist fiction, you can’t just write a female protag and call it a day. The more subtle things to consider include, but are not limited to: Are the male characters active whilst the female characters are passive? Are the men strong and stoic whilst the women are soft and emotional? Is the attractiveness of the women commented on repeatedly whilst the men’s attractiveness is ignored? Are there a decent number of interesting female characters or is there just one, whilst the rest are all male?

Ultimately, my goal was to create a collection of interesting, rounded characters that reflect life as I see it, which is full of awesome women, and awesome men.

You deal with some serious issues in this book and I don’t want to give anything away but since it’s in the first chapter I can say that Phoebe is highly anxious. She has, what she calls, a terror python that paralyzes her. Is mental health an important issue to you?

I’ve struggled with mental health for all my adult life. I’ve had panic attacks since my early teens and have only recently been cured of my anxiety disorder thanks to a medical trial at King’s College Hospital. Depression, Anxiety and Chronic Fatigue have seeped into every area of my life. Some things they only affect subtly, but they do affect literally everything I do. That being said, I also deal with some mental health issues in this book which I don’t have direct experience of, and for those I was privileged to work with an excellent sensitivity reader, who pointed out areas where I’d gone wrong.

This is book is overtly political without endorsing any political party. It almost seems to want to be outside Westminster politics while deepening democracy to include everyone. Aren’t you out of step with your contemporaries because young people don’t usually get involved in politics.

My generation, millennials, are the first generation since records began to not be better off than their parents [citation: https://www.ft.com/content/81343d9e-187b-11e8-9e9c-25c814761640]. It’s likely to be even worse for the Zoomers coming up behind us. Wealth is pooling into fewer and fewer hands. Countless people feel left behind by politics, but I don’t think it follows that young people don’t get involved in politics. My MP is a truly wonderful human being, and she’s a millennial too. Over the last decade my friends have gone from trying to ignore politics entirely to making jokes about eating the rich.

There’s a growing sense in the UK that our current political system doesn’t work. If you look at the results of the 2019 general election, the Conservative party won 14 million votes, whilst the UK had an adult population of 50 million. So roughly 28% of the UK population actually voted for the current government, and it was considered a huge landslide.

There are many things we could do to fix this, one of which is moving to a proper voting system like Single Transferable Vote or Mixed Member Representation (explanations here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8XOZJkozfI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QT0I-sdoSXU&) but it’s best to stop there because I could go on about this all day.

Not In My Name doesn’t endorse a political party because democracy in the UK is completely broken and has been for a long time. The Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems have no plans to fix it, they just want to keep a lid on things and enact small changes. We’ve had decades of small, incremental changes, and they haven’t helped enough. We need wholesale change of our political system.

You set this book in a commune outside Birmingham. It seems like you know the place well?

I actually only lived in Birmingham for about fifteen months, but one thing I knew when I set out to write this book is I didn’t want to set it in London. I’ve lived in London for most of my life and it’s obvious to anyone with a pulse that the way the UK is run is London first whilst everyone else follows behind.

I didn’t think it would be right to write a book about trying to change politics from the outside whilst living in London. A lot of big political demonstrations happen in London – 200,000 people marched against the Iraq War and there have been multiple marches against Brexit boasting over a hundred thousand people.

The thing is, we still went to war with Iraq, despite that massive march. In my opinion, the five people who broke into RAF Fairford to damage the bombers who were due to fly to Iraq that day did more tangible good than the massive London march.

Regional politics might not have the cache of Westminster, but its far easier to creative measurable change when not trying to engage with the House of Commons.

There’s a lot of humour in this book. Like, it’s laugh aloud funny. Are you worried that you will mixing too many things together: a murder mystery and a political satire? That’s kind of a weird mix.

Life is funny and life is deeply sad. If there is a contradiction there, it’s one we all live with every day.

What’s that? You want a less philosophical answer? Oh, go on then:

Murder Mysteries as a genre are a bit weird. There are many, many different types but I, personally, can’t stand the ones where everything is grim and ugly, where every character is a monster and if anything good happens to the protagonist, you know it’s only so that it can be used to twist the knife later.

I like cosy mysteries, where the characters are nuanced and evil is rare.  It’s a fundamentally optimistic genre. It’s also frequently a funny genre. There is tension between optimism, humour and politics, because we live in a hellscape of a political system that serves to enrich the friends of those in power whilst it starves everyone on the periphery – but, you can’t avoid politics. To misquote Skunk Anansie: ‘Yes it’s forking political, everything’s political’.

You can’t escape politics. Politics affects everything we do – the lack of a Universal Basic Income means you can’t quit the job you hate and pursue your passion. Cuts to the NHS meant people you know have had vital treatment delayed, or rendered inaccessible completely. This is compounded beyond measure if you’re disabled, not Caucasian, not heterosexual or not obviously male. 

There is a strong movement that demands we keep politics out of media. People were furious when Rufus Hound, on Dancing on Ice, dared to remind people that our government are choosing to let poor children starve. These people don’t want to be reminded that people are suffering, but their ignorance doesn’t lessen the suffering. Increasingly, people are saying: Enough. We will not repeat the crises of previous decades. You may want to pretend everything is fine, but things haven’t been fine for a long time.

So, to answer your question, every book is political. Every book makes choices about the world it presents. Those choices are political. My book is just a little more obviously political than most.

What’s your favourite murder mystery writer? Who inspired this and why?

My favourite murder mystery writer is Agatha Christie, because she’s still the queen of the Cosy Mystery. That being said, my favourite murder mystery book is The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – it’s a wonderful mystery that twists the mind and asks all sorts of interesting questions about prisoner rehabilitation.

The inspirations for Not in My Name are a weird mish-mash of cosy mysteries from Christie, the political stand up of Mark Thomas, Rob Newman and Jeremy Hardy, the music of Rage Against the Machine, Brass Against, Phat Bollard and Ed Jollyboat, and the political videos of Iain Danskin, Philosiphy Tube, SeanSkull and Three Arrows.

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Now for our extract from Chapter One of Not In My Name:

Terror coiled around me as I lay next to my friends on the steps of Birmingham’s Victoria Square. It was crushing my chest, making my breathing swift and shallow. The angry white men on the other side of the line of police had been yelling at us for well over an hour, and had just started spitting.

The youngest member of our little group, Cassie, lay next to me. She was eighteen, and habitually wore swirls of black makeup under her eyes. I could only see half of her – she was splayed out, her limbs appearing broken and twisted. An A4 sheet of paper was taped to her chest. On the paper was a printed picture of a casualty of war. A similar picture was attached to my chest.

On my other side was Sefu, a tall man with a kind face and short, clipped hair. If my memory served, his Marilyn Manson t-shirt was currently being masked by a picture of an Iraqi hospital that one of our bombs had flattened.

Just beyond Sefu were Liam and Gus, who were the closest to the police line separating us from the angry white men. My friends’ proximity to a mob of people who hated us was only amplifying my terror.

In a die-in, protestors lie down in a public place and pretend to be dead. The idea is the general public don’t really understand how devastating wars are so we show them. Extra points are awarded if a die-in takes place in a major intersection so we cause traffic to grind to a halt. But we weren’t doing that today. We’d chosen Victoria Square because Birmingham’s town hall and council house looked out over it.

“Traitors!” cried the angry white men. “Saboteurs!”

The cops were playing games with us, hoping we’d give up and go home. Every once in a while, they would come up to one of us and carry us away from the square. They’d say they were arresting us, move us past the line of police separating us from the general public and then release us back into the wild. They called this ‘de-arresting’, which I hadn’t known was a thing the police could do. They kept dragging us away from our protest and we kept finding ways to break back through the cop line, back to the steps of Victoria Square.

“Saboteurs!” the angry men yelled again, before someone in their midst with a megaphone managed to organise them into a more complex chant.

“You lost! Get over it!” they screamed. “You lost! Get over it!”

This seemed to energise the zealots at the front of the line who increased their efforts to get at us. The cops were pushed back a few metres, nearly treading on Gus in the process. This seemed to give a couple of men an idea, and they concentrated on spitting on my friends. The spittle rained down on Gus, and some splashed onto Liam. Gus opened his eyes and locked his gaze on to Liam.

I didn’t see exactly what happened. All I saw was a furious man in a St George’s flag shirt spit at Liam. With a roar, Gus leaped to his feet and swung a punch at the flag-wearer. The flag-wearer went down, but two identical men took his place. Gus dropped another, but his mate struck back. Gus took the blow and didn’t seem to notice. The angry men surged forward, furious at Gus’s audacity. The cops suddenly didn’t know what to do. They were supposed to arrest Gus, but if they broke their line, the mob would attack the rest of us.

Liam scrambled to his feet and tried to pull Gus back, but his scrawny tattooed arms couldn’t do the job. Gus swung and swung at the line of identical furious men. He swung until Vince appeared from nowhere. Vince was smaller than Gus, but he placed himself in between Gus and the mob. I couldn’t hear anything over the shouts but I saw Vince’s mouth move in quick, precise movements.

I knew I should be up on my feet supporting Vince, talking Gus down, but the terror had wrapped itself around my legs and arms. I couldn’t move. I heard charging feet from the direction I wasn’t looking, and suddenly cops had launched themselves on Gus, Vince and Liam. Gus was seething, Liam was shouting “No blood for oil!” and Vince was holding his head high. He had just stopped a terrible situation from getting even worse.

“Do we make a last stand?” Sefu asked. “Or do we stay put?” “What kind of question is that?” demanded Xia from just past where Cassie was lying. Xia was a tall woman with greying hair who had been arranging actions like this since the ‘70s. “The longer we stay here, the more people have to look at us and the more they have to think about what our country is doing. If we get ourselves arrested trying to free our friends, the authorities win and we lose.”

I’d been waiting for Xia to say that, all the while hoping she wouldn’t. My hands clenched and unclenched as I saw the cops dragging my three friends off with them. I wish actions like this were as effortless for me as they were for Xia.

“Phoebe!” My sister Mel called down to me. She was just up the steps from where I was lying, her voice calm and warm. The muscles in my jaw loosened. “Think about what they’d want. They’d want us to carry on.”

Mel was right, as always. Our parents had always insisted I defer to Melissa, but it was when she’d discovered her softer side and started calling herself ‘Mel’ that I found someone actually worth listening to.

I relaxed my hands. The stone beneath my back felt less cold. “Cassie,” I said, trying not to move my lips. “How are you doing?”

“I’m alright,” Cassie said, “but the last cop who arrested me told me that he was going to nick me properly if I tried this again.”

They’d told me the same thing. “You okay with that?”

Cassie rolled her eyes to look at me, although her face still stared serenely towards the sky. “Duh. Can anyone see Paula?”

“I made her promise she’d go home after the third time she got hauled out,” Sefu said, “so she climbed onto the statue of the Floozie in the Jacuzzi and started hanging a banner. You didn’t see that?”

A battle-hardened grin flashed onto Cassie’s face. “I think I was trying to break back through the cop line then.”

“You didn’t see it, Phoebe?” Sefu asked me.

I grunted a sort of ‘no’ noise. I was trying not to think about the cops or the mob of men who’d beat us to within an inch of our lives if they could get at us. As part of not thinking, I had been steadily working through an Evian bottle I’d filled with vodka and lemonade. I’d initially been using it to settle my nerves, and since it seemed to be working, I’d carried on.

“So there’s five of us left?” Sefu asked.

Xia grunted. “Five of us, along with three from Justice for Iraq, two from Stop the War, seventeen from Campaign Against the Arms Trade – well done them – and one unaligned.”

Cassie laughed. “That’s the nice lady from Games Workshop who I talked into coming yesterday when I went to pick up my orks.”

I saw Sefu blink. “You did what?”

“I know, I was surprised as well. But I put the action in her terms, right? I said, imagine the Space Marines wanted to go to war, but instead of going up against Chaos or someone, they decided to just bomb a load of Gretchin villages and destroy their squig farms.”

“And that persuaded her?” Sefu sounded confused.

“Hey, that’s the power of orks.”

Red Bus

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About the Author

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Michael Coolwood writes feminist cosy mysteries. His work is deeply political and his characters are driven by a desire to make the world a better place. This is partly due to a respect for passionate, caring people, and partly because cuts to the health service in the UK have ensured he can barely leave the house due to his swamp of health problems. His cosy mystery series is called Democracy and Dissent and grapples with issues of the day.

Connect with Michael:

Website: https://coolwoodbooks.com/

Facebook: Michael Coolwood

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