Friday Night Drinks with… Jessica Redland

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

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

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

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

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

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

That would be great. My grandparents had a flat in Scarborough and I have many happy memories of holidays there, right up until I was in my early twenties. If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are much braver than me, I can’t jump off things! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

Anything I’ve written!

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

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You never forget your first love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes

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

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

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

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

You can buy Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes here.

Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Emma Jackson

Romancing The Romance Authors

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

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

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

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Why romance?

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

What inspires your stories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your latest book.

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

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Could it be the start of her happy ever after?

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

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

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

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

About Emma Jackson

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

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

Connect with Emma:

Website: https://esjackson.co.uk

Facebook: Emma Jackson Author

Twitter: @ESJackson1

Instagram: @emma_s_jackson

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Friday Night Drinks with… Natalie Normann

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

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

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

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

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It being Friday is as good a reason for celebration as any! If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

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

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If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve not read this one, I will add it to the list. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

Drink lots of water and go to bed to sleep it off. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the fabulous trailer for the book

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

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

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Desert Island Books with… Julie Stock

Desert Island Books

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

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

Book One – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Three – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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

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

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

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

Book Four – Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

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

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

Book Five – The Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine

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A story spanning centuries. A long awaited revenge.

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

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

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

My luxury item

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

About Julie Stock

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

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

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

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

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

Starting Over at the Vineyard in Alsace

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Julie:

Website: https://julie-stock.co.uk/

Facebook: Julie Stock Author

Twitter: @wood_beez48

Instagram: @julie.stockauthor.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Tanya Bullock

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

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

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

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

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

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

Sounds great, although I’m even older than you so we might have to take it slowly to begin with! If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

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

I adored Alan Rickman, I would spend an evening in a broom closet with him! Truly, Madly Deeply is an amazing film, but a real tear-jerker! So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

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

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

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

I can definitely relate to that juggling act. What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, it’s just us talking after all!

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

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What have you planned that you are really excited about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is their story.

I have never come across this book, I’ll add it to the list. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

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

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

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

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

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

Desperately Seeking Normal Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Kendra Smith

Romancing The Romance Authors

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

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

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

Why romance?

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

What inspires your stories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One piece of advice? Enjoy your writing!

Tell us about your latest book.

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

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Out with the old…

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

In with the… ex?

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

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

About the Author

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

Connect with Kendra:

Facebook: Kendra Smith Author

Twitter: @KendraAuthor

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Friday Night Drinks with… Sandra Danby

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

As we enter another lockdown here in England, virtual drinks is the best we can all hope for. Fortunately, I am old hand at the practice and tonight I am delighted to welcome to my little blog bar for Friday Night Drinks, author… Sandra Danby.

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

A tall tumbler of Seedlip Garden zero-alcohol gin with tonic and a slice. All the flavour of gin without the headache. Seedlip is a new discovery. I’m loving it! If I’m out of Seedlip, I will be drinking a large mug of Yorkshire Tea, builder strength, no sugar.

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Sounds like we have similar tastes in beverages. 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?

To Gabi, my favourite chiringuito in Spain where you sit barefoot with the sand between your toes. I love to sit with a cold San Miguel zero beer in my hand and watch the sun go down as the scents of barbecuing sardines and the local fried fish speciality, fritura malagueña, drifts on the warm breeze. Gabi is an open-air restaurant on the beach at El Palo, a little fishing village near Málaga. It’s a quiet old-fashioned place where Spanish families go on holiday rather than foreign tourists. Best late on a summer evening, it features in my second novel Connectedness.

fried fish at El Palo - photo @SandraDanby

Sounds idyllic. 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 invite two artists who I think would be fascinating together. Pablo Picasso and Tracy Emin inspired me to make art the focus of the story in Connectedness so I’d like to bring them together. Picasso died in 1973 in France. Emin would have been nine or ten then so to my knowledge they never met. But I wonder what they would talk about? 

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 straightening out the kinks and twists in the plot of my third novel, Sweet Joy. It’s the sort of job that has to be approached with a completely clear head or things can get out of hand and ideas mysteriously disappear. It’s incredibly satisfying when connections are made and my brain says ‘of course that goes there’ when I’ve had a blank spot for a while. Sweet Joy is third in the Identity Detective series of adoption reunion mysteries. I love writing these stories. I become a kind of hybrid author, devising clues and red herrings like Agatha Christie, connecting historical mysteries with characters today as Lucina Riley does, and adding a dash of romance like Mary Stewart. At the moment my head is very much in wartime London, what it was like during bombing raids, how everyone woke in the morning not knowing what the day may bring.

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

My proudest moment was publishing my first novel, Ignoring Gravity, in 2014. I wish my parents had been alive to see me achieve my dream. They encouraged me to write stories as a child, making my own magazines, then studying English and training as a journalist. But my dream was always to write novels. Without doubt the biggest challenge has been indie publishing. Although my background as a journalist has served me well with the nuts and bolts of publishing my own books, I’m not a natural saleswomen or PR. At heart I am a happily-solitary writer in a garret with a kettle and a continuous supply of teabags. Yorkshire Tea, of course.

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

I have outlines for books four, five and six in the Identity Detective series, so that is my first goal. After that I aim to take a sidestep and write standalone novels set in the part of Yorkshire where I grew up. The settings are beautiful – Connectedness is set partly on the cliffs at Bempton and Flamborough – and there are so many fascinating true stories that I know will kickstart my imagination. My real challenge is to decide which story to write first.

cliffs at New Roll-Up, Bempton Cliffs - photo @SandraDanby

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Book four in the Identity Detective series is bubbling along at the moment. No provisional title as yet. Like all my novels it’s a dual timeline story set today and, this time, the Seventies. I’m thinking bell-bottoms, tank tops, glitter and platform boots. Ziggy Stardust and Marc Bolan, Alvin Stardust and Suzi Quatro, some mysterious graffiti which appears in York, and a foundling left on the doorstep of a flat in a London mansion block. 

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?

Oh so many. Places I’ve been that I long to return to… America for the wide expanses, the huge horizons and natural beauty of Yosemite and Point Reyes, both in California, and Monument Valley in Arizona. The Alhambra in Granada, Spain for the architectural perfection and sheer beauty. Berlin, Germany, for the streetlife, the museums and the wonderful choice of zero alcohol beers. On my bucket list are Denali National Park in Alaska, a cruise up the Norwegian Fjords to the Arctic Circle, and New Zealand for the Lord of the Rings vibe.

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

I hit a mean forehand crosscourt winner but a rubbish smash. Once tennis courts reopened after lockdown this spring, I played twice a week and the improvement in my technique was amazing. I just need to keep it going. Meanwhile, I follow the tennis results daily and watch on television when I can.

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

The Cazalet Chronicles by Elizabeth Jane Howard. My go-to series, I have the paperbacks and also the Audible recordings. The first, The Light Years, introduces the three generations of the extended Cazalet family at the grandparents’ home in East Sussex as they await the verdict of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain as he negotiates with Hitler in 1938. The five books take us through the war years, ending in the Fifties when the children from the first book are now parents themselves. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read and listened to these books from beginning to end, when I start the first I must read through to the end. I can’t leave the family in the middle of the war!

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Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles is a thrilling yet charming five-book series of novels that follows the secrets and yearnings of the Cazalet family of Home Place, Sussex through three decades of middle-class life.

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?

There are some really good zero-alcohol options out there though they can be pricey, which seems crazy considering they are missing a vital ingredient. When I did partake of sauvignon blanc, I alternated a glass of wine with a glass of water. 

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

Reading the newspapers, a walk in the country lanes, and a good tennis match on television followed by a snooze on the sofa.

Sounds perfect, although the tennis may have to wait a while! Thank you for joining me on the blog, Sandra, I have really enjoyed chatting to you.

Sandra’s latest book is Connectedness, the second book in her Identity Detective Series and you can buy a copy here.

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TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALSO HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING

Connectedness is a tale of art, adoption, romance and loss, moving between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain and birthplace of Pablo Picasso.

Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane – who we first met in Ignoring Gravity – to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.

Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?

Sandra Danby is a proud Yorkshire woman, tennis nut and tea drinker. She believes a walk on the beach will cure most ills. Unlike Rose Haldane, the identity detective in her two novels, Ignoring Gravity and Connectedness, Sandra is not adopted. She is now writing Sweet Joy, third in the ‘Identity Detective’ series.

You can connect further with Sandra via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Desert Island Books with… Helen Matthews

Desert Island Books

Today I have marooned author Helen Matthews on my isolated atoll with only five novels and one luxury item standing between her and madness. Let’s see what literary companions she has chosen, shall we?

Thanks for inviting me, Julie. I’ll be happy on the desert island for a while but please send a helicopter drop of more books after I’ve been there a couple of months.

I’m drawn to the darker side in my own writing and in my reading choices: flawed characters, unreliable narrators, unexplained deaths and hidden secrets. As well as psychological thrillers, I also read what I’d call ‘state of the nation’ novels by the likes of John Lanchester and Jonathan Coe, plus I try to keep up with literary fiction and books shortlisted for major prizes. When it came to choosing my desert island books, I was surprised to find I was drawn to thought-provoking books and some classics.

Book One – The Siege by Helen Dunmore

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Leningrad, September 1941.

Hitler orders the German forces to surround the city at the start of the most dangerous, desperate winter in its history. For two pairs of lovers – Anna and Andrei, Anna’s novelist father and banned actress Marina – the siege becomes a battle for survival. They will soon discover what it is like to be so hungry you boil shoe leather to make soup, so cold you burn furniture and books. But this is not just a struggle to exist, it is also a fight to keep the spark of hope alive…

I discovered Helen Dunmore in the early 2000s, initially through her psychological suspense novels. Long before Gone Girl made the genre as popular as it now is, Dunmore was writing atmospheric twisty novels that stripped away layers from the characters to expose the darkness of their hearts. In her novels the bad guys don’t necessarily win: Your Blue-Eyed Boy; Zennor by Darkness; Mourning Ruby and With Your Crooked Heart are all dark reads, but they’re Iiterary in style with breath-taking imagery that gives a visceral satisfaction to the reading experience. Dunmore was a poet and writer of short stories before she turned to longer form but, later, she focused on historical novels. For my desert island book, I’ve chosen The Siege, set in Leningrad in September 1941 when Hitler’s troops surround the city and put it into lockdown. The novel is meticulously researched and depicts a level of human suffering we can scarcely imagine – boiling up shoe leather to make soup and, the ultimate sacrilege, using books to make a fire. The characters, a young couple, Anna and Andrei, and Anna’s father, are so psychologically real you feel as if you are with them, experiencing their suffering and terror along with their will to survive. The book has mini-epic qualities so there’s plenty to reflect on when I’m on the desert island.

Helen Dunmore died, aged 64, on the same day as my mother in June 2017 and I read her moving final poem ‘Hold Out Your Arms’, in which she reflected on her own death, at Mum’s funeral.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jun/06/helen-dunmores-family-reveal-poem-written-in-the-authors-last-days.

Book Two – My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante 

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From one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, comes this ravishing and generous-hearted novel about a friendship that lasts a lifetime.

The story of Elena and Lila begins in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else, as their friendship, beautifully and meticulously rendered, becomes a not always perfect shelter from hardship.

Ferrante has created a memorable portrait of two women, but My Brilliant Friend is also the story of a nation. Through the lives of Elena and Lila, Ferrante gives her readers the story of a city and a country undergoing momentous change.

When My Brilliant Friend was published a few years ago the author’s identity was a closely guarded secret. There are four books in Ferrante’s series of Neapolitan novels including Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay; The Story of a New Name, and The Lost Child. The novels became word of mouth best sellers and have since been broadcast and filmed but I’ve not felt the need to watch the film because the books were so vivid. The novels are deceptively simple and tell the story of best friends, Lena and Lila, growing up in poverty in a working-class district of Naples in the 1950s. Both girls are extremely bright and must battle to get an education. Against a background of violence, prejudice in post-War, politically turbulent Italy, their lives pan out quite differently. The friendship between the women spans decades, yet we know from the opening of the first book that Lila has disappeared and read through the quartet of novels, desperate to unpick what happened to her. In putting the spotlight on her ‘brilliant friend’, Lila, the narrator, Lena, draws us in while her own story, equally transformative, emerges more slowly. Reading this novel was an immersive experience and I can only compare it with the joy I felt as a child when I first discovered the thrill of reading.

Book Three – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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The heroine of Tolstoy’s epic of love and self-destruction, Anna Karenina has beauty, wealth, popularity and an adored son, but feels that her life is empty until she encounters the impetuous officer Count Vronsky. Their subsequent affair scandalizes society and family alike, and brings jealousy and bitterness in its wake.

Contrasting with this is the vividly observed story of Levin, a man striving to find contentment and a meaning to his life – and also a self-portrait of Tolstoy himself.

A long time ago, when I was reading English at Liverpool University, I remember a professor telling us that Anna Karenina was the perfect novel. Unfortunately, I can’t remember his reasons why! He also thought, in his opinionated way, that War and Peace was flawed. On the desert island I’ll need some massive epics to keep me engaged so I’ll pick up the challenge and decide for myself if this is the perfect novel. Choosing a nineteenth century classic rather than a serious contemporary novel is interesting. Why didn’t I go for Hilary Mantel? I’ve enjoyed Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies and have yet to tackle The Mirror and the Light but I can’t explain why that didn’t attract me.

Anna Karenina is superficially a love story that turns sour and ends in tragedy but it’s a universal story that still has resonance today. In many countries and cultures, twenty-first century Anna would be treated equally cruelly for leaving her husband and abandoning her son (thought that wasn’t her intention) to be with her lover, Vronsky. The world Tolstoy depicts is teeming with the vanished world and culture of pre-revolutionary Russia – a world that can only be explored in the pages of a novel and in the imagination.

Book Four – Beloved by Toni Morrison

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It is the mid-1800s and as slavery looks to be coming to an end, Sethe is haunted by the violent trauma it wrought on her former enslaved life at Sweet Home, Kentucky. Her dead baby daughter, whose tombstone bears the single word, Beloved, returns as a spectre to punish her mother, but also to elicit her love. Told with heart-stopping clarity, melding horror and beauty, Beloved is Toni Morrison’s enduring masterpiece.

Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a harrowing story because it reflects the reality of a black woman’s experience in slavery. Even after escaping to Ohio, Sethe, the main character, still isn’t free. She’s haunted by the ghost of her dead baby, and by guilt, and her life is still unbelievably hard. The book made a profound impression on me when I first read it many years ago so I think it will be interesting to reread with a new perspective on the legacy of slavery from, for example,  the Black Lives Matter movement. In Britain, we used to smugly pretend to occupy some kind of moral high ground due to leading the movement to abolish slavery, but we can no longer turn a blind eye to how the likes of Bristol’s Edward Colston masqueraded as a philanthropist, while making his fortune as a slave trader. Novels like Beloved challenge us to be more empathetic and to better understand the legacy of slavery and how it still has an impact today.

Book Five – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

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

Profuse with her inimitable wit and charm, Pride and Prejudice is one of Austen’s most beloved novels, and stands among literature’s greatest love stories.

With so many books and so little time, I’m not normally a big re-reader but I make an exception for Jane Austen. I’ve read all her novels at least four times but, if I have to choose one, it will be Pride and Prejudice. The superb characters and calm predictability of the plot with so many setbacks along the way to the happy ending, will soothe me when I’m alone on the island.

I live in Hampshire not far from the village of Chawton, where Austen spent her last years and wrote her greatest novels. Her mother and sister, Cassandra, are buried in the local churchyard but Jane’s grave is in Winchester Cathedral. We think of the Austens as a well to do, middle class family but, in fact, they were downwardly mobile. Jane was born in the rectory at Steventon, where her father was the vicar. After his retirement, the family moved to Bath and lived in rented apartments that were far from grand. After the father’s death, the Austen women became increasingly impoverished and moved to Southampton where one of Jane’s brothers supported them. At last their fortunes changed. Another brother,  Edward Austen, had been adopted when he was a young boy by wealthy relatives, who had no children of their own (that was a thing back then). Part of the deal was that Edward changed his name from Austen to Knight. He inherited two vast country estates, one in Kent and another in the village of Chawton, Hampshire, described by Jane as ‘the Great House’. When Edward came into his inheritance, he offered his mother and sisters a substantial house in Chawton where they settled for the rest of their lives. During her lifetime, Jane actually received two marriage proposals and turned both of them down. She and her sister, Cassandra, were incredibly close and I’m guessing that Jane understood perfectly well that, if she got married and had children, her time wouldn’t be her own – she’d never be able to write. Cassandra took on Jane’s share of household tasks so her sister could devote herself to her writing. Isn’t that amazing? Every author needs a Cassandra in her life.

My luxury item

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I’m a keen cyclist so would love a bike to ride around the island.

About Helen Matthews

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Helen Matthews writes page-turning psychological suspense novels and is fascinated by the darker side of human nature and how a life can change in an instant. Her first novel, suspense thriller After Leaving the Village, won first prize in the opening pages category at Winchester Writers’ Festival, and was followed by Lies Behind the Ruin, domestic noir set in France, published by Hashtag Press. Her third novel Façade was  published by Darkstroke Books in September 2020.

Born in Cardiff, Helen read English at the University of Liverpool and worked in international development, consultancy, human resources and pensions management. She fled corporate life to work freelance while studying for a Creative Writing MA at Oxford Brookes University. Her stories and flash fiction have been shortlisted and published by Flash 500, 1000K Story, Reflex Press, Artificium and Love Sunday magazine.

She is a keen cyclist, covering long distances if there aren’t any hills, sings in a choir and once appeared on stage at Carnegie Hall, New York in a multi-choir performance. She loves spending time in France. Helen is an Ambassador for the charity, Unseen, which works towards a world without slavery and donates her author talk fees, and a percentage of royalties, to the charity.

Helen’s latest novel Façade is psychological suspense and was published on 17 September this year by Darkstroke Books. It’s dark and twisty family noir and  reviewers have said they couldn’t put it down. You can buy the book here.

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A drowned child. Estranged sisters. A once-perfect home.

Silence echoes louder than truth.

When seventeen-year-old Rachel’s baby brother drowns and her older sister, Imogen, escapes to live abroad with Simon, her musician boyfriend, Rachel must face the family’s grief and disintegration alone.

Twenty years later, Rachel is a successful businesswoman, with a daughter of her own, supporting her parents and their elegant Georgian home, The Old Rectory, that shackles them to the past.

Simon’s sudden death in Ibiza brings Imogen back, impoverished and resentful. Her family owes her, and she will stop at nothing to reclaim what she believes is rightly hers.

The rift between the sisters seems permanent. While Imogen has lived a nomadic life, filled with intrigue, in Spain and Tunisia, Rachel’s has appeared stable and successful but, behind the veneer, cracks are appearing. Now, she is vulnerable.

As the wall of silence and secrecy crumbles, danger stalks Rachel’s family. She must re-examine her baby brother’s death, find out what happened in Tunisia, and fight to hold onto everything she’s achieved –or risk losing it all.

Façade is a gripping tale of loss, guilt and danger.

Connect with Helen:

Website: https://www.helenmatthewswriter.com/

Facebook: Helen Matthews

Twitter: @HelenMK7

Instagram: @helen.matthews7

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Friday Night Drinks with… Liz Harris

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

Tonight, I am delighted to welcome to the blog for Friday Night Drinks, fellow RNA member and author… Liz Harris.

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

I don’t even have to hesitate a moment – I’m always up for a gin & tonic. Usually, it’s Fever Tree tonic. It’s healthy, you see. Fewer calories in both the alcohol and the mixer means that I can justify a second, and all on the grounds of improving my health.

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A woman after my own heart. 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?

Money will be no object as I’m going to sell shed loads of my latest novels, of course, so I’m taking you to Kerala in India. We’re going for a trip on the Backwaters in an upmarket peasant rice boat. It’ll be the ultimate in luxury, despite the word ‘peasant’, with a crew of three waiting on just us. As we drift down the blissfully serene Backwaters, sipping our gin & tonics, we’ll chat about books.

While Kerala is a dry state – the wives of fishermen plagued the last government to abolish alcohol as their men were drinking their wages before they got home. The government obliged, and then lost the following election – there must have been more male voters than female. You can now only buy alcohol from sparse outlets.

In one of the hotels I stayed in, wine was put in a teapot and poured from that into our glasses.

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If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

Rugged Australian actor Peter Finch would be the man. I fell in love with him in A Town Like Alice, a book I adore, and my love affair continued with The Nun’s Story, one of my all-time favourite books and films.

With Peter Finch as Dr Fortunati in The Nun’s Story at the fore of my mind, I used to want to be a nun, but only on condition that I was sent to tend the sick in Africa, alongside a Dr Fortunati, and only if I looked like Audrey Hepburn when I donned a wimple.

As for a female to join us, Jane Austen. No one can capture  person’s idiosyncracies as she can. But she doesn’t tell you that they’re vain/stupid/self-deluded, etc – she lets them condemn themselves every time that they open their mouth. Throughout our evening together, she would ask leading questions of those at our table, with the straightest of faces, and listening to their replies would be great entertainment.

I LOVE A Town Like Alice, it was my Desert Island Book for August. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. What have you got going on? How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

The Dark Horizon, Book 1 of the Linford Series, came out earlier this year, and The Flame Within, Book 2, was published on 1st October this year. Book 3 will be published next spring.

I’m fascinated by history, particularly that of the US and UK after the mid 1880s. I find the years between the wars particularly exciting, with the changing social conventions, developments in housing, and emergence of laws such as The Matrimonial Causes Act, 1923, which took the first step towards bringing equality between the sexes when it came to divorce.

Each of the novels in the series can be enjoyed on its own, without the others having been read. Each focuses on a different member of the Linford family.

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

After writing for seven years, submitting my novels in vain throughout those years, I submitted The Road Back to Choc Lit. When I heard back that they loved the novel and were going to publish it, I was overwhelmed. My husband was out, and I couldn’t wait for him to return. When heard the car draw up, I held the door open, smiling. Surprisingly, he didn’t pick up that there must be something momentous as I was gazing at him so pleasantly, and just walked on into the house.

I’ve heard from Choc Lit, I called to his retreating back. He turned. I burst into tears. He came forward, arms outstretched. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘Someone will take your book.’ And he hugged me. I managed, when I finished blubbing, to let him know that those were tears of pride and pleasure.

People said really lovely things about The Road Back, including the late Colin Dexter, creator of Inspector Morse, who asked if he could say something to go on the cover. My biggest challenge since then has been to write novels that will be enjoyed as much as The Road Back. I hope I’ve succeeded.

I am dreaming of that moment, it must have been amazing! 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!

My mother was an actress, and I did a lot of amateur dramatics before I had my two sons. I tend to think, and write, in scenes, and I think any of my novels would make an absolutely superb film. My backgrounds – America, India, Ladakh, France, Italy, to name but a few – scream out for the big screen.

I’m thinking of a film with the stature of ‘The English Patient’, for example. Well, you did say to be as ambitious as I like!

What have planned that you are really excited about?

I went to Vietnam earlier this year, from the Mekong Delta up to Hanoi, just before Covid-19 took over and dominated our lives. It was amazing! Sadly, my trips to Italy, Greece and France this year have all had to be postponed. As soon as there’s an approved vaccine, I shall start travelling again, and those locations will be at the top of my list.

But keen as I am to start travelling again, the biggest thrill will be meeting up again with the friends I’ve made through writing, at RNA parties for example, or at chapter get-togethers. Zoom is better than nothing, but there’s nothing that beats the real thing!

In the interim, I’m very partial to the local pork sausages. I have some for dinner tonight, and I’m really excited about that!

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

I can’t list a favourite, I’m afraid. I’ve been to places that I knew would interest me, and I’ve loved exploring them all and learning about their past.

Top of my bucket list is the west coast of Canada and thence up to Alaska. I’d intended to do that last year, but ended up going to the east of Canada, and visiting Montreal, Quebec, Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara. I had a fabulous time. I’d now like to fly to Calgary, get the Rocky Mountaineer to Vancouver – first class, of course – spend a week in Vancouver and then take a leisurely cruise up to Alaska. Bliss!

All of those things are top of my bucket list! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I lived in California for six years in my early twenties, a year in San Francisco and five in Los Angeles. During the LA years, I was friendly with an actor. While he was looking for roles, he used to drive the studio tour bus for MGM. I would go on the tours with him as a resident starlet, hair down to my shoulders, hanging over one eye, meaty thighs peering forth from beneath mini-skirts, and in low-fronted tops. At the end of each tour, I was photographed with the visitors. It was huge fun! I got to know just about everyone in the various series being filmed, and those in the films that were in production.

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

I’d give you a copy of The Nun’s Story, by Kathryn Hulme. I thought this a deeply romantic novel in parts, even though ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ never exchanged a kiss. It fired my imagination, and has lived in my head in all the years since I read it.

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The lead character of the book, Sister Luke (pre-convent name Gabrielle Van Der Mal), finds her faith tested in Africa where she finds herself at odds with headstrong Dr. Fortunati, operator of a remote Congo hospital, with whom she gradually builds respect, and again during World War II, when she is ordered not to take sides. Ultimately, Sister Luke is forced to decide whether to remain in the convent or return to the outside world.

Gabrielle/Sister Luke is stretched between her desire to be faithful to the rule of her congregation and her desire to be a nurse. As a nun she must remove all vestiges of “Gabrielle Van Der Mal” and sublimate herself into the devoted bride of Christ. As a nun there is no room for her personal desires and aspirations. Ultimately, the conflict between her devotion to the Church and the nursing profession, juxtaposed with her passionate Belgian patriotism and her love of her father (killed by Nazi fighter planes while treating wounded) bring her to an impasse, which serves as the dénouement of the novel. 

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?

The advantages of being a secondary school teacher, which I used to be, is that there’s a Science department in the school. In order to help the sixth formers who were rolling up in a hungover state for my early Monday morning class, and certainly not because I thought it would be useful for me to know, I asked one of the scientists to come up with a fast and effective remedy for a hangover. Drink gallons of water before you go to bed, he said, and I the morning, and fresh orange juice, too.

Apparently, fresh orange juice is infinitely better than strong coffee, which, contrary to belief, is about the worst thing you can take for a hangover.

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

Having left the Backwaters in Kerala, we would head to the of town of Fort Cochin. We’d explore the town, which is interesting and exotic, and end up in the gardens of a superb hotel that actually serves wine, poured from a bottle into a glass. As daylight fades, fairy lights start sparkling in the trees, and it feels like paradise.

That sounds wonderful, I wish we could go right now! Liz, thank you so much for a marvellous evening, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Liz’s latest book, The Flame Within is the second book in her Linford Series is out now and you can buy a copy here. The first book, The Dark Horizon, is also available.

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London, 1923. 

Alice Linford stands on the pavement and stares up at the large Victorian house set back from the road—the house that is to be her new home.
But it isn’t her house. It belongs to someone else—to a Mrs Violet Osborne. A woman who was no more than a name at the end of an advertisement for a companion that had caught her eye three weeks earlier.
More precisely, it wasn’t Mrs Osborne’s name that had caught her eye—it was seeing that Mrs Osborne lived in Belsize Park, a short distance only from Kentish Town. Kentish Town, the place where Alice had lived when she’d been Mrs Thomas Linford.
Thomas Linford—the man she still loves, but through her own stupidity, has lost. The man for whom she’s left the small Lancashire town in which she was born to come down to London again. The man she’s determined to fight for.

Born in London, Liz Harris graduated from university with a Law degree, and then moved to California, where she led a varied life, from waitressing on Sunset Strip to working as secretary to the CEO of a large Japanese trading company.

A few years later, she returned to London and completed a degree in English, after which she taught secondary school pupils, first in Berkshire, and then in Cheshire.

In addition to the eight novels she’s had published, she’s had several short stories in anthologies and magazines. Her latest novel, The Flame Within, is the second in The Linford Series, a sweeping saga set between the wars. Each of the novels in the series is a standalone. 

 Liz now lives in Oxfordshire. An active member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Historical Novel Society, her interests are travel, the theatre, reading and cryptic crosswords. She also – pre-covid – gives regular talks to WI groups, book clubs and at literary conferences.

To find out more about Liz and her work, visit her website, or find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Alan Williams

Romancing The Romance Authors

Today is a very exciting day on Romancing The Romance Authors because I have a MAN, yes, an actual male author talking about writing romance. There are too few of these rare, unicorn-esque beings around, and they tend to bit a little shy, so I am delighted that I have managed to lure one out and on to the blog. Please welcome, Alan Williams to tell us all about why he writes romance novels.

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

Firstly, Julie, many thanks for this opportunity. As for me, I write adventure/mystery/drama/romance/thrillers usually all rolled into one neat package, always for My Weekly Pocket Novels. I’ve had ten accepted and or published in three years and am very proud of that. I have been a successful short story writer for womags since 2012, mainly in Australia but, with the diminishing markets, I chose to try novels Virtually and every one I’ve written has been sold. I’ve been lucky.

Why romance?

Pourqoui pas or why not. I’m a romantic at heart, always wanting the good guy or girl to win. I wanted to write and be read by a wide audience. That’s Life in Australia was a starting point. This year I’ve had 4 published out of the 11 fiction stories in That’s Life Mega Monthly. It has an average readership of 415,000. That’s a lot of people reading my ideas.

What inspires your stories?

My life, my family my imagination and strong female characters. My latest one Moonlight Rising is based on my wife’s experiences as a croupier in Manchester in the sixties. She’s the heroine and the locations are real but I’m a fantasist so reality blurs into other possibilities, seamlessly, I hope.

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

I was afraid you’d ask that. I don’t read ‘romance’ per se (saying that I do read other My Weekly novelists like Jill Barry, Dawn Knox, Susan Jones and Niddy Reece among others.) I did read Jane Austen at school back in the days when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. I write what is my style and it’s not conventional. That’s why I feel guilty to be part of RNA.

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

I’ll have to give that a miss unless I was very cheeky and said one of mine Christmas Down Under as it’s about how I met and fell in love with my wife (roughly).

Which romantic hero/heroine would you choose to spend your perfect romantic weekend with?

Where would you go and what would you do? You do ask hard questions, don’t you? It would need to be a platonic rather than romantic weekend. I’m tempted to choose a character from comics with their ‘will they-won’t they’ relationship with their boyfriends, my initial introduction to romance. My story writing began with comics and I learnt so many skills there. I still do. Wonder Woman. Not to go anywhere or do anything in particular but sit down with a couple of milkshakes and discuss how her character has developed so much in the eighty years of publication, television and movies. I write my female characters as having those same inner strengths and ideals.

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

Being a part of a group with so many talented, accomplished writers. I was hoping to attend conference and network this year. Hopefully in the future.

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

Be yourself in your voice and style. If a male Australian (the most unromantic creature in the world) can find a niche market and be successful there, then there is a place for you. I write in the first person as a female and whilst there are those who might say that’s disingenuous as well as unusual, it works for me. Don’t do what everyone else does and don’t be afraid to step outside of the conventional boundaries.

Tell us about your latest book.

It is an Australian-set romance called Firestorm. You can find it here.

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1973: Debra Winters has started a new life for herself as a teacher in a small Australian outback town. Given the responsibility of updating the school’s fire protocol, she is thrown together with volunteer firefighter Robbie Sanderson, and there’s a spark of attraction between them.

Meanwhile, things are heating up: it’s bushfire season, and there’s an arsonist on the loose. Debra and Robbie find themselves in danger. Will their relationship flicker out – or will they set each other’s worlds alight? 

About the Author

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Alan is a widely published Australian author, concentrating mainly on women’s magazines where he pushes the boundaries way past ‘boy meets girl’ love stories. He has had over fifty short stories published in Australia’s That’s Life. Since 2012, he’s sold stories published in Ireland, Canada and Britain where he is also a regular contributor to Take a Break magazine.

His tales cover crime, fantasy, science fiction, romance and thrillers, usually set in the here and now.

In the past three years, Alan has chosen to include novels in his writing repertoire, selling, at time of this publication, ten novels set in England, America and Australia. They have been distributed and sold country-wide as paperbacks throughout Britain and Australasia. To date, eight of these are available in libraries worldwide in large print published by Linford Romance.

2020 might have been a difficult year for us all in many ways but Alan has had the following published; a short story collection ‘The Rain, The Park and Other Things’ by Ginninderra Press in Australia.  

Additionally, four My Weekly Novels and four Linford Romance books.

He had vowed never to write a western but recently ‘accidentally’ wrote Love in the Golden Sun– a bushranger story set in the Australian colonies. It will be published in Jan 2021.

Despite being both male and Australian, he is a member of the RNA (Romantic Novelists Association) and the RWA (Romance Novelists of Australia). It seems that, like many of his stories, the impossible is possible after all.

Alan is a retired Science teacher and Financial Services Manager, currently exiled and living in France, residing in a 17th century stone farmhouse with his long-suffering wife, Anne, and maniacal cat, Zorro.

Connect with Alan:

Website: https://alancwilliams.wordpress.com/home/

Facebook: Alan C. Williams

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