Romancing The Romance Authors with… Leonie Mack

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

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

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

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Why romance?

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

What inspires your stories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your most recent novel.

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

Connect with Leonie:

Website: https://leoniemack.com/

Facebook: Leonie Mack

Twitter: @LeonieMAuthor

Instagram: @leoniejmack

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Friday Night Drinks with… Celia Micklefield

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

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

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

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

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

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Sounds great, I have no airs and graces myself! If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

I’ve found this question really difficult to answer. There are so many people to choose from. I’ve opted for the artist Frida Kahlo and Freddie Mercury. I’d love to hear them bounce ideas off one another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will add this to the wishlist and hope I get some book tokens for my upcoming birthday! So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa is about to find out.

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

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

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

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Lizzie Chantree

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

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

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

Why romance?

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

What inspires your stories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your most recent novel.

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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Connect with Lizzie:

Website: https://lizziechantree.com/

Facebook: Lizzie Chantree Author

Twitter: @Lizzie_Chantree

Instagram: @lizzie_chantree

Pinterest: Lizzie Chantree

Goodreads: Lizzie Chantree

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Friday Night Drinks with… R. V. Biggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

I have to confess, a partially stolen idea.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I loved this book, it was one of my top ten books of 2020. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday Night Drinks with… Val Portelli

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

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

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

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Why not? I am a gin or prosecco girl myself, both of which I am fairly sure contain some kind of fruit or plant matter, so they definitely count, cheers! If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

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

Fantastic. I’d probably choose Italian, so we can load up on carbs to give us energy for dancing and soak up some of the alcohol. If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

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

I need to hear more about your youth with David Bowie now, what an attractive, talented and fascinating man he was. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yes, that’s the big thing we need to ignore here! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

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

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

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

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June 1910.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An old house. A new start. Ancient secrets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Helen Buckley

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

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

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

Why romance?

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

What inspires your stories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lou Clark
 knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun teashop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your most recent novel.

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

Connect with Helen:

Website: www.buckleybooks.org

Facebook: Helen Buckley author

Twitter: @HelenCBuckley

Instagram: @helencatherinebuckley

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Friday Night Drinks with… Susan Willis

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

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

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

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

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

They are my favourites too! Can’t wait until we can go out for a nice meal with friends again. I like to cook, but I think I’ve done enough now for a while! If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m really glad to hear that reader reviews can mean so much to authors. What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

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

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

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

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

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

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

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

It’s great to hear you have had success after starting writing late. It gives me hope at almost 49 that it’s not too late for me! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

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

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For ten long years two boys have been missing.

Now you think you’ve seen one of them.

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

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

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

I’m ashamed to say I have never read any of his books, I will have to rectify that with this one. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday Night Drinks with… Julie Anderson

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Pubs are open again, hurrah! However, it is only outside drinking for now so my guest tonight is joining me indoors in my warm, virtual bar for chat and Friday Night Drinks. Please welcome to the blog, author…. Julie Anderson.

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

Chilled white wine, so cold the glass is frosted.  A bottle of the wine sits neck deep in ice in a bucket at my elbow for us to share with our guests.

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?

The wine is in an ice bucket because the air is warm, a balmy evening at the end of a hot day and we’re in Delphi, Greece, otherwise known as the ‘navel of the world’. We’ve driven up from Athens, through the traffic choked outskirts, across the farmland and into the mountains around the Gulf of Corinth, a drive of several hours. Now we’re sitting outside as the sun sets, on the terrace of a tiny, family run taverna on the edge of  Delphi which serves amazing fresh local dishes, dolmades, tzatziki and flatbread, wild boar stew and dessert made with Parnassus honey, washed down with the resinous local retsina.  But it’s the view which stuns. Beyond the railings of the terrace the mountain slope, covered in cypress and pine trees, falls away sharply, over 1,600 feet to the river far below.  On the other side of the valley are the peaks of the lesser mountains, ranging away to the horizon and the valley slopes away to our right, down to the plain and sea. We are on the slopes of the highest  mountain, Mount Parnassus. Its name means the mountain of the house of the god.

Delphi is the setting for my novel Oracle, the second in the series featuring Cassandra Fortune, Whitehall detective and, after the end of Plague, the first book, the envoy of the British Prime Minister. Cassie doesn’t eat at this restaurant, she is staying at the European Cultural Centre which lies just outside of Delphi town on the other side of a mountain ridge, but the view is similar there. Just around another ridge on the other side of town is the ancient Temple of Apollo, which is really a precinct of temples and buildings, including an amphitheatre, gymnasium and stadium, all set on the slopes around the massive Temple itself. The site has been a centre of worship since the Early Bronze Age (so about 3,000 BCE) and, when you look at the spectacular view you can see why – of course it must belong to a God.

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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?

Given where we are I’m going to have to choose someone from the classical period, so my male invitee is Xenophon of Athens born about 430 BCE. He lived at a fascinating time, he was a pupil of Socrates, a contemporary of Plato and knew Cyrus the Great of Persia, his Hellenica details Greek history from the Golden Age of Athens to the rise of Macedon and Alexander the Great. He knew many of the politicians and generals he wrote about and was well travelled and open minded enough to understand and admire different peoples and cultures. He also wrote the Anabasis, an account of how he lead the Greek ‘Ten Thousand’, mercenaries who were leaderless and thousands of miles from home in Asia Minor, back to Greece.  This has inspired many books and novels and a cult 1979 film, The Warriors directed by Walter Hill. In addition to all this he found time to write many philosophical works and On Horsemanship, a manual on the selection, care and training of horses still in use centuries later. He visited Delphi and consulted the Oracle there. Would I have some questions for him!

My female guest is Agatha Christie, doyen of detective fiction and married to an archeologist, so someone who would feel quite at home in Delphi. I devoured her stories when a child, even if Sherlock Holmes was my favourite, not Hercule Poirot, but Christie is a cultural phenomenon. I’d have lots of questions for her, mostly about plotting ( I confess, I often find her plots contrived ), but also about her time as a pharmacologist during World War Two and how she used places she had visited in her books ( something which I do too ). She also had a civil service detective, in a series of little known stories, called Parker Pyne, though he was retired.

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 am mid-way through the first three books in a series featuring Whitehall investigator, Cassandra Fortune, for publisher Claret Press. The first book, entitled Plague, was published in September 2020 and I wrote an article about it for A Little Book Problem on 18th September. The second book, Oracle, is being published on 5th May, though it’s available for pre-order now. In the absence of book tours and signing sessions I’ve been doing lots of promotion and publicity online for both books.  Though that’ll have to take second place soon as I need to begin writing Opera, the third, which is due out in 2022. That one is set in London, as was Plague, so I’ll be closer to home.

The three books hang together as a trilogy, following the central character, although the plotlines are, mostly, stand alone. They’re all thrillers, but are also about political themes like power and justice, looking at corruption and cronyism (very topical).  That makes them sound boring, but they’re not, at least that’s not what readers say, who tell me that they’re gripping and exciting. I’ve agreed to write three, then I’ll decide whether or not to pursue the series.

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

2020 was such a strange year that the obvious candidates for proudest moment, like my first, traditionally published book launch, didn’t happen  there was so much that we were going to do that had to be shelved. I was really proud of my book being reviewed in the Literary Review, however, I didn’t know it was going to be and it was a complete surprise when it was. I was also really pleased when fellow writers, much more experienced than I, liked my book and were prepared to say so.

The biggest challenge is always to get the book out there and noticed. There are so many books on the market, from large publishers with deep pockets who focus on a small group of already famous or celebrity names so newcomers like me from small indie publishers don’t get much of a look in.  But then I’m sure some self-published authors would say that I was fortunate, so it’s all relative and we all face the same pressures.

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!

Oooh, there’s a question. I’d like to be involved in making a filmed or TV series of the Cassandra Fortune books, but my dream is winning some sort of big prize for writing.  Neither are likely.

What do you have planned that you are really excited about?

The next book – always the next book is the exciting thing. Opera is the culmination of the three books so far, but it might also, I hope, lead on to another.

There’s also this year’s Clapham Book Festival ( I’m a trustee of the charity which runs it ). The 2020 edition was cancelled, like so much else, but the Board have decided to go ahead this year with a mix of events, some physical, in the local theatre which we have used before, some virtual, bringing together authors from all over and some interesting additions, like literary walks led by authors. Clapham has always attracted writers and there are lots of places of literary interest.  It’s a great Festival, run entirely by volunteers and was, until COVID hit, attracting a growing audience.  Clapham Book Festival 2021 is going to be fab! It’s happening on 16th October, please tell everyone about 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?

I love where I live, but it’s an urban environment, so I would choose to visit somewhere rural. I really enjoy the Northumberland coastline, with its miles of beach, castles on promontories and little hidden churches and chapels, also the gently folding Devon countryside or wild Dartmoor.  Delphi is similarly apart from the city, the town itself is only small, though the ancient town must have been quite a size. The Temple site is fabulous, very atmospheric, especially when there’s a mountain mist. It’s tucked into a fold of the mountain so that you don’t see it until you’re on top of it. It must have been a magnificent sight when it all still stood, marble reflecting the sunlight.

There are wonderful mountain walks, on slopes roamed by wild goats and where bees, feasting on pollen from wild flowers and herbs, make the famous Parnassus honey. In ancient times, when Delphi was difficult to get to in winter, it was said that Apollo left to spend the winter months in the land of the Hyperboreans, the land beyond the north wind, which is sometimes identified with Britain. So his cousin and fellow god, Dionysus, ruled at the Temple during the winter. Dionysus was the god of the grape, of theatre, festivity and ecstasy, also known as Bacchus and there is a suitably Dionysian revel in the book.

The top of my bucket list would be to travel the great railway journeys of the world, but taking in music where ever I went. So, London to Istanbul would be on the Orient Express but via Paris (Opera), Vienna ( Musicverein ), Venice ( La Fenice ) Belgrade ( jazz and blues) Sofia (plain chant in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral) to Istanbul. There I would stay at the Pera Palace Hotel, which is where Agatha Christie stayed  – it has a room dedicated to her.  I could even write for a time on the train. Absolutely perfect, but probably impossible.

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

When I was a civil servant I found myself the nominal owner of one of the world’s smallest navies (it’s true). 

One of the areas for which I was responsible was something called ‘Bona Vacantia’ or ownerless goods.  This refers to the goods and effects of individuals who die intestate and without any relatives ( there is something similar for companies and corporations ).  Their property reverts to the Crown. Legally this idea goes back to the sixteenth century when Henry VIII was trying to raise money for his foreign wars. In this instance, however, a company which hoped to create a marine tourist attraction in the, then recently refurbished, Liverpool Docks, had gone bankrupt. It owned a destroyer, a mine sweeper, the ship on which the Falklands War ended and several other smaller craft. These reverted to the Crown, but had to be ‘owned’ by someone on its behalf, at least until the items were sold.

What happened to it, you ask. Well, I tried to get the First Sea Lord to take the destroyer, but he wasn’t game, the Navy having sold the unwanted ship to the defunct company in the first place. In the end most was sold for scrap. I just regret not having got myself a peaked navy hat.

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’?

Having just written Oracle I am heavily into Greek history, mythology and drama at the moment ( a quote from Aeschylus’ play Agamemnon opens the book ). Modern fiction in English seems to be having a ‘Greek’ moment, with writers like Madeleine Miller ( The Song of Achilles, Circe ) Natalie Haynes ( A Thousand Ships ), Margaret Attwood ( Penelopiad ) and Pat Barker ( The Silence of the Girls ) reinterpreting the ancient Greek stories, often from a female perspective. I can recommend all of the above.

The one book I would recommend right now, however, is the only novel of Harry Thompson called This Thing of Darkness. It follows successive voyages of the Beagle, captained by Robert Fitzroy ( pioneer in weather forecasting) with Charles Darwin as naturalist.  It has an almost perfect blend of history, science and adventure and brings that period and those, real, individuals to life.

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In 1831 Charles Darwin set off in HMS Beagle under the command of Captain Robert Fitzroy on a voyage that would change the world. This is the story of a deep friendship between two men, and the twin obsessions that tear them apart, leading one to triumph, and the other to disaster.

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?

My plan is to drink lots of water at the same time as drinking the alcohol, especially when in warmer climes. And, given that one of the famous Delphic maxims is ‘Nothing in excess’ often translated as ‘All things in moderation.’ I’ll have to be careful. We don’t want to offend the god.

If I do end up hung over I try and replace the sugars and vitamins lost ( that’s my excuse ), so fresh orange juice, fruit cocktail with yoghurt and Greek pastries ( or croissants ). If I was somewhere cold it would be a bacon butty or a boiled egg with bread and butter soldiers.  In short, comfort food.

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

On Saturday morning, hangover permitting, I’d walk up the mountain behind Delphi to the Corycian Cave where people have lived since Neolithic times. I’d trek across, via the stadium used for the Pythian Games (rivalling the Olympic Games in their time) to stand at the top of the Phaedriades, huge cliffs called the ‘shining ones’ which tower above the temple site. It used to be the punishment for blasphemy to be thrown from these cliffs and, in Oracle, a body is found at their foot.

I’d come back down into town and have an early lunch on a terrace at one of the other little tavernas, then spend the heat of the day in the Museum (which is air conditioned) looking at artefacts from and reading the history of the ancient site. That evening it would be to an outdoor concert or drama performance, either at the European Cultural Centre or in the temple site itself.  I would love to see Euripides’ The Bacchae in the amphitheatre, in which Dionysus is a main character. Or Eumenides by Aeschylus, which opens in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and ends at a ‘trial’ in Athens, just like Oracle.

Then on Sunday morning to the Temple itself, walking up the Sacred Way, past the ruins of treasuries built to house the many treasures and gifts which rich patrons dedicated to the God. Cities sent presents, so did whole islands and even Pharoah of Egypt dedicated gold and precious gems. No one wanted to offend Apollo. I’d go to the Castalian Spring at the foot of the Phaedriades, where the Pythia, the female priestess, bathed in ritual purification before she entered the Temple and became the Oracle. I like that this place was dedicated to Gaia the Great Mother before it passed to Apollo and that it was a woman, or women, who spoke with the God’s voice even after Apollo took over. I’m not sure I’d have fancied the ritual outdoor bathing in March ‘though. At that time of year it’s cold this high up.

A long and lazy Greek lunch would follow, probably before a nap and the drive back to the modern world.

Thank you for a really interesting chat, it’s been extremely enjoyable.

Julie’s new book, Oracle, will be published on 5 May and you can buy a copy here.

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High on the slopes of Mount Parnassus, near the ancient Temple of Apollo, a group of young idealists protest against the despoiling of the planet outside a European governmental conference. Inside, corporate business lobbyists mingle with lawmakers, seeking profit and influence. Then the charismatic leader of the protest goes missing.

Oracle is about justice, from the brutal, archaic form of blood vengeance prevalent in early human societies to modern systems of law and jurisprudence, set in the context of a democracy. This is the law and equality under the law which allows democracy to thrive and underpins the freedoms and safeguards for individuals within it. The story is interlinked with Greece’s past, as the ancient cradle of democracy and source of many of western ideas of government, but also to its more recent and violent past of military strongmen and authoritarianism in the twentieth century.

Oracle also considers, in the form of a crime thriller, the politicisation of the police and the justice system and how that will undermine justice, especially following the banning of Golden Dawn, the now criminal organisation which wrapped itself in the mantle of politics. It touches on the new academic discipline of zemiology, the study of ‘crime’ through the prism of the harm it does to people, especially those without power.

Julie Anderson was a Senior Civil Servant in Westminster and Whitehall for many years, including at the Office for the Deputy Prime Minister, the Inland Revenue and Treasury Solicitors. Earlier publications include historical adventure novels and short stories. She is Chair of Trustees of Clapham Writers, organisers of the Clapham Book Festival, and curates events across London. 

You can find out more about Julie and her books via her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Victoria Springfield

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The weeks are going by so fast now, aren’t they? I can’t believe it is time for another edition of Romancing The Romance Authors, the feature where I chat to an author of romance novels about what, why and how they write. But it is, and this week I am delighted to be talking to… Victoria Springfield.

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

I write contemporary women’s fiction immersed in the sights, sounds and flavours of Italy.  I started writing my first book in 2018 and was lucky enough to get a place on the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme in 2019.  Later that year I met my agent, Camilla Shestopal at the RNA conference in Lancaster.  My debut novel, The Italian Holiday, has just been published by Orion under their digital-first brand, Dash.  A second book, set in a riding school in the Tuscan countryside, will be coming out in August this year.

Why romance?

Romance novels are often dismissed but love is one of the biggest influences on people’s emotions and actions.  Love can make one person curl up in a ball in a dark corner, another person to leap up and down on the sofa like Tom Cruise.  It can make people do crazy things, cause them to betray their friends and families or commit acts of self-sacrifice.  Love provides a writer with great material and I enjoy creating a happy ending.  I want people to put my books down with a big, contented sigh and the feeling that all is well in the world.

What inspires your stories?

I have been holidaying in Italy since I was a teenager thanks to my father who was a real Italophile.  The locations, the scenery, the history and of course, the wonderful food all inspire me.  Italy is such a diverse country – it was not united until the late 19th century – so the strong local identity of each location shapes my characters’ lives.  The story lines come from people I have met, conversations I have overheard and things I have read.  Once I start writing, the story itself inspires twists and turns as I go along.

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

My favourite authors such as Mary Wesley, Joanna Trollope and Anita Shreve mix romance with other elements. I have recently discovered Erin Hilderbrand who is fantastic at dissecting human relationships; her books are mainly set on Nantucket.  Rosanna Ley is great; I really enjoyed The Little Theatre by the Sea set in Sardinia, and I always enjoy Sue Moorcroft’s books.  I want to read more from Nadia Marks, her Among the Lemon Trees, a mixture of family secrets and wartime romance has an Italian element but mainly takes place on a small Aegean island.  For a complete change I am trying some historical romance; I am thoroughly enjoying The Spanish Girl by Jules Hayes.

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

I hope you have plenty of spare time because I am going to suggest Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.  This is by far the biggest book on my shelf but well worth the read. The book opens with the wedding of the heroine Lata’s older sister.  Lata’s mother assures her that she will find a suitable boy for Lata to wed, but Lata has ideas of her own.  By the end of the book Lata has three different suitors to choose from and has to weigh up the merits of romantic love, personal happiness and family obligations.

Lata’s search for love plays out against a backdrop of infighting and tragedy as India prepares for its first election after gaining independence from the British Empire.  There is a lot to digest with the political shenanigans and a subplot involving a battle for the affections of the captivating courtesan, Saeeda Bai.  The recent BBC television series included many of the hundred-plus characters from the book but it could only scratch the surface – they should have made fifty episodes!

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A modern classic, this epic tale of families, romance and political intrigue, set in India, never loses its power to delight and enchant readers.

At its core, A Suitable Boy is a love story: the tale of Lata – and her mother’s – attempts to find her a suitable husband, through love or through exacting maternal appraisal. At the same time, it is the story of India, newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis as a sixth of the world’s population faces its first great general election and the chance to map its own destiny.

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

I was tempted to choose a handsome, brooding Italian but I am going to step back in time and choose Emma’s charming old-fashioned Mr. Knightley who would knock at my door and whisk me off in a horse-drawn carriage to Donwell Abbey.  After a tour of the grounds, we would enjoy dainty cakes washed down with copious amounts of tea from fine china cups in front of the roaring fire.  Later, I would descend the stairs dressed in a sweeping gown for the evening’s ball, where I would miraculously dance beautifully.  The next day a groom would appear with two striking horses.  I would try sidesaddle; Mr. Knightley would look particularly dashing in breeches and leather boots.  We would fall through a portal into the Italian countryside and trot through the same vineyards, meadows and woods as the characters in my forthcoming second novel before spending the night at the home of a handsome Italian count.  Spurred on by the count’s flirtation with me, Mr. Knightley would at last cast off his English reserve…

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

The RNA provides a wonderful sense of camaraderie; I am continually astonished by how helpful and friendly everyone is.  I have been missing the chapter meetings but now I am crossing paths with people on social media.  If I had not joined the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme I am not sure I would have got published.  The reader was able to pick out specific passages in my manuscript to show me where my writing could be more engaging and vivid.

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

Do what works for you and do not worry if someone else is writing 3,000 words a day.  Also, get away from the computer.  For me there is something about the rhythm of swimming or walking that untangles my plot problems.  I have been known to scribble things down whilst I am wrapped in a towel in the pool changing rooms.

Tell us about your most recent novel.

The Italian Holiday is an uplifting seaside romance which weaves together the stories of unlucky-in-love Bluebell and kind widow, Miriam who meet on a coach tour of the Amalfi Coast, with that of local girl, Michela, who is returning to Italy after a year working in London.  Whilst Bluebell and Miriam are making friends and exploring the region, Michela’s plan to work at her cousins’ restaurant in Positano is scuppered by a family crisis.  Instead, she lends a helping hand at her parents’ tiny café bar in the quaint town of Minori, surrounded by memories of her first love, Stefano.

The three women have to learn to embrace the changes in their lives and seize their chances of happiness.  The book explores love, friendship, family ties and – thanks to a mysterious poppy-print dress – how a change of clothes can change your life.

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Sun, sea and spaghetti…

Italy was Bluebell’s dream destination, but taking her granny’s place on the Loving and Knitting magazine competition holiday she’d won wasn’t quite what she’d had in mind. For one thing she didn’t knit and for the other…well being single probably discounted her from the love category too. But a free holiday is a free holiday and it’s the perfect escape from her lacklustre life.

Michela didn’t think she’d be returning home to Italy so soon, a new job at her cousin’s restaurant on the harbour of Positano was a dream gig, miles away from the grey London clouds. This time though, she vowed not to fall into old habits, Stefano was the past and now her future in her old hometown beckoned.

But under the Italian skies a whole host of possibilities await and maybe happy-ever-after is just a plane-ride away…

You can buy The Italian Holiday as an ebook here.

About The Author

Victoria Springfield

Victoria Springfield writes contemporary women’s fiction set mainly in Italy.  Her feel-good stories follow unforgettable characters of all ages as they find adventure, friendship and romance.  After many years in London, she now lives in Kent with her husband in a house by the river.  Victoria joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s New Writers’ Scheme in 2019.  In 2020 she signed a two-book deal with Orion Dash.  The Italian Holiday set on The Amalfi Coast is out now.  A second book, set in a horse riding centre in Tuscany, will be published in August 2021.

Connect with Victoria:

Facebook: Victoria Springfield Author

Twitter: @VictoriaSwrites

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Desert Island Books with… Brian Price

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This week, I have whisked yet another victim guest off to my deserted tropical island to enjoy peace, solitude and the chance to kick back and read five hand-picked books without interruption. This time, the lucky castaway is non-fiction author… Brian Price.

Book One – Sherlock Holmes Short Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle

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This anthology collects together Arthur Conan Doyle’s finest Sherlock Holmes stories.

The drug-addled, anti-social sleuth has become one of the most iconic characters in fiction and the tales collected here will entertain readers today just as much as when they were first published in the late 19th-century.

Featuring such classic cases as ‘A Scandal in Bohemia’ and ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’, this provides the perfect introduction to the world’s favourite detective.

I’ve have enjoyed Sherlock Holmes ever since I was a teenager and the collected short stories demonstrate the breadth of the author’s inventiveness – more so than some of the longer ones. Of course, some are a little fanciful but they are of their time and still repay re-reading.

Book Two – Dr Thorndyke Omnibus by R. Austin Freeman

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Dr. Thorndyke is one of the best creations of the Golden Age of British detective fiction. He is both medical doctor and barrister and the first great exponent of forensics in fiction, with an encyclopedic scientific knowledge.

R. Austin Freeman was innovative in his writing too – some of his stories are divided in two: the first part describes the crime AND who did it – the second, the means of detection.

In this new omnibus edition, over forty Thorndyke short stories are gathered, from The Singing Bone (a.k.a. The Adventures of Dr. Thorndyke), The Great Portrait Mystery, John Thorndyke’s Cases (a.k.a. Dr. Thorndyke’s Cases), The Magic Casket , The Puzzle Lock and Dr. Thorndyke’s Case Book (a.k.a. The Blue Scarab).

In some ways a rival to Holmes – their writings overlapped at the turn of the 20th century – Freeman’s character uses science much more than Holmes and the stories are all the richer for it. In some ways I prefer Thorndyke – he’s more sociable – and the puzzles are excellent.

Book Three – The Witches Trilogy by Terry Pratchett

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A collection of three of the author’s “Discworld” novels; Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad, that feature the characters Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrit Garlick.

Terry Pratchett can always cheer me up and the witches stories are hilarious. He was a wonderful writer who sneaked in a lot of thoughtful stuff beneath the humour and fantasy.  Greatly missed.

Book Four – Howdunnit by Martin Edwards (ed.)

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Ninety crime writers from the world’s oldest and most famous crime writing network give tips and insights into successful crime and thriller fiction.

Howdunit offers a fresh perspective on the craft of crime writing from leading exponents of the genre, past and present. The book offers invaluable advice to people interested in writing crime fiction, but it also provides a fascinating picture of the way that the best crime writers have honed their skills over the years. Its unique construction and content mean that it will appeal not only to would-be writers but also to a very wide readership of crime fans.

The principal contributors are current members of the legendary Detection Club, including Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Peter James, Peter Robinson, Ann Cleeves, Andrew Taylor, Elly Griffiths, Sophie Hannah, Stella Duffy, Alexander McCall Smith, John Le Carré and many more.

Interwoven with their contributions are shorter pieces by past Detection Club members ranging from G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr to Desmond Bagley and H.R.F. Keating.

The book is dedicated to Len Deighton, who is celebrating 50 years as a Detection Club member and has also penned an essay for the book.

The contributions are linked by short sections written by Martin Edwards, the current President of the Club and author of the award-winning The Golden Age of Murder.

Martin Edwards has pulled together an amazing collection of tips for crime writers, from authors old and new, together with valuable examples of how it should be done. An invaluable source of advice.

Book Five – The Puppet Show by M.W. Craven

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Welcome to the Puppet Show . . .

A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless.

When his name is found carved into the charred remains of the third victim, disgraced detective Washington Poe is brought back from suspension and into an investigation he wants no part of.

Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant, but socially awkward, civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only he is meant to see. The elusive killer has a plan and for some reason Poe is part of it.

As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he’s ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive …

Picking a contemporary novel to re-read is extremely difficult but I’ll go with the first in the riveting Poe and Tilly series. The characters are brilliant, the plot excellent and the writing great – and sometimes very funny.

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If a solar powered word processor is not available, I’ll settle for a big box of pens and paper – without too many distractions, I should be able to write something half decent!

About Brian Price

Brian Price

Brian Price is a chemist and biologist who provides advice on science to crime writers direct and via his website  and YouTube channel. He was an Open University tutor for 26 years and also worked for the Environment Agency. He is an avid reader of crime fiction, writes short stories and has a novel currently seeking a publisher.

Brain’s latest book, Crime writing: How to write the science, is a guide for authors on the scientific aspects of crime. It covers poisons, weapons, knocking people out, fires & explosions, body disposal and some aspects of DNA and forensics. It aims to help writers avoid common mistakes and is also of interest to avid crime readers. Million-selling crime writer Leigh Russell described it as ‘Detailed and thorough. Price clearly knows his subject matter which he presents in a lucid and well-organised text. This is an invaluable resource for any crime writer.’ You can buy a copy of the book here.

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How many times have you read a crime novel describing a poisoning, a stabbing, an explosion or a shooting and realised it’s wrong? Mistakes jar and can undermine a brilliant plot.

This guide will help you to avoid these mistakes, save you research time and ensure that your writing is scientifically credible. Crime writers increasingly look for accuracy in their work and this book, which assumes no previous scientific knowledge, will be a valuable asset for both novices and experienced writers and will also fascinate readers who love crime fiction.

This book explains: * The nature of poisons and how they work. * How to knock out a character and avoid killing them * The nature of explosives are and what happens in an explosion.. * How fires start and their effects on people and buildings. * Firearms, suppressors and how they work. Mechanisms for murder. * Tips on fighting back from an attack and escaping from captivity. * Problems of body disposal and crime scene clean-up. * The nature and use of DNA. * Forensic techniques & how evidence can be misinterpreted.

Connect with Brian:

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

Facebook: Brian Price

Twitter: @crimewritersci

YouTube: Brian Price

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