The 2022 Romantic Novel Award Winners’ Interviews with…. Rosie Hendry

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I’m back from my Easter holidays and back into the blogging life and, to kick off spring on the blog, I’m delighted to welcome 2022 RONA award-winning author, Rosie Hendry, on to talk about her writing and her book, The Mother’s Day Club, which won this year’s Romantic Saga Award.

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Rosie, huge congratulations on your win. How surprised were you to hear your name read out as the winner of the award on the night? Has it sunk in yet?

I was absolutely stunned! To be short-listed was thrilling but I never thought I would win. It all happened quickly after my name was read out and I had to go up to receive the award. I’m so grateful I took my friend Jenni’s advice to write something down to help me in case it should happen, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to string a coherent sentence together to thank people. 

It took a while to sink in, but now when I look at the award, which I can see from where I work, it makes me smile and fills me with joy. It’s especially precious as I struggled with writing The Mother’s Day Club and nearly gave up on it.

What does it mean to you to have won this award? What effect do you think it will have on your future career? What reaction have you had to your win so far?

It means a huge amount as it was chosen by readers. There were many excellent sagas in the category so be chosen as winner is a huge accolade – thank you so much to all the readers. It’s a massive boost to my confidence in my writing and I hope will encourage more readers to try The Mother’s Day Club for themselves. 

The support from fellow writers and readers has been amazing. My dear friends from the Norfolk & Suffolk RNA chapter, those who were there on the night, and others who were sending their congratulation messages virtually was brilliant. It felt like a win for us all as we are a close group who support each other’s ups and downs with our writing life. 

What inspired this particular story and what do you think it is about the story which made it stand out to the judges?

I was doing research at the Imperial War Museum for another book and stumbled across a first- hand account of an expectant mother being evacuated on the day war was declared. She was walking to Liverpool Street Station with other expectant mothers when news came that war had been declared, and shortly after the first air-raid sirens went. The image was so powerful I knew I wanted to use it one day. I’d had no idea that expectant mothers were evacuated as the history we see focuses on the children, so I wanted to tell the mothers’ story. From the reaction I’ve had from readers, they didn’t know about this part of our history either and have been interested to learn more. 

The book is also set on my home turf in Norfolk, in a house partly inspired by the one I grew up in a village. There’s a good dose of my family history and my experience of growing up on a small holding in there too. I think all of this has combined into a story which readers have enjoyed.

How important is research to your writing process? How long does it normally take you to complete and do you do it prior to starting the book or as the story progresses?

Research is key – the characters and setting are mainly fictional but based on real events and places. It’s very important for me to get my facts rights, both to honour those living then and to portray an accurate story of those times. I owe it to readers who invest time in reading the book to get my facts right. 

I usually spend about three weeks researching to build up my knowledge of what I need but will also do a bit as I go along. I’m a planner so getting most of the research done first helps me get the story worked out. With writing historical I must make sure my timelines work with both international, national and local wartime events – I have charts to keep track of things!

Your books are extremely popular. What do you think it is that draws people to sagas?

Fascination with times gone past, learning about social history and seeing how women dealt with what was thrown at them. One of the reasons I like writing WWII fiction is that women were required to do jobs they never would have been allowed to do before. Pushed out of their comfort zone they did brilliantly. It makes for great change and conflict, and perfect storytelling material.

What do you think readers in the modern day learn from reading about the struggles of the women you write about in your books?

That women had it tough and yet they coped in the most extraordinary of circumstances. There was also a great sense of camaraderie and community which is sometimes lacking now. 

What do you have coming up next in your writing? Will you be exploring more stories involving these characters?

The Mother’s Day Victory, which carries on from The Mother’s Day Club came out on March 3rd and has been received well by readers. I’ve started a follow-on series with the same characters and setting called the Rookery House series, the first one of which – A Wartime Welcome at Rookery House – is out on the 7th June. There will be more books to come in this new series, keeping up with the characters as the war progresses and more changes come to the village.

Rosie, thank you so much for chatting to me today, it’s been fascinating to hear from you. Good luck with the new books.

Rosie’s RONA award-winning novel, The Mother’s Day Club, is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Rosie Hendry, Romantic Saga, Romantic Novel Awards 2022, The Mothers Day Club BOOK COVER

Will friendship and motherhood keep the Women on the Home Front safe from war?

Norfolk, 1939

When the residents of Great Plumstead, a small and charming community in Norfolk, offer to open their homes to evacuees from London, they’re expecting to care for children. So when a train carrying expectant mothers pulls into the station, the town must come together to accommodate their unexpected new arrivals . . .

Sisters Prue and Thea welcome the mothers with open arms, while others fear their peaceful community will be disrupted. But all pregnant Marianne seeks is a fresh start for herself and her unborn child. Though she knows that is only possible as long as her new neighbours don’t discover the truth about her situation.

The women of Great Plumstead, old and new, are fighting their own battles on the home front. Can the community come together in a time of need to do their bit for the war effort?

Rosie Hendry lives by the sea in North Norfolk with her husband and children. A former teacher and research scientist, she started off writing short stories for magazines, her stories gradually becoming longer as her children grew bigger. She writes uplifting, heart-warming historical fiction based on true events from our social history. Listening to her father’s tales of life during the Second World War sparked her interest in this period and she loves researching further, seeking out gems of real-life stories which inspire her writing.

Connect with Rosie:

Website: http://rosiehendry.com

Facebook: Rosie Hendry

Twitter: @hendry_rosie

Instagram: @rosiehendryauthor

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RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Karen Dickson

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Tonight I have as my guest an author shortlisted in the Romantic Saga category in this year’s Romantic Novel Awards with her book, A Songbird in Wartime. Please join me in welcoming to the blog author… Karen Dickson.

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

Gin and tonic

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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?

The Grosvenor Hotel in Shaftesbury.  It’s mine and my husband’s favourite place to go for a drink or a coffee.

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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?

The first one would be children’s author, Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I loved her books as a child and have been fascinated by her life growing up as the daughter of a pioneer in America.

Secondly, I think it would have to be Colin Firth.  I loved him as Mr Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and in Bridget Jones’ Diary.  

Thank you for giving me an excuse to crack out the Mr. Darcy pic! So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

I’m in the process of writing my fifth novel which follows on from my fourth which should, hopefully, be released later this year.

I was encouraged by the feed back I received for my second novel, The Dressmaker’s Secret, to write a novel that loosely followed some of the main characters, which is what I have done with my fourth novel. It follows the lives of a group of friends and is set in the fictional hamlet of Strawbridge.

I am now planning to write a series of novels following their lives up and into WW2.

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

Certainly being shortlisted for the Romantic Saga Award is my proudest moment.  I never imagined I would be nominated, never mind make the short list.

My biggest challenge, I think, was getting an agent in the first place.  I sent off manuscripts to numerous agents over the years with no luck.  So I will always be grateful to my agent, Judith Murdoch, for taking me on.  She has been brilliant.  I had to completely change my writing style and genre in order to get a publisher but now I really enjoy writing romantic sagas.

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 would love Netflix to make one of my novels into a mini-series.  I think that would be fun.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

I’m really excited about attending the RNA awards ceremony in March.  My husband and I are traveling up to London on the train and we’ve booked ot stay in a Premier Inn close to the venue. Some of my favourite authors are on the shortlist so I’m looking froward to meeting them.

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 Greek Islands, especially Kefalonia.  I think I would say that is my favourite holiday destination.  We’ve been there four times and are hoping to go again once Covid settles down.

I think somewhere in the Caribbean would be top of my bucket list.  I enjoy watching Death in Paradise and the beaches and sea in the tv series look absolutely amazing.  I always think I would be able to write brilliantly if I had a little shack right on the beach overlooking the azure ocean.

I’m with you on Death in Paradise. I always wish I was there when I’m watching! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

Not many people know that I can only see out of one eye.  It was picked up when I was a child back in the 1970’s when there was nothing to be done about it.  Because my sight in my other eye has always been excellent, it has never posed a problem.

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’?

 If you haven’t already read it, I would highly recommend, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.  You’ll need a box of tissues at the end, though.

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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.

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 always drink a pint of water before bed and take paracetamol.  It seems to help.  If I do wake up feeling rotten, I find a large mug of tea and more paracetamol does the trick.

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

Definitely spending time with my grandson.  He stopped growing at 32 weeks and was born at 36 weighing just 4lbs.  He was diagnosed with Downs Syndrome at two days’ old but, thankfully, has no underlying health issues.  He is 17 months old now and is the apple of his granny’s eye.  

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He is a cutie alright! Karen, thanks for joining me tonight, I’ve had a lovely time chatting to you.

Karen’s RONA-shortlisted novel, A Songbird in Wartime, is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

Karen Dickson, Romantic Saga, Romantic Novel Awards 2022, A Songbird in Wartime BOOK COVER

Shaftesbury, 1936.

Mansfield House Hotel has been a refuge for Emily ever since she was orphaned at the age of 16. Not only did they give her employment as a chambermaid, but it’s also where she met her fiancé Tom.

When theatre agent Roland stays at the hotel and hears Emily singing, he is determined to take her away to Bristol and make her a star. But knowing she’d never leave her fiancé, he hatches a plan to get Emily away from Tom. 

Six years later, Emily has made a name for herself as ‘The Bristol Songbird’. Her love for Tom is still as strong as ever, but she’s not heard from him since that fateful night so long ago. And with the world enveloped in a war, it seems unlikely the two will ever meet again.

Will Emily and Tom ever find their way back to one another? Or will the war and Roland succeed in keeping them apart?

Karen Dickson was born in England but grew up in South Africa on the beautiful east coast. Her favourite subjects at school were history and English, unsurprisingly.  

She started writing stories as a child and it was always at the back of her mind that she wanted to be a writer one day.  

She’s had several jobs, shoe shop assistant, bank teller, insurance clerk and childminder.  She worked for nine years in her local branch of WHSmith and now works part time as a dog walker which affords her the flexibility to write.

She lives in a beautiful part of north Dorset and most of her novels are set in the south of England, particularly Dorset and Southampton.

She has been married to John for thirty-three years and they have two grown-up children, and one grandson.  She is also step-mum to her husband’s two sons, and step-granny to his four grandchildren.

Connect with Karen:

Facebook: Karen Dickson Author

Instagram: @karen_dickson_author

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RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… AnneMarie Brear

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Continuing my celebration of the 2022 RONA shortlisted authors, I am delighted to welcome to the blog an author nominated in the Romantic Saga category with her novel, A Distant Horizon. It’s… AnneMarie Brear.

AnneMarie Brear, Romantic Saga, Romantic Novel Awards 2022

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

Prosecco, with a strawberry in it. We are celebrating after all.

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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?

Depends which country we were in. If we were in Australia, where I live, I’d take you to The Surveyor General Inn in Berrima (Australia’s oldest continual licensed public house – c1834) and Berrima is where Ellen lives in A Distant Horizon. If we were in England, I’d take you to one of the bars in York by the river. I love York!

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I love York too – I am a Yorkshire lass after all – and I’ve spent many happy hours in the riverside hostelries of that city so I’ll come to Australia, if you don’t mind! 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?

That is such a hard question, so many people to choose from. Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. I have read so much about her and she fascinates me and Captain James Cook. I’d love to talk to him about exploring unknown countries, the thrill and the terror of it.

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 I am writing novel #31. When I started writing in 1997 I never knew what my writing path would be, if it would lead to anything or not. Back then, I just wanted to write about the characters that were in my head. I never expected, though of course I dreamed of it, that I would make a good career out of my books. I just want to keep doing what I’m doing for the rest of my life.

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

My proudest moment was leaving paid work and writing full time — that my books could support me is, truthfully, a dream come true for me. My biggest challenge was believing I could make this happen. I still pinch myself that I am living my dream.

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 would love to achieve making it to film, either big screen or TV series. A Netflix deal would be perfect, actually.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

My plans are quite simple. I just want to keep writing books that readers love and to do that for as long as I can. I am excited to do this for years!

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 also love to travel and have been fortunate enough to visit many places on my bucket list. I live in one of the best countries in the world, but aside from Australia, my favourite place to visit was New York. I loved every minute of it. I felt I was on a movie set, seeing so many places I’d only seen on TV or in movies. I also love London, and Rome was another favourite and Lyon in France. I would like to visit India and Canada.

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

Let’s see… I enjoy most types of music, love to dance to eighties songs and sing to country. 

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

The Woman from Browhead by Audrey Howard. I loved that book. In fact I love all of Audrey Howard’s books. 

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Annie Abbott, daughter and only child of a poverty-stricken hill farmer and his downtrodden wife, who runs away with a theatrical group at the age of 15. Eventually hearing that her parents have died, Annie returns to the Lakes to claim the farm.

But now she has an illegitimate daughter – and virtually no one will speak to her. Only a local landowner, who is engaged to marry another woman, comes to help her.

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 always end up with a hangover. So, the next morning I like to eat, weirdly, honey and vegemite on toast. (Marmite will substitute if you don’t have vegemite) then go and do something, a walk, garden, shopping, anything, but do not wallow in bed, that makes you feel worse I believe. 

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

Oh, a nice picnic, read a good book, maybe see a movie, spend time with loved ones.

Sounds wonderful. Thank you so much for chatting with me tonight, it has been great fun.

AnneMarie’s RONA-shortlisted novel, A Distant Horizon, is available now in all formats and you can get a copy here.

AnneMarie Brear, Romantic Saga, Romantic Novel Awards 2022, A Distant Horizon BOOK COVER

1851 Ireland.

After enduring years of a devastating potato famine, Ellen Kittrick is a survivor. Crop failures and a descent into poverty changes her from a happy wife and mother to a woman struggling to keep her children alive.

To put food on the table and to stop the landowner’s agent from tearing down their cottage due to unpaid rent, Ellen defies her family and works at an Englishman’s manor, but with her husband out of work, and a secretive brother-in-law wanting her for his own, Ellen must face every challenge with new strength.

When several shocking events occur, it forces her to make an enormous decision. With aid coming from an unlikely source, namely Englishman Rafe Hamilton, Ellen leaves Ireland with what is left of her family to start again in a new country. But will the colony give her the security and happiness she longs for, especially when she has left her heart behind? Can Ellen thrive in a strange land? Or has she made the greatest mistake of her life?

From an early age, AnneMarie Brear loved reading, working her way through the Enid Blyton stories, before moving onto Catherine Cookson’s novels as a teenager. A long and winding road to publication led to her first novel being published in 2006. She has now published over twenty-nine novels, becoming an Amazon bestseller and with her historical saga novel, The Slum Angel, winning a gold medal at the Reader’s Favourite International Awards. Two of her books have been nominated for the Romance Writer’s Australia Ruby Award and the USA InD’Tale Magazine Rone award.

Connect with AnneMarie:

Website: https://annemariebrear.com/

Facebook: AnneMarie Brear

Twitter: @annemariebrear

Instagram: @annemariebrear

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RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Elizabeth Morton

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It’s the eve of the RONAs, tomorrow we will find out who the winners are in all of the categories. One of the nominees shortlisted in the category of Romantic Saga with her novel, Angel of Liverpool, is joining me for a celebratory beverage and chat. It is… Elizabeth Morton.

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Elizabeth, welcome to the blog. First things first, what are you drinking?

As it’s a special night, large gin and tonic! Ice and slice. 

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

I would take you to the Philharmonic pub in Liverpool. Because it’s beautiful, historic, and because I’ve never had a dull night there. 

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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?

Mmm. I would invite Lily Parr, the first female footballer to be inducted in the Hall of Fame. She was a trailblazer, born in 1905, living through two world wars, her amazing footballing career drawing huge crowds when she seized the opportunity to play when the men were at war, and then going on to nurse. So many stories she must have that weren’t documented. And then I would invite John Lennon to talk to him about the recent Peter Jackson documentary in which I fell in love with him all over again. 

 

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

I have my fourth book The Girl from Liverpool coming out in May. It’s a love story. It’s set in the outbreak of WW2 and features the sinking of the Arandora star which was a tragic event in Liverpool’s history. Despite that, I hope it will make feel people feel happy and hopeful. I want as many people to read it! I am writing my fifth book and I’m excited to finish and share it with my agent! 

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For as long as she can remember Peggy O’Shea has been expected to work at the family dairy, look after her younger siblings, and eventually marry cow-keeper Martin Gallagher. And that’s the way it has she meets handsome Anthony Giardano and falls in love.

But there’s bad blood between the Irish O’Sheas and the Italian Giardanos, so when Italy joins forces with Germany and Liverpool turns on its Italian residents overnight, it makes any relationship between Peggy and Anthony impossible . .

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

Proudest moment has been so far being shortlisted for the RoNA saga award for my book Angel of Liverpool. Such amazing company on the shortlist! Also The Bookseller choosing The Girl from Liverpool as one of the six sagas to look out for this year. Also seeing my book on shelves in book shops supermarkets or libraries. Still have to pinch myself.

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 would like to keep writing as long as I have breath in me and to build up the kind of loyal fan base that writers like Catherine Cookson and Dilly Court have. Having worked as an actress I would like to see my books dramatised in any form, film, tv, or theatre. I think that would be very exciting. 

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Well, I’m so excited about the RoNA Awards, especially as I will meet so many of the writers I read. Also, after covid, I am excited to get back to book signings and book groups. I hate zooming and I am looking forward to getting back into rooms with people! 

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

I recently went to Iceland with my sons, which was amazing. My father- in -law is from Guyana and we are hoping to go there and meet family in the autumn which we have never done before. 

Iceland has been a very popular choice on the blog recently! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

Mm. I am the wife of a Time Lord and the step mother in law of another. 

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How exciting! 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’?

If you haven’t already read it, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. The ultimate epic saga! 

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Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him

But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert

It is not simply for himself that Valjean must stay free, however, for he has sworn to protect the baby daughter of Fantine, driven to prostitution by poverty.

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?

Eat before you drink. Eggy bread! Dog walk!

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

Write in the morning, read in the afternoon, dog walk in between, garden. Sofa in the evening watching a great drama on tv with a glass of wine. 

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Thank you so much for chatting to me this evening, it has a been a great pleasure and good luck in the awards tomorrow.

Elizabeth’s RONA-shortlisted novel, Angel of Liverpool, is available now in all formats and you can buy a copy here. 

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Her mother called her Angel but now she’s a fallen woman . . .

There are different opinions as to what happened to Evangeline O’Leary’s mother. Her younger sisters believe the story that she’s in heaven. But Evie has heard the gossips – that her ma has upped and left with the man she had an affair with while Evie’s dad was fighting in the war.

As the eldest, Evie has become ‘mum’ to her three siblings, all while holding down a job at the Tate & Lyle Sugar Factory. But when her childhood sweetheart leaves for Canada he leaves Evie with more than just a broken heart. Her father agrees to keep the pregnancy a secret but is determined to marry her off to the first hapless fellow who’ll have her. Evie doesn’t want a loveless marriage like her parents but how long can she keep her baby a secret from her neighbours and the nuns who run the local home for unmarried mothers . . . ?

Elizabeth Morton was born in Liverpool and worked as an actress. She is known for playing Madeline Basset in Jeeves and Wooster and Lucinda in the Liverpool sitcom, Watching. As well as TV, she has also worked in theatre and film. She trained at Guildhall School of Drama and as a writer, with The Royal Court Young Writers’ Group. She is an award-winning short-story writer and has also written drama for TV, film and theatre. In her formative years at convent school, she spent her weekends playing the piano accordion in Northern Working Men’s Clubs. She lives with her husband – the actor Peter Davison – in Middlesex and is the author of A Liverpool Girl and A Last Dance in Liverpool, and Angel of Liverpool.

Connect with Elizabeth:

Facebook: Elizabeth Morton

Twitter: @LiverpoolGirl72

Instagram: @elizabethmortonbooks

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RONA Awards Celebration Drinks with… Jean Fullerton

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My next guest on the blog to chat about her recent nomination in the 2022 Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Novel Awards in the Shorter Romantic Novel category for her book, A Ration Book Christmas Broadcast, is Jean Fullerton.

Jean Fullerton, Shorter Romantic Novel, Romantic Novel Awards 2022 (copy)

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

Hi, Julie, it’s my pleasure and I’ll have a rum and coke please. Captain Morgan’s if the have it but Lambs if not. I’ve been drinking that since I was fifteen – yes, I know it was illegal even back in the 70s but nobody bothered about such details back then.

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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?

To the theatre in London. Les Misérables is my all-time favorite musical although I am a massive Gilbert & Sullivan fan so I might drag you along to that.  Drama-wise it would have to be something meaty, possibly Shakespeare, and I do like to see good actors like Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen or Helen Mirren. One of the most memorable plays I’ve seen in recent years was the Lieutenant of Inishmore with Aiden Turner in the title role. Two hours of bliss for the obvious reason. I don’t suppose you’d mind if I got us two tickets in the stalls.    

I would love that. I saw Patrick Stewart play Claudius to David Tennant’s Hamlet at the RSC several years ago, which may be my favourite ever theatre outing. 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?

Sandy Toksvig as she is brilliant and would be great company and Eleanor of Aquitaine as I’m sure she’d have some insights into how to succeed in a man’s world.  

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

I’m just 40,000 words into the first book in my next WW2 East London series. I can’t tell you too much at the moment as we’re still sorting out titles and themes, but it features the Carmichael family who move into the area in May 1940. The Carmichaels are very different from the Brogans but face the same wartime challenges.  

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

My proudest moment is always, after a year of writing editing and worrying, holding a new book in my hands. The most challenging, especially in the Ration Book Series, is doing justice to the hardship and sacrifices of the wartime generation.  

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 I share my ambition with many writers which is firstly to be a Sunday Times bestseller and secondly to have my Ration Book books made into a TV series. 

What have you planned that you are really excited about?

One thing I’m really excited about this year is the publication of my autobiography, A Child of the East End which is about my experiences growing up in East London in the 50s,60s and early 70s. I’m totally thrilled to have been able to pull it together as writing non-fiction is a totally different ball game from writing fiction. 

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Sorrow and joy in London’s oldest suburb. . .
Welcome to the East End.

Life in Cockney London was tough in the post-war years. The government’s broken promises had led to a chronic housing shortage, rampant crime and families living in squalor. But one thing prevailed: the unbeatable spirit of the East End, a tight-knit community who pulled through the dark times with humour and heart.

Drawing on both family history and her own memories of growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, as well as her working life as a district nurse and local police officer, Jean Fullerton vividly depicts this fascinating part of London – from tin baths, to jellied eels, to tigers in a Wapping warehouse.

A Child of the East End is an eye-opening, heartfelt and atmospheric portrait of life in the East End after the war, and is perfect for fans of My East End by Gilda O’Neill, Four Meals for Fourpence by Grace Foakes and Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth.

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 travel too and am lucky enough to be an enrichment speaker on cruise liners for the past twelve years so have been to fabulous places, like Greenland, Tahiti, India, the Labrador coast, Devil’s Island – think heat and Papillon – and through the Suez Canal but on my bucket list is Australia. However, of all those exotic places my favorite place on Earth is my hometown London, with all its historical and cultural treasure.    

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

Wow, I think that is the best secret I’ve heard on this feature! I was once accepted as a Bunny girl but declined to take up the offer as I only went to the interview as moral support for a friend. 

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 can think of dozens of books that I could mention but the one I always recommend is Katherine by Anya Seton. It was the first historical romance I read at about the same time I discovered rum and coke and it started me on this wonderful journey of discovery firstly as a reader and then as a writer.  

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

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

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

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, I’m going to put my nurse’s hat on here and say that a hangover is the brain becoming dehydrated by alcohol. My sovereign remedy to rehydrate your grey matter is a couple of bottles of an isotonic sports drink taken over a couple of hours, which will not only restore your fluids balance but replace the electrolytes- trace elements in the body.      

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

I know it’s corny but a perfect day for me when I’m not writing is spending time with my Hero@Home, three daughters and grandchildren. 

Not corny at all, it’s just as it should be. Thank you so much for chatting with me this evening, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself. Good luck in the coming awards, I look forward to hearing the results on the night.

Jean’s shortlisted novel, A Ration Book Christmas Broadcast, is out now in ebook format and you can buy it here.

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Tune in to love…

December, 1944: Grace Meredith, the BBC Outside Broadcasting unit’s assistant, is in trouble. She needs to find a family to interview for what could be the last ‘Just Ordinary Folk’ Christmas programme before the end of the war, pronto. So when she remembers her old friend Francesca Brogan has married into a large and unconventional East End family, her sense of relief is palpable.

Thrust into the warm and bustling world of the Brogans – from Ida and Jeremiah, still sweethearts after 30 years of marriage, to their seven children, some married, one still in nappies, and to Queenie, Jeremiah’s tealeaf-reading, black-market afficionado mother – Grace feels she’s finally going to make her mark at work.

Then things take an unexpected twist when she meets Francesca’s brother, Giovanni Fabrino of the Royal Engineers. With the Christmas Eve deadline rapidly approaching, now would not be the best time to fall in love. But Gio keeps appearing, and their mutual attraction keeps growing. Can Grace and Gio’s Christmas wishes come true – both of them?

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

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

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

Connect with Jean:

Website: http://jeanfullerton.com/

Facebook: Jean Fullerton

Twitter:  @JeanFullerton_

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Desert Island Books with… Mick Arnold

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Today’s strandee will be better equipped to deal with isolation on my desert island than many, I think, as he has certain useful practical skills. However, he will still need intellectual and emotional stimulation, so let’s see what books he is taking with him to provide that. He is author… Mick Arnold.

Book One – The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

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This is a story of many different things.

Of a terrible war and an occupied land

Of the Balicki children who are determined to survive

Of a dangerous journey from war-torn Poland to Switzerland

Of a paper knife that gives them the courage to carry on when nearly all hope is lost.

The Silver Sword is the first adult novel I recall reading, and it’s stuck with me ever since. First published in 1956, this is the deceptively simple story of how a group of Polish children traipses across war-torn Europe in search of their father, picking up a troubled stray boy along the way. None older than 16, this is such a moving story which kept me guessing right until the end. For a novel seemingly aimed towards what would now be called the YA audience, this is such a powerful story full of the best and worst of humanity during the terrible conflict, which was World War 2.

Book Two – Guards! Guards! By Sir Terry Pratchett

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‘It was the usual Ankh-Morpork mob in times of crisis; half of them were here to complain, a quarter of them were here to watch the other half, and the remainder were here to rob, importune or sell hotdogs to the rest.’

Insurrection is in the air in the city of Ankh-Morpork. The Haves and Have-Nots are about to fall out all over again.

Captain Sam Vimes of the city’s ramshackle Night Watch is used to this. It’s enough to drive a man to drink. Well, to drink more. But this time, something is different – the Have-Nots have found the key to a dormant, lethal weapon that even they don’t fully understand, and they’re about to unleash a campaign of terror on the city.

Time for Captain Vimes to sober up.

I was already a huge fan of the work of Terry Pratchett by the time this novel came out. It didn’t need it, but I knew I had to read this novel as soon as read the tag – Captain Sam Vimes is searching for a dragon he believes could help him with his enquires. Who wouldn’t want to read on to find out what happens? Pratchett’s creation of the Discworld surpasses that of Tolkein’s Middle Earth – or at least it does in my opinion. To this day, if I need to cheer myself up, I’ll pick up a Discworld novel and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read Guards! Guards!; and I never get tired of it. Pratchett creates such vivid pictures of each and every character, no matter how minor they are to the plot, which means I always find something new each time I read the book.

Book Three – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J K Rowling

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‘Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your wand hand, step on board and we can take you anywhere you want to go.’

When the Knight Bus crashes through the darkness and screeches to a halt in front of him, it’s the start of another far from ordinary year at Hogwarts for Harry Potter. Sirius Black, escaped mass-murderer and follower of Lord Voldemort, is on the run – and they say he is coming after Harry. In his first ever Divination class, Professor Trelawney sees an omen of death in Harry’s tea leaves… But perhaps most terrifying of all are the Dementors patrolling the school grounds, with their soul-sucking kiss…

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. IMHO, the novel in the series which transformed it from purely a children’s series and into the worldwide phenomenon it became for all ages.  Barely giving you a chance to catch your breath, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a roller coaster of a story, full of mystery and suspense, and more action than you could shake a stick at. This is still one of my favourite reads when I need to relax my mind.

Book Four – Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

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Rumour has it Artemis Fowl is responsible for every major crime of the new century.

Just twelve years old and already he’s a criminal genius, plotting to restore his family’s fortune with a spot of corruption and kidnapping.

Kidnapping a fairy for ransom, to be precise.

Artemis Fowl has discovered a world below ground of armed and dangerous – and extremely high-tech – fairies. But he may have underestimated their powers. They will fight back. Is the boy about to trigger a cross-species war?

Let the misadventure begin.

I know it may seem that I’ve picked a lot of non-adult books, but just because a book is written with one audience in mind, doesn’t mean it can’t appeal to another. Think an evil twelve-year old James Bond, but with magic and fairies! This book takes you from Vietnam to the city of Haven inside the Earth, via Ireland.  Forget the awful Disney film, this is a rock ‘n’ roller of  book which will make you believe in fairies.

Book Five – The Christmas Promise by Sue Moorcroft

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On a snowy December evening, Sam Jermyn steps into the life of bespoke hat maker Ava. Sparks fly, and not necessarily the good ones.

Times are tough for Ava – she’s struggling to make ends meet, her ex-boyfriend is a bully, and worst of all, it’s nearly Christmas.

So when Sam commissions Ava to make a hat for someone special, she makes a promise that will change her life. She just doesn’t know it yet…

I am a huge fan of Christmas romance and they don’t come any better than this novel. Sue Moorcroft is one of my favourite authors and this is one of her best. A story about someone who hates the Christmas period, this hits all the right spots. Laugh-out loud one minute, pass-me-the- tissues, the next. Forget watching The Sound of Music this coming yuletide, treat yourself to a copy of The Christmas Promise and learn why you should love Christmas.

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I’m going to be practical for my one item. For me, it’s essential, especially as it’s a desert island. I must have a good-sized hat. I burn in the sun easily, so I’d need something like a fedora to protect the back of my neck and the top of my head.

About the Author

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

He’s the proud keeper of two cats bent on world domination, is mad on the music of the Beach Boys, and enjoys the theatre and humoring his Manchester United-supporting wife. Finally, and most importantly, Mick is a full member of the Romantic Novelists Association. Wild Blue Yonder is the second novel in his Broken Wings series and he is very proud to be a part of the Vintage Rose Garden at The Wild Rose Press.

Mick’s latest book, Wild Blue Yonder, is available here.

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Air Transport Auxiliary pilot Doris Winter is accused of stealing a valuable item from a famous Hollywood movie star, now a Captain in the US Army Air Corps, after a dance at the air base in England where he’s stationed. Gathering her close friends together, she’s determined to clear her name.

Ruth’s POW son suffers a life-changing injury just as her own cottage takes damage in an air raid and Penny’s estranged little sister unexpectedly turns up, having run away from school. Together with the ongoing thefts of items of clothing and surprise personal revelations, these all threaten to hamper their investigation.

In spite of the worsening war situation, they must band together to rise above their troubles and prove love and friendship is worth fighting for.

Connect with Mick:

Facebook: M W Arnold Author

Twitter: @mick859

Instagram: @mick859

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

Connect with Shirley:

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

Facebook: Shirley Mann Author

Twitter: @shirleymann07

Instagram: @shirleymann2600

 

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

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Introducing The Romantic Novel Awards Interview Series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Romancing The Romance Authors with… Jean Fullerton

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

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

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

Why romance?

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

What inspires your stories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us about your most recent novel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

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

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

Connect with Jean:

Website: http://jeanfullerton.com/

Facebook: Jean Fullerton

Twitter:  @JeanFullerton_

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The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2021: The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett #BookReview

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The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ story lines intersect?

Weaving together multiple strands and generations of this family, from the Deep South to California, from the 1950s to the 1990s, Brit Bennett produces a story that is at once a riveting, emotional family story and a brilliant exploration of the American history of passing. Looking well beyond issues of race, The Vanishing Half considers the lasting influence of the past as it shapes a person’s decisions, desires, and expectations, and explores some of the multiple reasons and realms in which people sometimes feel pulled to live as something other than their origins.

I am so behind with the reading and reviews for this challenge but I am determined to catch up! So today I am reviewing the book I chose for the eighth category in the challenge, ‘Read a book by a BAME author’ and the book I have chosen is one of the top books from 2020, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.

(For those with very eagle eyes, I have missed out category seven, I know. I had to stop reading the book I chose for that category part way through because of the demands of blog tour books and haven’t had chance to go back to it yet. It’s coming soon, I promise!)

This book is an eye-opening exploration of what it meant to grow up in the segregated south of the US in the 1950s and the practice of ‘passing,’ where light-skinned people of colour would pass themselves off as white to avoid the stigma and hardship inflicted on their community. The lengths that people would go to, the sacrifices they were prepared to make, and the consequences of these decisions that echo down the generations are all addressed in this novel with tenderness, understanding and compassion in a book that is beautiful and illuminating but deeply melancholy to read.

Desiree and Stella Vignes are identical twins growing up in the small Southern town of Mallard, where being a light-skinned person of colour is revered and those with darker-skin are shunned. Both sisters leave the town for New Orleans, but then their paths diverge. Desiree later returns to Mallard with her daughter, who has very dark skin, whilst Stella lives as a white woman, having to hide her real self from everyone around her, including her own daughter. However, order is disrupted and secrets come to light when the cousins unexpectedly meet.

This book examines in detail the idea of transformation. Aside from Stella, there are other characters in the book who start off as one thing and, through determination and force of will, morph and mould themselves into something different, all for different reasons. The author looks at how these metamorphoses are viewed by the people around them, and how being true to yourself, your identity, ambitions and desires, can alienate you from the people you love. Are these sacrifices worth it? Which course has made the person happiest in the end? What does it mean to really be true to oneself? How does it feel to hate the body you were born in? To be persecuted for merely being who you are?

The author’s writing is absolutely stunning, and I thought she explored every facet of the story and the themes with real care and deep thought, which provoked the same reaction in me, as the reader. The book is s slow, gentle but demanding read, not one which is full of action and startling event. It is entirely character-focused, which I loved but I know does not appeal to everyone. The themes addressed are complex, sometime controversial and make for an uneasy emotional reaction. It was a book that left me examining my thoughts and feelings on the issues for a long while afterwards, and I know it is a book that will linger in the back of my mind for a long while, and one I will probably return to soon. I listened to it as an audiobook – the narrator did a great job – and I fully intend to return to it again in physical format to see if there is more I can get from it.

I understand fully why this book has been the hit it has and why it was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize For Fiction. A memorable and accomplished novel that really rewards and provoked the reader.

The Vanishing Half is out now in all formats and you can find your copy here or at all good book shops.

About the Author

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Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and later earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan. Her debut novel The Mothers was a New York Times bestseller, and her second novel The Vanishing Half was an instant #1 New York Times bestseller. She is a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree and in 2021, she was chosen as one of Time’s Next 100 Influential People. Her essays have been featured in The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel.

Connect with Brit:

Website: https://britbennett.com/

Facebook: Brit Bennett Writes

Twitter: @britrbennett

Instagram: @britrbennett

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