Friday Night Drinks with… Richard Fulco

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It’s the end of the month, hasn’t that come around quickly? It’s starting to feel quite spring-like here, not sure how it is where you are, and we are all looking forward to the easing of lockdown, slowly, slowly! So, with an air of optimism for better times ahead, I am joined for Friday Night Drinks by author… Richard Fulco.

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

Well Julie, I’m a boring person, so you’re going to be sorry that you asked me to get a drink. I’m sipping a cold glass of water with a slice of lemon. However, since we’re having virtual drinks, and I won’t be waking up with a hangover, I’ll pour myself a tall glass of whiskey. How’s that? I plan to get virtually drunk.

Virtually drunk is the only way to go. 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’d take you to a concert where we can shout over pounding drums, wailing guitars and smoking amplifiers. We might not be able to hear each other that well, and we’d have to communicate by facial expressions and body language, but the music would be worth it. I miss live music. Don’t you? Before the pandemic, I had tickets for the Black Crowes and the Go Go’s.

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?

Since my latest novel is set during The Summer of Love, I’d ask music producer Tom Wilson and singer Janis Joplin, who are both characters in the book, to join us for drinks. I’d pick Mr. Wilson’s brain about producing Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel and the first Velvet Underground record. As for Janis, I’d love to hear her story about her performance with Big Brother and the Holding Company at the Monterey Pop Festival.

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 revising another draft of my latest novel WE ARE ALL TOGETHER. Facebook has reminded me that I’ve been working on it for six years. I’ve also been writing poetry, which is something I haven’t committed to in more than six years.

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

Writing and publishing my first novel, THERE IS NO END TO THIS SLOPE.

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

I’d like to continue writing novels and reach a wider pool of readers who might appreciate my storytelling. Is that ambitious enough?

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

WE ARE ALL TOGETHER will be published by Wampus Multimedia soon.

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?

Do I have to use the term ‘bucket list”? Well, as I write this, we’re still amidst a raging pandemic, so my favourite place is either on my couch or on a hiking trail. When the pandemic breaks, I promised my kids that I’d take them to Niagara Falls. I’ve never been there. We’re going to go over the falls in a barrel.

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

I enjoy soft rock from the 1970s: Elton John, The Carpenters, Jim Croce, Bread, Orleans, Gordon Lightfoot. America. I love it all. Such great melodies.

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’?

Jeff Tweedy’s HOW TO WRITE ONE SONG. Even if you’re not interested in songwriting, Mr. Tweedy writes brilliantly about the creative process. He also includes writing exercises that might help jumpstart your writing.

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One of the century’s most feted singer-songwriters, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, digs deep into his own creative process to share his unique perspective about song-writing and offers a warm, accessible guide to writing your first song.

There are few artistic acts more mysterious than writing a song. But what if a shift in perspective – and some practical guidance – could overcome that mystery? Anyone wanting to experience more creativity and mindfulness will be inspired to do just that after reading How to Write One Song.

Why one song? The difference between one song and many songs isn’t a charming semantic trick – it’s an important distinction that can simplify a notoriously confusing art form. The idea of becoming a capital-S Songwriter can seem daunting, but when approached as a focused, self-contained practice, the mystery and fear subsides and songwriting becomes an exciting pursuit.

How to Write One Song brings readers into this intimate process – lyrics, music and how they come together. It’s equally about the importance of making creativity part of your everyday life and of experiencing the hope, inspiration and joy available to anyone who is willing to get started.

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?

In the first place, don’t drink too much, but if you can’t control yourself then be sure to stay hydrated. Accompany every drink or shot with a glass of water. Be sure to take two aspirin before going to bed. But don’t call me in the morning.

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

Sleep. Sleep and sleep. I’m kidding. A perfect weekend will include: reading, writing, napping, long walks, a couple of morning runs, a bike ride, movies and scrumptious food.

Thank you so much for joining me this evening, it has been fun chatting.

Richard’s first book is There Is No End to This Slope and you can buy a copy here. His second book will be published soon.

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John Lenza, an aspiring writer from Brooklyn, hasn’t completed a novel, a play, or any other publishable work. His obsession with his part in the death of his best friend Stephanie in high school undermines his confidence and self-esteem. His struggle to reconcile his lingering guilt with the possibilities of the present sets the tone for Richard Fulco’s emotionally charged debut novel, There Is No End to This Slope.

By day, John sells textbooks to New York City schools. Like a 21st century Willy Loman, he drifts through life, letting things happen to him rather than taking charge of his life. On a sales call he meets his future wife, Emma Rue, an impulsive semi-alcoholic. At a “writerly” coffee shop near his new digs in Park Slope he meets Teeny, an overweight gay man, who mines John’s life for his own creative material. A homeless man, Richard, becomes a voice of reason, while Pete the landlord worries about whether John is truly taking “special” care of those beautiful wood floors in the apartment.

At one point John describes himself as intelligent, perhaps too intelligent to do anything. He and many of the other characters find it difficult to navigate the day-to-day while nurturing a sensitive and creative spirit. Should John be tortured by something that happened so long ago? Or is he using an old trauma to sidestep his creative responsibility and potential?

Through deeply wrought characters and scenes, Richard Fulco touches on a fundamental issue that drives great artists to self-destruct. But when John has wrung all he can out of his pained self, it may be the mundane certainties of life that ultimately save him.

Richard Fulco’s first novel, There Is No End to This Slope was published in 2014. His second novel, We Are All Together, will be published by Wampus Multimedia soon. Richard received an MFA in playwriting from Brooklyn College where he was the recipient of a MacArthur Scholarship. His plays have either been presented or developed at The New York International Fringe Festival, The Playwrights’ Center, The Flea, Here Arts Center, Chicago Dramatists and The Dramatists Guild. Richard’s one-act play Swedish Fish was published by Heuer Publishing and his stories, poetry, interviews and reviews have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Failbetter, Across the Margin, Fiction Writers Review and American Songwriter (among others). Richard is a member of the Pen American Center where he is also a mentor in the Prison Writing Mentorship Program.   

You can find out more about Richard and his work on his website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Sandy Barker

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Tonight I am delighted to be joined for Friday Night Drinks by the author of one of my favourite festive books of 2020, fellow RNA member… Sandy Barker.

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

This is a little concoction my brother-in-law dubbed ‘The Sanderella’ with tequila, Aperol, grapefruit juice, fresh lime, bitters, and a spritz of sparkling water – delicious!

That sounds lovely, could you mix me one too, please? 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?

We’re spoiled for choice in Melbourne, but first we’d go for drinks at Eau de Vie, a fantastic speakeasy in the heart of the city, styled like one from the 30s, right down to the décor and how the staff are dressed. They have these incredibly innovative cocktails and the largest collection of by-the-glass whiskey in the city. Then we’d head to Movida, a Spanish restaurant where everything on the menu is share plates, and the food is sublime – including a bottle of Spain’s finest red! Then we’d head to the National Gallery of Victoria for a live musical performance, some art after dark, and some brilliant Aussie wine!

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?

Caitriona Balfe – she is one of my fave actors and seems like she’d be brilliant fun – and Henry Cavill – for his formidable mind 😉

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 just putting the finishing touches on a stand-alone novel set in the world of reality television. It came about because last year, when we were in the midst of our very strict lockdown here in Melbourne, a colleague created a sweepstakes for the latest season of The Bachelor. For fun, I wrote sarky episode recaps for my colleagues. I mentioned them to an author friend and we started brainstorming a book idea. My main character is the woman who writes the recaps of The Stag for an online magazine and she may just get invited onto the show as a contestant… you will just have to wait and see!

That sounds fun! What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

My proudest (and most surreal) moment was holding my first book, One Summer In Santorini, in my hands in June 2019. Second proudest was handing copies of my 4 book, The Christmas Swap, to my parents, who I dedicated it to.

My first book

The biggest challenge has been keeping up this cracking pace. Until recently, I worked full-time (now down to 4 days a week), and in 2019 and 2020 over 16 months, I had 4 books published. I have also written 2 more and have planned the next 2 after that. But this is what I love and, eventually, I plan to write full-time.

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 look forward to the day when I am a full-time author – hoping that will be sometime next year – and I would love to sell one or more of my books to a filmmaker. I see the stories filmically as I write, and I think any one of them would be great on screen.

What have planned that you are really excited about?

I am particularly excited about the stand-alone I am working on – I think readers will love it, she’s such a fun character to write. And I am also excited about the next books in The Holiday Romance series – 1 written and 1 planned. And I think there’s another Christmas book in the pipeline too.

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?

Fave place? Goodness, that is hard.

We lived in Bali for 2 months in 2018 and I loved it so much, I set the next book in the series there – I’d go back and live there in a heartbeat.

I also love Greece – that’s where my partner and I met and we went back to the Cyclades Islands for our ten year anniversary on another sailing trip.

New Zealand will always be a favourite destination – we’ve been 3 times and it is most likely that Aussies will be able to travel there sometime this year.

And I would LOVE to live in Tuscany – perhaps for a few months to mark my next milestone birthday.

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

I auditioned for Australian Survivor in 2001 and was selected as an alternate. If any of the 8 women on the show had stepped down, I would have been on it. But alas …

Wow, that would have been a cool thing to have done, I used to love watching that show. 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 Goldfinch by Donna Tartt is one of the best books I’ve ever read, if not the best book. It haunted me for months after I finished it.

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Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart.

Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld.

As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

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 try to avoid a hangover by drinking water all through the night (which we’ve done – you’re welcome 😉) and taking a Vitamin B tablet before bed. If it’s been a particularly big night, I’ll have a banana or a glass of milk too.

If I fail in this endeavour, lots of tea the next day – tea, tea and more tea and some headache tablets. When I’m feeling marginally better, I’ll jump on my spin bike and sweat it out.

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

Reading, watching movies, drinking wine, calling family and friends – or even a day trip out to some wineries or to the coast for lunch.

Sandy’s is the author of three books in the Holiday Romance series, One Summer in Santorini, That Night in Paris and A Sunset in Sydney.

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Sandy’s latest book is The Christmas Swap, a Christmas romance set across three continents. You can read my review of the book here (hint: I loved it), and buy a copy here.

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Will all three women have their Christmas wishes come true?

Christmas is coming and best friends ChloeJules, and Lucy are needing change… so swapping homes for the holidays could be the perfect present for all of them!

Australian Chloe spends her Christmas in a sleepy village in Oxfordshire, England. She is totally star-struck when she discovers who lives across the road.

Lucy, who has jetted off to snowy Colorado for her dream-come-true white Christmas, is taken into the fold of Jules’s loud and brash family, discovering more about herself in a few short days than she has in years.

And Jules leaves the cold climes of Colorado to spend her Christmas on a beach with Chloe’s friends in Melbourne, finding that time away is just what she needed.

Sandy is a writer, traveller and hopeful romantic with a lengthy bucket list, and many of her travel adventures have found homes in her novels. She’s also an avid reader, a film buff, a wine lover and a coffee snob.

She lives in Melbourne Australia with her partner, Ben, who she met while travelling in Greece. Their real-life love story inspired Sandy’s debut novel One Summer in Santorini, the first in the Holiday Romance series with One More Chapter, an imprint of HarperCollins. This was followed by two more books in the series, with two to come! The Christmas Swap, Sandy’s fourth novel, was released in 2020 and celebrates her favourite time of year, and she is currently working on a stand-alone romcom set in the world of reality television.

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

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Friday Night Drinks with… Caroline James

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It’s the start of half-term week here in the Book Problem household which means a break from homeschooling for myself and the offspring, so we are all in fiesta mood! It is also The Irishman’s birthday (I won’t reveal his age), so even more excuse for a celebratory beverage and I am delighted to be joined for a tipple tonight by author… Caroline James.

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Welcome to the blog Caroline, you’ve found us in party mood here tonight so thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Good evening Julie, how great to be here. My tipple of choice is Boodles Mulberry gin with Fever Tree tonic, and a sprinkling of fresh raspberries and crushed ice.

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Sounds delicious, I will join you if I may. 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’d take you to pretty Kinsale, a fishing port, known as the Gourmet Capital of Ireland, to their annual food festival which takes place every October. We’d start in Acton’s hotel for a cocktail then join in with the craic and shenanigans at the many wonderful pubs in the town. During the evening we’d grab a bite to eat at Fishy Fishy – one of the gorgeous restaurants in the Kinsale Good Food Circle and end up listening to live music at The White House Hotel, in the heart of the town.

Kinsale in Southern Ireland

Fabulous, I absolutely love Ireland but haven’t managed to visit Kinsale yet. 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?

Without question it would be the eponymous celebrity chef, the late but great, Keith Floyd or Floydy as he was known. For many years I was a media agent representing many celebrity chefs and Floyd was much loved in the business. Floydy loved to drink and have fun and adored Kinsale so much that he made his home there for many years. We’d also invite Lady Gaga and slide into her flamboyant slip stream, indulging in conversation with the multitude of admirers who’d beg to join our party.

That would be some combo! 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 started writing nine years ago having decided that if I didn’t glue my rear to a chair and get typing, I would die wondering if I could ever have published a novel. Unable to find a publisher initially, I self-published my first book and was astonished when it went to number three in women’s fiction on Amazon. I have had several best-sellers on Amazon since then.

I’m currently writing my eighth book and my road to fulfilling my writing dream has been a roller coaster. Being both self-published and traditionally published I’ve learnt so much during these years and today I help run a business that mentors aspiring authors, www.thepublishhub.com  Writing gives me a purpose and sense of well-being to know that my books bringing pleasure to current and new readers.

Gluing my rear to the chair is an approach I definitely need to adopt! What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

I think writing about older protagonists has been my proudest moment as so many middle-aged and above readers tell me how much my books inspire and make them feel-good about themselves. The Best Boomerville Hotel is a retreat where mature guests get up to all sorts of capers and this is followed by Boomerville at Ballymegille where the mischief continues at a new venue in Southern Ireland. The challenge is to write more Boomerville books and keep them as fresh, funny and feel-good as the first.

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

To see a Netflix series of Boomerville at Ballymegille and have viewers fall in love with my characters and share some of the crazy experiences they get up to.

What have you planned that you are really excited about?

It’s very difficult to plan anything in this current pandemic and priorities change. What mattered so much a year ago now seems unimportant and the only thing that matters to me is being with my precious family once again and having them close, healthy and happy.

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

I’ve been lucky in that I have travelled quite a bit in my life but there are always places that I dream of going to. India is on my bucket list, as is Nepal. I like to trek and have trekked in some exotic locations and Nepal is certainly on my hit list. Closer to home, as soon as we are able, my hubby and I will be pointing the car north and heading to Scotland to do the North Coast 500, which is a route of just over 500 miles of stunning coastal scenery in the far north of Scotland. I love the highlands of Scotland and can’t wait to do this.

The Irishman is quite keen to do the North Coast 500 too, and I will happily go along as I adore Scotland. I have just made the request to do a small detour to visit Plockton and the Kyle of Lochalsh so I can visit the home of Hamish MacBeth!

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

I love wild water swimming.

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’?

My feel-good book of 2020 was Saving Missy by Beth Morrey. I listened to this on audio and thought it totally absorbing and engaging and didn’t want it to end.

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Missy Carmichael’s life has become small.

Grieving for a family she has lost or lost touch with, she’s haunted by the echoes of her footsteps in her empty home; the sound of the radio in the dark; the tick-tick-tick of the watching clock.

Spiky and defensive, Missy knows that her loneliness is all her own fault. She deserves no more than this; not after what she’s done. But a chance encounter in the park with two very different women opens the door to something new.

Another life beckons for Missy, if only she can be brave enough to grasp the opportunity. But seventy-nine is too late for a second chance. Isn’t it?

I have a copy of this lurking on the TBR! 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?

Having grown up on the Cheshire/Staffordshire border, a staple in our diet were Staffordshire oatcakes and at the weekend, should my sisters and I have over indulged, a grilled oatcake with cheddar cheese was a fool-proof cure for any hangover. I still eat them whenever I can.

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

Walking. Getting the hiking boots on. Taking Fred, our westie, along too. Fresh air, open spaces, lovely views – what could be better?

Caroline, thank you so much for joining me tonight, it has been an absolute pleasure to chat to you.

Caroline’s latest book is Boomerville at Ballymegille and you can buy a copy here.

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Join Hattie and Jo as they head to Southern Ireland to open Boomerville Manor, a holiday retreat for guests of ‘a certain age’. There’s Irish craic and shenanigans aplenty for the colourful cast of characters as everyone gathers for the grand opening.

Meet Melissa, an ex-cabaret singer running from her abusive husband, and Bill, a bachelor bullied from beyond the grave by the ghostly voice of his mother. Along with local bobby Harry the Helmet, ageing aquatic team the Boomerville Babes, eccentric artist Lucinda Gray, and heartthrob Finbar Murphy, they gather in Ireland and the fun begins. But murder is in the air and there’s mischief afoot. Will the residents get more than they bargained for at Boomerville?

Set in the beautiful Irish countryside, Boomerville at Ballymegille is a heart-warming story of friendship, fears and new beginnings.

Best-selling author of women’s fiction, Caroline James has owned and run businesses encompassing all aspects of the hospitality industry, a subject that often features in her novels. She is based in the UK but has a great fondness for travel and escapes whenever she can. A public speaker, which includes talks and lectures on cruise ships world-wide, Caroline is also a consultant and food writer. She is a member of the Romantic Novelist’s Association, ARRA, the Society of Women’s Writer’s & Journalists and the Society of Authors and writes articles and short stories, contributing to many publications. Caroline also runs writing workshops. In her spare time Caroline can be found walking up a mountain with Fred her Westie, or sipping raspberry gin with her head in a book and hand in a box of chocolates.

Caroline is the author of Hattie Goes to Hollywood, Boomerville at Ballymegille, The Best Boomerville HotelCoffee Tea the Gypsy & MeCoffee Tea the Chef & MeCoffee Tea the Caribbean & Me, and Jungle Rock.

You can find out more about Caroline and her writing on her website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Grae J. Wall

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Welcome to February! It’s feeling tentatively spring-like here in South Yorkshire today. The snow of the early week has melted and my crocus shoots are poking through the earth. All of this has brought with it s small tingle of optimism and, it is in this spirit I welcome tonight’s guest to the blog for Friday Night Drinks, poet… Grae J. Wall.

Welcome to the blog, Grae. Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Given the auspicious occasion it will have to be a fine Normandy Calvados – santé.

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?

We’d have to also step back in time a couple of years as it’s sadly no longer there, but let’s head to Pastis Bar in Barcelona. It’s a tiny bar covered in weird and wonderful paintings and photos pertaining to its origin as a bar for French sailors arriving in Port.  The owner Angel is an enigmatic character who rarely smiles – one evening we set ourselves the challenge of eliciting a grin – a tough task but we got there in the end. The soundtrack is always Piaf, Brel or Aznavour, but also each night someone will take to what must literally be the smallest stage in the world – just room for one stool and a microphone. I have joyously performed there several times but perhaps my favourite evening there was when an accomplished Tango guitarist took to the stage. Part way through the evening a couple at the bar suddenly stood up and somehow in the limited space danced a suave passionate tango to the utter delight of all present. One of my favourite drinking spots on the planet – I think you’ll like it!

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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?

Well I think Patti Smith for sure. I’ve always wanted to go drinking with Patti as she’s both a huge inspiration and a sterling raconteur. There’s so much I’d love to discuss – poetry, music, art and photography of course but also humanist politics and great coffee. We’d obviously talk about Jim Morrison and Arthur Rimbaud, CBGB’S and the beats. Perhaps we could even persuade her to take to that tiny stage for an impromptu reading of Piss Factory.

Shall we go with Leonard Cohen as our other guest? I love that despite all his writing and performing he somehow retained a certain air of mystery in life – perhaps one or two snippets might be revealed. From those days of trying to be an author on Hydra to accidentally becoming one of the finest poets and songwriters of his generation. That amazing return – having retired and then discovered himself to be in a dire financial situation – coming back with such panache and gusto. I love the poetry he wrote from his Mount Baldy retreat – seemingly wrestling and failing at becoming a good Buddhist – I can relate. Such a dark wit would be compelling company for sure – and of course another potential floor spot for the evening.

Can you imagine being present for that once only Patti and Leonard duet!

Wouldn’t that be an evening! 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?

Well I have recently published a book of my poems (along with a few photos) – The Sound of Revolution. It was one of the positives to come out of the strange year that was 2020. Having been furloughed from my job as an Arts facilitator in March I was writing quite a lot but also found myself being asked to read and contribute to a variety of on-line festivals and events which I really enjoyed. I also decamped to my wife’s little summerhouse at the bottom of the garden and set about recording a little album mixing up poems and songs – mouseclubvirusblues – which I released on Bandcamp.  Following that I did a little interview with Andy N for his Spoken Label podcast and he asked if I was planning to publish a new book and that set me thinking that perhaps I should. The last little book I put together was probably 10 years ago now and was a very slim and limited edition so I figured it was about time. I have had a few individual poems published in various places and of course regularly post to The Poetry Underground – a Facebook group that I facilitate – but this just felt like the right moment to put together something a bit more substantial. Being furloughed allowed me the time to put it together (with the help of my daughter Emelia). For me live (or even virtually live) performance is hugely important, whether that be straight poetry gigs or mixing up poetry and music and it’s really nice to have that product that I feel proud of that I can offer to folks at the end of the show. Moving forward it’s just getting back to performing, touring and playing crazy little festivals – it was tough being a troubadour in 2020 and I’m relishing being able to re-engage with that soul.

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

I have been asked to contribute to or perform poems at several Environmental events and publications including Extinction Rebellion. Being able to engage people on such an important platform is a real honour. It’s something my mum used to do – writing poems on local issues and submitting them to the local press – and I have a feeling she’d approve. I have had folks contacting me and thanking me for some of these posts and appearances which is very sweet. Similarly I have performed at events around issues of mental health and again received some very positive responses which have been gratifying.

My biggest challenge I guess was returning from my own worst moments of ill mental health, continuing to write, record, perform and tour – not allowing those darker impulses to dictate the person you are. Accepting those demons and channeling them creatively has actually proved a strength and inspiration.

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’m not even sure I really know what that is – it’s not something I ponder on much. Maybe just being given Turbine Hall at Tate Modern to do with as I wish for some huge anarchic poetry, lomography and music installation. I guess the world tour would be nice too – but for now the Turbine Hall will suffice.

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What are have planned that you are really excited about?

It hasn’t been a great year for being able to make plans but I’m just excited at being able to perform in front of real audiences again. I can’t wait to get back on the road for new adventures. In my arts worker post we had a great project planned for 2020 – Odetoberfest – a month long celebration of poetry and spoken word. We had John Hegley booked and lots of great events planned and of course we had to cancel the whole thing which was a big disappointment so maybe we can return to that plan. I’m excited about collaborating again – working with my musical compadres but also just mixing things up more – refusing to be pigeonholed or sitting in a particular box – life’s too short.

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

I’ve been so lucky to be able to tour a lot on the continent – especially Germany, France and Catalunya and I have favourite little corners of each. We got married though in Las Vegas and drove over to San Francisco stopping off in Bakersfield. That was a great road trip and I loved each part of it – channeling Hunter S. Thompson, Merle Haggard and Jack Kerouac. The morning of the wedding I went for a drive down the strip and found a doo wop station on the radio – one of the coolest moments in my life, just cruising through this mad town wearing a sharp suit singing along to Sam Cooke and The Coasters. Along with the cool and the crazy it was a real eye opener discovering Americas’s underbelly – the extreme poverty and this nation of the lost and lonely that you don’t really see in the movies. We thought we were gonna die in Bakersfield when a car slowed and the window came down but actually we just got egged. In San Francisco I had the finest breakfast of my life – pancakes with blueberries and maple syrup – perfect.

I’d like to return to the States but this time it would be a road trip to take in New Orleans, Nashville and Memphis, maybe Detroit too. I love country music, the blues, jazz, soul and rock ‘n’ roll so it would be something of a spiritual pilgrimage – like coming home. I want to do the Grand Ole Opry, Graceland and find those devilish cross roads, though my soul is emphatically not for sale. Say a prayer on the street Johnny Thunders died, drink hard bourbon on Beale Street and maybe even find a breakfast to rival San Francisco.

You’ve picked some of my favourite places there. Love the madness of Vegas. We did the Nashville- Memphis- New Orleans road trip about five years ago and it was possibly my favourite trip ever. All great cities. I’m definitely going to go back to Nashville but swing up to Pigeon Forge & pay homage to the great Dolly Parton next time. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I was the first and last Arts Council of England Contemporary and Community Music Officer. I was offered more drugs in that role than I ever have as a gigging poet and musician!

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’?

Wow – just one that’s tough! I’ll give a fleeting mention to Danny Sugerrman’s No One Here Gets Out Alive (Jim Morrison biography) which I genuinely have recommended to a few people over the years as being the finest rock ‘n’ roll biog of all time.

The book I’ll go with though is Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine. I think it’s one of the rawest and most honest autobiographies I have ever read (along with Patti’s Just Kids – better mention that as she’s here with us!). As a journey of self-discovery, life struggle and rebirth it’s beautifully written and genuinely compelling. From those stumbling, awkward, awakening days of punk through serious illness to Hastings housewife. Viv writes so naturally and seemingly without filter offering a very personal and sometimes surprising insight in to some much covered characters including The Pistols and The Clash. What followed those years though is no less dramatic or intriguing, cancer, IVF, a grown-up job and the sad breakdown of her marriage at times find you almost shouting ‘too much information’ – but like an ambulance chaser you somehow just can’t look away. Having read and loved the book I went along to Q&A and signing session at a record Shop in Letchworth and found her to be as thoughtful, funny, self-depreciating and candid as her writing would imply. As a debut book it is really quite astoundingly accomplished and whether you are a Slits fan or not I think anyone would find the telling of her story touching and accessible. When after 25 years she decides to go and perform at an open mic night the self doubt and first night nerves rekindled you are feeling each anxious moment with her and long to offer some words of reassurance – ‘it’s OK Viv – you’ll be fine’!

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In 1975, Viv Albertine was obsessed with music but it never occurred to her she could be in a band as she couldn’t play an instrument and she’d never seen a girl play electric guitar.

A year later, she was the guitarist in the hugely influential all-girl band the Slits, who fearlessly took on the male-dominated music scene and became part of a movement that changed music.

A raw, thrilling story of life on the frontiers and a candid account of Viv’s life post-punk – taking in a career in film, the pain of IVF, illness and divorce and the triumph of making music again – Clothes Music Boys is a remarkable memoir.

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

I have reached an age where I do try to avoid hangovers as they just seem to last so long. I’m genuinely quite good at moderation and learnt years ago (you need to on tour) to order a glass of water each time you order a glass of wine so you have a steady intake of water throughout the evening. Never drink on an empty stomach. The other thing is stick to quality alcohol. Touring in Germany is a joy as the beer is just so good and I rarely feel hung-over there (unless we’ve finished the evening with copious schnapps which is lethal).  Always have a glass of water before sleeping and if you’ve really overdone it make that a Berocca! Should none of that work then take a late breakfast at an outdoor café – double espresso, large fresh juice and water with a large fresh croissant – sorted.

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

I’m not one for regular shopping but I love mooching round a good flea market (good for vintage lomo-cameras) or alternatively a musty bookshop or geeky record store. Saturday night is for finding an off-track bar to discover that new favourite singer/band – something cool and dark and damaged. As we are in Barcelona then the Museum of Contemporary Art is a must – great building, great exhibitions, great gift store. This an ideal Sunday thing to do and after wandering the gallery it’s perfect to take a light lunch at one of the neighbouring cafes and watch the ever present skater kids manoeuvring the concrete plaza out front. Maybe a decent art-house cinema Sunday evening – a cold war thriller or some new scandi-noir.

Thank you for joining me tonight, Grae, it has been a refreshingly rock ‘n’ roll evening!

Grae’s latest book, The Sound of Revolution can be found at www.graejwall.com/books (also available in e-format from regular platforms). The mouseclubvirusblues album can be found at www.graejwall.bandcamp.com . Whether you want to contribute or just check out the posts come join https://www.facebook.com/groups/thepoetryunderground . For regular gig updates go to www.facebook.com/trashvilleUK .

Grae J. Wall is a poet, songwriter and lomographer from St Albans UK

As an eternal troubadour, Grae’s poems and songs are often inspired by his road trips, with narratives set in the motels of Bakersfield, the bar-rooms of Berlin and the back-streets of Paris. Grae has performed at Glastonbury, Boomtown, Bestival and many more intimate festivals and venues across Europe.

Recent (actual and virtual) gigs have included Paris Lit Up, The Poetry Cafe, The Festival of New Ideas and All in the Mind Festival. Grae’s work has appeared in and on many publications, radio shows and podcasts including recent contributions to Rebelzine (Extinction Rebellion), The Rising Sun Isolation Quilt, Invisible Folk Club and Artists Responding To.

Grae J. and Los Chicos Muertos have shared the stage with inspirational characters including TV Smith, Patrik Fitzgerald, John Cooper Clarke and Jowe Head as well as backing Ed Tudorpole a few times on live renditions of Swords of a Thousand Men. They have also collaborated on the production of the acclaimed Knoxville Boy album with Knox (The Vibrators) .

Grae runs both The Poetry Underground and Isolation Arts Cafe group pages on Facebook. He has been a regular promoter as well as performer over the years facilitating gigs in many back room bars as well as showcases at Glastonbury and Trafalgar Square.

You can find out more about Grae via his website, Twitter and Instagram.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Kate Ryder

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It’s the final Friday of the month and January is almost over, thank goodness! Is it me or has this been a really long month? Anyway, that feels like something to celebrate, so I am delighted to be joined on the blog by tonight’s virtual drinking companion, author… Kate Ryder.

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Kate, glad you finally made it to my virtual bar! Thank you for joining me. First things first, what are you drinking?

Thank you for inviting me to your Friday Night Drinks.  I have a penchant for gin, so I’ll have a glass of the curiously distilled, award-winning Wild Coast Gin from Curio Spirits; the small family business that creates craft spirits in their distillery on the Lizard peninsula, in Cornwall.  Made with Cornish spring water and quadruple-distilled with natural botanicals, including hand-foraged rock samphire from the Cornish cliffs, this tantalising spirit is smooth enough to drink neat, although I’ll have it with flavoured tonic water, please – possibly rhubarb or elderflower.

Sounds delicious. Gin is also my tipple of choice. I sadly failed at Dry January halfway through this year, which I only feel a tiny bit guilty about given current circumstances!  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?

Having spent the day giving you a guided tour around the dramatically beautiful coastline of North Cornwall – the location for my latest book, Beneath Cornish Skies – I’d take you to the boutique hotel, The Beach at Bude.  Overlooking Summerleaze Beach, which is featured in the novel, the hotel enjoys striking views from its terraces.  Its buzzing Beach Bar, designed with industrial chic in mind, has a chrome-topped bar and a number of orange leather chairs with metal backing.  I have to warn you, though, there are often live performances on Fridays, so we’d have to speak up or find a secluded corner.  And we’d definitely have to try out the bar’s selection of decadent cocktails.  I’ll start with their Cornish mojito, which includes cider, brandy, mint, lime and a shot of Gabriel Boudier Crème de Cassis de Dijon!

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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?

We’d be drinking with the late actor, Alan Rickman, who had me from his performance in ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’.  I’m sure he would have many a fascinating and interesting tale to tell.  From humble beginnings, despite becoming a household name as a successful, award-winning film and stage actor, he never seemed to lose his sense of perspective.  On my wish list is a copy of his collection of diary entries due to be published in 2022, which apparently give a fresh insight into his art and reveal the real Alan Rickman; funny, passionate and occasionally provocative.

The second person we’d be drinking with is the multi-award winning actress, Dame Helen Mirren.  I love that feisty woman.  Not only is she a hugely talented actress but also she doesn’t suffer fools and is not frightened of having strong opinions and speaking her mind.  She and Alan worked together on several occasions and, no doubt, they would provide us with an entertainingly lively and humorous evening.  Also, she was the inspiration for a character in my 2-part Romantic Suspense, Summer in a Cornish Cove, and its standalone sequel, Cottage on a Cornish Cliff.  I think she’d be highly amused to learn that!

Great choices, I adore Alan Rickman. He played some of the best characters ever seen on screen, and always nailed those one-liners! 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 currently wearing my marketing hat for Beneath Cornish Skies.  People assume that writing a novel is the difficult part, but marketing and self-promotion rank way up there!  To date, my novels published with Aria are available as eBooks and POD.  However, the company has committed to printing my latest book as a traditional paperback, which will be available from April in major bookshops, including Waterstones, W H Smith and Foyles.  I plan to encourage local, independent bookshops to climb on board and, so, come early spring – if Covid rules allow – I will travel the full length and breadth of Cornwall and pay them all a visit.

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

My proudest moment was when I first received a physical copy of my debut novel, The Forgotten Promise.  Becoming a novelist has been a long-held dream, and one that took a significant milestone birthday to stir me into action and do something about it, otherwise it ran the risk of remaining simply “a dream”.  My editor accepted this novel as the third in my four-book contract.  With further editorial development, the book was retitled Secrets of the Mist.  I’m proud to say that not only did it reach #49 on Amazon Kindle but also it achieved #1 bestseller in Time Travel Romance in the UK, Canada and Australia.

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My biggest challenge has been finding the time to write.  Until late 2019 I worked full-time and, what with other commitments, this meant I had to snatch any spare moment to write.  Often, I was at the computer for a couple of hours at 2am!  Deadlines always make me feel panicky… but I discovered that by taking a deep breath, keeping my nerve and maintaining focus, I am able to meet them.

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!

Several reviewers have stated my words conjure up vivid images and it’s as if they’re watching a film rather than reading a book.  Now, if my novels were discovered and turned into films… that would be really cool!

When I wrote my 2-part romantic suspense mini-series, I already knew which actor I would want in the lead role – Aidan Turner.  He was well-known to only a relatively few ardent fans at the time, but since then a well-received British historical drama television series, set on the windswept Cornish cliffs and based on Winston Graham’s recklessly heroic mine owner, Ross Poldark, has gained the tri-corn wearing star many more ardent supporters.

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

I’ve now fulfilled my contract with Aria and who knows what the future will bring!  I’ve always loved the unknown and its myriad of possibilities, and although a little scary it’s also exciting not knowing where my writing career will go.  I’m creative by nature and really enjoy the artistic control that comes with being an indie writer.  However, I realise the worth of having a publishing company behind you and the industry expertise that it brings to the table.  Hmmm… as they say, watch this space!

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?

During my late twenties I worked for a long-haul tour operator and I’ve been fortunate to have travelled to many exotic places.  However, I have a sister who lives in Australia and that country has a special place in my heart, and I’ve visited a handful of times.  She lives in Sydney, which I found vibrant and buzzing, filled with art galleries and museums, and, of course, the famous Opera House.  But, also, the wider country appeals to my love of the natural world and there are still many areas to discover on that continent.

On one visit we stayed on Brampton Island, which lies at the southern end of the world famous Whitsunday Passage.  Boasting a unique ecosystem and a diverse range of unexplored flora, fauna and birds, Brampton Island is part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and considered a national park.  The island offered numerous nature walking tracks and a dozen world-renowned sun-drenched beaches with crystal clear blue waters covering coral reefs, home to an amazing array of marine life.  One memorable experience was, whilst snorkelling, a large and curious turtle kept us company for a good hour!  Since that visit, I understand the island has been sold and is currently closed; caught up in limbo and paperwork with talk of redevelopment to a 7-star world-class resort in the coming years.

So, Tasmania and New Zealand beckon…

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

I’ve flown on Concorde and the captain invited me to the cockpit!

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’?

Not knowing your preferred genre, that’s a tricky one.  Nevertheless, sticking with the mystical, slightly otherworldly theme that runs through Beneath Cornish Skies, I would recommend a writer that I’ve only recently discovered.  The front cover of Carol Lovekin’s Wild Spinning Girls captured my imagination with its potent imagery that so accurately depicts the novel.  It’s a gift of a story, wildly atmospheric and the incredible prose is poetry itself.  Carol has the gossamer touch, spinning words into magic, and I’m so looking forward to reading her other works.

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Ida Llewellyn loses her job and her parents in the space of a few weeks and, thrown completely off course, she sets off to Wales to the house her father has left her. But Heather, the young woman still in her teens whose home it was, keeps the house as a shrine to her late mother and is determined to scare Ida away. The two girls battle with suspicion and fear before discovering that the secrets harboured by their thoughtless parents have grown rotten with time, and that any ghosts Ty’r Cwmwl harbours are of their own making. Their broken hearts will only mend once they cast off the house and its history, and let go of the keepsakes that they treasure like childhood dreams.

I have a copy of this book waiting patiently on my TBR. So many bloggers raved about it on publication last year. 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’ll force myself to drink loads of water before going to bed, and again in the morning to rehydrate.  If that doesn’t clear my head, I’ll have a cup of herbal ginger tea and then spend time outdoors in nature with my gorgeous Arab horse to blow away any lingering cobwebs.

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Your horse is beautiful! Mine is a bit stockier and less pretty, but I love him anyway! After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

Walking the cliffs with my husband and exploring secluded coves, followed by a quiet evening in, sharing the stories I’d heard during my night out with you, Alan and Helen!

Thank you for joining me tonight, Kate, I’ve had a really great evening and I wish you great success with your current book and future projects.

Kate’s latest book, Beneath Cornish Skies is a heart-warming love story about taking a chance on a new beginning.  Published as an eBook on 7 January 2021, available here, the paperback is scheduled for publication on 1 April and is available for pre-order now.

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To an outsider, Cassandra Shaw‘s life looks perfect. She lives in a beautiful, luxurious house in the English countryside with a handsome, wealthy boyfriend who insists she needn’t do a day’s work in her life. But Cassie knows that something is not right. Her boyfriend has grown colder, treating her more like a housekeeper than a future wife. And her time feels empty and purposeless.

Cassandra has always been riddled with insecurities and self-doubt, but, just for once, she decides to take a chance on a new beginning. She answers an advert for a live-in nanny, horse trainer, cook and all-round ‘Superhuman’ for a family living in a rambling manor house on the rugged North Cornish coast. The work is hard and tiring, but Cassie has never felt so fulfilled.

As Cassie learns to connect with the natural beauty unfolding around her, Cornwall starts to offer up its secrets. Soon, Cassie starts wondering if she was drawn to this isolated part of the coast for a reason. Why was she guided to Foxcombe Manor? What are the flashes of light she sees in the valley? Is it her imagination or does someone brush past her? And who is the mysterious man living deep in the woods?

A beautiful romance with a hint of ghostliness, Beneath Cornish Skies is for anyone who has ever longed to start their lives again.

Kate Ryder is an Amazon Kindle international best seller who writes timeslip and romantic suspense with a ‘true to life’ narrative.  On leaving school she studied drama but soon discovered her preference for writing rather than performing.  Since then, she has worked in the publishing, tour operating and property industries, and has travelled widely.

A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors, in 2017 Kate signed a 4-book contract with Aria (digital imprint of award-winning independent publisher, Head of Zeus).

Summer in a Cornish Cove, a contemporary romantic suspense set on the Lizard Peninsula, saw her nominated for the RNA’s 2018 Joan Hessayon award, while its standalone sequel, Cottage on a Cornish Cliff, reached the heady heights of #2 in Kindle Literary Sagas.

Secrets of the Mist, a mysterious timeslip romance, was not only rated in the #top 50 on Amazon UK Paid Kindle but also achieved #1 Kindle best-selling status in the UK, Canada and Australia.  In its original, self-published version as The Forgotten Promise, it was awarded the very first Chill with a Book “Book of the Month”.

Her fourth book with Aria, Beneath Cornish Skies, is set on the wildly rugged north Cornish coast and tells the story of one woman’s journey in finding her true self.

Originally from the South East of England, today Kate lives on the Cornish side of the beautiful Tamar Valley with her husband and a collection of animals.

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

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Friday Night Drinks with… Stefania Hartley

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Another weekend rolls around. Is it me or is this month going really, really slowly? At least it’s time for another Friday Night Drinks feature to cheer me up. Tonight I am delighted to be joined by author… Stefania Hartley.

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Welcome back to the blog, Stefania. Thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what is your tipple tonight?

Hi Julie, thanks for inviting me again. It’s lovely to be back with you and to be out for a drink, even if only virtually. I’m having my favourite drink:  elderflower pressé.

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?

We’d be off to Verona to watch the opera, as per your bucket list, but first we would have a nice meal in a local restaurant and I would order the delicious, super-fatty burrata (an enormous mozzarella-like ball with a creamy center)

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Perfect! I’m still hoping I’ll get there for my 50th next year. If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

I’d love to meet Andrea Camilleri, a fellow Sicilian and author of the Commissario Montalbano detective crime series. Unfortunately, he passed away last year. And, for a thoroughly book-ish night out, I’d invite Elena Ferrante, the author of the Neapolitan novels.

There’s only a little problem. Nobody know who she is. I take my hat off to her for managing to keep her identity secret for so long, in this day and age!

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 always have many projects on the go because I get easily bored and I love changing. So when I need a break the work-in-progress novel, I write short stories for The People’s Friend. The novel I’m working on now is different from my previous ones, and I need to keep reminding myself of the proverb ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. I started it as a non-fiction project years ago, the whole thing stalled and I left it in the drawer until now, when I’ve turned it into a fiction project.

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

My proudest moment was seeing my name in print for the first time. My biggest challenge is always to keep working on projects that I’ve been commissioned to do (I retell fairy tales for an Italian publisher) even when I feel like having a break and do something else. When you have a deadline, you just have to stick with the work and keep ploughing through it until it’s done. Typically, this is when your mind comes up with all sorts of exciting new ideas that you’re desperate to start working on immediately!

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

I’d like to make a living out of my writing. Maybe it doesn’t sound very ambitious, but all the surveys of authors’ income suggest that it’s very hard for an author to make a living out of writing alone. I’ll stick with this dream for now.

I’m sure you will get there. What are have planned that you are really excited about?

I am really looking forward to visiting my parents in Sicily and, perhaps, do a bit of sightseeing in Sicily or other parts of Italy. And call it ‘research’, of course!

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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?

My absolute favourite place is the Marine Nature Reserve of the Zingaro. Some of the settings of my new novel, Plenty of Fish in the Sicilian Sea, are inspired by this place. As a child, I spent all my summers there. We stayed nearby and my grandfather would take us all on a rubber dinghy to one of the beautiful white shingles beaches. Memories of turquoise sea, family happiness and Grandma’s biscuits (much sweeter after tasting seawater!) are all intertwined.

Top of my bucket list is a hiking tour of the Sicilian hinterland. I’ve always been a sea girl, but I’ve heard that the mountainous hinterland of Sicily is very beautiful too.

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

I’m quite a boring person (to me, at least) so I can’t think of anything other than perhaps the fact that I spoke hardly any English when I came over, as an Erasmus exchange student, in my early twenties. During one of my first dates with my future husband, I thought that I said, “Rain makes me curly”. Apparently, I said instead, “Rain makes me cuddly”.

Rain also makes me cuddly! 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’m a very slow reader, and I’ve only recently managed to catch up on some of the English language books that I had missed growing up in Sicily, like the wonderful Bridget Jones’ Diary and Adrian Moles’ diaries. So I’m sure that you have read everything that I could recommend, and much more!

Looking at more recent books, if you like to smile, I recommend The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, by Joanna Cannon. If you like serious books, perhaps my must-read is Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. I listened to the audiobook and it was beautifully narrated too.   

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England,1976.

Mrs Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands.

And as the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find much more than they imagined…

I have read Hamnet, it was one of my Top Twelve Books of 2020 so I agree with you on that. I have a copy of Joanna Cannon’s book on my TBR. 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?

Very good question for a teetotal like me! I don’t like the taste of alcohol so I’ve never been even a little tipsy and anything stupid I’ve ever done, I’ve done it while completely sober! Well, if this isn’t a…sobering thought.

But Italian remedies for a hangover are drinking plenty of water, avoiding coffee and tea, which are diuretic and make you more dehydrated. Artichoke and milk thistle are good against a hangover. Milk, antacid and olive oil and honey are good too. I’d definitely go for milk and honey, yummy!

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

On a good weather weekend, I would love to go on a walk in the woods somewhere beautiful and wild, but not so wild that I can’t find a nice pub or restaurant for a hearty brunch.

On a rainy weekend, I’d curl up with a good book and read until I was called for lunch and then dinner. In this ideal parallel world, the children would serve me and my husband all the meals and clear up too. And nobody would try to talk to me until I’ve finished the story!

Sounds marvellous! Stefania, thank you for joining me, it is always a great pleasure to chat to you.

Stefania’s latest book is called Plenty of Fish in the Sicilian Sea and you can buy a copy here.

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Sicilian marine biologist Serena Ingotta has never understood men, but when she uncovers a mafia factory polluting the sea, it only adds to the things that confuse her.

Twenty-four-year-old Sicilian scientist Serena Ingotta has always misunderstood men, from her workaholic anti-mafia judge father to the Catholic seminarian she’s hopelessly in love with. Interning in a marine biology lab alongside her irritating colleague Enrico, she discovers an illegal polluting factory that is possibly connected with the mafia.

When it turns out that their boss is going to cover up the story, she publicly denounces him at a science conference and gets expelled from the lab. Alone and ostracized, Serena’s attempts to find love and expose the factory seem to be failing epically until she finally realizes that everything she has been searching for was just under her nose.

Stefania Hartley, also known as The Sicilian Mama, was born in Sicily and immediately started growing, but not very much. She left her sunny island after falling head over heels in love with an Englishman, and she’s lived all over the world with him and their three children.

Having finally learnt English, she enjoyed it so much that she started writing stories and nobody has been able to stop her since. She loves to write about hot and sunny places like her native Sicily, and she especially likes it when people fall in love.

Her short stories have been longlisted, commended and won prizes. Plenty of Fish in the Sicilian Sea is her second novel, after Sun, Stars and Limoncello.

You can find out more about Stefania on her website, Facebook, Twitter, blog and her podcast

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Friday Night Drinks with… Linda Tyler

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Welcome to another weekend, although the days all kind of feel the same at the moment, don’t they? Except, there is no home schooling at the weekend, hurray! And it’s also time for my favourite feature of the week, Friday Night Drinks. This week I am delighted to be sharing a tipple with author… Linda Tyler.

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

Thanks very much for inviting me. I’ll have a G&T, please. Could I also have some cheesy bits, as the G&T will make me peckish? Slainte mhath!

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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?

A walk with the dog on the beach of a tiny village I know by the sea, with a single street light on the sea wall to ensure we could see where we were going. The village inspired my debut novel, Revenge of the Spanish Princess, a swashbuckling adventure set in the late 1600s. Afterwards, we’d find a warm and welcoming café still open and drink hot chocolate.

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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?

Lord Emsworth – famous, if fictional. I refuse to think of him as dead. I’d like to meet up at his place, Blandings Castle, where I hope as many of the castle inhabitants and visitors would be able to join us and Lord Em. His feckless and amiable son Freddie, his bossy sister Constance and the efficient yet flowerpot throwing secretary Rupert Baxter come immediately to mind. Interestingly, Alex MacDonald, the Laird in my lattest novel, is also a fan of PG Wodehouse.

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My other choice would be Lady Hester Stanhope, aristocrat, adventurer, antiquarian and one of the most famous travellers of the early 1800s. Beautiful and clever, she lived with her unmarried uncle, the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, and acted as his society hostess and political private secretary. When he died, she embarked on her travels. In Athens, the poet Lord Byron dived into the sea to greet her, en route to Cairo she was shipwrecked off Rhodes and she crossed the Syrian desert dressed as a Turkish male, carrying a sword and riding an Arab stallion. What a woman.

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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 working on a time-slip novel, set in Scotland in the present day and in the 1950s. I’ve recently finished writing a medieval Highlander romance and my husband is having fun competing with the bare-chested, tattooed warrior. In March I have a My Weekly Pocket Novel, Summer Intrigue, coming out, with a very different type of hero – polite, charming and sensitive, but still decidedly masculine.

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

My proudest moment was when I wrote the dedication to my debut novel. It was to my first grandson, ‘who loves pirate stories’, even though he’s far too young to be able to read the book.

Getting published in the first place has to have been the biggest challenge. Most authors must send their work out countless times before receiving that wonderful email.

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!

To write the most amazingly successful novel set in a hot climate, have it made into a film and be invited to watch the filming on location.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

A stay on the isle of Mull, postponed from last year because of lockdown. As well as looking forward to the unspoiled  scenery, I’m also hoping it will prompt an idea for another book. Clearly, the novel set in hot climate is a little way off yet.

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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?

I’m so lucky that in my previous job as a lecturer I was able to visit some wonderful countries, including India (I’ll never forget emerging from the airport into the heat, noise, colour and chaos of a Delhi night) and Australia (a pillion ride on a motorbike round Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne was thrilling), but I have to say my favourite holiday was when my husband and I splashed out (excuse the pun) on a Caribbean cruise. I loved  every  minute of it, including the catamaran trip a few of us made off St Lucia and the exotic sea life seen when snorkelling.

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There are still so many countries on my bucket list, but top at present is to spend a month on a family-run vineyard in Tuscany. That’ll be the novel set in a hot climate…

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

I’ve been driven on a vintage bus by Prince Michael of Kent. My husband was presented with an award by HRH for the restoration of a railway carriage and afterwards Prince Michael drove us round Brooklands Museum. It’s on the site of the old race track in Surrey – but we travelled at a suitably stately pace.

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’?

There are far too many books I love! But if I must choose one, it would be Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. The novel is a parody of rural melodramas which were popular in the 1930s. It has erotically boiling porridge, an Aunt Ada who once saw ‘something nasty in the woodshed’ and the cheerfully efficient Flora who takes the Starkadder family in hand. Reading this attracted me to passionate pastorals!

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When sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste is orphaned at nineteen, she decides her only choice is to descend upon relatives in deepest Sussex.

At the aptly-named Cold Comfort Farm, she meets the doomed Starkadders: cousin Judith, heaving with remorse for unspoken wickedness; Amos, preaching fire and damnation; their sons, lustful Seth and despairing Reuben; child of nature Elfine; and crazed old Aunt Ada Doom, who has kept to her bedroom for the last twenty years. But Flora loves nothing better than to organise other people. Armed with common sense and a strong will, she resolves to take each of the family in hand.

A hilarious and ruthless parody of rural melodramas and purple prose, Cold Comfort Farm is one of the best-loved comic novels of all time.

You’ve picked my favourite novel of all time! Number one pick in my Desert Island Books feature last year. 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 honestly don’t drink enough for this to happen. But Jeeves swears by whisked together raw egg, Worcester sauce and red pepper. I might try it if absolutely necessary.

That sounds suitably vile! A good enough reason not to over-indulge if that is what you’d be faced with drinking next day. After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

A long country walk with the dog and in the evening an open fire, a game of Pictionary or Articulate with friends and wine with an excellent dinner  – cooked by someone else, as I’m no cook.

Thanks for having me!

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Sounds fabulous. Thank you so much for taking the trouble to join me, Linda, I have had a delightful evening.

Linda particularly excited about her latest release, The Laird’s Secret, as it’s her first pure romance. Her debut novel and the book to be published in March are romantic adventures. The Laird’s Secret is based on her experiences when she moved to the north east of Scotland – although she stresses the novel isn’t autobiographical! She loves the wild beauty of the Aberdeenshire coastline and living in an old farmhouse. The book is set in 1953 and tells the story of Christina Camble who gives up her photographer’s job and her flat in London and moves to Scotland. Her expectation of a peaceful life is thrown to the wind when she meets handsome but reserved Alex MacDonald, the Laird of Craiglogie, a man physically scarred and emotionally wracked by his experiences in World War Two. As they cautiously get to know one another, Christina finds herself living in his house and involved in his life. She soon becomes friends with Alex’s sister, Fiona, but discovers she has made an enemy of glamorous Helen, who wants Alex for herself.

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When trust has been destroyed, could you learn to love again?

In 1953 life is getting back to normal after the war and Christina Camble is one of those looking to the future. But her trust in men is destroyed when she discovers her fiancé has a wife and child. She gives up her job and flat in a bid to escape London and moves to Scotland, where she hopes to get her life back on the right track. 

Christina’s expectation of a peaceful life is interrupted when she meets handsome but reserved Alex MacDonald, the Laird of Craiglogie, a man physically scarred and emotionally wrecked by his experiences in World War Two. As Christina and Alex cautiously get to know one another, she soon finds herself embroiled in his life and living in his house. 

Christina discovers she has made an enemy of family friend, Helen, who wants Alex for herself. As Helen sets her sights on Alex, she succeeds in driving a wedge between him and Christina. 

Will Alex and Christina find their happy ever after, and is it possible for two damaged people to ever learn to love and trust again?

The Laird’s Secret will be published by Bloodhound Books on 18 January as an ebook and a paperback and you can pre-order your copy here.

Linda Tyler’s debut novel, Revenge of the Spanish Princess, a swashbuckling romantic adventure set in the Mediterranean in the 1600s, won a Romance Writers of America competition and was published in April 2020 by DC Thomson as a My Weekly Pocket Novel. Her second novel, The Laird’s Secret, a romance set in rural Scotland in the 1950s, was commended in a Scottish Association of Writers’ competition and was released in January 2021 by Bloodhound Books. She has a further Pocket Novel coming out in March 2021, Summer Intrigue, a Regency romance in which the hero and heroine set out to unmask a spy for Napoleon Bonaparte at a country house party. Linda has also had short stories published in the UK, the USA and Australia. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

 Born in London, Linda moved progressively north until settling with her husband in a village on the edge of the Scottish Highlands.  She has a PhD and is a former university lecturer and a practitioner in child law. She has kept chickens, bred dogs and raised children. Linda now runs holiday accommodation, sings in a local choir and is walked daily by the family dog.

Find out more about Linda and her books on Facebook and Twitter.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Serena Fairfax

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

Welcome to my first Friday Night Drinks of 2021 and, sadly, it will be a rather subdued affair as not only am I doing Dry January as usual, but we are again in lockdown here in England. Still, I am sure tonight’s guest will brighten up all our evenings with some interesting conversation. Welcome to the blog, author…. Serena Fairfax.

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Welcome to my virtual bar, Serena (the only type we can visit these days!), thank you so much for joining me this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

I’m drinking Mojito that originated in Cuba (gorgeous place). It’s a mix of  fresh mint leaves, white rum, a dash of syrup, lime juice, soda water( all to taste) and crushed  ice. I’ll raise a glass to Ernest Hemingway whose favourite tipple this was during his 20 years as a fixture of Havana. 

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I am partial to a Mojito myself when I’m not off the alcohol. 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?

If we can pretend we’re not circumscribed by lockdown restrictions, you and I would wind up in the Toulouse Lautrec Jazz Club in south London, where we’d hear live music amid bohemian vibes, eat our hearts out and tap our feet to the sounds of the nine-piece band playing everything from soul, jazz, funk and swing to golden oldies.

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?

It would have to be Casanova  (1725 – 1798) who, apart from being a notorious gambler and womanizer, became a spy for the French and Head of the first state lottery.   He led a colourful life, wrote nineteen works, the best known of which is his Memoir   Histoire de ma vie that runs to 3,700 pages of manuscript. Pushed into becoming a lawyer, a job he hated, he really wanted to pursue a career in medicine.  

The other guest would be Ada Byron, Countess Lovelace (1815-1852) the daughter of Lord Byron and  his wife Anne Milbanke who studied maths and science under a Cambridge don and who he referred to scathingly as the Princess of Parallelograms.  Ada, who suffered from migraines, inherited her mother’ s mathematical genius and was very ambitious.  She met Charles Babbage who was recognised eventually as the inventor of the machine that was a forerunner of the modern computer.  Ada developed various ingenious programmes enabling complex maths calculations.  Sadly, she was addicted not only to horse racing, where she invariably betted and lost big, but also to laudanum and had to admit to her husband that she’d pawned all the family jewellery.  

 I think we’d be open-mouthed with fascination as the two of them chatted away.

What brilliant choices, that would be a fascinating evening! 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?

Well, I’m taking a rest from the launch of my latest release Mango Bay. I’ve got an idea for a spy story but it’s in a seminal state and may well end up a something quite different. I hope not though as I want to try my hand at writing crime and thrillers, a genre that I love reading. 

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

My proudest moment was when the publishing house, Robert Hale, accepted my first romantic novel Strange Inheritance way back in the dark ages.  I’d submitted it to Mills & Boon who’d rejected it but Hale accepted it and also the next one, Paint Me A Dream

The research bit of writing always challenges me. It’s not something I like at all although it has to be done for authenticity’s sake.  It has got much easier what with the emergence of nifty search engines. 

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!

Well, who doesn’t hanker after a stonking six-figure advance and a blockbuster movie deal! 

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

I’m not really someone who plans. I just sort of lurch from one idea to another and it’s more exciting just to grab what fate throws at one. 

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 have to disappoint you but I don’t have a favourite place. All my journeys are special and unique.  At the top of my bucket list is a visit to Borneo   that was dashed by the march of Covid last year. Next on the list is Madagascar with its phenomenal range of animal and plant life. I’m not into riding a zip line or abseiling down the 810 metres of the Burj Khalifa. 

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

I wish I owned some ancient needlework samplers but they’re very pricey so I do the next best thing and collect reproductions of them. They look lovely on the sitting room wall.  The oldest English sampler is dated 1598, worked in metal thread and silk in linen by Jane Bostocke and is in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

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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 has to be The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs by Steve Brusatte who’s a palaeontologist at Edinburgh University.  Be introduced to  the largest land animal ever to have lived on earth and some chilling, ugly predators.  It’s a fascinating, infectious and thrilling account of a species that has captured everyone’s imagination. 

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66 million years ago the dinosaurs were wiped from the face of the earth. Today, Dr. Steve Brusatte, one of the leading scientists of a new generation of dinosaur hunters, armed with cutting edge technology, is piecing together the complete story of how the dinosaurs ruled the earth for 150 million years.

The world of the dinosaurs has fascinated on book and screen for decades – from early science fiction classics like The Lost World, to Godzilla terrorizing the streets of Tokyo, and the monsters of Jurassic Park. But what if we got it wrong? In The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, top dinosaur expert Brusatte, tells the real story of how dinosaurs rose to dominate the planet. Using the fossil clues that have been gathered using state of the art technology, Brusatte follows these magnificent creatures from their beginnings in the Early Triassic period, through the Jurassic period to their final days in the Cretaceous and the legacy that they left behind.

Along the way, Brusatte introduces us to modern day dinosaur hunters and gives an insight into what it’s like to be a paleontologist. The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is full of thrilling accounts of some of his personal discoveries, including primitive human-sized tyrannosaurs, monstrous carnivores even larger than T. rex, and feathered raptor dinosaurs preserved in lava from China.

At a time when Homo sapiens has existed for less than 200,000 years and we are already talking about planetary extinction, The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs is a timely reminder of what humans can learn from the magnificent creatures who ruled the earth before us.

That sounds so interesting, I’ll have to add it to my wishlist. 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?

To avoid a hangover tuck into a spicy Vindaloo accompanied by piles of yellow rice (the turmeric in the rice helps) before the hard drinking starts. The best thing to cure a hangover is eating a hearty breakfast, staying hydrated and sleeping it off. 

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

I’d decompress by switching off my mobile phone and social media and allowing my dog to take me to on a long walk through Battersea Park.  After that I’d cook and freeze a few meals for the forthcoming week and then try to master playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. 

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Serena, thank you so much for being my first guest of the new year, it has kicked 2021 off to a great start.

Serena’s latest book, Mango Bay, is out now and you can read my recent review of it here. If you would like to get a copy for yourself, you can buy it here in both ebook and paperback formats.

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Jazz clubs, yacht clubs, aunty bars and a Bollywood beauty shadowed by her pet panther. This is glamorous Bombay in the late 1950s.

Love has blossomed in London between vivacious Scottish Presbyterian, Audrey, and clever Indian lawyer, Nat Zachariah.

When the happy newlyweds move to Nat’s exotic homeland and the striking family villa, Audrey must deftly navigate the rituals, secrets, intrigues and desires of his Bene Israel Jewish community, and adjust to perplexing new relatives.

In time, the past unlocks, old family ties unravel, lies are exposed and passions run high as different generations fall out. Then something shocking happens that undoes everything. Will this marriage that has crossed boundaries survive?

Serena Fairfax spent her childhood in India, qualified as a Lawyer in England, and worked in a London firm for many years.

Some of her novels have a strong romantic arc although she burst the romance bubble with one quirky departure. Other novels pull the reader into the dark corners of family life and relationships. She enjoys the challenge of experimenting and writing in different genres.

Her short stories and a medley of articles, including travel perceptions and her reviews of crime fiction and thrillers, feature on her blog.

Fast forward to a sabbatical from the day job when Serena traded in bricks and mortar for a houseboat that, for a hardened land lubber like her, turned out to be a big adventure. A few of her favourite things are collecting old masks, singing and exploring off the beaten track.

Serena and her golden cocker spaniel live in London.

You can connect with Serena via her website, Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Friday Night Drinks with… Annette Revitt

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

It’s almost Christmas and it is the last Friday Night Drinks of 2020! Joining me for a festive virtual drink this evening (is there any other kind in the world currently?) is blogger at Good Books Come To Those who ReadAnnette Revitt.

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

Thanks for inviting me! My drink of choice – definitely a gin and tonic! If I could choose the gin then it would have to be a gin called Wicked Wolf, it is distilled on Exmoor and its one of my favourites.

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I love gin but I’ve not come across this brand, I will have to give it a try. 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 venue would have to be somewhere we could eat and drink so how about a little tapas restaurant in Exeter, it has a lovely atmosphere, where we can sit and relax, listen to the live music, drink gin, eat Tapas and chat the night away. 

Perfect, I so miss going out for dinner with friends! 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 person I would choose would be Beatrix Potter, she was as we all know her a writer and illustrator of children’s books, the most famous being Peter Rabbit, but she was so much more than that, she was also a natural scientist, conservationist and an early supporter of the National Trust. As a woman of the Victorian era she struggled to have her work recognised and I believe that it was only in the more recent years that some of her studies have been taken seriously. For me she is a truly inspirational lady, who I think I would enjoy chatting to about books, flowers, the lake district and her love of Herdwick sheep.

The second person I would choose to join us is inspired by my love of horses – Monty Roberts. He is an American horse trainer who promotes and uses his techniques of natural horsemanship. He has written several books, and was encouraged by the Queen to write his first book “The Man Who Listens To Horses”, after she saw him demonstrate his work with some of her horses. I have read “The Man Who Listens To Horses” and have used his techniques with success myself on some difficult/nervous youngsters, I believe there is still a lot I could learn from Monty and would love an evening chatting.

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?

Back in July, my husband finally persuaded me to start my own book blog. I was very sceptical about the whole blog thing to start with, partly as I had no idea what I was doing and just seemed to be making it up as I went along! Secondly, I couldn’t get my head round why people would want to read anything I posted. But here we are five months later, with a steady stream of readers. So, I guess I’m doing something right!

Where do I want it to go? That’s a good question, I have never really given much thought to where I would like this all to lead! I just love reading and I hope that my blog helps others on their book journey’s. On my blog journey so far, I’ve met (virtually!) some really friendly, helpful people, if that continues and people are enjoying my blog and finding it useful then that’s enough for me to start with. 

I also enrolled in a proofreading course that I started in September. I’m hoping that It will expand my knowledge and help with blog writing, maybe even allow me to start proofreading from home.

Exciting times! What has been your proudest moment since you started blogging and what has been your biggest challenge?

My proudest moment so far would have to be plucking up the courage to start the blog in the first place, it took my husband quite a while to talk me into it, but to be honest, now I’ve started I’m really enjoying it. I’m overwhelmed by the number of authors and publishers that have been in contact since seeing my blog requesting reviews, I never thought for a minute that my blog/ review would be of interest to anyone. The biggest challenge I have come across so far was when I lost my reading mojo, I know it happens to us all from time to time but it felt so much harder to break when I was relying on it to provide reviews for my blog.

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 be able to make a living out of blogging, reviewing, maybe proofreading. I love reading so anything book related would work for me!

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

It’s really hard to plan anything in this current world with Covid lingering in the background. So, the only thing planned is that I am expecting my second child in April 2021, so that’s pretty exciting. 

Oh, how lovely, congratulations! 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?

My favourite place abroad would have to be Hawaii. My husband and I went to Big island as part of our honeymoon. It had such a variety of landscapes from pretty beaches to barren volcanic areas to the green expanse of countryside. If you ever go, I would recommend a visit to a place called Waimea, it’s an area known for its cattle ranches, we had one of the best burgers I have ever tasted there. Our trip to Hawaii was a trip of a lifetime.

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If we are talking about the UK then it’s a tough one between the Lake District as it is such a picturesque area, that I’ve now visited three times or Wales, which is a beautiful part of the country, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve visited. My husband proposed at the top of Sugarloaf mountain in Brecon Beacons, so Wales holds lots of fantastic memories.

On my bucket list of places to visit, well, Iceland is on there for the Northern lights, I would love to see more of the UK, places like Scotland and Yorkshire. We were due to stay in a lovely cottage in the Yorkshire countryside but our holiday was cancelled due to the first Covid lockdown so it’s back on the list of places to visit in the future. Hopefully we will get there soon.

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

For anyone who knows me it won’t be surprising or a secret, but I have a love of horses, I have done ever since I was a child. Before moving to Devon in 1999, I attended Berkshire College of Agriculture and completed my national diploma in horse studies. Up until about 10 years ago I used to compete regularly in showjumping, cross country and showing. I enjoyed re-schooling ex racehorses and also used to breed welsh section B ponies. Due to work commitments and family life, I cut it all back and now only have two horses, an ex-racehorse and a welsh pony that I bred. 

I love horses too, we have three ponies here at the moment. 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’?

This is such a hard question as I have come across so many talented authors and brilliant books, but what about The Hoarder by Jess Kidd? I received this book from a book subscription my husband bought for me as a birthday present, not an author I had come across before and probably not one I would have picked up off a shelf to read but I thoroughly enjoyed it. This book has a bit of everything so would cater for someone who enjoys crime, magical realism and a hint of romance.

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Unintentional psychic Maud Drennan arrives to look after Cathal Flood, a belligerent man hiding in his filthy, cat-filled home.

Her job is simple: clear the rubbish, take care of the patient. But the once-grand house has more to reveal than simply its rooms. There is a secret here, and whether she likes it or not, Maud may be the one to finally uncover what has previously been kept hidden . . .

If you fancy reading my review you will find it here

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 hate hangovers, which is why I suggested eating whilst we are drinking! I find that this always helps to prevent a hangover, that and having a jug of water on the table to keep hydrated. I also try not to mix my drinks and when I get home, I always sit down with a nice cuppa tea before heading to bed.

If all that fails, then lots of painkillers, cups of tea and a good old roast dinner the next day should fix it.

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

If the hangover stayed away and the weather was good then I would head to Dartmoor national park with a picnic for a nice walk with my husband, daughter and some friends. On the way home we would grab some fish and chips and find a nice place to sit, eat and enjoy. If the weather was rubbish then it would have to be a roast at home, with board games and maybe a bit of reading time.

Annette, thanks for joining me, it’s been a pleasure. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.

Annette lives in Devon, UK. She has what she calls an ‘addiction’ – the love of books.! It’s not just the reading that excites her, it’s the thrill of hearing the book you have been waiting for in a series is finally being released or stumbling across a bargain secondhand book that just has to come home with you. It’s the swapping with friends and family and reading other people’s reviews as we all interpret books differently. Annette likes to write a short review of every book she reads in the hope it helps other book lovers on their journeys. It was because of this that her husband nagged her to set up a blog. So, in July 2020 that’s what she did! Annette’s blog is full of book reviews and anything book related that takes her fancy. When not blogging or reading she spends time with her two horses, enjoys walking especially on Dartmoor National Park, trips to the beach and spending time with friends and family.

To find out more about Annette visit her blog, Good books come to those who read, you will also find her on Facebook and Pinterest.

May I take this opportunity to wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas, whatever the situation is where you are. I hope you find peace and happiness over the holidays and look forward to a better year in 2021 for all of us.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Sarah Mallory

FRIDAY NIGHT DRINKS

Welcome to another Friday night on the blog and tonight I am having a cheeky tipple with fellow RNA member, author…. Sarah Mallory.

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

Bubbly! I thought a nice glass or two of fizz would be a good way to celebrate the weekend, and the fact that my latest book, Forbidden to the Highland Laird, has just been published.

And thank you for inviting me to your virtual bar: I am imagining ultra modern – swish black and chrome fittings, comfortable chairs, soft chatter and the gentle chink of glasses around us.

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Do you know, I’ve never wondered how people envisage my imaginary bar before, that’s really interesting! 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 whisk you away to our local inn. It is a couple of miles from my home and set on the edge of a beautiful bay of the loch. Being winter, we would have to sit inside by the log fire. In summer, when the weather is good, we sit out on the decking, looking out over the bay until the sun goes down.

The view from the inn

Sounds wonderful, I love Scotland. 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?

One could definitely be Victoria Wood. I loved her comedy and was so sad when she died and I realised there would be no more of her genius stand-up routines or series like Dinner Ladies. I would love to talk to her about the north (we lived for 30 years very close to where she grew up) and to listen to her observations. On anything and everything!

A man… now that is more difficult.  I spend a lot of my time looking for heroes for my historical romances – guys who look like heroes, that is, but we all know that a handsome face and body does not always mean a great mind or an interesting character. I think I would like to invite Stephen Fry. He is clever, witty (but not, I believe, cruel) and it would be so interesting to talk to him – or just to listen to him and Victoria Wood chatting!

Great choices. Victoria Wood is a very popular pick. Rightly so, I absolutely loved her too. 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?

Currently I am writing a romance set in Regency England. My second book in the Lairds of Ardvarrick series has just been accepted (another reason for bubbly!) and after talking with my editor we thought it would be a good idea to have a break before writing the third. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing about the Highlands, but in the 18th century it was a harsh place to live, and the history is pretty bloody. There were clan rivalries, religious unrest and, of course, the Jacobite uprisings. Much as I love an adventure, I am enjoying writing something set in an English country house.

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

Proudest moment? Oh, goodness, writing-wise, that is difficult, because there are so many.  Every time one of my books is published it never fails to give me a buzz, and the feeling that I am a “real” writer. However, the icing on the cake was to win the RoNA Rose award from the Romantic Novelists Association in 2012 and 2013: to receive that accolade was very special.

Rona Rose 2013

As for my biggest challenge, hang on a moment while I refill my glass and think about that one!  Okay…I think the biggest challenge – and it is an ongoing one – is to actually finish writing a book. You see, I get an idea, and it is wonderful, the best thing ever. But then I have to write the darn thing, hours and hours of sitting at a desk, putting down in words this marvellous idea, filling in the details and setting the scene. You get to a stage where you think, “this is rubbish” and you want to walk away. But you battle through it, getting the rest of the story down. Sometimes a book just flies onto the page, but there will still be that little moment of doubt. Most writers will tell you, you just have to write through it.

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 suppose I would really like to have one of my books turned into a best-selling movie! But that wouldn’t really be my achievement. Having written the book, my work is done 😊

On a more practical note, years ago I started writing a series of books following the history of an English family from its beginnings in sixteenth century right up to Waterloo. I am so busy enjoying myself writing historical romances that this project sits on the back burner, and I keep saying to myself, “One day”…..

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

I am excited about starting another Regency romance. It will be a mixture of Cinderella and battle-weary soldier romance (which is as much as I can give away, so it’s no good plying me with more drink, I won’t say more!). That, and my third book in the Lairds of Ardvarrick series, will fill my writing time for most of the next twelve months.

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?

My favourite place is now my home! We made a tour of Scotland in 2016 and I fell in love with it, especially the Highlands and Islands and two years later I am living here! How wonderful is that? I had a lifelong ambition to live by the sea (which may have something to do with being born in the West Country, where you are never far from the coast) and at long last I have achieved that dream.

I really wouldn’t mind too much if I didn’t travel far outside Scotland for a while (except to see my family, of course). There is so much history to explore here, so many castles, lochs and glens to see, then there is Edinburgh and the borders – if I tried to do everything I wouldn’t have any time for writing at all! As for going further afield, I am not one for sitting on a beach, but I have enjoyed some fabulous battlefield tours, including Waterloo and Corunna (Northern Spain, where the British were chased out by Napoleon’s army, but that’s too long a story for tonight!)

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

Oh, that’s a tough one, I spend most of my time making up interesting lives for my characters rather than living it up myself!  However, I did once loop the loop in a WWII Tiger Moth…

Ooh, that’s a good one! 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’?

Can’t give you one book, but there is one author who is a must-read for me. Milly Johnson. Her books are a real treat; funny, touching stories of people battling through Life to find happiness. To find themselves, really. The Teashop on the Corner is still one of my favourites. Times are tough at the moment and I find her books a great tonic when one needs a lift.

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Life is full of second chances, if only you keep your heart open for them.

Spring Hill Square is a pretty sanctuary away from the bustle of everyday life. And at its centre is Leni Merryman‘s Teashop on the Corner, specialising in cake, bookish stationery and compassion. And for three people, all in need of a little TLC, it is somewhere to find a friend to lean on.

Carla Pride has just discovered that her late husband Martin was not who she thought he was. And now she must learn to put her marriage behind her and move forward.

Molly Jones‘s ex-husband Harvey has reappeared in her life after many years, wanting to put right the wrongs of the past before it is too late.

And Will Linton‘s business has gone bust and his wife has left him to pick up the pieces. Now he needs to gather the strength to start again.

Can all three find the comfort they are looking for in The Teashop on the Corner? And as their hearts are slowly mended by Leni, can they return the favour when she needs it most?

Oh, I love Milly and her books, she’s a Yorkshire lass like me! 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, not mixing my drinks helps, but I have no failsafe, I’m afraid, apart from not drinking too much (and remember, I have been doing most of the talking!). I try to finish with a soft drink, keep a water bottle by the bed in case I wake up thirsty, and drink tea in the morning. Lots of tea, then egg and chips for lunch. Plus a couple of painkillers if really necessary.

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

A perfect weekend would be to potter about the house for the morning, then take my lovely dog Willow for a walk along the shore – but that depends on the weather of course!

Willow

Sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to chat to me tonight, I’ve really enjoyed it and I wish you success with you new book.

Sarah’s very first Highland romance is now on the shelves – Forbidden to the Highland Laird is the first in the Lairds of Ardvarrick series. Set in the Scottish Highlands in the early years of the eighteenth century, it has a reluctant laird, a beautiful Highland lass, it has a touch of adventure mixed in with the romance.  You can buy a copy here.

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Exchanging elegant society balls for clan wars, Logan Rathmore has returned to Scotland as the new Laird of Ardvarrick. Peace is within grasp when he meets musician Ailsa McInnis from a rival clan.

Her stubborn pride and innocence fascinate him—but with her now under his protection, he must do nothing to abuse her trust. The fragile peace is dependent on his being able to resist the forbidden temptation she presents…

Sarah Mallory is an award-winning author who has published more than 30 historical romances with Harlequin Mills & Boon. She loves history, especially the Georgian and Regency. She won the prestigious RoNA Rose Award from the Romantic Novelists Association in 2012 and 2013. Sarah also writes romantic historical adventures as Melinda Hammond.

After living for many years high on the Yorkshire Pennines, Sarah moved to the Scottish Highlands in 2018 and now lives by the sea, enjoying a whole new adventure.

You can find out more about Sarah and her writing on her website, Facebook and Twitter.

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