Friday Night Drinks with… Jeevani Charika

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Tonight I am very excited to be joined on the blog for Friday Night Drinks by fellow RNA Member and hugely inspirational author… Jeevani Charika, who also writes as Rhoda Baxter.

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

Can I have a hot chocolate? I don’t drink alcohol much (I know, shocking for a romance novelist!). I drink copious amounts of tea and would drink my own bodyweight in hot chocolate if I were allowed.

I drink more tea than anything else, to be honest. Yorkshire Tea for preference. 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?

Possibly an odd choice, but I’d take you to a place that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s downstairs in the Horse and Jockey pub in Oxford (which was turned into flats at the end of the 1990s). It’s a quirky space with lampshades made out of random objects (like cheesegraters!) and walls covered in posters and artwork from local artists. I used to go there for meetings and I loved discovering a new poster or a piece of art that I hadn’t spotted before. I think we’d have lots of fun there.

Back in time, that’s a first on this feature, I love it! 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 think my brain just exploded at the possibilities. I think I’d like to chat to people who made me laugh. So maybe Holly Walsh (I’ve just watched The Other One and Motherland) and Bill Bailey. 

Great choices. I love Motherland. 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 writing a book about two people who are put in a team together for an online game competition. They don’t know each other’s secret identities. He’s in love with her in real life. She’s in love with him online. It started because I started watching Miraculous Ladybug and Cat Noir with my daughter a few years ago and got completely hooked. I wanted to write something with a similar love … quadrangle? Parallelogram? … you know what I mean. Where do I want it to go? Well, to ‘the end’ as fast as possible, please. I still haven’t worked out how to make the books write themselves, so I guess I have to do it the old fashioned way and put words down on paper. 

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

My favourite moment was when I read a review of A Convenient Marriage which said ‘I feel seen’. It made me so happy that I had a little cry.  My biggest challenge is being consistent with my marketing. I know I have to wave my arms about a bit if I’m to sell any books, but I don’t particularly like doing it and I often forget.

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 want my books to be turned into a film or a series that’s huge on Netflix so that people will buy lots of copies of my books and make me rich! It’s a fairly common dream, I’m guessing. 

I’d like to have so much money that I could seriously consider paying to have a commercial jumbo jet painted to look like a blue whale. I have no reason for wanting this apart from the fact that I like the idea of a whale flying around the world. I might ask the artist to add a bowl of petunias, too.

That might be the best ambition anyone has come up with yet and, as a massive Douglas Adams fan, I am on board with it! What have you planned that you are really excited about?

I’m quite excited about the book I’m writing. I’m also drafting a course on Point of View for writers. I like teaching creative writing. Most creative writing advice is basically saying the same thing but the way you say it can resonate differently with different people. I’ve read so many writing books and I’ve learned different bits of things from each 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 don’t have a bucket list. I tried it once but I kept changing my mind. I have a sort of mini list of goals instead. As for travel – my dad is an engineer (not retired) and he took jobs all over the world, so I’ve lived in Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Yap (in Micronesia) as well as Yorkshire. I would really love to take my family to Yap. I’m sure it’s changed a lot now, but I have such happy memories from my time there, I’d love to go back and see it again.

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

I once banged my head on the top of a doorframe. This is not surprising for tall people, but I’m only four foot eight. We were on a tour of Canterbury Cathedral and had to go through a low door. The guide said ‘mind your head’ and, since I’ve never had to mind my head in my life, I ignored him. Someone said something and, distracted, I walked smack into the doorframe. I was knocked flat on my back and no one helped me up because they were all laughing so hard.

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

I’d give you Nation by Terry Pratchett. Partly because it ties in quite nicely with my nostalgia for Yap, but also because it’s a wonderful book. It’s not set in the Discworld, but on a tropical island. I have re-read it many, many times.

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Prepare for the world to be turned upside down . . .

For Mau, halfway between boy and man, it happens when a great wave destroys his entire village. For Daphne, it’s when the same wave crashes her ship into the island that was once Mau’s home. Everything they once had is now so far away, lost to distance and time.

But when Daphne stops trying to shoot Mau (she did apologise for it), and instead uses a salvaged invitation card to invite him to tea, they discover a new home can be theirs.

And then people start arriving on the island – some very good, some very bad. And it’s soon clear that Daphne and Mau must fight for their Nation.

Then a discovery is made that will change the entire world forever . . .

I love the Discworld books but I haven’t read this by Terry Pratchett, I will have to check it out. 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?

Does anyone have a failsafe plan to avoid a hangover apart from ‘drink less’? Thinking back to when I used to drink – I found spicy chicken wings were a brilliant hangover cure. Chilies and protein. Perfect.

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

At home, with a cup of tea, some dunkable biscuits and a good book! (I don’t often get this because the children are at home, but it would be the perfect way to spend the weekend).

Thanks for the fantastic chat, Jeevani, I have really enjoyed my evening.

Jeevani’s latest book is A Convenient Marriage, the story of a gay man and a straight woman who get married to escape pressure from their traditional Sri Lankan families. They have the perfect marriage, until they both fall in love with other people. A Convenient Marriage was shortlisted for the RNA Contemporary Romantic Novel award in 2020. You can buy a copy here.

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It was the perfect marriage… until they fell in love.

Chaya is a young woman torn between her duty to family and her life in the UK. While her traditional Sri Lankan parents want her to settle down into marriage, what they don’t know is that Chaya has turned away the one true love of her life, Noah, terrified of their disapproval.

Gimhana is hiding his sexuality from his family. It’s easy enough to pretend he’s straight when he lives half a world away in the UK. But it’s getting harder and harder to turn down the potential brides his parents keep finding
for him.

When Chaya and Gimhana meet, a marriage of convenience seems like the perfect solution to their problems. Together they have everything – friendship, stability and their parents’ approval. But when both Chaya and Gimhana find themselves falling in love outside of their marriage, they’re left with an impossible decision – risk everything they’ve built together, or finally follow
their heart?

Will they choose love, or carry on living a lie?

Jeevani Charika writes women’s fiction and contemporary romances with a hint of British cynicism.  (In case you were wondering, it’s pronounced Jeev-uh-nee.)

There’s a whole lot of other stuff she could tell you – but mainly: she’s a former scientist, an adult fan of Lego, an embarrassing mum, a part time geek (see ’embarrassing mum’) and a Very Short Person.

She also writes romantic comedy under the pen name Rhoda Baxter. So why the two names? Well… Jeevani writes about British-Sri Lankan main characters. Rhoda, not so much.

You can find out more about Jeevani, and Rhoda, via her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Sverrir Sigurdsson

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Tonight, my guest for Friday Night Drinks is currently on a trip to his home country of Iceland. However, as these drinks are virtual, and thanks to the wonders of technology, he is still able to join me for our chat. Welcome to the blog, author… Sverrir Sigurdsson.

authorsSverrir Sigurdsson and his wife and coauthor, Veronica Li, in front of an Icelandic volcano

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

I’m drinking red wine. It’s good for the heart. They say one glass of red wine is worth an hour at the gym. So now I’m having my hour at the gym.

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 live in the Washington, DC area, but right now, I’m visiting Iceland. By the way, there’s no “night” out in the land of the midnight sun.

I’ll take you to a place called Perlan, which is on a hilltop in the capital, Reykjavik. This is a restaurant inside a glass dome that gives visitors a panoramic view of the city. Aside from being a tourist attraction, the site also serves a practical purpose. The glass dome sits on top of six hot water tanks. The geothermal water in these tanks is piped into homes for heating.

PerlanA trip to Iceland is high on my bucket list. 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 like to invite Winston Churchill, so I can ask him how he decided to invade Iceland back in 1941. What went on in his head?  Although Icelanders eventually welcomed the occupiers as their saviors from the Germans, it was a shock to the nation when British warships arrived in Reykjavik harbor without warning. British soldiers poured out of them and took over the country.

The second person is Hedy Lamar. Her gorgeous looks aside, I want to discuss her inventions with her. I, too, love to concoct new gadgets, though nothing as noteworthy as hers. During World War II, she and a coworker in the film industry invented a remote-control system for torpedoes. It’s still an important part of what we today call WiFi.

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 now in Iceland to promote my book, Viking Voyager: An Icelandic Memoir. The English edition was published in the U.S. in November 2020. The Icelandic edition, which I translated myself, will be out in the fall of this year. 

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The book is my memoir and starts with my memories of growing up in Iceland. They say Iceland was discovered twice, the first time by Norwegian Vikings who settled on the island in 874 A.D., and the second time by the Allies during the Second World War. As German troops pushed west, Britain, Canada, and the U.S. realized the strategic importance of Iceland, located right in the middle of the North Atlantic. They invaded the country to pre-empt the Germans from using it as a stepping stone to North America.

As the Second World War raged on at my doorstep, I became very aware of a larger world out there. With my Viking heritage goading me on, my heart was set on traveling the world from a young age. At nineteen, I left Iceland to study architecture in Finland, and from thereon I set out to conquer the world. I pursued an international career that took me to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, North and South Americas, and Europe (including Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union).

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

My proudest moment was holding a copy of my book in my hands. Since there wasn’t much else to do during the pandemic lockdown, I dedicated myself to finishing the book with my co-author and wife, Veronica. Advance copies arrived at our home in June 2020, and the quality of the layout and graphics was everything we’d hoped for. We were very happy to receive a prize from the Wishing Shelf Book Awards in January, 2021. 

The biggest challenge has been the pandemic. Our plan was to carry the advance copies to Iceland. A few days before our trip in July, 2020, Iceland closed its door to Americans. I had to put back in the closet the box of books I’d packed for the trip. The local public library canceled the book launch event it had scheduled for me. Instead of book-signing in person, I met readers online. My book tour went virtual.

But a crisis also creates opportunities. My adventures on the internet have yielded a number of book blogger friends, such as yourself, Julie. I’ve made friends with readers in places as far away as India and Australia. The literary world is truly borderless. 

That’s the great thing about books! 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 love to see my Viking Voyager rise to bestseller rank!  I believe it has appeal to both the old and the young. My story is a reminder of how far the human race has progressed in the twentieth century. From the ashes of the Second World War, the world’s nations went through a period of reconstruction and renaissance. The advancements we enjoy today are fruits of the hard work and resilience of that era. This should instil present and future generations with hope that they too can deal with their challenges. 

I also hope my book will inspire young people to travel, not just as a tourist, but to live and work for a spell in a foreign country. They’ll be surprised what kind of opportunities they’ll find. Most of all, they’ll be surprised to find out who they are and what they’re capable of. 

What have you planned that you are really excited about? 

I’ve traveled to 60 countries during my international career, but my favorite place is still Iceland. 

As I said, I’m there right now. Assuming the volcanic eruption is still ongoing and open to the public in the next weeks, I hope to hike over and watch molten lava spew out and flow down the valley. Eruptions are usually dangerous, but this kind is what Icelanders call a “tourist eruption.”  Instead of explosions, this flare-up is as safe as fireworks and as dramatic. Spectators have been able to walk up to the sizzling lava and cook hot dogs in it.

I’m also excited about my trip to south Iceland, where I spent summers working on a farm from age nine to fourteen. This is part of the volcano belt that gave Iceland its nickname, “land of fire and ice.”  Here, glaciers lie atop volcanoes gurgling and biding their time to erupt. My book cover shows the scenery of this area: a mountain that was once an island, a cliff with a doorway carved by the sea, and in the background the volcano that erupted in 2010 and shut down trans-Atlantic flights for a week. 

The Icelandic landscape is the wild and wonderful creations of violent volcanic activity. Each of the outcroppings mentioned above once sat on a fissure and was formed when fire met ice or seawater, causing the rapidly cooling lava to turn into a rock formation called “tuff” or palagonite. Iceland is full of such fantastic landscape, and despite the many times I toured the country, I haven’t seen them all.

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?

The place I rave about (aside from Iceland) is the Chesapeake Bay in the U.S., about 120 miles from Washington, DC. This is the largest estuary in North America, where more than a hundred rivers and streams meet the tide of the Atlantic Ocean. The bay branches into hundreds of creeks. They’re like fingers gouging into the land and turning them into long and narrow strips, like chicken necks. On one of these necks sits my cottage, which I designed and built with my own two hands. This was my retirement project, a culmination of a lifetime of experience as an architect, builder, and carpenter. It’s a humble cottage designed to give people a comfortable place to enjoy the spectacular view of sky, water, and birdlife. I enjoy it so much I go there every weekend. 

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House on the Chesapeake Bay designed and built by Sverrir

High on my bucket list of places to visit is the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Great Britain. I’ve read about them in the sagas. About 1000 years ago, a Viking chief tended to his farm in Iceland during the summer, and in the fall, when his farm work was done, he and his men sailed to the Shetlands and on to Ireland to rape and plunder. They returned home as heroes. I’d love to see the archeological sites on the islands that show Viking dwellings and longboats, and meet the people who are my relatives. Genetically, Shetlanders and Icelanders have much in common.

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

Readers would be surprised that I didn’t become fluent in English until well into my twenties. I was well-versed in several Scandinavian languages—Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, and Finnish—and my German was passable. But I’d always viewed English as a scrappy, undisciplined language that jumbled bits and pieces from the Romance and Germanic schools, with neither the ardor of one nor the structure of the other. I didn’t take English seriously until my last years in Finland, when I realized English was the lingua franca of the twentieth century. To prepare for my travels around the world, I gave myself a crash course by consuming every Agatha Christie mystery. It worked!

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’?  

Since I’m in Iceland and can’t take my mind off it, I’d recommend Independent People by Halldór Laxness, the Icelandic Nobel Laureate for literature. Veronica says she never understood why I was so strange until she read the book. The main character, an Icelandic farmer, is so stubbornly self-sufficient that it’s comical. He’d rather let himself and his family starve than ask a neighboring farm for help. When he’s out in the frigid wilderness looking for a lost sheep, he pushes a boulder around until he warms up and catches a few hours of sleep. When he’s freezing again, he goes back to pushing the boulder. That about sums up the Icelandic character.

Laxness’s writing is concise, sharp witted, sometimes outright funny, and his characters are so vivid they remind me of people I know. His books have been translated into many languages.

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Bjartus is a sheep farmer determined to eke a living from a blighted patch of land. Nothing, not merciless weather, nor the First World War, nor his family will come between him and his goal of financial independence. Only Asta Solillja, the child he brings up as his daughter, can pierce his stubborn heart. As she grows up, keen to make her own way in the world, Bjartus’ obstinacy threatens to estrange them forever.

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

Drink lots and lots of water! Stay hydrated. It works for me.

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

My cousin Agnar has organized a family reunion for me. It would be like old times. We were six boys who terrorized the neighborhood: my brother and I and my uncle’s four sons. We lived in the same apartment building, played hide and seek in our neighbors’ yards, and held stone-throwing contests, sometimes with disastrous results. It’s most satisfying to see we’re all grandfathers now and comfortably retired. Except for me and one of my cousins who lives in Norway, they’ve all returned home after a stint studying and working overseas. That seems to be the Icelandic pattern since the old Viking days. 

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Sverrir is second from right

Sverrir, thank you for joining me, this has been an entertaining and informative chat and has increased my desire to visit Iceland soon.

 Sverrir’s book, Viking Voyager won a prize at the Wishing Shelf Book Awards. You can buy a copy here.

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This vivacious personal story captures the heart and soul of modern Iceland. Born in Reykjavik on the eve of the Second World War, Sverrir Sigurdsson watched Allied troops invade his country and turn it into a bulwark against Hitler’s advance toward North America. The country’s post-war transformation from an obscure, dirt-poor nation to a prosperous one became every Icelander’s success. Spurred by this favorable wind, Sverrir answered the call of his Viking forefathers, setting off on a voyage that took him around the world. Join him on his roaring adventures!

From Rosie Amber’s review site: “Until we are once again able to travel as freely as we did before the advent of Covid 19, we have the joy of books like Viking Voyager to entertain and inform us.”

Sverrir Sigurdsson grew up in Iceland and graduated as an architect from Finland in 1966. He pursued an international career that took him to the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the U.S. His assignments focused on school construction and improving education in developing countries. He has worked for private companies, as well as UNESCO and the World Bank. He is now retired and lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and coauthor, Veronica.

You can connect with Sverrir via Facebook and Twitter.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Elizabeth Baines

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Tonight I am joined for Friday Night Drinks by a very welcome guest, author… Elizabeth Baines.

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

Thank you for inviting me, Julie! Prosecco for me, please! My favourite! But actually, drinking a fizzy wine still seems like a tremendous luxury to me. When I was a child no one drank wine in our family, and sparkling wine was unheard of – champagne, which of course we had heard of, was for the remote upper classes. When I read about wine in books – it seemed to appear a lot in books! – I used to imagine it must be like ambrosia, the food of the gods, tasting something like honey. So I was pretty shocked when I tried my first sip of wine – it seemed so bitter! Needless to say, I developed a taste for it in the end, and Prosecco now feels a bit like a fulfilment of my childhood imaginings.

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That’s a lovely attitude to have, a real ‘revelling in the moment.’ I will join you in a glass of prosecco, cheers! If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

I’d probably take you to The Art of Tea in Didsbury where I live. It’s a café bar a bit like the brown bars in Amsterdam, all old and odd furniture, and a totally relaxed atmosphere. It’s where a lot of South Manchester writers go to sit with a coffee or a wine and read or work on their laptops. We could have some of the great home-cooked fusion food and then while away the rest of the evening there talking about our writing and the books we’ve read.

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

That’s a difficult one. I’d like to say Emily Bronte, because I so love Wuthering Heights and it’s been such an influence on my own writing, and I’d really love to know what she was like in life, but I suspect that she’d be too introverted and it might be torture for her. Someone else who has been another influence is Kurt Vonnegut. I did once attend a talk he gave, and I’m sure he’d be a wonderful drinks companion – so wise and down-to-earth and approachable, especially about writing. (You can see in which ways these two writers have influenced me in a series of short videos I made about books with connections to my latest, Astral Travel. 

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’ve had a bit of breather from writing, what with lockdown, when I found I just couldn’t write at all, as I think you found to some extent? Everything seemed on hold – including the inside of my head, as well as the very real lockdown postponement of the publication of my novel Astral Travel. That novel has finally come out, though, and I’ve been preoccupied with its publication. Recently, though, I’ve written a couple of short stories, and have enough now for a new collection, so I’m thinking towards getting that together. I’ve always written short stories, but I began this latest series with a particularly urgent sense of the things around us in the world affecting our individual and private lives, so I think they will cohere around this theme.

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

Oh, nothing can beat that very first acceptance of a short story!! I was so thrilled, I couldn’t wait to tell everyone, my friends and family! I’d wanted to be writer from a very early age. Books were my refuge as a child, and when I was eight, because of an essay I’d written, my teacher stood me up in front of the class and told everyone that I would be a writer when I grew up. Rather mean on the rest of the kids, but after that I did feel basically destined to be a writer. And when that first short story got accepted by a highly respected literary magazine, I suddenly felt that that was what I had become – I felt I’d moved from one state into another. My biggest challenge I think was when my early publisher was bought up by one of the big conglomerates who promptly remaindered the list I was on, causing my editor to leave – an experience for writers that I know has been all too common. I was suddenly out in the wilderness, and it was a long haul back to get to being published again. I began to feel as if I was no longer a writer. I plugged the gap by writing plays for radio and theatre, and ended up with a prizewinning radio career, and for a while was known chiefly as a dramatist, until the wonderful Salt began publishing my fiction again.

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, I’ve won prizes for playwriting and for short stories, but it would be nice to win a big novel prize, mainly because that brings you more readers. Lots of readers for my work, that’s what I want – that wonderful communication with others that you can get through the written page.

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

I have a new novel idea brewing, and it’s just the best thing, isn’t it, to have that secret world in your head, like another dimension or parallel world that you keep dipping excitedly back into. I won’t say what it is exactly: it’s the private, secretive daydreaming aspect of it that nurtures it, I find, keeps it simmering…

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

I love Greece and the Greek islands. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Mediterranean from the top of a Greek cliff. I was a student and I’d been reading Greek literature in translation and Homer’s constant references to the ‘wine-dark sea’, but I could never have been prepared for the density of blue. I thought when I saw it that I understood why Homer called it that, but I read recently that it may have been because the Ancient Greeks didn’t actually have a word for blue and possibly therefore couldn’t actually see it as such! But I’m also completely attached to Wales where I was born and where I spend some part of every year, and actually do a lot of writing, because for me it’s the best place to write. I have that hireath, the Welsh word that means not just homesickness, but a kind of deep longing for the place you have left. In recent years I’ve been visiting cities I’d read about in books but could only envisage – Berlin, Prague, Belgrade, Amsterdam and Vienna – and being surprised or moved by the differences or sameness in comparison to my previous ideas of them.  One place I haven’t been to yet but really want to go to is Budapest.

Hopefully you will get there soon. I loved it when I visited, although was many years ago when I was a student. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I have big feet! Every other woman in my family has the daintiest of feet, but mine are whoppers by comparison. At least they keep me standing steady on the ground!

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’s hard to pick one out, but one of my favourites is Austerlitz by W G Sebald which deals with the emotional effect on protagonist Austerlitz of the terrible upheavals in Europe in the early-mid twentieth century. It’s particularly important to me because my own latest, Astral Travel, shares its preoccupation with what happens when you try to wipe the past, but because of its wide historical reach I think Austerlitz would be significant for everyone. 

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In 1939, five-year-old Jacques Austerlitz is sent to England on a Kindertransport and placed with foster parents. This childless couple promptly erase from the boy all knowledge of his identity and he grows up ignorant of his past.

Later in life, after a career as an architectural historian, Austerlitz – having avoided all clues that might point to his origin – finds the past returning to haunt him and he is forced to explore what happened fifty years before. 

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

The best way to make sure I pace myself is to keep remembering that a hangover means losing a day’s writing. Wish I knew a cure, but I don’t, so I try to avoid it!

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

Writing, reading, and a walk in the country or travelling to visit my relatives for a day – the most wonderful thing after lockdown and a whole eighteen months or so of not being able to see them.

Elizabeth, thank you so much for chatting with me this evening, I have enjoyed myself very much.

Astral Travel, Elizabeth’s latest novel, is the story of Jo Jackson’s search to uncover the truth about her late father, a complicated man, broody and sometimes violent but also capable of great charm. He is surrounded by mystery: he doesn’t talk about his Irish past, and Jo’s mother’s romantic stories about her early life with him contrast strongly with Jo’s difficult experience of him. It is when Jo finally uncovers a huge buried secret that she can begin piecing it all together and understand her father and why he treated her so harshly. Astral Travel is a novel about the way that the sexual, cultural and religious prejudices of the past can seep to affect lives in the present. It is also about the slippery nature of storytelling, but also its redemptive power. Amy Ridell, writing for Bookmunch called it ‘one of the most memorable and brilliant books I’ve read this year’, and Ailsa Cox said in Litro, ‘By the time I’d finished this wonderful novel I was hoping for a sequel, or even a series.’ You can buy a copy here.

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Astral Travel, about a charismatic but troubled Irishman and his effect on his family, explores the way that the secrets forged by cultural, religious and sexual prejudice can reverberate down the generations. It’s also about telling stories, and the fact that the tales we tell about ourselves can profoundly affect the lives of others.

In a framing narration that exposes the slippery and contingent nature of story, an adult daughter, brought up on romantic lore about her now dead father but having experienced him very differently, tells how she tried to write about him, only to come up against too many mysteries and clashing versions of the family’s past. Yet when a buried truth emerges, the mysteries can be solved, and, via storytelling’s power of empathy, she finally makes sense of it all.

Elizabeth discusses its influences on her YouTube channel here. 

Elizabeth Baines is the author of two previous novels, The Birth Machine and Too Many Magpies, and two collections of short stories, Balancing on the Edge of the World and Used to Be, all available from Salt. She has written prizewinning drama for radio and has written, produced and acted in her own plays for fringe theatre. She has also been a secondary school teacher. She lives with her husband in Manchester where she brought up her two now grown sons.

You can connect with Elizabeth further on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Rebecca Stonehill

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I am delighted to welcome my latest guest to the blog for Friday Night Drinks and I’m really looking forward to relaxing and chatting about writing and books over drinks with author… Rebecca Stonehill.

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Rebecca. welcome to A Little Book Problem and thank you for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

I’m drinking an IPA craft beer with a small bowl of Bombay mix to accompany it. This mix has such a Friday-night feeling for me, welcoming in the weekend!

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

I’m a huge fan of live events, whether it’s live music, theatre or slam poetry as nothing beats actually being in a room with performers. So I’d see what’s on in my local area, find a great event, grab a drink from the bar and settle in for the evening.

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?

Cerys Matthews, former singer of Catatonia and host of brilliant Sunday morning Radio 6 show. I’ve been listening to this show for so many years that Cerys feels like a friend. She has a brilliant sense of humour and a fabulously eclectic, wide-ranging taste in music, guests, poetry and recipes.

The Dalai Lama. I can quite safely say he wouldn’t be drinking! But that’s not a problem. Again, he has such a great sense of humour, it’s so playful and cheeky. Despite all the hardships he has endured during the course of his lifetime, I find his attitude, complete lack of judgement and joyfulness so inspiring.

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

I’ve finished writing my fourth historical fiction novel, The River Days of Rosie Crow, and it’s currently out on submission whilst I seek agent representation. Although I’ve had three novels published before, I didn’t need an agent for my original publisher. We amicably parted company after my second book as, although they helped me to get started as an author, I think it’s really important that the vision for books, design, distribution etc aligns. So I’m back to the beginning in some ways! But I really believe in this fourth book I’ve written and I’m very determined, so I know I’ll get there.

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

The publication of my first novel, The Poet’s Wife, has been my proudest moment. Between starting to write and the book’s publication was a whopping ten years! It took so long because I had three children during that time and there was a lot of stopping and starting. It also went through several drafts and, like every writer, I had to get to grips with the realities of rejection.

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My biggest challenge was the steep learning curve of self-publishing my third novel, The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale. It really was a full-time job, finding the right editors, formatters, designers, working out all the software and trying to get my head around marketing. I got there in the end, but it really was not a straight-forward journey. People sometimes say, oh it’s so easy to self-publish, you just upload it to KDP on Amazon. Fine, if you are prepared to go for minimum effort and take one of Amazon’s ready-made covers. But to make your book really professional, it needs way more input than that.

I think it is a brave thing to do, self-publish, and deserves more credit than it gets, especially when the authors take as much trouble with it as you clearly have. 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 have my books in a bookshop. I’m a simple soul really! I cannot think of anything I would find more gratifying to walk into my local bookshop and see one of my books sitting there. I think I actually might faint with excitement.

What have you planned that you are really excited about?

A two-week holiday to Wales with my family in August. As we’ve all been so cooped up for so long, this really does feel beyond exciting. We are staying in two different Air B n B’s, one in rural central Wales and the other on the south coast and I just can’t wait to have different views, different walks and different experiences. I think we all need that so much.

Oh, holidays, how we have missed you! 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?

One of my favourite places is Granada in the south of Spain. I lived there for two years in my early twenties and set my first novel there, The Poet’s Wife. I love the way the old part of the city spills down the hillside and how the ancient Moorish palace is framed by mountains. It really is very picturesque. On the other end of the city scale, I adore wild and remote places and have always been attracted by the vastness of the Canadian wilderness, though I’ve never been there. One day, I’d love to take a road trip around Canada, also going to Prince Edward Island where my favourite childhood book, Anne of Green Gables, is set.

That is one of my bucket list trips too. Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I’ve had a significant issue with chronic insomnia for fifteen years, without fail the greatest challenge of my life. I’m currently writing a memoir about it.

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’?

That is such a hard question! I’m going to go for a book I read this year that I absolutely adored and think everybody should read – Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. It follows the lives of twelve mostly black and British women across time and space. Slowly, we come to see how their lives interconnect and I loved the boldness and energy of this fabulous, unique book.

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This is Britain as you’ve never read it.
This is Britain as it has never been told.

From Newcastle to Cornwall, from the birth of the twentieth century to the teens of the twenty-first, Girl, Woman, Other follows a cast of twelve characters on their personal journeys through this country and the last hundred years. They’re each looking for something – a shared past, an unexpected future, a place to call home, somewhere to fit in, a lover, a missed mother, a lost father, even just a touch of hope . . .

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 to be honest and say I’m really not a big drinker these days! When I was younger I used to pride myself on the fact that no matter how much I’d had to drink, I’d never get a hangover (?), but these days it doesn’t take much for me to feel completely hideous in the morning. That’s age for you! So, the failsafe plan is to stop when it’s sensible (or try) and drink plenty of water before I go to bed and a slice of lemon in hot water for the morning.

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

I love spending as much time as possible outside, whatever time of year it is. So a walk with my family would definitely be on the agenda. There are so many wonderful places to walk in Norfolk where I live, whether it’s at the coast, through woodland, heath, broads or marshes. I will probably spend some time on our allotment as well as taking time to prepare delicious food and – of course – lots of reading.

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Rebecca, thank you so much for chatting with me this evening, I have thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Rebecca was inspired to write her third novel, The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale, as a result of her mother’s travels in the 1960’s. As a child, she used to adore looking at her photographs of her time spent abroad, particularly the period she spent living with a community of young travellers in some caves in Matala, Crete! Whilst not at all biographical, this story in inspired by Matala’s stunning setting. You can buy a copy of the book here.

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1967. Handsome but troubled, Jim is almost 18 and he lives and breathes girls, trad jazz, Eel Pie Island and his best friend, Charles. One night, he hears rumours of a community of young people living in caves in Matala, Crete. Determined to escape his odious, bully of a father and repressed mother, Jim hitchhikes through Europe down to Matala. At first, it’s the paradise he dreamt it would be. But as things start to go wrong and his very notion of self unravels, the last thing Jim expects is for this journey of hundreds of miles to set in motion a passage of healing which will lead him back to the person he hates most in the world: his father.

Rebecca Stonehill is the author of The Poet’s Wife, The Girl and the Sunbird and The Secret Life of Alfred Nightingale.

She is from London but currently lives in Nairobi in an old wooden cottage with her husband and three children. She dreamed of being an author from a very young age when she used to spy on people Harriet-the-Spy-style from under beds and up trees, scribbling down notes about them for use in future stories.

She loves reading, travelling, yoga, photography and spending time with her family and has so many stories jumbling around in her head that sometimes she feels overwhelmed by not being able to get them all out in time!

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

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Friday Night Drinks with… Brian Stewart

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Welcome to the end of another week and it’s time to unwind with drinks and chat with another fabulous literary guest. Tonight I am joined for Friday Night Drinks by author… Brian Stewart.

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

Friday evenings are usually beers. I subscribe to a beer club so I’ll be sampling one or two of them. (They’re almost all delicious, though I’m not a fan of the fruity sour ones.) I may sample the odd glass of rum later!

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?

There are so many options in Dundee these days for food, drink and entertainment. The Dundee Rep is always interesting and quirky, the DCA great for food, and the rum cocktails at the King of Islington are amazing! In Broughty Ferry itself, we love Sol Y Sombra for tapas, and the Fisherman’s Tavern has a great range of beers. The Fort Hotel’s beer garden has been a godsend during lockdown, especially on a sunny evening.

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Sounds like Dundee is the place to be! 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?

Stephen Fry for sure. He has such a breadth of knowledge and has made it cool for an arts/media person to be knowledgeable about science. Previously people in the media were totally ignorant about anything scientific and treated it as a jokey item at the end of the news. I’m sure he would be fantastic company, though I’d struggle to get a word in.

US politics both fascinates and appalls me – the Trump years were unbelievable – so I’d like Kamala Harris to be there so that she can explain both it and her place in the whole thing. Has she any real hope for the future of that country?

Great choices. 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?

The most recent novel that I (self-)published was quite dark, involving fake news and online abuse. Around October 2020, when we were heading back into lockdown after a month or so of hope, I was quite depressed by the whole situation and also by the world I was writing about. 

I decided that the only thing to do was to write something a bit lighter! So I started a novel which is almost a comedy-crime caper story, and I’m firing on with that now. I’m a pantster when I write, so I’ve written several chapters and thrown loads of odd characters into the mix. I now need to clarify the crime so that I can get it all done. (The hero is writing a novel and has exactly the same issues!)

Life imitates art! Sounds like fun. What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

After I self-published my first novel, friends told me they really liked it – and I mean, really liked it, even though they said they’d been prepared to lie and tell me they liked it. That was great. My daughter-in-law’s uncles have read my books and raved about them. Every positive review gives me a glow of pleasure. These are the best moments.

The biggest challenge has been trying to get a break in a very crowded field. I’ve seen other authors manage it but I’ve never quite done it myself. There is always hope though.

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

I’d like recognition as being a good writer and someone who produces something a bit different, with a bit of an edge and serious social/political commentary underlying it. Almost all the reviews of my books acknowledge this, but I’d like it to be more widely known. And my sister reckons there’s a great TV series ready to be made out of my books!

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Getting this novel finished, getting the two manuscripts that are almost ready out there, then re-edit the new novel and get it out to agents and publishers (I’ll tell them it’s the first in a planned series, and if it gets picked up I’ll quickly do some planning!). Also excited about travel – see the next question!

I like your style (although your secret is out now, you do realise?). 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?

So many places we’ve been to and loved! We adore Canada (and Canadians); Australia was just so wondrous; China was really interesting. I’ve an ongoing love affair with the Algarve and Lanzarote – I could happily spend several weeks of the year in each of those places.

But if pushed I’d go for New Zealand. We were there in 2020, getting home just as COVID struck. The scenery is amazing – like a bigger version of Scotland – and the people are lovely. There’s so much space. Great beer, wine and food too! We know people who made the move there, and others who wished they had, and I can see why – despite that huge distance.

Bucket list? At present we have plans to do an Antarctic trip, and also a tour of Japan, though these are currently pending due to COVID. I still have a fantasy about driving an open-top Thunderbird down the Florida Keys or the Pacific Highway…

I can highly recommend driving the Overseas Highway in an open-top car, finishing with a strawberry daiquiri in Sloppy Joe’s – one of my favourite trips ever! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I generally like to know what’s going on! I could never do a trip where the next two nights’ accommodation wasn’t booked. And when we have a settled, agreed plan for something, I do freak out a little if the plan changes. I have an issue with spontaneity, I suppose, but I’m getting better (though my wife would probability disagree).

You and I sound like birds of a feather; I am a mega-planner and have to be in charge of all our holidays. It is part of the reason I used to plan holidays for other people! 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 just so difficult! Most of the books I’ve read have their own merits, and many are unique in so many ways. Some authors – Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde amongst them – have broken completely new ground and need to be read. Others who have written long series of novels have hit moments of absolute brilliance – Chris Brookmyre with Black Widow, Ian Rankin with In a House of Lies.

If pushed, I would say that His Bloody Project by Graeme MacRae Burnet was a must-read: different and just perfect.

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The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows.

I loved this book, it is a stunningly original piece of writing. 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 wish! Too much red wine kills me, especially if I don’t take on enough water, so I watch that – I only drink it with a meal, with maybe a final glass afterwards. Too much strong beer is bad. I can only handle one or two whiskies of an evening. Generally I’m OK with rum and coke (or gin and tonic) so if I’m in it for the long haul, I stick to that. 

The only hangover cure is time: have a slow, easy day afterwards with lots of fluid, lots of sugar, several naps, and a couple of beers in the evening before an early night.

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

If I was somewhere warm then a day on the beach would be ideal. But in Scotland it would be a walk or a cycle to enjoy the peace and the space. A good film in the evening is always nice.

Brian, thank you for chatting with me this evening, it has been great fun.

Brian’s latest book, The CalDat Investigation, is a techno thriller set in Scotland. It is available in ebook format and you can buy a copy here. The book formats part of a three book series, but they can be read in any order.

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Glasgow PI Grant Cairns is asked to investigate a company called Caledonia Data (CalDat) which is suspected of being a conduit for dark money and fake news. As he follows a lead, he finds himself linking with an old colleague, ex-DS Amanda Pitt, who has become obsessed with explaining a murder at a Glasgow hotel, where the murderer could not possibly have known the victim and who died at the scene.

The two of them find their investigations are linked, and that an online hate campaign against an MSP could have fatal consequences for her.

Meanwhile, Martin McGregor’s past life comes back to haunt him, and the world of online abuse becomes very personal for him.

Brian Stewart was born in Rutherglen (near Glasgow) and brought up in Grangemouth. He went to Glasgow University and Jordanhill Teacher Training College, and taught in Edinburgh before moving north to the Highlands. He lived and worked there for many years in education in various roles, including as an OU maths tutor. In 2017 he and his wife moved to Broughty Ferry to be nearer their families.

Having retired from education, he is focused on my writing.

He and his wife enjoy travelling. Highlights have included cycling in Alaska, swimming in the Blue Lagoon, and climbing Vesuvius. They’ve seen Uluru at dusk and at dawn, and swum in the Olympic pool under Sydney harbour bridge. Furthest north they’ve been was North Cape, west was the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island, and of course New Zealand took them furthest east and south. All of that background will seep into his writing in due course in some way or another.

When not writing, he tries to keep fit and to play the guitar and golf (not simultaneously). He is in Broughty Ferry Rotary and also supports his District in his role as Assistant Governor in District 1010. One of the great bonuses of being a Rotarian is the ability to visit other clubs – most recently in Hong Kong and in Blenheim (South Island). He keeps in contact with other writers through social media, writers’ events, and the Angus Writers’ Circle, whose members are a really supportive bunch.

He self-published Digital Circumstances and Digital Investigations. The next in the series, The Deaths on the Black Rock, was published by ThunderPoint on October 23rd 2018. For the follow-up he went back to self-publishing, and The CalDat Investigation came out in February 2021.

You can find out more about Brian and his writing via Twitter and Instagram.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Jason Graff

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Well, this has been a long old week for me and I am absolutely ready to kick back and relax this weekend. Let’s start off having Friday Night Drinks with another fabulous guest, shall we? This week I am joined by author…. Jason Graff.

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

Monsho, an excellent malt whiskey from Japan.

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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?

Since I now live in Texas, I believe I am required by law to take out of town guests to a BBQ joint.

Great, I love BBQ but my only experience of Texas so far was making a connection at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport. So many Stetsons! 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?

Who wouldn’t love to drink with Dorothy Parker and Richard Pryor?

Who indeed? 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 poetry in high school, partly to get girls, partly because I was bored with my actual homework. I don’t think I really needed it to go anywhere outside of taking me outside of myself.

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

My proudest moment was when my wife went public on Facebook and called me her favorite writer. My biggest challenge so far has been attracting anything that might be thought of as an audience.

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’ve had a few by this point so I’ll say the Nobel Prize. It’s a big one, plus it’d be a great excuse to get over to Sweden. 

If you are going to dream, you might as well dream big, I say! What are have planned that you are really excited about?

My next book Merely Average Lovers about a romancing conman.

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 lived in Boston for 15 years and think of it very fondly. At the top of my bucket list, it’s a stretch but I’d like to live long enough to get to be a great grandfather.

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I love Boston. I got stranded there once at the end of a holiday by a hurricane and had to stay three extra days, it was no hardship! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I can touch my tongue to my nose (see above!)

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’?

Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas is one I’ve been recommending for the last couple of years. It really blew me away. Textured and funny and tragic, it’s a beautiful book about redemption and thwarted dreams and longing and all the other bitter sweet stuff that makes us keep trying. 

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He loses everything. In front of everyone.

Where does he go from here?

Daniel Kelly, a talented young swimmer, has one chance to escape his working-class upbringing. His astonishing ability in the pool should drive him to fame and fortune, as well as his revenge on the rich boys at the private school to which he has won a sports scholarship. Everything Danny has ever done, every sacrifice his family has ever made, has been in pursuit of his dream. But when he melts down at his first big international championship and comes only fifth, he begins to destroy everything he has fought for and turn on everyone around him.

Tender and savage, Barracuda is a novel about dreams and disillusionment, friendship and family. As Daniel Kelly loses everything, he learns what it means to be a good person – and what it takes to become one.

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

First of all, there is no such thing as a failsafe. I’ve tried a lot of things but since you insist I provide advice on this topic I would say, if your legs’re steady enough, a nice hot shower.

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

Hanging out with my wife and son. 

Jason, thanks for drinking with me this evening, it’s been a blast.

Jason’s latest book, heckler, about lives colliding in a failing hotel is out now from Unsolicited Press, and you can buy a copy here.

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Three men seeking forgiveness pass through The Shelby Hotel as part of their painful journey. While the family that runs it must contend with ghosts who won’t leave.

Jason Graff’s debut novel Stray Our Pieces, published by Waldorf Publishing in the fall of 2019, concerns a woman extricating herself from motherhood. In early 2020, heckler, about lives colliding at a struggling hotel, was released by Unsolicited Press. He lives in Richardson, TX, with his wife and their son.

You can connect further with Jason via Facebook and Twitter.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Anne Armistead

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Tonight’s Friday Night Drinks is running a little late, sorry for that! However, I am delighted to be welcoming to a decadently late night in the bar, author…. Anne Armistead.

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Anne, sorry for the late hour of our meeting, I appreciate you still joining me. First things first, what are you drinking?

Gin and Tonic with a lime twist, of course.

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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?

We would be going to Flicks on the Green in Peachtree Corners Town Center near my home, to enjoy this week’s movie while enjoying a picnic dinner and drinks we’d pick up from the Lazy Dog Restaurant in the Town square.

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?

Definitely, Ernest Hemingway and Katherine Hepburn!

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?

Personally, at the moment I am planning a wonderful baby shower for my daughter, who is due in August!

Professionally, I am finishing the end of my time travel story THE CAROUSEL TRAVELER. I am an old movie buff and enjoy silent movies. I have become interested in Alice Guy, a female Parisian silent film director whose legacy had been lost throughout the past decades and is now becoming re-established. In researching Alice, I learned quite a bit about the start of the film industry in Paris at the turn of the last Century. I watched the many pieces of original film available on youtube, etc., from the Paris Exhibition of 1900. Wishing I could go back in time to this event, I decided that I could, by writing a time travel romance in which my protagonist, Mirabelle, does just that. I hope to complete this manuscript within the next month and start submitting it for publication. I think readers will be totally engaged with Mirabelle’s adventures in 1900 Paris, one of which is assisting Alice Guy filming one of her movies!

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

My proudest moment is when my first story came out in print. It was a children’s story for Highlights Magazine written under my legal name Sandra Havriluk called “The Sign of the Cat.” The story was based on my dad’s experience of growing up during the Depression and his grandmother with whom he lived never turning away any “hobo” who knocked on the door for food. You can google the name of the story and find it on the internet because Highlights (who retains the rights) has released it for use in elementary testing materials!

My biggest challenge as a writer has been focusing on writing novel-length manuscripts and believing I can get to “The End” and have a story that doesn’t lose track of itself!

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 see one of my romances adapted by Hallmark!

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Professionally, I am excited to be attending (virtually) the Historical Novel Society Conference in July, as well as submitting my edited Christmas story requested by Wild Rose Press!

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Personally, I am excited to become a first-time grandmother in August! My youngest daughter is having a baby boy! 

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 I have traveled is so difficult to choose because I have something “favourite” about everywhere I’ve been! If I have to narrow it down, I would say because I am a Greek mythology nut and one who loves the gorgeous blue sea, it would have to be Greece. 

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At the top of my bucket list is doing the tour through Salzburg, Austria based on “The Sound of Music,” biking and singing Do-Re-Mi!

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

I graduated as an English lit major but did not want to teach high school English right out of college (though I did become an English teacher and taught for 25 years after I had my two daughters!).

 Back at this time, the local phone companies were all part of AT&T (“Ma Bell’) and they were looking to hire women college graduates into management in their newly formed IT department (like I said, it was the Dark Ages). I applied, passed the test which was on syllogisms (I knew how to solve them because I had taken philosophy courses). Southern Bell in Atlanta, Georgia, hired me and trained me to be a programmer. I wrote code for four years before I escaped into project management!

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 Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George is a MUST READ. Float on the Seine with Monsieur Perdu on his bookstore barge while he journeys to heal his human soul, and you will heal yours as well.

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On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a ‘literary apothecary’, for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers.

The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust – until now. The arrival of an enigmatic new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building on Rue Montagnard inspires Jean to unlock his heart, unmoor the floating bookshop and set off for Provence, in search of the past and his beloved.

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 that dreaded hangover, I would have started drinking on a full stomach, preferably from eating pizza and would be spacing out cocktails with mocktails!

It I ended up hungover, I turn again to food – plain toast and a tall glass of juice!

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

My perfect weekend now that it is summer is to float for hours under the hot summer sun in my backyard pool while reading a book from my TBR pile.  

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Thank you so much for joining me, i have had a lovely evening.

Anne’s latest book is Withe Kisses from Cecile, co-authored with Jan Agnello and you can buy a copy here.

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Visiting Paris to find out more about her great-grandmother’s World-War-I-era pen pal Cécile, a forlorn Maggie, reeling from discovering her husband’s infidelity, learns of devastating one-hundred-year-old secrets involving loss and forgiveness. Revelations about her family’s past challenge Maggie’s decision to face her future alone.

Ruth Mitchell’s failed reconciliation with her unfaithful husband leaves her heartbroken–and pregnant. She accepts her family’s invitation to Paris to pay homage to Cécile, whose World War One era pen pal letters to Maggie’s great-grandmother Ruth are cherished family mementoes. Through reading Cécile’s letters and learning about Ruth’s tragic past, will Maggie find the strength to forgive and love again?

In the year 1919 following World War One, Ruth and Cécile begin corresponding through an American-French pen pal program. Cécile is fighting against consumption, a life-threatening illness. Ruth is hiding the truth about a tragic death that has torn her family apart. She draws strength to face what fate brings from her pen pal’s inspiring letters, each signed With Kisses from Cécile.

Anne Armistead writes love stories, set in the past and present. She earned her English literature degree from the University of Georgia and her MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University. Anne is a member of the Atlanta Writers Club and the Historical Novel Society.

Her debut historical romance novel is  DANGEROUS CONJURINGS (Soul Mate Publishing, April 2018). 

WITH KISSES FROM CÉCILE, co-authored with Jan Agnello, is her second historical fiction (Storyology Design and Publication, September 2019). It was awarded the 2020 Georgia Independent Author of the Year Award in historical fiction and the Silver Award from Literary Titan.

​Anne recently signed with The Wild Rose Press, who will publish her contemporary romance story A CHRISTMAS CANNOLI KISS as part of their digital Sweetheart Line Christmas eseries. 

Anne’s writing-in-progress is a time travel romance entitled THE CAROUSEL TRAVELER. She is seeking representation for its publication.

You can keep up with Anne and her doings on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Todd Wassel

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Friday has come round again, so it is time for another celebratory drink and chat with an interesting author. Tonight I am delighted to be sharing Friday Night Drinks with… Todd Wassel.

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

Coffee. It might be evening for you but it is Saturday morning for me!

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

To a cool little container bar on the banks of the Mekong in Vientiane, Laos. It is called LaoDi and it is run by a Japanese and Lao that have their own Rhum factory that they use to mix with Japanese liqueurs. 

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 Buddha and Janis Joplin. 

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?

Beside my 9-5 job trying to save the world and help people, I’m in the middle of writing a 3 book memoir series. I’m on book two now and I want it to lead to more happiness, doing what I love, and telling others about it. 

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

The first time someone commented on a blog piece I wrote, and I realized that I had something to say. My biggest challenge was believing that I had something to say and finishing my first book. 9 years of thinking about before I was finally able to get it out into the world. 

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

I’d love to earn a decent income from having adventures, writing about them, and having enough people read them that it just keeps going. 

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

In a few years I plan to buy an old Japanese farmhouse and spend a few years moving it, and renovating it. 

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

After 45 countries and 21 years living abroad that is a really difficult question! I’d say hiking into Machu Picchu was on my bucket list and deserves to be near the top. Bhutan is at the top of my current list. That and hiking the 100 highest peaks in Japan. 

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

I was born in San Diego California, while my Dad was going to Top Gun as a navy pilot. Yes, the place is real. From there we moved every three years of my life as I followed along. My day job was for a long time working in conflict and war zones with Non-profits. Despite all of that, I considered myself to be timid and not adventurous 😊

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 actually a Fantasy nerd at heart. I’d say the Brandon Sanderson Stormlight series. A great new take on the genre. 

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Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilisation alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soil-less ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armour that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.

Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

The result of more than ten years of planning, writing, and world-building, The Way of Kings is but the opening movement of The Stormlight Archive, a bold masterpiece in the making.

Speak again the ancient oaths:

Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.

And return to men the Shards they once bore.

The Knights Radiant must stand again.

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?

Sleep as long as possible, and have a beer to even things out around 11 am. 

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

Spending the day rock climbing or hiking and then the evening on a porch with a BBQ, a beer and a view

Thank you for joining me this evening (or morning in your case), Todd, it has been a fascinating chat.

Todd Wassel is the author of Walking in Circles: Finding Happiness in Lost Japan and you can buy a copy here. The book is available for free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

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Far from the lights of Tokyo. A 1,200 year old pilgrimage. A life changed forever.

Guided by a wandering ascetic hiding from the Freemasons; naked Yakuza; a scam artist pilgrim; and a vengeful monk, Walking in Circles is a fun, inspirational travel memoir set in a Japan few outsiders ever get to see.

Award-winning writer Todd Wassel draws on over twenty years in Japan to retell his epic journey through the contradictions of a contemporary yet traditional Japan while trying to overcome the barriers to happiness modern life throws up.

Over half a decade after first landing in Japan Todd is lost, unable to go home, or move forward. Convinced there is more to life, he risks everything to return to the one place he found answers years before: the ancient Shikoku Henro pilgrimage. Walking the 750-mile henro path, sleeping outside each night, Todd is armed with only a Japanese map and the people he meets along the way.

Todd Wassel is an international development professional, author and traveler. He has worked across Asia and Europe for the past 20 years as an English teacher in Japan, a human rights advocate in Sri Lanka, a conflict management specialist in Timor-Leste and Kosovo, and has worked in and traveled to over 40 countries. He has worked for the United Nations, small local NGOs, for the US government, and is currently the Country Representative for the Asia Foundation in Laos. Todd won the People’s Choice Award in the Southeast Asia Travel Writing Competition and has been featured in Lonely Planet, the Diplomat and ABC Australia.

Todd has hiked into Machu Pichu, watched the sun rise from the top of Mount Fuji, dived the reefs of the Maldives, honeymooned in Bosnia and Herzegovina, danced for three days at weddings in India, hiked from Montenegro to Albania, through Kosovo and into Macedonia, and walked the 900-mile pilgrimage to the 88 temples of Shikoku Japan, twice (the topic of his new book). He likes adventures and strong coffee.

Fluent in Japanese, Todd has a B.A from Colgate University in Asian Studies and Comparative Religion as well as a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher school at Tufts University. Todd met his wife Kaoru during a security crisis on the tiny half island of Timor-Leste and they have been traveling the world together ever since.

They currently live with their two children, Kaito and Sana, in Laos along the banks of the Mekong.

Connect with Todd via his website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Friday Night Drinks with… James Morgan-Jones

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Last Friday of the month, and a bank holiday to boot. What more excuse could be needed for a celebration, and joining me for Friday Night Drinks tonight, I have author… James Morgan-Jones.

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

Red vino, definitely. It doesn’t have to be expensive; just something good quality.

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?

Well, I’m up for the theatre. I’m longing to go again. I’d fancy a good play, but as it’s your night out, if you fancied a musical, that would be fine. After the show, we could go for a guzzly slap-up – maybe the Ivy in Covent Garden.

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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?

As we’re having a theatrical night out, I’d choose the late lamented (and outrageous) grande dame of theatre, Coral Browne, along with Alan Bennett, whose play ‘An Englishman Abroad’ was based on her memoir. They’d be an inexhaustible fund of hilarious and very risqué theatrical anecdotes and I imagine the evening would be riotous. We’d have to be on our toes – they both had/have a rapier wit.

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

I’ve just put together a second volume of short stories and am currently finishing off a play. Then it’s back to my ‘big’ project – the Glasswater Quintet, a series of inter-connected novels. Four are already published, so the next – entitled The Ice Chandelier – will be the last. It all started when I was doing an MA in Creative Writing at Trinity St David’s university here in Wales. The first part of the first novel – On the Edge of Wild Water – comprised my dissertation for the course. It grew from there. The sequence takes an anti-clockwise trajectory, starting in the 2000s, then going back to the 1970s, then the beginning of WW2. The fourth novel comes forward again to the 1990s. The last will take the sequence full circle (and then some), set just a few years after the events depicted in the first novel. The books are connected by place and character and are maybe best described as psychological thrillers with a supernatural slant. They also have a strong historical dimension. And they’re emotional, atmospheric and dramatic.

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

The third novel of the Glasswater Quintet – The Stone Forest – has a long opening section set in a community on the Thames marshes in the 1930s. This community actually existed, but of course, does so no longer. I had only imagination to rely on, plus some photographs and a few recollections of an archivist who had lived there as a child. It was quite daunting, as it’s very important that it should be effective, and I had no idea if I could pull it off. I think now that I did succeed – as an imaginative recreation, on its own terms, it really does work and I’m proud of it.

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!

Truly? – I honestly think that if my work were both widely recognized and enjoyed for its quality, then I’d be happy. Of course, money and awards would be nice.

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

The play I’m currently writing. I went to drama school in London and started off as an actor, so being able to add a play to my CV gives me great pleasure and a sense of achievement.

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 once had an Italian friend who lived in Milan and we travelled by train to Venice. It really is the most extraordinary place, and in those days, wasn’t horribly crowded. Now I believe it’s virtually impossible to move there, even in winter. It’s a pity. Venice is truly unique. I love Italy generally, actually. What I’d really love would be to undertake a ‘Grand Tour’ of the whole country, as the Victorians used to do. By train. The Italian trains are much better than ours.

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

I have a silicon disc under my right eye as a result of a car accident. How fascinating is that?

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

I’d steer you towards Beryl Bainbridge. She was a very quirky writer, and is one of my favourites. In her later career, she turned to fictional recreations of famous historical events and was immensely successful. She was shortlisted five times for the Booker prize and never won. She was actually referred to as ‘the Booker bridesmaid’. It’s rumoured that her failure to win sprang from the prejudice/bias of some members of the Booker juries. Beryl didn’t wear ‘the right tie’ – ie, she hadn’t come through any of the educational establishments or professions that the literary establishment considered requisite. She started off as an actress in repertory and never went to university. I think it rather pissed them off that she was able to do what she did without it. Shamefaced, they awarded her a posthumous prize, which was voted for by her fans among the reading public. They chose her great novel ‘Master Georgie’. But for my money, if you haven’t read it, I’d recommend Every Man for Himself. Much has been written/filmed/recorded/discussed about the sinking of the Titanic; but for me, nothing has brought me so close to the feel of that time, and to so authentic a sense of the great tragedy that was the Titanic’s maiden voyage. There’s a terrific apprehension of not only the ship, but of an entire era, sailing towards catastrophe. Like all Beryl’s books it’s quite short, but it’s a fantastic achievement.

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For the four fraught, mysterious days of her doomed maiden voyage in 1912, the Titanic sails towards New York, glittering with luxury, freighted with millionaires and hopefuls. In her labyrinthine passageways the last, secret hours of a small group of passengers are played out, their fate sealed in prose of startling, sublime beauty, as Beryl Bainbridge’s haunting masterpiece moves inexorably to its known and terrible end.

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?

Do you know – and I apologise in advance if this sounds sanctimonious – but I don’t really get hangovers. I’ve been ill once or twice quite soon after over-indulging in alcohol, but that’s invariably been because I haven’t eaten properly beforehand. Even then, though, I didn’t really have a hangover the following morning.

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

By the sea. As we’ve been in the West End, I suppose it would have to be somewhere accessible from London. Perhaps the Essex coast. I was born and brought up in Essex and I have a nostalgic fondness for those places. Maybe Walton-on-the-Naze. I set a short story there, loosely based on childhood experiences, in my volume The Wheel and Other Stories.

Thank you for joining me tonight, James, I have thoroughly enjoyed our chat.

James’s latest book is Eye of the Rushes, the fourth book in the Glasswater Quintet series, following On The Edge of Wild Water, The Glass Citadel and The Stone Forest. You can buy a copy here.

James Morgan-Jones was born and brought up on the Essex/London borders. His mother was Welsh and his father from the East End. He trained as a professional actor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and worked for several years in the theatre. After a serious accident he retrained as a feline behaviourist and now lives in West Wales. He began writing seriously after gaining an MA with Distinction from Trinity Saint David University in Carmarthen. He then embarked on The Glasswater Quintet, a series of supernatural/psychological novels, linked by character and place but set in different decades, from the 1940s onwards. The first book in the series, On the Edge of Wild Water, was published by Wordcatcher in the summer of 2017. This was followed by the second in the quintet, The Glass Citadel, later that year, as well as a short story collection, The Wheel and Other Stories. The third novel, The Stone Forest, was published in November 2018, followed by the fourth – Eye of the Rushes – in 2020. In the autumn of 2019 James’s first collection of poetry, Living Places, Passing Lives, was published by Wordcatcher. 

You can connect further with James via his website, Facebook and Twitter.

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Friday Night Drinks with… Vicky Adin

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I thought it was supposed to be the beginning of summer, what has happened to the weather? We have had monsoon-like conditions here this week. At least we are allowed to meet people indoors for socialising again now, I had a lovely birthday lunch with three friends on Wednesday and now, I am delighted to be able to share Friday Night Drinks with author… Vicky Adin.

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

I’ll start the evening by offering to share a bottle of one of our famous New Zealand sauvignon blanc vintages with you, but I love rich, red wine the most. There’s nothing quite like an Australian cabernet sauvignon or a shiraz for its smooth taste and flavour.

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That’s the motto to live by! If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

To the bustling Auckland waterfront, to a great Italian restaurant, where we can people watch, soak up the atmosphere and see the super yachts, the lights and find some great music.

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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?

Sean Connery, because he has the sexiest voice ever, and Maggie Smith who has the wickedest sense of humour and the ability to say a lot more than mere words with a simple look.

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

I’m in marketing mode after the launch of my latest book, Portrait of a Man, which is as multi-layered as the portraits at the heart of the story. I was thrilled when one reviewer described it as ‘a refreshingly different family saga…[with] intricately woven stories to tease apart’.

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The story starts life with Matteo in Dunedin between 1863 and 1892, before moving to a small town in the South Island during the First World War years, where Luciano hides from his past. The third part is set in present-day Auckland amid a pandemic, and ties all the threads and characters together. It’s my favourite so far, and I hope it becomes the reader’s favourite too.

With every book, and I’ve released seven now, I spend an enormous amount of time researching, reading archived newspapers online and digging into family stories, uncovering fascinating insights that inspire me to start the next book. But it doesn’t stop there, the research continues throughout the writing process.

Recently, I have begun writing a novel set between the two world wars in rural New Zealand. It’s another character driven story of family life, full of drama and despair, of tenderness and suffering, filled with compassion and hope; always hope, set amid a rapidly changing world.

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

The launch of my first book, The Disenchanted Soldier, and holding the book in my hand in front of an eager audience was my proudest moment. I had spent so many years researching and writing the factionalised, dual-timeline biography of my husband’s great-grandfather that to see it come to fruition was an amazing feeling.

From then on, I was hooked on writing. Now, most of my next proudest moments come when readers write some of the loveliest words about how they enjoyed my stories. I love my readers, but I also have a great sense of achievement with each of my books. I think we should feel proud of all our stories. We are giving away part of us when we release a new one into the world.

My biggest challenge, along with many indie authors, is reaching more readers who will enjoy the stories I write, and, most importantly, tell others. 

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 historical fiction become the No 1 most popular genre throughout the world, feature in all the bookstores, and become the blockbusters of tomorrow. After all, we wouldn’t be here today without our ancestors. What they achieved gave us the foundation to achieve more in our time. Who they were, are who we are today, with add-ons. Their genes are part of us and to pay due respect to history is to pay respect to future generations.

That’s a great ambition, and very different to the answers I usually get to this question. What are have planned that you are really excited about?

On 9th May we celebrated our 50+1 Golden Wedding Anniversary. Last year, celebrations were non-existent, consisting of a few drinks and a home cooked dinner for our immediate family bubbles. This year, we are able to expand the number of people we can share our memories with.

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 husband and I love to travel too. We’ve been spoilt, and have completed two world cruises, as well as spending weeks and months visiting many countries by bus, train, and camper van. If I never leave New Zealand again, I will be happy… but if I get the chance to visit Italy again one day, I would be in 7th heaven. I love the scenery, the wine and the food. The one trip still on my bucket list that we haven’t done (yet), is a canal cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest and beyond to the Black Sea.

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

I was born in Wales and came to New Zealand as a 12-year-old. I can still say the name of the railway station in North Wales in Welsh.

And I hold a Master of Arts 1st class Honours in Adult Education and English.

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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’?

Only one? There are so many good stories, where would I start?

The first one that comes to mind is All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr… amazing story, and I’m sure most people will have already read it… so, since I try to mostly read indie authors and New Zealand stories, my New Zealand story of choice is The Denniston Rose (2003) by Jenny Pattrick.

The story is set in 1880 in a bleak coal-mining community on a high plateau on the West Coast of the South Island. Rose – a child of 5 – is the indomitable character having to fend for herself in the isolated and harsh landscape. The character development is wonderful. 

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The bleak coal-mining settlement of Denniston, isolated high on a plateau above New Zealand’s West Coast, is a place that makes or breaks those who live there. At the time of this novel – the1880s – the only way to reach the makeshift collection of huts, tents and saloons is to climb aboard an empty coal-wagon to be hauled 2000 feet up the terrifyingly steep Incline – the cable-haulage system that brings the coal down to the railway line. All sorts arrive here to work the mines and bring down the coal: ex-goldminers down on their luck; others running from the law or from a woman or worse. They work alongside recruited English miners, solid and skilled, who scorn these disorganised misfits and want them off the Hill.

Into this chaotic community come five-year-old Rose and her mother, riding up the Incline, at night, during a storm. No one knows what has driven them there, but most agree the mother must be desperate to choose Denniston; worse, to choose that drunkard, Jimmy Cork, as bedfellow. The mother has her reasons and her plans, which she tells no one. The indomitable Rose is left to fend for herself, struggling to secure a place in this tough and often aggressive community. The Denniston Rose is about isolation and survival. It is the story of a spirited child, who, in appalling conditions, remains a survivor.

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

Drink lots of water between each alcoholic drink, and sleep in. Then have coffee and toast in bed and get up when you feel like it. (I am one lucky woman, my OH of over 50 years understands my needs even when I haven’t been drinking). 

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

Sitting in the sunshine on our front deck and chatting while looking over the estuary river, coffee, a long lunch, reading, siesta, going for a walk, and then cooking a fabulous Italian dinner, and wine; don’t forget the wine. Nothing beats good company, good food and good wine.

Sounds like bliss! New Zealand is high on my bucket list of places I long to visit. Thank you for joining me on the blog this evening, Vicky, I have really enjoyed myself.

Vicky’s latest book is Portrait of a Man, a historical fiction novel set against the ravages of war. You can buy a copy here.

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Matteo Borgoni is a desperate man. He must succeed if he is to free his beloved wife, held captive by her father in Melbourne. His picture framing skills establish him with the artists of Dunedin in 1863, but he has many doubts, and many more obstacles to overcome.

Fifty years on, Luciano, a rakish Italian portrait artist on the run from his past, turns up at the Invercargill branch of Borgoni Picture Framers seeking refuge. As the ravages of World War One escalate, fear is constant, but compassion brings unexpected consequences. A terrifying pandemic is the last thing they need.

Over a century later, a man recognises a portrait in an Auckland gallery, and demands it back. Amid another global pandemic, a marriage on the brink of failure, and a life and death struggle, the portrait exposes generations of family secrets and deceptions with life-changing results.

Award winning historical fiction author, Vicky Adin is a genealogist in love with history and words.

After decades of research Vicky has combined her skills to write poignant novels that weave family and history together in a way that makes the past come alive.

Fascinated by the 19th Century women who undertook hazardous journeys to find a better life, Vicky draws her characters from real life stories – characters such as Brigid The Girl from County Clare and Gwenna The Welsh Confectioner, or Megan who discovers much about herself when she traces her family tree in The Cornish Knot.

Her 2019 release, The Costumier’s Gift, is the dual-timeline sequel to the family sagas of Brigid The Girl from County Clare and Gwenna The Welsh Confectioner. In 2020, Vicky released Portrait of a Man, the soul-searching and heart-warming conclusion to The Cornish Knot.

Her books have attracted IndieBRAG awards, Chill with a Book Readers’ Award, and the Books Go Social Gold Standard.

Vicky Adin holds a MA(Hons) in English and Education. When not writing you will find her reading – she is an avid reader of historical novels, family sagas and contemporary women’s stories; travelling – especially caravanning, and cruising with her husband and biggest fan; and spending time with her family.

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You can discover more about Vicky and her writing on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

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