The 2022 Romantic Novel Award Winners’ Interviews with…. Kathryn Freeman

awards

Today I am delighted to be joined on the blog by one of the joint winners of the Jane Wenham-Jones Award for Romantic Comedy. Talking about her award-winning novel, Mr Right Across The Street, it’s… Kathryn Freeman.

Kathryn Freeman, Jane Wenham-Jones Award for Romantic Comedy, Romantic Novel Awards 2022

Kathryn, congratulations on being one of the joint winners of the Jane Wenham-Jones Award for Romantic Comedy in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2022 and thank you very much for agreeing to appear on my blog.

It’s absolutely my pleasure, Julie. Thank you so much for inviting me. I had such fun answering your questions ☺

How surprised were you to hear your name announced as one of the winners on the night of the awards and have you come down off the ceiling yet?

I was utterly gob smacked to hear my name! I’d been sure I wasn’t going to win – I’d seen the other short-listed names – so I didn’t bother writing a speech. Something I instantly regretted as I made my way to the stage and saw the big microphone… 

The award sits proudly on the shelf behind my desk and makes me smile every time I look at it, which I do a rather embarrassing number of times a day. So yep, I’m still on the ceiling!

Can you tell me a bit about your writing career so far and what has brought you to the point of being a RONA award-winning author?

Mine is definitely not an overnight success story! I started writing my first book in 2009. Undeterred by rejections from every agency and publisher in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, I wrote a second book and this time sent it off to the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme (something I would recommend for all budding romance novelists). Acting on their feedback I then wrote a second. And a third. It was this third book that gained me my first publishing contract in 2013. After that, I gave up my job to become self-employed so I could juggle work with my dream of writing books. Nine years and eighteen books later I’m now with One More Chapter and have this fabulous award sitting on my shelf ☺ 

What inspired the story in Mr Right Across The Street and why do you think it particularly appealed to the judges?

The story was inspired a little by lockdown. My editor would stare out of her window as she worked from home and started to wonder who was living in the flat opposite her. What if he was attractive? What if he started sending messages to her via a note in his window? I think this unusual way of communicating appealed to the judges and certainly it was something I had huge fun writing. I loved the idea of my hero, Luke, using images as clues to where he was taking Mia when he asked her out on dates. A bit like a romantic Pictionary!  

What is your favourite thing about being a writer and what do you find the hardest part of a career in writing? What advice would you give to any aspiring authors reading this piece?

My favourite part of being a writer of romance is that I get to fall in love all over again as I immerse myself in my characters. The hardest part was the initial four years – all those rejections. All that self-doubt. All those words written, wondering whether anyone else would read them. Some of that self-doubt remains and the hardest part now is waiting for the reviews to come in each time a book is published. 

My advice to aspiring authors is to write, write, write. Get that first book written and send it out for feedback. Then write the second. If you want to be a writer badly enough, it will happen – it’s just a question of never giving up. 

Authors often describe their characters taking on lives of their own and changing the direction of the novel as it is written, how much control did you have over the characters in this book, or did they insist on going their own way once you released them from your imagination on to the page?

Great question! I start out with a biography for my characters and an idea of the key turning points of the story which doesn’t change. However the detail within that, how the characters get to these turning points, comes as I write and become more familiar with them. In Mr Right Across the Street, Luke was always going to send messages to Mia via his window, but the more I got to know him, the more he took control of what those messages said and how he was going to use them to woo Mia. And though in my outline he always owned a bar, I didn’t realise how much fun he was going to have with cocktails!

Are you a plotter or a pantster when it comes to your writing? Do you have a particular approach to getting the words on the page, a favourite time and place to write, or do you have to squeeze it in where you can?

I think I’m part way between the plotter and pantster – an outliner! I write a four to five page outline upfront, and a detailed biography of the main characters. Then I dive in. I think it’s important not to get too bogged down with finessing in this first draft; I prefer to get the words down and worry about sharpening them up on the next read through. I write in my study and it’s my job, so I do it every day. It’s just that unlike a lot of jobs, I happen to LOVE mine ☺

Much as we all like to celebrate past successes, our focus soon has to turn forwards and on to the next project. What do you have in the pipeline and what influence do you see winning this award having on your writing and future career?

My next book is called The Italian Job and is out in May. It features Anna and Jake, ex neighbours who rub each other up the wrong way but find themselves pretending to be a couple so they can apply for the dream job of managing a castle on Lake Como, accommodation included. Little do they realise when they jet off to Italy, how difficult that pretense will prove to be.  

41LlJdoKrML

As for if the award, it’s certainly helped with some of that self-doubt I mentioned and has made me even more glad I pursued my own dream job ☺

Kathryn, thank you for chatting with me, I’ve really enjoyed listening to you talking about your writing and wish you luck with the new book.

Kathryn’s winning novel Mr Right Across The Street is available now in all formats and you can buy your copy here.

Kathryn Freeman, Jane Wenham-Jones Award for Romantic Comedy, Romantic Novel Awards 2022, Mr Right Across the Street BOOK COVER

Mia Abbott’s move to Manchester was supposed to give her time and space from all the disastrous romantic choices she’s made in her past. But then the hot guy who lives opposite – the one who works out every day at exactly 10 a.m., not that Mia has noticed thank-you-very-much – starts leaving notes in his window…for her.

Bar owner Luke Doyle has his own issues to deal with but as he shows Mia the sights of her new city he also shows her what real romance looks like for the first time. And when he cooks up a signature cocktail in her honour, she realises that the man behind the bar is even more enticing than any of his creations. And once she’s had a taste she knows it will never be enough!

For as long as she can remember, Kathryn Freeman has always wanted to write a book. It may have had something to do with her obsession with reading romance. Real life interfered and she headed off in a different direction, becoming a pharmacist before joining the pharmaceutical industry. She did end up writing, but it was about disease and medicines. Decades later, she’s finally doing what she always wanted to do. With a husband who asks every Valentine’s Day whether he has to buy a card (yes, he does), all the romance in her life is in her head. Then again, his unstinting support of her career change proves love isn’t always about hearts and flowers – and heroes come in many disguises.

Connect with Kathryn:

Website: https://kathrynfreeman.co.uk/

Facebook: Kathryn Freeman

Twitter: @KathrynFreeman1

Instagram: @kathryn.freeman_author

a-little-book-problem-banner

RONA Awards 2022 Celebration Drinks with… Elisabeth Hobbes

RONAS

Tonight it’s back to my special celebration of the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2022 and another of the shortlisted authors who are on tenterhooks to see if they will be announced a winner at the ceremony on Monday. Tonight I am chatting to an author nominated in the category of Fantasy Romantic Novel for her book, Daughter of the Sea it’s… Elisabeth Hobbes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Elisabeth, thank you for joining me for drinks this evening and congratulations on your nomination. First things first, what are you drinking?

Thank you for having me. I’ll start with an espresso martini to wake me up, then a white wine and soda. I’m not a big drinker so I like to make it last.

Unknown

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

We’d be starting at a local bar called The Fountain that does great cocktails then going onto a place called Mash Guru where they either have live bands or 70s soul and disco. It’s a real warren of little rooms with lots of interesting people to chat to.

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 Caitlin Moran would be great company and I’d like to pick her brains on parenting because I loved her books. I would love to spend an evening with Alan Rickman. By all accounts he was a genuinely nice person and I could listen to that voice for hours even if he was just reading the phone book (do phone books even exist? I need to think of something else boring that I’d listen to him read. School policies maybe).

Two great choices, there, I heartily approve! So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

At the moment I’m editing my second World War Two book for One More Chapter. I’ve only been with OMC for a couple of years and I’m really enjoying the longer word count (my other publisher Mills & Boon is around 75k). The period is a relatively new one for me so I’m trying not to get sucked into too many research rabbit holes. My first WW2 was about a British agent sent to France but this one is about two girls who grew up together and their experiences of Occupied Paris as young women. I’m fascinated by the ways different women reacted – some resisted, some collaborated, others just tried to keep their heads down and feed their families – so I’m trying to make sure there is a wide range of experiences in there.

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

Being shortlisted for the RNA Fantasy Historical award with Daughter of the Sea is absolutely up there. It’s the first story I’ve written that had elements of folklore/fantasy and I know my lovely editor Charlotte took a gamble on it so I’m overjoyed that readers like it. As well as the fantasy/folk tale elements it deals with characters who are outsiders (either through choice or circumstances beyond their control) finding their way in the world and being accepted. It’s set on the Yorkshire coast which is where I used to go as a child (growing up in York I was very lucky to be so close to the sea). I’ve had readers tell me they were in tears at some points which I consider means I’m doing my job properly.

ELISABETH J HOBBES Finalist RONAs 2022 Final
The biggest challenge is balancing my writing with working as a Reception teacher. I adore working with the children and my wonderful colleagues but the challenges facing teachers in terms of workload and the emotional and physical toll (even more so since Covid) cannot be overstated and are getting harder. I get home drained and sometimes can’t even remember simple words, never mind try to write! I’m not sure how sustainable it is from a mental health point of view.

My sister is a Year 5 teacher so I can sympathise with how hard it has been for you all over the past couple of years and I would like to say how grateful I am as a parent for all the encouragement and support you have given our children. 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 someone to turn one of my books into a movie or series. Historical romance is fashionable at the moment because of Bridgerton and I’d love to see some periods beyond Regency getting a look in. Daughter of the Sea would obviously be top of the list because I pictures Richard Armitage in the lead role and I’d hope I would be allowed on set to meet him.

Unknown-2

Other than that, I’d like writing to pay enough to change the balance of teaching/writing days for the reasons I mentioned above.

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

Once I’ve finished the edits of Daughters of Paris (current title) I’m starting another WW2 book, this time set in my favourite ski resort. It’s in the area of France that was occupied by the Italians and there was a strong Resistance presence that fought back but also helped courier people across the mountains to safety. The two heroines are sisters, one who has stayed home being responsible and looking after their mother and the other who has been living in Lyon for a few years and returns home with an Italian boyfriend.  There will be lots of opportunity for sibling rivalry but also female solidarity. My female characters might clash but ultimately they support each other because I think showing strong female relationships is so important.

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 ski resort I mentioned is one of my favorites. The area is called Serre Chevalier. There’s a medieval walled town overlooking the slopes at one end of the valley and a thermal spa at the other so it’s a wonderful combination of history and pampering after a day on the slopes. Skiing is so good for my mood because I can’t worry when I’m concentrating on avoiding bumps. I also love Barcelona and could move there like a shot. I have booked an Easter trip for my daughter and myself so I’m keeping my fingers crossed it comes off.

We had a family trip booked for Easter 2020 to Japan but then of course we had to cancel it because of covid. I hope that we’ll be able to do it before too long as the kids are now sixteen and fourteen so I don’t know how long they’ll want to come on holiday with us (depends if we’re paying I imagine).

Unknown-1

Ours are now almost 19, 17, 15 and 14 and we are showing no signs of shaking any of them from the holiday list yet! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I always have a song going round in my head (as I’m typing it’s Take Me Or Leave Me from Rent) and I often sing out loud by accident. People walk into the staffroom at school and know if I’m in there instantly.

That’s very funny because I was just thinking how you have now implanted Barcelona by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe in my brain for the rest of the day! 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’?

Just one is so hard! I could recommend at least thirty but I’m going with The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis. It’s set in Imperial Rome and features a tough, low class private informer who becomes embroiled in a plot against the new Emperor Vespasian and meets a senator’s daughter. It’s the first of a series of twenty and they are all funny, sexy, heartbreaking and really well plotted whodunnits.

51sa2kXACwL

A NEW EMPEROR SEEKS AN EXPERIENCED AGENT

Marcus Didius Falco is a private informer, the closest thing that first-century Rome has to a detective.

A new emperor, Vespasian, has ascended to power. The tides of money and power are in flux, and Rome’s vicious games swirl more ferociously than ever.

When Falco rescues a young girl in trouble, he catapults himself into a dangerous game involving stolen imperial ingots, a dark political plot and, most hazardous of all, a senator’s daughter connected to the traitors Falco has sworn to expose.

The rule of law is tenuous for ordinary citizens of Rome. Only a man with a mind as sharp as a gladius can prevail.

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’m quite a lightweight so I’ve probably been nursing the second wine and soda for the last hour so hopefully I’ll avoid a hangover. My failsafe cure is Tango or Fanta with a sprinkling of salt in it and a lie in.

Interesting, I’ve never heard that salt tip before. After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

I’d go on a walk with my Romania rescue dog Missy and end up at a spa where someone would look after her while I had a massage and dip in the jacuzzi, then we’d both lie on sofas and watch a film, probably with Ryan Reynolds in it while I ate Maltesers and she had some cheese.

Missy and me copy

Thank you for chatting to me tonight, Elisabeth, I’ve had a great evening and best of luck on Monday.

Elisabeth’s RONA shortlisted novel, Daughter of the Sea, is available in both ebook and paperback formats and you can buy a copy here.

51+q-chyxwL

On a windswept British coastline the tide bestows an unexpected gift…

It was the cry that she first noticed, the plaintive wail that called to her over the crash of winter waves. Wrapped only in a sealskin, the baby girl looks up at Effie and instantly captures her heart.

Effie has always been an outcast in her village, the only granddaughter of a woman people whisper is a witch, so she’s used to a solitary existence. But when Midsummer arrives so too does a man claiming to be the child’s father. Effie is surprised when he asks her to continue looking after his daughter, mysteriously refusing to explain why. When he returns six months hence she pushes him for answers. And Lachlan tells a story she never anticipated … one of selkies, legend, and the power of the sea…

Elisabeth Hobbes began writing in secret, but when she came third in Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest in 2013, she was offered a two-book contract, and consequently had to admit why the house was such a tip.  Elisabeth has published historical romances with Harlequin Mills & Boon and One More Chapter, spanning the Middle Ages to the Second World War.
Elisabeth teaches Reception but she’d rather be writing full time because unlike four-year-olds, her characters generally do what she tells them.  When she isn’t writing, she spends most of her spare time reading and is a pro at cooking one-handed while holding a book.
She was born and raised in York but now lives in Cheshire because her car broke down there in 1999 and she never left.

Connect with Elisabeth:

Facebook: Elisabeth Hobbes

Twitter: @ElisabethHobbes

Instagram: @elisabeth_j_hobbes_author

a-little-book-problem-banner

Friday Night Drinks with… Jenni Keer

friday-night-drinks

It’s Chrissssssstmaaaaaaaaas, to channel Noddy Holder. Well, not quite, but it is definitely the beginning of the Christmas party season and I cannot think of anyone who I would rather kick off the festivities by having a Friday Night Drink with than tonight’s blog guest, author… Jenni Keer.

JK mono 2

Jenni, I am so excited to have you on the blog! First things first, what are you drinking?

My absolute pleasure, Julie. It’s been too long since I saw your smiley face and chatted to you about all things blogging. So, without further ado, shall I get a bottle in? I was going to suggest wine, but it’s been a long week. Let’s split a litre bottle of rhubarb gin? 

download

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

I would take you to the beautiful city of Norwich, full of history and charm, and littered with delightful places to eat and drink. I would suggest we cruised the city and tried a few out.

I have not been to Norwich for many a long year (since I visited the university, which I didn’t end up attending!) so I would enjoy that very much. 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’m torn between inviting people who really knew how to party (a night with the Bright Young Things of the Roaring Twenties would be a blast), and people I might learn things from, but I’m going to go with Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle so I can quiz them about their clever plots and great characterisation. Hopefully, they’ll loosen up after a few gins, and we can have a riotous evening. I predict some amusing headlines in the local papers the following morning.

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

I started writing when I was a stay at home mum to FOUR boys three and under – gulp. It’s also when I started reading a lot of romance novels and drinking substantially more wine! Reading and writing became an escape for me, and I quickly realised I wanted to take the writing seriously and put all my efforts into getting published. It took nine years to fulfill this dream but I was absolutely determined I would get there. Long term, I see being an author as my full-time career, and I want to get a substantial back list behind me. I am loving the journey and don’t ever want to do anything else.

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

My proudest moment so far was when my debut novel, The Hopes and Dreams of Lucy Baker, was shortlisted for two awards, including the Katie Fforde Debut Novel. I am very fond of this book and it was great to see it recognised. 

1546648074

The hardest part has been during the pandemic when my first agent left the industry for personal reasons, (although I quickly secured the lovely Hannah Schofield from LBA Books). This coincided with a move away from rom coms to include historical threads, so there was an unanticipated hiatus in my writing and a gap of two years between published books. However, I used the pandemic to write more books and exciting things have been going on behind the scenes, but I can’t talk about them just yet… (I know, I’m such a tease!)

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 guess to have one of my novels made into a movie, even though the actors probably wouldn’t resemble the characters in my head, and bits of the story would inevitably be cut. But how fabulous would it be to have one of my novels out there in movie form? 

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

So many marvellous things are coming up; talks to W.I. groups, library panels, online events and a couple of author Christmas get-togethers. As writing is such a solitary occupation, I grab any opportunity to meet readers and other authors. But I think I’m actually most excited about my next book – which is now with my agent.

I can’t wait to see what is coming next! 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 to stay is a quaint little trullo (a white-washed traditional dry stone hut) in Puglia, Italy. I’ve been there a few times with friends and adore the Italian way of life; how family and food are everything. I don’t have anywhere in particular on my bucket list, but anywhere near the sea is always a winner for me – the hotter, the better.

Screenshot_20210928-100116

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

I’m part of a disco formation dance team – which considering I have all the grace and poise of an elephant, is quite an achievement. I always say that what I lack in talent, I make up for in showmanship. To be fair, it’s pretty much how I’ve managed to wing adulthood in general. Smack on a smile and everyone thinks you are in control.

That might be the best fact I’ve had on here and, when we have our night out in Norfolk, I insist it include taking in one of your performances! I would absolutely love to see you doing formation disco dancing. Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

There are so many fantastic books out there that this is almost impossible, but Bridget Collins The Binding blew me away. I found it slow to get into but the concept was amazing, and the unexpected romance absolutely gave me all the feels.

51MTsUozhpL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

Emmett Farmer is a binder’s apprentice. His job is to hand-craft beautiful books and, within each, to capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory.

If you have something you want to forget, or a secret to hide, he can bind it – and you will never have to remember the pain it caused.

In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, row upon row of books – and secrets – are meticulously stored and recorded.

Then one day Emmett makes an astonishing discovery: one of the volumes has his name on it.

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

We certainly have – cheers! I’m very good at counting my drinks, always conscious I may have to drive the next day, but when I let myself go and perhaps have a few more shandies than I planned, I drink a big glass of water before bed, and just sleep it off. Bed is my favourite place in the world so it’s hardly a chore. 

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

I’d love to visit some museums and National Trust houses – which I’ve missed doing during the pandemic. I’ve always been fascinated by history, and studied it at university. But being in these places and surrounding myself with artefacts from the past always sends shivers up my spine. My writer brain will also be looking for further book inspiration. Perhaps followed by a lovely meal on the Saturday evening, and then a wind-whipped day out at the coast to finish. Norfolk and Suffolk have some breathtaking beaches.

Thanks so much for meeting up with me for virtual drinks. Can we squeeze in a quick one before we go? Y’know, one for the road, and all that!

Always got time for another one with you, lovely, can’t wait until we can do that in person again. Thank you for joining me this evening, I’ve had a fab time (although a little disappointed that knitted Poldark did not put in an appearance!)

Jenni’s latest book, The Secrets of Hawthorn Place, is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.

THE SECRETS OF HAWTHORN PLACE JPG COVER

Two houses, hundreds of miles apart . . . yet connected always.

When life throws Molly Butterfield a curveball, she decides to spend some time with her recently widowed granddad, Wally, at Hawthorn Place, his quirky Victorian house on the Dorset coast.

But cosseted Molly struggles to look after herself, never mind her grieving granddad, until the accidental discovery of an identical Arts and Crafts house on the Norfolk coast offers her an unexpected purpose, as well as revealing a bewildering mystery.

Discovering that both Hawthorn Place and Acacia House were designed by architect Percy Gladwell, Molly uncovers the secret of a love which linked them, so powerful it defied reason.

What follows is a summer which will change Molly for ever . . .

Jenni Keer is a history graduate who embarked on a career in contract flooring before settling in the middle of the Suffolk countryside with her antique furniture restorer husband. She has valiantly attempted to master the ancient art of housework but with four teenage boys in the house it remains a mystery. Instead, she spends her time at the keyboard writing women’s fiction to combat the testosterone-fuelled atmosphere with her number one fan #Blindcat by her side. Much younger in her head than she is on paper, she adores any excuse for fancy-dress and is part of a disco formation dance team.

Connect with Jenni:

Website: https://jennikeer.co.uk/

Facebook: Jenni Keer Author

Twitter: @jennikeer

Instagram:  @jennikeer

TikTok: @jennikeer

a-little-book-problem-banner

Desert Island Books with… Mai Taylor

desert-island-books

Today’s strandee is a fellow blogger with impeccable taste in books, so I am very excited to see which five of the very many excellent books she has read that she has chosen to accompany her for eternity on a desert island. Over to you, Mai Taylor.

Book One – The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

51kcFTTAMTS._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_

Some race to win. Others race to survive. It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them. Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a choice. So she enters the competition – the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

I read this book every November to tie in with when the Scorpio Races take place on the island of Thisby, so it is an absolute “must-have” to be stranded with. There is just something about the wildness of the landscape, and of the capaill uisce that I find utterly captivating. I love Maggie Stiefvater’s writing, and if I could, I would take all of her books with me, but I am limiting myself to just one by any particular author, so it has to be this one. Somehow, she creates a community that is both nurturing and claustrophobic – one that I long to be a part of, but at the same time know that I would want to escape if I lived there. The carnival atmosphere that envelopes the island in the build up to the races really gets under my skin, and I think this would help my own island stay more bearable.

Book Two – The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

51Az36+7hxL

It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London, there is a place of hope and enchantment.

The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles of their own. Into this family business comes young Cathy Wray, running away from a shameful past. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own.

But Cathy is about to discover that the Emporium has secrets of its own…

The Toymakers was one of the first books I ever featured on my blog, all the way back in February 2018, and to this day, I have never forgotten the way it made me feel. It was just pure, simple magic in book form. I said in my review that it left me with an overriding sense that even in the depths of despair and devastation, there is still magic to be found, and I stand by that sentiment three years later. I still find it hard to put into words all the emotions that The Toymakers made me feel. It is just one of those books that once you have read it, you are never quite the same again, and I could happily live within its pages forever.

Book Three – Caraval by Stephanie Garber

51W2JefQdPL

Welcome to Caraval, where nothing is quite what it seems . . .

Scarlett has never left the tiny isle of Trisda, pining from afar for the wonder of Caraval, a once-a-year week-long performance where the audience participates in the show.

Caraval is Magic. Mystery. Adventure. And for Scarlett and her beloved sister Tella it represents freedom and an escape from their ruthless, abusive father.

When the sisters’ long-awaited invitations to Caraval finally arrive, it seems their dreams have come true. But no sooner have they arrived than Tella vanishes, kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, Legend.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But nonetheless she quickly becomes enmeshed in a dangerous game of love, magic and heartbreak. And real or not, she must find Tella before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

Caraval is a book I think I could read a hundred times and still discover a new detail each time. There is just much going on. I think Caraval is my favourite book of Stephanie Garber’s trilogy, partly because Scarlett is my favourite Dragna sister, partly because of the wonder of it all. There was something magical about uncovering the mysteries of Caraval and the enigmatic Legend for the first time, and that feeling has stayed with me ever since

Book Four – Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

510ywhF2NaL

Victor Hugo’s tale of injustice, heroism and love follows the fortunes of Jean Valjean, an escaped convict determined to put his criminal past behind him. But his attempts to become a respected member of the community are constantly put under threat: by his own conscience, and by the relentless investigations of the dogged policeman Javert.

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

I have selected Les Mis because it is a book I have been meaning to read for years, but have just never got round to getting beyond the first chapter of. I figure if I can’t finish it when I am stranded on a desert island, then I never will. This selection was a close run thing, because I very nearly selected The Court of Miracles, Kester Grant’s reimagining of Victor Hugo’s original work. I devoured The Court of Miracles when it first came out, and it seemed like the obvious choice until I watched an author panel at VoyagerCon with Kester Grant, and the passion with which she spoke about the original, and in particular Marius Pontmercy, reignited my desire to read it myself.

Book Five – Polo by Jilly Cooper

41mKW1j6chL

In Jilly Cooper’s third Rutshire chronicle we meet Ricky France-Lynch, who is moody, macho, and magnificent. He had a large crumbling estate, a nine-goal polo handicap, and a beautiful wife who was fair game for anyone with a cheque book. He also had the adoration of fourteen-year-old Perdita MacLeod. Perdita couldn’t wait to leave her dreary school and become a polo player. The polo set were ritzy, wild, and gloriously promiscuous. Perdita thought she’d get along with them very well.

But before she had time to grow up, Ricky’s life exploded into tragedy, and Perdita turned into a brat who loved only her horses – and Ricky France-Lynch.

Ricky’s obsession to win back his wife, and Perdita’s to win both Ricky and a place as a top class polo player, take the reader on a wildly exciting journey – to the estancias of Argentina, to Palm Beach and Deauville, and on to the royal polo fields of England and the glamorous pitches of California where the most heroic battle of all is destined to be fought – a match that is about far more than just the winning of a huge silver cup…

My final choice is a little different from my usual book choices, with YA and fantasy being my “go-to” genres 95% of the time. However, I figure if I am going to be on a desert island for the foreseeable future, I am going to need something a bit lighter that really is just pure escapism. Jilly Cooper’s Rutshire Chronicles have been a guilty pleasure of mine since I was a teenager and my friends and I used to sneakily read them in our lunch hour at school, giggling over the naughty bits. Polo was the first one that I read, and has always remained the one I loved most, I think mainly because we had the most glorious polo ponies stabled at the riding school I rode from, and the lifestyle always seemed so decadent and extravagant. While Rupert Campbell-Black seems to have become the star of the Rutshire Chronicles, it was always Bas Baddingham and the Heavenly Twins who captured my attention, and I will be more than happy to have them on my island with me.

My luxury item

I think it would have to be an endless supply of cross-stitch projects, ones that would normally take far too long to finish if I wasn’t stranded on a desert island. I love sewing, and I think I would quickly go crazy if I didn’t have a craft project of some description to get stuck into between books. I love the Wrendale artwork, so perhaps one of the cross-stitch kits you can get of those, or I have seen some amazing Alice in Wonderland kits.

download

About the Blogger

Mai Taylor is a book blogger from rural Hampshire. Although she mainly focuses on reviewing YA and fantasy books, she can’t resist the occasional psychological thriller or any book with even the smallest sprinkling of magic.

Mai is working on the first draft of a series of YA fantasy books centred around British and Celtic folklore, so when she is not curled up with a book, she can usually be found down a research rabbit hole looking for weird and wonderful tales to include in the series.

When not reading or writing, Mai spends most of her time crafting – from cross-stitch to patchwork, if it involves fabric or thread, then she has probably tried it. Mai also loves exploring cities across Europe and spending time in her favourite place in the world, Moraira, on Spain’s Costa Blanca.

You can find Mai’s excellent book blog at Mai’s Musings.

Connect further with Mai:

Twitter: @maitaylor01

Instagram: @maitaylor01

a-little-book-problem-banner

Blog Tour: Matchmaking At Port Willow by Kiley Dunbar #BookReview

Matchmaking at Port Willow

I am so happy to be on this blog tour today, as I loved, loved, loved the first book in this series! (You can read my review of Summer at the Highland Coral Beach here.) My thanks to Rachel Gilbey of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting to take part, and to the author and publisher for providing me with a digital copy of the book for the purposes of review. I have reviewed the book honestly and impartially.

Matchmaking at Port Willow FINAL

Beatrice Halliday has been working hard at the Princess and The Pea Inn, loved up with landlord Atholl and enjoying planning events for the locals. But at Christmas there’s a kick – as she realises she’s expecting.

Despite being fearful of the future, Beatrice is graced with a distraction: the prospects of helping a romance flourish when a married couple spend their first child-free holiday at the Inn – and it becomes clear they need some help rediscovering each other. In true Beatrice fashion, she can’t help meddling.

I couldn’t wait to get back to Port Willow and find out what was happening to Beatrice and Atholl after the end of Summer at the Highland Coral Beach, as I had fallen in love with all of the characters and the setting in the last book. Beatrice’s story is particularly close to my heart, having been through a similar experience myself, so I have a real soft spot for this couple and I wanted to see what Kiley had in store for their future, hoping it was a happy one. Sure enough, they are still loved up and working on improving and building up the business at The Princess and the Pea Inn, and Beatrice has lots of ideas about how to bring in new customers, including trying to find other people the happy-ever-afters she has discovered with Atholl. But, of course, life is never plain sailing and, when Beatrice gets some unexpected news, it stirs up the past and lots of emotion. I can’t say much more without spoiling the story for people who are new to the series but, suffice it to say, Kiley’s handling of this sensitive storyline continues to be delicate and true and I thought it was beautifully done.

And then we have a new character to bring new drama to Port Willow. Poor Nina, she’s like a fish out of water. Transported from a life of glamour in New York to this tiny Scottish village, recently dumped, demoted and spending Christmas amongst strangers, she can probably be forgiven for being a bit miserable and unpleasant, but she is definitely a hard character to like at the beginning. She doesn’t even try and endear herself to the locals, so intent is she on her own misery, but Port Willow and its inhabitants creep under skin anyway. Especially Mutt. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Mutt? (Anyone else got pictures from the first few seasons of Schitt’s Creek in their heads when they hear this name, which isn’t in any way a bad thing as you’ll know if you’ve watched it. I wonder if Kiley is a fan?) Surely Nina can’t be immune to his charms for long? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

There are other guests that arrive in need to Beatrice’s matchmaking skills, the return of my favourite character, Seth, and plenty of and lots of fun going on that feels uniquely Port Willow. If you enjoy Kiley’s writing, all of her usual trademarks are here – gentle humour, great characterisation, a rolling good plot, and serious topics handled with care and charm. I haven’t yet read a book by this author that I didn’t love, and this is no exception. In fact, her writing feels to me like it is getting better and better and I can’t wait to read more. I particularly hope that we will be coming back to Port Willow in the future because I am not ready to leave these characters or this place behind yet. And here I will make my persistent plea to the publisher, please, please, please can we have paperback copies of Kiley’s books for our bookshelves (or just a single copy of each for me will do!) I am determined to wear them down on this issue eventually because these novels really need to exist in physical format for posterity!

Matchmaking at Port Willow is out now in ebook format, and you can buy a copy here.

Make sure to visit some of the other blogs taking part in the tour:

Matchmaking at Port Willow Full Tour Banner (1)

About the Author

Kiley Dunbar author portrait

Kiley Dunbar writes heart-warming, escapist, romantic fiction set in beautiful places, with One Winter’s Night being shortlisted for the RNA Romantic Comedy Novel Award 2021.

Kiley’s five novels include: The Borrow a Bookshop Holiday (May 2021), One Winter’s Night (September 2020), Summer at the Highland Coral Beach (2020), Christmas at Frozen Falls (2019) and One Summer’s Night (2019).

Connect with Kiley:

Website: http://www.kileydunbar.co.uk/

Facebook: Kiley Dunbar Author

Twitter: @KileyDunbar

Instagram: @kileydunbarromance

a-little-book-problem-banner

Friday Night Drinks with… Meg Pokrass

friday-night-drinks

This week, I am delighted to be chatting over Friday Night Drinks to flash fiction author… Meg Pokrass.

meg pokrass author photo

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

Steel Rig Porter from Twice Brewed, a sweet local brewery up near Hadrian’s Wall here in Northumberland.

450x450

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? 

Let’s do white wine in Paris and a huge steaming pot of mussels.

Wouldn’t that be fabulous, I can’t wait to get on a plane again! 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? 

Anais Nin and Henry Miller, since we’re already in Paris eating too many mussels. 

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

I’m working on two completely different collaborative hybrid prose manuscripts. My writing partners are Jeff Friedman (in the US) and Rosie Garland here in the U.K. I can’t tell you how much I’m loving this. 

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

Co-writing humor flashes with my literary hero Bobbie Ann Mason, and reading our pieces aloud in a private performance at AWP (with Richard Bausch in attendance!!). Bobbie and I wearing matching pussy hats. It was too incredible. This was back in 2014. 

Okay, one more… can I have 2? Having my work included in 2 Norton anthologies of flash fiction: Flash Fiction International (WW Norton 2015) and New Micro (WW Norton, 2018). 

Biggest challenge: Isolation. And battling with it. 

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

I’d like to curate a radio show focused on flash fiction. Yes I would!

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Meeting up with my writing partner Rosie Garland in September, in Manchester, and planning great things for the not locked-down future!

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? 

Paris. I was only there once and I want to be there again, but 100 years ago. 

And I’d also like to visit Alaska with a warm lover before it melts and becomes as hot as LA. 

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

I’m annoyingly shy. 

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 Last Orgasm by Nin Andrews.

41Iz6ejV5uL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

The Last Orgasm continues the journey of Nin Andrew’s first collection, The Book of Orgasms, which became a cult classic that has been translated into Turkish, performed in Prague and has readers around the globe. In both books the orgasm is an ethereal presence, puzzled by humanity in general and Nin in particular.

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 all day, in tiny bird sips. Hungover, listen to the Magnetic Fields.

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

With a friend, let’s say a new friend, in a place without sheep. 

Unknown-5

Thanks for joining me, Meg, it has been a fun evening, even if it wasn’t quite Paris.

Meg’s latest book, Spinning To Mars, is a collection of 70 linked micro stories about relationships and the difficulties of love. Winner of San Francisco’s Blue Light Book Award, 2021, it became a #1 Amazon Bestseller in Women’s Poetry on the first week of its release. You can buy a copy here.

51x9+6gLxOL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Meg Pokrass’s flash fiction has been widely published and anthologized, most recently in 2 Norton Anthologies of flash fiction, The Best Small Fictions (2018, 2019), Best British & Irish Flash Fiction (2019, 2020), Wigleaf Top 50, Flash Nonfiction Funny (edited by Dinty Moore), Flash Fiction Funny, Short Circuits: Aphorisms, Fragments, and Literary Anomalies, Nothing Short of 100, and many hundreds of literary journals and international anthologies of flash. Her seventh collection of flash fiction, Spinning to Mars won the Blue Light Book Award in 2020. Recent writing has appeared in Washington Square Review, Electric Literature, Tupelo Quarterly, Waxwing, Five Points, American Journal of Poetry, Plume Poetry, Jellyfish Review, Wigleaf and Monkeybicycle. Meg serves as Co-Founder of San Francisco’s Flash Fiction Collective Reading Series, Festival Curator for Flash Fiction Festival, U.K, Founding Editor of New Flash Fiction Review, and Founding Co-Editor of the Best Microfiction anthology series. She resides in Northern England.

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

a-little-book-problem-banner

The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews… with Milly Johnson

Awards

This week’s interviewee in the Romantic Novel Award Winners series is the winner of the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award for her novel My One True North and one of my favourite authors… Milly Johnson.

Milly Johnson credit - Chris Sedgewick

Milly, you are no stranger to awards and this is your second year in a row as a recipient, having been given the Outstanding Achievement Award in 2020, yet you still looked so surprised to be announced as the winner. Were you really shocked to win, and was does winning this award with this book mean to you?

The shock was genuine. Despite an Honours Drama Degree! Your mind plays tricks with you when you’re short-listed ‘Oh they’re bound to give it to X because of this/that reason’, you imagine politics might play a part, or it’s a strategic choice. I’ve been caught out with it every time. Maybe it’s just that us writers are strange creatures – full of ego that we have the confidence to write something we are sure will appeal to the masses, and yet we’re riddled with self-doubt that we’re not as good as anyone else and couldn’t possibly be picked because the judges simply liked our book best.

I think in my case it was that I wanted it SO much for this book. I felt it was special as I was writing it and I though we always put our hearts into our stories, this one had all of me in it, my barrel was totally scooped out. One of the major themes was grief and my dad was really poorly as I was writing it. Rather oddly I ended up treading in the footsteps of my own characters when he died. I looked at the short-listed books and what a bunch they were, I really didn’t think I had a chance. SoI was totally gobsmacked. But my goodness – delighted too. My One True North was dedicated to dad so it was ‘our’ book, and that’s why I was so emotional.

I loved the phrase you used in your speech about turning your knock backs on their head and using them as springboards. You are such a great public speaker, and your words resonate with everyone who hears them. Do you prepare what you might say in advance, or is it always off the cuff? Does this come from being a natural storyteller?

I prepare if there are points I want to make sure I get in as I am very good at going off on tangents. And that is kind of you to say, I love an audience. I prefer public speaking to acting, I have to admit (line-learning – ugh). Basically I just treat an audience to all the cock-ups I’ve made in life which has provided a very hefty scrapbook of ideas for me to draw on. Every crap thing that happens to a writer is harvested and recycled and I think people are quite fascinated by stories of others reaching rock bottom and using it to project themselves upwards. I also think I resonate because I’m very ordinary and that makes people really believe that if I can do it, so can they.  And they can.

Your books are phenomenally popular and I think part of the reason for that is that reading your novels feels like being told a story firsthand by a close, chatty and witty friend. Are you a natural raconteur in everyday life?

I love to talk and I love a good yarn – both to tell and to listen to. I write as I speak which is why I always warn people who listen to me at events, if you’ve hated hearing me, don’t buy my books because they’re just me on a flat page. I was a greetings card copywriter for many years and honed the skills of observational humour, keying into those subjects common to so many of us. People love it when I touch on scenarios many of them have been in so they can explore and view them objectively this time around. I consider it a great honour when people tell me that they feel as if I’ve been hanging over their shoulders and have written about their own personal circumstances.

Your novels always feature a perfect balance of joy and anguish, which people respond to because it reflects real life. Is that something you deliberately strive for or does it just come naturally for you to write that way? How much do you plan your books or are you a pantser?

I just write about some extraordinary things that happen within the parameters of ordinary life. Our lives are littered with coincidences, good luck and bad luck, sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction but weirdly in fiction you have to throttle back so that our storylines are believable. My own life has been very big-dipper and that’s obviously translated into how I write because I take my readers through the wringer. But if I’m going to take my reader low, then I also want to rocket them high and leave them with hope. I’m in the business of uplifting not depressing and if that means I have to temper a bit of realism by manipulating a happy ending, then so be it. 

I want my readers to climb into the skins of my characters and walk in them, I want them to cheer on the good guys and boo the bad ones. In life we’d all like to see people get what they deserve but it doesn’t happen, but it does in my books. As for planning – ha! I’ve never planned a book and trust me I’ve tried. It must be magic to be able to see the whole book as a construct from the off – I can only see as far as the next sentence. I might start off with two characters and a house and I am constantly amazed at how much I can pull out of myself and build a whole book from it. When anyone says to me ‘I’d love to write a book but I don’t know where to start’ my stock answer is ‘neither do I!’ Which is why I encourage people to put pen to paper and see where it takes them because I know they’ll be surprised at what is in them waiting to come out.

Being from Yorkshire myself, just up the road from you, I always feel that your characters are people I recognise. Do you steal them from real life?

Some of my characters are from my imagination, but then again that imagination has been fuelled by people I’ve met or heard about. Quite a few might start off based on people I’ve encountered but by the end of the book the reality has been chased away because they’ve grown into their own skins (this is handy as it means I’m unlikely to be sued by someone for libel) Sounds odd, but they are every bit as real to me as those who live and breathe. 

What do you think are the most important ingredients of a successful romance novel and what advice would you give to those of us just starting out in this genre?

I know there is a trend for ‘unlikeable’ characters, but I always find I get into a book much better when I am really rooting for the leads. I have to like their values (Heathcliff hanged a dog – wasn’t interested in him after I read that bit), I don’t want my lovers to be too perfect – a reader has to think the hero is attainable and the heroine would make a nice friend. Any faults have to be redeemable. I also like to tease my reader, make them think that this time I just might not deliver the happy ending (though I always do). I want them to be champing at the bit for the lovers to get together, but I never make it easy for them to do that. We all love a bit of sexual tension, that frustration when they are just about to couple up and then you wrench them apart. I think you have to just write the story in your heart without copying a trend, get that first draft out on paper with all the mistakes and clumsy grammar because that’s the one that captures all the emotion and will give you your direction on what sort of love story you want to write. Getting the emotional feels is harder to do than any editing. It may be a very gentle rolling hills kind of love story or it may be a up Everest in a blizzard sort – and there are audiences for both.

I know your dedicated readers, of which there are many, are always desperate for your next novel, so can you give us any details of what is on the horizon and when we can look forward to seeing it?

It’s called ‘The Woman in the Middle’ and it’s out in hardback on October 14th. And it’s very much based on my experiences as someone in that sandwich generation, having to look after elderly parents and deal with kids who might be adult in age but your apron strings have no intention of untying from them yet. 

It’s about Shay who has spent most of her adult life looking after her in-laws, her parents, bringing up children, being the chief cook and bottle-washer for her electrician husband Bruce. Now her children have left home and it’s time for Shay and Bruce to finally have some ‘us’ time. But the delivery of an orange skip on her mother’s neighbours’ drive sets in motion a series of life-changing events as long-buried secrets are forced to the surface and turn Shay’s world on its head. And, life being as unfair as it is, sometimes it doesn’t stop kicking you when you’re down but continues to batter you long past your point of coping.

The only way Shay can truly recover is to go back to the place she was brought up and try and right a great wrong that was done to her when she was only sixteen, which put her on a path to a life she should never have had. 

It’s the story of family and friendship, community, first-cuts being the deepest, of there being no guidebook to parenting. I think us parents often wish we had a rewind button when we’ve made wrong decisions with the best intentions, believed our intuitions. In the sandwich generation, we have to watch our parents become the children and our idea of world order becomes upset – at the same time as we have to stand back when our children flap their wings and try to fly their own way. It’s a very hard place to be in which I wanted to explore. It’s a massive book with so much going on in it, but at its heart it’s the tale of a woman who deserves better than she got and she finds the strength to rise up from rock bottom and fight for herself and those she loves. I had the best fun writing it, it’ll be a hard read in places but there’s a lot of lightness too. Some of my favourite characters ever in this one – and some scenes I never wanted to stop writing.

Milly, thank you so much for answering my questions, it is always a delight to hear from you. The entry period for the 2022 Romantic Novel Awards is now open and will close on 30 September.

Milly’s award-winning novel, My One True North, is out now and you can buy a copy here.

51i4Ce2iSdL

Laurie and Pete should never have met.
But fate has pushed them together for a reason.

Six months ago, on the same night, Laurie and Pete both lost their partners.
Struggling to manage the grief, they join the same counselling group – and meet each other.

From their sadness, Pete and Laurie find happiness growing and they sense a fresh new beginning. 
Except, the more they talk, the more they begin to spot the strange parallels in their stories.
Then Pete discovers a truth that changes everything.
 
But, as surely as a compass points north, some people cannot be kept apart.

About the Author

MILLY JOHNSON was born, raised and still lives in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. A Sunday Times bestseller, she is one of the Top 10 Female Fiction authors in the UK with millions of copies of her books sold across the world. In 2020, she was honoured with the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Outstanding Achievement Award and was a featured author in the Reading Agency’s Quick Reads and World Book Night campaigns.

A writer who champions women and highlights the importance of friendship and community, Milly’s characters are celebrations of the strength of the human spirit. Her nineteenth novel, The Woman in the Middle, is published 14th October 2021 in hardback by Simon & Schuster.

Connect with Milly:

Website: www.millyjohnson.co.uk

Facebook: @millyjohnsonauthor

Twitter: @millyjohnson

Instagram: @themillyjohnson 

a-little-book-problem-banner

The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews with…. Julie Houston

Awards

Today I am delighted to be interviewing the winner of the Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award in the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards 2021 with her novel Sing Me A Secret. Please welcome to the blog, author… Julie Houston.

48723084-A012-4C6E-ACA1-CC3B7BF1B03E

Julie, congratulations on your win and thank you very much for agreeing to appear on my blog during the entry period for the 2022 awards.

This award was voted for by book bloggers, librarians and book sellers. That is a hard crowd to impress. What does it mean to you to win this particular award and what it is about this book that you think spoke to them out of the hundreds they read each year?

I am totally in awe of the people who voted for me for this award, but particularly the book bloggers. They are an amazing set of readers, giving their time and expertise to reading countless books and yet always positive and with something lovely to say. I have to mention, particularly, the wonderful Anne Williams and Grace Reviewerlady who are both unstinting in the job that they do so brilliantly, as well as writing such encouraging and positive things. If I ever hit the imposter brick wall, I reread their reviews! So, to win this particular award, voted for by these lovely people, is just a dream come true. What is it about the book? I honestly don’t know. My aim always is to produce a jolly good read – isn’t that what we all want? – with a bit of a twist and flavoured with some down to earth, good old Yorkshire humour.

Sing Me A Secret is your seventh novel. Do you think winning this award will change things for you going forward in your career?

I suppose winning this has made me realise that people do actually want to read my books. Since Sing Me A Secret I’ve published – with Aria/HeadofZeus – A Village Vacancy, and A Family Affair and my new one out in 2022, Exit North. I’m now gazing at a blank screen once again which, I know excites some writers, but has me in a state of panic. This is the worst bit about writing – the blank screen. 

How long after you started writing did it take you to get published? Have you had any formal training in creative writing and do you think this is helpful for an author on the path to publication? Do you have any tips for those of us still toiling up the publication hill?

Like every writer I meet, I wish I’d started earlier. But work, family commitments, kids get in the way. So, I wrote Goodness, Grace and Me as an experiment I suppose to see if I could actually write a book. It went through the RNA New writers’ Scheme and, although there were encouraging sounds made, it didn’t go where I wanted it to go ie with an agent. So, I found one myself.  It took a lot of rejections, but then along came the lovely Anne Williams (yes, there are two Anne Williams in my life) at KHLA Literary agency. Being a Yorkshire girl herself and with kids the same age as mine, she said something just struck a note and she took me on. Anne is brilliant because, as a former commissioning editor for Headline and working with fabulous writers such as Lyn Andrews and Sheila Flanagan, she was ready with her red pen, making sure the book was as good as it could be before sending it to publishers. Ten books on, Anne’s red pen is still in action before a manuscript goes to my editor. We were taken on by Amazon’s White Glove which was great because Amazon promoted the books and gave me Deal of the Day a couple of times, sending Looking For Lucy to Number 1 in Australia and the others into the top 50 here in the UK. Then, in 2018, Sarah Ritherdon at Aria gave me a 3-book deal as well as taking on and rebranding the earlier books. A Village Affair, the first with Aria, did so well, selling to date around 300,000 copies in ebook and paperback. The lovely Hannah Smith was then my editor before she left for Bonnier, and now I’m excited to be working with Thorne Ryan.

No, I have no formal creative writing training. And, when I’m teaching, I’d rather teach maths and science than teach creative writing – which makes me ponder whether it can ever be taught or is the creativity innate? 

You live in Yorkshire and your books are all set there. What is it about our beautiful county (there is a slight possibility I may be exhibiting some bias here) that inspires your writing? Do Yorkshire folk lend themselves particularly well to being characters in humorous romance novels?

I think so. I think Yorkshire folk have the ability to not take themselves too seriously. They’re down to earth, but friendly and call a spade…. That’s probably totally stereotyping. I think my dad always had a sense of humour. He and his three sisters could all make me laugh when telling one of their stories. Whether that’s his Yorkshire heritage or the Italian ancestry I couldn’t say.

I noticed from your author bio that we have some odd ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ connections. As well as having the same first name and both being from Yorkshire, you are a magistrate and I am a qualified solicitor, and Helen Fielding and Joanne Harris are both fellow alumni of my secondary school. Do you think it is part of human nature for us to seek out tenuous connections and things in common with our fellow man and do you use this tendency to connect with readers in your writing?

Oh, how interesting! I didn’t know that. My daughter must have gone to the same school as you then. I honestly don’t know, is the answer to your last question, but it’s certainly a good one. I’m sure we become friendly with people who are like ourselves and enjoy things in common. I’m big into ancestry and spend far too much time trying to work out connections between myself and those with the same DNA. I should have been a detective. Or maybe I’m just plain nosy. 

Aside from the fact that they have given you this lovely award, what other benefits have you gleaned from your membership of the RNA and what is your favourite thing about being a member?

Obviously, this absolutely wonderful award has been the icing on the cake as it were. But I have become friendly – real mates – with other writers who are always generous enough to share contacts, knowledge and are up for an early read of a new MS. Big friends with Tracy Bloom and Jo Courtney (Anna Stuart) who I met at my very first RNA conference in Chichester. We have regular writerly rants and celebratory picnics along the bank of Ladybower in Derbyshire, a central meeting point. Through RNA contacts I have met up with my fellow Apricot Plotters, a small group set up to chat, celebrate and commiserate with any writing issues we might have. I would wholeheartedly recommend the RNA to anyone. Can’t wait for the next conference when we can get together again.

Your latest novel, A Family Affair, was published vey recently, so I am sure you are enjoying a well-earned break, but what can we expect next from Julie Houston and can you ever see yourself giving up teaching completely to become a full-time author?

I’ve really already given up teaching full time. I just teach now when the phone rings to cover an absent member of staff. And I still love it. But I certainly couldn’t both teach full time and write. It’s taken me ten years to actually answer “I’m a writer” instead of “I’m a teacher”. To be honest, I usually say, “I’m a teacher by trade, but spend my days writing now.” So, Exit North has gone off to my editor, Thorne, at Aria and I’m at the ‘staring at the blank screen and thinking how the hell did I ever write one book, let alone ten!’ stage which attacks me once I’ve sent off my latest beloved characters into the world. There are, signs of little seeds a-sprouting and soon I’ll have pages covered with characters, their family trees and their personalities. They’ll then take over and, if I’m lucky, these characters will just take over and write the story themselves…

Won’t it be fantastic to get to that stage! Thank you for so much for taking the time to talk to me, it’s been great fun.

Julie’s award-winning novel, Sing Me A Secret, is available here.

51DshNvyepL

The four Sutherland sisters have all had very different paths in life, but one secret and a slightly tense production of Jesus Christ Superstar are about to bring them all back together again…

When the news that pop-superstar Lexia Sutherland is returning to Westenbury, not everyone is thrilled by the news – including Lexia. There are too many memories she doesn’t need to face – or need re-surfacing.

Meanwhile, Juno Sutherland just wants a little peace and quiet. As the local village doctor, she’s got her priorities in order; kids, job, husband, tenacious pony, a role in the village musical… So when the sexy new locum turns up – and steals her office – the last thing she needed was to be hit with rising temperatures and an over-active imagination.

Will these sisters be able to uncover the past, deal with the future and put on the performance of a lifetime?

About the Author

Julie Houston’s first three novels GOODNESS, GRACE AND ME, THE ONE SAVING GRACE and LOOKING FOR LUCY were all Amazon Humour #1 best sellers both here in the UK and Australia. LOOKING FOR LUCY hit the #1 best seller overall in Australia. Her A VILLAGE AFFAIR was the seventh most downloaded book of 2019 and has sold over 300 000 copies in ebook and paperback. She is published by Aria/Headof Zeus and has just completed her tenth novel, EXIT NORTH. Her seventh novel, SING ME A SECRET won the Sapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award in 2021.

Julie lives in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire where her novels are set, and her only claims to fame are that she teaches part-time at ‘Bridget Jones’ author Helen Fielding’s old junior school and her neighbour is ‘Chocolat’ author, Joanne Harris. After University, where she studied Education and English Literature, she taught for many years as a junior school teacher. As a newly qualified teacher, broke and paying off her first mortgage, she would spend every long summer holiday working on different Kibbutzim in Israel. After teaching for a few years, she decided to go to New Zealand to work and taught in Auckland for a year before coming back to this country. She now just teaches when the phone rings to cover an absent colleague, and still loves the buzz of teaching junior-aged children. She has been a magistrate for the past twenty years. Julie is married, has a twenty-seven-year-old son and twenty-four-year-old daughter and a ridiculous Cockerpoo called Lincoln. She runs and swims because she’s been told it’s good for her, but would really prefer a glass of wine, a sun lounger and a jolly good book. 

She hates skiing, gets sick on boats and wouldn’t go pot-holing or paddy diving if her life depended on it.

She is published by HeadOfZeus/Aria and represented by Anne Williams at KHLA Literary agency.

Connect with Julie:

Website: www.juliehouston.co.uk

Facebook: Julie Houston Author

Twitter: @JulieHouston2

Instagram: @juliehoustonauthor

a-little-book-problem-banner

Summer’s One #MustReadBook 2021

I was thrilled to be invited by Carol at Reading Ladies blog to take part in her international blogger collaboration, Summer’s One #MustReadBook 2021. Here is the post – a fabulous collection of reading recommendations by an amazing collection of bloggers. Prepare to flex your wallet in your local bookstore!

Reading Ladies

July 9, 2021

Find Your One “Must Read” Book of Summer 2021!

One Great Summer Read (20 Bloggers Offer ) imOne Best Rec) Image: tight focus of a woman sitting beside water reading

Image Source: Canva

Are you pondering what book to choose for your vacation or staycation?

Are you in limbo trying to decide what ONE great book to read this summer?

Do you ever wish someone would just TELL you what book to read?

Are you looking for a list of trusted book review bloggers?

Do you spend more time thinking about which book to pack for your vacation than packing the clothes? (oh…just me?)

If you only have time to read ONE more book before summer’s end, what would you choose?

beach reads cartoon

This is the time of year when readers in my hemisphere are looking for “Beach Reads.” (If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, happy “winter reading!”) The term “Beach Read” is puzzling to me because I think any book you read at the beach or the pool is…

View original post 5,133 more words

#BloggerInTheSpotlight – Julie from A Little Book Problem – @book_problem

Today I am being grilled by Joanne over on Portobello Book Blog on all things reading and blogging. Why not come and join us?

Portobello Book Blog

I’m so happy to be sharing this post today as it’s been a long time since I had anyone take part in my Blogger Spotlight. If you are a book blogger and would like to take part, do get in touch. I’m delighted to be joined by Julie who blogs as A Little Book Problem. Do pop over and have a read of her fabulous reviews if you don’t already follow her.

Thanks for agreeing to take part in my Blogger in the Spotlight feature Julie. First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?

Hello! I’m Julie, 48 years old, mum of two, former lawyer, aspiring writer and blogger. Not sure what else there is to know about me really! Apart from I am a proud Yorkshire woman and notable short-arse.

What books/authors did you enjoy as a child?

I was of the generation where Enid…

View original post 694 more words