An Interview with Claire L. Brown, author of The Poppy Garden


I’m doing it again with today’s blog post – judging a book by its cover and The Poppy Garden by Claire L. Brown is one of the most gorgeous I’ve seen. As someone slightly obsessed by the poppy as a symbol of remembrance, after studying Wilfred Owen as a teenager, I had to invite Claire on to Linda’s Book Bag to be interviewed to find out more about The Poppy Garden.

The Poppy Garden is published on 11th November 2016 and is available for order in e-book here.

The Poppy Garden


What would you do if the love of your life didn’t know who you were?
What if he forgot you?

Forgot the first time you met, your first kiss, the day he proposed and the day you married?

What if six months after your perfect start it was all taken away in the blink of an eye?

Sky Flynn thought she had it all, she was the happiest she’d ever been from the moment she met Nick Robinson until the moment a military officer showed up at her door, then things changed.

Fighting to save her marriage and help her husband recover from both physical and mental scars of war Sky has to find away to cope and overcome.

Inspired by memories of her grandfather and how he channeled his PTSD into his garden she sets out to create somewhere for recovering service men to go, to assist in their recovery and create a place of beauty to share with their families. But will the beauty of the garden heal her husband’s wounds and bring him home to her forever?

An Interview with Claire L. Brown

Hi Claire. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing  and The Poppy Garden in particular.

Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

I’m a creative not an artist; I create worlds with my pen as an escape and appreciation for life. When I’m not creating worlds and lives I’m generally with my dog Hero or curled up some where with someone else creation!

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

I’ve never not been a writer; I started even before I could hold a pen. I was taught to read and write at an early age by my parents and grandparents and would always scribble endings to books if I didn’t like them, or if I wanted to read a particular story and no one had written it yet I would have a go myself. I was also bullied from an early age so writing gave me an outlet.

The Poppy Garden seems a slight departure from your usual genres. Why did you choose to write differently this time?

I had been trying to tell a particular story for a long time I just couldn’t find the right way to do it. I realised one day while working in my garden it wasn’t about tell that particular story but telling the meaning of it. The story I wanted to tell was that of my grandfather; if you think of everyone’s life as a book, I still had a lot of blank pages to his that I think I wanted answers for, but due to circumstances I can’t get them.  Telling The Poppy Garden the way I have is more about the things I do know on a more emotional level than the facts that I don’t.

If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet. Would it have been within the beauty and fashion world?

As a child I would probably have said an actor but I think being bullied put that out of my reach. I think I would always be a story teller but a behind the scenes one so maybe I would have worked in film or TV behind the camera somewhere.

I know that, as part of your studies, you were in America for a while. How far has that experience impacted on you as a writer?

I think it can make me think differently. If I’m setting stories the US I can imagine the lifestyle because I’ve experienced it. It also helped me to think about things in different ways and to be a bit more adventurous with what I think I can and cant write.

How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?

Research is great, if there’s something I want to write and maybe I’m not sure on the details I’m quite analytical and logical about finding out. However, if it doesn’t always sit right with the story I would put the story above accuracy.

PTSD features in The Poppy Garden. Why did you decide to have this as one of your themes?

I spent a lot of my childhood with my grandfather and he had certain rituals that as a child I didn’t understand but he made me part of them. Now I’m a lot older and while I don’t have him with me any more I’ve grown to understand their meaning through my research. The rituals he had in going to the beach every Saturday morning and working in his garden were his way of dealing with his PTSD from his experiences in WW2. That’s where the main idea from The Poppy Garden came from, his way of dealing with PTSD was passed on to me as a hobby and in a way it does something similar for me when I need it.

(I think you’re right Claire. There’s someething very theraputic about being in a garden.)

In The Poppy Garden you’re exploring the physical and emotional scars of war. How far do you think it is the role of authors to challenge and educate readers about difficult topics as well as to entertain them?

Every story has meaning, the meaning you get from it may not be the one I intended but if it creates an understanding, realisation or challenges a way of thinking then, as a writer, I’ve done my job.  If I want to elicit emotion such as making a reader cry – then when I’m writing I’ll be crying myself.  You can’t get emotion out if you haven’t put it in.

I want readers to learn and have fun. If at the end of the last page they put the book down and never think of it again that’s okay, but the real achievement for me is if something stays with you after you close the book, something that makes you think, maybe makes you look to your own experience, inspires you or challenges what you thought before.

If, at the end of the day my book would make someone go out an buy a Poppy on Remembrance Day, I think that would make me very proud.

(What a lovely sentiment.)

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

I think it varies, some times coming up with the idea is the easiest thing and writing the book is hard. Other times the idea might be just a tiny sliver of detail but writing chapter after chapter is a breeze. Or sometimes I can be writing something for days and then just hit a wall and there’s no other way out but to start again.

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

I think I vary from story to story. I’ll generally flesh out an idea first in a strange kind of elongated synopsis. I’ll generally create a mood board or vision wall, which I’m now using Pinterest for and then I’ll start working on the chapters.

For some books I write out of sync, as the scene ideas come, for others I write chronologically.

You will usually find me in my study working or curled up on the couch with my laptop. I write at all times of the day or night and I always have a notebook or voice recorder with me. I’ll flesh out stories while walking the dog and record it on my phone – this does make me look a bit strange I will admit!

When you’re not writing, what do you like to read?

It depends on how much time I have. As well as writing I have a full time job so sometimes I may only have thirty minutes before bed to read in which case something light and not too taxing. Other times it’ll be history books, my favourite this year was Lucy Worsely’s History of Murder. I like to vary my reading as it challenges me and inspires me.

I think the cover of The Poppy Garden is absolutely stunning. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

I work with a great cover artist, Jeanie Henning, I’m creative but not artistic where as she is an amazing artist. For The Poppy Garden, I gave her the back-story of how I’d come up with the idea and why this book is so special to me. While it’s not a period piece I wanted to include a picture of my grandfather, as he is my inspiration. I knew I needed a field of poppies and a gold colour to keep the whole thing feeling warm and light. We used modern images of warfare to connect with the contemporary setting and the planes connect with my link to the RAF through my Grandfather and placing it in a modern war setting.

If you could choose to be a character from The Poppy Garden, who would you be and why?

I guess I identify most with Sky, she’s strong but in a quiet way.  I think I put a lot of my life experiences in the way she deals with things and that of the women in my family.

If The Poppy Garden became a film, who would you like to play Sky and Nick and why would you choose them?

Lily James for Sky and Richard Rankin for Nick.

If I’m honest they chose me. When I was first considering writing the story this way I was watching The Crimson Field on the BBC and when I saw Richard Rankin in that I thought he’d make a perfect Nick.

I loved Lily James in Downton Abbey and when I was writing Sky she was the image that always came to mind. I think she has a great balance of youthful energy and dramatic calibre to handle the ups and downs of Sky’s journey

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that The Poppy Garden should be their next read, what would you say?

Love is stronger than any battle and will help you find beauty in the darkness.

(Oo. I couldn’t agree more!)

Thank you so much for your time, Claire, in answering my questions.

About Claire L. Brown


Claire L Brown was born in  Sunderland, England. Claire is a BA Hons Graduate in Media with American History from Sunderland University. After attending Western Washington State University and spending several years working as a personal assistant in her native North East, Claire now writes part time.

Claire concentrates mostly on romance, fantasy and thriller genres.

Claire also writes two blogs, My Life as a Writer focusing on her experiences as an author and My Life as a Writer When I’m Not Scribbling where she writes about lifestyle, beauty, books, movies and anything else.

You can find out more by visiting Claire’s website, finding her on Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram, following her on Twitter or visiting her blogs My Life As A Writer and My Life As A Writer When I’m Not Scribbling. Claire also has an Amazon author page.

Inside The Whispers by A J Waines


I’m delighted to be starting the launch celebrations for Inside the Whispers by A J Wains which is published today 20th October 2016. Inside the Whispers is available for purchase here.

I previously read and thoroughly enjoyed another of A J Waines’ books, No Longer Safe, and you can read my review here.


To celebrate today’s publication, I’m reviewing Inside the Whispers, but also I have an extract for you to read too. There is a fabulous UK only Inside the Whispers paperback giveaway running on Goodreads between today and 27th October which you can enter by clicking here.

Inside the Whispers


Where the most dangerous place – is inside your own head…

Following a London Tube disaster, three traumatised survivors turn to clinical psychologist, Dr Samantha Willerby, for help – but she’s mystified when their stories don’t add up. Her confusion turns to horror when one by one, instead of recovering, they start committing suicide.

When her partner, Conrad, begins to suffer the same terrifying flashbacks, Sam is desperate to find out what is causing them and a mysterious and chilling crime begins to unravel.

Then the flashbacks begin for Sam…

The first book in the Dr Samantha Willerby Series, Inside the Whispers is a tense, haunting psychological thriller that will leave your nerves in shreds.

An Extract from Inside the Whispers

I’m ashamed to admit I was running on autopilot for my first patients. I was keen not to miss Jake. At 11.40, I phoned the unit and found out he’d arrived and was still in the consultation room.

Shortly afterwards, I sauntered past the waiting area and spotted him nodding to the receptionist, accepting a small card for his next check-up. He saw me and gave a weak smile. I asked if we could have a private word in my office. I offered him a seat in front of my desk and he sat on his hands looking like a schoolboy hauled up for smoking behind the bike sheds.

‘I know we have another session soon, but I just wanted to check a few details about the fire. I don’t want to ask you anything that might be upsetting, but are you okay to run through a few simple points?’

He looked surprised. ‘Okay…’

‘I’ve been looking at your map,’ I smoothed it out in front of him. ‘And I notice here you’ve marked stairs and here you’ve got the escalators.’

‘Yeah, that’s right – and there are two lifts around here.’

‘When you came off the train and left the platform, were you on a stationary escalator or steps? Can you remember?’

‘Definitely steps,’ he said. ‘I don’t like walking up escalators when they’ve stopped, I always think they’re going to suddenly start up again or go too fast…’

‘But, in the rush to get out, could it be that you didn’t notice you were climbing a static escalator?’

He thought for a second. ‘No – because I went past the escalators, see here?’ he pointed to the map. ‘I saw everyone was crammed onto them and got to the staircase.’

‘Okay…’ My mouth was dry.

‘You said there were flames in the ticket hall – are you absolutely sure about that?’

He responded immediately. ‘God, yeah. I told you, people’s coats were on fire. It was definitely in the hall, because I remember the barriers themselves were burning.’ He started to shake.

‘It’s okay – we’ll stop there. Are you all right?’

He muttered something I couldn’t hear.

‘Let’s take a few minutes.’ I talked him through a simple grounding process to help him re-orientate himself: What day is it? What are you going to do next? Simple questions. He looked confused, but fully recovered by the time he left.

As he shut the door, I plopped down into my chair. I knew now for certain. Jake sounded so genuine and yet his story didn’t make sense. He’d told me he’d climbed up from the Central Line to the ticket hall using the steps. But, there were no steps from the platforms to the ticket hall, coming in from either east or west. I’d checked the area twice and there was access by escalators and lifts, but no steps until you want to leave the ticket hall to reach the mainline concourse.

Another part of his story didn’t add up either. He said people were on fire around him in the ticket hall, whereas the police were emphatic that the flames never got anywhere near there.

I let the silence spill across the room and stared through the seat of the chair where Jake had been sitting. One thing was clear. For some reason, Jake was lying.

My Review of Inside The Whispers


Psychologist Sam’s new boyfriend Con is causing her some concerns, but when her patients display symptoms not covered in their notes, Con’s possessive behaviour is the least of her worries.

What a twisting plot we have in Inside The Whispers. It races along so fast that it is almost breathtaking and I must have changed my mind a dozen times about what was going on and who or what was behind the bizarre behaviour of Sam’s patients.

Essentially, there are two strands to the narrative. The mystery behind the suicides and Sam’s own family and personal life. It is this second strand which I feel will be explored further in future Dr Samantha Willerby stories as it has been set up so well. In Inside the Whispers, the main focus is on the current patients and what has caused the terrifying experiencs they recount as they arrive in Sam’s office.

I felt there was a real depth of understanding behind the narrative and it came as no surprise to me to read at the end that the author A J Waines had worked as a psychotherapist for fifteen years. There are small touches such as professional journal titles that add authenticity to the story. I can’t say too much without spoiling the plot but reading Inside the Whispers has made me want to go off and do some further reading around the psychological elements.

The characterisation is cleverly done as we find out about Con, Mimi et al through Sam’s eyes which gives us a clearer picture of her at the same time. This is the first in the Dr Samantha Willerby series and there is so much scope for development in future books to make a cracking new series.

Without wishing to reveal too much, there are some huge themes explored in Inside the Whispers too. Family and personal relationships, mental health, PTSD, ethical behaviour and friendship are all woven inextricably into the plot and characters. I have a feeling that only reading Inside the Whispers once does it an injustice; that in order really to appreciate the layers and nuances I need to go back to it several times.

I’m sure that Inside the Whispers and future Dr Samantha Willerby books will establish AJ Waines as a ‘go to’ author for psychological narratives. I thoroughly enjoyed it – even if it did mess with my head!

About AJ Waines


AJ Waines has sold over 100,000 books worldwide and topped the UK and Australian Kindle Charts in 2015 with her number one bestseller, Girl on a Train. Following fifteen years as a psychotherapist, she is now a full-time novelist with publishing deals in France, Germany (Penguin Random House) and USA (audiobooks).

In 2015, she was featured in The Wall Street Journal and The Times and was ranked in the Top 20 UK authors on Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). She lives in Southampton, UK, with her husband. Visit her website and blog, or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

You can find out more about AJ Waines and No Longer Safe with these other bloggers too:



Before I Let You In by Jenny Blackhurst


I’m thrilled to be part of the paperback celebrations for Jenny Blackhurst’s psychological thriller Before I Let You In. Before I Let You In is published by Headline and available in e-book and paperback by following the publisher links.

Before I Let You In


Karen is meant to be the one who fixes problems.

It’s her job, as a psychiatrist – and it’s always been her role as a friend.

But Jessica is different. She should be the patient, the one that Karen helps.

But she knows things about Karen. Her friends, her personal life. Things no patient should know.

And Karen is starting to wonder if she should have let her in . . .

My Review of Before I Let You In

Psychiatrist Karen’s new patient Jessica isn’t quite what she seems!

I have to admit that for the first thirty pages or so I didn’t think I was going to enjoy Before I Let You In. It felt a bit disjointed and initially I didn’t warm to the characters of Karen, Bea and Eleanor. However, it wasn’t long before I was totally in the grip of this clever novel and I frequently found myself exclaiming aloud at the plot. Indeed, I have no idea how Jenny Blackhurst managed to create such an intricate narrative. It’s always difficult to say too much without giving away the story, but I though it was intelligent, surprising and scarily plausible. I liked the way the narrative was divided into three sections like traditional plays so that reading Before I Let You In made me think of traditional Greek and Shakespearean themes and characters, providing an extra layer of enjoyment.

The characters themselves are all flawed but equally human. Although she’s actually present in few scenes, Jessica remains an underlying menacing presence throughout so that the reader is never quite sure what will be uncovered or what will happen next. The past is as much a part of the story as the events happening in the present, making the reader question just what has gone on, creating tension and excitement. I found the first person narrative that intersperses the third person stories of Bea, Karen and Eleanor quite chilling. Disturbing events are often dealt with in a matter of fact manner that adds to the atmosphere too.

The themes of Before I Let You In are so well handled. Friendship, identity, post-natal depression, adultery – they are all here in a magnificent tapestry leaving the reader entertained, informed and sometimes uncomfortable. This is powerful writing.

What I enjoyed most about reading Before I Let You In was that I assumed I had it all worked out all the way along. I loved that Jenny Blackhurst proved me wrong.

About Jenny Blackhurst

Jenny Blackhurst grew up in Shropshire where she still lives with her husband and children. Growing up she spent hours reading and talking about crime novels – writing her own seemed like natural progression. Inspired by the emotions she felt around her own son’s birth, How I Lost You was Jenny’s thrilling debut crime novel.


You can follow Jenny Blackhurst on Twitter, find her on Facebook and see more with these other bloggers:


Born This Way by Sacha Lanvin Baumann


I am grateful to the author for providing a copy of Born This Way in return for an honest review. Born This Way by Sacha Lanvin Baumann, and translated by Wendell Ricketts, was published on 7th September 2016 and is available for purchase in e-book from your local Amazon site.

Born This Way


In February 1978, when the flawless Gia Carangi arrived in New York at the age of barely eighteen, she had already landed a contract with one of the most prestigious modeling agencies in the world. The future that lay before her seemed dazzling. Blessed with a magnetic beauty and a unique personality, the young Philadelphia native reached the peak of success in only a few months, quickly joining the elite ranks of “supermodels.” One of the most requested models in her field, Gia appeared regularly in such magazines as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Cosmopolitan. For all intents and purposes, Gia’s life quickly became a fairy tale—or so it seemed.

In only a few years, Gia’s destiny was complicated by unscrupulous individuals and by her inability to manage her cataclysmic success. Once on that road, the legendary model began a decline that led to her tragic end.

Born This Way brings to light never-before-heard stories and unusual memories of Gia, offering new perspectives on her life, career, and personality. Through these previously unpublished accounts by those who knew and worked with Gia, Lanvin shines a spotlight on the woman herself, peering beneath the fast-lane glamor and the fame to capture the true essence of a supermodel who continues to mesmerize the world even decades after her death.

My Review of Born This Way

The first supermodel, Gia Carangi, is recalled by the people who knew her in this biographical homage.

When I was asked by the author, Sacha Lanvin Baumann, if I would be willing to read Born This Way for review I have to confess that I wasn’t sure it would be my kind of read. I have no interest in celebrity and had never heard of Gia Carangi so I didn’t think I’d find it especially engaging.

However, I found Born This Way unsettlingly interesting. I was uneasy in the reading as at times I felt like I was intruding into other people’s grief. Born This Way draws on the anecdotes and memories of those who knew model Gia well, with direct quotation giving a flavour of the woman she was and how her friends felt, and still feel, about her. I have to admit that I found this formula a little repetitive towards the latter half of the book, but there is no denying that Gia evoked strong emotions in those who knew her. I thought the translation from Italian worked very effectively so that the flavour of the speakers and the original writing remained true.

Gia was such a troubled soul that reading Born This Way made me feel her life and demise was an inevitability. She seemed to fight with every element of what made her who she was – her beauty, her sexuality and her addictions. The element of freefall I found quite shocking and terribly sad and it made me wonder how much has changed to protect the vulnerable in the fashion world today.

I would have liked photographic illustrations too in the book as I think they would have helped underline and celebrate the very brief life Gia led. An example might be ‘Gia’s Last Photograph’ mentioned by Borodulin, for example.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to read Born This Way. It made me thankful for the fairly ordinary life I’ve led and introduced me to a woman, Gia, I would have liked to have known and a world of fashion I’m glad I’ve never been a part of.

You can follow Sacha Lanvin on Twitter.

An Interview with Kel O’Connor, author of Broken Bits


I’m very pleased to welcome Kel O’Connor to Linda’s Book Bag today. Kel’s novel Broken Bits is book one of the DAG Team Series and is available in e-book here. Kel has kindly agreed to be interviewed about her writing and Broken Bits in particular.

Broken Bits


Kit Foster thought a week in the woods would be the perfect way to recover from the family scandal that shattered her world. No reporters, no gossip and no drama. Then a helicopter dumps an injured man in her path.

Mick Harris is having a bad day. It was bad enough that he botched an op, but then he awakes beaten and left for dead in the middle of a forest. He is lucky to be alive, but now he is at the mercy of Kit- the only person who knows the route home.

During the time it takes to hike back to civilization, Kit and Mick become friends and explore their growing attraction. While the way out is hampered by bad memories and an assassin, they manage to grow close enough to attempt a real relationship.

However, that bliss is short-lived when Mick’s job again threatens Kit’s life and destroys their happiness. Can a second chance bring them back together?

An Interview with Kel O’Connor

Hi Kel, thanks for being on Linda’s Book Bag. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

My husband and I have 2 teenagers and 2 cats. I am addicted to coffee and peanuts. I love anything that will make me laugh- friends, cartoons, comedians, movies, whatever… I love it so much we once owned a humor store.

I know you’re a former bookseller. How did you make the transition into being a writer too?

The writing came first. The bookselling career was a natural choice for me since I loved reading.

I know you enjoy cross-stitch. Do you see any parallels between the patterns in cross-stitch and in plotting a novel?

For me, writing is the opposite.  I start with a loose outline and then write out scenes as they come to me. When I have a handful of scenes, I go back and fill in the story.  With cross-stitch, I love knowing how it will turn out before I even start.

Other than a cross-stitcher, if you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

I sew and I used to dabble in calligraphy.  Would love to learn to knit someday.

How do you go about researching detail and ensuring your writing is realistic?

I love researching a new idea! Google is my best friend and I could spend days down different rabbit holes there.  I am also a voracious reader. When I read thrillers or suspense, I love learning new things while I am being entertained.

(I think we can all disappear into Google, Kel!)

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

Writing the original scenes is easy for me. Revisions are agony!

What are your writing routines and where do you do most of your writing?

My favorite spots to write are sitting in bed or in a recliner.  Before I start, I do listen to whatever song(s) I feel work for the scene I am about to write.  I love to write in the morning, but end up doing it whenever I can squeeze it in.

Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?

I love action movies! But sometimes ideas just come to me at the craziest times.

Broken Bits has a very atmospheric cover. It made me think of obfuscation and the search for the truth. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

The cover designer and I were looking for wilderness pictures.  She found the guy right off and then tried him against different tree landscapes.  I loved the way all the blues blended together.  Mick and Kit are stuck together miles from civilization. I think it would be spooky to be in that situation with a stranger.

Broken Bits is the first in the DAG (Data Acquisitions Group) team series. How easy or difficult is it to set up a new series in the first book?

The series idea came from my editor.  I realized that a 20-year old story idea would fit perfectly with Broken Bits.  So I went back and fleshed out the other agents.

Which of the DAG team you’ve created is most like you and why do you think this?

Probably Peter, one of the founders. I’m a boring manager in real life.  Peter keeps the business running and makes the agents fall in line. I wish I could say it was math-whiz Mick or martial-arts Amy, but no.  However, Peter has some interesting secrets that will come out in later books!

If Broken Bits became a film, who would you like to play Kit and why would you choose them?

In my head, Kit looked like Hayley Atwell with darker eyes and short curly hair. Plus, I think Hayley is a great actress and well-suited to play sassy Kit.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Broken Bits should be their next read, what would you say?

How about 12 words? Two damaged people find themselves and fall in love while dodging assassins.

Oh – even better!

About Kel O’Connor


Kel O’Connor lives with her husband and teenagers in the mountains of North Carolina. In addition to reading and writing, she loves coffee, loud rock music and subversive humor. She collects graphic t-shirts and hates to vacuum. You can follow Kel on Twitter, find her on Facebook and visit her website.

Anti-heroines in Women’s Fiction, a Guest Post by Rosa Temple, author of Single by Christmas


Having previously interviewed Rosa Temple for Linda’s Book Bag (you can read that interview here), I’m delighted to be starting off the celebrations for her latest novel Single by Christmas. Single by Christmas is published tomorrow, 18th October 2016 and is available for purchase in e-book here.

I’m equally thrilled that Rosa has provided a smashing guest blog today all about anti-heroines in women’s fiction. Also, Rosa is giving the opportunity enter to win one of 5 e-copies of Single By Christmas by clicking here.

Single by Christmas


You’ve heard the saying, ‘opposites attract’ haven’t you?

Meet 27 year old Alex Marshall, a party girl with a penchant for free flowing Prosecco, and her devilishly handsome scientist boyfriend, Charlie, who loves jazz and dinner for two.

Alex and Charlie are together for 11 blissful months until Alex goes out of town and does something she will later regret. Was she drunk? You bet. Does she want Charlie to know? Well what do you think?

With the couple about to spend their first Christmas together will Charlie be the forgiving kind or will Alex be Single by Christmas?

This is a feel good, Christmas novel with very few mince pies, not much snow and absolutely no mistletoe – just a couple of best friends, a sociopathic nemesis and a lot of drinking.

Anti-heroines in Women’s Fiction – Where Do You Stand?

A Guest Post by Rosa Temple

Most of my writing day is taken up by writing fiction. If I’m not writing a blog or magazine article for a client, I’m creating fictional characters either in my own stories or as a ghost writer. Most of the fiction I ghost write comes under the women’s fiction umbrella, mainly romance. In every outline I’m given the heroine is always likeable, kind, well adjusted, good looking (if not absolutely beautiful) and everything she does makes her worthy of the handsome hero.

I know we pick up a book because we like to escape the real world but I always prefer to ‘keep it real(ish)’ when I write – particularly in my own stories.

So when it came to writing Single by Christmas, I knew straight away that I wasn’t writing my female protagonist in the typically expected style for women’s fiction. Alex Marshall wasn’t going to be the heroine, she was going to be the anti-heroine.

When writers create anti-heroes – the bad guy who womanises, drinks too much, puts his needs first – it seems to be acceptable because he is a man. But how do you react to a woman who does all those things?

Typical Anti-Hero/Anti-Heroine Traits (in brief)

*Self-absorbed, selfish

*Shows little remorse for bad behaviour

*Imperfections easily identified

*Has the reader’s sympathy but has questionable morals

I knew that when I embarked on my Christmas story that Alex Marshall wasn’t the type of woman who owned a cake shop and sold mince pies to the man of her dreams, neither was she going to get stranded with him in a snow storm in a remote and picturesque town. But I had to be careful. I didn’t want to lose the spirit of Christmas. I didn’t want Alex to be an out and out villain who ambushes Santa and holds the pressies for ransom. I had to tread carefully and let the reader see her ‘naughty’ side in the events of the story and hopefully understand her motives as the scenes played out in typical anti-heroine fashion.

I also had to bear in mind that this story was a romantic comedy – emphasis on the romantic and the comedy. So how could I make Alex edgy and still leave room for the odd laugh or two (or more, hopefully). My answer: I made Alex a little too fond of booze and gave her a very selfish streak.

One early reader of Single by Christmas said she wanted to slap Alex. Maybe you will, too, but the fact remains, her motives are questionable and so is her behaviour.

I knew I was taking a risk, especially since I’ve created a female character in a previous story who, potentially, put the whole sex in a bad light. One reviewer didn’t appreciate that and deducted a star from her review because she hated when women are not portrayed in a positive light.

But I say, ‘Hey, we’re only human, and we all mess up sometimes’ – even women.

I guess when it comes to romantic comedy there may be a strong argument that dictates that the leading lady ought to have nothing but flawless qualities. But I argue that there’s nothing wrong with upsetting stereotypes and Alex Marshall is no stereotypical heroine.

So what’s your view? Do you want all the women you read about to be ‘perfect’ or can you handle the odd flawed character once in a while?

(Oh I think flawed is always more compelling than perfect Rosa!)

To find out more about Rosa and to catch up on all her musings please join her here on Rosa Temple Writes

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The Perfect Escape, a Guest Post by Izzy Bayliss, author of The Girl I Was Before


I know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but that belonging to Izzy Bayliss and The Girl I Was Before is so lovely I just had to invite Izzy onto Linda’s Book Bag with a guest post. Luckily Izzy agreed and is writing in praise of fiction’s escapism today. The Girl I Was Before was published by Blue Gate on 21st August 2016 and is available for purchase in e-book here.

The Girl I was Before


When Lily McDermott walks in to find Marc, her husband of just three months in bed with actress Nadia, life as she knows it is over. Lily thinks things can’t get any worse when she sees photos of her husband and his new lover splashed across the glossy magazine pages, but when she loses her job too, she is at her lowest ebb and turns to baking to soothe her soul.

Wounded and broken she has to try and pick herself up again with the help of her best friend Frankie and with her encouragement, Lily decides to turn her hobby into a business and sets up Baked With Love. However whatever Lily does, it seems disaster soon ensues and when handsome stranger Sam comes to her rescue, Lily isn’t quite ready to turn her back on her marriage.

Can Lily risk opening her heart again or is she destined to allow Marc to shadow her life forever?

The Perfect Escape

A Guest Post by Izzy Bayliss

One of my favourite parts of the day is when I climb under my duvet, let my weight sink into the mattress beneath me, reach over to my bedside table and pick up my book. It’s my time to escape from a hectic day. I can switch off from word count woes and temper tantrums and get lost in a different world far beyond my reach. Depending on the book I’m reading, I could find myself immersed in a cookery school set amongst the lavender fields of France or I could be in a Fifth Avenue penthouse with the snow tumbling softly past my window. This is the beauty of reading fiction. It allows our brains to tune out and to recharge for a while.

Nonfiction snobs would argue that we can learn nothing from fiction but there are lots of benefits to it. For example, it expands our creativity. How many times have you read the same book as a friend but both of you form a totally different picture of the protagonist in your mind? In real life you might be finding it hard to meet your dream man but you can meet your perfect alpha-male in a romance novel and best of all, he’ll never let you down. When we read fiction we are constantly drawing upon the well of our imagination.

Fiction can also help to educate us as well as empathise with a situation. In Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong we can all but feel the bitter cold experienced by WWI soldiers as they stood in water logged trenches or the claustrophobia and fears of suffocation faced by the tunnellers as they burrowed deep underground towards enemy lines. In Victoria Hislop’s The Island, we can imagine the feelings of despair experienced by those diagnosed with leprosy in Greece as they left everyone they loved behind and set sail for the colony of Spinalonga. Fiction can serve as a reminder to appreciate the things we take for granted.

Life can be so overwhelmingly busy and crazy at times that we sometimes need to escape and that’s what fiction gives us. Every time you pick up a piece of fiction you are carried off to another world and the best bit is you get to choose where. So where are you off to tonight?

(What a great question Izzy!)

About Izzy Bayliss

Izzy Bayliss lives in Ireland with her husband, children and their dog. A romantic at heart, she loves nothing more than cosying up in front of the fire with a good book. Her motto is that reality is over-rated and she is happiest staring into space and day-dreaming.

You can follow Izzy on Twitter and find her on Facebook. You can also visit her website.