The Runaway Bridesmaid Guest Post by Daisy James

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As I so like the look of Daisy James’ new novel, ‘The Runaway Bridesmaid’ I thought I’d ask Daisy if she would be prepared to be a guest on my blog. Fortunately she said yes! ‘The Runaway Bridesmaid’ will be released by Carina as an ebook on September 28th 2015. Here Daisy tells us about Rosie Hamilton and even bakes us some basil biscuits!

The Runaway Bridesmaid by Daisy James

Rosie Hamilton Character profile

Have you ever wanted to run away from a situation and never look back? I’m sure most of us have been in that situation when the flight or fight instinct kicks in. But would you run away from your sister’s wedding – when you are holding the bridesmaid’s posy?

Well, that’s exactly what Rosie Hamilton does. A fancy wedding in Connecticut which she has single-handedly arranged for her beloved, but spoilt little sister, the fabulous, floaty dresses, the elegant flowers and the spectacular catering – she leaves it all behind. After finding Freya in the linen closet with her wedding date, she slings her bouquet out of the window and storms away in her hired red roadster. Enough was enough!

And whilst Rosie adores the vibrant buzz of Manhattan, its vertiginous glass buildings, its quirky, cosmopolitan residents and its awestruck tourists, she needs to get away from the overwhelming sense of loneliness that had infused her bones. So she ditches her Louboutins for Wellies and flies off to London – well, Devon to be precise – where she holes up in her late Aunt Bernice’s thatched cottage hoping that her heartache seeps away.

Rosie doesn’t know what to do with herself in the tiny hamlet of Brampton where there’s only the village shop and the village fête for entertainment. She’s uncomfortable with the invasion of privacy masquerading as community spirit and yearns to return to her old life of social indifference. But then she discovers her Aunt’s hand-illustrated recipe journal entitled ‘Bake Yourself Better’. Not only is the diary crammed with beautiful drawings of flowers and herbs from her Devonshire garden, it is also contains recipes to ‘bake yourself better’.

She decides to take her aunt’s advice. The first recipe Rosie tries just has to be …Strawberry Tarts for Broken Hearts’ where her aunt has recorded:    

‘Strawberries are often referred to as the fruit of love. When the strawberries in this recipe are sliced as directed they appear heart-shaped, bursting with sweetness and zinging with a luscious rich red, the colour of love and passion. They are nutrient-rich and packed with healthy antioxidants, especially if grown in your own garden! Some believe they possess healing qualities and can alleviate melancholy. And if that isn’t enough to tempt you, darling Rosie, the strawberry plant is part of the rose family.’

And she sets to – to bake, bake, bake until she’s liberally doused in flour and sugar and exhausted from her culinary exploits.

There are many other recipes from her Aunt Bernice’s Bake Yourself Better journal to try out on a wet April afternoon – ‘Fig Delights for Passion-filled Nights’ and ‘Sweet Basil Biscuits for New Love Interests’ – all of which Rosie bakes – with varying degrees of success.

But will Rosie find the solace she craves? Or the love and happiness her aunt has urged her to find?

All will be revealed in ‘The Runaway Bridesmaid’!

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Here is a taster for your lovely blog readers:

‘Sweet Basil Biscuits for New Love Interests

One of the meanings of the herb basil is love and I know we can all do with an extra sprinkle of that in our lives! It is written in some folklore that a young man who accepts sweet basil from a woman will fall in love with her. I love that story so I had to include this recipe for you, Rosie, especially as I have grown basil in my garden since I bought the Lodge. Be careful who you select as a sampler, darling! We wouldn’t want to tempt the fates, would we?

Ingredients

150g butter, softened

75g caster sugar

75g ground almonds

150g plain flour, sieved

Large bunch of basil

Instructions

Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy. Add the ground almonds and mix. Fold in the flour and knead gently. Wash the basil and dry with a paper towel. Remove stalks and chop. Roll the basil into the mixture until it resembles a speckled green sausage 8-10 cm in diameter. Wrap in cling-film and refrigerate for ten minutes whilst you clear up. Cut into biscuits approx. 1 cm think and place on a greased baking tray. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden (gas mark 6, 200˚C). Cool on a wire rack.’

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I’d love to hear from readers who’ve tried out any of the recipes in The Runaway Bridesmaid – either via Facebook or Twitter or Instagram – and photos would be a bonus!!!

Here are my links:

Facebook and Twitter

Thanks ever so much for having me.

Happy Reading Everyone.

Daisy

And thank you Daisy, for taking the time to tell us about Rosie and give us some literal food for thought! I can’t wait to read ‘The Runaway Bridesmaid’ and it can be ordered here.

The Long Siesta by Nick Sweet

The Long Siesta

I am very grateful to Robert Peett at Grey Cells Press, an imprint of Holland House Books, for a copy of Nick Sweet’s ‘The Long Siesta’ in return for an honest review. It was published on 5th September 2015.

When a priest is murdered in a particularly horrific way Luis Velazquez has a difficult crime to solve. But as he struggles with his own demons and the body count rises across Seville, the case gets personal.

‘The Long Siesta’ opens with a startling and graphic murder and the plot races along from that point so that it is impossible to predict what will happen next. Nick Sweet employs an iterative image of bullfighting throughout and his plot mimics the swirls of the cape and the charge of the bull as a metaphor for truth throughout.

It took me 30 or 40 pages to attune to the writing style and at times I found it a little jerky as if it had been over edited. I would occasionally have liked greater development in descriptions and I felt there was too much (probably unintentional) product mention with frequent references to Swatch, Seat Ibiza and Alfa Romeo. That said, I did enjoy the overall structure very much with the division into three parts containing snappy chapters that always ended with a pithy comment or cliffhanger.

Despite the mounting body count and the inclusion of gangsters, assassins, Russian mafia, transvestites, bull-fighting girlfriends and heroin addicted policemen which all combine to create an atmospheric film noir effect, there is also humour and tenderness in the writing which comes particularly through some of the direct speech so that there was a greater credibility to the more aggressive parts.

I thought the research that had gone in to making ‘The Long Siesta’ both geographically and historically accurate was impressive.

The title ‘The Long Siesta’ has left me intrigued. There are so many ways in which it could be said to fit the story – as the past has been sleeping and is now catching up, as death becomes a final sleep for so many, as pivotal to Spanish life for authenticity, in the way characters awaken out of their habits or complacency – that I think I’ll need to reread the book to come to a final conclusion for what it means for me.

Those who love a fast paced crime thriller with a flawed leading policeman will enjoy ‘The Long Siesta’.

Self-Publishing Guest Post by Laurie Ellingham

I was fortunate to meet Laurie Ellingham at a recent book event and when we got talking I was fascinated by how she’d come to be a novelist. When Laurie agreed to be a guest on my blog I was delighted. She’s here telling us about self-publishing.

Laurie

My road to self-publishing and beyond

I quit.

It’s a thought most writers will have at some point on their journey to becoming an author, but perhaps not quite as early as me – twenty-five years old and a meagre three years into my writing life. It was 2009, the year I got married and the year I fell pregnant with my first child. The same year I received countless rejections from literary agents for my first novel – The Reluctant Celebrity – as well as a rather expensive editorial report that I didn’t agree with a single word of.

Fast forward four years, two children and two house moves to a chilly day in February. Both children (now four and three) had started preschool, and I found myself with a wonderful gift, something I’d forgotten even existed – time. I powered up my Kindle and started to read, devouring book after book, some amazing, and others not so good, which is when I discovered how far the world of self-publishing had moved on in four years. No longer did writers have to worry about print runs and how they’d go about selling three thousand copies. With the popularity of Kindle and other reading tablets, self publishing ebooks was not only easy, but free.

With a mild amount of trepidation, I climbed into the loft and dusted away the cobwebs of The Reluctant Celebrity. As I started to read (there and then in the cold of the loft) I realised two things. Firstly, I could write (Hooray!), and secondly, everything in the editorial report was right.

I dived into a frenzy of editing, and three weeks later I download the Amazon Kindle Self-Publishing guide, which explained every step I needed to take to make my 70,000 word manuscript into an ebook I could sell in the Amazon Kindle store. The only cost to the entire process was an ebook cover, which I purchased for a very reasonable price (I paid £10) from a fantastic premade book cover website called http://www.goonwrite.com.

Then I was ready. I clicked on the ‘Publish’ button and in a flash my novel was out in the big wide world of books. I used the free giveaway offer to promote The Reluctant Celebrity and all of a sudden thousands of people from all over the world had downloaded it. Within six weeks I had gone from a dusty manuscript to having a book that was holding its own in the Kindle book charts. Fast forward another six weeks and I had a publishing offer from an independent London publisher. Fast forward fifteen months and my novel was on the bookshelves of Watertones and other retailers.

Self-publishing gave me confidence in my ability as a writer, and allowed a publisher to see the potential in my novel. If I hadn’t received the publishing offer I would absolutely have continued to self-publish. The opportunities for promotion and self-publishing are endless.

Never again will I utter the words ‘I quit.’  I now realise that I am just at the start of what I hope will be a very long career as an author and as a writer, and I can’t wait!

My self-publishing tips:

– Take your time with the formatting stage. Readers will find it annoying if there are spare pages dotted about

– Purchase a professional looking ebook cover. It’s the first thing anyone will see, so don’t give a reader the opportunity to turn it down before they’ve even read the blurb

– Consider spending the money on a proof reader or enlisting a friend with a good eye. It’s near impossible for you to spot all of the typos in your own work because you will read the word it’s supposed to be, not what it is. Receiving a review which says, ‘I loved the novel but the typos ruined it for me,’ hurts.

– Treat yourself like a professional. Embrace social media, get a good head shot, develop a website and build your brand as an author. Once you’ve self-published, contact local papers and radio stations for some free promotion.

The Reluctant Celebrity

I think Laurie has given all aspiring authors some excellent advice. You can buy Laurie’s book here. You can also follow Laurie on Facebook on Twitter @LauireEllingham and visit her website here.

The House With The Lilac Shutters by Gabrielle Barnby

Lilac shutters

My grateful thanks to Huw Francis and the team at Thunderpoint for providing a copy of Gabrielle Barnby’s ‘The House With The Lilac Shutters and Other Stories’ in return for an honest review.

I rarely read short stories as I find them too brief to be fulfilling and rather frustrating. However, Gabrielle Barnby may just have converted me. ‘The House With the Lilac Shutters’ is a wonderful collection. Set in small towns in both France and England, the stories stand in their own right as beautifully observed descriptions of human jealousy, desire, guilt and love, but they also contribute to a completely satisfying whole.

As the stories progress, hints are dropped like pebbles in a pond so that each story ripples into another, revealing a bit more about a character from an earlier story and helping the reader build up an understanding of why characters are as they are. I do think they need to be read in the order in which they are presented to gain the most from their reading.

The image of heat runs through many of the stories, lowering like a thunderstorm about to break and making the reader wonder what lies, memories and truths might be about to be uncovered in a maelstrom of emotion. I almost found the undercurrents in Gabrielle Barnby’s writing sinister, even though there is humour, love and gentleness too. The linguistic style is totally fascinating.

The more I read, and the more descriptions I encountered, the more I was put in mind of one of my all time favourite texts – Dylan Thomas’ ‘Under Milk Wood’. There is a lyrical quality to the writing and descriptions make use of all the senses so that they are vivid and engaging; from the taste of Nico’s marzipan fruit to the colour of the lilac shutters themselves, Gabrielle Barnby paints layer upon layer of image. I could really visualise the settings and think the stories would make a fabulous television series.

I usually pass on review copies of books I have read, but I will be keeping ‘The Lilac Shutters and Other Stories’. Although I’ve read them once, I’m sure I’ve missed many elements and nuances and I look forward to returning to them in the future to see what else is there beneath the surface. I can heartily recommend these stories to all readers.

The Mistake I Made by Paula Daly

The mistake I made

Enormous thanks to Ben Willis at Penguin Random House for a copy of Paula Daly’s ‘The Mistake I made’ in return for an honest review. It was published in Hardback by Bantam Press on 3rd September 2015.

Physiotherapist Roz Toovey is a struggling single mum whose errant husband is totally unreliable so that bringing up George falls almost entirely to her. When her financial difficulties become insurmountable, she is made an offer she can’t refuse. It would have been better had she done so.

‘The Mistake I Made’ is a cleverly crafted novel that doesn’t have neat answers to all the issues raised and that makes the reader question how they might themselves behave in Roz’s situation. As a result, it is a gripping and compelling thriller.

I think the underlying accurate factual detail about Roz’s work helps add an authenticity to the text, so that it is easy to accept her thought processes and choices – even when they are obviously going to take her into even more trouble. Similarly, the Lake District setting is perfectly described and acts as a beautiful counterpoint to the messy life Roz finds herself leading. This highly skilful writing means ‘The Mistake I Made’ is one of those books that makes you question what normally you see and accept without thinking.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first person approach so that it feels as if Roz is speaking to the reader directly. She has a matter of fact, and sometimes surprisingly humorous, tone that understates the difficulties that will arise and it is easy to see how one casual event can so easily lead to another. As I read I kept thinking of the quotation ‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave. When first we practise to deceive!’ Events for Roz certainly build up at an incredible pace.

I found Roz foolish, brave, flawed and someone with whom I’d like to be friends. Indeed, all the characters are well drawn. There’s a small range of people but somehow Paula Daly has managed to depict a complete panoply of personalities, giving depth to the story and enjoyment in the reading.

It’s impossible to say anything about the plot without giving it away, but I would just say that reading this is a roller-coaster ride about a woman who often creates her own problems – much as we all do at times – and, as a result, it’s a really great read.

Sewing the Shadows Together by Alison Baillie

Sewing the shadows

I was delighted to be asked by Mike Linane to be part of the launch for Alison Baillie’s debut novel ‘Sewing the Shadows Together’. It was published by Matador on August 7th 2015.

When I realised Alison had been an English teacher, like me, I was really interested to know how she thought that experience had affected her writing. This is what she told me:

Thank you for asking me to say something about being an English teacher and a writer, as we both are. It’s something I hadn’t really thought about before and it was very interesting to reflect on the topic.

Perhaps the first thing to mention is that I didn’t actually write ‘Sewing the Shadows Together’ until I’d stopped teaching, although the idea had been in my head for a very long time. I’ve also noticed at crime-writing festivals that there are very few English teachers on the panels, but lots of journalists, lawyers, soldiers etc. This seems quite odd; shouldn’t there be more of us, because we studied English literature and should be able write? Is there something stopping English teachers from being creative?

Speaking personally here, I think perhaps there is. Teaching is so all-encompassing – always something to prepare, or something to mark, or a student with a problem that’s worrying you – that it doesn’t give you much time to let your thoughts and words fly free. I like to clear my mental deck before I begin writing – and when I was teaching this very rarely happened.

There are, however, very positive things about teaching and writing. Firstly, you come into contact with all kinds of people and stories. Over the many years I taught I had a window into so many lives, so many families. I haven’t used any of them directly in my novel, but the original idea for it came from the seventies and eighties when I was teaching in Edinburgh secondary schools, including Portobello High. There were several high-profile murder cases at that time and even after the cases had been resolved I couldn’t stop thinking about those who were left behind. How could the parents, the brothers and sisters and the best friends ever get over something like that happening? Young people, the age of the ones I was teaching, scarred by such horrific experiences, which meant that their lives would never be the same again.

It was also helpful to my writing that I was teaching great literature and, therefore, had to analyse plot, structure, characterisation and setting with my students. I learnt from the masters that every word mattered, as one sentence could throw light onto a character or foreshadow future events. English teachers also work with students on creative writing, looking at the importance of distinctive voices in dialogue, how a little gesture can give a clue to character, and how a setting can set the mood for a scene. Some of this must rub off onto our writing and certainly a lot of what I instinctively feel works in a novel has been learnt from teaching and my own reading – I love crime fiction, especially Scottish and Scandinavian.

An ex-teacher also plays a very significant role in my novel and HJ Kidd is actually based partly (only the nice bits) on an inspirational teacher called Tony Barringer. I was taught by him at Ilkley Grammar School in Yorkshire many years ago. Like HJ Kidd he was only about ten years older than us, loves poetry and is a published poet himself. I can still remember reading ‘Bat’ by DH Lawrence with him when I was about thirteen. That poem made a great impression, and when I started to write my novel it suddenly came back to me – and gave me the classroom flashback, a thematic thread and the title. I am still in contact with Tony, and have given him a copy of the book, but I haven’t heard what he thinks yet!

There are obvious other advantages to being an English teacher in that we should have a fairly accurate grasp of spelling and grammar which makes proof-reading easier. On the other hand, I tend to concentrate on details too much and can agonise for ages about the balance of a sentence or word choice, which makes me a very slow writer.

Thank you, Linda, for giving me the chance to reflect on this interesting topic – and good luck with your own writing.

Alison Taylor-Baillie

Thanks Alison! I’ll need the writing luck!

I found Alison’s experiences really echoed my own (I keep in touch with my English teacher too) and I could identify completely with what she said about teaching being so all encompassing so I was interested to see what I thought of her novel ‘Sewing the Shadows Together’. Here’s my review.

Returning from South Africa to scatter his mother’s ashes in the Scottish islands, Tom McIver finds himself transported back to the times of his sister’s murder in the late 1970s. When Logan Baird is released from prison, having been wrongly convicted of Shona’s murder, the hunt is on to find the real culprit.

I really enjoyed Allison Bailie’s writing as she develops both plot and character in a measured and sophisticated way that draws in the reader. I thoroughly appreciated the fact that the protagonists are more mature so that I could relate to them highly effectively. When Sarah was described as being only 50 I almost cheered. It shows that women can have a past but still be desirable and worthwhile, making a change from the 30 somethings of so many stories. Sarah is portrayed as a complete woman with hopes and desires, fears and flaws, making her wholly believable. I also have to admit to being slightly in love with Tom myself.

The plot is crafted so that the reader is kept guessing throughout and I kept changing my mind about who I thought was the real murderer. Hints are dropped and the flashback dreams help build a convincing and chilling backstory that engages the reader fully. However, this is not just a one thread story and there are side issues to satisfy the most demanding of readers, such as family relationships, adultery and attitudes to those who do not conform to social norms.

I think I also enjoyed reading ‘Sewing the Shadows Together’ so much as I was in South Africa where it is partly set as I read. I found there was a real sense of place and time. In the Scottish setting I could hear those Bay City Rollers’ songs in my head and the descriptions of the Portobello area really helped paint a picture in my mind’s eye.

The iterative image of shadowiness – the references to Lawrence’s ‘Bat’ and the mercurial nature of memory – build the tension and lead the reader into wanting to read on and discover just who did murder Shona.

‘Sewing the Shadows Together’ is a totally satisfying read. Alison Baillie builds and builds tension to a rather surprising climax. This is a thriller well worth the read and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

You can read other reviews and posts by Alison by looking at these sites:

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You can follow Alison on Facebook and on Twitter