Best Reads of 2015

Linda’s Book Bag Top Reads of 2015

Even though I only began blogging in February, I found it almost impossible to compile a list of just my favourite ten reads of 2015 in readiness for an ‘Ask the Blogger’ event that is happening on The Book Club on Facebook on Thursday 7th January 2016. Consequently I have cheated slightly and gone for a choice of 12 with three special categories added. So here they are. If you click on the book title you can see my review of the book.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank all the authors, publishers and bloggers who’ve welcomed me so warmly into the blogging world, given advice, been prepared to be interviewed and have provided books. My apologies to those still awaiting a review. I promise I haven’t forgotten and will get to the book as soon as I can.

Book of the Year

JakobJakob’s Colours by Lindsay Hawdon


Best Crime Fiction Book

CrackedCracked by Barbra Leslie

Best Audio Book

How to be brave     How to be Brave by Louise Beech

Top 12 Reads (in no particular order except roughly the order in which I read them)



  1. Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
  2. A Man Called Ove By Fredrik Backman
  3. Song of the Sea Maid by Rebecca Mascull
  4. The Silent Hours by Cesca Major
  5. Devastation Road by Jason Hewitt
  6. The Prodigal by Nicky Black
  7. The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies
  8. The Sea Between Us by Emylia Hall
  9. My Everything by Katie Marsh
  10. Untouchable by Ava Marsh
  11. The Turning Point by Freya North
  12. The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

I have to be honest and say that there were so many others that could equally well have been included and were also 5 star reads so please have a look through my blog to see what else is there. In the end I chose books that I find myself still thinking about almost daily.

I’d like to thank EVERY author whose book I’ve read whatever my personal view of it was. You all bring so much joy to so many people.

Happy New Year!


Interview with Jon Teckman Author of Ordinary Joe

Ordinary Joe

I am delighted to be featuring Jon Teckman on Linda’s Book Bag today as I thought his debut novel ‘Ordinary Joe’ was brilliant. Available in both paperback and ebook, it is currently on offer on Kindle at just £1.49 and can be bought here.

Jon kindly agreed to answering some questions about his writing so let’s see what he said.

Jon Teckman

Hi Jon. I so enjoyed reading your debut novel ‘ Ordinary Joe’ . Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your book and your writing.

Firstly, would you like tell readers a little about yourself and how you came to write ‘Ordinary Joe’?

Gosh, where to begin?  I am 52 years old, married with two teenage boys (actually one of them is only 12 but he acts more like a teenager than his 14 year old brother).  I was born and grew up in Northampton then, after graduating from university, lived in London for 20 years before moving to Aylesbury.  After leaving university, I worked as a civil servant in various Government departments, ending up at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) where I advised Government Ministers on film policy (yes, they have one).  This led to me joining the British Film Institute (BFI) and I eventually became Chief Executive of that august institution.  And that, really, was the starting point for writing Ordinary Joe which draws on my experiences working on the fringes of the film industry.  I had wanted to write a novel for some time and on one trip to Los Angeles got the idea for a story about an Englishman working in Hollywood but I didn’t do much with it until a few years later when I went on an Arvon Foundation novel writing course (a 10th Wedding Anniversary present from my wife) and developed the idea there.  I completed a first draft of Ordinary Joe in just over a year – towards the end of 2008 – but then it took me six more years of re-working it, submitting it to various people and dealing with their rejections before I eventually landed my publishing deal with The Borough Press.

Other than writing, do you have other interests and creative outlets?

Like many blokes, I am very interested in sport, particularly rugby union and cricket. I used to play quite a bit of cricket and was a decent wicketkeeper but packed up when I found I was moving towards the ball several seconds after it had gone past me.  I am also still very interested in the cinema and maintain a professional interest in that as a member of the Council of Management of the British Board of Film Classification and a voting member of BAFTA.  But apart from being able to write a sentence and tell a joke, I am spectacularly uncreative.  I can’t draw or paint to save my life and don’t have a musical bone in my body (apart from being able to knock out a passable rendition of Delilah after a few drinks!)

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

In terms of the technical aspects of writing, I think I am good on dialogue, probably as a result of watching films written by the likes of Billy Wilder and Woody Allen who are so good at capturing natural speech patterns. I am less good on long descriptive passages or passages of purple prose so you won’t find many of those in Ordinary Joe!  On the CurtisBrown Creative novel writing course I attended in the first half of 2013, we were told that authors tend to be either “writers” or “storytellers” – I am definitely more “storyteller” than “writer”.

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

When I was writing the first draft of Ordinary Joe I was very disciplined and used to take myself off to my writing room almost every evening after dinner and work for a couple of hours.  But, as the children got older, my writing room became Matthew’s bedroom and dinner got later and that space – both physically and temporally – got taken away from me.  As a result (he says, blaming everyone but himself!) I am now less disciplined, snatching writing opportunities whenever and wherever I can.  I generally write longhand first and then type up my notes periodically making a few changes as I do so, so that my first typewritten draft is (or should be) slightly better than a typical first draft.  This means that my writing is very portable – just a pencil and a notebook – so I write a lot in cafes and, sometimes, pubs.  Most writers I know like to write in almost total peace and quiet – I quite like having a bit of noise and distraction around me.

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

I have very varied taste.  Many of my favourite novels come from the post-war American ‘school’ of Joseph Heller, Philip Roth and John Updike etc but I also like some more modern writers such as John Irving, Stephen King and Ben Elton.  One of the unforeseen benefits of being published at my advanced age is that I have joined a group of similarly mature authors called The Prime Writers and have enjoyed many of their works, including Ridley Road by Jo Bloom, Galina Petrovna’s Three Legged Dog Story by Andrea Bennett and You, Me and Other People by Fionnuala Kearney, which are all excellent.  I also like to keep up with the classics from time to time – I am currently fighting my way through War and Peace – 750 pages in and the end is still nowhere in sight!

I couldn’t agree more about the Prime Writers – and I loved You, Me and Other People by Fionnuala Kearney too!

Why did you choose to set ‘Ordinary Joe’ in the world of film?

I spent almost 8 years working on the fringes of the film industry at the DCMS and BFI and the whole crazy business fascinated me.  I am also really interested by the whole idea of “talent” and how being famous affects people and the way they are treated by others.  This is what gave me the idea of dropping a very ordinary Joe Schmo into the middle of this strange world and seeing what would happen.  Several of the scenes are based on things that actually happened to me – for example, the opening film studio scene was inspired by meeting Martin Scorsese on the set of Gangs of New York.  Rather than continue to annoy my friends and family with my stories and name dropping, I thought it might be better to put them into a story – and attempt to entertain a wider audience!

You live in England. How did you go about researching detail to ensure your Hollywood setting was realistic?

Sadly, as a first time novelist, there was nobody waving an Amex card and saying you must fly to Hollywood to make sure you get all these details right!  All the scenes set in Los Angeles, New York and Cannes are based on real places that I visited, but all of them were more than ten years ago, so I had to draw deep on my memory banks to recreate them.  The post-premiere party in New York near the beginning of the book, for example, was based on a party I went to at The Inn on the Green in Central Park in around 2000.  Originally, I named this as the location in the novel but then discovered that it had closed down in about 2007 so I had to anonymise it instead.  One of the nicest compliments I received after Ordinary Joe was published was from a former colleague who had been with me on one trip to LA and recognised Buddy Guttenberg’s apartment as being based on a studio executive’s apartment that we had visited more than 15 years ago.

I think ‘Ordinary Joe’ would make a great TV, film or stage show. Does script writing appeal to you and do you write in other forms such as poetry?

Ordinary Joe has been optioned for a movie and is currently in development.  The producers allowed me to have a first go at adapting the novel for the screen but, although it was a pretty good script, it didn’t work well enough cinematically for them (basically I had stuck too closely to the novel without really re-imagining it for the big screen) so they are not taking that screenplay forward.  I really enjoyed working on it though and would like to have another go at screenwriting at some point especially as, I believe, dialogue is a strong element of my writing.

Oh. Congratulations. That all sounds very exciting.

How difficult is it to write comic scenes and how can you tell they are successful as you write?

I am either blessed or cursed with a ‘comic gene’. Pretty well all of my family are funny – my dad was a very fine amateur comic actor (he performed alongside people like Alfie Bass and Bill Owen in his youth) and my brother is a semi-professional stand-up comedian.  The blessing of this is that I don’t find it at all difficult to write comic scenes; the curse can be knowing when to stop.  There is quite a lot of pathos in Ordinary Joe so there has to be that light and shade to ensure that the more comic elements don’t crowd out the other emotions that I am hoping to inspire in the reader.  One of the obvious ways I could tell whether or not the comic scenes were working as I was writing them is whether they made me laugh.  This might sound a bit odd – like laughing at one’s own jokes – but when a scene is really flowing, comic elements emerge that I hadn’t planned or anticipated.  For example, in the scene where Joe West and his wife Natasha are arguing over a note he has received from Olivia Finch, one of the key lines came to me from completely out of the blue and still makes me laugh now.  Another important factor in determining whether or not they are successful is that they still work when you re-read them during the many editing stages – Ordinary Joe went through more than twenty drafts and I reckon that most of the deletions were to get rid of ‘jokes’ that either didn’t work or didn’t fit in with the developing characterisation of the main characters.  Some of my most interesting discussions with the Borough Press editorial team involved convincing them that a certain word or formulation of words was necessary in order to retain the humour of a particular sentence or passage.

‘Ordinary Joe’ has different covers for the UK and overseas audiences. Why is this and how did the covers come about?

I had very little input into the cover design which was the work of the design team at HarperCollins UK.  Fortunately I think it is brilliant – very eye-catching and bringing the themes of Joe West’s domestic life and the glamour of Hollywood together.  My editor at The Borough Press, Katie Espiner, wanted the domestic drama at the centre of the novel to be the key element and this is reflected in the UK cover. The cover design for the edition that will be published in Scandinavia next May focusses on the bright lights of a Hollywood premiere but then adds the incongruity of a man with a brief case stepping onto the read carpet.  It looks quite dark – more like a thriller than a comedy – but is still very effective and I hope it will do well.

I’m sure it will.

How far do you think Joe is a victim of his own actions and how far a victim of circumstances (but don’t give away the plot here please!)?

Joe is primarily a victim of his own inactions.  For me (and others may well disagree with me on this) Joe’s worst fault is that he is a coward – he dare not take the actions that might extricate him from the dreadful situation he has created because he is too scared of hurting people and dropping himself further in it.  Once he sets off on this track, like a skier on a black run, events take their own momentum and he becomes increasingly powerless to stop them.

Should ‘Ordinary Joe’ be made into a film, who would you cast as Joe and Natasha?

I really struggle with this question (and, thankfully, should the film be made this is not a decision that I will have any part in!)  I watched Tom Hardy’s extraordinary performance as both Kray twins in the film Legend the other day and decided that he could play ALL the main characters, including Natasha and Olivia!  Ideally Joe West would be played by a middle-aged, Jewish English actor but we don’t have many of those.  The bullying boss Joseph Bennett is easier to cast, I think. Several people have suggested that Benedict Cumberbatch could be perfect in the role, in which case, perhaps Martin Freeman could play Joe West and they could reprise the dynamic they have established in Sherlock?  Another interesting combination would be Hugh Bonneville as West and James Purefoy as Bennett – made more interesting by the fact that they were in the same year at school together.  Casting Hollywood superstar Olivia Finch is also very difficult as I have always imagined her being very young – certainly no more than 25 – which rules out many well established actresses.

You recently penned a short follow up to ‘Ordinary Joe’. How difficult is it to leave behind the characters you’ve created?

It is surprisingly hard.  I have been working with Joe West and the rest of them for more than eight years now and I know them all very well.  Starting to write new characters without simply making them new versions of the old ones is more difficult than I imagined.  The novel I have been working on featured a character who was a bit like Joe West as an 18 year old (he was also too close to the Will character in The Inbetweeners for comfort!) but I have put that one on the backburner now and have just started on something which I hope is very different and based around very different characters.  I did enjoy writing the short story following up on what happened to Joe West some months after the action in Ordinary Joe finished as it helped me to tie up a few ends that I’d left loose at the end of the novel.

I was delighted to read it too. 

The media is a strong iterative theme in your book. How important are various forms of media and social networking to new authors?

I think they are incredibly important. Facebook provides a very good opportunity to meet readers and potential readers – for example, thanks to Facebook I was able to offer the follow up short story as a sort of Christmas present to my loyal readers – and Twitter brings the possibility of engaging with a very wide audience.  One thing that has surprised me since Ordinary Joe was published in July is how hard I have had to work to promote the novel to potential audiences to augment the work that my publishers are also doing.  Much of it is good fun and I do enjoy engaging with audiences, but it can also be a distraction away from getting on with the new writing that I should be doing.

Blog readers can follow Jon on Twitter and on his Facebook page.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that ‘Ordinary Joe’ should be their next read, what would you say?

“Please, please, please buy my book – my children are starving!”

Or I would quote from your own lovely review of my book, Linda, and tell them that Ordinary Joe:

“will appeal to anyone who wants a well plotted, well written and highly entertaining read.”

And indeed it will, Jon! Blog readers can see my review of Ordinary Joe here

What can we expect next from Jon Teckman, and when?

I have had a couple of false starts on novel number 2 but I do now have a plan and a story and some interesting characters so my aim is to have a draft finished within the next three months. I only have a one book deal with The Borough Press so there is no guarantee that they will publish it – I just have to make it too good for them to turn down.  Given the long lead times involved in publishing, however, even if they love it, it is unlikely now that it would be published before the end of 2016. So, apologies, but you will just have to wait a little longer for the next Jon Teckman masterpiece!

I’m not sure I want to wait that long – get writing! I’d like to thank you so much for your time in answering my questions, Jon. I’ve found the answers fascinating.


American Housewife by Helen Ellis

American Housewife

My thanks to Elizabeth Preston at Simon ad Schuster UK for an advanced reader copy of ‘American Housewife’ by Helen Ellis in return for an honest review. ‘American Housewife’ is published by Scribner on 14th January 2016 and is available here in the UK and here in the US in both hardcover and ebook.

‘American Housewife’ by Helen Ellis is a collection of twelve short stories and commentaries written with a quirky eye for detail and often a cruel and incisive wit.

It’s genuinely difficult to define and review this collection as it lurches from one bizarre context to another mundane one in an instant so that reading it is like being on a roller coaster or watching a television sketch show. I think it is a book that will divide opinion but I really enjoyed it.

I found Helen Ellis’s writing original and hugely entertaining. I may have missed a few of the American nuances, but thought there was such intelligent wit in the stories. I laughed aloud several times and frequently wondered how Helen Ellis got away with some of the reference to real people and products. In one of her own tweets she says ‘I want to walk the line between tacky and fabulous’ and I think that is exactly what she has achieved with this collection.

There are several distinct voices, but the perpectives are all female so that men play a secondary role. Frequently the tone is sassy and acerbic so that reading ‘American Housewife’ is a little like eavesdropping a particularly bitchy conversation. There is murder and intrigue, love and deception. That said, there is also the full range of emotions such as sadness in The Fitter and empathy in Dumpster Driving with the Stars. As I read I kept thinking I’d just read one more as the writing drew me in and entertained me.

‘American Housewife’ would be fabulous for anyone feeling jaded at the end of a working day who wants genuinely original writing that can be read and enjoyed on a commute. American Housewife is hugely satisfying.

You can find out more about these stories and make your own mind up by following @WhatIDoAllDay

The Queen’s Choice by Anne O’Brien

The Queen's Choice

Although I am hosting a question and answer session with Anne O’Brien on January 12th 2016 as part of the launch of her novel ‘The Queen’s Choice’, I could not wait to share my thoughts about this wonderful book. It is published by Mira on 14th January 2016 in hardback and is available to order here in the UK and here in the US.

In October 1396, Joanna of Navarre meets Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby, for the first time. Their mutual attraction will lead to a marriage that will shape the course of history.

I knew a little about this period of English history, but Anne O’Brien has educated me further with a skill and flair that is outstanding. Historical details and facts underpin effortlessly the relationships, both political and personal, of those living in the early 1400s. This is a book that has been meticulously researched and beautifully written.

Anne O’Brien’s attention to the smallest elements means that there is a tapestry of perfection in her words for even the most demanding reader. There is a feast for the senses as the settings are described. We hear the lutes playing, taste the wines, smell the herbs, touch the soft furs and see the pennants billowing in the wind so that it is like stepping into history rather than reading a narrative. There is incredible skill in the way the past is brought to life.

But for me, the greatest joy in reading ‘The Queen’s Choice’ is the quality of the characterisation. I cared deeply for Joanna and Henry, even when they were at their most recalcitrant and stubborn. I felt their frustrations, their despair and their passion along with them so that I found myself thinking about them when I wasn’t reading the book. I kept hastening back to it at every opportunity. I think it Joanna’s first person perspective that makes the book so compelling.

It is no exaggeration to say I loved ‘The Queen’s Choice’. Anyone who enjoys historical fiction (and indeed, a cracking love story,) will love it too.

You can follow Anne O’Brien on Twitter and find out more about her on her web site.

The celebrations for this wonderful book begin on Monday 11th January 2016. Be sure to have a look.

TQC Blog Tour

Author Interview with Ike Pius

bomber boy

Hi. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on Linda’s Book Bag.

Pleased beyond measure to be here, dear Linda!

Firstly, please could you imagine we are on a one minute speed date and tell me a little about yourself?

Okay, I am going to go further and imagine that you are sitting across
a table from me, at a restaurant, wearing a lovely dress, and a lovely
smile, and sipping some red liquid from a glass. Then I would say to
you: I am a simple guy with a dream, or rather a guy who lives for a
dream. A dream to affect the world positively. A dream to do something
above the material. This is why I wake up every morning. I could go on
but I don’t want to creep you out. Hehehehe

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

I was about 15 when I read a book: ‘Sunset at Dawn,’ written by
Chukwuemeka Ike. The book was a satire on the Nigeria-Biafra war,
which was a bloody genocide against my people. I remember starting to
write a story immediately after I put that book down. I never finished
that story though… and I cannot even remember why, but anybody who
reads ‘Bomber Boy’, and then wonders why I wrote a funny story about
something so sensitive should blame Chukwuemeka Ike because he
affected the life of a 15 year old many years ago.

If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

Maybe I would have gone deeper into music. I have stood on a stage,
singing for free to a crowd of people whose laughter I could not
interpret. Till this day I wonder if they laughed at me or with me.

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

I read articles on the subject, I ask questions from well travelled
oldtimers who may have knowledge about the subject I am writing about.
I also try to travel to various locations so as to get a feel of the
environment- although I must confess that this is not always possible.

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

Dialogue. You have read ‘Bomber Boy’ and so you know I pretty much
avoided dialogue. This perhaps due to my personal failing as a talker.

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

When I have just woken from a refreshing night’s sleep, I hear a voice
inside my head, it talks to me. I have called it my higher self in a
previous interview and this must not be far from the truth because I
wrote most of ‘Bomber Boy’ in one sitting, on one fine morning.

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

I have read Julius Caesar’s ‘The Conquest of Gaul’ more times than I
can remember. I am currently re-reading ‘Lord of the Golden Fan’ by
Christopher Nichole, and I like to read blogs on the internet.

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

Not interests but passions. If you have seen the kind of suffering I
have seen, you want to do your bit to help your people. My pen is my
sword, and everybody who reads my books becomes my soldier… Not
everybody, actually, some have taken it upon themselves to ruin me.
Just Google ‘Bomber Boy, Ike Pius,’ you may get the picture.

Why did you choose to write about terrorism in ‘Bomber Boy’?

I wanted to write something to promote my book ‘The Paradise that
Was,’ and one morning I found myself writing. The rest, they say is

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that ‘Bomber Boy’ should be their next read, what would you say?

Pick up Bomber Boy as a story, but find yourself joining a movement of Change.

How important do you think social media is for new authors?

Social Media is the future. Embrace it, immerse yourself in it, be
part of it. Social Media provides an almost level playing ground for
everyone. The rich, the poor… Everyone!

What advice would you give to others who are just starting their writing career?

It takes a lot of patience.

Is there anything else you  wish you had been asked and would like to answer in this interview?

I would like readers (particularly those of African origin) to pay
attention to the Afterword  which is often overlooked by reviewers. I
pour out my heart, my soul, my life into that. Please read it!

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

Thank you so much, Linda, I hope one day we can have a bigger better date.


You can read my review of Bomber Boy here and you can follow Ike Pius on Twitter. His books are available to buy here in the UK and here in the US.

Look At Me by Sarah Duguid

Look at me

I am incredibly indebted to Georgina Moore at Headline for an advanced reader copy of Sarah Duguid’s ‘Look At Me’ in return for an honest review. It is published by Tinder Press in hardback, audio and ebook on 25th February 2016. ‘Look At Me’ is available for pre-order here in the UK and here in the US.

Elizabeth’s mother is dead. Her father, Julian, has a daughter by another woman. When Lizzie decides to make contact with her half-sister Eunice, having found a letter from Eunice in Julian’s drawer, she is perhaps making the biggest mistake of her life.

From the moment I read the prologue to the final line that left me wondering if the book had actually ended as I wanted, as the characters needed or in a manner that was possibly unfair to them all, I loved ‘Look At Me’.

There is an iterative image of the theatre that runs through the book so intelligently. It is divided into the classical five acts, for example, and Lizzie is herself an actress, but so too are many of the others even without knowing it. The whole of life, and death, is exposed as an act or performance. The title ‘Look At Me’ can refer to so many moments and people that the book couldn’t be more fittingly named. The psychological need for attention, for others to ‘look at me’, is so deftly written that it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel.

Although hate is a strong word, I can honestly say I hated Eunice from the moment she was introduced. She is gloriously invidious and I wanted to step into the pages and slap her – hard. But Sarah Duguid has created the full range of tragic heroes. Every character is realistically flawed and every character is utterly believable. Indeed, Sarah Duguid’s writing is so compelling that the feelings of grief, of need and of longing thrum like electricity through the narrative. I found the prose hypnotic so that there is a creepiness that builds and builds until it is impossible to leave the book alone. I read it in one go.

A further delight is the author’s attention to detail. She is like a painter with words, skilfully creating  the physical appearances of the people, the sounds, scents and sights of the surroundings. I could taste the gin on my tongue and smell pot in the air in the heat of the summer in this amazingly well crafted novel.

It’s hard to convey the quality of ‘Look At Me’. Essentially the plot is quite simple, but it is the depth of understanding of relationships that make it brilliant. Sarah Duguid’s writing is so good that I’m sure it will resonate with anyone who reads it. I can’t recommend ‘Look At Me’ highly enough.

You can follow Sarah Duguid on Twitter and her web site

All Hallows at Eyre Hall by Luccia Gray

All hallows

I was fortunate to be given a copy of ‘All Hallows at Eyre Hall’, book one in the ‘Eyre Hall Trilogy’, by the author, Luccia Gray, in return for an honest review. All Hallows at Eyre Hall is available to buy here in the UK and here in the US.

The novel is a sequel to Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ set some 23 years after the end of the original text as Edward Rochester is approaching death. It is written to explore and develop what might have been the real events and personalities behind the Bronte work.

Initially I found the multiple first person perspectives slightly confusing but as soon as I adjusted to the rhythms of the narrative I found they added depth and perspective so that I had a much fuller understanding of the motivations of the characters.

The characters themselves are skilfully drawn so that lovers of the original text can find echoes of them. However, they are developed fully – sometimes in surprising ways – so that ‘All Hallows at Eyre Hall’ is so much more than a mere follow up. It works equally well as a stand alone novel. Some readers may find the human fallibility of their favourite characters difficult to accept but I thought these elements were really well presented so that I believed in them totally.

I like the way Luccia Gray uses an appropriate linguistic style so that the story feels like a natural progression and it fits the era of its setting. There are several references to writing, from real life famous authors, through Jane Eyre’s own writing, to homages to Emily Bronte as well as Charlotte that I found particularly interesting.

The element that works best of all is the cracking plot. Luccia Gray has constructed a fast paced story that certainly builds on elements from ‘Jane Eyre’, but that is exciting and engaging in its own right.

I’d defy lovers of the Brontes to read ‘All Hallows at Eyre Hall’and not appreciate what a well crafted and interesting read it is. I’m really looking forward to reading the second in the trilogy ‘Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall’ very soon.

twelfth night at eyre hall

I have a fascinating guest piece from Luccia Gray that you can read here

You can find out more about Luccia Gray and the Eyre Hall Trilogy on the web site and you can follow the author on Twitter

Author Interview with Donna Fletcher Crow

All-Consuming Fire

I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed one of Donna Fletcher Crow’s ‘Monastery Murder Series’ books, ‘A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary’, my review of which you can see here. I was delighted when Donna agreed to be interviewed for Linda’s Book Bag.

Hi Donna. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your book  ‘A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary’, the fourth in your Monastery Murder series, and about your writing in general.

Firstly, please could you imagine we are on a one minute speed date and tell me a little about yourself?

Hi, I’m Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, with 46 books to my credit; wife of Stanley Crow with 4 children and 14 grandchildren to our credit.

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

I designed and “wrote” my first series of novels when I was about 10 years old, but what I really wanted to be was a reader— writing came as an off-shoot of that. Ironically, now I don’t have nearly enough time for reading.

If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead as a creative outlet?

I was an English teacher before I became a full time writer. My creative outlet is now dabbling in my rose garden.

(I’m with you in the gardening too.)

I know you pride yourself on visiting the settings for your books. How else do you go about researching detail and ensuring your books are realistic?

I try never to write about a place I haven’t visited, but since I live several thousand miles away from my British settings I sometimes find I’ve over-looked something when on location. Sometimes I can find what I need by surfing the web, but my best source is to put out a query to one of the UK writers’ groups I belong to online.

Which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult and is plotting still a bugbear?

Research is always the most fun, so I suppose that makes it easiest, too. Writing rough drafts is the hair-pulling part of the job—and, yes, plotting the hardest part of that dreaded first draft.

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

I have a wonderful office that I love, it has a plaid carpet, a Celtic knotwork border around the ceiling and a Fletcher plaid hanging at the window. It’s a good thing I love it here because it’s where I spend most of every day. When I’m not babysitting a grandchild I start the day with tea and morning prayers here about 9:00 every morning and don’t break until my husband and I stop for afternoon tea around 3:00, then I’m back up here until I need to fix dinner.  That’s ideal, but, honestly, life doesn’t let me have that many uninterrupted days.

It sounds wonderful.

When you’re not writing, I know you like to read English classics. Who is your favourite writer, why do you like them and how have they influenced your own writing?

Jane Austen. No contest. I fell in love with her as a teenager—long before the movies, Colin Firth in a wet shirt, and all the adaptations and spin-offs. I am still enthralled with her lively characters, her humour and the wonderful settings that are exactly where I would love to live. I am a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America.

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

My love of history, especially British history, is what spurred my writing. Almost all of my books have begun with a story or historical character I heard of or read about. Wanting to tell that story drives my writing.

Why do you think death has been such a focus for your writing rather than another subject?

Of course, all murder mysteries deal with death and A Newly Crimson Reliquary especially so because it is set during All Saints and All Souls days. Actually, though, I would say that the beauty and goodness of life is the focus of my writing. The dark simply serves to emphasize the light. When a victim is murdered— and often they are very good people—I always try to express the tragedy of a life lost then bring order from the chaos and return to the goodness of life. I suppose it’s philosophical because I do believe that Good will triumph and the light will shine no matter how dark some days may seem. Oh, dear, I hope that doesn’t sound too Pollyanna.

A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary

Not at all!

Where did the inspiration for the characters of Felicity and Antony come from?

Thank you for asking! I do love to share the fact that Felicity’s background is my daughter’s story: An American woman who studied classics at Oxford, didn’t enjoy teaching school in London, went off to a monastery in Yorkshire to study theology and married a priest. The huge difference is in the two women’s personalities because, fortunately, my daughter is sweet, obedient and devout—a lovely daughter, but a very boring heroine. I got about 10 pages into my first Monastery Murder with Felicity acting that way and realized it would never work, so I essentially flipped Elizabeth’s personality and made Felicity headstrong, rash, stubborn and a lot of fun to work with.

Antony is a compsite of several priests I have known as well as his own fictional personality.

There’s quite a strong religious element in ‘A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary’. How far is spirituality important to you as an individual as well as a theme within your writing?

Very important both to my life and my writing. I am a Companion of the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield, which provides an enrichment for my Anglican spirituality and also serves as a model for my fictional Community of the Transfiguration.  Just as I wouldn’t want to write about a place I’ve never visited, I also would not want to try to develop a thematic background such as the world of liturgical worship without experiencing it personally. There are simply too many pitfalls for getting things wrong. Even with my own experience I still rely on my priest son-in-law for backup.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that one of your books should be their next read, what would you say?

I would quote one of my reviewers: “A truly great mystery . . . Not only a fun read but also a learning experience.”

I think I’d agree!

Is there a question you would like to answer that you haven’t been asked?

I would love to tell your readers about my newest Monastery Murder which just came out this week:  An All-Consuming Fire. Felicity is counting the days until their Christmastide wedding and Antony is narrating a documentary for the BBC. As if Felicity’s difficult mother’s attempts to stage a royal wedding aren’t trouble enough, Felicity takes on directing an Epiphany pageant for Kirkthorpe’s troubled youth and then the murderer stalking the Yorkshire moors moves closer to home.


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

Thank you, Linda. It’s been a delight to be here. I love having a chance to meet new readers and your questions were really good ones. Anyone who wants to know more can visit my website at or follow me on Facebook.

Guest Post by Luccia Gray, author of the Eyre Hall Trilogy

All hallows

Whilst at university I wrote my dissertation on the endings in Charlotte Bronte’s novels, so when I heard Luccia Gray had written a continuation of the story I was intrigued. I’m currently half way through ‘All Hallows at Eyre Hall’, the first book in a trilogy following the events of ‘Jane Eyre’ and loving it. It is available to buy here in the UK and here in the US.

As I was so curious, I asked Lucccia Gray if she would be prepared to be a guest on Linda’s Book Bag to tell us more about her writing and luckily she agreed.

Writing The Eyre Hall Trilogy


Luccia Gray

A writer is a person who loves to write, and I’ve loved writing all my life. I’ve written poems, short stories, diaries, essays, even novels, but I never took myself seriously as a writer. It was ‘merely’ a hobby, or an outlet for my need to express myself creatively. I dismissed writing professionally as a fantasy, and relegated it to an obscure corner, as a secret and intimate distraction.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I realized I wanted to write professionally, which basically means sharing my writing openly with readers, but it took a long time!

When I left college in my twenties, I got a ‘proper’ steady job as a teacher, married and had three children. In my fifties, my children had grown up, left home and had children of their own, and I was back to square one.

I had more time for myself, which I spent mostly reading, thinking and writing. I realized that there had always been something missing in my life. Kafka was right: A non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. I had kept insanity at bay, looking after my family and working hard to pay the mortgage, but once both jobs were done, I had to face my own needs and monsters. I needed to write a novel.

At that time, about five years ago, I was lecturing at the University of Córdoba on Postcolonial Literature in English. One of the topics on the syllabus was a contrastive analysis of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Jean Rhys’s prequel, Wide Sargasso Sea. We discussed the conflicting views and approaches to colonialism, gender issues, life and literature in the 19th and 20th centuries, embodied in both novels. I took part in a conference at the University of Malaga, and published a chapter in a book, Identities on the move: Contemporary representations of new sexualities and gender identities. My chapter is, Sexuality and gender relationships in ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’. My central concern was the madwoman in the attic, Bertha Mason, also the first, silenced and confined, Mrs. Rochester, who became the protagonist in Wide Sargasso Sea.

During the summer holidays, 2013, I started my novel. I wanted to write a novel which would pay tribute to the great writers of the 19th and 20th centuries. However, I also wanted to write back to them, in a metafictional and intertextual way, by using their characters and plots, and taking advantage of the spaces they left in their writing. So, I worked my way between the lines of their novels and their lives, delving into their minds and reinterpreting their meaning, going beyond their words and even, perhaps irreverently, beyond their conscious intentions. You’ll find the characters, plots, and lives of the Brontes, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Jane Austen, Robert Browning, Thomas de Quincy, George Elliot, Conan Doyle, Tennyson, and more, popping up in assorted guises, throughout the novels!

Writing The Eyre Hall Trilogy is about growing up intellectually and emotionally, as a reader and a writer. It’s about questioning what was written, what was meant to be understood, and what remains for the 21st century reader. In this case, it’s about taking Mr. Rochester to task and exposing him as the villain he was in Jane Eyre, and would probably have continued to be after their first years of marriage and the arrival of their children. I am convinced Rochester would not have allowed any rivalry for Jane Eyre’s affections, but I am even more convinced that Jane would not have been content to be a devoted wife to such a dark character, so I offered her a chance of self-fulfillment and happiness out of Rochester’s grasp.

I envisaged a Jane who is passionate about education, orphans, social work, and writing novels. Jane represents the modern, open-minded, socially conscious, and groundbreaking Victorians, such as Charles Dickens and George Elliot. Rochester, on the other hand, is deeply rooted in more narrow-minded, patriarchal and imperialistic endeavors of the traditional landed gentry of the time. Jane and Edward would have clashed. I have no doubt about it, because the other option is unacceptable to me. I have refused to accept that Jane would have become an old-fashioned, traditional, wealthy Victorian lady.

I have plunged Jane head-on into discovering the distressing truth about her husband, which she already suspected, but ignored while she was love-struck. In the Eyre Hall Trilogy, she is a mature and passionate, forty-year-old woman, who is managing the Estate, due to her husband’s illness and is determined to improve the lives of others. Jane is given a new lease on life, however, as all personal transitions, the emotional cost is high.

Overall, I wanted to write an exciting, mysterious, suspenseful and romantic novel, set in Victorian England. It’s the type of novel I’d love to read myself, because it’s exciting, challenging, and intriguing. In spite of being set in the 19th century, the approach and pace of the novel is contemporary. The action takes place over a short period, a few weeks, although there are flashbacks to earlier events. It has multiple first person narrators, so that the narrative is recreated by a mosaic of varied characters, some of which appeared in Jane Eyre, and others, which are my own creations. I’m sure readers will enjoy this entertaining journey into Victorian England.


Luccia is absolutely right. If you’ve read ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘The Wide Sargasso Sea’, ‘All Hallows at Eyre Hall’ is definitely a must read. I’m loving it and will be reviewing it soon. 

You can find out more about Luccia Gray and the Eyre Hall Trilogy on the web site and you can follow the author on Twitter

An Unfamiliar Murder by Jane Isaac Cover Reveal

An unfamiliar murder

I an delighted to be sharing with you the fabulous cover for Jane Isaac’s ‘An Unfamiliar Murder‘ which will be re-released on March 1st 2016.

Arriving home from a routine day at work, Anna Cottrell has no idea that her life is about to change forever. But discovering the stabbed body of a stranger in her flat, then becoming prime suspect in a murder inquiry is only the beginning. Her persistent claims of innocence start to crumble when new evidence links her irrevocably with the victim…

Leading her first murder investigation, DCI Helen Lavery unravels a trail of deception, family secrets and betrayal. When people close to the Cottrell family start to disappear, Lavery is forced into a race against time. Can she catch the killer before he executes his ultimate victim?

About the Author

Jane Isaac

Jane Isaac lives with her husband and daughter in rural Northamptonshire, UK where she can often be found trudging over the fields with her Labrador, Bollo. Her first novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, was nominated as best mystery in the ‘eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook awards 2013.’ The sequel, The Truth Will Out, was selected as a ‘Thriller of the Month –April 2014’ by Her latest book, Before It’s Too Late, was published by Legend Press on 1st June 2015.

In 2016 Jane will be re-releasing An Unfamiliar Murder on 1st of March. Also, Legend Press will be publishing her new title, Beneath the Ashes, on 1st November 2016.

Jane was runner up ‘Writers Bureau Writer of the Year 2013’ and her short stories have appeared in several anthologies. When she is not writing, Jane loves to travel and spend time with her family. She believes life should be an adventure.

You can follow Jane Isaac on Twitter and her web site.