Pee Wee The Christmas Tree by George Wells and illustrated by Denis Prouix

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As it’s almost December I think it’s high time to start thinking about Christmas so I’m pleased to be reviewing Pee Wee the Christmas Tree on Linda’s Book Bag today. Pee Wee the Christmas Tree was published on 5th July 2016 and is available for purchase here.

Pee Wee The Christmas Tree

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For years, Pee Wee has lived in the shadow of the bigger trees on the Christmas farm. Without enough sunlight to grow tall and strong, he has been forced to watch helplessly as the other bigger and more attractive trees are picked every year, going home with a happy family. Just as Pee Wee is about to give up hope that he will ever get the chance to bring joy to a family during the holiday season, he is finally cut down to be sold!

After years of waiting, Pee Wee is disappointed to find that he is still overlooked by customers wanting fuller trees to  decorate. With his dream of celebrating Christmas with a family of his own fading fast, he is at last discovered by two children who tell their father that they found one that is the perfect size. Driven back to their home and adorned with lights and decorations, Pee Wee is finally able to accomplish his life’s big dream: to make children happy at Christmas!

Pee Wee the Christmas Tree by George Wells is the perfect story for young kids this holiday season, encouraging them to never give up on their own dreams and proving that – large or small – there is room for us all.

My Review of Pee Wee the Christmas Tree

Poor Pee Wee. He’s so much smaller than all the other Christmas trees that he’s always overlooked.

In the interests of honesty and integrity I have to begin by getting some negatives out of the way about Pee Wee the Christmas Tree. There are a couple of editing errors that have crept in to the book that affect the sense of the narrative such as ‘he overlooked once more’ rather than ‘he was overlooked once more’ and ‘though’ for ‘thought’. I would prefer an apostrophe before ’cause’ when it means ‘because’ too. My ex-literacy consultant head struggled with the change from past tense to present and then past again at the end of the book and I always prefer children’s books not to be written entirely in upper case letters as, when we teach writing, we don’t want children to write that way so it’s better to exemplify what we do want.

However, those personal grouches aside, I thought Pee Wee The Christmas Tree was a lovely heartwarming tale with a positive message just right for sharing with children at Christmas. There’s a super message that all of us, no matter what size, have something to offer as Pee Wee makes the family happy at Christmas. There’s much to discuss with children, such as how when we ignore someone we can make them unhappy and lonely so that young children are learning lovely positive messages. I think it’s admirable to teach children that making others happy is the best gift we can have and that we can achieve our dreams no matter how small we are.

The illustrations are an absolute triumph with vibrant, bright colours that children will love. Again, I think there is a great educational value here as it would be good to develop numeracy by counting the presents under Pee Wee when he finally finds a home and the lights strung across him.

Pee Wee The Christmas Tree is a jolly Christmas tale.

You’ll find George Wells on Twitter and more about Pee Wee on Facebook. There are more reviews from these other bloggers too:

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An Interview with Jon Beattiey, author of Mary’s Legacy

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I’m pleased to welcome Jon Beattiey, author of Mary’s Legacy, to Linda’s Book Bag today. Mary’s Legacy is published by Tregertha Imprints and is available for purchase directly from Jon here.

As well as interviewing Jon about his writing, I’m sharing one of Jon’s poems.

Mary’s Legacy

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. . . She died, and left her film art-director husband Donald with the prospect of a life on his own. Twenty-five years of love and companionship destroyed by an insidious fatal illness.

In the train northbound to his remote cottage in the Lakes he reflects on her passing, on the resolute way she faced death and her last instruction echoes through his head.

find a girl who needs someone like you”

His love for her is stronger than death and her spirit, her indomitable sprit, is always there, in his mind, in the way he sees her presence in every place, every action throughout the forthcoming days,  How can he possibly be expected to ‘find another girl’?

But he does, when one member of a party of walkers gets into trouble on the path near his cottage and he can’t help but become involved . . .

Can dark-haired Paula truly fill the space Mary left and allow him to fulfil her last request? The story follows the pair as they develop a relationship built around the perceived spiritual presence of Donald’s deceased Mary.

From the depths of the Lake District to the strange world of Pinewood Studios, with a glance into daughter Sarah’s Parisian world of haute couture, a film’s conception moves to the beautiful location work in Puglia (Southern Italy) where we meet the lovely Michaela and then on to a prestigious film launch. . .

A surprisingly intense and beautiful story of how a love can become more dominant than death; it will inspire and strengthen awareness of the power of the stubborn human spirit in a fascinating and most readable way.

An Interview with Jon Beattiey

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Jon. Tell me, how did you begin writing?

The first novel took shape after a foray into the damp February countryside (2006) where I met a lone lady horse-rider who offered a lovely smile – and wove a story around the meeting once home and sitting in front of the screen . . . only ten years and twelve novels ago! This must have been pre-destined – though a ‘hands-on’ person and creative in many ways, writing has become an all-absorbing pastime.  My mother wrote, but not professionally.  I still own a number of her prize books.

How do you conduct your research for your many novels?

Most of the detail and backdrop for novels comes from a lifetime of experience; I feel sorry for the bright young budding authors who haven’t had the benefit of life.  They can’t possibly weave the same depth of story.

Your novels have strong female protagonists. Why do you write from this perspective?

I write ‘relationship’ fiction (not ROMANCE as in M & B!) so the ‘ladies’ must figure strongly – a story wouldn’t be the same without its leading lady and they allow one to develop intrigue.  There are strong male characters too – Peter in Windblow, Andrew in the Manor Trilogy, Jones in Seeking, Jack in Greays Hill, Peregrine in Melisande  etc.

Which element of writing do you feel is most important?

The setting for a novel is all-important.  It must be right for the story, and essentially correct so readers can, if necessary, identify with the area.  Sometimes the backdrop dictates the twist of the story.  Melisande is a case in point.

What is the most difficult aspect of writing do you think?

Finding the right moment to take the story on as there are other factors that dictate the time available.  I don’t have any routine; I’ll add a sentence, a phrase, a paragraph or a thousand words according to mood, time and circumstance.  It’s mostly behind the cosy desk in our library, with a view over the garden.

Which of your books is your favourite?

I’m often asked ‘which is your favourite book” – the answer is often ‘the one I’m writing.  I loved writing Twelve Girls (over three/four years, a ‘Girl’ at a time), ‘Seeking’ was also a joy to write – it flowed beautifully and was set around my old school haunts – and Greays Hill is a ‘Tour-de-force’ of childhood memories which unexpectedly became the HNA’s Book of the Month on publication.  It is also beautifully printed, with chapter illustrations too.  A joy to hold and thumb pages . . .  and I’m proud of ‘em all.

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

Well, with so many books thrown at me by different publishers it’s difficult to choose.  Now and again one appears that grips me,  Kashmir Shawl by Rosie Thomas comes to mind – or Nine Pins by Rosy Thornton – there are many others who share my philosophy on plot and backdrop.  Sadly, there so many that are ‘also-rans’ because they are ‘written to the clock’ by writers contracted to mainstream publishers and have little depth to them.

What other interests do you have that inspire your writing?

Walking: it’s odd how, when out and about, little incidents produce story lines.  The Contour novel (first of a trilogy) followed meeting that lady rider.  Seeking was inspired by the glance from one late-teenage girl from a group leaving a senior school across a road in Stamford.  Melisande came from an intriguing European fairy-tale – and the latest one – 6,500 words so far – from a chance remark from a bookseller in Ballyvaughan, an Irish town on the Co. Clare coast.

Tell us a bit about the mentoring  you do.

Driven by the oft-quoted comments from young people “how do you manage to produce such lovely stories’, I offered to ‘teach’ one young lady who said ‘I wish I’d had you as my English teacher at school’ – and it went on from there.  She’s since been published.

If you had to be a character from one of your books, who would you choose?

Difficult question.  Each one has an individualistic streak, so I’d probably say I’d pinch a bit from most of them – the best bits!  Though many debut writers will have some autobiographical traits written unconsciously into their stories, I’ve taken pains to ensure this isn’t the case.  Life tells you which aspects of one’s character are likeable, and what isn’t – and this helps when drafting a protagonist’s c.v.  I do love the girls though – each and every one of the dozens I’ve invented.  The great thing is, you can tell them what to do and they don’t argue  . . . though I once killed one off, lost sleep over her demise and so had to write her back into life. An author’s power of resurrection!

How would you feel about one of your books being turned into a film?

Turning a book into a film?  Dream world.  I worked with Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros as a location provider in the ‘80’s for some notable films (Aliens, Batman) and had I been writing then, who knows what might have happened – I had the ear of the directors!  Since then, I’ve used the backdrop of the film world in Mary’s Legacy, an emotional write because it covers the death of a lovely girl from cancer and how her film art-director husband is able to turn her loss into bringing another woman back to a proper life from what could have been despair.  That might make a superb and topical film – as would Greay’s Hill – in fact a notable reviewer has suggested it.  (A copy is currently sitting in a production office in Hollywood!)  I also had a comment from a BBC producer that Twelve Girls would make an excellent ‘Two series of six episodes’ – but I’m still waiting!

And how would you describe a Jon Beattiey book in 15 words?

Different, believable, heartfelt, ‘proper English’, no overt swearing or clumsy sex.  Charming characters, beautiful backdrops.

Finally, I’d like to share one of Jon’s poems today:

In Memoriam, Pace.

 For every life there is a living, for every death there is a giving.

Giving life to death is heartache, yet,

Death is part of life, to understand may leave us empty,

Until the reason of the parting gives sense to life,

And to the gift that God has taken.

 

This we must accept; each one must sacrifice our love,

So life can then again become us;

To journey on towards our destiny,

And live, knowing that we have given

Our best, our love, to God.

 

We mourn, as mere mortals do, the gift now taken from us.

The greater gift, the greater depth of loss,

Though we should not grieve too long, too deep, for

That life, that gift, has found a better place,

And in so doing,

Leaves us the room to construct yet more gifts

To offer God, in time’s fulfilment.

About Jon Beattiey

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Jon Beattiey has a long-term background of industry in the management of people and property. He did three years with the National Trust, having responsibility for the care and conservation of a major property in Surrey and now runs both a mail-order business and a B & B with his wife. Jon is a prolific writer, copy editor and reviewer, even on a number of occasions beating The Times to  influential reviews, which included a Booker prize winning novel.  Also, on the ‘reading’ panel for a National Book Award and monitoring submissions to a major publisher of women’s’ fiction, Jon successfully mentors up and coming new writers, undertakes school tutorials and focuses on young people’s literary development.  When possible, he loves to travel by train across Europe yet still likes to explore out-of-the-way places in the UK for story ideas.

Jon now lives in Bedfordshire with his wife Sue, has three grown -up children, each with youngsters of their own. He enjoys gardening, long walks in open country and the challenge of writing in all its aspects, including poetry.  He participates in Literary Festivals when time allows, gives talks on a variety of literary subjects and has lost count of the number of book-signings undertaken.  Jon loves well-bound volumes, well-run second-hand and independent bookshops, hates e-books, heavy discounting and worries about the over-use of mobile devices that diminish true social interaction.

You can find out more about Jon on his website and find him on Facebook.

Winter – An Anthology for the Changing Seasons edited by Melissa Harrison

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I am indebted to Alison Menzies Publicity for a copy of Winter – An Anthology for the Changing Seasons edited by Melissa Harrison in return for an honest review. Winter – An Anthology for the Changing Seasons was published by Elliott and Thompson in conjunction with the Wildlife Trusts on 20th October 2016 and is available from all good book sellers including online here.

I was previously privileged to read Summer – An Anthology for the Changing Seasons and you can find that review here.

The boxed set of all four seasons is available here.

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Winter – An Anthology for the Changing Seasons

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Winter is a withdrawal: quiet and dark and cold. But in the dim light frost shimmers, stars twinkle and hearths blaze as we come together to keep out the chill. In spite of the season, life persists: visiting birds fill our skies, familiar creatures find clever ways to survive, and the world reveals winter riches to those willing to venture outdoors.

In prose and poetry spanning seven hundred years, Winter delights in the brisk pleasures and enduring beauty of the year’s turning. Featuring new writing from Patrick Barkham, Satish Kumar and Anita Sethi, extracts from the work of Robert Macfarlane, James Joyce and Kathleen Jamie, and a range of exciting new voices from across the UK, this invigorating collection evokes the joys and the consolations of this magical time of year.

My Review of Winter –

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I’m finding it difficult to review Winter – An Anthology for the Changing Seasons without repeating all my praise for Summer too.

Once again this anthology is an absolute delight. There really is something for everyone, regardless of whether the reader likes poetry or prose, modern or classical literature, essay or diary.

I found a warming familiarity through the inclusion of old favourites like Hardy’s The Darkling Thrush or Dickens’s Bleak House as these pieces brought back memories from my past as well as reminding me of the season of winter. However, I also found real delight in newer passages from authors I have never encountered before. Emma Kemp’s piece on her walk with her dog, Luka, for example evoked such a strong feeling of solitude and foreboding that it made goosebumps appear on my arms. The senses are indeed, so well catered for in this anthology.

Although each piece is in the anthology on merit, there were a few new to me pieces that resonated with me completely so that I felt the writer had looked into my soul and understood me. Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s letter to Mrs Beecroft summed up exactly how I feel about the winter so that I too believe I am one of those creatures that sleep all winter. I loved too, learning new aspects of nature and new words like ‘broal’ in Jen Hadfileld’s poem that embarrassingly I hadn’t encountered before. Not only does Winter – An Anthology for the Changing Seasons entertain delightfully, it educates too.

The only way to convey just how glorious this book is, is to say, just buy it. I think these anthologies are outstanding, with such rich and eclectic selections, that they are an absolute must for nature lovers everywhere.

About the Editor Melissa Harrison

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Melissa Harrison is a writer and nature lover whose first novel Clay (2013) won the Portsmouth First Fiction prize, was selected for Amazon’s ‘Rising Stars’ programme and  named by Ali Smith as a book of the year. Her second, At Hawthorn Time (2015), was shortlisted for the Costa Best Novel Award and chosen by the Telegraph as one of their Books of the Year; both books are as much about the natural world as they are about people. She writes the Nature Notebook in The Times and regularly speaks about conservation, literature, and the very fertile ground between the two.

You can follow Melissa Harrison on Twitter or visit her website.

The Timeless Allure of Fairy Tales, a Guest Post by David Meredith, author of The Reflections of Queen Snow White

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This post comes with an enormous apology to David Meredith, author of The Reflections of Queen Snow White, as I promised a slot to David on Linda’s Book Bag way back in May and personal events so overtook me I completely forgot to put it out. Putting that omission right, David is today telling us all about the timeless allure of fairy tales and their incredible impact and relevance in today’s society.

The Reflections of Queen Snow White is available for purchase in e-book on your local Amazon site.

The Reflections of Queen Snow White

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On the eve of her only daughter, Princess Raven’s wedding, an aging Snow White finds it impossible to share in the joyous spirit of the occasion. The ceremony itself promises to be the most glamorous social event of the decade. Snow White’s castle has been meticulously scrubbed, polished and opulently decorated for the celebration. It is already nearly bursting with jubilant guests and merry well-wishers. Prince Edel, Raven’s fiancé, is a fine man from a neighboring kingdom and Snow White’s own domain is prosperous and at peace. Things could not be better, in fact, except for one thing:

The king is dead.

The queen has been in a moribund state of hopeless depression for over a year with no end in sight. It is only when, in a fit of bitter despair, she seeks solitude in the vastness of her own sprawling castle and climbs a long disused and forgotten tower stair that she comes face to face with herself in the very same magic mirror used by her stepmother of old.

It promises her respite in its shimmering depths, but can Snow White trust a device that was so precious to a woman who sought to cause her such irreparable harm? Can she confront the demons of her own difficult past to discover a better future for herself and her family? And finally, can she release her soul-crushing grief and suffocating loneliness to once again discover what “happily ever after” really means?

Only time will tell as she wrestles with her past and is forced to confront The Reflections of Queen Snow White.

The Timeless Allure of Fairy Tales

A Guest Post by David Meredith

Especially in the past ten years or so, retellings, reboots and reimaginings of these wonted yarns have become exceedingly popular in the form of televisions shows like “Grimm”, “Once Upon a Time”, and “Sleepy Hollow” or movies like “Into the Woods”, “Snow White and the Huntsman” “Maleficent”, and “Jack the Giant Slayer” just to name a few. Even in the realms of literature there are countless retellings and reworkings, not the least of which is my own reimagining The Reflections of Queen Snow White. What is it about these ancient tales that fascinates us so? What is it that keeps us hungry to hear them told and retold again and again unto perpetuity?

There are a couple of divergent theories on the matter. The first is that fairytales are a method of escape. With extravagant flights of fancy, impossible destinations, and magic as quotidian as the air we breathe they transport us to a world more lambent and pure than the achromatic halls and passages our weary feet tread day in and day out in the vapid, workaday world. Stark characters who are much more noble or far more dastardly than is likely in the maudlin greys and convoluted truths which compose our reality allow our imaginations to take flight and escape the earthly bonds of our humdrum, banal lives. Fairy tales enchant us, according to this view, through their impossibility and their emancipating impact on our consciousness.

The other, antipodal supposition is rather that fairy tales are engaging because they are unequivocally, brutally true. Nations have risen and fallen into the dust of vague remembrance. Peoples and tribes have warred to triumph or defeat a thousand-thousand times, ardent in their certainty that theirs was the good and righteous struggle of all time only to be largely obscured by a fog of days that grows thicker with every terrestrial rotation of this great, lonely island of green and blue upon which we all reside, and yet we remain largely the same. Human passions, desires, and vices have not changed very much over the 20,000 years or so of chronicled history.

People struggling with poverty and marginalization still wish upon stars and dream of ameliorating their unenviable station. The ambitious, the ruthless, and the brutal still commit unspeakable atrocities of callous cruelty and jealousy and the victims thereof still discharge their anguished cries for a hero to balance the scales of justice once more. People still yearn for everlasting love and are still broken and desolate when happily ever after proves to be far more effervescent than they had hoped it would be. Fairy tales speak to us, because they address immutable truths that are an inescapable portion of the whole of what humanity really means.

Ellen Spitz (2015) asserted “The core of fairy tales seems to reach deeper—well beyond the delights and shocks caused by improbable events—towards a species of raw honesty and authenticity.” They speak to our deepest desires, darkest fears, and greatest flaws, but they are also aspirational. They provide us with examples, regardless how improbable, of how we might overcome desperate circumstances to achieve greatness and contentment in a world where such things often seem rarified and elusive. They give us hope that everything really will turn out all right in the end.

So why do we continue to be captivated by fairy tales? Why do these stories connect with so many people on a level that approaches the spiritual? – Because, they are true… and not true. They connect with us by common experience and fantastical fabrication to show that despite the hectic vexations of twenty-first century living there are still things universally shared. They whisk us away to imaginary worlds where naught but a wish and a dream can lead us to everlasting happiness, but cohere to the deepest realities of our inner being and collective experience. In the end, we continue to cherish fairy tales because they are stories about us – perhaps a more perfect us or even an impossible us, but us nonetheless – and what it truly means to be human.

About David Meredith

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David Meredith is a writer and educator originally from Knoxville, Tennessee. He received both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts from East Tennessee State University, in Johnson City, Tennessee as well as a Tennessee State Teaching license. On and off, he spent nearly a decade, from 1999-2010 teaching English in Northern Japan, but currently lives with his wife and three children in the Nashville Area where he continues to write, teach English, and is pursuing his doctoral degree in educational leadership.

You can follow David on Twitter, and visit his website.

8 Memories of the 80s, a Guest Post by Sarah Lewis, author of The 80’s Annual

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Oh my goodness. What a decade the 1980s was for me. I got my degree, got my first teaching job and got married within the first few years of the decade. Consequently I’m thrilled to be returning to that era with Sarah Lewis, author of The 80’s Annual, as she recalls eight outstanding memories for her during that decade.

The 80’s Annual was published in hardback on 1st November 2016 by New Haven and is available for purchase with free worldwide delivery here as well as from other retailers like Amazon and Waterstones.

The 80’s Annual

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A full-colour retrospective of the year, with more than a nod to the teenage magazines of the era, The 80’s Annual embodies the excitement felt by the generation who grew up receiving an annual at Christmas.

Featuring celebrity commentary on 80’s popular culture, 20 Question interviews, Top Tens, with contributions from Bruce Foxton, The Selecter, Johnny Hates Jazz, Musical Youth, Londonbeat, Then Jerico, Phil Fearon, Brother Beyond, Modern Romance, John Parr, Paul Hardcastle, Hazell Dean, Steve Blacknell, Garry Bushell, Matthew Rudd and more.

Not forgetting the obligatory cheesy photo story, 80’s fiction, crosswords, puzzles, and quizzes including Lyrically Challenged, Pop Quiz and Which 80’s Group Are You? The 80’s Annual offers the perfect combination of nostalgia and new. A great read for every adult 80’s child.Going back to the 80s has never been so much fun!

8 Memories of The 80s

A Guest Post by Sarah Lewis

When the Eighties began, I was still in single figures. I turned 18 at the beginning of 1989, so I think it’s fair to say that, for me, the decade holds a wealth of memories as diverse as the era itself. Here are eight of my favourites:

The return of space shuttle Columbia

I was ten years old when Columbia, the first space shuttle was launched on 12th April, 1981. When it made its descent two days later, the excitement was palpable. Our headmistress gathered all the pupils into the school hall, where we sat cross-legged on the polished, wooden floor, as the bulky Seventies-style television was wheeled in on its tall frame. We all watched in awe as Columbia landed safely, and made space history.

Swimming whatever the weather

During the early Eighties, my brother and I would go swimming at our local outdoor pool every Wednesday evening. It was fantastic when the sun was shining, but just as much fun when it rained. Once we were in the pool during thunder and lightning! When we had finished swimming, we would run over to the wooden hut at the side of the pool to buy sweet treats like chocolate tools or Texan bars. In the colder weather, we would stand there wrapped in our towels, shivering as we sipped piping hot mugs of Oxo.

Culture Club’s first appearance on Top of The Pops

I had not long started at secondary school when the band made their first appearance on TOTP with Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? I was mesmerised by Boy George from the minute he appeared on my TV screen, and have been a lifelong fan of his since. I can remember going into school the next day, and the first lesson we had was Games. All the conversation in the changing rooms was about that performance, and what gender Boy George was. I got incredibly frustrated with those who were convinced he was a girl. Er … the clue’s in the name!

The recording of Do They Know It’s Christmas

Bob Geldof had moved to my home town a couple of years before Band Aid was formed, and was a familiar face to me. Watching the coverage of the recording, the subsequent fundraising success of the track, and then Live Aid the following summer was like watching a neighbour make history.

Teenage Magazines  

I have always been a prolific reader, and eagerly awaited every issue of magazines such as Smash Hits, Just Seventeen and Jackie. I was thrilled when I had a letter printed in Jackie, and then the magazine published a crossword I had put together. Smash Hits holds a special place in my heart because I had my post printed in their penpal section, during the spring of 1986. I received hundreds of replies from all over the world, some of whom I am still in touch with, and one of which is my son’s godfather!

Getting our first video recorder

For someone who religiously taped the Top 40 off the radio every Sunday, the possibility of recording my favourite television programmes was a dream come true. Then there were the trips to the video shop every Saturday, to choose a tape to hire for the weekend. Having a Betamax recorder, our options weren’t as vast as those who had opted for a VHS model, but I never cared. Even having to adjust the tracking until the half black/half white screen appeared didn’t dull my enjoyment of this technological wonder.

My first road trip

Having passed my test in March 1989, and bought my beloved ‘N’ reg Austin Allegro, I was keen to get lots of miles under my belt. Once we had completed our A levels that summer, my friend Kate and I embarked on a road trip to North Wales. We had an amazing time despite the engine overheating in Wrexham, and blowing an oil seal on the journey home. It took us over nine hours to get back to Kent, and because we hadn’t budgeted for buying so much oil, the last bottle we bought was solely with coppers and five pence pieces!

The fall of the Berlin Wall

I had only been out in the big world of work for a few months when the wall came down on 9th November, 1989. For me, this historical event not only put to an end the Cold War and allayed the fears of nuclear war, which had hung over me during my early teenage years, but it also underlined the personal freedom I felt having recently left school. It was both a tangible and symbolic means of opening up the world and its possibilities.

About Sarah Lewis

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Sarah with John Otway and Jona Lewie

Sarah is a self-confessed obsessive of Eighties culture, and a mine of useless trivia on the decade. With an uncanny knack of bumping into celebrities, the ability to recall in startling detail events from over three decades ago (although likely to forget what she ate for breakfast!), and a number of diaries kept during her childhood and teenage years, no one is better placed to bring you a true taste of the Eighties.

Born and raised in The Garden of England, Sarah has lived in Kent all her life. Growing up surrounded by beautiful countryside, but miles from ‘civilisation’, saw her innate interest in music become a lifelong infatuation with radio and vinyl. Entrusted with her parents’ record collection from a young age, she spent hours listening to an eclectic mix of songs from Jim Reeves to The Kinks, Elvis to Sam Cooke, Otis Redding to The Rolling Stones. The latter’s High Tide And Green Grass album remains a firm favourite. At 10 years old, Sarah began her own vinyl collection when she bought her first 7″ single in Woolworths, Adam & The Ants’ Stand & Deliver.

Today, that now sizeable collection continues to grow with both new releases by 80’s artists and old classics, found in charity shops or received as gifts from friends. Played whenever she feels like taking a break from the radio, her “daily default background music”, Sarah believes her fascination with the Eighties has been compounded by years of exposure to its music, including gigs and retro festivals.

You can Follow Sarah on Twitter, visit her website and read her blog. You’ll also find her on Facebook.

Christmas at Lilac Cottage by Holly Martin

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My grateful thanks to Emily Burns at Bonnier Zaffre for a copy of Christmas at Lilac Cottage by Holly Martin in return for an honest review. Originally released in e-book, Christmas at Lilac Cottage is now available for purchase in paperback too here.

Christmas at Lilac Cottage

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Snow is falling on White Cliff Bay, where Christmas is magical and love is in the air . . .

Penny Meadows loves her cosy cottage with its stunning views over the snow-topped town of White Cliff Bay, but not even the roaring log fire can keep her personal life from feeling frozen.

That is until dashing Henry and his daughter Daisy arrive at the cottage for the festive season. And between decking the halls and baking delicious mince pies, Penny realises there is more to Henry than meets the eye.

With sleigh bells ringing and fairy lights twinkling, the ice-sculpting competition and Christmas Eve ball are in full swing. Will Penny be able to melt the ice and allow love into her heart? And will she finally have the perfect Christmas she’s been dreaming of?

My Review of Christmas at Lilac Cottage

Penny has been so hurt in the past that her lonely existence has become the norm, but that could just be about to change when she rents out the annexe to her cottage.

Christmas at Lilac Cottage is my first Holly Martin read and it certainly won’t be my last.

I have one negative comment that I want to get out of the way first and that it the over use of the word ‘arse’! It appears much too often as an insult, an endearment, a reprimand, as a casual comment and as a physical description to the extent that I almost began playing ‘arse’ bingo to spot it as I read. Mind you, that did add to my entertainment value from the book too!

That aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Christmas at Lilac Cottage. I appreciated the way in which Holly Martin set up the difficulties in relationships so that there was good tension in what is, essentially, a feel-good read. Whilst I didn’t always agree with the way Henry and Penny conducted their relationship I could understand why they behaved the way they did and I though it was very realistically portrayed so that I was on their side throughout.

I thought this realism was carried through into a really well created plot too. The events that create tension are those we could all, as readers, easily relate to. I really enjoyed the unusual premise of an ice sculptor in Penny too, and learnt quite a bit about a topic I’ve never really thought about before. Considering Daisy’s mother and the responses of the townsfolk to Penny’s past relationship made me appreciate how other people’s attitudes can affect us and I thought this was one of the most successful aspects of Christmas at the Lilac Cottage. It may be a conventional Christmas read in some respects, illustrating a difficult relationship between two highly attractive main characters, but there was also much to think about too.

Although I liked the characters of Penny, Henry and Daisy in particular, even the smallest bit-part players also felt real and three dimensional through Holly Martin’s descriptions. I think Henry must be every heterosexual woman’s dream and I loved the romantic sections involving him and Penny. These aspects also gave much of the humour too especially through Penny’s voluble explanations and that scene in the car, so that reading Christmas at the Lilac Cottage was enormously entertaining and frequently had me giggling.

I don’t often mention book covers, but in this case I have to say how beautifully sparkly and festive Christmas at the Lilac Cottage is. The image in this blog post doesn’t do it justice and merely picking it up to read lifted my spirits.

Christmas at the Lilac Cottage is a lovely feel-good read just right for the run up to Christmas – a season which forms the back drop of the story, but doesn’t over dominate. Even better, there’s a smashing recipe just asking to be backed at the end too. I’m looking forward to reading much more from Holly Martin in the future.

About Holly Martin

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Holly Martin studied media at university which led to a very glitzy career as a hotel receptionist followed by a even more glamorous two years working in a bank. The moment that one of her colleagues received the much coveted carriage clock for fifteen years’ service was the moment when she knew she had to escape. She quit her job and returned to university to train to be a teacher.

Three years later, she emerged wide eyed and terrified that she now had responsibility for the development of thirty young minds. She taught for four years and then escaped the classroom to teach history workshops, dressing up as a Viking one day and an Egyptian High Priestess the next. But the long journeys around the UK and many hours sat on the M25 gave her a lot of time to plan out her stories and she now writes full time, doing what she loves.

Holly has been writing for 7 years. She was shortlisted for the New Talent Award at the Festival of Romance. Her short story won the Sunlounger competition and was published in the Sunlounger anthology. She won the Carina Valentine’s competition at the Festival of Romance 2013 with her novel The Guestbook. She was shortlisted for Best Romantic Read, Best eBook and Innovation in Romantic Fiction at the Festival of Romance 2014.

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You can follow Holly on Twitter, find her on Facebook and find all Holly’s books here.

What Happened Next, a Guest Post by Colette McCormick, author of Things I Should Have Said and Done

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Regular readers of Linda’s Book Bag know I’m full of good intentions when it comes to writing my own novel and less good at actually doing it. Therefore, I’m always fascinated by the process others have gone through. So, I’m delighted to welcome Colette McCormick, author of Things I Should Have Said and Done, today to tell us all about what happened immediately after she got her book deal.

Things I Should Have Said and Done was published by Accent Press on 15th November 2016 and is available for purchase here.

Things I Should Have Said and Done

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Ellen never knew what hit her. But when a drunk driver runs a red light her life is over in an instant. Her small daughter survives – and Ellen, hovering in the borderland between life and the afterlife, can only watch as her loved ones try to pick up the pieces without her. Her husband Marc, struggling with being a single parent. Naomi, her little girl, blaming her mother for leaving her. And Ellen’s mother, full of guilt, slowly falling apart. Ellen isn’t ready to let go. She doesn’t want to say goodbye. She is confused, angry and hurting for her family and herself.

And that’s where George comes in. He is her guide through her confusion as she witnesses the devastation among the living. With George at her side Ellen learns that even though she is dead she is not helpless. There are things that she can do from beyond the grave to influence what happens in the world she left behind. But George is new to his ‘job’, and has issues of his own. A working arrangement starts to become something neither of them expects. It is only after death that life can be fully understood.

What Happened Next

A Guest Post by Colette McCormick

My goal was to get a book deal and I’d not given a lot of thought to what would happen after I’d secured it. I had absolutely no idea what would need to happen to get my book from the slush pile and onto the shelves.

This is what happened next.

The first thing was that I had to tell the world, well my friends and family anyway. That was actually harder than it sounds because writing is something that I did just for myself so very few people knew that I “wrote” and only one person knew that there was a book that I was trying to place. I got more than one quizzical look, as if they thought I’d been dreaming or drinking but everyone seemed happy for me. I think some of them still think I was talking nonsense though.

In terms of the book however, at first nothing happened, well it did at the publishers but not for me. I sometimes wondered if I had actually imagined it. Now that would have been awkward.

Then, one day, a few months after the contract had been signed I had an email from my editor asking how I felt about a name change. I actually felt fine because I knew it was coming, I knew that the book needed it and by this stage it was all about making the book the best that it could be. I wasn’t about to get precious about a name. So the book that had been Beyond the Light, became Things I Should Have Said and Done.

Several weeks later a “cover treatment,” arrived which, I soon found out, is a mock up of what the book cover would look like. I’d had no idea what to expect and when I saw it I was blown away. It was so pretty, and I have to be honest, I like pretty. I downloaded it onto my phone and looked at it often. This was how my book was going to look and it started to feel very real.

I had something that I could use on social media and so now was the time to start the self promotion that every new writer has to get used to. I have learned that social media, used the right way, can be my friend. I’m still not great at it but I am learning and I think I’m getting better at spreading the word about my book.

So I had a new name, I had a cover and now the hard work was about to start.

I’d never seen anything like the editorial comments before. My editor had gone through the novel and now I had to do the same. I had to go through the novel line by line and either accept or decline every little change that had been made, from a comma to deleting a paragraph. I was amazed what a difference changing a word here or an intonation there could make. I found this the hardest part of the whole process mainly because of the time pressure that was involved. I had a week to get it done and I work full time so my time for editing was limited.  For the first time, writing started to feel like a job and I was relieved when I delivered them on time even though it did mean a 5am start on the Sunday morning.

After the line edits came the proofreading which (thankfully) wasn’t done by me, but I did have to accept it.

By this time I had a publication date and all that was left to do was to wait for that day to arrive and promote the book whenever and wherever I could.

One week before publication day I came home from work to find a parcel and I was beyond excited when I opened it to find my author copies inside. Finally I had my book, yes my book, in my hands.

It was fourteen months between signing the contract and publication day. It was one heck of a ride and I loved every minute of it.

About Colette McCormick

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Colette McCormick was born and raised in Sheffield but has made the North East her home for over 30 years. Writing is her love but her job is as a charity shop manager for a leading children’s charity. She has a husband, two sons and a daft dog.

You can follow Colette on Twitter, find her on Facebook and Instagram and visit her blog.