AWOL in April


AWOL in April

I began blogging on 7th February 2015 and since then, including this post I have blogged 868 times, including reviews, blogging events, guest posts, extracts, spotlights, giveaways and interviews. I’ve attended book launches and events and met wonderful authors and other bloggers who have become real life friends. I absolutely love all these things about blogging.

However, I’m going AWOL in April and taking a sabbloggital!

Bloggers reading this will know just how much time it takes to set up a blog post, even if the content is provided by someone else. It needs adapting to the ‘house style’, links need checking, images are often not provided (thank goodness for the Snipping Tool!) and frequently extracts come as PDF files of up to 30 pages that need converting to text and then reformatting and a decision made as to which part to include before they can be used. All this takes hours.

An author interview, for example, takes me around an hour to research and compose relevant questions; then there is the time it takes to email backwards and forwards. Once I have the answers I spend around another 90 minutes or so setting up the blog post, checking it all and scheduling tweets (I use Hootsuite) and then on the day of publication it’s another 15-20 minutes posting in various Facebook groups. So, an average blog post uses between 3 and 4 hours of my time – I know I might be especially slow but I try to put out the best quality post I can for the authors, publicists and publishers. I could read a novel in about four or five hours.

I love to share what my fellow bloggers are doing too so another couple of hours per day can disappear in retweeting and sharing their hard work.

Whilst I truly do love all of this, I am taking April off.

I have so many books on my TBR that I’ll never catch up and I owe it to those who’ve sent me their books, especially the independent authors, to try to read as many as I can. Currently there are well over 850 hard copies on the pile and I daren’t even look on my Kindle! I’m going to spend those extra hours gained as I go AWOL in April reading as much as I can. I have a couple of reviews I promised before I decided to go AWOL, but other than that I’m going to spend blogging time reading!

The side effect of this is that I should be in less pain too as I have osteoarthritis in my joints and whilst it doesn’t look obvious, every key stroke, every mouse click is uncomfortable at best and painful at worst so a break will do my finger joints good. It’ll also give my eyes a break. My typing is appalling (I NEVER manage the word ‘the’ without it coming out as ‘teh’) so I have to keep going back to correct it, thereby exacerbating the pain in my joints. Partly I just can’t type and partly this is because I have difficulty seeing as a result of dry eye, a small hole in my left retina, an epimacular membrane (so that all my straight edges are actually wavy!), a complex prescription, astigmatism that can’t be corrected and short sightedness to -12.5… I could go on! I’ve found the blogging, much as I adore it, isn’t helping.

I’ll still be posting as many reviews as I can in April and I’ve been saving some up to post during this time, especially where I’ve turned down the blog tours for books. Each review can take a couple of hours to write to convey my thoughts accurately, find author links, schedule tweets and add to Facebook. I still want to support as many lovely writers and bloggers as I can, but I might not be sharing others’ posts quite as much as usual and I’m not taking on any blog tours, guest posts interviews and so on.

my sister and other liars

I’ll be back to my ‘normal’ blogging on 1st May with a publication day interview from Ruth Dugdall about My Sister and Other Liars and a guest post from Kate Dunn based on The Dragonfly.

the dragonfly

See you soon and happy reading!

An Interview with Kerensa Jennings, Author of Seas of Snow

Seas of Snow

I recently received a copy of Seas of Snow by Kerensa Jennings from Debbie Forster of Novel Design in return for an honest review. Once I started to find out about the book and to see some of the 5* reviews rolling in I had to ask the author of Seas of Snow, Kerensa Jennings, if she would be interviewed for Linda’s Book Bag. Luckily she agreed.

Seas of Snow was published by Unbound on 16th March 2017 and is available for purchase here and I can’t wait to read it.

Seas of Snow

Seas of Snow

1950s England. Five-year-old Gracie Scott lives with her Mam and next door to her best friend Billy. An only child, she has never known her Da. When her Uncle Joe moves in, his physical abuse of Gracie’s mother starts almost immediately. But when his attentions wander to Gracie, an even more sinister pattern of behaviour begins.

As Gracie grows older, she finds solace and liberation in books, poetry and her enduring friendship with Billy. Together they escape into the poetic fairy-tale worlds of their imaginations.

But will fairy tales be enough to save Gracie from Uncle Joe’s psychopathic behaviour – and how far will it go?

An Interview with Kerensa Jennings

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Kerensa. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

Thank you so much Linda for giving me the opportunity to feature in your Book Bag! I was wondering how to introduce myself and landed on starting with some of the things that make me me. I’m quite shy and introvert by nature, which surprises people when they get to know me because I have to present outward confidence at work. I’m at my happiest somewhere beautiful, quiet and serene. I love writing at my dining room table looking out over my garden; and much of Seas of Snow was written deep in the mountains of southern Spain on a series of holidays staying at a self-catering villa in the back of beyond. Just the rustling of leaves and the circling bird of prey as a backdrop…

I’m someone who has always been a storyteller. Ever since I could hold a pencil, I started scribbling stories and poems – something I still do every day. I used to pretend to be an author when I was little. And can hardly believe that I can now call myself one. As a child I devoured books; and these days reading is my constant source of pleasure and escape in life.

Earlier in my career, I worked in the media as a TV producer. So although most people would have no idea who I am, my words have been read out to millions and millions of people over the years in a variety of TV programmes. I was Programme Editor of Breakfast with Frost with Sir David Frost, for example, and made other big BBC One shows like New Year Live and Ellen MacArthur – Sailing into History. I was also the BBC’s Election Results Editor and ran BBC News Specials before becoming the BBC’s Head of Strategic Delivery.

Over the years, I developed a specialism for digital enterprise and these days run The Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award. I’m also a professor and a qualified and practicing Executive Coach. So you could say I wear a few different hats. The one that makes me me though is my passion for writing. No matter where I am in the world, whatever I am doing, whoever I am with, whatever else is going on, I always find time to write.

(Crikey – I’m amazed you’ve ever found time to pen a novel!)

Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Seas of Snow?

If I was going to try to entice you to read the book, I’d start with a question, which indeed is the question at the heart of the book. “Is evil born or made?”, I would ask.

Seas of Snow is a story of broken trust and shattered dreams. Of consequences. Of a life lifted and liberated by poetry. Of a life haunted by darkness and lived in fear.

It is the tale of a young girl who escapes the torment of her life through playtime with her best friend Billy; and through reading and writing poetry, delighting in words for guidance and succour.

The book dances through time, backwards and forwards between the literary reveries and physical abuses of the young girl; and the old woman of today, frail and isolated in a nursing home. Billy Harper, Gracie’s childhood friend, is the only solid presence in her life, and seemingly the only constant. Diaries and poetry books bind the story and the characters.

Set both today and around the time of the second world war in North Tyneside, Seas of Snow is a bleak psychological thriller which traces the motives and actions of Gracie’s Uncle Joe. He appears unexpectedly in Gracie’s life when she’s just five years old. And changes everything.

Seas of Snow is a story of trust and betrayal, of the worst kind.

(Seas of Snow is on my TBR (to be read) pile and you’ve just persuaded me to bump it up the 850+ books in the queue)

I know you’re interested in nature versus nurture. Have you come to any conclusion as to which is most affecting in our characters?

In my view, both nature and nurture play their part in shaping our characters. Having said that, there are some people who are, quite simply, born psychopaths. These people are unable to feel remorse, or experience empathy. They find lying easy and can manipulate people and situations to their own advantage. However, not all psychopaths go on to commit monstrous acts. So environmental factors play a vital role.

Through my studies in psychology I became fascinated to learn about the neuroplasticity of the mind. Put simply, it means for those of us who are not psychopaths, we have the capacity to change the way we think. This can be very helpful if we are scared about something, or think we’re not very good at something.

Many of us grow up through childhood bearing various scars which lead us to think we’re rubbish at this, or terrible at that, because of things we were told or lead to believe. This way of thinking can be described as having ‘limiting beliefs’. The sad thing is, thinking you are rubbish at this, or terrible at that, can often hold you back from going on to do something you would both love and be great at.

But the brain is plastic – and adaptable. So although you can’t stop a ‘hardwired’ neural pathway from existing, because chances are you have been building that road since you were little – you can effectively put the ‘road closed!’ sign up and create a new road to start travelling down – a new neural pathway which will help you feel more positive about what you are able to do. It’s almost like magic but it really works. I have done a lot of this sort of ‘re-framing’ with clients over the years in my executive coaching and it’s remarkable how much it helps people gain confidence and try things they would never have imagined they could do.

So I believe nurture can very much assist nature… and the various influences in our lives can be both positive and negative. Not everyone who commits crimes is a terrible human being. One of the poems Gracie returns to time and time again throughout the book is a lovely prose poem which says: ‘Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless, that wants help from us…’. I think there is something very thought provoking in this; a concept I find fascinating – and ultimately why the novel centres on themes of good and evil.

Without being too specific, Seas of Snow was partly written as a form of catharsis for you following your coverage of some terrible national events. Has it achieved what you hoped?

I was originally inspired to write Seas of Snow because I had been profoundly affected emotionally after leading the BBC News coverage of the Soham case. I was working very closely with Cambridgeshire Police over several months, and got to see first-hand a lot of the evidence uncovered during the investigation. It was heart breaking learning about what had happened. About what that man did. And I began to wonder about the mind and motives of a psychopath – the school caretaker Ian Huntley who murdered those two beautiful little girls. I went on to study psychology and take my learning further after training and qualifying as an Executive Coach to see what I could discover to help myself and hopefully others.

You are completely right – I wrote the book as a means of catharsis after working so closely on something so incredibly upsetting.  I have always used writing as a way to process my emotions. It’s how I make sense of the world. So it was natural for me to decide to use writing to try to gain some kind of closure and comfort.

In many ways it has achieved what I had hoped – through the book I explore themes I want to illuminate. Everything from the darkness of the human soul to different manifestations of maternal love to the capacity we have to lift ourselves sometimes against the odds. The book is also a love letter to literature in many ways – so through writing Seas of Snow, I also got to share some of my passions and inspirations, turning the process of writing about something so deeply unsettling into something which also had light and life.

Having said that, I still find myself very affected by what happened, and especially when I talk about it. I was at a Waterstones authors event a few weeks ago and telling a room full of readers and other authors about my inspirations for Seas of Snow. I couldn’t help myself choking up a little. I don’t think I will ever stop feeling emotional about it. And strange though it might seem to confess this – I still cry myself when I read certain passages of the book.

(I don’t think that’s strange at all. Literature really does have the power to move us.)

I know you’re interested in poetry and Seas of Snow has been described as poetic in style. How conscious were you of writing poetically and how far was it a natural style for you?

Poetry can be some of the best self-help you can possibly get. Diving into a poem can distract you, lift you, inspire you. But lots of people find poetry intimidating, or think it’s a bit pretentious. I’d say if you have ever been touched by the words of a song, be that a football anthem like You’ll Never Walk Alone (which funnily enough started life as a song from a musical); or a special song that reminds you of a person or a place – then that means whether you realise it or not, you are likely being affected by poetry. Words carry such power. They can make us laugh and cry.

What poets do is arrange those words in ways that have extra layers of meaning. Maybe they’re doing something clever with the way words sound; maybe they’re pulling images together in ways that spark the imagination. Maybe a bit of both – and more. Through Seas of Snow, I wanted to invite readers to come with me into a world where they could discover poetry in a completely unpretentious, natural way. Through the eyes of a child. And with that, as Gracie develops her passion and understanding of poetry, so do we.

I mentioned earlier that I write poems all the time – I also do poetry commissions for special occasions. I love both reading and writing poetry. For me, poetry is the greatest solace and escape – it offers me comfort and inspiration. I love reading it out loud, and I love listening to it read aloud.

I don’t consciously write prose in a poetic style, but I think in fiction writing I am naturally inclined to write in quite a lyric way. It’s how I see the world and in my writing it just sort of comes out that way.

Uncle Joe is a monstrous character. How did you create him?

It’s hard to describe my process. I had some very firm ideas about wanting Uncle Joe to be hiding in plain sight, as Ian Huntley had done. But I also wanted him to be irresistibly beautiful to look at, with attractive attributes such as a gorgeous voice; and a charm that people would find compelling. I wanted to create an unsettling counterpoint – a contradiction that would defy logic.

This stems from my fascination with fairy tales. Going back to my university days, I studied the psychoanalysis of fairy tales. I examined the archetypes in the Grimm’s stories for my thesis, which was titled ‘Persecution and Revenge of the Innocents’. In fairy tale land, there is a logic which works something like this – if a character is beautiful and light, then they are innocent and good. If a character is ugly and dark, then they are corrupt and evil. Even the Disneyfication of fairy tales notwithstanding, we are all familiar with the idea…

Real life can obviously be very different to this, but we all fall prey to certain assumptions and prejudices about people’s appearances. Unfortunately, it’s just a normal human trait for us to experience ‘unconscious bias’. When we see someone who is differently abled, for example – unable to walk or see – we make certain assumptions, even though we know nothing about that person. When someone has an unusual appearance, we make certain assumptions, again even though we know nothing about that person.

So in creating Joe, I wanted to bring to life an antagonist who people would fall in love with because of his outward appearance and charisma. Then make him evil to the core so our revulsion at him and what he is capable of makes us feel duped and horrified. I wanted that emotional disjuncture. That sense of not being able to trust our own eyes.

Ian Huntley was interviewed by the press and the media in the days after the girls went missing. He outwardly betrayed the appearance of someone who was a caring member of the community. All the while, as he lied and lied, he knew exactly what he had done. Hiding in plain sight.

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

Well, in common with many other people I suspect, I am a slave to Google! As I was setting the story in a different time and place, there was a lot of research to ensure I created an accurate sense of atmosphere, with historical details beautifully conveyed. I chose to set Seas of Snow in North Shields in Tyneside because my grandmother was a Geordie and grew up there. However, although I visited when I was younger, I needed to know what it would have been like back in the late 1940s and 1950s to give the right kind of look and feel to the narrative.

Researching accents was important – so the very small elements of dialect were checked meticulously.

Then I was blessed to have a wonderful copy-editor called Paul Fulton who went through the manuscript with a fine tooth comb and checked facts, timelines, historical nuances and continuity. I remember him noticing I called a piece of furniture a ‘console’ in one scene and a ‘sideboard’ in another. And I had accidentally originally had Joe drinking ale even though I was describing something more akin to Guinness. Various bits and pieces like that. So I had 42 queries from him to check, which I did and made amendments as required!

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

I absolutely love writing and I find the process of sitting down to write one of the most pleasurable things in my life. I just start typing and the words flow out. I wrote Seas of Snow in all my holidays between 2009 and 2013. I then polished my first submitted draft in 2014.

Last year I went through the rigour of the editing process and some aspects of that felt a bit like ‘homework’. I very much enjoyed the development edit however, even though I had been dreading it. I worked with Scott Pack who just asked very thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent questions. He made me think – and in no way did he try to make me change anything. It was all about extra things that could enhance things for the reader. He would always say it’s my book and it’s up to me. I loved that. Working with Unbound as my publishers has been such a joy because they are committed to allowing authors to retain the integrity of their own work. They wanted to support me bringing my vision, my creation to life. Scott’s questions were all about asking whether I was doing enough for my reader here or there. It was a wonderful experience.

I liked less the structural edit where the type setting process bunched up some of my fragmented sentences and paragraphs into bundles. My writing style tends to be sparse in fiction writing – and a bit like how the title of the book has a secret message – SOS; I was creating dissonance in the fragmenting quite deliberately to provoke unease in the reader which reflected the thematic development. The type setting process overruled what I had done. So I had to meticulously go through every line looking at the original manuscript on an iPad and the new version on Mac at the same time to compare and contrast which version I wanted to go with – my original fragmentary style or something which closed up some of the gaps. That was truly painful as I was then editing in gaps and line breaks depending on what was required.  Believe me, this took what felt like an infinity to do. Exhausting!

There was then the formatting edit and two rounds of proof reading. My parents joke that Seas of Snow is my ‘baby’. Well it certainly had a very long gestation!

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

I write anytime I can, and importantly, whenever I am in the mood. I don’t force myself to write if I am not in the right ‘head space’. So when I do write, it’s always the most luxurious pleasure. I often write in the notes section of my phone to and from work on my commute; I sometimes wake in the middle of the night with an idea I have to scribble down; and often after work at home instead of watching TV or reading a book I sit and find myself writing. I don’t have what I would describe as a writing routine, but I was very committed to writing Seas of Snow in all my holidays so devoted huge amounts of time and energy into doing it when I knew I had plenty of time to do so.

You come from a journalistic background. Has this helped or hindered you when writing your first work of fiction, Seas of Snow?

That’s a really good question. I went into journalism because I am a very curious person. I love discovering things about the world, and sharing what I have found out with others. Writing is hard wired into who I am. I love communicating stuff.

When you write for television, the trick is to imagine you are writing for a very smart nine year old. Someone who is bright, clever – with good vocabulary. But who would get a bit muddled and lost if you veered off into lots of subordinate clauses or made your sentences long-winded. So simple, clear, precise – but not patronising.

When I write poetry or prose or in the case of Seas of Snow, fiction, I just let my imagination take flight. With the novel, I carefully mapped out the structure and planned the ‘scaffolding’ for the book before I wrote a single word. The writing bit was just an extraordinary pleasure, as I would sit at my computer and the words would flow out of me and onto the ‘page’ on my screen. I would delight in finding out what happened next – and characters would arrive fully formed in my head with names and attributes.

In journalistic writing, you have to fit a word count, develop a style to suit the audience, and in my case write in ‘the voice’ of whoever my presenter was… The central purpose is to report what happened, convey facts, or provide impartial analysis of a situation. It’s all about being clear and succinct, to provide a service where you are giving information and fact.

I like the discipline of journalistic writing – deadlines, targets and through my BBC work, public service.

In my other writing, I impose my own structures and I get to unwind into who I am. It’s like the real me gets to peek out and start dancing in the light. I slowly unfurl into a different sort of presence, and a more poetic soul begins to emerge.

It’s helpful to have mastered a sense of discipline – that comes from deadlines and journalism. And I also have an ability to be able to write anywhere, in any environment. I can always write, no matter what mayhem might be going on. That’s come from journalism – the capacity to focus and concentrate. Many’s the time in my TV days when – because of developments on a breaking news item – I was writing the opening words of a programme while the title music was still playing. The adrenalin that fires in you is incredible. You have just seconds to complete something that has to sound good, make sense, and be visible to the presenter in time to be read.

So I think being a disciplined person has hugely helped me as I develop my fiction writing career. My publisher would often joke they wished other authors would get things back on time as I always did. But the writing is very different.

(As an ex English teacher I think we can apply that principle of structure to enable creativity to many walks of life, including education.)

Seas of Snow is set in the 1950s. How far do you think life has improved for those in similar situations to Gracie and her mother?

I think domestic abuse is as old as time, and sadly there is much that goes on behind closed doors. I hope that these days, people have more access to help, support and ways to escape their situations. There are some wonderful groups out there who do so much to provide a lifeline to those who suffer abuse.

We shouldn’t underestimate though how very hard it is for victims to reach out, even today. It’s very common for people to feel scared about what might happen if they speak out; they can be frightened and intimidated into saying nothing. It’s also very common for people to feel a sense of shame, as if somehow what’s happening is all their fault, or they should have been able to stop it. One of the reasons both Gracie and Billy in Seas of Snow spend a lot of time questioning why certain things happen, is to hopefully help readers see that they are not alone if they find themselves sometimes subjected to difficult situations that seem so terribly unfair. It’s so easy to secretly worry that somehow it might all be happening because of something you did.

That sense of shame can also be a product of the physical and emotional pain of what someone has done to you. You can feel dirty, soiled, revolted. When you feel like that, you are not necessarily minded to tell anyone else. So the cycle of abuse continues, and the numbers of scarred, damaged people grows and grows. Often with dreadful impacts and consequences later in life, as in Seas of Snow.

Although I set the story in the 1950s, I believe the core themes and developments of the book could just as easily happen today. I wish I could say otherwise, but there does not seem to be an end to the dreadful scandals that emerge, with young people being betrayed, abused, hurt or in other ways damaged by the people who are tasked to look after them.

What I hope the book does is help the reader see that a person who is a victim of violence, abuse or harm can be completely blameless.

Other threads of the book help the reader see the darkness of humanity, and what the worst of humanity can be capable of.

And the reader is also exposed to the consequences of inaction. This is in tribute to all the children who have been failed by the people who are trusted to care for them, but for whatever reason are paralysed, and unable to act.

You also work to help young people fulfil their potential. Could you explain a bit about that please?

I am passionate about trying to help people fulfil their potential and I try to do this in many ways – whether that’s through my work with clients as an Executive Coach; my former role as a TV producer when I worked with presenters to help them be the best they could be; or the various things I do to support diversity and inclusion.

In my day job, I run The Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award, a new programme that has just launched this year which is a bit like the digital and enterprise equivalent of The Duke of Edinburgh Award. Anyone can have a go and it’s all about empowering people to develop digital skills that will help them flourish in today’s digital world.

We’ve created an innovative Badge Store which has online bite-size modules (‘badges’) you can do anywhere you can get online on any modern device or browser. The resources are completely free and you can learn about a range of topics from cloud computing and the Internet of Things to e-safety, cyber security, video editing, animation, research, enterprise, and how to do some basic coding. We’ve just launched the Bronze Award and have started to develop Silver with Gold coming after that. Bronze is beginner (rather than for a specific age), Silver is intermediate, and Gold is advanced. Why not have a go – just Google ”” or click here. It’s ideal for family learning or for anyone who feels they may have missed out on chances fully to participate in the digital world. Our hope is that through doing this, we’ll be helping create life-changing opportunities for people and empowering them to get jobs they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

(This sounds such a rewarding scheme to take part in.)

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

How long have you got?! I love poetry, short stories, plays…. Novels of course; and also biographies and non-fiction books on philosophy, art, business, coaching – any number of topics. I always have at least two poetry books and at least two or three other books on the go at any one time.

You seem incredibly busy. Do you have other interests that give you ideas for writing?

I think for anyone who wants to know a bit more about this, I would love them to read my professorial lecture which I have published in full on GoodReads. This was titled ‘Orchids were the repository of her dreams’ and it is a critical analysis of the creative process. I go into lots of detail here about my own creative process and how I get ideas for writing. Here’s an extract to give you a flavour:

“Take something and make it yours. I am an inveterate magpie, collecting bits and pieces and thoughts and phrases and trinkets to store in my mind. Sometimes I wilfully and deliberately rummage around in great lierature, films and music, snatching cadences and rhythms and poetic treasures. Interesting nuggets, facts, curios, keepsakes and brain food. I was trained as a journalist and in my view, the core qualification you need is simply curiosity. But I didn’t get trained in curiosity. It’s just something that drives me and fires me every day of my life. From the minute I get up in the morning, to the moment I go to bed, the world is a kinaesthetic tsunami of the senses. I often scribble down things I have noticed or overheard. Public transport is brilliant for inspiration. You never know when something you hear, read or see might prompt something in you. The author of His Dark Materials Philip Pullman said ‘I have stolen ideas from every book I have ever read’.”

Seas of Snow has an almost nightmarish cover to me, with the raven suggesting death and the flame like letter S indicating hellishness. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

I knew I wanted the black, menacing bird somewhere. The prologue sets a wintry, bleak scene and obliquely introduces the presence of the raven. Gracie’s fear of birds is a theme that develops in the book – she gradually begins to associate Joe with the avian predator as they both hunger for her and bore into her with a fierce intensity.

And I suggested possibly a bath. In the story, it is Gracie’s uncle Joe who carries the momentum of the story. He intrudes on her while she takes a bath – a tableau that gradually unfolds through intermittent, evolving scenes as the book progresses. The scent of lemons in the air from the bubble bath reprises the first sensory impact Gracie had on Joe – as he locks the door and refuses to leave.

Unbound and I worked on a creative brief for the cover illustrator. It was so exciting the day I got emailed three potential routes for the cover art – all of which were extremely different! Each had a bird but they all had very different atmospheres.

I emailed around fifty friends, both men and women, asking which of the three designs they liked the best. Overwhelmingly, most of the women chose the one that is most similar to what we now have. Overwhelmingly, most of the men chose a very snowy, ghostly scene with a faded photograph of a woman from the 1950s. Almost everybody hated the third one, which had a dead sparrow lying on some postcards – apart from I think it was three people who said that one was their favourite!

In the end I went for the design I thought would carry the most impact on a bookshelf in a bookshop. I could imagine people reading the one we chose on the commute – and I could imagine the poster art. The original version of it had a green background rather than blue… I requested we make it more wintry and I really loved the blue they came up with. Also, in the original version the raven was much smaller. To get the proportions right (ravens are huge), I requested we upsize the bird.

One of the most wonderful, special things about working with Unbound is that they really involve you, the author, in every step of the process. It’s a massive amount of work, but I feel personally invested in every important decision that was made about the book. And that is an unbelievable privilege.

(Having found a raven in my bedroom at university I can vouch for the size!)

If you could choose to be a character from Seas of Snow, who would you be and why?

Gracie! Because she is a combination of all the wonderful people I know and there is something very pure and good and lovely about her. She’s also very smart, thoughtful, kind and curious. And she loves literature! I think secretly everyone wants a friend a bit like Gracie.

If Seas of Snow became a film, who would you like to play Uncle Joe and why would you choose them?  

It would have to be someone incredibly handsome. Someone like Jamie Dornan or Tom Hardy would be brilliant.

And finally, Kerensa, If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Seas of Snow should be their next read, what would you say?

Can Gracie escape? Will her mother protect her? Will the wing’s breath pass or linger?

About Kerensa Jennings


Kerensa Jennings is a storyteller, strategist, writer, producer and professor.

Kerensa’s TV work took her all over the world, covering everything from geo-politics to palaeontology, and her time as Programme Editor of Breakfast with Frost coincided with the life-changing events of 9/11.

The knowledge and experience she gained in psychology by qualifying and practising as an Executive Coach has only deepened her fascination with exploring the interplay between nature and nurture and with investigating whether evil is born or made – the question at the heart of Seas of Snow.

As a scholar at Oxford, her lifelong passion for poetry took flight. Kerensa lives in West London and over the last few years has developed a career in digital enterprise.

Seas of Snow is her first novel.

You can follow Karensa on Twitter, on her website and find her on Facebook.

An Extract from My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

My Name is Leon cover

I’m thrilled to be starting off the paperback launch celebrations for My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal. My Name is Leon is a wonderful read and I’m delighted to be sharing the opening of the book with you today.

My Name is Leon will be released by Penguin in paperback on 6th April 2017 and is available for purchase through the links here.

My Name is Leon

My Name is Leon cover

A brother chosen. A brother left behind. And a family where you’d least expect to find one.

Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. But the adults are speaking in low voices, and wearing Pretend faces. They are threatening to give Jake to strangers. Since Jake is white and Leon is not.

As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile – like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.

Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name is Leon is a heart-breaking story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how – just when we least expect it – we manage to find our way home.

An Extract from My Name is Leon


2 April  1980

No one has to tell Leon that this is a special moment. Everything else in the hospital seems to have gone quiet and disappeared. The nurse makes him wash his hands and sit up straight.

‘Careful, now,’ she says. ‘He’s very precious.’

But Leon already knows. The nurse places the brand-new baby in his arms with its face towards Leon so that they can look at each other.

‘You have a brother now,’ she says. ‘And you’ll be able to look after him. What are you? Ten?’

‘He’s nearly nine,’ says Leon’s mum, looking over. ‘Eight years and nine months. Nearly.’

Leon’s mum is talking to Tina about when the baby was coming out, about the hours and the minutes and the pain.

‘Well,’ says the nurse, adjusting the baby’s blanket, ‘you’re nice and big for your age. A right little man.’

She pats Leon on his head and brushes the side of his cheek with her finger. ‘He’s a beauty, isn’t he? Both of you are.’

She smiles at Leon and he knows that she’s kind and that she’ll look after the baby when he isn’t there. The baby has the smallest fingers Leon has ever seen. He looks like a doll with its eyes closed. He has silky white hair on the very top of his head and a tiny pair of lips that keep opening and closing. Through the holey blanket, Leon can feel baby warmth on his belly and his legs and then the baby begins to wriggle.

‘I hope you’re having a nice dream, baby,’ Leon whispers.

After a while, Leon’s arm begins to hurt and just when it gets really bad the nurse comes along. She picks the baby up and tries to give him to Leon’s mum.

‘He’ll need feeding soon,’ she says.

But Leon’s mum has her handbag on her lap.

‘Can I do it in a minute? Sorry, I was just going to the smoking room.’

She moves off the bed carefully, holding on to Tina’s arm, and shuffles away.

‘Leon, you watch him, love,’ she says, hobbling off.

Leon watches the nurse watching his mother walk away but when she looks at Leon she’s smiling again.

‘I tell you what we’ll do,’ she says, placing the baby in the crib next to the bed. ‘You stay here and have a little chat to your brother and tell him all about yourself. But when your mummy comes back it will be time for his feed and you’ll have to get off home. All right, sweetheart?’

Leon nods. ‘Shall I wash my hands again?’ he asks, showing her his palms.

‘I think you’ll be all right. You just stand here and if he starts crying, you come and fetch me. Okay?’


Leon makes a list in his head and then starts at the beginning.

‘My name is Leon and my birthday is on the fifth of July nine- teen seventy-one. Your birthday is today. School’s all right but you have to go nearly every day and Miss Sheldon won’t  let proper footballs in the playground. Nor bikes but I’m too tallfor mine anyway. I’ve got two Easter eggs and there’s toys inside one of them. I don’t think you can have chocolate yet. The best programme is The Dukes  of Hazzard   but there are baby pro- grammes as well. I don’t watch them any more. Mum says you can’t sleep in my room till you’re older, about three, she said. She’s bought you a shopping basket with a cloth in it for your bed. She says it’s the same basket Moses had but it looks new. My dad had a car with no roof and he took me for a drive in it once. But then he sold it.’

Leon doesn’t know what to say about the baby’s dad because he has never seen him so he talks about their mother.

‘You can call her Carol if you like, when you can talk. You probably don’t know but she’s beautiful.  Everyone’s always saying it. I think you look like her. I don’t. I look like my dad. Mum says he’s coloured but Dad says he’s black but they’re  both wrong because he’s dark brown and I’m light brown. I’ll teach you your colours and your numbers because I’m the cleverest in my class. You have to use your fingers in the beginning.’

Leon carefully feels the downy fluff on the baby’s head.

‘You’ve got blonde hair and she’s got blonde hair. We’ve both got thin eyebrows and we’ve both got long fingers. Look.’

Leon holds his hand up. And the baby opens his eyes. They are a dusty blue with a deep black centre, like a big full stop. The baby blinks slowly and makes little kissing noises with his mouth.

‘Sometimes she takes me to Auntie Tina up on the next landing. I can walk up to Auntie Tina’s on my own but if you come, I’ll have to carry you in the basket.’

The baby won’t be able to speak until it’s much bigger so Leon just carries on.

‘I won’t drop you,’ he says. ‘I’m big for my age.’

He watches the baby blowing him kisses and leans into the crib and touches the baby’s lips with his fingertip.

His mum and Tina and the nurse come back all at the same time. Leon’s mum comes straight over to the crib and puts her arm round Leon. She kisses his cheek and his forehead.

‘Two boys,’ she says. ‘I’ve got two beautiful, beautiful boys.’ Leon puts his arms round his mum’s waist. She’s still got a round

belly like the baby was still in there and she smells different. Or maybe it’s just the hospital. All the baby-ness made Leon’s mum puffed out and red in the face and now she’s near back to being herself again. Everything except the belly. He carefully touches his mother through her flowery nightie.

‘Are there any more in there?’ he says.

The nurse and Tina and his mum all laugh at the same time.

‘That’s men for you,’ says the nurse. ‘All charm.’

But Leon’s  mum bends down  and puts her  face close to


‘No more,’ she says. ‘Just me and you and him. Always.’

Tina puts her coat on and leaves ten cigarettes on the bed for

Carol to have later.

‘Thanks, Tina,’ she says, ‘and thanks for having Leon again. Think I’ll be out on Tuesday by the sound of it.’

Carol shuffles up in the bed and the nurse puts the baby in her arms. He is making little breathing noises that sound like the beginning of  a cry. Leon’s  mum begins to  unfasten her cardigan.

‘Isn’t he lovely, Leon? You be good, all right?’ and she kisses him again.

The whole of the baby’s head fits into her hand.

‘Come to Mummy,’ she whispers and cradles him against her chest.

Tina’s flat is very different to Leon’s but it’s exactly the same as well. Both maisonettes have two  bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs and a kitchen and living room downstairs.

Leon’s house is on the ground floor of the first block by the dual carriageway and Tina’s house is up on the next landing. The dual carriageway has three rows of traffic on each side and the cars go so fast that they put a barrier up by the pavement. Now if Leon and Carol want to cross the road, they have to walk for ages to go to a crossing and press a button and wait until it starts to beep. The first time it was exciting but now it just makes it longer to get to school in the morning.

Tina lets Leon sleep in the same bedroom as her baby. She always makes a bouncy, comfortable bed when Leon stays. She takes two cushions off the sofa and then wraps them in a blanket and puts a little baby’s quilt over him. When he is lying down she throws some coats on top and covers everything over with a bed- spread. It’s like a nest or a den because no one would know he was there, like camouflage in the jungle. His bed looks like a pile of clothes in the corner but then ‘AAAGGGH’, there is a monster underneath and it jumps up and kills you. Tina always leaves the light on in the hall but tells him he has to be very quiet because of her baby.

Her baby is big and wobbly and his name suits him. Bobby. Wobbly Bobby. His head is too big for his body and when Leon plays with him, he always gets some of Bobby’s dribble on his hand. Bobby’s Wobbly Dribble. Leon’s brother won’t be like Bobby and just suck on his plastic toys all day and get his bib soak- ing wet. He won’t topple over on the sofa under the weight of his big head and just stay there till someone moves him. Leon always sits Bobby up but then Bobby thinks it’s a game and keeps on doing it.

Bobby loves Leon. He can’t talk and, anyway, he always has a dummy in his mouth but as soon as Leon walks in the door, Bobby wobbles across the carpet and holds Leon’s legs. Then he puts out his arms for Leon to pick him up. When Leon’s brother is older they’re going to play together, soldiers and Action Man. They’re going to both have machine guns and run all over the house shoot- ing at targets. Bobby can watch.

Tina’s house always has a window open and smells of baby lotion. Tina looks a bit like a baby herself because she’s got a round face with puffy cheeks and round eyes that bulge. She makes her hair different colours all the time but she’s never happy with it and Carol keeps telling her to go blonde.

Tina always says, ‘If I had your face, Carol, it wouldn’t matter so much,’ and Leon thinks she’s right.

Tina has a leather sofa that is cold and slippery on Leon’s legs and a sheepskin rug in front of the gas fire and a massive telly. She doesn’t let Leon call her ‘Tina’, like he calls his mum ‘Carol’. He has to call her ‘Auntie Tina’ and he has to call Carol ‘Mum’ because she says children have to have respect. And she doesn’t let Leon eat in front of the telly. He has to sit at a wooden table in the kitchen where there isn’t much room because she has a big fridge-freezer with ice cream in it. Bobby sits in his high chair smiling at Leon and Tina puts two scoops in Leon’s bowl and one for Bobby. Leon’s brother will probably only get half a scoop because he’ll be the smallest.

Sometimes, Tina’s boyfriend  comes, but when he sees Leon he always says, ‘Again?’ and Tina says, ‘I know.’

About Kit de Waal


Kit de Waal was born in Birmingham to an Irish mother, who was a foster carer, and a Caribbean father. She worked for fifteen years in criminal and family law, was a magistrate for several years and sits on adoption panels. She used to advise Social Services on the care of foster children, and has written training manuals on adoption and foster care. Her writing has received numerous awards including the Bridport Flash Fiction Prize 2014 and 2015 and the SI Leeds Literary Reader’s Choice Prize 2014. My Name is Leon is her first novel. She has two children.

You can follow Kit on Twitter, find her on Facebook and visit her website.

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Real Events, A Guest Post by Harriet Cummings, Author of We All Begin As Strangers

Begin As Strangers-large

As an aspiring writer I’m always interested in what sparks an author to write their novels. Today I’m delighted that Harriet Cummings, author of We All Begin As Strangers has agreed to tell me a bit about how her novel was inspired by real events.

We All Begin As Strangers will be published by Orion on the 20th of April 2017 and is available for pre-order by clicking here.

We All Begin As Strangers

Begin As Strangers-large

It’s 1984, and summer is scorching the ordinary English village of Heathcote.

What’s more, a mysterious figure is slipping into homes through back doors and open windows. Dubbed ‘the Fox’, he knows everything about everyone – leaving curious objects in their homes, or taking things from them.

When beloved Anna goes missing, the whole community believes the Fox is responsible.

But as the residents scramble to solve the mystery of Anna’s disappearance, little do they know it’s their darkest secrets the Fox is really after…

Inspired by a real 80s mystery, and with a brilliant cast of characters, We All Begin As Strangers is a beautiful debut novel you’ll want to recommend to everyone.

Real Events as a Starting Point For Stories

A Guest Post by Harriet Cummings

For most writers, it’s everyday life that feeds our imaginations. Even authors writing novels set in distant places or historic periods will – arguably – draw on the people and situations around them to make their stories come alive. This might be just the odd detail like a personality trait of a friend or a line overheard in a cafe. But it often provides a spark that warms up the writing.

In this way, for me, creating stories tends to feel like a conversation between my own life as I experience it every day, and what I put on the page. This is part of what makes storytelling so exciting; I find that crafting characters makes me more observant and appreciative of life around me – people are infinitely interesting and such rich fodder for fiction!

Of course this can occasionally make for an uncomfortable time. Friends and family members might be anxious about whether they’ll find themselves in a story. And as the author we might question the ethics of it all. How closely can we portray things we’ve witnessed? To what extent must we consider everyone’s feelings?

No doubt we shouldn’t shamelessly fill our pages with the ups and downs of our friends’ lives! We need to be tactful and sensitive. But I don’t think writers should be afraid of using real life and real events as a starting point for inspiration.

My own novel We All Begin As Strangers was inspired by something that happened in my parents’ village the summer I was born, in 1984. A man who came to be known as ‘The Fox’ was breaking into people’s homes across this village and others around the area of The Chilterns. He committed awful crimes including rape and shooting a gun, injuring someone’s hand. But he also, on various occasions, simply spent time in people’s houses, watching and listening to family life. Sometimes he could be there for hours without anyone hearing him. People would later find blankets where he’d made makeshift ‘dens’ and their photograph albums or possessions left out but not stolen.

It was this aspect of The Fox, his voyeurism, that inspired my story. In some ways the writing process was slightly anxiety-inducing because in no way did I want to lessen the crimes of The Fox or to distort the truth. The marketing needed to make clear that this wasn’t a historical book, retelling the events of that summer, but a fictional version that takes a true story as its starting point.

Maybe some people might argue it’s insensitive to use traumatic past events as a means to write books. But for me, fiction can provide a crucial way to explore and talk about difficult things. Books don’t always need to be logical or to make some moral point. Sometimes they are about trying to understand the darker elements of the world around us. As writers – and readers – we shouldn’t shy away from this.

About Harriet Cummings


Harriet is a debut novelist with a background in history of art and gender studies. As a script writer, she’s had work performed at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, as well as independent venues around London.

While studying at Faber Academy, Harriet threw herself into her first novel and hasn’t looked back since. She is currently working on her second novel – another dark drama, set in Whitby.

She lives in Leamington Spa with her husband and springer spaniel.

You can follow Harriet on Twitter and visit her website.

Rare and Fantastic, A Guest Post by Tim Lebbon, Author of Relics


I am passionate about animals and their protection and consequently, I am thrilled to host Relics author Tim Lebbon today. In celebration of the recent publication of Relics, Tim has written a highly thought provoking post all about how we exploit animals that resonates completely with my own thinking.

Relics was published by Titan on 21st March 2017 and is available for purchase in ebook and paperback here.



Beneath the surface of our world, mythological creatures and their artifacts still exist—corrupt people pay fortunes for a sliver of dragon bone, a basilisk’s scale, or an angel’s wing.

Angela Gough is an American criminology student in London whose fiancé Vince disappears, and her investigation leads her into a black market specializing in arcane relics. She meets Mary Rock, a criminal of mythic status who also wants to find Vince… to kill him.

Angela and a growing team of adventurers must stop this horrific trade, yet they face a growing menace as the hunted creatures begin to fight back.

Rare and Fantastic – The Trade In Endangered Species

A Guest Post by Tim Lebbon

‘Where do you get your ideas from?’

Sigh.  I can’t complain about people asking me this, but I’ll admit that my stomach often drops when I hear these words.  That’s because I usually have no idea.  My novel ideas rarely come to me in one big wallop.  They’re more like slow growers, starting from a seed, sprouting, blooming, different branches growing, and … enough with the metaphors, but you get my drift.  So my answer to that question is usually a vague wave of my hand, a shrug, and if I’m feeling flippant a comment about an old shop called ‘Ideas Are Us’ just down the road, past Tescos’s.  They closed down eight years ago and are now completely online of course, since the market in hard ideas faded away and concepts are now traded almost exclusively by electronic means.

However, with Relics my answer is quick, easy, and two words long: rhino horns.

I’ve never understood the mentality of people who’ll kill wonderful, rare creatures like elephants, tigers, and rhinos, just for their horns or pelts.  Now, I do eat meat.  I do wear leather.  But murdering such magnificient beasts so that you can grind up its horn on the off-chance it’ll help you have better sex … sorry, does not compute.  Even worse––if that’s possible––are the people who pay to ‘hunt’ and kill lions, giraffe, or other fantastic animals.  In the first place, it’s not a real hunt when animals are hobbled and contained in enclosures so that your payment of a kill-bonus is pretty much guaranteed.  And it’s also not a hunt if you’re using a high-powered rifle, it’s a murder.  Show me a picture of you huddled over the corpse of a lion that you’ve chased down, tackled to the ground, and killed with your bare hands and, yeah, you’ll get a nod of respect from me.  Go on.  Give it a go, ‘hunters’.  Entertain me.

Even in these troubled, divisive times, I still call myself an optimist.  I hate those social media posts where someone says, ‘People are crueller and nastier now than they ever have been,’ not only because I think it’s a misrepresentation of the majority of people, but because it’s also quite ignorant.  You think there weren’t cruel, nasty people a hundred years ago, or a thousand?  Nowadays we just hear about them more.  For my own sanity I have to believe that most people are, well, nice.  Go through life thinking anything else and you’ll end your years rocking in a corner somewhere, dribbling tea into your lap and with no one coming to visit you.


I can’t help thinking that if fantastical mythological creatures suddenly appeared on the streets of London, there would be some people whose first thought would be, ‘How can I make money out of these things?’  If a unicorn suddenly appeared in Hyde Park, what would happen?  Big news story?  Scientific delight?  Yes … but there’d also be those eager to monopolise on the discovery.

A zoo, a collection, a hunt…  And imagine how much a rich collector would pay for a unicorn horn?

That’s where Relics comes from.  You’ll find those cruel and nasty people in this novel, for sure, the ones who would make the news.  But you’ll also find the good people, too.

About Tim Lebbon


Tim Lebbon is a New York Times-bestselling horror, thriller and fantasy writer from a little village in South Wales. He has written over 30 novels, including several in collaboration with Christopher Golden, as well as dozens of novellas and hundreds of short stories.

Tim Lebbon has won four British Fantasy Awards, a Bram Stoker Award and a Scribe, as well as being shortlisted for the prestigious World Fantasy and Shirley Jackson Awards. Tim loves running, biking and swimming, and often tries to put them all together in long-distance triathlons. He raced his first Ironman in 2013.

You can follow Tim on Twitter, visit his website and find him on Facebook.

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An Interview with Marjory Rae Lewis, Author of Mission Paradise

Mission Paradise

I haven’t featured many biographical writings or memoirs on Linda’s Book Bag so I’m delighted to welcome Marjory Rae Lewis today to tell me a little more about Mission Paradise, based on her own life.

Mission Paradise is available for purchase here.

Mission Paradise

Mission Paradise

At the beginning of the Second World War, Marjorie and her brother are invited to live with an elderly, childless couple in their grand house near Winchester.
Their mother, needing to earn her living remains in London. By chance, she finds herself working with the Belgian Resistance who are engaged in secret and dangerous work.

Christmas arrives and there is a lull in the bombing, Marjorie, now 15 years old comes to stay with her mother who decides to throw a party for her Belgian protégés. Marjorie is invited to dance by a young Belgian officer and the attraction for both of them is instant.

They spend a month together until Marjorie returns to school in Winchester. She wonders what will happen: will he write? Or was he just amusing himself with her?

This atmospheric and touching story reveals the outcome of a tender relationship…

An Interview with Marjory Rae Lewis

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Marjory. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself? 

I am an elderly lady. I studied Art, I have five grown up children and am now a widow after a very happy marriage of 55 years.

Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Mission Paradise?

It is a wartime memoir of my girl-hood beginning with evacuation into the country and a first love affair with a Belgian espionage agent.

Mission Paradise is a memoir. Why did you decide to write it?

To tell an important story about those who were brave in the war and who are perhaps becoming forgotten.

What kind of a woman was your mother Letitia?

My mother had great charisma, she could be shocking but always wonderful company and extremely generous. I never felt influenced by her, I was always independent in making my own decisions.

The character Marjorie in Mission Paradise has a different spelling to your name. Why did you choose to change the spelling?

Because I was brought up as Marjorie and then at 58 years old had to get my birth certificate when my husband retired, I discovered the spelling was Marjory. On the advice of the bank manager I had to change everything from Marjorie to Marjory.

Love, in various forms, is at the centre of Mission Paradise. To what extent do you believe in love at first sight?

It wasn’t love at first sight, it was attraction. I fell for him because he gave me his full attention and was kind to me.

When you look back over the events of Mission Paradise how does it make you feel?

Nostalgic and very proud to have known such a brave man.

When you were writing Mission Paradise did it reignite emotions and thoughts that were difficult to deal with?

Yes, definitely, but told myself that was then, I had my very happy marriage, a husband I adored and my family.

Although we can’t alter history, would you like to have gone back and changed that meeting with Spider or would you leave it as it was?

No, I wouldn’t change anything, in the light of what has happened since. I was very proud to have known him.

When did you first realise you were going to write your story?

I decided to write the book, firstly because my mother died in 1969 – she was the only person who knew about Jean Cornez and me. Secondly  my husband and I went for a holiday in Belgium, I met up with Jean Cornez’s sister and we shared memories. My husband saw that the visit had affected me and he encouraged me to write my story in order to get it out.

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

I am a very creative person, a trained fine artist mostly portraits and flowers.

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

Mostly, I enjoy biographies

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

Delving into my own life experiences.

The cover to Mission Paradise shows a locket suggesting secrets to me. Is this a locket from your family and why was it used on the cover?

It was my grandmother’s locket. The closed locket on the front cover represents the story unread and the open locket on reverse represents the revealing of the memoir.

If Mission Paradise became a film, who would you like to play Spider and why would you choose them?

A mix of Robert Taylor, Robert Donat and Errol Flynn! Because of the attractiveness of their personality and physicality.

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

A true memoir, part social history, part poignant story of first love.

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

About Marjory Rae Lewis

Marjory rae Lewis

An avid walker, Marjory Rae Lewis is considerably older than she looks! Mission Paradise was written after the death of Marjory’s mother in 1969 but it wasn’t until just before Marjory’s 90th year that she decided to have it published. Marjory lives in St Albans.

An Extract from The Bluebell Bunting Society by Poppy Dolan


It gives me great pleasure to be part of the launch celebrations for The Bluebell Bunting Society by Poppy Dolan with an extract today. The Bluebell Bunting Society was published yesterday, 27th March 2017, by Canelo and is available for purchase in e-book here.

I love a custard cream so I’m delighted that the extract I have for you today from The Bluebell Bunting Society features that very biscuit!

The Bluebell Bunting Society


When the going gets tough, the tough get sewing…

Welcome to Bluebell Hall. Pull up a wonky chair, grab a cream bun and settle into a story about a little village, a determined caretaker – and bunting…

At twenty-nine, Connie isn’t quite where she thought she’d be. When her beloved gran died Connie returned to Hazelhurst, the village she grew up in, and took over her gran’s old job as caretaker at the village hall. It might not be the stuff of dreams, but Connie loves working at Bluebell Hall – the heart of the community.

So when Bluebell Hall is threatened with closure, Connie is determined not to let greedy property developers get their hands on it. She hatches a plan bonkers enough that it just might work. All it takes is a needle and thread, scraps of old material and willing hands. Can Connie convince the people of Hazelhurst that their village hall is worth saving? And will she save herself in the process…?

An Extract from The Bluebell Bunting Society

Kidnapping is a strong word. I mean, it’s a proper crime, I get that, but sometimes a bit of light kidnapping for a good cause isn’t so bad. That’s what I’ll tell my priest. Or possibly my barrister.

It was easy enough to crash the Village Committee meeting – they are open to locals, so we can all vote on the theme of this year’s Christmas lights and the May Day Queen election and such. What was trickier was politely cornering the chairman Brian Hicks and persuading him there was some appalling local graffiti that needed his attention, and to follow me straight away.

‘At the Hall?’ he’d spluttered. ‘That’s appalling! I mean, it’s not really my remit, but it says ‘Hazlehurst Sucks’ you say? It must be those Latimer scoundrels. Just because they had their village of the year 2009 rosette overturned by an anonymous source exposing their use of fake flowers!’ He pulled at his collar with one finger. Brian, I thought, you’re no stranger to an underhand tactic yourself.

I frog-marched him towards the Hall from the church, wringing my hands at what a tragedy it was, and whatever was I to do. If this caretaking lark did fall through, I could always take a run at Hollyoaks.

But Brian isn’t met by a wall of acid green scrawl and neighbourhood hate speech. When he pokes his red face into the Hall he sees a glorious web of freshly made bunting, strung back and forth from the rafters. Greens and yellows, soft purples and punchy reds. The crisp zigzag of the sheared fabric looks neat and precise, the playful, artful use of patterns and tones brings in energy and fun on top. If I didn’t know better I would have said it was a beautiful Liberty’s display or the launch of a new yacht. But I do know better: it’s Bluebell Hall in a whole new light.

‘Good gracious!’

‘Mr Hicks, do forgive my little pantomime there, but on behalf of the Bluebell Bunting Society, may I gift to your committee almost 550 metres of bespoke bunting for the May Day fete.’ At the last minute I pull myself back from a full on curtesy.

He lets out a wheeze of a breath. I’m not sure if he’s dead impressed or just nearly dead from the speed walking here. ‘Really? Is that a real thing, then? A bunting society.’

‘It is now!’ I breeze on. ‘Formed out of necessity – because Bluebell Hall is under threat from corporate development. I’m not sure what your stance is on big businesses coming into the village, erasing our history, Mr Hicks?’

‘Oof, yes, no. Awful. Worse than graffiti!’

‘Well, let me fill you in on the full story. Perhaps over a cup of tea and custard cream?’

About Poppy Dolan

author pic

Poppy Dolan lives in Berkshire with her husband. She’s a near-obsessive baker and a keen crafter, so on a typical weekend can be found moving between the haberdashery and kitchenware floors of a department store, adding to her birthday wish list. She has written three novels: The Bad Boyfriends Bootcamp, There’s More to Life than Cupcakes and most recently The Bluebell Bunting Society. The Bad Boyfriends Bootcamp made it into the Amazon top 100 bestseller chart, so clearly someone other than her mum must have read it. She’s currently working on her fourth novel – it’s about friends, siblings and crafty things – and drinking far too much tea.

You can follow Poppy on Twitter and find her on Facebook. There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Bluebell Bunting blog tour 4.jpg UPDATED BANNER

Extract and UK Giveaway: A True and Faithful Brother by Linda Stratmann

A true and faithful brother

When you love historical fiction as well as a good mystery, what could be better than the opportunity from the History Press to run a giveaway for a book, A True and Faithful Brother, by Linda Stratmann. I also have the very opening of the book for you to read.

Linda s books

A True and Faithful Brother is the latest in Linda’s Frances Doughty Mysteries and was published by the Mystery Press, an imprint of the History Press, on 1st March 2017. A True and Faithful Brother is available for purchase here.

You’ll find a giveaway for A True and Faithful Brother at the bottom of this blog post with grateful thanks to The History Press.

A True and Faithful Brother

A true and faithful brother

London 1882: When a wealthy philanthropist disappears from a locked and guarded room, Frances Doughty is reluctantly drawn into a case that tears the veil of mystery from her own past. Can London’s very own Lady Detective solve this sinister new case before a murderer catches up with her and she becomes the next victim?

An Extract from A True and Faithful Brother



Frances Doughty unfastened the top three buttons of her gown, thankful for the sake of decency that no more was required. She was comforted by the fact that the man who stood beside her, calm and solemn in his dark attire, had performed his duty many times before, and would be both her guide and support. Facing her was a closed door. In a few moments it would open, and once she had passed into the next room there could be no turning back.

Although she had been prepared, it was nevertheless a shock when the hood of white fabric was placed over her head. The world vanished as if in a fog and suddenly she felt alone, helpless and vulnerable. Aware that she had begun to tremble, she tried to conceal her apprehension and breathe as evenly as she was able, hoping to face the mystery to come humbly and without fear. Moments later came the descent of the hempen rope around her neck, its weight resting on her shoulders and tightened by the loop of the noose. Her throat was dry, her palms moist, and she could feel the deep pulsing of her heart.

There was the sound of the door opening. It was time. As she felt a steadying hand on her elbow, encouraging her to step forward, Frances could not help but cast her mind back over the remarkable train of events that had placed her in this very unusual situation.

About Linda Stratmann

Linda Stretman

Linda Stratmann was born in Leicester in 1948 and first started scribbling stories and poems at the age of six. She became interested in true crime when watching Edgar Lustgarten on TV in the 1950s. Linda attended Wyggeston Girls Grammar School, trained to be a chemist’s dispenser, and later studied at Newcastle University where she obtained a first in Psychology. She then spent 27 years in the civil service before leaving to devote her time to writing. Linda loves spending time in libraries and archives and really enjoys giving talks on her subject.

You can follow Linda on Twitter, visit her website and find her on Facebook.


A true and faithful brother

For your chance to win one of three paperback copies of A True and Faithful Friend by Linda Stratman, click here. UK only I’m afraid and the giveaway closes at UK midnight on Sunday 2nd April 2017.

Coming Soon: The Deepings Literary Festival


I’m absolutely thrilled that The Deepings villages where I live in south Lincolnshire are about to host their first ever literary festival at the end of April 2017. Under the leadership of local Councillor Judy Stevens there’s an exciting programme about to take place. Full details and booking can be found here, but I thought I’d just share a few of the events that I’m involved with on Linda’s Book Bag.

Thursday 27th April

festival launch

Although we have friends coming that day, I’m going to be sneaking out to attend the festival launch at the library. It’s not long since the library was under threat of closure but a team led by local campaigner Liz Waterland fought hard and now we have a vibrant and exciting venue for the whole community. If anyone would like to go too, just contact the library by 31st March.

Friday 28th April

Again, check here for full event details including Alison Weir and musicians Pennyless, but excitingly for me I shall be hosting Alison Bruce, author of Cambridge Black in a question and answer session from 2.30PM at Iron Horse Ranch. There will also be music from Rachel Eyre.

Cambridge Black

You can follow Alison on Twitter and visit her website, but why not come along to meet her in person?

Saturday 29th April

With events for children, authors galore and a black tie gala evening with author and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth, there’s so much happening on Saturday. I’ll be off to a morning with Karen Maitland, author of The Plague Charmer which is firmly on my TBR.

Plague Charmer

After that I’m thrilleed to be having lunch with a favourite author Erica James. You an follow Erica on Twitter and visit her website. My U3A latest read for April just happens to be one of Erica’s books: The Dandelion Years and I’m very much looking forward to reading it.

dandelion years

As soon as lunch is over I’m dashing off to the library again for a bit of read dating! Between 2 and 3.30 there will be 10 local authors for readers to meet in the style of a speed dating event! These include Ted Barnes, Carol Browne (click here to read her previous visit to Linda’s Book Bag), Darren Calpin, Michael Cayzer, Jane Isaac (I’ve met Jane several times and she’s lovely! Click here to read my review of one of her books, Beneath the Ashes), Cartlon King, Emma Lannigan, Richard Pike, Ros Rendle and Lizzie Steele.

Sunday 30th April

I haven’t quite decided which event to go to on Sunday, but am very tempted by afternoon tea with poet Stuart Henson in John Clare’s home village of Helpston.

Monday 1st May

Events continue with dance included too so do check out the website for more details. Many events are getting sold out so if you’d like to take part, you’d better get in quickly.

See you there!

An Interview with Martine McDonagh, Author of Narcissism for Beginners

NfB Hi Res Front Panel small

Narcissism for Beginners by Martine McDonagh is a book that really appeals to me but I just haven’t had time to read yet. However, I am lucky enough to have interviewed Martine all about it.

Published by Unbound on 9th March 2017, Narcissism for Beginners is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

Narcissism for Beginners

NfB Hi Res Front Panel small

Meet Sonny Anderson as he tips headlong into adulthood. Sonny doesn’t remember his mother’s face; he was kidnapped at age five by his father, Guru Bim, and taken to live in a commune in Brazil. Since the age of ten, Sonny has lived in Redondo Beach, California, with his guardian Thomas Hardiker. Brits think he’s an American, Americans think he’s a Brit.

When he turns 21, Sonny musters the courage to travel alone to the UK in an attempt to leave a troubled past behind, reunite with his mother and finally learn the truth about his childhood. With a list of people to visit, a whole lot of attitude and five mysterious letters from his guardian, Sonny sets out to learn the truth. But is it a truth he wants to hear?

Narcissism for Beginners is a fresh, witty and humane take on the struggle to make sense of growing up.

An Interview with Martine McDonagh

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Martine. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

Thank you for having me! I live in West Yorkshire and work in West Sussex (not the easiest commute) and am naturally nomadic, fortunately. I love herons. Until a few years ago I worked as an artist manager in the music industry, managing the careers of a number of bands, including James and Fujiya & Miyagi. A couple of years ago, I designed and now run the MA Creative Writing & Publishing at West Dean College in Sussex.

Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Narcissism for Beginners?

The main character in Narcissism for Beginners is Sonny, a 21 year-old living in Redondo Beach, California, with his guardian, Thomas when the novel begins. Sonny was kidnapped at age five by his own father, a self-made guru, and taken to live on a commune in Brazil. He’s had no contact with his mother since and doesn’t even remember her face. When Thomas gives him a list of names and addresses on his birthday, of people who knew both his parents, Sonny plucks up the courage to go to the UK in search of his mother.

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

I knew when I was very young that I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t really have any concept of what that meant besides just enjoying writing. I suppose I’ve always preferred writing to talking and have always written stuff down, although not always in a structured form, but I’ve had a go at everything: poetry, screenplays, short stories. I was in my mid thirties when I realised that if I didn’t start taking writing seriously then, I probably never would. Now I definitely prefer the long uphill climb of a novel.

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

I wouldn’t say I find any of it particularly easy. I love writing the first draft because I write that longhand and uncritically and there’s an aesthetically pleasing aspect to dragging a pen over smooth clean paper. Most enjoyable is that sense of being completely immersed in the story and those times away from it when it just runs riot in your head, but those are often just moments!

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

I don’t have a fixed routine as I’m rarely in one place for longer than a week, but I do have an ideal that I managed to achieve a few times while writing NfB when I wrote in blocks of three months, first in California and then in France. The ideal is to start work around 9am and work undisturbed by anyone but myself until lunchtime. After lunch, I like to walk and think for 2-3 hours, after which, depending on where I’m at in the writing process, I might go back to my desk for another hour or two. I like to write about places I’ve been, but find it easier to write about them when I’m somewhere else.

You have an MA in creative writing and you also teach creative writing. How has that impacted on your style?

I wrote the first draft of my first novel while doing my MA at MMU in Manchester and believing (wrongly) that it would probably never be published, I allowed myself to be as indulgent as I pleased. As a result I think my style in that novel is more ‘overwritten’ and perhaps more opaque than I would allow myself now, but I still follow one rule that I set back then: only use an adverb as an absolute last resort. Teaching has made me tighten up on theory and read more critically again, but what’s been lost from my process is my precious thinking time.

Narcissism for Beginners is your third novel. How has your writing process evolved over time?

It’s been different each time, changing with my circumstances. I wrote my first novel, I Have Waited and You Have Come, as a single mother of a young child while also working as an artist manager in the music industry. My second, After Phoenix, was written in the blur of grief following my father’s death. Narcissism for Beginners was written during a three-year post-house-sale sabbatical travelling and focusing solely on writing. The one I’m writing now has so far been squeezed into free time when not running the MA and guess what, it’s not as good – yet.

Narcissism for Beginners has truth as one of its main themes. Why did you choose to explore that theme?

Truth wasn’t consciously one of the themes as I wrote, but more those flipsides of truth, delusion and deception. The central theme of the novel is the effect that extremely narcissistic characters have on the people around them, and in particular on their children, and by default those characters are manipulative and dishonest, using whatever means necessary to achieve the best outcomes for themselves regardless of the effect on others. My own dealings with such characters sparked my interest and a desire to explore further.

How did you go about researching detail to ensure Narcissism for Beginners was realistic?

Naturally I read a lot. Popular psychology books were a great help in understanding the basics and more specific studies of gurus such as Dr. Anthony Storr’s Feet of Clay and first hand accounts such as Deborah Layton’s Seductive Poison really helped to get deeper into the kind of experiences my characters might have had. I also spent some time in the places my main character, Sonny, has lived, mainly because it was important to pitch his voice correctly. My own son, who lived in LA at that time and the sons of friends I lived with in Redondo Beach were an incredible help.

Narcissism for Beginners has an intriguing cover, making me think that life doesn’t always pan out as we hope! How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please)?

I had very little input into the cover design, other than to state a preference for simple, colourful and bold covers, so all the credit goes to the designer Tree Abraham, who I think did a fantastic job. So much is implied by that dropped ice cream! The cornetto image also relates to Sonny’s love for the film Shaun of the Dead, which has helped him make sense of his life.

If you could choose to be a character from Narcissism for Beginners, who would you be and why?

That’s a tricky one, not least because there’s probably something of me in all the characters, which probably goes without saying. But I think of all of them, it would have to be Thomas because he’s really lived through some extremes and come out the other end as a reformed character, albeit not entirely voluntarily.

If Narcissism for Beginners became a film, who would you like to play Sonny and why would you choose them?

Until a couple of days ago I wouldn’t have been able to answer this question, but then I saw Shia Laboeuf in American Honey and thought he portrayed the absolute perfect mix of vulnerability and cynicism. He’d be too old though, so whoever the next Shia Laboeuf is. Can’t believe I just wrote that.

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

I read a mix of fiction and non-fiction, mainly related in some way to what I’m writing about at the time, but I love those random finds in second-hand bookshops. I used to read poetry but now I hardly ever do and that’s something I need to remedy. I also used to read a lot of plays. Without meaning to sound pretentious (but probably sounding it anyway) I like to read French novels in French, partly to keep improving my French, but also because it challenges my writing brain in a way I don’t think reading in English does. French novels are often more experimental stylistically too, less genre-bound, which makes for more interesting and challenging reading in my opinion. And films are important too.

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

I’m a strong believer in the writer-as-magpie cliché – ideas can come from anywhere and it’s important to have curiosity switched on at all times. My main interest that produces ideas is my love of wandering around in strange and familiar places, especially at night. I’m not the first to say this, but there’s something in the rhythm of walking that seems to have a kind of peristaltic effect on the brain.

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

Narcissism for Beginners is for anyone who’s ever been 21, a parent or a child.

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

Thank you Linda, really interesting questions!

About Martine McDonagh


Martine McDonagh has published short fiction in Quick Fictions, The Brighton Book, The Cheeky Guide to Walks in Sussex and the Illustrated Brighton Moment and contributes occasionally to Writing magazine.

Martine has an MA in Creative Writing from MMU and currently runs the MA Creative Writing & Publishing programme at West Dean College, Chichester. She previously worked as an artist manager in the music industry.

You can follow Martine on Twitter and visit her website. You’ll also find her on Facebook.