At First Light by Vanessa Lafaye

at first light

I cannot thank Elain Egan at Orion Books enough for a copy of At First Light by Vanessa Lafaye in return for an honest review. Along with my review today, I’m thrilled that tomorrow I will be sharing a conversation about At First Light between Vanessa and fellow author Jason Hewitt whose book Devastation Road I reviewed here. Please come back to Linda’s Book Bag tomorrow to see what Vanessa has to say to Jason.

At First Light is published by Orion tomorrow, 1st June 2017, and is available for purchase through the publisher links here.

At First Light

at first light

1993, Key West, Florida. When a Ku Klux Klan official is shot in broad daylight, all eyes turn to the person holding the gun: a 96-year-old Cuban woman who will say nothing except to admit her guilt.

1919. Mixed-race Alicia Cortez arrives in Key West exiled in disgrace from her family in Havana. At the same time, damaged war hero John Morales returns home on the last US troop ship from Europe. As love draws them closer in this time of racial segregation, people are watching, including Dwayne Campbell, poised on the brink of manhood and struggling to do what’s right. And then the Ku Klux Klan comes to town…

Inspired by real events, At First Light weaves together a decades-old grievance and the consequences of a promise made as the sun rose on a dark day in American history.

You can watch the trailer video for At First Light here.

My Review of At First Light

When banished Alicia Cortez arrives in Key West in 1919, events will unfold to shape the next seven decades.

Oh my goodness. At First Light is EXACTLY my kind of read. Beautifully crafted with atmospheric prose that enchants and ensnares from the first word, I loved everything about Vanessa Lafaye’s story. The smattering of Spanish lends an authenticity to utterly gorgeous prose so that it is impossible not to become immersed in the action. I didn’t feel as if I were reading a book, but rather I felt as if I became part of the narrative.

Based on real events, At First Light told me more about American history and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) than I had consciously internalised before. Vanessa Lafaye has made me look at my previous visit to Key West in a whole new light. She manages to convey both the ridiculousness of the KKK and their far reaching menace with such skill. Part crime thriller, part love story, part historical novel At First Light is a fabulous weaving of fact and fiction that left me reeling. The violence and threat lurks beneath the surface so that I felt tense as I read, desperate for there to be happy ever after endings but fearing there wouldn’t be.

The plot races along. Some elements are what could almost be termed prosaic, relating to the everyday life of the characters, but this adds credibility and genuineness to the people and events so that other aspects are all the more shocking. I mustn’t spoil the plot for others, but I can’t see either how anyone could read At First Light and not be moved, horrified and enraptured.

The characterisation is outstanding. Alicia, John, Thomas and Dwayne will live long in my heart as real people I wish I had known. I wanted to apologise to them for their treatment, feeling almost partly to blame for what happens to them. At one point, so intense was my feeling along with Alicia’s that I found I was sobbing. Vanessa Lafaye has the power both to educate and to move without the reader’s permission.

Having read At First Light, there’s an ache in me that I don’t think I’ll ever quite recover from. I feel almost bereft that I have finished it. At First Light is, quite simply, a life changing, wonderful book that everyone should read.

About Vanessa Lafaye


Vanessa Lafaye was born in Tallahassee and raised in Tampa, Florida, where there were hurricanes most years. She first came to the UK in 1987 looking for adventure, and found it. After spells of living in Paris and Oxford, she now lives in Marlborough, Wiltshire, with her husband and three furry children. Vanessa leads the local community choir, and music and writing are big parts of her life.

You can follow Vanessa on Twitter, visit her website and find her on Facebook. Vanessa’s books are available through the publisher links here.

The Inventing Tubes by Bryony Supper

the inventing tubes

My grateful thanks to the author Bryony Supper for a copy of The Inventing Tubes in return for an honest review.

The Inventing Tubes, published by Matador on 7th November 2016, is the first in a series of pasta character based stories for children aged 4-7 and is available for purchase in paperback here.

The Pasta Kidz and Petz Adventures Books

sorry sticks

‘The Pasta Kidz™ and Petz Adventures’ are humorous, zany, magical and chaotic stories that bring together the pasta-themed Kidz – including Sarah Spaghetti, Rikki Ravioli, Camilla Cannelloni and their creative Petz – Mumbo the Macaroni Dog, Spud the Spaghetti Horse and Val the Vermicelli Snake together in unusual circumstances, engaging with strange magical objects that have a life of their own. The songs, music and humour, told in specially invented pasta language, will engage 4-to-7 year olds in a fantasy world of friendship.

The plots and messages reinforce how the Kidz are unique, with different personalities and their own needs. Each tale shows how they help each other, usually with their own individual Petz, and throughout the series we see how their personalities and friendships develop especially when encountering new characters, like the evil and huge Pasta Beasties!

The Inventing Tubes

the inventing tubes

In The Inventing Tubes, the first Pasta Kidz™ adventure in a series of up to forty books, Sarah and Marc Macaroni try their hand at inventing fun objects – and get a very grumpy PastaBall to play football with. But Sarah proves that the sport is not just for boys and she tries her hand at inventing her own ball! Every highly-branded Pasta Kidz™ and Petz story, illustrated in beautiful, full-colour detail, contains a moral message and will both inform and entertain young readers.

My Review of The Inventing Tubes

When you’re inventing something, be sure to follow all the instructions properly.

I’m going to begin this review by getting a negative out of the way first. Regular readers of Linda’s Book Bag will know I have a bee in my bonnet about literacy and I didn’t like the way Kidz and Petz were spelt, even though I appreciate they represent a type of brand in the story. I always want to model correct spellings for children.

That aside, I thought The Inventing Tubes was a story that would grasp the imagination of children and that they would thoroughly enjoy. There’s lots of rhyme and rhythm for children to explore and develop their vocabulary and I liked the glossary of terms in the Pasta Vocabulary at the end of the book as it would encourage children to play with language and experiment with sound and meaning. The alliterative names of the children add a further linguistic dimension and I liked the fact that there is some diversity of ethnicity too.

The colourful, bright illustrations add a vibrancy to the story and the illustrator Julian Bray is to be commended for them. The use of pasta in the character images is inspired and so clever. I can see this prompting pasta art and collage in the home too so that The Inventing Tubes would be a catalyst for further learning and play opportunites.

There are several morals to explore in this story. There’s friendship and sport although the feminist in me would have liked Sarah Spaghetti to have led the way in the inventing rather than Marc Macaroni!

The book ends on a cliffhanger that some children might find difficult to deal with, but it certainly helps them understand delayed gratification as well as being a great marketing tool as they’ll definitely want to know what happens next.

Vibrant, entertaining and fun, The Inventing Tubes is the first in a promising new series.

About Bryony Supper


Bryony Supper trained as a professional actress at the Drama Studio, Ealing. From there she went into Repertoire, always playing comedy roles and has a wide range of experience from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to being a regular on ITV’s Gimmee Five with Ant and Dec.

You can follow Bryony Supper and the Pasta Kidz on Twitter and find them on Facebook.

Villains: A Guest Post by Sacha Black, Author of 13 Steps to Evil


I’m thrilled to welcome Sacha Black, author of 13 Steps to Evil: How To Craft Superbad Villains to Linda’s Book Bag today. Sacha was one of the first people I followed on social media when I began blogging and is the driving force behind the Annual Bloggers Bash awards. I’m sure Sacha won’t mind me hijacking her post to hint that votes for the Best Book Review Blog can be made here!

As Sacha’s book 13 Steps to Evil: How To Craft Superbad Villains is published today, 30th May 2017, I asked her to choose three villains she feels are the best she’s encountered for her guest post.

13 Steps to Evil: How To Craft Superbad Villains is available for purchase through the links here.

13 Steps to Evil: How To Craft Superbad Villains


Your hero is not the most important character in your book. Your villain is.

Are you fed up of drowning in two-dimensional villains? Frustrated with creating clichés? And failing to get your reader to root for your villain?

In 13 Steps to Evil, you’ll discover:

+ How to develop a villain’s mindset
+ A step-by-step guide to creating your villain from the ground up
+ Why getting to the core of a villain’s personality is essential to make them credible
+ What pitfalls and clichés to avoid as well as the tropes your story needs

Finally, there is a comprehensive writing guide to help you create superbad villains. Whether you’re just starting out or are a seasoned writer, this book will help power up your bad guy and give them that extra edge.

These lessons will help you master and control your villainous minions, navigate and gain the perfect balance of good and evil, as well as strengthening your villain to give your story the tension and punch it needs.

If you like dark humour, learning through examples and want to create the best villains you can, then you’ll love Sacha Black’s guide to crafting superbad villains. Read 13 Steps to Evil today and start creating kick-ass villains.


A Guest Post by Sacha Black

Asking me who the best villains are after having researched them for six months is just mean! But I’ll do my best to answer the question anyway. :p

(I’m sure you will!)

I’ve chosen an unusual mix of bad guys because I think we can learn just as much from lesser known villains as we can from the super famous ones.

Deadpool – Marvel Comics

This might be cheating a little because technically Deadpool is an anti-hero, not a villain, but I’m counting him because he’s outrageous and I think comic book heroes and villains can often provide awesome inspiration and lessons as well as literature can.

Who is Deadpool?

Deadpool is a normal healthy man until he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. He abandons his fiancé and goes to have an experimental treatment that manipulates his DNA. He gets super regenerative powers – i.e. he can’t die. But during the process, his skin is completely mangled.

What can we learn from Deadpool?

Reading about heroes can get boring – they are all the same, damsel-carrying, world-saving hunks of muscle. As writers, we need to consider what our readers want and sometimes implanting a standard villain won’t do the trick. That’s why anti-heroes are so much fun. They’re the best of both worlds and Deadpool is a really great example of one.

Why does Deadpool work?

Deadpool has an acerbic wit, his attitude stinks, and his actions are even worse. But his morals are in the right place. Everything he does is to save his fiancé. You’d think his actions might put people off him as a protagonist. But it works because he is a reflection of humanity. Superheroes (the damsel carrying ones) are a Utopian ideal, they don’t exist, and that’s why they get boring – because we can’t relate to their perfection. Whereas, Deadpool, with his shoot first- ask later ethos is a much closer reflection of how we might act if someone we loved was in danger.

The anti-hero and Deadpool, in particular, is a real, relatable, flawed character. He makes bad decisions, and that makes him ‘human’ which is why he works so well.

The Evil Queen – Once Upon A Time (TV series based on fairy tales)

*spoiler alert* If you haven’t watched Once Upon A Time the TV series, and want to then skip over this section.

Who is The Evil Queen?

The Evil Queen (from the Snow White fairy tale) has been re-written in so many incarnations I couldn’t possibly name them all. But one of the best current versions is from the TV series Once Upon A Time. The series is based in Storybrook, a fictional town in America that’s closed off by magic. Storybrook is inhabited by every fairy tale character imaginable. The Evil Queen trapped them there in Storybrook as revenge for something Snow White did to her in the fairy tale realm.

What can we learn from The Evil Queen?

Unlike most villains, The Evil Queen has a really neat character arc. At the start of the series, she is the main villain, enacting revenge on Snow for what she did. But as the series progresses she changes. Her old emotional wounds that made her a villain are healed, and unlike most villains, she changes and becomes a hero. Without being too much of a villain nerd, I think this is awesome. It’s rare to see a twist like this, and it makes the show unique and really engaging for me as a viewer. That’s something we need to learn from as writers.

 Why does The Evil Queen work?

The reason she works as a character is that although she changes fundamentally, the screenwriters make her suffer for it. It’s hard to change as a person; we know that ourselves. They’ve kept the story grounded in reality, and made it hard for The Evil Queen to maintain her hero status. She has to fight daily inner demons to stay good and make good choices because her natural instinct is to do bad things. This makes her such a gritty character I LOVE IT.

Hannibal Lecter – Silence Of The Lambs by Thomas Harris (Book series and Film)

Who is Hannibal Lecter?

Hannibal Lecter is a character based on the books by Thomas Harris. He is arguably one of the best villains of all time. Interestingly, despite being a villain, he is also the protagonist of stories. Hannibal is a cannibal and a serial killer.

What can we learn from Hannibal Lecter?

The reason I chose Hannibal is that he is what I would call a typical villain. When you think of a bad guy, usually you’ll think of a psychopathic murderer. That’s exactly what Hannibal is, and it makes him a classic villain. Does bad stuff because he wants to, and doesn’t always have a justification for doing it; he’s psychotic.

But his depiction, his consistency in his behaviour throughout the stories is what makes him so good. There is no character arc for him; there is only the constant cannibalising murder and the knowledge that no matter what hero comes along and tries to change him she never will. And that is a little terrifying.

Why does Hannibal Lecter work?

But that’s why Hannibal works, and that’s the lesson we should learn.  Just as The Evil Queen did grow and develop and that change is what made her work, Hannibal does not, and that’s what makes him work.

Throughout the story, although in Silence of the Lambs he helps Clarice with her investigation (a good action), he does not change. His values and principles remain the same right to the end. For me, the icing on my Hannibal cake is that he knows what he is doing is completely wrong, and yet, he takes pleasure in doing it anyway and even more terrifying is his articulation of what he does is absolutely crystal clear. What’s scarier than having someone tell you exactly how they intend to carve you up and knowing nothing you do can change their mind? Genius characterisation.

(Thanks Sacha – and I think I’m probably traumatised now!)

About Sacha Black

Photo close crop

Sacha Black has five obsessions; words, expensive shoes, conspiracy theories, self-improvement, and breaking the rules. She also has the mind of a perpetual sixteen-year-old, only with slightly less drama and slightly more bills.

Sacha writes books about people with magical powers and other books about the art of writing. She lives in Hertfordshire, England, with her wife and genius, giant of a son.

When she’s not writing, she can be found laughing inappropriately loud, blogging, sniffing musty old books, fangirling film and TV soundtracks, or thinking up new ways to break the rules.

You can follow Sacha on Twitter.

You can also find her on FacebookPinterest and Instagram and visit her fiction website here and her non-fiction website here.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:


Authenticity: A Guest Post by Jon Herbert Scott, Author of Trouble on the Wing

trouble on the wing

Having been a police lay visitor in the past, I’m interested in what happens when detainees become prisoners and so it gives me great pleasure to welcome, Jon Herbert Scott, author of Trouble on the Wing, to Linda’s Book Bag today.  Jon has worked in just that environment and explains how he has drawn on his experiences to create a work of fiction.

Trouble on the Wing is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here, but readers might like to know it will be a free Kindle download on Wednesday 31st May.

Trouble on the Wing

trouble on the wing

When a new arrival at HMP Hatcham beats up B Wing’s top dog and soon has all the other prisoners running scared, Security governor Tony McKenzie is immediately curious. Who the hell is this guy? And could he have something to do with the prison’s sky-high drug rate which is wreaking havoc around the establishment and causing so much self-harm and violence?

As McKenzie investigates, the beleaguered governor discovers the story behind Djemil HA2684 is more serious, more terrifying than he ever imagined. But there is no turning back. The only question now is, can he avoid getting sucked into the story himself? Or has his job as Hatcham’s Head of Security just become a battle for survival – one which threatens the stability of the entire world?


A Guest Post by Jon Herbert Scott

For a fast-moving prison thriller that involves international espionage, the secret services and cutting-edge drones, it probably sounds a bit far-fetched to say I wanted Trouble on the Wing to be grounded in reality. And yet that was my aim when I set out to write it. I wanted to portray prison life as it really is – in particular in relation to prison staff who, so often in prison dramas, seem to be reduced to cartoon-like parodies: vindictive bull-necked thugs.

I was also conscious that authenticity was the one thing I could offer the reader. I used to work as a prison governor and began as a prison officer on the landings in HMP Pentonville. So while Trouble on the Wing is set in a fictional London establishment, the descriptions of everyday prison life – from the all-too-prevalent themes of self-harm, violence and drug smuggling to the humour and incessant banter between staff and prisoners – I tried to describe all of these jigsaw parts of everyday just as I’d experienced them. Humour, in fact, is a big feature of prison life – a counterweight to the desperation and misery, perhaps – and in some bizarre way the dark twisted cynicism helps ease staff and prisoners through each and every day together. A kind of oxygen, if you will.

I also tried to show the prison service’s obsession with performance targets, the frequent cigarette breaks by prison governors in the Reception yard, and, not least, the sniping, the oneupmanship that so often dominates staff meetings. Keeping to the show-don’t-tell maxim, I’ve not commented in any way – just shown how it is. Shown how extraordinary the mundane can be.

If weaving descriptions of managerialism into a thriller sounds risky, I think I’d agree with you. The danger is it blunts the action, makes it all a bit boring. But get the balance right and I think it can enhance the story – can lend that veneer of authenticity that will win readers’ trust and hopefully make them feel like they, too, are slaving away as Head of Security and feeling the heat as they desperately try to work out how the hell all the drugs are pouring into the prison. That way, readers will empathise with some of my nicer characters (in this case Governor Tony McKenzie) and will root for him to succeed. Well, that was my plan.

It sounds straightforward, writing a novel based on my own experiences, and in some ways it was. Most of the characters are based (fairly loosely …) on people I worked with, while most of the action is based on events I experienced or, at least, heard about. Translating these memories onto the computer screen was the easy bit – a process not harmed by the fact that I used to work as a feature writer for magazines. But that only got me so far. Because to write this book I also had to learn how to tell a story, had to learn how to interweave plot lines, develop characters and get the reader to like them. Or hate them. All of that was new for me – and remarkably time-consuming.

In fact tot up all the hours I spent writing Trouble on the Wing (or should I say rewriting …), and the whole exercise could seem like an indulgent folly. And yet I loved every minute of it. I’ve also loved some of the feedback I’ve got so far – the way former prison colleagues say they recognise the environment they continue to work in, the way readers talk about the characters I invented as if they really exist. I love all that. And yes, writing Trouble on the Wing took a long time. It took fundamental plot changes, it took character culls, it took rewrites. But compared to working in a busy London prison, with a chronic lack of resources, a demoralised staff group and frustrated prisoners – compared to that, it was an absolute breeze.

About Jon Herbert Scott

jon h scott

Jon Herbert Scott spent a decade working as a journalist before getting a job as a prison governor. He subsequently worked in five different prisons, three of them in London. Today Jon is back working as a writer. Trouble on the Wing is his first novel.

You can follow Jon on Twitter. If you would like to sample Trouble on the Wing, you’ll find more on Jon’s website for the book here.

Spade, Seed & Supper by Martin Spice


Last year I interviewed author Martin Spice all about his family book Lynx:Back to the Wild, which you can read here. By way of a thank you, Martin was kind enough to send me a copy of another of his books Spade, Seed & Supper. I’ve explained why it’s taken me so long to review some of the books I have been sent here, but finally I got round to reading Spade, Seed & Supper and it was so worth the wait.

Spade, Seed & Supper is available for purchase in e-book here.

Spade, Seed & Supper


“And it so happened that just up the road, in the very centre of the beautiful Cotswold village of Amberley, were the sweetest, loveliest, flattest, best tended allotments in the entire universe. Or so it seemed to us.”

The demand for allotments is at an all time high and the grow-your-own vegetable movement is in full swing. Spade, Seed & Supper offers a tongue-in-cheek insight into the trials, tribulations and triumphs of tending your own patch. Including some delicious, well-tried recipes for the produce that the birds and slugs don’t get, this honest, down to earth and amusing account of allotment life reveals the reality behind the glossy pictures of the ‘how to’ books and settles once and for all the issue of whether growing your own actually saves you any money. Mel Narongchai’s beautiful and witty illustrations complement the text perfectly.

My Review of Spade, Seed & Supper

With house prices high, an allotment is a good alternative to moving!

Let me say at the outset that if you’re looking for a text book about crop rotation, pest control and seasonal planting, then Spade, Seed & Supper is not for you. If like me, however, you’re familiar with the trials of having an allotment and you want a book written by someone who knows exactly what that entails then Spade, Seed & Supper is perfection.

The conversational tone is delightful. Martin Spice writes with such wit and warmth I was completely charmed by his style. I can’t remember another gardening book that has made me laugh until I cried, because so much was so familiar. We have an allotment because we couldn’t afford to move to a bigger house and garden. We too have seen flimsy materials blown away like Martin’s cold frame (except ours was a complete greenhouse). We use a mattock in the way Martin wields a pick axe. We have a Paul on our site (though he’s called Sam) and I recognised the sense of community Martin describes just as much as the potato blight he encounters. It was the rhetorical questions peppered in the chapters that gave the text vivacity and humour for me.

As well as the charming prose, there are lovely, humorous illustrations from Mel Narongchai that further bring the writing to life. Also included are some simple and realistic recipes. Indeed, I’ve used Martin’s leek and potato soup recipe already so I know they work. I really appreciated the smattering of quotations throughout the text too. There are apposite comments from T.S. Eliot through Muddy Waters to Voltaire.

Yes, there are helpful tips along the way for growing on an allotment, but Spade, Seed & Supper is only partly a book about allotmenteering. Mostly it’s about people and their small successes and failures. I loved it and if you’re an allotmenteer I dare say you will too.

About Martin Spice


Martin Spice is a journalist, author and reviewer whose work has appeared in the Times Educational Supplement, The Weekly Telegraph, The South China Morning Post, The Star (Malaysia), Marie Claire and numerous other publications.

You can follow Martin on Twitter and visit his website.

The Days of Wooden Ships and Iron Men; A Guest Post by Michael Wills, Author of the Children of the Chieftain Series

Children of the Chieftain

I’m fascinated by historical fiction and often wonder just how I might fare in other times to the age I was born in. It turns out I’m not alone and Michael Wills, author of the Children of the Chieftain Series of books for young readers, has been pondering exactly the same thing. He tells us his views today in a super guest blog.

Michael’s latest book in the Children of the Chieftain Series, Bounty, was published by Silverwood on 8th February 2017 and is available for purchase here.

Children of the Chieftain: Bounty

Children of the Chieftain

The young crew of the Viking ship ‘Eagle’ set out on a new journey when they are given the task of delivering a message in the land of the Rus. But fate has a surprise in store for them when they are ordered to travel on the Viking trading route south to Constantinople, a route fraught with danger. They must face warring tribesmen, deadly rapids and a host of other dangers before they reach their destination. There the adventure continues when they find themselves in the service of the emperor of the Greeks.

The Days of Wooden Ships and Iron Men?

A Guest Post by Michael Wills

As an historical novelist, I often find myself wondering whether the physical feats of my protagonists are actually realistic. Publishers of books like mine are very fond of putting a picture of a burly, handsome man on the cover of their books. He is usually half dressed so that the full extent of his musculature may be seen. But were people like that in days gone by? Well, probably some were, but I am certain that most had just an average physique.

This begs the question, how was it then that men could perform the extraordinary feats of strength and physical endurance which litter history? Consider these three examples.

In 1031, Prince Jaroslav in Novgorod, (Russia), commanded his Viking mercenaries to attack his Polish enemy. This army travelled 150 miles by boat and then marched 420 miles, carrying their equipment, over rough terrain before meeting and defeating the Polish army.

In 1066, there was an invasion of Britain, before the famous Norman conquest. In September, a Norwegian Viking army of 16,000 men invaded the north of England and took York. King Harold of England responded by force marching his army from London to a village called Stamford, near York, a distance of 220 miles, in six days. Although outnumbered, his army defeated the Norwegians.

In April 1789, in the South pacific, there was a mutiny on a Royal Navy ship called the Bounty. The commander, Captain Bligh, was set adrift in a 23-foot-long open boat together with 18 men who had stayed loyal to him. They had just 28 gallons of water, 32 pounds of pork and 150 pounds of hard biscuit. For six weeks, with no chart to help him, Bligh navigated the small craft a distance of 3,600 miles. His men endured storms, dangerous reefs, hunger and thirst before they reached the safety of Timor. Only one man died, he was killed by the inhabitants of one of the islands where Bligh sought provisions. Recently, there was a re-enactment of this voyage, though this time the navigator had a chart. Even though the modern crew reached their destination, (after being re-supplied with water), two of the crew had to be taken off by a rescue boat. One had become mentally unstable and the other suffered a severe cut which became infected.

Were men tougher and more resilient in times gone by? Even though their diet, clothes and equipment were far inferior to those of today. British and American Army regulations require that men and women on strenuous duties should be provided with between 4000 and 5000 calories a day. The Viking mercenaries, the Anglo-Saxon army and Bligh’s sailors would have had nothing like that and yet they performed acts of great physical prowess.

So, the conclusion I draw from the examples I have given and hundreds of other historical events is that the truth is often much stranger than fiction and that there was indeed a time of wooden ships and iron men. Of course, there are incredible examples of physical endurance in our day and age too, but I venture to suggest that most of us would be unable to emulate the feats of our forefathers. Thus, using history as a guide, I generally feel comfortable that I am not asking too much of the characters in my books.

About Michael Wills

Michael Wills

Michael E Wills was born on the Isle of Wight, UK, and educated at the Priory Boys School and Carisbrooke Grammar. He trained as a teacher at St Peter’s College, Saltley, Birmingham, before working at a secondary school in Kent for two years. After re-training to become a teacher of English as a Foreign Language he worked in Sweden for thirteen years. During this period he wrote several English language teaching books. His teaching career has included time working in rural Sweden, which first sparked his now enduring interest in Scandinavian history and culture – an interest that, after many years of research, both academic and in the field, led him to write Finn’s Fate and the sequel, Three Kings – One Throne.

Continuing in a Viking theme, in June 2015 Michael published Children of the Chieftain: Betrayed, the first of a quartet of Viking adventure stories for young readers. The book was described by the Historical Novel Society as ‘an absolutely excellent novel which I could not put down’ and long-listed for the Historical Novel Society 2016 Indie Prize. The second book in the quartet, Children of the Chieftain: Banished, was published in December 2015.

Today, Michael works part-time as Ombudsman for English UK, the national association of English language providers. Though a lot of his spare time is spent with grandchildren, he also has a wide range of interests including researching for future books, writing, playing the guitar, carpentry and electronics. He spends at least two months a year sailing his boat, which is currently in Scandinavia.

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

Making the Voices Heard: A Guest Post by Lainy Malkani, Author of Sugar Sugar

sugar sugar

It gives me very great pleasure to welcome Lainy Malkani, author of Sugar, Sugar to Linda’s Book Bag today. Lainy has delved into the past and created a collection of short stories that reflect Indian voices. She has kindly agreed to tell us a bit about that process today in a fascinating guest post.

Sugar Sugar was published by Hope Road on 25th May 2017 and is available for purchase here.

Sugar Sugar

sugar sugar

Sugar, Sugar is a contemporary collection of short stories which reveals a rich and culturally diverse history behind India’s migrant workers and one of the most abundant and controversial commodities in the world.

Inspired by historical documents between 1838 and 1917, and the living memories of the descendents of indentured workers, Sugar, Sugar, spans five continents, travelling through time uncovering inspiring tales of courage and resilience.

With sugar at its heart, this collection unveils lives rarely exposed in modern British literature and adds a new dimension to the history of sugar, post emancipation, whilst sharing a previously untold strand in the story of the making of contemporary Britain.

Making the Voices Heard

A Guest Post by Lainy Malkani

Recording Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas for BBC Radio 4 was quite an experience. I came across a network of people from my community that I had heard about but never met. I visited the Caribbean Hindu Cultural Society, where a group of elderly Indo-Caribbean people regularly met in Forest Hill, South London. They shared their stories of growing up in Guyana or British Guiana as it was known before independence. British Guiana was an unusual colony in the Caribbean. Located on the mainland of South America it was and still is the only English speaking country on the continent. It is where, sometime between 1838 and 1917, the ancestors of these elders along with those of my own family arrived from Calcutta and Madras, with contracts to work for five years on the sugar plantations . The aim was to fill the labour shortage brought about when emancipated African slaves left their hard labour in the sugar cane fields. At the end of their indentured contracts the Indians were told that they could return home. Some did go back to India but many others were enticed once again to remain and work for a further five years. It was cheaper to re-engage the workers that were already on the sugar estates than ship new workers to the colony.

Fast-forward a hundred years or so and people in the Caribbean are on the move again, this time to Britain to fill the shortage of labour in the NHS and on the transport systems in cities around the UK. Many Indo-Caribbean people mainly from Trinidad and Guyana arrived in the UK in the 1950’s and 1960’s and when they did the story of their ancestors almost disappears. They soon became categorised as ‘British Asians’, despite never having lived in India at all.

When I made Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas, I wanted to bring out this unique history into the open and give an opportunity for other Indo-Caribbean people to share their own stories and at the same time reveal a part of British history that was relatively unknown. However, once the programmes were aired, I was surprised to discover that they resonated with communities around the world.

That is when I decided to write Sugar, Sugar as a collection of short stories that stretched across five continents and to include stories from South Africa, Mauritius, Fiji and Trinidad where Indian communities shared this history. I decided to write a book because I felt that it would be a permanent addition to the narrative of Indian indentured migration.

Sugar, Sugar is inspired by historical archive and the memories of the descendent of indentured workers who shared their stories with me. It is a work of fiction because I found that there was a lack of first-hand accounts written by indentured Indians themselves.  Most of the historical archive I discovered at the British Library was written by plantation owners, managers, a ship’s surgeon or the Protector of Immigrants. In my view, they revealed only one side of this story; the story of those who had an interest in preserving this system.  I wanted to write from the Indian point of view.

Sugar, Sugar raises themes around identity and loss, preservation and friendship and is a mix of contemporary and historical stories. More than that, however I think Sugar, Sugar plays its part in telling a largely untold story of a fascinating period of British, Indian and Caribbean history.

About Lainy Malkani


Lainy Malkani is a London born writer, broadcast journalist and presenter with Indo-Caribbean roots. In 2013 she set up the Social History Hub to bring the stories of ‘unsung heroes’ in society to life. Her critically acclaimed two-part radio documentary for BBC Radio 4, Sugar, Saris and Green Bananas, inspired her to create this collection of short stories. She has written for the British Library, the Commonwealth and the BBC. She is married with two children and lives in North West London. Her cross-cultural roots; from Britain, India and Guyana, in the Caribbean, has been a great source of her work, both as a writer and journalist.

You can follow Lainy on Twitter and there’s more with these other bloggers too:

Sugar sugar tour poster

My Fantasy Holiday Companions: A Guest Post by Sue Moorcroft, Author of Just for the Holidays

Just for the Holidays

I have to begin this post with an apology. I fully intended reading and reviewing Just for the Holidays, Sue Moorcroft’s latest novel, whilst on my own holiday a week ago. However, a nasty bout of food poisoning or Norovirus knocked me out for three whole days so instead of sitting on the beach and reading, I was otherwise engaged and my reading schedule has gone haywire! However, I do have a great guest post from Sue today, all about her fantasy holiday companions.

I love having Sue on the blog. You’ll find my review of The Christmas Promise here and an interview with Sue here.

Just for the Holidays was published by Harper Collins imprint, Avon books, on 18th May 2017 and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

Just for the Holidays

Just for the Holidays

In theory, nothing could be better than a summer spent basking in the French sun. That is, until you add in three teenagers, two love interests, one divorcing couple, and a very unexpected pregnancy.

Admittedly, this isn’t exactly the relaxing holiday Leah Beaumont was hoping for – but it’s the one she’s got. With her sister Michele’s family falling apart at the seams, it’s up to Leah to pick up the pieces and try to hold them all together.

But with a handsome helicopter pilot staying next door, Leah can’t help but think she might have a few distractions of her own to deal with…

My Fantasy Holiday Companions

A Guest Post by Sue Moorcroft

A holiday is the perfect opportunity to chat to your significant other, family members or friends. You might see them every day but do you really get the chance to talk? Around the pool, on the beach, on a coach trip, in a bar or restaurant, you’ll have much more time than usual to find out all kinds of interesting things.

With this thought in mind I’ve compiled a list of fantasy holiday companions – people I think it would be fascinating to chat to.

Nevil Shute

Nevil Shute was a superstar author. He died in 1960 but wrote epic successes such as A Town Like Alice, which was the first grown-up novel I ever read. His scope was wide. He wrote about both world wars, the services, the UK, France, Australia. He wrote about events before they occurred such as What Happened to the Corbetts, his impression of what would happen to Southampton if war broke out – and it was uncannily accurate. I’d like to know how he did that and if anybody ever made disparaging remarks because he often wrote about love.

Stephen Fry

I just like to hear Stephen Fry speak. He’s got a razor wit and a rapid riposte; he’s well travelled and has done much to bring awareness to the condition of bipolar disorder, from which he suffers.

Jenson Button

I’m an F1 addict and Jenson was one of my favourite drivers. I remember him even when he was racing go-karts and I watched the coverage on Channel 4 on Saturdays. I will talk to anyone with any knowledge of F1 for hours (even when they don’t want me to) and to kick back and chat to a driver is one of my ambitions. I’d ask him how he feels about coming back for just one race this season in Monaco.

Miss Wishart

She was my infant school teacher in Malta. I’d like to ask her whether she thinks her methods got the best out of students and I’d like to tell her that she was wrong when she said that I’d never get anywhere by daydreaming. (I call it plotting, now.)

My grandmother, Elizabeth

Of course, I’d love to be with every family member I’ve loved and lost but I never knew this gran. She died when my dad was two. I’d like to tell her what a great person he grew up to be. She could tell me about the part of my family I never knew well.

Now I have my holiday party together I can start thinking of destinations. Australia … Singapore … Mauritius?

(Well, I’ve been to Australia and Singapore Sue, but Mauritius is on my wish list so maybe we could go together?)

About Sue Moorcroft


Award winning author Sue Moorcroft writes contemporary women’s fiction with occasionally unexpected themes. The Wedding ProposalDream a Little Dream and Is This Love? were all nominated for Readers’ Best Romantic Read Awards. Love & Freedom won the Best Romantic Read Award 2011 and Dream a Little Dream was nominated for a RoNA in 2013. Sue’s a Katie Fforde Bursary Award winner, a past vice chair of the RNA and editor of its two anthologies.

The Christmas Promise was a Kindle No.1 Best Seller and held the No.1 slot at Christmas!

Sue also writes short stories, serials, articles, writing ‘how to’ and is a creative writing tutor.

You can find out more about Sue via any of the following links: websiteblogGoogle+LinkedInGoodreadsTake Five AuthorsFacebook and her Facebook author page. You can also follow Sue on Twitter.

The Fascination Of Writing About The Past: A Guest Post by Carolyn Hughes, Author of Fortune’s Wheel

Fortune's Wheel

I’m always fascinated by history and am delighted that Carolyn Hughes, author of Fortune’s Wheel, shares that fascination with me and has agreed to write all about it in a great guest post for Linda’s Book Bag.

Published by Silverwood Books Fortune’s Wheel is the first in the Meonbridge Chronicles and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

Fortune’s Wheel

Fortune's Wheel

Plague-widow Alice atte Wode is desperate to find her missing daughter, but her neighbours are rebelling against their masters and their mutiny is hindering the search.

June 1349. In a Hampshire village, the worst plague in England’s history has wiped out half its population, including Alice atte Wode’s husband and eldest son. The plague arrived only days after Alice’s daughter Agnes mysteriously disappeared, and it prevented the search for her.

Now the plague is over, the village is trying to return to normal life, but it’s hard, with so much to do and so few left to do it. Conflict is growing between the manor and its tenants, as the workers realise their very scarceness means they’re more valuable than before: they can demand higher wages, take on spare land, and have a better life. This is the chance they’ve all been waiting for.

Although she understands their demands, Alice is disheartened that the search for Agnes is once more put on hold. When one of the rebels is killed, and then the lord’s son is found murdered, it seems the two deaths may be connected, both to each other and to Agnes’s disappearance.

The Fascination Of Writing About The Past

A Guest Post by Carolyn Hughes

Why do I write historical fiction? And why are my novels set in the fourteenth century?

The answer to both questions lies in serendipity. When I had to choose what to write as the creative piece for my Masters in Creative Writing at Portsmouth University, I mostly just wanted a change from the contemporary women’s fiction I’d been writing for the previous few years (none yet published).

Searching for inspiration, I was looking through some of my old scribblings, when I rediscovered the fading handwritten draft of about 10,000 words of a novel I’d written in my twenties. Set in fourteenth century rural England, it was about the lives of peasant families. To be frank, the novel’s plot (indeed the writing itself) wasn’t terribly good (dreadful, actually!), yet I was really quite drawn to its period and setting. I had one of those light bulb moments and, a few days later, I was drafting an outline for the novel that is now Fortune’s Wheel.

It’s true that I’d long been intrigued by the mediaeval period, for its relative remoteness in time and in our understanding of it and, I think, for the very dichotomy between the habitual present-day perception of the Middle Ages as “nasty, brutish and short” and the wonders of the period’s art, architecture and literature. The briefest of investigations quickly proved to me that I wanted to know more about the period, and I suppose I soon realised that, by writing an historical novel, I’d have the opportunity both to find out more about the mediaeval past and to interpret it, which seemed like a thrilling thing to do.

But was the fourteenth century a good choice? It seemed to be relatively unloved among historical novelists. Other centuries – the sixteenth, twelfth and, more recently, the fifteenth – seemed to be more appealing to writers, with stories of, for example, Henry VIII and his many wives, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the Wars of the Roses. And perhaps they were also more appealing to readers? I didn’t know. But I also decided not to care! I knew what I wanted to write about. And, in truth, I can’t imagine why the fourteenth century might be “unpopular”, for it really is a fascinating period.

Historian Barbara Tuchman (in A Distant Mirror) called the century “calamitous”. Catastrophic events affected every part of its life: overpopulation and severe poverty in the first decade; famines in the second; the start of the Hundred Years War in 1337, which continued on and off for the rest of the century and beyond; the Black Death in 1348-9 and the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. So, plenty of background there for interesting storylines…

Such events as these would have meant (as they do in every century) huge changes to people’s lives, at all levels of society. However, although I enjoy reading historical novels about kings and queens, and the movers and shakers of the world, I don’t particularly want to write about them. I’m much more interested in how events affected the lives of ordinary people, and I wanted to write –and still do – about ordinary lives within the context of these big social changes.

Of course, the lives of “ordinary people” are not much recorded  – well, that’s not entirely true, for you can learn quite a lot about them from entries in, for example, court records. But they are generally just names, without the input of, say, chroniclers and historians about their characters or motivations. Ordinary people of the past are essentially unknown and invisible, with no biographies to drawn from, so I’m obliged to invent entirely all the characters who populate my stories.

But that is not to say, of course, that I can also just “make up” everything about the way they lived.

My objective is to bring the past to life with a sense of naturalism and authenticity. I want to try and understand (what we know of) the truth about the period, and to portray it as realistically as possible. (This is obviously the objective of all writers of historical fiction…)

A question might be: how “authentic” does it have to be? For readers who enjoy learning about history through fiction, a sense of historical truth is important, while those who simply enjoy reading stories set in the past may not mind too much if a novel tends more towards the imaginative than the true. Book reviews of any number of historical novels show how widely readers’ needs and sensibilities can differ: for some, historical accuracy is vital, whereas, for others, a sense of authenticity is enough, provided the story is sufficiently engaging.

For those readers, including me, for whom authenticity is pretty important, using a few aspects of recorded history, even if the story isn’t about those events, sets the fiction against a background of fact. Describing physical details, such as houses, clothes, food, tools can paint a vivid picture. Depicting a reasonably convincing historical “thought-world” can give the picture depth.

And this last is, I feel, the most difficult. For, although people who lived 700 years ago were undoubtedly like us in many ways – they fell in love, adored their children, had aspirations and ambitions, enjoyed a joke and suffered the pain of loss, to name just a very few of the many similarities – they were surely also unlike us, also in many ways…

Clearly, their practical, day-to-day lives were very different from ours, and it’s important to try to portray those everyday practicalities so that readers can, in a sense, see themselves in their antecedents’ shoes, even if only a little bit. But trying to portray, with any degree of authenticity, the way our antecedents thought – how they understood the world and the way it works, the part religion played in their lives, their belief in magic and superstition, their attitudes towards sexuality and gender, their sensibilities and mindsets in general – can be tricky. And one of the things that is difficult about it is, I think, to try and draw a balance between the authentic past and the sceptical present.

For, although magic and superstition might have been part of the mediaeval person’s ordinary experience, they are the opposite for us. In writing an historical novel, I’m not just portraying the past, but must also be conscious of how certain aspects of the past might now be seen by a modern reader. For example, a potential danger of introducing “magical” elements that today would be dismissed as fantastical – however authentic they might be to the mediaeval experience – is that the novel might appear less naturalistic historical fiction than a kind of fantasy.

Nonetheless, one must certainly not eschew the “strange” altogether, for it is the very difference, or “otherness”, of the past that makes writing historical fiction so intriguing. And it is why I am so enjoying writing it, and expect to continue doing so for many books to come.

(And following that guest post Carolyn, I can’t wait to read Fortune’s Wheel!)

About Carolyn Hughes

Carolyn publicity

Carolyn Hughes was born in London, but has lived most of her life in Hampshire. After completing a degree in Classics and English, she started her working life as a computer programmer, in those days a very new profession. But it was when she discovered technical authoring that she knew she had found her vocation. She spent the next few decades writing and editing all sorts of material, some fascinating, some dull, for a wide variety of clients, including an international hotel group, medical instrument manufacturers and the government.

She has written creatively for most of her adult life, but it was not until her children grew up and flew the nest several years ago that writing historical fiction, took centre stage in her life. She has a Master’s in Creative Writing from Portsmouth University and a PhD from the University of Southampton. Fortune’s Wheel is her first published novel.

You can find Carolyn on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and find out more on her website.

Why Shakespeare’s Still Got It: A Guest Post by H J Moat, Author of Other People’s Business


I’m delighted to welcome H J Moat to Linda’s Book Bag today. Hollie’s book Other People’s Business is a modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and what could be more intriguing to an ex-English teacher than to find out why she thinks Shakespeare is still relevant in today’s society. Hollie has kindly told me what she thinks in a lovely guest post.

Other People’s Business is available for purchase in e-book here.

Other People’s Business


Some cupid kills with arrows, some with traps…

Bee and Ben haven’t always hated each other, but they certainly hate each other now. They hate each other so much that it threatens to derail the wedding of their best friends, Imogen and Will.

But then something unthinkable happens and turns everything on its head. Within the wedding party, some hearts swell and others are broken, but will anyone work out that relationships are rarely quite what they seem?

This modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing explores the idea of whether we’re ever really in control of our own romantic destiny and if true love really can conquer all.

Why Shakespeare’s Still Got It

A Guest Post by H J Moat

When I decided to adapt Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing into a modern novel, I knew it would have no trouble settling in to the 21st century. England’s greatest ever playwright is as relevant today as he ever has been – throw a rock in any high street if you want proof, odds are whoever you hit will be able to reel off the fate of Romeo and Juliet. But in case launching missiles at strangers isn’t your sort of thing – here’s 5 more reasons why Shakespeare is always worth a read…

1.Nobody has ever bettered romance or violence

And all the best stories are essentially about love or war, even today. No one can do either one quite like W.S – let’s say I mention an anti-hero who murders his enemies and bakes them in a pie because they raped his daughter (and then cut off her tongue and hands to stop her telling anyone about it). You might assume I’d gotten a bit confused during an episode of Game Of Thrones. You’d be wrong: welcome to Titus Andronicus. And when it comes to romance, consider that even Hamlet, few people’s idea of a dreamboat, writes to Ophelia ‘Doubt thou the stars are fire, doubt that the sun doth move, doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love.’ That was Shakespeare barely even trying to melt hearts….

2. He was an early feminist ally

Now I’m not suggesting Shakespeare and Roxane Gay would be BFFs, but certainly characters like Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing were way ahead of their time. Benedick is such a modern creation – a commitment-phobe yes, but one who respects women and treats them as his equals. He sees Beatrice as a worthy foil, and when Claudio accuses Hero of bedding someone else the night before their wedding, Benedick sides with Hero, who denies it. That he chooses does this when his boss, his best friend and even her father (not to mention society) immediately assume Claudio is right, make Benedick even more enticing as a love interest. Believe me, I know.

3.He foreshadowed things like revenge porn

Filming sex and uploading it to the internet may be relatively new but publicising a woman’s sex life and using it to humiliate her certainly isn’t. In Much Ado, Don John’s target of misery is Claudio, but it is only by publicly slut-shaming Hero (rather than say, doing anything at all to Claudio directly) he is able to create the chaos he craves. Even Shakespeare’s non-mortals aren’t above this tactic, as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream when in anger the fairy king Oberon drugs his estranged wife so that she gets off with a man-donkey hybrid. Okay, maybe not so relevant, that one…

4.His characters slot perfectly into our modern world

Shakespeare’s characters have been through more reinventions than Madonna. I recently saw a production of Twelfth Night at the National Theatre with Sir Toby Belch as a drug-addled and ageing indie-rocker, and Sir Andrew Aguecheek as a preening hipster with no self-awareness and a man bun. So seamlessly did they slip into these 21st century stereotypes, I began to wonder whether Shoreditch (where Shakespeare’s first theatre was based) hadn’t actually changed in 400 years.

5.The film versions keep on coming

People keep on re-telling Shakespeare’s stories, and we keep on lapping them up – there is a new version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the works as we speak. In 2015 Michael Fassbender made an obscenely handsome Macbeth. Baz Luhrmann turned an entire generation of teenage girls onto the Bard by casting Leonardo DiCaprio as a Hawaiian shirt- clad Romeo, though many preferred Heath Ledger in the 1999 modernisation of The Taming Of The Shrew, 10 Things I Hate About You. But for me there is one adaptation that outshines them all, Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, where he and Emma Thompson play out the ultimate screwball romance and Keanu Reeves is a divisive, yet weirdly compelling Don John. I love it. I love it so much that I wrote a book.

About H J Moat


Previously a fashion and entertainment journalist, H J Moat is editor of the fashion website Farfetch. From an early ambition to own a petrol station, H J Moat has turned her love of Shakespeare into her debut novel, Other People’s Business.

You can follow H J Moat on Twitter.