Travelling Vicariously, A Guest Post by Angie Smith, Author of The Spy Who Chipped The China Teacup

China teacup 1.1

I’m delighted to be part of the launch celebrations for The Spy Who Chipped The China Teacup and to welcome its author Angie Smith to Linda’s Book Bag today. I love a thriller and I love travel so I asked Angie to write about both those topics for me.

Published by Bloodhound, The Spy Who Chipped The China Teacup is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

The Spy Who Chipped the China Teacup

China teacup 1.1

Arms dealing. Murder. Corruption.

In Africa, Taylor Hudson reaches the stark realisation that she is in imminent danger. Time is nearly up when, out of nowhere, she is thrown a lifeline.  Left with little option, she places her trust in a complete stranger. But who is this stranger and why the interest in saving her?

The answers lie 6,000 miles away, deep inside the British Secret Intelligence Service, where a former, disgraced, senior officer is attempting to work his way back into the heart of the organisation. But what are his real intentions?

What ensues is a deadly game of bluff, double-bluff and triple-bluff. Can The China Teacup survive this time?

If travel broadens the mind,

does travelling vicariously have the same effect?

A Guest Post by Angie Smith

(Photographs provided by the author)

Apologies for the title which sounds more like a journal article! Worry not – this is a light-hearted look at how my adventures inspire the storylines of my thrillers, the latest being The Spy Who Chipped The China Teacup.

Eyes wide, I look down from the helicopter at the azure waters surrounding the Bazaruto Archipelago (Mozambique). Are those colours real? I decide in an instant that this is where I want to bring my readers. I pull out my camera and wonder – could there be anywhere as beautiful to set a shocking and sinister story? The juxtaposition of that thought fascinated me.

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Back in South Africa just days ago I stood by a waterhole, it was just breaking daylight and I had to be mindful of my surroundings, or rather the risk posed from the animals. My mind raced. Did she die here? Who was this woman, and what kind of stories could she tell? Who knows? I jump back in the Land Rover and ask my tracker if he could find a pride of lions. He’s a master tracker and within an hour we have located them, perched on rocks in a dry, sandy river bed. I make eye-contact with the lioness as she raises her head, clearly concerned for her young cubs. Beautiful. Through the binoculars I marvel at the detail of her shear soft fur, contrasting against the powerful ferocity of her white pointed teeth and sharp claws. A shiver makes its way down my spine. And then I hear it – the most terrifying thing I have ever heard in my life. Somewhere, nearby there had just been a kill. A leopard had brought down an impala. The noise of the birdlife squawking and immediately taking flight unnerved me, as did the sight of the herd of kudu standing stock-still on the surrounding hillside, too frightened to move, in case they too became prey. Something tells me all this is crucial to the plot. My camera clicks again.  This time my mind fills with images of trucks loaded with ammunition and arms as they tumble into my head. And where is the woman? She’s bound and gagged in the foetal position not far from here.

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Days later I step from the catamaran into the warm shallows and wade to the beach towards the tiny island of Santa Carolina (also known as Paradise Island). There it was – the derelict hotel. Back in the sixties this is where the wealthy and celebrities found hedonistic parties and romance. Locals talk of illegal gun trafficking. My permit allows access to the building, and within minutes I’m stood on the balcony where Bob Dylan composed the song ‘Mozambique’. The sound of the sea surrounds me. But above that noise these ruins tell tales and I’m listening hard.

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When I switch from author to reader I become absorbed with the locale. The many books I have enjoyed evoke such powerful emotions and images for me. Coming back to the question, if travel broadens the mind, does travelling vicariously have the same effect? I believe it does. Clever authors capture the true essence of locations and make it feel as though you are actually there. Personally, this in turn makes me desperate to visit to see and feel for myself. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith succeeded in this. Botswana is nearing the top of my wish list! This is what I am striving to do for my readers. Travel vicariously and then in reality.

(Oh, I love Botswana – hope you get there soon!)

About Angie Smith

Dews Rep

Angie Smith, having recently survived locally advanced breast cancer, discovered that her lifelong desire to write had been rekindled. Consequently, her love for international crime thrillers became the springboard to the creation of the highly acclaimed CXVI Trilogy.

Her passion for travelling to exotic places greatly inspires her work. A recent trip to Southern Africa inspired her fourth novel, The Spy Who Chipped The China Teacup.

Angie, born in 1961, was educated at Huddersfield University where she graduated with a First Class Honours Degree in Education and Training. She was nominated for an award on her knowledge transfer partnerships work, during which she co-produced and presented a journal article at the International Social Work Conference in Durban.

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

Blog Tour

Being Fit to Write: A Guest Post by Liz Lawler, Author of Don’t Wake Up

Don't Wake Up

I love a good twisty psychological thriller so I’m delighted to be part of the launch celebrations for Don’t Wake Up by Liz Lawler. Today Liz explains all about being fit to write in a fascinating guest post.

Don’t Wake Up was published by Twenty7, an imprint of Bonnier Zaffre, on 18th May 2017 and is available for e-book purchase and paperback pre-order here.

Don’t Wake Up

Don't Wake Up

Alex Taylor wakes up tied to an operating table. The man who stands over her isn’t a doctor.

The choice he forces her to make is utterly unspeakable.

But when Alex re-awakens, she’s unharmed – and no one believes her horrifying story. Ostracised by her colleagues, her family and her partner, she begins to wonder if she really is losing her mind.

And then she meets the next victim.

So compulsive you can’t stop reading.

So chilling you won’t stop talking about it.

Don’t Wake Up is a dark, gripping psychological thriller with a horrifying premise and a stinging twist . . .

Being Fit To Write

A Guest Post by Liz Lawler

For those of you who write, you already know how much energy it takes. How it wrings every last drop of emotion from your bones. How you creak when you try to get up from a position you have been sat in for many hours. Wired from endless coffees and bloated from crisps and biscuits, the crumbs of which have fallen onto your keyboard, reminding you of the abuse you have wrought your body that day. Enough of the self-pity, I hear you cry.

And you’re right! I have experienced those days, too many to count and the only remedy is to get off my jacksie and exercise. Fortunately, l love swimming and swim most days, though not gracefully. I am a tsunami swimmer, not intentionally, but my strokes seem to cause large amounts of water to splash into the faces of other swimmers. You will often hear me call out a ‘sorry’, especially to the lovely two ladies that keep their hair up off their faces with intention of keeping it dry. I usually find when I take an aqua aerobics class the other ladies give me plenty of space, even the shorter ladies are considerate and don’t seem to mind standing on tip toe at the back. This is an exercise with high-speed movements and containment. After one such class, one of the attenders, wet hair plastered to her face and mucous dribbling from her nose, bless her, who had been standing behind me, asked if I had a problem with my balance?

When I approach the water, I am a toe dipper, taking sometimes minutes to get in, shrieking like a seagull as it covers my calves, my thighs, my bum, shouting, ‘that it’s too cold’ to my neighbouring swimmers, who shake their heads resignedly. They are used to my noise and know I will settle down soon. The only time I brave the water fast is when my swimsuit has seen better days, and is hanging from my bottom, baggy and becoming see-through. Swimming is a solitary exercise and once I get going I am happy to plough up and down. It is my thinking time where I get to examine my day and try and remember if I have forgotten anything important. Was it bin day, today? Was I meant to see So and So today, or was that tomorrow? Was my two o’clock appointment to have a root canal filling for this Tuesday or last Tuesday? I usually have a ten minute panic attack where I fill in the missing memories of my life before I can get on with the other thinking stuff – the story inside my head, where I hear my characters’ dialogues and get excited when one of them says something unexpected. Usually at this point I get out of the pool on auto pilot, rinse, barely dry and rush home with a towel wrapped round my head, eager to write down what I heard. Invariably noticing later that I have my buttons done up wrong or my jumper on inside out and on one occasion, like last night, guiltily seeing the towel I’d hung on the line, similar in colour to mine except for its stripes, knowing it’s not mine, because my own unused dry towel is still in my swim bag.

Being fit to write is all about what suits you. Being fit to write for me is not just a physical ability but a mental one as well. So my advice to myself now, is to close my laptop, tip it upside down to rid it of crumbs, throw the piled-up  half-filled coffee mugs into the sink, grab the foreign towel and swimsuit off the line and get myself down to the swimming pool for a splash.

(Happy swimming and writing Liz!)

About Liz Lawler

Liz Lawler

Born in Chatham and partly raised in Dublin, Liz Lawler comes from a large family where she shared underwear and a place at a table for meals with her thirteen siblings. Liz has been a nurse for over twenty years in a hospital emergency department, a flight attendant and a manager of a five-star hotel. She now lives in Bath with her husband and Don’t Wake Up is her debut novel.

You can follow Liz on Twitter and find her on Facebook.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Dont Wake Up Blog Tour Poster

Becoming A Writer: A Guest Post by Tony J Forder, Author of Bad to the Bone

bad to the bone

I’m delighted to welcome Tony J Forder, author of Bad to the Bone, to Linda’s Book Bag today as Bad to the Bone is set in my home town of Peterborough.

As an aspiring writer myself, I’m always interested in other author’s experiences and Tony tells me all about what has happened to him in a fascinating post.

Bad to the Bone was published by Bloodhound Books on 29th April 2017 and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

Bad to the Bone

bad to the bone

A skeletal body is unearthed in a wooded area of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. DI James Bliss, together with DC Penny Chandler, investigate the case and discover that the young, female victim had been relocated from its original burial site.

A witness is convinced that a young female was struck by a vehicle back in the summer of 1990, and that police attended the scene. However, no record exists of either the accident or the reported victim. As the case develops, two retired police officers are murdered. The two are linked with others who were on duty at the time a road accident was reported.

As Bliss and Chandler delve deeper into the investigation, they start to question whether senior officers may have been involved in the murder of the young women who was buried in the woods.

As each link in the chain is put under duress, so is Bliss who clashes with superiors and the media.

When his team receives targeted warnings, Bliss will need to decide whether to drop the case or to pursue those responsible.

Will Bliss walk away in order to keep his career intact or will he fight no matter what the cost?

And is it possible the killer is much closer than they imagined?

Becoming a Writer

A Guest Post by Tony J Forder

My family and I moved to Peterborough as a temporary pit-stop almost thirty years ago, and here we are still. My crime thriller book, Bad to the Bone, is set in what I now regard as home, having spent the previous twenty-nine years living in London. Born and raised in the east-end, my dark, psychological crime thriller, Degrees of Darkness, due to be published by Bloodhound Books in September, is set there. For now, I am living the dream with Bad to the Bone, and I have to say I am astonished at how well it is doing and how well received it has been.

Whilst I started writing as a kid, and had some minor success with short stories – two being published by Pan Books in their Dark Voices series, and one in FEAR magazine – my novels were a fine example of being a ‘nearly man’: I nearly got myself an agent, nearly got myself a publisher, nearly got my book published. The first two books I wrote were part of a serious learning curve, and were both hugely derivative. Back then I was into dark fantasy and horror, and my style was an amalgam of all the authors I read in those days. I was a Frankenstein’s monster of a writer, but the one thing in my favour was that I recognised my own limitations.

Next up was my first attempt at Degrees of Darkness. A change of style and genre almost bagged me the agent, publisher, book deal. When that all fell apart, I moved on to a follow-up which deserved never to see the light of day. I then had an idea for a book set in Peterborough, and created a couple of characters by the name of DI Bliss and DC Chandler. The novel was decent, but it lacked a certain something. It still exists, and I may not be done with it yet. I was at the time, though, because by then the storyline for Bad to the Bone had seeped into my brain and I just had to write that.

Work commitments and ill-health meant that my writing was curtailed for some time. Until last year, when I was made redundant from my job after seventeen years. My wife wanted me to write, but bills still needed to be paid, so I set up my own IT consultancy business working in education, and planned to spend half my time with that and the other half doing what I liked most: writing. In preparation for the latter, I set up my social media presence and also self-published two of my completed novels.

In January this year I responded to a request for submissions by Bloodhound. The end result was a two book deal, followed by another contract for one more. Two of the three will be published this year, whilst the third is contracted to be a second book in the series started by Bad to the Bone.

Currently, I have that second book in the series at completed first draft stage. Prior to that I had previously written another book, a fast-paced action thriller, featuring a completely new set of characters. That is also at the same stage, and I have just started the first edit on it. It was intended to be a stand-alone, but in writing it I realised a couple of the characters had legs, and a storyline for a second book in what I hope will be a long-term project has been sketched out and will be started sometime this year. It’s funny how writing one book can set off a chain reaction, because in writing the follow up to Bad to the Bone I had enough steam to put together ideas for a third. That will also be started this year.

It never occurred to me how busy a part-time writer can be. Just keeping up with social media commitments can take up hours every day, especially when you have a new book. Pre-release promotion is essential, as you attempt to build up a level of anticipation. The cover reveal is great for that, and I got so lucky with mine as the cover for Bad to the Bone was wonderful. Then the blog tour is announced, and that gets some good coverage. Bloodhound also put out a video every month, which features the books due for release, so once again you’re building towards something positive. I wasn’t prepared for the reaction to my book, which has been far in excess of anything I had anticipated. Some great reviews, climbing up the Amazon charts, leads to an awful lot of ‘thank you’ posts on both Facebook and Twitter. And you want to do that – it’s not a chore at all. The bloggers and reviewers take time out of their lives to read your book and write their thoughts, and you can only ever be grateful to them for doing so. At my level, it’s lifeblood.

Then there are interviews to do, and if you’re lucky you’ll get asked to do a guest blog or two. I lucked out a while back and managed to secure not only a review of Mason Cross’s new book but also a Q&A session with him for my own blog. That was a real coup for me, as he’s one of my favourite new authors. He’s great guy, and I wish him continued success.

Another element that took me by surprise was the volume of literary events there are across the country. A staggering number. My health is still not as I would like, so I am limited and have to be selective. I have several trips booked, though: the Harrogate Crime Writing festival was a must-do, and I am there for all four days. My publishers recently announced an ‘evening with the authors’ event in London on 1 July, and I am there with some of my fellow hounds doing a reading and taking part in a Q&A session. No pressure there!

I can’t imagine what it must be like for one of the major authors. I mean, how on earth does someone like Michael Connelly find time to publish two books and produce Bosch for TV in 2017, as well as everything he must have to do for publicity purposes? He is certainly an author I admire.

This year has clearly started well for me. There is not a single part of it that I had anticipated, which goes to show how much life can change in just a short space of time. So far I have enjoyed every second. I know there are bleaker periods to come. Not every review is going to be a four or a five, but you put yourself out there and you have to take the rough with the smooth. There may be periods where my game goes off the boil, and I am prepared to push myself through that as well.

I love writing. I need to write. It’s as simple as that.

(And we all wish you every success with all you do Tony.)

About Tony J Forder

Tony Forder

Tony Forder has been writing stories since childhood, but it was only when he won a short story competition judged by an editor from Pan Books, that he realised he might actually be half decent at this writing business.

The story, Gino’s Bar and Grille, went on to be published in Dark Voices 2, part of the celebrated Pan Book of Horror series. Three further short story sales followed: Book End, published in Dark Voices 4, Character Role, in FEAR magazine, and finally A Grim Story, which featured in A Rattler’s Tale.

As a part-time writer with a full-time job, plus some ill-health, life got in the way and, although Tony continued writing, it took a back seat to making a living.

This year, however, Tony has been inspired by new ideas, and has been working hard on two new books, at least one of which will be completed in 2017. In the meantime, he hopes you enjoy Bad to the Bone.

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

The Darkest Lies by Barbara Copperthwaite

the darkest lies

I’m just thrilled to be part of the launch celebrations of The Darkest Lies by Barbara Copperthwaite as I have met her several times and she is utterly lovely. You can meet Barbara too in my interview with her here.

I’m also so pleased finally to have had the time to read one of Barbara’s books. She wrote all about her book anniversary for Flowers for the Dead here and I still haven’t got round to reading it!

Published by Bookouture on 12th May 2017, Barbara’s latest novel The Darkest Lies is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.

The Darkest Lies

the darkest lies

A mother desperate for the truth. A daughter hiding a terrible secret.

Melanie Oak appeared to have the perfect life. Married to her childhood sweetheart, Jacob, the couple live with their beautiful, loving, teenage daughter, Beth, in a pretty village.

Nothing can shake her happiness – until the day that Beth goes missing and is discovered beaten almost to the point of death, her broken body lying in a freezing creek on the marshes near their home.

Consumed with grief, Melanie is determined to find her daughter’s attacker. Someone in the village must have seen something. Why won’t they talk?

As Melanie tries to piece together what happened to Beth, she discovers that her innocent teenager has been harbouring some dark secrets of her own. The truth may lie closer to home and put Melanie’s life in terrible danger…

A completely gripping psychological thriller with a twist you won’t see coming. Fans of The Girl on the Train, The Sister and Before I Let You In will be captivated.

My Review of The Darkest Lies

When Melanie doesn’t see her daughter Beth right to her friend Chloe’s door, she can have no idea of the events that will unfold.

Oh. Come. On. I expect a thriller to have twists and turns, a fast pace and loads of red herrings and Barbara Copperthwaite includes all those ingredients in The Darkest Lies. However, what I certainly don’t expect is to find myself sobbing with shared grief with the characters as I was with Melanie and Jacob. Mostly when I read crime thrillers I’m entertained (and I was – hugely in reading The Darkest Lies) but I’m slightly removed from the action and that seemed to be the pattern here until wham! Barbara Copperthwaite dealt me a body blow of profound emotion. Brilliant writing!

There’s a cracking plot with fast paced short chapters as Melanie desperately tries to discover who has so injured Beth that she lies on life support in hospital. The end of the narrative is heart thumping and exciting, and without spoiling the read, introduces aspects that make the reader think and contemplate their own possible responses to hypothetically similar situations.

The themes are what makes The Darkest Lies so compelling. Barbara Copperthwaite forces the reader to contemplate how far they would go to protect their own loved ones and she tugs at the very foundations of loyalty and lawlessness so that the edges of what is right and what is wrong become blurred.

I liked the gradual uncovering of the truth from Beth’s perspective alongside the first person story from Melanie, and the way in which she directs her voice towards Beth is touching and realistic. I did feel that a few of Melanie’s actions were unlikely and she should have dealt with the police and her suspicions differently, but at the same time, hers is such a desperate and emotional portrayal of grief that who can say how she might have behaved.

However, aside from a really good thriller, what I truly loved about The Darkest Lies was the creation of a claustrophobic Lincolnshire village, as I live in one myself, and the exquisite beauty of some of the prose which reads like the finest poetry in the natural descriptions. This was such evocative writing.

I thought The Darkest Lies was a thoroughly entertaining and thought provoking thriller and really recommend it.

About Barbara Copperthwaite

me

The people behind the crime, from the perpetrator to the victim and beyond, are what intrigue Barbara Copperthwaite.

She was raised by the sea and in the countryside, where she became a lover of both nature and the written word – the latter leading to a successful career as a journalist. For over twenty years people have kindly and bravely shared with her their real experiences of being victims of crime. Now, through fiction, Barbara continues to explore the emotional repercussions.

You can find out more about Barbara by visiting her website and following her on Twitter. You’ll also find her on Facebook.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

The Darkest Lies - Blog Tour

The Importance of Reading: A Guest Post by Patricia Furstenberg, Author of Joyful Trouble

Joyful Trouble - cover

I truly believe reading is a joy all children need in their lives and am delighted that Patricia Furstenberg, author of the children’s book Joyful Trouble, agrees and has written all about that topic for Linda’s Book Bag today.

Joyful Trouble was published on 16th April 2017 and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here (though there’s a special free offer today 17th May 2017).

Joyful Trouble

Joyful Trouble - cover

A humorous read about an incredible dog and how he found his true, yet unexpected calling.

A dog. A friendship. A purpose.

Proven to warm your heart, Joyful Trouble is a fast-paced, engaging and funny story.

Patricia Furstenberg paints a charming portrait of the bond between a small girl and boy and their much-loved Grandad. This book takes readers on an unbelievable journey, tackling universal themes and voicing animal rights and the importance of fighting for what is right.

When a Great Dane arrives in a Navy base nobody expects him to win everybody’s hearts, although breaking some rules along the way. But things soon turn sour as somebody threatens to put him to sleep. Who will stand up for this four-legged gentle giant?

A charming celebration of innocence.

Why Is Reading So Important For Our Children?

A Guest Post by Patricia Furstenberg

As a parent I would certainly want my children to grow up to be successful human beings. To have a good family life filled with love and understanding, friends to laugh and count on and a job they are happy to face every day.

How can I help them prepare for life?

Overlooked, yet efficient, being a good reader is proven to equip children with much needed life skills.

Apart from proven educational, neurological and psychological benefits, reading is proven to stimulate children’s developing minds and improve their empathic skills, helping them socialise at school and thrive in life.

If IQ (Intelligence Quotient) measures how clever our brain is, scientists like to measure our empathy through its EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient). An individual with a high EQ will better understand his own emotions and be able to relate to the emotional state of those around him, thus improving his social skills and, eventually, the general social welfare of his generation.

In less fortunate circumstances empathy can also act like a shield, protecting our children in peer-pressure situations. Empathic children are less violent and will grow to become adults with a lower risk of emotional or behavioural problems later in life.

But reading contributes to our children’s intellectual life as well. To better understand this we first need to see how reading takes place.

As we read a book, an article or even a recipe, there are four different activities taking place at the same time in our brain.

  1. Phonics – we sound the letters by associating a speech sound to them.
  2. Sight – some English words need to be recognized as a whole unit, then sounded (“the”). English has 44 speech sounds, 20 vowel sounds and 24 consonant sounds, but only 26 letters. Therefore thinking skills must also be used when reading English.
  3. Contextual analysis – prediction of what will happen next, vital when reading fiction. Although if a recipe contains sugar and flour then I can safely predict that its final product will be enjoyed by all the members of my household.
  4. Structural analysis – understanding what a word means by simply looking at its root or figuring out its meaning from the context, thus building vocabulary.

This is why being a good reader makes learning during school years and tertiary education a lot easier. For reading goes deeper than sounding words; reading is understanding what’s being said behind the literary meaning of the story, connecting this information to what we already know, relating to it and drawing knowledge from it. Reading is also the capacity of focusing on a text for a certain amount of time. And these skills, like the pieces of a puzzle, are what later help our children experience a successful schooling career.

But wait; there is more to reading than learning the names of all the Kings and Queens of England. I had A’s in History during high school, but now all I remember about the Tudor era is what I recently read in Philippa Gregory’s books. I wonder why.

Children and adults alike (seems like J) tend to better remember information if it’s been presented to them in an interesting package. Children will absorb more facts if they’re presented in a story with a green dragon and a nosy prince.

Because our children live in a fantasy world (a coping mechanism for the young body and mind), stories are the ideal milieu for them to safely explore new emotions and relationships. Such as the relationship between Ana, Tommy and Grandpa in my latest children’s book, Joyful Trouble, (published April 2017), but also the relationship between Grandpa and the Great Dane. The bond between grandparents and grandchildren is strong and unique and it shouldn’t be taken for granted. Our Millennial Kids tend to spend more time plugged into a video game than on Grandpa’s knees, no wonder the medical psychologists nicknamed them the “glow kids”.

Joyful Trouble brings back the magic and safety of this relationship and the fun, wonders and implications of looking after a dog.

Stories take us places and they certainly do transport children to wherever the action is happening, from the safety of their own homes. Reading gives children a sense of being creative. Within their minds, children are the creators of the worlds and characters they read about.

As far apart as they may seem, reality and fantasy are interconnected.

A child would often fantasize about a story and use that fantasy to further build on it. The same goes for problem solving; it is their creative side which helps children to find a solution to a problem.

Being able to have a small contribution to all this while taking an abstract, grown-up concept and packaging it in an attractive, child-friendly way while adding sensitivity and lots of love, yes, this is why I write stories for children.

(I couldn’t agree with you more Patricia!)

About Patricia Furstenberg

Author head

Patricia Furstenberg came to writing though reading. After completing her Medical Degree in Romania she moved to South Africa where she now lives with her husband, children and their dogs. Patricia became taking writing seriously  after becoming one of the WYO Christie winners. She enjoys writing for children  because she can take abstract, grown-up concepts and package them it in attractive, child-friendly ways while adding sensitivity and lots of love.

All of Patricia’s children’s books are available here.

You can follow Patricia on Twitter, find her on Facebook and visit her website. She’s also on Goodreads.

Your Stories Matter: Emily’s Sister and Vera McLuckie and the Daydream Club

Emily's sisterVera McLuckie

Having been a teacher who has tried to accommodate children with different needs in the classroom, I’m delighted to be part of the Your Stories Matter publisher celebrations. Today I’m reviewing two books from Your Stories Matter: Emily’s Sister and Vera McLuckie and the Daydream Club. 

Both books are available for purchase by following the publisher links here.

Emily’s Sister

Emily's sister

Emily’s sister is different from other children she knows. She seems to struggle with things most of us just do naturally.

In this delightfully illustrated story, based upon real family experiences, Emily discovers how to understand and help her sister live a happier life.

This story, written by the parent of a child with Dyspraxia and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), paves the way for parents, teachers and medical professionals to discuss these specific learning difficulties with children (aged around 7-9).

Unlike most other books on the subject, this book has been written from a child’s perspective: enabling young people to ask questions of the story in a non-threatening way and encouraging them to discover how it relates to them.

This book can be shared with children having special needs, their family, or their classmates.

As with all of its books, the publisher – Your Stories Matter – aims to help people know they are not alone with what makes them different. If a young person or adult can relate to a story, it gives them hope and encourages them to share their concerns. The publisher aims to provide free teaching resources for all of its books that can be used in schools, to help improve understanding and celebrate differences.

My Review of Emily’s Sister

Emily is having a day without her crying sister Elizabeth.

What a cleverly written book Emily’s Sister is. Pitched for children so that they can understand through a child’s perspective what it means for a sibling to have dyspraxia and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), the story also helps adults unfamiliar with the conditions to realise the challenges facing those for whom the world can be a distressing place. I think Emily’s Sister would make a smashing story to share with all children, regardless of their abilities.

Although I would have preferred a more British use of language with perhaps Mum instead of Mom and wardrobe instead of closet these are very minor personal questions of taste and do not affect the overall quality of the book. Presented in reader friendly font with plenty of white space that in itself has a calming effect, the book has illustrations that enhance the story. I liked the future depiction too when Elizabeth has learnt some more traditional skills so that there is a positive message throughout.

Emily’s Sister is a smashing book for children and adults alike.

Vera McLuckie and the Daydream Club

Vera McLuckie

This is a children’s story whose main characters happen to have Dyspraxia, Dyslexia and Asperger’s (not made explicit). The book will relate to children who feel different and left out at school (aged 7-9). The book’s real purpose is one of catalyst to help parent and teacher discuss with children, in a gentle way, what it is like to have a learning difficulty.

Vera McLuckie hates school. Mainly because she struggles with stuff the other kids find easy. Oh, and because she keeps getting into trouble for doing what she is really good at. Daydreaming.

So when Vera gets the chance to show just how extraordinary she is, will she dare take on the coolest, smartest girl in the whole of Acorn Bank Primary?

This book works on several levels. It is a lovely story in itself that most children will relate to, dealing as it does with lack of self-belief, peer pressure and the bullying that goes along with not necessarily being the most popular kid in class. These issues can be readily picked up in school and discussed in circle time and PSHE (citizenship) lessons.

But it goes deeper. Whilst not named in the book explicitly, the three main characters exhibit dyspraxic, dyslexic and autistic (Asperger’s Syndrome) tendencies respectively. So the story can be used by parents and teachers as a catalyst for discussing what it is like to have a learning difficulty. In schools, teachers can use the book on a one-to-one, group or class basis to help raise awareness and improve well-being.

My Review of Vera McLuckie and the Daydream Club

Vera hates Mondays because she’ll have to go to school where life is overwhelming.

I loved meeting Vera. She’s a brilliant character and I thought it was inspired to present her vivid quality of imagination and her love of facts, before the conventionally negative elements such as her poor writing so that the first impression of a child who is different is a positive one.

The story explores a variety of differences and ways in which children are unique, whether that’s Bethany’s seeming perfection or Vera’s inability to concentrate in class because she day dreams so much. The interjections from a mystery narrator add a layer of conviction that is enhanced by the end of the story so that dyspraxic, dyslexic and autistic youngsters have positive messages reinforced.

Vera McLuckie and the Daydream Club is not just a story for children with differences. Bethany’s role serves as a way to discuss bullying at all levels and for children (and adults) to understand that even the most perfect individuals very often have problems of their own. It illustrates how success is a multi-layered and very personal aspect.

The drawings in the book, the font size and the white space give a more comfortable read for those with dyslexia and enable the text to be tackled in chunks whether it is read to or by children.

I can imagine Vera McLuckie and the Daydream Club becoming a firm classroom favourite.

About Your Stories Matter

Based in Kendal, Cumbria Paul Johnson is the founder of Your Stories Matter and the parent publishing company Explainer HQ —which provides creative video, audio, animation and print to the business and education sector. All Your Stories Matters titles are published in paperback and are available to order from online retailers including amazon.co.uk.

The publisher Your Stories Matter is dedicated to publishing books that share experiences, improve understanding and celebrate differences. To this end it provides free cross-curricula teaching resources with all of its books on its website. You can also follow Your Stories Matter on Twitter.

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Spotlighting Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant

I’m very pleased to be part of the launch celebrations for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman today as i think it is going to be one of THE books for 2017.

Published by Harper Collins on 18th May 2017, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is available for purchase through the links here.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

About Gail Honeyman

Gail honeyman

While Gail Honeyman was writing her debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, it was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize as a work in progress. It has subsequently sold to almost thirty territories worldwide, and it was chosen as one of the Observer’s Debuts of the Year for 2017.

Gail was also awarded the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award in 2014, and has been longlisted for BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She lives in Glasgow.

You can follow Gail on Twitter.

An Interview with Prue Leith, Author of The Prodigal Daughter

Prodigal daughter

I can’t begin to explain how excited I am to welcome Prue Leith to Linda’s Book Bag today to celebrate the paperback publication of The Prodigal Daughter. I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed several of Prue’s books and am thrilled to be able to interview her today in celebration of the paperback release of The Prodigal Daughter.

The Prodigal Daughter is published by Quercus on 18th May 2017 and is available for purchase in e-book, hardback and paperback here.

The Prodigal Daughter

Prodigal daughter

It is 1968. Angelica Angelotti has grown up in the Italian food business started by her English mother and Italian father. Now she is using her cooking talent to strike out on her own, moving to Paris to go to culinary school. There, among the excitement and wild emotion of the student barricades, she falls in love with her charismatic but unreliable cousin Mario – a manic depressive ten years older than her whom her mother had sacked from their restaurant.

Navigating a blossoming career, from the Savoy hotel pastry kitchen to the world of food writing and presenting, alongside an increasingly toxic relationship, eventually proves impossible. Angelica has to leave Mario, and makes the decision to move back to the family home in Gloucestershire to help her other cousin Silvano with a new branch of the family business – reopening the local pub, the Frampton Arms, as a restaurant. As they get to know each other better, Angelica realises her mistake: she chose the wrong brother.

But when Mario reappears, determined to win her back, and as other jealous relatives plot the downfall of the Frampton Arms, will Angelica be able to hold on to her business and the man she’s come to love?

An Interview with Prue Leith

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Prue. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing. I think you need no introduction but could you tell us a little about yourself? 

I’ve had a great life: happy childhood in South Africa, great career in restaurants and cooking and business; success as first a food writer and journalist and then as a novelist; happy marriage to a writer, Rayne Kruger, until his death in 2002. Two children, both happy and successful (one adopted from Cambodia) second marriage last year to John Playfair. We have five grandchildren between us and a lovely house in the Cotswolds.  So ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO COMPLAIN OF. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky.

Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about your latest novel The Prodigal Daughter?

The Food of Love

It’s the second book in the Food of Love Trilogy, which follows the lives and loves of three generations of the same family from the war until now. The background to all three books is the change in food and farming from rationing and austerity to Heston Blumenthall and telly chef fame via Nouvelle Cuisine and much else, but the main focus of the books is the relationships and love life of the heroine. The Prodigal Daughter covers the sixties and seventies and is the story of Angelica, daughter of two restaurateurs. She learns to cook and falls in love in Paris, becomes a top baker at the Savoy and the first woman in the kitchens, and being feisty and emotional, her private life is as much a roller coaster as her career.

The hardback cover to The Prodigal Daughter has a cover that suggests a doorway to self-knowledge to me. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)  

prodigal daughter 1

To be honest, I had little to do with the cover and the paperback of The Prodigal Daughter is completely different. I thought the hardback cover, with the flowers and the archway, a bit too girly, and much prefer the new paperback one. Have a look on Amazon.  (Put in The Prodigal Daughter Prue Leith or you will get pages and pages of The Gilmore Girls TV)

You’ve obviously always written, with your cookery books and newspaper and magazine work, but how difficult was it to make the transition into being a novelist too?

It was easier because I already had an agent so she could hardly refuse to take on my novel, though of course she’d have preferred me to go on writing cookbooks. And the experience of journalism was useful. I knew I could handle the words, but I worried about the plot and had to get a lot of help from first The Arvon Foundations on whose excellent four-day novel writing  course I went on, and also TLC (The Literary Consultancy)  who edited my first book. And then Penguin bought it.

What skills from cooking have you found to be transferable to writing?

None except the need to meet a deadline. You can’t tell a customer the wedding cake will be a few days late.

(Oh – good point!)

To what extent do you think the travels in your early life have affected the settings in your novels?

I’m lazy and short of time so I always write about places I know and situations I know. Hence the Cotswolds, South Africa, places I’ve visited, and most of the novels are set in the food or business world. One was about a gardener, gardening being my other great interest.

The Gardener

(I know that book, The Gardener, well Prue. I really enjoyed it in the days before I began blogging otherwise it would be here on the blog!)

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

Google, like everyone else!

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

Anything to do with food flows with ease. I’m not good at the interior monologue bit, where I need to get into my character’s head and ponder. I’d much rather get on with the action.

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

I write anywhere and everywhere, mostly at the kitchen table.  As the deadline approaches I get up earlier and earlier. I can edit in the afternoon, but not write anything creative.

The Prodigal Daughter is the second in your Food of Love trilogy. How have you managed the planning for this series?

I plan my books in advance, chapter by chapter, but then don’t always stick to the plan. I had wanted to cover the development of food since the war for ages and would have written the trilogy before but my publishers were dead keen on my doing a memoir (called Relish) so I did that first.

relish

I write on a Mac Air, and happily I can write anywhere: train, plane, back of a taxi. I often write in the waiting gaps in the studio when filming.  If I’m at a seriously boring cocktail party I will write in the ladies’ loo. When I wrote Leaving Patrick, which starts in India, I used photos of a recent holiday to remind me of the markets, street life, palaces etc. I keep files on my laptop on all my characters so I know their back-stories and also what they look like. My P.A Francisca is brilliant at noticing when someone’s eyes were green in chapter one and are brown in chapter eleven.

leaving Patrick

The Prodigal Daughter‘s protagonist is called Angelica. Was this a deliberate link to your life in food?

No, I just like the name. And I like Italians for their love of food and music and family. I’d rather belong to the Angelottis than the English Oliver’s.

Most of the female characters are, at least in part, a reflection of me. Especially Angelica, whose career more or less echoes mine.

They feature food, they also have many other creative elements such as singing and gardening.

How important is such creativity as singing and gardening in your own life? 

I cannot sing a note, so the character Joanna in The Choral Society is like me in longing to sing, being unable to, and being a businesswoman. I’ve never been a gardener like Lotte in The Gardener, but I love gardening and the garden in the book is like mine, only ten times larger: where I have a pond, they have a lake, where I have a paddock they have a park, where I have a few roses, they have the National Collection, etc.

choral society

(As someone who can’t sing a note in tune, I remember being so sympathetic towards Joanna when she pretended to sing. I loved this book too Prue!)

Lots of your books feature inappropriate relationships. To what extent is this the voice of experience?

I guess they must be, but I have never thought of it. Most tangled love stories involve some “inappropriate” passions, don’t you think?

(I do indeed – but I can’t possibly say more!)

I know you write poetry. What is the stimulus for this form of writing?

I don’t write much poetry and I’m not very good at it. I never publish any of it. When I fell in love with a pianist I did, for some reason. He set a cycle of my poems to music, which was pretty romantic. But poetry requires a lot of thinking/dreaming time, and I am generally too impatient for that. I find just getting on with the story easier.

You’re recently married. Are we likely to see a version of John in a future Prue Leith novel? 

Probably, poor chap! But he is amazingly tolerant and easy going so I don’t suppose he’d mind. He’s lovely anyway, so he’s unlikely to be upset.

If you could choose to be a character from The Prodigal Daughter, who would you be and why?

Angelica of course

I know your Food of Love trilogy has been optioned for a TV series. Who would you like to play Angelica and why would you choose them?  

Vanessa Kirby, The girl who plays Princes Margaret in The Crown.

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

Anything, currently, belatedly, reading Bill Bryson’s History of Everything, also Bee Wilson’s book on how we eat, Consider the Fork

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

A tale of ambition, jealousy, desire, set in Paris, London and the Cotswolds. What’s not to like?

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

About Prue Leith

Prue

As a cook, restaurateur, food writer and business woman, Prue Leith has played a key role in the revolution of Britain’s eating habits since the 1960s, and was recently announced as one of the judges on Channel 4’s Great British Bake Off. With twelve cookery books under her belt, Prue gave up writing about food to concentrate on fiction. She has written five contemporary novels and a memoir, RelishThe Prodigal Daughter is the second novel in a trilogy that began with The Food of Love. All Prue’s books are in print with Quercus. She lives in Oxfordshire.

You can follow Prue on Twitter and find out all about her on her website.

Dougal Daley: It’s Not My Fault by Jackie Marchant and illustrated by Loretta Schauer

Dougal Daley

As an ex-English teacher and literacy consultant I’m always delighted when a brilliant children’s book comes my way for review and Dougal Daley: It’s Not My Fault by Jackie Marchant, illustrated by Loretta Schauer is one such book. My thanks to Faye Rogers for including me in the celebrations of Dougal Daley: It’s Not My Fault.

Dougal Daley: It’s Not My Fault was published by Wacky Bee Books on 4th April 2017 and is available for purchase here.

Dougal Daley: It’s Not My Fault

Dougal Daley

I, Dougal Daley, am dead! Ok I’m not actually dead. But if I’m not careful I soon will be.

In this first book, football-loving Dougal Daley finds himself at risk from the mysterious creature living in the garden shed. Nobody believes him but as a precaution, he sets upon writing his will – rewarding those who help him and disinheriting those who get on his bad side. Meanwhile, as limbs and windows alike are broken by rogue footballs and unhinged canines, Dougal finds himself in all sorts of trouble. . .and NONE of it is his fault!

My Review of Dougal Daley: It’s Not My Fault

Dougal has a problem. It’s in his shed and worrying him so much he’s writing his will!

I loved meeting Dougal. He’s an absolute star. I did wonder whether my middle aged female identity was affecting my judgement but I’m convinced that Dougal Daley: It’s Not My Fault will appeal equally well to children in the 7-11 age group as it did to me, because Dougal says things that all children think and feel at some points in their lives.

I liked the variety of textual approach so that there is never too much text at once for readers of all abilities to get to grips with. There’s plenty of white space, super illustrations and a wide variety of fonts in the notes and messages from Dougal’s friends which mean there’s something for everyone. I do have a slight qualm about some notes in entirely upper case or random mixed case as that’s a pet issue for me when teaching children to write, because it is better to model the correct versions, but these aspects are well separated form the main text. The illustrations are perfectly in tune with the text so that they add an extra layer of enjoyment to the read.

The plot is brilliant. It’s exciting and interesting. The scrapes Dougal gets into will resonate with all children, from accidentally breaking things to getting into trouble at school and falling out with friends. Indeed, there are loads of themes that could help struggling children discuss their own issues such as death, friendships, bullying, school and family relationships. That’s not to say Dougal Daley: It’s Not My Fault is preachy or dull – far from it. The humour is wonderful, especially those moments around the dog.

Dougal himself is a triumph of a character. He is accident prone, funny and charming – even at his worst. I thought Dougal Daley really was a superhero!

About Jackie Marchant

jackiepic

Dougal Daley was inspired by a messy bedroom and a random question from my son about writing a will. Dougal Daley has been huge fun to write about – you wouldn’t believe the disasters that happen around him (none of which are his fault of course)! When I’m not writing I love doing school visits and creative writing workshops. I also take time away from the writing world looking after guide dogs while their owners are away.

You can follow Jackie on Twitter and visit her website.

About Loretta Schauer

lorettapic

I originally studied performing arts and have a degree in Dance Performance – well you never know when you need a quick pirouette! I also worked in practical conservation for a long time, and spent many years battling balsam, identifying lichen, and searching for creepy crawlies before I picked up my pencils and paints and began exploring illustrating and writing for children. In 2011 I won the Waterstone’s ‘Picture This’ competition and I now illustrate full time. However I am still happiest noodling around for fossils and shells on the beach!

You can follow Loretta on Twitter and visit her website.

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Widdershins by Helen Steadman

widdershins1

My enormous thanks to Natalie Clark at Impress Books for an advanced reader copy of Widdershins by Helen Steadman in return for an honest review.

Widdershins will be published in paperback on 1st July 2017 and is available for pre-order here.

Widdershins

widdershins1

‘Did all women have something of the witch about them?’

Jane Chandler is an apprentice healer. From childhood, she and her mother have used herbs to cure the sick. But Jane will soon learn that her sheltered life in a small village is not safe from the troubles of the wider world.

From his father’s beatings to his uncle’s raging sermons, John Sharpe is beset by bad fortune. Fighting through personal tragedy, he finds his purpose: to become a witch-finder and save innocents from the scourge of witchcraft.

Inspired by true events, ‘Widdershins’ tells the story of the women who were persecuted and the men who condemned them.

My Review of Widdershins

Jane learns the ways of natural healing from her mother. John is an orphan affected by his bad luck. Each is a product of their time.

Widdershins is absolutely brilliant. Read it.

I’m not sure I can bring myself to say anything else, so wonderful was this story, but I’ll try.

Set in the mid seventeenth century, Widdershins paints the most vivid and disturbing portrait of the times. Helen Steadman shows humanity (or frequently the lack of it) nature, superstition, the church and authority, relationships and life at all levels in a totally absorbing and disturbing read. On occasion I could hardly bear to continue and I kept stopping to put down the book and recover my composure before I read the next part so enraged was I by the attitudes displayed. I had a good idea intellectually about the era and how women were treated, but I’ve never experienced that knowledge so viscerally and emotionally as I did when reading Widdershins.

The characters of Meg, John, Jane, Tom, Annie et al were described so wonderfully through their speech and actions that they came alive as I read. I utterly loathed John but understood him completely so that alongside my hatred, Helen Steadman made me feel sorry for him too. That is masterful writing. I don’t want to reveal any of the plot for fear of spoiling the read for others but there were elements in Jane’s story that had me exclaiming aloud and giving her advice until my husband thought I’d gone quite crazy.

Widdershins is inspired by actual events but this is no dry retelling of our history. Helen Steadman is as much a witch in her spellbinding ability to enthral the reader as any of those in the story. I’m not usually overly fond of dual narratives but the stories of Jane and John absorbed me entirely and as their lives began to converge my heart genuinely thumped louder. Widdershins is historical fiction at its best, but it’s also a roller coaster read of emotion and thrills too.

I really like the way Widdershins is divided into three sections, perhaps representing the superstitious number three and its significance in the holy trinity and folklore that underpin the story.

However, an aspect that I think really took Widdershins from a very good read to an outstanding one for me was the overall quality of the prose. There’s a cracking plot, historical accuracy, naturalistic dialogue befitting the era and wonderful characterisation, but best of all is the beauty and rawness of the language. The natural descriptions took me back to my childhood and I felt there wasn’t a word out of place. I was there with Jane picking elder flowers for example.

Initially I wasn’t especially looking forward to reading Widdershins as I thought it might be dry and ‘worthy’. Instead I discovered a vivid and dynamic story that transported me back in time it and cannot recommend Widdershins highly enough.

About Helen Steadman

helen steadman

Helen Steadman lives in the foothills of the North Pennines, and she particularly enjoys researching and writing about the history of the north east of England. Following her MA in creative writing at Manchester Met, Helen is now completing a PhD in English at the University of Aberdeen. When she’s not studying or writing, Helen critiques, edits and proofreads other writers’ work, and she is a professional member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders.

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