The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

The garden of small beginnings

As I love gardening (I lead a gardening group and have an allotment) as much as books and travel, I jumped at the chance when Clara Diaz at Little Brown asked me if I would like a copy of The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman in return for an honest review. I had every intention of reading and reviewing this book months ago, but life got the better of me. However, good things come to those who wait and I have finally got round to reading this lovely book.

The Garden of Small Beginnings was published by Sphere, an imprint of Little Brown, on 22nd February 2018 and is available for purchase here.

The Garden of Small Beginnings

The garden of small beginnings

Life is about to blossom for Lili

In the three years since her husband died in a car accident, Lili has just about managed to resume her day-to-day life as a single mother and successful illustrator. She can now get her two girls to school, show up to work and watch TV like a pro. But there’s still the small problem of the aching loss she feels inside.

When she’s commissioned to illustrate a series of horticultural books, and signs up to a weekly gardening class, finally her life starts to bloom again.

The class provides Lili with a new network of unexpected friends – friends with their own heartaches and problems – and, maybe, another chance at love . . .

My Review of The Garden of Small Beginnings

Young widow Lili has lost the ability to live for herself as she struggles to come to terms with her grief, juggling work and small children.

What a wonderful book The Garden of Small Beginnings is. I don’t know whether it’s because it is set four years after Dan, Lili’s husband, is killed in a car crash and she is still coming to terms with her loss that is so resonated with me because, in the last four years, my own husband has had two life threatening illnesses of cancer and a mini-stroke, my father has died and our family lost a full term still born child, but I found every word resonated with me on a very personal level.

Although this is a book about coming to terms with grief and the different ways people deal with grief, be it grief after a death, a marriage break up or the loss of a job, The Garden of Small Beginnings is by no means a depressing book. Instead, I found it joyous to read, witty and enormous fun. I found myself laughing aloud and yes, I did shed a small tear occasionally. Abbi Waxman has a fabulous, chatty style so that rather than reading a book I felt Lili’s first person narration was more like catching up with a friend on the phone with each chapter akin to a new conversation.

I loved the illustrations and the growing instructions for the plants. I’d never thought of fruit and veg in anthropomorphic terms, but the aside-like comments made me smile. I certainly will be careful when I move my strawberry bed at my allotment this year as I’d hate to freak them out! I’ve always known that gardening is good for the soul but The Garden of Small Beginnings reinforces that concept perfectly.

Initially I thought I’d find the number of characters confusing, but Abbi Waxman makes them such vibrant and distinctive individuals that I felt I knew each one intimately. I thought the way she uncovered their different aspects, especially with regard to Mike, was so well done. There’s definitely an underlying theme that we never really know others as well as we might think and that we shouldn’t judge other people on first appearances.

With a plot that revolves around a community garden and it gardeners, I really enjoyed reading The Garden of Small Beginnings as it is a touching, funny and uplifting story that made my heart sing. I thoroughly recommend it to brighten your life.

About Abbi Waxman

abbi waxman

Abbi Waxman is a chocolate-loving, dog-loving woman, who lives in Los Angeles and lies down as much as possible. She worked in advertising for many years, which is how she learned to write fiction. She has three daughters, three dogs, three cats, and one very patient husband.

You can follow Abbi on Twitter @amplecat. There’s more information on Abbi’s website.

Staying in with Angelle Petta

CoverArtist (1)-page-001

When I blogged about running this ‘Staying in with…’ feature on 31st December 2017 I didn’t know if anyone would want to take part. Since then almost 80 authors have participated with almost 60 waiting in the wings. I’m just about to take a little blogging break and head off to India looking for tigers, but before I do I’m thrilled to welcome Angelle Petta to Linda’s Book Bag to stay in with me and tell me about one of her books.

If you’re an author who’d also like to stay in with me to tell me about one of your books, please click here for more details.

Staying in with Angelle Petta

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Angelle. 

Hi Linda! Thank you so much for inviting me to participate in “Staying in with Linda.”

A pleasure and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it? 

CoverArtist (1)-page-001

Today I have my debut novel, The Artist and the Soldier with me.  I am so excited about this book. I started writing novels 15 years ago, and four novels later I was offered a publishing contract with a small press. The journey has taught me to persevere. I am thrilled to be starting my author career with this historical fiction novel.

(Huge congratulations. The cover of The Artist and the Soldier is wonderful. It makes me want to dive right in!)

The concept for this book is based around two true stories I heard while on a trip to Rome in 2015. The first story was about a film that was made in a Vatican controlled basilica, which saved hundreds of Italian Jews from the Nazis during the occupation. The second story was about summer camps that were run for youth in the 1930’s throughout American that taught the ideals of Hitler. Both stories fascinated me and stayed with me throughout my trip. Thus Max and Bastian, my main characters, were born. I did not see their entire narrative from the start, but I saw them. I wrote their character profiles and part of the outline on the plane ride home from Rome, a few days later. I spent about a year on research and formed the characters and parts of the storyline during the process.  Though the main characters are fictional, most of what happens on the novel is based on historical events.

(I love historical fiction and I think The Artist and the Soldier sounds exactly my kind of read.)

What can we expect from an evening in with The Artist and the Soldier?

The Artist and the Solider tells the story of two young men who come of age and fall in love, set against the backdrop of true events during World War II.

It’s 1938. Bastian Fisher and Max Amsel meet at an American-Nazi camp, Siegfried. Neither have any idea what to do with their blooming, confusing feelings for one another. Before they can begin to understand, the pair is yanked apart and forced in opposite directions.

Five years later, during the heart of World War II, Bastian’s American army platoon lands in Salerno, Italy. Max is in Nazi-occupied Rome where he has negotiated a plan to hire Jews on as ‘extras’ in a movie—an elaborate ruse to escape the Nazis. Brought together by circumstance and war, Bastian and Max find one another again in Rome.

Exploring the true stories of Camp Siegfried and the making of the film, La Porta del Cielo, The Artist and the Soldier is intense, fast moving, and sheds light on largely untouched stories in American and Italian history.

(Sounds fabulous Angelle.)

What else have you brought along and why have you brought it? 


I’ve brought four things with me today.  The first is a photo I took in Rome of the Papal Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls, where the movie that the book is based on was filmed.


I also have one of the original movie posters advertising La Porta del Cielo or The Gates of Heaven.

(How interesting. I’d never heard of this film before today.)

Next is a link to the article featured on NPR that inspired the summer camp where the boys meet titled “Nazi Summer Camps In 1930s America?” You can find the article here.

(I’ve visited your link Angelle and found the information fascinating.)

Finally I’ve included one of my favorite quotes from the book:


(What a wonderful sentiment Angelle.)

Thanks so much for staying in with me Angelle, to introduce The Artist and the Soldier. It sounds a wonderful story and I very much look forward to reading it.

The Artist and the Soldier

CoverArtist (1)-page-001

It’s 1938. Bastian Fisher and Max Amsel meet at a Nazi-American summer camp, Siegfried. Neither boy has any idea what to do with their blooming, confusing feelings for one another. Before they can begin to understand, the pair is yanked back into reality and forced in opposite directions.

Five years later, during the heart of World War II, Bastian’s American army platoon has landed in Salerno, Italy. Max is in Nazi-occupied Rome where he has negotiated a plan to hire Jews as ‘extras’ in a movie—an elaborate ruse to escape the Nazis. Brought together by circumstance and war Bastian and Max find one another again in Rome.

Exploring the true stories of Camp Siegfried, a Nazi-American summer camp in New York and the making of the film, La Porta del Cielo, which saved hundreds of lives, The Artist and the Soldier is intense, fast moving, and sheds light on largely untouched stories in American and Italian history.

Out on 1st May 2018, The Artist and the Soldier is available for pre-order here.

About Angelle Petta


Angelle Petta holds an MA in Theater Education from Emerson College, and a master’s equivalency in Drama Therapy through the NADTA. Angelle is a registered drama therapist and a PhD student at Lesley University.  She works as a Drama Therapist at an Expressive Arts Center in Virginia called A Place To Be.

She lives, works, and writes in Northern Virginia along with her husband, two delightful dogs, and one fat cat.

You can find out more by visiting Angelle’s website, finding her on Instagram, Facebook and Goodreads or by following her on Twitter @AngellePetta.

Staying in with Stephen Ainley

Dennis Biskit

I have had the pleasure of ‘meeting’ so many smashing authors through this Staying in with… feature on Linda’s Book Bag and I’m delighted to meet another author today as Stephen Ainley has agreed to tell me all about one of his books.

If you’re an author who’d also like to stay in with me to tell me about one of your books, please click here for more details.

Staying in with Stephen Ainley

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Stephen. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

Thanks for the invite, Linda.

Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

Dennis Biskit

I’ve bought along my first novel, The Dennis Bisskit Adventures.  Being the comic adventures of young, Dennis Bisskit. It describes his rocky journey, from Dudley in the 1950’s. To Uganda, serving in the British Army in the 1960’s. And all the colourful characters he meets along the way.

(Oh! I’ve just come back from a trip to Uganda so it would be great to return through fiction too!)

What can we expect from an evening in with The Dennis Bisskit Adventures?

I recently had my favourite ever review. It just said “This book made me happy” and that is really what I’d hope you would get from an evening with, Dennis.

(Sounds like a book I could do with at the moment Stephen as life has been what you might call challenging!)

He is short, ginger-haired, and very accident prone. He always means well, but most things he tries, seem to end in disaster.

(Actually, this description makes me smile as we used to have a cat called Dennis who had a pretty ‘accident’ prone life as he was diabetic and got taken short quite often. Funnily enough he was ginger too!)

It’s a book full of fun, family, friends and catastrophes.. Some sad bits, but mainly lots of laughs.

Readers are calling it, “hilarious”  “brilliantly funny” and “an amusing and heart warming read”.

(It sounds smashing Stephen.)

What else have you brought and why have you brought it?

sponge bob

I have bought a DVD of SpongeBob Squarepants. I’m a huge fan, and have a SpongeBob tattoo.

(Am I allowed to confess I’ve never seen a single second of SpongeBob before? This will be quite an education!)

Also a CD of The Who. I’m a huge fan, and have a, The Who, tattoo.

(I can feel a pattern coming on here…)

Also a huge bowl of trifle. If it were socially acceptable and not dangerous to your health, I would be quite happy to live on trifle. I know what you’re thinking. No, I don’t have a trifle tattoo, but it’s only a matter of time.

(That’s a relief. I’m so pleased you brought the trifle. I love it. I make it all the time so if we run out I’ll whip up another.)


Thank you so much, for staying in with me to introduce The Dennis Bisskit Adventures Stephen. I think your book sounds enormous fun. All the very best with it.

The Dennis Bisskit Adventures

Dennis Biskit


Meet Dennis Bisskit, short; ginger-haired; kind-hearted; game for anything. Born in 1945 on the day the war ended; it should have been a good omen. Instead it’s been one disaster after another. Luckily fate normally steps in to save the day.

Gasp at the great holiday camp knobbly-knees scandal of 1955!

Be amazed as Dennis attempts to win back the world mile record for queen and country!

Discover Fosdyke’s department store and the all-powerful Mrs Ricketts!

Shed a tear as Dennis visits the battlefields of France with his granddad.

And meet the memorable Colour Sergeant Plunkett who teaches Dennis everything he needs to know about the army and finally makes a young man of him.

Published by Austin Macauley, The Dennis Bisskit Adventures is available for purchase through these links.

About Stephen Ainley


Stephen Ainley was born in Birmingham U.K. in 1952. He served in the British Airborne in the 1970’s before emigrating to Australia. He has written short stories and articles for many years but this is his first novel. He resides in Western Australia with wife Jane and Irish terrier O’Malley.

A sequel, Dennis Bisskit and the Man From Paris, with the Very Large Head, is due to be published later in 2018.

You can follow Stephen on Twitter @stephen_ainley and visit his website. Stephen is also on Facebook.

The Sunday Lunch Club by Juliet Ashton


I’m so grateful to the lovely folk at Simon and Schuster and TeamBATC for providing an advanced reader copy of The Sunday Lunch Club by Juliet Ashton in return for an honest review.

I recently met Juliet Ashton again at the latest Spring Blogger Event that you can read about here. I’ve also read, loved and reviewed here another of Juliet’s books, The Woman at Number 24.

The Sunday Lunch Club by Juliet Ashton will be published on 19th April and is available for pre-order through the links here.

The Sunday Lunch Club


The first rule of Sunday Lunch Club is … don’t make any afternoon plans.

Every few Sundays, Anna and her extended family and friends get together for lunch. They talk, they laugh, they bicker, they eat too much. Sometimes the important stuff is left unsaid, other times it’s said in the wrong way.

Sitting between her ex-husband and her new lover, Anna is coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy at the age of forty. Also at the table are her ageing grandmother, her promiscuous sister, her flamboyantly gay brother and a memory too terrible to contemplate.

Until, that is, a letter arrives from the person Anna scarred all those years ago. Can Anna reconcile her painful past with her uncertain future?

My Review of The Sunday Lunch Club

Anna’s family meet regularly for Sunday lunch and know everything about one another. Or do they…

Well, well, well. Juliet Ashton has done it again. I absolutely adored The Sunday Lunch Club.

Firstly, I so appreciated the quality of the prose. I must admit the book’s title made me think this might be a very superficial read but I was completely wrong. As I read, a quotation from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina that ‘Happy families and all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’ kept going through my head because all the members of Anna’s family have their secrets, their hopes and their fears so beautifully presented that I felt I knew each one intimately. Anna makes the perfect conduit to present them all so that we learn as much about her as we do all the others. I fell in love with them all and wanted them all to have a happy resolution, but you’ll have to read the book for yourself to find out if that happens.

The plot is so engaging, revolving around Anna’s pregnancy and drawing in each of the other members through the anchor of the family Sunday lunches. I found reading The Sunday Lunch Club a bit like watching the ocean. It was mesmerising; ebbing and flowing so that the reader occasionally feels complicit in the action, is often surprised and is always so wonderfully entertained. There’s such an intimate sense of family whilst at the same time they all represent a real microcosm of society so that there really is a character, an action or an event for any and every reader to identify with. This is such clever writing. It’s not overstating my emotional response to The Sunday Lunch Club to say it made me feel back in touch with humanity.

I think The Sunday Lunch Club is perfect escapist reading but with a depth and warmth that surprised me. I didn’t want it to end and feel lost now that I’m no longer heading over for Sunday lunch with these warm, witty and loveable people. I absolutely loved it.

About Juliet Ashton


Juliet Ashton is just one of the nom de plumes of writer Bernadette Strachan who also co-writes musicals with her composer husband Matthew Strachan. Juliet has a daughter and dogs!

You can follow Juliet Ashton on Twitter and visit her website.

Staying in with Morton S. Gray


I’m thrilled to welcome back Morton S. Grey to Linda’s Book Bag. Previously Morton wrote a fabulous guest blog (here) all about writing through emotions when she and I had had a particularly difficult year. I’m so glad she has agreed to return to stay in with me today.

If you’re an author who’d also like to stay in with me to tell me about one of your books, please click here for more details.

Staying in with Morton S. Grey

Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag, Morton. It seems ages since I saw you in real life. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

Hi Linda, thanks for inviting me over!

Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

TGOTB_hirespackshot CMYK_preview

I’ve brought along The Girl on the Beach. It’s just come out in paperback, my first ever, as this novel was my debut with Choc Lit after winning their Search for a Star competition. Even though I’ve been e-published for over a year there was something so special about being able to hold my novel in my hands and to run my fingers over the embossing on the front cover. I don’t often get excited, but I definitely did when my author copies arrived (you may have seen the video I posted online – blushes!) A copy of my novel now takes its place on my keeper book shelf.

(How wonderful to have a physical copy with your name on the cover. You must be so excited.)

What can we expect from an evening in with The Girl on the Beach?

The action in the novel takes place in my fictional seaside town of Borteen, as do the other novels from my Borteen Secrets Series (watch out for Book Two The Truth Lies Buried published on 1 May 2018).


(Congratulations on your new book, The Truth Lies Buried, too. Blog readers might like to know that it is available through the links here.)

The story of The Girl on the Beach follows Ellie Golden and her shock when she believes she recognizes her son’s new headmaster, Harry Dixon from her past. If Harry is who she thinks he is, he doesn’t appear to recognize her, he’s using a different name and she thought he was dead.

Ellie moved to Borteen to escape her troubled past and keep her son, Tom safe, but that past is about to catch up with her big time.

(This sounds so good.)

I’ve had some lovely reviews for the book and people seem to like the fact I’ve included teenage secondary characters, art and a youth mentoring scheme in the book. My favourite image from the novel is Harry Dixon on his daily run along the beach.


What else have you brought along and why have you brought it?


I’ve bought my heart shaped pink bucket (watch out for this in some of my stories), a spade and a beach mat. I’ve bought these along so that we can go for a walk on some of my favourite beaches, maybe Woolacombe, Llandanawg, or Bamburgh, to indulge in some beachcombing and a little paddle in the sea. I love to look out for seaglass and interesting pebbles for my collection.


Living in Worcestershire, UK I couldn’t be further from the coast if I tried, so going to the seaside is a real treat. Being on the beach is so good for the soul.

(I agree Morton. South Lincolnshire places me a good way from the sea too and I love a walk on the beach!)

Thank you so much, Morton, for staying in with me to introduce The Girl on the Beach. I think it sounds wonderful and will be sure to add it to my TBR along with The Truth Lies Buried. Good luck with both titles!

The Girl on the Beach


Who is Harry Dixon?

When Ellie Golden meets Harry Dixon, she can’t help but feel she recognises him from somewhere. But when she finally realises who he is, she can’t believe it – because the man she met on the beach all those years before wasn’t called Harry Dixon. And, what’s more, that man is dead.

For a woman trying to outrun her troubled past and protect her son, Harry’s presence is deeply unsettling – and even more disconcerting than coming face to face with a dead man, is the fact that Harry seems to have no recollection of ever having met Ellie before. At least that’s what he says …

But perhaps Harry isn’t the person Ellie should be worried about. Because there’s a far more dangerous figure from the past lurking just outside of the new life she has built for herself, biding his time, just waiting to strike.

The Girl on the Beach is available for purchase through these links.

The Truth Lies Buried

The Truth Lies Buried

Two children in a police waiting room, two distressed mothers, a memory only half remembered…

When Jenny Simpson returns to the seaside town of Borteen, her childhood home, it’s for a less than happy reason. But it’s also a chance for her to start again.
A new job leads to her working for Carver Rodgers, a man who lives alone in a house that looks like it comes from the pages of a fairy tale – until you see the disaster zone inside …

As Jenny gets to know Carver she begins to unravel the sadness that has led to his chaotic existence. Gradually they realise they have something in common that is impossible to ignore – and it all links back to a meeting at a police station many years before.

Could the truth lie just beneath their feet?

Published by Choc Lit on 1st May 2018, The Truth Lies Buried can be pre-ordered through these links.

About Morton S. Gray


Morton lives with her husband, two sons and Lily, the tiny white dog, in Worcestershire, U.K. She has been reading and writing fiction for as long as she can remember, penning her first attempt at a novel aged fourteen. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.

Her debut novel The Girl on the Beach was e-published in January 2017, after she won Choc Lit Publishing Search for a Star competition. The story follows a woman with a troubled past as she tries to unravel the mystery surrounding her son’s headteacher, Harry Dixon. This book is available as a paperback from 10 April 2018.

Morton’s second book for Choc Lit The Truth Lies Buried is published as an e-book on 1 May 2018. Another romantic suspense novel, the book tells the story of Jenny Simpson and Carver Rodgers as they uncover secrets from their past.

Morton previously worked in the electricity industry in committee services, staff development and training. She has a Business Studies degree and is a fully qualified clinical hypnotherapist and Reiki Master. She also has diplomas in Tuina acupressure massage and energy field therapy. She enjoys crafts, history and loves tracing family trees. Having a hunger for learning new things is a bonus for the research behind her books.

You can follow Morton on Twitter @MortonSGray, find her author page on Facebook and visit her website.

Riley Knows He Can by Davina Hamilton

Riley knows he can

In August last year I was privileged to meet Riley in a lovely children’s book by Davina Hamilton, Riley Can Be Anything, which I reviewed here. I’m delighted to find that Riley is back in a whole new adventure Riley Knows He Can, and would like to thank Davina for sending me an advanced reader copy in return for an honest review.

Riley Knows He Can is available for pre-order here. Riley will be sitting in your basket until he’s released on 25th April!

Riley Knows He Can

Riley knows he can

Riley is excited about starring in his first school play – but his nerves keep getting the better of him.

His Mummy and Daddy will be in the audience and Riley is excited that they’ll be there to watch him in his starring role as the wise king. In addition, Riley can’t wait to put on his costume – a kingly cape and crown!

But he keeps getting overwhelmed by the butterflies in his tummy! What if he walks on the stage and freezes? Or what if he walks on the stage and sneezes?

Thankfully, Riley’s big sister Ella is on hand. Not only did Ella help her little brother to practice his lines for the play, she also gives him the encouragement he needs to take to the stage with kingly confidence. With Ella’s help, Riley learns how to ditch the doubt and tell himself he can do it – because deep down, he knows he can!

The follow-up to 2017’s Riley Can Be Anything, Riley Knows He Can follows young Riley on a new and exciting journey of discovery. In this wonderful rhyming tale, our young hero learns, with the help of his big sister, how to conquer his fears by believing in himself.

My Review of Riley Knows He Can

A starring role in his school’s play can be rather daunting but Riley’s sister Ella gives him the confidence to perform.

I love this book. It is equally as good as Riley Can Be Anything and although I’m a good fifty years older than the target audience, it felt like an old friend had returned to read about Riley’s new adventure.

The elements that I so appreciated in Riley Can Be Anything are present in Riley Knows He Can. The gender and ethnicity balance of the characters is wonderful, giving equal status to all in a world where we still haven’t always managed that equality.

The language fits both Riley’s character and the plot perfectly. Children could read this to themselves but the lovely fluid rhyme scheme also makes Riley Knows He Can a perfect book for reading aloud together too. The refrain ‘I can do this. I can!’ is such a wonderfully positive message and I can envisage children saying it to themselves in emulation of Riley when they find themselves in challenging situations. Riley Knows He Can provides brilliant positivity without being patronising or twee and I love that aspect of Davina Hamilton’s writing. There’s a secondary message too in the play within the story that shows children that no-one is better than anyone else, so that as well as being hugely entertaining, Riley Knows He Can is educational too.

I must also mention the lovely illustrations. They enhance the words so fabulously. They are simple but effective and will appeal to adults and children alike.

I think Riley Knows He Can is a superb children’s book. It made me happy to read it and what could be better than that?

About Davina Hamilton


Davina Hamilton is an exciting writer with 15 years of journalism experience. The former entertainment editor for UK publication, The Voice, Davina has contributed to a host of publications, both in the UK and internationally. She has also featured on a number of radio programmes on stations including BBC London, LBC and BBC Radio 5 Live.

Davina lives in London, England with her husband and two children. She is available for interview upon request.

You can follow Davina on Twitter @davina_writes, visit her website and find Riley on Facebook.

Staying in with Sue Haasler on Half A World Away Publication Day

half a world away

I’m absolutely delighted to be starting off the launch celebrations for Half A World Away by Sue Haasler. Normally when authors stay in with me on Linda’s Book Bag I don’t really know which book they might be sharing in advance but today I had a pretty good idea!

Staying in with Sue Haasler

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Sue. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

half a world away

I’ve brought my new novel Half A World Away, which has just been published by The Dome Press.

(Oh yes! It’s out today. Happy publication day Sue and congratulations.)

What can we expect from an evening in with Half A World Away?

We’ll be taken to East Berlin in the last years of the Cold War, to a world that’s now completely disappeared, a through the looking glass country where a lot is familiar, but a lot is alien and strange. It’s not a whole world away from us – just half!

(I love a book where I can ‘travel’ Sue. That concept of it being ‘half’ a world away is really intriguing.)

We’ll meet handsome, kind Alex, who would have been happy to live a normal life working in his father’s bakery if he hadn’t fallen in love, first with music and then with a girl from a so-called “enemy country.” We’ll meet Nicky, who is loving and optimistic, but still feels guilty about a decision she had to make in the past. And we’ll meet Detlef, who would be a misfit in any country but in the GDR he thinks he’s found a way to fit in – until his world turns upside down when he sets eyes on Alex. It’s a love story, but with a lot of twists and turns and very specific to a time and a place.

(Half A World Away sounds wonderful. I’m so glad I have a copy on my TBR pile.)

What else have you brought along and why?


As Alex is a baker, I’ve brought a selection of typical East German bread and cakes. Various bread rolls – Milchbrötchen, which is like brioche; Semmeln, which are bread rolls where two are stuck together like the number 8; and a hollow cake called Spritzkuchen, all lovely eaten warm, with butter and cheese.


Then we’ve got Pflaumkuchen, a delicious tray bake made with plums and a sweet, crumbly topping. We might have some cream with that. And we’ll wash it all down with the famous sparkling wine, Rotkäppchen. It’s still hugely popular today, but in the GDR times it was reserved for special occasions. You might have garnished it with a pineapple chunk, if you could manage to get tinned pineapple.


(Oh my goodness Sue. I can’t drink ordinary wine but I love a sparkling one and those other foods look delicious. You can come again!)

While we’re eating and drinking we could listen to some Charlie Parker – saxophone player Alex’s all-time hero. Or perhaps some David Bowie, because he has a part to play in the book, as he played a concert in West Berlin in 1987, right next to the Wall. Because we’re on the East side, we can hear him, even if we can’t actually see him.


I love those music choices. I really must visit Berlin and in the meantime I’ll do so vicariously through reading Half A World Away. Congratulations again Sue on today’s publication. Thank you so much, Sue, for staying in with me to introduce Half a World Away, happy publication day and good luck!

Half A World Away

half a world away

East Berlin, 1987.

Alex is a talented saxophonist, flirting with ‘Western’ jazz as well as girls. When he meets Nicky – a beautiful English girl visiting East Berlin as an au pair – she makes him feel that his dreams could become reality.

Detlev’s love for his country has always been enough for him, until Alex makes him feel things he never thought possible. But what use is his passion when its object doesn’t even know he exists?

As Alex meets a new group of musicians, he moves closer to influences considered subversive by a state that has eyes and ears everywhere – and Detlev’s unrequited feelings threaten to endanger them all.

Published today, 12th April 2018, by Dome Press, Half A World Away is available for purchase here.

About Sue Haasler

sue haasler

Sue Haasler was born and brought up in County Durham and studied English Literature and Linguistics at Liverpool University.

After graduating she moved to London and worked for three years as a residential social worker. Since then, she has lived as an administrator for a disability charity, which recruits volunteer carers for disabled adults.

Many of the volunteers are from abroad and this is how she met her husband, who is from the former East Berlin.

Sue is the author of four romantic fiction titles, True Colours, Time After Time, Two’s Company (all Orion paperbacks) and Better Than the Real ThingTwo’s Company was optioned for film by Warner Bros.

She has been commissioned by the BBC to write an authorized tie-in to Holby City.

​Sue is married with an adult daughter and lives in London.

You can follow Sue on Twitter @pauseliveaction and visit her website. You’ll also find Sue on Facebook.

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Write It And They Will Come? A Guest Post by Melvyn Small, author of The Darlington Substitution


Since I began Linda’s Book Bag just over three years ago I’ve realised that smaller independent publishers have a huge task in getting their books in front of readers and the blog has evolved to try to help them do just that.

Today I’m delighted to welcome Melvyn Small of indie publishers Indipenned and author of The Darlington Substitution to the blog with a great guest post looking at how smaller publishers can work.

The Darlington Substitution is being serialised and can be read for free now on the Indipenned website or via the Indipenned Facebook page.

The Darlington Substitution


With Watson’s literary career going from strength to strength, he secures a slot on local radio to publicise his new book.  Uncertain as how to well it went, he is still a little surprised when the recording isn’t broadcast. Although disappointed, he disregards this snub to his confidence as a peculiar but unimportant bend in the path of his literary career.

Sherlock Holmes is not so dismissive. He seizes upon the event, certain that there is more to this rebuff than meets the eye. He grills Watson to the content of his interview, convinced a key fact will reveal all. There is nothing. Watson is sure off that. An investigation ensues that takes Holmes to the end of the known world, a place just near Thirsk.

The Darlington Substitution is a retrospective account, occurring during the same time as the adventures chronicled in Holmes Volume 2. It sees Holmes at the height of his wisecracking, foulmouthed, law disregarding deductive brilliance.

Write It And They Will Come?

A Guest Post by Melvyn Small

Over the years I have had numerous ideas for novels. I thought the only things that stood in my way were my ability to eke seventy or eighty thousand words from those ideas and having no experience whatsoever as writer of fiction. If I could circumnavigate those minor hurdles, then I would have a bestseller on my hands. Following that, the likelihood was that scores of Hollywood producers would be ringing my phone off the hook. Easy!

A few years ago, yet another idea struck. As I lay slumped on my settee with the familiar companion of a glass of Hardy’s Crest (other Australian red wines are available) I had a thought. My televisual delectation that particular evening was the CBS show Elementary starring Jonny Lee Millar as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Doctor Joan Watson. I liked it. At least, I liked the idea of it. They’d taken the original work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and moved it somewhere else. My overriding thought was that they could have gone further with it.


As it transpired, this idea for a literary masterpiece was different from all those that proceeded it. It was peculiar in that I actually got on with it and wrote the book. Actually, two books. Given I was uncertain if I could turn an idea into seventy thousand words, there is a little irony in that I managed to find one hundred and sixty thousand across the two volumes. In the interests of full disclosure, I should point that I cheated a little by writing a series of short stories. That said, I’m told the books read very much like a novel, as there is a story arc running across the piece. One reviewer described the books as an “episodic novel”. Which, in hindsight, makes sense.

If I park the reserve of my Englishness for a moment, I can tell you that these books are actually bloody good. I’m not aware of anyone who has read it and said differently. Apart from my brother who read the first page and objected to my prose. Hey-ho.

The tale that tells the story from red wine-lipped idea to paperback is a little longer than that. The story of conversations in pubs and bizarre synchronicity is well documented elsewhere, and I will therefore spare you. Suffice to say, I hooked up with an independent publishing company who helped me turn my manuscripts into very professional-looking ebooks and paperbacks.

The independently published route was very good. It got a paperback with my name on into my hand pretty rapidly. It also gave me complete freedom with respect to what I did with my books. I had a copy of the ebook to send to reviewers and a box full of paperbacks to tout around the local bookshops and send off to movers and shakers in the world of film and television. The success of the latter is still a bit of a TBC. What this freedom and independence also means is you are on your own. It means you don’t have the backing of a marketing department and the advantages of the connections of a large publishing company. The world is awash with books, some good, some not so. Therefore, it is very difficult to get the word out about a new book. It would be nice to think that if a book was good enough then the rest would be easy. I’m pretty sure that isn’t the case.

The question therefore is: Should I have explored a more traditional route to publishing? The answer is: I don’t think so. I’m quite confident that I would have spent a lot of time sending out manuscripts and received a disproportionately small number of rejection letters. The Holmes books are a cult thing. People really like them. Whether the marketing machine of a large publishing company could scale that popularity is debateable. Although the books have received good feedback from around the world, the popularity they have achieved does tend to focus around the Northeast of England. This is from where I originate and is where the stories are set.

Personally, my honest assessment is that they could gain popularity across a wider audience. I’ve seen the reviews… several times. Whether I could convince a London-based publishing company that, I will probably never know. I somehow imagine a working-class Sherlock Holmes from Middlesbrough might not be their thing.

Let’s be realistic. A publishing company isn’t going to publish a book that they don’t think will sell in large numbers. Why would they? They are a business and in they are in the business of selling books. The problem is what they think might sell is largely down to their experience of what they have already sold. They work within the world as the perceive it. You can’t blame them. We all have bills to pay. No one wants to hang their hat on a flop. However, literature is an art and art is about taking chances and stressing the boundaries of what’s gone before.

The traditional publishing route is harder than that for someone with an original idea. Many publishing companies, large and small, have stopped taking submissions from new authors. Consequently, to get your masterpiece onto the desk of a publishing company you must first convince a literary agent, with bills to pay, to see outside the established norm. This shift in how things work has resulted in literary agents facing a deluge of manuscripts to wade through. As a result of this, the agents have found a new way of working and are now looking for new authors from within the ranks of those enrolled on creative writing courses. The point here is that there are a few hurdles to cross and those involved in this process don’t appear to have an interest in expanding the artform.

This may all seem very anti the traditional publishing route. It’s not meant to be. They fulfil a need. There’s as much a place for fast food as there is gourmet restaurants. Things can happily coexist. I’ll leave it to you to decide which part of that analogy is working with the big five and which is independent publishing. If somebody starts their writing career as an indie author before getting snapped up by one of the big boys, then good on them. Let’s just hope they don’t forget us indie renegades when they do. Personally, I’d be more than happy to kick around the idea of a six-figure advance. I’m also not too adverse to moving a few things around to talk about a TV or film deal.

Failing that, I think there is a massive opportunity for both indie authors and book lovers to band together and extol the virtues of some of the great literature being created outside the mainstream. To that ends, I created Indipenned, a corner of the internet exclusive to independent literature. At the core of this is that thought the most effective form of promotion is word of mouth. If we can get enough authors, poets, small presses, book reviewers and independent bookshops to start extolling the virtues of independently-written literature, we can give indie authors a real chance. The plan is to make books more about merit and less about marketing budgets. We want to lend a hand to those working outside the world of the big corporations.

Indipenned is still in its first year. This initial period has been all about getting some of the great indie authors that are out there to join us. We’re really happy with how this has gone. Although we are still looking for authors, the focus has now shifted to letting book lovers to know about us. One of the ways in which we are doing this is by publishing a brand-new Holmes novella in the short stories section of the Indipenned website. This story has just completed a blog tour, which included some of the web’s leading book reviewers. The reviews have been brilliant.

“An interesting and enjoyable take on one of my favourite classics.”

“I giggled from start to finish with the dry humour that rolled off of each page.”

“The best novella I have ever read.”

(And if this guest post is anything to go by Mel, you deserve every success.)

About Mel Small


Melvyn Small is the founder of Indepenned and an author of several books who also writes under the name Michael R.N. Jones.

Mel dislikes turnip and beetroot which he calls ‘the Devil’s fruit’ and is pretty pleased he no longer works in sewerage.

You can find out more by following Indepenned on Twitter @indipenned and Facebook as well as visiting the website. Mel also has a personal author website and you can follow him on Twitter @northernholmes or find him on Facebook.

Staying in with Jane Davis

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I’m always intrigued where and how authors get the inspiration for their writing so I’m delighted to have Jane Davis staying in with me today to explain a little about her latest book.

If you’re an author who’d also like to stay in with me to tell me about one of your books, please click here for more details.

Staying in with Jane Davis

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Jane. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.

Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?

jane books

I’ve brought along my new novel, Smash all the Windows. Hot off the press, its release date is actually tomorrow.

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(How exciting. Congratulations and happy publication day for tomorrow Jane.)

You can probably sense from the title that the novel began with outrage. I was infuriated by the press’s reaction to the outcome of the second Hillsborough inquest. Microphones were thrust at family members as they emerged from the courtroom. It was put them that, now that it was all over, they could get on with their lives. ‘What lives?’ I yelled at the television.

(I can fully understand that as a catalyst for writing. It insenses me when the first thing anyone is asked is, ‘How do you feel?’ regardless of whatever news they’ve just received.)

For those who don’t know about Hillsborough, a crush occurred during the 1989 FA Cup semi-final, killing 96 fans. A single lie was told about the cause of the disaster: In that moment, Liverpool fans became scapegoats. It would be twenty-seven years before the record was set straight.

It’s an incident that lives on in the nation’s collective consciousness. Many people have very distinctive memories about where they were when they heard the news. Of course, my disaster, and the miscarriage of justice that followed, is fictional. I combined two of my fears – travelling in rush hour by Tube, and escalators, and as I’ve learned from my beta readers and advance readers, there seem to be a huge number of people with escalator stories to share. I’m amassing quite a collection.

(As someone who is very claustrophobic I can identify with that totally Jane. I have to force myself onto the underground.)

What can we expect from an evening in with Smash all the Windows?

We have characters you’ll fall in love with, a structure and pace my copy editor described as ‘just fricking divine!’ and plenty of snippets that you’ll want to discuss at the water cooler.

(Sounds great!)

Whilst we have all of the drama of the disaster, the quieter scenes are among my favourites, Donovan’s in particular. That fateful day wiped out two generations of Donovan’s family. Not only his daughter and future son-in-law, but his unborn grandson. He has another source of pain, one he cannot discuss. Ever since the funeral, his wife Helene has turned her back on the world, refusing to leave the house. But surely, if he can raise money to build a monument, she might be persuaded… Donovan’s a big-hearted man, but he finds it difficult to express his emotions. There’s is a moment when he discovers a pair of his daughter’s swimming goggles in the garage. They’ve lain there, undisturbed for over thirty years, but he comes across them just after he makes the decision to allow Jules Roche to have the pieces of wood from the unfinished crib he was making for his unborn grandson. (Jules is a sculptor and his idea is to take mementos from the families and use them to create new works of art.) Donovan translates this as his daughter’s way of letting him know it’s OK.

(This sounds incredibly poignant. We readers definitely need light and shade in our reading.)

I also like the moment that lent itself to the cover image: the starling. I borrowed a snippet from one of my city walks. I was taking the stairs from the Riverside Path to London Bridge when I saw a starling sitting on a steel railing, singing its heart out. Hearing birdsong when surrounded by the traffic roar and the clang of building works is quite special and so I stood and watched. I used this moment for my character Maggie, who’s the mother of the young station supervisor who was in charge when the disaster happened. She feels her daughter is sending her a message. In fact, I find the whole issue of how people manage to stay feeling connected to their loved ones very interesting.

(Fascinating. There are certain pieces of music I can’t listen to without my wonderful Dad being right there with me. It’s amazing how our senses make connections for us isn’t it?)

What else have you brought along and why?

My guest is Jules Roche. He was the unwitting poster boy for the disaster. He has a reputation as being something of an enfant terrible, because he has a fiery temper and feeds journalists the soundbites they’re so desperate for. He reluctantly found fame after he found that the way to deal with his grief was to translate all that energy into art, in his case, sculptures. He doesn’t have an artistic background and there’s no consensus on whether the work he creates is any good. But his intention to honour the memory of his wife is pure, and integrity like that has enormous appeal. In celebration of the verdict, Tate Modern wants to stage an exhibition of his work. Jules accepts – but only on his terms. He collaborates with the families of the victims to create a series of new pieces from their mementos. For some, it becomes part of the process of letting go.

On the outside, he’s a passionate, energetic and intriguing individual, quite anti-authoritarian, unafraid what people think of him, someone who makes you feel flattered when he unlatches the door to his world and invites you in. But like many artists, it’s what’s behind the show of energy that is most interesting. I think you’ll enjoy getting to know him, even if he does try to sell you a ticket for the exhibition.

On the subject of which, you’ll have noticed that I’m wearing my Victim Thirty-four T-shirt. The families chose a blank Facebook profile as the image to the victim whose identity was never established. In a city the size of London, there are always those who slip through the cracks. In 2017, the charity Shelter estimated that one in every fifty-nine Londoners is homeless. That’s a shocking statistic – and it doesn’t include sofa surfers and what is known as the ‘hidden five per cent’ – those who don’t appear on any official registers. This is the families’ small way of acknowledging that somewhere, someone is missing those people.

(As someone who has always had a very comfortable roof over my head I find this so shocking.)

As for music, I’ve brought Donovan’s party mix – African, reggae, jazz and blues, ska and not forgetting a little Aretha. Before the disaster, he and his wife Helene used to throw the most amazing open house nights when the volume was edged up, notch by notch. Wine flowed, and when new neighbours came to the front door to ask if they could please turn down the volume, Helene would inveigle them inside. Do you get on with your neighbours?

(Ha! I do indeed and we all get together annually for a party so I’m sure a little music won’t faze them. Thank you so much, Jane, for staying in with me to introduce Smash all the Windows. I hope you enjoy tomorrow’s publication day. )

Smash all the Windows

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It has taken conviction to right the wrongs.

It will take courage to learn how to live again.

For the families of the victims of the St Botolph and Old Billingsgate disaster, the undoing of a miscarriage of justice should be a cause for rejoicing. For more than thirteen years, the search for truth has eaten up everything. Marriages, families, health, careers and finances.

Finally, the coroner has ruled that the crowd did not contribute to their own deaths. Finally, now that lies have been unravelled and hypocrisies exposed, they can all get back to their lives.

If only it were that simple.

Smash all the Windows will be released on 12 April 2018 and is available for purchase through the links here.

About Jane Davis

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Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of eight novels.

Jane spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when she achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she wanted after all. It was then that she turned to writing.

Her debut, Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award 2008. Of her subsequent three novels, Compulsion Reads wrote, ‘Davis is a phenomenal writer, whose ability to create well-rounded characters that are easy to relate to feels effortless’. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and has been shortlisted for two further awards.


Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she isn’t writing, you may spot her disappearing up a mountain with a camera in hand. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.

Half-truths & White Lies

I Stopped Time

These Fragile Things

A Funeral for an Owl

An Unchoreographed Life

An Unknown Woman

My Counterfeit Self

You can find out more on Jane’s website, on Facebook and Pinterest and you can follow Jane on Twitter @janedavisauthor.

An Extract from Beautiful Liars by Isabel Ashdown

Beautiful Liars cover

I love a twisty thriller and am delighted to be part of the launch celebrations for Beautiful Liars by Isabel Ashdown. My grateful thanks to Tracy Fenton and Sam Eades for asking me to participate. I have a corker of an extract from Beautiful Liars to share with you today.

Published by Trapeze, part of the Orion Publishing Group, Beautiful Liars is available for purchase through the links here.

Beautiful Liars

Beautiful Liars cover

Eighteen years ago Martha said goodbye to best friend Juliet on a moonlit London towpath.

The next morning Juliet’s bike was found abandoned at the waterside.

She was never seen again.

Nearly two decades later Martha is a TV celebrity, preparing to host a new crime show… and the first case will be that of missing student Juliet Sherman. After all these years Martha must reach out to old friends and try to piece together the final moments of Juliet’s life.

But what happens when your perfect friends turn out to be perfect strangers…?

An Extract from Beautiful Liars

A Death

I had been sitting on that wooden bench for a while by the time the two girls came strolling along the darkened canal path, wheeling their bicycles between them, flawless in the fractured shades of evening. I strained to tune into their conversation as their soft tones drifted towards me on the winter air, tried to make out their features as the flash of lamplight illuminated their young skin and flowing hair. Silently I left the bench to disappear myself into the shadows of the hedgerow, where I might remain unseen, invisible as a ghost. Look at them! I marvelled. They glide with the carelessness of creatures accustomed to their own beauty, for they’ve never known anything different, have they? Since their first breath, one imagines they have been told it. What a beautiful baby, strangers would have said. What a beautiful little girl. What a beautiful young woman. The one I had my eye on reminded me so much of another I’d once known, a lifetime ago, in a different place, a different time altogether. It occurred to me in that moment, as I tracked those unsuspecting fawns, that beauty is surely the strongest currency – the most potent of lures. What unsightly man or woman in possession of a great fortune wouldn’t readily swap a large part of it for just a little of that magic?

Before long, the girls paused where the footpath opens out on to the main street beyond, now only a short distance from me, continuing to speak in hushed tones.

‘It must be more than that,’ the girl in the striped hat said, turning her bike wheels towards the exit path. The elegant lines of their bodies, the juxtaposition of the two bicycles at opposing angles, seemed almost balletic in its arrangement. ‘It’s not like Liv to lose the plot so easily. Me, yes – but not Liv.’

The taller girl lifted one delicate wrist, pushing back her thick hair, a swirl of white breath drifting from her mouth like mist. ‘Honestly, I haven’t got a clue. It isn’t just you she’s been funny with lately.’ She tugged at the white tabard she wore over her winter coat, readjusting its hem to bring the Square Wheels logo into clear view.

‘She even had a go at Tom earlier,’ said the other. ‘I still reckon she’s got a thing for him. She seems to be hanging round your house a lot more lately.’

The Square Wheels girl laughed raucously, betraying her real self, and I swear I saw the brightness of her sputter like a flame in a draught. ‘No, I already asked her. She said she’d never be interested in Tom – and anyway, he’s just started seeing some girl at uni.’

It was strangely exhilarating to listen in, unseen, to hear them talk of boys in this casual, disposable fashion. I almost forgot why I was there, what it was that I came to the waterside to do. To my irritation a rush of traffic passed beyond the hedgerow, drowning out their words, though it was clear to me there was tension between them when their voices drifted back into my earshot. The striped hat girl turned her bike around to face back the way they’ve just come.

‘Can’t you leave it until tomorrow?’ asked the other. It sounded like a complaint.

‘No – the café doesn’t open up until mid-morning, does it?’ There was impatience in her voice now, her words slurred. They’d been drinking, that much was clear. ‘Anyway, I don’t want to risk someone nicking it.’

Another cyclist zipped by, going one way; a dog walker passed along the path in the other. The girls lowered their voices and I could feel the strained atmosphere between them as I struggled to listen in. But all I could make out was ‘tomorrow’, delivered with resignation in its tone. ‘Promise?’ the other one said in reply, and they embraced stiffly before the girl in the hat cycled away, her figure disappearing into the night.

For just a brief moment, the lone girl paused on the frosty path, her eyes resting on the gently rippling surface of the water, and I saw something shift in her expression. What was it? Sadness? Regret? Whatever it was, it was fleeting, vanishing entirely as she mounted her bicycle and pushed away, sailing past me, flaxen locks streaming behind her like spun gold.

‘Oh, hello!’ I called after her, feeling a surge of panic rising as I stepped out on to the path and adrenaline flooded my veins. ‘Hi!’

She came to a stop, jerkily hopping on one foot as she twisted to look back at me, her mouth breaking into a broad, gleaming smile. ‘Hi!’ she called back lightly, and she seemed pleased to see me. She had the power to paralyse, that one. ‘I’m late, aren’t I? Has everyone else headed off?’

‘No, you’re fine,’ I replied, beckoning her over. ‘Actually, I’m glad you’re here,’ I said as she approached, indicating towards the shadows at the foot of the bench. ‘I’m having a bit of trouble with this—’

As she bent to take a closer look I glanced up and down the empty towpath and hooked the fishing rope beneath her beautiful chin, tugging her up and towards me, crossing my wrists to close up the circle and shut off her breath.

Right up until that moment, I believe I had only meant to talk with her. Of course the rope was coiled and ready in my pocket, and one might gather from that alone that I had waited on the path with the sole intention of extinguishing that girl’s life. But that wasn’t how it was: the rope was merely a precaution – something I’d picked up in the cabin earlier that same evening, sliding it into my pocket without malice or plan. Even as the girl took her last gasp, as her mittened hands fumbled to gain purchase on mine, her writhing legs slowing to a weak judder, I regretted not talking to her as I had planned. If I’d just spoken with her, as I’d intended, things could have worked out quite differently. I know that now; I know now that I got a few things wrong. A little mixed up, you might say.

But I’ve always been somewhat rash; it’s a curse.

(Oh my goodness. What an extract from Beautiful Liars. I can’t wait to read the rest now.)

About Isabel Ashdown


Isabel Ashdown was born in London and grew up on the Sussex coast. Her award-winning debut Glasshopper (Myriad, 2009) was twice named as one of the best books of the year, and she now writes full-time, walks daily, and volunteers in a local school for the charity Pets as Therapy. She is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Chichester.

You can find out more on Facebook, on Isabel’s website and by following her on Twitter @IsabelAshdown.

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