Staying in with Suzanne Harrison

One of the joys of blogging is being in at the start of an author’s journey and supporting smaller publishers as well as the big hitters. I have always loved every book I’ve read from Legend Times imprint Legend Press and am delighted to welcome their debut author Suzanne Harrison to stay in with me today to tell me about her brand new book.

Staying in with Suzanne Harrison

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Suzanne 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?

Firstly, thank you for staying in to talk books.

It’s my pleasure. What could be better than a bookish evening?

Secondly, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t bring along my debut novel, The Colour of Thunder, released by Legend Times on February 1 after a brief delay due to Covid.

Congratulations on your debut Suzanne. That’s a stunning cover. So, what can we expect from an evening in with The Colour of Thunder.

I wanted to write something that I wanted to read, something fast-paced and a little edgy with colourful characters. I was living temporarily back in Australia when I started writing this a few years ago, and that’s what drove me to explore the Hong Kong I know and love.

Oo. I’m so glad to have The Colour of Thunder on my TBR. I was due to go to Hong Kong on my way back from the Philippines but the typhoon scuppered us and we were unable to go. What kind of book is it?

To put it into a genre, the novel is a modern-day thriller set in Hong Kong featuring a diverse cast of troubled characters from around the world, all seeking to solve mysteries from their past, either by running from it or digging deep into what really happened. At times, their lives intersect – and not always in a particularly pleasant way. At the final hour, there’s a violent anti-government protest staged during what becomes the storm of the century. Conversely, the truth is starting to emerge and tempers are flaring.

It sounds brilliant Suzanne.

One reviewer said this: “It is a story in which the main characters are working through issues from their past and it is this intrigue and the flowing style of the narrative that I found most absorbing. I felt gripped from the first page and as the mystery unravelled.”

That’s a great comment and makes me think The Colour of Thunder will be exactly my kind of read.

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

One of the best things about Hong Kong – where I have lived for 20 years – is the food. So, let’s start with a steaming plate of Har Gao, my favourite prawn dumplings. Fantastic comfort food. Of course, I’d like to polish that off with a bottle of Tsingtao beer and perhaps we could add in a plate of clams with black bean sauce, my favourite dish at the Po Toi Island restaurant off Hong Kong and the setting for a romantic scene between Wang and Alice, two main characters in the book.

If you’re going to bring food like that Suzanne, you are welcome back at any time!

I’ve also got an old Nokia phone – you have to read the book to understand that one, as without those phones, the crime may never have been solved – and a photo of Shek O Village, where I have lived since 2000. This is also a regular setting in the novel.

Last but not least, I have brought a yellow umbrella with me, in case it rains on the way home. If you know about the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, you will also know that yellow ones became a symbol of the protestor’s fight for full democracy in Hong Kong. This is a fight still raging, although with many arrests and Covid there now, protests have all but stopped.

Indeed. I wonder if I’ll ever make it to Hong Kong now Susanne but at least I have The Colour of Thunder to take me there vicariously. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat all about it. 

The Colour of Thunder

One small island, six troubled lives, and the storm of the century is on its way.

In one of the world’s most vibrant international cities, present day Hong Kong, the lives of six people become irreversibly intertwined. The past is catching up with those running from it, while the futures of others hangs dangerously in the balance. But who knows the most? And what will they do to keep it that way?

Published by Legend Press on 1st February 2021, The Colour of Thunder is available for purchase here.

About Suzanne Harrison

Suzanne Harrison is a journalist who has worked for the South China Morning Post since 1999. Originally from Australia, she has lived and worked in the media in the US, London and mostly Hong Kong, writing everything from business to news, lifestyle features and most recently, an investigative piece about an alleged Hong Kong-based con woman. Suzanne is now working on another novel and hopes to have that up and running by mid-year.

For more information, follow Suzanne on Twitter @suzannej123. You’ll find a podcast with Susanne here and can find her on Instagram too.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? by Fran Hill

It is some months since I stayed in with Fran Hill to chat all about Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? in a post you can read here. After our conversation I knew I’d enjoy reading the book and was delighted when Fran sent me a copy, but as ever, my TBR got the better of me. With fewer blog tours accepted and a short lull in books I need to read for them, I finally got round to Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? and I’m so glad I did.

Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? is available for purchase in most large book shops, on Amazon in paperback and ebook and from the publisher directly.

Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?

thumbnail_Miss_What Does Inc_Mean Final

A funny, life-affirming memoir, in diary form. Set in the manic world of a busy teacher, and based on real experiences, Fran Hill’s account of one typical year shows it’s not just the pupils who misbehave.

English teacher ‘Miss’ starts the Autumn term beleaguered by self-doubts. She’s mid-menopause, insomniac, and Mirror and Bathroom Scales are blisteringly unsympathetic. Her pupils make her laugh, weep, fume and despair, often in the same lesson. Her unremitting workload blights family time and she feels guilty for missing church events to catch up on marking. After all, God-lady is watching.

Meanwhile, the new Head of Department seems unreachable, an Ofsted inspection looms, her sixth formers (against school policy) insist on sitting in rows, and there’s a school magazine to produce …

When childhood secrets demand attention Miss doesn’t want to give them, life gets complicated.

My Review of Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?

A year in the life of a secondary school English teacher.

Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? is an absolute cracker of a book written in the form of a term time diary. I loved every moment of being immersed in its pages and I was so entertained by Fran Hill’s writing that I simply gave up my plans for the day and read it in one sitting, right through my meals – rather like the author does with her marking in the book.

Reading Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? like having Victoria Wood, Miranda Hart and Dawn French in my sitting room for a private stand-up gig. It’s a long time since I have laughed so hard and so long and reading this book was exactly the tonic I needed in these trying times. I genuinely felt as if Fran Hill had somehow inhabited my body and it was me returning to the classroom to teach Wilfred Owen’s poetry or Shakespeare. The author’s self-deprecating style, her wrangles with Mirror and Bathroom Scales, her love of Bailey’s, the never ending plie of marking, the threat of OfSTED, all resonated so completely that I felt as if I’d made a new best friend through my reading.

Fran Hill’s writing style makes for an effortless read. Her ability to convey meaning in the briefest of sentences, balanced against longer passages is just wonderful. Direct speech is natural and engaging and I genuinely cried with laughter at some of Mirror’s comments. If I say that I kept my husband awake the night after reading Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? because I kept giggling over some of the phrases I’d read I hope it will convey how brilliant this book is.

But Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? is more than just hilarious. It’s a realistic and tender insight into the narrator’s life, her difficult past and her humane, sensitive understanding of those in her care. I confess to a lump in my throat when Zak read his Christmas story and the faces of vulnerable youngsters from my own teaching career came flooding back. Fran Hill explores challenging themes of over ambition, long term guilt, excessive diffidence, stress, and others that will reveal themselves should you read the book with subtlety so that they only really hit home when reflecting on the back after reading. The skill in writing this way is astonishing.

Utterly joyous, sensitive, witty, hugely funny and the perfect tonic for anyone needing a boost but with a serious undertow, Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? is glorious. I absolutely adored it, and could not have enjoyed it more.  Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? has gone straight on my Books of the Year list.

About Fran Hill

August 2018 new glasses

Fran Hill is a writer, blogger and English tutor from Warwickshire, England. She has written and published many stories, poems and articles over the past 20 years and was selected for the 2016-17 prestigious Writing West Midlands emerging writers’ development programme. She sometimes performs her work on stage and, more recently, since public stages became not so popular, on Facebook Live.

For more information, visit Fran’s website, or her blog, find her on Facebook or follow Fran on Twitter @franhill123.

Cover reveal: The Art of Loving You by Amelia Henley

Regular visitors to Linda’s Book Bag will know why I’m absolutely delighted to help reveal the cover of the latest book by Amelia Henley – The Art of Loving You. Amelia Henley’s The Life We Almost Has was my joint book of the year in 2020 and I stayed in here with Amelia here on the blog to discuss it, having shared my review here.

The Art of Loving You will be published by Harper Collins imprint HQ on 22nd July 2021 and is available for pre-order here.

The Art of Loving You

Perfect for fans of Rebecca Serle, Josie Silver and Sophie Cousens.

* * * *

They were so in love . . .
And then life changed forever . . .
Will they find happiness again?

Libby and Jack are the happiest they’ve ever been. Thanks to their dear friend, eighty-year-old Sid, they’ve just bought their first house together, and it’s the beginning of the life they’ve always dreamed of.

But the universe has other plans for Libby and Jack and a devastating twist of fate shatters their world.

All of a sudden life is looking very different, and unlikely though it seems, might Sid be the one person who can help Libby and Jack move forward when what they loved the most has been lost?

The Art of Loving You is a beautiful love story for our times. Romantic and uplifting, it will break your heart and then put it back together again.

Doesn’t that sound fabulous? I can’t wait to read The Art of Loving You.

About Amelia Henley

Amelia Henley is a hopeless romantic who has a penchant for exploring the intricacies of relationships through writing heart-breaking, high-concept love stories.

Amelia also writes psychological thrillers under her real name, Louise Jensen. As Louise Jensen she has sold over a million copies of her global number one bestsellers. Her stories have been translated into twenty-five languages and optioned for TV as well as featuring on the USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestsellers list. Louise’s books have been nominated for multiple awards.

The Life We Almost Had was the first story she’s written as Amelia Henley.

You can follow Amelia on Twitter @MsAmeliaHenley and find her on Facebook.

You can find out more about Amelia writing as Louise Jensen by visiting her website, finding her on Facebook and following her on Twitter @Fab_fiction.

A Duo of Children’s Books from DK Books

I’ve long been impressed by the quality of books provided by DK (Dorling Kindersley) and when Abi Walton sent a couple along for me to review I couldn’t have been more pleased. I’m delighted to share my reviews of both Look Out Leonard! by Jessie James and with illustrations by Tamara Anegon, and Dragon World by Tamara Macfarlane, illustrated by Alessandra Fusi today.

Look Out Leonard! will be published on 4th March 2021 and is available for pre-order through the links here.

Dragon World will also be published on 4th March 2021 and is available for pre-order through the links here.

Look Out Leonard!

Meet Leonard the clueless shrew in this hilarious story about getting lost in the jungle.

It’s moving day for the Shrew family, so Mrs Shrew has asked them to all hold on to each other’s tails tightly so that nobody gets lost! They set off in a long line, but wait, where’s little Leonard?

This picture book will have you on the edge of your seat as you follow Leonard, who manages to grab on to anything and everything that isn’t a shrew tail!

My Review of Look Out Leonard!

It’s moving day!

What a lovely, lovely book for pre-school and nursery age children. The central message in Look Out Leonard! of keeping close to your family and not getting lost is an important once but it is told with humour in a manner that leaves young children educated but not traumatised! I can imagine young children giggling as the tiger is hit on the head with a coconut.

The story is an excellent length to share with a child in a quiet moment and is exciting too as Leonard travels through the jungle trying to catch up with his family. Children learn about animals as Leonard encounters the different tails, as well as the importance of family. Literacy and language learning are supported through onomatopoeia, repetition, alliteration and lots of questions so that children can respond actively in the reading.

Numeracy is also subtly included with numbers up to seven as the family count they are all present before setting off for their new home.

The illustrations in Look Out Leonard! are wonderful. Bright, vibrant and with a quirky cartoon style children will enjoy, they enhance the story completely.

Finally, I loved the fact Leonard wears glasses. As someone who has struggled with my sight since childhood, I found it reassuring that the hero of a story could wear spectacles.

Look Out Leonard! is a smashing book I have no hesitation in recommending.

About Jessie James and Tamara Anegon

Jessie James likes to walk through the hills and woodlands of the South Downs and dream up ideas for children’s books. She has written for New Frontier, Skyhorse and DK as well as Simon and Schuster under another guise.

Tamara Anegon attained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2008. Following this, she studied for a masters degree in art, creation and research, specialising in children’s and picture book illustration. She has illustrated several children’s books: Waggers (Sky Pony Press, 2014) and The Big Stink, Level 11 (OUP Oxford, 2017). You can find Tamara on Instagram,. or visit her website for further information.

Dragon World

Meet the fire-breathing beasts of mythology in this beautifully illustrated book brimming with scaled behemoths.

Lurking in every corner of the earth, from the deepest depths of the oceans, to the tips of the tallest mountains, even tucked beneath the very ground that you tread on, dragons watch and wait. They take many forms – sea monsters, serpents, wild cats, eagles, and they represent many different things; Gods to be revered, evil kings to be feared, wise friends and fierce foes.

Dragons have breathed fire into our minds since we could first imagine, but why do they exist in stories from every land in the world? Come in and explore Dragon World. Look into their lairs while they make shape-shifting mischief, playing with the weather and protecting earthly treasures. Soar across continents into tales as old as time. Prowl through the pages to discover rare dragon species. Find clues to track them and master how to draw them. Behold the earthly dragons of today!

My Review of Dragon World

An exploration of dragons.

What a glorious book! Dragon World is a high quality, sumptuously illustrated, beautifully presented book that will appeal to children of all ages. Indeed, the illustrations are stunning artworks in their own right and there is even a tutorial at the end of the book exemplifying how to draw a dragon yourself so that Dragon World supports art as well as reading and enjoyment.

Divided into four section exploring dragons, Dragon World is packed with dragon facts, vocabulary, brand new stories, myths and legends so that there are multiple layers of enjoyment for older children. I can see Dragon World fascinating independent readers and encouraging the less confident to do some dragon research on their own because the quality of stimulus is so interesting.

Although it is the concept of dragons that is obviously the focal point of Dragon World, so much more is packed into these pages. There’s nature and gemology, geography and history, evolution, language and art. I thought including an index so that children can learn how to access non-fiction books at the same time as enjoying Dragon World was an inspired touch. The unifying presentation of facts about appearance, dwelling, powers and traits also supports this. There’s sufficient content in Dragon World to support an entire term’s worth of learning in a KS2 classroom and to inspire and entertain individual children in the home.

I thought Dragon World was fabulous.

About Tamara Macfarlane and Alessandra Fusi

Tamara Macfarlane is the owner of the award winning Tales on Moon Lane Children’s Bookshop, Moon Lane Education and Moon Lane Ink CIC. She has over 15 years’ experience working with children and schools, and combines running the two bookshops with writing children’s books. She currently has series with Hodder, Simon and Schuster, Troika Books and Puffin. Tamara has judged many high profile book awards (Costa, British Book Award, Muslim Young Writers Award) and has given talks at Bath, Oxford, Sharjah, Chengdu and Hay literary festivals. Whilst setting up Moon Lane Ink CIC in 2017, Tamara was mentored by the University of Cambridge Judge Business School’s Social Ventures. She is part of a diversity steering group for Booktrust, and has contributed to the Booksellers Association’s new diversity guide. Moon Lane Ink CIC is dedicated to raising equality in children’s Books: equality of access, representation and roles in the publishing industry.

You’ll find Tamara on Instagram and you can follow Moon Lane on Twitter @moonlanegroup.

Alessandra Fusi was born in Rome in 1984, where she attended the IED Institute of Art and Design, graduating in Illustration and Multimedia Animation in 2006.

Since then, she has worked as an illustrator of children’s books, puzzle games, and stationery products. As a painter, she has exhibited her work in various solo and collective art shows across Italy, Europe, and the United States.

She has a true passion for animation and loves all things illustration, so she’s always learning new things, as well as teaching them, through the courses and workshops that she organizes for her cultural association “Imagoblu”, based in Bologna.

Currently, she lives and works in Bologna, with her two loved ones: her boyfriend and her chubby ginger cat, Rino. She loves fairytales, tea, music, swing dancing, and cats (of course).

You’ll find Alessandra on Twitter @alessandrafusi and can visit her website for further information.

Here and Now by Santa Montefiore

It’s been my absolute pleasure to attend several wonderful evenings at Simon and Schuster thanks to Sara-Jade Virtue and TeamBATC where I’ve had the privilege of hearing Santa Montefiore speak and read from her books, but until now I’ve never got round to reading one. I’m delighted to rectify that omission today by sharing my review of Here and Now. My grateful thanks to SJV for providing me with a copy of Here and Now in return for an honest review.

Here and Now is published by Simon and Schuster and is available for purchase here.

Here and Now

Peopled with wonderful characters, it’s funny, sad, poignant and heart-warming, a tough subject tenderly handled. Have some tissues handy’ Choice Magazine

Faced with losing everything, all that matters is Here and Now . . .


Marigold has spent her life taking care of those around her, juggling family life with the running of the local shop, and being an all-round leader in her quiet yet welcoming community. When she finds herself forgetting things, everyone quickly puts it down to her age. But something about Marigold isn’t quite right, and it’s becoming harder for people to ignore.

As Marigold’s condition worsens, for the first time in their lives her family must find ways to care for the woman who has always cared for them. Desperate to show their support, the local community come together to celebrate Marigold, and to show her that losing your memories doesn’t matter, when there are people who will remember them for you . . .

My Review of Here and Now

Marigold keeps forgetting things.

I am absolutely furious with myself for not having read Santa Montefiore before because Here and Now is an absolutely perfect example of women’s fiction and it brought me total joy to read it.

The plot is so deftly handled that each strand combines into a wonderful read. I loved Daisy’s secondary story particularly and was desperate for her to have a happy life of her own but it is Marigold’s narrative that is the most affecting. Touching upon a difficult and emotive subject as Marigold’s condition worsens, Santa Montefiore gives absolute control to Marigold by presenting her thoughts and experiences directly to the reader. We do find how Marigold’s memory loss impacts others, but instead of diluting her experience or presenting it only from the perspective of those around Marigold, instead we get a humane and sensitive insight into how it affects her from her individual experience. I found this approach incredibly touching, very realistic and enlightening. Not only is Here and Now an entertaining story, I think it would bring solace to those whose lives are similarly affected because it allows those like Marigold to retain their dignity and identity and provides some practical tips for their loved ones woven subtly into the story.

There’s a smashing set of characters. I often find community based reads quite tricky to retain each individual in my mind but in Here and Now, each was clear and recognisable. The small feuds that arise in such a setting, the larger (and smaller) than life characters, the gossips and nags, all reminded me so much of the small, landed gentry controlled, villages where I grew up that reading Here and Now, ironically, reignited my own memories. 

I loved Marigold’s family. Nan could quite easily be my own mother and I laughed aloud at some of her comments. Dennis was so like my own Dad that I loved him from the very first moment I met him and although it took me a while to warm to Suze, I thoroughly enjoyed her development through the plot. Again, however, it was both Daisy and Marigold who held my attention and my heart throughout.

The theme of duty versus independence in Here and Now had particular resonance for me and I felt comforted and inspired by Santa Montefiore’s words. Marigold’s Dad had a phrase that appears iteratively throughout the story which hit me like a bullet, giving the title of the book incredible resonance. It was as if Santa Montefiore had given me a gift that will take me through my life. Equally affecting were the themes of love and family, friendship, grief and loss. It felt to me as it Hear and Now was a rich, textured read that brought incredible satisfaction.

I found Here and Now an emotional read that touched me deeply. It’s one of those books that those scorning or eschewing women’s fiction should read because Santa Montefiore presents life and humanity with empathy and skill that warms the heart and touches the soul. I loved it and recommend it most highly. 

About Santa Montefiore

Born in England in 1970, Santa Montefiore grew up in Hampshire. She is married to writer Simon Sebag Montefiore. They live with their two children, Lily and Sasha, in London.

Santa Montefiore’s books have been translated into more than twenty-five languages and have sold more than six million copies in England and Europe. 

You can follow Santa Montefiore on Twitter @SantaMontefiore and visit her website for further information. You’ll also find her on Facebook and Instagram.

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward

My enormous thanks to the folk at Viper Books for sending me a surprise copy of The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward in return for an honest review.

Published by Sceptre imprint Viper on 18th March 2021, The Last House on Needless Street is available for pre-order here.

The Last House on Needless Street

This is the story of a murderer. A stolen child. Revenge. This is the story of Ted, who lives with his daughter Lauren and his cat Olivia in an ordinary house at the end of an ordinary street.

All these things are true. And yet some of them are lies.

You think you know what’s inside the last house on Needless Street. You think you’ve read this story before. In the dark forest at the end of Needless Street, something lies buried. But it’s not what you think…

My Review of The Last House on Needless Street

Good gracious me. I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to review The Last House on Needless Street because I’m not quite sure what it is I’ve just read! Part horror story, part thriller, part psychological exploration, this is a book that defies categorisation but that is utterly spellbinding. I thought it was stunning. Indeed, I found it such a mind blowing concept that reading it felt like being on some kind of fairground ride where you don’t quite know where you are or what perspective you’re viewing. I had to keep pausing so that my brain could catch up with my eyes as I read. Catriona Ward’s writing is so brilliant that The Last House on Needless Street is a book that feels like a malevolent, sentient being in its own right and yet it has compassion and empathy threaded throughout it in a heady blend.

The plot in The Last House on Needless Street is astonishing. Akin to the Russian dolls on Ted’s mantlepiece that have many layers, in the narrative strata and meanings are complex and varied, adding layer upon layer of interest and captivating the reader completely. There is a linear timeline, especially through Dee’s subplot as she searches for her sister, but it is interspersed with elements that make it kaleidoscopic, shifting perceptions and providing an absolutely mesmerising reading experience. Much of the time I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, which meant I was compelled to continue reading to see if my theories were correct and to find out how the book might be resolved. This illustrates real power in the writing and I have a feeling The Last House on Needless Street will resonate with me for a very long time.

Ted’s character is so well drawn. He exemplifies a horrifying potential in all of us. It’s not possible to say too much about him as this would uncover too much of the heart of the book and spoil the read for others. If I say I hated him, I loved him, I feared him, I wanted to protect him and rail against him you’ll perhaps get some idea of the complexity of human nature Catriona Ward builds into him.

Similarly, it isn’t fair to other readers to articulate too much about theme, but identity, love, guilt, truth, loyalty, fear, control and so much more are woven by Catriona Ward into this complex, touching and enlightening story. The Last House on Needless Street is not so much a book to read as one to experience. It left me stunned.

Aware that I have hardly scratched the surface of The Last House on Needless Street because I don’t want to give away too much, I must mention the overall quality of the writing. It is beautiful. Even at its most brutal or horrific it is exquisite. The senses zing from the page so that the reader is transported into Ted’s world and particularly Olivia’s. There’s a visual quality that is filmic too so that The Last House on Needless Street can be experienced by the reader in many ways.

I thought The Last House on Needless Street was original, hypnotic and, for a story that is quite brutal, incredibly tender too. I loved it and really recommend that you read it to discover its secrets for yourself!

About Catriona Ward

Image courtesy of Robert Hollingworth

Catriona Ward was born in Washington, DC and grew up in the US, Kenya, Madagascar, Yemen, and Morocco. Her debut Rawblood won Best Horror Novel at the 2016 British Fantasy Awards, and was a WHSmith Fresh Talent title. Little Eve won the Shirley Jackson Award, was a Guardian best book of 2018 and won the Best Horror Novel at the 2019 British Fantasy Awards. She lives in London and Devon.

You can follow Catriona on Twitter @Catrionaward. You’ll also find her on Facebook and Instagram.

Yield by Claire Dyer

I so loved interviewing Claire Dyer and sharing my review of her novel The Last Day in a post you can read here, that I was delighted to be asked by Anne Nolan at Two Rivers Press to help launch Claire’s latest poetry collection Yield on publication day. I’m very much looking forward to the online launch for Yield later today. My enormous thanks to Anne for sending me a copy of Yield in return for an honest review.

Published by Two Rivers Press today, 21st February 2021, Yield is available for purchase here.

Yield

  • Born from the poet’s own experience this collection charts the journey, from a mother’s perspective, of the transition of her younger child from boy to girl
  • A powerful blend of poetic and narrative art from an accomplished storyteller
  • Three senses of the word ‘yield’ underpin the poetry: to bring forth, to give way, and to gain something valuable

Three definitions of the word Yield give meaning to the odyssey undergone in Claire Dyers third collection: a journey which sees a son become a daughter, and a mother a poet for both of them.

Charting these transitions, the poems take us through territories known and familiar landscapes of childhood, family and home into further regions where inner lives alter, outer ones are reimagined. Whether evoking clinic visits, throwing away old boyhood clothes, grieving over what’s lost, these honest and unashamed poems build to celebrate that place at the heart of motherhood where gender is no differentiator and love the gain.

My Review of Yield

A collection of personal poems.

Yield is an intimate, intense portrait of a mother’s profound, unconditional love for her child, even when circumstances are challenging. I found this multi-faceted collection interesting, beautifully written and utterly inspiring. Claire Dyer writes poetry that tackles a modern concept – a son transitioning into a daughter – with freshness and innovation whilst drawing on the traditions of poetry that give the entire work gravitas and depth. So many times when reading Yield I was reminded of the poetry of Gerald Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson or Dylan Thomas, because of the intricately crafted lines, the natural references and the depth of feeling behind the poems.

I don’t know whether Claire Dyer paints as well as writes, but I found Yield a highly visual collection. Blues and yellows abound and there is a painterly eye for detail that makes the poems vibrate with meaning. In Saturday, for example the lines read akin to setting detail in a play so that I could envisage Claire Dyer moving through her day so vividly. I loved the iterative references to foxes in many of the poems, representing, to me, depth of colour, pain, fierce protection, man’s intolerance and cruelty – all the elements that the writer experiences in her own life.

As the son transitions to become a daughter, all manner of emotions are conveyed through Yield. Claire Dyer is unafraid to express her sense of loss and grief as well as her sense of pride and intense love. Images of shattering, blood and pain reveal the ways she comes to terms with her child’s life and, although I don’t have a maternal element in my body, the final couple of lines of Bearded moved me to tears which I think is testament to the power of the writing. Similarly, the physical structure of the poems represents so magnificently the meaning conveyed. Fractured lines and words, the use of enjambment, compound adjectives alongside images of prosaic reality all show the swirling, sometimes difficult emotions Claire Dyer is feeling.

I confess to having read Yield several times and every time I have found new aspects to admire. I loved the way Easter Break, for example, unites male and female identities at a time we usually associate with death and rebirth. I have a feeling that Yield, taken with the first meaning Claire Dyer presents in her collection, will give up more and more, the more times I read it.

Yield is a magnificent anthology. It is a multi-layered, emotive and resonant presentation of what it means to be a mother. Reading Yield feels as if I have been given privileged access to the innermost thoughts and emotions of a hugely talented writer. I feel privileged to have read it.

About Claire Dyer

Claire Dyer

Claire Dyer’s novels The Moment and The Perfect Affair, and her short story, Falling For Gatsby, are published by Quercus. The Last Day is published by The Dome Press.

Her poetry collections, Interference Effects and Eleven Rooms are published by Two Rivers Press. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London and teaches creative writing for Bracknell & Wokingham College.

She also runs Fresh Eyes, an editorial and critiquing service.

You can follow Claire on Twitter @ClaireDyer1 and visit her website. You’ll also find Claire on Facebook and Instagram.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Staying in with Jennie Ensor

It’s far too long since I featured Jennie Ensor here on Linda’s Book Bag when I reviewed her novel The Girl in His Eyes. Today I’m delighted to stay in with Jennie to find out about another of her books that she is currently relaunching. As well as sharing this ‘staying in’ post, I’m delighted to pass on details of a prize draw Jennie is running. You’ll find information after our chat.

Staying in with Jennie Ensor

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Jennie. Thanks so much for staying in with me. Tell me, which of your books have you brought this evening and why have you brought it?

I’ve brought along my third book, Not Having It All: a hilarious comedy about love, lies and middle age. In a fearless moment I decided to get the rights back from the publisher and re-launch the book with a new cover, blurb and subtitle.

Gosh! That was brave. As I’m someone firmly in middle age, tell me what can we expect from an evening in with Not Having It All?

The novel is about love and relationships in middle age, and the difficulties of fully trusting those we are close to, or want to get close to… something I think that many will relate to. Not Having It All is a feel-good read with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, so readers have said. But there’s also a serious side. For example, the sense of sadness and loss that can come from not having children, especially as a woman. There’s also alcohol abuse, the stress and the emotional turmoil of combining a hectic career with one’s family and home life…

Although I’ve never wanted children, I think there are many readers who will relate to this Jennie. Tell me more…

Bea, the main character in Not Having It All, is a neuropsychology researcher who’s at struggling to keep her research career going while looking after her badly behaved dog Big Ears and five-year-old daughter Fran (‘the naughtiest little girl in Godalming’), as well as cope with the insecurity of her corporate high-flyer husband (who has no similarities whatsoever to any real persons, living or dead).

I think Not Having It All sounds exactly my kind of read! What else have you brought and why?

As my guest this evening I’ve brought along Mr Rowley, the elderly Jungian psychotherapist who’s consulted by Bea’s friend Maddie after she fantasises about running off with Fran. He’ll enjoy analysing our dreams – and may even be tempted to provide a few anecdotes about his patients 🙂

He could be interesting! I see you’ve other things too. What are they?

Getting some objects ready for this evening has been a challenge, but I’ve done my best. First up, here’s our hound, the inspiration for Big Ears.

As a puppy

Just gorgeous!

In the recent snow

That is so cute Jennie! How did that inspiration come about?

The idea for Not Having It All came to me at a time when my husband was away for long hours every day running his business, leaving me to look after our Airedale terrier. Every time I took the dog out for a walk, invariably he’d try to chase/hump/flatten another dog, or run off and not come back for ages…

At least it’s the dog you’re describing and not your husband – I hope! What else are you holding?

To enliven the walls over dinner, I’ve brought along some art. Maddie, Bea’s artist friend makes unusual objects out of household rubbish. She was inspired by several talented artist friends (and my husband’s niece, who once made a grass sofa in the back garden). Here are some of their artworks:

Untitled sketch by Maria Burberry (@burberry.maria on Instagram)

Untitled sketch by Maria Burberry

I Wish by Caroline Burgess

Eagle’s Head – fired clay – work in progress by Runilla Chiltern

Parrot – acrylic painting by Runilla Chiltern

Owl brooch by Runilla Chiltern

My goodness Jennie. What talented friends you have. No wonder they inspired you.

Katie, Bea’s ex-au pair, was inspired by a cleaner I had a while back. She was always telling me stories, like how she was once prematurely buried then woke up and leapt out of her coffin, yelling that she was still alive. (Unfortunately she wasn’t so good at cleaning as telling stories!)

That reminds me of my brother-in-law. As an undertaker he pulled up outside a bereaved lady’s house in his black car. The back door opened, a woman got in and said, ‘Where the bloody hell do you think you’ve been? You’re 20 minutes late!’ He replied. ‘I rather think you’ll hope I’m too early. I’m not a taxi, I’m an undertaker.’ He said she leapt from the car without another word…

A variety of food and drink is consumed in the novel – more drink than food, probably. Pushed beyond her limit by the antics of Fran and Big Ears, Katie resorts to drinking Bea’s ‘orange drink’ – a strong alcohol that one shouldn’t over-indulge in:

I think we might join Katie in a glass or too in a while!

On the theme of looking after dogs/children, the trip to Brighton in the book, in which Fran throws stones at a woman relaxing on the beach, was inspired by visits to my brother’s family. I once offered to look after my niece and nephews for the day (they were quite young at the time) and took them all to the beach. They tested me to the limit! No pictures, sadly.

And probably little good temper or hair left I imagine! It’s been great fun hearing about Not Having It All Jennie. Thanks so much for staying in with me and good luck with the relaunch.

Not Having It All

This is the story of four middle-aged people who are definitely NOT having it all. Meet Bea, Kurt, Maddie and Colin.

Senior lecturer Bea Hudson juggles her job at the ‘Psycho Lab’ with looking after her demanding five-year-old daughter, badly-behaved dog and next-to-useless au pair. When her chief exec husband is sent overseas and she’s left without childcare, Bea turns to best friend Maddie for help.

Kurt, downing whiskies in his hotel room as he imagines what his wife is up to, is convinced that Bea is becoming a little too friendly with Maddie. With characteristic obsession he enlists his neighbour’s help in a secret surveillance operation.

Found-object artist Maddie longs for a child of her own with a man she can trust – and he must love cats.

Divorced, risk-averse Colin is a senior manager at ‘the nation’s number one pussy insurer’. When he meets Maddie in a lift he’s smitten, and resolves to displace Maddie’s feline companions on her sofa. But he starts to fear that Maddie sees him only as ‘a handy stud with a fat wallet’.

Can Bea and Kurt find happiness again? Can Maddie and Colin risk falling in love?

Not Having It All is available for purchase here.

About Jennie Ensor

A Londoner with Irish heritage, Jennie Ensor began her writing career as a journalist, obtaining a Masters in Journalism (winning two awards) and covering topics from forced marriage to accidents in the mining industry. She isn’t afraid to tackle controversial issues in her novels, either: Islamic terrorism, Russian gangsters and war crimes in her debut Blind Side (a psychological mystery blended with a love story), domestic abuse and sexual exploitation in her second, The Girl In His Eyes.

Her third novel Not Having It All , a relationship comedy, is an excursion to the brighter side of life. A new edition was published in January 2021.

Ms Ensor’s poetry has appeared in many publications including Poetry Salzburg Review, Ink Sweat and Tears. Her poem Lost Connection placed second in the Breakout Prose category of the Fish Lockdown Prize in 2020.

In her spare time(?) she reads, walks and attempts twice-weekly yoga. She regularly cycles the punishing hills of north London and at the end of the day enjoys collapsing with a bar of chocolate/glass of strong alcohol in front of a TV crime drama.

You can find out more by following Jennie on Twitter @Jennie_Ensor, finding her on Facebook or Instagram and visiting her website.

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Not Having It All Prize Draw

A prize draw to celebrate the relaunch will be held at 6pm on 23 February on Jennie’s Facebook page.

First prize: £20 National Book Tokens gift card (if winner lives in the UK) or a $25 Amazon.com eGift Card (if outside the UK), a signed paperback copy of Not Having It All plus a box of Guylian Finest Belgian Chocolates with Hazelnut Praliné Filling to enhance your reading experience.

Runner-up prize: A signed paperback copy of Not Having It All and a bar of chocolate.

Sounds good to me!

Ruthless Women by Melanie Blake

Having so enjoyed Melanie Blake’s debut The Thunder Girls, my review of which you’ll find here, I was delighted to be invited by Bei at Midas RP to review Ruthless Women and to participate in the launch celebrations.

Ruthless Women is published by Head of Zeus today, 18th February 2021, and is available for purchase here.

Ruthless Women

Ambition can be deadly

Broadcast to millions from its picturesque location off the coast of Jersey, Falcon Bay was once the world’s most popular soap opera. But with ratings at an all-time low, a new network owner, the malevolent Madeline Kane, arrives on the private island determined to do whatever it takes to get the show back to the number 1 slot.

Director Farrah, leading lady Catherine and producer Amanda are the driven, ambitious women who’ve been trying to hold the production together. But thanks to their handsome but corrupt boss, Jake Monroe, Farrah is losing episodes to male colleagues, seventy-year-old Catherine is terrified of losing the public’s adoration, and Amanda is battling her desire for a forbidden affair with a handsome new employee.

As Madeline’s pressure to revive the show intensifies, she unleashes a true battle of the sexes where the women will do anything to stay in the jobs they love and on the island they call home. Can they team up to bring down their rivals? Or will jealousy, betrayal and revenge rip their friendships apart? As the story reaches its shocking climax, one thing is for certain: only the most ruthless woman will survive…

Everyone’s talking about Ruthless Women

My Review of Ruthless Women

Falcon Bay television drama needs a boost!

I have to be completely honest and say that initially I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy Ruthless Women because I don’t watch television soap operas (or continuing dramas as I now understand they are called) and it seemed to take a while for me to work out exactly who was who and what their relationships were. I definitely needed the list of players and the beginning – and ‘players’ is definitely the right term in all its meanings for many of them! What a cast! However, it didn’t take long before I was entirely caught up in this hugely entertaining narrative. Melanie Blake writes about show business and the Machiavellian machinations therein with absolute authority. At times I felt a bit like a rabbit in the headlights, reading with my mouth open and a look of total surprise on my face because, although I couldn’t believe people behaved quite as they do in Ruthless Women, the author presents the narrative with such command and knowledge that I knew I was finding out about a world totally alien to me. It was utterly fascinating and curiously addictive. I do also have to say that I found Melanie Blake’s writing style in Ruthless Women more sophisticated than her first book, The Thunder Girls, too, as if she has been perfecting her craft. The descriptions particularly were vivid and clear.

Aside from being a sexy romp in the cut throat world of television ratings where personal and professional relationships whirl and settle in mesmerising patterns, Ruthless Women is actually a somewhat disturbing insight into the production world. I actually learnt quite a lot about what goes into a programme, both on and off the set through the presentation of Falcon Bay. Indeed, reading Ruthless Women convinced me completely that I’d never want to be part of such an environment.

Indeed, I felt quite sorry for many of the characters. So many in Ruthless Women have lost sight of their true identity or their honest selves and are having to exist in a cut throat world that they made me feel quite sad in spite of the acerbic humour and sexy romps they feature in. Ruthless Women illustrated that those desperate for their 15 minutes of fame might be better being careful what they wish for! That said, I thoroughly appreciated the manner in which so many of these ruthless women got the better of the men in their world so that Ruthless Women might have much of the action predicated on sexual relationships and female rivalry, but it is surprisingly feminist.

There are also some weighty themes between the pages of Ruthless Women. With addiction, mental health, stress, attraction and love among them, I can’t uncover them all as it would spoil the plot but I was very much taken by surprise as some were finally revealed. This added a depth that I hadn’t anticipated and I very much appreciated.

Ruthless Women is not my usual genre. After what felt like a slightly slow start, Ruthless Women became a cracking, escapist read with a dramatic, heart stopping finale that I thought was brilliant and I thoroughly enjoyed being immersed into a very different world. Whilst holidays seem very far away, I think Melanie Blake’s Ruthless Women could be just the escapism so many are seeking. Why not dive in – but take care!

About Melanie Blake

As one as the UK’s most successful agents, managers and publicists for music stars and TV actresses, Melanie Blake has represented some of the most famous faces on British television and international screens.

Where her debut novel, the No. 1 bestseller The Thunder Girls, was inspired by the early years of her career  spent working in the music industry, her follow up novel Ruthless Women is heavily influenced by the last 15 years Melanie has spent representing more female actresses than any other agent in her genre. Her clients have included Patsy Kensit, Beverley Callard, Michelle Collins, Stephanie Beacham, Emily Lloyd, Denise Welch, Jennie McAlpine, Claire King, Gaynor Faye, Laila Morse, Danniella Westbrook, Sherrie Hewson, Amanda Barrie, Gillian Taylforth and Nadia Sawalha, to name just a few. Nicknamed The Queen Of Soaps, there is no one better placed to write a novel based around a continuing drama and its leading ladies.

As one of the UK’s most successful female entrepreneurs, over the years Melanie has had two careers at the top tier of the entertainment industry. Her first 10 years were as a music manager with a roster of award-winning artists who sold over 100 million records and the second decade as one of the UK’s leading acting agents representing some of the most famous faces on British television. The Thunder Girls is inspired by her time in the music business and Ruthless Women which is out in 2021 is inspired by her years in the world of soap opera and drama. Her own management company, which has covered both genres, has turned over more than 30 million.

With no formal education herself, Melanie is a true champion for working class women who are so often overlooked in our society. The Thunder Girls is a celebration of women from diverse demographics and all the lead characters in the novel are over 40 and working class. As well as having written the book, Melanie has penned The Thunder Girls the play which embarks on a nationwide tour in 2021. Melanie Blake might just be the world’s biggest Jackie Collins fan. She first read Rock Star aged 9, after smuggling the copy out of the library by telling the librarian it was for her mum!  Melanie was dazzled by Jackie Collin’s world where women clawed themselves from poverty into glamorous, moneyed lives. In Jackie Collins’ novels, women were bosses and winners who achieved everything they wanted and it was these novels that inspired Melanie to become her own boss and a lady entrepreneur.  In 2017 Melanie’s connection with Jackie Collins came full circle, when after Jackie’s sad death she bought five pieces of Jackie’s jewellery at auction – two rings and three necklaces inlayed with morganite, citrines and diamonds – which she wears every day.

For the first time, Melanie reveals her biggest secret – that her career actually started as an ‘extra’ on the set of Coronation Street and EastEnders. It was there she began clawing her way from the bottom of the ‘Soap Opera ladder’ to the very top, going on to represent the leading ladies of the very shows she was hired to stand in the background of. It’s a one in a million story, by a uniquely determined woman. From extra to celebrity agent, she’s seen it all and that journey enabled her to write ‘the must read book of 2021’. During the promotion, she’ll be sharing more of her own unique journey as well as some of the celebrity bombshells, which inspired her to write her new novel.

You can find out more by following Melanie on Instagram and Twitter @MelanieBlakeUK

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A Publication Day Extract from It’s A Mad World by Susie Kelly

On the day my mother-in-law died, we had my blind in one eye, deaf, unable to speak properly and disabled as a result of a stoke, father-in-law staying with us, my dad was rushed into intensive care with a suspected heart attack and my mother passed out on the floor next to his bed. At that point I realised life wasn’t always going to be easy! Consequently, I’m delighted to help launch It’s a Mad World: Travels Through A Muddled Life by Susie Kelly today, because I think it’s a book I’d very much enjoy and relate to. I’ve an extract to share with you that I think explains why I’m so keen to read It’s a Mad World.

It’s a Mad World: Travels Through A Muddled Life is published by Blackbird Books, today, 17th February 2021 and is available for purchase here.

It’s A Mad World: Travels Through a Muddled Life

‘Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.’ Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Unlike her daredevil husband, Susie Kelly is afraid of water, elevators, heights, skiing and flying upside down and she hates being in the spotlight.

No matter how hard she tries, things seem to go wrong more often than they go right. Fortunately she can see the funny side of most things, even her cancer diagnosis. However, snoring transforms her from a sweet little thing into a pitiless monster.

These often funny and sometimes poignant tales of travels through Susie’s muddled life confirm that, as Simon Reeve writes in his autobiography Step by Step, ‘…it is always worth remembering that some of the most memorable times can happen when things go a bit wrong.’

An Extract from

It’s A Mad World: Travels Through a Muddled Life

Introduction

There are two basic types of people.

Those whose lives run smoothly. Their horses never sneeze and deposit green snort on their clean white shirts just as they are due to enter the ring. The heel of their shoe does not snap off on their way to an important interview. They do not arrive at work still wearing bedroom slippers. Their holidays always go exactly as planned and expected. They never lock themselves out of their own car. Their printer never breaks down without warning when it is most urgently needed. They never arrive at friends’ for dinner a day early. Their cakes always rise and their dogs never jump up on the mayor covering him with mud. Neither does the mayor arrive unexpectedly when they are still wearing their pyjamas at lunchtime.

I am not one of those people. I never have been and by now I accept that I never will be. It is not that I don’t try. I really do. I prepare carefully and plan ahead, but if something can go wrong, it will. It is what it is. It does make life interesting.

I have found that those people whose lives do run smoothly, even the most tolerant, tend to think it’s our own fault when we stumble from one calamity to another. We must be doing something wrong. They look at us quizzically when we relate the latest disaster, as if they don’t believe we can really be so inept.

This book is dedicated to those like myself, who somehow get through life and enjoy it despite whatever it throws at us.

There are some incidences of very bad behaviour. If you are likely to be outraged, you can’t say you haven’t been warned.

 

1. The Big C

I never expected to have cancer, nor did I ever expect not to have it. I never gave it any thought, but I clearly remember the moment I knew I had it.

You’ll know the jokes about how to prepare for a mammogram:

Lie down on a cold garage floor and ask somebody to drive the car over your boobs until they are squashed flat. If that’s not possible, find a strong person and get them to slam your boobs in the fridge door as hard as they can.

Of course, these are exaggerations. It isn’t an enjoyable experience but it only lasts a few seconds and has the potential to save your life.

My mammogram reminder arrives in January. They come every two years in France, until you are 74. This is the final time I’ll be invited. I add it to the pile of ‘deal with this some time’ papers on my desk. Each time it reaches the top, I pop it back to the bottom, because there is no urgency. In fact I may not bother this time, because I’m sure I’d know if there was anything wrong.

February and March come and go. I’m just about to screw the paper up and throw it away when I decide, no, I’ll make an appointment.

Once the deed is done, and after an ultrasound scan, the radiologist calls me in to look at the results. He points out small white dots, tiny clusters of calcium. They may mean nothing, he says, but will need a further examination, which he will arrange.

Writers’ antennae are finely tuned. We are alert to fleeting expressions, a change in voice tone or body language, anything that diverges from the norm (because we may want to use it in our writing).

Handing me my X-rays, the radiologist takes my hand in both of his and says he hopes everything will be OK. That’s when I know, because usually – I’ve been seeing him every two years for a decade – he just shakes my hand and wishes me bonne journée.            This time he is sending a message.

I decide not to worry, and not to mention anything to anybody until I know more.

Three weeks later, I’m having a stereotactic biopsy procedure, lying face down on a hospital table with a hole in it through which the suspect boob is inserted. The table is high enough from the floor to enable the technicians below to do their job, which is to precisely locate the suspect cells and remove them for examination.

It’s painless, done under local anaesthetic and takes about half an hour. I suppress a small giggle, thinking this is how a cow must feel during milking. The nurses and doctor treat me as gently as if I were made of spun sugar. One nurse talks to me, occasionally patting me on the back and asking if I am OK. I mention that my neck is uncomfortable after lying on my front for 15 minutes, so she massages it until the procedure is finished, then she wraps me in a warmed blanket.

It will take a couple of weeks before I have the results confirmed, so in preparation for treatment that I know will make my hair fall out, I start looking for headwear, and am pleasantly surprised to see what a wide selection there is to choose from. There are colourful turbans and glamorous jewelled beanies, silky scarves and cute little cotton hats with faux fringes. I select a couple to order when the time comes.

It’s been five weeks since the mammogram, and today I’m back at the hospital for the results of the biopsy.

When I go into the breast doctor’s office, the first thing she says is: ‘Have you come alone?’ The antennae twitch. That’s a very strong signal. When I reply that I have, she glances at the intern who is there with her, and I read the silent signal in her eyes. Twitch, twitch.

Their discomfort is tangible; they don’t want to be doing this and I want to say to them: ‘It’s OK, you can tell me. I am not afraid. I am ready.’

The doctor asks whether I understood the purpose of the stereotactic biopsy, and I reply that I do.

So, she says, it shows two tumours, each of two centimetres, and they are cancerous. She is looking right into my eyes as she says it. The intern is also watching me intently. I feel I should be doing something theatrical. They are expecting me to scream, or faint, throw a fit of hysterics or burst into tears, but I am completely, absolutely calm and simply nod.

She continues gently. ‘It means a total mastectomy, which I will perform. There will be no further treatment necessary because the tumours are contained. They have not spread.’

Inappropriately, I feel a fleeting disappointment that I won’t need to buy the pretty headwear.

She goes on. ‘At the same time you will have reconstructive surgery.’

She explains there are three options: a silicone implant, tissue from my stomach, or a muscle from my back. I can go home and think about it, or decide straight away, which I do. I go for the back muscle option.

She says: ‘I’ll see if the plastic surgeon is free.’

She makes a phone call, and a few minutes later the door opens. In walks the plastic surgeon, straight out of a Mills and Boon novel, or a television medical drama. He’s young and extremely handsome, with long lashed brown eyes and a generous, kind smile.        Beneath his white coat he’s wearing jeans and trainers.

He asks politely if I will remove my top so he can have a look, and then he asks what cup (bonnet is the French word) size I’d like.

I look at him blankly. I’m stuck for words. It’s all happening so quickly.

‘Um, smaller.’ I say.

‘How about a ‘B’ cup?’ he suggests.

‘Yes, that would be perfect.’

‘OK.’ he says, shaking my hand. ‘No problem.’

While I put my clothes back on, he and the breast doctor synchronise their diaries and set a date for the operation.

‘Don’t worry,’ the doctor reassures me, ‘there is no urgency. The tumours are in situ, and they have not spread. And you’ll have a wonderful view of Poitiers from your room on the ninth floor.’ she smiles.

She couldn’t have said anything more alarming. My heart thuds and I feel a red flush of panic. There’s the ground floor, then floor 0 where the operating theatres are and then the technical floor before you even reach floor No. 1 which is actually four floors and 66 steps up, so technically the ninth floor is 13 floors up, and I am extremely claustrophobic. I always walk up the stairs to the first floor, arriving wobbly-kneed and breathless, but there is no way I can climb 13 flights of stairs.

‘But, I’m claustrophobic, I can’t go in a lift!’ I squeak. She looks at me in silent astonishment, as if she cannot understand anybody who finds the prospect of having to get in a lift a million times worse than facing a mastectomy.

In the last half hour, I have had the most other-worldly experience of my life.

*****

Driving home, my only worry, aside from the lift, is telling my daughter. Some years ago, she lost her dearest friend as a result of breast cancer, and I know that my news will cause her immense anxiety. I decide not to mention anything about it to anybody until the day before the operation, except to my husband Terry, who is understandably shocked, and my lovely editor and publisher Stephanie because I planned to deliver a new manuscript this year, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to do so.

Having always been squeamish, I’m surprised that I spend several hours watching videos to see exactly how the latissimus dorsi procedure is performed, and am left in awe of modern medicine. With my curiosity satisfied, for the next couple of months I put it out of my mind.

A week before the operation, I need to have another mammogram. The radiologist asks if I am anxious about having the operation. I say that I’m not, I have total faith in the French health service. He asks about the reconstruction, and I tell him that I will be having a reduction.

His eyes shoot open and his face is a picture of dismay. ‘A REDUCTION? Why?’

‘Because,’ I reply, ‘I want them to be smaller. They are too big.’

He takes my hand, and says slowly and very clearly: ‘Madame, they are NEVER too big.’ I leave there laughing…

*

Now, doesn’t that sound like it’s going to be a brilliant read? With life as it has been of late, I think we all need to take Susie Kelly’s approach to dealing with it!

About Susie Kelly

Born a Londoner, Susie Kelly spent most of the first 25 years of her life in Kenya. She now lives in south-west France with her husband and assorted animals. She believes that her explosive temper is a legacy from her Irish-American grandfather, but has no idea who to blame for her incompetence as a housewife. Still, she’s very kind to animals, small children and elderly people. Susie particularly enjoys exploring the road less travelled, discovering the lives and events of lesser-known places.

Prior to publishing with Blackbird, Susie was with Transworld who sold over 50,000 of her titles in the UK.  Some of those are rights-reverted and are now available to readers worldwide for the first time. 25% of Susie’s royalties from The Valley of Heaven and Hell are shared equally between Cancer Research and Tower Hill Stables Sanctuary in Essex.

You can find out more by finding Susie on Facebook or following her on Twitter @SusieEnFrance. You’ll also find Susie on Instagram.