An Interview with Darcie Boleyn, Author of Christmas at Conwenna Cove

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I’ve ‘known’ lovely Darcie Boleyn electronically ever since I first started blogging two and a half years ago and I’m thrilled to be part of the launch celebrations for her latest book Christmas at Conwenna Cove.

Published by Canelo on 9th October 2017, Christmas at Conwenna Cove is available for purchase here.

Christmas At Conwenna Cove

CHRISTMAS AT CONWENNA COVER

A heartwarming, romantic and Christmassy novel set in the gorgeous Cornish village of Conwenna Cove.

When Grace Phillips travels to Conwenna Cove to help her parents move there 30 years after their honeymoon in the village, she sees why they fell in love with the place. The festive decorations, carols in the air and constant supply of delicious mince pies certainly make it hard to leave. Grace soon meets local vet Oli Davenport and initially finds him rude, but learning about his passion for animals and how much he cares for his two kids helps Grace to see a softer side to Oli.

It’s been two years since Oli lost his wife to cancer. Though he loves eleven-year-old Amy and five-year-old Tom more than anything it’s hard to be mum and dad. He has no interest in romance until he crosses paths with beautiful and kind-hearted Grace. The sparks fly but both Oli and Grace are holding onto fear about letting someone into their heart.

As the snow falls and Christmas wishes come true can Conwenna Cove work its magic and help Grace and Oli find the happiness they both deserve?

An Interview with Darcie Boleyn

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Darcie. Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and Christmas at Conwenna Cove in particular.

Firstly, I’d like to ask, why do you write?

I can’t imagine not writing. Writing is my creative outlet; it is a way of getting the characters and stories out of my head and into the world. If I didn’t write, I think my head might combust!

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

I’ve always written, and as a child I used to enter short story and poetry competitions. This continued when I went to university but then, as life became busier, writing took a back seat. I nursed the dream to write for years when my children were young, and I tried to write a novel but spent far too much time procrastinating, which meant that it didn’t get finished. A few years ago, my husband encouraged me to really try again, and following a few false starts, I finally had that amazing acceptance email. Since then, I haven’t stopped!

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

Creating new characters, and watching as their lives unfold is a very enjoyable process. The way I’d describe my character development is that it’s like entering a dark corridor where the lights come on automatically, one at a time, as I move forwards. I don’t always know exactly what’s at the end, or even the next step, but as one light comes on, I can see more of the way ahead and this keeps going until I reach the end. In terms of difficulties, having an idea for a new story when I’m halfway through my WIP can be hard. I have to stop and make notes then carry on, because it’s important to finish the book I’m writing or I’d have half-written books piling up and never get them published.

Your books are frequently described as heartwarming. How far is this a deliberate aim of your writing and how far is it a natural outcome?

I am a very soft and warm-hearted person and I believe that love is extremely important to us in all its forms. Relationships with partners, children, relatives and friends are central to our lives. The people we surround ourselves with might not be immediate family members, but they will be the ones that matter most, the ones we are there for and who are there for us. I do set out to create relationships and situations that will convey the importance of human relationships but some of it inevitably develops – and shines through – with the story and characters. I also believe that our relationships with animals and the world around us matter too. That’s why greyhounds have a starring role in this series.

It’s only relatively recently that you’ve been writing full time. What advice would you give to those contemplating taking the leap from their current role into that of full time writer?

For me, circumstances meant that I was able to make this leap. I was teaching for twenty years then became unwell and decided that it was time to make some life changes. I was writing anyway, and knowing that leaving teaching would enable me to write full time gave me extra motivation. If you want to write full time and are in a situation where you can go for it, then do so. It was the best thing I could have done for my family and me. However, individual circumstances differ and not everyone will be able to follow their heart. If you can’t give up the day job, try to write as much as you can, as often as you can, and keep trying to get published or to get more books out there. Most importantly, write because you love it and because you can’t imagine not writing.

Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Christmas at Conwenna Cove?

Christmas at Conwenna Cove is the second book in the Conwenna Cove series. The books can be read as standalones or enjoyed together. This story gives readers the opportunity to revisit the beautiful Cornish village at Christmas, to catch up with characters from Summer at Conwenna Cove and to meet new ones, including new greyhounds. Christmas at Conwenna Cove is about love, loss and new beginnings, as well as moving on from grief without forgetting the ones you loved and lost. I want readers to be able to feel that there is always hope, however difficult and painful life can be at times.

Summer

Christmas at Conwenna Cove has a beautifully festive cover. How did that image come about and what were you hoping to convey (without spoiling the plot please!)?

After my editor read the novel, we discussed what I’d like on the cover and we were in agreement about what features were important. It had to be festive, it should have the main character Grace on it and it definitely had to have a greyhound!

You’re from Wales. Why have you chosen Cornwall as your setting for the Conwenna books?

I chose Cornwall as the setting for the Conwenna Cove series for several reasons.  Cornwall is an absolutely beautiful location. It has a dramatic coastline, stunning beaches, pretty fishing harbours, spectacular scenery and a rich and intriguing history.  As a teenager, I enjoyed some amazing family holidays in Porthleven; they were magical times and I treasure the memories. Life can be so stressful and hectic, and taking time out to be with loved ones is incredibly important. Holidays can be restorative and allow your body and mind to recuperate from the ups and downs of everyday life. Cornwall is the perfect place to do this and that’s why being in Conwenna Cove has such a positive effect on the characters in Summer at Conwenna Cove and Christmas at Conwenna Cove.

What would you say to those readers who believe Christmas books shouldn’t be read until December?

This is obviously down to personal preference, but for me, the build up to Christmas is part of the fun. I believe that Christmas stories can be enjoyed at any time of the year, but they’re even better in the months, weeks and days leading up to the festivities, as they creative that delicious Christmas mood and build anticipation.

How do you celebrate Christmas?

I spend Christmas with my family: my husband, children, dogs and bearded dragons. We have something nice to eat on Christmas Eve, along with mulled wine for the adults, then snuggle up with the dogs to watch a Christmas movie – usually my favourite National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. On Christmas morning, I’m usually the first one awake and I rush around waking my family up then get them all downstairs with the dogs. We’ll make big mugs of tea and bucks fizz then head into the lounge to put on festive music and to open gifts before enjoying a breakfast of smoked salmon and poached egg bagels with maple syrup. Lunch is around one-thirty followed by a lazy afternoon when we’ll watch TV, read new books and eat far too much chocolate.

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

So many authors inspire me and I enjoy reading a wide variety of genres. This is always a difficult question, as I’m worried I’ll miss someone out if I start naming authors, but I do love reading contemporary romance – especially rom-coms –domestic noir and thrillers. I enjoy the build up in a romance novel and how the characters can be pulled together then pushed apart until they realise they can’t live without each other. With domestic noir and thrillers, I enjoy the twists and turns in the story and how the writers keep me guessing until the end.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Christmas at Conwenna Cove  should be their next read, what would you say?

If you want a heart-warming festive romance with greyhounds, then read Christmas at Conwenna Cove.

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

About Darcie Boleyn

Darcie

Darcie Boleyn has a huge heart and is a real softy. She never fails to cry at books and movies, whether the ending is happy or not. Darcie is in possession of an overactive imagination that often keeps her awake at night. Her childhood dream was to become a Jedi but she hasn’t yet found suitable transport to take her to a galaxy far, far away. She also has reservations about how she’d look in a gold bikini, as she rather enjoys red wine, cheese and loves anything with ginger or cherries in it – especially chocolate. Darcie fell in love in New York, got married in the snow, rescues uncoordinated greyhounds and can usually be found reading or typing away on her laptop.

You can follow Darcie on Twitter @DarcieBoleyn and visit her blog.

You’ll find all Darcie’s books here.

Corwenna tour poster

A Letter To My Five-Years-Ago Self: A Guest Post by Barbara Copperthwaite, Author of Her Last Secret

FINAL her last secret 4 -3

It gives me enormous pleasure to welcome Barbara Copperthwaite, author of Her Last Secret, back to Linda’s Book Bag. Although I’ve met Barbara several times, you may not have had that pleasure so you might like to read an interview I conducted with her when I was just setting out as a blogger and Barbara’s writing was really taking off.  I also have my review of Barbara’s The Darkest Lies here.

Today I’m thrilled that Barbara has agreed to write a very special letter to her five years ago self because I think her words will give hope to all those aspiring writers out there.

Her Last Secret was published by Bookouture on 13th October 2017 and is available for purchase here.

Her Last Secret

FINAL her last secret 4 -3

There are some secrets you can never tell.

The last thing to go through Dominique Thomas’s head was the image of her teenage daughter’s face and her heart lifted. Then the shot rang out.

They were the perfect family. Successful businessman Ben Thomas and his wife Dominique live an enviable life, along with their beautiful children; teenager Ruby and quirky younger daughter, Mouse.

But on Christmas Day the police are called to their London home, only to discover a horrific scene; the entire family lying lifeless, victims of an unknown assailant.

But when Ruby’s diary is discovered, revealing her rage at the world around her, police are forced to look closer to home for the key to this tragedy.

Each family member harboured their own dark truths – but has keeping their secrets pushed Ruby to the edge of sanity? Or are there darker forces at work?

This dark, gripping psychological thriller will have you holding your breath until the very last page.

A Letter To My Five-Years-Ago Self

Dear Barbara (aka ‘Me’),

So, here I am in 2017, about to publish my fourth book, Her Last Secret. What are you up to? Oh, I remember: you’re in 2012, working as a Special Projects Editor for a magazine company. You’ve got an idea for a book you’ve been working on for a few months now, snatching time on the train commute into London, and although it’s growing slowly you’re starting to feel quite fond of it. You’re even starting to wonder if it has potential to be more than a hobby, and you’ve tentatively mentioned the plot to a couple of mates who haven’t fallen on the floor laughing at the idea. Which is a good start.

The job is taking up a lot of time, though. It’s all-consuming, which is why you’re on pretty decent money. The long hours leave you exhausted; being up at 5.30am to catch the train from Colchester to London, and not getting home until 7pm, means that after you’ve eaten you’re ready for bed. You’re loving the creativity of the job, but are already aware you’re simply not getting the buzz from your work that you used to.

I’ve got bad news for you, Barbara. It’s going to get worse. You’ll work through most evenings and weekends, and you’ll become more tired, and more miserable, and live more for those snatched minutes on the train when you lose yourself in writing. The need to write will burn brightly in you, reminding you of what you used to love about your job so much. You’ll wonder why rising through the ranks means having to leave behind the very reason you became a journalist in the first place.

Sounds awful, doesn’t it?

Actually, it’s brilliant. It makes you reassess your whole life, and you realise you want to take a leap of faith and go back to writing for a living again. Bye bye, career ladder. I’m not going to deny it’s a terrifying thought, and you’ll have loads of doubts. How will you manage? Is it a midlife crisis? Are you going to lose everything you’ve worked so hard for? Don’t listen to them, listen to the conviction that it’s time to shake up your life. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about because I’m now writing my fifth book.

There’s going to be a hell of a steep learning curve ahead of you, though. But it will be FUN!

When you finish your book, Invisible, it will be rejected by innumerable agents – but they’ll all have such INCREDIBLE things to say about it that, instead of feeling down, you’ll feel invigorated. The story has great potential, the experts all agree, so why not publish it yourself?

invisible cover large 02 new res 01

Of course, that’s when the real fun begins because you know nothing about the book publishing world, publicity, cover design (luckily, you live with a talented artist who has that covered)… You’ll rediscover the joy of learning new skills, though. Right now, you think social media is full of saddos posting about what they had for breakfast. Yeah, about that – you couldn’t be more wrong. Facebook and Twitter will be two of the most useful tools you’ll learn to use. Thanks to them, Invisible, becomes a bestseller on Amazon. You’ll learn to blog, too, and even create your own website. Even better, you’ll make incredible connections with readers, book bloggers, agents, publishers. Not bad for a someone who barely knew what a tweet was in 2012.

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Thanks to social media, you’ll find the confidence to write your second book, Flowers For The Dead. You’ll be terrified again, scared that you can’t repeat the success of your first book. Sadly, that fear never gets any better – and I speak as someone who has been a USA Today bestseller, and Amazon bestseller in the USA, UK, Canada, and Australia. Even landing a deal with your dream publisher, Bookouture, on the strength of your third novel, The Darkest Lies, won’t rid you of your fears. But by the time the fourth book, Her Last Secret, is about to publish, you’ve learned to accept insecurity as a part of the creative process. The biggest change probably sounds the smallest, though: when people ask you what you do for a living, in five years’ time you’ll no longer consider yourself a journalist; instead your answer will be ‘author’. Eek!

the darkest lies

See, there are so many exciting things ahead of you over the next five years. And look at you, hunched over your desk, in your London office, beavering away and wondering what on earth you can do to get the buzz back in your career. You’ve no idea of how much your life is going to change. My advice? Have the courage of your convictions, and break free from the office. Have confidence in your ideas, no matter how crazy. But most of all, have fun – enjoy every single second of the years ahead of you, because they’re brilliant.

Lots of love,

Barbara

About Barbara Copperthwaite

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Barbara Copperthwaite is the international best-selling author of psychological crime thrillers Invisible, Flowers for the Dead, and The Darkest Lies.

She credits much of her success to her twenty-plus years’ experience as a national newspaper and magazine journalist. She’s interviewed the real victims of crime – and also those who have carried those crimes out. Thanks to people sharing their stories with her, she knows the emotional impact of violence and wrong-doing. That’s why her novels are gritty, realistic and tackle not just the crime but its repercussions. It’s what has made her a USA Today bestseller.

When not writing feverishly, or throwing tennis balls for her dog, Scamp, she is often found hiding behind a camera, taking wildlife photographs.

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

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Her Last Secret - Blog Tour

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell

Beginning-of-the-world-in-the-middle-of-the-night-HOLDING-day

My enormous thanks to Emma Petfield at Hodder for a surprise ‘day’ proof copy of The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night by Jen Campbell.

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night will be published by Two Roads Books, an imprint of Hodder and Stoughton, on 2nd November 2017 and is available for pre-order here.

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night

The beginning of the world night

These days, you can find anything you need at the click of a button.
That’s why I bought her heart online.’

Spirits in jam jars, mini-apocalypses, animal hearts and side shows.
A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island.
A boy is worried his sister has two souls.
A couple are rewriting the history of the world.
And mermaids are on display at the local aquarium.

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is a collection of twelve haunting stories; modern fairy tales brimming with magic, outsiders and lost souls.

My Review of The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night

With mermaids, coffin hotels and hearts cut from animals, The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night is a cornucopia of outstanding short stories.

My goodness me. What a collection of stories. I couldn’t decide whether to be horrified at the same time as being mesmerised by the opening story, Animals, and from that point my free will was entirely removed and I had to read just one more until I had consumed the entire collection in one sitting. It’s stunning.

Jen Campbell has an imagination that is awe inspiring. Her writing is mythological, poetic and beautiful so that it felt like the literary equivalent of a rich Persian carpet, full of texture and allegory whilst being completely individual and fabulously crafted. There’s poetry, prose and drama between the pages of The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night.

Sometimes the writing is like a stream of consciousness with asides dropped in seemingly apropos of nothing and yet perfectly pitched so they make absolute sense. Reading this collection made me look at life philosophically and completely differently. It was akin to allowing colour into a previously black and white world and to be honest, I feel slightly off-kilter having read it. I loved the underlying themes of sexuality, identity and difference, love and death which ebb and flow throughout. There’s also a strong exploration of mothers that I wasn’t sure whether was intentional or co-incidental, but was nonetheless fascinating. Equally fascinating were the interlaced references to art, literature, religion and folklore so that Jen Campbell’s writing made me want to go skittering off to look up references and continue the magic outside the book.

I can honestly say I have never read anything quite like The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night and I loved every single word of these stories. Bravo Jen Campbell!

About Jen Campbell

jen campbell

Jen Campbell is an award-winning poet and short story writer. Born in the north east of England, she now lives in London, and is the author of the bestselling Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops series and The Bookshop Book. She worked as a bookseller for ten years.

Her first children’s book Franklin’s Flying Bookshop is published by Thames and Hudson.

A respected and influential book vlogger  with almost 30,000 subscribers, she has won an Eric Gregory Award for poetry in 2016 and has been a judge for the Costa and Somerset Maugham awards.

She is a little bit obsessed with the darker side of fairy tales. She lives in London.

You can find all Jen’s books here. Jen has an amazing vlog with over 35,000 subscribers, a website and you can follow her on Twitter and find her on Facebook.

An Interview With Linda Smolkin, Author of Among The Branded

Among the Branded

As a blogger you sometimes know that you’d love a book that you sadly haven’t got time to read. Among the Branded by Linda Smolkin is one of those books. However, I am lucky enough to have Linda on Linda’s Book Bag today (and that feels very strange to have so many Linda’s!) to tell me all about Among the Branded.

Among the Branded is available for purchase from your local Amazon site.

Among the Branded

Among the Branded

What if a 70-year-old letter from World War II changed the course of your life?

While attending Valor of the ’40s, art director Stephanie Britain stumbles upon a flea market selling letters from the war. She buys a handful, hoping they’ll inspire the redesign for a client’s website at her branding and design firm. She’s at first drawn by the lost art of penmanship, but soon discovers a hidden treasure nestled inside declarations of love from homesick soldiers. Stephanie enlists a coworker to translate one and realizes it’s not a love letter after all. When a shocking discovery about a client causes Stephanie to question her principles and dedication to her firm’s business, she’s forced to make a difficult decision—one that could give her peace of mind, yet ruin her career in the process.

Contemporary fiction with a historical touch, Among the Branded explores family life, an unexpected friendship, and moral conflicts that make us wonder what’s more important: our livelihood or our beliefs.

An Interview with Linda Smolkin

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag, Linda (and it seems odd to be writing that). Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions on my blog about your writing and Among The Branded in particular. Firstly, please could you tell me a little about yourself?

Thank you, Linda. Great first name, by the way! Without boring your readers with too much detail, I live in the Washington, DC area with my family of four (hubby, teenage son, and dog). I’ve been writing forever and fortunately I get paid for it in my day job, which is great because I have very few other skills!

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

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was ten and saw my first TV commercial. At the time, I didn’t realize the profession was called copywriter, but that’s what I became after graduating university.

Your day job sees you writing very different materials to novels. What skills are transferable do you think?

So many! Meeting deadlines. Learning how to chop unnecessary words. Being able to work well with editors and colleagues who review my work. Knowing that when people want to make changes—or aren’t crazy about the first draft I’ve written—that it’s not personal. Having a thick skin!

So, which aspects of your writing do you find easiest and most difficult?

The easiest part is when I hand my manuscript over to my editor and wait for her feedback (I take a deep breath and wait), or when I’m having fun coming up with new ideas for books. The most difficult aspect is when I’m editing and I have to dig deep to either get on the same emotional level as my character or understand my characters’ motivations and why they do what they do.

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

I work full time so I write/edit my novels in the evening or on the weekends at home. Right now, as I type, I’m in that fun stage of thinking up new ideas for a third book. My editor has my second novel, which will come out in Spring 2018, if all goes as planned.  This is her second read-through so I’m hoping (knock on wood) that I’m almost there!

Without spoiling the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Among The Branded?

The story connects the past with the present and follows Stephanie Britain, an art director who works at a branding and design firm. She befriends a Holocaust survivor while, at the same time, finds out something disturbing about her newest client. Throughout the novel, she deals with difficult choices of how to remain professional while taking a stand for what she believes in. The story also touches on friendship, family, and the lessons history can teach us.

The concept of surprising discovery underpins the plot to Among The Branded. How did that story arc come to you and have you had any similar personal experiences?

I never thought of it this way, but you’re right. This concept comes into play when Stephanie deals with a moral dilemma at work based on her surprising discovery. From that, I figured a way to get from A to B by having Stephanie attend a living-history event (Valor of the ‘40s) and stumble upon a flea market where a woman is selling love letters from WWII. There’s a twist with this because one of the letters isn’t what Stephanie thought it would be. So, yes, the concept of surprising discovery plays out in different ways throughout the novel. I haven’t had a surprising discovery to the extent of my character, but for example, I’ve found notes left in library books. When reading the notes, I sometimes feel guilty because they weren’t meant for me, but I couldn’t help myself!

(I think we’d all do exactly that!)

You had an agent rejection because Among The Branded was ‘too controversial a topic’. What is the role of fiction in dealing with the difficult issues do you think?

What’s great about fiction is that there are so many genres and readers who enjoy a variety of books. There’s something for everyone, and I think it depends on what you’re in the mood to read. When I’m writing, I’m not really thinking, “I have to bring this idea/theme home because it’s important to me as an author,” but in general I do think about moral dilemmas, the various types of relationships people have, and how differently people mourn when losing a loved one. Those are some things I tend to write about, and often I gravitate to reading those types of books. At the same time, if someone tells me that they want to escape in their fiction and not having anything too deep, I completely respect and understand that.

How did you go about researching detail and ensuring Among The Branded was realistic?

I read books, did Internet searches, and listened to and read veterans’ stories on the Veterans History Project, which is a project of The Library of Congress. The description on their website says it makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may better understand the realities of war.  Also, my father was a Holocaust survivor and, although one of my characters was inspired by him, the two are very different. But the one thing they have is common is their ability to have sense of humour. I was always amazed at how my father could have such a great sense of humour after going through what he did. In my novel, I talk about how laughter is the best medicine, and I believe that.  Regarding the moral dilemma my main character faced: Stephanie could have responded in many different ways. I don’t want to give it away but it was very important to me to make her decision realistic and not far-fetched. We never know how we’re going to handle a situation until we’re put in it.

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

I’d probably choose to be Svetlana. She’s my main character’s friend and colleague. Svetlana is a secondary yet important character in the story. She’s confident, smart, and has skills, such as programming, that I don’t have. And, she’s a bit sassy and likes to use colourful Russian language at times.

If Among The Branded became a film, who would you like to play Stephanie and why would you choose them?

I was thinking about this recently and at that time I chose Jessica Chastain, and I still think she’d make a great Stephanie. But not just because they’re both about the same age and have auburn hair. Chastain is great at playing characters who are confronted with difficult choices and put in tricky situations. Besides, she was fabulous in The Debt, The Help, and Zero Dark Thirty.

I know you’re very happy to Skype book clubs to talk about Among The Branded. How might book club members get in touch with you?

I would absolutely love to join a book-club conversation. I have a contact page on my website at lindasmolkin.com where you can send me a note.

And finally, f you had 15 words to persuade a reading group that Among The Branded should be their next read, what would you say?

Eek, the pressure is on! I’d say:

A modern-day twist on historical fiction about family, friendship, and difficult choices we must make.

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

Thank you, this was a lot of fun!

About Linda Smolkin

Linda Smolkin

Linda Smolkin always wanted to be a writer—ever since she saw her first TV commercial and wondered how to pen those clever ads. She got her degree in journalism and became a copywriter. Linda landed a job at an advertising agency, where she worked for several years before joining the nonprofit world. Among the Branded is her debut novel.

You can follow Linda on Twitter @lindasmolkin, and visit her website for more information. You’ll also find Linda on Facebook.

 

A Hard Book to Write: A Guest Post by Jane Johnson, Author of Pillars of Light

Pillars of Light

I’m delighted to welcome back Jane Johnson, author of Pillars of Light, to Linda’s Book Bag today. Jane previously provided a wonderful post (here) on uniting two cultures when her previous book Court of Lions was published.

Released on 5th October 2017, Pillars of Light is available for purchase here.

Pillars of Light

Pillars of Light

In the Syrian city of Akka, Nathanael, a young Jewish doctor, and a Muslim girl called Zohra are about to fall in love, unaware that Jerusalem has just been taken by Saladin’s army and that their city will soon be engulfed by war.

Meanwhile in England, John Savage, a foundling boy, runs away from his cruel life in a priory with The Moor, a mysterious man driven by a dream of perfection.
John and The Moor become members of a band of conmen travelling through the English countryside faking religious miracles for cash, until they are recruited in Richard the Lionheart’s drive to regain the Latin Kingdom from the infidel. Akka awaits. It will be the site of the greatest–and cruellest–siege of its time. But even in the midst of war, lovers find ways to make transactions of beauty.

Pillars of Light is a powerful and moving novel about the triumph of the human spirit against all the odds.

A Hard Book to Write

A Guest Post by Jane Johnson

As a species we are hardwired for stories. It’s the way we’ve learned about the world around us ever since we sat around campfires in the mouths of caves, fending off the dark and the fear of the unknown it contained. We have taught our children morals through the medium of fairytale; we have passed stories down from generation to generation as an oral tradition, maintaining our cultures, our memories. Tales of heroes and villains, of bad things that happen to the unwary, of good things that happen to the deserving. We have enshrined stories at the heart of religions, sugaring the bitter pills they contain.

I was bewitched by the power of fiction from an early age. I taught myself to read at the age of 3 and from then on devoured all manner of inappropriate material spanning worlds I could not comprehend. It’s probably why my own fiction has ranged so far and wide, from talking animals and fantastical worlds to the grit and glory of our own human history. For in our past lies so much of the information about who we are now.

When I started writing Pillars of Light I was fired by the terrible injustices of war crimes of another age and country – the 12th century, the Third Crusade, the massacre at Acre, by the so-called good guys, led by the magnificently named Richard the Lionheart. He had featured as a hero in so many of the tales I had grown up on – Robin Hood, Ivanhoe, the tale of Blondel, of Bad King John. How could such a hero have slaughtered thousands of civilian hostages in cold blood? Sometimes we have to tell ourselves stories in order to make sense of them.

jane market

And as I delved deeper into the research and sank myself into the writing, the current Syrian war broke out, and suddenly I was writing about people in the throes of siege and famine at the same time as the people of Homs and Aleppo were suffering the same terrible privations. It was a hard book to write, and a harder one to publish.

Sometimes, people want to turn away from the stories that really matter, the ones that throw a harsh light on who we really are as a species. Because most of the time we tell stories to deflect the truth, to skip over the surface like a skimmed stone over a dark lake.

About Jane Johnson

jane

Jane Johnson is from Cornwall and has worked in the book industry for over 20 years, as a bookseller, publisher and writer. She is responsible for the publishing of many major authors, including George RR Martin.

In 2005 she was in Morocco researching the story of a distant family member who was abducted from a Cornish church in 1625 by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa, when a near-fatal climbing incident caused her to rethink her future. She returned home, gave up her office job in London, and moved to Morocco. She married her own ‘Berber pirate’ and now they split their time between Cornwall and a village in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. She still works, remotely, as Fiction Publishing Director for HarperCollins.

You can follow Jane on Twitter @JaneJohnsonBakr, or visit her website.

Happy Days of the Grump by Tuomas Kyrö

Happy Days of the Grump

My grateful thanks to Imogen at Bonnier Zaffre for sending me a copy of Tuomas Kyrö’s Happy Days of the Grump for review.

Happy Days of the Grump was published by Manilla, an imprint of Bonnier Zaffre, on 21st September 2017 and is available for purchase here.

Happy Days of the Grump

Happy Days of the Grump

Maybe there’s a little grump in all of us . . .

The Grump, at eighty years old, is more focused on death than life; building his own coffin and keen to write his will in ink – who can trust technology, after all? – he knows that everything was much better in the old days.

But when the Grump finds himself in hospital after falling down his basement steps, his life passes before his eyes. Thinking of the people closest to him and reflecting on the changes society has brought about, he realises he must come to terms with the cards life has dealt him.

With warm humour and a wry look at family and relationships, Happy Days of the Grump is sure to bring a smile to even the grumpiest among us.

My review of Happy Days of the Grump

The Grump is building his own coffin and wants to write his will in ink on paper, but life doesn’t always allow a person to do what they want!

Initially I found the translation of Happy Days of the Grump slightly clunky and it took me a few pages to acclimatise to the style, especially as I wasn’t familiar with many of the cultural aspects of Finnish life so I think I missed some of the nuances. Once I got used to the style, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the read. I appreciated the lack of speech marks for the Grump’s thoughts, and frequently his speech, as it placed me firmly inside his head and allowed me to understand him more.

The characterisation was highly empathetic and made me feel slightly ashamed of my sometimes slightly dismissive attitude to others, especially when aspects of the Grump’s character are gradually revealed. I ended up feeling that the Grump had every right to fulfil his wishes to orchestrate his own funeral. Even the more minor characters such as the Grump’s wife and daughter-in-law felt vivid and real.

Given that Happy Days of the Grump is a book more about a man’s attitudes and thoughts than anything else, I was surprised by the plot. There’s quite a bit happening so that the whole concept of the novel remains fresh and interesting throughout.

The most enjoyable aspect of Happy Days of the Grump was the fact that it made me laugh aloud, which I rarely do when reading, and nod frantically in agreement right the way through. I loved the fact that the Grump says what so many of us think – and that he doesn’t always realise he’s saying aloud what he’s thinking.

Happy Days of the Grump is a book that takes a while to attune to but that rewards the reader with a life affirming set of guidelines that we would all do well to live by. I heartily recommend it.

About Tuomas Kyrö

Tuomas

Tuomas Kyrö is a Finnish novelist, columnist, painter, drama, and writer and comic book writer. Kyrö was awarded with the Kalevi Jäntti Prize in 2005 and the Young Aleksis 2006 Prize. His work was nominated for the Finlandia Prize in 2005. Tuomas Kyrö was the first fellow of Eeva Joenpello’s Writers’ House in 2005-2009. Today he lives with his family in Janakkala.

If you read Finnish, you can follow Tuomas on Twitter. You’ll also find him on Facebook. There’s more with these other bloggers too:

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Spotlight on Christmas at the Gin Shack by Catherine Miller

Christmas at the Gin Shack Cover

I’m thrilled to be spotlighting Christmas at the Gin Shack today as part of the launch celebrations for several reasons. Firstly, I loved meeting the characters in Catherine’s Gin Shack series when I reviewed The Gin Shack on the Beach earlier this year and my review of which you can read here. Secondly, Catherine has appeared here before with a lovely guest post about possibilities which celebrated another of her novels, Waiting for You.

I’m also delighted to be taking part to support fellow blogger and friend, Rachel, as she starts a new venture in running author tours and services that you can find out more about here.

Finally, I’m extremely interested in the gins that feature in Catherine’s series!

Christmas at the Gin Shack is available for purchase on Amazon UK, Amazon US and Kobo.

Christmas at the Gin Shack

Christmas at the Gin Shack Cover

Gingle bells, gingle bells, gingle all the way…

Olive Turner might have lived through eighty-four Christmases, but she’ll never get bored of her favourite time of year. And this one’s set to be extra-special. It’s the Gin Shack’s first Christmas – and there’s a gin-themed weekend and a cocktail competition on the cards!

But, beneath the dazzle of fairy lights and the delicious scent of mince-pies, Olive smells a rat. From trespassers in her beloved beach hut to a very unfunny joke played on her friends, it seems that someone is missing a dose of good cheer.

Olive knows she’s getting on a bit – but is she really imagining that someone in the little seaside town is out to steal Christmas? More importantly, can she create the perfect gin cocktail before Christmas Eve – in time to save the day?

About Catherine Miller

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When Catherine Miller became a mum to twins, she decided her hands weren’t full enough so wrote a novel with every spare moment she managed to find. By the time the twins were two, Catherine had a two-book deal with HQDigital UK. There is a possibility she has aged remarkably in that time. Her debut novel, Waiting For You, came out in March 2016. She is now the author of four books and hopes there will be many more now her twins have started school. Either that, or she’ll conduct more gin research on Olive’s behalf.

You can also find out more about Catherine Miller on Facebook , via her web site and by following her on Twitter.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

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