22 June 2017

Special Guest Post by Jane Johnson, Author of Court of Lions

Available for pre-order on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Kate Fordham arrived in the sunlit city of Granada a year ago. In the shadow of the Alhambra, one of the most beautiful places on Earth, she works as a waitress serving tourists in a busy bar. She pretends she's happy with her new life – but how could she be? Kate's alone, afraid and hiding under a false name. And fate is about to bring her face-to-face with he greatest fear.


I first visited the Moorish palace-complex in Granada known as the Alhambra over twenty years ago and like everyone who walks beneath its graceful arches and gazes upon its serene pools and lacy, geometric stonework, fell under its spell. I never planned to write about it: I was just a tourist.

That was long before the Moors captured me, dragging me out of my comfortable London life to take up a new life in a remote mountain village in Morocco, much as they had my ancestor, Catherine Tregenna. It was in 2005 I first travelled to Morocco to conduct research for a novel about the Barbary corsairs and their depredations upon the Cornish coast in the 17th century. The research took place on the north coast, near Rabat: but somehow I ended up climbing the Lion’s Face on the Djebel Kest some 600 miles south and west, enduring an epic near-death experience on the mountain, and marrying a Berber tribesman. As you do.

Anyway, I won’t bore you with that here (you can read about all that on my website www.janejohnsonbooks.com ) but suffice to say my new life in North Africa made me intensely curious about Moorish history and I set about reading voraciously. Three big Moroccan novels followed (The Tenth Gift, The Salt Road and The Sultan's Wife) before I decided to tackle the really big subject in Moroccan history: the fall of the kingdom of Granada, the last foothold of Islam on the Iberian peninsula in 1492, that great hinge-point in history, when Isabella and Ferdinand drove the Muslims out of Spain; when Columbus – flush with the spoils of the conquest – was dispatched on his epic voyage; and the Inquisition took root.

Tackling any big historical subject as a novelist always feels like climbing a mountain, especially since I start from a point of almost complete ignorance. You get to that point in the research when the amount and complexity of the information you’ve amassed threatens to crush you and you doubt whether you can find your way out from underneath. And that’s when I took a phone call that would change the shape of the book entirely. It was 2013 and the producer who was interested in making a film of The Sultan's Wife told me about a discovery by restorers in the Alhambra. While moving one of the great doors they had come upon a scrap of paper that had been hidden deep in the intricate latticework of the wood. It appeared to be an ancient love letter: but the provenance of the note and the identity of the scribe remain a mystery.

The movie deal sadly stalled but the story was a gift, and I remembered Lorca’s quote – “In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead in any other country in the world”. And that got me thinking about how the past and present arc towards one another, and how love is an eternal force. And Court Court of Lions turned into quite a different book to the one I had originally envisaged, more than a straightforward retelling of history it became a thriller, a mystery, a romance in the grand tradition; and that was it: I was off up the mountain, soloing joyfully, leaping for crazy handholds and unlikely pinnacles.

I hope the enjoyment I had in writing it shines through and that readers will feel some of the mad energy that galvanised me as I sat on a balcony looking out over the Alhambra, with the scent of roses and jasmine in the air, sustained only by a massive pile of cherries bought in the market in the Albaicin, a jug of tinto de verano and a loaf of fresh bread, scribbling like a madwoman till I had wrestled the task into submission.

Jane Johnson
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About the Author

Jane Johnson is a British novelist, historian and publisher from Cornwall and has worked in the book industry for thirty years. She blogs regularly about writing, publishing and cooking Moroccan food (her husband is a Moroccan chef). In 2005 Jane was in Morocco researching the story of a family member abducted from a Cornish church in 1625 by Barbary pirates and sold into slavery in North Africa which formed the basis for The Tenth Gift, when a near-fatal climbing incident (which makes an appearance in The Salt Road) made her rethink her future. Jane says, 'i gave up my  office job in London, sold my flat and shipped the contents to Morocco. In October of that year I married Abdellatif, my own 'Berber pirate', and now we split our time between Cornwall and a village in the Anti-Atlas Mountains. I still work, remotely, as Fiction Publishing Director for HarperCollins and am the editor for (among others) George RR Martin, Sam Bourne, Dean Koontz, Robin Hobb, Mark Lawrence, Sam Bourne (aka Jonathan Freedland), SK Tremayne (aka Sean Thomas) and Raymond Feist.'  Jane was responsible for publishing the works of JRR Tolkien during the 1980s and 1990s and worked on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, spending many months in New Zealand with cast and crew. She has also written several books for children. Find out more at Jane's website www.janejohnsonbooks.com and follow her on Twitter @JaneJohnsonBakr. 

Guest Post by Marian Veevers, Author of Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth were born just four years apart, in the 1770s, in a world torn between heady revolutionary ideas and fierce conservatism, and both were influenced by the Romantic ideals of Dorothy’s brother, William Wordsworth, and his friends. 

Until now I have always been a fiction writer and my first non-fiction book, Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility, which traces the lives of Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth, has taken me on an interesting journey of discovery.

Hilary Mantel has recently accused some women writers of historical fiction of 'falsely empowering' female characters, endowing their subjects with anachronistic ideas and behaviours. As a writer of historical fiction, I am keenly aware of the difficulty of balancing historical accuracy with editors' insistence on 'strong' 'sympathetic' central characters. Female protagonists are expected to be, in some sense, 'empowered'; a hapless victim makes for a dull story. And they should be appealing too. One American editor objected that a heroine of mine was just not likeable enough; the character in question was Lady Macbeth and I felt I had done everything I could to make her sympathetic, considering the constraints of history!

But as I turned from fiction to fact and traced the Austen and Wordsworth stories, I began to wonder whether the difficulty might lie in how we define 'strong' and 'empowered'.

Jane and Dorothy were born just four years apart, neither ever married and both faced a world in which it was almost impossible for genteel women to live independently; a world which expected women to marry; a world which ridiculed the 'old maid'. Neither of them made a fortune as a businesswoman or enjoyed a gloriously uninhibited love-life – as they might have done had they inhabited the kind of fictional world of which Hilary Mantel disapproves. But there was rebellion and subversion. Neither life was a passive acceptance of injustice.

Theirs were small but significant acts of independence which deserve recognition. Whether it is Dorothy's 'unladylike' striding across mountains, or Jane's quiet writing on subjects of which her family must have disapproved; whether it is Dorothy's running away to live with a slightly disreputable but dearly loved brother, or Jane's integrity in refusing to commit her life and body to an advantageous but loveless marriage, we should not underestimate the courage which lay behind these actions.

But sometimes Jane and Dorothy's decisions brought pain and heartbreak. Jane's empty life as a spinster in Bath affected her mental health. Comparing her letters and the recollections of her relatives with modern medical analysis of depressive illnesses suggests just how much it cost such a brilliant woman to live the dull life of 'moral rectitude' and 'correct taste' which her nephew would celebrate in his memoir. And Dorothy's relationship with her brother was a troubled one. The talk of incest which began in her own lifetime resurfaced in the mid twentieth century much to the discomfort of some scholars who chose to take refuge in Thomas De Quincey's derogatory dismissal of Dorothy as 'unsexual'. But there is no evidence to support this denial of Dorothy's sexuality and when I set recent research into the sexual attraction of siblings alongside certain known facts about William Wordsworth, I found a heart-breaking narrative. 

Jane and Dorothy were born into similar circumstances, but their decisions took them along diverging paths. For both there was a degree of fulfilment, for both there was a measure of pain.

Marian Veevers

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About the Author

Marian Veevers lives in a small village in the English Lake District and when not writing is a guide for the Wordsworth Trust at William and Dorothy Wordsworth's home, Dove Cottage in Grasmere.  She also writes under the pen name of  Anna Dean and her Dido Kent series of murder mysteries are published by Allison and Busby in the UK and MacMillan in the US. Marian says, 'I am a thorough-going Jane Austen enthusiast; though I find some of the film and television adaptations a little too sugary. Jane Austen was an intelligent and perceptive woman and I believe there is a complexity and, occasionally, a hard edge to her work which is sometimes lost in translation to the screen.' Find out more at 
Marian's  website

www.marianveevers.co.uk and find her on Twitter @MarianVeevers.

21 June 2017

Tracking Your Writing Using Excel #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

All writers have different approaches to outlining and tracking progress on their books, ranging from not at all, to an obsessive preoccupation with word count. After years of trial and error, I've settled on a simple system using Microsoft Excel which works well for me.

A typical novel can be somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 words - although there will always be writers who insist on at least 300,000 and others who like to push word count to extremes (in both directions).

You need to leave scope for cuts in the editing process, so I like to aim for 25 chapters of 4000 words each to arrive at somewhere close to 100,000 in the unedited manuscript. The screenshot above is an actual example from my novel 'Owen' (which ended up as 91,238 words). It's important to remember the word count for a chapter is only a useful guide, although some readers like the reassurance of fairly regular chapter lengths.

Of course you could do all this on scraps of paper or in a lined notebook. The reason is works so well for me is all my writing is done on my laptop, so Excel is only one click away - and it's all backed up to the cloud and available wherever I happen to be.

Using Excel for Outlining

Once you have the basic structure of your book set up in Excel, it's easy to add notes in the next columns to the right of each chapter. As a historical fiction author I like t have a column showing which year most of the chapter is set in, as well as key events. This can then be added to and developed as your writing and research progresses.

Adding Character notes 

I find it useful to add a separate tab at the bottom of the worksheet where the ages for all my characters are calculated for any particular year. You could have tabs for notes on each of your characters or locations.

Planning your launch publicity

I like to create another tab to keep track of guest posts, reviews, book signings etc. with dates, emails and hyperlinks. This has proved invaluable as it's so easy to forget who agreed what and when. The tracking from previous books also offers a great starting point for the next, as you can add notes about what worked best.

Tony Riches @tonyriches

Do you have some great writing tips you would like to share?
Please feel free to comment

The #AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event on the topic of resources and learning for authors. Feel free to hop around to the various blogs and see what you learn! The rules and sign-up form are below the list of hop participants. All authors at all stages of their careers are welcome to join in.

20 June 2017

From Passion-draft to Product: What Developmental Editing Can Do For Your Book ~ Guest Post by Editor Nikki Brice

Congratulations! You’ve spent months, years even, pouring your creativity and talent into the first draft of your novel, what I like to call the passion-draft. Then, like any serious artist, you’ve honed and refined your work, with a view towards turning it into a readable product. You can’t do any more with it. What’s the next step? You’ve heard of some shadowy thing called ‘developmental editing’, but you can’t just quite pin down what that means, let alone whether it might help you. Well, allow me to shed some light on the situation…

What is developmental editing?

You’ve probably heard the term developmental editing, but what does it actually mean? Well, that’s a tricky one. The answer is: it means different things to different people. Why? Because editors and authors use different terminology for this level of editing, particularly in relation to how it’s delivered. But the bottom line is this – it’s the big-picture stuff. Forget grammar, punctuation, formatting dialogue and looking at word usage; polishing the prose is a useless exercise if there’s redrafting to do. Think of it this way: you don’t get a top-notch valet on your car if the mechanic warns you there’s something going seriously awry under the bonnet.

So what does developmental editing cover?

This list will give you a flavour of what a developmental editor can help you with, although it is by no means exhaustive because each manuscript is unique.

  • The opening of your story – does any prologue work? Will the reader keep turning the pages?
  • Characterisation – are your characters believable and do they have depth?
  • Pace – does your story drag where it shouldn’t and whizz where it should savour?
  • Plot – is it engaging and plausible? Do subplots work?
  • Dialogue – is there too much, too little, is it varied, does it flow? Does your tagging work?
  • Point of view – are you using point of view consistently and in a way that complements your story?
  • Structure – does it work for your story? Does it suit your genre?
  • Final chapters – does your ending work? Will your reader sigh with satisfaction?
These are seriously fundamental issues, ones that absolutely must be right or your book won’t cut the mustard with agents, publishers or readers.

Surely I can skip the developmental stage of editing?

Many authors do skip this stage. Experienced authors probably can. But for other writers it should be viewed as an investment in their work, a mark of a professional attitude towards their writing. If there’s a problem lurking in your manuscript, you need to know about it. If your story lacks pace, uses muddled points of view or has one-dimensional characters you really don’t want to be notified by an agent, publisher or online reviewer. I have heard publishing professionals confess that the slush pile is so huge manuscripts are rejected for the most minor of errors. You can no longer assume that an agent or publisher will pay for editorial services as long as there’s a spark of talent in the manuscript.

More and more they expect to see a draft that’s almost ready for publication. Use your creativity and imagination to produce your passion-draft. After that, take a professional view and approach your project with a business head on. I know that goes against the grain, but I’m serious. Getting your book out there these days requires more than talent. Selling your book (whether to an agent, publisher or online reader) is like running a business; so invest in your product to make it the best it can be.

What does developmental editing look like?

That depends on the editor and the author. A developmental editor will offer one or both of these services:

A critique (aka a manuscript appraisal/assessment, editorial letter/report – do you see what I mean about the different terminology now?) which is delivered as a written report addressing both the strengths and weaknesses of the book, and what needs working on. Examples from the manuscript will be used in the report, but the manuscript itself won’t be touched. The author can then use the report to redraft where necessary.

A marked manuscript (this form of developmental editing is often referred to as structural or substantive editing) where the editor will go through the manuscript itself, usually using tracked changes and comments, tends to be a much more detailed process, normally involving collaboration with the author and, possibly, more than one redraft.

Isn’t it something I can do myself? Or ask a beta reader?

There are certain steps an author can take to make their own work clearer and more consistent, with fewer typos. Developmental editing, however, is not something an author can carry out on their own work. Better to engage an experienced professional who has the distance needed to see what’s what. It’s extraordinarily hard to objectively assess a piece of creative work into which you’ve poured your heart and soul over many months.

Beta readers should not be dismissed, but may not be just what you need at the developmental stage. It’s a different service entirely from developmental editing, although there’s no reason why an author can’t use both. You need to research carefully what you’re getting. Some beta readers charge for their services and will provide a short report. You need to know whether that report is simply a few lines about whether the reader enjoyed your work or not, or something more detailed. The price of the service (more of which shortly) will give you a clue; if it’s next to nothing, then what you’ll get back may well be minimal.

Other beta readers don’t charge and what they offer can be little more than a read through and a yes or no on the enjoyment issue. The idea is that you’ll then reciprocate with something they’ve written. It’s an idea with great pros, but just remember: the reader is unlikely to have the editorial experience to tell you why something isn’t working and what you might be able to do to fix it. But if you just want a sense of whether someone out there would find your project remotely readable and enjoyable, go for it.

What should I look for in a developmental editor?

So, you’ve decided to take the plunge. What sort of editor should you choose? Research is the key here. Unless you’ve had a recommendation, you need to find someone you can trust with your work. The internet is always helpful for research, of course. Do you have a favourite literary mag? I love Mslexia, a magazine aimed specifically at women writers but, frankly, it would be a great asset to any writer. It’s a top-notch publication in terms of quality and while they can’t vouch for services advertised in there, it’s a good place to look.

Once you’ve found an advert or website that appeals, here are some points to consider:

  • Look for an editor with respected qualifications and relevant experience.
  • Check out the editor’s website, LinkedIn profile, Twitter account and so on. Get a feel for the person. You’ll want to have a good working relationship. 
  • Some editors specialise in a particular field. For instance, Sophie Playle who runs Liminal Pages (www.liminalpages.com) is a specialist editor of speculative fiction, and boy does she know her stuff. 
  • Email the editor and introduce yourself, explaining a little bit about your project and what you’re looking for. You’ll get a good sense of whether you’d get on with the editor. A good editor will always be realistic but constructive and encouraging. If an editor doesn’t seem terribly interested in your project, they’re not the editor for you. 
  • Look for flexibility. If you just want general big-picture feedback, that’s fine. But if there’s something on your mind – you know your middle is saggy, or your subplot is weak – mention it and ask if the editor will bear that specific issue in mind. 

Will I have to remortgage my house to pay for this?

The question of cost is a difficult one. Editors have different charges and it depends what level of developmental editing you’re looking for. A critique will generally cost much less than a full developmental (structural/substantive) edit where the manuscript is worked on in collaboration with the author. The cost of either service will vary depending on other factors such as the length of the manuscript and the urgency of the job. (But it’s a no, by the way; you shouldn’t be remortgaging your house…)

So there you have it: the nuts and bolts of developmental editing that can take your book from a passion-draft to a product you can be proud of. Questions? Comments? Fire them my way and I’ll do my best to help.

Nikki Brice 
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Abut the Author

Nikki Brice runs the editorial business Splendid Stories and helps authors of both fiction and non-fiction to make their story splendid. Over the last four years she has immersed herself in everything from erotica to theology and prides herself on offering authors a positive and supportive service, tempered with realism. Find out more about Nikki at www.splendidstories.co.uk and find her on Twitter @SplendidStories

19 June 2017

Book Launch Guest Post ~ The Secret of Summerhayes, by Merryn Allingham

Available for pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US

A war-torn summer A house fallen into ruin A family broken apart by scandal...Summer 1944: Bombed out by the blitz, Bethany Merston takes up a post as companion to elderly Alice Summer, last remaining inhabitant of the dilapidated and crumbling Summerhayes estate. An evocative and captivating tale, The Secret of Summerhayes tells of dark secrets, almost-forgotten scandals and a household 
teetering on the edge of ruin.

A sense of place has always been important to me and looking back at the books I’ve written over the past few years, it’s clear how often setting has been the inspiration behind a novel. Two years ago I made a memorable visit to the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, ‘lost’ because they were only rediscovered in 1990 and since that time have been lovingly restored – the work, in fact, is still ongoing. The gardens’ heyday was in the late Victorian/Edwardian period when their owners spent a great deal of money, time and effort in creating a beautiful and exotic paradise.

But when in 1914 war came to England, everything changed. Most of the gardening staff perished in the mud of Flanders and the gardens were left to a slow disintegration. It was as though they went to sleep for the next eighty years. And because they remained untouched, the buildings the gardeners had known in 1914 – the bothy, the bee boles, the pineapple pit, the summerhouse and wishing well, among others – stayed essentially the same.

These were what the pioneers who hacked their way through the undergrowth in 1990 discovered, along with what had once been a two acre vegetable garden, south facing walls for the fruit harvest and a series of beautifully designed individual spaces, among them the Flower Garden, the Sundial Garden, the Italian Garden and the Ravine. There was plenty evidence from earlier times, too. Lead and zinc Victorian plant tags lay buried in the soil. A giant vine weaved its way through broken panes of glass in the walled garden. True romance!

Not quite so romantic were the effects of requisitioning. In 1916 Heligan became a military hospital and during the Second World War housed the American army. The beautiful lawns, or what was left of them by then, were concreted to provide hard standing for tanks and jeeps and the trees, many of them rare, used as target practice.

My fictional estate, Summerhayes, is nestled in the Sussex countryside rather than Cornwall, but prior to 1914 it offered the same perfect idyll. And like Heligan that idyll is disrupted by the First World War, a conflict that serves as background to the first Summerhayes novel, The Buttonmaker’s Daughter.
The Secret of Summerhayes is set thirty years later during the summer of 1944 when Britain is once again fighting a world war. Sussex as a county is almost cut off from the rest of the country, its lanes filled with tanks, the Downs a practice area for the big guns and its coast the site of  rehearsal for the invasion of Europe. The Summerhayes estate is now a shadow of its former glory. Like Heligan, the house has been requisitioned by the military and its battered interior serves as offices for the Canadian army. Its wonderful gardens, the talk of the county in Edwardian times, are overgrown and uncared for.

Into this crumbling estate walks Bethany Merston, a young  teacher who has been bombed out of her London school by the blitz and forced to look for other work. She takes up a post as companion to the elderly Alice Summer, the last of the Summer family, forced now to live in an apartment at the top of her former home. Alice struggles to cope with the realities of wartime, but there is something darker haunting her, too. She is not a woman at peace, plagued by haunting visions of her old household and tormented by the anonymous letters that convince her they come from a daughter who disappeared thirty years earlier.

At first Beth tries to persuade her employer that the letters are fantasy, but it soon becomes clear they hide something more sinister. She sets out to unravel the mysteries surrounding the family’s uncomfortable past, and in doing so puts herself in danger. The final episode of a simmering family drama is played out against the background of the massive military might that leads to D Day and a turning point in the war.

Merryn Allingham
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About the Author

Merryn Allingham worked for many years as a university lecturer and between job, family and pets, there was little time to write. But when the pressures eased, she grabbed the chance to do something she’d always promised herself – to write a novel. Under the name of Isabelle Goddard, she published six Regency romances, but in 2013 adopted a new writing name and a new genre. The Daisy’s War trilogy, set in India and London during the 1930s and 40s, was the result. Her latest books explore two pivotal moments in the history of Britain. The Buttonmaker’s Daughter is set in Sussex in the summer of 1914 as the First World War looms ever nearer and its sequel, The Secret of Summerhayes, thirty years later in the summer of 1944 when D Day led to eventual victory in the Second World War. If you would like to keep in touch with Merryn, sign up for her newsletter at www.merrynallingham.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter: @MerrynWrites.

17 June 2017

Guest Post ~ Love on a Winter’s Tide, by Rosie Chapel

Available on Amazon UK, Amazon US

Lady Helena Trevallier is, to outward appearances, a quintessential young lady of Society. She wanders the museums and art galleries, enjoys horse rides or brisk constitutionals — weather permitting — around the city’s many parks. She flits here and there, rather like an exotic butterfly and has several men trailing in her wake, in the hope she might favour them with a dance or better still allow them to escort her to one of the many social gatherings. Unusually for a young woman of the elite, Helena is in no hurry to marry, unwilling to allow a man to dictate her life, for she has a secret. A secret which, had her social set known anything about might see them throwing up their hands in horror and one which any prospective suitor would surely demand she curtail. Every day, Helena disappears into a world few acknowledge, to help the poor, the downtrodden and the abused. 

The Regency is a period in history I knew little about until one day, I came upon a romance novel set in that era. I was instantly captivated by the glamour of Society, with its multitude of rules, conventions and constraints — especially when courting, as well as those whose tireless efforts made the lives of the elite, so comfortable. Initially I only intended to write one, but as seems typical with my characters, they refused to shut up and the first book blossomed into a series.

Love on a Winter’s Tide is the third in the sequence of what will be five novels. My heroine, Lady Helena Trevallier is the youngest sister of Giles from Once Upon An Earl — in which she appeared, albeit briefly and who has been nagging me to write her story ever since.

Helena is doing her best to avoid being swept onto the marriage-go-round, so although she attends the social gatherings expected of a young lady of Society, she is far happier in another world; a world unrecognisable to her peers, a world where she spends her days helping at a refuge for underprivileged women seeking respite from abusive husbands or situations.

Hugh Drummond is a wealthy shipping magnate and although not a member of the ton, does move within their circle. He is as determined as Helena not to get sucked into matrimony; he has far more important things to be concerned about than marriage to some air-headed debutante, only interested in dancing and frippery. One night, at a ball, Helena meets Hugh — and yes, you can see where this is going can't you!

Their relationship is not all smooth sailing, as neither is willing to relinquish the independence they have fought so hard to achieve. Helena has no intention of giving up her work at the refuge — something most husbands of the elite would expect their wives to do after they wed — had they been permitted such freedom in the first place. Hugh spends long hours managing his shipyard, which has suddenly become the target of a series of strange incidents that may yet undermine his company. Any thought of marriage while everything is so unpredictable was, to Hugh, untenable. Fate, of course, has other ideas!

Until starting this novel, I knew scarcely anything about ships of this (or any) era. How they were designed, constructed, their purpose, strengths and weaknesses — anything. I admit to becoming enthralled by the majesty of the shipping trade and how quickly it was developing. Thankfully, I have read all the Patrick O'Brien's Aubrey-Maturin series, so I had some insight into how competitive and cutthroat the industry was, which inspired the skulduggery abounding in Hugh's shipyard.

It was also a revelation researching the seedy side of London during the Regency era. The lives of those who were generally beneath the notice of the nobility. Cramped conditions, squalor, disease and poverty were a daily struggle and a dangerous combination, one I imagine exploded far more often than is recorded. This is where Sanctuary House — the refuge where Helena assists — fits in, offering a haven for any who needed an escape, if only for a short while. To provide lessons in such basics as reading and writing, or perhaps to teach a skill which could lead to opportunities previously considered impossible, seemed like something the more socially aware members of the ton might get involved with.

To set a novel in another historical period is both fascinating and challenging; such things as etiquette, fashions, language, communications and transportation — to name but a few — are all quite different, not to mention lack of all the modern accoutrements we are so used to having at our fingertips. Now Helena and Hugh’s tale is done and I hope it honours the Regency era with all its delights and eccentricities, as much as is possible two hundred years later.

Rosie Chapel
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About the Author

Rosie Chapel was born in the north east of England and emigrated to Australia with her husband nearly twenty years ago. She currently lives near Perth. After a long career in finance and customer service, she took a leap of faith, making the decision to follow her first love - classical history - and returned to University as a mature student, completing a BA with a double major in Classics & Ancient History and Medieval & Early Modern Studies. Having developed an abiding love for anything connected to Ancient Rome, Rosie decided to channel her passion into fiction, which culminated in her first novel The Pomegranate Tree. Based around the archaeological excavations on Masada, this is book one in the 'Hannah's Heirloom' sequence. Its sequel, Echoes and Stone and Fire, takes place in Pompeii, just prior to the catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius in AD79. The final novel of the trilogy, Embers of Destiny, traces Hannah’s journey to the recently conquered northern frontier of Roman Britain. As Rosie was finishing Embers, she realised she was not quite ready to say goodbye to her characters, so decided to write a prequel, Etched in Starlight, which traces the lives of Maxentius and Hannah until their fateful meeting on Masada. Although the scenarios are fictional, each book is woven around historical events and include some romance and a twist. It was while Rosie was researching ‘Etched,’ she came upon Regency Romances and was immediately hooked. After falling in love with a whole new historical period, she wanted to write one of her own, which somehow developed into a plan for a five book series beginning with Once Upon An Earl. An avid bookworm for all of her life, Rosie Chapel wrote these novels in styles she loves to read and hopes you enjoy them. Find out more at Rosie's website rosiechapel.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @RosieChapel2015.

Book Launch Spotlight: Safari Ants, Baggy Pants And Elephants: A Kenyan Odyssey, by Susie Kelly

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

The long-awaited sequel to Susie Kelly's US Amazon Top 40 ranking memoir I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry described by BookBub as "A Child Called It meets Out Of Africa in this stunning memoir of a woman's 1950s childhood in Kenya. Filled with candid humor and insights, this authentic tale captures one woman's incredible coming-of-age journey." 

More than 40 years after leaving Kenya, Susie unexpectedly finds herself returning for a safari organised by an old friend. With her husband Terry, Susie sets off for a holiday touring the game reserves, but what she finds far exceeds her expectations. In this, her seventh, travelogue, she takes readers from five star hotels to luxury tents in the wilderness, and to poverty in Nairobi's slums, describing a journey of joy, excitement, discovery, nostalgia, of new friendships and encounters of the very close kind with Kenya’s majestic wildlife.

Forgotten memories come flooding back as she revisits the scenes of her childhood and adolescence, so movingly portrayed in her popular memoir I Wish I Could Say I Was Sorry, many of them changed beyond recognition.

Written in her characteristic laid back style, this is a travel tale that will appeal to all those readers who have enjoyed Susie's previous books, as well as anybody who has lived in or dreams of visiting Kenya, the magical land Susie still thinks of as ‘home’.

'Vivid, moving, entertaining. Anybody thinking of taking a safari holiday in Kenya, or who would like to take an armchair safari to Kenya, should read this book.'

"Hemingway wrote:'I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.' That is how I feel about Kenya. You feel at once insignificant and amazing, just for being here. This magnificent, beautiful country, birthplace of mankind, owner of my heart." 

Susie Kelly 
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About the Author

Born a Londoner, Susie Kelly spent most of the first twenty-five years of her life in Kenya. She now lives in south-west France with her husband and assorted animals. Susie particularly enjoys exploring the road less travelled, discovering the lives and events of lesser-known places. Her popular travel books have dominated Amazon's UK paid French Travel Bestsellers. Prior to publishing with Blackbird, Susie was with Transworld who sold over 50,000 of her titles in the UK. Follow Susie on Twitter @SusieEnFrance.

15 June 2017

Book Launch Guest Post: On Angel Aid and Optimism: Story-Telling in the Age of Trump, by Katrina West

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

A middle-aged saleswoman becomes a Hollywood star.
A spoilt celebrity becomes a suburban housewife.
An angel becomes a human being.

2016 was an annus horribilis with a series of terrorist attacks in Europe and elsewhere, the Brexit vote in the UK and political turmoil in the USA. It was supposed to be a one-off, a year when fake news and Murphy’s Law prevailed. But then came 2017, and things didn’t get any better.

So, if this is the new climate in international politics, what is it going to do for publishing trends? In other words, if Trump and populism succeed in the real world, who is going to shine in the fictional world? What kind of novels are going to sell well in this new era of gloom and division?   

Some say that dystopian novels will be the Next Big Thing in literature, that people need that escape from reality, however gloomy, to understand where we stand as societies and why. Who knows, maybe that is true – but I rather like the answers the thriller and science fiction novelist Dean Crawford gave in Joanna Penn’s interview the other day. They both predicted that there should be a resurgence in outrageously happy stories – in ‘cozy mystery knitting romance’, as Joanna Penn put it.

I couldn’t agree more with this, and maybe for this reason, already a few years ago, I started to envisage a fantasy series that is sunny and optimistic, full of hope. Called the Angel Aid series, these books are just as luminous as most fantasy books are dark. They are not just fantasy – no, they are first and foremost feel-good fantasy, and they narrate the human life of a former angel, and the rise and fall of a charitable agency in a small Tuscan village. There’s plenty of friendship, and sisterhood, and people lending a helping hand to other people. And of course, they make mistakes. And fall. But eventually, they get up again. Good prevails, in the end.

Happy endings are, of course, part of the menu. (How could it be otherwise?) But, mind you, not sickly sugary forced happy endings, but true-to-life, down-to-earth happy endings, where the characters get what they need, and not what they want.

In the first book of the series, The Thousand Tiny Miracles of Living Twice, a middle-aged suburban housewife wishes to die. But an angel hears her prayers, and makes her dreams come true. She is catapulted into the body of a Hollywood A-lister; afterwards, her life is full of red carpet events and glamour.

That is the start – the incident that sets everything into motion, and creates a strange kinship between a spoiled celebrity, a fifty-something housewife and an impish angel. The result is a series-long alliance, a peculiar community of humans and angels living on the hills of Tuscany, amidst vineyards and olive groves. They’re there to help people, to open doors, to nurture trust and hope.

Obviously, their path is full of problems and setbacks. But the chances are that they just might make it; that their Angel Aid project will change that sleepy Tuscan village in ways no one could have foreseen before.

And maybe – just maybe – if they can do it, so can we.

Katrina West

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About the Author

Katarina West is the author of Witchcraft Couture and Absolute Truth, For Beginners. She was born in Helsinki, Finland, into a bilingual family that in addition to humans consisted of dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, canaries, rabbits and – thanks to her biology teacher mother – stuffed owls and squirrels. She spent time travelling in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and went on to study at Queen Mary and Westfield College in London and the European University Institute in Florence, where she completed a PhD in political science and published a book based on it, Agents of Altruism. During those student years she started work as a journalist, and continued writing for various Finnish magazines and newspapers for over ten years, writing on various topics from current events and humanitarian issues to celebrity interviews and short stories. She also briefly worked as a university lecturer on humanitarian issues in Northern Italy. Katarina lives in an old farmhouse in Chianti with her husband and son and when not writing, she is fully immersed in Tuscan country life, from jam-making and olive-picking to tractor maintenance. Find out more at Katerina's website katarinawest.com and find her on Facebook and Twitter @WestKatarina.

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14 June 2017

Special Guest Post ~ After You Left, by Carol Mason

When Justin walks out on Alice on their honeymoon, with no explanation apart from a cryptic note, Alice is left alone and bewildered, her life in pieces. Then she meets Evelyn, a seemingly chance encounter, but Alice gradually learns that Evelyn has motives, and a heartbreaking story, of her own. As Alice delves into the mystery of why Justin left her the questions are obvious. But the answers may lie in the most unlikely of places…

It comes to me about a couple of times a month. Usually if I take a nap in the middle of an intense writing day. On the fringe of sleep, I will be transported so vividly to my childhood, to the home where I grew up. Every insignificant detail will be alive with the sort of profundity that leaves me longing for a time gone by.

Nostalgia. Maybe I am besieged by it because I emigrated from England to Canada when I was 21 and have had not nearly enough opportunity to go back. In my memory the grass is definitely greener. Are we all like this? Pulled back because it’s more certain than what lies ahead of us?

The haunting painting of Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World was something I’d never set eyes on until I read an interesting article in the New York Times about how looking at visual art can help dementia sufferers remember things. In the painting, Christina is lying, almost crawling on the grass, staring up at a lone house in the distance. Her family home? After much research, I believe it is. Was Christina haunted by her memories, as I am? How touching that a person who has forgotten everything may remember a single poignant detail… Suddenly a book idea was born.

At the time I was moving my mother from the North East of England to Canada to live with us – she was 79. I had gone back to essentially sell the family home and say goodbye to the area where I had grown back. Goodbye forever – what reason did I have to go back there now? It was a tremendously unsettling experience for me, and affected me more than I’d have imagined. When I look at Wyeth’s painting of Christina, I saw myself – and a character for my new novel – so very strongly.

Christina's World (1948) by Andrew Wyeth
(Wikimedia Commons)

After You Left took about 5 years to write. I was off it, then on it. Oh the mercurial moods of a writer! It was published on April 1 and has already been an Amazon bestseller in the US, UK and Australia. I have written 3 other novels, but perhaps this one is closest to my heart. How Christina’s World fits into the story? You’ll just have to read it to find out.

Carol Mason 
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About the Author

Carol Mason is the bestselling author of 4 women’s fiction novels – After You Left, The Secrets of Married Women (to be re-released by Lake Union on June 22), The Love Market and Send Me A Lover. Her novels have been described as emotionally poignant page-turners with characters who are real, in believable situations. She has been reviewed everywhere from Australia’s Cosmopolitan Magazine to the UK’s Financial Times. She is from Sunderland in Northern England but has lived for the past 24 years in Canada with her Canadian husband. Carol’s books can all be found on Amazon. Visit her website at www.carolmasonbooks.com and find Carol on Twitter @CarolMasonBooks.

13 June 2017

Book Launch: Tiny Buddha's Gratitude Journal: Questions, Prompts, and Colouring Pages for a Brighter, Happier Life

New on Amazon US
Pre-Order on Amazon UK 

From the author of Tiny Buddha’s 365 Tiny Love Challenges and founder of the popular online community Tiny Buddha comes a flexibound interactive journal to help readers creatively foster gratitude in their daily lives.
Even in the hardest of times, we have things to be grateful for. Lori Deschene, founder of TinyBuddha.com, helps us recognise these small blessings with this journal dedicated to thankfulness. Each page of Tiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal includes a question or prompt to help readers reflect on everything that's worth appreciating in their lives.
Sprinkled throughout this soulful journal are fifteen colouring pages depicting ordinary, often overlooked objects that enhance our lives, with space for written reflection on the page. With Tiny Buddha’s Gratitude Journal, readers will be able to recognise small blessings, focus on the positive, and foster optimism to help them be their best, happiest selves every day.
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About the Author
Lori Deschene grew up in Massachusetts and is the author of Tiny Buddha: Simple Wisdom for Life's Hard Questions, Tiny Buddha's Guide to Loving Yourself, and Tiny Buddha's 365 Tiny Love Challenges. Formerly a contributor for nationally distributed girls' magazines, Lori dreams of one day writing and illustrating her own picture books. But first she’s devoting her energy to the newly launched Tiny Buddha Productions, working on both film and TV projects. Who knows—that one-woman show may eventually see the light of day. Find out more at tinybuddha.com and follow @tinybuddha on Twitter.

11 June 2017

Book Launch Guest Post: 3 Tips for Writing about Place, by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar Author of Pearls of the Past

New on Amazon US and Amazon UK

In the much-anticipated sequel to the award-winning Love Comes Later, we find out how happy the ever after is for Abdulla and Sangita, the unlikely duo who met by chance in a London apartment. 
Married life holds more than they bargained for with the pressures of living amongst the family. 
Hind has made good on her aspirations to work in the foreign service in India as an independent woman. Except loneliness dogs her every step. 
And young Luluwa, once a teenager infatuated with her dead sister's husband, is growing up quickly.  
When a deep family secret comes to light, it's she who will have to find a way to bring them together to overcome the dark forces. 
Readers will lose themselves in the increasingly complex ties that bind.

I’ve lived in the Arabian Gulf of Qatar for the last eleven years. Moving there pushed my writing from hobby into coping strategy for life as an expat. As an non-Arabic speaking, non-Muslim,  the mundane details of everyday life became fodder for a weekly blog series. Six years later, I published my first novel, a love triangle, populated with characters inspired by real people.

Yes, six years later. Why did it take me so long? Well, partly because I was still learning so much about the host country.

Qatar is a modern place with traditional values that is still very insular because of the longstanding practice of professional expats who come through on an average of three years to have an adventure and make some cash, returning to their home country never to be seen again.

How did I learn enough about this place to write culturally accurate stories? How can you gain confidence to write about a place other than where ‘you’re from’?

1. Make friends: This might sound like advice for kindergartners but there is no better way to learn about perspectives different than our own than by eating, laughing, and learning from those who are experts.

My Qatari friends were used to being objects of curiosity so at first it took a while for them to realize I wasn’t yet another person who would ask questions about polygamy or oil wells in their backyards. It’s hard not to take personally, but building trust takes time, so this process took several years.

2. Listen to understand: Again, maybe our best life lessons were taught in our early years. Some of the biggest insights I learned in Qatari culture were when I listened to what was on the minds of students, colleagues, and friends. One such repeated theme, how to find love in a society that practices arranged marriage, became my first novel Love Come Later.

The discussions about finding happily ever after – for both you and your parents – were very familiar to me because of my own upbringing as a South Asian. Many families in India still practice arranged (and cousin) marriages so to my ear these discussion were well trodden territory with a new twist.

3. Verify, verify, verify: Writing from the point of view of a man was a new experience for me. Early drafts of the novel originally began with alternating chapters from the two main female characters. I quickly realized the story would benefit from hearing Abdulla, the object of contention. Writing his scenes meant I needed a crop of beta readers who could attest to the male point of view – something which I guessed at but needed help with.

Incidentally I’m not the only one who had this struggle. If you read On Writing by Stephen King, he shares a similar fear about early versions of Carrie and writing from the perspective of a teenage girl (his wife said she would help him with that).

We have to be very careful when writing about cultures other than our own. I was hyper aware of this because of my doctoral studies in postcolonial literature. Who gets to speak, and about what, are two central questions critical in this field that is my day job in the university classroom.

I ended up writing about Qatar because I wanted the world to experience the fascinating place where I’ve made my home for the last decade or so. I wanted to give international readers a more balanced view on the people and culture of the Arabian Gulf as a counter to the headlines they might see on the nightly news.

Current events prove this is more important than ever. Fiction is a kind of truth. And in pursuing both we preform the service art has always provided to humanity. As Ralph Waldo Emerson explains, “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” 

Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar
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About the Author
Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar’s award winning books have focused on various aspects of life in the Arabian Gulf nation of Qatar. From Dunes to Dior is a collection of essays related to her experiences as a female South Asian American living in the Arabian Gulf and named as Indie Book of the Day in 2013. Love Comes Later is a literary romance set in Qatar and London and was the winner of the Best Indie Book Award for Romance in 2013, short listed for the New Talent award by the Festival of Romance, and Best Novel Finalist in eFestival of Words, 2013. She currently lives with her family in Qatar, where she teaches writing and literature courses at American universities. After she joined the e-book revolution, Mohana dreams in plotlines. Learn more about her work on her website at www.mohadoha.com or follow her latest on Twitter: @moha_doha.

9 June 2017

Review: The French Queen’s Letters: Mary Tudor Brandon and the Politics of Marriage in Sixteenth-Century Europe, by Erin Sadlack

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

This fascinating book offers new insights into the world of Mary Tudor (daughter of King Henry VII and sister of Henry VIII.)  As far as I know she was never referred to as Mary Tudor Brandon - or Mary Brandon, although she is often confused with Henry VIII's daughter, also named Mary Tudor.

Part of the 'Queenship and Power' series, what sets this book apart from others is the intriguing analysis of Mary Tudor's letters to her brother and advisors such as Thomas Wolsey. Erin Sadlack directly addresses a point which has often troubled me in the past, which is the way many researchers interpret such letters too literally.

As Professor Sadlack points out, Mary's letters are rhetorically 'crafted' to present herself and her ideas in the best possible light. There are also touching examples of where Mary reveals self awareness and an ability to use her power to preserve the peace between England and France.

She also shows understanding of her husband Charles Brandon's lack of literary skill: "I thynke my lord of sowffolke wole write more playndler" and there is evidence of how they conspired to support each other through their letters. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a deeper understanding of Mary Tudor and an appreciation of the life of a Tudor princess, who became briefly Queen of France before risking everything to marry the man she loved.

Tony Riches

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About the Author

Erin Sadlack teaches courses in medieval and early modern British literature at Marywood University.Before coming to Marywood, she taught for five years at the University of Maryland, College Park, where her dissertation, “‘In Writing It May Be Spoke’: The Politics of Women’s Letter-Writing, 1377-1603,” won the Alice L. Geyer Dissertation Prize. Her work on letter-writing won her grants to do archival research at the British Library and the Public Records Office in London and at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. Dr. Sadlack has published articles on women’s letter writing in the Sixteenth Century Journal and in the Renaissance English Text Society’s New Ways of Looking at Old Texts, Volume IV. Dr. Sadlack is currently editing Romeo and Juliet for the Internet Shakespeare Editions website and continuing her research on early modern petitions from the Elizabethan era.

8 June 2017

Jane and Dorothy: A True Tale of Sense and Sensibility, by Marian Veevers

New on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Jane Austen and Dorothy Wordsworth were born just four years apart, in the 1770s, in a world torn between heady revolutionary ideas and fierce conservatism, and both were influenced by the Romantic ideals of Dorothy’s brother, William Wordsworth, and his friends. 

Jane and Dorothy compares their upbringing and education, home lives and loves and, above all, their emotional and creative worlds. Original insights include a new discovery of serious depression suffered by Dorothy Wordsworth, a new and crucial discovery about Dorothy and William’s relationship, and a critical look at the myths surrounding the man who stole Jane’s heart. This is the first time these two lives have been examined together.

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About the Author

Marian Veevers lives in a small village in the English Lake District and when not writing is a guide for the Wordsworth Trust at William and Dorothy Wordsworth's home, Dove Cottage in Grasmere.  She also writes under the pen name of  Anna Dean and her Dido Kent series of murder mysteries are published by Allison and Busby in the UK and MacMillan in the US. Marian says, 'I am a thorough-going Jane Austen enthusiast; though I find some of the film and television adaptations a little too sugary. Jane Austen was an intelligent and perceptive woman and I believe there is a complexity and, occasionally, a hard edge to her work which is sometimes lost in translation to the screen.' Find out more at 
Marian's  website www.marianveevers.co.uk and find her on Twitter @MarianVeevers.