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BOOK REVIEW: Anna Campbell

Thursday, April 13, 2017




The Seduction of Lord Stone – Anna Campbell

Tempting Mr Townsend – Anna Campbell

Winning Lord West – Anna Campbell

Pursuing Lord Pascal – Anna Campbell

MY THOUGHTS:

Australian author Anna Campbell is well-known for her sultry Regency romances, and these four books connect together to make a series called ‘The Dashing Widows’. Each book follows the amorous adventures of a beautiful widow and her entanglements with various rakes, dukes, and wicked uncles. The books are really just love bites – I read each one in a couple of hours – and often the action of one overlaps with the action of another. They are very sexy! Perfect holiday reading.

Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club – Alison Goodman

Take a light-hearted Regency romance, add in some soul-sucking demons, and a dash of butt-kicking, and you have Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club

It’s a delicious mixture. One minute Lady Helen is worrying about what to wear to meet the Queen, the next she’s dashing down dark, foggy alleyways chased by powerful vampiric creatures that need her dead. I’ve heard it described as Jane-Austen-meets-Buffy, which made me laugh. It’s a good description, for the book has the bonnets-and-balls settings of Jane Austen and the dark dangerous action of Buffy. 

I loved Alison’s fantasy novels Eon and Eona so it’s great to see her back with a big new series. I’ve already bought Book 2: Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact as I’m dying to find out what happens!


BOOK REVIEW: The Locksmith's Daughter by Karen Brooks

Wednesday, March 15, 2017




The Locksmith’s Daughter – Karen Brooks

BLURB (from GoodReads):


In a world where no one can be trusted and secrets are currency, one woman stands without fear.

Mallory Bright is the only daughter of London’s master locksmith. For her there is no lock too elaborate, no secret too well kept. Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster and protector of Queen Elizabeth – the last of the Tudor monarchs – and her realm, is quick to realise Mallory’s talent and draws her into his world of intrigue, danger and deception. With her by his side, no scheme in England or abroad is safe from discovery; no plot secure.

But Mallory’s loyalty wavers when she witnesses the execution of three Jesuit priests, a punishment that doesn’t fit their crime. When Mallory discovers the identity of a Catholic spy and a conspiracy that threatens the kingdom, she has to make a choice – between her country and her heart.

Mallory, however, carries her own dark secrets and is about to learn those being kept from her – secrets that could destroy those she loves.

Once Sir Francis’s greatest asset, Mallory is fast becoming his worst threat … and everyone knows there’s only one way Sir Francis deals with those.


MY THOUGHTS: 

An absolutely gripping page-turner of a novel set in Elizabethan times, The Locksmith’s Daughter is told from the first person point of view of a young woman named Mallory Bright, the story starts a little slowly but the pace soon quickens, and the plot begins to twist and turn in unexpected ways. 

Mallory is the daughter of a master locksmith who has taught her all his secrets. One evening her father is visited by the Queen’s spymaster Sir Frances Walsingham and Mallory is asked to show off her skills. She finds herself being trained as a spy to work on Walsingham’s behalf, and is drawn deeper and deeper into a dark and violent world. 

The book is set during a time of intense religious strife, when Jesuit priests were being hunted down and hanged, drawn and quartered. Mallory finds herself caught with divided loyalties and in danger herself. The world of Elizabethan England is captured with all its myriad sounds and smells, and I particularly loved all the details about devious locks and how the Elizabethan secret service worked. It felt so real and authentic, it was as if I had actually slipped back in time myself – always a sign of meticulous research and attention to detail.

A gripping historical thriller that will quite literally steal your breath!

Love historical thrillers set in Elizabethan times? Try The Tudor Conspiracy by C.W. Gortner  


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I love your recommendations! 

BOOK REVIEW: Gallant Waif/Tallie's Knight by Anne Gracie

Thursday, August 04, 2016

Anne Gracie is one of Australia’s most popular historical romance novelists, for good reason. Her style is smooth and pleasurable to read, and her heroes and heroines feel like real people, with all their faults. Gallant Waif and Tallie’s Knight were her first published works, and have her trademark warmth, humour and poignancy. 

In Gallant Waif, orphan Kate Farleigh accepts a job to keep house for a reclusive lord who had been badly scarred in the Peninsular War. He is angry and embittered – disinherited by his father and dumped by his fiancée – but Kate is determined to put his life back into order. 

In Tallie’s Knight, dreamy Tallie has a life of drudgery caring for her cousin’s three adorable children. One day, to her great surprise, the Earl of d’Arenville decides he must have a wife – and chooses Tallie because of her kindness to her charges. And so begins a wonderful romantic adventure story that moves to the Continent and back, and is filled with many humorous encounter and characters. 

BOOK REVIEW: THE ROSE GARDEN by Susanna Kearsley

Friday, June 17, 2016



When Eva's film star sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Cornwall, where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Katrina's ashes and in doing so return her to the place where she belongs. But Eva must also confront the ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own. For the house where she so often stayed as a child is home not only to her old friends the Halletts, but also to the people who had lived there in the eighteenth century. When Eva finally accepts that she is able to slip between centuries and see and talk to the inhabitants from hundreds of years ago, she soon finds herself falling for Daniel Butler, a man who lived - and died - long before she herself was born. Eva begins to question her place in the present, and in laying her sister to rest, comes to realise that she too must decide where she really belongs, choosing between the life she knows and the past she feels so drawn towards. 

Susanna Kearsley mixes together romance, suspense, and the supernatural in wonderfully readable ways. The Rose Garden is the story of a woman who keeps slipping back and forth between times in Cornwall. So part of the story is set in the present-day and part of it set in 1715, a time of smugglers and Jacobite plots. Of course there’s a man in the now and a man in the past, and problems and dangers in both. It’s a period of history that I really love, and I must say I have a real soft spot for books set in Cornwall, a place I’ve always longed to visit. Susanna Kearsley has a light, deft touch – The Rose Garden is the sort of book that you can race through in a single setting, hoping all the time for a happy ending but not sure how the author is going to pull it off. Delightful.

INTERVIEW: Charlotte Betts, author of The Chateau on the Lake

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Please welcome Charlotte Betts, the author of The Chateau on the Lake, a brilliant historical romance set during the French Revolution. I had previously read Charlotte's book, The Apothecary's Daughter, which I really enjoyed too, and so I'm looking forward to more of her books.


 

Are you a daydreamer too?


I am definitely a daydreamer and I’m not sure it would be possible for me to write novels if I wasn’t. My writing doesn’t flow until I’ve daydreamed a scene. I need to ‘see’ it in my mind and then it’s like watching a film and I simply record what happens in front of me. This sounds easy but it’s taken a while to learn how to do this. The best time for me to daydream is when walking the dog or last thing at night just before I fall asleep.

 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?


It seems extraordinary to me now that I didn’t start to write until fifteen years ago. I loved to read and always had to be creating something or other: painting, drawing, decorating, sewing, making puppets or a garden. Most of my working life has been as a designer, first fashion but then interior design for hotels and private residences. Colour and texture are important to me and I use these a great deal in my writing. The skills used for architectural drawings and detailed specification lists aren’t so very different from those required when planning a novel. I don’t have time to paint now but like to think that I paint with words.

 

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?


I was born in London, though I only have a few memories of that time as my family moved to Berkshire when I was seven. I’ve lived in the Thames Valley most of my life but eleven years ago moved to a seventeenth century cottage on the Berkshire/Hampshire border, close to a market town.


This year I gave up the day job to write full time and I am so happy discovering the wildlife and the flowers in the woods that surround the cottage. There’s something new to see everyday. I’ve been busy finishing my next novel and a short story for Christmas but I’m looking forward to having a little more time to travel, read, make jam, meet friends and generally potter about at the end of my writing day. What luxury!



Tell me about your book, The Chateau on the Lake. 

The Chateau on the Lake opens in 1792. After her English mother and French father are brutally murdered, bluestocking Madeleine Moreau travels to France in search of relatives she hadn’t known existed. When France declares war on England it becomes unsafe to return and Comte Etienne d’Aubery offers her shelter in his chateau. Impulsive and sometimes self-opinionated, Madeleine favours the people’s revolution in France but her views are shaken after she witnesses Louis XVI’s death by the guillotine. The revolution gathers momentum and as passions of the populace are inflamed, Madeleine sets off on a dangerous race against time to save the man she loves.





How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?


My first three published novels were all set in the mid-seventeenth century and I decided I’d take a jump ahead in time. As usual when beginning a new novel, I researched the period, looking for a suitable historical event to use as a backdrop to my story. When I read about the French Revolution it struck me as the perfect framework for a novel because it was a dramatic, life-changing event for so many, crammed with intrigue and adventure.


 

What was the greatest challenge in the writing of it? 


I had two major challenges when writing The Chateau on the Lake. Firstly, I’d never studied the French Revolution but everyone knows that the starving poor rebelled against the greedy aristocrats and beheaded Louis XVI, don’t they? Except that, once I started my research, I quickly discovered that it was nothing like as straightforward as that.


It’s often perceived that most of the victims trundling their way to the guillotine in a tumbril were powdered and patched aristocrats but this wasn’t the case. The great majority were of working class background and had taken up arms against the Revolution, most notably in the Vendée. Those nobles who had chosen to emigrate and then returned to France were also executed as they were assumed to be spies. Priests who had refused to take an oath of loyalty to the constitution were also seen as enemies of the Revolution and guillotined. Many ordinary people were denounced for very little reason and a terrible atmosphere suspicion and fear prevailed. 


My second challenge was that whilst writing the novel I was still working long hours in a demanding day job. I place high importance on the accuracy of the historical events I portray and it was extra hard to find the time to do all the research required to enable me to meet the deadline. Everything else in my life had to go on hold!



How extensively do you plan your novels?


I do plan my novels in immense detail all fitted around the historical facts as, for me, this is the best way to avoid writer’s block. Of course, the best-laid plans always go awry! My characters develop a personality I hadn’t expected and secondary characters try to muscle in for a bigger role in the story. I find that an historical fact actually occurred two months after I wanted it to so it’s back to the drawing board for the plot. All this is normal and I don’t upset myself about it. A novel plan is like a road map but there is often another way, maybe a better way, to reach your destination.

 

 

Where do you write, and when?


Now that I’m not working in an office I tend to start writing at 9am after household chores with a break in the middle of the day to walk Hattie, my Border Collie, mid morning. Sometimes I’ll start at 5am, as ideas are usually fresh then. I generally keep ‘office hours’ but if I’m nearing a deadline I’ll work very late. Now, I’m able to take time off at weekends to spend time with family. I have my trusty Mac Air on all the time, though, and will write whenever inspiration strikes.


I have a lovely garden studio where I can watch the birds while I write but if it’s very cold outside I set up camp in our orangerie or in my little study, which has a woodburning stove for the depths of winter.

 

What is your favourite part of writing?


I love all of it, the planning, the research, the certainty that this book will be the best ever! I suppose the middle part of the book is my least favourite because, when the initial excitement has worn off, you begin to wonder if you’ve made a terrible mistake and everyone will hate it. It’s wonderful when it all comes together at the end.

 

What do you do when you get blocked?


Nearly always this happens because I know in my heart of hearts that something isn’t working. It’s usually in the middle section of the novel. In this case I question my characters’ motivation and have ‘conversations’ with them. Or I’ll do a little more research to see if I can find a new and interesting fact to add a twist to the story. Sometimes I’ll even kill a character – that usually livens things up!

 

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?


If I’m not inspired it’s generally because I’m trying too hard. I am fairly obsessive about my writing and sometimes it’s better to stop and take a walk, bake a cake or meet some friends. I think reading more or watching a film can also be very helpful. 

 

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?


Tea. Chocolate. Both dark and strong like my heroes. Need I say more?

 

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

Tracy Chevalier, Philippa Gregory, Nicci French, Sarah Dunant, Daphne du Maurier, Mary Stewart, Clare Francis, Dick Francis, Jane Austen and Deborah Swift.



 

What do you consider to be good writing? 


Good writing immediately lifts me into the world of that book, the minds of the characters and into the locations so that I feel I’m really there. I also like writing to be clear and concise. Good writing shines, whatever the genre.  

 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?


  • Write every day
  • Read all you can
  • Keep a notebook
  • Never give up

 


What are you working on now? 


I’m currently checking the proofs of The House in Quill Court, which will be published on 7th January 2016. The novel is set in 1814 and the plot is perhaps best summed up as Jane Austen meets Whitechapel!

  

After Venetia Lovell’s father is murdered, she’s shocked to discover that he had another family. Since both families have been left without means of support they must combine forces to take over his interior decorating business.


Venetia discovers that her neighbouring shopkeepers have been paying protection money to a vicious gangland boss and, after he threatens their livelihood too, she is determined to end his terrifying tyranny. However, when a street war breaks out Venetia soon begins to regret interfering.


BOOK REVIEW: The Chateau on the Lake by Charlotte Betts

Monday, August 24, 2015




The Chateau on the Lake

by Charlotte Betts

Age Group & Genre: Historical Romance for Adults

Reviewer: Kate Forsyth

Source of Book: I bought it

The Blurb:

1792. As a teacher at her parents' Academy for Young Ladies in the heart of London, Madeleine Moreau has lived her life sheltered from the outside world. But on the night of a dazzling Masquerade, tragedy strikes and she is left alone in the world. Desperate to find the family she never knew, Madeleine impulsively travels to France in search of them. But with war around the corner, and fearing for Madeleine's safety, the enigmatic Comte Etienne d'Aubery offers her shelter at his home, Chateau Mirabelle.

Chateau Mirabelle enchants Madeleine with its startling beauty, but it is a place of dark and haunting secrets. As the Revolution gathers momentum and the passions of the populace are enflamed, Madeleine must take control of her own destiny and unravel events of the past in order to secure a chance at future happiness.

The Chateau on the Lake is a breath-taking historical novel set during the time of the French Revolution; rich, evocative and immersive. If you love Philippa Gregory and Joanne Harris, you will adore Charlotte Betts.

What I Thought: 

I love books set in France, and have had a particular fascination with the French Revolution since reading my grandmother’s ancient copies of The Scarlet Pimpernel by the Baroness d’Orczy when I was a teenager. I settled down with a cup of tea, hoping for a great swashbuckling romantic adventure. I was not at all disappointed. The voice of the heroine Madeleine is pitch-perfect – intelligent, highly educated and argumentative, she is the daughter of a French nobleman and an English lady. Fallen on hard times, they have opened a school for rich and well-bred young ladies, where Madeleine teaches. There are secrets in her parents’ life, however, and when they die tragically, Madeleine sets out to discover her hidden heritage. Her search takes her to France, and she witnesses the execution of the French king, Louis XVI, which shakes her understanding of the world to the core. Trapped in a France gone mad with bloodlust, Madeleine finds herself falling in love … 

The Chateau on the Lake is one of the best historical romances I have read for a while, and I was pleased to realise that I had previously read and enjoyed one of Charlotte’s earlier books, The Apothecary’s Daughter … and she has a few other books in her back list. I’ll be hunting them down forthwith!

Writer’s website:  http://www.charlottebetts.com


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT – I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK

SPOTLIGHT: Sources of the Grimms' fairy tales

Thursday, July 23, 2015

 

To celebrate THE WILD GIRL being released in the US tis week, I'm going to share some vintage Wild Girl posts this week - I hope you enjoy!


SOURCES OF THE GRIMM BROTHERS' FAIRY TALES



Everyone has heard of the Grimm brothers.

Everyone has read some, at least, of their famous fairy tales.

What few people know, however, is who originally told the stories to the Grimm brothers. The names of the original tellers has been lost to all but those fairy tale scholars that have painstakingly pieced together clues taken from the brother’s notes and diaries to name the sources of the some of the world’s best loved fairy tales.

For example, ‘Aschenputtel’, (better known today as Cinderella), was told by an old woman in a poorhouse in the small medieval town of Marburg where Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm went to university. Her name is thought to be Frau Creuzer.

‘Hansel and Gretel’ was told to Wilhelm in the house of the local apothecary, Herr Wild, which was next door to where the Grimm brothers lived. It was most probably told by Herr Wild’s second youngest daughter, Dortchen. She most certainly provided the famous rhymes, usually translated into English as ‘Little mouse, little mouse, who is nibbling at my house?’ with the children replying, ‘it’s the wind so wild, the heavenly child.’




‘Little Red Cap’ was told by Jeannette and Marie Hassenpflug, young women in their late teens and early 20s, who also told ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ and ‘Brier Rose’ (better known as ‘Sleeping Beauty’), as well as many others. Their brother Louis married the Grimm brothers’ younger sister, Lotte. 


‘The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes’ (sometimes called ‘Twelve Dancing Princesses’) was told to Wilhelm Grimm by Jenny von Droste-Hülstoff, the niece of a university friend. She had a warm and tender friendship with Wilhelm, so that many thought they might marry, but the wedding never came to pass.


‘The Bremen Town Musicians’ was told to Wilhelm by Jenny’s aunts, the sisters of Werner von Haxthausen, who studied law with the Grimms at Marburg University. 

‘The Goose Girl’ was told to the Grimm brothers’ by Dorothea Viehmann, a poor old woman, widow to an innkeeper, who came to the Grimms’ house selling vegetables and butter.


‘Snow White’ was originally thought to have been told by the Wild family’s housekeeper, Marie Müller, better known as Old Marie. Now many scholars believe it was told by Marie Hassenpflug instead (though the Grimms had not yet met the Hassenpflugs when this story was first recorded). It is likely that a number of different variants were told by different tellers, and that the Grimm brothers blended the best elements of them together.

‘The Twelve Brothers’ was told by Julia and Charlotte Ramus, daughters of the local pastor

‘Rumpetstilskin’ was told to Wilhelm by his next door neighbour, Dortchen Wild. She also told him ‘Six Swans’, ‘The Frog King’, ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’, ‘Sweetheart Roland’,   ‘Mother Holle’, ‘The Three Little Men in the Wood’. ‘The Singing Bone’, ‘All-Kinds-of-Fur’, and ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’. 
In fact, she told almost one quarter of the Grimm brothers’ first collection of fairy tales. 

Dortchen and Wilhelm fell in love during the collection of the fairy tales, but were unable to marry for many years thanks to her father's disapproval and the Grimm brothers’ poverty. It was not until a small collection, chosen especially for children, was published that the tales at last became popular and the two star-crossed lovers were at last able to marry. 

I tell the story of their star-crossed love in my novel THE WILD GIRL:  
          
     



Please leave a comment - I love to know what you think!



INTERVIEW: Lisa Chaplin, author of The Tide Watchers

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Today, on the blog, I welcome Lisa Chaplin, a friend of mine who has written an incredible historical novel inspired by the true story of British spies who sought to prevent Napoleon's forces from invading Great Britain in 1803. Here's my review of her novel THE TIDE WATCHERS if you'd like to know more about her book, but today we're exploring Lisa's dreams and inspirations. Please give her a warm welcome!   

Are you a daydreamer too?

I always have been, always will be. It was the reason I got in trouble at school – but by year 3, teachers and school counselors were telling me to aim at becoming a writer. I still dream on walks, on trains and in cars, working my fictional characters into real-life situations. A lot of my best work comes from those daydreams!

 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

No, not at all. Though I loved to dream and make up stories as a child, I was completely focused on becoming a nurse. Nothing anyone said changed my mind. I did nursing until I got pregnant with our first child. I only began writing after our second child, when my husband came home with an article about writing and said I should try it. I did, and was soon wondering why I’d never listened to anyone before!

 

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?

I was born in Darlinghurst, Sydney. After a childhood in Sydney, both east and west, we moved to the Central Coast five years after I married. We’ve owned a house there ever since, raised our three children there. I’m afraid I’m a complete history nerd – I love to research, to find out more about “hidden history” that the victors never tell. Apart from that, I love to read, and walking the dog and jogging on the local beach. I do a swim class that I really like, as well.

 

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for THE TIDE WATCHERS?

That’s a story! Short version: I took an American friend and her family around Sydney in 2006, and at the Sydney Maritime Museum, picked up a book that completely ignited my dormant love of history. I stood there so long, reading the book, my friend had to remind me that her family were hungry! So I bought the book, and 9 years later, it’s still with me on my travels. I found an untold story in that book, one I had to tell…but because it was a hidden history, I had to piece it together over time. 24 books, 3 DVDs and a trip to France and the UK later, The Tide Watchers finally grew from a story kernel to a full-blown story.

 

How extensively do you plan your novels?

Before I began historical writing, not nearly so much as now. As Melissa James (my contemporary romance pseudonym), I could make up stories and let my imagination play. However, I always did plan the deeper story beneath the romance. I wrote about issues: PTSD, anorexia, bulimia, missing family members, etc; so that part was always plotted, as were my three espionage books, the Nighthawks series; but the rest was my imagination basically running free. Now it’s a different story, because so many of my characters were real people. I need to know where they were at any given time, what they wrote, said, or did, so I can weave my fictional characters in without jarring the well-read historical fiction reader with any inaccuracy. I have currently in front of me more than 50 pages of timelines, plot points, and information about every living character I use. I’m on a research trip now so have folders full, and books filling my suitcase! They’re my “American Express card”: I never leave home without them!

 

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?

In a strange way. My dreams are usually vivid, frightening things that tell me when I haven’t used my imagination enough lately. Quite often I’ll wake very early with a dream, get up and write, and quite often on a similar subject to my nightmares. I wish I did dream about my characters, but alas, I don’t. I think it’d be much easier if I did!

 

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?

Oh, definitely! The book I mentioned earlier talked about a fleet of French ships that sank eight miles out to sea, and that Britain, who had been conciliating France until then, declared war ten weeks later; but there was nothing more. Researching that led to amazing discoveries, some that fellow history lovers said never happened – but they did. The realization that “history is told by the victors” led me to France, to a small town and some villages that held a history few know about. Discovering the part Lord Camelford, (“The Mad Baron”) played in world events of the time, really changed the book. Then a friend from my writers’ group gave me a book (an out-of-print book worth far more than I knew when she gave it to me) that had the real-life code-names of British spies, and the French spies working for and against Britain. That book changed everything! Without those serendipitous discoveries, THE TIDE WATCHERS wouldn’t be what it is.

 

Where do you write, and when?

I still have two grown children at home, and their friends often drop in, so I tend to write whenever I can. My family is really understanding of my work, including my nieces where I’m staying right now. When I’m at home, if the house is too noisy (there are dogs galore in our street, and few owners at home) I go to my favorite café, an eclectic little place with kitschy furniture and great food, and set myself up there for hours. They look after me beautifully there!

 

What is your favourite part of writing?

I think for me it’s the whole finding out astonishing facts, and dreaming up ways to work it into the story and characters. Often it means changing whole chapters and even more to make it work. Lucky for me I have a very patient agent, and a fabulous editor who not only goes along with my changes, but she gets excited when I tell her why. She’ll call me to discuss it if she doesn’t understand, and we work out storylines together sometimes. So I’m one of those annoying writers that love revisions. I take every chance to improve the book, to do more research to make the book bigger, faster-paced, more exciting.

 

What do you do when you get blocked?

Research! For me, a block means I’ve forgotten something important. I go back to my books or my timelines. I have 13 whiteboards in my study covered in facts, plus cork-boards with maps and pictures. I took pictures of everything, printed it up and brought it with me on my travels, or the next book wouldn’t be written. I also tend to make soundtracks and create signature scents that trigger imagination. I also go for long walks if those things don’t help.

 

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?

One thing I constantly do is new writing courses, in person if possible. I find learning a continuous source of inspiration, and really revs me up to keep writing. Also, I’m constantly on the lookout for things I didn’t know. It’s the real history hidden beneath the story of the victors that excites me. Telling the tale from the perspective of those who lived with the consequences of the great political decisions: the ordinary people and the spies. I’m in contact with several historians, specialists in their chosen subject or person, all of who have been wonderfully eager to share tidbits with me. A really big thing is travelling to the places I write about. I can’t do it all via books and the internet. For real stories that brim with life, that take the reader to the places and times you write about, I have to walk it, smell it, feel it, taste it. I was lucky to live in Europe for four years, which made all the difference to THE TIDE WATCHERS; now I have friends and family living only a few hours’ travel from the places in my books.

 

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?

Very much so. The aforementioned whiteboards and cork-boards surround me in reminders. I’m a very visual person; if I didn’t have the reminders I’d forget vital pieces of the story. Even now while travelling they’re beside me, and I have blue-tack to put it on walls around me. I create soundtracks for each book, usually a mix of classical, modern opera and acoustic versions of popular songs. I also find a signature scent for each book, one that transports me to a place or a person. For The Tide Watchers, I don’t know how many L’Occitane Winter Forest candles I bought! Now it’s lavender water, made to the 18th century recipe, and ocean scent. I walk the dog, jog or go to the gym or pool before I get into writing. I find, as I get older, that it’s hard to write if my body’s uncomfortable. I also stretch quite a few times through the day.

 

Who are ten of your favourite writers?

I tend to go through phases of loving different kinds of writing, but authors I keep returning to for inspiration and beautiful writing, or just plain enjoyment of story are: J.R.R Tolkien; Sharon Penman; Elizabeth Chadwick; Markus Zusak; Carlos Ruiz Zafon; Paulo Cuelho; Jane Austen; Georgette Heyer; Agatha Christie, and L. M. Montgomery. I read widely of other, newer authors as well. I’m currently enjoying Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily mystery series, and Charles Todd’s Bess Crawford mysteries. 

 

What do you consider to be good writing? 

I tend toward the lyrical and historical. Ever since reading Lord of the Rings at fifteen, I’ve loved the beauty amid danger, shimmering poetry in the frightening. The opening of The Shadow of the Wind by Zafon is amazing, as is the narrator of The Book Thief by Zusak. I’m not at that level, but would love to be one day. 

 

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

To quote Rocky Horror, “don’t dream it, be it.”  My biggest advice, though, is respect the craft. Writing is an ongoing apprenticeship and should be treated with respect. Don’t indulge in “writer’s block” – fight your way through it. Taking writing courses refreshes creativity (I took your History, Mystery and Magic course after I sold The Tide Watchers to refill the well when I felt a bit blocked, and it really helped me get my revisions done!). Publisher-requested revisions are part of making your book the best it can possibly be for the shelves. Taking courses and doing revisions is part of an ongoing journey; I never want to be arrogant about my writing, and think I know enough. Just as you wouldn’t go to an unqualified doctor or lawyer because they’re cheap, don’t do cheap courses, or buy self-published books simply because they’re cheap (or free). You wouldn’t do so with university courses or an apprenticeship; don’t cheat your writing. One final thing: try not to let anyone, even your family, treat writing as your self-indulgent hobby. I made that mistake. Trust me, you’ll regret it when you sell and it becomes your job!

 

What are you working on now?

BLIND WINTER is the second book in the series following The Tide Watchers. The more I researched the time, the more it became a real-life, four-way ‘game of thrones’ between leaders and spymasters, between countries and power struggles inside governments. It was also a time of rapid change with inventions being used in warfare. For The Tide Watchers, it was the infancy of submarine-torpedo warfare. Blind Winter has quite a few new, surprising kinds of inventions that were used at the time. Robert Fulton, an American inventor I fell in love with during The Tide Watchers, returns in Blind Winter with new and exciting ideas, while the games of kings and spymasters complicate the lives of all my main characters.


BOOK REVIEW: Longbourn by Jo Baker

Monday, August 19, 2013




Title
: Longbourn
Author: Jo Baker
Publisher: Knopf
Age Group & Genre: Historical novel for adults
Reviewer: Kate Forsyth 


The Blurb:
 
If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.
 
In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice,the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended. 


Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic—into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars—and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own. 


What I Thought: 

What a brilliant premise this book has! Did you ever wonder – when reading Pride & Prejudice - about the lives of the servants toiling away quietly downstairs? 

No, me either. 

Jo Baker did wonder, however, and from that imagining has spun a beautiful, intense, heart-wrenching tale. Do not expect the wit and charm of Jane Austen; do not expect the well-beloved characters to be lauded. In fact, most of the cast of Pride & Prejudice come off badly – some are selfish and narcissistic, others merely oblivious. 

Do expect to have your understanding of the world of Jane Austen turned upside down and inside out, and made richer and truer as a result. Longbourne is driven by a strong sense of social justice, and we see just how hard life in Regency times could be for the poor and the weak. Much as I love Jane Austen, I always wondered why we heard nothing of the political turmoil of her times, nothing about the impassioned debate over slavery, nothing about the Napoleonic wars, nothing about the Luddites and the costs of the Industrial Revolution. 

Jo Baker has attempted to engage with many of these gaping holes in Jane Austen’s world, and has achieved a work of great beauty and serious intent. Longbourne caused an international bidding war and has already sold film rights, and I can certainly see why. 


Jo Baker's website 

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INTERVIEW: Deanna Raybourn, author of A Spear of Summer grass

Friday, August 09, 2013

I've long been a fan of Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Victorian murder mystery series (you can read my review of them here), and so I was all excited to find out she had written a new book that looked set to be completely different.

A Spear of Summer Grass is set in the 1920s and moves from Paris to Kenya, making it one of a new wave of novels set in Kenya after the First World War. (Two other such books I've recently read are Lauren Willig's The Ashford Affair and Frances Osbourne's The Bolter, both of which were fabulous too).

I adored A Spear of Summer Grass - its sexy, funny, romantic and poignant, and I love the African setting. I'm very happy to welcome Deanna to the blog today to talk about her inspirations and aspirations: 



Are you a daydreamer too? 
Yes, and not just about my work! I lead a very Walter Mitty existence. I love to make up stories about people I see and odd scraps of conversation I overhear. And I’m always imagining things are more intriguing than they actually are. For example, my neighbor has a really odd, high fence portioning off part of his backyard. It could be where he keeps the compost, but it’s more interesting to think it’s a body farm. 
 
Have you always wanted to be a writer? 
Always. I remember being thrilled when I learned how to print so I could finally get the stories out of my head and onto paper. I decided to double-major in English and history because I knew I would write historical fiction. I wrote my first novel when I was 23, but it took me fourteen years to get published. In that time I wrote probably six or seven novels that are still living in a box in my attic. Thanks to a superb bit of advice from my agent, I finally got lucky with SILENT IN THE GRAVE, the first book in the Lady Julia Grey series. 


 
Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do? 
I’m a sixth-generation native Texan on my mother’s side, but my father’s a first-generation American. His mother is English, so I come by my Anglophilia honestly. I live in Virginia now, and it’s been an interesting change for us. I really, really love what I do, so when I’m not writing, I’m usually thinking about writing or reading. I am always happy to travel or hit a museum, and I knit but badly—only flat things and it takes me ages. I keep thinking I ought to develop a proper hobby for questions like this, perhaps beekeeping or origami or breeding Bedlingtons, but I’m far too lazy. I’m a dabbler. There are loads of things like gardening or crafting or astronomy or languages that I pick up and put down depending on my mood. 
 
How did you get the first flash of inspiration for A Spear of Summer Grass? 
My publisher told me to write anything I wanted—and it was almost too much freedom! I spent a few days figuratively bumping into walls because it was a little dizzying to be told to write what I liked. Then I got practical. I sat down and made a list of some of my favorite nonfiction topics, things I read about for pure pleasure. When I jotted down about thirty, I circled a few items that didn’t immediately seem to go together: Africa, 1920s, roses, scandalous society beauties. And then I realized they DID go together. For roughly the period between the world wars, the English colony in British East Africa—later Kenya—was home to a group of extremely decadent people with larger than life personalities and tremendous stories. This was the Happy Valley set, and I had done a little reading about them, but researching A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS was my chance to immerse myself in their world. It was absolutely enthralling, and the more I read about them, the easier it was to write the novel because they did such incredibly dramatic things. (If you’re looking for roses in SPEAR, they didn’t make the cut. I decided to make Fairlight a pyrethrum farm instead. Rose farming is huge in Kenya, but the industry is tremendously controversial, and I didn’t have the space to do it justice within the scope of the book.)


 
How extensively do you plan your novels? 
I’m an organized pantser. If you think of a novel as a journey, I know where I’m starting and where I’m ending, and I know the major turning points, but I don’t know the tiny twists in the road. I love having those moments of spontaneity in a book, those little flashes of surprise where I suddenly weave something into the story I hadn’t planned. Often those will come about from research I do while I’m writing, and it’s always thrilling to feel it coming together. 
 
Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration? 
I do! Sometimes I will imagine an entire novel, and the odd thing is that I know I’m conjuring a book and not just having a dream. I wake up and jot down notes on the plot, but only one of those has been the source of a novel and that was my Gothic, THE DEAD TRAVEL FAST. Usually I will just take bits and pieces of dreams and find a way to tweak details of a book with them. 
 
Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book? 
When I was researching the book I did a fair bit of reading about Denys Finch Hatton, Karen Blixen’s lover who was played by Robert Redford in “Out of Africa”. I was amazed to discover he was a distant cousin of mine! His mother was a Codrington, as was my grandfather’s family, and it was so intriguing to me to find an actual connection to one of the people who made that time and place—1920s Kenya—so legendary. He was a man of many talents, including flying, and that’s why I gave Ryder White, my hero, a pilot’s license. It was a little tip of the hat to my own family connection to that setting. 
 
Where do you write, and when? 
I write in the morning in my tiny study. We think it must have been the sewing room when the house was first built in 1940. It’s got lovely morning light, but it’s very small—about eight by nine feet. I painted it pink with a pale turquoise ceiling and my husband put up open shelves for my books and hung a little chandelier I inherited from a great aunt. It’s very girlie and very restful. For each book I write, I create a collage and that hangs opposite my desk while I work. It’s right at my eye line, so whenever I look up I can see it and get a little inspiration. There’s also a window right at my desk, but I try not to look out too often. We have some beautiful big oak trees right outside, so there’s usually a bird or two hanging around as well.
 
What is your favourite part of writing? 
I love putting the pieces together. I read an article that correlated writing a novel with writing a symphony—which is absolutely true, except that a writer gets to decide how the instruments sound as well! I get such a thrill out of assembling the various pieces and deciding what will work and what won’t. The actual getting words on paper part can be painful, but the rest makes it all worthwhile. 
 
What do you do when you get blocked? 
I never miss deadlines, so I don’t stop, ever. I keep reading; I keep writing. Even if I know what I’m writing is wrong, it is helping me get where I need to be. I had that issue with CITY OF JASMINE simply because I couldn’t get the opening scene right. Conventional wisdom says you’re supposed to just write the rest of the book, but I kept after that scene because I had a gut feeling that once I cracked it, the rest would fall into place. I was right. Once I had that scene—after five or six major attempts—I knew exactly who these characters were and how to handle them. I never would have gotten that if I’d simply forged onto the end. And it wasn’t a dead loss because I kept the scenes and one of them is the perfect opener to my next novel! 
 
How do you keep your well of inspiration full? 
I read a lot; I watch documentaries and films set in the periods I like to write about. I also try not to take on too much outside of my actual writing. I work hard at only saying yes to things I am enthusiastic about for two reasons: first, it saves energy because I’m not spending myself on projects I don’t really care about. Second, it means I get more excited about everything because I’m always working on things that interest and fulfill me. I also try to push myself into projects that scare me in a good way. If I want to write a book but I’m not sure how I’m going to pull it off, that’s the book I need to write. I do my best work when I’m slightly terrified. 
 
Do you have any rituals that help you to write? 
I start a new novel on the first day of a month, and I always light a fresh candle and wear a necklace that has a Virgen de Guadalupe charm hanging from it. I try to have my collage finished and hanging up, and I make sure to clean out all traces of the previous book. Manuscripts and notes are banished to the attic; research books are reshelved, and the sheets of newsprint I tack up for revision notes are pulled down. I also create a playlist for my ipod and always have music that suits the book I’m writing. Sometimes I will bring in scents that conjure a mood as well—for instance, with SPEAR, my heroine spent a good deal of time in New Orleans and her grandfather always smelled of vetiver. So I bought a little bundle of dried vetiver in the French Quarter and kept it on the desk to sniff from time to time. My husband also bought me a reproduction of a lion’s tooth, and I kept that on my desk as well for a little extra inspiration. 
 
Who are ten of your favourite writers? 
Jane Austen, Elizabeth Peters, Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart, Stella Gibbons, Baroness Orczy, Charlotte Bronte, Anya Seton, Bettany Hughes, Lucy Worsley. I just realized I only named women, but it’s fine—ask me tomorrow and I’d probably give you a different ten. 

Mary Stewart is one of my favourite writers too! 


What do you consider to be good writing?  
Good writing is the stuff that will put me into the same state of flow I achieve when I write—I lose all sense of time and space and am completely immersed in a world someone else created. I love that feeling of everything else falling away and the characters coming so utterly to life I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually spoke to me. With good writing, I’m not mentally rewriting the scenes as I go. If the writing is lacking, I find I’m changing it as I read, and that takes me out of the story. I like to be taken for a magic carpet ride. 
 
What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too? 
Don’t listen to advice on how to be a writer—or at least, take it all with a hefty pinch of salt. There are as many methods and processes and ways of working as there are writers, and they are all valid. Whatever works for you is what works, regardless of what anyone else says. And absolutely ignore the old adage of “write what you know.” It’s rubbish. Write what you want to read. 
 
What are you working on now?
am finishing up a Lady Julia digital novella, writing the prequel novella to my next novel, CITY OF JASMINE (March 2014), and preparing to start my next novel on August 1. It’s demanding but so exciting—and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Deanna's website 


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT – I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK


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