The Blog & Website of Anne Stormont Author: Writing, Reading, Reflecting
I'm part subversive old bat and part kind-hearted soul. I'm a writer of novels for adults and for children. I'm also a, wife, mother and grandmother. I'm a Scot living in the north of Scotland; I blog in order to engage with both the readers of my books and the wider community. When I'm not writing, I enjoy reading, yoga, listening to music, going to the theatre, going for long walks, and playing with my grandchildren. I blog about books I've read, places I've visited, about my life as an author and about life in all its variety, richness and wonder. I'm mostly bewildered but have occasional flashes of insight...
Today it’s the turn of author Kathryn Freeman to give us a glimpse into her life as a writer. Kathryn writes contemporary romances – all of which I’ve read and enjoyed – none more so than her latest one Up Close and Personal which is an original take on the bodyguard/person being guarded scenario. And you can find out more about that at the end of Kathryn’s post.
So over to Kathryn …
A Writer’s Life in a Day – Kathryn Freeman
The sun streams through the window and I leap out of bed, shrug on my silk kaftan and skip downstairs to the kitchen where I pour myself a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. And top it up with champagne. After grabbing a notepad and pen, I slide open the huge glass doors and step onto the patio, breathing in the fresh smell of the sea. Slipping on my sunglasses, I head for my pool where I settle into one of the sun loungers. And begin to write.
That’s what I imagined an author’s life would be like when I first decided I wanted to write books for a living. It was my Jackie Collins phase and I must have been around fifteen.
Of course real life interfered, and I headed off in a totally different direction, into the world of science. I did end up writing, but it was about disease and medicines. Not sizzle, passion and romance.
Yet decades later, I’m finally doing what I always wanted to do. A study instead of the sun lounger by the pool, a computer in place of a note pad, and sadly a mug of tea instead of champagne. Apparently I’m more productive that way, which is a great shame.
A typical day for this writer starts with exercise. No, I never did get that pool, instead I run (err, jog) around the village. It helps wake me up, but also gives me chance to clear my head from the mundane (washing, put bins out tonight, order more printer ink) and refocus it back onto my book. I’m amazed how many ideas come when I’m out in the fresh air, concentrating on my breathing (and definitely not on how far I’ve still got to go). And though it’s great for creativity, when I get home I’m left with a mad dash upstairs to scrawl the ideas down before they flee my sieve of a brain.
Once I’ve showered I retreat to my pink walled study – pink because I love the colour, but also pink to stop my sons and hubby using it. And I start to write.
Someone once gave me a tip that it’s best to stop writing in the middle of a scene, because then it’s easier to pick it up the next day, and I’ve found that really useful. What with that, and the ideas from my run (err, jog), it’s usually easy to get stuck into the story again. If I’m having trouble, I read back over the last chapter, though I try not to do that too much as I end up getting bogged down in correcting words I’ve written, rather than putting new words down. I’d rather have a crappy first draft I can (hopefully) wrestle into a sparkling second draft, than a sparkling, but unfinished, first draft.
I write to an outline, so as I’m typing away I’ve a good idea where the story will go – it’s only the details I need to work out. Sometimes in developing these though, the story heads off in a slightly different direction than planned and the outline is tweaked, though the fundamental plot rarely alters.
When I’m stuck, or when I need a break, I dip into Twitter and Facebook to see what’s going on. Usually I do this at lunchtime but I have to be careful not to get carried away as social media time seems to go twice as fast as normal time.
And, err, that’s about the height of my writing day. I’m not sure you want to know about how I eat lunch at my desk (trying to avoid crumbs on the keyboard), and refuel with tea at regular intervals. Or about how many times I’m interrupted by my husband and sons, who are all with me now thanks to lockdown.
I will say that though the ‘writing’ stops around six, the story in my head doesn’t. At random times, especially when I lay my head on the pillow ready for sleep, ideas leap into my brain and I have to stop and scribble them down. It happens to such an extent that I keep a note book by my bed, and one in the car – traffic jams are good sources of book stimulation. Who knew?!
I will also say that the sheer joy of it all, of writing, of being so immersed in a story that it never leaves you, even after you’ve powered down the computer, is a revelation to me. And I have to pinch myself when I look at the books I’ve created.
Anne: Thank you, Kathryn, for giving us this entertaining and honest peek into your writing life.
Up Close and Personal – from the back cover:
British actor Zac Edwards is the latest heartthrob to hit the red carpets. Hot, talented and rich, he sends women wild…all except one.
Close protection officer Kat Parker hasn’t got time to play celebrity games. She has one job: to protect Zac from the stalker that seems to be dogging his every move.
Zac might get her hot under her very starched collar, but Kat’s a professional – and sleeping with Zac is no way part of her remit…
A former pharmacist, I’m now a medical writer who also writes romance. Some days a racing heart is a medical condition, others it’s the reaction to a hunky hero.
I’ve two sons and a husband who asks every Valentine’s Day whether he has to buy a card (yes, he does), so any romance is all in my head. Then again, his unstinting support of my career change proves love isn’t always about hearts and flowers – and heroes come in many disguises.
I’m excited to let you know that my novel Change of Life – the first book that I published – and the one that changed my life by setting me off on my writing career – is going on a bit of a blog tour in two days’ time – on Wednesday 5th August. The tour has been organised by the lovely Kelly who runs Love Books Tours And you can see a list of where it’s going to pop up on the chart below. I’ve also posted an extract from the beginning of the book at the end of this post.
Reading Through the Lookinglass
Vicky Book and Family
The Book Reader
Ruthies Next Chapter
Karen and her Books
Jazzy Book Reviews
Tangents and Tissues
B for Book Review
Portobello Book Blog
Chicks Rogues and Scandals
Love Books Group
Donna’s Book Blog
Fabulous Book Fiend
I’d love it if you have a moment on Wednesday to pop in at any of the blogs and if you could share the posts – even better.
Change of Life is a standalone story and as with all my novels it’s contemporary romantic fiction.
And here’s what it’s about:
Be careful what you wish for…
Wife to heart surgeon and control freak, Tom, and mother to four adolescent children, Rosie feels taken for granted as she juggles family life and her work as a teacher. She longs for a change of life. When she almost hits a teenage boy with her car, her life explodes into uncharted territory. The boy is Robbie – and Rosie discovers he is part of a terrible secret that Tom has kept for seventeen years. Then when Rosie is diagnosed with breast cancer, she leaves home and begins the fight for her life. Meanwhile Tom, is forced to learn what it means to be a husband and father as he struggles to keep his family together and strives to get his wife back.
Change of Life is available for only 99p as an ebook and is free if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member. You can buy it here. It’s also available as a paperback.
Thank you to Kelly at Love Books Tours and to all the wonderful book bloggers above.
Extract from Change of Life
I didn’t see the boy until the moment of impact. He slammed into the side of the car as I reversed out of the driveway. I got a fright, thought I’d hurt someone, but I couldn’t have guessed that this was merely a foreshock to a much greater upheaval. Ten past one, lunch time, Tuesday 17th May. It was the moment when the past caught up and collided with the present.
I got out to check he wasn’t hurt. He glanced at me and turned to run. He was about Adam’s age, seventeen or so. There was something familiar about him. But I didn’t think I knew him. Ours was a small community and with four children of my own, I thought I knew most of the local young people, at least by sight.
“Wait, are you all right?” I caught his arm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.”
He didn’t appear to be injured. He was taller than me, with untidy, dark hair and very deep brown eyes. In one ear he wore a little silver skull. I recognised his tee shirt. Adam had one just like it. It had the words ‘Subliminal Messages’ written across it – the name of a Slipknot album. As the boy pulled his arm back he seemed to hesitate.
“Do I know you?” I said. “Are you a friend of Adam’s?”
He looked me in the eyes for a moment. I stared back. Something passed between us; was it recognition? Then he bolted – obviously uninjured.
I didn’t have time to speculate about the boy. I’d only nipped home for lunch and a catch up with Ruby. I needed to get back.
I got the last space in the school car park. I was hurrying towards the main entrance when my mobile rang. I answered it as I went inside. It was the hospital. My stomach tightened.
“Hello, Mrs McAllister. This is Mr Campbell’s secretary. He’s asked me to set up an appointment for you to come and discuss your test results.” The voice was warm, friendly even. But I still had an awful feeling of dread.
“He could see you on Thursday at three.”
“Oh, yes, right, Thursday…” My mind whirred through Thursday’s schedule. I’d need to get off early. Kirsty, my head teacher and one of my closest friends, would have to cover my class. What would I tell her? I wondered if the doctor needed to see you if it was good news. He could tell you over the phone, surely. It must mean bad news…
“So is that all right then, Thursday at three, with Mr Campbell?”
“Sorry, yes. Is it bad news do you know? I mean, why else would he be bothering?”
“You mustn’t jump to conclusions, Mrs McAllister. He’d want to see you either way. Try not to worry and we’ll see you in a couple of days.”
As the call ended, the bell rang for the start of afternoon lessons. My life went on, even as its bedrock heaved and shifted beneath me.
It’s Sunday morning. Rosie only met him on Tuesday. Is it really only a few days ago? In less than a week my life has fallen apart – no that’s wrong – it fell apart in a moment – in the time it took a boy to speak a sentence. And now my wife is leaving and my heart is broken.
It’s the 22nd of May, but it feels more like November. I’m standing at the living-room window. It’s raining and the sea and sky are slate grey, the horizon obliterated. I feel leaden, unable to move or speak; it’s the paralysis of a nightmare. I want to beg her to stay, to admit she’s being silly and overreacting.
Rosie and our nineteen year old daughter, Sam, load bags and boxes into Rosie’s car. Toby is watching them, barking occasionally. I know I should go out to her and fight to make her change her mind but I’m exhausted, I’m drowning. I’m engulfed in the aftermath of more anger than I’ve ever felt towards her.
I hear the dull thud of the boot closing. It’s done. She’s ready to go. Our younger daughter, Jenny, sprints down the driveway, jacket held above her head, and says something to Rosie. Then Max dashes from the house and hands his mother a piece of paper. She looks at it and smiles and they hug each other. She puts the paper down on the driver’s seat and closes the door. They all come back in and head for the kitchen.
Jenny calls out, “Dad, Adam, coffee.”
A few moments later I hear Adam coming downstairs and going along to the kitchen. I know he’s not happy about his mother leaving, but at least he’s able to join the others for a coffee before she goes.
I make it to the sofa. I find that I want to cry. This terrifies me. I struggle not to lose my grip, not to howl and kick and scream. I’m Tom McAllister, consultant heart surgeon, professional, practical, in control. Or so I thought. I didn’t intend any of this to happen. I’m helpless, lost. I haven’t felt this vulnerable or alone since I was a child. I find I’m rocking, curled up, my head wrapped in my arms. I force myself to sit up, to keep breathing.
When I fail to appear in the kitchen, Jenny comes to get me.
“Come on Dad, come and have a coffee. I’ve made a carrot cake and it looks scrummy, even if I say so myself. Come and say cheerio to Mum.”
“I can’t. How can you be so cheerful?”
Jenny puts her hand on my arm, “Och, Dad, she just needs a bit of a break.” She hesitates and gives my arm a squeeze. “And she needs to get over how cross she is with you.”
“So she says, Jenny. So she says. But I can’t come and say goodbye as if she was simply going away for a few days holiday. I don’t understand how she can go.”
“If we all understand, why can’t you? Even Adam’s there to say goodbye. Come and wish her well, Dad, and tell her you’ll be here waiting for her. She needs you to say that.”
I stand up and hug Jenny. Seventeen and so grown up. The children are behaving better than me. I feel even more ashamed and desperate. “I can’t do it. I can’t give any of this my blessing.”
Jenny walks away. With her long blonde hair and slight frame, she looks and moves like her mother. At the door she turns and says, “It’s not your blessing she wants.”
It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Yet it feels like the right thing. This is about my survival and I know I can’t stay. It’s a wet Sunday morning in May. The weather gives the day a heavy, washed-out feeling and it mirrors my mood perfectly. I’m sitting at the kitchen table. My children are with me.
“So, I can come and see you in two weeks?” Max asks.
“Yes, like I said, I’ll have had a good rest by then and Grandma will bring you to Edinburgh for a visit.”
“I’ll miss you, Mum.” Max puts down his glass of milk and comes to hug me. I cling to him, glad that, at twelve years old, he doesn’t yet feel too old for such displays.
“I’ll miss you too. But two weeks will pass quickly and then, in the summer holidays, you can come and stay as much as you want.”
“That’s a great picture you did for Mum, Maxy.” Jenny rubs her wee brother’s back. “You could do more for her while she’s away – like a sort of picture diary of what you’re up to – use the sketch book Uncle Dan gave you for your birthday.”
“Mm yeah, I suppose.”
“You could start now – draw us all here at the table.”
Max considers then nods. “I’ll go and get my stuff.”
I smile my gratitude at Jenny.
Sam gets up from the table. “I need to go. My shift starts at twelve.”
I get up too. “Sam,” I say, holding my arms out towards her.
She shakes her head. “I still don’t get it, Mum. I’m trying to, but I don’t. I think if you just talked to Dad, you could sort it.”
I drop my arms. I can’t look at her. Then she’s over and holding me in a tight embrace. “Go if you have to, but come back soon,” she whispers. Then she’s gone.
I know I should go too. There’s no point prolonging this. I glance at Adam. He’s staring into his coffee mug. Max comes back with his sketch book and pencils.
“How can I do my picture if Sam’s gone?”
“I better get on my way.” I smile apologetically at him.
“You can still put Mum and Sam in the picture, Max,” says Jenny. “Even if they’re not here – you’re a good enough artist.”
Max nods and lays his things on the table.
I hug Jenny. “Thanks for the making the cake, it was a lovely thought.”
She smiles. “Come on, Adam, let’s see Mum off.” Jenny places a hand on her twin brother’s shoulder. He shrugs it off.
Max takes my hand. At first Adam doesn’t move. Then he gets up and stands, hands deep in the pockets of his jeans, shoulders hunched. He’s facing me, eyes downcast.
“Bye then, Adam. I meant what I said. I’m really sorry.” I will him to look at me. He shrugs and walks past me, head down. I hear him stomping up the stairs.
As I walk down the hall with Jenny and Max, I glance at the closed living room door. I wonder if Tom will say goodbye. I wonder if I should go in. I can’t face it. The shock and anger that I’ve felt for the last few days have hardly abated. Tom has betrayed me. His secret’s out.
As I get into the car I glance back at the house. The Victorian villa’s sandstone walls are darkened by the rain. It’s been my home for nearly twenty years. I love everything about it, its seaside situation in Gullane, one of East Lothian’s prettiest villages, its large, light rooms, its period quirks and the memories we’ve made there. I shall miss it almost as much as the people inside it. I see Tom at the living room window, watching. I think he’s about to wave or beckon me back. He turns away.
The appearance of Robbie in our lives has changed everything. And on top of that I now have a dreadful secret of my own.
I’ve not read quite as many books as I did during the first months of lockdown. This is partly to do with being busy once again with my writing and with attempting to keep the garden under control, but also because my social life has made tiny steps back into existence – however, I do have three good reads to share with you.
All of them are contemporary romances – all quite different from each other – and all of them are ideal relaxing summer reads.
And in no particular order they are:
A Day That Changed Everything by Beth Moran
Amy Piper is in need of a bit of luck. She’s lost her confidence, her mojo and her way.
But one thing she has never lost is her total love for her thirteen-year-old son Joey, and for his sake she knows it’s time for a change. But first she has to be brave enough to leave the house…
What she needs are friends and an adventure. And when she joins a running group of women who call themselves The Larks, she finds both. Not to mention their inspiring (and rather handsome) coach, Nathan.
The trick to changing your life, is to take it one day at a time. Now, with every ounce of strength she has left, Amy is determined to make just one day special – for herself and for Joey. And who knows, today might be the day that changes everything…(This book was previously published as How Not to be a Loser).
Escape to the Art Café by Sue McDonagh
Heartbreak and cake at the Art Café … It was meant to be the perfect romantic holiday. But then Flora Bexton’s boyfriend does the unthinkable, and she responds in the only logical way: she steals his motorbike and escapes for a holiday by herself on the Welsh coast. Far from the lonely trip she imagined, Flora soon finds comfort at the friendly local Art Café where the legendary hot chocolate and cake help to ease her troubled mind. And when Aussie-Welsh lifeguard Jake Foley steps in just when Flora needs help the most, she realises that her ‘holiday’ feels more like home with every passing day …
Coming Home to Merriment Bay by Emily Harvale
This novel was originally a four-part, serial. This is all four parts and forms Book 1 in the Merriment Bay series. If you have read the four-part serial, you have read this book.
Cat Devon left Merriment Bay eighteen years ago with her baby daughter, Kyra. Now a letter from Cat’s estranged mum has brought them back.
Cat has tried to forget her heartbreaking past and forgive her mum, Mary and her gran, Viola. But nothing seems to have changed and Mary still insists on keeping secrets.
Sitting beside Viola’s hospital bed, isn’t exactly fun, so when Cat and Kyra stumble on a faded photo of an RAF pilot and a pile of unopened letters in a trunk in Viola’s room, they decide to find out who he is and what he meant to Viola.
Amias Wells, who owns Bay Water Sports but also flies a vintage Spitfire for the Merriment Bay WWII Museum, is the perfect man to ask. Except Cat and Amias haven’t spoken since the accident that killed his friend and left Cat scarred, eighteen years ago. Sparks fly when they meet again.
But Amias traces Bailey Mitchell, who lives thousands of miles away and is almost ninety-eight. Exchanging Christmas cards leads to revelations Cat had not expected. Then a surprise visitor means Cat’s Christmas takes a delightful turn. Now she’s facing choices she never thought she’d have to make.
When distressing events end more than one person’s dream, Cat realises what – and who – she wants. As Merriment Bay prepares to toast in the New Year, can Cat finally put the past where it belongs and find the love she deserves?
So, what’s everyone else been reading in July? Any recommendations? Please do share below.
Today it’s the turn of author Anne Stenhouse to give us a glimpse into her life as a writer. Anne writes both contemporary and historical fiction and she’s a fellow Scot. She’s also a friend from my days in the Edinburgh Writers Club and at the Scottish Association of Writers conferences. So, over to Anne.
Anne Stenhouse’s Writing Life in a Day
A day in the life of this writer varies a lot. The strange times of Lockdown have meant that I’ve experienced that phenomenon known as ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Not that I wanted a pandemic or anything like it, but who hasn’t longed for unexpected free, or freed-up, time? Then when lockdown came there it was. There was also a sort of mourning and with that a brain freeze.
So, deciding that strange times merited a new or different approach, I began to write a daily diary called The Lockdown Diary. In it I began with the idea of recording the folk I encountered on my constitutional walks around the area, but it has morphed. Today might be No 117 and I’ve mentioned items from the news, other writers’ launches, my submissions, local businesses trying to stay above the water-line, idiocies of high-ups, the changing seasons, and more. It got me out of bed in the morning and ensured I read the newspaper.
Eventually, the writing mojo kicked back in and I’ve completed a short novel, a short story and a synopsis with first instalment of a magazine serial.
Let’s take the serial. This one is set in late Victorian Edinburgh and it’s about a highly specific and well known issue. So, the research was and is a big part of the undertaking. These serials have to be planned and that goes against all my writing instinct. The description ‘pantster’ was invented for me, I’m sure. It doesn’t wash with these publishers, however, and I have to have a plan. Then, if it’s accepted, writing it is amazingly straightforward. Why, I think, don’t I do this with everything?
Once the writing is underway, the general knowledge I have of the period requires bolstering and research has to be undertaken as I write. One has to be careful as research is just so interesting and before you know it, it’s coffee time and not a word has been written. I try to stick to the point I need to confirm or understand with a wee promise to myself that I’ll look back later.
When writing a serial, instalments are divided up among the principle characters. If I have a lot of time, I might write all three sections in one sitting, but more commonly, I’ll write the section relating to one character and come back to do the others.
Research is also needed for contemporary work. There are so many things we’ve known forever that turn out to be slightly off. While I am writing fiction, I don’t want to draw any reader out of my story because of a careless reference. For example, in my lifetime it has become the norm for men to wear a suit but not a tie on even quite formal occasions. When did it become acceptable to go to a restaurant without a tie? When did it become acceptable for women and older girls to go to church without a hat? These little touches can make or break your constructed reality.
Most days will begin with a read through of the previous session’s writing and I edit as I go. I rarely print stuff off but will if I’m stuck with progressing a plot and always print off a short story so I have a copy. At my stage in life, writing is an enjoyable and sometimes paying hobby. I’ve been a story-teller all my life and I don’t see me stopping anytime soon.
Thank you, Anne, for sharing your day – and all the best for your new book. And readers, do go and check out Anne’s regency romances on her Amazon page at the link below. They’re fab.
About Anne’s new book:
Her next publication is scheduled for 23rd July and is a contemporary Pocket Novel, entitled A Debt For Rosalie for women’s magazine, My Weekly, MW2009, available from Sainsbury’s, some newsagents and by phoning the DC Thomson shop on 0800 904 7260.
Here’s a bit more about it:
A DEBT FOR ROSALIE
Rosalie Garden arrives at Maldington House, an upmarket guest house, to work as a chef and earn enough to repay her father who has bailed her out after her Ex brought down her catering business. David Logie is the house’s owner and son of the guest house proprietrix, Agnes. Still mourning the early death of his wife, David wants to sell his inheritance. Together with Agnes, Rosalie works hard to frustrate David’s plans and bring him to realise he can love again.
Anne Stenhouse is a novelist and has written both historical and contemporary fiction; a magazine short story and serial writer and a performed one-act playwright. She has worked on a factory conveyer line, in a supermarket, for the civil service and in an addictions’ unit. Anne likes to dance Scottish Country Dancing and the absence of class has been a big frustration through the lockdown. She is married and lives in Edinburgh with her husband.
Anne is a life-member of Edinburgh Writers’ Club, a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of authors; and one of the four Capital Writers with whom she has published three collections of short stories set in Edinburgh. Anne has an Amazon author’s pageHERE where details of some of these publications can be found.
You can read the daily entries in Anne’s Lockdown Diary on her blog, Novels Now here
I read and enjoyed Buried Treasure by Gilli Allan just over a year ago and you can read the review I posted at the time below. Today the book is back on the blog as it has just been republished with a brand new cover – which I hope you’ll agree is a most attractive and intriguing one. And I do hope that if you haven’t read this novel already, you’ll feel inspired to do so after reading this post – and seeing that great new cover.
And to whet your appetite, here’s what it says on the back of that cover:
“I found Buried Treasure a compelling read. It was so many things: a love story, a hunt for clues to lost secrets, and a fascinating look at how our past experiences shape us, and how we can heal even after damage. The characters were wonderfully well drawn. ”
Jane thinks he sees her as shallow and ill-educated. Theo thinks she sees him as a snob, stuffy and out of touch. Within the ancient precincts of the university the first encounter between the conference planner and the academic is accidental and unpromising. Just as well there’s no reason for them ever to meet again. But behind the armour they’ve each constructed from old scars, they’ve more in common than divides them. Both have an archaeological puzzle they are driven to solve. As their stories intertwine, their quest to uncover the past unearths more than expected.
And here’s what I thought of it:
Buried Treasure is a slow-burning and thought-provoking romance with credible, flawed, and affecting main characters. I came to care very much about socially-awkward Theo and prickly perfectionist Jane. Their respective loneliness, sadness and difficult back stories made this seemingly mismatched couple very appealing. I liked that neither Theo nor Jane were conventionally physically attractive, that they were flawed, and that they lived in a very real sounding world in less than ideal circumstances. I also loved the unconventional way their relationship developed.
The supporting cast work well – including Jane and Theo’s truly ghastly former partners. And although the main setting is a university it is not portrayed as an ivory tower but rather as a modern-day institution that must pay its way.
This all makes for a realistic, contemporary romantic novel and a heart-warming and rewarding read.
Today it’s my pleasure to welcome fellow author Jane Davis back to the blog. I’ve read and enjoyed all Jane’s novels and you can read my reviews of two of her earlier novels An Unknown Womanhere and Smash all the Windows here. Jane also took part in my Virtual Book Festival this time last year and you can read her contribution here. Her books are all quite different from each other, but what they have in common is that they are all intelligent, totally engaging and thought-provoking – and they are shot through with insight into humanity.
And it looks as if her newest one is going to be no exception. So, without further ado it’s over to Jane.
Welcome Jane, it’s lovely to have you back again. Can we begin with you telling us what your new book is all about?
Jane: At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock is about three very different women – a working class seventeen-year-old who is expected to do whatever she needs to do to contribute to the family income, a British actress who has scandalised the world of filmdom by leaving her husband and daughter for Hollywood film director, and a duchess, whose husband’s lack of business acumen has brought her close to financial and social ruin.
The novel is set in the post-war era when class divides and dual standards were very much at play. Sex outside marriage, divorce, and children born outside wedlock were huge taboos but, behind closed doors, all these things were happening, and more. Property and titles were inherited by men. Work-wise, there were few options for women. Having stepped up to the challenge of the running industry and keeping the economy afloat once again during the Second World War, they were once again expected to hand their jobs back to the men and get back in their kitchens.
Each of my characters has dared step outside the restricted confines that society dictated for them. They think that they’ve already been punished for doing so, but they are about to take the next potentially ruinous steps. Each has a past or a secret which mirrors something that happened to Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Great Britain. On hearing about her conviction for murder, each has a personal reason of think, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’
How did you come up with the idea?
Jane: Perhaps it was the time in which Ruth Ellis lived, or the circles she moved in, but what happened was this: the subjects of three biographies I read on the trot each included an anecdote about her. I turned to my bookshelves for a yellowed paperback that has been in my possession for over thirty years. Ruth Ellis: A Case of Diminished Responsibility? I’d forgotten that the book begins with a foreword by co-authors Laurence Marks and Tony Van Den Bergh in which they reveal how, during their research, they both discovered that they had various links to players in Ruth Ellis’s story, if not Ellis herself. One of David Blakely’s other lovers. The partner of a psychiatrist who had treated Ruth Ellis. The brother of the manageress of the Steering Wheel club who had thrown Blakely and Ellis out for having a drunken fight on the premises just days before the shooting. The Catholic priest who, while serving as a prison chaplain sat on the Home Office committee tasked with deciding if Ellis was fit to hang. The list went on.
But even those who had never met Ellis had an opinion about her, and all were affected by her demise, because it brought about a change in the law in the United Kingdom.
How did you come up with the three main characters?
Jane: Much of the inspiration came from the same biographies that inspired the book.
From Ingrid Bergman’s biography, I borrowed the moment when Bergman discovered that the man she left her husband had left her. In fact, when this happened to Bergman, it seemed to come as a relief. Rossellini was quite an obsessive character, threatening to kill himself if she left him.
I needed a character from the upper classes to show how differently a duchess is treated from, say, the hostess of a drinking club. Patrice is able to walk into a police station with a lie and be believed, simply because no one would dare challenge her. From the Duchess of Argyll’s biography, I borrowed information about coming out parties, meeting the queen and how estates were run.
And my working class character, Caroline is not Ruth Ellis, although her story follows Ellis’s the most closely.
What it is about Ruth Ellis’s case that fascinates you so much?
Jane: Part of Ellis’s fascination is that she’s so complex. Ruth was a mass of contradictions. She wasn’t simply the jealous, neurotic woman portrayed in the film Dance With a Stranger. What’s rarely spoken about is her resilience and a resourcefulness. At a time when her father was frequently unemployed, the teenage Ruth often held down two jobs and contributed to the family’s income. It was she who pulled her father from the debris after he’d been felled by falling timber while on fire-fighting duty during the Blitz. And she picked herself up time and time again. After the discovery that the serviceman whose child she’d given birth to and who’d promised to marry her already had a wife and family in Canada. After a short-lived marriage to a violent alcoholic. Between these disastrous relationships, she showed herself to be ambitious, and displayed considerable aptitude. Ruth was the youngest manager to be appointed by West End club owner Maurice Conley. He gave her free rein to change not only the club’s name but to make any other changes she saw fit. Conley may have been a crook but he was also an astute businessman. What he saw in Ruth was potential, and she repaid him by turning the club’s finances around.
The majority of the British Public first read the name Ruth Ellis the day the newspaper strike of 1955 ended. With four million pounds to recoup, the industry needed a big come-back story and Ruth Ellis was newspaper gold. ‘Six revolver shots shattered the Easter Sunday calm of Hampstead and a beautiful platinum blonde stood with her back to the wall. In her hand was a revolver…’ Bam! The public was hooked by the story of the blonde hostess (a divorcee), who shot her racing-boy lover in cold blood. Cliff Davis, another racing driver, was a regular at the club she managed. He described her not only as clued-up and sharp, but “Someone who was never known to ‘blow her top.’” In other words, the last person you’d expect to take a gun and fire it at an unarmed man at close range. So what changed?
To me, part of the tragedy of the case is that, because Ruth admitted her guilt, the lawyers presiding over the trial weren’t interested in why she did it. And that unanswered question is something any writer would find fascinating.
Yes, fascinating indeed. And the book sounds equally fascinating. Thank you so much, Jane, for being a guest on the blog today and telling us about what inspired you to write At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock.
You can read more about the book and about Jane below:
From the back cover
London 1949. The lives of three very different women are about to collide.
Like most working-class daughters, Caroline Wilby is expected to help support her family. Alone in a strange city, she must grab any opportunity that comes her way. Even if that means putting herself in danger.
Star of the silver screen, Ursula Delancy, has just been abandoned by the man she left her husband for. Already hounded by the press, it won’t be long before she’s making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Patrice Hawtree was once the most photographed debutante of her generation. Now childless and trapped in a loveless marriage, her plans to secure the future of her ancient family home are about to be jeopardised by her husband’s gambling addiction.
Each believes she has already lost in life, not knowing how far she still has to fall.
Six years later, one cause will unite them: when a young woman commits a crime of passion and is condemned to hang, remaining silent isn’t an option.
“Why do I feel an affinity with Ruth Ellis? I know how certain facts can be presented in such a way that there is no way to defend yourself. Not without hurting those you love.”
Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of nine novels.
Jane spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when she achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she wanted after all. It was then that she turned to writing.
Her debut, Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award 2008. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and was shortlisted for two further awards. In 2019, her novel Smash all the Windows won the Selfies (best independently-published work of fiction) award at London Book Fair.
Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she isn’t writing, you may spot her disappearing up a mountain with a camera in hand. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.
Books of the Month: June – Top Three #reading #books #memoir #romanticfiction
Despite a slight easing of the Covid-19 lockdown here in Scotland, I’m continuing to read more than usual. Books can be comforting, informative, joyful and, yes, a much needed escape. And my top three reads in June have, between them, provided all these things.
First up is Becoming by Michelle Obama. I listened to this autobiography as an audio book and it is awesome. What a life she has had and what a wonderful person she is. And all of the issues she has had to face – not least as a black woman – are, sadly, as pertinent as they ever were. But her sheer grace shines through.
An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.
In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America – the first African-American to serve in that role – she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her – from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it – in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations – and whose story inspires us to do the same.
Summer at the Little Cottage on the Hill by Emma Davies is a contemporary romance and is the second book in the Little Cottage series. Having enjoyed the first book in this series I went straight on to this one and it was even better. I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Tom and Isobel – it had everything – a perfect sigh-making romantic read.
Take an endless stroll through wild meadows and breathe in the sweet aroma of flowers in full bloom. The first ever guest at the little cottage on the hill is looking for an escape, but her past is not far behind her… Thirty-two-year-old ‘ice queen’ Isobel slams the cottage door and pulls the curtains shut. She has just six weeks to practise for a secret project that could save her career and no one must know she is here. When Tom, the local thatcher with eyes as blue and deep as the ocean, hears the sound of her violin on the breeze he feels a tug at his heart-strings that reminds him of happier times. Who is this mysterious new lodger, and why does she look so familiar? Desperate to find out more, Tom is devastated when Isobel refuses to enjoy everything the farm has to offer. He won’t give in, but just when it looks like Isobel is coming out of her shell, someone recognises her and the troubles from her past threaten to take away everything she has been working towards.
Up Close and Personal by Kathryn Freeman is a contemporary romance with a strong thriller element to it. It’s a witty, original and clever take on the protector/protected set up as in the The Bodyguard. Only this time it’s a female bodyguard protecting a male film star – a most refreshing twist – and the story of their forbidden but mutual attraction.
Sizzling chemistry, a page-turning will they/won’t they romance and the hottest twist on one of your favourite movies…
British actor Zac Edwards is the latest heartthrob to hit the red carpets. Hot, talented and rich, he sends women wild…all except one.
Close protection officer Kat Parker hasn’t got time to play celebrity games. She has one job: to protect Zac from the stalker that seems to be dogging his every move.
Zac might get her hot under her very starched collar, but Kat’s a professional – and sleeping with Zac is no way part of her remit…
And that’s it for June. Any recommended reads you’d like to share from the past month? Then please do so in the comments below.
Yes, today it’s a post all about me – or rather it’s all about my working day as a writer. It’s the first in a new series of guest posts that I’m hoping to host here. The idea being that every month or so a different writer will share what their writing life looks like by sharing a typical day at the desk – and away from it.
And I thought why not launch the feature with my own summary of daily life as an author. So here goes …
A day in my writing life
Writing for me is a job. Yes, it’s a job I love, but it’s still a job. Therefore in order to get paid, I have to turn up. I’m fortunate nowadays to have retired from my other job as a primary school teacher, so writing is my only work.
Planned & Scheduled
However, that’s a bit of a double-edged sword discipline wise. Yes, I have lots of time in which to write but that fact only increases the chance of procrastination. So as my own boss, I have to be strict. I have to have a schedule and I have to stick to it. And this is where my previous life as a teacher comes in handy. Teaching requires lots of planning and scheduling – it’s something I’m comfortable with and actually quite good at. So I have the long-term plan, the weekly plan and the daily plan. And I mainly stick to them – my boss is strict – but she’s not entirely unreasonable 😊
My day typical begins reasonably early – around 7.30 or so and my first activity of the day is usually going for a walk. I don’t let bad weather stop me and I walk for an hour or so. I view the walk as the daily equivalent of walking to and from my workplace and I find that starting the day with exercise helps me focus once I am at work.
Once back from my walk, I head for the desk – and just the simple act of going into my den and sitting at my computer helps get me in the zone. I’ll write for an hour or so – maybe two – usually adding words to my novel-in-progress and aiming to achieve the word count target I’ll have set for the session. If I’m just beginning something new, this time can also be used for planning and maybe some research. Or if the book is at the editing stage, then this will be rewriting time.
After lunch I’ll write for another hour – again with a number of words to aim for – and once that’s achieved my brain has usually had quite enough of being creative.
So for the remainder of the afternoon I do the other necessary tasks that come with being an author. It might be writing a post for this blog, it might be writing something for my Facebook author page, it could be preparing for an author event – or it could be doing any of the other many managing and marketing jobs that go with the territory.
I take evenings and weekends off – but if I’m in the mood I will do some unscheduled work during those times. This is most likely to happen if I have a deadline looming or if I’m simply at the stage in a novel where the words are flowing and I can’t wait to crack on with it. But time out is important too and it’s often when I’m relaxing, walking, gardening – or doing nothing in particular – that ideas come to me or solutions to plotting problems present themselves.
A good life
And there you have it. It ain’t glamorous, it’s largely solitary and it’s often frustrating or just plain hard. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my days spent as a writer, I love my writing life and I don’t intend to retire any time soon.
Today it’s my great pleasure to welcome fellow author Lorraine Mace as a guest on the blog. Like me Lorraine writes mainly for adults but she has written for children as well. She’s best known for her series of crime novels – the latest of which is Rage and Retribution which you can find out more about below.
So, welcome, Lorraine, it’s lovely to have you here.
Can we start with why and how you became a writer?
I left the UK in 1979 to live in South Africa. At that time the only way to stay in contact with the family and friends I’d left behind was via letter – the old-fashioned hand written and snail-mail posted kind. I discovered that I had a knack for descriptive pieces, being able to put the recipients into my day to day life.
Twenty years later, when I moved to France, I decided I would turn to fiction and wrote some terrible short stories which were, quite rightly, rejected by every magazine I’d targeted. However, it was at this point that I realised how much I wanted to write, so knuckled down to learn the basics. Fortunately, this worked out well for me.
What genre do you write in and why does that hold a particular appeal for you?
My fiction falls into two genres and they couldn’t be more different. I write for children aged 8 to 12, but I am also the author of a hard-boiled crime series.
How many books have you written? Tell us a bit about your latest.
I have had two children’s novels published, but I now concentrate mainly on crime. I have four published by Headline featuring D.I. Paolo Sterling: Retriever of Souls, Children in Chains, Injections of Insanity and the latest, Rage and Retribution. Each of the books has a dual narrative. D.I. Sterling is the main character, but I have some chapters from the perspective of the villain. In Rage and Retribution I have used diary-type blog entries where the antagonist glories in dealing out punishment to those in need of correction. For a change, all the victims are male.
Tell us about a typical writing day?
I write for two hours in the morning and then have to move on to my day job, which is working with other authors on their manuscripts.
Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?
Not fully. I always know the crime, the perpetrator, the reason behind the crimes, and how the novel will end. I have a rough idea about the middle section but am always amazed at the characters who arrive unbidden, but turn out to be essential to the plot.
What comes first for you, characters or plot?
I suppose it’s a mixture of both. I tend to get the idea for the plot at the same time as the antagonist comes to my mind. I can’t ever remember getting one without the other.
Where do you get your ideas?
I think I just have a twisted and slightly evil mind!
Have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created? Tell us about them if you have – or is it too hard to pick just one?
It has to be Paolo Sterling. He’s a good man with lots of flaws simply trying to do his best in a very sick world. I have put him in some awful situations with regard to his family and romantic life. It seems the more I throw at him, the stronger he becomes.
Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers?
I have had some fabulous reviews about the series. I’ll put a few comments below. I hope it doesn’t come across as too boastful.
The Northern Witch’s Book Blog – great British crime drama: I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and I can’t wait to start the next book in the series!
Books and Emma – excellent police procedural: This book kept me hooked and at one point I was convinced up to 4 different people could be the killer!
Feed the Crime – could not put my kindle down while reading this! It isn’t very often that I just know I’m gonna fall in love with a series halfway through the first book!
K T Robson Reviews – kept me guessing right until the end: Every time I thought I had it figured out, another spanner was thrown in the works and all my amateur detective work was thrown out the window!
Wow! What great comments – and not boastful at all to share them – you should be loud and proud 🙂
Thank you so much for dropping in today, Lorraine, and for telling us about yourself and your books.
And here’s more about Lorraine’s latest book:
The latest in the series is Rage and Retribution. This is the fourth instalment in Lorraine Mace’s dark, gritty and shocking series featuring D.I. Paolo Sterling – perfect for fans of Karin Slaughter, Tess Gerritsen and Mo Hayder.
Can two wrongs ever make a right?
A man is found by the side of a canal, comatose and brutally attacked.
It quickly becomes clear that someone is abducting men and subjecting them to horrific acts of torture. After three days they’re released, fighting for their lives and refusing to speak.
A councillor is accused of fraud.
Montague Mason is an upstanding member of the community. That is until he’s publicly accused of stealing the youth centre’s funds – an accusation that threatens to rip through the very heart of the community and expose his best-kept secret. But how far would he go to protect himself?
Two cases. One deadly answer.
As the two cases collide, D.I. Paolo Sterling finds he has more questions than answers. And, when torture escalates to murder, he suddenly finds himself in a race against time to find the killer and put an end to the depravity – once and for all.
‘A dark, cleverly plotted tale . . . I was gripped from the opening scene and raced through the book to its final, shocking ending. Crime writing at its very best‘ Sheila Bugler
‘Gritty, topical, sometimes lacerating, but always enthralling. A truly compulsive read‘ Abbie Frost
When not working on her best-selling D.I. Sterling series, Lorraine Mace is engaged in many writing-related activities. She is a columnist for both Writing Magazine and Writers’ Forum and is head judge for Writers’ Forum monthly fiction competitions. A tutor for Writers Bureau, she also runs her own private critique and author mentoring service.
The gratuitous photo above is of one of the flower beds in my garden – with lovely new wooden garden chairs behind. The picture has little to do with the post really, except being a writer, I also like a gratuitous metaphor. So just as my garden needs weeding and new planting from time to time so too does my blog. And writing a new book requires tending to lots of seedling ideas.
Therefore as this post is about taking stock, tidying up and letting new ideas take root, I defend my use of both the picture and the metaphors 🙂
It’s almost a year since I set up and hosted the two-month-long Virtual Book Festival here on the blog. Little did I know, when I had the idea to go virtual, that in 2020 book festivals – like so many other events – would all be going online and that this would become the norm – due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a lot of work to organise but it was also great fun to do.
I’m not planning to do another festival this year, but I have been thinking about where next for the blog. Put it in Writing started out ten years ago as just a blog, but it has now evolved and is the front page of my author website. And while the website pages are all about my books and my author business, my blog has always included much more than that. It was always my intention to share not only aspects of my own writing life, but also to post about books and reading in a wider sense and to offer interview posts to fellow authors. And that remains my intention.
So, to free up a bit of time and space I intend to do fewer book reviews – but I’ll keep my Books of the Month feature – which is more recommendations rather than reviews.
And while I’ll continue to offer some interview posts to other writers, I’m also going to add in a new feature which I hope readers of the blog will enjoy. This new type of post will be one where I invite an author to share their typical writing day – thereby giving an insight into how they work and what they do. It will be by invitation only and will be called A Life in the Day of …
New Writing Plans
And with the publication in May of Fulfilment, the final novel in my three part Rachel & Jack: Skye series, it’s time to explore the possibilities for my next book. I’m not short of ideas – I have a notebook full of ideas – but all these seedlings need thinning out – and only a few will make it to the plot – see what I did there? 🙂 Okay, I’ll stop with the metaphors now.
But seriously, I’m sort of spoiled for choice. Perhaps I’ll go for a series again – but this time set the books in southern Scotland and have each book focus on a different romantically entwined couple within that locality/community. Or maybe I’ll do a standalone – or two – instead of, or as well as, a series? And will I do another children’s novel – a sequel to The Silver Locket perhaps with the same three children as lead characters – and have them embark on another time-travelling adventure? These are exciting dilemmas to have and although I already miss Rachel and Jack it really is time to leave them in peace to get on with their lives without my meddling. Mind you a Christmas short story set a year after Fulfilment is sort of beckoning …
Back to the Creative Department
So after a lot of time spent on the online launch of Fulfilment, it’s time to spend less time in the marketing department and to focus on making something fresh and new – both here on the blog and with the crafting of a new novel. And I do appreciate how fortunate I am that the work I do can continue – lockdown or not.
Continue to stay safe everyone.
As a postscript to this post – a question:
Like many people I’ve found I’m reading more during lockdown but that’s not the case for everyone – have you been reading more – or less – during this difficult time? If you have been reading, please do share your favourite lockdown read – and why you enjoyed it – in the comments below.