Virtual Book Festival: Final event, Farewell and Thank You #VirtBookFest #books #writing #reading @edbookfest @NayrouzQarmout @commapress

Thank you!  And one last mini-event …

Before closing the festival, I thought I’d like to add a mini-event of my own here by way of highlighting the positive motivation (as opposed to the frustrated ranting) behind doing the festival in the first place. And that was the importance of books and book festivals in giving voice to those who might not otherwise be heard.

I wrote in an earlier festival event post here about how the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF) had restored a bit of my faith in traditional mainstream book festivals when it announced its 2019 programme.  Yes, it had its fair share of celebs, TV stars and way too many politicians but it also had actual authors of actual books. BUT as well as all that it gave a platform to some authors and issues that would normally struggle to get an airing.

Refugee and Migrant Voices

And one such author was Palestinian writer, Nayrouz Qarmout, who I wrote about seeing at last year’s EIBF here and who was invited back this year. So, having enjoyed listening to her last year, I went back to see her again.

Now, if you know me or my books at all, you’ll know that the situation in Israel-Palestine is one that’s close to my heart. It’s a part of the world I’ve visited several times, it’s where one of my dearest friends lives and I deliberately chose to highlight the situation there as part of Rachel’s story in my three part Skye-Israel series of three novels (two published and part three due out at the end of 2019. You might well be wondering what can possibly connect these two locations – but you’ll have to read the books to find that out J

But one of my aims in choosing that setting was to let my readers know in a non-preachy, non-confrontational, story-telling way the problems that are faced by the Palestinian people as they try to get on with their lives as refugees in their own land. And main character, Rachel, sympathises with their plight, not least because she is the daughter of a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who arrived in Scotland as part of the Kindertransport.

This year’s EIBF event was called Home for Migrants and Refugees. It was hosted by Scottish crime writer Val McDermid and it featured Scottish novelist Ali Smith and Scottish folk musician Karine Polwart as well as Nayrouz Qarmout.

Karine Polwart opened proceedings by singing her song Maybe There’s a Road which she said had been inspired after a raid on a house near to where she lived which was being used by sex-traffickers. The lyrics of the song depict a victim of the trafficking longing for a way out of their situation.

Ali Smith spoke about a project she is patron of called Refugee Tales which amongst other things partners writers and refugees in order to record in writing the refugees stories. These stories have now been published in three volumes also called Refugee Tales. On hearing a sample of these stories, I know I wasn’t the only one with tears in my eyes. And having got the first of the books, I can recommend them as truly humbling reads.

You can find the Refugee Tales website here

And you can buy the book here

Nayrouz Qarmout, as she did last year, spoke movingly about her life in Gaza, the Palestinian territory in Israel which she described as the world’s largest prison. But she also spoke about her writing, about the telling of her story, of her Palestinian identity and about what home means to her. And she told us about her beautiful book, The Sea Cloak, which I can also highly recommend.

You can buy the book here. And you can read about the book’s awesome publisher Comma Press here.

The event finished with Karine Polwart singing Suitcase – a song inspired by an elderly gentleman she knew who had been a  Kindertransport refugee and who even into old age kept a suitcase packed in case he ever had to flee again.

This was a wonderful, moving and thought-provoking event and a fine example of a book festival that truly values the power of the written word.

And so that’s it …

The last event has taken place and we come to the end of the two month – 25 event-  virtual book festival here on Put It In Writing.

Creating the festival wasn’t something I’d planned on doing. It arose out of a bit of a rant I had here after despairing about the line-ups at various real world book festivals where books and authors were in short supply compared to politicians, celebs and soap stars – not all of whom had even written a book. Following my rant the wee voice in my head dared me to try to do better. So with no budget and a garden that’s too small for a marquee, I had the idea to run a virtual festival – no costs, no queues for the book tent, and no carbon footprint for visitors and contributors from far away.

In my (not so humble) opinion, it’s been a success and I’ve loved organising and hosting all the events.

The authors, book bloggers and other book professionals who agreed to appear at the festival have all been a joy to work with and I appreciate all the hard work and effort they put in perfecting their wonderful contributions and getting them to me on time.

And to all of you have visited, commented, and shared the events on social media – THANK YOU SO MUCH – the level of engagement from you all has been amazing and has made all the hard work worthwhile.

And I hope you agree that I met my aim of making it all about BOOKS.

The blog is now going on a bit of a break for a couple of months. I hope to see you back here in November.

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 25 – Just Imagine – an article by author Claire Baldry #VirtBookFest #books #writing

Hello everyone! This is the 25th and penultimate event in the Put It In Writing Virtual Book Festival. And it’s my pleasure to welcome second-chance romance author Claire Baldry to the festival today. Claire is going to share her thoughts on the use of imagination in her writing.

So over to Claire:

Just Imagine….

I have always believed that imagination is the finest of all human qualities. It allows us to empathise with people in situations we have never experienced. If we let it, imagination has the power to improve our world and build new inventions. It has the potential to stop us hurting others, because we can envisage their potential pain. As writers, imagination allows us to combine pieces of our experiences together and create a whole new world.

So when people ask me ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ the only reply I can offer is:

“You never know what’s in your head, until you start pulling it out.”

Again and again, I hear authors explain that, however hard they plan their novels, the characters seem to take over and lead the storyline in all sorts of unexpected directions. And that is the same for me. Imagination is a powerful and mysterious tool.

The deeper I get into writing a book, the more likely it is that I will find myself talking to my imagined characters. So when I’m asked “Are your characters based on real people?” I always reply “Not one person, but bits of loads of people I’ve known, and some I’ve seen on TV or read about, and some who just seem to emerge.”

How does the power of imagination translate into writing? I’ve tried to unpack this a bit and take a look at some of the characters and the setting in my latest novel ‘My Daughter’s Wedding’. The bride, Charlotte, is very self-centred, inconsiderate towards her mother and partly formed by the indulgence of her father. But she is also a hard worker, a good mother, and still only twenty-four. Is she based on my own daughter? Certainly not, but there are occasional echoes of my own daughter in the most self-centred phase of her teenage years. And when Charlotte loses control of herself in an emotional and hurtful outburst, she can’t stop. That bit of Charlotte is me, admittedly not often, but it does happen.

The mother of the bride’s new man is also a mixture. His perceptions as a teacher are definitely mine, but his humour comes from my husband whose wit is always sharpest in the company of women.

The looked after child, Carly, is partly based on pupils and families I encountered as a teacher, but I also drew on a variety of second-hand experiences told to me or watched on TV to enable me to enter the head of the abuser with whom Carly has a relationship.

I hope I have been successful in creating these characters. Blogger, Linda Hill was kind enough to observe……

Claire Baldry has created a cast of people who felt real, flawed and authentic.” (Linda’s Book Bag)

And yet I have chosen to take these fictional characters and place at least some of them in my own hometown of Bexhill in East Sussex. The setting is real. It was a pleasure to weave my imagined characters into such familiar places. I hoped that asking my readers to use their imagination was a good way to promote my coastal hometown, which relies on visitors as part of its economy.

Blogger Anne Williams described the benefit of the setting.

And I must mention another element of the story I loved, its vivid sense of place. Bexhill, Hastings and their surroundings are unknown territory for me, but I felt like I’d had a rather lovely holiday – the descriptions are just wonderful, the restaurants and the markets, the geography and the attractions, the detail drawn with care but never intruding, just enhancing the backdrop for the story.” (Being Anne)

I would like to write a sequel to ‘My Daughter’s Wedding’, to develop the lives and personalities of some of the characters into a whole new story. As yet, I have no inspiration, but if I keep delving into my head, hopefully my imagination will eventually pull something out.

With grateful thanks to Anne Stormont for allowing me to share my thoughts as part of her Virtual Book Festival.

Anne: And thank you to you too, Claire for this fascinating insight into how you use a mix of imagination and reality – to excellent effect – in your writing.

And now we have an extract from Claire’s above-mentioned book :

 

My Daughter’s Wedding

From the Back Cover:

When ‘bride to be’ and single parent, Charlotte, discovers that her 61-year-old widowed mother is in a new relationship, she struggles to come to terms with it. “Why do you need to have a man, at your age?” Charlotte asks, “Can’t you just be a grandma?”

The growing tension between mother and daughter combined with preparations for the wedding impact on both family and friends. In this compelling and unashamedly romantic tale of finding love in later life, the experience of a young care-leaver who is tasked with making the wedding bouquet, is skilfully intertwined with the family’s – sometimes turbulent– preparations for a modern wedding.

 

CHAPTER ONE

Monday Lunch

Angie was fastening her jacket when the phone rang. “Mum, it’s me. I need a favour.”

“Ask quickly then. I’ve got my jacket on. I was on my way out.”

“Why on earth are you wearing a jacket? It’s boiling out there.” Angie was irritated by her daughter’s increasing habit of treating her like a child.

“It’s breezy on Bexhill seafront. What do you want, Charlotte? I’m in a hurry.”

“Can you pick Joe up from school on Wednesday? His dad’s let me down again.”

“No, I’m sorry Charlotte, I can’t. It’s Uncle Jack’s funeral on Wednesday.”

Angie could hear daughter’s annoyance. “I still don’t see why you have to go. You didn’t like him.”

“I’m the only one left now on Grandpa’s side. I’m going to represent the family.”

“Uncle Jack won’t know you’re there.”

“I’m just doing what I believe is right. Sorry about Joe, but you’ll have to find someone else. Charlotte, I have to go.” Angie put down the phone. She grabbed her bag and stepped out of her flat and onto the wide landing. She deliberately walked past the lift and descended the four flights of stairs.

“I am not yet old,” she told herself, “I have a right to my own life.” The July sun was strong. Angie began to feel hot as she hurried along the promenade. She was pleased Charlotte wasn’t watching as she removed her jacket. By the time she reached the little Thai restaurant, her friend Alison was already seated at a table. Alison waved an empty glass at Angie.

“Wine? You look flustered.”

“I am flustered, and yes please. Well done for remembering to bring the bottle.” The restaurant wasn’t licensed, so the two friends took it in turns to bring wine to their weekly lunch.

“Let me guess, it’s Charlotte.”

Angie let out an exaggerated sigh. “She talks down to me as if I’m senile. And she forgets I have a right to a life of my own. I’m her mother, not her servant.”

 

Want to read more? You can buy a copy of the book here

 

About Claire:

Former headteacher and English Advisor, Claire Baldry, lives on the East Sussex coast with her husband Chris. She has published five booklets of amusing poetry, an autobiographical novella and two novels. Claire has a very regular schedule of engagements as a speaker and light-hearted performance poet. She regularly fundraises for charity, and Claire and her husband were awarded the SE Diabetes UK fundraising Inspire Award in 2017. Claire is passionate about promoting books and poetry with protagonists and issues which appeal to readers in mid-life and beyond. She is the creator of the ‘Books for Older Readers’ website and has won two awards for her poetry from the Silver Surfers website.

You can connect online with Claire at the links below:

Website

Facebook

 

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 24 – interview with author Kate Field @katehaswords #VirtBoookFest #books #romanticfiction

Hello everyone and welcome to event number 24 in the Virtual book festival programme. Today we have an interview with author of contemporary romantic fiction, Kate Field.

And hello and welcome to you too, Kate. Let’s begin with why and how you became a writer?

 

The earliest memory I have of writing is from primary school, when I wrote a story about an octopus and his underwater friends. The teacher pinned it on the wall, even though it stretched for pages and pages. I was a shy girl, neither sporty nor musical, and for the first time it felt like there was something I might be good at.

 

I wrote terrible poetry in my teens and eventually started my first novel in my early twenties. I wrote on and off for almost twenty years as a hobby, and then had a ‘now or never’ moment when I turned forty. I plucked up the courage to start sending my writing out and entering competitions. I was a runner up in a competition organised by Woman magazine and Accent Press, and Accent published my first three books.

 

I didn’t ever dare call myself a writer during those early years. It wasn’t until I was shortlisted for the New Talent Award at the Festival of Romance and met other writers for the first time that I realised I was one of them. I had found my tribe!

Anne: Well done for going for it. Your courage in taking the leap certainly paid off.

 

What genre do you write in and why does that hold a particular appeal for you?

I write romantic fiction. It’s been my favourite genre ever since I read Pride and Prejudice as my GCSE set text and was swept up in the story in a way I’d never been before. It’s the genre where I can relate to the characters and situations and see parts of my own life reflected on the pages, and that adds extra appeal to the books. I also have more emotional connection to romantic fiction novels than any other, because I love a happy ending and I find it comforting to be able to pick up a book knowing that’s exactly what I’ll get.

I never actively thought about what sort of books to write. It was always going to be romance.

Anne: Yes, I like ‘the deal’ between romantic fiction authors and readers – as a reader you know you won’t be left hanging and that you’ll get a story you can relate to along the way.

 

 How many books have you written? Tell us a bit about them.

Four books have been published so far, with the fifth due out in February 2020.

The Magic of Ramblings was the first to be published. It’s about a desperate woman who runs away from her life and takes a job as a companion to an old lady who lives at Ramblings, a country house in Lancashire. It’s a story of friendship, of community spirit, and of starting again when all seems lost.

I went back to Ramblings in another book, The Winter That Made Us, as I couldn’t resist revisiting some favourite characters! It’s a standalone story about an unlikely couple who connect through music and the restoration of the Ramblings walled garden.

The Truth About You, Me and Us is also set in Lancashire. It’s about a community of craft people and tells the story of Helen, who made a controversial decision a few years ago and who faces a challenge when her past catches up with her.

My most recent book is The Man I Fell in Love With, and there’s more about that one below.

Anne: And all of them are such good stories.

 

 Tell us about a typical writing day?

I don’t have a typical writing day. I have a day job, so writing has to fit around that and family life. This means that I pick up my writing whenever I have chance, and write for as long as I can, without having a set plan for how many words I need to write. Some days even one paragraph is a good outcome!

Anne: Yes, I can see why you need to be flexible as regards your writing word count expectations. But every paragraph counts.

 

 Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?

I don’t plot in detail. My sensible side tells me that I should and that it would save a lot of time, especially on those days when I reach the end of a scene and have no idea what is going to happen next. But when I try to plot ahead, it doesn’t seem to work for me. I need to write into the story and to get to know the characters and what they might do as I go along.

Having said that, I do fill out character questionnaires before I start, and spend some time thinking about the opening scene and a few other scenes or wisps of conversation that could happen along the way.

Anne: So a bit of planning but an open mind too.

 

 What comes first for you characters or plot?

You can probably guess from my answer to the last question that characters come first! I think that’s partly because I write romantic stories, and it’s essential that readers can relate to the characters and want to follow their journey over several hundred pages, even when they know that the book will finish with a happy ending. I also enjoy reading character-driven stories so it’s inevitable that I’m drawn to writing them too.

Anne: That makes perfect sense for the sort of stories you write. The characters are indeed memorable and it’s a pleasure to go with them through their story.

 

 Where do you get your ideas?

The simple answer to this is that they come at any time and from anywhere! The Magic of Ramblings was inspired by my love of Georgette Heyer books, and in particular those stories where an unassuming companion wins the heart of a dashing hero! The Winter That Made Us was inspired by an advert I saw on television featuring floating Chinese lanterns. I thought of a scene where I could use floating lanterns and the whole book was built around it. It’s still one of my favourite parts of the book. Other stories have been inspired by magazine articles, items in the news or – in the case of The Man I Fell in Love With – a piece of gossip at work!

Anne: That’s the magic of writing ( and Ramblings), isn’t it? Ideas come from all sorts of places and situations.

 

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’s very hard to pick one, as I have favourites for different reasons. The book that’s coming out in February, A Dozen Second Chances, features a character called Phyllis, who is the heroine’s grandmother, and I loved writing her scenes. She’s funny and wise and thinks she can get away with saying and doing anything she likes because of her grand old age!

It’s tough to choose between my male leads, as I love them all, but I have a soft spot for Noah Thornton from The Winter That Made Us. He starts off as a prickly bear of a man, who rarely smiles or speaks after facing a tragic event in his past, and I loved watching him thaw as the story develops.

Anne: Ah, Noah. I’m still in love with him …

 

 Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers and/or any awards your books have received?

 The Magic of Ramblings won the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon Award for new writers, which was a complete surprise and a huge honour!

Anne: Congratulations!

I’m grateful to anyone who takes a time to leave a review. Here are a few:

‘This was the first time that I’ve been so engrossed in a book, that I’ve forgotten where I was. It is totally consuming and the writing is enchanting and natural. Exceptional depth to the characters and a beautiful story. Loved loved loved it. Not my usual type of book but it was my favourite read of the year by a mile.’ Amazon review, The Magic of Ramblings

‘I thought this story was utterly delightful and a perfect example of truly romantic women’s fiction.’ Linda’s Book Bag, The Truth About You, Me and Us

‘The whole book is beautifully written, with real warmth, a strong sense of place and of the people who live there. I found it quite captivating, heart-warming and so uplifting – one of those rare and lovely reads that you put down at the end with a smile, and just want to say out loud “I really enjoyed that”.’ Being Anne, The Winter That Made Us

‘Kate Field has made me believe in love again, not the teenage meet-cute kind of love, but the real, enduring, self-sacrificing love. The love that really, as adults, we all hope is truly real.’  The Glass House Girls Online Magazine, The Man I Fell in Love With

Anne: Wow!

 

There is an extract from your novel The Man I Fell in Love With below.  Tell us a bit more about this particular book and why you chose it for the extract.

This is my most recently published book, and for a long time this was my secret writing project. I loved the characters so much, especially Mary Black, that I was too scared to submit it as I knew that rejection would hurt! Mary has proved a more controversial figure than I expected. She supports her husband when he reveals that he is gay, and her reaction has divided opinion, with some readers seeing her as weak and others acknowledging her strength. I think she’s wonderful!

This is the blurb from Amazon:

Sometimes we find happiness where we least expect it…

After twenty years of contented marriage, no one is more surprised than Mary Black when her husband announces he’s leaving her… for another man.

For the sake of the children, Mary has no choice but to pick herself up and start again. She hosts family meals that include Leo and his new partner. She copes with the kids wanting to spend less time with her and more time with their ‘fun’ dads. But one thing she can’t quite ignore is Leo’s gorgeous brother, who has just come back to town…

After living a life of sliding doors and missed opportunities, can Mary finally put herself first and take a chance that could change everything?

A wonderfully uplifting novel full of wisdom, spirit and charm. This is a love story with a difference, perfect for fans of Jill Mansell and Heidi Swain

In this extract, Mary has invited Leo and his new partner to the family home for Christmas, and Leo’s brother Ethan challenges her over her behaviour:

After dinner, Ava pulled out the box of Trivial Pursuit for the traditional game of everyone trying to beat Leo. I ducked out this year, letting Clark take my place, and went to tidy the kitchen, finding simple pleasure in restoring order in the one area I could. Noise and laughter floated down the hall.

‘What are you doing?’

Ethan followed me into the kitchen and pushed the door shut.

‘Tidying up.’

‘I don’t mean in here.’I knew exactly what he meant, knew what he was going to say, and it was one of the reasons why I had spent the whole of Christmas Eve out shopping, so that there was no danger of this conversation taking place. I grabbed a pile of cutlery, and fed it into the dishwasher with as much rattling as I could manage.

Ethan touched my arm.

‘Mary.’ I ignored him. He grabbed the cutlery from me, threw it in the basket and slammed the dishwasher door closed. ‘What’s the matter with you?’

‘With me?’ That riled me. How was any of this my fault? ‘Nothing.’

‘That’s my point. Leo’s about to leave you, and you look about as bothered as if you’d run out of milk.’

‘Of course I’m bothered! I don’t want him to go. Would you prefer it if I stayed in bed and cried into my pillow? Or if I shouted abuse at him and cut up all his suits? Do you think that would help Jonas and Ava?’

‘It might help you. It might show Leo that you do actually care, and that he has something to stay for.’

‘Me being me isn’t enough to make him stay, is that what you’re saying? That I’ve driven him away? Thanks for that vote of confidence.’

‘That’s not what I meant . . .’

‘And what makes you qualified to give me advice on relationships, with your two failed marriages and string of ex-girlfriends?’

Perhaps I had gone a bit far with that one – his second wife had been unfaithful, according to Audrey – but what right did he have to stand in my kitchen, berating my indifference? I knew some people would find my reaction odd, but I thought Ethan knew me better.

‘I know exactly what you’re doing. You block out things that are difficult, pretend they’re not happening. It’s what you’ve always done.’

‘That’s not true!’

‘What is it then? Some grand sacrifice for Leo? You love him, but you’re letting him go? Listen to me, Mary. It’s not heroic or noble to do that. It’s the wrong choice. If you want something enough you should carry on fighting for it, even if you get knocked down a thousand times, and no matter the collateral damage. Don’t condemn yourself to a life of loneliness and regret.’

He gazed at me then, and it was as if he’d ripped open that confident jacket, and shown me someone entirely different underneath. I didn’t know what to say, and was spared having to say anything when Leo walked in. He looked from Ethan to me, and back to Ethan.

‘What are you saying to her?’ I had never heard Leo’s tone so sharp.

‘The truth.’ Leo’s head jerked back as if Ethan had struck him on the chin. ‘I told Mary that she needs to fight to keep you.’

‘Do you have a problem with Leo being gay?’ I asked. There had always been tension between these two, but this level of animosity was new.

‘Not in the slightest. I only have a problem with him deciding he’s gay now, years after marrying you.’

‘I haven’t made the decision. I met Clark, and I can’t ignore what I feel for him.’ Leo stared at Ethan. ‘You can’t help who you fall in love with. You should understand that.’

And Ethan, whom I had never before seen lost for words, simply shook his head at Leo and walked out.

If you want to read more you can buy the book at the link below:

eBook and paperback available here:

 

Kate: Thanks for inviting me to take part in your Virtual Book Festival, Anne!

Anne : Thank you so much for taking part.

 

About Kate:

Kate writes contemporary women’s fiction, mainly set in her favourite county of Lancashire,

where she lives with her husband, daughter and mischievous cat.

She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

Kate’s debut novel, The Magic of Ramblings, won the RNA’s Joan Hessayon Award for new writers.

 

You can connect with Kate online at the links below:

Twitter @katehaswords

Facebook

Amazon page

Virtual Book Festival: Event 23 – an interview with author Kathryn Freeman @KathrynFreeman1 #VirtBookFest #books #romanticfiction

Hello everyone, event number 23 in the Virtual Book festival is an interview with author of Kathryn Freeman. Kathryn writes wonderful, heart-warming contemporary romantic fiction and she’s going to tell us a bit about her books and her writing life. So, welcome to the festival, Kathryn and thank you so much for taking part.

 

Can we start with why and how you became a writer?

From my early teens I’ve been an avid reader, always with a book on the go, but it was only ten years ago that I wondered if I could actually write one. Cue a New Year resolution, and to my amazement I didn’t just write the book, I loved writing it. Of course the book I thought was fabulous, wasn’t, and it was four years and three books later before I got my first publishing contract. That first book though? I never let it go, and after a total re-write, Reach for a Star will be out in September (see question 10!).

Anne: Yes, writing and getting published can require a long apprenticeship. But how lovely that your first book hasn’t gone away and we’ll get a chance to read it.

 

What genre do you write in and why does that hold a particular appeal for you?

I write contemporary romance because that’s what I love to read most. Books that touch my heart. Bring a smile to my face yet also a lump to my throat. I enjoy other genres, but a thriller or a crime novel holds little appeal to me unless there is a love story winding its way through.

Anne: Yes, I must admit I’m a bit like that too.

 

How many books have you written? Tell us a bit about your latest.

I’m shocked to find I’ve had 11 books published now. How did that happen? Crikey A Bodyguard is my most recent, published in April. It features Dr Kelly Bridge, a brilliant scientist on the verge of finding a vaccine to counteract the latest bioterrorism threat, and Ben Jacobs, the bodyguard assigned to protect her. Ben flunked spectacularly out of school, so he knows his new client Dr Kelly Bridge spells trouble for him. What he doesn’t anticipate is quite how much.

Anne: Eleven books – that’s impressive! And it’s no secret I’ve enjoyed every one of them.

 

Tell us about a typical writing day?

Typically I exercise in the morning to get the blood flowing into my brain (!) and then sit at my desk, in my office at the top of our house, and write. I’m also a medical writer, so some days I wear my romance hat, and others my scientific one. Or as I say in my biography, some days a racing heart is a medical condition, others it’s the reaction to a hunky hero J

Anne: Haha! I agree about the exercise factor. It definitely gets the imagination fired up.

 

Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?

I plot the key turning points of the book out into a synopsis which runs over around 3-4 pages. Alongside that, I write biographies for the key characters. With that in mind, I crack on with the writing, which usually loosely follows the outline.

Anne: That’s very organised but also not too rigid either.

 

What comes first for you, characters or plot?

Usually for me it’s the characters who come first. That’s where I take my pleasure from. I don’t really mind where the book is set, what the characters do, it’s who they are and how they interact that, to me, provide the fun – and the challenge – of writing.

Anne: That way you can let the characters sort of tell their story to you.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

Ideas can come from anywhere – so beware if you ever talk to me! I’ve written about a formula one driver (Before You) because my husband bought me a life size Jenson Button cut out and he sits next to my desk! The idea for Oh Crumbs came from watching the Marvel TV series, the Green Arrow…no, my hero doesn’t wear green leather or wield a bow and arrow. It was the chemistry between the Green Arrow and his computer nerd side-kick that caught my imagination – he’s so quiet, she’s so chatty. He’s the face behind the operation but she’s the brains. I took the idea and ran with, but based it in a biscuit factory!

Anne: Oh, I love that cross-fertilisation from Green Arrow! And how cool to have Jensen by your side.

 

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?

In my real world I fell in love with one man, but in my book world I’ve fallen in love with every one of the men I created. If I had to name a favourite, I think it would be my formula one driver, Aiden Foster, though I suspect that’s because of the Jenson Button connection! My favourite female is Abby from Oh Crumbs – she and her sisters made me giggle when I was writing them.

Anne: Both are fab characters.

 

Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers?

I’m so grateful when someone is kind enough to leave a review – even if it’s not always what I might have hoped for! I’ve had reviews that have been eloquent, funny, straight to the point or impressively detailed.

This, for Too Charming, my first published book, was an example of straight to the point, and thankfully in the minority:

Too Boring

This, for Crikey a Bodyguard, was one that put a big fat smile on my face:

Ooooh, this is so good!! I mean seriously this is way beyond just being good, this is in a league of its own for greatness. 

Anne: So, not just boring but too boring – you excelled yourself there! But I know you have many more great reviews like the one above that made you smile – all well deserved.

 

You have a new novel coming soon and we have an extract from it below. But first – what’s it called and please, tell us a bit about it.

My new book, Reach for a Star, comes out on 24th September though it can be pre-ordered now. It features Jessie, a divorced mum to two boys, who finds herself signed up to take part in a singing competition alongside her huge celebrity crush, professional singer Michael Tennant – he of the melting chocolate voice and film star good looks. Will he live up to her dreams? Well Michael isn’t quite the confident man he appears on stage. In fact the competition is so far out of his comfort zone he figures he might as well enter The X Factor, too, and totally blow his career.

Reach for a Star

From the back cover:

What if your dreams were so close you could reach out and touch them? 

How could anyone resist Michael Tennant, with his hypnotic blue eyes and voice like molten chocolate? Jessie Simmons certainly can’t. But Jessie’s a single mum who can’t sing to save her life – there’s no way she’ll ever cross paths with the star tenor.

At least that’s what she thinks until she’s unexpectedly invited to take part in a new reality TV show. The premise? Professional singers teach hopeless amateurs how to sing. The surprise? Jessie’s partner is none other than Michael Tennant!

As she becomes better acquainted with the man behind the voice, will Jessie find out the hard way that you should never meet your idols? Or will she get more than she bargained for?

 

Extract – from the first day they meet. Michael asks her to sing something to him…

She swallowed, twisting the cup around the saucer, glancing nervously at the camera crew. ‘Now? I mean you want me to sing to you right, umm, now?’

‘Sure. You’re going to have to sing sooner or later. This is a singing competition.’

‘I know.’

Her sharp reply told him he’d upset her again. Bloody hell, was he being obtuse or was she far too sensitive? ‘Okay then, give it a go. I promise not to run away screaming.’

Once again, his joke – if he could call the lame attempt that – failed to raise a smile. Instead she stood and carried her cup over to the table, clattering it down with hands he was shocked to see were trembling.

Then she swallowed, took in a breath and started to sing.

 ‘At first I was afraid, I was petrified.’

The more she sang, the more his eardrums complained bitterly at the onslaught. With every cell in his body wincing, Michael’s fears came crashing back to the surface. They were going to be a ruddy laughing stock.

Midway through the chorus, just as she was starting to screech out ‘I will survive’, he motioned for her to stop. ‘You might survive, though I’m not sure how long the audience will.’

She clearly didn’t appreciate his brand of humour at all, because now two splashes of red blotted her cheeks.

‘It’s my understanding the purpose of the competition is to see how much I improve, rather than how well I can sing right now. By rights you should be rubbing your hands with glee. There’s clearly lots for you to work on.’

Was she challenging him? Because he might know how to sing, but he had no bloody clue how to teach it. ‘You’re not wrong there,’ he murmured, feeling the beginnings of a cold sweat. The conversation was unravelling again. And this time in front of the sodding film crew.

‘We’re supposed to be on the same side, working together.’ She looked straight at him, her anger, her bitter disappointment, vividly clear in the glare of her hazel eyes. ‘For some crazy reason, I thought this would be exciting and fun. But if all you want to do is mock, I’m afraid you need to find yourself another partner.’

Michael looked on in horror as she reached for her bag and walked towards the door, head high, shoulders straight, her body rigid with anger. Ken following her all the way with his blasted camera.

Shit.

The conversation he’d had with Robert earlier came crashing back. Damn it, the man had been wrong. He wasn’t the right person to do this show. He didn’t do warm, natural or easy. He did gruff, blundering. Defensive. And that was on a good day. ‘Jessie.’ Thank Christ he’d finally got her name right. ‘Please, wait.’

If you want to read more the purchase links for Reach for a Star (ebook) are below:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

 

About Kathryn:

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.

With two teenage boys and a husband who asks every Valentine’s Day whether he has to buy a card (yes, he does), 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.

 

You can connect with Kathryn online at the links below:

Website

Facebook  https://www.facebook.com/kathrynfreeman

Twitter  @KathrynFreeman1

 

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 22 – an interview with author Heidi Swain @Heidi_Swain #books #romanticfiction #MondayBlogs

Hello everyone and thank you for dropping in at the Virtual Book Festival. We’re now into the final week of the festival and, to round it off in style, there will be an event every day – from today until Friday.

Today it’s event number 22 and I’m happy to welcome author of contemporary romantic fiction, Heidi Swain.

Heidi: Thank you so much Anne, for inviting me to take part in your virtual book festival. It’s a pleasure to be here today.

Anne: And it’s a pleasure to have you here. Thank you for agreeing to take part. So let’s start with you telling us why and how you became a writer?

I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember and even though I have had other jobs, nothing gave the same satisfaction as writing. However, it wasn’t until I was almost forty that I plucked up the courage to take my ambitions seriously and go public. The speedy passing of time was a massive motivator for me and I realised that even though I still had the crippling fear of failure, if I didn’t make a start before the big 40, then I would never see my books on the supermarket shelves.

Having written The Cherry Tree Café I joined the Romantic Novelists Association New Writers Scheme and then, once the book had been critiqued, submitted it to The Books and The City #OneDay #DigitalOriginals call for unsolicited manuscripts. They offered me a two book deal a few months later and four years on, I’ve written and had published eight books under contract to Simon and Schuster – so far.

Anne: Well done for taking the leap and wow, haven’t you been successful!

What genre do you write in and why does that hold a particular appeal for you?

I write commercial fiction, although I personally prefer to call it Feel Good Fiction with Heart. I write the sort of books I enjoy reading. I love offering escapism and strong leading characters who grasp the nettle and have the strength, courage and determination to change their lives. I also enjoy whisking my readers away to wonderful settings, whether that be town or country, tiny cottages, café’s or grand country piles. When I pick up a book, I want to be transported to a life that’s different to my own and that’s why writing commercial fiction appeals to me.

Anne: Oh, I like that ‘Feel Good Fiction with Heart’ – it perfectly describes your lovely books.

You told us you’ve had eight books published so far so tell us a bit about them and any new ones on the horizon.

Yes, eight books published and I have recently signed a new contact to write another three. Six of the books have been set in and around the fictitious Fenland town of Wynbridge, (two in the town, two in the country and two at Wynthorpe Hall). The other two are set in Norwich and based around a community garden in Nightingale Square. Each of the books features a different main character, but they all pop up in each other’s stories. It’s a very friendly and sociable affair!

Anne: Yes, I love the settings of your books and the way characters lives overlap.

Tell us about a typical writing day?

If I’m writing a first draft, I have a very strict routine. Publishing two books a year – one in the Summer and one at Christmas – means there isn’t an awful lot of wriggle room. I’ll be in front of the keyboard by 6.30 am and stay there either until I’ve hit the word count (around the 2,500 mark) or have come to a natural halt. As long as I maintain that level of output, I can produce a first draft I’m happy with in around twelve weeks and I never end a writing session without knowing how I’ll carry on the next time I sit down.

The rest of the day is generally taken up with admin, updating my blog and of course, keeping up to date with social media friends and attending events, signings and the occasional glamourous publishing party. It’s always busy!

Anne: It sounds it! I admire that level of output.

Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?

Yes, I always plan before embarking on a new writing project. I write a synopsis for each title for my publisher and agent and I have more detailed planning to work from myself. This is mostly put together while waiting for copy edits or proof pages to come back. So even though I publish a book every six months, each book has lived with me for a much longer time than that. Plots take months, even years, to develop before I am ready to write them.

That said, I’m not so bound by my planning that I’m not prepared to make changes as I go along. When the characters begin to come to life and start making a few demands of their own and insisting they know better than I do, then I know I’m on the right track.

Anne: It sounds like you have a good balance there and yes, characters can get quite pushy, can’t they?

What comes first for you characters or plot?

More often than not it’s the setting for me. I’ll visualise somewhere in Wynbridge or Nightingale Square and then see who walks in and what they want to tell me about themselves. Three of my books have main characters who previously had a supporting role in someone else’s book and wouldn’t stop nagging until they’d had a chance to enter the spotlight! I’m afraid I can’t explain why my process works that way, it just does.

Where do you get your ideas?

It varies. Sometimes I might have an idea for another book while I’m already writing one, sometimes an overheard conversation or a news headline can create the spark. The Nightingale Square books are set around a community garden because I wanted to subtly draw my readers attention to the benefits of gardening for mental health and working together with their neighbours to create something wonderful.

I often find myself scribbling down a few words as an idea pops into my head or, if I only have my phone with me, I’ll email the idea to myself so I don’t forget it. I also have a habit of writing things down in the middle of the night!

Have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created or is it too hard to pick just one?

It really is an impossible task, but if there is one who stands out from all the others it’s Jemma who owns The Cherry Tree Café in Wynbridge. She is the baking queen while Lizzie Dixon (who the Cherry Tree Café was about), runs the crafting and sewing classes.

Jemma has never had a book of her own and I don’t think she ever will, however, she pops up in practically everyone else’s books. She’s an ambitious business woman, firm friend and confidante. An all-round Superwoman really and having worked with her for so long, she’s also incredibly easy to write. Writing dialogue and scenes with her in them seem to flow from my fingers far more easily than for some of the other characters.

Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers?

I’ve had so many wonderful reviews – The Cherry Tree Café has over 600 on Amazon now – and the vast majority have been glowing. Every week I receive messages from readers telling me they wish they could visit the places I have created or that they’ve taken up a new skill after becoming immersed in the books – or both. It’s a huge privilege.

One of the most touching messages I received was from a lady who had been widowed a few years ago, just before Christmas. She said that she hadn’t decorated since her loss, but having read Sleigh Rides and Silver Bells, her former love of the season had been re-ignited and she had put up a tree and dressed it. It was a very moving moment.

You have a new novel coming soon – what’s it called and please, tell us a bit about it.

The next book I have coming out will be my ninth. It is my fourth Christmas title and will be hitting the shelves on what will be the busiest publishing day of the year – October 3rd. It is set in my beloved Wynbridge and is called The Christmas Wish List.

Here’s the blurb from the back cover:

After being let go from her job in a swanky hotel just weeks before Christmas, Hattie is feeling lost. Even more so when her high-flying boyfriend announces he’s landed his dream job in Abu Dhabi and asks her to move with him. Luckily, Hattie’s long-time friend Dolly is on hand to help and invites Hattie to spend one last holiday in the small, festive town of Wynbridge, determined to give her a Christmas to remember . . .

Upon Hattie’s arrival, holiday preparations are in full swing. But for Hattie, whose Christmas cheer has long since run out, it’ll take more than mince pies and mistletoe to open her heart to the season once more. Relishing the task of reigniting Hattie’s Christmas spirit, Dolly suggests they create a wish list of all the things the season can offer, and with the helpful hands of Wynbridge’s resident handyman, Beamish, Hattie finds her frosty exterior is starting to thaw.

As Wynbridge prepares for its most spectacular Christmas yet, will Hattie leave snowy England behind for life in a sunnier clime, or will she in fact realise that her heart’s desire lies much closer to home?

Heidi: It’s a full-on festive treat and I hope everyone enjoys it!

The Christmas Wish List can be bought online here

 

More about Heidi Swain:

Although passionate about writing from an early age, Heidi Swain gained a degree in Literature, flirted briefly with a newspaper career, married and had two children before she plucked up the courage to join a creative writing class and take her literary ambitions seriously.

A lover of vintage paraphernalia and the odd bottle of fizz, she now writes feel good fiction with heart for Simon and Schuster.

Her debut novel, The Chery Tree Café was published in July 2015 and since then she has had a further six books published, becoming a Sunday Times Bestseller in 2017. She is currently preparing to celebrate the release of her 2019 summer title, Poppy’s Recipe for Life while working on her next project.

Heidi is represented by Amanda Preston and lives in Norfolk with her wonderful family and a mischievous cat called Storm.

 

You can connect with Heidi online at the following links:

Website  

Twitter @Heidi_Swain:

Facebook:

Amazon page

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 17 – an interview with romance author Maggie Christensen @MaggieChriste33 #VirtBookFest #books #reading #romanticfiction

Hello everyone and welcome to event number 17 in the Virtual Book Festival.  This is the third and final joint event with the Books For Older Readers (BFOR) Blog Blitz. You can find out more about BFOR at the website here.

Today it’s a pleasure to have romantic fiction writer, Maggie Christensen here to tell us about herself and her books.

 

Welcome, Maggie. Let’s begin with why and how you became a writer?

I’ve always been an avid reader and loved writing compositions in school. As an only child I enjoyed playing with and talking to my imaginary friends and this led to my making up stories about them, some of which I wrote down – I often pretended I had a twin brother and thought up stories of twins. I found the time set for writing in school very limiting – I clearly remember starting one story about a fishing boat disaster and being very frustrated as time was up just as I felt I was getting into the heart of the tale. I also recall submitting a short story about being lost in the snow to Girl magazine.

But it wasn’t till I was close to retirement that I began to write fiction seriously. I enrolled in a correspondence course on creative writing, which I gave up on, then an online course which I did finish and learned a lot from, the chief thing being the importance of writing something each day. One of the tasks was to start each day by writing for five minutes about whatever I was thinking.

My first attempts were two Mills and Boon type books – the first paragraph in one won an award in a competition at the Sydney Writers Centre.

But I soon realised these were not what I enjoyed reading, so switched to writing the mature women’s romantic fiction I love to read. I joined several writing groups before finding one whose members I could relate to, and encouraged by their success, I published my first novel, Band of Gold, in 2014.

Anne: I love that you didn’t start your writing career until you were close to retirement. It shows it’s never too late to follow your dreams.

 

What genre do you write in and why does that hold a particular appeal for you?

I write what I call mature women’s romantic fiction – the sort of books I enjoy reading – books featuring women who have lived, have some experience of life and who my readers can become attached to. I feel that too often older women are either ignored or stereotyped in literature and I like to write them as real people you might have as friends. I also like to bring back characters from my earlier books so that my readers feel they are meeting old friends.

Anne: I love this too – the idea that life is as rich and varied for those over forty as it is for younger folks –and that you reflect that in your fiction. And yes the links to previous characters that you include do work well.

 

How many books have you written? Tell us a bit about them.

I have written 12 books – 11 already published and the 12th currently with my editor. All feature women in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s who have experienced some sort of challenge in their lives – end of a marriage, death of a child, redundancy, end of a relationship, domestic violence. Three – The Sand Dollar, The Dreamcatcher and Madeline House – are set in Florence on the Oregon Coast where my mother-in-law moved to in her 80’s – The Sand Dollar features a woman who leaves Queensland’s Sunshine Coast for Oregon; two are set on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast where I now live – A Brahminy Sunrise and Champagne for Breakfast – and tie in with my Oregon series; three – Band of Gold, Broken Threads and A Model Wife -are set in Sydney where I lived when I first came to Australia and three – The Good Sister, Isobel’s Promise and A Single Woman – are set in my native Scotland, and tie in loosely with my Sydney books – the first of these, The Good Sister, being my only historical novel so far.

Anne: Wow! 12 books is quite an achievement – and they’re all first class reads.

 

Tell us about a typical writing day?

I like to start in the morning and get the bulk of my writing done, then go back to it late afternoon. While I’m writing, I take breaks when I read or do housework – and let ideas come to me. Sadly, I don’t always keep to my schedule as I also enjoy having coffee with my husband or friends. I also belong to a book club, and I deliver library books to a housebound lady, both of which take me away from my writing.

Anne: Oh, I think you’re allowed some time away from the writing desk. And how lovely that you deliver those library books.

 

Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing?

I’m very much what’s called a pantser. I start with my main character, a situation, and a location and go from there with only a rough idea of where it will lead. I enjoy writing this way. When I’ve tried to plan, it hasn’t worked for me.

Anne: Flying by the seat of your pants. The exciting way to work!

 

What comes first for you characters or plot?

I start with a character and a situation, then usually a man appears in her life and family; the characters develop and take on a life of their own. I’m never sure what‘s going to happen when I sit down to write – my characters often surprise me.

Anne: It’s funny how characters can do that – as if they’re real, breathing people who the writer isn’t in charge of.

 

Where do you get your ideas?

I take things I hear and read, then link some of them together and think ‘what if?’.

Some examples:-

Band of Gold begins with Anna’s husband placing his wedding ring on the kitchen table on Christmas morning and saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I heard of someone this happened to and started to wonder what would happen to her afterwards.

In Champagne for Breakfast, Rosa is sitting by the river drinking champagne on her birthday – by herself. One Sunday morning my husband and I were walking along the Noosa River when we saw a woman sitting alone with an empty bottle. I started to wonder what her story was and remembered Rosa, a secondary character in The Sand Dollar, who had recently finished a disastrous relationship. That woman became Rosa drinking champagne alone by the river on her fiftieth birthday.

The Good Sister is based on my aunt’s story. As a child growing up in Scotland, I had an aunt who was fond of telling us the story of her doomed love affair. I knew I had to write it one day. Her story became old Isobel’s story in this book.

Madeline House was written as the result of a trip to Florence after my mother-in-law died. During that trip, the woman who bought my mother-in-law’s house had arrived in town with only her car and her dog. At the same time, I became aware of the business of estate sales in the area. Also, I had once worked with a woman whose husband was very controlling and who had many of the same experiences of Beth in this book. These ideas all came together to produce this third book in my Oregon Coast series.

When I get stuck with a book, I often find inspiration when I’m driving or ironing – or falling asleep!

Anne: Yes, those ideas don’t always come when a writer’s at their desk. I like your magpie way of collecting small, sparkly ideas and developing them.

 

Have you got a favourite character out of all the ones you’ve created? Tell us about them if you have or is it too hard to pick just one?

I love all my characters – my heroines all have a little bit of me in them and my heroes a little bit of my lovely husband and soul mate. I feel most akin to Jenny in my Oregon books as, like me, she travels to Oregon when facing a redundancy and meets a lovely retired university lecturer like my own dear husband. But I think perhaps I like Bel best. Like me, she emigrates from Scotland to Australia to teach in her twenties, but unlike me she returns and meets the lovely Matt choosing to set up home there with him on the banks of Loch Lomond – a spot where, if I’d remained in Scotland, I’d dearly like to have lived.

Anne: I’ve a soft spot for Bel too.

 

Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers?

I’m thrilled to have found readers who want to read my books and who enjoy reading about more mature women. Many of them mention this in their emails and reviews. They also mention that I write about real people and that my books have a good sense of place.

One of my favourite comments comes from one of Mrs B’s Book Reviews in which book blogger, Amanda, calls me ‘the queen of mature age fiction’. I also love her comment that, ‘Maggie Christensen’s writing is like a nice warm cup of tea. It is warm, nourishing, comforting and embracing.’

Another favourite review is by Anne Williams of Being Anne book blog

‘The author’s story-telling is just wonderful: she introduces you to her characters, sets the scene, and the story then unfolds around you – and her characters are always real people who you can’t fail to take to your heart as you watch them making their choices and mistakes.’

Anne: I completely agree with those reviews.

 

And now I’d like to thank you very much indeed, Maggie, for agreeing to take part in the festival today and for providing us with such a fascinating interview and insight into your writing.

But before you go, we have an extract from your novel A Single Woman below.  Tell us a bit more about this particular book and why you chose it for the extract.

A Single Woman is the third book in my Scottish Collection. While it can be read as a stand-alone novel, readers of the first two will welcome to opportunity to reconnect with old friends from the earlier books.

In the words from your review in Put it in Writing, it’s ‘a second-chance, midlife romance where the last thing either protagonist is looking for is to fall in love. It’s set mainly in the Scottish city of Glasgow, and it’s the thoughtful and touching story of the developing relationship between two rather damaged people.’

From the back cover:

Isla Cameron, headmistress at an elite girl’s school in Glasgow, is determinedly single, adroitly avoiding all attempts at matchmaking by a close friend.

Widower Alasdair MacLeod is grieving for the wife he lost two years earlier, struggling as the single father of two teenagers, and frustrated by the well-meaning interference of his in-laws.

When a proposed school trip to France brings Isla and Alasdair together, they find a connection in the discovery that each is suffering the loss of a loved one, but neither is interested in forming a relationship.

As their friendship grows, Alasdair struggles with his increasing attraction to the elegant schoolmistress, while Isla harbours concerns about the complications a relationship with him would bring.

Can Alasdair overcome his natural reserve, and can Isla open her heart to love again?

 

The extract from chapter 8 takes place when Isla is attending a Christmas Eve party held by an old school friend. I chose this extract as it the first time the two protagonists meet. Christmas is a sad time for both of them.

Extract:

A Single Woman

Having imagined herself alone, Isla turned quickly to see a tall, wide-shouldered, fair-haired man standing almost hidden by the branches filled with Christmas ornaments and tinsel.

‘You escaped, too?’ he asked, with a conspiratorial grimace.

Isla nodded, hoping he didn’t see her tears.

‘Look,’ he stammered, ‘I need a breather. Why don’t you join me – get away from all that…’ He gestured in the direction of the room they’d both left where the sound of carols was beginning to drown out the chatter.

Isla hesitated. What she really wanted was to go home, but she needed to sober up a bit before she could consider driving on the icy roads. Fresh air would clear her head.

Seeing her waver, the man spoke again. ‘Get your coat and we can sneak away.’

About to do as he said, Isla looked down at her heels. They were not made for walking on icy roads.

‘You’ll be fine. The pathway around the garden has been cleared.

‘Okay.’

By the time she’d put on her coat, her companion was opening the door, and the pair slipped out, closing it silently behind them.

After the centrally-heated house, the frosty air hit them like sharp needles, their breath forming clouds in the cold air.

‘By the way, I’m Alasdair,’ Isla’s companion said.

‘Isla.’ She shook his outstretched hand before returning hers to her pocket, while wondering what on earth she was doing out here with a strange man on Christmas Eve.

‘How do you know Kirsty?’ he asked, as they walked.

‘We’re old school friends, though until a school reunion a few weeks ago, we hadn’t seen each other since. You?’ Isla didn’t really want to know, but felt obliged to ask.

‘Sister-in-law, for my sins.’

Isla almost stumbled in surprise. If Alasdair was Kirsty’s brother-in-law, then it followed he was also Fiona MacLeod’s father and, if she remembered correctly, it was around this time of year his wife had died.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

‘Yes, thanks.’ Should she tell him? Tell him what? That she was his daughter’s headmistress? What would be the point of that? They were two strangers, grabbing some fresh air, escaping from a party it seemed neither of them wanted to be part of. That was all.

At the corner they turned, and without any further conversation, they walked back and stepped into the Reid home just as silently as they’d left.

In their absence, the gathering seemed to have become even more raucous, the loud beat of music and chorusing of old hit songs emanating from the living room. It was like being at one of the parties Isla remembered from her schooldays. She’d never been a social animal. She grimaced.

‘Not your scene either?’

‘No. I think I’ll make my thanks to Kirsty and leave.’

Still in her coat, Isla peeked into the room catching sight of Kirsty in the centre of a jolly group of choristers. She hesitated, unsure how to interrupt.

‘You’ll never manage it. Call her in the morning,’ Alasdair advised. ‘I’m going, too. Tomorrow…’

‘Is Christmas Day. Yes.’

Isla supposed he’d be involved in some sort of family celebration. She shivered. She would be alone. For her, it would be just another day, nothing special, no celebration. Another day when she’d try to keep the memories at bay.

 

Want to read more:

A Single Woman is available on all digital platforms just go to this link:  books2read.com/ASingleWoman

 

About Maggie:

After a career in education, Maggie Christensen began writing contemporary women’s fiction portraying mature women facing life-changing situations. Her travels inspire her writing, be it her frequent visits to family in Oregon, USA, her native Scotland or her home on Queensland’s beautiful Sunshine Coast. Maggie writes of mature heroines coming to terms with changes in their lives women who have learned to live and love in later life and the heroes worthy of them. Heartwarming stories of second chances. She has recently been called ‘the queen of mature age fiction’

From her native Scotland, Maggie was lured by the call ‘Come and teach in the sun’ to Australia, where she worked as a primary school teacher, university lecturer and in educational management. Now living with her husband of over thirty years on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, she loves walking on the deserted beach in the early mornings and having coffee by the river on weekends. Her days are spent surrounded by books, either reading or writing them – her idea of heaven!

She continues her love of books as a volunteer with Noosa library where selects and delivers books to the housebound.

You can connect with Maggie online at the links below:

http://maggiechristensenauthor.com/

https://www.facebook.com/maggiechristensenauthor

https://twitter.com/MaggieChriste33

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8120020.Maggie_Christensen

https://www.instagram.com/maggiechriste33/?hl=en

https://www.bookbub.com/profile/maggie-christensen?list=about

 

 

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 14 – Book Taster with @writeanne #virtbookfest #amwriting #books #romanticfiction

Book Tasting Event

Hello and welcome to event 14 in the Virtual Book Festival line up. As with event 13 this is a joint one with the Books For Older Readers Blog Blitz. You can visit the Books for Older Readers website here.

Today I’m sharing the first chapter of one of my second-chance romance novels. As I said in event 13, I write books aimed at adult readers of any age who enjoy mature, romantic, and thought-provoking fiction.

Displacement is the first of a series of three novels all set on the Scottish island of Skye. The second book is called Settlement and is also available, and the third book, Fulfilment is due to be published later this year.

Here’s what it says on the back cover:

It’s never too late to fall in love, but the past can get in the way of a happy future.

From the Scottish Hebrides to the Middle-East, Displacement is an intense, contemporary love story where romance and realism, and the personal and the political, meet head on.

Divorce, the death of her soldier son and estrangement from her daughter, leave Hebridean crofter, Rachel Campbell, grief stricken, lonely and lost.

Forced retirement due to a heart condition leaves former Edinburgh policeman Jack Baxter needing to take stock and find a new direction for his life.

 After the two of them meet in dramatic circumstances on a wild winter’s night on the island of Skye, a tentative friendship develops between them, despite their very different personalities. Gradually, however, their feelings for each other go beyond friendship.

 But Rachel is about to go to Israel-Palestine where she plans to explore her Jewish heritage and to learn more about this contested land. And Jack is already in what is, for him, the ideal relationship – one where no commitment or fidelity is required.

 Will they be able to overcome the obstacles that lie in the way of their deepening love?

Can Rachel find a way forward and let herself love again?           

Can Jack trust himself not to hurt her?                      

 

 

 

Displacement

©Anne Stormont

 

Chapter One

 

Rachel

 

Snowmelt and recent heavy rainfall meant the normally tame burn was now a forceful and rapid river. The water was up to my waist. I was stuck, held fast by the mud, trapped in darkness. The flow pushed hard against me. I no longer had the strength to free myself.

It was January on the island of Skye and the wind-chill meant the temperature was probably below zero. I no longer shivered. I didn’t feel cold. I didn’t feel anything. The ewe had stopped struggling a while ago but I kept my arms around her neck.

I’d gone out at around seven that evening to check the sheep. Bonnie, my sheepdog, was with me. It had already been dark for hours. I’d normally have been out much earlier than this, but the last of the mourners hadn’t left until around six so I’d been delayed. There’d been a wake in the hotel immediately after the burial, but a few friends and neighbours had accepted the invitation to come back to the house afterwards.

When everyone had gone, Morag helped me clear up. She offered the services of her husband Alasdair to check the animals. But I declined the offer.

Morag shook her head as she wiped down the kitchen worktop. “It’s a pity your brother isn’t staying here tonight. You shouldn’t be on your own.”

“Jonathan offered to stay. But he’s been here every night since Mum died and this was the only chance for him and Alec to have a few beers and a catch-up before he goes back. Besides I just want a hot bath and an early night. I was happy for him to go.”

There was more head shaking from Morag. “And I suppose you’ll say no to having dinner with us as well.”

“Thanks, really.” I tried a placating smile. “But I’m not hungry, not after all that tea and sandwiches. No, you’ve been a good friend, as always, but …”

“But now you want your precious privacy back, I know.” Morag spoke kindly, but I could tell she found my need to be on my own difficult to understand. “In that case,” she continued, “I think I’ll take Alasdair up on his offer to take me to see the new Bond film. It’s on in Portree. And don’t be too long outside. You look shattered. After all it’s not just been today, you’ve been looking after your mother for a long time.”

“Yeah, I don’t know what I’ll do with myself now.”

“You could try starting to live for yourself a bit more.” Morag patted my arm. I flinched at her touch. I couldn’t help it.

She appeared not to notice my discomfort. “You’ve spent your life looking after other people and, with everything that’s happened in the last few years, you deserve a bit of happiness.” She stretched her arms out towards me. “Oh, come here. You need a damn good hug.”

I let her embrace me.

As she let me go she looked at me sadly. “The old Rachel hugged people back.”

“The old Rachel!” The force and agony of my raised voice surprised us both.

I closed my eyes, put my head in my hands, pulled at my hair and took a moment to get a grip on my temper. When I could speak again, my voice was strained but quieter. “You’ve no idea what it’s like. Nobody does. Any chance of happiness died two years ago, along with the old Rachel. She’s dead and gone to Hell.”

Morag looked distraught. I knew she hadn’t meant to hurt me. I was angry because I knew she was right.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I just meant it’s time you did stuff for you, got on with your life.”

“Right, that’s it,” I said. “I’m not listening to this. I’m going to check the sheep. Thanks for your help today. You can see yourself out.” I hurried out through the doorway that led from the kitchen into the side porch. I shoved my feet into my wellingtons and whistled for Bonnie. My faithful old collie looked at me reproachfully, whether it was for rousing her, or for shouting at my best friend, I don’t know. She hauled herself out of her basket by the stove and came to me.

The dark was deep, and sleety rain swirled around us. A screaming northerly blew hard and the rain felt needle-sharp on my face. I didn’t hear the sheep’s distressed bleating until I approached the bottom of the croft. I swung the torch in the direction of the sound and had to grab the fence to steady myself. The bleating was coming from the burn.

It was one of the Jacob’s shearlings, a pregnant ewe. She was submerged to her shoulders in the swirling water and not even trying to climb out. At first I tried grabbing hold of the horns and pulling hard, but to no avail.

It didn’t occur to me to get help. I told Bonnie to stay and placed the torch on the ground pointing towards the ewe. Then I slid off the bank into the shockingly cold water. It felt like minutes before the shock passed and I could breathe again. Too late, I realised my mistake. Like the ewe, I was stuck in the mud.

All I could do was try to keep both our heads above the rising water. I knew it was pointless to shout. The wind would swallow the sound and, even if it had been a quiet night, I was too far away from any of my neighbours’ houses to be heard. Bonnie barked and darted in and out of the torch’s beam. For a while she alternated barking with whimpering. Then she went quiet and the light from the torch disappeared. I could only assume she’d run off, moving the torch as she did so.

In the complete darkness, as the last of the feeling left my body, I felt sleepy. My grip on the ewe loosened. The animal must have felt my hold slacken, and with one huge kick she leapt up the banking and scrabbled to safety.

The force of the kick toppled me over and freed my feet from the mud. I fell backwards and went under. I grabbed at a boulder to prevent myself from being swept away and then I heard a voice. Was it my own? ‘Let go. Stop fighting and just let go,’ it said. And I wasn’t afraid any more. It would all be over soon and I would find some peace. I loosened my grip and let myself sink. I saw a bright light coming towards me.

 

Jack

 

I almost fell over the stupid sheep. It appeared out of nowhere as I followed the barking collie to the water’s edge. The beam of my torch picked out the woman’s face and her outstretched arm. She let go of the rock and started to slip downstream. I slid down the bank and managed to grab the hood of her jacket. I was surprised by how light she was, even in her sodden clothes. She fought against me as I dragged her from the water.

I put her over my shoulder and half jogged, half stumbled back to the holiday cottage I was renting from Morag. The dog ran by my side and followed us indoors. I set the woman down in a chair at the fireside and threw some more coal into the grate. Then I went to the bathroom and grabbed a towel. I took off my sweater and put it and the towel on the floor in front of her. I told her to get out of her wet things while I made a hot drink.

When I returned with two mugs of tea and a blanket, she was standing, looking into the fire. She rubbed half-heartedly at her hair with the towel. Her wet clothes lay in a pile on the floor. My sweater came down almost to her knees. She turned to look at me. She was slightly built and could only have been about five-foot-three. Her face was pale, her eyes large. She was obviously in shock and she looked exhausted.

I laid down what I was carrying. “Here, let me.” I took the towel from her. At first she tensed up, but she allowed me to rub her hair. As it dried I saw that she was a redhead, just a bit of grey here and there. “That’ll do,” I said, putting down the towel. “Now, get this down you. It’s hot and sweet.” I handed her a mug. I also gave her the blanket. “And wrap yourself in this.”

She took the tea and sat on the sofa. The dog followed her and sat on the floor at her feet.

I remained standing by the fire. I glanced at the woman as I sipped my tea and wondered how she’d come to be in need of rescuing. I guessed she was in her late forties or early fifties, not bad looking, even in her exhausted state. As she drank her tea, she stared into the fire. She’d tucked her legs up under her and covered herself with the blanket. From time to time she ran a hand through her hair, and the more it dried the curlier it became.

She caught me looking at her. “Thanks for the tea,” she said. “But now Bonnie and me had better leave you in peace.”

I was slightly surprised to hear her voice. She hadn’t spoken a word so far.

“No, take your time, there’s no rush. Is there someone you’d like me to call? Someone who will be wondering where you are?”

She didn’t reply. I saw her jaw tense as she looked at me.

“Maybe I should take you to the hospital, get you checked over.”

“That won’t be necessary, really, I’m fine.” She pushed the blanket aside and laid the mug on the side table. As she stood up, she staggered and grabbed the sofa arm to steady herself.

I went over to her, put my hands on her shoulders, gently sat her back down. “Oh, yes, you’re clearly fine. Half drowned, exhausted and probably hypothermic, but apart from that right as rain.” I also wondered where she thought she was going, dressed only in my sweater. I sat beside her and, taking her wrist in my hand, felt for her pulse.

She pulled her hand away. “Are you a doctor?”

“No, I’m a policeman, was a policeman, retired Detective Inspector, Lothian and Borders. I was trained in first aid in the force. I’m Jack by the way, Jack Baxter.”

“Rachel Campbell.” She met my gaze, but only briefly, her smile a mere flicker.

The dog stood up, looked from Rachel to me, gave a little bark.

“That’s a good dog you’ve got there, protective and very persistent,” I said.

Rachel just nodded.

“It was lucky I’d gone out to get some coal,” I went on. “I heard her barking. She was down at Morag and Alasdair’s place. I thought she maybe belonged to them, but there was nobody home. I tried to get her to come in here, but she kept running up the track every time I got close, until I got the message and followed her. So I just grabbed my coat and a torch and she led me straight to you.”

“Yes, Bonnie’s a good dog. I owe her, and you, of course. I owe you both. I’d no strength left.” Her voice trembled and she looked away as she finished speaking.

“Look, why don’t I get us some more tea and you can tell me how you ended up in the water. And then I’ll take you home. I take it you live close by.”

“Yes, yes I do, Burnside Cottage. And thanks, more tea would be nice.”

“Good, might even throw in some toast.” As I stood to go, I took the box of tissues from the coffee table and handed it to her. “Use as many as you like,” I said.

 

Want to read more?                                                          

You can buy Displacement as a paperback or ebook online here:

It’s also available as a paperback at your local bookshop – and you can ask them to order it in if it’s not on their shelves.

Paperback ISBN: 978-09929303-3-2

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival: Event 13 – Age Matters in Romantic Fiction #VirtBookFest #amwriting #amreading #romanticfiction

Books for Older Readers

Today’s event is a joint one. It’s a Virtual Book Festival event and it’s also part of a Blog Blitz which has been organised by author  Claire Baldry who set up and runs the popular Books for Older Readers (BFOR)  website and Facebook group.

Claire set up the group and the website as places to highlight books which had older/mature main characters and which would therefore most likely appeal to older/mature readers. In doing so she was responding to the fact that older/mature readers often seemed to be finding it difficult to find such books – even although she – and lots of other authors she knew of – wrote them.

The initiative has proved popular and successful in matching books to readers who describe themselves as no longer young and the group and website have lots of members/followers from both the reading and writing communities – including myself.

So I thought in today’s event I’d like to explore and share with you what the concept of books for older readers – both writing and reading them – means to me.

Age appropriate reading

The Publisher Definition

Publishing is an industry and like any industry it needs to make a profit to survive and so it goes where the money is and it targets its customers. Therefore authors of commercial fiction have to follow the rules and conventions of their genre. Two genres in particular are mainly defined by the age of their intended readership – and these are: children’s fiction and its age specific sub-divisions, and Young Adult fiction. But for most of the other genres it’s not age but content that defines them. It’s taken as read (pun sort of intended) that readers will be adults.

And for the most part that works. But sometimes age, and attitudes to ageing, does seem to be an issue – especially when it comes to romantic fiction – and most especially when it comes to female characters

My Author Perspective

When I first sought publication for my debut novel – Change of Life – in 2009, I got lots of nice, but encouraging, rejections. I was told there was no doubt I could write, I could tell a good story, the characters were well drawn.

BUT, they said, the fact that my two main characters were in their forties meant it wouldn’t work as romantic fiction. I was told I could possibly get away with having the male character in his forties but definitely not the female one. She would need to be under thirty-five for readers to find it realistic.

I disagreed. And I’m now the proud author of three successful, independently published (including that first one) contemporary romantic novels with main protagonists who are in their forties or fifties. It turns out there is a market for what are now sometimes classed as second-chance romances. And I should also point out my readership spans the ages – from people in their twenties to their nineties.

Having said that, I don’t want to rule out the possibility that I might in future write novels that have younger main characters, but what I am advocating is an open mind when it comes to age and main characters in romantic fiction.

My Reader Perspective

Unsurprisingly, one of the genres I most enjoy reading is contemporary romance.

And, even although I’m more of an autumn chicken than a spring one, I’m still quite happy to read books where the protagonists are young. This year alone I’ve read several superb romantic novels where the lead characters have been in their twenties and thirties. And there will be more about them and their writers later in the festival.

However, I also like to read books where the main characters are in their forties, fifties and beyond who continue to live full lives – and who are definitely not too old to fall in love, enjoy sex, and begin new long term relationships. And these can be harder to find.

And just as a wee side note, I must say it brings out the grumpy old woman in me when women – and it does mainly seem to be women – over forty are portrayed as past it, frumpy and baffled by technology.

Things Are Changing

However, things are changing. And, as is often the way in publishing nowadays, it is the indie publishers who have made a significant contribution to satisfying demand. Authors such as Maggie Christensen, Christine Webber, and the aforementioned, BFOR founder, Claire Baldry, all write successful and first-class romantic fiction with older protagonists. And the big traditional publishers are at last catching up 🙂

But I think there is still a way to go in raising the profile of books with older protagonists or ageing-related issues at their heart. And that’s where groups like BFOR come in.

I don’t believe ‘older’ readers only want to read about ‘older’ characters, just as I don’t want to restrict myself to only writing about them, but I do believe life after thirty-five can be as challenging, surprising and rewarding as it was before – if not more so. So the lives of characters in the older age groups can provide fertile ground for all sorts of fiction. And surely having the full spectrum of adulthood – especially perhaps female adulthood – represented in fiction makes sense. After all the biggest group of book buyers is women over 45.

Age is just a number and is only one factor in our personalities and interests. It shouldn’t be a barrier to inclusion or enjoyment when it comes to our reading. And I’m hopeful things will continue to change for the better in that regard.

So, I’ll get down off my soapbox now and hand over to you.

What do you think about ageism in fiction? Is it something you’ve noticed or care about? And would you read/enjoy a novel where the romance happens between older characters? And, as I said, groups like the BFOR one are good for helping readers find books they’d like to read – so, where do you find your next good book?

Please do leave your comments below.

And please do come back to the festival tomorrow when, also as part of the BFOR Blog Blitz, I’ll be sharing an extract from one of my novels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 10 – an interview with author Alison Morton @alison_morton #VirtBookFest #reading #books

 

Hello everyone and welcome to event number ten in the Put it in Writing Virtual Book Festival. Today I’m thrilled to welcome author Alison Morton who kindly agreed to do an interview. As I’ve said at other festival events I mainly read contemporary romantic fiction and crime fiction with a bit of non-fiction thrown in from time to time. But a few months ago I stepped out of my reading comfort zone – something I would encourage all readers to do occasionally – and discovered Alison’s series of alternative history thrillers. And I LOVE them. But enough about me – let’s hear more from Alison herself.

 

Welcome Alison, and thank you for taking part in the festival. Can I start by asking you why and how  you became a writer?

I’ve always written one way or another – translation, academic theses, commercial copy, government papers, military reports, small business paperwork and marketing materials – but not fiction since I’d left school.

The trigger was a bad film in 2009; although beautifully photographed and co-starring Ewan McGregor, it was full of terrible dialogue, higgledy-piggledy continuity and implausible plotting. I whispered to my husband that even I could do better. He replied, “Why don’t you?”

For the next 90 days I bashed out 90,000 words of a story that had been bubbling in my mind for decades. That first draft was rubbish, of course; multiple revisions and strong editing followed along with much reading, courses and classes about the craft of novel writing.

Anne: Well, it’s safe to say all your readers owe your husband a debt of gratitude for challenging you 🙂

 

What genre do you write in and why did that hold a particular appeal for you?

Thrillers, alternative history thrillers (pinching James Bond’s intro format).

Why? Firstly, a lifelong fascination with all things Roman from the day I stepped on my first mosaic in Spain when I wondered what a Roman society would be like today if it were run by women; secondly, after reading Robert Harris’s Fatherland discovering you could change history; and thirdly, decades of reading multiple genres especially sci-fi , thrillers, Georgette Heyer and any historical fiction I could get my hands on.

Alternative history lets you explore the ‘what ifs’ of history, small or large, personal or national. And what a fascinating journey it is…!

Anne: It certainly is fascinating. I love the whole premise – the what-if idea – what if the Roman state and society had persisted and survived to the present day. And you set it up and develop it so well.

 

Your books are written as a series. Tell us more about them and the progression through the series.

Roma Nova is a small (imaginary) country ‘somewhere in south central Europe’, founded by pagan Romans at the end of the fourth century. It’s battled its way through history to survive into the modern age but has one vital difference to the Ancient Roman Empire – although very Roman in character, it’s governed by women.  (Find out why and how here.)

Each book in the Roma Nova series is a complete story – I dislike intensely stories that end in a cliff-hanger – but they are all interconnected. I began with a trilogy set in the ‘present day’ then went back to the late 1960s/early 1980s for another three. The second trilogy grew out of my curiosity about one of the main secondary characters in the first, Aurelia. I knew she had secrets in her past and I needed to know about them! Next, I added novellas and a short story collection, so it was getting muddled. Time for restructuring and a new look!

Carina’s strand in the series includes INCEPTIO (‘the beginning’) when Karen Brown is forced to flee from a killer in New York to Roma Nova – her dead mother’s homeland. She takes her place in her Roma Novan family and adopts her true name, Carina Mitela. But before she comes into her own as an intelligence operative, she has to deal with an arrogant, but attractive, Praetorian special forces captain…  CARINA, a novella, takes her back to North America on her first mission ‘abroad’. Of course, it doesn’t go smoothly. PERFIDITAS is the story four years later of betrayal – personal, professional and political. Nobody comes out of that completely clean. SUCCESSIO (what happened next/the next generation) nine years later sees a lot of chickens coming home to roost with blackmail, family breakdown and a nemesis from the past.

Aurelia’s strand begins with AURELIA, a crime thriller set in the late 1960s where our heroine engages in a bitter rivalry with her lifelong nemesis Caius Tellus, an amoral and privileged opportunist. Twelve years later, the traumatic eruption of Roma Nova’s Great Rebellion sears Aurelia’s personal and political life in INSURRECTIO. RETALIO is a classic story of resilience and resistance.

However, in all Roma Novan books our tough heroines do find love, although it does run a rocky path for both Carina and Aurelia.

Oh, and those titles? Yes, they are Latin words, each descriptive of the theme in the book, but words that I hope make sense to readers. How I chose them (aka sweated over them until my brain burst) may intrigue you – if so you can find out more here

Anne: Yes, I like how each story is complete in itself – that definitely works for me. And of course I like that there’s a romantic thread there too :-).

 

Tell us about a typical writing day? (Do you have a writing routine, is it planned in advance, is it strictly adhered to).

Hahaha! It depends where I am in the book writing cycle. Running up to a launch and for the few weeks afterwards, I spend almost all my time marketing; social media, guest posts, blog tours, etc. When that ebbs, it’s back to the writing. But that time away can be productive as the brain is running in the background developing the next story.

When I get cracking on a new book, I aim for about 1,000 words a day and I work best in the morning and evening. However, if I need to research something, check facts, read some background, the wordcount may not be so impressive that day…

Other activities like writing posts for my own and other blogs, arranging visits, event talks, and formatting books or liaising with suppliers have to be fitted round all this.

Anne: Indeed! Being a writer isn’t only about writing a book – it involves a whole lot more.

 

Do you plot your novels in some detail before you actually start writing? Why or why not?

Early on, in 2012, I evolved a rough and ready system which I called ‘How to write a novel in 30 lines’: see more about that here. I plot the main events – inciting incident, three turning points, black moment, climax and resolution and the rest is free-flow.

It’s a 3D wire frame rather than a skeleton and provides enough structure to hang the story on without constraining it to a formal outline. In figures, I’m a 30% ‘plotter’ and 70% ‘pantser’. (note from Anne, a pantster, in case you don’t know comes from the expression ‘to fly by the seat of your pants’)

Anne: Oh, I love the idea of the 3D wire frame as a story structure!

 

What comes first for you – characters or plot? Why is that?

Characters! My plots centre on the characters, their conflicts and their challenges, both internal and external. As with any story in a historical or sci-fi genre, there must be a purpose to an alternative history story. It can’t simply be “Look at this new world I’ve invented, aren’t I clever?” As a reader of fiction, I want to be entertained by a ‘cracking yarn’, to learn something and be encouraged to think. The most important thing when writing is to be immersed in the mentality of the characters, their time and their culture. After all, characters, like people, should be products of their time and place.

Anne: I’m not surprised by your answer. Your characters are fascinating and definitely come across as at the heart of the story and engage us readers from the start.

 

Where do you get your ideas? How/when do they come to you?

I wish I knew!  It’s a deep pot, stirred well over many years: combine being a ‘Roman nut’ since I was eleven, ingrained but unstrident feminism, six years’ military service, an MA in history and an insatiable curiosity about what motivates people. Chuck in an urge to show a competent, strong, but all-too-human woman leading actions and making decisions as a natural right. Oh, and a provocative sense of irony especially when gender-mirroring.

My best ideas emerge when I’m in the shower, but probably best not to go into that!

Anne: Haha! Yes, ideas don’t always happen at the most convenient times.

 

Have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created?

That’s an impossible question to answer! Writing different types of characters is the joy for any writer. I love them all for different reasons. Well, probably not Caius Tellus, Aurelia’s nemesis, nor his distant relation, Nicola.

Anne: Yes, it’s an unfair question – like being asked to pick a favourite child. But as a reader I’m allowed a favourite and it’s Carina for me.

 

Can you share some of the feedback/reviews you’ve had from your readers?

Readers have been very kind over the past six years with their comments and reviews – as have those who endorse my books (Conn Iggulden, Kate Quinn, Elizabeth Chadwick, Helen Hollick, Adrian Magson, JJ Marsh, Ruth Downie, Douglas Jackson, Sue Cook to name a few).

The six full-length novels have all been awarded the prestigious B.R.A.G. Medallion for indie literature and AURELIA was one of four finalists in the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award out of a field of 400(!). Writing Magazine placed both INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS as runners-up in the 2014 Self-published Book of the Year competition and The Bookseller made SUCCESSIO its Editor’s Choice in its first indie review.

One the most succinct reader comments is ““Eve Dallas meets Lindsey Davis’s Roman detective Falco meets The Hunger Games.” (INCEPTIO)

“As always, Ms Morton delivers fast-paced adventure, very much driven by the excellent dialogue.” (RETALIO)

“INSURRECTIO – a taut, fast-paced thriller and I enjoyed it enormously. Rome, guns and rebellion. Darkly gripping stuff.” – Conn Iggulden

 

”PERFIDITAS is an alternative history adventure thriller that will delight crime fiction readers, but may also be enjoyed by Roman fans as Ms Morton has very cleverly blended into a modern tale the ‘what-might-happen’ had the Roman Empire survived to present day.” (Historical Novel Society)

 

“There are two things I love about Ms Morton’s ‘world’: one is that it is all so plausible and the other is that Roma Nova has a lot to teach us about the sheer equality of the sexes in this mythical country. The characters are well rounded and, impressively, are fallible.” (Discovering Diamonds Reviews)

Anne: Wow! What a fabulous collection. And well deserved too.

 

You have a new novella coming out on 12 September and we have an extract from it below. But first – what’s it called and please, tell us a bit about it. Where does it fit in the series?

NEXUS, which in Latin means a binding together or interlacing, sometimes an obligation; in English, a connection or series of connections or a central or focal point which is perfect for this story! It fits in between AURELIA and INSURRECTIO and aims to show readers what Aurelia’s been up to in the twelve interim years. And also, why Harry Carter feels under an obligation to help Aurelia in RETALIO fourteen years later…

 NEXUS

From the Back Cover

Mid 1970s. Ex-Praetorian Aurelia Mitela is serving as Roma Nova’s interim ambassador in London. Asked by a British colleague to find his missing son, Aurelia thinks it will only be a case of a young man temporarily rebelling. He’s bound to turn up only a little worse for wear.

But a spate of high-level killings pulls Aurelia away into a dangerous pan-European investigation. Badly beaten in Rome as a warning, she discovers the killers have kidnapped her life companion, Miklós, and sent an ultimatum: Back off or he’ll die.

But Aurelia is a Roma Novan and they never give up…

EXTRACT

 

Roma Nova London Legation, mid 1970s

‘I’ve lost him, Aurelia.’

Harry Carter’s voice was low, toneless, but I could hear the despair in his restrained British voice. Given the time of day, he must have been calling from his panelled office at the United Kingdom foreign ministry.

‘Are you absolutely sure?’ I said. ‘He could just be on one of his walkabouts.’

‘His tutor at Cambridge said he hasn’t been in college for six weeks.’

Hades. What could I say? I stared at my yellow office wall and tried to compose a tactful answer.

At seventeen, Tom Carter had been a classical surly teenager. Harry had invited me to dinner one evening five years ago when I’d been posted to our London legation as political officer. It was a third level posting in the Roma Novan diplomatic hierarchy, but a restful one for me after a very fraught intelligence operation in Berlin. I’d taken to Harry immediately not only for his connections as a senior spook – that was part of my job – but for his friendliness to a newcomer on the circuit and for his sense of uprightness.

Over an after-dinner brandy Harry had confided that his son Tom had been away for three days with no contact. During the evening, he’d kept looking at the hallway.

‘Do you want me to go, Harry?’ I’d said eventually.

‘No, please don’t. I’m probably fussing.’ He’d changed the subject, but fidgeted, glancing at his watch when he thought I wouldn’t notice.

‘He always comes back, usually broke. Young men, eh?’ He attempted to laugh.

Just as I stood to go ten minutes later, the sound of the front door opening echoed from the hall and Tom had shuffled in; dirty, dishevelled, eye sockets brown with exhaustion. He shrugged as his father hugged him, grunted and went upstairs with without a word.

That was five years ago. I’d been home and then taken a posting in the Eastern United States since then. Now I was filling in here in London for our UK nuncia, our ambassador, who’d been taken ill.

‘Have you informed the civil police?’ I winced as I asked such an obvious question.

‘You know I can’t do that.’

‘Harry, it’s no shame. For a government functionary like you, they would be discreet. ‘

‘Don’t bet on it. One of those bloody tabloids would get hold of it if they paid enough.’

‘That’s a bit cynical.’ But he was right. Their press here in the UK was outrageous. But then so was the Sol Populi at home in Roma Nova.

‘Can’t you use your people in your security services to get somebody to take a look?’

Silence.

‘Harry?’

‘Completely off the record, Aurelia, I had two retired officers nose around, but they found nothing.’ He coughed. ‘Not a trace, which was odd. I can’t use anybody active. Imagine the stink if the parliamentary oversight committee got wind of it.’

I smiled at his schoolboy half-pun. But I knew he was desperately trying to cover his distress. Under that gruff exterior his heart was breaking.

 

NEXUS ebook available now to pre-order on:  Amazon     Apple     Kobo    B&N Nook Paperback from 12 September 2019

 

Anne: Thank you so much, Alison for being a guest here at the festival today. I’ve enjoyed finding out more about you and your writing and I feel a pre-order coming on. And thank you too, to everyone who has attended today’s event. And you can find out a bit more about Alison and how to connect with her below.

About Alison:

Alison Morton writes the acclaimed Roma Nova series – “intelligent adventure thrillers with heart.” She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service, an MA in history and an insatiable curiosity about what motivates people.

Apart from the six full-length novels CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, add to the Roma Nova story. Alison has contributed to 1066 Turned Upside Down – an anthology of nine alternative outcomes to the Norman invasion – and to RUBICON, an Historical Writers’ Association collection of Roman short stories.

Now she continues to write thrillers, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband.

Connect with Alison:

Roma Nova website: here

Facebook author page: here

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Virtual Book Festival: Spreading the Word and Giving Voice: The Power of a Good Book Festival #VirtBookFest @NayrouzQarmout @valmcdermid @iamkp @edbookfest

The integrity and courage of the Edinburgh International Book Festival

I reckoned it might be a good idea for me to do an event of my own here at the Virtual Book Festival. And I also reckoned it would be good to base my post on why I was inspired to organise this festival in the first place. But over and above that I also wanted to highlight a real world book festival that continues to get it right and achieve great book-related things.

Book festivals should be about books

I was prompted to run my own virtual book festival here at Put it in Writing after being very disappointed by the line up at a local book festival this year – a festival that has in the past had an appealing line up of authors, but that now seems to have lost sight of what I see as a book festival’s purpose i.e. to be about books. This local festival had no authors of genre fiction (apart from a couple of children’s authors) on the programme which was made up primarily of television stars, presenters and other celebrities, several of whom hadn’t even written a book.

So I must say I had a bit of trouble getting my head round a book festival that wasn’t mainly about books and didn’t seem to want to attract book readers to attend. Hence my attempt to do better on the blog.

However, I’m happy to say my faith in the book festivals of the real world was restored when I saw the programme for this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival which will be taking place as usual in August. Yes, it has its fair share of famous names and and literary big-hitters and that’s understandable, but it also (despite some criticism) has genre fiction writers too. It offers writing masterclasses for aspiring writers, and it has smaller events with lesser-known authors too. It even has some events where those attending are asked to pay what they can afford rather than a set ticket price.

In other words it’s about BOOKS, WRITERS and READERS coming together, and it hasn’t lost sight of the fact that books and the power of the written word should be at its heart.

And by way of illustrating this fact I thought I’d recap on an event I attended last year especially as one of the authors from that event is back again this year and I have my ticket for her event already.

2018 Edinburgh International Book Festival Event

Nayrouz Qarmout is a young Palestinian writer from *Gaza. Her original event at last year’s festival had to be cancelled after the UK Home Office refused her the visa she needed in order to attend. After the ensuing outcry a visa was eventually granted and a new event was hastily organised.

It speaks volumes that the new event, although announced only two days before it was due to happen, was a sell out. The aim of the event was to give often otherwise unheard writers a voice and it was chaired by writer, Kamila Shamsie.

Besides Nayrouz Qarmout there were two other female writers taking part.

One was Brazilian philosopher and writer, Djamila Ribereiro, who said that one of her aims as a writer was to normalise not exoticise ‘the other’ and she shared with us how at the airport in Brazil on her way to Edinburgh she was spoken to in English – as it was assumed a black Brazilian woman couldn’t possibly be travelling abroad.

And the other was Hsaio Hung Pai a Taiwanese journalist who works on the Guardian newspaper and has written about the difficulties faced by migrant workers to the UK.

Both of the other writers were impressive but it was Nayrouz who left a lasting impression on me. She told us she was a writer had so far had only one short story about life in the Gaza strip published in a 2014 anthology called the Book of Gaza and that she was working on a book of short stories – The Sea Cloak & Other Stories due to be published in 2019. Yet here she was at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

She told us she’d been born in a Syria to Palestinian refugee parents, but then as part of the Oslo Israeli-Palestine Peace Agreement in 1994 her family were sent ‘back’ to Gaza. She hadn’t been allowed to leave since. She spoke of her battle to get to Edinburgh, of the weeks it took to get a passport, then permission to travel, then eventually setting off, crossing into Egypt where she spent a horrendous night before getting to Cairo for her flight to the UK.

Nayrouz spoke with grace, humility and humour. She said she had no intention of seeking asylum – she has had enough of being a refugee. She said she was in Edinburgh to share her story – although this didn’t prove enough of a reason to meet the terms of a UK visitor’s visa. She spoke realistically about Gaza but described it as home. She didn’t get into the challenges posed by Gaza’s fractious and sometimes deadly relationship with Israel other than to highlight the practical difficulties that result for daily life.  She acknowledged the peace movement in Palestine is conflicted with the two religious/political sides of Hamas and Fatah. But she made a point of adding that most people there are, as elsewhere, ordinary people. They’re neither peace activists nor terrorists as they’re so often portrayed in the media. Most people just want to live their lives in a place they call home – as we all do.

It was both a humbling and impressive experience to listen to this writer. I also regard it as a privilege to have been able to there.

2019 Event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

So, I was happy to see that this year Nayrouz Qarmout will be back to speak at a book festival event on 12th August this year. She will be taking part along with fellow writers in a discussion of personal stories relating to the experiences of migrants and refugees – something she also writes about in her new book.

Not only that but the other writers at the event are two  of my favourite authors – Val McDermid and Ali Smith – and they’ll be joined by one of my favourite musicians, Karine Polwart as well. Safe to say, I wasted no time in getting my ticket.

Here’s what it says in the festival programme about the event:

HOME FOR MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES?

‘Hordes’, ‘swarms’ and ‘invasion’ – words used in recent headlines to dehumanise migrants. Guest Selector Val McDermid explores stories of individuals and families who’ve faced the decision to leave their homeland. Nayrouz Qarmout talks of her birth in a Damascus refugee camp and her subsequent move to Gaza; Ali Smith discusses those she encountered in her work on the Refugee Tales project; and singer-songwriter Karine Polwart shares some of her powerful, deeply-felt music and ideas about the migrant experience.

 (Click here to go to the event page on Edinburgh Book Festival website).

THANK YOU!

So, thank you Edinburgh International Book Festival – for having the integrity and the courage to go for an event like this, for keeping the power of the written word and of books at the heart of what you do and for bringing writers like Nayrouz Qarmout to the attention of your book-loving audience.

 

More about Nayrouz and her writing from her publisher, Comma Press’s, website:

Nayrouz Qarmout is a Palestinian writer and activist. Born in Damascus in 1984, as a Palestinian refugee, she returned to the Gaza Strip, as part of the 1994 Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement, where she now lives. She graduated from al-Azhar University in Gaza with a degree in Economics. She currently works in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, raising awareness of gender issues and promoting the political and economic role of women in policy and law, as well as the defence of women from abuse, and highlighting the role of women’s issues in the media. Her political, social and literary articles have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, and online. She has also written screenplays for several short films dealing with women’s rights. She is a social activist and a member of several youth initiatives, campaigning for social change in Palestine.

PUBLICATIONS BY NAYROUZ QARMOUT

The Sea Cloak – To be published on 22 August 2019 

A collection of stories from an exciting female Palestinian writer, translated from Arabic into English for the first time. The Sea Cloak is a collection of 14 stories by the author, journalist, and women’s rights campaigner, Nayrouz Qarmout. Drawing from her own experiences growing up in a Syrian refugee camp, as well as her current life in Gaza, these stories stitch together a patchwork of different perspectives into what it means to be a woman in Palestine today.

Whether following the daily struggles of orphaned children fighting to survive in the rubble of recent bombardments, or mapping the complex, cultural tensions between different generations of refugees in wider Gazan society, these stories offer rare insights into one of the most talked about, but least understood cities in the Middle East. Taken together, the collection affords us a local perspective on a global story, and it does so thanks to a cast of (predominantly female) characters whose vantage point is rooted, firmly, in that most cherished of things, the home.

 

ANTHOLOGY FEATURING NAYROUZ QARMOUT

The Book of Gaza

This anthology brings together some of the pioneers of the Gazan short story from that era, as well as younger exponents of the form, with ten stories that offer glimpses of life in the Strip that go beyond the global media headlines.

 

*Gaza is a self-governing territory of the Palestinian state. It is bordered by Egypt and Israel and life there is far from easy and has many restrictions. To find out more see Wikipedia here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaza_Strip

 

And Finally:

Do you agree that book festivals should be about books, readers and writers? Which book festivals do you enjoy and why? Please feel free to leave comments below.