Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 3- Writing Serials for Magazines with Kate Blackadder @k_blackadder #VirtBookFest #writing

Hello everyone and welcome to the third event in the Put it in Writing Virtual Book Festival. Today it’s a pleasure to welcome writer Kate Blackadder. Kate writes serial fiction for a woman’s magazine as well as being a novelist. And here in a fascinating feature she explains how she got into serial writing and how it has developed for her since. So over to Kate …

 

One serial writer – 400,000 readers

by Kate Blackadder

 

I’d had a few short stories published in The People’s Friend and elsewhere when I entered the First Instalment of a Serial competition that the magazine sponsored in 2008. As a member of Edinburgh Writers’ Club www.edinburghwritersclub.org.uk

I was automatically a member of the Scottish Association of Writers and this competition was part of their annual conference that year.

I’d never written ‘long’ before but nothing ventured … I remembered something I’d written when having a writing session with friends. We were handed paperbacks at random, asked to turn to a particular page and a particular line number and to start our own story from there.

The book assigned to me was in the horror genre and the line involved a stone which had some supernatural significance, seen through torrential rain. I wrote a page or so but knew I wouldn’t continue because I’d stuck with the genre and it’s not one I like.

But something of the atmosphere of the piece came back to me as I pondered the serial. Cathryn, recently dumped by her boyfriend, could be driving through the rain on her way north to spend the summer on an archaeological dig. Staying in the same lodgings is Magnus, a Canadian film-maker, investigating Viking history and sites – and also researching a mystery in his family tree.

I looked at current PF serials with a writer’s eye. I read the guidelines www.thepeoplesfriend.co.uk/guidelines/ to find out about instalments and chapters and word counts. I had fun bringing in more characters and placing them in a part of the world I used to live, the north-west coast of Sutherland (although I made up place names, and the local big house I transplanted from somewhere else entirely – the superpower of a writer!).

And of course I ended the instalment with a cliffhanger!

Then came the conference and the judging …

The adjudicator, one of The People’s Friend fiction team, began to describe the first-placed entry. My heart raced … Was that mine?

Competition entrants choose a pseudonym and mine was ‘Belle’, the name of a late great-aunt, in whose house I first encountered The People’s Friend although my interest then was only in the children’s pages.

I hope she was listening as her name was read out as the winner.

One of the points the adjudicator made was not about the story itself but the fact that apparently I was the only entrant who had adhered to all the rules, so my homework was worth it, the difference perhaps between winning and not winning.

The prize (of which more anon) was a year’s subscription to the magazine, and the chance to have the serial published – which was a problem. I’d never expected to win so after I’d posted my entry I forgot about it. Now, because I hadn’t written a serial before, they wanted a full synopsis before giving me the go-ahead. Full as in full … what would happen in each and every chapter?

Reader, I hadn’t a clue. Obviously the archaeologist and the film-maker were going to get together but that couldn’t happen until the last instalment. What was the puzzle in Magnus’ background? Why was Sara going to Inverness every week? What caused JD’s accident? I’d set up these and a dozen other questions in the first instalment and now I had to answer them.

It was agony! I had to give myself many a severe talking to when I felt like giving up. I asked a well-published novelist friend for advice and one thing in particular was really helpful – include scenes involving different permutations of your characters so that you don’t forget about any of them.

Eventually – eventually – I wrote a paragraph for each chapter, all thirty-seven of them, and submitted it. Green light! And then it was, almost, like joining the dots.

The serial was published as The Family at Farrshore and it was a real thrill to see it in print over seven weeks with a lovely illustration at the head of each instalment.

The People’s Friend celebrates its 150th birthday this year; a copy is sold somewhere in the world every 3.44 seconds. The readers are not all elderly ladies as is the perception … and, besides, the ‘elderly’ today are not like those of a generation ago as regards fitness and outlook. Sadly, The PF is almost the last (wo)man standing in terms of magazines that take stories. It seems strange in an era when we’re all supposed to be so short of time/concentration that magazines have dispensed with bite-sized fiction.

Back in the day The People’s Friend weekly sales headed for a million (220,000 sales today, 400,000 readers) and their payment to writers reflected that. In the 1880s they ran a serial competition with a first prize of £100, around £8500 in today’s money. Ah well …

Since The Family at Farrshore I’ve had two more serials published, The Ferryboat and A Time to Reap. I had to send long synopses for these but not with the detail required the first time. I’m halfway through a fourth.

The way it works is that you send an instalment and wait for feedback before continuing. You are paid as each instalment is accepted. As the main events in the synopsis have been approved you can’t veer from them and (unless you’ve discovered a glaring error) you can’t go back and change earlier instalments. Unlike those of Charles Dickens or Alexander McCall Smith, who produced instalments every day after the previous ones were already in print (now that would be scary!), PF serials are not published until they’re finished.

As copyright remains with me I’ve sold the serials to a large-print-for-libraries publisher plus I have put them on Kindle myself.

Knowing that I could plot and finish longer stories gave me the confidence to tackle a novel, Stella’s Christmas Wish available here (published by Black & White). So it’s true: something ventured, something gained.

Anne: Thank you, Kate, for this interesting insight into how writing magazine fiction works and it’s good that copyright remains with you and you’ve been able to produce your stories for Kindle and paperback. I’ve read them all on my Kindle and thoroughly enjoyed them. 

Kate Blackadder was born in the Scottish Highlands but now lives in Edinburgh. If you don’t count adolescent poetry (and best not to) she came late to writing but is trying to catch up. She’s had over sixty short stories published in magazines and has been successful in various competitions, winning the Muriel Spark Short Story Award (judged by Maggie O’Farrell) and being shortlisted for the Scotsman Orange Short Story Award and long-listed for the Jane Austen Short Story Award. She has also written three magazine serials and a novel, Stella’s Christmas Wish, published by Black & White.

 Kate can be found in various places online:

Facebook

Twitter

Her Blog

Capital Writers website

 

 

 

Virtual Book Festival 2019: Event 1 – Author Q and A with Helen Forbes #crimefiction #books

Hello and welcome to the first item in the Put It In Writing Virtual Book Festival programme which is scheduled to run throughout July and August bringing you interviews with authors, book bloggers and publishing professionals as well as book extracts and, writing related features. You can read more about the thinking behind this festival here.

Thanks for coming along to today’s event. Enjoy!

Today, I’m delighted to welcome crime fiction author Helen Forbes to the festival.

Hello, Helen. So, let’s get started with me asking you how and why you became a writer?

An interest in Highland and Island culture, and particularly the islands of St Kilda, led me to do some research while I was studying law as a mature student in Edinburgh. I was struck by the derogatory way in which the islanders were portrayed by historical authors that had visited St Kilda, and I decided I wanted to write a novel written from the perspective of the islanders, to try and portray the people and their life in a more balanced way. I had begun to spend more time in the Outer Hebrides, where I have family connections, and I decided to write a novel with two parts, the first set in modern day North Uist and the second set in 18th century St Kilda. I started writing, using it as a welcome break from studying. I eventually moved to North Uist, and continued writing the novel on my old Amstrad, with no word count, until I had a novel of enormous proportions. I didn’t have any success in getting it published. One publisher asked to read it, and it was so long, I had to send it in two parcels. I never heard back from him. He’s probably still reading it now.

Anne: So you might hear from him soon 🙂

What sort of books do you write and what are the titles of those you’ve published so far?

After leaving North Uist, I started to write short stories while attending writers’ groups in Edinburgh and Fife. Someone commented that one of my stories would make a good novel. I started to develop the idea, and decided to write a crime novel with the short story as the prologue. It’s a police procedural called In the Shadow of the Hill’, featuring DS Joe Galbraith. It’s set in Inverness and Harris. I then wrote a sequel called Madness Lies, which is set in Inverness and North Uist. Both of those novels are published. I then wrote a third crime novel, a standalone psychological thriller called Deception, which is currently with my agent.

Anne: Having enjoyed your first two novels so much, I do hope it’s not too long before Deception is published.

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

I don’t have a particular routine; I write whenever I can get the spare time, which is usually in the evening. If I have a free day, my preference is to write in the morning and the evening, having a break in the afternoon. I really enjoy writing, so it never seems like a chore, and I would love to have more time to do it. Of course there are times when the writing doesn’t flow, but I use that time to edit, and that seems to work for me.

Anne: Yes, it can be tricky juggling a day job and writing. But that’s great that you don’t find writing to be chore.

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

My first two novels were pretty much unplanned. I just started writing and kept on going, plotting in my head as I went along, and spending a lot of time tinkering and changing things. This approach didn’t really work with Madness Lies, as I found myself going down dead-ends and having to delete sub-plots and big chunks of writing. I decided there must be a better way, so I tried plotting Deception before I started writing. It didn’t work. I found I couldn’t plot unless I was writing, so I tried to be very strict with myself at the start of each day, going over what I’d written the day before, to avoid dead-ends. This worked better for me. I would love to be able to plot in detail in advance, but I don’t think it’s for me.

Anne: I’m not much of a planner either I must admit and you’re right it can lead to pitfalls. But you have to do what works for you.

What are you working on currently?

Well, that enormous first novel of mine has gone through various incarnations, but it is now two standalone, vaguely linked, novels. I updated and completed the North Uist novel some months ago and it is now with my agent. I am working on the St Kilda novel just now, and hope to have completed it in the next few weeks.

Oh, interesting, can you tell us a bit more?

It’s called From the Edge, and is based on fact and set in the early 18th century, a time of great change for the St Kildan people. The population was decimated by a smallpox outbreak, and people were brought in from other islands to try and build a community. A few years later, just as the community was settling down again, a prisoner arrived on St Kilda. She was Lady Grange, the wife of an Edinburgh judge and politician. Her husband arranged her removal from Edinburgh and she was kept on St Kilda for seven years. The story begins with Lady Grange’s arrival, but the main character is Mairi, the daughter of the island officer, and one of the few youngsters to survive the smallpox. When Mairi fears for the safety of her new-born child, at a time when island infants are dying of tetanus, she takes off to a lonely glen where she is forced to remember and confront the island’s troubled past and her own mistakes.

Anne: Sounds intriguing

And finally, have you got a favourite character out of the all the ones you’ve created?

That’s a difficult question. I like most of my main characters, but I do have a soft spot for DS Joe Galbraith. He’s a bit of an introvert and probably suffers from imposter syndrome, despite being a fine detective. I can identify with both those traits. I really enjoyed developing his character in both novels. I’m also rather fond of Sam Murray, a homeless beggar with a sad past and a very difficult life in Deception. I won’t say too much about him, but hopefully he’ll be introduced to readers one of these days.

Anne: Yes, I can understand why you’d have a soft spot for DS Galbraith. And, thank you Helen for taking part in the festival and for sharing some fascinating information about your books and your writing life.

And below we have an extract from the first of the Galbraith novels

 

Extract from In the Shadow of the Hill

Job.  A wee word, but such a big deal.  His pals thought he was nuts.  Half five in the morning?  What sort of time was that to start work?  Didn’t bother him; he’d always been an early riser.  And he was finished at one o’clock.  Could do whatever he liked then.  Could even go back to sleep.  Not that he would; not on a day like this.  Mountain bike in the back of the van, and he’d head across the bridge, try the black trail at Learnie.  His mother’s frown would follow him all the way, and her muttering.  That biking nonsense would be the death of him.  Look at Chrissie Martin’s brother’s wife’s cousin.  Broke his neck falling off a bike.  Time he was giving that nonsense up, now that he had a job and a uniform.

       A job.  A uniform.  The pride on his mother’s face.  A massive fry-up this morning and a gallon of sweet tea.  How come she didn’t know that he didn’t take sugar in his tea?  Didn’t even like tea that much, and he could still taste the bacon grease coating his tongue.  Ach, she’d not be getting up every morning before five o’clock; that was a certainty.  But she’d be waiting for him at one o’clock today; waiting at the window with that smile, and more tea.

       Maybe he wouldn’t tell her what round he’d been given.  He’d never hear the end of it.  Her wee boy delivering mail Down The Ferry?  What about Chrissie Martin’s son’s girlfriend’s neighbour?  Mugged in broad daylight.  And he wasn’t even properly Down The Ferry; he was three streets away.  Talking to his mother on his fancy new mobile telephone when two of those neddy boys came and took it off him.  Best to stay away from that side of the town.

       Aye, Mum.  He’d tell her he’d got one of those new schemes that kept appearing on the outskirts of the City of Inverness.  City?  Whenever his mother read that, usually on every front page of every local paper, it made her laugh.  They could build as many new housing schemes as they liked, she would say, but Inverness would never be more than a big village.

       Ach, it was fine Down The Ferry.  Not that different from anywhere else, really.  Just people getting on with their lives; three mothers pushing pushchairs, a boy and his staffie, an old lady with shopping bags, and a mobile mechanic bashing a car wheel with a hammer.  Must be too early for riots and muggings.

       These stairs were tiring, though.  Three blocks of flats; twenty-four flats in each block; one block down, two to go.  A row of birds were singing on the roof of the derelict building opposite the middle block.  Their melody made him smile as he pushed the door open, and turned.

       No.  This couldn’t be.  No way.  Backing towards the door, shaking his head as the hot sweet tea, the greasy bacon, the half-cooked sausages, the soft fried eggs rushed back up his gullet and splattered across the floor.

(extract copyright Helen Forbes)

From the back cover:

An elderly woman is found battered to death in the common stairwell of an Inverness block of flats.

Detective Sergeant Joe Galbraith starts what seems like one more depressing investigation of the untimely death of a poor unfortunate who was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

As the investigation spreads across Scotland it reaches into a past that Joe has tried to forget, and takes him back to the Hebridean island of Harris, where he spent his childhood.

Among the mountains and the stunning landscape of religiously conservative Harris, in the shadow of Ceapabhal, long buried events and a tragic story are slowly uncovered, and the investigation takes on an altogether more sinister aspect.

In The Shadow Of The Hill skilfully captures the intricacies and malevolence of the underbelly of Highland and Island life, bringing tragedy and vengeance to the magical beauty of the Outer Hebrides.

In the Shadow of the Hill is published by ThunderPoint and is available in paperback and kindle format. You can find Helen’s books on Amazon here

Author Bio

Helen Forbes is an author and a solicitor based in Inverness.  She began her writing life with contemporary and historical fiction, but soon turned to crime. She is the author of two crime fiction novels set in Inverness and the Outer Hebrides, featuring DS Joe Galbraith. In the Shadow of the Hill was published in 2014, with book two in the series, Madness Lies. Helen has written a third crime novel, Deception, which is set in Edinburgh and is, as yet, unpublished. She is working on a historical fiction novel set in 18th century St Kilda.

And you can find out more at Helen’s website: www.hforbes.co.uk

 

 

 

Put It In Writing: Virtual Book Festival 1st July -31st August 2019 – Introduction & Programme

No tickets, transport or travel time needed …

Just subscribe to this blog by email and your inbox is the only venue you need go to.

Introduction:

When I first had the idea of a virtual book festival it was in response to my frustration with some real world book festivals which no longer seem to be about books, authors and readers. One festival in particular which I’ve attended in the past, and where I’ve enjoyed events given by lots of different authors had nothing on this year’s programme that appealed to me.

The 2019 list was made up mainly of celebrities, television presenters and politicians, not all of whom had even written a book – and the few actual writers who were included didn’t include any who write genre fiction.

So I found myself thinking about who I would include if I was organising a festival. I reckoned I’d like authors from several genres, I’d like some people from the wonderfully supportive book-blogging community, and perhaps a couple of publishing professionals too.

And that then developed into the idea of using my blog to host a virtual festival.

Although I knew who I’d like to invite, I wasn’t at all sure they’d want to take part. So I was pleasantly surprised and very grateful that so many of those I invited have agreed to take part – and not only agreed but seemed very enthusiastic about it too.

The participants will be doing a variety of interviews and features and there will be novel extracts, a couple of book giveaways (UK only) and lots of insights into how a book comes together.

So here, without further ado, is the programme of events and the dates each virtual event will be posted for you to read, comment on and share.

Programme

July 1st Helen Forbes – Crime Author

July 3rd John Hudspith – Book Editor

July 8th Kate Blackadder – Magazine Serial Writer

July 10th Jane Dixon Smith – Book and Cover Designer

July 15th Jane Davis – Literary Fiction Author

July 17th Joanne Baird – Book Blogger

July 22nd Trish Nicholson – Non-Fiction Author

July 24th Linda Hill – Book Blogger

July 29th Linda Gillard – Literary Romance Author

August 2nd Alison Morton – Alternative History Author

August 5th Darlene Foster – Children’s Author

August 7th JJ Marsh – Crime Author

August 9th  Anne Stormont – Contemporary Romance Author

August 12th Anne Williams – Book Blogger

August 18th Maggie Christensen – Contemporary Romance Author

August 19th Kate Noble – Book Blogger

August 21st Anne Stenhouse – Historical Romance Author

August 23rd Kelly Lacey – Book Blogger & Blog Tour Organiser

August 26th Heidi Swain – Contemporary Romance Author

August 27th Kathryn Freeman – Contemporary Romance Author

August 28th Kate Field – Contemporary Romance Author

August 29th Sue McDonagh – Contemporary Romance Author

August 30th Claire Baldry – Contemporary Romance Author

August 31st End of Festival Look Back & Celebration

 

 

Buried Treasure by Gilli Allan @gilliallan #BookReview #amreading #romance

 

 

From the back cover:

Their backgrounds could hardly be further apart, their expectations in life more different. And there is nothing in the first meeting between the conference planner and the university lecturer which suggests they should expect or even want to connect again. But they have more in common than they could ever have imagined. Both have unresolved issues from the past which have marked them; both have an archaeological puzzle they want to solve. Their stories intertwine and they discover together that treasure isn’t always what it seems.

 My Review:

Buried Treasure is a slow-burning and thought-provoking romance with credible, flawed, and affecting main characters. I came to care very much about socially-awkward Theo and prickly perfectionist Jane. Their respective loneliness, sadness and difficult back stories made this seemingly mismatched couple very appealing. I liked that neither Theo nor Jane were conventionally physically attractive, that they were flawed, and that they lived in a very real sounding world in less than ideal circumstances. I also loved the unconventional way their relationship developed.

The supporting cast work well – including Jane and Theo’s truly ghastly former partners. And although the main setting is a university it is not portrayed as an ivory tower but rather as a modern-day institution that must pay its way.

This all makes for a realistic, contemporary romantic novel and a heart-warming and rewarding read.

Buried Treasure is available as an ebook here

Six of the Best: Five-Star Romance Reads #reading #books #romanticfiction

As a writer of romantic fiction, I suppose it’s not surprising that it’s my favourite genre to read and I’ve been having a bit of a romance binge with my reading lately. So I thought I’d do a brief round–up of the ones I’ve most enjoyed. I got them all as Kindle books from Amazon. Some of them are also available as paperbacks.

The Summer of Chasing Dreams by Holly Martin. This is the story of Eva and Thor and as well as the beguiling characters, I particularly liked the rather different setting and plot for this charming and original love story.

 

Summer at the Art Cafe and it’s follow up Meet Me at the Art Cafe by Sue McDonagh. Both were wonderful. There are motor-bikes and learning to ride them, there are mismatched (to begin with) main couples and some likeable children too. I can’t wait to read more by this author.

 

Happiness for Beginners by Carole Matthews. This is the story of busy actor Shelby, and farmer Molly – who to begin with have absolutely nothing in common. But they’re brought together when Shelby’s teenage son, Lucas gets his last chance at an education at Molly’s alternative farm school for troubled children. Highly original premise for the story and great characters. A cracking read.

Crikey a Bodyguard by Kathryn Freeman. Two very different main characters  – Kelly a scientist whose research puts her in danger is assigned a bodyguard, Ben. This is such a well told, gripping story with some thriller elements and fizzing frissons of romance. Just perfect!

Poppy’s Recipe for Life by Heidi Swain. A community garden in a strong community setting is the backdrop to this moving romance. Kind, generous, positive Poppy cares for her troubled teenage brother and falls for even more troubled Jacob who is just not interested in any sort of relationship – at first. A fabulous, moving and absorbing story.

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, all of the above books would make great summer holiday reading – if relaxing in the sun with a slow-burning romance is your thing. And if you’re in the southern hemisphere and want to curl up indoors with a heartwarming romantic tale, then these all fit the bill.

PS -Virtual Book Festival News

Sorry the reviews above are not the usual length but I’m very busy organising the Virtual Book Festival that I wrote about in my previous post here. I’ve got authors, book bloggers and industry professionals signed up to take part – and I’m excited and delighted to announce that the festival is due to kick-off here on the blog on 1st July and will run throughout July and August. Watch this space …

Put It In Writing Virtual Book Festival – Introduction #books #reading #writing

I Love Book Festivals

I’ve attended many book festivals here in Scotland over the years. My first one was the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF) back in the 1990s and it’s one I’ve revisited several times since. And having just received the fabulous programme for this year’s EIBF I can’t wait to make a return visit in August. At the other end of the scale in the sense of festival size and budget is the Skye Book Festival held on the Scottish island of Skye which I have attended both as a visitor and as a guest author and is another favourite of mine. And there have been several others all around the country that I’ve loved visiting.

You Can’t Please All of the People

However, recently I was disappointed when the 2019 programme for one of those other festivals was announced and I couldn’t find a single event I wanted to attend. I guess this was mostly due to the fact that there were very few fiction writers on the bill (less than ten percent of the total) and they were from the literary end of the spectrum. The line-up consisted mainly of well known people from television and journalism and yes, some of them have written fiction and some would be attending to talk about their novels. But many of the events weren’t even about books.

Now I should say, I have nothing against an actor, comedian or journalist writing a book – fiction or otherwise – I’ve read and enjoyed many such books. I also get that for book festivals to survive the economics dictate that getting well-known folks from any walk of life to take part helps sell tickets. But for there not to be a single writer of genre fiction – bestseller or otherwise – included in the line up seemed really odd – especially as this festival has always included them in the past.

So in amongst the yoga, live music, celebrities and topical debates I couldn’t find any book events that were just about a good book and its writer. But it’s a thriving book festival and long may it continue. Due to personal taste I won’t be going this time but there’s always next year…

Welcome to my Virtual Book Festival

But all of the above got me thinking. Dangerous I know! And I found myself wondering – if I was organising a book festival that I’d want to go to – who and what would I include? And then I thought I could organise my own book festival – a virtual one here on the blog. So that’s what I plan to do.

Dream Team Line Up

Authors from across the genres will make up most of programme but I also want to include industry professionals like editors and designers, as well as representatives from author organisations, the book-blogging community and book-centred social media groups.

Festival Format

All of the above folks will have their own events/posts where they’ll speak about their work – the books they’ve either written, reviewed,or helped to produce – or the support they offer to authors. And the best thing for visitors is you won’t need a ticket and you can visit whenever it suits you. Events will begin to appear here soon and the festival spots will run until September. So watch this space…

Over to you

What do you think of real-world book festivals? Do you attend any? Do you have a favourite? What do they get right? Feel free to comment below.

 

Does Childhood Reading Still Matter?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Do kids still read stories or is it all about the screen now?

My seven-year-old granddaughter like so many children nowadays likes her daily allowance of screen time. On the tablet she shares with her sibling she watches movies, YouTube channels and also plays games.

BUT she is also a keen reader of books – something that gladdens this reader’s, writer’s and former teacher’s heart.

In fact having graduated from picture books to those with chapters she’s recently become a proper little bookworm. And her parents are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with the demand for more and more books.

The benefits and joys of reading

While I sympathise with the parents, I feel even more for my granddaughter in her pursuit of reading material. I too was a keen reader from the moment I could decode print. Reading was my passion and my pastime of choice – it still is. Reading fuelled my imagination and inspired me to write my own stories – and it still does.

For all ages and stages in life, book reading educates and stimulates, but it can also provide comfort and escapism. It worked for me, for my children, for my school pupils, and in my (not so humble) opinion book reading is as important now as it has always been.

Access to books

As a child I was fortunate to have a library within walking distance of my home. My granddaughter – like so many children now – is not so lucky. So this got me thinking.

I can’t do anything to improve library access, but I can buy books. So I’ve set up Grandma’s Book Club (GBC). And the way it works is once a month I buy a book or two for my granddaughter – and for her wee brother, who’s also developing bookworm tendencies – and I post them from here in Scotland to my grandchildren in Australia. GBC is proving popular and it means that much of my video-call time with my granddaughter is taken up with book talk – which is so lovely.

Old classics and contemporary stories

At first I picked the books and hoped for the best that they’d be enjoyed. Some have been by authors my children (and former pupils) enjoyed back in the day, and some are much more recently published. It’s encouraging to see there still remains plenty of choice. And feedback received seems to suggest I’ve chosen well. My granddaughter has enjoyed reading about children engaged in pastimes and sports she hasn’t yet experienced, she’s enjoyed and been informed by how children can deal with problems and setbacks, and she has been inspired to ask questions and seek out information.

And lately I’ve also started receiving specific book requests – most recently for books in Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series. This made me smile as, like so many others over the years, Enid Blyton’s books formed a large part of my own early reading material.

And it got me thinking about the books that made the biggest impression on me during my primary school years (age 5 to 12) and whether my granddaughter would like them too. It also had me reminiscing about how much they meant to me at the time – and still do. And I was delighted to find that, like Blyton’s books, some of them are still available today.

Long live childhood reading

So it’s safe to say I do think childhood reading matters. It matters because of the reasons stated above and it matters because it opens children’s minds to possibilities, to connections with the past present and future. And it matters for its own sake – it’s just so mightily marvellous!

What do you think?

PS: I know I haven’t mentioned e-readers versus paper books (especially for children) but that would take up a whole other post. For this post all I’m on about is the importance and enjoyment of childhood reading in general with particular reference to paper books. But feel free to offer your opinion on this below.

PPS: Do you think book reading remains important and relevant for today’s children? Or do you think that online pursuits are taking or will take over for good or ill? Please do comment below.

My Top 10 childhood favourites

And to finish I thought I’d share my own ten favourite childhood reads from back in the pre-historic era – and here’s hoping at least some end up on my granddaughter’s  list.

Mallory Towers (series) by Enid Blyton

Famous Five (series) by Enid Blyton

The Mystery of … (series) Enid Blyton

Heidi (and sequel) by Johanna Spyri

What Katy Did (series) by Susan Coolidge

Jill and the Perfect Pony by Ruby Ferguson

Ballet Shoes by Noel Stratfeild

Peter Pan by JM Barrie

Little Women (series) by Louisa May Alcott

Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson

And finally

What about you? Would you say you were a childhood bookworm? What would your Top Ten childhood reads be?

A Single Woman by Maggie Christensen @MaggieChriste33 #RomanticFiction #BookReview #amreading

Maggie Christensen Does It Again – Another Great Read

I’m very fortunate to have been given a pre-publication copy of A Single Woman, Maggie Christensen’s latest novel. It will be published on the 9th of May and will be available at all the usual online stores including Amazon and Kobo.

I always look forward to reading books by this author and this new novel more than lived up to my expectations.

It was good to catch up with Matt and Bel, characters from two of the author’s previous books – The Good Sister and Isobel’s Promise. But this time the main characters were Matt’s widower son-in-law, Alasdair, and the single woman of the title, Isla.

You don’t have to have read the earlier books in order to enjoy this new one, but if you haven’t I’d recommend that you do just for the sheer enjoyment.

A Single Woman is 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.

Alasdair is lonely and sad as he struggles to parent his two teenage children while grieving the loss of his wife two years previously. Isla is independent, self-sufficient and lives for her work as head teacher of a high school for girls. And when the two of them meet, although they’re attracted to each other, both struggle with admitting they’re looking for anything more than friendship. For Alasdair there’s the guilt of being with someone new and for Isla there’s the fear of opening up about her past and making herself vulnerable.

I loved the slow-burn of this story. And I loved the flawed main characters with all their human frailties and vulnerabilities. I’m sure most readers will, like me, find themselves rooting for Isla and Alasdair and willing them to, for once, put themselves first and take a chance on each other.

Yes, this is another great read from Maggie Christensen.

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?

***                                                                                                                                         

Readers of Christensen’s earlier books, The Good Sister and Isobel’s Promise, will love reconnecting with Bel and Matt while enjoying Isla Cameron’s unique story.

 

 

 

A Winter of Love Gives Way To A Springtime Of Crime #amreading #books

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review here on the blog. Regular readers will know I’ve been busy writing my next novel since the start of 2019, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. However, it has meant I haven’t had so much time to write reviews.

So I thought it was high time to share my thoughts – albeit briefly – on my five favourite reads so far this year and also to share the titles of the five books I plan to read next.

5 Romantic Winter Reads:

Sunset Over the Cherry Orchard by Jo Thomas. A Spanish setting with flamenco, fine food, and a cherry farm provide a great backdrop to the story of Beti and Antonio. Lovely!  I reviewed A Winter Beneath the Stars by the same author here in early January.

The Northern Lights Lodge by Julie Caplin. Iceland is the setting this time and Lucy, from the UK, is the new manager of a lodge hotel there. Alex is the Scottish barman at the hotel but he’s not exactly who he claims to be. Expect lots of cosy log fires indoors and glaciers, hot springs and the northern lights outdoors as the backdrop to this well told story and intriguing love story.

The Summer of Chasing Dreams by Holly Martin. Eva is way out of her comfort zone as she sets of on a round the world trip to fulfil the dreams of her late mother and the last thing she wants or expects is to fall in love. But you guessed it she does. And Thor the Danish tour guide is certainly beguiling…

Summer at the Art Cafe by Sue McDonagh. I loved this story of Lucy who wins a motorbike, and her developing relationship with both the bike and her, at first rather grumpy, motorcycle instructor Ash. Great characters and a refreshingly different story.

Meet Me at the Art Cafe by Sue McDonagh. Yes, a second book by the author above. I read a review of this one which recommended reading the above one first. I’m glad I did as you get to catch up with Lucy and Ash – as well as reading about the new but difficult relationship between Jo and Ed. These are two characters with all sorts of baggage but of course as a reader you end up rooting for them to get together. As with the first book in this series, there is a great seaside setting, a wonderful cast of supporting characters and yes, more motor bikes.

5 Springtime Reads to look forward to – as love gives way to crime:

The first two in the to-be-read list are romances, but then it’s set to get a bit darker –

Amazing Grace by Kim Nash. This definitely looks like my sort of romantic read.

A Single Woman by Maggie Christensen (due out on 9th May). The latest second-chance romance from a favourite author of mine

Wild Fire by Ann Cleeves. The final DI Perez story in the wonderful Shetland crime series.

Only the Dead Can Tell by Alex Gray. Another author whose previous crime fiction I’ve enjoyed.

Cold as the Grave by James Oswald. A new crime writer for me but he comes highly recommended.

And it’s worth noting that I’ve discovered most of the above books because of reviews by some amazingly dedicated book bloggers. So thank you to Anne at Being Anne , Joanne at Portobello Book Blog and Linda at Linda’s Book Bag to name only a few… These blogs are well worth a visit if you’re looking for reading suggestions.

So, what are your best reads of 2019 so far? And what are you looking forward to reading next? Feel free to comment below.

Writing Fiction: Made Up Places

In my last post I wrote about five favourite real-life places that have featured in my books. So in this one I thought I’d share some other places that feature in my fiction but that are entirely made-up.

Now, you might be wondering why I felt the need to invent places. After all, my books are contemporary fiction and are set in real geographical locations with plenty of actual distinctive and exciting settings to choose from. Even my children’s book with its historical and fantasy elements is based in the real world settings of Edinburgh and the north of Scotland.

There are various reasons why I invented some additional settings as well as making full use of the real ones. Some were practical and some were just part of the fun of using my imagination. After all as an author I get to enjoy making up characters and their stories, so why not add in some pretend places too.

Imagined Houses

One of my favourite sorts of places to invent is a character’s home.

The house I created for Caitlin in my children’s novel The Silver Locket was based on a real house. Caitlin lives in Edinburgh with her father and her siblings in a large Victorian villa. And the house I used as a starting point was the one my piano teacher lived in – a house I visited regularly as a child. Another house familiar to me from childhood was the seaside one where one of my friends lived and this gave me a starting point for Rosie’s house in Change of Life.

For both Rachel and Jack in Displacement and its sequel Settlement I spent a fair bit of time creating their houses.

Jack’s house is a former croft house and although it’s over a hundred years old, he renovates, modernises and extends it. One of the outcomes of the work he puts in is lots of large windows that make the most of the light and the views. He also knocks down interior walls to make larger more open rooms.

Rachel’s cottage is on a working croft. It too is over a hundred years old. It’s the house she grew up in and has not had any recent modernisation work done to it.

For Jack’s house especially I trawled through magazines such as Ideal Homes and House Beautiful to get ideas. I also based some of the exteriors and interiors on actual houses including ones I’d lived in myself.

Once I had some starting point pictures in my head I then drew out the floor plans for the houses. I put in as much detail as possible – including the location of doors, windows and stairs as well as the layout of the furniture. I also made a note of the direction in which the houses faced and what could be seen from the windows. And these plans were important – not because I intended to include every detail of these dwellings in their respective novels – but in order to maintain clarity for myself when I imagined my characters moving around in these spaces. But not only that, it was also in order to maintain consistency for my readers who I hoped would be able to imagine these spaces for themselves.

Imagined Streets, Villages and Towns

Almost all the outdoor settings I’ve used so far in my novels are real. The walks taken by the characters, the towns and cities and villages they live in exist – even if their actual address doesn’t.

But I did make up one place and that is Halladale the crofting township where Displacement‘s (and its follow-up books) Jack and Rachel live on the real Isle of Skye. I located Halladale on the (real) Waternish peninsula at the northern end of the island but I decided to go for a made up community. The reason I did so was to give me freedom to lay it out as I chose to for the purposes of the story – and also so that nobody in the relatively small island community could possibly mistake it for their township or their house.

However, having opted for this made-up location meant that once again I had to some detailed drawing to do. After all I couldn’t have a character’s house facing the loch on one page and then have it turning through 180 degrees to face the hill a few pages later. So the whole township was committed to paper and stuck up on the wall.

Freedom to Create

I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed making up all those places. The houses in particular were great fun to do.

And that’s part of the joy of being a writer – having the freedom to just make things up – people, stories and places.

If you’re a writer do you use real locations in your writing? As a reader do you prefer real world settings or made-up ones – or a bit of a mixture?