Big Things On My Mind: The Comfort of Work and the other ‘Small’ Things. Plus Books of the Month for October 2021 #writing #reading #savingtheplanet @MaggieChriste33 @4victoriawalker @JulieCaplin @Heidi_Swain

Big Universal Things On My Mind

There’s a lot of important, difficult and sometimes scary stuff going on at the moment and I’m sure I’m not alone in being a bit preoccupied by it all – and in feeling rather helpless.  

There’s the fragile state of humanity’s existence if we don’t get our act together and make big positive steps to ensure our planet’s future. The COP26 – the 26th UN Conference of the Parties – began yesterday in Glasgow and will run for the next two weeks. As a Scot, I’m proud that it’s being hosted here, but as a citizen of planet Earth I am of course invested in there being positive outcomes from this conference and am desperately hoping it doesn’t just produce yet more hot air that our poor struggling world has to process. As lot of people do, I try to do my bit to live sustainably, but laudable and vital as our individual efforts are, it’s going to take a concerted national and international effort to save our beautiful wee planet.

There are the continuing challenges of the Covid pandemic with cases here in the UK continuing to rise and our health service under pressure before winter has even arrived. And more than that there’s the desperate need for the richer countries – UK included – to ensure that the world’s poorer countries can vaccinate their populations. In the meantime I will continue to be careful, to wear my mask and to get my booster vaccination when it’s offered.

And then there’s the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Again, while I can contribute at a personal level by donating money to a humanitarian charity, it needs the will, effort and action of governments to help ease the situation for all who are suffering there.

The Comfort of Work and the Small Things

However, I am grateful to have other things going on – things that yes, are distractions from the big stuff but are also way more than just that. These are the things that despite everything provide solace, a sense of purpose and a big dollop of joy. They are the things rooted in love.

There’s the joy of time spent with family and friends – something I’ve been doing a fair bit of lately, there’s the solace of a good book – see below for more about that, and then there’s my work as a writer.

I LOVE my job. I love that I can create and get totally absorbed in my imaginary world, that I can create interesting characters that I want to spend time with and get to know the places they live, work and play in.

Currently I’m busy ruthlessly redrafting my latest novel in preparation for it going off to my editor. I know I’ll miss spending time with this latest set of characters but I’ve already begun a new book and I can’t wait to give it my undivided attention. So yes, it’s looking like I’ll have two new books out in the first part of 2022. And that definitely makes my heart sing.

The Solace of Reading

Books of the Month for October 2021

A Mother’s Story by Maggie Christensen

This is a slight cheat as this latest novel by one of my favourite authors isn’t published until tomorrow (2nd November 2021). I was lucky enough to get a pre-publication copy and I’ve already reviewed it over on Goodreads – here’s what I wrote:

A wonderful emotional read.
Wow! As a long-time fan of Maggie Christensen’s romance novels I thought I knew what to expect when reading A Mother’s Story. I was wrong. This isn’t a romance. It’s a family saga but boy, is it packed full of love, emotion and drama.
The first chapter had me hooked and it was hard to put the book down. Don’t read this at bedtime if you want to get sleep early.
The book begins in World War Two and spans the following decades. It ranges from Scotland to Australia, runs along two timelines and tells the story of three women.
It’s a powerful tale of family love – especially the love between mothers and daughters – and it’s beautifully told.
As for the ending – well, all I’m going to say is it’s perfectly judged.

From the back cover:

A lost child. A mother’s grief. A daughter’s journey.

In Scotland, in1941, as WW2 increases in ferocity, Rhona Begg goes against her parents’ wishes and enlists in the ATS—a decision that brings with it heart-breaking consequences. After the war, weighed down with regret and grief, Rhona receives news that has the power to change her life.

Across the ocean in Australia, Nell Duncan worries about her husband who is fighting in the Far East. When she receives the dreaded news that he is missing in action, her world collapses. The end of the war brings changes to Nell’s life, but her dream of bearing a child is no longer possible and she grieves for what might have been.

In 1971, when Joy Baker gives birth to her daughter, she begins the journey to discover her ancestry. What she finds shocks her to the core and propels her on a journey to the land of her birth.

Three women. Three mothers. Three astonishing stories.

From wartime Scotland to present day Australia. A Mother’s Story is an emotion-filled sweeping family saga.

Snug in Iceland by Victoria Walker

From the back cover:

Rachel Richards is stuck in a rut. Her boyfriend Adam barely notices her most of the time and her life in London isn’t as exciting as it should be. When the company she works for, Snug, asks her to oversee the opening of a new store in Iceland, she jumps at the chance for a change of scenery. Exploring Reykjavik with the help of Icelandic tour guide Jonas, Rachel discovers that life is out there waiting to be lived. As she falls in love with Iceland, she begins to see what is important to her and wonders whether the life she left behind is what she wants after all…

The Cosy Cottage in Ireland by Julie Caplin

From the back cover:

Snuggle up in your favourite armchair and take a trip across the Irish sea for comfort food, cosy cottage nights and a heartwarming romance…

Talented lawyer Hannah Campbell wants a change in her workaholic Manchester life – so she books herself a place at the world-renowned Killorgally Cookery School in County Kerry. But on her first night In Ireland, sampling the delights of Dublin, Hannah can’t resist falling for the charms of handsome stranger Conor. It’s only when Hannah arrives at her postcard-pretty home at Killorgally for the next six weeks that she discovers what happens in Dublin doesn’t quite stay in Dublin…

Nestled amongst rolling green hills and breathtaking countryside, the cookery school throws Hannah and Conor together again–for better or worse.

Top of the to-be-read pile

Unlike with the books I’ve already read and enjoyed, I don’t normally share what I’m about to read but this month – whether you like it or not – I’m doing just that.

Like many keen readers I have a fairly substantial pile of to-be-read books and sometimes it can be difficult deciding what to read next. But at this time of year I do narrow the field and get cracking on lots of lovely, snuggly and romantic Christmas reads.  And I’ll be starting my festive reading season off with the latest novel from another of my favourite authors.

It’s called Underneath the Christmas Tree and is by Heidi Swain

From the back cover:

Wynter’s Trees is the home of Christmas. For the people of Wynmouth it’s where they get their family Christmas tree, and where Christmas truly comes to life.

But for Liza Wynter, it’s a millstone around her neck. It was her father’s pride and joy but now he’s gone, she can’t have anything to do with it. Until her father’s business partner decides to retire and she must go back to handle the transition to his son Ned.

When Liza arrives, she discovers a much-loved business that’s flourishing under Ned’s stewardship. And she’s happy to stay and help for the Christmas season, but then she has other plans. But will the place where she grew up make her change her mind? And can it weave its Christmas cheer around her heart…?

More Romantic Christmas Recommendations Next Time

Check back here at end of November/early December for more of my recommended yuletide reads.

What are your go to refuges when the problems of the world seem overwhelming?

Do you have pile of books waiting to be read? Do you like to read books that are linked to where we are in the year? What’s your favourite recent read? What do you plan to read next?

Please, do feel free to share in the comments below.

Lived Experience in Writing. Plus Books of the Month for September 2021 @indieauthoralli @Vicky_Walters @CamCavendish @TrishaNicholson #writing #reading #MondayMotivation

This month’s post contains something for writers and something for readers. Both parts though offer some much needed positivity in a world that at the moment seems a bit too full of the opposite. I hope it offers readers of the blog some reasons for optimism. Thank you for here and enjoy!

WRITING:

Keep learning and keep an open mind

Much as writing fiction is an imaginative process, when you write contemporary fiction, as I do, it has to be rooted in the real world and that can cause problems, doubts and questions for an author. My novels have included in their cast characters born and living in the Middle East, characters with disabilities, and characters whose lifestyles are often very different from my own. I always do my research but I do worry whether it’s been enough and that my understanding is accurate. So I was pleased to come across a most enlightening and reassuring article on one aspect of these sort of issues that fiction writers face.

 Inclusivity, Diversity and Lived Experience in Fiction Writing

As a writer of contemporary heterosexual romantic fiction I owe it tomy writers togive them a credible story set in the real word of the present day. There needs to be a woman and a man as the main characters, they have to fall in love and they need to overcome all obstacles to their finding happiness together and the story needs to take place in settings that support the telling. I also need to populate the setting and plot with a collection of supporting characters that reflect that setting Sounds simple. But it’s not.

After all, I want to keep writing books and I want to keep entertaining my loyal readers. However, although the above recipe of essential ingredients needs to be followed if I’m to maintain the trust of my readership, it would be pretty dull for me and them if I stuck to only writing what I know and to experiences I’ve actually had in my own life. Yes, of course I do use my own lived experience to inform and inspire my writing. But there’s only so much of it that’s gripping or even interesting to anyone apart from me.

So, I have to go beyond what I’ve experienced as a sixty-something white Scottish woman living in Scotland as a wife, mother, grandmother and teacher. I have to imagine other lives. But imagination is only sufficient up to a point. What I write imaginatively must have strong foundations. It must be realistic, fair and credible.

Therefore coming across an article which included a piece by writer Eliana West recently – on the Alliance of Independent Authors website – at selfpublishing.org – was both enlightening and reassuring. The article was called Racism and Writing but it mentioned and can be applied to writing about all sorts of diverse characters – such as those with disabilities – and included several resources for writers who want to write outside of their own direct lived experience but also to write inclusively, realistically and respectfully. Eliana’s website can be found at elianawest.com and she runs a Facebook group called Writers for Diversity.

Below are some sample quotes from the full article:

Instead of asking if you are the right person to write this story, ask yourself what your intention is with your writing and what impact you hope it will have.

As a writer Eliana West urges you to consider these intentions:

ELIANA WEST:

  • I am committed to creating characters that reflect the world I live in.
  • I will take the time to examine my own bias and do the research needed to write characters who are not stereotypes.
  • I will strive to use the appropriate language to describe my character’s identity.
  • I will recognize and be respectful of individual experience. I understand I cannot define an experience for an entire race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, or community in my writing.

And to ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do you want to write this? What is your motivation?
  • What is your personal, emotional, psychological, ethical investment in writing it?
  • Can someone else tell this story better? Is it someone else’s story to tell?
  • What does your telling of the story do? Does it replicate prior violence, oppression or injustice? Does it provide new understanding or insight?
  • What is your power balance/imbalance as a writer to the subject matter?
  • Should you write/publish this at all? As with most ethical questions, the key is not can one, but should one?

READING:

Finding information, balance and comfort through reading

It can be hard at times to keep a positive take on the world around us – especially if we pay too much attention to some of the news headlines and certain areas of social media and not enough attention to keeping things in perspective.

So it’s good to find books that help to provide balance and/or comfort.

Two of my September books of the month both non-fiction are full of optimism around two of the ‘bad’ things we’re hearing a lot about at the moment. One is about the planting of a forest as an act of faith in the future and the other is a positive take on ageing populations and on contesting the taboos and misconceptions around this topic. And my third book of the month is a touching, romantic and absorbing novel and provided the perfect escape when I needed a break from the real world.

The Five Acre Forest by Trish Nicholson

From the back cover:

Planting a tree is an act of faith, an expression of hope.

The Five Acre Forest inspires that hope

In transit from the globe-trotting life of an aid worker, Trish Nicholson came upon an eroded dune beside a lake in New Zealand’s far north and felt a strange attachment. The following year, she abandoned her Celtic roots and returned to plant a thousand trees.

Twenty years on, the author shares the physical and emotional trials and triumphs of transforming the dune into a five acre forest, and describes the lives of its native trees, birds and insects, enchanting us with local legends and her nature photography along the way.

Woven into Nicholson’s personal narrative is the deep-time story of an extraordinary landscape of dunes, lakes, swamps and beaches formed from an ancient shared geological ancestry.


Extra Time by Camilla Cavendish

From the back cover:

From award-winning journalist, Camilla Cavendish, comes a profound analysis of one of the biggest challenges facing the human population today.

The world is undergoing a dramatic demographic shift. By 2020, for the first time in history, the number of people aged 65 and over will outnumber children aged five and under. But our systems are lagging woefully behind this new reality. In Extra Time, Camilla Cavendish embarks on a journey to understand how different countries are responding to these unprecedented challenges.

Travelling across the world in a carefully researched and deeply human investigation, Cavendish contests many of the taboos around ageing. Interviewing leading scientists about breakthroughs that could soon transform the quality and extent of life, she sparks a debate about how governments, businesses, doctors, the media and each one of us should handle the second half of life. She argues that if we take a more positive approach, we should be able to reap the benefits of a prolonged life. But that will mean changing our attitudes and
using technology, community, even anti-ageing pills, to bring about a revolution.

Always and Forever at Glendale Hall by Victoria Walters

From the back cover:

What if we’re all just searching for something?

Anna Stewart is lost. After barely surviving a car accident as a teenager, Anna is scared of settling. Flitting between jobs, boyfriends and homes whenever she gets bored, she has no idea what the future holds. Then her brother Brodie, minister of Glendale, suggests she moves to the beautiful Scottish village, lining up a housekeeper job for her at Glendale Hall.

Out of options, Anna agrees to take the job just for the summer. Once at the hall, her culinary skills impress everyone, and she agrees to give Hilltop Farm’s new manager, Cameron, cooking lessons. Sparks fly between Anna and the handsome Scot, but Cameron keeps pushing Anna away, and Anna definitely isn’t looking for love. But it’s wedding season at Glendale Hall, and Anna is about to discover that her new home has a way of working its magic on even the coldest of hearts.

Will she really be able to just walk away at the end of summer, or could Anna have finally found a place to belong?

It’s summertime so pack your bags and escape to beautiful Highlands village of Glendale with this gorgeously uplifting, romantic read. Fans of Milly Johnson, Heidi Swain and Holly Martin will love this charming romance.

Update on my own writing

Before I go, for anyone who’s interested in where my own aforementioned writing is at currently …

I have finished one novel and I’m busy redrafting and generally knocking the manuscript into shape before it goes off to my editor. And I’m halfway through writing another novel. More about both of these soon …

 And that’s just about it for this month.

Just a couple of questions for you? As a writer do you wrestle with diversity/inclusivity issues? As a reader, have you read anything inspiring, informative or just downright comforting this month?  As always feel free to share in the comments below.

Paying it Forward – writers helping writers. Plus Books of the Month for May 2021 #writing #reading #romanticfiction @SueMoorcroft @LeonieMAuthor @kateforster @IndieAuthorALLI

A Lonely Job

I first started taking my writing seriously twenty years ago and, as I was at that time a working parent with a demanding job, it took me several of those years to have a manuscript that was remotely ready for publication. And as for getting published, that was when then the really hard work began.

But eventually after a decade of putting in the hours and, after many steep learning curves had been ascended, my first novel, Change of Life was published.

However, sitting at a desk writing thousands of words can be a lonely job. However, aside from the creative part of getting my story written down, I didn’t do it all alone. Far from it. I received a lot of help along the way – and a lot of that help came from fellow writers.

Help from Fellow Writers

There were the encouraging members of the writing groups I belonged too, there were the competition judges who gave detailed feedback on my entries, there were the tutors on the residential course I took at Moniack Mhor, and my fellow learners on the (sadly now no longer in existence) youwriteon.com website where so much positive and constructive feedback was mutually shared.

And nowadays I still have support available to me. Not least from the magnificent Alliance of Independent Authors ( https://www.allianceindependentauthors.org/ )  started by author, Orna Ross, and run by and for authors and giving access to an incredible amount of useful – if not vital information – for writers of every sort. But as well as being a member of the Alliance, I also connect with lots of other authors via social media and receive so much support – both practical and moral via that route.

Paying it Forward – Help For Fellow Writers

So, given that I didn’t get to this point, where I have now published five novels and am hard at work on my sixth, on my own, I like to be able to offer help and support to those writers just starting out on their journey to publication.

And recently I have had two opportunities to do just that. The first one came about when a friend asked me if her husband could contact me for some advice about how to go about getting his memoir ready for publication and then how to take the next steps after that. I was happy to try to help – as even although I don’t write non-fiction myself, the rudimentary principles of fiction and non-fiction are basically the same. And, after a couple of long tutorial type phone conversations between the two of us, he told me my advice and shared experience had been really helpful to him.

Then not long after that I was contacted by the friend of a friend via email. This was another apprentice writer – she’d written a historical novel and was unsure what to do next – and she wondered if I could maybe point her in the right direction. So I put together a document of what I hope were helpful pieces of information and reflections on my own experience and emailed her back. She, too, said that the information I shared was helpful.

Besides those personal one-to-one scenarios, I also like to support fellow authors in a wider sense. So naturally I buy and read books. But not only that – I mention the best of them here on the blog in my Books of the Month posts or on social media sites. I read and share reviews. And I do that vital thing of posting my own reviews of books I’ve enjoyed on online bookshop websites.

And the really lovely thing is that other writers offer similar support to me if and when they enjoy things that I have written.

A Writing Community

So yes, it’s good to be part of a community, to have colleagues to share the joys and tribulations of the job with, and it’s good to give and receive support. I do love my job!

Books of the Month

And speaking of sharing the best of my fellow workers labours – below are my best reads for the month of May. There are three of them this month and all are contemporary romances.

Finding Love At Mermaid Terrace by Kate Forster

From the back cover:

Love comes when you least expect it…

Tressa Buckland likes her quiet life in Port Lowdy, with its cobbled streets and colourful terraced houses overlooking the sea. Her job at the local paper allows her to pursue her art in her free time, with no one but her tabby cat Ginger Pickles to mind her in Mermaid Terrace. But then the owner of the paper is called away on an emergency, and it’s up to Tressa to run the paper for six months. Her first task: find a new part-time journalist.

Dan Byrne is the angriest man in Ireland – or so the readers of his very successful column, ‘Dan takes on the world’, think. But after a story goes south and he loses his job in Dublin, Dan has no choice but to start afresh. When an opportunity comes up in sleepy Cornwall, Dan and his Golden Retriever Ritchie set off for a new adventure.

For Tressa, Dan’s arrival to Port Lowdy changes everything. Tressa tries not to look too deeply at her own life, but Dan sees a story to uncover in absolutely everyone – even her. The two of them couldn’t be more different… yet, if they can find a way to work together, they may just breathe new life and joy into this sleepy seaside village.

‘Finding Love at Mermaid Terrace’ is a heartwarming new village romance about the power of love and kindness, from the bestselling author of ‘Starting Over at Acorn Cottage’.

Italy Ever After by Leonie Mack

From the back cover:

TV journalist Lou feels battered and bruised after her divorce from Phil, the father of her daughter Edie. Her confidence and sense of fun have steadily been drained away, and she isn’t sure who she is any more.

When the opportunity arises to accompany Edie on a music camp in Italy for a month in the summer, Lou jumps at the chance for new adventures, new horizons and new friends. The hazy warmth of the summer sun, shining brightly over the stunning Lake Garda, slowly brings Lou back to life.

Nick Romano, Edie’s music teacher, loves being home in Italy, but coaching his students for their concert in Milan, is bringing back difficult memories. His blossoming friendship with Lou is the perfect distraction, although a summer fling would be easier to conduct without the scrutiny of his mother Greta, not to mention the interference of his extended Italian family.

As the summer passes, full of sunshine and breath-taking scenery, gelato and delicious feasts, Lou and Nick get ever closer. But as the time for farewell creeps up on them, will they be able to say goodbye and leave their memories behind in the Italian sun, or can a summer romance last a lifetime?

Under the Italian Sun by Sue Moorcroft

From the back cover:

A sun-baked terrace. The rustle of vines. And the clink of wine glasses as the first cork of the evening is popped…

Welcome to Italy. A place that holds the answer to Zia-Lucia Costa Chalmers’ many questions. Not least, how she ended up with such a mouthful of a name.

When revelations close to home turn Zia’s world upside down, she realises the time has come to search out the Italian family she’s never known.

But as she looks for answers, she can’t help but notice Piero, the vineyard owner next door – a distraction who may prove difficult to ignore…

This summer, join Zia as she sets out to uncover her past. But can she find the future she’s always dreamed of along the way?

And that’s it for another month. As always feel free to share your thoughts and comments below – especially if your job – whether as a writer or something else –  gives you a sense of community and a way of giving and receiving support within that community.