Just a quick apology to those of you who subscribe to this blog by email or who follow my blog announcements on Twitter.
That’s twice now I’ve been trying – and failed – to schedule upcoming posts and instead of scheduling them for a future date, which I can normally do no bother, they’ve published immediately – and I had to unpublish them as they were too early. WordPress – where this blog is hosted – has a recently gone over to a new way of working and I’m having a bit of a struggle with it. So sorry – will try harder in future.
So please, do ignore the last two notifications re new posts. These posts will now go live on 31st August and 7th September respectively – I hope!
Today it’s the turn of author Olga Wojtas to give us a glimpse into her life as a writer. Olga writes highly entertaining, clever and witty fiction.
Her latest book is Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace and you can read more about it and how to get a copy at the end of this post. So, over to Olga.
Olga Wojtas’s Writing Life in a Day
For years, I’ve gone to author events to discover the secret formula for a successful writing routine. And I’ve discovered there is no one-size-fits-all. We have different pressures and different commitments: whatever works for you is right, and don’t try to follow what other people do if it doesn’t suit you.
Anthony Trollope used to write from 5am till 8am before going to work as surveyor-general of the Post Office (where he invented the pillar box). Stephen King says you have to read and write for four to six hours every day (I’m guessing he has help with cooking, cleaning, shopping, childcare, etc). Ian McEwan says it’s a good day if he’s written several hundred words (which suggests he’s making reasonable money).
I first started writing seriously when I was working full time as a journalist. I joined an Edinburgh University evening class on short stories. We had to write a story a week as homework. I had a forty-five minute walk to and from the office and found myself making up the stories en route. I would try out bits of dialogue aloud, which led to other pedestrians giving me a very wide berth. And when I got home, I would work on developing what had been in my head, which could take me well into the night.
Now freelance, I’m spending much more time on my own writing, and have published two novels under my own name, as well as a series of cosy crime e-novellas under the name Helena Marchmont. But my working pattern has been set. I can develop ideas on my laptop, but to get those ideas in the first place, I have to walk. The surroundings don’t matter, so I generally plod round the Edinburgh streets near my flat. I’ve occasionally gone up a hill on the basis that it’s good for me, but I’m back home before I realise I never looked at the view. And yes, I still talk to myself, and sometimes I cackle, and other pedestrians still give me a very wide berth.
I can walk at any time, but my laptop biorhythms only kick in late at night. I’m at my most productive after 11pm, often writing until around 4am, and when I’m on a deadline, I invariably end up pulling an all-nighter. Sadly, I never seem to get the chance to sleep until lunchtime – even under lockdown, there are things to do, people to see (either socially distanced or on Zoom) and I’m permanently sleep-deprived. I have a slight lower back problem which isn’t helped by sitting for lengthy periods, so I’ve invested in a standing desk (a fifty quid flat-pack, and hours of trauma as my husband and I struggled to put it together). At the beginning of a project, it looks great, with just the laptop on it. By the end, I can barely see the laptop for books, notebooks, scraps of paper with indecipherable scribbles, a coffee mug, and the occasional chocolate wrapper (I tend to need an energy boost around 2am).
I still write short stories, and during my walks, I’ll work out the shape that I want, the dialogue, that crucial first sentence, and that even more crucial last sentence. Sometimes by the time I get to the laptop, I’m effectively transcribing a complete story. But that’s impossible with a novella or novel, since my brain can’t cope with more than about two thousand words. So while I walk, I focus on a particular scene, and think that through. In my first novel, “Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar,” I began with three key scenes. I wrote them all separately, and didn’t even know what order they would appear in. They sparked off ideas for other scenes; gradually I began to work out a logical order, and then the task was to join them all up.
And that’s the way I still work, in bite-sized chunks. The main problem I’ve found post-C19 is remembering that my characters aren’t in lockdown and are allowed to shake hands and even hug. I keep thinking they shouldn’t be doing that, and they definitely shouldn’t be going into pubs.
Weird though my working practice is, I’ve found it impossible to change. And I can’t imagine not writing. For as long as I’m able to toddle round the block, I hope the ideas will keep coming, and I’ll keep tapping away at the laptop in the middle of the night.
Anne: Thank you to Olga for this fascinating insight into her rather unusual writing life. You can read more about her and her latest book below.
Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace
From the back cover:
The intrepid librarian Shona McMonagle, erstwhile Marcia Blaine Academy prefect and an accomplished linguist and martial artist, finds herself in an isolated French mountain village, Sans-Soleil, which has no sunlight because of its topography. It’s reeling from a spate of unexplained deaths, and Shona has once again travelled back in time to help out.
Forging an uneasy alliance with newly widowed Madeleine, Shona is soon drawn into a full-blown vampire hunt, involving several notable villagers, the world-renowned soprano Mary Garden – and even Count Dracula himself. Will Shona solve the mystery, secure justice for the murder victims and make it through a deathly denouement in the hall of mirrors to return to present-day Morningside Library?
Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace is available through all good bookshops; via Amazon and Kobo; and direct from the publisher Saraband here
Olga Wojtas is half-Scottish and half-Polish. A journalist, she has spent most of her life in Edinburgh, where she was born and brought up, but has also lived and worked in Aberdeen, Grenoble, Newcastle and Washington DC. She went to James Gillespie’s High School – the model for Marcia Blaine School for Girls, which appears in Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. This inspired Olga’s first novel, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar, written thanks to a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award, and published by Contraband. It was short-listed for the CrimeFest Last Laugh award and longlisted for the inaugural Comedy Women in Print award. Her second novel, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Vampire Menace, published in February this year, was also longlisted for the CWIP award. Olga writes the Bunburry series of e-novellas, published by Bastei-Luebbe, under the name Helena Marchmont – Helena is her middle name, and she grew up in Marchmont Road in Edinburgh.
Today it’s the turn of author Alison Morton to give us a glimpse into her life as a writer. Alison writes the most amazing fiction – her Roma Nova series of novels which combine alternative history, political thriller and romance is just brilliant. Her latest book is Nexus and you can read more about it and how to get a copy at the end of this post. So, over to Alison.
Alison Morton’s Writing Life in a Day
The dream version
I spring out of bed at 6 a.m., go for a two-kilometre run, return for healthy breakfast of muesli and fruit, no caffeine. Shower, then ten minutes of calming yoga. Dress in relaxing linen separates and drift to my desk ready to start creating at 8 a.m.
The Muse visits and I type out a thousand perfect words before lunch which is a low calorie cheese and salad bowl with a healthy glass of carrot juice. I relax for twenty minutes on the terrace breathing in the fresh country air and gathering my thoughts for the next scene of my wonderful book. Two agents email me, fighting to offer me a five book deal and 100,000€ advance. I decide to leave it a week before I reply.
I return to my immaculately tidy desk and spend an hour reading a research book uninterrupted except by the blackbird chirruping outside my window. After another perfect two thousand words, I stop at 7pm and drink a modest glass of wine in the evening warmth. I go to bed at 10 pm for an uninterrupted night of deep sleep, content that the Muse will visit me again with the plot for the next book.
The real version
Wake up. 6:30 am. Damn, I forgot to finish that guest post for today. So many notes I don’t know where to start. What will they expect? Will it be enough? Must water geraniums before it gets too hot. Gods, my back aches. Tea. Lean over and click the kettle on. Determine to read another half-hour’s worth of ‘duty book’ I said I would review. Maybe it’s me, but I just can’t get into it. Despite the beautiful writing, I have no sympathy for any of the characters – self-indulgent flaneurs, stereotypes or cardboard cut-outs. Pity – there’s a good story in there if it could be dug out of the dark pit it’s buried in.
Reach over and check social media on my iPhone. 100% more interesting. Oh, look a lovely RT from A Famous Person, lots of Likes for a photo of my garden. Spend half an hour interacting on Facebook re books, literary fiction, herbs, history, cats and weather, but see only three books sold overnight on Amazon. 😱
Tea drunk, I head for the shower. Scales or not? Damn. Despite two hours sweating in the garden yesterday, still the wrong side of the ‘You are fat’ figure according to all the health websites. Pull stomach in. No breakfast for me.
Coffee, downstairs to office. Pitiless ‘To do’ list – write own blog, finish guest posts, pitch others, order vitamins, send in tax return, phone doctor re back, check overnight misdemeanours on Facebook groups I admin, read emails, reply to Tweets, schedule a few more, read critique partner stuff, create new graphic to promote latest book, update website page about latest book, skim words of wisdom from other bloggers and so on.
Have mopped floor, emptied dishwasher, answered emails, written this blog post. Can I please have an hour to write my WIP now? Look at my desk strewn with papers – marketing plans, advert analyses, scribbled notes both illegible and unintelligible as I wrote them at 3 a.m. Look through email inbox before lunch. Where is all this spammy stuff coming from?
Lunch. We live in France. ‘Le déjeuner’ is sacrosanct, but only an hour at Château Morton.
Close all social media. Time to engage with the writing process. Ha! My first characters had been running around in my head for years so they were fully formed when I started to write the stories. Of course, I’ve been adding others over the years, so I must check how they’re interacting with the old stagers. Cue spreadsheet with ages and major events.
I have a vague outline of the plot; I know where it has to end, but the detail evolves as I tap on the keyboard. The characters’ quirks and interactions push the story along. Sometimes, they try to stage a coup and take over the show. Excuse me! Who is writing this book? After an hour of negotiation we agree on a compromise and I nudge them back into the story, promising death, agony or separation from their beloved if they don’t behave.
After an hour of this bickering, I go for a tea break and decide I’ll do something calming like marketing. I used to be hot at this stuff, but everything has changed as it does in the book world, so now we’re into Amazon ads, BookBub deals and most ghastly of all, Facebook ads. At 6pm, I give up and go for a large glass of wine and a small supper.
Watch the news at eight, something vaguely history related on BBC4 (via satellite) or an episode of Star Trek or equivalent. Fall into bed at 11pm, read. Lights out at midnight. Rinse and repeat.
Anne: Thank you to Alison for this fascinating insight into her writing life – both pretend and real 😊. You can read more about her and her latest book below.
From the Back cover of NEXUS
A favour for a friend or a bullet in the heart?
Aurelia Mitela is serving as Roma Nova’s ambassador in London. But a spate of high-level killings wrenches her away from helping a friend search for his missing son into leading a pan-European investigation. Badly beaten in Rome as a warning, she is devastated when the killers kidnap her companion, Miklós, and send an ultimatum: Back off or he’ll die.
But Aurelia is a Roma Novan and they never give up…
Set in the mid 1970s between AURELIA and INSURRECTIO in the Aurelia Mitela Roma Nova adventures.
Alison Morton writes the award-winning Roma Nova series featuring modern Praetorian heroines – “intelligent adventure thrillers with heart.” She puts this down to her deep love of Roman history, six years’ military service, a masters’ in history and an over-vivid imagination. She blogs, reads, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband.
All six full-length Roma Nova novels have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices. AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. SUCCESSIO was selected as an Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller. Novellas CARINA and NEXUS and a collection of short stories – ROMA NOVA EXTRA – complete the series so far.
Today it’s the turn of author Kathryn Freeman to give us a glimpse into her life as a writer. Kathryn writes contemporary romances – all of which I’ve read and enjoyed – none more so than her latest one Up Close and Personal which is an original take on the bodyguard/person being guarded scenario. And you can find out more about that at the end of Kathryn’s post.
So over to Kathryn …
A Writer’s Life in a Day – Kathryn Freeman
The sun streams through the window and I leap out of bed, shrug on my silk kaftan and skip downstairs to the kitchen where I pour myself a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. And top it up with champagne. After grabbing a notepad and pen, I slide open the huge glass doors and step onto the patio, breathing in the fresh smell of the sea. Slipping on my sunglasses, I head for my pool where I settle into one of the sun loungers. And begin to write.
That’s what I imagined an author’s life would be like when I first decided I wanted to write books for a living. It was my Jackie Collins phase and I must have been around fifteen.
Of course real life interfered, and I headed off in a totally different direction, into the world of science. I did end up writing, but it was about disease and medicines. Not sizzle, passion and romance.
Yet decades later, I’m finally doing what I always wanted to do. A study instead of the sun lounger by the pool, a computer in place of a note pad, and sadly a mug of tea instead of champagne. Apparently I’m more productive that way, which is a great shame.
A typical day for this writer starts with exercise. No, I never did get that pool, instead I run (err, jog) around the village. It helps wake me up, but also gives me chance to clear my head from the mundane (washing, put bins out tonight, order more printer ink) and refocus it back onto my book. I’m amazed how many ideas come when I’m out in the fresh air, concentrating on my breathing (and definitely not on how far I’ve still got to go). And though it’s great for creativity, when I get home I’m left with a mad dash upstairs to scrawl the ideas down before they flee my sieve of a brain.
Once I’ve showered I retreat to my pink walled study – pink because I love the colour, but also pink to stop my sons and hubby using it. And I start to write.
Someone once gave me a tip that it’s best to stop writing in the middle of a scene, because then it’s easier to pick it up the next day, and I’ve found that really useful. What with that, and the ideas from my run (err, jog), it’s usually easy to get stuck into the story again. If I’m having trouble, I read back over the last chapter, though I try not to do that too much as I end up getting bogged down in correcting words I’ve written, rather than putting new words down. I’d rather have a crappy first draft I can (hopefully) wrestle into a sparkling second draft, than a sparkling, but unfinished, first draft.
I write to an outline, so as I’m typing away I’ve a good idea where the story will go – it’s only the details I need to work out. Sometimes in developing these though, the story heads off in a slightly different direction than planned and the outline is tweaked, though the fundamental plot rarely alters.
When I’m stuck, or when I need a break, I dip into Twitter and Facebook to see what’s going on. Usually I do this at lunchtime but I have to be careful not to get carried away as social media time seems to go twice as fast as normal time.
And, err, that’s about the height of my writing day. I’m not sure you want to know about how I eat lunch at my desk (trying to avoid crumbs on the keyboard), and refuel with tea at regular intervals. Or about how many times I’m interrupted by my husband and sons, who are all with me now thanks to lockdown.
I will say that though the ‘writing’ stops around six, the story in my head doesn’t. At random times, especially when I lay my head on the pillow ready for sleep, ideas leap into my brain and I have to stop and scribble them down. It happens to such an extent that I keep a note book by my bed, and one in the car – traffic jams are good sources of book stimulation. Who knew?!
I will also say that the sheer joy of it all, of writing, of being so immersed in a story that it never leaves you, even after you’ve powered down the computer, is a revelation to me. And I have to pinch myself when I look at the books I’ve created.
Anne: Thank you, Kathryn, for giving us this entertaining and honest peek into your writing life.
Up Close and Personal – from the back cover:
British actor Zac Edwards is the latest heartthrob to hit the red carpets. Hot, talented and rich, he sends women wild…all except one.
Close protection officer Kat Parker hasn’t got time to play celebrity games. She has one job: to protect Zac from the stalker that seems to be dogging his every move.
Zac might get her hot under her very starched collar, but Kat’s a professional – and sleeping with Zac is no way part of her remit…
A former pharmacist, I’m now a medical writer who also writes romance. Some days a racing heart is a medical condition, others it’s the reaction to a hunky hero.
I’ve two sons and a husband who asks every Valentine’s Day whether he has to buy a card (yes, he does), so any romance is all in my head. Then again, his unstinting support of my career change proves love isn’t always about hearts and flowers – and heroes come in many disguises.
I’m excited to let you know that my novel Change of Life – the first book that I published – and the one that changed my life by setting me off on my writing career – is going on a bit of a blog tour in two days’ time – on Wednesday 5th August. The tour has been organised by the lovely Kelly who runs Love Books Tours And you can see a list of where it’s going to pop up on the chart below. I’ve also posted an extract from the beginning of the book at the end of this post.
Reading Through the Lookinglass
Vicky Book and Family
The Book Reader
Ruthies Next Chapter
Karen and her Books
Jazzy Book Reviews
Tangents and Tissues
B for Book Review
Portobello Book Blog
Chicks Rogues and Scandals
Love Books Group
Donna’s Book Blog
Fabulous Book Fiend
I’d love it if you have a moment on Wednesday to pop in at any of the blogs and if you could share the posts – even better.
Change of Life is a standalone story and as with all my novels it’s contemporary romantic fiction.
And here’s what it’s about:
Be careful what you wish for…
Wife to heart surgeon and control freak, Tom, and mother to four adolescent children, Rosie feels taken for granted as she juggles family life and her work as a teacher. She longs for a change of life. When she almost hits a teenage boy with her car, her life explodes into uncharted territory. The boy is Robbie – and Rosie discovers he is part of a terrible secret that Tom has kept for seventeen years. Then when Rosie is diagnosed with breast cancer, she leaves home and begins the fight for her life. Meanwhile Tom, is forced to learn what it means to be a husband and father as he struggles to keep his family together and strives to get his wife back.
Change of Life is available for only 99p as an ebook and is free if you’re a Kindle Unlimited member. You can buy it here. It’s also available as a paperback.
Thank you to Kelly at Love Books Tours and to all the wonderful book bloggers above.
Extract from Change of Life
I didn’t see the boy until the moment of impact. He slammed into the side of the car as I reversed out of the driveway. I got a fright, thought I’d hurt someone, but I couldn’t have guessed that this was merely a foreshock to a much greater upheaval. Ten past one, lunch time, Tuesday 17th May. It was the moment when the past caught up and collided with the present.
I got out to check he wasn’t hurt. He glanced at me and turned to run. He was about Adam’s age, seventeen or so. There was something familiar about him. But I didn’t think I knew him. Ours was a small community and with four children of my own, I thought I knew most of the local young people, at least by sight.
“Wait, are you all right?” I caught his arm. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.”
He didn’t appear to be injured. He was taller than me, with untidy, dark hair and very deep brown eyes. In one ear he wore a little silver skull. I recognised his tee shirt. Adam had one just like it. It had the words ‘Subliminal Messages’ written across it – the name of a Slipknot album. As the boy pulled his arm back he seemed to hesitate.
“Do I know you?” I said. “Are you a friend of Adam’s?”
He looked me in the eyes for a moment. I stared back. Something passed between us; was it recognition? Then he bolted – obviously uninjured.
I didn’t have time to speculate about the boy. I’d only nipped home for lunch and a catch up with Ruby. I needed to get back.
I got the last space in the school car park. I was hurrying towards the main entrance when my mobile rang. I answered it as I went inside. It was the hospital. My stomach tightened.
“Hello, Mrs McAllister. This is Mr Campbell’s secretary. He’s asked me to set up an appointment for you to come and discuss your test results.” The voice was warm, friendly even. But I still had an awful feeling of dread.
“He could see you on Thursday at three.”
“Oh, yes, right, Thursday…” My mind whirred through Thursday’s schedule. I’d need to get off early. Kirsty, my head teacher and one of my closest friends, would have to cover my class. What would I tell her? I wondered if the doctor needed to see you if it was good news. He could tell you over the phone, surely. It must mean bad news…
“So is that all right then, Thursday at three, with Mr Campbell?”
“Sorry, yes. Is it bad news do you know? I mean, why else would he be bothering?”
“You mustn’t jump to conclusions, Mrs McAllister. He’d want to see you either way. Try not to worry and we’ll see you in a couple of days.”
As the call ended, the bell rang for the start of afternoon lessons. My life went on, even as its bedrock heaved and shifted beneath me.
It’s Sunday morning. Rosie only met him on Tuesday. Is it really only a few days ago? In less than a week my life has fallen apart – no that’s wrong – it fell apart in a moment – in the time it took a boy to speak a sentence. And now my wife is leaving and my heart is broken.
It’s the 22nd of May, but it feels more like November. I’m standing at the living-room window. It’s raining and the sea and sky are slate grey, the horizon obliterated. I feel leaden, unable to move or speak; it’s the paralysis of a nightmare. I want to beg her to stay, to admit she’s being silly and overreacting.
Rosie and our nineteen year old daughter, Sam, load bags and boxes into Rosie’s car. Toby is watching them, barking occasionally. I know I should go out to her and fight to make her change her mind but I’m exhausted, I’m drowning. I’m engulfed in the aftermath of more anger than I’ve ever felt towards her.
I hear the dull thud of the boot closing. It’s done. She’s ready to go. Our younger daughter, Jenny, sprints down the driveway, jacket held above her head, and says something to Rosie. Then Max dashes from the house and hands his mother a piece of paper. She looks at it and smiles and they hug each other. She puts the paper down on the driver’s seat and closes the door. They all come back in and head for the kitchen.
Jenny calls out, “Dad, Adam, coffee.”
A few moments later I hear Adam coming downstairs and going along to the kitchen. I know he’s not happy about his mother leaving, but at least he’s able to join the others for a coffee before she goes.
I make it to the sofa. I find that I want to cry. This terrifies me. I struggle not to lose my grip, not to howl and kick and scream. I’m Tom McAllister, consultant heart surgeon, professional, practical, in control. Or so I thought. I didn’t intend any of this to happen. I’m helpless, lost. I haven’t felt this vulnerable or alone since I was a child. I find I’m rocking, curled up, my head wrapped in my arms. I force myself to sit up, to keep breathing.
When I fail to appear in the kitchen, Jenny comes to get me.
“Come on Dad, come and have a coffee. I’ve made a carrot cake and it looks scrummy, even if I say so myself. Come and say cheerio to Mum.”
“I can’t. How can you be so cheerful?”
Jenny puts her hand on my arm, “Och, Dad, she just needs a bit of a break.” She hesitates and gives my arm a squeeze. “And she needs to get over how cross she is with you.”
“So she says, Jenny. So she says. But I can’t come and say goodbye as if she was simply going away for a few days holiday. I don’t understand how she can go.”
“If we all understand, why can’t you? Even Adam’s there to say goodbye. Come and wish her well, Dad, and tell her you’ll be here waiting for her. She needs you to say that.”
I stand up and hug Jenny. Seventeen and so grown up. The children are behaving better than me. I feel even more ashamed and desperate. “I can’t do it. I can’t give any of this my blessing.”
Jenny walks away. With her long blonde hair and slight frame, she looks and moves like her mother. At the door she turns and says, “It’s not your blessing she wants.”
It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Yet it feels like the right thing. This is about my survival and I know I can’t stay. It’s a wet Sunday morning in May. The weather gives the day a heavy, washed-out feeling and it mirrors my mood perfectly. I’m sitting at the kitchen table. My children are with me.
“So, I can come and see you in two weeks?” Max asks.
“Yes, like I said, I’ll have had a good rest by then and Grandma will bring you to Edinburgh for a visit.”
“I’ll miss you, Mum.” Max puts down his glass of milk and comes to hug me. I cling to him, glad that, at twelve years old, he doesn’t yet feel too old for such displays.
“I’ll miss you too. But two weeks will pass quickly and then, in the summer holidays, you can come and stay as much as you want.”
“That’s a great picture you did for Mum, Maxy.” Jenny rubs her wee brother’s back. “You could do more for her while she’s away – like a sort of picture diary of what you’re up to – use the sketch book Uncle Dan gave you for your birthday.”
“Mm yeah, I suppose.”
“You could start now – draw us all here at the table.”
Max considers then nods. “I’ll go and get my stuff.”
I smile my gratitude at Jenny.
Sam gets up from the table. “I need to go. My shift starts at twelve.”
I get up too. “Sam,” I say, holding my arms out towards her.
She shakes her head. “I still don’t get it, Mum. I’m trying to, but I don’t. I think if you just talked to Dad, you could sort it.”
I drop my arms. I can’t look at her. Then she’s over and holding me in a tight embrace. “Go if you have to, but come back soon,” she whispers. Then she’s gone.
I know I should go too. There’s no point prolonging this. I glance at Adam. He’s staring into his coffee mug. Max comes back with his sketch book and pencils.
“How can I do my picture if Sam’s gone?”
“I better get on my way.” I smile apologetically at him.
“You can still put Mum and Sam in the picture, Max,” says Jenny. “Even if they’re not here – you’re a good enough artist.”
Max nods and lays his things on the table.
I hug Jenny. “Thanks for the making the cake, it was a lovely thought.”
She smiles. “Come on, Adam, let’s see Mum off.” Jenny places a hand on her twin brother’s shoulder. He shrugs it off.
Max takes my hand. At first Adam doesn’t move. Then he gets up and stands, hands deep in the pockets of his jeans, shoulders hunched. He’s facing me, eyes downcast.
“Bye then, Adam. I meant what I said. I’m really sorry.” I will him to look at me. He shrugs and walks past me, head down. I hear him stomping up the stairs.
As I walk down the hall with Jenny and Max, I glance at the closed living room door. I wonder if Tom will say goodbye. I wonder if I should go in. I can’t face it. The shock and anger that I’ve felt for the last few days have hardly abated. Tom has betrayed me. His secret’s out.
As I get into the car I glance back at the house. The Victorian villa’s sandstone walls are darkened by the rain. It’s been my home for nearly twenty years. I love everything about it, its seaside situation in Gullane, one of East Lothian’s prettiest villages, its large, light rooms, its period quirks and the memories we’ve made there. I shall miss it almost as much as the people inside it. I see Tom at the living room window, watching. I think he’s about to wave or beckon me back. He turns away.
The appearance of Robbie in our lives has changed everything. And on top of that I now have a dreadful secret of my own.
I’ve not read quite as many books as I did during the first months of lockdown. This is partly to do with being busy once again with my writing and with attempting to keep the garden under control, but also because my social life has made tiny steps back into existence – however, I do have three good reads to share with you.
All of them are contemporary romances – all quite different from each other – and all of them are ideal relaxing summer reads.
And in no particular order they are:
A Day That Changed Everything by Beth Moran
Amy Piper is in need of a bit of luck. She’s lost her confidence, her mojo and her way.
But one thing she has never lost is her total love for her thirteen-year-old son Joey, and for his sake she knows it’s time for a change. But first she has to be brave enough to leave the house…
What she needs are friends and an adventure. And when she joins a running group of women who call themselves The Larks, she finds both. Not to mention their inspiring (and rather handsome) coach, Nathan.
The trick to changing your life, is to take it one day at a time. Now, with every ounce of strength she has left, Amy is determined to make just one day special – for herself and for Joey. And who knows, today might be the day that changes everything…(This book was previously published as How Not to be a Loser).
Escape to the Art Café by Sue McDonagh
Heartbreak and cake at the Art Café … It was meant to be the perfect romantic holiday. But then Flora Bexton’s boyfriend does the unthinkable, and she responds in the only logical way: she steals his motorbike and escapes for a holiday by herself on the Welsh coast. Far from the lonely trip she imagined, Flora soon finds comfort at the friendly local Art Café where the legendary hot chocolate and cake help to ease her troubled mind. And when Aussie-Welsh lifeguard Jake Foley steps in just when Flora needs help the most, she realises that her ‘holiday’ feels more like home with every passing day …
Coming Home to Merriment Bay by Emily Harvale
This novel was originally a four-part, serial. This is all four parts and forms Book 1 in the Merriment Bay series. If you have read the four-part serial, you have read this book.
Cat Devon left Merriment Bay eighteen years ago with her baby daughter, Kyra. Now a letter from Cat’s estranged mum has brought them back.
Cat has tried to forget her heartbreaking past and forgive her mum, Mary and her gran, Viola. But nothing seems to have changed and Mary still insists on keeping secrets.
Sitting beside Viola’s hospital bed, isn’t exactly fun, so when Cat and Kyra stumble on a faded photo of an RAF pilot and a pile of unopened letters in a trunk in Viola’s room, they decide to find out who he is and what he meant to Viola.
Amias Wells, who owns Bay Water Sports but also flies a vintage Spitfire for the Merriment Bay WWII Museum, is the perfect man to ask. Except Cat and Amias haven’t spoken since the accident that killed his friend and left Cat scarred, eighteen years ago. Sparks fly when they meet again.
But Amias traces Bailey Mitchell, who lives thousands of miles away and is almost ninety-eight. Exchanging Christmas cards leads to revelations Cat had not expected. Then a surprise visitor means Cat’s Christmas takes a delightful turn. Now she’s facing choices she never thought she’d have to make.
When distressing events end more than one person’s dream, Cat realises what – and who – she wants. As Merriment Bay prepares to toast in the New Year, can Cat finally put the past where it belongs and find the love she deserves?
So, what’s everyone else been reading in July? Any recommendations? Please do share below.
Today it’s the turn of author Anne Stenhouse to give us a glimpse into her life as a writer. Anne writes both contemporary and historical fiction and she’s a fellow Scot. She’s also a friend from my days in the Edinburgh Writers Club and at the Scottish Association of Writers conferences. So, over to Anne.
Anne Stenhouse’s Writing Life in a Day
A day in the life of this writer varies a lot. The strange times of Lockdown have meant that I’ve experienced that phenomenon known as ‘Be careful what you wish for.’ Not that I wanted a pandemic or anything like it, but who hasn’t longed for unexpected free, or freed-up, time? Then when lockdown came there it was. There was also a sort of mourning and with that a brain freeze.
So, deciding that strange times merited a new or different approach, I began to write a daily diary called The Lockdown Diary. In it I began with the idea of recording the folk I encountered on my constitutional walks around the area, but it has morphed. Today might be No 117 and I’ve mentioned items from the news, other writers’ launches, my submissions, local businesses trying to stay above the water-line, idiocies of high-ups, the changing seasons, and more. It got me out of bed in the morning and ensured I read the newspaper.
Eventually, the writing mojo kicked back in and I’ve completed a short novel, a short story and a synopsis with first instalment of a magazine serial.
Let’s take the serial. This one is set in late Victorian Edinburgh and it’s about a highly specific and well known issue. So, the research was and is a big part of the undertaking. These serials have to be planned and that goes against all my writing instinct. The description ‘pantster’ was invented for me, I’m sure. It doesn’t wash with these publishers, however, and I have to have a plan. Then, if it’s accepted, writing it is amazingly straightforward. Why, I think, don’t I do this with everything?
Once the writing is underway, the general knowledge I have of the period requires bolstering and research has to be undertaken as I write. One has to be careful as research is just so interesting and before you know it, it’s coffee time and not a word has been written. I try to stick to the point I need to confirm or understand with a wee promise to myself that I’ll look back later.
When writing a serial, instalments are divided up among the principle characters. If I have a lot of time, I might write all three sections in one sitting, but more commonly, I’ll write the section relating to one character and come back to do the others.
Research is also needed for contemporary work. There are so many things we’ve known forever that turn out to be slightly off. While I am writing fiction, I don’t want to draw any reader out of my story because of a careless reference. For example, in my lifetime it has become the norm for men to wear a suit but not a tie on even quite formal occasions. When did it become acceptable to go to a restaurant without a tie? When did it become acceptable for women and older girls to go to church without a hat? These little touches can make or break your constructed reality.
Most days will begin with a read through of the previous session’s writing and I edit as I go. I rarely print stuff off but will if I’m stuck with progressing a plot and always print off a short story so I have a copy. At my stage in life, writing is an enjoyable and sometimes paying hobby. I’ve been a story-teller all my life and I don’t see me stopping anytime soon.
Thank you, Anne, for sharing your day – and all the best for your new book. And readers, do go and check out Anne’s regency romances on her Amazon page at the link below. They’re fab.
About Anne’s new book:
Her next publication is scheduled for 23rd July and is a contemporary Pocket Novel, entitled A Debt For Rosalie for women’s magazine, My Weekly, MW2009, available from Sainsbury’s, some newsagents and by phoning the DC Thomson shop on 0800 904 7260.
Here’s a bit more about it:
A DEBT FOR ROSALIE
Rosalie Garden arrives at Maldington House, an upmarket guest house, to work as a chef and earn enough to repay her father who has bailed her out after her Ex brought down her catering business. David Logie is the house’s owner and son of the guest house proprietrix, Agnes. Still mourning the early death of his wife, David wants to sell his inheritance. Together with Agnes, Rosalie works hard to frustrate David’s plans and bring him to realise he can love again.
Anne Stenhouse is a novelist and has written both historical and contemporary fiction; a magazine short story and serial writer and a performed one-act playwright. She has worked on a factory conveyer line, in a supermarket, for the civil service and in an addictions’ unit. Anne likes to dance Scottish Country Dancing and the absence of class has been a big frustration through the lockdown. She is married and lives in Edinburgh with her husband.
Anne is a life-member of Edinburgh Writers’ Club, a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Society of authors; and one of the four Capital Writers with whom she has published three collections of short stories set in Edinburgh. Anne has an Amazon author’s pageHERE where details of some of these publications can be found.
You can read the daily entries in Anne’s Lockdown Diary on her blog, Novels Now here
I read and enjoyed Buried Treasure by Gilli Allan just over a year ago and you can read the review I posted at the time below. Today the book is back on the blog as it has just been republished with a brand new cover – which I hope you’ll agree is a most attractive and intriguing one. And I do hope that if you haven’t read this novel already, you’ll feel inspired to do so after reading this post – and seeing that great new cover.
And to whet your appetite, here’s what it says on the back of that cover:
“I found Buried Treasure a compelling read. It was so many things: a love story, a hunt for clues to lost secrets, and a fascinating look at how our past experiences shape us, and how we can heal even after damage. The characters were wonderfully well drawn. ”
Jane thinks he sees her as shallow and ill-educated. Theo thinks she sees him as a snob, stuffy and out of touch. Within the ancient precincts of the university the first encounter between the conference planner and the academic is accidental and unpromising. Just as well there’s no reason for them ever to meet again. But behind the armour they’ve each constructed from old scars, they’ve more in common than divides them. Both have an archaeological puzzle they are driven to solve. As their stories intertwine, their quest to uncover the past unearths more than expected.
And here’s what I thought of it:
Buried Treasure is a slow-burning and thought-provoking romance with credible, flawed, and affecting main characters. I came to care very much about socially-awkward Theo and prickly perfectionist Jane. Their respective loneliness, sadness and difficult back stories made this seemingly mismatched couple very appealing. I liked that neither Theo nor Jane were conventionally physically attractive, that they were flawed, and that they lived in a very real sounding world in less than ideal circumstances. I also loved the unconventional way their relationship developed.
The supporting cast work well – including Jane and Theo’s truly ghastly former partners. And although the main setting is a university it is not portrayed as an ivory tower but rather as a modern-day institution that must pay its way.
This all makes for a realistic, contemporary romantic novel and a heart-warming and rewarding read.
Today it’s my pleasure to welcome fellow author Jane Davis back to the blog. I’ve read and enjoyed all Jane’s novels and you can read my reviews of two of her earlier novels An Unknown Womanhere and Smash all the Windows here. Jane also took part in my Virtual Book Festival this time last year and you can read her contribution here. Her books are all quite different from each other, but what they have in common is that they are all intelligent, totally engaging and thought-provoking – and they are shot through with insight into humanity.
And it looks as if her newest one is going to be no exception. So, without further ado it’s over to Jane.
Welcome Jane, it’s lovely to have you back again. Can we begin with you telling us what your new book is all about?
Jane: At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock is about three very different women – a working class seventeen-year-old who is expected to do whatever she needs to do to contribute to the family income, a British actress who has scandalised the world of filmdom by leaving her husband and daughter for Hollywood film director, and a duchess, whose husband’s lack of business acumen has brought her close to financial and social ruin.
The novel is set in the post-war era when class divides and dual standards were very much at play. Sex outside marriage, divorce, and children born outside wedlock were huge taboos but, behind closed doors, all these things were happening, and more. Property and titles were inherited by men. Work-wise, there were few options for women. Having stepped up to the challenge of the running industry and keeping the economy afloat once again during the Second World War, they were once again expected to hand their jobs back to the men and get back in their kitchens.
Each of my characters has dared step outside the restricted confines that society dictated for them. They think that they’ve already been punished for doing so, but they are about to take the next potentially ruinous steps. Each has a past or a secret which mirrors something that happened to Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Great Britain. On hearing about her conviction for murder, each has a personal reason of think, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’
How did you come up with the idea?
Jane: Perhaps it was the time in which Ruth Ellis lived, or the circles she moved in, but what happened was this: the subjects of three biographies I read on the trot each included an anecdote about her. I turned to my bookshelves for a yellowed paperback that has been in my possession for over thirty years. Ruth Ellis: A Case of Diminished Responsibility? I’d forgotten that the book begins with a foreword by co-authors Laurence Marks and Tony Van Den Bergh in which they reveal how, during their research, they both discovered that they had various links to players in Ruth Ellis’s story, if not Ellis herself. One of David Blakely’s other lovers. The partner of a psychiatrist who had treated Ruth Ellis. The brother of the manageress of the Steering Wheel club who had thrown Blakely and Ellis out for having a drunken fight on the premises just days before the shooting. The Catholic priest who, while serving as a prison chaplain sat on the Home Office committee tasked with deciding if Ellis was fit to hang. The list went on.
But even those who had never met Ellis had an opinion about her, and all were affected by her demise, because it brought about a change in the law in the United Kingdom.
How did you come up with the three main characters?
Jane: Much of the inspiration came from the same biographies that inspired the book.
From Ingrid Bergman’s biography, I borrowed the moment when Bergman discovered that the man she left her husband had left her. In fact, when this happened to Bergman, it seemed to come as a relief. Rossellini was quite an obsessive character, threatening to kill himself if she left him.
I needed a character from the upper classes to show how differently a duchess is treated from, say, the hostess of a drinking club. Patrice is able to walk into a police station with a lie and be believed, simply because no one would dare challenge her. From the Duchess of Argyll’s biography, I borrowed information about coming out parties, meeting the queen and how estates were run.
And my working class character, Caroline is not Ruth Ellis, although her story follows Ellis’s the most closely.
What it is about Ruth Ellis’s case that fascinates you so much?
Jane: Part of Ellis’s fascination is that she’s so complex. Ruth was a mass of contradictions. She wasn’t simply the jealous, neurotic woman portrayed in the film Dance With a Stranger. What’s rarely spoken about is her resilience and a resourcefulness. At a time when her father was frequently unemployed, the teenage Ruth often held down two jobs and contributed to the family’s income. It was she who pulled her father from the debris after he’d been felled by falling timber while on fire-fighting duty during the Blitz. And she picked herself up time and time again. After the discovery that the serviceman whose child she’d given birth to and who’d promised to marry her already had a wife and family in Canada. After a short-lived marriage to a violent alcoholic. Between these disastrous relationships, she showed herself to be ambitious, and displayed considerable aptitude. Ruth was the youngest manager to be appointed by West End club owner Maurice Conley. He gave her free rein to change not only the club’s name but to make any other changes she saw fit. Conley may have been a crook but he was also an astute businessman. What he saw in Ruth was potential, and she repaid him by turning the club’s finances around.
The majority of the British Public first read the name Ruth Ellis the day the newspaper strike of 1955 ended. With four million pounds to recoup, the industry needed a big come-back story and Ruth Ellis was newspaper gold. ‘Six revolver shots shattered the Easter Sunday calm of Hampstead and a beautiful platinum blonde stood with her back to the wall. In her hand was a revolver…’ Bam! The public was hooked by the story of the blonde hostess (a divorcee), who shot her racing-boy lover in cold blood. Cliff Davis, another racing driver, was a regular at the club she managed. He described her not only as clued-up and sharp, but “Someone who was never known to ‘blow her top.’” In other words, the last person you’d expect to take a gun and fire it at an unarmed man at close range. So what changed?
To me, part of the tragedy of the case is that, because Ruth admitted her guilt, the lawyers presiding over the trial weren’t interested in why she did it. And that unanswered question is something any writer would find fascinating.
Yes, fascinating indeed. And the book sounds equally fascinating. Thank you so much, Jane, for being a guest on the blog today and telling us about what inspired you to write At the Stroke of Nine O’Clock.
You can read more about the book and about Jane below:
From the back cover
London 1949. The lives of three very different women are about to collide.
Like most working-class daughters, Caroline Wilby is expected to help support her family. Alone in a strange city, she must grab any opportunity that comes her way. Even if that means putting herself in danger.
Star of the silver screen, Ursula Delancy, has just been abandoned by the man she left her husband for. Already hounded by the press, it won’t be long before she’s making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Patrice Hawtree was once the most photographed debutante of her generation. Now childless and trapped in a loveless marriage, her plans to secure the future of her ancient family home are about to be jeopardised by her husband’s gambling addiction.
Each believes she has already lost in life, not knowing how far she still has to fall.
Six years later, one cause will unite them: when a young woman commits a crime of passion and is condemned to hang, remaining silent isn’t an option.
“Why do I feel an affinity with Ruth Ellis? I know how certain facts can be presented in such a way that there is no way to defend yourself. Not without hurting those you love.”
Hailed by The Bookseller as ‘One to Watch’, Jane Davis is the author of nine novels.
Jane spent her twenties and the first part of her thirties chasing promotions at work, but when she achieved what she’d set out to do, she discovered that it wasn’t what she wanted after all. It was then that she turned to writing.
Her debut, Half-truths & White Lies, won the Daily Mail First Novel Award 2008. Her 2015 novel, An Unknown Woman, was Writing Magazine’s Self-published Book of the Year 2016 and was shortlisted for two further awards. In 2019, her novel Smash all the Windows won the Selfies (best independently-published work of fiction) award at London Book Fair.
Jane lives in Carshalton, Surrey with her Formula 1 obsessed, star-gazing, beer-brewing partner, surrounded by growing piles of paperbacks, CDs and general chaos. When she isn’t writing, you may spot her disappearing up a mountain with a camera in hand. Her favourite description of fiction is ‘made-up truth’.
Books of the Month: June – Top Three #reading #books #memoir #romanticfiction
Despite a slight easing of the Covid-19 lockdown here in Scotland, I’m continuing to read more than usual. Books can be comforting, informative, joyful and, yes, a much needed escape. And my top three reads in June have, between them, provided all these things.
First up is Becoming by Michelle Obama. I listened to this autobiography as an audio book and it is awesome. What a life she has had and what a wonderful person she is. And all of the issues she has had to face – not least as a black woman – are, sadly, as pertinent as they ever were. But her sheer grace shines through.
An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States.
In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America – the first African-American to serve in that role – she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her – from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it – in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations – and whose story inspires us to do the same.
Summer at the Little Cottage on the Hill by Emma Davies is a contemporary romance and is the second book in the Little Cottage series. Having enjoyed the first book in this series I went straight on to this one and it was even better. I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Tom and Isobel – it had everything – a perfect sigh-making romantic read.
Take an endless stroll through wild meadows and breathe in the sweet aroma of flowers in full bloom. The first ever guest at the little cottage on the hill is looking for an escape, but her past is not far behind her… Thirty-two-year-old ‘ice queen’ Isobel slams the cottage door and pulls the curtains shut. She has just six weeks to practise for a secret project that could save her career and no one must know she is here. When Tom, the local thatcher with eyes as blue and deep as the ocean, hears the sound of her violin on the breeze he feels a tug at his heart-strings that reminds him of happier times. Who is this mysterious new lodger, and why does she look so familiar? Desperate to find out more, Tom is devastated when Isobel refuses to enjoy everything the farm has to offer. He won’t give in, but just when it looks like Isobel is coming out of her shell, someone recognises her and the troubles from her past threaten to take away everything she has been working towards.
Up Close and Personal by Kathryn Freeman is a contemporary romance with a strong thriller element to it. It’s a witty, original and clever take on the protector/protected set up as in the The Bodyguard. Only this time it’s a female bodyguard protecting a male film star – a most refreshing twist – and the story of their forbidden but mutual attraction.
Sizzling chemistry, a page-turning will they/won’t they romance and the hottest twist on one of your favourite movies…
British actor Zac Edwards is the latest heartthrob to hit the red carpets. Hot, talented and rich, he sends women wild…all except one.
Close protection officer Kat Parker hasn’t got time to play celebrity games. She has one job: to protect Zac from the stalker that seems to be dogging his every move.
Zac might get her hot under her very starched collar, but Kat’s a professional – and sleeping with Zac is no way part of her remit…
And that’s it for June. Any recommended reads you’d like to share from the past month? Then please do so in the comments below.