Wednesday, 20 April 2016

SHAKESPEARE SPECIAL - and an extra-special offer

This coming Saturday (23 April 2016) commemorates the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.  Many people believe that he was England's greatest ever poet and playwright.  Whether or not this is true is a matter of personal opinion, but in any case he's definitely up there with the front runners.

One thing which cannot be disputed is how much Shakespeare has contributed to the English language. A surprisingly large number of words and phrases in common use today were first penned by the Bard himself.  If you're on a wild goose chase and find yourself neither here nor there, feeling faint-hearted (having not slept one wink), waiting with bated breath for the naked truth, and all of a sudden find yourself saying "Good riddance" as those who have eaten you out of house and home whilst playing "Knock, knock, who's there?" vanish into thin air - you are quoting Shakespeare. The world is [your] oyster, but for goodness sake, don't wear your heart on your sleeve and end up looking a sorry sight in a fool's paradise.  Truth will out, and it's a foregone conclusion that you can still have too much of a good thing.

The Bard of Avon has certainly inspired much of my own writing.  One of my first successes as a poet was winning a limerick competition, in which I summed up the plot of Macbeth in five lines:

On the strength of a witches' conjection 
a regicide's planned to perfection, 
but revenge is prepared 
by a tree-moving laird 
who'd been born by Caesarean section.

One of my long-term projects is to produce a limerick for each of the plays.  That's still very much a work in progress, but in the meantime, two of Shakespeare's other plays - Romeo & Juliet and Julius Caesar - formed the basis of two of my novels.

The Ghostly Father takes a new look at Romeo & Juliet, and asks the question "What might have happened if the events of the story had taken a different turn?"  If, like me, you love the original story but hate the ending, here is your chance to read an alternative version - one with a few new twists and a whole new outcome.

The Unkindest Cut of All is a murder mystery set in a theatre, during an amateur dramatic society's performance of Julius Caesar.  What really happened to the actor playing the title role, during the final performance on the infamous Ides of March?

Shakespeare-themed celebrations will be taking place all through the anniversary weekend.  My humble contribution to these celebrations is to offer a special discount on the ebooks of these Shakespeare-inspired titles.  For a few days only, they will cost you just 99p each.  That's two books for less than the price of a regular cup of arty-farty coffee.  And if you usually prefer to spend a little more and go for a large coffee, then why not splash out another 99p and treat yourself to my other novel, Nice Girls Don't, which is also reduced?  This book isn't directly Shakespeare-themed, but the Bard does get a couple of mentions.

Click on the book covers on the right to be taken to your local Amazon links. And you'll still come away with change from £3.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

HOW MANY WRONGS MAKE A MR RIGHT? - a guest post by Stella Birrell

Today I'm delighted to welcome another Crooked Cat author to my blog.  Stella Hervey Birrell's debut novel, How Many Wrongs Make A Mr Right?, is released this week.

Welcome, Stella!  

Photo by Lynn Fraser

My name is Stella Hervey Birrell, and I am a writer.

It is still difficult to type these words and not immediately press and hold ‘delete.’ But ever since 2012, when I actually gave up paid work, I get up early every morning, and write while my children sleep.

The book that emerged, How Many Wrongs make a Mr Right? is a chick-lit-with-grit story about finding several Mr Wrongs before ‘the One’ arrives, on not-quite a white charger (OK, not at all on a white charger). My main character, Melissa, isn’t particularly likeable. More like a feminist-needy-religious-amoral-broken-anti-heroine in fact. I despaired; thought she’d never find the soul-mate she ‘didn’t even believe in,’ but she came through, just in time for my happy ending.

So, by 2014, I knew I could ‘just write,’ the best advice ever for budding and even blooming authors. ‘Of course your work is awful, the worst writing in the world is also known as your first draft.’ That gem from my beloved Radio 4. ‘Read every day. Write every day.’ This from my writers group, the backbone to my spinelessness, the metabolism to my lily-liveredness.

Several drafts later, I told myself firmly that it was ready, and approached thirty agents and publishers. Each agent expects you to tailor your submission to their company; after all they were doing me the favour by reading it. It was hard work but it was worth it.

Then the rejections started rolling in.

They were, for the most part, really kind. A lot of them encouraged me not to give up. But no one even wanted to read the full draft. Ah, me.

Summer came and I took a break. I thought I’d draw a line under the first novel, concentrate my efforts on the second. But when I looked at How Many Wrongs? it wasn’t half as terrible as I’d remembered. It deserved another chance. My cover email got better, good, excellent. I read up about each company I approached, rejecting them - me! Rejecting them! If they didn’t have my genre on their list, if their authors were 70/30 men/women: no submission. I got choosy.

I still didn’t get anywhere.

Then finally, finally, I received a request for my full manuscript. Cautiously, I sent it through, telling myself that it could mean everything, it could mean nothing.

I reminded myself: it could mean nothing.

On a normal Sunday morning, while I was yelling at everyone to get ready for church and I didn’t have time, I downloaded an email from Crooked Cat Publishing. There was a moment of ‘maybe I should read this later,’ but all the while my thumb was disobeying me. Luckily, the news was good.

I was offered a contract for my first novel.

Since that day, I have gone from feeling I’d been playing at something, something I wasn’t very good at, to feeling that I had been doing it.

I was a writer. I had been one all along.

Stella's special pencils - very cleverly designed!

How Many Wrongs Make A Mr Right? is published on Friday 15 April 2016, and is available from Amazon UKAmazon USKoboNook and Apple iBooks

To find out more about Stella, take a look at her blog or her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter, or email her at

She can also be found wandering the streets of various East Lothian villages.

Monday, 11 April 2016

PICA-BOO - an interview with Jeff Gardiner

Today I have the great pleasure of welcoming back my multi-talented friend and fellow-author Jeff Gardiner, who is here to talk about life, the universe, and his new novel Pica.

Welcome, Jeff!  What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I’ve always loved expressing ideas in words, and I still have a head full of images, stories and ideas. Writing was (is) something I have to do – I think I’d go mad if I didn’t. I wrote very bad poetry as a teenager/student: overwrought and introspective stuff that must remain private (or would make good fuel for a warming fire).

I completed an MPhil thesis, which I developed into my non-fiction book The Law of Chaos: the Multiverse of Michael Moorcock (originally The Age of Chaos before being expanded and revised). Then I began to write short stories which eventually got accepted by various magazines, anthologies and websites.

Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?

Pica (the first in my Gaia trilogy) is set in the modern world, exploring our relationship with nature. Luke is a bored and cynical teenager who – through the mysterious Guy – is unwillingly introduced to the wonders and ancient magic of our natural world.  His life is irrevocably changed.

What was the inspiration for this book?

When I was a secondary school teacher I was shocked by how indifferent some teenagers were by nature and our miraculous world. There were pupils who never went for walks in the countryside; who never felt that inspiration of being surrounded by hills, rivers, wildlife and forests. It seemed to mean nothing to them. I felt they were missing out on something incredible. Pica is my response to that indifference. As well as introducing environmental issues, I want the reader to find the sense of wonder I feel when I’m out in the countryside.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?

I don’t have the luxury of being a full-time writer, so I mix it up with editing, supply teaching and extras work for film and TV. On a writing day I’ll get the kids to school and then be back around 9am, knowing I have until about 2.45pm to myself. Of course there are also usually a few chores to get done – not least clean out the guinea pig hutch. Once done I can settle down to work. Writing involves reading through what I did last time and then checking my notes and giving myself a realistic aim for the day: say, 1000 words. If I achieve my aim then that’s a great day, but I won’t beat myself up if I don’t get there. Once the kids are home I give them my attention, and sometimes I might also do another hour or so more writing in the evening, depending on how I feel… unless there’s football or some good comedy on, or a film… or…

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?

I plan them – but with lots of holes and breathing space. I know that as I write, things will change, so there has to be some flexibility. I find my best ideas come in the middle of writing the novel.

What has been the best part of the writing process…and the worst?

Writing is a wonderful creative act, so I know I’m lucky to have the chance to write. Having work accepted and finally published is fantastic. The rejections and hard slog are the tough side. Writing isn’t as glamorous as some might imagine. It’s actually a bit lonely and can lead to cabin fever. It’s important to get out and meet people before you enter that spiral of insanity. ‘The Shining’ isn’t just a horror novel and movie. It’s a piece of non-fiction and a documentary accurately depicting the effects of being a writer.

Is there a message in your book? 

Pica (and the rest of the trilogy) contains an environmental message. We are destroying our world because we are greedy and selfish. Something needs to change: mostly our attitudes – especially in the West. We need to understand our place within nature, rather than continue to fool ourselves into thinking we are the planet’s masters.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Never give up. Have faith in yourself and your writing. Be VERY patient and set long term goals. But don’t give up. (Did I mention that?)

Thanks, Sue, for hosting me on your blog. 

My pleasure, Jeff.  Please come again!

PICA by Jeff Gardiner

Pica explores a world of ancient magic, when people and nature shared secret powers.
Luke hates nature, preferring the excitement of computer games to dull walks in the countryside, but his view of the world around him drastically begins to change when enigmatic loner, Guy, for whom Luke is reluctantly made to feel responsible, shows him some of the secrets that the very planet itself appears to be hiding from modern society.

Set in a very recognisable world of school and the realities of family-life, Luke tumbles into a fascinating world of magic and fantasy where transformations and shifting identities become an escape from the world. Luke gets caught up in an inescapable path that affects his very existence, as the view of the world around him drastically begins to change.


About Jeff

Jeff Gardiner is the author of four novels (Pica, Igboland, Myopia and Treading On Dreams), a collection of short stories, and a work of non-fiction. Many of his short stories have appeared in anthologies, magazines and websites.

Pica is the first in the Gaia trilogy – a fantasy of transformation and ancient magic, which Michael Moorcock described as “An engrossing and original story, beautifully told. Wonderful!”

“Reading is a form of escapism, and in Gardiner’s fiction, we escape to places we’d never imagine journeying to.” (A.J. Kirby, ‘The New Short Review’)

For more information, please see his website at and his blog:

Thursday, 24 March 2016

LAMPLIGHT - a guest post by Olga Swan

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming my friend and fellow-author Olga Swan, whose novel LAMPLIGHT is on special offer at just 99p for the next seven days.  I had the pleasure of working with Olga as editor of LAMPLIGHT, and also its sequel VICHYSSOISE (about which more later), and I can promise you that they are both highly fascinating and thought-provoking books.

Welcome, Olga!  Over to you...

I’m honoured to be a guest on the blog of not only a veritable fellow-writer but also a future contestant on the wonderful Only Connect TV programme!  Thank you, Sue, for giving me the opportunity to talk about LAMPLIGHT.

“LAMPLIGHT” is an intriguing title.  What made you decide on this?

The best fiction titles give a hint of the era and genre, without giving away the denouement.  The LAMPLIGHT storyline takes us to the dark times of Nazi Germany, so the title was conceived from the lyrics of a popular German song of that era, sung by a lady whose presence on stage was brooding and enigmatic: Marlene Dietrich’s Lili Marlene.  It begins: Underneath the lamplight, by the barrack gates… 

What first gave you the idea for writing this book?

Writers are always told to write about what they know – making the story flow freely, from the heart.  So all my stories contain Jewish characters having to overcome many difficulties in their lives.  I was born just after WWII ended, a time of poverty, struggle and rationing. I was therefore always drawn to what caused the war, particularly the events leading up to it.

When did you start, and how long did it take you?

I started putting together the first threads of this story more than forty years ago. I remember my dear, late brother Alan painstakingly typing it on his first portable typewriter. There is a scene in which my character is a seaman on board RMS Titanic – long before James Cameron had the idea for his immensely successful film!  Since then, Lamplight has benefited from many re-writes and adjustments to bring it into the 21st century. 

Did you have to overcome any difficulties when writing the book?

After Alan died, I decided to write under the nom de plume of Olga Swan, made up from an anagram of his name. In this way my writing perpetuates his name forever.  In Jewish law, there is no finer thing to do than constantly remember loved ones who have passed away.

Are any of the fictional characters based on, or inspired by, real people?

Yes. David Klein is based on my late father, who grew up in Cregoe Street, Birmingham and went to Aston Commercial School, before running away to New York.  My father’s favourite singer of the time was Al Jolson, so David Klein works for the singer during his stay in New York.  The German girl Karin Schmidt is based on a German au pair who lived with us in the 1970s.

A lot of the action in the book blends fact with fiction.  Have you, or any people you know, had any direct experience of the real events you describe?

David Klein returns to England on the SS Manhattan in June 1933, on the same ship and the very same voyage as did my own father.  Research undertaken at Yad Vashem, the world centre for Holocaust education and commemoration in Jerusalem, reveals many ancestors with my unusual maiden name (therefore relatives) who were murdered by the Nazis. I struggle to preserve their sacred memory by bringing the name Olga Swan to prominence.

Is there a message in the story?

To read about tragic, war-time events of the past is the best way to ensure nothing like that ever happens again. Of particular importance is studying the lead-up to war so that we recognise in time when similar events happen or megalomaniac leaders gain prominence.

What can we next expect from you, writing-wise?

Hot on the heels of LAMPLIGHT, which is book one in the David Klein war-reporter series, is book two, VICHYSSOISE.  This will be released on 29th April 2016.  This takes our hero David Klein to Vichy France in 1942, where he searches for the elusive Karin Schmidt, the German lady who saved him in book one. 

Much of the research for VICHYSSOISE was taken from texts in the original French, unearthing valuable material about the explosive trial scene of Maréchal Pétain and the workings of his infamous Vichy Government.  My theme here was to show that sometimes the ‘wrong’ leader can be elected, with catastrophic future consequences which an old, too-weak leader like Pétain is totally unable to cope with.  When looking back at history, it isn’t always black and white, evil versus good.  Sometimes the chaos theory of life can cause just as much upset.

Thank you Olga!  Please come again!

To buy the e-book of LAMPLIGHT at the special price of just 99p for a limited period, click here.

Olga Swan is the pen-name of Gillian Green, who also writes children's books under her own name. She worked for thirty years at a leading red-brick UK university, and in 2000 she gained a BA Honours degree in English Language and Literature from the Open University. In 2005 she retired to south-west France with her husband and two dogs.  

You can read her blog here

Saturday, 20 February 2016

AN ALCHEMICAL OFFER - a guest post by Ailsa Abraham

Two great books, reduced for one week only from 19.02.2016

What would you give for a world free of war, dependence on fossil fuels, pollution and terrorism?  That is the premise for the Alchemy series.

An accidental discovery solving the problem of fossil fuel brings this Utopian vision closer – but at what cost? Could there be unforeseen consequences, and how dire would they be? Who could fight demons if all established religion had been abolished?

Put aside demons and add two people more doomed than Romeo and Juliet who are forced to fight alongside each other. Mix in some very energetic Goths and an undercover Christian Granny for an explosive result as the stories move at breakneck speed into the near-future, blending magical realism with pizza, ritual with slang, deepest hatred with impossible love, shape-shifting with public transport.

Book 1 Alchemy

Follow Ailsa on FacebookTwitter or her website.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

WELCOME TO THE TOWER - a guest post by Jennifer Wilson

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming back my friend and fellow-author Jennifer C Wilson.  Jen has already appeared on my blog, and you can read her interview here, but today she's going to tell us a little more about the setting for her debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London - and also about a very special  limited-time offer.

Welcome back, Jen!

Hi Sue, and thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog today.

I recently read an article about certain characters you should avoid using in your fiction. One in particular stood out for me – the overuse of wish-fulfilment in your writing.

It was a slight concern, for a moment, given that Kindred Spirits: Tower of London is almost entirely that: fantasy conversations I would love to have been privy to. After all, if the ghosts of the Tower really did all hang out on a daily basis, just imagine the conversations they could have. Courtiers and peasants, from every period, Norman Conquest onwards, thrown together for potentially centuries – all those lovely conflicts to play with! How could I resist?

I’ve always loved losing myself in historic buildings, and the Tower was no exception. I managed to spend two whole days there (in truth, not enough) – one in a February blizzard, one in a blistering August heatwave. In truth, August was more conducive to creativity – it’s not quite so appealing to be sitting people-watching as you turn into a Yeti…

Kindred Spirits: Tower of London covers summer through winter at the Tower, getting to know the characters I was most keen to include; to be honest, if I included them all, I’d still be writing.

It is currently reduced to just 99p/c, until Thurs 4th February as part of Crooked Cat Publishing’s paranormal-themed week, and if you do take a look, I hope you enjoy meeting the Tower’s ghosts as much as I did.

Kindred Spirits: Tower of London:

A King, three Queens, a handful of nobles and a host of former courtiers…

In the Tower of London, the dead outnumber the living, with the likes of Tudor Queens Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard rubbing shoulders with one man who has made his way back from his place of death at Bosworth Field to discover the truth about the disappearance of his famous nephews.

Amidst the chaos of daily life, with political and personal tensions running high, Richard III takes control, as each ghostly resident looks for their own peace in the former palace – where privacy was always a limited luxury.

With so many characters haunting the Tower of London, will they all find the calm they crave? But foremost – will the young Plantagenet Princes join them?

About Jennifer:

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots of childhood holidays (she has since moved on to Richard III). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating.

Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to work on developing her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. Her debut novel Kindred Spirits: Tower of London was published by Crooked Cat Publishing in October 2015.

Key Links:

International Amazon link:

Sunday, 24 January 2016

JOHN RACKHAM, CASANOVA OF THE SEAS - a guest post by Emma Rose Millar

Today I welcome back my friend and fellow-author Emma Rose Millar.  Emma has already appeared on my blog (and you can read her interview here), but today she is going to tell us about John Rackham (also known as Calico Jack), who appears in her amazing novel Five Guns Blazing.

Welcome back, Emma.  Please, tell us more...

John Rackham – Casanova of the Seas

His notoriety came from his gentlemanly conduct and his outlandish dress sense rather than from his treacherous exploits. He was a mystery, a romantic hero, the Lothario of the seas. (Five Guns Blazing – Emma Rose Millar and Kevin Allen).

John Rackham was probably the least successful pirate ever to captain a ship. However, his garish fashion sense, womanising and general flouting of every rule in the pirate code have made him one of the best loved pirates of the Caribbean and Latin America.  He is also the man responsible for designing the iconic Jolly Roger flag, a symbol we recognise to this day.

Rackham began his villianous career as quartermaster for the infamous Charles Vane, who made his living looting ships off New York. During their spree of law-breaking and criminality they came across a huge French man-o-war, from which Vane, out of caution, ordered a retreat. But Rackham, tempted by the riches on board, led a mutiny against the captain and usurped him at the helm. Being the gentleman he was, though, he still furnished Vane and his supporters with a small sloop, sufficient ammunition and a variety of other goods.

In probably the most daring of his piratical escapades, Rackham found himself trapped off the coast of Cuba by a Spanish war ship which had entered the harbour along with a captured English ship. The Spaniards were unable to get to Rackham’s sloop due to the low tide but decided to sit it out until morning. At dead of night, Rackham and his crew took rowing boats over to the English ship and claimed it as their own. In the morning, the Spanish crew open fired on the now deserted pirate sloop and Rackham and his crew sailed away unnoticed aboard the English vessel.

But this was in no way typical of John Rackham’s career. He made his living picking off smaller vessels close to shore. The bigger prizes, he said were armed to the hilt and would speed him straight to the gallows. It was better to acquire one’s riches slowly and with caution.

In 1718, Rackham sailed to the pirate haven Nassau in the Bahamas to take the blanket pardon offered to all pirates by Governor Woodes Rogers. Rackham claimed Charles Vane had forced him into a life of piracy and was granted the pardon and his freedom, but his legitimate life was not set to last.

Rackham soon took up with a beautiful, flame-haired female pirate, Anne Bonny. But Anne was married and when her husband discovered their affair, Woodes Rogers had her flogged for adultery. Rackham escaped to sea with Anne Bonny  and the two resumed their criminal lifestyle.

But Anne was not to be the only female to sail on board one of Rackham’s sloops. Captured sailor Mark Read was invited to join the crew and Anne soon befriended him, igniting Rackham’s rage. It was not until he discovered the pair undressed in Anne’s quarters that Rackham discovered Mark was actually a woman, the treacherous Mary Read.

In October 1720, Governor Woodes Rogers sent pirate hunter Jonathan Barnet after Rackham’s sloop. Barnet attacked in the early hours of the morning while most of the crew were drunk below deck. Barnet’s men faced little resistance from the outlaws, apart from Bonny and Read who fought viciously with another unknown pirate. It seemed the vagabond Rackham preferred his women to do his dirty work to the end! The King offered a reward for any information leading to the arrest of this mystery pirate, but he (or she) was never caught.

John Rackham and eleven of his crew including Anne Bonny and Mary Read were sentenced to death. Rackham was hanged in Port Royal on November 18th 1720. His body was gibbeted and placed at the main entrance of the city to serve as a warning to all. He is fondly remembered as ‘Calico Jack’ after his brightly coloured striped pants, made of the same fabric.

Five Guns Blazing is now available on Amazon

"Never had she imagined she would be brought so low, and all for the love of a very bad man."


Convict's daughter Laetitia Beedham is set on an epic journey from the back streets of London, through transportation to Barbados and gruelling plantation life, into the clutches of notorious pirates John 'Calico Jack' Rackham, Mary Read and the treacherous Anne Bonny.

In a world of villainy and deceit, where black men are kept in chains and a woman will sell her daughter for a few gold coins, Laetitia can find no one in whom to place her trust.

As the King's men close in on the pirates and the noose begins to tighten around their necks, who will win her loyalty and her heart?