Friday, 27 March 2015

A BREAK FROM HISTORY - a guest post by Nancy Jardine


Today I have the pleasure of welcoming back my lovely friend the fellow Crooked Cat author Nancy Jardine, who has some wonderful new to share.

Welcome again, Nancy!  Over to you...

Hello Sue, thank you for the invitation to visit you to share my latest news.

Monogamy Twist, a contemporary romantic mystery, is re-launched today by Crooked Cat Publishing. Monogamy Twist came about, back in late 2010, because I decided to write a contemporary novel as a break from my historical writing which at that time was my historical romantic adventure The Beltane Choice, Book 1 of my Celtic Fervour Series. What transpired as the "break from historical" was a bit of a cheat - it is contemporary, but I couldn’t seem to help myself, I sneaked in a different sort of history in Monogamy Twist.

The idea of writing a contemporary novel was a challenge and initially I wondered what it could be about. They say that inspiration comes from many quarters and in my case, the plot for Monogamy Twist was almost a ‘no brainer’. I’d started the previous summer on my own family researching and was quite hooked on ancestry since it divulges so many interesting things! I was also watching the latest Charles Dickens series on BBC TV and that was enough to make me think of the Dickensian plot of a dilapidated house being bequeathed under mysterious conditions.

Monogamy Twist became my version of a strange bequest where Luke Salieri ‘almost’ inherits a dilapidated mansion in Yorkshire. The ‘almost’ is because he must fulfil the weird and quirky conditions set by Amelia Greywood before he will eventually inherit the property. She’s a woman that he’s never met, nor ever heard of. Not one to back down from a challenge, Luke realises he needs help to fulfil Amelia’s terms. In steps Rhia Ashton.  She seems to be an excellent candidate to help Luke unravel the mystery, but he finds Rhia has her own rules that he must abide by. To say any more would spoil the story but this latest edition of Monogamy Twist will be available from the 27th March 2015, published by Crooked Cat.

I adore the cover for this quirky story that Laurence Patterson of Crooked cat has created for me and hope potential readers of my light-hearted romantic mystery like it, too. I extend a warm welcome to your readers to join my Facebook Launch Party for Monogamy Twist, which is happening on Facebook even as we speak! Quirky goodies can be won. There’ll be music; food; lovely locations in Yorkshire… Why not pop in and say hello!

My other news is that I’m about to launch into self-publishing in April. The Taexali Game, Book 1 of my Rubidium Time Travel Series, has been in the pipeline for a long time. This story initially came about as a result of me wanting to write a time travel novel that I could read to my Primary 7 classes during a project studying Celtic/Roman Britain - a historical topic I loved to teach. For this reason it has been written for the middle grade/ early teen market. Even though I stopped teaching in 2011, I was determined to finish the story and publish it someday and that time is coming soon!

It’s set in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, in AD 210. This is during the era when the Roman Emperor Severus marches his legions in a great show of strength against the native Celts on what was the furthest western reaches of the frontier of the Roman Empire. The novel went through many changes over the years but eventually reached its final form earlier this year and has been superbly, privately edited for me by fellow Crooked Cat author - Jeff Gardiner. Because of its local nature, I’m aiming for it to have a local market in both paperback and ebook formats, as well as a global market in ebook format. It’s a novel that will appeal to anyone who likes a great adventure and especially if a reader is interested in learning more about northern Celtic/ Roman Britain. 

Like my historical Celtic Fervour Series, accurate details were important to me during the writing. I really love the cover design that graphic designer, Neil Saddler, has created for me. It blends the important element of the novel: the hill range being an iconic Aberdeenshire setting; highlights my three teenage protagonists; and it shows the threat from the Ancient Roman Legions.

It’s a case of look out for The Taexali Game coming in April!

Wow – this sounds amazing, Nancy.  Many congratulations, and may you have every success with these two new additions to your catalogue!

It’s been great to pop in, Sue – thank you.

Nancy Jardine lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. She currently shares a home with her husband, daughter, son-in-law, 3 year old granddaughter and 1 year old grandson. It’ll continue to be a busy household till late summer of 2015 when the new build home will be completed for the young ‘uns on what was Nancy’s former back garden. The loss of that part of the garden won’t be missed since there should now be more writing time available this spring and summer! Childminding is intermittent over the day and any writing time is precious. (If interested in how a new house is built these days, follow my blog posts named ‘Gonna build a house’ )

All matters historical are a passion; Ancestry research is a lovely time-suck. Nancy regularly blogs and loves to have guests visit her blog. Facebooking is a habit she’s trying to keep within reasonable bounds! Any time left in a day is for leisure reading and the occasional historical series on TV.

Author links:

Amazon Author page for books and to view book trailer videos:   

Here are the links to buy Monogamy Twist:

Novels also available from Barnes and Noble; W.H. Smith;; Smashwords; TESCO Blinkboxbooks; and various other places.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Hail Captain Morrigan, Countess of Berwick - a guest post featuring Ailsa Abraham

My guest this morning is the wonderful Captain Morrigan (better known as Riga), Black Shaman extraordinaire, the heroine of Alchemy and its sequel Shaman’s Drum.  

Good morning, Your Ladyship.  This is the first time I’ve ever had a Countess as a guest!

Greetings, Sue Scribe! I bring you an offering of Limoncello as you enjoyed it when you did us the honour of visiting at our Scribe's house. None of this “Your Ladyship” nonsense, though.  My name is Riga, and that’s how it will stay.

As you wish, Your – er, Riga.  And thank you for the Limoncello.  Please, sit down.  Can I get you something to drink?  How are you?

I know you will never have expected to hear this but I'm glad of a bit of peace and quiet. Yes, we Black Shamans get a bad rap, but after all the drama around us recently, both in our own adventures and at home with Scribe, I'm pleased to take the weight off. Drink? Love some tea, please, ladies in my condition etc!

Drama?  Please, tell me more.

You may remember that we finished Shaman's Drum with things apparently sorted out, happy endings, ring the bells... But no. There is a little bit of history hanging over our heads and I am desperate for Scribe to write it, as are our fans out there. Iamo, my husband (will never get used to saying that!) tells me I need to learn patience. You can imagine what I say to that!

Then Scribe got herself nearly dead in a motorbike accident. 

What??? Was anyone else hurt?

No, only her, fortunately. As her characters we're her children so we all materialised at the hospital to stop her going over. She was in that horrible near-death sleep. I sat by her bedside and held her hand which was tied to the metal. It was unpleasant.

Geez, sounds grim.  How is she now?

She is on the mend but the house is pandemonium. You know that as a shaman she has all kinds of spirits living there? That's one of the reasons I'm so glad to take a break and come to visit you, Scribe Sue. There's the two soldier investigators from her other writing. You'd think with me being a Captain in the Black Shaman's Guild we'd get on. But noooooooooooooo. Then there is the house djinn, Ali – he's all right but a bit of a naughty child.  Mainly I just want her to be better to write but her head is all over the shop.

May I take some of that meat? Scribe is a veggie, like Iamo, so I am missing bacon sandwiches like crazy.

Please, help yourself!  In fact, I’ll make you a bacon sandwich whilst you tell me what’s on the horizon.  I’ve heard rumours that there might be another book in the offing.  Is this true?

Thank you for asking, Scribe Sue. I am whispering in our Scribe's ear about the next adventures which will start where Shaman's Drum left off. My Blood-Father, Dagda who is Native American, is also lining up for a book of his own. That would be number four in the series, so we might leave it there. Readers have been so kind asking for more news of us. As Arnie says in Terminator “I'll be back!” - I LOVE those films, don't you? Oh!  In the next book, Iamo and I will lose most of our magic ability and become once-borns so that will have its ups and downs.

Wow.  I’m intrigued to see how that works out.  And I found Dagda to be a fascinating character, so I’d love to know more about him.  Here’s hoping that your Scribe is soon sufficiently recovered to take up her quill again, and that the house-spirits leave her in peace for long enough to get the words down! 

You’re leaving already?  How will you get back?  I’m afraid I don’t have the car today, otherwise I’d drive you the station or the airport.

Thank you so much for your hospitality, Scribe Sue. Iamo sends great respect and a kiss on both cheeks. Get back? My power animal will help me. Blessings on this house now and always. Bye! Thanks for the bacon sarnie!

You’re most welcome, Riga.  Please return my greetings to Iamo and your Scribe.  Safe journey home.  Until next time…

Bio and links for Alchemy & Shaman's Drum
Ailsa Abraham writes under two names and is the author of six novels. Alchemy is the prequel to Shaman's Drum, published by Crooked Cat in January 2014. Both are best-sellers in their genres on Amazon. She also writes gay male romance under her brother's name, Cameron Lawton.
She has lived in France for over twenty years and enjoys knitting and crochet and until recently was the oldest Hell's Angel in town . Her interests include campaigning for animal rights, experimenting with different genres of writing and trips back to the UK to visit friends and family. She runs an orphanage for homeless teddy bears and contributes a lot of work to Knit for Africa. She is also addicted to dressing up, saying that she is old enough to know better but too wise to care.

Amazon. UK
Amazon.  com


Friday, 20 March 2015

The Twilight of Wonder

Earlier today there was a solar eclipse - the first one visible in the UK for more than fifteen years.  It didn't quite reach totality, but at just over 95% it came pretty damned close.

These are the best photos I managed to take as it dodged the clouds.

Sunday, 15 February 2015


International Authors: Universal Themes

While mainstream publishing plays safe with predictable stories and heroines who repeat the same familiar tropes, where are today’s most ground-breaking authors? The answer is that they are self-publishing. Now, seven of the most prominent female entrepreneurial authors have brought their work together in a limited edition compilation of novels: Outside the Box: Women Writing Women.

The project is the brainchild of Jessica Bell, an Australian writer living in Athens, Greece. A literary author and the Founder/Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Jessica wanted to showcase the most exciting fiction being released by authors who are in full charge of their own creative decisions. “I couldn’t imagine collaborating with a finer group of writers,” Jessica said. “The authors in this box set are at the very top of their game.”  

The collection will be published in e-book format on February 20 (pre-orders from January 12) and available for just 90 days.

The box set introduces a diverse cast of characters: A woman accused of killing her tyrannical father who is determined to reveal the truth. A bookish and freshly orphaned young woman seeks to escape the shadow of her infamous mother—a radical lesbian poet—by fleeing her hometown. A bereaved biographer who travels to war-ravaged Croatia to research the life of a celebrity artist. A gifted musician who is forced by injury to stop playing the piano and fears her life may be over. An undercover journalist after a by-line, not a boyfriend, who unexpectedly has to choose between her comfortable life and a bumpy road that could lead to happiness. A former ballerina who turns to prostitution to support her daughter, and the wife of a drug lord who attempts to relinquish her lust for sharp objects and blood to raise a respectable son.

Jane Davis said, “This set of thought-provoking novels showcases genre-busting fiction across the full spectrum from light (although never frothy) to darker, more haunting reads that delve into deeper psychological territory.”

But regardless of setting, regardless of whether the women are mothers, daughters, friends or lovers, the themes are universal: euthanasia, prostitution, gender anomalies, regression therapy, obesity, drug abuse, revenge, betrayal, sex, lust, suicide and murder. Their authors have not shied away from the big issues. Some have asked big questions.

Orna Ross (founder-director of The Alliance of Independent Authors, named by The Bookseller as one of the 100 most influential people in publishing) selected Blue Mercy, a complex tale of betrayal, revenge, suspense, murder mystery - and surprise.

Joni Rodgers (NYT bestselling author) returned to her debut Crazy for Trying,  a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and a Discover Award finalist. 

The stories behind some of the stories in Outside the Box

Carol Cooper on One Night at the Jacaranda:

One Night at the Jacaranda is the first novel I’ve created that got as far as the hands of readers. There’ve been other efforts: a coming-of-age novel set in Cambridge, a children’s story about a stray dog, a novel about a teenager coping with disability, and the chronicle of a female surgeon in training. She never reached the top as she spent too much time horizontal (like the manuscript, still languishing in a drawer somewhere).
Now I see that I was trying to fit into particular places on bookshelves. By contrast, One Night at the Jacaranda, although it’s contemporary women’s fiction, doesn’t nestle quite as neatly into a genre.
The idea came to me out of the blue. I was on a flight to the USA, on my way to my father’s funeral. As I sat sipping a much-needed gin and tonic, the idea for a story about a group of single Londoners popped into my head. There’d be a struggling journalist, a lonely lawyer, a newly single mother of four daring to date again.
I covered paper napkins with scrawled notes which eventually developed into the novel. Finally I’d embarked on creating the kind of book I’d want to read for pleasure. I wasn’t thinking about marketing angles. I just wrote.
All the characters are made up. I don’t know where ex-con Dan came from, and I’m glad I never had an au pair as manipulative as Dorottya, but some of the influences are obvious. Although the stressed doctor in my story is male, he takes on many of the frustrations I face in my day job. Ditto the single mother, the freelance journalist, and the young man diagnosed with cancer are all people I relate to.
I like to pretend that the story has nothing to do with my father. For one thing, it would have been far too racy for him. He’d have choked on a Harrogate toffee by page four.
Yet things fall into place when a parent dies, so his influence is there. The deeper message of One Night at the Jacaranda is that the characters can’t find happiness with someone else until they confront who they themselves really are.
Over the years I’d authored and co-authored many non-fiction books. The leap to writing fiction required new skills. But it was refreshing to write what I wanted to write, without worrying about word counts or thinking of appropriate illustrations. My experience in journalism shows, I think, in my short scenes, cutting from one character to the next.
Medicine has a huge impact on my fiction. You can’t put your patients in a book, but doctoring teaches you to observe. It’s no surprise that many great writers have been doctors. While I can’t pretend to be in the same league as Somerset Maugham, Michael Crichton, AJ Cronin, Khaled Hosseini or Abraham Varghese, I’m grateful that my work brings me into contact with such a wide range of people and situations.

Roz Morris on My Memories of a Future Life

'I was always fascinated by tales of regression to past lives,' says the author Roz Morris. ‘I thought, what if instead of going to the past, someone went to a future life? Who would do that? Why? What would they find?
‘Another longtime interest was the world of the classical musician. Musical scores are exacting and dictatorial - you play a note for perhaps a sixth of a second and not only that, there are instructions for how to feel - expressivo, amoroso. It's as if you don't play a piece of classical music; you channel the spirit of the composer.
‘I became fascinated by a character who routinely opened her entire soul to the most emotional communications of classical composers. And I thought, what if she couldn’t do it any more? And then, what if I threw her together with someone who could trap the part of her that responded so completely to music?’

Jane Davis on An Unchoreographed Life

I was gripped by a 2008 court case, when, in an interesting twist, it was ruled that a prostitute had been living off the immoral earnings of one of her clients. Salacious headlines focused on the prostitute’s replies when she was asked to justify her charge of £20,000 a week. But the case also challenged perceptions of who was likely to be a prostitute. The answer turned out to be that she might well be the ordinary middle-aged woman with the husband and two teenage children who lives next door.
Whilst I was writing the novel, it became especially relevant when change to the laws governing prostitution were proposed and became headline news.
I grew up within the footprint of Nelson’s paradise estate. The story of his mistress, Emma Hamilton, has always fascinated me. Born into extreme poverty and forced to resort to prostitution, she later became a muse for artists such as George Romney and Joshua Reynolds and a fashionista by bucking the tight-laced trends of the day. Cast aside by an aristocratic lover, she went on to marry his uncle. Completely self-educated, Emma continually reinvented herself, mixing in diplomatic circles and becoming confidante of both Marie Antoinette and the Queen of Naples.
But Emma’s story is unusual. I had a clear understanding that, had I been born in another age, the chances were that, living in London, I would have been either a domestic servant or a prostitute - but quite possibly, both. Prior to 1823, domestics under the age of sixteen didn’t receive a salary. They worked a sixteen-hour day in return for ‘bed and board’, a very generous description of what was actually on offer. And, in return, when they reached the age of sixteen, they were cast out onto the streets. 
During my research, I used the Internet extensively to source personal accounts, diaries, blogs and newspaper reports. How did sex-workers come to the attention of the police and social services? What were the main reasons they ended up in court? (The answer was generally tax evasion and financial crime, things I knew about from my day job.) How did sex workers see themselves? How did they view their clients? How did this perception change if they stopped? I also consulted The English Collective of Prostitutes, who very kindly allowed me to quote them in my fictional newspaper article.  
And then I began to imagine what life was like for the child of a prostitute. There was nowhere I could research that hidden subject. And it is always the thing that eludes you that becomes the story.

Kathleen Jones on The Centauress

The Centauress was inspired by a meeting with an extraordinary Italian sculptor who was officially female, but was very open about the fact that she was a hermaphrodite. She appeared to revel in her dual sexuality, although there was an underlying note of tragedy in the stories she told about her life. I began to wonder what it must be like to be born without any specific gender identity and what it might mean for relationships.  Almost by accident, I was present when she was being interviewed for her biography and there were a lot of discussions about the ethical questions her life story raised; how much the biographer should tell and how to protect the people she’d shared her life with.
When she died, her story wouldn’t let me go. Meeting her had changed my life – as she had changed many people’s lives, not always for the better. Fictional episodes started writing themselves in my head, often centred around one of her reminiscences.  I kept thinking ‘what if?’ and gradually the novel began to take shape. Fiction can often be closer to the emotional truth of something than factual biography.
The Centauress is set in Istria – a very beautiful part of Croatia that used to belong to Italy and has the turbulent historical background I needed for the novel. The family of my main character, Zenobia, has been torn apart by conflict. Living in Europe means living every day with echoes of a violent, recent past; sharing your village or street with people who may have betrayed your relatives, or be relatives of someone your family also betrayed. Just below my house in Italy, at the bottom of the olive grove, is a memorial to six young boys who were dragged from their houses and shot, only a year before I was born.
 As a biographer myself, I’ve often felt uncomfortable ‘eavesdropping’ on the most intimate moments of someone’s life, so it’s not surprising that my narrator, Alex, became a biographer researching the life story of celebrity artist Zenobia de Branganza, who is the Centauress of the story. Alex has to struggle with the problems of her subject’s desire for honesty and the wishes of friends and family not to have their lives exposed. Alex has her own private tragedies, because the novel is also about surviving some of the worst things that can happen to you. It’s this knowledge that enables Zenobia to trust Alex with her most intimate revelations.  And the message she gives to Alex is that it is possible to heal and that you must always be ready to accept happiness and love when it comes your way.

If you were Queen of Publishing for a day, what’s one thing you’d change about the industry as a whole?
Orna: The reason I love self-publishing so much is that it’s democratising and it encourages diversity. Readers and writers together are now creating new genres and books that London and Manhattan would never have published. If I were Queen of Publishing for a day, I’d make it much more diverse. I’d love to see a greater variety of voices at every level of the industry.
Jessica: That’s a tough one. Can it stop being such a popularity contest and get back to its roots? Focus on the writing, not how many followers the author has on Twitter? In an ideal world...
Roz: I would ask for more literary awards to open up to new writers. Not just to indies, but to all the new talent that comes along. Too many literary awards are given on the basis of pre-existing fame. If those authors genuinely wrote the best book of the year, then they deserve the prize, but otherwise we should give awards to the genuinely surprising, interesting and wonderful - not the usual suspects. Sometimes the best book has been written by Hilary Mantel, Julian Barnes or Neil Gaiman - but sometimes it’s been written by someone relatively unknown. And those are the books that awards should be finding for us.
Carol: Although it should be obvious that there’s more than one way to publish quality books, some people in both camps sadly take up entrenched positions. Those in traditional publishing especially tend to snipe at the other side, and the antagonism does nobody any favours. We shouldn’t be at war, because in the end it’s all about the reader. I’d like to bring in a lot more enlightenment and a bit more peace, but I may need more than a day to achieve it.
Kathleen: I’d ban accountants from the commissioning meeting! Books should be accepted on literary value alone; it’s the only way to get a quality product. Readers quickly tire of being sold ‘the next best thing’. They want variety, good stories, original, surprising prose - they deserve the best, not some publicist’s idea of what they can be conned into thinking is the best. Not only that, but many of the books they buy purporting to be written by celebrities are in fact written by someone else - usually a professional writer whose own work has been rejected but who needs the money. To pass off a book in that way is fraudulent - at best a con trick. We need to take the fake out of the fiction industry and writers need to be free to write the books they want to write and readers want to read.
Jane: The options for those wishing to publish are now wider than ever before, so I don’t think it’s the publishing industry I would change. It is the perception of publishing and the value that we place on books and art that I’d like to target. This year, I’ve been out speaking to librarians and booksellers trying to encourage them to stock – and read – more indie titles. If Andrew Lownie’s prediction is right, over 75% of books will be self-published by the year 2020. Any outlet that refuses to stock indie titles will be doing readers an enormous disservice by restricting choice. The other thing I’d like to be able to do is to get out there and sell my books for the listed price. I hear parents talk about spending £120 on trainers for their children - something that will be outgrown in 6 months. People will fork out over £50 to see a band play, they’ll happily pay £2.45 for a coffee or £3.60 for a pint of beer, and yet they throw up their hands in horror at the idea of paying £8.99 for a paperback. Is the real issue that readers’ needs are not being catered for? £8.99 may seem a lot of money for something you don’t enjoy. I found the results that Kobo have collated about books readers give up on half way through very telling, with The Goldfinch and Twelve Years a Slave topping the list (the books readers were told they should be reading), whilst the book they were most likely to finish? Casey Kelleher's self-published thriller Rotten to the Core
Joni: Oh, Lord, I’d tell everyone to take the day off and read a book. That’s the single most important thing writers can do—for ourselves and for the book culture at large—but we leave ourselves so little time for it.

Saturday, 17 January 2015


Today I have the honour of being the guest of fellow Crooked Cat author Nancy Jardine, talking about writing, reading, and books in general.  Hop over to her blog and take a peek!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

AND THE EARTH MOVED - a guest post by Zanna Mackenzie

Once again I have the pleasure of welcoming fellow-scribe Zanna Mackenzie to my blog.  Zanna has just released the first in a series of cosy crime novels.

I had the pleasure of reading a preview copy of And The Earth Moved - and it did not disappoint.  If you like your mystery novels spiced up with a little romance, you will love this.

Over to you, Zanna - can you tell us a little more about the book?

When celebrities need a crime solving quickly and discreetly they call in the specialists, the Celebrity Crimes Investigation Agency , otherwise known as the CCIA…

One desperate phone call is all it takes to turn Amber’s day from boring to completely crazy.

The call? Her old university boyfriend Ennis, now a heartthrob actor, begs for Amber’s help.  His brother Joel is dead, and Ennis has to discover the truth about his death before the world’s media hear about it and batter his door down demanding answers.

The CCIA has already assigned its top agent, Charlie Huxton, to the case.

Amber’s mission?  Ennis doesn’t trust a stranger to keep quiet, so he pleads with Amber to shadow and help Charlie throughout the investigation. Ennis was her first love and she still has a soft spot for him – how can she refuse?

Scarily out of her depth Amber knows she needs to somehow get Charlie on side with her involvement in the case – and fast.  But once she's plunged into the world of crime, Amber finds herself battling something darker and far more dangerous than she’d imagined – and it has nothing to do with the equally scary chemistry fizzing between her and Charlie.

Will Charlie agree to work with her to find out how and why Joel died?

Can she help uncover the truth before word gets out and an already distraught Ennis is hounded by story-hungry journalists?

Just as importantly, can she keep her sanity and still be alive when the mystery is finally solved?

Find the book on Amazon UK

Find the book on Amazon USA

You can read Zanna's own blog here.