Friday, 10 July 2015

NO MORE WOE FOR JULIET AND HER ROMEO - WRITING THE BOOK YOU WANT TO READ

It's more than thirty years since I first saw Franco Zeffirelli's wonderful 1968 film of Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet.  There wasn't a dry eye in the house at the end, and I came away thinking: This is the world's greatest love story - so why does it have to end so badly?

That question haunted me for many years.  Then, a few years ago, I chanced across one of those lists of Things You Must Do Before You Die.  A lot of them didn't really appeal, but one which did catch my attention was Write The Book You Want To Read.  The book which I've always wanted to read is the alternative version of Romeo & Juliet - the version in which the star-cross'd lovers don't fall victim to a maddeningly preventable double-suicide.

Why, I asked myself, should there not be such a book?  And the answer came straight back: Why not indeed?  And if it doesn't exist, then go ahead and write it.

I mulled over the idea, but it took a while before anything definite happened.  I'd dabbled with Creative Writing in the past, and had taken a few courses on the subject, but I'd never attempted to write anything longer than poems, or short stories, or the occasional stroppy letter to The Times.  The thought of tackling a full-length novel, even one on a subject which I felt so strongly, was a daunting prospect.  Then, in one of those serendipitous moments which really make one believe in Guardian Angels, I was browsing in a bookshop in France when I came across a novel which took the form of the lost diary of a woman who had been the secret lover of Count Dracula.  A voice in my mind whispered, "A lost diary?  You could do something like this..."

Back at home I powered up the laptop and started writing.  I was writing the book mainly for myself, because it was the outcome which I'd always wanted, but when I'd finished the first draft (which took about six months) I showed it to a couple of close friends, who both said "This is good.  You really ought to take it further."

Even so, despite this vote of confidence, it was another year or two (during which time the manuscript underwent several revisions) before I plucked up the courage to submit it to Crooked Cat Publishing (for whom I'd recently started doing editing work).  I wasn't very hopeful, so when I received the email from them telling me they wanted to publish it, I had to print it out and re-read it four times before I could convince myself that I hadn't imagined the whole thing.

The book's title, The Ghostly Father, is based on a quotation from the play (it's how Romeo addresses the character of Friar Lawrence), and the story, which is a sort of part-prequel, part-sequel to the original tale, is told from the Friar's point of view.  I've always been fascinated by the Friar and have often wondered why, in the play, he behaved as he did - and by giving him what I hope is an interesting and thought-provoking backstory, I've tried to offer some possible answers.  Plus, of course, I wanted to reduce the overall body-count, and give the lovers themselves a rather less tragic dénouement.

The book was officially released on St Valentine's Day 2014.  Since then, judging by the number of people who have bought it, read it, and have been kind enough to say they've enjoyed it, it seems as though I'm not by any means the only person who prefers the alternative ending.  As one friend was generous enough to say to me recently: "Now I will never feel sad in Verona again."

To buy The Ghostly Father (in paperback or ebook format), click on the book cover on the right.

Friday, 19 June 2015

TRACE YOUR ROOTS - a guest post by Maureen Vincent-Northam


Today I'm delighted to welcome fellow Crooked Cat author Maureen Vincent-Northam, whose book Trace your Roots is published today by Crooked Cat Publishing.  I had the pleasure of working with Maureen as editor of Trace Your Roots - and I can highly recommend it to anyone interested in researching family history.

Welcome, Maureen!  Please tell us more...




Thank you, Sue!

I love detective stories – my favourite being the cosy crime sort with an inquisitive amateur sleuth who pokes around looking for clues, asks questions and ultimately, after much nosing around, cracks the case.

Maybe that’s why I turned to family history research because genealogy is very like detective work. It’s all about searching out the truth, finding clues – about your ancestors in this instance, rather than a devious criminal – and assembling the final picture (or in our case the ‘family tree’).

The clues involve tracking down dates and places and who did what to whom. The proof of your findings will, hopefully, be in the original records. But there are times when you’ll get stuck and, unless you have a side-kick who, like in the whodunit novels, happens to hit upon the very thing that untangles the mystery (usually without realising they’ve done so), you’ll need a handy guide to help lead the way.

Enter Trace your Roots! The book has hundreds of helpful, tried and tested, tips – many involving less well know resources that will steer you in the right direction. It was satisfying to write and I hope it will encourage others to solve their own family puzzle.

Please join me on my genealogy blog, I’m always happy to post other people’s stories: http://trace-your-roots.blogspot.co.uk/





Maureen Vincent-Northam has written seriously ever since Father Christmas left her a Petite typewriter. Author of Trace your Roots, she also wrote Black Dog’s Treasure and co-authored The Writer’s ABC Checklist.

An editor with Crooked Cat Publishing, her work has appeared in newspapers, magazines, anthologies and online. She has tutored workshops, judged online writing contests and a few years ago was winner of The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children’s Books competition.


Maureen works part time in a residential home, is rubbish at cooking and, when not burning dinner, can usually be found surrounded by empty chocolate wrappers.

Friday, 5 June 2015

HOME CONFLICTS - the background to NICE GIRLS DON'T

Last year (2014) saw the hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War - the one which at the time was called "The War To End Wars."  Sadly that title proved to be horribly and tragically inaccurate; many more wars have found their way into the history books during the ninety-odd years since the Armistice was declared in November 1918.

One such war took place in the Spring and early Summer of 1982.  This was the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina, fought over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.  It is this war which forms a distant backdrop for my second novel, Nice Girls Don't.



Like Emily, the heroine of the story, I was too young to remember the Second World War, but I was brought up by people who did.  My parents' and grandparents' generations had lived through one (or in some cases two) major conflicts - the second of which claimed many civilian as well as military casualties.  But the Falklands War was the first occasion in my lifetime when my home country had actively gone to war.  And, just like Emily, I was confused and bewildered.  Would this war, like those before it, also involve conscription and mass-slaughter?  What effect would it have on the day-to-day lives of ordinary people?

This led, in turn, to my thinking back to the other major conflicts of the twentieth century, the effect they had on those who fought and those who served by standing and waiting, and the long shadows which they could still cast over future generations.  What if, when researching one's family history, one discovers secrets which, because of those wars, have been kept hidden for many years because of shame and guilt?



Nice Girls Don't is perhaps best described as cross-genre.  Yes, it's a romance, but it also has a generous helping of mystery and intrigue.  But it is also a story which will, I hope, challenge a few traditionally-held views.  It is difficult to discuss these in detail here without giving away too much of the story, but suffice it to say that whilst two of the episodes described in the book are based on real events, most of the narrative holds up a mirror to the circumstances, ideas and attitudes of the period.  I hope it will appeal to anyone who remembers the 1980s, but I hope also that it will show younger readers (of both genders) how much has changed - hopefully for the better - over the course of a generation.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

GUEST OF JEFF GARDINER

Today I'm the guest of Crooked Cat buddy Jeff Gardiner, talking about the new book.  Click here to hop over and have a peek!



Thursday, 28 May 2015

POMPEII'S DISTANT COUSIN - transport yourself back to Ancient Rome

My latest novel, The Unkindest Cut of All*, centres on a stage production of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar - a play set in ancient Rome.  

As one who has always been fascinated by Roman history, I was thrilled to discover that it is possible to visit the remains of several towns dating back to the heyday of the Roman Empire. Indeed, there can be few people anywhere in Europe who have not heard of Pompeii and its near neighbour Herculaneum (Ercolano) - the two towns on the Bay of Naples which were destroyed in AD79 by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  These two towns, now painstakingly excavated and carefully preserved, are amongst the most visited sites in the whole of Italy.

But what many people may not know is that Pompeii and Herculaneum also have a distant cousin.  Less well-known, but no less impressive, is the ancient Roman town of Ostia Antica, situated about 16 miles (25km) south-west of Rome.





Ostia is generally believed to date from the second half of the 4th century BC, and was originally built as a military post to control and defend the mouth of the River Tiber.  It takes is name from the Latin ostium, meaning river-mouth.  In its heyday, Ostia was the principal port for the city of Rome and also a thriving commercial centre in its own right, with a population of around 100,000 people.  Its decline began in the 2nd century AD, when much of the commerical traffic was redirected to the newly-built harbour at nearby Portus.  By the 4th century AD the harbour at Ostia was beginning to silt up, and an epidemic of malaria eventually cause the town to be abandoned. 

Ostia might be less spectacular than Pompeii or Herculaneum because it died a gradual rather than a sudden death, but it gives visitors a much more complete picture of life in a Roman town. Streets, forum, capitol, theatre, bathhouses (many still with their original stunning mosaics), temples, market, shops, offices, workshops, warehouses, grain stores and private residences - they are all here, and all remarkably well-preserved.  






Ostia was home to all social classes. The wealthy enjoyed the sumptuous comforts of spacious detached houses (domūs), whilst the working-class people lived in the three- or four-storey apartment blocks (insulae) which varied considerably in their levels of comfort and decoration. One of the smarter ones is the House of Diana, which boats a private bath-house and a central courtyard.




The bar on the ground floor still houses the marble counter where the customers bought drinks and hot food. 



The cosmopolitan nature of the town is reflected in the diversity of its places of worship.  In addition to conventional Roman temples, there are also a number of temples to the Persian god Mithras, as well as a first-century Jewish synagogue and a Christian basilica.

The site museum is home to the many exhibits which have emerged during the excavations of the town.  Sculptures, statues, pottery, jars, amphorae, glass or alabaster bottles – all offer great insight into the everyday lives of Ostia’s inhabitants.  A more recent addition to the site is a modern visitor centre which houses an excellent café.

Ostia is easy to reach from the centre of Rome – the journey takes about half an hour by suburban train.  



The modest admission charge to the excavated site (scavi) is an absolute bargain.  Allow at least half a day for your visit, but you may well find the place so fascinating that you’ll want to stay a lot longer!   

                    



* The Unkindest Cut of All is officially released on 9 June 2015, but is already available for pre-order, at the special early bird price of only 99p.  Order it now, and it will magically appear on your Kindle on launch day.  There will also be a launch event on Facebook on the day itself, with fun, frolics, quizzes and competitions.  Click here to add yourself to the guest list!


Wednesday, 20 May 2015

THE TAEXALI Game - a guest post by Nancy Jardine

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming back friend and fellow-author Nancy Jardine, whose new YA novel The Taexali Game is due out this coming Friday.

Welcome, Nancy!  Over to you...




Thank you, Sue, for opening your blog to me to share the information about my latest novel!

The Taexali Game officially launches on the 22nd May 2015.

The action of The Taexali Game —Book 1 of Nancy Jardine’s  Rubidium Time Travel Series of Adventures for Middle Grade/YA readers (and anyone older who loves a good fast-paced yarn) takes place in ‘Aberdeenshire, Scotland’ in AD 210, during the invasion of the legions of Septimius Severus, Emperor of Rome. The local Taexali Celtic tribes of this far north in Britannia have already had dealings with the soldiers of Rome, back in AD 84, but they haven’t been good subjects. They’ve been causing such a lot of grief to the Governor of Britannia that the Ancient Roman Emperor, Septimius Severus, has come to Britannia to flood the north with his super-trained army to teach the wayward Celts a harsh lesson.

During their adventure, Aran and the twins— Brian and Fianna— are initially in awe of the Roman fighting machine but they find Emperor Severus’ is a horrible man. That’s only till they meet the emperor’s son Caracalla who is even nastier. None of them want to be skewered by a Roman gladius or slapped into Roman slave chains but avoiding that fate is nearly impossible.

As well as uncovering the answer to a local contemporary mystery, the time travellers have a task list to fulfil but how can they when the some of the Celts they encounter are just as deadly wielding their Celtic longswords?

This adventure novel is designed as a rollicking good read with the added bonus of being a companion novel to younger readers doing a study of Celtic Roman Britain. There’s a wealth of historical data used in the novel, gleaned from archaeological interpretative information, wrapped up in a fast-paced, readable, adventure mystery quest.

The fantastic cover design is by graphic artist Neil Saddler, who has done a great job to encompass the main aspects of the novel - its impact both local and global. 

The Taexali Game – Blurb

Everyone loves playing advanced interactive computer games, don’t they?

Callum Fraser’s games are totally awesome.  But when his Rubidium Time-Leap flips Aran Bruce and his best friends—Brian and Fianna Fraser—back to AD 210, the reality is incredible. They have a task list to fulfil, which includes solving a local mystery, but it’s a nightmarish business when Ancient Roman Emperor Severus and his legions heap death and destruction on the Taexali Celts of northern Britannia.

Giving help to Celts and Romans alike becomes a lethal assignment—some Celtic chiefs are as foul as Severus and his beastly son Caracalla. Dicing with death becomes the norm for the time-travellers from Kintore, Aberdeenshire.

Will they complete the mission and return to Callum unscathed?


All are welcome to pop into the official Facebook Event that’s on-line to launch the novel on Friday 22nd May. Participate in fun quizzes featuring Celts and Romans and win a novelty prize. The grand prize of a signed paperback of The Taexali Game could be yours, or if you only read on kindle a few review e-copies will also be on offer as prizes.

The novel is available across Amazon in paperback and ebook formats.
Amazon UK  Amazon US   Amazon France   Amazon Canada   Amazon Australia

More about Nancy Jardine
Her Celtic Fervour Series of Historical Romantic Adventures (3 books to date) is set in first century AD northern Roman Britain. Book 3 (AD 84) culminates in a horrendous clashing of Celtic Sword and Roman Gladius on the foothills of Beinn Na Ciche (Bennachie) where the amassed Celtic warriors of the north, led by tribal leader Calgach, take on the mighty Roman legions led by General Gnaeus Julius Agricola. Book 2 of the Celtic Fervour Series was in the long list of books read for THE WALTER SCOTT PRIZE FOR HISTORICAL FICTION 2014.

Nancy Jardine also writes contemporary mystery romantic fiction which gives her the opportunity to include fabulous world wide locations in her novels—Amsterdam, Vienna, Heidelberg, Barcelona to name only a few. She has also had great fun using her love of ancestry research when creating the family trees for two of her contemporary mysteries. Take Me Now, a humorous mystery/thriller will be re-launched by Crooked Cat Publishing on the 5th June 2015. Topaz Eyes, a mystery /thriller was a Finalist in THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE 2014.

Please contact her/ or find updates on her writing at these author links:


http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG and http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G (for The Rubidium time Travel Novels.) email: nan_jar@btinternet.com

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

Most novels are also available from Barnes and Noble; W. H. Smith.com; Waterstones.com; Smashwords; TESCO Blinkboxbooks; and various other ebook stores.





Guest of Ailsa Abraham

Today I have the great honour of being the guest of my dear friend and fellow Crooked Cat author, the truly lovely Ailsa Abraham​.

Hop over to her blog and see what we have to chat about!