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Monday, 5 February 2018

A MERRY DANCE - an interview with Sue Roebuck

My guest today is my friend and fellow-author Sue Roebuck.  I had the pleasure of working with Sue as editor of her forthcoming novel Forest Dancer, which will be released by Crooked Cat Books on 20th February.  If you want to be transported to Portugal without leaving your armchair, this is definitely the book for you.

Welcome, Sue!

Thank you, Sue, for inviting me to your blog today.

What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

The first thing I wrote was probably what prompted me to write in the first place.  I was fourteen and my illustrated (!) book filled a whole notebook and was about villagers in the south of England during WWII who were trying to get rid of an army training camp. I blame my brother for this – he named the characters (Willy Wormtongue being one of them). I DID win the class prize for it though.

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

Forest Dancer’s main character, Flora Gatehouse, a classical ballerina with a London company, has recently lost her father, but she also suffers a blow when she fails an audition. She moves to a small cottage which her father has left her, in the magical fairytale hills just west of Lisbon. She endeavours to embrace the life in the small village with its dark secrets, and she falls for the forest ranger, Marco. But isn’t he married? And can she ever reconnect with her dream to be a principal ballerina?

Did you do any research for the book?

Oh yes! I know nothing of ballet nor forests so I did extensive research online and in the local library. No-one’s complained so far, so I must’ve got it right.

You didn't know anything about ballet?  I find that very hard to believe.  From the way you described it, I was sure you must have been a ballerina yourself!

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

Both really. My first draft is definitely the latter. When I go back to do the second edit I find so many inconsistencies that I generally work out the plot afterwards (I’ve always been known as back-to-front).

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

The best is when the story is developing and I know exactly what’s going to happen. Hours pass without me noticing them – it’s a lovely feeling because when I “come to” I feel so accomplished.

The worst part is getting stuck down a dead end. I’ve learnt that sometimes this can be solved by changing the point of view or making a minor character a major one.

Some people talk about “writers block” which is awful. From experience I think there are many issues that cause it: 

1. You’re tired and your brain’s had enough. 
2. You’ve suffered something stressful – like a bereavement – and, again, you can’t think of anything else but that. 
3. You’re scared. (This is my theory, remember). You’re scared you’re going to sit down at the computer and stare at a blank screen. From experience – this hasn’t happened. I force myself to sit down and I might write rubbish, but at least I write. But, also there’s often a little gem in that rubbish.

Now the book is published and ‘out there’ how do you feel?

Scared that no-one’s going to read it.  

I think we all have that fear about our own work!

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Don’t expect to get rich from writing. I know it’s “old hat” advice but don’t give up the day job.
Expect to be rejected and try and cope with how that feels. You do hear of authors getting accepted by publishers on their first try, but it’s rare…very rare.

Expect to receive bad reviews once your book is pubished and never respond to them. We can’t all like the same things, can we? I don’t like Star Wars – there, I’ve said it!  

Absolutely.  I can't abide soap operas or reality TV, and I've never seen a single episode of Game of Thrones!

What can we expect from you in the future?

Forest Dancer is the second in the “Portuguese series” (although the only thing the books have in common is that they’re set in Portugal, so they stand alone really).

The first book was Rising Tide, which is set in a small fishing village on the Alentejo coast. Leo, a deep sea fisherman from Alaska, and Piper, a coastal fisherman from Norfolk, UK, come to the village seeking answers.

The third book (which will be published by Crooked Cat Books later in 2018) is about a farrier, Joseph Barnaby from the UK, who has to run from a horse-racing mafia who are out for his blood. Joseph wants to be somewhere “at the end of the world” and lands up on a tiny stretch of land on the coast of the Island of Madeira.


Forest Dancer (paperback and ebook) on Amazon :

Tuesday, 30 January 2018


My blog guest today is the fabulous Isabella May, who is here to talk about her brand new novel, The Cocktail Bar - and a little of the history behind it.

Welcome, Isabella!

Thank you very much, Sue for inviting me to appear on your blog today. 

I had always assumed the provenance of the exotic drink would have more than a few claimants, but it wasn’t until I began to properly do my research that I realised just how many… and just how diverse the stories behind their justification were!

To highlight this, we join the main character of the story, River Jackson (an ex rock star turned mixologist), who has decided to hitchhike from Guadalajara to Tequila – as you do - running into a mystical sage named Mercedes en route:

“No need to carry on to Tequila. Your journey ends,” she smiled to reveal two rows of crooked teeth, “and begins right here. Come inside and let me explain.”

His head told him now was the time to do a runner, not that there was exactly anywhere to hide. His heart somehow warmed in an instant to this apparition of a female and her child.

“How do you speak such perfect English?” he said, stunned at his ability to enter into routine chitchat as he also bent to enter the tiny doorway, immediately hit by the pungent smell of ribs, chili and oregano, simmering on a tiny stove.

“Everything is connected,” said the woman.

“But, you live here in deepest Mexico. Or did you go to school, college?”

“I’m surrounded by infinite intelligence, why would I ever need to do that?”

She sat on a colourful stool, picked up a bowl and began to peel lima beans, a task she’d evidently made little progress with.

“Okaaay, this is starting to freak me out now.”

“You’re welcome to stay for supper before you head back to the city,” she ignored his confusion.

“I um… I really wanted to check out Tequila actually.”

She stopped her peeling for a few seconds, studied his face and then carried on with the job in hand.

“It’s just that, well,” he turned to look for a seat and she pointed at a similarly Aztec painted stool in the corner of the room, which he tentatively perched on, “I’ve uh… I’ve been collecting cocktail recipes from locals on my travels for a few years now, got a book full of them, and as soon as the plane touches down in London in a few days’ time – I’m uh… I’m here with my band and we played at the VFG arena last night - that’s it, man, I’m outta the music industry, time to move on to ventures new.”

He paused briefly to take in the knowing nods of the woman now standing before him. “I’ve put in a sealed bid for a rundown pub, in the town that I grew up in back home,” he continued, encouraged by her approval, “gonna refurbish it, make it pretty, turn it into a cocktail bar as it happens. Bring my inspiration back to Glastonbury, give her a new lease of life and the locals a hangout to put a smile on their faces.”

“All of this I know,” she said. “Although, I hope you have never been fooled into believing in the legend of Princess Xoctl of Mexico,” she giggled a little then paused, her finger and thumb pinching together in the air, as if plucking an invisible idea that had just flown past her. “It was the cola de gallo that really leant the cocktail its current name.”

River knew the former hearsay probably was just that: hearsay. The theories as to the provenance of a cocktail had piled up thick and fast over the years, only adding to the drink’s intrigue. But his ears pricked up now as the old woman bread crumbed yet another possible story of the cocktail’s origins.

“You probably know it already, of course, but it was the sailors arriving on the Yucatan peninsula, hundreds of years ago, here in my country… it was they who inadvertently gave your future bar its name,” she wagged her finger as if to autocorrect any other ideas that had formed in his mind over time. “One day,” she patted at her apron for effect, “a certain sailor asked for his usual drac in a bar, but the bartender couldn’t find his trusty wooden spoon to mix the liquor up with - and it had to be mixed slowly, precisely,” she took to wagging her finger again, “that was of utmost importance… so he improvised, used the root of the plant instead. And from that day forward, every sailor coming to shore would visit a bar and ask for a cola de gallo, which I’m sure I don’t need to tell you translates as ‘tail of the cock’, cocktail,” she finished with a wink. 

(Extract taken from The Cocktail Bar, Isabella May)

And if this has whet your appetite to find out more about the unconventional tipples that appear in River’s Somerset-based bar – and Mercedes’ very important contribution to it, here’s the blurb for the book:

Rock star, River Jackson, is back in his hometown of Glastonbury to open a cocktail bar… and the locals aren’t impressed.

Seductive Georgina is proving too hot to handle; band mate, Angelic Alice, is messing with his heart and his head; his mum is a hippie-dippy liability; his school friends have resorted to violence – oh, and his band manager, Lennie, AND the media are on his trail.

But River is armed with a magical Mexican elixir which will change the lives of the Three Chosen Ones. Once the Mexican wave of joy takes a hold of the town, he’s glad he didn’t lose his proverbial bottle.

Pity he hasn’t taken better care of the real one…  - universal Amazon buying link


Isabella May lives in (mostly) sunny Andalucia, Spain with her husband, daughter and son, creatively inspired by the sea and the mountains. When she isn’t having her cake and eating it, sampling a new cocktail on the beach, or ferrying her children to and from after school activities, she can usually be found writing.

As a co-founder and a former contributing writer for the popular online women’s magazine, The Glass House Girls - - she has also been lucky enough to subject the digital world to her other favourite pastimes, travel, the Law of Attraction, and Prince (The Purple One).

She has recently become a Book Fairy, and is having lots of fun with her imaginative 'drops'!

The Cocktail Bar is her second novel with Crooked Cat Books, following on from the hit sensation, Oh! What a Pavlova, published in 2017. Her third novel, Costa del Churros will be published in September 2018.

Twitter - @IsabellaMayBks
Instagram - @isabella_may_author

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

HUNTER-GATHERER - a guest post by Val Penny

My guest today is the fabulous Val Penny, who is here to talk about the setting for her debut Tartan Noir novel Hunter's Chase.  I had the pleasure of working with Val on this book as its editor, and I can promise you a fantastic read.

Welcome, Val.  Over to you...

Thank you for inviting me to your blog today, Sue. I am very excited because my debut crime novel, Hunter’s Chase, is to be published by Crooked Cats Books on 2 February 2018.

The story is set in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. I think setting is very important to a novel and did consider creating an imaginary town for my main protagonist, Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson. However, I know the city of Edinburgh well as I lived there for many years and it has everything a writer could need. It is a diverse city with all different kinds of buildings and people. It is small enough that characters can move around it quickly, and large enough for it to be credible that anything I want to happen could happen.

Edinburgh is also a beautiful city, with a castle, a palace and a cathedral, wealthy homes, horrible slums, fine restaurants, fast food outlets and idiosyncratic pubs. It is home to an Olympic-size pool, the National Rugby Team and two famous football teams. It is also home to The Edinburgh International Festivals. What more could I or my characters want?Edinburgh is a beautiful city of around half a million people, and is situated on the south banks of the Firth of Forth. There are some lovely views across the Forth from Edinburgh to the county of Fife on the north of the river. There are three bridges crossing the Firth of Forth: the oldest is the Forth Rail Bridge, built in the nineteenth century, the Forth Road Bridge was built in the twentieth century and the most modern, a bridge for road traffic was completed in the early part of this century, named the Queensferry Crossing.

The delegated parliament of Scotland is where Hunter's nemesis, Sir Peter Myerscough serves as Justice Secretary. The Scottish Parliament has wide powers over how the people of Scotland are governed and meets in the Scottish Parliament Building, in the Holyrood district of the city. Following a referendum in 1997, in which the Scottish electorate voted for devolution, the current Parliament was convened by the Scotland Act of 1998 which sets out its powers as a devolved legislature. Since September 2004, the official home of the Scottish Parliament has been a new Scottish Parliament Building in the Holyrood area of Edinburgh. The Scottish Parliament building was designed by Spanish architect Enric Miralles. There was much concern at the time as the building was completed many years late and several times over budget.

Hunter Wilson is divorced. He lives in a flat in Leith, an area to the north of the City, and drinks in his local pub, the Persevere Bar. His home is also close to one of the main soccer grounds in Edinburgh, the Hibernian Football Ground – home of Hibernian Football Club, commonly known as Hibs.

The other main character, Detective Constable Tim Myerscough, is Sir Peter Myerscough's son. He lives across the city from Hunter, in the south-west of the city. He moves into a flat Gillespie Crescent between Tollcross and Bruntsfield. His local pub in the Golf Tavern, off the Bruntsfield Links.

A wonderful free activity to do all year round is to play golf on Bruntsfield Links. It is believed to be one of the oldest sites of golf as it pre-dates the seventeenth century, the short-hole course was founded in 1895. Situated south of Melville Drive, there are two courses available to play on. A summer short 36-hole course (open end of April to September) and a 9-hole winter course (open October to end of April).

DC Tim Myerscough’s father, Sir Peter Myerscough, lives even further to the south in the Morningside district of Edinburgh. From his large house he has fine views across the Pentland Hills, which are situated just outside Edinburgh. The reservoirs are picturesque and each hill is slightly different. If you are fit enough, you can go on top of all of the hills in one day.

Edinburgh is such a diverse and cultural city, home to The Edinburgh International Festivals that represent all aspects of art, three universities and several colleges and the Scottish national rugby ground at Murrayfield. It is the perfect place to situate Hunter’s Chase and the cases DI Hunter Wilson has to solve.

Val Penny is an American author living in SW Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and two cats. She has a Law degree from Edinburgh University and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, lawyer, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer. However she has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballet dancer or owning a candy store. Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories and novels. Her first crime novel, Hunter's Chase (set in Edinburgh, Scotland), will be published by Crooked Cat Books on 2 February 2018. She is now writing the sequel, Hunter's Revenge.
Friends of Hunter's Chase -

Friday, 12 January 2018

THE OTHER HALF OF THE STORY - a guest post by Heidi Catherine

Today I have a very special guest on my blog, all the way from Melbourne, Australia: the fabulous Heidi Catherine, whose astonishing and award-winning debut novel The Soulweaver is released on 19 January - just one week from now.  

Welcome, Heidi!  Please tell us a bit more about the inspiration for The Soulweaver.

According to Plato’s Symposium, humans once had four arms, four legs, two faces and were both male and female. They were strong, fast and powerful, making the gods so nervous that they slit them in half to weaken them. This of course made the humans miserable and they would go in search of the other half to their soul. When they found them, they would know it immediately, lie down with them and be filled with unparalleled joy.

This is such a romantic idea, even if being cut in half is a little gruesome! And although it fascinates me (so much that I wrote a whole book centred around the idea of soulmates) I don’t quite believe that a soulmate necessarily needs to be someone of the opposite gender – or even someone who’s a romantic partner. It’s possible to form a deep soulmate connection with your sister, your father, your friend or same-sex partner.

I’ll let Reinier, one of my characters from The Soulweaver, explain it for me in this short excerpt. To set the scene, he’s being questioned by Lin, whom he tracked down after a long search. She describes the feeling of meeting him as having seen him a thousand times, yet having seen him never. It begins with Lin asking Reinier why he was looking for her.

‘So you’re telling me that with all the people you remember from all your lives, you’ve come looking for me. Why?’

‘Because you’re my soulmate. The other half to my whole.’ He looked at her with those eyes again and she felt herself being drawn in. Her soulmate? That sounded awfully romantic.

‘I thought you said Matthew was my soulmate.’

‘I said he was your intended. That doesn’t make him your soulmate. It’s a common misconception that soulmates must be only of the romantic kind. It’s possible to have a romantic relationship with a partner who isn’t your soulmate, just as it’s possible for your soulmate to be someone other than your partner.’

Her cheeks flushed. ‘Right. I understand.’ It was like he’d read her thoughts. So he didn’t think of her in a romantic way. She was clear on that now. The feeling of embarrassment washed over her once more.

‘You and I have travelled through each lifetime together, always finding each other no matter where in the world we’ve been placed. In some lifetimes I’ve been your husband – your intended – in others I’ve been your brother, your cousin, your son, your best friend. In each life, we meet and help each other on our paths. When our life is done we return to the stars and wait for each other before being born again. Except this time. Mother sent you back without me. She sent you far away, hoping I wouldn’t find you. But as you see, even she’s not powerful enough to keep us apart.’

They sat in silence while she tried to absorb what he was telling her. His story was laughable. Then why wasn’t she laughing? Each word he spoke made sense. Each piece of information filled a piece of the puzzle that’d been bothering her since her earliest years. She had to hear him out.

I would love to hear your thoughts on soulmates. What do you think of what Reinier just told Lin? Was Plato on the right track? Or do you have other ideas about how it might work?

Heidi Catherine can be found on Facebook, Twitter or at her website. Her debut novel, The Soulweaver, is available for order now. She also has a free prequel novelette called The Moonchild, which introduces you to two of the main characters from The Soulweaver in the lifetime they lived before the book takes place. 

Saturday, 30 December 2017


... I'm thrilled to announce that my lovely publisher, Crooked Cat Books, has accepted my latest offering.

Have you ever wondered what might have happened to Heathcliff during the three years when he disappears from Wuthering Heights?  Find out in 2018...

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

DULWICH DODGY DEALINGS - an interview with Alice Castle

My guest today is my dear friend and fellow-author Alice Castle, whose second novel The Girl in the Gallery is released today by Crooked Cat Books.  Alice has the same initials as the great Agatha Christie, and having read her first book (Death in Dulwich), I can assure you that the resemblance doesn't end there.

Welcome, Alice!  

What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

The first novel-length book I wrote was an early attempt at a whodunit, called Buckle My Shoe, about two young mums trying to solve crimes with toddlers and pushchairs in tow. I soon realized why so few crime fighters take their kids to work!

Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?
Who is The Girl in the Gallery?

What was the inspiration for this book?

My storyline is inspired by Dulwich Picture Gallery itself – it’s stuffed with amazing art, but the building itself is very unusual, too. At its heart is a mausoleum, containing the dead bodies of the original collectors in marble coffins, on display to the public. Weird and quite creepy! I have always thought it would be a brilliant setting for a murder mystery.

Did you do any research for the book?

I did loads of research. I love Dulwich Picture Gallery so this was no chore! I went to lots of exhibitions and had plenty of lunches in the restaurant, and the café outside. Gosh, it was hard work ;) I also read a lot on the life and times of Sir John Soane, the architect who designed the extraordinary building.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?

I’m not at all a morning person, but for some reason I do my best writing first thing. So I write until I run out of words, then turn to my day jobs – I’m the editor of a lifestyle website, I edit other people’s novels and I write freelance articles for newspapers and other publications.

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

I usually look wildly round the room where I write – the kitchen. It’s a miracle all my characters aren’t called Cadbury’s Dairy Milk.

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

I tend to have a firm idea in my head about the nature of the crime and about a side issue that will keep intertwining with the main plot. But I like to allow my characters some wiggle-room so they can dash off in unexpected directions if they like.

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

I’ve always been an avid reader and I love crime fiction. My favourites are PD James, Val McDermid, Janet Evanovich, Simon Brett, Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, Patricia Cornwell, Sue Grafton, Raymond Chandler… the list goes on and on!

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

The best part of the writing process is always the moment when the plot clicks and you know you are on the right track and the words start to pour. It’s a great feeling. The worst is definitely editing my own work, very slow and painful. I’d much rather do the ironing, and I really hate ironing.

(Er - what's "ironing"...?)

Now the book is published and ‘out there’ how do you feel?

It’s a very special moment when the book is out there, like having a new baby. I feel quite protective of it and only hope people will like it and want to take it home.

Is there a message for the reader?

I try not to be preachy, but there are themes which I hope most parents will already be thinking about. The most important message, in this book and the first in the series, is that there is such a thing as justice.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Keep going! It’s not always easy, but if you’re really a writer, you won’t have any choice anyway.

What can we expect from you in the future?

My third book in the London Murder Mystery series, Calamity in Camberwell, is due out in 2018. Can’t wait!

Neither can I, Alice!  Thanks for calling by today, and I hope the book flies for you!


Just when you thought it was safe to go back to Dulwich…

It’s a perfect summer’s morning in the plush south London suburb, and thirty-something Beth Haldane has sneaked off to visit one of her favourite places, the world-famous Picture Gallery.

She’s enjoying a few moments’ respite from juggling her job at prestigious private school Wyatt’s and her role as single mum to little boy Ben, when she stumbles across a shocking new exhibit on display. Before she knows it, she’s in the thick of a fresh, and deeply chilling, investigation.

Who is The Girl in the Gallery? Join Beth in adventure #2 of the London Murder Mystery series as she tries to discover the truth about a secret eating away at the very heart of Dulwich.


Before turning to crime, Alice Castle was a UK newspaper journalist for The Daily Express, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. Her first book, Hot Chocolate, set in Brussels and London, was a European best-seller which sold out in two weeks.

Alice is currently working on the sequel to Death in Dulwich and The Girl in the Gallery, the third book in the London Murder Mystery series. It will be published by Crooked Cat next year and is entitled The Calamity in Camberwell. Once again, it features Beth Haldane and DI Harry York.

Alice is also a top mummy blogger, writing DD’s Diary at
She lives in south London and is married with two children, two step-children and two cats.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

PURGATORY HOTEL - an interview with Anne-Marie Ormsby

Today I have a new guest - the author Anne-Marie Ormsby, whose fascinating novel Purgatory Hotel will be released by Crooked Cat Books on 7 November 2017.

Welcome, Anne-Marie!  What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I started writing when I was 9 after reading a book of Ray Bradbury short stories. His words were so beautiful all I could think was; “I want to write like that.” The first thing I ever wrote as far as prose is concerned was short story about a day in the desert. After that I wrote short stories for years, then moved on to poetry. I didn’t write my first novel til I was 20, and Ive never done anything with it!

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

A paranormal whodunit.

OOH, sounds intriguing. What was the inspiration for this book?

There’s a Nick Cave song called God’s Hotel. It got me thinking about what if the afterlife was a hotel. Then I was thinking about that in a negative sense and the rest of the story just grew from that.

Did you do any research for the book?

I researched a few things, such as the Babes in the Wood murders which play a part in the story. The rest is just from my brain!

What does a typical writing day involve for you?

It’s rare that I get a writing day as I’m a mum who works full time! Any time I get after my daughter has gone to bed is usually spent chilling out with my husband watching movies.

But I generally write better at night, so when I was writing this book originally, which was twelve years ago, I used to stay up all night with a bottle of wine and write till I needed sleep. These days I tend to write at night still, just with less wine as my child doesn’t care if I’ve been up all night writing – she will still expect me to get up at 6am…

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

Other stories that Im working on have characters with fairly standard names, but this one was a bit different so the names had to be too. But I find the names just come to me and I trust that part of my brain so I just go with it.

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

This one just kind of developed over time with no planning. I have got another book in the works that I have plotted out meticulously. I don’t know what works best yet!

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

My biggest influences in writing have been Ray Bradbury and Jack Kerouac. Two very different styles, but both have written some of my favourite books. And even though I don’t write in the same style, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights probably set the level for the kind of romance I write about. Rarely jolly.

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

The best part is when I get a good flow going and I can just keep writing and it all comes out on the screen exactly how I had it in my head. The worst is when I know what I want to say but the words don’t come.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I have had my next book in my head in various forms for a few years now. The only thing I think people can expect is that it will probably involve ghosts!