Thursday, 17 April 2014

Author interview

Today the lovely Zanna Mackenzie interviews me on her blog. Do hop over there and take a look.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Falling in love with the great outdoors - a guest post by Zanna Mackenzie

Today I welcome fellow Crooked Cat author Zanna Mackenzie to my blog.  I had the pleasure of working with Zanna as editor of her recent novel If You Only Knew.  Here, she talks about her love of the great outdoors and how it has influenced her writing.

Welcome Zanna!  

Aside from relationships and characters trying to make sense of their lives and what they want from them, there’s another common theme which runs through each of my novels – the great outdoors.

Nowadays, every chance I get I love being out of doors – whether it’s in the countryside, woods, hills, mountains, coast, by a lake or just in the garden!

My husband and I have 4 dogs and they’re always keen to slip on a lead and head off for a walk no matter where, when or whatever the weather so walking plays a big part in our lives.

As a child my parents insisted we all go for a family walk on Sundays. This was – ahem – quite some time ago, well before the advent of Sunday opening for shops, supermarkets and garden centres! If you went out on a Sunday you had limited options back then so a family walk it was! Every week.  At the time I think my older sister and I grumbled loudly about donning boots and coats and traipsing through local woods and countryside with our parents.

It took quite a few years before spending time in the countryside finally became a pleasure for me. It happened on a holiday in Snowdonia about fifteen years ago when my hubbie and I started to explore the many forest and river walking trails in the area. We got a map and leaflet from the local information centre and set off. By the end of that week we were hooked on hiking. It probably helped that the weather was kind to us too!

After that we booked a cottage in the Lake District for our next holiday and, kitted out with proper boots and waterproofs this time, tackled some more ambitious routes and even a spot of fell walking.

Grasmere Lake

Every holiday after that became about walking and we discovered some of our favourite places in the UK – the Scottish Highlands, Dumfries & Galloway, North Yorkshire Moors and Coast, Derbyshire’s Peak District and Cumbria. These places have since inspired the locations in every book I have written. I love revisiting these areas in my head, looking at old holiday photos of the amazing scenery and trying to capture all of that in my books.

The Love Programme is set in the Scottish Highlands, a place I first fell in love with the scenery of via a BBC TV series Monarch of the Glen. A few years after watching the programme we stayed in a cottage in Newtonmore near the Aviemore ski area and explored the lochs, mountains and forests of ‘Monarch of the Glen’ country to our heart’s content.

Glenmore beach and Loch Morlich with a backdrop of the Cairngorm Mountains in the Scottish Highlands

In my second novel How Do You Spell Love it was North Yorkshire’s turn to inspire the setting. I love the wilderness feeling of the North Yorkshire Moors. They have a brooding quality and an emptiness which is both haunting and beautiful at the same time.

For my third novel If You Only Knew, the fictitious village which is home to the coffee shop and outdoor extreme sports centre in the book was inspired by the real life village of Castleton in Derbyshire’s Peak District. The pretty stone buildings nestle in the shadows of the surrounding hills which are home to impressive deep and dramatic caverns.

Dovedale, in the Derbyshire Peak District

I’ve had great fun putting together some mood boards for each of my books over on Pinterest, which include some holiday photos of the scenery in the area where each book is set – some of my favourite places in the great outdoors!

If you fancy a five minute escape to enjoy some beautiful scenery then please feel free to make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, put your feet up and head over to my boards on Pinterest -
Hope to see you there!

More about If You Only Knew:

Fear versus love
Happiness versus sadness
New love versus old flame…

Faith has a fear of falling in love again, but Zane persuades her to risk a relationship with him.

Maybe this time things will be OK.

Then she discovers who Zane’s business partner is - and her world is turned upside down.

Faith owns The Coffee Pot in the outdoor adventure sports mecca of Derbyshire’s Peak District. She hasn’t had a man in her life for a while, as she’s been too busy serving cakes to weary rock climbers and mountain bikers to find time for the complications of a relationship with the male of the species.

At least, that’s what she tells herself. The truth is that since she got her heart broken she’s had problems trusting men.

When she meets Zane, one of the new owners at the Carrdale Extreme Sports Centre, Faith finds herself enjoying his company even though part of her can’t help wondering why he’s so reluctant to talk about himself.

Then the past comes back to haunt her in the shape of Zane’s business partner Matt, who just happens to be the guy who broke Faith’s heart all those years ago.

With Matt out to cause trouble, and Zane keeping secrets, Faith’s life is about to get very complicated indeed…

If You Only Knew is available in paperback and ebook on Amazon:
*Amazon UK

Friday, 11 April 2014

RIP Sue Townsend

It was with great sadness that I heard on the News this morning that Sue Townsend (the creator of Adrian Mole) has died, at the comparatively young age of 68.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ms Townsend some years ago, when she did a book-signing at Waterstones in Manchester.  She was witty, down-to-earth and extremely approachable, and seemed genuinely pleased and surprised that people liked her writing.

A few years later, I was (very briefly) a member of a book club.  The book I chose for the group was Sue Townsend's The Queen and I.  I must confess to being more than a little shocked at how few other people in the group saw the book's true message. I had to explain to them in detail that it was not an overt criticism of royalty, but a very clever social comment.

And that is true of many of Sue Townsend's other books.  She takes a situation and applies it to a character (or, in the case of The Queen and I, a group of characters) who is/are hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with it, and by so doing paints a vivid picture of that situation in a way which speaks volumes to the reader. In the novel Rebuilding Coventry, a woman who has always had a roof over her head suddenly finds herself homeless and penniless in a strange city.  In the later Adrian Mole books, the author shows men what it's like to be sandwiched between single parenthood and increasing responsibility for ageing parents.  And in The Queen and I, people who have always been rich and privileged find themselves literally having to count every last penny.  There is a wonderful scene in the book where the Queen goes shopping, and discovers, when she comes to the till, that she has to put something back because she doesn't have enough money to pay for all the items in her basket.  But she would have done, if she had not previously had to pay an extra 30p to take her dog on the bus.

Sue Townsend's influence extended into my own household.  In the first Adrian Mole book, Adrian asks his mother for an excuse note when he misses a morning at school.  When he hands the note to his teacher, he discovers that his mother has written Adrian did not come to school this morning because he did not get out of bed until 12.45.  This spawned a whole series of spoof excuse notes throughout my sons' school years.  For some reason, though, the boys didn't seem too keen to give their teachers notes along the lines of Please excuse [name of son] from Games today because he absolutely loathes it.  But we did all have a jolly good laugh.

Sue Townsend was a great lady who gave us many great stories.  It is very sad to think that there will be no more from the same pen.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

CAVEAT PEREGRINATOR: A warning for anyone who ever has to go through Airport Security

Those of you who know me at all well will know that the S in my name doesn’t stand for “serious.”  However, I can be serious when the need arises, and this, dear friends, is one such occasion.  The airports won’t tell you about this, so your warning will have to be the story of our experience at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 1 last Thursday morning. 

Picture the scene.  It’s 5.50 am, and we’ve just joined the long queue to go through Security. Progress is horrendously slow, because the scanners bleep for just about everyone who walks through them, meaning that virtually every single passenger has to undergo a detailed search.  I’m one of the very few who doesn’t, but Better Half isn’t so fortunate.  By the time we’re both through and have reclaimed our hand baggage, it’s almost half past six.  We’ve still got plenty of time (our flight is due to start boarding just after 7 for a 7.30 departure) but we decide to go through to the departure gate area now, so we won’t have to rush at the last minute.  We fight our way through the obstacle course known as the airport shops (which are carefully designed so that you can’t easily walk straight through them), find a couple of seats where we can keep an eye on the indicator board, and settle down to wait.

Five minutes before the flight is due to start boarding, Better Half opens his bag to sort out what he needs for the journey.  Out of the corner of my eye I can see him hunting frantically through the contents, then eventually he exclaims, “My camera’s gone!”

We rush back through the shopping area (even more difficult to negotiate when doing so against the tide and against the clock) and eventually arrive back at Security.  The missing camera, together with a drawstring pouch containing a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, is quickly located behind the manager’s desk.  When we ask what has happened, we are given a perfunctory explanation: “Oh, they will have gone through on a separate tray.”

Presumably, in the fifteen or twenty minutes when Better Half was going through Security and his bag was, through no fault of his own, out of his sight, the camera and headphones were removed by Security staff and re-scanned, but were not then reunited with the bag.

Better Half was lucky – he got his camera and headphones back.  But the incident has left us wondering: how many other people are not so fortunate?  Passengers are given absolutely no warning that items might be removed from their bags without their knowledge, and hence may well not discover that things are missing until it’s too late to reclaim them.

So, dear friends – here is my warning: If, when going through Airport Security, your hand baggage is out of your sight for any length of time, CHECK THE CONTENTS THOROUGHLY AS SOON AS YOU GET IT BACK

Monday, 7 April 2014

Author Interview

Today I'm the guest of fellow Crooked Cat author Jeff Gardiner.  Hop over to his blog and take a peek!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Authors from A to Z

This month, my dear friend and writing buddy Miriam Drori has set herself the challenge of featuring authors from A to Z.  Like me, Miriam is a Crooked Cat author, and she asked her fellow-Cats to each find another author whose surname begins with the same letter, and with which they have at least one thing in common.

My choice was the great Bill Bryson.  You can find out what I have in common with him by hopping over to Miriam's blog and taking a look!

Friday, 21 March 2014

AIMS AND REALITIES - a guest post by Nancy Jardine

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming back my fellow Crooked Cat author Nancy Jardine, whose latest book in the Celtic Fervour series is about to hit the shelves.

Welcome Nancy!

Hi Sue! Thank you so much for inviting me here, so close to the launch of Book 3 of my Celtic Fervour Series- After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks from Crooked Cat Publishing - which releases on 25th March 2014. I thought you might appreciate reading about what I’ve been attempting in these novels which, I think, make them slightly different and hard to categorise genre-wise. I’ve recently read, and loved, The Ghostly Father, so I know exactly how you’ve attempted to ensure that any historical facts that you’ve used have been relevant and in keeping with the era you were writing about. I too have an insatiable need to create believable authentic fiction.

In general, if you pick up a novel that’s termed Historical Fiction it’s crammed full of historical, factual information. The plots are often centred on the machinations of aristocratic nobility, or are dominated by war or politics. Often these books are on the lengthy side. I, personally, usually love these novels since they satisfy my ravenous need to learn about historical periods, although overly heavy descriptive passages can be tedious to wade through. Any romantic elements in historical fiction tend to be a minor aspect of the plot. A Happy-Ever-After (HEA) ending is not required, and the happy couple wandering off into the sunset hand in hand does not generally feature in Historical Fiction.

Historical Romance novels, especially those from ‘romance only’ publishers, can veer very much in the opposite direction. The romance is completely central to the plot and the historical aspects often form a very scant and (it has to be said) sometimes anachronistic and inaccurate backdrop. There must be an HEA ending for them to qualify as Historical Romance and be accepted by some of the romance publishers, therefore the budding relationship has to dominate the story: angst, rejection and doubt are often used to enhance the development of the characters. I can enjoy the romantic storyline, but if history is part of the title, brief detail of the historical background just doesn’t suffice for me. I personally need more to really live in a past era along with the characters.

Can there then be a compromise? I’m not sure, but what I’m aiming for in my Celtic Fervour Series, set in AD 71-84, is a really authentic backdrop of solid historical facts (at least as much as is possible given my chosen era is so long ago and there is a serious dearth of written facts available to the researcher). However, I’m also aiming for variable degrees of romance across the series; a dash of adventure; some intrigue; some bloody war and some mystery. Are my stories then a mish-mash? Some purists might deem them so. Since it’s hard to please all readers and reviewers, I’m writing in the way my heart dictates, and I’m glad to say my publisher - Crooked Cat Publishing- is happy for me to categorise it as Historical Romantic Adventure.

Book 1, The Beltane Choice, has a strong romantic theme running through it, the developing relationship of Lorcan of the Brigantes and Nara of the Selgovae a crucial part of the whole plot and yet their tale is set in as authentic a setting as possible. Book 1 is mainly written from the Celtic perspective; any Roman references being what I’d term remote. The Roman expansion into northern Britain in AD 71 affects and dictates the actions of my Celtic characters, but there are no specific Roman characters appearing in the first novel. I’m delighted that many of the reviews for The Beltane Choice reflect my efforts over Celtic ‘authenticity’ and show appreciation of my ‘believable’ Garrigill characters.

Book 2, After Whorl: Bran Reborn, has a romantic attachment but the plot is not driven by it. The love Brennus has for Ineda is not necessarily fulfilled; there’s not an HEA ending to the book, but there’s an expectation for better situations for my two main characters- Brennus of Garrigill and Ineda of Marske. Though it’s not a war novel there are battle references and scenes of war; there is a lot more detail of the insidious Roman fort building in Brigantia (my version envisaged from thorough research); and the life of the spy against Rome is central to the plot. Is it a spy thriller? No, it’s not - though it could be said to have elements of intrigue and aspects of the thriller as well. What about adventure? I definitely like this aspect being attached to its description since it’s meant to be an adventure in first century Britain, though not ‘hanging off a cliff’ on every page. Is this second novel of the series also heavily biased towards the Celtic viewpoint? No. There are many Roman characters appearing in Book 2. I’d say the bias is around 50/50 Roman and Celt. I’m delighted to say a reviewer got my aims ‘spot on’ in her 5* Amazon review and mentioned the slide away from the more traditional romance of the first book to a more solidly historical one in Book 2.

Book 3, After Whorl: Donning Double Cloaks continues the separate journeys through life, literally and figuratively, of Brennus and Ineda. Fate often gets in the way of developing relationships, and in my Celtic Fervour Series it’s the armies of Rome, and specifically Tribune Gaius Livanus Valerius, who separate Ineda and Brennus (also known as Bran). As with Book 2, there are romantic attachments in the third book but those do not necessarily lead to an HEA ending for all of my main characters - though romance readers will be heartened by the fact that finding true love is not ruled out. There are many more minor Roman characters in this novel and yet, I believe, the bias of Roman/Celt perspectives is still around the 50/50 mark.

There are more tactical war aspects in Book 3, a very large battle between amassed Celtic tribes and the legions of Rome featuring towards the end of the story. In addition, in many ways the tale is about relentless inevitability as my characters Celts and Romans push northwards, all the way to my own part of north-east Scotland. My Celtic characters seem always just one step ahead of the Roman Army as it tramps its way to the final battle scene at the hill range named Beinn Na Ciche.

That may make it sound as though Book 3 is all about battle-hardened soldiers? Not at all!  It’s about my Garrigill warriors and their families!

It’s Historical Romantic Adventure.

Thank you for allowing me to share my writing choices with you and your readers, Sue. 

My pleasure, Nancy.  Please call again!

Nancy Jardine’s novels can be found in paperback and ebook formats from:
Amazon UK author page    Amazon US author page  Crooked Cat Bookstore; Waterstones; Barnes & Noble; Smashwords; W. H. Smith; and other book retailers.

Nancy can be found at the following places:   Blog    Website   Facebook  Goodreads   About Me   LinkedIn   Twitter @nansjar  Google+ 

Nancy Jardine lives in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, in an area that’s steeped in ancient standing stones, tombs, ruined castles and fantastic Scots Baronial architecture. A lover of all things Scottish, her homeland creeps into her writing as does her fascination with history- Celtic/ Roman Britain in particular- though keeping herself updated is a constant battle, since history is being rewritten almost every week as new archaeological discoveries are made. Writing time is shared with regular grandchild minding duties, tending her large garden, ancestry research and leisure reading. She is currently writing a family saga based mainly in Scotland, and Book 4 of her Celtic Fervour series.

Topaz Eyes (Crooked Cat Publishing) an ancestral-based mystery, is a finalist for THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE Fiction 2014.
After Whorl: Bran Reborn - Book 2 of her Celtic Fervour Series (Crooked Cat Publishing) has been accepted for THE WALTER SCOTT PRIZE FOR HISTORICAL FICTION 2014.