Recently read and enjoyed…

This summer’s ultra-hot weather means I’ve spent more time lazing around on my balcony than I might have, a glass of something by my side and my kindle to hand.
Most of the books I read are crime fiction of one sort or another. The following are some of my four or five star reads, and we’ll have more another time too.
In no particular order…

 

 

Jane Isaac’s new series looks like being a real cracker. I loved the fact that this time, the main character is the Family Liason Officer.

 

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Friend kept me guessing right to the end. Secrets, lies, family dynamics – and a very clever plot.

 

 

 

 

 

This is a must-read for thriller fans – especially those who, like me, are mothers of sons… An intriguing story of family life.

 

 

 

 

 

Katharine Johnson takes us to lovely Tuscany in The Secret, and from the background of WW2 to the present day. The sights and sounds of Italy…

 

 

 

 

 

Last but not least, we have Merciless. Heleyne Hammersley has been on the blog with the fabulous photos which inspired one of her standalone novels. Merciless is the second in her detective series, but it can easily be read as a standalone too.

 

 

 

Book news: It’s been best seller orange flag week for my books on Amazon. Each of the novellas has now had one, and yesterday I was particularly pleased to find my first ever on Amazon US. Well done, Chosen Child.

And this feels like a good place to mention that Chosen Child is now on a 99p/c US/UK deal – until Tuesday, you can have it for WAY less than the price of a coffee… Just sayin’… 🙂

 

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The Writing Life…

Lots of people say it, and it’s true – writing is one third actual writing, and two thirds all the other ‘stuff’ – editing, arranging promotions, thinking and plotting, editing, organising cover images, learning how to do things with your computer that you’d never hear of ten years ago, editing… you get the picture.

This year, many hours have been taken up with other stuff, but I’m happy to say my writing time is back on track again. I’m also happy with the blog tour we had for The Cold Cold Sea re-release. There was a great mixture of articles, reviews, and extract posts, all arranged by Kelly at Love Books Group, and I’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ to all the bloggers who gave their time and space on their websites to my book.
You can read the book’s prologue HERE,  and the first chapter HERE, if you haven’t already. There’s an article about choosing location HERE, and one of the many reviews HERE. Another blog post I’d wanted to share here seems to be unavailable now, so I’ll put the article I wrote for it here instead – how The Cold Cold Sea came about, and how to create suspense in a novel:

A book usually starts when some small thing in life gets me thinking, what if…? The Cold Cold Sea began to niggle in my head years ago, when I was researching my family tree. First of all, I talked to my parents and uncle, then I wrote asking more distant relatives about their extended families. A third cousin sent over a diagram of her own family and a couple of others. One of these consisted of father, mother, and three children, and beside the youngest child were the words, Agnes drowned. That was all. Horrified, I called my mother.

It turned out that Mum had never met this family, but vaguely remembered that Agnes had died, aged eleven, on a trip to a swimming pool in the 1940s. I couldn’t get this child out of my head. She was related to me, yet I’d never heard of her. How had her parents coped with such a loss? How would anyone cope with such an awful tragedy, such an unbearable new reality in their lives? That was the ‘what if…?’ moment. What if they didn’t cope?

This little episode shows us two ways to add suspense to a book. One, write the book around a situation that in some way touches the reader. Who wouldn’t be moved at the thought of losing a child? And two, make the reader care about the book’s characters. If they come across as real, believable people trying their best to deal with whatever life has chucked at them, suspense grows because we care.

In The Cold Cold Sea we have Maggie, on holiday with the family in lovely Cornwall. One day on the beach she looks away for an instant, and in that instant, little daughter Olivia disappears. Into the sea? Maggie doesn’t know. We also have Jennifer, who is trying to deal with something in her past so awful she can’t even think about it. And Phillip, who is helping Jennifer – no one sees that he is screaming out for help too. But the reader knows. This is another way to create tension: give the reader more information than the characters have. The reader sees what is going on with Jennifer, but Phillip can only guess, and Maggie has no idea.

The Cold Cold Sea isn’t a ‘whodunnit’, or even a ‘whydunnit’. These things are clear to the reader almost from the start. The suspense is in wondering how on earth the characters are going to get out of this situation.

I used a different way of creating suspense in The Paradise Trees. Alicia is arranging end of life care for her father. Meanwhile, the village psychopath is watching her and her daughter, waiting to pounce. Here, the bad guy is introduced right at the start; Alicia knows him and he knows Alicia – but which character is he? We learn what this man wants to do, about his childhood and what makes his twisted mind tick. But is he Frank the doctor, Kenny the pet shop owner, Doug the head of the local care home, or Derek, one of the nurses there? The reader doesn’t know, and Alicia doesn’t know she’s being targeted. Then the psycho strikes…
This technique can be adapted by letting the reader know who the bad guy is, but leaving the characters in the dark.

I like these ways of writing suspense fiction, because they’re character-based and don’t involve the reader making assumptions that aren’t necessarily correct. The downside is, there’s rarely a ‘twist you won’t see coming’ involved!

It took a long time to write The Cold Cold Sea. It isn’t about Agnes who drowned, but I’ll always be grateful to my distant little cousin. We all have our collection of ‘memory-people’, those we remember with love. And Agnes is right there in mine.

And now? I have two projects. The first is novella number four, Christmas in Switzerland. It returned from its edit with the request for ‘more Switzerland’, so I took my characters on an unscheduled trip to Davos yesterday afternoon. I’m hoping we’ll get the book out for this Christmas…
The second is another suspense novel. Here, I’m also working on changes after the first edit. So there are plenty of spaces to watch for now. And more editing to do, more covers to choose, more promo to organise… I love it! 🙂

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Cornwall…

…is the setting for my second novel. Which, as of today, is also my seventh novel… The Cold Cold Sea was re-released today with a fab new cover by The Cover Collection – I love it!
(Purchase info HERE)

I have lovely memories of Cornwall, especially the north coast around Newquay, so here are a few pics of the places Maggie and family might have visited before Olivia disappeared.

Below is Carbis Bay – just look at that beach.

Land’s End, where the ocean curves along the skyline.

St Ives, definitely worth a visit. (And the setting for Chosen Child.)

I’m not sure where in Cornwall this one is, but aren’t the colours in that water magnificent?

One of those little coves could be the one Olivia vanished from.

The Cold Cold Sea is celebrating its republication with a blog tour:

Do join us on some of the posts: We have reviews, extracts and articles, and lots more lovely photos. (If you’ve read and enjoyed the book, please consider leaving a review on Amazon – one short sentence is plenty.)

We can’t leave Cornwall without having a cream tea pic. I know there’s some controversy about cream and jam and which goes first, but I won’t make any mistakes with this photo…

 

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Swiss Mountains…

Scenic blog post alert… The past several weeks have been HOT here in N.E. Switzerland. 33-34°C every afternoon is a bit too much of a good thing – I wished several times I was halfway up a mountain, enjoying the snow squeaking under my feet.

On the left we have our local mountain, the Säntis, with the other peaks in the Alpstein range, and Lake Constance in the foreground. At 2,502m, Säntis is a baby compared to some, so let’s have a quiz question – which is the highest mountain in Switzerland? (Answer at the end of the post.)

Most famous has to be the Matterhorn, in Canton Valais. I’ve seen it a few times, and it’s actually quite rare to be able to take a photo without clouds floating around the peak. (This pic isn’t mine.) The resort town Zermatt lies below the Matterhorn – famous for boutiques and après-ski.

Another everyone knows is the Jungfrau. It’s in Canton Berne, and anyone who enjoyed The Chalet School books as a child will recognise the photo below immediately – it’s the view from Joey’s living room, those years the school was in the Bernese Oberland.
Below, we have the Jungfrau plus the others which make up the trio Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Best seen from Interlaken, the town between two lakes. (Thun and Brienz).

And here’s Kleine Scheidegg and that famous ‘north face of the Eiger’. (And for anyone interested, these buildings are how I picture the Lakeside Hotel in my novella series.)

Moving towards central Switzerland now, we have Pilatus, the mountain right next to the city of Lucerne. The views from here are terrific, and it’s easy to get to – though it tends to be rather busy in summer…

It’s back to Valais again for Monte Rosa, surrounded by glaciers and less easy to get to; it’s the only mountain in this post I’ve never visited. Piedmont in Italy lies on the other side.

For a touch of James Bond mystique we have the Schilthorn and its revolving restaurant – I’ve had hot chocolate in that restaurant. It wasn’t the least expensive ‘heisse Schoggi’ I’ve ever had, but the views were something else…

So – which is the highest? Drum roll…

It’s Monte Rosa, at 4,634m.
The Matterhorn is 4,478m, Eiger 3,967m, Mönch 4,107, Jungfrau 4,158m, Pilatus 2,132m, and Schilthorn 2,970m. I think the best time to visit any of them is autumn, when the air seems clearer. I haven’t been to the Pilatus for a while… maybe I’ll do that, and give it a blog post to itself in a month or two.

Meantime, if you’d like to know what it’s like at the top of the Säntis, Stacy and Emily go up in (I think) chapter 3 of A Lake in Switzerland. Just sayin’…

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Quick reminder – new release and free book!

Trouble in Switzerland is out today, and to celebrate, A Lake in Switzerland will be free today and tomorrow, which is Swiss National Day. For details and purchase links click here. So for two days, you can have all three light, vaguely romantic and definitely scenic novellas for under £2. Happy reading!

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Visiting Yorkshire and – new book!

After the fraught journey to get to Leeds, I settled down in my hotel and started the week’s busy programme of book and family events.

First up was meeting writer Carmen Radtke, who was on the blog a few months ago with a post about Australia and missing brides. We spent the afternoon on the grass beside the Minster, putting the book world to rights and enjoying the sunshine (and having lunch).

It was back to York (no hardship) the following day to meet my amazing lawyer. We had afternoon tea in Bettys, which is THE tea room in York. Actually, they have two, and as the queue at the big one was round the corner we went to Little Bettys. I had Eton Mess, totally yummy and of course I forgot to take a photo, but it looked a little like the one on the right.

The next day was Saturday, and I set off for Harrogate to visit the book festival there. I didn’t have much time, but I met up with quite a few people, including fellow crime writer Dave Sivers:

and book blogger Jill Doyle, who had me on her lovely blog for a Five on Friday post recently.
There were so many people at the festival I didn’t have a hope of chatting to everyone I’d wanted to, but there’s always a next time…

 

The next few days were taken up with touring around Yorkshire and visiting family. Fortunately, my brother had arrived by this time and trains were no longer an issue. It was lovely to see the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, and visit our cousins and soon-to-be 98-year-old uncle in Ilkley. We went to the famous Cow and Calf Rocks, and pointed out all the places we’d visited as children. It was lovely.

Next up was the Brontë Parsonage in Haworth. It was so amazing to stand in Emily Brontë’s kitchen, and see the dining room with the table where she and her sisters wrote their books. I left feeling I’d ticked a large box, but I’ll definitely go back some day. There are a few photos and some info on their website here.

And apart from quite a lot of shopping, eating and drinking (I like Leeds), that was my visit to Yorkshire. My trains back down to Luton were only better than the trains north because this time I knew what to expect, and had reorganised my journey to two trains instead of three, in the hope of making the one connection. I didn’t.

Book News – Drum roll – Trouble in Switzerland, the third novella in my Lakeside Hotel series is on pre-order for Tuesday; click HERE to view. And if anyone hasn’t read A Lake in Switzerland, the first in the series, it’ll be **free** on Tuesday and Wednesday. This is the first free promotion I’ve organised myself, though Bloodhound Books had one for Baby Dear last year – I’m not sure if it’ll be free worldwide or just in the US/UK. Maybe someone can help out with that info?

Stacy’s new life seems idyllic – she has a lovely home amidst fabulous scenery, the man of her dreams and an interesting job. But then comes trouble… and Stacy realises she could lose everything she holds dear.
Will the Lakeside Hotel survive the summer?

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Train travel in middle England…

My journey from N.E. Switzerland to sunny Leeds didn’t start well. I arrived at Zürich Airport well on time, only to see DELAYED in large letters beside my flight. Ah, well. I’d allowed two and a half hours between landing at Luton and catching the first of three trains – where I had reserved seats, because I didn’t want to stand all the way to Leeds.

But we waited. And waited. And it was only due to the fact that I’d forgotten the time difference, turning my two and a half hours into three and a half hours, that I was able to be standing on the platform at Luton, waiting for the first train.

My seat was coach A, seat 20. The train arrived, and I found coach A almost deserted, apart from a few Spanish tourists, and a lady sitting on – you’ve guessed it – seat 20. She was busy on her laptop, so I sat down beside her, mentioning that I was happy to sit here but technically, she was on my seat. After a while she finished her work and we had a nice chat, which turned out to be the highlight of my entire train journey.  So train 1 was fine, except I didn’t sit on my reserved seat.

I got off at Leicester and went to to the departures board to look for train 2, to Sheffield. Oh. Train 2 was cancelled. Brilliant. I scooted into the travel centre for advice, and was given a new train 2 – without a reserved seat – which should still allow me to hook up with train 3 at Sheffield. I had exactly three minutes to catch it… Off I sprinted, my suitcase bumping along behind me.

The new train 2 was jam-packed, but I bagged a fold-down seat in the corridor at the first stop along the line, and we jolted north. At Derby, I was able to move into the main carriage and was quite happy until an announcement crackled through the loudspeaker. Owing to a fire in a train up front, we were talking an ‘alternative route’ to Sheffield, adding half an hour to the journey. Bye bye train 3.

After meandering round unidentifiable bits of England, we arrived at Sheffield, where I found myself a new train 3. It was busy, but I found a seat, and arrived at Leeds just an hour late but feeling as if I’d been chasing myself all day.

Planning my journey, I’d been surprised that train seat reservations in England are free. Now I know why.

But the punctual trains I’ve been on since I arrived have made up for that journey… almost.

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Statues (and things) in Switzerland…

 

On Friday and Saturday I spent a few hours in Zug, Central Switzerland, on the way to and from Louise Mangos’ Strangers on a Bridge launch do. There’s a lot to like in Zug – a beautiful lake, a lovely historic old town – and some artwork.

 

 

 

 

The old town first – above is the town hall, and on the right here we have early-Saturday empty streets with some wonderful old houses.
Then a flash of colour outside the bank caught my eye…

 

 

 

This figure rotates – isn’t it fabulous? And just moments later I walked past a red man.

Heading towards the lake path, I spotted a statue of some swans and went for a closer look.

A little further, I came across what must be the weirdest piece of artwork in the area. I have no idea what’s happening in the pic below, but a plaque on the grass gives it the rather scary title The Nightwatchman.

Viewing it from a different angle didn’t really help. Yes, that is a streetlamp…

Suggestions on a postcard, please…

And we’ll finish off with a pic of the book launch cake!

 

 

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The Cold Cold Sea – a book with many covers…

During the writing process, I’m not sure what I was expecting to see on the cover of my second book. It had various working titles along the way, until The Cold Cold Sea came to mind while I was looking at photos of Cornwall one day. I suppose I thought my book would look something like the photo below:

 

The first cover suggestions from the publisher arrived, and we settled on one with cliffs and some sea. I can’t find this image now; I think it’s probably stuck in my old computer that was mashed by malware a couple of years ago. However, it looked pretty much like the pic on the left, if you imagine blustery clouds instead of the more distant rock formation.
I liked this cover, but the publisher was never entirely happy with it and before the book was published, they switched the image to the one that has been on the book for the past four years.

 

This cover gives a good indication of the atmosphere in the story. ‘Family holiday with sinister undertones’ is the idea, and while I could see that the cover worked, what disturbed me was the fact that, at the time, there was no mention of beach huts in the book. Fortunately, this was still a few months pre-publication, and I was allowed to add a few sentences and alter the geography of the cove where Olivia went missing. I liked the cover, though I missed the sea – having it on the back of the paperback didn’t seem quite enough.

 

 

A few months after publication, a different edition of my book appeared on the market – in French. Une Mer si Froide came out firstly with France Loisirs and had a small girl at the window as cover image. At last my book had some sea on the front! I was delighted.

 

 

 

 

The Presses de la Cité edition, a year or so later, had even more sea. This cover has a very powerful ‘one moment in time’ feeling. Look at the child’s fingers – she is poised, ready to do – what?
My book had three covers now, and the amount of water on the front was increasing all the time.

 

 

 

 

Then came the hardback edition, also in French. Now the child is in the water – a very unsettling image that goes well with the unsettling story.

 

 

 

 

 

The latest French cover, from Editions Charleston, takes us further away from the sea again. I really like this one. It’s moody,  we have ocean in the background, and the child is strangely transparent, as if she isn’t really there…

 

 

 

 

And now it’s the turn of the English edition. The Cold Cold Sea will be available again this summer, the ebook in late August with the paperback following in September, published by Fabrian Books. And the cover is 100% cold cold water – I love it. Huge thanks here to Debbie at The Cover Collection for all her hard work, and I’m sorry I went through so many ‘like this – no, like that – no, like this again with more…’ changes during the creating process. And shh! – I think I love this cover even more than Chosen Child’s…

 

To finish off with, let’s have another lovely sea pic…

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Wild Orchids in Switzerland

A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I went out in search of orchids… wild ones.

Close to the Switzerland-Germany border, there’s a tiny place called Bargen. It’s known for being the most northerly village in the country, and also for its nearby woodland orchid trail. I have to confess I’d never heard of the trail until the day before we set out, but wild orchids sounded fun, and the weather was fabulous, so off we set. It was a journey of public transport interspersed with a couple of mad dashes and the hottest walk ever.

The first hour or so was no problem. We caught the train that meanders along beside Lake Constance and then the Rhine, and alighted at Schaffhausen, nearest large town to the Falls of Rhine. Having checked out where the Bargen bus stop was, we retired to a nearby restaurant for lunch. So far, so good.

It was nearly bus time when we emerged, but the stop was right across the road and – oh. Wait. That didn’t include the afternoon buses – they left from the other side of the station…
Cue mad dash number one. I don’t go jogging now because my knees don’t like it, but I’m often very grateful to that Couch to 5K programme I completed a year or two back. 300m dashes are still possible.

Once on the bus, we recovered slowly, and arrived at Bargen expecting the usual super-efficient Swiss signposting to tell us where to go for the orchids. Um, no. Or maybe we just didn’t see it… Two possible tracks presented themselves, so we took the shady right hand one and set off hopefully up the hill. We did find some nice country scenery to photograph, but it became increasingly obvious that in spite of being on the right, this was not the right track. Back to Bargen.

The left track also went uphill, but was minus the shade. Up and up and on and on we went, the odd tree or clump of bushes providing a moment’s respite from the sun. We passed a couple of farms, were barked at by a dog and had to dodge several cyclists enjoying a lovely cool whizz down to Bargen. At long last we came to a border stone and – the orchid trail. Was it worth it? Oh, yes. (Okay, that orange one might be a lily…)

Photo by B. Göldi

Photo by B. Göldi

Photo by B. Göldi

The track didn’t seem half as long going downhill again. We were about three quarters of the way back when we realised we could either go a whole lot faster and get the next bus in ten minutes, or carry on as we were and wait an hour in Bargen. We’d find a coffee shop there, wouldn’t we? We looked at each other. Bargen was so tiny, a petrol station and a cluster of houses. There might not be a…  Cue mad dash number two.

We made it – just, and arrived back in Schaffhausen in good time for the train. I know now there is a restaurant in Bargen – and next time I go anywhere off the beaten track, I’ll do my pre-hike checks a little more thoroughly…

 

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