The ‘I’ books… #A-Z books 📚

This is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. Don’t worry – I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z. Each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

 

This time, it’s the ‘I’ books:

 

Bea Davenport and I go all the way back to 2013, when our first books were published within a few weeks of each other and we did various bookshop and library events together. In Too Deep tells the story of Maura, who flees her home and her past. Maura’s best friend Kim is dead – did Maura help to kill her, as she thinks? I’m a huge fan of Bea Davenport’s writing. As well as crime fiction, she also writes children’s and YA books. All highly recommended!

 

 

 

In the High Valley by Susan Coolidge is the fifth and last of the ‘Katy’ books: What Katy Did, What Katy Did at School, and What Katy Did Next are the better-known ones, and are followed by Clover and In the High Valley. The first three were favourites when I was a child, so I was pleased to learn, years later, that another two existed.

 

 

 

 

I Leap Over the Wall by Monica Baldwin is my ‘older book’ choice. In 1914, aged twenty-one, Monica Baldwin entered a convent (she writes about this in The Called And The Chosen). Twenty-eight years later, she leaves, and has to get to grips with daily life outside of her enclosed order. Meanwhile, the world is now at the height of the Second World War. Both are fascinating books.

 

 

Coming next month: the ‘J’ books.
Footnote: The Cold Cold Sea is on a UK/US 99p/c kindle deal this weekend.

 

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Technology (or not) for writers…

I’m not what you’d call technologically gifted. In fact, I’d probably have been a lot happier writing books back in the days when you did it with a quill and inky fingers. That being impractical nowadays, I’ve had to get my head round a variety of pieces of equipment – and it does help that my second son is a qualified IT person.

The printer – which I have only just stopped calling the new printer – has been muttering under its breath for the past several weeks, providing each printed page with a variety of extra dots that weren’t on the originals. I ignored it as long as I could, but when it started putting verticle lines down each printout, I realised that action was needed.

Very fortunately, by this time it was the Christmas holidays and Son 2 was in the building. He sat down happily enough with the printer and my computer, looking out the guarantee first of all, but of course, that had ended a few weeks ago… He decided the fault was with the roller thing that supplies the ink or whatever it is nowadays, and which you’re not supposed to touch because it’s ultra-delicate – so he gave it a good blow and tried the printer again. The verticle lines remained. Out came the roller for closer inspection.

At this point, I decided to make coffee, and came back to find him poking at the ultra-delicate roller with a tissue that looked as if it had been in his pocket for quite some time.

‘Aargh!’ I said. ‘You’re not supposed to…’

He gave me a look. ‘It’ll be fine.’

I’d heard that before. As he was dead set on dabbing at the roller, I zipped into the loo and brought him some loo roll to dab with, crossing my fingers hard my poor printer would survive the experience. We tried it out again – the verticle lines were still there, but quite a lot paler now.

‘Perfect!’ I enthused. ‘We don’t need them 100% gone. Thank you so much.’

He gave me another look. ‘They’re still there.’

Out came the ultra-delicate roller again, and the loo roll was wielded anew, with the addition of a generous portion of spit this time. By now I was wondering how soon a new roller would arrive if I ordered it now, the day after Christmas. Son 2 licked a last piece of loo roll, gave the ultra-delicate-roller-that-you’re-not-supposed-to-touch a final and enthusiastic polish – and tried it out again. The verticle lines were gone.

What I learned that day:
1) Ultra-delicate rollers aren’t.
2) You can ignore what it says in the manual. Loo roll and spit are a perfectly viable way of fixing your printer.

I do wonder, though, if Son 2 learned that at uni, or if it’s one of those things one’s children just soak up automatically, like programming the television and changing the car clock back to summer time…???

Image by Joss Rogers from Pixabay

 

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2019 – the best of times and the worst of times… (a minimalist’s version)

2019 had its ups and downs. We won’t mention politics, but here are a few of the book- and Swiss-shaped highlights and lowlights…

Best book moment: holding my first copy of Stolen Sister, published in March by the Bloodhound Books imprint Bombshell. It’s available in ebook, paperback and audio, and will be out next year in Czech. I was sent a Bombshell mug, too, which was best extra of the year.

Best book moment number two was the publication of Wedding Bells in Switzerland, the final novella in my Melinda Huber series set here on the banks of Lake Constance. As these are  available as ebooks only, it wasn’t quite the same as holding a physical copy, but we still opened the bubbly for it. Of course.

Most put-off trip: That has to be my 2019 trip to the UK, which just didn’t happen… I think it was a combination of my own travel lethargy (I welcome any excuse not to go on a plane), and the Brexit effect. 2020. Promise.

Shoogliest train ride: Going down the Flumserberg in this train, which was the replacement for a cable car under revision. It gave a whole new meaning to ‘hold onto your hats, folks’ – but we got there!

 

Oldest ship spotted: the Hohentwiel, here pulling into Rorschach harbour at the eastern end of Lake Constance last summer. Now the only paddle steamer on the lake, she started touring in 1913.

 

 

Best writers’ meet-up: our pre-Christmas get-together in Zürich, with Cass Grafton, Alison Baillie, Louise Mangos and Christa Polkinhorn. As always, we had problems to discuss and suggestions to make  – it’s so lovely to have others in the same situation to talk things over with. And drink prosecco with. And this time, we had mulled wine too…

 

Most environmentally-friendly purchase: my beeswax wraps, perfect for things like cheese, cold meat and sandwiches. I bought mine last June and since then, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve used clingfilm. Every little helps…

Favourite read of 2019: The Rumour by Lesley Kara, one of those books you literally can’t bear to put down – and that ending!

What will 2020 bring? I don’t know, but I’ll wish you all health and happiness, and a good start in the New Year, whatever you’re doing. We’re going into the roaring twenties again, so let’s roar.
All the best, and thank you for reading my blog!

 

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The ‘H’ books… #A-Z books 📚

This is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. Don’t worry – I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z. Each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

 

Today, it’s the ‘H’ books:

 

First up is Her Husband’s Secrets by Louise Mangos. This engaging thriller was originally published as The Art of Deception and tells the story of Lucie, who’s in prison in Switzerland, wrongly accused of her husband’s murder – and meanwhile, her six-year-old son is in danger. I especially enjoyed the prison sequences, and the way the flashback chapters wove Lucie’s past into the present day story. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

The Horse and His Boy is the third in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series. I was thirteen before I read the Narnia books. I arrived at secondary school and discovered quite a few books my classmates had read and I’d never heard of, including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first in the series. My favourite of the seven has to be The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

 

 

 

Gerald Durrell’s books are entertainment pure. In this one, he’s in Africa and Canada filming his TV series and coping with uncooperative animals – and TV producers. I love his animal books, but the funniest are the ones about his family and other doings. If you haven’t read The Picnic and Suchlike Pandemonium, get it NOW.

 

 

 

Coming next month: the ‘I’ books.

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NaNoWriMo ups and downs (and two freebies)…

It started with a dream – something was buried in a garden… The idea swirled around in my head for a few days, becoming ever more detailed, so I noted it down. The note grew longer, and within a week I had a plan for the first half of a new novel. That was when I realised the date – it was Halloween. And I thought, why not try it properly this year?

November is National Novel Writing Month, when writers of all sorts and conditions aim to write 50,000 words of a novel. You can sign up to the NaNo website, and cheer each other on on social media, and if you succeed, you have a nice chunk of your work-in-progress done.

So off I went. I didn’t sign in officially, but I kept to my target of 1,700 words a day to complete the task. Having a plan already set out helped, as I didn’t need to work out what-happened-next all the time, and it also helped that Switzerland in November is fairly conducive to staying indoors with your mug of coffee and your laptop. I made my 50K with four days to spare, and heaved a sigh of relief.

Plus points of the experience:
An outside target like that does keep you focussed.
I got my plot going more quickly than I usually would. Instead of stopping to mull something over, I marked the place on the ms to mull over later, and carried on.
It was fun – and motivating – to see the word count grow all the way up to 50K. Below is the badge you get when you do it officially – which I didn’t, but I borrowed one anyway…

Minus points:
Only one, but it’s a biggie.
I felt I didn’t have nearly enough time to develop the characters. They were going through the motions, pushing the plot on, but they weren’t doing it as people in their own right, they were just figures in a story. As soon as I reached my 50K I stopped, went back to the beginning and started to make my paper people into themselves and not cut-outs. And that’s what I’m still doing, two weeks later.

Will I do NaNoWriMo again? I’m not sure. I think I would need to spend more time preparing, especially the characters, to make the experience more satisfactory. But 50K is 50K, and 20K more than I normally manage even in a good month. So the answer’s a definite maybe.

Two freebies to finish off with this week:
1) A Lake in Switzerland is FREE on Amazon all weekend! (ends Sunday night)
2) Stolen Sister is available as an audiobook now, and I have some free UK codes from Audible to give away. So if you’re an audiobook fan and would like one, email me using the contact form below the header image at the top of the post (✉), and I’ll send one. First come, first served.   ***OFFER NOW CLOSED***

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A picture post…

While I’m wrapping up my NaNoWriMo effort – I made it to 50k words this November, but more about that another time – here are a few photos I took between summer and now.

Our beautiful lake, Constance, in July and November. Spot the difference.

Our town’s whirlpool fountain, now emptied for the winter. I always think it’s wasted in the middle of a roundabout. It’s fascinating watching the water, especially at night when it’s lit from inside.

A new addition to our neighbourhood. ❤ He/she has catlike aloofness in spades.

Downtown Arbon – a roof terrace on Swiss National Day.

My newest fangirl screenshot – with Agatha Christie!!! 🤩

And to finish off – a photo of summer deceased. Roll on next year. No, I’m not a huge winter fan…

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The ‘G’ books… #A-Z books 📚


This is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. Don’t worry, I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z – each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

 

Today, it’s the ‘G’ books:

 

I’m a huge fan of Mary-Jane Riley’s Alex Devlin books. Like Mary-Jane, Alex is a journalist, and this time she’s involved in a missing man mystery. Gone in the Night is the fourth Alex book, all of which can all be read as standalones. Fast-paced, realistic and highly recommended!

 

 

 

 

 

I loved all Noel Streatfield’s books as a child, and The Growing Summer was one of my favourites. This is my own copy, showing Alex, Penny, Robin and Naomi in the car, motoring along the south coast of Ireland with Great-Aunt Dymphna, who was looking after them – or not – while their parents were away. A fabulous read.

 

 

 

 

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls is one of those books that leaves a lasting impression. It’s a memoir, the startling story of the Walls children’s childhood in America with an alcoholic father and a free spirit mother who didn’t want the responsibility of a family. I haven’t seen the film, but I’d like to.

 

 

 

Coming next month: the H books. And now I’ll get back to my NaNoWriMo project. Still a bit to go before I hit 50K!

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The Surplus Girls

Today I’m really pleased to welcome Polly Heron, aka Susanna Bavin to the blog. We’ve been friends on Twitter for quite a few years – I always enjoy her photos of lovely Llandudno!  Having read some of Susanna’s work, I was fascinated to hear about The Surplus Girls, due to be published on January 2nd next year. Here she is to answer my questions about the book and her life as a writer.

Tell us a little about where – and when – your book is set.
The Surplus Girls, which is written under the name Polly Heron, is set in Manchester in 1922. It is the first in a trilogy and each story covers four months of that year, so the first one takes place between January and April and the last one ends at Christmas. The year is important. The Great War has been over for some time, but everybody is still living with the consequences. In my heroine’s home, three generations of women are still in mourning for Ben – the son, grandson and fiancé they all loved – but whereas his mother and grandmother look set to remain in mourning for ever, young Belinda has laid her memories to rest and wants to look to the future, assuming she can build up the courage to tell her honorary mother- and grandmother-in-law, that is.


What kind of research did this book need?
I have always been interested in social and domestic history, so I already had a certain amount of knowledge. Specifically, I had to look into the lives of some real surplus girls, and women in general, to find out about their work prospects and the kind of living standards that their wages were likely to give them. This was crucial to the plight of the surplus girl. Having lost her chance of marriage, she faced a future of providing for herself.

How do you write – do you edit as you go, or have a specific routine, or…?
I am quite disciplined. I set targets. I set a word count target for the month and divide it into weeks. I edit as I go, but I don’t let the editing take over. It’s important to feel the book is moving along – and, of course, those weekly targets keep me focused. For me, the most important working day is Monday. It is important to get plenty done on Monday so that my week gets off to a good start. When I have finished writing the book, I send it to my agent, who makes editing suggestions for improving it. After I have worked on those, I return it to her for her to send to the publisher.

How do you relax?
I live at the seaside and I love getting out and about in the fresh air. Living beside the sea, and specifically living in Llandudno in North Wales, was a childhood dream of mine and we have been here for six years now. Best of all, I like to take my writing pad with me and settle down by the sea to work.


What’s next?
What’s next for The Surplus Girls in publishing terms is book 2, which is already written, and in writing terms, is book 3. As well as being part of a trilogy, each book is a stand-alone novel with its own heroine – Belinda, Molly and Nancy. Each book explores different a different theme. Loyalty and loss in Belinda’s story; independence and sexism in Molly’s; and courage and self-belief in Nancy’s.

Thank you, Polly!
And here’s some more about The Surplus Girls:

The Surplus Girls is a family saga set in 1922, four years after the end of the Great War. The heroine is Belinda, who got engaged at 15 to Ben, who died near the end of the war. Now Belinda is approaching 21 and, although she will always hold Ben in a special place in her heart, she knows it is time for her to move on. But how can she, when Ben’s mother and grandmother, whom she lives with, are still deep in mourning? As for Belinda’s own family – well, her father has lost more jobs than you can shake a stick at, and her mother, worn down with shame, is clingy and demanding.

When Belinda joins a secretarial class to try to better herself, little does she imagine that it will open up a whole new world to her. For not only does she learn to type, but she meets the beguiling bookshop owner Richard Carson… and falls head over heels in love. But who is this man to whom she has entrusted with her heart, and what does he really want?

Polly Heron has worked as a librarian, an infant teacher, a carer and a cook. She lives in beautiful North Wales with her husband and two rescue cats, but her writing is inspired by her Mancunian roots.

Polly’s saga series, The Surplus Girls, is set in Manchester and explores what happened to girls who, after the terrible death toll of the Great war, faced life alone. Each book is also a stand-alone novel.

Polly also writes as Susanna Bavin.

You can find out more about Polly on her website, on Twitter and Amazon.

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The ‘F’ books… #A-Z books 📚

This is an adaptation of something I saw on Twitter – people were posting 26 books in 26 days, each title beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. Don’t worry, I’m planning on taking around 26 months to get to Z – each month I’ll post a newish book I’ve enjoyed, plus a children’s book and an older book.

 

Today it’s the ‘F’ books:

 

Mandy James’ The Feud was published last spring. Like her other books, it’s set in Cornwall and has a lovely atmospheric cover image that goes beautifully with the story. Matt, the new teacher in the village of St Agnes, finds himself in the middle of a 200-year-old family feud – should he go back to London?

 

 

 

 

 

I’d forgotten about this one until I was hunting around for my ‘F’ children’s book. It’s the story of Almanzo, who became Laura Ingalls Wilder’s husband. Laura’s Little House books are famous the world over and I devoured them as a child, though I didn’t read this one until I was an adult.

 

 

 

Dorothy L. Sayers has always been one of my favourite writers. I prefer Gaudy Night and Busman’s Honeymoon to this one, but like her others it’s a good murder mystery, and it’s set in Scotland, too. I must say I prefer the cover image my own copy has, but unfortunately it’s too well-read and battered to photograph for this blog series…

 

 

 

Coming next month: the G books.

(And I’ll just say very quickly that Baby Dear is on a UK/US 99p Kindle deal this weekend. As you were.)

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The Wolf of Dalriada

A few weeks ago I met Elizabeth Gates on Facebook, and when I heard that her new book The Wolf of Dalriada was set in my old home country, Scotland, I had a closer look. Isn’t it a lovely cover? Here’s Lizzie to tell us more about it:

Forty years ago, when the rain stopped but the mist did not lift, I heard shepherds calling in Gaelic to their dogs. On the hills of mid-Argyll, Scotland, the sound was entrancing but that was also one of those moments when something – you may not know what – is born. For me, that was the moment when The Wolf of Dalriada stories were born and they have followed me on and off though all my life ever since.

But life, like novels, needs a ‘What if? Moment’  too. And that moment, for The Wolf of Dalriada stories, came a few years (decades) after the Argyllshire Gathering. I was in a library and quite by chance I came across Caroline Weber’s wonderful book, Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette wore to the Revolution (2007). I wondered then, ‘What if a young seamstress from the court of Versailles was imprisoned in the Hills of Argyll? Given the Scottish ability to keep secrets, who would know about her? Who would hold her captive and for what surely evil purpose? And who would rescue her? And what would this hero achieve by doing so? Would he be free to enjoy the company of a beautiful and vulnerable woman? Or would he have other claims on his sword arm? And what would the French seamstress’s captor have to say about it all?

Hall of Mirrors, Versailles.

And so the story of the noble-born seamstress Adelaide de Fontenoy and the Laird, Malcolm Craig Lowrie, began to grow until it became a tale of obsessive and ruthless cruelty set against the break up of society’s norms. The whole of Europe was a maelstrom of ideas at the time (1793, the year of Marie Antoinette’s death). And in the Highlands of Scotland, the old ways were giving way to a more sophisticated and venal approach to land management – the Clearances.

Against this backdrop and fighting to survive are members of the Highland Clans or French families – aristos and others – swept into the maw of Madame La Guillotine. Survival is by no means certain. So then . . . who can save people who want only to live and love in the stark landscape of the Highlands and Islands or make their way in one of the most lovely cities in Europe? Who can ride the storm? Only, it seems, the young Laird, the Wolf of Dalriada . . .

But The Wolf of Dalriada stories also pose a question closer to home. How, in difficult and dangerous times, do you live from day to day? After all, even if you are in the throes of Revolution, you still need lunch. And this story provides a few ideas.

The first novel, The Wolf of Dalriada, is published and available through Amazon.co.uk and Troubador as an e-book or a personally-signed print book (in UK only) through my own website. In February 2020 – appropriate for Valentine’s Day – the second novel, Staining the Soul, will be launched. (Watch this space!) And I am currently writing the third in the series.

 

I started my writing career at the age of four when I discovered that no-one was writing the stories I wanted to read. My writing career continued and I was rather surprised when I grew up to find that not everyone wanted to write. But since then, I have worked throughout Europe and the United Kingdom, earning my living by teaching or writing or teaching writing. Because I love history, I love the research for world-building that goes with it. Because I love travel, I am at home in cities and wild spaces, in the UK and abroad. And because I love family, friends and labradors, I am always more than ready to ask the questions ‘Why?’ and ‘What if?’ This is why I’m a novelist.

 

Thank you, Lizzie!
You can find out more about The Wolf of Dalriada on Elizabeth Gates’ website, and follow her on Facebook, The Wolf of Dalriada page, Twitter, LinkedIn and Amazon.
The e-book can also be ordered from the publisher’s bookshop.

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