Short stories for Christmas…

Welcome to week two of my Christmas reads – it’s anthologies this week. I contributed to two of these, and one is a freebie – keep reading!
(Click the cover images to see the books on Amazon or the publisher’s website.)

Stories To Warm Your Heart

As the days become chilly and the evenings draw in, why not cosy up with us and enjoy our anthology packed full of stories to warm the heart? The Write Romantics present their first anthology of uplifting short stories created just for you, by best sellers such as Samantha Tonge, Terri Nixon, Holly Martin, Jo Bartlett and many more distinguished writers.

So light the fire, settle down on the sofa, and prepare to spend Christmas in July, visit The Bookshop of Dreams, meet The Handsome Stranger, and fall in love with Mr Perfect. Just a few of the twenty-three stories guaranteed to bring a smile to your lips and touch your soul, especially as all proceeds of this anthology will go to The Cystic Fibrosis Trust and the cancer charity Team Verrico.

I have a story in this book – it was inspired by a real-life event in the castle where I used to work. One day, there was a wedding there, and the fire brigade turned up. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a false alarm…

When the magic of Christmas is just what you’re looking for…

There’s something magical about Miss Moonshine’s Wonderful Emporium, and at Christmas she brings an added sparkle to the inhabitants of the pretty Yorkshire town of Haven Bridge. Customers who step over her threshold find an eccentric collection of gifts, but Miss Moonshine has a rare knack for providing exactly what they need: a strange Advent calendar whose doors give a glimpse of a happy ending; a vintage typewriter that types a ghostly message from Christmas past; a mirror in a silver case that reflects the person you’d like to be.
Step inside Miss Moonshine’s quirky shop, and the thing you need most for Christmas will be right there, waiting for you…

Nine romantic novelists from Yorkshire and Lancashire, including best-selling and award-winning authors, have joined together to create this collection of uplifting festive stories guaranteed to warm your heart. This intriguing mix of historical and contemporary romances will make you laugh, cry, and believe in the magic of Christmas.

This one’s waiting on my kindle. I read the first book of Miss Moonshine stories a year or two ago – they’re absolutely charming!

An anthology of twisted winter tales… (And best of all, it’s free!)

Ghostly echoes of a dark chapter in Latvian history…
An elaborate Christmas Eve heist with a twist…
The secrets that Santa has been keeping up his jumper…
A bittersweet visit from a long lost love…
Lessons from the ghosts of colleagues past…
And more…

I have a story in this one too. You can get your copy by subscribing to Hobeck Books, who will then send newsletters once or twice a month, some of them with other free books and stories too. (Click HERE for details of how to subscribe.)

Next week, it’s crime for Christmas. See you then!

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Feel-good for Christmas…

Over the next three weekends, I’ll be posting about Christmas reads, with a post about anthologies next week followed by crime fiction the week after. We’re starting off more romantically, though – if anyone’s looking for a feel-good book for the festive season, here are three to get you started.
(Click the cover images to see the books on Amazon.)

You never forget your first love.

Molly’s spent every Christmas she can remember surrounded by her family. But this year is different. This year, Molly’s all alone in a strange town. She’s left her family behind, and she’s not sure where she can call home any longer.

All Molly has with her are a few clothes in a suitcase, and a collection of her old friend’s Cary Grant films. Except, there’s one more thing she’s brought along – the whole reason for her Christmas visit.

In her possession is a small, crumpled piece of paper, and on it is written the address of the love of her life.

Molly and Cary have had many chances over the years, but somehow life kept getting in the way and they always ended up apart once more. Yet Molly has never forgotten the first man she gave her heart to, and now she has one last chance to win him back.

But will Cary welcome her home, or will he tell her what she dreads to hear – that they’ve had their chance, and it’s all too late. That’s if she can even find him…

This one’s waiting for the festive season on my kindle – and with all the parties we won’t be going to this year, I’ll have plenty of time for reading!

Run away to the little beach café this Christmas…

Five years ago at Christmas, solicitor Justin Sadler made the decision to leave his comfortable existence behind and move to the coast. Since then, he’s tried his best to ignore the festive season and, as he sits in the little beach café and reflects on that fateful night when his life was turned upside down, he expects his fifth Christmas alone to be no different to any of the others since he made his escape.

But when he encounters a mystery woman on the beach, he soon realises he may have found a fellow runaway and kindred spirit. Could Justin finally be ready to move on and let Christmas into his life again?

Christmas at a beach cafe sounds gorgeous, doesn’t it? That could be a plan for next year… but I’ll make do with reading about it for now!

What could possibly go wrong???

Christmas is approaching, the Lakeside Hotel is full of English-speaking guests, and Stacy and Rico can’t wait to show them a real Swiss Christmas. There’s a visit from the Samiclaus, a Guetzli-baking demonstration, a snowman competition – not to mention the trip to Davos.

But in the middle of all the festivities, a guest has a huge problem and Stacy is left running backwards and forwards, wondering if she’ll last the distance. And Rico’s father is behaving very oddly, too.

It doesn’t feel a lot like Christmas at Lakeside any more…

Can Stacy get the magic back, before it’s too late for her and Rico?

Observant blog readers will notice this one’s mine, so I probably won’t be reading it, though I’ll be living parts of it. Not the trip to Davos, of course, but with a bit of luck we might manage a snowman competition.

Watch out for some more Christmas reads next week – these next ones aren’t all feel-good, though…

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Coronavirus Autumn – “It all looks so normal…”

At eleven o’clock last Monday I was in our local medical centre, waiting for the lift after my appointment. It arrived and I stepped in, then noticed a tiny elderly lady – she must have been well over eighty, if not ninety – approaching.

I stopped the lift doors closing, and called to her. ‘Are you coming down?’
She hesitated visibly, then scurried in and squeezed into the far corner. I whacked the ground floor button with my jacket sleeve.

‘Isn’t it dreadful how we don’t know what’s safe now?’ she said.
‘I know,’ I said. ‘I guess we’re all right for the few seconds in here, though.’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I’m glad we have to wear masks.’

We arrived at the ground floor and walked towards the front door. I didn’t need to worry about social distancing because she was being super careful, and we emerged into a cold autumn morning.

She stared around. ‘It all looks so normal,’ she said, her voice trembling.
Her cab was waiting, and she got in without saying goodbye.

The taxi drove off, leaving me with a huge lump in my throat. I hope she hadn’t had bad news at the doctor’s. I hope she’s able to enjoy ‘normal’ again, one day. And I hope there was someone at home to give her the hug she needed.

I wandered towards the old town to take some photos. She was right – it did all look normal. Except for the last pic, but somehow, it didn’t feel funny that day…

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The ‘R’ books… #A-Z books 📚

This series 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. However, 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 month, it’s the R books:

Manchester, 1989

A student, Rick, is found dead in halls of residence.
His friends get caught up in the aftermath: Dan, who was in love with Rick; and Becky, who is in love with Dan.

Their fraught emotions lead them into dark places – particularly a connection to a mysterious Kabbalistic sect.

Will Becky discover who killed Rick in time to save her best friend?

This is the first of Jo Fenton’s books I’ve read – I really enjoyed the university setting, and the way the students reacted to the death of their friend was very realistic. It’s the kind of book you don’t want to put down, because the characters are making rash decisions and you need to know it’s going to be all right!

In 1957, after travelling in southern Iraq, Gavin Maxwell returned to the West Highlands of Scotland with an otter cub called Mijbil. Written within the sound of the sea, in a remote cottage where they set up home together, this enduring story evokes the unspoilt seascape and wildlife of a place Maxwell called Camusfearna. Ring of Bright Water was hailed as a masterpiece when it was first published, sold over two million copies worldwide, and was later adapted into a successful film. Fifty years on it remains one of the most lyrical, moving descriptions of a man’s relationship with the natural world.

Ring of Bright Water was a home reader when I was at secondary school, and I absolutely loved it. There was a wonderful film, too. The book is the first of a trilogy, with The Rocks Remain, and Raven Seek Thy Brother continuing Gavin Maxwell’s story.

Working as a lady’s companion, the orphaned heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Life begins to look very bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. Whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to his brooding estate, Manderley, on the Cornish Coast, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding Mrs Danvers . . .
Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman. An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young girl consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.

This is one of those books I keep meaning to re-read – maybe I’ll manage it in the Christmas holidays. It’s another that grabs you and you can’t let it go. I haven’t seen the new film adaptation, but the older one is very atmospheric.

Look out for the ‘S’ books next month!

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New Book News – when fate lends a hand…

It was sheer coincidence. A few weeks ago, I sat down at my pc one evening and opened up Facebook to see what was happening in the world according to my FB friends. First thing I saw was a post by writer Alison Morgan – she was bubbling over with enthusiasm about being signed by Hobeck Books. I wasn’t aware of Hobeck Books, so I turned to Twitter, my usual go-to place for info about anything bookish. And there they were – “Hobeck Books. Trad Values, Indie Spirit. Family-run independent publisher of thrillers, crime, and suspense.”

Ooh. That looked good. Hobeck Books is run by Rebecca Collins and Adrian Hobart, who between them have very interesting and different book backgrounds and publishing skills – and you could tell by the tweets how enthusiastic they are. (And they have a very cute real-life cat, too.) Should I…?

Long story short, we signed the contracts last week, so here I am – the newest Hobeck Books writer. Cue a nice bottle of something fizzy in N.E. Switzerland. The new book will be out next spring/summer, and I can’t wait to get stuck into the next round of edits!

Why was it fate? Well, as most of you will know, Facebook doesn’t show you everything your Facebook friends post. They provide a selection they think you might find interesting. And while Alison Morgan and I are perfectly friendly – we’re both in a couple of FB groups – I don’t ever remember seeing any of her posts on my newsfeed. Until that night, and that post.

One of my first tasks as a Hobeck writer was to make a video of me answering some questions. At least, I provided the footage (you live and learn; I had no idea my laptop could do things like this) and they put it all together.

There’s also an introductory post on the Hobeck website which you can read HERE. (They’ve included a lovely pic of Arbon harbour with Austria in the background, too.)

So that’s my fateful book news – apologies for squeezing it in when I really should be posting about the ‘R’ books. We’ll have them next week.

I’ll finish off with a photo of the city where the new book’s set…

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Sweet ‘n’ Sour books from… the future

Each S&S post features one feel-good book and its blurb, and one in a crime fiction genre. Today’s books, for a change, are both – loosely-speaking – science fiction, one being a real chiller and the other definitely more feel-good. Set in the future? Read them and see…

Sweet: Chocky, by John Wyndham

Matthew’s parents are worried. At eleven, he’s much too old to have an imaginary friend, yet they find him talking to and arguing with a presence that even he admits is not physically there. This presence – Chocky – causes Matthew to ask difficult questions and say startling things: he speaks of complex mathematics and mocks human progress. Then, when Matthew does something incredible, it seems there is more than the imaginary about Chocky. Which is when others become interested and ask questions of their own: who is Chocky? And what could it want with an eleven-year-old boy?

I love this book – the way the fantastic events occur around normal, daily, family life makes you wonder if this really could happen – and maybe it could. But Chocky is a very benign being who only wants the best for Matthew. It’s an odd book to put a date on; you can tell by the technology that it was written and set in the past, but – Chocky? Aliens?? Let’s hope all that’s a long time in the future.
Right up there with the best John Wyndham books.

Sour: Tipping Point, by Terry Tyler

Year 2024. New social networking site Private Life bursts onto the scene. Across the world, a record number of users sign up.
A deadly virus is spreading—fast, and the UK announces a countrywide vaccination programme. Members of underground group Unicorn believe the disease to be man-made – and that Private Life might not be as private as it claims.
When the virus is detected in Vicky Keating’s home town of Shipden, the Norfolk town is placed under military controlled quarantine – but within days the virus is unstoppable.
As the country descends into chaos, there are scores to be settled further north….

News of an unstoppable virus is only too common nowadays, but this one is much, much deadlier than our corona. We can be glad. Tipping Point is the first of Terry Tyler’s Project Renova novels, which I race through as soon as they come out. Vicky and her family could be you or me and our kids. Would we find the same determination to survive as they do in the book? Maybe when the absolute worst happens, we find that grit from somewhere, because there’s no other choice. Something to think about…

This is the last of the Sweet ‘n’ Sour posts for the moment, though I may bring them back next year. Meantime, watch out for more bookish posts and author guest posts. With social life restricted as it is, we’ll all have plenty of time for reading this winter. Stay safe, everyone.

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Google searches this week…

The internet is a blessing when you’re writing a book. I often wonder how writers managed before the www was part of daily life. For your main research, it’s usually more helpful to go and look at whatever you need to know more about, or talk to an expert – I’m lucky to have a family full of teachers and police officers, and friends who are nurses and architects and business people. But for the small details, often unimportant to the actual story, there’s nothing to beat a quick dip into Google – here are a couple of my most recent searches:

When do hedgehogs give birth?
This is a tiny point in my unfinished wip. The main character goes into the local wildlife centre, and finds the person she’s looking for… wiping the table? Boring. Sterilising the equipment? Better, but not exactly fascinating. Feeding an orphaned baby hedgehog? MUCH better, but do hedgehogs have babies at the time of year in my book? A quick google, and yes, they do.

Onset rigor mortis.
I should really know this, but for some reason it never sticks in my mind. In most of my books it’s not an issue, as psychological suspense/domestic noir doesn’t necessarily mean dead bodies, and even when you have one, rigor doesn’t always play a role in the story. This time it would, though, so I had to make sure the body was transported and disposed of before rigor mortis would set in.

Flight time London Gatwick to New York.
Google maps is invaluable. If I put this search straight into Google, I’m bombarded with websites wanting to sell me airline tickets. In Google maps, though, it merely shows the route – you can even plot it from the character’s starting point at home, and you get the route and the time to travel to the airport by car or public transport, plus the flight times. For one book, I “drove” in street view from Dunvegan in the north of the Isle of Skye, all the way to Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland. It took nearly as long as the real journey would – an hour and seven minutes, according to Google, but it was a lovely trip. The only thing was, you go Over the Sea to Skye on a bridge now, and my flashback chapter took place in the pre-bridge ferry days. However, I’ve been on that ferry myself, so no problem.

Up the spout meaning
It happens quite a lot – a little phrase or saying pops into my head, and then I think – does that mean what I think it means? I’ve lived well over thirty years “in German” now, and some expressions exist in one language but not the other, and sometimes I mix the languages and end up with a similar but rather foreign-sounding phrase in English. This is where Google comes in – and if you search for ‘up the spout origin’, you learn when the expression came into the language. Some of them are older than you’d think. This one was first recorded early in the nineteenth century.

How to kayak in a two-seater.
This isn’t something I’ve ever done, but in my wip, I needed a couple of kids to kayak downriver (and find the body that didn’t have rigor mortis when it was disposed of…). And just like when you google “how to make soda bread”, you get instructions, videos, lists of equipment – much more than I needed for my chapter. But at least I have the right kid sitting in the front seat, and they have the right kind of paddles. Don’t think I’ll ever go kayaking, though.

So there you have it. As a general rule, if you need to know something and the internet is down – ask a writer. Chances are they’ll have googled it at some point.

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The ‘Q’ books… #A-Z books 📚

First of all, apologies for the somewhat homemade appearance of the blog this week; the new WordPress block editor has arrived and I can’t get the classic version back. (If anyone has an idiot’s guide to the new version, please send it to Switzerland)

This series 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. However, 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 month, it’s the Q books, and the first of the potentially tricky letters. However, I found these three books in my own collection, although only the first is available as an ebook. Off we go:

Kajsa runs Sweden’s largest Health and Fitness blog. There’s only one small problem; it’s all a big lie. Between her blog entries on healthy nutritious porridge and flashy running shoes, she lies on the sofa watching TV and eating sweets. Her only exercise is using the remote control.

Kajsa’s life seems perfect: A beautiful house in an attractive suburb of Stockholm, three children, a loving husband and loads of money.

However, things start to crumble when she accidently writes on her blog that she is best friends with a famous Hollywood personal trainer. The problem is he’s never met her, let alone heard of her.

Then an ambitious journalist, who doesn’t believe Kajsa has been honest about her blog or her friendship with the personal trainer, sets out to destroy her…

The Queen of Blogging is a lovely, light-hearted, fun read – a perfect distraction, just what we need these days.

Quentin Kenihan’s bones are as fragile as eggshells. Born with severe osteogenesis imperfecta, he has experienced, in his ten short years, at least 160 fractures.

Until he was four, his parents accepted specialist’s opinions that Quentin would never walk – mere gravity would shatter his bones. It was claimed that nothing could be done for him. Four years later, not only had Quentin achieved mobility but had developed into an intelligent, wily and stubbornly independent boy.

Quentin’s story is inspiring for its courage and determination.

I read this book as a young physiotherapist in the 80s, when I was working with disabled children. I never treated a child with osteogenesis imperfecta, but I’ve known many Quentins with other conditions and many Quentin’s mums, too. The book isn’t as much for children as about a child, though older kids could certainly read it. Unfortunately, it seems largely unavailable now, so I’m very glad I have it.

In 1976 Joy Adamson was given a leaopard called Penny. Queen of Shaba is Joy’s record of Penny’s progress from tiny cub to full-grown female successfully rehabilitated in the bush of northern Africa.

Tragically, Joy Adamson died only days after visiting Penny’s newborn cubs and completing this book.

I’ve read several of Joy Adamson’s books – and who will ever forget the Born Free films. What an inspiring life she and her husband George led.

Watch out for the ‘R’ books next month!

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(Sort of) Silent Sunday…

This is the year of things we can’t do, places we can’t go. Some things you know you miss, others – like this – you only realise you miss them when you see them on a Facebook video and wonder, when will we see things like this in real life again?

I hope it plays everywhere – if it doesn’t in your country, it’s the L’Orchestre national d’Île-de-France à la gare Saint-Lazare, and it’s on YouTube. Enjoy!

 

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Sweet ‘n’ sour books from… Leicestershire

Each S&S post features one romance or feel-good book and its blurb, and one in a crime fiction genre. (Click the covers to see the books on Amazon.) Today’s books are two of my all-time favourites, though one’s been around for quite a lot longer than the other.

 

 

Sweet: The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4, by Sue Townsend

Friday January 2nd
I felt rotten today. It’s my mother’s fault for singing ‘My Way’ at two o’clock in the morning at the top of the stairs. Just my luck to have a mother like her. There is a chance my parents could be alcoholics. Next year I could be in a children’s home.

Meet Adrian Mole, a hapless teenager providing an unabashed, pimples-and-all glimpse into adolescent life. Writing candidly about his parents’ marital troubles, the dog, his life as a tortured poet and ‘misunderstood intellectual’, Adrian’s painfully honest diary is still hilarious and compelling reading thirty years after it first appeared.

Adrian Mole needs no introduction – the books aren’t ‘sweet’ in the romantic sense, but they’re definitely feel-good, which is just what we need at the moment. This is the first book in the series, and I think it’s the best, too. 

 

Sour: The Lies Within, by Jane Isaac

Be under no illusions by her kind face and eloquent manner . . . This woman is guilty of murder . . .
 
Grace Daniels is distraught after her daughter’s body is found in a Leicestershire country lane. With her family falling apart and the investigation going nowhere, Grace’s only solace is the re-emergence of Faye, an old friend who seems to understand her loss. DI Will Jackman delves into the case, until a family tragedy and a figure from his past threaten to derail him.
 
When the police discover another victim, the spotlight falls on Grace. Can Jackman find the killer, before Grace is convicted of a crime she didn’t commit?

I’ve read all Jane Isaac’s books to date, and this one, largely set in Market Harborough in Leicestershire, is my favourite. The courtroom scenes are completely convincing and must have needed a tremendous amount of research. Very well done, a real page-turner!

 

 

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