Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Please welcome, friend and author...

... Alice Castle to my blog today. Hi Alice, thanks for being here and I believe you have a new book to tell me about.  So over to you...


Thanks so much to Angela for hosting me today.  It’s lovely to be able to talk about my second novel, The Girl in the Gallery.  Like my first cozy crime whodunit, Death in Dulwich, the story owes a lot to its setting.  I’ve always loved Dulwich Picture Gallery and, when I realised it was celebrating 200 years as a public gallery this year, I was determined to use this extraordinary building as a backdrop to the latest crime that my amateur sleuth, Beth Haldane, sets about solving.  I started the book this April and have just managed to get it out before the year is over – it is being published on 19th December by Crooked Cat.


about the book... It’s a perfect summer’s morning in the plush south London suburb, and thirty-something Beth Haldane has sneaked off to visit one of her favourite places, the world-famous Picture Gallery.  She’s enjoying a few moments’ respite from juggling her job at prestigious private school Wyatt’s and her role as single mum to little boy Ben, when she stumbles across a shocking new exhibit on display.  Before she knows it, she’s in the thick of a fresh, and deeply chilling, investigation.  Who is The Girl in the Gallery?  Join Beth in adventure #2 of the London Murder Mystery series as she tries to discover the truth about a secret eating away at the very heart of Dulwich.

Dulwich Gallery
Those who know Dulwich Picture Gallery will either love or hate its cool, neo-Classical façade and strange internal layout.  The building was designed by architect Sir John Soane and he was quite clear that it was his favourite creation.  It broke a lot of rules at the time and its use of light from above, provided by enormous glass lanterns set into the roof, was considered revolutionary.  One of the effects of this technique, as well as providing plenty of natural light flooding the gallery, was to give a huge quantity of wall space to hang paintings, as there are no windows to break up the long gallery vistas.  It is this which gives the gallery a rather odd, blank look from the outside, which Soane dealt with by creating false arches in the brickwork.  Beth imagines these are looking at her quizzically as she approaches the Gallery on page 1, when she is just about to make a horrible discovery in the mausoleum which lies at the heart of the building.

As you can imagine, the mausoleum gets quite a lot of attention in my mystery, so I won’t say any more about it here, except to say that you definitely won’t find anything like it in any other art gallery.

Cards carrying the portrait of Mrs Moody
available from the gallery
I have as much difficulty as Beth in deciding which of the art treasures displayed at the Picture Gallery is my favourite but, like her, I have a particular soft spot for the portrait of Mrs Elizabeth Moody by Gainsborough.  As you’ll read in the book, there is a very sad tale behind this glorious picture.  Another canvas with a moving backstory is the portrait of Venetia, Lady Digby.  Though she looks as though she is peacefully asleep, the rose shedding its petals on the corner of her coverlet is the clue – Lady Digby was in fact painted by Van Dyck the day after her death.  Her widower, Sir Kenelm Digby, was inconsolable and took the canvas with him wherever he went.  It was a tragic ending to a great love affair; the couple had married in secret, against the wishes of his family, as she had a rackety past and he was a straight-laced poet and scientist. 

Dulwich Picture Gallery is full of stories.  I’m very proud to have added one of my own to the list.  If you’d like to read The Girl in the Gallery, you can find it on Amazon, or at Village Books, Dulwich Books, Herne Hill Books or Clapham Books in south London.  It’s the sequel to Death in Dulwich, but both books can be read as stand alone stories.  My next book in the series is Calamity in Catford, due to be published by Crooked Cat in 2018, with Peril in Peckham to follow shortly. 

Thanks again to Angela for hosting me and if you’d like to find out more about Beth or my series, do visit me at www.alicecastleauthor.com. I’m also on Facebook and on Twitter at @DDsDiary.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

I'm reviewing Christmas at the Lucky Parrot Garden Centre...



I've always been a bit sniffy about books written through collaboration as I've always thought that I would be able to see the 'joins'.  Whilst this may be true of some of the other books I've read, it most certainly is not the case for this story.  Romantic comedy is not exactly my bag either.  So why did I read this book and review it?  Good question!  It was suggested to me that I might enjoy this story just because it was completely outside my usual reading matter - and I most certainly did.

Set in Whitby in the run up to Christmas, with a heroine who is a no-nonsense Yorkshire lass (Hannah) and a hero to die for (Daniel) - I was hooked from page one.  Whitby is a lovely seaside town and not so very far that I can not visit every so often.  Add to that the timing of Christmas along with snow and you have a perfect location for a warming and heartfelt story.

The writing style is a bit quirky - but I can do quirky - and I found it a refreshing change.  That quirkiness fits really well with the nature of the story, the characters and the setting.

The romance between Hannah, (a welly-wearing down-to-earth land-scape gardener who got my vote from the outset) and movie-man Daniel, unfolds very cleverly as the two of them deal with their own differences, insecurities and pressures from their work.  Add to this the dynamics between the supporting characters at the Garden Centre where Hannah works, her neighbours and the people from Daniel's past and you have a really great read.  I found the characters to be really well drawn and believable and the story drew me in relentlessly.  Once I'd started reading, I could not put this book down.

Despite my initial reservations about this story, I thoroughly enjoyed it and have no hesitation in recommending it as an excellent book.  I also think it will make a perfect Christmas present for the reader on your present list!

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Come stroll with me...

Fortress Montbazon
… through Montbazon for my last post from this little town on the Indre.  Regrettably my time here has come to an end but I still have some interesting things about the place to share.

Camped beside the river Indre means that it’s a short walk from the site to the heart of the town.  It is also impossible to miss the remains of the fortress that sits on the high ground overlooking the plain.  The fortress was built by Foulque Nerra – The Black Falcon – who in reality was Fulk III and son of Geoffrey I, Count of Anjou. He was born around 970 and died in 1040 in Metz, eastern France.  His life’s work was to defend, maintain and extend his territories in and around the Loire.  As a result, he is best remembered as one the great builders of the medieval age with the fortress at Montbazon being only one of the many similar structures, abbey’s and other buildings that he had constructed around Tours during his lifetime.  It is possible to visit the castle and see demonstrations of medieval baking, tile making and calligraphy.  You can even practice your archery and your sword fighting if you wish.  I decided to give the latter two a miss.

Old Mill, Montbazon
Taking the steep path down from the fortress brings you right to the last vestiges of the original city walls and the remains of one of the gates.  Here I take a right and visit the old mill which sits on a branch of the Indre.  There has been a mill here since the 14th century.  In the 16th century it became the property of the Ducs de Montbazon who rented out its use to local milling families who formed a consortium and could then control the price of flour - and their own income, of course! - within the area.  A plaque on the wall denotes that in November 1770 a devastating flood engulfed the town and had I been standing in that spot then, the water would have reached a good two feet above my head!  In 1798, following bankruptcy, the mill was put under administration until it was sold to a merchant in Tours as a result of an act of the revolutionary government.  Numerous changes and improvements later, the building is now privately owned, but is still worth the short walk to see it.

As we stroll along Rue de Moulin, take in the facades of the ancient houses and, don’t miss the
detail on the eaves of the house at number 37.  And just here on the right is the ruelle des Anges.  And there’s a little picture for those who are unsure of the translation!  As I look down the narrow covered walkway I'm reminded of a conversation I had at a wedding a few years ago.  An elderly gentleman, once I'd told my name, remarked that Angela was derived form the anciet greeek and that it meant 'messenger of the gods.'  I remember smiling politely and thinking to myself, if my first name means that and my second name is that of a bird, what happened to my wings?  I guess I'll never know, so I wander a little further down the street and on the right is the church of Notre-Dame de la Bonne Aide.  I stop to read the notice on the open door which gives the history of the building of the church and tells me that the original church from 1550 was replaced by the current building. neo-roman in style, between 1851 and 1862.  But I can not get further than the fourth sentence before Madame encourages me to come in.  ‘We have a special exhibition,’ she says.  ‘Patience please,’ I say and, after a further encouragement she eventually leaves me to read the rest of the historical notes.  


Vestments froming part of the exhibition, Montbazon
The outside of the building does not prepare me for the interior.  Apart from all the VIP’s, the Maire and numerous other people being lectured about the exhibits and the church, there are some of the most exquisitely embroidered vestments that I have ever seen.  All beautifully displayed in the central aisle and surrounded by walls and a ceiling that are painted with not a single scrap of bare plaster to be seen anywhere.  The interior was.  The interior of the church, painted in 10863 by Henri Grandin, is a marvel.  By the alter I come across the most important item in the exhibition.  A chasuble, stole and various other pieces embroidered by Marie, the Duchess of Montbazon and dating from 1642.

This is a town with a fascinating history, a marvellous community spirit and a zest for survival that I doubt will ever be diminished by its proximity to Tours.  And, if after your walking tour of the town you are feeling a little peckish then I can thoroughly recommend the Milles Feuilles from the pâtisserie in Place André Delaunay.  It’s just by the Hotel de Ville, you can’t miss it.



Tuesday, 21 November 2017

I'm reviewing The Last Dance...

... and other stories by Victoria Hislop


Whilst I write short stories myself and enjoy the discipline, I don't usually read anthologies. That being said, this my third colection of stories in almost as many weeks!   As a reader I often find that a short story is just too short and I'm at the end almost before I've started.  And, unfortunately, there are a lot of short stories out there that have no substance at all.

But that is not the case with this selection of ten tales.  All set in Greece, the stories revolve around the people and the place.  Hislop's novels - The Thread and The Island - demonstrate her understanding of the country, its history and the people.  Her stunning prose does not hinder the pace of the stories nor does it impede the readers ability to see her characters and their locations clearly as she spins her tales.  From Stavros, the priest in the first story right through to Theodoris, the groom in the final story, each of the central protagonists is clearly and carefully drawn.  Establishing a character so clearly when the word count is automatically limited is difficult, but this author has mastered that skill.

Similarly with the setting for each story.  You can feel the wind and see the darkness in the corners of the streets.  You can feel the tension between battling brothers and enjoy the openness of the airy village squares shaded in summer by the trees.  These fabulous bitter-sweet tales focus on love, separation and loss, friendship and confusion and missed chances along with choices that are not always desired.  Each is a perfect and complete little nugget of emotion and it is this quality that makes this particular collection of stories one to treasure and return to again and again.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Kermesse, Creepy Crawlies and Camping Companions...

Montbazon from the bridge over the Indre
In Montbazon in September I had the great pleasure of visiting the Kermesse (village fair), an event that lasted the whole weekend.  It was fascinating, and wonderful, to see a whole community working together towards a common goal.  The principle celebrations were for the Sapeurs-Pompiers, the local fire and rescue service.

Saturday was all about demonstrating the value that these essential services bring to the area.  There were any number of tents filled with all sorts of exhibits about the history of the service, the work undertaken and the lives saved.  There was also a tent that had a vast collection of fire service memorabilia from across the world, including a UK fire service Chief's helmet!  In addition, there was a display of fire trucks - both old and in current use - from across the region.  And... there was the compulsory fireman's lift reaching up above the tree-tops.  I left that to the professionals!

As I wandered around the various tents I came across one that had glass cases on a table.  Curious, I moved a few steps closer and beat hasty a retreat within seconds, much to the amusement of the fireman who was manning that piece of the exhibition.  He tried to entice me in - but I was having
Some of the old vehicles
nothing to do with the occupants of those glass cases!  You see, I have a very precise and exact definition of creepy crawlies and I exercise a 5 kilometre exclusion zone for them all.  Anything, absolutely anything that has more than 4 legs, does not live in the sea, or slithers along the ground qualifies for the title of creepy crawly.  Naturally, as with all rules, there are exceptions - butterflies who are too pretty to be included, honey bees who are too industrious to be included and ladybirds who are to be rescued at all times whenever out of their natural habitat.  As for the occupants of those glass cases - all living snakes - I quickly moved on to the next tent!

Sunday was all about celebrating the bravery of the people in the service and remembering lost colleagues.  There were medals to be awarded, wreaths to be laid, speeches and there was a fantastic procession through the town accompanied by a marching band.  The Gendarmes, some local, some from Tour and further a-field, directed the traffic onto alternative routes whilst the whole centre of the town was given over to the event.

Blanc and Gris, my camping companions
The afternoon and evening was about eating, dancing and music.  I retired to my quieter spot by the river Indre with a book and glass of wine and the last of the sunshine.  I was visited by my camping companions, Blanc et Gris.  Thus far, they had both steadfastly ignored me, only stopping mid-river to look me over and then swimming on.  That afternoon I had clearly passed muster and they decided to investigate.  Keeping absolutely still, I let them come so close they could have nibbled my toes.  Luckily for me, they didn't.  And most evenings after that, at around 6.00ish, they paid me a visit.  Not that they had much to say, but they were beautiful to watch and observe.


If anyone can identify what kind of swan these two are, I'd love to hear from you.  Just leave a message at the bottom of this post.  Thanks.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Happy Birthday Robert Louis Stevenson…

On this day in 1850, one of our greatest writers, Robert Louis Stevenson, was born at 8 Howard Place, Edinburgh.  The address still exists and, if you’re a RLS-groupie, like me, you can walk down the street and gaze in wonder at the house!
Today, up in his home-city, there are all kinds of events happening to celebrate what would have been his 167th birthday.  Regrettably I can’t be there, so I thought I’d have my own little celebration here on my blog.
Stevenson is most famous for his children’s books, Treasure Island and Kidnapped.  But he wrote much more than that.  He was also a poet, an essayist, and a travel-writer.  Regular readers of this blog will already know that I followed in his footsteps through the Cévennes in a series of posts last year, supplemented with photos of the places I visited as they are now.
Today, in honour of his birth, I wanted to introduce you to a couple of my favourite pieces of poetry from his book 'A Child's Garden of Verses'.  First published 1895, my copy was printed in 1934 and originally belonged to my dad, who was also a browser in second-hand bookshops!

The Gardener

The gardener does not love to talk,
He makes me keep to the gravel walk;
And when he puts his tools away,
He locks the door and takes the key.

Away behind the currant row

Where no-one else but cook may go,
Far in the plots, I see him dig,
Old and serious, brown and big.

He digs the flowers, green, red and blue,
Nor wishes to be spoken to.
He digs the flowers and cuts the hay,
And never seems to want to play.

Silly gardener!  Summer goes,
And winter comes with pinching toes,
When in the garden bare and brown
You must lay your barrow down.

Well now, and while the summer stays,
To profit by these garden days,
O how much wiser you would be
To play at Indian wars with me!

At the very end of the book is a little known piece, that I have always loved, addressed...

To Any Reader

As from the house your mother sees
You playing round the garden trees,
So you may see, if you will look
Through the windows of this book,
Another child, far, far away,
And in another garden, play.
But do not think you can at all,
By knocking on the window, call
That child to hear you.  He intent
Is all on his play-business bent.
He does not hear; he will not look,
Nor yet be lured out of this book.
For, long ago, the truth to say,
He has grown up and gone away,
And it is but a child of air
That lingers in the garden there.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Friend and author, Vanessa Couchman returns...

... to tell me all about her latest venture...
AW  I understand you have a new anthology that is to be published this week, Vanessa.  Can you tell me a little about it?
VC  First, thank you very much for hosting me on your blog again, Angela.
French Collection: Twelve Short Stories will be published on Thursday, 9th November.  The stories are all set in France.  My husband and I moved to southwest France 20 years ago.  When I took up writing fiction, it seemed natural to set many of my short stories here.  French history, culture and art have provided a lot of inspiration.
AW  I know exactly what you mean.  For me it was the fabulous scenery that I could not leave out my own books.
VC  Most of the stories are historical fiction.  So, for example, one is about a 17th-century pedlar who is chased out of an Aveyron village for greatly inflating the death toll from the plague in the town of Villefranche-de-Rouergue.  Another concerns a young woman near Cahors who finds herself pregnant by her lover who is fighting in the WWI trenches.   

Market day in Villefranche
AW  Villefranche... a fabulous old bastide town that is a favourite of mine!  But back to the book.  Hardy, Dickens, Joyce, Dahl and M R James are just a few of my favourite short story writers, which means that this type of writing has a long and well established history.  With the advent of e-books, novels seem to me to be getting longer rather than shorter.  Is short-story writing for adults a bit old hat now, do you think?
VC  To paraphrase Mark Twain, “Reports of the short story’s death are premature.”  I don’t think it’s an advantage that novels are getting longer.  At the risk of being unpopular, I have found some recently-published novels in need of an additional pruning.
However, I think publishers generally find novels more commercially attractive than short story collections.  That said, many modern novelists come to mind who have published anthologies.  Also, last year I was involved in a collection of short stories set around the time of Pearl Harbour in December 1941.  That has been very successful, especially in the States. 
The advantage of shorts is that they are complete stories that can be read at one sitting.  So if you don’t feel like getting immersed in a much longer work, or don’t have the time, short stories provide a satisfying alternative.  They also give you a chance to enjoy new genres that you might not otherwise read.

Belcastel
AW  Easier or more difficult?  You have a number of full-length books to your name, so how do the two very different forms compare?
VC  I cut my writing teeth on short stories but I think they are more difficult to write well than novels.  In a novel you have some leeway for additional description or to elaborate on a scene.  In a short story, every single word has to count.  There is no room at all for extraneous material.  You need to grip the reader’s attention immediately.  And you have to get the main character from A to Z (problem to resolution) in a very short space.  That said, I enjoy writing short stories and use them to hone my writing skills.

AW   Lastly, Vanessa, with yet another book about to hit the streets, what would your eight-year-old self, make of you today?
VC  When I was eight, I enjoyed writing stories.  You think you can do anything at that age, so I would have felt it a natural progression to become a published author later.  In reality, education and a career stifled my creativity and I didn’t take up writing fiction again until 10 years ago.  I would have been disappointed if I had known that at eight years old.  But I am trying to make up for lost time!


...about the author  Vanessa Couchman is a British novelist and short story writer who has lived in southwest France since 1997. She has written two novels, The House at Zaronza and The Corsican Widow, and is working on a third. Her short stories have been placed in competitions and published in anthologies.

You can fiollow Vanessa on her  Website  FacebookPage   French Life Blog  or on Twitter

French Collection: Twelve Short Stories is available in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon. http://mybook.to/FrenchCollection 

Thank you Vanessa and there will be more about Villefranche from yours truly in the next few weeks... watch this space!

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Please welcome friend and author...

Nicola Slade to my blog today.  Thanks for being here, Nicola and I know how busy you are so tell me a bit about your latest book...
NS It's a contemporary romantic novel interspersed with historical interludes so that the reader, though not the protagonist, learns the story of the ancient house and the family.  It’s not exactly dual timeline because there are glimpses of several eras, and true to my mystery writing career, murder does raise its ugly head, though only in the historical past – no need for detective work!  Here's the blurb...

A hare carved in stone and the scent of flowers in a house full of echoes – can Freya’s inheritance help her to leave the past behind?
Had I gone completely crazy that first day? To open the door, take one astonished look round, and decide on the spot that I would live there?
To fall in love with a house?’
When Freya Gibson inherits an old, run-down property she has no idea she is the last in a long line of redoubtable women, including the Tudor nun who built the house.  Unknown to Freya these women, over centuries, fought with whatever weapons came to hand – deception, endurance, even murder – to preserve their home and family.
Freya falls in love with the house but her inheritance includes an enigmatic letter telling her to ‘restore the balance’ of the Lady’s Well.  Besides this, the house seems to be haunted by the scent of flowers.
In the past the Lady’s Well was a place of healing and Freya soon feels safe and at home, but she has demons of her own to conquer before she can accept the happiness that beckons.

AW  Hmm, that sounds most interesting.  And I believe you have brought with you one of your characters.  So let's hear what Mary Draper, a secondary but important person who befriends Freya,  has to say.  Over to you Nicola...


NS  Good morning, Mrs Draper. You’ve probably had more to do with Freya than most since she arrived in Hampshire. Do tell us how you come to know her?
MD  Call me Mary, dear. Freya’s cousin, Violet Wellman, the one who left her the house, was a friend of mine and when she died her solicitor asked me to keep an eye on the house and maybe drop in to see if Freya was all right.


NS  What did you think of her when you first met?
MD  She’s lovely, dear, kind, friendly girl, I wish her cousin could have met her. She said she spent some time in America and she looks fragile sometimes, so I expect there was a man at the root of the trouble. Still, she’s been back in the UK for a couple of years now and she’s PA to that Patrick Underwood, who writes those best-sellers. I’m hoping he’ll come down to Hampshire to visit her.


NS  Freya’s house is very old, isn’t it?
MD  It’s Tudor, dear, with some very unusual features but nobody knows who built it. Mind you, the family were there long before the house; Violet said there were family stories but they’ve been lost over the years.


'A hare carved in stone...'
NS  How do you think she’ll settle to life in a market town in Hampshire? And I believe the house is said to be haunted?
MD  People say they can smell flowers  even when there’s not a petal in the house. So yes, if the scent of invisible flowers means the place is haunted… Still, Ladywell once had a reputation as a place of healing so I think Freya will find it comforting. There’s a few family secrets to uncover before that happens though – and one of them will be shattering but it’s not my secret to tell – though I might give her a hint later. You know, Violet said the house was out of tune and she left Freya a letter telling her to ‘restore the balance’. Heaven knows how she’ll do that!

NS  I gather you’re embarking on an adventure of your own soon? Is Freya helping you with that?
MD  How do you know that? It’s a secret and yes, I’ll need Freya’s help but I haven’t told her yet. Adventures aren’t just for the young, you know.

NS  Thank you for talking to us, Mary. It will be interesting to see how Freya copes with this shattering secret. Can you give us a hint?
MD  My friend Violet always said that the house keeps its secrets, some old and some new, but I do know that Violet’s grandmother hinted about royalty in the family – way back in the past!



about the author... While her three children were growing up, Nicola wrote children’s stories and short stories for women’s magazines before her first novel, Scuba Dancing, a romantic comedy, was published.  Following this she turned to humorous cosy crime with two series, one Victorian, featuring a young Victorian widow, Charlotte Richmond, and a contemporary series about recently retired headmistress, Harriet Quigley and her sidekick and cousin, the Reverend Sam Hathaway.  All her books are set in and around Winchester, in Hampshire, not far from where she lives with her husband.


You can  follow Nicola on  Facebook  Twitter   Website  Blog
and Pinterest

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

I'm reviewing 'The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra'...


I picked this book up as a result of a recommendation from a friend and I was so glad I did.

Set in Mumbai, on Inspector Chopra's last day in the city police force, the story follows the central character through the trials and tribulations of investigating a death.  For his boss, the death is inconsequential.  For Chopra, it is not that simple and, despite being retired he continues to follow the case and ask questions, some of which get him into difficult spots.  What, at first, appears to be a straight forward case becomes complex with multiple twists and turns which reach a thrilling conclusion.

The location is colourfully drawn and provides a perfect backdrop for the numerous characters in the story.  Chopra, himself, is an upright, considerate and intelligent man and his character glides across the pages, but he knows when and how to be tough if he has to be.  His wife, Poppy, is demanding and something of a whirlwind as she pursues her various causes.  Both of these characters are very well drawn and it is easy to understand why they work so well together on the page.  Chopra's mother-in-law, on the other hand, is a thorn in his side as he is the son-in-law who was not, and still isn't, good enough for her daughter.  Within the household the dynamics between these three create some wonderfully comic moments which arise throughout the whole narrative and the wit is deliciously conveyed.

As for Chopra's inheritance... well, you will just have to read the book for yourself and, believe me, it is well worth it.  There are more in the series and they are equally as good and just as amusing!

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

An Afternoon with Three Authors

I am very pleased to be able to tell you that on Sunday October 29th, from 2pm until 4pm, I have been invited to take part in an event with two other authors at The Gallery in Slaithwaite.  So let me introduce them to you...


Tim Taylor, fellow Crooked Cat author and creator of Zeus of Ithome, will be talking about the inspiration behind, and reading from, his latest political thriller, Revolution Day.  Not that long ago, Tim was subjected to my detailed questioning about his writing as he very kindly agreed to appear on my blog as a guest.  You can read the interview here.  It will be great to finally meet him in person and if you want to know more about his book, then checkout Tim's  webpage.





Christina Longden, author of Mind Games and Ministers, is a member of the Holmfirth Writers' Group.  Chris will talking about her writing and reading from her recently published second book, A Cuckoo in the Chocolate.  Chris writes romantic comedies that have a political and satirical edge.  Hmm - sounds interesting doesn't it?  One thing I'm sure of though, no dratted cuckoo is going to get anywhere near my chocolate!  You can find out more about Chris on her Facebook Page.

And then there will be me trying my best to keep up with this auspicious company!  I will be introducing my recently published second novel, Merle, which follows on from Messandrierre and begins a few months after the end of book 1.  featuring my detective, Jacques Forêt, I will be talking a little about the location and my inspiration for the novels and reading a couple of short extracts.  But I won't be giving away the solutions to the crimes!  You can  find out more about Merle here.

It will an enthralling afternoon of politics, intrigue, crime, comedy and romance.  And to further enhance your enjoyment will be the wonderful surroundings of The Gallery, run by furniture maker, Wendy Beattie.  It is an incredible space!  Check out the website here.  Admission to the event is free and there is a café, so you can enjoy the readings with a favourite piece of cake and a cuppa.

If you are in the area, please stop by and say hello.  The Gallery is on Britannia Road, Slaithwaite, HD7 5HE - go through the Emporium to the door beyond and you'll find us.

Hope to see you there...

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

A camping conundrum...

Montbazon from the bridge over the Indre
...I'm recently returned from France and there has been a question that has been circling my mind all the time I've been on the other side of the channel.  Let me explain...

I've always camped from being in my very early twenties.  And OK, at twenty and twenty-one, money was not plentiful so maybe camping was an affordable solution. But the need for a cheap holiday was not, and still isn't, the real reason I took to camping and still use campsites.  For me it's all about the location, the view and the opportunity to go just about anywhere, to stay how long I want and to move on when I decide I've had enough.  So, take my pitch at Montbazon.  A small bustling town just south of Tours with a campsite on the banks of the river Indre.

The view from my pitch
On arrival one of the first things I do is take a walk around the site to see where the sun is, where the best view is, where the nearest neighbour will be...  And I normally pick a pitch that gives me a great view, that gives me some space between me and whoever else is parked nearby and that is not near the sanitary block.  Sanitary blocks on campsites kind of all look pretty much alike - so when you've seen one, you've seen them all!.  At Montbazon, I picked a pitch that overlooked the river and set my rig so that I could sit in the shade with only that view in front of me.  And, when I lost the sun in the very late afternoon I wasn't worried that it happened about ten/fifteen minutes earlier than some of the other spots behind me.  Why?  Because for the sake of taking about 15 steps in front of my pitch I could take my chair, my book or a glass of wine and sit on what I decided to call Plage d'Anglais.

And the conundrum?  In the two weeks that I was there only two other campers came and parked in the spots in the area where I was camped.  Everyone else - and there were a significant number of people who came and went and stayed for a few days - all clustered themselves around the sanitary block.  Maybe they were just being practical, I don't know.  Perhaps they thought it would give them an advantange for first in the showers in the morning.  Maybe!  But after a few days I noticed another aspect to this, what I considered to be, odd behaviour.  They all set their rigs in exactly the same direction!
My view from Plage d'Anglais


And the camping conundrum?  Why does anyone want to sit facing the bog wall when they can have a view like this...

Answers on a postcard, or in the comments box below, will be very gratefully accepted.


I will be back with more posts from Montbazon, and other interesting places, in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Please welcome friend and author...

... Christine Hornsby.  Thanks for visiting Chris and, from your many books, which scene would you say you enjoyed writing the most and why?

Oh, that’s an easy one.  About a third of the way into “Man out of Jail” I introduce an Italian Internee.  He had been only a shadowy character before – one described in bias, rumour and counter rumour.  When Ben, my protagonist eventually meets him they experience an immediate connection.
Being Italian, the prisoner of war was totally different from anyone Ben had ever seen or known before.  In pigeon English and with Gino’s expressive body language and ebullience they were able to communicate.  They seemed to have an immediate understanding of one another’s predicament.  At home in London, Ben had been bullied and that continued to be so.  Gino was always being castigated by the locals because he was different and a representative of his country’s allegiance to Germany.  They are both far away from home.  When Gino speaks so warmly of his mother and the village where he was brought up and his life in Monteregione, it takes Ben back to the Jewish influences in his past life.  They experience a shared nostalgia and empathy for one another’s current circumstances.  Alienated from everything familiar I tried to describe their unspoken togetherness and understanding.  Being young and missing his deceased father, Ben begins to see Gino as a father figure.  Not that he feels isolated or too uneasy as an evacuee on the farm but even before they met, Ben felt an instinctive understanding of the prisoner of war.  Finally, of course, there is a shared love of art; in Ben’s case cartoons.

I have presented Gino as a warm, thoughtful and congenial character so the question begs “Why are the locals antagonistic towards him?”  But Gino is not simply a character I introduce as a distraction.  No, he is pivotal to the plot.  In his own way, he effects everyone.  His warm character is juxtaposed not only with an angry, cantankerous farmer but also with the prejudices rained against him by the locals. Even so, I have given him an unfathomable quality... a mystery surrounds him and it is a mystery that my feisty gran character and Ben need to unravel.

I chose my internee to be Italian rather than German or Japanese for example because I love Italy, its people and the landscapes.  I love their warmth, their art, their culture but also because I thought such a person would exude a natural warmth, one that Ben could respond to because he is a sensitive character coming to terms with his own sense of alienation due to his Jewish background.

Thanks Chris, most interesting.  You can follow Chris on her website and on facebook

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Literary Lure of Portugal with Isabella May...

...Kate Clothier’s Salvation…
My debut novel, Oh What a Pavlova launches in just a few weeks and features no less than twenty-two travel destinations (trust me somehow it really does work…).  So when fellow Crooked Cat author, Angela Wren invited me to appear on her blog, I decided to take the opportunity to zone in on just two of these places (I can hear Angela breathing a sigh of relief from afar!): the stunning city of Lisbon, and its much overlooked neighbour, Oporto.

But how exactly did they come to appear in the book?
Well, first off, a little back story courtesy of the blurb:

Kate Clothier is leading a double life: a successful jet-setting businesswoman to the outside world, but behind closed doors, life with Daniel and his volcanic temper is anything but rosy. Some days – heck, make that EVERY day – cake is her only salvation.
Slowly but surely, the cities she visits – and the men she meets – help her to realise there is a better future.
And the ley lines of Glastonbury are certainly doing their best to impart their mystical wisdom…
But will she escape before it’s too late?

Kate lives in the small, rural Somerset town of Glastonbury, but works in a highly specialised field of publishing known as Foreign Rights, for a children’s publisher in Bristol (much to her abusive partner, Daniel’s dismay). Essentially, this means that every six weeks or so, she is on a plane to visit either her overseas clients, or to attend a book fair. Portugal is one of her favourite markets, not least because she adores the opportunity to scoff copious amounts of Pasteis da Nata, in all their eggy-vanilla glory… partly because she dreams of trading book sales for cake sales in her future book-encrusted café - and partly because it numbs the pain that is her domestic reality.
Some of Oporto's blue tiles
And yet Portugal offers Kate so much more than just pudding. Its place in ‘Pavlova’ is almost sacred. For in Portugal, many of Kate’s questions about the double lives she is leading are brought to the fore, and for once, she is unable to escape them.
Eduardo, her longstanding client/luxury dining companion seems to be carrying messages direct from the universe as to her real worth as a woman.  As do the flashbacks of another ‘Edward’, he's better known as Munch; whose work, ‘The Scream’ is impregnated in Kate’s brain following her recent trip to Oslo, causing her to wake up in several cold sweats. Perhaps she is finally realising that horror-filled face really is her mirror image captured on canvas?
Everywhere Kate turns in petrol-blue tiled Oporto, life is filled with dizzying colour and liberation – as well as chocolate mousse. She begins to realise every day could be this way, that she needn’t live parts of her life in inverted commas. From the port barrels to the unshackled Douro bridge, the laid back aura of this city pervades her soul.
Lisbon’s regal, marzipan-topped Pestana Palace only confirms the same (stuck-up businessmen hogging the couches in the day room, to one side). Kate is worthy of great things (infinity pools, decadent breakfasts and rose petals on the bed), and the simplest of things beside: freedom, respect, love: Self-love.

Monumento aos Descobrimentos, Lisbon
Oh! And how could I forget to mention Piers Middleton? The Golden Boy who used to work for her company, ‘She Sells Sea Shells’, is mysteriously hanging around the Portuguese airline check-in desks, swigging on a bottle of Fijian water, eyes panning the vista, in case a European Vogue Editor should be recruiting for cover models… Kate guesses, anyway.
Well, Kate might be sure it’s nothing more than a far-fetched coincidence, but I don’t think I’d be as naïve.
The question is though: will Portugal’s insights be enough? Or will the dreaded P word: procrastination, rear its ugly head until Paris o’clock… and beyond?
You’ll just have to buy the book to find out!

... about the author  Isabella May lives in (mostly) sunny Andalucia, Spain with her husband, daughter and son, creatively inspired by the sea and the mountains.  When she isn’t having her cake and eating it, sampling a new cocktail on the beach, or ferrying her children to and from after school activities, she can usually be found writing.
As a Co-founder and a former contributing writer for the popular online women’s magazine, The Glass House Girls - www.theglasshousegirls.com - she has also been lucky enough to subject the digital world to her other favourite pastimes, travel, the Law of Attraction, and Prince (The Purple One).

She has recently become a Book Fairy, and is having lots of fun with her imaginative 'drops'!
Oh! What a Pavlova is her debut novel... and her second novel has already been submitted to her publishers: watch this space...

You can follow Isabella May on her website, on Twitter - @IsabellaMayBks Facebook
 and Instagram - @isabella_may_author