Chatting with Kath Engebretson about The Blooming of Alison Brennan.

Hi Kath, It’s lovely to welcome you back to talk about your new book. The Blooming of Alison Brennan which was published recently by Next Chapter.

Kath Engbretson.

A family full of secrets…and one girl who must survive.

Sixteen-year-old Alison Brennan’s mother, Bernadette, is an agoraphobic hoarder, and her father Harry seems to have no past. Struggling every day, Alison seeks the help of a school counsellor.

When an old homeless man is found dead in a Melbourne park, Alison’s life changes. Somehow, the man’s death is connected to her family and the Polish Home Army.

Fighting for her future, can Alison unravel the mystery of her family and the dead man, and find a way to place her trust in others again?

Available in paperback or on Kindle.

I enjoyed reading it and found Alison such an engaging and relatable character.

Alison lives with her agoraphobic hoarder mother, and her father Harry, who lets life happen. Alison’s everyday life is a struggle, even to get herself to school. As a teacher and academic, did you encounter any children of hoarders?

Not especially of hoarders, but as a teacher, you often encounter children or young people who struggle with difficult home situations. It may be that they’re a carer for a sick parent, or the family may be breaking up, or sometimes it’s just emotional and physical neglect. As a teacher, you can be a listener, but most schools have specialist counsellors or welfare officers who have the skills and knowledge to help. I modelled the school counsellor, Stella Goodall, on such a person.

Photo by Lance Grandahi at Unsplash.

Most of us will have seen what a hoarder’s home is like from TV. It’s certainly not a normal environment. What inspired you to write about such an unusual topic?

From reading books and articles about hoarding, I began to try to imagine what it must be like for a child or teenager to be trapped in such a situation. They would either be buried in it or try to rise above it. I had to give Alison lots of inner strength and independence to cope with it, but also empathy, or it would have made her hate her parents.

Alison is lucky that she gains help from a school counsellor, but she is also a strong character herself.

Yes, she’s very strong, and in the story, I try to show that it was a characteristic she inherited from her maternal grandmother.

Lucky to have a loving grandmother.

I got impatient with her father, but when his story is revealed, I gained more understanding. I enjoyed how each chapter gave us a different person’s perspective.

Had you always planned to write the book that way, or did you choose to do that later on?

No, it evolved. It began being a story of a child of a hoarder, but then the characters grew. I wove in the grandfather and the uncle and his partner, to give Alison a support base, then the events that unfolded are indirectly based on actual events.

We ignore the homeless.

The link between finding the homeless man dead in the park and Alison was a surprise. As were the stories of heroism from the Polish Home Army. You didn’t overload the book with information, but it was clear that you had done your research. Theirs is a story that deserves to be told.

Was the linkage always obvious to you or did that develop as you wrote?

The homeless man found dead in a Melbourne park actually happened some years ago, but I changed it in every detail. Making the homeless man a Polish refugee was something I wanted to do. A friend of our family married a Polish man who had come to Australia after the war. He had been a prisoner of war in Poland and was an activist for Poland’s freedom after the Nazi takeover. He expressed his activism through poetry, and the State Library of Victoria has three of his books of poems, all in Polish of course so I couldn’t read them, not knowing the language. The refugees who came to Australia after the war were often sent to remote places to work on big constructions such as the Snowy Mountains scheme.

Refugees could have been lost at sea. Their experiences too painful to share

Imagine the loneliness and pain, in those stark conditions, especially since many of them would also have lost their families to the war. I try to tell that story through Hobie and his son. Richard Flanagan writes of this immigrant experience in Tasmania in The Sound of One Hand Clapping.

What do you hope people take away from the story if anything?

The triumph of the human spirit, that change is always a possibility, that love is everywhere and when we think it’s not possible, it can come from behind and surprise us.

Just a little bit of hope.

How long did the book take to write and what’s next on the agenda for you?

I wrote this over one year, but I didn’t find a publisher until now. Reading it again, I’m very proud of it. I’m working on another book now, set in the Victorian Mallee area. I hope to have it out next year.

Oh, I will look forward to that. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us.

Thank you, Sonia, for your interest and support.

You can find the book at Abe Books, Book Depository, or Amazon.

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Writers, Can You Survive Danger & Death in the Conflict Challenge?

Another great book to add to your library.

Do you have a bookshelf of writing guides? I do, and well, it’s an addiction, but a good one. I’m going to flag one for you to look into: The Conflict Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Obstacles, Adversaries, and Inner Struggles (Vol. 1).

This book is from Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi, the authors of The Emotion Thesaurus. I bought that when it first came out and I bought several others of their guides- all really helpful and great value.

I’m such a fan of their writing guides I joined their Street Team. Every time they release a book they do something epic and fun to celebrate, and I get to tell you all about it!

But first, you’re probably curious about this book, so let me break it down. The Conflict Thesaurus is set up like the other books in their series: part how-to, part thesaurus. This guide shows writers how to maximize conflict and use it to build tension, drive the plot, reveal your character’s inner layers, and most importantly, keep readers glued to the page.

It’s packed with conflict scenarios like Moral Dilemmas, Ticking Clocks, Obstacles, No-Win Scenarios, Temptations and more. It can help you nail down your plot and character arc, so check it out!

Conflict is so often personal

Now, speaking of conflict, I have a BIG question for you.

Can You Survive Danger as Well as Your Favorite Protagonist? You’re probably pretty good at throwing problems at your characters and making life difficult for them. After all, that’s part of being a writer. But do you ever think about how you’d do if you had to face the same situations? If you were the protagonist, would you hold up to the pressure? Would you make good decisions and succeed, or screw up and fail?

Let’s find out.

Introducing… The Conflict Challenge

Become the protagonist in a story Angela & Becca created using scenarios found in the Conflict Thesaurus to see if you’ve got what it takes to win.

The Conflict Challenge is fun, campy, and will put your wits and instincts to the test.

And if you survive, you will win some cool stuff!

I survived, but I am a lot braver in fiction than in real life!

GIVEAWAY ALERT

While you’re checking out the Conflict Challenge at Writers Helping Writers, make sure to also enter their Conflict Thesaurus release day giveaway, too. But hurry – it ends October 15th.

So, take the Conflict Challenge…if you dare. And don’t forget to come back and let me know how you did against Camp Deadwood!

Now I have to see if I can survive on Team Angela.

What Was I Reading in September 2021 ?

September was a month filled with rain , so what better time to curl up with a good book, a cosy cuppa and a comfy cat? My reading was a bit random , but overall I thought it was a good mix of fiction and non-fiction. Do you like me, read both fiction and non fiction? Let me know! Some books I pick because I have heard good things about them, some because a cover appeals to me ,and some are simply impromptu choices.

Does your cat want to be involved when you read?

September reading started with this book.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

In 1901, the word ‘Bondmaid’ was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it.

Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the ‘Scriptorium’, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford  English Dictionary. Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word ‘bondmaid’ flutters to the floor. Esme rescues the slip and stashes it in an old wooden case that belongs to her friend, Lizzie, a young servant in the big house. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world.

Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences often go unrecorded. While she dedicates her life to the Oxford English Dictionary, secretly, she begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.

Set when the women’s suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. It’s a delightful, lyrical and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words, and the power of language to shape the world and our experience of it.

I thought this was a beautiful cover.

My Review.

The book was a gift and I had it since Christmas but felt no urgency to read it. I started to read and was gradually drawn in, stories of motherless girls have a particular appeal for me, as that was much of my childhood experience. Esme is lucky that Lizzie, the kitchen maid is devoted to her and helps steer her through to womanhood. Her childhood is odd and there is no mention of her going to school regularly. Later, she is sent to boarding school, which isn’t a happy experience. A solitary and peculiar child, her ideas are shaped by the male lexicographers and her adored father. Without their influence would she have ever considered the importance of words? But she does, and as she grows up realises that women’s experience is negated and marginalised. While it isn’t a fast-paced read, I found it interesting enough to keep reading. It is on the more literary end of the spectrum.

Escape to the French Farmhouse by Jo Thomas.

Can she find her recipe for happiness?

Del and her husband Ollie moved to a beautiful village in Provence for a fresh start after years of infertility struggles. But six weeks after they arrive, they’re packing the removal van once more. As Del watches the van leave for England, she suddenly realises exactly what will make her happier…a new life in France – without Ollie.

Now alone, all Del has is a crumbling farmhouse, a mortgage to pay and a few lavender plants. What on earth is she going to do? Discovering an old recipe book at the market run by the rather attractive Fabian, Del starts to bake. But can her new-found passion really help her let go of the past and lead to true happiness?

A heart-warming tale about reclaiming your life, set amongst the lavender fields of Provence. Perfect escapism from the author of Late Summer in the Vineyard and The Honey Farm on the Hill.

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A sunny cover for this book

My Review. An escapist fantasy, that is easy to read and as beguiling as the sunshine on holiday. A mid-life woman starting over in France. Somehow, she has to make it work, as her options are limited and she has no intention of returning to Ollie or England. I had to suspend disbelief a little at the idea that an English woman could win praise for her cooking in France. Peopled with a lively mix of characters and with enough conflict to maintain my interest. I enjoyed this book.

So easy to get lost in a good book.

A Year at the Chateau by Dick and Angel Strawbridge.

Like many couples, Dick and Angel had long dreamed of living in France, but where others might settle for a modest bolthole in the French countryside, the Strawbridge’s fell in love with a 19th-century fairytale château, complete with 45 rooms, seven outbuildings, 12 acres of land and its own moat.

Throwing caution to the wind, Dick and Angel swapped their two-bedroom flat in East London for an abandoned and derelict castle in the heart of the Loire valley and embarked on the adventure of a lifetime with their two young children Arthur and Dorothy.

Sharing their full journey for the first time, A Year at the Château follows Dick and Angel from when they first moved to France in the depths of winter and found bedrooms infested with flies, turrets inhabited by bats, the wind rattling through cracked windows, and just one working toilet, which flushed into the moat, through to the monumental efforts that went into readying the château for their unforgettable wedding and their incredibly special first Christmas.

Along the way we’ll read glorious descriptions of rural life in France, with charming characters, delicious food and wonderful seasonal produce, together with the extraordinary list of renovations and restorations Dick and Angel completed, many of which were never shown on TV.

As warm and entertaining as their much-loved show, A Year at the Château is a truly irresistible story of adventure and heart, epic ambitions and a huge amount of hard graft. 

The inimitable Strawbridge family.

My Review.

I think you could enjoy this book even if you weren’t a fan of the TV show. It takes us back to almost the beginning of Dick and Angel’s story. If you have watched the show, you have probably marvelled at what they do and how they do it. Here we get the dual perspective, the practical from Dick and the creative and quirky from Angel. The practical logistics were daunting. They were made even more so by being in a foreign country, trying to talk to the tradesman, as well as deal with permits and paperwork. To keep the couple afloat financially, Dick had to complete contracted filming work in America. Leaving Angel alone with two kids under two, both trying to start the work towards their dream.

How do you read? Tablet, Phone , or physical book?

The Shelley Beach Writers’ Group by Jane Love. What do you do when your husband dumps you for his PA, your company goes broke and your nearly published novel is cancelled?

Gina, a barely 50-something corporate high-flier, is counting her losses when a chance meeting throws a sea change her way. A job as a house/dog-sitter – albeit in a minus one-star leaky cottage in windswept Shelly Beach – seems the perfect opportunity to relax and regroup. But Gina hasn’t counted on the locals, and soon finds herself reluctantly convening the writers’ group, babysitting, baking, seal-watching, bicycling . . . and perhaps even falling in love.

With a cast of unforgettable characters, The Shelly Beach Writers’ Group is an irresistible story of reinvention. 

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My Review.

I wanted to like this book, but it didn’t quite grab me, and I could easily have put it down. It had all the ingredients, but somehow the recipe was off for me. Perhaps it was the number of assets that Gina had, from an Amani coat to a spare diamond ring, and some serious designer clothes. The book seemed more like a monologue and that can get tedious. Some of the email repartee was fun.

My cat is seldom so well behaved.
The Real History Behind Foyle’s War by Rod Green

A comprehensive guide to the popular TV show, giving evidence the vast amount of historical research conducted prior to the writing of every episode

This fascinating book provides an intriguing insight into law and order on the home front between 1939 and 1945, comparing the Foyle’s War storylines and characters with real crimes and real people from the war years. It offers a wealth of background information on the living and working conditions for ordinary people during this time period, as well as on the role of the police in wartime and the multitude of crimes on which the plotlines of Foyle’s War are based. Complete with an introduction from the writer and creator of Foyle’s War himself, this is the ultimate companion guide for fans of the show, as well as anyone with an interest in military history.

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A well loved TV series based on fact.

My Review. An engrossing read providing the facts behind the fiction. Foyle’s War was exemplary for its authenticity. The book gives insight into what was a difficult job for authorities such as the police. Crime skyrocketed by 57%, the murder rate increased and their manpower declined. Looting and opportunistic thefts were increasing all the time. Representative of all the unsung heroes who kept on with their jobs during increasingly difficult times.

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The Oyster Catcher By Jo Thomas.

Dooleybridge, County Galway. Population: 482 (or thereabouts). The last place Fiona Clutterbuck expects to end up, alone, on her wedding night.
But after the words ‘I do’ have barely left her mouth, that’s exactly where she is – with only her sequined shoes and a crashed camper van for company.
One thing is certain: Fi can’t go back. So when the opportunity arises to work for Sean Thornton, the local oyster farmer, she jumps at the chance. Now Fi must navigate suspicious locals, jealous rivals and a wild, unpredictable boss if she’s to find a new life, and love, on the Irish coast. And nothing – not even a chronic fear of water – is going to hold her back.

Join Fi on her romantic, unpredictable adventure as she learns the rules of the ocean – and picks up a few pearls of Irish wisdom along the way.

My Review.

Having recently read a book by Jo Thomas, I eagerly selected this one. Subsequently, I realised this was her first published book. I can’t say I ever contemplated an oystercatcher as a hero and Sean is a man of few words. The only time he speaks is to talk about oyster catching. He’s also prone to moody silences, so not my idea of a hero. On several occasions, an abrupt transition in point of view confused me.

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Loved this dreamy cover. I picked this book after hearing the author speak.

Journey’s End By Jennifer Scoullar.

From the author of Currawong Creek and Turtle Reef comes a beautiful story of family, friendship and the healing power of love.

When Sydney botanist Kim Sullivan and her husband inherit Journey’s End, a rundown farm high on the Great Eastern Escarpment, they dream of one day restoring it to its natural state. Ten years later, however, Kim is tragically widowed. Selling up is the only practical option, so she and her children head to the mountains to organise the sale. The last thing Kim expects is for Journey’s End to cast its wild spell on them all.

The family decide to stay, and Kim forges on with plans to rewild the property, propagating plants and acquiring a menagerie of native animals. But wayward wildlife, hostile farmers and her own lingering grief make the task seem hopeless. That is, until she meets the mysterious Taj, a man who has a way with animals. Kim begins to feel that she might find love again. But Taj has his own tragic past – one that could drive a wedge between them that can not be overcome .

Published June 13th 2016 by Penguin Books Australia.

Can a city girl love country life?

My Review. It was easy to sympathise with Kim and her desire to get away from her previous life. The sadness of her husband’s death, and her son being bullied at school were two compelling reasons to escape. She plans to visit their property Journey’s End and get it up for sale

At first, the place resurrects painful memories of her husband, but the longer she spends there the more she feels at home. Her children settle easily and Kim finds solace in the beauty around her. Roped in by her neighbour to help care for injured wildlife, she gradually feels more at home.

Ben, the local real estate agent is attentive and then there is the enigmatic Taj, a man of few words. As her emotions begin to settle, she contemplates at least a year in this peaceful retreat. Somehow, the children persuade her to adopt a puppy, and life feels even more perfect. But perfection comes at a price and soon Kim is reluctantly at odds with neighbours and friends. Its a book of quiet charm, which beguiled me with its characters and setting.

The Tuscan Contessa by Dinah Jefferies.

A sweeping new novel from the number one Sunday Times bestselling author of The Tea Planter’s Wife.

In 1940s Tuscany, Contessa Sofia de’ Corsi’s peaceful home in a medieval villa among the olive groves has been upturned by the arrival of German soldiers. She is desperate to help her friends in the village fight back in any way she can, all while keeping her efforts secret from her husband Lorenzo, who fears for their safety. When Maxine, a no-nonsense Italian-American, arrives in Tuscany to help the resistance, the two women forge an uneasy alliance. Before long they find themselves entangled in a dangerous game with the Nazis, each trying to save the ones they love. 

‘Dinah Jefferies has a remarkable gift for conjuring up another time and place with lush descriptions, full of power and intensity’ Kate Furnivall.

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My Review.

It was interesting and enlightening to read a story set in wartime Italy. So much has been written about wartime France, so this was intriguing. The author set out a timeline of wartime events at the front of the book, which helped to contextualise the story. It was easy to visualise the time and setting while becoming involved in the lives of Sofia, the Contessa and Maxine. When reading a book like this, one asks the inevitable question, would I become involved, would I be so brave?

Digging Up Dirt by Pamela Hart

Renovations are hell. And that’s before you find the body beneath the floorboards. An intriguing mystery from a stylish new voice in crime fiction, for readers of Kerry Greenwood and Holly Throsby.

When your builder finds bones under the floor of your heritage home, what do you do? For TV researcher Poppy McGowan, the first step is to find out if the bones are human (which means calling in the cops and delaying her renovations) or animal (which doesn’t).

Unfortunately, ‘help’ comes in the form of Dr Julieanne Weaver, archaeologist, political hopeful, and Poppy’s old enemy. She declares the bones evidence of a rare breed of fat-tailed sheep,  and slaps a heritage order on the site. The resultant archaeological dig introduces Poppy to Tol Lang, the best-looking archaeologist she’s ever met – and also Julieanne’s boyfriend.

When Julieanne is found murdered in Poppy’s house, both she and the increasingly attractive Tol are considered suspects – and so Poppy uses her media contacts and news savvy to investigate other suspects. Did Julieanne have enemies in the right-wing Australian Family party, for which she was seeking preselection, or in the affiliated Radiant Joy Church? Or at the Museum of New South Wales, among her rivals and ex-boyfriends? And who was her secret lover?

Can Poppy save herself, and Tol … and finally get her house back? 

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My Review. I found this a fast-paced and entertaining read. It was interesting to see behind the scenes at the ABC and the museum. Poppy is an engaging character and her interactions with several of the suspects made amusing reading. Julieanne, the victim, is portrayed as cold and unlikable, and it was difficult to feel any sympathy for her. Potential sparks are flying between  Poppy and Tol although both are in relationships. I suspect you may not enjoy this book if you are a right-wing conservative voter, but for the rest of us, it was fun!

The Blooming of Alison Brennan by Kath Engebretson.

A family full of secrets, and one girl who must survive. Sixteen year old Alison Brennan’s mother is an agoraphobic hoarder, and her father, Harry, seems to have no past. When an old homeless man is found dead in a Melbourne park, Alison’s life changes. Somehow the man’s death is connected to her family and the Polish Home Army. Fighting for her future, can Alison unravel the mystery of her family and the dead man, and find a way to place her trust in others again? 

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My Review.

Intensely readable and engaging, I enjoyed this book and learnt a lot through it too. Fiction enables us to live other lives and to begin to understand other perspectives. Although there are things that are confronting in the book. All the topics were handled sensitively and with understanding and compassion. The author’s meticulous research gave her characterisation an added depth.

Meet Aussie Expat Katrina Coll, talking about her new book, A Match Made for TV.

It’s a pleasure to welcome author Katrina Coll to talk about her new book

An expat Aussie, Katrina lives in rural Ireland where the countryside really is forty shades of green. She is a keen cook, which is why she’s becoming a reluctant runner with the support of the family dog, Beetlejuice.

Thank you for joining us- tell us about your new book A Match Made for TV  which released 16th September.

Author Katrina Coll

Ria De Lorenzo is a damn good doctor. Or was. Burnt out before she’s begun, a three-month paid vacation as the medical consultant to a reality TV show is just what she needs to recover her mojo. 

Cancer survivor and headline grabber Griffin Stromberg is desperate to reboot his ultra-macho image. Typecast by years of fame, showcasing his softer side with a picture-perfect relationship should do the trick. Until Ria breaches show protocol and gets Griff’s fake girlfriend disqualified. 

Now Ria’s only hope of clocking out of reality is to check in to a fantasy by becoming his new partner. Griff, however, wants their relationship to be the real deal, not one of his infamous life-hacks. 

Can a man renowned for taking shortcuts prove he’s ready to commit to a forever relationship? Or will reality bite once filming is over? 

Note: This is a steamy romance, which includes swearing and steamy bathroom sex.

What a great cover!

Oh, sounds great! Are you writing anything else?

My work in progress returns to the world of reality tv with a reunion romance. My couple are paired on a bake-off—one is a chef, the other a cook. The fallout from past betrayals is massive but they have to work through their past for a much bigger reason than a tv show.

We will discuss your writing, but first some quick-fire questions.

Late nights or early mornings? Late nights. I am not a morning person.

What’s for breakfast? I often do overnight oats in jars with yogurt and fruit.

A healthy start to the day.

Night out or Netflix? Netflix on weekends. Weeknights I write.

G &T or Tea/coffee? While I do love a pink gin and elderflower tonic (*Foodie alert), I cannot do without decent coffee.

Perfect weekend? These days it’s any weekend when I get out the house.

What did you want to be when you grew up? An author.

What is for dinner tonight? Can you cook? It ended up a roast rack of rosemary lamb with Catalan-style greens, roasted root veggies, and baby new potatoes. For a bit of fun, here’s a pic:

Nothing better than a home cooked meal.

What brings you joy? Lifts your spirits, chases away a down mood. Taking the dog for a walk always cheers me up.

Your hero? My nanna. She’s a total legend.

If you could choose three people (living or dead ) to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? They’d have to be living because I’m prejudiced against zombies. Actually, I’d just love to be able to hold dinner parties again…

Dinner parties seem like a distant dream!

Do you have any non-writing related interests? I’m re-learning the piano (thanks lockdown!) and I’m going for my second black belt. (The first was a loooong time ago.) What would surprise people to know about you? If I told you, it wouldn’t be a surprise!

I know you have a dog, but I could not resist this picture with the cat!

Life lessons-what do you wish you’d know earlier? Persistence is more important than intelligence.

Questions about Writing. What is your writing process like? Iterative. I write, re-write, write, edit. It is not efficient but it’s how my brain works.

Do you have any other projects are in the works? I have two paranormal romances waiting to see the light of day, a medieval romance (currently shelved), and the sequel I mentioned.

Have you ever resuscitated a project you’d shelved? What helped it work better the second time around? I have some stories on life support so long it’s embarrassing. The bake-off book is one example. I wrote a version before A Match Made for TV but realised that while I had tension, drama and attraction, the relationship never built. Now I build the relationship first.

A competitive environment can spark rivalries and maybe romance?

If you were to genre-hop, which genres would you most like to try writing? Fantasy and historical.

What writing resources have been most helpful to you? The most singularly useful text was Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes. But collectively, it’s been by joining writing organisations like the Romance Writers of Australia.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the beginning of your writing/publishing journey? I wish I’d had critique partners sooner instead of trying to do it all solo.

A critique partner makes such a difference.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing? I’m still at the stage of fitting writing around my work.

What inspired your new book? My love of cooking. And the Aussie TV show the Cook and the Chef.

Always something to learn in the kitchen.

What is the most difficult part about writing for you? Getting new words down and keeping them.

Did you do any research for your current book? I have a chronic need to research, so yes.

Best writing advice/ Worst writing advice you ever received? Finish the damn book has to be the best.’

“A writer is a person who writes every day” is the worst.

Best money you have spent as a writer? Buying Scrivener.

What are you reading now? Playing it Safe by Amy Andrews. And the next book on pre-order is The King’s Cowboy by Madeline Ash.

What books or authors have most influenced your writing? I’m looking looking forward to hearing what readers say about my style.

Favourite book/story you have read as an adult? Current fave is The Hating Game by Sally Thorne.

Favourite book/story you have read as a child? Almost everything by Diana Wynne Jones.

Available in lots of online formats.

You can catch up with Katrina here.

Web             https://www.katrinacoll.com

Facebook    https://www.facebook.com/KatrinaCollAuthor

Instagram   https://www.instagram.com/katrinacollauthor/

Pinterest     https://www.pinterest.ie/KatrinaCollAuthor/a-match-made-for-tv/

BUY LINKS: 

Here’s the publisher link (best value as on sale): https://www.evernightpublishing.com/a-match-made-for-tv-by-katrina-coll/

https://books2read.com/A-Match-Made-for-TV

What was I Reading in August 2021?

Where do you read? I read practically anywhere, my Kindle allows me to take a book wherever I go, but I love the physicality of print books. Like many people, I enjoy the pleasure and comfort of reading in bed. Do you judge a book by its cover? It seems that I frequently do, a realisation that had escaped my notice until now.

A cuppa and a good book.

 The Broken Spine by Dorothy St James.

The first in an exciting new series featuring Trudell Becket, a spunky librarian who will stop at nothing to save her beloved books and catch a killer!

Trudell Becket finds herself in a bind when her library is turned into a state-of-the-art bookless ‘technological center’. A library with no books breaks Trudell’s book-loving heart and she decides to rescue hundreds of beloved tomes slated for the recycle center. Under the cover of darkness, Trudell sets up a secret book room in the library’s basement and opens it to her loyal patrons.

When the town councilman, who was a vocal supporter of the library’s transformation is crushed by an overturned shelf of DVDs, Trudell becomes the prime suspect. She was the only person in the library at the time of his murder, or so the police believe. But the visitors to Trudell’s secret book room were actually all there too.

If she tells the police about the backdoor patrons who were in the library at the time of the murder, she’d have to explain about the secret book room and risk losing the books. To keep herself out of jail, Trudell–with the help of a group of dedicated readers–decides to investigate. She quickly finds herself on the same page with a killer who would love to write her final chapter. 

Excellent cover of the genre.

My Review.

By now you have probably realised I have a soft spot for books about books, bookshops, and libraries. So, when I saw this intriguing title, I grabbed it immediately. Trudell Becket is a passionate librarian, who is faced with the imminent destruction of her beloved library. The library is going digital and not just digital, they are going to purge the library of books. It will be a library without a book. When the architect of this scheme is murdered, suspicion falls on Trudell. She knows she is innocent, but how to prove it? I found it an entertaining read with enough red herrings to keep me amused.

 The Dream Weavers by Barbara Erskine.

The new gripping historical novel from the Sunday Times bestselling author of Lady of Hay.

A nest of vipers, they called us. But that is not how it was.

Mercia, 775 AD. In the grand Saxon halls of Mercia, King Offa rules with ruthless ambition. Aggressive and relentlessly acquisitive, his three daughters are destined to marry advantageously in service of their country. Eadburh, the youngest, is neither the cleverest nor the most beautiful of the three. But, with her father’s ruthless spirit and the secret gifts passed down from her mother, she is determined to carve her own path in the world.

2021. Simon Armstrong has escaped to a secluded cottage on the English-Welsh borders, desperate to finish his book about Anglo-Saxon King Offa. But he soon finds himself disturbed by unsettling noises and visions. Calling in local expert Bea to identify the issue, Simon hopes to get back some peace – but soon Bea is as embroiled as he is, feeling increasingly connected to a ghostly presence that is growing ever-stronger in its desire for revenge.

And when Simon’s daughter disappears, centuries of secrets and resentment begin to tumble out…

An epic tale of deceit, revenge and exile from the queen of timeslip historical fiction.

Time is running out as the past and present collide…

I found this cover dull.

 My Review.

This book captured my imagination and when I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. I found the transfer from past to present totally believable and kept wanting to read just that bit more. If you are a history aficionado, like timeslip fiction and enjoy a touch of the otherworldly, this book is for you. I found it interesting that due to skilful writing I was able to feel sympathy for some quite unlikable characters.

All You Need Is Love by Jessica Redland.

When you’ve loved and lost, how do you find the strength to let love in again?

Jemma thinks she’s found the love of her life. Scott is everything she ever dreamed of and she can’t wait to begin the next stage of their life together. But just as she is heading for her happy ever after, a shock revelation shatters Jemma’s life as she knows it. Left to pick up the pieces, Jemma’s friends and family rally round to help her find the courage to move on.

Sam thinks he has his future all worked out. A thriving career, lovely home and an amazing fiancée. But when tragedy strikes, he finds himself alone, far from everyone he cares about. Did he do the right thing by running away and trying to rebuild the tatters of his life alone?

This is the story of Jemma and Sam. Two lost souls, desperately trying to find closure and happiness. When a chance meeting brings them together a friendship is formed, but the guards are up.

Will it finally be their turn for a happy ever after? Or will the secrets from their pasts prevent them from moving on?

Escape to Whitsborough Bay for an emotional, uplifting story of love and friendship from top 10 bestseller Jessica Redland. This book was previously published as Bear With Me. 

As I said, I was misled by this cover.

My Review.

I picked this up because I wanted an escapist read, and hadn’t looked at the synopsis, just the cover. Having had a few personal problems in recent months, I wasn’t looking for anything heavy or demanding. For the most part, it delivered, although on a couple of occasions I found something that affected me. That is just a personal reaction and of course, I was always free to give up if I wanted to. In general, though I enjoyed the story and wanted to know what happened to Jemma and Sam.

Call the Vet by Bruce Fogle.

Arriving in 1970s’ London as a fresh-faced Canadian, Bruce Fogle assumed that because he knew the language, he would understand the English. As a graduate of the world’s best veterinary school, he also thought his profession would come naturally to him. He quickly learned not to make assumptions…

Bruce began his career at the prestigious Woodrow Singleton surgery in the heart of the Knightsbridge. Frequented by Britain’s most distinguished pet owners, from Duchesses and Sultans to Paul McCartney and Elizabeth Taylor, it also cared for the exotic inhabitants of the Harrods’ ‘Zoo Department’. Over the next few years, an arc of clients would cross Bruce’s table, from cats and dogs to alligators, pumas and even a capuchin monkey. Each adventure taught Bruce far more than any textbook ever could, while skilful veterinary nurses provided the greatest lessons of all.

Call the Vet is a wonderfully rich and warmly funny memoir. Set against the vibrant backdrop of 1970s’ London, it explores the unique bond between pets and their owners; the common thread of compassion that unites all cultures and classes, and the discovery of love and joy in unexpected places.

Perfect for fans of Noel Fitzpatrick, Ben Fogle and Kate Humble! 

Appealing cover.

My Review.

An interesting insight into how vets care for our pets. Bruce Fogle shares stories from the 1970s. It is heart-breaking to realise that at that time, the orthodoxy was that animals don’t feel pain, like humans. Observation and his instincts gave Bruce Fogle the understanding that they do, and that they deserved better treatment. As a ‘celebrity vet,’ he shares stories of some of the famous clientele. He was dating actress Julia Foster and so ,inevitably they met a lot of theatre folk. The stories that resonated most deeply for me were those of Miss Williams, valiant cat rescuer, Pat, the unflappable surgery nurse, and the many ordinary people who loved their pets.

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz.

“You shouldn’t be here. It’s too late…”

These, heard over the phone, were the last recorded words of successful celebrity-divorce lawyer. Richard Pryce, found bludgeoned to death in his bachelor pad with a bottle of wine – a 1982 Chateau Lafite worth £3,000, to be precise.

Odd, considering he didn’t drink. Why this bottle? And why those words? And why was a three-digit number painted on the wall by the killer? And, most importantly, which of the man’s many, many enemies did the deed?

Baffled, the police are forced to bring in Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne and his sidekick, the author Anthony, who’s really getting rather good at this murder investigation business.

But as Hawthorne takes on the case with characteristic relish, it becomes clear that he, too, has secrets to hide. As our reluctant narrator becomes ever more embroiled in the case, he realises that these secrets must be exposed – even at the risk of death…

Striking with a 1930’s vibe.

My Review.

Another intriguing brain teaser from Anthony Horowitz. Each time I thought I had the solution, another thing popped up which blew that theory apart. The female detective Cara Grunshaw was terrifying, and I imagined her as a belligerent bulldog. At least I guessed who wrote the Doomworld series. As the story unfolds, we are given tantalising hints as to Hawthorne’s mysterious past. So, I guess there will be another Hawthorne and Horowitz mystery soon.

Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café by Jessica Redland.

A few minutes of courage might change your life…

Emotionally, Tara Porter finds the festive period a challenge. Christmas Day is a reminder of the family she lost, and New Year’s Eve holds bitter memories of the biggest mistake of her life: marrying Garth Tewkesbury. Shunning invitations to celebrate, she seeks refuge in her flat with only her giant house bunny, Hercules, for company.

Professionally, though, it’s the best time of year. Tara’s thriving café, The Chocolate Pot, is always packed. With the café hosting a wedding and engagement party, it’s shaping up to be the café’s best Christmas ever.

When former nemesis, Jed Ferguson, threatens the future of The Chocolate Pot, Tara prepares for a fight. The café is everything to her and she’s not going to let anyone or anything jeopardise that.

Tara badly misjudged ex-husband Garth and, since then, has refused to let anyone in. After all, if you don’t let them in, they can’t hurt you. But has she misjudged Jed too? Is it possible that he’s not the arrogant, deceitful man from whom she bought the café 14 years earlier? Can she find the courage to find out for sure? 

Who could resist that cover?

My Review.

I was drawn to this book both by its title and cover. Never underestimate the power of a good cover. I think that was what made the book kind of surprising. Although light-hearted, it also deals with betrayal and that betrayal is shocking. To me it felt as if I was it was an amalgam of two books, one the chick lit I was expecting and another that veered into darker territory. I found it an interesting read.

Threadneedle  by Cari Thomas

Book one in The Language of Magic  series

Within the boroughs of London, nestled among its streets, hides another city, filled with magic.

Magic is the first sin. It must be bound.

Ever since Anna can remember, her aunt has warned her of the dangers of magic. She has taught her to fear how it twists and knots and turns into something dark and deadly.

It was, after all, magic that killed her parents and left her in her aunt’s care. It’s why she has been protected from the magical world and, in one year’s time, what little magic she has will be bound. She will join her aunt alongside the other Binders who believe magic is a sin not to be used,  but denied. Only one more year and she will be free of the curse of magic, her aunt’s teachings and the disappointment of the little she is capable of.

Nothing – and no one – could change her mind before then .Could it?

Excellent cover.

My Review.

I wanted to love this book ,and in parts I did. It has been pitched as an adult book, and its themes are dark, but to my mind, it is better suited to older teens. The premise is intriguing and the paranoia of the Binders truly terrifying, but then what if they do have something to fear? It’s a long book and in places, it dragged for me, but I was interested enough to see how it ended. The dynamics of the relationships, the magic herb lore and spells, were all believable as was the setting of contemporary London. It’s just the sort of place this could happen. Friendships, rivalries, bullying, first love, infatuation , all contributed to the  YA theme I adored the magical library that co-existed with the London Library.

Before the Crown by Flora Harding.

Before the crown there was a love story…

’If you’re a fan of The Crown, you’ll love this’ Woman’s Weekly.

‘Fascinating…a beautiful love story’ Woman

Windsor Castle, 1943

As war rages across the world, Princess Elizabeth comes face to face with the dashing naval officer she first met in London nine years before.

One of the youngest first lieutenants in the Royal Navy, Philip represents everything she has always been taught to avoid. Instability. Audacity. Adventure.

But when the king learns of their relationship, the suitability of the foreign prince is questioned by all at court.

He is the risk she has never been allowed to take. The risk not even the shadow of the crown will stop her from taking…

Step through the palace gates and discover a captivating historical novel of royal secrets and forbidden love exploring the tempestuous courtship between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip in the wake of WWII.

Perfect cover for this book.

My Review.
It’s a strange feeling to read this fictionalised account of the courtship of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. People I have known of my whole life, but of course, do not know at all. It is written in a plausible style and gave a depth of understanding to these somewhat remote figures. Princess Elizabeth, who is as isolated as any princess in an ivory tower, controversially choosing a man who wasn’t constrained by old ideas and ideals. It also gave me an idea of what it would be like to be a princess .It’s not all tiaras and ballgowns , its often tedium and duty.

Soulless by Gail Carriger.

Book one The Parasols Protectorate.

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations.

First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire–and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart? 

This quirky cover didn’t appeal to me.

My Review.

Having recently read Gail Carriger’s The Heroine’s Journey, I wanted to read some of her fiction. Although this isn’t necessarily a book I might have chosen otherwise. It didn’t matter as I was soon hooked and happily chortling away at Alexia’s repartee and character in general.  It’s a rip-roaring fast-paced read with enough steamy scenes to make it interesting. I am definitely going to continue reading this series.

The Little Bookshop on the Seine by Rebecca Raisin.

It’s The Holiday on the Champs-Élysées in a great big love letter to Paris, charming old bookstores and happily-ever-afters!

When bookshop owner Sarah Smith is offered the opportunity for a job exchange with her

Parisian friend Sophie, saying yes is a no-brainer—after all, what kind of romantic would turn down six months in Paris? Sarah is sure she’s in for the experience of a lifetime—days spent surrounded by literature in a gorgeous bookshop, and the chance to watch the snow fall on the Eiffel Tower. Plus, now she can meet up with her journalist boyfriend, Ridge, when his job takes him around the globe.

But her expectations cool faster than her café au lait soon after she lands in the City of Light—she’s a fish out of water in Paris. The customers are rude, her new co workers suspicious and her relationship with Ridge has been reduced to a long-distance game of phone tag, leaving Sarah to wonder if he’ll ever put her first over his busy career. As Christmas approaches, Sarah is determined to get the shop—and her life—back in order…and make her dreams of a Parisian happily-ever-after come true.

Does the job , but didn’t inspire me.

My Review

This is absolutely my kind of book. I loved everything about it, it was such a comforting, happy read. The concept of books having lives of their own, rustling their pages, and whispering secrets, resonated with me. I suspect most book lovers would secretly adore owning a bookshop. Ignoring the inconvenient facts that it is work, and often hard work at that! The Parisian vibe had me picturing myself there, strolling along the banks of the Seine. Small town Sarah, exploring the delights of Paris and finding the ‘secret Paris,’ that only true Parisienne’s know.  Her relationship with the elusive Ridge.
My copy had a bonus addition The Book shop On the Corner, which showed how Sarah and Ridge had come to meet. I was sad to finish this book.




Meet Kelvin White, Author of Spencer’s War.

Thanks for joining us Kelvin. I know Kelvin slightly as a fellow member of a writing group I belong to. But I found his answers intriguing and I hope that you will too.

Kelvin White

First some getting to know you questions and then we will talk about your writing.

Late nights or early morning? As it happens, I am an insomniac so most nights I’m at the computer in the wee hours, often until the sun comes up.

Whats for Breakfast?

Breakfast, Kelvin’s fabulous home -made muesli. If I wasn’t destined to be a world-famous novelist, I would market my home made muesli and be a millionaire breakfast food magnate.

Night in with or without Netflix or Night Out?

Both night out and in, yes with Netflix and Foxtel

Sadly, when I have finished watching a Netflix series, I realise there must be a shortage of good writers. Some of the scripts are beyond ludicrous.

Many a writer is fuelled by coffee .

Certainly, G and T, and of course coffee. As for tea, that’s the main reason the British Empire has diminished in the last 100 years. People realised a nation that chooses to drink the abomination that is tea, don’t deserve to have an empire.

What did I want to be?

I really wanted to be a world- famous rock and roll musician. It seemed the only thing that prevented that was a lack of talent.  Apart from that I thought I ticked all the boxes. 

Rock stardom, a dream for many.

Talk about a jack of all trades. Shoe salesman, car salesman, real estate salesman, and a would- be politician. I was a professional musician for many years. Those stories are in my autobiographical book ” Oh How We Rocked”. This slim volume was compiled with an ex-band member and lifelong friend Allan Butler. 

What brings me joy? Silly question, a good book.

And then of course we have sport. Bugger sport I loathe any game that has balls in it, so that fortunately rules out most of them.

My hero? There are too many to list. Not too many politicians. Certainly, some authors I admire I’m a fan of Ayn Rand, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and perhaps curiously I remember as  a child how enthralled I was with Enid Blyton. She probably helped to spark a lifelong love of literature.

Choose three people alive or dead to invite for dinner.

You would be sure of some enthralling conversation at dinner.

I would love to have met Mark Twain. My grandfather heard him speak and was enthralled. As a writer his novels are actually far deeper than just adventure stories. Having dinner with Shakespeare, probably the most influential writer of all time, would be a life changing experience. Having a chat with Leonardo De Vinci, just so I could tell him how some of his crazy ideas actually came to fruition.

How do writers write?

About Writing, are you a plotter, know what is going to happen or a pantser as in don’t plan, fly by the seat of your pants?

Oh boy, am I a pantser? You bet. I start with the vaguest of ideas and then like a water diviner, I see where it takes me. I like the surprises.

The initial cover for Spenser’s War.

Tell us a little about Spencer’s war.

Life is idyllic for Spencer Marlowe, a successful Gen Y marketing guru, living the dream in Perth, Western Australia. Good-looking, fit and self-assured, Spencer is fascinated by Japanese culture, fluent in the Japanese language, and passionately in love with his Japanese girlfriend, Michiyo. He’s also a formidable karate expert who just can’t stop getting into trouble. After a particularly eventful night, involving bikie gangs and motorbikes, he makes up his mind to marry Michiyo. But on the very same night as his romantic proposal, he is inexplicably transported back in time to Perth in 1942, where he finds himself a recruit in the army and forced to play a war game.As time goes on, with no indication of when he might return to his old life, Spencer embarks on a dangerous mission to Singapore – his assignment to detonate Japanese ships and prevent the invasion of Australia. But can Spencer destroy an enemy he’s come to love? Can he convince his senior officers he’s not a spy? Can he conform to a new culture and its old-fashioned beliefs? And – in this time – can he save the day?Along the way, Spencer’s comrades, and the many colourful characters he meets, become like family. The beautiful and beguiling Trilby Lim, potentially something more. But just as Spencer finds his feet, they’re whisked out from underneath him and he begins to question everything. Including if he wants to go back home..

Are there more Spencer books planned?

Yes I have finished book two of the Spencer series. Hawaiian Intervention has just had its final proofread and is about to be uploaded onto Ingram Sparke and Amazon. “Hawaiian” sees Spencer cast back in time to Hawaii, prior to the Japanese attack. I’m very pleased with the finished result.

How Much research did you do? Research on my novels is an ongoing process I research as needed. Thank God for Doctor Google.

I wish I had started to write earlier in my life. Apart from being a prolific letter writer to newspapers I didn’t start to write a novel until I was almost 70. About two and a half years ago. I’m now hooked.

Research loved by some hated by others, but often necessary.

How do you decide character names? I don’t have a formula for names. I try to make them interesting.

What time of the day do you write ? Anytime.

Difficulties? Grammar and sentence construction at times needs a little work.

Do you have a writing schedule? I have been known to write for ten hours straight.

Writing quirk? I’m not sure what quirks I have. As far as I know, I’m not sure my style is like anybody else’s, so that’s a quirk I guess.

In my third Spencer Marlowe novel, yet to be edited I have a female character FBI agent Savannah Steele, who is a slightly psychopathic, but lovable lady. I was so taken with her  I’ve written a third novel featuring her. I’m in love. Sadly, she turns out to be a lesbian, so my love is doomed to be unrequited

Who doesn’t love a femme fatale?

Can a writer write if they don’t feel emotions? Absolutely so long as it’s instruction manuals for IKEA

Best advice? Keep writing.

Worst advice? You will never succeed.

Best money spent? Hire a good editor.

Favourite author? Impossible to answer. But current faves are Michael Connolly, Peter James and Stephen Leather. Currently reading ” Memory Man” by David Baldacci.

I really couldn’t say who has influenced me the most. Probably an amalgam of Leslie Charteris, Ian Fleming and I hate to say it, Lee Child.

Favourite quote.” If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re probably right.”

Favourite book ‘ Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follett.

As a child, my absolute favourite was the ‘Magic Faraway Tree’ by you know who.

You are busy! Anything else in the pipeline?

‘ Crime noir’

Recently I was invited to collaborate on a “crime noir” novel with award winning author Dr Bruce Russell. I wasn’t quite sure how a collaboration would work, I don’t think he did either. Bruce has a doctorate in creative writing and has taught in American Universities. The formula seems to be, we take turns writing a chapter each. So far no cross words. We are up to around 40,000 words. I’m pretty excited by the project. It’s entitled ” The King of San Francisco” It’s set in 1978 when the main character, an Australian, visits his younger brother in San Francisco, only to find himself dragged into a world of murder and intrigue. Naturally we have lots of sex and violence. At the speed we are going it will be ready for editing within a couple of months.

Congratulations, it sounds like a lot of fun!

The Books I Read in July 2021.

The weather was dismal, as we had twenty eight days of rain in July. The last time the rain was so frequent, in sunny Perth, Australia, was seventy five years ago. Home and comfort was the place to be. My local library provided most of the books I’ve been reading this month. Television provided few distractions, so I happily got lost in a good book.

I love how a library display can inspire you to read something different.
When She Was Good by Michael Robotham.

Criminal psychologist Cyrus Haven and Evie Cormac return in this new thriller from author Michael Robotham. Who is Evie, the girl with no past, running from? She was discovered hiding in a secret room in the aftermath of a terrible crime. Her ability to tell when someone is lying helped Cyrus crack an impenetrable case in Good Girl, Bad Girl. Now, the closer Cyrus gets to uncovering answers about Evie’s dark history, the more he exposes Evie to danger, giving her no choice but to run. Ultimately, both will have to decide if some secrets are better left buried and some monsters should never be named… 

MY REVIEW.

Although this continues the story which began in Good Girl, Bad Girl, it could be read as a stand-alone. Tautly plotted and filled with tension, the story follows Evie Cormac, aka Angel Face. She was a child discovered at a horrific crime scene. Evie is deeply traumatised, trusting no -one, apart from Cyrus Haven, the criminal psychologist who initially got her to speak. Evie has the unerring ability to know when someone is lying. When she says their lives are in danger, Cyrus doesn’t believe her.

The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah

The world’s most beloved detective, Hercule Poirot, the legendary star of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and most recently The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket, returns in a stylish, diabolically clever mystery set in the London of 1930.

Hercule Poirot returns home after an agreeable luncheon to find an angry woman waiting to berate him outside his front door. Her name is Sylvia Rule, and she demands to know why Poirot has accused her of the murder of Barnabas Pandy, a man she has neither heard of nor ever met. She is furious to be so accused, and deeply shocked. Poirot is equally shocked, because he too has never heard of any Barnabas Pandy, and he certainly did not send the letter in question. He cannot convince Sylvia Rule of his innocence, however, and she marches away in a rage.

Shaken, Poirot goes inside, only to find that he has a visitor waiting for him — a man called John Mc Crodden who also claims also to have received a letter from Poirot that morning, accusing him of the murder of Barnabas Pandy…

Poirot wonders how many more letters of this sort have been sent in his name. Who sent them, and why? More importantly, who is Barnabas Pandy, is he dead, and, if so, was he murdered? And can Poirot find out the answers without putting more lives in danger? 

MY REVIEW. It’s a while since I read Agatha Christie and I was intrigued to learn that Sophie Hannah had been authorised by the Christie estate to continue the series. I picked this one at random, not realising it was the third in the series.  There is a new inspector, Inspector  Edward Catchpole, replacing Inspector James Japp. George, Poirot’s Valet also makes an appearance. I missed Captain Hastings and Miss Lemon. Hasting to pose the questions that we all would like to ask. Miss Lemon for her solid devotion to Poirot. The book is cleverly plotted, but for me, it felt a bit flat.

The Charleston Scandal by Pamela Hart.

If you devoured THE CROWN you will love this exuberant story of a young Australian actress caught up in the excesses, royal intrigues and class divide of Jazz Age London, losing her way but reclaiming her heart in the process

London, 1920s: Kit Scott, a privileged young Australian aiming to become a star, arrives in the city to find the Jazz Age in full swing. Cast in a West End play opposite another young hopeful, Canadian Zeke Gardiner, she dances blithely into the heady lifestyle of English high society and the London theatre set, from Noel Coward to Fred Astaire and his sister, Adele.
When Kit is photographed dancing the Charleston alongside the Prince of Wales, she finds herself at the centre of a major scandal, sending the Palace into damage control and Kit to her aristocratic English relatives – and into the arms of the hedonistic Lord Henry Carleton. Amid the excesses of the Roaring Twenties, both Zeke and Kit are faced with temptations – and make choices that will alter the course of their lives forever.
Readers of Natasha Lester’s A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD will love THE CHARLESTON SCANDAL. Bestselling author Pamela Hart’s energetic, masterful storytelling will have you glued right until the end. 

I was fortunate enough to win a copy of this book.

MY REVIEW. From starting this book, I was immersed in its setting and felt as if I was a participant in Jazz Age London. As an ex-pat Brit, I had of course heard all about dazzling David, the Prince of Wales. Later, he became Edward VIII who subsequently abdicated in favour of his brother Bertie, who became George VI. At the heart of the story is a presumed scandal, that the Prince of Wales should be caught dancing the Charleston with an actress. Australian Kit Scott has orders both from her theatre management and the Palace, to appear alongside someone else. They even provide the decoy in Lord Henry Carlton. He is amiable and aimless. He’s a younger son, with nothing to do and all the time in the world to do it. This conflicts with the connection that Kit has built with Zeke, her dance partner in the play. There they are both second leads and socialise in the theatrical world. As Colonials they feel a sense of connection, and maybe something more.


A Woman’s Courage by Simon Block. Book Three in the Home Fire Series.

As bombs continue to fall on the North West of England, the members of one town’s WI fight harder than ever to help the war effort. Grieving for men already lost or anxious for those still away fighting, the women of Great Paxford must rely on each other. Amidst the complexities of broken relationships, loss, love, betrayal and sudden freedom, this group of very different women must work together to find a way through.

Despite the chaos of war, behind closed doors they fight more personal battles. Pat is reeling from her own role in her husband’s death, while Steph is struggling to come to terms with significant changes in her life.

Together the women of Great Paxford must find a way through .

Celebrates the ordinary lives disrupted by war.

MY REVIEW.

Knowing this book was the last in the series, reading it was bittersweet. I can understand Simon wants to get onto other projects, but these characters have become real to so many. We were heartbroken when Britain’s ITV cancelled the series, as it was a cut above so many other dramas. Well scripted, and well-cast, we glimpsed the lives of our grandparents or parents. Despite being set in a Cheshire village, and not a battlefield, plenty was going on. We see the likes of Downton Abbey more frequently than stories of ordinary people. That was what made the series and books so fascinating. Daily challenges such as make do and mend, food shortages, worry about loved ones. Daily life, not as we know it, but how it was for millions of  Brits.

Most storylines made sense, some happy, some sad. New characters such as the doctor integrating with our old favourites. What rang true for me was the petty jealousies and gossip, as well as the kindness and pulling together. I am sad to say goodbye to these much-loved characters.

Son of A Witch by Louisa West. Midlife in Mosswood, Book Five.

She knew she’d have to find something old and something new. This wasn’t what she was expecting.

Rosemary Bell is going to the chapel and someone’s gonna get married. But when an unexpected visitor begins causing trouble in Mosswood, the something blue on Tammy’s big day could end up being the bride.

For better or worse, Fox Cottage has a new resident. And mostly, it’s for worse. With Declan struggling to rein in his way ward son, Rosie ends up playing referee as well as bridesmaid–and she doesn’t look good in stripes. Wanting to support her boyfriend and still keep peace in the neighborhood, Rosie is stuck between a diamond and a hard place.

When the teenage troublemakers commit a ceremony foul, will Rosie find herself one family richer or one group of friends poorer?

Freaky Friday meets My Best Friend’s Wedding in this short novel about the vows we make, the promises we break, and the things we do for family’s sake.

Just love this gorgeous cover!

MY REVIEW. Rosie’s life keeps getting more complicated, and her magical ability isn’t proving helpful. She’s torn between wanting to keep the peace, or her sanity. Maggie, Rosie’s daughter is slightly in awe of her new sibling. He’s not one for conforming or fitting in. Anyone who has dealt with truculent teens will have sympathy for Rosie and Declan. The book still has the trademark wit and good humour with the characters we have come to know and care about.

The Bermondsey Bookshop by Mary Gibson.

Set in 1920s London, this is the inspiring story of Kate Goss’s struggle against poverty, hunger and cruel family secrets.

Her mother died in a fall, her father has vanished without trace, and now her aunt and cousins treat her viciously. In a freezing, vermin-infested garret, factory girl Kate has only her own brave spirit and dreams of finding her father to keep her going. She has barely enough money to feed herself, or to pay the rent. The factory where she works begins to lay off people and it isn’t long before she has fallen into the hands of the violent local money-lender. That is until an unexpected opportunity comes her way – a job cleaning a most unusual bookshop, where anyone, from factory workers to dockers, can learn to read and then buy books cheaply. A new world opens up, but with it come new dangers, too. Based on the true story of the Bermondsey Bookshop, this is the most inspiring and gripping novel Mary Gibson has yet written.

MY REVIEW. I am pretty much guaranteed to pick up any book with a bookshop, or a library in the title. This story though focussed more on the main character Kate Goss. She is an unloved child ,who has been foisted on her aunt. Her mother is dead, and her father has disappeared. The grim surrounding and tough treatment meted out to Kate were very reminiscent of a Catherine Cookson novel. Her deprivation and the cruelty of her family were hard to take. Kate works a difficult and dirty job as a tin worker. When her aunt throws her out, she needs more work to survive. She finds it as a cleaner at the Bermondsey Bookshop. Through her part-time work there, she is gradually drawn into the lives of some of the middle-class patrons. When a  Pygmalion transformation takes place, Kate learns how the other half lives. The part I found most interesting was about the bookshop ( based on the real bookshop) and its ethos.

Purls and Poison by Anne Canadeo. A Black Sheep Company Mystery.

When a fellow Black Sheep Knitter is suspected of poisoning her coworker, the group puts down their needles and takes up their friend’s defense . . .

Suzanne Cavanaugh has just about had it with her office rival at Prestige Properties. It’s bad enough that Liza Devereaux is constantly needling her at work, but when she shows up at one of Suzanne’s open houses to poach potential buyers, it’s the last straw. No one in the office fails to hear the two snarling at each other.

When Liza is later found dead in her office cubicle–poisoned by a diet shake–Suzanne becomes the prime suspect. It’s soon discovered, though, that Liza had double-crossed so many around town and stashed their dark secrets in her designer handbags that anyone could be the culprit.

The Black Sheep Knitters have no doubt their friend has been framed–but they need to prove it. Stirred to action, they get together to catch a sneaky killer who’s trying to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes . . . 

A lesson in Don’t Judge a Book by its cover!

MY REVIEW. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but it was the cover of this one that attracted me first. Ironically, neither the gorgeous feline nor the string of pearls appears in the book. Did the cover designer mix up pearls and purls?

Work rivals Suzanne and Liza have had a less than cordial relationship in the past, but does that mean Suzanne murdered her rival? The police certainly seem to think so. They know that  Suzanne had a very public row with Liza over client poaching. As the case unfolds, Suzanne is helped by her knitting club pals and begins to learn about a different side of Liza. The pace of the story flowed well and gave us a couple of interesting possible suspects. An easy and entertaining read.

Finding Love at Mermaid Terrace by Kate Forster.

Love comes when you least expect it…
Tressa Buckland likes her quiet life in Port Lowdy, with its cobbled streets and colourful terraced houses overlooking the sea. Her job at the local paper allows her to pursue her art in her free time, with no one but her tabby cat Ginger Pickles to mind her in Mermaid Terrace. But then the owner of the paper is called away on an emergency, and it’s up to Tressa to run the paper for six months. Her first task: find a new part-time journalist.

Dan Byrne is the angriest man in Ireland – or so the readers of his very successful column, ‘Dan takes on the world’, think. But after a story goes south and he loses his job in Dublin, Dan has no choice but to start afresh. When an opportunity comes up in sleepy Cornwall, Dan and his Golden Retriever Ritchie set off for a new adventure.

For Tressa, Dan’s arrival to Port Lowdy changes everything. Tressa tries not to look too deeply at her own life, but Dan sees a story to uncover in absolutely everyone – even her. The two of them couldn’t be more different… yet, if they can find a way to work together, they may just breathe new life and joy into this sleepy seaside village.

Finding Love at Mermaid Terrace is a heart -warming new village romance about the power of love and kindness, from the bestselling author of Starting Over at Acorn Cottage

Kindle Edition, 263 pages Published February 4th 2021 by Aria.Paperback to follow.

MY REVIEW. Having lived in Cornwall as a child, I do have a soft spot for books set in Cornwall. It was easy to visualise the village and setting. Treena is a lonely character, happily isolated from her family, due to her mother’s expectations. She lives in Port Lowdy, where she feels happy at home. But life changes and her carefully constructed world is upended. George, her boss has left her in charge of the local paper, and she employs Irishman Dan to take on the reporting duties. He arrives with his gorgeous dog Ritchie and soon makes Port Lowdy his home. His charm had everyone telling him their stories and he’s just the one to write them. Treena feels life is brighter with Dan around and begins to trust him. But then, a story threatens to tear them apart. I enjoyed this book, but there was one loss that broke my heart.

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce.

Margery Benson’s life ended the day her father walked out of his study and never came back. Forty years later, abandoning a dull job, she advertises for an assistant. The successful candidate is to accompany Margery on an expedition to the other side of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist. Enid Pretty is not who she had in mind. But together they will find themselves drawn into an adventure that exceeds all Margery’s expectations, eventually finding new life at the top of a red mountain.
This is a story that is less about what can be found than the belief it might be found; it is an intoxicating adventure story and it is also a tender exploration of a friendship between two unforgettable women that defies all boundaries. 

MY REVIEW. I was first drawn in by the intriguing title and soon began to appreciate the solitary life led by Miss Benson. An ordinary spinster, in the post-war period in Britain. One out of character event starts her on the path to going on a beetle hunt. She is a relatable character, with her insecurities, and foibles. When she advertises for an assistant, most of the applicants are unsuitable. Still, she embarks on her quest to find the mythical golden beetle. Think Thelma and Louise meet Raiders of the Lost Ark.

The Heroine’s Journey: For Writers, Readers, and Fans of Pop Culture by Gail Carriger. 
The book you didn’t know you needed.

Tired of the hero’s journey?
Frustrated that funny, romantic, and comforting stories aren’t taken seriously?
Sad that the books and movies you love never seem to be critically acclaimed, even when they sell like crazy?

The heroine’s journey is here to help.

Multiple New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger presents a clear concise analysis of the heroine’s journey, how it differs from the hero’s journey, and how you can use it to improve your writing and your life.

In this book you’ll learn:

* How to spot the heroine’s journey in popular books, movies, and the world around you.
* The source myths and basic characters, tropes, and archetypes of this narrative.
* A step-by-step break down of how to successfully write this journey.

What do Agatha Christie, JK Rowling, and Nora Roberts all have in common?
They all write the heroine’s journey. Read this book to learn all about it.

From Harry Potter to Twilight, from Wonder Woman to Star Wars, you’ll never look at pop culture the same way again.

With over a dozen NYT and USA Today bestsellers, and over a million books in print, popular genre author and former archaeologist Gail Carriger brings her cheeky comedic tone and over a decade of making her living as a fiction author to this fascinating look at one of the most popular yet neglected narratives of our time. The presentation she does on this subject sells for hundreds of dollars.

“I’m not sure how you can just rewire my brain to see the heroine’s journey like this and then expect me to make coherent, thought-out comments about the text when all I want to do is hold it in my twisted little grip while I shove it at people screaming like a madman and pointing at passages.”
~ Author Beta Reader

Gail Carriger uses the heroine’s journey to produce bestselling, critically-acclaimed books that genre blend science fiction, cozy mystery, young adult, urban fantasy, romance, historical fiction, and alternate history. In this non-fiction book she uses her academic background and creative writing skills to bring to life the archetypes, tropes, story beats, themes, and messages inherent in the heroine’s journey. Part treatise on authorship, part feminist literary criticism, part how to write guide, Carriger uses mythology, legend, and Gothic Victorian 19th century literature to explore movies, screenwriting, books, and audience desires.

This is an excellent reference guide for genre fiction authors seeking to improve their craft or for readers and pop culture enthusiasts interested in understanding their own taste. It is the perfect counterpoint to The Hero with a Thousand Faces not to mention Save the Cat, Women Who Run with The Wolves, and The Breakout Novelist. 

Kindle Edition, 285 pages Published October 1st 2020 by GAIL CARRIGER LLC

MY REVIEW. Finally, a book that makes sense of the heroine’s journey. Tired of trying to fit stories into the prescriptive and restrictive hero’s journey, and wondering where you went wrong? Perhaps like me, you queried where the heroine fitted into the hero’s journey and was answered dismissively. Try as you might your story wouldn’t fit that pattern. It was the wrong pattern- The Heroine’s Journey is the book that might change your writing life.

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz.

A woman crosses a London street.

It is just after 11am on a bright spring morning, and Diana Cowper is going into a funeral parlour to organise her own service.

A mere six hours later she is dead, strangled with a crimson curtain cord in her own home.

Did she know she was going to die?
Did she recognise her killer?

Are the two events even related? Because nobody arranges their own funeral, and the gets killed the same day – do they?

Enter Daniel Hawthorne, a detective with a genius for solving crimes and an ability to hold his secrets very close.

With him is his writing partner, Anthony Horowitz. Together they will set out to solve this most puzzling of mysteries.

What neither of them know is that they are about to embark on a dark and dangerous journey where the twists and turns are as unexpected as they are bloody..

MY REVIEW. Anthony Horowitz likes to challenge his readers, not because he doesn’t give them a good, imaginatively creative, and intricately plotted story. He does, but he also does the unexpected. This time, he is a character in the book he is writing. On the one hand, it is interesting to learn about his writing experiences and thoughts on writing. On the other hand, I found it vaguely unsettling, the blurring of fact and fiction. And to add to the confusion, he thanks his fictional detective in the acknowledgements.

A Season in Paris: A Historical Anthology by  Ava January, Nancy Cunningham,  Sarah Fiddelaers, Clare Griffin. 

One Paris shop, four women, four decades of intrigue…

Spring, 1909
When Delphine Altrain purchases a date with Paris’ most eligible bachelor, Gabriel La Pouge, she has one thing on her mind…hats. When her latest design becomes the talk of the Grand Prix, it seems everything she has dreamed of is within her reach, but when the past arrives to destroy her present, Delphine needs to decide, stay and risk heartbreak, or run and always wonder what could have been.

Summer, 1924
Beautiful Edith Carrow appears to have it all. As Coco Chanel’s mannequin her life is full of parties and the adoration of a rich man. But Edith holds a deep secret from her past. When she meets toymaker, Henri, her heart threatens to unravel all she has worked hard to achieve. She must choose, follow her head or listen to her heart and risk losing everything.

Autumn, 1935
Genevieve Dupuis is forbidden from doing two things; painting and falling in love. So when she meets handsome Sebastian on a forbidden painting trip her life becomes ever so slightly complicated. Can a girl who has learned to survive by lies and illusions face up to the truth in time to realise that sometimes surrender is the bravest act of all?

Winter, 1944
SOE agent Therese Lambert is about to risk everything to help free Canadian airman Will – a man hiding his own covert activities beneath an identity she knows isn’t his. Fleeing from the German occupiers and the collaborating French, they escape Paris. Can their budding attraction survive a perilous journey, or will a betrayal put both their lives on the line? 

Kindle Edition Published July 26th 2021  by Girl On A Soapbox Press. Paperback to follow.

Perennial Paris

MY REVIEW.   Books about Paris are perennially popular and this one contains four individual stories. Each story highlights a different epoch and aspect of Paris, but all are equally engaging with that ineffable je ne sais quoi of Parisian flair. I read this quickly, finding it an easy and enjoyable read. I received an ARC of this book, but with no obligation to review it.

I love the thrill of finding an unexpected book.



Meet Prolific Y.A. Author Rebecca Laffar-Smith.

Hi Rebecca,

Thank you for joining us- tell us about your new books

I actually have three books coming soon. Spirit Talker is a Y.A. Literary novel:

What a gorgeous cover!

When a grieving teen starts seeing ghosts walk the streets, her sceptical psychiatrist thinks she’s hallucinating, but just because not everyone can see them doesn’t mean they aren’t really there.

City of Quartz is a Y.A. Dystopian Sci-Fi and book two of the Shadow of Nar Series:

On a distance world, where human flaw is eradicated, a teenage space explorer must convince the perfectionist society to provide vital medical aid that will cure her sister’s terminal illness.

And finally, we’re also hoping to get out the first book I’ve co-written with my daughter, Kaylie. Everlasting Sleep is a Y.A. Fantasy:

To cure her sister’s sickness, a dragon-winged teen must venture to Vislume , the land of dreams, where corruption has tainted the landscape and darkness lures dreamers into everlasting sleep.

Intriguing! A dragon- winged teenager.

Some quick-fire questions.

Late nights or early mornings? Late Nights, although I’m trying to switch this around.

What’s for breakfast? Lately it’s been two soft boiled eggs. This is because I help take care of my stepfather who has Alzheimer’s and soft boiled eggs is one of the four things he still knows how to cook and is in a routine where he cooks it every single morning. But I’ve also been known to have cereal, porridge, smoothies, toast, or croissants.

You cant beat eggs for breakfast.

Night out or Netflix? Netflix. Or Disney Plus or Amazon Prime or Apple TV or YouTube. I’m a subscription service addict. lol Although I play a lot of video games too. 😉

G &T or Tea/coffee? Tea, or Milo. I don’t drink alcohol and I try to avoid caffeine because both have significantly negative impact on my Bipolar.

Perfect weekend? In bed with a book.

What did you want to be when you grew up? A writer. 🙂

Rebecca Laffar-Smith.

What is for dinner tonight? Tonight was roast pork (stepdad cooked – his remaining two meal options are silverside or roast chicken.)

Can you cook? Yes, but I have to be in a good mood to want to.

What would you rather be eating? Sushi!

What brings you joy, lifts your spirits, and chases away a down mood? Spending time with my children. 🙂

Your hero? 

Who is your Hero?

Wow, I really don’t know. There are a lot of people I admire and would want to emulate. Most of them are fellow writers although there are also a few entrepreneurs, adventurers, scientists, musicians, actors, etc. I can’t say I have any one particular person I hold to higher esteem and would consider my hero.

If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? Way too difficult to narrow down that list. I’d welcome anyone who would want to hang out with me. Let’s do dinner. Any time. Everyone has their stories, their interests and passions, their inner being. I can enjoy the company of pretty much anyone.

You write in more than one genre. What drew you to them and how do you keep a balance between stories?

A balancing act?

To be honest, I don’t. I love lots of genres and I’ve got books in a multitude. Picture Books, Chapter Books, Young Adult, Romance Novellas, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Non-Fiction, even Game Lit. But my heart is most truly in the Y.A. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. And I bundle Sci-Fi and Fantasy together because I often find they overlap a lot.

These days I’m trying to focus solely on Y.A. because it’s very difficult to juggle multiple genres. It’s like having to build multiple careers. Each genre has different readers which means multiple target markets, multiple brands, multiple fan bases, etc. When my children were young we did the kids books as part of our home schooling and for a while I did romance or game lit just to put a few extra dollars in the bank, but these days I get to focus on the stories that are deeply true to myself and my own dreams and passions and inspiration which means I get to focus on Y.A.

A writer’s nightmare.

What do you think makes a good story? Characters learning to live into the best versions of themselves. Usually that means embracing their whole self, including their flaws, and figuring out how to chase big dreams or accomplish great things even in the face of adversity or challenge. I think all of us want to see people beat the odds. We want to believe in possibility.

Who doesn’t love a good story?

Are you a plotter, more organic, or a mix of the two? These days I’m definitely mostly a plotter. I’ve learned over time that the more foundation I lay before I begin the easier the writing process tends to be. I’ve also learned a great deal about story structure and character development. It’s something I now teach other writers because it was something that completely transformed me as a writer when I discovered it and I’ve been really thrilled to visit a few high schools in the past couple of years where they’re actually teaching this stuff to teenagers! They definitely didn’t teach it when I was in school.

How much research do you do for a story?

Research- seeking out the right facts.

 It really depends. Sometimes it can be a lot! Sometimes next to nothing. For example, I did very little research for Spirit Talker. Most of it came from lived experience or instinct. I did a little research into the school I chose for her and made sure I had a beta reader who was familiar with the school but beyond that I didn’t need to learn much. But for City of Light, book one of the Shadows of Nar, I did extensive research into ion engines, space travel, faster than light theories, impact of binary stars on planetary conditions, relative distance, etc. I needed to feel confident that I understood the inner workings of the science so that I could write with authority. But my key tip about research is to focus on what you need and leave as much as you can to the second draft not the first. You don’t necessarily need to know all the inner workings and if you research too much in advance then you’ll want to info dump it all into the book and for the most part you don’t need to. You need to know just enough to be confident that it works, and nothing more.

Where do you draw your inspiration for your stories from? Everywhere? It’s been so many years since I was last without a story to write that I really find this kind of question odd because there’s never a scarcity of inspiration or ideas. I wrote about my Idea Waterfall back in 2008 (https://www.rebeccalaffarsmith.com/idea-waterfall/).

What is the best advice you’ve had as a writer? There have been so many brilliant pieces of advice over the years and the “best” tends to depend on my current situation. For example, right now I really resonate with the mantra “it’s the catalogue not the book”. Out of context that sounds kind of lame but it’s been very powerful to me because I experience a LOT of anxiety about the writing process. I was getting so bogged down in wanting to get every single word perfect that sometimes it means I can’t even write a sentence, let alone finish a book. So my mentor taught me to remember that the success or failure of individual books isn’t worth getting hung up on because as a career author I’m building a catalogue of content. Lots of books. And each of those books will have people who love it or hate it. The more books I finish and add to my catalogue the stronger my foundations become. The more books I have the more fans will find me and the more books I’ll sell. So it reminds me to think big picture and to obsess less. Maybe that’s the true take away tip. “Think big picture. Obsess less.” lol

What’s your favourite part of the writing process? Least favourite?

Outlines and planning.

Favourite is outlines and planning. It’s the part that feels natural to me and the part I’m able to help others with the most too. I love developing story ideas, building story structure, fleshing out characters, and seeing the evolution of arcs.

Least favourite is the writing part… Writing is hard.

What’s your process for writing for the male perspective / male characters?

Men are not all alike!

 Um… Just write them? Seriously, men aren’t that alien. Sure, there are innate differences between a masculine and feminine character but gender and sex are two different things. A man can be macho or effeminate, and still be a man. A woman can be butch or delicate, and still be a woman. I think it’s important to understand psychology and behaviourism. To understand people. Observe, study, and analyse. When you do that then gender/sex becomes less of a thing to worry about because you’re writing every single character from their uniqueness. When you write sci-fi and fantasy you can’t obsess over gender, because then you’d have to go, “Well how do you write a dragon?” Or “How do you write an alien?” Or “How do you write a sentient flying fluffy creature that’s almost pet-like but has language?” Character is character; define the individuals traits, and write from within the embodiment of that.

What is the most difficult part about writing for you? First drafts. Primarily because of that anxiety I talked about earlier. I feel like there’s so much weight and responsibility in finding the best way to tell the stories I want to tell. Each of the books I write have deep cores. They have reasons for being that are really, really big. They’re way more than simple escapism. They all convey really complex themes and messages, hidden in the simplicity of story. I want my books to change people’s lives. That’s a lot of pressure to put on myself and it makes it really hard to face the page because a lot of the time I feel like I could never do justice the story that I want to tell. Lots of self-doubt. Lots of fear. I’m working through it, trying to unlock that place because I’d really love to “experience joy, calm, and confidence when I am writing” but it’s something I have to proactively build within myself.

Some writers love to write in cafes.

What is your work schedule like when you are writing? I wish I was consistent. I’d love to say I write from such and such to such and such every single day. But I don’t.  Especially lately because my chronic health issues are having a nasty flair up so some days I don’t even make it out of bed let alone get to my desk. I do, however, prefer to write in solid blocks at least 90 minutes at a time. And I love writing in cafes. Some days I’ll be in a cafe all day long; others I’ll manage to scrounge a lucky ten minutes while in bed. Some days I manage to get the writing done first. I try to do this because often by the end of a day I’m just too wiped out to be creative. But I’m still inherently a night owl so sometimes it’s not until the evening that I can actually carve out some time for myself and that means I could be writing into the early hours of the morning. So I guess that’s all to say I don’t really have a schedule. I’d like one but I haven’t been able to force myself to be consistent. Another failing I’ve been trying to work on but haven’t quite figured out how to correct. Lol

Scheduling, help or hindrance?

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk? I honestly have no idea! I wonder if my readers would be able to identify any particular quirks. I’ve been told that I have some odd sentence structure sometimes which I guess is quirky? 

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions? There’s definitely things an emotion-less writer could write. In fact, they’d be ideal writers for content like research papers and new media. I’d also really love to read poetry by a writer who doesn’t feel emotions because they could still portray incredible imagery and observation. It’s really a question of what strengths and tone and voice could they convey? How well can they evaluate the emotions of others? We all write things that aren’t our lived experience so there’s no reason a person who doesn’t feel emotion couldn’t still be able to study it, understand it, and express it. I’ve never been in space but I can write about it based on research I’ve done from the experience of others.

Imagination can take you anywhere.

I have a condition called aphantasia, it’s the inability to see things with my mind’s eye. But that doesn’t make me unable to imagine or describe or create visualisations that others can experience. It also doesn’t make me unable to write characters who can see with their minds eye.

Having said that, I’d really love to meet a person who is entirely absent of emotion. My son is autistic and many people think people with autism don’t “feel” but I have to say from personal experience that his emotional depths are vast. He feels a great deal. He just has trouble expressing that emotion to others. And honestly, I’d love to read the creativity that comes from that unique kind of experience. We need those stories in the world because it’s through the unique perspectives of every writer than we come to better understand the human condition.

Best writing advice/ Worst writing advice you ever received? 

Row your own boat. One size advice doesn’t fit all.

Worst? “Write what you know.” OMG how limiting is THAT? There is so much I don’t know and I’d much rather have the freedom to explore that. Yes, all of my stories have a lot of what I do know built into them but mostly it’s emotional or social depths that come out there. Situationally I’d much rather explore possibility. I want to consider things that might not exist right now or could never logically exist. That’s what fantasy and sci-fi is all about. It’s living into the maybe spaces and asking, “what if?” That takes having the courage to write outside of what you know and to get creative doing it.

Best? “Write to market.” And more specifically, understand who your target reader is and what tropes and expectations that target market has. For example, there are clearly defined traits that make an Urban Fantasy different from a Paranormal Romance. Similarly, a Space Opera is not a Military Sci-Fi. Readers love the thing they love and if you want your books to succeed you need to know how to satisfy the reader. That means understanding what it is about the niche you write within that readers expect and then deliver above and beyond.

Best money you have spent as a writer? There are a few things that come immediately to mind. One is the illustrators I’ve hired for my children’s books. Both Anton and Adit have been absolutely brilliant and worth every penny. They’re very talented artists and their work makes those books something really special.

Buying her laptop was an investment.

Another was the first MacBook I bought in 2010. I bought it because I wanted to use Scrivener, which is novel writing software that I still use and love. At the time Scrivener was only available for Mac so I bought a MacBook and have absolutely LOVED the switch. I’m most definitely and Apple convert. And while it was a big investment at the time it’s been one of the best business expenses I’ve ever made.

Then of course there is always quality in investing in professional editing, professional cover design, and of course production of stock and marketing materials, even advertising. Investing in your business is all part of being in business.

Do you have a favourite author and why? Traci Harding is still my favourite although these days I have lots of other favourites. There are so many talented writers I admire and whose stories I enjoy, but Traci Harding is the reason I write the books I write. When I was a teenager, I read her Ancient Future Trilogy and discovered that fiction is an incredible gateway into truth. It allows big concepts to be conveyed with incredible receptivity. Fiction has the power to influence our beliefs and change our actions. I love writers who do that with their fiction.

Who doesn’t love getting lost in a good book?

What are you reading now? I’m actually going to decline to answer this directly because the book I’m reading right now is one I’m really struggling to like. The concept seemed really cool and the author is someone in Y.A. circles that I like, but the writing or voice just don’t work for me. I’m still holding on, hoping it gets better, but I’m not sure it will. And so, as I read, I pay attention to exactly what it is that’s feeling wrong and I learn from that. I think that’s an important thing for writers to do too. Don’t just read the great books, read the ones that aren’t great and figure out what doesn’t work and why. You learn from failure, your own and others. 🙂 I will say it’s a Y.A. Urban Fantasy that features reapers as the “special world”. See, cool concept, would be great if the execution were better. If you know any other Y.A. reaper stories please share because I’d love to read others.

What books or authors have most influenced your writing? Traci Harding as mentioned above. Lauren Kate’s Fallen series. Word Work by Bruce Holland Rogers. Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles. Demelza Carlton’s fairy tales. Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead. Then more generally authors more than their books Chris Fox, Derek Murphy, Joanna Penn, Lindsay Buroker, Serenity Woods, Sarah Painter, Brene Brown, Joseph Campbell, David Gaughran. I’m sure there are dozens more. Again, so many people to learn from and who share their wealth of knowledge and creativity with the world.

Favourite quote “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear.” The Princess Diaries (2001)

Favourite book/story you have read as an adult? Really hard to define a favourite but I’ve given a whole heap of titles above. 🙂

Sharing a love of reading, what a gift!

Favourite book/story you have read as a child? I was a huge fan of Roald Dahl as I child. I collected so many of his books and particularly loved Revolting Rhymes. Dahl was a master wordsmith. He played creatively with language. So many of the brilliant children’s book writers do that and the ones that do it brilliantly are remembered through time.

Thank you Rebecca for this insightful interview and wishing you every success with your new books.

Rebecca’s website http://www.rebeccalaffarsmith.com

She is currently offering TWO FREE BOOKS: Her debut, The Flight of Torque, and the first book in the Shadows of Nar Chronicles, City of Light.

The Flight of Torque: http://www.rebeccalaffarsmith.com/book/the-flight-of-torque/

City of Light: http://www.rebeccalaffarsmith.com/book/city-of-light/

Children’s books http://www.aulexic.com.au

June 2021

Which books did I Read in June 2021?

The nights are drawing in, is there anything better than settling down with a book of your choice? This month I had plenty of books to choose from, and the time to read. Often, my reading is accompanied by a sleepy cat on my knee, which means I can’t move for an extended period of time. I’m not complaining!

A cosy spot a hot drink and a book to read.

I had heard a lot about this book and wanted to see for myself what the fuss was about.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. Klune.

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management, he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours. 

A magical tale.

My Review A fairy tale for adults and like most fairy tales there is a hidden meaning to this story. I was captivated immediately by this tale. Linus Baker, the oppressed drudge lives his life by routine. At the Department for Magical Youth, the safest course is to be unremarkable. Linus who works there, lives his life to be unremarkable. A summons from Extremely Upper Management presents him with a terrifying new assignment. One he simply can’t refuse. He is to go and observe an orphanage he hasn’t even heard of The House in The Cerulean Sea. There all his certainties are upended, and he begins to doubt the rule book he has lived his life by up to to this point.

Spring Clean for the Peach Queen by Sasha Wasley

Twelve years had passed since the last Harvest Ball.

I was just eighteen when my hometown crowned me their Peach Queen with a blossom coronet. And I was eighteen when I left.

One tanked career, one badly timed glamour shoot and one dead boyfriend later, thirty-year-old Lottie Bentz is finally going home.

Back in the orchard town of Bonnievale, Lottie embarks on a radical declutter of her life, Marie Kondo-style. She casts out everything that got her into trouble: her phone, socials, make-up and a tendency to tell little white lies – to herself and others. But home has its own issues, not least Lottie’s staunchly feminist mother, who is furious with her.

When Lottie lands herself a place to stay in exchange for helping kindly Mrs Brooker try out the Kondo method, it seems like the perfect farm escape. That’s until Angus, Lottie’s former Peach King and heir to the Brooker orchards, makes it clear she’s not welcome – especially when Lottie’s declutter begins to stir up long buried memories and half-truths.

As Lottie finds her way back to herself, can she use her talents to coax Bonnievale and the Brookers out of the past? After all, everyone deserves to feel love, hope and the occasional spark of joy.

A deeply moving story about forgiving, finding joy and falling in love with life again. 

What a fabulous title.

MY REVIEW.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and felt that the characters were real. Lottie was reinventing herself- especially hard to do in a place that has known you as their Peach Queen. Her Spring clean involves far more than throwing out clutter, lies and fakery are at the top of her list. At times this makes for uncomfortable situations. Her strained relationship with her mother struck a chord with me. Equally having a family member with dementia, I found Mrs Booker poignantly relatable. I also enjoyed the slow burn possible romance. 

The Sumer Villa by Melissa Hill.

USA Today bestseller Melissa Hill is back with her most unmissable summer read yet!
This summer, escape to Villa Dolce Vita on the Amalfi coast, where love, food and friendship will come together in this satisfying and epic summer read…

Capturing summer in our winter.

MY REVIEW
An easy and entertaining escapist read. A summer villa is a chance to escape everyday life. To relish time in a beautiful place, and perhaps have a holiday romance. But what if that romance feels so real, how do you move on from that? The three main characters meet by chance and ally. Six years on they are invited back to the villa, to celebrate its successful relaunch. Mysteries will be solved, and secrets revealed.

Mimi Lee Reads Between the Lines. A Sassy Cat Mystery by Jennifer J Chow.

When a local teacher is found dead, LA’s newest pet groomer Mimi Lee finds herself in a pawful predicament—with her younger sister’s livelihood on the line.

Mimi Lee is on top of the world. She has a thriving pet grooming business, the sweetest boyfriend, and a talking cat to boot. When she arrives at the elementary school where her sister Alice works, she’s expecting a fun girls’ night out—but instead finds a teacher slumped over in her car, dead.

Alice was the last one to see Helen Reed, which instantly marks her as the prime suspect. Unable to sit quietly and let the authorities walk all over her sister, Mimi starts snooping and talks to Helen’s closest contacts, including one jumpy principal, a two-faced fiancé, and three sketchy teachers. With the help of her sassy but savvy cat, Marshmallow, and a cute kitten named Nimbus, the clock’s ticking for Mimi to get to the bottom of yet another case before her sister gets schooled.

Gorgeous cover.

MY REVIEW

Initially, I was intrigued by the cover, as I do love a good cat story. It didn’t disappoint. Although I hadn’t read book one, it was easy to be engrossed in Mimi’s and Marshmallow’s story. Have you ever wondered what your cat would say if it could talk? Marshmallow, Mimi’s cat provides commentary that only Mimi can hear. In turn, Marshmallow’s point of view is engaging, snarky and fun. Their relationship is a highlight of the book. Apart from that, there is a mystery of how a young teacher comes to be found dead in her car. Suspects aplenty, and all with a motive for wanting Helen Reed dead. I loved how the dour detective Brown, melted at the charms of Nimbus the kitten. 

The Last Bookshop By Emma Young.

Cait is a bookshop owner and book nerd whose social life revolves around her mobile bookselling service hand-picking titles for elderly clients, particularly the grandmotherly June. After a tough decade for retail, Book Fiend is the last bookshop in the CBD and the last independent retailer on a street given over to high-end labels. Profits are small, but clients are loyal. When James breezes into Book Fiend, Cait realises life might hold more than her shop and her cat, but while the new romance distracts her, luxury chain stores are circling Book Fiend’s prime location, and a more personal tragedy is looming. 

I could almost step inside!


 MY REVIEW.

A clear winner for me. I love stories about book shops, and this one is set in Perth, my adopted hometown. We have all heard of the pain bookseller are going through, in the age of the e-book. When large chains struggle, it’s a wonder any of the indies manage to survive at all. Cait has built her bookshop on service, and on combining second-hand books with books fresh off the press. It is a niche market that has helped her survive so far. Change is coming to Perth. It’s a boomtown, rents are rising, and a quirky bookshop doesn’t fit with the vision for prestige brands. 

Paris Never Leaves You by Ellen Feldman.

The war is over, but the past is never past …Paris, 1944. Charlotte Foret is working in a tiny bookstore in Nazi-occupied Paris struggling to stay alive and keep her baby Vivi safe. Every day they live through is a miracle until Vivi becomes gravely ill. In desperation, Charlotte accepts …( sorry that is where the description ends)

My paperback had this evocative cover design.

MY REVIEW.

I will be thinking about this book for a long time, as it poses some interesting questions. While l we all like to think we would be brave and resourceful, none of us knows how we would behave in an unthinkable situation. What would we do, not just to save ourselves, but to keep our loved ones safe? Thankfully, for most of us, that is a hypothetical question. For Parisiennes in war-time France, it was a lived reality. Who could you trust? What could you believe? How to stay alive. The author captured that unnerving atmosphere well and later the accompanying questioning and guilt of someone who survived. Not a love story, but a story about love, forgiveness and letting go of the past.

Meet Author Fiona M. Marsden.

The relaxation and pleasure of reading a good book.

It’s a pleasure to meet author Fiona M. Marsden, to talk about her new book, A Matter of Trust. Fiona lives in beautiful Stanthorpe, Queensland and spends her time as a dual carer of her mother and younger son and is a volunteer in the disability sector.

Author Fiona M. Marsden

Thank you for joining us- tell us about your new book which releases on 4th July 2021.

A Matter of Trust is my first release with Escape Publishing.

Twelve years is a long time to hide a secret…or two.

Forced from his self-imposed exile, Doctor Morgan Cavanaugh must face his demons and confront the girl he left behind. Becca Walters became a woman in that time with life-altering revelations of her own.

Becca fought her way to respectability, but it came at a cost. With Morgan’s return she must face the consequences of long-ago decisions, made without his knowledge. Together they have to face the past; in order to make a future.

Sounds intriguing. What else are you writing?

I’ve just finished a Historical novella for an anthology being released on the 15th July 2021. Secrets of the Soho Club.

I have my copy on pre-order.

Late nights or early mornings? Late nights definitely. I’ve never been a morning person.

What’s for breakfast? Summer it’s whatever catches my fancy. In winter it’s porridge.

Night out or Netflix? It depends. I like action movies on the big screen but happy with anything else on Netflix.

Fiona loves a good action movie.

G &T or Tea/coffee? I’m one of those tricky people who don’t drink tea or coffee and most alcohol. I will have a Bailey’s Irish Cream for Christmas and New Year. The rest of the year it’s water, Ginger Beer at home and Frozen Coke when travelling.

Perfect weekend? Reading, reading and maybe some reading.

What did you want to be when you grew up? It would be easy to say writer but that was only one of my ambitions. I wanted to be a singer but sadly my voice is under par for public singing.

What is for dinner tonight? Can you cook? What would you rather be eating?

My family are very much meat and three veg afficionados. Tonight was honey sausages from Woolworths slow cooked in gravy and served with mashed potato with onion and parsley. There would usually be pumpkin with sweet potato mash, cauliflower and greens. Usually broccoli but it was wong bok tonight. I can cook, but would rather be doing other things.

Dinner’s ready!

What brings you joy? Lifts your spirits, chases away a down mood. A good book and time with my family.

Your hero? Am I supposed to say my DH? He’s pretty patient with me but after 39 years we have rubbed off most the rough edges.

If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? They would probably all be dead. Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer and maybe Dorothy L Sayers. I have a feeling I read somewhere the last two didn’t like each other but that could add spice.

Do you have any non -writing related interests? I have gone through a few hobbies over the years. I collected musical instruments for some time but for financial reasons am starting to divest some of them.

What would surprise people to know about you? I am highly introverted.

Life lessons-what do you wish you’d known earlier? Some things we stress about when we are young, don’t really matter in the long term.

Questions about Writing.

Travels to far away places

What life experiences have shaped your writing most?

That’s rather funny. All my life I’ve wanted to travel but have never had the opportunity. I always chose to read books that took me on a journey to a far away place and when I began writing, that was what I tried to write .Now here I am, with my first Rural Romance coming out and it’s very close to home, reflecting my lifelong experience of living in small country towns.

Were you a young writer, a late bloomer, or something in between?

We all need a beautiful notebook, or two.

Somewhere I have some notebooks from my teen years where I started writing what would be considered fan fiction these days. Mostly Heyer inspired historicals and McCaffrey inspired SFF set in the Pern world. I dabbled a bit over the years but never seriously. In 2010 I had a bit of an epiphany when I realised I hadn’t accomplished any of the things I planned. Even my 12-year-old daughter had written and self-published a book. That was when I started to write again seriously.

Sometimes we need a push!

What advice would you give to others who took up writing at a similar life phase? Don’t be discouraged. I wrote 13 category length books in that first year and only one is ever likely to see the light of day. Every word you put on the page is one word closer to producing a polished product. I attended numerous seminars and conferences to improve my craft. You can never assume you have learned all you need to know.

What is your writing process like? I think a lot in my head before I really start to put down words. I’m a classic pantser. Once I have my characters sorted in my head, I put them together on the page and push them.

What other projects are in the works? I am about to dive into a sequel to my Tule book from my Kurrajong Crossing series with Dakota Harrison for release mid next year and a sequel to A Matter of Trust is on the go. I also have another historical novella percolating and some sequels to my indie-published books.

Have you ever resuscitated a project you’d shelved? What helped it work better the second time around? I think an earlier story I’m relooking at it will be the increased skills in writing. It had all the cliché’s of beginning writing but I loved the concept so I will take that and rewrite it from scratch. Fortunately it’s a rural romance so I’m hoping it will fit into one of my current series.

If you were to genre-hop, which genres would you most like to try writing? I am already genre-hopping. I was writing straight contemporary first but then made the switch to rural romance for which I have two contracts. Then there are the historical novellas. I do have some SFF manuscripts buried deep on my computer but I need to get my current workload under control before I could look at them.

What writing resources have been most helpful to you?

We all love a good story.

Conferences in particular. The Friday intensive sessions have made an enormous difference. I have also interacted on the old Harlequin boards and entered the So You Think You Can Write competitions until they finished. Before You Hit Send by Angela James, I’ve done multiple times. Queensland Writer’s Centre seminars. Really anything and everything.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the beginning of your writing/publishing journey? There’s no money in it? It’s hard work and sucks out your soul and often it feels like there is no reward. Then someone tells you how much they enjoyed a story you wrote and it’s all worth it.

What is your work schedule like when you’re writing? Chaotic. As a carer, I have draws on my time that are often unpredictable. When I can sit down uninterrupted, I can write fast. It’s finding those times.

Medical romances are always popular.

What inspired your new book? A Matter of Trust is a doctor nurse romance in a rural setting. I’ve always enjoyed romances with professional men rather than the classic billionaires though they can be fun too. I was a nurse before my marriage so it seemed logical if I was to write a rural romance, to start with what I know. A small medical centre in a small town.  

What is the most difficult part about writing for you? Being organised in the chaos.

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk? Interesting is a bit of a difficult question. I write my first drafts on scrivener on a laptop that I don’t have social media set up. I then go for a drive to listen to what I’ve written. My DH feels that’s an expensive way of doing things.

Fiona listens to her early draft.

Did you do any research for your current book?

I did a little medical research for A Matter of Trust around medical conditions that appear in the book. I already have a good basic knowledge but things change fast in medicine.

Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special? I wrote a story years ago which I used to hashtag as #sleazeguy on twitter. He was everything I was annoyed by in some heroes I was reading at the time so I guess I wanted to get one of those heroes under my control. He was surprisingly adorable. I am currently bringing his story up to date in the hope of finally putting him out in the world.

Could ‘sleazy guy’ turn out to be a hero?

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions? That’s a difficult judgement to make. I’m not sure if there is such a person. We often write about protagonists who have stifled their emotions after some kind of trauma. We never assume they have no emotions at all. Unless of course they’re a cyborg which is a whole other trope.

Best writing advice/ Worst writing advice you ever received? Write what you know is both. I thought at first it meant only writing within my own lived experience but I realise now that my lived experience gives me an understanding of the human condition that is translatable across a large range of settings.

Best money you have spent as a writer? Membership of Romance Writers of Australia perhaps.

Do you have a favourite author and why? I have multiple authors that I will read everything they write and the ones I reread are probably my favourite. One special book I’m not sure of. If I could only take one book with me to a desert island I would probably take The Lord of the Rings because it is so dense I think it bears study.

Writers are always readers!

What are you reading now? A mix of historical and contemporary. I just finished Pamela Hart’s “Digging Up Dirt” which is a cozy style mystery set in Sydney.

What books or authors have most influenced your writing? I once did one of those “What famous author do you write like?” things on the internet and the answer was Agatha Christie. Which is probably right because I’ve read all of her mystery novels multiple times. That’s a lot of books.

Favourite quote ? Almost anything from The Princess Bride.

Favourite book/story you have read as an adult? That’s hard to define. I am a re-reader so I’ve read many books multiple times.

Favourite book/story you have read as a child? The Owl and the Pussycat was my favourite children’s book.

https://books2read.com/AMatterofTrust

https://books2read.com/Secrets of the Soho Club

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