Sonia Bellhouse is the author of Fire & Ice, a Scandi-timeslip romance about ice dancing, Norway and Vikings. She is also a contributor to Passages, a short story anthology and a contributor to Writing the Dream, an anthology for published writers both published by Serenity Press. In 2012she won two major awards in the inaugural Rockingham Short Fiction contest.
Sonia's articles and stories are published in various magazines both in Australia and the UK. These include Good reading, Today's Bride, That's Life! and That's Life! Fast Fiction in Australia and Yours, The People's Friend and Best of British in the Uk. Sonia worked as a book reviewer for two years. An avid reader and writer of multiple genres she facilitated a local book club for eleven years. She reluctantly decided to give it up, to concentrate on her writing. Sonia is a long time member of a writers group, regularly engaging authors to present workshops to the group.
Sonia enjoys catching up with friends, ignoring the ironing in favour of playing with her cat and learning new things. She's taken several online courses with Future Learn and The University of Iowa for both writing and non-writing topics.
I met Josh and his partner Andy, at the Rockingham Writers’ Convention last year. I was slightly star-struck, after reading Find Your Creative Mojo. They are charming and loads of fun to chat with. Josh has walked the walk, which gives his books such power to help children and adults while dealing with their anxieties.
What do you like to do when you are not writing? Sitting on my verandah with my husband watching the sunset over the valley enjoying a glass of wine (or several).
What did you want to be when you grew up? When I was 6, I wanted to be a train driver because seemingly all you had to do was toot the horn and wave at people as you went by. Otherwise, I’ve never had any idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. As long as it wasn’t a normal boring job! I think I’ve succeeded in that; radio announcer, radio copywriter, author/illustrator, photographer, abstract artist, part-time afterlife investigator… who knows what’s next?
Josh recently launched his own YouTube channel.
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating? Andy is cooking southern style chicken schnitzels and garlic roast veggies and it suits me just fine.
Can you cook? Are you practical? Yes, I can cook and quite enjoy it. I’m lucky, that both Andy and I enjoy cooking so we have lots of yummy meals. My favourite is Tortellini. (There’s a recipe for Lemon and Parsley Tortellini on page 54 of Being You is Enough if you’re interested.)
Breakfast or dinner? Dinner definitely. Unless breakfast is something exotic like Parathas and onion bhajis…. (Or leftover Tortellini )
Your hero? I don’t have heroes, but there are a few people who I admire, such as Michael Leunig. I got to meet him at last years Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival (we were next to each other in the program guide, Langley / Leunig) and I was a blubbering mess. I couldn’t say anything interesting or clever, just ‘Um, I’m a big fan… Can I have a selfie?’. Sonia comments that’s so much like I was when I met you!
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, (Living or dead) who would they be and why?
Iggy Pop. He could tell some awesome rock and roll stories. The late Anthony Bourdain. He could also tell some greats stories about people, food and travelling. My husband Andy. I couldn’t let him miss out on all the fun!
What time of the day do you usually write?
I prefer mornings, the earlier the better but not like 3.30 (I did that once when I set the bedside clock wrong after a blackout) more like 5.30 onward. However, if I’m drawing illustrations, that can be anytime.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
I have a really short attention span when it comes to writing and rarely gets into the flow. I’m constantly checking Facebook, getting up to snack on something or walking around outside. Oh, look! Is that packet of pretzels? Yum!
What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
All over the shop like a mad dog’s breakfast. There is no structure. When I was working 4 days a week, I used to get up at early and write for an hour before work, but now that I work from home all the time, there’s no structure at all. I’m trying to write a memoir on childhood trauma at the moment and I haven’t found my rhythm as yet, but I’m hoping it’ll come. Maybe pretzels will help.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I can write anywhere. The kitchen table, office, beach, café etc. It doesn’t matter. I know that’s not quirky, but very handy!
Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say?
I get a lot of feedback from parents telling me how the kid’s books have made a big difference in their child’s lives. Especially kids who may be a little different or who don’t feel ‘normal’ for whatever reason. They say that the books have started great conversations and led to all sorts of life-changing insights for both the kids and the parents. That makes all that I do worthwhile.
How has being a copywriter influenced your writing style?
Radio copywriting is all about distilling big concepts down into simple easy to relate to messages, which means using as few words as possible. It’s the same for kid’s books. I take big concepts such as emotional and mental well-being and all that’s associated with them and break them down into powerful short sentences and then marry them with simple cartoon-like illustrations. It’s the art of saying more with less.
I guess that in copywriting you work to appeal to emotions, does that carry over into your writing?
Yep, advertising is all about connecting on an emotional level and that is the same for writing non-fiction and kids books. Even though I’m not a traditional storyteller, the way I shape a story is to go direct to the heart of the reader and make a deep connection that way. Cut straight to the chase but have fun while doing it.
I think you have said that you write your children’s books for the kid you once were. I know that many, many kids and adults relate to them.
Yes, I write the books as though I was giving life advice to my 8-year-old self. I think there are only a handful of kids authors who are in the same boat as me (Todd Parr for example) as most are either teachers, educators, librarians, in the child development field or have kids themselves and I don’t fit into any of that. So writing the books for myself made sense and it was healing as well, as I had experienced childhood trauma and through the books, I was able to reassure the younger me that he is OK the way he was and that he is loved. I think parents can relate to the same message because it’s something they wanted to hear when they were young too.
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special?
I love Graeme the Giraffe, the cover boy for Magnificent Mistakes. He represents the confident, playful happy go lucky kid in all of us. He’s not too concerned about what other people think of him and he’s willing to give new things a go. He wants to wring the most out of life.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions?
Everyone can feel their emotions in some way, even if it’s getting angry at a bus being late! However it’s being able to tap into that emotion and transfer it to the page so that everyone can relate to it, that’s the trick.
Best writing advice? Worst writing advice you ever received?
Best: “Adverbs are not your friend” – Stephen King. Worst: “This is crap” – Me.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer? My laptop. I love it. I really do. I think I spend more time with it than my husband!
Many people won’t have heard about your exploration into the afterlife. Personally, I’d like to thank you for doing things I have always been too scared to do. You have two books about this, don’t you?
Yes, ‘Dying to Know: If there life after death’ and ‘Turning Inside Out; What is everything we’ve been taught about life is wrong?’ both on my website.
I’ve always been interested in ghosts, the paranormal and afterlife topics and I was desperate to see if could have a personal experience of some kind myself. When I was planning the outline of Dying to Know I knew I had to include a ghost investigation, however, I couldn’t think of anywhere that I could have easy access too. Then one of my work colleagues mentioned in passing that he thought the radio station he was working at was haunted in some way. I remembered I had worked there many years before and thought the same thing. Bam! I had my haunted building! It’s not often you get to play ghost investigator, but it was heaps of fun, yet very scary at the same. It’s the kind of adrenaline rush I love. While some people like parachuting out of a perfectly good plan, I like to see if I can come face to face with a ghost!
How many unpublished/ half-finished books do you have?
1 novel, 2 kids books, a photographic book, and other stuff.
QUESTIONS FOR FUN (or maybe not!)
What are you reading now? Irritating posts on Facebook!
Do you have a favourite author? I don’t have a favourite author per se, but enjoy Mark Manson, Anne Lamott and Rebecca Solnit.
What books or authors have most influenced your writing? I really got a lot out of Stephen King’s On Writing.
Is there an author you most admire in your genre? Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are). His personal story always brings a tear to my eye. He kept his homosexuality and his 50-year relationship to his partner a secret from his Jewish parents because he didn’t want to disappoint them. If I could give him a copy of Being You is Enough and give him a hug, I would.
Favourite quote: “Find your own lane” – Diane Evans (my editor)
Favourite book when you were a kid? Rhyme Giggles, Nonsense Giggles, written by William Cole and Illustrated by Tomi Ungerer
Do you think being in a supportive partnership has helped your confidence and creativity?
Hell yes. I’m lucky that Andy is so supportive and encourages me to keep going with my projects. It also helps that he’s a writer and creative type as well, so we’re both encouraging and supporting each other. Mind you have been known to fight over the little writing desk on our library!
Thank you for having me, it’s been fun! Thank you for being here, Josh.
I love my local library, I am a regular library user and generally pop in once a week. It was fortunate that I had just grabbed a stack of books, when the library closed for the foreseeable future. So this month my reading is a mix of library books and ones I had on my bookshelves.Those I have marked with an asterisk.
The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley.
This was the perfect book for now. Strangers are brought together by chance. Each has read a green notebook,The Authenticity Project. Julian, an elderly artist started it off, asking what lies we tell ourselves and others? He writes that he’s lonely and leaves the book in Monica’s café.
Café owner, Monica,reminded me of Monica in Friends, with her quest for order and perfection. After reading Julian’s confession, she writes of her hopes, fears and dreams. Hazard is next, he gets the book by accident.He’s an ex-city trader , burnt out and trying to quit his coke habit. Going as far as possible, from everything and everyone,he knows, he winds up on a beach in Thailand. Even paradise can have its drawbacks, boredom makes Hazard read the book and then add his story to it.
Laidback and likeable Riley,gets the book by chance. As a stranger to London, he decides to see if he can find Monica’s café. An amusing part of the book showed the disconnect between perception and reality Alice is an influencer, and mummy blogger.She stares through the window of Monica’s café. Alice is tired of her so called ‘perfect life; and looks at the homeliness of the cafe with envy.Meanwhile, Monica, sees the perfect mother and baby. Each envies the other for what they think is lacking in their own lives and to me, that was very realistic.
This is one of those rare books that you want to read in one sitting and then you are sorry that you finished. I cared about these people and felt that I knew them.
Something to Tell You by Lucy Diamond. *
A carefully planned, much anticipated golden wedding anniversary party, for Harry and Jeanie Mortimer, goes wrong when a gate-crasher turns up. Unknown to them, John, their eldest son, has become increasingly distant from his wife Robyn. Sweet Bunny is in love with Dave Mortimer, but she is living a lie and fears exposure. Londoner, Frankie lives with Craig and his little boy, but their situation is becoming precarious. Everyone has something on their minds, lives will be reshaped, as the secrets and failings are exposed.
The Villa Girls by Nicky Pellegrino.*
Hiring a villa is an escape from reality, everyday worries and problems. It started when the girls were leaving school. Addolorata impulsively asks Rosie – whose parents were killed in a car crash, to join them and so the tradition of the four villa girls is born. The first trip was to Majorca, the next to Italy, and that set up a tradition. Through tough times and life upheavals, they still have the villa to look forward to. In Italy charming and somewhat spoiled Enzo basks in the adoration of his family and enjoys the privilege as the heir to a wealthy olive estate. Meeting the villa girls will change his life and theirs.
Buying Thyme by T.J.Hamilton *
High-end escort Miranda is pragmatic about her job and the men she meets. She keeps her real name and life a secret. She is seductive and alluring, playing the fantasy role men want. Powerful, charismatic and dangerous, Joe Tench, a reputed underworld figure is her best client. But Miranda thinks she can handle him. Until events spin out of her control, putting her in danger. Sexy and sizzling. Frustratingly nowhere on the book blurb was it revealed that the book was part of a series. A letdown.
Consider This by Chuck Palahniuk.
Who hasn’t heard of him? He is the sort of celebrity writer who generates headlines and controversy. His tales are always edgy, so I picked this book up wondering what kind of writing advice he would give. Practical advice interspersed with anecdotes. Clear-eyed and realistic about the writer and writing process. Not prescriptive, simply saying ‘this is what works for me.’ Not for the easily offended.
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell.*
Set in 9th century England and Denmark. Uhtred, son of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a noble English boy is captured after a raid and is taken to Denmark. He finds favour with Ragnar and is eventually accepted as almost another son. The unfettered way of life appeals to him. He much prefers the fighting upbringing, to the one he might have had in England, with its prayers and learning. Throughout the book, his identity is fluid as his loyalties shift ,in these his formative years. At heart, I think he is always a pagan. He has a fatalistic attitude to life, embodied in the phrase ‘destiny is all.’ I enjoyed the immersion into the midst of this way of life, vividly written. The book inspired the popular TV series The Last Kingdom
Mary Poppins by P.L Travers illustrated by Mary Shephard.*
I had never read Mary Poppins and I thought now might be the time to enjoy it. The book was a shock ,after the saccharine Disney version of Mary Poppins. The original Mary Poppins as written by P.L.Travers is very definitely an Edwardian no-nonsense nanny and a far more acerbic creation. She is an interesting, although not a likeable character, in my opinion. However, as there were five more Mary Poppins books, she proved popular.
Shakespeare by Bill Bryson.*
What we think we know about Shakespeare is probably wrong. Bill Bryson sets out to tell us that we know extraordinarily little about England’s most famous poet and playwright. There are only three portraits in existence, and only one is from Shakespeare’s time. This summarises very well the entire Shakespeare knowledge, as hardly anything is contemporary. Bryson works through the conspiracy theories of who else could have written the plays. He demolishes the arguments one by one, some made by serious scholars, others by cranks. Personally, the conclusive argument for me was the way Bryson showed how Shakespeare’s Warwickshire upbringing and knowledge imbued his work in the phraseology and concepts of that place.
Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones.*
This has been on my bookshelves for a while. After trying to read a much-anticipated book, which I gave up on ( I hate to do that!) And no, I dont like posting snarky reviews. I read Enchanted Glass, as a kind of antidote. It was an enjoyable read. Andrew Hope had a magical grandfather and, on his death, inherits his house, his staff, and his field of care, without really realising what that entails.
As he is coming to grips with this, a young boy , Aidan Gain turns up and needs his help. Andrew already has the disruptive staff to deal with but accepts Aiden and tries to help him. Aidan’s arrival seems to be a catalyst for trouble and adds mystery and complexity to Andrew’s life. Altogether a very enjoyable read. As others have noted, Aidan’s parentage gives cause to pause and consider the implications of a throwaway sentence or two. Perhaps the author didn’t see it as problematical at the time? I think the book could have done with a better cover too.
A Cotswold Mystery by Rebecca Tope.*
I am reading books I have at home and this is the first in the series that I have, although its number four in this series. I was soon able to keep up as the author quickly filled in house sitter Thea Osborne’s background. Engaged to house sit in delightful Cotswold village for ten days Thea and her spaniel Hepzie, are engaged to ‘ keep an eye on granny’ as her daughter and son in law have a ten-day break. It sounds like a perfect job although they do seem a bit paranoid about security arrangements. Thea finds her charge a puzzle at times capable and the at times confused. She is voluble about ‘dear Julian’ their next-door neighbour. All is going well until Julian is found dead by Thea’s daughter trainee police constable Jessica.
Edit Your Own Romance Novel by Ebony McKenna.*
A helpful and practical guide which talks you through the steps needed to edit your own romance novel. Romances have their own structure and it is useful to have some explanations which make that clear and relatable. Simple explanations and examples make the steps understandable. Encouraging and user friendly.
Hi Annie and thanks so much for joining us today. We will start with some getting to know you questions, then move on to your writing and art.
What do you like to do when you are not writing? My favourite is swimming in the sea and next is sailing
I didn’t expect to grow up as I am lucky to survive my childhood – my mother was an alcoholic who abused and neglected me. She tried to kill me, the first time when I was about four when she stripped me to my undies and locked me out of the house all day in the middle of a Melbourne winter – I got pneumonia and was very ill. The second time I was about eight and she slashed my right wrist and throat with a razor. Both times were when my father was away. I think she believed she was sacrificing or saving me. I survived the pneumonia and glandular fever which left me with lung and heart damage. I made 80 last year!
S B says Thank you for sharing this- what a traumatic experiences
Sometimes I share because telling others who have suffered and survived that you understand and care can make a difference, and keeping silent, as I was raised to do, perpetuates the damage of child abuse and neglect
What was your dream job when you were younger? I wanted to sail away, or fly like a bird, or write stories and make pictures.
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating? Not sure about tea tonight, but a takeaway would be good. Something new and different – except coriander.
What’s your favourite food? Currently it’s spinach and halva.
Your hero? Greta Thunberg,
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? Tyson Yunkaporta; he’s aboriginal and an advocate for indigenous culture, as well as a creative performer and artist. I would love to yarn with him.
Anh Do: came to Australia in a refugee boat, he became a comedian, artist (stunning portraits in his ABC show), and writer for young people. He’s creative in many fields – and funny and smart.
Julia Gillard: past prime minister of Australia. She was an outstanding leader, brave, and ethical and still a mental health advocate and strong woman.
They are all creators in different ways and from different origins that exemplifies our dynamic culture. From all the lands on earth we come – They affirm our unofficial anthem We are one – we are Australian.
What’s your writing space like?
I have a girl-shed for artwork and a ‘Do not disturb – genius at work’ sign in my corner in the back room with my PC and my home gym so I can get up and workout a bit when the flow stops. S.B. comments Lovely-love the genius at work sign.
How do you decide if an idea will be a story, a poem or an artwork?
It’s not a decision – some ideas come visually, some in a flash as a poem (usually when I’m travelling or walking) and then some are stories to be told over time.
For those unfamiliar with your fiction how would you describe it?
I decided to write romances when I retired but was totally no good at it – my attempt turned into the first book in the Travellers Trilogy which could be described as Adventure/Romance, as there’s a lot of adventure and intrigue and a powerful love story. My latest book is The Swagman Saga, a colonial myth, and this could be an Australian historical fantasy, I guess.
Is there a typical writing day?
When I’m writing, which I’m not currently, I grab the time when I can. I’m not an owl, so usually in the morning, but afternoons or evenings too, depending on what’s happening.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
Editing. It costs too much for me to have my m/s professionally edited, and I’m grateful for a friend who edited the trilogy, but he couldn’t edit the Swagman Saga, so it’s published with all its faults, which I’m sure are many and diverse.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?Don’t think I have one. I just hammer away and try to keep up with the characters as their lives unfold.
When you’re writing an emotionally draining (or sexy, or sad, etc) scene, how do you get in the mood?
I’m the watcher in my stories, so it’s like seeing a movie. I’m often surprised at what is unfolding, and react to the tragic, scary, passionate or violent events. I’ve been saddened by the way the lives of some characters unfolded and I usually intervene at the end, as I write to give hope, not to create sorrow and despair.
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special.
The truism that we are all our characters. I most admire the courage and devotion of Aidan, and Matilda; the adventurous spirits of Greta and The Swagman; and the dogged and persistent Old Grey Mare, – as they are the best of me; but I have to acknowledge myself in the troubled Gwen/Selina; and in the evil Tobias, and the shape-changing monster, Captain Sharman.
Why did you choose to self-publish, and use a pen name?
The rejections made me feel like a failure. Although I understand this is usual and it can take many years of rejection before a writer is successful, I was around 70 when I started writing novels and I thought I didn’t have that long to wait. I know my work doesn’t fit a commercial mould so I decided that I would write my own way. I feel I don’t need to write to a market as I don’t expect ever to write for a living, although I’ve covered my costs
I chose to use my maiden name as I wanted to disassociate my work from my everyday identity. I Googled it, and it wasn’t being used, since then two other M.A. Hills have appeared – one writes about chakras and yogic stuff which is OK, but the other writes lurid romances. Should have stuck with Otness.
Are you currently working on a new book? Will it carry on the stories from the trilogy or The Swagman?
I have started a young adult series called The Theriant, (Theriants are shape-changers). I find this concept not only fascinating, but a great way to create diverse p.o.v. I’ve written the first book and the first draft of the second and have the outline for another one. The protagonist is a mutant hero called Crystal Stone whose mission is to save the world. The first one – The Flight of Crystal Stone, is about its/her coming of age but after letting the work rest and coming back to it, I realised I must revise it, as the first part could be cultural appropriation, and also doesn’t fit the story as it developed
Who is your favourite author and why? So many: Tyson Yunkaporta – I’ve just read Sand Talk, and this was extraordinary– confronting – validating some of my concepts and challenging others. I’ll need to read it again.
Peter Fitzsimons; Australian history – he tells the true story and brings it to life.
Kem Nunn, writes stories with so much empathy about surfing and of people that I feel I know.
Liu Cixin – The three body problem. His dystopian future could become the new reality aka Wells’ War of the Worlds – Chinese viewpoint is enlightening.
All different and really great reads.
What book is currently on your bedside table? Kim Scott’s Dead man dance, Qi Gong, Me and the boat and a man named Bob, by C.E. Bowman (friends have told me it’s the best book they’ve ever read – Bob is Bob Dylan!) Moab is my Washpot – Stephen Fry.
I prefer to read eBooks now as the range is limitless with wonderful free library apps. I have about 3,000 books (I’m used to having shelves of books around I guess after 25+ years in libraries), and eBook loans suit me now.
What books or authors have most influenced your writing?
James Joyce, The Dubliners, I read at 18 and it reset my brain. After being schooled on Eliot and Thackeray, that were so alien to my life and culture, I couldn’t relate to them at all. Joyce opened the window to the wide universe of possibilities.
Tim Winton, because he writes about my kind of world, and I realised that we can tell the stories about places and lives we know. Rabelais Gargantua and Pantagruel because he is wildly inventive and bawdy and funny.
Cervantes because he wrote the ultimate quest,and many other authors.I think everything I read has some influence.
Who is the author you most admire in your genre?
Norman Lindsay, Tolkien and Terry Pratchett – for fantasy sagas, Susanne Collins’ The Hunger Games for YA. I don’t write to a genre but admire so many authors – I’ll pick Melissa Lukashenko, Too much lip as adventure romance. Poetry – Les Murray. Don Williams for theatre (I’ve written a few plays that I produced and directed at the Pocket Theatre – great loss that it closed down.)
Favourite quote (doesn’t matter the source)
Change is possible because it’s necessary – James Zerzan.
SB. That quote is very pertinent at the moment!
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult / ‘Sea Sick’ by Alanna Mitchell had a life changing effect on me and made me realise that I had to fight for the well being of the oceans that I love and voyage on.
Favourite book when you were a kid? Alice in wonderland and through the looking glass. I was sent to the care of strangers for a few months at about 9 and was allowed to take one book – Lewis Carrol was in hindsight such a good choice, with a strong, resilient, resourceful girl hero alone in a weird world.
What famous author do you wish would be your mentor? Shakespeare – I think he’s the greatest writer ever even though I don’t read in other languages.
I’ve included a few of the quilts, which are made from silk paintings with shibori dyed panels.
SB I asked what Shibori was .
Shibori is a Japanese tie dye craft that gives a streaky effect.
M.A. Hill was born once upon a time in Tasmania, lives near Fremantle, Western Australia. She is an award-winning writer, playwright, poet, and artist – working in paint, textiles, and clay.
A blue water sailor and activist for the marine environment, her journey is one of survival that has taken her on trackless voyages where few have ventured. In her work she strives for a better world. As Annie Hill Otness, she has published –
Like many people around the world, I am staying home. It has provided me with a reading bonanza. The month started as normal until mid-month with the need to stay home. Most normal activities were cancelled and I read and read.
What Holds Us Together by Sandi Ward
Browsing in the library and this book caught my eye, I was attracted by the beguiling cat picture on the front cover. Reading the blurb further intrigued me, so I took the book home. Serendipity, as I enjoyed reading it, especially the perspective of Luna, the family cat. This is a reflective and thoughtful book, dealing with the sudden death of a husband and father and how the family must try and come to terms with it. Guilt and anger cloud the points of view as Annika wasn’t home when Peter died and Donovan, her son is unforgiving towards her. Luna is the only one who is aware of the presence of Peter’s ghost. Donovan has Peter’s journal and won’t return it, while Annika is concerned about what it might reveal. Things become complicated as Sam Annika’s old high school boyfriend and his brother Danny come to plough them out of a snowstorm. A positive and hopeful book
The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker by Joanna Nell
As I had enjoyed The Single Ladies of The Jacaranda Retirement Village, I settled down with this book anticipating an enjoyable read. I would have relished it when I was younger, finding it amusing. However, for someone who is aware of ageing, it makes uncomfortable reading. Poor bewildered Mrs Parker valiantly battling on with her memory loss, confusion and worries. Throughout the book, we worry is poor Henry dead, misplaced, or playing a cruel game with Mrs Parker? All the classic fears of ageing, are here, the book wasn’t the happiest choice for me. It is well written, and others have and will enjoy it.
The Secret Letter By Kerry Barrett.
Two interlinked storied make up this book and they are perfect companions for each other. Esther in 1910 is fighting for women’s rights after being left in poor circumstances due to her father’s’ death and gambling problems. In 2019 teacher Lizzie needs to begin again after being unwittingly implicated in her ex-husband’s less than ethical dealings. Both women need grit and determination to solve their problems and build a life worth living. I was cheering on the sidelines with this one and can’t wait to read more from this author.
Bad Girls by Caitlin Davies.
Coincidentally I was reading this at the same time as I was reading TheSecret Letter. This is a social history of Britain’s Holloway women’s’ prison. Bad Girls is a sobering book and one that left me both sad and angry at the treatment these women received. I am full of admiration for the courage of the suffragettes. Political prisoners, which essentially what the suffragettes were, were often treated with special harshness. For example, Lilian Lenton was eventually tied to a chair by six wardresses after refusing food and forcibly fed by two male doctors. It was a brutal procedure, forcing a tube down the throat or even in some cases the nose to enable ‘feeding’. In Lilian’s case, the tube was pushed into her windpipe and then food was forced into her lung Women were not ‘given’ the vote. They fought for it, demanded it, and eventually won it. There are heartrending stories of interred so-called’ enemy aliens’- women who had fled Nazi persecution to go to Britain, who then ended up in prison. They could even end up with fascist and Nazi sympathisers and the system did not seem to recognise the difference.
There are of course the ‘celebrity cases’ notorious women who ended up in Holloway. More interesting to me were the so-called criminals who were products of a society that had no compassion for the beaten, the starving, the ill-educated, and the poor. A society that shamed and devalued women while holding them to a higher standard of behaviour and morality than men. Holloway became a women’s prison in 1902 and was closed in 2016- the site has now been sold to a housing association. It is planned to build social housing on much of the site
The Cosy Coffee Shop of Promises by Kellie Hailes.
Set in the fictional Rabbits’ Leap Devon, the book explores the rivalry and attraction between Mel, the local café owner and Tony the owner of the decrepit village pub. Mel is in a panic due to an upcoming visit from her matchmaking mother. Mel can’t face that humiliation again and persuades Tony to act as decoy fiance. It can’t be that simple, can it? And of course, it isn’t.
Amour: How the French talk about Love by Stefania Rouselle.
The title of this nonfiction book intrigued me. The French are masters of the art of love, or so the mythologising says. So, what did they have to say on the subject? As a journalist, Rousselle covered hard subjects, terrorist attacks, refugees, and far-right parties. She felt despair and decided to look for the antidote-love. What follows are interviews and photographs of ordinary people and how they see love. The whole spectrum of emotions is here from those whose search has ended in despair to the long-married couples who still hold hands. Each story is as individual as the person who tells it. Do I know any more about love? If anything, the lesson is that we each seek what matters to us. Love is more than the physical, it’s the rightness, the connection and one special individual.
The Women of Primrose Square by Claudia Carroll
A surprise party for Frank Woods that delivers one hell of a surprise and sets off a chain of inevitable events. Primrose Square was once a genteel place and Miss Violet Hardcastle deplores what it has become. She’s the self-appointed arbiter of standards, firing off angry missives to all and sundry. Then there is Emily Dunne, out of rehab and out of chances. I found their stories realistic and entertaining. Claudia Carroll writes with compassion and warmth.
Home to Bindarra Creek by Juanita Kees.
Alice is at home in Bindarra Creek, after a tragedy she had built a life for herself. She feels safe, although trapped by her memories and regrets. Dan Molyneux is a local boy returned from the big city, where he was reportedly a hotshot financial whizz. At their initial meeting, sparks fly. When he buys the old pub, Alice expects him to tear it down and that’s alright with her. Unexpectedly, Dan plans to reopen the pub, where there are painful memories for Alice.
The Little Library Year by Kate Young.
An absolute treasure of a book for anyone who enjoys browsing cookbooks and reading. The recipes sound like the sort of things you might want to cook. For me, the book was a revisit to my birthplace England and a homage to the seasons. This book combines seasonal recipes and recommended reading in a glorious mixture to inform, entertain and inspire.
Rules of the Road by Ciara Geraghty.
Each of Ciara Geraghty’s books is different and for me, this was perhaps the wrong book for this stressful time. Terry is determined to accompany her friend Iris and to try and dissuade her from her ultimate plan to end her life in Switzerland. Iris had progressive Multiple sclerosis and feels its time. The book is about relationships, memories and taking a road trip. Well written and plausible.
White Nights by Ann Cleeves.
An atmospheric story that immersed me in the long Shetland evenings of almost endless daylight. These are the White nights of the title, an unnerving time for those unaccustomed to them. Jimmy Perez has a bizarre death to deal with, which is at first presumed to be a suicide. Later, when a murder is revealed the Shetland community feels quite secure. The victim was an incomer, not one of their own. But tongues are loosened, and gossip is revived, as old secrets take on new importance. After another death, the case becomes closer to home. I enjoy Jimmy’s thought processes and his ability to use his island background as he investigates. Well -paced and kept me guessing.
The Book Charmer by Karen Hawkins.
I am always drawn to books with either a book or library in the title, so this was an obvious choice for me. Initially, the book read like a fairy tale drawing me in and inviting me to enjoy myself. Sarah Dove, Dove Pond’s town librarian has a gift, to her the books live and breathe and sometimes they let her know who needs them. It’s a gift as rare as it is inexplicable. New arrival Grace Wheeler isn’t interested in staying in Dove Pond. She plans to say a year then leave, but Sarah knows the town needs her. It’s just a matter of convincing her and making her stay. I look forward to reading more of this charming series
Falling for the Italian Billionaire by Annie Claydon
Three and a half stars from me,-this is the first Mills and Boon romance that I have read. I choose it because of the cover and the title. After all who could resist an Italian billionaire if he looked like that. I found it enjoyable and readable. The relationship balance ebbed and flowed. Gabriel de Marco and Clare Holt are well-matched both physically and intellectually. Yet each has something in their past they want to forget. My only disappointment was that I felt the ending let the rest of the book down.
The Sunrise Girl by Lisa Wolstenholme.
Lucy is in limbo, two years have passed since her husband’s death, yet she is still waking each morning at sunrise. She can’t escape the guilt that she was responsible. It keeps her stuck in an endless loop of grief and guilt.
Best friend Em, drags Lucy out for birthday celebrations. Soon, Lucy is in familiar territory as she tries to block out her feelings. The meaningless one-night stands, endless cigarettes, and glasses of wine don’t dull her pain. Em drags Lucy off to Ibiza, the Spanish ‘party island’ with its hedonistic lifestyle. They relished it when they were in their twenties, but now in their thirties, isn’t it a bit sad? Lucy starts to think so, until she meets a sexy man who makes her pulses race. Determined to find answers , she impulsively decides to go home and sort out her affairs there and then returns. At first, it’s great, but he wants more than a casual fling and she is adamant she wants no promises, no commitment. He wants to wake up with her beside him, to have a real relationship. Once again, confronted with this she leaves.
Lucy has been seeing a grief therapist intermittently and Marj’s skillful questioning enables Lucy to examine her thoughts and beliefs. She goes through grief, blame, guilt and avoidance, numbing herself with the partying to avoid facing her feelings. There is no future until past issues are resolved, and Lucy now find the courage to do just that.
I was intrigued by how the author cleverly kept us guessing as to how Joe died and what part Lucy played in that. Overall a bit of an emotional roller coaster and a story that is very readable and relatable was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Note on this month’s book choices
As the month progressed and the news became more dismal, my reading pattern changed. I no longer wanted to read anything deep, meaningful or tragic. I know that others have to embrace dystopian fiction, but for me, that felt like too much of an overload. I wanted distraction and comfort. Some take solace in baking; I take comfort from reading. It was a big blow for me when my local library inevitability closed down. I know it is the right decision, but I felt the loss keenly. A small loss in the scheme of things, but it matters to me. So, I can no longer anticipate a serendipitous find from the library. I will be exploring the many books I have at home which are waiting to be read. Like most book lovers I do have a TBR( To Be Read ) stack of books.
In these challenging times I am taking a moment or two to share the basics of living better on less. Here are some recipes that have worked for me. I am not a professional cook so these are easy to make recipes.As a British ex-pat, of course, they reflect my background, but also include some favourites from Australia. Some are simple enough that older children can make them.
Porridge for one. (Winter Breakfast or supper choice.) Quantity can easily be multiplied.
¼ cup rolled oats ¾ cup water
To serve -Golden syrup/maple syrup/Brown sugar or topping of your choice.The Scots use salt .Place oats in a saucepan pan, add water and stir over medium heat until thickened. About 5 minutes.Pour into cereal bowl and top with syrup to taste.
Note: can be made in microwave if liked- adjust timings . Quick Oats are chopped finer and give a smoother porridge.
Muesli for one (summer breakfast or snack)
You can double or triple this recipe. I find it easy and refreshing
¼ cup rolled oats. ¾-1cup water. Few raisins, sultanas, or other dried fruit.
Apple. Natural yogurt
Pour water over oats and dried fruit and leave to absorb *
this can be 5 minutes or overnight in the fridge.
Overnight results in more liquid consistency and softer fruit.
Grate or chop apple over mixture and add as much natural yogurt as you like. Sprinkle with sugar if desired.
What the heck is a frittata?
Think a pasty less quiche and a convenient way to use up leftovers
2 rashers of bacon, or ham, salami or sausage etc ( For a vegetarian frittata omit these and add more vegetables).
I small onion thinly sliced. 1 cup cooked diced pumpkin
Assorted leftover vegetables, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli , any or a mixture. Or tinned vegetables like asparagus
4 eggs * vegetarian eggs for vegetarians
1/2 cup cream or natural yogurt (I always use yogurt ,the original recipe called for cream.)
2 tablespoons Plain Flour * I have experiment and you can omit the flour-especially as flour is now in short supply
I cup grated tasty cheese.* Can be a mix of cheeses using up odds and end or special vegetarian cheese.
Salt and fresh milled black pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 180C 350F
Fry onion and bacon for a few minutes until onion is transparent.
Place in the base of a well-greased 25cm flan dish. I line my dish with baking paper for easy removal .Add cooked pumpkin and any leftover vegetables.
In a bowl beat together eggs and cream or yogurt, add the plain flour and make sure there are no lumps. *Add the grated cheese and season well.
Stand flan dish on metal baking sheet and pour egg mixture into the dish. Bake for about 30 minutes.
I have made this without adding the flour ,bulking up with more vegetables and it still works. Good served warm or cold. Can be sliced and frozen and reheated. Makes an easy packed lunch.
Roast Dinners: Into the Oven and forget it!
It probably isn’t worth roasting a piece of meat much under 2 kilos./5lbs Yes, meat is expensive, but one roast can give you meat for several meals.
Meat needs to be at room temperature so remove from the fridge about ½ hour before cooking. Roasting pan big enough to take the meat and about 6-8cm /2-3 inches deep.
Meat can be set on a rack or even an upturned cake tin. Roast vegetables can go in the tin for the last 45minutes –hour depending how large they are.
Roast Meat Cooking times and temperatures.
Beef. 60 mins per kilo for medium well done. 180C oven / 350 F
Adjust times for rare or well done.
Lamb 60 minutes per kilo 180C oven/350F
Pork 90 minutes per kilo 180C oven/350F
Leave the cooked joint in a warm place for about 15-30 minute before carving it. Serve with Roast vegetables; Potato, pumpkin, carrots, onions and some green vegetables.I always try to have at least one orange vegetable and one green one.Parboil potatoes or microwave them , prior to roasting to speed cooking process. I microwave pumpkin briefly to make the skin easier to remove.Packet gravy is easy to make and work well.
Peel and boil the potatoes, smaller pieces will be cooked quickly but may disintegrate easily. When prodded with a fork with the potatoes will feel soft when cooked. Tip into a colander or sieve and drain them well , return to the pan .Add butter or milk to the mix if liked and mash. Spoon out to serve
How to freeze mashed potatoes.
You can of course place individual tablespoons of potatoes on baking paper and freeze them. I prefer to make them a bit fancier , so I put the mash into a large piping bag with a star nozzle and pipe swirls of mash potato which I open freeze until solid and then bag and store in the freezer. Can be reheated in the microwave or oven.
The roast meat I slice into individual lots-I use 100gm/4oz when cooled and pack and store in the freezer. It can easily be reheated by placing it covered with a lid on plate over simmering water. Add gravy when serving
100gm/4oz Self raising flour (British version)
50gm/2oz margarine or butter. 50gm /2oz sugar
Fruit and sugar if needed for filling, apples (eaters or cookers) peeled and chopped and stewed OR frozen berries OR tinned apricots or peaches.
Put the chosen fruit into greased ovenproof dish.
Place the flour in a bowl and use your fingertips to lightly crumble the margarine into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add sugar and mix thoroughly. Spoon over the fruit. Bake in a 190c/375F preheated oven for about 30 minutes.
Serve with custard or ice cream. Good hot or cold. Can go in the oven after the roast meat.
Jelly Delicious: A Sneaky Way to Get Children to Eat Yogurt.
This recipe goes into the jelly mould as a single layer, magically it separates into a creamy layer and a clear jelly layer. Looks pretty.
I packet jelly (any flavour). ¼.cup natural yogurt.
250ml/8. 5 fl oz Boiling water. ¾ cup cold water.
A jelly mould 500ml / I pint capacity or 6 small jelly moulds.
For children use the individual moulds.
Lightly oil the jelly moulds with oil or non-stick spray.Dissolve the jelly in 250ml boiling water. Mix well, add the yogurt and mix again. Top up with cold water and pour into mould or moulds. Leave to set in the fridge.
Pumpkin & Sultana Scones
250gm chopped pumpkin, cooked, cooled and mashed.
40gm/1.5 oz approx butter or margarine ¼ cup caster( superfine) sugar
I egg. 2 and a half cups self-raising flour-sifted. ½ cup sultanas (or raisins)
1/3 cup natural yogurt. (The original recipe called for Buttermilk)
Preheat oven to 200c /395Fand grease a baking sheet Cream the margarine and the sugar and add the beaten egg. Stir in the cooled mashed pumpkin and the sifted flour. Add the sultanas and the yogurt. Spread a little flour on the board and turn the dough out. Pat out to a thickness of about 2cm.Use a scone cutter or an upturned glass dipped in flour to cut out roundS of dough. Do not twist the cutter. Recombine the remaining dough and cut more discs.
If you like a crisp top brush with milk, otherwise leave them plain. Bake for 15 minutes and then cool on a wire rack. Serve with butter and or jam. To have a soft-top cover with a clean tea towel whilst they cool. The recipe can be doubled or trebled. The scones freeze well.
‘May you live in interesting times-‘ is a Chinese proverb or maybe it’s a curse.
We certainly are living in interesting times right now, as we live with bad and then worsening news, day after day. But some people have had it much worse. They are our grandparents or great grandparents who lived through both shortages and war. Their wisdom can help us now as they had learned how to stretch their budgets and make a dollar go further.
With incomes disappearing and shelves in the stores emptying these tips can help us.I am not a dietitian, a cookery expert or pretending to be superwoman. But I have been living on a limited income for a while and along the way, I have learnt how to improve my quality of life without spending wads of cash! These life skills can help us now
Do you know how to shop?
Any fool can spend money, but how do you plan to feed yourself for a week? Apply your intelligence to the project and consider a rough menu plan for the week. I cater for 2 adults, while you may cook for more, or you may eat alone.
Today shopping can be a bit of a lottery, and you may have to adapt to what you is available in the shops. I usually stock up on bread when I can and store the extra in the freezer. It stores perfectly and can be toasted from frozen.
Know your shops and your products.
If you live in a high-priced suburb, consider shopping in your nearest cheaper area, if you can get there and not break restrictions. Not all supermarkets are the same!
Cheese Don’t leave that tempting big I kilo /2.2 pound block in the fridge though, or your savings will simply disappear. Cut it into four 250gm/ approx 8 oz pieces. Leave one in the fridge and freeze the others. Grated cheese goes further in sandwiches. Cheese keeps perfectly well in the freezer.
Chicken It is generally cheaper to buy a frozen chicken than either a fresh one or the chicken pieces. It‘s easy to cook, put it in the oven and forget it for an hour and a half or so. It should provide one or two meals and maybe some leftovers to go in soup or sandwiches.
Oatmeal Poor students in Scotland used to be sent to university with a sack of oatmeal. It’s filling and can be eaten hot or cold. Hot as porridge and cold as a basis for easy home-made muesli. My next post will be Recipes for the Needy Greedy. I buy store brand Rolled Oats (not quick oats). Of course, the name brand oats cost two or even three times more.
If you can read or watch YouTube, you can cook!
Australians spend about one-third of their income on convenience foods, takeaways, and supermarket ready to eat meals. If you are like me, they can end up leaving you still feeling hungry. Maybe you never learnt to cook, but it’s not too late. If you can read, you can cook. Look for simple recipes online or watch on YouTube Avoid like the plague complicated recipes with a yard-long list of ingredients. Some recipe leaflets fall into this category!
The Kitchen: you know that room where the fridge and the microwave are.
Simple equipment can cover most of your cooking needs.It’s better to discover what you cook and buy what you need. A fridge is pretty much essential; a freezer (even at the top of the fridge) is great, a microwave speeds thing up but is not essential.
Quick meals and snacks.
Easy and fast lunches or dinners include the following:- Baked potato-Super speedy in the microwave, but still feasible in the oven. Takes about I hour. Top with grated cheese or baked beans. Serve with a salad or 2 vegetables. Make some fast scones, or fruit crumble and cook at the same time. Pumpkin scone recipe and fruit crumble recipe in the next post.
Tinned salmon or tuna, for salads, sandwiches and easy bakes.
Any variety of toasted sandwiches! Cheese and tomatoes on toast (use tinned tomatoes)
Sardines (from a store brand tin ) on toast.
Easy pizza using pitta bread, Lebanese bread or a readily bought base, tomato sauce or ketchup to thinly cover the base and whatever topping you like cheese, tomato, ham, salami, etc.
Mince can be used in a host of quick meals especially spaghetti b- bulk up by adding red lentils. Cottage pie, cook mince with gravy and put in a pie dish topped with mashed potato and bake in the oven until the top browns.
Quick stir fry: any vegetables chopped fine, bits of left-over meat or sliced ham. Soy, oyster or chilli sauce to taste. Serve over 2-minute noodles (the low-fat variety) take 2 minutes to cook.
Vegetables – but what is in season if you can, otherwise frozen vegetable make a perfect substitute- quick and easy and no waste.
Eggs, boiled, poached, scrambled or fried. Add a couple of sausages and some baked beans to the eggs for a hearty meal. Serve on toast.
Cooled sliced roast meat can be frozen. I freeze in 100gm /4oz lots, which can be quickly reheated on a plate over simmering water (5mins.) Roast vegetables freeze perfectly and can be reheated in the microwave or refreshed in the oven. Details for roast meat on recipe sheet, i.e. cooking times and temperatures.
You don’t have to make it all yourself.
I like to cook- sometimes. Other days I am too tired. I keep a couple of jars of sauces that I can quickly transform into a meal. For example, Chicken Tonight Curried Chicken with Vegetables Sauce does not have to be used with just chicken. I halve the quantity (for 2) and freeze half in a plastic bag. With the rest, I make a curried prawn dish.
Curried Prawns Stir fry some onion, capsicum and mushrooms until tender, add either chicken, prawns or even tuna to the sauce. Serve over rice; I prefer to use brown rice; it takes longer to cook (30 mins) but has better nutritional qualities.
Baby Food and Kids Meals.
Lots of grown-up foods can be pureed for baby. Best of all YOU know how much-added salt and sugar there is. Those tiny jars and packets soon add up to a hefty sum.
Children often eat better if given a small portion, and then offered more, if they ask. Cut sandwiches into quarters and remove the crusts if they hate them. Sneak yogurt into their diet with my recipe for Jelly Delicious, which magically separates into two layers.
Bathroom and Laundry essentials
Please consider that YOU do need a deodorant/antiperspirant as a basic. Buy one and USE it.
Experiment to find a soap powder that cleans your clothes without emptying your wallet. Wash only full loads in the machine. Hang clothes inside out if drying outside to prevent fading. Limit or do not buy clothes that need dry cleaning. Replace costly fabric conditioner with a big bottle of white vinegar, it removes soap scum and leaves fabric soft.
Soap – look and you will find plain wrap soap. Unwrap and leave it to harden so it lasts longer. For even greater savings cut the bar in two. Will your quality of life be compromised if you buy generic toilet rolls?
Kitchen sponges and cloths- work just as well and last twice as long if you cut them in half. Washing up liquid- always rinse out the empty bottle with warm water to get more liquid to use.
Toothpaste simply ignore the commercials; you can brush your teeth perfectly well with a pea-sized blob of toothpaste. It is the time taken brushing, not the toothpaste that makes the difference.Have you tried the generic shaving foam? It works perfectly well, as do the home brand razors.
Hair Do you need to shampoo every day? Consider using less shampoo, how much dirt could there be in one day? Some thick shampoos work just as well if when the bottle is half full, you add about half as much water. The same trick works with conditioner.
Skincare for everybody: male or female
No, not wonder creams advertised by a fifteen-year-old.. The best thing anybody can do for their skin is to wear sun cream every day. Australia has an incredibly high skin cancer rate which should be reason enough to wear sun cream. Additionally, you will stay looking younger longer- think of a prune and a plum. The same fruit, one just exposed to the drying effects of the sun.A basic 15+ or higher sun cream can cost little, so buy it and use it.
Libraries May be closed now, I was so sad to see our local library close., another link with normality gone . You can still access material online. Books for adults and children and escapism is in order right now
The Next Generation of consumers.
Encourage children to critique what they see on television. Even quite young children can understand that ads are not programs. Once they grasp the concept, they can be quite discerning. Teenagers have a better understanding, but it does not necessarily translate into not wanting the latest fashion or gizmo. Honesty is the best policy here; tell them what money they can spend and that anything else they will have to earn .If they blow the money don’t bail them out, let them learn the lesson.
The Moody Blues and the Mean Reds.
Sometimes not being able to afford things or find things gets us all down. We can critique the culture all we like, but now and then it feels as if life SUCKS. Have a good old moan and groan, really exaggerate with ridiculous statements, and see if you don’t find it all a bit absurd and start to feel better.
If, however, every day is a struggle, you are not seeing any joy in life, you might be suffering from depression. Life won’t get better unless you make an effort to do something about it. And of course, if you are depressed it’s hard to motivate yourself to do anything. Don’t let it go and sink into a spiral of depression.
Talk to friends and family (if you have them). Find a forum online. Treat yourself gently and do not make any hasty decisions. Try and find a purpose in life, have something to love, (a plant, a pet, a person?) and have a belief in something (a religion, a cause, bettering life for others?). You, and your life, matter and it should not be all about money. If things are what makes people happy shouldn’t all celebrities be awash with happiness?
Please feel free to share your own thrifty tips. We are all in this together .
Anna ,thank you for joining us today. It’s shame that your tour of South Western Australia was cancelled, but it has given you the time to answer some questions for us. Anna is usually incredibly busy, and I know that her talks are very well attended
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
Read books, chat to my lovely husband, spend time with friends, watch TV.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
From the age of 10 when I figured out some people earned their living by writing stories, that’s what I wanted to do.
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating?
Leftovers and salad bits as we had lunch at our daughter’s cafe. I’m rather apprehensive of eating different things as I have several severe food intolerance’s. One of my favourites is curry and we’re lucky to have an Indian restaurant reasonably close to home which understands gluten free needs and avoids cross-contamination.
My husband. He’s a wonderful man, kind to everyone he meets and has been so supportive of me in my career. Also, he’s just – gorgeous!
Sigh, what a marvellous tribute, buthe’s equally lucky to have you.
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why?
Various friends whom we’ve known for decades. No one famous springs to mind.
Now to questions about writing .What time of the day do you usually write?
All the hours I can! It’s my favourite activity. I don’t have the housework gene.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
I don’t find it difficult, but some stories are easier to write than others, I must admit.
What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
I’m always writing. I work 7 days if I have nothing else on but take days off if I want to do something else.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Standing stock still, going glassy eyed (my husband tells me) and getting ideas either for new stories or ongoing scenes.
Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say?
I hear from readers a lot and love it. I have such nice readers.
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special?
Bram, in the Traders series. He’s medium height, not good looking and yet he’s a kind, lovely man, my very favourite hero.
The Traders Series is five books it starts with The Traders Wife,the The Traders Sister,The Traders Dream,The Traders Gift and finally The Traders Reward
Set in Singapore and Western Australia in the 1860s. New set of main characters, but some links with characters from the Swan River Saga
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions?
They could write non-fiction, I suppose. I think emotions are necessary to write good fiction and touch readers’ hearts.
You’ve written contemporary and historical fiction. Do you have a preference?
I’ve also written fantasy and romances. I like writing them all but there isn’t time to do that, so I’ve stuck to what I call ‘relationships stories’ both historical and contemporary. I don’t have a preference. What I enjoy and need is the variety.
Anna has written over eighty books- now that’s variety.
How do you decide whether it will be a book series or a stand alone?
I only write series these days because readers prefer them, and to tell you the truth, I like to find out what happens to my characters from one story. So they have walk-on roles in the rest of a series.
Which comes first for you, the place to the character?
Re place or character, neither, really. The setup scenario comes first – not the place necessarily, but a very rough and minimal concept of whatever is happening or about to happen. Then I start work on putting the character into that situation and things start to take on life.
So,you think of a situation ( for example this horrid virus right now) and the think who would be involved and where?
Exactly. And the character is like the yeast in a loaf, makes the situation come to life.
Best writing advice?
If you’re just beginning, write a story, polish then set it aside for at least a year and write another story. Writing one story doesn’t usually teach a person to write professionally. And do not rush to self-publish too early on, either, for the same reason. A goldsmith wouldn’t expect to sell the first piece he made, nor should a writer – well, not until it’s been re-polished thoroughly and other stories written.
That is good advice, we all know that this takes time but we are too impatient.
Worst writing advice you ever received?
Plan your story ahead. I can’t and trying only give me a boring outline of a story that will never work. It’s when my characters come to life in the setup stage that my stories come to life. Some writers can plan ahead and some can’t, some can half-plan. We’re all different. It’s the finished product that counts, not how you get there. If you need to stand on your head in a corner to write, do it. Whatever it takes.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Buying books by other authors – you can learn from them both what to do and what not to do. You need to read a lot to understand what makes good fiction. So anyone who wants to be a writer and doesn’t read doesn’t make me want to read their efforts.
Do you have a favourite author and why?
I have several favourite authors, but it was Georgette Heyer who inspired me to become a writer. And Anne McCaffrey who taught me to use my imagination as vividly as possible.
What are you reading now?
Frances Brody – the Body on the Train. She write Miss Marple-esque detective stories set in the 1920s which hang together well, with a central group of characters who also seem real.
What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
Georgette Heyer, CJ Cherryh, Nora Roberts, Robyn Carr, Angela Thirkell, Jean Stubbs, Jodi Thomas, Anne McCaffrey, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury – and countless others. I read 3 novels a week, give or take and always have done.
Who is the author you most admire in your genre?
I’m not sure I quite fit into a genre. I get called a saga writer, but a very wise and experienced editor once said I fit squarely between sagas and straight historical novels. See the list of authors for my favourites.
Favourite quote (doesn’t matter the source)
“Writing a novel is hard work . . . You have to work long and hard even to produce a bad one. This may help explain why there are so many more bad amateur poets around than there are bad amateur novelists . . . any clown with a sharp pencil can write out a dozen lines of verse and call them a poem. Not just any clown can fill 200 pages with prose and call it a novel. Only the more determined clowns can get the job done . . . Let’s not kid ourselves. It does take self-discipline.” Lawrence Block “Writing the Novel” p11
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult?
At 3 a week, I’ve loved thousands of books.
Favourite book when you were a kid
Enid Blyton’s Adventure series.
What famous author do you wish would be your mentor?
None – not because I’m perfect, but because you learn most by doing i.e writing and by reading other authors’ work IMHO. Writing is something you DO not something you talk about, I think.
Anna Jacobs: Historical stories: ‘Perfect Family’ , ‘A Daughter’s Journey’ (8/19), ‘A Widow’s Courage’ (4/20 Modern stories: ‘Bay Tree Cottage’, ‘Changing Lara’ , ‘Christmas in Peppercorn Street’ (10/19), ‘Finding Cassie’ (1/20)
A mixed bag of books this month most of which were chosen on a whim because the title appealed, or the cover appealed.
Telling Tails by Sofie Ryan. A Second Chance Cat Mystery
An easy and enjoyable read and luckily you don’t need to have read any of the other books in the series to keep up with Sarah Grayson and her Second Chance furniture store and staff. The crew includes Elvis the rescued black cat-( I have a soft spot for black cats,) as well as Sarah’s family and friends.
Rose a sprightly senior swears she saw a murder, but the local police don’t believe her, suspecting it might have been a medical episode. Sarah is convinced that Rose did see something and so the investigation begins. The wife of the man presumed missing says her rat of a husband is very much alive, that he’s left and was having an affair and has cleared out their joint bank account.
Sarah can’t help thinking something feels wrong and when Rose is given a clean bill of health, the investigation begins in earnest.
Thirteen and Underwater by Michelle Weitering.
I would give it six stars if I could – This is a really brave book, raw and honest. This isn’t a story of a perfect family and perfect motherhood, rather a story of how a family had to learn to cope with extreme anxiety and mood swings when their previously happy little boy developed them. Bullying at school can have dreadful consequences. Through it, all compassion and mother love shine through-Michelle talks of her heartbreak and the mistakes she made. She doesn’t talk about the courage it took to plaster a smile on her face and get through day after day. She doesn’t comment when the child she loves is screaming at her and saying he hates her. Yes, this is a scenario which affects the whole family, what they can do, where they can go for help? But the mother is at the centre of this, questioning herself, what shall I do, did I do right, did I do wrong? The strength of the book is how she shows us her expectations of herself and the reality where she fails to measure up to the standard, she sets herself. Luckily, Michelle found the help she and her family needed and in telling her story she is wanting to help and encourage others that there is hope.
The Confession Club by Elizabeth Berg.
I saw a recommendation for this book somewhere and the concept intrigued me. What it hadn’t mentioned was that this was part of a sequence of books, but luckily that didn’t matter. The basic premise is that over time the monthly supper club in Mason, Missouri transforms after one woman’s revelations and becomes the Confession Club. Sharing secrets helps bond the women on a deeper level and many of us will recognise our own failings, deep insecurities and regrets. A second chance at love beckons for one, but will that too be a cause for regret?
Jacob’s Room is Full of Books by Susan Hill.
A year of reading from this talented author. It is so intriguing to peer over someone’s shoulder and see what they read, much like browsing someone else bookshelves. She is so clear and delightful to read, describing places and animals’ scenery and skies. Opinionated, idiosyncratic and so enjoyable., reminds me of books forgotten, books to add to my ever-expanding reading list. Now to trace her book Howard’s’ End in on the landing.
Sixty Summers by Amanda Hampson
I gained one impression of the book from its cover and blurb, which didn’t in my opinion quite relate to the book I was reading. I had anticipated a light, easy read and instead got a book that was far more insightful about the regrets of midlife than I had expected.
I suppose few of us reach middle age without regrets for what is, or what might have been. Can a return to the places from past change that? The three women, Maggie, Rose and Fran’s trip gets off to a bumpy start wondering the friendship can be reignited. Unexpected events break down barriers and each women’s problems or secrets are revealed.
Cold Earth by Ann Cleeves.
I grabbed this book with enthusiasm, not realising that it was number seven in this popular series. It didn’t matter, the story gripped me anyway. Of course, I came to Shetland via the popular TV series starring Douglas Henshall as Jimmy Perez. I was momentarily startled to read in the book of his dark hair and darker skin. I enjoy both the series and the books accepting that there are differences. In both though, Jimmy is polite, persistent and thoughtful. He’s not one to barge in shouting. He’s a man who observes and thinks and then acts. The story kept me guessing to the end as various people emerged as possible suspects. I will be sad to see both the series and the end of the books, but I respect what the authors said about realism. Just how many murders can you have on Shetland?
Reflections by Marcia Willett.
Like many of Marcia ‘s books Reflections is like sitting down with old friends and catching up where they are in their lives. The plot has enough bite to make it interesting. Cara newly widowed is staying with her brother Max and his wife in Sidcombe, Devon. Recent visitor Cosmo is a charmer and he’s attracted to local girl Amy, but is he all that he seems? Cara senses there is more to Cosmo than he’d like to reveal. Sam newly down from university and ready to start a career in the navy isn’t entirely certain about his choice. By the end of the summer, new choices may be made and old secrets revealed .
Hi, Norman, It’s great to be chatting such a versatile children’s author I must ask, with your surname, do you have Viking ancestry. Some. My great-great-grandfather arrived in Australia from Denmark during the 1850s gold rush in Ballarat, and my grandfather grew up in Coolgardie in the Western Australian goldfields early in the 20th century. […]
Hi, Norman, It’s great to be chatting such a versatile children’s author
I must ask, with your surname, do you have Viking ancestry. Some. My great-great-grandfather arrived in Australia from Denmark during the 1850s gold rush in Ballarat, and my grandfather grew up in Coolgardie in the Western Australian goldfields early in the 20th century. I’ve always like Norse myths and legends, though, and think Vikings were a little misunderstood. J They can’t really have been that bad. Can they?
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I read, of course, mostly historical fiction, and I love old black & white movies and Westerns, and I love travelling and photography. I am happiest tramping around the ruins of a medieval castle or exploring a smugglers’ village, with my camera running red hot.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I can’t answer that – I never grew up! No, I wanted to be Errol Flynn, swashbuckling star of Captain Blood, as well as a bunch of other pirate movies, and also Robin Hood and General Custer. I also wanted to be a Lieutenant in the US Cavalry, a Sergeant in the French Foreign Legion and a Spitfire Pilot in the RAF in 1940. Oh, and a Highwayman, a gunslinger, the Saint, and when I was about 14, I fancied myself as F Scott Fitzgerald, as played by Gregory Peck in the bio of his life called Beloved Infidel. The idea of being a tortured literary genius appealed greatly at that age. Unfortunately, these days I am neither tortured nor a genius, nor even suave like Gregory Peck, or even Atticus Finch, more’s the pity.
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating? It is Sunday night, so Jan and I are in for a perfect evening. A long hot bubble bath with the steaming water up to our eyes, until we get wrinkly toes, then pizza and red wine while watching a British crime drama on the TV. What would I rather be eating? I’m happy with that, though a bowl of freshly-made pasta and Chianti while sitting on a terrace on a warm evening in Venice might be pretty good too.
Your hero? I have a lot of heroes, but especially my beloved Jan Nicholls. She is my biggest fan, but never reads anything I write until it is published, which is probably why we still get on okay. She is from Northumberland near the Scottish border where they breed them tough, but she is warm-hearted, kind, gorgeous, as sharp as a tack and incredibly funny. The poor woman is addicted to books, though, and spends a great time of reading and promoting books in her role as President the Children’s Book Council here in WA. Jan also likes travelling, so that fits in perfectly with me, and I admire how she has navigated us across the world in search of exciting places for me to write about.
Another hero is my mother, Barbara, who is kind and gentle but has a backbone of steel. She lived in Broome in the 1950s when it was a derelict shanty town so far from everywhere, and brought up four boys often by herself for long periods while my father was away working. She moved to Perth and had a successful career at Channel 9 and is still a stylish, enthusiastic world traveller at 86 years old.
Next on my list is Winston. I am a big Winston Churchill fan, though I am well aware of his flaws and significant errors and subsequent disasters. US broadcaster, Edward Murrow, said of him, “He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.” I hugely admire that ability he had. He stared down Hitler, ran the government, helped win WWII, and then went on to write 30 books and win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? My father and my grandparents. You never really get to say goodbye properly, so one lovely last evening with them would be wonderful. I still have so much I would have liked to share with them and so much still to learn. They were all great storytellers too, and I would have felt warm and safe and loved being in the same room with them again entertaining me with their tales of our family from long ago.
Now to questions about writing. I think readers and writers alike are fascinated by how writers write, and how they get their ideas.
What time of the day do you usually write? I am scatty and erratic, hugely disorganised, and away-with-the-fairies half the time, so there is no pattern to my writing day. My latest manuscript, The Smuggler 3: Dragon’s Blood, was written under a palm tree by a pool in Phuket using an old leather-bound notebook and a fountain pen. It was only the first draft, but I got so much written with no electronic distractions and no reason to stop other than the need for a quick swim occasionally.
What is the hardest part of writing for you? Revising and polishing. I find researching the life and times of my characters and settings and then writing the plot reasonably enjoyable, but the constant need to turn out half-decent sentences while making sure the meaning is crystal clear and exciting at the same time is a real challenge for me. I need to keep reminding myself not to include every single detail I have uncovered during the research, but to concentrate more on the hero’s journey and their interaction with the other characters. Historical books often overload the minor details of the past, so the reader gets bogged down, and then fed up, and loses sympathy with the hero, and that can be fatal.
What is your work schedule like when you are writing? My schedule is pure chaos. Sometime I’ll spend all day procrastinating, while others I’ll be on a roll and write like a demon all day, ignoring everything and everyone in the real world around me. Other days, it will be four hours before I get bored with myself. Ideas come at all times of the day and in odd places, so I have a box full of napkins, slips of newspaper, notebooks and movie tickets with random words and sentences hastily scribbled on them.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk? I tend to over-reference old movies, TV shows, books I read in the past, and even jokes, sometimes completely inappropriately for the dire situations in which I have placed my characters. I am also on the lookout for humour in every case, which can be very annoying when Red, for instance, is seconds away from being eaten by a monster Tiger shark or being fired on by blood-thirsty pirates.
Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say? Not too much. I do get great feedback from kids when I am giving school talks, and teachers often tell me how much their students enjoy my books. I did once get the best letter, though. It read, “Dear Mr Jorgensen, I know you don’t make much money from your writing, but rest assured, you are bringing great joy to millions of children all around the world.” Poor deluded fool they must have mistaken me for J.K Rowling.
I am guessing your readership is predominantly boys, am I right? I had imagined that was the case, but I am continually being proven wrong. Jack’s Island is studied and enjoyed in many girls’ schools, and I keep hearing that girls seem to like my character, Red Read, the teenage hero of The Smuggler’s Curse and The Wreckers’ Revenge. Several girls have asked for more romance in the sequels.
We both laugh and I suggest a comprise. Maybe you can write a choose your own adventure book to satisfy both boys and girls? Quick as a flash he comes back with ‘Choice one -Kiss the girl. Choice two -Jump overboard.’
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special. Red Read, son of Mrs Read who owns The Smuggler’s Curse Hotel in Broome, is my favourite. His mother sells him as a cabin boy to Captain Black Bowen, a notorious smuggler. Red is just like 12-year-old me, except he is brave, fearless, athletic and resourceful, unlike me at 12 who was a snivelling coward and none of those things. He handles everything I was too scared to do like he is a full-on junior swashbuckler. And after all his hair-raising adventures, he ends up very rich, also unlike me.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions? I don’t imagine so. You’d have to be pretty good at faking it. There is a saying in writing circles, “No tears from the writer, then there will be none from the reader.”
You’ve written children’s picture books and middle-grade fiction genre. Do you have a preference? I prefer mid-grade by far. Picture books are sooo difficult to write. The industry standard for them is 600 – 800 words over 32 pages, and trying to get the story that fills your head into so few words is nigh on impossible. Picture book stories are also told using a mixture of words or pictures, but not both, so your words are often cut as the illustrator takes over. If your text reads, “It was a dark and stormy night,” and the illustrator paints a dark and stormy night, then your carefully chosen words become redundant and get cut.
With middle-grade, you can create more elaborate plots and landscapes and explore inside your characters’ heads. You are also leaving a lot more to the reader’s imagination.
How do you decide whether it will be a longer book or a picture book? I see my stories in pictures in my head, just like watching a movie with a soundtrack and all, but some adventures will be far too long for 32 pages, so have to be turned into 60 to70,000 words instead. Interestingly, the three illustrators I have worked with, Allan Langoulant, Brian Harrison-Lever and my good friend, James Foley, have all had better pictures in their heads that I did, so, occasionally, I feel okay about my words getting the knife or the Viking sword.
You mentioned a trip to the Shetland Isles – did that inspire The Last Viking?
The Last Viking was inspired by my nephew Ben Jorgensen adding horns to his bike helmet years before, and then by me overlooking James Foley’s portfolio where he had an illustration of a boy dressed as a medieval knight. Why not a Viking, I thought? When I approached James with the Viking boy idea, I suddenly had to come up with the story on the spot.
The Shetlands Islands did, however, inspire The Smuggler’s Curse. R.L Stevenson’s father had been a lighthouse builder, and Robert had stayed in the same room as me as the Sumburgh Lighthouse. Learning this, I tried writing a pirate story just like R.L.S while there. It soon developed into a smuggler story set in Cornwall in 1810 and then, eventually, into an Australian sea story relocated to Broome in 1898, at the suggestion of my publisher, Cate Sutherland at Fremantle Press.
How much input do you have with your illustrators? Normally, none. Editors like to keep writers and illustrators apart, and often they are in different states. Brian Harrison-Lever lived in Tasmania, and I didn’t meet him until he had finished all the artwork for In Flanders Fields, though we did exchange emails. I met Allan Langoulant once a week for dinner where he showed me his previous week’s work, but I had no say in it as it was already finished. With James Foley, we did spend time working together on The Last Viking, sharing jokes and me suggesting scenes and film references, and that seemed to work well as we had a shared love of movies. The Viking books are heavily movie influenced. James was able to add in a lot of his own humour, making my original plot and jokes much funnier.
Best writing advice? Don’t get carried away with the traditional, stereotyped idea of being a writer
Waiting for inspiration is for amateurs. Instead, just begin.
Starving in a Paris garret, suffering from TB, drinking yourself to oblivion on Absinthe like many, shooting wild animals like Hemingway, or going on the road like Jack Kerouac will only distract you. Just sit, turn down the lights, and actually type in one word after another until you fill a page, polish it, then do it again the next day until you fill another page. After a year, you will have 365 pages which should be enough for a book. That is advice from John Steinbeck, not me.
Worst writing advice you ever received? A teacher who read the manuscript told me to change the name of the title of In Flanders Fields as kids won’t know what it means, she said. Luckily, I ignored her as the book is still in print 17 years later.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer
My Lamy fountain pen from Germany and my Chinese fountain pen called The Black Dragon, the same name as the schooner in my latest books. I just had to buy it with a name like that. Mostly, though, every dollar I ever spent on airfares has not been wasted. I have visited every place my books are set as I believe it is important to be able to describe the settings in detail, down to the smell of the drains, the feel of the sand between your toes and the sound of the monkeys screeching in the jungle trees.
How many unpublished/ half-finished books do you have?
Dragon’s Blood: Red 3 (Upper Primary Novel)
Sons of the Desert: The Journal of Harry White (YA Novel)
This Pen for Hire (Adult Comedy Novel)
The Illuminator’s Apprentice (Picture Book)
The Goldminer’s Son (Picture Book)
The Gr8 Escape (Picture Book)
Castaways on a Dessert Island (Picture Book)
Advance Australia Unfair (Picture Book)
The Final Mission of a Flying Tiger (Picture Book)
Mary Christmas (Lower Primary Novel)
Who is your favourite author, and why?
My favourite authors are Leslie Thomas who wrote The Virgin Soldiers and Dangerous Davies and Tom Sharpe, author of Wilt and Blott on the Landscape, both British writers who generally wrote satirical comedy novels about ordinary people living suburban lives while mayhem surrounds them. When Leslie died in 2014 and Tom in 2013, I was shocked at how saddened I was each time as if I had suddenly lost a part of me and a whole chunk of my early reading years. I didn’t know either of them, though I met Leslie Thomas briefly at a book signing after a talk he gave here in Perth. He answered ALL my questions then afterwards signed my book, “To my greatest fan, Norman”, and he wasn’t the least bit wrong.
I also love the work of Bill Bryson and have read every word of his. We are much the same age, and his gentle sense of humour matches mine exactly. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America, about him looking for the small-town America of the old movies, is funny but also so sad as he slowly comes to realise that it has been lost and the towns have been devastated by enormous Walmart’s, huge car parks, endless fast-food joints, closed factories, empty shops and despair. His most successful book, Notes From a Small Island, about him revisiting the places he went when backpacking around Britain in the 1970s, is a joy to read. He gave his humour free rein, and I loved it, as I did with all his other books. He has since written 20 more.
What are you reading now? As usual, I have several books on my bedside table. This week it is Grant, a massive doorstop of a biography of General Ulysses S Grant, the US Civil War leader and President, by Ron Chernow. There is also The Last Dickens by Mathew Pearl an exciting books about copyright piracy in the 1870s, Mrs Kelly by Grantlee Kieza, about Ned Kelly’s mother, and to my absolute delight, an advance copy of Goldfields’ Girl by my great friend Elaine Forrestal just arrived this morning. I am really looking forward to reading this one.
What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
Robert Louis Stevenson. The Smuggler’s Curse has Treasure Island and Kidnapped all over it. I even called a character Bosun Stevenson in his honour.
I belong to the Society of Writers and Illustrators here in Western Australia, and I am always amazed at the quality of the books that our members produce. I admire so many of them as we really do have some remarkable talent in Perth.
In my genre, closest to my style of recent stories in John Flanagan, who wrote the Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband series. His historically-based, overly-brave teenagers sometimes seem a lot like my young characters
Favourite quote (doesn’t matter the source)
“If you are going through hell, then it is probably best to keep on going.”
Or maybe… “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.”
Both quotes are by Winston Churchill.
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult
Dissolution by CJ Sansom. It is a historical novel (of course) about a lawyer called Mathew Sheldrake in the times of King Henry VIII when he set up the Church of England and destroyed the monasteries and abbeys across England. Samson captures the life and times of pots medieval Britain so well that you feel positively grimy after reading his work. He has since written a series about Sheldrake, all equally as good and just as grubby.
Favourite book when you were a kid Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, although Enid Blyton and Biggles were favourites when I was younger.
What famous author do you wish would be your mentor? John Steinbeck, who wrote The Grapes of Wrath. He was the first writer to keep me awake all night reading. He wrote with such compassion for his characters who were based on real people suffering in the Great Depression, as well as perfectly capturing a sense of place of an American landscape destroyed by drought, greed and economics. His writing is so flawless and seemingly effortless that you do not even notice the writing style as he has so successfully carried you away with the fates of his characters.
What are you working on now? I am researching for a book called In Search of Constable Jack Kelly, Brother of the Outlaw Ned Kelly. Ned’s youngest brother, Jack, was a world-famous circus star performing stockwhip tricks and stunt riding for Wirth’s Circus in the early years of the 20th century. For a few years, he was, almost unbelievably, even a member of the Police Force in WA where he worked taming wild horses. After that, he left for the USA where he joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and then went onto a glittering career in England and then South America.
Do you enjoy school visits? I do about 120 school visits a year and usually enjoy them very much, especially with kids in upper primary classes. They typically are so enthusiastic and not yet self-conscious like their older school mates, and so pepper me with questions. My book, Jack’s Island, about my father’s experiences as a kid during WWII is studied in depth by many schools and, for some reason, the kids want every episode in it to be true. It mostly is true though sometimes exaggerated, and I find it fascinating seeing what sections appeal or capture the imaginations of the readers. School visits are also essential for trying out chapters on the potential audiences to see their reactions. Frequently, some instant editing takes place as I read aloud, and pages are mentally slashed and burnt.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me- I have really enjoyed talking with you and I am sure you have gained new readers eager to share in an adventure or two.
Here is a list of all Norman’s published books and awards