Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Maybe it's starting to feel a bit like Christmas - talking to Kirsty Ferry about her festive book.

As everyone knows, I'm always reluctant to give up summer and sunshine, but the Christmas books on offer from my publisher, Choc-lit, are definitely something to enjoy. Today Kirsty Ferry is joining me to chat about her 2020 festive book, Holly's Christmas Secret. 



Welcome Kirsty. I've got some questions which I hope will disclose a few of the behind the scenes moments from writing Holly's story - and Sorcha's story too. 

Choc-lit has quite a tradition of Xmas releases and you have written several - what attracts you to the idea of writing a Christmas story?

I quite like the idea of a nice cheerful read you can pick up and relax with in between some busy and stressful moments. I do it myself, and I don’t really want to concentrate too hard on my reading at that time of year – something lighthearted and happy fits the bill. I’ve seen some quite miserable books on sale and I wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole. It’s like reading about Covid - who wants to do that? I want escapism and joy in my books, there’s enough awful stuff in the world as it is. My Pencradoc series has a few darker moments in the first two books (I do love me a bit of ghostly Gothic!) but Holly’s Christmas Secret is not dark at all.

You've chosen to set Holly's Christmas Secret in your fictional Pencradoc Estate - what are the plusses of using a location that is already familiar to the reader? Are there any minuses? 

I’ve made it a bit of a tradition that my Christmas books are part of an existing series, as lots of readers ask ‘what happens next’ and love reading about the places they know and already have a relationship with. It does make it a little easier for me too, as I have got to know the place so well, I can literally drop my characters straight into the location with their Christmas hats on, and away they go. I might have a problem with 2021, as the first book in my new series is as yet unwritten so we will have to see how that goes! It’ll be a new experience to try to do a Christmas book with no background, so to speak…

Your signature in writing romance is time slip - so we get two love stories for the price of one - will you tell us a bit about researching and writing about Christmas 1906? And about balancing the connections between the two strands of the book?

I had to pick 1906, as I knew I was leading up to Elsie Pencradoc’s story, who was eight in the last book. The timeline was solely based on Elsie’s age and the fact she’d be a young lady by 1906. I went down the Google rabbit hole of house parties and Edwardian Christmas parties and party games as I knew Elsie would well be up for that sort of thing. I’ve always loved the idea of the Bright Young Things and the big Edwardian social events they attended – sure, we might be a little way off that timeline, as the Bright Young Things were a group of  London aristocrats and socialites in 1920’s London, but to me Elsie fits in to that mould quite nicely – if a little ahead of her time. The rabbit hole also introduced me to the concept of the Dollar Princess, the name given to the American girls who were brought to England to marry titled young men, which was interesting yet rather shocking. I quite like the way the two stories dovetailed together. I’ve learned to write one thread first, then write the other one to interweave it in   - I have certain points where I know the two timelines have to merge (ie when they experience the ‘other’ story) and it’s a case of knowing where to put them, and trying to draw parallels along the way to make it kind of understandable why the modern day characters ‘fall’ into the story of the past.

 

Will you tell us a little about your hero and heroine - both sets - what made them the right choices for a Christmas book?

I introduced Elsie’s friend Holly as my historical heroine, and picked Sorcha who was a minor character in Lily’s Secret as my contemporary heroine. The readers would already be a little familiar with Sorcha, and her life leant itself very well to what I wanted to do with the book. Holly, being one of Elsie’s Bohemian arty friends, is completely different to the type of Society girl Elsie grew up with, and Holly’s story, to me, was exploring a little bit about a girl who was a wee bit outside her comfort zone but used it as a chance to live out a fairytale for the evening, and meet a likeminded soul in Noel. It was only a small leap of faith to make modern-day Locryn an antiques dealer, because that way he would also have a vested interest in the past – and in Pencradoc, as it turned out. Sorcha and Holly are both pretty much self-assured women who have a clear career goal in life, but maybe just need  a bit of a boost now and then, and obviously Noel and Locryn are the ideal men to fall in love with, and fall hard for, these two girls.

 

Were there any vital touches that you felt had to be included in the book to make it feel Christmassy - even though it is Cornwall, with a milder climate, will there be snow? 

There is snow! I did have to say well it might not lie long, but look, it’s here! I needed it to snow for the very last scene anyway, so I made it lie for a bit! There is festive baking and Christmas trees and descriptions of Christmassy things like writing cards, buying presents, telling ghost stories, and lots of lovely decorations – and mistletoe of course. I like to make my readers feel as if they’ve dropped into a magical, old-fashioned Christmas, when I do a Christmas timeslip – like one of those lovely jigsaws or prints you see depicting them. A writing tutor once told me you have five senses, use them all, so I always try to include scents in there as well. We all know how gorgeous a Christmas cake smells when it’s cooking, or the fresh, earthy scent of a real tree, or even the scent of frost and cold outside. It brings it all to life a bit more, somehow.

You have to be quick on your feet to manage two sets of lovers, but as this is part of a series, there will be other people that the reader recognises - and maybe some who will get their own books in the future? How important is the supporting cast for this story? 

As I’ve said, Elsie is going to have her own story – it’s a request many, many readers have sent my way – so I’m happy to say she will star in Pencradoc 4. It’s with Choc Lit now, so hopefully she can shock Society in the summer. And she is truly shocking for a woman of her time – but I can’t help loving her. The contemporary tale will focus on Coren and Sybill, characters who have been in the series since book 1, and again people who readers have asked to hear more about. They’ve never actually got together, despite everyone knowing they are ideal for one another and despite both of them having strong feelings for one another. This story might go some way to explain why it hasn’t happened yet and we explore a few more of their deepest secrets. I also move on Merryn and Kit’s story in a very happy way, which I hope people will like as well.

How do you expect to be spending the holiday? Do you have any special things that you always do, decorations that have been made or handed down, things you like to eat? (I'm always about the food) 

I honestly don’t know how I will be spending it. I can tell you what I hope to be doing, but as we all know, things can change so quickly in the current climate. My husband is scheduled to be at work, but hopefully my son will be home from Uni for Christmas, we’ll see our friends on Christmas Eve for our usual church carol service and follow that with Chinese takeaway and Muppet’s Christmas Carol on DVD, then put wine, mince pie and carrot out for Rudolph and Santa  (yes he’s 19 but I still make him do it!). We’re planning to have Christmas lunch with my parents if we can mingle households by then – prawn cocktail, turkey and all the trimmings (including my annual intake of sprouts and the fact my dad and I insist on Yorkshire puddings) and Christmas pudding, of course; and the afternoon will be spent eating chocolate and drinking prosecco in my pjs! I will also be eating my bodyweight in mince pies, and my favourite decorations will come down for the tree – a pom pom Santa and a pom pom owl I made when I was little, and a felt snowman I also made which my gran knitted a scarf and hat for. It still seems a long way off, but it’s not really, is it?!

 



Once upon a Cornish Christmas ...

It’s almost Christmas at the Pencradoc estate in Cornwall which means that, as usual, tea room owner Sorcha Davies is baking up a festive storm. And this year Sorcha is hoping her mince pies will be going down a treat at ‘The Spirit of Christmas Past’ exhibition being organised at the house by new local antiques dealer, Locryn Dyer.
But as Locryn and Sorcha spend more time together, they begin to uncover a very special story of Christmas past that played out at Pencradoc more than a century before, involving a certain ‘Lady’ Holly Sawyer, a festive dinner party and a magical secret encounter with a handsome author ...

You can click to by the book HERE



Kirsty Ferry is from the North East of England and lives there with her husband and son. She won the English Heritage/Belsay Hall National Creative Writing competition in 2009 and has had articles and short stories published in various magazinesHer work also appears in several anthologies, incorporating such diverse themes as vampires, crime, angels and more.

Kirsty loves writing ghostly mysteries and interweaving fact and fiction. The research is almost as much fun as writing the book itself, and if she can add a wonderful setting and a dollop of history, that’s even better.

Her day job involves sharing a building with an eclectic collection of ghosts, which can often prove rather interesting.

 

For more information on Kirsty visit:

www.twitter.com/kirsty_ferry
https://www.facebook.com/kirsty.ferry.author/





Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Becoming an international best seller!

This week was exciting, as for a short time I was an Amazon international best seller - all down to a special promotion for A Wedding on the Riviera that ran over the weekend. I guessed it wouldn't last, but it was an enormous ego boost while it did, and I now have a screen shot with one of those coveted little orange stickers. 



Now I'm hoping that people who took advantage of the offer and catapulted the book into the best seller list will also leave me a review, once they have read it. Is that too greedy?

The weekend helped to make up for the previous week  when I lost my internet connection for nearly the whole week and with it an awful lot of zoom sessions.  Not a happy bunny. 

The WIP has had a couple of days running like a train - I can only hope that it is in the right direction. Yesterday it did go around in circles for a bit, but I think I have straightened it out now, and I've written the first kiss.  I'm hoping I don't find I need to unwrite it later this morning! The body count has begun to creep up in a slightly alarming fashion. My villainess is rather  getting out of hand. That's not a spoiler, because the reader knows who she is from the beginning, although the hero and heroine don't. I do get a buzz from letting out my inner villainess. I've got a minor villain too and he is giving me a lot of fun. Should I be admitting that? 

The other good thing that has happened is that I got my certificate for my PhD, so I am now completely and utterly legitimate. 


Although 2020 has been a horrible year on so many levels, that certificate has brought the completion of many years of work and the fulfilment of an ambition I have held for a long time. It's also seen the publication of my fifth book - that brief best seller. If I'm counting my blessings, and I am, those are top of the list. I didn't get to graduate, or have a launch celebration for the book, or that long awaited holiday/research trip to the South of France, but 2020 will be memorable for those two achievements, high spots to be remembered when I hope other things about the year will be forgotten.  


NEXT WEEK - The Christmas book season is well under way now, and fellow  Choc-lit author Kirsty Ferry will be joining me to chat about her latest festive offering. 


Friday, 13 November 2020

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Reading in the Sunshine - even in November - chatting to Chris Penhall

If you're not quite ready to start on the Christmas books yet, you can still read about sunshine and colourful settings in winter, although sadly this is not in the UK! Today I'm  joined by Chris Penhall to talk about her two books set in Portugal - and the inspiration she took from visits she made there in November and February. 

Welcome Chris - good to have you here. 

Hi Evonne

Thanks for inviting me for a chat on your blog.

We both like to write books with a real sense of place, and I’ve had a think about why I enjoy using the landscape around the characters to help tell their story.


When I started to write my first novel, The House That Alice Built, which is set in Cascais near Lisbon, I remembered how I felt when we first arrived there one February, during Carnival week many years ago. We had come from a rather wet and cold UK to this vibrant, gorgeous place, full of brightness and colour and children wearing fancy dress everywhere  -  it was as if a light had been switched on. That feeling is what I wanted to convey in the book, so writing about how it felt and what it looked like seemed like  the most natural way to help tell Alice’s story.

I continued that in the sequel, New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun, and my senses were woken up again with a long weekend break in Lisbon, which reminded me of how stunning the city is, with the narrow hilly streets, colourful trams and pink, blue, yellow and white buildings. And as far walking along the River Tejo at night as the sun set in the west…well, that is a memory to truly treasure.

When I write about Alice sitting in the square in Cascais, I put myself there in my mind and describe what’s around me, as I do when she stands on a beach south of the river and tries to capture the colour of the sea so she can use it to design her jewellery.

I wrote a scene between Alice and Luis in New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun which took place in a fictional building in Lisbon. It was based on a visit I made to Casa De Alentejo last year on a very rainy November day. The entrance is fairly ordinary, but as you walk up the stairs it opens up to a beautifully tiled room - and I do love a tile! On that particular evening I heard haunting music drifting down from the floor above, and I followed it, to discover a chandeliered room full of people dancing to what sounded like fado. It was entrancing and I felt like I was in a film. So, of course, I used it in the novel.

I read many books and am inspired by a range of different authors, but I also love the cinema too. So, when I wrote my two novels, I think subconsciously I was conjuring up the locations as if they were in a film. Tim Burton’s 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland was virtually dripping with colour, as was the 2016 musical La La Land. Both are favourites of mine and had quite an impact on me. Do you remember the beautiful scene in the Planetarium or Emma Stone’s iconic yellow dress? But if I go right back to childhood, I have to say that Mary Poppins may well be to blame for my adoration of stunning palettes on screen. I don’t think I have ever lost the sense of wonder I felt as a little girl sitting in a cinema watching that story come to life in front of me.

There’s plenty of sunshine and heat and colour in The House That Alice Built and New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun. My next novel is set in the UK, but although some rain will fall, there won’t be much…

 

Thanks Chris. It's lovely to have some background for scenes from the books. Looking forward now too to the next one. That's one of the great things about being an author, you can make your own weather! 


The House That Alice Built

Home is where the heart is …



Alice Dorothy Matthews is sensible. Whilst her best friend Kathy is living it up in Portugal and her insufferable ex Adam is travelling the world, Alice is working hard to pay for the beloved London house she has put her heart and soul into renovating.
But then a postcard from Buenos Aires turns Alice’s life upside down. One very unsensible decision later and she is in Cascais, Portugal, and so begins her lesson in ‘going with the flow’; a lesson that sees her cat-sitting, paddle boarding, dancing on top of bars and rediscovering her artistic talents.
But perhaps the most important part of the lesson for Alice is that you don’t always need a house to be at home.

Available in e-book and audio on all major platforms HERE


New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun is the sequel to The House That Alice Built, the Choc-Lit Search for a Star-winning novel from 2019


Follow your yellow brick road ....

Alice Dorothy Matthews is on the road to paradise! She’s sold her house in London, got rid of her nasty ex and arranged her move to Portugal where friendship and romance awaits. All that’s left to do is find a place to call home.
But Alice’s dreams are called into question when complications with friends, work and new relationships make her Portuguese paradise feel far too much like reality.
Will Alice’s dream of a new home in the sun come true?

Available in e-book and audio on all major platforms HERE



Chris Penhall is the winner of the Choc-Lit Search for a Star competition, sponsored by Your Cat Magazine, with her debut novel, The House That Alice Built, published in 2019. The sequel, New Beginnings at the Little House in the Sun was published in August 2020.


Chris is an author and freelance radio producer for BBC Local Radio.

Born in South Wales, she has also lived in London and in Portugal, which is where both novels are set.. It was whilst living in Cascais near Lisbon that she began to dabble in writing fiction, but it was many years later that she was confident enough to start writing her first novel, and many years after that she finally finished it! She has just published her second book and is now working on her third.


A lover of books, music and cats, she is also an enthusiastic salsa dancer, a keen cook, and loves to travel. She is never happier than when she is gazing at the sea.

You can find more information about her on www.chrispenhall.co.uk
or follow her on Twitter: @ChrisPenhall
Instagram: christinepenhall
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChrisPenhallWriter


 




Wednesday, 4 November 2020

With special guest Jane Cable - talking about reality writing contests.

 I'm a great advocate for entering writing competitions, particularly for not yet published writers if there is feedback given on the entries. Even if you don't win, you get something for your efforts. In my own experience, entering big reality writing contests in the States, it's a lot of fun and nail-biting, and you learn a bit about self promotion too. In reality competitions, it's all about getting those votes in! I'm sure making the finals in those contests, even though I did not come anywhere near winning, helped me get noticed and finally got me a publishing contract. Reality contests are not just for unpublished writers though. Jane Cable, whose latest book, Endless Skies, is currently collecting some fabulous reviews, joins me today to talk about her experience of entering a reality contest that was being run in connection with the popular TV series, Escape to the Chateau. 

Over to you, Jane

It was one of those moments during lockdown; you see something, you act on it, then almost forget about it. A random spark of excitement in a world dominated by daily walks and, for me, churning out words towards a new book.

That random something was entering the Escape to the Chateau novel competition. The opportunity was posted in one of the Facebook groups I belong to, I had a suitable manuscript languishing so within minutes I had uploaded it, waving it on its merry way.

Jane above Chapel Porth
So imagine my astonishment when, months later, I received an email saying The Magic of Trevellas had been short-listed. And it was absolutely genuine surprise too. Rather belatedly I had to check it didn’t cut across any contractual relationships with my publisher, but all was well and I embarked on the popularity contest that is a public vote.

I pulled out just about every stop I could and must have added at least a hundred people to the Escape to the Chateau account list. But hundreds were not enough; people voted in their thousands and my book was not the lucky winner. 

But these big national competitions are great for profile – even if you don’t win. They put your name in front of a wider public and they give you something to post about on social media. Something different to say. And if the book does ever see the light of day, it has the name of the competition behind it.


This was undoubtedly a huge advantage for my debut novel, The Cheesemaker’s House. Way back in 2011 it reached the last four in the Alan Titchmarsh Show’s People’s Novelist competition and having that on the blurb – and a quote from one of the high profile judges on the cover – made all the difference in getting an indie book noticed in a crowded world.

It also gave me the confidence to pursue my dream. My writing had been noticed by the editorial team at Harper Collins; I’d won praise from the likes of Cathy Kelly and Jeffery Archer – and received sound advice from Sophie Hannah. I’d been on television twice and made my mother extremely proud.

So what for The Magic of Trevellas now? At the time I was short-listed my publisher was actually considering it, and although I withdrew it temporarily I might ask them to look at it again. But in the meantime they are already thinking about a series of books born out of my next title to be published, and in truth I think I would rather write those. But the Trevellas book is also the first of a series and it features a protagonist I am rather in love with, and have been flirting with for years. So perhaps, when other deadlines allow, I will write book two and see where that takes me. You never know, I might stumble across another competition by then.


Thank you, Jane, for sharing the experience with us. I'm sure I'm not alone in hoping that The Magic of Trevallas will be published one day. As I've mentioned, Jane's latest book, Endless Skies which is set in Lincolnshire not Cornwall and has deep roots, going back to World War Two, is out now. Jane's biography and the description of the book are below. 



 

Jane Cable writes romance with a twist of mystery and a nod over the shoulder to the past, and is currently published by Sapere Books. Although born in Cardiff (and thus the connection with Evonne) she now lives in Cornwall. Find out more about Jane at www.janecable.com or follow her on Twitter @JaneCable.

Her latest release, Endless Skies, is a contemporary romance with its roots firmly in World War Two:

After yet another disastrous love affair Rachel has been forced to leave her long-term position for a temporary role as an Archaeology Lecturer at Lincoln University. Rachel has sworn off men and is determined to spend her time away sorting her life out. But when one of her students begins flirting with her, it seems she could be about to make the same mistakes again...

She distracts herself by taking on some freelance work for local property developer, Jonathan Daubney. He introduces her to an old Second World War RAF base. And from her very first visit something about it gives Rachel chills…

As Rachel makes new friends and delves into local history, she is also forced to confront her own troubled past. Could a wartime love story have any bearing on her own situation? Could this time be different?

Click here to get the the book


 

 

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

The Magpie Mind

You'll probably have seen the signs or the tee shirts - 'Be careful, or I'll put you in my novel'. I'd never do that - I'd be too afraid of possible consequences to make places and people recognisable.  It all gets fed into the writer's mind though. And comes out eventually as a story. And writers are magpies - at least this one is - collectors of experiences, information, unconsidered trifles. You never know when they might come in handy. And then there are the questions - and sometimes the weird questions. At the moment I am looking for a friendly  Italian lawyer to help with some details about inheritance law. That's for a WIP, but there are also the off the wall ones, that occur in the course of a day. Could you strangle someone with dental floss? Could you get DNA from a  discarded contact lens? I discussed that one with my optician and he thought you probably could. If I ever want to use it, I'll need to check it though. Maybe it's just me? 

You can turn anything into a fact finding mission - exhibitions, talks, courses. As regular readers know, I have an academic streak. I'm not going anywhere near formal qualifications again - the PhD cured me of that - but I do love a good course. At the moment I'm enjoying Welsh folklore. That will definitely be coming out in a future book, or books. Anything of a slightly spooky nature attracts, although I'd never write horror. I've done countless creative writing courses, and a forensic science one which was, and remains, very useful, although the science  keeps moving on, and things have to be checked for the latest position. As I have mentioned, I'm currently resisting Egyptology. I've done foraging and baking classes, which will find their way into a book in due course.  

It keeps life fun - well, my kind of fun, and it all creates possibilities for the books. 

At the moment I'm doing a lot of reading on the Ligurian Riviera for the WIP. I've got some really good guide books and they are giving me ideas of things that I can include - little touches, like the kind of food I should be describing. A couple of weeks ago I did a post on themes and the way that I don't chose them, but they creep up on me. I've discovered that the WIP has justice and family/a sense of belonging as the themes. I'm also playing with the idea of Chinese Whispers - the way information becomes distorted as it is passed around. In this case it's about the last owner of my invented villa with the garden that is out of Sleeping Beauty. I'm having fun putting bits and pieces together that are sort of true, but which give a very different impression than the real story. 

Stop Press 

A Wedding on the Riviera is now available in audio, narrated by Dave Thorpe who did the narration for What Happens at Christmas. 

Next week

A number of friends have invited me on to their blogs in the last few week to publicise the new book and I'm delighted to say that I'll be hosting some guest posts in return. First up is Jane Cable, with some interesting things to say about reality writing contests. More next week. 


Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Staying at home - again.


Well, Wales is back in lockdown on Friday. No chance of any research trips further away than the bottom of the next street. Actually that's an exaggeration - but not much further than a walk down to the prom to look at the sea. I'm lucky that I have a park and the sea five minutes away. But the walls do close in at times. And research in lockdown has its own peculiar charms!

It's times like these that you need the Internet and the all powerful Zoom, which can actually open things up, even in lockdown. I chew my nails every time that it is not going to work, and I seem to have found at least six different ways to actually make the connection, but so far, so good. 

In the last week I have been/will be 'out' every night. I went to a bookshop talk about Halloween on Monday. It was in London, so I would not have been able to attend  in normal circumstances. Yesterday it was an RNA chapter - with members logging on from all over South Wales plus Italy and Norway! It was great to see everyone. Tonight I'm going to a British Library talk about Agatha Christie, provided I can find the link. That's London again. Tomorrow I have an evening class, but otherwise I would have been at the CWA Dagger Awards, which I probably wouldn't have been IRL.  Next week I have another set of talks and courses. I'm very tempted too by offers of a diploma in Egyptology that has appeared on my Facebook feed. Will I resist? 

In the gaps, there is writing research. The WIP is set in Portofino, and I have been able to find some really good videos to help me check on things that I remember from when I was able to visit. That's one of the things I mentioned when I was a guest on the Nut Press blog yesterday, talking to Kath and Squizzy about ways to research in lockdown - you can find it here if you would like to read it. 

Nut Press

Travel is the best and most fun way to research, but when you can't you just have to improvise.