Wednesday, 30 December 2020

What day is it again?

 Oops - with all the days running into each other over the holiday, I kind of lost track that it was Wednesday. 

Better late than never. 

My Christmas was quiet. Not how I have spent it for the last five years, and not how I hope to spend it next year, but I expect that is true of many people in 2020. I did get some writing done - I don't think I'm going to have the first draft of Riviera book 3 done by the end of the year, but it is coming along. 

It's traditional to round up your achievements and resolutions at this time of the year. Well - I finally finished the PhD and got a new book out, and was very briefly an international best seller, so the year was not all bad. I'm not big on resolutions. I won't be doing dry January, because I don't drink these days. My liver has not forgiven me for the surgery four years ago. I have gained a few pounds so I will have to do battle with them at some stage. I'm hoping that more walking, when the weather is better and the days are longer, will help. I've signed on for a few courses, so you might hear a bit more about them in the next few weeks. The big thing on my agenda is that I would really like to have two new Riviera books out next year. As you know one is on the way, and I very much want to write the one set around Halloween that has been buzzing in my brain for a while. I'm not at all sure that I will be able to do it in a timescale to please my publisher though, so we shall have to see. 

We can but try. 

Friday, 25 December 2020

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Summer on the way!

 We've just passed the solstice, which always cheers me up as now the days will begin to get longer again. About 2 minutes a day. I gather. At the moment Wales is wet, grey and locked in. My morning walks are pretty much grey sky, grey sea, grey sand. Some sunshine would be nice. Just saying.

I'm having to manufacture it. Book 6 set on the Italian Riviera, is progressing slowly. I had a bit of a whirlpool at what would be the middle, with a couple of scenes going round in circles and the heroine's motivation getting a bit scrambled, but it is sorted now, I think. I've got about 65,000 words, rough estimate, as I write first draft longhand, so we have about 30,000 to go and I have to sort out a mystery and a love affair, in that space. We've just had a little scene that arrived this morning which will fill up a plot hole that I didn't realise was looming. There would have been a very long and trailing loose end otherwise. 


Life is quiet, as it is for most of the country at the moment, but I have some Christmas food and usually spend the day writing, so that will not be anything new. 

Do you think I can complete that 30,000 word by the end of the year? I'm not sure, but it is a goal, and it would be nice. Then the typing and editing begin!!!!!

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

A Christmas Surprise - Cosy Christmas Treats

 



My publishers, Choc-lit, are known for their Christmas books and several have been published in the last few weeks, but there was one last surprise on the way - a volume of short stories and flash fiction from twenty of the Choc-lit and Ruby authors that was released on Monday. Many of the stories are Christmas themed, but there are other types as well. Some are new, some have appeared previously  in the publisher's newsletter. The e-book is available from Amazon, priced 77p, and the proceeds are going to Shelter. Buy HERE  

I've got a little something in there - it's a treat the was published a few years ago when What Happens at Christmas was released. It's the very last one in the book. Set on Christmas day, based very loosely on a real life event and with a rather naughty ending! 

Ruby author Jan Baynham has two completely new stories in the anthology and the second one gives us a glimpse of the kind of Christmas her characters from Her Mother's Secret might be spending. I've invited her on to the blog to tell us about the research she  did. Over to you, Jan: 

When I was asked to write a short story for the Ruby and Choc Lit anthology, Cosy Christmas Treats, I began to wonder what Christmas would be like for my character Alexandra in Her Mother's Secret when she spent her first Christmas in Greece. The story entitled, Christmas Surprises on Péfka, is a stand-alone but those who have read my debut novel will know that most of the story is set on the fictional island off the Peloponnese.

In the past, the Greek people didn’t use Christmas trees to adorn their houses. An old and very traditional decoration is a shallow wooden bowl with a piece of wire dangling along the rim. On this wire hangs a small wooden cross with a sprig of basil wrapped around it. Once a day someone, usually the mother, dips the cross and basil into some holy water and uses it to sprinkle in each room of the house. This ritual is believed to keep the Kallikantzaroi, the Greek Christmas goblins, away from the house. While this is still the case throughout many regions, Christmas trees have been rising in popularity over the past few centuries. Over the years, the Christmas tree was integrated into the local culture and now the Greeks decorate fir trees in their homes and in squares

The Christmas season in Greece begins on December 6th, which is Saint Nikolaos day, and ends on January 6th with the Feast of the Epiphany. As this is a maritime country, the Greeks traditionally decorate boats for Christmas. This custom survives today in seaside towns and islands, where people decorate Christmas boats in the central squares. Saint Nikolaos is the patron saint of sailors and fishermen. It is said he worked hard to save sailors from the angry seas. Especially on the islands, you will see boats decorated with blue and white lights.

‘To the left of the quayside, she noticed a large sailing ship where the full sails were festooned with tiny lights sparkling like diamonds against the indigo sky as well as the hull of the ship and its tall mast at the top of which was an illuminated cross.’

On Christmas Eve, children often go out singing kalanda (carols) in the streets, travelling from house to house. They play drums and triangles as they sing. Sometimes, following a very old custom on the Greek islands, they carry model boats which are filled with nuts painted gold. If they sing well, they will be rewarded with nuts, sweets, dried figs and sometimes money

On Christmas Eve, too, it is traditional to bake Christ’s Bread, Christopsomo, ready to eat on Christmas day. It is a round, slightly sweet, light, buttery bread, infused with cinnamon, orange, and cloves. The top is decorated with a cross. A knife is never used to cut the bread as it is considered to be harmful to the good spirit that Christopsomo symbolises. Other traditional Christmas sweets are melomakarona, honey-dipped and often stuffed with nuts, and kourabiedes, dusted with powdered sugar and very white.

‘Plates of baklava and oblong shaped melomakarono covered in chopped walnuts were laid out on the work units, along with the customary Christopsomo, the special Christmas bread... The smell of cinnamon, oranges and cloves hung in the warm air.’

These are just a few of the many Christmas traditions I read about. The Greek people have so many interesting customs and traditions; it was fascinating for me to find out how some of those ancient traditions are celebrated alongside the new in modern Greece.

Kala Christouvenna. Merry Christmas to you all.

A big thank you, Evonne, for inviting me onto your blog.

*****


You can buy a copy of Her Mother's Secret in e-book or audio HERE


Originally from mid-Wales, Jan lives in Cardiff with her husband. In October 2019, her first collection of short stories was published.  As well as writing shorts and flash fiction, she writes full length novels where she can explore her characters in further depth and delve more into their stories. Her books deal with family secrets and explore the bond between mothers and daughters. Set in the last year of the 60s, her debut novel, ‘Her Mother’s Secret’, takes you to sun-drenched Greece, her favourite holiday destination, and was published by Ruby Fiction in April 2020. This was followed by ‘Her Sister’s Secret’ in September 2020.

Having joined the Romantic Novelists Association in 2016, she values the friendship and support from other members and regularly attends conferences, workshops, talks and get togethers. She is co-organiser of  Cariad, her local RNA Chapter. 


You may find out more about Jan here:

Twitter: @JanBaynham   Twitter    

Facebook: Jan Baynham Writer     Facebook    

Blog: Jan’s Journey into Writing Blog        

 





Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Something's Coming ...

 It has been a week of domestic drama - breakdown of heating and hot water and a very cold weekend, and a toilet that refused to stop flushing at 6 am in the morning. The heat is fixed and the loo hopefully today. In the meantime the WIP is progressing, and I have committed my first murder, so it's all good. I've been to a couple of zoom Christmas parties - and wore my Christmas jumper. Bought as a result of peer pressure, I have to say, but it is warm and cheerful so I've put the Bah Humbug! on the back burner. I've also written my essay for my folklore class - spooky stuff that will be appearing in future manuscripts and ordered a pile of books from the local indie bookshop which should keep me amused over Christmas. Some of them are for research for the next WIP! 

On the subject of Christmas and books, you might have seen the teasers from my publisher about a little surprise that is on the way from the Choc-lit and Ruby authors. 




It's arriving soon, and next week on the blog I'll be talking about it with Ruby author Jan Baynham. 

And don't forget, if you fancy a Christmas book that is a little different What Happens At Christmas is my festive romantic suspense from 2018. Not so many romantic Christmas books feature a kidnapping and attempted murder along with the carols and the mince pies.  If you've not read it yet, you can get it in e-book, paperback and audio. Buy HERE

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Christmas is Coming! Talking to Morton S Gray about her Christmas Novel (with a Guest appearance from Ryan the Seagull)

Christmas is creeping ever nearer and with it a slew of Festive stories. Choc-lit have a selection that are real crackers (Sorry!) This week I'm talking to fellow Choc-lit author Morton S Gray about her Christmas Novel Christmas at the Little Beach Cafe. 


Welcome Morton.

Choc-lit have quite a tradition of Xmas releases and this is your second - what attracts you to the idea of writing a Christmas story?

I quite like the framework that a Christmas story gives to you. There is a structure to Christmas and Christmas events in my fictional seaside town of Borteen in particular and that also gives a structure to my stories. I’ve literally just finished the first draft of my Christmas 2021 novel as I wrote some of it as part of an annual November writing challenge to write 50,000 words in the month.

Also, I love Christmas decorations, Christmas events, not that we’ll be getting many of those this year unfortunately, and the whole present buying, tree decorating, mince-pie eating traditions too.

You've chosen to set Christmas at the Little Beach Café in your fictional town of Borteen - the coast is a more unconventional location for a Xmas book - what were the plusses and minuses? (And will there be snow?)

I may be biased but I love my fictional seaside town. It actually feels more than fictional to me now, as I know all of the residents, buildings and roads. I walk around it in my head as I’m writing and have very clear images of the story I’m writing in that context.

One of my main reasons for having a seaside location was to indulge myself as I love nothing better than being on a beach, although at the moment I live near to Worcester, which actually features as the home city of my hero in this book, and you can’t really get further away from the sea in England than Worcestershire.

The bonuses of a seaside setting are the extra dynamics afforded by the beach, the cliffs and the sea. I guess the disadvantages are that Borteen is a small town and I have to keep track of all of the residents all of the time – I have a Borteen Bible (a list of all of the buildings and residents) together with a map. There are usually snow flurries and a little bit of snow, but I’ve not seen such heavy snow falls as we get inland on the coast – maybe a blog reader can contradict me?

Living five minutes away from the beach, I can confirm that we rarely get heavy snow. It does happen, but not often.

Can you tell us a bit about your hero and heroine - without giving too much away, as your heroine is a 'mystery woman' - what made them the right choices for a Christmas book?

The concept for this book came to life with an imagined scene of a man catching a woman’s hat on the beach. I’ve mentioned above that I have visual images of scenes from my books and this was a very clear picture. After that I was faced with who these two people are, why are they in Borteen and what backstory could draw them together and/or keep them apart.

In Christmas at the Little Beach Café the hero is Justin Sadler, the town solicitor, who has particular reasons to hate Christmas and the heroine is a woman who has just lost her mother and is in Borteen to try to escape her stepbrother who objects to her mother’s will. She loves Christmas and is determined to bring Christmas to Justin’s world.

You like to mix your romance with a touch of mystery - how did you handle that for a Christmas book?

To write a book, I have to be interested in the story. I like there to be romance in my novels, after all it makes the world go round, but I have to have some intrigue or puzzle that I solve for myself as I write the book. You mentioned that Christmas at the Little Beach Café is my second Christmas story, well to give you an example of what I mean, the first Christmas novella, Christmas at Borteen Bay starts with the local policeman finding a body on the beach – not probably what you’d associate with a Christmas romance? Then I had to work out the identity of the body and why it came to be on the beach in the first place.

Were there any vital touches that you felt had to be included in the book to make it feel Christmassy - I'm back to the snow again.

Borteen has a lot of Christmas events – a town Christmas tree dressing and lights switch on, carol singing, Christmas fair, etc. With all of the shops there is plenty of scope for Christmas window displays and lights too. You also need at least a few mince pies and some Christmas music!


How important are a supporting cast for the story? (I have to say I have fallen heavily for the seagull on the cover - does he have a role?)

Ah, Ryan the seagull! Yes he does! My hero talks to the seagull on at least one occasion when he’s upset.

Christmas at the Little Beach Café is my fifth book set in Borteen, so I’ve managed to amass a fair number of regular residents for the town. The secondary characters are vital to the story as they provide the backdrop to any action the main characters are involved with. For me they also add to the structure of the novel and make day to day life in Borteen more realistic.

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)

As I’ve already mentioned this year will be a bit different, but normally my husband spends a fair part of his working life abroad. His favourite Christmas song is “Driving home for Christmas” because he is usually driving back from an airport to begin his Christmas break.

We have a fairly traditional Christmas, trees up at the beginning of December, huge number of Christmas cards posted, family Christmas lunch (which thankfully aforementioned hubbie cooks), then long walks, Christmas games and a jigsaw and a relax from the freneticness of the rest of the year.

What can we expect next from you?

I have more Borteen novels to come. My sixth novel is already with my publisher Choc Lit and will hopefully be published in the Spring. I’ve just finished the first draft of my next Christmas book and there are at least another two Borteen books in various stages of completion which I need to finish.







Biography for Morton S. Gray

Morton lives with her husband, two sons and Lily, the tiny white dog, in Worcestershire, U.K. She has been reading and writing fiction for as long as she can remember, penning her first attempt at a novel aged fourteen. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and The Society of Authors.

Morton previously worked in the electricity industry in committee services, staff development and training. She has a Business Studies degree and is a fully qualified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Reiki Master. She also has diplomas in Tuina acupressure massage and energy field therapy. She enjoys crafts, history and loves tracing family trees. Having a hunger for learning new things is a bonus for the research behind her books.

You can catch up with Morton on her  website  www.mortonsgray.com, on Twitter - @MortonSGray, her Facebook page – Morton S. Gray Author - Facebook https://www.facebook.com/mortonsgray/ and

Instagram -  Instagram https://www.instagram.com/morton_s_gray/



Morton’s latest release is Christmas at the Little Beach Café published as an e-book and audio download on 17 November 2020.

Run away to the little beach café this Christmas ...

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

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

You can buy Christmas at the Little Beach Café HERE






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.