My Review of Queen of Trial and Sorrow by Susan Appleyard #RBRT #FridayReads

Queen of Trial and Sorrow by [Appleyard, Susan]

 

I was given this book by the author as  a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT in exchange for a fair review.

 I gave Queen of Trial and Sorrow  4* out of 5*

 Book Description:

A B.R.A.G. Medallion winner, this is the story of Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of King Edward IV and the mother of the Princes in the Tower. As an impoverished widow, she was wooed and won by the handsome young king and believed her dreams had come true. But she was soon swept up in the War of the Roses, enduring hardship and danger as her husband struggled to keep his throne. When he died Elizabeth was unable to protect her family against the ruthless ambitions of the man he trusted above all others. It was the king’s brothers, the unstable Duke of Clarence and the loyal Duke of Gloucester, who would prove to be Elizabeth’s most dangerous enemies.

My Review:

 I really liked this novel. I like the author’s style of writing; told in first person point of view from Edward IV’s wife, Elizabeth, it is almost as though she is holding a one-way conversation with the reader. Although I found it a compact and exacting read that took a lot of concentration (I am a very slow reader) I enjoyed this interpretation of  Elizabeth Woodville’s life in Queen of Trial and Sorrow.  Every emotion resonates through each chapter and throughout all the years that we are following her; the happiness, the sadness, the fears and apprehensions. The main plot of her time, before, during  and after the Court years is threaded through with subplots of intrigues and politics.

There is no doubt whatsoever that an enormous amount of research has preceded the writing of this book; it’s a fascinating account of the era.

 The characters are multi-layered and some were ever-changing as time went by depending on the intrigues and striving for personal gains.  Both those characters who are portrayed as good and those shown as wickedly self serving are plausible; their actions believable – if at times inconceivably cruel or dangerous.

 The dialogue was written as I imagined was spoken at the time; the syntax and the language rang true to that period for me. And it was easy to follow which character was speaking even without the dialogue tags.

 The descriptions of the settings; the buildings and the places the characters moved around in, the clothes, the ceremonies were all very evocative. The only  problem  I had was that sometimes I felt these descriptions were a little laboured and ‘heavy’. I would have preferred a lighter touch; I thought these sections slowed the story down

However, this is a very small objection and I’m sure anyone who loves to read historical  novels will love Queen of Trial and Sorrow . I have no hesitation at all in recommended this book by Susan Appleyard

Buying links:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2qGE6EB

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2pGiV77

 

 

 

My Review of The Mistress of Blackstairs by Catherine Curzon #RBRT #FridayReads

#RBRT Review Team

mistrtes of blackstairs

I was given this book by the author as a member of #RBRT in return for an honest review

I gave The Mistress of Blackstairs 4*out of 5*

The Book Blurb:

Everyone thought she was dead…

In 18th century Covent Garden, Madam Moineau, is the mistress of Blackstairs, an establishment catering to the finest clients in London.

The mysterious, veiled lady of Paris was better known in the past as a former courtesan and went by the considerably less exotic moniker of Georgina Radcliffe, or Georgie to her friends.

In the winter of 1785 two men appear in Madam Moineau’s life.

Rogue artist Anthony Lake has recently returned from Europe. Lake is on his own assignment, searching the streets of London for the daughter he only recently discovered he had fathered.

He learns that the child’s mother is dead, brutally killed and Anthony finds himself on an unexpected mission to avenge his ex-lovers’ murder.

Nearly ten years after he left Madam Moineau, then known as Georgina, for dead, Viscount Edmund Polmear returns to London.

He has a new fiancé in tow and is soon to be found around Blackstairs, seeking a further mistress for his own pleasure.

His sudden appearance is a shock for the victim that he believed he left for dead, forcing Madam Moineau to face the horrors of her own past head on.

Anthony Lake and Madam Moineau’s lives become inevitably and inextricably entwined as they find themselves up against the fearsome and unforgiving Viscount Polmear.

My Review:

Although the story has a slow start for me, I thoroughly  enjoyed this book once I  persevered. Catherine Curzon has obviously researched the era well and I do like her style of writing.

 The characters come alive on the page with the excellent, drip-fed descriptions of their appearances. Even minor characters are well rounded and easily envisaged. I especially liked the many layered portrayal of the protagonist, Georgina Radcliffe aka Madam Moineau whose back story is revealed in a steady and interesting style throughout. And her foster daughter, Molly, shown to be a child of the streets, behaves just as I would expect; living where and how she exists. Interestingly she is portrayed with a mixture of pathos and humour. Anthony Lake; an empathetic and charming character, even though shown to be a  bit of a rogue, I liked as soon as he put on an appearance. As for the  Viscount Polmear…instantly dis-likeable, as all good antagonists should be.

A lot of the story is carried on dialogue which is strong and it is easy to follow who is speaking even without dialogue tags.

 Although it is a time- honoured and steadily paced plot (most of the time) of ‘ boy meets girl’ and initially disliking each other, the story is so multi-faceted and played out in such an intriguing way that I read it in one sitting.

I so wanted to give The Mistress of Blackstairs  five stars but there were a couple of disappointments for me.  I love novels that give me a sense of place through descriptions using all five senses and although the interior settings were brilliant I got little sense of the streets, of the places in London at the at time (except for the lovely descriptions of the fires on the corners of the streets), that the characters move around in.

 And, although the lead up to the ending is exciting, the actual denouement feels too rushed and, I’m afraid, a little predictable, although I accept it would be disappointing (for me anyway) if it hadn’t factually ended as it did.

 All in all though, an excellent read and one I have no hesitation in recommending to readers who enjoy historical fiction.

My Series of #FamilySaga Authors. Today With Clare Flynn #MondayBlogs

Over the next few months I’ll be chatting with authors who, like me, write Family Sagas, (#familysaga) a genre that can cover many countries, years  and cultures.I am thrilled that so many excellent writers have agreed to meet here with me. I’m sure you’ll find them as fascinating as I do. All I can say is watch this space. Your TBR list of books will be toppling over!!

image-1

 

Welcome Clare, thank you for being here today.

 Good to be here, Judith

Firstly, could you tell us what made you decide to write in your genre?

It was not a conscious decision. The story of my first novel, A Greater World, came first and just happened to be set in 1920 and then I decided I liked the distance and perspective history gave to me and so stuck with the genre for the next books. I won’t guarantee that I will always stick to historical though!

What other authors of your genre are you connected/friends with, and do they help you become a better writer in any way?

I have many author friends across many genres. I’m a member of ALLi, the Historical Novel Society and The Romantic Novelists Association and I have made some wonderful supportive friendships through all of these. Since moving to the south coast from London last year I have co-founded a critique group with three other authors and an editor and we meet fortnightly to share extracts from our works in progress and give each other feedback. I have found this absolutely invaluable. I hope my editor and beta readers will agree when they get the new book shortly!

A Greater World: A woman's journey

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

I think that might be quite a handicap as empathy seems to me to be a critical asset for a writer. I struggle to imagine how you would write about strong emotions of you have never experienced them. That said, you don’t need to have experienced the same emotions if you can empathise and imagine your way into them. Whether or not you feel the emotions it’s absolutely crucial that you are able to convey them vividly on the page. Fortunately I’ve not experienced some of the terrible misfortunes that befall my characters – but I hope that hasn’t prevented me bringing them to life in my books. As crime writers always say – you don’t have to commit murder to write about it.

Do you want each book to stand alone or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I like your description of creating a body of work with connections between each book. I definitely don’t write series – each of my books is a standalone with different characters, locations, periods and so on. But there are themes that connect the books – particularly the idea of displacement – many of my characters are uprooted from a comfortable life and circumstances and plunged into a new world and life – often with a big geographical shift. I also think there are connections n my style of writing and my way of telling a story that makes a book a Clare Flynn book.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Somewhere on an inaccessible floppy disc in a box in my study is a draft of the opening chapters of a thriller I started to write in 1992. I think it’s probably best that it stays there! I also have the first draft of my next book which I am polishing now, ready to get it out to my beta readers. I spend a lot of time “mulling” before I start to write and now if I start a book, I finish it!

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

I don’t find it particularly difficult. I’ve always been in the company of men – especially at work. I’ll leave it to my readers to judge how well I write them!

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I do some preliminary research before I begin – but very light touch. Most of my serious research is done during the writing process. I find reading around the subject helps balance my time and interest relative to writing. I read a lot of general background – for example about the era or the setting. I also do specific fact checking – mostly online – to check for anachronisms etc, to look for added colour – e.g. a song or a movie out in the year I am writing about. Place is very important. I have visited everywhere I write about and some instances revisited many times. For my second book, Kurinji Flowers, I returned to India to work on the final draft and stayed for a fortnight on a tea plantation living in a 1930s bungalow in the location where the book is set – basically reliving the life and walking in the footsteps of my main character. She was an artist so I also did a lot of painting and sketching of the kind of things she would have drawn. I based the Club in the book on a real one and assumed I would be able to visit it and look around, and so I didn’t write to them in advance – I had to practically prostrate myself at the feet of the Club Manager in order to grovel my way inside – and he wouldn’t allow me to take any photos nor to bring my driver with me (“He must wait outside”). Snobbery didn’t die out with the departure of the British! It was well worth the grovelling as it was a time capsule and I was able to use what I saw there directly in the book.

How do you select the names of your characters?

With a lot of brain-aching! I sometimes change the names as I go along as I find they don’t fit. I like going to graveyards and poking around to find unusual names. My last book The Green Ribbons had a lot of unusual and interesting names – Hephzibah WIldman, Merritt Nightingale, Abigail Cake, Mercy Loveless… but my next book has ordinary sounding names like Roger, Brenda, Jim and Pauline. It’s “horses for courses”.

 

The Green Ribbons

Does writing energise or exhaust you?

It definitely energises me.

What would be the advice you would give to your younger writing self?

Make the time to write. Keep at it. Just do it!

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

£75 to join the Alliance of Independent Authors – ALLi. The most brilliant source of knowledge, advice, camaraderie, encouragement and writerly friendship. I can’t imagine how I’d have got by without them.

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

I’m done with work now! I had a very fulfilling career as a Marketing director – and then as a consultant. I’ve travelled widely with my work, met some amazing and interesting people, and been privileged to work with some of the greatest companies in the world.

Have you ever had reader’s block?

No. I am lost if I’m without a book. A terrible night in my life was being stuck in a German hotel the night before a business meeting without anything to read – I’d left my book on the plane!

I couldn’t begin to write if I hadn’t got decades of wonderful books behind me. I think the most important asset for a writer is to be a reader.

What do you think is the best way to market your books?

If I can get in front of people I can sell my books – especially if I do a reading. Sadly that’s not very efficient in either time or money! I’m still figuring out the best way to market my books. People think as a career marketer it must be easy for me. Well it isn’t!

Kurinji Flowers

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

Yes I do read them. I rejoice in the good ones and move on from the bad ones. No one wants to read a bad review but every author gets them occasionally. You just have to get over it. It takes all sorts. Take a look on GoodReads at some of the one-star hammering that great authors receive!

Would you like to talk about your latest book here.?

My latest book will be coming out later this year. It’s set in WW2 in Eastbourne, the seaside town I moved to last year. The town was subject to extraordinarily heavy bombardment by the Germans – firstly to soften it up before the planned invasion that Hitler cancelled, and later as it was easy for planes to zip across the Channel and dump bombs without having to cross the radar and anti-aircraft fire – then zip straight back. The book is the story of Gwen, a buttoned-up Englishwoman and Jim a young Canadian soldier. The town was the base for thousands of Canadians during the War. I like to put people together who in normal circumstances would never have met. This is a key element of A Greater World and Kurinji Flowers and to some extent Letters from a Patchwork Quilt.

9780993332418

My most recently published book is The Green Ribbons (2016). It is set in a Berkshire village in 1900. Many readers have said it reminds them of Jane Eyre – the main character is orphaned and compelled to earn a living as a governess – but I think the resemblance stops there.

Please supply links to all your social media including websites.

Twitter – https://twitter.com/clarefly

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/authorclareflynn/

Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/clarefly/

My website – http://www.clareflynn.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Series of #FamilySaga Authors. Today with Jenny Lloyd #MondayBlogs

Over the next few months I’ll be chatting with authors who, like me, write Family Sagas, (#familysaga) a genre that can cover many countries, years  and cultures.I am thrilled that so many excellent writers have agreed to meet here with me. I’m sure you’ll find them as fascinating as I do. All I can say is watch this space. Your TBR list of books will be toppling over!!

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hi, Jenny, Lovely to see you here today

Thank you for inviting me to this interview, Judith. The questions you’ve asked have given me reason to reflect upon my writing life and the why and how I write what I do. It has been a challenging and enlightening exercise which I have thoroughly enjoyed!

What made you decide to write in your genre?

When I began researching my family history and discovered the real-life stories of my ancestors. Discovering the tragedies in the lives of my grandmother, and her grandmother, set me on a journey to find out why and how such things could happen. Researching the religious and social norms of the times made me realise just how absent were the rights of women and how entrenched were the inequalities and double standards. There were no support systems, no safety nets, and society and its institutions served to reinforce traditional attitudes and beliefs that women were both a dangerous temptation to men and inferior to men. Women were always to blame in cases of sexual assault and rape, and women had to be controlled and contained within a life constrained by familial and marital duty. Across Britain, women who attempted to see their assailants prosecuted were openly jeered, mocked and humiliated by courtrooms of men. It is a disgrace that women were ever treated thus. I remember that time, back in the eighties, when they were closing all the old mental asylums. Aged women were coming out who had spent their entire adult lives in mental institutions. Some had been sent there in their teens for having got themselves pregnant out of wedlock. It was shocking. Inequalities applied to all women, but in isolated, rural communities such as in Wales, influenced by the rigid, non-conformist, hell-fire preachers of the time, the expectations placed on women to uphold ideals of purity were equal to the punishment if they were discovered to have fallen short. I have no doubt that many grew up in loving families, married loving husbands and lived contented lives in these idyllic surroundings; but for those who were failed by families, lovers, or husbands, it was a very different outcome. My grandmother had a terrible life, just terrible.

What other authors of your genre are you connected/friends with, and do they help you become a better writer in any way?

I do read a lot of books by other historical authors, regardless of whether I am socially connected with them. Some are awesome, are the most excellent of writers, and fill me with aspiration and ambition to improve.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

I think that to sustain the amount of energy needed to write a full-length novel you must feel passionate about your subject. Personally, I write from a sense of outrage at the cruelties and injustices which have sprung from socially sanctioned inequality. Wherever there is inequality, there will always be those who will use that imbalance of power to their own ends, whether that be in a marriage, a community, or society as a whole. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to feel that strongly – it fuels the fire and underlies my feeling that I must write to the best of my ability to do the subject justice. If I thought I failed to do that, I would give up writing and leave the job to someone else.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

I don’t write in a particular style for the sake of originality. As a reader, I am slightly put off if I feel the author is trying to be original either in their choice of subject matter or in the portrayal of their characters. Originality, in that sense, can be at the expense of authenticity, I think. I don’t know about originality, but I am quite particular in how I like to tell a story, i.e. I tend towards more than one point of view because that gives a more rounded, unbiased story, I hope. As in Leap the Wild Water, I thought it essential to know Morgan’s side of things, too; that was all part of illuminating the ‘how and why’ such things can happen. And I like to twist things up, not for the sake of it, but for instance, though Megan has her own voice in the narrative, we learn a great deal about Megan through Morgan’s eyes, and vice versa – their private thoughts and feelings about each other are particularly revealing. I put a great deal of thought into viewpoint and who will be telling which aspect of the story, before I begin. I think if someone told me I must write in a different style to that which is very much my own in order to ‘deliver to readers what they want’, I would be totally gutted. Too many novels are written to a ‘formula’ which has obviously proved, at some point in the past, to have made for a ‘popular’ novel. There has been a noticeable increase in this type of novel in recent years, so I guess agents and publishers believe it is what the reading public wants but it isn’t what this reader wants, and it isn’t the kind of novel I want to write.

 

leap-the-wild-water

I have to say here, this is the first book I read of yours; I loved it.http://amzn.to/2lkjDFg

How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?

Let’s face it, I do take my readers on an emotional roller-coaster. They’re going to love some characters, despise others. They’re going to feel angry, exasperated, and outraged at the things some of these characters get up to. They’re going to cry. They’re going to laugh too, I hope; in short, all the emotions I feel when I’m writing. I do make demands on my readers but I am always careful not to depict anything in a gratuitous or graphic way.

Do you want each book to stand-alone or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I’ll bow to the judgement of one of my readers on this one, who told me he’d read the last one, Anywhere the Wind Blows, without having read the first two books and though he really enjoyed it, he went on to say he’d now read all three and felt they should definitely be read in the order they were written!

wind-blows

http://amzn.to/2lkDG6J

 

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

A trunkful of my earlier attempts. Until Leap the Wild Water I hadn’t managed to complete a single full-length novel.

What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?

I grew up with six brothers. Although not one of the characters in my books is remotely like any of my brothers, I do feel that growing up with them has offered me some valuable insights into the male psyche. Morgan, the main male character in Leap the Wild Water, is very much Welsh and very much a man of his time and place. I found his character easier to write than Megan’s, at times.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

Right now, I am coming to the end of a few months of research in preparation for the next book. The next one will have a whole new set of characters and will be set in an earlier time, and across a wider social stratum, so I’m beginning again from scratch. I did a lot of research before I began writing the Megan Jones trilogy. A vast amount doesn’t get used but it all adds to my understanding and portrayal of the domestic, social and geographical contexts in which those people had to live out their lives. I research anything and everything which helps me do that. There are so many old documents, journals etc., available online now, it is a social historian’s dream.

How do you select the names of your characters?

Sometimes, they may be given the name of an ancestor – Morgan is an old Welsh family name going back many generations. Often, though, a character’s name will have a deeper meaning. Megan’s mother, Esther, gives Megan’s baby the name of Fortune. Not only did she rob Megan of her child but of the opportunity to name her. That one act alone said so much about Esther and her attitude to and relationship with her daughter. Esther named the child Fortune ‘because that is what she will cost us, one way or another’. That was all Esther could see. Fear of public shame and loss of reputation blinded her to everything else. She quite literally throws away a fortune in the form of her own beautiful granddaughter.

What was your hardest scene to write?

Without a doubt, the scene when Megan realises her baby has been taken. To do that justice, I had to ‘become’ Megan while writing it, get right there inside her head and heart. Even now, recalling it, it still has the power to move me to tears. A young mother who read Leap the Wild Water asked me if what happened to Megan had happened to me because the scene seemed so real she felt I must have experienced the same. I haven’t, except through Megan.

Does writing energise or exhaust you?

Both. When I am writing the first draft I’m flying. It is the most exhilarating experience, ever. It is only after finishing subsequent drafts and publication that exhaustion sets in and I honestly have to walk away from writing for a few months.

What would be the advice you would give to your younger writing self?

Believe in yourself, write for the love of it, and don’t allow your self-belief, hopes and dreams to be undermined or destroyed by selfish, insecure people. People who really care about you would not place obstacles in your way.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

john-waterhouse

I have this reproduction of ‘Boreas’ by John William Waterhouse hanging above my writing desk. I first came across it not long after I’d finished the first draft of Leap the Wild Water. I was astounded when I saw it because it was so close to my vision of Megan picking the wild daffodils on the hill above Carregwyn. It was as if the painter had had the same vision as me, but a hundred years before me. I had to buy it. Only when I’d finished the last book in the trilogy did I realise that the painting represents the entire trilogy – there is Megan amid the daffodils (Leap the Wild Water) and in the back-ground there is a raven flying (The Calling of the Raven) and of course, the subject of the painting is the north wind (Anywhere the Wind Blows). Every time I look at this picture it reminds me of the power of the subconscious, and in my moments of self-doubt it serves to remind me that I once thought myself incapable of writing just one novel, let alone three.

raven

http://amzn.to/2lRQH4z

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Every book, text book or fiction, that I have read. My text-books have educated me and through reading novels I have learned how to go about writing one.

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

I didn’t write Leap the Wild Water until I was in my fifties so I’ve always had to do other work and fit my writing around that. I left home, and school, within a month of my fifteenth birthday. I was desperately unhappy and thought running away would fix things. It didn’t. My first job was with Laura Ashley, making those beautiful, Edwardian style dresses and blouses with all the pin-tucks and lace. I was a ‘mother’s help’ for a wealthy couple in London, for a time. We lived in an enormous, luxurious flat over the King’s Road. That introduced me to a very different life from that of growing up on a farm in Wales! It was great while it lasted but when the job ended, I decided to leave London as the ‘hiraeth’ for my beloved Wales had become overwhelming. For most of my life, my work has involved textiles, making clothes or furnishings. I trained as an upholsterer, too. None of it, really, what I most wanted to do but drifted into and did to pay the mortgage and the bills, as we do. As the years went by, my frustration grew until I twigged that my hopes and dreams were as important as anyone else’s. From that day on, I began to dedicate every spare moment I could to writing. Even while working, I’d be writing. I’d keep a notebook beside me all the time, hand-stitching curtains while pausing to write the stories unreeling in my head. And I began to try to make up for all those years of education lost through leaving school so young, reading everything I could lay my hands on and discovering those subjects which most fascinated me – social history and social psychology, subjects which have greatly informed my writing.

Have you ever had reader’s block?

What’s that?! Did you mean writer’s block? If the latter, only when I am in between novels. I am capable of devoting vast quantities of energy into not beginning a new novel, to the point where I must begin or go insane. Once begun, the main reasons I don’t get writer’s block are that the characters are more in charge than I am, and I always end a writing session with an unfinished scene so I’m always looking forward to what happens next.

Has there been any author’s work you disliked at first but grew into?

Nope. For me, reading fiction is an escape. I know within the first chapter of a book whether I’m going to love it. It works for me from the off or it doesn’t work at all. There are so many books I want to read, so many things I have still to learn, life is too short to spend it reading anything which does not transport, inspire or instruct me.

What is the first book that made you cry?

Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

What do you think is the best way to market your books?

Somebody tell me the answer to that one, please!

 (Laughing! Yes, please do, someone.)

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I am incredibly lucky in that I have never had a bad review (not when I last looked, anyway!) and I am eternally grateful for every one of the reviews I’ve received. I don’t ask for them or expect them, so it is an absolute delight when I get one. I regard it as an act of pure generosity when people take the time and thought to write one. Those reviews have encouraged me more than anything else to keep putting my stories out there.

Would you like to talk about your latest book here?

I most enjoy portraying the darker side of human nature. The worst characters fascinate and horrify me in equal measure, and none more so than the malicious gossip, Mary Williams, who really comes into her own in Anywhere the Wind Blows. Generally, most of my characters redeem themselves at some point but Mary wholly fails to do so. She is an envious and bitter woman without boundaries or conscience when spreading scandal and rumour, and breath-taking in her ability to say anything, regardless of truth, to destroy those she envies and resents. And isn’t it always the best people, the nicest people, who are the targets of the Marys of this world? Unfortunately for Megan and her brother Morgan, they find themselves the targets of Mary’s vindictive spleen during the aftermath of Eli’s shocking death. Mary has made trouble for Megan in the past but in Anywhere the Wind Blows, when love and a chance of lasting happiness arrives with Cai Traherne, Megan is to discover just how dangerous an adversary Mary is. I won’t say how it turns out!

Please supply links to all your social media including websites.

Twitter; https://twitter.com/jennyoldhouse

Facebook; https://www.facebook.com/jennylloydauthor

Pinterest; http://www.pinterest.com/jennyoldhouse

https://jennylloydwriter.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

My Series of #FamilySaga Authors. Today with Merryn Allingham#MondayBlogs

Over the next few months I’ll be chatting with authors who, like me, write Family Sagas, (#familysaga) a genre that can cover many countries, years  and cultures.I am thrilled that so many excellent writers have agreed to meet here with me. I’m sure you’ll find them as fascinating as I do. All I can say is watch this space. Your TBR list of books will be toppling over!!

Today, I’m chatting with Merryn Allingham. Merryn was born into an army family and spent her childhood on the move. Unsurprisingly, it gave her itchy feet and in her twenties she escaped from an unloved secretarial career to work as cabin crew and see the world. The arrival of marriage, children and cats meant a more settled life in the south of England where she’s lived ever since. It also gave her the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually teach at university.

Merryn has always loved books that bring the past to life, so when she began writing herself the novels had to be historical. She finds the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries fascinating eras to research and her first book, The Crystal Cage, had as its background the London of 1851. The Daisy’s War trilogy followed, set in India and London during the 1930s and 40s.

Her latest novels explore two pivotal moments in the history of Britain. The Buttonmaker’s Daughter is set in Sussex in the summer of 1914 as the First World War looms ever nearer and its sequel, The Secret of Summerhayes, forty years later in the summer of 1944 when D Day led to eventual victory in the Second World War. Along with the history, of course, there is plenty of mystery and romance to keep readers intrigued.

merryn

 

 

Hi, Merryn, good to see you here, I’m looking forward to our chat. 

Thanks for inviting me, Judith. 

Please tell us How long have you been writing?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve needed to put pen to paper. As a small child, I wrote poems, at grammar school there were short stories that I never dared mention – creative writing was definitely not encouraged. Then the long letters home while working as cabin crew (pre internet and mobile phones) and at least two ten year diaries. Deep down, though, I knew it was a novel I had to write. But between family, pets and my job as a lecturer, there was little time to do more than dabble. However, when the pressures eased, I grabbed the chance to do something I’d always promised myself – to write that novel.

What are some day jobs that you have held?  If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.

I worked for twenty-five years as a university lecturer teaching English Literature and when I came to write, it proved a two-edged sword. I’d spent years analysing how a piece of writing worked (or didn’t) so in theory I knew the basics. But that same background of academic research and teaching was a huge barrier to writing popular fiction and I hadn’t a clue how to begin, although I knew I wanted to. Then one morning I woke up and the idea was there. I would start where I felt most comfortable – in the Regency with a book along the lines of Georgette Heyer, whom I’ve read and reread a hundred times since my teenage years.

What process did you go through to get your book published?

It wasn’t until I’d completed the book, that I thought about a publisher. You can see how naive I was! I discovered that Harlequin Mills and Boon was one of the few who published Regency romances and were happy to accept unsolicited manuscripts. When I read they were willing to help polish my work if the writing showed promise, it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

It took a long, long time for them to get back to me and in the meantime I’d made a start on novel number two. When eventually I received their feedback, it was complimentary. They liked my voice, they liked the characters and the plot but – you soon learn there’s always a ‘but’ – there were elements that didn’t fit what they wanted in a Mills and Boon novel. Would I care to revise? I certainly would. I set about getting the manuscript as right as I could before resubmitting. Another long wait followed, six months this time, and then ‘the call’ came (by this time I was half way through a third novel – the bug had truly bitten). I remember I was sitting on the sofa feeling doleful from a bout of December flu when the phone rang. Despite the coughs and splutters, it felt pretty special hearing an editor say I was being offered a two book contract.

What kind(s) of writing do you do?

I started publishing over six years ago, producing six Regency romances under the name of Isabelle Goddard. Writing category historical romance proved a great apprenticeship, but left me wanting to broaden my scope and move into mainstream women’s fiction. It also left me wanting to create something a little darker. It hadn’t escaped my notice that with each succeeding Regency, the mystery element of the novels had become more pronounced. It seemed a natural progression then to segue into writing suspense, but still with an element of romance. In 2013, I adopted a different writing name – Merryn Allingham – and launched myself into the new genre.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I write historical novels so research is essential, and it’s something I enjoy hugely. Delving into history, I get to live in different houses, wear different clothes, meet different people and confront different choices. For The Buttonmaker’s Daughter, I did several months’ research in addition to what I already knew of the period, reading up on the social history of the country house, for instance, plotting the timeline of the First World War, understanding the pressures that led to emigration, and so on. The book is set in the summer of 1914, a cataclysmic moment for this country, and I feel a deep attachment to the world that was lost then. The First World War affected millions of lives across every class and community, with so few understanding the reality of the war they were called to join.

merryn-cover

                                                          http://amzn.to/2ln5iWu

Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?  Summarize your writing process.

It’s interesting how often a place begins the process for me. I mull over possibilities of what might have happened there, and who it might have happened to. The mulling probably goes on for a couple of months. Then I might do some reading around the subject. For example, last year I travelled on the Orient Express to Venice and was blown away by the beauty of its art deco carriages. I wondered what it must have been like to travel on the train the whole way to Constantinople, as Istanbul was once known. That led me to reading about the last days of the Ottoman Empire which in turn led to a fairly detailed plot outline for a new book. The outline will change as I write almost certainly, but I have a structure now to work with. At the least, I know where the story will start and how it will end. The rest should fall into place as I write.

How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?

This is another instance of place playing a significant role. I was on a visit to the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall, ‘lost’ because they were only rediscovered in 1990 and since that time have been lovingly restored. The gardens’ heyday was the late Victorian/Edwardian period when owners spent a great deal of money, time and effort, in creating a beautiful and exotic paradise. But, when in 1914, war came to England, everything changed. Over half the staff perished in the mud of Flanders and the gardens were left to a slow disintegration.

Our guide that day had a fund of anecdotes and it was a single image from one of his stories that lodged in my mind and set me writing. On one particular day in the summer of 1914, every gardener on the estate downed tools together and walked side by side to Redruth, to enlist at the local recruiting centre. Most of those men never returned. The Day Book, which should have listed every job done on the estate that day, carried only the date and poignantly was never used again. The image of those men, honourable and courageous, walking together to enlist in what they saw as a just cause, stayed in my mind, and I knew I had to record that moment in a novel.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

I try to do both. There’s a temptation, particularly under pressure from publishers, to repeat what has worked before, but readers can get bored with what is virtually the same story, just a different setting and different characters. I try to vary how I tackle each project. Daisy’s War is a trilogy exploring several themes across the three books but with each a complete story.

daisys-war

http://amzn.to/2meJiwt

The Crystal Cage is a novel with parallel time lines, that interweaves the lives of a modern day heroine and her Victorian counterpart.

 

the-crysatl-cage

http://amzn.to/2meFtr8

And the Summerhayes books (the second novel, The Secret of Summerhayes, is due out in August) are centred on one location but set thirty years apart, during the two World Wars. What remains constant in all the novels, though, is the mix of social history, suspense, and romance.

What do you like to read in your free time?

My choice of reading is fairly wide. I try to keep up with books in my genre – at the moment, I’m looking forward to reading Nicola Cornick’s The Phantom Tree. I also read some of the latest literary fiction and often go back to old favourites such as 19th century novels. Then there are the books I read for my book group. We’re currently into a season of Virago and I’ll be introducing one of my favourites, A Pin to See the Peepshow by F Tennyson Jesse. I read the book years ago and liked it a lot, and found the television series excellent.

What would be the advice you would give to your younger writing self?

I’d tell myself to get rid of the censor in my head and allow the words to flow. I’ve learned from experience that some will be rubbish, some will be reasonable and a few will be nuggets of gold. I’d realise that I need to be disciplined and write as regularly as possible. And finally I’d counsel myself to learn patience – it often takes a long time to get anywhere.

About the book

My latest book published on January 12th is The Buttonmaker’s Daughter. It is set in the summer of 1914 in a country mansion called Summerhayes. Nestled in the Sussex countryside, the Summerhayes estate seems the perfect country idyll, but it faces the threat of a war that looms ever closer. It also faces threats nearer to home. The daughter of the house, Elizabeth, is at odds with a society based on rigid gender and class divisions. She has struggled unsuccessfully to become a professional artist and now is forced to fight against her family’s choice of husband. Her adolescent brother, William, already a disappointment to his father, must confront his true sexuality. And a long-running feud with the Summers’ neighbours, fuelled by money and jealousy, intensifies to breaking point. As the sweltering heat builds to a storm, Elizabeth, her family and household, face danger on all sides. The summer of 1914 will change everything for them, as indeed it did for so many.

Find Merryn here:

Website: www.merrynallingham.com

Facebook: www.tinyurl.com/m322ovu

Twitter: @MerrynWrites

Pinterest:  http://tinyurl.com/jnapbpm

Amazon UK: http://tinyurl.com/zxm9ku4

 

 

 

 

My Review of Blackwater by Alison Williams #TuesdayBookBlog

Blackwater by [Williams, Alison]

 

 I gave Blackwater 4*out  of 5*

The Blurb:

How will you protect her from lies? From superstition? How will you protect her when your father comes calling, with threats and accusations? When a mob comes to our door?’
In a time when death is common, life is cheap and superstition rife, anyone can find their world torn apart by gossip and accusations. Can one lonely girl find the love and companionship she craves? Or will her heart lead her into more danger than she can imagine?
Lizzie Prentice, daughter of a cunning woman, is no stranger to scandal. She carries it with her, like the scar on her forehead. Samuel Pendle, her protector since childhood, could hold the key to a normal, safe life. But when Samuel defies his parents, it seems that history is bound to repeat itself and Lizzie’s life is at risk.
‘Blackwater’, prequel to the historical novel ‘The Black Hours’, follows Lizzie as she strives to escape the same terrible fate her parents suffered; her life thrown into turmoil, and everything she holds dear at stake, but determined to find happiness in a world of intolerance, cruelty and hate.

Please note that although Blackwater is the prequel to The Black Hours:  http://amzn.to/2kHc2QJ  , both can be read as stand-alones.

The Black Hours

My Review:

Initially  I didn’t realise Blackwater is the prequel to the Black Hours but it honestly didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.. 

Set in 17th century rural England, this is a well researched Historical novel by Alison Williams. Although the book is a slow starter it’s worth persevering for a couple of chapter as it then takes up a head of steam that will carry the reader right the way through to the end.

The harshness of everyday life,  the disregard for life, the superstition and ignorance rife within small villages in those times, is emphasised throughout and runs parallel to the touching love story.  There is a great sense of the era.

And the many short descriptions woven into the story also give a wonderful sense of place

The characters are well drawn and rounded. Both Maggie Prentice and her daughter Lizzie are given excellent back stories that filter through to their present lives and foreshadows  the inevitability of their future despite Lizzie’s relationship with Samuel  that is so sensitively written.

With the dialogue, there is never any misunderstanding who is speaking; each character’s voice has a timbre and syntax that is unique to that character.

 I loved this author’s style of writing. Her attention to even the smallest detail draws many images on the page in this dark and enthralling story.

So would I recommend  Blackwater? You bet I would...

Buying Links:

Amazon.co.uk:http://amzn.to/2jTvHdb

Amazon.com:http://amzn.to/2jTD1p2

My Review of The Rose Trail by Alex Martin

the-rose-trail

 

The Blurb:

Is it chance that brings Fay and Persephone together?
Or is it the restless and malevolent spirit who stalks them both?
Once rivals, they must now unite if they are to survive the mysterious trail of roses they are forced to follow into a dangerous, war torn past.

The Rose Trail is a time slip novel set in both the present day and during the English Civil War. The complex story weaves through both eras with a supernatural thread.

My Review:

Way back in 2015, I interviewed Alex Martin after I’d read her first books:  http://bit.ly/2iVUaxK. And then again in 2016,  http://bit.ly/2itOdaz   (when she was part of the Tenby book fair: now evolved into the Narberth Book Fair: (http://bit.ly/2iiW8HW ). I have enjoyed all her work and I must admit  I was looking forward to reading The Rose Trail, expecting the same genre.

 It’s not! But the strong writing style that makes this author’s book instantly recognisable is there throughout. And just as fascinating. This is a story that moves through two time zones, starting off in the present day and then woven into the period of the English Civil War. It’s dark, haunting and riveting and moves a a good steady place with the occasional revelation that shocks the reader.

As usual Alex Martin has researched well; the settings, the descriptions give an evocative sense of place

The characters are well rounded and believable. Fay could be a protagonist that elicits pity, yet her courage and fortitude soon become evident. And Percy; for me it was dislike on sight but then an unwilling sympathy. Until, I admitted to myself that she was actually a decent person. See? I’m talking about them as thought they’re real. Which, to me is a sign of empathetic writing. And the two brothers, Will and Ralph in the juxtaposed historical story become just as believable with the wrangling in both their political and personal lives.  

The dialogue, both as spoken and as internal thoughts, of all the characters reads naturally. There are no irritating lines where I wasn’t sure who was speaking.

If there was one small constructive criticism I’d have it would be with some of  those parts of the book that deal with the civil war combat scenes. I found myself skipping through them.  Though I have to confess, some of the dark ‘ghostly’ scenes, I stopped to re-read again. perhaps this says more about me as a reader than anything else! 

So, as with all the other books that Alex Martin has written, I really enjoyed The Rose Trail and have no hesitation in recommending this novel.

Buying Links:

Amazon.co.uk: http://amzn.to/2iWoRTE

Amazon.com: http://amzn.to/2izkpMV