I enjoyed Wendy Steele’s The Naked Witch. It is an undemanding read with an easy to follow but convincing plot-line which runs smoothly throughout the story. This is a cross genre book, a mixture of romance and mystery threaded through with magic and witchcraft. I was particularly fascinated by these latter themes and often stopped to re-read these sections; to ponder on them and the way the protagonist was epitomised by them. On the one hand Lizzie Martin is a woman who is trying to grapple with all that life throws at her: initially unexplained difficulties within her work life, complicated struggles with her ex-husband, anxieties for an ex, but still beloved, mother-in-law, worries for a teenage daughters growing maturity. All juxtaposed with an intriguing sub plot, the truth about her father’s death. The strength of this character lies with her beliefs in the goddess that guides her and in her ability to take and centre energy in herself from the earth.
And, just as Lizzie is rounded and multi-layered so are the supporting characters. I had empathy and liking for some and instant dislike for others; a true sign of strong characterisation for me.
The descriptions of the settings: Spain, Lizzie’s home, workplace, her Sanctuary give a good sense of place.
The dialogue is believable. It is clear who is speaking and, mostly, carries the story along. I say mostly because, occasionally, and only occasionally, I felt. It slowed things down by slight repetition. In much the same way that some of the descriptions of food did in parts. I did find myself, every now and again, skipping over the sections where meals were reported. And, in a couple of places the narrative moved a little too quickly from one scene to another.
But these are small grumbles. I loved the lovely conversational style of the author’s writing, the humour that lightens the tone, the interesting insight to white witchcraft and enchanting mystical happenings. Most of all I loved the story.
I recommend The Naked Witch; it’s a good read.
Lizzie Martin’s new boss has asked her to ‘bare all’ and become more corporate.
For Lizzie, swapping paisley for pin stripe is like asking a parrot to wear pea hen.
She has to choose between her job and her integrity, cope with an unexpected stay in hospital, monitor her fourteen year old daughter’s latest crush, continue seeking the truth about her father’s death and juggle two new men in her life.
There is hope though.
At the bottom of the garden is a little wooden shed that Lizzie calls Sanctuary. Within its warm and welcoming walls, Lizzie surrounds herself with magic.
About the Author:
In 1972, Wendy Steele came home from the Tutankhamun exhibition and wrote about her experience, beginning a writing journey which she still travels. Since working in the City BC (Before Children), she has trained in alternative therapies, belly dance and writing. Wendy combines these three disciplines to give balance to her life.
Her first novel ‘Destiny of Angels’ was published in 2012, closely followed by two short story anthologies and a non-fiction book ‘Wendy Woo’s Year – A Pocketful of Smiles’, an inspirational guide, offering ideas, meditations and recipes to make every precious day, a happy one.
Moving to Wales, the fulfilment of a 15 year dream, inspired her to write the Standing Stone book series, set in Wales in the countryside she loves.
Writing workshops in Wales widened her writing perspective and the resulting short stories have been published online and in anthologies.
Wendy writes fantasy, with a dollop of magic, exploring the ‘what if…?’ the starting point for all her stories. She lives with her partner and cats, restoring her farmhouse and immersing herself in the natural world on her doorstep.
I was given a copy of What’s Left Unsaid by the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team #RBRT, in return for an honest review.
I gave this book 5*
Sasha is just about managing to hold her life together. She is raising her teenage son Zac, coping with an absent husband and caring for her ageing, temperamental and alcoholic mother, as well as holding down her own job. But when Zac begins to suspect that he has a secret sibling, Sasha realises that she must relive the events of a devastating night which she has done her best to forget for the past nineteen years.
Sasha’s mother, Annie, is old and finds it difficult to distinguish between past and present and between truth and lies. As Annie sinks deeper back into her past, she revisits the key events in her life which have shaped her emotionally. Through it all, she remains convinced that her dead husband Joe is watching and waiting for her. But there’s one thing she never told him, and as painful as it is for her to admit the truth, Annie is determined to go to Joe with a guilt-free conscience.
As the plot unfurls, traumas are revealed and lies uncovered, revealing long-buried secrets which are at the root of Annie and Sasha’s fractious relationship.
There are some books that grab you from the first page, even the first paragraph. What’s Left Unsaid did just that for me:
“If Annie had just been honest with me, we might have avoided much of the ugliness which followed… but she wasn’t and we didn’t…”
How could I resist? I didn’t! It helped when I realised the story is told in one of my favourite formats; it’s written from different points of view under the name of three characters: the protagonist, Sasha, her mother Annie and her late father, Joe. I especially liked Joe’s objective viewpoint that balanced out the subjective viewpoints of the other two characters as they describe the complex and difficult relationship between them. Even so, the question hovering throughout the text is what is truth and what is lies. It’s a cleverly written narrative and I loved the writing style of Deborah Stone; she moves from character to character, slipping easily into their voices, alternately moving the reader to understand each with empathy, yet being able to see the flaws in them as well.
The plot is tense and tightly woven, moving at different paces to reveal the secrets held for years held by this family. There are many themes: family secrets and deceptions, emotional power struggles between characters, dementia, miscommunications, understandings and forgiveness. All delicately intertwined throughout the text.
I always think that, when we reach a certain age we are formed by the things that we have done, what has happened to us, how we have been treated and how we have treated others. In What’s Left Unsaid the flashbacks to Annie’s earlier life reveal her vanity, her prejudices of others and her jealousy of her own daughter. As a reader I was torn between disliking much of what she was and yet having compassion for what she has become; a woman in the throes of dementia. The flashbacks of Joe’s earlier life show his Jewish family’s struggles to move from a totalitarian Russia at the end of the nineteenth century to the North of England where they face fascism and suffer poverty that they fight to escape, much as they have escaped from an oppressive regime.
The characters are many layered. The protagonist, Sasha is living in a loveless marriage and cannot understand either her husband, Jeremy, who has a secret of his own or her son, Zac, typically a monosyllabic, hormonal teenager. She has no closeness with her mother yet is forced to be deeply involved in her life. The author cleverly and subtly reveals the tensions hidden in Sasha, much as she does in all the major characters. Her internal dialogue initially shows her timidity, her nervousness, in the way she approaches her family. Yet there is also exasperation and even anger. And this comes out more and more as the story progresses.
Joe’s words, spoken from beyond the grave, are wise and, as I said earlier, objective. I felt they gave a distanced reflective view on human nature as a whole. Yet, through the dialogue and thoughts of the other characters, his personality in life is exposed to have had had the same flaws and weaknesses as their own.
Even without the story being allocated to each character the reader is left in no doubt who is speaking; each have their own distinctive voice.
The narrative describing the settings give a good sense of place and provide an interesting background to the story.
What’s Left Unsaid is a complex and poignant read. Thought provoking and absorbing it left me reflecting on the complexities of marriage and families. I would recommend this to readers who enjoy well-written family sagas
The Crime and Coffee Festival beckoned me to Cardiff Library to solve the mystery of writing and publishing. The workshop: Cut, Slash and Perfect promised to reveal more about the writing and traditional publishing journey. As I passed the crime scene tape surrounding the bookshelves, I did wonder if any authors had been lost during the cutting, slashing and perfecting process. I went undercover to find out more about traditional publishing. Would I need an agent, and would I need a sharper pair of scissors?
Authors, Judith Barrow and Thorne Moore, chatted with the editor, Caroline Oakley, of Honno Pressabout publishing. The entertaining chat provided food for thought for all authors who wish to publish their work. As I listened, I captured some of the main points and discovered what makes editors cut and authors cry. The panel put me at ease, and I was able to remove my disguise as an indie author.
Introducing Caroline Oakley who is the editor at Honno Press
Caroline has worked in general trade publishing for over thirty years and has edited a number of award winning and bestselling authors. Caroline works for, Honno Press, an independent Welsh Women’s publisher in Wales.
Clues from the Editor
Caroline gave a balanced overview of publishing
Big publishers only work through agents.
Agents often have useful contacts within the publishing world and deal with the contracts. Care must be taken when selecting an agent because, as in all businesses, there are inefficient, self –styled experts, with little experience, out there. Google and search for those authors who write in your genre to find out the names of the agents who deal with your kind of book before submitting. You can approach independent and smaller publishers with or without an agent. Find out what this kind of publisher wants before approaching them. Research their website; look at the work of the signed authors. Take your time to select the appropriate one for your genre; consider how much advance that publisher pays, the amount of royalties for sold books you will get, your rights (such as audio and foreign rights for your work) and the terms and conditions of your contract. You must read the small print!
Don’t get disheartened with rejection letters sent to publishers. Hope your manuscript reaches the publisher at the right time (by this I mean that it’s not a miserable Monday morning for them, or they’ve not had a quarrel with a partner or their family – or they’ve not had a week of wading through a pile of “not very good” manuscripts before they get to yours)– it is subjective.
Indie publishing has its challenges, but it gives you more control and you get all the profit. The Indie author deals with every element of the process; from the writing to choosing the cover, the blurb formatting, publication and marketing. Traditionally published authors also are expected to promote and market. Indie publishing is time- consuming but as I said before, they do have complete control over their work.
Whichever publishing route you choose, you must get yourself an editor! Although time-consuming (and sometimes devastating!) you must go through the cut, slash perfect process. A good editor will identify gaps, things that possibly don’t work in your writing, mistakes such as change of dates of characters’ birthdays or colour of eyes in different parts of the book, errors in time scale etc.. But will not tell you what to do, only point out those mistakes and suggest changes to make your work stronger.
It is advisable that every author, whether self-published or traditionally published, has a website, blog and social media accounts.
Judith Barrow has published four books with Honno Press. She writes historical family saga fiction. She has also self-published books and a collection of short stories of the minor characters in her trilogy.
What did Judith say about her publishing journey?
I love working with Honno Press. The staff are friendly and accessible. As a writer you learn what you can and cannot get away with. I have built up trust with the editor who I know has had a long and professional career in all genres. And, although Honno Pressalso organises the front cover for the books, they have allowed me input to the final decision .
Working with Honno Press provides me with quality, professional editing. I cry every time, I get the editor’s comments, but I know, in my heart, it makes the work better. An editor will read your book line by line and give an overview. A good editor will ask the right questions but will not give you the answers. When you edit your work, you must keep your own voice.
I do not send my very first draft to an editor and probably have about ten revisions. I ask my friend, who is an author, to give me an honest opinion on anything I have doubts about. I am also a member of a writing group and we email sections of our books for discussion. But do, avoid too much input from too many sources into your work as it can confuse you – have a small trusted network of writers. Believe in yourself! The cut, slash and perfect stages involves a first general edit, as many more detailed edits then necessary to get the writing to its best, a line by line edit to weed out any noticeable mistakes and then a proof read by the publisher’s proof reader. Finally, it comes back to me for a last read to make sure all is correct. I do like this final stage; it does make me feel as though I have control over the end product to some degree.
Thorne had published three books with Honno Fiction and writes domestic noir and psychological fiction. Thorne has self-published and works with two publishers.
What did Thorne say about publishing?
She has self-published short stories in order to market a published book. The different publishers are relevant to the books promoted. Regardless of how the books are published, the author must have a good editor.
A writer needs an editor to stand on the mountain and look down on your work. During the writing process the author becomes too absorbed to be objective. Through the feedback from the editor, you learn to write. The editor will locate your common mistakes then you will avoid these in subsequent drafts.
You do need a small critical group of friends who will give you constructive criticism.
Don’t worry about the reviews. Jane Austin has plenty of one star and two star reviews on Amazon.
Don’t give up! I was rejected by Honno at first. In an interview with Thorne, she told me about the trials and tribulations of her publishing journey. This story of Thorne’s publishing journey will be published very soon.
A good editor is key to success for all authors: traditionally published and self-published need a good editor. A good editor will identify gaps in your work and ask the right questions. My editor forced me to ask lots of questions about my book and rework sections. I learnt a great deal about my writing through this process. As a self-published author I have involved a professional editor, beta readers and other authors. One must be careful of making new mistakes in a new edit – it is expensive to pay for all the various stages of the edit. I understand the security of working with an independent publisher who provides an editor. The indie author has greater control of the book but must complete all stages of the process including the book cover and the marketing. In the end, all clues pointed towards the importance of a professional editor during the publishing process. No matter how many times the author sharpens the scissors to cut, they still need an editor and dosh to pay for quality. Clearly, this wasn’t an open and shut case and more investigation needed to be completed.
Clue of the Day
Caroline suggested the market for the unreliable narrator in all genres will change. Like fashion in clothes, fashion in books also changes. No one knows what will be the next ‘in thing’ for novels.
Judith waited for me in a department store while I waited for her in Cardiff Library. Would the meeting take place? Neither of us had thought to share our phone numbers prior to the meeting.
Judith emerged from the lift, in Cardiff Library, wearing a silk purple top that was co-ordinated with her fabulous lilac hair. I warmed to her instantly! Her beaming smile lit up her face and I knew she’d make me laugh. She travelled from Pembrokeshire to take part in a panel on agents, traditional and Indie publishing and agents at the Crime Cymru event, and her huge canvas bag bulged with goodies for the day ahead. I was lucky to grab some time with her.
Judith: At last, I thought you’d got lost in your handbag. I waited in the department store and realised I had no contact details. After I finished my mint tea, I asked three strange women if they were Jessie. They thought I was mad.
Judith’s Yorkshire accent and mischievous blue eyes instantly made me giggle. Great to meet someone who spoke the same lingo.
Jessie: I’m so sorry but I thought you’ be able to read my mind. Couldn’t you hear me calling you in my dulcet tones across the streets of Cardiff? Don’t ask me why I didn’t send you my mobile number and confirm the meeting. I also approached a couple of potential Judiths but the real Judith is much better. So pleased, I found a representative of Honno Press and she had your number.
We laughed and grabbed some coffee from a coffee station in Cardiff Library. The staff set up a couple of chairs for us to conduct the chat. Having spilt the coffee all over my hand, we settled down to chat about Judith.
Jessie: Judith, tell me what a Yorkshire lass is doing in Pembrokeshire.
Judith: We went on holiday to Pembrokeshire, loved it and never returned to Saddleworth. We bought a half-built house and renovated it.
Jessie: Do you miss Yorkshire?
Judith: Pembrokeshire was a great place for our kids to grow up. I miss Yorkshire stone, craggy landscape and the meandering moors. I love our house, in Pembrokeshire, but I always expected I’d live in a stone cottage in my old age. As you can hear, even after forty years in Wales my accent hasn’t changed – I’m still a Yorkshire lass. People say they can hear my voice in their heads when they read my books. Lucky them!
Jessie: Obviously, people love your voice as you have written eight books. How did the writing start?
Judith: Well, I hope they do. As for the writing, I’d written since I was a child but never done anything much about it. Then I went to night school with my daughter. I finished A Level English and went on to gain a degree through the Open University. Whilst studying for the degree, I had breast cancer, and this made me see life differently. I decided to follow my dream to become a writer. Initially, I had an agent but she wanted me to write as an author of Mills and Boon so I parted company with her.
Jessie: That’s ridiculous; your books are not of that genre. The books are historical fiction with engaging stories of the Howarth family. The books have complex plots and characters.
Judith: I write people driven, gritty dramas and wasn’t prepared to adapt my writing. Eventually, I got a contract with Honno Press – an independent publisher in Wales- and found their approach personal and supportive. My first book ‘Pattern of Shadows’
Jessie: What’s Pattern of Shadows about?
Judith: It’s the story of a nursing sister, Mary Howarth, and her family, during World War Two and is set around a POW camp located in a disused cotton mill in a Lancashire town. When I was a child my mother was a winder in a cotton mill and I would go there to wait for her to finish work; I remember the smell of the grease and cotton, the sound of the loud machinery and the colours of the threads and bales of material. Pattern of Shadows was meant to be a standalone book, but the characters wanted me to carry on with their lives. Eventually, it developed into a family saga trilogy. My recent book, the prequel, is A Hundred Tiny Threads. The two main characters, Winifred and Bill, are the parents of the protagonist in the trilogy, Mary Howarth. They wanted me to explain their, how they had become what they are in the trilogy. I was happy to; I think, as we get older, we are made by our life experiences.
Jessie: I’m reading One Hundred Tiny Threads. I’m about a third of the way through. It’s a great read. The opening is engrossing with Winifred waking up to another day in the shop. The characters are so real, and I love getting inside their heads. I’m shouting at them all the time. The way you thread the characters’ attitudes towards women is brilliant. I’m fascinated by the Suffragettes in Leeds. For some reason, I always imagined the movement to be concentrated in London.
Judith: Researching the Suffragettes opened up my eyes. I wanted to tell their story through the voices of the characters and show how women, in the society at that time, were ready for the change. Stories draw people into to the political background of the era, and life was certainly a challenge then. People say my books are dark. Have you got to the gory bits?
Jessie: Well, there has been a murder.
Judith: No, I’m thinking of scene after that – you wait. Bill’s a bastard but it’s his background. I don’t know why Winifred married him.
Jessie: Oh no, what was Winifred thinking of? I’m furious with her, as I haven’t read the terrible news yet. I’m intrigued as to why she didn’t marry the love of her life and scared for her.
Judith: oh ‘eck, hope I haven’t I haven’t spoiled it for you, Jessie. But, you must understand Bill had a terrible life as a child with his father. And then he was a soldier in the horrendous First World Wars. He was also one of the Black and Tans when he returned from the Front. He’s a bastard but didn’t have it easy. As I said, our lives shape us.
Jessie: I agree and people interest me too.
Judith: Yes, well your novel, You Can’t Go It Alone, is also character driven and could become a family saga. I can see it now. I want to know more about Luke and Rosa and their parents.
Jessie: I plan to do that, and you have inspired me to complete historical research. I would have to look carefully into the eras the generations were born into. Thanks for your advice.
Judith: No problem, I teach creative writing in Pembrokeshire, so I just can’t help myself (some would say it’s interfering!!). Writing is like looking at the world through the eyes of a child and I love it. I watch folk walk past my window, at home. It’s hilarious how people walk. I can’t stop people watching and passing it on through my books. I never stop watching and am always so busy.
Jessie: I notice you also organise Narberth Book Fair.
Judith: Yes, I organise it with a friend, author, Thorne Moore. It started in Tenby, but we had to move because we outgrew the venue with so many writers wanting to take part. I think it’s so important to attend these events; to get out there and meet the readers.
Jessie: What advice would you give to fledgling writers?
Judith: Get a professional editor and be prepared for a slog. The first draft of the book is the best bit. I always cry when I get my editor’s comments.
Jessie: Tell me, what have you got in your handbag today?
Judith handed me a copy of Pattern of Shadows and a book entitled Secrets; an anthology of short stories of the minor characters in the trilogy. She proceeded to let me in on the secret life of her handbag. She had some very colourful reading glasses, pens, more pens, bookmarks, a spare blouse, her mobile and an agenda.
Judith: As you can see I do love a bit of colour. I try to be organised and I absolutely love writing. I want you to place these books in your handbag and let the Howarth family keep you company. You’ll love some of the family and dislike some of the other – but that’s life!
Judith is fabulous fun, and I had a blast meeting with her. Meeting face to face is so much better than communicating on line. I delighted in her humour, straight-talking and infectious sense of fun. Judith is a natural storyteller, and this translates in her animated dialogue. She told me she is ‘living each day’. She thrives on her writing and engagement with authors. Her generosity was evident in her willingness to share the benefit of her experience.
Judith Barrow, originally from Saddleworth, near Oldham, and on the wrong side of the Pennines but still in Yorkshire, has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for forty years.
She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen, a BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University and a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University. She has had short stories, plays, reviews and articles, published throughout the British Isles and has won several poetry competitions. She has completed three children’s books.
She is also a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council.
Winifred is a determined young woman eager for new experiences, for a life beyond the grocer’s shop counter ruled over by her domineering mother. When her friend Honora – an Irish girl, with the freedom to do as she pleases – drags Winifred along to a suffragette rally, she realises that there is more to life than the shop and her parents’ humdrum lives of work and grumbling. Bill Howarth’s troubled childhood echoes through his early adult life and the scars linger, affecting his work, his relationships and his health. The only light in his life comes from a chance meeting with Winifred, the daughter of a Lancashire grocer. The girl he determines to make his wife. Meeting Honora’s intelligent and silver-tongued medical student brother turns Winifred’s heart upside down and she finds herself suddenly pregnant. Bill Howarth reappears on the scene offering her a way out.
Love, music and secrets are woven together in this poignant, heart-warming narrative.
Set in a Welsh village, the story explores the contrast in attitudes and opportunities between different generations of women. As the characters confront their secrets and fears, they discover truths about themselves and their relationships. The reader is invited to laugh and cry, with the characters, and find joy in the simple things in life. Listen to the music and enjoy the food, as you peek inside the world of the inhabitants of Delfryn.
Let Sophie show you that no one can go it alone. Who knows, you may find some friends with big hearts…
I really liked You Can’t Go It Alone, there are so many familiar ‘human life’ threads running throughout the relationships of the characters And there are a lot of up and down real life moments throughout, some poignant, some sad, some joyous, some humorous, some unexpected. All thought provoking. There is one sentence that foreshadows the troubles and upsets that will affect them;”The sun was trying to make an appearance but the clouds were dancing in the sky as if they intended to win the dual.”
The characters are well drawn and multi layered. From the protagonist, Sophie who, with her husband, Jack, has recently moved to the village in the hope of a new life (in more ways than one), to the owners of the cafe, Rosa, the ever optimist, and Matteo, a quick tempered, jealous husband and their daughter, the talented Olivia. And then there is the delightful young Daisy.
The dialogue is exceptional; the personalities of the characters were instantly revealed to me, as the reader, through both the internal and the spoken speech.
It’s the Olive Tree Café is where most of the action occurs and there is a strong sense of the cafe’s ambience. Indeed, all of the settings have a good sense of place and it’s almost as if the Delfryn itself is personified as a character in the story, with the interweaving, individual lives it holds at its centre.
Initially the story appears to be a lighthearted look at life in a Welsh village but it is soon revealed that, as the book description says, this really is anexploration of “the contrast in attitudes and opportunities between different generations of women”.
Jessie Cahalin has a lovely light touch with her poetic prose; there are numerous sections which immediately evoke wonderful images and emotions and many sentences that made me stop to reread them just for the sheer beauty of the language.
I recommendJessie Cahalin’s debut novel; You Can’t Go It Alone is an interesting and thoughtful story
Jessie is a bookish blogger, word warrior and intrepid virtual explorer. She loves to entertain with stories, and is never seen without: her camera, phone, notebook and handbag. Fellow authors have deemed her ‘creative and quirky’ and she wears these words like a blogging badge of honour.
Having overcome her fear of self-publishing, she is now living the dream of introducing the characters who have been hassling her for decades. Her debut novel, ‘You Can’t Go It Alone’, is a heart-warming tale about the challenges women still face in society. The novel has light-hearted moments and presents hope. As C. S. Lewis said, ‘We read to know we are not alone.’ Connecting with authors via her Books in my Handbag Blog is a blast. She showcases authors’ books in the popular Handbag Gallery and has fun meeting authors in her virtual world. Communicating with her authors, still gives Jessie a creative buzz.
Jessie Cahalin hails from Yorkshire, but as a book blogger, she has realised that her country of origin is probably The World. She loves to travel the world and collects cultural gems like a magpie. She searches for happy endings, where possible, and needs great coffee, food and music to give her inspiration.
It’s twenty years today since my auntie left our home for the last time to go into care; eight years since she died. I wrote some of the following on each of those occasions. Now it seems almost unbelievable how much time has passed. I remember …
During our lives, Auntie Olive and I had three different relationships.
When I was a child I was told she was ‘someone very important in the civil service.’ She was a spinster in every way. I think I was as much a mystery to her as she was to me and we avoided each other as much as possible. But there was one occasion when we united in gleeful rebellion and it caused the only quarrel I can remember between her and my mother.
For a long time, when I was a child, my mother insisted on my having ringlets. Every night my hair was twisted into rags and my scalp lifted from my skull. It was sheer torture. Auntie Olive hated those ringlets as much as I did and one day, when I was ten, she put a pudding basin on my head and cut round it. I was overjoyed and imagined that I looked like George out of the Famous Five books. My mother was less impressed. She didn’t speak to my auntie for a whole month.
As I grew up my auntie took it upon herself to educate me in classical music but gave up the day she caught me gyrating to the Beatles. She then changed tactics and taught me ballroom dancing. We whirled up and down the hall of the tiny terraced house, where she lived and I can still do a mean waltz and quickstep, but only in straight lines; I never learned to turn corners. She showed me how to sew which came in very useful in the 60’s; it was surprising how many mini skirts a couple of yards of material could make. Most useful of all Auntie Olive taught me to drive and trusted my skills enough to lend me her car; which gave me a lot of kudos in our village (even if it was just a little blue Ford Popular). And, although we still didn’t understand each other’s ways, we were fond of one another.
So it seemed natural that, when my Nan died, Auntie Olive came to live with us in Pembrokeshire.
By that time I was married with children and she was not just my aunt; she had become a dear friend. Even so, with little patience for trivial pleasantries and the possession of an acerbic tongue, she demanded respect wherever she was and I was sometimes a little wary of her.
This made the adjustment to my next relationship with her very difficult.
Thirty years later Aunt Olive lives in the apartment, attached to our house. As she walks past my kitchen window she waves a peeled banana at me, which she intends to eat on the way to the shops. She does this every morning, perhaps to let me know she’s eating properly, perhaps as a joke. But, probably, she doesn’t even realise she’s doing it. All I know is that at one time my aunt would not have done something so ‘unseemly’ as to eat in the street.
As she walks down the drive I realise she has no skirt on.
‘You can’t go out just in your knickers, you’ll stop the traffic’ I joke and we go back to the house. We laugh. She and I laugh a lot these days; it’s the only way to cope. We both know she is trying to keep some control over her life and, more often than not, fails. When she stubbornly insists on wearing her vest over her cardigan; when I find her washing her soiled pyjamas in an overflowing bath, wearing a woolly hat because she can’t find the shower cap she thinks she should wear; when, for the tenth time, the smoke alarm shrieks because she has burned the toast, again, and we both run to waft at it with a tea towel, we laugh. Who cares?
I do, it’s heart breaking.
In our discussions on current affairs she pretends that she has read the newspaper, yet I know she can no longer read and after less than five minutes conversation I am repeating myself and she is the echo. She remembers her school days, her work in the War Office during the Second World War, a lover killed at Dunkirk. But she forgets that she has already had lunch and insists that I make her another; I feel chained to that damn cooker. Her nights and days are muddled and I am getting used to grilling bacon and frying eggs at three in the morning. It’s easier than trying to explain.
Sometimes she calls me by my mother’s name as we sit in the garden, and wonders where her own mother is. I have learned to play the game.
She loves the sun these days.
‘Warms my old bones.’ She says, wearing a floral sun hat, which she wouldn’t have been seen dead in ten years ago.
She has the same route around the village each day, paper shop, chemist, Post Office, Co-op. Not that she needs anything, I shop for her, but it’s her routine and at each place they are good enough to make sure she is heading back in the right direction. Sometimes she walks down the road as far as the cross roads. I watch from an upstairs window. She has begun to wander. She’s very clever at slipping out of the house without me knowing she has gone. I drive around in the car looking for her or I get a telephone call from some kind soul who has ‘captured’ her and is supplying tea and biscuits. And safety.
She’s started to flash her knickers at the man who takes her to the day centre once a week.
Now there is a third relationship I have with my aunt. I am a visitor. We no longer laugh at the silly things she does. I no longer help her to dress or eat. Someone else does all that now. They do it with love and care but it doesn’t stop the guilt i feel. Our conversations are a monologue. She sits and smiles at me. We hold hands. Sometimes she squeezes my fingers and when I look into her eyes I see the fear. I wrap my arms around her and whisper, ‘you’re safe, I’ve got you. It will be alright.’
This is the story of a young woman’s first encounters with rural South Africa. Coming from the all-mod-cons society of Britain at the beginning of the 1980’s, the author is literally transplanted to a farm in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains in what is now Kwazulu Natal.
Once there, she finds her feet in the ways of Africa with the help of a charming, elderly Dutch couple, an appealing but wily African farm hand, his practical and motherly daughter and a wise and fascinating neighbour who has a fund of local knowledge.
These are tales of a different kind of life, which include living without electricity, hand-milking cows, drought, veld fires and mad-cap adventures into the unknown.
They are stories told with deep affection and respect, and above all a liberal dose of tongue-in-cheek humour.
My Review: I gave African Ways 5*out of 5*
Valerie Poore’s African Ways is a brilliant memoir that draws the reader in from the first page.
It is obvious from the beginning how much this author opens herself to people, places…and adventures that most of us would back away from.
I was enthralled throughout by her wonderful descriptions of the land where she made her home with her husband and two young children for three years in the 1980s ( a farm in Natal, South Africa). The love she has for the country and for the neighbours and friends that surrounded her (some with such fabulous names!) shines through in her writing.
Despite everything: the droughts the families endured, the fires ( I was riveted by her portrayal of the unbelievably brave way she, her husband and friends battled against one fire and then, though exhausted, continued their BBQ), the venomous snakes, the swarm of bees that invaded her home and the lack of electricity, it is obvious she embraced the whole experience.
And, threaded throughout the author reveals her superb sense of humour; there are some great ‘laugh out loud’ stories and even some chuckles, despite the dangers, recollections.
African Ways is a memoir I can thoroughly recommend. In fact I would say, you should…really you should…read this book.
Val Poore was born in London, England, and grew up in both north London and the west of Dorset. After completing her degree in English, History and French at Bournemouth, she took a further course in the conservation and restoration of museum artefacts at Lincoln College of Art which qualified her for nothing at all really. She then spent two years doing furniture restoration before going to South Africa in 1981 with her husband and small children.
Valerie left South Africa permanently in 2001 and has settled in the Netherlands, where she shares her time between a liveaboard barge in Rotterdam and a cottage in Zeeland. She teaches academic and business English on a freelance basis and still writes in her spare time, although she admits there’s not enough of that at the moment. In fact, she has been writing since childhood and wrote stories, articles and radio plays for years before embarking on her first book in 2005. Val loves travelling especially when it involves roughing it a bit. She feels that she has better adventures and more interesting experiences that way.
She has written six books altogether: the Skipper’s Child (teen/kidult fiction), How to Breed Sheep, Geese and English Eccentrics (sort of grown-up, humorous fiction), Watery Ways and Harbour Ways (memoirs of her first years of living on a barge in Holland), Walloon Ways (three years as a weekend Belgian) and African Ways (a memoir her life on a farm in South Africa). Her seventh book (another novel) is in progress but is taking rather longer than she had hoped. This is simply due to real life getting in the way.
The title, A Hundred Tiny Threads, is taken from a quote by Simone Signoret (the French actress of cinema and a writer in her later years. She died of cancer in 1985 at the age of 60. The full quote is, “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years. “
A Hundred Tiny Threads is the story of the parents of protagonist in the Howarth trilogy, Mary Howarth. I thought I’d finished with the characters when the last book ended. But something niggled away at me until I realised that until their story was told; their lives explained, the narration was incomplete. The story takes place during a time of social and political upheaval, between the years 1911 and 1922. It’s set in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Ireland at the time of the Suffragettes, the first World War and the Uprising in Ireland.
I knew the years I wanted to cover so one of the obvious difficulties was the timeline. I needed to make sure that those characters, already existing in the trilogy, fitted correctly into those decades. And the two main characters, Winifred Duffy and Bill Howarth, are already fully formed, rounded characters in the previous books so I wanted to show how the era they had grown up in; the environment, the events, the conditions, had shaped them, moulded them into the characters they’d become.
I actually wasn’t going to write a trilogy. The first of the three books is called Pattern of Shadows
I’ve often told the story about how I discovered that the first German POW camp in the UK was a disused cotton mill in Lancashire. And how, because of my memories; of the noise, the colours of the cloth, the smell of grease and cotton when my mother worked as a winder in such a mill, I wondered what it would be like for those prisoners. I imagined their misery, loneliness and anger. And I wanted to write a story about that. But research in a local history library; finding sources of personal accounts of those times, from ex-prisoners, the locals and the guards of the camp, proved that it wasn’t quite as bad as I had imagined. There were times of hope, of love even. So then I knew I needed to write the novel around a family who lived in the town where the camp was situated. Who were involved in some way with the prisoners.
The trouble was that once the story was told there were threads that needed picking up for the sequel, Changing Patterns
And after that book was completed I realised that there would be repercussions from the actions of the characters in the first two stories that would affect the next generations. And so I wrote Living in the Shadows
It’s been hard to let go of some of the characters, especially the protagonist, Mary. But in a way I’m still staying in their world. When I’d sent A Hundred Tiny Threads to Honno , my publishers, for the final time, I wrote and Indie published an anthology of eight short stories called Secrets.
These are the stories of some of the minor characters in the trilogy. At least three of these are crying out for their life stories to be told. I’ve already started on two of the characters: Hannah Booth, the sour mother- in- law of Mary’s sister, Ellen, who appears in Pattern of Shadows, and on Edith Jagger’s tale; the woman who becomes the gossipy and sharp-tongued next-door neighbour of the protagonist, Winifred, in the prequel and previously in the trilogy.
As is often the case, how we finish up in life is shaped by our past. And both women have a dark secret.
Perhaps, all along, I knew I was not going to walk away from these characters. Perhaps they knew they wouldn’t let me.
I received this book from the author as a member of Rosie Amber’s Review Team ~RBRT, in return for an honest review.
I gave My Sweet Friend 4* out of 5*
A stand-alone novella from the author of Manipulated Lives
A perfect friend … or a perfect impostor?
Alexa is an energetic and charismatic professional and the new member of a Parisian PR company where she quickly befriends her colleagues Rosie and Jack. She brings a much-needed breath of fresh air into the office and ambitiously throws herself into her new job and friendships.
But is Alexa all she claims to be?
As her life intertwines with Rosie and Jack’s, they must all decide what separates truth from fiction. Will the stories that unfold unite or divide them? Can first impressions ever be trusted?
In this original novella, H.A. Leuschel evokes the powerful hold of appearances and what a person is prepared to do to keep up the facade. If you like thought-provoking and compelling reads with intriguing characters, My Sweet Friend is for you.
In this novella the author has, once again, concentrated on the theme of manipulation; from the manoeuvrings for power in business to the exploitation that can be committed in personal relationships. This is an emotional exploration of the human psyche on various levels. It is also a brilliant story.
Told from the first person point of view of the two main characters, Rosie and Alexa, each have their own chapters, which move from present to flashbacks. The plot takes us from absolute loyalty and hope in Rosie’s understanding of her relationship with Alexa, to the first seeds of doubt and distrust, (emphasised by the exchanges of dialogue with Jack; would be boyfriend and initially also taken in by Alexa). With Alexa the portrayal of the ultimate confidence that she is in control of her life and is blinkered to any faults of her own, is gradually undermined by glimpses of vulnerability. Each character is so multi layered and believable that I found myself at various points throughout the narrative both empathising but being exasperated with Rosie and disliking yet understanding Alexa. Ultimately, though, I had compassion for both.
These are strongly- written characters; Leuschel has an innate sense of the way anyone can manipulate others through the facade of friendship and loyalty; even subliminally. Both the internal and the spoken dialogue are used to give rise to unease and doubt in the reader’s mind as to who is actually the victim in this relationship. Even the descriptions that give a good sense of place are used to show brilliant interpretation of the emotional weakness of each character.
I would have loved the intricacies of the relationships within the story to have moved more slowly, shift in the strengths and weaknesses between the characters. I felt this novella could easily have been made into a novel. But then, perhaps, it wouldn’t have worked; it is a very intensely controlled friendship so would have always burned out quickly.
There is only one tiny thing I really disliked in this story – and I will admit it sounds trivial and silly but it is a personal aversion; I did not like the word “sniggered” (Alexa sniggered a few times – it drove me mad!) the verb just did not fit in with the image I had of this character. Sorry H.A. Leuschel.
Putting such an inconsequential point to one side I would certainly recommend My Sweet Friend to any reader; it’s a thought-provoking physiological and gripping read.
Helene Andrea Leuschel grew up in Belgium where she gained a Licentiate in Journalism & Communication, which led to a career in radio and television in Brussels, London and Edinburgh. She now lives with her husband and two children in Portugal and recently acquired a Master of Philosophy with the OU, deepening her passion for the study of the mind. When she is not writing, Helene works as a freelance journalist and teaches Yoga.
I received a review copy of this book from Honno Press, the Welsh Women’s Press, as I was intrigued by the idea of a book which swept through so much history through the eyes of one woman. Winifred lives and works in a shop in a grim mining town in 1911. Her parents own and run the general shop, and her mother’s sharp temper and determination to keep Winifred working mean that her horizons are, and always have been severely limited. Bill, a miner, is first seen trapped by a misplaced explosion in a mine, reflecting on his probable death and his dislike of his step-family. In many ways they are alike, but all the circumstances of their lives suggest that they will never meet, let alone come together. This novel is a family saga without the central family; personal dislike and forces beyond their control mean that these are two individuals struggling to survive in challenging social circumstances.
Winifred is tempted away from her home by chance meetings with Honora, an unconventional artist who has become an active worker for woman’s suffrage. This is not genteel campaigning but marches and protests which lead to violence and arrest, even death, for those women who become involved. I was not sure why Winifred becomes a speaker for this small group, but her absences from the shop annoy her mother and force her father to shield her. Winifred meets Conal, Honora’s attractive and clever brother, and becomes involved with him. She is horrified by her grandmother’s living conditions which have resulted from family losses and her own mother’s harsh unyielding personality. Developments within the shop and the campaign mean that Winifred becomes more isolated and more desperate.
Bill survives the accident but is unable to continue working at the mine; he travels away and encounters Winifred while trying to scrape enough to survive. He becomes entranced by her and takes desperate action to try and gain her interest. Terrible events graphically described force him into fighting in the War which is just as hideous as can be imagined. This is a novel which pulls no punches in describing death; I cannot say that there is much light or joy in any of its narrative.
This is an immense book which traces those pushed by events and a War which affected everyone in the country. The intense details leave little to the imagination as the struggle to survive is real and incrementally built as loved ones go and unyielding hatred makes loss worse. It is a layered view of life as characters find challenges on many fronts. Barrow has a keen eye for detail which builds up a feeling of reality in this chronicle of lives lived in harsh situations. The writing is painfully real and feels just as overwhelming as life; decisions quickly taken lead far into the story as a whole. This is apparently a book which precedes three others relating to the same family through several generations. Certainly it is just as diverse, with as many backstories and complicated feelings as real families tend to inherit. There are many elements of tragedy here as well as determined love and strands of hope. This is a superb book for those who like their novels immersive and intense, real life of people around them in times of trial and progress.
As some of you may know, as well as holding creative writing workshops I also tutor creative writing for the local council. Tutoring adults can be rewarding (discovering wonderful writers), chaotic (my lesson plans are rarely followed – someone will inevitably take things off at a tangent) hilarious (the undiscovered comedian/ the completely unaware comedian) and thought-provoking (especially with memoir writing and poetry) I’ve kept promising to share some of their work. Here is a thoughtful piece of free verse poetry, written by Trish Power
I received a copy of Parallel Lies from the author in return for an honest review. I gave the book 4* out of 5*
My name is Madeleine, Madeleine Ross. It is a name chosen with thought and because it is classy, and that is what is needed here…’ Madeleine Ross has life exactly as she planned it. Cosy cottage, friendly village, satisfying job. Company… when she wants it. It’s an enviable existence for an independent young woman, and one she’s keen to protect. Enter Daniel – strong, dependable and a danger to everything she’s built. He’s not something she was looking for, but hearts can’t be controlled and maybe, just maybe he might be worth letting into hers. But, all is not what it seems. Because Madeleine is hiding a lifetime of secrets. Deep secrets. And they never stay buried for ever. Her darkest secret returns, like the proverbial bad penny. He is her first love, shadowy, dangerous, the baddest of bad boys. No matter how far she runs, or how well she hides, she can never escape him. Or her past. Here he is, on her doorstep, with a proposition she is powerless to resist but which could devastate the future she hoped to have. Can Madeleine satisfy the old love while keeping the new? You can’t always get what you want but, desperate to preserve the life she has worked so hard for, Madeleine is willing to risk everything to prove that she can.
I’ve always enjoyed Georgia Rose’s work; she has a writing style that carries the reader along, never quite sure what will happen next in her books.
Parallel Lies is no exception; it’s a cracking good read, a mixture of mystery and crime with an overlay of romance.
The main characters are strongly rounded, The protagonist is shown to be flawed; she lives, as the title hints, parallel lives; a damaged woman hidden inside the persona she has skilfully and painstakingly acquired; the classy Madeleine. Then there is Dan, initially disliked by Madeleine, yet it’s a classic case; the dislike turns into reluctant love. A love endangered by a character from her past life. Say no more!
And, something else I liked; the minor characters are given enough layers to make them believable (I particularly liked Diane, a strong woman who grew up in the sixties, with all that the era represents) and Joe, the gardener and friend of Diane, given wisdom and insight. Also Kourtney, a young woman rough around the edges who reminds the protagonist of herself when younger. For me, the way Kourtney’s life evolves in the story suggests that there is more to come from this character at some times in the future. Or maybe not? Hmm.
Told mostly from Madeline’s point of view. we get an insight both to the way the plot is progressing and also to the subtle, inevitable changes in the protagonist. But there is, as well, another point of view, and I did like this; Dan’s point of view. This is in the second person point of view as internal dialogue. It worked well, for me.
And I thought the dialogue throughout worked well for all the characters.
The descriptions of the settings give a good sense of place; it’s easy to see the characters moving around the pubs and houses in Crowbridge, the gym and seedy shop in Hartleigh.
All in all, a well written story by Georgia Rose that builds the tension of the plot.
Georgia Rose is a writer and the author of the romantic and suspenseful Grayson Trilogy books: A Single Step, Before the Dawn and Thicker than Water. A short story, The Joker, based on a favourite character from the series followed and is free to download from Amazon.
Her fourth novel, Parallel Lies, a standalone, encompasses crime along with Georgia’s usual blending of genre.
Following a long stint working in the law Georgia set up her own business providing administration services for other companies which she does to this day managing to entwine that work along with her writing.
Georgia’s background in countryside living, riding, instructing and working with horses has provided the knowledge needed for some of her story lines; the others are a product of her passion for people watching and her overactive imagination.
The ghosts of a century’s worth of secrets and betrayals are coming home to Pengarrow…
Evie has lost her eldest son, Jesse, to gang violence. Leaving the house he grew up in is pulling apart the few strings left holding her heart together. Only the desire to be there for her younger boy, Finn, impels Evie to West Wales and the ancient house her husband is sure will heal their wounds.
Days later, Andrew is gone – rushing back to his ‘important’ job in government, abandoning his grieving wife and son. Finn finds solace in the horse his father buys by way of apology. As does his evasive and fearful new friend, Nye, the one who reminds him and Evie of Jesse… Evie loses herself in a dusty 19th century journal and glasses of homemade wine left by the mysterious housekeeper.
As Evie’s grasp on reality slides, Andrew’s parents ride to the rescue. It is clear that this is a house they know. They seem to think they own it, and begin making changes nobody wants, least of all Alys and her son, Nye, the terrified youth who looks so like Jesse.
This book hooked me from the start: ” I don’t want to leave. I’m being ripped from the rock I cling to…” Right away i was in the protagonist’s heart and mind. The story of Evie Wolfe, her grief, her bewilderment, her sense of loss is threaded through the whole of The House With Old Furniture. Helen Lewis has a talent for writing phrases that evoke instant images, moods and sensations.This is rich,flowing prose.
Told alternately from the points of view of Evie and her young son, Finn, the contrast in tone is stark, yet the empathy, between the two is palpable. The author relates many of the same scenes throughout the novel from their different perspectives, with their different voices, allowing each scene to come alive and enabling the reader to ‘see’ the confusion in each character’s mind. Yet also to begin to see the machinations of the other characters surrounding them.
All the characters are multi-layered and convincing in the roles they play, whether they live in the ‘real’ world or are more ephemeral. As a reader I found myself alternately empathetic, saddened, perturbed, intrigued, angry. The House With Old Furniture is not a book that lets the reader go so easily; I discovered it is quite easy to dust, to make a meal one -handed, to iron, with only occasional glances to see what I was doing. And to read.
The spoken dialogue defines each character to their part in the plot, yet it is so subtly written that it is easy, initially, to miss the manipulations that are woven throughout. Only through the internal dialogue of Finn and the gradual slipping of reality with Evie did the unease grow in me.
My review wouldn’t be complete without a word or two about the setting of the novel. The descriptive narrative brings alive the surrounding countryside of Wales; the isolation, the beauty, sometimes the danger, to give a great sense of place. I also love the title; The House With Old Furniture encompasses the descriptions of both Pengarrow and the cottage where Evie finds Nye and Alys. Ah, Alys, an elusive character that I will leave other readers to discover for themselves, just as Evie ‘discovers’ her.
This is a story where a sense of disbelief has to be, and is, easily suspended. And it’s expertly brought about by Helen Lewis’ writing.
Love the cover by the way…and the wonderful inscriptions and patterns on the pages that divide the chapters.
As you can probably guess,I wholeheartedly recommend.The House With Old Furniture.
Helen was born in 1967 in the New Forest. She spent her childhood dreaming of becoming a ballerina and doodling in the margin. She graduated from Southampton Faculty of Art and Design (so long ago now, that the place doesn’t even exist!) and worked as a professional Doodler of Margins (Graphic Designer) for twenty years. In 2006 She moved to Pembrokeshire with her family and lives in the middle of nowhere where she reads, writes, and runs.
Gathering even more of us all together this week to show what a treat is in store at our book fair. Do please drop in to our website: Narberth Book Fair, cleverly put together by the brilliant Thorne Moore.
Will be posting interviews with the authors and poets who will be taking part in our Book Fair for some weeks to come.
There are forty authors, obviously, there are many genres for both adults and children. There will be talks an writing and books, creative writing workshops for adults: workshops & talks and fun workshops for children, activities for the children; Children’s Page and a fun book trail through Narberth, the gorgeous little market town in Pembrokeshire. Location.
And, of course, there will be the chance to chat with all the authors and to pick their brains on all aspects of writing. Even to buy their books and have them personally signed.
And, as usual, there will also be the writing competition: this year is a poetry competition: competition Submit a poem, in any form, of 20 lines or less, on the subject of : –
BOOKS AND READING.
Having outgrown our previous venue we have been lucky to hire the Queens Hall: https://www.thequeenshall.org.uk/ who have been very generous in their support of the event.
Although, five years ago, I started organising the book fairs on my own I was soon joined by Alex Martin: http://amzn.to/2hZCgt2 and Thorne Moore: http://bit.ly/2rc5qyA. Unfortunately Alex has moved on to pastures new (although is still a great supporter and, hopefully, will be with us at the fair), so Thorne and I have been joined by Elizabeth Sleight. Elizabeth is involved in the charity we are supporting through our raffle; The Harriet Davis Seaside Holiday Trust For Disabled Children: http://bit.ly/2sNyeKQ .
There are forty authors, so, obviously, there are many genres for both adults and children. There will be talks an writing and books, creative writing workshops for adults workshops & talks and fun workshops for children, activities for the children Children’s Page and a fun book trail through Narberth, the gorgeous little market town in Pembrokeshire. Location.
And, of course, there will be the chance to chat with all the authors and to pick their brains on all aspects of writing. Even to buy their books and have them personally signed.
And, as usual, there will also be the writing competition: this year is a poetry competition: competition . Submit a poem, in any form, of 20 lines or less, on the subject of : –
BOOKS AND READING.
Having outgrown our previous venue we have been lucky to hire the Queens Hall: https://www.thequeenshall.org.uk/ who have been very generous in their support of the event.
Although, five years ago, I started organising the book fairs on my own I was soon joined by Alex Martin: http://amzn.to/2hZCgt2 and Thorne Moore: http://bit.ly/2rc5qyA. Unfortunately Alex has moved on to pastures new (although is still a great supporter), so Thorne and I have been joined by Elizabeth Sleight. Elizabeth is involved in the charity we are supporting through our raffle; The Harriet Davis Seaside Holiday Trust For Disabled Children: http://bit.ly/2sNyeKQ .
Our author today is the multi-talented Wendy Steel
What do you love most about the writing process?
I love seeing my characters play out a story that’s been banging around in my head, watching it evolve and develop, often from a single idea. I enjoy editing and finishing less but the joy of completing a draft ready for first readers, makes up for that. Of course, feedback from readers is the greatest joy of all.
What book that you have read has most influenced your life?
I was forty years of age when I read Moon Magic by Dion Fortune. My childhood love of the moon and everything Egyptian and my personal discoveries about paganism, hedge witchery and the Kabbalah were brought together when I read that book. With new confidence, I wrote my first published novel, Destiny of Angels.
Who is your favourite author?
My favourite author is the late, much missed, Sir Terry Pratchett. I read Wyrd Sisters first before devouring every book he had written. I’m a visual reader and writer and Sir Terry conjures up images and scenes in the most beautiful and economical way. His use of language can make me laugh or cry. Magic.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
An average week will include 16-18 hours of writing plus 7-12 hours of social media/marketing.
I love big chunks of time to write, to immerse myself in the story and characters. My best writing time is if my partner is working away and I don’t need to teach in the evening. I’m happy to write for 12-14 hours in one hit.
The reality is that I rarely get 4 hours at a time but I carry chapters of first draft with me, in case I have the opportunity to read and revise and make notes for the following chapters. Typing them up involves me in the story quickly, often leading to me writing on; I’ll do anything to maximise my writing time.
Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book and why it is a must-read?
The Naked Witch is my first novel in a new and exciting genre, Witchlit. Similar to Chicklit, the female protagonist is a modern woman, juggling work, an ex-husband, a difficult, demanding mother while also the responsible single parent of a teenage daughter. Readers love Lizzie Martin! She’s a woman of courage, beset by the worries and concerns we have but determined to stand up for what she believes in. Being a witch is part of who she is, rather than the label that defines her.
In three words, can you describe your latest book?
Compelling, thought-provoking and unique.
What was the inspiration behind The Naked Witch?
I wanted to write a book for everyone, especially women, whatever their usual choice of genre. Lizzie lives her life in a man’s world, as do we all and I wanted to write a story about a woman making her own rules, willing to defy convention and be successful in her own right.
How long did it take you to write The Naked Witch?
Having penned a few Witchlit short stories at the end of last year, the character of Lizzie Martin emerged and her story unfolded easily. The book took me three months to write and a further month to edit once I’d had feedback from first readers.
When did you write your first book and how old were you?
I wrote a few children’s books about Willoughby the Hedgehog in my twenties but I was thirty eight when I began my first novel, Hubble Bubble…and forty one when I finished it! I wrote in forty minute time slots while sitting in the car, waiting for my children to come out of school.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I’ve had useful and encouraging feedback from readers in reviews but I also get messages and meet fans at book fairs. I’m delighted to say they find my books inspiring, feeling they can identify with the characters…and more than one of them wants to be Lizzie Martin!
Do you have any hidden or uncommon talents?
I’m not sure if it’s a talent but I can recite the alphabet backwards. I taught myself at the age of about twelve…I have no idea why. I learned to read music, when I learned to play the piano, at the age of four, the same age as when I learned to read words.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
When I lived in a town, I used to have writing trousers, a huge, baggy pair of black tracksuit bottoms which was my preferred attire to write in. Now I write in pjs.
I love beginning a new story with a fresh pad of A4 paper and my Waterman fountain pen.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Apart from renovating my current residence and attempting to tame four acres of land, I dance. I learned belly dance from the age of forty, taught it for four years and, while exploring other dance genres, discovered ATS® Belly dance. I’ve been teaching this style as Tribal Unity Wales since March 2014. Belly dance is a fabulous, full body work out and classes are a great way to make friends and keep fit.
What is the most amusing thing that has ever happened to you? Not particularly to do with your writing
I can only recall one incident that was amusing to those watching while embarrassing for me at the time…five months pregnant with my daughter, I fell through a garden chair and got stuck…even I laughed as my friends attempted to extract me!
Give us a random fact about yourself.
Belly dance gave me confidence at a time when I was coping with a debilitating illness and struggling with self image. I wanted a tattoo but money was put to more practical use, bringing up three children so at the age of fifty, ten years later, I had my first tattoo, a delicate triskele that I adore. The eight pointed star of the warrior goddess Ishtar soon followed. Last year, I asked the fabulously talented Abi Hack to design a tribal band for my arm, incorporating a thirteen petalled lotus and a mandala that my daughter and I share, both of which adorn my right arm.