Monday, September 29, 2014

A Little in Love Blog Tour

If like me you are a fan of Les Misérables; the book, the musical or the movie then you will be familiar with the character of Eponine, and delighted to hear that Susan Fletcher, winner of the Whitbread Prize for First Novel and the author of Eve Green, Oystercatchers, The Silver Dark Sea and Corrag has written a teen novel based on Eponine's story. Published this Thursday by Chicken House.

Paris, 1832. A street-girl takes a bullet, clutching a love note to her heart. What is Eponine’s story?

As a young child Eponine never knew kindness, except once from her family’s kitchen slave, Cosette. When at sixteen the girls’ paths cross again and their circumstances are reversed, Eponine must decide what that friendship is worth, even though they’ve both fallen for the same boy. In the end, Eponine will sacrifice everything to keep true love alive.

Check out the Chicken House website for an extract

I am delighted to be taking part in the blog tour details below.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Feature Author Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin is an Omagh-born author and journalist. Her eight books range from historical novels – The House Where It Happened and Ship of Dreams – to non-fiction including Banksters and The Hollow Heart. She writes a weekly current affairs column for the Irish Independent and has been named columnist of the year by the National Newspapers of Ireland. Short story awards include the Royal Society of Literature’s VS Pritchett Prize and a Hennessy Literary Award. Martina's latest book is The House Where it Happened published by Poolbeg's Ward River Press.
Her website is

Q&A with Martina Devlin

1. Do you plan the story first and then do the research or does reading and research spark ideas?
The research sparks ideas for me. I have a general idea of plot, themes, and so on, but I have to hunt for the characters and wait for them to flesh out.

2. Do you think historical fiction is enjoying a resurgence and why is that?
It never went away, for some of us fans of the genre. But yes it does seem to be having a moment. The past fascinates some readers because we can see where wrong turns were taken but are powerless to shout: Not that way, this way! The end result is already cast. Or is it because we like to replay what-ifs and wonder how they might have changed the course of history? Perhaps it’s nostalgia. Or that we learn while we read. There could be any number of reasons.

3. What draws you to writing about the past?
I’m a history buff. Researching these novels enthralls me. For some bizarre reason, I like to know how much a stamp cost in 1711, and whether or not a servant girl was allowed a half-day off a week.

4. Do you have a typical writing day?
Where possible, I try to write in the morning because my brain is less cluttered and I have more energy, consequently the work is better. It doesn’t always pan out that way, but that’s the ideal. I’ve been adopted by a tortoiseshell cat, who comes and lies in the sun near where I work, and I find her presence soothing. And she seems to find the click-click-click soothing, too. So it’s mutually beneficial, a useful combination.

5. What are you working on now?
Another novel, speculative fiction, in which the protagonist is an outsider trying to make sense of a strange world. I didn’t set out to write speculative fiction, I just wrote the story as it came to me – and was somewhat surprised, at the end of the first draft, to discover that’s what it was. Makes me sound like a hapless channel for stories, doesn’t it? I usually have a short story on the go, too.

Martina's Five Favourite Books

In no particular order, and I could change my mind about the list tomorrow:
1. Samuel Pepys’s diaries, which he kept between 1660 and 1669. He was so fascinated by life. So fascinated by himself. So fascinating to me, hundreds of years later. He blended the personal and the panoramic, and his diaries are a porthole into the social history of his era, the English Restoration.
2. Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor because he blends detective and historical fiction to produce a cracking read of Dickensian dimensions. His character Pius Mulvey is compelling. So, too, is his famine narrative.
3. I find myself returning to Seamus Heaney’s poetry: the vividness of the imagery, the strength of the narrative, the love underpinning the portraits of his family – peeling potatoes with his mother, “Never closer the whole rest of our lives”; watching his aunt make scones, “And here is love/Like a tinsmith’s scoop”; the pen pictures of his father in old age. The Economist compared his death to a great tree falling.
4. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – a revenge story, a love story, a sad story, a masterly story. And it’s set on the haunting Yorkshire Moors. What more could a reader ask for?
5. As a child I was entranced by the Anne of Green Gables series, about an orphan girl sent by mistake to a farm in rural Canada owned by a middle-aged brother and sister. I admired how LM Montgomery refreshed the orphan-made-good formula. However, I should point out that I may have had subjective bias because the heroine had red hair and so do I.

Martina's Top Five writing tips

1. Re-write, re-write, re-write. Cut and polish. No substitute for it.
2. Don’t wait for the muse to strike. Just do it. Start writing. Even if ‘writing’ is a euphemism for staring at a blank screen. Eventually the words will flow.
3. Ask yourself, how would I tell my story in one sentence? Have a clear idea what it’s about.
4. Know your characters inside out: their motivations, their speech patterns, their back story. Make them flawed – nobody is perfectly good or irredeemably bad.
5. Be selective about TV viewing – no need to give it up entirely but be conscious that it can suck you in for hours, so only switch on for specific programmes. Ditto with rummaging round on social media and the Internet. Those lost hours could be spent writing.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Rethinking the blog

I have been blogging actively for more than three years now and I love it, as it's a great outlet for my love of reading and has helped me to connect with readers and writers and to discover some wonderful books.
However I have had a bit of slump in my enthusiasm recently for a variety of reasons. I have moved from working one day a week to working twenty to thirty hours a week; last week for example I worked thirty two hours. I'm not complaining of course I enjoy my job especially as it revolves around books but of course that means less time free to blog and to read.
This means that I need to make changes in how and when I blog and what I choose to blog about. Blogging for me began with two objectives; to have a place online where I could shout about the books and authors that I love and to talk about writing; share tips, links and competitions. 
As I have been working so much my spare time has shrunk and become even more precious. I want to spend as much time as I can writing and reading but I want to write about the things that matter to me and read the books I want to read. 

I am not for one minute saying that I hate receiving books from publishers, I love it and long may it continue. However I have so may books that I am waiting to read and haven't had a chance to, because I have so many reviews to get through.  In choosing to start my Friday feature interviews I hope I have started to move towards my original goal of making this a blog about writing as much as reading and because I am focusing on authors of historical fiction I am going to focus my reviews on historical fiction also. This means that anything that doesn't fit into my original blog description (which I have reinstated above) "historical, gothic and fantasy fiction" will have to take a back seat or won't feature at all, because I feel that my blog lost focus and so did I. 

I apologise to authors and publishers who are waiting for reviews from me, but I have to review at my own pace if it's not fun then what's the point? I will pass on books that aren't for me to friends and family who will be delighted to read them. 
I will still be reviewing some contemporary authors; my definition of gothic as interpreted through the Oxford Dictionary of Literary terms includes stories with an atmosphere of gloom, suspense or claustrophobia, so I will certainly be reading more from authors like Louise Welsh, Joanna Briscoe, Nuala Ni Chonchuir and Tom Vowler. I will also be widening my definition of Historical Fiction to include time-slip and dual time stories. I will also be including when I can reviews of exceptional historical fiction and fantasy for children and teenagers, as I hope to involve my children especially my ten year old daughter who wants to read more and start blogging with me. 

My blog may be less frequent as a result but it will I hope be more focused. 

Friday Feature Author Debra Daley

Debra Daley is a New Zealand born writer. She won the Lillian Ida Smith award for The Strange Letter Z, has written for New Zealand television and her latest novel is Turning the Stones.

A note from the author on writing.

Why I write

I was always determined to be a writer. If you look on my blog you can see some early manifestos clumsily written when I was six or seven attesting to my compulsion to write. This was not unconnected with the fact that I had recently learned to read. That’s how it has been ever since: reading makes me want to write. Writing makes me want to read. When I was about eight years old and a forlorn little girl, I got a book out of the library whose consoling power profoundly influenced me. I can still remember my amazement at discovering by means of a story that other people in the world felt what I was feeling and that I was not alone. The book was Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden. It concerns a displaced little girl called Nona, living with a hoity-toity cousin who couldn’t care less about two Japanese dolls, Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, that have been given to her. When Nona realises that the dolls are lonely, scared and homesick, she tries to make them feel better by building them a little Japanese house to live in. Of course, by building a home for Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, Nona begins to create a home-life for herself. It is a lesson in the transformational powers of empathy. This mind-melding is the point of literature to me—that through a writer’s imagination you can be lifted out of yourself and connected to humanity. It astounds me still that another human being can spin a world out of the air and all it takes to enter it is the ability to read.

Debra's five favourite books from the deep past

Leaving aside all my rave reads of the 20th and 21st centuries, as a historical novelist, these five constantly inspire me:

1. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson, 1748. The fiendish rake Lovelace vs. the rapturous virgin Clarissa. A 1,000-page epistolary novel and immersive experience of the 18th century.
2. A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne, 1768. The first modern travel memoir. Clever, self-obsessed, elegantly succinct.
3. The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay, 1728. Okay, it’s a play with ballads, not a novel, but crammed with fantastic thieves, mouthy whores and cracking dialogue. And is there any more attractive anti-hero than Captain Macheath (the original Mac the Knife)?
4. A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift, 1704. A brilliant takedown of idiots and blowhards in positions of power that is still relevant right now.
5. Dracula by Bram Stoker, 1897. The ultimate Gothic horror novel and acme of the epistolary style. The last word in atmosphere. Literally wrote the book on How To Create A Memorable Character.

Debra's top five writing tips

1. Assume Nobody Gives a Damn. In other words, don’t waste psychic energy angsting about whether anyone is ever going to recognise your genius. Some amazing, transcendentally wonderful writers never find an agent or publisher let alone public recognition. And some do. That’s the
nature of the beast: talent needs to be allied with luck. So don’t try to second-guess the future. Concentrate on the thing you’re writing. Just write now. Write for yourself. Write because you love writing.

2. Know That To Write Is To Be Rejected. Everyone tells you this, but it can’t be emphasised enough. Do not let rejection stop you from writing. My first novel, The Strange Letter Z, was published by Bloomsbury. Woo-hoo! I spent five years writing an epic second novel, only to have it rejected. I had invested MAJORLY in that novel, not only emotional energy and time, but most of my financial resources. Afterwards, I did a certain amount of lying facedown on the ground sobbing. But what could I do then but keep writing? So I wrote Turning the Stones. On faith. And I got another book deal. It just took years, that’s all. An agent told me recently that it surprised her how many novelists walk away from writing after a rejection. She said they haven’t understood that to be an author is to play a very long innings.

3. Don’t Write What You Know. All right, I’m being facetious, but honestly, if you are writing a historical or fantasy novel, you have the opportunity to create stories and characters that are worlds away from the same-old of your personal life. I really believe that story-making benefits from the surge of excitement you feel inventing situations in times and places that are literally novel to you. My curiosity is always piqued by difference. In real life I’m a white, middle-class mother-of-two. But in my mind I’m a crusty old man in some eighteenth-century predicament.

4. Learn to Wrangle Research. Historical writers can’t do without it, but beware, my loves, Google’s siren call. You can easily get lost in the labyrinth of Interesting Possibilities and find that six months have passed without finding your way to the end of your story. I’m not above the addictive sidebar myself (she says, looking guiltily at a couple of notebooks fat with abandoned facts), but I do try to manage research by first writing a broad outline of my story so that I know where I am going. Be guided by the thread of your narrative otherwise you will never reach that halcyon day when you write, END.

5. Write A Novel By Writing A Novel. It might sound bleedin’ obvious, but a novel won’t write itself. I have found that to write a book you have to work at it more or less every day whether you feel like it or not. I use a cheesy psychological trick to do this. I tell myself I only need write 200 words today. And then accidentally write 1,000. I work paragraph by paragraph, never letting myself dwell on the enormity of the undertaking. In this I am guided by the stupendously great Anne Lamott, who is all about taking one step at a time. If you only read one book about making writing happen for you, let it be Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Feature Author Emma Fraser

After a variety of jobs (waitress, sign painter for archeological sites, barmaid) Emma Fraser trained as a nurse in Edinburgh before going on to study English Literature at university. After graduating she and her husband travelled for a few years, living and working in Australia, rural Africa and the far north of Canada. When they returned to Britain, Emma worked in the Health Sector for a number of years before leaving to write full time. She wrote several medical romances for Harlequin under the name Anne Fraser before her first historical novel, When the Dawn Breaks was published by Sphere in 2013. Her second historical, We Shall Remember, is out in ebook and hardback now and paperback in October. Her stories are about ordinary, but strong and determined women who find themselves in extra-ordinary situations and are based on real people and events.

Emma's Five Favourite Books

I have so many, but these are five of my favourites

Into Thin Air Jon Krakauer
Rebecca Daphne du Maurier
Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen
The Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
Bleak House Charles Dickens

Emma's 5 Top Writing tips

Sometimes it feels as if writing a whole book is impossible – think of it in chunks and you'll get there. Which brings me to my next tip...

Write first - edit later

I'm a great believer that we use one side of our brain to write and the other to edit. If you try and apply the editing side while you are writing, you will constantly go over scenes and never get to the end.

Learn to love your delete key

After you've written your first draft, go back. If the scene doesn't push your story on, either by revealing character or advancing the plot, the scene has to go. Learn that this is a good thing. (Sometimes if it's too painful to delete something I have spent hours writing, I put it in a deleted scene file and pretend to myself I will use it in another book. I haven't done so far, but it easier for me to use that key.)

Try and write most days

I don't write at the weekends (unless I am close to a deadline then I write all the time) but I do try to write most days. If I take long periods off I find it more difficult to get back into my writing. It feels to me a little like when I haven't been to the gym for a while. As Stephen King says in his book On Writing, you can't wait for the muse to come to you. Sit down at your desk every day (or most days) and the muse will come and find you there.

Find someone you trust to be your ideal reader.

I'm lucky, I have my sisters and my daughter who I can show stuff to. They can be brutal, far too honest sometimes, but trust me that's better than having a first reader who doesn't want to hurt your feelings.

Emma's books are published by Sphere . When the Dawn Breaks is available in paperback and e-book and We Shall Remember is available in e-book and hardback with a paperback release planned for later this year.

Blog Tour Review and Interview for Spirit by Daniela Sacerdoti

September 16th sees the release of the final book in Daniela Sacerdoti's YA Fantasty trilogy which tells the story of Sarah Midnight and which I have avidly followed in the previous two instalments Dreams and Tide. To recap Sarah is a grade A student and a talented young musician hoping to study at Scotland's top Music Academy but is plagued by frightening dreams, the dreams guide Sarah's parents who are demon hunters as all of her family have been through the generations. When her parents are murdered Sarah must take on their work and find their killer. Sarah has to use the powers she has inherited, along with the friends she makes along the way. Spirit is a spectacular climax to the series as Sarah and her friends have taken a leap of faith trusting in Nicholas and have begun their journey to the spirit world to confront The King of Shadows. Daniela has wonderfully rounded out her characters as they come of age in this final book and we get some further intriguing hints about the history of the secret families and an insight in to Nicholas also. This is a spectacular series which will appeal to teens (and adults) who have enjoyed Liz de Jager's Banished, Sally Green's Half Bad or Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments. 
The books are published by Black and White Publishing and are available in paperback and e-book.

I asked Dani a few questions about her inspiration and what she is working on right now.

1. How do you feel bringing Sarah's story to an end? Is it the end?

Oooh, I don't know if it's the end! It was very hard to say goodbye to my characters, especially Sarah and Sean. I would love to see them all again. Or maybe explore their past, like what Sean did in Japan before meeting Sarah. I'm writing a short story about that now, so watch this space :)

2. Where did the inspiration come from for the Sarah Midnight series?

It all started from a black-haired girl I saw at a bus stop years ago: she was wearing a school uniform and listening to music, and she had a very intense expression. I thought she would make an ideal character for a story, so she became Sarah!

3. Will you write more YA Fiction?

I hope so. If I find another strong story that really captures me, I hope I'll be able to send it out into the world like I did with Sarah. I was lucky to find a publisher who believed in her.

4. What else are you working on?

I'm working on an adult book, the third set in Glen Avich, called Set Me Free.

5. What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

To work extremely hard and get that novel finished! Also to read a lot, and never ever give up, because sometimes it takes a long time to find a publisher, and there may be many rejections along the way.

6. What are your favourite Fantasy books?

The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit. I'm a real Tolkien nerd. I also love The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, and The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. The Bone Season is the first of seven books and only the first have been published, so I'm looking forward to following the saga for the next few years.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Friday Feature Barbara Kyle

Yes I know it's not Friday but I have two feature authors this week one today and one on Friday, so first up is Barbara Kyle the bestselling Canadian author who writes about family, love and loyalty in Tudor times.

Barbara Kyle is the author of the acclaimed Thornleigh Saga historical novels The Queen's Exiles, Blood Between Queens, The Queen’s Gamble, The Queen’s Captive, The King’s Daughter and The Queen’s Lady which follow an English middle-class family's rise through three tumultuous Tudor reigns. She is also the author of the contemporary thrillers Entrapped and The Experiment. Over 450,000 copies of her books have been sold in seven countries.
Barbara has taught writers at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and is known for her dynamic workshops for writers groups, organizations, and conferences. Her Master Classes have launched many of her students' novels to publishing success. She also mentors writers through her manuscript evaluation service.
Before becoming an author Barbara enjoyed a twenty-year acting career in television, film, and stage productions in Canada and the U.S.

Barbara's Five Favourite Books

THE WINDS OF WAR by Herman Wouk
SHOGUN by James Clavell
LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry
AN OFFICER AND A SPY by Robert Harris

Barbara's Five Top Writing Tips

1. Write an outline. It will save you a lot of grief.

2. Get to the story's inciting incident as soon as possible. Definition of inciting incident: the event that throws the protagonist's world out of balance. The story that follows will be about them striving to restore balance to their life.
3. Build big scenes around a major reversal or revelation.

4. Beware using coincidence as a plot device. It's okay to use coincidence to get characters into trouble, but not to get them out of trouble.

5. Build the story's climax around the hardest choice the protagonist will ever make.

Barbara's Recent Release: THE QUEEN'S EXILES (June 2014)

1572. Europe is in turmoil. A vengeful faction of exiled English Catholics is scattered about the Continent, plotting to overthrow Queen Elizabeth and install her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, on the throne. And in the Netherlands the streets are red with the blood of those who dare to oppose the brutal Spanish occupation. But amid the unrest, one resourceful young woman has made a lucrative enterprise…
Scottish-born Fenella Doorn salvages crippled vessels. It is on one of these ships that she meets wealthy Baron Adam Thornleigh. Secretly drawn to him, Fenella can’t refuse when Adam enlists her to join him in war-torn Brussels to help find his traitorous wife, Frances—and the children she’s taken from him.
But Adam and Fenella will put their lives in peril as they attempt to rescue his young ones, defend the Crown, and restore the peace that few can remember.

“Riveting Tudor drama in the bestselling vein of Philippa Gregory” – USA Today

“An epic tale of patriotism and treason, political upheaval and oppression, familial love and the ties that bind” – Let Them Read Books blog

“A heart-stopping thriller… Kyle is a master at her craft.” – RT Book Reviews

Thank you Barbara for taking part follow Barbara on twitter @BKyleAuthor

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday Feature Rebecca Mascull

This is a brand new regular series featuring authors of historical fiction which I hope will introduce new authors to blog followers and provide essential writing tips to all aspiring authors. First up is the lovely Rebecca Mascull author of The Visitors.

Photos coutesy of Rebecca's website and The Grimsby Telegraph

About Rebecca
I've been writing seriously for about 13 years. I left full-time teaching to take a Masters in Writing in 2001 and have been working towards trying to get published ever since. I wrote three novels before "The Visitors" that weren't published. I secured my agent Jane Conway-Gordon on the strength of the third novel and when we couldn't get a deal on that one, she told me to get on with the next one. I did and that was "The Visitors". Within a week or so of it being sent to Hodder in 2012, we had a publishing deal. It took 11 years to get there, but it was worth it in the end! "The Visitors" has been nominated for the Edinburgh International Book Festival First Book Award readers can vote for it here:

I attended the festival too and had a wonderful time here's my report on my website As you can see my partner Simon and daughter Poppy are very involved in all my writerly doings and we had such fun.

My Questions

Question 1. What are you working on at the moment?
Right now, I've just received the copy edit from my publisher for my second novel "Song of the Sea Maid" which is due for publication next June. This involves looking at the many coments from the copy editor that analyse the language and facts of the latest draft. It's a time consuming process, Mostly I just feel honoured that professional people have spent so much time looking at my work, and together we can strive to make the book the best it can be. Once that's done, I'll be starting work on my third novel for Hodder & Stoughton, which will be set in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Question 2. Your top five writing tips?

1. Persevere. It tool me over a decade to get to the point where my work was worthy of being published. Along the way I sent my work out to around 50 agents each time I submitted, and for each of those I only got interest from 1 agent. So you must suffer the slings nad arrows of outrageous fortune, as dear Hamlet once said, and keep trying!

2. Read. I feel very strongly about this one. I do believe writers must read the greats if they wish to write great books. Read the canon, from the 18th Century to the present day, different genres, both genders, read, read, read. Find out what works and why.

3. Be organised. Keep notebooks, files and boxes of notes. Writing a book is a big project and should be treated as such.

4. Check your facts. If you're writing anything based on real events, such as historical fiction, try to ensure you get your information from at least two sources for every fact. Be thorough and don't be satisfied with shoddy research.

5. Love your subject. If you're bored by some aspects of what you're writing, then your readers will be too. Follow your heart and write about what grabs you and what you love.

Question 3. Your five favourite books?

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles

Thanks so much Rebecca,  and don't forget to vote for The Visitors at the link above. The Visitors is available from Hodder in paperback and e-book now.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Final Book in the Sarah Midnight Trilogy

Spirit; The Final Sarah Midnight book is published on 16th September and I am delighted to be part of the Blog Tour. The Sarah Midnight series are a top notch YA Fantasy series set in Scotland, featuring cracking characters and magnificent world building from the wonderful Daniela Sacerdoti. I'll have more info next week but for now here are the blog tour details.