Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Feature Author Caroline Sandon

Caroline's debut novel Burnt Norton now available in paperback from Head of Zeus is based on her own home and it's fascinating past. 

Gloucestershire, 1731. When his youngest son is killed in a tragic accident, Sir William Keyt, master of Norton House, busies himself in his fortune. The building of a second mansion on his grounds defies expense
and denies mortality; an emblem of the Keyt name for generations to come. Keyt can tolerate no obstacle to his desires - including his eldest son's love for a young maidservant. Molly Johnson has captured the heart of the heir to Norton House, dividing the household and the family she serves. Driven mad with lust and jealousy, Keyt sets about to destroy Molly's honour and her spirit, breaking the heart of his son, and ultimately, bringing about the ruin of his family. When the worlds above and below stairs collide, a family is destroyed, and a once-grand house is reduced to rubble. This is the tragic story of Burnt Norton.

Caroline Sandon won her first national poetry competition at ten years old and from that moment dreamt of being a writer. Her life however took a different turn. At eighteen she began a law degree and only a
year later got married. She left the law to become a model working for many years in the fashion industry. As her family grew she moved on from modelling and founded an interior design company working on many
great and grand houses in England. In 1753 what remained of Burnt Norton and its grounds was bought by
Caroline’s husband’s ancestor Sir Dudley Ryder, Lord Chief Justice and the first Baron Harrowby. It has remained in their family’s ownership for over 250 years. Caroline has lived and raised her family there for 15
years. Burnt Norton is her debut novel.

Caroline's Five Favourite Books

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Francaise

Isabelle Allende, The house of Spirits

Daphne Du Maurier, Frenchman’s Creek

Nicholas Evans, The Horse Whisperer.

Caroline's Top Writing Tips.

1.   In my humble way I try to follow the example of Ernest Hemingway. “If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows” I will write a long, wordy paragraph, finish it and then I will go back again and delete anything unnecessary. You must always allow the reader to use his or her imagination.

2.  Don’t write when you are exhausted or when you have writers block. Go away from your work, close your computer and come back to it refreshed. Sometimes it may take days but it doesn’t matter, start something else.

3.  Learn your punctuation and try to avoid spelling mistakes.
When you are sending your manuscript to a publisher they will be annoyed if it is littered with mistakes. They see hundreds of manuscripts; remember yours will need to stand out.

4. Nicholas Evans who wrote the Horse Whisperer told me to always start my story with a bang. You need to capture your audience within the first ten minutes otherwise they might put the book down and move on to another. The first chapter is the most important. In my novel ‘Burnt Norton’ Nick told me to move the carriage accident to the first chapter. I followed his advice.

5. A novelist girlfriend told me to make a plan of each character. Chart the colour of their hair, their eyes, their eating habits, their likes and dislikes. In other words get to know your characters, love them or hate them. I really disliked Dorothy Keyt, and this made her become real.


1. Do you plan the story first and then do the research or does reading and research spark ideas?

To a certain extent I plan my novel and research my subject, but the research continues at every stage. As my characters develop, the story changes, obviously keeping within the historical parameters. New research throws up different ideas, different solutions.

2. Do you think historical fiction is enjoying a resurgence and why is that?

I am sure it is. More and more people are fascinated by the past, it draws us and why not?
It is a different world with different surroundings, but the characters live, think and breathe in much the same way as we do today.

3. What draws you to writing about the past?

I am intrigued by the past, what people wore, what they ate, what formed their opinions. I let my imagination take me into the past. In Burnt Norton Sir William Keyt burnt himself to death in the new mansion he had just completed on our lawn. What drove this man to make his greatest achievement his funeral pyre?

4. Do you have a typical writing day?

No I do not. It depends if I am on a creative roll. On those days I will write continuously, sometimes till four in the morning to the annoyance of the rest of my family who are food deprived and conversation deprived!!

5. What are you working on now?

My third novel ‘One More Day’. Even though it is in the first stages of creation I am very excited about it. My second novel Alessandra’s War is still in the editing process! Burnt Norton is out on the shelves and the screenplay for a four part television drama is being completed by Lynn Bointon.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

This novel marks the debut of an incredibly talented new novelist. The Devil in the Marshalsea is both an excellent whodunnit and an incredible work of historical fiction. It's no surprise then that Antonia won the CWA Historical Dagger. Tom Hawkins is a wonderful creation, young, handsome, arrogant an inveterate gambler and drinker. After he is robbed and beaten he is unable to pay his debts and ends up in the Marshalsea debtors prison. He has asked his friend upright citizen Rev Charles Buckley to help him and Charles has returned with a deal from his patron Sir Philip Meadows who is the Knight Marshal and runs the gaol, an inmate has been murdered and Sir Philip wants Tom to discover the killer. However Tom must be careful because his new cellmate is everybody's prime suspect. As further deaths occur and Tom discovers at first hand the depredation and cruelty in the Marshalsea he must uncover the killer before he becomes the next victim.Tom will learn a great deal about the dark underbelly of Eighteenth Century London. This is outstanding page turning writing. I loved it.

Out now in paperback from Hodder (Thanks to Kerry Hood for a review copy)

Ace, King, Knave by Maria McCann

Maria McCann has with this latest novel moved from the seventeenth century of her earlier novels As Meat Loves Salt (2001) and The Wilding (2010) to the filthy gin soaked streets of eighteenth century London. We meet two heroines; delicate newly married Sophia and hard as nails Betsy-Ann; a former prostitute now a gambler and dealer in stolen goods. The two women live just miles apart but their lives are in stark contrast. Maria McCann has brought the past vividly to life. The depth and breadth of her research is in evidence on every page without ever overwhelming the narrative. The two woman are wonderfully drawn characters and the plot is well paced though the connection between the women quickly becomes obvious. If you read and loved The Devil in the Marshalsea then you will love this book. 
Ace,King,Knave is available in paperback from Faber now.
Thanks to for a review copy.

A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher

A Little in Love is based on a very familiar story, which many will know from the stage and screen adaptations of Les Miserables. Although I'm sure there are many out there who have tackled Victor Hugo's massive and epic novel, I must admit I have never attempted it. My fifteen year old daughter is currently reading it,so perhaps one day I will. Susan Fletcher's retelling through the eyes of Eponine is much more approachable. It offers YA readers a great introduction to a literary classic as well as a fascinating glimpse into a tumultuous period in French history. Eponine is a wonderful character; she is the daughter of two selfish and thoughtless thieves and she is taught to steal almost from birth yet she transforms herself into a heroine. Her story is tragic and there is no happy ending, the author addresses the heroine's tragic death in the first page but nonetheless we want to read on,to hear her tell her story in her own voice. As a study in character development this book is outstanding but it is also and more importantly for readers a great story. By turns tragic, shocking and heartwarming this is Susan Fletcher's first YA novel and I will be interested to see what she does next.
A Little in Love is published by Chicken House and available in paperback now ( Thank you to the publisher for a copy to review)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Frost Hollow Hall

Frost Hollow Hall is a delightful debut novel from a talented new voice in historical fiction for children.
Despite the spooky nature of the tale – including the icy lake, the haunted halls and the crockery which moves across the room by itself – Frost Hollow Hall is a cosy and satisfying read. Emma Carroll has created a down-to-earth and assured narrator in Tilly, who is rescued from the lake after a skating accident by Kit Barrington – even though he’s been dead for ten years.
Tilly is sure there is a reason his spirit is not at rest, and she is determined to find out what. Betrayed by her own family's disbelief, when Tilly's friend Will Potter refuses to believe her, Tilly takes a job as a maid at Frost Hollow Hall and finds a house still in mourning after a decade of loss – as well as a vengeful spirit who frightens the staff. Tilly has a mystery to unravel and she’ll do it with or without Will Potter.
This is a charming story which, despite dealing with dark themes of grief, poverty and death, remains light-hearted and hopeful. With wonderful description and great characterisation, Emma Carroll is a real find and Frost Hollow Hall is a perfect ghostly mystery for fans of Eva Ibbotson, Ellen Renner and Marie-Louise Jensen.

This review originally featured on

Friday Feature Author Emma Carroll

Apologies for missing last week but I have returned to feature a wonderful writer for children the very lovely and very talented Emma Carroll. I have to say I love Emma's book choices. You can get both of Emma's brilliant books in paperback in all good bookshops now and you can read my review of Frost Hollow Hall HERE

When she isn’t writing, Emma Carroll teaches English part-time at a secondary school in Devon. She has also worked as a news reporter, an avocado picker and the person who punches holes into filofax paper. She graduated with distinction from Bath Spa University’s MA in Writing For Young People. ‘Frost Hollow Hall’ is Emma’s debut novel for Faber and won the North East Book Award. Her second novel, ‘The Girl Who Walked On Air’ is set in a Victorian circus. In another life she wishes she’d written ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. Emma lives in the Somerset hills with her husband and two terriers. You can find out more about Emma at her blog

Emma's Top Five Writimg Tips

In no particular order (and said with no great authority as I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to write)

1. Use pictures or film to help you visualize places or settings.
2. Set yourself a do-able daily word count and STICK TO IT.
3. Don’t expect every writing day to be the same: few are almost effortless, most are hard work.
4. Write down ideas immediately they occur- otherwise you’ll forget them.
5. Vary where you write- I tend to move from room to room during the day, just to shake things up!

Emma's Top Five Books (Historical)

1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
2. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
3. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
4. Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
5. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Emma's Top Five Historical Fiction Books For Children and Teens

1. Witch Child by Celia Rees
2. I, Coriander by Sally Gardner
3. the Ruby in the Smoke by Philip Pulman
4. The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth by Julia Lee
5. The Secret Countess by Eva Ibbotson

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Blog Tour For A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher

This little beauty of a book was published last Thursday and the author very kindly found time to answer a few questions. Thanks so much Susan. 

Re: The Broken Heart of

1. Have you always been a fan of Les Misérables? and wanted to write about the characters?

I knew the book (an abridged version) and the film – and loved both. But it had never occurred to me to write Eponine’s tale, or anyone one else’s. Then Chicken House approached me with the idea of giving Eponine a voice for the YA market – and I just thought it was a wonderful idea. She was the character that had intrigued me the most, in both the book and the play; to have the chance to tell her tale was a gift. I said yes straight away!

2. What draws you to writing about the past?
This is only the second historical novel that I’ve written but it’s a genre I’m certainly fascinated with. I think what I love most of all is the simple truth that humans do not change. Our circumstances might, and we might gain more knowledge and more skills are we progress – but ultimately, we remain the same. A Roman soldier, 2000 years ago, for example, might not have had a telephone or decent healthcare – but he would still have felt homesick or ashamed or heartbroken; he’d have still got chilblains or had nightmares, or been afraid of growing old. We are all the same. I love this truth: to write historical novels with this in mind feels very intimate – and a privilege, too.

3. You have written a number of novels for adults, why have you switched to writing for teens?
Put simply, because I was given the chance to! It hadn’t occurred to me to try to write for a different readership; it was Chicken House’s offer – and their faith in me, their sense that I was the right author to take on Eponine’s tale – that brought me to do it. And I’m so glad that I did! I have loved every second – and I’m very grateful that Chicken House asked me.

4. When you were a teenager what did you read? Do you still have the same favourite books now? Why or why not?
I tended towards the classics, I think. I loved Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I also remember having a summer of devouring all Daphne du Maurier’s novels – and loving Jamaica Inn, in particular! I still love these books; that hasn’t changed. Perhaps what has changed is the fact that I can now read them with adult eyes, and find different nuances than I did at 17. They say that you never read the same book twice and that’s certainly true when returning to a novel after many years.

5. What are your top five tips for aspiring writers of historical fiction

I still feel a bit of a novice, in this genre! And therefore I am not sure how many tips I can give! But there’s one that immediately springs to mind: keep in mind, always, that this is indeed fiction you are writing. I think it’s easy to believe you have to adhere strictly to what actually happened, to only write about what was true. But that’s what non-fiction writers do; we don’t have those same restraints. One’s primary role is to write a good novel: if that means a slight altering of the truth, then it’s allowable. Precisely how far away you go from the historical truth is every writer’s choice; likewise, how much they inform the reader of these changes. But changes are fine! And it’s the novelist’s voice that should take precedence over the historian’s. Other tips … Research, of course! Only once you know the absolute truth of that time, and the people in it, can you make informed choices. As with all forms of writing, I would also suggest not using red pen at any point (subconsciously, we link it with reprimands and mistakes), getting outside every day – and keeping encouraging Post-It notes by the kettle!
A Little in Love is Published by Chicken House and available now.

Thanks so much to Laura for a copy and for Susan for taking part.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Friday Feature Author Antonia Hodgson

I am so sorry I am late with the Friday Feature this week but better late than never and I am delighted to have had award winning and bestselling author Antonia Hodgson agree to take part. Antonia's debut The Devil in the Marshalsea has won The CWA Historical Dagger award and is featuring in The Waterstones and the Richard and Judy bookclubs. 

The book is a riveting tale set in London's Marshalsea prison for debtors in 1727. So we have moved on less than twenty years from the world of last week's featured book but a world away from the isolated Ulster Scots community to the filth, noise and bustle of London.


1. Do you plan the story first and then do the research or does reading and research spark ideas.

The initial spark always seems to come from the research - at least is has done for the first two books I’ve written, and I’m just starting to think about the third! It’s quite intuitive - and is also driven in part by character. Tom Hawkins, my protagonist, is a risk taker and very bad with money. So when I first started thinking of him and a possible novel, I decided he would probably be in a debtors’ gaol in the opening pages. Then I stumbled across the story of the Marshalsea and realised I had to set the whole novel in there.

I do plot out a fair bit before I start and I do a lot of thinking about all the main characters. I’ll jot down detailed notes on them and develop the plot as I’m creating character. And vice versa. They’re very much intertwined.

Then I’ll trick myself into thinking I’ve got the whole plot ready and get to work. After about five or six chapters I’ll realise that it’s not fully plotted at all, that characters are doing all sorts of surprising things or the plot I’ve put together doesn’t actually work. Then the fun begins. (And by ‘fun’ I mean agonising self-doubt, chronic pacing about the room and the occasional happy moment of resolution.)

For me, one of the great joys of writing is the way a novel develops as I write. So while I need a plan of some sort, and often have lots of ideas about plot twists, murders, the killer - nothing is sacred. I’ll pull it all apart if need be - and actually that can be fascinating and thrilling.

2. Do you think historical fiction is enjoying a resurgence and why is that?

I think it’s always been popular. I love it because it allows me to escape into a different world while also learning about a moment in history. And then there’s that thrill of connection and understanding - it’s a very powerful thing, to discover how far we’ve changed and how much we’ve stayed the same.

3. What draws you to writing about the past?

I think for the same reasons I’ve described above. Also I really enjoy the research. I like taking what I’ve learned and turning it around in my imagination. I learn a lot, both at the research stage and in its transformation into fiction.

4. Do you have a typical working day?

Write, write, stretch, coffee, write, lunch, coffee, write, write, stretch, write, stop.

5. What are you working on now?

I’m just redrafting my second novel. It’s a sequel to The Devil in the Marshalsea and it needs a title. So I’m working on that, too... I already have an idea for book three and can’t wait to start the research on that. 

Antonia's Top Five Favourite Books

Of course I reserve the right to name five different books tomorrow. It changes all the time.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Also heartbreaking.

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
A theme is developing...

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
Not entirely devastating.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
Pure joy.

Antonia's Top Five Writing Tips

1) Give yourself the space to dream. Walk to work if you can. Stare into space. Empty hours are precious and vital. You need to be on friendly terms with your subconscious and give it room to play.

2) Read. Would you trust a singer who doesn’t listen to music?

3) Love writing - or at least feel compelled to do it. If it feels like a chore, or forced, you’ve probably picked the wrong story. If this keeps happening, or you keep finding excuses not to write... maybe try something else. Life is short and there are lots of other pleasant things to do.

4) Be resilient. Rejection is tough but inevitable at some point - everyone goes through it.

5) Agents and editors are not intentionally scary. They genuinely want to find the next great writer. The process of submitting material is terrifying (I know, I’ve been there and I still feel it whenever I hand my editor something new). It’s perfectly normal and indeed rational to feel vulnerable and anxious when you send work out into the world. But don’t feel intimidated by anyone in the industry. They’re just a bunch of people - and most of them are very nice and friendly. Also, their jobs don’t exist without authors. So ‘who’s queen’ now?

Thanks a million Antonia for taking part. The Devil in the Marshalsea is available in paperback now.

The Royalist by S J Deas

The Royalist is the first in a new series of historical crime novels from a bestselling fantasy author. The fate of William Falkland; farmer and soldier in the King’s army seems to be sealed. He awaits the hangman’s pleasure in Newgate prison far from his West Country home and family. He is finally taken from the prison, to his surprise, not to his death but to a meeting with Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell promises to spare Falkland if he will turn investigator for him and travel to the New Model Army’s winter camp where a number of young boys have died in mysterious circumstances. Deas writes at a furious pace and we are soon caught up the mystery of the young men’s deaths. However it is his wonderful description and his creation of a powerfully charged atmosphere that really capture the reader; the sights, smells and the freezing cold of a snow bound village, the claustrophobic feeling of a town that has been invaded, the fear of the local people, the hunger of the scrawny barefoot children, the arrogance of the soldiers who have destroyed churches, thrown people out of their homes and who now resent questions being asked by a King’s man. Falkland is aided in his investigation by his landlady Kate and a constant air of menace pervades the narrative. I look forward to many more of Falkland’s investigations. A perfect read for fans of Shona MacLean and C.J. Sansom. Published by Headline The Royalist is out now.This review originally appeared on