An Interview with Lucy Ashford

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I am delighted to welcome to Bookish Jottings one of my favourite writers of Regency romances Lucy Ashford for a chat about spirited heroines, handsome heroes and her fantastic new novel, The Captain and His Innocent.

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Thank you for joining us here at Bookish Jottings, Lucy. It’s lovely to have you here! Could you please start by telling me something about yourself and the books you write?

It’s lovely to be here, Julie. Thank you for inviting me.

Like most of the authors I know, I was always an avid reader, and I started scribbling my own little stories almost as soon as I learned to write! After taking a degree in English at Nottingham University, I was a teacher for many years – but then I saw an advert for a Mills & Boon competition, was a runner-up, and that was it. I’d seriously got the writing bug.

You’ve written several historical romances for Harlequin Mills & Boon set during the Regency. What originally attracted you to writing historical romances, and the Regency in particular?

In my writing I’ve always gone for historical backgrounds because they provide such a colourful world in which to develop my characters. I’ve had several historical thrillers published in the past, but now romance has rather taken over. And as for why I like the Regency – perhaps it’s because the period offers so many dramatic opportunities. For example, you have the Napoleonic wars, the industrial revolution and the parties and balls of London high society – plus the bonus that the costumes for both women and men were absolutely wonderful! And, of course, thanks to the enduring popularity of Jane Austen, the period is familiar to readers around the world.

What kind of research do you do for your books?

I do masses of research – not just to make sure I get everything right, but because I pick up fascinating nuggets of information that can inspire a theme or even the full plot of a future story. For this reason – although the internet is useful – I tend to prefer old-fashioned history books, and my ‘writing room’ is crammed with them.

What are the challenges of writing historical romances?

You have to be aware all the time of the social restrictions of the period. For example, as you’ll know, girls from respectable families just did not have the freedom they might enjoy today. So to create a credible love story, you have to envisage a plot in which the hero and heroine are going to be able to develop an intense and steamy relationship.

Your latest book, ‘The Captain and His Innocent’, is out now. What sparked off the original idea for this?

Last year I was reading a history book which mentioned that in 1814 the British government secretly sent a group of gallant army officers to spy on Napoleon’s troops in France – and then abandoned them there. They were betrayed, in other words, and the whole affair was hushed up by the authorities. I thought, Now, there’s the start of an interesting story…

What is ‘The Captain and His Innocent’ about?

Ellie, my heroine, has been rescued from the dangers of Napoleonic France by her guardian and sent to live on the quiet Kentish coast. But her life is thrown into turmoil by the arrival of Captain Luke Danbury, who appears determined to use Ellie to avenge old wrongs.

Who is your favourite character in the book?

It has to be Captain Luke, I think! Although embittered by past betrayals, he remains noble and courageous while trying to right the injustices done to his family. And in the end – although he initially regards Ellie as his enemy – he realises he’s completely misjudged her, and learns to respect and then love her for her stubborn bravery.

How would you sum up ‘The Captain and His Innocent’ in one line?

‘In bed with the enemy!’ That’s the blurb on the book, and it’s pretty good, I think!

What is your all-time favourite historical romance?

Dorothy Dunnett’s ‘The Game of Kings’. It’s a fabulous Scottish romance, packed with gripping characters, battles and treachery.

What’s next for Lucy Ashford?

More of the same, I hope – the Regency world contains so many wonderful ideas for stories.

Thank you so much for chatting to me, Lucy! Lucy’s latest historical romance, The Captain and His Innocent is on sale now from all good bookshops and online retailers!

 

An Interview with Claire McGowan

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Bookish Jottings is delighted to welcome fast rising star Claire McGowan (whom some of you may know as Eva Woods) for a chat about crime fiction, scary villains and breath-taking plot twists!

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Thank you so much for joining me here at Bookish Jottings, Claire. Could you please start by telling me something about yourself and your books?

I grew up in a small village in Northern Ireland and have been writing since almost as soon as I could read. I write the Paula Maguire series of Irish-set crime books, and also write rom-coms under the name Eva Woods (which are a lot less dark!)

You’re the author of three highly acclaimed crime novels featuring forensic psychologist Paula Maguire. How did you come up with the character of Paula? Was she inspired by anyone in particular or did she come to you fully formed?

I never really know how I come up with ideas or characters, they just seem to happen by a kind of magic. She did come to me fully formed. I always say that I actually never even liked the name Paula much, but I just knew that was her name.

What are the challenges of writing a series like the Paula Maguire novels?

The challenge for me is staying interested, and trying not to repeat the same kind of scenes in each book (eg discussing the case, interviews, forensics and so on). I try to mix up the structure a little bit each time. Another challenge is managing the fact that there is a lot of backstory in the series, but I want each book to also work by itself. And also deciding when to give answers to the two big questions running through the series!

What kind of research do you do for your books?

I tend to get really interested in a topic – so for the next one, holy relics, eating disorders, and famine among other things – and read up about it. Then I will write the book, then check some details once I’ve got most of the draft down on paper. I can usually manage to get hold of an expert in the topic I need to check and just ask them – that’s the quickest way.

Your latest book, The Silent Dead, has just been published. What sparked off the original idea for this book?

Again I’m not sure! I knew what had to happen to Paula in this book, and I knew I wanted to write a book where the victims were the baddies, as that’s a real challenge.

What is The Silent Dead about?

It’s about the aftermath of a terrible bomb that killed 16 people. Five years later, when those suspected have managed to avoid conviction through a technicality, they start turning up dead, killed in the same ways as their victims. It’s about revenge, and grief, and the idea of justice.

Who are your greatest influences as a crime writer?

I’m always reading other crime writers with a view to what I can steal or borrow in terms of structure and style ideas. I think Tana French is one of the best crime writers around just now. She manages to take the tropes that we’ve seen a thousand times and make them into something really fresh and shocking. Broken Harbour is an amazing book.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

My biggest advice is always to try and write with the back of your head, not the front. In other words, try to write the first draft without thinking if it’s any good or not, without deleting, or without changing anything. You need to turn off the inner critic if you’re going to finish anything. (I’ve also made a video of my top writing tips here)

What is your all-time favourite crime novel?

Probably The Secret History, which I’ve read about ten times. So sad and shocking and so beautifully written.

What’s next for Claire McGowan?

It never stops! I’ve just finished my next romcom and am working on Paula book 5 (number 4, A Savage Hunger, will be out in March). I’m about halfway through.

Mills and Boon Man of the Year 2016

Mills and Boon is synonymous with passionate, compelling and intriguing romance. Famed for their powerful romantic stories and their feisty heroines and gorgeous heroes, Mills and Boon have been looking for a sexy Alpha hero to grace the cover of their upcoming publication, It Had to Be You by Barbara Hannay and Nikki Logan.

After being inundated with hundreds of entries, celebrity judges Rosie Nixon, Denise Welch and Robin Windsor announced this week that the lucky winner was Courtney Hayles, a drama teacher from London.

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Find out more about Courtney and the contest by clicking here and come back next week for my review of It Had to Be You!

An Interview with Elizabeth Gill

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Thank you so much for joining me here at Bookish Jottings, Liz. It’s lovely to have you here! Could you please start by telling me something about yourself and the books you write?

It’s very kind of you to ask me.  I have written all my life. As a little girl I learned to print and couldn’t wait to do proper joined up writing. I had a poem published when I was twelve, became a journalist when I was twenty because I wanted to write and had nothing to live on.  I worked for the Northern Echo and its weeklies in the north east and then went on to become a house journal editor for Patons and Baldwins, the wool manufacturers.

I got married at twenty two and after a couple of years my husband supported me so that I could write but I had nothing other than a short story published until I had my first book published for Robert Hale when I was thirty so if I hadn’t had support I could not have learned the hard lessons which enabled me to go on and write professionally.

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 You are a much-loved writer of historical sagas. What originally attracted you to writing historical fiction?

I was a great fan of Anya Seton who wrote a wonderful book called Devil Water set in the area which I know and love and I knew then, I think I was fourteen, that I wanted to be a professional writer. My family and friends thought I was mad. I had never met a professional writer so nobody knows where the idea came from.

 What drew you to writing historical sagas?

I love the north east. I admired Catherine Cookson and I like industry. My father owned a steel foundry, I was brought up in a pit village, we also had a quarry and my father dealt with the Tyneside shipyards so I knew quite a bit about industry just because of how we lived then. I also liked the lives that men led rather than women and my first sagas which are now being published on kindle and some in paperback by Quercus have a lot of main male characters, something which other saga writers tend not to do. I had a lot of very wonderful men in my childhood which coloured my whole writing life.

What are the challenges of writing sagas?

I started writing short sagas and then short romances so it was a huge leap to try and write something over 50,000 words and I really struggled. Keeping a story going with all its threads for 120,000 words is very exciting and scary. I don’t think people understand how many different angles there are, from story to language, from characters to humour and pathos and tragedy and it is a very big competitive market. You have to be very keen always and to work extremely hard. This is difficult to convey to people since I appear to spend most of my time staring out of the windows!!

Doctor of the High Fells is your latest novel. What sparked off the original idea for this book?

I began writing novels which had stronger women in them for Quercus, starting with Miss Appleby’s Academy and I wanted to try to write about different professions. Miss Appleby became a teacher, in The Fall and Rise of Lucy Charlton, my second book for Quercus, she wants to be a lawyer and I was very happy with the whole idea of having a woman doctor.

What is Doctor of the High Fells about?

I started reading books about British women doctors but I found a wonderful book about an American doctor who went to be the doctor in a gold mining community so I decided to send my doctor to a pit village, the pit village where I was brought up which I knew so well. I use it often.  This story is about the challenges of a village in the early days of the twentieth century when the majority of doctors were men and how the small community acts when she arrives. She’s big and busty and American and very intelligent and wry. I also like humour and she has a German shepherd called Mabel. I’m very fond of this book, I enjoyed writing it so much.

Who is your favourite character in Doctor of the High Fells?

My favourite character apart from the doctor, Prue Stanhope, is Lily who is the young doctor’s wife where Prue comes to help. She is the local lass who married the doctor and is having a bad time now that her husband is ill and she has no help. I think the two women learn to be strong from one another.

Who are your favourite authors?

I love Hilary Mantel and have read everything she has written. Also  C.J.Sansom who writes about a lawyer set in Henry VIII’s time.  I also adore Anthony Trollope. He wrote so very well about women and the cads and bounders they married!

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Buy  a pen and a notebook and try to write every day. Make time because if you can’t you’ll never be a professional. Remember what Shirley Temple said ‘I practised when everybody else had gone home.’

What’s next for Elizabeth Gill?

I have finished my next saga which is called Nobody’s Child and is about travelling sisters who lose everything in their lives.The hardback and kindle editions come out next summer with the paperback following in the autumn.  I have already started another book which is set in my beloved Weardale where my family comes from on both sides.

Thank you so much for chatting to me, Elizabeth! If you want to find out more about Elizabeth and her books, then click here for further details. Her latest novel, Doctor of the High Fells, is on sale now from all good bookshops and online retailers.

 

 

Frances Brody on Sisters on Bread Street

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I am delighted to welcome back Bookish Jottings favourite Frances Brody for a chats about the story behind her exciting saga, Sisters on Bread Street.

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Writers are often advised to “write about what you know”. I wrote about what somebody else knew. That somebody was my mother, Julia.

Julia’s early life began on Bread Street, Leeds, with her German Jewish father, Irish Catholic mother and older sister. The sisters were orphaned when Julia was aged eleven.

She never forgot details of her early years: the wax doll that melted; her father’s blue tie; her mother at her dressmaking. When her widower uncle scooped up orphaned Julia and her sister from the world of Bread Street, their lives changed. From the street of tightly-packed red brick houses, Uncle Tom took them to live with their cousins in the public house where he was landlord. His kindness kept Julia and her sister out of the orphanage.

At first, I wrote the story in a factual way. I imagined it as one of those slim volumes found in the local studies section of the library. I love those accounts of an “ordinary” life because no life is ordinary. That way of telling did not do justice to my mother’s experiences. My next approach created Julia’s diary.

The beauty of writing a story that begins with hardship, struggle and hurt is that transformation is possible. Small shifts lift events above the mundane and create hope. My fictional Julia is older than the real Julia was when her mother died. She is no longer simply a person to whom things happen but exerts influence in her own life. I don’t let her father die – at least not so soon.

My mother lived long enough to read the manuscript, choose the cover and hold a copy of the limited edition book.

If I had never written anything else, I would have been happy to have captured her story and to hear her say, “It reads like a dream.” She added, “Will it be successful?”

I sent the novel to an agent who suggested changes to turn the book into a saga. The story keeps the fictional Julia’s voice but is no longer told in diary form. It was a pleasure to create a still broader canvas and to have the novel win an award when published commercially as Somewhere Behind the Morning – an award that would have delighted Julia.

This new edition reclaims Julia’s title: Sisters on Bread Street.

Piatkus are running a competion on Goodreads to win a copy of Frances’ enchanting saga, Sisters on Bread Street! Click here for further details!

When Christmas Bells Ring – Katie Flynn

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Katie Flynn‘s name has become synonymous with emotional, compelling and spellbinding historical sagas and her latest novel, When Christmas Bells Ring, is another classic tale of war, family, friendship and romance her legion of fans will devour in a single sitting!

Single mother Rosheen Clarke has got her hands full looking after her two mischievous twins, April and May. Being a single mum is not easy, but with her wicked sense of humour, optimistic spirit and love of life, Rosheen is never without a smile on her face – even if her twins do sometimes try her patience! But when the dark clouds of war begin approaching and start to cast an ominous shadow over the world, Rosheen soon realises that she will soon have more to worry about then her two naughty girls! With April and May evacuated, Rosheen realises that she cannot sit around twiddling her thumbs waiting for the war to pass her by. Determined to do her bit for the war effort, she joins the WAAF and is more than prepared to do her duty for king and country.

Making friends comes naturally to Rosheen and when she joins up, she soon befriends fellow Liverpudlian Cassie Valentine. While Rosheen is worrying about what mischief April and May are getting up to, Cassie has got her own problems to contend with. Poor Cassie cannot stop thinking about her friend, Andy. Having been the best of friends since childhood, Cassie and Andy had once been inseparable, but when war had been declared, Andy had joined the RAF and been determined to do his utmost to defeat the enemy and make his country proud. Since he’s joined up, Cassie has sensed a huge change in her childhood friend. He has now become arrogant and distant and does not seem to have enough time for her. Having always had feelings for Andy that were far from platonic, Cassie cannot help but wonder whether the future she has always imagined for herself and Andy is now out of the question…

There are many challenges which Rosheen and Cassie must face during the war, but the two best friends vow to be there for each other, regardless of what life may throw their way. But amidst all the pain and anguish which the world is facing, will a happy ending ever be within the two friends’ grasp? Or will war lay claim to both of their happiness and condemn them to nothing but heartache and regret?

Saga fans always have high expectations when they pick up a novel by Katie Flynn and they are never disappointed! Her stories are gutsy, gripping, believable and they are written straight from the heart. In When Christmas Bells Rings, Katie Flynn has written a wonderful story about courage, hope, redemption and sacrifice that will make readers laugh and cry.

The characters in When Christmas Bells Ring are wonderfully nuanced, engaging and richly drawn and readers are sure to take to their hearts spirited Rosheen, resilient Cassie and the other fantastic characters that people this outstanding historical tale!

Heartwarming, enjoyable and hard to put down, When Christmas Bells Ring continues to cement Katie Flynn’s standing as the queen of historical sagas!

Sealed With a Loving Kiss – Ellie Dean

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Gloriously addictive, wonderfully moving and absolutely impossible to put down, Ellie Dean‘s Beach View Boarding House series continues to thrill and enchant readers with its captivating blend of humour, drama, pathos and heart. Sealed With a Loving Kiss is the ninth fantastic installment of this fabulous series which just keeps on getting better and better!

The bottom had fallen out of Mary Jones’ world when her parents had died in a bombing raid. Heartbroken, alone and determined never to forget her dead relatives, Mary begins looking through their belongings to feel closer to them. When she finds her father’s diaries, she is absolutely stunned when she discovers a secret hidden between the pages of her dad’s trusty journal. Desperate to find out the truth behind this shocking revelation, Mary vows to uncover the secrets and lies that have lain hidden for so long. Her search takes her away from her home and to Cliffehaven, in the South Coast of England, where she finds lodgings at big-hearted Peggy Reilly’s Beach View Boarding House.

Having been accepted by Peggy and her family and treated as one of their own, Mary gets a new lease of life and begins to slowly but surely come out of her shell. After securing a job at the Kodak factory, Mary’s days are spent sifting through the Airgraphs men and women across the world send to one another. With her own sweetheart fighting for his country, her job constantly reminds Mary of the man she has grown to love with all of her heart. Will she ever see him again? Or will the war claim once more someone who has come to mean the world to her?

Despite her worries about her sweetheart, Mary is the happiest she has been in a long time. However, she hasn’t forgotten about her quest to uncover her father’s secret. Echoes of the past still resonate eighteen years later and as Mary begins to get closer and closer to the truth, she is stunned when she realises that Peggy, her landlady, could be the one who holds the key to the answers she has been desperately seeking…

Will Peggy break the promise she made years ago? And is Cliffehaven prepared for the shocking repercussions which will follow should Peggy reveal the secret which she has kept hidden for so long?

Ellie Dean knows how to tell a rattling good story and I found myself completely entranced by the trials and tribulations of her characters, who leap off the pages and linger in the reader’s mind and heart long after the last page is turned. Sealed With a Loving Kiss is a fantastic saga that keeps readers effortlessly turning the pages late into the night. Fast-paced, poignant and impossible to resist, readers old and new are sure to enjoy this outstanding tale of family, friendship, secrets and romance.

A must-read for saga fans everywhere, I cannot wait for the next captivating installment of Ellie Dean’s sensational Beach View Boarding House series!