Sunday, 26 March 2017

The Heroes' Welcome by Louisa Young - A Moving Story About Life in the Aftermath of the First World War.

It's five years since I read My Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young, and the story of the men and women caught up in the First World War both in France and at home, has stayed in my mind, especially as my father fought in the Great War when not much more than a boy, and although he returned, suffering physical wounds far less severe than Riley's, his life was never the same.
The Heroes' Welcome takes up the story of Riley and his girlfriend, Nadine, as they marry in March 1919, with Peter, his Commanding Officer, and Rose, Peter's cousin who had nursed Riley, and Peter's son, Tom, in attendance. The fact that Peter's wife, Julia, is not there illustrates the strain their marriage is already under after the war.
Louisa Young quotes a passage from The Odyssey about a wife so relieved to see her husband again she feels like a shipwrecked sailor reaching land. Julia wants to rekindle their love and take up where they left off, but Peter has his own problems dealing with the fact that so many of his men were lost.
Riley and Nadine too have their problems coming to terms with Riley's injuries which get in the way of the joy of their marriage, and the reaction of their families to their wedding.
This book is worth reading too for Louisa's ability to get right into the heads of her characters as they journey forward through 1919, trying to put the war behind them but, like Peter, unable to talk about their experiences. She also graphically illustrates the reaction of society to the injured: there was not a heroes' welcome waiting for them all.
I'm pleased to say that Devotion, Louisa Young's next book, set in 1930s Italy will be released on April 6th.

'Tom loves Nenna. Nenna loves her father. Her father loves 

This continues the story of Tom Locke, Peter's son, and I can't wait!  

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Guest Interview - Jen Gilroy Talks About Her Debut Novel - The Cottage at Firefly Lake

Hello Jen, and welcome to my blog. It’s lovely to have you here today to talk about your debut novel, The Cottage at Firefly Lake (Grand Central, Forever, January 2017).

Thank you for inviting me to visit, Jean. I’m delighted to be here to talk about my first book with you and your blog readers.

Some mistakes can never be fixed and some secrets never forgiven . . . but some loves can never be forgotten.
Charlotte Gibbs wants nothing more than to put the past behind her, once and for all. But now that she's back at Firefly Lake to sell her mother's cottage, the overwhelming flood of memories reminds her of what she's been missing. Sun-drenched days. Late-night kisses that still shake her to the core. The gentle breeze off the lake, the scent of pine in the air, and the promise of Sean's touch on her skin . . . True, she got her dream job traveling the world. But at what cost? 
Sean Carmichael still doesn't know why Charlie disappeared that summer, but after eighteen years, a divorce, and a teenage son he loves more than anything in the world, he's still not over her. All this time and her body still fits against his like a glove. She walked away once when he needed her the most. How can he convince her to stay now?

The Cottage at Firefly Lake is set in Vermont, a state renowned for its beautiful lakes and mountains. Can you say why you chose a lake as the setting for your first novel?

The Cottage at Firefly Lake celebrates everything that’s wonderful about a summer holiday by a lake with a small town nearby. I had many such summers growing up and, after a succession of damp and cool English summers, subliminally I think I wanted to recreate the idyllic summers of my memory in fiction!

I set the book in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, a special, unspoiled corner of the state where my husband and I spent several happy vacations.

In your novel, there are many parallels between the stories of Sean and Charlotte, and his son, Ty, and Naomi. Did you find it easy to step into the shoes of these teenagers to write their story?

When I first started writing, I tried young adult fiction, only to discover it wasn’t my niche. However, I still love writing young adult characters, possibly because I remember so vividly what it is like to be that age.

I also read young adult romance so that helped me ‘step into the shoes of…teenagers.’

Charlotte, for various reasons in the story, left Firefly Lake when she was eighteen to be a war correspondent. Did you draw on your own experiences of leaving Canada to work in Europe?

Although I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time, my experiences as an expatriate did shape some aspects of Charlotte’s experience. Unlike Charlotte, I always maintained strong ties to North America, but in her case I wanted to explore the pull of home for someone who spent her adult life cutting ties with the past and a place and people she once cared about.

Having spent much of my life living outside my home country, questions of home—what it means, and how and where we find it—run through both The Cottage at Firefly Lake and everything I write. My author tagline is even ‘Romance to bring your heart home.’

Sean has a twin called Trevor who’s a good friend too. Do you have any twins in your family to draw upon for their experiences?

There are no sets of twins in my immediate family, but I’ve always been fascinated by the twin relationship, possibly because there was a set of twins several years below me at school who were the focus of considerable attention.

To write about Sean and Trevor’s relationship, I read about twins and also talked with my husband who has three brothers very close in age. Apart from the twin bond, I wanted to depict a close relationship between brothers—the love, but also the teasing and male rivalry.

Has most of your writing been set in North America, or have you tried writing stories about your time in the UK?

I lived in the UK for a long time and consider England my second home. However, when I started writing seriously towards publication, I recognised early on that I have a North American writing voice.

For a time, I belonged to a writing group in England and, in that context, I did try to write stories set in the UK and featuring British characters. However, my dialogue was stilted and plots contrived.

Although I don’t rule out writing about my time in the UK, for now writing from my heart means setting stories amongst the people and places that first influenced me.

Jen and I and other members of the Reading RNA

You belong to the RWA in America and the RNA in the UK where we both attend the Reading Chapter. How would you describe the different approaches to romance writing on each side of the Atlantic?

As I see it, the primary difference is size and, to some extent, related organisational culture.

I came through the RNA New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) and without the supportive critiques I received via the NWS, I don’t think I’d be a published author now. Compared to Romance Writers of America, the RNA is small and for that reason, has a cosier, more intimate feel, at least to me.

However, I also owe much to RWA. It has a highly developed online learning programme I’ve benefited enormously from, and its large chapter network offers excellent contests that give unpublished writers feedback and, as a finalist, visibility. Under a previous title, The Cottage at Firefly Lake was a finalist in RWA’s Golden Heart® contest in 2015. That experience changed my life and introduced me to a wonderful and supportive community of fellow finalists, now writing ‘sisters.’

Although some romance publishers (e.g. Harlequin/Mills and Boon) produce different covers for books published simultaneously in the UK and North America, when it comes to actual romance writing, I think the two markets are quite similar. As romance authors, and irrespective of geography, we have the same goals—to create characters and stories that evoke an emotional response in our readers and deliver the happy endings they expect.

The Cottage at Firefly Lake is the first of a trilogy, which I’m really looking forward to reading! Will we find out more about Charlotte and Sean or will you be concentrating on other the characters in your book next time?

I’m so pleased you’re looking forward to reading the other books in the series. While each book stands alone and can be read independently, there is also continuity between them with recurring characters and, of course, a common setting. 

The next book, Summer on Firefly Lake is released on 27 July 2017 in the UK and tells the story of two characters, Mia and Nick, who are introduced in The Cottage at Firefly Lake. Although not main characters, you will certainly find out more about Charlie and Sean in the second book.

The third book, Back Home at Firefly Lake, will be released in March 2018. Once again, previous characters reappear to give readers glimpses of their ‘happy ever after,’ as well as life in Firefly Lake.

Thank you for answering my questions today, Jen, and good luck with this and your future books.

Thanks so much, Jean. It’s been my pleasure to chat with you.

The Cottage at Firefly Lake can be purchased in either mass market paperback or e-book from all online platforms including Amazon UK

And, as I said, Summer on Firefly Lake will be available in the UK from 27th July from the above including Amazon UK

You can also find out more about Jen on her website: or catch up with her on Twitter @JenGilroy1 or Facebook

Sunday, 26 February 2017

One Night in Italy - A Sparkling Novel by Lucy Diamond

Italy is one of my favourite countries to visit. I love the beautiful terracotta roofed houses, the lemon and olive groves, the vineyards, the Renaissance cities of Florence and Venice, and the romantic city of Rome, and the food! And if I can't be there, I love to read about it.
Lucy Diamond  has written the perfect book, One Night in Italy, and although the book is set around an Italian evening class in Sheffield, the characters dream of going to this wonderful country, and some of them actually do!

The three main characters are:
Sophie who has been called home from Sorrento after spending some years in Italy because her father's had a heart attack and, as she's got nowhere and no one to return to, she becomes the teacher of the Italian class.

Catherine who comes to the class because she's trying to rebuild her life after her twins leave home for university and her husband has been waiting for this moment to tell her that he never loved her and wants a divorce.

Anna, a journalist, who discovers that her father is Italian and wants to go there and find him.
Add sisters, Nita and Phoebe, who want to meet some sexy Italian men;  and Roy and Geraldine who are planning a grand tour of Italy for their Ruby Wedding. They make a wonderful cast who support each other and grow together, fuelled by evenings in the local pub after the class is over.

In all this, Lucy Diamond had made great use of dialogue and dialect to draw loveable pictures of each of them for us to enjoy.
It's a sparkling book to read any time and you can even learn a few words of Italian as each chapter is headed up with the title in Italian as well as English!

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Class by Jenny Colgan, writing as Jane Beaton - An up-to-date yet nostalgic, novel about boarding school life by the sea

What girl didn't like Enid Blyton's boarding school books: Malory Towers, The Twins at St Clare's, or The Naughtiest Girl in the School?
I loved them, and so did Jenny Colgan -  so much that she decided to write her own school series for grown-ups, set in the twenty-first century, not the Forties and Fifties, and telling the story of the teaching staff as well as the girls. The first ones were published a few years ago, by Jane Beaton, but nobody knew that she was really Jenny Colgan as they were quite different from her usual books. Now they've been republished with Jenny Colgan boldly on the cover for us all to enjoy!
Class: Welcome to the Little School by the Sea  is set at a fictional school in Cornwall with four towers. Sounds familiar? Enid Blyton based Malory Towers on Lulworth Castle in Dorset (Wikipedia).
The main characters are:
Maggie Adair, from Glasgow, who applies for a teaching post at Downey House School to get some experience of teaching girls who want to learn instead of the indifferent students at the local comprehensive, is amazed to get the job.
Dr Veronica Deveral, the headteacher, who needs to keep the school successful to ensure it receives certain funding, is being besieged by the inspectors, and on a more personal level has a secret that she's kept close to her heart for many years.
Felicity Prosser, known as Fliss, doesn't want to leave her friends in Guildford and follow in her elder sister's footsteps to Downey House, and sets out to do all she can to be sent home (a bit like Elizabeth Allen in The Naughtiest Girl in the School!).
Alice Trebizon-Woods, who befriends Fliss and sets out to lead her astray.
And Simone Pribetich, a scholarship girl, who is so proud to have a place at Downey House, but finds it so hard to fit in, no thanks to Alice and Fliss.
Add Stan, Maggie's devoted boyfriend back in Scotland and David McDonald, the handsome English master from the neighbouring boys' school (and his dog!), and you have a wonderful story of the ups and downs of life at Downey House.
If you're looking for an up-to-date, yet nostalgic, novel about boarding school life by the sea, this is the book for you!
And if you want to know what happens next, Rules: Things are Changing at the Little School by the Sea, is also out now, and there are four more to come. Now where's my torch so I can get reading under the bedclothes?!

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Do You Want to Write Marvellous Short Stories like Roald Dahl?

Somehow over the years, I'd lost my Penguin copies of Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl, so I was thrilled to see that the publisher has now brought out The Complete Short Stories  in two volumes, and I was even more thrilled to get them for Christmas!

However, I'm not going to use this blog post to add to the many marvellous reviews of his work, but I will say that if you have read or watched some of his Tales of the Unexpected, they are all here to enjoy again, such as Lamb to the Slaughter, and also others that are not so familiar about his wartime spent in the RAF, e.g. Katrina.
And if you have only enjoyed his children's books so far, there's a whole new world here to explore.
What I would like to tell you about is the introduction to Volume One by the author, comedian and actor, Charlie Higson.
Higson calls Dahl 'quiet simply the master of the short story form' and points out that his stories are not just ones with a twist in the tale which might be read once and not revisited ever again. Dahl knew that he had to hold the reader's attention for literally every second, and Higson says that his words should be carved into the foreheads of every new writer, novelist and critic who thinks that it's the reader and not the writer who should have to make an effort with a story.
He says that Dahl's style is deceptively straightforward, played out in a sunlight which exposes everything it touches. Like the British stiff upper lip, a calm and polite exterior thinly masks the 'seething turmoil' and 'suppressed violence' underneath. However, justice is always served, making us laugh or smile, but it is often the older, darker justice that is also found in his children's books.
Dahl was first approached by C.S. Forester to write a story about being shot down in Libya for a U.S. magazine to gain American sympathy in the war. Forester added that Dahl should focus on detail. This he did, and when Forester received his work, he was so pleased that he called Dahl a 'gifted writer' and published it as it was.
You can read a version this in A Piece of Cake (on page 87), and you will see just how he focused on the detail, e.g. tents flapping 'like canvas men clapping their hands', or the slow conversation between his mind and his body as he tried to escape from his fast-burning Gladiator.
I hope that you will love these stories as much as I did and will think, as you read them, about the skills of the master storyteller who wrote them for us all to enjoy.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick - An Ethereal, Wonderful Book about Love, Loss and, Comets

As I have said before, I love quirky books that step outside the normal confines of time and space. The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick is one such book. I saw the hardback version in Waterstone's, and I had to have it! I couldn't wait until August for the paperback version, so I put it on my Christmas list and was very happy to receive it on Christmas Day.
The story begins in 2017 at Halley VI, the British Antarctic Survey Research Station, where Róisín, a scientist, meets François, a chef. This unlikely couple feel drawn together: drawn to this desolate place of snow covered ice and rock, the very things comets are made of, and drawn to the comet which is due to pass at its closest to earth in three weeks on its way to the sun.
Helen Sedgwick then skilfully takes us back and forth in time, each time a comet appears from 1066 to the present day, to explain why they have met in such a place.
She focuses on the forbidden love between Róisín and her cousin, Liam, and how François copes with his mother, Severine, who talks to the ghosts of her family, and through whose lives the story is told over one thousand years. And she shows how Róisín's and François' lives tantalizingly almost touch several times until they meet on the Research Station.
There are so many themes to explore: the Bayeux Tapestry for one, sewn (in the same way the story goes back and forth in time) by Anglo-Saxon women in England.
Then there is the red tent that Róisín and her cousin, Liam, sleep out in to see Comet West in 1976, mirrored by the red tent that she uses in the Antarctic, and the tent that Severine and François use when they are comet-seeking too.
There is also the theme of loss reflecting the approach and passage of the comets with the events in the lives of Róisín, Liam, François and Severine.
I can recommend this ethereal, wonderful book about love, loss and, comets. There is so much to it, I think I might read it again!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Notes from the Northern Lights by Jo Thomas - the Perfect Wintery Novel

With Christmas over and all the decorations packed away until December, here's the perfect wintery book to read with deep snow guaranteed, even if it's raining outside: Notes from the Northern Lights by Jo Thomas.
Ruby Knightley is sent to Reykjavik, when her only experience of  Iceland is watching Rick Stein on one of his Long Weekends!
She on a mission to hunt down her opera company's star performer, Hilmar Snorrison, who has left everyone in the lurch after rehearsing for their new production which is to go on tour.
Iceland in January for wardrobe mistress, Ruby, is cold and dark with only a few hours of daylight. Luckily, she discovers that he's returned to the family sheep farm to help his brother who's broken his leg. She gets a taxi there and hopes to be able to get back to the airport in time for her return flight, but a snow storm blows in, trapping her at the farm.
How is she going to persuade Hilmar to come back with her, and how will they get back to England anyway, in this weather?
As with all Jo Thomas's books, there's always something interesting to learn about someone's way of life, such as oyster farming, olive or wine production. In this book, it's sheep farming, and the production of smoked lamb, hangikjöt, which gives the background to the story.
It's a wonderful book to read on a dark winter's weekend and get transported to the wintery world of Iceland.

I spent a wonderful few days there in 2011, and you can read the blog I wrote here: Yule Lads and Northern Lights in Iceland!