News round-up for 2016

With 2016 drawing rapidly to a close (where does the time go?), I decided it was about time to give out a general news update, as it was March when I last summed up! If you want to go back that far, you can read about my move to being a full-time writer and my contract with Bookouture, among other things, here.

2924749628th April saw the release of my first chick-lit for Bookouture and the first in the La Cour des Roses series, The Little French Guesthouse. 

I was taken aback – and of course delighted – by how well the book was received, with wonderful reviews from readers and bloggers (440  5* reviews on Amazon UK to date!)

The book had been such a long time coming (you can read about its journey from the glimmer of an idea to publication here), so it was wonderful that people were enjoying it so much.

The first draft for the sequel went in to my editor about the same time, so knowing that people loved the characters and would like to read more about them helped me through all the structural edits, copy edits, line edits . . . phew! Needing to get the second book out before the end of the summer meant tight deadlines. I was working very long days, eternally thankful that I’d given up the day job at Christmas!

Return to The little French Guesthouse was born on 26th September, but writing a sequel is a nerve-wracking business.

I waited anxiously. Would people like it as much as the first one? Have I still “got it”? I waited in trepidation for the reviews to come in.

Sighs of relief – it was enjoyed just as much as the first, in some cases more so! 

 

At this point, I had to take a writing break for a couple of months. My brain was mush, and I was mentally and physically exhausted.

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On a personal front, my daughter graduated from university in July and came back home to live, while my son finished his A-levels and then prepared to go volunteering abroad for a year – involving a lot of paperwork and organising and packing – so July and August were hectic and stressful. I can’t say it was easy waving him off at the end of August for a whole year!😦

Hubby and I finally took a much-needed break in September (we hadn’t been away for over a year) and enjoyed a wonderful fortnight in Devon and Cornwall, where we were lucky with the weather. Coastal walks, reading on the beach, crab sandwiches, cream teas . . . just the job!

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Meanwhile, the reviews kept rolling in for Return to The Little French Guesthouse, with so many readers asking me whether there would be a Book 3 and when it was coming out.

Not being one to disappoint, I took a deep breath and got back to my keyboard in October. That month, I also met my Bookouture editor for the first time, which was lovely, after working together ‘remotely’ for nearly a year!

And so, as those of you who have been following previous blog posts will already suspect, that TBR pile hasn’t had much of a dent made in it.

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Books on Kindle

And that clearing-up of the years-worth of heaven-knows-what in my attic never did get shifted. Well, not by me, anyway – too many writing deadlines. 

Floor of attic

Poor hubby got so sick of tripping over everything every time he wanted to get to his desk, he took it upon himself to make a start. We still have a very long way to go, but it looks just the teeniest bit more like an actual room now , and all the c**p has been moved to one half of the place, so you can at least get around without risking breaking your neck.

And now Christmas is looming. Have I started decorating yet? Er – no. Have I done my Christmas shopping yet? Er – a little bit. Have I planned Christmas Day’s menu yet? Same as last year, I suspect. Anything for ease. 

With a strict daily word count to achieve and a deadline of just a few weeks for the first draft, I admit I can feel a little Christmas panic coming on. The third book in the La Cour des Roses series is due out sometime in July, I hope, but there will be a lot of work to put in between now and then!

 

 

Welcome . . . Rosemary Gemmell!

I’m so pleased to welcome Rosemary Gemmell to the blog to talk about her beloved homeland Scotland as a background for many of her books and her latest release, Return to Kilgraig. I’ve known Rosemary online for a while now, as we are fellow members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and I was delighted to meet her at an event a year or so ago. For her first visit to my blog, I had plenty of questions for her – but first, the cover and the blurb . . .

kilcraig-cover-s-mediaThe legacy of her beloved grandmother’s cottage in the Scottish village of Kilcraig seems like the ideal solution after Christy Morrison’s recent trauma. Until the threats begin. Can she trust her heart and allow herself to fall in love again?

When Ross McKinley reluctantly welcomes Christy back to the village, he has hardened his heart against love, until they begin to renew their childhood friendship. But someone is determined Christy should go back to London. Will they find the culprit in time?

You can view the trailer here

and the book is available at:     AMAZON UK     AMAZON US

 

And now to find out more from the author herself . . .

Rosemary, your latest book is set in Scotland, as are many of your stories. Why do you think it makes such a fabulous backdrop for what you write?

Well first of all, I’ve always lived in the west coast of Scotland (so far!) and love being within easy distance of the River Clyde and Loch Lomond. It’s a country of such majestic scenery that no matter where I go, from the southern Dumfries and Galloway region to the Highlands, I’m never far from mountains, lochs or glens. Such dramatic scenery as well as the centuries of history and legend attached to many areas provides endless settings and inspiration. Even the islands all have their own individual beauty, while the west and east coasts are so different but each with its own identity. Evidently Germans, Russians and Americans (to name those I’ve heard mentioned in this regard) find it a very romantic country, although they probably see it through romanticised spectacles!

Do you always research and visit the area your books are set in?

Up until now, I’ve only used settings with which I am very familiar as that’s been part of the enjoyment, wanting to share a little of the atmosphere and beauty. One of my tween books, Summer of the Eagles, was inspired by the west coast Isle of Cumbrae which I’ve visited many times over the years and it wasn’t difficult to let my imagination provide the slight fantasy element in the story. The Highland Lass is very much homage to my own area of Inverclyde, along with visits to Argyllshire, Ayrshire, Glasgow and Loch Lomond. The only area I revisited for a little more research was Ayrshire for the historical part of the story, where Robert Burns met Highland Mary. Otherwise, it was all from my own experience and knowledge about where I grew up, together with the necessary reading for the historical facts.

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The latest book set in Scotland, Return to Kilcraig, is inspired by a variety of the lovely country villages around here but isn’t any one of them. The country roads and local loch all exist, however, but could be one of several! I’ve no doubt I’ll continue to set books and novellas in Scotland but one of them at least is set in the east coast and I may need to do a little more exploring for that one.

Sounds like the perfect excuse for a bit of travelling, if you ask me!

There is an element of mystery involved alongside romance in this one. Can you tell us a little about how and why? (without giving the game away!)

My own favourite type of book to read is Romantic Suspense, or romance with a touch of mystery and intrigue and my Regency books and Victorian novella (as Romy) all have an element of intrigue. With this new contemporary novel, I wanted to see if I could make it more suspenseful while keeping the romantic element, albeit on a sweeter level. I think it’s turned out fairly even between romance and suspense (hopefully) but there is more of an element of danger and a little mystery about what is happening to Christy when she returns to the village and why. Because I love references to literature (which several of my books have), there is even a little mystery over a particular copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and I was able to incorporate some of the lines from it here and there. I think I’m foremost a character writer so I’ve tried to include enough characters to keep the mystery alive until near the end.

Which aspects of Ross and Christy’s characters did you enjoy writing the most? Did anything about them surprise you as they developed?

I enjoyed writing about a couple who had known each other for many years but had never had the chance to develop their friendship into something deeper before now. I particularly enjoyed writing about Ross, and the story is told partly from his point of view. He is the kind of hero I like to read about – reserved, honest and hard to read for the heroine. Two people have told me there is a slightly modern Regency feel to it so perhaps he’s an old fashioned, honourable character in some ways.

Christy is wracked with guilt for two different reasons so it takes her a while to trust her heart, especially when she starts receiving threats. The character that most surprised me was Ross’s brother, Cameron – he developed in quite a different way from I envisaged. But that’s why I like writing a novel as I go, without planning it in advance. It lets the characters grow as they interact with each other.

Oh, yes, I love that aspect of writing, when your characters take on a life of their own!

What are you working on next?

As always, I’m writing short stories, articles, occasional poems, plus the end of another children’s book – all while in the middle of one novella and a novel started some time ago. And that’s only the ones I’m planning to get on with first! I have several in the background, including a Victorian crime novel started a couple of years ago set in my own area. The first 15,000 words won second prize at our annual Scottish Association of Writers Conference and I still haven’t continued with it – even though a few people have told me to concentrate on that! I don’t think my butterfly tendencies will ever change now but I am trying very hard to complete whatever I begin at last. The variety keeps the slog and pleasure of writing interesting.

Gosh, Rosemary, you are such a busy lady! Thank you for visiting – it’s been lovely to find out more about you and your writing🙂

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

rosemary-gemmellRosemary Gemmell is a published historical and contemporary novelist for adults (also as Romy) and also writes for the Middle Grade/tween age group (as Ros). Her short stories, articles and occasional poems have been published in UK magazines, in the US, and online and several stories have won awards.

Rosemary has a Post-graduate Masters in literature and history and is a member of the Society of Authors, the Romantic Novelists’ Association, and the Scottish Associations of Writers. She also loves to dance!

You can find Rosemary at:

Rosemary’s website          Rosemary’s Reading and Writing blog          Twitter          Facebook 

 

Ilkley Literature Festival #2 – Michelle Paver

This year, I attended two events at the Ilkley Literature Festival.

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I wrote about the first one – Tracy Chevalier – back in October. If you missed it, you can read about it here.

The second event I attended was with author Michelle Paver.

ilkley-lit-fest-michelle-paver-hpOnce again, I have to confess that I mainly attended this to accompany my daughter who, when she was younger, avidly devoured Paver’s Chronicles of Ancient Darkness books for young people – a series which got my daughter interested in both reading and writing historical fiction.

I also have to confess that I haven’t as yet got round to reading any of Michelle Paver’s books – but that is a state of affairs that will definitely change, now I have heard her speak!

For her most recent books, Michelle Paver has turned to writing what might best be described as ghost stories for adults. Dark Matter was published in 2010 to critical acclaim, and her latest release, Thin Air, was the main subject of this talk.

The author began by discussing why we like ghost stories and frightening ourselves. As a child, she was influenced, among other things,  by the churchyard near her family home and a forbidding suit of armour in the house!

Her take on adult ghost stories is that we like stories that deliver emotion, and fear is one of the strongest emotions of all . . . and thankfully there is safety if the scare is only fictional🙂

She went on to talk about how she goes about writing such a story. She scares her readers by manipulating them, and so she must be analytical in  choreographing the ‘haunting’ and maintaining the right balance, always aiming for subtlety over horror. Most important, she feels, is the atmosphere – it must be powerful and ‘real’, and she must persuade the reader that they are there. She strives to make her story both physically and psychologically plausible – nothing happens that cannot be explained, but the lines are blurred. The scariness comes from the gap between knowledge and belief.

thin-air-michelle-paver-hpThin Air is set in India in the 1930s, the golden age of mountaineering, where her protagonist finds himself alone during an expedition on Kangchenjunga in the Himalayas.

It’s clear that Ms Paver does a great deal of research for her books. She has been on quite a few travelling adventures, drawing on them for her descriptions and plot, and she would feel uncomfortable writing about somewhere she has not experienced at least a little for herself. Waking up in a thin tent to dead silence after a storm, only to hear footsteps outside, knowing there is mere canvas between you and whatever-it-is, is pretty good material for your writing!

dark-matter-michelle-paver-hpIn all her books, it seems Ms Paver has been drawn to write about some element of the natural world – the battle between man and the wild. Dark Matter, for example, involves an Arctic expedition in the late 1930s, and her Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series is set six thousand years ago in an ancient world of woods and caves.

Michelle Paver came across as friendly and warm to her audience, peppering her talk with personal experiences and a sense of humour. She was more than happy to answer  any questions put to her during the Q & A session at the end. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening – apart from its result, which is that my TBR pile of books continues to grow . . .

 

 

 

Review: Return to the Little French Guesthouse by Helen Pollard

A lovely review for ‘Return to The Little French Guesthouse’. It seems love DOES make the world go round!

Random Book Muses

The top of this book cover says “A feel good read to make you smile.” Well, it’s quite more than that. Yes, Emmy’s optimism and hard work make for a cheery read. Her support of guesthouse-owner Rupert will endear any reader to her, as will her deference and friendly respect for the very French guesthouse-keeper. Accountant Alain’s adoration of Emmy is the cutest thing ever. And the Thompson clan spending the week at the guesthouse brings all the joy and camaraderie you’d expect from a family celebration.

So, yeah, it’s a feel good read.

But here’s the “more” —

Return to the Little French Guesthouse is full of love. Real, deep, abiding love. Love for friends and family. Love for one’s country. Love for neighbors and those in need. Love for the cute gardener. Love for one’s spouse. Old love. New love. Without being syrupy or contrived, this book uplifts…

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Halloween Decor and Crafts

When I was a kid, Halloween was barely on the radar. But as my own children were growing up, it became quite a deal. As a parent, I was happy to embrace it as a welcome bit of fun to break up the long term between between summer and Christmas.

And so, over the years, we built up quite a few Halloween decorations – although nothing too gory. 

I must admit, I’m not bothering too much this year – my daughter is 21 (how did that happen?!) and my 18-year-old son is away on a year abroad – so I’m cheating because these photos are from last year, when my son and his friends decided to hold a (thankfully small) Rocky Horror party. I did promise not to post photos of any of them dressed up! But we went to quite a bit of effort around the house …

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And my son got quite creative on the pumpkin front …

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We’ve always had a pumpkin. And we also have a couple of favourite ‘pieces’ that are brought out every Halloween:

When the children were younger and I wasn’t writing, I got into various crafts as a creative outlet. At one point, it was plate-painting …

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And at another point it was collage. This always goes above the fireplace and reminds us of when the little horrors went trick-or-treating (that’s them in the photo in the doorway of the ‘castle’). 

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I loved making both of those pieces, and when I get them out each year, it reminds me that I still have a whole stash of crafting stuff, just waiting for me to find the time to use it …

Welcome . . . Sharon Booth!

I’m delighted to welcome author and fellow Yorkshirewoman Sharon Booth to the blog with her new release,  Once Upon A Long Ago,  the third book in her series set in Kearton Bay. I read the first Kearton Bay book, There Must Be An Angel, earlier this year and thoroughly enjoyed it!

I had plenty of questions for Sharon, but first, the picturesque cover and blurb . . .  

once-ebook-cover-3Lexi Bailey doesn’t do love. Having seen the war zone that was her parents’ marriage, she has no interest in venturing into a relationship, and thinks romance is for fairy tales. As far as she’s concerned, there’s no such thing as happy ever after, and she’s not looking for a handsome prince.

For Will Boden-Kean, that’s probably a good thing. He hardly qualifies as a handsome prince, after all. He may be the son of a baronet, and live in a stately home, but he’s not known for his good looks. What he is known for, among the residents of Kearton Bay, is his kind heart, his determination to fund Kearton Hall — and his unrequited love for Lexi.

While Lexi gazes at the portrait of the Third Earl Kearton, and dreams of finding the treasure that is reputed to be hidden somewhere in the house, Will is working hard to ensure that his home survives. When he goes against Lexi’s wishes and employs the most unpopular man in the village, she begins to wonder if he’s under a spell. Will would never upset her. What could possibly have happened to him?

As plans take shape for a grand ball, Lexi’s life is in turmoil. With a secret from Will’s past revealed, a witch who is far too beautiful for Lexi’s peace of mind, and a new enchantress on the scene, things are changing rapidly at Kearton Hall. Add to that a big, bad wolf of a work colleague, a stepmother in denial, and a father who is most definitely up to no good, and it’s no wonder she decides to make a new start somewhere else.

Then she makes a discovery that changes everything — but time is running out for her. Is it too late to find her happy ending? Will Lexi make it to the ball? Will Buttons save the day? And where on earth did that handsome prince come from?

Buy links:          AMAZON UK          AMAZON US

 

So, Sharon . . . You clearly like to stick to your Yorkshire roots and set your books in your own beautiful county (as a Yorkshire lass myself, I can only approve!) but Kearton Bay is a fictional place. Can you tell us more about it and where inspired it?

Kearton Bay is, indeed, fictional, but it’s based on Robin Hood’s Bay, a beautiful little village on the North Yorkshire coast, a few miles south of Whitby. It’s a former smuggling stronghold, and I’ve loved it since the first time I went there, when I was fifteen years old. The steep, winding street down to the beach, the old whitewashed buildings with red roofs, and the quirky businesses—not least a dinosaur and fossil museum, a shop selling Whitby jet, and a book shop with a broomstick above the window—were enough to inspire me, and decide that it was the perfect setting for my Kearton Bay stories.  I changed the street names, peopled the place with my fictional characters, and added an Elizabethan stately home, Kearton Hall. The Hall was actually inspired by Burton Agnes Hall, a gorgeous house further south, near Driffield in East Yorkshire. My daughter took me a couple of times to mooch around, take photos, make notes, and soak up the atmosphere. In my mind, Robin Hood’s Bay has become Kearton Bay, and Burton Agnes Hall is Kearton Hall. I find it very easy to imagine my characters wandering around both of those places.

I love that part of Yorkshire. Those coastal villages have so much character! No wonder you were inspired by Robin Hood’s Bay🙂

What are the joys and challenges of moving from one set of characters to another within the same setting, for each book? 

The joys are, obviously, that I get to revisit my friends, and that I already know the characters, so it’s not like starting from scratch again. The challenge is ensuring that, while previously featured characters are mentioned, and their presence acknowledged, the focus switches to the new main characters, while also sowing seeds for future books. It can be tricky to strike that balance. For instance, I’ve referred to Will’s unrequited love for Lexi throughout both There Must Be an Angel, and A Kiss from a Rose, and also mentioned his struggles to keep Kearton Hall going. In Rose, I had to make sure that I didn’t spend too much time harking back to Eliza and Gabriel, because, as much as I love them, it was Rose and Flynn’s story, and Eliza and Gabriel had to take a back seat. In Once Upon a Long Ago, I started something that will be the focus of the final book in the series, while making sure I gave the main spotlight to Will and Lexi, so it’s a balancing act really. It’s also hard to remember all my facts. I have sheets of paper with ages, birthdays, timelines, eye colour, job histories, family backgrounds etc. I could never remember it all. I’m always having to refer back and double check everything. I love it, though, and it’s so worth the effort. It’s wonderful to return to Kearton Bay and meet up with my pals again. I’m always pleased to find out what they’re up to. Sometimes, they amaze me!

Working on a series myself now, I know what you mean – it’s lovely feeling so comfortable with  your own characters, but it can be quite hard to keep track of everyone (good job I love spreadsheets!)

Can each book in the series be read as a stand-alone?

Definitely. Each story is complete in itself. As I said, I’ve got other characters from the village bobbing up in each novel, and I do lay foundations for the next, but nevertheless, each book can be read even if you’ve never read the previous ones.

In the latest, Once Upon a Long Ago, you explore the budding romance between Lexi and Will. What did you particularly love about these two characters that made you want to give them a book all of their own?

Oh, I’m very fond of Will and Lexi, and they were always going to “star” in their own book. They were the first characters—along with Eliza’s uncle, Joe Hollingsworth—to pop into my mind, over five years ago. It was Will and Lexi who started the whole Kearton Bay adventure, and they were initially planned to be the focus of book one. Before long, though, I realised that their story was going to be a slow burner, and that the series had to begin with Lexi’s father, because his story would have a huge impact on hers, and turn her into the character she’s become. I love Lexi. She’s been through a lot, but she’s strong, gutsy and fun, with very firm principles and beliefs. Will, on the other hand, is a gentle soul, with a great sense of responsibility and duty, and infinite patience. He’s really sweet and I absolutely love him to pieces. I just had to give him the happy ending he deserved. Once Upon a Long Ago is very romantic, but it’s also got a bit of a mystery in there, plus some history, heritage, secret rooms, missing treasure…Will and Lexi’s story turned out to be more dramatic than I could ever have imagined back in 2011.

Are you a hopeless romantic? Or is there a little good-humoured cynicism in there?

Hmm. That’s an interesting question. In real life, I think I’ve developed a bit of healthy cynicism. You can’t reach your (early!) fifties without realising that real life men aren’t the heroes you find in books.  Mind you, thank God for it, really. Who could live up to those kind of standards? When it comes to writing, though, I’m a hopeless romantic. Although I put them through the mill, and make them work hard for their happy ending, I always want both my hero and heroine to find the partner of their dreams.  I make sure I give my characters a few flaws, though. No one wants perfection. Who could cope with that?

I think you just described me!  

So, what can we expect next from Sharon Booth?

I’ve just published my Christmas novella, Baxter’s Christmas Wish, which makes three books and a short story published this year, so I’m quite pleased with that. I can’t rest on my laurels, though. I’ve just started work on the second Skimmerdale novel, set in the Yorkshire Dales. I’m always terrified starting the next book, because I can’t help worrying that I’ll never be able to do it again. However, I’ve written the first couple of chapters so far, and I’m already beginning to really enjoy myself. I love the Dales, and I’ve developed a real fondness for Swaledale sheep, which— since my hero, Eliot, is a sheep farmer—is quite handy! Of course, it helps that he’s also a dead ringer for Aidan Turner. Funny that…

You’re certainly a busy lady, Sharon (and quite a spokesperson for the delights of Yorkshire!) Thank you so much for visiting. 

 

Catch up with the first two books set in Kearton Bay:

there-must-be-an-angel-ebook-cover-new-style-1When Eliza Jarvis discovers her property show presenter husband, Harry, has been expanding his portfolio with tabloid darling Melody Bird, her perfect life crumbles around her ears.

Before you can say Pensioner Barbie she’s in a stolen car, heading to the North Yorkshire coastal village of Kearton Bay in search of the father she never knew, with only her three-year-old daughter and a family-sized bag of Maltesers for company.

Ignoring the pleas of her uncle, chat show presenter Joe Hollingsworth, Eliza determines to find the man who abandoned her mother and discover the reason he left them to their fate. All she has to go on is his name – Raphael – but in such a small place there can’t be more than one angel, can there?

Gabriel Bailey may have the name of an angel but he’s not feeling very blessed. In fact, the way his life’s been going he doesn’t see how things can get much worse. Then Eliza arrives with her flash car and designer clothes, reminding him of things he’d rather forget, and he realises that if he’s to have any kind of peace she’s one person he must avoid at all costs.

But with the help of beautiful Wiccan landlady, Rhiannon, and quirky pink-haired café owner, Rose, Eliza is soon on the trail of her missing angel, and her investigations lead her straight into Gabriel’s path.

As her search takes her deeper into the heart of his family, Eliza begins to realise that she’s in danger of hurting those she cares about deeply. Is her quest worth it?

And is the angel she’s seeking really the one she’s meant to find?

Buy links:          AMAZON UK          AMAZON US

 

a-kiss-from-a-rose-ebook-cover-new-style-1After having a pretty rubbish life for years, Rose MacLean thinks she’s overdue a break, and, at last, things are going her way. She’s a partner in a thriving business, her financial problems are easing, and her eldest daughter has finally found employment, while her youngest is doing well at school.

The trouble is, nothing in Rose’s life ever runs smoothly for long. Sure enough, her eldest daughter quits her job, and her youngest changes—almost overnight—from Shirley Temple into Miley Cyrus. To make matters worse, her mother is back on the scene, and she seems to be reliving her misspent youth with her oily-haired, horse-faced ex, Alec Thoroughgood.

With her best friend preoccupied with the arduous task of baby-making, a slimming club leader in meltdown, and a family that seems determined to break her, Rose finds herself relying more and more on the quiet Flynn Pennington-Rhys, who seems to be everyone’s hero.

But Flynn has his own problems, and as events take an unexpected turn, Rose realises that she may not always be able to rely on him.

Will the quiet man come through for her? Will her daughters ever sort themselves out? And will Rose ever get her bedroom back from her mother, or is she destined for a life on the sofa?

Buy links:          AMAZON UK          AMAZON US

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

sharon-boothSharon wrote her first book when she was ten. It was about a boarding school that specialised in ballet, and, given that she’d never been to boarding school and hadn’t a clue about ballet, it’s probably a good thing that no copy of this masterpiece survives.
She writes contemporary romance with a good sprinkling of humour—fun-filled fiction with heart—much to the disappointment of her mother, who wants to know why she isn’t the next Catherine Cookson.

Sharon lives in Yorkshire, with her husband and their dog, and is passionate about her home county. Her novels are set on the Yorkshire coast, or deep in its beautiful countryside. She has also written for The People’s Friend. She is one tenth of The Write Romantics, and a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.

She has a love/hate relationship with chocolate, is a devoted Whovian, and prone to all-consuming crushes on fictional heroes. The situation has recently become critical since she was given a DVD of Outlander and discovered Jamie Fraser.

Find out more about Sharon at these links:

Sharon’s blog          Sharon’s Amazon page          Facebook          Twitter

 

 

 

Ilkley Literature Festival #1 – Tracy Chevalier

The Ilkley Literature Festival goes from strength to strength, this year spanning two and a half weeks, with over 200 author talks, workshops and fringe events.

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I attended two author talks this year, the first being Tracy Chevalier.

the-lady-the-unicorn-chevalier-hpThis is where I have to confess that although I do read historical fiction from time to time and enjoy it, it’s not a genre  I am well-read in. Hence, I have only ever read one of Tracy Chevalier’s books, The Lady and the Unicorn, so far. I was impressed with the historical  detail and found the book absorbing, and would happily read more of her work – but up to now, I have been bested by that old enemy TIME, and a TBR list that makes my head spin just thinking about it!

I attended the event mainly to accompany my daughter, who is a keen reader of historical fiction and has read several of Tracy Chevalier’s books – and I’m so glad I did.

Ms Chevalier began by reading an extract of her latest novel, At the Edge of the Orchard, about a pioneering family in 1830s Iowa and later the California Gold Rush.

As many of us have been, she was captivated in her youth by the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, but At the Edge of The Orchard is a grimmer tale about a family of imperfect characters forced to grow an orchard within three years of settling to keep the land, and their ensuing hardship and battles with their environment. With Ms Chevalier’s American accent perfectly suited to the passage she read, I was quickly drawn in . . . and oh dear, that’s another book to be added to the TBR list!

ilkley-lit-fest-tracy-chevalier-hpThe author went on to talk about her research in general – mindbogglingly extensive! – and how the idea for this book grew out of research  for a previous book, The Last Runaway, when she developed an interest in trees and how and when they were introduced into different countries, especially apple trees.  As a writer, I was amused and pleased to hear that she is easily distracted by her research, the internet . . . anything to avoid actually writing, and that she has to take herself away from the computer and write longhand in a different room to get anything done!

She explained how her characters only find their own voices as the story progresses, once she has spent time with them and seen how they respond to the events in the book – and so when she has finished, she must go back to the beginning  to make those ‘voices’ match up with what they eventually became.

For the second half of the hour, she moved on to discuss an anthology of short stories she has recently edited, entitled Reader, I Married Him. As part of her collaboration with the Brontë Parsonage in Haworth to celebrate Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary, she asked women writers to use the line from Jane Eyre to write a short story. The stories in the anthology sound varied, with writers of wide-ranging ages and backgrounds coming at the challenge from very different angles.

In the Q & A session at the end, Ms Chevalier was asked if she would ever write contemporary fiction. With an amusing foray into the fine line between history and nostalgia – are the 1970s history yet? It depends what age you are! – she explained that she believes we are all more than a moment; we are a product of everything in the past.

remarkable-creatures-chevalier-hpAs I mulled this over, I realised that this idea certainly adds more import to a work of historical fiction – it isn’t just a glimpse into lives in a bygone era but can be a commentary on so much more. 

I found Ms Chevalier compelling and unpretentious, knowledgeable and interesting … and I left the event vowing to find time to read more of her books. My daughter has particularly recommended Remarkable Creatures,  a story about Mary Anning, fossil-finder in early 19th century England, her trials in what was a man’s world, and her friendship with Elizabeth Philpot. It has been added to the pile of books on my bedside table . . .

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