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10 Years Ago This Weekend

Posted on 22nd October, 2021

What were you doing 10 years ago this weekend? Me - I signed up to take part in NaNoWriMo for the first time and then spent the remaining days of October in a state of panic. For the uninitiated, that's National Novel Writing Month, when writers all over the world aim to produce 50,000 words in a month - and not just any month, but November, which has one day fewer than most other months. That's a daily average of 1,667 words. Whether you think that is a lot or a not much depends on your personal circumstances, but for me 10 years ago, it meant combining it with my job as a teacher. Hence the panic.

 

That November 1st I spent the day at school, then came home and wrote 1,400 words, which on any other day would have been a splendid achievement; but in NaNo terms, I had fallen behind. That pretty well summed up the NaNo experience for me. Some writers surged ahead. Apparently, the age group that is the most successful is the over-55s: retired people. As for me, I worked jolly hard; I wrote every day and on the days I wasn't at work I tried to produce at least 2,000 words - and usually succeeded.

 

I remember one day in particular. I wrote a single scene and the writing swam along. Finishing that scene felt like a huge achievement, especially as that day at school was extra long because of parents' evening. Even though I wrote "only" 1,000 words, I remember to this day the satisfaction I felt.

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Did I hit the 50,000 word target? Good grief, no. I managed 32,000 words. I could have written more (though nowhere near enough to get me anywhere near 50,000) except that I fell into the editing trap. When you do NaNoWriMo, the one piece of advice you are given over and over is not to stop. Keep going. Save the editing for later.

 

Many writers more than doubled my word count, but I felt I had acquitted myself well. I had written every day for a month. I had worked hard and my average daily word count was over 1,000, which in the context of writing alongside going out to work felt rather good. More than good. I had the most marvellous feeling of achievement.

 

To everyone who'll be tackling NaNoWriMo this year, especially those of you who are doing it for the first time, I wish you the very best. Enjoy it. It's tremendous fun. Just don't expect to have the energy to do much at the beginning of December.

 

It's time to let the plot-bunnies out of the hutch ...

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* * * *

 

My NaNoWriMo novels:

 

 

The Poor Relation

 

32,000 words

 

NaNoWriMo 2011

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The Surplus Girls

 

54,000 words

 

NaNoWriMo 2017

 

The Surplus Girls' Orphans

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66,000 w ords

 

NaNoWriMo 2018

 

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Finishing Book 4

Posted on 15th October, 2021

As I write this blog, I am part way through writing the final scene of the fourth Surplus Girls book - you may have noticed that I only ever refer to it as "the fourth Surplus Girls book" or "Surplus Girls book 4". I expect you can guess why! That's right - there isn't a title yet, not even a working title.

 

When I've finished writing it, my next job will be to go back to the start and read it through, looking for edits that need doing. I've got a short list of things that need to be added, so that will be by my side. Maybe inspiration will strike and a title will pop into my head(!), but I doubt it. I don't really believe in inspiration. I think that if you wait for inspiration to strike, you could well find yourself waiting a jolly long time.

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I wanted to show you this photo of my lovely publication day flowers:

 

 

It all seems a long way away from this.....

 

 

.... when I was asked by my editor to make substantial changes to the oder of some of the events in Christmas with the Surplus Girls and the only way to get to grips with it was to make a page for every scene and lay them out on the floor. The above picture is an early version of the outcome - later, every scene ended up plastered in post-it notes with additional details, such as the new date for each scene.

 

Mind you, Cassie quite liked it ....

 

 

See you all next week.

Susanna / Polly xxx

 

 

"The Perfect Christmas Read."

Posted on 7th October, 2021

I am writing this on the morning of publication day. I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who placed pre-publication orders for Christmas with the Surpus Girls. If you would like the Amazon link, here it is.

 

I'd like to share with you a wonderful review in Frost, the online culture and life style magazine.

 

"I make no secret of the fact I love Polly Heron’s books, so the moment the review copy of this one was available I requested it and dived straight in. For a start, I think the premise of this series is brilliant; the stories of the women who had expected to marry, only for the First World War to kill so many men. Their battle to make something of their lives as single women in the 1920s is seldom told and quite frankly it should be.

 

"A saga series needs central characters and in the Surplus Girls these take the form of unmarried sisters, Prudence and Patience Hesketh, who run a business school from their home to train women in the skills they need. In this, the third book, our understanding of their position deepens and their stories move on too, for one of them at least in a quite unexpected way.

 

"Christmas with the Surplus Girls is a wonderful blend of the comfortingly familiar (characters from previous books making appearances, the orphanage as the heart-warming seasonal setting, and, of course, the love story) with quite a few twists and turns. There are moments when nothing is quite as it seems, as well as breath-takingly written passages of true drama, but to say more would spoil it for the reader.

 

"For the saga fan, this is the perfect Christmas read. As ever with Polly Heron’s writing there is no mawkish sentimentality, there is genuine emotion, elegantly portrayed. And even better, if you haven’t read the other Surplus Girls books there is still time to catch up with them before it’s time to pour yourself a glass of festive cheer and settle down with this beauty."

 

 

 

Cover Love. . . with Jan Baynham

Posted on 1st October, 2021

This week I am delighted to welcome Jan Baynham back to my blog to talk about her latest dual-timeline novel, in particular why the cover illustration is so apt.

 

After retiring from a career in teaching and advisory education, Jan joined a small writing group in a local library where she wrote her first piece of fiction. From then on, she was hooked!

 

Following a novel-writing course, Jan began to write her first full length novel. She loves being able to explore characters in greater depth and delve into their stories. She writes about family secrets and the bond between mothers and daughters.

 

* * * *

 

Thank you for inviting me onto your blog as part of your series, ‘Cover Love’, Susanna. The old saying ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is not one I can agree with when it comes to books. For me, the cover and the blurb will often be what attracts me to a book and will be what persuades me to read it.

 

Her Nanny’s Secret, published in September by Ruby Fiction, is my third novel and like the other two is a dual timeline. The story opens in 1941 at the beginning of WW2 and my main character, Annie, works as a nanny at Cefn Court, a country manor house in the heart of rural mid-Wales, after a short spell as a female groom in the stables there. Although parts of the novel are also set in German-occupied Normandy and 1960s Wales and France, it’s the image that the cover designer has captured on the front of the book that gets to the essence of the story.

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The chosen image of Annie is perfect. In the novel, I describe her as being seventeen with long auburn hair and although we cannot see from the cover, I know her eyes are going to be green. This is how Clara describes her:

 

Annie had wavy auburn hair and hazel eyes that appeared to change from green to nut-brown depending on the colour she was wearing.’

 

On another occasion, we read:

 

She decided on her best dress, smocked and tucked over the bodice in a bottle-green fine cord that suited her so well with her auburn curls. The colour matches your eyes, bach, her da had said.’

 

Annie has a secret. I like the way the designer has chosen an image where Annie is looking away. What is she thinking?

 

The child on the cover is Clara and with her blonde hair and fair colouring, the image is just right for Annie’s charge who we first meet as a new-born baby. The fact that she’s reading a book outside in the garden is maybe a hint of the academic, studious young woman she becomes by the later parts of the novel in 1963.

 

My lovely publisher always involves the author in the choice of cover designs. When I saw this cover with the large gabled house built in the honey-coloured stone in the background, this was my first choice. The building was Cefn Court manor house in my eyes. Surrounded by shrubs and flowers edging a stone flagged path, I could imagine Annie leading Clara down into the front gardens to enjoy the fresh air.

 

The colours on the cover are very calming and, apart from one blip along the way, I like to think that’s how the relationship between Annie and Clara was. Lady Delia told her daughter that they couldn’t manage without Annie:

 

I don’t know what I would have done without Nanny M., Clara,’ my mother had said. ‘She was here to take over when that awful telegram arrived… You were just a baby and she made sure you were her priority. No matter how much I withdrew into my shell, she never gave up on me. In the end, she got me back to health.’

 

I hope readers will be attracted by the cover and the intrigue in the blurb enough to want to read Her Nanny’s Secret. It’s a story I very much enjoyed writing and I do hope readers will like what they find behind this lovely cover.

 

* * * *

 

BLURB:

How far would you go to save the person you loved the most?

 

It’s 1941, and Annie Beynon has just become the first stable girl for the most powerful family in her Welsh village. Whilst her gift for working with horses is clear, there are some who are willing to make her life very difficult on the Pryce estate, simply for being a girl.

 

There are other – secret – ways Annie is defying conventions, too. As the war rages, and when Edmund, the heir to the Pryce fortune, leaves to join the RAF, it seems that it’s only a matter of time before Annie’s secret is exposed. That is, until she makes a shocking decision.

 

It’s 1963 before Annie is able to face up to the secret she chose to keep over twenty years before. Justifying that decision takes her to Normandy in France, and an outcome she could never have expected …

 

* * * *

 

Jan's links:

 

Her author page on Amazon  

 

Jan on Twitter

 

Her Facebook page

 

Buying links for Her Nanny's Secret

 

Amazon 

 

Kobo  

 

Barnes & Noble 

 

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A Surfeit of Surplus Girls!

Posted on 24th September, 2021

Wow! What a week it's been. My box of author copies of Christmas with the Surplus Girls arrived, which of course called for a flurry of photos.

 

 

It doesn't matter how many times it happens - receiving the box and opening it up to see your own book for the first time never stops being hugely exciting.

 

As well as this, I'm proud and happy to show you the cover of the audiobook.

 

 

It's very appealing, isn't it - as well as being a perfect match for the first two.

 

 

And here is another gorgeous cover. There's going to be a 3-volume set in e-book, published next February.

 

 

Here is the Amazon UK link.  

 

Oh - and if you're on Twitter, I have set up a new account specially for Polly. Do join me at https://twitter.com/Polly_Heron  

 

Have a lovely week, everyone.

Susanna / Polly xxx

 

Cover Love. . . With Kitty Wilson

Posted on 17th September, 2021

This week it is a great pleasure to welcome my lovely friend Kitty Wilson on a return visit to my blog. Kitty is the author of the very successful Cornish Village School series, published by Canelo.

 

 

She has now written her first stand-alone novel, Every Day in December, published by One More Chapter, which is about the relationship between Belle, who, in spite of personal difficulties, believes that in December special things can happen; and Rory, who, because of what happened to him some years ago, now hates that time of year.

 

Today Kitty is here to tell us about Every Day in December's front cover.

 

* * * *

 

I was excited about the cover of Every Day In December as it was my first ever standalone and felt very lucky that they included me in some of the decision-making. I had been very keen that blue was a dominant cover colour because I wanted that feeling of a winter sky and having snowflakes falling across the cover really helps to conjure that. The book is packed with snowy scenes, most of them involving Belle leading Rory astray, and I love that snow became a feature of the cover.

 

 

As an author, you hear horror stories about covers where the hero and heroine bear no physical resemblance to the characters themselves but in this instance, they have captured them perfectly. I have always seen Rory as looking a bit like Jamie from Outlander but in a suit, so I'm really happy with the way he looks on this cover. Belle reminds me of a young brunette Debbie Harry and the cover does a great job of showing her as a relaxed, creative type. I love that they are on opposite sides of the street looking across at each other - which symbolises to me that as interested as they are in each other, they both have a little work to do before they can bridge that gap and have their happy ever after.

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The book is set in Bristol and Bath and the surrounding countryside, and I'm so happy that the design highlights the Georgian features that the area is so well known for. With Belle's love of Shakespeare threaded through Every Day In December, a nod to the history of the two cities is really very cute. And of course, as a fan of all things historic, I love the inclusion of the old-fashioned lamppost and railing. In real life they make me squeal so having them on the cover makes my heart happy. It is also pertinent because one of the key scenes towards the end of the novel involves Belle taking Rory to task under the light of a streetlamp as snow is falling around them.

 

But my favourite bit is the tagline. I may be able to write a whole novel but distilling it into a sentence I always find tricksy. Luckily my editor has manged to capture the story perfectly. The structure of the book is that each chapter relates to one day in the month of December and Rory is preparing to fly back to Australia on the first of January so they really do only have one month in which to fall in love and I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed writing the hurly-burly, slightly daft but beautifully romantic way they got there.

 

* * * *

Blurb:

Two people. One month to fall in love.

Belle Wilde loves December. Yes, she’s just lost her job and Christmas is not a good time to find yourself ‘financially challenged’. And yes, her parents are still going on about the fact that she really should have it all together by now. But Belle believes that in December, magic can happen.

 

Rory Walters hates December. Whilst it looks like his life is together, he’s still reeling from a winter’s night five years ago when his life changed forever. Now back at home, he’s certain that this will be yet another Christmas to endure rather than enjoy.

 

But as midnight on December 31st draws closer, Belle and Rory’s time together is coming to an end. With a little help from a Christmas miracle could Belle find the one thing she really wants underneath the mistletoe?

 

* * * *

Every Day in December at Amazon    

 

Kitty's author page on Amazon 

 

Kitty on Twitter 

 

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PS I couldn't resist adding this!

 

 

 

This photo was taken during a wonderful holiday in Bath - sorry, did I say holiday? I meant, of course, to say writers' retreat.

 

Top to bottom: Kitty Wilson, Jane Cable/Eva Glyn, Cass Grafton, Kirsten Hesketh/Poppy Cooper and yours truly. The champagne was because it was Kitty's publication day.

 

 

Versions of the Past.

Posted on 10th September, 2021

This week I want to share a book review of The Missing Pieces of Us by Eva Glyn. Some of you will know that Eva Glyn is the pen name of Jane Cable. In the interests of transparency, I want to say straight out that Jane is a dear friend of mine - but you may also like to know that I started reading her books before we became good friends, so I hope you feel you can trust my judgement.

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There are three versions of the past -

his, hers and the truth.

 

The Missing Pieces of Us is a poignant exploration of the emotions surrounding love and loss and the impact these can have on our lives. In particular, the book takes an absorbing and compassionate look into the complexities of mental health and depression, which makes the story feel very real and vivid in today's world, with our current awareness of the importance, and sometimes the fragility, of mental health, which has come very much to the fore during the pandemic and the lockdowns we have all lived through.

 

 

 

Robin and Izzie, the two narrators, both carry emotional burdens derived from loss and the story shows the impact this has on their lives and relationships. Their memories of past events influence their beliefs, actions, reactions and opinions in the present day. Gradually, this unfolds into a tale of self-discovery, which is at times painful to read, but also heartfelt and fascinating.

 

My favourite character was Izzie's young daughter Claire. She is beautifully drawn, forced through circumstances to show maturity beyond her years, but always a convincing teenager.

 

The story is carefully constructed and the reader will feel as entangled as the characters do until matters gradually become clear - and there are some shocks along the way. At the heart of the story is the importance of understanding - how flawed it can be when we look at others; equally how flawed it can be when we think of ourselves; and ultimately, how it lies at the core of everything we are and everything we do.

 

* * * *

 

Blurb:

When Robin Vail walks back into widow Isobel O’Briain’s life decades after he abruptly left it, the dark days since her husband’s unexpected passing finally know light. Robin has fallen on hard times but Izzie and her teenage daughter Claire quickly remind him what it’s like to have family…and hope.

 

But Robin and Izzie are no longer those twenty-something lovers, and as they grow closer once more the missing pieces of their past weigh heavy. Now, to stop history repeating, Izzie and Robin must face facts and right wrongs…no matter how painful.

 

* * * *

 

Link to The Missing Pieces of Us on Amazon.

 

Cover Love . . . With Chrissie Manby

Posted on 3rd September, 2021

This week it is a huge pleasure to welcome my friend Chris Manby to my blog. We've known one another for some years and I can't quite believe that this is her first visit here - but what better reason could there be for her to drop by than to celebrate the utterly wonderful Saying Goodbye to Tuesday, which you may recall I reviewed here three weeks ago. (If you'd like to see my review, it's here.)

 

So let's here from Chris why Saying Goodbye to Tuesday has the perfect cover. . .

 

* * * *

 

If there’s one subject guaranteed to get any group of writers seriously animated, it’s covers. Yes, yes, we all know that you’re not supposed to judge a book etc… but every debut author learns pretty quickly that covers really matter.

 

Since I published my first book, Flatmates, almost twenty-five years ago, I’ve been lucky enough to publish almost forty further novels. Arranged side by side, they provide an interesting tableau of “fiction cover fashions through the ages”. My early novels had the sort of brightly coloured photographic covers that were all the rage in the nineties. These were replaced by cartoonish illustrated covers in the early noughties (always featuring a “rat-faced girl”, as I once complained to my editor). Five books later, the cartoons were dropped for photographs again. More recently, illustrative covers are back in vogue. I’d like to say that the only thing that hasn’t changed is my name, but that’s been tinkered with too. I started my writing career as Chris Manby, but was persuaded to change it to Chrissie when it became clear that many people thought I was a bloke, despite my author photo.

 

I’ve had covers I’ve liked and covers I could hardly bear to look at. Sometimes, foreign editions have landed on my doorstep with such strange covers I’ve wondered whether I’ve in fact been sent the wrong book. The cover of the Russian version of Spa Wars, my comic novel about two warring beauty salon owners, featured a dwarf dressed in a lab coat pressing a stethoscope against a buxom model’s cleavage. Mind you, the UK version was not much better, featuring a hard-looking model in a white mini-dress wielding a hairdryer in a way that was much more “lad’s mag” than gentle chick lit. That novel bombed.

 

With such a variety of covers to choose from, I thought it would be hard to pick a favourite, but a clear winner emerged just as Susanna asked me to write for Cover Love. It just happens to be my new book. It’s called Saying Goodbye To Tuesday and it’s quite a departure for me. It’s still romantic comedy but the narrator of the novel is Stupendo, a Labrador/ Staffie cross, deceased.

 

 

The cover for Tuesday, as I’ve come to call it, was designed by Jo Myler of Hodder and Stoughton’s in-house team. From the very first sketches, I knew she was going to nail the brief. Of course it had to feature a dog. Stupendo the cover star went through a few iterations. An early version, with more Staffie than Labrador in his lineage, was deemed too challenging for readers who might not be as dog-crazy as I am. It was hard also to get Stupendo’s pose right. How can you draw a dog sitting facing the reader without, a-hem, showing his best doggy bits?

 

To solve the problem, Jo brought artist Fiona Purves on board. Fiona specialises in pet portraits. Her Instagram feed (@fiona_purves) is a feast for the animal lover’s eyes. With her paintbrush she has captured the spirit of all manner of creatures great and small, from tiny birds to the majestic blue whale. I was sure she would be able to bring my fictional dog to life (or afterlife, as it happens), and she has.

 

Saying Goodbye To Tuesday is out in e-book from the 9th September but I can’t wait to see the paperback on the shelves this November. Thanks to Jo and Fiona, my new book has a cover that I can truly claim to love.

 

* * * *

 

Blurb:

To love and protect. The code of the good dog is clear.

 

When single mother Tuesday took on mongrel pup Stupendo, she made a friend for life. Through the best and the worst of times, Stupendo has been there for her. Ever faithful, ever loyal, ever true. Nothing could break their bond. Until last week.
 
Stupendo doesn't know why Tuesday is suddenly ignoring him or why his doggy antics no longer seem to soothe Baby William. It takes his worst enemy - the cat next door - to break the news that Stupendo has become a ghost.
 
Somehow left behind on Earth, Stupendo knows he has unfinished business. Enlisting the help of the community of animals in the neighbourhood, Stupendo must get to the bottom of the very human sadness that hangs over his old home and keeps him from saying goodbye to Tuesday.

 

* * * *

 

Chris's links:

Chrissie's author page on Amazon   

 

Chrissie on Twitter  

 

Chrissie's author page on Facebook 

 

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Calling All Netgalley Readers

Posted on 3rd September, 2021

My big news this week is that book number 3 in the Surplus Girls series, Christmas with the Surplus Girls, is now on Netgalley, so if you're a Netgalley reader who loves sagas, I hope you'll consider asking to read it, especially if you've already enjoyed The Surplus Girls and The Surplus Girls' Orphans.

 

 

One reviewer says: "Such a joy to read.... This series is turning into a remarkable collection."

 

Here's the link to Netgalley - Christmas with the Surplus Girls  

 

... and here's the blurb:

 

After the sorrows of war, can Christmas wishes come true?

 

Manchester, 1922. Nancy Pike is out of her depth. A pupil at the Miss Heskeths' school for surplus girls, she's blundering through her lessons and her job placements. She never wanted to leave her beloved pie-shop job, but she knows she needs to better herself. Her only joy is getting to know the children at St Anthony's orphanage. And working for Mr Zachary Milner twice a week.

 

Zachary's new business is off to a flying start. Alone in the world since the death of his brother, he's determined to do well for the both of them. And Nancy's presence has brought a little sunshine back into his life. But when she makes a terrible mistake that puts his livelihood in jeopardy, he has no choice but to let her go.

 

As Nancy struggles to find a way to make it up to him, she must also try to make this Christmas the best the orphans have ever seen - or risk losing yet another chance to help her family. As she battles the prejudices around her, and her own fear, can she bring a little Christmas cheer to the orphanage, and maybe even to Zachary Milner?

 

 

Cover Love. . . With Eva Glyn

Posted on 26th August, 2021

This week I am delighted to welcome Jane Cable back to my blog, this time as her other self - Eva Glyn - to talk about why the cover of her new novel, The Olive Grove, means so much to her.

 

* * * *

 

It was a dark February teatime in the middle of lockdown when I first saw the cover for The Olive Grove and I almost wept. It was just so beautiful, so instantly evocative of Croatia, and spoke to me of longed for sunshine and travel. I am not an especially emotional person, but it all but brought me to my knees.

 

 

The more I looked at the cover, the more mesmerised I became. The sea almost looked as though it was moving, gently rocking the boat with every ripple telling a story. In the distance, the horizon blurs into the bluest of skies.

The detail on the cover is exquisite, right down to the yellowish rosemary so typical of the Dalmatian islands, the grey rocks, and the pine trees that cling to the edges of everything. And as I looked at the cover I was there with Antonia the first time she swims in Vincenzo the sculptor’s cove:

 

The cool tingle of seawater on Antonia’s skin melted into a delicious freshness, contrasting with the warmth of the sunlight flooding the deserted bay. Vincenzo had been right about how wonderful it was, and she ploughed through the gentle wash of the crystal waves to tell him.

“Now you have tried you must come every day. Make the most of it.”

“I certainly couldn’t do this at home at the beginning of June. Even though I live near the sea I rarely ever go in. It’s too bloody cold.”

Vincenzo flipped onto his back to float. “I swim summer and winter. Every day. When I have to travel I miss it; a hotel pool is not the same.”

Antonia joined him, gazing up into the pale blue sky. “Do you travel very often?”

“Only when I have to visit galleries if there is a show of my work, or to meet important buyers. This winter it will be Amsterdam and Tokyo. I’ve never been to Japan before – it should be cool.”

“I’d love to travel more.”

“Then do it. When you finish here in October, see the world.”

She laughed, then started to swim towards the shallow sloping rocks that lined the bay. “Not possible.”

“Everything is possible.”

 

In a year when many of us have been unwilling or unable to travel abroad I hope The Olive Grove will be true to the promise of its wonderful cover and take readers on a journey in their heads and hearts. I was lucky enough to be able to make the journey a few weeks ago, and this picture will show you just how true to beautiful Croatia the scene on the cover is and I am truly indebted to the cover designer for making it so.

 

* * * *

 

Blurb:

An English woman searching for a different future

A man desperate to escape his war-ravaged past

Can these two find what they are looking for on the beautiful Croatian island of Korčula?

Antonia Butler is on the brink of a life-changing decision and a job advert looking for a multilingual housekeeper at a beautifully renovated Croatian farmhouse, Vila Maslina, is one she can’t ignore.

Arriving on the tiny picturesque island of Korčula, Antonia feels a spark of hope for the first time in a long time. This is a chance to leave the past behind.

* * * *

 

The Olive Grove will be published on September 3rd. Click here to visit Amazon.