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I feel as if I ought o open this blog with an apology to Jane Cable, because I've had a copy of her book The Forgotten Maid for simply ages without getting around to reviewing it. Sorry, Jane! Anyway, here goes:

 

 

Set in Cornwall, The Forgotten Maid is a dual-time romantic mystery novel which shifts between the present and Regency times in the aftermath of Waterloo. I think the best way to describe the plot is to call it haunting – not because this is a ghost story as such, but because of the atmosphere Jane Cable creates. Her great skill, which I first came across in the outstanding Another You, is to intertwine the present with the past and to keep the plot evolving through unexpected twists and turns, so that, as a reader, every time you think you’re on top of the mystery, it turns out you aren’t.

 

I thought that maybe Anna, the heroine of the present-day thread, might dominate the story because the early chapters belong to her, but I found myself just as absorbed by the tale of Therese, the girl in the past.

 

I particularly want to mention the book’s strong sense of time and place. Cornwall is clearly a setting Jane Cable knows well and her love for it shines through in the quality of her descriptive writing.

 

The Forgotten Maid is an engrossing read, loaded with atmosphere and mystery. There is a compassionate and honest look at grief and the ways in which a person can feel alone. Personal struggles are explored, as is the way in which friendship can grow and develop. Jane Cable is a talented author whose books intrigue her readers.

 

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Jane Cable's author page on Amazon  

 

 

My Favourite Book of 2021

Posted on 6th January, 2022

All through December, authors were sharing their favourite books of the year on social media. I might be a bit behind everyone else, but today I'm delighted to share my review of my favourite book of 2021 – Edie’s Home for Strays by Gracie Taylor.

 

 

This is a Second World War saga centred around two very different women – young Edie, who has just joined the Land Army, and the apparently cool and distant Prue, who is given no choice but to open her home to Edie and a pair of evacuee children, none of whom she wants. The story follows Edie as she settles into her new community and gets to grips with her job on the farm. Along the way, her warm heart and imagination mean she can’t help looking ways to help others, sometimes with unexpected results.

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The great strength of this book lies in the quality of the writing. Filled with details of the period and also with beautiful descriptions, it has an enthralling sense of time and place.

 

The characters are all well-rounded and they learn lessons about themselves and the wider world as plot-lines develop, making them grow and change as individuals. Edie is compassionate, determined and thoroughly relatable. Prue, apparently cool and distant, gradually starts to unbend, only to believe she has made a hideous mistake in so doing. Sam is a wonderful character – gruff and outspoken, not generally liked, but a thoroughly decent bloke underneath. And full marks to Gracie Taylor for her depiction of Patricia. So often, the ‘baddie’ character is over-written and a bit of a caricature, but not here. Patricia is a difficult person, but in a completely believable way.

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Overall, this is a beautifully written story with a strong feel-good factor. It has warmth, energy and humour and is packed with emotion.

 

It’s not just my favourite book of last year. It's the best saga published in 2021 - and more than that - it’s the best by miles.

 

* * * *

Blurb:

On the Home Front, one girl is determined to make a difference.

But Edie’s hopes of serving overseas are dashed when she’s sent to be a Land Girl in a sleepy Cumbrian village.

 

Prue has shut the world out since her son went away to fight. Yet when she’s asked to take in a Land Girl and two little evacuees from London, she has no choice.

Edie’s heart breaks, seeing the children’s cold welcome. But when the evacuees take in a stray puppy, even Prue can’t say no.

 

It’s not long before Edie realises Applefield Manor could become a sanctuary to all those without a home in wartime. But can she persuade Prue to open her heart, and her home?

 

* * * *

 

Gracie Taylor is a pen name for Lisa Firth, who also writes award-winning contemporary romantic comedies as Mary Jayne Baker and uplifting women’s fiction as Lisa Swift. Edie’s Home for Strays (published in North America as Edie's Home for Orphans) is her first historical novel.

 

Link to Edie's Hoe for Strays on Amazon

 

Audiobook Review of A Post Office Christmas

Posted on 17th December, 2021

I’m delighted to be involved in Isis Audio’s wonderful The 12 Audiobooks of Christmas blog tour.

 


 

Today I am reviewing the audiobook of A Post Office Christmas by Poppy Cooper, narrated by Jess Nesling.

 

This is the second Post Office Girls book and while it is a wonderful follow-up to the first book, it also reads well as a stand-alone, so all you Christmas-lovers who haven’t read book one, don’t worry – you can still get your Christmas fix!

 


 

Let’s start with a few words from Poppy Cooper. She says: “I've loved researching and writing A Post Office Christmas, especially seeing the world through forthright, impulsive Milly's eyes. And my narrator Jess Nesling has come up trumps again, bringing everything to life quite magnificently.”

 

A Post Office Christmas centres around the life of Milly, a rather headstrong girl, whose strength of character is challenged when she is transferred into a different department and she finds herself tackling feelings of loneliness and isolation. She comes into her own when she becomes involved in the suffragette movement.

 

Once again, Poppy Cooper has excelled herself in the quality of her research and all the period detail that brings such depth to her writing. The story is filled with nuggets of fascinating information, but they are always there in support of the narrative and are never added just for show.

 

So the writing is excellent. Now what about the performance of the narrator? All I can say is, whoever cast Jess Nesling knew exactly what they were doing. Her voice is clear, expressive and pleasantly low-pitched, with a natural warmth in which you can at times hear the smile. In her performance she has captured the personaility of each character and given each one their own voice. She also knows exactly when to bring a nicely measured restraint to the narrative, adding gravity to a serious moment. It was a real pleasure to listen to her reading.

 

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Many thanks to Aimee Marshall at Isis Audio for the invitation to take part in this blog tour.

More Q&A with Kitty Wilson

Posted on 9th December, 2021

This week, Kitty Wilson is back to chat some more about her lovely Christmassy novel, Every Day in December, which explores the growing relationship between Belle and Rory. It's funny and warm-hearted and contains more Christmas venues and activities than you can shake a stick at, plus a wonderful child-character called Marsha, who frankly deserves a book of her own.

 

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Do you find yourself writing about recurring themes in your novels?

Yes, I do, although often unintentionally. I write romance so obviously they have a happy ever after but the themes that I write along the way seem to repeat themselves.  The most obvious is community and its importance, the way that the support of and acceptance by others is so fundamental to us as humans. It is a huge part of The Cornish Village School but I found once I was writing Every Day In December I really wanted to weave that same sense of community through, even though the setting was now a city instead of a small village.

 

The other thing that always comes through in my novels is that everyone, no matter how golden their life may seem, is carrying baggage. We all have issues, we all have awful things that happen in life that impact us but we also all have the capacity for joy and recovery and hope. Things are never perfect and things are never exactly as they seem. In Every Day In December Rory assumes Belle has grown up with a silver spoon and has been blessed with levels of privilege he could never attain, whereas the truth of it is that Belle's family may be wealthy, but they're also highly dysfunctional and she lacks the one thing Rory does have, the security of feeling loved. Belle sees Rory as highly successful and succeeding at life, but his perception is utterly at odds with that, he sees himself as someone who cannot be relied upon, someone who has let down those most important to him, a man so broken that his demons keep him awake at night.

 

And finally family, although my books are all about romantic love, the importance of family always seems to weave its way through the pages, whether it be the way it shapes us, the way it supports us or the way it can hinder us.

 


 
What are the four essential items a writer has to have?
Ooh goodness, I suppose the most obvious is a laptop, otherwise submitting in a digital age would be next to impossible, long gone are the days of sending of extremely heavy manuscripts from the post office. So, although you can breathe life into your book and bring it into being with pen and paper, if you want to be professional then that beast ultimately needs to be typed in Word and sent via email.

 

Not strictly an item – I believe I mentioned I struggle with rules – but nonetheless absolutely essential is tenacity. Getting published is a tough old process, you need to have tenacity to hang on in and not be broken by the vast number of rejections you will inevitably receive on your path, and that's the endgame bit. The writing of a book is not a brief exercise, you need to have written a minimum of 75,000 words and then shape them so that they make sense (harder than it sounds) and ensure they fulfil the expectations of your readers. It is not quick, and there will be several points where you want to throw your laptop out the window, give it all up and crochet for a living instead, so you really do need the tenacity of a terrier to keep on track and get to the end of a book.

 

I'm also going to class a freezer as an essential item which sounds bonkers but sometimes you are so lost in your work that the chore of cooking a meal isn't going to happen or if it does it will pull you away completely. Having something ready to go in the freezer means the mundane necessities of life can be taken care of in a matter of minutes and you can get back to getting all your words down on the page.

 

And finally, notebooks. I always have a brand-new notebook for each new book, which I use to plan each chapter, write down my ideas (I can be trusted -just about - to take a notebook into the bath) and where I write down all those things I want to weave through and edits I know I need to make at a future point. The truth though is you probably don't need a notebook, I just love buying them at every opportunity so really I'm just shoe-horning this in as an essential so I can feel validated as I indulge myself shopping for more than I'll ever need later.

 

 

And some Christmassy questions:
 
Do you have a favourite Christmassy book?

I do read a lot of Christmas romances throughout December but the truth is I'm an old-fashioned kind of girl so it's the books that I read as a child that stay with me the most so I'm going to say The Nutcracker, because it gave me so much joy when I was younger and then as an adult I used to use it every year to teach my Reception Class – which I'm fairly sure ended up somewhere in The Cornish Village School books – because there is so much fun to be had  playing the Mouse King or the Sugar Plum Fairy.

 
Oh and now I've remembered The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, that has to be mentioned as well as I seem to sneak a Narnia reference into most of my books, the snowiness of which can't be beaten.

 

 
What's your favourite Christmas food and/or drink?

All of it.

 

I LOVE Christmas food. I love Christmas lunch and make sure I only ever cook pigs in blankets and sprouts with pancetta only on Christmas Day so they don't lose their magic. I start making mince pies in November because I cannot get enough of them. And whilst I always promise myself I won't start the Christmas chocolate until at least the 1st of December, I am always a good two tubs down by then. And as for cheese and biscuits, oh my goodness, just lay me down and cover me with them!

 


 
Do you like to have festive music in the background? What will it be?

I do. When my children were little we used to play so much Christmas music and being complete little toads, their favourite was always Fairy-tale of New York so that one can be guaranteed to make me smile. I also like to sing a sultry Santa Baby, but only when the house is empty and no-one can hear me. But my favourite of all, a bit like the books, is Christmas carols. All the ones we have sung since we were in Infant school. I have a secret love of choral music – from where I do not know – so if I have my way I will be playing Christmas Carols really loudly and loving them. O Little Town of Bethlehem is a favourite. I wrote Every Day In December throughout the summer so I did used to play Christmas music as I wrote it, simply to get in the mood – that's what I told my family anyway.
 
 
What does your tree look like? (Mine is so covered in decs that you can hardly see the tree and there are so many lights on it that we are in annual danger of the planes from RAF Anglesey landing in our front garden.)

That made me giggle and I can picture it. It sounds amazing! All my tree decorations are really simple. Just like Belle in Every Day In December, I string popcorn and cranberries and have that instead of tinsel (I know. Boo, hiss. No fun!). The majority of my decorations are wood or straw or fabric although I do have a the most amazing sparkly gold chain that belonged to the children's grandma that goes on and some beautifully crafted stars so I have a little bit of shimmer. Also, like Belle (I should just admit I am very like her, more so than any other character I have written, minus her horrendous parents) I cover the house in pinecones and some years ago I got hold of lots of fake pine branches which I have decorated with ribbons and pinecones and fairly lights that I string all around the ceiling. So my house is very green come Christmas time – like I said, a bit of an old-fashioned girl.

 

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Kitty's links:

 

Every Day in December on Amazon  

 

Kitty's author page on Amazon - including her Cornish Village School series   

 

 

Kitty on Twitter  

 

Kitty's Facebook page  

 

Cover Love . . . . with Linda Huber

Posted on 3rd December, 2021

This week I am delighted to welcome suspense writer Linda Huber back to my blog to introduce her latest book, Pact of Silence, by discussing its front cover illustration. Linda is a former physiotherapist who grew up in Glasgow but has lived more than half her life in Switzerland, where she writes psychological suspense novels as Linda Huber as well as feel-good novellas under her pen name Melinda Huber.

 

* * * *

 

Thank you for inviting me back to your blog, Susanna!

 

Pact of Silence is psychological suspense novel number eleven for me, and as some of them are now on their second cover image, I definitely have too many covers to count on my fingers. The main jobs of the cover, I think, is to convey something of what’s inside the book, and most especially, to make a potential reader look at it twice. With psychological suspense, readers probably aren’t thinking, ‘Wow, what a gorgeous cover!’ What we hope is that they think, ‘Ooh – what’s all that about?’

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So, what’s Pact of Silence about? The cover shows a stained and crumpled T-shirt lying on the grass. Readers could think: ‘What’s that? Why is it there? Whose T-shirt is it?’ And most especially, ‘What’s that stain???’

 

 

 

In the book, not long married and newly-pregnant Emma is dumbfounded when her husband Luke announces they’re swapping houses with his parents, who’ve lived in a tiny village in the country for several decades. She’s not being given a choice about it, no – they’re moving. Emma’s more a city girl at heart, but… life in the country would be much better for the baby, wouldn’t it? So off they go to their new home, where Emma decides to dig a veggie plot in the garden. And she digs up an old plastic bag with… you’ve guessed it.

 

She poked around with her spade, loosening the earth around the bag until up it came, dirty and clay-streaked but more or less intact, and full of something soft. What in the name of anything was this?

Dropping the spade, Emma peered into the bag. Clothes of some kind. Why would anyone—? She shook the contents onto the grass and stared.

A dark blue tracksuit and a yellow T-shirt, a smallish one, lay crumpled at her feet.

 

And now it’s Emma who’s thinking: ‘What’s that? Why is it there? Whose T-shirt is it? What’s that stain???

 

All this in the present-day timeline. There’s also a timeline in the past, where we find out more about Luke’s life the year he’s about twelve and he and his friends join the gym club. It isn’t a pretty story. Something happens, but – no one can ever know…

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We will never speak of this again. Clear? Never. Not to anyone, not one word. Not to your mums, not your dads, not to each other. If we want to go on with our lives, it’s the only way. Do you understand?’

His red, angry face peered into each boy’s eyes in turn, and they all nodded.

 

Emma, digging in the garden, has no idea what happened back then, but if her marriage is to survive, she’ll have to find out. But Luke’s still keeping the twenty-year-old pact of silence…

 

Here’s the blurb:

 

A fresh start for a new life

Newly pregnant, Emma is startled when her husband Luke announces they’re swapping homes with his parents, but the rural idyll where Luke grew up is a great place to start their family. Yet Luke’s manner suggests something odd is afoot, something that Emma can’t quite fathom.

 

Too many secrets, not enough truths

Emma works hard to settle into her new life in the Yorkshire countryside, but a chance discovery increases her suspicions. She decides to dig a little deeper.

 

Be careful what you uncover

Will Emma find out why the locals are behaving so oddly? Can she discover the truth behind Luke’s disturbing behaviour? Will the pact of silence ever be broken?

 

Pact of Silence is published by Hobeck Books, and the cover is by Jayne Mapp Designs. Jayne created the cover from photos she took herself, experimenting in her garden with a T-shirt stained with tea. That’s cover love for you!

 

Links:
Pact of Silence on Amazon

Website: www.lindahuber.net

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindaHuber19

Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/authorlindahuber

Wow! What a week it's been. Huge thanks to everybody who has shown support and interest in the news that I write as Maisie Thomas. I love writing The Railway Girls series. As you know, this isn't my only series - I have The Surplus Girls 1920s series too.

 

Something I've been asked a number of times this week is how I tackle writing a series, so today I'm happy to share some of my experiences with you. If you're a reader, I hope you'll enjoy the glimpse of the process behind the stories and if you're a writer, I hope you'll find something useful that helps you in your own work.

 

* * * *

 

Writing a Series

 

It’s all in the planning!

 

When I start writing a book, I have not just an overall synopsis but a thorough scene-by-scene plan beside me. For me, this keeps the writing flowing. Moreover, because each of my books is written from the viewpoint of different characters (three viewpoints in each Railway Girls book; four in The Surplus Girls books), it ensures that each plot is of roughly equal size and is spaced out evenly across the story.

 

I also have an overarching plan that looks ahead to future books. In the case of The Surplus Girls, this was very highly detailed. Before I wrote a word of book 1, I produced a 25-page synopsis of the whole series. What difference did this make? Well, for example, a very small plot-point in The Surplus Girls, book 1 in the series, became a major plot-strand in book 3, Christmas with the Surplus Girls. It was only possible to have that plot in Nancy's story in book 3 because I'd sown the seed in Belinda's tale in book 1. There's no such thing as too much planning!

 

 

 

The importance of the stand-alone novel.

This is an essential part of producing a series. Each book has to lead into the next, but it also has to be complete in itself. The reader mustn’t be left with a sense of irritating loose ends, but with the satisfaction of a story well-told and perhaps with a sense of openings that could lead to new plot-lines in future books.

 

Sometimes as a writer, you can be sneaky! I like to end a plot within a book in such a way that the reader feels that sense of completeness and has every reason to believe that this particluar plot-line is all done and dusted, when actually I know that it isn't. I'm thinking now of a plot in a book I finished earlier this year. My editor helped me to complete one of the plot-lines in a way that the reader would find satisfying; then she pointed out that if I added a certain thing to it, that would tie up every single possible loose end...

 

To which my reply was, "Wouldn't it be better to leave that teeny-tiny, almost invisible loose end dangling, so that in a later book, there is the possibility of turning it into a big plot-point and a new story-line with all its challenges for certain characters?"

 

 

When you're writing a series, you always have to think ahead. In other words - there's no such thing as too much planning!

 

I hope you've found this interesting. If you're a fellow writer, maybe you found something useful in it. Or maybe you are a committed pantster and the thought of all that planning horrifies you! Not all that long ago, it would have horrified me too. Does that surprise you?

 

Happy reading and writing, everyone.

Susanna / Polly / Maisie xxx

 

 

Susanna, Polly . . . and Maisie

Posted on 22nd November, 2021

My big news that I’ve waited a long time to share with you is that as well as writing as Susanna Bavin and Polly Heron, I also write The Railway Girls saga series as Maisie Thomas.

 


 

Back in November 2018, Cassandra di Bello, who was then the commissioning editor for Arrow, Penguin's saga imprint, came up with the inspired idea of a new saga series based around the lives of the brave women and girls who worked on Britain’s railways in the Second World War. I was asked to create a series proposal. Cass liked my ideas and my vision for the series and in December 2018, she took my series proposal to Arrow's acquisitions meeting and got the go-ahead.

 

Why haven’t I told you this before? Well, Arrow was keen to establish the series without any other ties, so I was asked to keep quiet about my identity. Hence the pen name. And also hence the fact that I haven’t said anything to you about it before now.

 


 

I’ll be honest. It hasn’t always been easy. As Susanna, I was unable to blog about this exciting development in my writing career and I’m sure that readers who were used to me writing two books a year wondered why I had suddenly gone down to one book … whereas I was in fact writing three a year!

 

Being Maisie also had some unintended consequences. There was one occasion when, as Maisie, I wrote a guest blog for Jan Baynham about my experience of writing a series. The blog generated quite a few replies and questions … which I was happy to answer, except that the ‘reply’ function on Jan’s site knew full well that I was Susanna and wouldn’t let me call myself Maisie! So I had to send my replies to Jan, who then posted them, pretending that Maisie was having trouble with her internet connection.

 


 

But I don’t want to make it sound as if it’s all been difficult. A small handful of writer friends and book bloggers have been in on the secret and have given me/Maisie staunch support. I couldn’t have managed without them.

 

Moreover, as Maisie I have found a wide and enthusiastic readership. Some of my readers have now joined me on my new Maisie Facebook page – and I hope you’ll like and follow my page too so that you can get all the latest news about my writing as well as glimpses into my research. Now that the Maisie/Susanna/Polly link has been made public, I’ll be able to share Susanna and Polly news on the Maisie FB page as well.

 

So there we are – my wonderful news. It’s such a joy to share it with you at last – and if you’re here because you enjoy my Susanna and Polly books, I hope you’ll be excited at the idea of reading my Maisie books too. Do take a look at the new Maisie page on my website by clicking on the new tab at the side.

 

See you next time.

Susanna / Polly / Maisie xxxx

 


 

 

 

 

Take Two Characters ... with Poppy Cooper

Posted on 19th November, 2021

STOP PRESS * * * * STOP PRESS * * * * STOP PRESS * * * * STOP PRESS * * * *

 

Before I introduce this week's blog, I wanted to grab your attention to ask you to join me here on my website on Monday 22nd for some special news.

 

* * * *

 

And now onto the main business, which is Kirsten's return to my blog, this time in her Poppy Cooper persona. Poppy's second novel in her Post Office Girls saga series will be published on 25th November and she's here today to reveal some insights into one of her characters, but first she's going to tell us about a character into a different book.

 

* * * *

 

I’m was so thrilled when Susanna asked me to participate in her marvellous Take Two Characters series as I’ve really enjoyed reading all the contributions to date. Thank you so much for asking me to get involved, Sue.

 

I've just finished Louise Fein's wonderful novel, The Hidden Child, a poignant and thought-provoking book - and my first memorable character comes from there. Set in 1929, the novel explores some terrifying themes - most noticeably the burgeoning eugenics movement in the UK.

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The bumpf tells us:

 

Eleanor Hamilton is a dutiful mother, a caring sister and an adoring wife to a celebrated war hero. Her husband, Edward, is a pioneer in the eugenics movement. The Hamiltons are on the social rise, and it looks as though their future is bright.

When Mabel, their young daughter, begins to develop debilitating seizures, they have to face an uncomfortable truth: Mabel has epilepsy – one of the 'undesirable' conditions that Edward campaigns against.

Forced to hide their daughter away so as to not jeopardise Edward's life's work, the couple must confront the truth of their past – and the secrets that have been buried.

Will Eleanor and Edward be able to fight for their family? Or will the truth destroy them?’

I loved the character of Eleanor. Louise Fein is brilliant at bringing to life characters who can have pretty unpalatable beliefs and yet who remain real and credible and multi-dimensional. Eleanor is a product of her time and place and she has to develop the inner strength and conviction to overturn the social mores of the time and to do what she thinks is right – despite what she is almost certain to lose in the process. She is compelling both as a mother and a warrior (or maybe the two go hand in hand!) and I loved both her and the book as a whole.

* * * *

 

For a character from one of my own books, I turned to Milly Woods who is the protagonist in my latest book, A Post Office Christmas. This is the second in my Post Office Girls series - written as Poppy Cooper - which takes place in the Army Post Office’s Home Depot in London’s Regent Park in World War One.

 

Like Louise Fein’s Eleanor, Milly is very much a product of her time and place – although she is several years younger than Eleanor, comes of age fifteen years earlier and is form an altogether humbler background in the East End of London. When war breaks out, Milly is determined both to ‘do her bit’ but also to make the most of the hitherto undreamed-of opportunities that are opening up to women while their menfolk are away fighting.

 

 

Milly is also passionate about righting some of the wrongs in her world; in particular, the fact that women don’t have the same rights as men – and do not even have the vote. Like Eleanor, Milly has to learn to stand up and fight for the things that she believes in; a more fiery and headstrong character than Eleanor, she also needs to learn - the hard way! - when she has gone too far and how to rein it in.

 

Milly was a fabulous character to research and write and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know her, her strengths and weaknesses and her softer, more vulnerable side. The war was a great melting point for women of all backgrounds and Milly forms two great friendships with women she would not otherwise have met. I enjoyed writing about their camaraderie and their tensions and whenever I needed inspiration on that front, I had only to look at my own eighteen-year-old daughter – another ordinary young woman (although never to me!) living through extraordinary times.

 

Thank you, Sue, for inviting me back onto your wonderful blog and for asking me to participate in your fabulous series. I’ve really enjoyed it.

 

 

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Kirsten's / Poppy's Links:

 

A Post Office Christmas on Amazon  

 

The Post Office Girls on Amazon 

 

Poppy Cooper's author page on Amazon

 

Kirsten's author page on Amazon 

 

Kirsten's page on Twitter  

 

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Take Two Characters... With Chris Manby

Posted on 12th November, 2021

This week we're having a Take Two Characters blog with a difference. Usually, my guests chooses two fictional characters, but Chrissie Manby has written something different and utterly wonderful, which I hope you'll love.

 

You may remember my review of Chrissie's latest book, Saying Goodbye to Tuesday, from a few weeks ago. In that, I said: "It is a deeply touching story, filled with emotion - hope, fear, despair, courage, humour - but above all, with love. . . because this is a story told by a dog whose love for his owner and her baby knows no bounds." One of the characters in the book is a guide dog called Zena ... and that's Chrissie's cue to get started with her blog.

 

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When Susanna kindly asked me to contribute to her blog, writing about a favourite character and that character’s influence on my latest novel, I knew at once who I wanted to write about. The only problem was that the character isn’t human. Neither is she a work of fiction, though she is the star of a book. Kika, the yellow Labrador at the heart of Dr Amit Patel’s memoir, Kika and Me, is a true canine heroine. She’s a guide dog.

 

Amit was an ambitious A and E doctor, newly-married to Seema, when keratoconus plunged him into blindness. His memoir charts the horror of realising that his sight was gone for good and the physical pain and psychological despair that followed. Amit was convinced that the life he had hoped for was forever out of reach. Seema would surely leave him. He’d never be able to work again or have the family he longed for.

 

What came next was a long and difficult period of adjustment as Amit learned to navigate the world without sight. With Seema’s unwavering support, he learned how to read braille and mastered the art of walking with a white cane. But when Seema suggested that he consider putting himself on the waiting list for a guide dog, Amit balked at the idea of letting an animal be his eyes. How could he put his trust in a dog, who might drag him out in front of a bus on the promise of a treat on the other side of the road?

 

 

It’s a valid question, but as Kika And Me reveals, guide dogs are the canine elite, chosen as puppies for a training regime that lasts many months and costs many thousands of pounds to deliver. By the time Kika was introduced to Amit, she had completed the equivalent of a doggy doctorate, learning how to respond to dozens of commands and take the initiative when she saw danger ahead – like a car blocking a crossing or a low hanging branch. When, during their first intensive training course together, Kika kept Amit from entering a bathroom with a floor left dangerously slippery by a leaking tap, he realised that he could trust her.

 

With Kika on the team, Amit’s horizons were dramatically widened again. He went back to work as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Consultant and is now a well-known media personality. Most importantly, with Kika on side, Amit and Seema’s dream of becoming parents suddenly seemed like a possibility again. They now have two children – a boy and a girl – to whom Kika is a furry “big sister”. As Amit says in his book, Kika has “changed his world”.

 

The fascinating story of Kika’s training (including her rebellious puppy days) and the difference she’s made to Amit’s life, inspired me to create Zena, the guide dog in my new novel Saying Goodbye To Tuesday. The story is narrated by another dog – Stupendo – who has recently been killed in a road accident (stay with me!). For some reason, Stupendo has not “crossed the rainbow bridge” but while he’s stuck in limbo at the house where he once lived, Stupendo’s humans – his owner Tuesday and baby William - can no longer see him. Animals can, however, and guide dog Zena is among the creatures who help Stupendo to solve the mystery of his death and make sure that Tuesday and William are happy before he moves on to canine heaven.

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Zen  is a German Shepherd dog. People usually think of Labradors when they think of guide dogs but many other breeds are trained for the role, such as labradoodles, who can be trained to work with people with pet allergies. As I was writing Zena, I could hear her “voice” in my head and imagined her to be much as I imagine Kika: diligent, sensible, but with a wicked sense of humour (apparently Kika will occasionally walk Amit through a puddle).

 

I hope that when people read Saying Goodbye To Tuesday, it will pique their interest in the world of guide dogs and their owners and point them in the direction of Kika’s story to learn more. Having had the chance to meet Kika and Amit in real life, I’ve seen first-hand what a wonderful team they are. Kika and Me is a great place to start if you want to know what it takes to make a guide dog and, just as importantly, the kind of courage it takes to trust one to be your eyes.

 

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Blurb:

Stupendo the dog has died. But that's just the beginning of his story.
 
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.

 

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Saying Goodbye to Tuesday on Amazon

 

Chrissie's Twitter page

 

Her author page on Facebook

 

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Dr Amit Patel on Twitter 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I am delighted to welcome Kitty Wilson back to my blog. Here she is cutting the book-cake on a publication day when, with other friends, we were on holiday - oops, sorry, I mean when we were ona writing retreat in Bath.

 

Today Kitty is here to chat about her latest novel, Every Day in December.

 

Kitty, many congratulations on signing with One More Chapter. Can you tell us how that came about?

Thank you, I feel that I've landed on my feet with One More Chapter and am really enjoying writing for them. I was really lucky in the way in which it came about. My very first editor, the one who was responsible for picking up the Cornish Village School books, had moved publisher and she and my agent discussed me joining her. I really wanted to write Every Day In December so I pitched that and she signed me up for that and one more stand alone romcom. I was absolutely over the moon.

 

 

When you and your agent were discussing your book contract with One More Chapter, what was it like keeping the secret from everyone?
It was so hard, I was madly excited because One More Chapter have such a great reputation and are part of the Harper Collins family so it was a great next step for my career and – on a slightly more shallow level - they hold the best parties. I had signed the contract back in October 2019 so knew I couldn't say anything for ages and I still had one more Cornish Village School book to write. Whilst we were discussing it, I was as quiet as a mouse but the minute I signed I did squeal a lot at my family and very close friends but stayed schtum everywhere else. I thought I had outed myself though because early in 2020 I went to a OMC party in London and obviously the photos went up on social media but I got away with it. The hardest part was seeing lots of my friends making announcements and I wanted to jump up and down and squeak 'me too, me too, I'm going to be there with you!' but had to restrict myself to a much tamer - but entirely genuine - congratulations message instead.

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Whose idea was it to write a Christmas story?

I love writing Christmas so it was my idea. In fact, I was so keen to write this Christmas story I was prepared to do it on spec. Belle was a character who has sat with me for a while and I couldn't find a place for her in the Cornish Village School series and wanted her to have a book of her own. I also really wanted to write a Christmas book with each chapter representing one day in the month and the two seemed like a natural pairing. Although my one chapter per day idea definitely had flaws come execution, I hadn't considered how tricky it was going to be to condense a whole day's action into one chapter.


For your new book, you've left Cornwall behind (the location for your previous five books) and moved the story to Bristol. It's easy to understand why Cornwall is such a wonderful setting for a book. Tell us how Bristol inspired you.
I was so happy living in Cornwall and it was the natural setting for my first books but I moved to Bristol soon after the first book came out and I have always had a huge soft spot for this city. Bristol is so alive, colourful and vibrant and yet somehow manages to combine that with a real laid-back vibe. It appeals to all parts of my personality and I defy anyone not to find something that suits them here. The area in which I live has a really strong community ethos and I loved weaving elements of that through. I lived here as a student and was so happy that many things I like about this city were still very much present. Knowing about this book before I began to actually write it meant I was lucky enough to be able to drag my partner across Bristol on lots of Christmas themed activities in 2019 before we all had to lockdown. So pretty much all the activities that Belle and Rory did around and about in the city, my partner and I also did. He has sat through Dickensian improv on SS Brunel – although the filthy jokes are all mine, I'm afraid - and we also did the Christmassy activities at Tyntesfield. The exception is the horse ride which I did by myself. Having booked my ticket, I faced some very odd looks when I arrived and had to explain that yes, it was just one ticket for me. Once I got to the horse and the carriage I realised it was aimed at very small children. I did feel a bit of a fool but I channelled four-year-old me and really enjoyed myself.

 


 

Introduce us to your new heroine and hero. What faces them at the start of the book?

Belle and Rory are my main characters in this book and whilst I am biased, I really do love them. Belle appears to be a little chaotic but once we scratch the surface, we see there are valid reasons behind this and that she is actually highly disciplined, albeit in her own unique way. Rory seems to be the opposite; he is remarkably controlled and very successful whereas Belle is broke and jobless.

 

This is the first time I have ever written a prologue, and with the main action of the book taking place over the course of the month I wanted to give some context between the Belle and Rory of five years ago and the ones we meet in the body of the novel. In the prologue, Belle is about to be made a godmother but only on the understanding that she stops her reckless and self-destructive behaviour. As Belle is about to have new life enter hers, Rory has an important life taken from him. By the time we reach the first chapter we see that Belle has settled a little bit, is lost in her love for Shakespeare and is a very hands-on Godmother whereas Rory is flying into the UK after a five-year absence to support his mother, whom he adores, and who is unwell.

 
How invested do you get in your characters?

I usually get quite invested in my characters but with this book I became a little obsessed. I truly love Belle and Rory and it's almost hard to believe they are characters I have made up rather than living and breathing people I have known my whole life. I always get hugely involved in my supporting cast as well, and really enjoy writing these more minor roles, which I can often make a little more extreme and have really good fun with. I thoroughly enjoyed writing Marsha, Belle's goddaughter in Every Day In December, as well as Alison, Rory's Mum, and Temperance who owns the shop below Belle's flat. When the reviews come in, I get really excited when readers talk about how they felt about the characters I have created. So far, they have said gorgeous things about Belle and Rory, with Temperance and Alison getting special mentions and calls for Marsha to have her very own spin-off!
 
How do you write? Do you edit as you go... do you have a specific routine...?

I am disciplined about my writing and try to write every day, bar weekends, and make sure I hit my word count. I like to do it as early in the day as I struggle to relax until I have done enough to keep me satisfied. If I haven't hit my word count then I don't allow myself a Saturday or Sunday until it is done.

 

I tend to have a rough overarching plan as I go, although by the nature of its structure Every Day In December had to be planned a lot more than I would normally. Once my daily word count is done, I like to take some time to plan the next day's words, and although this sounds bizarre, I find this is best done whilst I am sat in water. I think it is because I tend to have a bit of a butterfly mind and will shoot off here, there and everywhere but if I'm in the bath, or the hot tub at my local lido, or even the paddling pool in summer, then all distractions are taken away. I can't just jump up and do a quick chore, I can't get lost on the internet, I have to focus. That way I know exactly what I'm doing when I start afresh the next day. All my family are water-babies, we are happier in the sea than anywhere else but the sea is a bit far away now I'm in Bristol, so this water thing isn't just effective, it's a little bit of a treat as well.

 

I always aim to do a quick very rough first draft before I edit but this has never really happened. I tend to read through and have a quick edit at the 25k, 50k, and 75k mark. This enables me to remind myself of threads I may have dropped or ones I meant to develop further. Sometimes – and particularly with my current WIP – I know something isn't right or that I have changed direction from my original intention and prefer this new path, in which case I will go back and strip things out and run new threads through. Going back when I'm stuck has a magical way of clarifying my mind and allowing me to go forward quickly again. One day though I shall manage to write a whole first draft without needing to revisit.
 
How did you cope with writing during lockdown? Some writers dived into their work - others struggled because of the lack of human contact. How was your writing affected?

In writing terms, when lockdown hit I felt very grateful for the recently arrived structural edits on my final Cornish Village School book and knew that I wouldn't have much time to get them done. Somehow the discipline of having a lot of tasks to do and knowing the order in which I had to do them, meant I could bury myself in my work and it gave me a firm structure to my day that most people lost when we were locked down.

 

On the flip side though, it is hard to be creative when there is no outside stimuli and I have found it quite difficult to generate ideas and be creative as lockdown continued, normally being out and about and interacting with people offers up a wealth of inspiration and I did feel it's lack quite considerably. With this next book, the inability to research effectively is having an impact even as things open up. It is a case of having to write first, research later which doesn't suit the way I like to tackle a book. However, I am remarkably grateful that my family remained well, especially with my daughter working in care, so the odd writing niggle can certainly be tolerated.

 

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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 page on Twitter...

 

...and her Facebook page