Filter:

Latest Posts

A Week in A Writer's Life

Posted on 15th July, 2019

A week in a writer's life - well, just over a week, actually - and not a typical week either, but certainly a happy and interesting one for me.

 

It started with a visit from my dear friend Jen Gilroy, who is a Canadian writer of contemporary romances. She came to stay with us last year before the RNA (Romantic Novelists' Association) Conference but only for a couple of days. This year, she came for longer, which was perfect because it gave us plenty of talking time!

 

I took Jen to the Imperial Hotel on the promenade to have afternoon tea.

 

The paperwork in the photo is the various talks that were going to be held at the RNA Conference, but most of our time that afternoon was given over to talking about a new novel that Jen is planning. It's a real honour when a writer shares her book-plans with you.

 

To give you an idea of how engrossed we were.... We sat down at 3 o'clock and some time later, when we imagined it was about half past 5, it turned out to be 7.20!

The RNA Conference was superb. The best bit, as always was meeting up with friends. As lovely and supportive as non-writing friends can be, there is no substitute of the support of people who understand because they have the same hopes and the same problems.

 

 

 

Jen is the one standing up on the right-hand end. You will see my fellow Sister Scribes there and also Jan Baynham, who has recently signed a 3-book deal with Ruby Fiction (front row, first on the left), and Sue McDonagh, who writes for ChocLit (beside Jen).

 

 

On the last evening, everyone got dressed up for the gala dinner.

 

L - R, top: Sue McDonagh, Maddie Please, Cass Grafton, Jane Cable.

 

Seated: Kirsten Hesketh, Jan Baynham

 

And of course we had to have a Sister Scribes photo....

 

 

 

Leaving the Conference was a bit of a wrench, but it is wonderful to be home and breathing that fresh sea air.

 

On Monday morning I went for a walk around the Great Orme....

hhh

 

.... and came home to find that Julie Barham, who runs the Northern Reader book blog, has posted her review of The Deserter's Daughter. 

 

Julie says:

"This saga is an intelligent and complex study of family life when desire, money, greed and fear become muddled with loss and hatred.... What makes this book so special is the way that Bavin creates a world of deceit and criminality in which the innocent suffer, and mistakes are harshly punished. As in Bavin’s other book, the research into the era is absolutely impeccable, giving not only the facts but also managing to convey the feeling of the period in so many details.... Sometimes brutal, even tragic, the hope and love which perminate this book with the basic strength of the characters means that it is difficult to put down, as tension and surprises maintain the reader’s interest. A flowing and immensely readable book, I found it a fascinating read. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book."

 

Wow! As you can imagine, I felt quite overwhelmed when I read this.

 

The Deserter's Daughter is currently available in these formats:

 

£1.90 on UK Kindle 

 

£2.00 in paperback at Amazon UK  

 

£2.00 in paperback at The Works (also part of the 3 paperbacks for £5.00 deal)

 

£2.63 on UK Kobo 

 

$2.38 on US Kindle  

 

CDN$3.19 on Canadian Kindle  

 

$4.39 on Australian Kindle  

 

 

 

Well, there we are. That was my writing life this past week and a bit. Oh yes - one last thing. While I was at the RNA Conference, I received from my agent the edits she wants me to work on, for the book that is coming out in May 2020. I am pleased (and relieved!) to tell you that the edits are purely surface edits - which means that they are minor additions or changes that don't have a knock-on effect on the rest of the plot. Phew! So that's my next writing week taken care of....

 

If you enjoyed this glimpse of my writing life, do leave a quick comment. I'd love to hear from you.

 

See you next time.

 

 

I am delighted to welcome Mollie Walton to my blog to take part in the Take Two Characters series. Mollie is a debut saga author and her novel,The Daughters of Ironbridge, is the first book in a trilogy centred around the world of the iron industry.

Take Two Characters – by Mollie Walton

 

I’m thrilled to be appearing on Susanna’s blog today and with such an interesting subject to talk about. Characters, for me, are the most important thing in literature. I can read the most ingenious plot devices but if the characters don’t feel real, I don’t give a damn what happens to them. The characters I like best are those who are given space on the page to show themselves in all their variety, with their successes and failures given equal importance. Only then can we appreciate them as people, fascinated by their strengths and their flaws.

 

 

My character I’d like to discuss is Anny Woodvine, from my novel The Daughters of Ironbridge, the first book in The Ironbridge Saga. The novel is set in the 1830s in the heart of the industrial revolution in Shropshire. When we first meet Anny she is twelve years old, helping her mother with the washing work at home, then rushing off to take her father’s lunch to him at the ironworks. Anny has learnt to read and write – an unusual skill for someone of her class at that time – and she is bright and sparky with it. She has red hair and freckles, which she despises, but she admires her feet, which she thinks are slender. When she falls in love, she falls hard and gives her heart completely. She is optimistic and has much ambition to improve her lot in life.

 

 

What I like best about Anny is that she is not obsessed with her looks or even her class. She isn’t ashamed of her origins; rather she wants things to be better for everyone. She actually just wants the world to be a better place. She is also strong in the face of adversity, even though she doesn’t believe herself to be strong. As ever with saga, she is put through the mill and has many hard times ahead. I admire her strength but I also understand her bitterness about what she’s been through. She’s not an angel or a devil; she’s somewhere in-between and I think in life most of us are negotiating that middling place between our best and worst selves.

* * * *

The other character I want to talk about is Clary Cazalet, from the set of 5 novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard commonly known as The Cazalet Chronicles. I read these 5 novels back to back over one summer a few years ago and I was completely addicted.

 

They tell the story of a family from just before WW2 and then well into the 1950s, as the children from the first book have grown up and had children of their own. It’s a masterful piece of writing, one of the best writers I have ever read. The characters feel so real to me, that when I think of them, they seem to be people that I knew well once but have since lost touch with.

 

When we first meet Clary she is a child, an awkward child who is left about by her cousins and is a bit of a loner. Her mother has died and her lovely father has remarried to a spoilt, younger woman, who Clary initially hates. Clary loves to read and write, later becoming an author.

 

What I love about Clary is that she is completely herself. She never tries to alter her character or appearance to fit in with other people’s expectations. She has a deep belief in herself, even though she doesn’t really realise this and that stops her from being arrogant. She is an outsider and I identify strongly with that. I often felt that growing up and I’ve met quite a few other writers who feel the same way. Perhaps there’s something about being a writer that necessitates being on the outside looking in. It’s about having the time and space to observe the action, rather than necessarily being the centre of it. There are plenty of examples of extrovert authors, don’t get me wrong. And also, Clary may be an outsider, but she’s certainly not backwards in coming forwards. She’s delightfully gobby! She’ll give her opinion on almost any subject, whether she’s asked for it or not. And she is brilliant in arguments. Despite all her faults, or maybe because of them, I believe she is the heart of the Cazalet novels and a wonderful creation.

 

So, those are my two characters. I think I chose them because – despite their differing stations in life – both of these young women are true to themselves, they suffer and yet they prevail. And neither of them are perfect.

 

* * * *

 

The Daughters of Ironbridge is available on Kindle, in paperback, on Audible and as a CD audiobook.

 

 

This week I welcome Linda Huber to my blog to chat about two favourite fictional people.

 

Linda grew up in Glasgow, but went to work in Switzerland for a year, aged 22, and has lived there ever since.  Her day jobs have included working as a physiotherapist in hospitals and schools for handicapped children, and teaching English in a medieval castle. After spending chunks of the current decade moving house, she has settled in a lovely flat on the banks of Lake Constance, where she writes psychological suspense novels as Linda Huber, and feel-good novellas under her pen name Melinda Huber.

 

Stolen Sister is her eighth book. The final novella in her 'in Switzerland' series, Wedding Bells in Switzerland, was published last week.

 

* * * *

 

First of all, big thanks to Susanna for asking me to come on her blog. ‘Take Two Characters’ is such an original idea for a blog series!

 

I thought for quite a long time before deciding which of my own characters I’d write about, and eventually chose Vicky from my newest book Stolen Sister. Like me, Vicky grew up in Glasgow with a short stay in Edinburgh. The similarity between us ends there, though, for she has a lot more to cope with than I ever did as a child.

 

For nearly four years, Vicky lives in in a happy family unit on the south side of Glasgow. Little brother Jamie, who has severe cerebral palsy, is two years younger, then baby sister Erin is born. Not long afterwards, Vicky and Jamie go for a weekend to Great-Aunt Maisie in Edinburgh while Mum and Dad take Erin to a class reunion in Cumbria. And that’s where family life stops for Vicky. Her parents die in a fire at the hotel; Erin survives, but disappears. Maisie can’t cope with the other two children for long, so Vicky and Jamie grow up in foster care, with no memory of their little sister, because for reasons of her own, Maisie allows them to forget Erin.

Fast forward twenty-two years, and Vicky is called to Maisie’s nursing home to say a final goodbye. ‘Find Erin,’ is Maisie’s last wish, but she can’t give Vicky any more information other than the fact that a little sister once existed. Vicky’s search begins…

 

Years ago, I did some research on my family tree, and I was gobsmacked by what emerged - I have a distant little cousin who drowned on school trip to a public swimming pool in the 1940s. I’d never heard of her before I started researching. Then there’s my paternal grandparents, who were married in Bombay. Why? Nobody knows, and there’s nobody left to ask. And around that time, my mother showed me a photo of my other grandmother’s neighbour, who went to America on the Titanic, and no, I have no idea, not even a name, and the photo is lost.

 

Even nowadays, it’s not impossible for a baby to disappear, like Erin did, and grow up unaware of their roots. And for Vicky, with no family left apart from her profoundly handicapped brother, finding her sister comes to mean finding herself, her family, her identity. Family, even when we’ve never met them, are part of who we are. And Vicky does find hers, although ‘Erin’, in one way, no longer exists.

 

For my other character I turned to Mary Higgins Clark – I love her books. She writes about strong women, and although there’s often a man around somewhere in the background, it’s the women who carry the story and propel the action forwards.

The character I’ve chosen is Jenny in A Cry in the Night. She’s head of a one-parent family in New York, where she has a demanding and poorly-paid job which means her two small girls spend their days with a childminder.

Jenny doesn’t have two pennies to rub together – and then she meets Mr Perfect, Erich Krueger, rich, appealing, and hopelessly in love with her. Or that’s how it seems, anyway, and it isn’t until they’re married and living in a tiny community in the middle of nowhere that Jenny sees what is really going on. When Erich disappears with the little girls, Jenny too is left searching for her family, terrified her girls will come to harm.

 

In the end, both Jenny and Vicky succeed – although success wasn’t what either woman thought it was going to be…

 

* * * *

 

 

 

 

Linda's Links:

 

Website: https://lindahuber.net/

 

 

Twitter:  LindaHuber19          

 

 

Linda on Amazon  

 

Melinda on Amazon 

 

I am delighted to welcome my fellow Sister Scribe, Kitty Wilson, to my blog. After years living in Cornwall, Kitty now lives in Bristol. She writes the popular Cornish Village School series, which is published by Canelo.

 

Take two characters…

 

When Susanna asked me to write about two characters, one from a book I had written and one written by someone else that I found memorable, I thought knew exactly who I would write about. I have surprised myself.

 

Mine was easy, in the first book in The Cornish Village School series, Breaking the Rules, I have a character called Marion Marksharp who is the head of the PTA and I love her. Like a velociraptor dressed in Cath Kidston, she stalks the school and is terrifying - quelling rebellion with an eyebrow and being the subject of fear and loathing from all of the parents and most of the staff. She is the archetypal competitive playground mum and as both an ex-teacher and parent to two children, I have memories of many real-world incarnations of Marion who both scared the bejesus out of me (whilst bragging about what book-band their child was on and doling out looks of faux-sympathy) but whom I learnt, over time, to admire for their tenacity and determination.

 

Marion began as a side character, a small cast member in the school community but soon developed into a force of her own. I enjoyed writing her and she made me laugh so much that she soon took on a major role, shaping the story far more than was ever intended, her character becoming more complex the more I wrote.

 

What I didn’t expect was readers to enjoy her as much as I did. As I was obsessively reading reviews after publication of the first book, I was surprised to see that Marion was by far the favourite character. This made me so happy and, as I was in the midst of book two, meant that I felt encouraged to feature her heavily, once again giving her a role that shaped the story. As the series has progressed, I have found that I’m so fond of her now that the series arc is based upon her and the final book (spoiler warning!) will tie up all the threads from the first four books and be about Marion’s very own Happy Ever After.

 

Never when I wrote the first book in the series did I imagine that this side character would develop into a steady thread and take over the whole series in the way that she has.

 

When it came to choosing the second character for Susanna’s blog I assumed that because I read so widely as an adolescent, my favourite character would have to come from that time of my life. I have considered Katharine Swynford, Dona St Columb, Sara Dane and Jane Eyre to name just a few but I have surprised myself and landed upon a character that I re-read about very recently. This is partly because the characters that I grew up adoring I haven’t read for many years and I have little faith in the accuracy of my memories but also because of the power of Madeleine Miller’s Circe - her characterisation of this enchantress made me question and revisit my own attitudes and limitations.

 

I’m a terrible history geek, I adore the Homeric Epics and think that The Odyssey has some of the most memorable mythical characters ever devised. There was Cyclops, who many of us may remember from primary school, the Lotus-eaters, the Sirens - a great list that has continued to shape storytelling to this day. Amongst this number was Circe, whose tale has been re-imagined and re-told by Miller and was published last year.

 

When I studied The Odyssey many moons ago, I recalled Circe as being an enchantress, a witch who turned Odysseus’ men into pigs and then returned them to their form as sailors but kept them trapped on her island for a year. Despite the fact that she offered advice on how to avoid some of the dangers Odysseus faced on his way home, fed a shipload of sailors for a year and allowed them to stay for a prolonged period, I wrote her off as a villain, a two-dimensional character who Odysseus had to use his cunning to defeat, to allow him to get on with his journey. Despite being aware she was an enchantress, l pictured her as an older woman with warts and ratty hair - the archetypal witch conjured up in popular culture for centuries. So much for my feminist credentials.

 

The re-telling of this character by Miller drew her as a daughter and a sister, ridiculed and reviled and placed on the edges of society, only to be cast out entirely when she rebelled against the dictates and hierarchy of the ancient Gods.

 

As she became older, she became a lover, a mother and fully embraced her status of witch and the powers it gave her. I saw her anew, as a supporter of Odysseus, a woman who nurtured and encouraged those she loved, sacrificing her own desires to aid those that she cared for. She was a hero of the highest order and, with Miller’s re-telling, I have learnt to adore her. I could write pages and pages in praise of this Circe – I won’t – but it is an interesting lesson in how a character and a story that has existed for millennia can be reinvigorated and reborn in the hands of a truly skilled storyteller.

 

* * * *

 

 

Kitty's links:

Her Twitter page  

 

Her Amazon page 

 

What’s in a name? More than you might think – certainly more than I thought. Names are very important to writers. When creating characters, it is essential to find the right name for each one. In my experience, characters generally arrive in my mind fully formed, complete with name – though not always.

 

Take Carrie, the heroine of The Deserter’s Daughter. She went through several names but the moment I thought of Carrie, I knew I’d found the right one. Her sister, Evadne, on the other hand, was Evadne from the start. Likewise, Ralph’s name was always Ralph Armstrong, though it took a while to find the right name for Adam.

In A Respectable Woman, the heroine is Nell Hibbert, named in honour of Eleanor Hibbert, which was the real name of the writer Victoria Holt.

In The Sewing Room Girl, the heroine is Juliet – a name that was hers from the moment I thought of her. Her difficult but vulnerable mother is Agnes and her domineering grandmother is Adeline – again, names that the characters already had when they arrived inside my head. In fact, I had no difficulty at all naming any of the characters in the book – Rosie, Mr Nugent, Hal, William Turton… Each one appeared in my mind, complete with name.

 

So why the question at the start of the blog? Well, there was one character in The Sewing Room Girl who didn’t have a name – not because I couldn’t think of one, but because she was never intended to have one. She only had a walk-on part, so she didn’t need to be called anything.

 

Early in the story, Agnes is given the job of resident seamstress in the household of Lord Drysdale. Because Juliet isn’t old enough to live on her own, she is allowed to accompany her mother to Moorside, the grand house where the Drysdale family has lived for generations. Not being an official member of the household means that Juliet isn’t invited to eat in the servants’ hall. Instead, meals are carried upstairs to the sewing room for her and Agnes.

 

And this is where my walk-on character appeared. In the first draft of the book, she was referred to as nothing more than “the maid who brought their tray upstairs.” I called her that once. Then, a little later, it was necessary for her to appear with another tray, so I called her “the maid who brought their tray upstairs” again.

 

The trouble was, she appeared a third time and – well, I couldn’t go on calling her “the maid who brought their tray upstairs,” could I? So I gave her a name. It didn’t matter what the name was, because she only had a walk-on part. I called her Cecily.

 

And from that moment, there was no stopping her. Before I knew it, she was Juliet’s best friend. Not only that, but she her own sub-plot and her own love story.

 

I swear that Cecily was never meant to do anything more than fetch and carry meal-trays. But the moment she was given her name, she also acquired a full personality – and a family – and an unshakable determination to bag herself a husband.

 

What’s in a name? As it turned out, considerably more than I had expected.

 

* * *

 

If you like the sound of Cecily and The Sewing Room Girl, I hope you will request the book from your public library; or if you would like to buy a copy, here are the purchase links:

 

UK Kindle   UK paperback   UK Audible read by Julia Franklin  UK Kobo   

 

US Kindle   US paperback   US Audible read by Julia Franklin  

 

Canadian Kindle  Canadian paperback  Canadian Audible read by Julia Franklin   

 

Australian Kindle   Australian paperback   Australian Audible read by Julia Franklin     

 

Publication Day Memories

Posted on 23rd May, 2019

I am writing this earlier in the week than normal - Thursday May 23rd. Today is that day that all unpublished writers dream of, and the day published writers wait for eagerly - publication day. For me, it is publication day for not one but two books - the hardback and e-book of The Poor Relation and the paperback edition of The Sewing Room Girl.

 

 

Here are a few special memories from today...

 

   ...some of the cards...  

Good wishes from friends mean everything, whether they come from non-writers giving support and saying how proud they are; or from fellow writers, celebrating the special day with an understanding that you get only from other people who are in the same boat, especially if they are the writer-friends who were by your side during the time before you got an agent, a publisher, a book contract.

 

Not all good wishes, of course come in card form these days. I had many messages on Twitter and Facebook. It is truly exciting when other people share or retweet posts about your book, or make comments.

 

And of course there are the flowers. Suffice it to say my study looks like a florist's shop at the moment. Here is the bouquet sent by my Sister Scribes, Jane, Cass, Kirsten and Kitty, which is not only a joy to look at, but also smells heavenly, thanks to the inclusion of the freesias and the stocks (two of my favourites).

 

 

 

Another gift I'd like to show you is the new charm for my writer's bracelet.

 

 

h

Isn't that just lovely?

 

Other excitements today were the announcement of The Sewing Room Girl's blog tour, to celebrate paperback publication....

 

 

 

.... and the launch of a prize draw givaway, in which the prize is a set of my four published books. To join in, click this link https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/d17a052e3/ 

 

You will need to log in via either Facebook or your own email address. The giveaway is open to UK readers only. The link will also be available on the book blog sites.

 

So there it is - a glimpse of publication day. Huge thanks to everyone who has helped me celebrate. You have made my day very special.

 

 

 

 

Well, it's good news all round this week. Here I am with my friend Jan Baynham, and we both have splendid news to share with you.

 

 

Jan's news is that she has signed a 3-book deal - yes, a 3-book deal! - with Ruby Fiction. The first book, Whispering Olive Trees, will be published in 2020. When she announced it on Twitter, Jan said, "I didn't think it would ever happen and am still in a bit of a daze."

 

My own news is that The Deserter's Daughter has been selected by BBC Radio Berkshire as their Book of the Month and it will be discussed on Radio Reads on June 4th. Fingers crossed, please, everybody, that the panel enjoys it!

 

After Jan's wonderful news, it makes it even more special for me to welcome her back to my blog to take part in the Take Two Characters series. Jan is a Grecophile who writes about mothers and daughters. Her stories all have secrets at the heart of them. In a recent blog she said, "I'm fascinated by the way families have skeletons in their cupboards and these sometimes come to light only when a family member dies."

 

Here are the two characters she has chosen:

 

* * * *

 

I have been enjoying the ‘Take Two Characters’ feature on Susanna’s blog where she invites writers to choose two fictional characters, one from their own writing and another from a novel they’ve admired and enjoyed. As an as yet unpublished author whose debut novel is going to be published by Ruby Fiction in 2020, imagine how thrilled I was when Susanna invited me onto her blog to talk about my choices.

 

Elin Morgan is one of the main characters in my dual-narrative mother daughter novel, ‘Whispering Olive Trees’. Brought up in rural mid-Wales, she is an only child who has been left devastated when her father dies suddenly.

 

Having completed her studies at Art College, in the summer of 1979, she travels to Greece, the country her dad loved so much, and enrols at the Simonides Painting School based on an idyllic Greek island. There, she is enthralled by the beautiful colours of the sea, the beaches, the heat and the friendliness of the Greek people.

 

She understands why her father used to talk about his travels to the country with such passion. Her time there is cut short by a tragic event and she is forced to leave behind the man who has stolen her heart.

 

Elin is very much a creature of her time and its social conventions. In her eyes, she does the right thing and, in doing so, she sacrifices her own happiness. She never paints or mentions her time in Greece again.

However, she does have a conscience and leaves her diary of that summer to her daughter, Lexi, to be read after her death. Lexi travels to Greece to find out more about what happened to make her mother keep a life-long secret.

 

I loved writing about Elin and wonder what decisions she would have made had she been living today. Was she right to keep her secrets from Lexi? Setting the story in Greece also took me back to the times we visited my auntie and Greek uncle on the beautiful island of Spetses and to the holidays we’ve spent in Crete since.

 

It was hard to choose one character from all the wonderful characters I’ve met through my reading but in the end, it had to be Nerys Watkins in ‘The Kashmir Shawl’ by Rosie Thomas. Nerys, like Elin, is from rural mid-Wales. As an innocent newly-wed, she accompanies her husband, Evan, on a Presbyterian missionary posting to Kashmir in India. Although disillusioned at first, she is determined to make the best of her new circumstances. Life changes for her when the men are sent away to war and she becomes a young wife struggling to cope in wartime, eventually blossoming into a different woman. In view of her husband’s apparent indifference to her, it seems perfectly understandable to me that she is attracted to a handsome charismatic mountaineer.

 

The sounds, smells and colours Nerys would have experienced are brought to life in the writing. I felt I was right there with Nerys in 1940s Kashmir. It is a world bursting with vibrancy, with the Second World War always present but not obviously so.

 

Evan seems to be too austere and serious for her but Nerys would never leave him and, like Elin, she does the right thing in her eyes, keeping secrets to the end of her life. How Nerys comes to be in possession of the beautiful Kashmir shawl isn’t revealed until near the end of the book after her granddaughter, Mair, embarks on a journey to India to find out about her grandmother’s life there during the war years.

 

* * * *

 

Jan's Links:

Twitter - @JanBayLit

Facebook – Jan Baynham Writer

Blog – www.janbaynham.blogspot.co.uk

 

Viewpoint Characters in The Poor Relation

Posted on 25th April, 2019
 
Thank you to everybody who has sent such kind messages commenting on the cover of The Poor Relation. I love it. As well as being very attractive, I think it is an appropriate illustration in that the girl isn't looking directly out of the picture but is glancing away, as if hiding her thoughts, which is what Mary Maitland has to do much of the time in the story.

 

In my previous blog, I introduced the social background to the book. This week, I'd like to tell you about the viewpoint characters. Many authors write from a single viewpoint, but I like to tell my stories through several viewpoints. I think this adds richness to the telling and it can also provide an effective way of building the tension. There's nothing quite like it for racheting up the suspense as having the story switch back to Character B, just when you're dying to know what happens next to Character A!

 

Here are the viewpoint characters in The Poor Relation. Let's start with the poor relation herself...

 

MARY MAITLAND

MARY is an attractive, intelligent girl of 23, who has worked as a Town Hall clerk since leaving school at the age of 13. Mary is happy... up to a point. Being a dutiful daughter and conscientious worker is all very well, but she feels stifled. When she gets a new job at a women's employment agency, it causes ructions at home, but it expands her world and gives her the chance to develop her outlook and her initiative.

 

LADY KIMBER

As a girl, she had a passionate affair with her cousin GREG RAWLEY, but their elopement was scuppered by their mutual aunt, HELEN RAWLEY. Emotionally, Lady Kimber never recovered from this. Pushed into a suitable but dull marriage by her parents, she was widowed young and then set her sights on marrying SIR EDWARD KIMBER, not for her own benefit, but to provide the best life and opportunities she could for her beautiful daughter, ELEANOR. She wants Eleanor to marry CHARLIE KIMBER, the heir, and succeed her as the next Lady Kimber. When it looks like Mary might derail this plan, Lady Kimber sets out to destroy her.

 

HELEN RAWLEY

Aunt of Lady Kimber and Greg Rawley. A lonely, prickly old spinster, she has lived a life of being resentfully beholden to the men of her family. Long ago, her father left her in his will to her brother's care. Now, thanks to her brother's will, she faces a future of being beholden to Greg, the nephew whose life she ruined. All she wants, even after years of being cold-shouldered by Lady Kimber, is to be reunited with her once-beloved niece.

 

NATHANIEL BREWER

A successful and committed doctor who is on a personal crusade to bring affordable medical provision to the slums of Moss Side. A serious individual with high standards of personal and professional conduct, he lives for his work. He married IMOGEN, the girl from up the road, largely because everyone expected it, including himself and Imogen. She is the perfect wife, magically appearing with the clothes' brush whenever he is about to leave the house and specialising in stews and hot-pots that will bubble away happily if he is late. Nathaniel finds that Mary Maitland and Helen Rawley between them challenge his ideas about women.

 

GREG RAWLEY

Cousin and former lover of Lady Kimber, who is the love of his life; nephew of Helen Rawley. A debonair man-about-town, his livelihood relies on his skill/luck at the card table. He is up to his ears in debt to the sinister, silver-tongued money-lender, MR JONAS, but he has a safety-net, namely the certainty of inheriting from his uncle ROBERT RAWLEY (Helen's brother). But when Robert's will is read, it plunges Greg into unforeseen difficulties....

 

* * * *

 

I hope you like the sound of my characters and that you'll want to read Mary's story. The hardback and ebook of the The Poor Relation will be published on May 23rd in the UK. The ebook price will come down in November, when the paperback is published.

 

The cheapest way of all, of course, is to borrow it from your public library, so do put in a request for it. As a former librarian, I love knowing that my books are popular in libraries.

 

Introducing "The Poor Relation."

Posted on 12th April, 2019

Yesterday my editor emailed me a mock-up of the cover for my latest book, The Poor Relation. I can't share it with you yet, because it has to be checked and finalised, but I can tell you that it is a lovely cover and very appealing - I hope you agree when you see it!

 

Set in Edwardian times, The Poor Relation is about the two branches of the Kimber family. There are the Kimbers themselves - they have the title, the money, the family seat, the social standing; and there are their lower-middle-class relations, the Maitlands. John Maitland, a Town Hall clerk, is Sir Edward Kimber's cousin. The Maitlands live their lives walking on social eggshells. They have to be ultra-respectable so as not to bring the mighty name of Kimber into disrepute. The flip-side of this is that they also have to be aware of what the neighbours are thinking, because they mustn't seem to be trading on their grand connections and getting above themselves.

 

The Kimbers and the Maitlands see one another once a year when the Maitlands are invited to Ees House for Sunday lunch. On that day, the Maitlands have to be ready extra early because not only they must not keep the Kimbers waiting, they mustn't keep the Kimbers' coachman waiting either; and as they walk down the garden path to the carriage, they have to be careful not to smile too broadly in case the neighbours think they're showing off.

 

 

The story shows the social extremes of the time, so we have the Kimbers with all the privileges of rank - the mansion, the servants, the posh dinner parties - as well as the deprivation of the slums in which Doctor Nathaniel Brewer sets up his clinic for the poor. Social reform provides part of the backdrop - the means test, the upper-class charity committees and the women's movement to improve the lot of lower-class women and working women.

 

The story also touches on the place of women in society - the changing role of the female gentry and the push for better working conditions for women, as well as the forcible feeding of suffragettes. In Edwardian times, modern-thinking women sometimes chose to 'love, honour and cherish' in their wedding vows, instead of saying 'love, honour and obey,' and articles were written questioning the legality of these marriages.

 

It is against this background that the heroine, Mary Maitland, John Maitland's daughter, is inspired by her social-reforming friends to embark upon a journalistic career. But is it possible to spread her wings at the same time as being a duitful daughter and obedient poor relation?

 

 

* * * *

 

I hope you like the sound of Mary's story. If you do, it is published in hardback on May 23rd. Hardbacks are mainly for the library market, so do put in a request at your local library. The paperback will be published in November.

 

I am delighted to welcome Merryn Allingham back to my website to have a chat about her latest book, A Tale of Two Sisters.

 

Born into an army family, Merryn travelled around as a child. Not surprisingly, she still loves to travel and visit new places. As a writer of historical mysteries, she especially enjoys places with an interesting history.

Merryn, welcome back to my blog. It’s lovely to have you here again, especially on such an exciting occasion. Your latest novel, A Tale of Two Sisters, was published by Canelo on March 21st. Congratulations!

 

I know that the most obvious question is to ask you about the two sisters in the title, but I’d like to start with the book’s setting – Constantinople. What drew you to that as a location?

 

In fact, an entirely different city was the origin of the book. Or at least, the journey there. A few years ago, I travelled to Venice on the Orient Express and fell in love with the train.

 

The compartments, dining carriages, even the mosaic bathrooms are almost unchanged since the train’s heyday. And whereas nowadays the journey to Istanbul is a special once a year event, in 1907 there was a regular service from London to Constantinople. I wondered what it must have felt like for a young woman travelling alone for the first time in her life and on such a train.

c

 

I remember what a remarkable job you did of portraying the Indian setting in The Girl From Cobb Street. What aspects of Constantinople did you find fascinating?

 

The city has an amazing history, first as Byzantium, the capital of the eastern Roman Empire, then as Constantinople, the centre of the Ottoman Empire, and finally the place we know today as Istanbul. It’s a city rich in art and craftsmanship and Topkapi Palace in 1907 – where most of the novel’s action takes place – was filled with the most exquisite beauty. It was an extraordinary building, a city within a city, housing thousands of residents – soldiers, administrators, slaves and of course, the imperial family . Until Dolmabahçe Palace was built in the middle of the nineteenth century, Topkapi was the home of every Ottoman emperor.

 

 

 

 The story is set in 1907. How easy was it to find sources of information from the period?

 

In the past, history was always written from the top down so I wasn’t surprised to find the lives of ordinary people sparsely documented. I did a lot of reading on the political situation and that feeds into the novel (lightly, I hope!) – it was a febrile time with mass discontent at the autocratic rule of the sultan and all kinds of plots to bring about democratic rule. The sultan in A Tale of Two Sisters is the last of his line to rule and a few years later in the aftermath of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire itself disappeared. There was a lot of material, too, on the heirarchy of power within the imperial family and the way in which the slavery system functioned. I found this very interesting since it was so different from that operating in the US and the Caribbean. Slavery as a way to climb the social ladder took some digesting!

 

Now – back to those sisters! Tell us a bit about them.

 

Lydia Verinder has been in Constantinople for over a year, since she was bundled out of England to escape punishment for a suffragette ‘crime’. She is there to work as a governess to the daughters of Sultan Selim, but her elder sister, Alice, has not heard from her for months. Alice suspects thoughtlessness – Lydia has always been indulged – but she’s worried.

 

Two years ago, the sisters’ sibling, Charlie, suffered a fatal accident and as a result their parents’ health has gone badly downhill. Alice has been forced to take responsibility for the London household and her feelings for Lydia are decidedly mixed. She loves her sister and admires Lydia’s courage and passion, but feels resentful that she has been left caring for their parents. She decides, completely out of character, to go to Constantinople herself and search for Lydia.

 

The narrative moves back and forth between the two sisters, each story a shadow of the other, and as the drama unfolds, Alice is forced to confront difficult emotions.

 

 

Are they new characters or have they been bobbing about inside your head for ages, waiting for their turn to be written into a book?

 

I think that probably Alice has been at the back of my mind for some time. On the surface, she is the rather dull, dutiful Edwardian daughter we all know, whereas her younger sister is a free spirit – impulsive, passionate, full of fun. Yet, Alice has passion, too, though she does her best to subdue it. You can see it in the lacy silk petticoat she wears beneath a sensible skirt and buttoned blouse. And in the decision to travel alone to a country she has barely heard of. I wanted to release her from this self-imposed purdah – but I couldn’t make her journey to freedom an easy one!

 

 

 

Is there another character you are particularly fond of? One who perhaps ended up demanding a bigger part in the story than you were expecting?

 

If there is one, it’s my political plotter, Ismet Kaya. He’s a handsome and intelligent man and naturally Lydia falls under his spell. Ismet is well–educated, Westernised in his attitudes and committed to political reform. Anyone would like him. But ultimately he proved a difficult character to write because although he has good qualities in abundance and plays a pivotal role in the plot, he couldn’t be depended on when the chips were down.

 

 

How much of a planner are you? Do you plot everything in advance before you start writing?

 

I wouldn’t want to plot the novel chapter by chapter – that way I’d lose the excitement of not quite knowing where the story was going. I have to feel certain of where I’m starting, though, and where I hope to finish – with maybe a few scenes in my mind of how to get there. But these can change, characters can refuse to ‘fit’ my early ideas. In which case, all I can do is go with the flow.

 

Merryn, many thanks for joining me today and answering my questions. Thanks also for bringing the wonderful photos with you! I wish you every success with A Tale of Two Sisters.

 

 

* * * *

 

 

Merryn's links:

 

Her Amazon author page   

 

Her website   

 

Her Twitter page  

 

Her Pinterest page