Happy Birthday Mum 💞 | Flora’s Week Show

Am super touched by this lovely post from Flora, on my birthday. It’s all lies, of course!!

Flora's Week Show Blog

Hello blogging beans & Mum! Today, is a very special day because it’s my Mum’s birthday! 🎂 Yay! 🎉 To celebrate this special day, I’ve put together a poem and a list of things that I’m thankful that you do. By the way my Mum has a blog which you can find here. Without further ado, let’s begin!

Things I’m Grateful For:

  • Taking me to a coffee shop to write
  • Giving me endless love 💞
  • Being an awesome Mum 💕
  • Telling me what a blog is ✏️
  • Taking me and the family to nice places

Your Awesome GIFs | Tenor

My Mum

Mum, you always cook beautiful food for me,
from chilli to spaghetti,
You always help me with my English homework,
From stories to poems,
You always give me amazing advice,
From tips to writing,
Mum, you are wonderful,
Happy Birthday

💕 💕 💕

Thanks so much for reading! ❤️  I hope you…

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The 2021 Romantic Novel Award Winners Interviews with…. Julie Houston

A fab interview with the award winning (and all round awesome) Julie Houston!

A Little Book Problem

Awards

Today I am delighted to be interviewing the winner of theSapere Books Popular Romantic Fiction Award in the RomanticNovelists’ Association Awards 2021 with her novel Sing Me A Secret. Please welcome to the blog, author… Julie Houston.

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Julie, congratulations on your win and thank you very much for agreeing to appear on my blog during the entry period for the 2022 awards.

This award was voted for by book bloggers, librarians and book sellers. That is a hard crowd to impress. What does it mean to you to win this particular award and what it is about this book that you think spoke to them out of the hundreds they read each year?

I am totally in awe of the people who voted for me for this award, but particularly the book bloggers. They are an amazing set of readers, giving their time and expertise to reading countless…

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How ‘Horrible Histories’ gave me Harry Sinclair.

When I’m writing a novel, I always like to have an image in my mind of what the two lead characters look like. Often, this can be a composite of two or three people – for example, in my debut novel, The Second Chance Tea Shop, Matthew Carter, the leading man, was a kind of hybrid of Richard Armitage, Gerard Butler and Gabriel Byrne, with a bit of Paul McGann thrown in for good measure. Having a face to put to the name helps me hugely with plotting the action, and reactions in the novel. I’m a sucker for using body language and facial expression as dialogue tags, and so imagining how a particular actor or performer might walk, speak and bring life to a character helps a lot when I’m in the throes of writing the story.

Just For The Summer was a hard book to write, for many reasons, most of them pandemic related. I’ve talked about this recently in a post on the Boldwood Books blog, so I won’t bore you here by repeating it. But one of the key issues for me was that I just couldn’t picture the male protagonist, Harry Sinclair, in any detail while I was writing the first third of the book. I had a clear picture in my mind of the female protagonist – she looks a lot like Kate Winslet- but I was lost when it came to the guy! And when I can’t ‘see’ a character, I find it incredibly difficult to write about them.

Anyway, time passed and this book just wasn’t getting written. I know, right? I’d leave the computer at night, and in the morning there were exactly the same amount of words onscreen as when I’d left it. Not even the bloody dog could help, and he’s clever! I was starting to flounder.

6And then, something happened. My daughters got really into Horrible Histories. Being too old to watch it myself as a kid, and my own children being too young to fully appreciate it the first time around, this was a whole new experience for all of us. And, to tell you the truth, I absolutely loved it. We all did. It’s funny, educational, beautifully acted and scripted, and the best kids’ TV show with adult appeal I’d seen in ages. The magic of those writers and that cast (basically the same people), is pure alchemy.

But that wasn’t all. Somewhere in the back of my mind, something started falling into place. Without realising it, I’d got a style model for Harry Sinclair. And he was there, in five series of Horrible Histories, two series of BBC Ghosts (which we also all love and watch on repeat), and, after a sneaky Now TV subscription just to watch it, Yonderland, too! Yes…Ben Willbond became, to all intents and purposes, the perfect style model for Harry. In my head, I’d had this blurred impression of someone tall, greying and gentlemanly in a kind of clever, bookish, slightly rumpled way, and he just seemed to fit the bill. Harry was found!

bw6Suddenly, the cinematics I have in my head when I’m writing started to come to life. Kate had her Harry, and I could see, incredibly clearly, the events I was writing about. I could see Harry in his bookshop, Harry and Kate on Willowbury Hill in the early morning discussing their lives, the ‘mishap’ that happens when a famous author comes to visit and all of the other bits in between.  And although it was still tricky to write (you know, home schooling, pandemic, lockdown, remote teaching etc), it felt as though it was getting easier. And that’s a key thing for me…if I can ‘see’ it, I can write it.

In conclusion, I owe a debt to the Horrible Histories  team in general, for keeping the family sane with their brilliance during lockdown, and to Ben Willbond in particular for giving me the perfect style model for Harry. If the screen rights are ever bought for this book, I’d love him to take the role! So much so, that I did actually mention the HH team (and Ben) in the book’s acknowledgements. So, Mr Willbond, can I interest you in playing a suave, yet slightly shambolic bookshop owner in a sleepy Somerset town? I think you’d be just perfect for it! 

And as for the next novel? I’m thinking I might use Laurence Rickard as a style model, too…

If you’d like to read the book for yourself, here’s a link or two:

JustForTheSummer HI RES (1)

UK: amzn.to/34MZEVk

US: amzn.to/3g6UEQJ

Audible: adbl.co/3f4yFKk

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Just for the Summer – Fay Keenan

A fab review of ‘Just For The Summer’ – thank you so much!

Eatwell Reads-Well

I immediately empathised with Kate; she came across as totally lovely and I couldn’t understand why her Husband had ever left her for another woman. She also seemed the perfect Mum; how I felt for her, when she discovered her Husband was taking their boys to Florida with his new woman – a holiday that Kate had longed for when they were together.

Kate ends up ‘between homes’, staying at her Brother’s place and decorating it; she was thinking of setting her own business as a decorator. Life seems pretty grim for her. She needs to find a house to live in, and everyone else seems to be away on holiday.

The arrival of Harry the bookseller seemed like manna from heaven – although Kate’s first interaction with him doesn’t go that well! Indeed Willowbury doesn’t seem short of eligible men, with coffee shop Jack available too!

The inter-sibling teasing…

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A Romantic Fiction Writer’s Thoughts on the England Team of Euro 2020.

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I don’t ‘get’ football. I’ve never followed a team, played it or spent much time thinking about it. I mean, I’ll watch England playing an international game, but I’ve never been overly emotionally invested in it. I’ve not really cared two hoots about whether or not the national teams get through or not, writing them off for most of the past two decades as over paid, over bred, preening stallions who fall over in a gust of wind and generally have ridiculous hair.

Until now.

I don’t know if it was the change of mindset from the pandemic, the fact that there’s been a dearth of things to feel good about for fifteen months, or the fact that I’ve harboured a bit of a crush on Gareth Southgate since the 2018 World Cup, when he rocked up in a waistcoat and I was so impressed I wrote a waistcoat wearing hero, Charlie Thorpe, into my novel, A Place To Call Home, but something definitely changed this year. And so, I’m going to try to put my spin on the Euros, from the perspective of a writer of romantic fiction. And someone who still knows virtually nothing about the beautiful game.

The books I write sink or swim by how much my readers can relate to, like or even fall in love with my characters. If readers don’t get behind them, they don’t waste time finishing the book. They have to find some quality, some attractive feature in the people I’ve imagined, to follow their stories. They have to feel something for them. I think football must kind of be the same thing. It’s not just about the game play; it’s about the narrative, and the characters. Contemplating this was where my interest started to be piqued for the Euro 2020 (played in 2021, of course), football tournament. Suddenly, I was creating characters in my mind as I watched these players, and through those imaginative explorations, I started to care. I started to feel something for them.

waistcoatTake Gareth Southgate, for example. At forty nine years old, and carrying the trauma of missing a penalty in the 1996 Euros with him for twenty five years, he’s got a lot of ‘romantic hero’ traits. Tall, dark, grizzled, brooding, calm, dignified, giving the impression of colossal emotion kept under rigid control but burning deep within, ready to erupt at a time and place of his choosing, and the wearer of very sharp suits, he’s a pretty good archetype. And throughout this tournament, he’s shown a huge amount of affection for his players, supporting them in their darker moments, celebrating with them when they’ve triumphed and seeming to be both father figure and mentor to them all. He appears to be respected by them, loved even, and he instinctively seems to know what makes them tick.

I was in a pub, in 1996, with my university friends, half cut and hopeful of an English victory, when he missed that penalty. Dad later joined us, driving from Bristol to York to pick me up, drank a pint or two and bought us all a curry before driving me home the next day. It was a proper moment. It stays in my mind for the crushing of hope as much as the great night we all had. At eighteen years old, you have the world at your feet, and for a few hours that evening, nothing mattered but the booze, the game and the laughs. But I still felt incredibly sad for Gareth that night.

 

harry gareth 2018So when he took over as England manager, I was programmed to have a bit of a soft spot for him, even though I hadn’t followed anything he’d done since that fateful night in July 1996. As I said, not a football fan. But seeing him with his team, bringing them on and supporting them, brought out the romantic writer in me, and I started to feel interested. Here was someone who had that perfect balance of calm and steel. And I still believe that. The minute I saw the much tweeted about ‘Southgate Hug’ in action for the first time (in Russia, at the World Cup in 2018, as the snapshot of him with Harry Kane shows), I realised that there was a physicality, belied by the restraint, that captured the essence of the man. And last night, that was on display once again, albeit under different, heartbreaking circumstances. Those consoling touches, that unselfconscious ability to make contact that seems so at odds with being English, but seems to be brought out on the football field by the extremes of the game, was there for all to see. 

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In fact, it graced a fair few front pages this morning as those who were drawn into the drama of the game tried to process it all. His comforting of the poor, distraught Bukayo Saka, who was so young to have to bear the outcome of the last penalty of the match, is a freeze frame of a moment that no one could deny was hugely emotional. And what makes it more poignant is that Gareth knows what that feels like to miss. That gesture reads as an attempt to protect the young player from what he knows is coming; the onslaught of scrutiny, criticism and hatred that, sadly inevitably, he would go on to face almost immediately the game had ended. It’s a gesture that’s both apologetic and protective, and thus emblematic of the relationship between manager and team.

jordanBut, interestingly, this time around, I’ve noticed some other romantic fiction archetypes on that pitch too. If Gareth made my heart flutter, my writer’s pulse beat a little faster for others, as well. Take the incomparable Jordan Pickford, for example. Two months ago, I’ve had said Jordan who? if asked. To be truthful, I still don’t have a clue who he plays for, apart from England. But, my goodness, what presence! Commanding, eruptive, wearing his heart on his sleeve and his emotions all over his face, he is an absolute force of nature. Lip reading Jordan Pickford’s words (mostly screamed, and mostly starting with ‘Harry!’) was such a pleasure during the Euros. 

maguireAnd then there’s Harry Maguire – who I joked, the first time I heard him speak, just needed a flat cap and a whippet and he could be the lead in some 1950s TV drama set in a cosy Yorkshire village. Presence, skill and a down to earth pragmatism that felt infinitely reassuring, he’s another type of romantic hero. Pure Sheffield Steel, as one commentator (I forget who), put it.

harryThe other Harry, of course, Mr Kane, looks like some golden haired lead from an epic movie, exuding both calm like Gareth Southgate, and absolute skill in tantalising bursts of drama. Reminiscent, perhaps, of Taylor Swift’s ‘London Boy’, he’s a charismatic captain.

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And then, the young bucks: the beautiful, elegant, incredibly accomplished Marcus Rashford, who I knew more about from his food and literacy campaigns than his footwork. What charisma, what passion, what presence! Raheem Sterling, another hugely gifted and charismatic man, with a smile to melt the hardest of hearts and, from what I can see with my inexperienced eye, footwork to match. Add the dancer-like elegance of Jack Grealish into the mix, and the youthful exuberance of Bukayo Saka, and their combination of youth, skill and indefatigable enthusiasm is completely infectious.

To my writer’s mind, this feels like a story that is entering its third act; if the World Cup in 2018 introduced us to this cast of characters, and the Euros established the characters and introduced the most painful of conflicts, then surely the World Cup in 2022 will be the thrilling final part of the story, but hopefully not the end. And, as a definite non-football fan, but a loving witness of this band of players and their manager, who have created an incredibly emotionally interesting, talented and cohesive team, I’ll be there, in the audience, to see them take the stage again.

But my heart, after last night, goes out to them all. The operatic tragedy of the game going right down to the last penalty could have been written for some tear jerking sporting movie, and it played out in all its glory and pain on screens around the country last night. The writer’s maxim, about having characters you love chased up a tree by a bear, and then having the bear throwing rocks at them, worked its way onscreen in the most dreadfully painful and engrossing way during that game. It was melodrama, it was the pinnacle of an exciting narrative, and it’s easy to try to analyse it as such. And I don’t even fully understand the game.

So tonight, twenty four hours on, I’m reflecting on the art is life perspective that I’ve had through this tournament, and trying to remember that these people are just that; that the fallout from the game has been horrendous for many of them, and that it will take a little time for them to recover. The drama has been intense, and exhausting, and I’m not surprised that Gareth Southgate said he needed a rest in the press conference he took today. But one thing’s for certain; I might not be much the wiser when it comes to the rules of the game, but I am completely hooked on the drama of international football; and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

Fancy a new book to read? Click below to find out more about my Willowbury novels!

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Just for the Summer by Fay Keenan

The advance reviews are coming in – thanks so much, Babs,for this fabulous review!

Book Escapes with BabsW67

When Kate Harris accepts the job of redecorating her brother Aidan’s house in the picturesque town of Willowbury, she knows it’s just a stop gap before she has to decide what to do with the rest of her life. While her three sons spend the summer holiday with their father, Kate has an opportunity to prove to herself that there is a new life, after her divorce.

Harry Sinclair is the owner of Vale Volumes book shop on Willowbury High Street. Content, if a little bored with his lot, his shop, as well as his life, could do with freshening up. When Kate offers to spruce up Vale Volumes ready for the visit of a famous author, they find they have a lot more in common than colour schemes.

But both have secrets and responsibilities, and when the trials of family life threaten their burgeoning friendship, can they overcome the…

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Why I love…writing a new book

Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

So, today’s ‘what I love’ is actually about something I’ve just started…again. There’s something about the very beginning of a new novel; when the details aren’t there, when you’re feeling your way, and things are just vague shapes in your mind.

For me, it starts with the end. I generally, although not always, know how and where the story is going to end. Being left-handed, I’m used to approaching things slightly backwards in comparison to the right handed way of the world, and I tend to know what the destination is for my characters, even if I’m not sure how they get there! That was certainly true for my debut novel, The Second Chance Tea Shop, when I knew how my characters got their happily ever after and what time of year it would be, even before i’d written a word of it! Likewise, with ‘Snowflakes Over Bay Tree Terrace’, my fifth novel, there was a key climactic scene involving a military uniform, Shakespeare and a very excited audience that just had to be, if not the end, then pretty damned close to it. And now with this book I’ve just started, it’s a house that becomes something it should have been a long time ago, with the help of my protagonists. I’m saying no more than that!

But there are other things. Generally, I get a clear idea of my male protagonist first, and in this case that’s definitely true. The train of thought is leading me towards a close real life associate of the actor who eventually became the ‘face’ of my previous novel, in my mind, and at the moment, he seems to be sticking. I’m playing about with the idea of him as the hero, trying stuff out, filling in some gaps, joining the dots in my mind and seeing if I’ve got a decent picture. This involves writing random snippets of scenes that may or may not end up in the final novel (I’m getting more efficient at this, and most of them do, these days). I like to start with the emotional high points – the laughter, the tears, the declarations of love and intent, the arguments, the expressions of inner and outer conflict and motivation, until I can thread them together coherently, and that’s where I’m at right now. I’ve got the first thousand words or so, and it’s mainly dialogue.

And new dialogue is the best thing about starting a new novel. Conversation between characters allows me to flesh them out, to experiment with how they might respond to their circumstances. It allows me to have people shouting at each other with complete impunity, and experiment with how they might tell each other the really important stuff. Dialogue carries my novels, and I love writing it.

So there you have it. Although I might (and usually do) hit the wall about halfway through a draft, the beginning is always an exciting experience, and one that, thankfully, I love!

Why I love…the Shipping Forecast

I’m going to try to follow my daughter’s example with this blog, and post more regularly for the next few weeks. As a result, I thought I’d do some shortish posts where I write about things I love. Welcome to the first in the series!

Listing the weather conditions in 31 sea areas surrounding the British Isles, the Shipping Forecast is read out at 5.20 am, 12.01 pm, 5.54 pm and 00.48 am. The first and last broadcasts of the day also include report (1)

So…the Shipping Forecast. Put simply, it’s a list of the weather conditions in 31 sea areas surrounding the British Isles. The names, rolling mellifluously off the tongues of the weather forecasters four times a day on BBC Radio 4 are both hypnotic and, strangely compelling. When I first heard it, I likened it to having the effect on me that me crooning to my dog might have on him; it sounds wonderful, but I have no idea what it’s all about. And, to be honest, for me, that’s the appeal.

I listen to it at 5.20am, and it’s my absolute moment of Zen in the morning. I don’t get up until gone seven, but it’s waking up to the sound of all of these wonderful, romantic sounding names that sets me up for the day. In fact, when the forecast moved from 5.30 to 5.20, I reset my radio alarm clock so I could keep listening to it! It inhabits that semi-somnolent domain between sleep and waking for me, as I often drift off while listening, and its gentle tones influence my semi-lucid dreams.

What I’ve noticed now I’ve been listening to it for a while, though, is the differences between the forecasters. Some take their time at the beginning, rolling their mouths gloriously around the words, then getting steadily faster, more urgent as the time ticks down to the five-thirty news briefing. It’s like meteorological foreplay, starting slow and then racing, gasping to the finish before the clock runs out. Listening to it injects a fever of tension, a mounting sense of building climax until the last, inevitable release of the final reference. We all draw breath and the earth, along with the sea, moves.

Other forecasters time things to the last second, keep a steady rhythm throughout. The metronomic precision of these broadcasts, rising and falling as the seconds tick down, keep us in a state of aural bliss, sending wave after steady wave of perfectly aligned pleasure through the airwaves until we fall back, fully satisfied as the final, heady pause signals the start of another day.

These contrasting approaches are a joy, and if they sounded a lot like metaphors for some other kind of pleasure, then that comparison is intentional. As a writer, I’m in love with language, and although it may seem ironic that, in the Shipping Forecast, I actually don’t understand a lot of what I’m being told, the impact of that language is still powerful, and in the hands of a skilled orator, even more effective. So this, if you like, is my love letter to the Shipping Forecast and those who deliver it. It’s totally worth the 5.20am wake up time!

Listing the weather conditions in 31 sea areas surrounding the British Isles, the Shipping Forecast is read out at 5.20 am, 12.01 pm, 5.54 pm and 00.48 am. The first and last broadcasts of the day also include report (2)

Fancy a read this weekend? How about one of these? Click the pic to go to my Amazon page!

Art Imitating Life – 10 ‘true’ things in my novels.

The truth can be stranger than fiction…

Like most authors, I often get asked if I base my characters or events on real life things, and, like most authors, I always say no! However, now that my latest novel, ‘Snowflakes Over Bay Tree Terrace’, has been published, I thought it would be nice to talk about the elements of reality in my fiction. I bet I’m not alone in using real life things to inspire made up stories. So, here are ten things that feature in my five novels (to date) and their real life inspirations.

  1. The Strawberry Line footpath, Sandford to Winscombe. This one’s a real no-brainer, and I even call it by name in my first three novels! This picturesque ex-railway line is where a lot of my characters do their walking in the Little Somerby novels.
  2. An old blue suitcase in ‘A Place to Call Home’. My heroine Holly gets given a blue suitcase from her parents with the contents of her university bedroom inside, from fifteen years ago. That suitcase is currently sitting under my bed, and, yes, it does contain a photograph of someone I’d completely forgotten about but had cause to remember when they appeared back in the public eye! My lips are sealed as to who it actually is, though…
  3. Jonathan Carter’s ‘drinking tree’ on Wavering Down in ‘Springtime at the Cider Kitchen’. This hawthorn tree does exist, just off the footpath across the top of the plain.
  4. Matthew and Meredith Carter’s university choice. Well, it could only be the University of York, since I had such a wonderful and formative time there! York creeps in a few times in my books, just because it had such a huge influence on my life.
  5. Carter’s Cider Most people know this, but I grew up next to the behemoth that is Thatchers Cider in Somerset, so when it came to creating a convincing setting for my own cider farm, I ‘borrowed’ their geography and technology. They don’t seem to mind, though!
  6. The Great Western Air Ambulance and Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance charities. My forthcoming novel was inspired when I saw the DSAA helicopter landing and taking off from the fields near where I live. I was privileged to be able to interview some of the people, including the pilots, who work for both of charities, and that research helped me to create a fully rounded character, Sam, for the novel. He works for the fictional Somerset Air Ambulance, which is created from all of the information I was lucky enough to learn from these amazing people and organisations.
  7. The mouse up the trouser leg incident in ‘A Place to Call Home’. This was based on my poor sister in law’s experience at my parents’ house, many years ago, when one of their cats caught a mouse and it ran straight up her jeans! She handled it a whole lot better than Charlie does, in the novel!
  8. Anna’s Tea Shop in ‘The Second Chance Tea Shop’ is based on a tea room in the village where I live, that even has a fabulous window for Jonathan Carter to look out and watch the world go by!
  9. The song that Charlie and Holly dance to in her living room is ‘You’re Makin’ Me High’ by Toni Braxton.
  10. I hadn’t realised that the names I gave Holly’s parents are, in fact the names of Richard Gere and Julia Roberts’ characters, Vivian and Edward, in Pretty Woman. This was pointed out to me by my mother after the book was published, and is a spooky parallel with the actual Pretty Woman reference in the book, which is Holly’s dress from the charity shop!

Intrigued? Click the pics to be taken to my Amazon author page, and find out more about my novels!

Poem!💖

Rather proud of this poem from my daughter :). She’s been making her own podcasts, too!

Flora's Week Show Blog

I’ve been thinking of doing a poem for a long time and here it is.

Winter

Frost curls up on my window,

Like my cat inside.

I run my hands through the condensation.

I Whisper ‘it’s winter

The winter like sun shone through the Grey, Puffed up clouds

The grass is as moist as fruitcake freshly baked.

It’s winter.

It’s winter.

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