Monday, 22 May 2017

THE SOUND OF SILENCE - an interview with Katy Johnson

Today I'm joined by fellow-author Katy Johnson, whose latest novel The Silence is published by Crooked Cat Books on 8 June 2017.

Welcome, Katy!  What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

My grandmother encouraged me to write. My first book was a collection of stories about a naughty chimp, written in Biro. I saved up my pocket money to buy a red plastic typewriter to write the next volume.

Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?

Psychological, coming-of-age drama

What was the inspiration for this book? 

I love stories where people are taken out of their comfort zone and coming-of-age stories where the main character makes a life-changing decision that will affect their adult life. 

Did you do any research for the book? 

I didn’t have to do much as it’s not a procedural crime story but I did have it read by a speech therapist and GP and discussed a section with a firearms expert to make sure it was plausible. There are very few foreign words in there but I checked these with a native Italian speaker to make sure it was accurate in a colloquial way.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?

I don’t really have a typical day but once I've seen the children off to school, checked my social media and walked the dog I try and get non-fiction work done first and then reward myself with some fiction writing time.

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

I tried to choose names that weren’t too similar and didn’t start with the same letter as that can be confusing for the reader. The main challenge was choosing the name for the villa, which is an important character in the story. I wanted an old-fashioned girl’s name that was distinctive but easy to pronounce but not one that had too many associations for most people. I'd hate any of our Italian neighbour's to think it was about their house! After producing various shortlists I chose Villa Leonida.

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?

I wrote the first draft without knowing how it would end but then plotted the later drafts to develop the story arc, include foreshadowing etc.

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

It's probably best not to say in case it raises people's expectations and then disappoints!

What has been the best part of the writing process…and the worst?

Best – the alchemy of seeing it come together. Worst – getting all those plot points in place while making sure the details are consistent can be like wrestling an octopus.

Now that the book is on the point of being published, how do you feel? 

Excited – and a bit terrified. a bit like I felt when sending my children off to school on their first day.

Is there a message in your book?  

There is, but that might give the ending away!

Find out more at the Online Launch Party June 8th 

Do you have any advice for new writers?

I still think of myself as a new writer, so it’s probably a bit early for me to give advice, but I’d say first of all just write the book. Don’t worry about getting the first draft perfect. When you’ve got to the end you’ll have a clearer idea what the book is about and then you can sort out the story arc, flesh out the characters and develop the key scenes.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I’m writing a second book about Villa Leonida – a different secret, different time, different people – although there is a link.

The Silence is published on 8th June. You can buy it by clicking here.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

A LITTLE OF CHANTELLE ROSE - chatting with author Cristina Hodgson

Today I welcome a very special guest: my friend and fellow-author Cristina Hodgson, whose debut novel A Little of Chantelle Rose is released today.  I had the pleasure of working with Cristina as editor of this novel.

Hi, Cristina.  Well, this is a momentous day for both of us!  Obviously I know a fair amount about the book, but for the benefit of new readers, can you summarise it in just a few words?

It tells an urban fairy tale. It's about a young London girl who through a series of hilarious, if bizarre, circumstances is propelled to Hollywood glamour, lovers, confusion, menace and a truly startling conclusion. Its twists and turns will grip the reader - and make them laugh, too! At least that's what I hope!! ;-)

A sort of Cinderella-type story, then.  What was the inspiration for it?

After graduating from Loughborough University with a degree in PE and Sports Science, I travelled and worked in various jobs. One of these was as an extra in a British-produced gangster film which was filmed in Nerja, Spain. It goes without saying that my sport mechanics and kinetic energy knowledge weren’t put to maximum potential in this part-time job. But it was certainly a fun and unique experience, and most importantly it gave me an idea.  A year later I sat down and started writing, and within three months Chantelle Rose was born.

Only three months?  Gosh, I’m impressed.  It usually takes me much longer!

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

I actually find this question quite amusing, because it took me over nine months to decide on names for both my children. But I can come up with a fictional character's name in less than two minutes; the names just pop into my head. I'm not sure if the pregnancy hormones crushed my inner creativity when choosing my children's names, but, to be honest, it may have been for the best. I could have come up with any bizarre child's name if my creative side, mixed with pregnancy hormones, had taken over…

Well, yes.  That might explain (if not excuse) the weird names some celebrities inflict on their poor offspring.

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?

Do you mean: am I a pantster or a plotter? Definitely a pantster.  I begin with a vague idea which then propels me off on a journey into the unknown.  Which, if you think about it, has to be a plus, because if even I don't know the ending to my novel until the last few chapters, I should be able to keep my readers guessing too!  

Having said that, I would like to try and plot a little more, and have flow charts keeping things all neatly under control, so I don't lose track of my secondary characters' names or what they look like.  But, to be honest, at the moment my characters just run a bit wild.  I think this could be because in my real life I'm a bit over-organised.  So when I sit down at the keyboard, it's like someone else takes over and pays no attention to order or routine.  And quite right too.  Sometimes It's good to just go with your inner feelings and not think too much. 

That’s happened to me, too. I try to plot in advance, but it doesn’t always work out how I’d imagined.  In one of my books, one of the characters took me totally by surprise by saying something which went on to change the entire course of the story. But he was totally right – my original idea would never have worked.

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

I would have to say Enid Blyton, not so much that she inspired me to become a writer or influences my writing style as such, rather that she made me a reader.  As a child, I read all her Famous Five books.  She opened a magical world to me and a passion for reading that has accompanied my whole life.  She inspired me to read - and from the reader the writer is born. 

I also greatly admire J K Rowling, a huge inspiration, not just for her incredible writing talent, but for her “rags to riches” life story. An amazing lady, together with everything she's achieved.

Now that the book is published and ‘out there’ how do you feel?

I'm obviously thrilled, but also very nervous. This is like the birth of my third child. Chantelle Rose isn't about me or my life but it's a part of me. And this part of me is now out there for all to read and criticise, and that alone is nerve-wracking. I'm aware that everyone has different literary tastes, I just hope that people who do read Chantelle Rose, or any novel, understand that behind the words sits an author who's shed more than one tear to finish the text and sweated more than most marathon runners do. The finish line in this case is when you type “The End.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Been there, done that, spilled coffee all down the t-shirt.

Do you have any advice for new writers? 

The main advice I would offer is: "never give up", which can be applied to any aspect of life really.  For those struggling to finish their WIP (or even those who want to write but haven't started their project yet), consistency is the key.  Just write a few words every day.  Don't be overwhelmed by the thought that you have to write thousands of words a day.  Choose a realistic, manageable daily word count, such as 400 words or so, and you'll get there in the end.

What can we expect from you in the future?  

My current WIP is a bit of a secret at the moment.  If you read my debut novel you'll understand why.  

OK, enough said!  As your editor, I was lucky enough to work with you on Chantelle Rose and watch the development from a rough manuscript to the eventual finished product.  It was a fascinating process, particularly getting an insight into your writing style and your creative side.  If this is the first time you've worked with an editor, did the process hold any surprises for you?  

My dad went over the original text with me.  He's an ex-editor for BBC News, but being my dad I'm not sure if it counts.  So this editing experience was quite an eye-opener and learning experience for me.  I certainly believe it has helped to improve my writing skills, an improvement which I have to thank you for.  It was an absolute pleasure working with you, and I hope that we will be able to repeat the experience again soon.  

I hope so too, Cristina.  You were a delight to work with.  The world of literature needs more authors like you!  

Sue, your own latest novel, Never on Saturday, has recently been an Amazon best-seller.  I read it recently and thoroughly recommend it.  Please tell us a bit more about it.  

Thanks - I'm so glad you liked it.  Never on Saturday is a time-slip romance novella with a hint of mystery and a touch of the paranormal.  It tells the story of Mel, a young Frenchwoman who arrives in North Wales attempting to escape from a troubled past.  But she can't escape from her own dark and terrible secret, which threatens to destroy all her chances of happiness - even with the new love of her life...  

Any new projects lined up?  

One or two, but they're still very much in their infancy, so don't stay in specially waiting for them!  

Thanks so much for hosting me, Sue.  And here is Chantelle Rose with her proud editor (and a glass of rather fine red wine...)  

To discover more about Cristina and her work, please go to:

Website: Website
Twitter: @HodgsonCristina
Facebook: Facebook profile

PRIMITIVE PLEASURE (a story in which an extra-terrestrial visitor discovers the delights of Spanish wine)

Scoutship Nine calling Mission Control. Do you read me?

Come in, Scout.  State your position.

Greetings, Commander.  I have now been on Earth for seven of their Earth days. It is a very strange place; not like our planet at all.

Earth has many land-masses, Scout.  Can you identify your exact location?

I am in a place called Spain. The natives call it EspaƱa. 

Can you understand what the natives say?

Yes, my translator decodes their speech.  They seem to talk much about two things, which they call “food” and “wine”.

Please wait, Scout.  I do not understand.


Apologies, Scout.  These words “food” and “wine” do not compute.  

Commander, I too was confused by these concepts at first, so I have undertaken some research.  It seems that the people of Earth are extremely primitive.  Unlike our people, their subsistence is not derived simply from their atmosphere (which is much thinner than our own) or from solar emissions.  Their sun is yellow (not white like ours), and whilst it burns hot and bright here in this place called Spain, it disappears for approximately one-third of each Earth day.  Earthlings cannot rely on it for survival during these hours of non-solar activity.  It is for this reason, I believe, that they consume this “food” and “wine”.

Thank you, Scout.   But please, explain about this “food” and “wine”.

“Food” is solid matter which the Earthlings put into their mouths, Commander.

Where does it come from?

It is produced in large open land spaces called “farms”, or pulled from large expanses of water called “lakes” or “oceans”.  The Earthlings gather and store it, then consume it.  Sometimes it is consumed in its raw state; at other times it is first subjected to strong heat.

And “wine”? What is that?

“Wine” is most fascinating, Commander.  It is a liquid which is dark red, or pink, or pale yellow. The Earthlings cultivate large quantities of fixed growths which they call “vines”, which produce small round objects called “grapes”.  The Earthlings take the grapes from the vines, put them into large containers, then climb into the containers with the grapes and stamp on them.  They put the resulting liquid – the “wine” – into containers called bottles, then leave it for several of their Earth years before consuming it.

As you say, extremely primitive.  What a waste of time and energy.  Our system is far more efficient.

I thought so too, but as part of my research I disguised myself as an Earthling and took part in a “wine tour”,  visiting places where wine is made, and consuming some of the product.  It is strangely pleasing, and made me feel very happy.  I now wonder if by never needing to consume liquid, we are depriving ourselves of a great pleasure?

Good question, Scout.  We must find out. Can you bring some of this “wine” back with you?

I have some bottles already on board, Commander.  I promise I will not open them until I arrive home…

Saturday, 15 April 2017


The great Crooked Cat Easter Sale is now on.  It runs until midnight on Easter Monday (17 April).

Until then, you can get hold of the Kindle editions of my first three novels (The Ghostly FatherNice Girls Don't and The Unkindest Cut of All) for just 99p/99c each.

And until midnight on Monday, the Kindle edition of my fourth novel, Never on Saturday, is available to download ABSOLUTELY FREE!

That's four - yes, four - great reads for less than the price of a cup of arty-farty coffee, and considerably less than the price of an arty-farty Easter egg.  And they will last considerably longer and contain no calories.

Interested?  Just click on the book covers on the right to be taken to the Amazon Kindle store.

There are dozens more books at 99p/99c, or completely free, in the Crooked Cat sale.  Click here to find out more.

Friday, 3 March 2017

YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE! - a guest post by Ailsa Abraham

Once again, I'm joined by my soul sister and fellow-scribe, the fabulous Ailsa Abraham, whose latest novel Attention to Death is released a week from now.

Welcome, dear friend!

Thank you, Sue, for inviting me to talk about my latest release.  This is a departure from my previous series in magical realism. Here I take off on murder mystery. 

Why? Erm... Limited attention span? Love of variety?

Attention to Death is released on 10th March.  It's available for pre-order now:

"In Attention to Death, Ailsa Abraham pulls off something I wouldn't have thought possible - a steamy romance with a twist of murder and a splash of social conscience. A remarkable book that will have you turning pages as quickly as you can to find out what happens next." 
(India Drummond, author of the Caledonia Fae series)

Finding a murderer among a group of killers is not going to be easy for two Royal Army Military Police investigators, Captain Angus Simpson and Staff-Sergeant Rafael ‘Raff’ Landen, whose Christmas leave is cancelled for an investigation into a suspicious death on a base in Germany. 
The case is further complicated by unhelpful senior officers who make pre-judgements on colour, creed, race and sexuality. Yet the insight of the investigators helps them uncover a sinister plot, although they too have something to hide: their own fledgling relationship.
Will Angus and Raff be able to solve the murder without giving away their secret?
The best and worst of human nature is represented in this story, which is why it is suggested for over 18s only.

To research this book, I delved into my past life as an officer in the Royal Air Force and my lifelong friendships with gay men.  Coming right after LGBT History Month in February, it highlights the problems faced by men who have to be “in the closet”, and the sort of bigotry that causes people to refuse to read a book just because there are gay characters in it (although this doesn't stop them leaving reviews). Me? I've never been too sure. I'm gender-neutral. which is why the first thing I wonder on meeting new people is not “What do they do in  their bedrooms?”

Read it for yourself and decide. Is it an honest portrayal of two men doing their job who just happen to have started an affair?

Ailsa Abraham  is the author of six novels. Alchemy is the prequel to Shaman's Drum, published by Crooked Cat in January 2014. Both are best-sellers in their genres on Amazon. She also writes mystery romance.
She has lived in France since 1990 and is now a naturalised Frenchwoman. She enjoys knitting and crochet, and until recently was the oldest Hell's Angel in town . Her interests include campaigning for animal rights, experimenting with different genres of writing and trips back to the UK to visit friends and family.  She is also addicted to dressing up, saying that she is old enough to know better but too wise to care (pirate gear is her favourite!)

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

WORTHY OF ATTENTION - an interview with Ailsa Abraham

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming back my dear friend and fellow-author Ailsa Abraham, whose latest novel Attention to Death - her first venture into crime fiction - is due out next month.

Welcome, Ailsa.  This is your third novel for Crooked Cat, but you’ve completely changed genres this time around. Why?

This may sound weird (I often do) but as I live my life as the Village Healer and shaman, I wanted a change of scene. Writing my Alchemy series was too close to my real life. I don't watch much TV but when I do gore and guesswork is my favourite.

Was it difficult to switch genres like this? Did you get any help with the research for this one, or did you do it all yourself?

Not really, because I cheated and delved back into my past, when I was in the Royal Air Force. My partner served in the Royal Navy for over twenty years. We still tend to use “mob-speak” to each other, and that includes a great deal of swearing. I did, however, have to do a lot of research as I based my novel in the Army (Military Police). I think this was done to stop either of us claiming that it was MY book. I had to Google a lot of geography and asked for advice from friends still in the military.

How is this different from what you’ve done in the past?

All my life, I've been writing in all sorts of genres. Yes, in my published work I am known for short stories and magical realism but I've tried my hand at everything apart from chick-lit, mainly because I don't consider myself a “chick”.  Much of my “other” work is only known to my friends because they were my audience in the past. I've even been known to dabble in poetry but I wouldn't dream of publishing it apart from as humour on Facebook.

Without giving away any spoilers, I know that Attention to Death deals with some pretty controversial themes.  What made you want to write about them, and how challenging did you find it?

It's fair to say that it is not a book for the faint-hearted. There are some gory scenes and some very un-PC language, as would be normal on a military base. The real message behind the murder mystery is about judgemental people. The case is very nearly ruined by those who are prejudiced about race, colour, creed or sexuality, who make sweeping assumptions and won't consider other solutions. Homosexuality is featured very strongly, because I have had gay friends all my life and they still suffer from outdated and untrue stereotyping.

Is there a message in Attention to Death?

Yes, there is; it’s forgiveness and tolerance – even though these are sometimes the hardest virtues to practice.

I’ve already had a sneak peek at this book, and it’s a corker.  What did you enjoy most about writing it?

As someone who is non-gender specific I found writing as a man rather good. I enjoyed going back to my own military days when I was accepted as “just another bloke”, being able to write in that style made a change.

Where can readers find out more?

The book is released on 10 March 2017, but is now available for pre-order.  Click here to be taken directly to your local Amazon site.  Meanwhile, here’s a hint of what’s in store:

Finding a murderer among a group of killers is not going to be easy for two Royal Army Military Police investigators, Captain Angus Simpson and Staff-Sergeant Rafael 'Raff' Landen, whose Christmas leave is cancelled for an investigation into a suspicious death on a base in Germany. 

The case is further complicated by unhelpful senior officers who make pre-judgements on colour, creed, race and sexuality.  Yet the insight of the investigators helps them uncover a sinister plot, although they too have something to hide: their own fledgling relationship.

Will Angus and Raff be able to solve the murder without giving away their secret?

The best and worst of human nature is represented in this story, which is why it is suggested for over-18s only.

Thank you, Ailsa, for a fascinating chat about a fascinating book!


Ailsa Abraham retired early from a string of jobs, including serving in the Royal Air Force, and Veterinary Nursing, ending with teaching English to adults. She has lived in France since 1990 and is now a French citizen. Her passions are animal welfare and motorbikes which have taken the place of horses in her life now that ill-health prevents her riding.

She copes with illness with her usual wry humour: “Well if I didn't have all those, I'd have to work for a living, instead of being an author, which is much more fun.” Her ambition in life is to keep breathing and writing. She currently works in pagan magical realism and detective fiction, although would like to explore other genres too. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2017


Today is a very special day for lovers in Wales.  It is the feast of St Dwynwen (Llanddwyn in Welsh), who is regarded by many as the Welsh equivalent of St Valentine – the patron saint of lovers.  Today (25 January) is her feast day, and is often celebrated by the Welsh with flowers and cards.

I’ve always loved the Isle of Anglesey (or, to give it its Welsh name, Ynys Mon) - so much so that for the past twenty-odd years it has been my second home.

As well as boasting a rugged natural beauty, Anglesey is also steeped in history and folklore.  So when I was looking for a setting for my forthcoming novel Never on Saturday, Anglesey was the obvious choice.

Never on Saturday is a paranormal time-slip romance novella, set partly in medieval France and partly in present-day North Wales.  And one of the key scenes in the novel takes place at one of Anglesey’s most picturesque locations: Llanddwyn Island.

Llanddwyn Island (in Welsh: Ynys Llanddwyn) is a remote rocky promontory, about a mile long, situated at the south-west corner of Anglesey, and forms part of the Newborough Warren nature reserve.   It is not, strictly speaking, an island, although if the tide is exceptionally high, as can be seen in this photo, it can become one for a few hours: 

According to tradition, the original Dwynwen was a fifth-century Welsh princess, one of the daughters of Brychan, a prince of Brecon.  She fell in love with a young chieftain named Maelon, but rejected his advances.  The reasons for this vary according to which version of the story you read, but the popular belief is that either Maelon tried to seduce Dwynwen before they were married, or that Dwynwen’s father had plans for her to marry someone else.  But whatever the reason, the outcome was the same: Dwynwen prayed to be released from her doomed love affair.

In answer to her prayer Dwynwen was visited by an angel, who instructed her to concoct a potion which would dispel all thoughts of love.  One source tells that the potion was made from rare herbs from Newborough Forest, mixed with a lover’s tears and beads of dew from the petals of the snapdragon.  She and her lover both drank the potion, at which point Dwynwen immediately forgot her love for Maelon.  Maelon, unfortunately, fared rather worse: he was transformed into a block of ice.

The angel appeared to Dwynwen again and granted her three wishes.  Dwynwen’s first wish was that Maelon should be restored to life.  Her second wish was that she herself should never again wish to marry, and her third wish was that all faithful lovers should find true happiness.  She then retreated to what is now Llanddwyn Island and spent the rest of her life in isolation.

Meanwhile, Maelon was restored to life in accordance with Dwynwen’s wish, and the spot where the block of ice had stood, according to tradition, became a spring of clear water.  This spring became St Dwynwen’s Well, and it soon became a popular place of pilgrimage for lovers.  It was said that a woman could test the fidelity of her lover by scattering breadcrumbs on the water then laying her handkerchief on the surface.  If the handkerchief was disturbed by one of the eels living in the well, this foretold that the lover would be faithful.

The place of pilgrimage was so popular that during Tudor times it became the richest in the area, and in the early sixteenth century a church was built on the site of Dwynwen’s original chapel.  Sadly, the church fell victim to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, but its remains can still be seen today.

As to what happens on Llanddwyn Island in Never on Saturday, and why it is pivotal to the story, all will be revealed on 9 February 2017.  Click here to find out more...