Saturday, 8 October 2016


Once again, we've reached the time of year when our hedgerows yield a rich harvest of blackberries.  During a country walk a few days ago, we collected enough to make a small quantity of what must surely be one of our favourite preserves: blackberry jelly.  If you fancy having a go at making your own, this is how I do it.

As with my marmalade recipe, I make the jelly in the microwave.  I'm using blackberries here, but the process is the same for any sort of soft fruit.  The timings are based on a 700W microwave oven, and all settings are HIGH throughout.  As a rough guide, each 2lb (approx 1 kilo) of fruit produces four jars of jelly.  

First of all, rinse the fruit , weigh it, and put it into a preserving pan or large saucepan.  

To each 2lb of fruit add one pint of water.  Bring the mixture to the boil, stirring and crushing the fruit with a wooden spoon.  Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for 10-15 minutes until it reduces to a pulp.  Put the pulp into a jelly bag and leave it suspended over a bowl to allow the juice to filter through.  This normally takes 1-2 hours (or you can leave it overnight if you prefer).  Please resist the temptation to squeeze the bag to speed up the process - this will result in your jelly being cloudy.  Instead, take advantage of the break to do something different. Such as read one of my novels (click on the book covers on the right to find out more about them).

When the bag has stopped dripping, discard the pulp and measure the quantity of the juice which has collected in the bowl.  For each pint of liquid allow one kilo of jam sugar. Please note: ORDINARY SUGAR WON'T DO.  Jam sugar contains extra pectin, which means that your jelly will set with much less boiling and much less effort.

(Other brands of jam sugar are available)

Put the juice into a LARGE microwave-safe bowl.  The bowl needs to be no more than one-third full when cold, because the jelly will expand quite furiously as it boils.  If you have ended up with a lot of juice, you may find that you'll need to make the jelly in more than one batch.

Add one third of the sugar, stir well, then microwave for ten minutes.  Add the remaining sugar, stir well, then microwave for another ten minutes.  Stir again, then microwave for five minutes.  Stir again, then test the jelly by dipping a fork into it.  

If the jelly clings to the space between the prongs, it is ready.  If not, microwave again for another two minutes then test again.  Repeat as necessary.  Don't be deceived by the fact that at this stage the stuff will still look very runny - trust me, it will set as it cools. Do not overboil the jelly or it will set like concrete, and you won't be able to do anything with it except possibly give it to someone you don't like very much.

Put the jelly into clean jars and label them.  Throw the bowl and all the other odds and ends into the dishwasher, make yourself a cup of tea, put your feet up, and finish reading my novel.

Oh - and don't forget to spread the stuff on your toast in the morning.

Saturday, 9 July 2016


As those of you who know me at all well will no doubt testify, the S in my name does not stand for "serious".  I can normally be relied on to find some small vestige of humour in just about any situation.  Sadly, this cannot be said of the events of the past two weeks. So this, dear friends, is that most rare of commodities: a serious post.

I've just returned to the UK after a two-week holiday in France - a holiday which began on the day after the EU referendum result was announced, and a holiday throughout which I've constantly felt obliged to apologise for being English.  I felt distinctly uncomfortable in a country of the European Union when I came from a nation which had, only a few days earlier, voted (albeit by a narrow margin) in favour of leaving that same Union.

A few days into the holiday, I spotted a French news placard which announced that the UK had voted for Brexit and were now regretting it.  During the aftermath of the result, it gradually became apparent that a critical number of people who voted Leave had done so entirely for the wrong reasons, and were only now beginning to realise the long-term implications of what they had really voted for.

The EU referendum was not like electing a government, where mistakes made at one ballot box can be rectified a few years later at the next.  This was a once-in-a-generation decision which would have massive repercussions reaching far beyond the lifetimes of many of those who made it.  Unfortunately, media reports following the result now suggest that this message does not appear to have got through to a significant proportion of the electorate.

Some, thinking that it wouldn't affect them, failed to vote at all.  Others, convinced that Remain would win, voted Leave because they didn't think it would make any difference. Others saw their vote as nothing more than a protest vote against the government.  And others said they had voted Leave "to save the country from the Tories" - totally failing to realise that a Leave result would deliver the country straight into the hands of the xenophobic far-right.

But - and this is far more worrying - many others were taken in by what can only be described as one of the most despicable con-tricks of all time: the implication (put about by the Leave campaign) that a departure from the EU would result in a massive cash injection for the National Health Service.  The figure of £350 million, emblazoned on the side of the Vote Leave campaign bus, appeared to be convincing enough to sway a lot of previously undecided voters into voting Leave - believing that by doing so they would be helping to save the struggling NHS.  

Yet within hours of the referendum result being announced, UKIP leader and key pro-Leave campaigner Nigel Farage admitted on national television that the figure was "a mistake".  In other words, a lie.

Other people, unhappy with the EU rules on free movement throughout all member states, were seduced by the promise that Brexit would halt the high level of EU immigration into the UK. Some apparently even believed that if Leave won, then UK borders would be closed immediately and all the immigrants would disappear overnight.  The days following the referendum saw a massive increase in hate crime and racist abuse.  In fact, the free movement rules will continue to apply for as long as Britain remains in the EU (and possibly even after it has left) - during which time the number of UK immigrants may well go up rather than down.

So - no cash boost for the NHS, and no halt to immigration.  It was only when these facts became public knowledge that the people of the UK realised - alas, too late - the extent to which so many of their voters had been duped.

Since then, as the country plunged into political and economic chaos, it became hideously apparent that Brexit had no post-referendum action plan.  What is even more sickening is that two of Brexit's most prominent campaigners (Boris "I'm-Not-The-Person-To-Lead-This-Country" Johnson and Nigel "My-Work-Here-Is-Done-And-I-Want-My-Life-Back" Farage) have now turned their backs on it, leaving others to deal with the monster they have created.  

I'm not saying the EU is perfect - far from it.  Indeed, since the UK joined the European Economic Community (as it then was) back in 1973, the EEC has not only evolved into what is now the European Union but has also more than doubled in size - as a result of which its level of bureaucracy has increased exponentially.  And I'm quite prepared to accept that many people who voted Leave did so because, after careful consideration of the arguments for and against, they genuinely believe that the UK would be better off if we didn't belong.  

Fair enough.  If I could only be sure that this was the reasoning behind each and every Leave vote, rather than an ill-considered decision based on false promises made by people who had no intention of delivering them, I think I'd have a lot less difficulty coming to terms with the outcome.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

SHORE TO SHORE - an interview with Mariam Kobras

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming a very special friend to my blog: the fabulous Mariam Kobras.

Mariam and I started our writing careers at around the same time, though it took me rather longer to produce a published novel.  Mariam is the author of five wonderful books (details below), and her writing oozes quality in every paragraph.  

Welcome, Mariam!

What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I’d wanted to write for a long time before I actually started, but the story just hadn’t come alive for me. I was missing the right setting. I had this idea, but I didn’t know where to stage it. That changed when I visited Norway with a friend. We drove to the small town of Florø late one afternoon. It was raining, the ocean was grey and choppy, the air saturated with salt spray. I stood there on the small pier, right outside the yellow hotel that would become the home of Naomi Carlsson, the place where her long-lost love Jon would find her again. I knew I had arrived. This was the place where The Distant Shore would start!

That was the first full-length novel that I wrote. I had written a few short stories and essays before that, and I think I attempted a novel when I was a kid, but my first serious attempt was The Distant Shore. I started writing it when I was 53, just a few years ago. It took me a year to complete.

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

Right now I’m working on two projects. One is For the Fireflies, the last book in the Stone Series (The Distant Shore, Under the Same Sun, Song of the Storm, The Rosewood Guitar, Waiting for a Song). The first five books tell the story of Jon Stone, international rock star, and his beloved, Naomi Carlsson. For the Fireflies picks up a few years after Song of the Storm ends and tells the story of their children, Joshua and Allegra.

Joshua,a young grownup, can’t decide what he wants to do with his life. His education has prepared him to follow two paths: either become a composer/musician like his father, or take over the hotel empire from his mother’s family. To find out what he really wants from life he leaves his family and goes to Key West with friends. But his parents are never far away, and they’re always good for a surprise.

The other project that I’ve just started is a new romance/mystery series set on Vancouver Island, titled Sunset Bay.

Liese Winter, a luckless author in her mid-thirties, learns that she has inherited property on the wild, west coast of Vancouver Island. She travels there from her home in New York City only to discover there’s more to the inheritance than she expected. There are sinister forces at work. What is hiding in the forest? Are the people of the small town really as friendly as they seem? And why does the ex-cop Duncan seem to stalk her?

I’m writing this series with a co-author, and it’s so much fun!

What was the inspiration for this book?

The inspiration for Sunset Bay came to me when I visited friends in Vancouver. I asked them to take me to a place where the cedars grow all the way to the beach, and they did. I stood there on that beach and knew that I wanted to write about it.

Two years ago I returned and we visited Vancouver Island and drove all the way to Tofino.
I’ve never been to another place that’s this unique, this special in its own way. There it was, the dense cedar forest that bordered the dark, gloomy beaches, the driftwood tree trunks piled into impossible sculptures, the Pacific and its silver light.

The first time I stepped onto Chesterman Beach and saw that endless expanse of water my heart almost stopped. This, yes, this was where I wanted to set a novel, or better yet, a series of novels!

Strange, but now that I think about it, my books are generally inspired by places It’s almost as if the settings speak to me and whisper their secrets in my ears, and all I have to do is add characters and a story.

Did you do any research for the book?

Oh yes, two trips to Vancouver and Vancouver Island —remember, I live in Germany. It’s quite far from British Columbia—and I’m getting ready to go there again this September. This time, though, my research will be more specific, since I know what I need to know and see. I’ll visit the RCMP detachment in Tofino, the Tofino General Hospital, several resorts on the coast. I can hardly wait.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?

I get up around 10AM. I sleep late because I stay up late; my publisher is in the NYC area. We often talk when it’s late at night for me. I make some coffee, cuddle the cat, and then settle at my desk and write for two or three hours. The rest of the day I spend with my family, tweeting, Facebooking, being on Pinterest, blogging. All the internet stuff an author generally does. I’ve written and delivered six books in five years this way.

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

It’s pretty spontaneous. Some I steal from book covers on one of the shelves around me, some just happen. Generally the character comes with a name. They tell me their names when they first appear in the story.

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

Both. So far I’ve done really well with developing the story while writing, but I have a feeling that this doesn’t work too well with mystery. Thankfully my coauthor is a lot more organized and disciplined than I am. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more about writing in the next few years. Since we’re also good friends, we’re having fun writing together!

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

Oh dear… I’m afraid that’s a difficult question. I read so much, and I used to read even more before I started writing. I really love John Galsworthy (The Forsyte Saga) and his slow style of telling a story, Sigrid Undset (Kristin Lavransdottir) Sena Jeter Naslund (Ahab’s Wife), Vikram Seth (A Suitable Boy), and so many more!

I really love reading SciFi and Fantasy, too!

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

All of it is the best part! I love writing and making up stories, I love working with deadlines because they give me a purpose, I love talking about my books and my writing career. I love being an author! There hasn’t been a bad moment yet.

Now your books are published and ‘out there’ how do you feel?

Oh, it’s a great feeling. I can claim the time to write, and not feel bad about it, after years of being a housewife and mom I finally have a purpose that’s all my own. I can call myself an author! And I’m having fun. I get to travel, I have new and fascinating author friends who like to talk about writing as much as I do.

Well into my late middle-age I’m feel like a complete person.

Is there a message in any of your books? 

No… I don’t think so.

I write about love, about art and creativity, about music, about family and the love they have for each other.

The Stone Series is labelled romance, but it’s not the traditional boy meets girl, gets girl, loses girl, reunites with girl, live happily ever after kind of romance. My characters are real people with real troubles, sometimes they’re well-behaved, and sometimes they whine and complain, and they don’t always get what they want.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Yes. Stop talking about wanting to write, just do it. Butt in chair, write! It’s the only way you’ll ever get a novel written.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Well, the Stone Series is done. After six books I think I’ve explored their lives sufficiently. Once For the Fireflies is finished I’ll concentrate on Sunset Bay. By the way, if your readers would like to read For the Fireflies, they can sign up for my newsletter and read it as it comes out – one chapter at a time. A new adventure with new characters is waiting for me!

Thank you, Mariam, for a fascinating interview.  Please come again!

Three-time Independent Publisher's Book Award Winner, Mariam was born in Frankfurt, Germany. Growing up, she and her family lived in Brazil and Saudi Arabia before they decided to settle in Germany. Mariam attended school there and studied American Literature and Psychology at Justus-Liebig-University in Giessen. Today she lives and writes in Hamburg, Germany, with her husband, two sons, and two cats.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

SPIRIT OF PLACE - an interview with Shani Struthers

Today I'm thrilled to welcome the fabulous Shani Struthers to my blog.  Shani (it's pronounced to rhyme with "brainy" - and the resemblance doesn't end there!) is the author of the Psychic Surveys series of paranormal novels, the latest of which - 44 Gilmore Street - is released this coming Friday.

Welcome, Shani!

What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I’ve always written and became a freelance copywriter for the travel industry two years after leaving university – a job I still do. The first novel, however, was around four years ago and it was a romance called The Runaway Year, about three friends and their varied love lives set in the stunning surrounds of North Cornwall. Much to my surprise I got several offers of publication for that book and added a second to it, The Runaway Ex and a third, The Return. And then… I changed tack completely! I loved writing romance but my heart has always belonged to the paranormal and so, two years ago, I penned Psychic Surveys Book One: The Haunting of Highdown Hall, which become an Amazon bestseller!

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

44 Gilmore Street is the third book in a series of six concerning high street consultancy, Psychic Surveys, who specialise in domestic spiritual cleansing. Having problems of a ghostly nature in your house? It’s this team of freelance psychics, spearheaded by Ruby Davis you’re going to want to call! Rather than horror, each one is a paranormal mystery but the books do get darker.

What was the inspiration for this book?

A real-life business idea! My husband Rob is a Structural Engineer and on occasion, when called out to survey houses that people are moving into, he’s been asked by the client ‘do you think this house is okay, you know, you don’t think it’s haunted or anything?’ One day he replied that he did think the house he was surveying was haunted; there was a really bad feeling in one of the bedrooms. The client thought so too and was worried by it. When they moved in her son was supposed to sleep in that room but he refused. 

Calling Rob back to do some more work, she mentioned it to him and, it just so happens, that my mother has undertaken spiritual cleansing of rooms utilising purely holistic methods (ie Reiki and crystals). Rob offered her services, the woman accepted and Mum and her friend went along to tune-in. They got the impression someone had died there and carried out the usual psychic cleansing routine and all was well after that, the boy slept happily in his new room. Intrigued, the owner delved deeper into the history of the house and sadly, there had been a suicide there with negative residue perhaps lingering. 

Regarding making it a real business, it’s an ethical minefield, so I’ve taken the idea and reworked it in fiction instead!

Did you do any research for the book?

I know lots about the psychic world because of Mum; she’s had a life-long interest in it so I’ve been brought up with her talking about it. As a result, I see the paranormal as something completely normal, after all, why shouldn’t a spiritual world exist alongside our material one? It just makes sense to me. But yes, I do research as well, usually pointed in the right direction by Mum!

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

I have tried to plot them in advance but it just doesn’t work for me – the characters take on a life of their own and, in the end, write the novel for me. Trusting in them and the muse, I let them get on with it! Sometimes I do wish I could plot a bit more, it agitates me sometimes not knowing where it’s going but then it’s exciting too!

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

Just lately, Shirley Jackson who wrote The Haunting of Hill House – that book is a real lesson is less is more. Whilst writing Book One of my new series – This Haunted World Book One: The Venetian – I really tried to employ that ethos. I also love Susan Hill’s paranormal novellas, particularly The Woman in Black.

What can we expect from you in the future?

There’ll be three more in the Psychic Surveys series, another Christmas ghost novella and the launch of This Haunted World Book One: The Venetian, which is the first in a series of standalone novels set in and around the world’s most haunted places and mixing fact with fiction. The Venetian is set between Venice and Poveglia, the latter the ‘world’s most haunted island’.

More about 44 Gilmore Street:
“We all have to face our demons at some point.”

Psychic Surveys – specialists in domestic spiritual clearance – have never been busier. Although exhausted, Ruby is pleased. Her track record as well as her down-to-earth, no-nonsense approach inspires faith in the haunted, who willingly call on her high street consultancy when the supernatural takes hold.

But that’s all about to change.

Two cases prove trying: 44 Gilmore Street, home to a particularly violent spirit, and the reincarnation case of Elisha Grey. When Gilmore Street attracts press attention, matters quickly deteriorate. Dubbed the ‘New Enfield’, the ‘Ghost of Gilmore Street’ inflames public imagination, but as Ruby and the team fail repeatedly to evict the entity, faith in them wavers.

Dealing with negative press, the strangeness surrounding Elisha, and a spirit that’s becoming increasingly territorial, Ruby’s at breaking point. So much is pushing her towards the abyss, not least her own past. It seems some demons just won’t let go…

Psychic Surveys Book Three: 44 Gilmore Street

More about Shani:

I write ghost stories – vampires, werewolves and shape shifters need not apply! Influences include the great Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I’m also a mum of three children, and live in the funky city of Brighton with them, my husband and four mad cats. I’ve always loved reading and writing but occasionally I venture outdoors on sunny days and walk in the stunning green downs that surround us. Other pastimes include hanging out with friends and just having fun – life’s too short not to.

Social Media Links
Facebook Author Page:

Friday, 20 May 2016

SHARING SECRETS - an interview with Sally Quilford

Today I'm thrilled to welcome a very special guest to my blog.  Sally Quilford, the author of more than 20 novels, is the lady who taught me everything I know about writing romantic fiction.  Our paths first crossed a few years ago, when I signed up for one of her online workshops.  One of the results of that workshop was my novel Nice Girls Don't, and another was Miriam Drori's novel Neither Here Nor There - both of which went on to be published by Crooked Cat Publishing.  

Since then Sally and I have become firm friends, and she has continue to produce high-quality novels at a formidable rate (I wish I had a fraction of her productivity!), and today sees the launch of her latest work, The Secret of Lakeham Abbey, also published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

Welcome, Sally!  Tell me: what prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?

I’d always had some vague notion that I wanted to be a writer, but without ever having put pen to paper. I can’t pretend I was jotting down stories from the age of 3. I was something of a dreamer as a child, so the stories were all there in my head, usually with me as the heroine. I could quite happily get lost in my dream world for hours and hours, even when I was older and had my own children.

I was in my early thirties when I first started to write. I can’t remember the exact first thing I wrote, though the first thing I do remember clearly is a skit I wrote for my GCSE Literature class about the day in the life of an adult learner. My tutor was so impressed she arranged to have it published in a local adult education newsletter. I started by writing a lot of poetry, pouring out my angst onto paper. The same with my first novels. They always had a heroine who was very much me, with the same life experiences, particularly in childhood. I think it was my way of putting things right.

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

Young boy turns detective to save the family’s housekeeper from the gallows.

What was the inspiration for this book?

The Secret of Lakeham Abbey is a sort of unofficial sequel to an earlier novel of mine called The Dark Marshes. Like The Secret of Lakeham Abbey, The Dark Marshes was an epistolary novel, featuring characters from the Marsh and Lakeham family. But it’s set some 80 years before The Secret of Lakeham Abbey, so it’s not an actual sequel. I just had a hankering to go back to Lakeham Abbey, to see how the families had fared since. To me, the house is a character in its own right, and it was the effects of living in that house I wanted to explore. I also feel I’ll go back to it one day, though I can’t decide if I’m going to jump another couple of generations or let Percy Sullivan go back and investigate there!

Did you do any research for the book?

Although I write novels set in a historical period, I’m not a historical novelist. So I only ever do as much research as I need to tell my story. So I researched rationing after the war, the Berlin Airlift (just to set the date of the novel in readers’ minds) and women who were hanged. Oh and the difference between Tuscan and Etruscan pottery! (Hint: There isn’t any difference). The rest I more or less made up.

The Secret of Lakeham Abbey is a slight departure from your usual genre.  What made you decide to write something different?

I don’t know that it’s that much of a departure. I’ve always written romantic intrigue with a suitably high body count. It’s just that with The Secret of Lakeham Abbey I decided to push the romance to the background, and concentrate on the investigation. Though to be honest, it didn’t start out that way. The story was supposed to be Anne and Guy’s. But then Percy Sullivan stuck his nose in and told me that actually it was his story. I suppose it is a departure in that the sleuth is a child and I’d never written a story from a child’s point of view before. That set its own challenges, as whilst Percy was the main character, I didn’t want to write a children’s book, and with the setting being the late forties, there was a danger it could come across as a bit twee. So it was a conscious decision to have him swearing the first time he met Anne, so that the reader knows we’re not in Enid Blyton country.

The story is written in epistolary form.  What made you decide on this style?

The unofficial prequel, The Dark Marshes, was also in epistolary form, so it seemed right that this one should be too. But I’m addicted to the form anyway. Some of my favourite novels are epistolary, including The Woman in White, The Moonstone, Dracula, Les Liaisons Dangereuses and more recently The Book of Human Skin. I love exploring the different voices, and also peppering clues throughout everyone’s account of the events, so that eventually, from mere snippets, we get the whole story.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?

You know me, Sue. Wake up, make a cup of tea. Log onto Facebook. Decide around 10am that I ought to do something. Write for about three hours – I’m a touch typist so can get an awful lot done in a short time when a story is in my head – then back onto Facebook. Though I do have other things to do. Until recently I was on the Romantic Novelists Association Committee, organizing their parties, and taking part in other committee related tasks. And I’ve got grandchildren and am apparently the best babysitter in the world (I’m cheap and can be had for the price of a breakfast at my favourite watering hole).

How do you decide on the names for your characters?

Obviously I give some thought to the era, and what was popular, but mostly the characters tell me their own names. Until I have a name, I don’t really have a character. That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes completely change them!

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

I’m very much a seat of my pants writer, though sometimes I may write down a very quick – no more than 500 words – summary of where I see it going. But that’s not set in stone, and as I said earlier, I can start off with one idea – telling Anne and Guy’s story – then change it as the story demands.

Which writers have influenced your own writing?

From the point of view of epistolary novels, Wilkie Collins and Choderlos de Laclos, plus others mentioned above. For the crime element, it’s Agatha Christie all the way. As for romance, I used to read loads of Barbara Cartland, though her particular ‘values’ are very out of date now. And I have devoured dozens of Mills and Boon novels. Kate Walker is my particular favourite. Her novels are so emotional and beautifully written.

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

The best is getting new idea and not being able to do anything else until it’s written. I absolutely love that feeling. The worst is the opposite feeling, when even if I have ideas, they won’t flow and I can’t write until I have a story almost complete in my head.

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

Elated, and very excited to be working with a new publisher. I haven’t worked with Crooked Cat before, but it’s been a lovely experience. Everyone is so friendly and also very sympathetic to the writer’s wishes.

Is there a message in your book? 

I don’t think so. I never set out to be didactic. I always think I’m here to entertain, not to preach. But if anyone takes a message from the book, I hope it’s to believe in yourself. Neither Percy nor his mother do believe in themselves, yet they both have more strength than they realise.

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Don’t let anyone else tell you that you can’t be a writer. I know from personal experience that it’s very easy to get disheartened when someone who claims to be an expert tells you that you’re doing it all ‘wrong’.

Yes, if you want to be published you have to write to the market, but you can still write whatever you want. Don’t be ashamed of being a genre writer, if that’s where your imagination takes you.

What can we expect from you in the future?

I am hoping to revisit Lakeham Abbey sometime in the future, and also to revisit Percy Sullivan. Whether I combine the two is another matter, as I fancy taking Percy to new places. At the moment I’m working on a Christmas themed novel for My Weekly Pocket Novels, and in June, seven of my stories will appear in one issue of the My Weekly Summer Special. Plus, I have an idea for a saga. Then there’s another idea about… I’m not short of ideas. Just short of the time to write them all!

You can find out more about Sally on her blog.  

The Secret of Lakeham Abbey is available from Amazon UK, Amazon US and Smashwords.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

I HAVE A CUNNING PLAN - an interview with Astrid Arditi

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming the lovely Astrid Arditi to my blog.  Astrid's debut novel, A Cunning Plan, is published by Crooked Cat this coming Friday.

Welcome, Astrid!  What prompted you to first start writing? What was the first thing you wrote?
There never was a time when I didn’t write. Even as a kid. Books have always been my friends and making up stories is just a derivative of my love of reading. Before writing full length novels, I wrote a story for kids called Tom and the Sock Nibbler where I explore the strange disappearance of socks in my hous 

Can you summarise your latest work in just a few words?
A Cunning Plan is the story of Sloane Harper, freshly divorced housewife, who decides to put her family back together for her daughters’ sake. Then she meets Ethan Cunning, a handsome IRS agent, and that sends her life spinning out of control.

What was the inspiration for this book?
Most women in my life and their incapacity to see how wonderful and deserving of happiness they truly are.

Did you do any research for the book?
Not really. I’m too lazy to actually do research which is why I love fiction. I just make it up as I go.

What does a typical writing day involve for you?
I try to write a couple hours every day, in the morning, sitting in my favorite cafĂ© while my daughter is in nursery. I don’t need more time because my brain fries after three hours of writing top anyway.

How do you decide on the names for your characters?
Some names I choose according to their function in the story or a quality that defines them – Ethan Cunning for instance. I browse baby names sites a lot as well.

Do you plot your novels in advance, or allow them to develop as you write?
I do a lot of free writing at the beginning to let the story come to life. When I feel confident enough that my characters have substance, I let them run wild and follow closely on their heels, jotting down what they do or say.

Which writers have influenced your own writing?
Janet Evanovich is a big source of inspiration for me. Just love her Stephanie Plum series. I love Helen Fielding as well. My tastes in books are pretty eclectic so my writing is a mix of many different genres and influence.

What has been the best part of the writing process…and the worst?
I love making friends with my characters, seeing them come alive and surprise me. It never ceases to amaze me.
I hate it when the story seems stuck or stilted. Those days I just step away, forget about writing altogether and wait for a way out of the hole I’ve dug for my story.

Now the book is published and ‘out there’ how do you feel?
I still can’t believe it’s real! The publishing process is an ongoing one so I never stopped to celebrate properly. Need to open a nice bottle of champagne and relax for a night.

Is there a message in your book? 
I thought of my daughter a lot while writing this book. I wish I could save her the heartache insecurities bring. So I guess the message would be: Believe in yourself and don’t let anyone take you down.

Do you have any advice for new writers?
Keep writing, trust that you have something unique to say, believe in yourself.

What can we expect from you in the future?
Book 2 in the Sloane Harper series, hopefully.

That sounds like a plan!  Good luck, and thank you for visiting.  Please come again!


Determined to put her family back together, Sloane Harper stalks her ex husband and his annoyingly stunning mistress, Kate. But she’s not the only one. Handsome IRS agent Ethan Cunning is surveying them too, but not for the same reasons. He is attempting to nail Kate’s playboy boss.
Ethan and Sloane decide to help each other, which sends Sloane’s wobbly life spinning out of control. She’ll have to face danger, humiliation, and scariest of all, the dating scene, to lure her daughters’ father home.
Losing control was the best thing to happen to Sloane… until it turned lethal.



Astrid Arditi was born to a French father and a Swedish mother. She lived in Paris and Rome before moving to London with her husband and daughter back in 2013.  After dabbling in journalism, interning at Glamour magazine, and teaching kindergarten, Arditi returned to her first love: writing.  She now splits her time between raising her kids (a brand new baby boy just joined the family) and making up stories.  A Cunning Plan is Arditi's first published work.

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Wednesday, 20 April 2016

SHAKESPEARE SPECIAL - and an extra-special offer

This coming Saturday (23 April 2016) commemorates the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare.  Many people believe that he was England's greatest ever poet and playwright.  Whether or not this is true is a matter of personal opinion, but in any case he's definitely up there with the front runners.

One thing which cannot be disputed is how much Shakespeare has contributed to the English language. A surprisingly large number of words and phrases in common use today were first penned by the Bard himself.  If you're on a wild goose chase and find yourself neither here nor there, feeling faint-hearted (having not slept one wink), waiting with bated breath for the naked truth, and all of a sudden find yourself saying "Good riddance" as those who have eaten you out of house and home whilst playing "Knock, knock, who's there?" vanish into thin air - you are quoting Shakespeare. The world is [your] oyster, but for goodness sake, don't wear your heart on your sleeve and end up looking a sorry sight in a fool's paradise.  Truth will out, and it's a foregone conclusion that you can still have too much of a good thing.

The Bard of Avon has certainly inspired much of my own writing.  One of my first successes as a poet was winning a limerick competition, in which I summed up the plot of Macbeth in five lines:

On the strength of a witches' conjection 
a regicide's planned to perfection, 
but revenge is prepared 
by a tree-moving laird 
who'd been born by Caesarean section.

One of my long-term projects is to produce a limerick for each of the plays.  That's still very much a work in progress, but in the meantime, two of Shakespeare's other plays - Romeo & Juliet and Julius Caesar - formed the basis of two of my novels.

The Ghostly Father takes a new look at Romeo & Juliet, and asks the question "What might have happened if the events of the story had taken a different turn?"  If, like me, you love the original story but hate the ending, here is your chance to read an alternative version - one with a few new twists and a whole new outcome.

The Unkindest Cut of All is a murder mystery set in a theatre, during an amateur dramatic society's performance of Julius Caesar.  What really happened to the actor playing the title role, during the final performance on the infamous Ides of March?

Shakespeare-themed celebrations will be taking place all through the anniversary weekend.  My humble contribution to these celebrations is to offer a special discount on the ebooks of these Shakespeare-inspired titles.  For a few days only, they will cost you just 99p each.  That's two books for less than the price of a regular cup of arty-farty coffee.  And if you usually prefer to spend a little more and go for a large coffee, then why not splash out another 99p and treat yourself to my other novel, Nice Girls Don't, which is also reduced?  This book isn't directly Shakespeare-themed, but the Bard does get a couple of mentions.

Click on the book covers on the right to be taken to your local Amazon links. And you'll still come away with change from £3.

Happy reading!