Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Please welcome fellow author...

...Janice Preston, to the blog. 

JP  Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog.
AW  You’re very welcome, Janice.  So, tell me, what is your current release?
JP  The Governess’s Secret Baby – a gothic-style Regency beauty and the beast story, with a scarred hero, a secret baby and Christmas! This is the fourth book in The Governess Tales series, each book having been penned by a different author. It is a standalone story, so it isn’t necessary to read the others to enjoy The Governess’s Secret Baby. The first chapter is available to read on my website www.janicepreston.co.uk

AW   What first got you into writing and why?
JP  I loved writing stories as a child but somehow real life got in the way and as an adult I had no thought of writing, although I still made up stories in my head. Usually with a gorgeous hero! I rediscovered my love of the Regency era (via the novels of Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen and also contemporary authors) when my children left home. Inevitably, there came the day when I read a book and thought ‘I could do better than that!’ (Not, I hasten to add, after reading Austen or Heyer!) And that was it. I began to write.

AW  You write Historical Romance novels.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
JP  As my books are set in the Regency era there is always a certain amount of research. I have read widely about the Regency era and so I do have a ‘feel’ for the times, but there are always details that need researching. And it is not always the history that needs to be checked. The hero in The Governess’s Secret Baby keeps hawks and is rehabilitating a golden eagle to the wild, and so I went on a bird of prey experience to get a feel for handling and flying the birds. That was huge fun!

AW  And what about other types of writing?  Have you ever dabbled with short stories, for instance, or other genres?
JP  My very first published work was a contemporary short story – a romance – which was published in an anthology. Other than that, I have written a crime novel, which needs a huge edit before I can do anything with it, and I have the beginning of a fantasy novel – a modern take on the Little Mermaid fairy tale, which won the Elizabeth Goudge trophy at the RNA conference in 2014. I will one day complete that story, but the scale of it does scare me a bit – I know where it is going, and it’s quite complex! Shortage of time is a constant problem.

Janice's writing 'shed'
AW  Famous authors, such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas, had a special space for writing.  Do you have a writing ‘shed’ of your own?
JP  Our loft has been converted into a third bedroom, which in reality is my office with a sofa bed, and with a gallery landing area that forms my husband’s office. So, we both work up in the eaves with far-reaching views. The downside of this is that my husband now runs his own company and spends quite a lot of his time on the phone. Not helpful when I am in the middle of a romantic scene especially as he has a loud voice! There are times when I long for one of those garden rooms at the bottom of the garden, with no internet and no husband, just plenty of coffee. I need peace and quiet to lose myself in my writing. From the photo, you can see how messy I am when I’m working – my desk gets a good tidy up between books, but piles of paper and books soon accumulate again!

AW  Finally, if you had a whole afternoon to yourself and could choose to spend it with any one individual, living or dead or a character from a book, who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
JP  There’s an interesting question. I’m going to rebel and give you two people.
AW  Rebel!  Others have tried that, Janice, and have been brought to book accordingly.  But I will listen before I decide whether I should press you to choose only one individual.
JP  First, I would spend it with my mum, who died fifteen years ago. She knew I had started writing, but never read anything I wrote and of course never knew I was published. I’m sure she would be proud – and she would remember when I was at primary school and used to say I was going to be an author when I grew up! As for what else we’d talk about… family, of course, in particular my 4-year-old grandson, and there are many things I wish I’d said while she was still alive. One of my biggest regrets is that I left things unsaid.
Second, it would have to be Jane Austen. How fascinating it would be to talk to someone who actually lived in the era I write about. I would ask her all sorts of details about everyday life, and I’m sure she would keep me entertained with her wickedly witty observations of human behavior in all its absurdity.
AW  I know exactly where you’re coming from in relation to your mum.  My dad hasn't seen my work in print, not even my earliest short story.  I’m also a lover of Austen… so under these particular circumstances I’m happy for you to rebel!
JP  Thanks again for having me, Angela, and for asking such thought provoking questions!
AW My pleasure.

About the book... The beauty who tamed the beast
New governess Grace Bertram will do anything to get to know her young daughter, Clara. Even if it means working for Clara's guardian, the reclusive and scarred Nathaniel, Marquess of Ravenwell!
Nathaniel believes no woman could ever love a monster like him, until Grace seems to look past his scars to the man beneath But when he discovers Grace is Clara's mother, Nathaniel questions his place in this torn-apart family. Could there be a Christmas happy-ever-after for this beauty and the beast?
You can find the book : http://mybook.to/SecretBaby

About the author... Janice Preston writes emotional, sensual and satisfying Regency romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon. She grew up in Wembley with a love of reading, writing stories and animals and has worked as a dairy farmer, a police call-handler and a university administrator. She has two children, two step-children (all now adult) and a gorgeous, cheeky grandson. She now lives in the West Midlands with her husband and two cats and enjoys swimming, yoga and pottering about the garden when the sun is shining.
You find Janice online : www.janicepreston.co.uk   Facebook   Twitter   Amazon  and  Goodreads 

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

An interesting read...

 ... is Caroline Moorehead's book, 'Village of Secrets'.  I read it a short while ago whilst I was travelling in France.  Read on to find out more... 

I found this book fascinating, and although it is factual, it is written in an easy narrative style.  Being about France during the war, I had to have my map open as I was reading and I now have a new area of the country to visit - and I will do so at some future date.

The area in question is on the eastern side of Le Puy-en-Velay.  This is the Ardèche and the principle village in this true story is that of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon.  It's a vary scenic area with the village surrounded by thick forest of oak and pine on the Vivarais plateau - a remote place.  Looking at the map it reminded me of the Vercors, another area of France with a very different story to tell and I'm planning on spending some more time there soon.

Just why and how the inhabitants of Le Chambon and the outlying villages came to save thousands wanted by the Gestapo is difficult to put into a nutshell.  But save people - many of them children and babies whose parents had been deported to the camps in Poland and Germany - is exactly what they did.  And you have to keep in mind that a lot of these villagers were just ordinary French people, farmers, drovers, the local bar owner or teacher. In addition the villagers surrounded themselves with a wall of silence, which proved very difficult for the opposing forces to break.  And after the war, Le Chambon became the only village to be listed in its entirety in Yad Vashem's Dictionary of the Just.

This is very much a factual book, but Caroline Moorehead brings the story to life with her easy flowing narrative.  She demonstrates the outstanding courage and determination of this small group of people who came together to oppose the rule of the occupying forces.

The book covers the whole period of the 1939-45 war, prior to the occupation in the north and western seaboard and the creation of the unoccupied Vichy France in the south.  I've visited the town of, and the area that once was, Vichy and have often wondered about the history behind this most difficult time in French history.  This book provides many detailed insights in a non-judgemental way.  

An amazing read, carefully researched with an extensive bibliography at the back so I have earmarked other items to read.  However, because of the subject matter, I found that I was sometimes moved to tears.  You may need a hanky or two to get through to the last page.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Seeing the colours...

... I had the opportunity, at the last minute, to see the Georgia O'Keefe exhibition at the Tate last month...

London, looking from the Southbank
The gallery had opened in June and this was my very first visit to the building.  The tube dropped me off in Southwark, the birth place of a number of generations of my ancestors.  As I took the short stroll from the station to the gallery I couldn't help but wonder what the streets would have looked like to those earlier generations.  In amongst the modern buildings were much older ones that were now apartments and belying their previous industrial past.  As I walked by the old pub on Great Suffolk Street, I wondered if any of my ancestors might have spent any time there.

The Tate is a stunning piece of modern architecture that has been blended with an existing old building.  In no way is it out of place here.  As I find the right floor for the exhibition I am distracted by the glorious views of the city on the north bank.  St Paul's is standing head and shoulders above other buildings.  And no, despite the name I can't claim Sir Christopher as a direct ancestor.  But I like to think that maybe we share some ancient link.

Oriental Poppies*
Georgia O'Keefe was an abstractionist - this is new terminology to me.  It was her paintings of the New York skyline and flowers that first drew my attention to her some 10 or so years ago.  Then, in 2014, I read in the paper, that her 1932 painting 'Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1' had sold for $44.4m and I knew I had to know more about her and her work.

I skipped some of the early rooms so that I could see the flower paintings and they are truly stunning.  As I stood in front of Jimson Weed I marvelled at the price for the canvas, which is a fairly modest 120cms by 100cms.  Apparently, if you stack 1m dollar bills they will reach a height of over 300ft.  Add another 43 blocks of greenbacks to that and you would probably be way out in space somewhere, I think!  Then another equally bizarre thought struck me, if the ;purchaser had insisted on paying for the painting in actual paper money, where would the bank put all those dollar bills?  Hmmm...

White Rose*
What particularly mesmerises me about the flower paintings are the colours which display the shapes of the leaves and petals.  A friend of mine, a painter also, once told me that instead of looking for the shapes she 'looked for the light and shade in the colours'.  I stand before each canvas and try to do the same.  

O'Keefe died in 1986 and the commentary that accompanied the exhibition includes recordings of her talking about her work.  I'm fascinated to hear that she sees the colours.  After a whole afternoon with such amazing pieces of art, I think I half-way know what she means. 

* In the shop at the Tate it is possible to buy little pieces of Georgia O'Keefe's work in the form of cards like these - so I did!

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The first snows of winter...

... arrive in the village of Messandrierre...

The Haute Cévennes is a sparse and rugged area of the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France.  In a moment the weather can change from bright sunshine to howling rain and thunder.  In autumn, the temperature drops and overnight can often be below freezing. I managed to capture the dramatic changes in the weather on one of my many visits to the area a few years ago.  That visit became the inspiration for my story and the begining of my journey to publication.

An extract from Messandrierre...

Crossing the col to Rieutort
it begins

I died beneath a clear autumn sky in September, late in September when warm cévenol afternoons drift into cooler than usual evenings before winter steals down from the summit of Mont Aigoual.
My shallow grave lies in a field behind an old farmhouse. There was no ceremony to mark my death and no mourners, just a stranger in the darkness spading soil over my body. Only the midnight clouds cried for me as they carried their first sprinkling of snow to the tiny village of Messandrierre.
My innocent white coverlet allowing the earth around me to shift and settle unseen and become comfortable again. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The Scottish Diamond...

... friend and author, Helena Fairfax, joins me today to talk about her love of romance
Helena Fairfax

I love romantic suspense – J.D. Robb, Nora Roberts, and the old classics like Mary Stewart - but up until a couple of years ago it had never crossed my mind to have a try at writing in this genre.  One day, though, I saw a call for submissions for a romantic suspense anthology.  My mind began working subconsciously in that “What if…?” kind of way and shortly after seeing the call an idea for a story popped into my head, and I really wanted to write it down.
The story I dreamed up was a classic doppelgänger suspense, with a princess vanished in mysterious circumstances and a heroine who looks enough like her to play her part.  Added to that was a handsome bodyguard, a housekeeper as creepy as Mrs. Danvers, and a dramatic twist that surprised the heroine – and almost ruined everything for her.
To cut a long story short (pardon the pun!) the anthology didn’t go ahead, but the agent who had intended to put it together emailed me to tell me how much she’d loved my short story, and how she thought I should expand it into a novella.
I’d loved my characters, too, and I loved the idea of making the story longer, and especially of getting to know my bodyguard hero better.  And that’s how my novella Palace of Deception came about.
I released Palace of Deception last year as an eBook, and it will be published in large print next year.  (At the moment, I’m offering all new subscribers to my newsletter a FREE copy of Palace of Deception.  You can subscribe here:  http://eepurl.com/bRQtsT)
I thought Palace of Deception would be the end of my foray into romantic suspense but Lizzie and Léon – my Mediterranean bodyguard and Scottish heroine – refused to bow out so easily.
Palace of Deception is set in Montverrier – a fictional Mediterranean principality – and I couldn’t help wondering what would happen to Léon when he travelled with Lizzie to her home in Edinburgh at the end of the story.  How would a hot-blooded Mediterranean bodyguard fit in in this dark, chilly city in the north?  Would their relationship survive the move?  And then what if danger followed them…?
The Scottish Diamond follows the fortunes of Lizzie and Léon in Scotland.  Edinburgh has been at the centre of some thrilling and dramatic events in history, from the siege of Edinburgh Castle in the fourteenth century, to the brutal murder of Mary Queen of Scots’ private secretary in her rooms at Holyrood Palace, to the capture and imprisonment of Highland rebels in the Jacobite revolution. This beautiful and unique city lends itself perfectly to mystery and romance.
The Scottish Diamond of the title of my novella belonged to the fictional aristocratic Falmire family.  In 1745, Lord Falmire fought in the Jacobite revolution, and was forced to flee to my fictional Mediterranean country of Montverrier, taking the diamond with him.  While in Montverrier, he played cards with the Montverrian prince, and…  Well, you’ll have to read the rest of the story to find out what happens to the diamond in the present day!
The Scottish Diamond was great fun to write, and the Edinburgh setting added enormously to the mystery and romance of the tale.
I’ve now released both novellas – Palace of Deception and The Scottish Diamond, in one boxed set along with a short story that provides an epilogue to Lizzie and Léon’s story.  The collection is called A Year of Light and Shadows.

About the books : A Year of Light and Shadows contains three romantic mysteries in one volume.
Palace of Deception
From the heat of the Mediterranean....
When the Princess of Montverrier goes missing, Lizzie Smith takes on the acting job of her life.  Alone and surrounded by intrigue in the Royal Palace, she relies on her quiet bodyguard, Léon.  But who is he really protecting?  Lizzie... or the Princess?
The Scottish Diamond
To the heart of Scotland...
Home in Scotland, Lizzie begins rehearsals for Macbeth, and finds danger stalking her through the streets of Edinburgh.  She turns to her former bodyguard, Léon, for help - and discovers a secret he'd do anything not to reveal...
A Question by Torchlight
A story of mystery and romance...
The approach of Hogmanay in Edinburgh means a new year and new resolutions.  Lizzie and Léon have put their year of danger behind them.  But something is still troubling Léon, and Lizzie fears the worst...
BUY LINKS: A Year of Light and Shadows is available on pre-order on Amazon: http://mybook.to/lightandshadows
and on Kobo https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/a-year-of-light-and-shadows
and other major e-tailers. The print version is coming soon.
About the author : Helena Fairfax writes engaging contemporary romances with sympathetic heroines and heroes she's secretly in love with. Her novels have been shortlisted for several awards, including the Exeter Novel Prize, the Global EBook Awards, the I Heart Indie Awards, and the UK's Romantic Novelists' Association New Writers' Scheme Award.
Helena is a British author who was born in Uganda and came to England as a child. She's grown used to the cold now, and these days she lives in an old Victorian mill town in the north of England, right next door to the windswept Yorkshire moors. She walks this romantic landscape every day with her rescue dog, finding it the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

Follow Helena : If you’d like to get in touch, or find out more about my books, writing, and photos of my settings or the Yorkshire moors where I live, please follow my newsletter by subscribing here: http://eepurl.com/bRQtsT
All new subscribers to my newsletter will receive a FREE copy of Palace of Deception – the first book in the collection A Year of Light and Shadows
You can also visit me on my website at www.helenafairfax.com, or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/HelenaFairfax/, or Twitter https://twitter.com/HelenaFairfax