Monday, 24 August 2015

Back to Work?

I had meant to take only one week off from social media and blogging while our visitors were here but I needed another week after they'd gone as I was completely out of work mode! That's not a problem since I believe regular breaks help us to unwind and refocus. It took me until yesterday to start organising and sorting all the bits and pieces of necessary admin and such like so I could begin to feel in control again.

We had a really lovely week with my sis-in-law and her husband and it was a good excuse for us to revisit some of our favourite places. I always manage to get new photos, even though I'm never in any of them, which is fine by me except when I'm looking for an up-to-date photo of me for an article or someone's blog post.

As well as Loch Lomond and Luss, we went further south to Ayrshire one of the days, then across the River Clyde to a wonderful farm estate, Ardardan Walled Garden, we discovered recently which has an excellent cafe. I love the fact the animals are all around for children to see (and adults like me). There was quite a noise from the long hen house where the the occupants clucked in and out and wandered freely around the open space. I loved the Kiwi pig who kindly looked up so I could take a photo!

It was sad to see our visitors head back to North Wales, although we love visiting them down there and hopefully we'll see them again soon. Meantime, I'm still a bit behind with writing projects and especially the newsletter which I hope to remedy soon. Somehow, I think it's more important to get out and about being inspired by nature and interesting places, some of which will no doubt end up in another story or novel.

Hope everyone is enjoying the last days of summer!

Monday, 10 August 2015

Taking a Break

We have my sister-in-law and husband coming to stay this week, arriving later today, so we're taking a break too so we can enjoy getting out and about since it's ages since they were up in Scotland and we're really looking forward to spending time with them. It's a great excuse to revisit some of my favourite places and eat out a few times! And, of course, a writer's mind is ever observing and taking note of anything interesting for future stories or articles.

I did, however, promise to visit the Erskine Library with other members of our writing group on Wednesday afternoon and hope to still take part in that - it's during the week-long festival and this gives our writing group, and its authors, some publicity. I'm sure husband and visitors will enjoy an afternoon to themselves while I'm there.

I mentioned on Facebook last night that I had just watched wonderful film, The Shawshank Redemption, for only the second time and my post elicited a lot of comments from people who also love the film. I haven't read the book of stories it appears in, Different Seasons, by Stephen King, but I'll now get around to it at some point. I usually detest prison films but this was so compelling, partly because of the main actors, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, and the interesting characters they portrayed so well.

I'm sure most people will have see the film by now, even if they haven't read the book, but there's a good overview written a while back by one of my fellow Crooked Cat authors, Nik Morton, which you can find here.

And talking of Crooked Cat - their great Summer Sale is on this week and many of the books are on special offer at only 99p (99c) on Amazon. I let The Highland Lass go into it too as lots of people love a bargain!

Hope you have a good week.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Author Inspiration: Helena Fairfax

I’m delighted to welcome lovely writing and blogging friend Helena Fairfax to the Reading and Writing blog again. I loved Helena’s previous romance stories, The Silk Romance and The Antique Love and at the moment I’m thoroughly enjoying her new novella Palace of Deception. I also have her full length novel, A Way from Heart to Heart, waiting on my bookshelf and I know to expect a very good read. Helena has kindly agreed to share a little about the inspiration for her new novella. But first the intriguing blurb.

Palace of Deception

A sinister housekeeper, a silent bodyguard, and a missing princess - mystery and intrigue in a gripping romantic suspense.

When Princess Charlotte of Montverrier disappears on the eve of her Investiture, Lizzie Smith takes on the acting job of her life.

But in the run up to the ceremony, all is not what it seems in the Palace of Montverrier. Why does the housekeeper insist Lizzie keep to her suite of rooms? What danger lies outside the palace walls? As Lizzie learns her role, her only confidant is Léon, her quiet bodyguard…but what secrets is he keeping from her? And above all, what has happened to the missing Princess?

Mystery and suspense against the backdrop of a beautiful Mediterranean city.

Palace of Deception is available on AmazonUSAmazon UK; Amazon CA and other international Amazon stores, and will be available in other formats from November.

Lovely to ‘see’ you, Helena and so pleased we met in person again at the recent Romantic Novelists’ weekend conference. Thank you for the great post – I too enjoy stories about Doppelgängers!

Why I Love Stories about Doppelgängers

There’s a long tradition of stories about doppelgängers – or look-alikes - in film and literature. Stories like A Tale of Two Cities, Vertigo, The Comedy of Errors, Dead Ringers, or The Parent Trap. My favourite doppelgänger story of all time has to be The Prisoner of Zenda. In case you don’t know this tale, it’s about a young Englishman who takes a holiday to a small European country. There he discovers that he’s the double of the heir, Rudolf V, who has been kidnapped. It’s a really exciting, swashbuckling story, with a massively attractive baddie in the form of Rupert of Hentzau (played by the fabulous James Mason in the film).

When I first started writing my romantic suspense, I thought it would be good fun to join in this long literary tradition. My heroine, Lizzie Smith, is so like Princess Charlotte of Montverrier, she’s asked to take her part when the princess disappears in mysterious circumstances. Lizzie spends five weeks shut up alone in a suite of rooms in the Palace of Montverrier practising for her role, with only Léon, her handsome bodyguard, for company. Of course, there has to be a baddie to add an edge of suspense to the story, and my baddie appears in the form of Daria, the Palace’s mysterious housekeeper.

Here’s a scene when all three are getting to know one another:

‘The King is far too unwell to leave his room in the hospital.’ The chill in Daria’s expression dropped another degree. ‘We must pray that the King does not die before the Princess has been crowned next-in-line. If he does, it will leave the throne empty and – ’
She broke off. Finally, she had shown some emotion. What was it she was afraid of? I remembered the angry words daubed outside the Cathedral. Just how dangerous were the protesters? My eyes flew to Léon, standing in the doorway. Beside the forbidding housekeeper, his presence was solid and reassuring.
   His eyes met mine. ‘You have nothing to fear, Lizzie.’
   The tension left my shoulders. There was something uncomplicated about Léon that drew my trust. And after all, what could happen to me in a Palace so well guarded?
   ‘Very well,’ I said. ‘And now I’d like to ask you both a favour. Please don’t think of me as Lizzie Smith. I’d like you to start addressing me as you would the Princess.’ I smiled, indicating my travel-stained jeans and flat pumps. ‘It might seem strange to you, when I’m dressed like this, but I need to immerse myself in my role.’
   Léon nodded and gave a small bow of his head. ‘Very well, Your Highness.’
   I was taken aback by the promptness of his response, and so I almost missed the remarkable change in Daria’s features. Her eyes flashed fury. I thought for a split second I must have imagined it. What could possibly have caused such anger? Even after her expression returned to its blank chill, her cheeks remained mottled with red.
   After a short pause, she said, ‘Very good.’ And then, after another telling hesitation, ‘Your Highness.’
   I tried to hide my dismay. I had no wish to provoke a quarrel. Over the housekeeper’s shoulder, Léon continued to look at me, straight faced. And then one corner of his mouth lifted in a brief smile and, unbelievably, he gave me a reassuring wink.

Why is the housekeeper so furious with Lizzie? Who are the protesters outside the Palace? And is Léon really to be trusted?

I hope you’ve enjoyed my excerpt, and a small taste of the secrets and deception in the Palace of Montverrier. If you’d like to hear more, you can find me on my website, or on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Thanks so much for having me, Rosemary!

It’s been a pleasure, Helena!

Helena Fairfax 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 Yorkshire, in the north of England. After many years working in factories and dark, satanic mills, Helena has turned to writing full-time. Her first novel, 

The Silk Romance, was a contender for the Romantic Novelists' Association New Writers' Scheme Award and a runner-up in the Global Ebook Awards. Since then, Helena has written lots more stories, and she was recently a finalist in the Exeter Novel Prize.

In her spare time, Helena walks the Yorkshire moors every day with her rescue dog, finding this romantic landscape the perfect place to dream up her heroes and her happy endings.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Nostalgia of Golden Age Crime

The last couple of weeks, I was delighted to discover a re-run of the Dorothy L Sayers Mysteries on the TV Drama programme. I missed the first story where Lord Peter Wimsey met Harriet Vane and helped to exonerate her when she stood accused for murder, but I was totally engrossed in the next couple of stories. I loved Edward Petherbridge's wonderful portrayal of Lord Peter and Harriet Walters intelligent Miss Vane.

I've always loved the 'golden age' of crime novels: D.L.Sayers; Ngaio Marsh; Gladys Mitchell; Marjery Allingham and Agatha Christie. Although we have endless adaptations of Christie novels on TV, the others seem to be rarely filmed. A while back, I did catch the splendid series of Gladys Mitchell adaptations starring Diana Rigg as psychological sleuth, Mrs Adela Bradley.

I used to have many of the old paperbacks but they were so tattered that we got rid of them. My aim is to replace them at some point when I decide what other books are staying and which are going from the overcrowded shelves! Do you have a favourite golden age crime novelist or character?


Thursday, 30 July 2015

The Highland Lass Scottish Setting in Print

I've been so excited the last couple of days when I found out that The Highland Lass is now in print! This is a dream come true for this book of my heart and even though e-books are hugely popular now, and I read that way myself at night, I particularly wanted this novel to be available for those who still prefer an old-fashioned book.

I'm also delighted my publisher, Crooked Cat, has used a print company that makes books available in shops and libraries, as well as being available from Amazon UK and Amazon US. That means any library and shop (hopefully) should be able to order it in for customers. Yesterday, I was speaking to a group of lovely people who wanted to hear about my writing life and two of them said they were going to tell their library about me.

Now I have to decide if I should organise a reading or two - I'm so used to online promotion that this is a new area for me! I've already checked and the ISBN number (1910510505) is showing up in the Gardners catalogue. Haven't checked Ingrams yet but it should also be there and both of these supply most of the bookshops.

It seems a happy coincidence that I'm featured on American writer Lois Winston's Anastasia Pollock blog today, where I've written about Scotland as a setting and the areas mentioned in The Highland Lass, along with a few photos. You can find the article here.

Now to come down to earth and get on with the novella I'm supposed to be finishing!


Monday, 27 July 2015

Blog Visit

Fellow Crooked Cat author, Nancy Jardine, who also lives in Scotland, is kindly featuring me on her Monday Moments spot today. Thought I'd mention it out of courtesy to Nancy!


Saturday, 25 July 2015

A Chance to Sparkle

One of the innovations at the RNA Conference this year came from a group of lovely authors called the Romaniacs, who decided to film a short interview with various writers, agents and publishers over the weekend. You can view all the short videos on their website.

Called the Romaniacs Sparkle Spotlight, all authors had the opportunity to reserve a spot in advance. After much deliberation, I decided to jump in and take the chance while offered as I might never get another! Which was all very well in theory, a month or so before the actual conference, but the reality of it hit soon enough.

As it turned out, my spot was on the final Sunday morning and I hadn't slept more than an hour or two the night before because of heat and noise. However, on with the show, as they say! The ladies filming it and asking the questions were excellent; professional and welcoming and they immediately put me at ease. I declined the kind offer of a glass of Prosecco in case I either spilled it or choked on it.

Stephanie Cage

All I can say is this was a unique experience and I'm glad I took part. I don't think any of us enjoy watching ourselves or hearing our voice played back and I certainly could have looked a lot better (definitely getting more toned up)! But I don't sound as bad as I'd feared I might and I said a lot more than I remembered - obviously it goes by in a blur. Each of the finished videos features three authors and I share mine with Lynda Stacey and Stephanie Cage. I wasn't sure whether or not to post it here but the Romaniacs deserve a round of applause for a fun idea and we only live once!


Sunday, 19 July 2015

Italian Adventure: Verona

The final stop on our Italian River Cruise (apart from Venice again) was beautiful Verona, famous as the setting for some of Shakespeare’s plays, including of course Romeo and Juliet. Our bus journey from the ship took us through the lovely Soave region with its vineyards on the distant hills. Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Verona was one of my favourite destinations and one I would love to revisit for a few days.

Although some of its Roman monuments had been well preserved, an earthquake in 1117 destroyed many of them which led to a surge of Romanesque buildings, and a walk through the town revealed its elegance and history. Our transport deposited us beside the River Adige with its stunning views towards the hills and to the side, a partial view of the ancient Roman theatre dating from 1AD.  After walking across the Roman Bridge, we spent the next couple of hours strolling through Verona with our lovely local guide.

Many of the streets are narrow and cobbled and every so often I wanted to stop and admire the architecture but it was a fairly long walk to the main square. Once again, Dante was recognised with a statue near the house where he lived for some years. The large fruit and herb square was a hive of busyness with market stalls up and down its length. Even if I’d wanted to explore it, we had to keep up with the guide, although we had free time later on.


After strolling through the elegant main shopping street (no touristy shops here), we arrived at one of the highlights of the tour, Juliet’s house, Casa d Giulietta. A whole romantic industry has evolved around this building and famous couple but the locals were quite slow to capitalise on it, which is rather sweet. The Capulet building is authentic, with their coat-of-arms above the inner archway of the courtyard. As to the balcony itself… our guide explained that the building had no balcony at one time but because so many tourists expected it from Shakespeare’s play, one was added in the 20th century.

It is through the courtyard, towards the back of the house, where we also found the statue of Juliet. By late morning in the middle of June, crowded is an understatement! So many groups of tourists, all trying to reach the statue and photographing the balcony - with an occasional female even leaning from it. It is said that you should touch Juliet’s right breast for luck. I contented myself with managing to sneak a quick photo in between the crowds! Next to the house is Juliet’s Club where they make souvenirs and answer the many letters posted on the wall through the archway. If you want to know more about it, the lovely romantic film, Letters to Juliet, is well worth watching.


On the Via Arche Scaligere, there is an authentic 12th century house that seems to have belonged to Romeo’s family but we didn’t get the chance to see it and some of the rooms are incorporated into a nearby restaurant. We wandered on through the heat until we reached the impressive Roman amphitheatre, one of the highlights of my visit as it is one of the oldest in in Italy and home to the famous Verona opera. Once through the gates, we were able to sit on the stone steps and enjoy the ambience while watching the open-air stage being set for that evening’s production. Going by the parts of Egyptian-style set we saw, it must have been Verdi’s Aida!

I would love to go back to Verona for a few days and attend the evening opera in the open air. Our guide explained that it doesn’t start until around 9pm so the torch light makes it a special experience. There are chairs all round for those who don’t want to sit on the ancient stone steps. Lunch that day was during our free time so we wandered down to the market square and had pizza in one of the outdoor cafés so we could watch the world go by. Unfortunately, it was one of the hottest, most humid days of our trip so we were all very happy to relax in the air-conditioned coach on the return journey to the ship. I’ve already told my husband that I'd like to combine a holiday to Verona with Lake Garda, so watch this space!


Monday, 13 July 2015

RNA Conference 2015 and Promotion

Just came back by train last night from the wonderful RNA weekend conference in London and fell into bed exhausted from the heat and late nights! It was definitely worth attending, and crawling through London in a taxi on the day of the tube strike to get there on the Thursday, as it meant we could go to the Agents’ Panel on the Friday morning.

It was held in the Queen Mary University campus on Mile End Road and although in the east end of the city, it was also partly beside a canal. The heat was a bit unbearable at times, especially in my student bedroom and, unfortunately, mine was on the noisy side of the accommodation building: lots of students (not RNA) making too much noise at all hours of the night (or morning) on two occasions.

Ready for the gala dinner with Joan Fleming and Cathy Mansell
However, it was a great conference, with lots of inspiring talks, non-stop chatting with old and new friends and a fabulous Gala Dinner on the Saturday evening which was held in the beautiful octagonal library. All the meals were self-service apart from this one and it was a really lovely dinner and venue, befitting our dressier outfits! One of the best things about the conference is the information all the authors share when we get talking to one another. I was delighted as always to meet up with some of my lovely social media and blogging friends, such as Helena Fairfax who I met last year, Jean Bull, and Wendy Clarke who I was delighted to meet in person at last.


I was glad to see the chocolate heart in my little promo pack inside the 250 RNA goody bags survived the heat. My friend Joan Fleming and I shared a kitchen with the very sociable Hazel Cushion from Accent Press (amongst others) who invited us to their Pimms Party. Having never tasted it before, I was delighted to go along and it was a lovely event, held down beside the canal. The Pimms, which was filled up with freshly chopped fruit, was delicious. Roll on next year at Lancaster University!


For one week only, my publisher, Crooked Cat, is featuring The Highland Lass in a special promotion at just 99p on Amazon UK and 99c on Amazon US. A bargain!

I’ll resume our Italian adventure later in the week with the final stop of Verona.


Sunday, 5 July 2015

Italian Mosaics: Ravenna

On our second last visit on the river cruise itinerary, we once again headed out towards the Emilia Romana region, for a full day exploring Ravenna; the city of mosaics. On the way, I enjoyed catching glimpses of the beautiful agricultural countryside and the tall, slender black poplar trees which will always remind me of this holiday. Evidently, their wood is excellent for making furniture.

Ravenna is a former capital of three different ancient empires, with some of the most stunning art and paintings I’ve ever seen and it well deserves its many listings in UNESCO World Heritage. It is also another university town and, once again, bicycles were everywhere, although the streets make some attempt to give pedestrians a path in between with a smoother section on either side for the bikes. At least cars are not allowed in the historical centre!
Our walk took us first to the Basilica of San Vitale and the most interesting mausoleum in the grounds behind, which is the burial place of Galla Placidia, daughter of a Roman emperor. The mausoleum only holds so many people at once and we managed to visit it first. What an amazing, atmospheric building inside. It has some of the best preserved and oldest Roman art mosaics in the world, dating from the year 500, and it was truly awesome, in its correct meaning. I could understand why it was one of our guide’s favourite venues and I just wanted to stand and absorb it in silence. Fortunately, they allowed photographs without flash so I managed a few.

Then we approached the Basilica, which didn’t seem out of the ordinary from the outside but is one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Europe. We saw why on entering when my jaw dropped even further. Stunning doesn’t really describe the famous glass mosaics on every wall, some of them in gold. I mentioned before that every picture tells a story in Italian churches and this was very evident here where many Bible stories were portrayed in wonderful, intricate detail.

After our art appreciation tour, we headed for the place I really wanted to see, the Tomb of Dante Alighieri, the most famous 13th century Italian poet who wrote the Divine Comedy, a work about Hell, Purgatory and Paradise in three parts. Our guide told us that he is also regarded as the father of the Italian language. A lovely young Italian woman we met on our return flight told us he is still studied in all schools today. Although born in Florence, and a resident in many of the towns we visited, Dante died in Ravenna and is honoured there with a special tomb, and a statue in the square. I was delighted when Simon bought me a card for my anniversary which has one of Dante’s sonnets written on the front in beautiful calligraphy.


Since we were out for the day, some of us had lunch together in the recommended restaurant, Ca’Ven, a very good choice. I wondered at the cavern-like interior and art on the walls and discovered it used to be a type of church building at one time. While the others had the local flat Panini type bread with a filling of their choice, we opted for the grilled chicken and vegetables and roasted wedged potatoes – a much tastier meal with its oils and herbs. We shared the large plate of vegetables with a couple of the Americans at our long table so it was good fun all round.

It was a most interesting day out and although Ravenna is not the prettiest town we visited, I feel privileged to have seen some of the most famous art and mosaics in Western Europe. But it is the quietness in the darkened mausoleum with its ancient Roman art that has stayed in my mind.

Look out for our final stop at beautiful Verona next week!