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!


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Summer of the Eagles Countdown

Since it's now the height of summer, I thought it might be a good time to put my tween book, Summer of the Eagles, on a countdown offer. This is written under my Ros Gemmell name and the rights have now reverted to me. So from today it will be on sale from Amazon UK at 99p and Amazon US at 99c until Saturday when it will revert to its normal price. Although it's aimed at roughly the 9-13 age group, it's very popular with adult women too!

This was the book I always wanted published, before the current one, The Highland Lass, and I've been delighted at the response of those who've read it. Set on a Scottish island inspired by Cumbrae on the west coast, it deals with loss and healing after 13 year old Stevie (Stephanie) is orphaned and lamed. When Gran can't deal with Stevie's moods, she's sent to her aunt on Cumbruach for the summer.

But Stevie's summer is not what she'd imagined when she becomes involved in the bird sanctuary, meets some other young people and gets into danger from bird poachers. But, apart from anything else, it is Karig, the mysterious friend of eagles who breaks through Stevie's defences and begins her healing process. But who or what is Karig?

Here are a few snippets of reviews as I've hardly ever shared these!

'The action is well paced, the descriptions of the island vivid and the characters well delineated. Gradually, through Stevie's adventures on the island, we come to learn the secrets of the eagles. This is a novel that, once started, is difficult to put down. Although it is aimed at the tween market, it will appeal also to adults as they relive, through Stevie, the uncertainties of early adulthood. An ideal summer read.'

'Just the right degree of mystery in what was otherwise a realistic and heartwarming story of a young girl coming to terms with bereavement.'

'The author's sympathetic handling of the issues affecting a troubled young girl ensures we empathise with Stevie...... Read this fast-paced tale to its beautiful conclusion, for although essentially a tween novel, it will appeal to the angst-ridden youngster in all of us.'

Ros Gemmell's Summer of Eagles is, in a word, magnificent. It is a book for `tweens, I think, but I found myself turning the pages with a sheen in my eyes and a catch in my throat. Summer works on several levels: as a metaphor for coming of age; as a story of loss and recovery; as a tale of young girl who learns about herself and other people by living through pain and by accepting love. Above all, it is a story of spiritual strength and overarching love that comes through a belief in something higher than our own limited nature.'

'SUMMER OF THE EAGLES by Ros Gemmell shows us so many diverse layers of the intricate weave we all play in Nature's overall tapestry From the majestic beauty and wisdom of the golden eagles, to the dawning recovery of a child, stripped by a glitch in the sway of Time's Pendulum of her beloved family...this book DELIVERS.'

I'll be back to Italy on Sunday!


Saturday, 27 June 2015

Italy Continued: Ferrara

I must confess that we hadn’t heard of Ferrara before this trip but we elected to take the morning guided walk there instead of a full day to Bologna. I’m glad we did as this is another UNESCO designated site, in the Emilio-Romagna region of Northern Italy, which still has many of its medieval and Renaissance features. Some of the old buildings look surprisingly modern, as in the other towns and I even checked with the guide on a couple of occasions to confirm the age.


The town was once a Duchy of the Este family who built the university in 1391, which could boast Copernicus as one of its students in the early 1500s. We walked through the archways of the ancient Estense Castle which has a drawbridge as well as the only moat still filled with water in Europe! As we strolled across the drawbridge, we were told to glance through the arch to our left. The guide pointed out a particular window in the apartments across the town street – this evidently was where the infamous Lucrezia Borgia once stayed. She is buried in the convent of Corpus Domini.

Overlooking the Piazza is the impressive twelfth century Cathedral of San Giorgio with its interesting mixture of Gothic and Romanesque styles. There are also several palaces and museums to visit which warrant far more time than we had available. As we wandered through the town, it became increasingly obvious that everyone cycles here and you do have to be constantly aware of the bikes once in the narrower cobbled streets, away from the wide main streets. I couldn't resist a photo of one of the ham shops as we passed by. 

It was worth our walk in the heat as we were taken through the famous Jewish section where one of the unique little quirks of Ferrara met our eyes. Stretching the whole way ahead, colourful umbrellas seemingly hung from the sky between the buildings on either side and were quite a sight! They were obviously suspended by wire or similar and when we asked about them we were told: “they hang there so that tourists can talk about them and people will want to visit Ferrara.” It’s certainly the best advertising I’ve ever seen and I’m now doing my bit to bring attention to this interesting medieval town.

Later next week, I'll be talking about Ravenna.


Monday, 22 June 2015

Italian Romance: Padua

I was going to combine the next two places but I think it’s better to cover them individually as they are all so interesting. The next visit on our river cruise from Venice took us to Padua, which had much of interest. One of the main similarities of all the Italian towns is the importance of the churches and their art history. The local guides were very good in conveying the importance of the Catholic faith with an acknowledgement that not all visitors shared those beliefs.

However, the art was emphasised every bit as much as religion and it was amazing to see how much of it portrayed the Bible stories for once illiterate worshippers. In Italy, almost every picture does indeed tell a story.

Padua (or Padova)

I already knew that Padua had one of the oldest universities in the world, founded in 1222, but didn’t realise it came second only to Bologna, another Italian university. Once home to Galileo, Copernicus and Dante, the town has retained many of its medieval areas. It also has one of the biggest squares in Europe which began as a Roman theatre and was reshaped into its present layout in 1775. It was so hot the day of our visit that I missed having a walk around it to view the many elegant statues encircling the area – I had to make do with a quick photo as we passed.

As befits this ancient walled university city, Padua produced the first woman graduate in the world, Elena Lucrezia Corner Piscopia, a Venetian who was finally granted a degree in Philosophy from the University of Padua in 1678. The town is also a centre of pilgrimage to the magnificent Basilica of St Anthony, dating from the 1200s and housing the tomb and several relics of the saint. It is still a revered place and we were unable to take any photos inside but we were allowed to copy pilgrims from all over the world and touch the tomb if we so wished. The statues and crucifix on the main altar are by Donatello, as is the horse and rider in the square in front of the church.


Padua is a remarkable town, where ancient monuments and more modern cafes and shops happily coexist along with the students, academics, tourists and pilgrims. Simon was amused to find few tourist souvenir shops for me to explore, apart from those selling religious wares immediately outside the Basilica and I was lucky to buy my fridge magnet (which I collect from around the world) in a small tobacco shop. There are plenty of good Italian fashion shops, but most are closed for the long siesta after lunch and I suspect they would be too expensive.

Dante's House
But there was one famous local delicacy I got to try. A café Pedrocchi is a speciality of the famous café of the same name and when our guide gave us half an hour to ourselves, a few of us made straight for the coffee! We were warned to sit in the less salubrious part of the café to avoid the higher costs but the coffee was the same. The warm espresso is served in a small cup topped with a creamy mint froth and sprinkled with chocolate. It was the most unusual coffee experience as the warm strong coffee hits through the cool minty foam. Not to be missed!

Another of Padua’s most famous claims to fame is the Scrovegni Chapel which holds priceless frescos by Giotto. This was available as an optional visit which had to be booked ahead but it involved sitting in a special room for 15 minutes prior to being allowed into the chapel in small numbers, as they have to keep the temperature at a certain level. We passed on the opportunity as we preferred to explore Padua itself and I didn’t hear of any passengers going to the chapel. A visit to make another time, perhaps, when staying longer.

Padua is an interesting venue that I’d be happy to explore again one day when we can wander off at will, discovering paintings inside ornate buildings and where we can sit in one of the elegant squares watching modern students cycle past in this ancient and elegant university town.

Look out for another report next week.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Author Spotlight: Joanna Campbell

I'm so delighted to welcome lovely, talented author Joanna Campbell to the Reading and Writing blog today.  Joanna has been an online friend for many years and I’ve loved so many of her vast number of published short stories that I knew it was only a matter of time until her début novel would be available. Tying Down the Lion is a treat I am looking forward to reading in paperback and Joanna kindly wrote this very interesting post, exploring some of the themes in the novel such as the Kindertransport.

Welcome,  Joanna, and thank you for being my guest today and for writing such an emotive post. I wish you every success with all your writing. 

Tying Down the Lion

It is the summer of 1967 and the Bishop family are departing their house in Britain for a continental road trip. Their destination: Berlin, the gritty city recovering from the bombs of 1939—45 and now sliced in two by the Cold War. Will the journey unite the Anglo-German family, or forever rip them apart?

Not only does Grandma Nell loathe foreigners—especially Bridget, her German daughter-in-law—she is none too pleased about son Roy jamming the whole family into his aging Morris Traveller car for the duration. Granddaughter Jacqueline observes the trip—and the resultant spillage of family secrets—with a keen eye, wry sense of humour and a notepad in which to pen it all.

This is a story of ordinary people in an extraordinary situation, and the discovery of how something divided can be more revealing than a perfect whole. It is a quest for a family who build walls in their minds as they try to discover who they are and where they belong.

Tying Down the Lion is available in paperback and as an e-book from Amazon UK and Amazon US


Tying Down The Lion is a novel about how people rediscover or recreate their homes after being uprooted, and this theme reflects the Nazi persecution of the Jews and their subsequent suffering and displacement.

In November 1938, a brutal signpost appeared on the path that led to the outbreak of World War II. In one terrible night, the Nazis methodically destroyed and plundered Jewish homes, synagogues and businesses. It came to be known as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, the name arising from the shards and splinters of the smashed windows that covered the streets. Likewise, the future for the Jewish community in Germany lay in ruins.

The following month, a rescue mission—the Kindertransport—was set in motion. It would eventually transport ten thousand children, mostly Jewish, from Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia to live with foster families in Great Britain. The picture shows the first refugees arriving in Harwich.

In Tying Down The Lion, English narrator, Jacqueline, visits Berlin nearly thirty years after the shattering event that triggered this mass evacuation. She stands in the magnificent, domed Friedrichstrasse railway station where so many bewildered children waited for the train that would take them away from home to begin their lives all over again in a strange country.

Each one carried a small suitcase and wore a manila label around their necks. Armed guards checked their passports, in which the Jewish ‘Sara’ or ‘Israel’ had to be added alongside their own names, so that the Reich ministry could easily identify the Jews. There was also the chilling rubber-stamped word—‘stateless’.

Britain was on the verge of war, but could at least keep these disorientated children safe from tyranny and torture. However, the impending danger in their homeland meant little to the youngest waiting in the queue at the station in Berlin, watching their mothers wave handkerchiefs in farewell. All they knew was the confusion of being wrenched from everything that was trusted and familiar, and from everyone they loved.

Jacqueline contemplates the emotions of the children who left Berlin. Some were orphans with no one to wish them well, whereas those with parents were allowed only to wave goodbye. As they prepared to leave, the Nazis did not permit either adults or children to cry.

Which, Jacqueline wonders, was worse—being taken from your mother, or embarking alone on a journey to the unknown without anyone to see you on your way? Some must have looked out of the train window at their mothers, eyes welling with forbidden tears, while others simply stared ahead, listening to the rumble of the wheels on the track.

Jacqueline, who has a small brother, Victor, imagines a little boy’s mother leaving the station and returning home alone, knowing her child’s life would be spared, but, almost certainly, not her own—the majority of the Kinder never saw their parents again.

After walking out of the station into the sun, she would listen for the last vibration on the track to settle before her smile disappears and she dares to cry. She would hesitate before turning away, scared to go home and see his clockwork train at a standstill, his ranks of cowboys and Indians waiting for him. Her own torture and death lie ahead and the only comfort is that he might soon be home, wherever that will be.

Reading memoirs of those who were part of the Kindertransport, it is striking that some cannot recall the moment of departure, as if a veil had to be drawn across a memory too painful to keep.

After arriving, exhausted and homesick, in a strange land, and having to learn different customs and a foreign language, new roots had to be put down in order to survive and prosper—a mammoth task for an adult, but for a child torn from their homeland, an overwhelming task. Yet for so many of the Kinder, Britain became—and remained—home, both in a practical sense and also within their hearts.

As a way of understanding the theme of home, Jacqueline studies the way spiders repair their webs.

If a spider’s web is broken, the spider starts spinning again straightaway. The silk thread keeps unravelling. The work never ends until the spider dies. He rebuilds anywhere he can, throwing out the dragline to get the work underway for the millionth time.

Finally, there are no more appropriate words than those of German novelist, Hermann Hesse, to capture the theme of home within Tying Down The Lion:

Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.


Thank you so much, Rosemary, for giving me this opportunity to write a guest post, and also for advising me last year to send my novel to the smaller, independent publishers. Brick Lane were the first I tried and, not only did they offer to publish Tying Down The Lion within three weeks of my initial enquiry, they are also wonderful to work with and have made the entire publishing process a great pleasure.

I’m so thrilled for you, Joanna, as you deserve great success!

About Joanna

I began writing in 2008 and my short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including literary and women’s magazines, as well as anthologies. I was delighted to win the Exeter Writers short story competition in 2011 and the Bath Short Story Award’s local prize in 2013.

I write full-time in an old cottage in the Cotswolds while my husband runs his IT consultancy on the other side of the wall. I am supposed to be his secretary, but he can sometimes wait all day for his coffee and has to answer his own calls.

Although I still write short fiction—my collection, When Planets Slip Their Tracks, is being published by Ink Tears Press later in the year—I am enjoying the departure into novel-writing.

I used to teach German and took my degree at Exeter University, living in Germany for a year as part of the course. The scarred city of Berlin inspired me to write Tying Down The Lion and I was thrilled when Brick Lane offered me a publishing contract.

Tying Down The Lion began as a 1,000-word piece that made its way into the shortlists of several competitions. The central characters refused to leave my imagination until I had written another 99,000 words of their story.

You can connect with Joanna on her website, Facebook or Twitter
There is an advance review of Tying Down The Lion on novelist Rachel Connor’s website.