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Walks, Guy Fawkes and Writing Stuff

My Book Covers1This country never ceases to amaze me – one day grey skies and pouring rain and today the most amazing cloudless blue sky and brilliant sunshine.  So on a gloriously sunny afternoon what better an activity than to walk off Sunday lunch?  As usual I took my camera with me, it’s always an opportunity to take shots and we do live in a most wonderful part of the country.  It’s recently been included as part of the Cotswolds and is also in an area of outstanding natural beauty.  I do bang on about this I know, but growing up in a small village on the edge of Salisbury Plain I have always been in awe of not only the countryside around me but how, if you walk and then look at it again, the aspect of it all is subtly changed.  Yesterday was a good time for a walk as the trees are now the most glorious shades of yellow, red and orange.  In a month’s time they will be totally bare and we will really feel winter has arrived.  But yesterday in sheltered spots it was really warm.  Certainly I found my quilted jacket quite hot; however as soon as we were back in shade is struck not only cold but damp as well.  I didn’t realise how much rain we’d had, it was only when we reached a spot in the lane where water was pouring off the fields that it was apparent.  I’ve included some of my shots with this blog.DSCF2751

Moving on, I’m beginning to wonder about our annual celebration of Guy Fawkes night.  When I was young it used to be one night of bonfires and fireworks and we either had a family event in the garden or went to a public display.  This year, however, the whole event  appears to have lasted all of a fortnight!  The fifth was a Tuesday and locally public parties on Bath Rec and the University took place the weekend before, so it was always going to be a protracted event – but I heard my first fireworks even before November had arrived and last night the bangs and crashes were still in evidence.  I am hoping it will have run its course by this evening – whoever is letting them off may be having fun but I do have concerns for those poor animals who must be hiding somewhere, paws over their head thinking ‘Oh no not again!’

Now onto writing.  Firstly I’d like to take a moment to congratulate the lovely Linn B Halton on her Innovation Award at last weekend’s Festival of Romance.  Here’s a lady who truly lives life in the fast lane!  If I was her I would need to clone myself to cope with all she does – and she still finds time to write great books!  Well done Linn – very much deserved!

Since my last post my newest project has moved on some.   It all started out as a single ‘what if?..would that work…?’ thought and now it’s progressed a little farther down the track.  There are some ideas I’ve had in the past which I realise after a while simply aren’t going to work.  This isn’t one of them thankfully, although at the moment I’m running some ideas through my head in order to expand the story.  My books start with a beginning and an end and the rest tends to come as the writing begins.  It’s a bit like making a sandwich and not yet deciding what the filling will be.  This book is set in a village as my others have been but don’t be fooled into thinking I write cosy country-based stories, far from it!  This time unlike my previous Little Court novels which have worked from the mid-sixties to the mid-nineties this book is bang up-to-date in its timing. So this project will be completely new territory for me.  The last books have been easier due to the fact that I’ve been working in a familiar environment, adding new characters to existing ones as we move on in time.  On this occasion, however, I’m starting from scratch – scary or challenging?  Well a little of both but one thing is certain it’s definitely going to be a voyage of discovery: a journey I don’t have a map for. Hopefully once I’ve written several chapters and the book begins to bed in it will seem like I’ve known them for ages!

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November already??

Apologies if you’ve read this post before but according to my WordPress account it has never been published and is still in draft form. Therefore am re-issuing.

This time last year I was working and most of the men in the office were growing moustaches – yes it was Movember, or rather November.  And now I’m six months into a new life without the daily 9 -5 and there are some aspects which I miss but others I do not.  One of the things I most hated working during the winter months was when the clocks changed and returning home from work meant walking home in darkness.  By the time we got to December it was going to work in the dark as well.  I almost felt I should be hibernating somewhere buried in straw or under some garden bonfire like a hedgehog.  I suppose the only comforting thing was drawing the curtains and curling up in an armchair for the evening with a book or a good TV programme.  I always knew, however, that by the last week in January it would be twilight as I was coming home and from there things got better.

This year has gone so quickly.  It seems like only yesterday we were in Oxford in February celebrating my OH’s birthday.  We had a wonderful hotel and I absolutely loved the city but boy was it cold!  In early April we spent a break in Chester.  The cold continued and I remember walking the city wall and wondering if it was ever going to get warmer as currently there had not appeared to be any increase in temperature since February!

In early May a big group of us had a long weekend in Lynmouth.  Four of us arrived on Friday and we took the cliff railway up to Lynton on the Saturday morning and walked to the Valley of the Rocks.  It was FREEZING!  Luckily we stopped for hot chocolate at Mother Meldrum’s Tea Rooms just before continuing along the cliff pathway back to Lynmouth with a  force ten gale helping us on our way!  I remember sitting in the B & B breakfast room on the Monday morning just before we were due to return home, looking out at the trees across the valley and wondering whether they would ever come into full leaf.  Of course they did, and we were treated to some really good weather later on in the year.  That, unfortunately did not include the week in Kingsbridge, Devon in late June – more rain than sun but we still had a great time, meeting family and running into friends and work colleagues who had all headed to South Hams at the same time we had.

I think the jewel in the crown for me as far as holidays were concerned was Lake Garda.  We’d been there in 2001 and loved it and decided to go back again.  Now this can be dangerous; you are setting yourself up for disappointment – but we weren’t, it was even more magical.  I absolutely Italy and its people and it has become my number one destination in Europe.  I think if was asked what I remembered most about Garda it was the cleanliness of the place – they seem to take pride in their environment.  Then there were the flowers – even in September such a lot of glorious colours.  Italian food, of course, rated highly and then there was the easy pace of life there even though it was a big magnet for tourists.  We visited Riva Del Garda at the top of the lake and the heat haze which rises out of the water in the early afternoon looked quite magical.

Last month we were off again.  Early October saw us in Bruges, another great place to stay and I’d highly recommend the Hotel Pand – wonderful champagne breakfasts and amazing service.  We ended our year’s travel in the UK with a stay in York.  Here I went on an ancestor hunt.   John Hewetson was made Freeman of the City of York in 1537 and I knew he was buried somewhere.  Certainly not in the Minster, where most memorials date from the 1600s.  As it was, tucked between the sightseeing and retail therapy, the search did not unearth anything positive.  It was only on my return home that I discovered by searching on line that he was in fact buried in All Saints Church.  I will, therefore, be checking it when I return to York again.

So here we are on the evening of the 6th November, by Sunday we’ll be in double figures and then it’s the gradual slide down to Christmas with all its associated expended energy – what to get people, who to invite to what and how much food to buy.  And then when it’s all over, the New Year and then the reality check.  How much money did I spend over the festive season? Is there enough left for that dress in the sales?  Am I really that heavy?  Cue fitness regime and financial tightening of belt then out with the brochures again to plan Holiday 2014.  Oh yes and I’ve a book coming out too!  Ah the cycle of life, never a dull moment!

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Tea and Talk at Sally Lunn’s with Author Neil Spring

Sally Lunns Tea HouseNeil1Welcome Neil to Tea and Talk at Sally Lunn’s. You have the honour of being my first male interviewee. Thank you, I am flattered.

Can I start our chat by asking you a little about yourself? Yes, ball means.

What made you want to become an author?

I’m not sure I ever sat down and consciously thought, ‘I want to be an author.’ I don’t know if many writers do. I think writers just write. It’s a compulsion.  For me it began with an idea about a subject in which I have always been deeply fascinated – the prospect of life after death. Why people choose to believe and why they don’t. From there, I found my subject: Borley Rectory – the most haunted house in England. 

Can you tell us a little about your debut novel Ghost Hunters? What influenced you to write this?

The Borley Rectory haunting has it all. “The Most Haunted House in England?” A house so haunted that objects frequently fly through the air unbidden, and locals avoid the grounds for fear of facing the spectral nun that walks there… It’s the perfect ghost story: a cast of complex, competing characters and a dark, terrifying legend. And amazingly, no one has ever dramatised the tale! I wanted to change that. Harry Price was the nation’s first paranormal investigator, a professional ghost hunter. He dedicated his life to investigating unusual phenomena, and lengthy investigation of Borley rectory seemed a logical way in to the story. I soon realised that he, perhaps more than Borley, was the most interesting aspect of the case: the more I discovered about Price’s private life and his curious, contradictory beliefs, which oscillated between scepticism and belief, the more I was fascinated by this historical character and its dramatic potential. I wanted to know what set Price on his path of investigation into the unknown? And, perhaps more intriguingly, why did other intelligent people – many of them academics and scientists – follow him on that path?

The problem was the many phenomena reported at Borley down the years: so many fantastic events, spanning a period in excess of twenty years, with no connecting thread… I struggled, at first, to see how any coherent and consistent tale could be woven around the subject. But I did my research and discovered that Harry Price had employed a young secretary with whom he was very close. That was it! The inspiration for my narrator, Sarah Grey. In The Ghost Hunters, we see the investigation of Borley Rectory through her eyes, as it might have happened. cover_theghosthunters

How long did it take and what sort of research was involved?

A visit to the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature at Senate House, Bloomsbury, became a source of inspiration for me to dig deeper into the history of the Borley Rectory. In fact, this is where the novel begins, in 1977, and it is from here that readers enter into the pasT. The characters at Borley, the people who interacted with Harry Price at his Laboratory were part of a grieving nation, a nation that needed something to believe in after the atrocities of the First World War. It was an era choked with grief and longing for hope. I came to the material gradually, over the course of many months, reading all of Price’s personal letters, and articles written by people who worked with him. Exhausting! It took me three to four years of research, four drafts and a rewriting of the last chapter twelve times to come up with the final result. I hope it was worth it.


Are you planning to stay with ghosts and ghost hunters or will your next book be different?

I’m halfway through writing the first draft of my second novel now, actually. I can’t say what it’s about yet, but it is again based on a true story and if you read The Ghost Hunters, there are more than a few clues about what the second novel will deal with. Ghosts? No. But dark forces that threaten the innocence of youth? Very much so. This time I am looking at what happens to a remote community when it is threatened with the unknown.  

Have you any particular authors who have influenced you?

Oh, so many! But M.R. James and Lovecraft come top of the list. Lovecraft in particular is a master of the genre, whose Shadow Over Insmouth remains, in my view, one of the best stories ever written. The story describes a young man’s discovery of a strange race, that dwell in a remote coastal town. 


When not writing what do you like to read?

I love reading philosophy and books on the unexplained. I’m a sucker for newspapers, too, particularly the property sections in the Sundays, where I marvel at the houses I’d love to own but will never afford!

Now for the more frivolous questions:

If you were inviting four famous people to dinner, who would they be and why would you invite them?

The Secretary of State for Defence, so I could quiz him about the Government’s rather dubious policy on UFO sightings; Russell T Davis, because I think he is one of the most influential writers of our generation; the actor Tom Baker, because he was the best Dr Who; And if he was still alive, Harry Price, so I could watch his face as I present him with the book he inspired! 

If you were marooned on a desert island name three essential things you would want to have with you.

I couldn’t be without my I-pad, to download books. The very best of Andrew Lloyd Webber. And a nesspresso coffee machine. I LOVE coffee. 

Many thanks Neil and all good wishes for your launch.

For more information about Neil and his work check out the social networking links below.

Twitter: @Neilspring


Thoughts on a Thursday Afternoon…

Right then, just our mini break to Bruges is fading into the distance so four nights in York looms ahead next week.

The journey to Bruges from home took all day.  We managed to get an earlier train than planned to Paddington and then a taxi across to St Pancreas which is a most amazing building.  We had an hour’s wait at the Eurostar terminal and then we were boarding.  For me there was no sense of the fact that we’d gone into a tunnel under the English Channel, only that there was darkness outside for around twenty minutes.  Then the first stop, Lille and from there onto Brussels.  Brussels station was a surprise.  I suppose I had expected some sort of grand station building much like those in London, but that it was not.  We had a fifty minute wait and then were on the last leg of our journey to Bruges, arriving at 18.30.

DSCF2436 (640x480)Bruges was brilliant; I’d been there on a coach stopover on my way to Lido Di Jesolo many years before and had absolutely no memory of the place.  Hotel Pand, tucked away in a leafy side street was the most brilliant place.  A small boutique hotel only offering breakfast and light snacks in the bar, I was totally amazed to come down the first morning and find a table laid with croissants, bread, pain au chocolat, pastries and several offerings of jam.  The service in the breakfast room was exceptional, the choice of coffee or tea and the fruit juice arriving with an accompanying small jug to top up and all food cooked at one end of the room on the Aga.  And to crown it all champagne!  We were so spoilt!

The city of Bruges looks absolutely fabulous at night with all the main buildings lit in a dark golden glow.  We were obviously there out of season but there were still plenty of people about and a great atmosphere.  Food in the restaurants we ate in seems to come with salad rather than the usual UK veg selection but took nothing away from the excellent quality. Restaurant De Koeise, where we ate on our last night, did the most amazing steaks! We also found very little choice in wine other than the house variety.  As this city abounds with breweries beer was the preferred.DSCF2446 (640x480)

The return journey felt a lot easier; there was less waiting and we arrived in St Pancreas around 14.00.  The taxi to Paddington took quite a time as traffic was very heavy.  It made me reflect on the fact that London, although an amazing city, is somewhere I could never live.  Having been raised in green and pleasant rural Wiltshire and having the benefit of living in a house which backs onto open fields, the thought of city dwelling is quite claustrophobic.  As well as the traffic there are so many people rushing to be somewhere.  Ah no, I’m definitely a country girl, although I do love the best of both worlds, having the beautiful city of Bath within a short drive of home.  Of course Bath has massive traffic problems and during summer months it is busy with tourists, but it still has a gentler feel than our capital city.DSCF1252 (640x480)

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And so to York next week.  I have a tenuous family connection with the city in that my ancestors lived there in the sixteenth century – yes we have a family tree on my Dad’s side which goes back that far!  I’ve only been there once on a football weekend (no I did not go to watch the game).  Bath City were playing York and four of us went up by car.  While the two OHs went to the match, us girls went shopping and visited the Yorvik Centre. It was a good weekend not only to visit the city but because Bath won. This time my OH (who had visited the city many years ago) wants to pay a return visit to the National Railway Museum and I feel more retail therapy coming on.  Again we are making the long journey by train but with the batteries charged for my iPod and Kindle plus a window seat I should survive.

And now a change of subject: TV Drama.  Going away for a week meant loads of recorded stuff to catch up on when we returned.  I have to say what is on offer this autumn has either totally grabbed my imagination or left me a little disappointed.

First BBC2s Peaky Blinders – such a watchable series about gangsters in post WW1 Birmingham. Cillian Murphy is great in the lead character of Tommy Shelby.  The man has such amazing eyes – in one close up scene they were almost pale turquoise. He also has a look of innocence that in a split second can turn to menace – amazing acting.  I do love period drama and this is a fantastic example, but what really interests me is the way they have blended a modern-sounding sound track into this drama and it works really well!

Next Atlantis.  I absolutely love fantasy, anything from Game of Thrones to Lord of the Rings.  I was one of many who mourned the passing of Merlin, such a good series.  From the first episode Colin and Bradley had me glued to the screen.  I think the series had such a good balance of comedy, glamour, emotion, suspense and, of course, a screen full of good looking knights.  So how to replace this?  Impossible, of course, but looking at the trailers for Atlantis I was quite hopeful something good was coming.  However, after three episodes the jury is still out.  Mark Addy totally irritates me as Hercules.  If he was going to be cast in that role why has he not at least got the strength his character was renowned for to help get them out of the situations caused mostly by his stupidity?  Instead he is cast as a lazy, boastful, crafty, boozy and cowardly character without any redeeming features.  It just doesn’t cut it with me I’m afraid.  Also, all three episodes so far seem to have very little depth to them. They seem very lightweight; the one saving grace is that Jack Donnelly is very watchable!atlantis 3

What about Whitechapel ? I loved the early series but this latest one sees me having to suspend belief, so ridiculous at times.  Viewing audiences for the most part like to feel what they are watching is credible.  Much prefer the less gory Ripper Street and love American Adam Rothenberg’s unconventional Captain Jackson character.   It’s coming back on 28th October – can’t wait!

And last of all the Grand Dame of TV drama – Downton.  Still very much loved and watched – wonderful Maggie Smith’s expressions do as much for her character as her lines do.  I was so hoping Lady Mary and Lord Gillingham would get together and sad they didn’t but then it’s far too early in the series and I’ve a feeling he may come back (crossing fingers as he is so lovely).  And as for Tom’s night of illicit passion with Edna the maid something tells me although she’s been dismissed those events will come back to bite him, although knowing Edna it will probably be part of a very devious plot.  No doubt that’s a storyline in waiting and maybe not until the next series?

So that’s it for a while no more to say but much to do.  Will blog again once back from northern climes but until then I have back page book blurb and information for the promotional video to organise.   Why does there never seem to be enough time?

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The End of Summer…

DSCF2376 (640x480)It’s two weeks since our return from a fabulous week in Garda and I’m still missing that lovely stroll to Bardolino along the lakeside.  For me the August Bank Holiday is the final doorway to summer.  No I’m not being depressing, just realistic.  We flew out to Italy on the 31st August and when we returned (and yes I know we were arriving back in a country fifteen degrees colder) England just felt completely different.  Although after Midsummer’s Day the nights start to pull in it’s not really noticeable until September.  Leaves were now discolouring and beginning to fall and from where I live, looking across to the main part of our village, there was mist hovering in the valley above the river.  All signs that the door has closed and summer is behind us.  Of course September is a very unpredictable month.  At one stage we have even reluctantly resorted to putting on the heating.  That now, thankfully, is not happening – to me that really is a sign that we’ve moved on into colder times.  This coming week we are promised a return to warmer weather so I’m guessing (hopefully) that September will go out with one mad blast of heat!DSCF2099 (640x480)

I went to London last week where Harrods’s Christmas Hall is fully functional with its cards, tree decorations and other assorted stuff – plus the cheerful sound of festive music.  At this present moment in time I do have difficulty in getting my head around the purchase of Christmas cards and other associated paraphernalia.  It’s just not going to happen until at least November.

Coming back from holiday is a bit of a fall to earth.  As I said before no more leisurely walks to Bardolino, no more bus travel to Riva and Malcesine and no ferry trips out to Sirmione.  And, of course, no warm evening sitting at lakeside bars watching the world go by.  I now hold that firmly in my memory, together with all the photographs I took (246 of them!); a lovely warm celebration of Summer 2013 to take me through the colder months.

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DSCF1252 (640x480)And yet here where I live on the outskirts of Bath there is beauty too; autumn will soon have taken over and the woods above the village will be a riot of reds, yellows and oranges.  If you travel east over the border into Wiltshire on the A36 to the town of Bradford-on-Avon, you can’t fail on your journey there to see the beauty of the Limpley Stoke Valley which looks fabulous at this time of year.

Now back home I have been concentrating my efforts on the completion of my fifth novel, The Other Side of Morning.  It’s not been the journey I envisaged; there have been a few pit stops and wrong turns on the way but I’m nearly there with a book I feel both comfortable and pleased with.  It’s always the same; at the end of each book although I have got an idea for the plot of the next I’m not sure whether I can take it the whole course and produce a full novel.  I was feeling this way last year when The Other Side of Morning  was merely the germ of an idea but I need not have worried because I’ve arrived at my destination once again.  I guess in the end it’s all about self-belief and a determination to finish what I have started.

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Tea and Talk at Sally Lunn’s with Book Reviewer JB Johnson

Sally Lunns Tea HousemailWelcome Jonty to Tea and Talk, lovely to see you here and to greet another great reviewer.

Right now we’re settled and waiting for refreshments to arrive my first question as always is to ask a bit about you.  Where  you live, your family, your work…oh and also any pets?

Hi! Thank you so much for inviting me! I’m thrilled to be here. So, you want to know a bit about me? Well, I’m very dull lol. I live in sunny Northern Ireland in a seaside town called Bangor (yes I know there’s one in Wales).  I’ve lived here all my life.  My husband is desperately keen for us to move away and for me to broaden my horizons! I’ve told him I’ll only go if we move to New Zealand!

I am very happily married for the second time and we will have been married for 6 years in August. I have two children – a son aged 20 and a daughter aged 15 who are affectionately known as Afro Boy and the Fashion Diva. My daughter has special needs so she keeps me pretty busy. I also have a step daughter aged 18 and a step son who is 12. Life can get a little crazy at times when we are all together.  And, last but not least we have a crazy dog called Floyd who provides hours of entertainment with his antics.

Work-wise, I am a social worker and have just recently left my job in child protection to move onto a new area of social work – inspecting nursery schools, playgroups and child-minders. It’s a far cry from the nitty-gritty field of taking kids into care but after 5 years of some pretty intensive work I found the hours and stress were just a bit too difficult with a family at home, especially as my daughter’s needs are changing as she is getting older. I am hoping to return to more therapeutic social work in the future, but for now I will content myself with a much better work / life balance and a huge reduction in stress. I’m also hoping to go back to University part-time and study something like family therapy.

What drew you to reviewing books and how long have you been doing this?

I began to review books in 2011 I think it was.  I won a copy of Kathryn Brown’s book Discovery at Rosehill through a competition at and wrote a review for the site. Since then, in addiction to blogging I have continued to write reviews for not only but also for and I have contributed to two anthologies with Plumtree Books also. I have always adored books and part of me holds a secret dream to write something half decent myself someday.  Last year I realised that requests for book reviews were getting to the point where my personal blog could not accommodate them. That blog very much was a place for me to discuss family life and educate about special needs and I didn’t want that getting lost amongst the book reviews. So, Brook Cottage Books was born and launched in December 2012 and now I run two blogs!

Are there any favourite genres or do you have a pretty broad taste in books?

Before I began reviewing books I used to be pretty stuck in my ways with regards genres. I never took a chance and tried new genres or even indie authors. I would have only read books by well-known authors and pretty much stuck to the Classics, horrors and thrillers. Now, I will pretty much read anything and I am amazed by what I find enjoyable now. I’d encourage anyone to try a new genre or read a book written by an indie author. I have discovered some wonderfully talented authors.

Have you any favourite books and why?

Oh that is a difficult question as there are so many books I adore. Some of my favourites would have to be a couple of the classics – Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. I also adore Rebecca. As for modern writing I’m not sure I could answer that question because every time I try to think of a favourite book I end up with a huge list, but books such as The Passage series, Me Before You and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society would be among my favourites. One of my favourite books that I discovered through reviewing has got to be Somebody to Love by Sheryl Browne. I love Sheryl’s writing and we have become online friends through my love of her books. I’m looking forward to meeting her at the Festival of Romance in November.

You started a website, Brook Cottage Books, can you tell us something about that?

As I’ve previously said, Brook Cottage Books was started to meet the demand for reviews that I was receiving. I didn’t want the message of my personal blog to get lost amongst all the booky stuff. Brook Cottage Books attempts to be a source of information for those who adore books as much as I do. You can find author interviews, book reviews, book news, cover reveals and a whole host of other posts related to books. I regularly take part in blog tours to promote books and authors and as a result I’ve managed to get myself a little bit of paid work now doing a little bit of proofreading and final read-throughs. I’ve also recently edited a book (under my real name) Little White Lies and Butterflies by Suzie Tullett. It’s a fab read! Safkhet Publishing has been kind enough to take me on as an intern and let me gain more experience. I hope one day to make a bit of a living through the blog.

What is a ‘normal’ day for you?

Oh my goodness, there is no such thing as a normal day for me but I’ll attempt to describe my schedule. I usually wake anytime between 4.30am and 6am and sort some blog posts before getting my daughter ready for school. Once she goes to school I normally send a couple of emails, check the blog diary, clean the kitchen and then head to work. Throughout the day in work I try to check in with what’s happening on the blog, Facebook and Twitter and answer some more emails during any break I get in work. After work its household chores, attending to my daughter, walking the dog, going to the gym, reading, writing some more blog posts and answering emails. In between all that I do managed to squeeze in some time with my husband and son and my step children if they are staying with us. By that time its bedtime and I usually read in bed until about midnight. If I am lucky, my daughter will sleep for a few hours and I get some rest then. Sometimes however she is up most of the night so I read some more! No point in wasting good reading time!

Have you one great indulgence or passion?

One of my greatest passions in life is of course books. I love to be surrounded by them. I love the feel and smell of them and I am addicted to buying them! I am a total author groupie and nothing makes me happier than receiving books signed by the author. Books are actually taking over my life and it makes me so happy. I adore having the house to myself and lying on the sofa reading. I love it when the house is nice and quiet as this doesn’t happen very often. A nice glass of wine also helps me relax.

If you had three wishes to do anything you wanted what would they be?

1.       Be instrumental in educating the world about special needs and actually make a difference.

2.       Give up social work and have a career in the book world.

3.       Write a good book.

If you could invite four guests to dinner who would they be and why would you choose them?

Oh that’s another difficult question but I’ll give it a go!

1.       Temple Grandin – a major voice in the autism world and a lady of extreme courage.

2.       Stephen King –  I adore his books

3.       Daphne Du Maurier

4.       Alfred Hitchcock – you’ve gotta love his movies. Plus, he would get on so well with Daphne!

Thanks Jonty for a brilliant and very interesting interview, I know so much more about you now!  I also love Daphne Du Maurier – I’ve read all her novels and Frenchman’s Creek is my favourite.

If you are interested in learning more about Jonty simply click on any of her social network links below.

Down in Glorious Devon

017 (640x480)It hardly seems possible that a week ago we had just arrived in Kingsbridge, South Devon for a week at Crabshell Quay.  We have stayed in this complex five times since 2005, in four different apartments.  This year, as in 2012, we were in apartment 6 on the second floor with amazing views down the estuary towards Salcombe (which my husband refers to as Bath by the Sea).  I absolutely love it here, not only because the apartments are private with gated security parking, but also for the tranquillity, with our lounge opening out directly onto the tidal estuary.  So each day there is movement with the ebb and flow of the tide which withdraws leaving behind a sculptured pattern of rich brown mud where seagulls, ducks, moorhen, swan and egrets pad about on webbed feet all in pursuit of food. The water eventually returns, lifting boats and buoys and bringing back a diverse selection of craft.  Boarding for the Salcombe ferry is two minutes away from the apartment giving passengers a leisurely journey down to the small coastal upmarket town with its designer shopping, cafes, restaurants and pubs. The Trafalgar is our regular there, a particularly good pub with a great menu and home cooked food.  We’re also lucky enough to have a pub right next door to the apartments – The Crabshell Inn does great seafood.  It was taken over a few years ago has undergone a complete refurbishment both externally and internally.  The pub also offers paddle boarding for anyone wishing to get a little closer to the water.DSCF1934 (640x480)

Arriving mid afternoon after lunch in Honiton we discovered Kingsbridge was in the middle of a music festival weekend.  After unpacking we wandered into the market square to see what was going on.  A great surprise – an assortment of good local bands,  rock, folk – even a taste of Bollywood – and loads of local produce to sample.  Stalls had been set up for wine, beer, cider and all sorts of locally sourced food plus, of course, a deli.  Although the weather was drizzly there were loads of people there and we spent nearly an hour before continuing our journey into the town where we booked a table at the Seven Stars for later that evening.  After our meal we returned to the festival.  The crowds were still there and as with all live music, it was very infectious with people dancing and generally having a good time.   Friends came down with us and stayed over the first three days to celebrate a special birthday.  On Sunday we all met up with another couple staying in Dartmouth for lunch at the Royal Castle Hotel.  Afterwards a walk to Dartmouth Castle helped dilute the after effects of a particularly large lunch – they do a wonderful carvery in the hotel!

On Monday the six of us met up again, this time in Salcombe for lunch at The Trafalgar.  Tuesday was a complete chill out day and then on Wednesday we met up with family for lunch at Torcross.  There is an extremely long  beach there which was used as dummy run for DSCF1941 (640x480)the D-Day landings during WW2.  A Sherman tank which came to grief during the practice run was salvaged and now stands as a memorial.  On Thursday we were in Totnes for lunch with friends at The Forchette Brassiere in the High Street and finally on Friday we bussed to Dartmouth on what was the hottest day of the week.  After lunch at The Floating Bridge we browsed the shops before finding a seat to relax and watch boats and people.  Dartmouth looks fabulous when the sun is out, the passenger cruisers were full, there was bunting everywhere and lots of activity on the water with every shape and size of boat.

Once back at the apartment it was time to pack and wait for our last visitors.  One of the pharmacists I worked with at our local hospital was down for the week with her husband and they spent part of the evening with us.  Over glasses of red wine the men talked about cars and usual boys things and us girls had a catch up and talked about writing in general and ’50 Shades’ in particular.  I’d read the trilogy but my friend said she had not been able to get past the first book.  I think the whole thing has been quite a phenomenon but like everything else there appears to be a division between those who have embraced it and those who find it lacking.  Love it or loathe it, E L James is now a very rich woman so I guess she has the last laugh!

I usually find packing quite a sad event.  The holiday is over, it’s time to get back to the real world.  This time, however, I was returning home wearing a different hat.  No more would I be thinking of work and what was going on when I left for Devon – of meetings and admin to catch up on.  This time there was still work, only it was my work.  I have ditched my nine to five for the life a full-time writer.  Therefore although it was sad to leave Devon with all the happy memories of a great week, I was actually looking forward to getting home and being back in front of the computer again.  I had e-mailed my manuscript to my editor just before we left so while I was waiting for its return could look forward to a more relaxed time where I could catch up with blog posts (like this one) and also interviews which I’d shelved, needing to finish off the manuscript first.  As one friend put it, I was now a liberated woman and I think that’s a great adjective.  I’ve always believed to a certain extent  our jobs say a lot about us: it’s who we are – a defining thing.  I had the idea that once I was no longer employed it would take something away from me, almost like losing part of my identity.  This has not been the case.  The only thing I have really felt is free.  For the first time in many years I can do what I want, I am in control of my own destiny. I’m not tied to someone else’s wishes or needs and it feels wonderful! As my friend so aptly put it – liberating!

I absolutely adore South Devon.  Kingsbridge is a trip back in time; a place where the pace of life is slower and people are very friendly. A place where you can watch the rise and fall of the tides, enjoy red wine and relax.  Salcombe is small with good restaurants and designer shopping. Dartmouth is buzzier; it has its ferries – Higher and Lower – taking their daily cargoes of vehicles back and forth across the mouth of the river.  It has the Dart Valley Railway, a reminder of the age of steam, which ships tourists regularly to Paignton and back.  Then there are the many passenger ferries – from those crossing the estuary to Kingswear, to ones making longer journeys up river to Totnes or out around the coast to Salcombe.  And of course there is shopping, the town is packed with small independent shops which feed the tourists’ needs.  It also has the only railway station in England which has never seen a train.  Isambard Kingdom Brunel brought the railway to South Devon as far as Kingswear.  He wanted to cross the water and link Dartmouth.  He had lined up the purchase of land in order to do this, but when he came to carry out the transaction the landowner backed out.  By that time Dartmouth Station had already been built in anticipation of the link but rail lines and trains never ran past its door.  Today it’s a tea shop/restaurant (pictured left).

DSCF1961 (640x480)So now it’s back to normality.  I did find quiet moments when away to throw some ideas into the mix for my next novel.  It’s at a very early stage of course and I’ll use our time away in Italy in September to flesh the whole thing out.  However, I’m glad to say that my sixth novel will happen.  I always have this moment of concern once a novel has been completed, wondering if this is it, or whether there is, in fact, another book in me.  Happily that’s the case – something else to look forward and plan!

Next weekend I’m planning another Tea and Talk so until then have a good week everyone!

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An Early Tea and Talk at Sally Lunn’s with Designer/Author Jane Dixon Smith

Sally Lunns Tea HouseJane_12_SMALLHi Jane and welcome to Bath and Sally Lunn’s.  It’s lovely to be able to talk to you today and the first question I always ask my guests is to tell me a little bit about themselves.  Now I know you live in the Lake District and have created some amazing book covers but that’s about all. 

Maybe you could expand a little.

As well as writing and designing I also run the writing magazine Words with JAM – it fits really well with everything that I do, each aspect of my professional life working in conjunction with the others. I also have three boys aged 7 and nearly 3-year-old twins. They definitely keep me busy, but not being tied to working certain hours in an office is amazing and allows me to spend time with them and fit work around them.

How did JD Smith Design come about?

I’ve been a graphic designer since I left school, and I’ve always had an interest in writing. So when I was made redundant in April 2012 and decided to go freelance, I naturally found my main source of work was writers wanting book cover design and formatting, and I love it, I really do.

What do you most enjoy about creating book covers for writers?

I have a passion for books generally, so being a huge part of the physical book production process is extremely rewarding. I also love being able to give authors the opportunity to have input into visualising their books that they wouldn’t get in the traditional process.

How long have you been writing yourself and what made you want to take on this new role?

I’ve been writing for nearly eight years now and have written three and a half novels and numerous short stories. I used to sub a long time ago to agents, but writing isn’t something I want or need to do full time. I don’t have that passion about publication that others have, I like writing for myself. But working closely with Triskele Books on their book design, I was really inspired, and when I was asked if I would publish Tristan and Iseult with them for their June 2013 collection, I couldn’t resist being a part of the team.

Can you tell us about your route to publication?

Triskele Books is an author collective. We each retain our own rights, royalties and have full control of our material. The only difference is that we work closely together, ensuring everything produced is high quality material, fully copyedited and proofread and we assist each other in marketing and sharing information. It’s a really great support network which keeps everyone motivated.

The legend of Tristan and Iseult is well-known and, I think, a really sad one.  What made you choose  this and how did you go about put your own Tristan and Iseult Cover MEDIUMinterpretation on it?

It is a sad one. I chose it primarily because I have a keen interesting in history and legend. Particularly when there’s a lot of fact surrounding it, and especially this one because it’s based in Britain, or Briton, as it was then. I would have rewritten the legend of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, but I think that one may be a little too ‘done’. As for my own interpretation, I’m not entirely sure I have, or not consciously. I know the basic facts of the 12th century French poetry, and the film produced by Ridley Scott, but, I don’t know, I just sort of have the characters and the basic structure from documentation then I flesh it out, and as I do I subconsciously tweak and change things to make them better. I think that’s what every writer does.

So what are you planning next?  Will you stay with the historical theme or choose a completely different subject?

Historical. I don’t think I could write anything else. I already have a series well under way documenting the rise of the third century Palmyrene Queen Zenobia, who rebelled against the Roman Empire. The first book will be released in time for Christmas.

And now for the frivolous questions – what three things would you take with you if you had to go and spend time alone on a desert island and why?

My phone because I can’t live without it. And probably a spare one just in case the first one broke. And a football called Wilson … just kidding. I’m not sure I’d be very good at being on a desert island for any great length of time. I’d start inventing all sorts of jobs to do. Within a month it would have its own economy.

And if you were hosting a dinner party, name four people you would like to invite and the reasons behind the invitation.

Other than four of my own friends? Hmm, tricky one. Sean Bean because I’ve always fancied him. Jonathan Ross because I like his sense of humour. Bernard Cornwell because he’s my favourite author. And Dave Lamb from Come Dine With Me so that he can ridicule me in person.

Many thanks for coming along and giving us a peek into your world, it was great to meet the person who has designed such fabulous covers for so many writers, including me!

To learn more about Jane and her work just click on the links below:


Triskele Books:

Words with JAM

JD Smith Design

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Tea and Talk at Sally Lunn’s with reviewer Shaz Goodwin

Sally Lunns Tea HouseDSCF1675Welcome Shaz to Tea and Talk, lovely to see you here and a first for me interviewing a reviewer and not a writer as I usually do.

Thank you for inviting me Jo.  I’m looking forward to this * gets comfortable *

First, to kick off, I know you live in Dorset and are near the sea, -something which I’m very envious of -but could you tell us a little about yourself, your family and of course your animals.

I was born here although I have no heritage here!  My father was a Londoner and mother originally from Devon so it was quite difficult for me as a child as my peers had families going back generations and generations.  Not that I didn’t have any friends! but we were seen as the ‘outsiders’.

My OH is from Berkshire so when I offered to move there (gulp) I was extremely glad he wanted to move here!  Next year it’s our 25th wedding anniversary (seriously, where does time go?) and I’m hoping we’ll go back to Fowey, where we spent the first week of our honeymoon.

My eldest son is off to Uni this September (we don’t see very much of him now so I think we will probably see more of him when he moves out!) and youngest son is going into his second year of college.  Both boys have chosen to study media, animations, 3D graphics etc.  I am quite jealous truth to be told …

At the moment we have another addition to the household in the form of youngest son’s friend.  He’s had rather a stormy family background in the past, recently kicked out of home, he’s staying with us.  He’s no trouble at all.

We still have one of our cats, Baggins, with us.  He’s recently had his 16th birthday and he’s been with us since 6 weeks old.  We had to say goodbye to his half-brother, Barney, just before Christmas and I was devastated.  He was my shadow and I still miss him.  Taz is our cross-breed rescue dog and entertains us on most days … he is such a character!  It’s thanks to him that we have to get out in all weathers.  We’re living a much healthier lifestyle.

How long have you been a reviewer and what exactly made you take this up?

I’ve been reviewing since February 2011.  Having always been an avid reader, when I realised that such things as book blogs existed I couldn’t believe that this opportunity to share my love of the written word existed!  I started with reviewing books and Jera’s Jamboree has grown to encompass other features too.

I know you review a wide variety of books but have you a favourite genre?

I always find this question really difficult to answer because honestly, I don’t.  As long as the plot and characters take me on a journey that leaves the outside world behind, that I can be completely engrossed in, the story can be any genre.  The one genre I am quite ‘picky’ about is erotica.  It has to have a strong plot at the foundation for me to want to pick it up.

Is there any one book which has been a special favourite?

I’m going back to my childhood to answer this question Jo.  It has to be Enid Blyton’s The   Faraway Tree.  All of those magical journeys to different lands to be found at the top of the tree!  Always a new ‘moral’ to ponder on and such fab names too – Moonface and Saucepan Man!   Adventures that have stayed in my memory.

Yes I remember The Faraway Tree, we used to have it read to us when I was in junior school!  You have a website – Jera’s Jamboree – besides your reviewing is there anything else which features there?

I also host guest posts, interviews, book news, promotional posts, writing news, giveaways and my popular ‘Stationery Love’ feature.  Once a year I post my top reads.  I also enjoy being creative so once in a while you’ll see my blog’s theme and icons change.

Do you have a typical day?

During term-time, I’ll be up just after 6.  There’s not such a thing as a typical day in school as everything I do meets the needs of the school community so although I may have blocked time in my schedule to do certain tasks, it often gets rearranged.  As soon as I’m home, the laptop goes on and I catch up with social media.  Often my OH will come home from work and I haven’t even thought about a meal.  He’ll often start the cooking …  I’ll check in to my work emails and then after dinner it’s a dog walk which has more value than anything else for relaxing and bringing peace and being centred.  This marks the time between the end of the working day and the start of my leisure day.

During half-term/end of term holidays it’s totally different!  I wake up when my body is ready, potter around, meet up with friends, have pampering sessions, read when I want, log on to the laptop when I want, dog walks at lunch etc.  I love the freedom of not being ruled by time!

If you were marooned on a desert island, what would be the essential three things you would want to have with you and why?

I’ve been pondering this question for an age and all I have in my head is ‘On The Island’ by Tracey Garvis Graves!   So with this in mind I would have to take a companion and my choice is Ed Westwick = for keeping me sane, gorgeous eye candy for uplifting the spirits (essential) oh and doing the macho things and keeping me safe (and of course he’s much younger than me).   A Porta Potty (reducing the chances of getting my bum bitten) with an endless supply of aloe vera leaves which grow in abundance on my island!  My last choice has to be ripstop nylon, very versatile ie tent, clothing but I’m thinking of making a kite with driftwood for the spars and skis …

If you could invite four guests to dinner who would they be and why would you choose them?

Well Jo, I’m fascinated with DNA and research so …Brian Sykes (The Seven Daughters and Adam’s Curse), Paramahansa Yogananda to tie the DNA in with ancient wisdom – and maybe learn a little spiritual wisdom myself.  Next on my list would be biologist Toby J Gibson – he could put his research of molecular biology (including DNA finds) to the group.  Finally, the late Douglas Adams.  He could give everything a quirky and fun twist.  I’m sure the discussions would be mind-blowing!

Many thanks Shaz for taking the time to drop in to Tea and Talk, it’s been a really enjoyable chat!  If you would like to learn more about Shaz and her work just click on the links below –

Jera’s Jamboree

Facebook Jera’s Jamboree

Twitter @shazjera



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